He felt like progress.
…Sometimes, anyway. I couldn’t tell most of the time.
On one hand, I had been able to leave Earl and the wild kids that attended the Violet City pokémon school, just like I wanted. I was no longer able to stand giving myself up to the concept of pokémon training day after day, and Sai rescued me from that when I needed him most. But traveling with Sai was partly like being part of my nightmares, where we were training for the sake of training, getting badges for the sake of having them, and not having any future goal in mind. The other half of the journey consisted of being free, of being able to explore the world and see it for what it is. And that was what I liked. I wanted Sai to be able to contribute to the world in some way that didn’t involve pokémon, and he was beginning to do that by slowing down his journey, but… Well, yes, Sai felt like progress—but only sometimes.
And somehow, I know that pokémon don’t often get a second chance to choose their trainers. I can only count on one hand the amount of situations that could offer a second chance, and I don’t even have that many fingers. More importantly, neither scenario is pretty: a trainer either dies or abandons his pokémon. As much as I despised being the pokémon of a trainer, I wouldn’t wish that upon myself or anyone else.
But Marty, when he came along, he presented what originally seemed to be unthinkable to a trainer, people who normally can’t stand being separated from their partners. He forced Sai into reconsidering his choice in pokémon. He forced Sai into thinking about our opinions and desires and dreams. And Sai gave us a choice—to stay or go! The choice to go or stay, it was as simple as that, really, and not one that many trainers would have the guts to offer.
When it was my turn to decide and answer, I wasn’t sure what to say. Again, Sai felt like progress, but was it enough to me? Was it worth it to stay until the boy finished his journey and had to find something else to do with his life? Was it worth it to leave and try to make it on my own in a society where pokémon are nothing more than pets or tools of violence? I weighed my options right then and there, but I was very limited on time. I simply said that I needed time to think about it, and at least it was true.
So, when were making our way to Goldenrod City, I knew I still had a choice to make. Though Sai seemed strict and set in his ways, I knew that he wouldn’t honestly take my choice away from me if I decided to bring it up again. He was clearly following someone else’s rules and setting his own aside, only allowing them to be set free when he deemed it safe and perhaps necessary. I felt that, this far into the journey, I could say this with certainty, when my life was anything but certain…
It seemed especially so when Sai suddenly stopped walking, when I was expecting him to keep going and going until he reached the gym, even if it took all his energy and hours and hours of no sleep. It wouldn’t be out of character for him, anyway. But he stopped, and I crashed into the back of his legs accidentally.
“Sai?” I said. He was glancing at a lone building in front of us. It was surrounded by a short white fence where cries of happy and playful pokémon could be heard inside. The sign ahead read: Daycare Center—We Take Care of All Pokémon! After the previous ordeal, I vaguely wondered if he was considering abandoning us here, but the thought fled from my mind just as quickly as it came. I also knew that he wouldn’t do that…
“A daycare is a place where people or pokémon stay and get taken care of, right? Fed and bathed and stuff?” he asked, turning toward Senori. I wondered how Senori would know, but didn’t say anything, as usual.
“I don’t know,” Senori admitted, “but we can always go inside and ask, if you’re really curious.”
“I am,” Sai said, moving forward now to the door. I followed closely behind him, careful not to have the chance of bumping into him again.
When we got inside, there was an older woman sitting behind a counter, reading a book. She glanced up at us and immediately stood and smiled as if she hadn’t had any visitors in years. Perhaps she was lonely after being only with pokémon. I would be lonely, too, if I was stuck with them for an extended period of time.
“Hello!” she said, putting her hands together and holding them up to her face gleefully. “Welcome to the daycare center! How can I help you?”
“You take care of pokémon, right?” Sai said, not even bothering to greet her.
“Yes, me and my husband take care of pokémon here. He’s out in the back giving a young pichu a bath right now”—so maybe she wasn’t lonely after all, I thought, and smiled, too—“and that’s just one example of what we do here. If you need a vacation day, we’re here for you! If your pokémon wants a unique place to train, this is a place to do it. We’re here for any reason you made need our services.”
“Ah, yes…” Sai said, taking his backpack off and rummaging through it. “I caught a bunch of magikarp the other day. I know I can’t carry more than six pokémon, and I know I won’t be using them on my team, so…”
“So you want us to take care of them?” the older lady finished for him.
