It all began in April, when the late-blooming sakura were still in bloom.
Medical science was advancing towards an unknown frontier. But I didn’t know any details about it, and I wasn’t interested in finding out more either.
All I could say was that at the very least, to medical science, it was progress to give an everyday life to a girl trapped in abnormality - a terminal condition that interfered with her life and would end it within a year. Which is to say, humans had gained the ability to extend their human lifespans.
I thought that it was machine-like to be able to move despite suffering from such an illness, but something like my own impressions didn’t matter to someone who was actually afflicted with the sickness.
Regardless of my unnecessary thoughts, she had been once more fully enjoying the benefits of medical science.
That was why it couldn’t be blamed on anything else but her bad luck and the sudden turn of events that caused me, who should have only been a classmate, to find out about her illness.
That day, I had taken a break from school. It was because of my appendectomy - not the surgery itself, but the removal of the stitches. My frequent visits to the hospital for follow-up treatment were coming to an end. I was supposed to have shown up late to school, but long waiting times at the large hospital had sapped me of any remaining enthusiasm for learning, and I remained loitering in the hospital’s lobby.
It was a trivial feeling. In the corner of the lobby, sitting on a lonely sofa, was a book that had been left behind. I wondered by whom it had been abandoned, as well as of its contents. My curiosity sparked by a love of books took control, and I began to walk over.
Navigating through the spaces between patients, I arrived at the other end of the lobby and sat myself down on the sofa. Judging by its appearance, the book was an approximately 300-page thick paperback. Its secrets were guarded closely by a dust jacket from the bookshop near the hospital.
When I removed the dust jacket to check the title, I was met with a little surprise. Beneath it was not the original cover that should have been wrapped around the book - inscribed upon it instead were the words ‘Disease Coexistence Journal’ handwritten with a thick magic marker. Of course, I’d never heard of the title or the publisher.
I wondered just what it could be, but since I couldn’t think of a suitable answer no matter how much I thought about it, I flipped to the first page.
The words I saw on the very first page were not printed in a typeface that I was accustomed to. They had instead been carefully handwritten with a ballpoint pen - which meant that this article had been written by a person.
“23rd November 20XX
My everyday thoughts and activities in Japan - I plan on writing them down in this disease coexistence journal. No one other than my family knows about it, but I am going to die in a few years. Having accepted this fact, I am writing for the sake of living with my illness. To start things off, pancreatic diseases like what I’ve been diagnosed with a little earlier are the kings of sudden deaths. Even today, my symptoms have been mostly unnoticeable……”
Without thinking, words that weren’t uttered on a daily basis spilt out of my mouth.
I see, evidently, it seemed like this belonged to someone whose lifespan had been determined - a disease confrontation diary, no, a disease coexistence diary. It wasn’t really something that I should have looked at.
Having come to that realisation, I closed the book. Still seated down, I heard a voice from above my head.
I lifted my head in response to the voice, my shock not showing on my face. To my surprise, I recognised the face of the voice’s owner. I kept my emotions hidden, assuming that she had approached me for something unrelated to the book.
With that said, even someone like me may have been in denial of the possibility that my classmate was shouldering the fate of having her life cut short.
Having been approached by a classmate, I put on an attentive look, quietly anticipating her reply. She extended an arm to me, looking as though she were snickering at my response.
“That belongs to me. Plain-Looking-Classmate-kun, why did you come to the hospital?”
Incidentally, I didn’t know anything about my classmate except that she possessed a bright perkiness that was the antithesis to my usual silence. Which was why I was taken aback that she could flash a brave smile in this situation, wherein a mere acquaintance like me had found out that she was suffering from a major illness.
Even so, I decided that I would pretend I didn’t know about anything to the best of my ability. I believed that for both her and me, that would have been the best choice.
“I had an appendectomy a while back, but I still have to go for treatment.”
“Ah, I see. I had a check-up for my pancreas. Otherwise I’ll die.”
Why would she say something like that? In no time at all, without noticing, she had crushed my consideration into pieces.
I observed her expressions, trying to no avail to read her true intentions. Her smile deepened as she sat down beside me.
“Are you surprised? You read it, didn’t you? The ‘Disease Coexistence Journal’.”
Seemingly unbothered, the girl talked as though she were recommending a novel to me. Which was why I even thought that she had been playing a prank and it just so happened that I, an acquaintance, had fallen for it.
See, I’ve exposed the bluff.
