Chapter 5:

A Ticket to Kumano

The Fall of Prince Hayashi

Back in high school, before I ever knew that I was leaving, the girls that sat around me were all fighting over Hayashi. At that point he was dating Imai for well over a couple of months, and yet these girls still had hope in winning him over. Hinata was an artificial blonde girl who sat in front of me all throughout high school and she was the craziest about Kota Hayashi. Turns out that she was also the president of the photography club.Bookmark here

That photo was equal to its weight in gold to all the girls. The fact that it was a polaroid photo also meant that no one else was ever going to capture the genuine smile that Hayashi had on his face for those short seconds. Hinata knew all this, and yet her mind didn’t cross the fact that she should have just kept the photo at home. The next day in school was like a warzone, with the goal being to grab Hinata’s photo by the end of it all.Bookmark here

I never more scared of women in my whole life than in that moment.Bookmark here

The teachers must have sent home ten girls that day. From a broken lip, to pulled hair, to even a girl getting the wind knocked out of her. Poor Hinata wasn’t spared either, as her position in the photography club was threatened by none other than the girls in the student government. It was hell. It was chaos. And somehow, the photo that Hinata carried in her phone all day went missing at the end of it all.Bookmark here

Maybe...she shouldn’t have left her phone in her desk during lunch.Bookmark here

Mysteriously the photo ended up in my wallet at the end of the day. All the girls swore that Hinata must have eaten the photo to save its value from everyone else. Some of the guys around the school thought that some girl was probably making a voodoo doll of Hayashi. In reality, the photo was in my desk at home, where I didn’t touch it till the day we all moved out. I never did anything weird with the photo. I never hung it on my wall or bragged about it to everyone. Instead, it just felt like if I had a real photo of Kota then our friendship was real. We never hung out in public because of his demands, so we didn’t have photo together. The most we had was the class photo we took at the end of each year. Still, that was a hundred miles away from being an actual photo of me and Hayashi.Bookmark here

I snuck the photo in the back of my opaque phone case, making sure it was secure. Just in case anything happened to my phone, I kept a copy of the photo in my suitcase. This photo was the real ticket back into Kumano. It would prove to everyone that I was Hayashi’s friend, and that I was someone they could tell the truth to.Bookmark here

“Souta? Are you almost done packing?” My mom shouted from the kitchen. “It’s been two hours. At least eat lunch.”Bookmark here

I spent two hours packing? That felt like thirty minutes at most! “Yes Mom, I’m coming!”Bookmark here

Hearing the suitcase zip up. Feeling the added weight on it when I pulled it up. It was almost like dipping my depleting motivation in a rejuvenating potion. This was all really happening. I was going to Kumano and everything was going as planned. I had packed everything I needed, so the only thing left was money.Bookmark here

Money brought you everywhere in life. It gave you access to whatever you wanted, as long as you had the means of getting it. These past three years, I’ve been saving up my money for university. My plan was to share an apartment with someone else I’d meet in university, pay half the rent and still have enough money to do whatever I wanted. Everyone planning a beach trip together? The money was on me. The boys and I going bowling? I would get the best food. People liked how money looked, how money smelled, how money felt. No one was an exception to that golden rule.Bookmark here

I kept my money in a small safe in the closet. I did put most of the cash I’d made in the past couple of years in my bank account, yet a nice solid stack sat in my room, waiting to be used. After working nonstop for three years, the rent for my future apartment in Kumano was probably worth a fourth of the stack of money I had and with my money saving skills, I could probably cut that fourth in half.Bookmark here

What you really mean is that by being a cheapskate, you can save more money on stupid university stuff.Bookmark here

I put the money into an envelope and put in a small backpack. There was nothing that screamed ‘foreigner’ more than a backpack and suitcase combo, but I had no choice. It really was the best way to travel without having to constantly open and close your suitcase. I looked at myself in the mirror, the old backpack, the shiny suitcase, and the look on my face screaming for sleep. If I wasn’t ready for this all before, I was surely ready now.Bookmark here

There was only one obstacle left in my way: saying goodbye to Mom.Bookmark here

Dad didn’t really care about my leave too much, but for Mom it would kill her to see me gone. Even if it was just for a month. My mom had this irrational idea that I was always going to stay by her side. She thought that I needed her for everything because of my own issues. Who else would make me soba at night or ask me if I ate? It was all her job in her own mind. I was forever that middle school kid who held onto his Mom after school, asking her to never leave.Bookmark here

