Chapter 2 - Nobody else Knows.
There are few ways for me to become one with you.
Not because my life's really special, not because I have strange thoughts. It's just that I'm way too stupid. Of course, I'm not talking about you. I'm talking about myself.
In a corner of a certain classroom, I was spacing out nonchalantly, and so the day ended. Nobody spoke to me, and it seemed as though I was the only one abandoned in my own world. The bell chimed on its own. In the morning, everyone was chatting about the TV show the previous night; at noon, they were having delicious meals from the canteen; at evening, they decided which fast food restaurant they decided to head to on the way home. They all excluded me.
The tables, the blackboard, the pencil case, the uniforms, the school bogs, the textbooks, the gym clothes, the notebooks; they all seemed to be residents living in a different world from me.
So, please mock me.
So that I can become one with you.
What I'm going to say next is a shameful story of mine.
All the 14 year old kids are idiots, but I'm the biggest idiot of them all. Maybe my brain was corroded in delusions, that I'm afflicted with an extraordinary illness.
So, please be condescending about my breakup, my setbacks, and at the same time, look at me.
See this shameful, indecent, stupid me, whose raison d'etre is to spite myself, start up a little revolutionary war.
My name is Taku Sugawara.
There are some things only I know.
For example, school curriculum gets really boring without any friends around.
So, I'm always alone in the classroom, seated at the window side, facing the sun, continuing to ponder about a scumbag's thoughts.
This time, my mind was debating, "Will you choose to be the most unfortunate person in the world? Or the second most unfortunate decision in the world?"
Decide on this in 2 seconds.
Everyone will agree to be 'want to be the most unfortunate person in the world'.
In that case, that's strange. Unexpectedly, the most unfortunate person beats the second most unfortunate person in this world? This fallacy does seem a little strange. Maybe, if we're unfortunate, we might as well go all out at being unfortunate.
Because, everyone would donate for the sake of the kids in Africa, but nobody will donate to me.
A middle school student, poor grades, poor athletic ability, couldn't possibly get a girlfriend, living a life of not speaking to anyone, not even my life. Even when living this kind of an unfortunate life, nobody will bother with me
They just think of me as some unimpressive existence.
I, who only lives in the classroom as 'air', is unable to get any love from anyone.
And so, I stubbornly transferred my vengeance over to those starving kids in Africa.
(No no, I know that they're really troubled. But they do get love from others. For me, even if I search the entire world, I won't be able to find anyone who loves me, and that's a fact. Ahh, damn it.)
Of course, it doesn't matter that nobody understands me. To summarize, this is just random rambling of a middle schooler who's not too bright.
And then, in October, my thoughts went wild like a scumbag would.
That was why I was the 13th last in the Human Power Test.
On that day, when I had a conversation with Kotomi Ishikawa.
That incident happened two months ago.
The Kuzegawa Second Middle School I attend is famous for the lots of group work.
Every Tuesday, every class would be divided into groups of 4 students, and they would answer a very simple question.
"The brand new tourist attractions in Kuzegawa City", "The things to bring when going to an uninhabited island", "A new commercial activity to replace Valentine's day", these are the questions not even our usual random talk would be about, and we draw lots to team up in groups of 4 . This is a lesson that is deliberately arranged for those stupid people who are really bad at talking to be able to talk up.
But I just could not bring myself to enjoy this lesson time at all, something I could not explain either. Maybe it was because I felt that teamwork here was just a scoring part of the Human Power Test. We think really hard so that others will vote for us. It just feels stupid.
Thus, I would never join in the conversation while the trio in front of me are talking about 'the newest products of a Hamburger store chain'. Even if the topic was thrown at me, I would only say "Look at the era", "Look at the occasion". I really am a scumbag after all.
The elite student Kanda Setogura was initially giving me polite smiles, trying to coax for my opinion, but finally chose to give up and ignore me. The one with the delinquent vibe, Ayaka Tsuda already viewed it a misfortune to be grouped with me, being spiteful in her words, and sometimes even glared at me.
