What do you call it when you keep working and working, but things never get easier?
Even Ishikawa Takuboku1 would agree. For an average person like myself, that’s a given. I stopped my laboring hands against my better judgment and found myself staring at those hands with reproachful eyes. As a result, my laboring hands stopped entirely and it became harder and harder to work. What’s with this deflationary spiral?
Just how and why are we so busy? I looked around at my surroundings to solve that conundrum. First, there weren’t enough people.
The executives were bogged down by various problems and the helper Haruno-san wasn’t here either. Hayama was doing his share of the work, tackling all the matters related to the volunteers alone. But the stiffness in his usual smile indicated even he was getting tired.
Lately, this number of people should’ve been enough to manage the work.
But unlike every other day, missing today was Yukinoshita. She would arrive here at the conference room before anyone else and stay behind later than everyone else to work every day.
That appearance of hers was nowhere to be seen.
“What’s wrong with Yukinoshita-san today?”
“Who knows…?” I couldn’t give an answer to Meguri-senpai’s question. But it wasn’t just me; no one else in this planning committee could either.
The door of the conference room was opened with a creaaak. Entering a room without bothering to knock was Hiratsuka-sensei’s bad habit.
“Yes?” I answered.
Hiratsuka-sensei walked over to me. Her expression was uncharacteristically meek. “It’s about Yukinoshita. She wasn’t feeling well so she took the day off. She contacted the school, but I figured that didn’t reach the planning committee…”
She was exactly right.
After all, there wasn’t anyone here who could keep in touch with her.
But still, not feeling well, huh? I knew she wasn’t a physically active person, but I thought she was the type that paid attention to her health. Well, with how swamped with work she was recently and the basic mistakes she made yesterday, she must’ve been considerably exhausted.
…Is she okay? She’s living alone too, I thought.
Hayama lifted his face with realization. “Yukinoshita-san lives alone, so I think someone should go check up on her.”
“Oh, I see… Okay. I wonder if someone can go check up on how she’s doing. The other executives and I can hold down the fort here,” Meguri-senpai looked at Hayama and me and said.
“Will you all be okay by yourselves?” Hayama asked.
Meguri-senpai frowned. But she showed us her usual, comfortable smile right after. “Hmm… Sure. As long it’s something I understand, I should be able to manage something, I think.” She may not have sounded confident, but her smile looked reliable.
If she insisted, then it would be better if Hayama and I handled the case with Yukinoshita and leave the administrative work here to the executives. It would be much more productive to have them here than Hayama and me, a volunteer and assistant historian.
Meguri-senpai was the only one with a bird’s eye view on everything. Meguri-senpai ended with “thanks again” and tried to go back to work.
Bam! The door to the conference room was flung open and the student council member briskly came inside.
“The thing is, there seems to be some complaints regarding the slogan…”
“Ugh! What bad timing!” It looked like a big incident immediately sprung up as Meguri-senpai dashed out of the conference room to deal with it.
Without the chance to inquire about the situation, we were left behind.
“…So, what should we do? Hayama asked. “I don’t mind if I go.”
Those words that sounded unusually provocative weighed on my mind.
If I, no, even if I went, it’s not like there would be anything for us to talk about.
If Hayama chose to go, then I would see him off. Otherwise, if he said he wouldn’t go, then I would be the one going instead.
“Well… it’d be better if you went, right? In this case, someone thoughtful and useful would be better,” I said.
Hayama blinked. “…That’s a surprise. I didn’t think I’d hear you say things like that.”
“You are going, after all. I’ll at least suck up to you for a bit.”
Hayama smiled wryly and faced me. “I see. But with that reasoning, wouldn’t it be better if someone thoughtful and useful stayed instead?”
That’s true. Given that we were lacking in manpower, the cliché was to leave a multi-tasking, capable individual at the site. If a party was lacking numbers, then it would be more efficient to seek the help of a high level hero instead.
“Ahh, if you put it like that, you’re right,” I responded while scratching my head.
Hayama’s gaze clashed with mine directly in front of me. “I’m going to say this while I can, but I don’t think you’re deadweight at all. You managed work from all the sections as an assistant, so there shouldn’t be anyone who can say that you’re useless.”
…I’m the one surprised here. I didn’t think I’d hear something like that from you.
“So, what are you going to do?” Hayama checked again.
Hikigaya Hachiman can’t win against Hayama Hayato. It’s something that everyone has in mind. I really think that is the truth. In reality, there probably isn’t a single component in me that can win against him.
It’s a funny story. The more capable and kind a person is, the less he’ll be able to live his life the way he wants to. Always being relied on by someone means they have to see to them. Eventually, it becomes ingrained in their life. They even go as far as extending out their hand to someone like me who stood in the corner.
“…I’ll go then. Regardless of what anyone thinks, it’s better to have you here. You’re capable and everyone needs you.”
“I don’t feel too bad when you put it that way—assuming you actually meant it,” Hayama showed a somewhat lonely smile. Hayama is a good guy, but it’s because of that kindness that he isn’t able to choose anyone or anything. To him, everything is important. I only realized just now how cruel that really is.
“…So that’s how it is. I’ll be heading out for a bit,” I said, and turned to Hiratsuka-sensei.
She then smiled. “I see… Alright, off you go then. I can’t disclose a student’s address however…”
“Ahh, that’s fine.”
I may not know it, but there was definitely someone else that did. It was a girl that would jump in feet first from just one or two words.
I quickly got my luggage together and stood up. My eyes met with Hayama’s eyes which were narrowed and sharp.
“Okay, thanks. I’ll let Haruno-san know as well.”
“…Yeah, that’ll help. Thanks.” I briefly thanked him, adjusted my bag on my back, and left the conference room.
I took out my cellphone as I headed for the front entrance. I made a call as I walked.