“I was surprised. I thought that I’d lost it, so I came here searching for it in a huge panic, but it turns out that it was just with Plain-Looking-Classmate-kun.”
“…………What does it mean? This.”
“What does this mean? That’s my ‘Disease Coexistence Journal’. Haven’t you read it? It’s like a diary that I’ve been writing since I found out about my pancreatic disease.”
“……You’re joking, right?”
Even though she was inside a hospital, without any hesitation, she roared with laughter.
“Just how tasteless of a person do you think I am? I wouldn’t make that kind of dark joke, you know? Everything that’s written down is true - I can’t use my pancreas and I’m going to die soon, yup.”
“……………………Ah, I see.”
“Eh! That’s all? Don’t you have anything else to say?”
Her voice trembled with shock.
“……No, but what should I say after being told that my classmate is going to die soon?”
“Hmm, if it were me, I guess I’d be at a loss for words.”
“Exactly. And if I didn’t go silent, I’d want to assess the situation.”
She started to giggle as she said, “I guess that’s true.” I didn’t know what she found so amusing.
Immediately after that, she took the book, got up, waved her hand at me and headed deeper into the hospital. “No one else knows about this, so don’t tell the class okay?” She said as she left. Thinking that I surely wouldn’t be having any more exchanges with her after this, I felt a little relieved.
Contrary to my expectations however, she called out to me on the very next morning, just as we passed each other by in the school corridor. Incidentally, the distribution of duties was decided freely by each class, and as a result, I was the only one to put my name up for the vacancy in the library committee. Though I didn’t understand the motives behind her actions, as someone who tended to get lost in the flow of things, I continued to quietly think about the work that would be assigned to the new library committee members.
Come to think of it, it was all because of that one paperback that I was now standing in front of the station at 11 AM on a Sunday - you really don’t know how things will play out in this world.
Just like a reed boat that could not go against strong currents, I was unable to reject her invitation, or to be exact, I was unable to find the right timing to reject her - and as such, I now stood at our meeting point.
I would’ve been glad to renege on our agreement, but I spotted her in the distance, looking a little troubled, like she was going to ask for help or directions if anyone showed her weakness. Unlike me however, she would carve out her own path to break the ice - it would be no exaggeration to call her a reed boat that went against the flow.
I had arrived in front of the monument that marked our meeting point five minutes before the agreed time, and was waiting in a daze when she appeared right on time.
It was the first time since our chance meeting at the hospital that I saw her wearing casual clothes - simple items like a T-shirt and a pair of jeans.
She walked over with a smile and in response, I lightly raised my hand.
“Good morning! I was thinking about what to do if you went back on our promise!”
“I’d be lying if I said that was impossible.”
“But wasn’t the end result ol’ right?”
“I get the feeling that your word usage is a little off. With that said, what are we doing today?”
“Oh, well aren’t you getting fired up.”
She stared at me with a strong gaze before breaking into a smile, looking as if she had always been smiling. Incidentally, I wasn’t the least bit fired up.
“For now, let’s just go to the city.”
“But I don’t really like crowds.”
“Secret-Knowing-Classmate-kun, did you bring the train fare? Could you take it out?”
“I brought it.”
In the end, I simply gave in, and we headed to the city just as she had proposed. Just as I had feared, the huge station where various shops were clustered was fraught with thronging, cacophonous crowds. The mere sight made me shudder with apprehension.
As for the girl beside me, she didn’t look the least bit daunted by the large crowd. Was this person really going to die soon? Although such doubts did arise, since she had already shown me various official documents, there was no room for suspicion.
After passing through the ticket gate, she continued onwards, cutting a path through the unremitting waves of people. Somehow managing to keep her within my sights, we made our way to the underground passageway where the crowd dispersed a little. Only then did she finally disclose to me our objective for the day.
“First off is yakiniku!”
“Yakiniku? But it’s still morning you know?”
“Will the taste of the meat be any different in the afternoon and at night?”
“It’s unfortunate, but rather than there being a difference, I just don’t crave for meat all day.”
“Then there’s no problem. I want to have some yakiniku.”
“But I just had my breakfast at 10 AM.”
“It’s fine, since people that hate yakiniku don’t exist.”
“Are you even paying attention to our conversation?”
It didn’t seem like it.
My protests fell on deaf ears and the next thing I knew, I was seated opposite her in front of a genuine charcoal stove. I really did follow her like a reed boat. The dim store wasn’t really crowded, and the individual lights shining on each table made it unnecessarily easy to see each other’s faces.
