Grasping These Fleeting Memories
Hojo Haruto laid on the ground. Bleeding. Dying.
Victim of a high-speed hit-and-run at night, Haruto’s limp, unconscious body laid at the end of a blood trail 30 meters long.
“No… No! NO! I- Ambulance- Police- … I need to call... I need to- I-”
Collapsed in panic onto the sidewalk was a woman of 23 with hard, crying eyes. Her dark brown hair would be naturally curved if it wasn’t in such a mess. While normally kept neat, stray strands of hair from her ruined hair-do showed that she was at a breaking point. Her face would be considered beautiful if it wasn’t covered in her tear-soaked hands. Her name was Sawako Fujiwara, Haruto’s girlfriend of 3 years.
Throughout her entire life, Sawako had sought to maintain a mature demeanor. Until now, She only really cried out loud when she was a baby. Perhaps it was because she never really had anything she truly loved until now. Perhaps it was because she wanted to save face in public. Perhaps it contradicted her intended persona. Perhaps she was just too cold. Perhaps a combination of all of these factors, but that didn’t matter now.
“Now what? Now… Come on, think! Think… CPR… Yes, CPR. Do what you were taught. On the up… lift the chin... Compressions… please- please- work!”
Her emotions came like a tsunami crashing against the calm beach. It gnawed, stung, bit, tore, and stabbed at her. It shredded her flimsy farces and broke down her fabricated idealistic walls. She was left alone and afraid with one thing on her mind: keep pumping.
Sawako was frantically trying to do the most she could. She tried to remember her training but emotions overwhelmed her. She isn’t a stranger to blood. She had seen countless fatal injuries and dealt with many cadavers without flinching while she studied for her medical degree. Their names were foreign to her, nothing but a tag for a lab or project. But right now was different. Here was a man who she had talked to, cared for, and bonded with. Here laid the love of her life, Haruto, weakly grasping at the last strands of life. The last parts of her dreams were slipping away and Sawako would do anything to save it for a moment longer.
“10 compressions… air… repeat… 10 compressions… air… repeat… 10 comp- I-”
Sawako tried to calm down by speaking to herself. She had commonly used this strategy for times of stress like tests and presentations. Now, sitting in a growing pool of blood pumping with panicked CPR, Sawako felt her world collapsing.
An average human holds 5 liters of blood.
“No, go away.”
Her college professor’s lecture voice rang out to Sawako. Where was he? Was he behind her? Near her? In her head? Sawako didn’t know and didn’t care. The only important things in this world right now were her and a dying Haruto.
Broken ribs can cause internal bleeding within the body cavity.
“No… shut up!”
Punctured neck arteries are fatal and lead to certain death.
Severe head trauma is rarely survivable. Damage to the medulla, cerebellum, and brain stem is fatal.
“SHUT UP! Shut up shut up shut up! It’s not true! Go away! He’ll live… He’ll live… Just keep pumping… keep applying CPR…”
CPR only provides a 50% chance of survival if applied immediately. After 20 minutes, the victim will…
Sawako stopped listening. She drowned out the professor with her sobs and pleas. Her proud base of medical knowledge was swept away by irrational hope for survival. Her cool demeanor and calm head were eroded by sheer determination. Her heart was taken away by love. She kept pumping.
That boy won’t survive. He’s a goner if I’ve seen one.
The droning professor was replaced by a new voice. This was the voice of the emergency room doctor. A person that shouldn’t be here witnessing Sawako desperately acting to save a dying Haruto.
His skull has been smashed. You’re a medical student, aren’t you? I’ve seen you around here before. Look at the x-rays yourself. See those lines? Those fragments?
Her tears diluted the pool of blood she sat in. A maelstrom of tears and blood spiraling and spreading through Sawako’s fears. She kept pumping.
Give it up, girl. Go home. He’s not waking tonight. If he’s ever to wake it’ll be tomorrow. You’re covered in blood and you look tired. Get some sleep.
The words met deaf ears.. She wouldn’t leave Haruto. She’ll never leave Haruto. She never would. Not if the gods smite her and the world turns against her. Not until she saw him laugh again. She was powerless against this fate but she continued doing useless compressions, hoping for something to change.
