Motoki was fifteen when he accidentally created stars. Before this time, the night’s sky had always been ebony black, and the white glow of the moon had looked like a cheap spotlight left there by a film studio in liquidation. People rarely looked up because it reminded them of that void under the bed when you tuck your feet under you as a child for fear of the faceless blue monster. Everyone carried lanterns because shining a powerful torch every day was both a waste of electricity and like dropping a feather in a hedgehog farm. Lanterns at least were warm in a glow that mirrored babies’ cheeks and hot tea by the fireplace on snowy days.
Motoki was good at school but in a happy-go-lucky way that meant people neither thought he was a geek nor were begrudging of his grades. He liked table tennis and was above average at basketball although by no means the best. He was the big brother you always wanted, consistently shared his lunch, stood up to bullies and played with the awkward kids that were otherwise on the verge of being socially ostracised. With his help they learned to make friends and later in life maintained good-to-mediocre jobs, semi-detached houses and occasional holidays following tour groups around famous sites.
It was on a day in March that he created stars. Not a normal day in March, perhaps, because it was the last month of junior high school. Motoki went to a small school that was more like a family than an educational institution. Now he was progressing to the best high school in the area, with five classes in every year group and over five hundred students in all. With reason, he was nervous about this change, although it rarely showed on his sunshine face.
He was walking home late after school. His classmates had already left because they had exams to study for, but Motoki had taken (and passed) his in the earlier sitting. So, he had been playing table tennis with the boys in the year below, winning one game and deliberately losing the next. Motoki had offered to put the equipment away as he only lived a five minute walk from the school, whereas the other boys were getting picked up by their mothers.
He had turned off all the lights and slung his backpack over his right shoulder. At the door he changed his shoes and checked the oil in his lamp. It was that time of night and year in which the sky turned straight from dusky to dark without any discernible sunset. It used to creep up on him until he learned to light his lamp earlier than he needed it.
Motoki walked quietly without the usual headphones. He liked the sound of his feet on the road, an almost tap, almost pat, almost clop, but none of the above. He liked the echo they made against the tall cliff wall, making it seem like there was an army of him around this one bend, but only one again, once he came through it.
As he was walking by the dam, a hand touched his. He flinched but didn’t immediately pull away. Motoki couldn’t have said why, had you been there to ask him; something about the hand didn’t scare him. Possibly because it was small, warm and so childlike in its complete trust of him that his natural friendliness subdued any worries he might have had. But there was no one there.
“Is there someone there?” he asked. “Is someone out there?”
“No one,” a voice replied. “No one at all.”
“Well that’s wrong. Because no one makes no noise at all. No one doesn’t reply in kind.”
“No one,” the voice chimed. “What about two or more?”
“What about it?”
“That’s not one then. So I would be right to say no one.”
“That’s just word play. ‘No one’ means less than one, not more than one. If it was more than one you would say it all the time.”
“Only if you have lots of friends to talk about and to talk to.”
“You don’t have any friends?” Motoki immediately felt terrible for jesting, albeit light-heartedly, with the faceless voice.
“Oh, I have plenty of friends, only. . .”
“Truth be told, I’m a nocturnal type, and everyone else just wants to sleep. I’ve tried waking them up, and I’ve tried sleeping at night, but it just doesn’t work.”
“You could always compromise. What about early evenings?”
“Yes,” Motoki said, pleased with his own clever idea.
“I knew you’d say that Motoki-kun! Let’s play.”
If he had been thinking about it, Motoki could’ve masked the reactionary back step as stumbling on some loose stones, but the shock registered on his face too quickly. “How do you know my name?”
“Oh, I’ve. . . seen you around.”
The second step was, with or without hindsight, not so easy to hide. Nor were the sweat beads that started to form about his forehead and the base of his neck.
Let’s take a small but entirely relevant sidetrack. The moon in mythology is often a beautiful and wise goddess. Or it’s a cutesy hunk of Wensleydale cheese. Perhaps the world is not ready for the grotesque reality of the moon. The moon is, at a miniscule fraction of the sun’s size, a pimple in comparison to that heavenly body around which our world revolves. No, it’s the size of a pimple, but in reality it’s a spot. You see, the sun is, after all, still young, and what is youth’s biggest threat? Not teenage pregnancy, drugs or even alcohol, but acne. The oozing craters of the face: the face unrecognizable beneath the endless grease and miniature volcanoes exploding in yellow pus and leaving scars across the already pitted landscape. The long hair that clings in one greased strand, like a child’s experiment with PVA glue, no matter how many hours and expensive products have been used. The voice that sounds like a poorly tuned accordion being played by an old man with arthritis of the fingers.
The moon was a squat, yellowish white thing, not quite liquid or solid. It smelt like sweaty socks at a distance, and up close, cheese so off that you could squeeze green juice from it. It had no eyes or nose, but it did possess an odd sort of mouth that opened and closed like a sock puppet. It slid across the ground in an unequal shuffle, a nursery kid with his shoelaces tied together.
