| This article contains HEAVY spoilers. Please view at your own risk.
This was the third time.
Every time Ryuuji stood before this door, he was never alone.
The first time.
That time, Ryuuji was still covered in darkness, unable to see anything. Surrounded by a warm heartbeat, and not yet knowing how to think, he simply floated about, and so it was impossible for him to have any impression of that time whatsoever. It was a late hour of 2 a.m. on a night 18 years ago, just when summer had moved into autumn. It was the darkest hour. Ryuuji was then still just a lifeform without a name, an amalgamation of cells that was only a few centimeters long. And running away from this door towards the outside world was Yasuko, who was still a 16 year old girl.
The second time.
He did not walk through this door, but merely stayed in the park just outside, and simply gazed at the door with Yasuko for a long time. Ryuuji had gotten bored and tired with riding on the swing for so long, so he called out for his mother, wanting to reach out to her hand. It was only then that Yasuko moved her eyes away from the door.
And this would be the third time.
Standing beside Ryuuji this time was Taiga.
"... We're here."
They both held their breath at the same time.
They took a few detours before arriving at their destination. Anticipating that the teachers would track them, they had purposely avoided the major stations, and took a rather convoluted route, along the way they had taken the wrong trains by mistake (Taiga's fault for running into any train that arrived at the platform) as well as riding on the express lines (nobody's fault here). In the end, it took them much longer than expected for them to arrive.
From the beginning, Ryuuji did not intend to rely on his blurry memory, and simply followed the address that was given to him. It seemed this choice was completely correct. Looking at the surroundings which hardly resembled anything from his memories, Ryuuji felt unease like a lost traveller in an exotic dungeon.
The park which was supposed to act as a landmark was now a high-rise condominium. Within rows of detached houses, the unrecognizable one-way roads criss-crossed like lines on a chessboard, while the street numbers on the streetlamps were hardly consecutive. They wandered in a maze of white walls and deep green bushes. The short winter daylight started to tilt westward, and it was nearly dusk when they arrived here.
"It's here right? Should be here, right? ... It says Takasu on the nameplate."
The bushes growing out of the fence had covered half of the nameplate on the gate. Taiga looked at it timidly and then turned her head around. Upon the simple realization that his surname was not paternal, Ryuuji went silent, as even he had been shocked by this surprise.
He had a feeling... No, perhaps he had guessed it for some time. "Ryu-chan's father and Ya-chan loved each other, as though we're together. But he's gone now, what a pity!" The story that Yasuko told him was not true. If it was, then he would have followed his father's surname. If Yasuko had ran away from home, then there was no reason for her to continue using her surname, neither would she resume her surname just because her husband had gone missing. That left the possibility that she's either divorced, or she's never married to begin with. Turned out the father that was looking forward to Ryuuji being born and having a happy life with him never existed since the beginning.
Though he had realized this for some time, still it felt...
"What's wrong? Why aren't you saying anything?"
"It's nothing... So many things had happened, it just felt as though my life has passed me by..."
"Now's not the time to talk about such morbid stuff!"
In response to Ryuuji's easily pessimistic way of thinking...
"How can anything even pass you by when your life has hardly even begun!?"
Taiga whacked Ryuuji on the head to get him back to reality. "Yeah, you're right." Ryuuji was compelled to agree... Really? Though he still tilted his head in puzzlement.
"Forget about that! Now's not the time to be lost in thought! You want to make up with Ya-chan, right? You want to rebuild the bonds that were broken, right? Isn't that why you came here? Ever since you fought with her, you've been running away instead of resolving it, I can't forgive you for..."
( TL note: The above few lines actually contained a pun that is too hard for me to translate. Ryuuji says he sees a "running horse lantern" (走馬灯 - soumatou), a lantern that reflects images on a wall to makes it seem like the horse is moving - an ancient form of animation. The term 走馬灯 is often used in the context for "life passing by" before one's death.
As Taiga whacks him back to his senses, she decides to cheer him up by saying "Horses aren't meant for running, they are meant to be eaten!" Afterwards, she dismissed Ryuuji's doubts by saying, "Let's forget about this horse meat business for now!" )
Standing in an unfamiliar neighborhood, Taiga paused for a while...
"... No, it's me. I can't forgive myself for allowing this to happen."
She looked up at Ryuuji's face and spoke in a soft but powerful voice. Ryuuji understood as well, that his resolve to stand before this door with her was real.
"Go ring the bell."
"I know... I was about to... I'm preparing to ring it."
It's just that he was still too hopelessly nervous. Ryuuji knew Yasuko's determination for him to come here was genuine, as well as understanding how heavy was her 18-year long resolve never to return here.
Ryuuji had wanted to push the doorbell beneath the nameplate, but he couldn't help but stop his fingers. He didn't even have the courage to touch the bell. He held his breath many times, and after repeating the same action many times...
"Sigh, I guess you do need some time to prepare youself."
Taiga made a very forgiving smile, like a Buddha, and nodded at Ryuuji, as well as looking at Ryuuji's face, which was so nervous he resembled a cursed demon. Exerting a soft force, she gently held onto Ryuuji's nervous and sweaty hand.