In no time at all, a young waiter had kneeled down at the side of the table and started to take our order. While I was taken aback, as if it was proof of her mastery of mathematics, she smoothly responded to the waiter.
“This most expensive one.”
“Wait a minute, I didn’t bring that much money.”
“It’s fine, since I’m paying. Two of the most expensive all-you-can-eat courses, please. As for the drinks, you’re fine with oolong tea, right?”
I went along with the momentum and nodded while she continued on like she was at home; the young waiter quickly repeated the order and left.
“Waaah, I can’t wait!”
“……Erm, I’ll make sure to pay you back for today.”
“I told you it’s fine, don’t mind it. I’m paying. Up until before, I was working too, so I have money saved up and it wouldn’t do to not use it.”
Before she died - though she didn’t say it, she must have meant something like that.
“That’s even worse. You should spend it on something with more meaning.”
“But there’s meaning in this - it wouldn’t be fun to eat yakiniku alone, right? I’m just spending money for my own enjoyment.”
“But you see-”
“Sorry for the wait. Here are the drinks.”
While I was starting my next retort, with exquisite timing, the waiter appeared carrying two glasses of oolong tea on a tray. It felt like she had summoned the waiter to end our talk about money. She giggled as a grin spread over her face.
The assorted meat platter followed the drinks a little while later. The beautifully arranged meat, frankly speaking, looked extremely tantalising. It must have been because of the so-called marbling. The pattern of the fat stood out vividly, and the meat looked like it would’ve tasted just as good raw, though the very thought would probably have been repulsive to many.
Once the cooking grate mounted on top of the charcoal stove seemed sufficiently hot, she snatched a slice of meat between her chopsticks and hastily laid it on the grill. The strip of meat began to sizzle as it fell on the scorching metal, giving off the signature, mouth-watering aroma of cooking meat - my stomach could but begin to growl in response. Since growing high school students couldn’t control their appetites, I started to cook the meat together with her. On top of the hot stove, the meat was cooked in no time.
“Thanks for the meal. Mmph!”
“Thank you for the meal. Hmm, well, it’s pretty tasty huh.”
“What, only that level of excitement? Isn’t it super-duper tasty? Or do you think I’m just more sentimental because I’m going to die soon?”
No, the meat tasted exceptionally delicious. There was simply a gap in our tension levels.
“This is great. I wonder if the rich only eat food this tasty.”
“The rich don’t come to all-you-can-eat buffets, probably.”
“I see - but it’s a waste for such good meat to be included in buffets.”
“Everything is an all-you-can-eat buffet for the rich though.”
Even though our stomachs shouldn’t have had that much space, the two portions of assorted meat quickly disappeared. She took the menu at the edge of the table and started scrutinising the add-ons.
“Is anything fine?”
“I’ll leave it to you.”
I’ll leave it to you - I found that such a phrase fit me rather well.
She wordlessly raised her hand, and having spotted her signal from somewhere, the waiter promptly arrived at our table. She casted a reprehensive glance at me for flinching at the waiter’s dedication, and proceeded to make orders from the menu sheet with unprecedented eloquence.
“Giara, kobukuro, teppou, hachinosu, mino, hatsu, nekutai, korikori, fuwa, senmai, shibire.”
“Wait wait wait, what are you ordering?”
It was awkward to stand in the way of the waiter’s work, but she was spewing out words I wasn’t used to hearing, so I had to open my mouth.
“Kobukuro? Huh, they sell that band’s CDs?”
“What are you talking about? Ah, for now we’ll just have one serving of each.”
The waiter smiled in acknowledgment of her order and left hurriedly.
“Hachi? Did you just order bees? Insects can be eaten?”
“Ah, perhaps you don’t know? Kobukuro and hachinosu are the names of specific parts of a cow. Personally, I really like horumon!”
“You mean innards? Cows have parts with such interesting names?”
“Don’t humans have them too? Like the funny bone.”
“I don’t where it’s located though.”
“Incidentally, shibire is the pancreas.”
“Could it be that eating innards is a part of your treatment?”
“I could just keep on eating horumon forever. If someone asked me what my favourite food was, I’d reply with horumon. I love innards!”
“How am I supposed to respond to your enthusiasm?”
“I forgot to ask for white rice. You want some?”
After a little while, the many dishes of innards she had ordered arrived, arranged into a single set. The sight was more grotesque than I had imagined, and as such, I lost some of my appetite.
She asked for some white rice from the waiter, and cheerfully started to arrange the horumon on the stove. Since it couldn’t be helped, I assisted her too.
