Chapter 8: The oddity that is San
The oddity that is San
The morning came in with a fresh breeze. Tadashi yawned as he opened the window slightly to let the light in. It was still early and Hiro was still asleep. He brushed his teeth and washed his face with a splash of water. He got in his old black T-shirt, grabbed his cap and a jacket and made for the cafe.
“Morning, Aunt Cass.” He greeted, putting on a cheerful face. She was polishing one of the tables with a piece of rag and smiled when she saw him.
“Good morning, Tadashi. Sleep well?”
“Hiro is as big a snorer as ever.” Tadashi snickered, winking at her. Aunt Cass rolled her eyes.
“Well, café’s not open for another two hours. You can go outside and get some fresh air. I’m not keeping you boys in on the weekends.” She said.
“You sure you don’t want my help in the café?”
“I may need your help taking stuff from the attic, Tadashi, but I’m not that old yet. Now scram.” Aunt Cass laughed, eyes twinkling.
Tadashi grinned at her and, placing a kiss on his aunt’s cheek, went out the door.
10 minutes later, Tadashi found himself wandering through the big green park near his house. It was the largest public garden in the city; and while it was mostly open hills swept in grass, the flowers coupled and many hidden lanes there meant it was particularly attractive.
The day was bright and sunny and perfect in every way. There were many families taking a stroll. Some elderly couples were walking their dogs, while beneath the trees several art students were laying out their painting kits. In the distance some instruments played. The ice cream parlors were receiving their first customers.
The scene made Tadashi felt very calm. He couldn’t keep a smile from his lips as he strode through the glades and hiked up the hill. The exercise and the day’s energy kept him distracted from his thoughts.
Almost all of it.
It had been over 4 days since he and San had their quarrel in the lab. He had not seen her since. Not even once.
The reason for that wasn’t immediately obvious. The day after, he had expected to at least catch a glimpse of her in the crowded department building. If not, then at lunch. When even that failed, he tried waiting for her in front of the main gate. But he didn’t find her once.
At first he was scared that San had been more angry than he’d thought. He had even begin to think that she never wanted to see his face again - so much so that she wouldn’t even show up at classes.
But as it turned out, it wasn’t the case at all. When he found Prof. Callaghan later yesterday, his mentor told him that San was attending a National Event for Young Medical Engineers in Metro City. She wouldn’t be back in the lab til next week. This, to Tadashi, was proof of how little he knew her - someone he had called his teammate; and the extent of the secrecy she had about her academic career.
When the professor expressed his surprise at Tadashi not knowing this, he lied and told him he had forgotten about San’s plans.
Since then, the time-out from his joint venture with San had given him time to think and sort out his emotional confusion.
In hindsight of their talk, he saw that neither of them had been right. Tadashi had started out with good intentions in mind, but he couldn’t say he had done what was mutually best. San had rejected his offers without pity, but her independence proved not to be taken lightly or personally.
Now, Tadashi only felt the need to see San again and apologise. They had to make up somehow, he thought, though he often wondered if he should take her advice and stop trying to see her. On this point Hiro seemed to heartily agree. After all, what good had come out of it his attempts? Wouldn’t he look like an idiot (well, even more of an idiot) if he kept at it? Even after San made it clear that he wasn’t wanted?
But, even so... Even if San had declared that she’d spare them both by ending their partnership. Even if they would likely never grow back to the status of good friends again after this, he wanted them to settle the matter once and for all; and at least part ways on the same terms they’d started out with.
Filled with thought, he walked on. But Tadashi was snatched from his reverie when he heard the crying of a small child. Looking around, he found a little boy sobbing under in the shade of a tree. Instinctively, he walked over and asked in a gentle voice.
“Hey there, you okay?”
He glanced up and saw him through a blur of tears and snot. He sniffed once, but didn’t answer.
“What’s the matter?” Tadashi asked, worried.
When the young boy still wouldn’t answer, Tadashi kneeled beside him without hesitation. Patiently, he patted the boy’s back. He had small curls in his hair that reminded Tadashi deeply of Hiro as a toddler, especially seeing this boy was about as young.
It was lucky that Tadashi had many years’ experience of calming crying young children, courtesy of his brother when he was young. People had called him a natural father. Tadashi guessed it was because of the way Hiro had clung to him when their parents passed away (not at all because of his gentle, patient nature). It was incredible. Even as they grew up Tadashi seemed to know just what to say to make Hiro feel better and stop feeling sad.