One ring, two ring, three rings… Seven rings and I was just about to hang up until the other end picked up.
[“W-What’s wrong? Calling me so suddenly…”]
“Did you know Yukinoshita’s absent today?”
[“…Eh, I… didn’t know that.”]
“It sounds like she got sick.”
I could hear her gulping from the other end of the phone. Getting sick wasn’t that much of a big deal. But considering Yukinoshita’s recent behavior and how she was living alone, you couldn’t help but be anxious.
She breathed in with resolve. [“I’m going to go check up on her for a bit.”]
Exactly what I thought she’d say.
“I’ll be going too. Can we meet in front of the school gate?”
We quickly finished our call and I thrust my cellphone into my pocket.
It was still bright out, but the sun was beginning to decline. By the time we arrived at her place, it would be just about evening.
× × ×
On our way there, Yuigahama and I were mostly quiet.
Upon our rendezvous, Yuigahama bombarded me with questions about Yukinoshita’s well-being, but I had next to nothing for answers.
The apartment that Yukinoshita was living in was a well-known tower apartment, considered high-class even in the neighborhood.
In being high-class, the security was also strict. Getting in was no easy feat.
We called Yukinoshita’s room from the entrance. Yuigahama rang the bell.
Yuigahama called her and sent a text beforehand, but she didn’t get a response. So I wasn’t expecting her to meet us even if we stopped by.
Regardless, she rang the bell two times, three times even.
“Pretending to be out?”
“That’s fine as long it’s only that. But what if she’s too sick to even get up…?”
Your thoughts are just a little extreme, I thought, but I wasn’t in the mood to be laughing.
She paused for a moment and then rang the bell one more time.
There was a buzzing noise.
[“…Yes?”] The bell was answered with a faint sounding voice.
Yuigahama jumped forward and responded, “Yukinon!? It’s me, Yui. Are you okay?”
“…Yes, I’m fine, so…”
“So”. What did she mean by “so”? “So, go home”? Is that what she wants to say?
“Just open the door.”
[“…Why, are you here?”] She must’ve expected only Yuigahama to come by. Hearing my voice surprised her a little.
“We need to talk.”
[“…Can, you wait for ten minutes?”]
We sat on the sofas at the entrance and waited as we were told for ten minutes. I suppose only good apartments had sofas at the entrances, huh…?
Yuigahama stared at her cellphone the entire time. Since her fingers weren’t moving, I could only assume she was fixated on the clock.
As I sat there absentmindedly, Yuigahama on the side stood up.
She rang the bell and called Yukinoshita.
“It’s been ten minutes.”
[“…Please come in.”] When Yukinoshita said that, the automatic door opened.
Yuigahama paced ahead with no hesitation. I followed right behind her into the elevator and she pressed the button for floor 15.
The elevator ascended at a speed faster than I could imagine. The display in the elevator blinked one floor number to the next and we immediately arrived on floor 15.
We were met with numerous doors right out the elevator, but the door we stood in front of us had no nameplate.
Yuigahama strongly gripped her fist once as if confirming something and then reached out to the intercom with her finger.
I couldn’t say much about the quality of the bell, but the sounded it gave off wasn’t a mechanical sound, but a sound that you would hear from an instrument. The bell was rung once and we waited for a moment. There were no signs of people in the building, possibly due to the soundproofed nature of the apartment. A few seconds later and we could hear sudden stiff sounds of locks being undone on the door. It took a few more seconds until they were all unlocked.
As we waited at the front of the door, the door was opened slowly with no noise. Slightly poking out from the opening was Yukinoshita’s face.
“Please come in.”
Upon entering, there was a faint drifting smell of soap.
Yukinoshita’s image also contrasted to how she normally appeared. The finely woven and white sweater looked oversized for Yukinoshita’s slender body that the sleeves extended all the way down to the palms of her hands. Her collarbones up to her neck were in plain view and her black hair tied into a bundle dangled down to her bosom as if to hide away that deep neckline. Her maxi long skirt drooped down to her ankles.
From the entrance, numerous doors could be seen. The doors that clearly looked like bedrooms were at least three. The others appeared to lead to the bathroom and toilet. Further down into the hallway was the ambient lighted living-room and dining-room. So this was the rumored 3LDK2 apartment.
In this spacious apartment, Yukinoshita was living here alone.
With Yukinoshita guiding us, we moved through the hallway into the living-room.
Peeking from outside the living room was an overhanging balcony. From the window, the scenery consisted of the completely dusk sky and the night view of the new city center. In the west sky, there was a lonely afterglow.
Resting on top of the miniature built glass table was a closed laptop. Next to it was a file of documents. It looked like she had been working last night as well.
The design of the living-room was simple, as if she wasn’t expecting any visitors. It resembled the interior of a business hotel, utilizing minimal furniture that was simple, but effective. Amongst them, there was a sofa couch that felt warm, covered with a cream colored sheet.
In front of the sofa was a television stand. It was a little surprising to see that she owned a big television, but on closer inspection, the lower deck was lined with Destinyland goods including “Panda’s Pan-san”. I really hope she didn’t buy this nice of a television just so she could do this…
“Have a seat over there.” As we were suggested, Yuigahama and I took a seat without a word.
I was wondering what Yukinoshita was going to do, but she leaned against the wall. When Yuigahama asked her, “why don’t you sit too?” Yukinoshita softly shook her head.
“So, what is it that we need to talk about?” Though her face was directed at us, her gaze was looking further downwards. Even the glint in her eyes that should’ve been overpowering was docile like the abating surface of water.
I sat there not answering her question while Yuigahama looked for her words. “Ah, um… I heard you were staying home today, Yukinon. So I was wondering if you were okay.”
“Yes. You’re making a big fuss over one day. I made sure to notify the school.”