“Hey, this is done cooking!”
Unable to stand by and watch as I didn’t do anything when the appearance of the horumon changed, she grumpily stepped in and placed the perforated white thing on my plate. Since it was one of my principles not to play around or waste food, I cautiously brought it to my mouth.
“Isn’t it delicious?”
Truth be told, the texture was good, it was fragrant, and it tasted better than I had thought it would, but the feeling that I did something I shouldn’t have rose up from my stomach, and I tilted my head to the side in apprehension. As always, she flashed a smile for some unknown reason.
I checked if she had any oolong tea left, then asked the waiter for another cup, as well as a little more of the normal meat.
I silently consumed the meat, and she, the horumon. From time to time, I would eat the horumon, and she would smirk before glaring at me with an annoyed face. In such instances, she would eat the horumon she had so carefully cooked with an “aah!” and the dissatisfaction on her face would clear instantly.
“Y’know, I don’t want to be cremated.”
While enjoying the yakiniku, she had clearly brought up the wrong topic for this location.
“What was that?”
Since there was the possibility of me mishearing things, I tried to get a confirmation, and she responded with a serious face.
“Like I was saying, I don’t want to be cremated. I don’t want to get roasted after I die.”
“Is that something you should be saying while eating yakiniku?”
“It would be as if I really disappeared from this world. Would it be impossible to let others eat me or something?”
“Let’s stop talking about the disposal of corpses while eating meat.”
“I’d let you eat my pancreas.”
“Are you listening?”
“It seems that some countries have the belief that the soul of the person that was eaten will continue to live on inside the one that ate them.”
Somehow, or rather, as per usual, she looked like she hadn’t heard me at all. Or maybe she did but was disregarding me. I got the feeling it was the latter.
“Is it really impossible?”
“……It probably is. In terms of ethics. But in terms of the law, I haven’t looked it up so I don’t really know.”
“I see, that’s too bad. So I can’t give you my pancreas, huh.”
“I don’t need it.”
“You won’t eat it?”
“It’s precisely because of your pancreas that you’re going to die. So that must be where the largest fragment of your soul is located. And your soul seems noisy.”
She roared cheerfully with laughter. She was already this noisy while living, so there was definitely no way the pancreas of this girl who had become an expert on the soul would not be noisy too. I’m sorry, but I’d never eat something like that.
If we compared, she had eaten much more than I did. She stuffed herself with meat, rice, and horumon until she said, “Ugh, it hurts.” As for me, I stopped when my stomach bulged out to the appropriate level, and I was satisfied. Of course, from the very beginning, I didn’t order more than I could eat, and I didn’t commit the folly of burying the table in side menu items like she did.
After the meal, the waiter took away the many empty dishes as well as the obsolete charcoal stove, and at last brought us sherbet as dessert. The girl who had proclaimed “I’m not feeling well” and “it hurts” returned to life at the appearance of the frozen treat. She took in a breath of fresh air, and as though her complaints had all been lies, she started being noisy again.
“Don’t you have any dietary restrictions?”
“Just basic ones. But, even those were a result of ten years of evolution of the medical science here. Isn’t the power of humans amazing? We may suffer from illnesses, but they don’t threaten our daily activities at all. I guess that such an evolutionary pathway is directed at finding cures, huh.”
I didn’t really know much about medical science, but this was one of the unusual cases where I agreed with her opinion. I heard from somewhere that in this world, rather than curing terminal illnesses, treatment is focused on helping people live with them instead. But no matter how I thought about it, technology that should continue to advance is still technology to cure, not a means to get along with diseases. However, even if we said that, we were aware that there was no way medical science was progressing on its own. For it to progress, the only means were to have those entering medical faculties study especially hard. Of course, she didn’t have the time to wait for that to happen. And as for me, there was no meaning in doing so.
“You mean in the future? I haven’t got it together.”
“I don’t mean that. Hey, I’ve been thinking about it since before, but don’t you think you’re putting me in a tough spot by cracking jokes like that?”
She gave me a blank look, then started to chuckle. She was a person that had extreme changes in facial expressions. I didn’t think that she, as a living creature, was very similar to me. But it may have been precisely because we were different that our destinies were different.
“Nope, I haven’t made those jokes in front of anyone but you either. Wouldn’t most just pull back? But you’re amazing. You’re speaking normally to a classmate that’s going to die soon. If it were me, it would probably have been impossible. It’s because you’re amazing that I can say what I want to say.”
