The morning air was brisk and it brushed against everything, swaying those manifests of nature and shaking the feeblest egos amidst it all. Unwavering, relentless, much like time itself the wind blew, disturbing everything. People, life, time, weather; it all continued on as if nothing had changed, but everything, all parts of this delicate balance, rather aware of or not, the normal swing is always being perturbed like the waves of the ocean in the time of typhoon. And, strangely, the time of the year for those exact storms had arrived.
More than anyone Nowaki was aware of this. He took it as his own. He and the storms shared a name, a common meaning, a common element. His life, simple one as it was, rampaged around him, crumbling like the fallen buildings; relationships teetered on the boarder of existing and breaking, his sanity at the end like a burnt hair, waiting to turn to ash and blow away. He was becoming nothing like the city: The storm would wash it all away, granting earth to reuse again, to restructure and renovate, and to use in a new light for new life. His life stood in such eerie similarity that it chilled him. He believed, after great contemplation, that he would be cursed to perish at the hand of something that he shared such a bond with, but he didn’t fear it. He waited for that day, the one where his torment and loneliness would end.
A life of unrivaled betrayal cursed his mind, granting to his soul—tainted enough already that it was, as sad to believe to others more than himself—a shallow, empty shell to reside within until its time came to return to the soil beneath his feet. But, to his distaste, life continued and school awaited him still. Senior year waited to be arrived at and finished and he couldn’t let her wait for him forever. He didn’t have forever to give. Even if he did he thought it better to grant time, such precious time, to something more worthwhile. But, he had decided for himself that he would attend college and it was almost there; he had just one more year to go after the end of the current one and it wouldn’t be over at all too early.
He curled his fingers around the tan strap of the book bag hanging from his left shoulder, crossing his broad chest to dangle on the opposite side, swinging to smack into his hip with a faint thud. He brushed back his bangs and glanced upward. The sky was darkening. He couldn’t remember the weatherman forecasting rain for the day, but he did get in a bit of a hurry since he woke up late. He hadn’t eaten yet either and the school bell would ring before long. A deep sigh gathered on his tongue, but he suppressed it. He didn’t understand why, but he felt the air in his lungs escape into a deeper part of him and he found himself unable to breathe; he had done this quite often lately, but told no one. If he did they would say it was his mind, he felt completely certain of that. He stood still, leaning against a handrail along the paved path, and tried to regain himself before he continued.
He outstretched his long, thin fingers before him, his eyes crossly going over each and every crevice and marking upon his palm. He then trailed his gaze about his fingers, turning his hand ever so slightly. He seemed to search for something, some deeper meaning, but it was his hand. His eyes seemed strained in the way he squinted them together, but they popped back open as if some strange realization struck a raw nerve.
While he seemed to be searching his hand for something unseen, he merely checked for scratches or other marks along with any sign of shaking. He had been diagnosed with hypoglycemia as a young boy and nothing the doctors did helped him, so he always made it routine to check his blood sugar that way if he hadn’t a chance to manually draw blood for it. He received strange glances sometimes, but he had, for the most part, learned to ignore them. At times, however, when people would make hateful remarks about it, he would say something to them or walk off if he couldn’t come up with anything at the spur of the moment.
“Nowaki!” a voice called out to him. He turned to see a smaller girl, hair in curls down her back. “What are you doing?” She beamed at him, her face vibrant. He felt intimidated by her radiation of life.
“School,” he answered melancholically. “The same tedious routine day after day,” he added, his words slow but crisp. “You’re doing the same?”
Her smile fell slightly, but she kept just a slight upturn of her lips to leave a miniscule grin. “Yes and no,” she answered. “I’m thinking of taking part in a program abroad, in America, so I’m going to apply in the admissions office or wherever it is they send me. But, I may or may not be in class. I guess that’s what I’m meaning to say.” Her eyes fell a bit, the lids coming closer together. She blinked slowly and they opened just as leisurely. She looked at him, her gaze unwavering. “Exams today?” she asked to try and break the lingering, awkward silence.
“Not that I know of,” he answered sharply. He always had sharpness to him and a precise manner of behavior and speech that many found strange about him, but he had just always been who he was no matter what. She frowned and chewed on her bottom lip. He watched her, head down, then pulled his face downwards and tugged the black hood of his hoodie over his head. “I feel rain,” he said ominously, making her lean enough to see into his shaded face.
“Rain,” he repeated slowly, thoroughly pronouncing each individual syllable.
“Are you mocking me?” she asked, brows tightly knit. He shook his head, urging a sigh out of her. “Hmm…Nowaki, you make me wonder sometimes. Why are you so cold to everyone?”
