Chapter 15:

Such as Glass V

Backward Steps

In a movement of sudden excitement, my father is making his way toward the trees. With my friend's parents in a heavy sleep, between tents and chairs, there is no opportunity for him to ask permission to take Ren with us, so he just take him. My mother is partially awake, but she has no objections, or at least no mood to say them; so we are now off with Naoki.Bookmark here

"Irresponsible," I commented to the man next to me. The memory of that day was not so clear. Since the reaper had decided that we needed to stay with the adults, I had no idea what I had talked about with Ren that afternoon, but from what I remembered of this trip, it had been full of fun times. The time playing with Ren, the time telling stories in front of a campfire...Bookmark here

And this moment.Bookmark here

"Do You think?" the man questions me. "Your father just wanted to hang out with you guys for a while. So you guys wouldn't get bored, I suppose. Or maybe he just wanted to prove that he had been here before... we'll never know the big truth."Bookmark here

It's true. Maybe this memory could still answer that... if it were a totally true memory.Bookmark here

A thought occurs to me.Bookmark here

"Do these things happen exactly as they were in the past?"Bookmark here

My companion does not answer me for a while. When I start walking, to follow the three men who enter the darkness of the woods, he follows me, slowly, as he says:Bookmark here

"I imagine that you are able to figure this out on your own."Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

As well as the way to the river, there was no path or anything that would make it easy to get around in this huge forest environment, so Kazuta Naoki, the only adult present on this sudden excursion, opened the way voraciously with a knife he had brought along to walk with us. With wide steps and rigid muscles, the slender man was making his way with ease, making it much easier for the two boys to pass.Bookmark here

"Be careful with the branches, some of them might pierce your sneakers!" he warns, in a stiff voice. The man seems a bit tense, but this sounds more like a bit of concern for what might happen to the boys.Bookmark here

We are behind the adventurous trio. My steps don't mark or make any difference on the ground, but the air and everything around me is extremely vivid, and because we are in an environment untouched by urbanization or signs of deforestation, everything seems more invigorating to me. The beauty of the place makes me intoxicated, with leaves of various hues, and the sky, which becomes darker by the minute, gives me a genuine feeling of freedom.Bookmark here

As Ren had said, observing this every day would be something wonderful.Bookmark here

"Where do you think your father is taking us?" asks Ren to me. He can't hide his excitement about what they are doing.Bookmark here

"I have no idea," I reply. "But it looks like he knows a nice place around here."Bookmark here

"Pay attention to what you're doing!" my father yells. Apparently, the adrenaline is causing the alcohol present in his system to quickly drain from his mind. "Please don't hurt yourselves while we are here!"Bookmark here

"Yes, sir!" shouts Ren in return, mimicking a salute as he walks. He turns to me again, "I really want to see where we end up!"Bookmark here

My then self does not answer him, as he is busy paying attention to the ground. This patch is full of mud, perhaps because we are near some stream or river source, and it seems that some parts are deeper than others. Naoki instructs the boys to follow the path he was making, and they remain silent, paying attention to each step.Bookmark here

"Irresponsible," I repeat, again, and the man next to me closes his eyes, with an expression of giving up.Bookmark here

"Yeah, now it gets hard to deny that" he says. "If it was just you, who is his son, it would still be understandable, but he's with Ren too, and without his parents' knowledge."Bookmark here

I don't quite understand what the man's intention was in showing me these things. If he wanted me to see good things in my father, he must know that he is not succeeding. I can't say he was wasting his time, because that memory is precious, in many ways. But for what I imagine is his goal...Bookmark here

"We're almost there, hang in there!" Naoki announces to the boys. They are finishing walking over the muddy region, and now we are on a terrain that extends upwards, like a hill. And the trees begin to move further away from each other.Bookmark here

We keep going up for what seems like many minutes, and at one point the trees are gone. We are in another open environment, like the one we are camping in. As the sky becomes darker, my companions and I turn on our flashlights, making it easier to see, and my father walks towards the center.Bookmark here

We are, it seems, at the top of a hill. On the other side is a new part of the forest, but on a slope. So really, it is a kind of peak of the grove. There is an open space where we are, and only a few logs lying on the ground and a huge set of rocks keep us company.Bookmark here

