twenty minutes | prose
I watched as the woman before me fumbled for spare change. Her youth, though eroded by her wrinkles, still shone forth as she passed a thousand yen note to the old man. Radiated, rather, as she smiled. I found myself stopping in my tracks.
“Thank you, miss, God bless you.”
It’s been a few years since I took up my cousin’s offer to move into his cluttered Tokyo apartment — a somewhat desperate attempt to fulfill my teenage dreams of living here. It’s great, I absolutely love it. Being here is too surreal sometimes — it used to be so unattainable; only wishful thinking before I succumbed to sleep.
But now, I can’t help but feel disconnected. Maybe because of what had to happen for me to be able to get here. It feels as though I am separated by a tv screen from everything that unfolds before me: I am not here, nor back in Nagano.
I gripped tighter onto my coat as I continued walking towards the corner café.
“Welcome!” Risa yelled from behind the counter. “Oh, Akane! Good morning!”
As I put on my apron, I heard the door chime ring. “Welcome to Lotus Café, how may — ”
“Hello, Akane. It’s been long, hasn’t it?”
I felt my heart stop before I could even look up from behind the counter. I recognised that all-too-familiar voice immediately.
“Ryuusei,” was all I could manage at first. I’m quite positive I looked like an idiot, taken aback by his sudden presence.
He looked the same, but different: his hair, still as unkempt as ever. He’s still wearing the same old sneakers he wore everyday throughout senior high school — I’m surprised they’re still in good condition. But somehow, his happy-go-lucky demeanor seemed to have disappeared; replaced by an unfortunate awareness of reality instead. I guess three years is a lot.
He smiled weakly. I think I felt my chest cave in.
“I can’t stay for long, but can we talk? I just need twenty minutes, at most. What time do you get off? I’ll pick you up.”
“Oh, um, around 5.”
“Alright. See you then.”
Though he had merely spoken a few sentences, I couldn’t get him off my mind the entire day. Every word echoed in my head, again and again, like a broken tape recorder. How did he even find me here? It’s been ages since I last spoke to anyone from my hometown, not since the incident.
I think the incident was also part of the reason why I had become suddenly so eager to move far away. Perhaps, that’s why I’ve been feeling so disconnected too.
I don’t know.
I glanced over to the wall clock. 4:56pm.
Oh goodness. It’s really not in my character to feel so anxious about something so trivial as meeting someone. But then again, this isn’t just another someone — it’s Ryuusei.
Just as I bid Risa and Kyouko farewell, I spotted his silhouette approaching the café through the rain. “Kyouko! Have you got a spare umbrella?”
I stepped out of the café, my prisoner heart pounding against my ribcage, desperate to break through. Calm down Akane. Deep breaths. Deep breaths, you’re okay.
“Ryuusei,” I said, walking over, offering to shelter him under the umbrella.
“No, I’m okay,” he refused. But I insisted anyway.
We walked aimlessly around the streets, none of us saying a word. We just kept walking, as the tension between us kept building up.
Until he finally said, “You look well.”
“Ah, no not really,” I muttered back. I decided to get to the point. We’d have to talk about it sooner or later; I chose sooner. “So…what’re you doing here? In Tokyo?”
He chuckled to himself, as he buried his hands deeper into his jacket’s pockets. “Just thought I’d come by to see how you’re doing.”
“After three years?” I stopped walking. I felt my throat begin to close up. “For three years, I never heard from you. No emails, no letters, nothing. And now you’re suddenly going to show up, just because you thought you’d ‘come by to see how I’m doing’? You must be joking.”
His smile slowly faded away, his face forming a painfully sour look instead. “Akane…please.”
“You said you’d never leave me! But when I needed you most, you shunned me! How dare you come waltzing back into my life as though you’re doing me a favour! I don’t need your sympathy, Ryuusei.”
Reluctant tears welled up in my eyes.
“I wanted to help you! God, I wanted to. I wanted to hold you in my arms till all the pain went away. I wanted to, I swear, Akane, I wanted to.”
