Dear osdotme family, Jai Sri Hari! First of all, I sincerely hope all of you are doing well and the sweet breeze of March is doing you good! As the tagline says, I’m back at the Japanese fiction I started writing back in August 2021. I know, it’s been a long time and there’s a good chance you don’t remember what I’m talking about (Trust me, I know, you have a great memory, but hey, you’re responsible adults with a lot to do and remember! I don’t blame you at all for forgetting about it. I forgot myself, tbh.) If you do plan on reading this chapter, I would highly, highly suggest you reread chapter 1 by clicking here. I’m afraid this cannot be read as a standalone unless you’re acquainted with the characters beforehand. 

That being said, thank you so much for reading my posts and your constant support. I really, really appreciate it. Love you all! I’ll be back to pester you at the end. Toodles!

***

The floorboards sang out the morning’s glories as the small, fair feet of Ena-Chan hurried across them in a frantic motion. Even the ancestral wind-chime hanging lazily onto the door frame gave a start at this. It was rare to see Ena-Chan lose her composure. It was one of the qualities that had attracted those who had come to ‘see’ her at the age of sixteen.

“What a ladylike girl!” Her husband’s mother had remarked, marveling profusely at Ena-Chan’s dainty, airy little charms. A rosy blush had appeared on her cheeks at the compliment, but little did she know her charms were what would kill her in her married life.

Since the day she’d stepped into her new home, respect wafted in from all her newly made relatives. The women’s evaluating scrunched noses would always ease out as they’d let her pass their appearance-analysis. At home behind closed doors however, with relatives that would not leave the house after the little gatherings, things told a different tale, like the broken kettle did- the one she broke.

“Are you so thirsty for attention or just plain stupid and clumsy, josei?” Her husband’s snarling tone had for the very first time said these words to her. It had hurt, but no one had cared. So with time, Ena stopped too- not only caring, but all the things she had ever cared about. Her fingers yearned to touch her paints once more. Gazing fondly at Aika’s work often brought unforeseen tears to her eyes- tears that would sometimes drop into a bowl of water she would take for Toto or a damp cloth that she would bring out for her son on a hot afternoon as he lay lazily in the shades trying to study- the only one in the house with that privilege. But no one seemed to taste or feel those tears- they had become invisible, much like Ena-Chan’s paintings, which she had burnt off in a ditch in the forest from where her husband cut wood.

Burning things had always made her feel powerful, even if it was just illusionary power- a lesson so valuable she had passed it to Aika-Chan. One could always smell a singe of ash from somewhere, but much like the tears, they were not something to be bothered by. They were just mere reminders that the women were in the house- where they ought to be.

***

The lone cherry blossom tree in one of the two courtyards of the house danced as the small hands of Aika-Chan grabbed its branches, the rough texture of the old bark cutting into her skin. She had till yet learnt only how to climb up till the lower branches- they were big boughs, able to support her fully. She hadn’t much weight, but the tree had gotten frail with time and Aika didn’t want to be the reason for its suffering. 

She gave a sigh of relief as she found a comfortable posture to sit in and stared at the small, wooden house from the highest point that she could possibly be at. Her forehead wrinkled with guilt. It had dawned upon her several times that she wasn’t doing at all what she was supposed to. She was of fifteen years of age- in a year or two, her parents would have her married off. Japanese women weren’t supposed to read or write, nor were they at all supposed to climb trees- both things that she had learnt from his brother, that too without him knowing. Japanese women weren’t supposed to do something so stealthy either. And given her genuine nature, she wasn’t doing a good job at it. That very morning, Aika’s mother had caught charred pieces of paper in the room where Aika-chan usually wrote her thoughts.

She kicked off her slippers and wrapped her warm kimono even more tightly around her. It was quite cold. She  noticed a slight tear in her dress, rolled her eyes and muttered to the tree. It had been her patient listener for quite a while.

“Yesterday, this robe had two tears. Do you hear me?”

The cherry blossoms seemed to dance in response.

“Today, it shall have three. And perhaps, as I climb your slender form tomorrow, it shall have ten. One or a couple of tears aren’t quite noticeable, but more than that, and they turn into a big rip across the dress. My facade too, is failing.” She sighed. “The lone woodcutter cuts a tree thinking his tree hasn’t the slightest capacity to make a difference, but add another thousand such woodcutters into the mix and the forest dissolves. And so, shall I slip once and pick myself up again, but after my secrets are out, dear tree.” Her bottom lip quivered. “You shall know me as Aika-chan no longer.” But someone did, for she started in fear as she heard her name being shouted.

