Chapter | 7
Just as Haku and I made it back to the bath house, he took off, saying that he had some things to take care of, but that he would come find me later on. That left me with a lot of time and nothing to fill it with.
I decided to go and visit Kamajii- luckily this time I could go through the bath house and not down those damned steps that are out to kill me. There were very few people about since most of the worker were asleep, allowing me a quick trip.
I knocked on the little slide doors before I crawled through the opening. Kamajii was in his usual spot, but appeared to be fast asleep.
I was about to leave when I spotted my boots where I had left them on arrival. Might as well take them with me, I thought as I walked over to pick them up. Quietly I slipped out and headed back to the main floor where all the baths were.
Once outside, I pulled my boots on and walked over to the red bridge where I went to lean over the railing. I was so entranced by what was beneath me that I didn't even realise when a little girl came jogging out of the bath house towards me. She was small, probably around ten years old, with black hair that had been tied lazily into a bun behind her head. It took me a while to realise it was the little girl that the three men had tried to throw over the railing; the little girl that I had rescued.
She stopped a few feet away from me and pushed some of the hair that hung over her eyes away. Unfortunately this action was useless since when she bowed over, all the hair simply fell back into her face.
She didn't lift her head when she spoke to me, "Thank you very much for saving me from those men yesterday" she said, her voice was high and she sounded unsure of what she was saying.
I stepped away from the railing and walked over to her, slowly kneeling in front of her before I put my hands on her shoulders to push her up until we were looking each other in the eye.
"You don't have to bow" I said and smiled at her.
She looked shocked at first, but after a few seconds smiled back at me.
"My name is Chihiro, nice to meet you" I said, shaking her hand.
She pushed some more hair from her eyes before she spoke.
"I'm Mina" she said sheepishly.
"Well, Mina, what do you say I help you with your hair? It seems to be bothering you a bit" I asked her and her face brightened up almost instantly.
We sat right there on the bridge while I braided her hair, starting with her fringe and braiding to the base of her scull before doing the same on the other side. All the while Mina was chatting away happily about so many things that I stopped listening after the first braid. Once I was done with both sides, I pulled all the hair together and tied it into low pony tail where the braids met. All her hair was now secured and nothing was hanging in her eyes.
"There we go" I butted in half way through a fascinating story about a pig that got stuck in a bath.
She jumped up and made a little twirl like a ballerina.
"It looks amazing" I laughed when she lost her balance and fell flat on her behind. But unlike a human child, who would cry at the impact, she simply laughed as I walked over to help her up again.
"Thank you very much, but I have to go back to my chores now!" she said and made a bow before running of before I could even ask her where I would be able to find her next time.
I stood on the bridge a moment longer, contemplating whether I had to go back, or explore some more until Haku hopefully came to find me. When neither of them seemed too promising, I went back to the railing and leaned over to look at the water.
There wasn't much water below the bridge; I could see the train tracks perfectly. Just the faintest glimmer told me that there was even water to begin with.
Then it hit me, I could go swimming. I just had to find my way down to the water.
How did Lin get me down there again? Where was Lin anyway? I hadn't seen her even once since I returned and I knew she wouldn't try to avoid me. I would have to ask Haku about that.
It took me a good hour before I found the path that Lin and I had used those many years ago when I boarded the train to Zeniba's house. Back then Lin managed to use some boat thing to get me to the tracks, but now that wouldn't work so well since there were none of them in sight.
O well, that left me with no choice.
First I took off my boots, then my shirt and finally I added my shorts to the little pile that were my clothes.
Silently I prayed that the water wasn't too cold.
I walked to the edge of the rock platform and dipped the toes of my one foot into the water to test it. To my relief the water was just right for swimming.
I took a deep breath and several steps back.
Once I felt satisfied with my distance, my body took off in a sprint back to the edge of the pier, lifting my arms higher with each step. Finally I launched myself into a dive off of the pier and into the water.
I felt like a new person when I came up several seconds later. I floated on my back for a while, simply staring up into the clouds and not caring about anything that was not related to the moment. Then again, everything had led up to this moment, technically meaning that all my other problems were in some way related to this one. Damn my over thinking mind.
I released the air I had been holding in to stay up and felt myself sink. Just before my face could submerge I pushed my legs down and pulled my body into a vertical position, using my arms and legs to keep my head above water.
