Chapter 1:


Unravelling Winter.

It was in the dead of winter that I first raced the distance between the bus stop and my house.Bookmark here

There was a suitcase in one hand and the other was shoved deep inside my pocket. The gloves were barely doing a decent job of keeping the cold out.Bookmark here

Snow fell around me covering the ground by the second. It wasn't as bad as a blizzard but my eyes felt heavy and I felt the snow drip down the gap and into my palm.Bookmark here

The road was damp and slippery to my step. The fog from my breath took away from my sight.Bookmark here

Some would say that this was the magic of winter.Bookmark here

But I, for one, hated it with every fibre of my being.Bookmark here

Not only did winter attempt to freeze me like a rotting corpse but it also brought back memories that I would rather forget.Bookmark here

The time that my mother moved on from the absence of my father and the time I moved on from the unrequited love my friend left me.Bookmark here

The two worst memories of my life resided in winter.Bookmark here

But I considered myself rather sturdy. So I took refuge in solitude and decided to run away. Conveniently adulthood was right around the corner, and I was ready to become independent in university.Bookmark here

Yet again, winter came and I ran away. Back to where everything began.Bookmark here

No, I never ran away, I just took a step back and grew as a human.Bookmark here

I picked up my pace.Bookmark here

The road from the bus stop to the house was rather long and I wasn't all in shape.Bookmark here

As I started to break into a slight jog, the cold air started hitting the back of my throat. I was reminded of how cruel winter is like I had just forgotten.Bookmark here

Nevertheless, I persisted and after a decent 15 minutes of walking made it to a decorated wooden house in the middle of the town. The warm glow contrasted the light blue around.Bookmark here

This was the place I called home five years ago.Bookmark here

The decorations, paint, posters, and windows had changed in half a decade... but changes meant that it was lived in.Bookmark here

"I'm coming in..." I announced while sliding the door open.Bookmark here

From the inside, I heard footsteps head towards me. They were alerted, heavier and took longer than Mom's.Bookmark here

The curtains pulled apart as the inviting and reminiscent smell of home wafted through the air. Maybe it didn't change much after all.Bookmark here

"Ichi-kun." A man greeted me. I recognised him from 5 years ago. He was the man who took my mother's hand.Bookmark here

"Good evening, Akito-san." I bowed a little before taking my coat off. "Uhh... Is Mom in?" I asked, awkwardly.Bookmark here

Things weren't all that good between that man and myself.Bookmark here

"She's sleeping right now."Bookmark here

"I see... In her room?"Bookmark here

"Yes."Bookmark here

Taking his words, I headed in to check on Mom. I brushed past the man, and laid on the bed was a lady. She turned 40 something this year. Her face didn't show her age.Bookmark here

Unfortunately, her heart did. It got weaker, but not weak enough to be unable to support daily life.Bookmark here

So she laid there. Not sickly. Turned over to a side and at peace.Bookmark here

"How is she?" I whispered.Bookmark here

"The doctor said that she would be fine with normal tasks as long as she keeps the medicine up." He whispered back.Bookmark here

"That's good." I started heading back outside. There was not much to see in a room occupied by a sleeping woman. "I'll go take a shower. It was cold outside."Bookmark here

"Uhh? Ah yes, please go ahead." I didn't need his permission, it was my house after all.Bookmark here

Leaving him behind, I took the luggage up and unpacked just enough to get some warm clothes and underwear out. I could do the rest later.Bookmark here

There was a bathroom attached to my room and it was still well kept. I felt slightly nostalgic remembering the most mundane things.Bookmark here

In the shower, I gave my heart a moment to get used to this. It was stifling. This was indeed the place I ran away from.Bookmark here

But showers only last so long... I got out and put on my warm grey thermal wear. I opened the curtains and let the streetlight trickle inside.Bookmark here

