It took years (04)

(14th February - part 2)


Hearing the cute voice, Yossi stopped on her way to the locker room and looked back. Two pint-sized girls, who were running toward her, soon caught with up; Notchi, the older of them, spoke:

“We heard from Konno-san that you aren’t joining us for lunch?”

Yossi nodded, smiling apologetically, wondering if she had appeared too patronizing to her juniors.

“But, Ishikawa-san said you’ll be joining us .”

The mention of the name seemed to have triggered some interest in Yossi. She looked behind her juniors, her height towering over them, and was disappointed to find the meandering corridor empty. “Where’s she?” she asked.

“She is still back there talking to the coach,” Erina offered.

Yossi nodded. She turned and continued her way back to the locker room while her juniors followed, sharing a weird look, wondering what was wrong with their usually mirthful captain.

How can she be sure? Why is she making decisions for me?

Yossi regained from her thoughts, wondering how long she had been standing in the middle of the locker room, thinking and staring into space. Giving a quick look around to ensure no one had noticed her strange behaviour, she strode to her own comfy corner and sat down. The sight of empty benches unsettled her; the senior’s corner was especially deserted today; Miki hadn’t turned up for training; Satoda had left early for a variety show recording; she had no idea where Korenaga, Shibata and Konno had gone to; and Rika was back there talking to their coach. All of a sudden, Yossi realized she wasn’t really used to this kind of quietness; or was it loneliness that she was feeling?

She snapped back when she heard chatters becoming louder. Her self-conscious mode engaged the moment she saw, from the corners of her eyes, four pairs of legs approaching. She straightened her back and looked up, putting on her best smile.

Notchi, urged on by others, took a shy step forward and extended her arm, an exquisitely wrapped present in her palm. “Happy Valentine’s Day,” the girls said in unison.

Instead of joy, Yossi suddenly felt consumed in guilt. “Wait. Had I forgotten something? Is there supposed to be a gift-exchanging thing going on?” She looked around worriedly, but began to frown when the girls broke out into fits of giggles; she has her pet anomalies and girls giggling senselessly is one of them.

Notchi quickly stifled her giggle to explain: “No, it’s a token of appreciation from us—for everything you have taught us.”

Her frown eased, her hand reached out, but she felt guilty again, this time for having behaved irascibly.

“Thank you.”

When her juniors left her, she looked at the small rectangular present, smiling. They all are good girls—thoughtful and hardworking. She drew the box near her face and shook it; a sense of déjà vu filled her.

Was this why she was suddenly feeling bitter?

However, as soon as she opened the door to her locker, her world collapsed…

The sonorous slamming of a locker’s door against its frame silenced whoever was talking in the confined room. The girls turned to look in the direction of the commotion, just in time to see Yossi striding out of the room. As they watched their captain slam the poor door closed with a similar impact, they were convinced their leader wouldn’t be joining them for lunch.

*** ***

Twiddling the little box in her fingers, Yossi felt her eyes warming. The box looked unmistakable with the imprints of pink tiny rabbits; it was unique because it was hand-made. She was the one who made it, and it was precisely why she was feeling upset.

The return of the present had spoken volumes for itself.

Yossi doesn’t normally weep, but today, she allowed her tears to flow; one by one they streaked down her cheeks.

Of all days, Rika had chosen today—on a Valentine’s Day—to reject her. What a mockery! And so characteristic of her.

Despite her body slowly going numb, she could feel, more clearly, her heart tearing and another tear flowing. She remained glued to her bench, for hours, staring aimlessly at the stamped grass before her, thinking, couldn’t stop thinking…

How they had met…
How she had grown to like her…
How her heart was stolen…
And now how the same heart felt so broken…

Pain continued to numb her senses though her eyes had become dry and could shed no more. She closed her eyes and felt them stung. The short extrinsical pain no help to her aching heart. Would she ever recover? Could she?

But why…

Finally, she took out her cell phone that had been vibrating incessantly in her pocket since she had sat down. An unknown anger began to surge when she saw how all the missed messages had shared the same contents. She stood up, her numbed legs stung where blood had suddenly gushed through.

Why can’t you leave me alone?
Isn’t the hurt enough?
If you cared… if you really cared, you wouldn’t be doing all these in the first place.

She walked toward the canal that was in front of her, the box clutched tightly in her palm. The gushing waters in the canal looked inviting, so inviting. All she had to do was to swing her arm and the object that spells unhappiness would be gone forever but…

Could she do the same for her memories?
She doubted not... the box remained glued to her palm.

She sniggered and put the box back into her pants pocket, sighing. Even if the box’s existence would only serve to mock her later, she couldn’t bare to throw it away. It—even sad remnants like it—had become too precious to her…




It took years (03)

(14th February - Part 1)

As Rika looked toward the bench after scoring Yossi felt the same inexplicable feeling inside her manifesting. She grinned back; a smile which said ‘well done’. When the practice team on the court resumed play, she was drawn back into her thoughts, staring into space, her mind thinking…

It had almost been a month since that faithful day, and never a day passed without her recalling what had happened. A big question still lingered: had Rika read it?