Nobody would have thought that after going through so many things, Taiga could have become this understanding. This genuine expression of compassion had really moved him. Ryuuji felt like crying and holding onto Taiga's hand, but he never expected that...
Crack! His left hand gave a sound of bones crushing.
"You've done too many warm-ups already, you trash! Hurry up and push the damn doorbell!"
Veins popped out of Taiga's forehead, and they had ended up doing arm wrestling in the air. Taiga used all her force in an attempt to push Ryuuji's hand towards the Takasu doorbell. Ryuuji gritted his teeth as well, both giving out very scary expressions as their clasped hands pushed to-and-fro while their fingers and joints made cracking noises.
"Don't rush me! I, I need to get my timing right!"
"My timing is now!"
"It's not... mine yet!"
"I'm your fee-on-, fay-an, fiance! So we should be united in this!"
"Ahhh! Stop it, you idiot!"
Ryuuji had miraculously blocked Taiga's other hand, which slithered out like a snake. With both their hands clasped together, Ryuuji used his entire weight to push Taiga off.
"You won't be going anywhere if you just stand here and procrastinate!"
A shout unfitting for this quiet residential area rang out.
"You may be right! But I still have many things to think about!"
"You can't resolve anything by just standing here and thinking, can you!?"
"I can't! But just let me organize my thoughts for a while!"
"Ahhhh...!" Taiga's mouth opened and closed quickly. "Huh?" "It's coming--!" "I don't know what you're talking about!" "I... ahhhh...!!!"
"... I! Need! To use! The bathroom--!!!"
Whack! Hearing her voice her biological needs, Ryuuji's left hand lost its strength, and the knuckles of his fist ended up hitting the concrete wall besides the doorbell.
"OWWW! That hurts...!"
Ryuuji wasn't the only one moaning. For some reason, Taiga gave a very desperate expression and puffed her cheeks while letting go of her hands, and knelt down in a strange-looking way. Her arms pointed diagonally forward like a doll, and gently moved her body up and down, as though making it even clearer what she had just said. Taiga gave a wry and stiff smile and said,
"... Right now all I want, is to stop having to hold my pee back..."
"C, could... you already have...?
"... Well, that..."
Taiga's voice became softer and softer. "Farewell, my social life. I'm very grateful for all your support. "Enough! To hell with it!" Seeing as Taiga was getting increasingly detached from reality, Ryuuji decided to resign himself and pushed the doorbell hard with his finger. What should I say? How should I introduce myself? What are Yasuko's parent's like? Can I really achieve what I came here for? By the way, will they believe me? Besides, is this "Takasu" really Yasuko's home? A flurry of thoughts went through his head, as well as many unpleasant scenarios. At this moment, his fingers had gone cold from all the anxiousness. Perhaps pushing the doorbell due to a bathroom emergency was a blessing in disguise.
"Hey, heeeey, no way! ... What the heck..."
"You gotta be kidding me."
They pushed the doorbell twice, three times, but still there was no response. "Stop kidding me! Stop kidding me!" Taiga cursed non-stop. It didn't look like there was anyone inside. Ryuuji looked at Taiga's face, for some time her curses had turned into "Stop killing me!", though Taiga hadn't realized and continued cursing away. "Killing, killing, killing..." I should've known. It is three on a working day afternoon. People would normally still be at work in such an hour. Why haven't we thought of this before?
"... What should we do? There doesn't seem to be anyone inside."
Taiga had returned from her killing spree.
"W, w, w, what should we do... I'm serious, hey, do you have any ideas!?"
"Whoa! Please don't touch me!"
Taiga's personality had changed.
"Hahaha, I might leak if you touch me. I might leak if you touch me, hahaha."
"Let's go back, back to killing... Sorry, back to the station! No, there's a convenience store along the way, let's head back there!"
"I c, c, c, can't move anymore."
"I'll carry you! It won't be far! Don't give up yet!"
"A--haha, please don't touch me, ahaha..."
Under the cold slanted winter sunlight, two shadows elongated in the quiet residential area. One belonged to an increasingly berserk and giggling girl who was wandering aimlessly, the other belonged to a murderous-looking demon in a gakuran uniform that was chasing her. - People would have fled at first sight of such a scene.
"Oh, I'm sorry..."
A lady had purposely walked around them and towards the front entrance of the Takasu house. Ryuuji reflexively bowed and apologized to her.
She took a quick glance at them, it was not hard to imagine there was a bit of fear within her suspicious gaze. It couldn't be helped, as they both looked too strange. Ryuuji, being self-aware, pushed Taiga to the side of the road as she muttered "Killing~~ Hahaha~" He was prepared for the worst. If anything were to happen to Taiga, only he could help her, since he was her fiance that went through everything with her. But then...
Both yelled at the same time. The lady was startled and shuddered her shoulders, and frantically walked into the front door of the Takasu house, preparing to close it.
"P... please wait! Excuse me!"
Ryuuji suddenly shouted. He took a quick glance at Taiga, who also looked back at him. That's her, alright.
