Nia’s Song
                                                     by Aiko Fukuchi

           When you are ready, how will you soften your heart? These words rolled through my chest as I waited for Nia to arrive. I couldn’t remember where or if I’d heard them anywhere outside of myself. A few mornings ago, I found them, stuck to the front of my thoughts like burs to wool socks. It had been a still, hot summer day, but a breeze was rolling in with the sunset. I sank my feet into the stream in front of me and watched a school of minnows rush away, deeper into the water.
            Nia and I first met in the lobby of our doctor’s office. We’d connected on a day where the doctor’s lounge was unusually busy. After checking in, Nia drew a soft smile onto her face and walked in my direction.
            “Hello.” I said politely as she sat down on the other side of the couch. After a moment, Nia ignited a conversation.
“This is a great lobby, isn’t it? I wish I could spend more time here.” She released a longing sigh.
            I scanned the room, nodding in agreement. “I see what you mean. What would you do if you spent more time here?”
            “Not sure! Maybe journal or something. Honestly, I think it’s a great environment for a date!” She had a charming laugh. Hearing it made you feel like you were biting into a lump of cotton candy. After a brief pause, Nia uncurled her shoulders, and turned to me. “I’m starting my hormone injections today!” She announced in an explosion of confidence, nerves, and excitement. Nia was born a girl but, because of fear and foolishness, had been raised being told she was a boy. Today was an important landmark in her process of growing into the woman she already was.
            “Oh wow! Congratulations!” Our corner of the lobby suddenly felt bright.
            “I know, isn’t it!”
            “What are you doing to celebrate?”
            “Thank you!”
            “I’m so excited!” Our words tumbled over each other before reaching an abrupt halt. “I hadn’t thought about it.” She paused. “But, this is a big deal.”
            “It is!” I confirmed.
            “I really had to work hard to get to this point.” Her brow furrowed thoughtfully. We held onto the silence that followed for a while, as though cupping our hands together to cradle any hurt Nia had endured on her way here.
            “How about ice cream? Have you been to that place a few blocks from here?” I piped up as the moment began to fade.
            “Nia Davis?” A nurse called for her.
            “Oh, that’s me!” Nia stood and turning back to me. “Ice cream sounds great! Will you join me?”
            “It will be my treat!”
            “Great! Let’s meet back here after we both finish up, okay?”
            I was adrift between memory and the minnows nibbling at dead skin on my toes when Nia approached. “Hey, Kumiko.” Nia sat beside me and pulled her shoes and socks off, first elegantly sliding her feet into the water, chasing away the minnows once again. “I haven’t seen you in such a long time it seems like.”
            “Yeah, probably not since last fall.” Nia nodded her head in agreement.
“What’s up?”
“Well… can I actually talk about some things that have been going on? I’m not quite sure how to deal with them.”
“Yeah, go ahead when you’re ready.”
            We each let out a deep sigh before I began. You know, my heart, like the actual muscle of it? Lately it feels tough, like jerky or leather, like if you bit into it, you wouldn’t be able to get your teeth through. Then other days it feels saggy and oozing, as if it’s turned molten.” Nia looked surprised.
            “Is it anger?” This was an issue of mine I’d brought up with her before.
            “Well, that’s some of it. But it also feels,” I paused to start again. “I’ve felt for a while, that there are questions sort of planted inside me. Since I was a kid, I’ve had so many questions that I didn’t ask.”
            “Yeah, I think I know what you mean.” Nia held her eyes on her soaking feet.
            I leapt at a window to feel understood. “Right! You hold them in, try to suck on them like hard candy, but it doesn’t work. You hold them in your mouth for too long and they start rotting your teeth. You get canker sores and your throat swells up.”
            “What are they?”
            “Well,” I paused. “Some are in my throat, like I said. But then there are some questions that are deep.”
            “Yeah, like they’ve been there even before I was. Like they belong to people who were around before me and were woven into the fabric of this body before it was mine.” I continued, beginning to feel concerned I sounded unstable. “I imagine them nuzzled between my muscle fibers, existing in small, condensed versions of themselves to survive – reduced down from words so much so that it’s impossible to know even what language they were spoken in, like a berry jam, goo and seeds.”
            “What makes you feel they’re there?”
            “I think, sometimes when I’m still, I can start to feel them sprouting.”
            “Hmm… do you want to tell me what some of them are?”
            “Sure. I’ve been feeling an urge to know what happened to my family, back in Japan, and more so, what happened to people like me, like us. What happened to the soldiers who were called men but were women their entire lives? What about the women who loved other women when they were taken away by men claiming to support their country? I learned about ‘queer’ as if it started with us, and it didn’t, but I can’t find the stories. Those are some of them. Then others, I still don’t have words for yet.”
We sat in a long silence. A forceful breeze pushed itself through the moment, pulling smells of fresh water and mud with it. “What are you thinking?” My words came out sheepishly.
            “I don’t have a complete reaction, but it reminds me of this song my great aunt used to sing when I was a child. Do you want to hear it?”
            I smiled, comforted by her words. “Of course.” Nia pressed her palms into the grass. She lifted her chin, and sang out to the lake in front of us:

“When you are ready, how will you soften your heart?

To find the answers meant for you?

To find the right flowers to give your stories to?

Can you tell them without using words?

Whisper them

into flowers, seeds, soil.

They will grow after you’ve gone.

They will bloom, they will.”

              Aha! My heart jumped. Those words that had been floating in my chest! I searched for a way to explain to Nia what had just happened before realizing they probably didn’t exist. I let go of my urge to explain and instead, reached out and placed my hand over hers. I hummed what I could remember of Nia’s song and tried to swallow and absorb every piece of this moment.
a hand drawn and strand of leaves or scales in green and teal unfurls downward. towards the bottom it frays.

Artwork by Aiko Fukuchi

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