"That kind of place is preserved, isn't it?", Ren questions my father.Bookmark here

"Yes, it is. Or this place would be full of undergrowth and you wouldn't be able to see anything."Bookmark here

"And you already knew it would be empty here?"Bookmark here

"Well... no." He smiles, and my friend laughs. Little Kazuta doesn't seem to understand very well; but he smiles too.Bookmark here

"This is the place I wanted to show you" he says. Moving closer to the rocks, he seems to be looking for something. Ren follows him closely, and Kazuta, in contrast to the animation of his companions, remains further back, looking intently at the two of them.Bookmark here

I can imagine what I was feeling at the time, even though I don't remember it very well. Seeing my father and Ren talking like adults in front of me, I was feeling a bit out of place; that's not my father, I had probably thought. Why is Ren getting more attention than me? After all, I was just a child.Bookmark here

"You were just tired" the man in the top hat suddenly says, pulling me out of my own train of thought. "In your mind, the day was pretty much over. You would play something near the tents, and then sleep to prepare for the next day's camping activities. But instead, your father had decided to carry you into the forest. And that was wearing you down."Bookmark here

I assert. I don't remember this memory yet... and that makes me unsure. I knew myself, so probably what I had thought must have been correct... so why had the man made a point of denying it? Could he be trying to manipulate my mind?Bookmark here

"Did these things really happen that way?", I ask the man once again. Surely knowing what I was getting at, a mischievous smile begins to appear on his face, and he doesn't look at me as he questions:Bookmark here

"We are looking into your past. Can't you check for yourself the veracity of what we are seeing?"Bookmark here

His smile is on account of what I have to answer: I can't. It is particularly difficult to remember things that happened when I was so young... but this trip had been something remarkable, a very happy memory from my bitter life. How is it possible, that I don't remember anything?Bookmark here

"You are having the same problem we had with Hina," the gentleman tells me, with his accusatory intonation returning, imposing force in his voice. "Just as you were blocking out memories about your girlfriend, you are having trouble seeing the good times with your father... And that is the fault of your obstinacy in accepting this man. You don't want to accept that you are wrong."Bookmark here

"That's not true! It can't be..."Bookmark here

Faced with my confusion before that man who seems to be omnipotent, I am in no condition to confront him. I don't know what he wants me to see, I don't know if what I am seeing is in fact the truth, and I don't know if I can trust myself.Bookmark here

I have nowhere to turn.Bookmark here

"You're just overthinking it; the young Kazuta felt no anger at all towards Ren, on the contrary. Because he was your best friend and the only one who left you genuinely interested in whatever the subject was, you felt that Ren was becoming part of your family."Bookmark here

He indicates with his head to little Kazuta, who looks at the other two, motionless where he is.Bookmark here

"That's just tiredness."Bookmark here

I don't know if I can trust what he tells me anymore. Maybe those are all just manipulated memories... Come to think of it, how could I have memories of things I haven't experienced? The day at Hina's school, for example; or my mother's conversation with Ren's mother. These things were not in my head, so they can only have come from something created by this man next to me...Bookmark here

"I found it!" exclaims Naoki, exasperated, with Ren at his side. "Come, Takeda, come see!"Bookmark here

The young Kazuta, who was right next to us, runs toward the rocks, and we follow him. Whatever Naoki wanted to show us, it was on the opposite side from where we had come, at the opposite end of one of the rocks.Bookmark here

Behind the rocks was a small log, which had half of its surface covered by the huge rocks. Naoki pulls it out a little, revealing a heart carved into the stem. Bookmark here

"Here is proof that I have been here before," he says.Bookmark here

Inside the heart are two letters: N and K, with a "+" symbol between them. Naoki and Kaori, it seemed.Bookmark here

"Nanami and Kyou..." Naoki says, and the two boys look at him, startled. "Of course I'm joking, Kaori and I did it!"Bookmark here

He laughs at his own joke. But only he is speaking.Bookmark here

The two boys watch, thoughtfully, the log with the carvings. They look fascinated.Bookmark here

"That was a long time ago, the first time we came. Back then, we used to come here just ourselves, without company" he says, looking at the log as he speaks. "Takeda didn't even dream of coming into the world yet."Bookmark here

