Kanna sprints through the town of Atami. This has been her habit for many years, running up and down the many steep, hilly streets through the hot-springs town, and then emerging to the road along the sea, increasing her pace as she cuts through the salt air. Breathe in. Breathe out, out. Breathe in. Breathe out, out. As her speed gradually increases, her breathing grows rougher. Beside her on a bicycle is her childhood friend, Miya.
"A little more?" Miya asks.
"Yeah. A little more," Kanna responds.
The pair have been running these streets, this way, since they were children. Kanna running, Miya beside her on a bicycle. They were on the high school track team together, Kanna as a middle-distance runner, Miya as manager.
"The track meet is soon. Perhaps you should ease up."
"It’s fine. I do better if I run a lot."
"Is that so."
They run this way for a while, until they come to a park beside the sea. There they stop to cool down. After running, they like to talk for a while, looking out at the sea.
"I'm looking forward to this event. You nervous?" Miya asks.
"No, not at all. I'm not worried about how I do. I just like to run." Kanna's expression is free and easy.
"I think you can do really well."
"I wonder. When it comes down to it, I'm just going to run, not even think about it."
"That shows a lot of confidence. You're just too cool!"
"Nah. You're the one who's going to have a tough time," Kanna says, snickering.
"What do you mean?"
"You have a lot of fans! They are going to keep you on your toes!"
"Cut it out! Not a big deal, not for me at least."
Miya laughs as she says this, but in her heart Kanna knows better. Miya is everybody's idol, including Kanna's.
The day of the track meet, the sky is clear. There is Kanna, running on the track.
"Go, Kanna!" Go go go!"
Kanna hears Miya's voice above the roar of the crowd. The bell rings for the last lap. Kanna pours it on. As she comes around the corner, Kanna can see Miya, hands cupped to her mouth like a megaphone, cheering her on. In the 800 meters in the final of the regional tournament, Kanna does the running—and wins—but in her mind it is Miya who is the star. Her facial features are perfectly proportioned, her limbs long and slender, and her smile charming. As she walks down the street, heads turn. Even in the middle of an event, some of the male athletes, and students from other schools, pay more attention to her than to what is going on on the track. Her cheering encourages many athletes, even those on opposing teams.
Kanna responds to Miya's cheering with a thumbs-up. Kanna picks up the pace, putting on a final burst of speed. She passes one, two, three runners ahead of her. Just one more to go if she is to come in first. Just ahead of the finish line, her feet grow heavy, like lead weights. She finds this sensation—that her body is not her own—not disagreeable. It looks like she could overtake the front runner in just a few more steps, then in just one more step. She summons her last ounce of strength.
Second place. She leans forward, hands on her knees, catching her breath. She hears a voice. "Nice job!" Miya, towel and water in hand, scrutinizes her face. At the sight of Miya's smile, Kanna's expression is relieved of all tension.
"If only I could have given a little bit more..." Kanna says, venting a little chagrin.
"Yeah, just a little more," Miya says, matching her mood to Kanna's. "But it was a good run," she adds, offering a little praise.
"I felt really well supported."
"You did great," Miya says, tapping her on the head. Kanna gives a smile of satisfaction.
After the meet, the two return to Atami where they live, and just hang out, as is their wont. First, to relax, they go to a hot spring meant just for washing feet, located by Atami Station. The water warms them from the toes up, gradually, stripping away all fatigue.
"Ah, that feels good!"
"I feel so much better already."
"Didn't I tell you? You have so many fans, Miya."
"No, not at all!"
"Nobody in the whole place was watching me run!"
"That is certainly not true. I for one was watching you."
"Yeah, I know. I could see you as I ran. I know we're friends and all, but I still think you're cute."
Even by the tail end of their elementary school years, Kanna had realized Miya stood out from any crowd. Walking around town, they both attract attention: "Hey, beautiful!" But Kanna only gets catcalls when she is with Miya, so she knows who they are really for. She is neither shocked nor envious. Kanna is happy for her good friend Miya, for the attention she gets.
Kanna examines Miya closely, wordlessly. Noticing, Miya turns to her and says, "What's up?" Her face is blank, like a small animal's. Kanna finds it so fascinating she can't stand it, and she laughs out loud. Miya laughs in return. Now that she thinks of it, it had been Miya's smile that had opened the door of Kanna's mopey heart. Kanna has special feelings for Miya: not exactly friendship, but not exactly the kind of feelings one would have for a lover or a family member either.
When they first met, it was Miya who first spoke to Kanna. Miya saw Kanna running. "Hey! You're really fast, aren't you."
This was before they were even in elementary school. They were both at Sun Beach in Atami. Kanna was running barefoot. Her feet burrowed into the sand, creating little holes. As she ran, Kanna concentrated hard on her feet, because sometimes, they got stuck and she lost her balance. She hardly noticed the other little girl saying, "Hey! You're really fast, aren't you." Not that she hadn't heard her. But she did not believe the voice she heard was meant for her. Then she heard a shouted command: "Hey! Hang on a minute!" And so she came to a stop. "Huh?" she said.
Turning around, Kanna saw Miya coming running up behind her. When Miya reached her, she leaned forward, both hands on her knees, struggling to catch her breath. Picking up just her head, she looked at Kanna with uplifted eyes. When their eyes met, Kanna felt a jolt. Miya's eyes were large, round, and cute, like a squirrel she had seen in the zoo.
"My name is Miya. What's your name?"
"Yeah. Your name."
"Kanna. Let's be friends."
Kanna stood stone still, dumbfounded. Miya took her by the right hand. Like a handshake.
"I've been wondering for a long time."
"Why are you always running?"
