In All Things
September, 2000. I met her.
It was, well, actually quite difficult at first. Family meant a lot to the Ryougi clan, so I was actually excluded from the very moment of birth into the world, from the first cries and, uh, messy extraction. I was prepared, of course, like any father-to-be ought to, but the promised day ended up with me in the waiting room while the Ryougi brood crowded around and handled everything themselves.
Though, I can tell you that Shiki did not want them doing anything to the kid in the same demon hunter ways that had been done to her.
Nurses and doctors that I had met—first when visiting Shiki back when she was a resident here, and then during the patch-up on my eye—stopped to chat while I waited, came to see how things were going when the news spread through the hospital that Shiki was here. I have to admit to forgetting quite a bit of what went on in those hours, my good eye always darting in the direction of the room where Shiki was holed up, my ears straining to hear a change in the energy or pace of what was happening beyond the doors, signaling what was to come.
"Kokutou-san, you have a healthy little daughter now." One of the nurses, apparently sympathetic to my patience, came out to tell me some seven hours after we'd arrived here.
The nurse led me past the guys in suits—ostensively bodyguards, though not that Shiki needed them—and through the people in Shiki's family that had come to call, though I knew very few of them. One was her brother, I think, who made the motion for everyone inside to leave as I entered, like I were the police crashing their party.
Shiki sat there, her bed angled so she could recline, and in her arms, a tiny figure wrapped so only a reddish face and a tiny arm could be seen. The child's hand had somehow managed to grip a lock of Shiki's hair and was tugging at it incessantly.
It was funny, so I laughed.
Shiki did not look pleased.
"No, sorry, only…you just cut your hair, and she still managed. The power of a newborn," I said.
"Just come here and hold her," Shiki said.
Bowing to the nurse in thanks, I slipped around the bed and adjusted my glasses to peer down at the baby. She looked of course nothing like you saw in the movies, all clean and hale-skinned, but instead was wrinkly and splotchy, the tiny fringe of hair matted to her forehead. There was probably a metaphor in there somewhere, but when Shiki lifted her up so I could untangle the child's hand from errant hair and cradle her in my arms, there really wasn't much else I could think of.
"Hey there," I said, holding the baby close, "I'm your old man." I carefully brushed a thumb and finger along her tiny fist, still clenched as if to hold Shiki's hair. "It's nice to meet you."
"I need you to fill out all of the requisite information, Kokutou-san," the nurse said.
"Oh, right, thank you," I said, taking the clipboard from her.
The twelve hours following delivery were about as much of a blur in my mind as the hours waiting had been, a jumble of holding a tiny infant girl, embracing Shiki when nobody was around, getting glared at by Shiki when I asked the requisite rhetorical "are you alright?" question. The hospital staff had to take the child away to give examinations and the like, so for a while Shiki was able to rest, the faint ticking of an analog clock the only noise about the room. The one thing about the Ryougi family taking charge over birthing matters—a private room.
After fits of napping and general worry over our child's health, one of the nurses returned to give me the information we had to fill out over the baby's status. Though registry itself would not be something we personally had to oversee, still, there were things to fill out.
Including the child's name.
I sat at the foot of the bed, silently inviting Shiki to participate if she so wanted, though as always she did not seem to care, her gaze steady on the window. "So, we never actually discussed names before. Given names, anyway."
"You didn't care to find out if it was a boy or girl to begin with," Shiki said.
"Hey, not fair. I said it didn't matter, so long as they were healthy and you were healthy." I smacked the clipboard against her thigh and gave her a mock scowl. "Don't blame this on me."
"Call her Mana."
I blinked at her. It was habit to now do so twice as much, like my eye was overcompensating for its lost partner. "Hmm?"
"Mana. Her name. Unless you have something else."
I couldn't do anything but give a smile. Shiki often gave me trouble for comments about her femininity and whatnot, but here and there it seemed like she could not help but think of them herself. I had this suspicion that she had thought long and hard on this, like any mother would, and never breathed a word of it aloud. Maybe never even acknowledged it herself. "No, I've got nothing. How should I spell it?"
Shiki stared out the window, though it was not out of disinterest like one might first think. She looked somehow embarrassed, her eyes squinting tighter together, the edges of her lips giving a vague motion, like she could clamp down on a nervous smile. It was not unlike the first time she had made me stay the night, a sort of concession that, though she didn't speak a word of it, she wanted me around somehow.
"Just, use the ram kanji and something with na. I don't care. My family insists on a proper name," she said.
