Last Story – A Bouquet For Your Smile – Part 5
“Yuma! Long time no see! If I recall, you’re still under training, right? Or is it over?” An old woman said with a kind smile on her face as her wrinkles deepened, sitting on a rocking chair in a strangely narrow space between the stacks of books that filled the small room.
“Hello Professor Yoshizumi! Long time no see! I came today to express my gratitude for sending me to such a good place for my training… My training isn’t over yet, but in the meantime, I’ve come to thank you…”
Professor Yoshizumi laughed heartily, “I see. I get it. You didn’t just come here to say thank you. It must be more serious than that. I could tell from your face. You really can’t lie. But I think that’s what’s good about you.”
The professor was quick-witted as ever and I gave her a rueful smile. “Um, you’re right. I didn’t come here today just to thank you. I wanted to ask you about Senpai… Mr. Shindo, my training mentor.”
When I said that, Professor Yoshizumi’s face wrinkled further with a friendly smile.
“Shindo… I remember him. Is he doing well?”
“He’s doing fairly well, but recently… we had a new client and somehow his carefree demeanor changed.”
“Oh, so that’s why you visited me, because you thought it might have something to do with his past.”
I shrugged. I was no match for this seasoned professor.
“Yes, can you tell me what happened between Senpai—Mr. Shindo—and Kyoko Kasuga? Since you also taught him, you must know about it.”
Professor gave me a smile and was silent for a while, then she nodded, “Would you like some tea? It’s quite a long story.”
She stood up stoutly from the rocking chair.
“I remember that incident very well. It created quite a fuss back then. I think it was about ten years ago… No, probably about six or seven years ago? Hmm, how old is Shindo now? The older we get, the slower time passes and we tend to lose sight of how slow or quickly it flows.
“Well, anyway, a long time ago, well, not really that long ago, Shindo received a request just when he had started working as an agent. It was from Kyoko Kasuga’s parents. It was then that Shindo and Kyoko’s connection began… Oops, I think I jumped stories, sorry.
“Anyway, Kyoko’s parents’ lingering regret was about their daughter, Kyoko. They were very worried about her, and they couldn’t pass on even though they had already died.
“And that was because there was one problem with Kyoko. She was suicidal. Her wrist, arms and even her nape were all scarred with several cuts. Do you know of the mental illness called the borderline personality disorder? Oh right, that must be why you came here. Well, it’s not a rare disorder. However, your latest client’s case is very similar to that one. Otherwise, Shindo wouldn’t have been so shaken.
“Anyway, back then, Shindo decided to meet with Kyoko in order to solve her parents’ lingering regret. Up until that point, isn’t Shindo still the same as he is now? Although that happened, I think he’s quite a strong person. He was firm in his beliefs.
“However, that was considered somewhat a heresy for agents. Making connections with humans was something most agents didn’t do. As an agent, you are just expected to resolve the lingering regrets of the dead and avoid mingling with humans as much as possible. Which is why it became customary to simply interview clients in a room. There is no such strict rule, though. But it was common sense then and even now.
“But Shindo was never bound by the constraints of what’s considered to be common sense, so he approached Kyoko. And remember, she had that mental disorder—the borderline personality disorder.
“That disorder was known to be one of the most difficult to handle. Just when you think you’ve come to trust and rely on someone, you’ll suddenly curse and hate them without rhyme or reason… When they first met, Kyoko relied on Shindo a lot and asked him for help to the point where she almost worshiped him. Since he was young and promising, Shindo became easily invested and passionate in helping Kyoko with her ‘problem’. After all, how can you reject someone who depends on you when they ask for your help, right?
“And as their encounters increased, Shindo began to develop feelings that were inappropriate for an agent.
“—That’s right, he fell in love with Kyoko, despite the fact that he was responsible for solving her ‘problem’.
“Kyoko was a very beautiful girl, and considering Shindo, he must have felt compelled to protect not only her appearance, but also the weak woman who sought his help.
“But the scariest thing about this disorder is that it makes you want to control the people around you using any means necessary. Kyoko might not have been aware of it herself, but she began to control Shindo by first ‘worshiping’ him and depending on him to protect her, and also by showing him her ‘weakness’ as a woman so that he would not be able to leave her alone.
“Shindo then became unwittingly involved with her without realizing it. He was still quite immature then.
“Kyoko’s ‘problem’ eventually turned into ‘pathological love’. Again, it wasn’t uncommon for those with borderline personality disorder. There are many people who are sexually free-spirited. When they fall in love, they become so absorbed in love and lose sight of their surroundings.
“Shindo himself didn’t seem to be interested in women at first, but once the fire was kindled, there was no stopping it.
