Dreaming of Akina

Chapter One

At first Bunta's brain seemed very reluctant to process the news Nori-chan had just given him, as if it were trying to somehow convince him that all of that was just a very serious misunderstanding or some sort of sick joke the old woman was pulling on him; however, seeing Nori-chan's very worried expression made him realise that she was definitely not kidding him.

'Bunta,' he heard her say.

'No,' he whispered.

'Bunta, sweetheart,' she tried again, this time moving the hand which cupped his cheek to his shoulder.

'NO!' he exclaimed, getting up so suddenly that it gave the poor Nori-chan quite a fright.

'I'm so sorry,' the old woman said as she too got up from the sofa, looking very much like she didn't really know what to do nor say, 'I…'

'Why?' he asked her, knowing perfectly well that it was a completely illogical question for which no one could possibly have a straight answer, 'why them?' he repeated feeling and sounding more and more desperate.

'I don't know honey,' she replied, 'I'm so sorry,' she repeated and, at this point, a couple of tears started rolling down her cheeks, 'sweetheart…'

Bunta interrupted her making a faint gesture with his hand for he was having more than enough trouble trying to cope with his own thoughts and feelings to be able to deal with anything or anyone else.

His parents were dead.

'I need to get out of here,' he muttered almost incomprehensibly.

Then, without exchanging a single glance with the old woman, Bunta gave his back to her and, slowly at first, more quickly later, he stepped out of his home and started running aimlessly along the streets which had seen him grow up only stopping when he found himself in the pitch where, up to just a few days before, he'd played baseball with his friends.

Seeing that the pitch was currently occupied by a few younger teenagers, a rather normal thing considering that it was Friday afternoon, Bunta sought refuge underneath the small grandstand where he sat down on the ground resting his back and head against a wooden pole while he tried to catch his breath.

Only then he covered his face with two very shaky hands, noticing for the first time that he was crying: that shocked him almost as much as learning about his parents' death for he simply could not remember the last time he'd cried.

Getting even more upset because of something as stupid as that and, since he has someplace where no one could possibly see him, he decided to allow himself to cry as much as he needed to, hoping against hope that that would made him feel somewhat better.

Unfortunately for him, by the time he finally ran out of tears, instead of feeling better, he just had a huge headache, very sore eyes and he was getting rather cold, despite the fact that they were in the middle of July but, yet again, maybe it was the ice which seemed to have covered his heart that made him feel that way.

He didn't know. He no longer knew anything anymore.

At long last and with a tired sigh, he pushed himself back up and started making his way back home where he found Nori-chan right where he'd left her.

'Oh Bunta,' Nori-chan exclaimed getting up from the sofa as she saw him re-entering the living room, 'you've been gone for hours!'

'I'm sorry,' Bunta muttered.

'It's alright,' she said using a much more moderate tone of voice, 'you must be hungry,' she then added.

'Not really,' Bunta replied.

'Well,' the old lady said, 'I think that you need to try and eat something, okay?'

'But,'

'Please, do it for old Nori-chan, eh?' she insisted.

'Alright,' he finally gave in for he really didn't feel like arguing against the old woman, also because he knew from first hand experience that doing so was pretty much hopeless. Because of that, he forced himself to follow her to the kitchen where he usually had his meals with his parents.

His parents.

Just thinking about what had just happened to them made Bunta want to start crying again. Unfortunately for him, he was no longer alone and he definitely didn't want for Nori-chan to know that he'd been doing a lot of that in the past few hours so, fighting with himself, he trained his features in what he hoped it was an expressionless face.

'Here,' she said handing him a wet piece of white cloth as he sat down at the small kitchen table.

'What am I supposed to do with that?' he asked her feeling suddenly confused.

'It'll remove the puffiness from your eyes,' she replied pointing at her own, small brown eyes.

Then, leaving the cloth on top of the table, the old woman started busying herself preparing something to eat for Bunta. So much for not wanting Nori-chan to see that he'd cried, Bunta thought disconsolately as he applied the cloth onto his face, finding its coolness to be extremely soothing.