“Exactly,” Sai said. He took out one pokéball and placed it on the counter. He went through his backpack again and pulled out another pokéball. And another. And another… In total, I counted about twenty of them. The older lady looked stunned rather than eager now.
“Son, do you know how much it’s going to cost for us to keep all of these magikarp?” she asked.
Sai looked down to the ground, and I could see that his face was turning red. “I don’t know why I caught them. I mean, I was going to use them for food… but I thought about it and that didn’t seem like a good idea…”
“You were going to eat them?”
“Yeah… I mean, yeah, isn’t that normal?”
“I’m glad you changed your mind,” she said, ignoring his question. “But it will cost a lot for you to leave them here, depending on how long it takes you to come back for them.”
“I don’t intend on coming back.”
“I have no use for them. I know they’re probably expecting a trainer to take care of them, and this is my way of showing them that they were in my thoughts. I hope you understand. They were in an old, small cave with terrible water before, and here, maybe they’ll be treated better.”
“So you’re giving them to us to keep.”
“I will give you anything. I will pay you now if you want instead,” Sai said, looking through his backpack again, probably for money.
“That would be acceptable,” she said, and told him how much it would cost. As soon as she told him, Sai paused while looking through his backpack, as if he was reconsidering his choice, but he went through with it and paid the older lady. He had a strained look on his face. I wondered if he was guilty for spending money after carelessly buying so much in Azalea Town.
But that became an afterthought as we left and kept heading toward our destination. I kept repeating the scene over and over in my head and noted that Sai could let go of pokémon—if he really tried.
I supposed that was a start.
Goldenrod City surely lived up to its name. The outside of each building was built with yellow bricks, save for the pokémon center, which looked like every other one we had seen so far: made of a grey exterior with a red roof, and a medical sign on the top to indicate the building’s purpose. Even the shopping center looked different than the others we had seen so far. Getting closer, I could tell that instead of it being a normal mart, it was an entire mall, with several floors and various types of sales inside. Several people were walking in, while others were walking out with bags in hand.
“This city is huge,” Kuiora pointed out as we kept walking around, getting ourselves familiar with the area we would be in for at least the next few days.
“It is! I wonder what they need all these buildings for, anyway,” Senori said.
“There’s a gambling place,” I said, reading the sign of the building we had just passed. I kept reading them as we went by. “And a radio tower. A flower shop, a bowling alley… Regular houses…”
It occurred to me, then, that I should try to take Sai around the town and expose him to these other places unrelated to pokémon, to at least expose him to other ideas out there in the world. It was worth a shot, anyway. The worst case scenario would be that Sai would despise everything and anything about each place, but the boy seemed to be excited about every little thing back in Azalea Town, so that was unlikely. Still, I could tell that he was slowing down quite a bit. I would have to observe his new tired behavior so that I could get used to it, and not be as negatively affected by it as I was by his previous outburst.
“Sai?” I said again, though this time I didn’t bump into his leg. Instead, I pulled on his pants leg, trying to get his attention as best as I could. I wasn’t used to trying to get another person’s attention, and didn’t know how much was too much or how much was too little. Still, my efforts seemed to work as he stopped to peer down at me expectantly, saying nothing in order to let me speak. “After we go to the pokémon center, why don’t we… you know… actually explore the town more thoroughly? I mean… if you’re okay with that, that is…”
“Like go into the buildings and stuff?”
“Yes!” I said a little too loudly. He was understanding me pretty well; things were going smoothly so far already. “Um, again, if that’s all right with you.”
Sai hesitated for a moment, lost in thought. After a few moments of silence and awkward staring, he finally said, “Sure, if that’s what you want. I want to go to the gym first to set up a battle appointment first, but I’ll make it happen in two weeks.”
Though this was clearly not like his ordinary self, I was cheering on the inside.
Within the hour, it was official: the gym battle would take place two weeks from today. Since we were already so close to the gym, we stopped by to set up Sai’s “appointment.” I didn’t know why he felt compelled to schedule the gym battle, since what we had done so far was just approach the gym leader when we were ready, but he simply explained that he was following the rules now that he knew them better. As his pokémon, I felt obligated to go along with him, so I stayed quiet.
