I bounce the ball in my hand, and a dirt-circle spreads from the hit, dust dancing kind of pretty.
I’m surprised I can hear it. It’s loud out here.
My leg just kinda flipped out, and I kicked my ball by accident. It’s colorful so I can see it but—
It gets kicked by someone walking by.
It gets out of my sight.
And it’s gone with the crowd.
“...” I don’t even sigh. I just let my hand reach out toward where I saw it go. Well... it would’ve happened eventually. I sit down fully, right on my butt, dirtying the gray yukata they gave me. Having only one working eye like I do... yeah, it was uh... “inevitable”.
I touch the bangs over the right side of my face, and look at the sky.
“When will the fireworks start...?” I ask to no one. Like I want to see them. It’s loud out here, and I’m talking like I want it louder. Plus, with how crowded the street is, fireworks would get more people out... I should just go back, I think.
I get ready to crawl out of here when an older girl steps over to where I am—between festival stalls, watching the celebration. She has red hair... did she dye it like Miss Marisa did when she was younger? Her brows are pushed together and she’s frowning. I don’t think she noticed me. She just stands with her arms in her sleeves, glaring. He yukata is like her hair, but there’s a black flower pattern on it. I look at her head again... A blue bow... that’s nice.
“... mans...... I should......... stupid,” she’s muttering to herself but not loud enough for me to get any of it. Yeah, she definitely doesn’t notice me.
“U-Um...” I speak up from under her, “Big Sis? You okay?”
“Hah? A child?” She looks down at me. Saying “a child” is weird. “What is it?”
“You don’t know how to get out of here? I can show you a secret path...” I dunno, I don’t mind helping.
“A secret path, huh? Right, children say things like that.” Uh... “Certainly. Please give me a hand. I’m fed up of all this.”
“Alright,” I nod politely and turn to start crawling away again. There’s a way into an alley here where there’s a wooden fence and—
“Wait.” I stop and look back over my shoulder at the older girl. She turns down her lips and looks hard at me. “... Are you a boy or a girl?”
“I can’t help that...” I say quietly. I crawl ahead, and hear her sliding along behind me.
“Why must we crawl?”
“Do we have to crawl through here?”
“Oh, ahm... no, I just wanted to sneak around, and eventually we’ll have to crawl through something anyway.”
“... Well fair enough. I can appreciate that sort of play.”
The red-haired girl is rude, but kinda cool, I guess...
While we’ve been getting farther and farther away from the noise of anyone else, she’s been asking me a lot of questions, and saying stuff about herself too.
What’s your name?—Hitomi.
How old are you?—Eight.
I’m Sekibanki... I’m fourteen—no, sixteen.
Where do you live?
... In the human village. And she said, like proudly, “Me too!”
I didn’t say where I really live, even if it was the first thing to come to my head.
“Is that what we have to crawl through?” she asks from behind me. Yeah, a little out in front of us is a wooden fence that got broken near the bottom. Cats and kids like to sneak through here. Cats since there’s a lady around here who feeds them. Kids since it’s just fun doing that. I move past the splinters and planks and Sekibanki hits her head on the way.
I look back to see her holding the top/back of her head, but...
It looks... funny. I guess I’m tired, ‘cause it’s like her head’s too far away from the rest of her body... but just a little. Like juuuust a little, so I’m not sure. I don’t ask about it though ‘cause—
“Are you okay, Big Sis?” I ask, turning around and putting my head on where she hurt herself. I try to make it feel better.
“Eh!? Ah... ah, yeah.” She pushes down on her scalp and makes the rest of the way through the hole, stepping ahead and standing up in front of me. I stay down on my knees, my hand still up. “Thanks, girl,” she tells me.
I shake my head and stand up too. “Mm-mm, it’s my fault you hit your head.”
“But it’s thanks to you...” she says, putting her arms in her sleeves and looking past me, “it’s quiet now.”
I turn my head and look down the alley we’re in now, to another village street without lights, and up in a sky full of stars. I hear something whistling far behind us, and there’s a faraway “boom” from above. We both look back for a sec, then at each other.
“I guess we missed the fireworks,” she says.
I shrug. “They shoot fireworks every day: every morning and every night.”
She smirks, and “hmph”s.
... So we’re alone now, I guess.
