November 8 2022
Hikigaya Hachiman's Path to Reformation
The Silent Little Girl
I turn on the lights while changing my shoes, unconsciously waiting for a reply from my Onii-chan. All I get is silence until I hear a cat's sad cry. Kamakura shortly appears from behind the sofa, meowing while dragging Onni-chan's used shirt in his mouth. A handkerchief is also around his neck and he always runs away if I try to take it off of him. The feline greets me and rubs his furry cheek against my ankle.
I take a glance at his automated feeding box and sigh. It looks untouched and only a little bit of water has decreased since this morning. Kamakura isn't doing well these days: he barely touches his food and cries while carrying Onii-chan's shirt. He usually alternates between sleeping at the doorway or the foot of Onii-chan's bed.
I go and open the fridge to reheat whatever food is left or to just cook if there's none. There's still some grilled fish and curry left which means that Mama must have skipped breakfast this morning and she won't be back until 11 pm. Papa sleeps in his office in Tokyo since he's too exhausted to come back home after work.
Aside from Kamakura, I'm all alone. I'm never alone when he's here, he always comes home first so I won't have to enter a lonely and empty house. He might not have said it but I'm sure that's his reason.
He is a siscon after all. Hehehe…
I eat dinner while watching the evening news. It's something that I got from Onii-chan since he always makes sure that he's updated with the current relevant events. The doorbell rings just as I was done washing the plates and I open the door after confirming who it is.
Her silver-blue hair tied in a ponytail is the first thing that I see aside from the girl's Sobu uniform. "Hi, Komachi. I figured you'd want some dessert?" She says with a smile while carrying a paper bag.
"Saki-nee! Come in!" I happily usher her inside. I was half expecting Taishi-kun to be with her but looks like she's alone. Kamakura is already sleeping in Onii-chan's room so I don't have to worry about moving him because of Saki-nee's allergies.
I put the mochi ice cream on a plate and sit down on the sofa with her.
"It's a bit late, did you just come from your part-time job?" I say and take a small bite from a vanilla-flavoured ice cream sandwich.
"Yeah. I decided to drop by and check in on you." Saki-nee says and glances at the kitchen sink.
"Don't worry! I washed it all!" I exclaim but she raises a brow at my words.
"Really now? There better not be any tiny bits of rice on the utensils. I promised Hachiman and auntie that I'll check in on you. I was planning to invite you for dinner at my house but I got caught up with stuff to do."
I tell her not to worry too much. I'm really happy that she dropped by and I wouldn't have minded if Kei-chan or Taishi-kun tagged along. I'm not used to being in our house all alone and I'm very welcome to their company.
"How's your brother doing? I mean, is he eating properly? You know, because of his anaemia…" Saki-nee trails off with a curious glint in her eyes.
"You never asked him?" She smiles sheepishly and shakes her head at my question. I sigh dramatically at the older girl and shake my head too. "What are you so shy about? You're friends, have each other's contact information AND are on a first-name basis!"
Her pretty cheeks get slightly flushed while she lightly purses her lips. Onii-chan told me that Saki-nee has a different personality in school: cold, aloof and sometimes come out as too strong. Knowing that I'm surprised at how she can't even send a simple text message! I guess looks can be very deceiving.
"I…ask him a question or two but stopped when his replies turned into single words. So I stopped since I thought that I was annoying him…" She says in a slightly embarrassed and down tone while hugging the couch pillow. "He gave his number to me during the summer camp but I didn't dare to talk to him only until very recently."
"Saki-nee, that's just Onii-chan being Onii-chan! Even he is like that to me and I'm his sister!" I say and tell her all the similar replies that I get when I text him something even before his trip to the Netherlands. His replies are always very short and concise like he's writing a research paper or something.
She pauses and thinks about it for a moment. "Hm. I haven't thought about that. You're right, it would be pretty weird if he wasn't like that, won't it?"
"Right? I can't imagine him being all chatty and all that."
"Yeah. And using all those cringy emojis and emoticons." We both laugh while imagining the silliness of it. After a little while, she asks her original question again so I decide to take out my phone to show her some photos that he sent me. Saki-nee sits back beside me after disposing of our garbage.
I show her a wide array of photos Onii-chan had taken inside the plane and airport; including food, the sky, the landscape, the city skyline, cars and lots of other random stuff. It's his first time in a foreign country so it's to be expected of him to take a few more shots than usual.
