The Cultural Festival reached the second day.
The second day, today, was open to the general public which meant a large volume of visitors: folks in the neighborhood, friends from other schools, and students looking to test into this school. There were also many people who had the Saturday off, so the event saw quite the turnout.
Compared to the first day, trouble arose accordingly just for the rehearsal-like atmosphere and the in-house excitement.
But on the second day where the entire planning committee’s support was in effect, it was safe, heavy day1 or not. They even had feather pads too.
With that out of the way, planning committee work was going to occupy me for all of today.
The event saw a variety of customers with the students from nearby middle schools being prominent: family accompanies, madams, neighborhood elders, and “I dunno what’s going on here, but I came anyway” little kids.
For the most part, we needed to record down all the visitors, but from what I could see, that was a fool’s errand. Quite frankly, I had the feeling I’d be left as unchecked, what with my lack of presence in class.
The health division that was on duty worked with a male gym teacher to handle the reception at the front of school before the two gates by setting up a long table. So there shouldn’t be any suspicious people coming on to campus.
Within the ongoing chaos, my job in particular was to take pictures.
Today’s main task was to capture the sight of every class exhibition and how the visitors were feeling, photos that would preserve the excitement of this year’s Cultural Festival.
Photography. I figured I could finish off the job with random shots of things here and there, but somehow, I wasn’t making much progress.
The reason being? Whenever I was ready to take a shot, people would tell me, “Um… could you please, like, stop taking pictures?” It was kind of painful…
And each time, I would end up showing my armband indicating “Planning Committee – Historian”, and for some reason, start apologizing.
Once I was finally able to manage a few shots, my back received a sudden impact from behind.
When I turned around, Komachi was hugging me. For her to be so affectionate with me, it wasn’t such a bad feeling as the older brother. Uwaha2, my little sister’s soooo cute~.
“A hug after our long-awaited reunion… This might just be full of Komachi points.”
“What’s that about? Are we at the Heathrow Airport or something?”
I thought foreigners at airports gave out way too many hugs.
Komachi was being awfully pushy, so I peeled her off of me. She then let out a “yeow” with a sly voice.
It should’ve been Komachi’s day off, but she was in her school uniform. On that note, why did high school girls always wear their uniforms anyway? Like, today was a weekend, but the event was just full of people in their uniforms. Then again, maybe it was easier if you didn’t have to think about what to wear and just opted for your uniform.
Komachi fixed her sailor uniform’s collar that got disheveled from jumping onto me. I had a strange sense of discomfort from seeing her.
Right. It was because everyone here had come with others while she was here alone, so I felt something was off.
“Did you come by yourself?”
“Yep. I’m really only here to see you, onii-chan. That was worth a lot of Komachi points,” But noticing my cold stare, Komachi then purposely cleared her throat. “Well, actually, inviting my friends when they’re so nervous about the upcoming test season would’ve been a little awkward.”
Speaking of which, I had completely forgotten due to how dumb she was, but this was Komachi we’re talking about; right now, she’s a test-taking student. Sobu High also happened to be her number one choice too.
Well, if it’s just to come see the school you wanted to get into, then the Cultural Festival would definitely serve as encouragement. But at the same time, it could also place a lot of pressure on you. But she still went out of her way to come with those implications in mind.
Komachi looked around restlessly as if finding the area unusual. “Where’s Yui-san and Yukino-san?”
“I think Yuigahama’s back at the class. No clue about Yukinoshita.”
“Why aren’t you at class, onii-chan? Don’t have a place there?”
She nonchalantly said something cruel just now. Rude. I, too, had a place. And that place was the table and chair specifically assigned just for me. But since my desk was suspended during the time of the Cultural Festival, I was a complete vagrant. A wanderer.
“…A wandering and forlorn soul deems a shelter to which he belongs unnecessary.”
“Wow, so cool,” And she answered with a totally monotone voice. “So, what’cha doing?”
“Work…” I answered.
Komachi blinked her eyes two to three times. “So, what’cha doing?”