I walk toward the empty street, and after a few steps hear the older girl walking behind me. “Um...” I mutter, raising my shoulders a bit, “i-if you don’t know it too well, I can show you other cool places in the villa—”
“Yep! It’s Hitotsume!”
I lift my eye and see Yuuta, Nae, and Ryuhei just at the start of the alleyway. I take a step back, and hold the bangs over the right side of my face, tugging lightly.
“‘Hitotsume’? Hm? Could you be—?”
I don’t hear her over them shouting, “—youkai!”
I flinch again, and pull my hair some more.
“You know, youkai are allowed in the village, so why’d you come here instead of staying at the festival?” Nae asks, and she cocks her head like she’s being honest.
“I’m not a youkai,” I say.
“No way!” Ryuhei yells. He points at my face. “Look! You’ve only got one eye!”
“I have two eyes...”
“I only see one,” Yuuta says. He steps toward me, I step back. He reaches for my bangs. “If you have two,” he continues, “then show us!”
I try to wave his hand away and close my eyes. I can’t really do anything else. I don’t know what I was thinking... I should’ve just stayed back in the home...
“...?” I open my eyes, and see them scurrying off through my left one. I immediately get freaked out. If they ran away that’s got to mean—
“Y-Youkai...?” I whisper under my breath, There’s a monster behind me. I-I’ve gotta run—
“Wait.” I feel a hand on my shoulder and jump under it. “The source of fear is gone.”
I think for a sec and... This is Sekibanki, right? I nervously turn to look up over my shoulder.
Sekibanki is looking over to the kids who’re running off. She thumbs her neck and I notice there’s a jagged scar circling around it. I look away, fast.
“Hm? What’s wrong?” she asks me. I shake my head, and from the pressure on my shoulder I guess she shrugged. “... So you have two eyes, hm?”
“I see... Well, come on.”
I look at her again. Um, what?
“Weren’t you going to show me other things in the village?” she asks.
“...? You want to see? But there’s a youkai around here.”
Sekibanki smirks again. Her lips part and she says, “The other girl just now was wrong about you, but right about youkai being in the village. It’s just something you get used to... right?”
I don’t know. I don’t think I ever will, really.
“Come, now: show me, show me!” she pushes at my back and I skid on the heels of my sandals. I blush. I want to tell her, “what if I’m a youkai? Is that okay?” but...
She’s not treating me like one, so...
It’s okay... Let’s forget it.
There isn’t much unused space in the Human Village. This land called Gensokyo leaves most of its free space to the non-humans. Fairies, youkai, divine spirits and phantoms, ghosts and monsters live in the forests, in the mountains, near the lake. We can go wherever we want, but it’s dangerous... so there isn’t a lot of space we don’t use. That’s what makes me look for empty spots closely.
A house burned down years ago and took out a row of other houses with it. There were like these freak lightning strikes happening, and people got scared so they left the area. Now, in this one part nearer to the city walls, there’s a stretch of vacant land: a long lot that I like to play in.
“I keep some of my toys here,” I tell Sekibanki, drawing on the ground with a stick. “I lost the ball that I played with at the festival, but I’ve got other ones. I’ve got dice and a hoop too. Wanna see?”
She nods while she’s bent down, knees up nearer to the road. Great! I go over to some of the rubble that hasn’t been cleared up and start going through it. I take out a sparkling glass bottle, some marbles, the dice and another ball. I reach for a hoop that’s half as tall as I am, brown and made of something hard. I set it on the ground and start pushing it with my stick. I roll it toward Sekibanki, then turn and move parallel with the street. She claps. I smile with my eyes closed. How’s that?
“I’ve seen that before. That’s quite impressive.”
“Y-Yeah!” I tell her, and I look down at the hoop, holding my stick out to maneuver it. I miss, though, and accidentally knock it over in my surprise. “... Uh, oh—oh! Look at these bottles!” I point to my treasures with a grin.
“There’s a nice sparkle to them. I know another grown up who would like to see them all, but can’t.”
I tilt my head while stepping over to the bottles. “Why not?”
“The girl cannot walk,” she says. Oh...
“That’s too bad,” I tell her, and I reach for the bottle I put down before... but it’s a little further than I thought. I stretch out, pick it up, and frown.
“So it’s true”, Sekibanki says, looking at me, “with only one eye, you lose your perception of depth.”
