It had been a chain of unusual events since the morning began.
Firstly, my indoor shoes had gone missing just like I had mentioned, but it didn’t stop there.
As per normal, I’d arrived at school and opened my shoe lockers to retrieve my indoor shoes - it happened at the same time I whispered in my heart, “Huh, where did it go?”
I was called out to. Apart from that girl, there was no one in my class that would greet me, but since the tension in her voice was so low, I turned around thinking that perhaps her pancreas had broken down, and was met with a surprise.
It was the girl’s Best-Friend-san giving me a look of overt hostility.
I was trembling, but even I, who wasn’t well-versed in social interaction, knew that it would’ve been rude not to reply, and so responded with a reserved “good morning”. She stared me in the eye, gave me a dismissive grunt, and proceeded to change her shoes. But since my shoes were missing, I stood still, not knowing what to do.
While wondering if Best-Friend-san, who had put on her indoor shoes, was going to leave just like that, she looked me in the eyes one more time, and grunted once again. I didn’t get upset. It wasn’t that I necessarily had masochistic interests. It was because I could see the hesitation in her eyes. She must have been unable to decide how to interact with me.
In any case, even if she did carry any hostility, I wanted to express my respect for the girl who had greeted me. If it were me, I would have definitely waited for her to leave the shoe lockers before changing shoes.
I tried looking around the shoe lockers but I couldn’t find my indoor shoes. Expecting that someone had put them on by accident, and would probably return them sooner or later, I headed for my classroom, still wearing my outdoor shoes.
When I entered the classroom, I felt rude gazes from multiple directions, but I ignored them. Maybe they had expected us to come in together, but from the very beginning, I had never bothered to move around with the girl. She hadn’t arrived yet.
I sat myself down on my own seat at the very back, and placed the items I needed from the school-designated bag onto my desk. Our test papers were being returned today, so all I needed were my question papers. In addition, I placed my pencil case and paperback in the space below the desk.
While I was looking through the questions from the tests the other day and thinking about the whereabouts of my indoor shoes, there was a sudden commotion in the classroom. Wondering what had happened, I looked up and saw the girl enter the classroom from the front door, seemingly in a good mood. A number of classmates kicked up a fuss as they greeted her, enclosing her within a circle. Best-Friend-san didn’t enter the circle. She made a troubled face as she looked on at the girl that was caught up in the circle. And then, she took a glance in my direction. Since I had been looking at Best-Friend-san, I immediately averted my eyes.
My attention quickly drifted from the whispers and murmurs of the classmates that had surrounded her. It was because I thought that if it didn’t involve me, it wouldn’t have mattered to me, and if it did involve me, it wouldn’t have been worth bothering with.
I opened my paperback, and took off into the world of literature. The power of concentration I derived from my love of books wouldn’t lose to the noise.
Or so I thought, but I found out that no matter how much I loved books, I would still be dragged out of the world of books if I was spoken to.
The two of us normally didn’t speak to each other at all, so I was surprised. I lifted my head, and in front of me stood a boy who’d demonstrated potential for group cleaning activities. As usual, he was - to put it in a bad way - smiling thoughtlessly.
“Yo, Hot-Topic-Classmate. Erm. Hey, why did ya throw away your indoor shoes?”
“I mean didn’t ya did throw them into the toilet trash can? Even though they still look wearable, why? Did you step on dog poop or something?”
“If there was dog poop inside the school, that would be the problem here. But, I see, thanks. It was missing and I was troubled about it.”
“Oh? Alright then, be more careful. Want some gum?”
“No thanks. I’m going out for a bit to collect it.”
“Ah, one more thing, where did ya go with Yamauchi? It’s become another hot topic y'know.”
Thanks to the commotion in the classroom, the seats around us had been vacated, and so, no one else but me heard his straightforward question.
“As I thought, are you guys going out?”
“Nope. We just happened to meet at the station. Wonder who saw us.”
“Hmm, I see. Well if anything interesting happens, let me know!”
While chewing on gum, he returned to his own seat. Though it could probably be said that he was a simple person, I thought of that nature of his as exceedingly kind.
I stood up from my seat, went to the toilet closest to the classroom, and indeed, my indoor shoes were in the trash can. Luckily, there wasn’t any garbage in the trash can that dirtied the shoes, so I put on them on and quietly returned to the classroom. When I entered the room, the atmosphere quietened down for a moment before it got restless again.
Classes ended without any incident. I managed to do okay on the tests I got back. In the front, the girl was making merry over the results with Best-Friend-san, and for a moment, our eyes met. Without any sort of reservation, she showed me her test papers. I couldn’t make them out clearly from afar, but there seemed to be many ticks. Best-Friend-san noticed the girl’s actions and made a troubled expression, so I looked away from her. Beyond that, I didn’t receive any more contact from her that day.
I didn’t make any conversation with her the next day either. If I had to say what happened between me and my classmates, I got glared at by Best-Friend-san once again, and was offered gum by the aforementioned boy. Other than that, there was a personal problem - the pencil case I had bought in a hundred-yen-shop had gone missing.
The opportunity to talk with her for the first time in a few days came on the last day of school before summer vacation. But even if it was called summer vacation, from the next day onwards, we would have two weeks of supplementary lessons, so today sort of lacked meaning as an ending. That day, we should have gone home right after just the closing ceremony and an administrative brief in class, but I had been asked to help with some after-school work by the teacher in charge of the library. Of course, I was supposed to get the girl - who was also a library committee member - to come along too.
On this rainy Wednesday, for the first time inside the classroom, I was the one to initiate a conversation with her. While she was erasing the blackboard as part of her cleaning duties for the day, I informed her about what we had to do. I could tell that there were a number of gazes directed at us who were at the front of the classroom, but even so, I just ignored them. As for her, she looked like she never minded to begin with.
