Story: Estrogen (chapter 24)

Authors: Juxtaposition

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Chapter 24

Title: Chapter Twenty Four

[Author's notes: Disclaimer: The following is a work of fiction, any events that mirror real life are of pure coincidence.  The characters and plot are properties of mine, please do not reproduce unless permission has been given.]

Estrogen - Chapter Twenty Four

Towards the end of April, after my exams were finished, Erika sent me an e-mail containing all the information regarding her performance.  Apparently, for this particular course, their final exam was this final performance.  To think, an entire year’s worth of study and practices all came down to this one performance alone.  Of course my answer was the affirmative and two days before the designated date, I was already looking through my wardrobe for what I could possibly wear to the event.  I did not want to embarrass Erika in front of the people she will be with for next three years.  Thankfully, after my years of working with Fujimaru-senpai, I not only at least picked up some sense of fashion, but my closet had a small section dedicated to designer wear as well.  For them, I only had Fujimaru-senpai to thank.


Even these days, when she called, she would not speak one word about her pregnancy.  It was as if she didn’t remember that there was another life beating inside of her.  She carried on her work as usual, spoke as usual, conversed with me as usual, and of course, was just as unreasonable as usual.  I sometimes wondered if the media were all just blind and mistook someone else as her.


So then, what did that make of me?


I shook my head and cleared my thoughts.  I did not want to dwell on the past, certainly not on Fujimaru-senpai and Hoshimura-senpai either.


My itinerary was almost memorized by heart as I got onto the inter-city bus and sat with a thumping heart.  It’s been so long since I last saw a play with Erika in it!  I recalled the plays that we did in high school and wondered how much Erika had improved.  For in my mind, there was no way that she did not improve.


The play was set to start at seven; I was already on campus by six.  I thought about letting Erika know that I was here, but thought better of it.  The moments before the opening of curtains must be a most stressful time for her, I shouldn’t disturb her concentration.  So I wandered around her campus at a leisure pace, enjoying the sights and sounds that I knew were what Erika was used to.  I thought that if we both enjoyed the same sensory inputs, then maybe we’ll have more in common.


In this new relationship, I wanted to learn everything about Erika like she had learnt about me in our old one.


At six-fourty, I took my seat in the fourth row in front of the stage and looked at the fluttering red curtain.  From previous experience I knew that such was the time when all staff members were running around back stage like headless chickens trying to put together the final details.  For in twenty more minutes, everything would be over and they’ve just got to go out however they were able.


The auditorium around me filled slowly.  There were families and couples, talking about the program animatedly.  I looked towards them with a small smile but turned my head back to the curtains.  It was then that I realized Erika’s father was not in the audience.  Apparently, work was keeping him busy elsewhere.  Looking around once more, I could not help but feel a tinge of sadness for Erika.  In this city, in this country, she was by herself.  Such an important moment in life and the only one in the audience for her was me; someone whose status was a little sketchy and with a history even more sketchy. 


Exactly at seven, the curtains parted and lights dimmed.  We clapped as a prelude to the show.


With the number of people in Erika’s class, each was only allowed a certain quota of time to impress their professor.  Needless to say, Erika’s role was nothing compared to the roles that she was used to playing in senior high.  However, I saw the determination and felt the hard work that she had placed into every word and every gesture.  I knew she could not see me from her vantage point, but I still smiled widely every time she would glance towards the audience.


So what if her father was not here?  I will give her a family.


The play lasted for a little over two hours; Erika’s part was a little over ten minutes; but I still diligently watched every little bit of it.  I did not want to be the type of person who only supported her role specifically.  I will learn to support the entirety of her projects.  When the curtains rose again, Erika and her classmates lined the stage and bowed three times to the applauding audience before taking their leave.  All around me, people were chattering and moving in a hurry to –no doubt- greet their own daughter or son.  I sat and watched as the auditorium emptied row by row and still I sat looking at the stage. 