“I said work.”
Why the heck did she repeat the question? Don’t make me write “Let’s listen to what people are saying, okay?” under “Progress” on your report card.
“So, what’cha doing?”
“Are you some kind of skipping CD? Don’t make me wipe you down with a cleaning solution. I’m working, seriously.”
“Onii-chan, is working…” Komachi muttered emotively, finally understanding what I had said after the third time.
“My onii-chan can’t hold a part-time job long enough, usually slacks off, and makes the most ridiculous excuses like “ah, it’s just my parents are pretty gung-ho about my tests” and just quits. For that onii-chan, to actually be working…” A momentary flash of light could be seen in her eyes. “You don’t know how happy I am… But, wait, that’s weird. It’s like my onii-chan’s going far away, so I don’t know how to explain this complicated feeling.”
Hey, could you stop with those parental eyes? It’s incredibly embarrassing. At this rate, onii-chan’s going to do a complete 180 on his entire life and live earnestly for the sake of his family.
To shake off Komachi’s heartwarming gaze, I corrected her understanding of my actual situation. “Well, you know, I say working, but it’s really just one of those underling jobs where I run around. Basically, it’s a job that anyone can do in my place.”
“Oh, that makes sense.”
Darn brat, she’s nodding too much. A bitter smile spilled out on my face.
“I know. It makes sense to me too.”
I must’ve been sporting quite the face of an underling if Hayama and even my little sister were convinced of that. But don’t get me wrong, I think my eyes belonged to the underlings of pirates, robbers, and bandits.
Komachi and I took our time going down the hallway.
In the considerable crowd, Komachi went a few steps further to look at the class decorations and student uniforms and looked surprised at their energy.
She let out an impressed gasp. “…High schools really are different, huh?”
“Well, middle schools don’t have Cultural Festivals.”
“Right, right. We just have chorus contests.”
That phrase caused an unpleasant memory to flash by in my head.
Why the heck did those guys immediately judge someone as not singing? I totally was, damn it. Or what? Was it because they didn’t know what my voice sounded like since we never had a conversation before? Was it because my voice was treated as a ghost’s voice after the recording?
Komachi’s legs then went to a stop.
She did an exaggerated stretch, placed her hand on her brow and looked into the distance. Or so I thought, but she was crossing her arms and thinking.
“I’m gonna go look around. I’ll see you later, onii-chan.” Before she even finished speaking, she jogged to the bend in the hallway and ascended up the stairs.
Suddenly, I was left alone. I replied with a dumbfounded answer despite knowing it wouldn’t reach her. Girls from another school that were walking nearby jumped back fifty centimeters in surprise.
I had to say though. My little sister was quite the strange girl.
Komachi was a girl who made sure to stay in line with her surroundings, but she was also surprisingly fond of doing things alone. She was a hybrid loner model of the next generation. Komachi had a knack for learning from the failures of those above. Growing up while watching a specialized isolationist like me, she was able to understand its merits and demerits.
Well, brothers and sisters had a lot going on with them.
If the older brother, like me, was just a failed piece of work by general standards, then the little sister unexpectedly had it a lot easier.
She wouldn’t have to agonize over being compared to him.
However, if I were an exceedingly excellent individual, then how would Komachi see me?
The reason I found myself pondering over that might have been because, walking ahead of me, I saw her.
Even in this crowd of people, I could tell.
Yukinoshita Yukino went to one class to the next, taking her time gazing into them.
Her gaze was slightly softer than usual.
Regardless of the reasons and details behind the Cultural Festival, it was thanks to Yukinoshita that it was turning out so smoothly. Most likely, she was aware of that, and proud of it. The fact that you tried so hard and something came out of it was definitely something that would cause your gaze to look kinder.
Yukinoshita’s gaze continued to the next class.
And then, it looked like her gaze had captured my figure.
She made a slightly shocked expression, but her gaze became cold. Why? With a suspicious glint in her eyes, she briskly walked over.
“It looks like you’re alone today.”