After school, she said that she was going to lock up the classroom, so I had lunch in the cafeteria on my own first before heading over to the library. Since it was the day of the closing ceremony, there were fewer students than usual in the library.
Our task was to man the counter while the library’s teacher-in-charge was out attending a meeting. After Sensei had left the library, I was sitting at the counter reading when two classmates came over to borrow some books. Seemingly disinterested in me, the docile girl asked, “Where’s Sakura?” With the same gentle expression and tone that I always saw him use in class, the boy who served as the class representative also asked “Where’s Yamauchi-san?” To the two of them, I replied that she was probably in the classroom.
That girl arrived shortly afterwards. As usual, she was wearing a smile that didn’t match the weather.
“Yoo-hoo, were you lonely without me?”
“So there are people that say yoo-hoo outside of the mountains, huh. Did you think that there’d be an echo or something? By the way, there were some classmates looking for you.”
“Well I’m not really clear on their names. One was a docile girl, and the other was a boy from the class committee.”
“Ah, I see, okay okay.”
While she said that, she lowered herself with great force onto the swivel chair inside the counter. Its creaking screams resounded throughout the quiet library.
“The chair is crying, you know.”
“Do you think it’s alright to say that to a maiden?”
“I don’t think you’re a maiden though.”
“Ehehehehe, is it really alright to say that? Yesterday, I received a love confession from a boy.”
“…………Huh? What’s with that?”
In response to that unexpected event, I was honestly surprised.
Probably satisfied looking at my reaction, she raised the edges of her lips to their limits, and creased the gap between her eyebrows. It was an expression that got on my nerves.
“I got called out after school yesterday, and was confessed to.”
“If that’s true, is it really fine for you to tell me?”
“As for who it was, it’s a shame but, that’s a secret, so - Miffy-chan.”
She made a cross on her lips with both her index fingers.
“Could it be that you’re one of those people that think the cross on Miffy-chan is a mouth? It’s actually split through the middle - the top is the nose and the bottom is the mouth.”
While I was explaining with a drawing, she cried out with an endlessly troubling loud voice inside the library. Seeing her eyes and mouth opening wide, I was satisfied. The battle for revenge from the dialect trivia had come to an end.
“Wow, I was like, super surprised. It felt like all seventeen years of my life had been a lie. Well never mind that, I got confessed to.”
“Ah, we’re back to that topic. And so?”
“Yeah, I said sorry to him. Why do you think is that?”
“Not telling yo~u.”
“Then let me tell you something - when someone says something like ‘who knows’ and ‘hmmm’, it means that that person isn’t very interested in your question. And now, didn’t I say ‘who knows’ or something somewhere along the way?”
It seemed like she wanted to make a rebuttal, but someone had come to borrow a book, so those words were never said. After seriously handling the work at the counter, she changed the topic.
“Oh right, since we can’t play outside on a rainy day like this, you’ll just have to come over to my house today - it’s fine, right?”
“Your house is in the opposite direction from my house so I don’t want to.”
“Don’t turn me down normally with a normal reason! Then it’ll look like you really don’t want to be invited!”
“How vexing, it’s as if you think I don’t mind at all.”
“What- Well it’s not like it matters, you say that sort of thing, but in the end, you’ll still go out to play with me.”
Well, that was probably true. If I was given a proper reason, threatened, or presented with a just cause, I’d end up going along with her invitation. I was a reed boat, unable to go against the flow even if I was presented with a way out – there was no other reason than that.
“Just listen to what I have to say for now. If you listen, then you may even obediently come over to my house.”
“I wonder if you’ll be able to breakthrough my will that’s harder than Fruiche.”
“That means it’s just syrupy though. But Fruiche makes you nostalgic huh, I haven’t eaten it in a while - I should go buy it next time. When I was in elementary school, my mom would make it for me all the time. I love the strawberry one.”
“Hmm, the flow of your thoughts is just like yoghurt too, huh. Seems like it’ll mix quite well with my will.”
“Oho, want to try mixing it?”
She loosened the ribbon of her summer uniform, and undid a button - she must have been feeling hot. Or maybe she was just a fool. Hmm, probably the latter.
“Don’t look at me with such judgemental eyes. Well then, I’m going to get back on-topic - so I’ve told you before that I don’t read books at all.”
“Yeah, though you still read manga.”
“Yup, but I’ve remembered something since then. I basically don’t read books, but there’s just one that I’ve loved ever since I was young. I got it from my dad though. Aren’t you interested?”
“I see, I guess I am unusually interested in that. It’s because I believe that a person’s character can be seen through the books that they love. And I’m interested in what kind of book a human like you would love. So, what book is it?”
After a pretentious pause for effect, she answered.
“It’s ‘The Little Prince’, ever heard of it?”
“The one by Saint-Exupéry?”
“What! You’ve heard of it? No way, since it was a foreign book, I thought that even Get-Along-kun wouldn’t know about it and would be stunned, but I lost.”
She pouted and pushed her weight onto the backrest, looking drained of energy. Once again, a squeaking noise resounded.
“From how you assumed ‘The Little Prince’ isn’t well-known, I can really feel just how uninterested you are in books.”
“I got it so, by the look on your face, that means you’ve read it too? Gah!”
“Nope, it’s a little embarrassing, but I haven’t read it.”
Having suddenly regained her energy, she got up and raised the height of her chair. I raised the height of my chair after her. Naturally, she had a radiant smile plastered on her face. Somehow, I had ended up making her happy.
“Well, I did think that that was probably the case.”
“Don’t you know that you’ll fall into hell if you lie?”