“Umm. . .”
“Will you be my friend, Motoki?”
“Umm. . .”
“It gets so lonely watching everyone. I’m all by myself in the dark sky.”
Motoki looked up, knowing the moon wouldn’t be there. It was supposed to be waning tonight and yet the sky was as black as freshly spilt ink.
“Eh. . . well. . .”
“I’m a blemish, aren’t I? A blemish on the beautiful world.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Motoki replied, crossing his fingers inside his pocket, “Many people think the moon is a beautiful thing.”
“They do? Do you?” The moon leaned in very close and had Motoki’s hand again. He tried his best not to visibly gag.
Motoki was a nice guy. He knew this because his mother told him every day, his grandmother every week, his first girlfriend when she broke up with him, and his classmates when they nominated him as head boy. So he genuinely hoped and tried to look beyond the surface of the moon and see the positive aspects of the individual within.
No use, he pulled away and tried to mask it as a throat-clearing action.
“Is something wrong with me?” the moon asked. If it had eyes they would have been making puppy dog expressions right then.
“How about a hot spring?” Motoki asked, “I’ve heard they are really purifying.”
“You’re calling me dirty?” If the moon had the aforementioned eyes, they would now have been watering.
“No—I mean maybe—I mean it’s just a phase.”
“A phase? It’s always a phase. Wax, wane, full, new. Every twenty-eight days I’m supposed to just do what they tell me to do. But I want to have fun too!”
“But you have a responsibility,” Motoki struggled. “You are one of a kind after all. Everyone looks to you for guidance.”
The moon was wobbling. The surface of its skin shimmered like jelly out of the mould. It was crying, Motoki realized. Crying without eyes as an outlet.
“You’ve just got to. . . find enjoyment in your everyday life. That’s what my father always says. It’s the little things really.”
“You wouldn’t be saying that if you were me,” the moon continued, shaking so much Motoki felt like he was standing next to a bomb.
“I’m sorry, I mean, oh I don’t know what I mean. But you really shouldn’t spring these sort of things on people!” Motoki said, a little angry now.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you are the moon! You being here is bound to be a bit of a surprise. Give me a little time to readjust!”
The moon squashed itself down like a balloon being flattened by a child with more curiosity than sense.
“Oh, oh you humans are all the same. It’s always about you. What about me?”
It squashed down more, quivering now. “I mean, I watch you playing table tennis, I see you helping students with homework and talking to the teachers like they are your friends. It’s not fair, it’s not fair!”
It had compressed down so far that it resembled bread dough, fluffy and—
“Ouf!” Motoki yelped as he was thrown back, his behind hitting the hard road with painful force. Something covered his face, thick mucous, as though someone had sneezed all over him. He wiped it off with the back of his sleeve, getting grit in his hair. Opening his eyes he could see light everywhere, bouncing off of everything, an army of fireflies surrounding him, floating about like the dizzy pinpricks of light after a fall.
They wavered around in the air around him, these small lights, floating in arcs as if they were attached by invisible strings.
“Oh! Look at me!” the moon said.
Motoki’s vision had cleared enough for him to see that the moon indeed had something to be delighted about. With that one adolescent and literal outburst, it had shed its grease, goblets of it shaking off and becoming these dancing lights that hovered around him. But like that teenager who picks at his scabs too much, the moon’s skin was not smooth and beautiful, but cratered and significantly aged.
“Oh, oh, oh—” it began.
“Now stop,” Motoki said firmly as he pulled himself to his feet. “There’s no need to start complaining again. For one, you smell much better. And secondly, look at the mess you’ve made. Don’t you think we ought to clean it up?”
He had used his head boy voice and it worked. The moon collected itself, nodded, sort of, and started rolling up the little light fragments. Motoki plucked at them, collected them in his palm, but they danced away, floating out of his hand through the cracks between his fingers.
“This isn’t going to work,” he admitted at last. And it was getting late. His parents would be worried something had happened to him.
“Then what should we do?”
“Why don’t you take them with you,” he said, pointing up, “add a bit of colour to the place. . .”
Motoki trotted off before the moon could reply, not wanting to spend any more time with such a self-pitying thing. He went straight home to bath and then dinner, too tired to recount his story to anyone.
After dinner he was curled up in a chair, reading a book with his little sister when—
“Oh, look, look!”
They all raced over to cram their heads out the opened window where his mother stood. There it was, the waning moon, brilliant and whiter than he had ever seen it before, each crater clearly visible upon its surface. And there in the ebony sky were stars, multitudes of them, not yet still from their hovering, dancing playfulness.
“What are they?” his sister asked, half-scared.
“Stars,” he replied, squeezing her hands. “Make a wish. . .”
They stood for an hour looking up at the pretty lights until the cricks in their necks made them come back inside. Motoki picked up the book again, Greek mythology, and began reading from the beginning.