Napahinto ako sa pintuan nang maabutan ko sina Akira at Mayu sa office ni Hideo. They greeted me with smiles on their faces.
“Bakit nakatayo ka lang d’yan, Michiko?” asked Akira. “Tara na rito.”
Ngayon ko lang na-realize na two months na ang nakakalipas noong huli kaming nagkasama-sama. It had been two months, too, since Akemi and Mitsuo died.
Agad naman akong umupo sa tabi ni Akira. Michiko sat right across us while Hideo was sitting behind his desk. Sabi niya ay may ibibigay siyang mission kaya excited akong pumunta pero hindi ko akalaing nandito rin silang dalawa.
“Are you sure you’re okay staying in that cabin?” tanong ni Mayu habang nakatingin sa hologram sa harapan niya. She was busy with the modifications of some of the devices they were building.
“Oo nga. May bahay ka naman sa village,” added Akira. “Ang layu-layo mo tuloy.”
I forced a laugh. “Well, training ground ko na rin iyon kaya mas efficient kung doon na lang ako titira.”
“Feeling ko ang dami nang alikabok at dumi ng bahay mo sa village,” Akira grimaced. “Doon ka na kasi para pwede kong ipaalaga si Vivien sa’yo anytime!”
“Excuse me, hindi babysitter ang role ko rito, ha!”
Mayu chuckled at my remark while her eyes were still focused on the hologram. Hideo cleared his throat and we all looked at him.
“Ikaw rin,” dagdag ko. “Alam n’yo minsan feeling ko ako ang magulang ng mga anak n’yo. Stop making me their babysitters!”
Akira laughed at me. “Ayaw mo no’n, parang training na rin kapag nagkapamilya ka.”
I rolled my eyes at her and groaned. “No thanks. Pagod na ako sa inyo pa lang.”
Our meeting started after that but my mind was elsewhere. Bago ako pumunta rito ay kapapalit ko lang ng benda ng lalaking ‘yon. I hope he wasn’t “training” again because his wounds wouldn’t heal if he couldn’t even stay still.
Napatingin naman ako kay Akira. She looked a lot better now. That one-month rest really helped her recover. Hindi na siya ganoon kakulit at carefree kumapara dati pero mas ayos na ito. I didn’t want to see her devastated anymore.
Meanwhile, Mayu was doing well. She was finally appointed as the head of the Technology Department three weeks ago. Her first project was to study the hallway that somehow became a “dormant” state of Black Dimension, though she wasn’t sure if it was, indeed, dormant.
“What’s the status of that?” tanong ni Hideo.
“I’m still not sure about the long-term effects, if there are any, but it seems like the current dormancy was a result of . . . someone’s power. We can’t risk any of the researchers to enter it completely. Baka kasi biglang ma-trigger at maging active ulit. We can test it but Sir Kyo—”
Napatigil si Mayu. The atmosphere abruptly went down upon hearing his name.
Two weeks ago, napag-alaman namin na wala na sa campus sina Sir Kyo at Sir Tora. According to Hideo, there was a council meeting involving all the administrative divisions that day. He didn’t tell us what had transpired but based on the things he said, it seemed like Sir Kyo and Sir Tora shouldered all the blame so that Sir Hideyoshi could still have the power over the council.
Sir Kyo said he could have done better. He could have saved both Akemi and Mitsuo. Ganoon din si Sir Tora. He said he felt weak and powerless after a student, Mitsuo, died in front of him. Hindi namin alam kung nasaan na sila. Tanging si Sir Hideyoshi lang ang makapagsasabi.
For sure, pinag-usapan si Rainie.
I let out a sigh. Tuwing naririnig ko ang pangalan niya, hindi ko maiwasang hindi malungkot. Akemi only had the chance to name her after barely escaping from their base. She was supposed to be the source of happiness of Akemi and Hideo, yet she had become the catalyst of everything.
I’m sure Hideo misses her. He wanted to be with her but he couldn’t. Hindi ko alam kung ano ang naging desisyon ng council tungkol sa anak nila pero mukhang wala silang balak hanapin o pabalikin siya . . . for now.
“I could be the test subject,” Hideo said, breaking the silence.
“No,” sabay-sabay naming sagot kaya nagkatinginan kami.
