As she set her feet on the ground, she was soon welcomed by the damp, hot atmosphere which wasn’t really comfortable at first. The last time she had come to this country, the feeling wasn’t much different. The summer in Vietnam was even harsher than in Okinawa. But after she got used to it, she found that it was tolerable.
” I will come back with Haji . “
That was the promise she had made with Kai and the others when they had seen her off at the airport. To tell the truth, she didn’t know where to find him, so, she decided to come to every countries she and Haji had visited during their battles with Chiropterans. Starting with Vietnam.
In fact, Saya doubted that she could find Haji here. This place held the most painful memories of them. Here, in 1972, she had gone berserk and killed many innocent people. She had even tried to kill him, resulting in cutting his right arm off, leaving him a wound that never healed. Thirty years later, she had been out of control again and injured him as well as those members of Red Shield. Although willing to sacrifice their life for her was the oath every members of Red Shield shared, she couldn’t help but feeling deeply guilty about it. Saya wondered if those had been hurt by her would ever forgive her.
This country had changed a lot since her last visit. Changing was inevitable in this world. Okinawa had changed. Kai had changed. Vietnam had changed. Even Saya found herself different from the person had been thirty years ago. Would Haji change, too ? More importantly, would what he had told her that night ever change ?
The heat struck her and she soon realized that walking on the street in mid afternoon wasn’t a wise idea. Quickly, she settled herself in a nice-looking coffee shop. Ordering herself a lemon juice, Saya sat quietly by the window, enjoying the coolness the AC brought and the view outside. And then…
“Saya… ? “
Saya turned her head around as she heard a voice call her name, so surprised that there was someone who knew her name here. In front of her stood a woman in her middle-age, dressed in dark purple aodai. Her hair was no longer black like young girl’s and she had wrinkles round her eyes but they just complimented her sophisticated and aristocratic look. Her eyes, although being hidden beside the glasses, shone brilliantly. Saya knew those eyes. They belonged to a young girl she had known thirty years ago. The girl she had shared room with. The girl who had been kind enough to lend her a dress to wear in the ball. The girl who had been her best friend in Vietnam.
“… Sorry, I mistook you with someone else. Someone I knew a long time ago. ” The girl now turned woman heaved out a sigh of disappointment.
” Min ? “
The woman’s eyes widened in disbelief. At first, she thought she was mistaken. This young girl looked exactly the same as her old friend. A friend who had left her school without saying goodbye. Where she had gone to remained a mystery. If her friend was still alive, she would be in the same age as Min. There was no possibility this girl could be her. But how could she know her name ?
” Excuse, how did you know my name ? Except… ” She took a pause. ” Are you… Saya ? “
There was silence between them. Min was too confused to say anything. Saya, on the other hand, didn’t know how to answer. If she admitted she was Saya, how would she explain why she looked so ridiculously young despite her age ? She couldn’t not tell Min that she was a queen of some rare species and not human. But she couldn’t think of any acceptable lie to tell. Telling Min that she was Saya’s daughter ? Min wouldn’t believe it.
” Are you really Saya ? ” Min, after a few minutes, managed to calm herself down. ” Please tell me ! It’s very important to me. “
It was indeed very important to Min. For all these years, Min couldn’t forget what had happened on that night : Saya in the torn blood-stained dress, holding a sword, her eyes glowing red. Saya had disappeared together with the man Min had assumed ‘ the phantom gardener ‘. Her effort of trying to find Saya had been vain, all Min could have found was an old picture of a couple looking the same as Saya and ‘ the phantom gardener ‘. Nothing more. It was like her friend had vanished into the air.
Saya just nodded, avoiding eye contact with Min.
” Saya, I’ve finally found you !! ” All of sudden, the woman turned back to be the young, warm-hearted girl Saya had known. Min hugged her tightly, completely ignored other people in the shop.
” Min… They’re looking at us. “
” Oh, I’m sorry. I just can’t believe that I meet you here. ” Min took a seat opposite to Saya’s.
” Me neither. ” Saya admitted.
