Since we were already comfortable there after eating our lunch, the adults eventually decided to stay near the tents, so Ren and I had been given permission to return to the river and continue playing near it. I think about following them when they stand up, but the man next to me holds me back; he prefers that I stay here, for some reason.
The children's caretakers are still talking, from the moment they started eating lunch and drinking. It might seem like fun from a certain point, doing outdoor activities and creating a good socializing environment between the families, but apparently the urge to chat casually while drinking a beer proved stronger.
"I would like to go to Spain" Ren's father comments. He is holding a can of beer in hand, while three others surround him. "Did you stay there long?"
"No, I didn't" Kazuta Naoki replies, also drinking beer. "That place is very nice, but it's not for me. Besides the different climate, I didn't create that much familiarity with the environment. I decided to come back after a few days."
"That's so cool... I've always wanted to go to Europe, more precisely, Italy or Spain. Hey, baby!" shouts the man, directing his eyes to one of the two women, who are talking in a much more subdued manner than them, half a stall away. "We need to get to Europe before Ren graduates!"
Despite her husband's shout, Kouyama Mizuki does not move even an eyelid or hand to look. She seems engrossed in what she is talking about with her friend, my mother, whom we can also easily hear.
"Ren is a very good boy... I am glad to have such a friendly son. He is a very understanding boy" the woman says, looking at my mother as she reaches for the beer can on the floor. "Takeda is also an easygoing boy?"
My mother doesn't answer initially. Drumming three of her fingers on the grass, she seems to think a little. I am a little curious, since this may be the first time I will see my mother say something about me without her being aware that I am listening. It is said that mothers love their children unconditionally, but I wonder what they say about us.
"Your mother is a special woman, Kazuta" the man next to me says, certainly aware of my thoughts. "She would never feel any negative feelings about you... and she would never hesitate to talk about how much she loves you."
Before I can form any ideas, my mother begins to speak, and I fall silent.
"Yes, he is," she replies, in a serene way that makes me doubt whether she was really thinking about it before she spoke. "Takeda is a great boy, he always does what I ask, and he cares about me."
It seems that the man next to me is right.
It's not like I was a bad son; I listened to what my mother told me and helped her with some household chores that required a little more effort. But I wasn't exactly a synonym for a "quiet" son; I remembered talking very little and not being open to some kind of conversation. My mother liked to talk, wanted to know how I was doing, but I used to deny these attempts readily. Although in this recollection I was abnormally happy, the 11-year-old Kazuta was already a portion of what I was becoming: a closed person who doesn't think about himself.
"That's great," comments the other, "Being a mother sometimes proves to be a very complicated task, especially if our children don't cooperate... Do you intend to go back to work some day, Kaori?"
"I admit I would like to. But I don't feel like it now, at least not like I did before." My mother sold beauty products and cosmetics to make ends meet. It had been complicated at the beginning, but after a while she had a good amount of steady customers and made a lot of money from her sales. Perhaps because she was well known to pet owners, she had an easy time making a name for herself in the business. "And because of what I've already told you, it becomes even less considerable at the moment."
They stop talking for a little while, perhaps thinking about her words. There is no tension in the atmosphere, just two friends interacting. Two mothers commenting on the burdens they carry, and how happy they feel with what they have.
Or maybe not...
"The single life is pretty nice, isn't it?" questions Mizuki, now squinting at my mother. Her thin eyebrows are now arched, showing skepticism. "You must prefer it much more than married life, right?"
"Oh, I wouldn't say yes, exactly..." My mother smiles. She looks embarrassed, in that same way she had been in my memory of Ren, which was two years after that day. "I am fascinated by the idea of a life together... A family that loves each other... I know it's a bit idealistic, but I believe that there are perfect pairings for every person. And I believe that one day these people destined for each other will meet, and be happy together."
My mother looks at the woman in front of her, older and more serious, expecting some comment. But, to break her expectation, the woman initiates a jovial laugh, something I wouldn't expect from a woman of that appearance. She puts the beer aside, focusing her eyes on Kaori and her slightly surprised look.
"How old are you, Kaori?" she asks, laughing. "That was so different from what I imagined you would say, that..." Another dose of laughter, and my mother also cracks a smile as she sees her friend's reaction. "You are really amazing. I wish I had ideas as noble as you!"
"Thank you, I'm flattered," my mother comments, bowing her head with a restrained smile on her face.
"Mizuki was envious of Kaori" says the man next to me, causing me to snap out of my conversations. "She was a bitter woman, dissatisfied with the life she had."