“No, Hideo,” Mayu replied. “You can’t.”
“Ako na lang,” sabi ko. “I want to participate in that project. Besides, maybe that could make me stronger.”
“But it’s dangerous, Michiko,” Mayu warned.
I gave her a smile. “Oh, you know I love danger.”
I went back to the forest after that meeting. I was still annoyed at Hideo after telling me the mission he wanted me to do.
“The Weapons division of the Technology department recommended you as an instructor for classes involving fighting and weapons. You need to train as a teacher. That’s your mission.”
Ilang segundo akong nakatulala lang sa kanya habang tumatawa sina Akira at Mayu. I thought he was joking at first but he didn’t budge.
“Seryoso ka ba?! Me? An instructor?” I asked while pointing at myself.
He nodded. “You’re one of the best fighters here. With you as the teacher, students will surely improve.”
“I can’t teach!” I retorted. “No, I don’t want to teach!”
“Hindi bagay!” Akira chimed in. Halos maluha-luha na siya kakatawa. “Feeling ko kapag ako ang estudyante mo, tatawanan lang kita.”
“May I seat in in one of your classes, Ma’am?” teased Mayu. “Ah. Baka maging teacher ka pa nina Hiroshi.”
Iniisip ko pa lang na tuturuan ko sa klase ang tatlong ‘yon ay sumasakit na ang ulo ko.
“Bahala kayo r’yan!” sigaw ko. “I won’t be a teacher!”
Upon turning the doorknob, I immediately sensed danger. I summoned a dagger on my left hand and forced the door open with my left. Another dagger clashed against mine and it fell to the ground with a clang. Pagtingin ko sa kama ay nakangisi ang hayop.
“I can throw things now,” he announced as he slowly rotated his right wrist.
Pinulot ko ang dagger niya at binato papunta sa kanya. It landed just inches away from his leg. Naglakad ako palapit at tiningnan ko ang kondisyon niya.
He could move better now compared before but he still couldn’t walk properly. The nerves on his hands seemed to be damaged, too. Siguro ay 80-90% na lang ang capability no’n. But it looked like he could still fight, given that he just threw that dagger at me with all his might.
Nakakapagsalita na rin siya kahit papaano pero hoarse pa rin ang boses niya. He was a smart mouth, all right, pero hindi ako papatalo pagdating sa asaran at kawalanghiyaan.
“Still no,” I said and he glared in return. “Kapag nakakalakad ka na nang maayos, saka kita dadalhin kay Akemi. I don’t want to get caught hiding and aiding an enemy.”
He cursed under his breath and gripped his dagger but he didn’t say anything anymore. Napabuntong-hininga naman ako. Kung sa taong ‘to pa lang ay nauubos na ang pasensya ko, paano pa kaya sa mga batang tuturuan ko? Nakakainis talaga! Why did they even recommend me?!
Napansin ko naman na nagdudugo ang kamay niya. Wait, did he grip the blade a while ago and not the hilt?!
“Gusto mo talagang nasasaktan, ano?” I remarked while looking at his bleeding hand.
He scoffed. “This is nothing.”
“Sabagay, muntik ka na ngang mamatay,” I retorted.
“That, too, was nothing.”
Hindi ko alam kung nagjo-joke ba siya o ma-pride lang siya . . . o baka totoo ang sinasabi niya. What would be worse than the wounds he received that day?
I started dressing the wound on his palm as silence permeated the air.
“Have you been imprisoned?” he asked.
Agad ko naman siyang tiningnan. “Hindi ako masamang tao.”
He raised his eyebrow. “Are you sure?”
I tightened the bandage while wrapping his hand and he winced. Wala talagang preno ang bibig ng isang ‘to. Dahil lang naman sa kanya kaya minsan nagiging masama ako.
He remained silent after that but his eyes looked . . . sad.
Nakulong na ba siya? Well, hindi na ako magtataka dahil masama ang ugali niya.
“I can’t wait to see her,” he muttered.
Despite being disrespectful and annoying, it seemed like he really wanted to get better so that he could see Akemi.
Sa totoo lang, hindi ko alam kung paano ko siya sasamahan doon dahil araw-araw dumadalaw si Hideo kay Akemi. He had been religiously visiting her every day because he said he couldn’t be there when we sent her off. He would only smile when he’s there. He would only relax when he’s with her.
