"Took you long enough..." a woman said, weakly. She was laying down on what seems to be the middle of an open forest of greens in the middle of the night. A man kneeling by her side hanging his head above her with tears running down his face. They were definitely in the middle of a forest but their immediate surroundings were that of where a giant wild beast went on a rampage destroying anything and anyone, nevertheless, she was one of many casualties. The woman's lower half was already crushed by a fallen tree, the only reason she is still alive is that she was not bleeding out.
"You're still holding back, aren't you?" the woman asks as she raises her pale shaky hand to touch the man's face. After being touched even more tears fall and his face distorts, letting go of all the emotion he was holding back. The woman saw this which makes her smile and sighs in relief.
"Now you start to be honest...? You're so late..." with that said, she smiles with a regrettable look on her face, "I would have fallen in love with you even more if you were more honest..." But still, he is holding back. She was like glass to him. If he screamed, cried, grabbed her or even just gently touched her, he was afraid she might shatter. Yes, he was still holding back. He was making do with her touching him but hoping for a little more he rubs his face against her hand.
"Hey, please... from now on... be more... honest with yourself... okay? Stop... thinking with your head... and use your feelings more... From now on... smile more... laugh more... cry and scream... If it's not for you.... at least for me." her breath was getting shorter and quicker. She slowly drops her hand and plants it on top of her stomach. She takes a deep breath and exhales, one last time, "I'm getting a... bit sleepy... I'm going to... take a nap... Good night..." She tiredly blinks a couple of times like a sleepy child trying to stay awake, and finally, she closes her eyes. The man couldn't wait for another second and finally touches her cheek. He gently brushes the hair off her face and rubs her cheek with his thumb. He felt her warmth and she felt his. She smiles for the last time and that last smile slowly fades.
The man finally lets his emotion run wild.
. . . . . .
How long has it been? The man has grown a full mustache and beard and is now walking in a hooded cloak with his overly used shoes, nearly barefoot in the desert. Every step becomes more and more difficult walking above the heat that is practically melting the air and the naturally harden floor of sand that doesn't absorb any impact of his heavy steps doesn't make it any easier. But there are cracks on the ground like a dried-up lake in every direction. That must mean there was water here. With that in mind, he continues to take another step hoping for his salvation. He can see the greenery in the direction he is walking toward but the vision distorted by the heat doesn't help him distinguish his distance but he continues to walk.
He walks and walks with his head hanging down. The steps were still heavy but it wasn't as painful. The ground was getting cooler. Before he even realized the sun was setting and there were no more cracks on the floor. He finally looks up and sees the sandy path then the whole town painted in orange by the sunlight in front of him. Few more steps and his in town but he has reached his limit. He falls to his knees and then collapses, barely reaching the town in front of him.
"I can't... not here..." he whispers with his dried throat. Slowly losing conscience while lying on his face but before he completely loses he heard light footsteps walking towards him. Before he can see the owner of the footstep he blanks out.
. . . . . .
The man wakes and slowly opens his eyes and sees randomly arranged metal and wooden ceiling. He blinks a few times trying to remember something and sighs in relief.
"I don't remember anything," he whispers relievedly to himself with a hoarse voice.
"Are you awake?" a voice of a child said quietly but audible. The man tries to look at the direction of the voice but realizes his posture isn't normal. Only the man's upper half of his body is on a dirty old futon while both of his feet and legs still on the floor. It is no wonder though, the owner of the voice was a young tanned child, seven years or maybe younger, with long unkempt light blonde hair, no, maybe it was a hint of greens. It was difficult to tell with only a candle and the moonlight shining in through the broken window.
"A Mammalion...?" the man wonders out loud as he notices the child had long pointy ears with noticeable fur on its helix, one of the features of the race, Mammalion. Another feature is having a furry tail but it is difficult to tell with the child's long hair covering her back. Then the man notices that child was holding a clay cup. The man sits up and leans forward and takes the cup and drink whatever was in the cup. It was water like the man has hoped, but with a pinch of sand. The man was about to thank the child but before he could he notices the child's face, devastation. The child suddenly was in tears crying.
"Eh?! Wha- Wait! Why- I'm sorry! Did I do something?" the man said confused.