That night, we stayed in the pokémon center, with all of us staying in the same room. Sai explained that although he was earning money from winning pokémon battles with trainers, he didn’t have enough anymore to cover the cost of all of us having our own room after the encounter with the daycare lady. None of us complained, as this was nothing new to us, though there were whispers about what we’d do about food. I lay on the top bunk, as always, remembering how he knew this about me, and fell asleep wondering what else he knew and kept to himself.
The day after, the first place I took him to was the shopping mall. With the building being as large as it was, surely there was something unrelated to pokémon inside. And I was right. While there were floors dedicated to supplies and pokémon food, there were sections for clothes, gifts, candy, video games, music, movies, and much more.
“You can buy us more shirts,” Kuiora said casually, walking behind Sai to stay close to Ezrem, who was just peering around, exploring the place like everyone else.
“You can have one, but I don’t want one,” Senori said. “The last one covered my tail and made things feel really weird for me.”
I wouldn’t have minded a shirt to feel more human, but I said nothing and watched as Sai looked around, trying to decide where to go first. I tried to push him toward the movie section since he was having trouble choosing, but he said, “I’ve never seen a movie in my life. I don’t know.”
“You’ve never seen a movie before?” said Rennio, who was also standing close to Ezrem. I was just glad it was the bird and not me. “Even me and Ezrem have seen a movie before. We saw one about a boy and a girl who wanted to erase their memories of each other, but then changed their minds and had to go through a lot of trouble to remember each other.”
“It sounds interesting… People make up things like that?”
“Yeah. Watching movies is something every human should do,” Rennio added, nodding.
“I don’t think it’d be appropriate to see one… Maybe some other time,” Sai said after a moment, and I stopped pushing him in that direction. The last thing I wanted to do was make him uncomfortable. Instead, I offered to take him to the gift shop. Surely he had someone back home to think of, even if he didn’t speak about his home too often.
“There’s one person,” he said, his voice quiet. “I don’t know what she’d like…”
“That’s the point of shopping—to look around and see!” I said, pushing him over there. Where I was getting this energy and motivation from, I didn’t know, but it was nice. This time, he accepted and didn’t complain.
When we finally got over there, he glanced at the various items that were stocked on the shelves. There were picture frames, bobble heads, cards, a section for the cheapest little trinkets, plush dolls. Kuiora was glancing through the shelves as well, finding a totodile plush doll and hugging it tightly to herself.
“Look at this, Ezrem! This is what I used to look like! Don’t I look much tougher now?” she said, looking at him expectantly.
“Yes, yes you do,” Ezrem said, smiling at her.
Senori was following Sai, probably eager to see what he’d choose. The sentret was always watching out for our trainer, I noticed, and that was for the best, seeing as how I couldn’t properly do it myself…
Eventually, I caught up to the two of them and started following Sai, too. He was roaming the aisles, lingering at some of them and not others. He didn’t appear to be interested in anything in particular until he came across the shelf with pieces of various outdoor equipment. There were tents, pieces of sports equipment, and a shelf for all of the smaller items, like pocket knives. And that’s exactly what he picked up: a pocket knife. He held it out in his outstretched hands, turning it over and over in his palm.
“You want that for her?” I asked incredulously.
“That’s not a very girly gift, you know,” Senori said, folding his arms and smiling.
“She’s a fan of weapons,” said Sai.
“Sounds dangerous,” Senori said, his grin disappearing from his face.
“Hmm,” was all he replied with.
“Everyone’s got a secret,” Ezrem said, coming up behind me and scaring me to the point where I almost jumped. My body turned in his direction, my breath quickly accelerating at his presence. I didn’t know if there were any ill feelings about attacking his partner, and quite frankly, his cunning personality frightened me considerably.
“W-What do you mean?” I asked. I was losing my confidence rather quickly. At least I had gotten Sai to think about something other than the gym, but now Ezrem was here.
“Who knows what he really wants to do with that knife?” he said. He fluffed up his feathers and pretended like what he was saying was nothing, though the thought seemed sinister to me, even though I didn’t think Sai was a sinister person. “There’s a secret in everyone, in every place! I bet plenty of people have stolen from this mall. My old trainer used to do so when she was out of money and desperate for food!”