“Well, nothing unusual. Oh, Komachi was with me earlier though.”
“I see, so Komachi came by too. You aren’t going around together?”
“She kind of ran off somewhere. Maybe she’s just being considerate since I’m working?”
“…Working?” Yukinoshita tilted her head with a puzzled look.
“You can’t tell..?”
“That’s why I’m asking,” said Yukinoshita, nonchalantly.
So you can’t tell if I’m working huh…? I, Hachiman, was just a little shocked. But speaking of which, it’s true that I wasn’t doing any work right now…
“Anyway, you? Working?”
“Yes. I’m going around checking the classes.”
“You didn’t do that yesterday? What about your class?”
“…I would rather be doing this than participate in that back at class,” Yukinoshita answered, looking remarkably sullen.
Oh right, I think she said class 2-J was doing a fashion show. Class 2-J, the International Education course, was comprised of more than ninety percent girls. If they wanted the fastest way to attract customers, then all they needed to do was showcase and emphasize their beauty. In that case, it was natural they would want to recruit Yukinoshita. Wow, she definitely would hate that. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want a small glimpse of Yukinoshita being forced into a gorgeous outfit all the while trying to refuse them.
Yukinoshita was still in the middle of her patrol, so she was paying constant, close attention to various places.
Her gaze stopped at a single class.
“…That class. What they’re doing is different from what’s written on their application.”
On the wall of the third year class 3-B was a signboard designed with cave-like ornaments, and written on it with Indiana Jones-like font was [Train Trolley].
“What were they supposed to do?”
“You should at least have an idea of what all the classes are doing.”
Oh, this girl just went and said something outrageous…
Yukinoshita took out a nicely folded pamphlet of the Cultural Festival from her breast pocket and held it out to me.
I took it wordlessly and opened it. Actually, the residual warmth coming from the pamphlet was getting a rise out of me, so I really wanted her to refrain from that that kind of lax behavior.
I searched for the details of class 3-B’s exhibition to purge my worldly desires. Uhhh, 3-B, 3-B…
There it is. “Display a diorama with ornaments inside using a slowly moving trolley”, it looked like.
But what leaked out from the inside of the room were screaming voices.
And then, intense clickety-clack sounds.
It was obviously a roller coaster… It looked like they abruptly changed their focus after hearing the rave reviews of class 2-E’s roller coaster. They were quite the opportunists.
But the vice-chairwoman wouldn’t allow for that and quickly summoned the representative. “Is the representative here? This isn’t what was written on the application.”
The instant she had said that, the complexion on the girls of class 3-B changed.
“Crap!” “We got found out already!” “A-Anyway, get her in there! Let’s smooth it over with force!”
The noise turned into the buzzing of a beehive and the senpais tightly grabbed Yukinoshita’s arms and dragged her into the trolley.
“H-Hey!” Yukinoshita sent me a look while resisting. It looked like she was asking me to help her.
But that would have the opposite effect right now.
The entire time, I had assimilated with the atmosphere until stares from class 3-B focused on me.
“…Is that part of the planning committee too?” “He has an armband!” “Throw him in there!”
The uncultured male senpais immediately grabbed me. Hey! Why aren’t the girl senpais not grabbing me!? Isn’t this just unfair!?
I was dragged into the classroom. Hey! Who was that? Who was the one that touched my butt just now!? The inside of the class was designed like the interior of a cave. It was considerably elaborate with minerals lit up by LEDs, crystal sculls, rocks made from styrofoam, and strings laid out all over with bats flying around.
In the brief moment I was impressed, I was pushed into the trolley built from a basket cart, decorated with ornaments. Hey! Really, who was that!? Who’s the one that’s been rubbing my butt!?
I was pushed with one final shove. The impact caused Yukinoshita and me to be forced into the trolley, and we almost fell on top of each other.
With my last stand of resistance, I was somehow able to avoid crashing into Yukinoshita, but we were put into a cramped position.