“My what of what?” She smiles at me for saying this.
“You can’t tell exactly how far away things are from you, right?”
I freeze up, cradling the bottle between my hands and frowning, like I’m deflating. “Don’t worry,” says Sekibanki, “I don’t care.”
I smile at the ground, and she stands up, looking over the dirt neighborhood, at the charred frames and piles of junk.
I watch her and wonder if I’m seeing things again. Again, it’s just a little but there’s something weird about the way she turns to look everything over. It’s kind of like... almost like an owl? “You’re really flexible,” I tell her.
“That’s one way to put it,” she admits. She then turns her eyes on me and my bottles. I blush again while she walks over. “Do you play here by yourself? Do any other hyu—people ever come here?”
“Sometimes drunk people sleep here.”
She frowns at that, crouching next to me.
“You should be a good girl and stay home when drunk people are out in the streets. What would your mother and father say if they heard you say that?”
She picks up a bottle from the debris, rolling it over in her hand. Now, I frown. I wince.
“... ‘Don’t do that, Hitomi’... maybe,” I say, feeling worse.
“Yes, and pretty girls get harassed for all sorts of reasons, so keep your head about you.”
“‘Pretty’...? You thought I was a boy.” I screw up my mouth and eyebrows.
“A pretty boy,” she tells me. I don’t feel good about that. She stands up and walks over to the hoop I left behind. I hear it rolling along the ground, and stopping to the right of me, where I can’t see.
We don’t say anything for a minute, and then, suddenly—
I shiver, a warm wave shimmering through my skin. Her fingers touched my right cheek on accident while she moved my longer hair away. I think to shut my lids, but... I decide not to. With my face burning up, I let her look at my blind eye.
When the human Medicine Seller came around from the Bamboo Forest, she looked at each of us, asking our caretaker if she wanted “Eientei’s” help. She wasn’t sure, but let the Seller look. When she saw that I had one green eye and one white eye (which I hide under my white hair), she said “Ah, a cataract”.
I’ve had this since I was born, everyone says. It looks like a cloudy sky pretty much all the time from there and that’s it. The Medicine Seller said her Master could fix me, but it wouldn’t just be medicine to do it. That, and it wouldn’t be cheap either.
“I see... your right eye is clouded.” Sekibanki takes her hand away, then drops it on my head and I blink. “Sorry, uh.... I checked without asking. You see, surprising is a... habit of mine.”
“It’s okay,” I tell her, “I don’t mind, as long as you don’t make fun of me.”
“I will not,” she says, and the way she says it it sounds like she means it. “I don’t taunt new friends.”
“Y-You’re kidding, right? Lying while I can’t look at you...” I say. “It’s fine. I know it’s creepy-looking. You don’t have to pretend you’re alright with it.”
“Look at me,” I hear from my left. I look to see the older girl looking at me with her brow down, her mouth turned down like she’s being really serious. She says, emphatically, “I’m not joking.”
But all I can think about is how I can still feel her like she’s sitting on my right side. I shake my head until that feeling is gone and I say, “... Are you sure? Even without the eye thing I’m... not really cool.”
“A person is only as cool as they want to be,” she says in a kinda wise way. I feel her hands plant on my shoulders, but still see her looking pretty smug at my left. I’m confused, but she starts to lift me up, and her head gets out of my sight. She tells me, “I, Sekibanki, am very cool, right? And you haven’t even seen my cool everyday clothes.”
Everyday clothes? How many outfits does she have? I—... I wonder if I can try them on...
“You seem intrigued. Well then, Hitomi, I’d say we are friends. Does that please you?”
She pats my head twice.
“... Please don’t be lying.” I ask her.
She doesn’t wait to answer. “I’m not,” she swears. “Thank you for showing me this place, Hitomi. I think I’ll be coming here more often in the future, hopefully not seeing you at night.”
“...? Are you going to get drunk out here?”
“I’m going to get drunks,” she says, and laughs. She says, “Never mind,” and I’m just lost. Huh? What?
She takes her hands from me, and I spin around to see her turning flashily. She stands proudly and declares, “Now let me be the good Older Sister and show you back to your home, Young Lady.”
The corners of my mouth perk up. I don’t get called that a lot... Sekibanki starts walking ahead, and I follow her closely behind, almost at her side.
