“Ahhh, this is going to be great,” Uo says, stretching her arms straight up in the air like she’s preparing to shout for joy. “I’m already fired up!”
“I’m excited too,” Hana chimes in, her calm voice creating the perfect contrast.
Tohru nods in agreement with her friends but doesn’t say anything. The platform isn’t too crowded as the three of them wait for their train. She readjusts her luggage near her feet so that she’s ready to grab it once the train arrives. Uo and Hana continue chatting about random things, but Tohru’s mind is focused on recent memories.
More specifically, memories of their high school graduation from only a few days ago. She still almost can’t believe it because it feels as if she should be preparing for the next school year like usual. It’s hard to accept that “high school student” doesn’t describe her anymore. No more homework assignments, no more tests, no more school festivals, no more “good morning” greetings from her classmates each day.
There were so many changes all happening so quickly.
“Here’s our ride,” Uo says, tapping Tohru on her shoulder to get her attention. Uo is smiling happily as she moves to board the train.
Tohru blinks, having been so lost in thought she didn’t even realize their train had arrived. But she quickly grabs her bag and follows her friends inside before the doors close. It doesn’t take them long to settle down into their seats.
“You’ve been rather quiet this morning, Tohru,” Hana remarks as she takes the seat next to the window. She looks concerned, like she’s been paying extra careful attention to the waves around her. “Is everything okay? Are you feeling well?”
“Oh no, I’m fine!” Tohru answers, waving her hands frantically for emphasis and adding a smile for good measure. “I was just thinking about whether I’d forgotten to pack anything.”
She’s hesitant to share what she’d really been thinking about. The three of them hadn’t spoken about how things will be different now. She thinks if she doesn’t voice it out loud yet, maybe she won’t have to face it.
“Don’t worry too much,” Uo says. She’s lounging in the aisle seat, already looking perfectly relaxed in her space. “If we’ve forgotten anything, we’ll just pick up what we need at the store. Besides, the checklists you made for us were pretty helpful. I’m sure we’re good to go.”
“Right,” Tohru nods. She’d worked hard on those packing checklists.
The train pulls out from the station, setting them in motion for their journey to Kyoto. The destination had been hastily chosen when Uo remembered their second year field trip to the city and their promise to return again one day. Of all people, it had actually been Shigure who’d initially suggested the three of them take a trip after their graduation ceremony.
“You three girls should go somewhere fun now that the chains of student life are off your shoulders,” he’d said while he snapped a few photos of everyone with their diplomas in hand. “Traveling is the currency of youth after all.”
“What does that even mean?” Yuki had muttered, while Kyo had chimed in with “keep your nonsensical sayings in your novels.”
But Uo and Hana had loved the idea, and Tohru thought traveling with them would be wonderful. Now that the train is in motion, however, Tohru can only seem to focus on the swirling mix of emotions she’s been feeling since graduation. Joy, sadness, excitement, anxiety…
“You know…” Uo begins, pulling Tohru back to the present. “We haven’t made any specific plans yet for what we’ll do when we get to Kyoto. Any suggestions? Thoughts?”
Tohru’s eyes widen. “Ah, I should have planned out a schedule!”
Hana tilts her head, like she’s taking care to contemplate the situation from all angles. “I think it might be more fun if we just go with the flow,” she explains. “I imagine there will be endless possibilities down every road we travel.”
Uo chuckles, and even Tohru smiles at Hana’s suggestion.
“And what do you imagine those possibilities actually are?” Uo asks, twisting her torso so she’s more comfortable facing the two of them instead of facing forward like normal. She’s grinning now in anticipation of what Hana’s answer will be.
Hana’s tone of voice is completely serious. “While walking down the street as we shop for souvenirs, a shopkeeper will call out to us. He’ll tell us we’ve won coupons for unlimited dango.” She stares off into the distance for a moment, presumably thinking about eating a limitless supply of the tasty treat.
“That would be wonderful!” Tohru says while Uo laughs loudly. She pulls a tiny notepad out of her bag and hastily jots down “eat dango” so she’ll remember to look for it later.
Tohru can actually imagine the scenario. They would be walking down a crowded street, brushing past people going about their own business, trying to avoid knocking into shoulders and elbows as they looked for souvenirs. Tohru already has a few ideas in mind for what she wants to get Kyo and Yuki and the others. She can imagine Uo cracking jokes about a few strange things they pass by, and Hana pausing to get free samples from every food vendor they see. Tohru has no idea why a shopkeeper would randomly select them for free coupons, but she can also imagine just how nice the snack would taste. She remembers the sweetness of the dumplings from the last time she was in Kyoto.
“Perhaps we will get lucky and also earn an unlimited supply of crepes too,” Hana adds. “You never know what you may find while shopping. Of course…” she pauses briefly for dramatic effect. “We may also find that our luck has run out, and we end up with free natto instead.”
Uo wrinkles her nose at the idea of eating the sticky smelly soybean dish. But Tohru makes a note of each thing on her notepad anyway.
“You know we can find all of those foods back home,” Uo points out. “What else are we going to do in Kyoto?”
Hana pauses while she thinks up another answer. “It would be nice if we could visit some temples, especially ones with very pretty gardens.” She names a few, and Tohru adds them all to her list.
