We were test tube babies at a time when society hadn't enough knowledge about in-vitro fertilization to form an opinion on it. Our father was a medical researcher in Ogikubo Hospital at that time and our parents had been trying for a baby for quite a while. The conditions were optimal and so they volunteered for the procedure, but neither had expected identical twins.
My sister's birth name was Yoshitsune Amaya. Mine was Yoshitsune Ayame, an afterthought. We were born on March the 3rd, on Hina Matsuri (Doll's Festival). Even if we were made from the same cloth, there were already dissimilarities at birth. She was beautiful and ruddy with health while I was feeble and pale with anemia. The doctors thought I would never survive.
Even the passage of time could not erase the inferiority branded onto me from birth. I was always a couple of inches shorter than my twin, a little more fragile in constitution, and though we were both determinedly introverts, I was more mousy and bookish than she was. Physically I could never compete with Maya, and thus I took pride in more intellectual endeavors, even as I was made aware that the difference in our intelligence was infinitesimal. She liked books almost as much as I did, although with her it was always fairytales and fantasy, and later, trashy romance novels. I on the other hand pored over encyclopedias, history textbooks and science fiction, as much a vain attempt at differentiation as preference.
But otherwise we were reflections of each other; mirror images. She was a left-hander and I a right-hander. Our hair parted naturally at opposing sides. We would make a game out of perfectly imitating the other and completed each other's sentences as if we were a single entity. But just as her affections for herself mirrored her affections for me, my disinclination for myself mirrored my disinclination for her. I was always conscious of the fact that her obsession with me was anchored by a festering narcissism and an assured sense of superiority. Her ovation of my achievements was often supplanted by her own successes, a sort of roundabout self-aggrandizement. Despite that, I sympathized with her because her insecurities reverberated in me, so I went along with her whims.
Perhaps I was equally at fault with my passivity. But eventually we drifted apart like tectonic plates on a divergent boundary. Eventually, the chasm between us wasn't simply physical distance anymore but the Sanzu River itself.
Arashi was my only landline to Maya anymore. The rational part of my mind questioned my motivations for holding onto a line that has been disconnected, but my fingers wouldn't let go.
Nothing defines humans better than their propensity for irrationality.
I woke up from a nightmare that only my senses could recall. I could taste the bitter dryness of fear on my tongue, and my skin tingled from a hallucinatory draught. I haven't had dreams for months, or at least not one that I remembered having, and I had forgotten how intense they could be.
I opened my eyes too quickly to the afternoon glare of sunlight. The ryokan had thin Venetian blinds that were more form than function. For a moment the hulking figure sitting at the windows smoking a cigarette stupefied me until I realized it was only Arashi.
Last night the combination of a moonless night and sodium vapor lighting had cast his silhouette in stark chiaroscuro. The vastness of the skies diminished his stature and I recognized him not by his outline but by his mannerisms. If I had looked more closely I would have realized he had changed.
He was no longer the awkward long-limbed monkey in High School, having grown into his lankiness. He had lost the fats in his cheeks and the frailty in his joints. But still the arrangement of his facial features seemed off-kilter somehow. Where in the past he had an expression of weariness far beyond his age, now he wore a vulnerability that reminded me of boys in oversized hakama at Shichi-go-san ceremonies.
I felt a little voyeuristic staring at his profile, so I sat up on the bed and remarked, "Heh, you kept your hair long. You look like a host now."
He was drinking again, I realized, when I saw that he had a Sapporo in his other hand.
"I prefer the term 'ikemen'," he said with a shimmer of a smile, but his voice was flat and limp.
"You're drinking and smoking," I stated in a neutral, blasé tone.
He looked at me with swollen half-shut eyes, and slowly took a long drag from his cigarette. We weren't supposed to smoke indoors, of course. The Venetian blinds and tatami mats were easily flammable, but a burning inn was the least of my worries. I hadn't seen Arashi smoked before. Somehow it jarred my senses more than the fact that he was drinking.
"It's good for the hangover," he said, and I wasn't sure if he was referring to the beer, the cigarette, or both.
He took another puff on the cigarette, and it was almost burning to his fingers now. He tapped the cinder onto a wooden soap dish he had probably stolen from the bathroom, and took a long while contemplating its remaining usefulness before crushing it onto the dish. The cigarette left a black burn mark on the smooth oak surface.
"You want me to stop?" he asked, raising the beer can and sloshing its content from side to side. It sounded as if there wasn't much left anyway, but the plastic carrier beside his zabuton indicated that he had bought the remaining cans with him after all.
"Well then, let's talk, Miya. If we talk, I'll stop."
I could feel the center of my forehead scrunch up in annoyance but I gave him a tight smile and said, "Okay, sure."
"Yesterday…" Arashi began, placing the beer can on the western-styled coffee table, "I can't really remember our conversation yesterday… But what did you mean when you said 'follow me'? Are we friends now or something? Friends with benefits? Or maybe lovers? Am I going to live with you?"
He said all of it with a straight face, and my jaw grew slack with shock. When I finally gathered my wits about me I threw the pillow I've been leaning on hard at his face.
"Get your mind out of the gutters, you idiot. I'm just… picking up a stray, is all."
He caught the flying projectile before it reaches his face and tamed it between his hands.
"A stray huh?" he said, "You sure have some serious superiority complex."
"Well, you can't possibly think I would substitute my sister, whatever role she had in your relationship," I said in retort.
"What the heck? No way man, you guys are too different. I loved her."
I shrugged at the non sequitur and simply extended my hand towards him. He backed away slightly as if readying for a slap.
"Friends, then?" I said, the word rolling off my tongue like a foreign language. He cocked his head to the side and his eyes flicked to the hand intruding his personal bubble with cautious regard.
"Yeah, friends… It's a step up from house pet isn't it?" he said finally, still staring at my hand. I had black anti-biting nail polish on, and it was chipping in places, but I didn't think that was the reason for his intense scrutiny.
"What? You have chirophobia?" I said.
"Huh? Err, no? What's that?" he asked, genuinely confused.
I thrust my arm further towards him and fixed him with a glower, at which point he finally understood and shook my hand, albeit in a totally lackluster manner.
"You and I need a course in social competence," I told him, and Arashi simply grinned.