“W-Well, we’re not stealing anything… even though we’re low on money…” I said in Sai’s defense, though in my opinion, I was doing poorly. Apparently, Ezrem thought so, too.
“I’m just saying,” Ezrem said. “How well do you really know your trainer?”
Not very well, I thought, but kept my mouth shut.
“Ezrem, be nice,” said Kuiora, who had been listening in on the conversation and had been giggling up until now.
“I am always nice! I’m just saying that I’d like to know my trainer real well, so I’m watching Sai.”
“You’re scaring Atis.”
“It’s not my problem if he gets scared so easily,” Ezrem retorted, grinning.
“Well, I don’t care. Just shut up. You’re not even Sai’s pokemon,” Kuiora said, going back to her childish ways, though I was thankful for it.
Needless to say, Ezrem went quiet after that comment. He watched Sai like a bird always seems to watch its prey. He made sure that Sai bought the pocketknife, and that was the end of the journey in the mall, since I couldn’t bring myself to push him anywhere else.
The next day, I brought him to the flower shop because the place sounded pretty innocent compared to the mall, where there was so many things to look at and consider. Ezrem wouldn’t be able to bring me down this time.
The flower shop was at the north end of the city, so I made sure to wake them all up early, though I wanted to stay at the top of the bunk and rest a little while longer. So did Sai, as it took quite a lot of shaking to get him to finally wake up, which was odd considering he never seemed to sleep. Now it seemed that he slept too much.
On the way to the flower shop, the aroma of the city changed. Before, the city air was polluted and not very appealing when breathed in. Now, the air smelled much more pleasant and inviting, which made me feel like we were going to a good place, one where we would all feel comfortable.
Inside we discovered the source of the beautiful aroma. There was a bunch of women, each of them doing their own chores within the shop. One was water the various plants, another was placing them in a satisfactory order, another waited at the counter, looking at us expectantly. From the look on her ecstatic face, I could tell that she didn’t get many men coming into the shop.
“Would you like to buy any flowers today?” she asked sweetly, cupping her hands together and holding them behind her back.
“Maybe,” Sai said quickly, and the rest of the group seemed to take that as permission to look around and see what they wanted. Kuiora was attracted to the blue flowers immediately, with Ezrem and Rennio following close behind. Senori went to the red flowers, and I stood by the yellow ones. Sai roamed around the shop, coming to each of us at least once.
When he reached Kuiora the second time, he picked out a blue flower, bent down a bit to see her face to face, and gave it to her, smiling.
“For you,” he said.
“Why?” she said, but she was reaching out nonetheless.
“For being my pokémon, of course,” he said as she took it from him.
One by one, he came to each of us and gave us a flower from the vases that we were standing by, and thanked us for being his pokémon. He even went over to Ezrem and thanked him for joining us, which was surprising to all of us considering the past rejection, but none of us protested. Then, he went to all of the individual ladies in the store and gave them one, too, saying, “You give out flowers every day, but how many times do you have flowers given to you?”
After seeing our trainer be so kind, I had to say that I was impressed. Senori must have noticed, too, as he decided to join in on the giving atmosphere and took out a red flower for Sai, trying to hand it to him.
“I don’t deserve one, but thank you,” Sai said. He took the flower from Senori’s hand, but then put it back into the vase, where he thought he belonged. Then he went up to the counter and paid for the flowers that he had given us and the ladies.
“You should take a vase with you, too, to put them in,” the lady at the counter offered, handing an empty one to him.
“What do I do with it?” Sai asked.
“Fill it with water and put the flowers in there so they don’t die. It’s on us, since you were so kind.”
“It’s okay. You don’t have to give me this.”
“We want to!” she said, smelling the blue flower in her hand and smiling.
“Well, it’s just a vase, right? Okay,” he said, finally giving into something. “Thank you, too.”
“Our pleasure,” said the lady at the counter.
