I always thought a controlling woman was the worst.
After all, you would hate it if you were in the opposite position, no? Requiring him to reply to your messages within five minutes, or planning a date several months in advance, or questioning who each and everyone who walked beside him was. How untrusting do you think you’d look. It’s not like your feelings would just up and disappear when you don’t see each other for a while, would it? Can’t you just lead each and your own lives, while thinking of each other now and then warmly? Since you’ve already promised to go out with each other; that the other party is the most precious person to you in the world.
Indeed. There is no need to be controlling if the two were “already dating”.
But, what if they were not? What if they were in an ambiguous relationship akin to nearly family, where they are more than friends, but not a couple?
That was the labyrinth of thoughts that I, Song Minghua, was trapped in.
I still haven’t received any reply to my message for a full three days. Even between friends, this would’ve been considered rude, wouldn’t it? What if it was only two days instead? Or one day? Is it wrong to get angry because of a late reply? Then what if it’s just 20 hours late, or 10?
This applied to meetups as well. If one were to cancel an appointment five minutes before the appointed time, it would be natural to feel indignant. But, if it was the day before? One week earlier? That’d probably be acceptable amongst ordinary friends. Would they cry and say, “I was so looking forward to it!”? “It’s too bad if you have something else on already, but let’s go out another time!” may be the more probable response. Right, that’s the kind of sensible reply I might have given normally. I wouldn’t get hung up over such a small matter and sour my mood.
Conversely, how was I right now?
Fretting in anxiousness since there’s no news, worrying over who he was with at the moment, and wanting to shout, “Which is more important, your part-time work or me!”
Then, I came to a realization.
Isn’t that precisely what being “controlling” is like?
Aren’t I being a dislikable woman right this moment?
That’s what Kei would feel.
My childhood friend, Narutani Kei.
But, at the same time, a calm voice in my head tells me, “You’re not in the wrong.”
He is definitely the one at fault. Normally, one would reply within an hour of receiving a message. It’s totally strange to ignore it for over one day. Is there something that can possibly occupy him for so long? Not counting the cases where one is in a region where reception doesn’t reach, or when one is driving and can’t pick up their phone.
(Right, it’s all Kei’s fault.)
It’s because he’s so unthoughtful that he always drives Big Sister Minghua angry. This is all for his own good. My anger is justified.
—But, you like him, don’t you?
A third version of myself turns the whole premise on its head. You’re so curious because you like him, and you can’t stand it when he’s ignoring you, isn’t that just it? Saying that it’s for his own good, that is but an excuse.
Yes, it’s true. The reality is that I like him, but.
It’s also common courtesy as flatmates living under the same roof, irregardless of affection. There’s no way to know how much food to prepare if I don’t even know if he’s coming home. I also can’t tell whether or not to drain the bath when I’m done either.
Is this frustration because of my feelings?
Or is it just due to common reasons?
I don’t know. I can’t even tell whether or not I’m becoming a repulsive “controlling woman”.
The cause for these feelings of headache is simple.
It’s because we are not dating.
Because our relationship was left hanging in the air.
Because I don’t know his feelings, I can’t help but suspect his every action. Perhaps, he acts more devoted towards the girl he likes? That he is so curt to me because I don’t matter at all to him? That my feelings are not part of his consideration? These thoughts are the beginning of my anguish, which turns my tone harsh and drives me to pry into his current whereabouts.
In that case, there is only one solution.
To confirm the feelings of the other party and spell out the relationship between us. Whether we are to be a couple, or that we remain as childhood friends.
All it takes is a confession.
我喜欢你! 你喜欢我吗? (I like you! How do you feel about me?)
No, it’s impossible. I can’t do it.
My face heats up just by thinking about it. I don’t have the guts for it and it frightens me to hear his answer. It’d be one thing if he were to reject me in earnest, but if he were to grimace with a, “Huh?”, I won’t be able to live anymore.
At my wit’s end, I searched through the Internet.
“Can’t confess”, “Painful”, “Controlling”.
I punched in all the keywords I can think of in search of a solution. After spending the whole morning of a weekend, I finally arrived at an answer.
—Write out your feelings on a piece of paper.