“You’ve overestimated me.”
“But I don’t think so, since Secret-Knowing-Classmate-kun doesn’t make sad faces in front of me. Or is it possible that you cry for me at home?”
“Then you should!”
There was no way I’d cry. I wouldn’t do something inappropriate like that. I didn’t feel sad, and I especially didn’t want to show that emotion in front her. She didn’t show sadness, so it was inappropriate for anyone to do so in her stead.
“To backtrack on the conversation, what’s next?”
“Ah, the topic changed! Were you going to cry? I’m going to buy a rope next.”
“No way I’d cry. A rope?”
“Oh, so you’re capable of saying things in a manly manner, huh. Could you be trying to make my heart beat faster? Yeah, a rope. For suicide.”
“Who would make a move on someone that’s going to die soon? For suicide?”
“I did think that suicide would’ve been fine too - to kill myself before the disease does. But I don’t think I’ll commit suicide anymore. I’m just buying a rope for the sake of mischief. Speaking of which, Secret-Knowing-Classmate-kun is horrible! I may even be driven to suicide by the hurt.”
“Mischief? Seems like the talk about whether you’re going to commit suicide or not has become all jumbled up. For now, let’s just conclude this conversation.”
“That’s true - so have you had a girlfriend?”
“I don’t want to hear in detail how you were going to conclude this, so let’s just stop talking now.”
Since she looked like she was going to say something, I took the initiative and stood up. I didn’t see the order slip anywhere around the table, so I called the waiter to ask for it and indicated that we were ready to leave. She said “let’s go” while giggling, and stood up too.
Evidently, she was the type of person that didn’t end any of their conversations with regrets. This was a convenient characteristic of hers that she had revealed. I thought that I should keep the initiative from now on.
After exiting the yakiniku store, we held our full bellies and went outside, where we were struck by sun rays typical of summer brilliance. I narrowed my eyes on reflex. “What great weather! Maybe I’ll die on a day like this.” I had no idea how to counter what she had muttered, but for now I decided that ignoring her was the most effective means of opposing her. Just like how it was no good to look a savage beast in the eye - it was that kind of feeling.
We started to move towards the large shopping centre connected to the station after a light discussion - even if we called it a discussion, as you may have guessed, it was mostly just her talking. The renowned home centre within the mall sold a variety of things, including the suicide-enabling rope which she so desired.
Though the shopping centre that we had reached with just a short walk was overflowing with people, there wasn’t anyone in the rope section of the home centre. Surely the only people that would pick out a rope on a day with good weather like this would be traders, cowboys, and dying girls.
The voices of children frolicking about could be heard from afar as I compared the sizes of nails a short distance away from her, while she consulted a young sales assistant.
“Excuse me, I’m looking for a rope that can be used for suicide, but I don’t really want any external wounds, so what type would be the safest for this case?”
I clearly heard the question that had been asked by the girl who was weird in the head. I turned around to see the sales assistant’s obviously bewildered expression, which made me laugh just a little. After which, I realised that she had made another one of her jokes, vexing me. Something that was safe even though it was for suicide - that was the joke she’d made. The sales assistant and I were both caught off guard and bewildered, but I put on a smile. I returned the nails of varying sizes into their respective containers one by one, then moved closer to the sales assistant and the girl who I could tell was laughing just by looking at her back.
“Sorry. She doesn’t have much time left to live, so she’s become a little weird in the head.”
I didn’t know if the sales assistant was convinced by my lifeboat, or whether he was just weirded out, but he left us and returned to his own work.
“Argh, just when I was going to have the sales assistant introduce the products. Don’t get in my way. Could it be that you got jealous of the close relationship between me and the sales assistant?”
“If that could be called a close relationship, then nobody would think of making tempura out of oranges.”
“What do you mean?”
“I said something meaningless so please don’t pursue it.”
Even though I had said it because I thought that it would’ve annoyed her, in a heartbeat, she started to roar unnecessarily with laughter like usual.
The girl, whose mood had become unusually good for some reason, quickly grabbed a rope and bought it together with a tote bag that had a cute picture of a cat printed on it. I then left the home centre with her, who was humming and twirling around the bag in which she kept the rope. Just how merry was she while leaving the home centre to attract the attention and misunderstanding of the people around us?
“Secret-Knowing-Classmate-kun, what’s next?”
“I’m just following you around, so I don’t really have any objectives in mind.”
“Huh, is that so? Is there anywhere you’d like to go?”