"Hey, Sugawara. Please, say something."
Finally, Setogura gave me a blank look, saying that.
"I get the feeling that my remaining Middle School life will end without being able to talk to you, Sugawara."
At the very least, I uttered back, "Sorry...". If I apologize, I could let this pass, at least.
And as expected, Tsuda immediately told Setogura, "Enough already, Kanda. Ignore this bastard." With Tsuda pressuring, Seogura barely managed to switch to the next topic.
Sorry. This time, I secretly uttered in my heart. Sorry for worrying about this scumbag here.
And so, our group ended up deciding on a 'bashimi burger'. Of course, it was up to Setogura to present.
The one most able to get everyone in class excited was the group lead by Masaya, which decided on having a 'Waffle burger' with wafflers slapped between fruits and cream. A gleeful Ninomiya mocked him, saying, "This isn't a hamburger, isn't it?", only to be retorted by Masaya's nonchalant attitude, "Is there a rule that forbids using the side menu?" Ninomiya played with his long fringe, making exaggerated motions that made everyone in class laugh. Including Tsuda, the girls in class were staring at their dispute. It was the usual group work.
I too watched Masaya, you bastard and cussed quietly as I left the classroom.
It was after our group work, after school, when I spoke to Ishikawa.
The location was the school library, where I often borrowed light novels to read. 14 years old, and I still skipped on all the Japanese literature greats, picking those easy to read. I'm the kind of person who would boast loudly, "My hobby is reading", and then softly add on, "But only light novels".
At my current middle school, the library contained quite a fair bit of light novels, and they were the best companion for a middle school student short on money. Besides, there were two shelves worth of them. I stopped thinking, and started from the right end of the neatly arranged pocket books, drawing them out from the bookshelf in order. If the illustrated girl on the cover isn't cute, I'll put it back. This is the way I chose it, seeking my entertainment at home.
It was after school, and there were many students around me, but it did not matter. Everyone else other than me are all background characters. Thus, I was really shocked to hear someone call my name.
I could say that it's headline news for someone to call my name except during group work time.
"Do you come by to the library often, Sugawara?"
There was a girl's voice.
Looking back, the classmate called Kotomi Ishikawa's standing behind me.
She's a lively girl with middle-to-long black hair. My memories of her was that she's always smiling elegantly in class. This girl was standing in front of me like a kid who found glass, and showed an innocent smile.
"Eh, ah, what?"
I stammered really badly as I asked. Such an embarrassing voice!
But Ishikawa didn't laugh at me, and serious told me.
"You've worked hard on that group work. I feel that the bashimi burger's good, but the class response isn't much. It's a little annoying, isn't it?"
And then, she starting talking away as though she's my friend.
What's with her?
It's true that in that group, there's me, Setogura, Tsuda, and another one, that's Ishikawa. I remembered her saying some really unrealistic answers like 'how about adding miso to the bread', or 'I think adding matcha sauce is a refreshing idea'.
To my classmates Setogura and Tsuda, who were grouped with me, who never intended to discuss, and Ishikawa who had been saying weird things the entire time, I don't have the right to say that, but, my sympathies.
"Well...I think they have bashimi burgers in Kumamoto."
Since she already talked to me, I couldn't just ignore her, and so, I mumbled back.
Ishikawa widened her eyes, "We overlooked that", and commented. She then looked at the pocket book I held in my hand, saying, "Ah, that's a light novel, isn't it...are there any recommendation's you like to make, Sugawara?"
My thumbs were exerting so much force, they appear to be on the verge of ripping the book, the color changing. It's not because I hated light novels, but that I reacted without thinking. I did not understand her intentions. Why would she, who was always chatting excitedly about bands and artistes, continue to talk to someone gloomy like me?
Like a hare being cornered, I got wary. However, Ishikawa didn't seem to understand the reason for me doing this, and tilted her head in confusion.
I was tucked between her and the shelf taller than me, the gloomiest corner of the library. For some reason, we remained silent, just staring at each other.
