Two Sides of a Coin ＊2
Even now… I cannot remember how I lived during the several months after I lost Tsubaki. At that time, I was rejecting reality, the fact that I could not meet Tsubaki anymore. Hence, I stopped thinking entirely. Otherwise, I would be overwhelmed by the heartrending guilt and sorrow within me, crushing me underfoot.
However, it does not mean that I have forgotten everything that happened. There are still faint pieces of memories that remain.
Although I cannot make out the details, I remember attending Tsubaki’s funeral. It seems that I was brought by the Sekiguchis to the ceremonial hall, and I sat somewhere inconspicuous. I heard other attendees speaking and their sobbing, but it did not register in my head. Everything came as static in my ears.
But this, I clearly remembered——the words that one of the attendees said in my face.
I was sitting on a chair with my head cast down, when she approached. She was one of the few people that I could call my acquaintance. She was wearing all black, which was the same attire as mine. She looked horrible because she did not bother wiping the tears on her face. Then, she bared her hatred towards me. She glared at me fiercely, as though she was going to murder me.
[It’s your fault!! It’s all your fault that Tsubaki died!!]
She grasped my collar and pulled my whole body towards her, but I did not do anything to resist. Her shouts of abuse, as well as her scornful eyes did not come as painful for me. Far from it, I felt comforted instead.
Because… nobody would blame me.
She was the only one who would tell me straight up that I was to blame for Tsubaki’s death. Her unadulterated words pierced my heart, and they remain even now.
[I’ll never forgive you.]
She said the same words over and over as she screamed. And I simply listened.
It would be much easier if everyone came to hate me. I wanted them to drive me to a corner. I wanted someone, anyone, to pluck my right to keep living.
After all, there was no way I could meet her anymore.
My life had lost its meaning. I wanted to die and went to her side.
But ironically, the grudge that she poured on me became the chain that bound me to this world.
Tsubaki died to protect me. If I died, what she did would become meaningless. Sawamura Akari’s words brought me to realize that. Besides, it would be unforgivable for me to seek peace by dying. After what happened, I was not qualified to follow after her.
It was my fault that Tsubaki had passed away. Therefore, I had to live to atone for it. For her sake, for the sake of the people related to her, I would live and keep living… I had to carry on until I drew my last regardless of how painful, how sorrowful, and how lonely it would be. I might not attain forgiveness for the rest of my life, but still I would continue to atone.
That was the [punishment] for my sin.
That was what…
…my weak and brittle self had believed all this time.
Tsubaki has gone on the way home, which leaves the two of us alone in the public park. The sun has set before I knew it, and our surroundings has turned completely dark. The temperature has started to drop, and I can feel the cold wind brushing against my hair.
“…Has it been since the funeral?”
I did not imagine that a day would come when I could speak to her like this again. I know that she despises me, so I believed that she would never appear in front of me anymore. Perhaps it was pure coincidence that we meet in this place. It is impossible that she would return expressly to meet me.
“I heard that you were employed far from town.”
“Yes. Although I had planned to attend a local university, I changed my mind and searched for a job instead. In the end, I joined an acquaintance’s company, and I was working there until recently.”
“If I had stayed in this town, I would keep being reminded of her. Actually, I didn’t intend to return here, but there are things that I must do.”
She squints and heaves a sigh.
“Even though I had resolved myself, it’s still tough. The town has changed here and there, but the scenery brings me back… and I end up recalling various things. Still, I really didn’t expect to meet you right after I returned.”
I am just as surprised. I thought my heart would stop when I saw her with my daughter. Her hatred towards me runs deep, so I suspected that she approached my daughter with a scheme in mind. Naturally, I am still wary of her right now. It is anybody’s guess what she might do.
There was a period when I would gladly accept her grudge, but not anymore. I am now carrying what I will never concede to anyone—my treasures. My life is no longer mine alone. That is why I cannot give it away to her so simply.
“Don’t glare at me like that. I assure you, I didn’t return all the way here for revenge, okay?”
“I wonder. In fact, didn’t you blabber to my daughter just earlier?”
“I won’t do a petty thing like revenge after all this time. Although, meeting your daughter made me recall the past. I ended up wanting to play some pranks… on you, I mean.”
“…If you want to vent yourself, do it directly to me. Don’t involve my daughter in this.”
“Yes, you’re right. I didn’t come back to this town for something like that. Rather, I’m here to make the clear of it.”
She slowly rises from the bench and stands in front of me. She draws in a quick breath before giving me a sharp glare.
“I have no intention to hurt you in any way… but I have always despised you.”
“It’s a matter of course. Tsubaki died because I involved her in my personal problems.”