“If I had to choose one, I guess it’d be the bookstore.”
“Are you going to buy a book?”
“Nope, I like going to bookstores even without a purpose.”
“Ooh, that’s just like a proverb from Sweden.”
“What do you mean?”
“I said something meaningless so please don’t think too hard about it, hahaha.”
It seemed that she really was in a good mood. I simply got annoyed. While expressing opposite emotions, we headed towards the large bookstore in the same shopping centre. Once we arrived, I walked towards the new literary books corner without any regard for her. She didn’t follow me. Having been given time alone for the first time in a while, I fully enjoyed looking through the paperbacks.
While admiring countless paperback covers and reading countless prologues, time passed by imperceptibly. It was a sensation likely familiar to those who loved books, but it wasn’t as though all humans shared the same love for them. That was why I felt a little guilty when I checked my watch, and looked around the store for her. She was smiling as she browsed through a fashion magazine. I thought it was amazing that she was able to show her happiness even while browsing. I was unable to do that.
I approached her, but before I could call out to her, she noticed me and looked my way. I apologised frankly.
“Sorry, I forgot about you.”
“How mean! But well, it’s fine. Since I was reading a book the entire time. Secret-Knowing-Classmate-kun, do you have any interest in fashion?”
“Nope. I guess I don’t really care what I wear as long as it’s inconspicuous and plain.”
“I thought you’d say that. I’m interested though. Once I become a university student I’ll drown myself in lots of alcohol - just kidding, since I’ll die soon. But for humans, substance really is more important than appearances huh.”
“Seems like you’ve flawlessly made use of words in the wrong manner.”
I looked around without looking at anything specifically. Since I thought that her remark may have attracted some attention. But it seemed like there wasn’t anyone around that had the slightest interest in the outrageous words of a high school girl.
Neither of us bought anything from the bookshop. In fact, we didn’t buy anything after that either. After we left the bookshop, on her whim, we entered an accessories shop and a glasses shop that caught her eye, but we left both shops without purchasing a single thing. In the end, the only things she had bought were the rope and the tote bag.
Tired of walking, as per her suggestion, we entered a nation-wide chain café. The store was crowded, but luckily, we were able to find seats. While she waited, I went to order for the both of us. She wanted an iced café au lait. I ordered my own iced coffee with the café au lait at the cash register, placed them on a tray, and returned to our table. If you were wondering what she was doing while waiting, she was scribbling on the ‘Disease Coexistence Journal’ with a pen.
“Ah, thanks. How much was it?”
“It’s fine, you paid for the yakiniku after all.”
“I really paid for it because I wanted to, so it’s fine. But I guess I’ll let you treat me to this much.”
Cheerfully, she placed the straw in the glass and sipped on the café au lait. Perhaps expressing happiness at every little thing was actually a bother to her. I bowed myself before her for always being able to look positive about something.
“Hehe, do you think we look like a couple to others?”
“Even if we did look like one, that’s not how we really are, so it doesn’t matter.”
“Wah, you’re really dry huh.”
“If you think about it, any two-person group that consists of different genders could be a couple, and if it’s just by appearances, no one can tell that you’re going to die soon. What’s important is not the views of others, but substance. Didn’t you say that too?”
“As expected of Secret-Knowing-Classmate-kun, huh.”
Since she was laughing as she started to drink the café au lait, the sound of air bubbles escaping from her glass could be heard.
“So, has Secret-Knowing-Classmate-kun ever had a girlfriend?”
“Alright, break time’s over.”
“But you haven’t even taken a sip of the iced coffee.”
Evidently, the same trick wouldn’t work twice. Just as I was about to stand up, she grabbed hold of my arm. I wanted her to stop digging her nails into me. Perhaps this was her revenge for when I cut the topic short at the yakiniku store. Not wanting to incur her wrath, I quietly reseated myself.
“So? Have you had one?”
“Speaking of which, I feel like I don’t know a single thing about you.”
“That may be so, huh. I don’t really like talking about myself.”
“I don’t want to get dizzy and overly self-conscious talking about something that no one is interested in.”
“Why did you decide that nobody is interested?”
“It’s because I don’t have any interest in people. Everyone’s the same - after all, people fundamentally have no interest in anyone but themselves. Of course, exceptions exist too. Even I’m a little interested in people like you that are suffering because of special conditions. That’s why I don’t really care to talk about something that no one gains anything from.”