…She’s so close, she’s so close. Yukinoshita and I scooted over to opposite ends of the narrow trolley.
“Umm, thank you very much for taking our train trolley today. Please enjoy the mysterious underground world to your heart’s content.”
The trolley jerked into motion once the opening speech ended. Four male students in black outfits with good builds began moving the trolley. On closer inspection, there were two others acting as their support.
The course that was created from desks, long desks, sheets of iron and plates on wooden boards rattled and we moved at a fast pace. Our bodies could feel the trolley being jerked up and down in violent fluctuations.
This is pretty scary… On top of that, the feeling of anxiety from knowing it was actually people causing the motions was no joke…
Suddenly, I could feel something on my blazer. When I looked, Yukinoshita was squeezing the cuffs of my blazer.
With the violent rattling back and forth, occasionally going up and down, I started to understand the feeling of being washed in a laundry machine.
The trolley stopped, finally reaching the goal.
Yukinoshita kept her back pressed against the wall of the trolley, looking relieved.
“So how did you like your trip to the depths of the earth? Come by again anytime~”
When the senpai of 3-B ended the trip with those final words, Yukinoshita and I started moving again. We both looked at each other. Yukinoshita quickly removed her hand from my blazer.
We then left the classroom as if being chased out. Since it was dark inside, the sunlight was bright.
“What do you think of our attraction!?” A person, who had been somewhere at the start, looking like the representative of 3-B appeared and boasted.
Looking somewhat disoriented, Yukinoshita sent him a cold stare. But her wobbling made that lose its intensity.
“There’s nothing to think, this is different from what’s on your application…”
“It’s only a little! We’re just exercising our flexible judgment!”
That’s called getting carried away… With people like these, even if you were unreasonable with them, they wouldn’t listen. The representative wasn’t at fault, but this was just the nature of groups. Once they decided on what to do and got started, they wouldn’t lend their ears to other people so easily. In that case, this was where we should just regulate the direction that they were going in.
“Well, it looks like a lot of people are enjoying it, so it’s not a big deal. That is, as long as it’s safe,” I said.
Yukinoshita gave it some thought. “I suppose… In that case, please write a supplement application and submit it. Also, provide a thorough explanation for the riders. Please have it at the entrance and in the opening speech before the start of the attraction.”
“Ehh… I guess if it’s just that.”
“Thank you very much,” Yukinoshita bowed and left the place. When she set out, she glanced at me over her shoulder. With an upset expression, she gave me a light glare. As if also because of the pouring sunlight, her cheeks were faintly red. “…Historian, do your work. Or could it be… you need someone to watch you so you don’t slack off?”
“No, I don’t…”
Don’t look down on me. You can watch me all you want, but when it’s time to slack off, I’ll slack off. That’s what makes me, me.
× × ×
In the end, I was forcibly placed under Yukinoshita’s scrutiny and with her instructions, I took numerous photos.
Her job of patrolling and my job of taking pictures were being done simultaneously.
Yukinoshita stopped her feet at class 3-E, which wasn’t too far off from the gym.
[Pets of All Sorts Meoow Woooof]
It looked like the students all brought their respective house pets to class.
Pictures of their pets were pasted on the wall as if it was some kind of host club. Dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters were standard, but there were ferrets, stoats, weasels, snakes, turtles… They sure had a lot of varieties with long bodies, but anyway.
Amongst all the photos, Yukinoshita’s gaze was focused on a single one.
Oh? A ragdoll, huh? Ragdolls are a type of cat breed. They’re rather big in size and they have fluffy and hairy fur. There’s also their name, ragdoll. The intended meaning is supposed to be doll; it isn’t referring to an adult doll at all. There are also small breeds like singapura cats and munchkin cats. I may be saying “pura pura” or “munch munch”, but it’s not anything indecent at all.
Yukinoshita was looking inside the classroom and then back at the pictures over and over again.
…Ah. This is hopeless. This is the same hopeless pattern. I can see where this is heading.
“You can just go inside, you know,” I spoke to her, fully aware of how things were going to develop.
