The girl had been hospitalised. The next time I saw her was Saturday that same week, in a hospital ward. The weather in the morning was cloudy, and the temperature pleasant. Having been informed of the visiting hours, I had come to pay her a so-called hospital visit, or rather, I had been summoned.
She was in a private ward. There weren’t any other visitors when I arrived. Dressed in a typical hospital gown with a tube hanging from her arm, was the girl facing the window doing some weird dance. When I called out to her from behind, she jumped up in shock and squealed noisily as she burrowed under her blanket. I sat down on the pipe chair that had been left beside the bed, waiting for the commotion to end. All of a sudden, she became quiet and sat back up on the bed as if nothing had happened. Her paroxysms knew neither time nor place.
“Don’t appear so suddenly, I was so embarrassed just now I thought I was going to die.”
“If you’re going to die in such an unprecedented manner, let me present you with something that’ll make you laugh for the rest of your life. Here, a visiting gift.”
“Huh, you didn’t have to! Ah, they’re strawberries! Let’s eat them. The plates and stuff are in the rack over there so go get them.”
Just as she had ordered, I retrieved two sets of plates and forks, as well as a knife, from the nearby white rack, and seated myself back on the chair. Incidentally, the strawberries had been bought with money my parents had given me after I’d told them I was going to the hospital to visit a classmate.
After removing the stems, I inquired about her condition as we ate the strawberries.
“It’s totally alright. The numbers were a bit weird, so my dad and mom were worried and fussing about getting me hospitalised, but I’m pretty much doing fine. I’ll be hospitalised for about two weeks, have some special drug inserted into my body, and after that I’ll be back in school.”
“By then it would already be summer vacation though.”
“Ah, that’s true. Then I’ve got to make plans for summer vacation with you huh.”
I looked at the end of the tube that extended from her arm. A bag containing transparent liquid hung from an iron pole that had casters attached. A single doubt came to mind.
“What did you tell others like Best-Friend-san, I mean, Kyouko-san?”
“I told Kyouko and the others that I had an appendix surgery. The hospital side is also covering it up for me. It looks like they’re quite worried for me, so it’s getting harder and harder to tell the truth y'know. What does Get-Along-kun, who pushed me down onto a bed a few days ago, think?”
“Hmm, I think you should properly tell Best-Friend-san, I mean, Kyouko-san one day though. But ultimately, I guess I should respect what you, who hugged me a few days ago, decide to do.”
“Don’t make me remember that! It’s so embarrassing! Before I die, I’m going to tell Kyouko about how you pushed me down, and then you’ll get killed without anyone knowing.”
“You’re actually going to turn your best friend into a criminal, the sin runs deep within you.”
“That said, what do you even mean by ‘Best-Friend-san’?”
“I refer to Kyouko-san as Best-Friend-san in my mind. In a familiar manner.”
“All I hear are formalities though. You mean it like ‘Section-Chief-san’, right?”
Appalled, she shrugged. She didn’t look the least bit different from how she usually did.
I had asked about her condition through our messages, but I was relieved to see that she really was doing fine. The truth was, I’d feared that the time of her death had suddenly been pushed forward. But as far as I could tell from looking at her, that didn’t seem to be the case. Her expression was bright and her movements were robust.
Having regained some peace of mind, I took out a newly bought, untouched notebook from my bag.
“Well then, now that you’re done with your snack, it’s time to study.”
“Whaaat, let’s just take it easy for a little longer!”
“I came here because you asked me to do this. Not to mention, you’ve already been taking it easy over here the entire time.”
Of course, there was a legitimate reason for me to come to the hospital apart from meeting her for the first time in a while. She had asked me to compile the materials taught during the supplementary lessons in the several days that she wasn’t going to school, and tutor her. She was shocked by how awfully honest I was when I promptly accepted her request. Honestly, how rude of her.
I handed her the new notebook, grabbed a pen, and imparted to her the summarised contents of the supplementary lessons. I cut out the parts I subjectively felt were fine not to remember, and gave an abridged lesson. She listened seriously for the most part. Including breaks, my mock lesson ended after about an hour and a half.
“Thanks so much, Get-Along-kun, you’re good at teaching huh, you should go become a teacher.”
