I pressed a cold beer against Miki’s shoulder to get her attention. She was standing outside on the porch smoking a cigarette, a habit I was unfamiliar with her ever having before. She took the beer I brought over to her and we both stood there, staring out at pretty much nothing.
“I'm sorry about earlier. I don’t know why I got emotional like that. I don’t… have any right to be emotional like that.”
I didn’t have an answer for her, so I just remained quiet and sipped on my own beer, listening to the occasional sound of a grasshopper chirping its love song in the night.
“You wanted to have a conversation. Shall we do it now while Momoko is asleep?” She said softly.
“We probably should. You know, there were a lot of questions I wanted answers to, both back then and over the years since. But for the life of me right now, I don’t even remember what those questions are anymore. Probably the one that’s pestering me the most right now though, is why you would show back up here after all this time?”
“Momo. She’s at an age where she can begin to understand the kind of failure as a mother and a woman I am. I can’t live with her seeing me be that kind of person anymore. She’s only going to get cuter as she gets older, and that might put her at risk as well. I myself never thought I would see you again, but we really had nowhere else to go, Tsubasa. If I had to sleep in the park and we got caught by the police, it might cause a welfare service to investigate our circumstances, and since you and I never got properly divorced, it would end up causing you more problems if I got tangled up with something like that over just coming to you directly in the first place.”
“So your reason for coming is for your daughter’s safety?”
“It is. But I’m not asking you to take any kind of responsibility. It’s really that I’m simply out of options or people I can stay with for the moment. I haven’t worked a job since I became your wife, and I’ve been entirely dependent on other people. I don’t have any excuse to give you that would be worthwhile, so all I can do is try and use you in this way.”
“Use me? Not going to sugarcoat it?”
“Your kindness. If there was one thing about Furumachi Tsubasa that was engraved in my heart, it was his kindness. I’m sure I’ve damaged that, and while I’m fine with whatever happens to me under your roof, because I know at least you won’t harm a child.”
She took a sip and then a puff and then slouched her shoulders.
“Your daughter said she goes everywhere with you and that you don’t leave her alone except at night. I’ll spare the details about asking the kind of life you’ve put that child through, for the sake of moving forward, if you’re really sincere about doing better for her. But you can’t drag a child along while you're out looking for a job. She’s old enough to attend a pre-school and meet children her own age, not be caged in a room until she starts primary school.”
“I'd like to, but I can’t afford it. Mom gave me some money here and there when I needed it, but she’s too old to look after Momoko… plus... dad… has disowned me for what I did to you. Neither Momo or myself are welcome at his house at all. I really have nowhere else to go, Tsubasa. I didn’t even expect to get this far, actually. I didn’t think you’d let me set even a toe back in this apartment once you saw me, especially with my daughter. Shit, I didn’t even know if you’d still be living here after all this time. The only thing I was certain of, was that you didn’t get remarried.”
“That’s a surprising thing for me as well. I thought you’d get your real happy ending after leaving with your lover. I mostly stayed here while waiting for an attorney to contact me by mail. Five years later I still hadn’t gotten a request for divorce in my mailbox.”
“That’s because you were the only one foolish enough to ask a stupid woman like me to marry her. Everyone else seemed to know better. Is there a revenge you want to take on me, considering everything?”
“I haven’t really thought about it in years. I’m sure at one point I did.”
Another silent break, another sip of beer taken, her last puff was taken before she crushed her cigarette out, and I think neither of us knew what else to say about it. If I asked her about the past, she might tell me, but that would just bring up a lot of things that might make me react negatively.
“Say, Tsubasa. In the time I was gone, was there ever anyone else for you?”
I scratched my head.
“Sort of. But it doesn’t really count.”
“What do you mean?”
“I used a Delivery Health service for a short while about a year and a half ago. I was in a real bad place at the time… coping with being alone and everything else. There was an opportunity after some time to get intimate with her, but I couldn’t bring myself to go all the way.”
“It wasn’t because of me, I hope?”