The next day, I didn’t take Sai anywhere. I decided to take a day for myself, since this idea of taking charge of my life for once was absolutely draining on me. I stayed in the bunk all day as the others lounged around and talked. Sai filled the vase he got from the flower shop with water and put all the flowers we had bought into it. It didn’t look like a pretty bouquet, as the color combination wasn’t appealing with three blue flowers, one yellow, and one red. But I lay in bed all day looking at it and I smiled to myself anyway. After being rejected by Sasha and Marty, Sai had gotten the human interaction that he so desperately needed. And maybe even more important than that, he was showing us that he appreciated us for being with him. I thought, again, about my choice to stay or go. I was cherished where I was, there was no doubt. Sai wasn’t out to maliciously harm me or anything by wanting to do pokémon training; it was his own preference, and it just happened to be a preference that was similar to most others’ in the world. I decided to just keep going with my plan, to keep spending time with Sai and the others, and then I would give myself more time to decide. This wasn’t something that I could rush. No, this wasn’t something I had to rush at all…
I thought that maybe I’d regret it later, but I took him to the casino after the flower shop. I’d heard horror stories of people becoming addicted to gambling and losing all of their money, but I thought that we had nothing left to lose, being so low on money, anyway. And Sai didn’t seem like the type to get addicted to one thing, but instead to a bunch of things.
“This place is loud,” Rennio complained the moment we got inside. And indeed, it was loud. The sound of coins clanging against each other and on machines filled the air. Victory music was playing at some machines, but not others. There was angry shouting and cries of joy all at once. Yes, this place seemed to fit Sai perfectly, since he was happy one moment and furious the next and then seemingly sad. At least he seemed interested, but he was also completely lost.
“I have no idea what to do,” he admitted sheepishly.
“You’ve never heard of a casino before, either?” Ezrem cried, trying to be heard over the musical building.
“Well, then. I know the perfect place for you to start,” Ezrem said, and I instantly forgave him for the ordeal at the shopping mall since he was choosing to take charge. He navigated the rows of games and slot machines, trying to find whatever it was that he was looking for. Eventually, we reached a table that had a wheel on top of it. The wheel consisted of black and red lines with various numbers on them. People were crowded around the table, murmuring excitedly.
“Roulette,” was all Ezrem said at first. When Sai still seemed confused, he continued, “You make bets on what color you think the ball will land on. Or you can bet on what kind of number the ball will land on. Whatever you want!”
“Sounds easy,” Sai said, walking up to the table and joining everyone else.
“Exactly!” said Ezrem, clearly proud of himself.
So Sai joined in on the next bet, with all of us sitting at the edge of table and watching intently. Most people were making complicated bets to try to get more money. They offered thirty pokédollars if the ball landed on a red number between one and eighteen, for example. But Sai focused on simplicity.
“It will land on black,” was all he said at first. When he was instructed to place money on the table to bet with, he did so, though he was reluctant. He looked at me, and I knew he was silently asking why I didn’t tell him we would be spending more money. I shrugged my shoulders, pretending that I didn’t know. The others encouraged him to put the money down anyway.
It turned out that Sai didn’t have to worry too much about money. In fact, it was the opposite. He ended up winning his first bet, and made a profit off of it. Then he won again. And again, with his simple bets. I wondered how he was so good at guessing when his chances were so low and there was no way that anyone could possibly win every time he played. Well, he did lose about once or twice, but that was it. In the end, he still made more than he lost. It reminded me of the dice he always carried around with him. When he introduced himself as my new trainer, he had instructed me to roll the dice, somehow knowing that the outcome of the roll would show a three—and sure enough, two black dots and one black dot showed up. How did he know? Was his intuition that reliable for him? As I watched him bet on red or black and win again and again, that seemed like the most plausible explanation.
I didn’t know how much Sai had earned from his adventures here at the casino, but he was smiling at the end, saying, “Now I don’t have to feel guilty for spending so much money at the daycare or at the flower shop. We can have food and a room at the pokémon center still!”
And that was all that mattered to him. He didn’t even want to leave and explore the rest of the place, he just wanted to win money at the game he was at. His childish eagerness over adult-like responsibilities made me giggle, which got me some odd looks from the others. I ignored them—was the image of a giggling hitmontop really that funny? It probably was, and the image of myself made me giggle again as we left, pokédollars still in Sai’s hands.