“I don’t want to. And why do you only suggest jobs that will get me involved with humans?”
“I thought that maybe, in my stead, I’d have you do the things I actually wanted to do if I weren’t going to die.”
“If you say something like that, it’ll make me look bad for flat out refusing, so please stop.”
Giggling, she placed the notebook on the brown rack beside the bed. There were reading materials like magazines and manga lined up on its shelves. Surely, to an active human like her, this room must have been boring. After all, she was doing that weird dance earlier too.
It was late in the morning. Having been informed that Best-Friend-san was coming to visit around noon, I had meant to head home at 12 PM. When I told her about this, she gave me an invitation, “You could just join in the girls’ talk,” to which I politely refused. Playing teacher had left my stomach pretty empty, and more than anything, just confirming that she was fine had left me satisfied for the day.
“Then, before you go home - a magic trick, take a look at my magic trick.”
“Ooh, you’ve already picked it up?”
“Just a simple one. Though there are a couple others that I’m still working on.”
What she showcased was a magic trick that made use of poker cards. It was to - without looking - pick the card that the participant had chosen; I thought that it was well done given that she had learnt it in this short of a timespan. Since I had never studied magic tricks, I couldn’t understand the trick.
“I’m going to do an even harder one next time, so look forward to it!”
“I’ll look forward to it; maybe for your final magic trick, you should escape from a burning box.”
“You mean at a crematorium? That’s impossible you knooow.”
“Like I said, that kind of joke is-”
“Sakuraaa, you doin’ okay………… Wait, again?”
On reflex, I turned around to that lively voice. Best-Friend-san had entered the ward energetically, but her face twisted when she saw me. Recently, I’ve gotten the feeling that Best-Friend-san’s antagonistic attitude towards me was becoming increasingly obvious. At this rate, it didn’t seem like her wish for me to get along with Best-Friend-san after her death would become a reality.
I stood up from the chair, said my goodbyes, and proceeded to head home. Since Best-Friend-san was clearly glaring at me, I avoided letting our eyes meet. The animal programme last night had said it wasn’t good to look predators in the eye.
However, contrary to my wishful thinking for us to continue engaging in uninterrupted mutual avoidance, the girl on the bed suddenly remembered something outrageous, and blurted it out unfiltered.
“By the way, Get-Along-kun, what about Big Bro’s jersey and underwear that you borrowed?”
I had never been so thoughtlessly cursed to this extent before. Today, though I had put her older brother’s clothes that I was lent into my bag, and had meant to return them, I had forgotten to do so.
However, there was nothing for me to say now.
I turned around, and saw the girl grinning, as a shocked expression surfaced on the face of Best-Friend-san, who had moved to the side of the bed. Trying my best to conceal my trembling, I retrieved a plastic carrier containing the set of clothes from my bag, and passed it to her.
Still grinning, she looked at both Best-Friend-san and me. I too, gave Best-Friend-san a quick glance. Perhaps I had a foolish desire to see something scary. Having recovered from the shock, Best-Friend-san was now glaring at me with eyes that could kill. Somehow, it felt as if she was roaring like a lion.
I immediately diverted my eyes away from Best-Friend-san, and quickly shuffled out of the room, hearing Best-Friend-san draw close to the girl and ask in an exceedingly low voice, “What do you mean by underwear?” So that I wouldn’t get dragged into something troublesome, I worked my feet faster and faster, further away from the room.
On Monday, the start of the following week, I headed to school and found that an extremely outrageous rumour about me had swept through the classroom.
Somehow, it seemed like it was a rumour about how I was stalking the girl. The one I heard about it from was the boy who would offer gum to me like it was an established custom. While I frowned at the nonsensical rumour, as expected, he offered me some gum while seemingly enjoying himself, to which I politely declined.
I tried to somehow deduce the origins of the rumours. Surely, somewhere along the way, there had probably been some number of sightings of the girl and I together, which had been then exaggerated into gossip that I was always around her. Having heard that, people who didn’t think well of me labelled me as a stalker in an act of ill-will, thus creating a rumour that was treated as if it were true - this was as far as my deduction got, but it may have still been nowhere near the truth.