“Aika-Chan!” Her mother’s voice filled the courtyard like the unforeseen claps of thunder at midnight as it rang out in all its high-pitched glory. She loved Aika-Chan- she’d reasoned with every person who judged her as to why her daughter was special and ignored several of her antics. But it hurt to see her efforts go in vain- to see that her own daughter did not care for her words. Ena-Chan had suffered enough pain and humiliation between those walls, and to see it from her own offspring pained at a deeper level- one that she hadn’t nor had planned to ever visit. She heaved in wrath and made an effort to yank her feet off the ground in steady but firm footsteps to the bottom of the tree. 

Aika-Chan stared at her in terror, her lips parted and throat dry. “Mama,” she began. But Ena-Chan was oblivious to her daughter’s charms or apologies. Her hands grabbed onto her arm, pulling her down. The Kimono got yet another few tears and so did Aika-Chan’s eyes. 

“Mama-”

“Shut up!” Ena-Chan thundered. “What are you doing? What have you done? How stupid can you be, Aika-Chan! You are a disgrace!”

Silent tears flowed down Aika’s youthful face as she struggled to find a voice and words. Twice. She had dropped her facade twice. And regret filled every bit of her cracked voice as she tried to reason with her mother. “Mama, please, hear me out!” She cried.

“You don’t respect the basic manners a woman has to adhere to. You don’t respect me. You dare question your father and brother. You don’t do your chores. Your art, Aika-Chan- we are a family of artists, but all you paint is for yourself! Not one drop of paint on your canvas or cloth is worth anything of value.” 

Aika-Chan stared at a spot on the floor. Ena-chan had cleaned them in the morning, but perhaps she should have left that spot be. A puddle of Aika-Chan’s tears graced the spot as she stared at her small feet in silence- not a particularly comfortable one, either. She’d lost her voice by then. Her black eyes lifted slowly from the floor to look at her mother’s wrathfully face. Even in a morose state of mind, she could not hide her curiosity- her mother seldom succumbed to anger. Plus, another part of her knew that it would hurt her even more. Aika-Chan wanted to be hurt, in a manner. She knew that she deserved it. She tuned out her mother’s notes and rhythms, proffering her own tunes. As she did so, her eyebrows wrinkled.

Ena-chan caught onto the change and stopped midway her sentence. 

“Aika-Chan. Aika, are you listening to me? Aika, answer me!”

Aika stared. “What’s that?”

“What’s what?”

“On your face, mother.”

“It’s nothing, Aika-Chan.” She said uncomfortably.

“Doesn’t look like nothing to me, mama.” There was a red spot on Ena-Chan’s cheek, seeming to sting with pain. Or perhaps the guilt and humiliation shone through, making it seem worse. 

“A blow. Did you hurt yourself, mama?” Aika-Chan’s voice tightened. She knew exactly what had happened, yet again.

Ena-Chan bit her lip. “No.” She stopped short.

“A pretty rough one, mama.”

“Aika-Chan, keep-“

“I wonder where you got it, mother.” Aika-Chan clenched her teeth. “I wonder if the fact that you said that females were respected in our house came and slapped you right in the face!”

Ena-Chan’s words were caught in her throat. “Aika-Chan-” She began, aggravated.

“I’d supposed it would happen, but I did imagine a soft blow! Not very feminine, is it? Almost looks like a man hit you. After all, they’re the only one with some kind of strength, aren’t they mama?” Aika-Chan’s voice went up a notch.

“Aika-Chan!”

“Almost as hard as a woodcutter’s blow, it looks like, mother!”

“Aika-Chan, I warn you, shut up!” Her mother screamed at her.

“A very, very respectable one-” she stopped short. Or rather, she was forced to, for her lips could move no longer, pain tends to do that.

Aika-Chan whimpered as she clutched her cheek. Disbelief filled her coal black eyes and she took a step back from her mother, stared at her, tears spilling down her front, unlike her mother’s cold one, her fist clenched. Her tiny feet ran across the creaking floors and she wept- she wept in disbelief and hurt.

That afternoon, Aika-Chan’s mother had hit her for the very first time.

A/N: Well, that was that. I really apologise for any time lost or inconvenience caused by having to reread Chapter 1! I promise to be more regular from now on to avert this kinda crisis. I’m so sorry once again to not be online much on osdotme as of recent. I know, there are so many great posts by my favourite authors all waiting to be read, various comments waiting to be typed and more so to be replied to because of your immense kindness and effort, but even in the holidays, with cleaning, preparing for my next school term, catching up with friends and books, I seldom realise how time passes by! My time management is definitely not the best right now. That’s entirely my fault, and I plan to work on it soon. Till then, please put up with an unruly teenager in your midst.

I know, I said it at the beginning, but I’ll say it again because I can’t emphasise it enough- my sincere thanks to the whole community for your constant love and support. I don’t know where my confidence or dreams about writing would be if not for you all. Take care, and Jai Sri Hari! 

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