Chapter 2 – A Penguin That Wants to Become a Swan
Dispensing with the preliminaries–
To be completely honest, I didn’t think this letter correspondence would continue for as long as it has; I’ve already received over ten letters from you, Motojirou. Thanks to your reassuring words, I was able to graduate safely from high school and I was even able to begin working as a childcare worker at Kitazawa Preschool. I am truly grateful to you.
Seven months have passed since my suicide attempt. Although the scars from when I cut my wrists have yet to completely fade, because the wounds weren’t deep ones, I think that with time, they will continue to fade until they disappear completely. It would be wonderful if the emotional wounds heal by the time the scars fade.
The job as a childcare taker requires waking up early in the morning. I wake up everyday at six o’clock, can you believe it? And at seven I head to the preschool, and I start off the day cleaning the school grounds. Currently, I am in charge of cleaning the school play area. At around the time I finish cleaning, the preschool children begin to trickle in with their parents. Surprisingly, it’s not only mothers who come to drop off their children. There are many children whose fathers come to drop them off on their way to work, and there are those who are brought by their grandmothers, as well as by nannies. It made me realize that the circumstances varied depending on the household, and it gave me some food for thought.
The Panda division that I am in charge of consists of four year olds, and they are of an age when they have just begun to be able to express in words their own will. They’re children at the peak of cuteness, and there is nothing but pureness in them; this is why I am able to pour my true feelings into the way I interact with them. Currently, I guess you could say I’m living my life enjoying everyday working being charmed by their innocent, genuine expressions of love.
For every class, there are usually two teachers who watch over the children. In my class, that other person is Shindou Mimei, who is two years older than me. Although she’s a beauty, she’s a mysterious person who seems to have some kind of a shadow to her. And by that, I don’t mean that she’s depressing or anything. She’s a elegant person who’s had a good upbringing, and apparently, her father is a person in a high position at a pharmaceutical company.
Once, I bumped into her and her family as they were walking past the train station, and I got the impression of her parents being very friendly, but Mimei had this look on her face the whole time as if she was unhappy. When I greeted them, her parents were delighted and had big smiles on their faces. I don’t know if she was just embarrassed, but her face wasn’t like the one she showed at the preschool—it was as if she was dependent on her parents, or maybe she was just embarrassed to be seen with her parents– either way, it was something I had a hard time understanding, but she had this look on her face as if she wished she could just leave this situation as quickly as possible. The next day, I heard from her that her father always comes home late from work, and that was the first time in a while that they went out to eat as a whole family, but she was feeling irritated because her father kept talking about his work. Since I don’t know how it works in a family, all I could think was: “Oh, so that’s what it’s like?”
Mimei has taught me quite a few things though, and I really am indebted to her. At the preschool, she doesn’t have that expression on her face as if she’s dependent on her parents, and like me, she loves children, and she’s a wonderful senior who serves as a great example to me.
Although the interpersonal relations are going well so far at the preschool, there are some ill-natured teachers among the bunch. But those kind of people exist everywhere, so I don’t let that get to me. The one who I find the most difficult to deal with though is the teacher who’s like a hanger-on of the director– the veteran, Inohara Rinko-sensei. She’s someone who’s in her late 30’s.
As soon as I started working there, I received a word of warning from her:
“Since you’re an orphan who’s never experienced a parent’s love, you probably don’t know how to interact with children, do you? Well then, if that’s the case, you should at least make sure you’re never short of a smile in front of them.”
Because I never thought I’d be told something so cruel directly to my face, I was shocked. At the same time, it made me a little depressed to realize that even this place will never be a paradise.
Even though it is a preschool, those who operate it are adults, right? And there can be found a normal world of adults—no, on the contrary, because it is a workplace that is filled with women, the pressure is much stronger than I expected, and because this is a small world called a preschool, it seems the case that it is a place characterized by friction and discord. For someone like me who joined because she looked forward to interacting with children, it was a major miscalculation on my part. Although I will try my best to avoid interacting with the adults, that will probably be hard to achieve. It could be said that this work place with so many women will have to it many more of the things I hate than would a normal company.