Even if it didn’t come about in such a manner, I was still dismayed at how removed from reality the rumour was. As though some huge incident had occurred, almost every person in class was looking in my direction, whispering things like “there’s the stalker, better be careful”, having completely bought into the hearsay.
To say it once more - from the bottom of my heart, I was appalled. Just how could they accept so easily the views of the majority? Surely, if the thirty of them gathered together, they could probably kill a person without any hesitation. As long as one believed in their own righteousness, they could probably bring themselves to do anything. And all the while, they wouldn’t even realise that such a system was more machine than human.
That was why I thought that if the matter were to escalate, there would be an outbreak of bullying directed at me, but that was just me being overly self-conscious. To put it clearly, the one they were interested in was the girl, not me who was following after her.
No, I wasn’t even following after her. That was why, there was no benefit for them to take any action against me, and there was no need for me to do anything troublesome. But as for how Best-Friend-san would glare at me with interest - or perhaps just hostility – every day when I attended school, that was simply scary.
When I told her about the matter on my second visit on Tuesday, she burst out laughing, holding her pancreas.
“Kyouko, everyone, and Get-Along-kun are all interesting huh!”
“You’re the type that thinks talking behind people’s backs is amusing? What a horrible human.”
“What’s amusing is how everyone is getting involved with you - who they’ve never gotten involved with before - in a way that doesn’t make sense. And so, do you know how you got yourself into this sort of situation?”
“Isn’t it because I’ve been hanging out with you?”
“So you’re making it my fault? That’s not it though, it’s because you haven’t properly talked with everyone.”
She asserted while peeling mandarins on the bed.
“You see, they all don’t know Get-Along-kun’s character, so that’s why they’ve come to think like that. But clearing the mutual misunderstanding aside, I think you should try and get along with everyone.”
“I’m not going to do something that won’t benefit anyone though.”
It was something unnecessary for me, who would be alone once she was gone, and our classmates, who would forget about me without her around.
“I’m sure that once everyone knows more about you, they’ll properly understand that you’re an interesting person. Besides, I don’t think they really think badly of Get-Along-kun.”
While talking about foolish things and peeling mandarins, I thought of something.
“Apart from you and Kyouko-san, they don’t think of me as being anything but a ‘Plain-Classmate’.”
“Did you get that from asking the people themselves?”
She tilted her head to the side, as if she were striking at the core of my character.
“I didn’t ask. But I think that’s how it is…..”
“But you wouldn’t know that without asking the people themselves. Isn’t that just Get-Along-kun’s assumption? And that isn’t necessarily right.”
“It doesn’t matter if it is or isn’t right, after all, I’m not going to involve myself with anybody, and it’s nothing but my imagination, it’s just how I think it is. It’s an interest of mine to imagine what someone thinks of me when they call my name.”
“What’s with that self-absorption? Are you the self-absorbed sort of boy?
“Nope, I’m the prince of self-absorption that hails from the land of self-absorption. Show your respect.”
With an unamused face, she devoured the mandarins. I never thought of getting her to understand my system of values. She was the opposite sort of human from me after all.
She was a human that lived through getting involved with people. Her expressions and character had stories behind them. In contrast to that, all my human relationships outside of my family existed only within my head. It didn’t matter if I were liked or disliked as long no harm came to me - I’d been living with such thoughts. From the very beginning, I’d already given up on getting involved with people. As the opposite of her, I had no need for the humans around me. Though if asked whether that was fine, I’d just be troubled.
Having finished eating the mandarins, she carefully folded the peels together and tossed them at the trash can. The ball of skin sailed splendidly into the can, and just with that trivial event, she happily punched her fist into the air.
“By the way, what do you think I think of you?”
“Who knows, isn’t it something along the lines of ‘we get along’?”
At my appropriate response, she pouted.
“Bzzz, wrooong answer. Though I did think that before.”
I tilted my head to the side at the peculiar girl’s phrasing. She had thought that - in other words, it probably meant that her way of thinking hadn’t changed to that of others’, but she noticed that her own way of thinking was off the mark. Just a little, it interested me.
“Then, what do you think of me now?”
“If things like this were revealed, then human relations wouldn’t be interesting anymore. It’s because humans have no idea what they are to others that friendship and love are interesting y’know.”
“Like I thought, that’s how you think huh.”
