Chapter 2.Winter: Gifts
It snowed heavily the next day. The Kishigami family had to go to a hospital to get some medicine for Yuri. They used a four wheel drive car; Yuri sat near Ta-kun, who was in a child seat in back. Mr. Kishigami asked Takashi, "Do you want to sit on the front passenger seat? It is scary but fun to drive in snow." Mrs. Kishigami agreed with a grin and said, "O.K. I will take the middle seat in back. Takashi-kun, take the front passenger seat. It is warm."
Takashi nodded and got into the car. He had his portable game console with him. Mrs. Kishigami thought it would be better if he watched the scenery from the window, rather than play the game, but she did not take it away from him. The car started moving slowly. The ground was all white; the branches of trees were covered with snow. The snowflakes falling from the white sky looked pale gray. Fresh snow fell rapidly. As Mr. and Mrs. Kishigami hoped, Takashi looked straight ahead. They saw nothing but snow ahead of them. If they had not turned on the windshield wipers, all they would have seen was a wall of white. Vehicles coming from the opposite direction drove by slowly. The drivers flashed their headlights as they approached each other on the road, like wild animals signaling. Takashi suddenly felt a strong urge to drive the car. He wished he could be alone, moving through the snow. He watched how Mr. Kishigami drove. The car was a fully self-regulating automatic. It had been set up so that Mrs. Kishigami could easily drive it. Takashi was very interested in automobiles, and had driven his family's car several times without his parents' permission. Because he did not have a driver's license, he did not dare to drive far, but he found it exciting to disguise himself with sunglasses in order to appear older.
When they arrived at the hospital, the Kishigami family was glad to get out of the car. Takashi wriggled in his seat. "Come on. We're here," Mr. Kishigami called to him, but he was engaged with his video games. "I don't want to get out of the car. I don't like to go where there are a lot of people I don't know." Mr. Kishigami looked troubled for a moment but collected himself and said, "All right. Turn on the heater and wait for us. It won't take 10 minutes."
Yuri and her mother were talking about something in the back seat, but Takashi could not hear what it was. When the family left, everything was suddenly quiet. Takashi heard the news on the car radio, and it seemed like the only thing in the snowy world connecting his lonely life with society. Takashi slowly turned off the radio.
A thick silence prevailed. Takashi moved from the front passenger seat to driver's seat. When he put on the brake and started the engine, he felt the vibration through the soles of his feet. The car was something he could control; he could make it stop, start, and move ahead, like a creature that moved of its own volition through the snow. He depressed the gas pedal gradually. The car advanced very slowly from the parking lot and onto the road. He did not know where to go. Just forward and forward. He wanted to leave the town as soon as possible. He wanted to go to a place where he would not see people. He wanted to be alone. As it was a small town, he did not have to go far. The car entered the woods. Everything was white, including the ground, and snow walls piled on both sides of the road. If he missed seeing the occasional red poles that marked the road, and the trees beyond the snow walls, he would have no sense of direction. He noticed that there were no cars on the road in the direction he was heading. As he had never driven in the snow before, he might not be able to return: this thought drifted through his mind. He did not have to return. He did not need to return to his life in Tokyo, to school, and to his family. Who cared? He was exhausted. He found no pleasure in his studies and extracurricular activities.
Life with the Kishigami family was better than it had been in Tokyo. Nobody told him to go to school or to study. But also he knew that life in Takafu-cho was not his true life either. He thought he might end up his life by drifting here and there. It did not make a difference even if he died now.
The road in the woods narrowed. He guessed he was driving towards the heart of the woods. Snow was not cleared there and the vehicle ran slowly. The windshield wipers struggled to remove heavy chunks of snow, but they were too heavy. He began to lose control of the steering wheel. It occurred to him that he should turn back, but instead he stepped on the accelerator to clear the thought from his mind. In that instant, a rear tire slipped and the car crashed into a tree.
"Oh!" The car was stuck in a pile of snow-covered underbrush. The windshield was covered with snow. The wipers stopped. All was white in front of him. He remembered the word "whiteout." He wondered if he was conscious or not; he was too dazed to understand his situation. He thought he could not return. He could die here. He did not care. There was nothing to look forward to, nothing worth trying. No matter how good a school he entered, how good a company he joined, he would end up miserable like his father. He had been too busy rushing towards his future. For him, the future was not something to be pursued, but a pressure to suffer.
The wind blew strongly. Soon, he would be unable to open his door.
He heard whistling sound from far in the woods, and strange voices. Were animals crying somewhere? He heard a feeble voice close to him. He rose up unthinkingly and hit his head on the ceiling of the car. "Ouch!" There was a child seat in back, which he had not been able to see from the driver's seat. He saw a blanket and wondered what was under it. Could it be?...He struggled to get to the backseat. Ta-kun was crying in a weak voice under the blanket. It was getting dark and the temperature was falling.