Chapter 30: First step again

It was the flash of light that drew Miyo to the shade at the tree-lined edge of the park surrounding the play area. Her father used to call Miyo and her mother magpies, though it wasn’t until she was a teenager that she had learned that magpies were birds and not fish as she had assumed.


She had been fine with that description though. After all, being attracted to “shiny things” was easier to explain. Even her father, with all of his Siren research and experience, couldn’t fathom what Miyo and her mother felt when moving through the world, how they could not just hear, but feel melody in all things.


So it was the flash that caught her eye, but it was the melody that pulled at Miyo’s heart. She found a woman already sitting in the shade, her girth taking up a third of the bench, and they exchanged smiles as Miyo parked her cart there. “Warm day, isn’t it?” Miyo said as she sat down on the other side of the bench.


“There really should be more shade for days like this, don’t you think?” The woman’s gaze seemed to be fixed on one of the children in the play area. “Stay in the shade, Haruto,” she called out.


She glanced over at Miyo and gave a short, high-pitched sound that seemed more like a yelp than a laugh. “I know, I should let him be. That’s what all the other parents are doing,” she muttered, glancing at the group of older men and women across the way.


Miyo just smiled, taking off her hat and settling it on the bench between them. “All parents care for their child in their own way.”


They sat quietly, the sound of children’s laughter and bits of conversation from voices high and low floating over to them along the wind. Even the breeze was warm, and Miyo was glad she had finally become more consistent in creating ice on her own.


‘Trying to carry around ice would have been useless in this heat,’ she thought, eyeing the small cart. But her practice had paid off, and customers in turn had paid for quite a number of iced teas and the sparkling recipe that Kai had shared.  ‘Perfect for a nice summer day like this one,’ Miyo though.


Though she wasn’t sure if the woman next to her would say the same. Sweat was glistening on her brow and though she was in the shade and clothed in light, flowing fabrics, the heat had already reddened her skin considerably. Miyo nodded to herself and began to hum under her breath.


After a few minutes, she held out a cup of iced tea to the woman. “I was wondering if you could help me – this is a new recipe and I’m seeing if it actually tastes all right. Would you be interested in trying it?”


The woman eyed the glass, her face lighting up long before her mouth formed the word “Yes.”


Miyo smiled and pulled out a notebook as the woman started taking a sip. “May I ask your name?”


“Michi,” she said, some of the lines relaxing with the cool tea. “It reminds me of pineapple. It’s so refreshing!” She eagerly drank as Miyo scribbled into her notebook. After finishing more than half the glass, Michi sighed happily.


However, Miyo soon sensed a change in her mood and she stopped writing just as Michi started to speak again. “I have a question that I’ve always meant to ask but it might be silly …”


“It’s no matter,” Miyo said with a warm smile, “The important thing is actually asking it.”


“Well, does tea really help in losing weight?” The words came out in a rush, punctuated by a flash of light as Michi twisted the bracelet around her wrist, the charms clinking against each other.


“It can but not by itself,” Miyo answered cautiously. “For example, just adding a cup of tea without changing anything may not change anything at all. However, I’ve known people who have replaced their habit of drinking sugar soda drinks with tea instead.  Since doing that, they felt more energetic, and have been more inclined to workout more consistently.  All of that together helped them lose weight.”


Miyo gave a secretive look and lowered her voice.  “It may be blasphemous for a tea master to say this, but tea in and of itself isn’t life changing.  But the beauty of tea is that it can help in making that first step to making changes in your life.”


Quiet settled upon their bench again, marked occasionally by the ice clinking in Michi’s glass. When it clanged empty, Miyo started to reach for another cup in her cart. “Would you like another? I can make one for your child too. Which one are they?”


Michi pointed to a spot on the grass a ways off from the play area. There, Miyo spotted a young boy playing alone with what seemed to be a collection of sticks and leaves interwoven into a sort of miniature structure.


“He looks so lonely doesn’t he,” Michi said softly, almost as if to herself. “He recently got into soccer but I just can’t keep up. If his dad was still alive, maybe it’d be different, and those parents over there would accept us.” She sighed as her gaze switched to the other side of the play area, where several of the parents had broken away to toss a ball with several children.


“You see the woman in the jogging suit? I see her run by our house everyday, and three times a week she takes the hardest cardio class ever. Well, it was the hardest I’d ever taken,” Michi corrected with a wince. “I could only go a couple of times before my work schedule was changed. I bet she thinks I’m just a lazy quitter.”