On the last day of our thorough exploration of Goldenrod City, I decided to take him to the radio tower. I didn’t know that it would be the last place we would be able to go. I just knew that Earl always used to listen to the radio back in Violet City, and the people on air always had something to say. There seemed to be no end to the amount of things they could share and laugh about. This, to me, was a good thing to show Sai. But my plan backfired.
Once again, I woke everyone up early because we had discovered that the radio tower was at the northern end of the city, like the flower shop. I wanted to make sure we had enough time to get to that part of the city and then browse the radio tower. Sai was more eager to get up today than he had been before, I noted, probably because of yesterday’s winning adventure.
When we arrived there, the man at the counter explained that the place was free. There wouldn’t be much to see, he said, because maintenance was being performed upstairs and we weren’t. allowed to go any higher than the first floor. Once the man let us go, we thanked him and wandered around inside. Of course, there wasn’t much to see on the first floor. The place looked like the inside of any other building. The only striking feature I could see was that the counter that the man was at extended throughout the entire room, and even more people were behind the counter, looking at us expectantly and smiling warmly. One of them wore headphones and had an interesting, complex piece of machinery in front of them, but that was about it. There were stairs leading upstairs, but we weren’t sure whether or not we could go up, despite having paid to be here.
“Well,” Sai said dumbly. “This is it.”
“I guess so…” I said, disappointed, despite the warning we had received.
“Don’t look so forlorn, boy!” called the guy who had the headphones on. “Come over here!”
Sai obeyed instantly, and the rest of us followed. We got a closer look at the machinery the guy had. There was a microphone to accompany the headphones, and the flat part of the machine had a ton of buttons and words on it to indicate what each button did. I couldn’t read any of them upside down, though.
“Hello, guys!” the man behind the counter continued. I wondered why he was talking so loud, when we were right in front of him, clearly able to hear. “Welcome to the radio tower! I know you can’t go upstairs, so you’re probably wondering why you came here…”
“Definitely,” Kuiora butted in, peaking her head up over the counter. I winced.
“Well, you may not be able to look around the rest of the place, but you can get your spot on the radio right here! See this jar we have here?” he said, pointing to it. I hadn’t noticed it before. It was a small jar that had some pokédollars in it. “If you pay a small amount of money, I’ll record your voice so it appears on the radio. You can say just about anything you want!”
“Anything we want?” said Ezrem, who was now peering next to Kuiora.
“Well, almost anything. You must be appropriate, of course!”
“Nevermind,” said Ezrem, backing down from the counter.
“What about the rest of you? Some people just like to vent and complain, others say hi to their families, others talk about their pokémon… Why, just the other day, someone even came here just to mention that they had seen a Team Rocket member floating around the city recently,” he said, his voice growing quieter.
I could feel Sai tense up next to me almost instantly.
“T-Team Rocket?” he said.
“Yeah, the group of bad guys that took over—”
“I’m sorry, but we need to go now,” Sai said. He was turned around and walking before he was even done speaking. The man watched him go along with the rest of us.
“Are you guys confused? Because I’m confused,” Senori said to break the silence.
“Well, what are we waiting for? We have to listen to him! Let’s go!” Kuiora said, pulling along Ezrem, who pulled on one of the plugs on top of Rennio’s head.
Senori and I listened to her, knowing better than to deny her wishes. Senori waved good-bye to the man behind the counter and apologized for his trainer’s behavior.
When we were back out in the city air, we struggled to keep up. Since Kuiora, Ezrem, and Rennio got a head start, they had an easier time following Sai back to the pokémon center. We tried not to lose them, all the while wondering what was happening to Sai this time.
“Do you know what’s wrong with him?” Senori asked me, then started running on all fours, seeing that his thoughts were keeping us further and further behind. I shook my head and started running.
At the pokémon center, it was at least easy to find our room from the front lobby, since we’d gone done that hallway several times before. This time, though, none of us could get in because the door was locked. We all sat outside in complete silence, none of us daring to disturb our trainer. Eventually, though, Sai showed his face again.
“Atis?” he said, peering out into the hallway through a small crack in the door.
“Y-Yes?” I said, trying to stand up, but my feet were wobbly. I was the one responsible for this situation, yet I didn’t know how to take full responsibility. The idea was unfavorable to me, to say the least.
