An Old Skill
"Is everything okay, Yamada-chan," Reiko asked, glancing at me.
I was frozen by the revelations. What person in this century named their son Nobunaga? Second, how did Ryu know that there was something supernaturally wrong with this house? Third, how did know from his son's cries?
With saucer-like eyes, I continued to stare on. It did not take long for Ryu to feel uncomfortable. His happy face was quickly replaced by his permanent angry look. "Asuka," he glowered.
"Asuka!" Hearing my brother calling, I rushed inside.
"Where have you been," Tsuge snapped, "I've been calling you for hours!" Lifting his arms, he ordered, "Carry me. I need the washroom."
Susumu, always the more perceptive brother, looked straight at my injured hand. "What happened," he demanded to know.
"Nothing," I replied, lowering myself to help Tsuge.
"Nothing? Tsuge, stop it." Instantly, Susumu overrode his orders. That was one of the powers he possessed as the older twin. Being the older sibling, I had the greatest power of them all.
Ignoring him, I summed up enough strength to get him to stand. Despite having a useless hand, it was easy to help him up.
Unfortunately, my little coup d'état did not last long. With Ryu in the picture, the oldest Yamada grandchild took his authoritative place.
With one look, I was forced to leave my brother alone. Ryu had strength on his side. He could lift both of my brothers if he wanted. As a kid, he was abnormally strong. I knew that from poor experiences. "Honestly, Asuka. Are you trying to give this family a heart attack?"
"Ryu," Susumu snapped, not letting go of his concerns, "What happened to her hand?
"An accident," he simply said, "Just like how you dumbnuts got your injuries: by being stupidly clumsy."
Before Susumu got to bark back, Ryu had taken Tsuge out. Growling, Susumu looked back at the television.
This brother of mine was usually the calm one. It was nice seeing him oddly cute. At least, this side of him reminded me of how normal he was.
Seeing my goofy smile, he glared, "Stop looking at me like that, you pervert."
I grabbed the remote from him. I made a great effort to show how workable my legs still were. Taking the furthest seat from him, I flipped the channel.
If he was like Tsuge, he would have protested. However, he was Susumu and he was not attached to the TV as his twin.
A familiar trio of orange-haired kids were gracing their presence on national television. Since the summer started, it appeared the Natoris were getting a big audience. It was all thanks to the 'raw' video of the Natoris fending off a demon.
Judging from the clip I saw, this show was based on our experience in the graveyard. All that was missing from the doctored footage was my cousins and me. Even though I was slightly angered by my removal from the story, I knew it was for the best.
Taiki had warned me about his family, especially his grandmother. 'If she knew about you, I'd hate to imagine what would happen to you,' he said.
"Where's Obaa-chan," Reiko asked, entering the room with a quiet baby Nobunaga.
"Probably praying," Susumu answered, while his eyes remained glued to the screen. To me, he asked, "Isn't that one of your new friends?"
I changed the channel. That was my answer for him.
They were not my friends. How could they be? They were a bunch of exorcists who conflicted my principles. I never saw them attempting to help any spirits to pass on. Everything ended with an exorcism.
"Eh," Reiko exclaimed, sounding impressed. "You know them, Yamada-chan?"
"Who does she know," I heard Ryu ask.
"She knows some paranormal exterminators."
"Perfect. She can give them a call and get rid of this pest."
Susumu rolled his eyes, "She doesn't know vermin exterminators and we don't need them."
Ryu smirked, "Judging from your injuries, I'd say we do. Call up your friends, Asuka."
"No," I said, getting up.
"Don't be ridiculous. Call them maybe they know people in the area."
"I said, 'No.'"
Susumu took my side on this for his own reasons. He did not believe in the supernatural. He could not. They did not fit with his logic. "There's no need for bringing con-artists here-,"
Getting annoyed with him too, Ryu's face reddened. "She's going to call them-,"
Coldly, I interrupted, "I'm not."
Back and forth, it went. Ryu tried to budge us on caving in, but neither one of us wanted the Natoris involved.
Susumu became exasperated by Ryu's insistence. Visibly disgusted by his bizarre assumptions, my little brother said in a matter-of-fact tone, "No ghost got me hurt. There's no point in calling the Ghostbusters here."
Why was Ryu so insistent on this? I knew he could not see ghosts. The spirit child was in the same room. She was barely over the step from the veranda. If he saw her, he would be having a completely different reaction.
During the standstill, Reiko had left to put Nobunaga in his cot. When she came back, Ryu was ready to pulverize Susumu. Reiko tried to calm him down. "Ryu, come to bed. You have to leave in a few days'."