Muli akong napabuntong-hininga matapos kong bendahan ang kamay niya.
“I hope you can walk soon,” I murmured. He looked at me with a confused expression and I smiled in return. “So that you can see her and you can leave this place.”
“Don’t worry, I can’t wait to leave this place, too,” sagot naman niya.
“Mabuti naman at may hiya ka pang natatago.”
He stared daggers at me. “Once I recover, you’d be my first casualty.”
I smirked at him. “Oh? Just so you know, I’m stronger than you.”
Tumayo ako at pumunta sa kusina para magluto. Tamang-tama, may itinuro sa akin si Mayu noong nakaraan. I hope I could do it right.
“I am the stronger one,” he retaliated but I just shrugged my shoulders.
“Oh, wow, I’m scared,” I flatly commented.
“I’m going to kill you one of these days,” he murmured.
Pinigilan ko naman ang tawa ko. Wow. Shinigamis got a short fuse. Maybe I could use that to my advantage when I encountered one during missions.
But, kill me, huh?
Sorry, but I couldn’t afford to get killed. As long as my friends need me as their support, I’d try my best to stay alive. I still have a lot of people to protect.
Dying was still not in my options. And I hope there wouldn’t be a time where it would be one.
I felt good after feeding him. Kapag susubukan niyang magreklamo ay isinusubo ko kaagad sa kanya ang kutsara. I think his tongue even got burnt. Feeling ko tuloy, nakaganti ako sa Shinigamis, even just for a little.
He fell asleep right after. I had to clean and dress his wounds again because they started bleeding when he moved a while ago.
Sa totoo lang, gusto ko na siyang gumaling para makaalis na siya. I didn’t want to be with an enemy for so long, lalo na matapos ang lahat ng nangyari.
Napaupo na lang ako sa sahig matapos ‘yon. I stared at him and remembered how this was supposed to be Akemi’s house if we managed to save her. I immediately pushed that thought at the corner of my mind. Tumayo ako at lumabas sa cabin.
That was right. I was still weak. I needed to train more.
I went to Green’s Bane and waited for the beasts to find me. A minute later, a tiger the size of a bear fixed its gaze on me. It was a sabretooth and based on its pattern and coloration, this must be one of the three that survived the enhancement. Damn, I got myself a tough one.
Agad akong tumalon papunta sa isang puno nang sumugod iyon sa akin. It was fast and agile and if I was just a second late, my foot would have been torn apart by its teeth and powerful jaws.
It bared its fangs at me as it let out a majestic growl. Suddenly, it felt like facing that rude Shinigami. Agad naman akong napangiti. This could be a good image training. I’d give you hell.
Well, it turned out the beast had adapted well to high-level battles.
Ngayon ay na-stuck na ako sa taas ng isang puno dahil napuruhan niya ako. I was careless earlier and its claws dug into my thigh. Fortunately, I managed to wound its chest and eyes, and I used that to escape. But I was surprised when I saw two more tigers in the vicinity. And those were sabretooths, too.
Hindi ko alam kung na-sense lang ba nila ang presence ko o naramdaman nila na kailangan ng kasama nila ng katulong. I had been fighting against the tiger for hours but I only landed two clean cuts. With my current condition, I don’t think I could face all three.
“Shit,” I cursed under my breath as the tigers lingered below the tree where I was.
Napasandal na lang ako habang tinatalian ang malalim na sugat ko sa binti. I didn’t want to risk escaping by jumping on trees because it was already dark. There might be more predators who were active at night. Dala na rin ng pagod ay naramdaman ko ang pagbigat ng mga mata ko.
Oh, well. Might as well rest here. Saka na lang ako aalis kapag sumikat na ang araw.
‘Kill to protect. That’s the only way.’
Mitsuo’s face came into my view, but something was strange. He looked . . . murderous. Halos mapasigaw ako nang makita ko kung gaano karaming Shinigami ang nasa paligid niya. All of them were either headless or killed brutally.
He looked at my direction, blood splattered on his face, and smiled at me.
‘Michiko, protect them for me.’
But a spear suddenly pierced his chest and his blood splashed all over me.