“Specifically you, no. it’s just my ability to trust a woman after you…”
“Yeah. I suppose that makes sense. I know it doesn’t mean much now, and I’m sure an apology from me is worthless. But you can take some satisfaction in knowing there’s only regret left after what happened.”
“Then I guess that’ll be enough for revenge for now.”
“What, me being full of regret?”
“If it means you eventually become a mother who won’t do something irreversibly wrong to her daughter.”
“So it’s because of Momo that you aren’t taking revenge?”
“Miki. You made your daughter, who did absolutely nothing wrong, perform a dogeza on my doorstep because of your actions. You might not know this, but she’s incredibly aware of all that you do. When you locked yourself in the bathroom earlier, do you know what she said to me? She thought I bought her those things so that I could take you into my room. That it wasn’t an uncommon thing to happen.”
“I don’t know what you've been through, and I very probably don’t want to. But I’m more worried that you were in the process of destroying an innocent second life and relationship with your daughter through your actions. There are things you need to atone for, sure. But those things have a priority, and your daughter comes first in the order of rectifying them. That is, if you are truly sincere.”
Miki hung her head.
“Then, what should I do?”
“How could I know? I’m not a parent, Miki. That’s something for you to figure out. For now, make it a priority tomorrow to locate a nice pre-school to send Momoko to. After that, you can search for a job properly, even if it's the day after. I’ll take what you owe for your stay right now in the form of basic housekeeping and meals until you’re financially steady. Sound fair?”
“Hah. You’re kidding…?”
“You’re broke with nowhere else to go by your own admission, and I’m not going to let your daughter have the opinion that this ojisan is the kind of person to ask her mother to be burdened doing god only knows what behind closed doors for her sake. I have my own self-respect, too.”
“Even if on paper you’re still my husband and it would be a normal thing for husband and wife to do?”
“The paper in her coloring book that she was drawing on currently has more worth than the paper our marriage certificate is written and stamped on.”
I gave it to her straight. She stopped being my wife when she cheated on me. The absence of a proper divorce was just a technicality. I might be a kind person, but I’m no pushover. I was caught off-guard when she showed up with a kid in tow, but the sooner she gets her shit together, the sooner she can do right by her and get out of my life, with closure, for the last time.
“I suppose so. I didn’t mean to push that far.”
“It is what it is. Anyway, your daughter said she doesn’t like to sleep alone at night, so don’t give her too much of a reason to worry, okay? Good night, Miki.”
“Good night, Tsubasa.”
After that, sleep came much easier for me.
I suppose I was reaching for a handhold that wasn’t there after all.
I have irreversibly fucked up my life, and the only person who is willing to help me is the same person who can never forgive me for my sins. And it’s not that he’s even helping me. If not for Momoko…
Would I still be that naive woman?
I made a mistake years ago. I got married to a man who was good to me, but who I didn’t appreciate as a lover. He took care of me financially, and it’s not like the sex was disappointingly bad or anything. But I didn’t love him with all of my heart. Then I met Kenta.
He was so different from my husband. He was arrogant but charming. He knew the right words to say to pierce the weakness and insecurities I had with my Tsubasa, and in the wrong moment, it had happened. I hated it at first. But it was intense, nothing like with Tsubasa. I would have stopped it then and there, but he had taken a video of the act without my knowledge, and threatened to ruin my marriage with it.
After that… we had met many more times, and eventually I became addicted to the sexual pleasure he gave me. A short while later, he had stolen me away. It was a decision made halfway between me wanting to enjoy myself, and the guilt I would have with continuing my relationship with Tsubasa knowing the kind of woman I was.
It was barely a month into the relationship and things had taken a strange turn. He had handsome friends and that was exciting too. I became a vulgar woman and was passed around to many men, all the while thinking Kenta loved me. Half a year later, when my belly got too big to deny what the result of this false love was. Kenta had discarded me entirely.
“It was fun, but now you’re all used up. Now get lost!” Those were Kenta's parting words.
