For a while we just stared at our surroundings. Instead of the cold and melancholic landscape of 2006, we were facing a beautiful sunny environment: it was eight o'clock, and the day was just beginning, especially for me and my parents that day. And for Ren and his family too.
The man, without saying anything, extends his hand to me, and I hold it, and immediately we change places again. Still in the same memory, for the weather is no different, we are in front of a beautiful landscape; hills everywhere, many trees and somewhat thick vegetation, and a river, a very long river that can be seen further away. Behind us, further up the hill, is a road, which is where we came from. We are in front of a very large space in the middle of all the vegetation, with plenty of room. And there is already a family there.
It is the Kouyama family: Like Ren, his father has light, somewhat naturally messy hair, and an equally inviting smile. Ren has a lot of his father in him. His mother, on the other hand, is a little different, with darker hair and a more rigid appearance, with hardened features. The three of them are standing near a car, sitting on folding chairs and talking normally.
Ren is not much different from the last time I saw him (in memory two years after this one). He is just a little smaller and thinner. And maybe his face doesn't carry as much serenity as it always did. But he was already a boy with good intentions, and that I am sure of.
Another car appears, on the little mud road between the trees. Black, this car brings the pseudo Kazuta family, and indicates that our walk would really begin. Stopping next to Mr. Kouyama's car, my father gets out of the car, cheerfully.
"I knew you would arrive before me!" my father says, approaching the man. I don't recall any sign that they were close, but perhaps they were just adults treating each other cordially. Actually, the Kouyama family was closer to Tachibana Kaori, my mother.
"How was the trip, did you have any problems?" asks Ren's father, shaking my father's hand. My mother, in the back, gets out from inside the car, along with Kazuta, who runs towards Ren instantly. As the adults begin to talk, I look at the children intently.
"Hi, Take," Ren says as I approach him, smiling, "You seem much more excited than usual."
My child self tries to say something, but only a breath of air comes out of his mouth, along with a relieved laugh. I feel like I like to see that; they are quite different airs, the ones this Kazuta exudes, almost as if I am not myself. But, this time, in a good way.
"I'm excited, too. Would you like to look around? There's a river down there, I wonder if the water is clean."
I, still panting, affirm, and the two children run toward the river. Mr. Kouyama asks where the children are going, and they shout that they are going to see the river, without slowing their pace. Meanwhile, the adults begin to pack their things, taking their utensils out of the car, ready to start camping.
"Mr. Kouyama's wife is not looking very comfortable, don't you think?" the gentleman next to me questions, and I look at the woman's face.
She does not look as young as my mother, as her face has sharper features and prominent cartilage, as well as her thin eyebrows and apparent expression wrinkles. She is not an ugly woman... she just seems to be feeling uncomfortable, and this is visible on her face. She looks intently at my parents and her husband talking, still sitting in her chair, with a can of juice at her side.
"Really," I comment. My voice comes out hoarse.
"She's feeling guilty," he says. I have nothing to say, so he concludes, "Guilt sometimes consumes and leaves people absorbed in their own despair. I'm sure you already understand this very well, correct?"
"Anyway, she's not knowing how to deal with what she sees. But still she didn't think it would be worth it to ruin the trip and the camp, and she came. Maybe it was thanks to that selflessness of Ren's mother that you were able to create this memory."
I have no idea what the man is trying to tell me, but I think I understand Ren's mother's situation. Even if I do understand it, however, it is impossible to accept it.
"We're coming after you and Ren," he says, walking toward the river. And I follow him.
The place is fairly unexplored by human hand, so there isn't quite a trail of sorts to follow; passing through the middle of trees and large rocks, listening to the sound of the waters becoming louder and louder and percolating through our ears, we follow after the children. Ren and Kazuta are at the edge of the waters, where there is a ground, half dirt, half sand, and the quiet, soothing sound of the river movements consuming us.
"The water is pretty clean," Ren comments. He moves closer to the water, to touch it, and puts his fingers under its surface. "And the temperature is nice."
"That's great," Kazuta comments, smiling. However, neither of them takes off their clothes or threatens to enter the water. Ren returns close to Kazuta, sitting down beside him, and they both look forward, gazing at the beautiful landscape before them, a river surrounded by trees and hills.
"That's a pretty unspoiled place here," Ren comments, "I find it amazing how there are several places like this on earth, even after so many big cities out there."
My I say nothing. In front of Ren, I didn't have much to deliver: I just received. I listened to everything he said, a young man who was always reading and discovering new things, Ren seemed to be much older than he really was, and I had no desire to interrupt him.
"Do you think it would be cool to live in a place like this, Take?" he asks me, still observing nature and breathing deeply.
"I don't know...how would I play with you? What about Rena, or Ichise?"
Ren laughs graciously, while my self keeps an eye on his movements.
"Really, you have a good point." I see a fish move in the water, and I take my eyes off my memory a bit, but I can still hear everything carefully, "Sometimes I think it must be really cool, living in places like this. Even if I didn't have so many friends to play with, or so many places to buy things, I'd still feel really good about sitting here every end of the day and watching this place."
He finally turns to me, fixing his glasses, which have run away from his eyes.
"Do you think I'm weird for thinking like that?"
"No, I don't," my self says, smiling at the boy. "I don't know if you've talked to Yui about this, but she has the same ideas as you. She said she likes nature."
