Damn it, why can’t I ever just say no? Tsukiko thought to herself as she began to clean the classroom by herself after her classmates had asked her to take care of it for them. I should have told them no, that I have better things to do than their jobs.
Tsukiko sighed as she reached for the broom. But of course I didn’t. I never could stand up to anyone, not them and certainly not Okaa-sama.
Thinking of her mother reminded Tsukiko that she had to be at cram school or she would face her mother’s . . . irritation. Hurrying through her forced tasks, Tsukiko kept wondering why it was that she could talk a big game in her head, but never actually say any of it.
As soon as she finished, she began to pray that she wouldn’t be late for cram school as she began to run. Perhaps if she hadn’t been in such a rush, she would have noticed the dark figure watching her from the shadows.
Tsukiko just barely managed to get to the school on time, panting and out of breath as she flung herself into her chair before abruptly sitting upright and looking around her. I hope that no one saw that. If Okaa-sama found out that I had done something so unladylike, she would be furious. Especially if she heard that I had run here.
Seeing no one paying any more attention to her than usual, Tsukiko allowed herself to relax slightly, though she still took care to ensure that her posture was perfect, her mother would never allow her to slouch. As the teacher finally walked in and began teaching, Tsukiko gradually allowed her nerves to settle down as she listened to the man drone on and on.
As she relaxed, Tsukiko began to consider the path that her life had taken. She and her mother were American and had lived in Arizona ever since Tsukiko was a small child. Her mother had given Tsukiko a Japanese name in deference to her ex-husband who had been Japanese, but had never allowed him to see her after their divorce.
Tsukiko often wondered if her life would have been better if her father had won the custody battle. Would she be happier? Well, she reasoned, she certainly couldn’t be any more miserable.
Ever since her father had left, her mother had become even more of a tyrant in how she raised her daughter. She had ensured that Tsukiko had all of the luxuries that came from being a world-class surgeon, but at the same time had made all of her daughter’s choices, from where she would attend school to which classes her daughter would take, and even what career her daughter would have in the future. Tsukiko had heard the lectures many times before, that she would graduate from high school at the top of her class and go on to become a surgeon just like her mother at the Shinto Teito Universities, hailed as one of the best universities in the world.
Looking back, Tsukiko believed that she understood why her mother had married a Japanese man, however briefly. Perhaps her mother had been planning, even back then, to have a child who would follow in her footsteps. It would certainly explain why she had had Tsukiko keep her father’s last name while removing all other traces of him from their lives. It was so when they moved to Japan, Tsukiko wouldn’t stick out.
Growing up, Tsukiko had wondered why her mother insisted that she learn to speak Japanese as soon as she could speak despite their seeming to be no use for it. The way that her mother had already planned her life out certainly made it seem that the woman had been planning this since before she was even born.
How disappointed she must have been when Tsukiko had inherited her mother’s long blonde hair and blue eyes. The only attributes that Tsukiko could even consider as having been received from her father were her high cheekbones and diminutive height which certainly fell short of her mother’s nearly six foot frame.
No, Tsukiko thought to herself, even these must have seemed like minor setbacks to Okaa-sama. After all, she’s certainly planned for every contingency since then, so she must have known that there was a possibility that I would look more like her than my father, whoever he is.
Eventually, the class ended and Tsukiko realised that she hadn’t taken a single note throughout it. Hopefully her mother would be satisfied with her latest grades and not question her about the course.
Tsukiko couldn’t help internally snorting at that thought. Of course her mother wouldn’t be satisfied with anything that she had done. After all, in her mother’s eyes, Tsukiko had been a screw up ever since she was born. Nothing she did was ever good enough, nothing was perfect. Sighing, Tsukiko shoved all of her introspective thoughts to the back of her mind, knowing that no matter how much she might wish it could happen, she’d never be able to please her mother, or escape from her.
When Tsukiko arrived home, she expected to be alone, perhaps with the maid scurrying around to get rid of even the smallest traces of dust that may have appeared throughout the day, but still, for the most part, alone.