If only I did not turn to her, if only I could solve it all on my own, Tsubaki would not have died back then. That is why her resentment against me is justified. The victim herself might not have blamed me for it, but the sin for indirectly leading her to death will never fade.
“True, that was what I thought at that time. You brought troubles to my close friend, you let her suffer and die. To tell the truth, I knew that you weren’t completely at fault, but I didn’t want to admit it. That’s why I… all this time… I sought for the easy way out. I blamed everything on you, I resented you, all to let me forget about my sadness for losing Tsubaki.”
“I only wanted an excuse, a facade, to despise you. After all, I had always despised you, long before that incident. It wasn’t out of hatred, though——I was simply jealous of you.”
“Yes, I know. After all, you and I are ‘similar’.”
Sawamura Akari and Tsubaki were best friends. Her name often came up when Tsubaki was talking to me, and I remember being bored to hear it every time. Among her many friends, I believed she was the closest to Tsubaki.
Although we attended the same middle school, we had little chance to meet due to our age gap. Furthermore, since we were separated by two school years, the period when we could go to the same school was limited to one year. Sawamura Akari, on the other hand, was the same age as Tsubaki, they were in the same class, and they even walked the same route in the morning. She could always be with Tsubaki at school. It was the source of my envy… and jealousy.
But out of school, I would be the one who gets to monopolize Tsubaki. I suspected Sawamura Akari was jealous of me because of that. After all, Tsubaki would come to meet me almost every day when the school was over.
“I loved Tsubaki, more than a close friend. I had a habit of saying the first thing that popped in my mind without caring for the mood. I couldn’t make a single friend because of it. But, she accepted an idiot like me… she stayed with me. That was how I came to love her.”
She and I are alike. We possessed the same feelings. It might have been the reason we could not get along. We were jealous of each other.
“Although Tsubaki was special to me, it wasn’t like that for her. It was really vexing for me to admit it. To her, that special person… was you.”
I listen to her words in silence.
“That was why I couldn’t forgive you. You stole everything from me—her heart, even her life.”
“In the end, I resented you out of nothing but jealousy. I was simply taking out my anger on you. Although, it took me so long to realize that. Truly, what a hopeless idiot I am.”
“…Not that I’m any different.”
She makes a bitter smile and squints. Her smile right now might be the most gentle expression that she has ever shown to me.
“——You know what? I’m married.”
When I look at her left hand, I can see an expensive ring decorating her ring finger. She gazes at her wedding ring and caresses it.
“…I see. Congratulations, I’m glad for you.”
“Thank you. I didn’t think that I would ever hear those words from you.”
After caressing her left hand, she places her right hand over her stomach. Although I did not notice at first because of baggy clothes, her belly is bulging to some extent.
“Could it be that you’re…”
“You guessed right. Actually I was told not to walk about too much. When I was feeling nauseous earlier, your daughter called out to me with a worried look on her face.”
“Sigh… Be obedient and stay at home when you’re feeling unwell.”
“But there are places that I have to visit.”
“Hmm… One of them would be your house. I want to apologize for pushing all the blame, for saying those cruel words to you in the past. However, I couldn’t quite make out the resolve to meet you. I’m glad that I ran into you here.”
“You don’t need to apologize. You said nothing wrong.”
“Yes, I do. In fact, it’s necessary for me to. I’m not saying that I can forgive you completely, but I won’t be able to rest easy if I don’t apologize to you.”
Then, she bows her head and makes her apology. It is unnecessary, but if she needs it to break away from the shackles of the past… I accept it without saying anything more.
“The other place that I must visit is…… her grave.”
“I have returned to this town to confront the past that I’ve been running away from… so that I can face the future without looking back. That’s why I have to go and see her. Besides, her death anniversary is near.”
“Perhaps it’s brazen of me to pay her a visit after all this time. Maybe she doesn’t want someone like me to stand in front of her grave.”
“That’s not true. She’ll be overjoyed if she knows that you’ve returned to this town… as much as I don’t want to admit it.”
My grouchy words sprout a wry smile on her face.
“It seems to me that you aren’t bound by the past anymore. You look different from the last time I saw you… or should I say, it’s as though you’ve become a different person.”
Just like her, I had been living while shackled by the past. While she tried to run away from it, I could not take my eyes off the bygones.
“It’s because the people around me were too kind for their own good.”
My mind was occupied thinking of myself. I had no room to think about anything else.
But, her family did not blame me for that. Moreover, the Sekiguchis dealt with the aftermaths and all the troublesome tasks, when they were supposed to be carried out by me or my relatives. Their hearts must have been rent when they lost their precious daughter, but despite everything, Tsubaki’s parents did their utmost to comfort me and encouraged me with their smiles. Even though the young Rumi-chan should have hated me for taking her beloved sister away from her, she did not say any words of spite.