"Yui? That same Yui who seems to hate everything and everyone?" He and I laughed at his comment. "I'm kidding, I've actually talked about it with Yui too, more times than I can remember. She is older than us, and talks in a rather different way. As much as she seems hostile and moody, she's a witty girl." He lowers his head. "But it's not like I like her, right?"
"Is it really?", Kazuta questions, and Ren punches his arm as they laugh some more. Cheerfully, they are helping me remember many things that I had no idea had happened.
About this ride, I didn't particularly have any relevant memories. Because of the numerous photos my mother took of the place, I had quite a few memories about the landscape, especially the places where we went hiking; but I couldn't remember anything about the conversations I had with Ren, for example. And from what I can see, we talked a lot, since our camp lasted three days.
And just as it was interesting to watch our childhood versions playing in the creek in the city, it is very nice to see our best moments once again... I feel so sad that these moments are currently impossible to be redone, that I feel covered with nostalgia and sadness.
And I can't tell if that is good or bad for me.
"Takeda! Ren!" we heard a voice calling our names. We would probably have to follow our parents' schedule, and we couldn't just disappear and do whatever we wanted all the time. From the voice, that was Kazuta Naoki, looking for the children.
"We're here!", Ren shouts back, waving to my father, who walks down the incline taking care not to trip, making a lot of noise as his sneakers come in contact with dry leaves and break the branches. "Your father doesn't seem very used to nature."
We see the man descend quickly, sliding along the ground a few times, threatening to fall.
"I don't know if he usually does that," even the man next to me is watching my father and his struggle with nature, and seems to be finding it funny, "but he's pretty clumsy."
We spend hours getting things ready for the camp. This was our resting place, our base, and we were creating a pleasant atmosphere. Covering the cars with tarpaulins, our fathers had taken great care with the setting up: pitching very large tents, they both spent hours giving instructions to the women, telling them where to place the stakes and poles and how to use the hammer without hitting their own fingers. They pitched one tent and our mothers pitched the other. And we, the children, were in charge of the inside: taking the materials from the cars and putting them away outside.
After everything was ready, with a lot of suffering to get the cooler out of the luggage, we would finally start our camping activities. Since we had spent a long time concentrating on setting up camp, it was almost lunchtime by the time we finished.
Starting with the most basic of our food supplies, my father got us some instant noodles, and we ate slowly in front of our tents while the adults chatted. My father was quite fond of talking about cities he had visited, and how different things were there. As a man who enjoyed traveling, my father had many stories of faraway places to tell, and the Kouyama family listened attentively to what he had to say. Mrs. Kouyama, although she did not interrupt his talks at any time, did not look into his eyes as he spoke.
Ren's father, on the other hand, talked a lot about his job, because he had recently been promoted to the position of supervisor in his sector, and he had a kind of disagreement with the supervisor of the neighboring sector. He worked in a journalism company, so he said, and was feeling a bit tired. While they were exchanging experiences, drinking beer and getting into a kind of bubble that only grown men understood, my mother pulled up a conversation with Ren's mother, moving a little away from the men.
"Are you working, Mizuki?" she asks her friend, and the woman, looking at my mother, seems to relax her features a little, even if involuntarily.
"I'm not, it must be over a year now..." she takes a sip of her beer.
"She doesn't seem to feel uncomfortable around her mother," the man next to me comments, without taking his eyes off the scene. "Maybe because she doesn't recognize her parents as a couple, she doesn't seem to feel guilty about anything when she talks to Kaori."
I had noticed the same thing. Kouyama Mizuki, Ren's mother, was covering up a sin at that moment; a sin so heinous that the feeling of remorse shone on her face. However, this feeling of guilt that she felt became more evident while she was talking to the men, and was not visible when her eyes turned to my mother. An easy woman to interpret...
"Not easy to interpret when you don't have the necessary information," the man says sternly. "For your mother, this is just a trip to get some air and forget her troubles. Besides being a good way to entertain you, her precious son."
My mother is a very strong woman. I am sure that not all women accept what my father had asked of her. The idea of being left on the pure whim of the man who claimed to love her... leaving a son for her to raise practically alone... Maybe my mother could have held him back, stopped him from leaving, and convinced him that he didn't have to leave us. But maybe she would just be holding on to something that would not be the best for her, and that only becomes clearer when I look at these memories, and see that she is not a frustrated woman, but a happy person.
Looking at her, I have a clear sense that this woman, Tachibana Kaori, had no dependence on my father, or even on what he could offer. She was such an internally happy woman that just having me beside her, smiling, was enough to make her feel fulfilled. And she didn't give a damn what her ex-husband was doing, or if he would even remember her. The way he treated her, she treated him, and they were satisfied with their relationship.
Come to think of it, my mother was as free as my father was. And unlike him, she was fully aware of her responsibilities, and she fulfilled them.
And that made her a much better person than my father.
"I am too," my mother continues the conversation with her friend. "Since the accident."
"You don't think you could work, at all?", MIzuki questions, and my mother shakes her head.
"There are a lot of restless animals. Sometimes it's hard to control them. And besides..." She looks at Kazuta, who is chatting with Ren amiably, while stirring his noodles inside the package. "I want to spend a lot of time with my son. He's growing up, very fast, if you ask me, and I don't want him to feel lonely."
The woman smiles at my mother, closing her eyes and showing off more of her accentuated expression wrinkles.
"You are a great mother, Kaori," she says. "I wish I could be just like you."