Why don’t you try putting all that fuzzy feelings in heart into words? A piece of paper would be able to silently put up with all the things you can’t say normally. In writing, you can also sort out your feelings, allowing you to reveal your true self. Now, let loose the brakes in your mind, and release all your hidden emotions—
Luckily (or rather, the reason why I’m so furious), Kei had left for his part-time work in a rush, while Grandpa and Grandma were at the Elderly’s meetup. Time is all I have in the world. I shall vent out all my pent-up frustrations to my heart’s content. Just watch, Kei! I am going to compose the most extreme letter of censure that’ll leave your blood drained from your face. Here we go!
Thirty minutes later, I stare at my own manuscript with my face flushed.
Eh, seriously? Do I really like Kei that much? I can still remember what he did when he wakes up in the morning, and even the words we exchanged the day before yesterday so clearly?
All the things we discussed while watching the TV, Kei’s opinion of the meal I prepared, his side-profile which I stole a glance at on the way to school, and etc etc.
All my memories were filled with that of Kei. His each and every action were burnt into my very hippocampus.
I turn the memo pad to its back and slumped over the table. Scary. This is too scary. The paper even seemed to be emitting passion from its surface.
This is a little hard to look at. More like, I need to get rid of this before anyone sees it. If seen, that would spell out the end of my life. I’d have no options left but to silence them before ending my own life.
However, I can’t just throw it into the bin either for fear of someone discovering it. Shred it to pieces? Flush it down the drain? No, it is still possible for one to piece it together for the former, and it might clog up the pipes in the latter. I won’t be able to give an answer were that to happen.
I’m at a deadlock.
What should I do?
While vexing over such matters, it took a while before I realized the heavy exhaust of a car. The loud and low noise which seemed to shake the ground gradually came nearer. It was as if a large-model race car was passing through. At this back-alley? Did they lose their way or something?
The sound of the engine grew louder and louder, eventually stopping before the house. The engine then went to idle and the sound of the car door opening and closing resounded. Someone alighted? Eeeeeh?
I can’t help but get curious and stand up to take a look. Opening the entranceway door by a sliver, I peek beyond. Right then, the sports car took off with an explosive rumble. Somehow, it looked familiar. That dark chassis and the onyx-black luster. At the driver’s seat was a woman with black hair…… a foreigner? Hm?
There’s no sign of the person who alighted. Or, it may be that they came to pick someone up. Either way, it makes no sense for them to stop before this house. I shut the door with some doubts. Oh, well. For now, I should prioritize the destruction of the memo. Perhaps, I should just bring it out with me while going to the convenience store. There, I’ll get any random snacks and just dispose of it together with the trash.
I ran through the simulations in my mind as I opened the door to the living room.
Kei was seated right in front of the memo pad.
I squinted my eyes to take a closer look.
Kei was still seated in front of the memo pad.
Kei, who was supposed to be at his part-time job, returned home sometime while I wasn’t looking and was looking down on the memo pad of all things. How amazing. If it was real, I might’ve just died of shock there and then. Nope, just no. Okay, end of daydream. Return me to reality now. I smack my cheeks with a ‘three, two, one’.
Kei raised his hand in a greeting.
I jumped towards the memo in a frenzy and swiped it off the desk. Shaking terribly, I turned my head back.
Why are you home? How did you even enter? Could it be that you’ve reached home since a while back and that only I haven’t realized?
But, there was one thing that I had to confirm because anything else.
“Did you see?”
I buried the memo pad into my chest. Kei tilted his head.
[No? Was there something written there? If there was, I couldn’t see it because it was overturned.]
R-right. Thank goodness! Well, there’s no way he’s going to be so calm if he saw what was written inside. That was a close one.
(Why in writing?)
He was typing on his cellphone before displaying it to me, his face in a slight daze and hard-to-read.
[Sorry, my throat hurts due a slight cold, so I’m trying not to speak too much.]
“O-oh, so that’s it.”
What an amazing speed he was typing at. Almost like he was playing a guitar.
“Is that why you are back home so early from work?”
[But, you don’t have to worry too much about me. I’m fine pretty much except for my throat.]
“No can do. That kind of self-assessment is deceptive. How’s your temperature? Do you have a fever?”
I placed a hand to his forehead. It was indeed cool. But, some strains of colds don’t result in a fever as well. You can never be too careful.