The world faded around her. The voices dispersed. The street slowly fazed out into nothingness. Soon it was just Haruto, her, and the night sky. Nothing else meaningful in an empty world.
“I hate this world. I hate this reality... It’s not true. None of it... I wish it wasn’t true... Why…”
Above her head shone the two stars, Hikoboshi and Orihime, the two star-crossed lovers cursed by fate. Soon it would be Tanabata, the annual Japanese festival celebrating when these two lovers meet once every year.
A lifetime ago, Sawako used to adore them. They were the romantic couple that brought her fireworks and fantasy. Now, she despised them. She envied them. There they sat, shining in luminescence and mocking Sawako as she futilely tried to save her love dying before her. As the world faded into nothing, Sawako glanced up at the two brilliant stars.
“It’s not fair… They meet every year but I will never be able to meet Haruto again… It’s not fair… Please… just one more day with him… Just one more day…”
Sawako’s dream faded into nothingness and she approached the nightmare she rejected called reality.
Sawako awoke with a start. It was July 6, the morning after the accident. The warm summer air hung around the room. In the distance, the sharp cries of Japanese cicadas buzzed out from nearby trees. Far more distant was the loud Osakan traffic, indicating that the day was in full swing. Heat waves danced through the air, obscuring vision and disrupting the scenery. It was a normal summer day with nothing noteworthy.
“Ah, just a dream. But that crash really did happen, didn’t it? If only…”
A timer rang out, signaling that it was time to prepare lunch.
“Phone… where is my phone…” Sawako fumbled around searching for her phone. Normally, the first thing she would do after waking up was to call Haruto to make sure he’s not late for work. The couple would then get into a small argument over Haruto grumbling about Sawako being a morning person.
“Dial Haruto… ah, that’s right.” Sawako’s fingers hovered over the call button. She had moved out of habit to wake Haruto up. Her body has not realized that he wouldn’t pick up.
“Ah, it’s 11 AM! I’ve never slept in this late. What is wrong with me?”
Sawako jumped out of her futon and quickly rushed through her morning procedure, hoping to catch up to her everyday schedule. It was uncharacteristic of her to rush things. As a result, tear marks were still slightly visible from the night before, her t-shirt was half tucked in, and her normally well-maintained hair had a few stray strands. If a normal Sawako saw herself right now, she would probably call her a mess.
“Ok, what’s next… Food. Right, food. Do I prepare breakfast this late? I shouldn’t skip breakfast, that has health consequences…”
Sawako almost never talks to herself like this. She only spoke to herself to relieve stress. Speaking directions to herself gave her a sense of direction and reassurance that everything was normal; that reality continued on its slow, monotone march of typicalness.
She reached for her shelf, instinctively pulling out two bento boxes to prepare. Pausing a bit, she looked down and realized her mistake.
“Ah… I got Haruto’s box too. Well I should prepare his lunch anyways… The doctor says that the chance of him waking up today is very low, but that doesn’t mean it's impossible right? I should prepare his lunch too, right?”
Sawako had always made lunch for both of them. It’s not that Haruto couldn’t cook, but his job just didn’t give him the time to cook. He also had a habit of sleeping in. It’s fine though, Sawako secretly likes to prepare his lunch, she can sneak in extra food for him in case he’s hungry or tired from work after all. In truth, Sawako knew that Haruto wouldn’t wake by lunch time, she just wanted to have a sense of normalcy, even if it meant uncharacteristically wasting food.
“Ahhh… What do I use? The plastic spatula or the stainless steel one? But I only use the stainless steel ones for when people visit…”
She picked out her two choices. One was a plastic spatula she picked up for a few hundred yen. She bought it with her “if it gets the job done, then it's good enough'' philosophy.
Another was an expensive steel spatula that she kept in pristine condition. It was one of the many gifts from Haruto. Her house was littered with all the gifts he would give her.
As a result, her kitchen was a mismatch of cheap mass-produced plasticware from her frugal spending habits side by side with pricy brand named cooking utensils he’s been giving her. Although Sawako would chastise Haruto whenever he brought something expensive, over time she came to secretly like how much care he puts into buying gifts. She wished he would spend more on himself than on her though.
