Chapter 2.Winter: Gifts
Keigo and Tsubasa realized that Takashi's image of his father had been smashed. He was anxious, and had lost interest in schoolwork. They were worried about him. Takashi had mostly stopped using RUICA. When he did, his messages were about his dark vision of the future. One of his messages read, "Nobody will notice if I disappear. People will soon forget the fact that I existed and just enjoy their lives. If so, I think I should disappear soon."
"If you disappear, I will be very sad and will be filled with sorrow for the rest of my life," replied Keigo, writing as Tsubasa.
"You say so for now. You have your own happiness." Reading Takashi's bitter remarks, Keigo remembered what Yukio had shouted at Takashi: "Pull yourself together. I am your side." He had held Takashi's shoulders. Keigo wanted to do the same thing, as if Takashi was there in front of him. Seeing how indifferent Takashi had become to the value of life, Keigo felt a strong urge to lead him to a more positive path. He sensed that Takashi might otherwise have a short life.
The relationship between Takashi and his parents kept getting worse, like tangled threads which could not be untangled without cutting them. Then, in mid-February, Tsubasa succeeded in taking Takashi along to Takafu-cho. Keigo came along with them because he felt apprehensive that Takashi might kill himself. Yukio and his wife did not go with them because they were afraid that that their presence would just make the situation worse. Abandoning their parental responsibilities, they simply expected Keigo and Takashi to look after Takashi.
Takashi kept quiet on the train. He wondered why father's friend was with them. He shut his mind off from them as if they were his enemies. The closed-minded boy looked like a bruised beast crouched on the floor.
Keigo felt Takashi's communication circuit had been cut. How had this happened? Because he grown up in a digital society? Because he had neglected to train his five senses? He had fulfilled his parents' expectations, studying hard and attending cram school after school hours. He was a clever boy and answered questions quickly. However, he had not enhanced his ability to learn and think for himself. His father had been transferred to Shanghai, leaving his family behind for a long time. Alone with Takashi, his mother grew fervent about his education and took him to and from cram school. But she was not interested in helping him learn about nature or how to appreciate the arts. She had grown up in an artificial environment, which she accepted as normal, and hated insects. Takashi grew up with game consoles, DVDs, and cram school. He lived the normal life of a city child.
At Keigo's suggestion, the Kishigami family was asked to take care of Takashi. This was the family whose daughter Nobuko had taken to and from school. Takashi had never lived with strangers. He had little taste for group living. He could not speak to people he met for the first time. He was poor at making friends. Nonetheless, he moved into their home.
Mrs. Kishigami delivered a boy, her second child, and Yuri was happy to have a brother. The boy was named Taku and people in the town called him "Ta-kun" and devoted a lot of attention to him. The Kishigami family were typical part-time farmers. Mr. Kishigami worked for a company 20 kilometers away from town, and his wife worked in the family's rice paddies and crop fields. In February, the farmers' off-season, Mrs. Kishigami dedicated herself entirely to child-rearing.
"Takashi-kun, please take in the laundry from the veranda upstairs." "Will you pick up Yuri?" "Please help shovel the snow." Mrs. Kishigami asked Takashi to do many things. He did his best to meet her requests, although he was not used to it. Since all he had to do at home was to study, he had not been sharing in housework at home. He was surprised to hear Mrs. Kishigami say "thank you" for even the small things he did. His RUICA accumulated thanks-tickets little by little.
Kanalu checked the thanks-tickets server and realized that Takashi's RUICA was used more as an accumulator of thanks-tickets than as a communication tool. However, Takashi did not issue even one thanks-ticket. He sometimes used RUICA when he exchanged e-mail with Tsubasa.
Away from Tokyo, Takashi was slowly changing. In Tokyo he was only mentally active; here in Takafu-cho he actually used his body.
"You are halfway there, Takashi-kun. Hang in there." Watching Takashi steadily amass thanks-tickets, Kanalu saw real evidence of his potential as a human being and prayed for him to reach it.