April 1st - April Fool's Day


I am now walking alone towards that park along the riverside, on the way that I’m already accustomed to.
‘Let’s break up. …I’m sorry. Thank you for everything.’
‘What kind of joke is this? Ah, I see… It’s April Fool’s Day, right?
At her all too sudden words, I thought at first that it must be one of her usual jokes but by her serious look which was different than usual, I realized those were her true feelings.
‘I see…If you say so, then there’s nothing to be done. I understand,' I said and after we agreed to break up, I watched her leaving.
It was on the 1st of April 1999. That day was her 19th birthday.

It happened when there would have been three years since I had started dating Orie.
We were classmates during high school. I was in the baseball club, where she held the position of manager. At first I didn’t like Orie. She had a beautiful appearance but was reticent and not very sociable; furthermore, because she was frequently absent from school, everybody was asking: ‘Howcome she is the manager?’
As for the whole story about how this kind of girl and I started dating, well, one day after school, after I finished to even the sports ground, I went back to the club room to change into my school uniform and there was Orie, sitting on a chair, sewing each player’s number on the back of the uniforms; when she saw me, she exclaimed something in a small voice and, when I saw that her cheeks turned red, I thought: ‘She’s really pretty, isn’t she?’ Since that day on I started liking her to the point I ended up always looking around for her; because I was like that even during practice, I wasn’t able to do simple fly balls and catches anymore, so, as I couldn’t suppress my emotions, I called Orie during the lunch break and confessed my feelings for her.
Orie received my confession with no objection and from that day on we were together; as a result, we used to go together on a different route coming home from school, taking a roundabout way on purpose, then on holidays we used to go together to the amusement park or to the zoo, spending time together like any couple.
During the time until graduation, partly because her behaving with abandon and mostly because of her selfish personality, she used to repeat sobbingly that we should break up, but I’d apologize and we’d be reconciled every time. However, since I also had habits that I couldn’t get rid of, the fight happened during the second semester of the last high school year, after the guidance counseling class, when Orie said: ‘If you go to Tōkyō, then we’re breaking up.’ And, without even hearing to what I had to say, she walked through the corridor briskly. I just said to myself: ‘What’s with her anyway. I have no idea…’ About two days passed without us even talking to each other, but on the evening of the third day I received a call from Orie: “I’m sorry, Fumihiko… It’s just that, if you’ll go to Tōkyō, I won’t be able to see you and I can’t stand the idea…’ she said crying. ‘Come on, it’s going to be all right. I’ll be back here on holidays and you’ll also come to Tōkyō, right?’ I calmed her then we settled to meet the following day at the usual time in the park, so that we could go to school together. Even after I entered the university in Tōkyō and Orie entered the local vocational school, our relationship continued. On Friday evenings I used to take the express at 21 o’clock and go to my home town, then, after spending two days together with Orie, on Sunday evenings I’d return with the high-speed train which left at 17:22, and my life continued following this pattern.
‘I don’t like Tōkyō. It’s crowded and stinking, it doesn’t suit me.’ Under this pretext, Orie didn’t come, not even once, to visit the place where I lived alone.

While thinking about these things, I was staring at the picture displayed on my PC desk, a picture of the two of us together under the cherry tree in the park where we always used to meet, when suddenly the cell phone in my pocket started ringing. When I looked at the number on the display, I had the impression it will vanish in the next second – it was the number of “Aihara Orie”. I pushed the answer button in a rush and when I put the phone at my ear I heard Orie’s voice: ‘Hello, it’s me. Could you tell?’
‘Yes’, I answered vaguely. Then Orie said in her usual tone: ‘We’re not together anymore but… Could we please see each other at least once a year on my birthday? In that park, you know…’
I was now expecting that line of hers: ‘What I said today, did you really take it seriously? It was joke, a joke, today’s April Fool’s Day, isn’t it? You’re always taking it so seriously.’
However, at her totally unexpected words, discouragement and anger mixed within me, giving birth to an odd feeling, so I sighed and said feebly: ‘What for? We’re not together anymore, so there’s no point in seeing each other anymore, right?’
‘Well, wouldn’t it be lovely for us to see each other once a year, just like the Weaver Princess and the Herder in the Tanabata story? After all, I’m Orie and you’re Fumihiko*…’
I sighed once again: ‘Oh, give me a break! You’re talking nonsense as usual and keep playing with other people’s feelings!’ I really wanted it to sound angry, but it ended up sounding like emotional fatigue, when you only get the power to say “Whatever…Do whatever you want, I don’t care...”
‘All right’, she said. ‘Then, next year on the same day in the same place, ok?’ After saying just that, she hung up. I was now listening to the empty tone, then, staring exhausted at the cell phone, I sighed once again.