“So why didn’t you?” I asked in a small voice, a voice I didn’t expect to come from me. None of us was under the umbrella now — something I had thrown out of sheer frustration. I supposed it would be too awkward to pick it up now.
He was looking down. I couldn’t tell if he had begun to weep, for the rain around us crashed like cymbals, incessantly. I could feel the rain wash away my stoicism, because right then, I felt him holding my heart in his hands. I could feel the pain he bottled up; no longer was I disconnected. Right before I was someone shattering to pieces, and I could feel it.
“Why didn’t you, Ryuusei?” I felt myself begin to choke on my tears. “Why did you leave me? I still loved you, dammit!”
“Because? Because what, Ryuusei! God, just tell me something so I can finally figure out what to do! I’ve been waiting, waiting, waiting for too long! Please, I’m begging you — I’m so sick and tired of not knowing what the hell I need to do just to fix myself again!”
“Because I couldn’t stand knowing I was the reason why you lost your parents! The guilt was eating me alive, okay? How could I face you, when I was the reason you ended up like this? I killed your parents, Akane, how could you still wait for me?”
Right then, I felt the rain fall harder upon us, as though the heavens had decided to weep for us. My mouth was dry.
“I’m sorry, Akane, I’m so sorry,” he sobbed under his breath. His tall figure looked too small now. “I’m sorry.”
I could barely find any words to utter; I simply stood there in pure devastation. “It…was you? You’re the one who was driving the vehicle my parents crashed into?”
“It was an accident, I promise, I wasn’t paying attention when the red light came on, and I just, I just. I just…”
As the image of seeing my parents’ bodies in the morgue flooded my memory, the pain and hurt I had been burying within me for so long resurfaced all too quickly in one swift motion. My knees felt weak. “I’m sorry Ryuusei, I can’t do this…”
I started running away from him, though I didn’t know where to go, or who to go to anymore. I’ve missed my parents so badly these few years, but I missed Ryuusei too. The feeling of being abandoned by everyone was too unbearable.
I kept running, running even though I felt stitches all over, running even though I felt like dying. I must already be dead, if I’ve become so devoid of feeling in the past three years. I might as well be dead — the last person I actually cared about is the reason why I lost the first two. And I know it wasn’t his intention, but I lost all three of them anyway.
I stopped running once I reached Shinjuku Station.
I’d run this far, huh, I thought. But still, I was distraught, still unable to comprehend what Ryuusei told me. As much as I wanted to blame him for all my losses, I couldn’t bring myself to. Panting uncontrollably, I held onto a nearby pole.
I remembered feeling all his pain as I watched him break down right in front of me. How I could sense every inch of it; it was almost tangible. He felt so vulnerable in front of me, how could I not want to fix him? I may not know how to fix myself anymore, but in that moment, I felt like I could fix him.
More than a pang in my chest, he pierced right through my heart even before he explained his absence. In fact, I think I had already felt that way the moment he stepped into the café. My goodness, have I missed him. But how could I, I had no right to, I’ll be damned. Destiny must hate him, condemned him, cursed him with an eternally heavy heart; I would’ve. I really would’ve…if I could’ve.
But I can’t. I loved him. I probably still do.
I stood there, drenched from the rain, waiting for my saving grace — though I honestly didn’t know what my saving grace was anymore.
I just wanted to dissipate along with the falling rain.
Take me away.
Weeks passed, yet I received nothing from Ryuusei. No emails, texts, Line messages, or calls whatsoever. Silence — the same silence I’d grown to hate over the past three years — was all I had. It felt pathetic, the way I found myself checking my phone every other minute, eagerly waiting for him to say something. I didn’t care what, I just wanted to hear from him. In his absence, I grew even more lonely, lonelier than I’ve ever been.
It was as though I had him right before me, but he just had to be snatched away, again.
Please, don’t leave me again, I would think. If you’d only let me forgive you.
Until one Tuesday afternoon, I felt something vibrate in my bag. Ransacking through it, I quickly grabbed my phone.