“You’re living alone, of course that’ll make people worry.”
“Aren’t you really tired too? You still look kind of sick,” said Yuigahama.
Yukinoshita softly faced downwards, as if trying to conceal her face. “I’m a little tired, but nothing more. It’s not a problem.”
“…Isn’t that the problem?” Yuigahama said.
Yukinoshita went quiet. Yeah, she hit her where it hurt. She wouldn’t be resting at home in the first place if things were going smoothly.
Yukinoshita appeared even more delicate than before as she continued to hang her head.
“Yukinon, you don’t need to do everything by yourself. There’re other people with you too.”
“I understand that. That’s why I reassigned the workload so the burden is less—”
“Even though it really isn’t?” She cut off Yukinoshita’s words.
Yuigahama’s voice was quiet and calm, yet it was passionate and urgent. It drowned out the surrounding sounds, leaving only her words.
“I’m a little angry with you, okay?” said Yuigahama, and Yukinoshita’s shoulders twitched.
It was reasonable for Yuigahama to be upset. She went as far as to slap away any help and do things by herself, only to end up getting sick.
I let out a small sigh and Yuigahama shot her gaze at me. “I’m angry at you too, Hikki. I even told you to help her whenever she’s in trouble too…”
So that’s why she was quiet the entire time on our way here. No really, I had no excuse. It was true I hadn’t been useful at all. I ended up dropping my shoulders in shame.
“…I’m not expecting the assistant historians to work beyond what they’re asked of. It’s already enough that he’s fulfilling his duties.”
“It’s fine. There’s still time. I’m also working at home, so we haven’t really fallen behind. It isn’t something you need to be concerned with, Yuigahama-san.”
“But that’s just weird.”
“Is… it…?” Yukinoshita’s gaze didn’t move from the floor. “…What do you think?”
It took a slight moment for me to realize that her question was directed at me. The wall that Yukinoshita leaned against stretched to the kitchen and in the dim unlit interior, her expression was unreadable.
I need to tell her that how she was approaching things is wrong.
It isn’t like Hayama’s sound reasoning. That isn’t something I can say.
It isn’t like Yuigahama’s kindness. I don’t have that in me.
But I know where she made a mistake.
“‘Rely on someone’, ‘everyone should help and support each other’. You can’t get any more right than this. They’re the perfect solutions.”
“I see…” She replied indifferently and apathetically, just her crossed arms dropping weakly.
“But that’s idealistic. The world won’t run on that alone. There will always be someone who pulls the short end of the stick and there will be someone who pushes for that. Someone has to take the blame. That’s just reality. That’s why I don’t plan on telling you to rely on or cooperate with others.”
I could hear Yukinoshita’s soft exhaled breath. I was still uncertain of the implications of that sigh.
“But the way you’re approaching things is wrong.”
“…Then… do you know what the right approach is?” Her voice was shaking.
“I don’t. But what you’re doing now isn’t the same as how you did things before.”
To this day, Yukinoshita’s style was consistent. She wouldn’t recklessly jump headfirst to save people just because they sought her help. At most, she would stay as a helper, always leaving the final call up to the will of the person in question.
But it was another matter this time. Yukinoshita handled the counting from 1 to 10, likely because the person in question told her so, and she would somehow manage something at the very end. That would’ve aligned with the nature of the Cultural Festival; putting aside whether or not everyone ended up happy from it.
But that conflicted with the ideal that Yukinoshita touted.
Yukinoshita didn’t answer.
From there, silence filled the room.
The room was freezing. The sensible temperature was probably lower than the actual temperature.
Yuigahama sneezed. It was almost as if she was crying when she sniffed her nose.
Realizing that the room was gradually becoming chilly, Yukinoshita stopped leaning against the wall.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t even pour any tea…”
“Th-That’s okay, you don’t need to do that… I-I can do it.”
“You don’t need to worry about my health. I feel a lot better after resting for the day.”
“Your health, huh?”
This time those trivial words grabbed my attention.
Yuigahama stuttered, finding it difficult to open her mouth. She caught her breath, but her next words didn’t come out. She paused for a moment and then slowly began talking. “You see… Like, I’ve been thinking, Yukinon. You should rely on me and Hikki. Not someone or everyone… but rely on us two, you know? I, um… it’s not like there’s anything I can do, but Hikki is—“
“…Is black tea fine?” Yukinoshita turned her back without listening until the end and disappeared into the kitchen. Yuigahama’s voice could no longer reach that poorly lit side.
Their words were always parallel.
This high, high tower apartment resembled the Tower of Babel where their words wouldn’t reach each other.
Yukinoshita carried in a set of black tea.
Tea time with no conversation.
Yuigahama held her cup with both hands and cooled down her tea by blowing on it.
Yukinoshita, still standing, held her cups in her hands and looked outside.
Speechless, I put the cup to my mouth and gulped it in full.
There was nothing more to discuss.
I set the cup and stood. “Alright, I’m going home.”
“Eh, m-me too…”
Yuigahama stood up right after and we headed for the entrance. Yukinoshita didn’t stop us in our tracks.
Even so, she followed us to the entrance with staggering footsteps as if standing up to escort us off.
As Yuigahama was putting on her shoes, Yukinoshita gently touched her nape with her hand. “Yuigahama-san.”
“Y-Yes!?” Yuigahama shrieked in surprise when her neck was touched. She tried to turn around only to be gently held in place.
“Um… It’s difficult for me right now. But I’ll definitely rely on you some day. So, thank you…”
Yukinoshita’s smile at Yuigahama was frail. Her cheeks, however, were slightly tinged with red.
“But, I just want some more time to think, so…”
“Okay…” Without turning around, Yuigahama rested her hand on top of the hand that was pressing against her nape.
“Take care of the rest, Yuigahama.”
I cut her words short and quietly closed the door.
