With a considerable number of events to characterize her life, Seiko could boast a vast knowledge of human nature, also due to the experience gained during all the years in which she had managed the "SkyReach" orphanage: in fifty years of work and dedication she had seen a considerable number of children grow, so much so that she could now understand the character of a person in just a few glances.
Body language often communicates more than just words, and Seiko preferred to trust her instincts, what she read in a person's gestures and movements rather than trusting only words; a skill that her children had helped to refine, and on which she often relied to judge whether the families who came to “SkyReach” for adoption were adequate or not. In most cases her intuition proved to be correct.
Seiko loved her job and loved the children who had the misfortune of entering her institute -because no matter how hard she put into making her kids as happy as possible, become orphaned was never a happy experience- so she would do everything to make them grow in the best way, in the care of people who could perform that task with real competence.
Despite the affection she felt for all of them, she nevertheless tried to remain distant, without ever establishing a deeper relationship than there could be between a teacher and a pupil, loving each of her precious children but without binding herself to anyone in particular.
Until then Seiko had remained faithful to that philosophy, promising to look after children with seriousness, always with professionalism and impartiality, without involving personal feelings and having the certainty of being able to make the best possible decision with the maximum possible clarity: a theory that had it always worked, then they had arrived, and everything had taken on new colors.
Tetsuya had been the first. He was four, an innocent victim of a robbery that ended in the worst possible scenario, the slaughter of a whole family, the only survivor of a tragedy that no one seemed to want to talk about.
According to the reconstructions, Tetsuya had been hidden in the closet for several days before someone remembered him, found almost by accident during the last investigations; when medical reports were shown to her, Seiko wanted to kick anyone who had explored the house in the past few days, while her guts twisted in her stomach only at the thought of what Tetsuya had to pass.
The first time she had been able to see him had been in the hospital, a week after the incident, accompanied by Ogai -the oldest of her real sons- the one who had found and helped him.
Seiko had narrowed hes heart to see such a small child lying on the hospital bed, full of tubes with which they tried to supplement the nourishment he had missed during the days in the closet: his body had been irreparably compromised, but the doctors were positive that with proper care, little Tetsuya could have lived a normal life without too many complications.
The second time she had been able to meet him, he had been at his parents' funeral, a month after what had happened, to which Seiko had attended to honor Tetsuya's grandmother, hers sempai in high school, and financier of hes project for the reception and rehabilitation of orphans. Ogai had accompanied her, more as a favor for his mother than for real interest in the death of some civilians like many others.
While looking for him, Seiko had noticed with disappointment that no one seemed to have remembered Tetsuya, as if nothing had remained from that tragedy except a void for the loss of three good people: a new movement of anger and sadness moved in the woman's heart, who briskly scoured the room for the baby as if her life depended on it.
She had found him next to the open coffins of his family, head bowed and gaze fixed, calm in appearance, completely alone and abandoned. It was the maturity with which Tetsuya -he only had four years, she reminded herself- that struck her the most. He seemed to face the situation, controlled and inexpressive, repressing the desire to cry and scream that, Seiko knew, was wearing him down.
In that big, sad and lonely room, Seiko seemed to be the only one to see him.
There was something in the little blue eyes that had conquered her, awakening in her something that it had disappeared years before as soon as the last of her sons had left the nest, leaving no room for hesitation when she approached Tetsuya with a smile, Ogai always next to her, a few steps behind.
«You're a strong child.» She had said, never taking her look off the child's cerulean and sincere eyes. «What's your name?»
He had looked at her intently, no apparent emotion on his round face and sweet features.«Tetsuya.»
Seiko hadn't lost her smile, bending down to look at him well, squeezing the red silk scarf she was wearing earlier around his neck.
«Want to come with me, Tetsuya? I'll take you to your new home.»
She had seen the hesitation in the child's eyes, before taking the woman's hands and nodding shyly, probably knowing that no one had offered to take care of him anyway: and that was how the young child had made his entrance to "Skyreach ".
Shoichi and Yukio had arrived together, six months after Tetsuya, hand in hand, inseparable from the moment when the plane they were traveling had crashed to the ground, leaving them alone and with nothing.
A terrible way of getting to know each other, but the bond that was born of it had exceeded all Seiko's expectations: the support of each other would have been essential for their future recovery.
Yukio had no relatives who could take care of him, while none of Shoichi's relatives wanted to take the responsibility of welcoming a little boy into his own home who was nothing more than a burden.
It was almost inevitable to take them to "SkyReach", but Seiko didn't complain: her door was always open for any child who needed help.
The meeting with Tetsuya then was almost a miracle.
In the six months spent at the institute, the child had not made any friends -always alone in a corner, forgotten by the other children and by the orphanage staff- comforting himself only with Seiko's daily visits, the only one with which he seemed to want to to approach: this until the arrival of Yukio and Shoichi.
While the first one often cried -aside, still in Shoichi's protective embrace- the second watched with suspicion whoever approached them, protecting Yukio from anything he considered a danger.
Tetsuya had done what the other children and the staff of the orphanage had failed to do.
