“She hasn’t spoken since her parents died…”
When I heard this, I didn’t know what to think.
“Is she physically unable to?” I asked her grandmother.
“No, she can speak,” the grandmother replied. “She just chooses not to. I was wondering if you would be willing to see her…”
“Of course I will. But do you know why she’s refusing to talk?”
“I have no idea.”
The grandmother’s distress was palpable. I tried to calm her by asking for some more tea, giving her something to focus on.
After she’d returned and refilled my cup, I asked, “Is she awake now?”
“Yes, she’s awake. You can go see her if you want… her room is just down the hall.”
I downed my tea and nodded. “I’ll go see her now. Thank you. I’ll do my best.”
I shouldered the various items I had brought with me and went down the hall to the girl’s room. The door was closed.
I knocked and called out politely, “Haruko, I’m a friend of your grandmother. She asked me to come see you. I’m going to come into your room, okay?”
Of course, she didn’t answer. I waited for a few seconds and then opened the door.
The interior of the room was what caught my eye first. It was remarkably empty. The walls were bare, and the room was minimally furnished. For a teenage girl, this emptiness seemed strange to me.
Haruko was sitting on her bed with her knees drawn up. She looked at me as I entered the room. Her hair was very short, like a typical young boy’s – I heard she had cut it after her parents died. She gazed at me firmly, her dark brown eyes screaming something like I don’t want to see any more doctors!
I went and knelt on the floor in front of her, setting down my things. “Hi, Haruko,” I said hesitantly. “My name is Haku. I’m not a doctor. Your grandmother just called me because she’s worried about you.”
She continued to stare, unflinching, unwavering. In my heart I suddenly admired her, thinking, she’s so mature…
“She says you don’t want to talk to anybody anymore. That’s okay. I’m not going to try to make you talk, so you don’t have to worry. I’m just here to tell you a story…”
I paused for a second, wondering if I really should go on. But then I went for it.
“See, when I was young, I lost my mother too… she killed herself when I was ten.”
This elicited an immediate reaction – Haruko looked more directly into my eyes for a moment and then lowered her gaze to the floor.
“I’m not trying to say that I understand how you feel,” I continued hesitantly. “It’s just that, when my mother died, I didn’t want to talk to anybody either. I was really angry all the time. I got into fights with people for no reason, and I kept hurting them and myself… I couldn’t find a way to express what I was feeling, to show people how much I was hurting. And then, one day, my dad bought me a guitar.”
Haruko immediately looked at the three items I had brought into the room with me. One of them was a guitar case. She stared at it and then stared at me, and I smiled, thinking, she’s so smart…
“That’s right, that’s my guitar,” I said. “Well, one of them. I brought it for you because after my mom died, music was really my savior – it helped me find ways to express my pain to other people at a time when words were failing me. And I figured maybe you were going through something similar… so I was wondering, would you be willing to hear me play some music for you?”
She turned her head away and thought about it for a while, gazing at the off-white wall. She stayed in that position for so long that I thought she might never respond, but just when I was about to give up and start playing anyway, she looked at me and nodded.
I smiled happily. “Okay, I’ll play something for you.”
I took out my guitar, picked a song at random, and began to play. Haruko closed her eyes and listened. Something about her expression made it seem like she was debating some great philosophical question, or struggling to make a difficult decision, and seeing this face on a teenage girl surprised me. But then, I should’ve understood that Haruko was no longer a teenager.
As soon as the piece was over she opened her eyes, looked at me, and pointed at the floor. I followed her finger and saw that she was gesturing at the other two items I’d brought. They were musical instruments as well, and she seemed to recognize that. I put my guitar down.
“Here, this one is a violin, and that one’s a flute… do you want to hear me play them too?”
I took out the violin and played a short piece. This time she watched me. After a minute her expression began to change – it was almost like she was getting excited. Before I had even finished the song, she got up off the bed and went to take a look at my flute case.
Quickly I put the violin away and took out the flute. “Do you want to see how to put it together?” I asked.
Haruko gave another slight nod. I put the flute together slowly, demonstrating, and then on a burst of inspiration I took it apart and placed the pieces into her hands.
She looked at me quizzically.
“You can do it,” I said.
She lowered her gaze, hesitating for a moment, and then put the flute together with sudden confidence. I clapped.
“Good job. Do you want to hear how it sounds?”
I played a few songs on the flute for her. When I was done she pointed to the guitar, so I went back and played another guitar piece. After that she pointed to the violin, and then to the flute again… Time passed quickly this way.
Some forty minutes later I was thoroughly tired out. I put my guitar down and asked, “So do you like it? Music?”
“I can teach you how to play, if you want.”
At this she gave me a slight smile, the first one I’d seen all night. Thrilled, I smiled back.
“Which one do you want to learn?”
With a hint of mischief in her eyes, she spread her arms wide.
All of them.