Ignoring her, he pointed a finger at him. "You're not the one who's going to be living here. You have no say in this matter. And you," he turned to his angry eyes to face me, "You were the one who told me about the stupid ghost in the first place!"
"Huh? Since when did I say that," I yelled.
No one in my family knew about my abilities and no one knew about my current suspicion of the spirit child. How would Ryu, of all people, know my secret?
"When you were a kid," he snapped. He was getting angrier when he saw how confused I was by this news.
"I don't remember saying this. Are you sure you're not confusing me with someone else?"
"I know what I heard! You, Yamada Asuka, told me this house was haunted. I did not believe you until both Reiko and I got hurt here and when our son barely gets any sleep."
Being stunned, Tsuge was the only one of us who had the energy to talk back to Ryu. "Babies cry all the time. I remember Ume-,"
"Ugh," Ryu slammed his hands to his face. "Why are you guys being so stubborn?"
"Because there are no such things as ghosts," Tsuge cried.
Ryu had a person in his corner. Baby Nobunaga wailed for the millionth time.
"See! See," Ryu was unnaturally excited. "The kid knows there's something twisted here."
"Yes, there is," Susumu agreed, turning back to the TV, "Your brain."
I never thought I would see the day when Ryu would bring our grandmother into our petty arguments. He abused her love only when the adults were involved.
"Obaa-chan," he said, calmly, "please tell your ignorant grandchildren about 'what bumps in the night'."
I rolled my eyes. I could not believe he called a house meeting over this. The sad part about this whole debacle was the truth. He was right. We were probably being haunted. In my opinion, he was going the wrong way about this. Calling in exorcists was not a good plan.
"Um," she was unsure about what to say to him. Her hesitation clued us all in her sentiments. She did not believe Ryu one bit. And he knew this.
His calm demeanor started to crumble as he lost faith in his number one supporter. Looking to Reiko, he saw another lost ally. Visibly distraught, he looked to the people on the other side of the table: his Tokyo cousins. None of us were willing to budge on the subject.
As always, Obaa-chan could not let him wallow in pity. "Ryu, where did you this idea from," she indulged him.
Nodding at my direction, he muttered, "Her."
If I had not grown being terrified of him, I would have snapped at him. However, I knew how sensitive he was. It hurt to not be believed, especially by your family.
He continued, leaving his dark eyes fixated on me, "She used to say this house was haunted."
"I never said-,"
"Asuka," Obaa-chan gave me a stern look, which silenced me. "Go on, Ryu."
"I never believed her before. But then when we came to stay here, I started to notice things. I broke my arm and Reiko tripped badly while she was pregnant. Then, things went missing like the car keys and my acceptance letter. Nobunaga has cried all the time. After two months, he still hasn't even opened his eyes."
Watching him become distraught over this, I felt guilty for siding against him. And my brothers also appeared ashamed for not taking him seriously. I knew they wished they played along with him. Maybe it would have him given a peace of mind if we indulged him.
Was this how I could have looked if I told my family about my abilities?
Obaa-chan rubbed his back, "Why don't we all go and ask Ojii-san for help? Maybe he can come back to protect us."
We stared at her in disbelief. Ojii-chan's anniversary was only a few months away. Not taking a chance to lose this opportunity, we followed her into the room.
Even Baby Nobunaga joined us in our greetings. We each took our turn to bow down before the family tablets. As the others went to face Ojii-chan's tablet, I looked at the others on the shelves. Many of them were Yamadas, a few were from Obaa-chan's family and only one was foreign. The highest tablet had the foreign name written in kanji. Lanskoy Nikolai.
Why was a foreigner among the tablets? No one ever mentioned us being descended from a Russian.
Grabbing a lock of my reddish-brown hair, I wondered if this hair came from him. Suddenly, I was nudged. "Asuka," Tsuge whispered into my ear. "Your name is here."
Indeed, it was. Right next to Yamada Hideo (my grandfather), I saw Yamada Asuka. This was my aunt, my grandparents' first-born who died as an infant. Seeing her tablet, I was surprisingly calm about it. I could have easily been staring at my own, but I knew the truth. There was no need for being weirded out. This was hers.
Gazing outside, I saw the spirit standing in the garden like before. She was not as close as the last time. She was putting effort into keeping her distance. Perhaps, she sensed our intentions. Perhaps, Ojii-chan really was coming.
Choosing to stay up, I saw out on the veranda and licked the chocolate Popsicle. Away from the crying, I got to think about today. I could definitely see again, which was great. The chances of helping my followers were looking a lot better now. Looking down at my phone, I scrolled for Yuki's number.