He chewed on his bottom lip then rolled them together thoughtfully. He took the dull, wood pencil from his pant pocket and twirled it through his fingers. She watched him, arms crossed, patience obviously wearing thin. “Cold? Who’s to say I’m cold to anyone about anything?” he began, taking a deep breath for a momentary, thoughtful pause. “How can you be cold in return to frigid treatment? Actually, how not? You’re the only one, Mei, who doesn’t treat me like some sort of creature, some sort of oddity belonging in a sideshow attraction somewhere. You treat me like a person, but I don’t know what to do. Call me cold, but I know nothing else.” He searched his mind for anything else—he managed a few other points—but he thought it better to keep his mouth shut and save it for later arguments.
She looked at him pitifully and wrapped her slender arms around him, holding him close like a mother and child. He rested his chin on her head. A faint smile, just enough to notice from a close-up, spread across his lips, but it faded just as quickly as it had arrived; the disappearance had been sparked by her movement away from him. She mouthed something inaudible—he read it to be “see you later” from her expression and mouth shapes—and waved, smile still stuck, and ran on ahead. She grabbed a bicycle set nearby and hopped on, taking off with fast pedals. He laughed a little and shook his head, mumbling “unchanging” over and over.
He walked past the school’s open, iron gates and into a dim plaza-like space. Students of all shapes and sizes and colors and personalities all walked along, steps slow here and quick there. Teachers all did the same, shuffling back and forth, papers and books with other things tucked into their bags or under their arms. He paid little heed to this typical ritual. Just as in the morning, students of great variations would be coming in once the afternoon and evening times rang in.
He chose the mornings since he rather enjoyed waking up to the misty sky and skirting sun on the mountains. Also he seemed to find his mind to be freshest in the early hours of the day. Aside from that, he also had enough time in the later hours to do what he wanted when he wanted. He enjoyed being able to go out to the park in Shibuya when he wanted so he could sit and sketch or write or sing or play what he so chose that day. He then enjoyed, with time left over, heading to the library around the house; he lived nearby the place. He often wondered about the modest but rather luxurious one over in Takamatsu, but he gave up that a long time ago. It suited him well to dream about it since he preferred to be alone anyway.
He walked into his English class and sat down in the back left of the room, near the windows, and gazed out, elbows down and chin resting in an open palm. He craned his neck enough to see clearly out at the darkening sky. The ominousness of it disturbed him. Not that it was creepy for the sky to be dark, but that an air of uncertainty surrounded it; that was all. He looked into the room and sighed, taking a deep breath of the unstirred, silent air. He then, as if drawn in, cast his attention back onto the unchanging scene outside.
He grew bored of it rather quickly and reached into his bag for something else to do. He grabbed a sketchpad, a brand new one, and flipped it open to the first page. Then, reaching into the bag again for a pencil case, he unzipped the case and pulled out a sharp pencil and weaved it repeatedly through his fingers like someone stitching an elaborate tapestry, free from error. He thought a long while on what to put on this paper, and he finally stopped his mindless weaving and took the pencil, pressing the tip lightly to the white sheet, and began to sketch. His hand moved slowly at first, then a little quicker, running back and forth to darken the lines. After a while it began to take shape into a box-like form that he then began adding detail to until it looked like a shrine. After that he began sketching what looked to be a pedestal and, as with the structure, it began to take a definite shape. Atop it he sketched out something like Shisa, a Chinese deity. Around this scene he gave a bit of shade to darken the look, leaving bits of white to portray the fictitious moonlight from somewhere off the page, breaching the thick darkness. A bit more definition to the objects themselves and a little added detail and he felt satisfied. Upon closing the sketchbook he took note of the mass of students that had entered the classroom. The teacher had yet to arrive and class would be beginning very shortly.
If the teacher arrived late and got herself in trouble then it would be nothing for him to worry about; her job, not his. He positioned himself, head tilted enough so as to gain at least a slight view of the door from his seat through the cluster of students near him, to watch for her. In his mind he would be doing a lot better without her in there. No teacher, no class; no class, more free time. It all worked out well. Besides, even being late there would be class, so he would end up with extra fee time and, if she covered new material, learn something he didn’t know already.
Instead of Ms. Nagai, however, a man looking to be in his mid-thirties to early-forties came in, dark hair slicked back aside from the few bits sticking up here and there and clothes neatly pressed and arranged. He carried himself with grace and his steps were light despite his body being a bit broad and rigid. A charm in him was blurred greatly with the normality of his looks; he wasn’t a looker by some standards, but very much so on an average scale.
He picked up a marker and wrote his name in black on the board, his hand flowing freely as if controlling the gentle swaying of water, before he faced the class and stepped aside slowly, revealing each character as if each one were key to something miraculous. He wrote Kouta Masaki with neat and well-polished writing. He narrowed his eyes, though they were already rather small and limitedly spaced, and tapped it. “I’m your English professor from today on,” he said with the clearing of his throat. From that point past Nowaki heard him, but understood nothing. He focused in on the smoothness of the man’s deep voice and it soothed him. It reminded him, in a way, of his father.