“I’m spending too long on this. Seriously, it's just spatulas. Let’s see…” Sawako twirls around each spatula inspecting them.
She stops as she flips over the steel spatula. On the back were residue marks of a permanent marker that were forcefully scratched and washed off. Although whatever the marker messily wrote isn’t readable now, Sawako remembers what it used to say.
“I hope this helps you while you’re in America. Love you!”
Sawako had berated Haruto for writing on the spatula.
“What are you trying to do, poison me? You can’t put ink on things we use to cook!”
“Ah, sorry I forgot. I tried with a pencil but the words didn’t stick.”
“Good thing they make pencil lead out of carbon now. It’s fine, we’ll just wash the ink off… Wait, is this permanent marker??? Haa… I don’t think this will be usable anymore. How much did you spend on this? I’ll refund you.”
“No it’s fine, the marker said ‘nontoxic’ so it’s probably edible.”
“‘Nontoxic’ doesn’t mean edible! Putting foreign substances in your body can be dangerous. Seriously Haruto… what will I do with you…”
“Well… did you like the gift at least?”
“... I think it’s fine.”
“I see you trying to hide a smile.”
“Shut up, I like it. I think it’s sweet as long as it doesn’t kill me when I use it.”
“Haha. I got it because I was worried that you would be too cheap in America. I heard they make everything out of steel there! Cars are made of steel. Buildings are made of steel. Chopsticks, forks and spoons are made of steel. I bet even the futons are made of steel. That can’t be cheap! You’ll die trying to save money before you even get your medical degree!”
“It’s not that bad over there, but thanks for the thought… I’m... I’m happy…”
Sawako chose the steel spatula.
“Patient D34 is in the D ward.”
Sawako hurried through the bleak, spotless hospital halls. She had ran around the hospital all day, frequently asking the clerks and arranging the financials. Now, Sawako finally got to see Haruto.
“It’s just like your internships. Everything is familiar. Right is storage. Left is the x-ray room. Nothing is wrong. Nothing is irregular. It’s just like your internships. The only thing that is different now is that it’s currently night and I usually come during the day. Everything is as it should be.”
A few stray strands of hair flew out as Sawako raced through the hospital, telling to herself that her reality was still the same.
“Doctor! Doctor! What’s his condition? Head trauma? Has the damage to the hippocampus been repaired? Surely the current medical research on neuroplasticity says the damage is repairable right?”
Sawako ran towards the startled doctor in the hallway.
“Fujiwara-san, I’ve already updated you on Hojo-san’s current condition this morning. Nothing has changed, I’ve just checked up on him. As of now, he’ll be physically fine. He has a rare case of amnesia that will slowly sap away his memories. Like Alhezimers but more serious. It’s the best we could do, I’m sorry.”
“Surely then it’ll just be like normal retrograde amnesia then? We can solve that right? In America I’ve seen reports of upcoming studies on restoration of the hippocampus through stem cell transplants. Surely using cells from human blastula will specialize and restore the brain. Or we can maybe use mechanical neurolinks? I hear in America they are developing microfibers to send signals to the brain. Parts of the brain’s damaged functions can be aided by a computer then. We can-”
“Sawako, these things are all 20 to 50 years in the future. Get back to reality, please! I told you, his case is total amnesia, we don’t believe he’ll be able to remember anything in the past and he most likely won’t be able to form long term memories in the future. Sawa- I’m sorry, Fujiwara-san, I’ve known you for many years since you frequently intern here. I’ve never seen you so unnerved, it’s like a different person. Calm yourself, return to that stoic demeanor you always have, come back to reality, then talk.”
“You’re… You’re right. Sorry, how embarrassing.”
Sawako calmed down a bit, giving the doctor a chance to think and respond.
“He’s in the door behind me. He’ll probably wake in a few minutes. Fujiwara-san… as a bit of personal advice not from doctor to client but from friend to friend… Sometimes these unfortunate things happen. Humans call it ‘fate’. Perhaps some things are destined to happen if certain choices are taken, like crossroads of life. Don’t drift too far from reality, you will only hurt yourself chasing the impossible.”
The doctor walked down the hall towards his next patient. Replacing him came an old nurse to treat and monitor Haruto.
