I scrape myself up from the concrete and slink back to my room. The doors to the lecture hall are thick, but there’s no way people couldn’t have noticed my rapid exit. My embarrassment is palatable; my throat is choked and my palms sweaty. If anyone were to see me now they would suspect the worst. At least within the confines of the dorm room I have some shred of privacy. Thankfully all that the departing students saw was me scurrying off alone. I should be able to bluff my way out of this should any of them ask any questions.
I feel a thick knot of gall in my stomach, churning, black and heavy. Hanako has been forsaking her classes so that she could sneak into mine. Any other time I’d be impressed, even a little love-struck. But the pressure is on now. We’re in the home stretch to getting our degrees. Neither of us has jobs lined up, so if we have average marks then we’ve got no hopes for the future beyond working at a Mos Burger or our current service station. If that was the case then we could have skipped the last 4 years of study and gotten on with our lives.
I wish that Hanako would see things a little more seriously.
I need to get away before the class come out, so I turn on my tail and fly from Hisao and the university.
I must look a mess.
I know that I’ve been crying. This is why I shouldn’t wear make-up. I can dry my eyes, but so long as I have this powder on my face the grey streaks will show everyone what I’ve been up to. The last thing I need now is someone faking sympathy for me. Going back to the flat is no option; it’s too far and it reminds me too much of him for now.
My survival instincts kick in, and I head for a convenience store. I buy some wet-wipes from the counter and head into the bathroom. I lock the door and take to work on my make-up. The wet-wipes aren’t perfect but I should at least be able to hide the tell-tale signs of my tears.
Why does Hisao have to be so difficult? He’s got no idea how hard it is to stay in that flat alone. I can barely sleep a wink. Every sound sets me on edge. Is it just the refrigerator turning on, or is it someone breaking in? Is it a cat on the balcony or a cat burglar? When he was with me it was no problem, somehow having someone else in the flat calmed me down. But for the past few days I just haven’t been able to sleep at all.
Hanako in the mirror glares at me with forlorn, but tear-free eyes. At this rate, no-one will be able to read my heart. I discard the stained wet-wipes and unlock the toilet door.
It’s not like I want to be away from Hanako. I liked our peaceful little flat. Compared to the door it was nice and quiet. Here every night is like a Saturday night; drunk students revelling until 3am, loud music left on constant repeat, and the occasional fight breaking out in the corridor. And the room itself is little more than a bed and a desk. Hundreds of students have toiled away in here before me, and hundreds will follow me. It’s cold and impersonal. I tried sticking up a couple of photos of Hanako and I but it did little to dint the armour of anonymity surrounding this parcel of air.
If only I could make Hanako understand…
I wander aimlessly through the outskirts of the city. The University is on the edge of town, surrounded by residential units. I pass a few strangers going about their day, mothers carrying shopping bags in one hand and holding their child’s hand with the other, cyclists shooting along the footpath at breakneck speed, and the occasional student type; scruffy-clothed youths toting bags stuffed full with books.
None of them throw me a second glance. Since my days at Yamaku I’ve perfected my camouflage, and no no-one save my friends would even notice my scarring. And since meeting Hisao I’ve realised that no-one really notices them even when they can see them. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I have to talk to anyone. I’m better off when I’m by myself anyway.
Placing one foot in front of the other, I let the footpath take me wherever it wants me to go. I walk down a multitude of unfamiliar, uniform streets. Only the slight orange tint to the sky tells me that any time has passed at all. Still, I keep wandering deeper and deeper into the suburbs surrounding the university.
I reach into my bag and pull out my phone. The battery has died; I probably should have charged it last night. No matter, there’s still some daylight left.
Hanako’s phone is still not connecting. She’s probably turned it off to avoid talking to me. You know what; stuff her. If she’s going to be so immature then perhaps I should just leave her to think about what she said for a couple of days. Maybe she’ll see that this is a serious situation and come to her senses a little.
We’ve only been apart for a couple of days. What if I got a job that needs a fair bit of travel? Or if we both got shift jobs and our schedules didn’t match up for a few days? You can skip classes at university easily enough, but you can’t skip out on work.
Now that the sky has turned the navy blue of twilight the suppressed voices in my head find the courage to speak. Hanako has been a source of strength for me, and our lives have become fused together. With Lilly across the seas, all we have is each other. I’ve made a couple of friends form my lectures, but the over-crowded halls leave little scope for socialisation. Instead of attending the various social events organised by the student body, Hanako and I would prefer to go out together, alone. Without each other we are nothing.
And I know that. And I hate that, but I love it.
It’s the reason that I can’t sleep well in this shithole of a dorm room, the reason that I can barely focus on my textbooks in the dim light thrown off by the built-in desk light. The reason that every fibre in my body is screaming at me to pick up the phone and try to call her one more time…
“I’m sorry, but the service that you have dialled is engaged. Please try again later…”
Why? Who is he calling?