"...I just want to talk to you." The first to break the silence was Ishikawa, "I want you to take me in as your disciple, Sugawara."
"Please accept me as your disciple."
I couldn't catch up to her rhythm, and while I remained skeptical, Ishikawa lowered her head deeply towards me, showing the beautiful back of her neck. What is this? Is it trendy for girls to do this kind of play? I don't understand at all!
"P-please, lift your head."
If anyone else was to see it, I'll definitely be misunderstood and hurt. After I earnestly begged, Ishikawa seemed bemused by this awkward me, and chuckled as she got up.
I could say, without it being a hyperbole, that I let out the deepest sigh this year, saying,
"What's going on...?"
And then, Ishikawa finally realized that she didn't make a proper explanation. "Ah", she cried out, and said,
"Because you're an amazing person, Sugawara."
"Yeah. Just now, during that group work. You have a really cool, analytical personality that watches everything from above, right? You didn't seem to care about how anyone else think about you. Is it to say that you won't just go along easily?"
"No...that's actually not it..."
"Not actually it?"
"I just don't have any friends..."
I said it, but it's a tragic answer.
But it's the truth, and I can't do anything about it. If I'm deemed someone really amazing, then Ishikawa's on the level of a once-in-a-millennium monster.
Ishikawa shook her head.
"Ah, no, you might have fewer friends, but that's not the case. Speaking of which, it feels like you don't want to make friends. I'll say that you won't really go out to get on anyone's good side. You ignore their opinions; Or something like that. Anyway, I find that cool. I really admire that."
You can praise me however you want, but even I wouldn't think that way.
It's rare for me to get a single praise in a year. Yay. I was quietly delighted. Actually, in other words--
"Actually, I do care about what others think about me." I answered.
"For example?" Ishikawa asked.
"Actually, I'm happy to be praised for being 'cool'."
And after I pointed that out, Ishikawa chuckled. She then hit my chest with her fist, causing me to tumble, and she said,
"You're not the type to get bloated by praise. But this is different. Isn't it? It's like dropping a 500 yen coin when walking on the road, isn't it? That's different from me, from us. So...I'm envious of you, Sugawara."
This metaphor I did not understand contained some vague self-reproaching. Despite this, her voice didn't get completely gloomy. She sounded as though she was joking when she said that.
And while I was intending to pursue this matter, I could hear a few girls behind the shelves. "Kotomi. Where are you?", "She got lost, didn't she?" It seemed Ishikawa came with a few friends, and she too seemed to be shocked as she turned around to the voices. Did she come by to meet me without telling them? Seems like she's really lost.
I raised my hand slightly, "They're calling for you. Bye bye." I said.
"I'll ask you about being your disciple again next time." Ishikawa waved her hand. "We'll chat next time, my master-to-be."
What's with that title? I retorted, and started to feel doubts about my feelings.
For some reason, I had some longing after bidding farewell to Ishikawa, or rather, a feeling to sigh. After talking with someone familiar, the fatigue set in. It's a really complicated feeling.
While she intended to leave, Ishikawa finally said something strange to me,
"If I let you touch my breasts, can you vote for me as repayment during the next Human Power Test?"
Did I hear that wrong?
Of course, I, being asked this out of a sudden, could not answer.
After some silence, Ishikawa gave a mischievous smile, saying "just joking", and she vanished behind the bookshelf.
When I was in elementary school, I once spoke to a classmate, whose name I forgot, "Let's go home together."
His reply was, "I don't want to get involved with you."
Thus, Ishikawa definitely misunderstood. It really feels stupid.
She shouldn't envy someone like me.
It's true that I don't care about what others think. I only have a little interest in that kind of thing. Just a little. In other words, that's all.
But she didn't know the reason why I became like this.
She didn't know about my ranking on the Human Power Test.
If she didn't know, she could have just called me 'scumbag' all she wanted. She mustn't get on friendly terms with me.
Even though nobody knew that I was going to swap seating positions, even though nobody paired about with me during P.E. class, even though nobody asked me out during the culture festival, even though no girls actually knew of my first time, even though nobody would care for my help in group work.