And since I, who is the youngest person working there, will have to discuss any issues that come up regarding the children or parents with people like Inohara-sensei and the director of the preschool (who is himself a bit of a hard one to figure out), right now I’m feeling a bit disoriented at being faced with a world that went against my expectations. I have become painfully aware of the harshness of society and the challenge of living; but right now, I don’t yet feel as if I am suffocating in this place.
The luncheon ladies however are very kind to me, and they dote on me as if I’m their daughter, so there are times that I do enjoy my time here. I’m going to just try focusing on the fun things without focusing too much on the negative aspects.
At any rate, at this current place and time, I am doing my best to communicate with the children.
Well then, to continue on from where I left off earlier, I’ll introduce you to the last half of a typical day at the preschool, okay? Usually, all the preschool children come together by 9 o’clock in the morning. Until everyone arrives, we just let them play freely with the toys and afterwards, we go out for a walk. We go to the nearby park holding hands. However, it’s rather difficult to get the children to listen, so you do have to be on your toes. It’s especially so when we have to walk down Chazawa Street, which has many cars passing by, and I am in a continuous state of nervouness that the children might suddenly jump out into the street. This state doesn’t even allow me to blink. But it’s true that the children’s smiles put a warm feeling in my heart. There is a shrine nearby, and because there is a pretty big children’s playground beside it, we mostly stay there and let them play. What I probably like most is watching the children playing immersed in their own worlds in the sandbox.
With the sunshine filtering through the foliage and the sounds of their laughter, I don’t know why, but I feel at peace. They’ve yet to have the ugly feelings that adults have– well, I can’t say they’re completely void of that, but they’re so honest, and they’re all like angels. There is no ill will to be found. Although they get into fights often after having stolen a friend’s toy, they don’t have a bad bone in their body unlike adults, and they always patch things up right away. I don’t know if you could say they’re able to constantly restart their life or that their renewal rate of their emotions are just fast, but as I gaze at them playing in the sandbox, I feel truly glad that I was able to find a job that allows me to watch their beautiful days.
When do humans become adults? And why do people become so spiteful and become a mass of ill will? I don’t get it.
It’s true that within the innocence of the children running around, I see my salvation. But when I think about how long this can continue, I become a little uneasy about the future.
Once they’re finished playing in the sandbox, we all hold hands and head back to the preschool. We sing songs and make word chains as we head back. From time to time, a middle-aged woman who lives in the neighbourhood allows us to see the chicken she keeps in her yard. And although it might come as a surprise, there is a small field in the middle of Setagaya, and sometimes, the person who owns it sometimes allows the children to touch the vegetables that he grows there.
After we return, we have lunch. After lunch, the children sing songs and play and afterwards, they take an afternoon nap. After the nap is snack time, and after that, the parents start to trickle in to come and pick up their children. That continues intermittently until around seven o’clock at night. The other day, one of the children’s fathers gave me words of encouragement. He told me: “You’re doing a great job.” He was a wonderful person who looked nice in a suit, and judging from his smiling face, he seemed like a very kind, doting parent. I secretly admire him. Seeing him give the child (named Kazu-kun) a piggyback ride, he really was the very figure of the strong father that I imagined fathers to be, and I couldn’t help but look on admiringly. I guess these are the kinds of times I imagine what kind of person my father might’ve been like. Watching as the fathers and others come and pick up the children, I put to use my rusty imaginative powers.
Most of the children are gone by around four o’clock, but another important part of my job is providing emotional care for the kids who are still left. This is how each day passes by in a busy blur.
Taking care of children requires one’s full attention–much more so than I envisioned, so the first three days after I began working, I was completely exhausted. Well, lately I’ve finally started to get a little used to it, I guess you could say, since I have the time to once again write letters to you. I’m sorry that I’ve been letting you write a majority of the letters lately, but I’ll try my hardest, so please wait for me.
Although these kids are only four years old, it takes quite a bit of strength to carry them in my arms, and I have quite a bit of pain in my muscles. I’m worried that if I keep this up, my arms might become big. Well, it’s healthy, so I guess it’s okay? Lately, I’ve become a macho Ririka.
Anyhow, I’ve begun to live a new life, and my days are busy ones. Although I’m stable emotionally, I have no idea what kind of life is awaiting me from here on. I’m happy to receive letters from you, but I’m not sure if I can write as regularly as I have in the past. I think though that once I get a little more used to my job, I’ll be able to get into a daily routine of things. Since it’s a long life, I think I will take my time living it facing myself.