“Fujiwara-san, you’re here already? Long time no see. My, I just got the message from the front desk that you’re coming to visit him, you must have really rushed down here, although it probably helps that you’re already familiar with the hospital.”
“Thank you. Long time no see as well. I’m surprised you still haven’t retired.”
“Don’t mind me, my dear. You look tired, you should really get some rest after this. Hojo-san, you have a guest!”
The nurse peeked into the room. On the hospital bed sat a young adult male with messy black hair, some stitches on the back of his head, and scars on his arms. His normally fair face luckily suffered minor scratches that have already healed. Decently fit and wearing the typical hospital patient’s clothing, he sat staring at a tear-stained diary with his eyes running up and down the page as if he was trying remember something.
“Ah.” Hojo Haruto looked up and jumped out of his bed.
Sawako peeked in behind the nurse. For the first time since the accident, she felt at ease after seeing Haruto awake.
“Haa… You shouldn’t be jumping around like that, you know, it might open up your wounds.” Sawako sighed with her classic half-grin.
“Well I’ve been injured so much already, another scratch wouldn’t hurt. Apparently, I’m invincible.”
“Hai hai. The doctor told me about your condition. You’re free to leave anytime now.”
“Well let’s go then, Sawako-chan!”
Sawako’s face blushed bright red, “Hey I thought I told you to stop calling me with ‘chan’ in public, you’re seriously embarrassing me.”
“Yes, yes sorry. I couldn’t resist,” Haruto cracked a laugh.
She was relieved that Haruto was still able to joke around like his normal self. It’s just like old times. Perhaps even the doctor was exaggerating Haruto’s amnesia. Surely, if Haruto could act like himself in confidence, then everything will be alright. Sawako continued to reason with herself in her mind as they walked.
“Stop stumbling around, you’re not that injured and you’ll crash into the staff,” Sawako warned as she turned around, seeing Haruto obviously acting drunk.
“Haha, I’m just messing with you.”
“Yea I know, but not here. You can act like a clown all you want outside.”
Sawako held out her hand, intending to help guide Haruto. As Haruto pulled out his hand to hold hers, Sawako had a slight inaudible gasp which dispersed her iconic half-grin and replaced it with a slightly saddened face and an intense glare.
Here were the marks that disproved her theory. Red and brown scar marks slashing their way around Haruto’s hands. Violent gashes of dried blood that had intruded on the unchanged reality Sawako hoped to maintain, like a group of snakes hissing and threatening Sawako’s fantasy. They were the mark that things had changed, that her nightmares were real, and that fate has made its move.
“Ah, my scars. Yea my hands and back are covered with them. Do they scare you?”
“No… it's just that it's uncomfortable seeing you hurt like that.”
“Ah sorry, they’re just scars though.”
Once outside, both of them breathed a sigh of relief. It was dark out and the air was nice and cool. The full moon shone above, basking the bustling city of Osaka in a soft shade of white. In the cosmos, the stars Altair and Vega can be seen approaching each other.
“We’re quite far from home, wanna call a taxi?”
“Taxi? We already spent 6 million yen on your treatment. Haa… I drove here with my car. I prefer we drive back so I don’t leave my car here. How did you think I got here?”
“6- 6 million? How did we get that money? I remember we barely have 2 million in our joint account. Sawako, you didn’t… did you?”
“I spent my college funds. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“But Sawako, how will you find the money to continue your doctora-”
“Shh,” Sawako angrily puts her finger on Haruto’s lips to quiet him. “We’ll figure it out later. Your life is way more important than some flimsy paper with a degree on it. And plus, I don’t want to talk about-”
Haruto hugs her before she can finish with tears forming on the ends of his eyes. “I promise I will repay you! Thank you.”
Sawako warmly strokes the back of his head, making sure to avoid the stitches. “Let’s go, and stop hugging me so much in public, it’ll embarrass both of us. I thought we promised that we’ll keep it to only hand holding at most when in public.”
“Ah… I forgot. But even if I remembered I would have hugged you anyways.”
Sawako watched the two stars Altair and Vega as they drove home under the cool Osakan summer night. Tomorrow was Tanabata, a day of festivities. She had planned this Tanabata out weeks in advance. She would make sure that tomorrow was the best day in Haruto’s life.