A few minutes later, while he tried to force down his throat some of the food she had cooked for him, Nori-chan said:

'I don't think it's good for you to be alone, why don't you come to my house?'

'No thanks,' Bunta replied between one mouthful and another, 'I'll be fine.'

'Are you sure?' Nori-chan asked him with a very worried frown on her already heavily lined face.

'Yeah,' Bunta half-muttered for he really wanted her to leave him alone. He felt pretty horrible about that too because he knew that the old lady had nothing else but the best intentions but he desperately needed to be alone.

'Alright,' she finally gave in, 'if you need anything or if you want me to call any of your parents' friends.'

'I know: you're just next door,' Bunta said, 'thanks Nori-chan.'

'Don't mention it,' the old woman said putting a hand on top of Bunta's head, 'I'm,' she interrupted herself clearly having problems finding the right words then, she finally settled for saying, 'I'll be back tomorrow morning to start thinking of how are we going to…'

'Organise the funeral, I know,' he brought himself to say.

'Yes,' she replied and, with that, she looked at him for a short while before finally walking out of the kitchen.

As soon as Bunta heard the front door being shut, he stopped forcing himself to eat since, in any case, everything just seemed to taste like either cardboard or chalk.

Getting up from the table, he first went to back to the living room and tried to watch some TV, deciding after just a few minutes that none of the programmes which were being shown were distracting him enough from the pain which kept pulsating somewhere near his heart.

He then walked upstairs to his bedroom where he spent a few more minutes laying on his bed, trying to see if he was lucky enough to fall asleep hoping he'd manage to persuade himself that he'd wake up in the morning to find that the whole afternoon had just been a horrible nightmare.

Ultimately, and since that wasn't working either, he pushed himself up from his bed and made his way downstairs where he walked purposefully towards the small table in the hall where he knew his father kept the keys of his beloved Toyota.

'If this doesn't do it,' Bunta whispered to himself, 'I don't know what will.'

Putting on his shoes, he walked outside to the small covered space where his father kept his car and, unlocking the driver side's door, he climbed into it enjoying for a brief instant the joy of being behind the steering wheel of such a great car.

He was already feeling slightly less miserable.

Turning the car's engine on, he depressed the clutch and inserted the first gear, releasing the handbrake then, balancing both accelerator and clutch, he made the car roll forwards and out of the short driveway and not really knowing where he wanted to go, he decided to make it out of the quiet, residential district where he lived and onto one of the main roads.

Soon, and even before he had the time to make up his mind, he found himself driving subconsciously towards the old industrial area near the port which was infamous for the illegal street races that the local teams organised there.

He had just entered the very wide lanes which separated the ancient looking factories when he started seeing a few cars that clearly belonged to one street racing team or another and it wasn't too long after that when he found himself forced to stop the Toyota by a few people who were preparing the road for what presumably was going to be the first race of the evening.

'Hey kid,' a man in his thirties said after he made Bunta roll his window down, 'are you lost?'

'Nope,' Bunta replied with as much nonchalance as possible.

'Don't tell me you're here to race?' the man asked him raising his eyebrows in disbelief and that, for some reason, seemed to give Bunta an idea.

'What if I am?' he asked him back.

'Hey guys,' the man then said, obviously speaking to his mates, 'there's a kid here who wants to race!'

Bunta swallowed nervously all the while trying to look as serious as possible, hoping that he would appear a lot older than his eighteen years of age.

'What's your name?' someone else asked him, another guy who seemed to be a friend of the first one and who was dressed a bit more elegantly than his mate.

'Fujiwara Bunta,' he replied.

'Alright, Bunta,' the guy said, keeping a rather friendly tone of voice, 'isn't it kind of late for a kid like you to be up and about? What are your parents going to say if they…'

'My parents are dead,' Bunta interrupted him and that made everyone there stare at him with such stunned expression on their faces that it made Bunta almost want to burst out laughing.

