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Mar 22, 2018 - 12:42 PM

Who I Am (9) ~ Misunderstanding

The Super Rookie hasn't looked at me when talking. As if he suddenly realizes that he's said more than he'd say in a year he walks back to the girl, who patiently waited for him.

I can't say they were really having a conversation, as I hear only the girl speaking in a calm but delighted voice. Rukawa is just silent as always, but the girl seems happy enough. And she's probably right: this is more than any girl could ever get from the Super Rookie.

I stand in a distance looking at them. It reminds me of me and my brother. I've always been the talker while brother would just patiently listen to my words.

Suddenly Rukawa jumps up and grabs the box of Kleenex from the table next to the bed. He pulls a few sheets out and hands it to the girl. I quietly walk closer to see if I can help, although I don't know what's going on.

"Don't worry, it's just a nosebleed. I'm ok."

"I'm gonna call a doctor," Rukawa insists while his hand reaches out for the red button on the wall.

"Kaede, I'm fine. I really am." She holds his arm, with the other hand she holds the Kleenex to her nose.

Rukawa sighs and sits down. He frees his arm from her grip and looks at her hand with a frown. "The bruises are getting worse."

She quickly withdraws her hand and hides it under the sheets. She gives me quick glance and probably feels embarrassed that I have to witness this.

I feel an uneasy feeling creeping up. I don't wish I'm right, but I'm quite certain what things are when I look at this pretty, but fragile girl.

After a while I decide that I better leave the scene. It's been inappropriate in the first place to be here for no reason. And Rukawa doesn't seem to want to involve me into their conversation anyway, so standing in the back staring at them is highly awkward.

I cough lightly to draw their attention and as they look at me I say: "I think I better go now. It was nice meeting you Kobayashi-san," I pause for a second and add: "Get well."

A bitter smile appears on her smooth face and she nods at me. "Thank you."

She then turns to Rukawa: “You should go too. Look, the nosebleed has stopped. I'm ok.” She looks outside through the big window and continues: “It's a beautiful day. You should go and practice shooting.” The same bitter smile is on her face again.

Rukawa does not object and takes his sports bag. We say goodbye and leave the hospital. The nurse at the reception waves us goodbye.

"Is this a secret?" I ask him as he's walking in front of me.

"No," he sighs, "but no need to spread it." He walks away from me towards his bike.

When he's unlocking the chain I finally gather enough courage to ask him: "Is it leukemia?"

He freezes and I know that I am right. I could tell from her face, her hands and Rukawa's worries about the bleeds. He looks back at me and I recognize the look in his eyes. I knew I was right: I did see sorrow in his eyes the other day.

"Acute leukemia," he replies, "there's not much they can do."

I sit down at the bench and hope he will follow my example. Acute leukemia… In some cases the patient dies within weeks if no appropriate bone marrow is found.

"So you come here everyday to see her?"

He is amazed. He probably expected me to ask what kind of relationship they are having. However, he did not reply to my question and I try another one.

"So what did the doctors say?"

"It was diagnosed three months ago. They say she's already lucky to live this long, as acute leukemia is able to strike within weeks. Bone marrow transplantation is probably the best solution, but so far it's nothing more than waiting for a miracle."

"You never know. That's why it's called a miracle." I smile at him.

He sits down next to me and leans forward, his elbows on his knees, folding his hands. He silences and then sighs: "There's nothing I can do for her."

I recognize this powerless feeling, I know this feeling of wanting to share the pain but being totally powerless to do so. "I'm sure you're a big mental support to her." I think about the daily trainings, the daily shooting drills and I ask him how he makes time to come here.

"I try to come before the lessons early in the morning, but she doesn't want me to come so often. And lately she's sending me away within half an hour."

"Maybe she needs time to rest..."

"I know she doesn't want me to see her illness getting worse."

I've never seen Rukawa like this. It's as if I'm talking to another person right now. But then again, I think he's been having a hard time to keep this to himself. Everyone needs support. He's giving Kobayashi-san support, but who's giving it to him?

"Did she attend Shohoku before hospitalization?"

"For a short period, but then the illness took her out of school." He calmly explains. "I actually talked to the school principals about her illness and the school started a campaign for her to let students do a test for appropriate bone marrow. But she has a very rare blood type. There were no good results and so people forgot about it very quickly. This was all before you came to Shohoku."

I quietly nod at his explanation.

"When we attended junior high she used to see every training and every game that our team played."

I wait for him to continue.

"I guess she was always around, but I had not talked to her. I think I hadn't really noticed her presence, until she didn't show up for three days. On the fourth she came to me and said to me that she was diagnosed leukemia."

Rukawa tells that from that day on he had been trying to know more about her, mostly by listening to her. She's an artist and loves drawing and painting. She wanted to go to art school after highschool.

