Title: Hope, His Mother Said
Show: Kimi Ni Todoke
Pairing: Ryu/Chizuru (3/5)
Summary: Armageddon came that year. Ten months later, he seeks atonement. Redemption. Forgiveness. A story of friendship, love, kindness, and the world we wake to. (3/5).
A/N: I have endeavoured to write this one-shot with the upmost respect and solemnity. I have conducted extensive research into the lives that were affected that day. I don't intend to in any way cheapen the events by mixing them with fiction, but rather, pay homage to the resilience and courage that came along with the aftermath in the only way I can – by writing fiction.
Warning: Based on actual events and current affairs. Some subjects may be 'close to home,' so please read with caution and respect.
It was New Year's Day, and the ground was shaking.
Or perhaps it wasn't the ground, after all. It was a trembling, and it seemed to start from the knees and crawl its way up his bones, vibrating the molecules in the air surrounding and making the world shrink for a split second. A strange sensation, it was – almost surreal. Almost like awakening from a dream, wondering at its credibility, wondering if long ago something devastatingly similar had occurred. The vase on the mantelpiece teased the fates, swaying rhythmically. Something clattered to the ground in the back room. He thought he heard it break. The gas on the stovetop flickered for only a moment, and then it was over. And all Ryu could think to do was continue flipping the pancakes.
Later, once the television reception finally came back, the blurry newsreader told Tokyo there had been an earthquake. January first. New Year's Day.
Ryu pitied the people who had experienced it as he collected the fallen, cracked dishes from the kitchen floor.
University life had spared him the trouble of finding accommodation in Tokyo.
His dorm room was neat, if not a little small. Tyusko (or was it Tyuso? Tyukki?), his roommate, was a nineteen-year-old smoker who constantly smelt of ash and fish oil, majoring in Economics (Engineering? Or was it Ecology?). He came and went, though admittedly the latter was more frequently employed. He had once told Ryu that he had family in Tokyo. A little brother. A boisterous father. A pensive mother. His sister was dead – captured by some ugly disease that had refused to loosen its pitiless grasp. Ryu had replied with a cautious smile; nothing more, nothing less.
He had no family in Tokyo.
The lights were too bright in this city for his homely father, he knew. They blinded passer-by's and shone resolutely through cracks in the curtains. The buzz of the city chirped behind his ears, a chaotic chorus of combustibles. Tokyo was a living city for the dead. It was Sodom and Gomorrah wrapped up in shiny aluminium foil, disguised beneath the larger-than-life Lego block buildings, leaking through the large LCD screens and moving billboards, advertising all things from toothpaste to free sex. The place was crawling with rats – from the rodent-kind to the sell-small-packages-to-children-in-dark-alleyways kind.
Still, Ryu liked the way he could run through the crowded streets and feel as though he was kicking up dirt with the heels of his feet.
He didn't need family in Tokyo, he reasoned. He didn't need anybody in Tokyo, really. Winter in Tokyo was more rain than snow. The season was drawing to an end, but the most he had seen was a thin layer of ice carpeting the windshields of cars. Back home, blankets of snow covered the earth and hid secrets with a kind of flamboyance. Here in the polluted, dark city, fumes and gas evaporated snow by the time it passed down through the clouds. There was no snow. No memory. Only freedom.
Oh, how he didn't need anyone. The freedom of it all was almost exhausting.
Shota and Sawako had moved South to attend University. Ayane was West, painting the town red while some claimed they saw Kento hiding in the shadows, watching over her like a mist. And she, well, she was forever as was. Unchangeable – more a legacy than a human, more an ideal than a woman.
She stayed in the hometown, close to the bubbling ramen and steaming meat buns, warming hearts wherever she had trodden.
He saw her, sometimes: bright looks and a grin that could rival a hyena's. But then he would awaken to find sheets tangled around his ankles and no one there but the steady pitter-patter of morning rain against grimy glass windows.
Classes begun on Mondays at a quarter past eight in the morning. He would do better in school if he could actually remember his major. Classmates and faculty alike liked to tease him about it, though he could never fully grasp the joke. They would stop him in the corridors, asking the same question he had heard countless times already:
Hey, hey. What's your major?
They, too, had heard his reply countless times before.
They thought it was hilarious. Ryu didn't understand the joke. He just trudged on past them, fixing his baseball cap with his free hand, clutching at books he never cracked open with the other.
He called her, once. They hadn't spoken since graduation. Tsyukki was away for the weekend again. He was alone in the dorm room – number 89; polished wooden floors, crumpled sheets, an acidic smell that stuck to the walls, polluting the paint. The purr purr of the line repeated itself twice, until a familiar, casual voice clicked in.
He hung up.
The ceramic plate had belonged to his mother.
She had been a slightly eccentric woman with slightly eccentric hobbies that showcased her slightly eccentric tastes. It didn't bear a traditional pattern as many would have guessed – it was art deco, only more Chinese than American. It was bold and persuasive and rich with red and yellow and blue. Primary colours; the very same colours of his memories. Bold, untainted, resolute. There was a softer, prettier detailing on the edge one would not find unless they looked close enough. He let it lean against the window by his narrow bed, pushing aside Tsukyu's action figures to make enough room on the small ledge.