“But, gradually, they became a burden for each other without realizing it.
“They were trapped in a repeated cycle of idealization and devaluation.
“He tried his best to help her, but she would still repeatedly commit suicide.
“And that was when Shindo realized that he had to keep his distance.
“But Kyoko’s fear of abandonment didn’t allow it.
“They loved and hated each other, as if they were trapped inside an invisible anthill, painfully thinking of each other, until they reached a point of no return.
“And then one day— Oh, you’ve finished your tea? Would you like another cup? Okay.
“So then one day, Shindo was so tired… that he didn’t quit hear Kyoko’s suicide threat.
“They often say that when a person gives a suicide threat, they would not proceed with it, but that’s a huge mistake. In the case of patients with borderline personality disorder, they would repeatedly attempt suicide until they finally die.
“And then Kyoko died. All because he didn’t pay attention to what she said.
“—His first love, first failure, and his desire to help resolve the dead’s lingering regret ended up killing the living.
“It became Shindo’s irreparable greatest regret.
“Ironically, with Kyoko’s death, her parents’ lingering regret was resolved and they went to heaven.
“But Shindo couldn’t accept that things ended that way, and most of all, he couldn’t forgive himself for letting it happen. He tried several times to get involved in the dead Kyoko’s lingering regret.
“But that was not acceptable from anyone’s point of view. To put it bluntly, it was unreasonable for Shindo himself to resolve the lingering regret of the person he inadvertently killed.
“She went from one agent to another… I think it was Sasamine? Sorry, I don’t quite recall his name. Anyway, I heard that he was a classic agent. In any case, it wasn’t Shindo who sent Kyoko to heaven but another agent.
“And that’s all I know.
“—You must be wondering how Shindo didn’t fall into depression despite all that?
“I think that’s his strong point. It was as if he had forgotten that incident, and he went on to become a first-class agent by sticking to his own principles.
“He’s got a very strong will—but a strong will can be easy to break.
“He continued being an agent while hiding his scars and facing his emotions akin to fear. I’m proud to have taught him, even for a short while. But he’s still young, so I’m worried…
“I’m afraid he’ll break down one day.”
Knowing Senpai’s heavy past—he, who was always carefree and nonchalant—I couldn’t say anything and played with the empty teacup in my hand.
A female human who fell in love with Senpai, a non-human. And someone who killed herself.
Struck with that twisted truth, I couldn’t stop my mind from reeling.
“How about another cup of tea?” Professor smiled at me as she took the teacup in my hand.
A few moments passed and she handed me a fresh cup of tea.
“You know, about the mistakes of the past…” Professor muttered, as if she was talking to herself.
“They feel like they just happened yesterday and sometimes we blame ourselves. But as time passes, the environment and people are bound to change—and even if they do change, just one word from someone important to you will make it feel like those weren’t mistakes after all…They will be engraved in your heart as a sign of growth that’s essential to your life. Sadness and resentment will never disappear. But it’s important to go through that process for you to grow and discover yourself. Although, you may not realize it until you get on in your years.”
Professor took a sip of her tea. “Yuma, you’ve stayed with Shindo for so long. What have you learned so far? Whatever it is, only you can answer that.”
She returned the problem to me, as if to encourage me gently to discover the answer on my own.
What I could do.
What I should do.
—What can I do?
“Professor, you said the same thing as Akiha.” I relaxed my shoulders and took a deep breath.
“Akiha? Who was that again?” Professor pondered as her eyes swam around.
“Akiha Shinonome. My best friend.”
“Ah, Miss Shinonome! That’s good, you’ve got a lot of people around you who support you, Yuma. That’s an irreplaceable treasure. You must cherish it.”
“Of course, that includes Shindo. Although I’m sure you know what I mean.”
I strongly agreed with her. As I let out a rueful smile and heaved a sigh, I steeled my broken heart and nodded, “I know, thank you, professor.”
Then I smiled at her with renewed determination.
Here are some psychological terms used in this chapter.
- borderline personality disorder (境界性人格障害) – a serious mental illness characterized by pervasive instability in moods, interpersonal relationships, self-image, and behavior.
- pathological love (病的な愛情) – characterized by providing repetitive and uncontrolled care and attention to the partner in a romantic relationship. When healthy feelings of attachment and affection become obsessive and uncontrollable, they become pathological. Also known as love addiction.
- idealization and devaluation (理想化と罵倒) – defense mechanisms that help a person manage their anxiety as well as internal or external stresses. Idealization is a psychological or mental process of attributing overly positive qualities to another person or thing. On the other hand, devaluation is used when a person characterizes themselves, an object, or another person as completely flawed, worthless, or as having exaggerated negative qualities.