I fell over and grazed my knee. It hurts. Unable to bear the pain, my tears start to flow.
Drip, drip. Ignoring my feelings, the tears spilling from my eyes are soaking the back of the person who’s carrying me.
“Rumi, does it hurt?”
“It hurts so muuch… hic”
“I know it hurts, but bear it for just a bit longer. We’ll reach home soon.”
Still carrying me on a piggyback, my sister slightly turns around and shows me a gentle smile. When I see her smiling face, it feels as if the pain is decreasing a little. I wipe the tears that have gathered around my eyes, and I tightly grasp the clothes around her back. Then, I lean on her soft, warm back before closing my eyes.
“Thank you, Onee-chan.”
My sister has always been kind.
When I feel lonely, she will stay next to me and smile.
When I feel hungry, she will make me delicious sweets.
When I fall over, she will help me and carry me like this.
She sleeps all the time, and is slovenly with time… but I’m proud of my Onee-chan.
“I’ll make something when we get home. What do you want to eat, Rumi?”
“R-really?! You know, um, that! I want to eat pancakes! The cocoa flavored one!”
“Do we have cocoa powder, though…? Well, I just need to buy some if there’s none. Yosh, I’m gonna make some pancakes.”
The pancakes that my sister makes are just sweet enough. They’re delicious. Although she’s made other kinds of sweets for me, I like pancakes the most. With my head filled with my favorite pancake, I’ve totally forgotten about the pain in my knee. I want to reach home faster and eat the pancake, but I also don’t want to get down from my sister’s pleasant back. Wanting to relish it more, I put my arms around my sister’s neck and push my body closer.
“Fufu, aren’t you a spoiled one, Rumi?”
My sister’s teasing laugh irritates me, so I swing my legs a bit to kick her. Since I am on her back, I can feel the impact of my own kicks.
“T-that hurts! Gee, I’m gonna leave you here, you know?”
I refuse to be lowered and cling my arms tighter. I know that my kind sister won’t leave me for real, though.
“Uweh?! Hey, Rumi. You’re, choking me!”
I think I put too much strength. My sister lets out a pained voice, so I loosen my arms. Then, my sister breathes out, maybe out of relief.
“Onee-chan, you can’t say bad things like that.”
“……Rumi, you’re the one who started it by kicking me.”
“Onee-chan laughed at me first!”
“Okay, okay, you’re right. I’m the one in the wrong. Please forgive me, Rumi-sama.”
“Muu, you’re not being serious~”
“I said I’m sorry. I’m apologizing for real, you know.”
My anger decreases from hearing my sister’s troubled voice,
“Then, I forgive you.”
“Thank you for your benevolence.”
My sister stops for a moment to fix my position on her back before she starts walking again. No matter how small I am, I’m sure that it’s difficult to keep carrying me on a piggyback. But, my sister is never the one to complain that I’m heavy, or that she’s tired.
I’m always spoiled by her kindness, and I hate my weak self. I want to grow stronger, but I always end up depending on her. I’m still a spoiled crybaby no matter how much time has passed. But one day, I’m sure one day, she will praise me for being a strong girl. Yes, I want to become a reliable adult just like my elder sister.
“Rumi, we’ve arrived.”
“Onee-chan! Hurry, I want to eat pancakes.”
“Don’t rush, don’t rush. You’ve forgotten about the graze on your knee.”
“Your knee gets to be treated first. I’m going to make the pancakes later, so bear with me for now.”
When she opens the front door, Mom shows up from inside and treats my knee. As promised, my sister makes me lots of delicious pancakes. My father comes home after work, and he gives me a gentle smile when he sees me eating pancakes.
When I was young, I spent every day happily and peacefully, and I had taken that for granted. My father and mother would get into a quarrel with my sister sometimes, but would always kindly forgive them and smile. At that time, I believed that she would always be by my side.
it was far too soon,
and without warning,
when my beloved person, was robbed away from me.
When I’m walking home after work, I hear someone calling me from behind. I turn around to see Hiori-san standing behind me.