The lady wore a pair of dark gray woolen trousers, a skin-coloured fleece jacket and held a plastic bag from a pharmacy in her hand, which contained all sorts of generic goods. Only her clothing gave people the impression of a lady in her 40s to 50s, though her short hair, firm skin and moist lips resembled that a young girl more. Her face still looked bouncy, containing a bit of baby-fat - The word "genetic" quickly popped up in Ryuuji's mind.
This person is definitely Yasuko's mother. Upon thinking that, images of the two overlapped each other in his head. From the shape of their eyes to the spacing between both eyes was uncannily similar. It was just as he had expected.
Though he had spoken first, Ryuuji froze on the spot. The lady looked at his face, her feet which had intended to run away had stopped. I had better say something... He breathed in deeply and said,
"May I please borrow your bathroom?"
"He's Ya-chan's son! Eh!? You're mentioning that first!?"
"Ehhh...!? But aren't you in a hurry...!?"
They both yelled something different, and looked at each other. Though in this situation, Taiga was the more desperate one, so Ryuuji decided to ask firmly again,
"I know this is a bit sudden! But can you please lend her your bathroom?"
Ryuuji stood firmly on his near shivering legs,
"M, my name is, Ta..."
Ryuuji was instantly at a loss for words, though he knew Taiga was patting his back and encouraging him. Feeling the warmth of Taiga's hand, Ryuuji once again breathed out before breathing in deeply and said,
"... My name, is Takasu, Ryuuji! I'm Takasu Yasuko's son!"
He took out the watch and photo from his pocket, and his hands shivered in a hilarious way while he handed them to the lady behind the door. Oh god... At this moment he just felt like praying.
Will this turn out well? Can my wish be fulfilled?
The lady first looked at the watch, and then at the photo. Upon confirming that it was indeed a pregnant Yasuko in the photo standing next to Ryuuji's father, dressed as a lowlife and made a breast-grabbing gesture, she dropped her bag in a dramatic way often seen in soap operas, its contents spilling out to her feet. Ryuuji knew her hand had lost its strength.
Ryuuji saw her lips quivering with a sad voice,
"Where... did you... find this..."
"... This fellow here is my... girlfriend! Because of some reason we had to come here, and..."
"W... Where's Yasuko!?"
Ryuuji shoved Taiga, who was at her limit, before the lady, who was close to tears,
"I have many things to tell you! Really! ... But firstly, can you please lend her your bathroom?"
"Those are con-men! Don't let them in! What!? They're already inside!? You idiot!" Shouting so loud from the other side of the phone that even Ryuuji could hear him was none other than the head of the Takasu residence - Yasuko's father, as well as Ryuuji's grandfather. By the time he's reached home in just five minutes, Taiga had just emerged from the bathroom with both a relaxed and apologetic expression.
"Just what's going on!? Just who on earth would bring home such... WHOA!?"
The man that came rushing in opened the door so suddenly that it banged on the back of both Ryuuji and Taiga's heads, who were still standing bashfully at the entrance. As you might expect from two people who were linked in heart and soul, they both moaned and knelt at the same time.
"... Honey, well, these two kids... how should I explain this..."
"H, how do you explain this!?"
"... The boy said he's Yasuko's son..."
"W, w, w, w..."
This was a pretty normal detached house.
The cupboard, walls and floor tiles in the entrance hall were made of shiny wood. A shoehorn was hung on the side with a black rope. It seemed to have snowed the day before, as there were two umbrellas outside. The wall was decorated with flowers, while a few postcards were plastered under the calendar. At the end of the corridor hung a deep blue door curtain, and sunlight can be seen seeping through from the living room - a most normal looking family. Ryuuji can even imagine seeing Yasuko dressed in a sailor uniform running out from the door curtain in her slippers.
Here lived a mother, a father, and a daughter. Time would flow normally every morning, afternoon and evening. Though this normalcy was now a thing of the past, and Ryuuji understood how surreal this scene was before him.
"... My... my name is Takasu Ryuuji... Taiga, can you stand up?"
Ryuuji held onto Taiga, who nodded her head, and the two of them stood up slowly. The man dressed in a business suit looked middle aged. Ryuuji didn't know what he should say. He had just heard he worked in an office nearby as a tax auditor.
"... This is Aisaka Taiga. Due to some circumstance, she's coming with me today."
Ryuuji could only come up with that when pointing at Taiga, who meekly lowered her head. Just doing this action required her to use her entire strength.
"This watch. The boy brought this. It's Yasuko's, right?"
Yasuko's mother handed the watch and photo which Ryuuji brought to the man - Yasuko's father. He looked a bit dumbfounded as he stood there and looked at those two objects. He looked at them for some time before finally lifting his head. Both husband and wife were speechless.
Ryuuji then took out the short memo from his pocket and handed it to them. It contained Yasuko's handwriting, with the address and telephone for this place written on it.
"This horrendously squiggly handwriting... It must be Yasuko's, right?"
"... It is Yasuko's... Even though she's born here, she still misspells the address here... No doubt about it, Yasuko did write this. So this child must really be, Yasuko's..."
