Disclaimers apply. And someday I will be consistent with my tenses, as well as fixing any errors you may find here.
There were many things worth remembering, at the same time, many things you'd rather forget.
In the dark corner of an alleyway, a young ashen creature leans against the rough surface of the building wall, cloaking herself in the darkness like a young child clinging to the comfort of a mother's touch. But instead of a tender feel, the abrasiveness rubs against her unpleasantly, scraping the skin underneath the dirty tattered material she uses for clothing. The pungent smell of piss and mold violate her senses but she makes no move to cover her nose from the offensive smell. No, her eyes are trained and focused on something else, something pleasant and preferable.
Ripe, juicy and mouth-watering little orbs of fruit to slake off both hunger and thirst. The sight constantly reminds the young girl of not having a bite to eat since last night's scavenged leftovers. Hunger was a horrible enemy. One she battled every single day since the time she began living on the streets.
When you were starving, you begin to abandon certain principles. Principles of propriety, like honor and decency. Sheryl was past that. She needs to eat to survive, and to do so, she does what she can, and sometimes it meant stealing. She does not want to, but she will if she has to.
She is not being a villain.
She is just hungry.
There is a secret in the Saotome household—one that does not even bother to hide itself from prying eyes (thus not making it much of a secret in the first place).
The affectionless marriage between the great Ranzou and Miyo comes with no surprise to plenty. After all, it was an arranged marriage based on wealth and prestige. Ranzou and Miyo fit the description well.
The former needed to secure an heir (a male one of course) to carry out the ways and arts of Kabuki that helped in creating their legacy and status, while the young and beautiful Miyo was considered a millstone around her parents' neck, a female burden whose only merit was to create an alliance and then be rid off.
It was no concern to them that they were marrying off their daughter to a man who was almost twice her age. If anything, she was just a pawn to further their standing in society. Also, she was such a weak and useless thing that had to be sustained with constant visits to Frontier's medical center and staff. So when the union was agreed on, her family celebrated by filling their cups with rice wine and delight. Two words filled the air that were left unsaid: Good riddance! They do not think themselves cruel—just practical.
Ranzou's family, on the other hand, does not really care. Bearing an heir from a woman of good breeding is all that counts. Everything else is of little importance.
So nobody is bothered that Ranzou and Miyo are married strangers that consummate for a son... Concern is not even given to the number of Ranzou's mistresses, least of all— Miyo's great misery.
Sheryl permits herself a small set of tears, as she gently caresses the bruise on her head, a gift from the fruit vendor's broomstick. It was an awful strategy concocted by hunger. Run quick—grab quick—run quick—pray not to be caught. To give credit though, it would have worked, if not for her dulled senses and weakened state. But in the end, all she gained was a tender bruising—a lesson and a souvenir.
She wraps her thin arms around herself, and tries to block out the pain. She closes her eyes and begins to remember.
There are candles.
Scentless candles that glow a soft yellow , casting a beautiful canvas in the dark. In it, two graceful shadows are draw on it, creating a moving work of art. The silhouetted movements are fleeting. They create one image after another, and each image vanishes as quickly as they appear.
There is music. Wordless songs where dancing feet carry the lyrics to the tune. Apart from it, you can hear excited breathing and hearts that beat in perfect harmony.
"Papa, Papa!" Sheryl shrieks in delight, clapping her hands so hard that they begin to hurt, "Spin Mama again, sil vous plait!"
Abel laughs, acquiescing to his daughter's request. He spins his Sally, and as he does, her skirt whirls around and billows like a beautiful blossom before draping back down beautifully. The movement captivates Sheryl like she had just seen something rare and magical.
"Encore! Encore!" Sheryl demands with renewed enthusiasm.
"Non," her father speaks, his words are tight but his eyes glint with amusement , "your mother is already exhausted. You don't want her to pass out, do you?"
"Hmph! Don't speak as if I'm some frail old woman. If anything, you're the one who looks worn out. I guess you're not as young as you used to be."
It was an obvious bait, and Abel takes it. Perhaps to humor his wife or perhaps because he truly is affronted, Sheryl does not really know, always finding it hard to differentiate his humor with sarcasm.
"Now, now, dear. No need for such barbs. I know it must be hard, but you shouldn't let your menopause get the best of you."
"Meno—?! Why you—!" In retaliation, she hits him where it hurts most—his appearance. She accomplishes this by stepping on one of his shoes. Abel is absolutely horrified and he snaps at her.
"—These are hand-stitched Italian leather! How could you—?!"
"They're not ruined, just shine them up again."
"Don't say that as if they were factory defects!"
"You are such an Adonis!"
Their bickering filters out the music—but Sheryl finds their voices so much more intriguing.
Saotome Alto provided a loving distraction to Miyo.
Why, his perfect smile alone brought all the warmth and comfort in the world to her. She has little experience of it. Happiness. She could not even control her own life. She likens herself to a caged bird, a useless creature who cannot even fulfill the purpose of its design—to fly. At that thought, she looks up towards the artificial sky and feels her heart mourn.
Alto, who had been busy smoothing out the wings of his plane, turns his attention to his mother, who had suddenly stopped combing her fingers through his hair.
"I wish I could see it," she whispers, with every word clenching her heart, "a real sky, an endless blue sky…"
Maybe if she did, she would not feel confined. Even with just a glimpse, she would know a small semblance of freedom. But that could never be. It was not her place, her life was tied here, in this enclosed world, this beautiful cage.
Alto does not speak, but looks thoughtful
When Sheryl had to leave, she was forced to leave behind all the treasures she had ever known. Everything from her china-faced dolls to the small cache of strawberry pretzels she had hidden in a hatbox under her bed.