"The place looks nice, not as hyper-urbanized as Chiba or Tokyo I guess," Saki-nee observes while we comment whenever we see something interesting. I would have liked to go with Onii-chan, but unlike him, I don't think I can catch up to all the things I missed in school. I'm sure he used his position in the StuCo or spoke to the teachers to have an arrangement about it.
"Is… Is this what they eat? Just bread, milk, cheese, cereal and these toppings to go with sandwiches? What's this white stuff? Is that yoghurt? Oh, he put some random things in the bowl with it."
"That's what they have for breakfast. Onii-chan usually makes a sandwich with lots of eggs, bacon, ham and cheese and pairs it with a glass of cold milk. Here, this is what he ate for today."
"No rice? Uwah, I feel like I won't survive a day there…"
I show her another group of photos of what he ate with some taken from restaurants that be visited. "Sometimes they eat Italian and Spanish food. He's taken a liking to dishes that have rice in them and says that they're so good! Especially the ones that have seafood! But the nice family that he's staying with is originally from France and he tells me that they don't eat them often."
"I hope he's still taking his medication and not overexerting himself. You know how he is…"
The next photo that we come across is one that I've seen many times.
Saki-it's reaction is instant.
"Oh look a baby!" She exclaims just as a video starts playing. The POV of the camera is on the ground while the infant is cooing and making baby noises on a carpeted floor and slowly crawling towards it. We hear Onii-chan's voice speak in another language and the baby squeals in response before being picked up. The next few photos and videos are centred around the baby and himself playing and making the infant laugh.
Although there was one where the baby was actively chewing at his phone when he left it with the infant.
"He's the youngest member of the family and Onii-chan always plays with him and sends me at least one photo a day. I forgot the baby's name though." We see the other family members along with Onii-chan in photos going about their day and when they were out hanging out with his Dutch friends.
Saki-nee chuckles a bit when she sees the five of them posing in front of a statue in a wide park. Then photos of Onii-chan and the pretty Onee-san at different places which hold cultural significance like museums, paintings, churches and more. She looks like the touchy type with her arm around his shoulder like they're "bros". Rude! Doesn't she know that we Japanese value our personal space?!
"Who's this? A friend of his?" Saki-nee asks. I'm sure she's thinking about a lot of things while looking at my phone but she keeps those thoughts to herself.
"Yeah, she's the cool Onee-san who taught him how to- wait, I'll show it to you instead!" I go to the video with the perspective from the front passenger seat. The video starts a bit wobbly and films the road. We see a small head briefly and cooing noises and the phone is raised slightly upwards.
"Oh, it's the baby from earlier." We hear a female voice say something which we can't understand and Onii-chan replies shortly after. The phone turns to the side to reveal him driving the car itself. He briefly glances at the phone and reaches out with his right hand and a baby's squeaky laugh is heard shortly after. The female says something and he obediently retracts his hand back on the steering wheel.
"Wow, he's driving. Wouldn't he get in trouble with the law if they get caught?" She says worriedly.
I shake my head. "It's fine since they're in the neighbourhood."
We see a wholesome photo of him with his host family. He's at the centre with the two eldest children at his sides while the mother and second youngest daughter are across the dinner table. The head of the family seems to be missing. Onii-chan says that he's travelling around the country and doing boring business stuff. The baby is on his lap, smiling with his mouth and hands covered in what appears to be chocolate. The funny part is Onii-chan's right cheek was covered in the same stuff while he had a goofy smile on him.
"Look at him smiling like that. It's a rare sight to be sure."
I giggle and agree with her. "I know right? It's like his personality switched or something be hehehehehe."
She breathes out sharply and makes an exaggerated wail after staring at the photo for a while. "Ah! Why'd he have to cut his hair?! His hair lost its volume! It's so weird seeing him like this! My brain can't process this drastic change!"
"For real! I was startled when he came home that night from Mama's salon looking like that!" I nod and continue ranting. "His hair is way shorter and thinner now. He looks so different that he might as well change his name or something!"
Onii-chan's hair is much shorter now and the bangs that covered his forehead and ears are completely gone. There's still some remaining on the top of his head which is a relief though it's super thin on the sides. He looks like he got conscripted by the army!