Agad akong napadilat habang hinahabol ang hininga ko. Panic rose to my throat as I saw the blood on my hands. I started to sob and tried to calm myself, reassuring everything was alright. It took me minutes before I realized it was a dream and I was still on the limb of a tree.
I drew a shaky breath as I leaned against the tree. Napahawak ako sa ulo ko habang pinupunasan ang luhang namuo sa mga mata ko. The nightmares were getting worse. Now, I’m scared to sleep, too.
Ilang minuto pa ang lumipas bago ako tuluyang kumalma. Napatitig ako sa mga kamay ko. They were bloody because of my wound. Seeing them the moment I opened my eyes made the dream look real.
My gaze shifted to the surroundings. Pasikat na ang araw at wala na rin sa baba ang mga tigre kaya dahan-dahan akong bumaba mula sa puno. I stifled a scream as I landed on my injured leg. Despite the pain, I ran from the Green’s Bane.
Initially, I wanted to return to the cabin but I didn’t want that guy to see me in a pathetic state. My pride wouldn’t allow that. Ayoko ring pumunta kay Yuuki dahil paniguradong busy pa sila sa mga nangyayari. In the end, I decided to go to Akemi since that was the safest place in the forest for now.
I was already half-dragging my right leg when I saw the grassland. Pero napatigil ako nang may makita akong tao roon. It was Hideo.
He was sitting in front of her grave while Demi was on his lap.
Napasandal na lang ako sa huling puno bago makarating sa grassland. My heart sank upon seeing him with her in this kind of situation. They deserved better than this.
Lalo pang bumigat ang loob ko nang makita ko siyang ngumiti. That was the smile he would only give to Akemi.
‘What are you doing there?’
I flinched upon hearing his voice in my head. Dahil alam niya na rin namang nandito ako ay lumapit ako sa kanila. I sat beside him and Demi walked toward me.
Hideo stared at my wound. Napalayo ako sa kanya nang kaunti dahil mukhang magagalit siya.
“Michiko,” he carefully called. “Could you—”
“It’s just a scratch,” I chuckled. “Wala lang ‘yan.”
“I told you to be careful.”
“Come on, it’s just the usual training injuries,” I retorted. “Anyway, napuntahan mo na ba si Akira?”
Fortunately, he let it go as soon as the topic shifted to Akira. Napabuntong-hininga siya bago sabihin ang kalagayan ni Akira.
“Yuuki recommended a month of rest,” he stated. “I think she’d be assigned in training or patrol duties instead of missions in the outside world.”
“Mas makakabuti na rin sa kanya na magpahinga muna,” dagdag ko. “Besides, she has a family. It’s better for her to stay here.”
Ilang minuto rin kaming nabalot ng katahimikan habang iniisip ang kalagayan ng mga kasamahan namin. Demi returned to Hideo and I thought that was my cue to exit. He needed some time alone with Akemi.
Matapos kong magpaalam sa kanya ay dumiretso ako sa cabin. Buti na lang at tulog pa siya.
I immediately went to the bathroom and cleaned myself. I had to keep myself from screaming as water ran through the deep wound. Nahirapan din akong magsuot ng shorts dahil sumasagi sa balat ko. Paglabas ko ay agad kong kinuha ang medical kit pero napatigil ako nang makita ko siyang nakatingin sa akin.
“Ah. You’re awake.”
He didn’t respond but he continued staring at my wound. Pakiramdam ko, jina-judge na niya ako. I suddenly felt like I was a weakling.
Hinatak ko ang upuan malapit sa kama at tumalikod sa kanya. I started cleaning it and I had to bite my lower lip to suppress a yelp. Damn those tigers. Sa susunod, sisiguraduhin kong makakaganti ako sa kanila.
After sterilizing the needle and thread, I sutured the wound and placed a thin layer of ointment. Binalutan ko rin iyon ng nonstick bandage para hindi ma-expose.
‘Are you a doctor?’
Halos mapatalon ako nang marinig ko ang boses niya sa isip ko. I turned around and met his gaze.
“No,” sagot ko. “Madalas lang akong magka-injury kaya natuto na rin ako ng ilang first aid techniques. ‘I see,’ he said. ‘That’s why everything is sloppy.’
