There was a way the wind carried itself in these parts of the empire. Unmatched in its utopian cadence, the weight it carried, it whispered of broken hearts, pregnant sobs of silence, letters of nationalist themes and of course, unmistakeable pride. White sashes bearing empty congratulations.
Sleep paints black blossoms in retribution. War paints soulless eyes seeing what the living can’t see.
And fear, what does fear do?
Fear starts another war.
He will be back, he’s just gone to buy a newspaper.
Another train stopped, bringing with it a flurry of motion, all passed off as kinetic static to my leaden eyes. It was all too common, nothing out of ordinary frames.
This is war, I told myself, trying to find the strings to a new world with childlike wonder. Hold onto your loved ones while they’re within the axis of your reach.
Two spoons of sugar. A waft of sun-kissed fruits.
Our empire will attack America. They will retaliate.
This is war, I whispered to the crowds surging past, words dying on my lips before the faceless masks of minutiae life. Weathering under abrasive life, until their soul was breathed out like a wish released for the gods.
It wasn’t long before I found myself looking for his eyes, the asymmetry in them, and the familiar warmth in their hue, as we shared tea in the kitchen in the small hours before the ink had washed out of the sky. The glow hidden deep in the façade of annoyance as we played hopscotch in the squares forgotten outside our home.
People would think we’re mad.
…the things I do for you.
The familiar weight of the book in my hands felt too heavy, but I hid behind its words again. Before long, the lines fused together, and a few drops of tears fell to their death in the abyss of black and white. Before coaxing his sleeve out of its hold, Akihiro had made no reply. He liked listening, looking at me laugh; burning my face to the back of his lids. On nights when the moonlight invited itself into our walls, I would stare at him too, lips parted, hair tousled, the mole beside his eye animated as his orbs darted behind closed screens. He never kept a picture of me, like the other pilots.
I have you here, he pointed at his chest. I don’t have to.
Cold seeped into my skin, reminiscent of days when the sun brought with it sheets of rain, blurring the horizon, or at least our view of the neighbour’s laundry. Such was the day after I dreamt of seeing him, a familiar crooked smile at his greasy one-liners, the Akihiro I knew and loved. Again and again. Skin burning, eyes bleeding, and I was just there, a nobody in the daguerreotype negatives. Stuck in a limbo of screams trying to pull my lungs out. As if my lashes were sewn together.
The book was too heavy. He didn’t like me reading these English novellas, but this was the one my fingers had wrapped around before his mother had pulled my hair into a chignon.
Who are the bullets for?
That is for you to decide. I entrust my parents to you. And know that, if I don’t—
Don’t say it. Please.
I will always be foolishly in love with everything that makes you, you. Everything that is you. You.
He wasn’t going to return. He wasn’t going to be there to press his lips against my cheek when his parents weren’t looking. He wasn’t going to see the full moon ever again and concoct poetry in the drunken dregs of haze.
Red beans with rice and tai?
There he was at the newsstand, and there he was not. He stood by the train, and disappeared. He was the one who accidentally tripped me; but my eyes failed to recognise. It was not Akihiro.
He was gone.
Almost all my hair was out of the updo by the time my feet wove their way out of hell, bile rising like a snake after a winter too long. He had been too fast, and my silk kimono too slow. I retched, pulling it out of the way, feeling trapped in its tight confines. The hexagonal motif—a symbol of longevity.
I remembered a few words, yes. I remembered my mother’s lullaby, etching skies of starless nights and unmet lovers in the endless blue of the silken sea and palatial clouds. Legends had put their foot down on the words of the wizened; a pair of lovers banished to earth, only to write endings to countless stories, never their own.
The flowers wilted, and soul dimmed; though he looked real enough as he dropped the book, kneeling and taking my palm to press to his heart, and for a moment, I had a strange desire to open his chest and hold it tight.
The last page was creased.
Go on. Go home. I’ll be right here. No, no, no. Don’t look back. I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere. Go on. Tell mother to make red beans with rice and tai when I come back. That’s it. Another step. Make sure father doesn’t have too much sake. Go back to our home. No, don’t cry. I’ll be back before the sun sets tomorrow.
You’ll come back?
Through his eyes, I saw an opalescent pearl, far, at the end of the world. Oceans between me and his Zero fighter.
And on nights like this, mornings just felt too far away.