“Shall I make you some ginger tea?”
Something that’ll warm up the body and soothe the throat with ample honey.
However, the microwave gave out a beep before I even got a reply.
Kei got up without a word and headed to the kitchen, then carried a mug out.
[Tea? I thought you looked thirsty.]
He held it out to me. Now that he mentioned it, I had been on my toes all this time that I didn’t even realize I was not getting enough water. As a result, my voice was becoming slightly raspy in addition to lacking spirit. It was something I should have taken care off before the matter with Kei. By the way, he had also prepared his own mug,
In a natural manner, Kei pulled out the chair for me. When I sat down, he brought out a package which emitted a sweet aroma.
[Souvenirs. Steamed chestnut yokan recommended by the people at the base, you want one?]
My voice came out weird. What’s with his tact today. Like he’s paying attention to my feelings. So nonchalant, yet it feels so relaxing.
[If you’re not feeling peckish, I can leave it to cool in the fridge.]
“No, I’m fine. I’ll have one.”
He placed some yokan on a plate and passed it to me before taking a seat opposite me. I thanked him and began eating.
It went along especially well with the tea. Did he had that in mind while preparing too? A sweet fragrance filled my mouth along with the melting sensation of the jelly.
The more I felt my body loosening, the more that nagging feeling at the back of my head itched. I mean, weird things were occurring one after another, but more than anything else was Kei’s atmosphere. That gentle and mellow air he was giving off that seemed to engulf me.
A different person?
But, that’s totally him though, from the shape of his hair till his every single eyelash. Is it because of a change of heart then? Such as this is a precursor to him apologizing, or that he wants to ask for money, or even to confess to a crime he did?
But Kei was taciturn no matter how long I waited. He just picked up the plate after I was done and washed them. Nothing was asked about that piece of memo either.
[What do you want to do about the groceries?]
[You haven’t gotten the ingredients for dinner, right? I’ll come carry them for you.]
From the flow of it, it sounded like things are going in a bad direction. Just what kind of announcement am I going to receive next? ‘Sorry, Minghua. I am officially hired at my part-time workplace. Thus, I’ll be staying over there at their dorms. Thank you for taking care of me all these times,’ or something along those lines?
No, no, no, no.
I snapped back to my senses. Get a grip, me. No matter what is he going to say, I must firmly accept it. And if he goes down a wrong path, I just need to pull him back to the right track. That is my duty as Kei’s 老姐 (Big Sister).
“Yup, let’s go. But, are you sure you are fine, Kei? Wouldn’t it be better for you to rest at home?”
[I told you I’m okay, my throat’s the only place hurting.]
I think it’s pretty serious if you can’t even speak…… but, oh well.
For now, let’s just keep my feelings neutral. As per usual, silent, but vigilant. It’s all right, I’m a strong girl. I’m doing just fine. Bring it on, adversity! I’ll take you on anytime!
Two hours later, and here I am enjoying the date thoroughly.
Yea, I guess you could call it that. After finishing shopping, we dropped by a café where Kei treated me to one of their latest desserts. After which, he even brought me to a general store. And it wasn’t even the 100-Yen kind of shop, mind you. It was a trendy little shop close to the station. He spotted me eyeing a antique-looking photo frame and coaster set, and lo and behold, asked, ‘Want me to buy that for you?’ I finally experienced what they called a heart-stopping event. Of course, I was glad. Ecstatic even, but with the thought that this was going to be the very first present from Kei in my whole life, I rejected the offer. It was a bit regretful, but if I was going to receive a present, might as well make it something memorable, no?
Carrying the grocery bags indifferently, Kei held open the shop’s door for me.
I was so jubilant that I even felt lightheaded. It was like I was walking atop a soft and fluffy carpet. My hair and clothes were the same as usual, but it was as though I had turned into a princess.
That’s why, when he said, [Are you free now?], I was sucked back into reality. Ah, it’s finally here. The price of this gentleness and the end of my dream.
“S-sure, what’s up?”
[Come, follow me.]
Doing as he said, we came to the embankment by the riverside. The Maekawa river could be seen flowing as we looked down. The stronger currents were probably due to the heavy rain last night. It felt a bit chilly to be by the water side in late Fall. No one else could be seen nearby. My heart thumped heavily in my chest. What was it he wanted to say, to tell me? I was so nervous I could barely move. Before I realized it, I was staring towards the ground.
