My name is Hikaru Tanaka. I am seventeen years old and a second year student at the Hiroshima Kenritsu Koyo High School. I am a big basketball fan who always makes sure to cheer for the local team at every chance there is, my grades are nothing to brag about, but I do my best to pass everything I can. This is the self-introduction the world awaits from me whenever I am asked to introduce myself. In these words, however, I fail to see myself; I feel invisible and shallow every time I am forced to repeat this very sequence of words. That is because those words do not define me. If I were to define myself, I could say I am a free-spirited human-being, an entity that adores the visual above all else. The scenery, the setting, the colors and the lighting are what fascinate me in life; they are the passion that allows me to play along with the ridiculousness society throws at me every so often. One example of such ridiculousness is the attitude my classmates have towards me. I am, in their eyes, what they consider an outcast; a person who refuses to read the mood and to play along with the roles each and every one of them assumes and puts on as a façade. A few altercations early on made it clear that my place in school belonged alongside the shunned and the quirky. Although I personally believed I did not belong to their ranks, their scarce company was comforting at times, to say the least.
Due to the nature of my obsession, I was automatically drawn to photography. With enough savings and my mother’s gracious help, I was able to buy a decent camera at a young age. This allowed me to have ample time in order to practice and learn the camera’s ins and outs. By the age of sixteen I was able to produce professional photos thanks to my trained eyes that were able to recognize photo-worthy scenery instantly. My photos gradually gained more and more traction in a random website online in which I posted anonymously, and my endeavors in photography were cheered on by no one other than my mother alone. She has always stood by my side and encouraged this obsession of mine. Ever since that day where I realized my passion, my mother ceaselessly repeated these words to me: “Your passion for what you do makes you shine, and for that my child I will support you with everything I can.” She always used to say that I was destined to receive the name Hikaru; even if I had been born to different parents or in a different era, she was sure that would have been the name I would be given. The name Hikaru meant light or brightness, and the way my eyes glowed whenever I was engrossed in photography felt like fate weaving its threads to my mother.
At first, photography was not something I took very seriously. It was during my father’s funeral that I had laid my hands on a camera for the first time ever. My cousin from Tokyo had brought it, and curious as I was, I could not help but tinker with the strange object for a while. It was a regular cheap second hand camera; the type tourists buy on the spot for quick photos, cheap thrills, and lasting memories. Before I was distracted by the camera however, my father’s untimely death continuously clutched at my heart. I had always imagined death to be so far away, yet, before I could notice, here it was right in front of my eyes as the medics dragged my father’s limp cadaver away. Having seen how the traumatic experience unfolded before me, my uncle asked his son to keep me occupied somehow, in hopes of getting my mind off of things. As such, my cousin resorted to teaching me the basics of how to hold a camera as well as how to take photos. He, however, similarly to me at the time, hadn’t the slightest idea about the intricate details that go into the process of taking a photo. He was a wealthy Tokyo child with a lot of money and nothing to do, and a camera just happened to be the next trendy thing in the neighborhood. Having seen how interested I was in the strange gizmo, he decided to leave it for me, perhaps it was out of sympathy, or he simply got bored with it now that I have shown interest in it myself. Either way I ended up taking casual photos here and there of things I liked. I never even considered the possibility of posting any of my photos anywhere and so they, more often than never, were silly instances of my mother doing some chores, the neighbor’s cat that frequently honored our house with its presence, or the snails that I found in the living room once.
My passion for photography had not yet sparked at this point. As cliché as it may seem, the moment where I realized the beauty of the visual, as I have come to call it, was because of a girl; it was purely a moment of being in the right place, at the right time, and with the right person. Looking back at it, what happened must have been a divine revelation of sorts. I still remember the events as if they had happened merely a day ago. It was right around the time my father’s death began taking its toll on me. My fleeting interest in the camera paved the way for the thoughts I had tried so hard to suppress to resurface. I was fourteen at the time, and it had been precisely two years that my father had died. Throughout these two years, only one word continued to echo within my already shaken consciousness. It was the word I heard my mother scream when she knew of my father’s death; “Suicide” she howled. I had not realized what the word meant at the time. It was only the angst I felt as my mother’s shrieks penetrated my skull that allowed me to understand the word as one with negative connotations. I also wondered about the rope the medics made sure nobody would touch. Why did mother refuse to look at it? Why was it covered in blood? I could never understand; not until I was old enough. I still regret the day I connected the dots. I was conflicted; cornered between blades of sadness and anger as I pondered my father’s death. Was I a bad child? Was I not good enough a child that he had to kill himself? Is it my fault?