“What a coincidence. On the way home from work?”
“Yup, I’ve been busy preparing for the school entrance ceremony, but I finished early today. Hiori-san, are you going home from work, too?”
“Yes, I finished work earlier than usual, as well.”
She had been avoiding Tsubaki-chan intentionally by increasing her own work, so that she would always come home late. But now, since she’s finally able to face Tsubaki-chan, Hiori-san must be finishing her job as fast as possible so that she can spend more time with her.
After walking though different paths all this time, I’m really glad that they can finally face each other…. But at the same time, I regret being unable to help when I’m so close to them.
“Thank you for looking after Tsubaki yesterday. I’m grateful for it.”
“Mm-mm, Dad and Mom are happy when Tsubaki-chan comes to visit. They want Hiori-san to join and stay overnight next time, is what they said.”
As we chat, we decide to walk home together halfway through, so I start walking next to her. Hiori-san has a good posture, so the sight of her walking has always been dignified and beautiful. I remember being dazzled by her beauty the first time I met her. I kept staring at her, and I even forgot to greet her. It was shocking to know that Nee-san had such a beautiful friend.
“…Speaking of which, I’ve caused so much trouble for you… and the Sekiguchis, too.”
“No, I don’t think of you as a bother……”
Hearing my words, she looks sorrowful as she shakes her head.
“I shouldn’t have been allowed to approach, let alone meet your family. But instead, far from resenting me, your whole family was worried about me instead, and comforted me.”
“Nee-san’s death isn’t Hiori-san’s fault…”
“It’s the same thing.”
That’s wrong. Hiori-san is not at fault. It wasn’t her fault that Nee-san died. But…
“You hate me, don’t you?”
Thump, my chest throbs. I should be refuting her, but my mouth clamps up without moving. Noticing my silence, Hiroi-san looks pained as she mutters, ‘I’m sorry,’ in a soft voice.
“I have deprived you of Tsubaki… your beloved Onee-san, so it’s a matter of course. If I didn’t drag her into my problems, it wouldn’t have to end like that. You, Uncle and Auntie, and… I’m sure that she resents me, too.”
She’s been burdening herself by thinking that everything is her fault, so I say that to her frankly. I’ve been telling her it’s not her fault so many times now, but she obstinately thinks of it as her ‘sin’.
“I’m sure that Nee-san didn’t think that you dragged her into your problems. After all, the Nee-san that I know would ‘go and get herself involved’. That’s just the kind of person she was.”
For those whom she held dear, my Nee-san would jump into a fire without worrying about herself; she was truly a kind hearted person. Far from resenting anyone, Nee-san would laugh and say that it’s because she wasn’t good enough. And, there’s no doubt that she would still be worrying about someone else instead of herself during her final moments.
“Long time ago, when I was still a child… to be honest, there was a time when I resented Hiori-san. ‘Cause if I didn’t, I would have to bottle that emotion within myself, without knowing where I could vent it to.”
It’s as she said, Nee-san wouldn’t have died if she didn’t involve herself with Hiori-san. But on the other hand, Hiori-san didn’t do anything wrong. Dad and Mom were already adults, so instead of hating Hiori-san, they supported her like she’s their own daughter. But at that time, I didn’t understand why they would lend a hand to the person who had stolen my beloved sister from me.
“But then, you know… I came to realize that I was wrong to resent the person whom Nee-san had protected with her own life.”
Hiori-san was so saddened by Nee-san’s death. I should have been resenting her, but when I see the awful state she was in, that feeling actually turned into worry. She was so emotionally unstable that I thought she might just follow Nee-san if she was left alone.
That’s when I realized that just like me, she ‘also’ lost someone dear to her.
I had to protect her, I thought. I believed that it was my turn to protect the two lives that Nee-san had protected. I didn’t know what I could do, but at least I understood that I couldn’t leave Nee-san’s precious person alone. ——And that, I had to live Nee-san’s share as well. Afterwards, I stayed close to Hiori-san and Tsubaki-chan as I continued to watch over them.
