Clarissa Goenawan


an excerpt from Rainbirds

I reached my apartment around eleven. Taking the envelope from my bag, I poured its contents onto the living room table. There was a passport, a photo album, and some notebooks. I checked the travel document. It was empty, but had been marked so it couldn’t be used any more. Keiko Ishida, why did you have a passport? She’d never gone overseas even once. Or had she planned to go away one day?

I wasn’t sure what to do with the items, but I knew no good would come of hanging on to sentimental things. I put them back into the envelope and grabbed a lighter before heading out. 

It had been raining earlier that day. The fresh scent lingered, and the foliage had fine mist on its surface. Some of the leaves, having been scattered by the rain, coated the black asphalt.

I found a discarded metal pail in the empty lot behind the building. Crouching down with my back to the wind, I took the items out of the envelope, lit it on fire, and threw it into the pail. Smoke rose, giving off a thick, pungent smell.

One by one, I burned my sister’s belongings, starting with the passport.

I flipped through her notebooks. Lesson notes. He handwriting was neat, as always. No wonder she used to comment on how messy mine was. After going through each notebook, I tossed it into the fire. The papers curled up before tuning into ashes.

The last notebook at the bottom of the pile had a Japanese fabric cover with a geometric pattern. The blank pages were yellowing, and I found five 10,000-yen notes slipped in among them. I contemplated keeping the money, but decided to leave it there.

Throwing the last notebook into the fire, I could feel my sister’s presence start to vanish. Her death was finally sinking in.

Next was the photo album. It was filled with photographs from a Yotsuba teachers’ outing. I spotted Maeda in a few of the pictures. She always wore a serious face at work, but on her day off, she knew how to let her hair down. When she smiled, her eyes disappeared into two tiny lines.

Honda was in a lot of photographs. He looked jovial as usual, and there was a photograph of him asleep with his mouth open. I was tempted to keep it and use it to make fun of him, but my sister was also in the photograph, making a peace sign.  No, I shouldn’t hold on to it.

© Math Paper Press

by Clarissa Goenawan
from Rainbirds (2018)
published by Math Paper Press