There she was. Taking a seat beside the window. Looking outside at the green field around the campus. Casually tucking her hair behind her ear. Then, I saw it. Her radiating smile. Something did not feel right. Something was not right. I felt as though there was sadness in her smile.
The first time I realized the girl was in my class was when the teacher called out her name. None of the boys had seen her. Yet the teacher continued to call out her name. She seemed lost whenever she was asked questions. Lost in her own world. Lost in her own thoughts. I felt as though she did not want to be a part of this society.
Other girls had ostracized her as they tended not to hang out with a gloomy girl as it made them look uncool in the eyes of us, the boys. There was nothing dull about the girl. She was always smiling. Not wanting to care about others’ business. She would eat her lunch alone at the back of the building, away from everyone’s eyes. No one wondered why. After all, everyone had their own circle of friends to share the lunch with.
Sometimes, students in my class would tease her and talk about her loneliness, her solitudes, especially the girls. The boys would not care about her, wanting to stay away from her as they strived to be the good boys in every girl’s eyes. I was the quiet one. I would watch the events unfold yet scared to act on my own. The girl would care less. For her, it was just another ordinary day.
The taciturn girl only answered when a teacher questioned her. Her answers were short. Perhaps she was minimizing her presence in the class. Maybe she did not seek attention.
Stories of her shouting to the teachers during her middle school were always circulating. In an angry tone, the girl would shout “Just go away! Leave me alone.” Everyone knew then that the girl was weird. Weird because she was talking to herself. No one would talk to themselves. That was unheard of. That was like losing sanity. No sane people would do that. Slowly, everyone who used to speak with her distanced themselves from her.
Perhaps the girl has her version of the shouting. Maybe she sees things that ordinary people cannot see. Perhaps she cannot comprehend the appearance of these characters. Maybe she fears them as any human would be when they see something incomprehensible. Perhaps she cannot share her secrets because nobody would believe her.
The girl was an orphan. She never knew what happened to her parents. Nobody knew. Not even her relatives. Her relatives would rotate in taking care of her; however, she would be quickly abandoned. She was like a toy which got passed around all the kids who came to a party. No toy survives the wrath imposed by the toy handler. At the end of the party, the toy would lose a limb or two or lose some of its appearances.
The girl would cry endlessly. The foster parents would beat her to lessen her beatings. They would notice tantrums surrounding her. The girl was weird. The foster parents did not want neighbors to backbite about their decisions to keep the odd girl. It just happened that this school was the girl’s tenth school meaning she had been raised by ten different parents who never loved her like their child.
The girl had experienced it all. The beatings that she got throughout her life left a deep scar in her mind. She started to smile when she was beaten. She started to smile when her classmates made fun out of her. She started to smile when someone hid her shoes from her locker. She started to smile when she got hate letters hidden in her books. She started to smile when the teachers asked if anything was wrong with her. She had convinced herself that she couldn’t be saved. That is telling all of this to someone will do nothing good for her. She had lost hope. She had lost a purpose in life. She just wanted to end it once and for all.
The smile covered her sadness. The smile kept away all the sufferings she endured during her stay at various foster parents’ homes. The smile washed away the tears that should have flown down her face. The smile was her only friend. The smile was the truth she could not hide from anyone, but nobody noticed it. Nobody had ever cared or will ever care for the girl.
Maybe the girl needs one person who believes in her. Maybe she needs me. Maybe she will be open to me. Maybe if she knows my secret, I can know about hers.
“Hi, Tsukuyo. I know your secret.” The girl did not respond to what I was saying.
“I also see the same things as you. I understand the pain you have endured. I am sorry…” I began to remember the trauma that I went through in middle school. The same trauma Tsukuyo had endured. You see, I had shared the same fate as she did. I had seen things that ordinary people would not see. I was scared every day. I was beaten whenever I told anyone about it. My friends distanced themselves from me. When Tsukuyo was shouting weirdly in her class, I was screaming in a different school.
As I began to remember the intense emotions of loneliness, hatred, and distrust from my middle school days, I started to sob hopelessly. I had forgotten for a while that the girl was there. I had forgotten why I was there. Then I remembered again—I did not intend to see a girl suffer ever again; I wanted to protect her.
“I am sorry, Tsukuyo. I never helped you. I did not bring myself to defend you even when I knew the trouble you had with your foster parents or the bully you faced in the school.” My sobbing intensified.
“I am sorry for not being there for you. I am sorry. I.. I.. I.. I am soooorrryyyyy…..”
Tsukuyo was unresponsive to what I was saying. How can she open to someone who just arrived a few minutes ago? She had never known me. For her, I was just another boy in the class who never had conversations with her. I knew it was hard for my words to reach the depths of her clouded mind. After all, she had long closed the door for anyone to be with her.
“Hear me out Tsukuyo.
Weep and ask for help. Lean on me with your runny nose.
Cry when you feel like crying. Laugh when you feel like laughing.
When you’re tearing up with an ugly face, I’ll give you a good cry with an uglier face.
When you’re laughing so hard your stomach hurts, I’ll laugh in a louder voice. That’s how it should be.”*
Then, I saw Tsukuyo cry for the first time.
“Vyou are the vfirstt versun to ebba sapporrt me.” For the first time, I heard the girl talk.
Tsukuyo had her hands cover her face as she continued to cry. Was she forcing herself to smile even when she should be crying? I could not confirm. Had her crying cleansed of all pain she had endured? I did not know. Had she opened to me? There was no way of knowing. I didn’t blame her. Maybe this was the first time that someone understood her pain. Perhaps she never had a friend to share grief with. Maybe she wanted to smile genuinely and not pretend her life had been in a mess.
I hoped she would start trusting me. I hoped to be the light brightening her day. I hoped she would never have to feel the loneliness again. I hoped everyone sees her laughing all again and notice how beautiful she always was. As I did some wishful thinking, I witnessed a miracle.
“Promise me that you will never leave me,” Tsukuyo said as she put her left hand on top of my right hand and smiled with tears on her face. She had opened her heart. For a moment, she trusted me, and I did not let go of this opportunity to protect her forever.
“I promise,” I said as I held her hand firmly. “Let’s share the burden together with our heads held high.”
Then, I wiped Tsukuyo’s tears promising never to let her tears flow again. Maybe this was because I wished never to see the sadness in her smile.
(* The entire dialogue is credited to Gintama, the popular Japanese manga. The dialogue is told by protagonist Sakata Gintoki to Tsukuyo as he hoped to share the burden she had been carrying from her young age.)
PS: This is my first attempt at telling a story with sad elements in it and I found it difficult to convey the sad emotions compared to the happy emotions that I am used to describing in previous posts. Hope you liked it. 🙂