My eyes narrowed at his retort. Ang kapal ng mukha nitong taong ‘to. Imbes na magpasalamat dahil niligtas ko siya ay nakuha pang magreklamo.
Hinatak ko ang upuan palapit sa kanya at ngumiti. “Well, kung gusto mo, pwede naman kitang ihatid sa Medical Department,” I taunted. “You’ll either get killed or get experimented.”
He scoffed. ‘Like what the doctors did to Rielle?’
I immediately summoned a dagger and pointed it at his neck. Nawala na rin ang ngiti sa mga labi ko.
“Dr. Miwako saved Akemi,” I emphasized. “If you want to blame someone, then it should be the Council, not her. Besides, what your tribe did was worse.”
Muli kong naalala ang huling beses naming nakita si Akemi. Her left eye was missing and she was bleeding badly. She wanted to get back to her family but what did they do to her? They must have studied and experimented on her.
He let out a dry laugh. ‘I agree. In the end, both tribes treated her like a guinea pig.’
Tears were threatening to come out so I had to withdraw my dagger. Tumalikod ako at dali-daling naglatag sa sahig. I lay down and faced the opposite direction.
I wanted to sleep comfortably after spending the night in the forest, but I was afraid to dream about Akemi and Mitsuo again. Thoughts lingered inside my head. There were a lot of what ifs and most were about them being alive.
Napabuntong-hininga na lang ako. I thought I’d get used to their absence. Nawala rin naman sila nang matagal noon. But unlike before, they wouldn’t come back anymore.
I missed them. I missed them so bad.
My life revolved around the cabin and campus for the next two weeks. I had to feed that guy everyday but thank goodness he could finally move his hands after a week. Sa campus naman, lagi kong binibisita sina Akira at Mayu.
Mayu was getting busier because of the takeover. She was preparing for being the head of the Technology department so sometimes, she would ask me to babysit Hiroshi. Tulad na lang ngayon.
Nasa bahay ako ngayon ni Mayu. Hiroshi was with Reina and Hayate kaya mas sumakit ang ulo ko. Buti na lang at nandito rin si Akira para tumulong pero dagdag din sa babantayan si Vivien. Ugh. Ang daming bata.
“Bakit ka nakasimangot d’yan,” Akira chuckled.
I sighed in defeat. “Kids are harder to deal with than enemies.”
Natawa naman siya at agad akong napangiti. Buti at umaayos na ang pakiramdam niya. She seemed lively again but sometimes, she would just stare vacantly at space. She looked better when she’s with the kids kaya naman madalas ay siya ang nagbabantay sa kanila.
Nang palubog na ang araw ay dumiretso ako sa cabin at nagulat ako nang maabutan ko siyang nakaupo sa kama. He gave me a smirk the moment he saw me.
Sa nakaraang dalawang linggo ay hindi kami gaanong nag-uusap dahil sa nangyari bago iyon. I would just help him eat and then I would go out. Babalik lang ako kapag matutulog na ako.
“You can move now?” I murmured.
“Just my upper body,” he said in a hoarse voice.
Napatingin naman siya sa braso ko. It was bleeding because Hiroshi threw the device he was tinkering a while ago when Reina and Hayate kept on teasing him. Even when not in training, I still get injured. Pahamak na mga bata.
Agad ko naman iyong tinakpan at naglakad patungo sa kusina. Naubos ang energy ko sa kanila. Gutom na agad ako kahit hindi pa dinner time.
“Few more days . . .” he muttered.
I turned to his direction and saw him with a wistful expression on his face.
Right. I promised him to show where Akemi was. After that, he would leave. I guess that would be for the best. Hideo also said I could get missions in two weeks. Ilang araw ko rin siyang pinilit para lang payagan ako.
Pagkatapos kong magluto ay inilapag ko sa tabi niya ang share niya. We quietly ate as thoughts lingered in my head.
Ilang segundo akong nakatayo lang sa pintuan dahil hindi ako makapaniwalang gising na siya. It’s been days. I even thought he was already braindead.
Dahan-dahan akong lumapit sa kanya. He still looked deathly pale and sick. Dahil hindi ko siya madala sa Medical Department ay hindi ko alam kung papaano matitingnan ang internal organs niya.
