Short story: “Death”, “Hat”, “Gene”

Sasaki knew nothing would change if she begged for help. She had been there. Weak kids had weak parents who would blame their own child to appease the other kid’s parents. Her parents were weak but she was not. Thus, when Sasaki broke the glass with her satchel and waved a glass fragment at the bullies, she received no sympathy.

There was no such a thing as self-defense in schools. In a fight, there would be no victims. All parties were equally at fault. She knew the consequences and she accepted them. A week before, the idea would have been unfathomable and yet there she was, clutching a bloody shard in her bare hand, watching her classmates backing off as she walked through.

At that moment, her only thought was to kill the other girls and in the end, she only managed to stab her teacher who was trying to stop her.

The police took her into custody. There were no barred cells for children of her age, there were no steel handcuffs. She was attended by a female officer and the worst restraint she had to endure was from a zip tie; even this was only for a brief time between transits. The police and the schools were being courteous, so she heard. They took every measure to cover up the incident.

The police brought in a psychiatrist to assist in the case. The man was twice as tall as she was and he wore thick beards with a pair of round glasses. There was a white-and-pink scarf wrapped around his head. From head to toe, the man was Arabian and he appeared to speak fluent Japanese. He introduced himself as Abu-Jamal, Mahmud Al-Alem Saifu Abu-Jamal upon her insistence.

Their conversation were not without conditions; the first of which was that he must answer one of her questions for every question he wanted answer, second was that he  not overstep his boundaries. “Sasaki-chan” was fine for her but not “Aiko” or “Aiko-chan”, and in exchange, she would call him “Abujama” as he insisted; by his given name and not his doctor title. And the third, she licked her dry lips.

“I’m thirsty…”

Abu-Jamal chuckled. “Well, me too, Sasaki-chan. Do you want orange or peach juice?”

“Milk!” she perked up on her feet, “Milk with sugar, please”, she said.

They were off to a good start. The Arabian got her talking about her family. She had an elder sister, a mother and a father–a more normal family than her actions that day would have suggested. They were all alive and well, she emphasized, but sometimes, she wished they were not.

“Why? Why do you hate them so much?” Abu-Jamal asked.

At this question, she shrank and looked down at her bandaged hands. The answer came under her breath: “They are unfair.”

It was then that Abu-Jamal noticed something unusual about her way of speaking.

“Say, how old are you, Sasaki-chan?”

“Don’t you already know?”

“Just want to hear it from you directly. After this, you can ask me anything.”

“Fourteen. It’s fourteen. And I don’t have any questions for now.”

She averted her eyes from his gaze.

“Am I making you uncomfortable?”

She hesitated. She opened her mouth for an instance then chose to close it and had a better thought of the answer. Finally, she spoke up:

“No, not in particular.”

“You are a good liar, Sasaki-chan, but hesitance can be as telling as silence.”

Following this, he raised a few questions regarding the girls who picked on her, as well as the teacher. But, the conversation had reached the point where she no longer wanted to participate. Then, he stood up and excused himself.

Her father heard of the event.

For this, her father slapped her. They went through a heated argument which concluded with her flinging her satchel at him, missing his face and hitting the family’s altar. The photo of her mother fell to the floor and cracked. Both of them froze at the instance; their faces twisted in agony. Afterward, she bolted out of the house and ran, and ran.

“Sasaki-chan!”

She ran into Abu-Jamal.

“D-Doctor!”

“That’s no good, Sasaki-chan. It’s Abu-Jamal. Oh my…your noses are running–he produced a handkerchief and gently wiped her tears–Tell me what happened.”

Perhaps it was the expectation that the psychiatrist could give her the approval she sought, Sasaki spoke at length how she had been picked on for her fear of sharp things, her anemia and nonstop bleeding, how her father had not been as supportive to her as he had been to her sister, and how powerless she had been.

“Had I not been born…”

The words caught in her throat.

“That’s hardly true, Sasaki-chan. It takes great courage to give one’s life for another. You are a smart girl, Sasaki-chan, can you be as unfair as casting away the life she has given you so easily?”

“B-But…I didn’t ask for this.”

