I didn’t want Shougo to see me in my sleepwear, let alone me in a weakened state lying down on the bed.
But despite my wishes, my fever had gotten higher. I measured my temperature after being pressured to do so by him, and when I saw that my fever was at 38.3, I had no choice but to let down my defences. I struggled just sitting up right on the sofa.
“I’m sorry, but I’m going to go and lie down.”
I told him this before heading to my bedroom and changing into my pyjamas. The dry feeling of the cloth on my skin felt unusually cold, and I felt goosebumps rising on my skin.
Even though the core of my body was boiling hot, my skin was sensitive to the coldness of the air and my body began to shiver. My head didn’t really hurt, but it felt heavy, and it felt as if my head was being held under a waterfall; it felt so heavy that I couldn’t be bothered to keep my head up.
I slipped under the covers, and as I lay there on my back with my arm pressed against my cheek, there was a knocking on my door. The door opened a crack, and I saw him peering in. His face was illuminated from the light in the hallway.
“Thanks for seeing me home. I’ll be fine, so you can go home now.”
“There’s no way you’re fine. I’ll go and buy you some medicine. I’m sure there must be a pharmacy open around here somewhere.”
“I have plenty of cold medicine. Once you catch one of these things though, they’ll do no good. It’s better for me to just take some Halcion and rest for a bit.”
“This room’s so cold. I’ll turn the air conditioner on for you.”
Before I could stop him, he came into the room and began to look for the remote control for the air conditioner. The light in my room was off, so it seemed that he was having a hard time spotting it.
He felt around the wall for the switch, and before I could say, “don’t turn on the light!” bright light filled the room and it felt as if daggers were in my eyes. I immediately brought the thin blanket over my head to protect myself from the light.
“Don’t. Turn the light off. The bright light’s making me dizzy.”
“Okay, I’m sorry. I’ll turn it off as soon as I turn on the air conditioner…”
I heard some rustling, and I sensed the air conditioner being turned on. I could hear the faint whirr of the outdoor unit rumbling to life outside on the balcony.
In the next instant, the light was turned off, and darkness once again settled in the room. I lowered the blanket from my face and looked up at him. He was standing at the edge of my bed, and he was gazing down at me.
“I’ll stay here for the night. I’ll set a futon down at the side of the bed and watch over you.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because if you do that, you’re going to catch my cold.”
“If it’s you, I don’t mind catching a cold from you.”
“I’m flattered that you’d say that, but it’s still a no. You should just go on home.”
“No. I’m not leaving. There’s no way I can leave you here all alone.”
“It’s just a common cold. It’s not as if I’m going to die.”
“Isn’t there anything that you want that I can get you?”
“How about a milkshake with brandy in it? It’s called eggnog. It’s a pretty common cocktail. Your body will warm right up.”
“Then do you want me to place a cold towel on your forehead?”
“I don’t need anything, really.” And with that, I turned around so that my back was facing him.
Silence stretched itself out. I sensed his gaze resting on my nape, which was showing through my dishevelled hair.
I wondered if I would be able to resist him if he suddenly came and slipped under the covers. If I felt his warmth pressing against my back and his hand eventually reaching around to wrap me in an embrace as he kissed me on the back of my neck… what then?
A memory flashed past my mind of a time when I had given into Muda as I struggled with a fever from a cold. It happened on this very same bed, in a similar situation, when I was complaining to him about how cold it was in the room.
On that day, I had called Muda to tell him I was taking the day off work because I caught a cold. That night, he came to visit me saying he came to see how I was doing. And although I told him I didn’t need anything, he had gone to the kitchen and made me an egg and green onion soup and brought it over to my bedroom.
I took a sip or two just to please him before slipping back under the covers again. That was when Muda had said, “I’ll warm you up by lying down with you.” He didn’t even give me a chance to say no before he came to rest beside me and wrapped me in an embrace from behind.
