Flash Fiction, Visual Art, Words
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flash fiction: Race the Rain

a Story by Alan Xu

Illustration by Brandon Yung

Akari had developed a habit of journaling the weather.

Since he had moved to Osaka, it always surprised him just how much it rained there. He had grown to enjoy the rainy days, when the clouds would darken the sky and cast shadows over the city and the campus. More often than not, the ensuing atmosphere would match his own mood. At school, his thoughts and attitude would usually leave him in low spirits, with little to no motivation. He almost always found himself looking forward to the final bell, when he could go home and spend time with his grandmother.

Today was the same. By sitting furthest back in the classroom by the window, Akari had hoped to go unnoticed by his classmates and his teacher, but like always he was forced to participate. He sighed inwardly as she locked eyes with him.

“How about you, Akari? Translate this passage out loud for us, will you?”

Without hesitation, he responded smoothly with the right answer and then glanced longingly at the clock. He wished his teacher would realize that he was never caught off guard by her questions and that all he wanted to do was wait the day out. It was times like these, when he would be forced into attentiveness, that he would write in his journal.

       Today completes a full week of rainfall. Again, the droplets raced their way down the window glass. Only this time, the droplet that I rooted for actually won. It reached the bottom first, which made me happy. Happy for me and happy for the little droplet.

That afternoon while he walked home from school, the rain continued to fall. As he trudged along without an umbrella, some students looked at Akari as if he were a stray cat, with pity in their eyes.

“Oi, Akari. I have an extra. Take it,” yelled a student, whose name Akari had never bothered to learn, tossing an umbrella from the bike lane across the street. Without looking back to see if he picked it up, she rode off.

Akari laughed a little to himself. “Like throwing scraps to the homeless.”

He picked up the umbrella but did not open it. He liked the rain. He liked the way the cold droplets felt as they bounced off his skin. And the sound they made as they struck the asphalt.

Although the walk home was a long one, Akari enjoyed passing through the different areas of the city and seeing new people every day. Eventually he reached his neighborhood. The environment was very different from that of the richer, bustling hubbub that was the Umeda region, where his school was situated. The smaller, plain houses of his neighborhood were home to mainly elderly people, along with the occasional neglected child.

Akari continued down the familiar path towards his own house in the southern and furthest part of the neighborhood. He made his usual greetings with the locals as he bought dinner for two.

“Is your grandmother feeling any better, Akari?” asked the lady at his favorite tempura stand, handing him a bag with two filled bento boxes inside.

“She’ll only get healthier after she eats your cooking, ma’am,” smiled Akari. “How’s little Mei doing?”

“She actually went and played with your grandmother just today. They get along well. But Akari, oh, you won’t believe how fast she’s grown. She hasn’t cried in such a long, long time. You remember, don’t you, Akari? When she first came here after her parents passed, she cried more than it rained. It was miserable. You should see her now, Akari.” She smiled from ear to ear while heading back to the kitchen. “They say only time can heal wounds. But I reckon it’s not just time. Time also needs someone there that truly cares.”

Akari made sure to leave a couple of extra coins in addition to the normal payment. He also propped the unwanted umbrella from before up on the side of the stand before he left. He could hear the tempura lady laughing gaily to herself as he continued on his way. He smiled to himself as the mirthful sounded faded in the distance.

By the time he got home, the rain had completely stopped. Inside, it was dark and the air was musty, so he opened the only two windows in the house on either side of the front door. He immediately made his way to the bedroom, still carrying the tempura.

“How are you feeling, grandma?” He saw that she was awake and writing by the light of the single oil lamp. “I brought dinner.”

“Akari, I always tell you that you should spend your savings on things you like. Go shopping with your classmates in Umeda. You know I can’t eat much.” She sounded stern but he knew that she was grateful.

“You need the strength. I’ll be able to buy medicine next week,” Akari apologized, readjusting her pillow and sheets. “Here, Grandma. Let me go grab some chopsticks and we’ll eat in here. Don’t worry, I’ll clean up afterwards. But stay in bed for now.”

While they ate, she asked Akari about his life at school. He lied, telling her that he was friends with many of his classmates. He told her his grades were among the top in his class and that he was getting along with all his teachers.

“Ah, Akari. You’re so much like your father. You’re a fine young man already. Even your mother would be proud.”

At the mention of his parents, Akari grimaced inwardly as remnants of the painful past resurfaced momentarily, but he showed no outward signs of unhappiness.

“Thank you, Grandma. Now keep eating. Don’t talk too much or you’ll choke.”

That night, Akari wrote in his journal some more.

        I realized today that I hate umbrellas. The rain, too, must hate umbrellas. I imagine a single raindrop’s only purpose in its short life is to reach the ground. Who am I to impede it along its journey?

The rain returned the next morning, only it was a much heavier rainfall than the day before. Akari was forced to hitch a ride with one of the locals who was on his way to the town market.