Maybe he turned off his phone so that he didn’t have to talk to me. Maybe he’s talking to another girl.
I’m lost, and I’m scared. The sky darkened a lot quicker than I thought, and the orange light of the mercury-vapour street lights does little to fight back the gloom. And now the neighbourhood is starting to fill up; people returning from work, half-drunk students staggering back to their flats, and what seems like an impossible number of cars.
I tried re-tracing my steps but to no avail. In desperation I tried reading the green address tags on the lamp-posts, but none of them made any sense to me. So I kept on walking, trying to find a police box, a convenience store, a subway station… anything that would get me home.
The closest I could find was a telephone box. Inside there was the local post map, however the rectangular blocks shown bear no relation to the tangled web of streets around me.
I need help, and there’s only one person I can get it from.
I insert the phone card one more time and try…
Again I hear the message that Hanako’s phone is out of range. Fine, she doesn’t want to talk to me. I wish I could say that I’m okay with that, but I’m not.
The dark sky outside stirs even darker things in my mind, and I start to worry. Hanako’s not exactly normal by any standard, and there’s no telling what she’d do when she’s under pressure. I close my eyes and summon all of my mental strength to push back the kaleidoscope of horrors that my subconscious seems intent on thrusting upon my mind.
No, she’s not that unstable. If I turn on the news I won’t see her precious purple locks spilling out from some tarpaulin draped over a subway line. My rational brain knows that she would never do that, but my subconscious shows me image after similar image, flooding my brain with horrors unthinkable.
My phone vibrates noisily against the desktop, and I nearly jump out of my skin at the noise. It’s a private number. I want to ignore it, to hang up and then try Hanako again, but I need a conversation with a real human right now; anything to get my mind back in order. Even a telesales operator would be welcome company at this point.
“Hello, Nakai speaki…”
There’s no mistaking that voice. Even through the shitty audio of the phone I can tell that it’s Hanako, and that something’s not right. The timbre of her voice, the quavering pitch…
“Hanako, what’s the matter? Is everything alright?”
The tension of the day, the argument, the difference of opinion… all of this is forgotten in an instant.
“Where are you?”
“I-I don’t know… I was just w-walking…”
“I mean where are you calling from?”
“O-oh. A p-phone booth.”
“Okay. Read me out the address and I’ll be right there.”
“Hana… Hanahata… 2-chome.”
“Right, stay right there, I’ll be there straight away.” I’m already searching for the address on my laptop. How the hell did she get herself there? She’s not far, but it’s like she’s right in the middle of the residential area surrounding the university. No wonder she couldn’t find her way out; the roads are a tangle of old-world civic planning.
“H-Hisao… I w-want to… to go home.”
“I know, I’ll be there soon…”
The phone rattles, and I know that she is shaking her head.
“N-no… w-with you.”
“I know. Somehow, after today, I want to go home with you too. Always…”
The line cuts out, and I know that she has hung up. I engrave the route to the phone booth in my mind and rush out of the dorm.
I stay in the phone booth. It’s like a suit of armour from the harsh, unfamiliar neighbourhood outside. The fluorescent light casts a greenish tinge on the already green phone, a stark contrast to the orange glow of the streetlights.
I have no idea of how long it will take Hisao to arrive. I’ve lost all bearings in this catacomb of streets. Who knows how long I would have been wandering around here if I hadn’t have found this booth.
Maybe I need to focus more. Hisao was always better at study than I. Part of me wanted this fairytale to never end, for us to keep going to university together forever. Maybe it is time for me to grow up.
I jog to the address for the phone booth. I could have caught the subway for one station, but at this time of the day it would have be jam-packed with workers and university students. No, it was quicker to jog.
Even so, the 30-minute run feels like an eternity.
In the orange-soaked light of the streetlights I see my target; a tinted-glass box on the side of the road. I pause for a second to think about whom it is that works out where to put phone booths.
Even from a distance I can see a figure sitting in the booth, hugging her knees and trying to make herself as small as possible. The sight of Hanako washes away my fatigue from the run, and I race towards the booth.
“Hanako, are you alright?”
She turns her face to mine, and smiles gently. I can clearly read the ravages of the day on her face; the smeared makeup, the fresh trails of tears, and the heart-warming sliver of a smile.
I lend her my hand and help her up.
“I’d love to know how you got here, but I think I can work it out.”
“Don’t be silly. It’s my job to come and get you, right? I mean, that’s what couples do, right?”
Hanako nods embarrassingly.
“S-should we… we go home?”
“I’ve got a better idea. The dorm is closer; let’s head there and order a pizza.”
“Oh and Hanako…?”
“I love you.”
“I love you t-too.”