“Huh? Have we talked about this before?”
Probably having really forgotten, she brought her eyebrows together, looking mystified. That expression was strange, and so I ended up laughing. I looked at myself, who had always been like an outsider, smiling honestly at someone. I was doubtful that I had become this sort of person without realising, but on the flip side, I felt that it was so. The one that made me like this was, without a doubt, the girl before my eyes. Though no one could know whether that was a good or bad thing. But regardless, I had changed quite a bit.
Looking at me smiling, she narrowed her eyes.
“I want to show everyone that ?????-kun is a really good person.”
Her voice was gentle. So she had the gall to say that sort of thing to the boy that had pushed her down. Though this probably meant that I’d regret doing that for the rest of my life.
“Everyone aside, you should go and tell Kyouko-san. She scares me.”
“I’m just saying but - that girl, she cares about her best friend, so that’s why she thinks you’re deceiving me.”
“Then I guess there’s a problem with your ability to communicate information huh. Even though Kyouko-san seems like she has a good head on her shoulders.”
“Hm, what, you’re showering Kyouko with praise. Are you thinking of fooling around with Kyouko after I die? Even I’m shocked.”
I devoured a mandarin segment as I looked back at her overreaction with an unamused face. She reseated herself on the bed seemingly disinterested, making me smile again.
“Well then, so for today’s magic trick…”
What she had picked up this time was how to make it look like the coin in her palm could disappear and reappear at her will. I got caught up in the programme, and similar to the previous trick, I thought it was excellent for a beginner. To me, who didn’t know anything, it just about made me think that she perhaps had an exceptional talent for this.
“Well I’ve been practicing the entire time after all! Since I don’t have time y’know.”
Wasn’t it because she had time that she was able to practice? I was about to politely insert such a jab, but I let it go to let her know that I wasn’t generous with jokes.
“If it’s like this, you really might become amazing after a year huh.”
“Hm, well, I guess!”
She had made a weird pause. Perhaps it was because she minded having her joke ignored. Since it couldn’t be helped, I honestly praised her hard work and its outcome. Spirits lifted, she smiled.
With that, my second hospital visit to her ended without any problems.
The problem arose for me alone on the way home from the hospital.
For me, the place that I would say I liked most in this world were bookshops, and so, on this day too, I had dropped by a bookshop on the way home from the hospital. Inside the store with an overworked air-conditioner, I browsed through its books. Fortunately, I hadn’t brought along the girl whom I would end up making wait, so there was no problem no matter how much time I wanted to spend here.
I didn’t have anything that I could be proud of, but I was confident in just my ability to concentrate while reading books. For example, if I wasn’t offered gum, or if the sound of the chime embedded within my body doesn’t ring, I could probably continue blocking out everything around me forever, reading a book in my own little world. Were I a wild herbivore, I’d surely daydream about other worlds without noticing any predators nearby, and end up getting eaten right away.
That was why, once I finished reading a short story within a paperback in one go, and returned to this world that would deprive a girl of her life through an illness, I realised it at long last.
There was a lion standing beside me.
I jumped up in shock, taken aback. With a large bag hanging from her shoulder, she was looking at the open book in her hands. But I could tell that she was clearly out to get me.
Perhaps, I could keep my footsteps silent, leave this place, and escape. But those fleeting hopes of mine were dashed right away.
“What do you think of Sakura?”
Behind that one line Best-Friend-san gave without any greeting or preamble, there was a force that seemed like it would chew me up if didn’t answer correctly.
I felt cold sweat drip down my back - I was stuck. Just what could the right answer be? But, when I thought about it, I realised something. With regard to that question from Best-Friend-san, everything but my feelings towards that girl was clear. I didn’t choose any path other than answering frankly with that truth.
“I don’t know.”
In the several seconds of silence that followed, I couldn’t be sure whether Best-Friend-san was at a loss, or hardening her resolve to kill, but by the time I realised it, my arm had been caught in the claws of the lion. Forcefully pulling me close to the point that I staggered, she spoke in an intimidating tone of voice.
“Even though that girl’s the way she is, she gets hurt more easily than others. So stop getting close to that girl with half-baked feelings. Because if she gets hurt ‘cause of that, I’ll kill you.”
