Searching for Nobody: Chapter Four

Searching for Nobody

Chapter Four
Take time for yourself

In the days since that rainy night, Ai developed a cold. She wasn’t surprised to be sick since she let herself get soaked from the rain. Luckily, she had enough sick days to use as she had to use some vacation to attend her parents’ funeral.

However, it had been a couple days since she had gotten sick and already she felt the stirrings of cabin fever. She never liked staying in one place for too long. Thankfully, she had mostly recovered from it.

After searching, Ai found a mask to wear around her nose and mouth to prevent any stray coughs, or otherwise, passing to the general public. She just couldn’t stand being her apartment any longer.

Ai had long since took down the portraits of her parents and replaced them with as much art decor should could – anything that wouldn’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t remind her of her parents. Still, Ai could feel their presence where their faces once hung.

As much as Twitchy kept her company, it became increasingly difficult to stay inside. There wasn’t anything on the television she had wanted to actually watch. Nothing caught her interest.

However, there was another reason Ai had cabin fever. Since she had arrived back home, she still hadn’t visited the grave of her student. She was haunted in her dreams and nightmares of how lonely the poor girl must’ve felt. Because of the frequency of murders in City A, funerals within it were performed as quickly as they possibly could. Ai couldn’t even attend the girl’s funeral as her teacher as she had to travel away.

She knew it was guilt she felt and she decided, since she had time, she would finally visit her.

Ai was prepared – she was covered from head to toe. She wore pink rain boots with a matching coat, along with the umbrella. Her hair was tied up into a tight bun so she wouldn’t risk getting her hair as soaked as it was that night. She felt embarrassed about that but alas, she was sorrowful. It’s hard to think clearly when one’s mind was cloudy as that night.

Her face mask was just as considered “cute” as the rest of her outfit but she was more focused on visiting the girl’s grave and paying her respects.

She even made a stop by the florist to pick up a mixed bouquet of orchids and tulips – Ai remembered this was the student’s favorite flowers from a random survey the class had done when Ai wanted to give a pop quiz on the names of flowers. She always tried to ask questions relevant to the students so it could help stick with them and sometimes it worked – but at least she knew which type of flowers the girl liked.

After she made her purchase, she made her way towards the graveyard.

As expected, though, the scenery was gloomy. Some tombstones had incense already burning. There were others who visited their loved ones. However, Ai noticed a rather large tomb not too far from where she stood. She didn’t think too hard on it, though, as she was more focused on paying her respects.

Once she found the family’s grave, she placed the bouquet down and lit the incense. She got into prayer position and apologized to her.

I’m so sorry, Ella. I’m so sorry this happened to you. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you when you needed me the most. I can only hope your pain is eased and you’re in a much better place.

She promised herself not to cry. And yet tears still welled and streamed a bit down her face. It ruined what little makeup she wore – but she could only ask for the spirit’s peace and ease of pain. And forgiveness. She wasn’t there to see her be put to rest. She wasn’t there to protect her – maybe Ai could’ve avoided Ella’s death. Tears continued to fall as the cold wind tried to wipe her tears away but she ignored the wind’s kind embrace.

“I’m sorry, Ella.” Ai said after she finished. She wanted to reach out towards the tombstone before her but felt it was inappropriate. She didn’t want to disrespect her family. She didn’t know if her family resented Ai for not being there. Maybe they didn’t even acknowledged her in their sorrows.

“What are you doing here?” asked a familiar voice. The voice sounded pretty far away but close enough for Ai to pick up on. She wiped her tears and made sure that her face mask had covered her face properly.

She turned and was surprised to see Lizbeth, the same young girl from the night she stood in the rain. Instead of the outfit she wore the previous night Ai saw her in, the young girl wore a black outfit similar to what she worn that night. Instead of pink lipstick, she wore black on her lips and her hair was stylized appropriately – a tight braid. Lizbeth gave Ai an insulted look at the woman’s wardrobe before her – especially considering where they were at.

Ai tried her best to wipe her tears away and cleared her throat. “Oh, I was visiting my student…I was away on a trip,” Ai lied again, “and when I came back, I had found out she had been murdered.”

The woman tried to keep her voice steady but coughed instead. She tried to hold back on her tears and watched Lizbeth for her reaction.

“Oh, I apologize.” She turned and bowed towards the grave in respect. It was clear Lizbeth wasn’t able to trust Ai just yet. She turned back to Ai. “Let’s get out of here.” She wrapped a gloved hand around Ai’s waist and pulled her. For someone supposedly younger than her, Lizbeth was pretty strong. Eventually, the young woman brought her own matching umbrella out and placed it over her head.

Ai followed her and as the two walked, Ai finally asked her. “What were you doing in that tomb?”

“Fukoi-san,” Lizbeth started, “do you know who I am by now?”

Ai felt put on the spot for some reason. She nervously nodded her head. She wasn’t dumb! She knew who Lizbeth was! “Ah, of course I do.”