I don't remember how long we've been sitting here and I realize that Rukawa has said more than he'd probably done in his entire life. But it feels good that he trusts me with his story. Everyone needs a listening ear sometimes.

"It's just... I dislike the thought that she doesn't want to see me. It means her illness is getting worse..."

"Tell me when you will come here again, I'll come with you." I offer, "She might like having someone around who *does* talk to her." I wink at him.

Rukawa raises his eyebrow, shrugs but finally nods.

"I think I better return this to the caretaker." I say with a troubled voice holding the bunch of keys. Rukawa growls and pulls his bike from the shed. He left without another word, but I know this has been a breakthrough.

The days after I got up early to go visit Shiori. Although she was surprised that Rukawa actually had a friend who would come along in the early mornings, she seems very pleased about my visits.

Whenever I got the chance I would talk to her, sometimes trying to learn more about Rukawa. Every time our conversation involved the amazing rookie her eyes would widen from enthusiasm. But her admiration went further than the cheers of the Shohoku girls. She feels deep respect and true love for him, which is also the reason why she doesn't want him to visit her although really wanting to see him.

She knows better than anyone that Rukawa's true love has always been basketball, eager to win and grow stronger every single day. She thought it would be a waste for him to spend time in this hospital room. He should be out there doing what he would do if she wasn't ill.

Shiori showed me her artwork and although I'm not really into art I can tell she's very talented. She made beautiful drawings and sketches of Rukawa too, not just as the basketball player, but also a different side of him. Maybe his true side…

She actually felt quite embarrassed showing me the secret drawings and made me promise never to tell anybody. I laughed at her blushes and promised.

Every day I learned more about Shiori, especially when Rukawa was not around. She told me about her first encounter with Rukawa and how she went to the trainings and games ever since. But she had always been too shy to talk to the cool guy.

"Now I may call him Kaede..." she smiled about her privilege, "actually, I don't know whether I may or may not. I asked him once if I can him call him that... Oh boy, that was probably the bravest thing I've ever done..."

We laughed hard about it. "But he didn't reply, as always."

"So you assumed that it was okay?"

She nodded with a blush on her cheeks and I smiled: "In his way of saying, that means it's okay."

Shioris's biggest ambitious dream was having her own exposition, and maybe going over to Europe and America to meet other young artists. Realizing this dream was getting further and further away she could not hide the sadness on her face. It was heartbreaking.

I held her hand and told her to keep having faith. Deep in my heart I felt an uneasy feeling creeping up that I could not suppress and I hated myself for losing faith.

A week and a half of almost daily visits went by and we see she is getting weaker by the day. It hurts to see that her fragile body is getting more and more bruises and her having excessive nosebleeds more often.

Although her body gets weaker by the day she's getting mentally stronger. The illness demands a lot of her physical and mental energy, but she's never given up. Every time she sees Rukawa she manages to stay optimistic and she even encourages him to train even harder. Our visits give her strength to carry on.

But the visits are getting harder for us too, because it's painful to see her struggle and fight while we're not able to do anything. Since yesterday Shiori hasn't been able to walk anymore and is now relying on the wheelchair. She had silenced the whole day.

Today Rukawa and I will go to the hospital early, but I almost overslept and hurry to get dressed. I must have made too much noise because I hear brother call my name: "Shizuri, where are you going to? You are getting up way too early, it's not your style..."

I see in the mirror that he's standing behind me while I'm brushing my teeth. I quickly rinse out the foam and wash my face. "Nowhere special."

He leans against the doorpost frowning to my answer. "You got no better answer?"

"What do you want me to say then?" I ask, keeping in mind that Rukawa said there was no need to spread it, although it was no secret.

"You know you can tell me," he tries, "of course, it's none of my business, but after all I am your brother. I just want to look after you."

A painful sting hits my heart when I hear his words. "None of his business...? How can he say that? Everything about him is *my* business! How come mine are not his business?"

"It isn't coincidence that you both leave early a few times a week on the same days. Again, I know it's your freedom to see anyone you want, but Rukawa is, well, a very popular guy… He's got tons of girls swarming around him, are you sure you want to do this?"

Do I feel tears burning in my eyes? What should I say to this? How can he think that I'm seeing Rukawa? I feel upset, but I don't know what to say to him. Finally I stutter: "I-I'm not seeing him."

Do I care too much about him? Do I care too much about how he thinks of me?

I don't want him to think of me in such a way. Rukawa's wish to have me not telling others wasn't the reason that I could not tell the truth. It was something else, deep inside of me. A nauseous feeling rises from my stomach to my throat.

I look at his reflection in the mirror and know that this is just reality.

~~ There must be an angel with a smile on her face, when she thought up that I should be with you. But it's time to face the truth: I will never be with you. ~~

--> To Chapter 10.