"Would you like something to drink, miss?"
I turned my head, switching my attention from the light fluffy orange clouds outside my window to the flight attendant who was smiling professionally at me. I returned the smile with a small one of my own, nodding.
"What do you have?"
"Well, we have some coke, some diet Coke, Pepsi, water, coffee, orange juice, beer… as long as over the legal age, of course," he said. I shook my head, never really having had a taste for alcohol. Just because I'm underage it doesn't mean I haven't had a small sip during special occasions, and that was with permission.
I took a second to go over my choices before deciding on water. The man – who I saw was named Tulio (thanks to the shinny name tag he wore on the left side of his vest), which I found slightly odd since that was a Spanish name and he looked more Mongolian than anything – nodded at me and plucked a plastic cup from a stack as he asked me, "Mineral or sparkling water, and ice or no ice?"
"Mineral's just fine, and yes, some ice would be nice, please," I said, and watched with mild fascination as he swiftly reached for a big bottle of mineral water, undid the lid and poured it in my cup; all the while reaching for some pincers to grab a handful of ice cubes from a bucket without looking. Within three seconds flat, he was reaching politely past the middle-aged couple who were seating beside me (with the man fast asleep and the lady reading some scandal magazine in Chinese) and handed me my drink. I thanked him, and he then asked me if I would like some Bits N' Bites or cookies. Having the sweet tooth I do, I asked for cookies, which he readily gave me.
As Tulio continued to make his refreshment rounds, I stretched as much as I could in the limited space I had; hearing a couple satisfying pops and crunches from my back and neck. I loved flying, but more than five hours is just a little too annoying. Especially since I get cramped if I don't move for a long time; unless I'm sleeping, but that's a whole different matter.
I glanced around, not because I suspected anything had changed in the past six and a half hours since take off, but because it was something to do, however briefly, and a nice little temporary change from the sitting position I had been in. After that, I took a deep breath and glanced at my Michael Kors watch, a present from the Pig and our mentor, and my mother figure, Tsunade. Tsunade knew my parents years before I was born, and upon my birth she became my godmother. She was also a genius doctor, and was both renowned and feared for her abilities and hot temper, respectively. She had been teaching me medicinal practices since I could remember, and she single-handedly discovered and nursed my passion for medicine. Currently, the woman was with Ino in Sydney, having flown there a couple weeks before my friend did. She was the one who was in charge of the stem cell research group there.
I sat back on my seat and let out a sigh. Six hours and forty-two minutes down, seven hours and twenty-six minutes to go. I turned my head back towards the window, and watched the reminder of the sunset. Although I know it was ridiculous, just knowing that I was headed to a whole other place, a place where I had roots in from my mother's side, it made everything different; like this sunset seemed different from the ones back home.
Once the last rays started to drift away, I turned back to facing the back of the seat in front of me. After deliberating for a second, I pulled out my headphones from my carry on and plugged them into the armrest, switching through the channels on the little screen in front of me to see if I could find anything worthwhile. I found one of my favourite shows, Criminal Minds, and I settled back to enjoy the show while I waited for something else to happen.
After about seven hours and two movies later, a flight attendant's voice sounded through the plane, waking me up from my half-awake, half-asleep nap, effectively making me groggy but alert enough to not freak out like Ino had done once. The flight attendant – who I could've sworn was Tulio – alerted the passengers that we would be arriving to Tokyo within forty minutes and that we'd begin our descent in half an hour, but that if we looked to our left, we could see Mount Fuji. Taking advantage that I was on the left side of the plane, I peeked out into the darkness eagerly while trying to block the sight from the passengers on the other side of the plane who had bothered to take a look.
It was a nice sight; very picturesque, in fact. The night here somehow seemed lighter, and the dark night sky seemed more blue than black while dozens of little stars danced around the tiny soft clouds who adorned the painted dome. The moon was almost full, and man was it big from where I was. It was pearly-white, and had a splendour that many would scoff at, if I had tried it to describe to them. Below it, not that far away, was the tip of Mount Fuji, majestically reaching for the heavens while patiently waiting for the same heavens to reach for it. There was still a bit of snow on the very tip, but that just added to the scenery. Needless to say, it took my breath away.
I pulled myself back so as to not hog the window, and hurriedly rummaged through my bag to search for my digital camera to take a picture. I smiled as I heard the couple beside inhale in awe at its sheer, simple beauty, and I marvelled at how such simplicity could be so inspiring.
After the couple and the other passengers who were glancing out my window settled back on their seats, chatting quietly about the drop of magic they had shared, I whipped out my camera and snapped a photo, and took four more for good measure. I flipped through the photos, admiring how well they came out in my digital camera. They were all nice, but none could quite capture the scenery's true essence.
