It was that morning when Motoko awoke at her usual time and went to awaken her children that she had realized Shiori had gone limp and spiritless.
Her face was pale and blue, no trace of her mischievous expressions. She spoke few words, almost as if still half in a dream. Motoko remembered seeing this expression before. Her father-in-law Iwao and her husband Isami were swiped away by it.
(This shouldn't be, happening.)
After all Shiori didn't go to the highway. She shouldn't be lost as Iwao and her husband were. Motoko was seized by shivers as she cradled up Shiori's body. After all, a six year old girl, losing one's six year old daughter, that was something that should just not be allowed to happen.
Motoko flew out of the house with Shiori in tow. Shigeki gave a confused "where are you going?" but Motoko couldn't even answer. She was fully absorbed in just getting out of the house.
Shiori's body was heavy like a stone as she ran through the neighborhood. Reaffirming her grip multiple times on the body that seemed as if it would slip from her arms, Motoko ran. The villagers walking along the road watched her, a strange sight to behold, but Motoko wasn't even aware of it. Unable to bear her daughter's weight, she fell onto the road onto her knees, aware that both of her arms were about to give out. Taking great pains to bear that weight, her breath was faint by the time she'd reached the Ozaki Hospital in Monzen. Like a drowning man grasping at straws, she rushed to the entryway.
Motoko was greeted at the entryway by a slip of paper. Pulling back the curtain at the inside of the entryway, on the paper stickied there she saw the words "No medical examinations today." Motoko collapsed there on the spot.
"That can't be......" Motoko murmured in the entryway. Her voice rang out. "Please! Please open!"
But the hospital remained closed, with no answer given. Only a woman passing by spoke out to Motoko.
Motoko pointed to the paper in the entryway. The woman made a troubled face and furrowed her brows.
"Oh my--how unusual."
"Today... is Wednesday, isn't it?"
"Yes. And to think that lately they had even been open on Saturdays. I wonder whatever could be the matter?" the woman said, looking up uneasily at the building. "I've heard that the missus was in poor health but... I wonder if that could be what it is?"
"But...... My child is also not well."
"That's not good is it? But there's no examinations today."
But that's, Motoko thought feeling darkness threaten to overtake her. Why wouldn't he examine her, why wouldn't he save her? Her child was in danger and yet!
Shouldn't she have somebody to ask about whether Shiori's condition was really so bad? Or no--moreover perhaps she should have called first, or maybe she should have called an ambulance? ---At the time such prudence hadn't occured to Motoko. Shiroi was in danger, that was all that there was. She was going to die like this, like her father-in-law and her husband. She was going to be taken away from her, to somewhere where she couldn't reach her. If she didn't hurry to someplace that could assure her safety, she might really lose her daughter.
She had thought that and came rushing to the hospital but with them having decided at their leisure to close for the day, Motoko was driven even further into a frenzy. Somebody---somebody with malicious intent towards Motoko, was coming to mercilessly carry her daughter off away from her.
"Come to think of it," the woman said tilting her head. "I'm certain I had heard somebody saying that they had made a hospital in Kami-Sotoba, if I recall right?"
Motoko turned to face the woman.
"I get the feeling that I had heard that next to the Kusunoki Stand, the doctor of the Kanemasa family had opened a clinic?"
Motoko swallowed her breath. That was unmitakably an outsider. And furthermore she would have to go by that dreadful national highway to go to the gas station.
"If you like, should I go to ask somebody for more details?"
At the woman's voice, Motoko shook her head. Pulling Shiori onto her back she staggered to her feet. Steadying the load on her back she turned about.
"Oh dear---say, miss?"
The woman's voice didn't reach her. She had to go someplace. If she didn't hurry to someplace where somebody would save her daughter, she knew it would be hopeless.
An outsider, ---the national highway. It was almost like some sort of trap. To save Shiori she needed to bring her to a doctor but it turned out her only choice was an outsider at that highway. That was what would take her children from her, and yet, as if it were some kind of trap, she had no choice but to go there.
While half crying, Motoko none the less readjusted Shiori on her back. Rushing from Monzeo to Kami-Sotoba, she tried to hurry even while staggering but Motoko's urgency still couldn't force her feet forward.
(But, if I don't hurry.)
As quickly as possible. If she wasn't, it would be like her father-in-law and her husband all over again. She had no doubt it would become something she could never turn back.
While wheezing and sobbing, Motoko lost herself into the task of continuing down the road. By the time she had gotten to Naka-Sotoba, the elderly who had been in the road before her flew out of her way, looking at her as if they had seen something terrifying.
Is it really right to go there? she thought. As soon as she got to the national highway, wouldn't she meet with a wrecklessly driving car just coming around the bend? Was it really safe to have her looked over by an outsider? Shiori might have come from the examination room a cold corpse. While on the one hand terrified, on the other hand she wanted to have a doctor to see Shiori at any cost. If she didn't, then Shiori would be taken away from her.
Her hesitation tangled her feet. As if to scold her for her indecision, Shiori's weight on her back grew heavier. That was the weight of her daughter's life. She would rather die than forsake that weight.