I’ll kill you - it was different from the inconsequential threats elementary schoolers and middle schoolers made against their enemies, it was meant as a serious proclamation of her intentions to me. I shuddered.
Without saying anything more than that, Best-Friend-san left, leaving me desperately trying to somehow calm the beating of my heart that was rampaging throughout the bookstore. In the end, I was unable to leave that spot until I was offered gum by that classmate who just happened to enter the bookstore.
Just what did I think of that girl? That night, I tried seriously thinking about it.
But, as expected, I couldn’t even figure out anything close to an answer.
The day after I was almost preyed on, I suddenly received a message from the girl inviting me over. The last two times, I had been contacted a day before each visit, so this was something unusual. I thought that something had happened, but that wasn’t the case at all. As soon as I arrived, she began speaking with a resolute smile.
“Won’t you help me escape from the hospital?”
The girl had just wanted to unveil the mischief she’d thought of to me right away.
“I don’t want to, I still don’t want to turn into a murderer.”
“It’s fine, everyone will forgive you for breaking out a dying lover from the hospital who ends up dying midway, since it was an agreement.”
“According to your logic, wouldn’t it be forgivable even if I poured boiling water onto someone if they said to do so?”
“Huh, wouldn’t it?”
“It wouldn’t. It’s just normal physical assault. That’s why something like breaking you out of the hospital - do it with a lover that doesn’t mind shortening your lifespan.”
“Tsk,” looking like she was seriously quite disappointed, she twirled a rubber hairband on her finger. I was surprised. Could it be that she was actually thinking of having me take actions that would put her sickly self in danger? And then I got a shock. Even as a joke, she was actually suggesting foolish actions that would put what little remained of her own life in danger.
Or perhaps, it wasn’t a joke. I looked at her smiling face that was the same as always, and I got a sense of unease which felt like it would melt away and disappear at any moment.
After which, at her suggestion “well then, let’s get out of the ward”, we headed for the store on the third floor together. So that the tube protruding from her right hand would not be ripped out, she walked in front of me, carefully carrying the pouch of medicine with something that looked like a mic stand. Seeing her like this, she brought to mind the image of a sick person. That was what I thought.
On the sofa close to the store, while eating ice cream beside me, she began speaking. I didn’t understand why she suddenly brought up a topic like that.
“Hey, do you know why sakura bloom in spring?”
“You mean, yourself? In that case I don’t understand what you mean.”
“That’s not it, have I even once referred to myself by my own name? C-could it be, you, with another woman called Sakura…… So you were the unfaithful sort of man huh, wouldn’t it be better if you just died?’
“Stop trying to drag me along just because it seems like you’ll have nothing to do in heaven. That’s right, by all means, you should just have your funeral held on Tomobiki, Friend-Pulling Day.”
“No way, I want my friends to live, so that’s no good.”
“Then could you write down on some foolscap the reason you think it’s fine if I died, and submit it to me? So, about the reason sakura bloom in spring. Isn’t it just because it’s that sort of flower?”
I said the most sensible thing, and she laughed through her nose like she was genuinely dumb. I barely controlled myself from thrusting the lemon-flavoured ice candy I had in hand at her nose.
Seemingly having read my bad mood, she laughed frivolously, and explained the part she was trying to get at.
“I’ll tell you. After the sakura have scattered, the next generation of flower buds actually sprout in about three months. But they continue to slumber. They wait for it to become warm, and then they all bloom at once. In other words, sakura wait for the right time to bloom. Isn’t that wonderful?”
I heard what she had to say, and I thought that she was perhaps projecting a little too much intention onto the characteristics of a flower. It just waits for the pollen-carrying insects or birds - maybe both. However, I didn’t make that retort. As for why, it was because I had arrived at another opinion from a different perspective.
“I see, it’s really a perfect fit for your name.”
“Because they’re pretty? Aww, you’re making me blush”
“……It’s not like that, I just thought that the name of the flower that choses to bloom in spring was a perfect name for you, who thinks that meetings and happenings aren’t coincidences, but choices.”
After momentarily drawing a blank at my opinion, a smile broke on her face, and she said, “Thanks!” Perfect in this case was the same as suitable - it wasn’t meant as a compliment, so I couldn’t understand why she looked that happy.