Miyo hummed deep in her throat, not to start a melody but rather to express doubt. “She probably knows how hard it is to juggle everything.”


As quiet fell upon the bench again, another child with wild hair settled down on a patch of grass near Haruto, dropping an armful of twigs and leaves. Haruto kept playing in his area, but couldn’t hide the interest in the other boy, peeking over every now and then.


The second boy, on the other hand, didn’t bother hiding his looks towards Haruto, openly studying the structures and attempting to make the same. But every attempt resulted in scattered leaves and twigs as it fell apart.


After a few minutes, Haruto took up some extra leaves and twigs and slowly began to weave them together, stopping in mid-motion. The other boy took the hint and mimicked Haruto’s movements and soon they were creating dozens of tiny structures.


Miyo chuckled, watching the two boys dash around the park, bringing back handfuls of twigs and leaves to their personal play area. “Your son has a kind heart,” she said, looking over at Michi.


There was a smile on Michi’s face, though the edges pulled down slightly. “He does,” Michi said slowly, but she couldn’t stop the smile from curving fully downward. “It’s why he gets picked on so much at school. He’s tried to stand up for himself but I think he just stopped trying now.” She let out a short sound, less a laugh of mirth and more one of condemnation. “Like mother like son, I guess.”


The light flashed from Michi’s bracelet as she twisted it around her wrist, her eyes cast onto to ground but unfocused and unseeing. Miyo breathed in deep, taking in the somber air, the breeze, the murmurs of laughter from across the way, the stirring in her own heart, before finally speaking.


“When I was young, my father had to travel a lot. He was away for long chunks of time – couple months here and there, a couple years at one point – so many times it was just me and my mother.” Miyo gave a crooked smile as memories floated through her mind. “I don’t know how she did it.  When I finally asked her, she said she took every day as it came, and tried to always do something new.”


Miyo tipped her head back and regarded the trees above them. “The way I see it, trying something new is one thing. But trying something new while being aware of all the odds against you and after having failed once before is a challenge of a different level.  Because there’s no magic to that, no special tea you can take. Just small, lonely, painful steps. But the point isn’t how fast you’re going, or even where you’re going to – the important thing is to keep moving forward. And that, I think, is the biggest, hardest kindness you can give to yourself.”


Michi shook her head. “But kindness is what got us into this mess.”


Miyo kept her gaze in the shifting leaves. “Most people think being kind to yourself means being lenient. But there’s a difference between lenience and having standards, between giving up and acknowledging where you could have done better, between having unrealistic expectations and being patient as you work towards your goals. It’s ultimately being kind to your future self by believing there’s still room to grow.”


The breeze came once more, moving the heat from one side of the park to the other. In this kind of heat, most people found it hard to take a step forward, to move in general. Miyo’s parents had always worried about her during the summer, had been similar to Michi in that they’d call out warnings to her all the time, worried about water fever and the like. But just as much as Miyo loved the coolness of the ocean, she found the heat of the sun just as enjoyable.


‘Perhaps that’s why I also like tea,’ Miyo thought to herself, opening her eyes at the sound of the patter of footsteps coming close. ‘It makes everything else that much cooler.’


The two boys didn’t even slow as they approached the bench, both jumping up onto the space between Miyo and Michi. No sooner had they landed that a rush of words came forth from Haruto. “Mom, this is Riku. Can we play in the playground over there?”


Michi’s eyes widened at the overwhelming energy coming from her son. She glanced at the playground and back at the boys, apprehension clouding her face. As if sensing her hesitation, Haruto tugged on her shirt and added a plaintive note into his voice. “Please? We’ll be careful, we promise.”


Miyo studiously kept her focus on her cart, rummaging through the drawer and muttering to herself about a stirrer. She heard Michi sigh, followed by a cheer from the two boys as they sped off towards the playground.


“I was wrong.”


Miyo turned back towards Michi, but the mother’s gaze was on her child. “He’s not like me at all.” The lines in Michi’s face loosened into thoughtfulness. “Maybe it’s more accurate to say ‘Like son, like mother’ instead.”


Miyo tilted her head in question, but the only answer she received was a brief smile as Michi stood up and made her way across the park to start talking with the group of parents there, her bracelet flashing in the sunlight.


Another breeze swept through the park, carrying with it a melody that was less tense and more determined. Miyo smiled to herself and got up as well. “Have to keep moving,” she murmured as she began to push the cart forward.

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