If Rika had read it, why had she not said anything at all? Or acted in anyway? Or at least showed a hint how she had felt about the heart baring note?

Still, they had chatted and laughed; still, they had met for meals. Everything looked normal, but with only one difference—she wasn’t wearing the present she had given her.

Perhaps she had done wrong by crossing the friendship border… Maybe Rika’s indifference was her subtle way of rejecting her. Maybe Rika, being a kind and sensitive girl, had had no heart to turn her down and had chosen to act ignorant.

But Yossi hated it. She wanted a definite answer even if that was the truth. She didn’t need Rika’s compassion. She didn’t care about being hurt by the rejection. She badly needed an answer. It could be a simple nod or a shake of the head—or anything. Because everything-anything-would beat the uncertainty she was feeling, that was festering and eating her sanity. She needed a cue… a nudge for her to get on with her life.

Yossi’s eyes fell back on the petit girl who was running effortlessly around the court. She wondered how the girlish smile seemed perpetually carved on that flawless face. Once again, she felt her heart drawn toward the ground.

Perhaps this is what she wants…

There was a loud whistle, and people gathered around. A few rhythmic claps of the hands signaled the end of the day’s futsal training, and the beginning of just another day of no activity for Yossi…



It took years (02)

(19th January)

‘That was so unexpected!’’

Despite the surprise in Rika’s tone, Yossi knew her friend was only faking it. She stopped wiping her face, threw her towel around her neck and looked up. Seeing Rika’s expression only ascertained her belief that Rika had always been a bad liar.

‘Right, convince me. You’re just surprised that we switched time.’

Rika laughed. There was no faking it; Yossi knew her just too well.

‘Actually, Yaguchan told us to play dumb.’
‘Yeah,’ Yossi continued, ‘to pretend we didn’t know it’s your birthday, but Kemeko said it is not going to work.’

‘Why?’ Rika asked. She looked around for her towel and found it lying on the bench.

‘She said you’d probably tell the crowd on stage. Man, she’s so right about you.’ Yossi laughed lightly. ‘That’s why she suggested we beat you to it—to let you cut your cake this morning while we filmed everything—’

‘And show to the fans?’

Yossi ignored Rika’s questioning look and wiped her face again with her towel. After a final check on her appearance against the mirror, she was ready to go. She looked into the mirror, catching Rika fiddling with her bangs against the mirror behind, and wondered why Yasuda had understood her better. ‘Sometimes, I think Kemeko knows you inside out.’

‘I find us so alike too,’ Rika mused.

‘Alike? Nah~’ Yossi stuffed her towel into her duffel bag. ‘You look so much better than her.’

Rika stole a quick glance at Yossi. A strange feeling hit her. Yossi was checking the bench for left-behinds as though what she had just said was nothing but a casual remark.

Yossi zipped her bag and slung it over her shoulder. ‘I’m done, you?’

‘Almost,’ Rika said. She dug into her bag for her spectacle case, the little case quickly catching Yossi’s attention.

‘What’s wrong?’ Yossi asked as she watched Rika put on her glasses.

‘nani?’ Rika’s eyes shifted to watch Yossi in the reflection.

Noticing Rika watching her now, Yossi pointed a finger to her own eyes. ‘You’re wearing them more often now.’

‘Oh this?’ Rika raised her frame slightly from her nose before letting it slide back down. ‘Doctor’s advice.’

‘Doctor! What happened?’
‘Nothing. Just that recently my eyes tire easily so he advised me not to wear contacts that often.’
‘I see.’ An assured look returned to Yossi.

Soon, Rika, too, was ready to leave. But before they could step out of the locker room, a voice—from the other end of the room—called out to them.

‘Hey Birthday Girl! Sure you’re not joining us for drinks?’

They stopped in their tracks and looked back. Rika cringed when she saw Yasuda approaching, a demanding look on her face. She apologized. ‘Sorry, but I already promised mom I will be back for celebration.’

‘What about you?’ Yasuda turned to Yossi, asking almost angrily. ‘Why aren’t you joining us?’

‘She has to be in Tokyo tomorrow, in fact, we all have to be in Tokyo,’ Rika cut in even before Yossi had the chance to defend for herself. She then looked around for trace of other Gatas members, but found nobody else; only Nakazawa, Yaguchi and two other melons remained. Perhaps the mood for Gatas members to stay and party had dissipated with the thought of their futsal matches tomorrow.

A figure stepped out from behind a row of lockers and said to Yasuda: ‘Isn’t it better? I don’t have to share my booze.’ Nakazawa, who had been listening to the conversation, quickly made a ‘shoo’ gesture with her hand.

Catching the cue, Yossi and Rika quickly bade goodbye and left the room.