The pearly white sands of the beach were spotted in miniature clamshells and grey pebbles. The ocean waves rhythmically approached, broke, and withdrew. With every motion, the steady waves dampened the sand, slowly dragged away silt, and eroded memories. The pleasant ocean wind caressed the land, announcing the arrival of a sunset that painted the skies and clouds in countless shades of red and orange. The sun casted its rays on the quiet beachfront, causing the land to softly glow with vibrant colors of life, although the scenery didn’t give any signs that anything living stirred about.
The only signs of life were two figures running down the untouched scenery in glee. With their left sides facing the radiant sunset, they casted long, smiling shadows across the white sand.
“Sawako, hurry up! We need to get on top of the cliff before the sunset is over! We might miss the romantic scene!”
“We wouldn’t be so late if you didn’t take years pretending that you were taking pictures of me while using a fake camera! I can’t believe you made me do all those embarrassing poses.
Haa… Seriously Haruto, what will I do with you…”
Although the girl named Sawako ran as fast as she could to catch up to Haruto, she thoroughly enjoyed every moment. Her outfit was a mess from the ocean breeze but her hair was somehow well kept without any stray strands.
“We’ve been running for so long, are you sure this cliff even exists? This beach seems endless.”
“I don’t know! Why does it matter if we get to the cliff anyways, isn’t the spirit of us running right now making this whole thing worth it? Live in the moment and all that?”
The two playfully shouted at each other as they ran, hoping their voices would overcome the ambient ocean wind. Their feets left footprints on the sand. In a few minutes time, the waves would wash away those footprints, like memories against the tides of time. But that didn’t matter now, they were living in the moment: a phenomenon uniquely experienced by people that loved something to heart.
“Haruto! Slow down!”
No response. Perhaps he didn’t hear her. Perhaps her voice didn’t reach him. No, she must reach him. She was determined to reach him. No amount of physical or mental exhaustion would stop her. She would reach him even if it cost her life. After all, he was her life, and she was his.
Running, running, running. Running until her legs fell off and then running some more. Even if her body collapsed and failed her, she would continue to find some way to run, no, to chase. She was chasing him. She was chasing her dreams.
“Ah, finally caught up eh? Took you long enough. Come on, I see the cliff up ahead. It looks like it really does exist.”
“Let me take a breath… Seriously, did you have to sprint like that?”
“Can you make it the rest of the way?”
“Woah, a quick and confident reply. Well, you seem out of breath, so you want to walk the rest of the way together?”
Haruto puts out his hand, lending it to a tired but determined Sawako. She strikes her classic half grin in response but it disappears once she observes his hands.
“Ah… I see…”
“Hmm? What’s wrong?”
Haruto’s hands were flawless. They had no scars or blemishes. They were ideal, picturesque, and perfect. Sawako came to the realization that this was impossible.
“Say, Haruto… Let’s not rush to the cliff so fast.”
“Why is that? We might miss the sunset, you know?”
“That’s fine, we can see the sunset here anyways. Let’s stroll down the beach together. After all, isn’t that what couples do in your anime and manga? Isn’t that what you want?”
“Well, if you insist, I’m fine with that...”
They walked together, side by side, towards the cliff while watching the waning sunset. Although the scenery was breathtaking, Sawako noticed that Haruto had his attention only focused on her.
“If we’re going to miss the sunset, why are we walking to the cliff Haruto?”
“You already know, right? It’s to end this dream.”
“...Yes, you’re right. This is only a dream…”
Sawako knew that this was just a dream. A false piece of fantasy created by the canvas of her mind and separate from reality. It will have to end someday. But, before then, she would make the most out of it.
As the couple walked, the world faded to white until it was just Sawako and Haruto walking towards nothingness. It didn’t matter though, what was important was that he was by her side. They were together.
Before being thrown out from her dreams back into the nightmare called reality, Sawako remembers the soft footsteps on the wet beach sand, formed from two people cursed by fate. They were walking towards, or perhaps chasing, these delusional dreams they called happiness.
A timer rang out next to Sawako, but she was already awake.
“Hmm? 6:00 AM already? I guess I need to hurry then.”
