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what a wonderful world

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"How long are you going to make Morino wait?"
—Kitazawa Natsumi, Voice

 

 

 

 

There is a girl waiting a bus stop in the middle of winter, hands tucked into her pockets, chin tucked down into the neck of her jacket. It’s not precisely midwinter, some weeks before Christmas, and a Monday on top of that. Cars drive by, white lights against the brown of the sand on the roads, red lights as they stop at the stop light.

The bus is late by three minutes, and the girl frowns at the phone she pulls out her pocket with fingers reddened from the cold. The electronic display that should announce the arrival times of buses is broken. When the bus pulls up, four minutes later, the tip of the girl’s nose is red.

"Route 183, final destination Westgrove Station," the disembodied female voice announces. The girl taps her card on the reader; it beeps and the bus pulls away from the curb.

The bus is not empty, but not particularly full either, and the girl moves to sit at the back, next to the window, feet pressed against the block header beneath the seat. The fur of her hood brushes the skin of her cold-flushed cheek as she brushes it back. There’s a hum, the sound of a phone vibrating.

Received 07:01, December 6
Morino

The girl’s expression changes slightly. It’s hard to say what the change is exactly, and the result is even more difficult to decipher: she could be amused, irritated, or fond. Perhaps a mixture of the three. After a moment, thumb tapping the screen, she lifts the phone to her ear.

It’s not possible to hear the voice on the other end of the phone; the bus accelerates, breaks, opens the door to let in new passengers and lets others off.

"I just felt like it," the girl says, the tone of her voice bored. Perhaps in response to the person on the other end of the line, she shifts in her seat.

"St. Francis Station," the disembodied female voice announces, and the girl pulls the yellow-coated wire that runs the length of the windows. A bell sounds, and the red LED display attached to the bus ceiling shows the stop requested indicator.

"I’m getting off the bus now," the girl says, and tucks the phone in her pocket as she makes her way to the back door. The bus pulls up to the station and she presses her hands agains the yellow strips to open the door.

It’s still pitch dark outside, the yellow light from the sodium street lamps pooling on the snow covered sidewalk. There are only two people waiting in the shelter, a young man wrapped in a red-checkered scarf, peering at his phone, and a middle-aged woman. She glances up as the girl pushes the door open, and frowns.

The girl sits down on the bench, leaning back against the wall. The fur lining her hood cushions her head from the cold surface, and she closes her eyes for a moment. A bus pulls up at the station, and the young man leaves the shelter in a gust of icy air as he departs on the bus. No one gets off.

The middle-aged woman glances around, frown deepening. There are no CCTV cameras in the station, even though every bus has one. She bites her lip before standing up, and moving over to sit on the same bench as the girl.

The girl, now only an arm’s reach away, opens her eyes and glances at the middle-aged woman. If someone were to attempt to describe her expression, the closest one would probably get would be to use the word "listening."

"Where are you going?" the middle-aged woman asks, white condensation rising from her mouth. Even though the glass walls of the shelter block the wind, it’s still cold.

"I’m thinking of having breakfast," the girl says, a phrase which would appear to be a way of sidestepping the answer, except that her delivery is perfectly straightforward.

The middle-aged woman blinks, eyes flicking out to the black sky, and the bright moon hanging low over the dark horizon. She opens her mouth, closes it, then opens it again.

"You should be careful," she says, pausing as though she’s not yet finished. The girl tilts her head, gaze resting on the middle-aged woman’s face. The middle-aged woman leans forward slightly, but is interrupted by the sound of a bus pulling up to the station as the electronic sound trills through the pre-dawn stillness. The middle-aged woman stands, pushing through the door of the shelter and disappears into the bus.

The announcement on the electronic display shows that the next bus will be arriving in four minutes. The girl leans back against the wall of the shelter again, black eyelashes falling shut over pale cheeks.

It’s absolutely silent.

After about a minute, the faint sound of crunching fades into focus, drawing closer to the station, though it takes another minute before the door of the shelter swings open to the sound of heavy breathing, as though someone has been running. The girl opens her eyes again, expression blank.

The newcomer is bundled up in a winter parka, face obscured by a thick scarf and horn-rimmed glasses that are completely fogged up. When they take them off to wipe on the trailing ends of the scarf, flat blue eyes sweep the bus shelter, resting on the girl who looks back, expression disinterested.

Glasses now transparent, the newcomer tucks the frames back onto their face, moving to stand a few steps away from the door.

The announcement on the electronic display now shows that the next bus is due, but there are no lights along the bus corridor yet. The girl stands up anyway, moving closer to the door. The newcomer glances at her again, gaze lingering. The fabric of the scarf above their mouth is moving with their breath, puffing in and out in a strange rhythm.

The announcement on the electronic display is still showing that the next bus is due, but all the times below it have moved up one minute.

The newcomers eyes sweep the bus shelter again, landing on the empty bracket where a CCTV would normally be attached. Perhaps it’s been temporarily removed for servicing.

The newcomer shifts, hand in their pocket, and the trailing ends of the scarf slip sideways to show the edge of what looks like a logo, a phrase that ends in "Security."

The announcement on the electronic display is still showing that the next bus is due, but all the times below it have moved up two minutes.

The newcomer’s pocket bulges slightly, as though they are closing a hand around something; at the same time, the girl bends down to pick something up off the ground. Something glints in the newcomer’s hand. An electronic sound trills through the station as the bus pulls up, the girl straightens and the door of the bus opens to reveal a boy standing in the doorway. His eyes meet those of the newcomer, who stuffs their hand back into their pocket as the girl exits the bus shelter and climbs onto the bus.

"Route 183, final destination Westgrove Station," the disembodied female voice announces. The girl taps her card on the reader; it beeps and the bus pulls away from the curb.

The boy glances back out the windows to the station, but the newcomer is nowhere to be seen. His expression is perfectly blank.

The girl walks along the central aisle of the bus, the boy following, and they sit side by side on the back row of seats.

"Look at what I found," the girl says, passing over the item she picked up off the ground of the bus shelter. The boy turns it over in his hand. It’s an identification card from a local university, the face of a girl peering up at him. The face is familiar.

"It’s her," the girl says, sounding pleased, and the boy nods, passing the card back. The girl tucks it in her pocket, not the one with her phone but the one on the opposite side, next to the boy.

"Since this trip was my idea, I get to pick where we’re having breakfast," she says, pulling out her phone and peering at the screen.

The boy’s expression doesn’t change, but somehow he now carries an air of mild amusement.

"Since you decided we should holiday in such a cold place in the middle of winter, you should at least pick something warm," he says.

"I was going to suggest ice cream," the girl says, "but if you insist." She shrugs. "How about crepes?"

The boy nods, catching her hand as she moves to tuck her phone back in her pocket.

"Where are your mittens?" he asks, displeased. The girls fingers are icy cold.

"I must have forgotten them," she says, careless, but doesn’t protest when the boy slips his gloves off and tucks her hands into them.

When they get off the bus, there’s a sign on the wall of the bus shelter, a familiar face peering from the paper beneath the word "Missing." Along the horizon behind the skyline of the city, streaks of pink and red bleed up into the dark.

 

 

 

 

This was not love,
merely obsession.

I chose not to say this out loud.
—Kamiyama Itsuki, Voice