Ryuuji handed over his student ID that contained his name. This was the only official piece of identification document he had with him. That way, things can only become clearer.
"Yasuko... I mean, mom had ran away from home yesterday! She's abandoned me!"
The couple dropped the photo, memo, and ID at the same time. "Phew, safe..." Only the watch was miraculously grabbed by Taiga just before it fell onto the floor.
"I don't approve of what she's done, that's why I came here! Mom's already an adult, so she can't continue to run away from home, and she must be brought back. Back here, her home. Thanks to me, Yasuko isn't able to return home. I... I can't forgive myself for causing Yasuko not being able to come back here. I hated myself, sometimes I even wished I was never born. I used to think that way, but, but..."
Ryuuji didn't know whether they understood, for now he was just trying to speak out his thoughts.
He wanted to correctly convey what it means to come to this home, as well as his determination to do so.
"... And now, deciding to live on, I've found someone I love, and who loves me in return. To be able to be born and live till now, I really feel... happy."
Ryuuji's trembled hand grabbed onto Taiga's, who also clutched onto Ryuuji's fingers. He was not alone in standing at the entrance where Yasuko had run away from.
"Which is why, for me to suddenly appear, and to suddenly say such... stuff, you probably think I'm an idiot... or a strange person. But I'm doing this for the present which I'm proud of! I don't want to be a burden to Yasuko anymore! I'm doing this for this person here who loves me as well... For Taiga, for my friends, and for my mother, I wish to feel thankful for the fact that I'm alive in this world! I do not want to see anybody who has to pay a price for loving me! I want to believe that this is the right thing to do! Not having to make anymore sacrifices! I want to believe that everything should exist the way they are! That's why I've come here... to lead Yasuko back home!"
"We're not some weird religious cult!"
Standing beside Ryuuji shouting incoherently, Taiga also spoke,
"He really means what he says. Maybe he looks a bit dangerous, but... but it can't be helped, because he's Ya-chan's son. Really..."
He really, really, really is full of love... Taiga understood Ryuuji's pain, and shed a drop of tear. If it wasn't for Taiga knocking Ryuuji off recklessly, leading him, and walking by his side, Ryuuji would not have come here.
"... Will you be able to tell Yasuko to come home?"
Yasuko's mother looked at Ryuuji's uniform button and took the courage to ask. Ryuuji nodded.
"Yasuko wanted to give birth to you, she wanted to see you. But we scolded her because we were against it, and she cried many times because of it... In the end she was gone without a trace. Will you help us bring Yasuko back this time?
As Ryuuji nodded, there was a constant ticking sound as the watch in Taiga's hand continued to tick away. Yasuko had left this place with it, and now Ryuuji had brought it back. And still this watch ticked.
The time in this home will return to its normal course. After the impact caused by a heavy kick, everyone would be able to return to their normal times. Just a little longer, a little longer. Ryuuji breathed deeply, and looked at this new world with his vigilant gaze, spreading all the dark clouds that obscured it.
The message they chose to send was option 2.
"Wonder if we'll go to hell for this?"
Yasuko's mother was still sighing worryingly right now. Takasu Sonoko, still having a youthful looking face at age 55, and thus a bit inappropriate to be addressed as "grandma", paced slowly around the kitchen. While Takasu Seiji, aged 57, similarly a bit inappropriate to be addressed as "grandpa", and from whom Ryuuji's surname comes from, sat casually besides the stainless steel kitchen sink.
"All we can do is wait now. Calm down, the message's already been sent, so it can't be called back."
"... If somebody has to go to hell, it'll have to be me. Since it was me who sent the message after all."
Without any hesitation, Taiga shamelessly picked the centre spot in the Takasu residence's warm kotatsu , placed right in front of the TV, and tucked herself neatly inside. She held a cell phone in her hand, ready to answer it anytime, while placing her chin on the table top like a feline.
"If things become true just by saying them, then I'm the one most vulnerable right now."
Ryuuji sat behind Taiga like a servant or salesperson, ready to respond to any sudden movements. It was he who had thought of this idea, so he thought he should take responsibility for it. An hour had hardly passed since the message was sent out, and already everyone was paying attention to the entrance hall.
"Ryuuji has got into an accident and is seriously hurt. Please come back at once."
Taiga used her cell phone to send this what should be quite a sinful false message to Yasuko. Option 1 was more mild in tone: "That address you gave is now an empty lot." While option 3 was: "I'm at the police station right now. If you don't come, I won't be able to leave." Option 1 was immediately vetoed, while Sonoko had reservations about Option 3, "We might really have to go to the police station that way." And so was vetoed as well. Left with no other option, they decide to adopt the rather radical Option 2. However...
"... This is just fraud. Surely anybody would suspect this?"
"I've left a contact number in the message. So I think she'll believe it."
"What if she asked around the hospitals nearby?"
"... Ah... maybe she would."
Even he thought this whole idea was poorly executed, but there was no point crying over spoiled milk. Besides, the two grown-ups here have also agreed to it... Though they seem to regret a bit right now.
With the TV off, the silence of four people fell upon the living room. Ryuuji stood up and squeamishly flicked his cell phone open,
"Um, this is Yasu... I mean mom last week. We were having hot pot..."