"Hic, hic... I was... I was saving that..." the child said while weeping. That's when the man realized he just drank all the water the child had in one gulp. The man felt terribly guilty, especially so after taking a closer look at the child and their surroundings. The child was wearing only one big piece of rag. The room was just a cube with a candle, a cup, a futon, broken window, and a doorway, without a door.
The man had three questions in mind. First and foremost, "Where are your parents?"
The child tries to talk and what the man comprehends was, "I don't know..." That was enough of an answer for the man to imagine. The child was either abandoned or they were in no state to take care of the child, example, death.
The next question was difficult to ask so the man hesitates but he asks, "How did you survive this whole time?"
"Wha... What is survive?" the child said. She was seriously in lack of education.
"It means doing things to live. So, what I'm asking is what did you do to live this whole time?" He asks clearly and understandably as possible for the child.
The child wipes their tears and snot with their bare arms and hand and answers, "I...I have steal food and... I sneak in to other people's home, but I get catched and get in trouble, then I look for food in the junk yard."
The man wondered to himself, 'there was not a single person to help this child?' While wondering the man looks out the already open window, and his question was answered. They were in a middle of a slum. The room they are in was a space between untidily built buildings mashed together. It was as if they built the building without much plan and at the end leaving a hidden room. The man started to feel pity, on top of guilt.
Now the last question he had in mind, "what's your name?"
"N... name...? Doopba, doopba is what they call me," the child answers. The question was supposed to help him identify what gender the child was but it did not. For a moment the man thought the name sounded familiar, thinking, 'didn't that word mean something bad?' And, yes, he was correct. It meant something useless or pointless things or material, mainly use to call a dropping, feces, poop. The man thought he has reached his limit to how guilty a man can feel, at least that is what he thought.
"Um... We need to do something about that..." the man said as he plants his palm on his face. But as he thought before it didn't answer another question he thought would be answered, so he asks one more question. "Before we do that, are you a girl or a boy?"
"I'm a girl!" the child said loudly expressing her agitation than depression but either way, the little girl starts to cry again. The man who thought he reached his limit of feeling guilty just raise even farther.
The man took a deep breath then glanced at the clay cup, surrounding, then the child again. He was trying to absorb everything around him. The smell of stench with iron and musk. The thin walls and ceiling that rattles and cricking when the wind blows. The uncomfortable sounds of people outside. The room that doesn't block the cold. A single candle to brighten the room and help her get warm. As for the futon, certain areas have no cushion touching the floor and a thin sheet of cloth what seems to be a cover.
The little girl with a dirty cloth tied on one shoulder and another by her waist. Through her sheets, she had very visible collarbone and ribs. Her ankles, wrist, and hand thin. After taking in all the information, what the man felt was not pity. No, the man did not feel pity or guilt anymore. Anger? Unjust? Yes, what he thought was, "THIS IS WRONG". A child like her, a child in her situation were willing to still save someone else. Why is someone like her going through this? Why is she going through this alone?
The man kneels closer to the child and gently pats her head. "Look, you have to stop crying or you'll get thirstier." says the man, purposefully so the child can understand. The man lifts the child's head to make sure she sees his eyes. "Look, you saved my life. Do you understand what that means?" The child was out of energy but she listens. "So, I'm going to do the same," the child seemed a bit confused with what he meant but the man didn't mind because it didn't matter. The man lifts the child's hand for her to stand and takes her to the futon and gently lays her down. "I'm going to save yours," He said as he gently strokes her head. "For now, sleep, I'll take care of the rest tomorrow. I'll get you more water than what you gave me."
"Really?" the girl responds quietly while slightly widening her eyes. The man finally sees the color of her eyes. To the man's surprise, the iris of her eye was that of gold. Then the man smiles as if something came to mind.
"Yeah, and I'll get you some food too, Aurora." the man said.
"A...rora?" the child repeats, well, she tries to. The man chuckles then lie on the floor beside the futon and continues to stoke the child's head.
"Yeah, it's your new name, you reminded me of it." the man replies.
"What is a arora?" the child asks. The man chuckles again.
"It's something messy but it's really colorful and shiny in the night sky but it's really pretty." the man answers. It is very difficult to describe.
"You mean the star?" the child asks. The man finally lets out a hearty laugh.
"No, an aurora is nothing like the stars. It's much more," The man said.
"It is...?" the child asks tiredly.
