Second Story – “Somehow Connected” – Part 7
We offered Yayoi the cigarette and ashtray as usual as we faced her and started the final interview. Senpai cut to the chase with his usual carefree tone.
“We apologize for calling you out again before sending you to the heavenly world.”
While opening the cigarette pack, Yayoi replied. “It’s really bothersome, you know. Do I still have to do anything else?” Looking annoyed, she puffed out a smoke.
With a heavy tone, Senpai spoke. “Your daughter, Asuka, has found the truth in her heart.”
“Huh?” Yayoi asked in confusion.
Without minding her reaction, Senpai continued. “I think it’s your turn to seek for the truth in your heart. Unless you do that, you will only be sent back here after going to the heavenly world and you have to go through the same process again.”
“Now that’s not a funny joke. I’m pretty sure I have no more lingering regrets whatsoever. You said it yourself, didn’t you? Just send me to heaven already.”
Senpai looked straight into her eyes. “That’s what I thought. But before you die, just like Asuka, you have to fulfill your duty. So, regarding the truth in your heart—”
“The truth in my heart…?” Yayoi shifted her eyes away, perhaps feeling awkward staring into his eyes.
“Actually, after talking to you last time, we met Asuka again. Twice.”
“Sorry for visiting you several times, Asuka. But we wanted to ask, what happened to that drawing?”
After school, Senpai took Asuka to a nearby park and inquired.
This time, Asuka followed us without complaints, looking all calm and relaxed.
It was almost evening. Asuka shook the swing as the sunset was reflected in her eyes before opening her mouth.
“I discarded it. I burned it and tried to forget everything.”
“Is that so…” Senpai gently remarked.
“I cried all night yesterday. I didn’t want to know about my real mother. Because doing so felt like my kind parents would be gone… That I was pushing them away and drawing the line that way. But I wanted to say goodbye to my mom—my real mom.”
Senpai remained silent. But his eyes were filled with concern for Asuka as he stared at her with compassion.
“I’m very happy with my life right now. I may not be with my real mom, but my parents love me dearly. And, that’s enough for me.”
“Is that the truth in your heart?”
Senpai nodded as he shook his head.
“You’re a very strong person. I’ve always thought so since I met you. You were abused as a child and abandoned in the end. And yet, you never held any grudge against your real mother, Yayoi.”
Asuka’s eyes widened, as though she was surprised. After a moment, she started speaking in a small but clear voice.
“I think it’s because I’m happy now. I was shocked to hear that I was adopted and even more surprised to learn about my real mom, but I’m now blessed with a lot of friends and my parents also treat me kindly. I’m now Asuka Shiina, not Asuka Tachibana. I like my life now. I like it very much.”
“I see—” Senpai took a deep breath and asked, “Then, if your real mother were alive, is there anything you want to tell her?”
“Anything I want to tell her…” After pondering for a while, Asuka raised her face.
“No matter how terrible she was to me, I still loved her. Yes, I loved her. But I also love my mom and dad now. So, I think I want to thank her. Thank her for giving birth to me and bringing me into this world.”
After relaying what happened thus far, there was a distant look in Yayoi’s eyes. The ashes from her cigarette had already accumulated and were about to fall onto her finger. Whether she noticed it or not, Yayoi tapped her cigarette into the ashtray.
“Oh, I see.”
Senpai slowly spoke, “Asuka said she’s happy now. I don’t know what misfortune may befall her in the future, but she’s a very strong child. I think she’ll be able to overcome any struggle that comes her way and live happily.”
“I see.” Yayoi mumbled before continuing, “Well, isn’t that great? That child was far too good for me. No wonder she’s more fond of her family now. I suppose that resolves my lingering regret. All that’s left is for you to send me to heaven.”
“Yes.” Senpai agreed, however, his eyes were staring deeply into Yayoi’s eyes.
She tried to take out another stick of cigarette but stopped, then returned it in the box.
“You know, I…” She muttered. “I was a terrible mother. But back then, I couldn’t help but hate that child. It’s rather funny, isn’t it, that only after I died did I realize how much I love her.”
Yayoi continued her monologue. “Whenever I looked at the drawing, it reminded me of the terrible things I’ve done. That’s why I couldn’t throw it away. No matter how terrible I was, she still regarded me as her mother. That’s why she’ll always be my child. I… I…”
A teardrop fell on Yayoi’s cheek. “I love that child. I love Asuka. Even now.”
Her words weren’t in the past tense. It was in the present tense. She “loves” her. She had kept it in her heart even long after she parted with her, I realized.
She took out a cigarette and lit it this time. She puffed out a smoke before turning to me, “Apprentice.”
“Like you said, I was a terrible mother. I knew that very well. Everything was so painful that I wanted to kill myself. But perhaps because you were so angry at me then that even now… even after I died, I’m still a mother. You could have just ignored me. But for some reason, when you cursed me out, I felt like I was really her mother.” When I didn’t say anything, Yayoi wiped away the tears in her eyes.
—I suddenly understood.
Yayoi didn’t want Asuka to recognize her as her real mother. She didn’t want her gratitude; she’d rather that she hated her for abusing and abandoning her.
However, when she realized that their bond as mother and child were still faintly connected by a thin thread even after all that happened, she was finally willing to acknowledge and resolve the lingering regret she had.
—I still don’t know what being a “parent” truly means. So, I can’t fully understand everything.
—But that must be what it means to be mother and child. Perhaps it’s the same for every parent and child.
Yayoi gave me a gentle smile. “Thank you, really. I mean it. From the bottom of my heart.”
Then her tone turned back to its usual bluntness and she continued, “Well then, I don’t know if you grim reapers can have children, but you shouldn’t follow my example, if ever. After living this long, that’s all I can say. But I feel relieved now. Go on, send me to heaven already.”
She laughed in her usual unabashed candor.
—That’s fine. That’s what makes her Yayoi Tachibana.
I finally realized.