A death forces Hikaru to re-evaluate the concept of losing and leaving. Of leaving behind and losing again. (Akira/Hikaru)
Walk into the room and lay heavily on the tatami mat floor. Above you, a wind chime flutters lightly in a non-existent breeze. Its motion is captivating, and you can feel your eyes follow its slow sideward swing.
Akari has come in and entered your visual path. She stands there, tutting sadly at your limp form on the ground, so you decide (for her benefit) to engage in a very exaggerated eye-rolling, complete with a turn of the head.
"It's so dark in here," she says softly, with a touch of sadness in her voice, and moves around you towards the window. It is dark in here, you acknowledge. It always had been. Light had always been scarce in your lives. There just wasn't enough to have illuminated all those moments in time you see in your memory. A light hand here, a quarter-profile, maybe, but never in the same vivid movement and colour you know the reality had been. If given the chance, you would have flung open doors and windows, allowing light to illuminate all the dusty corners of these images. Taken pictures, imprinted that light onto film, just to be able to possess these things in tangible forms. Know that the above is not very likely. You've never been a very emotional person, after all.
But suddenly the urge for brightness is overwhelming. Light struggles past the prison of the gauzy curtains, filtered and dull.
Please open those windows, Akari.
When she does, the brilliance spills upon the floor around you, illuminating furniture and casting long, spindly shadows on the opposing wall. The light loves Akari, it occurs to you briefly, by the loving way in which it caresses her face. Your first illuminated memory.
"Did you eat today?"
Yes. The answer is automatic, a semi-Pavlovian response to her daily question. You think about the plates and plates of food festering in your garbage can and feel bad for her. You don't need anywhere near the amount of food she brings you. Realise that she probably knows this, being the one who takes out your garbage, and still brings it. Thank you, you think. I appreciate this. The words start to move towards your mouth, but are lost in translation.
Instead, fix your gaze upon the chimes once more. They don't move at all; it must have been your imagination. When you bought them, the storekeeper told you that they had once been ancient talismans said to guide lost sailors. They were meant to be hung in the houses of their loved ones, absorbing their yearning for the missing. The song wrenched from their chimes would always beckon them home.
It's been four weeks, two days and five hours.
Stand up suddenly, startling Akari from where she stands, and take them down.
They're broken, anyway.
Here there is blue, blue sky.
You vaguely recall Tsutsui once telling you about the benefits of sunlight. Something about vitamin D. Strange, you don't feel that much healthier.
Inside, in the room next to the one that leads out to this balcony, shale stones clutter the smooth surface of a goban. Their presence intrudes in all your conscious thoughts, like a virulent tumor.
Akari's light footsteps make their way up the stairs behind you. You can't say that you'd really appreciate her company right now, so you turn towards the street, your back facing her.
Wonder if she ever questions how long this will last. The waiting, the pacing, the soundlessness. Grief is a seven-step process, but what does that translate to in time? How many more hours, minutes, seconds more than one month? One month, verbally, doesn't sound so long. But one month is a long time to spend in purgatory. You wonder when you'll stop feeling this way.
Akari moves to water the plants in the room connected to your lounging spot, but sighs sadly after finding some of them dead. Guiltily, it occurs to you that it might have had something to do with the bottle of whiskey you had accidentally tipped into them last night or the night before. That and the hideous neglect they bore witness to before she came to save them.
"I don't understand," she says in words rife with such sorrow that it induces a slight turn of your head. "What happened? I just don't understand."
Strangely, you've never felt so close to her.
Sai had once read a dirty limerick over your shoulder in history class, sloppily scrawled in a messy teenage hand on the inside cover of your textbook.
You snickered then, partially because you found it humorous and partially at the shocked expression on Sai's face.
"Hikaru, what is this?" He had demanded, long sleeves held over a mouth you knew, if you had seen it, was formed in a surprised O.
A poem, you had explained.
"Oh no, this jumble of words cannot credit itself as poem," he shook his head gravely, eyes gazing disapprovingly at the scrawl under a rim of dark lashes. "This--this is not poetry. It lacks purpose."
You had asserted that it had fulfilled its purpose quite well: to amuse.
But Sai was horrified. "Where in all this do you find poetry? Poetry is meant to be a testament to the movement of time, forward and inexorable. Time holds a unique dichotomy, the ability to move forward and yet still be unending."
But time wasn't the only thing that was like that; Sai was unending, or so you had thought then. Ultimately, you decided not to say anything, instead contemplating what on earth the word dichotomy meant.
"The essence of poetry is to comprehend the ultimatum in existence. The way that moments in time and action betray the ultimately transient nature of the universe, and find in them something so beautiful: the limitations of our existence: to be only bystanders to the great story that unfolds. To bear witness to the totality of the universe encompassed in the movement of a head or the falling of a flower petal," he gesticulated wildly at the now malignant textbook cover, eyes growing wide. "This, Hikaru, is not poetry!"
