they grew

Sonder

Michelle Zhu | Art by Allison Li

On the subway, everything is slow.

Panels of light flash and reflect on the citizens sitting in the worn out seats. Some are listening to music, while others are staring blankly at the scenery ahead. The cart vibrates heavily against the concrete rails, softly bumping the riders up and down.

Sora’s ears are plugged with cheap earbuds from the local convenience store. He stares blankly at the old woman sitting in front of him, snoozing off despite the crowded environment. The wrinkles on her face speak of time and express wisdom, but Sora cannot see that. He only sees someone who doesn’t know when and where to sleep, someone who couldn’t care less about interrupting those around her with her snoring. 

The woman has fallen asleep with large needles and yarn in her hands, her in-progress blanket heavily draped over her frail body. Her large knitting needles clack against each other softly as the train progresses on its path. 

The light hits Sora and he is bathed in warmth, but it doesn’t last long. The train speeds through an underground tunnel, and soon enough, Sora arrives at Unmei Station. The train’s fast momentum picks up his school uniform, fluttering it in the air and gently tossing itself against his skin. 

When he steps out onto the platform, the crowd around him is bustling. In a dark underground station like Unmei, citizens are often packed together like a can of sardines. 

Sora feels the urgency of those around him, but pays them no mind. If he wants to walk slowly to the exit, why should he be pushed around? After all, it’s not his fault they’re late. They’re just too slow. 

Soon enough, Sora arrives at the front gates of school. He pushes his bookbag up onto his shoulder a bit more, and blows the wind out of his eyes. Girls around him laugh and whisper stories, while the boys chase each other to their classrooms. 

Sora puts one foot in front of the other, walking to Class 1-2. As he slides the door open, he is met with a beaming Tanaka. 

“Sora!” he speaks,”I forgot my history textbook today, could we share again?”

The soft morning light filters through the light curtains of the classroom and spreads across Tanaka’s backside. Sora squints, pushing his glasses further up on the bridge of his nose. 

“Didn’t we share yesterday, and the day before that? Go buy your own.”

Tanaka smiled, rubbing the back of his neck nervously.

Sora steps around Tanaka, entering the classroom. 

“Alright.”

The summer sun wraps the classroom in heat and exhaustion, the rays of orange marmalade fogging up the ins and outs of conscience of the students. 

When history rolls around, Sora has already hung his school jacket on the back of his chair with his head on the table. The beaded sweat on his nose slides his glasses further down each minute, and eventually, he swaps his vision for a quick nap. 

Before he’s able to fall deeper into the sweet presence of the marmalade, he sees Tanaka take out his phone. It’s cracked and old, the technology outdated from years ago. Tanaka wipes his forehead again and again with the hem of his shirt, refusing to take off the thick jacket on top. 

The classroom’s large window allows entrance for air, the breeze dancing around the classroom. It picks up Tanaka’s shirt, and Sora catches glimpses of blossoming purple cosmos. The spots vary in size, some dark green leaves wrapping themselves against his ribcage. 

By the end of the school day, the sunlight has completely waned in the classroom. Instead of the school bell ringing though, Sora hears the soft clicking of the old lady’s needles. 

The next day, Sora is sleeping quietly at his desk. It’s bright and early, and the sunlight had been out earlier than usual. 

Tanaka steps into the classroom, adjusting his uniform. On his desk sits a brand new history textbook. Next to his seat, Sora sleeps, basking in the orange marmalade.