Per Diem

Chapter 5

"Hiro-nii! Hurry up! We're headin' over to the store t'use the phone!" Miwa caught Hiroshi as he was going out for one of his strolls.

"Huh? Why are all'a you goin' over to the store for that?" Hiroshi scratched his head, noticing that Tama, Naru, and the rest of the kids were all gathered together.

"Cuz we're gonna talk to Sensei!" Naru shouted and jumped in glee.

"Sensei?" Hiroshi asked, curiously.

"Akki said he got a call from Kawafuji-san askin' for us to call Sensei," Tama explained.

"You're gonna come, right, Hiro-nii?" Miwa asked, grinning widely.

Hiroshi felt a sense of lightness the moment he realized there was an opportunity to speak with Handa again.

"Yeah, I suppose I'll tag along," it wasn't as if he was going to show his excitement like the kids were, though. He was much more reserved than that.

Hiroshi walked behind as the youngest kids cheered and laughed all the way to the store.

"So, why did Kawafuji-san ask for us to call Sensei?" 'And am I really included in that 'us'?' Hiroshi thought.

"Dunno, but Akki said they got a call earlier from him askin' for all the kids to call him up later cuz he was in a slump or somethin'. Ain't that right, Tama?" Miwa looked over at her friend for an agreement.

"Mhm," Tama nodded.

"I ain't no kid, though!" Hiroshi scoffed.

"What, you don't wanna talk with Sensei?" Miwa nudged. "Feel included with us once inna while, Hiro-nii! I'm sure Sensei would be right happy to hear from ya."

Tama simply nodded in agreement.

"I guess..." Hiroshi said quietly.

So... Handa really didn't plan on leaving without saying another word to them again? And he was in a slump? What did that have to do with them? There were so many questions Hiroshi wanted to ask, but he doubted he'd get to ask any of them considering who else was going to be wanting to have their chance to talk on the phone. And did it mean... he might actually be coming back?

Hiroshi didn't want to get too hopeful... Was that what he was feeling - hopeful? Did he really want Handa to come back to the island? Hiroshi shook the thoughts from his head. He didn't want to dwell on them much. Instead, he watched as Miwa and Tama caught up with the younger kids and joined in on their excitement. He exhaled with a grin as he watched Naru take the lead as soon as their destination was in sight.

"Akki! Have y'called Sensei yet!?" Naru shouted as soon as she burst into the store.

"I waited until y'all came, o' course. Is this e'eryone?" Akki asked in his soft voice as he watched everyone file in.

"Yep! We went an' picked 'em all up along the way!" Miwa gave a thumbs up and the group began to gather around the phone.

The room quieted with bated breath as they watched Akki dial the numbers on the rotary phone. Hiroshi could feel himself get a little nervous... and excited.

"I wanna hold the phone!" Naru pleaded, holding out her hands.

"Alrigh'," after he was done dialing, Akki passed the phone to Naru who took it with excitement and held it close to her ear.

You could tell when the phone picked up as Naru twitched slightly in surprise, closely followed by a big hello.

"He answered?" Hiro asked, it still seemed like he was doubting a bit that Handa was actually going to be on the other line of the phone.

And that seemed to be the signal for everyone in the room to grab for the phone and shout their greetings and encouraging words.

After it passed from Naru to Miwa to Tama - who for some reason felt like she needed to speak for Hiroshi herself - Hiroshi decided that it was his turn to take the phone (before Tama decided to say anything even weirder about him). And of course the first thing that came out of his mouth was to scold him about leaving the island before the rowdy boys tugging at his legs got a hold of the phone right after him.

But he heard it, if only for a moment - Handa's voice. That was really all he needed to confirm that Handa didn't actually disappear off the face of the planet. Really, that was all he needed. He didn't need to have a long conversation or ask a million questions. Honestly, those questions didn't matter when he knew he was speaking to Handa.