Sorry, but take care of the rest.
Yuigahama had done what she needed to; in a way that only she could do.
But that won’t solve the problem.
Then leave the solution to me.
They say that time is the medicine to everything. That’s a lie. All it does is chase everything into obscurity. It makes everything pointless and worthless, simply masking away the actual problems.
They say that the world changes if you changed. That’s also a lie. It’s deception. The world will always try to drag you down and turn you in a caricature, plucking out any conspicuous components. Eventually, you stop thinking. The world—your surroundings—are only brainwashing you into believing the notion that “I changed and so did the world”.
The world, your surroundings, the masses won’t change from those sentimental, hot-blooded, and idealistic outlooks.
I’ll teach you how to really change the world.
× × ×
The slogan of the Cultural Festival saw some trouble.
True. I knew someone was going to come out from somewhere and say something about it.
[Funny! It’s too funny! ~I can hear the sea breeze. Sobu High Cultural Festival~]
…Of course that’s not going to pass. I mean, this was Saitama’s 100,000 Stone Manjuus3 we’re talking about here. It wouldn’t be taken to so kindly in Chiba.
Well, let’s put Chiba aside. There were talks about how the slogan had been misappropriated quite a bit elsewhere, so the resulting decision of the negotiations ended with a no-go.
People were gathered on short notice to figure out how to deal with this pressing issue.
Haruno-san and Hayama, observers who’ve been here often as of late, were present. This was also a testament to the increasingly disordered planning committee.
The executives comprised of the student council members and Yukinoshita were thoroughly wrung through. So far they were able to manage with the dwindling number of people. But this incident was essentially the finale, capable of becoming the finishing blow to everything.
There were no signs of the meeting starting up.
Waves of noisy chatter spread throughout the conference room. Sagami was originally the one who was supposed to take control, but she was chatting in front of the whiteboard with her friends who were nominated as secretaries.
Meguri-senpai spoke up, unable to stay complacent, “Sagami-san, Yukinoshita-san. Everyone’s here now.”
Sagami’s chatter stopped. She then looked at Yukinoshita.
Naturally, everyone’s gazes were directed to her as well. Regardless, Yukinoshita continued to stare at the minutes in her hand absentmindedly.
“Yukinoshita-san?” said Sagami.
Yukinoshita jerked her face upwards. “Eh…?” It took a slight moment, but she quickly assessed the situation. “We will now begin the committee meeting. As reported by Shiromeguri-senpai, we will be discussing the slogan of the Cultural Festival today.” Yukinoshita systematically propelled the meeting after readjusting herself.
First was a show of hands for ideas. But for a passive group like this, that was too high of a hurdle. No one had the motivation. Nothing, but chatter filled this earnest meeting.
Sitting next to me, Hayama lifted his hand. “I think it might be too hard to say our ideas out loud. Why don’t we write them down on paper? Explanations can be for afterwards.”
“I suppose so… We’ll take a moment to do so.”
Every member was passed a piece of white paper. Every person had a sheet, but you couldn’t say the same for ideas. It was to the point where people would giggle to each other and get a kick from sharing their jokes with each other.
Once it was time to submit them, they wouldn’t bother.
Though, in this lax group, there were a fixed number of people who actually worked even if it wasn’t apparent. There were also people who did their work as long they could avoid being trapped into a conspicuous position. They were the people who had supported the committee up until now. And now, it looked like they would be taking care of us again.
The slogans written on the collected papers were jotted down onto the whiteboard.
Friendship – Effort – Victory
Right. So it was mostly slogans to that effect that were listed.
One slogan that stuck out was “All Eight Corners of the World Under One Roof”4. Whoa, I have a good idea of who actually wrote that…
There was one more that attracted everyone’s attention.
[ONE FOR ALL]
After it was written on the whiteboard, Hayama went “oh” with a small voice.
“Stuff like that is kinda nice.”
It looked like it caught Hayama’s fancy. Right, you’re the type to like that kind of stuff. It’s even in written in all capitals too.
I replied with a snort that meant “really?”
Hayama shrugged his shoulders. “One person for everyone’s sake. I actually like that stuff a lot.”
“What, so that’s what you meant. Sounds simple to me.”
Haha—not even Hayama-san could comprehend my musings. Then let me explain, my good sir, the meaning of my words.
“Push the entire burden on one person and get rid of him… One person for everyone’s sake. Happens pretty often, yeah?”
——Exactly what every single one of you were doing this moment.
“Hikigaya… you—“ Hayama’s expression looked as if he were struck suddenly, but his gaze gradually grew sharper. He adjusted his body towards me and directly faced me.
We might’ve looked like we were glaring at each other.
The chatter around us stopped for a moment.
Since our voices were quiet, our surroundings at most only stayed at whispers of us.
Hayama’s quiet confrontation lasted a few seconds, though that was because I promptly averted my eyes.
No, it wasn’t because I was scared.
It was because everyone’s attention was focused at the front, so I wasn’t the only one.
Sagami talked with her secretary nominated friends and stood up. “Okay, this is the last one. This is from us: [Bonds ~The Cultural Festival of Helping Each Other Out~]…”
“Ughhh…” I reflexively let out my voice when hearing those words come out of Sagami’s mouth. Was her head the Hanabatake Farm5 or something? Was she making raw caramel in there?
My reaction stirred the surroundings. The scornful noises rubbed Sagami the wrong way. So it came to reason that she would point me out seeing that I, who was lower in position to her, was the cause of the noises.
“…What’s that? Did I say something weird?” Sagami kept up her smile, but her cheeks were twitching and she was visibly upset.
“No, not really…”
Say something and stop, but make it sound like you’re complaining. This was definitely the most irritating response. Since it’s coming from me who did it unconsciously and lost friends because of it, there was no doubt about it.
