Summary: These are the reasons Satoru decides to stay. Written after reading The Town Only Where I am Missing by Kei Sanbe. *Allude to Elizabeth, otherwise known as antistar_e.
Length: 1400 words.
Someday, I’ll wake up and we’ll be together again.
I wake up to a gust of cherry blossoms, and memories to me are fading faster than I am able to put them together. I wander through an unfamiliar town, finding not a single person in sight. When I pass by a shop window, the reflection that stares back is a kid in a white shirt and black slacks.
The first living soul I meet is a secondary school boy sitting on the swing in the playground. Where is this place? Who are you? What am I? There are so many things I wish to ask that in the end I never had the chance. Sitting down on the swing next to him, I watch him read. Suddenly, I am overwhelmed by a sense of familiarity that almost makes me choke up with tears.
I cannot quite grasp why that is.
In my mind’s eye, I see this very same boy, much younger, offering me a hand and a reassuring smile. It’s a snowy day and the boy is saying something, mouth wrapping around a name, my name — Satoru.
“Kenya! C’mon, let’s go!”
A voice from the other side of the fence jerks me back to the present. I look around to see a group of children standing outside the parameter, waving wildly. I turn back just as the boy — Kenya — closes his book and gets up. Panicking, I spring to my feet. “Wait, Kenya, is it? I need to speak to you—”
Kenya walks through me as though I am made of light.
I stare down at myself, then stare after Kenya. I watch him go.
There is a name on my tongue that I haven’t yet learned to speak. It begins with a Y and ends with an O, and the syllables in between spells vengeance.
It must be important.
The favourite thing I like to do is follow Kenya and his friends to school. There is a girl in a different homeroom from Kenya who catches my eyes. She always has a shy boy clinging onto her. I mostly find it sweet, but the more I watch them the more my chest ache with something I cannot name.
I catch myself wondering if I knew them once upon a time.
Look, I’m not stupid.
Even without my memories, I understand that this isn’t an everyday occurrence. I know that out there somewhere, I must have a family that loves me and friends who are waiting for me. It’s just that, somewhere in the back of my mind, a seed of doubt begins to grow, and it’s trying to convince me that staying like this isn’t all that bad either.
Part of me is tempted to stay, to observe strangers as they go through their lives, because life looks somehow easier when I’m not taking part in it.
Point is, if I continue as no more than a spectre, then I exist outside the realm of jurisdiction. The only rules I need to follow are the ones I give myself. Since I don’t exist, if anyone wants to punish me, they are going to have to acknowledge me first. The list of things I can get away with is astronomical.*
In the typeset storyline, I exist in the white space, wrenched away from my human life and none of the rules apply.*
Why shouldn’t I sleep when I’m tired, eat when I’m hungry? Why should I have to pay for things? Why should I go to school? What are the consequences?*
These are my exact thoughts when I walk into the convenience store near Kenya’s house. The woman who mans the cashier looks up when the automatic doors slide open, and for a second, I stop dead. The woman stares straight at me like she knows I’m there.
But that’s ridiculous. Pfft.
I disappear into the corner of the store, feeling the woman’s eyes burn holes at the back of my head. I am tempted to turn around and ask “You can see me?” but I don’t. As I reach out for a bag of unappetising pre-packaged crisps that’s been saturated in sodium and who-knows-what chemicals, my conscience kicks in to remind me that stealing is wrong.
Cursing silently, I look up.
The woman is gone.
Raking a hand through my hair, I sigh before re-emerging from the aisle empty-handed.
A steaming cup of ramen sits on the counter beside the note that says, For Satoru. With a jolt in my heart and a million questions racing through my mind, I pocket the note and finish the noodles in record time. It’s the best thing I’ve ever tasted and it almost makes me cry.
In return, I guard the store until the woman returns from her bathroom break.
When I mutter a thank you, she doesn’t hear me.
It’s a warm Friday afternoon that I meet Kenya’s substitute teacher. The class is drowsy from lunch, and I’m sitting with my legs up on the teacher’s desk when the substitute walks in. Immediately, I lurch onto my feet, the name long forgotten slips from my mouth. Suddenly, the Y and the O and the syllables in between are starting to make sense.
When Yashiro smiles, the class brightens.
Yashiro is a good teacher, and I don’t understand the look of utter disdain on Kenya’s face. His fists are shaking, his cheeks are flushed and the curve of his lips is twisted all wrong.
When Yashiro calls Kenya to answer a question on the board, Kenya lurches from his seat and storms out of class. I run after Kenya with the knowledge that Yashiro will still be here when I return. I follow Kenya to the courtyard where he slumps down under a cherry blossom tree and hurls.
With arms wrapped around his head, Kenya sobs into his knees, body wracking every time he heaves. “I will make Yashiro pay!”
I kneel beside the boy who I have grown to call a friend. Kenya says that he’s sorry, but I fail to understand why. He chokes out my name and claws at his clothes. “Satoru, I’m sorry.”
As I try to hug Kenya, my hands fall through. In the moment I try to touch him a tide of memories breaks through the padlocked doors and drowns me.
I will make Yashiro pay.
Take that away, and what do you have left?*
Who do you have left?
I cough and sputter, clutching at my throat because it burns. Drop a quarter into the well that is my life, and you will hear any number of things echo back*: the quiet snores of my mother sleeping beside me; the pretty blush on a ten year-old Hiromi when he tries to take my hand; Kayo’s tears when she wakes up to a proper breakfast; Kenya’s breath fogging the air when he leans into me, murmuring, “You’re the only one who matters”.
Drop a quarter into the drudgery that is my past and you will hear: everyday life is a treasure.
The things I want the most are the things that I have to exchange my life for. I cannot create a childhood for myself and my friends where nothing bad happened; I cannot create a father for myself; I cannot make Kenya realise that I am here by his side like I know he will always be by mine.
I cannot give Kenya the justice he wants, because whatever ill-will I had was murdered along with me.
But I’m here. I’m still here.
It’s the little things about this time, this life that makes it so worth staying in even when I’m no longer alive: paper placemats at restaurants that you can colour on*, Creme Eggs that taste so overwhelmingly sweet they aren’t even creamy any more, walking down the long winding path towards Kenya’s house and stopping to see my mother at the convenience store.
I’ll protect you. All of you.
And I’m already in love. In a timeline where I don’t exist, I get to at least fall in love.
The setting sun casts Kenya’s shadow long and lean across the pavement, and I quicken my pace enough to catch up to it, catching the end of it and wrapping it around the flat of my hand.*
Falling in love is as simple as waking up. One blink to the next, and it’s done.