She quickly finishes her morning routine, making sure her face is clean and typing back the few stray strands of hair.
This timer has the same tone as Haruto’s, she thought, although Haruto always sleeps past his timers so they’re useless. Sometimes I really wish that Haruto will pay attention to his timers for once, they might prove helpful in case I’m not there to wake him up.
Now… where did she put that kimono? She sorted through her memories. Before arriving at the hospital, she had spent a fair amount of time looking for one that would calm her down. She ended up picking one that calmed her mind a bit when she saw it. It was a bright red with flower patterns throughout it. It even came with an umbrella of matching style. Although it was an uncharacteristically expensive purchase for her, today was important enough for it.
Ah, there it is. Strange, today I’m thinking to myself now. Sawako noted that she wasn’t speaking to herself like yesterday. On a day they had planned for many weeks, she felt relieved more than stressed for some reason.
A few more hours until I have to meet with Haruto. Ample time to prepare dinner for the festival. Sawako stuffed Haruto’s bento box with everything she could think of: Eggs, fried tofu, onigiri, tako; much more than what Haruto could probably finish.
Ah, I need sushi too. But the raw fish might spoil before dinner. Maybe we can have it for lunch? Ah but that would ruin the surprise dinner wouldn’t it? I guess I’ll just have to prepare it on site during the festival…
We’ll need snacks in the car. Although I don’t usually let people eat in my car, maybe Haruto will get hungry. Maybe he’ll skip breakfast because he woke up late. Maybe he’ll forget to- no, he won’t forget. He can’t forget.
Sawako fumbled around trying to think of every scenario and perfecting every detail to make this day perfect.
I can’t let him know that I’m letting him eat in the car though, if so he’ll start buying food and then bringing it to me to share as we drive. Or maybe he'll end up trying to surprise me with some sticky sugary food that will spill over and cause an uncleanable mess. Those things are guaranteed to happen with Haruto. I need to make sure this is a one time thing so I can maintain the decency of my car for the future… the future with him that will surely come… What am I thinking? Of course Haruto will act like that in the future! He’s always acted like that, he doesn’t change... He shouldn’t change… I hope he won't change...
Sawako prepared food with that stainless steel spatula as she worried about the future.
Haruto greeted Sawako in a sloppily worn traditional Japanese robe. Sawako was relieved, that messy look was characteristic of him after all, although it seems that Haruto is already wide awake which she didn’t expect.
“Ah, you’re here. Where did you get that expensive kimono?”
Sawako greeted him with her classic half-grin. She wore the silk kimono she prepared and traditional Japanese sandals. Her hair was tied up in a bun with just a handful of stray strands and she carried a red umbrella with matching flower patterns in her right hand. In her left hand she held 2 bento boxes she had spent the morning cramping and overthinking.
“I thought this was a special occasion so I put money aside to buy this and I spent the morning making lunch for us sinc- hey are you scanning my body????”
“Ah, caught, yea sorry I wasn’t listening. I thought you were normally beautiful with western clothes but you might be too beautiful in this Japanese outfit. I might have to hide you because at this point you look better than a diamond and people might just steal you away-”
“Yea ok creep. Haa… Your flirting always ends up becoming ramble and it kills the mood. Well I guess I’m glad that hasn’t changed…”
Sawako was happy. Haruto is acting like he always does with his mood killing explanations and mindless blabber.
“Glad to see you Sawako-chan.” Haruto ambushed Sawako with a hug.
“Hey!” Sawako gave Haruto an angry pout, which Haruto responded with a slight chuckle.
They ended their short conversation abruptly, unconsciously staring at each other’s faces with brewing emotions.
Yes, this was right. This is Haruto, I could recognize him in any crowd. Everything is alright. Everything will be alright
“Come on, the festival won’t wait for you and you’re already late.”
Sawako took Haruto’s hand and led him down the road towards the Osakan coast, where the festival celebrating 2 star-crossed lovers was held every year.
The city was filled with life. The laughter of schoolchildren given the day off replaced the honking horns of Osaka. The streets displayed paper lanterns and star imagery instead of regular commercial ads and newsletters. In every corner danced the fanciful colors of yukatas and kimonos. Families reunited, men were given the chance to be fathers and women were given the chance to lecture these fathers for being too carefree with the kids. The city’s soul was celebrating for a brief moment in a year of boring regularity. It was lively, fun, and refreshing. Today, everything was different.