Get across the things that you couldn’t with words.
I know how to do that. It’s the method where you’re able to get across your intentions even if you words didn’t.
It’s because I’ve never had an actual decent conversation before.
Pretending to sleep during break, making an unpleasant face when getting asked to do something, and sighing while working.
It’s because I’ve come this far getting my intentions across without the need for words.
I know the method… It’s just, I only really knew how to use it in worthless situations.
“Are you sure you don’t want to say something?”
“No. Well, not really.”
Sagami lightly glared at me in displeasure and said, “Riiight, is that so? If you don’t like it, suggest one yourself.”
And that’s why I went and blurted it out!
“[People ~Look Closer And One Person’s Taking It Easy While Leaning On The Other Cultural Festival~]”
…I thought the world had grinded to a halt.
No one said a word. Neither Sagami nor Meguri-senpai nor Hayama said anything; they were just dumbfounded. This was the situation they would call being found speechless.
The committee fell silent.
Even Yukinoshita had her mouth hanging open.
The stillness was destroyed by a laughing voice.
“Ahahahahaha! What an idiot! We have an idiot here! Just amazing! E-Ehehe~, ahhhh. Oh god, my stomach hurts.” Haruno-san erupted into laughter.
Hiratsuka-sensei glared at me with a sour look. You’re scary ma’am. Like double scary, ma’am. She then nudged Haruno-san with her elbow. “…Haruno, you’re laughing too much.”
“Ahahaha, ha… Mm, mmm,” Haruno-san held back her laughter and coughed, noticing her frozen surrounding. “I mean, I think it’s a pretty good idea. Yep. As long it’s interesting, it’s okay in my book!”
“Hikigaya… Explain…” Hiratsuka-sensei looking somewhat stunned asked for an explanation.
“Well, they say that the kanji for people, 人, shows people supporting each other, but isn’t it just one person leaning on the other? I think the concept of the kanji works on the assumption that there will be a victim. That’s why for this Cultural Festival—for this planning committee—I think it’s very fitting.”
“What do you mean by victim specifically?” Hiratsuka-sensei’s expression had lost its stunned look at some point.
“Just look at me. I’m a total victim here. I’m being forced to do a stupid ton of work. Heck, people are just giving me more. Is this supposed to be the “helping each other out” part that the chairman seems to be advocating here? I haven’t gotten any help at all, so I don’t get it at all.”
The gaze of every member focused on Sagami.
After checking Sagami who was trembling, they then all turned to each other.
The commotion went wild.
Voices propagated from one neighbor to the next.
The whispers would come up to me and then return back to the center like waves breaking on the shore and retreating.
Then, they all stopped at the center.
It was the center where the Cultural Festival planning committee executives and the vice-chairman Yukinoshita Yukino were sitting.
Not a single voice was raised in this conference room at this very moment.
Yukinoshita was the ice queen who ruled under an absolute autocracy, taking drastic measures since her inauguration. Everyone concentrated their gazes on her with expectations of some kind of punishment to be given to the spewed nonsense.
Then, Yukinoshita lifted the crumpling minutes that were in her hand to hide her face.
Yukinoshita’s shoulders trembled. She leaned her upper body forward over the desk and her slumped back shook up and down.
Everyone could only watch over that strange sight. The stillness that was painful even to the ears continued for a little longer.
Moments later, Yukinoshita let out a short sigh and lifted her face. “Hikigaya-kun.”
Her gaze crashed directly with mine.
It felt like a considerably long time since she had called my name that way and since I had seen those transparent, blue eyes.
Her cheeks that were faintly flushed.
Her mouth that wore a forming smile.
Her cerise and well-shaped lips gently moved.
With a smiling face that was both brilliant and reminiscent of the warm blossoming of flowers, she announced, “Rejected.”
Yukinoshita returned to business, straightened her back, and coughed once. “Sagami-san. Let’s stop here for today. It doesn’t look like we’ll come up with anything worthwhile at this rate.”
“It would be a poor decision to waste away a day on this. Every member of the committee should think of a slogan and we’ll decide on one tomorrow. As for the remaining work, if every member participates for the remaining days, we should be able to sufficiently take back the lost time,” said Yukinoshita, quietly looking around the conference room with a compulsory gaze. “It looks like there aren’t any objections.”
No dissatisfaction was raised to her intensity. In this miniscule instant, she was able to get everyone’s consent to mandatory participation.
Sagami was no exception.
“Okay, right. Then let’s give it our all tomorrow too. Thank you for your hard work.”
After she gave her command, groups of twos and threes stood up from their seats.
Without giving me a glance, Hayama stood and left the conference room.
Following right after, people sent me painful, prickling stares after passing by me. Even people whispering “what’s with this guy” were amongst them. Seriously, what’s with this guy? Oh, that’s me.
After the committee members left the room, the usual remainders were the executives.
In the lax atmosphere, there was just one individual with a long face.
It was Meguri-senpai.
Meguri-senpai quietly got up from her seat. She came up to me and didn’t have her typical comfortable smile.
“I’m disappointed… I thought you were a really serious guy too…”
I had no words in response to her sad whisper.
That’s why I didn’t want to work. If you strived to do your job, you would be forced with expectations. At some point, a simple misstep on your part would be met with disappointment.
I wiped away my regret together with a sigh.
I lifted myself out of my chair.
Just as I was about to exit the conference room, Yukinoshita was at the front of the door.
“Are you okay with this?”
“With what?” I asked her back, but she didn’t reply.
“I think it’d be better if you cleared up the misunderstanding.”
“I won’t be able to. It’s already out there, so the problem ends there. There isn’t anything more to clear up.”
Right answer, a misunderstanding; whatever it was, that was my final answer.
You can’t take back disappointment, nor can you get rid of the stigma branded on you.
