Akemi loved spending time with her niece; the three year old was absolutely her favourite person on earth, and she never had any issue agreeing to babysit when it was necessary, or even just because she wanted to spend some time with the girl, so that her brother and sister-in-law could have some time to themselves. Today wasn’t for a fun reason, however; her brother’s wife had been battling cancer for a couple of years, now, ever since Keiko had been a baby, and she was having to spend a couple of days in hospital while they did tests and the like. It was extremely worrying; the doctor had given her years to live, fortunately, but she seemed to be getting worse, and the last place for a toddler to be was in a hospital with her sick mama and worried daddy. She probably wasn’t supposed to have a child in her dorm room, but she trusted that her roommate wouldn’t tell (in fact, Jamie seemed to have taken to Keiko entirely, practically cooing every time she spoke in her mixture of Japanese and English; she was at the stage where she would switch languages in the middle of what she was saying without realising that she was doing it, given that she was being brought up to speak both, just as Akemi and her brother had, and not always realising that not everybody would understand her – after all, when the family was together, they spoke exclusively in Japanese, and always had done), and it was only for a couple of days, while she didn’t have classes. She’d study when Keiko was napping, and spend the rest of the time being the perfect aunt. She adored it, genuinely so. She loved taking her out places, she was entirely photogenic, which always helped when your auntie was a photographer, and Mimi would have spent a lot more time with her, if she could.
Today, they were shopping; Akemi might not have had a lot of money to spend, given that she lived off her allowance, still, and only made money occasionally from taking people’s portraits or selling a print, but it wasn’t as though she had absolutely nothing, either. They had agreed to buy Keiko’s mother a present, because the little girl was worried about her, despite Mimi’s reassurances, and she thought that she’d treat her niece to a dress, or maybe something pretty for her hair, too, depending on what they saw. They didn’t go to the mall, but the parade of shops on the high street instead, because it was less likely to be so crowded, given that it was a weekend; Akemi wasn’t great in crowds anyway, but Keiko had decided that she was too old for the pushchair, too, and wanted to walk everywhere, and not being in a sea of people gave Akemi a better chance at keeping hold of her hand – not to mention the fact that it was nearer to her dorm room if she ended up having to carry the little girl back because she’d gotten tired. It was surprisingly quiet, actually, which suited Mimi just fine, because it meant less people to dodge with the three year old in tow, and she and Keiko were happily talking away in Japanese – Akemi had pointed out a cute cat the other side of the road, and then they’d talked about her cats, back home with her parents, and then they’d made a secret plan that Keiko could talk to her parents about getting a kitten for her next birthday, and Auntie Akemi would help to look after it – when a random woman stopped in their path and spat at them, “You’re disgusting.”
What? She wasn’t aware that she’d been doing anything, and Mimi stepped back, picking Keiko up in her arms protectively – and she was really starting to get too heavy for her to do that, given that Akemi was a tiny thing herself, but she thought it was for the best right now – looking worried. “E-excuse me?” she stammered, trying to get around the woman, only to have her path cut off each time she moved. And of course, of course her niece would choose that moment to start crying, too, whether picking up on Akemi’s nerves or the woman’s apparent anger, wrapping her arms around her aunt’s neck and holding on tightly, Mimi taking a moment to shush her and gently reassure her, hoping that the woman would go away. She didn’t; whichever way Akemi tried to go, she was in the way, and Akemi felt trapped, which was not a feeling that she liked, at all. “You and your baby. How old were you when you had her, fourteen? It’s sluts like you that are ruining this country! You can’t keep your legs shut for five minutes, can you? Going around like a whore and then expecting welfare. It’s despicable, and I bet you don’t even speak English. Go back to where you were born and take your child with you!” Oh, God. Mimi wanted to cry. She wasn’t sure what her legs had to do with it, and she’d been born in Boston, while Keiko had been born in New York, so she wasn’t sure how that would have solved anything, although the addition of racism to her random tirade against someone who’d done nothing wrong just made Akemi feel even worse, and she’d never even kissed a boy, let alone had sex. And having yelled at her, having reduced a child to tears (Akemi kept stroking her hair, holding her close), with Akemi herself not far behind, the woman didn’t seem to want to get out of her way, either. Mimi couldn’t find the words to defend herself, to say that the girl in her arms was her niece, and could just as easily have been her little sister, rather than her daughter, and so she stood there, biting her lip worriedly, her gaze lowered. She hadn’t done anything!