Suddenly, all I saw was the endless landscape of grass fields and a pink sunset: maroon, which shaded into lilac as it got closer to the horizon. Thin layers of cloud floated in the sky. They went particularly slow as a snail not caring about what to do next and just moved forward only to kill time. The longer I looked at it, the more I started to feel light, that I could become a part of the air, being lifted. Up and up, higher into nothing and the unconscious, in the sky — I could have done that for many more minutes.
But I took a step forward and started walking. I felt the earth giving a pat on my feet. Every step I took gave me the feeling of a spring-like breeze stroking my skin, in fact, all over my body. Hadn’t had this feeling for a long time, ever since I got absolutely stoned on the beach in Byron Bay and crazily ran around in a swimsuit into the bush nearby and felt as if my body was having an orgasm every touch it had with the skinny and tall grass around me. Feeling the breeze on my body, I looked down to realise that I was naked.
I walked and walked until I lost track of time. In fact, I probably hadn’t had a sense of time ever since I arrived in that place. I don’t know how far I walked. Such things didn’t matter anymore.
I saw a little girl at a bus stop. She was in a yellow tee shirt and a white skirt, both of which had some brown marks from being worn for too long. No shoes. Her beautiful long hair looked a bit wet, even though the afternoon sun casted its beautiful light onto her.
“Emily,” she gently whispered my name in Japanese, in a way that I could still hear her from the distance. No, she didn’t whisper, but gazed at me to deliver her words into my mind. Somehow, I knew that she had been waiting for me for a long time. For my lifetime, she had waited. To see me off. Strangely enough, I got to know more about her so naturally every second — just by looking at her. She lived in a town which was surrounded by enormous mountains. There were special trees which grew next door where she used to find ripe mandarins underneath. How a boy in blue shoes and white socks, who lived there, would tell her not to eat them so she would have a tantrum. How she loved to wear red shorts every day, not the white skirt that her mum used to make her wear. Instead of talking, she let her stories unfold in my mind one at a time, by delivering them in silence. Gently. Warmly. So, I closed my eyes to let her live life again in my mind.
What I caught from her next was the strong energy of motherhood. I was feeling that from a little girl indeed, but it wasn’t because I was assuming that she was going to be a good mother. It’s because she was not going to. Because she couldn’t —the more I thought of ‘why,’ the more I realised the situation of hers and mine— Because she passed when she was as old as she is now, and here she is as a spirit, just like me. Just like me? Yes — we are both dead and that’s why I arrived here. And what I was feeling from her was the failure of becoming a mother.
Her missed opportunities, I started to understand, as she delivered. They were the future that she couldn’t own. She couldn’t go to school. She couldn’t explore the bushy temples to somehow get better at spotting and avoiding the jumping snakes as fast as you could, like my mum did when she was little. She could’ve become so fast at running, but she didn’t even get chosen to run for the “kids relay” on an annual sports day at a primary school, where the only 8 kids from every year who could run the fastest joined it to compete at the very end of the sports day, like my mum and I did for 6 years in a row. The glory, shiniest memory of our childhood as being one of the fastest-running girls in school. But she couldn’t. Instead, all she was able to do was to live her awaited future by watching over us.
In the beautiful sunset and the perfect temperature we were in, she went on and showed me more of her childhood stories. The veggie farm close to her house where there were lots of bugs and white butterflies. Her father painting walls inside their house in summer while the kids sat in the same room and ate watermelons. Her older brothers not letting her join their baseball session in front of their house — I felt a huge shock in my body as I saw their house in my mind and instantly recognised it. That’s the house my mum used to live in when she was little. When she took me there not so long ago, it looked like an old, haunted house because no one had taken care of it ever since her family moved out of it about 35 years ago. Then I had the chain reaction of realisation: it was my grandparents and uncles who she showed me in her memories. So, this girl must be —no, she is— Kana chan. I knew her. I knew her. I knew her — the more I realised that it was her, having been waiting for me here, tears started to shed. I opened my eyes to see and remember her presence. In person. She, this precious soul, was indeed in front of me, where there was nothing but you and I under the sky. By then, the sky had shaded into a light blue and an orange, and we were in a soft and gentle sunlight. As if everything that existed there also had some feelings and they were there with us, feeling sentimental, thankful and painful just like I was.
I knew her because she lived before my mum and I in a town where my mum was from. She was 4 when her path got cruelly taken away and waived in the tide of a small, narrow river only in front of her house, where she lived with her dear parents and two brothers: my grandparents and uncles. She was once living with them in that haunted house when it was well-loved and taken care of (so it wasn’t haunted.) She was treasured by her family, so she loved them back. The glorious chapter of their life with her family was forced to close abruptly. A tragic accident took her soul away from them. Their new chapter began with their third son and the second daughter who were born after — they were my uncle and mum. I had only heard of this story a few times in my lifetime, but I could never forget about it.
I approached Kana chan and tried to give her the biggest hug. Although she was standing so close to me, I couldn’t reach her. No matter how much I tried and reached my arms to her, I could not grasp at all, instead she felt more and more distant. There was no sense of distance or time in this world, I recalled. I desperately wanted to hold her to show my gratitude, so I went to give her all the love that I received from my family — yet, she and her bus stop slowly moved further away from me. Don’t go.