I laid them bare to her – my usual thoughts, which I felt line up neatly on the desktop as I stared at the grain of the table. This kind of theory, too, had been collecting dust at the very depths of my heart. Of course, that was because I hadn’t had a partner to discuss this with.
“I’m interested, you know.”
I brushed the dust off my theory, considered the circumstances and memories it involved, and found myself unable to understand her words. I finally looked up again, and was met with a sight that surprised me. Her vivid expression was conveying a single feeling. Even I, who was ignorant of others, could tell with just one glance how hard she was trying to hold back her anger.
“I’m saying that I’m interested in you. I wouldn’t ask someone out to have fun if I wasn’t interested in them. So don’t make me look dumb.”
Honestly, I didn’t really understand what she was saying. Her reason for taking an interest in me, and her reason for getting angry - I didn’t understand them. And even more than that, I wasn’t making her look dumb.
“I do wonder from time to time if you were dumb, but I’m not making you look dumb, okay.”
“It may be just as you said, but I’m hurt!”
“Ahh, I see…… Sorry.”
Without understanding the meaning behind her words, I just apologised. This was the single most effective method to deal with angry people, and I wasn’t unwilling to use it. And sure enough, just like other angry people, her expression began to soften even while her cheeks were still puffed out.
“If you answer properly, I’ll forgive you.”
“……Hearing it won’t make you have more fun.”
“Just tell me, since I’m interested.”
Without me noticing, the edge of her lips had curved upwards. I didn’t feel like opposing her, I didn’t have any way out, and I was a conformist, but I didn’t consider myself pitiable. I was a simply a reed boat.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to meet your expectations though.”
“It’s fine, it’s fine - so, your answer?”
“Probably from around elementary school onwards, I haven’t had any memory of having friends.”
“……Maybe you really are dumb.”
While I seriously doubted it, since it was possible that the chances of suffering from an incurable disease at her age were lower than getting amnesia, there may have been some justification for her remark. With the intention of retracting my previous statement, I clarified myself to her, whose face was easy to read.
“It means that I didn’t have any friends. That’s why, someone like a girlfriend that you’re asking about - of course I’ve never had one.”
“So you’ve neeever had any friends? Not just in the present?”
“Yeah, I don’t have any interest in people, so no one takes an interest in me either. It’s a relief not having to lose anybody.”
“But haven’t you ever wanted friends?”
“I wonder. It may be fun to have them, but I believe that the confines of a novel are more enjoyable than the real world.”
“So that’s why you’re always reading a book.”
“Probably. So this concludes our uninteresting talk about me. I’m just asking out of social etiquette, but what about you? If you have a boyfriend, rather than spending time with me, it would be better to spend it with him.”
“I had one, but we just broke up recently.”
She said that without looking the least bit dejected.
“Because you’re going to die soon?”
“Nope. I couldn’t possibly tell my boyfriend something like that. Since I haven’t even told my friends.”
Then why would she openly tell me back then? I didn’t care to know, and I didn’t ask. Like usual.
“He, well, ah, you know him too. Since he’s in our class. Though you probably won’t remember him even if I mentioned his name, wahaha. He’s erm, someone that’s really great to be friends with, but he’s no good to become lovers with.”
“So there are people like that.”
Not even having a friend to begin with, I hadn’t known that.
“Yeah, there really are. That’s why I broke up with him. It’d be great if the gods had put tags on everyone from the very beginning. Something like this person is only for making friends with, and that person is fine even as a lover.”
“I guess that would make things easier for me. But it seems that for people like you, it’s the complexity of human relationships that makes them interesting.”
She roared heartily with laughter at my opinion.
“It’s just as you said, huh! Yup, I guess I agree with you, so, I take back what I said earlier about the tags. Seems like you really understand me.”
I was going to deny it, but I stopped. I thought that it may have been true. That was because the reason for it came to mind. I did understand her.
“…………It must be because we’re opposites.”
“You are the opposite of me, so that may be why you think of the things I don’t seem to think about.”
“You said something a little profound, huh, is it the influence of your novels?”
The truth was that there hadn’t been any need or plan for us to get involved with each other - it was as if we stood on opposite ends.
Until a few months ago, the only points of association between us were the fact that we shared the same class, and that her noisy laughter would intermittently burst into my ears. It had really been too noisy, so even though I wasn’t interested in people, her name came to mind immediately when I saw her at the hospital. The fact that it got stuck somewhere in my head - that must also have been because we were opposites.
While sipping her café au lait, she cheerfully mentioned “it’s good!” along with her other various impressions of the drink. I quietly drank my coffee that remained black.
