Racing the Rain This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

February 6, 2017
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Akari had developed a habit of journaling the weather. It always surprised him how much it rained in Hanji compared to Yokura. He grew to enjoy the rainy days, when the clouds would darken the sky and cast shadows over the campus. Then the atmosphere in school suited his temperament of heavy despondency.
Back when he came to the new school, Akari had chosen to sit in the back of his classes by the windows. He rarely spoke to his classmates or teachers. His grades were poor; he had lost all motivation to be the exceptional student that he was in Yokura.
He spent his days at the window dozing off, sometimes gifted with the occasional daydream, and interrupted only when his teachers attempted to elicit his participation. He was an above-average student, and so he was rarely caught off guard by their questions. It did, however, mean that he needed to maintain a minimal level of alertness.
It was during these short periods of attentiveness that he would write in his journal.
Today completed a full week of rainfall. Again, the droplets raced down the window glass. Only today, I rooted for what turned out to be the winning droplet. Afterwards it made me happy. Happy for me and happy for the little droplet.
That afternoon, as he walked home, the rain continued. As he trudged along without an umbrella, some students looked at Akari as if he were a stray cat, pity in their eyes.
“Oi, Akari. I have an extra. Take it,” yelled a student, whose name Akari had never bothered to learn. She tossed an umbrella from the bike lane and rode off without looking to see if he picked it up.
Akari laughed and thought, They’re trying to feed the stray.
He picked up the umbrella but did not open it. He liked the rain. He liked the way the droplets felt as they bounced off his skin and the sound as they struck the asphalt.
After an hour, he reached his neighborhood. It was very different from the rich, bustling hubbub of the Umeda region, where his school was located. These small houses were home to mainly older people, and the occasional neglected child.
“Is your grandmother feeling any better, Akari?” asked the lady at his favorite tempura stand, handing him a bag with two bento boxes.
“She’ll get healthier after she eats your cooking, obaa-san,” smiled Akari. “How’s little Kaori-chan doing?”
“She went to play with your grandmother today. They get along well. But, Akari, oh, you won’t believe how she’s grown. She hasn’t cried in such a long time. You remember, don’t you? When she first came here after her parents passed, she cried more than it rained. You should see her now.” She smiled from ear to ear. “They say only time can heal wounds. But I reckon it’s not just time. Time needs someone who truly cares to work its magic.”
Akari left a few extra coins in addition to his normal payment. He also propped the umbrella on the side of the stand.
By the time he got home, the rain had stopped. He made his way to the bedroom, carrying the food.
“How are you feeling, Grandma?” He saw she was awake and writing. “I brought dinner.”
“Akari, you should spend your savings on things you like. Go shopping with your classmates in Umeda. You know I cannot eat much.” Her tone was strict but grateful.
“You need the strength. I will be able to buy medicine next week,” Akari apologized, adjusting her pillow. “Let me get some chopsticks and we’ll eat. But stay in bed for now.”
While they ate, Grandma asked Akari about school. He lied and told her he was getting along well with his classmates. He told her his grades were among the top in his class.
“Ah, Akari. You are just like your father in so many ways. You are a fine young man already. Your mother would be so proud,” she said.
Akari grimaced inwardly as remnants of the painful past resurfaced at the mention of his parents, but he showed no outward sign.
“Thank you, Grandma.”
That night, Akari wrote in his journal.
I realized today that I hate umbrellas. The rain, too, must hate umbrellas. I imagine a raindrop’s only purpose is to reach the ground. Who am I to impede it along its journey?
The rain returned the next morning, much heavier than the day before. Akari was forced to get a ride with a local on his way to the market.
At school, the day passed normally. He hardly spoke to his classmates, content to gaze out the window at the clouds.
The droplets are in a frenzy today. They make their way down the window before I can pick a winner. They must be in a hurry.
By midafternoon, the rain intensified. When he looked out, Akari was unable to see more than a foot. The outside appeared to be a single blurry, gray curtain, as if someone had covered the building with a giant blanket. The teachers turned on all the lights. The students were told not to leave campus until the conditions subsided.
While the other students ran around the hallways in excitement, Akari waited in his window seat and wrote in his journal. He described the rain and wondered about the reason behind its frantic behavior. He closed his eyes and listened as drops pounded against the glass.
When he awoke, it was even darker than before. Outside, the rain’s intensity had barely lessened.
Making his way into the hallway, he noticed students lined up along the walls, on the school’s emergency futons. The wall clock said it was just a few hours before sunrise. The night before, the teachers had told the students that they would be woken when the rain stopped.
He wondered how Grandma and the others were doing.
Berating himself, Akari quickly headed for the exit.
Luckily, the teachers on patrol never imagined any of the students would leave. They were more worried about pranks or disturbances, and so Akari was able to slip out without being stopped.
The rain was still strong, but he could see enough to know the general direction he was going. Without a thought to morals, he stole a student’s bike and umbrella, and began pedaling for home.
After a short distance, he realized that biking with an umbrella was not only useless but counterproductive.
He tossed the umbrella away and with just one thought in mind, he pedaled and pedaled. At some point he forgot about the cold raindrops, the stinging wind, and the darkness of the night.
After an hour rather than the usual twenty-minute ride, Akari reached the entrance to his neighborhood in one of the oldest parts of Hanji. The houses and buildings here lacked many features that allowed those in Umeda to withstand the heavy rainfall. There was no central draining system and, consequently, the water was rising. The older children were doing their best to support the young and the elderly, most of whom were trying to salvage what they could from the flooding.
Leaving the bike, Akari walked in a daze toward 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. As he passed the tempura stand, the tempura lady looked at him sadly, hand-in-hand with her granddaughter, Kaori, and said nothing.
Akari knew what he would see when he arrived home, yet it still surprised him. His house was no longer there. What remained was a broken, wooden frame, a skeleton.
Akari felt a tap on his shoulder and turned. The tempura lady had followed him. Little Kaori was crying silently at the damage. He nodded a single time. It would be worse if she said it aloud. When he bent down to hug Kaori, he felt moisture on his face and pretended it was rain.
That night, Akari didn’t write in his journal.
The next day, all of Hanji was sunny.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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