Sonoko and Seiji both anxiously extended their necks and looked at Ryuuji's cell phone. They remained silent for a while, and only stared at Yasuko's photo.
In the screen on Ryuuji's phone was Yasuko without her makeup, her hair was tied into a shooting tail on her head, while wearing casual Uniqlo clothing. Under the heat generated by the hot pot, she energetically gave V-signs with both her hands. Maybe this photo's a bit too dumb. Just when Ryuuji thought so...
"Yasuko... she's hardly changed..."
"Yeah, she hasn't changed a bit..."
They both seem very thoughtful, while placing their faces closer to the screen in order to have a better look.
"I have other, better photos."
Ryuuji went through his unsorted folders, trying to find some smarter photos. This one with her walking in the very bright sunlight looks good. Ryuuji then expanded the photo so that it filled the whole screen. He could no longer remember why he took such a photo. It had Yasuko carrying an ice box while going to a barbecue party with her colleagues from Bishamonten Kuni. She wore a large straw hat, a T-shirt and jeans, and smiled very happily. Walking in front of her was Taiga smiling in her one-piece dress, which fluttered against the wind. The tilted photo looked a bit blurry, Ryuuji was probably smiling as well when he took this photo.
"Ah, she looked quite cheerful and happy."
Sonoko said to herself, revealing a soft smile for the first time.
"If she's this happy... then it's good, right, Dear?"
"How can it not be? I think it's good. I've always been worrying about her, and have thought about it a lot. It's over 18 years already... Even our neighbors say they've seen Yasuko pass by before."
She smiled while rubbing the tip of her eyes with her fingertips.
"They said they saw her there, in that park ahead. Yasuko was standing there with a small boy next to her. They even said Yasuko looked quite thin, and quite pitiable."
"Such a small world...", Ryuuji muttered softly, though no one seemed to have heard him.
"They thought they must have seen the wrong person... No matter what, I was angry at them for not calling out to her! But in fact, it's all my fault. I was waiting for Yasuko to come back everyday, but I had to go out that day for some errand at the bank. I had always stayed at home before then, but I just had to pick that day to go out. I felt really, really, really anguished about it... I constantly feared bad things might happen to Yasuko, like she would be dead or be murdered... I often get nightmares. Mom, save me, why aren't you here anymore... I constantly dreamed of Yasuko being chased by some killer while carrying that boy, running with all her life to the park nearby and sobbing... Ah... I don't want to recall this anymore. I'm content with just seeing her looking happy like this already."
Sonoko used her arms to push her youthful body up from her seat, and said towards Taiga buried in the warm kotatsu, "Would you like something to eat? Or perhaps you want to use the bathroom again?" Still wearing her uniform, Taiga climbed out of the Tatami and came to the kitchen, she then looked around Sonoko and said,
"I wanna eat something... like rice..."
Ryuuji quickly tugged her sleeve,
"Words alone are not enough to describe your lack of decency!"
"Well, I'm hungry already. And we didn't have lunch. Besides, since last night and this morning, I didn't eat anything since my stomach was feeling unwell... Your stomach's probably feeling terrible as well... Isn't that so? Since we're linked together by heart and soul."
"For your information, I've already eaten! After being abandoned by Yasuko, I was all alone at home, so I took out everything that was left behind and had a good meal yesterday! Including your chocolate!"
"No way!? You inconsiderate idiot!"
"I've also eaten this morning! In order to get here, I have to replenish myself! You're the one who's strange. How can you not eat on such an important day!? You can't even hold your own pee. Aren't you the one being inconsiderate here!?"
"How dare you...!?"
"You see your grandson saying such stuff? That's his real self.", Taiga purposely whispered besides Sonoko's ear. "Go make something for her.", Seiji said and stood up. Sonoko smiled and opened the refrigerator.
"Ah, yes we do have rice, and eggs, ham, onions..."
"And pickled cabbage! Ryuuji, you know how to make fried rice out of those, right?"
Standing behind Sonoko, Taiga turned her head happily. Getting all excited at what's inside other people's refrigerators. Isn't she getting a bit too acquainted? Ryuuji lowered his head embarrassingly, since he was the one who brought her over and introduced her as his girlfriend, so he felt responsible for it.
"Why you...! Don't act like you're so familiar with things... Don't you know what manners are!?"
"Well, they're Ya-chan's parents, and Ryuuji's grandparents, after all. After marrying you next year, they'll be my grandparents as well!"
Taiga gave a broad smile and raised her arms up high. Seeing Taiga's movements, Sonoko smiled softly,
"... So you want fried rice, huh? Shall I make it?"
With the speed of a battle submarine, Taiga then sat in front of the dining table before Ryuuji could even blink. Seriously! Ryuuji covered his face with his hand and said,
"Let me help... I insist. Or I would feel really bad about it..."
Ryuuji walked towards the kitchen table beside Sonoko, who pulled a rope to open the curtain and let the sunlight in.
"Ryuuji is re--ally good at cooking!"
"Now that I've got to see."
