I was thirty-four then, stuck at the back of a cab to Chiba when the music played from the car stereo. I've never heard the song for at least ten years now, and the wounds were fresh then, when I decided I would not listen to The Beatles once and for all. I closed my eyes and felt the cold surface of my seat at the back. It was still winter, and the Christmas holidays has come and the New Year dawned just a week ago, its remnants still fresh at its wake. Nowhere Man played at the FM station and after all these years, I listened, and the words and memories that were stored at a place very far away came resurfacing at that very instant. Right at that moment, I remembered a girl, with a disposition of sunshine and a crooked smile and also a boy with disheveled dark hair and a face-full of freckles, very much in love.
I met Tanada Hikaru on my freshman year in college. I was Physics major then and she was majoring Graphics Design. Hikaru was a girl with a head full of dreams and creativity. After all, she was an artist, and though people put her down saying career was a long-shot in the arts, she stood her ground and tried to prove them wrong. She did. With her tongue stuck out and her pencil under her nose, she proved them wrong.
Whereas I, I had no such attitude as hers. While Hikaru had her goals set up, I wasn't ready to take on the world. I took Physics because it was one of my strong points, but never because I was thinking about what career I'd take on, or which jobs or companies I wanted to go for after graduation. I was a distraught man, without a dream and a life. I was the nowhere man. I was doing pretty well on my majors at first, but soon when my focus faltered, I was failing half of my load. That's where Hikaru confronted me with unsympathetic eyes and a tongue-lashing that I never thought I would carry on a lifetime.
She was a senior officer in an org that I was a new member of. She was older for at least two years, and she was an upperclassman. I respected her for her position and when one of my co-members/block mate reported my declining acads, which could have been a good reason for my superiors to kick me out of the org, Hikaru called for me, pulled up a chair, sat across me and gave me a long lecture about duty and responsibility.
"I could tell what's wrong," she said with a stern face and an intelligent-looking frown. Everything that I knew about her bubbly and joyous attitude was flung out of the window. I haven't actually said anything yet and I wondered then if she could really see through anyone. I've been warned about this but I never believed a word of it. "You've got to know where you're headed. Otherwise, you'll keep stumbling halfway and wonder where on earth you are and start back again. It's an arduous process."
"But how would I know where I'm headed when I have no idea where I should go to begin with?" I asked her.
She sighed audibly and put her hand on her forehead, as if distressed about something. "Nobody has to tell you where you should go. You have got to decide that for yourself. We've got this incredible gift of choice, Sato. It's a terrible thing to waste."
I looked down at my fingers and said nothing. Then, she went on. "You're not dumb. That's not the reason why you're failing your acads. You're a clever, young man. You have your way of doing things, and you're one of the very few members of this team that I've taken a liking of because you're very well teachable. But you know, Sato, waiting for somebody to give you direction won't get you anywhere. Act on yourself, get your feet on the ground, set your goals and head towards that direction."
"Are you saying that I should just shut everyone off and do it on my own?"
"I'm not. What I meant was, take the initiative of choosing for yourself. Otherwise, you'll end up at a place where you'll realize you've never really wanted to begin with because someone else chose that path for you. The others will only be there to help you get up again in case you fall down, but there will come a point when you'll have to be on your own. Then, you're gonna need to figure out where to go next."
"But I have nowhere to go."
"Of course you have. Everyone has a path laid out for them. We just need to realize it. Some understand it better than anyone else, but you're young, and you still have a long way to go. There's no such thing as 'too late.' That's why I'm telling you that you've got to find out what that is. We're made for the stars, Sato. The only thing you have to know is what star you're made for. Why don't you take a sem off for a while and do a bit of soul-searching?"
"I don't think that's necessary," I told her while keeping my feet together and shoving my hands deep on my pockets. I let her words sink in and the truth of her words pierced right through my chest.
"It is," she said right to my face, her eyes fixed on mine. She pushed her index finger lightly to my chest. "I think you're hiding something, Sato. Something familial. Something that you wished that could have been different. Something you don't want others to know but which becomes obvious when I look into your eyes. I've been there before, trust me. I know what I'm talking about."
I should have been irked. I should have knocked the table between us over and grabbed the collar of her shirt, seething like a bull on a fight, even if she was a girl. I should have screamed right at her face and clutched at her throat. I should have shaken the living daylights out of her and told her to stay damn right out of my bloody business. Instead, I froze when she reached over to me, wrapped her arms around my shoulders and used her belly as a cushion for my head. That same moment, tears fell. They fell like mad, running down my cheeks, wetting the front of her flannel shirt. My hands clutched at her side for dear life and she held me like a small boy who's got his toy stolen. After all I've been through, that was the only thing I needed.
From there, I picked up the pieces and tried to take on the world, clutching on my hand that form of redemption Hikaru made me experience that very day we talked. I filed my forms and shifted to Literature. Dad cut off my tuition but Hikaru helped me with the allowance she earned from her scholarship. Then, I worked part-time at the library and I was granted a hundred percent scholarship, lab fees and all.