He remembers it being hung on the wall in his childhood living room. When they carried his mother in and let her lay on the blue rug, cold and soaked to the bone, snow dusting her nose and cheekbones, the same plate watched over the scene. He remembers, at a certain angle, it looked as though it hung above her head like a halo.
Two days before his first exam, on the 11th of March, he is in his room, number 89, pottering around and wondering at the grey quality of the sky outside his window. The letter of withdrawal he has written lays undelivered on his desk, next to a series of empty Coke bottles. The clouds tip slightly, and the ground shakes with fierce intensity. There are a series of screams that sound out from beneath his feet and above his head.
Someone swears. The light that hangs inches above his head flickers. Birds begin to cry. Somewhere in the distance, a tree groans. And the odd plate slips from the ledge and smashes to the ground, scattering red, blue and yellow across the floor in an artistic array. In his hurry to clutch onto something, a stray shard pierces the bottom of his foot, and he cries out.
They are being counted.
It isn't a roll call – there is no microphone on the platform of the auditorium, no principal pompously dressed. There is only an array of students clustered together in confusion. Several of them are crying. He hears one particular moan, and thinks he remembers hearing it while he had stowed himself away beneath the bed. They bump shoulders. He has never known claustrophobia ever before in his life, yet somehow still feels like he could vomit. The girl on his right is frantically trying to get through on her mobile phone. It's slim and pink and glossy and looks as though it's about to snap under the pressure her fingers are applying to it. Someone screams. It's high and desperate and wild. The lights in the building flicker, before fully turning off, encasing them all in grey. Hazy darkness. Outlines of semi-familiar faces. Teachers and lecturers frantically counting disorderly rows, making scratchy notes on clipboards. Each head is given a number. 269. He is 269. A wild thought races through his brain – he ought to scratch it into his arm, just as was in the concentration camps. But then someone is shoved into him. Their eyes are red and blotched. His feet feel numb. Someone manages to get a signal from a small radio. The blurry voice emitting from it murmurs on and on and on, but he can't hear a thing. He's too far away. People push, huddling as close to the voice as possible.
Suddenly there's a loud cry over the panicking crowd.
"My family! My family is in Minamisa-"
All hell breaks loose.
"My brother! Natori's been wash-"
"Sendai! What of Sendia?"
"Ibaraki has suffered major dam-"
"No – no. The East Coast!"
"My, my sister!"
Something clicks, and his baseball cap tumbles to the floor.
Even as a boy, Ryu knows there is something peculiar about a child's hand. Thicker, chubbier, warmer than any other hand he's come across. It is put out to him with a kind of solid dependence, an eager expectation. A wholehearted trust.
She's a bit dim-looking and wrapped up in a jacket thicker than fox fur and standing over him, hand thrust out toward him, stopping just inches beyond poking his eyes out. Her grin is dimpled and toothy, like black and white keys on a piano. She stands just a little taller than him (much to his dismay), but Mother has always assured him he'll grow tall soon enough.
That's the trouble with adults – the trouble that they themselves at times don't even realise: Time, for a child, is measured differently than it is to an adult. It's as if one person asks another person for two hundred grams of salt, when that second person only knows how to measure in kilograms. So you'll come home to a truck parked on the outside curb and a kitchen flooded with salt instead of the small serving you counted on.
Soon enough was in no way soon enough. Soon enough meant dinner time. Soon enough was bedtime. Soon enough was tomorrow. Soon enough stretched even as far as next week. Soon enough wasn't meant to drag on for ten, fifteen years.
He suspects he is only as high as her nose. On his tippy-toes, he might only graze her eyebrows, at best. She sticks out her hand to him – he, the little boy below her, crouched on the cool dirt. He doesn't want to get up. He doesn't want her towering over her still. Instead, he inspects her hands. The smooth crevices have accumulated several tiny specks of dirt and salt. A thin sheen of sweat settles on her palm. He stares, amazed, wondering how such a tiny thing attached to the end of her arm is capable of all the things she manages to do with it. He wonders at the small bending bits in her fingers. He wonders at the barely discernible veins. He wonders at the small moment that connects the thought, to the instruction, to the act.
The grin slowly disappears, and angelic form that she must be, she speaks. Short, unruly hair grazes her shoulders.
"Stop thinking," the angel says. She's only a little miffed. Rosy cheeks. Rosy childhood.
He later learns from his mother the girl's name – Chizuru. She lives only a few streets away. The Girl Next Door, his family sing-song to him, laughing loudly at something he doesn't quite want to understand just yet. His brother laughs the loudest and ruffles his hair. Chi, Chizuru smiles broadly. Ryu waits for soon enough.
The streets are flooded with foreign reporters, and the number only steadily increases with each passing moment. Helicopters whirr above the city's head. He feels the flash of cameras, but when he turns, no one seems to be intent on anything.