I shrugged, and put my camera back in its case which I tucked away safely inside one of the many pockets with zippers in my bag. As I contemplated the renewed energy I felt stir something within me, tired as I was from doing absolutely nothing for the past fifteen hours, I realised that this was a good omen; a very good omen indeed.
Soon enough, the captain's voice rang through the intercom to announce that we were about to begin our descent, and that we should put up our tray tables, straighten our seats, return to our seats if we weren't in them and to buckle up. The flight attendants walked down the isle, making sure we followed the captain's instructions and to remind passengers to push their bags under the seat. Standard procedure, one I knew by heart.
Once all that was over, I could fell the plane start to lose altitude at a steady, slow pace; fast enough to notice the change but not enough to make you feel like you left your stomach somewhere above and behind you.
In no time, I could see the lights of the airport shinning in front of us. Since the plane had lost the American television signal a couple hours back, I'd plugged in my headphones to my i-Pod, and I could hear Tom Cochrane start to sing "Life Is A Highway" into my ears at the exact same moment my mind finally accepted that, after waiting for so long and working so hard, I had done it. I was arriving in Japan.
It looks like the road that you travelled on
That is one day here, and the next day gone
Sometimes you been and sometimes you stand
Sometimes you turn your back to the wind
There's a world outside every darkened door
Where the blues won't haunt you any more
Where the brave are free, and lovers soar,
Come ride with me to the distant shore
I smiled, feeling my heart pounding with the acceleration I was feeling. I had done this; me. Standing on my own two feet, and I had achieved the goal I had set out to do so many years ago.
We won't hesitate to break down the garden gate
There's not much time left today
The runway came up to us fast, and right as soon as we made contact, I could feel the mother of all smiles light up my face as the drums and the guitar in the song pounded on cue, as if the chorus, which was the most energetic and free part of the song, was telling me what my destiny was like from here onwards.
Life is a highway!
I wanna ride it, all night long
If you're going my way,
I wanna drive it, all night long
The plane shook as we slowed down from our flying speed, and I glanced at the couple sitting beside me. The man looked happy to finally have arrived, even though he had been sleeping at least half the way, and the woman looked anxious; for what, I'm not sure. However, I couldn't bring myself to care much. I was too much inside my own happiness to care about much at all; so long as woman was fine it was all good by me. I gave her a smile, which she returned, and she seemed better. Hail, the power of a smile, I thought, and looked out the window, eager to get out and about for reasons different than those of the other people in the plane.
Although I was impatient to get going, everything went at a normal pace but I didn't mind due to my blissful state. Before I knew it, I was past customs and awaiting for my luggage to arrive.
As I waited with the other passengers of my plane, I noticed that there were a lot of people who I was sure did not arrive from Cambridge, and more people kept pouring in. Seems like a few planes arrived at the same time, and luckily for me, I missed the big line up at customs.
As more people filled in the luggage pick-up area, I realised that there were more than a few other planes who arrived simultaneously with us. I glanced at the screen above the luggage belt assigned to my plane, I noticed that in place of just saying CAMBRIDGE, USA in big white letters in English and in Japanese, now there was another name: BANGKOK, THAILAND.
Huh. I looked around, and found that out of the seven luggage belts in use, there were two others who had been assigned to two flights. This was definitely odd, but so long as people didn't start getting rude in their impatience or luggage got mixed up, it was okay.
The luggage belts started to run, and the attention of the people turned towards their respective belt. I felt someone bump into me, and I looked to find my nose an inch away from the collarbone of a guy wearing huge sunglasses even though it was the middle of the night, and a cowboy hat that covered half his face, with a grey hoodie that had a Gorillaz band picture on the front. Odd was the polite way to describe this guy. Weird was the impolite, more accurate word. However, I decided to not judge a book by its cover. Guy could be having a bad day, after all.
Either that, or his sense of fashion is as good as a lizard's.
He mumbled a quiet "sorry" in English, then realised I may not speak English to begin with even though it was considered a universal language. He then got flustered as he tried to decipher the correct way to apologize in a language I understood, and I cracked a smile. The guy was polite, and trying his best to make sure he was understood whereas someone else would've shrugged it off after their initial apology – if he had said anything at all. So I gave the guy a break and patted him on the back gently.
"That's okay," I said. "I speak English and your apology is accepted. Don't worry about it"
The guy stopped his flustering and gazed at me, with what I thought was a mixture of shock and embarrassment. Well, from what I could tell, anyway. It was hard to be sure with the getup he had on.
