She is two and the same face stares back at her.
‘Ga,’ she manages, more a squeak than a word.
Her mother’s face, an entire planet above them, drifts down and coos, encouraging more sounds to escape her mouth. But the other face, the one so like her own, turns away in a protest to what’s happening. So she keeps silent, swallowing down her sound until, eventually, the other face turns back.
Miyabi may say the first word, but it will be Mai, always Mai who will finish it.
She is seven and the wind comes to her, makes a pulley of the bell as her sister holds it for her.
Mai huffs, pretending she hates playing the role of servant but Miyabi has felt her, in the dead of night, sliding her fingers across her sister’s sweat-slicked brow and shoving the bedcovers down when the summer creeps in through the window. She has heard her bite out curses when Miyabi cannot walk through the same sun-soaked spaces that Mai could run through, felt her slow, catching the quick sweep of her footsteps before they can fade into the grass. She has felt Mai cut her pace in half, just to keep up with the pain that runs through her body.
Miyabi is grateful. Mai could tear her apart, if she wanted. But she never will.
She is thirteen and it is time to say goodbye, to the face she knows better than the ones she has seen throughout the years, in the mirror, in the pond, in the small space inside a sake cup.
‘Don’t leave me,’ begs her sister, clutching at her sleeve as though she can pull her back. ‘Don’t leave me here alone.’
Miyabi smiles, thinks of their mother, of the spirits her sister will see now that she can run to them without Miyabi pulling at her heels. There will be so much change coming into your life, she wants to tell her sister. So much change. And not all of it will be bad.
And instead she cups her sister’s face and tells her that they are helpless to change God’s will. It is not the greatest message she could leave her with, but it will have to do.
She is a day old and munches on the leaf she is born with. Her brothers and sisters munch beside her, but she does not bother to read their faces, or to compare their similarities with her own. Over time they will drop off, onto other stalks or into spiders webs, or perhaps, even descend down the gullet of a nearby crow.
Miyabi does not care. She is not a human and she does not share a human’s fear or even the buried love of a heart. And yet, she grows, surviving her journey into adulthood in a way she could not in her former life. The crows ignore her, the stalk supports her and the spiders, somehow, scurry past her.
In a matter of months, Miyabi breaks free of her cocoon, no sight of human shyness to clip her wings. She spreads purple and red patterns into the sky, beating her wings before sailing down to earth at the end of a happy three-day life. And then, softly, she comes to rest in the palm of fourteen year old priestess, one who regards her with brittle, knowing eyes.
‘Huh,’ says Mai, ‘I never thought you wanted independence so badly. Was it worth it to be free?’
Miyabi cannot answer, and scornfully, after the last flutter of her wings, Mai carefully closely her fingers over the delicate form.
‘How like you,’ she whispers, ‘to start something and then leave me to finish it.’
And then, after a few minutes, she tosses the butterfly to the ground and leaves.