I was being irrational. It was too late to call him. He was probably dead asleep while I was still wide awake.
Sighing, I shut the phone and paid my attention to the stars. Only in Hokkaido, I could see them so clearly. It always had a calming effect on me. It was easy to forget about one's troubles when you were staring at galaxies millions of light years away.
"Can't sleep," I heard a voice ask behind me.
I shook my head, as I watched my grandmother sit next to me.
"It's hard to. How could I when there are so many stars?" I looked back up.
"Sometimes, I wonder about you."
"Huh," I laughed, "Isn't that any grandmother's job?"
"Of course, it is especially when we are giving a brood of eccentrics."
I smiled a little. It was rare for me to get alone time with her or even get any insight from her. "So," I asked, feigning awe, "what can you say about me?"
"You? You are by far the most insane child I ever came across."
"Hey! I can't be as bad as Ryu."
"Trust me. You are much worse."
A normal person would be left broken-hearted by his or her grandmother's harsh words, but I was not normal. With my ability to see the dead, I could not afford to be sensitive. I was in constant risk of being sent to the psych ward.
"Oh," was the only word to escape from me.
"I'm glad that you outgrew it. There was a time you were the one we worried about the most. You would always chatter about a new invisible friend. One imaginary friend was fine, but hundreds? I lost count how many times we took you to the psychologist. Apparently, you had an overactive imagination."
While she smiled at the memories I do not have, I asked, "Is that where Ryu got the idea about the haunting?"
She nodded, "You said there was always a little girl hanging around the house, but she could never get in."
Glancing at the spirit standing across from me, I wondered if she was the same one. "How did I describe her?"
She had to think for a moment. Finally, she summarized, "Dirty, always had her face covered."
"Why did I stop talking about these friends?"
She shrugged, "You outgrew the phase."
The spirit started to walk over when Obaa-chan rose up. "Obaa-chan," I said, keeping my eyes on the girl, "Did you ever believe me at some point?"
"Sometimes. You had a knack for describing some of our ancestors perfectly. You were spot on with their personalities, especially of my mother."
"Why didn't you believe me?"
"Do you know how many times I told you about my mother? It was easy for me to slip one of her flaws by accident. Children have fantastic memories."
When she left, I looked at my grandfather. He had sat on the veranda since before I came out. He was spending most of his time staring at the stars.
"It takes you being dead to believe me," I grinned.
Looking at me with the same small grin, he said, "Yes."
Once Obaa-chan was gone, the spirit was sitting next to Ojii-chan. She was kicking her legs up and stared at the sky. "So," I looked up too, "She's Oba-chan."
"Oba-chan, you didn't have to hurt us."
"I know, she is. I just wish she had thought of another way of getting our attention."
The injuries were unnecessary. "It's not your attention she wants."
"Do you think you kids can leave with a broken leg and sprained ankle?"
I had to blink for a bit. Did she want us to stay longer?
With the twins, it was going to be hard to travel home. We needed an extra week for things to mend better.
Blushing, the girl hid behind her father. Smiling, he gave me news that I never wanted to hear. "Kyoko is going to join us in a few months. Asuka wanted you kids to get to be with her one last time, to give her good memories."
Glaring at the idiot kid, I reminded her, "What are the points of visiting then?"
"At least, Ryu has a better sense than you."
"He has time on his hands. I'm in school, not saddled with a baby or a girlfriend."
"You do too. You have plenty of time."
I did not realize how much I missed him until that moment. I missed his reassuring presence. "We both know I'll have plenty of time to see her in the afterlife."
"Which is why you should visit Iwara often. You know she'll never budge from here."
Silence overwhelmed me. He was right. Even in death, Obaa-chan would stay here.
Taking out my phone, I called. Amused by my tenacity, my aunt and grandfather looked at me with goofy smiles. Turning away, I did not want to discourage myself from calling him.
"Hello," I heard Yuki's exhausted voice.
"Yuki?" I was surprised to get a hold of him so late.
Looking back at my deceased family, I could not hide my glee. "I can see," I whispered, careful to not wake the house up.
"I can see again."
"Asuka...Can you call at a normal hour like a normal human being?"
Getting riled up, I hissed into the phone, "I thought you would be glad."
"How can I when you call me at 2 am?"
"Fine! I'll never call you about good news!"
For a moment, he was quiet. I thought he was going to insult me; however he chose to be nice. "You can call when you want as long as it's during reasonable hours..." He paused to suggest, "Um, tomorrow then?"
Beaming, I nodded, "Tomorrow."
"I promise I'll be more receptive."
"Okay. Night, Yuki."
And just like that, we were on speaking terms again.