Even though I hadn’t asked for it, the warmth of his body felt comforting. It felt as if I was in a warm coccoon, and as I began to drift off I felt him gently beginning to caress my hips and breasts as if he were waiting for this moment.
I had resisted saying I didn’t want to at a time like this, but he didn’t draw back. Instead, he took his time… even more so than he usually did. He continued to grope my body as he placed kisses on my sweaty neck and earlobe. I felt his breath on my neck.
I kept saying “no,” but with time, the heat from the fever turned into a strange kind of pleasure. He threw my pyjama bottoms which he had slipped off me onto the foot of the bed. At that point, I had given up trying to resist and let him do as he wanted.
I didn’t know why I was thinking back to that memory at a time like this. Sensing my self-control slipping from me, I took in a deep breath. There was a dull pain at the back of my throat.
I thought, “I have to ask him to do something.” It was because I felt that if I let silence wrap itself around me like this, something irreparable might end up happening.
“I changed my mind. Could you do something for me?”
I turned onto my back and said as I coughed. “There’s an ice bag in the cabinet above the bathroom sink. It’s in a blue cloth bag. Could you take it out, put some ice from the freezer in it, and bring it to me? Oh, and some Halcion too. They should be in the cabinet; it’s inside a blue pill box. Oh, and one more thing. Having the air conditioner on makes the room overly dry so it hurts my throat. Do you see that humidifier over there? Could you put a cup full of water in it and turn it on?”
“Okay, got it.”
He took out the water case from the humidifier and left the room. I sensed him moving about from afar. The sound of him entering the bathroom, the rattling sound of him opening and closing drawers, the sound of his footsteps as he headed to the kitchen, the opening of the freezer, the sound of water running…
As I listened to his presence, I felt a warmth spread over me.
I thought: I want this person to stay by my side. He didn’t even have to do anything, as long as he remained under the same roof as me. He was the one I wanted by my side more than any other person; I didn’t need anyone or anything else.
A short while later, he returned. He left the room light off and only reached over to turn on the bedside lamp as he gently placed an ice bag wrapped in a towel on my forehead. I could hear the ice clashing about inside the bag, and their coldness spread to cool my heated skin.
“That feels nice,” I sighed. “But before that, could you get me some Halcion? I’ll take some right now if you have it.”
“Is one enough?”
“I wouldn’t mind taking a hundred if it meant that I could get a good night’s rest, but if I did that, I’m pretty sure I won’t wake up the next morning.”
I said jokingly as I lifted the ice bag from my face and tried to force my body up right. He held me by the arm and supported me as I did this.
I was careful not to let the sparks fly when my eyes met his. I put on a face as if I felt unbelievably sick, and I took the Halcion pill that he held out to me along with some water. With that, I let my head fall back onto the pillow and reached over to place the ice bag on my forehead again.
“Okay then, I think I’ll get some shut eye. I’ll probably be out like a light until morning. I’m sure the fever will be down by tomorrow.”
“I’ll turn the humidifier on, okay?”
“That’d be great.”
I heard the switch being turned on, along with the swish-swish sound of steam being released from the machine.
Shougo pulled the blanket up over my shoulders saying I shouldn’t let my body cool. I thanked him as I watched him from half-closed eyes.
The ice-bag covered both my eyes, so I couldn’t see anything. The only thing I could see through the thin fibres of the towel was the yellow light from the side lamp.
The atmosphere was one that couldn’t have been any further from that of a love confession or that of indulging in desires, so I felt calm. I felt as if I were being gently rocked aboard a small boat. It felt as if I were sinking down to the deep warm waters.
“Is it all right if I stay here?”
“I won’t make a noise. I’ll just stay still.”
I nodded again.
“Feel free to fall asleep if you get sleepy.”
“I’ll do that.”
I was wrapped in a feeling of warmth, and before I knew it, I had reached out to hold my hand out in his direction.
“Shougo-kun, your hand.”
“Could you hold my hand?’