“?????-kun’s name suits you pretty well too you know.”
“After all, you’re: Someone who’s. Helping. Ill-fated me. Get. Along.”
She made that joke, proudly laughing while pointing back and forth between herself and I.
When I heard those words, I sped through all of our conversations up till now, and once again thought that something about her today really was weird.
She was nibbling at a watermelon popsicle, and just like always, it appeared as if she would continue to live forever. That hadn’t changed, and yet somewhere in her joke I could hear it - yes, it was as if it were the last day of summer vacation and she was frantically searching for something she hadn’t already done.
That was what I wondered at the bottom of my heart. However, I didn’t ask her about it because I thought the fleeting impatience I saw inside of her was only natural. She had only a year left to live. To begin with, it should have been stranger for her to have been so easy-going about it.
That was why on that day, I decided to treat the sense of unease I got from her as an extremely trivial matter that was born merely from my own subjectivity.
I thought that it was the right thing to do.
In spite of that, when I was next called down to the hospital ward on Saturday morning, the slight sense of unease I had felt showed its form right before my eyes.
When I entered the room at the designated time, she noticed my presence right away, and smiled as she called my name. But that smile was a little awkward.
It were as if she had meticulously drawn that vivid expression on her heart, and that let slip her anxiety. Subconsciously, I could feel that something was off.
I coaxed my cowardly feet forward, and sat down on the same pipe chair as usual. With a determined expression, she said something that didn’t differ from what I had come to expect.
“……Yeah, what’s the matter?”
“Just one time is fine so-”
While she said that, she grabbed the poker cards that had been left on the rack.
“Truth or Dare - won’t you play it with me?”
A suggestion to play the devil’s game. Even though it looked like I could have immediately refused, I wanted to know why she would suddenly bring up something like that, and more than anything else, I was curious about her washed-out appearance.
Since she couldn’t answer right away, I continued speaking.
“So this means you have something you want to ask me no matter what, or something you want me to do no matter what huh. Or maybe, something that I’d decline if you asked norma-”
“It’s…… Not like that. You would probably tell me normally, but I’m unable to get myself together to ask, so I’m thinking of just leaving it up to luck.”
Just what in the world was she being so awfully ceremonious about that she was unable to articulate it? I wasn’t aware of keeping any secrets that would trouble her.
The girl gazed into my eyes. It was as if she was trying to get her strong will to push through. Mysteriously, her eyes erased any intention I had of defying her. It was because I was a reed boat. Or perhaps, it was because it was her who I was facing.
After some thought, I ended up making this sort of decision:
“……You did lend me a book after all. If it’s just one time, I’ll play along.”
She said just one word of gratitude, looking like she knew my answer beforehand, and began to shuffle the cards. As I thought, she was acting strange. She usually had a habit of saying unnecessary things like it was her livelihood, but today, she was speaking without adding any superfluous words. Wondering just what in the world had happened to her, curiosity and concern turned into yoghurt inside my heart.
The rules for Truth or Dare were the same as before. Since we were only playing one round, we took turns shuffling the cards five times each, then placed the stack on the bed for us to draw a card from wherever we liked.
After she went through a lot of trouble to pick one from a little beneath the middle, I took the first card from the top. Since their faces were obscured, we didn’t know where each card had ended up, so there wasn’t anything like a difference in the values between the cards we choose. Furthermore, I wasn’t as invested in this game as she was. She’d probably get angry if I said something like this, but this time, I’d have been fine with either winning or losing. If the match were to be decided based on the gap in fighting spirit and willpower, if the gods had created such a setting in this world, it was without a doubt her victory.
She’d probably say it – that it was interesting because it wasn’t like that.
We flipped over the cards at the same time, and she made a face that seemed to show heartfelt frustration.
“Waaah, this is, a complete defeat.”
She gripped onto the bedcover, like she was waiting for her disappointment to run off. I, who ended up winning, could do nothing but look on. Before long, she noticed my gaze and threw her disappointment away somewhere, breaking out into a smile.
“Can’t be helped huh! It’s just the way it is! That’s why it’s interesting!”
“…………I see, so it’s no good if I don’t think of a question huh.”
