Kiriko boarded the bus. A winter breeze brushed past her when she stepped on— she shivered: cold.
She took a seat near the middle, sitting herself by the window, seeing her reflection on the cold glass; its image pale, faded.
For some reason, she couldn’t help but feel a tinge of sadness in her eyes, in her lashes, reflected on the pane.
She sighed, closing them—seeing the glass mist up, like a mirror—then opened them up again.
Her reflection: it reminded her of her younger self.
She was in her sophomore year back then, looking out the window. The class had already cleared up by then, leaving her alone; yet she stayed there, waiting in her seat, her bag placed on her lap, and her eyes looking out.
Her seat was next to the window, near the back. And the window was open now, letting in the spring petals of April, raining down like snow and into the class, falling and fluttering all over her and scattering about the floor from the tree outside.
And she sat there, her eyes distant and misty, as if looking into a sweet dream, tinted pink.
Down there, everyone else was walking toward the gate, returning home. And one of them, among the many backs facing her from afar, she recognized his.
Seeing him, she smiled, her lips turning sweet, as if they’d tasted something: cotton-candy; a treat.
Watching him, her being enchanted at once, she didn’t even notice, let alone mind that the petals were falling into her hair or her eyes— she was lost in the sight of him, of his back.
She watched him until he disappeared.
Though, even when he did, she didn’t seem to notice; she was lost at the thought of him.
But eventually, she snapped awake and realized that there was no one around— not down there, even more so up here. And, realizing that, she pushed back her seat and stood up.
Time to head home.
On her way back though, walking into town, she caught a familiar sight— Kazuo?
She stopped in her step, freezing for a moment. In an instant, she remembered following him out to the docks one day the year before, remembered his laugh, and remembered everything else— all at once, like a flash; a strobe, a camera flash.
Without her notice, her lips formed a smile; and, her eyes lost, drowning in the memories flooding in through her head— she ran.
His back; she could always recognize that back.
She remembered what her mother said:
“First love. It’s an amazing thing, huh?”
She remembered what her older cousin said on Christmas, last year:
“That Kazuo. Will you be willing to let him go?”
She remembered saying that she wasn’t sure, that she was afraid. And she remembered that her cousin said that if Kiriko wanted to fall in love, she should go all in.
She never understood exactly what she meant, but she allowed herself to fall— like closing her eyes and leaning off the edge, falling into the air and giving herself up, fully, to her feelings.
She felt so vulnerable…
But at the same time, she wanted more; she wanted him to see her, to talk to her.
She wanted more.
And there she went, running after him, a scared little girl taking a leap of faith.
But of course, Kiriko— the woman now, in her early-twenties— remembered what happened next.
She shut her eyes, feeling the bus as it moved, remembering that foreign scene…
Back then, she was blind— she didn’t know that a friend of hers was beside him, holding his hand.
She only did when she’d come close.
At that moment, her friend had noticed and turned around, seeing her. Kiriko halted in her steps, reeling, suddenly losing all sense of direction.
It took a moment for her to realize the truth.
And when she did, her mind felt itself tear apart, like a sheet of paper.
And within an instant, her reality shattered before her own eyes.
Just then— her friend, having noticed her, waved her hand at her.
Torn, she could muster up a fake smile, mustering only enough to wave, but slight.
She couldn’t remember what happened right after, but what she did remember was running away.
Running so far she felt like if she took another step, she’d fall apart, crumbling to the floor.
Her first love had been taken away, and there was nothing she could do about it.
No matter what, she was in a friend circle that included Kazuo and that friend of hers.
She couldn’t escape it.
The truth was bare, laid clear; the truth of her feelings laid in a mess, left unsaid.
There was a time when they came to school late at night to play with sparklers around the pool. Kazuo and her friend were there too. And there, Kiriko can’t help looking at him, watching him smile and laugh as everyone joked about, sparklers in hand.
And every time, she’d forget he was taken.
And every time, the reality would hit her, again and again.
There, she could only watch as he had fun, playing and laughing with his girl and the rest of the group, while she stayed in the background; simply watching.
That smile was no longer hers, and neither was his laugh. Nor any of him.
He belonged to his girl.
Kiriko sighed again and placed her head against the window; cold.
Just then, someone caught her eye outside.
She jumped to attention, eyes turning wide as she turned and looked out the window as the bus moved on forward, leaving the figure passing behind.
She stood up, catching the person in her sight…
It was herself, her younger self; the one who ran away years ago.
Seeing her, somehow, this time— she smiled, feeling something within her chest…
As she wished at heart, closing her eyes…
(November 23rd 2020)