I couldn’t see him. Even if I did open my eyes, all I would be able to see was the white cloth of the towel. My vision was filled with the white of the towel as I sensed his hand slipping into mine.
The action had a childishness to it like that of preschool children who were holding hands to make sure of the closeness that they shared. I thought he might bring my hand up to kiss it, but he didn’t. Strangely enough, the fact that he didn’t made him feel all the more close to me.
“Hey, talk about something.”
“Are you okay? Aren’t you tired?”
“What do you want me to talk about?”
“A children’s story? A fairy tale? One of those stories that begin with ‘once upon a time’?”
I laughed, although my laugh was a hoarse one. “It doesn’t matter. Anything will do.”
There was a brief silence when it seemed as if he were deep in thought. I guess he was at a loss of what to talk about though, because the silence continued for several more seconds.
“Hey, say something. I was planning on using your voice like a lullaby.”
“Okay,” he replied, as he squeezed my hand lightly. After a brief pause, he eventually began to speak: “A long time ago, I used to get sick quite often. I’m pretty healthy now, so people never believe it when I tell them, but back when I was a child, my body wasn’t very strong. It wasn’t just common colds either. Just eating something cold would set off a stomach ache, and there were days when I would be confined to the bed because of a sudden, unexplainable fever that would hit me. It was like that until I was about five. And every time something like that would happen, my mother… the person who raised me… would hold my hand like this, so I can’t help but be reminded of that now.”
I didn’t say anything, so several moments later he asked, “Is this okay? If you don’t want to hear this kind of story, I’ll stop.”
It was the first time that he opened up to his past with me without being asked to. I felt my heart beat speed up, but the fever had set a transparent filter that filtered the various complex emotions that would have otherwise whirled inside me. I thought that if it was now, I would be able to listen to this kind of story in a calm, peaceful state.
“I want to hear more,” I said. “Please, continue.”
He continued to hold my hand in his, and I felt him lean his back against the side of the bed. The quiet sounds of the humidifier felt easy on my ears. The room was blanketed in a peaceful quiet, and I couldn’t hear anything else.
“Even now, I remember her kindness. Knowing what I do now, her kindness probably stemmed from the guilt she held; and yet, there was no denying she was kind. Her kindness had a bit of an artificiality to it… a kind of unnaturalness to it, but I can’t count the number of times I felt a feeling of calm wash over me when she held my hand like this whenever I was sick. ‘Mother….’ Oh, that’s right… that’s what I used to call her… whenever I would call out for her, she would respond to me from somewhere close by and she would ask, ‘what is it?’ Then, I would say ‘Mother…’ again. She would again respond, ‘what is it?’. It was a repetition of that… a cycle that never ended.”
I felt him pressing the palm of my hand against his cheek. I then felt his soft lips on my hand.
A short while later, he continued: “I’m not talking about this now because I’m feeling nostalgic over the memories of her. ‘It’s who raised you that counts’…I’m not trying to say something stupid like that. I’m not the type to indulge in sentimentality, it’s been that way since I was a kid. It’s just… holding your hand like this when you’re down with a cold made me think back to it.”
I opened my mouth to ask: “What kind of child were you in elementary school?”
“What do you mean?”
“Were you the bully? Or were you the studious type who didn’t act his age? Or were you the sensitive romantic?”
“I’m not really sure… I wasn’t really any of those. The only thing I can say is, I wasn’t your everyday child.”
“Oh? In what way?”
“Because I was always thinking of death.”
Hearing the word ‘death’, I felt the lid of some mysterious thing that was shut away deep in my heart being gently uncovered by him. I felt instinctively that he was trying to tell me something he had never opened up to anyone about before. I was momentarily overcome by a slight nervousness, but that eventually melted away from the fever. My consciousness was drifting in and out, and I was in a dream-like state.