But surprisingly, Yukinoshita shook her head in disappointment. “…There are dogs in there.”
Ah, right, she wasn’t any good with dogs, huh? No chance there.
“Also… because, people will see me, so…” said Yukinoshita, looking incredibly embarrassed. She made a red face and looked down.
Well, I guess so. I mean, seeing her act so affectionately with cats was kind of freaky. Instead of going “so cute!” she would be totally and seriously affectionate with them. Heck, she wouldn’t back down ever. Like, it’s to the point she had reached the level of a skilled craftsman. And for the vice-chairwoman of the planning committee to be seen like that, her dignity would instantly be in the dumps.
The conditions were different from a Monster Hunter pet shop, so there wasn’t much she could do. The public eye was there too.
“Well, just go to Carrefour next time. I’d recommend that pet shop over there.”
“I know about it, I go there often.”
Is that so…? So you’ve already been there…
“So we’re done here now, right?”
Yukinoshita, however, didn’t look like she was going to budge. In fact, she was pointing at the door. “Historian, work.”
Are you Mister Popo or something? Stop talking with just your vocabulary.
But, well, Yukinoshita’s iron will with cats in front of her looked immovable that even a lever wouldn’t get her to move.
I gave in and held the photography shoot. That’s good, that’s good! Raise your legs a bit more there.
A few minutes after, I was finally released from the grunt work.
“Hey, is there any point to taking so many cat pictures?”
Well, it’s not a big deal or anything…
Yukinoshita took the digital camera from me and looked it over. She looked over the numerous “meow, meow” photos that I took while she was barking instructions from a distance and went “phew”, smiling with a satisfied expression.
I watched her, thinking how dangerous it was for her to be walking while operating the camera, but since everyone was going in the same direction, strangely enough, I didn’t have to worry about her crashing into people.
Further ahead was the gym. The doors were left open and gathered inside was a considerable amount of people.
With the boisterous sounds of people cheering, Yukinoshita handed me back the camera.
“…It’s almost about time.”
“For?” I asked, but Yukinoshita didn’t answer.
Yukinoshita remained quiet and headed straight for the gym with a decisive gait as though she was going there to search for some kind of answer.
Without turning around, she called my name, “Hikigaya-kun. Let’s get going.”
Well, it didn’t really matter where we went since I had my job as the assistant historian, so I had no objection. The vice-chairwoman herself had instructed me to take these pictures, so I shouldn’t be hearing complaints like “we can’t use these!”either. So this made it easier for me as well.
I went through the doors of the gym after Yukinoshita.
All of rows of pipe chairs were occupied.
In the back, there were people next to each other standing and watching.There must’ve been some kind of initial announcement since there were so many people here.
“Ah, Yukinoshita-san. Good timing,” The volunteer in charge of the gym approached us. “We’re having everyone else stand since we don’t have enough chairs, so would it better to organize them into lines?”
“I believe it should be fine.”
“But won’t it get too loud?”
“…It’ll be quiet very soon.”
Sure enough, the noisy atmosphere died down just like Yukinoshita said. Was it because everyone had sensed the performance was about to begin or was it because everyone had been pressured by the dignified classical presence that seeped from the instruments set on the stage?
Before things got started, we made our way to the end of the line of standing viewers. When we reached the end, there was a moment of commotion.
I placed my eyes on the stage and women in magnificent dresses holding various instruments appeared on stage one by one. They were met with applause from the audience.
The one that appeared last, coming out with leisurely footsteps, was Yukinoshita Haruno.
Under the dazzling spotlight, wearing a slender long dress that emphasized the curves of her body, for every step she took, her dark outfit would flutter, mesmerizing those that watched her. The black rose corsage attached to her bosom and to her tied hair had an aura of glamor even from far away and the glimmer of the pearl and spangle further served to make her appear even more radiant.
Haruno-san held the end of her skirt and gracefully bowed.
She ascended onto the rostrum with her high heels and grabbed the baton.