And despite saying that I’m so busy that I don’t have much time to write a reply, I am always waiting for your letters with a baited breath. And whenever I spot your letter in my mail box, my heart leaps for joy. I hold your letter close to my heart as if it were a note from a lover, and my cheeks flush as I think of you, whom I’ve never even met. I quickly retreat to my room and carefully cut the envelope, and at times, I smell the notepaper and I read it with great attention. I cherish each and every line as I read them.
You are a source of strength for me, Motojirou. You’re in some ways like a father, in some ways an older brother, in some ways a lover. A lover? Oh right, I forgot about our promise. The one that says we wouldn’t have a relationship like that. Right. So, I didn’t mean it like that. It’s– how should I put it? — like you’re a lover of my heart. Why is it that I have a feeling like you’re always in my heart?
Although the contents of this letter turned out to be quite short this time around, please don’t worry– I am managing to get by somehow. In the next letter, I will report to you in more detail, okay? Well then, please do your best at work. Since it’s spring, it must be starting to get a bit busy what with more tourists coming in, right? Please take good care of yourself.
You know how I’ve moved out of the Light of Stars Orphanage and have started living by myself, right? It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do and was waiting to do, but when I actually started living by myself, I found out it’s quite a bit of work, although I do manage to eat somehow since everyone eats together at the preschool. When it comes to the evening though, there is that reason that I don’t have any friends, but I always just end up just making do with a bento from the convenience store. I don’t have that extra strength left to do any home cooking. I wish I could go out somewhere to eat a delicious dinner for a change!
Plus, right now, I am living in an apartment that doesn’t have a bathtub. That’s why I go to the public bath. I thought I was used to being alone, but as it turns out, I wasn’t as used to it as I thought.
When I wake up in the morning, I feel really lonely for some reason and I don’t know why, but my cheeks are wet with tears. It’s probably that I’m crying in my dreams. Although I can’t remember the contents of my dream, in the morning, I can’t help but feel a hole in my heart.
Dispensing with the preliminaries—
In early spring, the lumps of snow that have been piled up on the sides of the streets in Hakodate begin to melt and it is black and dirty all throughout town, and it’s a season that I’m not particularly fond of. It’s a season that I wouldn’t recommend vacationing to Hokkaido. But around after the mid-way point of April, the dirty snow completely melts, and from the ocean comes a gentle wind that comes in along with the tide, and it brushes gently against my cheek, and it signals the time of renewal for Hakodate.
This time of year, the Hakodate town that can be gazed at from Sanchou Station is a beautiful one filled with light that lets off a brilliant sparkle. The interesting thing is— I don’t know whether it’s the car mirrors or the windshield, but the twinkling of light that reflects off them looks almost as if it’s radiating light from glass inlayed into the roads, and the sparkle of light that’s emitted is very beautiful. It’s as if Hakodate itself is a kind of living being, and is letting off a sparkle of its own.
The cold wind from the ocean, the clouds floating in the blue sky, the peak of the mountain far-off in the distance. The white caps of the Tsugaru Straits. No matter where you look, spread out before you is the beauty of Hakodate. People say that if you’re exposed to too much beauty, you become used to it and you don’t notice it anymore, but it’s not like that in this town. I think it’s because we’re able to see the different faces of the town through the four seasons. This time of year in which winter has just ended allows us to see the season in which it gathers together light for the future, and I love it.
Your job seems like it’s a lot of work. A preschool, huh? Of course, since I don’t have any children yet, I have no idea what that world is like. There is a small preschool near my home and whenever I pass by it, the childcarers are playing with the children in the small yard, and hearing the bursts of laughter from there wraps me in a warm atmosphere and before I knew it, I felt a sense of calmness rush over me. Although my knowledge of preschools only extends to that, I found your letter fascinating.
On the other hand, it also made me a bit worried about you. It’s true that being in a female-only environment does have its share of problems, but I don’t know how to put it…but I think it’s the same anywhere you go— this is a world in which things won’t always go your way. And so, well, I’ll be reaching my conclusion with regards to that already by saying this (haha), but I think there is really no other choice but for you to carry on with your work at your own pace. Don’t get too caught up in what those around you are saying, and just go at your own pace.