“Hey, hey Sawako-chan look over there! That bridge looks like it came straight out of samurai manga!”
“That’s the Kioku bridge isn’t it? That bridge that was built by the Hosokawas in the Muromachi era. The one you want to watch the fireworks on, right?”
Sawako remembered the discussion fondly. Haruto had pulled out a whole 30 minute long slideshow presentation to convince her to watch fireworks on that bridge. She was quite surprised since parts of it were even up to standard with her research projects she would do for her medical degree. He pointed out the optimal lantern viewing angles, how the sunset would look better on the bridge, the geography of the river delta, and the detailed history of the bridge. Although some of his information and math were clearly off, she was amused enough to give in to his enthusiasm.
“Did I ever say that? I can’t remember but I would definitely remember a bridge as impressive as this. That thing is wide enough to hold a thousand people I bet, and it's made of painted wood too.”
“Well I wanted to watch the fireworks from a tall hill but you kept pushing that stupid bridge. Well I guess it’s too late to change the plan now. Haa… Let’s hurry to the market to get something to eat before they sell out.”
“Race you to it then?”
“Knowing you, you're definitely going to get lost. Let’s go together, I would like that a bit more anyways. You can even call me ‘Sawako-chan’ for the day.” Sawako tries a little too hard to hide her intentions. It was obvious that she wanted Haruto to act the way he usually was, but she also had to balance Haruto’s friendliness with public and social standards. Haruto sometimes acts too sweet and carefree for his own good after all, although that’s only something Sawako pretended to dislike.
“Ah you finally came to it. Surrendering? Well then let’s go arm in arm like those couples in high school romances.”
“Hey, wait. Stop. Haa… fine, I’ll allow it. Keep it to hugging at most though! Hey, are you listening? You’re squeezing me too tight, I can’t breathe!”
After a few more minutes of angry pouting and joking apologies, the couple laughed it out and hurried to the market.
“Hey! Get back here, Haruto!”
Haruto blitzed through the colorfully crowded festival streets, running away from a pursuing Sawako with fire in her eyes.
“I can’t believe you made me ask that poor sales clerk if they sold doujins! When I catch you I’ll-”
“It’s your fault for falling for it! I mean, the title was a dead giveaway! This is what happens when you only know western titles, what’s wrong with asking a question? You worry about embarrassing yourself too much! Who cares what other people think? If you really want to not embarrass yourself, stop shouting as we run!”
Sawako followed Haruto in silence, realizing Haruto was right and she was uncharacteristically embarrassing herself by yelling like a madman.
Yes, this is the Haruto I know. Someone who doesn’t mind being the clown as long as the people he loves are happy. Someone who borders on the line of annoying and wholesome. Someone who I remember fondly. Sawako tried to hide her smile.
She will keep chasing him until she catches him. Something deep within her told her that she must chase him. Chasing, chasing, and chasing. Chasing the Haruto she loves.
“Haa… Peace and quiet.”
Sawako laid back against the old wooden bench, listening to the distant murmurs of the festivals. With one eye open, she lazily watched the soft swaying leaves of a Japanese Maple Tree next to her as they danced with the cool ocean breeze. Higher up, clouds loftily slept in the summer sky, slowly moving like a herd of cattle being shepherded by the wind. The afternoon komorebi cast patches of light and shadow over the dreamlike vibrant kimono of a relaxing Sawako.
She didn’t mind it though, after all this was her brief moment of peace where she didn’t have to worry about embarrassment and social expectations. The only thing she had to worry about was Haruto. Wait no, why would I worry about Haruto? Haruto is fine, right?
“Sawako-chan! I got some dangos from that stand over there!”
A disruption carrying a handful of multicolored dangos broke Sawako’s tranquility. She was fine with that though, he was the only person that she wouldn’t be angry at for breaking her peaceful state. This was normal. Yes, this was the Haruto she knew and loved. Everything is as it should be.
“Eh? Dangos are too sweet for m-”
“Ah don’t worry I got some takoyaki too to balance it out.”