There was a river that ran in front of my house.Bookmark here

I could see people walking and having a merry time outside.Bookmark here

That was about as much time I could spend avoiding the situation.Bookmark here

I went back downstairs and sat down on a couch with that man in front of me. A grey beard, slightly wrinkled skin. Unlike Mom, he looked his age.Bookmark here

"So how long are you going to be here?" He asked.Bookmark here

The man looked soft but didn't mince his words. Or that was just how I took it. He was probably just trying to make conversation.Bookmark here

'I should have taken a long bath instead of a shower.' I thought to myself.Bookmark here

"I might be here for a couple of months. As long as the company allows me to work at home."Bookmark here

"You're pretty lucky getting into a company that lets you do that. I remember back in my days, companies used to exploit you to get 100% out of you."Bookmark here

"I think I'll be allowed this only for the first year. They wanted us to get used to the work requirements after university before learning how to act collaboratively." I decided to come back home and stay as long as I can before moving out for good.Bookmark here

Despite everything, I owed everything I have to Mom. So I wanted to spend some time with her to show some gratitude. I didn't know how often I could meet her after settling down in the city.Bookmark here

"That seems like a newer way of thinking." The man commented.Bookmark here

"Well, I do work in the A.I. department." Well, the linguistics part of a speech A.I. All I had to do was overlook if things made sense, and rearrange them. Something I was able to do at home. I could have answered extensively but I didn't want to overshare.Bookmark here

We were stepping on eggshells. The reason was obvious.Bookmark here

The man seated in front of me was the replacement for my father. Needless to say, I couldn't bring myself to be comfortable around him. Nor could I reject Mom's happiness. So I left for a university in the big city.Bookmark here

Even right now I didn't wish to accept him.Bookmark here

And he knew that.Bookmark here

So we struck a balance.Bookmark here

There was silence between the both of us. It was better than the conversation we just had.Bookmark here

"Ichi?" I heard the sound of curtains drawing behind me. And with loose trousers and a worn-out t-shirt stood Mom.Bookmark here

"Good evening." I replied.Bookmark here

She got within a close distance in front of me to examine if I was the real deal.Bookmark here

I got up.Bookmark here

"You should have told me you were coming! I would have made something for you!" She slapped my shoulder lightly and then hugged me.Bookmark here

I held on.Bookmark here

"Look at you! You've gotten so skinny. How long have you been here? Do you drink tea now? Want me to make you some? It is cold outside." She never gave me any room to answer.Bookmark here

"I just got back and showered. And I did start drinking tea."Bookmark here

"Look at you all grown up!" She patted my shoulder. "I'll make some then."Bookmark here

"No, it's fine. I had some coffee on the way here."Bookmark here

"I see..." She looked a little dejected.Bookmark here

"Can you make me some scorched rice then?" It had been a long time. A smile drew up on her face.Bookmark here

"Sure!" She stumbled into the kitchen. "Ah, since you're back, do you want to drink together? I always wanted to do that once you grew old enough." Mom was a passionate drinker. She didn't get drunk... but she did enjoy drinking it.Bookmark here

Plus, red wine was good for the heart.Bookmark here

"Do you have wine?" I asked confidently.Bookmark here

"Now that I think about it, we did run out last week." She had a finger held to her cheek as she pondered.Bookmark here

Jeez, how much did she drink?Bookmark here

"Hon- Aki-san, can you get us some?" She signalled the man in front of me.Bookmark here

"Sure-" Akito-san, who was letting our reunion happen without interruption finally joined in the conversation.Bookmark here

"No, I'll go!" I barged in. I didn't want to owe Akito-san any favours.Bookmark here

"But you must be tired. You just came in." Mom protested.Bookmark here

"I'm fine! Really. And I wanted to meet some friends around town... maybe I would run into them." I lied. I didn't have a lot of friends in this town. Mom probably knew that so she looked at me questioningly.Bookmark here

"If you insist. I'll call you once I'm done." She finally gave in.Bookmark here

"Sure."Bookmark here

With that, I put on the coat and headed back into winter.Bookmark here

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