So she couldn’t be more surprised when she walked in to find her mother sitting on her white chair in the living room, calmly reading a medical journal as she sipped a cup of coffee. She was so shocked by her mother’s presence that she could only stare until the woman spoke up. “Tsukiko, haven’t I taught you that it is unseemly to gape at anything that suits your fancy? Not to mention that you just arrived home, but have neglected to even attempt to greet me. Is this how you treat everyone you meet? Or did I simply raise an incredibly rude child?”
Tsukiko took a moment to gather her ability to speak before finally saying, “I apologize for my lack of manners, Okaa-sama. Of course I should have greeted you as soon as I arrived. I was simply surprised by your presence, I thought that you had a meeting with the hospital board today.”
Her mother sniffed before explaining, “I had some time before the meeting, so I thought that I would come home to speak to you for a moment. Recently, it’s come to my attention that you have been going on websites pertaining to teenage fashion on your laptop. Is this correct?”
Tsukiko desperately tried to come up with an excuse, any excuse, for why she had been on those sites, anything to avoid displeasing her mother. After a moment though, Tsukiko realised that it was inevitable that she would find out, especially with her stranglehold on Tsukiko’s life.
“Yes, Okaa-sama,” she finally, miserably, whispered as her eyes found the carpet.
“Tsukiko,” her mother said sharply, “you know how I feel about not looking at the person whom you are speaking to. And why are you whispering? Haven’t I taught you how rude that is?”
Forcing herself to meet her mother’s eyes, Tsukiko said more clearly, “I apologise, Okaa-sama. I didn’t mean to disrespect you.”
“Better,” the woman replied, before saying, “Now then, about these websites, I do hope that you haven’t been paying too much attention to them. I certainly won’t have you dressing like some common hussy as the girls on these websites do. You will always look like the respectable young lady that I have raised you to be, both in public and in private. Honestly, could you imagine how people would react to the valedictorian of Shinto Teito University dressing like a trollop while she is younger?”
“They would be outraged, Okaa-sama,” Tsukiko dutifully parroted back the response that her mother had trained her to say.
“That’s right. So put such frivolous things out of your mind, and focus on your schoolwork. Now then, I need to get to my meeting. I assume that this is the last time that we will need to speak about this?” she questioned with her eyebrow raised.
“Of course, Okaa-sama. I apologise, it was foolish of me to go on to those sites to begin with. I was simply curious about the social nuances of my generation.”
Elizabeth Mizushima nodded approvingly at her daughter’s words as she stood up to go to her meaning. “Excellent. Now that you have seen then, you understand that such things are entirely inappropriate for someone with your future.” With those final words, Elizabeth walked out, ignoring the turmoil she had unleashed in her daugter.
As soon as the door closed behind her mother, Tsukiko had to restrain herself from running, knowing that her mother’s staff would inform her immediately if Tsukiko were to take such a graceless action.
Finally reaching her room, Tsukiko desperately tried to keep the tears from falling by focusing on her small space within the apartment, filled with familiar things. But looking at the furniture that had been chosen by her mother’s interior designer and approved by Elizabeth, along with the closet full of clothing that had been chosen by her mother’s stylist only solidified the feeling of being suffocated by her mother’s control and finally caused the tears to flow.
Tsukiko flung herself onto her bed as she allowed all of the emotions that she had pent up inside of her flow freely, even while stifling her sobs into her pillow. What was I thinking, going onto those sites? Did I really think that she wouldn’t find out about it? As though my mother would even let me have any privacy, anything that belonged solely to myself.
I’ve always known that my life belonged to my mother, and she’d never allow me to change that. I’ll never be able to leave her, I’ll never be able to live my own life.
I only went on those websites so I could see what other people get, and now I don’t even have that. Of course I don’t, what made me think that I ever would.
Eventually, the tears ran their course, and Tsukiko began to drift into a fitful sleep, constantly plagued by dreams of being underground with no way out, remembering even in sleep, that she would never have freedom.
But late at night, Tsukiko had a dram different from the others, about a shadowy figure appearing next to her bed and stroking her hair. Though Tsukiko couldn’t tell what the figure looked like, the words that it spoke echoed in her mind like a vow as she finally drifted into a deep and peaceful slumber.
Soon. Soon we will be together and I will give you freedom.