Tohru imagines walking with her friends down carefully maintained paths winding through beautiful gardens, flanked on both sides by colorful flowers and green trees. She hopes she’ll be able to capture all of it with her camera.
“Walking through the bamboo forest in Arashiyama might be nice too,” Hana continues. “Perhaps we will find a glowing stick of bamboo, and inside there will be a tiny baby…”
Uo snorts, interrupting Hana’s story. “That’s Tale of the Bamboo Cutter,” she laughs.
Hana merely shrugs. “Stranger things have happened…” she says, gazing mysteriously out the train window.
If only you knew, Tohru thinks to herself, remembering the Sohma family curse. She’s glad that’s all behind them now though.
“What about you, Uo-chan?” Tohru asks, interested in hearing what her other friend will come up with. “What kind of possibilities do you imagine?”
Uo taps a finger to her chin. “Let’s see…” Then she slaps her knees as if a brilliant idea just occurred to her. “We should go see one of those kabuki plays.”
“I’ve never been to one of those before,” Tohru says, writing that down as well. But she can imagine the three of them in a dark performance hall, waiting in anticipation for the show to start. Even though the performance styles are different, it’ll bring back memories of the time they performed Sorta Cinderella in high school, and they’ll probably quietly whisper stories amongst themselves before the play starts. Memories of the rehearsals, the feeling of the elaborately designed costumes they wore, the butterflies fluttering in their stomachs before they stepped on stage.
“I’m sure we can find a really interesting show to watch,” Uo continues. “But, you know, there’s a part in every play where the action slows down and gets kind of boring. And maybe right when the play gets to that point, a bunch of yakuza will suddenly take over the theater!”
Uo looks rather excited as she declares this possibility.
“What??” Tohru exclaims, not having expected that turn of events. The pleasant evening she had been imagining morphs into one of thrills and danger. A horde of yakuza guys emerge from the shadows of the theater, throwing the performance into chaos.
“Yeah,” Uo says. She pushes up her sleeves like she’s ready for a fight. “But don’t worry because even though I’m retired, I still think I could take them on and rescue us.”
Tohru really could imagine Uo standing up to a scary, faceless yakuza guy in an attempt to keep her and Hana safe. She’d somehow suddenly be wearing a long coat and brandishing a pipe. But Tohru wouldn’t want Uo to be in that much danger.
“What if… the yakuza interruption was actually part of the play?” Tohru suggests, mostly to calm her overactive imagination.
Hana nods. “Excellent plot twist.”
Uo grins. “We’d definitely get our money’s worth in entertainment.” She pauses a moment with a smile still on her face, as though she’s still imagining her heroic rescue fantasy. But then she turns her attention back to Tohru. “So what possibilities do you imagine?”
Having the question suddenly directed to herself makes the anxieties Tohru had been trying to ignore rise back to the surface. Her mind feels blank, like the future is a stark white canvas of nothingness. Life is changing so fast and she feels like she might be swallowed up in that blank abyss, falling forever and ever into nothingness.
Sensing her hesitation, Hana reaches out and gently holds Tohru’s hand, giving her an encouraging smile. And then Uo grasps the other hand and smiles too.
Tohru realizes they understand all her anxieties and fears without her even having to say a word.
The blank white canvas in her mind shifts, with the smiling faces of her friends slowly starting to fill in the space. It’s Hana and Uo’s faces at first, then Kyo’s, and then the rest of the Sohmas she’s gotten to know well over the past few years. It feels more like a family than friendship…
And then it hits Tohru: it’s the same feeling she has thinking of her parents, the love she still holds for them even if she can’t reach out and touch them anymore.
Familial bonds don’t break just because they don’t get to see each other every day anymore. Leaving high school behind might set them on separate paths, but their bond can withstand anything life may throw at them on the road ahead.
Hana and Uo’s hands are warm. So warm she wants to burn the memory of that feeling into her mind forever.
“I imagine…” Tohru begins, finally answering Uo’s question. “I imagine we will have a wonderful time in Kyoto making lots of memories, no matter what we do. We will explore the city together, seeing all the beautiful sights and people, trying new foods, tackling the unexpected. Maybe we’ll take a wrong turn and get lost, but that’s okay. Maybe we’ll win free coupons or fight off the yakuza. I don’t know, but I think we’ll have fun whatever happens.”
“You’re exactly right,” Uo agrees. “What did you say earlier, Hana? There are endless possibilities down every road we travel?”
“Indeed,” Hana says, nodding a confirmation.
It feels like the pit of anxiety which has been pressing down on Tohru’s chest for the past few days has finally lifted. Life was still changing and the future—short-term and long-term—was still a blank unknown, but she feels like her friends have given her the strength to tackle it.
“Perhaps…” Hana breaks the silence again. “While walking along the riverbank, we will find a giant peach floating by with a child inside…”
Uo snorts again. “That’s Momotaro!”
This time Tohru chimes in with “stranger things have happened” and the three of them break down into a giggling fit that makes the nearby passengers shoot them startled glances and concerned side-eyes.
Their conversation shifts to Uo talking about the weather report, while Hana begins to insist on putting Tohru’s hair into braids. And the train continues to hurtle forward to their destination.