Issue Thirty-Four - Summer 2019

A Different Way Home

By Ryka Aoki

A long, long time ago, there was a little town, and in that little town, there was a family, and in that family, there was a girl.

The girl was not the sort of girl whom you would have noticed. She was neither beautiful, nor talented. She wasn’t well spoken; she didn’t wear fancy clothes or get the best grades in school. She did know people, and would sometimes even have lunch with them, but she had never been invited to anyone’s house, to go for a movie night, a birthday party, a sleepover…

Her mother asked, “Are you are okay? Let us know if you are having problems.”

She would nod and say thank you. But she had no problems to speak of.

Her father would ask if she was happy.

She would nod, and say, “Yes, I am happy.” But she said that, mostly because it was what he wanted to hear.

Her parents would frown and wonder what else they could do.

* * * * *
The girl knew they did not really believe her. She knew they were very worried… But she wasn’t lying—she really had nothing to say. And being happy was not something she had considered.

To be at home, to have supper, bathe, dry one’s hair, and go to sleep. The next day, was like the day before and the day after. And each day, after school, when everyone else was on their way home, so was she.

Except, where they had places to go, this girl, took a different way home. Yes, she walked the same streets, past the same stores, the same sandwich shops and nail salons and Chinese herb stores. She passed the woman selling cut fruit on the street by the mailbox. The supermarket where someone was roasting chestnuts, and another feeding rows of chilled sugar cane into a roller, with refreshing juice dripping into Styrofoam cups.

There was the alley, with cooks from the BBQ place taking their lunch break. The bookstore, with CDs of music only her grandmother understood.

And, under the power lines, there was sidewalk, and sidewalk, and sidewalk. And usually, despite all the noise and activity around her, about her, it was quiet and still.

* * * * *

On this trip home, however, a group of little boys to were making a commotion near the gutter. They were shouting and poking at something. She looked. It was a turtle, which had probably escaped from one of the little aquariums that some of the stores would sell.

This was a very warm day, however, and the gutter was almost completely dry.

Without thought, she ran, and chased the little boys away. She picked up the turtle. It was warm to the touch, barely alive. She did not know what to do, so she splashed it with some cool water from her bottle. It was tiny, fitting in the palm of her hand, and was green, except for a bright red stripe along the side of its head. It was small, but perfectly formed. She could make out its claws, see how the pieces of its shell seemed like jewels.

It seemed to revive a little, but it was very weak. She took it to the store that sold turtles, but they said they didn’t want a sick turtle.

She was walking on the sidewalk, wondering how she might ask her parents to let her keep the turtle, when she realized the turtle had died in her hand.

* * * * *

She stopped. For how long, she did not know. But not far from her was a park, and when she began walking again, that was where she walked. She found a cool place, under some shrubs, and dug a small hole, and buried the turtle there. She poured the rest of her water over it, and placed a little red flower from a nearby bush on top.

And then, she walked home.

She didn’t tell anyone about this, not her parents, nor the people at school, but on her way home the next day, and the day after, she would stop by and talk to the turtle.

She didn’t know why, but she would talk about the silliest things, how she really liked her new shoes, or how the new boba place had a nice lady and a mean lady and this time it was the nice lady and her taro boba seemed extra sweet.

* * * * *

Then, one day, she saw a girl, about her age, sitting near where the turtle was. She was wearing a green dress, and there was a bright red barrette in her hair.

“Thank you,” the turtle spirit said, “for taking care of me.”

The girl nodded, because who else could the figure in front of her be?

“Are you okay?” the girl asked, sounding a bit like her mother.

“Oh, yes. I was only here for a little while. I was in a little case, then fell down, then was prodded by those boys. If I had died that way I might have become a vengeful ghost, but thanks to you, my last memories were good. I died while held by someone who cared, and after that, you remembered me. Now, I can go on to the next land peacefully, and without regret.”

The girl nodded and tried to smile. Part of her, though, was sad because once again she would have no one to talk to.

“Will you remember me?”

The turtle spirit tilted her head. “Of course… I enjoyed listening to you, all these days. I like your shoes, too. And I’ll never forget you.”

“I’ll miss you,” the girl finally said.

The turtle spirit paused. “If you want… I can introduce you to my friends. If you meet them, you won’t need to feel alone.”

“Are your friends like you?”

The turtle spirit nodded. “For the most part. Some are boogerheads, but I’ll warn you about those.” The spirit paused.

“But if you meet them, I need to tell you, you will change. You won’t notice, but others will, and they may treat you differently, or maybe avoid you altogether.”

The girl nodded. “It’s ok. I want to meet your friends.”

“Come here,” the turtle spirit said. “And please close your eyes.” And when she did, the girl felt the turtle spirit kiss her on the forehead.

“You can open them now.”

And when she did, the world had come alive.

* * * * *

They walked down the street, she and the turtle spirit.

“There’s the girl who walks here every day!”

“Hello! How are you! I feel like I know you!”

“She can finally see us? Wonderful.”

She met the flower spirit and the folding fan spirit.

The goldfish spirit and the alleycat spirit.

The sandwich shop spirit and the bookstore spirit.

The chestnut spirit and the mailbox spirit.

Up overhead was the power line spirit.

The sidewalk spirit asked her to shuffle her feet once in awhile because he really liked his back scratched.

Everywhere, the girl looked, there seemed to be friends to be made. And by the time they finished their day, the turtle spirit told her to look in the sky, up over the high buildings.

Because there, in the evening sky, was the moon spirit.

“She’s telling me it’s time for me to go on.” The turtle spirit hugged the girl one last time, and then shifted into a glowing turtle, swimming upwards to the sky.

The girl waved and began to cry. But then the moon spirit smiled, and it was such a smile that said, yes, I know is hurts, but this is the sort of sadness that connects us. For this is the sadness of love.

* * * * *

In the days that followed, the girl went on with her life as before. To be at home, to have supper, bathe, dry one’s hair, and go to sleep. The next day, was like the day before and the day after. And, each day, after school, when everyone else was on their way home, so was she.

But the turtle spirit had been right, for though the girl thought she was walking like before, speaking like before, acting like before, being just as before…the people around her began to treat her differently, to whisper. And eventually, she was eating her school lunches alone.

“Are you ok?” her mother would ask. “Are you happy?” Her father would ask.

She wanted to tell them about everything she had seen, of the way the sky spirit shone after the rain, how the sidewalk spirit sighed when scratched by her shuffling feet, the way the door-hinge spirit in her home room would squeak good morning to her every day.

But instead she nodded, and said, “Yes, I am happy.”

Her father told her mother. “I don’t know how, and it makes no sense to me, but this time, I think she really means it.

“And right now, I think for us, that should be more than enough.”

* * * * *

As you may have guessed, I lied a little when I said this story happened a long time ago, and far away. It might have happened, not far from here. Not long ago. Maybe even yesterday. Who knows?

But I do know that when one walks along these streets, one does not know all spirits that one passes by. In one’s day-to-day, there is magic there, and magical beings, who walk through walls, glisten like rainbows, fly high overhead like a helium balloon.

And there are those who, perhaps through gift or chance, or circumstance, acquire the eyes and ears to see them. And they may go their own way, stumble into things, occasionally look like they are speaking to the moon.

But maybe one day, if you befriend them, walk with them home from school, listen to what they say and still invite them over to your sleepover. Maybe, just maybe, they might show you how to see their world, too.

A long, long time ago, there was a little town, and in that little town, there was a family, and in that family, there was a girl.

Copyright 2019 Aoki