I flashed him a smile and gave his shoulder one last pat before turning my attention to the luggage belt, which was now moving lots of bags of all sizes and colors around. I, far from being a tall person, moved closer to the belt so I could see the bags. Aside from my carry-on, which was latched securely to my back, I had brought a medium and a large suitcase, both on wheels although the medium-sized one had long straps so I could just pick it up and tie it to the larger one.
I waited for about two minutes, with people heaving their heavy luggage and a couple oversized cases into the dolly's, when I finally spotted my large suitcase. I grimaced. Although it was a large suitcase, it had somehow ended up sandwiched between two even bigger, heavier-looking suitcases; with the strap to pull it out flattened against the belt. I may be strong for my size, but with that many people packed against each other and all of them trying to press onto the luggage belt to find and grab their things, this was going to be tricky.
I decided I'd just do my best. People would understand; they are, after all, in the same boat as me.
As my bag drifted closer, I took a stance that would've made a martial artist proud, and prepared to reach for it so I could take as less time as possible getting it out. Once in my reach, I took a deep breath and lunged for it, using my free hand to push aside the bag that was on top of it.
It did little good. I barely had managed to get a good grip on my bag when I could feel myself start to get dragged into the next person. The person glanced at me before quickly turning and grabbing the heavy bag that was on top of mine and putting it aside, then helped me draw my own bag out before I could get dragged any longer and into someone else.
Once my bag was safe beside me, whoever helped me put the other bag back on the next open space that came by. I turned my head up to thank him, and that's when I realised it was the same odd-looking guy as before.
"Thanks," I said, grinning at him.
"No prob, yeah. Don't worry about it." The guy grinned back at me, and I smiled wider when I realised he had used the same words I had told him earlier.
"So where you coming from, yeah?" He asked me as he scanned the coming bags.
"Cambridge," I replied. "You?"
"Cambridge is in England, yeah?" he asked, reaching for his own bag which looked a lot like a hockey or ski bag. It was pretty big, and red, and I wondered if it had any wheels. His back would go through hell in the morning otherwise.
"Yes, but that's not mine. There are three Cambridges that I know of – one in England, one in Canada, and one in the US. I come from the latter."
"Cool, yeah," he said, setting down his bag and I noticed it did have wheels. He inspected it, then frowned. Or I think he did. He lifted the bag and put it back on the belt, crossing his arms and mumbling something about copy-cats in Japanese. I understood it because my mother, being Japanese, taught me and spoke to me in her native language. Thank you, mother.
"So where do you come from?" I asked, more clearly this time. I spotted my remaining bag heading my way, so I squeezed myself between the guy and an athletic-looking thirty-some year old guy arguing with a woman of about the same age.
"Me? I come from Singapore, yeah. In Singapore." He shrugged, a small smile gracing his mouth. "I will never understand how some countries have cities named like the country, yeah. But it sure is amusing."
"I can see why," I said, and reached for my bag. "I can see it now, on a first-time meeting. 'Hi, where are you from?' 'From Singapore.' 'Where's that?' 'Singapore.'" I chuckled at my little dialogue, however pitiful, and I was satisfied to hear the stranger chuckle with me. Although I think his laugh was more of a snicker, but whatever. It gave him a slightly childish image, and that somehow put me more at ease.
By now most of the people had either left or were lining up to do so. I glanced at my unnamed companion, who seemed at ease with having someone to converse with, but a little frustrated that his luggage hadn't arrived yet.
"Jeez, this is taking forever, yeah," he said in English. I gave him a sympathetic look before lifting my medium bag and placing it on top of the larger one. I glanced at the screen once more, for no particular reason, when I noticed something.
"Hey, you said you came from Singapore, right?" He looked at me and nodded once. "Well, this luggage belt is for Cambridge and Bangkok." I looked at the other luggage belts, squinting my eyes to see the screens. "I think Singapore is that one over there. Not sure though, the letters are a bit small."
The stranger gave me a quizzical, puzzled look before he quickly glanced at the screen to confirm what I'd said. I managed to see a blue eye as he quickly pulled his sunglasses down to gaze at the screen, just to push them back up once he realised I was right. "Jeez, how embarrassing, yeah!" He said, and dashed off to his respective luggage belt, throwing a "thanks, yeah!" over his shoulder. I smiled at his back and headed to line up for the exit, when I felt a polite tap on my shoulder.
"Excuse me, miss?" I heard a soft, politely monotone voice say behind me in perfect English. I turned my head to find myself looking at a boy around my age. He had pale skin, blacker than black hair which stood out in spikes on the back of his head with two long twin bangs framing either side of his face, and eyes that briefly reminded me of a black hole. To have eyes that dark is humanly impossible. I was sure to get those eyes you'd need contact lenses, and even then I wasn't sure they could make a color that dark.