Yes! It was around this time that I met Natsuko Higuchi; a fateful encounter with the fifteen year old who was to change my life. Natsuko was a fair, slender, short girl with conveniently short hair as well. Her hair was dark brown similar to her eyes. I distinctly remember this because of the way she glared at me the first time we had met each other. She always wore her sailor uniform with a jacket around her waist, black knee socks and crimson boots. She was always alone, distant from the other students. Perhaps it has been her influence that has caused me to become such a loner myself. She was a third year at my junior high school whereas I was a newly transferred second year. And so struggling to meet new friends, I was always stuck taking random photos of insects and animals during lunch break using my trusty cheap camera. I would hear rumors here and there about Natsuko from my classmates. Some often talked about how scary she looked when she glared, while others pondered how she quickly ran off alone after school and how she might have been a prostitute making money for her poor family. I always disregarded these rumors however as I was extremely against judging others without firsthand knowledge of who they are. And so life went on its track, as every day passed, my camera’s memory was filled with pictures of insects and animals, while my hopes for meeting a friend drained my will to do so as well.
Everything changed when the notorious Natsuko Higuchi glared at me from across the hall during lunch break one day. I had been minding my own business as I always have, chasing after a lizard I had found in an attempt to take its photo when all of a sudden, as I pressed my eye against the camera lens, Natsuko’s menacing looks pierced through, thrusting a handful of fear deep into my heart. It was then that she screamed “Hey, aren’t you the kid who keeps taking creepy pictures of insects?” Unable to muster the courage to blurt out a response I just stood dumbfounded, staring at this girl who called my photos creepy out of the blue. She then began strutting in my direction as my dumbfounded expression began to gain composure. She stared at me intently and said “You’re different from the others. I can tell. You and I are somehow the same.” As her expression grew slightly softer she added “Can I see the pictures you take?” Natsuko went through the photos one after the other without showing any mercy in her feedback; she laughed at bad photos while complimenting the good ones. And that was how I knew of Natsuko’s good nature. She was a genuinely honest person, and honesty has always been something people feared.
My sudden friendship with Natsuko continued to grow from that point on. She found comfort in my loneliness as I did in hers, and because of that we were at great ease with eachother. We often met during lunch break behind the school and we would talk the entire time, uninterrupted, touching on all kinds of topics a fifteen and a fourteen year old could talk about. Natsuko was no ordinary fifteen year old however. Something about the way she spoke and her line of thought gave the impression she was much older; like a grown-up in disguise. After a while of our incessant conversations, I had decided to ask Natsuko about the rumors of her leaving school in a hurry on her own. The intentions behind my question were not out of curiosity but rather unrelenting worry. I grew to care for Natsuko quite a lot during the time in which we spoke and so, had she been in some sort of a predicament, I was adamant on helping her in any way I could. It was clear that Natsuko herself could tell how worried I was when I had asked the question, as the first thing she did was burst into laughter the moment I had finished asking. Confused, I simply stared at her as she replied “You mean the rumors about me being a prostitute? I know all of that. Everyone talks about it so much it was bound to reach me eventually.” The pained look in my eyes prompted her to add “Those rumors are not true you know! I do leave in a hurry for a reason, but that is not it.” I then asked her if everything was okay in order to put my suspicions to rest once and for all, to which she replied “Would you like to know why I leave school early?” I nodded, now genuinely curious about this mysterious girl’s equally mysterious motives. “Meet me here as always after school, tomorrow I will tell you everything”.