I cried. And cried, and cried.
When I stopped crying - not intentionally, but because I had no tears left in me - her mom was still seated before me, waiting.
I raised my head, and her mom held out a pale blue handkerchief. Timidly, I received the handkerchief, and still out of breath, I wiped away my tears.
“You can keep it. That’s Sakura’s handkerchief. If you held on to it, I’m sure that girl would be happy too.”
“…………Thank you ……Very much.”
I honestly expressed my gratitude, wiped my eyes and nose and mouth, and stowed the handkerchief in a pocket on my uniform.
I once more assumed the proper posture on the tatami. My eyes were now as red as those of her mom.
“Please excuse me…… For losing my composure……”
Her mom promptly shook her head.
“It’s alright, it’s only normal for children to cry. That girl also used to cry quite a lot. Because she’s always been a crybaby. But you know, around the time she met you, and began writing about the time she spent with you, that girl stopped crying. Not completely though. But still, thank you. Thanks to you, the time she got to live became precious to her.”
I held back the tears that threatened to flow again, and I shook my head.
“The one that received her precious time was me.”
“…………If that’s the case, you should come have a meal with our family sometime. That girl didn’t tell us about anything involving you after all.”
Facing her mom’s sorrowful smile, I wavered once more.
Giving in to my wavering self, I spoke to her mom a little about the memories that I’d shared with the girl. The things that hadn’t been written down in her diary - of course, our game of Truth or Dare, and how we slept on a bed together - I left out. Her mom gave me her undivided attention, nodding countlessly.
Talking about my memories of her made it feel as if my heart was getting lighter, little by little.
The happiness and sorrow that were precious to me remained as they were, but it felt like I was casting off unnecessary weight.
That was why I thought that it was for my sake that her mom was listening to me.
At the end of my story, I made a request to her mom.
“Could I someday come offer my prayers again?”
“Yes, of course. When that time comes, please come and meet my husband and son too. That’s right, together with Kyouko-chan…… Though it looks like you two don’t really get along.”
Exactly like the girl, her mom giggled.
“That appears to be the case, huh. Various things happened, and I came to be hated.”
“It’s not like I’m forcing it, but if possible, Kyouko-chan and you should come join our family for a meal someday. It’s out of gratitude too, but being able to get along too with the two people Sakura treasured would make Auntie happy.”
“That probably depends more on what she thinks than I do, but I’ll keep that in mind.”
After that, we exchanged a few words, and after I promised to come visit on a later date, I stood up. At her firm insistence, I was made to bring the ‘Disease Coexistence Journal’ home. The ten thousand yen my mother had made me bring had been declined.
Her mom saw me out to the entrance. I put on my shoes, said my thanks once more, and just when I put my hand on the door knob, I was called out to.
“That’s right, what was your first name?”
In response to her casual question, I properly turned around, and answered.
“It’s Haruki. My name is Haruki Shiga.”
“Ah, wasn’t there a novelist with that name?”
Once my surprise faded, I felt a smile creep across my mouth.
“Yes, though I don’t know which you may be referring to.”
I once again said my thanks, bade my farewell, and left the front door of the Yamauchi house.
The rain had stopped.
After dinner, I confined myself to my room, and while reading the ‘Disease Coexistence Journal’ once more, I began to think. For a third time, I ended up crying in the midst of reading, but I continued to think still.
What should I do from now on? I thought about what I could do for her sake, for her family’s sake, and for my own sake.
I, who had received the ‘Disease Coexistence Journal’, thought about what I was able to do.
After much thought, I made my decision a little past 9 PM, and began taking action.
I retrieved a printout that I had left in my desk drawer, and took out my cellphone.
Looking at the printout, I dialled a number I’d never thought I would use in my life.
That night, I dreamt that I was talking with her, and I cried again.
I arrived at the designated café after noon.
Since I had arrived a little earlier than the appointed time, the other party had yet to show. I asked for an iced coffee and sat down on a vacant chair by the window.
I was able to come to the designated café without any hesitation. It was probably a coincidence, but it was the same place I had waited for her on that day, the day she died.
No, it might not have been a coincidence. I reconsidered while drinking my iced coffee. Surely, she must have been a regular here.
Just like on that day, I looked outside. Just like on that day, people holding onto different lives were passing by.
But unlike that day, the person I was supposed to meet properly arrived on time. I was glad. I was relieved. Besides the trauma from that time, I was also worried that I could have been stood up.