"Knowing him, I'm sure he has some big brain logical reasoning for this which will sound ridiculous no matter how much you turn it upside down," Saki-nee says with a slightly cringing expression. I sigh and shake my head at our exchange more than a week ago.
"His exact words were: 'Well, I looked up the weather in that side of Europe and considering that I may visit the neighbouring countries that border the Netherlands as well, I decided to get a haircut since it might get too hot. Also, since I'll be meeting some of our father's foreign colleagues, I thought that my former hair might look too messy to them and leave a bad impression.' Or something along those lines…" I say while deepening my voice and making my eyes look a bit dull in imitating him.
Saki-nee nods with an expectant face and grimaces. "Yup… That's Hachiman for you…"
The subject ignored my peace offering (chocolate cake) even when I offered her a slice. Instead, she took baby Anton and took him to her room for playtime. Drats! I still wanted to play with him!
Lukas and I were going to bike around the neighbourhood in the early morning when I thought of asking Adrianne to come with us. Turns out that she's not a morning person and gets very grumpy and irritable when woken up at 4 am.
I watched this fascinating documentary about speculative biology in the living room with Anton. I got so hooked on the program that I forgot that it was time for Adrianne's favourite cartoons (I felt her glare from behind my head). She ignored me when I offered her the remote and went straight upstairs.
I found out that she has a pet bunny and gecko but I have yet seen them since she always keeps her room closed. Hmm, maybe the white hair that's sometimes stuck on Anton is from the bunny? Further investigation is needed.
When Lukas, 'Ria and Adrianne are still in their classes, I'm at home with their mother and playing with Anton in the living room. Mrs Cathy brings me along to do some grocery shopping while I follow and push his stroller. We sometimes bump into people that she knows and I get mistaken as her long-lost son. The nice lady at the ice cream stall gave me an extra serving when she got pleasantly surprised that I can speak Dutch.
I like Spanish food and that black Squid ink pasta thing that I tasted out of curiosity.
I wonder what Komachi and my mother are doing right now, I should call them this evening. Oh, wait, the time zones are different. So is it daytime or night in Chiba? I forgot. I'll have to see my smartwatch if has a dual-timezone function. I wonder if Yui has already figured out her watch. Maybe she even knows more about our matching watches better than I do?
My foster mother is always cooking and baking lots of food and asks me to taste the dishes. Her food tastes great and at this point, I may end up even more fat and plump than Anton!
In our private four-member group chat, Yoshiteru tagged and told me that "It smells like updog in here." to which I replied, "Where are you and what's updog?". Instead of properly replying like a normal person, he spammed "XD" until my screen was covered with it and Hina told him to shut up or else she'll abuse her admin powers and kick him out. Yoshiteru immediately put a stop to his lollygagging.
Suffice it to say, I have no clue what updog means.
Tess is a pretty nice girl: she has the same aura as my super Shiromeguri-senpai and is easy to get along with. I'm sure they'd get along if they meet. She wants to bring me along this weekend during their ballet practice at school and I'm looking forward to it.
"Your Mother told me to come to fetch you from school," I say while being stared at by the little girl with bewilderment present in her eyes. Other children all around us are going about their business with most of them going to the playground to play with the remaining going to their parents and guardians patiently waiting for them.
Adrianne continues staring at me so I repeat just in case she hadn't heard me. She looks like a puppy that got taken from its mother and then placed in the arms of a stranger - not quite sure what to do or say.
I glance to my left where many children are running towards the school's playground. "Do you want to play with your friends? There's still a lot of time left."
The little girl slowly shakes her head and looks to the playground. I see her small hands lightly grip the handle of her bag.
I take one more good look at her. "We can play if you want and it looks fun." Taking the initiative, I gently take her hand and walk to where the children are playing. We climb up the steps and go down the slide together. The other kids don't seem to mind me playing with them. I'm too tall to properly go on the climbing bars so I had to raise my legs so they won't touch the ground. I cheered on Adrianne as she slowly went up the climbing net and carefully watched her struggle on the "monkey bars".
I soon realize that most of the kids are following me around and going on the same set that I go to. My preschool followers ask me to push them on the swings and spin them faster on the roundabout even though some of them can barely form an understandable sentence. Adrianne didn't go on the latter, she looked like she got very dizzy just by watching them. Their laughter and joyous cheers amused their parents and guardians who watched us on the sidelines.