They hurried along the staff passageway to the basement carpark where a company van was waiting; Yossi sliding the door closed after they had boarded it. The transport would only fetch them the nearest subway station and from there, they would head to their final destination. By the time Yossi and Rika had settled into their seats, the van was already making its way out of the illuminated carpark into the darkened streets outside. They passed a big group of fans who were still lingering outside the concert venue and Rika suddenly had a thought. What if those fans knew their idols had just passed them? Would they chase after the vehicle?

She laughed under her breath and looked to her left, only to realize Yossi had turned quiet. Reckoning that Yossi was feeling tired from the concert runs, she left Yossi alone and returned to her own thoughts. However, it didn’t take long before the silent atmosphere began to irk her. The silence was too deafening. It was really unusual for them not to be chatting or laughing away, especially when their vehicle had just passed an atrocious pair of girls clad skimpily only in line-thin bikini tops and super-short hot pants. The girls’ spiky lime-green hair alone was enough to garner a little discussion, but no one had talked. Had Yossi not seen the girls? And if Yossi had, why hadn’t she said anything?

She cleared her throat. “ano…”

The immediate reply surprised Rika; apparently, Yossi hadn’t dozed off, but was only being quiet. She blushed when she noticed Yossi now looking at her.

nani?” Yossi asked again.

“Just wondering,” Rika said. “I have… yet to receive your present—” Her mind went blank, stunned by her imprudence.

What has gotten into me? Why am I actually asking for my birthday gift?

She knew it was because she had expected something from her good friend and was now chafed when she hadn’t.

Yossi burst out laughing. When the driver looked back at the little commotion, Rika felt her face turning into an even brighter crimson.

“Actually…” Yossi said, still laughing. “I got you something.” She unzipped her bag resting on her lap and took out a nicely wrapped little box, but not before Rika had noticed her removing something that was attached to it. Rika decided to let it pass.

“Here,” Yossi beamed. “Happy Birthday.”

Rika smiled before receiving the gift. “Thanks,” she said as she gave the box a little shake, her fingers already tracing the wrapper, searching for a spot to start unwrapping.

“Don’t!” Yossi stopped Rika. “Only open it when you reach home.”

The suspicious action only made Rika more curious. “Now what’s so special about this?” She shook the box again, her mind already listing the items that could possibly fit into the little box.

Yossi laughed nervously. “It is of nothing special, though I hope you’ll like it.”

Rika raised a brow to look at Yossi. “Ok,” she finally said and cautiously put the box into her bag. “You know,” she began again. “Do you still remember what you gave me every year?”

Yossi paused to think.

“There’s a pink Pooh bear, remember? Well, it’s still on my bed, accompanying me to sleep every night.”

“Really?” Yossi asked, her voice laced with pride.

“Yep. I really like it. Although my sister will always scream at it whenever she comes to visit me.”

Rika laughed. “Because she said Pooh bear was never pink. She asks what’s in your head when you decided to give me this, or how the hell did you manage to find this dyed fake toy. She is so sure the bear isn’t original.”

Yossi found herself laughing along. “Well, you like pink, don’t you?’ I don’t exactly remember where I bought it. I was shopping with my mother, and when I saw this, I told myself I had to get it for you,” she lied; she clearly recalled she was out shopping the whole day just to find a suitable birthday gift. “Anyway, glad to know that Pooh-san’s still around.”

hidoi~ I always treasure all my birthday gifts.”

The van pulled to a stop longer than usual and they knew they had reached the station. They took out their caps, putting it on. After ensuring their faces were partly concealed under the collar of their fully zipped up jerseys, they stepped out into the direction the station. However, when they became fully visible to each other in the bright station, they laughed. Pulled down caps, hidden faces and thwarting looks—they looked like a pair of fugitives running from the law.

“And they say geinoujin are glamorous.” Yossi laughed.

“And why do I feel we’re actually attracting more attention?”

“You love that, don’t you?” Yossi quipped.

Rika giggled.

Yossi rolled her eyes. She knew Rika was being paranoid. The fact was, as she looked around now, no one even bothered to give them a second look. That is the thing about Japan: nothing is deemed weird to garner a second look.

Yet… Yossi laughed under her breath. Yes, it would cause a big ruckus though if people knew…

She stopped as they approached the elevator leading to different platforms. After some hesitation, she opened her bag and took out the envelope. It’s now or never, she thought. In fact, she had been contemplating throughout her whole journey in the van, now it’s time to get the matter off her chest, once and for all…

Rika stopped to look back when she realized Yossi hadn’t been keeping up with her pace, and saw Yossi looking at her with a card in hand.

Yossi seemed to be struggling with her words when she walked forward. “It’s supposed to come with your birthday present.” She awkwardly stuck out her hand that was holding the card.

Rika had to strain her ears to hear Yossi in the noisy station. Lucky for her, Yossi’s body language more decipherable. She accepted the pink envelope, flipping it over for a second look. Nothing was written on either side, not even the name of the addressee.

“Read it only when you got back home, not in the train,” Rika heard Yossi say; but before she could digest or say anything back, Yossi had bade her goodbye and was already hastening toward her platform.