“Ah, we really may be opposites huh - when we had yakiniku earlier, you kept on eating karubi and roosu. Even though it looked like you were going to start eating the horumon.”
“It tasted better than I expected, but in the end, normal meat still tastes the best. Doesn’t willingly eating the innards of living things seem like the sort of thing a devil would do? Putting tonnes of sugar and milk into coffee is something a devil would do too. Since coffee is already perfect as it is.”
“Looks like your preferences in food don’t match up with mine, huh.”
“I don’t think it’s just food though.”
We lingered at the café for another hour. The things we talked about in that time were extremely trivial. Life, death, illnesses, or our futures - we didn’t talk about any of that. Instead, our chat mainly revolved around her talking about our classmates. I did try to take an interest in them, but her efforts pretty much ended in failure.
I was interested in our classmates’ silly mess-ups and pure love stories to the same extent that I was not a person that only knew boring stories. She must have noticed those feelings of mine because I wasn’t a person who was able to hide their boredom either. Even so, I did take the slightest of interest in the expressions of that girl talking with all her might. Though if it were me, I wouldn’t have wasted my time or effort.
It was about time to head home - when that kind of mood, which I wasn’t sure who initiated, started to set in, I asked her about the thing I’d been interested in.
“Incidentally, what are you going to do with the rope? You aren’t going to commit suicide, right? Though you did say it was for the sake of mischief.”
“I am going to be up to some mischief, but even with that said, I won’t be able to see the outcome, so Secret-Knowing-Classmate-kun should witness it in my stead. You see, I’ll allude to the rope in the ‘Disease Coexistence Journal’, and then the people that find the rope will misunderstand that I was cornered to the point that I killed myself. It’s that kind of mischief.”
“It’s alright, it’s alright - I’ll clearly write that it’s actually a lie. It’s better to pick them up after they fall, right?”
“I don’t think that will make anyone happy, but maybe it’s better than nothing?”
I was dismayed, but I found that her line of thinking which expectedly diverged from my own was amusing. If it were me, I wouldn’t have bothered with something like the responses of the people around me after I die.
We headed for the station from the café, somehow managed to board the train despite the huge crowd, and while still standing, reached our town after a short talk.
Since the both of us had ridden our bikes to the station, we went to the free bicycle parking lot to retrieve them, and after walking to somewhere near our school, waved each other goodbye. She said, “See you tomorrow”. Since there weren’t any library committee activities tomorrow, I probably wouldn’t get to speak with her, but I still replied with a single “yeah”.
The road I was using to bike home was the usual road - I wondered how many more times I would be able to see it. Huh? That was strange. Up until yesterday, the fear that I would inevitably die and disappear had been stirring within my heart, but now it had settled a little. Perhaps, because the girl I met today looked far from death, my sense of the reality that I would one day die had dulled.
On this day, I started to doubt just a little that she was going to die.
I reached home, read a book, ate the dinner my mother made, bathed, drank barley tea in the kitchen, greeted my father “welcome home”, and while returning to my room with the thought of reading another book, I received a message on my cellphone. I basically didn’t use my phone’s messaging function, so I thought the new message notification was strange. I flipped my phone open and learnt that the message was from her. Now that I thought about it, I remembered that with the library committee contact network and all, I had exchanged e-mail addresses with her.
I lay down on my bed and opened her message. Its contents were as such:
“Thanks for the hard work!! I tried messaging you - did it reach? Thanks for going out with me today [peace sign] I had so much fun! [smiley face] I’d be really happy if you’d go out with me again [smiley face] Until I die, let’s continue to get along! Okay, goodnight! [smiley face] See you tomorrow!”
The first thing that came to mind was that I had forgotten about returning her the money for the yakiniku. Even if it was impossible to do so tomorrow, so that I wouldn’t forget, I recorded it down with my phone’s notebook function. Thinking of replying simply, I reread the message.
Get along, huh.
Usually, I would’ve kept on looking at “until I die” - her signature joke - but I was more interested in the part that came after.
I see, we were getting along.
I tried thinking through the entirety of today, and I thought that we probably really did get along.
I was going to message her the entirety of what had unexpectedly come to mind, but I stopped. I got the feeling that she would be disappointed if I told her.
I too had a little fun today.
What had been confined in the depths of my heart, I sent them to her in a message - the words “see you tomorrow”.
On top of my bed, I flipped open a paperback. The girl who was on the opposite side - I wondered what she was doing.
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