“Since you haven’t read it, I’ll lend you my copy of ‘The Little Prince’, so try giving it a read! Come over to my place today to get it!”
“Couldn’t you just bring it along?”
“You mean you want a girl to carry something heavy?”
“I’ve never read it, but I’m pretty sure it’s just a paperback.”
“Bringing it over to your house would work too.”
“I wonder what happened to it being heavy. Well never mind, I’m tired of having futile arguments with you, and if you’re willing to go as far as coming over to my place, then I’ll be the one to go over.”
This time, that was my just cause.
Truthfully speaking, even this library would probably have had a copy of a book as well-known as the ‘The Little Prince’, but I didn’t want to weirdly ruin the mood of the girl that was a library committee member despite being unfamiliar with books, so I just kept quiet. As for why I hadn’t read a book that famous up till now, even I didn’t know. It was surely an issue of timing.
“Oh, that’s some good situational awareness. Did something happen?”
“I just learnt it from you. That there’s no meaning in a reed boat standing in the way of a large ship.”
“How typical of you, sometimes saying things I don’t understand.”
While I was earnestly explaining the metaphorical expression to her, the library teacher-in-charge returned. As always, we had a chat with Sensei over some tea and snacks, lamenting our misfortune of having to come back to school for two weeks from the next day onwards, then left school for the day.
Outside, thick clouds blanketed the sky - it seemed that today wouldn’t be a very sunny day. I didn’t dislike rainy days. The sense of being surrounded by rain went together well with how I felt on most days, so I never grew to have negative feelings about the rain.
“Don’t you just haaate the rain?”
“……Our feelings really do go in different directions huh.”
“Do people that like the rain even exist?”
I was quite sure they did exist. Without answering, I walked ahead of her. I didn’t know the precise location of her house, but I knew that it was in the opposite direction from my house, so I just walked in the opposite direction I usually went in from the school gate.
“Have you entered a girl’s room before?”
So asked the girl beside me.
“I haven’t, but since it’s just going to be the room of another high schooler, I’d assume that there isn’t anything very interesting about it.”
“Well I guess you got it right. My room is pretty simple. Kyouko’s room has a bunch of band posters and stuff, so it looks even more boyish than a boy’s. As for Hina who you’re so interested in, her room is full of stuffed animals and cute things. That’s right, maybe next time we should go somewhere with Hina?”
“I’ll have to pass. Since I get nervous around pretty girls, and won’t be able to speak properly.”
“Putting it that way makes it sound like you’re saying I’m not cute, but there’s no use, since I haven’t forgotten that night when you said I was third cutest.”
“Though you seem not to be aware that you were only one of the three faces I could recall.”
Well, that was a bit of an exaggeration, but I really didn’t remember all my classmates’ faces. I didn’t interact with people much, so I guess my ability to remember faces had fallen behind since I never really needed to use it. Races in which one had no choice but to participate in shouldn’t count.
Her house was about the same distance as mine was from school. Mixed into the neighbourhood where large houses lined up in rows was one with cream-coloured walls and a red roof - that was the one she lived in.
Since she was around, naturally, we stepped in through the front gate in a dignified manner. As there was some distance between the entrance and the door, there was also a slight time lag between entering the premises and closing our umbrellas.
Invited inside by the girl, I escaped from the rain like a water-averse cat.
“Sorry to intrude.”
In accordance to her energetic return-home greeting, I reservedly offered a few words. The last memory I had of meeting a classmate’s parents was when I participated in a class visit in elementary school, so needless to say, I got nervous.
“My family isn’t around though.”
“……Only people that are weird in the head will energetically greet an unoccupied space you know.”
“I was greeting my house. After all, it’s the precious place I was brought up in.”
I was at a loss for a reply to the girl that said decent things from time to time. Once again, I said, “Sorry to intrude” - this time to the house, and I took my shoes off after her.
She went to switch on the electricity, and it looked like her home came to life. I went along with her to the washroom to get our hands cleaned and mouths rinsed, and then we headed to her room on the second floor.
The first girl’s room that I had been welcomed into was - in a word - large. What was? Everything. The room itself, the television, the bed, the bookshelf, and the computer. I was envious, or so I was for a second; when I thought that it was all in direct proportion to her parents’ sorrow, my yearning promptly vanished. If anything, it was as if the room was filled with emptiness.
“Sit anywhere you like, you can get in the bed if you’re feeling sleepy too. I’ll tell Kyouko though.”
After saying so, she sat herself down on the red swivel chair in front of the desk and started to spin around. A little lost, I sat down on the bed. My body bounced back up due to the springiness of the bed.
I took another look around the inside of the room. Just like she had said, it was simple, but it was set apart from my room by its large size, the cuteness of the ornaments, and the contents of her bookshelf. Her bookshelf was filled exclusively with manga. There were popular shonen manga as well as plenty of manga that I didn’t know of lined up on the bookshelf.
Eventually she came to a stop with all her spinning, and looking unwell, coughed violently with her head lowered. I was watching on with frozen eyes when she suddenly lifted her head.
“What should we play? Truth or Dare?”
“Aren’t you going to lend me the book? That’s what I came here for.”
“You should relax, or you’re going to die before me, whose life expectancy has already been cut short.”
I frowned at the girl who had cast a curse on me, while she twisted her lips and made a weird face. It was like a game where whoever got annoyed would lose. Though it looked like I lost right away.
She casually stood up and approached the bookshelf, making me wonder if she finally got into the mood to retrieve ‘The Little Prince’, but instead, she took out a foldable shogi board from a drawer on the lowest shelf.
“Let’s give it a go - a friend forgot about it, but never came back to collect it.”
Since I didn’t really have a reason to turn her down, I took her up on the invitation.