In the present though, the boy continued to sob, but more quietly now. They were almost hiccups. Tadashi smiled, this was a good sign.
“I’m Tadashi.” He asked gently. “What’s your name?”
“Y-Yukio.” The child replied, blinking at Tadashi through blurry eyes. He took in a deep breath and sniffed. Tadashi in turn offered him an encouraging smile, glad that he’d calmed down a little.
“There you go. Now, will you tell me what’s wrong?” He asked, giving her an encouraging look.
After a while, Yukio muttered. “My balloon…” He lifted a finger and pointed up to the tree. Tadashi raised a brow when he recognized a large, gold balloon perching between the branches of the tree. “S-See?”
Tadashi’s heart sunk a little. This was going to be more difficult than he’d thought.
“I see it.” He reassured the boy, who began coughing violently.
Tadashi quickly bent down, concerned. “Grandpa…Grandpa…” Cried little Yukio.
“Did your grandpa get you that balloon?” Tadashi asked, wanting to keep him talking. It was a good way for the child to vent his feelings (and for Tadashi to get a grip on the situation).
“…Y-Yeah.” The child turned his head and glanced up miserably at Tadashi. “It’s…(sniff)…my birthday.”
“Oh? A birthday gift?”
“Yes!” The boy cried loudly, destitute. He stumbled and his knees collapsed on the ground. Tadashi felt sorry for the boy, realising that he’d been walking around the tree stump for hours. Trying to find a way to get back his present for some time. He must have tried to climb the tree himself, despite its branches being out of his reach. This must be why he was clearly very exhausted. Yukio’ hiccups began to hitch. And Tadashi was afraid he’d cry again.
“Don’t cry, Yukio.” Tadashi whispered sympathetically. “Since it’s your birthday, I’ll get your balloon back for you.”
Tadashi smiled and stood up. He walked over to the tree stump and began inspecting the branches. The boy only looked on in confusion, perhaps still exhausted.
It was a sycamore tree, Tadashi noted. Leaping up, he caught a branch and lightly swung himself up. His strong arms strained under his weight, but being used to karate training, didn’t falter. Beneath him Yukio looked on in wide-eyed wonder, the slightest flicker of hope on his face. He blinked innocently several times before staring at Tadashi in awe.
But Tadashi had to admit he hadn’t climbed a tree in years. He used to do it all the time (when he was about 10 or so) but things are different when you’re in college.
He inched his way cautiously towards the balloon, which seemed precariously stuck. When he was finally level with it, he reached his hand out for the string. So far, so good.
All of the sudden, the wind rose. An unusually powerful gust shook the tree, whose branches swayed dangerously. Tadashi, holding on for dear life, saw the balloon quivered. With horror, he saw it break from the clutches of the foliage and began to slip away, threating to float upwards and be lost to the never-ending sky.
With a shout, Tadashi reached out for it and caught it just in time. At the same moment, he lost his footing and suddenly, Tadashi found himself freefalling from the tree.
“Are you okay?” Yukio asked, gasping above Tadashi’s head.
“I’m fine.” Tadashi sat up, laughing and scratching his head. He looked around for his cap and put it back on his head. “More importantly, look.”
He held out the heart-shaped balloon to the young boy, whose eyes went wide at the sight of it. Then, his face erupted in joy.
“Oh You got it you got it you got it!” The boy chanted, jumping up and down in a dance of pure innocent joy. All ten small fingers were wrapped around and tightly clutching the string.
Tadashi, however, couldn’t quite share the little boy’s victory dance, for pain suddenly shot through his left ankle. He tried to hide the grimace from him, though.
“Thank you, Tadashi. You’re my hero!” Oblivious little Yukio continued to smile brightly as he squatted down next to Tadashi, and they exchanged a fist bump. “Thanks again. Gotta go now. Bye!” He began merrily hopping away. A few skips and hops away, he turned back and waved ferociously at Tadashi to show his gratitude. Tadashi waved back.
When Jame’s jumping figure was out of sight, Tadashi let out a sigh. With a pained expression, he began looking at his twisted ankle, which throbbed so painfully. He removed his left shoe and socks. When his ankle finally showed he saw it was unnaturally swollen. A great bruise greeted him as he turned over his ankle. As if the stinging cramp he felt wasn’t indication enough of its poor state.
Suddenly, in the midst of the stream of moving people sauntering by, he felt the presence of someone unmoving. With one hand messaging his foot, he looked up and nearly choked.