He is wandering the streets of Tokyo. There has come to be three main types of pedestrians milling these walkways – the reporters, the panicking, and the wandering. Newspapers blow in the gutters. Mobiles are smashed against walls and thrown in the bin, or simply discarded onto the roadway. Phone booths are packed, long lines overflowing like a buzzing centipede. Most people leave the booths looking no more relieved than from when they went in. Every street corner, telephone pole, billboard seems to be adorned with a new face. Missing.
He had managed to reach home by mobile only hours before. Only a little damage – the hilly region was spared. Just fear remained. Fear and prayers.
A name was mentioned. He heard his mother chanting in the background. He hung up.
English language being rolled off like a lullaby. An English – or maybe American – reporter standing a little way off, ash hair rumpling in the strong wind. They're filming, stopping people on the streets, continually referring back to an uncomfortable looking translator. The one behind the camera is fat and in good spirits. He pats the interviewees on the back (encouragingly? Patronisingly? Ryu doubts that the camera man even knows for sure) when the brief interviews conclude. They ask stupid questions. How has this tragedy affected you and your family? How are you feeling at this very moment? Have you heard from any loved ones from the areas directly hit? What's your name? It was only yesterday that this country was hit by the biggest earthquake recorded in Japan's history – what do you have to say? What would you like to say to the rest of the world right now?
They don't stop Ryu as he passes by, yet he can't help but internally answer the question.
After all, people should know there are times in life when only 24 hours can feel like an eternity of hell.
Three days later, they find Chizuru.
She climbs out of the rubble where she had impulsively joined a group of Australian volunteers to pull out trapped people from beneath poles, bricks and mud. She negotiates her way over a particularly slippery mount of rubble and peeks down at them.
"Hey," she grins. Then she stops, because it hurts with a split lip.
Tohru's wife, Haruka, wrapped up in a raincoat and wellingtons, bursts into tears.
The graduation cap didn't sit right on his head, and to be honest, the whole get-up had to be a gimmick anyway.
Somehow, by some twist of fate, or by some will of nature, his father had forced him into a suit. It was well-made, if not a little loose. Thin pinstripes fell down his legs, and to be honest, he just felt like going home.
"You look like a man," his father told him.
"I look like you," he countered. He remembered seeing his parent's wedding photos years ago. It was the only time he could ever recall seeing his father in a suit, even if just in a photograph. His father had looked like a younger, slightly bulkier version of himself. His mother looked soft, feminine and mannerly. In short, nothing like her.
"Exactly," his father grinned. "Like a man. Your life starts today."
His teachers had said something like that, too. Which was odd, considering he thought he had already been living for the past eighteen years. Had it all been illusionary? Was that chaotic, revolutionary blur of his adolescence all been for nought? He couldn't think it to be so. If his life started now, he would demand a rematch.
"Something's not right," his father observed, fixing the cufflinks of his left sleeve. Students laughed and took photos around them. Ryu instinctively fixed his tie, but found his father's eyes trained on his face, instead. He met the gaze, and then turned aside. Sawako was watching Shota take a picture with his little brother. Out of the corner of his eye, Shota was planning the quickest route to Sawako. Ayane was scolding a tall, boisterous blonde. And she, well, she was avoiding his gaze. Avoiding him entirely, really.
His father followed his son's gaze to the tallest girl of the year, making some sort of victory signal with her old first year teacher. He realized they were taking a picture together. The kind old man sighed. "You've given up."
Ryu shook his head, tone curt. "She's given up. I've let her go."
"She'll come around, son. Soon enough, you'll see."
Soon enough. He wished people would stop saying that already. The student council president began rounding students up for a group photo.
He has landed the same dorm room as the previous year. The door is just beginning to flake and the smallest speck of grime creates a decimal between the 8 and 9.
He wants to laugh.
The pancakes are a little burnt. His cooking has barely improved in the year he has been away from home, a quiet sort of surprise considering his family roots. Two hours after the quake passed, he only just realises what has just happened, and feels the strangest sensation to laugh again. That hadn't been an earthquake. Nothing really felt like anything compared to the other. In the shopping centres, less and less people are inclined to buy vibrating recliners.
Said they couldn't feel it.
A pulsating heart. He stabs at a pancake, hard, and resists the need to secure himself. He is fine. He is safe. He is hopeful.
His mobile rings, and before he thinks of the effort it would take to answer it, the device is already at his ear.
A small chunk of pancake goes down the wrong way. Before he can even cough out some form of expletive, her voice travels through, low and quick and frantic and tainted with something that might just be soon enough.
"He looked like you. In the rubble. I was digging and digging and digging. I was digging and I just saw his back and I – you. Ryu. You're okay, though? You didn't even feel it today, right?"
He waits a moment and stares at the stain on the acidic smelling walls. Nothing moves. The walls don't shake. Everything is still. He is amazed by it. Then he speaks.
"Chi. Where are you now?"
Chizuru and Ryu are my favourite pairing.
Reviews would be great, but even just taking the time to read through this carefully makes me happy.
Goodwill and Goodnight,