The first month after we broke up, I wanted to call Orie many times over but, having been rejected by her, I didn’t have the courage to call her now, and whatever I was doing, I was looking at the sky, thinking only about the true meaning of her words. However, while fooling around with my friends at the university, I buried the memories about what Orie had said and everything about Orie as beautiful memories in a hidden corner of my mind, but every time I opened the memory of the cell phone, there was still the name of “Aihara Orie” registered there in red… Somehow or the other, these moments were so painful…

During the time when I was already in the second year, while I was spending my time as usual on the internet, the phone rang and the letters in “Aihara Orie”’s name were floating on the liquid crystal display. I put the phone to my ear and:
“It’s me. Could you tell?’ said the one calling. The voice I had missed so much, but still remembered, was Orie’s.
‘Are you doing all right? How are things going at the university? You’re not skipping classes and just fooling around, are you? You should study properly, you know’, she was talking on and on, saying all this in one breath, and I didn’t know what question to answer first, so I just said: ‘Yeah.’
‘You remember our promise? About tomorrow? You forgot all about it, right?’
At this, in a rush I turned the pages of my calendar which had come to a halt since last October. ‘Oh, yes. Right. Of course I remember. Because I’m coming there tomorrow.’ I said. At this Orie said only: “Ok, then. See you tomorrow’ and hung up the phone in her usual way. When I tried to redial, I could only hear the message of the answering machine. So I said to myself “Man, she really didn’t change at all…” Then, while remembering Orie’s face, which I was already starting to forget, I checked the schedule of the train departures, and, without even realizing it, I was smiling.

The following day I tried some more times to call her but, because I ended up hearing the answering machine every time, I was nearly desperate. “Why is there no connection? Maybe she turned it off. I’ll try asking her when we actually meet.” We hadn’t even agreed on the time of our meeting, so, wearing only the clothes I happened to have on, I took the train at noon, and the moment I got to my hometown, I turned directly to the park. There was no particular change to the town that I hadn’t seen for almost a year but the students wearing the uniform of my high school that sometimes passed me by somehow or other seemed very childish to me, so while thinking strangely about this impression, I continued walking and reached the park in about 10 minutes.
‘Was it always so close?’ I asked myself and sat on a bench near the sand pit, when suddenly my field of vision turned completely dark.
‘Who’s that?’
I seized the hands which obstructed my eyes from seeing and when I turned back, there was the face that I had missed so much.
Orie sat next to me on the bench. ‘It’s been a long time. Have you been well?’ she said, smiling with her whole face, but, since the last time I had seen it, that face looked very thin.
‘Yeah. I’m doing fine. As for you, you’ve become thinner…’
‘Really? I’m so glad’ she said, clapping her hands joyfully, so I followed: ‘How did you do it? You’ve been on a diet or something? Indeed. You really lost weight. But apart from that, you haven’t changed a bit…’ At my last remark, she swelled her cheeks.
‘Because we see each other in such a long time, how about we go to eat something?’ I said while standing up.
‘No. I’m sorry I called you, because I don’t really have time. I’m really sorry. Please forgive me…’
As she said this, I went like: “Are you serious? But why? ...And to think I came here at great pains. How much time do you actually have?’ I asked. ‘Well, about 30 minutes’, she said while looking at the watch on her left hand. I dropped my shoulders in regret, but because she was apologizing too deeply, I said jokingly: ‘Well, we can do nothing about it. Then shall we talk about old times here?’
‘Yes!’ she said, smiling again.
“Oh, man… I’m really no match for her”, I said to myself. While looking back at the memories of the days we had spent together, we laughed for a while, then I went back to the train station, and being swayed by train as I traveled alone, I was watching the landscape of my hometown that I was being leaving behind, when suddenly I remembered: ‘Ah, I forgot to ask about the phone…’ I got out on the deck and tried once again to call, but, as expected, there was no connection: ‘Hm… suspended again’, I thought, so I took out from my bag the book I had started to read, and somehow or the other, while chasing the characters on the page with my eyes, I was really worried about Orie, and I couldn’t restrain a bitter smile.
Back to my apartment, I tried afterwards countless times to call but in the end I wasn’t able to reach her. Having spent such an “April Fool’s Day”, in order for me not to forget about it next time, I turned the pages of the brand new calendar I had bought on the way and marked the 1st of April, then I rearranged the photograph stand that was laying upside down and, while staring at the picture of the two of us, before I knew it, I fell asleep.