Besides, it was amusing to watch everyone continue to shout and snatch the phone from each other. This Handa truly was loved by the entire island, wasn't he?

"Sensei, its borin' here without you," Naru said as she got the phone back again.

At that, Hiroshi found himself agreeing with Naru. Yeah, it was boring, wasn't it? The village didn't seem as lively, for some reason. It felt like something was missing. Hiroshi couldn't deny it any longer - he felt himself truly wanting Handa to come back. How could he have left such a huge impact and leave just like that...

Even after the call ended and the kids frolicked and laughed out of the store, Hiroshi's sense of longing remained. He wanted Handa to hurry back quickly - life definitely wasn't the same without him.

All Hiroshi wanted to do was install the windows in Handa's house before he got in from his flight in the evening.

But of course, everything is not so simple.

He should've figured, but he thought he could trust the younger villagers with the one simple task of cleaning the house - since they were the ones that made a mess in the first place. But of course, what does he find? All of them goofing off in the backyard with absolutely nothing done!

"Why do I gotta step in for you guys t'do the simples' thing?" Hiroshi grumbled and crossed his arms after assigning a task for everyone to start doing.

"We was jus' waitin' for a strong leader like you, Hiro-nii!" Miwa tried to butter him up, but it was completely useless.

"You guys're jus' lazy!" Hiroshi retorted.

Miwa ran off with a giggle and Hiroshi sighed as he gathered up his trash bag and started picking up garbage off the floor. Tama was in the room with him, cleaning off the table.

"Hey, Tama, can I ask you somethin'?" Hiroshi looked over at her.

"Uh, sure," Tama nodded, concentrating on picking out what was trash and what wasn't.

"Why do'ya feel like you gotta speak for how I feel about Sensei sometimes?" Hiroshi tried to frame it nicely, but he wanted to get to the point.

On more than one occasion Tama had announced things concerning what Hiroshi thinks of Handa on his behalf without asking him. She even did it the other day while they were on the phone with Handa, telling the calligrapher that Hiroshi missed him without even asking how Hiroshi actually felt.

"Uh... err..." Tama seized up and seemed to sink lower and lower behind the table.

"Jus' askin'..." Hiroshi didn't want to make it such a big deal that it made Tama feel like running away. But it was bothering him. "I mean, you don' even ask me before you go tellin' Sensei that I miss him or somethin'. I can tell him that kinda stuff myself, y'know," Hiroshi shrugged, picking up a few more pieces of garbage.

"D-Do you really miss Sensei?" Tama asked, avoiding eye contact with Hiroshi.

Hiroshi paused for a moment before answering. "As much as e'eryone else does, I guess," he said casually. It wasn't like he was just going to say 'yes' just like that.

"I see..." Tama said quietly and went back to tending to the table.

Not much else was said between the two after that. Hiroshi seemed to not press the issue with Tama anymore, and just continued to dictate the cleaning until it was all done.

First he had to be in charge of the cleaning, then he somehow found himself cooking all of the food for this unofficial 'welcome back party'. But oddly enough, Hiroshi didn't mind too much. Because the moment Handa came back to his home, all the work that day seemed so fleeting. Even knocked over and covered in a pile of kids, it was the same Handa that they had all known.

In that moment everything felt right. The void that was left by his absence was filled again, and the house didn't seem so lonely and empty. Handa was back, and with that also returned the laughter, happiness, and warmth that Hiroshi didn't realize had went away the day Handa had suddenly left.

Sitting there with everyone, eating food and listening to Handa talk and answer the probing questions of everyone felt so good. Seeing Handa's smile made Hiroshi's chest feel lighter. If he didn't have any sense of restraint and if no one else was here to witness it, Hiroshi was certain that he'd probably end up telling Handa how much he missed him - how much he missed this. But of course, he wasn't one to say such sappy things. Right now he was content with reveling in this moment. Even his own laughter couldn't stop as the kids ruffled Handa's feathers as they usually did.

He was so glad that Handa was back.

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