“Yeah... I can walk the rest of the way myself.”
I smile at my new older friend. She doesn’t smile back, instead nodding at me once with a kind of hard face. She already knows how I’m half-blind... I don’t need her knowing anything else more embarrassing... shameful.
I walk down the street toward the home and turn back to see Sekibanki one more time. “U-Um,” I stutter; my heart’s beating really hard and messing with my teeth, “c-can I call you Banki-chan?”
She answers fast. The words hit me and I shudder. A cold feeling runs through my heart, my head falls, and I frown without wanting to.
“... No, it’s fine, call me what you like.” I lift my head back up so fast I show my right eye for a second. “Sleep well, Hitomi. I’ll see you.” She lifts her hand to say goodbye.
“S-See you, Banki-chan!” I yell, almost laughing. I spin on one foot and run to our front door.
“‘Hitotsume’... Sad, no? ... Hm? Wait... isn’t that... the...”
I close the door to Marigold Children’s Home, grinning too much.
My first friend... a cool older girl!
I rush to the back to get the bath ready, looking forward to tomorrow, or next week, or... whenever!
I’m just really excited, maybe the most ever. I run through the empty halls, dark as night, feeling totally happy.
... Mm; maybe things can look up...
Which is more important? That the girl  anticipates the coming days in bliss.
Or that her new friend  regrets this decision immediately.
[X] That she anticipates the coming days in bliss.
I think that, and I enjoy the days that come.
The weeks that come, and the years.
Every day, or almost so many after, I would leave the orphanage for school; every afternoon, or almost so many after, I would leave the school for the lot. Sekibanki would be there, and talk with me.
The first day, the day after the festival, I almost couldn’t take her presence for truth.
“Y-You’re really here!” I said, almost breathless from having run over. The red-haired girl was standing beneath the sun, overlooking the thin ruins of the forgotten neighborhood. She wore something different from when I’d first met her. Something unusual, something nice. I stared at her for a while, and looking back that thought leaves me pretty self-ashamed.
“I have no reason not to be here,” she’d told me, her arms crossed. “I live here, you know?”
There weren’t any people I knew myself who wore capes. Hers was red as her locks and collared tall. She had a smooth-seeming black shirt beneath that, and a fashionable skirt over her legs. It was crimson like much else about her. I eyed it and her cape often. She probably noticed, but didn’t say so.
I was simply a villager entranced by the one other person who gave me any mind, I think. She could’ve worn anything; it was that she wore it that had me spellbound. Most usually, we didn’t talk about clothes though.
Sekibanki didn’t enjoy crowds, or in fact company in any capacity other than myself, it seemed. When I’d meet her, after getting used to one another more in the lot (chatting, treasure hunting, and when she felt the mood playing around), I’d meet her mainly on the outskirts of the village. I remember clearly the day she first took me fishing at a river. She seemed proud, which I came to notice was a sign that she would likely, and soon, make some kind of mistake.
“So, first, watch,” she said. I sat on pebbles beside her, wiping sweat from my forehead with the back of my hand. The Sun was wide awake above us, and lively. Summer heat was merciless, though she never took off that cape.
She held a rod and flung its line into the glittering waters. I stared at the ripples forming from where it stayed, listening and relaxing to the flow of the stream, and I recall falling onto my butt in shock when the water fire upward like some kind of geyser, a large and three-colored shape obscure behind the burst. As droplets caught sunlight and sparkled, catching my eye, I almost missed the sight of some blur passing over my head. I remember turning to see what sort of bird it was, heavy in presumption, before Sekibanki cleared her throat and took my attention. She presented a great silver fish, dangling from her line. But it was only silver. It wasn’t ivory, navy, or red. I didn’t think about how she smiled and looked away from me, blushing—I remember just being very impressed; cheering, clapping, all that.
Banki-chan always seemed to want that—my impression.
“Banki-chan! Juggle those boulders again!” I said this often, asking for one of her greatest feats. Banki would show me three black stones, each a head of cabbage large and perfectly spherical. She said they were objects she’d found that came from the outside world.
