What Lies There
Relying on my memories, I tread along the path to my destination. I’d only go there sometimes, and it’s been so many years since then. Actually, I’m worried if I’m going the right way, but after wandering about for a while, I find the signboard that I’m searching for. I proceed following the sign, and I finally reach the place.
——A desolate cemetery.
“It should be here, if it exists.”
I look around and search. After checking the names one by one, I find the one that I’m too familiar with—carved into the gravestone. I crouch down to read the engraved characters carefully… it seems that I’m at the right place.
(I wonder what to say… this feels strange…)
I trace the engraving with my fingertip, and makes a wry smile. The wind blows, and the trees in the cemetery make rustling sounds.
Now that I take a look at it, there is a flower placed in front of the gravestone. It hasn’t wilted yet, so it must have been placed quite recently. I don’t know if it’s the priest, or maybe a visitor, but I’m grateful for it. Both the grave and the area have been thoroughly cleaned, as well…
“…I wonder if it’s okay for me to give a prayer.”
But that’d be somehow ridiculous, so I just stand still as I look at the grave. It seems there’s nobody beside me in this quiet cemetery.
“I really died, didn’t I?”
Seeing my past name engraved in a gravestone like this makes me realize again that I had departed from this world. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t have imagined looking at my own grave like this. It feels a bit painful to be thrust at by the fact of my own death, but it’s not as shocking as I thought it would. Maybe it’s because I’ve been hit by a streak of surprises since I came to this town that I’m no longer shaken by most things.
I have been reborn as a different person, Hayase Hinata, and I’m no longer the me who has been dead. But with my memories intact, I am also still [me].
(Why did the memories from my past life linger after I reincarnate?)
Besides, there is only around 1 year difference from when I died until I was reborn. I thought reincarnation normally takes hundreds of years, like how it’s told in manga and such.
(Maybe the gods are pulling a prank on me——)
But thanks to that, I’m able to meet the people dear to me again. I’m now living in a world where’s she’s still alive, as a different person.
I close my eyes and I think about those who I think dearly of. After a while, I decide to go home. I turn away, but that is when someone taps on my shoulder.
“Good afternoon. If I recall, you are Tsubaki’s friend, Hinata-chan… right?”
“What are you doing here?”
Then, she turns her gaze from me towards the grave. Uh oh, isn’t this a bad situation?
“Hinata-chan, why are you visiting my Nee-san?”
‘Nee-san’, huh. Even though she would call me Onee-chan in the past.
——Wait, this is not the time to be lost in thought! How should I answer her!
I’m looking for the words to say as I close and open my mouth repeatedly. Rumi makes a troubled smile as she stands in front of the grave.
“It’s not possible for you to be acquainted with Nee-san… right? Because, Nee-san had already been gone by the time Hinata-chan was born.”
She offers a flower that she’s brought with her to the gravestone, then she claps her hands in prayer. Glancing at her sorrowful look from the side makes me really feel like running away.
Driven by my guilt, I end up apologizing.
“…Why are you apologizing?”
“Ah?! That’s- I mean, I saw a stag beetle on the gravestone, and I was thinking of catching it, you know. I thought I’ll get cursed for that, so…”
What a lame excuse.
“So that’s it. You don’t have to worry about it, though. Nee-san doesn’t mind about such things, I’m sure she’ll just laugh it off.”
“I see…. That’s a relief.”
Catching stag beetles in this era? Although I was doubtful with my answer, it seems I managed to gloss it over. Rumi looks at the grave with her hands still held together.
“This is my sister’s grave. You must have noticed it by now, though. It’s already been 16 years since then…”
She finally separates her hands. She then reaches it out to give a gentle stroke on the gravestone… like how I would to Rumi when she was crying in the past.
“She would often smile, she wouldn’t leave anyone in trouble, she was really kind…. I loved her.”
I keep silent. There’s nothing I can say to her. Looking at my behavior, she lowers her eyebrows a bit and smiles.
“Sorry for making you listen to this out of nowhere.”
“Don’t mention it…. Although, I’m sure that your sister is happy.”
My little sister who would always follow her Onee-chan around—the crybaby girl has become so beautiful and mature.
“Never mind. I’ll be going first.”
Hearing her soft shriek, I immediately turn towards her.
“Rumi- hey, nwaa——?!”
I grab Rumi, who has lost her balance and pull her towards me in an instant. I was intending to catch her, but I can’t really do it since she is taller than me. So, we end up falling down together. Ooh, I’m so pathetic.
“Ow, are you okay…?”
We end up in a state where I am pushing her down, so I jump out of the way in a panic. Rumi gets up and beats the dirt off my clothes.
“I’m sorry, I couldn’t hold you well.”
“Nuh-uh. You were trying to help me, right? Thank you.”
I’d always been able to help Rumi when she fell down in the past. But now, I’m vexed because it ends up giving her more trouble instead.
(I’m no longer her elder sister anyway.)