In the end, I emerged victorious from a tedious, confused, and long-drawn-out game of shogi. Honestly, I thought I could have achieved an overwhelming victory. However, tsume-shogi and matches with an actual opponent had different conditions, so I couldn’t really get into a good rhythm. Just as I was about to put her in checkmate, she frustratedly flipped over the shogi board. Hey.
While picking up the shogi pieces that had been scattered all over the bed, I looked outside, and saw that the rain was still pouring fiercely.
“You can go home once the rain lightens up a bit. So let’s keep playing until then.”
While speaking as if she had seen through my heart, she kept the shogi board, and this time, brought out a television game.
I did have experience playing television games, but it had been quite some time since I had last touched one.
At first, we played a fighting game. Just by mashing the controller buttons, the human inside the screen would easily wound the opponent - it really was heinous, something like deriving joy from hurting others.
Since I normally almost didn’t play games at all, I was given a little time to practice. I looked at the screen as I manipulated the controller, while she gave me various advice on the game. I thought that she would probably go easy on me, but I had been completely mistaken. The moment the match began - thirsty for vengeance for the shogi match from earlier - she activated some technique that changed the colour of the screen and unleashed a strange wave of energy from her human, making a rag doll of my character.
But, I wasn’t one to just sit idly by. Beginning my counterattack, I recalled a trick, dodged my opponent’s attack, and so that I was able to throw my opponent that was blocking, I pretended to make a mistake to draw her from defence into an all-out attack. Just as the winning stars I had lined up were rivalling hers in number, and it looked as if I was about to win, she cut the power. Come on, hey.
She looked at me with an accusatory glare - which didn’t really faze me - and quickly switched games before rebooting the console.
She owned various games, and we went head-to-head in several of them, but the showdown I liked best was the racing game. While it was a two-player contest, it was ultimately a battle against time, and thus a battle against myself, perhaps making it a game that matched my personality.
We played the racing game on the large television, repeatedly pulling ahead of each other. Never having been one to speak much, I wordlessly concentrated on the game. On the other hand, she wouldn’t stop going “aah!” and “agh!” - if I subtracted that from all the noise in the world, I was sure I would get a zero.
It was only when we had entered the final lap that she spoke with an intention other than distracting me.
She asked me a question. It was one that I had already become desensitised to.
“Get-Along-kun, don’t you feel like getting a girlfriend?”
I responded to her while avoiding a banana on the screen.
“It’s not about whether I want to get one or not. Since I don’t even have friends.”
“Then girlfriend aside, you should make some friends.”
“Maybe if I feel like it.”
“If you feel like it, huh. Hmm, y'know.”
“You don’t feel like making me your girlfriend, right?”
In response to her absurd full-frontal specialty attack - which could have been part of her strategy - I turned towards her without thinking, and ended up crashing spectacularly on-screen.
“Wahaha, you crashed!”
“……Just what are you saying.”
“Ah, the girlfriend thing? I’m just making sure. You don’t like me or anything, right? No matter what happens, you won’t feel like making me your girlfriend, right?”
“That’s great, I’m relieved.”
What was she relieved about? I thought that it was strange.
I tried figuring it out from the context.
Perhaps, unexpectedly, she suspected that I secretly wanted the relationship between us to become one of lovers.
After all, I had shared accommodation with her, and had now been invited into her room - maybe she was afraid that I had misunderstood and fallen for her.
It was an unwarranted, groundless charge.
Uncharacteristically of me, I started to feel truly unpleasant. Specifically, I felt as though something terrible had accumulated at the bottom of my stomach.
Once the race was over, we put down our controllers.
“Well, pass me the book. It’s about time for me to go.”
The emotions that had taken root deep within my gut refused to fade. So that she wouldn’t find out, I decided to escape as soon as possible.
I stood up and walked over to the bookshelf. The rain hadn’t lightened up at all.
“Even though you could have just taken your time. Give me a moment then.”
She got up from her chair too, and came over to the bookshelf. She stood behind me, close enough that I could hear each breath she took. Somehow, her breathing felt rougher than usual.
Not minding her, I started looking through her bookshelf from the top. Perhaps she was looking for the book in a similar manner. I got a little irritated; she should have just left it in a designated spot from the beginning.
After a short while, I heard her breaths turn heavy. Her arm extended into my peripheral vision. I thought that she had somehow found it first. That wasn’t it - I should have understood at this stage. Because I could see both her arms at the edges of my field of vision.
And right after that, I lost track of where I even was.
Probably due to the fact that I had pretty much never received aggressive body contact from anyone, I couldn’t immediately grasp what had happened to myself.
When I had realised it, my back had been pushed against the wall by the bookshelf. My left hand was free, but my right hand was being gripped against the wall at shoulder height. Even closer than before were breaths and heartbeats that weren’t mine. Heat too, and an unduly sweet scent. She had wrapped her right arm around my neck. I couldn’t see her face; her mouth was right beside my ear. It was a distance in which it felt like our cheeks could touch. And from time to time, they did touch.
Just what was she doing? I opened my mouth, but no words came out.
“……I made a memo of something I wanted to do before I die, remember?”
She whispered into my ear. Her voice and breath lingered on my earlobe. She hadn’t expected a response.
“So that I could carry it out, I checked if you wanted to make me your girlfriend.”
Her black hair was swaying right before my nose.
“The reason I called you over to my home was that too.”
I got the feeling that she giggled.
“Thanks for saying that you didn’t. It was a relief. If you said you did, I wouldn’t be able to achieve my goal.”
I could understand neither her words nor the situation.
“Want I want to do is, you see-”
“To do something that shouldn’t be done with a boy that isn’t my lover, or even the person I like.”
Something that shouldn’t be done, something that shouldn’t be done?