“W-why . . .” he asked with difficulty, “can’t I . . . m-move my body . . .”
Tumayo ako sa gilid niya. His breathing was ragged and it seemed like his condition was still critical, but at least, he was alive and awake.
“Your body was way beyond its limit,” sabi ko at muling napatingin sa hiwa sa dibdib niya. “Hindi ka pa talaga makakagalaw lalo na at damaged pa ang internal organs mo.”
He drew a shaky breath and he winced upon doing that. Even breathing must be painful for him. He must be running in adrenaline when he ambushed me here that time. Now, his body had given up on him.
Hinatak ko ang upuan sa gilid at umupo sa harapan niya.
‘Was it a dream?’
My heart sank when I heard his thoughts. I remembered Hideo saying he didn’t want to wake up if he dreamt about her. About them.
“It wasn’t,” I murmured, trying hard not to cry.
He turned to my direction with difficulty. “R-Ri . . . Rielle . . .”
“Gusto mo ba siyang makita?” tanong ko at marahan siyang tumango. “Then get well. Once you can move again, I’ll bring you to her. Pwede ka na ring umalis pagkatapos.”
He looked at me with a pensive expression but I averted his gaze. I still hate the rest of the Shinigamis for what they did to her. This guy, his eyes were the same—cold and ruthless—but they softened every time he called her name. I felt that hatred boiling inside me whenever I looked at him but I also remembered Akemi at the same time.
This guy was her Elite. Her friend, even though I know they don’t use that term. At least, I wanted to be a little nice to him because he helped her escape.
‘We’re enemies,’ he suddenly said. ‘You don’t have to act nice. I hate you, too, for what you did to her.’
Huminga ako nang malalim at sinarado ang isip ko. ‘My enemies are those who made her suffer,’ I replied. ‘You helped her. You’re her friend.’
He scoffed. ‘Friend? What bullshit is that?’ ‘Ah, right. You don’t use terms like that.’
He glared at me, which was kind of scary. ‘I am her Elite. Her subordinate. I just did what I had to do.’
But you still failed, I wanted to say but I held back. We all failed in saving her.
Agad ko namang itinulak iyon sa likod ng isip ko. Ayaw kong umiyak sa harapan ng isang Shinigami.
‘But she was labeled as a traitor by your tribe,’ I retorted. ‘Hindi ba dapat mas sundin mo ang mas nakakataas kaysa sa kanya? Yet you still risk everything for her sake.’ I smiled at him. ‘That loyalty is not just of a subordinate, but as a friend, or maybe even deeper than that.’
Bigla naman siyang tumingin nang napakasama sa akin kaya medyo napaatras ako.
‘Piss off, Senshin. You don’t fucking know anything.’
Napanganga na lang ako sa narinig ko. Man, I already know Shinigamis have foul mouths. Kahit si Akemi, walang galang magsalita madalas but this guy takes the cake. Ang sarap sabunin ng bibig.
Magsasalita na sana ako pero pareho kaming napatigil nang biglang kumalam ang sikmura niya nang ilang segundo. I smirked at his direction and he glowered at me.
‘Ah. Kaya ka ba galit kasi gutom ka?’ pang-aasar ko. ‘I said fuck off.’ ‘Alam mo, bahay ko ‘to, kaya bakit hindi ikaw ang umalis?’ I taunted. ‘Ah. Hindi ka nga pala makagalaw.’ ‘You f—’
Agad akong tumayo at naglakad papunta sa kusina. ‘Yeah, yeah. Dahil mabait ako, ipagluluto kita.’
I snickered as I walked away from him. I didn’t know there were Shinigamis who were kind of funny. Medyo boring si Akemi pero nakakatawa siya kapag magkasama sila ni Hideo.
Bigla naman akong may na-realize. It had been a while since I last laughed. Dahil sa mga nangyari ay nakalimutan ko na kung ano ang pakiramdam kapag tumatawa ka.
I cooked porridge since that was the easiest food to make. Kadalasan kasi, si Mayu ang nagluluto para sa amin. She did teach us how but we were so bad at it. Naalala ko pa na muntik nang masunog ang dorm nang sinubukan namin dating magluto dahil nasa mission siya.
“No, boil the water first,” sabi ni Naomi habang nakatingin sa recipe book na pinahiram sa amin ni Mayu.
