For two sisters, it was beyond unfair -- it was unjust, depressing, violent, and just downright wrong. Having lost their parents at a young age, they only had each other. Sakiko, the younger of the two, didn’t feel the anguish and rage as intensely as her elder sister did. She never met their father. As far as she knew, her father was just a man who fell in love with her mother. And her mother, well… she loved them enough to send them to school, to pay for their house, and to make sure they didn’t starve.
A stroke killed their father while their mother died in a car accident. When her elder sister received the phone call, she was in her class writing down lecture notes. The principal called her in and gave her the phone. Having realized that she now had to raise Sakiko by herself, her older sister cried. The school tried to help them as much as they could, even tried to set them up in one of the orphanages. In the end, an old relative took them in the countryside of Takayama.
Sakiko never doubted her sister’s love for her, but sometimes, it seemed… suffocating. She could never play with her friends as late as she wanted. When she would go out, her sister made sure she stayed with her. Even while she was in the bathroom, her sister would knock when she took longer than fifteen minutes. It became worse when news of recent shootings around Japan spread. Sakiko never left the house after that.
“Can I go out?” Sakiko would ask the question every day, every time her sister came home from school. She dropped out, following her elder sister’s advice. It’s possibly better and safer this way, she would say. Better me than you anytime, Sakiko.
Soon enough, Sakiko got used to the isolation. She looked after the house while her sister was out. While staying in, she discovered new hobbies for herself. Sometimes Sakiko would attempt cooking dinner or fixing some plumbing. But her spare time eventually got filled with painting impressive landscapes and reading classical books for hours on end. Not once did Sakiko ever complained as to how things were. She knew her older sister just wants the best for her -- for both of them.
In this way, Sakiko grew.
And, unknown to both of them, neighbors talked. Rumors spread of a young girl held captive by her own sister, working as a slave. Others told of two out-of-school youth girls who ran away from home. It wasn’t long before Sakiko’s older sister heard of these. Her own circle of friends started ignoring her and when she asked why, they told her. It was devastating. Naturally, she hid them from Sakiko to spare her the hurt.
However, just a few days after the sudden spread of rumors, Sakiko’s older sister came home to find an old photograph lying on her bed. It was a family picture -- it was a lovely sight, and in between their parents was Sakiko holding on to her older sister’s hand. After she looked at the photo, she noticed there was a sealed envelope beside it.
“For my dearest sister.” The red letters popped out from the white envelope. This is not good, she thought. She took a deep breath to calm herself down and to prevent herself from panicking. Then, she opened the letter.
All this time, I’ve been okay with everything. Or at least, I thought so. I never knew how differently I’ve lived or how differently I’ve thought until all the books I’ve read. Life is more than just being cooped up in this room. In this house. I know you love me, and I love you, too. I want to be with you, but... I also want to live.
It’s been so difficult for me these past few years. You never knew because I never wanted you to feel that you were making things worse. I know how afraid you are to let anything happen to me, but in some way, it’s doing more harm than good.
More than that, I heard about the rumors. People are talking. I know things have been difficult for you as well. And this false talk will just make things worse for us, and you know that. By the time you read this, I’ve already gone off to Tokyo. I don’t know what I’ll do. I don’t know how I’ll live, but I’ll get by. You’ve taught me that much -- as long as wanted to, I could.
I know I’ll be fine. So don’t worry much.
You can still contact me at my number, but please don’t hope that I’ll come back. I’m doing this for us.
Lots of love,
She read the letter over and over again. She couldn’t stop the tears from falling. Soon enough, she was sobbing.
Sakiko was just sixteen.
Having celebrated her twentieth birthday last week, Sakiko bought an entire chocolate cake for herself. Leftovers were stored in the small refrigerator in her apartment. For four years, she’s been living on her own. It was by luck that she found a kind landlady who offered this apartment for her at a student’s price.
But she wasn’t a student.
She was working in one of the retail stores. Her shift started at 9:00 AM and ended at 3:00 PM. Right after, Sakiko would go back to her apartment and work on a new art piece or read a book she bought. She would cook her own food in the little kitchen in her apartment. Sakiko lived on cookbooks and magazines to improve her cooking and taste.
It wasn’t a bad life.
In the evenings, Sakiko would go down to the busy streets of metropolitan Tokyo. The late night air was cool on her skin, and the neon lights were dazzling in the evening. When she didn’t sit in the vacant benches in the parks, she would stay in a coffee shop and just watch people outside walk past her. It would take her a few hours to finish one cup of an Americano, but she never noticed the time go by. Her thoughts would always take her to various places -- to the new friends she’s made, to her comfortable life in Tokyo, to her dream of becoming a famous artist… and sometimes, even to her sister.
Sometimes, Sakiko would wonder how her sister is. She was twenty years old now, her sister twenty-nine. It’s only been four years, but a lot can happen in that time. Did she ever finish studying? Was she still living with their aunt? What kind of job did she have? Did she have a family now?
The thoughts would go on for what seemed like hours. But thinking about her sister put a smile on Sakiko’s face. Even though Sakiko put her contact number in the letter she wrote, not once did she receive a text message or a call from her.
Sighing, Sakiko continued walking back to her apartment. Her thoughts would lead her to streets she never knew. This never bothered her as she always seemed to find her way back home safely. Thinking about everything that’s happened to her family, to her sister, and to her… Sakiko eventually came to realize that this was just how the world worked.
It was sometimes good. It was sometimes bad. And maybe for some people, it was just more bad than good. This was the case for me and my sister, Sakiko thought. But that doesn’t mean we should give up on the world. It doesn’t mean that we should give up on life.
She realized this when she was sixteen.
There’s a lot more to see in this world -- much more than just the bad.
This was the world she chose to live in. This was the life she chose to lead.
This was real.
As she got back to her apartment, she smiled. When she first moved in, she stuck out phrases and quotes to get her by each day. The largest cut out on her wall was her favorite, and it greeted her as soon as she stepped inside:
Welcome to reality.
- - -
story by Free
art by Nayona
profile by Samaritan
backgrounds from toptotal