His father passed away a week after his seventh birthday in a car accident on a freeway near Setagaya right after crossing from Route 246 to Setagaya-dori. He couldn’t remember if the man was coming home or leaving, but he was right at central Shibuya either way. He could remember bits and pieces about his history with his father, but nothing too specific. He kept most memories with his step-mother since she became his main caretaker after his death, though she didn’t take much interest him most times. She always worried more with her work and other family. Besides, she was his step-mother anyway, so she had no need to get so involved. He had no idea of what happened to his mother really aside from the tale he was told; his father and step-mother told him she died in childbirth, but he didn’t believe that himself.
He moved out of the house on his graduation day and into a tiny apartment with the money he had saved from odd jobs and part-time jobs ranging from harsh labor to petty things such as lawn work or house cleaning or some other sort of meager thing; money was money and that’s all that mattered. Though meager earnings, they sustained him and he made certain to never squander a single cent of it.
“You!” the man’s voice rang, snapping Nowaki from his inner world. “Pay attention to reality, not whatever fabricated fantasy that’s in that head of yours!”
Nowaki narrowed his eyes seriously, threateningly, coldly at the man. He cleared his throat and stood up, fingers aimed straight downward, granting him a sophisticated and well-bred air. “What is reality but many facets of a fabricated fantasy brought forth into this world from the one contained within one’s mind elsewhere?” he asked, his words slow and emotionless, yet they somehow conveyed such strong, attached emotions. “By saying that I should keep my mind in reality alone, you are suppressing this truth and the various thoughts that could result, bringing about many improvements if a grand thought should strike, sparking some revelation or great ideal. Isn’t that so? For example, many geniuses of our time and those long past held erratic ideas within them that they eventually brought to reality, producing various inventions to aid in day-to-day human life; would you dare to question the validity of such claims?” He said nothing more as he sat down, chin coming to rest in his palm again.
The man said nothing. He stood and stared at him like the other students, mouth agape and mind in a tizzy about what he had just heard. Had the boy really stood up to him like that? He coughed falsely and shook his head, swallowing down a lump in his throat; Nowaki could tell since he watched his Adams apple fall and rise back into place. “Ahem then; let’s continue. For now, we’re going to try and get caught up to her, your previous teacher’s lesson plans. She had it marked to continue on the half-section of Basho’s works then to move on from there to some of the contemporary work. Oh, but let’s push that off; better comes from the older poetry and prose. They expand you. Anyway, let’s take out your books and check them out. And, while I’m thinking about it, we may do some work with Kafka’s works.”
Nowaki heard none of this. He focused more on his own thinking, though he did hear the man’s speaking. He could feel the stares of a few people on him, but they didn’t matter. Why should he care about them at all when they couldn’t bring themselves to care for him? He took a deep breath and removed a thick textbook from his bag; it weighed quite a bit, so he struggled a little since he was only using one hand, his weaker one at that.
At fifteen, he had gotten into a car accident in the same general area as his father. A large truck had slammed into their small compact car—his step-mother had been driving carelessly—and it ended up throwing him into the back seat where it got jammed between hunks of metal or fiberglass or whatever it may have been after being thrown behind him; he always thought that, if not for that, his head or spine or something would have been caught and death may have arrived for him at that moment. He couldn’t remember how this all happened but it did and his hand ended up broken in five places—he didn’t know how it got broken in that many places or what the breaks were for sure or even which bones were broken—so he grew weak in it from lack of use. His right hand, however, had been saved from resting atop his stomach or connection point between his chest and stomach; same general area to him. It stopped growing right after that, its angle changing to a downward one and a hunched up bundle of flesh from the way it looked. He, for that reason, kept it in a glove or pulled back into his sleeve so it would look no different. He wasn’t really ashamed of it, but he didn’t want to give people another reason to make fun of him or to avoid him. However, he didn’t care either way; he preferred being alone nine times out of ten. The only exception would be with Mei and that time was becoming scarce and would soon be gone entirely.
He turned his attention to the front of the room and checked the page number written on the board. He flipped the book open to page four hundred and twenty-three. He scanned over a few of the haikus and, instead of doing exactly what had been written, he read the only one that appealed to him. He didn’t bother looking at the names of them or the poets, but rather at the first line. The one he had chosen to analyze, being about the falling rain and fish, he found to be interesting and thought-provoking, so he settled in and quickly found himself drawn in, reality fading before his eyes and leaving him to only see the image painted through the written words before him and the few reflective images scribbled onto the page itself.
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