Another year passed without any news from Orie. The environment around me being the same as ever, my days were ordinary but, by the time the cherry trees began to bloom, I found myself waiting in my heart for a call from her.
‘It should come about today…’, I said to myself poking the 31st on the calendar, when the cell phone actually did ring with the name of Aihara Orie shining on the display.
‘It’s me. Could you tell?’, said Orie in the same manner that I had heard before.
‘I know. It’s tomorrow, right?’
At my anticipation, Orie replied: ‘That’s right! You remembered well. That’s great!’, just like a child would have said it.
‘Well, after all it is an event that happens once a year. Now, really, is it because you think it’s convenient for me? If you want us to meet, you could also come here, you know.’ At my cynical remark, she said: ‘No, I couldn’t, after all it’s my birthday, right? Oh, speaking of it, I never received a birthday present from you. That’s why, we’ll exchange presents. Let’s make it small, inexpensive gifts, ok? Therefore, stop complaining and come here. Ok?’
With this she touched a painful spot there, so I said just: ‘Ok, ok. I got it, so I’m on my way. After all, I was just thinking about visiting my hometown after such a long time, but more important than that, will you have time tomorrow? Because last year I went there to stay only for about two hours; but tomorrow it’s all right, isn’t it?’
At my question, Orie replied: ‘I’m sorry…Tomorrow again I won’t have much time… But, please come. For us to see each other and talk. Ok?’
When I heard this, anger raised in me suddenly: ‘What’s this? I’m not your servant, you know! You’re always doing things your way, even with the phone. Every time I call I get the answering machine, and you only call when it’s convenient for you, now really, give me a break! Because I’m not coming! Got it?’ With this, all the thoughts that had gathered in me from the beginning came to the surface. For a while there was silence, but then: ‘You’re right… I’m really sorry…’ That’s all she said, then she simply hung up as usual, but I was still so agitated that I threw the photograph stand at the wall and even threw the calendar in the trash, then just stayed in bed out of spite.

The following day, I didn’t go to my hometown in the end. As there was no other call from Orie, I didn’t call her either. ‘Maybe I said too much…’ This thought also crossed my mind but, thinking about it rationally, we weren’t together anymore and, by dragging along the memories of old times, there was no way we could start all over again from scratch. ‘Taking this opportunity, maybe I should change my phone number…’ so I went to the cell phone shop in the neighborhood and asked for a new number.
Of course, I couldn’t be contacted by Orie anymore and in order to meet new people, I took part in joint parties but when we went to karaoke there was this song about cherry flowers and, without realizing it, I remembered Orie, so I could no longer have fun and ended up being considered “melancholic”; when I realized it, I was left all alone.
Even if I changed my phone number, I was disconcerted that I myself hadn’t changed at all; gloomy as I was, I lived gloomy days, and after a while I graduated from the university, but as there was no way any company would hire such a gloomy guy, I ended up returning to my hometown in order to look for a job at the local smaller companies.

The day I was moving out, while staring at the room filled with cardboard, although it had always felt too narrow, it seemed now really wide. Because of the cigarette smoke the color of the ceiling was altered here and there. “Will I have enough money to repair this?” I thought and, as I was checking it, I found a small dent in the wall. After thinking about it for a while, I remembered it all of a sudden. ‘That’s right… from that time…’
It was the scratch from the night when Orie had called, when, driven away by anger, I threw the photograph stand at the wall. That moment, when memories that I thought I had completely forgotten were brought back to life, the cell phone that was lying on top of the cardboard hill started ringing. I picked it up simply. “Hello?” And from the other end I heard a voice saying: ‘It’s me, could you tell?’
Realizing in an instant whose voice it was, I asked: ‘How come you know this number?’
‘Ah, it doesn’t matter. Are we seeing each other tomorrow? I want to see you one last time. Is it all right?’ she said in her usual tone. I started looking around the room for the calendar but when I realized it was already at the bottom of one of the cardboard boxes, I just asked: ‘Could it be that today…?’
‘That’s right. It’s March 31st. And tomorrow is the 1st of April. My birthday!’
I couldn’t understand what was happening and I just stood without saying a word.
‘It will really be the last time. Because we won’t be able to see each other again, I want to see you for one last time. It will be the last birthday present for me. Ok?’ as she said this, her image was floating before me in vague contours, with her hands joined together, watching me intently with upturned eyes.
‘We won’t be able to see each other anymore… Are you leaving the country or something?’ I asked.
‘Yes. Something like that. Then, see you tomorrow in the park. Don’t fail to come, ok?’
Before I got the chance to say “Wait a minute…” she had already hung up.
‘This girl… Even though it’s already late…’
At that moment I was surrounded by a feeling of uneasiness that I had never felt before.