“Now, I don’t resent you in the slightest. After all, both of you have become a part of our dear family.”
I stand still in order to convey that to her clearly. Hiori-san looks surprised, then her expression slowly changes to that of embarrassment.
“Like your sister, you’re awfully kind hearted.”
“Well, that’s because we’re siblings.”
When I say that with a smile, she looks astonished… and somewhat happy at the same time. I’m happy to hear that I’m like Nee-san, too. She’s always been my pride, and she always will.
“If it weren’t for you, I certainly wouldn’t be here anymore…. Thank you, Rumi-chan.”
“…But, I… couldn’t do anything……”
I didn’t do anything worth thanking for. I tried not to worry Hiori-san, I tried improving their relationship, but it was all in vain. What I have done is nothing but to watch over them for a long time.
On the other hand, even my parents couldn’t make them reconcile. I wonder how she managed to find the determination to stop running and face her child. Although I’m curious about what happened, I’m just glad to know that the two of them have started to open up to each other.
“Mm-mm, it’s because of your support, that both Tsubaki and I can be where we are today. Words alone aren’t enough to convey our gratitude to you.”
“You’re exaggerating it…”
“I’m sorry for making you worry all this time…. I’m not going to look away and run from her anymore.”
“If I keep being pathetic, both Tsubaki and that person will come to hate me for sure.”
I think Hiori-san is going to keep changing for the better. It feels to me as if the shadows that have been haunting her forever have been lifted a little. Her previously sad, empty gaze is now filled with a strong light.
…Is she going to be alright now? Will she finally be able to walk towards happiness? Aah, it’ll be such a happy thing if that’s true. Because I believe that her happiness is what Nee-san would have wished for during her final moments. Of course, that’s what Dad, Mom, and I have been wishing for, too. After 16 years long, it’s worrying us that she’s still not pursuing her own happiness.
“Hiori-san… you’re not going to look for a new partner?”
“……Being with Tsubaki is enough for me. Besides….”
Actually, I already knew that’s how she would answer. Hiori-san is not going to find a new happiness for herself. No matter how she accepts the past, no matter how she’s going to face the future, I know that she won’t let go of that person until the day she dies.
“I know. Hiori-san has loved Nee-san since long ago.”
“I’m not thick headed like Nee-san, you know.”
She always gave the impression of being expressionless and cold, but whenever she was with Nee-san, she would look a bit less tense than usual. She always sounded cold towards Nee-san, but if someone paid a little attention, they would notice the kindness within her words. Above all, whenever she looked at Nee-san, her gaze felt so gentle and kind.
When Nee-san died, she didn’t act like her best friend died; it was something more. Her guilt might have been a factor to that, but I knew that wasn’t all.
“I don’t have the intention to love anyone else.”
“But, Nee-san is no longer of this world.”
The words that I let out of my own mouth makes my chest feel tight. In the end, I guess I haven’t moved on from the past, either.
When my sister died, I aimed to become a reliable adult. I kept studying during my student days, I single-mindedly spent my efforts to obtain my teaching license. Then, I reached my dream and my goal to become a teacher. There are many times when it feels harsh and difficult, but this occupation is fun and well worth it. I succeeded in realizing the dream that I shared with Nee-san. I shouldn’t be speaking for myself, but I think that I’ve managed to become a reliable adult. I’m content to be able to pursue the future that I have desired.
…But, even after gaining this sense of accomplishment and fulfillment, it doesn’t fill the small, yet deep hole lying in the corner of my heart. I thought that it would be filled on its own when I reached my dream. But in reality, I was only pretending that it wasn’t there. Every time I recall about its existence, my heart throbs with pain. Just, what should I do to fill this hole?
When I hang down my head in ponder, Hiori-san looks up to the sky and shows a bitter smile. Thinking about Nee-san must be making her sad, too.
“Even so, I still love that person.”
“Perhaps I don’t have the right to feel this way about her, but this feeling will never change.”