Her words raced incessantly within my head. Something that shouldn’t be done – just what could it be? Was she talking about the current situation, something in the future, or perhaps even one of the things we had done up till now? I thought that all of them were correct answers. All of them were things that shouldn’t be done. My finding out about her illness, her spending the time before her death with me even though she didn’t even like me, us spending the night together, and my entering her room - if she was talking about something that shouldn’t have been done, it felt like it could’ve been any one of the above.
“This is a hug. And so, starting from right now, this is something that shouldn’t be done.”
As before, she said so looking like she had seen through my heart. Perhaps sharing the same heartbeat made it easy to read my heart. But I couldn’t read her heart at all.
What should I do?
“It’s fine if it’s ?????-kun.”
“Something that shouldn’t be done.”
I didn’t know the right way to respond, and I couldn’t understand at all, but I used my free left hand to remove the arm hanging around my neck. I pushed her body away from me, and both the breaths and heartbeats were gone. In their stead, appearing before me was her face - flushed red even though she hadn’t drunk any liqueur.
Having seen my face, she made a surprised expression. Unlike her, I was unable to make faces for other people to see, so I myself didn’t know what sort of face I was making. I just weakly shook my head from side to side. I didn’t even know what I was refusing.
We looked into each other’s eyes. The silence clung on.
I examined her expression. Her eyes darted about restlessly, settling to look somewhere away from me. Then she slowly and reservedly raised the corners of her lips, and looked at me.
And then, all of a sudden, she let it out.
“Ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha, ju~st kidding.”
So said the girl, now with a full-faced smile. She released her grip on my right arm, shook off my hand, and remained roaring with laughter like that.
“Aaaaah, how embarrassing. It’s just a joke, just a joke! The same mischief as usual. Don’t create such an embarrassing atmosphere, sheesh.”
Her sudden change left me stunned.
“Waaah, this took courage y’know. I even ended up hugging you. But, in the end, it’s real even if it’s just mischief, huh. I gave it my all, yup. Not to mention, you got all quiet so the atmosphere felt like it was the real deal. Did I get your heart racing? I’m glad you told me that you didn’t like me, otherwise it’d have started feeling serious! But my mischief was a great success huh! It’s because it was you that I was able to do it - that was sooo thrilling.”
I didn’t understand the reason. I wonder why?
But, aah, since I met her, this was the first time.
The first time I was seriously angered by a prank of hers.
The anger directed at the girl - who kept on talking like it would shake off the embarrassment that had been dealt upon me - slowly began to take form within my gut, until it could no longer be digested.
Just what did she think I was? I felt that I had been insulted, and that was probably the truth of the matter as well.
If she said that this was socialising, then just like I had thought, I wanted to live without being involved with others. Everyone could just die of some pancreatic illness and disappear. No, I would eat them. I, the only righteous one, would eat everybody else’s pancreata.
Emotions and actions were surprisingly deeply intertwined.
The inside of my ears were blocked with swelling anger. I didn’t register her scream.
I grasped the shoulders of the girl before my eyes, and pushed her onto the bed.
Her upper body collapsed onto the bed. Letting go of her shoulders, I grabbed hold of both her arms so that they couldn’t move. My mind was blank.
Finally recognising the situation, she struggled a little to move, but soon gave up; she looked at my face, casting a shadow upon her own. As always, I didn’t know what sort of face I was making.
She was bewildered.
“What’s wrong? Let go, it hurts.”
I stayed silent, only looking her in the eyes.
“What happened just now was a joke y’know? Hey, I was just playing around like usual.”
Just what would satisfy me? I didn’t even know myself. Or perhaps, I had had enough.
While I continued to not utter a single word, her face that was rich with expressions, her face that she wore on her body for a life of socialising with others, began to change, going round and round like that time before.
“Ehehe, did you get on board with my joke? This is some pretty good service from you! Now, it’s about time to let go.”
She got troubled.
“Hey, heeey, what’s wrong? This isn’t like you, Get-Along-kun. You’re not the kind of person who’d pull this kind of prank right? Hey, let go.”
She got angry.
“Enough already! Do you think it’s alright to do this sort of thing to a girl? Hurry up and let go of me!”
I, most likely with eyes filled with apathy, continued to look straight at her. She didn’t try to evade my gaze either. Staring at each other on top of a bed - things couldn’t get any more romantic.
Before long, she, too, ceased to say anything. Only the fierce sound of the pouring rain seemed to condemn me through the window. I didn’t know why the sounds of her breathing and blinking could be heard.
I continued to stare at her. And she stared back at me too.
That was why - I understood.
Wordlessly, within the eyes of the girl whose expressions had stopped changing, tears welled up.
And as soon as I saw that, my anger - of which I didn’t even know the source - melted away like I had never been mad.
As my temper began to dissipate, from the depths of my guts, I could feel my regrets beginning to churn.
I gently let go of her arms, and stood up. She looked at me with a befuddled expression. Having recognised that, I stopped looking at her face.
I didn’t hear a response. She was still on the bed, lying in the same position as when I had pushed her down.
I grabbed the belongings I had left on the bed. Then, in order to escape, I gripped the door knob.
Hesitating for just a moment because of the voice from behind, I responded without turning around.
“Sorry, I’m going home now.”
With just those words, I opened the door of the room I would probably never again return to, and with quick steps, slipped away. No one came chasing after me.
I stepped into the rain, leaving the door unlocked, and after walking a few steps, realised that the rain was wetting my hair. I unhurriedly put up my umbrella, and exited onto the road. The scent of summer rain rose from the asphalt.
I rebuked myself for wanting to turn around, and continued to walk as I recalled the path to school. The rain grew stronger.
I was thinking. I, who had finally regained my composure, was thinking.
