"If I could just have one more chance…"
It was Kanae's wish of a lifetime, for a love she had yet to give up on.
Kanae softly whispered these words to no one in particular, except to God above, hoping that her prayer would be answered, as she wandered aimlessly through the streets of Tokyo. To her, coming from the countryside, she viewed Tokyo as an intimidating place, almost a foreign country. It had been ten years since she had last seen Takaki Tohno, and she wondered if she was doing the right thing by trying to find him. She had no idea what his life situation was: if he was single or not, what kind of job he was doing, or where he was exactly. The impetus for her visit to Tokyo had been a conversation she had had with her friends, Saki and Yukko. They had asked her if she was seeing anyone, to which she had replied in the negative. Their conversation again turned to Takaki Tohno. They all knew she had fallen in love with him, in junior high, and that part of her still held on to that love. It was one of the reasons why she had declined an invitation from her surfer friend Ryo to go out with him. She felt something in her heart telling her that she could not move on until she at least had seen him one more time. Part of her longed to see Takaki Tohno again, to see what would happen if they met again. She had even gone so far as to travel to Tokyo with the vague idea of finding him. By some miracle, her sister had managed to track down Takaki's parents' phone number by reaching out to his high school's alumni office.
She had just learned Takaki's phone number while sitting in a park. For a moment, she thought of calling him, but at the last moment, she felt her courage desert her. She thought, I came this far, maybe this is enough. After all, what was I thinking, this is such a big city, what did I expect by coming here with no real plan? Then she noticed someone out of the corner of her eye, and he noticed her too, from a distance of twenty yards.
The familiar figure turned toward her, hesitantly, as if unsure if he recognized her.
Kanae stood up from the park bench. Could it really be him? The man she had loved for so long stood alone before her.
"Sumida?" Takaki asked. The name, for so long absent from his lips, now came easily to him. "Is that you?"
Kanae nodded and they stepped toward each other, slowly, as if in a dance, with each partner unsure of their next move.
They stood a few feet apart from each other, seeing the years of change worn in each other's faces. All the years spent apart seemed to vanish in a heartbeat.
"It's me, Tohno," Kanae whispered. For a moment, neither knew what to say next. Their chance meeting was so sudden, so unexpected.
Then Tohno smiled at her. "It's good to see you again," he said.
Kanae stepped forward and put her arms around him, surprising him a little. She was even more surprised when she felt his arms enfold her, hugging her back. Never before had she felt his arms around her; it was a feeling she could only have dreamed of during her lonely adolescent nights. All the emotions she had known so well and done her best to suppress came bubbling to the surface. She could not help but think back to their last encounter…
They were at the airport and it was time for Takaki to leave. They had finished high school. He was leaving Tanegashima for good, and this was goodbye. Kanae knew this was her last chance to tell him how she felt. She had wanted so badly to tell him the day of the space probe launch, but something held her back – the realization that he was looking for something that was more than what she could offer him. Still, she couldn't let him leave without him knowing how she felt about her.
"Well," Takaki said with a sad smile. "I guess this is goodbye…"
"There's something I needed to tell you."
Kanae bit her lip and struggled to blurt out the words she had been holding in her heart for so long.
"I love you," she said. "I've always loved you, Tohno. Thank you."
Just saying the words felt so good, so liberating. Somehow, she had held out hope that he would love her back. She thought, there must be some way for my feelings to reach him. If only I could spend enough time with him, let him see the real me, put myself on his radar, he would love me back. She desperately wanted to believe there was some way that she could change the way he felt about her, when deep in her heart she knew he didn't feel the same way.
Takaki's eyes opened in surprise, as if he had been completely oblivious to her feelings all along.
She could see it in his eyes, the conflict. There was a part of him which realized how kind and caring a woman she was, but there was something that got in the way, a film of opacity that obscured things and prevented him from seeing her as someone he could share his life with. Kanae could not have known at the time, but it was his unresolved feelings for Akari which kept the doors of his heart shut out to anyone else that he could love. Kanae knew what his answer would be. She could see that, after the initial surprise, there was no spark, only sadness, the kind of sadness that comes when you have to say something to disappoint a good friend. From the beginning, he had never seen her as anything more than a good friend, or even a sister.
"I'm sorry I can't return your feelings," he said. He had that calmness, that gentleness, in his voice, which she loved so much.
He put his bag down and stepped forward to hug her one last time.
"You'll be all right," he said. "I know you will."
But what about you? Kanae wondered silently. Will you be okay? Will that void in your heart ever fill?
I thought I could change you. I thought that if I only tried hard enough, I could get you to love me. I know better now.
Kanae pondered those thoughts as she suppressed her tears and hugged him tightly, for the last time.
Kanae stepped back from Takaki and the two looked at each other. Takaki reflected on Kanae. She looked much the same, older, but prettier. There was a confidence and a self assurance that she didn't have before. He noticed the tears welling up in her eyes.
Kanae hastily wiped the tears from her eyes.
"I'm sorry, it's just that I'm so happy to see you."
Takaki pointed to the bench. "Why don't we sit down?"
Their conversation started out halting and awkward, but gradually they started to remember the time they had spent together in junior high and high school.
"How have you been, Sumida? What are you doing now?"
"I'm a nurse working at a hospital, back home."
"Tanegashima," Kanae said. She smiled and prepared herself for the worst as she asked Takaki about himself. "And what about you, Tohno? What are you doing now? Are you married?"
Takaki laughed, but Kanae detected a hint of pain in his laugh. Like someone trying to laugh off a hurtful wound, not wanting to let anyone know how deeply it stung.
"Me?" Takaki said. "No, I'm not married. I don't have a girlfriend either. In fact, I don't even have a job... I quit mine just earlier this week."
"Really? I'm sorry to hear that."