When Hikaru was on her final year, she was busy with her thesis and her practicum, and I did not see her as often as before. Though she stretched hours at the library, she kept mostly to herself. A week before the submission of final requirements of the seniors, Hikaru was at the far corner of the library, listening to music and writing something on a notepad. I approached her then and sat across her on the table.
"What's that?" I asked her, pointing to the notebook she was writing on.
"I'm keeping a list of things that happened while I was here," she told me. "I'm the sentimental type and I kind of feel like crying just thinking about leaving this place."
"Boo," I scowled and she frowned at me. Then she went back on her pen and wrote some more. "What are you listening at?"
"The Beatles," she said. She pulled out an earphone on her ear and stuck it on mine.
"Congratulations for successfully passing on your germs on me," I said, but I was not exactly complaining.
"Crybaby." Familiar music played on her iPod but since I was not exactly a Beatles' fan, I couldn't point out the title. I was not entirely familiar with the lyrics either.
"What is it called?"
"Nowhere Man," she told me. "This is one of my favorite songs. Reminds me of myself a few years back, and of a certain someone who was the same as me about two years ago who cried on my shirt like a baby..." I regarded her with stern eyes as if daring her to continue. "... who is incidentally sitting across me on the table today. You ruined my bloody shirt, Sato. That was a favorite."
"Get over it," I said while sticking out a tongue at her. "It's been two years."
"And thank goodness, I just remembered. You owe me a new shirt."
There was silence and I listened to the song. I smiled at the lyrics.
"I'm starting to like this one," I told her. She smiled at me and went on writing. I watched her every move.
"Can I kiss you?" I asked, unable to help myself.
She looked at me and blinked slowly. She didn't seem surprised, just a bit curious why I asked such a thing. "Why?"
She chuckled at this while putting down her pen and entwining her fingers. "Do you like me?"
Then, she grabbed my collar and meshed her lips to mine. I was taken by surprise so I froze for a fraction of a second and before I could react, she pulled her face away.
"Do you like me?" she asked again.
Hikaru sighed and looked out the window as if nostalgic. "You know," she began and let her words hang in the air for a second. "If you confessed to me five years later, I could have considered it more seriously."
There was a heavy weight on my chest, hearing that. "I'm sorry, Sato. I do like you, but you know, there isn't much to hope for. You're acting on impulse, and well... maybe you're just used to me being around so much, that's all. I'm sorry."
It was the first time I confessed to anyone. I was used to being the one confessed to, and I understood at that instant, that rejection hurt like hell. After the library incident, Hikaru and I didn't talk much. She left school shortly after that and last I heard, she left for New York to work on a project there. A certain company saw her work and heard about her thesis and decided to hire her as an intern. I knew right then, that she was making her smooth traversing to the path of her dreams. I couldn't interfere. Two years later, I finished a degree in Literature and became a teacher. Then, there I was, stuck on morning traffic and very late for my first period. But I wasn't coming to school. I filed my leave for the day and was on my way someplace where I would meet again an old friend, a friend that I have not seen in many years, a friend that stuck with me even after my blunders.
I clutched on my hand a letter I received from her yesterday. It was addressed to me, and the words on the envelope framed a quite familiar handwriting where my name and my address was neatly scrawled in the center. There was a small page with a two-line address somewhere near Chiba and another piece of paper yellowed through the years that had Hikaru's handwriting on it. It was torn from a page from the notebook I saw her write on on the day we last met. It said, '(9) Senior year. First semester. Nowhere Man.'
Later, I arrived at the place on her letter and sat down for a while on a stone bench near the shrine, letting the cool wind cradle my face, sending ripples to my bones and making me shiver. My hands were numb and finally, I pushed myself off and trudged the path that was covered with melting snow. Soon, I found the marble stone right next to a cherry blossom tree that was stiff from the cold. I bent down low and brushed the surface, my fingers tracing the kanji of Hikaru's name on it. It was pretty cold, but I hoped she was warm and safe, wherever she was. A bouquet of flowers was placed beside her grave and was still fresh. Beside it was a plain, white envelope with my name on it. I tore open the paper and inside it was a small page with Hikaru's neat handwriting, written on cursive English. 'You did well, Sato.'
Just then, I took a sharp intake of breath and felt warm tears running down my cheeks. 'You did well,' echoed through my head over and over again as fresh grief washed through my senses. I clutched at the letter and wept.
"Thank you," I said as I bent lower to place my hand on the surface of Hikaru's grave. "Thank you." There was nothing else to say. Thank you. For love, for life, for everything. When there was not anyone who believed in my potential, you did. When there was not anyone who wanted such a man without a dream, you reached out your hand drew me in. It was love I never knew existed. It was genuine, unadulterated love.
A cold wind blew to my face but I was not freezing anymore. Then, I felt the marble stone warm beneath my fingertips.
Consideration/s: Originally posted on Wattpad 01 January 2012.