Second Story – “Somehow Connected” – Part 3
After our shocking revelation.
Asuka, who had been stunned into silence by Senpai’s revelation, asked in confusion.
“Huh? My mother? I just said goodbye to her just now?”
Looks like she didn’t understand it completely. Well, that’s no surprise, considering Asuka was abandoned by Yayoi at the age of three. She must have repressed the memory of being an abandoned child. Asuka Tachibana doesn’t exist anymore. Only Asuka Shiina is here now.
Senpai has time and again reminded me to keep my emotions in check and to not let it show on my face.
“No, not her. Your real name isn’t Asuka Shiina; it’s Asuka Tachibana. Your real mother is Yayoi Tachibana. You were adopted by the Shiina family.”
“What?” Asuka looked even more confused. Her face clearly expressed that her mind has short-circuited.
“Um, well, I have to get to school. Will you please leave? My name is Asuka Shiina. Suddenly telling me about this ‘real mom’… could you have confused me with someone else? In the first place, who are you? Why are you pranking me like this?”
That’s right. In which world would a middle school student believe and accept it when they’re told that their parents aren’t their real parents and that their real mother is dead?
Senpai let out a sigh and said “Of course, no one would believe it if they’re suddenly told this. But think about it. Have you ever felt something odd about your current parents? Please think it over. We’ll come back again. By then, I hope you’ve thought it over and will talk to us.”
“Stop messing around! I’ve got to go to school! I can’t deal with you now, maybe next time!” She glared at us in outrage.
But in a slow tone, Senpai decided. “Right. We’ll surely come back. We look forward to seeing you again.”
Asuka wordlessly showed her reluctance on her face, then sent us a piercing glare before rushing past us.
Hesitantly, I asked Senpai about Asuka’s difficulty to accept the situation.
“Senpai, is this really okay? Asuka has already forgotten about Yayoi. Isn’t this better? Asuka should be happy now. Even so, why must we tell her that?”
“Mm.” Senpai replied nonchalantly, returning to his usual stubborn tone, different from how he talked a while ago.
“Apprentice, don’t confuse facts with the truth. It’s a fact that Yayoi is her real mother. Finding out the truth is up to them. Besides–“, Senpai heaved a sigh before continuing, “No soul can ever be forgotten. Whether good or bad.”
“But if Yayoi’s lingering regret is about Asuka, do we have the right to ruin Asuka’s happiness? I don’t know much about the so-called ‘parents’ but I think for parents, the happiness of the children…”
Saying that much, I suddenly remembered.
I have a grudge against that child.
Dismissing it in my head, I continued.
“Don’t normal parents wish for the happiness of their children? Honestly, I can’t accept Yayoi. I hate people like her. She talked about her child as though she wasn’t her own. Even though I could understand it in my head, I still couldn’t forgive her for saying that.”
Unexpectedly, Senpai didn’t scold me. “Apprentice, always remember. No matter how terrible your client is, you have to keep your emotions to yourself. You just have to ‘stay’ with the client as they are. We’re not gods or deities. Don’t stifle your emotions with paltry words. We must remain conscientious but we exist to ‘interact closely’ with the client’s soul. We are not obligated to impose our own ideals and standards into them.”
Senpai didn’t blame me. I realized that he was looking out for me and teaching me something very important. But the way that I am now can’t appreciate his thoughtful gesture.
Senpai looked a little more serious than usual as he asked me. “Apprentice, have you ever put yourself in Yayoi’s shoes? Have you thought of how she lived a terrible life, saying that she didn’t regret anything? Have you?”
That made me think. To be honest, I was fixated on Yayoi’s arrogant attitude and didn’t think for a second of her past life and suffering. She eloped at 18, had to endure domestic violence, had to raise a child alone in dire circumstances and without any hope. She loved her child alone and suffered. What a tough life that must’ve been.
No, ‘tough’ hardly ever captures what she went through. How insensitive of me to admonish her like that.
As I pondered over it, I berated myself and my insensitivity.
“I get it. I get it in my head but it’s still something I can’t accept. You accepted Yayoi, her being that type of mother so easily. How did you do that?”
After a short silence, Senpai shrugged and said. “But that’s what we do. Freeing the clients from their misery. Otherwise, Yayoi will remain as a wandering soul forever.”
I pursed my lips and squeezed the words out. “Senpai, I thought you were different from the professors at the training institute. But you’re also the same. Is it a trait of being an ‘good’ agent to prioritize work of the happiness of others?”
Senpai said nothing. I wanted him to say something. Either agree or rebut me. After all, I don’t think I want to be disillusioned by him.
“In that case, I’d rather remain a failure. Senpai is no different from the professors. I don’t want to be an agent like Senpai who only cares about his performance.”
Senpai was silent for a while before sighing in exasperation. “You’re not exactly wrong, Yuma. It’s a valid point.”
Senpai turned on his heels and began to walk back to the office. As I followed three steps behind, he suddenly spoke without turning around.
“Yuma, then whom should I work for? Who will do our work for us? If you aren’t prepared, it’s better if you quit being an agent.”
Senpai’s back always looked wide but now it looked small and exhausted.
That’s when I realized he called me by my name and not ‘apprentice’.
Perhaps that was when I started distrusting Senpai. Much later I would realize that I was being too spoiled. By Senpai’s big and warm existence.
The next day, Saturday.
We had been standing in front of Asuka’s house since morning. Her room was on the second floor. She should’ve been able to see us through her window.
But the curtains were drawn on the windows and they weren’t open even until noon.
After yesterday, he seemed a little under the weather.
I was a little scared and didn’t feel like talking to him and even after returning to the office, we only exchanged a few words.
I didn’t know what to say next so I let the words hang in the air.
All of a sudden, Senpai muttered.
“Around the collarbone.”
“Huh?” I listened attentively to Senpai as he tried to say something.
“There was a burn around Asuka’s collarbone. It’s the kind of burn caused by pressing a cigarette onto the skin.”
“There was a burn mark, you know.”
When he said that, my jaw dropped.
That day, the curtains in Asuka’s room were never drawn.