His words then meant nothing to you, lost in a flurry of friends, classes and igo.
Now, his words make you feel tired and threadbare, with a deep aching sadness in some unidentified corner of your chest. But full of a feeling of awe, an urge to create such powerful reminders of that which you loved.
Your search for Sai had evoked the same kind of sadness and reverence, full of moments lush and holy; morning light drying the dew from cold stone epitaphs. The feeling of fingertips lightly traced along the letters carved there, rewriting already formed ideals, resigning them with your own flesh and bone; following this path that someone has tread so many times before you. A pilgrimage of sorts.
The kind of lovely, painted ideal that you've forgotten the feeling of.
Here there were only hard tatami mat floors; room after room of tatami and more space than you will ever be able to occupy by yourself. A closed door and behind it the remnants of an old go game. Tendrils of sunlight that weave themselves into the mesh of tattered curtains and pool around your head. And elsewhere in this house, the wind chimes; laying mute and sombre somewhere, revoked of the chance to ever sound; beckoning no one home.
The next day it rains heavily. The pattering is deafening above you.
It occurs to you, briefly, that lying here day after day may permanently alter the shape of your head. Figure that since it's a different spot than yesterday, it probably won't. Hopefully, the mat shape here differs slightly from the one downstairs. Consider this for a while, and then stand up.
When Akari comes over, four hours later, she finds you pacing distractedly in front of that closed door. You can swear your agitation is tangible in the humid air.
"Hikaru." You can tell she's looking at you out of the corner of your eye. Keep your eyes on the floor. On the door. Back and forth, but not at her and the pity there. "What are you doing?"
Akari doesn't understand that you can feel those shale stones through the sliding door; their strategic arrangement on the goban. The relics of the last game you ever played.
You don't know how to answer her. What are you doing, exactly?
She sighs softly, and motions to slide open the door. You reach out abruptly and tightly grasp her hand. Stop.
Wincing from the pain, Akari looks at you closely. She knows what is in that room.
"From what I've seen, he's opened the door several times," says a bored-sounding voice from the stairwell. "He's just never gone in yet."
Turning your head sharply towards the source of the noise, you see Mitani leaning against the banister of your stairs. He must have been waiting outside for Akari all this time, and seen the movement of the door through the window from the street below.
"Either go in, or don't," he says, rather simply, looking pointedly from your death-grasp around Akari's wrist to the closed door. "Hurry up and leave it alone, already."
You do want to leave it alone, more so than anything else you've wanted for the last five weeks and two hours. And you've tried. But the presence of that game inside of that room is going to drive you crazy. You yearn to finish it, but touching those stones might erase any presence of the game it was. Perhaps rub away his fingerprints and with it, the last remnant of him in this house.
Stare, speechlessly, at Mitani for a moment and then let go of Akari's wrist. Weave past the two of them and downstairs, grabbing an umbrella on your way out.
It had been raining the day of the funeral.
The night before, you had drunk a little too much and little more than that when you received a phone call asking you to speak at the procession. You hung up abruptly and proceeded to collapse upon the floor, laughing hysterically.
In the end, you had resigned yourself to writing out a heartfelt eulogy, or at least the Hikaru-version of the above (complete with lame jokes and all). One moment. Two. The brain signals weren't reaching your hand.
Think about the game in that closed room, perpetually in progress.
Think about the light pallor of the hand that placed the go stones, shining in the glassy moonlight that spilled through gauzy curtains and flooded the space like spilt milk.
Think about that quarter profile, never fully illuminated, and the expression there. Eager, determined. A touch arrogant.
Think about your yearning to reach across the table and touch the curve of his cheek. To press him against that wall.
Your paper had been empty. In the end, you opted to say something along the lines of "I'm sorry" or "he was a great person and go player". You figured it would be enough.
But standing there, with the rain drowning the sounds of sorrow around you, you realised it could never be enough.
Think about that hand and trace your memory all the way up that arm to his face.
Rain struck the manicured lawn in an angry frenzy, pummeling into your suit-clad shoulders; taunting you to fall upon your knees.
Think about his game; the way you had chased after the ability to play like that.
His mother stood so still near you, but out of the corner of your eye you saw a tear slide down her pale cheek.
Think about the urge to reach out and touch him. Just one last time.
There was no way this could ever be enough. In the end, you turned and ran, feet frantically hitting the sidewalk and the sound of your heartbeat in your ears.
Unfortunately, hunger sometimes dispels lackluster.
Pick up the plate Akari had left in the fridge yesterday or the day before, and make your way upstairs to the living room. The TV doesn't work, of course, since you haven't paid the bills in a while. When Akari had started coming over daily, she had asked for your checkbook after frowning over the unopened mail piled in the corner. You assume that she must have taken care of the important things, but obviously (and perhaps deliberately) omitted the cable.