Encouraged by Taiga's confident voice, Sonoko decided to have a look at how Ryuuji sliced the onions. "Oooh!", and exclaimed with her eyes wide open,
"I would never have thought you are Yasuko's son. She's so hopelessly clumsy, and could never remember the right instructions. But if she puts in some effort, she could actually make something good..."
Ryuuji sliced the onions efficiently on the chopping board and replied,
"I grew up eating her cooking. I only took over once I learned how to cook myself, but before that we made our meals together."
... Ryuuji was worried whether Sonoko was crying, and looked at her with concern. But all he saw was her staring straight ahead in silence, as though thinking of something.
"Such a silly girl."
She said while looking at the dimming sunlight outside the window. Ryuuji could not confirm whether she meant Yasuko was being silly for cooking together with her son in the absence of a husband, or her being silly for choosing to leave her home, when a while ago she was still thinking of what lay ahead of her.
It took place on the dining table where Ryuuji and Taiga gobbled their dishes of fried rice...
"... Yeah, I'll show you."
Seiji ran up the stairs and fetched Yasuko's photo album. Seeing records of his mother growing up for the first time, from kindergarten, grade school, junior high and high school, Ryuuji and even Taiga had lost sense of time. By the time they realized, it was already dark outside.
"Wow... she's carrying a schoolbag... Oooh... she's playing a flute...!"
"By the way, she still looks the same as she did back then."
Watching the photos while sitting opposite Ryuuji, Taiga poked at the back of Ryuuji's palm with her finger. She didn't withdraw her finger after that, but instead pointed it towards the Takasus, who had been looking outside the living room window all this time.
Sonoko and Seiji couldn't bring themselves to calm down. All they could was stare at the pitch black garden outside, awaiting Yasuko's return.
"... What if Ya-chan doesn't come back...?", Taiga leaned her face towards Ryuuji and whispered.
"... We'll keep waiting till she does. If she still doesn't come, we'll go look for her, until we find her.", Ryuuji whispered back in response. Taiga wasn't sure whether to accept this reply as she scratched her slightly itchy ear while looking at the album. Yasuko had plenty of photos of her in PE uniform and casual wear during her junior high days, but hardly any as she entered high school, which deeply bothered Ryuuji.
The answer I gave to Taiga just now wasn't correct.
Ryuuji knew very well. If Yasuko doesn't come back, then he must keep waiting here with Taiga, until they had to go out to look for her-- But if they do that, then his wish wouldn't be granted, as there won't be enough people to fill up "Taiga's world".
By sending a fake message that goes against his moral fibre... he did something he shouldn't have. He too had wished he had used a more virtuous method of doing this, so that nobody will have to blame themselves for it.
The problem was there simply wasn't enough time for him to do that.
The watch that was placed on the dining table indicated that it was way past dinner time. Time was moving way too quickly. His body was growing rapidly, yet the world he sought after still felt so far. Ryuuji felt anxious about it. Even though he had hoped everything would go well, as well as hoped that he could move forward steadily with his feet on the ground, in the end, all he could do was feel nervous and speculate at what the future held.
And after doing that, would he be able to live a life where things flowed at the pace that he could accept and handle?
"... Why'd you ask? Of course not."
Taiga deliberately supported her cheeks with her hands, concealing her mouth. For some time she had been staring at Ryuuji's face. Ryuuji merely replied, "It'll be alright."
Taiga closed her her eyes and slowly wobbled her neck while sighing deeply.
And then gave a flying kiss.
Ryuuji quickly dodged it. Taiga then fired more flying kisses, which Ryuuji also skillfully dodged.
"Dammit--- the first shot went there, the second shot here, the third there, the last one there."
Taiga pointed to the ceiling, the wall, the table and the kotatsu respectively, while chuckling,
"Perhaps it was wise for you to dodge them after all. Since these aren't free, as one kiss costs 3000 yen."
"You actually charge money for that? And aren't they rather expensive!?"
"However! If you collect them all, you'll get a 10,000 yen reward!"
"Can I win that?"
"Though that includes extra charges..."
"So there's more!"
"All provided by Japanet Takasu!"
"Ah, so it's all paid for by Japa... Hey! I still gotta pay in the end!"
Ryuuji raised his right hand, preparing to whack Taiga at the back of her head. Taiga responded by pointing her head towards him provocatively, as though saying C'mon, I dare you! It was at this moment.
Ryuuji reflexively turned his head towards the entrance.
He remembered hearing this faint sound somewhere before and slowly stood up. Taiga looked puzzlingly at him.
Sonoko and Seiji both turned astounded towards Ryuuji. "Did you hear something?" "No, I..." Ryuuji could hear it, he was certain that the familiar sound was getting closer and closer.
It was the sound of high heel shoes clicking on asphalt while running quickly. All this time, whether he was in kindergarten, nursery, or at home, as long as he heard this sound, he would move off from his toys and books and run outside. At this moment, he felt like kicking the chair and running towards the entrance... No, I mustn't. Ryuuji sat back down and said,
"That's Yasuko's footsteps. I think you can go meet her at the entrance."