I look once again at the woman talking to my mother, paying a little more attention: she didn't seem like a friendly person, really. Maybe that moment with my mother was a very short portion of her life, one of the few moments when she could have a drink and relax? But it is impossible for me to really know about this. After all, I never knew anything about this woman, other than that she was my friend's mother.
"For her, the freedom Kaori had was the ideal life for her."
"But my mother was not a totally free woman," I interject. I don't feel as if he is being fair. "We had several financial problems throughout our lives, and my mother has her limited movements, too..."
"I know that, Kazuta. And that woman over there knows it too. But that's not the freedom she wanted."
I look again at the woman, and then at the men, who are still talking in loud voices. And I feel a small shiver as I imagine that I know what he is trying to say.
"Your mother, for her part, is a romantic woman. And I'm sure you know that."
As I had already commented, I was not that close a son to my mother, not because she didn't try, but because I didn't want to. And because of that, I didn't have many opportunities to become truly cognizant of her feelings. But even from a distance, it was easy to observe certain things: the books my mother read, the movies she watched, the things she bought... She was not a person who ignored questions about love and its relationships, she seemed to be interested in the subject.
So you could already get an idea of what these women saw in each other. In a way, one would like to be like the other, even if, in my mother's case, this was just a vague thought, while for Mrs. Kouyama, it consumed her inner self and made her feel bad.
"It's like I told you," comments the elderly gentleman next to me, as we look at the whole scene in front of us. "People see life in different ways. But however people idealize happiness, they will never be satisfied to the fullest; there will always be something missing in their minds, because the minds of human beings work that way."
He is right. Maybe...
"Do you think my father was missing something? Yeah, well... He lived the way he always wanted to."
The man, for the first time since I met him, looks surprised. He probably didn't expect me to ask this question, for he turns his face to watch me, his small dark eyes cautiously observant.
"I honestly don't know if I can answer it."
When it was getting close to dark, Ren and I returned to our parents. Wet, wearing only shorts and slippers, the two boys looked exhausted. They ran close to their parents, only to meet them with red faces and vacant stares. Ren's father and mother were simply finished: the father, staggering, had sat down next to his green tent and was staring into nothing; and his mother, with a serious expression, lay with her eyes closed, probably trying to control her alcohol-affected senses.
My parents were in a slightly better condition. Maybe because they were younger, or maybe because they didn't drink so much. I have never ingested any kind of alcoholic beverage, so I am unable to say what it feels like to get drunk, but it is remarkable that it stirs people's senses, and this somehow pleases them.
Anyway, this didn't feel anything like a vacation camp, much less a reunion between family and friends.
Well, at least not to the adults. As it turned out, my friend and I were loving the ride.
"So, Take," says Ren, watching the scene of his parents (and mine) in a sort of induced ramble. "What do you think we should do?"
"I have no idea. Our parents don't seem too excited to do camp activities."
My parents, noticeably less drunk than Ren's parents, are watching us, across from each other, both propped up in the same folding chair. Looking at them that way, they look a lot like the couple they had once been.
"Don't think I'm weak like that, to be beaten by a few cans of beer" my father says, looking at us vaguely. As much as he says that, he doesn't look all that sober. "You guys want to play something?"
"Um, that's fine..." Kazuta starts, but Ren suddenly interrupts him, looking at my father:
"Have you ever been to a camp, Mr. Kazuta?"
"Yes, of course," he replies promptly. "I've even been here, more than once. Isn't that right, Kaori?"
"Huh?" my mother wasn't paying attention fully, so she is startled by the sudden mention of her name. "Oh, yes, that's right."
My father turns to us, smiling.
"She probably doesn't really know what she's talking about, but we've been here several times. It's a very beautiful and invigorating place, don't you think?"
"Yes, I do," Ren says, smiling. Obviously, they had the same thoughts.
"What, you don't believe me?" he asks, seeing the child's skeptical look. "It's true that it's been a few years since I've been in such environments anymore, and I'm a little unaccustomed to nature, but I..." A glimmer of a new idea seems to pop into his head. "You want me to prove to you that I've been here before?"
"What? Can you do that?" My child self asks, innocent, and Ren seems equally curious.
"Of course I can." Turning around, my father sees no sign of any movement among Ren's parents: they are practically asleep outside the tent. My mother is still awake, but doesn't seem very willing. "I'm going out for a bit with the kids, is that okay?"
"It's getting dark, be careful with their son" she says, drunk, yet mindful of what she says.
"Everything will be fine, no need to worry." He gets to his feet, looking at the two of us. The children are completely glazed over as they stare at the adult, suddenly excited at the idea of an exit through the trees at night. "Takeda, fetch the repellent from inside the tent. Put on some shirt and shoes, and get some alcohol gel; we're going for a walk!