Perhaps because the feelings were the same, perhaps because they had lived similar experiences more or less at the same time, but Tetsuya had been the only one to penetrate the wall of sadness that hovered in the two children, insinuating himself into that bond and soon becoming part of something Seiko had seen it happen other times, but never so quickly and intensely: she had promised herself to look closely at the subsequent developments, taking the trio under her wing, who -but she still didn't know- had already become special to her.
Kazunari had arrived a year later, the body still full of wounds that his mother raged every day, before the social services finally decided to remove the boy from her clutches.
It had not been easy for him to settle down, always grumpy and angry, sitting in a corner while waiting for something that nobody knew, often fighting with other children who had the bad idea of bothering him: he had even bitten one of the girls when she tried to touch him, a mistake for which Seiko had scolded her sharply, reminding her the procedures she had taught all of them about how to deal with children who had suffered certain types of abuse so as not to worsen their injuries.
After that event, Kazunari had become even more bashful and violent, and after a month of failed attempts, Seiko had almost feared that it was too late for him, that any kind of recovery was now impossible: her heart broke, to think that Kazunari could never laugh and play like a normal child, that the wounds inflicted on his body and spirit were so deep that they couldn't be cured.
She wasn't sure how it happened: it was raining that day, the lessons were over and Seiko was wandering the corridors of the institute in search of her three protégés to have lunch together and talk like they did every day. She found them in the garden, under the rain, while Kazunari's laughter filled her ears like a sweet song, accompanied by the joyful cries of Yukio, Shoichi and Tetsuya.
They were muddy from head to toe, lying on the ground in the pouring rain, without any worries.
Seiko hadn't had the heart to scold them, calling them only when the downpour had become more intense and violent, taking all four of them to the nearest bathroom and drying them carefully, making them promise not to run away to play in the rain without notifying anyone.
When it was Kazunari's turn she had hesitated, anxiously waiting for permission to be able to touch him even with the towel, approaching slowly only when the child had nodded and lowered his head.
Even through the rough fabric, Seiko could feel Kazunari's body stiffen, trembling at every movement, not from cold -of this she was sure- but out of fear: she hadn't been told everything that Kazunari had suffered, but it was obvious that was something bad, really bad.
Tetsuya shook his hand almost unconsciously, a contact that Kazunari didn't seem to mind, as he didn't seem bothered by the closeness of Yukio and Shoichi behind him: he seemed more relaxed when he had them around.
«I-I'm sorry I bit Uta-san...» and maybe that was the first time she heard his voice.
Seiko bent down to look at his face, smiling at him like a mother -a grandmother maybe- would have done with her baby: «It was also her fault, she touched you suddenly knowing that you wouldn't like it, right?»
Kazunari had lowered his eyes, and Seiko had taken the opportunity to offer him a hand. «But bite her wasn't nice, I'm glad you understood it. Would you like to go together and apologize?»
She had waited, and when the little one had grabbed her hand spontaneously, Seiko had squeezed it gently, converting her feelings as clearly as possible.
And at that moment, she was sure that her group of special children had grown up.
Her grandson Kotaro had simply been dragged in the middle, the summer of that year, when her daughter had left him to her for the usual two weeks they spent together.
Usually Seiko never went to the institute when Kotaro was with her, but decided to make an exception only for that time, to fulfill the children's desire -her special children- to know the nephew she had talked about so much.
It wasn't difficult for Kotaro to make friends, he was like a cheerful and carefree sun, capable of dragging in his joy whoever approached him: this time he was the one who was dragged.
Surprisingly it was Kazunari -from the spontaneous and sure character, who re-emerged after years of fear and pain- to approach him first, finding himself in harmony with Kotaro more than Seiko herself had believed, thus also incorporating her nephew into the bizarre group that had been created orphanage.
Soon the sleepover had begun: whether it was Kotaro who stayed at the institute or whether it was Seiko who granted a special exit to the four children -normally it wouldn't have been possible, but it was now clear that the woman had special consideration for that particular group, so no one tried to oppose- to stay at her house it didn't matter, every excuse was good to spend time together.
And with Kotaro, basketball had arrived: even years later Seiko could never forget the role that basketball had in the rehabilitation of the four children, and how this had been the glue that had increased the already strong bond that had established among hers children.
They were passionate, they enjoyed watching NBA players as they flew towards the basket with incredible jumps, while they dribbled and shot from three points, and when she gave them their first ball at Christmas, Seiko didn't exaggerate in confirming that not even the snow seemed to be able to stop her children from going out into the field to play for hours. Many vases of the institute had met their end on rainy days, when it was really impossible for them to leave the house to play.
Tatsuya had been the last to join -albeit remotely- to the group.
Kotaro's American friend, who had been his playmate during his stay in Los Angeles, was actively participating in fairly frequent computer calls -controlled by adults on both sides- at convenient times for both them in Japan and for Tatsuya and his family in America.
Seiko believed it was a good training, and often asked the young child to speak in English, so that even his children could learn it better and practice it in current conversations.
Seiko was proud of her children, of how they had found themselves together to face the difficulties that life had set before them; they had grown up together, and still they would have done it, step by step, hand in hand, and if they ever needed support, she would have been on their side ready to support them, to heal their wounds if they fell along the way.
While watching them play in the yard, Seiko could only hope that the peace lasted forever.