“Hmph, of course Hitomi.” She’d open her cape with a smirk, and pull out the three stones, carrying them like they were nothing. Having had her let me try to carry one of them once, I knew they weren’t light—unlike cabbages, they definitely carried weight (and oddly, pressing them made them give—almost like cloth, but I took to thinking it was a kind of clay). Despite this she’d cry, “Behold!” and begin to toss them in cycles over and over, pulling a few turns and tricks, never missing a beat, oftentimes catching one of the stones on a single one of her fingers. It was consistently... so amazing. It made me feel like anyone could be strong as they grew up, more than witnessing any spell card duel ever did.
And despite how many times she showed off to me—pretended to levitate, showed me pictures made of light in the night sky (projected, miraculously, from the wrist of her sleeve—and I was sure it was more magic from Outside), showed me her bare neck and the worrying mark cut all around it to tell me that nothing was wrong with my clouded eye... Despite all of that, I only looked again—only ever vaguely questioned when, whenever someone willing to bully me would show up and suddenly get away from me with all speed, Banki was there.
Speaking with me about my lonely life.
Staying with me on festival days.
Saving me, if anything, from my own ideas.
Banki-chan would be there, and stand beside me, holding my hand.
“That’s it. Of course the only person who’d like you would be a youkai.”
At the time I never thought about it. Hearing that, standing not long away, I see a human girl hear it too. The words fall on her ears and the person who spoke them turns to me. He squints, he scoffs, and he walks away.
I only ever reached out my hand because hers seemed to need it. As a being whose existence relies on the looks of others—even if in my case those looks are of fear—I can understand the terror of wanting attention and finding none. I know the dread of feeling your purpose and place in the world nearing an end, and this being done so coldly, horribly, and meaninglessly. But more importantly, putting aside the puzzle of existentialism: a favor done is a favor returned. That said... yes: after five years it was no longer only a favor.
I can’t see Hitomi’s face, really. Her hair stays in the way, and I can only see that her lips aren’t moving. Above me, the skies twist cruelly. Cliché hangs over us, rain threatening to create a bitter scene. But...
... before a drop falls from the tragedy sky, I see one fall off her chin. I watch it crystal clear flow down her cheek, and two others follow before the rainstorm opens up and hides it all.
... Honestly, I’ve often wondered why it is I involve myself with humans. I don’t like them. They’re noisy, they’re too excitable, and essentially they made me as a story, like a joke. I’ve wanted to talk with Hitomi about it for a long time, because there’s nobody else. About what I think; why I deny the purpose dealt to me as much as I can, and live almost out of spite to the powers that forged me. I’ve wanted to talk about that for a very long time. About how I don’t fit.
But right now, especially now, I can’t, because I feel very broken inside my chest.
What is it...? Like some twisted confrontation with a reality that I became what I detest? Well, Sekibanki, it seems you’ve gone and made a person rely on you without caring at all about what that reliance means.
You knew what a friendship would mean to her, and you—you offered it, knowing also that in her heart, and in her village, she was alone for ‘being an other’. Like you.
... Thinking on it... no: it isn’t moral dilemma, philosophical distortion, or ethical misdeed.
She’s become sad, and for that simple reason I feel completely devastated. And I, who always carries herself with purpose and feigns certainty in all I do, have to admit that I don’t know the first thing I could ever do to wipe the pain she’s feeling away.
Everything is this youkai, the rokurokubi, Sekibani’s fault. Nothing can “heal” the truth that I was her only friend for half a decade’s span, and that being her friend couldn’t have done her a single favor with the children around her who knew what I was. I showed them. I made certain they knew.
I watch Hitomi cover her face with her hands, bending her neck, and realize some of the water covering my face has become warm. I touch my cheek, confused at the quiver of my mouth. My brow furrows, and breathing becomes difficult. My eyes fall on my human companion once again. After an exhale, I...
 walk toward her, seeking to reconcile. ---  Apologizing. ---  Reassuring. ---  Pleading.
 merely stare on until she turns around, going back into the orphanage that is her home.
 discover I can’t stare long. I take some steps back before I slowly enter the air, unable to find a word to say.
[X] walk toward her, seeking to reconcile. --- [X] Reassuring.
“—Hitomi,” I say, reaching toward her even when I’m so far out, “you... Listen, I...”
Nothing makes sense in my head. Hitomi doesn’t look at me, even when I’m close to her. I keep my hand raised, thinking about what I could do to make her feel comforted.
“The world is bigger than this.”
