Change of Seasons
By Midii Une
August, After Colony 205
The scarlet and gold circus tent staked out at the edge of the field on the outskirts of town brought brought with it an overwhelming wave of a nostalgia, almost deja vu. It brought back vague but persistent memories of that time long ago. A time so long ago that she had been a wholly different person than the woman she had become. Still the sight of that colorful canvas, rippled by a playful breeze, resurrected a little girl who lingered deep below the surface of the serene young woman who strolled with carefree grace through the tall, waving grasses.
Almost unconsciously she let her feet carry her toward the tent and into the rarely-sought company of a crowd of people. The demands of the child inside guiding her footsteps and hiding her true intentions behind the guise of innocent curiosity. She enjoyed catering to her own whims nowadays. There was nothing and no one to keep her from taking a walk in the afternoon sunlight or from making a sudden, unplanned detour to a charmingly old-fashioned circus that had seemed to spring up almost by magic in her path.
She walked in on a routine that was an old and well-practiced one. But it never failed to silence the crowd to a deafening stillness that always erupted into thunderous applause and roars of approval. He counted out the familiar beats of perfect quiet before releasing himself from the board and stepping forward to take a bow. The intense, white-hot lights glittered off the knives that recreated the perfect outline of his head and shoulders on the target. A small, secret smile of satisfaction appeared on his lips as his long bangs fell forward to hide his masked face even further from the watching audience. A spot of light flashed dimly in the sawdust at his feet but when he looked toward the screaming people to find the source he saw merely a blend of the usual dark murkiness that always hid the individuals from the view of the performers.
She found herself clutching the old metal cross she wore about her slender throat tightly in her hand as she watched the young man walk out of the spotlight at the side of young woman in a pink tulle skirt. The piece of mangled jewelry was smooth and familiar against the sensitive skin of her palm. The old silver was tarnished with time, but the once-jagged edges had been softened over the years. There had been a time when she had held tight to its razor-sharp outline and seen her palm bleed with cuts…the bright scarlet color of blood staining her small hands. She shook the pale blonde waves from her face as if clearing cobwebs, it was suddenly warm and humid in the tent and she wanted fresh air. Perhaps she would walk around the grounds a bit, these people traveled and she loved to hear the stories of travelers. As she stood to go a burst of giddy music groaned from the old-fashioned calliope and the performers raced out en masse to take a final bow. Dozens of white doves were released, their white wings shimmered in the glare of the lights and she smiled at the ooohs of delight from the children. Nine years now since the last true battles had been fought in AC 196 and still one found the doves of peace everywhere, reminding them of all they had gained from those torturous years of bloodshed and anguish.
The woman who had thrown the knives sat on the steps of a trailer fashioned of silver metal. The sun reflected off the shiny surface in a glare of white light, making it seem even more torridly hot than it already was on this bright, mid-August day. The woman sipped at cool glass of iced tea with a slice of bright yellow lemon peeking through the sweating glass. She savored the tang of the fresh citrus as she relaxed in the warm air.
“Hello,” she waved, calling cheerfully to the blonde woman walking past. “Were you in the crowd today? How did you like the show?”
The young woman paused for a moment, blue eyes searching the other girl’s open, amiable features before she decided if she would shed her aloofness and deign to answer.
“Yes, I was there. It’s very odd, but I thought maybe I knew that man today,” she found herself admitting to this complete stranger, almost in spite of herself. “He seemed so familiar, the one you were using for target practice, its uncanny how he stands so still when looking into the face of death.”
Cathrine smiled brightly, pride evident on her motherly face. “That’s Trowa, my brother. He is amazing isn’t he? He’ll be back with the animals for quite awhile yet. He spends a lot of time with them after a show. It’s his way of thanking them for their performance. He’s very considerate, although he doesn’t smile much, I know being with them makes him happy.”
“He seems very….at home….here,” the other girl said, choosing her words carefully. “I knew someone like him during the war, but now that I think of it, it probably isn’t your brother at all. The boy I knew had no family. No name either.”
The other girl’s eyes changed, the friendly open nature quickly became guarded and tinged with what could only be described as fear.
“It couldn’t be Trowa,” she said quickly, her voice decisive and firm. “My brother wasn’t involved in the war, he was only a child then.”
She’s lying, the other woman thought to herself. Then she shrugged and spoke quickly to soothe the circus performer. “I guess I’m mistaken. I’m sorry to bother you….”
“No! Wait, I’ve been rude,” Cathrine said, watching the girl’s face and deciding she was probably no danger to Trowa. Besides it had been years since the war had touched their peaceful existence. Old habits died hard, but it was time to let go. Anyway, the girl admitted she had been mistaken about knowing him.