I floated away from the pier and was much closer to the train tracks then I had intended to be. Something urged me to them and I gave in to that urge. My body felt heavy as I pulled myself onto the tracks, which were under the water, but only up to my ankles.
I stared out into the distance, the only thing that I could see was the station up ahead. I walked up the track until I stood in front of the station. Strange, it felt so much further when I was younger. Maybe that was just because I was used to walking long distances since walking home from school.
No. I would not think about any of those things now.
I heaved myself onto the platform and sat down on the edge, checking first to see if the train was on its way. Nothing seemed to be coming so I stretched my legs out before lying back, once again staring at the clouds which seemed to fascinate me that day.
I stayed like that for a long time, allowing my mind to wonder wherever it wanted, but always stopping myself short when the human world appeared just at the brink of my thoughts. When the sun became a bit much, I decided it was time to head back.
I lifted myself up from the heated stone of the station platform and stepped down, back onto the track. I was in such a daze while walking back the way I had come that I didn't even hear the splash in the distance until a few seconds after it happened. It wasn’t until the second splash came that I came to a sudden stop.
I stood and listened until the next splash came, it sounded much closer than the previous ones. Cold sweat started to run down the back of my neck and I knew something was in the water.
It was a miracle that I was able to throw myself onto the tracks before the massive object almost took my head off as it soared over me.
My survival instincts kicked in and I jumped back to my feet, sprinting back to the platform. It seemed like the only logical place to run since it was higher up and I would be able to see what went on around me.
An object in the water caught my eye and I looked just in time to see a large black mass swim out in front of me. Somehow fate knew that the thing would attack me again, because just as the thing threw itself out of the water my foot caught and I sprawled down. I tried to get up, but a sensation in my left leg told me that it was not going to happen.
I needed to find whatever it was that was attacking me and since running away wasn't an option, I stood up and balanced on my right leg, which was luckily my stronger leg.
Whatever it was seemed to have disappeared to a place where I couldn't see it anymore, but that didn't mean it wasn't there.
Once I was up, I realised that my leg wasn't the only thing that took on some punch in the fall. I put my hand on my left arm, just above my elbow, and brought it back to look at it. It was red. That wasn't even the bad news. The cut was deep enough for blood to flow freely from it, dripping into the water around my feet. This meant that if predators in this world where anything like the predators in the human world, then me bleeding into the water could not be good in any way.
What was I going to do? My head started to buzz with ideas but none of them would be able to get me out of my situation. I was still drawing blank when the thing resurfaced right next to me. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion from there on out.
The thing leaped out of the water and for the first time I was able to clearly see it. It looked like some sort of fish, but at the same time it looked like a giant bird.
Its sleek body was covered in what were clearly scales by the way the sun reflected off of them, but enormous wings also sprouted from its sides. I thought for a moment I was imagining them, but they must have been the real things if I considered how fast the fish-bird could move.
But I wasn't really paying much attention to these tiny details. My attention was duly concentrated on the mouth aligned with row upon row of giant yellowish teeth.
This is it, or that’s what I thought until something collided with the giant fish from the side. It was so fast that all I saw was a white blur fly past me and attack the giant fish.
I was so shocked that my right leg gave in and I slowly sat down in the water, still clutching my left arm. My brain was having a hell of a time processing what was going on in front of me.
They seemed to be fighting, but the fish didn’t stand a chance against its opponent; it was smaller unaware of the attack. The white thing finally managed to push the giant fish back into the water. The fish obviously knew that it was out matched and with one last hiss it submerged and didn't come up again. When the white mass finally stopped moving, I could see that it was a white dragon.
He saved me again. Haku saved my life again.
I got up and, ignoring the pain in my left leg, I started to wobble forward. After a few steps the pain got so bad that my head started to spin and my vision got blurry. Without a warning I started to fall forward, expecting to hit the track, but that never happened. Instead my face hit something soft and warm. When I realised it was Haku who had caught me, I stopped trying to keep myself up right and just laid there.
He sat down and put his hands firmly on my shoulder, pushing back so that he could examine me clearly. My head stopped spinning and I was finally able to focus on the expression on his face. At first I thought his face was blank, but when I paid closer attention to the smaller details, I could see that he was angry, but I didn't think it was at me this time.
He opened his mouth to say something, but closed it again when he saw blood dripping on my leg.
