Mother and Daughter
After looking high and low for Tsubaki, I finally found her loitering somewhere I wouldn’t expect. I normally wouldn’t think of searching here, so I’m really glad that I happened to pass by this area. While thinking that we must be linked by fate, I approach her stealthily.
“Tsubaki, fou—nd ya.”
When I call out to her, she vigorously turns around, looking surprised.
“What are you doing in this kind of place?”
“Rumi-san told me in secret before…. This is where Mom’s precious person lays asleep. I visited this cemetery, thinking that I might be able to find Dad somewhere.”
I quietly stand next to Tsubaki. I thought that she might actually run away from me, so I feel a bit relieved to know that’s not the case.
“I don’t know Dad’s name, so I have no way to find him. But, when I think that he’s here somewhere in this cemetery, I manage to forget about my loneliness.”
She’s convinced that her mother has abandoned her. I can tell from her eyes that she feels so lonely, and sad. It pains me to look at her current state, and I really want to do something for her. But, nothing comes to mind. Powerless as I am, I can only stand next to her.
I believe nothing I say will get through to her, since I’m not her mother. The only one who can make her smile from the bottom of her heart is none other than her mother. I covertly use my phone to send an email about this location to that person…. Now, the only thing to do is to hope that she will arrive soon.
“I’m, all alone now.”
“……That’s not true.”
“It’s all right. I already, know it full well.”
“Nope— you don’t get it.”
“At the very least, I’m here with you.”
Feeling embarrassed, I make a wry smile. Tsubaki, on the other hand, gazes at me in astonishment.
She grasps the hem of my clothes firmly, as she looks at me with moist eyes. With a hint of sadness in her pupils, her ephemeral eyes look so beautiful. It feels as if I’m getting sucked in as I gaze at those lovely eyes. My heart starts beating faster.
Hey, what am I thinking about? Ahem, I force a cough to dispel the mysterious emotion in my chest. I search for a topic to talk about, but the words that leave my mouth with ease are out of my own expectation.
“Say, what do you think happens to someone when they die?”
She looks dumbfounded when she hears my abrupt question. That’s a really dark question. What am I to say when I’m the one asking, though. I wonder if my mouth runs off by itself due to the atmosphere in the cemetery, or maybe there’s some other reason. I think I should have talked about something more cheerful, but it’s too late for that. Even so, Tsubaki ponders about it earnestly for a while before giving out an answer that’s very much like her.
“Umm, they either go to heaven or hell, I think?”
“Hmm— I wonder.”
When a person dies, does the soul go somewhere? There are various speculations from different countries and sects. Only the deceased would know the answer, but the dead tell no tales.
When I died, I didn’t reach heaven or hell. Instead, I immediately dwell as a new life in the womb of a different mother, with my past memories intact. I don’t know how it goes for the others. Unlike me, maybe some people go to heaven or hell. Maybe they return to the netherworld, or to svarga. At the end of the day, even after I died, I don’t know the details of what happens after death.
“Then, do you believe in the circle of transmigration? That the dead retain their souls and be born again as different people?”
“You mean, reincarnation?”
“I don’t know. Even if people retain their souls, I believe they are entirely different people from before they died.”
After a short while, she suddenly shows a gentle expression.
“If someone precious to me dies, and reincarnates, and lives in this world again… if I can meet that person again, then how wonderful it would be. That’s why, I want to believe in it.”
When I hear her answer, I can feel warmth gradually filling my heart. It feels as if she’s pulled out something that’s been stuck within me.
“Hinata-san, do you believe in it? I mean, in reincarnation?”
“……I suppose. I think it’s a happy thing to be reincarnated. I got to meet a new family, and I also met Hiori, Tsubaki, and Rumi. I had always wondered why I get to retain my memories… but after coming to this town, I feel like it doesn’t matter anymore. No, that’s not quite right. From the bottom of my heart, I’m grateful to retain my memories when I was reborn.”
“It’s a joke.”
I play the fool and laugh, and I poke Tsubaki’s soft cheek with my index finger.
“Ah, um. Wah, wah.”
“Ooh~ Tsubaki’s cheek feels soft and pleasant.”
Poke, poke, poke. It feels so pleasant that I have a hard time stopping. As her cheeks turn redder by the second, I figure that it’s about time I cut it out. So, I retract my finger from her cheek.
I meekly apologize like a child being scolded by her parent. It seems that I managed to make her believe that what I ended up blurting was just a joke. It’s not that I want to hide the truth. But, it scares me a little if she knows. Besides… I’m happy enough to be able to stay by her side as [Hayase Hinata].
“Will you, stay with me?”