It was already something that irritated her, when one of the nurses had brought it up. The fact that this child would be named Ryougi brought immediately to mind the concept of an out-of-wedlock birth. But, well, the fact remained that Shiki's family was traditional—came along with their history—and it was part of the tradition for the new nuclear family to take on the name of the prestigious side.
Shiki reminded me once that she remembered my name because it sounded like "that one poet." I had a feeling her family might be put off by a foreign-sounding name regardless to its origin.
So it had to be in characters, not kana. That was fine, and not unexpected. I wrote the kanji into the certificate, paused to test it out on my tongue. "Mana. Mana." I grinned. It sounded nice, and certainly easier on the ears than either of our given names. "Why Mana, though?"
Either she ignored me or was too deep in thought, but Shiki didn't respond immediately. I filled out the rest of the information—on me, on Shiki, our medical history so far as I knew. Shiki's probably had to be wrapped up in all kinds of secrets by her family, but I knew the general things about eye color and height and whatnot that occupied the majority of the paper.
"I'll go take this to your family, let them fill out what they want to for the rest," I said, again allowing for Shiki to object if she wanted. She shrugged, though, and I took that as an acknowledgement that it was alright. "Be right back."
Shiki's mother—who had come to relieve Shiki's brother as the sort of "family representative" hovering about—took the birthing records from me, looked over it briefly before handing it back to me. It was clearly implied that this business was now in my hands, and she did it all without saying a word in my direction. It ran in the family, I guess.
When I found the nurse that had given me the paperwork to begin with, she had Mana in her arms and brightened upon seeing me. "I was just about to bring this one back to you. So, how about a trade?"
Mana yawned as I took her, oddly reminding me of a baby chick opening its mouth to chirp or feed from a parent robin. It made me feel a little weak in the knees. I double-checked to make sure she had been fed recently, and once assured of that, I carried her back to Shiki's room, trying not to hum like an idiot as Mana made a kind of sneeze that sounded half-squeal, half-cough.
I had to sort of kick open Shiki's door since I had my hands full and did not yet feel ready to one-hand carry a newborn. "We're baaack," I said, and I couldn't help but sing-song it.
Mana chose at that moment to make a slight cooing noise, and, well, it acted like better punctuation than I could ever have hoped for.
Shiki made a motion to hand Mana over, so I sat up next to them to hand the little one over, all the while trying to keep from making a grin that Shiki might later give me grief over. It was a valiant effort, and thankfully Shiki's attention was divided anyway.
"They talked about it in class," Shiki said, suddenly calling back to my question before. "In cultural world history. About the Melanesians and how they feel that mana is in all things." She propped herself up more so Mana could halfway lounge in Shiki's lap.
I nodded—I took that same class before graduating. It wasn't that foreign a concept, since kami was pretty much the same thing. "And so…" I smiled, "you see her in all things?"
Shiki frowned at the teasing, though she gave an exaggerated sigh, her shoulders falling quite distinctively. "I don't want to talk about this anymore," she said, looking away again. It did her little good, though, since it was starting to get dark out and the glare from inside the building kept the outside from being viewed with any clarity.
I think I understood, though. It really did relate to Shiki's worldview, how she perceived both life and death.
Murder is murder. Massacre is massacre.
One is the act of killing another. It makes it personal, important.
The other is the act of killing many. It makes it impersonal, distant, desensitized. It no longer has any meaning for the killer or the killed.
What is important is life, else death would have no meaning to begin with. So, if you view the world as Shiki does, with everything as something capable of dying, then it also means that she has to see life in all things too.
She held Mana now, and though her face remained impassive as always—
Mana was in all things. The act of killing that Shiki could perceive, it required acknowledgement of the importance of that mana.
"Now what?" Shiki said.
I startled, like caught in a lie, or stealing food before dinner. "Um…just thinking, I guess. What?"
"You made a strange face." Shiki pursed her lips, turned her attention back down to Mana, who looked to have fallen asleep. "Stranger," she amended.
In Shiki's arms, Mana made another cooing noise, something that reminded me of baby chicks that tweeted up at parent birds. The sound probably did nothing to help the look on my face—probably turned it from strange to goofy. "So, if you believe in mana—"
"I told you I don't want to talk about it."
"—then you think life, or fate, or karma…that kind of thing, it converged on us for her?"
Red was starting to creep up at the very edges of Shiki's cheekbones. "Shut up."
The concept of it all, like kami, like a lot of things, ran in cycles. I grinned, moved up to put my hand over the tuft of hair atop Mana's head. No, the goofy look had not receded.
I'd have to amend my thoughts, if I wanted to see what Shiki saw.
April 1995. I met them.
Both of them.