“Bakit kasi hindi na lang tayo pumunta sa Central Plaza para hindi na tayo magluto?” tanong ko. “Gutom na ako.”
“Ano ka ba, Michiko, kailangan nating matuto,” Akira said. “Paano kung matagal mawala si Mayu sa susunod? Paano kung hindi natin gusto ‘yong mga pagkain sa plaza?”
“Hindi naman ako maarte sa pagkain!”
“Ikaw ‘yon,” she retorted. “Kami, maarte,” sabay turo niya sa sarili niya at kay Naomi.
Naomi knitted her eyebrows. “I’m not.”
“Excuse me, ikaw kaya ang pinakamapili.”
“She’s right, Naomi,” dagdag ko.
Mukha namang hindi siya makapaniwala at tinuro niya rin ang sarili niya. “Ako?”
Muli akong napangiti nang maalala ko ‘yon. I was glad we tried our best to learn from her. Ngayon, marunong na kaming magluto ng ilang pagkain kahit papaano.
Akira even said she wanted to cook food for her family before. Sabi niya, gusto niya raw turuan si Vivien kapag malaki na siya. She wanted to let her learn early para hindi matulad sa kanya na late na natuto. Para raw maka-survive siya kahit wala siyang kasama.
Isinalin ko sa mangkok iyon at naglakad pabalik sa kanya. Teka, pwede na ba siyang kumain? Pwede niya bang kainin ‘to? Well, halos isang linggo na siyang ‘di kumakain. How come he was still alive?
“O, eto,” sabay lapag ko ng pagkain sa tabi niya.
Muli na naman siyang tumingin nang masama sa akin pero kumalam ulit ang sikmura niya. Hindi ko na napigilan at tuluyan nang natawa.
‘Could you shut up?’ he growled. ‘What an ugly laugh.’
‘Wow. Gwapo? Ugly ka rin.’
He gave me a dirty look and his eyebrows almost became one. Asar-talo pala. Feeling ko tuloy kaharap ko sina Hideo at Mitsuo . . .
Napabuntong-hininga ako nang maalala ko si Mitsuo. I remembered teasing him almost every day. May times pa na natakot talaga ako dahil feeling ko bigla na lang niya akong susugurin kaya madalas, nang-aasar ako kapag kasama ko si Naomi. He was too cautious whenever she was around.
But he became much calmer when Nathan came. Nakasalubong ko pa siya noong nakaraang buwan sa plaza at naghahanap ng libro tungkol sa parenting. He said he wanted to know what a father was and how he could be a good one to his son.
“Protect, huh?” he muttered while we were searching for books in the shop.
“Yup. First, protect him. I mean, I think that’s what a parent does first. Then, take care of them?”
“How?” sabay tingin niya sa akin. “I can only kill for them. Will that count as protection?”
Natawa naman ako sa sinabi niya. “Siguro? ‘Yon lang din ang alam ko.”
“Family is such a complicated thing.”
“I know, right?”
Muli siyang tumingin sa akin nang seryoso. “Ikaw ba? Ayaw mong magpamilya?”
I shook my head. “Ang dami ko nang kailangang protektahan at alagaan. Ayaw ko nang madagdagan pa,” I chuckled.
The Shinigami’s stomach rumbled again and that jarred me back to the present. Saka ko lang na-realize na nakatingin lang siya sa mangkok.
Oo nga pala, hindi siya makakagalaw. Minsan, hindi rin ako nag-iisip.
Tinitigan ko siya at nagco-contemplate kung dapat ko ba siyang tulungan o hayaan ko na lang dahil ang sama ng ugali niya. Pero nang naisip ko na kung sa akin ‘yon nangyari ay agad kong kinuha ang mangkok. Whoa. Ang sama rin pala ng ugali ko minsan.
Lumapit ako sa kanya at dahan-dahan siyang binangon. I carefully let his upper body rest against the headboard.
‘What the hell are you doing?’ pagalit niyang tanong.
Sinamaan ko naman siya ng tingin. ‘Just shut up and eat. Muntik na akong maging masama dahil sa’yo.’
Before he could say anything, I put a spoonful of porridge in his mouth.
Now I have another person to take care of. What a life.