“I’d be glad to. Besides…… hh?!”
I notice there is someone behind us, so I turn my body around. But, the person standing there is not the one that I expect. Next to me, she also turns around, and she gasps.
The one standing there, is a thin man.
“This is our first time meeting, I guess. Umm, you’re Tsubaki-chan, right?”
He shows off a friendly-looking smile as he inches toward us. I wonder if Tsubaki knows about this guy, since she is staring at him anxiously. The same goes for me; I can’t hide my unrest from seeing someone I truly didn’t expect.
“Yes… I am.”
“I see now, you resemble her.”
Keeping his smiling face, he looks at Tsubaki with his slit eyes. Horrified by the sight of him, my body trembles. It’s dangerous to let this guy near Tsubaki. Why is he here during such moments?
“The other day… you were together with Mom at town, weren’t you?”
“Hm? …Aah, so you saw us…. That’s quite troubling.”
He doesn’t look as troubled as he says. So, the guy that Tsubaki mentioned earlier is him.
“What kind of relationship do you have with Mom?”
“Well, I guess we have an unusual relationship.”
He answers Tsubaki ambiguously, like he’s making a joke. Tsubaki makes a scowl, maybe because she’s unhappy with his attitude, or maybe she can’t stomach him to be with her mother.
“I’m asking you seriously.”
“Haha… you really look like her when you make that face.”
He doesn’t care about Tsubaki’s thorny remark, only smiling like he’s having fun, like always.
“Tsubaki, let’s go.”
“We shouldn’t get ourselves involved with someone we don’t know about. There are many degenerates around here.”
I pull her by the hand, intending to leave the area. But the smiling guy blocks our way.
“It’s so cruel to call me a degenerate~ Well, I’m your mom’s acquaintance, so you don’t need to be alarmed.”
“All degenerates say that.”
“……You say interesting things. Are you Tsubaki-chan’s friend?”
I want to tell him not to say her name so familiarly, but I hold myself back.
“Sorry, but I have something important to talk with Tsubaki-chan. Can you go home by yourself?”
“I’m worried about Tsubaki, so I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
“Haha, it makes me sad to know that you really don’t trust me. Maybe you won’t believe it, but I’m actually——”
“Please shut up.”
You don’t have the qualification to speak about that. You don’t have the right to meet Tsubaki, either. When I scowl at him, the smiling guy’s expression turns meek.
“……You know about it?”
Of course I do. I really don’t want to see the sight of him. I don’t want to hear his voice, either. He is a guy that I don’t want to meet a second time.
Tsubaki looks worried because I’m acting differently. So, I fix my smile and tell her that everything is okay.
“Hmm… they really come prepared. I expect no less of the talented lady that’s affiliated with the old family. I didn’t think that they would employ even a child.”
“Though, I don’t think there’s anything a child like you can do.”
He still has the composure to smile as he says that. I stand in front of Tsubaki to block his view.
“Somehow, looking at you reminds me of that foolish girl…. That girl had protected her, like what you’re doing now.”
“And yet, you ran away.”
He grumbled in a low voice, and he looks at me in shock. In place of his composure, his face now shows great confusion.
“You, what did you just…?!”
He takes a step back, like he’s trying to run. But he can’t take his eyes off me.
“It’s not as you think. I didn’t hear anything from Hiori at all.”
I just keep my emotions flowing into words.
“Then how did you know?! Just how much do you know?!”
“Who can say? What if I tell you that, I know about everything?”
The guy grimaces, like he’s mortified after recognizing my ill humor. He then breathes out and regain his calm.
“…..Tsk, I didn’t expect this. I thought it would go well without problem.”
He might have thought that no one heard his mumbling, but his voice reaches my ears properly. I don’t know what he’s scheming, but I won’t let it go as he wants. I’ll be the one to protect both Tsubaki and Hiori.
Hiori finally arrives in a hurry. But she turns pale as soon as she notices the man that’s with us. She sends him a sharp glare.
“What are you doing here?!!”
“Oops, your mom is here. See ya, Tsubaki-chan. We’ll talk another time…. That goes to you, too, Hiori.”
The guy walks pass us and leaves. Hiori and I watch his retreating figure in silence.
“Mom, that man……”
“It’s better if you don’t know about it….”
She is talking like she’s level-headed, but it’s clear that she’s hiding the unrest in her heart. I’m also having a hard time suppressing my welling anger and regret.
“……You’re right. I know that it’s none of my business…”
She hangs her head, and the voice that she lets out is barely audible. It’s a sight that is painful to look at.
“But still, I want to know.”