“Then you know what happened to my mother.”

Ai paused momentarily. She honestly couldn’t recall. She must’ve been busy. However, in her web of lies, she must at least tell the truth once. “Ah, I sincerely apologize. I don’t believe I have… I’ve been super focused on my work that sometimes I don’t pay attention to the news.” She tried to sound apologetic but Lizbeth merely frowned and grew irritated.

However, she still responded kindly. “My mother had died due to mysterious circumstances. Her doctors had said it was natural causes but I don’t believe it is. She was healthy weeks before she suddenly got sick and passed away.”

Despite the heavy words, Lizbeth kept her voice very calm. Ai kept quiet and let the girl talk.

“Father is convinced the doctors are right, and brother doesn’t seem keen on doing anything about it.”

Already, Ai could see the similarities between the two.

“What do you think actually happened?” Ai whispered. She didn’t mean for it to come out as a whisper but it came out that way. Lizbeth paused and looked at her as though she understood Ai’s intent.

“Someone poisoned Mother.”

Ai couldn’t help but gasp in shock. While it was worrying she walked with a high member of the yakuza, it was clear that Lizbeth was looking for someone to understand her pain, to understand her conclusions, and her frustrations. It seemed no one else believed the young woman’s belief and she was completely alone.

Another thing that piqued Ai’s interest was the method of her mother’s death – it was almost the same as her own parents, possibly the same poison. Possibly the same person.

She didn’t say anything. Her parents’ death were unusual but if someone managed to poison the yakuza lord’s wife, then they must’ve had it out for multiple factions of people in City A – not just her politician parents.

“You don’t believe me.” Lizbeth suddenly said as she picked up on Ai’s prolonged silence.

Ai coughed into her face mask. “N-no! I believe you.” She said candidly. A quick beam of hope flashed in Lizbeth’s eyes but it left as it quickly as it came. “Trust me, I believe you.”

The girl didn’t smile but her attitude towards Ai seemed to change just as quickly. Ai finally decided to ask Lizbeth one of the questions she had that night but didn’t dare ask.

“So, that necklace you and your brother were talking about….?”

“That was Mother’s. It belonged to her. When she died, Brother… fell completely apart. He couldn’t bear to bury it with her so he stole it from the wake.”

Ai tried her best not to act offended. After all, she probably would’ve done her best not to do the same.

Lizbeth looked away as they continued to walk. “Every year, he’d have it cleaned and taken with him to her tomb. But since the lackey he gave it to this year lost it…he hasn’t been the same since that night, Fukoi-san.” She shook her head for effect.

Ai couldn’t help but feel a massive amount of sympathy for him. She tried to push the sad feelings. She couldn’t do this in front of his sister; it was inappropriate. She barely knew him. However, she understood regardless.

“I’m so sorry,” Ai said softly. The two walked together for a bit longer until they made it to a crosswalk. Across the street, there was a ramen shop and the wind blew to envelope the two women in its cold embrace once more – a comfort that was lost on both of them. “Ah, I apologize but I must cross here. I’m so sorry about your brother…” She paused to find the appropriate words. “Please tell him that the necklace will be found soon! I don’t know where it is but I really hope it makes its way back to him!”

Lizbeth watched her and slowly nodded. While she seemed to process what Ai had said, she was confused on Ai’s sudden sunny disposition – after all, they had just exited a graveyard together.

Still, Lizbeth couldn’t turn down the kind words Ai offered so she nodded and tried to smile a little bit. Ai took what she could get.

She probably didn’t have much experience smiling. Ai thought to herself as she crossed the street.

Soon, the two women were separated. Ai was more focused on eating than her sudden visit with Lizbeth but she was grateful at least that Lizbeth understood her – even if she herself didn’t know it.

Once Ai was seated, she noticed a patron in the ramen shop someone she thought she had seen before. Usually, he would have a nicely pressed uniform and it would be hard to see his face under his hat.

“Kiyoshi-san?” she asked under her face mask. Ai had to wait for her dinner to come through but she recognized him and noticed he sat alone.

It’s so strange to see Kiyoshi-san like this! Ai thought to herself in bemusement as she watched the man, unaware of her presence. However, she noticed how handsome he truly was. He wore casual clothes, a button down shirt with some slacks Ai supposed were casual for Kiyoshi, and seemed to enjoy his own company.

Ai smiled to herself. She discovered a secret about Kiyoshi and she didn’t want to bring attention to herself, not while she was sick. If there were any other day, she would’ve gladly joined him but for now…

Soon, her ramen, along with some ginger ale, was placed down in front of her and she enjoyed her own lonely meal in peace. Once she paid for it, she left with a bigger smile on her face.

She was happy to talk to Lizbeth more, even if it was at a gloomy place and even saw a secret side of one person she always tried to open up. Maybe once she’s better, she’ll ask Kiyoshi-san to eat at that ramen place together.

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