He looks at me, who watches him, full of fascination. For me, it was a hero's speech, and I could miss absolutely no words.Bookmark here

The same feeling I had when talking to Ren.Bookmark here

"Kaori was quite energetic, she was going up this whole path much faster than I was, and she would rush me whenever we got farther apart." He laughs a little, and seems to feel a little nostalgic. He looks at us once more. "Come, sit down."Bookmark here

The boys approach my father, and in an instant we are the three of us, sitting facing the forest, being stared at by an already darkening sky. Stars seem to dance before our eyes, and the moon, shy, shines with all its tenderness and calmness.Bookmark here

We all look intently at it, as if this was its request.Bookmark here

"When I wrote this on this log, I had no idea what direction my life would take" he comments, before the silence. "It's strange to think about your future, especially when you don't have a starting point. You can create various ideas in your mind, but what will become true? What will disappear amidst all your thoughts? These things have frightened me my whole life."Bookmark here

He runs his hand over Ren's head, stroking his hair. And then he does the same thing to me.Bookmark here

"Don't be like me, children. Don't get lost within the vastness of your minds."Bookmark here

He takes his hand away from our heads, and stares up at the sky. Little Kazuta and little Ren have nothing to say. They can only watch, and listen to what the man, much bigger and older than them, has to say.Bookmark here

And I am listening too. Very attentively.Bookmark here

"I'm sorry, Takeda," he says, but not in a normal way. When he says this, a breath of air comes out of his lungs, like a sigh that was being held back. Saying that, even to children, seemed too heavy for him. "I'm sorry, Ren."Bookmark here

The kids are obviously confused. They don't understand the weight of those words. They don't understand that this man is destroying things that are important to them. But I, today, in the face of this memory, understand.Bookmark here

These excuses are empty.Bookmark here

"He didn't stop."Bookmark here

"What do you mean?"Bookmark here

"He didn't stop... He didn't stop going out with Mrs. Kouyama..." I feel my face heat up. My anger is intensifying again. "He destroyed Ren's family the same way!"Bookmark here

Why, Kazuta Naoki? Why my best friend's mother? You always went out with countless women, had countless women to go out with... So why did you destroy a family? That's unforgivable!Bookmark here

"I will never forgive that man..." I clench my fists, Feeling a tightness in my stomach. "If I have to accept what Kazuta Naoki did to be saved, you can kill me now. Or throw me into hell, I don't know; but I will never forgive my father."Bookmark here

"We should have brought something to eat..." Naoki comments to the children. "Do you guys want to go back already?"Bookmark here

"No, Daddy," my child self says. Innocent, content, this Kazuta compacts with the fox, thinking she is a valiant lion, and it infuriates me. "Here is fine."Bookmark here

"Yes, Mr. Kazuta" states Ren, "Keep telling us about you and Mrs. Tachibana."Bookmark here

The man smiles, and starts to say something about my mother and their romantic stories, but I don't want to listen anymore.Bookmark here

"Is that what you wanted me to see? If it is, that's enough, I want to leave. I told you, I don't intend to accept this empty forgiveness."Bookmark here

I walk towards the forest. I don't know exactly where I am going, but it doesn't matter; this is a memory. It's just a movie, extremely realistic, but still a movie. And the director, the one who can cut the scene and close the feature, is running out of his viewer, and the film cannot be passed without anyone to watch it.Bookmark here

For the first time, I am challenging the one who haunts me.Bookmark here

But he doesn't run after me, he doesn't even try to bring me back. I feel like walking on, continuing what I know is an escape, part of my cowardice, but the lack of rebuke makes me cringe. I have no idea why I am not being scolded, but something occurs to me. Maybe I am not running away; maybe I am just fooling myself. Maybe I am already caught in the trap that has been set for me, and I long for a false freedom.Bookmark here

A freedom so fragile that it can break with any external movement.Bookmark here

"There's something you've got wrong, Kazuta," the man tells me, as I move further away from him and my memory, trying to forget something that is destined to haunt me forever.Bookmark here

My past.Bookmark here

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Such as GlassBookmark here

- The EndBookmark here

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