Now rushing down the two flights of stairs from his room and into the boarding houses’ foyer, Niko quickly grabbed his pair of black and white sneakers from the front door and struggled to get them on each corresponding foot as he nearly tripped over the other various pairs of shoes that were also tossed by the main entrance.
“Niko!” somebody called out, just as the foreigner was literally a foot out of the door.
The teenager didn’t really expect anybody to know his name just yet, he had only arrived yesterday after all. Well, maybe the Landlady would; but he had not even had a chance to meet her yet.
A tall woman with long, silky black hair greeted him. She smiled warmly and handed Niko a small box that was wrapped up in a light blue cloth.
“Lunch” she implied, pointing towards the box. The woman said the word in English, but it appeared that saying single, simple phrases were her limit.
Grateful for the homemade meal, Niko smiled back and kept his english as basic as possible to avoid any miscommunication.
“Thank you!” he said, remembering to bow his head as sign of respect. He then waved as he made for the door, praying that he hadn't missed his train to school yet.
The woman smiled and waved back, glad that they could have at least some sort of interaction with one another.
The Subways in Japan were accurate to the descriptions he had heard back in America. They were busy, loud and full of people. Also, in addition to not knowing how to speak Japanese, Niko couldn’t even remotely begin to read kanji; so all of the voice announcement and brightly coloured neon signs made little to no sense to him.
‘I’ll just follow the people with my uniform on…’ he thought, looking around for other students that were wearing the same black blazer and white-tipped cuffs that he had on. ‘No good…can’t see anybody wearing the same clothes as me…’
Niko sighed and elbowed his way into a nearby kiosk to gather his bearings. He could choose either one of the two options he'd laid out for himself. The first one was to get every train he saw and ride it until he saw the name of his school. The latter was to engage in awkward conversations with the station staff until they pointed him in the right direction. Not a great selection...
With another heavy sigh, Niko walked over the middle-aged woman at the kiosk counter, cleared his throat and braced himself for the wave of awkwardness that was about to swallow him whole...
Niko reached Ishimaku High School at around 11am.
The school originally opened its gates at 7am and classes began an hour later. It turned out that getting on the right train proved to be a much more difficult task than he could have ever imagined. Not to mention the awkward conversation with the woman at the desk.
Upon laying his eyes on the very ordinary-looking school, he was greeted by a stern-faced teacher at the front entrance, who seemed like he had been waiting there for quite a while. The man seemed slightly irritated, which seemed about right, considering the fact that Niko was three hours late on his first day. Before the teenager could even begin to explain the current situattion to the midlle-aged man, he teacher thrust a pair of white pumps (that were made off a thin material) into Niko's hands and then instructed him to wear them only when he was inside of the school building. After slipping them on, the foreigner was lead to what he believed was the Teacher’s Lounge and introduced to a small, stocky man, who wore a simple dark blue cap and a tracksuit of the same colour.
A gym teacher. And apparently, he was bilingual.
“Why’re you so late, Kamawari?” the teacher asked as he stood up and stretched his arms. “Got lost on your first day or something?”
“Y-Yeah…something like that, sir…” Niko replied, not wanting to tell his story of his stressful train journey to school. “Are you from America by any chance?”
“Cali. But that’s beside the point, isn’t it? Well, I guess I’ll introduce you to your class after lunch. Go eat or something, Kamawari”
“Uhm…sure, see you later, sir”
“Yeah. Oh and don’t be late to class. It’s Class 2-B on the second staircase, yeah?”
“Okay, got it”
Not particularly sure of which the direction the cafeteria was in, Niko wandered out into the hallway and watched as a group of friends walked down the corridors chatting and laughing between themselves. The friendship group was made up of two girls and two boys; who glanced over at him and smiled, welcomingly.
‘Well, everyone seems nice enough…but I still can’t understand a word that they’re saying…’ Niko thought, as he smiled, sheepishly and waved back. ‘I hope that I’m able to pick up Japanese quickly or else I’m screwed…’
The transfer student was suddenly reminded of the time by his empty stomach as it growled, audibly.
“That nice landlady gave me a lunchbox earlier, didn’t she?” Niko mumbled to himself, as he leaned against a nearby wall and checked his school bag for a glimpse of the light blue cloth that his food had been wrapped in. The contents of the box was something that Niko was greatly looking forward to; it would be his first time eating a Japanese meal and a homemade one at that.
‘There you are!’
The teenager pulled out the boxed meal from his bag, just as his stomach rumbled loudly again.
‘Don’t really fancy eating in the front entrance though, I wonder if there are any quieter spots around here?’ he thought, looking about. ‘Maybe there’s a spot upstairs somewhere?’
Niko made a beeline for the first set of stairs he saw, dodging the occasional student here and there.
Ishimaku High was honestly much bigger than Niko had originally expected it to, which only seemed to add to the make his current situation seem a little problematic than it was previously. Not to mention that he was now utterly lost as well.
“I could’ve sworn that I came from that direction…” Niko muttered to himself, as he wandered down yet another unfamiliar hallway, hoping that it would lead him straight back to the front entrance of the high school.