“It’s so hot out, would you like a glass of tea and a rest? These steps are comfortable and you can catch the occasional breeze,” she offered.
“I’d like that,” the blonde girl said gratefully, plopping wearily on the lowest step, her thin cotton skirts puffing out around her as she sat. “I thought I’d enjoy talking to some of you about your travels. I think I want to travel, maybe to the stars….the colonies I mean…outer space.”
Cathrine went quickly inside and returned to hand her visitor a glass of the cool, amber tea. The strange young woman stared into it, seeing her face reflected back at her in the shimmering liquid.
“So what’s your name,” Cathrine inquired. “Do you live around here? It’s a nice place! I wouldn’t mind staying longer. We move about so often and sometimes I’d like to stay put.”
“Names aren’t important,” the enigmatic young woman said. “I used to think so, but they are only something you can tarnish with your actions. I like being anonymous. And I don’t really live anywhere, when I find some place I like I pick up an odd job and stay as long as I please, then I move on.”
Cathrine gasped in shocked surprise. “But-but what about your family? Don’t they miss you? Or wait, I’m sorry, so many people are alone still because of the war….”
“The tea is lovely but I don’t need your sympathy,” the young woman said firmly. “I did lose my family in the war, medical care wasn’t available as it is now and we were very poor. There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do for them, almost nothing I didn’t do, I was so desperate. I was the only one strong enough, but I still lost them.”
“I’m so sorry. I hate wars and all the things they have taken from people,” Cathrine said, her voice throbbing with conviction, her eyes soft with the sympathy the other girl had declined to accept.
“I grieved a long time,” the girl admitted, closing her eyes against the memory of loss. “But I finally realized that even though I’m alone, I’m free. I am truly free. There’s nothing to make me do things, horrible things a child should never have been made to do. After a time I saw that I had been given another chance at life, a chance to live just for me. People to call your family and a name can be terrible burdens. It’s been a relief to cast all of it off and just become a nameless wanderer, living each day as it comes. I’ve found my own brand of peace at long last.”
She shut her eyes and pressed the cold glass to her flushed cheek, her smile was peaceful and somehow very innocent and young as she enjoyed the small pleasure of the brief coolness on such a warm day.
Cathrine stared, round-eyed. That kind of life sounded so terribly sad but the other woman seemed to have an aura of serenity and confidence in her choices despite the tragedy of her circumstances.
The stranger sitting on the steps with Cathrine made Trowa feel strangely disquieted. There was an oddly familiar churning inside as he watched her stand finally and walk away. Her soft voice politely thanked Cathrine for the tea and the company and the sound of it seemed to echo around in his head as if searching for a corresponding memory from inside, but nothing came. An odd feeling of kinship and intimate knowledge flowed through him although he was sure he’d never seen her before.
He stayed hidden until the stranger had disappeared. His eyes followed the slender figure until it became a black silhouette in the fading sunlight and finally vanished altogether.
“Who was that Cathy,” he asked, abruptly appearing from the back of the trailer where he had maintained his watchful distance.
“Someone who saw the show today. She thought she might have known you during the war but then she decided she was mistaken,” Cathrine explained.
“It’s unlikely,” Trowa agreed, green eyes still focused on the horizon where she had disappeared. “Besides Quatre and the others no one is left alive who met me during the war. Those who lay eyes on a Gundam shall not live to tell about it. That wasn’t just an idle threat.”
No, he thought, he’d never let anyone live, no threat had ever escaped the sights of his artillery. And yet he knew that there were jagged holes torn from the fabric of his early existence. Black voids remained that not even the Zero System had been able to restore to his memory.
She looked in surprise at the young man she called her brother. Even after all these years it was rare for him to initiate conversation like this.
“That girl, do you think she had a place to go home to?”
“She said she didn’t, but I think she was at peace with her life just the same. Why do you ask?”
He didn’t respond immediately to her question, but Cathrine sensed that he was pleased with her answer.
“Did you remember her from somewhere Trowa?” she persisted, curious about his interest in the strange young woman. She had seemed to be just about his own age she had noticed.
He was silent so long Cathrine was positive he would not answer. Then he spoke.
“No, I don’t think so, but it’s strange, I’m glad to know you think she’s happy. Thank you Cathrine.”
“Thank you? Thank you for what?”
“For being my family, my place to come home to.”
He walked away, letting his fingers brush briefly across the back of her hand and she saw his secret smile. He stood away from the lights of the camp, looking peacefully up at the stars with his hands deep in his pockets as he often did in the evening.
In the field beyond the circus, a girl once known as Midii Une lay on her back in the night-time coolness of the tall grass also looking up at the very same stars in the darkening twilight sky.
“Good bye my Nanashi.”