Chapter 2:

The Pleasure in Solitude II

Backward Steps

First Memory: Kanzaki Hina, 2011Bookmark here

Hina and her mother turn left, and I am alone again, next to the old man. I am sure that his intention in bringing me here was not only to thrill me by watching the girl I have been dating for a year and a half putting sand and dirt in her mouth, but I also don't feel the slightest desire to risk talking to him. I'm sure I'll be going down paths I wouldn't want to if I do that.Bookmark here

"What is Hina's mother's name?" he questions me. I turn my head to the side instinctively, as I have no desire to give in to what I assume will become an interrogation, but the man does not intend to leave me alone.Bookmark here

"We are only here because of you, Kazuta. There is something you need to see."Bookmark here

He starts walking in the direction in which Hina and her mother had gone. I decide to follow him, finding it strange that neither my cheap cloth sneakers nor the old man's beautiful leather shoes make any kind of sound when having friction with the sandy soil. Nor do they even get dirty.Bookmark here

"Don't forget that we are inside your own mind," the man reiterates, probably aware of my sudden doubt, "so obviously we are not able to change or create anything new in what we are seeing."Bookmark here

Ah, I see. So there is no need for us to be silent, or the need to hide to observe anything; we are like spectres.Bookmark here

We walk in the same direction as the mother and her daughter. After the square, there is a very narrow road, which, when you turn left, leads to a corridor with houses on both sides, a very clean and airy environment. Children are running behind us, it seems that the school term for older children has recently ended, and the square, which was not very busy before, is now beginning to fill up. Bookmark here

I see the father of my childhood friend, Ichise, sitting on a bench and chatting happily with a woman I don't recognize. Probably Ichise is over there, playing with his friends, and maybe even I am among them too. After all, our town is not very big, so most of us have known each other since we were very young. But I am not able to recognize any of the children, it would take more dedication, and now I turn away from there to follow the child who would one day be my girlfriend.Bookmark here

"Do you know what season we are in?" the man asks me, muffling a little the sound of the children behind us.Bookmark here

I observe my surroundings a little. Since the man touched me, when we were still facing a perennial and incessant pitch, I began to recover my senses, all at the same time. In addition to hearing and sight, I could now taste the dryness in my mouth, smell the earth and trees, and most of all, my touch picked up every noisy movement of the wind, every silent step on the ground. Bookmark here

Using my recovered body skills, I pulled some air into my lungs, observing the dryness of the air and the heat I felt. Glancing at the elderly man diligently accompanying me, I begin to think that perhaps he is suffering, with such thick clothes in such a hot environment.Bookmark here

"Summer," I babble, perhaps a little too low.Bookmark here

"Yes, but do you have any sense of the year as well?"Bookmark here

Maybe I do, but I still need to observe better, I think. Ichise was running in the square with her friends, and Hina was playing in a sandbox, in kindergarten clothes. Taking into account that my friends and I were on average four years older than her, we must have been about ten years in the past.Bookmark here

We reach the Kanzaki family. The two walk slowly hand in hand down the street. The street is very quiet, since neither they nor we are saying anything, and there are no other people on it.Bookmark here

Their house is in the end of this street, I remember. My own house wasn't on that street, but it wasn't far away either. A couple of streets over from here. It wasn't exactly because we lived nearby that we became so friendly...Bookmark here

"Did Hina and her mother always make that commute to their house?"Bookmark here

Obviously, I wouldn't know how to answer that. Or maybe I did... I keep looking at the two who walk silently in front of us. By this time I must have been old enough to remember things, but I particularly have no relevant memories of this time, or of the two of them...Bookmark here

Suddenly, they stop. We stop equally, observing the two of them. They are looking forward, there is probably something there, but it is quite small, since we cannot see behind the back of Hina's mother. Maybe a cat, I think.Bookmark here

"My mother asked me to bring this here for you, Auntie", a childish voice says, monotone. The woman thanks the person, and I move a little to look at the owner of the voice, who I was already quite aware of who it was: myself. Black hair slicked back over my head, a look that seemed to avoid contact, and the casual clothes of someone who certainly hadn't gone to school that day. After all, my classmates were standing behind me in the square. Bookmark here

"You are Miss Tachibana's son, aren't you? How big you look, long time no see. Do you remember him, Hina? Kazuta-kun has taken care of you enough when I was away..."Bookmark here

Hina points her finger at my young self, who watches her with languid eyes.Bookmark here

"Onii-chan!" she says, in a loud tone.Bookmark here

I feel very nostalgic watching the scene. I didn't remember that, didn't remember my young self at all, nor Hina treating me as part of her family. I admit that makes me a little happy, though....Bookmark here

"Anyway, I'm going now", my child self says, already turning around.Bookmark here

"No, wait!" Kanzaki Mei, Hina's mother, makes my little self turn around again, half suspicious. "Tell your mother that I plan to have a small celebration for Hina's birthday, and that she and you are invited." She lifts the bag my young self had given her, which probably had a cake in it, considering the name of the confectioner's shop on the bag. "Hina would love your presence there."Bookmark here

"Would love!", Hina repeats. I move closer to them and see that the two women are smiling, friendly, and little Kazuta remains inexpressive.Bookmark here

He nods, walking away. The Kanzaki continue walking down the street, while little Kazuta turns to the right, which is where my house is.Bookmark here

"Who do you think we should follow?" the man questions me, perhaps just wanting to revel in my confusion. But I have absolutely no intention of giving in to whatever game he had in mind.Bookmark here

Without answering him, I follow the woman and her daughter.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

Hina and Mei lived in a modest house, even more if compared to the other families around. Two floors high, with a rather old metal gate blocking partially the vision, and the kanji inscription of the family name, Kanzaki, the house looked quite minimalist from the outside, and I knew it was like that on the inside as well.Bookmark here

