She was three and Yuli Kamikawa remembered just as it was yesterday. Her parents arguing about something; she could not hear what they were saying, but she felt it had something to do with her. Since then she was a cursed presence.
When Yuli was eight could not help, but see the contradictions her mother displayed despite what she claimed.
“We are given everything we need,” her mother would one day tell her. But Yuli could only hear the complaints about not having what the family needed or what her mother wanted, with those doubts the worries set in.
When Yuli asked why her mother complained, she received a scolding, “How dare you question your mother?” Since then, she did not dare mention those issues.
She was encouraged to be the perfect daughter, but got a verbal lashing when she got 95 percent on her test or spelled wrong on a shopping list, even how she dressed was never up to her mother’s satisfaction.
“No one’s perfect,” Yuli was told, yet at home her mother would ask her why she did not study hard enough to get 100 percent on her test. Or why she would always the ways she was: a slob (her scarf was crooked), a recluse (some of her classmates received complaints from her mother about “leading her daughter astray when she should be studying”), and rebellious (Yuli asking her mother what she was doing wrong).
When Yuli had her own doubt about living, she brought it before her mother asking what to do, and again she received another verbal beating.
“You should work harder!” her mother told herone day. Then, “You have brains use it! No wonder you are getting poor marks in school!” (Yuli never got a mark lower than 85 percent.)
Yuli had many questions, doubts, and problems that she wanted to confront and solve. She felt she could not do it alone, so she sought help.
“You should have the answer inside of you,” one of her teachers told her.
“You just say those things because you want to be praised,” said another teacher.
Still another replied, “Why should you be bothered by such things? You should focus on finishing school and your future.”
In grade twelve, Yuli asked, “What is the meaning of life?”
“You should study harder,” her father told her.
“But I am!” she argued, but got another tongue lashing from her mother who just walked in on their conversation.
“Is that how you talk to your parents? Because of your rebellious behavior and you are not focusing your studies you are creating your own problems!”
But I want to know why I am alive in this world. What is my role and purpose? There has to be more to life than just getting high marks in school and being recognized for your accomplishments. Won’t anyone tell me? I prayed to the gods, but all I get is silence? Do they even exist? More doubts, questions, pain, confusion, and frustration welled up in her heart like an undrinkable spring.
She had no friends, or to put it accurately, she could not make friends.
“She always has this dark and gloomy personality,” one of her classmates would whisper behind her back.
“We should call her ‘Sadoko’ because she is always so sad and morbid.” A stream of giggles came from the gossiping clique.
“She thinks she’s so smart. It makes me sick how she is so snobbish,” one girl would say, loud enough for Yuli to hear.
“I know. I just can’t stand her,” was another reply.
“She is a pretty girl, but it’s a shame she is so grim and creepy,” said one of the neighbours.
“Her long hair looks slippery. Makes me think of snakes,” said another female neighbor.
“Creepy… Grim… Morbid... Sad… Cursed… Cursed… Cursed… “
“I think you are pretty,” said a young man at her school.
For once Yuli felt joy, that was until a bunch of his friends surrounded her and used her. Once they were done, they abandoned her under a bridge after school hours.
She tried to tell her parents about what happened, only to be told, “What were you doing after hours, you stupid girl?! You’re supposed to come straight home and study, not chase boys!”
“But Mom, Dad –” she began only to receive more verbal knocks.
“Do you realize what sort of reputation you have left the school? In our community? I have never felt so ashamed of our daughter!” her mother’s words cut to the quick. Yuli remembered turning to her dad only to see him look away.
She tried to tell her teachers, but they accused her instead.
“You brought this on yourself. You must have lured them,” said one.
“It’s because of your depressing personality that people take advantage of you. You let them have their way with you. Serves you right!” said another.
“You asked for it… It was your fault… You’re depressing… You’re pathetic…”
Then Yuli saw “slut”, “whore”, “bitch” and other horrible words scribbled on her desk at school. Seeing those words she ran out of the classroom, past the schoolyard into the bamboo forest. She found herself at the abandoned well. She fell on her knees and wept. When her tears stopped flowing, her eyes fell on an old rope that was once used to draw water from the well. She took the rope and tossed it over the cross beam above the old well. She tied the ends together to make a loop. Then, putting her neck through the loop she jumped –
“I don’t think so,” said a kind, quiet voice.
