“Chihiro…Chihiro-are you paying any attention to what I’m saying?” Her mother’s voice came impatiently from the front seat of the car. Chihiro shook her head and tore her gaze away from the scenery whizzing by her window. Her father was tearing down the road as usual, his face lit up in a child-like grin with the thrill of flying around corners at a break-neck speed.
Her mother shook her head. “Really, Chihiro, you need to be more aware of your surroundings. It’s not good to have your head in the clouds all the time.”
Chihiro sighed and looked back out the window. “I know.” The air conditioner in the small car was turned up full blast, and goose bumps rose all over Chihiro’s legs and arms. “Mom, can you turn the air off?”
Yuuko flipped off the air conditioner, then grabbed for the handle above her window as her husband lunged over a speed bump. “Honey, slow down some.”
“We’re fine.” Akio stated confidently, and yanked the steering wheel hard to avoid hitting a cat. “See? Nothing to it.”
Chihiro rolled her eyes but said nothing. Her long, slim fingers twined a piece of her golden-brown hair absently. It was long– down to her lower back– and the heat of the summer made it stick to her back in unseemly clumps.
The small family was on its way home from picking Chihiro up from her two week involuntary confinement at summer camp. Chihiro hadn’t wanted to leave home and her small room nestled under the eaves of their small blue house on the corner but her parents told her she needed to get out of her room and out of the house.
She knew that it would be warm in the very top of the house in her room but the heat reminded her of the few moments she had spent in the bath house. The room was small with low ceilings that slanted awkwardly, ceilings that were painted with beautiful designs and that she sometimes bumped her head on when she wasn’t paying attention.
Akio whipped through the small neighborhood over looking the green valley, and pulled into the place in front of their blue house. He stepped out of the car and stretched. “Ah…It’s good to be home.” He inhaled deeply and smiled at his wife, who was patting her short brown hair back into place. “Honey, what do you say we go out for dinner tonight? Just the two of us.”
Yuuko hesitated, “Oh, honey, I don’t know. We just got home and it wouldn’t be fair to leave Chihiro home alone.”
Chihiro climbed out of the car, pulling her purse and duffle bag out and slinging them over her shoulder. “Mom, I’m sixteen. I can stay home by myself now. I’ll be fine, go have dinner, you need a night to yourself.”
Akio grinned jovially. “See? She’ll be fine. She’s old enough to stay home by herself. What’s the harm? You just said you wanted to have some down time.”
Yuuko glanced at Chihiro. “Well…are you sure you’ll be fine?”
Chihiro rolled her eyes in exasperation. “Mother, I’ll be fine. I’m not a baby anymore. Go have a night out on the town.”
“Oh, alright-If you are sure you don’t mind.”
“Positive.” Chihiro smiled and opened the front door. “I’m going to unpack. Call up when you’re leaving.”
Without waiting for a response, she walked into the house, closing the front door behind her.
The entry way opened into a long hallway, with rooms branching off to either side. The sitting room, where the formal guests were entertained was the first door on the right. Across from it was the cloak closet. The next door on the right was the laundry room; on the opposite side of the hall was the family room, where the television and comfy couches were set up in a comfortable manner. The third door on the right opened into the kitchen, which was small but brightly colored, with yellows and blues. The refrigerator was cluttered with pictures of Chihiro in various stages of her childhood and cheerful stick figures drawn in waxy crayon colors. The room next to it was the dining room, used mostly for formal dinners because the family usually ate at the small square table in the corner of the kitchen.
It was at that table every morning that her father would read the newspaper and curse and mutter over the various losses of the sports teams and her mother would read over her lecture notes for her classes that day. Chihiro was left to her own devices and would spoon the cereal into her mouth without actually tasting it, her mind wandering far from the confines of the blue house and back to the everlasting sea and the train that darted through the water, leaving gold flashes of rail in its wake.
Her daydreams always ended though when it came time to gather her books and head off to school, where she would sit quietly in all of her classes, not talking and not paying attention but staring blankly into space.
The room across from the dining room was the small bathroom and next to it was the staircase that led up to the second floor.