As I heard the soft swish of the humidifier, I said, “Is that…”
“Are you saying… you had suicidal thoughts”
“Back then, it wasn’t that I was thinking of suicide or anything concrete like that. What I can say was, I was a child who wasn’t afraid of death. Even at the tender age of nine or ten, I had this idea that death was a solace. It’s strange. It’s only now that I realize it, but I have a feeling that since I was a child, I had this gut instinct about my earlier years. There was a part of me that had this feeling that knew I wasn’t blessed from birth.
On the outside though, I put on the front of a normal child. I didn’t have any particular problems being social and making friends, and since I was pretty logical and a pretty good speaker for my age, the others in my class thought highly of me and even pressured me to become the class president. And once I was given that job, I did it without making any serious blunders, and my grades were pretty good.
And yet, I wouldn’t describe myself to be the goody-two-shoes type. I got myself into trouble, and there were times I even got into fights. My mother… no, there were times when that person would get called out to the school for something I did. In that regards, I guess I was just like any other kid.”
I started to say “why” but I began to cough mid-way. I had sensed him beginning to stand. “It’s okay. Please stay. I want to know about why you would think about death so much since you were such a small child. Was it because of the divorce of the parents who raised you?”
“Well, that’s probably part of the reason, but I think it’s probably the case that the reason can’t be placed on something concrete like that. I can’t really find the right words to say it… when it comes right down to it… even though I’m someone who’s lived his life looking forward, there was also always a part of me that didn’t really care what happened to me.
I was never self-destructive, but on the flip side, the way I put so much effort into living life productively mirrored something like… say, the effort that my mother… the person who raised me, put; that’s how I feel. It was a lie. Everything was a lie. She layered one lie after another and she lived her life putting her best efforts to try to keep a smile on her face. If I had been in her place, I probably would have lived my life exactly the same way.
It’s true that this was all things I realized after I found out about the truth from Misao-san, and it was something I didn’t notice when I was in the eye of the storm, but like I told you earlier, I have a feeling that ever since I saw the light of day for the first time, I knew that the luck allotted to me was overwhelmingly less than that of your average person. And it’s not just that my life could be summed up by simply describing it as a ‘life without luck’ either. It’s not that… I don’t know how to put it… if there was a decided amount of happiness in life for every person born on this earth, it’s as if, in my case, that amount was insubstantial from the very beginning, and I was born into this world knowing that fact.”
And with that, he stopped talking. The only sound I could hear was the continuous swishing of the humidifier releasing steam.
“Mio-san,” he whispered.
I was starting to struggle to stay awake. His hand felt warm against mine, and I felt him squeeze my hand slightly. I felt his lips on my palm. That was the only part that was still awake– the rest of my body were beginning to fall into a deep sleep.
“For me, the biggest misfortune in my life is right here in front of me. The first woman I ever fell in love with, and with whom I thought I could start my life anew with… was someone who shared the same blood as me. … I don’t care if the amount of happiness allotted to me is small. I have the confidence to live my life in any way shape or form… to put it another way, I have the confidence to say I’m fine with dying at any moment, even though I know it’s a strange way to put it. But… this… just this makes me want to curse God.
I love you… so… so much… and yet, you’re my sister. You’re my sister. How could this be? It’s not that I bear hatred towards Misao-san, since she’s the person who brought you into my life. But… but… why did she have to tell me that you’re my sister? That’s what I think. If I didn’t know that, there are no words to describe the happiness I would have felt meeting you…”
I wanted to say something. I wanted to say something that would ease his pain, something that would allow us to overcome this suffering so that we could both lead an honest life… I knew that, and yet, perhaps it was because of the fever, but the medicine was beginning to take effect, and I was helpless but to given in to it…
I had begun to open my mouth to say something, but I closed it before any words came out. In that instant, I felt my consciousness drift, and everything from the feeling of his hand holding mine to the low voice that continued to talk melted into the swish-swish sound of the humidifier as sleep overcame me.
TO BE CONTINUED…
[NEXT: Chapter 14 - 269 - 287]