A faint voice cuts through the crowds on the street, and somewhere in the back of Retsuko’s mind, a bell goes off.
She almost turns to look, but doesn’t. She simply doesn’t have the mental capacity to indulge in whims like that. Not these days, when other concerns tend to sap what little energy she has left at the end of the day.
Retsuko has so little energy these days.
She walks on, and hears same voice again and again at closer intervals. With each instance, her brain lets off another ping, louder and more jarring than the last, until her hand is tightening on the strap of her purse, and her eyebrows knitting together in frustration at the feeling of some important piece of information hovering just out of reach.
Where has she heard-
All the breath rushes right out of her, and she looks around so fast she almost gives herself whiplash, the surprise sitting much sharper on her face than it did when she was twenty-five.
“It's really you! Long time no see.”
Retsuko nods, looking out the window so she doesn’t have to see Tadano’s face as he parrots her last word back to her. She imagined there was some pity in it. Maybe even some ‘I told you so’, or ‘what did you expect’.
His chair creaks as he shifts in his seat. Retsuko keeps her head turned, watching the passersby with a bitter wistfulness, and is completely taken aback when Tadano lays a hand over the one she has resting on the table. She turns back to him, and his eyes are as kind as she has ever seen.
Its too hard to look at that kindness. She hastily takes a large swallow of tea to stave off the tightness in her throat and just looks outside again. Tadano follows her gaze. A young mother passes by with a brood of children, and the hand over hers tightens.
“Did you have children?”
“Two little boys.” Retsuko pauses. ”Well, not so little anymore, actually.”
“I’d love to hear more about them.”
Retsuko drags her gaze back to Tadano, and drops her eyes down to where their hands are still intertwined.
“…if you want to tell me about them? Or did you need to be somewhere else right now?”
Retsuko abruptly withdraws her hand. Tadano looks genuinely disappointed, but perks up again when Retsuko doesn't get up to leave, instead settling herself more comfortably in her chair. She picks up her cup with both hands, and gives him a look that is rather appraising, but has genuine warmth in it.
“No. I don't have to be anywhere else.”
And they can both hear the echo from the past as they smile at each other.