“There’s no need to be impatient, Saki,” mother said one evening, stroking my hair. “It doesn’t matter if you graduate early. I know it’s lonely because everyone is gone, but you’ll meet up with them again soon.”
“I’m not really…lonely or anything,” I said, throwing myself facedown onto my bed.
“You know, graduating early isn’t that special. It doesn’t have anything to do with the strength or quality of your cantus. Have I ever told you? That your dad and I didn’t graduate particularly early either.”
“But you weren’t last in the class either, right?”
“I don’t want to be dropped out.”
“Don’t say something like that!” she said in an unusually stern voice. “Where did you hear that from?”
I buried my face in my pillow and remained silent.
“The gods decide when you get to graduate, so all you have to do is wait. You’ll be able to catch up to everyone else in no time.”
“What if I can’t graduate?”
For a split second, mother was speechless, but then she smiled brightly and said, “Were you worried about that, silly? It’ll be fine. You’ll definitely graduate, it’s just a matter of time.”
“But there are people who can’t, right?”
“Yes, but that’s less than a one in a million chance.”
I sat up and our eyes met. For some reason, my mother seemed a little shaken.
“Is it true that if you can’t graduate, a copycat will come after you?”
“Don’t be silly, copycats don’t exist in the world. You’ll be an adult soon; if you keep talking about stuff like that, people will laugh at you.”
“But, I saw one.”
In that instant, an unmistakeable shadow of fear flitted across her face.
“What are you talking about? You must have imagined it.”
“I saw it,” I repeated, trying to elicit the reaction again so I could confirm what it was. I wasn’t lying. I really felt that I had seen one. But it had happened so quickly that even I thought I must have imagined it. “It was before I came home yesterday, around sundown. I was at an intersection and saw something that looked like a copycat crossing it. It disappeared instantly though.”
“Do you know the saying ‘seeing ghosts in silver grass?’ If you keep thinking about scary things, everything you see will be scary. What you saw was just a cat, or a weasel. It’s hard to see things clearly when it’s getting dark.” Mother was acting like usual again. When she said goodnight and turned off the light, I fell asleep easily.
But when I opened my eyes again in the middle of the night, all feelings of peace and safety had disappeared.
My heart was beating like a drum, my hands and feet were icy and my entire body was drenched in sweat. Really nasty sweat.