Hina lived with her parents and her older sister, called Rena. She was only a year behind me in school, so I saw her face around a lot, and I was even friendlier with her than with Hina. Both of them, both younger and older sisters, liked to talk a lot, talked openly about everything, and had no trouble at all in making conversation. And that was basically perfect company for me.Bookmark here

"Let's go inside," the old man says to me.Bookmark here

"Why? I already know my girlfriend's family."Bookmark here

Hina and her mother are closing the front door of the house now, and the old man, ignoring me, strides over the gate of the house, getting his feet off the ground. I try to imitate him, thinking to myself that I want to get off the ground, and I succeed without any resistance; I am floating.Bookmark here

The man makes his way to one side of the house, and I walk with him there. When I look at Rena and Hina's rooms, both with their lights off, I think I already know what the man intends to do.Bookmark here

"Hina's room is the one on the left," I remark, and the man affirms, as if to ask me just that. As if it were the simplest thing in the world, he passes through the walls of the house, and in an instant he is inside Hina's dark little room. I follow him, entering without the slightest effort.Bookmark here

Very small, Hina's room is simple. Its walls are white, the bed has a headboard and details in pink, and the blanket, perfectly arranged, is a garish pink, with princess prints. I feel a little guilty seeing this, since the Hina I remember, my girlfriend, is quite shy about her home and her intimacies, and she would hate it if I entered her room without her being there.Bookmark here

Especially if it was Hina from kindergarten.Bookmark here

"It's right here" the man says, looking at the calendar on the little table in Hina's room. There it says it's 2011. "Right here we'll have the information you need."Bookmark here

I have no idea what that means, of course. What would I have to see in 5-year-old Hina's room? Maybe some dolls, a child sleeping to the sound of stories and tales that her mother would read to her? The man next to me, still serious, still direct, sounded more and more mysterious in my eyes.Bookmark here

"Hina has always been the opposite of you," he says suddenly. "And you are surely aware of that."Bookmark here

Of course I am, I think. This is exactly why I became interested in her and her sister. I felt that I needed, perhaps, a little more warmth in my life, something beyond the laughter of my classmates as I ran around town or my mother's hug at the end of the day. They had something different... an inner glow.Bookmark here

"You don't understand why" he says, and I state, without looking at his face. "Since when did you become interested in the Kanzaki family?"Bookmark here

"Since I was young," I say, immediately.Bookmark here

"Hmm... so you've been like that since you were younger, correct?"Bookmark here

Like that?, I almost ask, but at that moment the bedroom door opens with a loud push from the other side. Hina enters along with Rena. Hina throws herself on her bed, without even changing clothes, throwing away the effort of whoever made her bed. Rena, behind her, looks a little more impatient.Bookmark here

"Why are you like that!", Rena questions, watching her sister mess up her bed, "You should calm down, you keep breaking things because you're like that!"Bookmark here

Promptly ignoring the scolding, Hina begins to laugh, banging her legs on the bed. It was strange to be watching this, I felt rather like an intruder, and I was. That was Hina's past right there, surely.Bookmark here

"You annoying thing, don't ignore me!" the child Rena grabs her sister's arm, and what should become a disagreement turns into a joke, as Hina grabs her sister back and they start to snuggle in the bedroom. They both fall out of bed, laughing, and continue playing animatedly, while the old man and I watch them.Bookmark here

After a few more giggles, they stop and calm down a bit. Hina sits back down on the bed, and Rena goes to the corner we are in, where the little table is. There she takes out some coloring pencils and a sheet of paper.Bookmark here

"I'll get your pencils, Hina, for an activity at school tomorrow" Rena warns, looking at her little sister. "Thank you. Now I'm going to my room..."Bookmark here

"You can stay here if you want" says Hina. Rena doesn't seem to understand what her sister means.Bookmark here

"Don't you want to be alone?" asks Rena, and Hina denies with her head.Bookmark here

"It's more fun when we're together, isn't it?"Bookmark here

Rena smiles as she approaches her sister.Bookmark here

"Maybe it really is, but I also really like being alone, you know? It's in those moments that I get to..."Bookmark here

I didn't quite understand what she said after that, I guess I stopped paying attention for a moment. But that wasn't it: the girls continued to talk, and I didn't hear anything else. The old man turned his gaze once more to me, and I knew something was wrong.Bookmark here

"Looks like we're going to have some problems," he says.Bookmark here

I don't know what he means. But his accusatory look is back, and I'm starting to get angry with this so distant man's treatment. Why is he making me travel in memories with him, if I'm causing so much disgust in his heart?Bookmark here

"That was something intact in your memory," the man said, watching me. "Probably a teaching you had in your subconscious. But now that memory is hazy; for some reason, you are blocking it out."Bookmark here

What do you mean, blocking it out? Isn't that something from my mind? Don't you call yourself God? Do something about it!Bookmark here

"That's troubling" the man says. "It seems that just revisiting simple moments is not going to be enough. Come on, we need to go another time."Bookmark here

"What? Why so suddenly?" I instinctively pull away from the man, but that is useless. I feel myself being pulled close again, and we begin to fade from the plane we were on.Bookmark here

I was beginning to feel a little cozy looking at those children, who were playing, smiling, and at this moment drawing with their pencils on the floor, acting in the way that I didn't quite remember, but I knew it was the way they had always been. Rena and Hina were always like that, they always cheered me up, they were people I could always turn to. But not for venting, of course; they were people I could concentrate on and forget about myself, just by looking at their smiling lips and their melodious laughter. Bookmark here

Maybe I was using them all this time.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.