So you’ve started living by yourself, huh? I can’t help but feel a bit envious. I’ve always lived together with my mother. I think that’ll remain so for as long as she is alive. You could say that’s kind of like my fate and so, whoever ends up being my wife will have to be someone who is understanding of that. With regards to that, my mother seems really troubled by it, and she tells me that I shouldn’t worry about her and that I should marry and move out already, but I can’t do that. No matter what she says, she’s someone who took in an orphan like me and raised me like she would her own son. I am indebted to her.
On the contrary, I can’t act wilfully in the way I might have if she and I were linked by blood. Shindou Mimei-san, was it? The image of her being dependant on her parents floats to surface in my mind. I think part of the reason why I can’t act like that is because I was adopted from the orphanage so late. Of course, my love for her goes beyond anything I feel for my biological mother, but the crucial point is that we’re not related by blood. If she was a parent with whom I had blood ties, I think it would’ve been relatively easy to leave home, because I think it is partly a child’s duty to cause parents some trouble. I would’ve been able to place priority on my bride, and I think I would’ve been able to ask to try living alone with her first. And her, as a parent, would’ve probably said go right ahead and in my mind, that’s what I think of as a normal parent-child relationship. But when you’re not related by blood, I don’t know how to put it…I don’t know a good way to say it, but the truth is—or I guess you could say, the bottom line is—I can’t depend on her as much as I might have been able to had I been her real son. There’s a part of me that presses on the brakes.
Now, if I had been taken in when I was two or three years old, I think a relationship as parent and child would’ve been established before I became conscious of all that, so I might’ve been able to be more uninhibited around her like a real son would, but our ties as parent-and child were made when I’d almost become an adult, right? Since I was adopted by them when I was in junior high. That’s why, even if I call them “mother” and “father,” somewhere in the deep, deep recesses of my mind, I am thinking how I am not related to these people. That’s why on the contrary, I become frantic thinking how I have to repay them for their kindness, and I can’t feel free enough to depend on them.
That way of thinking is reflected in my behaviour, and she can probably tell that I’m not really depending on her as a son should a mother. Since I’ve noticed it myself, I have no doubts that she has noticed it too, but it also makes me feel very sorry. If depending on her is the way to repay her for her kindness, then I have to become independent as quickly as I can and leave the house, marry someone and have babies, and when her body begins to weaken, that will be the first time that I take her in, and live with her, don’t you think? But I have a debt of gratitude towards my current parent that I won’t be able to repay even if I spent the rest of my life. I also have this feeling that as long as I am alive, I have to support her. That’s why, no matter what, I can’t live apart from her. I don’t have any intention of doing so either. I am afraid to cause her any sorrow. There is also a part of me that thinks that it is all thanks to her that I am here—I always look at my mother as if I am looking at God Himself.
Although I feel a bit bad about it, I can’t help but feel a bit envious of the freedom that you have that allows you to be able to live by yourself. I feel like you’re going to scold me saying that someone who has parents shouldn’t ask for too much. I do realize that this worry of mine is something that I should feel lucky to have. I know that very well.
At any rate, the problem regarding my mom is a pretty big topic. The reason behind why I am constantly running into walls lies in that. Even if there is someone I like, the reason why it never goes anywhere is partly because of my mother’s presence. If I didn’t have that issue of my mother, I probably would be able to live together with my girlfriend, but I can’t do something like that. When it comes to love, it never develops beyond a high-school level love. I know that it’s wrong of me to place the blame of my failures in love on my mother, but even when it comes to choosing someone, I can’t help but think whether that person is someone who will care for my mother, and I don’t know if that shows in my attitude, but it never ends up working out.
That’s probably the worries I have in my direct line of sight. To be honest, as of late, I’ve fallen in love—well, no, I can’t say for sure that it’s love yet. I think it’d be more accurate to say that I feel as if I am about to fall in love. She’s someone who’s around the same age as me, and she’s someone I met at the hospital my mother is frequenting (my mother has a weak body so she goes to see the doctor twice a week). Although I feel as if I am about to develop feelings for this person, as you may have already guessed, I end up thinking about my mother, and I haven’t been able to advance this relationship beyond that of friendship. I know this is a pitiful story.