Finally, Erika sat down besides me and I shifted in my seat to face her.  She was dressed in a casual outfit, but her stage make-up was still caked on her face.  I wanted to reach out and touch but reminded myself that technically, we’ve only known each other for a couple of months.  So I smiled and clapped my hands instead.  “It was great!  I loved it!  You did a terrific job!”


She smiled and nodded, accepting my praise.


“It’s only unfortunate that I couldn’t see more of you.”


“Everyone had to get their stage time after all and it is a medium sized class.”  She explained and looked around the auditorium.  “Next year, I will perform here again; and the year after that, and the year after that.  Maybe in the third year, my stage time will be more than just ten minutes long.”  She spoke quietly, but I could see the determination in her eyes.  One’s dream cannot be obtained within the span of a day.  Erika was walking towards her dream slowly but steadily on step at a time.


For me, I will certainly have to do the same.


“Maybe then, I can also sit here again and watch you.”


She returned her gaze to me and offered me a smile.  “Of course, I would love that!”  We both shared a smile and a quiet moment.  Both of us knew that even though we were attempting to restart with blank slates, the feelings and care that we have built for each other over the past few years were hard to erase.  On this blank piece of paper, you will always see shadows of countless words that were previously written.  Waiting to be recollected and remembered.  “Maybe then, I can wear a costume that’s been designed and made by you?”


“It would be my pleasure!”


Erika and I went out to eat that evening, I returned to my city afterwards on the inter-city bus again.  I realized that it was becoming quite a habit now.  Erika told me that she would be staying in her university for the summer as she got an apprenticeship with her professor; indeed, Hoshimura-senpai’s older sister.  We did not meet again for almost a month, and when we did, I wished that it could have been under much better circumstances.


After university ended, I of course went back to doing full time service for Fujimaru-senpai.  I realized that it was towards the end of her pregnancy, yet she sounded as she’s always been.  If no one’s told me of her state, I never would have guessed that she was pregnant.  Always, I questioned myself on the validity of those reports.  I suppose I would never believe it until I saw it myself.  However, with the way things have been going recently, I feared that seeing any evidence might just be next to impossible.


Of course, Erika and I kept in touch via all sorts of communication devices.  There were mundane topics and fascinating headlines, but most importantly, we were trying to get to know one another again.  This time, I was determined not to commit the same mistakes.  Now that I knew what it was like to be in a relationship, I also knew what to do and what not to do.  However, everything was a constant stage of learning.  Even this time around, there were still things that I did not know about.


Then one afternoon in mid-May, my cell phone vibrated on the desk I was working on and I glanced at it casually to see that Ito-senpai was on the other end of the line.  After that conversation with Ito-senpai all those months ago, I had not spoken with her.  Truthfully, after the last meeting with Hoshimura-senpai, I had tried to put that entire group of people out of my head.  I purposely stayed away from all news of them so I would not be drawn back to them again.


“Good afternoon, Ito-senpai.”


I picked up the phone with a small smile, preparing myself for a moment of polite chit-chat, but Ito-senpai did not allow it.


“Hoshimura-senpai is in the hospital.”


I could have sworn that my heart felt like it was going to leap out of my throat and I quickly placed a hand on my chest; as if that could contain the organ.  My eyes were wide as I listened to her explanation.  Apparently, Ito-senpai was unable to get in touch with Fujimaru-senpai and asked me to.  Of course I said yes.


The last time I spoke to Fujimaru-senpai was about four days ago, ever since then, I’ve not had any contact with her.  When I picked up the phone to dial her cell phone number, no one picked up.  I dialled her office number and no one picked up either.  I pondered and dialled her home phone number, but no one was picking up either.  My heart rate accelerated exponentially and I prayed that Fujimaru-senpai was not involved in an accident and was in the hospital as well!


However, my senses came to me briefly and I counted the days.  If there were no problems, Fujimaru-senpai’s baby should be due around this time as well.  Perhaps she was in labour?


Putting that thought on hold, I quickly called the local train station and booked a seat to the city Hoshimura-senpai was receiving treatment in.  Unfortunately, the first available time slot was tomorrow evening, I would arrive the day after, before noon.  I quickly wrapped up the work I was doing and went home to pack for the trip.  I did not know how long I’d be there, so I packed light but made sure that I’ve at least packed all the necessities with me.