Yukinoshita narrowed her eyes and lightly glared at me. “…You make excuses for the most pointless things but never when it comes to things that matter. I think that’s somewhat cowardly of you. No one can make an excuse if you do that.”
“There’s no point in making excuses. People act on their own the more important something is.”
“…I suppose so. That might be true. Things like excuses are meaningless,” said Yukinoshita, as if reflecting on it.
You can’t take back the answer you already gave out. There’s no use in crying over spilt milk. The egg you broke won’t come back. All the horses and soldiers of a king will never return to his side again.
It doesn’t matter what was said. You can never wipe away a bad impression.
Even though the opposite is so simple in comparison. Just one word will make someone appear hateful. Just doing one thing would make you seem hateful.
That’s why excuses are meaningless. Because even those excuses will make you look hateful.
Yukinoshita held her body and stood idly. Even so, she didn’t lean against the wall. Like always, she straightened her posture and lifted her face.
“…Then, that means I’ll just have to ask again.”
It was a will brazen and intense that could veil even hostility. Her beautiful eyes were as though they were stars that glowed translucently.
It felt like those eyes were telling me: “I won’t make any excuses. So, look at me.”
Her earnest gaze turned into something slightly warm.
“More importantly, what was that earlier?”
“That hopeless slogan you brought up. It was absolutely tasteless.”
“It’s way better than yours… Are you some kind of thesaurus?” I said.
Yukinoshita purposely sighed. “Amazingly enough, you haven’t changed at all…”
“People don’t change that easily.”
“I suppose you were rather strange from the start.”
“Hey, that wasn’t necessary.”
Yukinoshita chuckled. “When I watch you, I start to think trying to force change is stupid.” She turned her back before she finished speaking. She trotted over to her desk to grab her bag and quietly pointed outside. “Get out” was what she was saying.
We both left the conference room and she locked the door.
“Well, I’m going to return the key.”
“Yeah, see you.”
“Yes, good bye.” She gave her parting words, but placed her hand on her chin and hesitated for a brief moment. Then, she added, “…See you tomorrow.” Using her hand from earlier for thinking, she raised it in reservation near her chest. Her palm which hesitated between being open and being gripped was waved slightly back and forth.
“…Yeah, see you tomorrow.”
We both turned our backs and began walking.
I had the urge to turn back after taking a few steps, but there were no signs of her footsteps stopping. In that case, I wouldn’t either.
Can we stay as we are without looking back?
Can I really ask one more time?
In life, you can never take things back.
Your mistaken answer will always stay as is.
If you’re going to overrule it, then you had to come up with a new one.
That’s why, I’ll ask again.
For the sake of knowing what the right answer is.
× × ×
The slogan of the Cultural Festival was chosen in the committee the following day.
The revitalized meeting had heated discussion one after the other. The result of the debate that went on for an extended period of time where everyone’s heads stopped working and became aimless was a single consolidated idea.
This year’s slogan for the Cultural Festival was as follows:
[Chiba’s Specialties, Dancing and Festivals! If We’re All Fellow Fools, Let’s Dance and Sing a Song!!]
Was that really okay?
It made me a little uneasy, but this was what the planning committee had concluded. Not to say I didn’t like it or anything. Chiba’s dancing songs were pretty famous and all.
The passionate meeting had yet to die as the committee members were still debating with each other.
To shift their motivation towards work, Yukinoshita softly whispered into Sagami’s ears. “Sagami-san. We should change the slogan next.”
“Ah, okay… Then, everyone, please change the slogan with the one that we decided on.”
For now, the Cultural Festival planning committee restarted into action with Sagami’s call.
Choosing the slogan must’ve been some form of tradition that deepened the unity between everyone as they were overflowing with motivation.
“Alright punks! Let’s remake those posters!” Public advertising barked out.
“Wait a second! We haven’t figured out the budget yet!” The finance accountant snapped back.
“Stupid! Toy with the abacus afterwards! It’s now or never for me!”
“Whatever! Make sure to retrieve the thumb tacks after you fix the posters! Those are getting counted too!”
And so forth. Even the item management guys were beginning to chip in.
Every section actively exchanged ideas with the other. It was hard to believe they were the same members from before.
As for me, I was verbally insulted behind my back while being ignored into obscurity. But this wasn’t bullying. Bullying didn’t exist at our school.
Even when they gave me more work, they wouldn’t say a word to me and dropped it in front of me. To make people work more even in this kind of situation was quite remarkable. The bosses, I mean.
I promptly typed today’s minutes into a Word document and a voice spoke to me from above in high spirits.
“Hey there, working hard over here?”
Now that the committee was earnestly working, Haruno-san had some free time and was present since she was taking a break from practice. She especially made her way to me and patted me on the head.
“…As you can see.”
Haruno-san peeped at the screen of my PC from behind me. Um, you’re kind of close. What the, is this perfume? You smell really good, so please get away from me…
“Ahh… You’re not working at all.”
Why? I totally am…
I looked at her with my reproachful, rotten eyes and Haruno-san feigned surprise. “Oh, don’t like it…? I mean, I don’t see any of Hikigaya-kun’s achievements on these minutes at all.”
“……” I went silent.
Haruno-san looked at me and made a snobbish smile. “Hikigaya-kun? Time for a quiz! What can effectively cause a group to unify the most~?”
“A cold-hearted leader?”
“Don’t be coy. You totally know the answer. Well, I can’t say I dislike that answer though,” Her eyes grew colder, but she maintained her smile. “The right answer is… a defined enemy existence.”
Her true intentions were evident from that frigid smile.
Someone once said long ago: “The ultimate leader that is able to unite the masses; that is, the enemy.”
Well, just having someone there to be the target of all the hostility isn’t going to change everyone’s attitudes at the drop of a hat. That isn’t possible.