“It’s scary to know about the truth. But, I don’t want to regret it just because I’m too afraid to ask. That’s why… Mom, please tell me the truth. I’m prepared to accept it…”
She raises her face, and she looks straight into her mother’s eyes. Tsubaki’s expression is filled with resolve. Looking at her daughter, although she looks sad, a faint smile shows on the parent’s visage.
“Although I never did anything for you all this time, you still grew up to be honest and strong…. I wonder if it’s thanks to the Sekiguchis and Rumi-chan.”
She narrows her eyes, and looks at her daughter with pride.
“There are things that you are better off not knowing. But even so, do you still want to know the truth?”
“…Regardless if you bear enmity towards me, even if you think of me as an existence you don’t care about, I will still love you, Mom. No matter what happens, I love you.”
Listening to those words, Hiori lets out a heavy sigh.
“That man…… is your father.”
“He isn’t… the partner for your second marriage? Besides, you told me before that dad had passed away…”
Tsubaki is shaken by the truth that is different from what she has believed. Looking at her state, Hiori seems to be unable to continue talking. Maybe she is unsure about how she can explain it well.
“It’s the same thing. Although it’s true that you are the child between that man and I, I never recognize him as your father.”
At her hesitation, she is at a loss for words. To speak about something that she has hidden for a long time requires great resolve and courage. Without pressing for Hiori’s answer, Tsubaki chooses to wait in silence.
“Because that man, isn’t someone whom I ever loved.”
“And, instead of protecting you, he forsook you, and escaped. There’s no way I could ever tell you that the likes of him was your father.”
She spits out those words, without the slightest intention to hide her exasperation. It’s plain to see what she thinks of that guy.
“Then, the one that lies asleep in this cemetery, Mom’s precious person…”
“Yes… “she” is the one who protected both you and me in place of that man.”
We approach a tomb that’s not far from here, and I look at it before my eyes. On the gravestone is etched, [Sekiguchi Family].
“Sekiguchi… could it be Rumi-san’s…”
“Yes, this tomb is where her Onee-san lies asleep.”
Hiori doesn’t avert her eyes from the tombstone as she talks in a calm voice. Although she appears to be speaking firmly, her voice sounds hoarse. For a while, she caresses the tombstone gently, and affectionately, and she closes her eyes. Then, seemingly discovered her determination, she opens her mouth.
“…I didn’t intend to give birth to you.”
Noticing that Tsubaki has turned limp next to me, I hurry to support her. Of course, anyone would be shocked to hear those words from their own parents. Hiori weakly opens her eyes and speaks as if in repentance.
“I didn’t have the confidence, to raise you, to protect you, to love you. I believed that I didn’t have the ability to give you happiness. Even now, I feel the same way.”
“Then! Why did you give birth to me?! That’s too irresponsible of you!”
“……It’s because of her. This person had risked her life to protect us both.”
She slowly traces the name that is etched in the tombstone horizontally with her fingers.
“I had a childhood friend. She was absent-minded in some respects, slovenly with time, and foolish. But despite her gentle and timid look, her heart was stronger than anyone. That’s the kind of person she was.”
Perhaps recalling the past, her eyes are directed at a place far away from here.
“I had intended to hide my pregnancy from anyone. But eventually, my weak self ended up depending on her…. She was too kind for her own good, and she gave her everything to protect me.”
“You are a life that she protected using her own. That’s why I decided to give birth to you. I believed that was my duty…… but…”
She finally turns her gaze from the tombstone to look at her own daughter. Her gentle expression, her warm gaze, it’s truly the face of a mother.
“When you were born, I was so glad that I shed some tears. Looking at you while I was holding you in my arms gave warmth to my heart. You were so darling when you called me Mom…. You were a blessing, and I was grateful that you were born.”
“When I lost my dear childhood friend, as well as the meaning of my life, you gave me plenty of happiness.”
“But, you are so precious to me that I grew scared. I didn’t have the confidence. I was afraid that I would hurt you, lose you, more than anything in this world. After losing that person, I have become weak, a coward. That’s why I didn’t want to lose you, like how it happened with her.”
She looks worn out, as she smiles in self-derision.
“I was running away from you. I was running away from my own feelings. I convinced myself that it’d be best to leave you in the care of my acquaintance’s family for your sake. Without realizing, that it would hurt you even more.”
“I’m sorry….. I’m sorry, Mom.”
“I was running away, too. I made my own assumptions instead of believing in you.”
“You’re not at fault. It’s all because of my obstinacy, trying to carry everything in my arms.”
Feeling remorse of her past, she continues speaking. By letting out everything that she’s been holding until now, although it’s hard, she looks refreshed.
“Even though everyone opposed… when I was bearing you in my womb, there was a person who wished for you to be born.”