Something went snap. Yuli felt herself fall, and fall, and fall….
With a cry Yuli sat up. Damp from the cold sweat, her hand went to her throat, it felt tender. Looking at her surroundings, she noticed it was slightly dark, but she could see the fading sunlight as the sun began to set. Or was that a sunrise? That did not seem so important. The question was: where was she? Why was she in someone’s bed dressed in white cotton?
She noticed someone dozing in a chair beside her. She squinted at the fading light. The person gave a snort and mumbled something as his head rolled to the side. The action appeared to have opened his mouth because his snores just got a bit louder.
Yuli let out a giggle and stopped. Did I just laugh? She wondered. As she reflected her unexpected action, the figure in the chair shifted and let out a huge yawn.
By the sound of the yawn, she figured it was a man. He stretched and scratched himself confirming further her suspicions. Dazed the man looked around; he stood up from his seat and turned on a lamp. There were no matches or signs of electricity, yet it gave out a soft golden light.
The man turned, seeing Yuli up in bed, nearly fell over his chair.
“You’ve startled me!” His eyes were large and brown, giving him a pleasantly youthful look. His curly hair was coppery red with a pair of stubby horns just showing. He was a curious looking person, but there was something about him that Yuli decided she liked.
She felt a smile creep up the corners of her mouth. The young man looked briefly lost, but immediately shook his head.
“Uh, I am D’Gurrows,” he mumbled as he held out his hand. “I mean, Douglas Burrows,” he immediately corrected.
Yuli could not help smiling at him. “Douglas Burrows?” she echoed.
“Yes, my name is Douglas Burrows,” the young man’s face began to glow pink. “May I have your name…?”
“Yuli. Kamikawa Yuli,” Yuli let her name flow out of her mouth.
Yuli placed a hand over her heart. “Yuli,” she introduced herself.
“Yuli,” Douglas repeated. “Yes, of course.” He nervously spun around. “Uh, don’t get up. Stay. All right?” he said, gesturing with his hands to let her know.
“Stay,” he turned and walked right into the door. He opened the door, this time leaving the room.
“Kawaii! (How cute!)” Yuli heard herself say. For the first time, she felt welcome.
“Merl, wake up!” Douglas tapped his friend’s hairy feet that were propped on a footstool.
The young healer, sleeping in an awkward position on Douglas’s armchair, turned on his side. Douglas grabbed the footstool from under Merl’s feet, sending Merl off the armchair.
“She woke up,” Douglas announced.
“What time is it?” Merl yawned.
“An hour before dawn,” Douglas replied, picking up his drowsy friend, half dragging him to the guest room.
The moment they opened the door, Yuli’s inquisitive look immediately became one of fear.
“It is all right,” Douglas assured her, “This is my friend Merl. He is a healer.”
Yuli looked at Merl, her dark eyes still large with fear.
“Merl Fourleaf, at your service,” Merl gave a nod.
Yuli moved from the bed and pressed her back to the farthest wall, using the bed and space as a barrier. She clutched the front of the dressing gown she wore.
“It’s all right,” Merl assured her, reading her behaviours, “I am a doctor.”
Her hand at the front of the dressing gown relaxed. “Doctor?”
“Yes, doctor,” Merl reassured her, “Please sit,” he waved at the bed.
For a moment Yuli did not move. She studied Merl, then Douglas. After a minute she shifted onto the bed and sat, her eyes never leaving the two riluds.
Merl carefully approached her and, after examining her, announced she was well.
“Whose?” she suddenly asked.
“What?” Merl asked.
“Whose?” Yuli plucked the front of the dressing gown.
“I think she means to ask who it belongs to.” Douglas approached her, “Are you asking whose it is?”
“My mother’s,” he told her after a brief pause.
