A 12 years old Haruka pushed the apartment’s door, her hair and her school uniform completely soaked and her eyes glaring furiously. She threw her school bad on the floor and ran to the living room where Minako was curled up on the couch, staring blankly at the floor. The storm was raging outside the windows but it wasn’t nearly as intense as the anger you could read on the little girl’s face.
”Mom, did you forget about the parent-teacher meeting?” muttered Haruka, her voice shaking with furor.
Her mom slowly raised her head and stared at Haruka without saying a word.
”How could you, mom? I reminded you of this meeting a million times.”
Her mother, her eyes as empty as ever, shook her head.
”I’m sorry, Haru. It was just too hard, I couldn’t do it. ” muttered slowly her mother, like every word she said was costing her a terrible effort.
Haruka exploded with anger.
”TOO HARD? ALL YOU HAD TO DO WAS MAKING THE CHOICE OF GETTING UP FROM THAT DAMN COUCH AND GO OUT FOR JUST ONE NIGHT!” shouted Haruka, tears of anger streaming down her face.
An expression of pain, fear and profound weariness appeared on Minako’s face.
”Because of you, I had to spend all the evening all alone in the corner of the class and I had to make up a stupid excuse to explain why you weren’t there. Oh and, by the way, my teacher wants to meet you next thursday. Knowing you, you will probably blow it off again, right?” continued Haruka, glaring at her mother.
Minako exploded in tears.
”Go in your room, Haruka…I-I can’t deal with this. Just go…” mumbled Minako between two sobs.
”All I wanted you to do was to make an effort for me. I guess it was just too hard, right? ” said coldly Haruka before storming off to her room , slamming the door behind her.
Haruka couldn’t believe it. Why her mother was so different from everyone else’s parents? Why couldn’t she make an effort just to go out ONE night for her daughter? Haruka had learned to get used to her mother’s apathy and depression through the years, but every times something like that happened, it hurt her like it was the first time. Of course, since meeting her best friend Kimiko who had moved in the apartment just above theirs a few years ago and joining that women’s right organization, her mother had been doing a lot better but she still had regularly these relapses of depression that could last for weeks. Haruka was sick of it.
As Haruka was staring furiously at the ceiling, she could hear Kimiko and her mother talking quietly in the living room. Kimiko had probably heard the fight from her apartment and had gone down to check if everything was okay. Sure enough, a few minutes later, Haruka heard a soft knock to her bedroom’s door.
”Darling, it’s Kimiko. Can I enter?”
Haruka got up and opened the door without a word. Kimiko entered quickly in the tiny bedroom, closing the door behind her.
”Your mother told me what happened.” said softly Kimiko, looking at Haruka.
Haruka shrugged, her eyes still glaring with anger.
”She promised she would try to make an effort for Thursday’s meeting. I’m not working Thursday so I guarantee you I will force her to get up and go.” continued Kimiko, smiling sadly at Haruka.
”I..I wanted her to come tonight. I…I wish she would care enough about me to go to these things without you forcing her to do so…” muttered Haruka, her voice slightly shaking.
”Don’t say that, Haruka. Your mother care deeply about you. ” protested calmly Kimiko.
”Then why does she spend more time with that stupid couch than with me? And why can’t she make it to these things parents are supposed to attend? She missed my volleyball match last week because she didn’t feel like getting up…” shouted Haruka, fighting back the tears.
Kimiko shook her head slowly.
”I can’t tell you why. Your mother has her reasons and she will share them with you once she feels ready too…But, don’t be too hard on your mother, Haruka. You are a bright girl but you tend to be harsh when you are angry. ”
Haruka rolled her eyes.
”Me, harsh? Getting up from that couch souldn’t be THAT hard! She just had to make the choice of going to this stupid meeting and…” protested Haruka furiously.
” Some of the events your mother went through in her life took away her capacity to make those choices, Haruka. She would love to being able to take an active part in your life and she tries really hard to do so, but sometimes, she is just unable. It’s too difficult for her. She didn’t ask to be like this, Haruka. She would love to be able to make the choice of getting up, go at your volleyball match, take you out at the restaurant, but this capacity has been taken away from her, do you understand Haruka? ” explained softly Kimiko.
Haruka, moved, slowly nodded.
”I know this must be terribly hard for you and I understand how upsetting it must be to see your mother like this. But, someday, if you and I keep supporting her, your mother might regain that capacity to make all those choices, to enjoy life again and share it with you. ” continued Kimiko.
Haruka nodded again, still feeling a little down. Kimiko smiled sadly at her and hugged her tightly.