Even so, even when I'm a scumbag, ranked 369th, as long as I ignored the stares from everyone else, I could continue to live on leisurely.
"Hello, do you hear me?" this message came in that night.
My parents were working, and often came back late at night.
Also, I have no siblings, so I would surely be alone when I reached home. It's no different from going to school.
Since elementary school, the adults around me were opinionated、 worried for me, but actually, I'm more annoyed by being pitied by them. Eating alone too is unexpectedly fine, as long as I'm used to it; especially when it's part of my daily life since young.
I added cabbage, onions, and pork belly into miso, frying them together, quickly added some green onions into another pot to cook chicken soup, and then serve with cooked rice. I wrapped my parents' servings, and put them into the fridge.
At the living room that was more than 20 tatamis in size and arranged in a unique fashion, I started reading light novels alone. Just like the usual days.
And right when I was halfway done with the novel, the computer opposite the TV let out a beep. I approached the screen, and it's a message from Sou. There's a very cheerful message on the chatboard.
"It's been a while, Sou. Didn't you say that you're busy?"
I put my pocket book aside, and touched without looking at the keyboard. Then, he quickly replied.
"No no. Let's not talk about me. I don't have anything really interesting going on. Anyway, tell me what you did at school today."
Just the usual, I guess.
It's been more than half a year, sorta, and though we would contact each other once in a while, Sou would never talk about his own matters. Thus, I don't know his gender, age or professional.
He (I don't know whether it's a he or a she, so I'll just use 'he' for the time being) was someone I met during computing practical class at school. Every week, during that one information class, I'll be lazing around on the internet, and suddenly meet him on the chatboard that suddenly appears.
It feels like he's trying to talk to me. After a few times, we got along.
It looks like he's interested in hearing other people's stories.
So, like usual, I told Sou about what happened today. It looks as though he's interested in Ishikawa. I couldn't mention her real name, so I named her as 'Miss I'.
"Miss I, huh? I can tell from your conversation with her that you're one to give up halfway through."
Written on the monitor's some merciless venom. Same as usual.
"You try to act as the kind of person who won't be rattled by what others think, but you're celebrating the fact that a girl in class talk to you. In any case, you're just an ordinary middle school boy. Ahh, this is embarrassing, embarrassing. If there's an art to being a scumbag, you don't have any artistic scene."
"I don't feel that I'm a special middle school student. I never pursued the artistic either."
Speaking of which, was I celebrating? No, I guess he was slightly correct on that.
"Well, it's not like you embarrassing yourself happened merely once or twice."
"You're annoying. I know that."
"Anyway, the most important thing is your feelings. What do you think of Miss I? No, I can imagine. You're delusional, right? Scumbags are scary. There's an excess of sexual desire, but nobody to target. You'll get excited immediately once you have a target."
I reread that paragraph thrice, and out loud once. I stood up from my chair, and drank a whole cup of malt tea. After that, I went to the washroom, opened the faucet to the maximum, and washed my face with lots of water.
The reason was simple. I was trying to hide the fact that I got rattled.
Sou's conclusion was almost entirely correct. Damn it, looks like scumbags are easy to read through. Such simple creatures. Am I an insect?
Left with no choice, I reopened the chatboard, and typed in "You got a problem with that?"
"Goodness. Aren't you going to work towards being a scumbag with artistic sense? What? Are you this spineless? You're scolded and don't intend to suck up to others. All you need to do is to slap back at a cute girl wooing you. You just need to be a person who grovels to power and money, trampling on the weak."
"Wait. What's artistic about that?"
"Are you serious?"
"Seriously, I'm worried about you. Which one are you? Do you want to be liked by girls, or not? Are you going to act cool for the rest of your life?"
"I get what you're trying to say. No, actually, I don't exactly understand half of it."
"I see, half. Well, your middle school life is already halfway over. Whatever you are troubled, you can talk to me. After all, you should be thinking about what you want to do with your life, right?"