One of the children brought a football after asking their teacher for it. I decide to show them my skills which isn't much but the Football Club at school deem them to be within their minimum standards. I guess playing with Hayama and Tobe and the rest made me realize that I may have an aptitude for the sport. The kids get very impressed when I bounce the ball using only my knees, even little Adrianne's eyes go wide as she watches me do it. They start imitating me but their legs were still far too small and they end up falling on their bottom which they laugh off and try again to my amusement.
We say goodbye to them after hanging out for about half an hour. I guess I played with them too much because my back and forehead are slightly wet from sweat and Adrianne fared not much better as she held my left pinky finger. The two of us start our walk home beside the road with me right on the edge. It was a habit of mine from when Komachi and I were still kids which I later carried to the present day. Hina says that she and the girls appreciate the gesture which I shrugged off when she told me.
An eardrum-shattering shriek to my left nearly sends my soul straight to the Eye of Terror and I look to see that Adrianne already went behind me and clutching tightly at my shirt. I ask her what's wrong and with a shaky hand, she points down at something moving on the ground.
"N-No…" She mutters and pulls on my arm when I squat to get a closer look at the thing. It appears to be a bright green caterpillar slightly shorter than my ring finger. It's crawling right on the pavement where people walk which puts it in danger.
"So you're afraid of insects huh… I used to be just like you when I was small." Thankfully, there's a fallen twig nearby so I make it climb up and then raise it to the lowest branch that I can reach. The insect crawls to safety and hides under the tree's leaf.
Adrianne still looks terrified. She drags me forward away from the shade of the trees as if the caterpillar might come back and chase after her.
"Don't run. You might trip and fall." The little girl stops and gets exhausted and I realize that her hands feel slightly cold against mine. I crouch down after taking a small blue towel from the inside of her bag and start wiping her wet forehead with it. Her face wrinkles as she closes her eyes and waits for me to finish.
"Did you have fun in the playground?" I ask.
Adrianne makes a slight nod. "Yes…"
"What was your favourite one to go on?"
"I sit… You push me up." She reaches in front of her and grabs something invisible and makes squeaky noises.
I snap my fingers while grinning when I do a double take on her words. Her vocabulary, pronunciation and sentence formation are still quite lacking. How ironic that I'm the one who knows more about her language, well she's still a little kid anyway. And I have been studying Dutch for the past two months on my computer and phone and allocating at least three hours every day for it.
I can't help but chuckle a bit when I realize that the noises that she's imitating are from the metallic hinges of the swings when they're being used.
"Those are called swings." Once her face and neck were dry, I help her put the towel on her back. "My favourite is the climbing wall and nets," I ask her a few more questions but she goes quiet. Poor thing must be exhausted. She doesn't look like the kind of child who likes playing outside with other children. Not that I was any different. W-Well no one wanted to play with me anyway…
Adrianne wordlessly asks me to carry her so I kneel for her to hop on my back.
"A-Ack! Not there!" I choke out when she puts her arms around my neck like an assassin trying to kill me. I reach out and place them on my shoulders instead lest I seriously get choked to death by the child. I start walking home and it's only when I arrive at the front door and ask her to get down do I notice that she had went limp.
Mrs Cathy opens the door and understands after giving us a single glance. She takes Adrianne's bag from my hand and I go to the couch where I carefully lay the child down. She's fast asleep and instinctively holds the closest thing to her which happens to be my arm.
My foster mother giggles at the sight. "I'll go get her favourite pillow." She comes back from upstairs holding a stuffed toy in the shape and likeness of a carrot. I wiggle myself from her grasp and give her the carrot which she immediately hugs.
"You two look like you spent some time in the school playground," I tell her of what we did with a slightly hushed voice to not disturb Adrianne but she assures me that her daughter is a heavy sleeper and won't be easily woken up.
"Still, this is a surprise. Adrianne isn't the type of kid to spend time at the playground with other kids..." She says and puts her daughter's bag aside as well as taking off her shoes.
"Really?" I ask as I sit down on the couch.
Mrs Cathy leans down and brushes Adrianne's blond hair to the side. The expression on her face is familiar: I've seen my parents, Hiratsuka-sensei, Tatsumi-sensei at work and Tatsumi-sensei at Taekwondo make the same kind of expression. The reasons may vary but the result is still the same. An expression with a hint of sadness and disappointment.
"Adrianne has… a bit of a small communication problem."