I thought as much as I could think, but I could see nothing but regrets inside my heart.
Baffled as to why I would do something like that, I was utterly disappointed with myself.
I didn’t know the target of my anger. I didn’t know that I could hurt someone like that. And I didn’t know that I could be hurt like this.
I saw her face. I saw the tears. I was overrun by emotion. My thoughts - my regrets - had run wild within me.
I noticed that I was clenching my teeth. My gums began to hurt when I became conscious of it. To think that the day would come when I would inflict pain on my own body because of human relationships - I had become strange. But if I thought of this pain as a punishment for myself, then I hadn’t lost my sanity. Even so, my sins wouldn’t be wiped away.
It was all because of what she had called mischief. It had rubbed me the wrong way. It was the truth, but even if it was the truth, it was no excuse to get physically violent with her. It didn’t matter even if I, regardless of her intentions, got hurt. Got hurt, I got hurt? Just what had I gotten hurt about? Although I could remember her scent and heartbeat, I couldn’t understand what they meant. Somehow, I just couldn’t forgive myself. With senseless emotion, I had hurt her.
I cut a path in-between some large houses. It was a weekday afternoon, and there was not a soul in sight.
Surely, if I were to suddenly disappear, no one would notice.
Having gone silent at the thought, a voice from behind shocked me back to my senses.
It was the calm voice of a male. I promptly turned around, and there stood a classmate under an umbrella. Up till he called out to me, I hadn’t noticed his presence at all. I thought it was strange. First was the fact that he called out to me. Second was how he expressed an emotion that resembled anger, even though he had always left the impression of having a gentle smile.
Speaking to him now made this the second time today. How rare of me to exchange words with the same human twice in one day.
He was a boy that gave off a sense of warmth and neatness - our class representative. Thinking of finding out with what sort of heart did that kind of boy involve himself with me, I shook off my reservations about how I had nothing to do with him, and called back out to him, “Hey.”
Though I expected a response, he just glared at me silently. It couldn’t be helped, so I opened my mouth again.
“So you live around here, huh.”
As I thought, he really seemed to be in a bad mood. Maybe he too disliked the rain. After all, when it rained, the amount of baggage would increase and get in the way. Then again, he was wearing only casual clothing right now, and wasn’t carrying anything apart from his umbrella.
I looked at his face. Recently, I’d finally learned how to read a person’s emotions from their eyes. In order to search for the reason why he was so upset that he had to come talk to me, I somehow or another met his gaze.
I didn’t speak again. That was why, as I calmed my own feelings and silently looked at his face, he got impatient first. With a face that looked like he just swallowed a bitter bug, he called out to me.
“The same goes for Unremarkable-Classmate - why are you in this sort of place?”
I wasn’t particularly concerned about how, unlike usual, he addressed me without any honorifics. Even more than that, how he called me Unremarkable-Classmate like I was something else weighed on my mind. Like Unforgivable-Enemy for example. Anyhow, I didn’t know the reason, so I left it as it was.
I didn’t answer, so he clicked his tongue.
“I asked why Unforgivable-Enemy is in this sort of place.”
“……I had some business to attend to.”
“It’s Sakura right?”
I could feel my heart squeeze at that familiar name. It got painful to breath and I couldn’t answer right away. He didn’t let that go either.
“I said, it’s Sakura, right?”
“…………If the Sakura you’re talking about is the same person as that girl in our class, then you’re right.”
My faint hopes that perhaps it was a misunderstanding on his part were shattered by the expression he made as he ground his teeth. With that, I could decisively state that he was facing me with rather unfriendly emotions. It’s just that I still didn’t understand the reason for his emotions.
What should I do?
But that thought of mine became meaningless right away. Soon enough, I learnt it through the words of he himself.
“Why is Sakura-”
“Why is Sakura together with someone like you?”
Ah, I understood.
The understanding that could almost be put into words - I consciously clung onto it. I understood. The true form of the emotions he was facing me with. Without thinking, I scratched my head. I thought something along the lines of how this seemed troublesome.
If he were properly looking with his eyes, any number of excuses or explanations would probably prove effective, but he had been made blind by his own misdirected anger.
Perhaps, running into each other today at this place wasn’t a coincidence; I could imagine countless situations, such as him following the two of us.
He was probably in love. And consequently, he was facing me with misguided jealousy. He was blinded, and had thus lost his ability to observe, as well as to view himself objectively. It was likely that he had lost other things too.
For now, I tried to explain the truth - what I thought was the best course of action.
“She and I don’t have the sort of relationship that you’re imagining.”
When I said so, his eyes became bloodshot. By the time I wondered if this was bad, it was too late - he condemned me with a more aggressive volume and tone. He managed to drown out the sound of the rain.
“Then, tell me just what you two are! Having a meal and going on a trip alone with her, and then today, you alone went to that girl’s house to play - it’s become a hot topic in class! That you suddenly began following her around.”
I got a little interested as to how the stuff about our trip got leaked out.
“It may appear like I’ve been following her around, but I don’t think that’s accurate. Having said that, saying that I was letting her go out with me is arrogant, and saying that she was letting me go out with her is too modest. Just because we’ve been going out, it doesn’t really mean that we’re lovers.”
I confirmed that his face moved at the words “go out”, and so I clarified myself further.
“Anyway, we don’t have the sort of relationship you or the class think we do.”
“Even so, Sakura has been spending time with you.”
“……I guess so.”
“With a fellow that’s nothing but anti-social and gloomy like you!”
I didn’t have any particular objections against what he had hatefully said about my nature as a human. It probably looked like that, and it probably was the truth.
As for why she would spend time together with me, that was what I wanted to know. She had said that I was the only existence that could give her both an everyday and reality, but though it was believable, I got the feeling that something would come undone if I used that as an answer.