“I hope you got to see your mum here, she would’ve been here not so long ago!” I shouted to Kana chan, hoping that it would keep her close to me by at least talking to her.
“This place isn’t where you can meet and greet whoever you want to…You can only see people you didn’t get to see in your lifetime.” She delivered.
“That’s why you have your whole life to complete it. This is the world for departure.”
A bus approached my bus stop. It seemed like everyone got their own bus stop when the right time comes. Some bus stops are closer to someone else’s, like ours, but a lot of others get to theirs without hardly seeing anyone. Some have to get on their bus without much waiting time, like I do, but some spirits like Kana chan, with her reasons and purposes, wait and wait until their right time comes. Looking at Kana chan started to make me think of my grandma. As the bus came closer to me, my memories with her started to rewind rapidly.
I used to call my grandma in Japanese: Obaachan. She was a lovely and loving, goofy, and the coolest grandma of my mum’s side. Her coolness largely came from the fact that she never expected anything of me, which made it easy for me to get along with her. I used to stay at her house every summer and winter holidays up until when I graduated from primary school. She and Ojiichan —my grandfather— lived a 3 hours’ drive away from me and they had everything we didn’t have: dogs, rabbits, hamsters, a veggie patch, a two-story house, tatami floors, a Japanese Kotatsu coffee table with a big blanket attached underneath it. When we were leaving her house at the end of our stay, she would always come outside and waved at us until we went all the way up the hill, and she couldn’t see our car anymore. She had a way of saying “Come back again on your next holidays” that would always make me cry in the car when I thought of her saying it after we’d left — which I know would also make my mum secretly cry while driving us back home. As I got older and busier after I started to go to high school, I stopped going to her house as much, and by the time I graduated from high school, I stopped having a sleep over at all anymore and only spent a day with her every time I went up there. But she never complained. I guess she knew that would be like that when kids get older.
Then I moved overseas. When I was away, Obaachan learnt how to use a message app on her iPad which my uncle had given her. So, she would message me about every 2-3 months to say that she’d been well so I wouldn’t have to worry. These messages would always include the updates of the hydrangeas, watermelons and Japanese Asagao flowers that grew in her garden and which one was in its season at that time. Her messages would also include a lot of typos and she would mistakenly send me a series of irrelevant photos out context without realising. I’d always loved that of her. But admittedly, I stopped paying enough attention to her messages to have constant conversations as my life overseas started getting more fun therefore as I got busier. There was that one particular, beautiful message that she sent me a couple of months before she got sick:
“Saturday, 20 October 2018:
It’s beautiful weather here. The Asagao flowers are blooming, yet they are still small, and they look sad since it’s started to get cold here and their colours started to fade. I wonder if you’re still doing the same job. Isn’t it a little sad living away from each other? I assume that your mum would be thinking the same thing too. Despite our distance, health is the most important thing, so please look after yourself.”
“Feeling a bit sad living away from each other” was something which I’d never expected to hear from her before, especially given that I didn’t used to see her that often when we lived in the same country. And that she was sure my mum would be feeling the same for me too. That was the first time ever in my life when Obaachan, who I knew was the most easy-going person and therefore had used to seem a bit distant to me too, told me something as sentimental. Now that I think about her message, maybe she was feeling something coming to get her. Instead, all my stupid self could manage to do at that time when I received it, was to read it and forget — being drowned in my schedule to try build up my life away home. Never would’ve thought that it would later become the message that I would come back to and read over and over again with regrets that would never go away. She passed away not so long after that due to a terminal cancer, which took only a week to suck up all of her energy and smiles to death. I flew back home straight away after the tragic news, but hey, what was that gonna to do when she had already left.
The things that I wanted to tell her and that I should’ve told her. She must’ve loved to know what sort of flowers and trees and veggies I saw in a foreign country. I made a dried flower arrangement with hydrangeas which I got lots of compliments from my friends — she would’ve been so proud of me if she saw it, because they were her favourite flower. She must’ve loved to wake up to see my message with some photos of me and my friends or my boyfriend. We could’ve been way more connected if we actually tried to, but we didn’t, because I didn’t try like she did. And the only time when I want it back, strangely enough, is when it’s too late.
If I happened to die any earlier, would I have been able to see her here? Would I have been able to say that I was actually feeling sad too living away from her, and that I thought of her every time I saw hydrangeas on the street because they were her favourite? Feeling those regrets again started to make me feel frustrated for Kana chan — for the whole time she was watching over us. She must have thought that she could’ve been me. That she would’ve done a better job being a granddaughter of Obaachan’s than I did. That I didn’t appreciate her wonderful mother enough.
No matter how regretful you are, in any situation, it doesn’t help you at all. As I was travelling through my memories and emotions, Kana chan was quietly gazing at me without showing any frustration, anger, or sadness. “This is not the place to make up for the uncompleted part of your life,” I felt like she was thinking this to me. But it looked like she was going too far from me to even deliver her thoughts. The sun set, and Kana chan got more and more distant from me. My regrets and apologies shortly started to fade away and my body started to feel light as the orange light on top of my bus stop slowly started growing. A wind blew. It got cold.
A bus stopped in front of me and the door opened. There was no driver, it was just a bus made of shadow, and the air coming out of it felt warm and nice.
Looked like it was time for me to go, to take the bus and to be led to where I needed to get to. To become the wind and a part of the air, into nothing, and the unconscious.