“…Doesn’t it hurt?”
“For me, it will hurt a lot more if I were to lose this feeling.”
My sister left this world far too soon, leaving behind the one who’s holding her so dear. But, even after so many years, she will continue loving her, no matter what. Perhaps, others will call her foolish. No matter how much she loves her, no matter how much she yearns for her, she will never be able to convey her feelings forever.
“…Forget about me, what about Rumi-chan? Have you found someone?”
I knew I wouldn’t stay a child forever. But, I never gave love nor marriage a thought. I wasn’t interested in them, either. I thought that it would naturally come to me someday, but I haven’t found anyone yet. Not when my hands are already full with work…. I know that my parents are secretly worried about their daughter who doesn’t seem to be getting married soon, when I’m already halfway through my 20s.
“I haven’t encountered anyone, so I guess it’s a no. Well, what will be will be.”
My workplace is filled with married people, or thin-haired old men. In addition, with how busy I am with work, I rarely go to a drinking party with my friends, so I don’t really expect to encounter anyone soon. I’m thinking that leading a bachelor life isn’t so bad anyway. Although, I believe my parents are going to cry, if I say that out loud.
“……The way you’re both disinterested in love affairs is similar.”
Please leave me alone.
“Aah, speaking of which, won’t you come visit for dinner tonight?”
“Hm— I’m happy for the offer, but I think I will hold back for now. I want you to have a private family time with Tsubaki-chan.”
“No need to be strangely mindful about us in that strange way. Besides, we have already invited another guest.”
My, it’s rare for her to invite a guest for dinner. Other than me and my parents, I think this is her first time calling someone over.
“……Hmm, in that case, I guess I’ll be intruding.”
“Sure, I’d be glad to have you with us.”
“So, what kind of person is the guest that you were mentioning?”
I’m curious about the lucky guest who had personally received a dinner invitation from the one who doesn’t like interacting with people much. Could it be the person who helped improve the relationship between Hiori-san and Tsubaki-chan?
“It’s one of the children who moved in next door the other day.”
“…Could it be Hinata-chan?”
“My, you know her?”
“Well, more or less.”
Aah, figures. So it’s Hinata-chan. I’m sure that Tsubaki-chan is the one who called her over. Although she socializes with anyone normally, she’s actually shy around strangers. This is the first time she could get attached to someone in such a short time. For some reason, I can easily accept that she would get invited for a meal.
“My, speak of a devil.”
I follow Hiori-san’s gaze to our front, and I spot Hinata-chan standing while lugging lots of shopping bags. She seems to be waiting for someone as she stares at the shop vacantly.
“Huh? Hiori-san, and Rumi-san. Good afternoon.”
When she notices us, she gives a sweet smile, as well as a polite greeting.
“Yes, I’m here to shop for dinner along with Tsubaki.”
Which means that Tsubaki-chan is the one Hinata-chan is waiting for. The first time I met her is also when they were going out together. They’re really on good terms.
“But where is that child?”
“It seems that she forgot to buy something. She panicked and went back into the store.”
Hinata-chan looks towards the store and smiles wryly. Really, she may look dependable, but she can be absent-minded at times, that Tsubaki-chan….. not that I’m one to speak.
“It can’t be helped. I feel bad to make you wait for her, so both of you should go ahead of us. I will bring that child along.”
“Okay, I guess we’ll do as she says, Hinata-chan. I have a spare key with me.”
Although she looks a bit hesitant at first, she suddenly notices something and comes towards me.
“…I suppose. Then, I will be leaving Tsubaki in your care.”
I’m being mindful of the parent and child who almost never spent time for themselves, and it seems Hinata-chan catches that. From how I see it, she knows about their family circumstances quite a bit. At any rate, this girl is a sharp one.
“Let’s go, Rumi-san.”
“Ah, okay. Give me half for me to carry.”
“I’m sorry about this. That will be a big help.”