When Kanna was six, her mother became ill and passed away. Kanna asked her father why her mother wasn't coming home. Looking out across the sea, he told her, "Your mother may have gone away, across the sea."
"And she can't come back?" Kanna asked.
To which he said, "I wonder. I wonder if she can't come back."
There was more to her father's evasiveness than a simple desire not to hurt his daughter. In his own mind, he had not yet fully embraced the truth that his wife would not be coming back. He may have been pretending not to know the truth, but Kanna understood. She was a savvy child. Her mother had died in a hospital with a view of the sea. That was an incontrovertible fact. At the funeral, Kanna cried her eyes out. She felt that the funeral was something decisive for her. Her relatives were pained to see the crying Kanna. In accordance with her mother's wishes, her father scattered the ashes at sea.
Kanna remembers clearly the time she had spent with her mother in Atami. When Kanna was young, and was first learning to run, she would run falteringly downhill, her mother following after her. Kanna had started to run everywhere. Her mother could not let her out of her sight. She was a handful. "You just love to play chase games, don't you?" her mother would say, furrowing her brow with a troubled smile. Mistaking her mother's question for praise, Kanna ran all the more, whenever she and her mother went out. When her mother started needing to go back and forth to the hospital, and when she was finally admitted, Kanna would run around the hospital neighborhood, and report back to her mother about everything, thinking that would make her happy. This became a habit, and Kanna could not stop running, even after her mother died.
So when Miya asked, "Why are you always running?" the truth was, that was Kanna's way of burying the loneliness she felt at the loss of her mother. But when Miya asked, Kanna had not yet reached a point, in her own heart and mind, where she could easily explain to others her own feelings about her mother's death. So rather than the question she had been asked, Kanna found herself wondering why this kid in front of her knew she was running all the time, and instead of answering she asked a question of her own:
"How come you know that?"
"What do you mean?"
"That I'm always running."
"How come you know that?"
Miya knew Kanna was always running because they both lived in the same apartment building. The apartment building Kanna's mother had chosen because it had a view of the sea from the balcony. Miya and her family had moved in there in March, because of her father's job. Miya's parents were happy they were able to make the move before Miya started school, but they were still worried because Miya would be without any of the friends she had made in kindergarten. Kids don't always necessarily treat new kids well. Kids have their own ways, their own society. Things are not always as simple as grown-ups think. At least, that's how Miya usually thought about it.
She was worried. From the window of their new apartment, she would look out the window at the dazzling sea, glistening in the sunlight, spreading as far as she could see. Ah, the sea! The young Miya mumbled to herself. She was seeing the same sea that had appealed so strongly to Kanna's mother. The pale blue sea. Kanna's mother would often say, "A lot of people think the bluer the sea the more beautiful it is, like in some southern resort. But I love the sea the way it is here." Later, when they were a little older, Kanna told this to Miya, who nodded in affirmation. It made her happy to feel that connection with Kanna's memories of her mom. Be that as it may, the young Miya had a habit of opening the window to let the sea breeze blow through the apartment. Out on the balcony, she could smell the salt air. Kanna's mother had taught her that inhaling deeply would make her feel good. Kanna learned to imitate that behavior, breathing deeply. "Feels good!" she loved to say, facing her mother with a beaming smile. It was the scent of the sea that put her in such a good mood. For Miya, it helped her sense more directly the differences from the place they had lived before. "We are really far away," Miya thought. She hoped her old friends—Yui, Aki, Shuta—were doing well. From the balcony, she would spy Kanna running. She could tell Kanna was about the same age she was. Kanna would emerge from the building, head down the hill, and run along the edge of the sea. Miya would watch her the whole way. It would be no exaggeration to say she was captivated. Compared to other kids their age, the way Kanna ran was powerful, it was beautiful, it just looked right. Now and then, Miya would spot Kanna as she ran through the neighborhood. Miya could recognize Kanna just by the way she ran. Miya had no friends yet in the area. She decided she would talk to Kanna the next time she came across her. But she didn't, though she saw her again and again. Shortly before school was to start, she saw Kanna on Sun Beach, playing with her father, and finally she summoned the courage to speak to her.
On that day, when Miya first spoke to Kanna, she told her, "Let's be friends." At some point, Kanna's father and Miya's parents struck up a conversation. Realizing they lived in the same building, the two families agreed to go together when they returned home. Walking beside her father, Kanna said, "Dad, Miya wants to be friends with me." "And what did you say?" her father asked. Kanna said she couldn't remember. Perhaps she hadn't said anything at all. "Well, that won't do," her father said, smiling. When they were back at the entrance to the building, he spoke to Miya's parents. Kanna's father put his hands on her shoulders and nudged her in front of him. "What do you say?" he said quietly. Barely audibly, Kanna said, "Miya, thank you for making friends with me."
As soon as she said it, Kanna looked shyly down at the ground. But not before she got a glimpse of Miya's smiling face, saying, "Kanna, I hope we're going to be good friends."
Miya was Miya, and it made her happy to have made friends with Kanna. To Kanna and her father, Miya may have looked like a sociable child, but for Miya the day's actions had taken gumption. She had been worried about whether she would be able to make friends in her new home.
From that point on, the two became fast friends. They were always together: at school, after school, even on their days off. When Miya's parents realized Kanna's father was a single dad, they did things to help him out. On days when he was late coming home from work, the two families would even eat supper together. Usually, after school, Kanna would run her usual route, with Miya, until it was time for supper. Kanna ran too fast for Miya to keep up, so Miya learned to ride a bicycle. The two of them grew up like this, running through the streets of Atami, side by side, talking about everything under the sun.