"Yeah... At least I think so..." the man said, "My name is Hiroshi, Hiroshi Yokutake."
"Hi... ro... shi...?" the child repeats. The man nods in response.
"And your name is Aurora. I'm Hiroshi..." the man repeats trying to remind her, trying to make sure she remembers her new name and his. He repeats few more times like a lullaby and as if he was in sync, his volume quiets down as she slowly closes her eyes until a complete silence.
. . . . . .
Sunrises and shine through the curtainless window. Hiroshi opens his eyes and slowly looks around trying to recollect where, what, and how he got here. After seeing the sleeping child on the futon next to him he remembers. The man lies back and sighs in relief.
"Okay," Hiroshi says quietly repeating the feeling of resolve he had yesterday. Then suddenly the child, Aurora started to move. Startled, Hiroshi looks and sees she was scouring for a warmer position while still in her sleep. Though Hiroshi was fine the desert night is cold and the child only had a thin sheet of cloth to call it cover. Hiroshi took the cloak he was using as a cover and gently puts over Aurora. Then he sits close by her laying body and gently strokes her head to lightly wake her, which he succeeded or more like she was too weak to wake up too suddenly. When Hiroshi notices Aurora's eyes open he gets close to whisper into her ear, "It's me, Hiroshi," Hiroshi's beard was tickling her cheeks which gave her more of a reaction than him stroking her head.
"Hiro... shi?" Aurora responds, maybe she forgot who that was or maybe even the name itself, but that was not what was important to him at the moment.
"I'm going to go out and I'll come back before sunset," Hiroshi said quietly. This was important to him, that she knew he will be back but it seemed like Aurora was still in a daze. "So, until then just rest and stay put, okay?" Hiroshi wanted a response but the child started to nod off. He repeats one more time then stands to gets ready to leave. Though, He didn't really have much to get ready for. All he had was an old, worn one-piece suit on his back and old shoes to take with him. And so, he steps out.
Hiroshi's location was somewhere middle of the cliff walls where the town pretty much starts or ends. Hiroshi starts walking around what seemed to be a balcony that leads to stairs that went up and down the floor. Wanting to get into town Hiroshi walks down and starts walking around the mixture of wood and metal slum. Few blocks away from his new home he found the street where he fell unconscious. He started to imagine the child's small frame carrying him to their room. Hiroshi started to walk more briskly.
Just like he hoped, there were a number of stores. Hiroshi has been going store to store hoping to get hired. There were stores and stalls selling fruits, lizard stick, clay dishware, metal utensils, cheap jewelry and toys, and many more. Hiroshi did his best to make an appeal to be hired but some places didn't need the extra hands or didn't pay enough. In the end, where Hiroshi ended up at was the junkyard. The job was not too difficult, long as one knew what they were doing. Reusable tools, useful materials, recyclables, and even circuit boards. Finding something more useful and handing to the employer will get more credit, which the people in this town has a hard time understanding or have a hard time finding.
. . . . . .
The sky was turning orange, the sun was setting. Time to call it a day. Hiroshi was walking toward the exit of the junkyard.
"Gra, it's you. You find some good stuff." The smooth blue, almost gray skin employer said with a graveling, yet a positive tone.
The employer was sitting near the exit of the junkyard. There was a flimsy desk in front of him where he would be checking lists of some sort in the shadow formed by the small building behind him. On the build, there was a hole near him to throw in materials that the employees have collected. The employer has a hooded-cloak only covering his head while revealing his scrawny arms and upper body with a tank top and long shorts that come down to below his knees. His foot completely bare, showing the 'not so human' legs and feet.
"So, calling it a day, human?" the employer asks. Surprisingly, the employer's deep voice didn't really match his physique. He was certainly not standing straight but compared to Hiroshi, the employer would reach his shoulder. Which is normal for a blue-skinned, Reptilion. They're mostly shorter than humans.
"Yeah," Hiroshi responds clearly and confidently. The employer gives Hiroshi a big grin as if saying 'gotcha' and heads toward the window next to the hole. The employer forcibly opens the dirty old window. He was having a hard time but finally slams it open, leaving a crack on the window.
"Gra! Somebody's gotta fix this window!" The blue-skinned employer yells inside the window, agitated. Then the employer lightly jumps and pulling half of his body through the window rummaging for something and finally grabs a stuffy paper envelope. "There you go. Come back again. We made quite the profit, thanks to you," the employer said in high spirit. Hiroshi grabs the envelope and checks its content.
