Aoi Tori
(part 1)

Inspired by the movie Aoi Tori.

. . .

Blossoms were in full bloom. If only it weren't for the windows; it was difficult to enjoy an obscured sight from behind the panes. One could watch them as they rained down from the second floor windows, but it wasn't the least bit equivalent to standing below the intersecting branches and watching the shower of cherry blossom rain. Teachers outside the gate greeting students had disappeared from sight into the shelter of a building. The school's courtyard was now vacant and deserted of all students and faculty alike. Cherry blossoms represent graduation. Soon to be a senior, but what was it but another school year to endure? Screw college. There was always McDonalds.

The clock struck eight. Trivial chat over recent exam scores never seemed to cease; I remembered my own score, and the effort it had taken to be listed as the first in the goddamn list. Why had I taken such strides? Eyes followed Morimoto, our homeroom teacher, as he walked into the room in his daily nonchalant manner. Attendance was taken and there was a pause, a slight interruption in the daily routine.

"It seems she's not here." Before Morimoto could say anything else, the students were already whispering and rumors are already flying around the classroom. Soon they would be throughout the entire school before the day was over; there wouldn't be anyone a soul who hadn't heard of the many variations generated at that very moment.

Rise.

Bow.

Be seated.(1)

It was the last time of the year we'd ever rise and bow for him. Shortly after our spring break, we'd be rising and bowing for another. All a simple transaction from one's hands to those of another. That was the result of my efforts, I concluded, to be sorted into a new class and endure the rest of the year. The nichoku (2) had gathered the attendance and Morimoto left to make his report. Idle chatter ensued.

I wasn't listening as Morimoto lectured and he was displeased. I knew it, but I was trying to enjoy the outdoor scenery; I was pretty displeased myself. Morimoto hated having the window open when cherry blossom were falling, and I usually ignored him, but I wasn't feeling very up for a rant. Maybe I should say instead, Morimoto hated me. He was asking me questions but I was too lazy to give him an answer other than a 'Hn.'

"Hey, bastard. The class does not revolve around you."

I was already fancying a quiet teacher for the following school year, one that would be intimidated by my silence, ignore my presence, and actually shut up. It was too bad that Morimoto wasn't that kind of man. Another week of dealing with this bastard and I'd be free. I was answering anyways, since his outburst was drawing unneeded attention. Eyes were glued on me, and my hands tightened into fists. I hated unnecessary attention.

Someone beat me to it somewhere on the other side of the classroom and I heaved a sigh. It's not like I wasn't listening. I'd heard the question, but simply didn't want to answer. Classmates seemed to have taken my silence for not having heard the teacher or not knowing. I damn well knew the answer.

Morimoto smiled. Of course, it must have been the teacher's pet.

It was then that I saw it. Wet and limping on its way to the main building. There were commotions in the classrooms next door as they caught sight of the same thing and from my view of the window I lifted the frame to gaze down below. Many of my classmates were doing the same. Morimoto was distracted by the noise next door and had gone to rebuke them. No doubt he'd be looking at the same thing soon. Already I could hear him roaring impudently at the other class, ignorant of the current happening.

I was sick of the sight of everyone watching but no one bothering extending a hand to help the poor creature. They were nosing into another's business, yet keeping a far distance, where poison dripped from their lips and disdain and fear lurked in their eyes.

Though, I'm no different, as I too was watching it from afar.

I'd seen that creature before, pitiful quiet thing, always doing its best to keep out of others' way. Doing the best it could to please people with its daily ritual. I'd known it for a long time. Whenever it turned to me with eyes that subtly pleaded for help but with lips that formed words asking whether there was anything it could do for me, I would only joined in like the rest of them, giving her a chore or asking a favor with that same damn smirk on my lips. I'm really no different.

Take this, reader: the image of a thin—too thin—girl hobbling towards the school building and with her dark wet hair plastered to her face, obscuring most of her face from view. Her uniform is heavy on her, darkened with water, and it seems to almost be the source of what is weighinged her down. It's almost as if she's dragging weights behind her as she goes. I can't couldn't see her eyes from the second floor, but I know knew they we're dead. There was's no life behind them. And by the looks of it, it had's been a long time since there ever washad ever been life in those glassy eyes.

