This happened more than 20 years ago, when I was still a junior high student.
There were only a few days until summer vacation ended, and my mum drove my younger brother and I to the local pool. I don’t remember the details exactly, but I think our mum wanted us to enjoy what little was left of the holidays together.
So, we arrived at the pool. Our mum sat by the side of the pool while my brother and I played in it. Before long, someone called my name, and when I turned in the direction of the voice, I saw another kid from my grade standing nearby. I’ll call him N-san. We weren’t exactly close friends, nor were we even in the same class. All I knew about him was that one of my friends went to elementary school with him and mentioned him a few times. That was it.
“Fancy meeting you here,” he said. “Can I join you?”
Of course, I had no good reason to refuse him, and I thought that it would probably be more fun with an extra person anyway, rather than just my brother and I. So, the three of us played in the pool together.
As evening approached, it was finally time to go home. N-san was at the pool by himself, so we agreed to drop him off in our car. Mum asked him for directions as she drove.
“Turn right here. Turn left. Go straight.” He told her the way to go, and although Mum followed them, I soon realised that something was wrong. No matter how you looked at it, we were going in circles. Mum realised too, and when she pointed it out, N-san replied, “But this is the right way.”
Mum did as he said, but once again we ended up on the same road…
“Stop messing around!” I said, blowing my top.
“Sorry. But my parents said that when I come home I’m only allowed to take this road…” Then he turned to my mother and muttered, “You can drop me off at the tunnel up ahead.”
He got out of the car at the tunnel and we said our goodbyes.
“Wait, are there even any houses passed the other end of the tunnel?” my mother said after he got out of the car. I shook my head, but come to think of it, I didn’t know either…
Summer holidays ended and we went back to school. On the first day back, I told my friend about running into N-san at the pool. He revealed that both of N-san’s parents had died when he was young, and his grandmother was raising him now. Even more shocking, but his grandmother had died during the holidays. She died only a few days before we ran into N-san at the pool…
Thinking about it rationally, it made no sense for someone to be playing at a pool right after a close family member had died. After his grandmother died, some other relatives had taken him in, so he wouldn’t be joining us at school for the new term. Of course, they’d already taken him in, so he wasn’t at school that day. After that day at the pool, I never saw N-san again.
In the end, I never really figured out what happened that day. Why did he go to the pool alone to play after his grandmother had died? What did his long-dead parents mean by “you can only take this road”? And why did we keep driving around in circles?
Did N-san’s strange conduct have something to do with his grandmother’s death? I still have no idea. And was it even really N-san that we met at the pool to begin with? The more I think about it, he should have been with his other relatives at that time. But on the outside, it really did look like N-san… And he knew me as well.
There’s still so many things I don’t understand.