Chapter 1

March 2000

Singapore

            It was raining.

            Lightning flashed across the pitch black sky, and not a second later, thunder rumbled in the distance.

            It was one of the worst downpours ever known in the small island country of Singapore. Yuri Kirisawa who was currently asleep in bed, or at least, she was supposed to be, distinctly saw a faint outline of her mother in the pitch black darkness, closing the windows of her room to prevent the rain from coming in.

            Yuri and her mother were very close, especially since she was brought up single-handedly by her mother ever since her father had vanished mysteriously even before she was born, being presumed dead.

            Because Yuri was of pure Japanese heritage, her features were different from her Singaporean classmates’ at the neighbourhood primary school that she currently attends. And she faced lots of discrimination from some of the older students in the school, despite her teachers’ best efforts to intervene.

            The moment that Yuri’s mother had left her room whilst closing her room door silently behind her, Yuri was out of her bed in an instant, pattering across her room, and pressing her ear against her door where she could hear the voices of her mother and her uncle, the latter who had came over from Japan for a visit.

            Like her mother, she has shoulder-length hair which just brushes against her shoulders, and doe-like eyes which is further evidence of her Japanese heritage.

            Yuri had been brought up properly with Japanese customs and manners drilled into her by her mother, who felt that even though they may be in a different country, Yuri is still Japanese by blood. And she needs to know all the different customs and traditions that were taught to all Japanese girls in the land of the sakura blossoms.

            The nine-year-old knew that eavesdropping on the adults’ conversation is definitely not a good thing, but if it is one thing that Yuri Kirisawa is known for, it’s her morbid curiosity.

            Her uncle who also happens to be her mother’s elder brother, Kenji Kirisawa, always come over from Japan once per year during January the first – New Year’s Day. He usually stayed about a week with his sister and his niece before departing for Japan.

            Hence, it’s very unusual for her uncle to drop by for a surprise visit. And judging by the surprised look on her mother’s face when her uncle suddenly appeared on the doorstep of their two room apartment with only a duffel bag, Hitomi Kirisawa was definitely not expecting him.

            “She’s asleep?” asked a gruff voice – Kenji Kirisawa, and a slight tap of a tin can being placed down on the wooden coffee table was heard in the sitting room.

            “Yeah,” said Hitomi Kirisawa with a sigh. “Finally. Yuri always looks forward to her Uncle Kenji’s yearly visits.” She gave a soft sigh. “What makes you drop by all of a sudden, niisan[1]? They actually allow you to leave Japan for a personal visit?” Hitomi placed an emphasis on the ‘they’.

            There was a slight pause before Kenji spoke again, and he sounded worried as he did so. “The Elder allowed me to when I told him that I have some urgent family business to attend to,” he said. There was a slight pause, and Yuri frowned as she pressed her ear closer against the door. “…Hitomi. Have you heard any news about Ryuou Kitagawa recently?”

            Yuri froze as she heard the name of her father.

            She had never met her father, and her mother had made up all kinds of excuses when Yuri was little when she had asked her mother why she didn’t have a father. And when Yuri was a little older, her mother had explained to her that she had divorced Yuri’s father even before Yuri was born because of unforeseen circumstances.

            And to this day, Yuri wondered if part of those ‘unforeseen circumstances’ was due to that nasty woman who sometimes made trouble for her mother whenever they had the misfortune to run into her in public.

            There was a very long silence before Hitomi spoke again, and even Yuri could tell that her mother’s voice sounded both pained and strained.

            “What about him?”

            “Nothing much really,” said Kenji.

            He sighed before sounding stern.

            “I told you back then that I don’t approve of your relationship with him. I told you that he’ll bring you nothing but trouble, and that I sensed a nasty vibe from that man. And now, look at what he’s brought you? A child to bring up single-handedly whilst juggling your job as a designer. And that bastard is kami-knows-where[2]. Throw in a slut, as well as that bastard child of hers who seemed to make it their mission in life to make your life miserable!”

            “Enough!” said Hitomi’s voice harshly. She then sighed.

            “I know alright, niisan? I know. You don’t have to tell me ‘I told you so’. I know damn well, alright? I may have regretted a lot of things, among which included meeting him. But the only good thing that had ever come out of Ryuou is Yuri. She’s my treasure. I love her more than life itself. So don’t ever say that she’s a mistake that should never have been born!”

            “I didn’t say such a thing!” Kenji retorted. He sighed. “It’s just… There’s a purpose for my sudden visit here.”

            Hitomi sighed. “I thought as much,” she said. “Spit it out.”

            Kenji lowered his voice considerably, and Yuri frowned as she strained her ears to try to listen in to as much of the conversation that she could overhear as possible. And she caught only slight snippets of the conversation that didn’t make much sense to her i.

            Hitomi gave a sigh just then.

            “I don’t know, niisan,” she said hesitantly.

            “It’s true that apart from Ryuou, no one else knew about my research in Japan back then. But if what you said is true, then…” She trailed off.

            Kenji sighed.

            “I’ll be heading back to Japan tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll look more into it then.”

            “Okay,” said Hitomi. “If you have any news, contact me immediately.”

            There was a slight pause before Kenji spoke again. “You still have that flower?”

            Yuri knew what flower her uncle was talking about -- The stalk of the cherry blossom flowers, otherwise known as the sakura blossoms, that Kenji had brought over during his January visit that year, and which Hitomi had placed in a vase half-filled with water.

            “Of course. Niisan never forgot that my favourite sakura blossoms. Every year, you always picked a stalk of it for me when the sakura blossoms in Japan.” There was a slight pause. “It’s getting late. I’ll make up a bed for you—”

            “Don’t bother,” said Kenji, interrupting Hitomi. “Just give me a blanket and a pillow. I’ll rather not rob you of your bed. I’ll just crash on the couch for tonight.”

            “Niisan!”

            “Hey, I’ve had worst sleeping arrangements. Just get me a pillow and a blanket. I’ll be just fine.”

            Yuri bolted away from her door before leaping into bed, just as Hitomi opened the door of her room and headed towards the cabinet in the darkness whilst making as little noise as possible, in search of a spare pillow and a blanket for Kenji.

            Yuri closed her eyes, feigning sleep. And when she heard the sounds of her mother’s footsteps leaving her room, Yuri opened her eyes again, staring at her ceiling which had several glow-in-the-dark stars.

            ‘What was that all about?’ Yuri wondered.



[1] Niisan: Older brother in the Japanese, and is also a causal form of greeting among siblings

[2] Kami: ‘God’ in Japanese

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