Sonoko gave a wailing sound and looked towards Ryuuji. Seiji too was momentarily petrified, as the couple looked at each other, they even forgot to breath. When they heard that the person whose footsteps they were hearing had opened the door without hesitation, they quickly ran outside towards the corridor.
"You should go as well!"
"No, let's wait and see. Besides, they've waited for eighteen years. It wouldn't be good to interrupt their reunion.", Ryuuji explained to Taiga, while his throat felt hot as though he had just swallowed a flame. He genuinely meant what he said, though another reason was because he was afraid of seeing Yasuko.
The words that he said towards the person who had raised him all these years still reverberated in his ears. If only you hadn't given birth to me! Yasuko gave up her life for him, that wasn't right. If you're a failure, then my existence would be a failure... Ryuuji had denied everything, as Yasuko had unilaterally decided his future, forcing him to do what she could not do, in other words, to make him obey his parents. Yasuko was attempting to conceal the sin she committed for defying her parents by being a parent herself. Yasuko believed that the sin must be eliminated, a price must be paid, and only then could she live a happy life with Ryuuji.
Wouldn't that prove that she believed it was a sin to give birth to him? Wouldn't that prove she'd actually regretted it? Ryuuji had wanted to shout, "Stop trying to selfishly control my life" Or retort to her, "Everyone has a right to do what they want when they reach seventeen." Yet he ended up hurting her.
And now he has different thoughts about it.
Would I be able to mend those wounds?
Would my existence - everything that had happened for the past eighteen years up till now - be recognized?
Will I be able to love her unreservedly together with Taiga?
"This isn't good..."
"... Whether it's good or not, I'm still gonna do this. I'm gonna have them all. Who's gonna say things won't work out as expected? I'm gonna get them all without having to sacrifice or destroy anything..."
"This is bad, Ya-chan..."
"I'm gonna... huh?"
"Ya-chan didn't come in from the front door!"
Ryuuji turned around to look at the direction which Taiga was pointing at with a confounded expression. The window in the living room had been so forcefully opened that even the glass was shaking. "Huh!?" "She's not here!" He could hear the couple exclaiming from the house entrance outside.
Yasuko had entered the living room of her own house and took off her high heels.
Her widened eyes were shaking together with her body due to her catching her breath, as she looked at Ryuuji with a face that went red and white.
She didn't reek of booze, and neither was she wearing an afro - she probably didn't bother to use a hairdryer after taking a shower. Strands of her long blonde hair - damaged by the perming, lay on her pale cheeks. Yasuko took another step forward, the high heels she held had dropped onto the concrete floor, creating a noise. Wearing Ryuuji's junior high green PE uniform, which hardly matched her high heels, while donning a black feathered jacket outside, she slowly approached.
"Y, Yasuko! Yasuko...!"
The Takasu couple came in from the entrance and attempted to climb through the kotatsu, wanting to embrace Yasuko.
"R, R, Ryuu, Ryuu-chan... w, w, w, where're, you, hurt...?"
But they couldn't bring themselves to hold her hand, and could only stand there. Yasuko was trembling as if she were freezing to death.
It was obvious that Yasuko's joints and teeth were shaking violently. She looked at Ryuuji and struggled to speak. She covered her quivering mouth, and could only make huffing sounds as though she just suffered a stroke.
Ryuuji could see both her eyes were wet.
Before those eyes, Ryuuji stood still. Even when Taiga attempted to speak for him, all he could do was listen with his ears, which felt as though they had been stuffed with wood.
"Ya-chan... we're sorry..."
What have I done?
"... We're sorry, we didn't mean to lie to you... Sorry..."
Not even noticing Sonoko was slowly reaching out her hand to her, Yasuko jumped over the kotatsu, nearly knocking it over, and came before Ryuuji. She then raised her right hand. Ryuuji thought he was about to be slapped, and awaited for the impact.
Yet that hand landed gently his cheek.
It then began caressing his face.
The hand felt his chin, the fingers warmed his ears. Ignoring his opened jaw, Yasuko just wanted to confirm that it was Ryuuji's face she was touching. Her hand then went down to Ryuuji's shoulder and around it to his back.
"... I don't know what I should do anymore."
Yasuko wanted to embrace Ryuuji but didn't have any strength to. Looking at her, Ryuuji's mind went blank, all he could say was,
He couldn't even hold on firmly to his mother, who was kneeling weakly down on the floor.
Yasuko sat on the living room floor and cried like a newborn baby, she wailed like a beast about to be killed with her mouth wide open, unable to wipe off the tears flowing down her cheeks. She then yelled like a maniac, "Thank goodness... Thank goodness..."
Seiji walked towards Yasuko,
"Get a hold of yourself!"
And gave her a slap which brought her back to her senses.
"You're his mother!"
"I, I, I...", Yasuko said terrifyingly while looking up towards Ryuuji,
"H, have no right, to be, your mother."
As she gazed into Ryuuji's round eyes, more tears came down her cheeks,
"It's all Ya-chan's fault that Ryuu-chan might think like that. I had no right to be your mother. I only wished... you could be happy, but, I couldn't do it... I never thought that way... T, then..."
