Somewhere in the large world there existed a town called Nekoshi. In this town there was a very special family. A family of five people: inoshishi-haha, neko-chichi and their kids. The oldest child was a neko just like his father. People called him tall and strong like his father. The middle child was a inoshishi like her mother. She was quiet and delicate just like her. The youngest child was different. He was a nezumi. People often told him that he was not tall and strong like his father or quiet and delicate like his mother. Here existed one of the few people in the middle. Sometimes loud and persistent on a point. Other times quiet in the corner of the room. He was not like anyone in his family.
His inoshishi-haha knew this, and so she bought him clothes, that looked like everyone else’s. She sowed on flag patches to his bags and jackets. Gave him military books to read, in order to learn about his father’s work. Still, every time the boy opened his mouth all the work she did went away. She’d watch the school, the neighbors and even her husband yell at the boy for opening his mouth.
Finally she had enough. If the boy didn’t change, she knew he would get in trouble. So she did what any mother would do and called her own Chichi and Haha, begging them to take her son for a few weeks. When they agreed, she packed his bag with all the neko essentials. As soon as he got home from school, he was given the back pack and the train ticket to his grandparents village.
The little boy was rushed out the house straight to the train station. On the train he opened his back pack and found only a spare set of clothes and books about his father’s job. He couldn’t help but sigh. He had already read these books, five times over. He wanted to read something new. The boy closed his backpack in disappointment and turned his attention to the train.
He saw a family of nekos, playing a game together. All three fighting to be the emperor piece. The boy couldn’t understand why. The emperor piece had limited moves. The other pieces were the ones who could move more. The boy prized the freedom. He looked at the next family on the train. It was a family of inoshishi. He was instantly reminded of his hard working mother. Imagining that both inoshishi-haha sowed flag patches on their kids’ clothes, gave them books about their fathers’ job and helped them look like everyone else. Maybe this haha wouldn’t have too though. Everyone in that family was the same. They all looked at the same reflection in the mirror. It wasn’t like his family at all.
He decided to spend the rest of the train ride staring out the window. It was nice to see the city turn to trees, the bill boards turn to posters, the messages turn to silence. So for hours he just stared out the window, taking in all the new land and sea. There was so much right by him and his siblings that he never had the chance to see. There was more then Nekoshi.
When the train started to slow down he saw an old man waiting for him. He was a tall, lanky neko with a dependency to a cane. Something about the man’s face felt different then his fathers and his mothers, but he couldn’t tell what. He decided to drop the matter. Slowly, he got up and exited the train. This was the first time he met the man. Did he hug the man? Did he shake his hand?
In the end it didn’t matter what he thought. The old man simply turned and headed towards the bus stop, without a word. Throughout the whole ride home he never spoke. All he did was show him the walk home, where to put his shoes and the way to his room. Once the door was shut, the old man sat down. He told the boy to sit down and get comfortable. Apparently, this would take awhile.
So the little boy sat, took off his back pack and waited for the old man to speak again. A couple minutes went by and they just sat there. The old man finally moving, taking off his jacket, his cap, and finally his mask. The little boy was shocked to see the old man bend down, touch his face and remove the same face his father wore. No wonder the man was so lanky. He wasn’t a neko at all. The old man was a nezumi just like his grandson.
“You looked surprised.” Laughed the old man. The little boy took in the folds in his face. He realized what felt off now. Before there was no signs of the mans expression changing. Now he could see each line on his face. There was a line from laughter and a line from tears. Both looked so similar to his own small lines.
“I didn’t know…” The boy stammered. He found himself reaching for the old mans face, but stopped by the old mans own hands. “As it should be, Hitomu. The only reason your mom sent you here was to learn.” The boy looked down at his backpack. Slowly, opening it and pulling out the books. He handed them to his grandfather. “I have read them, over and over again. Every line, every thought has been memorized. I could write the book again. It doesn’t mean anything.”
The books were thrown aside. A drawer was opened and out came paper, pens and scissors. “All you have to do is draw one.” So the little nezumi, carefully drew. Every part of the neko was taken into consideration, approved by his grandfather before him. When he was done, he took his time cutting it out. Not one mistake could be made. Handing the paper neko to his grandfather, who slowly attached the strings to the blank back.
“What now?” He asked. The old man smiled and pulled the little boy closer. He adjusted the paper mask to his grandson’s face. Making sure that not one edge could be seen. When he was done he stood up and pulled the boy along with him. Quickly, they made their ways out the back of the house and onto the road.
The old man just walked and walked even farther silently. The only way both knowing the other was there by the firm grip they had on each other’s hand. The nezumi boy slowly becoming part of the background. As the farther from his grandfathers house he got, the more comfortable the mask became. The paper becoming worn in like an old pair of shoes.
Once or twice they would be stopped by some people the old man knew. Every time, the old nezumi smiled and answered their question. Never once introducing his grandson. The old man left that for the young one. He would watch him talk, wear in little lines to the moving paper, and recite the words with a little bit more believability then before.
They did this until the sun went down. Returning home, they found a large amount of food waiting for them. His grandmother waiting for them at the table. The grandfather removed his mask with a sigh. The little boy following him. Everyone sat at the table together, not talking. Then when the meal was over, they smiled at each other, before going to bed.
They did this every day the boy was there. By the time the little nezumi was back on the train home, he couldn’t tell the difference on wether he wore the mask or not. Only noticing it was on after he got back to his room. Remembering his father’s smile when he saw his son return with a neko face. Even more so remembering his mother’s smile. He noticed for the first time that there weren’t many lines on her face either.