At school, the day passed normally. He hardly spoke to any of his classmates, and mainly just gazed out the window at the clouds.

       The droplets are in a frenzy today. They make their way down the window before I can even pick a contender to win the race. They must be in a hurry.

By midafternoon, just before the final bell, the rain intensified. In all his time in Osaka, Akari had never seen such heavy rainfall. When he looked out the window, he couldn’t see more than a foot in front of him. The campus outside appeared to be a single blurry, gray curtain, as if someone had covered the entire building with a giant blanket.

Throughout the school, the teachers turned on all of the lights, for hardly a sliver of sunlight made its way through the mass of clouds and rain outside. The students were told not to leave campus until the conditions subsided.

While the other students ran around the hallways and generally acted the way high school students would act in such a situation, Akari stayed in the classroom and waited in his familiar window seat. He wrote in his journal. He described the rain and wondered about the reason behind its frantic behavior. Closing his eyes, he listened as raindrops pounded relentlessly against the glass by his head.

When he woke up, it was even darker than before. Outside, the intensity of the rain had lessened, but only slightly.

“It must be nighttime,” he thought to himself, making his way quietly into the hallway. Students were lined up along the walls, in the school’s emergency futons. There clearly were not enough, as students mostly slept two or three to a single futon. He looked at one of the wall clocks. It was just a couple of hours before sunrise. The night before, the teachers had told the students that the rain was predicted to stop by the next morning, and that they would be woken when it did.

He wondered how Grandma and the others were doing. Grandma.

“Shit,” said Akari through gritted teeth, causing a few stirs among the students around him. He couldn’t believe he had forgotten about her. He cursed himself as he deftly made his way through the hallway to the exit.

Luckily, none of the teachers on patrol really thought any of the students would leave, and therefore chose not to guard the entrances. They were more worried about pranks or disturbances among the students, and so Akari was able to quietly slip out into the night without being stopped.

The rain was still strong, but he could see ahead of him far enough to know the general direction in which he was going. Just enough light squeezed through the clouds for him to be able to make out the objects immediately in front of him. He made his way to the entrance to campus, and with all regard towards ethics gone, stole a student’s bike and an umbrella and started pedaling home.

After traveling a short distance, he realized that biking with an umbrella was futile.

     “Useless piece of shit,” he said to himself as he tossed the umbrella onto the side of the road. With only one intention in mind, Akari kept pedaling. He pedaled and he pedaled, and at some point he forgot about the cold of the raindrops, the sting of the wind, and the darkness of the night.

After about an hour, Akari reached the end of what was usually a 20-minute bike ride, but eventually he recognized the entrance to his neighborhood. And not much else.

His neighborhood was one of the oldest areas of Osaka, and from a constructional standpoint, the houses and buildings lacked many of the features that allowed those in Umeda to withstand the heavy rainfall. There was no central draining system and consequently the water just piled up. The older children were doing their best to support the young and the elderly, most of whom were lined up along the main road, trying to salvage what they could from the flooding.

Leaving the bike behind, Akari walked forward in a daze towards his house. The rain had stopped. He forced himself to look straight ahead, knowing that if he didn’t he would see only remnants of the neighborhood that he loved. He walked passed what used to be the tempura stand from yesterday. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the tempura lady looking at him sadly, hand-in-hand with her granddaughter Mei. Usually loud and talkative, she said nothing to Akari as he walked past. Or at least, he didn’t hear her say anything.

It was odd. For some reason, Akari knew exactly what he would see when he arrived home, yet it still surprised him. His small, old, cozy, worn down house was no longer there. What remained was but a broken, wooden frame which resembled the shape of his old house only slightly.

Akari felt a tap on his shoulder and turned around. The tempura lady had followed him home. He looked down at her side and saw that little Mei was crying silently as she took in the damage. He looked at the tempura lady and nodded a single time. It would be worse if she said it aloud. He bent down and hugged Mei. Right then, he felt the moisture on his face.

That night, Akari didn’t write in his journal.

The next day, all of Osaka was sunny.

//

My name is Alan Xu, an 11th grader at The Westminster Schools of Atlanta. I was born into a Chinese family as the first generation of non-immigrants to be in the U.S.A. I have been fortunate enough to grow up in an area where I have experienced relatively low levels of cultural appropriation, thanks to my two hard-working parents. Growing up, I aways aspired to mimic one characteristic that both my parents share, which is diligence. They were able to come to America with no more than 200 dollars and a suitcase, all to provide a better life for me and my brother. Thus, I have learned to appreciate the things in like that I believe to matter the most, such as love, death, loss, grief, etc. I almost exclusively write in the realistic fiction genre, like the story I have submitted.
It plays heavily on the themes of generational difference, familial loss and separation, cultural exclusion, and love. It was inspired by the recent diagnosis of my grandfather, whom I now know to have cancer. He is across the globe in China, so I have been unable to genuinely show my care for him, so stories like this one help me relieve some of my pent up frustration and grief.

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