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East Asian Drama Romance

I’ve known Haruka for a long time. Well, if six years counted as a ‘long time,’ that is.

We first met each other in senior high, where we were in the same class for all three years. Back then, we didn’t really know each other that well so the first three of those six years might as well be zero. A week, at most. We were nothing more than classmates, then. Familiar faces, acquaintances of the lowest order; we might as well have not known each other. And if her name had been Yui instead of Haruka, and her face sharper, and she wore glasses—it probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference. I would have called her Yui in my head and not think of her for the next few weeks or months.

It was after senior high, when we both enrolled in the same university in Tokyo, that we started to grow closer to each other. The both of us had left our quiet hometowns and had come to the city, to a world that was completely indifferent to our existence, to where we didn't know anyone besides ourselves. It'd been entirely by chance that we had enrolled in the same school together, and as the months passed we'd both ultimately grew thankful for the fact.

Neither of us turned out to be the social type, we quickly learned, and somehow we found solace in the fact. We didn’t need to force ourselves to talk, to say anything, or make ourselves step out of our comfort zones. Instead, we grew closer in the silences. Those moments where we sat facing each other in cafés, as the snow fell outside, where we sat sipping our coffee without a word, where Haruka sat reading and I sat watching the snowflakes dance in the white air. First snow in Tokyo.

It was that winter, last year, that we started getting more involved with each other. Her birthday was on the twenty-second of December, so we celebrated her birthday together, just the two of us, in her apartment. Instead of cake, we made instant ramen and decided we were content with just that. From the refrigerator, Haruka pulled out four cans of beer and toasted each other. “To a long life,” I joked. She giggled.

Slowly, as the night wore on, and the clocks struck twelve, we were out. We had downed her entire stock of beer, and by then beer cans strewn her living room. I couldn’t remember how many cans we had drunk, but it was at least four each. I could hardly remember a thing, in fact. All I remember was that, maybe from a little touching, then some kissing, we turned out the lights and climbed into bed.

Everything else turned into a jumble of memories afterward, muddled and unclear. I recalled feeling as though my head was nothing but slush, as though my brain matter had been replaced by alcohol and four cans' worth of beer sloshing around in my skull. The cold crept in around the edges of my memory, on the fringe of everything; and I remember the smell of sweat, the heat between us. A saltiness, a dull feeling as though a toy hammer were repeatedly hitting the top of my head. And I felt my head turn cold, like a chilled martini.

Only one thing stayed with me that felt clear, real.

It was that, right as I was nearing the edge, Haruka was crying. She’d dug her nail into my back, her legs wrapped around me, and was crying, sniffling. I had asked her, “What’s wrong?” But all she said was, “It is my first time,” her words muffled between her sobs. And back then, I hadn’t thought much about it. I was drunk, unable to think about anything. So I just went on with it, and held her for the longest time after we finished, hearing as she cried, sniffling more, off into sleep. It was by at least three or four a.m. that I went out of her house and called a cab home.

For a whole week after that night, I was unable to reach her. No matter how many times I called, she’s never there to answer. She didn’t even come to class. The next week, I finally came through, but all Haruka said was that she was sick and hung up. For the entire following week, it was back to my same routine: call, call, and call to no answer.

It was only on the third week, on a Friday, that she finally agreed to meet me. We decided to meet at the park. Seeing each other for the first time in what felt like forever, we kept silent in the beginning and said nothing. We simply walked on. There didn’t seem to be anyone around. The ground laid white beneath our feet, and each step brought a quiet crunch to our ears. Overhead, a few birds leaped from branches into the winter sky. The clouds gray, the sun nowhere in sight. It was just the two of us, white mist blowing through our noses. Everything silent.