"Yes?" I asked politely, trying not to stare at the pretty guy. That's right, pretty – not handsome; although I guess he could be considered so once one got past the features that women paid a fortune for, although there was absolutely nothing girlish about this guy.
"I believe we may accidentally have switched bags," he said, lifting up a bag that was identical to the one I had strapped to my suitcase.
"What? How's that possible? I even labelled it and everything…" I muttered, picking up my – the handsome stranger's – bag and inspecting it. Everything was identical to mine, from the wear and even the little tear on the corner from when the zipper got caught with the hem. It even had the button of a black cat sitting on empty air that I bought at a flea market in Syria. But upon closer I inspection, I found some little details that indicated that the bag did indeed belong to the onyx-haired stranger.
The eyes of the cat were red here, and the eyes of my cat were green; there was a tiny symbol resembling a blue and red fan on the bottom corner of the right side, and I found that the bag was slightly heavier than I remembered. For good measure, I grabbed the tag which was attached to the handle, flipped it over and read. "Bangkok, Thailand. Air Master Airlines. Uchiha Sasuke."
I glanced guiltily at the guy, who was apparently named Sasuke, and handed him his bag back. "Sorry about that," I said as he handed me my bag.
"Hn. That's alright," he said. "I confused them too. It's pretty rare to find such unique-looking bags, with the cat buttons and everything." I gave him a small smile.
"I'd say." Once I strapped my bag onto my suitcase, I turned back to him. "Luckily enough you opened your bag here, and not later. We would've gotten some nasty surprises."
"Hn." I felt the strong urge to roll my eyes at the monosyllable, but I decided against it. Some people just weren't big talkers.
"Well, thanks for saving us from that. Have a good night," I said, and bowed at him lightly before heading to the now tolerable-sized line up for the exit. I swear I heard him "hn" again, but that could've just been my imagination.
Waiting for my turn to check my baggage through , I realised I was very tired despite my energy earlier. I looked around me, and saw that most people were. I pitied some parents who had their cranky children with them. It was hard to explain to a child why they had to be awake, or asleep, when their body claimed otherwise.
From the corner of my eyes, I noticed some movement which contrasted with the airport's white walls and the subtle, calm movement of the people as they walked about with their things. I focused on the thing that moved, only to find myself staring at the badly-dressed guy from Singapore I'd met earlier waving madly at me.
When he realised he'd caught my attention, he lifted a bag that looked the same as the one he'd picked earlier, and pointed to a pair of standard suitcases on the floor by his feet before giving me a thumbs up. I could detect a wide grin on his face, and I smiled back at him, giving him a thumbs up of my own. I'm glad he found his stuff.
After giving me another wild wave, he grabbed his stuff and walked towards a large group of equally oddly-dressed guys. So he had friends. Hm. It must either be the fashion wherever they're from, or they all possess spectacularly bad taste, the way they're dressed.
Finally, blessedly, it was my turn, and in a minute I was out, dragging my stuff behind me as I walked through the adds of vacation, hotels, youth hostels and activities, as well as some Japanese art. Once outside, I scanned the waiting area for a taxi driver, but it was hard to see through all the people. I kept walking, when I voice that was oddly familiar caught my attention.
"Oi! Sasuke-teme! Over here!"
I turned my head to the source the shout came from, and I saw a head of bright spiky blond hair which stood out in every direction. I looked down from the mass of hair, and I found cerulean-blue eyes shine with mischief and energy focusing on the onyx-haired guy I'd met earlier. Beneath his eyes I saw three horizontal marks on his cheeks, which resembled whisker marks, and a foxy grin to complete the look. I laughed. If that didn't tell me it was who I think it was, then the obnoxiously neon-orange and black jacket would have.
"Shut up, idiot!" Sasuke hissed at him. "Do you want the whole world to know I'm here?"
The "idiot" just kept grinning as he and Sasuke walked towards one another. "Aw, c'mon! You know you missed me!"
"What! Again with that stupid 'hn' thing? Seriously, teme, I thought you were past that. What brought it back?"
Sasuke lifted his chin in my direction, and the blonde just shook his head at him before looking my way. Upon seeing me, his eyes widened to the point I thought they'd pop out of their sockets and roll on the floor like a cartoon; with his jaw so low it looked like he was screaming. Sasuke, on the other hand, was expecting anything but that, so he quirked an eyebrow before looking between me and his friend, back and forth, trying to make sense of the situation.