It was totally dark now. Haruka, Yuka and Souma had searched for potential allies during the whole evening without any success. The girls had stopped for the night in a clearing on the northern slope of the mountain. Yuka had proposed to free Mitsuko from her ties to let her eat but Haruka refused. We can’t take that risk. As Yuka was feeding Mitsuko with tangerines, bread and water, Haruka took her map out. She wasn’t able to get rid of that anxious feeling that threatened to turn in blind panic at any moments. They hadn’t been able to find Yukie, Izumi or Satomi and now it was dark, there was no point in trying to do so before sunrise. We are running out of time. For all she knew, they might already been killed by then, just like Noriko and Chisato. Please, be alive, girls. I can’t make it without you, I just can’t.
Yuka took Haruka away from her thoughts.
”So, wanna sleep first, I will keep watch?” asked Yuka in a cheerful voice.
”No, that’s okay, Yuka. I’ll take the first watch, you can go sleep.” replied Haruka.
After Yuka had wished them good night, she lied down on a patch of grass and fall asleep almost immediately. Haruka took her gun and start looking around, attentive to any suspect sound and carefully avoiding Souma’s eyes. After 15 minutes of awkward silence, Souma suddenly spoke up.
"You all think I'm a whore at school, don't you?"
Haruka turned her head and stared at her, surprised by the question. Shrugging, she replied curtly.
"Well, that's what we hear about you...That and all the bullying you and your friends do."
She had no intention of hiding how disgusted she was by the way Souma let her friends bully other students just for fun. Haruka might have many faults, but she had always been honest and straightforward. Haruka turned her eyes away from Souma and kept on looking around. Souma sighed deeply.
"So they say I'm a slut…I know they do. They just don't get it, though. How much men take from you . . . You're taken advantage of left and right and people just think you're easy."
Haruka turned her head again, startled.
"You've...you've been taken advantage of?" she asked quietly.
Souma laughed, a bitter, resentful laugh.
"Yeah . . . Which time do you want to hear about?"
Times…Haruka stared at Souma horrified by what the girl just said.
Mitsuko looks down at the ground. She spits out her words, almost angrily.
"When I was a kid, my mom used to let men rape me for money. Sometimes they'd video tape it. Or, we could talk about my teacher, who I confessed to. He just told me it was my fault and assaulted me too. And let's not forget the uncle who said that I owed him for defending me against his wife. She thought I'd pushed her kid off a roof."
It was class picture day and the Class 3-B girls were all waiting in line in the gymnasium to have their picture taken for the class roster. Haruka, who was twelfth on the student list, was waiting between Mitsuko Souma and the proud Takako Chigusa. The line was progressing slowly and Haruka was growing slightly impatient. In front of her, Souma and Hirono Shimizu were talking and laughing about some girl gang they beat up the night before, much to Haruka’s anger.
Haruka wished she was placed further away in the alphabetical order, so she could chat with Noriko, Yuka, Satomi and Chisato instead of standing silently. She had no intention to talk to Souma or Shimizu and Chigusa was cool but the kind of girl who kept to herself. Haruka sighed deeply. They were finally getting near the pictures stand. Haruka waved quickly at Yuko who had just got her picture taken against the white background they use for the photos. It was now Shimizu’s turn and the girl smirked cockily at the camera as the hired photograph, a paunchy mid-forties balding man, took the picture. Hirono got up and Mitsuko her place on the seat, her beautiful face sporting a bright smile.
"Wait a minute, you are seated all wrong, pretty eyes" muttered the photograph, staring at Souma, a huge grin on the face.
Ew, the man is perving on her, gross. Haruka stared at the photograph in disgust. He went near Mitsuko and started "positioning" her legs correctly, stroking her thighs furtively. For a second, Haruka could see discomfort appeared briefly on Souma’s face. No, it was more than discomfort, it was pain, fear and also a weariness, like she was just so tired of people acting like this. The curious expression flashed disappeared in a second to let place to her usual flirty and confident smile.
Haruka stared at her, filled with horror at what her classmate went through, anger against what those men made her suffer and sorrow at how broken she must be. The expression of pain and weariness that had appeared on Souma’s face when the school photograph crept on her flashed through Haruka’s mind. At the time, too busy being offended by the photograph’s behaviour, he hadn’t given much thought to Souma’s expression, but now it all made sense. The photograph’s inappropriate touch must have brought back some horrible memories to her. And the same pain could be seen right now on Souma’s face, the same pain Haruka could read in her mother’s face during her whole childhood.