""YOU DID WHAT NOW?!"" The two eldest de Mer siblings exclaim loudly at my face with their saliva splattering in all directions at Mach speed. A tiny droplet narrowly misses my eyeball and lands on my cheek.
"As I said, I picked up a stick and let the caterpillar-" I get cut off when 'Ria recoils just from my words as if she got punched in the gut. Lukas on the other hand has his arms jittering with their hair standing on its ends.
"Ew ew ew ew ew!"
"Just thinking about it makes me-!" A shiver goes up their spine and both of them take a minute or two to calm themselves down. We're currently at the centre of Lukas' room sitting on the carpet floor. A wooden table is surrounded by us all kinds of educational materials on top of it. Oh and baby Anton is with us too and is sitting on my lap. He looks to be ignoring his older siblings and myself included and is currently immersed in chewing on his tiny fist.
"I...didn't know that you two both have the same kind of fear…" I say while observing their over-the-top reactions with amusement. The baby on my lap clumsily leans to the left when he looks up at me. He coos and gives me a toothless smile with drool dripping from his mouth which I wipe off with his shirt.
"Maybe you won't be like your older siblings, won't you~?" Anton giggles when I poke and tickle his soft tummy and sides.
Lukas looks visibly pale and the hairs on his neck and arms are standing. "A-Anyway, let's please change the subject. If this goes on I'm kicking you two out of my room." 'Ria vigorously nods with agreement looking more or less the same as her brother.
"In any event, thanks for hanging out with Adrianne. Lukas and I barely have time to play with her because of college. Not to mention that we're too exhausted when we arrive home."
Is college that hard? Jeez, maybe I should start preparing too. Haruno seems very relaxed about it and my parents didn't struggle too much in their days. Or maybe their respective courses are much harder - Lukas has taken up marine engineering while 'Ria took agriculture sciences both of which sound very complex and advanced to my novice ears.
I'll no doubt have to follow in my father's footsteps. Come to think of it, I can't recall if it was my father or grandfather who failed medical school and switched courses. I guess that's something I'll stick at the back of my mind.
"She's…quite meek and soft-spoken. A bit apprehensive to me but that's understandable. She doesn't go outside much, doesn't she?" I say carefully and watch my words. I normally dislike talking about topics that are too personal and sensitive. Even I don't ask Haruno what's her deal with her little sister. I'll overstep my bounds and I don't care anyway since it's home of my business.
'Ria and Lukas both nod. They may not show it on their faces but I see the sadness in their eyes.
"She has very early signs of social anxiety. Even I can barely get a word or two from her."
"It also doesn't help that she has a hearing problem in her right ear. Both of her hearing aids are still at the technician's for maintenance." Lukas rests his head on the table and uses his arms as cushions. "I try to interact and talk with her as much as I can but her responses and reactions are always minimal."
'Ria puts her hand on her brother's shoulder in a reassuring gesture. "Hey, come on. Don't be too hard on yourself."
"I ask her teachers how she's doing in school every once in a while. They say that she's always distant and unfocused in class. The teachers are doing all they can to help her. Thankfully her classmates are nice kids who don't mind her silence and play and eat with her regardless." Lukas replies with a muffled voice.
That last part makes me feel a bit envious.
I nod solemnly. I already know about the second part but it's the first time I hear about their little sister having social anxiety. I guess I didn't think too much about the matter and just shrugged it off as shyness. I should have realized sooner since all the signs were right in front of my eyes.
An idea pops into my thoughts, the same thing that Lars and I were talking about some days ago.
"Hey, Lars mentioned something about a trade fair and carnival happening this week. Maybe we can bring Adrianne along with us?"
Not much to say here except that I'm healthy and still alive. Castlevania on Netflix is pretty good, FGO is getting boring and The Brothers Karamazov by Feodor Dostoyevsky is a good read which I highly recommend. Oh and I heard from my friends that The Rings of Power by Amazon is absolute rubbish. I already read Fire and Blood by George RR Martin so I don't plan on watching it. Not after they butchered the GOT series.
I might also move and stay in the USA some time in the future or take up and study Law. Whichever comes first.
Hmm, perhaps I do still have something to say after all.
I tried Genshin and the story is pretty good. You may even say that it inspired me to create and complete a side-project, if you will. If you're interested, check out my stories. It will probably get posted within a day or two.