Submitted into Contest #43 in response to: Write a story about transformation.... view prompt



There are those of us, who look for something in nothing.


And then there are those of us, who pick up burnt-out dreams, thinking they can be rekindled.


We laughed by the riverside, picking up stones and counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold. Seven for a secret never to be told.


Then you left me, and I cried, because we were kids and kids didn’t know of sorrow, only of joy. There were many things we have yet to know, isn’t that right? Many things the teacher at kindergarten hadn’t taught us, a story left unfinished. But you were gone, just like that. And then our teachers taught us prayers, we prayed day in day out, but you weren’t there to pray with us.


We learnt many things ever since that day. That chicks eat rocks to help with their digestion. That the furious flow of a river is called a current. That the big tree you fell down from was called a palm. I wrote them down so I can tell you when you return.


But then our friends at the kindergarten stopped praying. Why did they stop praying? If they stopped, then God wouldn’t want to bring you home anymore. So I prayed harder to make up for them, so you can finally come back. On and on until I graduated, and then we went to elementary.


These dreams were burnt out as a lit matchstick, but then our teacher told us to never give up on our dreams. She asked what are my dreams, and I answered that I wanted you to come back. I still came back to the riverside, you know, every now and then, to pick up pebbles for you. Eight for a wish. So I can wish for you.


But mom kept telling me to go do my homework. Studying and stuff. My friends keep telling me to, because if I don’t then I’ll fall down to the last class and then we won’t be in the same class anymore. I don’t want to study. Study is boring. I told the teacher that, and she sent me outside the classroom with two buckets of water.


Studying is important, though.


After the third year I fell into the last class. My mom was mad at me. You still haven’t come back, because I didn’t pray enough. I apologized to you, in those nightmares in the middle of the night, but then I can’t stand being yelled at by the adults anymore.


I climbed back up into the first class, so I can relax and continue praying for you. So that I can pick up more pebbles for you. I wrapped them up in paper towels (don’t tell Mom) and put them in my secret box. Will you come back? Are you coming back?


I graduated then, before I knew it. It was a cold March day, and the cherry blossoms were blooming again. I was invited to do the speech, but near the end I added that all I’d ever wanted was for my best friend to come back home. Nobody applauded. I suppose they had fallen asleep from the monotonous speech in front. 


After that, we went to middle school. I didn’t like the uniform; it was too hot and stuffy wearing it. I looked up and there was the school, so big and mighty. It scared me, and I won’t be surprised if it scared you too. And then I got to know this person, and for some reason my heart threatened to jump out of my mouth whenever I saw him. Would you laugh? Please don’t.


The cherry blossoms pooled at my windowsill. He told me he would always be with me, all the way until we shrivel up like winter nuts and die. Another graduation. I took him to the riverside with me, but he found the rhyme we used to sing so ridiculous. ‘Pebbles don’t grant wishes,’ he said.


Said that to the hundreds of paper towels wrapped up in my box.


High school wasn’t as scary as middle school. The building was about the same size, five floors strong of classrooms and students and annoying teachers. Then I supposed it’ll be fine. Because he’d be by my side. But he wasn’t. In the end, he wasn’t. He told me, gently, like the flow of a river, that this was the end.


I cried then. When was the last I cried so pathetically? It was when you left, I suppose. I screamed at the springtime blooming in the park, because why is it that it all ended in the season of beginnings? I headed down to the river, to pick up some pebbles. Eight for a wish. Eight for a wish that I can be happy.


If only you were here.


But you aren’t.


Even now, they tell me you are dead.


And sometimes, as the pebbles I count totaled up to twelve, I started to believe them.


Eight for a wish, nine for a kiss, ten for a bird you must not miss. Eleven is worse, and twelve for a dastardly curse.


I swept out the withered blossoms from my windowsill. April and May came and went. I wondered what I should do with myself. My homeroom teacher recommended me to the counselor, who did absolutely nothing—what a damn joke. I don’t know why, but I can’t be happy now. When I pick up pebbles, I always pick eight, or I pick one.


They told me I should study. I didn’t know what else to do, so I did. Studied until the world swirled around me like a kaleidoscope. And when I woke from my bouts of exhaustion, there are dots in front of my eyes. Dots that looked vaguely like shadows.


I got a scholarship, I supposed. Went to college, then to university, graduated with a decent degree, and then I got a job somewhere far away. It was there, I supposed. With a whole life buzzing in front of me, I forgot about our river. In the bustling streets of New York, in the realms of my tiny apartment downtown, was there any room for a river? I don’t remember if there was anything that made me happy, but there was no sorrow. If there is no sorrow, then it couldn’t be a bad life, can it?


One for sorrow, two for joy.


There were always two birds chirping outside the window, on the telephone lines. They were annoying, but nothing I could do about it.


So I forgot about you.


I forgot to pray, every night. There were no pebbles to collect.


I lived my life without you.


But in the middle of a thundering night, with my husband and a family of two kids, the doorbell rang. The doorbell rang and rang, so persistently, so frantically, that I had to pick myself up and try to calm my rude-awakening temper.


One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy.


The door opened, and in the doorway stood a person I did not recognize.


For over the many, many years I’ve thought of you, I’d never remembered to imagine you as a grown person. You were always frozen, a memory of the past, trapped in a place where the passage of time does not exist.


So I suppose, at that moment, the moment you showed yourself to me, even if you were dirty and disheveled and your clothes were torn, you were more alive than anything I’d dreamed of.


‘One for sorrow, two for joy,’ you chanted.


‘Three for a girl, four for a boy.’


‘Five for silver, six for gold.’


You looked at me now, expecting me to continue.


But I’ve forgotten.


I’ve long since forgotten.


‘Who are you?’ you asked.


I began to answer, but you quickly said, ‘Sorry, wrong door.’


The door slammed shut. The baby began crying.


The day after, I dug around in the apartment, found a box. A box of old, crumbling paper towels and pebbles. Eight for a wish. Eight for a wish. But seven for what?


I tried looking for you, but you were gone. Again. And this time, I think you won’t be coming back.

May 26, 2020 13:01

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Pragya Rathore
06:29 Jun 01, 2020

Wow, what a great story! I loved the beautiful words. Good job, Haruko.


Haruko Otonashi
05:19 Jun 04, 2020



Pragya Rathore
05:41 Jun 04, 2020

Please check out my stories too :p


Haruko Otonashi
05:42 Jun 04, 2020



Pragya Rathore
05:50 Jun 04, 2020

:p That would be great! Thanks


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Marsha Webb
10:09 Jun 04, 2020

Great story I really liked the use of motifs running throughout the piece and the sense of mystery you created. Well done!


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