Wordlessly, Kyouko-san sat down on the chair at the other end, and at once glared at me with eyes that had become bright red.
“So I’ve come…… But………… What?”
I refused to be intimidated. Forcibly hardening my trembling heart, I met her gaze, and began opening my mouth.
However, I was cut off by Kyouko-san.
“Sakura’s funeral………… You…… Didn’t go.”
Just as I found myself unable to answer, a loud sound reverberated throughout the store, and time within it stopped momentarily. It was the sound of Kyouko-san striking the table with her fist.
Just as time began moving inside the store, Kyouko-san lowered her eyes, and said so in a soft voice.
Once again, I opened my mouth to speak.
“Thank you for coming. This, must be the first time we’re properly speaking to each other.”
“I have a matter to speak to you about, Kyouko-san, so I had you come here but, first, I wonder where I should start.”
“Just get to the point.”
“…………That’s right, sorry. I have something I want Kyouko-san to see.”
Of course, the matter was about the girl. She alone was the only point of contact between me and Kyouko-san. After troubling over it yesterday, I had decided to speak with Kyouko-san.
Before I arrived, I had been thinking about how to broach the subject with Kyouko-san - whether to start with the relationship between me and the girl, or about the illness. In the end, I decided to simply let Kyouko-san see the truth first.
I took the ‘Disease Coexistence Journal’ out from my bag, and placed it on the table.
“This is, the ‘Disease Coexistence Journal’.”
I removed the dust jacket wrapped around the book, and showed it to her.
Right away, Kyouko-san’s eyes, her eyes that were hollow somewhere, opened wide. I thought that it was to be expected of her. I thought that it was enviable too.
With a distinct movement, I nodded.
“This was her book. As part of her will, I received it.”
The matter I was about to speak of made both my heart and words excruciatingly heavy. But, I couldn’t let that stop me.
“The things written inside, are all real. They are neither part of her mischief, nor mine. This is, something like a diary she had written, and in its last pages, is a will addressed to Kyouko-san and me, among others.”
“……What…………are you saying?”
“She, was ill.”
“…………You’re, lying, I’ve never heard of anything like that.”
“She didn’t tell you.”
“…………And just why would you know something that even I don’t?”
That was what I had thought too. But I knew the reason for that now.
“She didn’t tell anyone other than me. She, had gotten wrapped up in an incident and passed away, but even if she hadn’t met with an incident, the truth is––”
My words were cut off once more before I could finish. In their stead, a high-pitched sound pierced into my ear, and pain soon began to seep into my left cheek. Since I didn’t have any experience, it took a while for me to realise that the pain had come from the violent act of a slap.
With eyes that looked as if they were about to cry, Kyouko-san spoke like she were pleading.
“I won’t stop. I have to tell Kyouko-san. She even wrote inside this book. That she treasured Kyouko-san the most. That’s why I want you to listen. She, was ill. Even if she hadn’t met with that incident, it had been determined that she would die after half a year. It’s not a lie.”
Kyouko-san weakly shook her head.
I held the ‘Disease Coexistence Journal’ out to Kyouko-san.
“Read it. That girl loved mischief, but, she absolutely wouldn’t make any jokes that would hurt you.”
Beyond that, I decided not to say anything more.
My worry that, just perhaps, she wouldn’t even read it, promptly dissolved when Kyouko-san reached her hand out after a short while.
Cautiously, Kyouko-san grabbed hold of the ‘Disease Coexistence Journal’ and opened its pages.
“It really is, Sakura’s handwriting……”
“This is genuinely, something that she wrote.”
Kyouko-san, with her eyebrows still knitted, began slowly reading from the very first page. I, focused on waiting.
I had heard from the girl that had died. Kyouko-san too wasn’t the type of person to ordinarily read words in a printed format. So it took some time for Kyouko-san to progress through the ‘Disease Coexistence Journal’. Of course, her speed of reading the book wasn’t the only factor influencing how much time was passing.
At first, with a look that said she couldn’t bring herself to believe it, Kyouko-san re-read the pages countless, countless times. “It’s a lie, it’s a lie,” she even recited. Following which, her heart probably connected with the girl’s somewhere. As if a switch had been flipped, she started to cry, and her speed of reading gradually grew even slower.
I didn’t start to feel impatient at all. Especially when Kyouko-san began to cry, I felt relieved that she had come to accept it. Because if she hadn’t accepted it, my being here today would have lost its meaning. Both conveying the girl’s will, as well as one other purpose.
