Daisuke wasn’t quite sure how he had gotten to this point.
Perhaps it was after his last colleagues sneered at him for the umpteenth time, or when his cousins snubbed him at the last family gathering. Perhaps it was the hopelessness he felt, watching his father waste away in the hospital–his father, who had never been proud of Daisuke for anything he’d ever done in life. Or perhaps, it was the way he’d gotten tired of seeing his mother hanging her head around all of their friends and neighbors when they asked about her son.
Or maybe he was just tired of it all.
Tired of trying. Tired of failing, over and over again. It was just so much easier to stay inside, surf the internet, talk to the friends who really appreciated his talents. Work on his art and models and games.
So when he got fired, he decided to stay home instead of attempting another embarrassing attempt at finding a new job. And staying home for a few days became a few months, then a few years, and now it had been 11 years since Daisuke had ventured five meters from his house.
He earned some money here and there from his gaming coaching…enough to pay for rent at his very cheap apartment and have a meal or two delivered now and then.
Altogether, it wasn’t a horrible life. Daisuke had almost forgotten what it was like, the outside world. That was, until she came.
“Hello! My name is Hamamoto Kitty, from the Big Sisters Neighborhood program!” The cheery voice came through the door. “Is this the home of Sato Daisuke?”
Kitty? What kind of a name was that? Daisuke didn’t answer.
“The Big Sisters Neighborhood program reaches out to members of the community that find it inconvenient to venture out. Is there anything I can help you with?”
Daisuke put his headphones on and turned on his computer. Great. Now the local government had decided to start a social program to help “weirdos” like him “reintegrate into society.”
He had heard about such things being implemented in the big cities, but had no idea they would progress so quickly as to start such a thing in his small backwater town.
“Well, if there’s nothing, then may I play a song for you?”
Without waiting for an answer, Kitty began plucking a high pitched instrument (a ukulele?) and singing in a high, but not-too-bad-sounding voice:
I love cats, cats love me,
Together we are happy and free!
Well, perhaps that explained her strange name, then.
“I’ll come back and see you next week, Daisuke!” the girl said cheerily, and slipped something under his door, then left.
Daisuke picked up the note Kitty left under the door. It was a photograph of a sleek tabby. On the back was written:
It was nice to “meet” you, Sato Daisuke. This is a picture of my cat Mochi. He is very aloof, but has a warm heart underneath it all. It took us a long time to get used to each other, but now he is my very best friend.
Daisuke took the picture to his desk and got out a pad and pen. Within a moment, he had doodled a cat on the pad and tacked it with a piece of tape on the outside of his door.
Hamamoto Kitty was true to her word, too. She squealed when she saw the picture of her Mochi taped to the outside of the door. “This is beautiful! Thank you so, so much! I will treasure it forever.”
Thereafter, every Monday afternoon at 2:00pm, Kitty showed up armed with her ukulele and stories about her cats (she had 5–who was the true weirdo here?) and her life.
She would usually bring him a picture of one of her cats (Mochi, Tako, Natto, Sushi, and Wasabi), and when Daisuke was bored, he’d draw the picture over again, and tape it to his door. Sometimes, he’d make up other drawings–cats flying on spaceships or deep-sea diving. Silly stuff like that. Kitty loved all of them.
In time, Daisuke learned: Kitty lived in the next neighborhood over, and was an only child and an orphan. She had battled leukemia and won when she was ten, and as a result had learned to see life as short but precious. She had always struggled through school, because she found learning difficult, and now worked odd jobs as a housekeeper.
“You know,” Kitty said one day, ten months after she started her visits, “Even though I have never seen you or heard your voice, Daisuke-kun, I feel like you and I are friends.” When Daisuke did not reply, as usual, Kitty took out her ukulele and sang another song about cats. “I will see you next week, Daisuke-kun!”
But when the next Monday rolled around, Kitty was not there. That was unusual. By the time the next Monday rolled around, and still no Kitty, Daisuke was beginning to get downright uneasy. By the third week this happened, Daisuke decided to take action.
Rifling through his closet for something passable to wear, Daisuke finally decided on a plain T shirt and pair of jeans, then nervously opened the door. As he stepped outside, the sunlight and fresh air felt foreign on his face. Daisuke blinked. Where was the community center located?
It took him an hour and half a dozen tries, but Daisuke finally found and made his way to the community center.
“Hello,” he said. His voice croaked from disuse. “Hello,” he tried again. There, that was better.
The lady at the counter looked up and smiled. “Good afternoon!” she said. “May I help you?”
“Is this the place where the Big Sisters program is held?” Daisuke asked.
“Oh! Yes, of course. Are you interested in applying for a Big Sister for someone you know?” The smiling woman pulled out a clipboard, but Daisuke held out his hand.
“Oh, no, actually I’m looking for someone. Hamamoto…Kitty?”
The woman’s smile faltered.
The hospital was uncomfortably familiar to Daisuke as he walked the peach-colored hallways. Daisuke tried not to think about the last time he had been here, and focused on his task. Looking for room 243…243.
There was no one inside. All was quiet. Timidly, Daisuke knocked on the door.
“Come in,” a weak voice said.
Daisuke entered. A thin, waif-like girl lay on the bed, hooked up to beeping monitors and other machines. She wore a mask and her pale face looked even whiter against the inky black hair splayed across the pillow.
“Hello?” she said in a familiar voice, even though Daisuke had only ever heard that voice through a door. “Who are you?”
Daisuke fumbled in his bag and took out his sketchbook, holding it out to the girl.
She looked puzzled, but reached out a hand to take it. When Daisuke released it, however, the book slipped through her grasp and fell on her arm.
“Ouch!” she cried.
“Sorry!” Daisuke cried, picking up the book. As he did so, it flipped open. The girl caught his wrist and stared at the pages and pages of cat pictures. Then her eyes moved from the book to Daisuke’s face.
“It’s you!” she breathed as a smile spread across her face.
Daisuke paused, and then nodded.
“For you,” he said, gesturing at the book.
Kitty clutched the book to her chest, her smile was so bright, it seemed to make the lights in the room dim.
“You know,” she said. “I believe this is the first time I have ever heard your voice.”
Daisuke blinked at her, and slowly smiled back.