I went into the kitchen and saw two a small lunch box on the table. I popped open the top of the box to find rice with with onigiri. Knowing my Mom, the onigiri was stuffed to the brim with pickled plum. It was her favorite flavor, and it grew onto me as time passed by. While my stomach was debating on whether to munch into the food now, my mind knew that it was better to eat this on the way to Kumano.Bookmark here

Watch out. You’re cheap habits are poking through Souta.Bookmark here

If mom wasn’t here, there was only one place she would be. Her at home office. After I started working, my mom was stuck sitting at home all day by herself. Deciding to make herself useful, she decided to get back into her old job before marrying my father: being an editor.Bookmark here

With the box lunch in my hands, I made my way into the home office. Slowly opening the door, I caught mom on the computer. She looked so different working. Her face wasn’t as nearly soft as it was when she was editing, illuminated by the harsh white light of her laptop. She was working from home for the past three years, with the exception of a couple of mandatory team check ins. Mom’s fingers danced around her keyboard, eyes completely focused on the screen. There was a moment in my life where I needed her to acknowledge me to feel whole. But growing up showed me that life was better off if your parents knew less about you.Bookmark here

“Mom,” I whispered. Her head snapped away from the screen, her eyes softening immediately. “-I’ll be going now. The train should be coming in twenty minutes and I don’t want to be late.”Bookmark here

With out another word, she got up from her chair and ran up to me, encasing me in a tight hug. Mom always smelled like home. I took in a deep whiff on her and felt myself calm down. She smelled of the rice cooker she often stood by, like the bread she toasted every morning. No matter how far away from home I am, mom would always hug me like this.Bookmark here

She pulled her head near my ear. “Do you have to go? Can’t you spend one last summer at home? With the family?”Bookmark here

I sighed and pushed mom off of me gently. “I’ll be back before you even notice.”Bookmark here

Her face deflated with my rejection, and I knew that if I stayed any longer, she would guilt me into staying. So without another word, I left the room. With the only noise in the whole house being the rolling of my wheels, I opened the door and stepped outside. Rolling the suitcase in front of me, I closed the door behind me with a solid thump.Bookmark here

Today’s weather was almost spring life. The whole week before today felt like how I felt: restless. Even if someone wasn’t the cause of the sun’s misery, it would still hit you with hellish heat. Yet today was a break from the horrible weather and was like a throw back into the early spring. Even the birds were chirping of joy rather than hiding from the sun. It was a heavenly day for everyone today. A great day to travel.Bookmark here

My house was close to the Onomichi station nearby, only a couple of blocks away on foot. The transition from houses to buildings started with my house and ended at the huge station I’ve known from day one. The station was so busy and popular because it was the place where a lot of transfers took place. So someone on a train to Onomichi could get off here and go to another train path to wherever they needed to end up. One of those places was none other than Kumano, the exact place I was going to be staying for the next month.Bookmark here

Even though I lived in Kumano, the town I stayed in was a smaller part of Kumano. It stayed on the edge, near the last train station stop of the Kumano directed train. Kind of like how this part of Onomichi grew around the station, that part of Kumano grew around it’s own train stop. Yet, that part of Kumano grew like a parasite rather than the beautiful plant growth of my new hometown.Bookmark here

The top of the station was in sight in the matter of seconds. It was a huge silver building, shaped like a small dome. Underneath that dome was a flock of people and underneath that was the train platforms. It was an underground subway, something usually reserved for stations closer to the main cities. Like the dome was the tip of the iceberg called the Onomichi station.Bookmark here

“Need a taxi?”Bookmark here

I looked up from the floor and found myself a block away from the station. Lines of taxis surrounded the station, like a barricade protecting a castle.Bookmark here

“Need a taxi pal!” Someone shouted. “I’ll give you all a discount!”Bookmark here

Pathetic taxi drivers.Bookmark here

Nope, there was no way that I was falling for that scam. It was ten times cheaper to take a train to Kumano than a taxi drive. I crossed the street and dodged the taxi drivers, making my way to the station entrance. In comparison to last week, the station today was filled to the brim. Workers, students, mothers and teens. Everyone was outside, with a plan in mind and a ticket in their pocket. I was no exception to them. Almost everyone looked like me, a backpack and suitcase in tow. Except my trip was anything but a vacation. It was a trip was into the past, the three years of avoiding Kumano running back to me at full speed.Bookmark here

“Looks like father was right about one thing,” I whispered, walking to the nearest cashier line.Bookmark here

No matter how fast you run, the past always catches up to you.Bookmark here

“Next on line!”Bookmark here

A woman my age flashed a corporate smile at me. “Hello sir, where are you heading today?”Bookmark here

I stopped my red suitcase and smiled back. “Hello, I’ll be needing a ticket to Kumano.”Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.