Taking my arm, Haku stretched it out next to me and examined it. After he gave it a once-over, he sighed and lifted my arm above my head before hovering his hand over it like he had done when he had bound our hands together the first night. The blue haze appeared and the pain in my arm subsided until it was as if I had never hurt it.
"Are you hurt anywhere else?" Haku asked without looking me in the eye. As my answer I shifted my legs out from under me and stretched my left leg out in front of me, putting my hand on the spot where it hurt. This was quite unnecessary since a purple spot already decorated my skin. He took my hand away and repeated what he had done to my arm. Within a minute I was standing on my feet as if a freaky fish from hell hadn't just tried to eat me.
Haku still wasn't looking at me and that made me feel very awkward.
"Haku..." I started to say, but stopped when Haku suddenly leaned forward and rested his head on my left shoulder, along with his right hand on my other shoulder.
"What am I going to do with you? I can't leave you alone for more than an hour without you getting into trouble" he said, his words sounding incredibly sad.
I didn't know how to answer this so I hesitantly placed my hand on his head and rested my cheek against his hair. I was so lost in the moment that I didn't realise that I was getting very cold. Why was I so cold anyway? It was warm outside... And I was in my underwear... In front of a boy...
Haku must have realised something was wrong when my entire body went rigid. He lifted his head and looked at me, puzzled by my behaviour.
"Haku" I simply said and crossed my arms over my chest, hoping that he would get the hint. I was out of luck, it seemed that Haku was the innocent one... Or has he seen so many women like this that he didn't even realise that it was awkward?
He reached out and touched my arm, "What's wrong Chihiro, are you still in pain?" he ask in a voice that told me that he barely realised I was half naked.
"Haku! I'm fricking half-naked here! Turn around or something!" I spelled things out for him and the situation suddenly became clear to him. He ripped his hand away and turned around, but it was no use since I could see the red spreading from one ear to the other. I couldn't help smiling, at least I knew he hasn't been with a lot of women.
Then Haku did something strange; he started to undo the knot of the material at his waist. When this was done he removed his shirt. One would think I would react better to seeing his chest a second time, but nope, not better.
He turned around and stretched the shirt out to me, his eyes closed. It took me a moment to grasp that he intended for me to put it on. I thanked him and pulled the shirt over my head. It was huge on me, covering everything, and more than I had hoped, truth be told.
Haku opened his eyes when he realised that I was done and indicated to the bath house behind me. We started walking back to the end of the tracks. It would have been easier, and faster, if the damned shirt didn't cling to me legs as badly as it did, meaning that at the rate we were moving we wouldn't reach the bath house before it got dark.
"Can I please have the material you used to tie the shirt?" I asked Haku when I started getting irritated. He held it out to me with a puzzled expression on his face.
"Wrap it around when I tell you to I want you to tie it around my waist" I said as my hands started to pull some of the fabric together around my waist.
After I was satisfied with the amount I had bunched together, I told Haku to tie the fabric over the material I was holding so that the shirt wouldn't be so long on me. He obeyed without question and wrapped the material twice around my waist before tying it in a tight bow behind my back. He struggled for a bit and finally moved closer, his presence still able to make me nervous.
"Done" he said as he stepped back from me and I released some air I didn't even know I had been holding in.
I fell into step next to him as we walked in silence until I remembered there was something I wanted to ask him now that we were alone.
"Haku, did something happen to Lin?" I asked with a nervous glance up at him. He smiled and turned his head so that he was looking out over the water to where the sun was slowly setting. Had I really been gone that long? I must have fallen asleep at the station without realising it.
"I don't know where she is at this moment. About two years after you left she had gathered enough money to buy herself a ticket on the train and then she just took off one night and we never saw her again" he gave a little laugh, "Yubaba was furious, but I convinced her that she had to let Lin go because..." he trailed off "Well, the point is she's followed her dream" he finished before smiling at me.
The thought of never seeing Lin again really hit home after a few more steps and before I knew it I was wiping hot tears from my cheeks, praying that Haku wouldn't realise that I was crying. Luckily it was almost dark and most of my face was covered by hair that had started to dry and was now falling everywhere.
"By the way" Haku asked "Where are you clothes?"
Instead of answering I simply started laughing, for the first time realising that maybe swimming in a world where strange creatures existed, wasn’t the best idea.