It was true that I wanted to distance myself from Hoshimura-senpai, but at the same time, I could not just let her be when she was in the hospital.  Ito-senpai said that during their last game, as Hoshimura-senpai was jumping for a rebound, so was a player from the other team.  The two of them somehow got tangled with each other in the air and when they came down, it was in an awkward position.  Hoshimura-senpai fell against the post of the basketball net and then onto the floor in a sprawl.  She was apparently unconscious for a moment or two before she was taken out by a stretcher.  They think it had something to do with her back and they were currently running more tests to be sure.


Quickly, I left Erika an e-mail explaining what had happened and where I was headed.  I worried that it might make me a hypocrite, but even as a friend, I at least had to visit her.


I boarded the train before midnight and found my seat easily.  Despite the hour, the train was still filled.  I looked all those people around me and wondered where they were going and what for.  Were any of them going to visit someone in the hospital as well?  I did not quite sleep properly, but I did drift into sporadic moments of sleep here and there.  I was vaguely aware of all the stops that were announced.


As I got out of the taxi the following day just a little after noon, I looked about me with apprehension.  The hospital looked huge and I had no idea where Hoshimura-senpai’s room was located.  Even though it was a week day, the hospital lobby traffic was still unbelievable.  I over heard conversations about how someone travelled for a day to get to here just so they could have a certain specialist take a look at their problem.  Needless to say, the lobby was filled with people.


On a wall, I saw a map of the hospital and quickly shuffled over to familiarize myself with the surroundings.  First thing’s first, I need to take an elevator up to the fifth floor and then I’ll proceed from there.


Just as I was half jogging towards the elevators, out of the corner of my eyes, I swore I saw someone that had me turning hot and cold in seconds.  Amidst all the people and crowds in the lobby, I thought I saw Fujimaru-senpai.  In actuality, it was someone’s profile.  The person’s hair was pulled back and was wearing sunglasses.  I did not and could not get a closer look before said person disappeared into the sea of people.  For the life of me, I could not locate them again.


Could it be possible?


I asked myself as the elevator ascended but made a stop at each floor to let out and let in people.


However, Fujimaru-senpai’s due date should be around these couple of weeks, could she possibly risk going into labour if she were on an airplane?  Besides, who was to say that she wasn’t already in labour somewhere in Canada?  And also, if she did return, wouldn’t there have been sightings of her?  At least at the airport!


Disconnected thoughts ran through my head as I looked for Hoshimura-senpai’s room.  Part of me wanted to go and find out for sure, but part of me dreaded all the possibilities.  If it wasn’t her, then why would I get my hopes up?  If it was her, then what did that say about her life now?


Neither option gave me satisfactory answers, so I decided to push those thoughts out of my head altogether.  Especially as I was nearing Hoshimura-senpai’s hospital room already.  A few paces away and I stopped.  I didn’t know what was holding me back, but my entire body felt heavy and I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to proceed forward.  What if she had already passed away?


No!  I shook my head firmly.  It was just a small injury on the basketball court; she will recover in no time!




I turned when I heard my name and saw Erika walking towards me with a couple of plastic bags in her hands.  I was so stunned to see her here that I did not even realize that she had called me by my first name.


“I sent you an e-mail!”  Instead, that was the first sentence out of my mouth.  Perhaps I was a little frantic in wanting her to understand that it wasn’t like I snuck off to see Hoshimura-senpai again.  I understood very well that when trust was broken once, even the tiniest thing could seem like a betrayal.  We had tried so hard, both of us; I did not want this misunderstanding to end everything.


She looked at me for a moment before she smiled and nodded.  “I know; I got your e-mail.”


“What are you doing here?”


“Hoshimura-sensei.”  She nodded her chin towards the closed hospital door.  “I was with her when we received word of Hoshimura-senpai’s injury, so I came with her.”  Ah, that’s right; Hoshimura-senpai’s sister was Erika’s professor after all.  “I just went out to grab some things for Hoshimura-sensei and Ito-senpai.”  She indicated towards the bags in her hands.  “Come on, let’s go in.”