'Ah,' the guy gasped, 'I see.'

'Do you?' Bunta asked him dryly.

'Er…'

'Look,' Bunta said, 'I didn't come here to cause any trouble, I just wanted to…'

'I'll race you,' the guy who'd spoken first said all of a sudden.

'What?' the other one said, 'come on Takao, he's just a kid,'

'Yoshiki-san,' Takao interrupted him, 'he's come all the way here, why not humour him?'

Bunta observed as the two guys looked at one another for a few instants before the guy called Yoshiki sighed in resignation, seeming as though as he was giving in.

'Alright, do whatever you want,' Yoshiki said to Takao then, looking at Bunta, he added, 'that car of yours is a beautiful piece of machinery, I hope you know what you're doing,'

'I am,' Bunta replied feeling almost happy that, at long last, he'd found something which could keep him distracted enough so forget, at least temporarily, about everything that had happened to him in the past six hours or so.

'Wait here while I bring my car,' Takao said to him, 'meanwhile, Yoshiki-san, why don't you explain the rules to him?'

Yoshiki nodded to him and, while Takao walked away from them followed by two skimpily dressed girls, he explained to Bunta that, from there, they could have to follow a delimited course which ran around some of the abandoned factories and which ended right where they were.

'Do you want to take a couple of laps around it, just to get some practice?' Yoshiki asked him.

'Nope,' Bunta said for, in all honesty, he couldn't wait to start the race.

'You do know that, theoretically speaking, Takao could claim your car if he wins, don't you?'

'Yep,' Bunta replied.

'Well, don't worry about that,' Yoshiki said, 'since it's your first race and I'm his team leader, I won't allow him to do that.'

'Who said it's my first race?' Bunta asked him challengingly.

'Isn't it?' Yoshiki asked him back with a knowing look which made Bunta kind of wish he hadn't been quite so brash, 'I thought so,' the older guy added with a smirk seeing that Bunta wasn't contradicting him, 'like I said: I won't apply the usual rules so, try not to crash this beauty, alright?'

'Fine,' Bunta said and then, something made him add, 'thanks.'

'You're welcome,' Yoshiki replied before he walked back to the large group of people who, Bunta noticed, seemed to almost venerate him.

He hadn't even had the time to consider how very cool that was when he heard the beautiful roaring sound of a finely tuned rotary engine and, turning round on his seat, Bunta saw that Takao's ride was a dark gold Mazda RX-2 with twin white stripes running along both of its sides.

'Wow,' he gasped almost inaudibly getting more and more excited about this race.

Soon enough, Bunta saw one of the girls who had been with Takao walking in front of both his Toyota and Takao's Mazda, getting ready to do the countdown and managing to distract him so much with her almost non existent skirt that, by the time she shouted 'GO!', Bunta had a bit of a problem finding the car's shifter.

Predictably enough, Takao overtook him rather easily but, again, he probably was a regular around here so it wasn't so surprising for Bunta to find himself outclassed by the Mazda's driver however, and as he started feeling more and more comfortable with the situation, he also started getting faster and faster.

They had gone through quite a few of the ninety degree corners which formed the street circuit when Bunta finally managed to catch up with the RX-2, increasing his 2000GT's speed so that he could glue the car's front to the Mazda's rear bumper.

Only then, as they prepared themselves to turn around yet another corner, Bunta decided to make his first attempt at trying to overtake Takao.

He, of course, failed but getting so close to the Mazda made him realise what Takao's weak point seemed to be, getting confirmation of his theory only three corners later as he saw that the older guy kept making the same mistake in every single one of them.

'Alright,' Bunta said, 'let's do this.'

After another long and straight lane, Bunta saw another sharp corner coming up and, just before Takao had the time to close the gap he consistently left on the inside of it, the teenager stuck the front of his Toyota in that impossibly narrow space, flooring the accelerator so his car would be level with that of Takao.

If he had only realised how stupidly close to the wall of the nearby building he really was, Bunta would have surely freaked out and crashed however, he could only see one thing: the finish line just a few hundred meters ahead of him.

