|Torn Picture 4|
|Found in||Kurato Hotel|
|Related memory items||Torn Picture 1|
Torn Picture 4Edit
When I finally spoke to Mao again, it was the day of our high school graduation. I heard from our homeroom teacher that Mao was going to college in some far-off city. It was a college where he could really pursue his study of botany.
I didn't want to leave things as they were.
After the ceremony, I searched the school, and found Mao by the school garden.
It'd been so long since I saw him up close, and he was a lot taller than I remembered. His long, slender fingers were black with earth and his hands looked weathered. The strap of his canvas shoulder bag had been loosened to its maximum to let his bag fall to his hips. Somehow that was enough to make my heart race.
All I had to do was talk like we used to, but my mind suddenly went blank. What did I sound like when we used to talk? Was my voice high? Low? How did I choose my words? Was I curt with him? Cute? What was my timing when I smiled or got angry? I had no idea what to say.
The graduates and students were laughing and crying together. They called out to each other, their incessant flow of words echoed through the school halls and reverberated around us.
"We'll always be friends!"
"Goodbye! Come back to visit!"
I listened closely to borrow some of their words, but none of them were what I wanted to say.
"Mao... come down here."
That was all I could finally manage to say. After a quick look of confusion, Mao knelt before me, eyes on mine. There was that familiar scent. The smell of damp earth. Mao always smelled of earth. Long ago, I used to love napping beside him as he read. It felt like I was lying in the middle of a grassy field.
I finally felt like I was with my old Mao and was able to speak naturally.
"How's your research for the lantern blossoms going?"
"Actually, my college has fully equipped labs, so I think I'll finally be able to make some sort of progress. Genetic engineering is still a tricky field, so I probably won't be successful right away. I have a million and one things I want to test out, so I highly doubt that four years will be enough time."
Once given the chance, Mao's eyes glistened and he rattled on like the old days. His voice was lower than I remembered. He was intense and full of confidence. But there was still a bit of that old, delicate Mao in him, too. My heart was filled with so many feelings, I thought I'd burst into tears. I hadn't even cried during the ceremony.
How had I survived being apart from Mao all these years? How could I stand not hearing him? How could I breathe without taking in his scent? Why hadn't I tried to patch things up sooner? And now, Mao was going far away. I would never be able to follow him with my legs.
Mao was like a towering tree beside me. He offered me cozy shade, quenched my thirst with dew, gave me fresh oxygen to breathe... He was a gentle, peaceful tree.
"Mao, we'll always be friends, right?"
"Take care where you're going."
"Goodbye. And... come visit me some time."
I'm still studying photography. And I've even landed some gigs. I click the shutter, blown away by the force, and breath, and energy of the athletes. As a hobby, I've begun shooting trees and flowers, too. Whenever I capture the workings of life that flowers give off so powerfully, and yet can be easy to miss if you're not careful, I swear I can smell Mao beside me.
Though the year of his graduation came, Mao did not. Rumor had it he was staying late at the lab. He was so preoccupied, he'd probably forgotten all about me.
I knew deep down in his heart, he never had any intention of keeping his promise to see me again. By that point, he and I had already make our way down our own separate paths. I had left my tree called Mao and was already breathing on my own. I'd come to the realization that our dreams no longer fit on a one-page drawing the way they used to.
Where did you come from?
Where are you going?
I'm sure you come from some place I don't know, going some place I can't follow.
If during your journey you happen to encounter a lantern blossom, I want you to take a moment, stop, and think about the botanist who created it. I'm sure it will have been a young man named Mao. I believe that someday, he'll become the most amazing botanist ever.