Erika led the way and instead of looking at the door, I looked at her back.  I was scared and I thought that perhaps if I kept on looking at her back, maybe I wouldn’t have to be greeted with any bad news.  The door opened and I saw whom I presumed to be Hoshimura-senpai’s older sister first.  She was leaning against the windows and talking on the phone.


“Maki-kun, Ookina-kun.”  Ito-senpai then greeted us with low whispers.  It was obvious that she had been crying and was lacking rest.  I offered her a feeble movement of my lips that was supposed to resemble a smile.  I bowed towards Hoshimura-senpai’s sister and received a nod in response.  Needless to say, the atmosphere in the hospital room was tense and almost suffocating.


Finally, I looked towards the bed and saw Hoshimura-senpai.  Her eyes were closed and she lay motionless.  It was only through the heart monitor besides her that I gathered she was still breathing.


Still alive.


For a long moment, I just looked at her, not really knowing what to say.  My eyes stung and tears circled the rims of my eyes.  Quickly, I sniffed and looked away to hold them back. 


“What…?”  I didn’t know how to ask, but it seemed I did not need to complete my sentence for them to understand me.  For the first time, Erika avoided my gaze by turning her head away and busied herself with emptying the contents of her grocery bags.  A cold chill washed over me and I quickly turned to face Ito-senpai.




Again, I stood in the hallway outside of Hoshimura-senpai’s room.  Across from me, Ito-senpai was frowning and starring at the floor.  For those minutes, neither of us spoke and finally, I could stand it no longer.  “Ito-senpai?”


“The doctor said” she said, barely above a whisper “the impact was stronger than previously thought and a section of her spinal cord had been damaged.  More specifically, vertebrae Th11 to L2 were damaged.”  She looked at me and I knew she hoped that I could understand.  Instead, I drew a blank and looked at her just as blankly.  Those words meant nothing to me!  She might as well have never opened her mouth in the first place!


“What… what does that mean…?”


“It means she is suffering from lower body paralysis.”


Sometimes, when I would think back on that afternoon, I wondered if it had happened any other way, would things have been different.  Ito-senpai’s words shocked me and I never thought I’d recover from such a shock.  Inside the room, Hoshimura-senpai lay as if she were just sleeping.  However, beneath the white hospital sheet, those legs would never move again.


They spoke about rehabilitation and the numbers of probability.  They said that there was a sixty to seventy percent chance for a complete recovery.  However, I only heard the other side of the coin: it meant that there was a thirty to forty percent chance for failure.  What would happen then?


Days that followed passed in a blur; I could not recall any details.  I spoke with Hoshimura-senpai when she was awake and tried to smile.  I didn’t know whether she knew about her condition, but she smiled like always and joked like before.  I did not have the heart to tell or confirm anything with her, so I smiled when she did and laughed when she did, hoping that it’d ease some of her pain.


I returned home after a week and cried myself to sleep that very evening.


A few days after, it was confirmed that Fujimaru-senpai had given birth to a baby girl and that both mother and daughter were safe.  I smiled at the news without any real joy and looked at the shots of the hospital that Fujimaru-senpai was apparently staying in.  It looked similar to the one that Hoshimura-senpai was staying in, but both gave me shivers.


Hoshimura-senpai returned home after two months and three weeks.


So then, I thought, let this summer pass quickly.  I thought that if the summer passed quickly, then there wouldn’t be any more terrible news.


That was until one July morning, when I woke up to the incessant ringing of my cell phone.  It was an unfamiliar number so I pressed ignore until it stopped.  To my shock, I realized that I had missed seven calls by this caller in the past twenty minutes.  My goodness, how deep was I asleep?!


In my hand, my phone vibrated once again and began ringing.  It was the same number, and this time, I did not hesitate to pick it up.




There were frantic words from the other end of the line, but the one sentence that froze me could never be forgotten.


Fujimaru-san was found dead in her room; it looks like she committed suicide.

To be continued...

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