And so, I silently glared at him. He too, stood in the rain with a heated gaze and hardened expression.
The silence continued for a long time. Since it went on for so long, I thought that our conversation had come to an end. He too seemed to notice his unjustified anger towards me, and had perhaps been struck by regret like I had been earlier. Or maybe that wasn’t the case. Since he was blinded, he may not have been able to see his own emotions.
In the end, it didn’t matter which it was. Whatever the case, there was probably nothing to gain from us facing each other any more than this, and so, I turned my back to him. I did so because I thought he would let me go. Of perhaps, I just wanted to be alone as soon as possible. It didn’t matter which it was either. My course of action wouldn’t change.
Thinking about it carefully, I only knew of humans in love being blinded in stories, and having never touched a real human’s heart, it was presumptuous of me to try reading a living human being’s actions. Characters in stories were different from real humans. Stories and reality were different. Reality wasn’t as beautiful or as graceful as stories.
Walking in a direction where there were no humans around, I could feel the weight of his piercing gaze on my back. I refused to turn around. Because even if I did, it wouldn’t benefit anyone. I wanted the boy behind me to understand that there was no way she would like me, a person that thought about human relationships in the same manner he did of math, but it was pointless.
Unaware that love wasn’t the only thing that blinded people, and that thinking could blind too, I hadn’t realised that the boy behind me had come chasing after me until he grabbed onto my shoulder.
Since it couldn’t be helped, I turned only my head. The misunderstanding aside, I was a little fed up with his attitude. But I didn’t show it in my expression.
“We’re not done talking!”
Thinking about it, I may have gotten worked up as well. This was pretty much my first experience getting into a so-called quarrel. To have emotions clash, and to lose the part of me that could think rationally.
Words that would clearly hurt him came out of my mouth.
“Hey, let me tell you one thing. It’ll probably be helpful.”
I took a firm look into his eyes, with the intention of emptying out my gut.
“That girl seems to dislike obstinate humans. It looks like her previous boyfriend was one.”
The last I saw of his face that was right next to mine, it had twisted to a level I hadn’t yet seen in the past few minutes. I didn’t know what that expression meant, but it didn’t matter. Even if I had understood, the result wouldn’t have changed.
I received a strong impact to my left eye, and having lost my balance due to its momentum, I fell on my behind on the rain-drenched asphalt. The rain quickly soaked into my uniform. Still open, the umbrella that had fallen from my hand made a dull sound and rolled about. The bag I had let go of at the same time lay on the ground. Surprised by the situation that I had been put in, I promptly turned to his direction. My left eye was blurry and couldn’t see very well.
I didn’t know the details, but I knew that I had been dealt with violence. People didn’t just fall of their own will.
“What do you mean by obstinate! I, I just-”
So he said. He was facing me, but those words clearly weren’t directed at me. I knew that I had brought down his wrath. I thought of hurting him, so it served me right that I got hurt. I reflected deeply upon myself.
This really was the first time that I had been hit by a person. It hurt quite a bit. I understood that it hurt where I had been hit, but for some reason, the core of my heart was in pain too. If this continued, my heart as a person may even break.
Still seated on the ground, I looked up at him. My left eye’s vision had yet to return.
He didn’t definitively say it, so I couldn’t make any conclusions at this juncture, but he was probably her lover from before. Breathing roughly, he looked down at me.
“A fellow like you should stay away from Sakura!”
As he said so, he took out something from his pocket and threw it at me. It had been crumpled, but spreading it open, I recognised it as the bookmark I had lost some time ago. I got it - I could imagine the flow of events.
“So it was you.”
He didn’t reply.
I had thought that there was a gentle nature behind those shapely features. When he stood in front of the class to lead a discussion, and when he sometimes came to the library to borrow books, he would sprinkle a well-rounded smile. But all I, who didn’t know of his inner face, had been seeing was something that he had carefully prepared to show the outside world. As expected, it wasn’t the appearance, but the substance that was important.
I wondered what I should do. It was me who had hurt him first, so I couldn’t say that his attack wasn’t in self-defence. I did feel that it was somewhat excessive, but I couldn’t understand just how much he had been hurt. That was why I felt that it would’ve been strange to stand up and strike back against him.
It looked like the blood had yet to recede from his head. It would have been good if there was a method to calm him down, but if I chose the wrong words – no, even if I didn’t choose the wrong ones, I’d probably end up adding oil to the fire. Without a doubt, it was because to him, I had crossed a line somewhere emotionally.
I looked at him. I was beginning to think that he was much more in the right than I was. He must have really liked her a lot. His methods may have been a little wrong, or rather, those methods were the problem, but he faced her with straightforward feelings, and wished to spend time together with her.
That was why he resented me, who had taken away her time. Whereas for me, if I hadn’t found out that she would die in a year - eating with her, going on a trip with her, going to her house and having things become awkward - I wouldn’t have done any of that. Her dying was what bound us together. But, death was a fate that would befall everyone. That was why, meeting with her was a coincidence. Us spending time together was a coincidence. There was no will, or urgency of emotions on my part at all.
Even I, who didn’t involve myself with people, knew that those in the wrong had to give in to those who were right.
I got it. In that case, I’d let him have his way until he was satisfied. I, who tried to have a relationship with someone without even knowing how people felt, was in the wrong.
I firmly met his glare, and was going to convey my intention to him. I was going to convey my intention to submit to him. But I was no match for her.
Behind the boy whose chest heaved with every breath, I spied a figure standing.
“What are you doing……?”
Thunderstruck, he turned to face the voice.
His umbrella wavered, and the falling raindrops began to dot his shoulders. Not knowing if it was good or bad timing, I watched the two of them as if it were someone else’s affairs.