The second floor was stuffy as Chihiro made her way down the hall, pausing to glance into her parent’s office. Her mother’s desk was beneath the window and her father’s desk against the far wall. Book cases lined the room and a globe sat askew on top of a pile of old books that were worn about the edges. She shook her head and closed the door.
The room opposite was tidy, in comparison to the cluttered mess of the office. Then again, no one ever went into the extra bedroom, as it was saved for guests.
At one point, it was supposed to have been Chihiro’s room but after her experiences, she opted to have the attic room, where she could crawl freely onto the roof and stare at the small road, nearly grown over, that twisted and dipped in and out of sight far below her. She knew where that road led and perhaps one day, if the promises made down that road had not been kept, she would travel it once again. For now though, she would remain in the world of humans.
Her parent’s room was next to the office on the left side of the hall, and the bathroom across from their room. The bathroom door was open, and the bright pink of the room made Chihiro wince. It had already been painted that color by the previous owners and her parents had always meant to change it but never got around to it. So the room remained the ghastly shade of pink. Chihiro hurried to the end of the hall and pulled open the door to the attic.
The heat hit her in a wave but she welcomed it and climbed the stairs, closing the door tightly behind her.
The stairs were steep and turned sharply after the first twenty-nine steps. There was a landing then, at the top of the stairs and a small sliding door, which Chihiro had to crawl through to get into her room. The door reminded her of the boiler room in the bathhouse but she quickly shook her head, determined not to think of the past until she had properly unpacked and resettled into her room.
Her sleeping pallet was by the window, which started at the floor and rose to an arch at the ceiling. It slid open easily and cool wind rushed into the room. She sank to her knees on her sleeping pallet, the cool silk soothing her heated skin.
After everything, she hadn’t been able to sleep in a regular bed and finally went and bought herself a sleeping pallet, with silk and satin covers and a round pillow, all in the different colors of the ocean and sky.
Sleeping there, under the blankets, staring up at the mural of Haku as a dragon and as a human, smiling down at her, gave her comfort and slipped her comfortably into the world of dreams where Haku visited her every night, whispering words of love in her ear. He would caress her and tell her tenderly that he was coming, just to keep watching in case she missed him.
And that was how it would always end: Haku smiling, his green eyes soft in the morning light, and she would be left alone, to wake up in her small room, alone-with her heart aching within her chest.
Chihiro sighed now, and slid the large window open. A cool breeze rose and whistled out of the valley far below and ran invisible fingers over her rosy cheeks. She closed her eyes briefly, and then began to unpack the duffle bag.
Her clothes went on the shelves in neat, folded piles, and then were hidden away from sight by the sliding portion of the wall. A small table, with its legs hacked off was next to her sleeping pallet. A forlorn looking paper lamp sat next to an alarm clock which dully snapped off the red minutes. A journal sat on top of a worn, leather bound book, which was thick, with papers falling out of it and dog-eared corners; the small blue cup with the chipped rim, from when Chihiro had dropped it on the tile once, sat next to the alarm clock, still filled with left over water.
She wrinkled her nose at the small fly floating on top of the water and tossed the dirty water out the window. The attic bathroom was through another little door on the far right wall, nestled in the corner between the broken-in arm chair with the bright Indonesian blanket tossed over it, and the wooden chest that was locked and sealed until Chihiro was ready to open it.
Chihiro crawled through the small door and straightened up in the little bathroom. The shower/tub was squished up against the sink and the toilet was smashed up against the wall. However, the little room was painted in bright colors, a mural of the bath house and the gardens and the view as she remembered it to be. The memories were still un-faded in her mind and remained colorful and beautiful for her to think back on.
It hadn’t been so bad, she thought, as she filled the small cup with more cold water and scooted back through the small door. True, her parents had been turned into pigs and she had been terrified that they would be eaten but other than that, her time in the bath house had been enriching. The experience had brought her love, self-respect and discipline, things that she had strongly needed those six, long years ago.
Looking out her window and down at the road, still there, even in the dimming daylight, Chihiro realized something. It was during her time in the spirit realm that had changed her for life.
She had grown up.