“Come in here, please,” he said softly, which calmed my nerves a bit, but not by much. I stumbled over Kuiora’s tail and she squealed. I apologized lamely, thinking now that neither the hallway nor the room was where I wanted to be. Sai seemed like the least threatening, so I just went into the room and quickly shut the door behind me before Kuiora could yell at me.
“Atis,” Sai said again.
I simply nodded, afraid to speak.
“I’m sorry, but we’ll have to go to the gym as soon as possible now. Forget the appointment,” Sai went on. “These people are following me. I just know it.”
“W-Who’s… following you, Sai?” I dared to ask.
Sai was quiet, then he spoke after a few moments: “Do you want to be closer to me or something? Are you feeling like the others are getting more attention or something? I didn’t know. You should have told me.”
I looked up, caught off guard. “N-No, that’s not—”
“I don’t know how to be close to people. Or pokémon, for that matter,” he said solemnly, ignoring me. “I’m not allowed to be close to anyone, so it’s fine. I guess. But if that’s what you want…”
I waited for him to go on, but he didn’t. He looked at me, his dark blue eyes full of sadness. The panic that he was in at the radio tower had vanished.
He went over to the bed and started rummaging through his backpack. He pulled out a marker, which I didn’t even know he had. It made me think that there was no end to the amount of things in his backpack, just like there was no end to the things to the radio.
“I use it to practice writing sometimes,” he said. “I don’t know what to do. It might sound weird, I know. I don’t know. We can share a secret about each other, all right? You share one secret, and I’ll share one of mine. You can read my secret, but I won’t read yours. You can write it on my back, and I’ll write yours on a piece of paper, since you don’t wear shirts.”
“Um,” was all I could think to say. A secret? About me? About my trainer? I had mixed feelings, as I usually did. I had never told anyone a secret about me since I was too shy. But it would be nice to know my trainer a bit more, and maybe it could help me make my decision…
“This could make us feel closer, you know? Since that’s what you want,” Sai went on. He went over to the table in the corner of the room, and picked up the piece of paper that had been lying there since the day we rented out the room. It had all of the pokémon center’s housing rules on it, but he took the marker and wrote over the words. Soon, I would be able to read those words, whatever they were. I noted that it took him a long time to write, as if writing each letter was agonizing for him.
When he was done, he took off his shirt. Since Earl had always told me I shouldn’t look at his body out of self-consciousness, I turned to look away from Sai as well. But then Sai came closer to me and bent down, making it hard to not see him. He handed me the marker and nodded.
“This is…” I said, trailing off. I didn’t know how to put it. It was weird, writing on a human’s back, was it not? Would it stay there forever? What if someone else saw? Couldn’t I just not write a secret, and Sai would never know?
But Sai seemed so calm compared to his panicky demeanor at the radio tower. I wanted to keep him calm. So I took the marker and wrote on his back as quickly as I could to get the awkwardness over with. I didn’t even have to think about what I wrote: I wish I was human.
Yes, I did wish I was a human. If I were human, I would do my absolute best to get rid of my shy demeanor. I’d travel the entire world, see what each city and town had to offer. I’d meet all the great kinds of people out there, and all the terrible kinds of people, too. I wouldn’t have pokémon to protect me; I’d protect myself. And as I traveled, I’d find out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
I wished the same for Sai.
I had believed that I had done a good job of finally forcing myself to do something I wanted in life. I had believed that I was doing a good thing for Sai by showing him around the city, proving him that there was more to like than the pokémon that constantly followed him around. Perhaps I had been wrong, because now he was being paranoid. Now he seemed to be crazy again, thinking someone was stalking him, watching his every move. This seemed completely illogical to me, but there was nothing I could say to prove it to him. All I could think was that, at the end of the day, his life revolved around this journey for the gym badges. To him, there was nothing else, and though it bothered me, I couldn’t change him. His emotions and passion were fierce, his eyes set on one goal and one goal only. Still, I would wait out my decision. It wasn’t anything that I had to declare right now, and truthfully, I was afraid of deciding, anyway.
To thankfully distract me, Sai handed me the piece of paper he had written on, and turned to look away from me. I went to read it, both terrified and drawn to the idea at the same time—
I am always sick.