I look at my body that’s different from that time, and I laugh at myself. But, it seems that Rumi’s clumsiness hasn’t been cured, seeing how she still falls over nothing like that. It’s so nostalgic and charming.
“Are you hurt anywhere…?”
“I’m o-! …kay.”
“But, it’s true.”
“…Can you show me your knee for a bit?”
“No… it’s embarrassing… hh!”
“Show. It. To. Me!!”
I already refused, but she forcefully rolls up my trousers and stares at my knee. The place where I scraped myself is dyed red with blood. I feel a prickling pain when the scratch is exposed to the air.
“It’ll heal after I put some saliva on it.”
“You can’t do that. You have to rinse and disinfect it… Come with me.”
After she ponders something, she pulls and takes me somewhere.
“Where are we going… ow.”
“Ah, it hurts, right? Do you want a piggyback?”
“I’m okay. I can walk.”
It’d be too embarrassing for me to handle.
We leave the cemetery. But after walking for a few, the scenery around looks pretty familiar…. I have a really bad feeling about this.
After walking for another while, my premonition turns into reality. Rumi stops in front of a house, so I stop, too. It seems we have reached our destination.
“It’s my home.”
Aah, figures. The planters that are used to raise flowers, the familiar house, and the nameplate with “Sekiguchi” carved in it… they’re all so nostalgic. It’s been so many years since then, but nothing has really changed. It’s like only this house remains in the midst of time.
“Come in, don’t be reserved! We need to disinfect your knee.”
“…I’m sorry for intruding.”
While trudging my feet, I enter from the front door.
“I’ll be back with a first aid kit. Sit anywhere you like.”
She disappears into the inner room, so I sit around the area as told. My tear glands slacken, maybe because I’m back in this nostalgic home. There is a drop of tear gathering in the corner of my eye, so I wipe it with my cuff.
There are no signs of other people except for the two of us, are the others away? Dad should still be at work. As for Mom, maybe she’s out somewhere. When I look around, I find a portrait of me as a memorial. For some reason, I avert my eyes.
“Thanks for waiting. I’m going to disinfect it, so can you show me your leg?”
“Should I take them off?”
“You don’t need to. You can just keep it rolled up.”
As instructed, I pull up one of my trouser leg up so that it doesn’t cover the scratch. Then, she spills the antiseptic where it hurts without much care.
Her treatment makes it feels like there’s electricity running in the scratch. Hey! Aren’t you using too much? This is definitely too much!
“Ow, it hurts. It hurts.”
“Endure it, okay?”
She wipes the liquid before attaching a large band-aid on the scratch.
“Alright, it’s done.”
“Guh… Thank you very much.”
I put my trouser leg back to how it was, then I stand up. It doesn’t hurt anymore thanks to the band-aid. I think I can walk normally like this.
I notice a paper on top of the table. When I look at it, it looks like the question sheet of a test.
“Aah, that’s from last year’s test. Maybe I don’t look like one, but I’m actually a teacher.”
——When I get big, I’m gonna become a school teacher!
In the past, when I asked Rumi what she wanted to be when she got big, she answered that she wanted to be a school teacher. I think I answered something along the line of “I see, then you’ll need to study a lot,” to her. I didn’t take her childhood dream seriously, but she’s actually achieved it.
‘You’ve worked hard.’ I want to tell her that.
‘I’m proud of you.’ I want to praise her.
I want to caress her head.
But, [I] can’t do all that.
I’m not qualified to.
I raise my hand halfway before lowering it again, then I clench my hand tightly.
“Was it your childhood dream to become a teacher, or something like that?”
“Y-yup, you’re right.”
——You’ve worked hard.
I can’t say it aloud, so I whisper it within my heart instead.
“…I should go home soon. Thank you very much for treating me.”
“Can you reach home by yourself?”
“I’m not a small child.”
I’m still a child if I look from her perspective, but being treated like a child by Rumi gives me mixed feelings.
“I mean, do you know the area around here? Hinata-chan, you’ve just moved into this town, right?”
“…I know. I’ve completely lost my way until I reached to the cemetery, so I’ve fully grasped the area now.”
I give her a smile and raise a thumb to show her that I’ll be okay.
“Hrm, I’m worried.”
Seems that it backfired instead. I’m happy to receive her worry, but I don’t want to let her see any more of my lame self.
“I’ll be all right.”
“Okay, be careful on your way home.”
“Yes, I’m sorry for the intrusion.”
After leaving the house, I walked for a bit before stopping to make a big yawn.
I didn’t expect that I’d be going into that house not long after I came to this town, I’m pooped, goddammit. Can’t I have some time to prepare my heart first? Still, I didn’t think that I’d be able to visit that place anymore. So, well, I feel happy. Both of my parents are away, but who knows whether or not it’s a good thing.
My fatigue is creeping in, maybe it’s because I’ve lowered my guard now that I’m alone. It’s too much for both my brain and heart, so I hurry home to rest.