You can see what I'm getting to, I suppose.

She'd entered the building and heads had shot back behind window panes. Morimoto wasn't's not back yet; he and some of the other faculty members must have had descended to pay her a visit. Interrogate her probably, not that they'd get anything out of it. I knew her. And she'd rather hang herself than give put the blame on anyone other than herself.

So gullible a person was she;, she was completely susceptible to being used.

"Hey, buy me a melon bread, okay? The kinds I like."

"It's my turn to clean the board today, but I have something to do…. Can you do it for me?"

Cliché. It was something you watched saw in movies and read in comics. When it happens, it doesn't feel like something cliché, buta a moment of thought after sitting back and taking the time to think it over, one realizes just how cliché that moment was and had been. But what exactly defines cliché? It was but things of widespread occurrences, which termed it 'cliché'. Of course, this treatment was but of the most common ways of bullying in student life. Cliché student life, that is.

Morimoto had returned to the classroom, finally remembered what he's paid forto do, I supposed. She came from behind him, following suite. The classroom was hushed as she walked in and took her seat behind me. As she'd neared me, I'd felt the coldest of chills. It was hardly the temperature, as I sat in one of the seats that had the chance opportunity of basking in warm sunlight. I know now that it 's was guilt. Yet at that time, I recognized and refused to acknowledge that feeling of guilt.

Snickers sounded from somewhere in the back row and I turned around to silence them with the deadliest glare I could muster. They were delinquents who sat in the back, lurked around the school and tried to stir up fights. Before one of them, Karin, she sat quietly, her head down and wet hair clinging to a dry and new set of the girls' uniform. She must have gotten it from the faculty, but it was two sizes too large for her. The skirt reached up to her ankles, unlike the usual skirting around the knees. Her eyes were cast down, as if she was a repenting criminal. Turn around, a voice in my mind spoke; she doesn't want to see you. I did, with heavy regret.

"Uchiha. If you'll will finally attend class now…."

The clock struck twelve and lunchtime came around the corner with an ominous sense of dread; I awaited the oncoming onslaught.

. . .

Students began to gather in groups and some left the classroom, probably to eat on the roof or other places around the school. Most stayed in the classroom and took their boxed lunches out where they were, friends by the many.

Daily routine as it was, she was immediately encircled by a group of approximately ten—half of the class. Her eyes were still downcast and she pulled out her bag, emptying it of two-thirds of the content. She pulled out a variety of bread and boxed meals while hands reached out to snag their claim.

"D-did I get it right, Yamanaka-san?"

"Yeah, that's right. Thanks so much, Hyuu-chan!"

This was said with a terrible smile towards her direction. The poor girl had missed it, with her eyes downcast like that. She hadn't seen the terrible malice hidden behind the plastic smile. Of course she didn't. She never did. Or at least, she never seemed to.

As I continued to glower at the crowd, I did my best to ignore another group I knew wouldn't give up in their attempts to—

"Want to eat lunch with us, Uchiha-kun?"

There—a horde of hormonal girls who amassed at my table and wouldn't leave me alone. I'd denied them before, and it would never hurt to deny them again.

"No."

"Aww, why not?" Yamanaka Ino cooed. I tried my best to suppress my disgust and maintain a poker face. She leaned lower, hands behind her back, as if I didn't know what it was for. I clenched my hand into a fist as her cleavage came into view. The horde misread my reaction and began to giggle and squirm amongst one another.

"Why? I'm not under the impression that I was obliged to."

"Really…," she cooed/whined, her hand reaching out. I hardly needed to shrink back against my chair; a chair had scooted back behind my seat and Yamanaka's hand was immediately stopped by that girl's. Her downcast gaze permitted her fringe to veil her eyes from sight.

"U-Uchiha-kun doesn't want to. P-please leave him be." Her lips were trembling as she spoke, causing her to stutter. But her stutter wasn't because of infatuation over me, but of fear, of not only everyone else in the room, but me. She especially feared me. And it wasn't because I was some big bad wolf.

"Don't touch me!"