“Indeed, Sasaki-chan. It is unfair to be given something you didn’t ask for and to be demanded gratitude in return. And beside…”

It was then that he took the white-and-pink scarf from his head and put it on hers.

“This is a hat called pagri, Sasaki-chan. It is a symbol of honor and respect in our religion and receiving one means you’re an important guest and that you’re welcome.”

He too was very unfair.

“But I–”

At that instance, she caught his downcast eyes. Was this the right thing to do? Listening to his sigh and seeing him folding the handkerchief and putting it into his pocket, she made up her mind and bowed her head.

“I’m sorry. Thank you.”

“It’s slow, Sasaki-chan. Remember, hesitance can be as telling as silence. So, which one makes you feel better? Before or after you say “thank you”?”

“After.”

This time, she managed to reply without hesitation.

“That’s right, Sasaki-chan. You turned your fear and your weakness into your greatest weapons. I dare say the girls you tried to kill the other day have learned to fear sharp things and blood a little bit more than you do now.”

She grinned and nodded.

“Not that I would recommend you do this sort of things everyday but, surely, you can turn a little unfairness in this world to your advantage too, can’t you?”

She nodded again.

Madmud Al-Alem Saifu Abu-Jamal had a secret. So did Sasaki Aiko.

After their conversation on the street, the man returned her to her home. She did not know what they were discussing in English but it appeared he managed to persuade her father to forgive her. She was afraid her father was only pretending in front of a guest to save face but even after the Arabian had left, he did not turn on her. He merely gestured at the kitchen; a sign that dinner was in the microwave.

It was rice balls again; it was always rice balls from the convenience store.

The next day, Abu-Jamal came by early in the morning. He asked her to put on her black-and-white sailor uniform even though she had no class all day–she had been suspended for a week.

“Your father and I have been discussing about transferring you to a new school. We have a few options on the table. I want you to see the schools for yourself and tell me which one you like best. Isn’t it right, Sasaki-san?”

Her father quietly nodded, confirming the story. Then, he knelt down on one knee and hugged her. “Remember, Aiko. No matter where you go, no matter what you do, I’ll always love you.”

“Eh…ah…thank you, dad. I’ll see you again tonight, right?”

“Yeah, I’ll cook something good for you tonight”, he answered, patting her head.

Once they were on the road, Abu-Jamal let out a sigh and remarked.

“You still have much to learn, Sasaki-chan.”

She smiled the bravest smile she could put up.

“You are a good liar too, Abujama-san. But, dad is nothing like you.”

“It’s okay to cry when hurt, Sasaki-chan. It’s a perk of girls at your age.”

And she did make good use of that perk. Abu-Jamal’s words had been full of deception and unfairness but they were ones she could not help but let herself be deceived.

Their destination was Fukuoka Prefecture, home to Kyushu University Hospital. A group of scientists there were researching a cure for hemophilia–a genetic disorder that leads to nonstop bleeding–and they needed her assistance. She was far too young to understand the finer points of genetics but one thing she could understand: she was exceedingly unfortunate to be born with hemophilia.

The chance for females to be afflicted with the condition is one-in-twenty-five-million. When she hit puberty, hemophilia could lead to fatal internal bleeding during periods if not discovered and properly taken care of. The earlier she started the treatment, the lower the chance of incurring long-term health risks.

“That’s not all, Sasaki-chan. I’m inclined to believe you’re also–ah, never mind.”

“I am also what? Tell me, tell me!”

“Now, now, I can’t give any spoiler, can I? You’ll have to figure out yourself if you want to be a great heroine.”

“So…am I a psychic? A blood wizard?”

The man laughed. Rubbing her hair and putting the white-and-pink pagri from her hands on her small head, he said:

“We’ll test that too but, don’t hold your breath just yet.”

“Now that we’re so much closer, can I call you Abujama?”

“At home–ehem, at the new home, you can call me Abujama, Yama, Abu, whatever suits you. Though here, you should call me Dr. Mahmud.”

“Can I have milk with sugar, Dr. Mamu…Mamudu?”

“Sure you can, Aiko.”

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