“It’s fine, I’ll answer whatever you want y’know? Do you want to hear about my first kiss, maybe?”
“I’m not going to spend this valuable right on that sort of question with a worth lower than an elevator.”
“……Elevators have their own worth though?”
“And so? What of it? Did you actually think I said something meaningful?”
With high spirits, she burst into laughter. Looking at her laughing, it made me think that perhaps it was just me overthinking she was different from normal. This time too, and the last time I came to the hospital as well - maybe there was no significant basis for the difference in her appearance. Any little thing could have caused her expression to change, like alcohol or the weather - those kinds of insignificant reasons. Yes, that was what I hoped.
I, who gained a right in the midst of my reluctance, wondered. What should I ask the girl? The interest I had in the girl hadn’t changed from when we last played this game. How in the world did a human like her come to be? Actually, there may have been one or two things that I was more curious about. For example, what she thought of me.
However, I didn’t have the courage to ask her those one or two things. A human like me came to be from cowardice - being with her made me realise that. I was like the reverse of the courageous girl.
I looked at her as I pondered over what to ask her. She was staring in my direction, in anticipation of a question. The girl that was seated quietly on the bed, just a little more than before, looked like she was dying.
Wanting to shake of that feeling, I decided on my question which simultaneously left my mouth.
“To you, what does it mean to live?”
“Waaah, you’re actually being serious about this.” After poking fun at me, she made a contemplative face and stared at the sky, thinking. “To live, huh,” she muttered.
With just that, I could tell that she was staring not at death but at life, and with just that - though it was by a miniscule amount - I felt my heart becoming lighter. I was a coward. I already knew, but somewhere inside me, I still couldn’t accept that she was going to die.
I recalled how distraught I’d become looking inside her bag in the hotel during the trip, and how she’d cornered me with her final question that day.
“Yeah! That’s it! I got it!”
She pointed upwards with her index finger, indicating that she had reached a conclusion. So that I wouldn’t miss any of her words, I perked up my ears.
“What it means to live, you see-”
“Is surely the connecting of our hearts with someone else’s. Working towards that is what we call living.”
……Aah, I understand now.
Having realised it, I got goosebumps.
That which was referred to as her existence, through her gaze and voice, the heat of her will, and the trembling of her life - I realised that it made my soul quake.
“Acknowledging someone, getting to like someone, getting to hate someone, enjoying being together with someone, detesting being together with someone, holding hands with someone, hugging someone, and growing apart from someone. That, is living. If we were all alone, we wouldn’t know that we exist. I, who hates someone despite liking someone else, who enjoys being together with someone despite detesting being together with someone else - I think it’s because of those kinds of relationships that I have with people that I - not someone else - am living. I have a heart because everyone exists, and I have a body so that I can be touched by everyone. Right now, I, who was formed in such a manner, am living. Right here, I am still living. That’s why there’s meaning in people being born. Through our own choices, right now, right here, you, and me as well, are living.”
“……Well, I did end up getting pretty heated, but was this actually an episode of Serious Teenage Forum?”
“Nope, this is a hospital ward.”
I answered exceedingly curtly. She puffed out her cheeks.
I hoped that she would let it go, since I didn’t mean for it to come out like that.
This time, while listening to her words, for the first time, I was able to discover my true feelings that had accumulated at the deepest depths of my core. It was right beneath my nose by the time I realised, but despite having become a part of my heart itself, it was something that I hadn’t noticed till now. It was because I was a coward.
The answer that I had been seeking these past few days - no, actually forever - was now right there.
That’s right, I……you.
I had been suppressing those words, so it took my all.
“Ah, you’ve finally started talking again, what’s up? ?????-kun.”
“You’ve, really been teaching me a lot of things.”
“Wah, what’s this all of a sudden, it’s embarrassing.”
“It’s how I really feel. Thank you.”
“Are you running a fever?”
She placed her palm on my forehead. But naturally, since the temperature was normal, she tilted her head to the side. Or rather, did she really, seriously think that I was running a fever? Finding that amusing, I ended up laughing. Seeing such a sight, she once again pushed her palm towards me. I laughed again. And the cycle repeated itself.
Aaah, I was having fun. It’s because she was here.