Yamanaka's screech was as clear and piercing. Her eyes flamed as she retaliated immediately, slapping the girl's hand away from her own. "'Doesn't want to, is it? You're not Uchiha-kun! So don't talk so familiarly as if you're close to him!"

She took one look at me and she blushed, deciding to change her approach. "I-I didn't mean that, Hyuu-chan. But I'd really appreciate it if you didn't nose into people's business without knowing anything."

Hypocrites. All of them.

"I can't eat with a crowd around me," I declared and excused myself. I'd barely taken a step outside of the classroom before I deeply regretted my action. If I left, Yamanaka would take the chance to assault her. I nearly halted, wanting to turn around and take my seat again. Turn back, a voice in my mind urged, but pride's grasp on me was strong. I continued to walk, with my head high. I couldn't turn around now when I'd decided to leave. I couldn't go back on my words.

I was truly the worst. For the sake of pride, I'd left the room, leaving her defenseless and vulnerable. I left, knowing she would be targeted as soon as I was out of sight and hearing range.

And what's worse is that it wouldn't just be Yamanaka, but the by the entire class as well.

It was no wonder she feared me the most.

. . .

We're a cruel class, to be taking out all our stress and anger upon this poor girl who had done nothing to deserve this treatment. Most of us didn't believe that we were bullying her, but after thinking about it, we realized that we were. Would simple dislike consider as bullying? Was the action of disliking her wrong? What exactly defined bullying?

"D-Did I get it right, Uchiha-kun? I-I tried my best to find it."

Stop. I don't want to hear these words from you.

It wasn't a nightmare, because it was only just afterschool and the bell had just rung. The classroom was deserted and I too, had left it for my club. I'd come back to get something I'd left in my desk and reintroduced myself into the hall of classrooms filled with a warm orange glow. The room was warm and I had slid open the door.

And I was immediately greeted by her silent presence. The wallflower that she was.

Only that she wasn't talking to me. She was staring at the blackboard, unmoving, still in her seat, as if she'd never heard the bell ring and never seen the students dash out of the classroom, abandoning her there as I'd abandoned here at lunch.

But it was an eerie silence.

"Hyuuga-san."

She didn't move as I neared her and greeted her. My desk was before hers and it felt uncomfortable to be under her gaze. I didn't look at her the whole time since I'd entered the classroom, ashamed of what I'd done to her. I'd left her alone to fend for herself in a room of enemies and hadn't looked back to even spare her a glance. She had all the right to blame me and to hate me, and I wouldn't object. I would hate the person too, if I had been left that way.

But I knew that she wouldn't. She was too kind. Wasn't she?

"Look," I began, turning around slowly to face her. "I know what I did today was wrong, that I was cruel to you."

And I was cut off by my own terror at the sight of her, or rather, what was below her endlessly gazing, hollow eyes.

I was screaming, so unlike my usual self, screaming for the world to hear.

It was a scream of horror, of rage—and of regret.

. . .

"It's okay, Uchiha-kun. It had nothing to do with you," words were whispered beside my ear and hands were stroking my back in vain in attempt to sooth my spiking terror. I wasn't in the classroom anymore, but in the courtyard, feeling beside myself. There was a great ruckus and students who were at their clubs had rushed out to see what all the commotion was about and why the entire faculty had rushed out to greet the ambulance and stretcher.

I knew better. They didn't know how horrible our class had been. How we had tormented her throughout the year. And now, she wouldn't be with us for the graduation day.

I made my way away from the crowd and sought the parking spot for bikes.

"What are you doing, Uchiha-kun? Don't blame yourself for this."

I didn't answer. My hands were shaking as I unlocked my bike and pulled it away from the rail.

"Come now, we'll take you home when you're feeling stable."

"I'm very calm, ma'am."

I fled from the scene. Fled from the people who pretended to understand our complex feelings. From the people who claimed to guarantee our safety. The bitches and bastards who knew nothing of the reason to Hyuuga's attempted suicide.

Not that I knew myself. I took a detour from my usual route as thoughts mixed around my confused state. The lady hadn't chased me after I'd left school property, but I was sure she'd be back tomorrow, with a TV crew as they reported and misunderstood the entire incident. Or perhaps Hyuuga had written a suicide letter explaining it all in layman terms. Not that she would do such a thing. I—we knew her to this extent for the very least.