Eventually, Haruka stopped and held my hand. I looked at her and saw her red cheeks. She tightened her grip, and I swallowed a hiss. As there was nobody around, we stood there for what seemed like forever. We kept silent, as we always had, and somehow I felt like I was peering into a dark well. Deep down, only darkness laid visible to the eye. I could see the bricks and the moss growing here and there, but I couldn't see any further down. When I drew the bucket up, a dark liquid, darker than the night sky, came from the black void that was the well. When I let it down and drew it up again, it carried a crimson-colored liquid instead. That was what it felt like right now, standing by her side. I felt like, in the three years at university, I had grown close to her. But now? It’s like I couldn’t even understand her. She was now a vacuum where all my thoughts and questions disappeared to.

“I’m scared,” Haruka finally said, “of the future.”

I looked at her. “Wh-What do you mean? What’s so scary?”

She pressed her lips. “It’s so uncertain. I feel like I’m drowning, like I’m falling apart. Like my life is falling apart, tearing at the seams. I’m me, yet, at the same time, I’m not. I feel like I don’t have a future.”

“What do you mean?” I said, incredulous. “Don’t say that. Of course you have a future.”

She looked at me in the face. “How could you say that? How could you be so sure?”

“Like, shouldn’t you be a little more optimistic—”

“How could you tell me I have a future when you can’t be sure yourself? How can you be so sure of the ‘future’ you see me having?”

“Life is unpredictable. Like, who knows what the future may hold? Maybe you’ll be happily cradling a child in your arms—”

“I don’t want that!”

“Haruka, it’s just an example. Like, who knows, maybe one day you’ll be working at a dream job—”

Her lips quivered, her eyes watering. The look in her eyes made me shut up.

“You don’t understand. What if it’s not the future I want? What if I actually have ruined my life?”

“Haruka—”

“I’m scared. Can’t you see that? I don’t want any advice. I don’t want to be told sweet words that every adult tells us. Saying, ‘Everything is possible!’ like it is nothing. I don’t want it. I’m tired of the fast life. I can’t even rest.”

“Why don’t you let loose?”

“Let loose?? This has been the only way I know to live. If I let loose, I’ll get blown away in the wind and I’ll never find my way back. Time is against me. Can’t you see that?”

“Haruka—”

“Please… I just want someone that understands.”

I pressed my lips. “I’ll try.”

“Will you?”

“I will.”

“Even if the world is against me? Even if reality doesn’t feel real anymore? Even when the world tries to pull the rug from under me?”

“Yes, Haruka.”

She pressed herself to me. “Thank you.”

I hadn’t known what to say back that. I was afraid of saying the wrong things. Even as I said I’ll try to understand, I couldn’t understand what she’s trying to say to me, what she’s feeling. It all seemed so odd, so much so that it eluded me.

“I’m just afraid you think I’m a liar,” Haruka said. “I feel like I’m a fake. I can’t even trust myself now.”

“I believe you.”

“Really?”

“I do.”

Things went on like this for a while longer. Then, for another week, she disappeared again. Contact her as much as you want, she wouldn’t pick up the phone. When we met up again, though, she was acting weird. She had a bright smile on her lips the whole time, and she spilled her coffee and didn’t care, and she gave me these presents every time we met. She gave me a novel called Norwegian Wood, a photo album of hers, a painting she said would look good on my wall. She even gave me a teddy bear that she said she cherished as a child. It was Valentine’s Day, then, so I assumed it was a Valentine’s gift that came along with the box of chocolates she gave me.

Then, on February 18, a few days later, her body was found washed up along the Tama River. She had drowned herself. I failed to notice sooner what she’d been planning, and I’d failed to save her. Reading the book she gave me, in a frantic effort to comprehend what just happened, it only made things worse. The book tore me apart. And slowly, even I had to stay at home and disappear for two weeks. I couldn’t get it, couldn’t understand, couldn’t comprehend why such a young woman would do that.

It was only years later, when I’m older, that I had the ability to see things better. I realized how foolish I had been, how naïve I had been, and how late I was to realize that fact. I was far too late by far too many years, and deep inside I regret that fact. Every couple of years, I take a trip to the Tama River, to where her body was reportedly found, and imagine what she’d probably been thinking before the end. What she was feeling was beyond me, now. And now I regret that I had never gotten the chance to hear her full story.

Maybe I could’ve saved her.

June 07, 2021 15:54

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