You say what I want to do with my life, huh?
I stared at the screen, pondering. However, I couldn't think of how to reply. I got nothing.
"Speaking of which, how old are you, Sou? A high school student? Working? I feel like you've been watching from above." I changed the topic.
"I'm shocked. You're trying to change the topic." o the reply. I could sense a sigh from the other end of the monitor, "I'll talk about myself one day."
Sou avoided my question, and logged out.
Who's the one running away? I retorted to no one in particular.
Sometimes, I would wonder, if it was Masaya, what would he think.
Or, if I asked him, what suggestions would he give?
If possible, please tell me.
Tell me, who's on the same side as him.
It happened 5 days later.
Is there a specific term to it? Like, everyone experiences this kind of thing before, right? A particular phenomenon of not meeting a particular person before until a particular coincidence, only for the encounters to suddenly spike up.
Anyway, Ishikawa and I met again.
It might be surprising, but I would visit the Planetarium outside the city once or twice per month after school. What I want to say here isn't that I have interest in stars, or that I'll go out just to see the night sky; I couldn't remember how to use the Constellation plate. In other words, I just like the Planetarium. Don't ask me why. In the end, I can only contact those with the scumbag personality only I have.
Only when I'm in this round building can I forget everything.
And I'll even forget the wish to forget everything.
Thus, it was completely a coincidence that I met Ishikawa in the Planetarium.
She was on the other side of the projector. It was only when I was shown on it that I noticed. Maybe it's because it wasn't the weekend, because the science center was almost desolated, but there were few visitors. Ishikawa and I were the only ones in the Planetarium. The little hemisphere shown on the ceiling projected a countless number of stars, simply swirling around us.
The Milky Way passed by behind her, showing her face.
Something seemed to be refracting light on Ishikawa's face.
Pondering what that thing was exactly, the projection ended when I realized.
"Why are you crying?"
So I asked. Unlike at school, I did not stammer.
Ishikawa probably noticed me at a certain point, for she didn't look shocked.
She answered with a serious expression.
I couldn't understand her.
The tears are already trickling down her cheeks, and she still would not admit.
"You look like you're crying though?"
"Yo-you're wrong about that."
"Did you just hiccup?"
"Just your imagination."
"You dare swear to the Planetarium god?"
But she stubbornly refused to admit. I clenched my fists firmly, and put them hard on my knees, shivering.
I was the first to break. Even if I did prove that Ishikawa cried, it didn't do me any good. Ishikawa didn't cry. Isn't this good? Ahh, such a wonderful world.
So I got up from the stalls, went around the projector, and towards her. I then took out a slab of chocolate from my bag, and handed it to her.
"For you. You won't cry when you eat something." I added on.
Couldn't I have said something more interesting? I really wanted to retort.
Of course, Ishikawa didn't talk, merely receiving the chocolate from me.
Seeing this, I turned my back on her, and quickly left. It was too embarrassing to do something unbefitting of me.
But nobody could continue to do anything unfitting of themselves, right?
I really did something rare, I thought as I headed for the exit.
At this moment, she grabbed my right hand, and tugged at me. Her warmth reached my hand.
I turned back, and found Ishikawa with tears in her eyes as she stared at me. Then, she spoke with a teeny-weeny voice, like a ghost.
In this quiet dome, her voice alone echoed.
"I really envy you, Sugawara..."
That's a lie.
I quickly understood that it was a lie. She merely said it on a whim. Ishikawa couldn't possibly admire a scumbag like me. Of all the people in the world, even if they do amass a large sum of money for the kids in Africa, they won't care about me. There's no reason for me to be envied.
I'll be laughed at by Sou. As he said, scumbags are simpletons.
But, but even so, even though it was such an obvious lie.
Ranked 369th on the Human Power Test.
A scumbag nobody will like.
And Ishikawa, who cried saying that she 'envied' me.
That was the encounter I had in the Planetarium outside the city, two months before Masaya Kitshitani died.
What did I choose?
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