A Long Way from Home

Tokyo is different from Wakayama. Everybody here speaks Standard Japanese, not just the teachers. Misaki is used to Kansai-ben, used to the sounds curling at the edge of her throat, the melody tingling in her ears.

In Tokyo, the boys don't drawl and the girls don't pull their vowels out. In Tokyo, the girls are bright and vivacious and charming, instead of sharp-witted. In Tokyo…

In Tokyo, Misaki curls deep inside herself, until the only time Kansai-ben comes up is when she's alone, or thinking. She still thinks in the drawling tones of her home dialect, but she's a Tokyo girl now—she can hear Aunt Shouko commenting, "I've never known a girl to not shop when she first comes to Tokyo," and the sting that she was just a Kansai girl from Wakayama, nothing like the white angel that could so easily stand her ground against anybody larger than her.

Misaki is nothing like Hatoko, cool and self-assured despite her age. She wonders if she would be like that in Wakayama. If Hatoko visited Wakayama, would she fall silent, the way Misaki does in Tokyo? If Misaki was in Wakayama, would she be like Hotoko, always calm and collected?

(Misaki is nothing like Tamayo or Kotaro either. Misaki is nothing like Tokyo boys and girls, a small girl from Wakayama who can't do anything right.)

Sometimes, Aunt Shouko asks her if she's alright, if she misses Wakayama and her grandparents in the countryside.

"I'm all right," curdles in her mouth, but if she smiles, she almost finds it true.

Misaki is good at Angelic Layer. She doesn't know how she knows that she's good, because it's something that settles over her like a warm coat in the winter, sitting in the ofuro after a long day, a sea breeze in the summer.

"You need to practice this over and over," Oujirou says to her the day they meet, "Once you master it, then you'll be very good at Angelic Layer."

Misaki clasps her hands together and beams. Oujirou is cool and kind, a high school student with an impeccable Standard accent. Misaki feels like a Tokyo girl when Oujirou talks to her. She feels special, that Oujirou's talking to her, and not to Hatoko or Tamayo or even Kotaro. When she's with Oujirou, Misaki belongs in Tokyo.

And then she learns that Oujirou is the Kansai champion, and he's not from Tokyo after all; even though he's from Kansai his Japanese is perfect, he's cool and calm and kind, and a small piece of home slips past her fingers—even though he's from Kobe, from the Hyougo prefecture, and she's from Wakayama.

He smiles at her, (not at Hotoko, not at Tamayo, not at Ringo or Kaede or Sai or any of the other girls) and she flushes, turning away.

(She's a Tokyo girl now. That means that no matter how hard she wishes that she could fall into Kansai-ben with Oujirou, she can't.)

It's easy to say that it's alright. That it's okay. That she's okay. The words come easily to her lips, until Oujirou admits that he never liked sweet roasted chestnuts, that he only said it because he didn't want anybody to worry, and a small part of her unclenches and admits (maybe I wasn't alright).

In Tokyo, far away from Wakayama and grandparents that worry too much about getting hurt while riding on a bicycle, Misaki speaks Standard and never tries to find the mother she hasn't seen in seven years.

It isn't easy to forget Kansai-ben; Misaki still falls into it—in her head, when she's alone, when she forgets she is in Tokyo.

She doesn't wonder if her mother expects to see a daughter of five instead of a daughter of twelve. Doesn't wonder if her mother expects to hear Kansai-ben or Standard. Doesn't wonder if her mother still remembers her.

It's only been seven years.

Misaki thinks of her mother all the time.

Misaki speaks Standard to Tamayo and Kotarou, to Kaede and Sai, and even to Icchan, even though Icchan speaks Kansai-ben to everybody he meets.

Talking to Icchan is like going back to the countryside and wandering the narrow streets, listening to the radio with its loud raucous laughter. But she never responds in kind, because she never talks to Icchan in Wakayama. Instead, she talks to him in the brightly-lit corridors of the Tournament building, under the fluorescent lights of the Piffle Princess store, in parks and playgrounds on the streets of Tokyo.

Misaki is going to stay in Tokyo, where her mother is, even if Mother is too busy with work to see her. In Tokyo, middle school girls speak Standard. They respect their elders.

In Tokyo, everybody knows about Angelic Layer, even kindergarteners with their wide-brimmed yellow hats.

Misaki bites back the elongated vowels of her home dialect, bows to everybody she meets, and plays Angelic Layer. Icchan teaches her how to make an angel of her own, and she names it Hikaru after the doll she's always cherished in Wakayama. Hatoko teaches her how to trust in Hikaru, and Misaki throws her trust into the layer with all of her heart. Ringo teaches her to let Hikaru sing for her on stage, and she does until her throat is sore from her heart lodging in her throat. Everybody she meets in the Layer teach her something new.

(Her mother teaches her how reach further than she's ever reached for before.)

It's fine if her mother never writes her, calls her, sends anything more than the slim packets of money back to Wakayama.

Mother is busy with work, after all.

Misaki clutches her doll to her; Hikaru is here with her. She's alright. Everything will be alright. She writes long letters that she'll never send, because Mother is busy—too busy to hear about how Hikaru's dress tore and she fixed it, or how yesterday she made breakfast for grandfather and grandmother all by herself.

Mother is busy in Tokyo.

Tokyo is a long way from Wakayama.