For this reason only, he managed to clear the corner an instant before Takao did, shocking the older man so much in the process that, by the time he realised what was going on, Bunta was already ahead of him.

'What in the heck happened?' a very much stunned Yoshiki asked Takao as the poor guy was climbing out of his Mazda.

'I don't know: that kid's totally crazy,' Takao complained pointing at Bunta who sat very still inside of his Toyota fearing that if he got out of it, they would beat the crap out of him.

'Hey,' Yoshiki said while he made his way to him, 'that was a great manoeuvre.'

'Thanks, I guess,' Bunta replied.

'You said your name was Bunta, right?' Yoshiki asked him.

'Yeah,' Bunta replied.

'Well, Bunta,' Yoshiki started, 'it seems like you've won this race. Maybe you'd like to join us more often.'

'If you think so, maybe I will,' Bunta said, trying to sound as unconcerned as possible, even if he was feeling rather excited about the prospect of making this some sort of weekly recurrence.

'You better,' Yoshiki said, 'I want to see if this was just luck or if you've got some real talent.'

Bunta looked at him not really knowing whether he should feel honoured or angry, deciding to settle for the first since it felt rather good having such an obviously accomplished street racer saying something as nice as that to him.

'I'll come back as soon as I can,' Bunta finally said, feeling very happy that he had just found something he could look forward to.

'We'll be waiting for you,' Yoshiki replied.

'Yeah,' Takao added, 'you owe me a re-match.'

Bunta nodded to that and then, inserting the first gear, he started driving away from there. Only when he started getting closer to where he lived he allowed himself to remember that he'd just lost his parents and that crushed the very little optimism the unexpected victory had managed to instil in himself.

'Dad,' he muttered as he tightened the grasp on the steering wheel: he'd just won his first race and he no longer had his father to share the news with. Bunta felt as a brand new batch of tears escaped his control and once again, he found himself crying.

A week later, with the house still stinking of incense they had burnt during his parents' funeral, Bunta heard someone ringing the doorbell and, thinking that his old neighbour was, once again, coming into his house to make sure he ate something that day too, Bunta went downstairs so he could let her in.

There, he did find Nori-chan but, this time, she wasn't on her own. With her, there were two middle aged men dressed with dark suits and carrying leather briefcases with them.

'Sweetheart,' Nori-chan said, 'these gentlemen are here to read your parents' will.'

'Their what?' Bunta asked her with a confused expression on his face.

'May we come in?' one of the men asked instead of replying to his question.

'S-sure,' Bunta stammered as he stepped out of the way so that the three older people could enter his home then, walking into the living room, he signalled for the two men to sit on the couch as he took a seat on one of the chairs while Nori-chan decided to remain standing up.

'I could make some tea,' the old lady suggested.

'I'm fine, thanks,' Bunta said as the two men shook their heads briefly, declining her offer too.

'Now,' one of the men said, 'I'd like to begin by saying that we're horribly saddened by your loss.'

'Yes,' his colleague added.

'However, we need to let you know what your parents wanted for you in the event of their death,' the first one carried on then, taking an envelope out of his briefcase, the man opened it pulling out a sheet of white paper with some sort of official looking stamp on it, handing it then to Bunta who took it from him with a slightly shaky hand.

Bunta then spent a few minutes trying to understand the contents of the letter, finally giving up at the fourth paragraph.

'What's the meaning of all of this?' he asked them.

'Essentially,' the second of the men said, 'your parents arranged it so that, if anything were to happen to them, you would go and live with your uncle.'

'My what?' Bunta asked them now getting up from his chair, 'I don't have any uncles.'

'Yes you do,' the first man countered, 'you probably don't know about him since it seems like he and your father stopped speaking to each other even before you were born but, your father had an older brother who is currently living in a town in the Gunma prefecture called Shibukawa.'

'And that's where your parents wanted you to go,' the other man added making Bunta feel like his whole world was crashing onto him all over again.

To be continued…