"Hey... ain't this a little less than what you promised," Hiroshi said with suspecting eyes. Though the full beard and mustache made it difficult to see the employer was still able to feel his discontent.
"Gra... Look, not all the things you got were reusable, so they were paid as recyclable." the employer said while smiling nervously, "Gaa... At least you got more money than anyone would normally make in three days, Gaa...?" employer said trying to give Hiroshi more reason to be at ease. Additionally, he shows both his open palm just to show he is not hiding anything.
Thinking the employer was pointing behind Hiroshi, he turns and looks around and sees other workers in line to get their payments and people still working looking at Hiroshi. They didn't look happy. More like, angry but couldn't do anything about it, jealousy. Hiroshi turns back to the employer and gave him a lightened expression and tapped the employer's shoulder before passing him by. The employer exhales in relief.
"Well then, see you tomorrow," Hiroshi said as he continued to leave.
"Gra... But... I can't believe the stuff you brought. I didn't know humans were so strong. Not even Clawlions in this town tries to be gutsy as you." said the employer and gave a hearty laugh as Hiroshi leave.
Hiroshi went visiting all the store he already visited to buy what he promised. On his way back, he was holding a paper bag full of all sorts of fruit in one arm and in the other hand he was holding on to a rope with a metal cup and a gallon big metal bottle tied through their handles. Every step made the cup and the bottle hit each other, making the clanking sound along with the splashing in the metal container.
By the time he arrived home, the sun was almost set. He steps inside the doorless doorway and sees Aurora still laying on top of the futon like he left her, roughly. Hiroshi puts down the gallon bottle quietly. He calmly walks toward Aurora and sits beside her and touches was her neck. He was checking her pulse. Hiroshi is certain that she hasn't eaten or drank anything all day and longer for all he knows. Fortunately, she swings her arm for tickling her. Hiroshi gives a slight sigh of relief then went to get the gallon bottle and the cup. He opens the bottle cap and pours a bit of water into the cup and swirls it around to clean then throws the water out the window.
Hearing the splash of water outside, Aurora's eye suddenly open wide and sits up as if she heard an explosion. Hiroshi was definitely startled but he gets relieved to see her so energetic. Hiroshi starts to pour water into the cup again but before he can pour it full Aurora takes the cup. She was about to gobble up all that was in the cup but Hiroshi pushes Aurora's forehead stopping her. For a moment, Aurora had a furious look but Hiroshi didn't mind.
"Slowly, Aurora, drink slowly," Hiroshi said calmly. Aurora looks of agitation but reluctantly drank slowly, but after a sip, she couldn't control herself. She tries to gulp it all with her dry throat but fails and starts coughing.
"Ah, I told you to drink slowly..." Hiroshi smiles then sat beside Aurora on the futon and started rubbing Aurora's small back. After she calmed down, Hiroshi grabbed the clay cup that was on the floor next to the futon and poured a cup full. Then puts down the bottle and taps it twice. "These are all yours," as he said that Aurora's eyes widen in surprise. Still having a hard time comprehending she looks at the metal bottle and Hiroshi back and forth.
Hiroshi's face saying, 'that's not all' Hiroshi grabs the weighty paper bag and opens it to Aurora showing her the contents. Aurora slowly raises her hand to grab but hesitates. From the story he heard from her, it would be understandable. The time she would sneak to get food. The treatment she received when she was caught. Worrying about heavy consequences for having the most basics of instincts, survival. It is no wonder she hesitates now.
Aurora looks up to see Hiroshi's face, to see his approval and in reply, he nods with a gentle smile. She hurriedly grabs the bag closer to her. Then takes one of the fruits inside and bites into it. She immediately spits it out coughing. The fruit was like orange, having a sour exterior but she figures out the inside was sweet. She starts to bite the exterior off and starts eating the innards.
Hiroshi watches Aurora eat as he drinking his share of water, then from the corner of his eyes and notices that she was shedding tears as she was eating. Hiroshi, futilely, wipes his hand on his dirty clothes and then grabs a similar fruit from the bag and starts peeling the exterior, shaping it like a star. Well, he tries. He hands the fruit to her while the peel still attached at the bottom. Aurora bit the meat of the fruit in one whole bite, completely ignoring Hiroshi's elaborate peel. She chews a few times and swallows it whole. And for the first time, she smiles while covered in tears and snot.