Yasuko shook her head, trying to find the right words,
"... If Ryuu-chan hadn't been born, then Ya-chan will have nothing! Ryuu-chan is, everything, to Ya-chan's happiness! That's why... I'm afraid...!"
Sonoko and Seiji both seemed to know what she was trying to say, and listened quietly as she tried her best to convey her message amidst the tears,
"Ya-chan was afraid that Ryuu-chan might leave one day. Ever since when you were a baby, Ya-chan's been afraid when you might disappear, and was at a loss on what to do! Ya-chan knew she'll be punished for deserting her parents! It wasn't until Ryuu-chan was born that I realized what a horrible and tragic thing I've done... So when Ryuu-chan says he wanted to leave, Ya-chan couldn't stop it from happening. I couldn't face it, I didn't know how to face it, I couldn't bear it... So Ya-chan ran away...! That was the only thing... Ya-chan could think of..."
Ryuuji too silently listened.
Yasuko's words had enveloped this home, and every corner in this room with sadness. No. I can't allow this. Ryuuji bit his lip and stared at that sadness.
I'm through with all this sadness.
"But Ya-chan remembered she must ask the landlord to take care of Ryuu-chan until he leaves. Then I heard the landlord say Ryuu-chan was crying yesterday... Ya-chan's done it again! ...I've done something just as horrible once again... Something just as cruel. It was then that Ya-chan understood... So when I received the phone message, I really thought that everything was all over...! Because I was too stupid, so the gods have decided to take everything from me... That everything will end like that... That's what I really thought..."
Toradora vol10 177.jpg "I'M STILL ALIVE!"
Ryuuji said forcefully in order to prevent himself from being infected by Yasuko's crying. He held on to Yasuko's shoulders tightly, to prevent her sadness from creeping around her. No one has to leave their home ever again. No one needs to do that anymore.
"You gave birth to me! And I'm still alive! What more could you ask for!? Is there anything more you can ask from that!?"
Yasuko widened her eyes as though she had seen Ryuuji for the first time, and said quiveringly with tears still filling her eyes,
She repeated what Ryuuji just said, and felt something incredible about that question being asked.
"... I gave birth to Ryuu-chan, and he's still alive. So Ya-chan will be happy... And then... The rest... This happiness... It... It'll continue on..."
"Then, then let it continue on."
Ryuuji nodded to Yasuko while holding Taiga's hand,
"But this time she'll be with us... always, for the rest of our lives."
Yasuko continued to trembled as she held her breath, she then turned to Taiga, who was kneeling besides her, and embraced her head roughly. And as expected, she held on to Ryuuji's arm and began sobbing again. No matter how much she cried, the tears just wouldn't stop. But if any sadness were to creep in now, Ryuuji was determined to crush it the moment it appears.
"... Ya-chan too thought about Taiga-chan."
Yasuko buried her tearful face into Taiga's hair and caressed it,
"Taiga-chan has also been to places where Ya-chan couldn't reach, right? You must have been through a lot of pain and suffering, right? If I had known I wouldn't have treated you so dearly, since I couldn't bring myself to send you away! I just couldn't do it! But, when Ryuu-chan is to leave Ya-chan, as long as you two are together... then even without Ya-chan, you two will both receive salvation, and you'll never be abandoned."
"Don't worry. Ryuuji will be saved, so will I, and of course so will Ya-chan. All of us will be redeemed... That's what Ryuuji says, and I think so too."
They both exchanged words which only they could understand. Yasuko then repeated the same words to Taiga, "Thank you."
"... Huh? Why are you thanking me?"
"For everything. For you coming to me, to our place, for loving Ryuu-chan and meeting me. Ya-chan also wants to thank Taiga-chan's parents... as well as everyone."
"What about your own parents?"
Upon Ryuuji's witty remark, Yasuko finally realized this, and took a look at where she was. She sniffed and rubbed her sore eyes and finally saw Sonoko and Seiji.
SIGH--- Both Sonoko and Ryuuji made a sigh as loud as a tornado. What's there to be surprised about? They both made the same thoughts.
"Well... it doesn't matter anymore. Everything's fine now."
Sonoko relaxed her stiffened back and said,
"So you've always been living with Ryuuji together all this time?"
Yasuko hesitated for a while, and then nodded vigorously. Sonoko, Seiji and Ryuuji didn't ask any further.
It was all settled.
As long as your love is free, then it doesn't matter if it couldn't get conveyed at once. This includes places that it has not been conveyed to, as way as truths that have not yet been conveyed. (TL note - This sentence is too philosophical. Can someone else with raws please double check to see if it's translated properly?)
"... It's amazing you managed to come back. You've finally come home... It's been a long trip, isn't it? Thank goodness. As long as you're back safely, then I'm glad."
"Anyway, let's get her something to eat." Though she had just had a plate of fried rice, upon hearing Seiji say that, Taiga's eyes flashed again.
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6|
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6 • Spin-off|
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5|
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6|
|Prologue • Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6 • Chapter 7|
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6|
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5|
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6|
|Prologue • Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5|
|Prologue • Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Epilogue|