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6 Mimaki Village Rumours

After the brief tour of the cottage, Hinata left Aiyama-san and Miki-chan to freshen up in their room. Once he was ready for work, he left the house keys and a note on the low table in the main room. He was entrusting strangers to his home with a reaffirmation of his belief in the good nature of people.

His thoughts ran wild as he walked the usual route to his dress shop. His mind was struggling to form a coherent logic as to why his mayor had left the woman and child in his care. He wouldn't be honest with himself if he didn't view their presence awkwardly.

He realised Akira's concerns were justifiable. It was a strange move for his mayor, knowing full well he was single-handedly running his home on his own. He frowned with a thought, hoping those men hadn't brought her over for less honourable reasons. Of course, aside from Akira and Mei-chan, no one was aware of him and Eiji being a couple by an yôshi engumi (family adoption). Even if he did prefer women, it would be a despicable reason to offer someone's home for the sake of comfort.

"If Mayor's intentions were dishonourable." He shook off the bad assumption.

It wasn't nice to think of others this way. Besides, he wouldn't know how to address the question in an ethical and discreet manner. If his mayor realised that Eiji and himself were more than business partners, what would he think of them? Asking on why would likely flip open a can of worms that he didn't have the strength to deal with.

His hands trembled nervously at the memory of his old school life, not keen to relive another existence of beatings, being spat on, and viewed as the poisonous beauty who defiled the perfect man. Despite Eiji's constant reassurance and defence towards his honour and face, it was never enough to stop the way other people hated him nor the paranoia of being ambushed by boys who were ready to pound him into the ground. The treatment from others had made Hinata be a loner back then. He had tried to spare Eiji that painful existence by avoidance and being cold, but it failed. Eiji keep begging him to love him, ignoring the warnings from his father who was the Governor of their former prefecture. Choosing Hinata had tied Eiji's fate to war and his name renounced from the Takaki family register with exceptions.

Eiji stayed by his side as much as he could, helping him to restore his faith in people and especially himself.

_"Hinata. If I don't return, you must keep going. You've come so far in rebuilding a life. Keep living it for me. Please—"_ Eiji had been calm when he said those words before his departure. Hinata felt his desperation for the promise to be fulfilled.

In truth, Hinata was barely hanging on, doing his best to keep the flow of his daily life going in honour of their promise. To go back to his old ways and isolate himself from others to deal with his grief, would be a dishonour to all the efforts they had achieved together in being able to walk amongst people as normal human beings again.

Yet the hollow sadness within him wouldn't go away.

He stopped his walk as he felt his heart a heavyweight against his chest. His painful heartbeats were making it hard for him to breathe. The pain worsen as Eiji's face surfaced vividly to his mind.

He wandered off the main road and down a side path that lead to the back of the village's shops and away from prying eyes.

His aimless wander moved him through fields of meter tall autumn-spring foliage and flowers of yellow, purple and blue petals. The warmth of his body was gradually replaced with a numbing cold from the field's heavy dew. Unable to stand and walk, he fell down and cried out his grief amongst the cover of the stern foliage and morose coloured petals.

"I'm sorry Eiji-san. I'm sorry. I miss you so much—" He continued to cry out until all his tears were emptied and his head ached with a threat of splitting open.

Godrays of silver-white daylight broke through the overcast sky, casting gentle warmth to the top of Hinata's bowed head. He stood and straightened himself up, glancing back towards the distant backs of his and the other shops; spying the stacks of bagged, boxed or crated goods awaiting to be revealed on shelves before the general community.

He would stick to his decision of moving on from old fears and sadness. For the promise he made with Eiji, he would live with his current pretense.

He trudged his way back to his shop and approached his back door.


Hinata cursed under his breath when heard his name being called out just as he was about to slide open the reinforced bamboo door to his shop's store room. He quickly smoothed down his image the best he could and turned around to politely greet Mei-chan, but she had seen his teary eyes.

She placed the box she was carrying down on another and crossed the threshold to enter his store's area. Her conversation began on the topic of his new house guests, feeling unsure on whether to broach the subject she knew was the reason for his teary eyes.

Hinata released a few thankful sighs.

They sat down on a pile of boxes and watertight wooden containers next to his door and made themselves comfortable for a chat.
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"They seem nice people. Poor things must be tired from their journey, which is why I left them the house to give them time to recollect," he answered on Mei's questions.

Mei frowned, not agreeing on his trusting nature. She had over heard the mayor and her father talking about entrusting the strangers to Hinata when their mayor had purchased some bread from the store in the morning. It seemed that the woman and child had arrived with a classroom full of children who became orphaned in a recent air raid attack. She felt sure their mayor was taking an advantage.

"Are you sure you're trusting them too much too soon?" She blurted and apologised for speaking her mind.

Hinata smiled. "If we stop trusting in people, we can never achieve a world without war."

"Forgive me." Mei deeply apologised again with a bow.

"It's okay Mei-chan, I appreciate your concern. I think we need to give others a chance before we decide they aren't worthy for trust, don't you think?" He gently pushed his opinion with hope that all the other people of Mimaki Village would be as open to seeing people for who they were before casting stones.

Mei beamed a friendly and supportive smile towards him. "Hai!"

An abrupt bang and smash noise drew their attention towards the top floor of Ishikawa-san's sweet shop. Mei frowned, her left knee nervously moved up and down.

"I haven't been able to see Kou-chan since he returned from war." Her voice became small. "It's been almost two months, and winter is nearly here. I still haven't seen him."

Hinata felt for Mei, and decided to do something for her. His instincts were telling him that Mei wouldn't able to see Kou unless the matter keeping him confined to the top floor of the sweet shop was addressed. It wasn't the only reason he felt an urge to help the with couple's union.

Kou's hidden presence had caused a lot of the bored locals to share false rumours about him. In one rumour, Kou returned as a madman due to some side effect from a Unit 731 drink secretly given to soldiers to keep them fighting. Other rumours painted him as having undergone a "comfort" existence for his seniors that won him favours for a return and now he was too ashamed to show his face. It seems the locals remembered him as being as beautiful as Hinata.

The times Hinata had heard the later rumour from local buyers in his shop had made him nervous and uncomfortable. Especially when the buyers made a crude banter about men loving men as unthinkable and not normal. He wasn't able to say anything on it. Akira had told him to ignore the talk. It made him wonder how Honda-obasan would take the knowledge of her son's romantic preference towards men.

Of course, people of the village made sure to only speak the rumours behind each other's backs. If it wasn't for Mei taking her regular walk across the family farm to the store, both families would have continued to be oblivious.

She had passed her neighbour's cowshed near the border path of her family property and overheard her neighbour's wife and husband banter over the rumours targeted at Kou and her brother. She scolded the old people for talking badly about others. The neighbours told her parents about her childish rant to ensure her scolding was returned by her father with a slap to her face as interest. Her father warned her against showing a disagreeable form in front of other people in the village. If he ever heard her speak out again to others, he would ship her off to family in Hiroshima who laboured in a factory for a German engineering company. As a good will compensation, Mei was forced to work labour on her neighbour's land. The wife's attitude was harsh and unforgiving to her the entire time she had cleaned their shed to satisfy the punishment.

"Have you talked to his mother recently?" Hinata's question broke through Mei's train of thought.

"She keeps telling me 'not today' with her usual singsong voice and polite smile. All I can do is wait with hope he would want to see me. He wasn't in love with me before he left for war. So, what right do I have to barge into his life now?" Mei sighed and shuffled off the box she had been warming. "I must return. I'm hoping your feeling better."

Hinata returned her farewell and stepped inside his shop.