Hiori points at the name that is etched on the tombstone. Tsubaki peers in for a look, and she raises her voice in surprise.
“I received your name from this person, the one who had waited eagerly for your birth as if you were her own child; my precious person.”
“This person… protected me?”
“When I said that I didn’t have the confidence to raise you, she told me, ‘Then I’ll raise be the one to raise her!’ you know. She made me realize that ‘I wanted you to be born,’ a feeling that I didn’t even come to realize myself. She was usually thickheaded, but when it came down to it, she was the sharp one.”
Astonished, she breathes a small sigh.
“There were people who wished for me to be born…”
“Mom, do you think that, it’s good for me, to be born?”
“Mom, do you, love me?”
“To me, you’re more important than anyone else, my irreplaceable daughter.”
“I, see. Aha, ahaha…”
Large drops of tears start to spill from Tsubaki’s eyes. But without wiping them, she only fixes her eyes on the tomb in front of her. Then, her mother hugs her from behind in silence.
“I’m sorry for all the detours that I took. I’m not going to ask for your forgiveness. But, if you’re still willing to believe in me…… I want you to stay next to me.”
Her voice is trembling, like she’s squeezing out her entire feelings.
“Yes, of course. After all, no matter what happens, you are my Mom. I will always love you.”
She displays the most cheerful smile I’ve ever seen, and she holds her mother’s arm that’s hugging her. Hiori looks at her daughter like she is the most valuable treasure in the whole world. After colliding their opposing thoughts, it seems they have managed to reconcile just fine.
They’re going to be all right now. I turn my back from the sight of the lovely parent and child, and I quietly leave the place so that they won’t notice.
……An [outsider] should go home without intruding them.
I slowly release her from my embrace. When I look at the weeping face of my beloved daughter, she shyly smiles. I wonder how much time has passed since I last saw her cry. I deeply regret having run away from this child all this time. I want to stay with her like this until the end of time, without having to think about anything. However, it’s a wish that can’t be done. Thus, I renew my feelings, and I brace myself.
“Tsubaki, I must attend to an important matter after this… so, stay at Sekiguchi-san’s house for today. I already contacted Rumi-chan about it.”
“It’s all right. I’ll be sure to come and fetch you tomorrow.”
“Y-yes! I understand.”
She’s making a sad face. But when I caress her head, she looks happy as she smiles bashfully. In order for me to stay by her side and protect her, there are various things that I need to settle.
“H-huh? Hinata-san is gone.”
“…I suppose she didn’t want to bother us and went home. It seemed to me that she is a really wise girl.”
“After all the trouble that we’ve caused, let’s visit her tomorrow to give our gratitude.”
“Go on home, before it gets dark.”
I tell Tsubaki to go home ahead of me, and I remain by myself in the desolate cemetery. After visiting this place every week, I have grown accustomed to this scenery. But today, the place looks different from how I remember it.
“I went through the roundabout way, but that child and I have finally faced each other.”
I stand still in the quiet cemetery as I talk to her tombstone. Naturally, no one gives me a reply.
“Thank you, for watching over us.”
Whenever I come to visit this place, to see this tombstone, I feel anguished… but it’s fine. This pain is proof that I’m thinking of you, as well as the punishment that I have to bear. Perhaps my tears had been flowing for too long, I can’t remember having cried in the past several years.
“I didn’t bring any presents today, but don’t go into a bad mood because of that.”
I always bring her the sweets that she loved, but I hope that she will pardon me for today.
“That child has grown big, don’t you think? The first time I brought her to meet you was when she was still small after all.”
The small life that she protected has grown big and healthy. Even without the proper skinship between parent and child, she still grew up to be honest and kind. Without a doubt, I have her sister to thank for that.
“I’m sorry for everything. Although maybe it’s too late for this… from now on, as her mother, I will stay with that child and watch over her.”
I’m sure she would be angry at me in earnest, but afterwards, she would smile and kindly forgive me. I can easily picture it in my mind. Her surprised face, her troubled face, her sad face, her laughing face, even after sixteen years, I can still remember vividly.
I will never forget. There’s no way I can forget.
“I want to meet you… Tsubaki.”
I spoke the words that must never be said. I was the one who drove her to her death. How am I in any position to say that now? I can no longer see her, nor can I touch her, and the fault lies with me. How many times I have pondered that I don’t have the right to live. How many times, I have despaired. My chest hurts, like it’s bursting open, and this sense of loss will never vanish…….
What bound me to this world after losing her, was my daughter. The moment that child was born, this cold, suffocating world felt so warm. It’s because of my daughter, that I remain alive in this world. That person has protected even my future. But despite all that, I only think of myself, and I keep hurting that child. In truth, I don’t have the right to face you.