Midway, I ordered my second glass of coffee. After some thought, I got a glass of orange juice for Kyouko-san too. Without saying anything, Kyouko-san drank just a sip.
While waiting, I didn’t think about the girl. Rather, I was thinking about what I could do with what I had received from her. It was a difficult task for me who had persisted with self-absorption till now. I continued thinking, and time passed right by.
By the time I realised it, the day was turning into night. In the end, I couldn’t think of anything concrete beyond what I had thought of yesterday. Things that people could normally do were difficult to me.
I looked at Kyouko-san; her face was sticky with tears and the pile of soggy tissues on the table had grown ever larger. Her fingers were sandwiched around right in the middle of the book, and she was about to close the book. I did the same thing the girl’s mom had done yesterday. “There’s, still more further ahead.”
Though Kyouko-san already looked like she was tired from crying, once she read the portion consisting of the girl’s will, this time she closed the book completely, and as if she weren’t aware of the other people around her, she started bawling loudly. I, watched over Kyouko-san. Just like the girl’s mom did for me yesterday, the entire time. Kyouko-san cried her name, countless, countless times. “Sakura, Sakura,” she continued to cry.
Kyouko-san continued to cry for even longer than I did yesterday, and when I looked at her, her eyes - still overflowing with tears - turned towards me. It was the same as always, a gaze like she couldn’t stand the very sight of me.
Kyouko-san spoke with a voice that rattled in hoarseness.
“Why………… Didn’t she…… Tell me……”
“……That’s, because she-”
“It’s not Sakura! It’s you!”
Towards that angry voice that I hadn’t even anticipated, I lost the words I had wanted to respond with. With a gaze like she wanted to stab me to death, and had become all miry, Kyouko-san let loose her words.
“If she, if she had told me…… I would’ve spent so much………… So much, so much more time with her. I would’ve quit my club too, I would’ve even quit school! And be together, with Sakura……”
It was, about this, huh.
“…………I won’t forgive you. No matter how much Sakura liked you, treasured you, needed you - I, won’t forgive you.”
She, lowered her face again, and her tears began to fall onto the floor. Just a little, really just a little, I - the same me I was up till now - ended up thinking that even so, I wouldn’t mind. That even if I was hated, I wouldn’t mind. But I shook my head. No good. That’d be no good.
I began speaking to Kyouko-san, whose mind had been made up and whose head was hanging low.
“I’m sorry, but………… Even little by little is fine so, I’d like you to forgive me.”
Kyouko-san didn’t say anything. I pushed aside my nervousness, and somehow re-opened my mouth.
“And then………… If you don’t mind…… Someday…………………… I’d like-”
Kyouko-san, wasn’t looking at me.
“I’d like for you to be my friend.”
Because I used words that I had not once used in my life, both my throat and heart tensed up. I desperately worked to maintain my breathing. Because my own matters had left me desperate, I couldn’t afford to do something like make a guess at Kyouko-san’s mental state.
“It’s not just because of her will. This is something I myself am choosing to do. I’d like to get along, with Kyouko-san. I want, us to get along.”
“Is it, no good……”
I didn’t know any other means of asking beyond this. And so I turned quiet. Silence fell into the space between the two of us.
I had never been this nervous about someone’s answer before. With an extreme mental state in addition to such self-centeredness, I waited for a response from Kyouko-san, and after a while, still facing downwards, she shook her head several times, stood up for the first time in a few hours, and left without a glance in my direction.
Looking at Kyouko-san’s back, this time it was my turn to hang my head low.
So it was…… No good huh……
I thought that this was probably the price I had to pay. The price for not acknowledging people up till now.
“This is, difficult.”
I whispered so, alone. But I think I was actually saying it to that girl.
I placed the ‘Disease Coexistence Journal’ that had been left behind into my bag, and after clearing the mountain of trash the two of us had created, I once again headed outside where it had turned completely dark.
Just what should I do from now on? It felt like I had been trapped in a maze with no way out. If I were to look up, I could still see the sky. But even though I knew there was an exit, I couldn’t find it.
“What a troublesome problem,” I thought. Everyone who solved such problems on a daily basis was amazing.
I got on my bicycle, and starting riding home.
Summer vacation was about to end soon.
It seemed like it would be impossible to complete my homework before summer vacation came to an end.
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