By the time I realized it, I had been staying with the Sekiguchis, living as a part of their family. In spite of their anguish after losing one of their only two daughters, the Sekiguchi family did all they could to console and support me. Afterwards, my irreplaceable daughter was born… and after that, I met my precious other again.
I am truly a blessed person. If they did not reach out to me back then, there is no doubt that I would not be here today. I would not survive by myself; I might still be alive, but I would not be able to call that ‘living’.
“Me, too. I met someone who wouldn’t lose to Tsubaki in terms of nosiness. That’s how I managed to find the resolve to meet you.”
She smiles contentedly. Aah… I am relieved to know that she has found someone who would support her by her side. We may be on bad terms with each other, but it does not change the fact that Sawamura Akari is her best friend. She will be sad if her friend is living in misfortune.
“I feel a huge burden off my shoulders after saying all that.”
“Good for you.”
“Yes, I’m really glad to have returned here. Truly, I’m glad that I could meet you and talk like this.”
“So am I.”
It may have taken us so long, but we finally managed to change ourselves.
We were the opposites of a coin, striving for the same goal. And now that we have found different paths in life, we have no reason to oppose each other anymore.
Besides, both of us are not the same as we were in the olden days anymore. We need not keep our past enmity with us.
When I call her by name, her eyes widen in surprise.
“Give me a call when your child is born. We’ll go see her together, with my beloved.”
No matter how long it will take, it will be all right. If she can find a way to forgive me, I would like to change our past relation. I do not mind if she still despises me… but I want to form a different connection with her.
Is it just a wishful thinking on my part?
She hangs her mouth open for a while. Then, she nods her head shyly.
“…Yes, I’ll be looking forward to it…… Hiori.”
That is her answer.
After showing the best smile that I have seen from her today, Akari goes on her way home.
There are other things that I want to talk with her about, but there is no need to rush. We have many chances to meet again. We might even see each other again before long.
After watching her back until she goes out of view, I rise from my seat. Then, I realize that I have the groceries to bring home. Nevertheless, it makes me wonder why that girl would buy so much that she had trouble carrying it home. It must have been difficult for her to carry the shopping bags all the way here. Well, like my daughter, my strength is nonexistent. It is nigh impossible for me to carry all these home on foot. Calling the taxi is my only option.
I look up my contacts to find the phone number of a taxi company. But then, I decide to open the phone log instead and call a familiar number. I put my cell phone to my ear, and the call connects after a few rings.
“[Hiori? What’s wrong?]”
Hearing her voice is enough to make me break into a smile. Although, it also makes me want to hear her voice directly, not through a phone call.
“[Are you okay?]”
“Yes… I just want to hear your voice.”
“[O-ooh… You’re making me blush here. Ah, are you done talking? Where are you?]”
It seems Hinata already knows that I was with Akari. Tsubaki must have told her about it.
“I’m still at the park. We just finished talking, so I’m going to book a taxi home.”
“[Okay. I’m at your place right now. Tsubaki and I are preparing for dinner. Come on home.]”
Aah, now that I recall, she told me that she was going to stay over tonight. Knowing that we can be together in a longer period fills my chest with happiness and warmth… But at the same time, I feel a slight prick in my heart.
“Say… Hinata, aren’t you going to talk to her? Are you sure not to tell her?”
“[Hmm— Let me ask you, did Akari seem happy to you?]”
“Well, she’s married. And, it seems that she’s going to have a child soon.”
“[I see. In that case, I don’t think I need to say anything to her. I do want to see her face after all this time, though.]”
“Don’t worry, the two of you are going to meet soon enough.”
The topic comes to an end, and both of us stay silent for a while.
“[Aah… I brought some leftover cake from my part-time. Let’s eat it together with Tsubaki when you get home.]”
“[Oh yeah, do you want to try sleeping together sometimes, the three of us? I think your new bed will fit.]”
I wonder why.
“[Then, be careful on your way home. We’re waiting for you.]”
I do not understand the reason myself.
We are only chatting like usual. But it feels suffocating, and tears start spilling from my eyes. I am not feeling sad, nor does it hurt anywhere… However, my chest feels tight for some reason, stimulating my tear glands. Perhaps talking with Akari makes me remember about the past.
I wipe the tears rolling down my cheeks with my finger and places the cell phone back to my ear.
Then, I hear her calling my name with her gentle voice.
After a short pause, I squeeze out my voice, as though in murmur——
And I speak the words that I want to convey the most right now.