There was the last person he was prepared to see.
“Are you an idiot?” She said, pacing angrily towards him.
“What?” Tadashi replied distractedly, still shocked by his unfolding episode of misfortune.
San had changed out of the pair of rollerblades she’d been wearing. In an instant, she was kneeling down by his side.
Bewildered and speechless, he stared at her. She was wearing a white T-shirt with something about pizza on it. She had light blue jeans and a plaid cardigan wrapped around her hips. She looked so strange in that casual outfit. Especially after he’d gotten used to seeing her in the lab coat.
“What’re you doing here?” He asked, still in a daze.
“Is it weird to go to parks on Saturdays?” She asked, throwing her bag aside.
“Let me look at it.” She said, looking at him expectantly.
Tadashi felt like backing away and find some excuse to flee down the road, if not for his wounded ankle. After all, he had spent the last few days thinking that she loathed the sight of him. Now, she was coming to him. And God, they were suddenly closer now than they had been for weeks! He tried to tell her that he was fine, something along the lines of ‘not a big deal anyway’. But in truth, it felt quite pathetic. San probably felt it too.
“Oh for heaven-...Stop being so stubborn and let me see it already.” She snapped, after which he promptly followed her command.
While she was examining his hideous swollen ankle, Tadashi stared at her. What timing in the universe could this be? That he and San should be at the same place at the same time, that she should witness him making a mess out of himself (again) could be no coincidence. Some power was meddling them and their position within the space time continuum. This was just too comical for Tadashi’s convenience. And for some reason the image of Fred suddenly popped into his mind.
“You should have saved yourself the trouble.” Her sceptical voice cut into his thoughts, pulling him from his daydreaming back to earth. “No balloon, no matter how pretty is worth climbing a tree and risking your neck over.”
“It wasn’t just any balloon. It’s a gift from Yukio's grandafather.” He explained.
But San only made a very displeased expression, as if he’d said something to deeply offend her. “All the same, I would have tried distracting him with something else.”
“And just watch the balloon fly away? Do you know how horrible it feels?”
Taking an exasperated breath, San blurted out. “Then at least he’ll be taught a lesson about letting go.”
Her bitter, almost spiteful tone surprised Tadashi. San must have realised this, for she was looking uneasy. She seemed to regret having said so much in the heat of the moment. Tadashi, on the other hand, wondered what she meant. People don’t just say things like that randomly. Often, there was a past behind it.
A long, sudden silence sprung between them. For a while, neither of them was willing to break it. When Tadashi glanced at her, he only saw sunlight dancing on her skin. He couldn’t guess what she was thinking.
After some time, San asked quietly. “Can you stand?”
Tadashi nodded and tried to get on his feet. San watched him suspiciously, as if she didn’t trust him to do it right. That made him determined to do it, if only to show her he was fine and escape her piercing stare.
He seemed to be able to straighten up. For about two seconds.
After that, his feet gave out beneath him. He thought he’d collapse to the ground, but with one swift movement San was there, supporting him.
San’s tone then was soft, that at first Tadashi didn’t think it was meant for him. Only after a moment when she wrapped an arm around his shoulder, while her left kept him steady did he realise she was supporting him.
But even more than the odd amount of gentleness that she was showing, Tadashi was overwhelmed by their proximity to each other. He could not remember being so close to a girl before, not even Go Go or Honey Lemon.
“Where do you live?” San craned her neck to see his face.
Startled out of reverie, he answered. “There’s a café close by called the Lucky Cat. We have a first-aid kit.”
She raised her brows slightly. “Really? You live there?”
“You know the place?” He was equally surprised.
“No. But I’m taking you.” She firmly declared.
“What? No!” Tadashi said frantically. What would Aunt Cass say when she saw one of his classmates bring him in like this? She would freak out for sure. Today was Saturday too, the busiest day at the shop.
“I wasn’t asking your opinion.” She said, rolling her eyes. “Now, which way?”
“Must I repeat everything I say to you, Hamada?” She shot him an annoyed glare.
Tadashi recognized his defeat. Her words may not be very coaxing, but perhaps it was what he was used to, anyway. “I’ll show you the way.” He sighed in defeat, wondering if the day would ever come when San couldn’t manage to make him surrender.
I haven’t climbed a tree since I was six, so I think pat on the back is in order for our Tadashi in this chapter XD
(*insert clever way of saying ‘Please review’ here!)