Typical Haruto, always following his heart rather than his mind. Not thinking about the consequences but living in the present. Sometimes I’m jealous of his ability to not worry.
“It doesn’t work like that! Eating both will cause your stomach bacteria to overreact and you’ll be spending the day on the toilet.”
“Ahh, more tako for me then. Come on, eat the dango. I’ll sing you a song to convince you. You like this song after all. ♪ Dango, Dango, Dango, Dango, Dango Dai-”
“Hai hai, stop singing, you’re embarrassing yourself. I’ll eat it since you clearly bought too much and you’ll get diabetes.”
“How can I get diabetes if my body is already used to the high concentration of sugar from your sweet pouts and-”
“Your flirting really needs some work, that was such a good chance too and you messed it up. Anyways don’t talk when you eat or we’ll have to visit the doctor for the 2nd time and- Ah!”
As Sawako lectured Haruto, a giant red Japanese maple leaf smacked Sawako’s face, surprising her and making her drop her half eaten dango.
“I guess that’s what happens when you talk when you’re eating, Sawako-chan.”
“Ahh… that dango was pretty good too. A shame.”
“Like it? Don’t worry I actually bought 5 more and I was preparing to- hey where did I- Ahhh I put them face down on the bench… Do you think they’re still safe to eat? 5 second rule or something?”
“99% of the bacteria gets on food on 1st contact with the ground, also I think they’ve been there for a good minute. Haa… Haruto what will I do with you and your absent mind…”
Sawako lets out a sigh but she’s clearly enjoying Haruto’s accidental humor. A small gust picks up as Haruto fumbles around with his dangos while Sawako watches, amused.
“Hey the wind is picking up, watch out for more leaves!”
Haruto jumped around, avoiding leaves as they fluttered down towards the couple. Sawako watched, amused.
“Looks like it’s going to rain. Good thing I bought this festival umbrella.”
“Rain? Since when was it going to rain? I should have checked the weather report this morning, damn.”
A strange expression flashed through Haruto’s face. Something uncharacteristic of him. Something between the lines of puzzlement, pondering, and despair. Sawako didn’t get a good look but it unsettled her. No, it’s probably nothing. I’m just overthinking things.
A light shower started. A quiet drizzle tapped on the brims of colorful market fronts and old stone paths, covering the ground in a thin layer of water that reflected the grey clouds overhead.
“Well you woke up so late I don’t think you could have. Well it’s fine though, get under my umbrella. It’s something you would like since you’re all about that sappy couple romance thing.”
“That I am, I’m glad you recognized my specialty, Sawako-chan. But isn’t the male supposed to hold the umbrella in these situations?”
Yes, it’s the same Haruto. There’s nothing I need to worry about.
“You just lost 5 dangos, I don’t trust you with my new umbrella!”
“Ah don’t worry, I wouldn’t lose something so important to you.”
“Hai hai… It’s getting cold, let's head to the indoor area before the weather gets worse.”
“Ah, I wanted to cuddle together, but on second thought that might have been dangerous. If we cuddled I might not have ever wanted to move again.”
“Save your thoughts… We can cuddle at home…”
“Well then, if I have that guarantee, Sawako-chan let’s-”
A strong gust blew her red flower patterned umbrella out of her hand and into the air.
“Haa… I’ll get it before it flies into the ocean. Head indoors before you get a cold. I’ll be back soon.”
Sawako chased the umbrella as it twirled across the sky. As she ran, she looked back at the lonesome figure of Haruto waiting for her by the bench. Behind him was that colorful Japanese Maple Tree, swaying in the wind and scattering the vibrant leaves she had previously observed. It was forced to shed it’s brief moments of beauty as dictated by the changing winds.
One day, the tree will be stripped bare by the world and expose its bark to the harsh world, but for now it can continue to try to maintain that perfect, dreamlike image.
There it is again. That uncharacteristic look of uncertainty on Haruto’s face. Like he’s lost or confused. It feels weird, it’s wrong. No… I must be worrying too much.
“He’s fine, I know it. He’s the same Haruto I know.”
Sawako spoke out to herself with an uncertain voice as she chased that flower patterned umbrella.