But increase the number of people by four, even five, and they start multiplying like rabbits. The bigger the number, the faster thoughts diffuse.
They say humans are “empathizing” creatures. It’s similar to how you end up yawning when you watch someone else yawn.
Barbaric fervor, fanaticism, and hatred, in particular, propagate easily.
Multi-level marketing programs and religion solicitations are on the same boat.
Anyone would feel better when being with someone.
Doctrines and sermons followed that same logic. As long they can make you think “desperately trying makes you look cool”, they were done.
Situations lie in the numbers.
The masses lie in the numbers.
Wars lie in the numbers.
You get people to jump on the bandwagon after building on the numbers. That was essentially winning. And the world now runs on that scenario. The one moving the world isn’t a leader with tremendous charisma. The one moving the world is the established outcome from the absolute majority, or from the promises born from that majority.
The rest is simple then.
If an absolute loser existence like [Hikitani@don’t work hard] exists, then public opinion—the general masses—will trend away from it instead.
People who try are cool. People who didn’t are Hikitani.
As long as that label continues to exist, people will have to try, their opinion notwithstanding.
Haruno-san chuckled and looked down at me. “Well, I guess our enemy here is kind of small-time though.”
Leave me alone.
“But now that everyone’s getting festive and excited, I guess it’s a good thing.”
“Yeah, now I have more work because of that.”
That’s why you should stop bothering me. I wanted to get that across to her, but she nonchalantly ignored it.
“That’s fine. If a scoundrel like you is actually being diligent, then that’ll rile them up in one way or another. They won’t grow if the enemy doesn’t keep it together, after all. Strife is the key to the advancement of technology~.” Haruno-san started on her explanation, her eyes closed while wagging her finger. Wow, she’s kind of annoying.
But with her humorous gesture, her opened eyes were looking over at Yukinoshita.
That gaze caused a baseless thought to flash into my head.
“Um, could it be…”
My moving lips were stopped in place by her soft fingers.
“I don’t like perceptive kids, okay?”
Suppose that the existence of an enemy is the simplest way to spur human growth.
Could it be that this person was acting so she could appear as the enemy? I found myself thinking that despite having no proof at all.
Haruno-san smiled with a “just kidding”, still holding my lips in place.
It was a seamless smile, perfect to the point it could’ve fooled me.
I was frozen in place and unable to say anything. Then, there was a sharp voice cutting in from the rear.
“Assistant, do your work.”
Pom pom pom. She piled a bundle of documents in front of me.
When I looked up, Yukinoshita was staring down at me with really crazy, cold eyes.
“Dispose of the documents for the slogan change. Also, the minutes… are what you’re already doing now…” Yukinoshita moved her hand to her mouth and went “ah” as she raised her face. “…Then, send a notification to every group regarding the slogan change.”
“Hey, you clearly made that up just now, didn’t you?”
She totally said “then” just now, didn’t she? Whenever that gets used, it only made you look like you didn’t have anything else in mind.
“There are times when I get a flash of brilliance too. Wisdom is something that arises in conjunction with that, after all. Oh, also, while you’re at it, gather the exhibition written applications and upload them to the server.”
She just mentioned something really incomprehensible just now. She’s really bad at making excuses. Actually, did she just give me more work there? Weren’t you supposed to use “while you’re at it” for more work when it correlates to what’s being done at the moment? Was I wrong?
I looked at her doubtfully, but was suppressed by Yukinoshita’s glare.
“Anyway, get it done today.”
Since it was Yukinoshita, the labor environment actually appeared more lax. It was to the point where you’d skip out on work, cut your phone’s battery, and yell to your mom, “don’t bother with picking up the house phone for a while!”
But since I was at school, I couldn’t really stop…
As I was drowning in hopelessness, Haruno-san lifted her arm and waved it so Yukinoshita could catch sight of it. “Should I do it too?”
“Nee-san, you’re a bother, so go home.” Yukinoshita curtly said.
Haruno-san’s eyes then welled up with tears. “So mean! Yukino-chan, you’re so mean…! Well, I don’t have anything better to do, so I’m going to help out anyway. Hikigaya-kun, give me half of that.”
When Haruno-san reached out to the pile of papers, Yukinoshita placed her hand to the side of her head. “…Jeez. I’m going to review the budget, so if you’re going to do something, then let’s go and do that.”
“Hm? Fufu… Okaaaay♪!” Haruno-san made a suspicious smile for a brief moment, but she quickly returned to her usual spunkiness. She pushed Yukinoshita from behind and moved. It looked like they were going to discuss the budget.
When all is said and done, Haruno-san was doing her work.
I wasn’t really convinced that someone busy like Haruno-san was able to show up so frequently just for her volunteer group. There was no way she was that free. Then for what reason is she coming here? But that probably wasn’t something I needed to think about.
It would be more productive to think about how to get the work in front of me out of the way instead.
Fufu. Corporate slaves were exactly called as such because they couldn’t do anything about it…
× × ×
As the Cultural Festival approached closer day by day, Sobu High began heating up in contrast to the declining temperature.
The classroom of 2-F was clamorous since the morning.
Today was for all-day preparation before the day of the event.
Tables were set up and combined together to build a stage.
With the class officer giving directions, Oda or Tahara, or whatever lifted up the background props created from plywood and cardboard.
Tobe, Yamato, and the virgin Oooka went heave-ho with considerable enthusiasm and carried over the airplane props.
Kawasaki was listening to her headphones as she fixed up the outfits. Miura and Yuigahama were chatting while they were decorating the fake red flowers.
Since it looked like there weren’t enough flowers, the girls began making more. It must’ve been one of those things. You create the flowers by piling five sheets of tissue-like paper, fold it back step by step, hold the center with a rubber band, and then rip the sheets one by one. Yeah that. It’s often seen at Cultural Festivals.