After a long moment, Haruka muttered quietly. "I'm...I had no idea...I'm so sorry, Mitsuko." It was the first time she called the other girl by her first name.
Mitsuko frowned. "Don't apologize, there's nothing that can be done about it."
Just like my mother. They both had to try to keep on living despite the hell they’ve been through.
Haruka stared silently. After an hesitation, she said slowly. "I know it way too much. I've never told anyone besides Yukie, but my mom was r...raped when she was twenty. That's how she got me. She was destroyed by this. I spent all my childhood taking care of her with her depressions, her self-medication. She was totally broken. She still is in some ways. I can't even imagine how hard it must be for her...for you" Haruka's eyes were now avoiding Mitsuko's.
"I guess people think I'm a bitch because of it . . . Because I have to act tough shit or else I'll get hurt again." murmured Mitsuko.
”Yeah...Sometimes, you just don't have a choice, I guess.” Replied Haruka in a low voice. She’s just like mom. Men have taken away their possibility to make a choice, they’ve been destroyed by them.
"Although I'm sure your mom probably isn't as harsh as I am . . . Maybe I am just a bitch." continued Mitsuko.
Haruka shook her head.
”My mother just gave up for so long. Everyone deals differently with pain...Just like everyone deals differently with the situation we're in, I guess.” said slowly Haruka.
You were right, Chisato. People aren’t defined by their reputation, they have so much more to offer. You were totally right, Chisato.
"I just hope I'm dealing with it alright . . ." replied Mitsuko with a small laugh.
Haruka felt ashamed of having threatened Mitsuko just because she had a bad reputation. Just like you killed Yamamoto because he was a boy, right? She never thought about the possibility Mitsuko could have good reasons to act the way she does. Of course, it didn’t justify it but it explained it. In the end, Mitsuko was just a girl, just like Haruka, Yuka, Chisato. A broken girl who have been through so much and didn’t have any choice in her life, but still a girl.
”Mitsuko...I'm sorry if I judged you so harshly. You're not how I thought you were.” muttered Haruka, her head looking at the ground.
"You . . . you really think so?" asked Mitsuko in a breath.
Haruka nodded slowly. "Yes, I do..."
After a pause, she added.
"Chisato always tells...told" she corrected herself as she remembered with pain that Chisato was no more. " us to look beyond someone's reputation...I guess she was right."
"She was so kind . . . so many of us were . . ." whispered Mitsuko.
Yes, she was. There were no words to describe how precious, how nice Chisato was. Same with Noriko. And since their deaths, Haruka felt as if someone had taken away parts of her heart, tore it open.
”I miss her so much...” said Haruka in a breath.
Mitsuko started sobbing quietly.
"I'm sorry, that I couldn't do anything f-for her. . . "
Haruka looked sadly at the crying Mitsuko.
”I couldn't do anything for her either...for them...”
"T-Tanizawa, Haruka . . . you've been so brave this whole time. I was afraid . . . B-but I feel a little better around you. I really admire that." replied Mitsuko, smiling at Haruka.
Haruka shook her head. The guilt she felt since finding Yuko’s body, killing Yamamoto and hearing about Chisato and Noriko’s deaths was overwhelming. She needed to get it off its chest.
"I wasn't brave...If I was, I would have waited for Noriko, Yuka and Satomi in front of the school. If I was, Noriko might still have been alive right now." replied Haruka.
And now, she’s dead. And it’s my fault. And so is Yamamoto.
"There's only so much one person can do, Haruka. You're already protecting one person, a-and . . . you're so brave to take care of your mom." said Mitsuko.
It was Haruka’s turn to smile sadly. This doesn’t change the fact I killed someone and I let my friends die. Didn’t I promise Yuko I would always be there to protect her?
Feeling she was would broke down if they kept talking about that, Haruka quickly whispered:
"Let's stop moping around now."
As she looked around for potential threats, her eyes fell on Mitsuko’s tied hands. If we’re attacked, she can’t do anything to protect herself. She won’t have a choice. A choice…I can’t let that happen.
"I think Yuka's right. I should free you from your ties. If someone attacks, you are helpless all tied up like this." said Haruka in a casual voice.
"R-really?" Mitsuko sniffles a little, her eyes watering, but she smiles widely. "Oh, thank you Haruka, thank you so much!"
Haruka smiled back at Mitsuko as she freed her hands from the bandage tape. Of course, Haruka didn’t give her back her weapons for the moment, preferring to wait to see how it would go before doing so.