Wrong turn. I turned around, nearly hitting a mother and her son as they crossed the street hand in hand. As I skimmed their feet, I could hear her suddenly quickened breath and her son's gasp as they flinched at my closeness. I didn't hear the words she was shouting as I continued down my path. Did Hyuuga feel the same way? Cornered with accelerating breathing as she brought the blade down upon her wrist? I flinched at the image of it and my bike wavered. What was originally a waver turned into complete unsteadiness and I felt the bike tumble off of the road and down onto the grassy slope of the riverbank.

I fell on my back onto the green and let my bike clatter downhill for the while.

What was the point of it all? I'm sure that it's a question that everyone has asked themselves before. I can't say that Hyuuga's attempt at suicide was a large blow to my life, but the fact that she tried and the whole aftermath would. Life is so often taken for granted and we don't often take the chance to enjoy what we have. How many people walk down a street, no matter how busy they are, to take a moment off to admire the whole natural system around them? The shadows the trees cast, how the trees seem to breathe, the delicacy of a sprout, oxygen and carbon dioxide that is pumped in and out of our bloodstream, and the simple idea of existence and life? It's only when we feel a closeness to death that we feel an equivocal closeness to life.

Hyuuga's action broke it all. I've always considered suicide to be something that would never happen within my lifetime. Something that would stay far from my life. It was a selfish thing, something that once tried, would tear down oneself for the rest of one's life. I'd never tried to cut the string that held me to life, and so suddenly was exposed to such an incident. It was all too sudden…and yet all expected. Who wouldn't expect Hyuuga to attempt suicide after her months of torment? Torment that she apparently tried to hide from everyone and even herself. Or maybe she was trying to express it, but couldn't find a way to ask for help.

It wasn't that we had been stressed either. It wasn't that we were trying to murder helplessness.

I rode past her family store on my way home. The lights were on.

. . .

Her desk disappeared from the classroom, having been moved into the storage room. How could we face the fact that our actions had nearly killed one of our fellow students?

Rise.

Bow.

Be seated.

It occurred to me as I stole a glance around the room that everyone wanted to forget that it had ever happened. To put it all behind us. Her attempt had taken us by surprise, lifted us into the air, shook us, and then thrown us back onto the ground to think it all over. And we were past all four steps, only to settle for the fifth—realization.

"U-Uchiha-kun." I looked up from my seat to see the substitute teacher now looking down upon me with his minister-like face. His eyes were so morose and looked as if he was picked up from a funeral. Of course, not Hyuuga's. Not that she had one. She'd been brutally seized from her desired death and thrown back into life. That time when I'd discovered her and screamed, her eyes had taken focus away from the blackboard and laid them upon me. I couldn't forget what she'd barely managed to whisper as I had shaken her from Death's door. I too, wanted to forget like my fellow classmates.

"W-Where is…H-Hyuuga-san's desk?"

The entire class was still.

We could hear nothing other than our stilled breathing, the light feathery thumping in our chests that kept us alive.

"Why?" My voice sounded loud in my ears. It was a harsh and grating sound produced from my dry throat.

He said nothing, but turned to look at the student who now sat behind me. She stiffened, but continued to stare at her desk surface. Now that the silence was broken, someone coughed from the other side of the room and she shrank slightly in her seat, raising her eyes to meet the substitute.

"I don't know." She didn't, did she now?

"Can the t-two nichoku please b-bring the desk back?"

And out the nichoku went from our room, slowly, finding the task all too strange and themselves not wanting to comply. We were silent when they left but our ears throbbed with the sole sound in the room—the clock's ticking. They returned shortly with the desk and chair in their arms which they lugged across the room again until they came to a stop beside me.

The noise of desks and chairs scooting against the floor sounded. Hyuuga's desk was restored to its rightful place behind me. My breath came out ragged, though it escaped notice. He stood beside me, but his eyes were upon the desk with her name stamped upon it.

"G-Good morning, Hyuuga-san."

We froze, eyes on our desk and chills rippling down our spine.

