It was raining.
The midnight streets bore a soft, quiet glow, and various cars, motorbikes, and cabs drove along over them, the neon lights all around reflected in the puddles—multicolored: red, blue, yellow, pink, purple.
A soft, soothing sound sighed every time a vehicle drove by. A quiet mist seemed to hang in the still air. Or was it the lights? Or autumn glow?
A young woman stood by a lamppost, watching the night roll on before her eyes. She was wearing a large coat, the rain washing down its leather, a coat that looked a little too big for her.
Long, straight black hair ran down her back, wet and dotted with raindrops, and her eyes looked distant, as if observing a traffic bigger than the one moving before her.
From a distance one would've thought she were a young woman in her twenties, but a single glance at her face was enough to turn the impression of a "young woman" to that of a "young girl" in her teens—around sixteen or eighteen. She had a face that brought forward the air of a young girl, impressionable and burning still with a heart afire, energetic and powerful; yet her eyes, if one paid close attention, brought out a different image—that of an overseer, observer, like a sailor used to gazing out at open seas and distant horizons, sharp and bearing of the world's deepest secrets. Something profound, yet at once terrifying.
She pressed her lips and her eyes softened. The air seemed to change for a moment, as if something had floated in from some foreboding myth. Something had changed, but no one seemed to know what. Not even her; she simply looked around, then up, noticing.
The only true thing that changed, the only thing tangible, concrete—was the date.
It was twelve a.m. The world had lived another day.
Sighing, she walked across the street and entered a bar. She sat down at a table near the back, where the light barely touched. She ordered a glass of saké.
The bar bore no doors to shut itself off from the world, so noise and music filtered in through the entrance. Only a cloth, like a curtain, hung where the door should've been, bearing the writing of the place's name: Masahiro's Place.
And in from the outside, a familiar tune played, reaching her ears.
Aimer's March of Time.
She didn't know who played it, but what's for sure was that a smile came to her lips. Even if it were just for a moment.
Hearing it, she felt her resolve warm like a hearth. She knew: she can wait until dawn, and listen to the march of time.
Those were the days before everything fell apart.
Everyone was distanced, wearing masks.
Along down the stairs people were all apart, some sitting, some standing, here, there, each to the far sides of the steps, clutching to bags and belongings.
Everyone seemed absorbed in their own world, cut off from the world.
Social distancing didn't pull people apart, it exposed how far apart people already are; a fact hidden by the crowds that once were.
Looking at this scene, as she went down the steps, she felt something tug at her heart.
And a cold breeze blew in from some distant memory.
Even after it was all over, it didn't matter. There were things in the world that could never change, and things no one could ever bring back. Here and there, places were closed. Businesses both around the world and over here had changed. Some closed down too. There were families torn apart. Friendships ruined, lives ruined. So much.
There's nothing she could do, and the sheer white of the world around her only seemed to mock her, jeering, a ghastly smile smeared over everything. A white too white, overwhelming.
Like lilies, lullabies.
Her head hurt. It stung, squeezing her, throbbing. Sharp. Continuous. Some headache.
It's too cold. So cold it hurt.
Her coat and layers meant nothing, not even her masks. They all froze.
Snow white, mountain light. A distant lantern in the night.
That light—could it be her sister? Why would she think of her?
Mom died, and there's nothing anyone can do. Nothing anyone even could do, even when she laid there coughing; yes, coughing, but at least breathing, her heart beating, her soul and her warmth still there when she held her hand.
It hurt, seeing her go through it all. Herself needing to bear it all. But the worst thing? Her sister wasn't there.
Where was she when things went wrong? When things worsened? Off in Hokkaido. Without a word.
When all one wants is another, even such a simple request becomes impossible.
And now Mom's gone. Gone. It's all done; her cremation, her funeral. Done. Everything had happened. Everything history. Past. And her sister wasn't there through any of it.
Not even to lend her a shoulder when she felt like the world's crumbling all around her…
And now she's in Hokkaido, here to find her, here to…
Even she herself didn't know what…
Things didn't make sense, connections didn't come, the pieces lost to the ends of the earth and laid scattered beyond her reach, not that she could piece them together in the first place. Her thoughts were gone, beyond reason. A jumble of excuses that, once said aloud, would only end up like some nonsensical script.
She descended the stairs and hailed a cab. Getting into one, she gave him the address. Before long she arrived at her sister's front door. “Miyaki” was written on the nameplate; their family name.
After a ring on the doorbell, and another, the door opened. And behind the door stood her sister, her long messy hair running down the sides of her face to her chest and back.
“Sis,” she whispered, lips pressed, her hand on the door still.
They were quiet for a moment. But then, pulling on a jacket and wrapping a scarf around her neck, she stepped outside, saying,
And nothing more. Walking past her, her sister said nothing more. Without any objection, her lips zipped tight, she followed up behind her. She didn't know what to say; there's just too much.
They walked up the street for a while, wordless, but eventually reached a bench overlooking the neighborhood. Simple houses laid out in rows before them, their white roofs glimmering in the twilight, each house nearly identical, spaced evenly throughout.
Beyond the homes spread the road, where cars and vehicles rode; rarely now, only once in a while. Everything was quiet, and she swore she could hear the passage of time.
Time, and snow.
They sat down, apart, on the bench. Her sister on the right, her elbow on the arm rest, her chin on her fist; herself on the left, a discomfort and a shaking up her being. A distance laid between them: what sort of social distancing? She couldn't tell.
Would they have sat close if they didn't have to distance themselves or had social distancing been but a pretense to stay apart? She didn't dare think that. Not now.
They stayed quiet for a while, but she eventually said, breaking the cold silence,
“You weren't there.”
“I'm sorry. So much came up and I just…”
She didn't know what to reply and her sister didn't dare finish her words. They weren't needed, anyway.
Mustering a breath, a strength, her sister said,
“I want this to be over…”
Then, feeling something well up, she added,
“But it already is…”
Her sister knew what she meant. She must. Her sister nodded, looking down, then looking up at the merciless flow of time.
They laid there for a while, feeling the late twilight doors close on down; the light fading from the world.
Even after minutes pass, they dared not say another word, like butterflies. And, like butterflies, one takes leave and flies away, leaving the other as the world seems to turn on forever.