Her ear perks up.
“Hitomi, don’t think that... some stupid, thoughtless brats make up the whole thing. Don’t think they even make up the whole Village. Listen... I may be a youkai, but I didn’t decide to stay with you because of how you look. I stayed with a human child because I found her... cute. As a person she was cute... and kind-hearted, and I just...”
“Can you... look at me?” I ask. She turns her head just a little, but I still can’t see her face. “... You know, you don’t need me to be your only friend. That’s all I want you to hear.”
Now she looks, suddenly. She turns her head and I turn my eyes away. She looked almost shocked, not just sad.
The rain soaks into the shoulders of my mantle.
“You’re not like me, Hitomi. You don’t need to be something, and changing that would risk everything for you. I think... if you just straightened your back, and showed the world the smile you always show to me, then you’ll see that not only youkai can like you.”
I pinch my collar, and see her face growing worried out the corner of my eye. I hide my face a little more, wincing. “A smile like that shouldn’t be hidden,” I tell her, “and a good heart will be rewarded: that is the truth.”
I step back once.
“I shouldn’t make life any harder for you, just because I enjoy your company.”
I turn halfway.
“Please value yourself as much as I value you, girl.”
I look to the sky.
“Goodbye, and take care, Hito—mm!?”
I get cut off because my cape gets pulled.
Then, something strikes the back of my head. Hard.
My vision turns a blur as my skull tumbles from my shoulders, and I just barely am able to catch it in my hands before it falls. I face Hitomi again in a whirl, holding my decapitated cranium and hoping I haven’t frightened her. The human I am fond of just looks... mad. Mad, and frustrated completely. She locks her eye on the pair of mine, and yells, “Quiet!”
I draw my shoulders up.
“I’ll choose why I’m mad, and I’m not mad at you!”
“I don’t want you to run away from me with some... stupid words, trying to make me feel better about myself! E-Even if they’re true... true words, if they end with ‘goodbye’, f... fuck them!”
“You’re my friend!”
“If I took your word... and got the confidence I always wanted, but you had to disappear so I could have it... I’d hate this world forever...”
Hitomi holds a fist before her chest, the same one she smarted the back of my head with I imagine. She looks down at it, thinking.
“But that doesn’t need to happen...” she says after half a minute, looking at me again, “... This is Gensokyo.”
“Nothing has to be one way or another. If I want a youkai as a friend, this is where I can. And if I want to stand up straight, I can do it with her right next to me, no matter what any idiot kids say.”
“Let me be sad for the reasons I want to... because people taunt me for stuff I can’t help.”
When did she grow up?
“Let me feel better that my first friend ever... never cared about that at all.”
I drop my head to hold my heart.
Hitomi reaches out to catch it, and does surprisingly enough—given her track record of depth perception failures. She looks at my face in her hands and sees how ruined it is, because I’m really just bawling.
“Hitomiiii...” I wail, “I’m sowwy, sowwyy...” I... I can’t talk right.”Id’s my fauld! I...” Snot’s running out my nose.
“Banki-chan, don’t cry,” says Hitomi, even though she’s crying. She cradles my head to her chest, shushing me. “It’s fine! I-I-I-I’m fine!”
“I’m loussyy... A lousy youkai...” I bawl loudly, right into the front of her clothes.
I don’t know if she can understand what this feels like.
While she holds me tight and my body shakes from my sobbing, I wonder if she knows just how worried I was; just how awful I felt.
I feel stupid as heck thinking like this, but I just felt so guilty.
“Thanks, Banki-chan...” Hitomi whispers, squeezing me desperately, “I’ll get tougher, and straighten up, so you don’t have to worry again.”
I don’t know why I felt like I needed this.
My body walks over to her, and hugs her around her shoulders.
It’s a lot like give and take, I think. It feels... It feels almost like something fundamental.
In Hitomi’s arms, with Hitomi in mine, I think I get something about Gensokyo.
I think I get why I’m here.
She’s not alone. I can’t very well tell her to straighten up while hiding myself.
I start thinking of ways I can change myself, or at least things I can openly talk with Hitomi about now. I think about where she’ll be in another five years, and hope that she’ll still appreciate me.
Because aye, this is Gensokyo... a land that accepts all, and we can definitely walk through it in peace; and hand in hand.