“Douglas had a friend dress you because your clothes were wet.” Merl explained. Seeing the concerned look on her face about her clothes, he immediately added, “Don’t worry, my cousin and friend take care of your clothes.”
Yuli sat and said nothing. An awkward silence filled the room until Douglas broke it.
“Are you hungry?” he asked.
“Hungry?” Yuli echoed the question. As on cue her stomach grumbled.
“I suppose that would be a ‘yes’.” Merl smiled. “You stay and rest. My friend and I will make you some breakfast.” With that he dragged his friend out the door and shut it after them.
That doctor also had horns, but his hair was golden colour, Yuli reflected. And his feet were hairy. In fact, both of them had hairy feet and hands. How interesting....
After an hour, the two riluds brought a breakfast tray consisting of tea, warm toast with butter, jam in one plate, and another plate of bacon and eggs. Yuli nibbled her toast as Douglas served her some tea generously sweetened with sugar and whitened with fresh cream.
“Good,” she whispered, for indeed the food was delicious. Though it took some time, she cleaned her plate and nestled into bed as Douglas removed the tray. They left her once again to let her rest.
“You know, Douglas,” Merl began as they sat at the kitchen table with their breakfast, “perhaps we should have Yuli stay somewehere else. It may not be wise to keep her with a bachelor, especially in a community where there would likely be even more gossip especially after Mrs. Bobbid had seen you bring her into your home.”
“I agree, how does having Yuli stay with your family sound to you?” Douglas suggested.
Merl poured himself another cup of tea as he considered the idea. “My cousin Sunflower would probably be a welcome presence for Yuli.” He raised the cup to his lips.
“She has Lily staying with her for Master Caspar’s birthday celebration. Perhaps having more than one female presence would be good for her.” Douglas said as he sipped his tea.
At the mention of Lily Tunnelly Merl spewed his tea.
“Well,” Douglas made a face as he tossed a clean napkin at his friend. “Let us say that I have overheard Mrs. Bobbid talking a bit loudly to Farmer Eggers the other day about pairing me up with her. Why?”
Merl noticed his friend eyeing him knowingly. “Oh, dear,” the young healer muttered.
“I don’t see what the problem is since you are not going to be the one staying with her,” Douglas replied casually, but had a hint of an edge to his voice.
Silence filled the room momentarily, Merl’s hand over his mouth, leaning forward deep in thought in how to get out of this hole he had dug himself without having to face his friend’s nasty wrath.
The rooster crowed in the distance calling up the morning sun.
Merl sighed. Then bowing his head he confessed, “I’m sorry, Douglas. Yes, I have called Lily over to the shire to meet you. However,” he held up his index finger to make a point, “I did not ask Mrs. Bobbid to arrange the match. My mother did.”
“I didn’t want you to still be lost over Miriam.” Miriam was Merl’s twin sister and held a special place in Douglas’s heart.
“It’s been almost ten years, Douglas,” Merl gently reminded, “And I’m sure –”
Immediately Douglas got up from his seat and opened the door.
“I’m sorry, Merl, I have to ask you to leave,” Douglas told him.
“And then, what?” Merl asked sadly, “Douglas –”
Upon those words, Douglas strode up to his friend.
“If you are going to make me leave, I ask that you at least listen to what I say.” Merl began. Douglas’s hand shot out to grab Merl by the collar. Merl grabbed that hand and tugged the sleeve down to expose pink and scarlet cuts that were just healing on his friend’s wrist.
“How much longer are you going to blame yourself for her death?” Merl asked quietly.
Douglas took back his hand and pulled the sleeve back over those scars.
“You know, my friend, it not only hurts me, but all of us who cares about you when you do this to yourself.”
Douglas said nothing. His bottom lip held between his teeth to force down the pain of another scar – one that was deeper and uglier inside his heart.
“So you brought Lily here in hope that I would forget Miriam,” Douglas scoffed.
“Not forget, let go.”
“You know I can’t do that.” Douglas smiled weakly, “I swore an oath that I would love her and no other.” He inhaled, and then exhaled slowly. “Very well, I will see her – after we have arranged things for Yuli.”
* * * * * * * * * *