"Sakura-chan!" the blonde exclaimed, and ran towards me at full speed, glomping me in the tightest hug I'd received in my life and spinning me about. "It is you! It really is you!" he cheered. I laughed loudly at his antics. One would think he hadn't seen me in years. Well, that was technically true, but the way he behaved made it seem like it had been centuries.
"Naruto, put me down!" I shouted, half laughing of joy and partly in surprise.
He obeyed, and as soon as my feet touched the ground, with my head still spinning a bit, Naruto immediately started bombarding me with questions. "How are you, Sakura-chan? How's Tsunade-baa-chan? Your school? What school do you go to anyway? Oh! Did you get into Harvard like you wanted to?"
"Woah, Naruto, slow down!" I laughed, catching my breath. "I just arrived from a fourteen-hour flight! Let me catch my breath."
"Hn. She's right, dobe," I heard Sasuke's unmistakable voice say, as he materialized beside the energetic blonde.
"Oh! Sasuke!" Naruto turned on him. "You remember the Sakura-chan I told you about? The one I said I hadn't seen since we were like eight? This is her!" He said, not waiting for Sasuke to answer. He flashed my his famously contagious fox smile. "Sakura-chan, this is my old childhood friend Sasuke Uchiha! His family moved around a lot, which is why I could spend so much time with you; but don't worry, you're still my longest timed friend."
I shook my head at his grammar, unable to not smile. I looked at Sasuke, who was watching me curiously, and I hid a blush. How much – and what – had Naruto told him about me? Pushing those thoughts aside, I extended my hand at him. "Nice to meet you, Uchiha-san. I'm –"
"Sakura Haruno," he finished for me, grasping my hand and shaking it as he gave me the tiniest of crooked smiles. "I know. The dobe often speaks fondly of you."
"Hey! Don't call me dobe in front of Sakura-chan, you teme!"
I laughed at how ridiculous it all was. I was still tired, and starving since I had been asleep when they had served breakfast on the plane. Good thing I had packed some food in my bag. I interrupted the squabbling duo (well, mostly the squabbling Naruto against the stoic Sasuke).
"Naruto-kun, it was awesome seeing you again, and we have to get together some time; but I'm tired after my flight and I have to find a taxi to take me to my hotel before I fall asleep in the middle of the street."
Naruto's eyes twinkled as he jumped up beside me. "I can give you a ride, Sakura-chan! No problem! Just tell me where you're heading and I'll drop you off!"
Normally I would have argued, but due to the large amounts people who had just arrived, most taxis were getting ready to leave, with barely enough taxis coming to fill in for those who just took off. Who knows how long I may be trying to get one? Plus it's been so long since I was with Naruto…
"If you're sure I'm not imposing, I would really appreciate it," I said sheepishly.
"Don't sweat it, Sakura-chan! It's no problem at all! Believe it!" I smiled at his famous catch phrase, so sweetly familiar just like the way he affectionally called me. "Come on, my truck's this way."
I followed Naruto and Sasuke through the dark parking lot, and thanked both boys when they offered to put my bags on the trunk for me. Well, Sasuke offered with a quiet hand gesture while Naruto just grabbed my suitcase and hauled it in; but I thanked them both nonetheless.
Naruto was eager to talk to me, but I hadn't slept properly in nearly twenty-four hours, and the jet lag, which I could already feel, didn't help matters. I struggled against the urge to drift off, and succeeded, just barely. I was vaguely aware of Sasuke hushing Naruto so I could rest, and I thanked him mentally. I really cared for Naruto, but he could be a handful even when one was not tired.
Sasuke gently shook my shoulder to awaken me when we arrived at my hotel, and helped me out of the black pick-up since I was still groggy and a bit dazed from the long day. Naruto just finished pulling my medium-sized bag from the trunk and placed it on top of my suitcase, just like I had done. When he asked me if I needed help checking in, I shook my head, after thanking him. I told him it was very kind of him to offer, but I thought I could manage that much on my own.
He gave me a lopsided grin and said that if I ever needed anything – anything at all, even like a lullaby to go to sleep (although I was pretty sure I'd have no problem falling asleep) – to just call him, and he pressed a piece of paper with his contact info into my hand, which I quickly placed in my jean pocket for safekeeping.
After giving Naruto a hug and promising I'd call him once I was caught up with the jet lag, and thanking Sasuke for his assistance as well as telling him it was nice meeting him, I grabbed my belongings and walked into the hotel as Naruto and me waved good night to each other. In the hotel I was quickly signed in and given my room key, at which point I thanked the clerk and hurried to find my room.
Once in, I kicked off my shoes, took off my jacket and headphones and placed my bags against a wall, and fell on the bed, falling into a deep sleep without having the energy to change out of my clothes.