By this point, there was no way of going back to Tsubasa. I was pregnant, and I didn't even know who the father of my child was. Furthermore, while in the height of our false relationship, I did things the rational me would never have done, all for a love that didn’t exist at all.
From then on, from the moment I gave birth, I had begun living with any man who wanted my body in exchange for a place to stay. I was smart enough after Momoko was born to get onto birth control, because having one child that needs constant attention was enough of a deterrent after time when a man was done having his fun with me.
At one point I had tried to get out, to go home to my parents and climb up from the world of debasement I was in, but my parents had spoken to Tsubasa who had told them what happened. I had run away from him with another man. Somehow he knew, though I was sure I had kept it from him. I mean, I had just run away in the night never to return. My father disowned me, and only the sympathy of my mother was enough to give me enough money for the very basics of caring for Momoko.
As if things couldn’t get worse, at some point I had picked up a communicable disease. I was lucky it was something antibiotics could cure, but it just added to how much more my body had been ruined. Every single moment of my life since I met Kenta and hurt Tsubasa had only become a trainwreck of bad karma. Along the way, as Momoko had become older, I also began to worry. Not every man had eyes only for me. The same perverted men who would sleep with me were not beneath attacking a child.
It was the last stop that did it for me. I was fully incapable of protecting Momoko, and the only thing I could do was rely on the last name in the book of people I knew in my life. I had spent two days, using money I really couldn’t afford to waste, teaching my daughter to call him uncle and how to dogeza. All because I knew I had no worth or value, and nothing that would make him pity the disgusting me. But she might.
Because Tsubasa was always a kind-hearted person. I was the villainess. There was never a question of that.
And now, I am back in the apartment where it all began, where my happiness once was, and where I foolishly left it behind. With the husband I was far too stupid to realize was the best thing to ever happen to me, and with a daughter that I can’t even say is his. Because I don’t know. She looks so much like me, the only way to be sure would be a DNA test. It’s just that the likelihood she could be Tsubasa’s is almost nonexistent.
He didn’t slam the door in my face.
He gave me and my daughter a room even though he had no obligation to.
He gave me money to buy groceries to feed my daughter.
He gave me money to buy her new clothes.
He had kept all my clothes and every single thing I left behind.
He was good and kind to my daughter, even buying her coloring books and snacks, and telling me he will help if I find a good pre-school to put her in so that I can find a job.
All he scolded me for was what I deserved to be scolded for. For failing as a mother. For taking so long to realize the most simple thing in the world. That any happiness outside of my precious Momoko only exists if Tsubasa is there to allow me to have it.
And I can offer him nothing in recompense.
My value as the woman he vowed to be with through the best of times and worst of times, was worth less than the used paper in my daughter’s coloring book. And I had to accept it, because he wasn’t wrong. No matter how much regret I have, without forgiveness, there’s nothing that can be done. I don’t deserve Tsubasa or his kindness anymore. But, for whatever reason, Momoko is the one to receive it.
And like a leech I have to depend on her until I can become strong enough that she can depend on me.
I realized too late how much I loved Tsubasa.
I foolishly pretended to do wifely things like cooking for him while saying it was for Momoko, and making him a bento before shamelessly drinking myself to a point where I was numb because I couldn't cope with the reality that I’ll only anger him by playing housewife.
Now, all I can do is head back to the room that was meant for the child we would have had that isn’t Momoko, and share the futon together, because for too long, the things I’ve had to do so we both could survive had kept me away from her, when she needed me the most. Cradling my daughter carefully, I stroked her hair and kissed her forehead.
From now on, I will do my best to set things as right as possible.
I just wished there was some way…
…Some way to undo it all and go back.
I wouldn’t make that mistake again.
But even that would leave me with a regret just as deep as the one I committed.
Because Momoko might not be born, and if not for her, I might very well commit that same mistake again to Tsubasa.
And my tears fell quietly once more.
Tears that had no value, even as water, as they were full of salt and undrinkable.
Because I was an unforgivable wretch, and there’s nothing I can do to fix what I once had with Tsubasa.