Despite being very unsure of current whereabouts, the new transfer student walked on, still clutching onto his lunch. As he continued on his aimless little adventure, Niko spotted an open, empty classroom in the corner of his eye. Normally, entering a unused room in an unfamiliar building would be totally out of the question; but the nagging pain in his stomach was enough to convince the teenager to take a seat and eat something; even if it was just for a moment.
Unwrapping the box and popping open the lid to his first meal in Japan, Niko immediately noticed that the meal, whilst it filled with delicious-looking foodstuffs, such as rice and rolled omelettes, was obviously not made especially for him.
Sections of the white rice were coloured red recreating the shape of a heart on it and the tips of the thin toothpicks featured cute-looking characters. Actually, on closer inspection, Niko discovered that the lunchbox itself was a shade of light pink and complete with an array of even more colourful characters plastered on the side and lid of the box.
This food was clearly was not for made for him, either that or the woman from earlier was massively misunderstanding something…
It probably wasn’t a good idea to eat someone else’s meal, but Niko’s stomach had quite a different train of thought…
‘Just a little bit can’t hurt can it?’ he thought to himself, as he breathed in the delicious scent of the homemade meal.
Niko found a pair of chopsticks in a special compartment on the inside of the lunchbox’s lid and before he could even properly comprehend it, the transfer student was already munching on a mouthful of the white rice that was topped with some unknown red condiment.
‘It tastes bitter? Almost metallic?’ Niko thought in surprise as he tried to verify the flavour in his mouth. He had definitely tasted something like this before, but the question was where…
All of his attention suddenly shifted from the food in front of him to what seemed to be a small child, who was standing in the doorway. She could not have been any older than 10, but she had somehow walked straight into a highschool without being stopped or questioned, which was already suspicous enough...
The girl’s slick black hair had grown ridiculously long, so much so that it had covered her eyes and begun to trail behind her as she walked. The second most interesting thing about this girl was the way she was dressed. A formal-looking shirt, a striking red skirt and no shoes, but strangely enough; these clothes looked several years old; the hem of the shirt was torn and the vibrant red of the skirt had downgraded to a more dirty, sombre rouge colour.
The girl walked into the classroom, calmly; pulled out a seat and made herself comfortable. Niko was still in a state of confusion as the girl looked directly at him, well, it was actually fairly difficult for him to tell, because her eyes were hidden by her long hair; but she was definitely looking in his direction.
This peculiar staring match continued for about another two minutes, completely undisturbed. The only thing that could be heard was the occasional sound of the wind blowing through cracks in the wall, making a high-pitched whistling sound.
‘What does this kid want? She’s been staring at me for a while now…’ Niko thought after a while, the almost suffocating silence was beginning to get to him. "How'd she even get in here in the first place?"
He intended to stand up quickly and walk briskly to the classroom door, but the transfer student tripped over a chair leg on the way; causing him to propel forwards onto the floor causing the contents of the lunchbox to spill all over the recently polished floor.
It was then that the young girl began to speak.
“Oh, Blood over Rice, good choice. Hey. You can see me, can’t you?” she said, rather sternly. Her tone sounded more of that of a middle-aged woman rather than a 10-year-old girl. It was almost as if some arrogant woman in her early thirties had been trapped inside of a kid’s body. “Answer me already.”
“B-Blood? I was tasting blood?” Niko replied, brushing the occasional rice grain off of his uniform.
“Of course, it’s one of Kaori’s specialties. How did you even get that lunch box anyways?”
"Who’re you?” Niko replied, answering a question with a question. Picking himself up of the floor, he attempted to repress the feeling of nausea that was begining to well up from within him. “Who’s Kaori? Why was that rice soaked in blood?”
“Weird…I’ve never come across someone like you before…”
“What’re you talking about? Actually, what happened to you? Your clothes are completely wornout! Where’s your mom? Are you lost?”
“Huh. Don’t treat me like a kid.”
“But you are one…”
“I just said that I’m not one!”
The girl let a pitiful sigh and hopped off of her seat.
“Well, I don’t expect somebody like you to understand my current situation” she muttered as she walked towards the door. “Do you even know who I am?”
“What? Why would I? I just met you”
“Never mind…Well, at least your Japanese is good. I thought that I wouldn’t be able to speak with you at first since you’re a foreigner and all”
Niko blinked in surprise. It took a couple of seconds for him
‘Japanese? Is this kid mentally stable? We’ve been speaking English this entire time!’ he thought, worriedly. ‘I hope that her parents find her soon…’
“Are you an idiot? No, you must be. Nobody would be stupid enough to insult me a second time…” the girl said, menacingly. “I already told you to stop treating me like a child!”
“I-I didn’t even say anything, though...” Niko replied, now very concerned about this young girl. She then looked in his direction for a second time, not saying anything.
“W-What now?” the transfer student asked, counting the seconds until the girl’s mother and father would hopefully come rushing into the room to collect their clinically insane daughter.
“Your name. Tell me it.” She implied, simply.
“Niko. Niko Kamawari…”
“I’m Hanako. We’ll meet again, Niko Kamawari”
And with that sorry excuse of an introduction, Hanako exited the room and headed down the corridor, muttering to herself.
‘I sure hope the hell we don’t….’ Niko thought, as he went to check that the strange girl had really gone. 'Was it a mistake to give her my actual name' However, the teenager was met with a mixture of surprise and shock as soon as he poked his head outside of the classroom.
The corridor was completely empty…