A wounded animal is much more dangerous than a healthy animal. This is simply because the wounded animal is in trouble and they are aware of it. They consider themselves an easy target to any predators and will attempt to flee if possible. If they are backed into a corner, they will have no choice but to fight as violently as possible until they are either incapacitated, dead, or successfully drove off the predator.
A wounded animal isn’t rational or moral. Their only goal is survival at all costs. They can be extremely unpredictable and should be only handled with the utmost care, if handled at all. In many cases, the only recourse is to euthanize.
—Fight or Flight Response, Borem, F. (1992). Best Vet Quarterly, Issue 3, p. 14.
The boys went into the locker room. Takahashi opened his locker and grabbed an extra pair of swim trucks and a towel and gave it to Kato.
“Thank you,” Kato said.
“Keep them. That will give you two pairs,” Takahashi said with a smile.
There were many boys in the locker room, all changing for class. Kato thought he might be more embarrassed at the idea of changing but he told himself it wasn’t any different that the showers. He knew one thing: he was not going to look at Takahashi.
Takahashi turned his side toward Kato and started undressing. Kato did the same. After a minute, he could see out of the corner of his eye that Takahashi was done, and so was he.
“Ready?” Kato asked quietly.
“Yeah,” Takahashi replied. Kato turned to look at Takahashi, who was walking away. Kato could see the large bruises on his back. Kato immediately choked up. It was as ghastly as Takahashi said it would be. He scampered after him to the pool.
A Grade 12 student, who apparently was the leader, had the three new boys jump in the pool first. He had each demonstrate their ability with different strokes. Kato was familiar with all of them as were the rest of the boys.
Kato watched Takahashi walk down the steps and into the pool. When the water level reached his back, he cringed a little. Kato knew it probably hurt worse than he led on.
Kato waded over to Takahashi. “You okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Takahashi replied with a hint of annoyance.
The leader had the students swim warm-up laps. Kato really did love the water. Every now and again, he would peek over at Takahashi. When they started, Takahashi struggled a little. No doubt those bruises hurt. After the warm-up laps were over, Takahashi was swimming effortlessly. Then the leader had them swim with fins and paddle boards. Kato loved this. It felt like he was practically flying through the water.
At the 45-minute mark, the students were broken up into teams and given a ball and they played water polo. Kato had a blast. He wasn’t on Takahashi’s team, but it was still lots of fun.
After the chime rang, the class had ended. Kato watched all the boys get out of the pool except Takahashi, who had swum over and sat on the steps, the water reaching just below his shoulders. Kato swam over and sat next to him, the water reaching up to his chin.
After a couple minutes passed, Kato looked at Takahashi and asked, “You okay?”
“Yeah,” he replied.
“Let’s go then,” Kato said encouragingly. As he was about to stand, Takahashi reached over and grabbed his hand.
“Wait, please,” Takahashi spoke softly.
Kato didn’t know what to do so he sat there, letting Takahashi hold his hand. He was glad, at least, that nobody was around, and their hands were underwater so nobody could see anyways.
After a couple of minutes, Takahashi let out a ragged breath. “It’s cold.”
“Yeah,” Kato nodded as he was making little splashes in the water with his free hand.
“It’s numbed the pain.”
Kato looked at Takahashi. “Is that why you came swimming today?”
“Nope,” Takahashi replied.
“Oh, then why did you?”
“To spend time with you,” Takahashi said.
“Oh.” Kato’s heart thumped. He had no idea what to say to that.
“Once I get out of the water, and my body warms back up, it’s gonna hurt like fuck I bet.”
They sat there for another couple minutes.
“That’s probably long enough. Let’s go,” Takahashi said, letting go of Kato’s hand as he stood up.
Kato realized that he had been enjoying this moment more than he wanted to admit because he would have liked to stay here longer, but he got out of the water and followed Takahashi. The boys went to the locker room. There was nobody else there. They went over to the showers and rinsed themselves off and then went to their lockers.
The boys dried themselves and Kato made sure he didn’t peek. Just as Kato put on a fresh pair of boxers, Takahashi spoke up. Kato looked over and Takahashi was standing there only in his boxers.
“I need you to do something before I warm up.”
