It's a chilly evening, and she sticks her hands into her pockets when she goes out to get the mail. Fall has come early this year, she thinks. I'm getting on in years, she also thinks.
Hikaru is coming home tonight for dinner -- dinner and a little birthday celebration, that is. It's a day early, but he'd made all sorts of protests when she'd suggested they hold it tomorrow instead; he's busy, he has to play a game the day after, he'll be studying with Touya, one of his friends has promised to take him out to sushi. ("He's paying, too!" Hikaru had said, full of undisguised glee. "Goodness knows you make enough money to buy your own sushi these days," she'd replied, feeling her voice swell with affection for the boy who's grown up far faster than she'd ever expected.)
He seems happy, which is about all a mother can ask for, she supposes. She still doesn't quite understand, but his grandfather has never been anything if not fully supportive, and at least he has lots of friends his own age. She'll never stop worrying about him -- Hikaru is the type who'll need someone to worry for him until he's eighty-nine -- but it's good for her heart to know that he can take care of himself now. In a way.
Inside, she puts all the letters on the table, then goes to check on the stock she's brewing. She tastes it off the end of a ladle, then decides to let it sit a while longer.
The mail is mostly bills: electricity, television, internet. She sifts through them quickly, sorting them and throwing away the advertisements, then her fingers catch on a wrinkly envelope addressed to SHINDOU HIKARU in familiar handwriting.
"Oh?" she says. She turns it over -- there's nothing on the other side. It's a mother's prerogative to be curious, she's always held. Hikaru hasn't received mail here for over two years; and then there's the handwriting.
She slits it open. Inside is a folded sheet of paper. Along the top, in barely readable xerox, is written:
WRITE A LETTER TO YOURSELF. TALK ABOUT YOUR AMBITIONS: WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GO? WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE? SENSEI WILL READ YOUR LETTERS BUT THERE WILL BE NO GRADE. IN FIVE YEARS, SENSEI WILL SEND THE LETTERS BACK TO YOU.
Underneath that, in black pen, someone (Hikaru, of course, she thinks) has drawn dozens of tsumego. She can't read them, but she can almost see him working out the problem over the paper, diagram after diagram, some of them scratched out impatiently. In the center, in red ink, is written: "
Who is Sai? Never mind." It's crossed out, and then signed: TAKEDA-SENSEI.
And just above that, several lines, hard to read where they overlap the tsumego:
I hope you've finally caught up with that
You'd better have made pro by now!!!!!!!
Did we make it?
She reads it several times. It still doesn't make sense. Never mind, she thinks, sighing. Hikaru has never made sense. She'll show him the letter tonight; perhaps he'll explain. Then again, perhaps he won't.