Mikoto Elementary School, class reunion. Satoru is back, so are the handful of people who knew he’d been gone in the first place.
Misato takes her place at her desk in 6-2, where, eighteen years ago, she listened to a man in a black suit and a red tie recount Satoru’s misfortune. It’s easy to slip back into the memory, where the hem of her skirt tickled her bare legs and she just couldn’t concentrate on her teacher’s words. Mind blocking out the stress, Misato drew patterns across her classmates’ backs with her gaze.
People trickle in, stick figures she thought she would never see again, when her family moved out of town and never came back. Junior high, where no teacher could quite replace Yashiro in his idealised, romanticised state in Misato’s mind, was dull, a springing board for high school. High school, where she was reunited with Kenya, who could never let go of Satoru’s memory, who stopped talking to her when she called him a “memory”, could never teach her a lesson. Why is she here again, why couldn’t she leave it behind, isn’t she the same as Kenya if she lives in the past like she does now?
Maybe she should learn to look back on past experiences fondly; then she could remember without memories becoming prison.
She’s absent even though she exchanges greetings. Kazu and his Nakanishi, Kenya and his Satoru, Osamu, Hiromi’s relayed greetings because he couldn’t make the time for the long trip here, and there aren’t many others. Only one other woman in a red coat, not consciously hiding maybe, but still obscured by Kenya’s bulky form, sits by the window.
They’re all friends; Misato’s the only stranger here, even though she’s been told before they don’t consider her a stranger, but that’s not how she feels.
After friends reminisce in old classrooms, the handful of alumni come together in the mess hall to eat reunion rice. As people shuffle around for second servings, she leaves her bag in her seat adjacent to her old classmates, implication for them to look after it like a bridge out of grass stalks, and leaves for the loo.
Sharing space with Kayo is torturous. It’s a study in remorse. They worked together for Satoru’s fundraising, and she apologised, but unless she can erase the past, it means nothing. Even when Kayo’s gaze she can’t hold is caring, even when Kayo’s voice she can’t register is soothing, it means nothing.
She comes back to an almost empty hall, Kayo now sitting in the seat next to her bag, looking out at the misty sky. She cranes her neck to see when Misato’s heels click on the floor, a smile blooming on her features when their eyes meet.
“Hey,” she says. “The others had to leave early. I’ll be here for the weekend, though.”
“Oh,” Misato offers. She takes her bag but doesn’t leave. She can’t see any natural out of this conversation.
Kayo stands up, too. “How about you? Are you going back, too?”
“Ah, no.” Getting the words out is difficult; knots upon knots climb up to her throat, blocking her words further by the second. “I’ll be over at my parents. For the weekend.”
Kayo is radiant, hearing that, like Misato’s just imparted some secret to happiness. “Maybe we’ll see each other around. The town is small, after all.”
Yes, the town is small, but not like the entire country is big enough for Misato to throw the past off the track. She couldn’t get away from Kayo then, she can’t get away from her now, and maybe that’s only because she keeps coming back to where she’ll be found. She comes back to offer silent apologies, to get closure on her regrets, and she comes back to see the reassurance on Kayo’s face that yes, she’s forgiven, what she did not forgotten but a new page turned over. Books contain hundreds of pages, but it’s the last page that leaves the biggest impact, after all. The books of their lives are still being written. The end cover isn’t turned closed yet. There’s still hope.
“Maybe,” she echoes, and even though it’s only upon swallowing bitter spit, she can return the slightest of smiles.