Totsuka and Hayama were rehearsing their lines together.
As for me, I was sitting idly at the corner of the stage with nothing in particular to do.
“Tonight… You mustn’t come here.”
“We’ll be together forever.”
The “narrator” directly conveyed his feelings as if to support the voice of the vulnerable little prince.
I knew it was just part of the play, but I couldn’t help but grind my teeth… Damn it, if I knew I I’d able to make these kinds of memories, I should’ve signed up instead.
Ugh, I can’t watch them any longer… I jerked my gaze in a different direction and the producer Ebina-san was there. She had a considerably glossy smile.
“YOU, go on out there!”
Which person from Something’s & Associates6 were you trying to be? I beg you. Please don’t start up an Ebina’s & Associates.
“Sorry, I have the planning committee…” I answered.
Ebina-san tapped her shoulders with the rolled up script. “Oh. That’s a bummer. Both of you would’ve made a good coupling too; Hikitani-kun as the “narrator” and Hayato-kun as the prince. Just now, you were watching the two of them practice on stage and were about to be consumed by the flames of jealou— Oh! Is this what you call NTR!? Bufu!”
Her nose was dripping blood as though she was vomiting it out. She’s freaking scary, seriously…
“God, there she goes again. Ebina. C’mon, blow your nose.” Miura came over after noticing how noisy she was being and propped up the paper that was meant for the artificial flowers to Ebina-san’s nose. Supposedly you’re not supposed to blow your nose when you had a nose bleed.
After watching the class for some time, I stood up and left the class.
Every class was brimming with energy as I went on my way.
For loners, this was probably a difficult environment to stay in. If this was after school, then they could just disappear quietly and no one would notice. Then again, it’s more like people acted as if they didn’t notice, but if it’s in the morning, you weren’t exactly free to do so.
It was basically between “let’s wait for instructions” and “let’s just stand around”.
Normally I’d be doing that, but this year, I was in the Cultural Festival planning committee.
I walked down the stairs, turned the hallway, and continued down the route that I had already gotten used to.
The conference room I arrived at saw a rush of traffic in and out. The door of the room which was typically closed looked like it had stayed open the entire day.
Yukinoshita was inside swiftly clearing work. Sitting next to her like a doll was Sagami. Haruno-san was spinning around in her chair discussing something with Meguri-senpai. I don’t really care, but Haruno-san has way too much time, doesn’t she?
I went inside the conference room and checked over the assistant historian shifts for tomorrow and the day after. People were continuously flowing into the room.
“Vice-chairwoman. The test updates to the homepage have been completed.”
“Understood… Sagami-san, please confirm.” Despite asking her, Yukinoshita checked it herself as well.
“Sure. It looks good.”
“Right. Please deploy the production environment to the website.”
She cleared one job after the other.
“Yukinoshita-san, the volunteers don’t have enough equipment!”
“The volunteer management section should discuss this with the representative of the volunteers. Please rent out the equipment according to what the item management group decides. Send a report to us afterwards.” It was only after she instantly handed out those instructions that Yukinoshita noticed the person sitting next to her. “Sagami-san, there aren’t any problems so we should be in the clear to move forward.”
“Ah, okay. I think that sounds good.”
When things went well, an urgent problem arose. Regardless, the problems were promptly resolved one after the other and the Cultural Festival planning committee was operating smoothly.
Amongst them all, Yukinoshita’s role was huge.
“The volunteer rehearsal is running behind schedule so we’ll move them to the end of the opening ceremony rehearsal. So keep that in mind.” Once she finished giving out instructions, she breathed out.
Haruno-san snuck up behind Yukinoshita and embraced her. “That’s my Yukino-chan!”
“Get away from me, don’t get close to me, go home.” Yukinoshita faced the PC while giving her the cold treatment.
Haruno-san let go of Yukinoshita and gently placed her hands on Yukinoshita’s shoulders. “Yukino-chan, you’re doing really good work. It’s like when I was doing it back then.”
“Uh huh, that’s true. It’s all thanks to you, Yukinoshita-san.” Meguri-senpai praised her as well.
“Not at all. It’s not that amazing…” As if trying to cover her embarrassment, Yukinoshita’s key presses on the keyboard grew louder.
“That’s not true. Your contributions here are extremely helpful, Yukinoshita-san,” said Meguri-senpai.
The other executives nodded their heads in agreement. The ones who went through thick and thin were them. So of course they’d feel much stronger about it.
The only exception was one individual who maintained a stiff smile. Sagami continued to smile without saying anything.
“This is how a planning committee should be! Ahh, I feel so gratified right now.”
Everyone nodded to Haruno-san’s words. Everyone was satisfied. They were aware that they fulfilled their obligation as the Cultural Festival planning committee.
That’s why no one saw what lied behind her words.
It was something that rejected the earlier planning committee. But it was also something that criticized the one who led it, Sagami.
Only those obligated to the people with warped personalities would be able to notice.
Sagami crumpled the paper in her hands under the desk.
Haruno-san expressed a smile in that instant. “Tomorrow’s going to be so fun… right?” Her gaze was directed at me for only a moment. Just what kind of future those dark eyes gazed at, I still wasn’t sure.
It was only a little longer until the opening of the festival full of barbaric fervor, youth, deception, and fabrication.
At long last, tomorrow was the Cultural Festival.
- Ishikawa Takuboku is a Japanese poet and the opening line is a parody of what he writes in his poem, “A Handful of Sand”. ↩
- Apartment with a living room, dining room, and a kitchen. ↩
- Original slogan of Saitama’s store “It’s delicious! It’s so delicious!” ↩
- Hakko Ichiu – Japanese political slogan. ↩
- Hanabatake Farm – A shop that makes all sorts of caramel. ↩
- Johnny’s & Associates ↩