Once she finally understood that I wasn’t running a fever, I gratefully suggested having the diced pineapples that I had bought for her.
Having said during the last hospital visit that pineapple would be good for my next visit, her face seemed to blossom with happiness.
While the two of us were enjoying the pineapples, she let out a sigh.
“A~ah, I don’t have any luck either huh.”
“For Truth or Dare? That’s true, but even if we weren’t playing the game, if it’s a question that I can answer, I’ll answer it for you.”
“It’s fine, since that’s just the outcome of the game.”
She had flatly refused. As before, I still hadn’t the slightest clue what she had wanted to ask.
Once we were done eating the snacks, I taught her the new material that had been discussed during the supplementary lessons, and then the customary magic trick presentation began. Since not much time had passed since the last visit, this time she did something simple using the magic props. As usual, I, who didn’t have a profound knowledge of magic, was honestly impressed. Even during our studying time and our magic trick time as well, I - who didn’t realised my own heart until just a little while ago - was looking only at her.
“Well then, it’s about time for me to go home. My stomach’s getting empty too after all.”
“Huh! You’re going home already?”
She thrashed about in protest like a child. Perhaps she dreaded the boredom of being alone in a hospital ward much more than I had thought.
“Isn’t it about time for you to have lunch? Besides, I don’t want to get devoured by Kyouko-san for lunch.”
“Maybe so, huh.”
I stood up while imagining myself getting preyed on by a carnivorous animal, and she cried out, “Hold on!”
“Hold on for a little longer - well then, I still have one last request.”
She beckoned me closer with a gesture of her hand. I approached her without the least bit of caution, and looking like she hadn’t any ill will or reservation or ulterior motive or hidden agenda or second thoughts or responsibility, she stretched out her upper body and embraced me.
I forgot the shock I had in response to her absolutely unexpected actions. Calm to the point that even I was surprised, I rested my chin on her shoulder. Sickly sweet.
“This is different from the other day y'know, this isn’t mischief.”
“Recently I’ve just strangely begun liking people’s body heat!”
I had a conviction of sorts about the manner in which she was speaking.
“Hey, the truth is it’s always been on my mind but-”
“My three sizes? Since my chest is pressing against you.”
“Are you sure you aren’t dumb?”
“It’s about how you’ve been acting a little strange. Did something happen?”
Still in an embrace, no, to be accurate, still being wilfully embraced by her, I waited quietly for her answer. Unlike before, I didn’t think I was being made a fool of, rather, I thought that if she was fine with something like my body heat, she should just use it if she wanted to.
She slowly shook her head from side to side twice.
“……Nope, no~thing at all!”
Naturally, I didn’t believe that. But, I didn’t have the courage to get her to say what she didn’t want to say.
“It’s just that, I wanted to taste the truth and everyday life that you’ve been giving me.”
Well, even if I did have outrageous courage, and even if I didn’t, by this time, I was unable to do anything about not understanding the inside of her heart.
I really was forsaken by that thing known as timing.
While she was still silent, I heard the roar of a beast from behind me.
“Sakuraaa, good mor…… What, you….. Unforgivable!”
I pushed her away onto the bed, and while hearing her “kyaa”, I looked over my shoulder to find a classmate glaring at me with the face of the Devil. Even I couldn’t bring myself to look away. Best-Friend-san was slowly making her way towards me, and thinking of escaping, I moved backwards, but the bed blocked the way.
When Best-Friend-san was finally about to grab a hold of my collar, I received help from the one that probably should have been resting no matter what the circumstance. The girl quickly got off the bed and tightly hugged Best-Friend-san.
“I’ll calm Kyouko down, so-!”
“Ah, then, bye!”
Having been made to - or rather - in order to escape from Best-Friend-san, I left the ward. I was always running away whenever she arrived. Finally, as I masterfully ignored Best-Friend-san loudly screaming my name, my third visit came to an end. It felt like her sickly sweet scent still lingered on my body.
Just like I had expected - or perhaps I shouldn’t say it in such a manner, since I hadn’t actually gotten a clear idea about what had happened, but - the next day, on Sunday night, I received a message from the girl, and I learnt the truth behind the matter which she seemed to have been hiding that day.
The duration of her hospitalisation had been extended two weeks longer than planned.
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