She eats and drinks, eats and drinks. Then she notices Hiroshi lighting the candle and sat below the window with only a clay cup in his hand. While she was holding fruits in both hands. She decides to hand him half eaten fruit. Hiroshi surprised until he saw the bag was still half full.
Hiroshi just snickers and lightly tap the back of her hand with his, rejecting her offer and says, "I already ate on my way back. They're all yours." Then Hiroshi reaches into his pocket and pulls out the paper envelope and checks its content by drops a few coins to his hand. Aurora knew what it was and her eyes widen.
"Did you steal it!?" Aurora yells out in excitedly.
"What? No, I didn't!" Hiroshi yells back with a smile. He explains what he had to do to get the money and started showing her the value of each coin and finally how much each food cost.
While they were talking and getting comfortable sitting up against the wall. Then suddenly Aurora starts to laugh covering her mouth. Hiroshi asks and Aurora replies by point towards the other side of the wall but more specifically, towards his feet. There actually something popping out of his shoe. A huge worm, at least, at a first glance. It was his toe. Hiroshi starts wiggling his toes and 3 more popped out. Aurora starts to laugh more cheerily and soon after Hiroshi joins. The hearty laughter was short-lived because of the bang from the ceiling but their spirits weren't spoiled, continuing to laugh quietly.
Hiroshi hands Aurora few coins and said, "Tomorrow, I'm going to work again. You can eat what's left in the bag but if it's not enough, try going out and buying some stuff on your own." Aurora accepts with excitement and takes it near the window and shines it in the moonlight and looks at it as if it was a valuable jewel. But right when he finished that sentence, he realized all sorts of trouble she might get into if she gets caught with money in a place like this along with her history of 'misconduct'. "Aurora, do you know where the junkyard is?"
"Hm...? Yeah, I know where that is." Aurora said brightly and energetically, almost like a completely different girl from last night. It made Hiroshi glee but there was a pinch of anxiety.
Hiroshi reaches out his hand under Aurora's hand and grabs, firmly, yet gently and looks straight into her eyes. "Aurora, when you get in trouble, run fast as you can toward the junkyard, like your life depends on it, and scream loudly as you can for my name." His eyes, just like his hands, was firm yet gentle, "I will come for you."
Aurora looks into his eye with alert, but not with fear. Then Hiroshi's stern look perks and suddenly, he jumps up quaking the thin floor and yells, "What's my name, Aurora!?" while raising his hand almost hitting the ceiling. The expression on Aurora's face was of surprise and worry, that the neighbors would be bothered. "What's my name, Aurora?!" Hiroshi yells even louder.
"Hi... Hiroshi...?" Aurora said silently.
Hiroshi jumps, turning his back towards Aurora, "I can't hear you!"
"Hi- Hiroshi!" this time more audibly. People started to bang for silence but Hiroshi ignored them.
Hiroshi jumps turning towards her and leans back. "Louder!!" Hiroshi yells even louder, putting his back into it.
"Hiroshi!" Aurora finally yells, realizing he won't stop. Hiroshi delighted, for the first time hearing her so loud and clear but he is nowhere finished.
Hiroshi quickly walks toward the window and pokes out his and yells, "Again! So, the whole town can hear! What my name?!"
As if it was getting contagious, Aurora joins Hiroshi poking her head out the window and screams her lung out with high spirit. Watching Hiroshi so reckless and carefree, something resonated within her. It was something she wanted for a long time. Freedom? No, something simpler and purer, a childhood.
Like howls of dogs in the night, the complaints were heard for miles away and one close by. The floor above yells, "I don't fuckin care who you are! Just shut the fuck up!" Completely ignoring them, Hiroshi and Aurora got back inside and lie down and continue to laugh gleefully and with high spirit, the night came to a close.
. . . . . .
The next morning, few people, including the man upstairs started to look for Hiroshi nearby but they could not find him, not even the little cube room. Nor was he already out but the window was gone. It was just a wall or it seemed. The incoherent patterns of wood and metal walls made it nearly impossible to find the window once it is covered with wooden planks. Though noisy outside, Aurora was sleeping soundly in the darkened room.