Oh goodness. Did I seem too eager?
“Akane, hello. Sorry to bother you suddenly like this. If it’s not too much, I’d like to talk again. If you’re not ready to, it’s alright as well.”
“No, no, it’s okay.” I bit my lip. “Is today alright?”
“Sounds good to me. 8pm at the Hachiko Statue?”
“Sure. See you.”
I felt a certain anticipation build up within me, along with an unexplainable worry. Nonetheless, I was glad he had finally spoken to me. I just wanted to tell him I had already forgiven him. My parents must’ve as well, knowing them, they could never bear grudges on anyone.
At half past seven, I stood amongst the crowd. I thought my legs could nearly give way any moment now. Keep it together, dammit.
He came a little before eight, in the same scruffy sneakers and unkempt hair.
“Have you eaten?”
“Not yet,” I shook my head. “Have you?”
I nodded, but I couldn’t tell if he would’ve been interested in having dinner together. Regardless, I felt too timid around him to even suggest the idea of dining together. I was usually a very confident and calm person, but with him, it was as though my confidence was nothing but a lame façade.
We walked around Shibuya, treading through people; I noticed he had kept a distance between us. Was this a result of remorse and guilt? I wondered. I didn’t know how to break the barrier between us — I wanted to, too badly, so that I could just rid of his self-hatred. Even just a little bit.
Our conversation was superficial; about university, work, and whatnot. We shared occasional laughs but I could still feel him being so far away from me.
“Ryuusei, look…whatever it is you’re feeling, you can tell me, you know?”
The laugh he had been forcing quickly vanished. He said nothing, instead waiting for me to continue.
“I hope you know that I’ve already forgiven you. Really, please don’t douse yourself in your self-loathe anymore. I hate seeing you tear yourself apart like this.” I took his hand. “We can fix each other together, you know? Just like old times? You and me against the world.”
“Hah,” he let out, an anguished expression on his face. “Can we really go back to then?”
“I guess so. I hope so. I can’t promise you anything because I don’t know either. But I’m trying, and that says a lot, considering I’ve been nearly brain-dead for three years.”
“I still love you, Akane,” he said, as he pulled me into a long embrace, amidst all those people. “I’m sorry, again.”
For so long I had felt so alone, so misplaced, so abandoned; but right there and then, I had found home in his arms.
The following day, I woke up feeling less dead than the past few years. It’s really a lot more exciting than it sounds. Though I wish I had woken up next to him, I knew it was too early for that. Plus, I had to maintain my cool chick front. Or at least, whatever was left of it.
But somehow, the moment I had stepped out of my room, an eerie feeling swept over me. An inexplicable bad feeling.
My cousin had the landline telephone next to his ear. His facial expression was anything but pleasant. I felt my heart stop beating.
Oh God, no. Please, not anything about Ryuusei.
I ran to my phone, my mind beginning to spiral out of control. I dialled Ryuusei’s cell as I prayed that he was alright; I’m just paranoid, that’s all.
“The number you have dialled is currently unavailable. Please try again later.”
I frantically redialled, and redialled, and redialled. Nothing.
Finally, I stepped out of the room.
My cousin pulled me into a quick, tight hug. “I’m so sorry Akane. That was Ryuusei’s sister. He…he jumped in front of a train earlier this morning.”
That was it. Everything within me fell apart, starting with the fragile hope I kept that held everything together.
How dare he promise to never leave me but do exactly that just the next day, I thought. But I couldn’t say anything; my words were all stuck in my throat.
Apparently, he had left me a letter — found amongst his belongings in his bag that morning.
Though you have forgiven me, I can never bring myself to forgive myself; even so, someone as lowly as me should never deserve your forgiveness or love. I have decided to apologise to your parents myself. Thank you for the twenty minutes that rainy afternoon — for telling me you love me — for accepting me fully.
But you deserve much more than I will ever be.
I’m sorry. Please forgive me.
My twenty minutes should have run out long ago.
All my love,
And soon, I too, will find my twenty minutes over.