Two years earlier, I also got to a point where I was close to having a girlfriend, but because I was so excessively worried about my mother, I was turned down. When I think how this might turn out to be the same repetition of those events, I can’t help but put the brakes on my heart.
It’s true though that my mother is always thinking how she doesn’t want anyone to take me away from her. Ever since my father died, I have become a source of emotional support for my mother. Because we aren’t related by blood though, she seems to think that the day I part from her is the day I go out into the world, and she feels that when that happens, she might never be able to see me again–no, to use a harsher expression, there is a part of her that thinks she’s going to be abandoned. This is why whenever I make friends with someone of the opposite sex, she gets in the way right away, and this is why things didn’t work out with my previous girlfriend.
It’s the same for me though—and I know this is a strange thing to say, but there are times that I find her very cute, and if someone were to call me a mama’s boy, I wouldn’t be able to deny it, but I always end up putting priority on her. Women don’t like that though, do they? If I were in their place, I wouldn’t want a man who was burdened with a mother like this either.
Living on your own, huh? I still haven’t experienced that. I think as long as my mother’s alive, it’s something that won’t happen. I can’t help but be envious of you being able to have a world in which you can do as you like, in which you don’t have to worry about anything or anyone. A world of your own…when you think of it that way, loneliness isn’t that big of a problem, don’t you think? There are times I think of loneliness as my friend above all. I also feel that we can make happiness ours the moment we can become friends with loneliness. And currently, you are in a place where that is possible.
That is a place of your very own. No one can set foot in it, because you’re the only one who has the key to it, right? You lock your door and leave, and you unlock the door to return home. It’s a treasure box-like space. I feel envious. Of course, I also have my own room, but my mother goes into it all the time to clean it and it doesn’t have a lock. That’s why I’ve never had a world that’s truly mine alone. Even though I’ve gone out into society and even receive a pay check, this will continue on forever. When I marry, my bride will move in here, and this space will become even more cramped.
I wish I could be alone in my room to think. I want to think about many different things without having anyone interrupt. I really do feel envious of you.
Since I am this envious of you, you should grin and bear at least some of the loneliness you feel, don’t you think? Since, after all, you’re free; you’re not bound by anyone. For example, even that preschool of yours–if you wanted to quit, you could do so, can’t you? But I have many shackles tying me down, and there is no way I can quit the Hakodate Mountains Ropeway Corporation nor part from my mother to go and live on my own.
No one has a hold on you. When you think of it that way, I think that’s amazing. I think you should be more happy about your current situation since you’ve finally been able to live by yourself. One of these days, you’ll fall in love, and end up marrying—then, I’m sure you’ll start wishing you could spend time by yourself. That’s why I think you should take it more easy and just enjoy your time alone.
Not only that, but you live in a big city like Tokyo. A place like that has everything, isn’t that right? It’s true Hakodate’s beautiful and everyone is nice and it’s an easy place to live, but compared to Tokyo, excitement is few and far between. Even from the view of opportunities, you are blessed. Of course, it’s not my intention to compare to see who is more unhappy, but you have many good points that are yours alone. That’s why, there’s no reason for you to wake everyday with eyes swollen from crying. Plus, if there are ever things that cause you sadness or loneliness, feel free to talk to me about it—no, I want you to. I know this is strange to say, but I feel happy when you open up to me about your troubles, although if you ask me to describe what kind of feelings those are, I would be hard pressed to describe it.
I will always be here to lend you an ear. If there are nights that you can’t sleep, please write down those feelings on letter paper. I am also always waiting for your letters with a baited breath. I’ll write again.
No matter where you go, there will be unpleasant people. I think that a place where there are no unpleasant people doesn’t exist on this Earth. Well then, why is this world so overflowing with such people?
I think it’s because God is providing us with practice—He is allowing us to learn about life through such lot. Whenever I come across unpleasant people, I always try to think of it like that. People often say “you can better yourself by observing others,” so you should consider them as educational material and live your life while maintaining your own pace– that’s the best plan, in my opinion.
TO BE CONTINUED…
[UP NEXT: Chapter 3 – pg 73-128]