While I stood frozen, I felt my shoulder being poked.
Kei pointed beyond the river with his chin. Did he want me to look there? Hm?
I raised my head.
And found the land being covered in flames.
Only after a few blinks did I realized what was it I was seeing.
To the south of the airport, the paddy fields covered in water were reflecting the rays of the evening sun. The water’s surface was like a mirror which cast up the sun’s rays, producing pillars of light. As I looked, its shade changed along with the gradation of the setting sun. My field of vision was covered in an orange filter, dying everything in a vibrant hue.
[The view is greatest from here, so I thought I wanted to show you this.]
Mentioned Kei after a while. As before, he had written on his cellphone instead of talking.
[There isn’t really a best spot since there’s trees all around. Still, the view’s pretty decent, isn’t it.]
I can barely even feel the sunlight piercing my skin. That was how phenomenal the scene was. It was as though the two of us had entered another world. To a world of madder red, on the horizon of day and night.
[Shall we go then.]
Kei spoke so nonchalantly that I couldn’t comprehend him for a moment. “Eh?”, I uttered as I turn around. Kei had already begun to descend the slope.
[Let’s go, it’s going to turn dark soon.]
No. No. No.
“W-wait a second. Did you make this detour just to show me this? It wasn’t because you have something to tell me?”
He tilted his head in puzzlement, then typed something on the cellphone before turning it to me with a glazed stare.
[No, not really?]
So, it was really just to show me this beautiful scenery? He was trying to cheer me up?
It was so ridiculous. All my anxiety disappeared in an instant.
Along with a sense of relief, I was assaulted by an unspeakable discomfort.
What am I being so wishy-washy about…… The person I like is right in front of me, but I kept hiding my true feelings and restraining myself. I can’t even bare my emotions except to a piece of memo which I had even crushed.
What an idiot I was. If I want him to see my sincerity, I just need to show it with my actions. Just like how he tried to cheer me up like this.
I unconsciously raised my voice. Today is when I turn these feelings surging up from my heart into words. However, I couldn’t muster up the courage to take the next step. I am unable to cross the line known as “childhood friend”.
Time slowed to a crawl.
Kei only looked back at me silently, eventually placing a hand on my shoulder.
[I’ll hear you out when my throat is healed.]
I was just being selfish yet again. Kei is sick, but I made him stay out in this chilly weather for so long.
I’m terrible. This is beyond even being controlling.
I followed behind him quietly. I was dejected, but this I had to say no matter what.
Thank you for creating such wonderful memories with me.
Kei only returned my smile wordlessly.
Thinking back, it was probably too curt to express my thanks with just so few words.
That was what I thought a few days after that, when Kei had left for his part-time work once more.
You can’t express anything unless you put it into words. I must convey to him how I felt as concretely as I can.
妈妈 (Mom) often said this too.
Just think if your positions were reversed. If you gave your all to delight someone, only for them to reply with a, “thanks”, how would you feel? Wouldn’t it be far too inadequate? You’d expect some thoughts or comments at least. What was it that made the other party happy, that they appreciated.
Hence, I waited for the opportune time to make a call.
I told him what was it I had so much fun during the date, and all the things he did which made me deeply moved.
Indeed, what we did that day made me realize all that I lacked. It made me renew my determination to be more honest from now onwards.
“That’s why! After everything, I really, really—”
Came Kei’s shriek from beyond the phone line.
‘Sorry, I’ll call back again’, he then cut the call after leaving these words.
And now, one, two, then three hours later and still no contact from him. Worried that something might have happened to him, I tried calling once more.
The voice that came from the phone belonged to that of a high-pitched girl instead.
‘Kei, your phone’s ringing? Oops, Eagle has already picked it up! Ahahaha!”
‘Hey, what do you think you’re doing! Hello? Minghua?’
A controlling woman was the worst, I thought.
But, there were certain things one did which deserved to be censured for nonetheless.
Like hanging up on a call for no reason, or ignoring others when they are caring for you, or to lie that you are working when you are actually flirting around with girls.
I took in a deep breath and shouted his name as strongly as I could.