Just as I had done two years earlier, I took the train at midday and when I arrived at the station in my hometown I went straight to that park. The place I hadn’t visited in some years looked the same as always, but for some reason all the high school students that passed by seemed to be more grown up than me.
When I reached the park I sat on the bench and suddenly everything went dark before my eyes; at the same time I felt the familiar perfume that I had missed so much. I seized those hands quickly and turned right away. And there was Orie’s figure standing, looking exactly as she did when I had seen her two years before.
‘What is it? You were about to say “who’s that?”’ she said swelling her cheeks and taking a seat next to me. I immediately asked:
‘So? What’s it all about? Where are you going?’
At this, Orie stood up gently. ‘You see… I wanted to be always together with you.’ She started saying such things with meanings I couldn’t understand.
‘But you were the one who said we should break up, isn’t that right?’
‘That’s right. But I actually wanted to be with you. It’s true.’
‘Then… why?’ I asked.
‘I regretted it but… We simply had to break up. It was that kind of fate. I… ever since I was little, my heart has been weak and, maybe you remember, I often failed to come to school. It’s because I went to the hospital every time. And to think how I hated those examinations…’
At her words, I said: ‘This story…it’s a joke on Fool’s Day, right?’
She glared at me with sad eyes for a moment.
‘It’s true. I also wanted really bad to go to Tōkyō where you were…But I couldn’t get permission to do that… If I had spasms while being with you, that would have meant trouble for you too and…’
By her look I realized it was all true.

‘Why didn’t you tell me earlier about something that important??’ I couldn’t help raising my voice as I stood up.
‘Please don’t be upset… If I had told you about this, you wouldn’t have agreed for us to go anywhere together, right? In front of you I wanted to be a girl like every other…’
I got angry at myself. We were together for such a long time and… I never realized she was ill…
‘It’s not your fault. I’m the only one to blame. Because I knew it all along…that my life would last only some more years. For this reason, it isn’t true that I entered the vocational school after graduation. The first year I used to commute from home to the hospital, but afterwards… I’ve been staying in the hospital all along.’
‘You… then… that time too…’
‘Yes. I begged the doctor and received permission to go out for only one hour’
‘But… How? Since we never settled the time of our meeting…’
‘Oh, that’s simple. From my room I can see the train station. That’s why I was always waiting to see you coming down the stairs of the station.’
‘I see… then the fact that I could never reach by telephone was also…’
‘Yes. It’s because phones are not allowed in the hospital.’
I couldn’t stand it anymore; my eyes were full of tears that I could no longer hold back.
‘You… you should return to the hospital. Come on, I’ll take you there. Let’s go back quickly.’
As I was saying this I got near her but she turned her right hand towards me.
‘No. It’s ok. It’s all right now’ she said shaking her head.
‘WHAT is all right? It’s NOT all right!!’ I told her in a screaming voice. At this she said:
‘I told you it would be the last time, right? This is really the last time… I’m so happy I have met you. I did nothing but upset you all the time… I’m really sorry. We were able to go together to the amusement park and also to the zoo; it’s a pity that we won’t be able to see each other anymore but… I have memories for a lifetime from you. And we have nothing to regret, right? So, please don’t cry.’
‘The last time… It’s not the last time. We can still go to those places. I’ll take you there. It’s a promise! Ok? So please don’t say such things, Orie… ok?
I spread my arms trying to embrace her. However Orie’s body slipped through my arms and because of the tears everything around dissolved like mist.
‘Why?...’
I raised my eyes at her.
‘Thank you from all my heart. I’ll never forget about this, about you, Fumihiko, our memories together. I love you… Fumihiko… good bye…’
Orie vanished. Just like the petals of cherry blossoms scattered by the wind, Orie simply vanished…
I ran as fast as I could and asked about Orie’s room at the information desk in the hospital, then, not being able to stand waiting for the elevator, I climbed the stairs, and when I found the name of Aihara Orie hanging on one of the doors, I opened it recklessly.
With a delicate smile floating on her face, just as if she were sleeping, Orie had died…

A year passed since then. I never told anyone about the strange encounter with Orie. It’s not that I feared they wouldn’t believe me, it’s only that I wanted to keep this memory as mine only, mine and Orie’s. In the end only this mystery remained to last forever.
‘How did she find out about my new phone number?’ I even asked my parents but nobody was able to tell me… Anyway… this is probably the one and only mystery… I’m sure it must have been the present that God gave Orie for her birthday.
‘The miracle on Fool’s Day…’ I whisper to myself. And then:
‘I beg you, let it happen one more time!’ I was praying, not knowing where God could ever be.
I am now walking alone towards that park along the riverside, on the way that I’m already accustomed to.


Notes:

The names of the main characters of this story (Orie and Fumihiko) correspond to the names of the characters in the Tanabata legend – the Weaver Princess (Orihime) and the Herder (Hikoboshi) – who are said to meet once a year on the 7th of July.

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