The girl who was carrying an umbrella, probably trying to grasp the situation, looked back and forth between his face and mine countless times.
He tried to say something. But before he could speak a word, the girl rushed to my side, picked up the fallen umbrella, and offered it to me.
“You’re gonna catch a cold, Horrible-Classmate-kun……”
When I accepted her somewhat off-the-mark kindness, I could hear her gasp.
“Horrible-Classmate-kun! Blood, blood is coming out!”
Looking distraught, she produced a handkerchief from her pocket and held it to my left eye. I hadn’t known that I was bleeding. So his violence may not have come from his bare hands. But I didn’t want to know the identity of the weapon right now.
Even more important than that, I saw the expression of the stunned boy after she rushed to my side. The degree of that change was beyond description. It made me think that this was what it meant to have emotions overflow and spill over.
“What’s wrong?” “Why’s there blood-” The girl continued. My eyes had been taken hostage by his emotions, so her concern fell on deaf ears, but that wasn’t a problem. He provided the explanation.
“Sakura…… Why are you helping that sort of fellow……”
With her handkerchief still lightly pushed against my left eye, she turned to face him. His expression, probably because he saw her face, became even more twisted.
“That sort of fellow…… What…… You mean Horrible-Classmate-kun?”
“That’s right, that fellow was following Sakura around, so to make sure that he wouldn’t meddle anymore, I hit him.”
He said so to justify his actions. He probably thought that it would get her to see him in a better light. He probably wanted her to look at him once again. The blinded boy could no longer see her heart.
I, who had become a complete bystander, silently observed the developments. Frozen in place, she stared him in the face. Only her arms were extended to hold her handkerchief against my face. Like a child that wanted to be praised, half of him was smiling. The other half was engulfed by fear.
A few seconds later, his face shifted to the latter.
Like she was vomiting out the emotions that had accumulated inside her stomach in the time she had stopped moving, she delivered to him just one line.
“…………You’re the worst.”
The shock from her words wrecked his face.
Soon, she turned back to me. Her face surprised me. I had misunderstood that her rich variety of expressions were inherently bright. I thought that even when she got angry, even when she cried, they were still bright. I had misunderstood.
Even she could make this sort of face.
The sort that looked like it was meant to hurt someone.
Her expression changed right away when she faced me; confusion was mixed together with a smile. I stood up at her cue. Both my pants and jersey were completely soaked, so I was glad that it was summer. It wasn’t cold, thanks to the summer air, and her holding onto my arm.
Pulling strongly on my arm, she walked in his direction. I looked at his face. I saw the devastation, and was convinced that he probably wouldn’t steal my things anymore after this.
We passed by him, and though I expected her to keep pulling us along, I abruptly bumped into her when she came to a halt. Our umbrellas bounced off each other, sending a spray of water flying.
Without turning around, she spoke calmly in a loud voice.
“I’ve come to hate Takahiro now. So don’t ever do anything to me or the people around me ever again.”
The boy called Takahiro didn’t say anything. When I at last looked at his back, it seemed like he was crying.
Afterwards, I was pulled to her house. There, I was wordlessly handed a towel and a change of clothes, and told to take a shower. Without hesitation, I did as she said. I borrowed a men’s T-shirt, pair of underwear, and jersey, and learnt for the first time that she had a much older brother. I hadn’t even known the structure of her family.
After changing, I was called to her room on the second floor. There I saw her atop her bed, sitting in seiza.
From there, I experienced it for the first time in my life with her. I, who rarely involved himself with people, didn’t know what it was. Which is why I am borrowing her words.
She called it making up.
That, even more than any of the involvements I’ve had with humans up till now, made me itch with embarrassment.
She apologised to me. I apologised to her too. She explained herself to me. She’d thought I’d make a troubled face and laugh. That was why I explained myself too. For some reason I didn’t understand, I’d gotten the feeling that I had been made a fool of, and got offended. She had come chasing me in the rain because she absolutely didn’t want things to turn sour between us, and the reason she cried after I pushed her down was purely because she was afraid of a boy’s strength - that was what I heard.
Sincerely, I apologised from the bottom of my heart.
I talked about what interested me in the boy that had been left behind in the rain. Our class representative, as I had thought, was her previous lover. I truthfully said what had come to mind in the middle of the rain. That rather than being with me, it would be better for her to be with someone who seriously thought of her. Because us meeting at the hospital that day was nothing but a mere coincidence.
She scolded me in return.
“That’s not it. It’s not a coincidence. The two of us, and everyone else, have come this far through the choices we ourselves have made. You and I being in the same class, and meeting in the hospital that day too - they weren’t coincidences. It wasn’t anything like fate either. The choices that you’ve made up till now, and the choices that I’ve made up till now, were what let us meet. We met each other out of our own free wills.”
I kept mum. I didn’t say a thing. I really had much to learn from her. If she didn’t have one year left, if she had even longer, could I ever teach her anything beyond what she had taught me? No, no matter how much time there was left, it surely wouldn’t be enough.
After having borrowed a bag for my uniform, as well as some clothes, I was lent the book I had been promised. Since I read books in the order I obtained them, it would take some time to finish the books already stacked on my bookshelf. When I informed her of this, she said that it would be fine for me to return it in a year. In other words, I had vowed to get along with her until she died.
The next day when I headed to school for supplementary lessons, I found that my indoor shoes hadn’t disappeared.
I went to the classroom wearing indoor shoes for the first time in a while, and found that she wasn’t around. Even when it was time for first period, she hadn’t come to school. The next period, and the period after that too. Even when classes had come to an end, she was nowhere to be seen.
As for why she hadn’t come, I only learnt about it that night.
She had been hospitalised.
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