She lightly raised it in the air and stopped. That elegant motion coerced those who watched into restraining themselves.
And like that of a rapier, she sharply swung the baton.
Instantly, a tune filled the gym.
Spewing forth from the brass instruments that shined under the dazzling spotlight was a lump of pressure and from the quivering strings and bows, a timbre with the sharpness of an arrow. In contrast, the timbre of the woodwind instruments trembled like the evening wind.
Haruno-san tore away the space before her.
Then, the violinists stood up and sensationally bowed the strings of their violins.
Next, the instrumentalists playing the flutes, piccolos, and oboes rose, accompanying the light melody, and took a step. Next to stand were the clarinets and fagottos which were raised high in the air. And as if this part was the highlight, the trumpets and trombones were directed upwards, strengthening their shine from the spotlight. When the contrabass was spun, instrumentalists playing the timpani would match with that and make a splendid turn.
It was a spirited musical opening that didn’t cohere with their classical attire; all the more so with their unconventional, gaudy, and intense maneuvers.
The audience was shocked as if they were stuck across the side of their face.
But the recognizable rhythm and melody that naturally excited the body and the affinity that the instrumentalists had from their actions caused the audience to lean forward and listen attentively. On realization, everyone had taken up the rhythm to their knees.
What song was it? It’s something I’ve heard before, and I think it was a piece that the wind orchestral club had played quite often.
With my answer lodged in my throat, Haruno-san abruptly lifted her hand in the air and swung them left and right.
In the harmonic orchestra, that motion was abnormal. The attention of the viewers was all focused on that hand. Those thin and long fingers started a countdown.
It was that moment when a familiar phrase flew into my ears. Everyone present, here in the gym, knew exactly what that piece was.
Haruno-san twisted half her body once again. Her baton to the instrumentalists, and her other hand to the audience. She energetically waved her hands.
That signal caused the stage and the audience to jump to their feet in unison and scream.
With that ongoing crazy enthusiasm, the performance accelerated.
And once again, another “Mambo!” came like the raging waves.
It was that extremely short instant where you wouldn’t be able to tell apart the orchestra from the audience.
Even the lineup of the old boys and the old girls who should have been retired like Haruno-san followed her instructions and performed vividly.
This excitement was close to clubs and live houses.
People present wouldn’t be able to stay uninvolved. It was the ultimate in-house excitement. The audience midway were obligated to pull in their friends. And the one allowing for that to happen, commanding the orchestra with a definite competence was Yukinoshita Haruno.
It’s because I was standing at the very end of the line that I could watch in composure. But if I were mixed in there, it would’ve turned into something frightening. Most likely, I would just keep sitting not sensing the mood and get frowned at afterwards.
The music from the orchestra continued, rushing towards the last segment.
I could hear a voice next to me, so small that it could have been drowned out by the incredible intensity of the performance.
“Huh?” I couldn’t hear the entirety of what she had said, and I tilted my head with my ears raised.
Yukinoshita then moved her body slightly closer along with her mouth, “I said amazing as usual.”
The whispering voice in the waves of noise told me just how close we were even in this darkness. The soft drifting smell of freshness caused me to lean away in reflex.
I changed my mind and closed the distance by half a step. No problem, as long our faces weren’t close, I shouldn’t be nervous.
“That’s a surprise. Hearing you compliment someone and all.”
“…Really? It may not look like it, but I do hold my nee-san in high regard, you know.” The closer we were, the clearer our voices were. But for the words Yukinoshita added afterwards, they were quiet enough that you could miss hearing them entirely. “I thought I wanted to be like that too.”
Her gaze was directed at the stage. And on there, swinging the baton, freely, like that of a sword dance and with a splendor, was Haruno-san.
On the ascended stage, rising even higher was the rostrum. Bathing herself in the spotlight on that stage was truly something befitting of her.
“…You don’t have to be like that. Just stay as you are.”
As if my expressive whisper had been smothered by the claps and cheers of the audience, I didn’t get a reply from Yukinoshita.