. . .

"What's that substitute teacher's name again?"

"Sarutobi Asuma, I think."

"He stammers."

"Yeah."

"Pfft. 'T-Take y-your s-seat, c-class.'"

"He doesn't stammer that much," I commented, as I reclined into a chair and sipped the soda. Uzumaki Naruto looked at me. His words hadn't been humorous, but out of irritation and perhaps distaste. Never hatred. Uzumaki Naruto could not hate. He couldn't bring himself to. Yet none of us had appreciated Sarutobi's reminder of our crime. We wanted to forget it, to forget that it had ever happened. We wanted to forget our actions. But most of all, we wanted to forget that she ever existed.

A suicide letter had indeed been found, which reasoned her attempt, but also listed three names—names of the people she considered to be at fault. It was published on our school newspaper a while ago, the day after her attempt, but the names were censored out. Two people had been taken to the office, and we knew who they were, but who was the third? It left us hanging. Quiet as we were in class, eyes of accusation burned into the backs of classmates other students felt to be responsible. No one looked at me or was I taken to the office for questioning, but I wished that my name was the third one that she'd mentioned. I wished that I was taken for interrogation. I wished that I was the one to blame.

"Hey Sasuke, do you think we were really driving her insane? To the point that she would want to kill herself?"

"Are you really asking me this? What other factors would have caused her to do such a thing?"

"I didn't mean that. I meant: were we really bullying her? Do you think we were?"

"I don't know." And after a stretch of silence, "I wish I was the third person."

"I know who it is. My mom got the info from some friends in the PTA. They saw the uncensored version."

He lifted his drink and took a sip.

"It wrote: 'and everyone else'."

. . .

A box was installed on the bulletin board, a blue bird painted on it. The announcements introduced it to us, requesting that were we to feel that we needed advice or wanted to ask questions, we could write it on a small sheet of paper and throw it into the box. The box would then be emptied by the end of the day during a class meeting and the questions would be answered by the teachers present at the meeting.

Ridiculous.

It had two flaws.

Expectation that we would involve them in our problems, that we would find people who couldn't even save Hyuuga from our class.

Expectation that they could answer our problems, finding solutions to problems that they were unfamiliar with.

It was all a matter of trust. And it was something the school had lost ever since that incident.

Sarutobi too, was complained to because of his daily morning routine. He would enter the classroom, take attendance, walk over to Hyuuga's seat, and greet her nonexistence.

"Good morning, Hyuuga-san."

Parents who both student and parents wanted to forget complained to the school admin, demanding Sarutobi's removal. They protested the same things we protested, the reminder of Hyuuga's attempted suicide. 'Was he really trying to accuse the class as murderers,' they constantly asked. He never answered them.

. . .

"This is the first meeting."

Morino Ibiki, a neighboring homeroom teacher stood erect at the blackboard. We were in another classroom on another floor, and desks were gathered into a circle in which we sat facing one another. Our two nichoku of the day sat before the blackboard and facing us, Aoi Tori (3) (as we'd come to name the box), between them on the table.

"Please empty the box."

The nichoku stood up and unlocked the back of the box. The two proceeded to pull out crumpled sheets and lay them on the table. Rather than questions, the box had been filled with street advertisements, tissues, and other pieces of trash. There was only one folded sheet of paper found that truly dictated a question, though I suppose the whole composite of trash could metaphorically ask one too. Was Aoi Tori truly efficient as it was claimed to be?

Morino said nothing at the sight of trash, but when the nichoku pulled out the folded sheet, he demanded, "Read it out loud."

One of the nichoku, Nara Shikamaru, read hesitantly, "What is Aoi Tori?"

Morino took a long look at the uncomfortable Nara and extended a hand for the sheet. Upon reading it personally, he folded it back into its original state and shifted his position, glaring at us.

"Aoi Tori is here for you to seek advice from us and ask questions. Consider it as a counseling method."

There were no more questions found in the box. It was locked up again.

"You are dismissed."

. . .

I rode past the Hyuuga family store again. This time, lights were off and a rental notice was taped onto the door. I added the phone number it listed onto my cellphone, but didn't call.