"It's okay, don't feel bad for me. I'll be fine. I mean, my job sucked anyway. I'm looking for a new one."
Secretly, Kanae felt joy in her heart to learn that Takaki, like herself, was single.
"So what brings you here to Tokyo?" Takaki asked.
Kanae blushed faintly and turned to look him in the eye.
"You did," she said.
She blushed harder and averted her eyes for a moment, afraid of what he would say. She was remembering all the hurt from that day in the airport. But she was here now, this was her second chance of a lifetime. There was no point in prevaricating. It was her moment, the chance she had longed for, the hope and the dream that maybe, just maybe, this time, things would be different.
"I came here looking for you," she said, looking down at her lap and feeling her voice falter. "I just wanted to see you one more time."
There was a long pause of silence. Slowly, Kanae found the courage to look again to face Takaki, seated next to her. He gave her a faint smile. There was something different in his eyes this time. It wasn't as cold and distant as it was that day, ten years ago.
"Sometimes," Takaki, said reflectively, "I've thought back to that day at the airport in Tanegashima, when we said goodbye and you confessed to me. I know that I hurt you. I'm so sorry, Sumida. I'm sorry I never noticed your feelings..."
"I thought about it too," Kanae said. "Sometimes, when I'm trying to sleep and I can't, just tossing and turning, I try to think of something calm and quiet. And I would think of you, sitting on the hillside in the night, under the stars. And for some reason, that image would relax me and help me to sleep..."
Kanae felt her courage coming back and she looked him in the eye.
"I never stopped loving you, Tohno. I tried my best to forget, pursued other relationships, but they never worked out. I just didn't know if I could love anyone as much as I loved you. I thought, if I could just go to where you are, if I could just see you one more time, if I could just look into your heart and know the truth, that would be enough for me. I wouldn't need anything else. I could move on. But I know there was something you were struggling with, now. I never understood it at the time. There was something in your heart that was keeping you from loving someone, anyone. I wanted to show you how I changed, and see how you changed, if I would still feel the same way after meeting you. I-I-"
Her voice choked off as the tears welled up. When she looked at Takaki, she was surprised to see tears forming in his eyes as well.
"I'm glad that you're here, Sumida," he said. He felt all the emotions welling up within him, the depth of his loneliness, and they overwhelmed him. He leaned forward and put his face in his hands. He felt his body wracked by a sob, and he tried his best to stifle it. He wanted to tell her all the things he was feeling at the moment, but could not bring himself to say the words.
Can't you see, he wanted to tell her. I'm broken inside. I lost everything, my job, my girlfriend, my direction in life. All because I couldn't move on from Akari and the chance I missed with her. We should have grown up together. We should have had a real relationship, gone to movies together, gone to dances together, watched the sakura petals fall in the spring at our special spot. We should have spent the rest of our lives loving each other. Marriage, children, family. We should have grown old together. But we lost that chance. And I could never forgive myself for losing hold of the love I felt for her, that night under the tree in the snow, when we had our first kiss and we held each other as tight as we could. I couldn't allow myself to be happy. I couldn't bring myself to let anyone else in and see the feelings of my heart. But I needed to try. I couldn't go on like this. I needed to see a friendly face. If there was just one person in this city who could bring a smile to my face, I needed to find that person.
Kanae's tears were quickly abolished by sudden alarm at Takaki's sudden show of emotion. She had never seen him sad before, or shaken by anything before. Her image of him was always someone calm, cool, collected, never fazed by anything. He was the rock upon which she could always rely. She knew now that wasn't the case. Deep inside was a man every bit as vulnerable and insecure as she was.
"Tohno? What's wrong?"
She moved to put a hand gently on his shoulder.
Takaki put up his hand. Got to get it together.
"It's-it's okay. Give me a second. I'm all right."
He thought back to what had just happened a short while ago, when he could have sworn that he and Akari had passed each other at a train crossing...
He walked with his head down, not looking at what was in front of him. Perhaps, in a way, he had always done that, never seen what was in front of him, never looked to the future, only dwelling in the past and what was once lost. He felt the brush of air as she passed by next to him. From the corner of his eye, he spotted her shoulder length hair and the slender profile of her face. He even thought he could smell her perfume.
His heart stopped, moments after they passed each other. The realization was slow to hit him, and it did not dawn on him until too late.
Takaki was at the other end of the train crossing by then. He turned his head to the other side. He could see the woman, who from behind was dressed in a coat over a blouse and skirt, with high heels, also turn toward the railroad. Just when he thought he would be able to see her face and make eye contact, the trains rushed between them. Seconds passed painfully. He desperately wanted the trains to be done already, so he could see her. He wanted one more chance. Just to rush to the other side and see her one more time. One more time, one more chance, just one, to tell her all the things he had wanted to tell her but never got the chance-to see her and let her know that he loved her and had always loved her.
But she was gone.
It was as if she had never existed, a cruel apparition, come to meet him and tease him with a reminder of better times. She had moved on. Perhaps it was time he did the same.
"Goodbye, Akari," Takaki whispered.
"I'm okay," Takaki whispered, hastily wiping away his tears with his coat sleeve.
He turned to Kanae and saw the love and concern in her eyes. It calmed him. Perhaps, he thought, this is what he needed. The chance to start his life over again.
"It's getting dark," he observed as the two watched the sun set over the Tokyo skyline.
He turned to Kanae.
"Would you like to go for dinner?"
Kanae's face brightened up at once. "Yes! I would love to, Tohno-"
"Please, just call me Takaki. We've known each other a long time, right?"
The name rolled off her tongue like a foreign language, but she wanted to say it again and again. She had never addressed him by his first name before. Her heart skipped a beat with the hope that, perhaps, bit by bit, she could grow closer to him.
"Call me Kanae."