No matter. You have no intention of watching TV anyway.
For the past few days, you've moved your pacing ritual into this room. Stare at the goban. Stare at the floor. And then back at the goban. You figure a little more action is well overdue.
Place yourself near the goban and pick up those stones. Place one, place another. Do so until that whole game has been played again. Clear off the board and start over. Outside, the colour of the sky changes to indigo and then back to light blue. This transition happens more than once, but you don't notice it.
Three days later, Akari comes back. You haven't moved.
She drops her things at the door at the sight of you and rushes over. "What are you doing?" Her voice sounds frightened, anguished. You feel sorry for her. You don't deserve a friend like her. Instead of saying anything, you clear off the board again and start placing stones.
"Hikaru," she tugs on your sleeve lightly. "Stop."
White stone here, atari. He undoubtedly had control of the upper left corner.
"Hikaru," she tugs again, this time a little harder. Unprepared for the force, you drop the goke, spilling stones across the floor. Black circles litter the tatami, evil eyes that watch you from hell. You glance at her angrily, but she has tears in her eyes.
"Isn't this enough, Hikaru? Aren't you through suffering?" Her voice is so tired, almost as tired as you suddenly feel. She stands up and reaches for your hand; you can feel, somewhat self-consciously, the manic fluttering of your pulse against her warm skin. "Hasn't all this time been enough?"
Your heart is beating too loudly to think. /E/nough. E/nough/. Stare at her dumbly for a moment. Your feet know where they have to bring you.
Tighten your grip around Akari's hand and drag her outside. The torrential rain bears down mercilessly upon the two of you, but your shoes still pound along the sidewalk. Navigate your way through the streets, devoid of people. Think briefly back to a conversation you once had with Sai about umbrellas and the moon.
When you arrive at the cemetery, let go of Akari's hand. Instead of drawing her arm inward, she leaves it partially extended, eying you with a look that is equal parts wary and tender. No matter, she doesn't understand anyway.
Someone has laid purple flowers on his grave. The plastic they are wrapped in crinkles loudly in protest as you pick them up. This where you give your eulogy; or else, that was the way you intended it. Your mouth opens, but no sound emanates from your parted lips.
Akari wraps her arms around you from behind, effectively wetting your shirt with what might be raindrops or tears. You wonder, briefly, whether or not she understands your purpose in coming here. Realise that you don't quite know yourself.
So be it then. The flowers fall, unceremoniously, from your fingers and hit the floor with a crinkly thud. You blink away the raindrops that cling to your eyelashes. Lick your bottom lip thoughtfully.
All around you, there's the sound of cars, Akari's shallow breaths and the deafening staccato of the rain. You want to say all the things you've never had the chance to say, want to plunge your hand in that grave and drag him back to life.
Isn't this enough?
The grave seems to look at you expectantly.
Your answer now, Hikaru.
The rain is so loud now, engulfing everything. It drips down your face tenderly, hugs the etched curves in the tombstone that spell TOUYA. The rain. The water in the sky and sea and earth that moves around and around, because there's never enough of it for all of them at once.
Your answer now, Hikaru.
Say nothing, and hope they both know that the rain means more than you can ever hope to say.
The rivers are swollen from the heavy weather of late. You keep this in mind when you place those stones one last time and leave your house, making your way to the river.
Reach forward and part the thrushes, stepping clumsily into water. Muddy currents swirl ominously around your legs.
Can't you leave it alone? Mitani's voice plays on a sick loop, taunting you cruelly.
You think of your unfinished game. Of the rain and the lack of it in deserts, where people and animals die of thirst, waiting for its return. About time and poetry and umbrellas and the moon.
Akari's soft voice cuts through the cacophonous symphony in your brain: Isn't this enough?
You know that all around you, the trees have eyes and faces, teeth that smirk at your idiocy for not noticing it before. Coiled, deformed branches reach towards you like arms. Any second now, they will clap their hands together, praising you for your decision. Thrushes snap at your muddy ankles and the silt on the bottom of the river feels like quicksand beneath your feet.
Understand, suddenly, that Sai knew the same thing you finally know.
In the corner of your eye, you can see fine tendrils of sunlight peeking over the horizon. The sun is rising and throwing threads of brilliant colour across the morning sky, dispelling night and with it any hint of doubt.
The riverbed dips here and cold currents tug at your body.
Akari's warm, familiar voice echoes again: Isn't this enough?
No, you realise for the first and last time. The river is treacherous, a swirling mass of angry gyres that push at you from all sides, daring you to fall. Any further and the current will sweep you away, but you're already moving forward.
You've lost two people: one you played for. One you can never play without.
Akari, you think. The answer had never been clearer.
One lifetime could never be enough.