This story is by Elise Galwyn and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The screeching sound of tires caught my attention as a blue sports car was careening out into the traffic. People started honking and cursing. Suddenly, the car was turning and running straight at us. I was screaming at the top of my lungs right before it crashed into my car.
Gasping, I jolted upright in my seat. The same nightmares occurred for the last few months. For a second, I forgot where I was, then I remembered; I was on the Shinkansen, the bullet train, on the way to Kyoto.
Ignoring few pairs of curious eyes, I took my diary out, wrote something down and crossed off a few things on my bucket list;
• Bought oyster onigiri
• Tasted Sakura Latte
• Went to the Samurai Museum
• Slurped a bowl of noodles in a restaurant, as that behavior was not considered rude in Japan.
I glanced at the ekiben that I had bought at the train station. That bento box and the Shinkansen would be marked complete soon.
Feeling satisfied, I closed my diary and leaned back. Outside, Mt. Fuji was towering elegantly with its snow cap in such a bright, beautiful, cloudless fall weather.
Getting off at Kyoto’s station, I strolled down the city street to Nijo Castle, the residence of Kyoto’s first shogun. Along the way, I was captivated by the palette of gorgeous fall color of red, yellow and orange from the maple trees. I chuckled, as somehow, my nose smelled the sweet scent of cinnamon apple.
A breeze ruffled the leaves and caused few were swaying lightly as the air carried them down gently to the ground. Two little girls, in kimonos, were trying to catch them. They looked adorable in the traditional garb. Their mother was also wearing kimonos with small maple leaf patterns.
“Excuse me, are you Kimmy Johnson?”
Someone called my name. I turned to see a tall young man with glasses in a dark blue kimono standing behind me. I never saw him, and he did not seem like a bad person.
“Do I know you?” I asked politely in my broken Japanese. To my surprise, he spoke in fluent English.
“My name is Nathan, Susan’s brother.”
“Susan…” my voice trailed off.
My chest tightened as an image of lifeless Susan flashed again before my eyes. The car ran through the traffic light and hit my car on the passenger side where Susan was sitting and killed her on the spot.
Calming myself, I looked up at him and recalled Susan had mentioned about her older brother who moved to England with her father after their parent divorced, while Susan preferred to stay in California with her mom who was Japanese. Gradually, I recognized Susan’s smile and eyebrows on him.
Without saying anything, Nat handed me his cell phone, showing a picture of him and Susan with Disneyland Trademark behind them. That day, Susan had asked me to join her and her brother, but I had the bad flu.
“Um… how did you recognize me?” I asked, returning his phone. “We’ve never met”
“From the funeral.”
“Oh, I am sorry I did not remember,” I said, feeling ashamed. Nat shook his head.
“Don’t worry. We were in shock and grief.”
“By the way, I am surprised to see you in Kyoto,” he added. “Why are you here?”
“Well, I was …”
My words were cut off by the sudden cold gusty wind swept across and forced me to cover my face. Nat stepped forward, blocking the wind.
“Are you heading to Nijo?” he pointed to the white castle a half mile away from where we were standing. I nodded.
“Let’s go together.”
Leaning forward, together we walked toward the castle.
The estate was fantastic, but Nat was the most admirable one. Although we just met, I felt comfortable next to him. He treated me as we had known for years. Now, I understood why Susan adored him despite never had shown me his picture. That girl only gave me her mischievous smile when I asked.
After we left Nijo, Nat took me to another castle and spent an hour there before heading to Nishiki Market, a five-block long food court, for our late lunch. My eyes almost fell out of their sockets to see the variety of foods from different stores. Strolling through the market, we were snacking and trying some free samples. Nat chuckled when I refused to taste the tentacles of a giant squid on a stick. “It is a delicacy,” he said, winking his eye.
Around 6 p.m., Nat dropped me off at Kyoto station to catch the next Shinkansen back to Tokyo.
“Too bad you are not staying in here because I’d love to take you around, “He said. “By the way, I will have a business trip to Tokyo next week. Could we meet?”
“Of course!” I said a bit too eagerly. “I don’t have any plan yet. Let’s meet.”
We exchanged our cell phone numbers before saying goodbye.
Although Nat came to Tokyo for his business trip, he spared his free time to take me everywhere; from the mecca of cheap electronics and gadget goodness in Akihabara, the exclusive shopping area in Ginza, to the beautiful temple in Asakusa.
With a bundled crowd of people, we were waiting for the traffic light to change at the famous Shibuya crossing. Nat rose and offered me his hand. “Please hold my hand because the crowd could push you into a different direction.”
My heart sputtered as he looked at me and his eyes were warm and sincere. I nodded and took his hand. It felt good when his fingers entwined mine. Nat squeezed my fingers gently.
“Now, I won’t lose you,” he said.
Something melted inside me.
Two weeks ago, I had thought I made a mistake by going to Japan alone and would feel miserable in the country which its language I understood so little. Today was my last day in Japan and I was not willing to leave because I fell for Nat.
However, if he knew I was the cause of his sister’s death, would he still treat me well?
I shook my head to stop the thought, but tears slipped out of my eyes.
“I had a good time these past few days,” Nat said. We were on the way to Narita’s airport. Initially, I did not want to burden him, but he insisted. “How about you?”
“Likewise,” I said. “Hontou ni arigatou, Nathan-san.”
“Now, you sound like a local,” Nat chuckled. I smiled. Through the side mirror, the city behind us was getting smaller, but my heart was getting heavier. The words I wanted to say were on the tips of my tongue, and I could not hold them anymore.
“I am sorry, Nat.”
“What for?” Nat raised his eyebrow. I exhaled slowly.
“If I had taken the usual route, not the downtown, the accident would never happen. Susan would have been alive, her boyfriend would not have called me ‘the killer,’ and we would be here, celebrating her 21st birthday. I am sorry.”
Nat’s jaw hardened. His knuckles turned white on the steering wheel, and the car was rolling faster. My heart sunk. Outside, the autumn leaves, flashing a ripple of golden and red color, looked welcoming, but the air in the car became colder.
All the way to the airport, we were silent. After Nat parked his car in the parking lot, I thanked him in a whisper and stepped out of the car, but Nat held my arm to stop me.
“I WAS upset about the accident and AM still. However, you were not the one who caused Susan’s death. The person who did the hit and run is.”
I turned my head to hide my tears, but Nat held it gently.
“I’ve known you’ve felt guilty each time you see me. You even stop visiting my mom after Susan’s death. She was happy Susan became a cheerful girl since she met you. For years, the MS made her down, but you gave her confidence back. Please, stop blaming yourself,” Nat wiped my tears with his finger.
My heart ached as I took his hand off my face and got out of the car. No sparkle in his angular eyes after I said he did not need to wait until my boarding’s time.
“So, this is it?” Nat asked, looking at me with such a sad expression. I toughened my heart to hug him and to chase away the sadness from his eyes.
“I love you, Kimmy-san and you’ve known it. If you have already forgiven yourself, please call me. My heart will never change.”
Nat was keeping his eyes fixed on me as if he was trying to memorize me before entering his car. A big lump formed in my throat as his vehicle disappeared, leaving the parking lot.
“Sayonara, Nat” I whispered. “Daisuki da yo.”