With that determination in mind she continued until the highway. Cautious above normal definitions of the word, she sought out the area near the gas station. Immediately she knew the clinic the woman had spoken of. A sign board was put out. Motoko approached the door sobbing, finding it closed up tightly and taking a seat there.
At the side of the door was a sign with the hours of business. It was from seven in the evening until ten.
"---Oh no! Nee, open up!"
She wanted to bang on the door but both of her hands wer eoccupied. She absolutely could not let go of her daughter. Motoko banged the door with her head. Her forehead knocked on the door. Even though she'd gone that far, nobody appeared to open the door for her. Motoko's voice went out in a sob. Shiori was going to die. She was going to be plundered away from Motoko.
She had let out a scream she couldn't hold in when a familiar, trustworthy voice came from behind her.
It was Kanami's voice. Motoko turned about. Kanami came rushing towards her kneeling beside Motoko. Behind Kanami were several dumbfounded villagers standing back to watch.
"You--what's the matter?"
Motoko cried out in a shrill voice. Kanami was baffled by Motoko's, one could sincerely call it, madness. She had heard that a woman who looked like Motoko had a child on her back, walking down the highway sobbing. A neighbor who knew that Kanami was friends with Motoko had come all the way to tell her about it. Thinking that was impossible, she came out half believing it and half doubting it.
There was only one thing that she could think of that would push Motoko to this level. That Motoko was here in front of the Ebuchi Clinic only reinforced that. Kanami timidly looked to Shiroi's face; while she was dead limp, seeing that she was breathing, Kanami let out a sigh of relief.
"Motoko, it's all right, now pull yourself together."
Motoko shook her head. She desperately wanted to let out her complaint but she couldn't find the words. But even without hearing it Kanami knew what she wanted to say.
"Shiroi-chan is all right, though. She's going to be more worried herself with you acting like that. So that's not good, you have to pull it together."
Kanami repeated that it was "all right" while holding Motoko around the shoulders. She rocked her until she had calmed down.
"Kanami, Shiori is!"
"Mm. She's sick, isn't she? It's all right, we'll take her to the hospital."
"But all of the doctors are..."
"Let's have her brought to the Junior Doctor at the Ozaki's," Kanami said, but Motoko shook her head.
"They are closed. He won't look at her."
My, Kanami murmured. Well, wasn't that unusual? ---But maybe not so unexpected. She'd heard that lately Toshio's place had been open without any days off.
"Right. Then, let's bring her to Mizobe. The quicker the better. Let me take Shiori. We'll call an ambulance to the gas station."
Motoko's eyes widened. "Ambulance?"
"That's right, that'd be the fastest, right? The national hospital or the mutual aid society's hospital will have all the equipment, and there'll be doctors there too. So it's going to beokay."
Motoko gave a dazed nod. As Kanami gave her a smile, she became aware of the voices of the people directly around them. Turning her eyes to them, she saw Maeda Tomiko hurrying forward, lead by the villagers. Somebody must have gone to let her know.
Kanami spoke over Tomiko. "Please stay with Shiori-chan and Motoko. I will go to call an ambulance."
"Now you stop right now!"
Kanami blinked at such a rough tone. Tomiko turned her glare to Motoko. She held onto Shiori as if she were going to take her away.
"For the love of, you! What are you thinking? Suddenly running outside, making such a shameful sight!"
"But...... Shiori's condition is."
Kanami spoke up. "Shiori-chan is sick. That is why Motoko"
"This has nothing to do with it, so be ever so kind as to just butt out!"
Kanami was lost for words in the face of Tomiko's hysterics.
"What's this, why, she doesn't even have a fever! What are you trying to say is the matter with her? Causing such a fuss, you're just pathetic!"
"Throwing such a fit over nothing! You really are just such a..." Tomiko glared at Motoko, having the limp Shiori stand. "Come, we're going back home. Today is a school day isn't it? Let's hurry back, you're going to school."
Oh no, Motoko wailed while trying to take Shiori back. Motoko smacked at her grabbing hands.
"You!" Tomiko said stomping her foot. "How long is it going to take for you to realize that nothing causes as many problems as the big hissy fits you throw over everything?!"
Tomiko glared at her daughter-in-law. Holding her grandchild's hand, she forcefully drug her back to the house. What drove Tomiko was a complete feeling of denial. Even Tomiko loved her cute little grand daughter. There was no way that that grand daughter could die. It wasn't even true that she was sick. No doubt that as usual her daughter-in-law was getting the wrong idea and throwing a fit again. It had to be that.
Tomiko heard Motoko's desperate scream from behind. She had to get her grand daughter home and have her dress for school. If she went about as if there was nothing amiss, then nothing would be amiss.
Motoko tried to follow after Tomiko. But her feet wouldn't do as she wished. Kanami supported her, and while she wanted to cling back to her, she had no power over her own hands. Motoko could only stare at her mother-in-law's back with murderous intent.
---Everyone known and unknown was trying to take Motoko's children from her.
(It isn't only outsiders.)
For the first time, Motoko understood that everyone was an enemy.