” There’re many things I want to ask you. But first, that night, where did you go ? I asked everyone in the school, even Mrs. Lee and no one had a clue. Did you come back to Okinawa ? Why didn’t you tell us ? At least we could have a farewell party. “
Saya just smiled. There was something that time couldn’t change. Min was still like a girl of thirty years ago, a little talkative but kind and friendly. A true friend.
” I had urgency. I always felt sorry that I didn’t have time to say goodbye. “
” You made me thought that the phantom gardener took you away. Thanks God that you’re safe ! ” Min took Saya’s hands in hers and squeezed slightly and chuckled. ” It surprises me that you still look the same and I’ve become… old. “
” You’re not old, Min, just more mature. It’s very complicated to explain why I look this way. Please Min, I didn’t want lie to you but there’s something that can’t be explained naturally. “
” I see. If it’s something you can’t tell me then I won’t insist. From the way you looked that night, I knew that you were somehow… different. And when I found an old picture of a couple that looked like you and the phantom gardener, I had more reason to believe. But that is not a matter. No matter who or what you are, you’re still my friend and I’m so glad to see you again. “
” Thanks, Min. ” Saya said, feeling warm in her heart.
” What brought you back to Vietnam ? “
” I’m trying to find someone. Someone who is important to me. “
” The phantom gardener ? “
” How do you know ? “
” I don’t know. Just guess. Like woman’s instinct. He and you disappeared that night, together. You know, it made almost every girls in the school heart-broken. You must see Anna Marie’s face at that time. She was so pissed off after having herself rejected by the man in white, and even the phantom gardener left the school. Her dream of finding the real ‘Phantom’ shattered. “
” He went off… somewhere else and I don’t really know where to find him. I just assume that he may appear in some place we’ve gone to during our journey.
Everytime she thought or talked about Haji, her eyes started to blur as tears were about to fill her eyes. Everytime she thought or talked about him, it was a challenge to her whether she could control her feelings. Saya lowered her head to hide hints of water at the corners of her eyes.
” Saya… My instinct tells me that there’s a strong connection between two people who love each other. If you truly love him, you can think the way he thinks, feel the way he feels. You will find him. You will, Saya. “
” Min, thank you. ” Finally, Saya saw a hint of hope. Did she truly love him, truly want to be with him ? The answer was ‘yes’. After several years, time had built up her courage to admit her feelings toward him. And now, this time, she wouldn’t let anything come between them. She would find him and bring him home.
” If you need any help, don’t hesitate to call me. “
A small card was given.
” You know, you look a lot more beautiful when you smile. The Saya I know is the Saya who smiles. “
” And the Min I know is the Min who is always a good friend. Maybe a little bit talkative but that’s fine. “
They both laughed as the short time they had been together at Lycee was recalled.
” I was so childish back then. I thought that I could marry Saya’s brother. My husband won’t be happy to know this. Tell me, do you have any kids ? “
” Uhm…no “. Saya blushed slightly when she thought about having kids, just like when Min had asked about her ‘ first kiss ‘ with Haji. ” But I have two nieces. They live with my brother. “
” Just curious, is it true that everyone in your family is like you. I mean, looking so young despite the age ? “
” Sort of. ” Saya replied, momentarily thinking about her two Chevalier- brothers.
” How amazing !! I always envied of you since you didn’t gain weight despite eating so much. Now I envy of you since you stay young despite the age. “
” Min… “
” Just kidding. Saya, do you want to stay at my house for a few days ? I’ll show you round the city. “
” Thanks, Min, but I’m afraid I can’ more time passed, the more I fear that he’s drifting away from me. I’m really sorry. “
” That’s OK, Saya. You have something important to do. Promise me, when you find him, you two must come back here and pay me a visit. “
” You have my word for that. “
Note : That’s the end of chapter 5. Haji’s still nowhere to be found. I’ve finished chapter 7 in my notebook but I’m so busy with work that it takes me time to type and edit the chapters. Sorry for the late update.
In fact, Min’s name is spelled ” Minh ” and pronounced ” Ming ” in Vietnamese. Min is actually Chinese translation.