She had nothing to defend herself against the darkness that seemed to lap around her. Her parents were dead. And her mother's last wish was for her to leave, to run as far away as possible. Her words of command echoed in her mind, as well as the gunshot that shortly followed. The last memory she had of them were of her mother's shouting face and her father's lifeless form in his blood-soaked shirt—his face as pale as one of her dolls. She remembered running and running and running until her feet blistered and bled. She also recalled burning lungs, fear-cold sweat and her dead racing heart (that Sheryl was certain would just explode).
When she found refuge in a dark corner alley, her mind was a complete blank. She hugged her knees tight to her chest like a small ball and rocked herself back and forth, trying to find something—anything—to keep her occupied. She tried humming. Something her mother did whenever she was anxious about something. And for a while it worked. But then the fear came back, so she had to find something else. She tried singing—but could only manage a gush of air past her lips. So she sang the lyrics of her father's favorite song in her head.
Quand il me prend dans ses bras…. Il me parle tout bas… Je vois la vie en rose…Il me dit des mots d'amour…Des mots de tous les jours… Et ça m'fait quelque chose…
She passes out before she can even finish the refrain.
Miyo's health takes a turn for the worse.
And the hired doctors have all but given up.
Despite the obvious pain and discomfort, Miyo's only concern is her son. She worries what will become of him after she's gone. Alto, of course, is always at her side, the young boy constantly rushing to her side, the moment his practices end. Sometimes he would arrive with fresh make-up on his young face, which almost makes Miyo believe she's had a daughter all this time.
Most afternoons, he would tend to her as she laid on her futon, wiping the sweat from her brow and distracting her from the pain by telling her of western stories he read up.
"They're different," he'd always say in a raspy voice that contrasted his girlish image, "I like reading about them. Father doesn't approve though. He wants me to focus on nothing but my training…as if I don't do that enough."
These days, it had become excruciatingly painful for Miyo to even utter a single word, so she gazes into her son's face with empathy alight in her eyes. Alto, as if deciphering the message, smiles and continues, gently caressing his mother's knuckles. Her hand was so small and thin, like the rest of her body. She looked so hollow with shadows darkening her face.
"Yasaburo told me that there's a chance that I'll perform in Galaxy. It'll be my first time to be outside of Frontier. That thought makes me more nervous than the performance to be honest."
Miyo closes her eyes, to rest them a bit as Alto carries on the whole conversation.
"I heard there are no trees in Galaxy. It's only buildings and cities. And people don't need to shake hands because they can just talk in their heads, which is kind of funny. They also have one of the best stage productions in the whole universe. It's every artist's dream to perform there…at least, that's what brother says."
Miyo is silent and Alto smiles as he watches her rest peacefully. A hush in his voice as he says, "when you get better, you'll come and see me on stage. It'll be wonderful just to have you there. So get better soon."
He fixes the blanket to her chin before carefully getting up. He smoothens his wrinkled yukata before sliding a door open. Alto looks at Miyo with a small smile.
"Get better soon, mom. I'll see you tomorrow."
He shuts the door, not catching the last breath Miyo takes.
Sheryl is awakened by a clicking sound, and when she opens her eyes – she cannot believe what she sees. A beautiful woman haloed by the streetlights illuminating the city. Eyes compassionate and warm looking down on her as she lays there on her sheets of newspaper. Unknowingly, her arm reaches out desperately and her eyes cloud with tears.
The woman gives her head a sad shake, "I'm sorry, little dove. I'm not your mother." At that reply, Sheryl squints her eyes and realizes the truth. The image of her mother melts away and she sees that this woman is a lovely and unfamiliar stranger. A pang of sadness overtakes her and tears begin to stream down.
"Get up, dear. It's not good for you to be like this. Won't you stand up and let me have a look at you…?"
Her voice was urging and gentle—the genuine warm affection in this woman's voice only made Sheryl sob even harder. It had been days, weeks, …months even since her parents' deaths when she last had someone show her such concern. The most she would usually get was a coin tossed to her feet or a look of disgust.
"Don't cry," The woman soothed as she knelt down to the dirty ground. "Would you like something to eat? I can arrange that and we can even have you cleaned up."
I must be dying… Sheryl thought more happily than sad, slowly bringing herself up to sit and lean against the rough wall to support her swaying frame, she must be an angel who's come to get me.
"Here, give me your hand, I want to show you something.."
She presses something cold and sharp in her little hand. Sheryl brings it close to her face to inspect it—and her breath catches in her chest. At the same time, she feels something heavy lift from her shoulders.
It is unbelievable, unimaginable…
Alto sighs sadly as he paints some rouge to his lips. While he had gotten used to the feel of thick make-up, he still was not accustomed to looking at himself in the mirror and seeing another person. He knew he was playing the role of different people, he had learned to absorb them, and claim their lives as his. But whenever he looked in the mirror, it unsettled him to see the characters he played face to face. In some strange way, it felt like he was violating them, which might seem silly to other people but for Alto, it was a big deal. It was something he treated very personally.
"Alto," Yasaburo enters the room, already saddled into his character. "Oh good, you're done. We're about to begin. What's wrong? Are you nervous?"
Alto stands up and starts to feel his character settling inside him.
"I'm ready," he says.
The audience is restless, their voices bouncing from one corner to another. The actors begin to take their places on the stage, the curtain concealing them. The lights begin to dim and the impatient voices begin to fade. Alto's eyes watches the curtain rise. His character begins to consume his mind and body. But just before that, a sad thought crosses his mind.
How unfortunate his mother could not see him.
She had died not knowing her dream.
The lights are bright and all eyes are on him.
Saotome Alto will perform, not knowing that this will become the performance of their lives.
To him—and to a little girl in the audience with flowers on her lap.