“I will properly, make that child happy. That, I promise.”
I gently kiss the tombstone, and its coldness transmits to my lips.
“I… will come again. Next time, I will come together with that child.”
I softly stroke the tombstone. Afterward, I take out my cell phone and taps on the number which remains in my log. After a few calling tones, I can hear the unpleasant voice from the other side. I breathe a small sigh and announce my business right after.
Taking off my shoes, I enter my home. Mother, noticing that I have returned, appears from the inner room. Her slippers make a pitter-patter sound.
“Welcome home—! You were out late.”
“…Sorry. Here, the things that you asked.”
I hand over the shopping bag to Mother. I remembered to buy some chocolate to replace the one that I had given to the lost girl, so there’s no reason for her to get angry. I’m tired from all the things that happened today, so I feel like sleeping already. To tell the truth, my body is so heavy that it’s difficult for me to keep standing. I pass by Mom in order to return to my room, but she suddenly pulls my arm towards her. Since it happened without warning, my heart leaps in shock.
“Hey… did something happen?”
She asks me with a serious expression, which is unusual for her. It seems that I can’t answer her with a joke.
“No, nothing happened.”
There’s no way I can tell her about Tsubaki’s affairs, so I deceive her with my usual expression. With a sad, lonely, sorrowful eyes, Mother looks at me. Why is she making that kind of face?
“You were always the bright one, you could do anything alone… you were a child who always listened to others.”
“I wasn’t cute at all, was I?”
When I gained my awareness of things, even though I regained my past memories, I intended to behave like a child. But, I guess I was seen through. I’ve always done anything alone. I knew about things without having to be taught. To my parents who wanted to spoil me, I was certainly a child without any cute aspects. Maybe in reaction to that, when Saki was born, both my parents spoiled her rotten. Ultimately, the pampered child grew up to be selfish, doing things at her own pace.
“Like a black kite gives birth to a hawk1, is what Dad and I felt. We were foolish to think that way.”
“I’m quite foolish myself, you know.”
1An expression when a genius child is born of perfectly ordinary parents.
When I look at Mother cracking up animatedly, I feel relieved. I know that Mother looks best when she is smiling.
“Hinata, you always carry everything by yourself. Of course that makes you foolish.”
“Now stop making that lonely face, as if you’re a child that’s been thrown away. You’re not supposed to say that nothing happened.”
She flicks me on the forehead. It isn’t strong, but it isn’t weak, either. Instead, I feel a gentle impact on my head.
“Behave more like a spoiled child. Tell me anything you want. Ah, could it be that you actually forgot——that I’m your mother?”
She tapers her lips as she states her complaint. I didn’t forget. Mom is my Mom, I know.
Why did I think that I was alone? It’s such a foolish thinking…. Although, I know the reason. When I saw Hiori and Tsubaki getting along with each other, I felt lonely. I couldn’t get in between them, and it made me sad. I understand that I don’t have the right to, but still, it mortified me. I couldn’t afford to reach out my hands and hug them.
The me in the present has my own place to belong, but despite that, I was feeling uneasy about being alone. Even though Dad, Mom, and Saki—my precious family—are here to stay with me. I have a family who holds me dear. It’s unforgivable for me to think that I was alone.
——In the end, I am the foolish one.
“……Mom, I’m glad to be born as your child.”
“Isn’t that obvious? Be honored that you were born as my child.”
My heart, feels warm.
“Thank you, Mom. But, I’m all right, don’t be worried.”
“…If anything happens, tell me without keeping it to yourself.”
She gives me a loving hug. I think it’s been a long time since I was hugged like this.
My body, feels warm. As if to keep the warmth from escaping, I am filled with Mother’s affection.
“……What are you doing?”
Passing by the passageway, Saki looks at us dubiously. Mother beckons her, and she approaches us with a perplexed look on her face.
When Saki draws near, Mother catches both of us in a firm hold. My sister frantically tries to escape, but Mother won’t let her.
“A ha ha~ I love you, I love you. Kiss, kiss~”
“Ah~ it’s sweltering!”
It’s stifling when the three of us are glued to each other like this. But when I look at Mother smiling so happily, I can’t help but to smile, as well. Even though Saki makes a reluctant face at first, she eventually smiles, too. I think it would have been more fun if Dad was here…. Let’s send him an email later.
“Huh? Saki, did you get fatter?”
“Gyaah!! Don’t pinch my stomaach—!!”
“Go for it, a chubby lineage.”
We make a racket at the entrance for a while, as we spend a merry time together.