A Growing Suspicion
While she was sleeping on the beach, she felt someone pick her up. She could see the waves beating on the shore. Only such a sight Hiroko had seen as a child haunted her memory, and every now and then she suspected she had been an abandoned child found on the beach. Her older sister, who had died at the age of two, must have been a biological child of her adoptive parents. Didn't her name, Hiroko, suggest she had been a foundling? Such a suspicion had come to cast a dark shadow over her heart.
There are many cases where adopted children discover the truth about their origins from their family registry they submit when they enter high school. Hiroko had fearfully opened a transcript she had obtained from the city hall. It said that she was the second daughter of her parents. While she was relieved, she thought the document could have been falsified. She could never dispel her suspicions.
There was another reason why Hiroko thought she had been a foundling. Her younger brother Kazuhiko was actually the son of her mother's sister, a child born out of wedlock. When Kazuhiko was five years old, his mother died of overwork. Then he was sent to live with Hiroko's family, but she couldn't forget her father's words at that time: "This time it's a boy." What he had said casually left a deep impression on Hiroko, who was in fourth grade.
Hiroko felt the same when she was at a loss as to which high school she would attend. Her friends' parents forced them to study hard, eager to send them to elite schools, but her father never put pressure on her. "You can go to whichever school you want, Hiroko." He seemed understanding on the surface, but the remark was enough to make her feel that he had very low expectations of her.
It was the second semester of her freshman year of high school. One of her close friends stopped going to school. She occasionally visited her friend's house, where she saw her parents scold her in earnest and sometimes soothe her. Hiroko thought that was how parents should be.
Shortly after Hiroko began her sophomore year of high school, she stopped attending school altogether. Her mother contacted the school and tried to find out the reason, but she came up empty-handed. Hiroko herself didn't know why she didn't want to go to school. When she tried to go back to school after a while, she would always experience bouts of abdominal pain and headache. Her father never tried to scold her. In her eyes he seemed like an indifferent stranger.
About a month had passed. One evening when Hiroko was alone in the living room, she lit one of the cigarettes her father had left. As she inhaled smoke, she felt nauseated and burst into a coughing fit. The cigarette fell onto the sofa and began to singe it. She kept watching it in silence. As soon as her mother returned home, she noticed the smoldering sofa, poured water from a vase, and called Hiroko down.
"You're not my real mother, are you?" Hiroko blurted out in spite of herself. Behind her stood Kazuhiko, who had come home unnoticed. When she glanced at Kazuhiko, their mother stood in the kitchen silently.
While eyeing Hiroko, who was seated morosely with her feet propped up on the table, Kazuhiko said, "I consider them my real parents. The woman in that photo is nothing more than someone who gave birth to me. Hiroko, are you always angry because I'm an intruder in this family?" His voice trembled.
"Idiot. You're just a duckling," Hiroko said.
Their mother, who had been observing the situation in the back of the room, rushed toward Hiroko and slapped her face with her open hand.
"You're the one who's not my child, Hiroko. Only Kazuhiko is my child. If you don't like it, you can go wherever you want." While shouting, she hugged Kazuhiko around his shoulders. Hiroko shot them a glance and stormed out of the house in her slippers.
Three days had passed since Hiroko ran away from home. Her father, who had finally learned her whereabouts when her friend's mother called, came to pick her up in his car. As they drove home, Hiroko remained quiet, her head drooping.
"Kazuhiko is fine," her father said. That was all he said. Hiroko smiled faintly and nodded.