I receive the bags that she timidly holds out, and the two of us start walking side by side. Although the half that I’m carrying looked heavy, they’re actually lighter than I thought. I give a glance towards the bags in Hinata-chan’s hands. They’re of the same sizes, but I can see that they are packed with heavy-looking bottles and jars. On the other hand, the ones I”m carrying are filled with bread and sweets that are lightweight.
“Hinata-chan, aren’t yours heavier? Wanna switch?”
“Thank you, but I’m all right. I may not look like it, but I am confident with my strength.”
I try asking her to switch a few times after that, but she modestly declines every time. I feel sorry to make someone younger to carry those heavy luggage, but I should accept her good will without reserve.
(Hayase Hinata-chan, huh… she’s such a good child….)
Now that I’m walking next to her, I think I understand why Tsubaki-chan is attached. Although she looks like a child from all angles, she sometimes gives off the impression of an adult. It’s mysterious how she makes me feel secured when I’m with her. Although I haven’t associated with her for long, for some reason, I can say with confident that she’s a kind girl.
Although, there’s a bit… just a tiny sense of discomfort I’m feeling. Whenever I look at her, it’s like [something] is tugging at me. I don’t know what that [something] is, so I can’t understand it well. Regardless, it doesn’t seem to be a bad thing, so I guess I don’t need to try too hard to identify it.
“Here, this is for you.”
While I’m lost in thought, Hinata-chan holds out her hand to me, so I spontaneously accept it. Then, I end up staring at that thing.
“I bought it at the store earlier. Please have one if you’d like.”
What I’m holding is a stick with candy attached on one of the tip, a lollipop. The words ‘melon soda’ are written on the wrapping of the candy.
When I look at Hinata-chan who’s walking next to me, she’s holding the same candy in her mouth, savoring it. Maybe it’s her favorite, because she looks quite happy. Since she already gave me one, I’m going to have a taste myself. But, I end up tearing the wrapper too forcefully, and the candy slips off from my hand to the ground.
Although I pick it up right away, there is much dirt sticking to the candy part now. This can’t be eaten anymore. After Hinata-chan took the trouble to give it to me, just what have I done. I never grew out of my clumsiness. At this rate, I think even death won’t be able to cure it.
“T-the three-second rule!”
“No, that’d be too forcing it.”
I try to clean it by brushing away the dirt, but it doesn’t seem safe to eat anymore. Unfortunately, I’ll have to give up.
“…I’m sorry. I ended up dropping it.”
“Hm— there’s no helping it then.”
Hinata-chan takes out [something] from her pocket. She takes the dirtied candy from my hand and makes me hold it in exchange. When I look at the new item that I received, it’s like my head goes blank for a second.
“I’m giving you that instead.”
Thank you. I can’t even say that well. There is a hot feeling gushing from inside my body, and my throat is getting clogged up.
She looks at me, puzzled. And I discover that [something] within her big eyes. Aah, I see, I finally get the reason behind my discomfort that I’ve felt since the day I met her.
This is something called, ‘nostalgia’.
Because———she resembles Nee-san.
I grasp the [azuki caramel] that I received from Hinata-chan tightly. This is one of Nee-san’s favorite sweets. She often gave it to me, even though I don’t really like it because it’s too sweet.
“Um, do you dislike it?”
I open the wrapper and toss the candy into my mouth. The flavor of azuki bean and the sweetness of caramel immediately spreads in my mouth. It’s been quite a long time since I last ate it.
“Don’t mention it~”
Hinata-chan makes a bashful smile and looks to the front, so I secretly takes a glance at her side profile…. Even though their faces don’t look alike at all, being with her makes me recall about Nee-san somewhat. If someone asks me how they resemble each other, I don’t think I can answer it well. But, I can say for sure that they have their resemblance somewhere. I wonder if this is why both Hiori-san and Tsubaki-chan trust her.
(That’s not it……)
After thinking it through, I decide to stop that thought. It’s not because she’s similar to Nee-san or such. Rather, it’s because Hinata-chan is Hinata-chan.
I keep looking at her face for a while, and this trip makes me feel just a bit nostalgic.