Takahashi pulled out a jar from his locker. “Please, apply this to my back.” He handed Kato the jar.
“Okay,” Kato agreed.
Takahashi turned around, “Even though it’s numb yet, it probably will still hurt a bit. Just ignore me and put it on.”
“Got it,” Kato replied. He took the cream and started applying it to Takahashi’s bruises. He was gentle as he could be. Takahashi hissed a bit when Kato ran across a particularly soft spot. Kato looked closely. There were layers of different bruises, all in different stages of healing. Kato wondered exactly how many times this boy had been beaten. He felt angry and hurt in his heart.
He closed the lid of the jar and Takahashi turned around. He took the jar and put it into the locker. Kato was staring at Takahashi again, making a quick assessment of his body for any other injuries. He didn’t see anything anywhere else.
“Thank you,” Takahashi said as he turned and started getting dressed. Kato followed suit.
After they were dressed, Kato quietly apologized, “I’m sorry if I hurt you.”
“Well, it would have been much more painful doing it myself. Again, thanks. Let’s get out of here.”
The boys put all their stuff back in the locker and locked it up. Then they started the journey back.
There were very few boys travelling back. Kato assumed that with Takahashi’s delay, most everyone had returned or was already well on their way. Kato was thankful for the warm sun beating down on them as it was quickly thawing him out from today’s swim.
Kato looked over at Takahashi, who had been quiet for a few minutes.
Takahashi didn’t look back, but he spoke up. “Kato-san.”
“Yes?” Kato answered. He was a little curious as to what was going on in Takahashi’s mind.
“Why do you look at me that way?”
A smidgen of panic struck Kato. He wasn’t quite sure how to respond to the question. “What way?”
“You know, when I’m standing there with no clothes on.”
Kato felt his cheeks warm up as he looked down at the road at his feet. “It’s not like that. I made sure not to look this time!”
It took a few moments before Takahashi spoke again. “I didn’t mean naked. I wasn’t clear. Although, I’m not sure why you even looked then, why you would even be curious.”
Kato did not want to have this awkward conversation with Takahashi. But it seemed he had no choice. “I’ve,” he hesitated, “never really had the opportunity to look so closely at a naked boy before. I was curious.” Kato fidgeted with the hem of his shirt.
Takahashi kept looking ahead and walking. “I see,” he said.
Kato turned to Takahashi. “Honestly! I didn’t mean anything by it!” Kato pleaded. He didn’t want Takahashi upset again.
“Yeah, you said that before. But why were you looking again today?”
Takahashi walked for a few more paces then stopped and turned around. “What?”
“Um, I was concerned.”
“Your back has many injuries. I was concerned so I looked to see if you had any more elsewhere.”
Takahashi didn’t have a response. He stood there looking at Kato.
“I’m sorry, Takahashi-san. I had no bad intentions,” Kato pleaded again.
“Stop apologizing, Kato-san. I’m not mad at you.” Takahashi said softly.
“Oh?” Kato felt sure that he was in trouble.
“No. I just didn’t understand the reason you were watching me today. I’m glad you told me.” Takahashi turned and started walking. Kato swiftly caught up.
They walked for another minute in silence before Kato thought to try to smooth things over a little. “If you ever need medicine applied again, you know I would do it without hesitation,” Kato offered.
Takahashi had that complex look again that Kato couldn’t read. He simply said, “Thanks.”
Kato looked ahead but watched Takahashi out of the corner of his eye. What was that look for? he thought. He concluded that Takahashi wasn’t mad at him, or sad, or happy. Kato just could not read him. He had also noticed lately that it seemed like any time that he showed even the slightest care, he would get bit. He didn’t understand why a wounded animal like Takahashi would bite the hand that is trying to help.
When they got back to the dorm, Kato’s heart sank again. He wouldn’t hardly get to see Takahashi until tomorrow afternoon again. That seemed a very long way away.
“See ya,” Takahashi said as he waved and departed for his wing of the dorm.
“Bye,” Kato returned the wave.
Sadness and loneliness crept back into Kato’s heart. Nothing left of the day but to eat, shower, do homework, and sleep. Kato, with a heavy heart, returned to his room.