I replaced the battery of the camera that was set on the catwalk of the gymnasium and checked the remaining memory of the memory stick. Documenting the activities of the volunteer organizations was another one of our jobs as assistant historians. In addition to that, we had to do some editing work on the video data afterwards using the Final Cut Pro or whatever program that was installed on the Student Council’s Macbook. I was taught a little bit about how to use the program, but it stayed bothersome indefinitely, and I stayed inept at even operating the Macbook due to being a Windows user. The most I could do was edit in subtitles.
Whether it was the Mac or the Final Pro Cut program, we had a good assortment of equipment. The camera was considerably first-rate as well thanks to the school’s money and the sensitivity of the microphone was fair. I touched the screen and confirmed that the camera was in perfect shape for filming.
Once this was finished, the preparations for the ending ceremony were next. Compared to yesterday, I had it easy since my shift today was done as soon as I finished some miscellaneous tasks.
I went down the catwalk directly to the wing of the stage.
Hayama and his group’s band were left in charge of the festival wrap-up, the volunteer performance just before the ending ceremony. In the backstage, we would begin preparations for the ceremony.
Because of that, the wing was hectic.
“Urrrrgh… ahh, crap, I’m totally nervous now,” said Miura, hanging her head with a dampened expression. It looked like she was partaking in the volunteer band too.
When I examined the others, Hayama was strumming his unplugged guitar. Tobe was air drumming on invisible drums with his sticks. Another guy, Yamato, was holding his bass, standing rock still. Lastly, Oooka was gazing at the keyboard on the stage with intense concentration.
The only one in the group looking level-headed was Hayama while everyone else had their plates considerably full. Tobe was waving his head around much more than he was with his drumsticks.
Erratically walking around those band members was a person.
“Ummm, for the stage drinks… Ah, maybe it’ll be easier to drink with straws.”
“Yui, this is where you stab the scissors into the cap. You then spin the scissors to make a nice hole. That way you can put the straw through it.”
“Wow, Hina, you’re amazing.”
Are you guys their managers or something?
After preparing several headsets that were finished charging, Yukinoshita paced back and forth and it was extremely bothersome.
“What, do you need something?” I asked.
Yukinoshita looked taken aback and asked back, “Hey… Where’s Sagami-san?” I looked around after she asked. True, I didn’t recall having ever seen her once. “I wanted to meet with her one last time before the ending ceremony…”
“I’ll try giving her a call.” Meguri made the call and frowned. “…It looks like she’s either out of range or her battery is dead.”
This person just went and announced it.
“I’ll try asking other people.”
She made consecutive calls, but wasn’t finding much luck.
“Is everyone here?”
Sneakily appearing from behind the thick curtains were the student council members.
What the, are you guys ninjas? Or maybe assassins?
“Can you guys go look for Sagami-san? Can you keep me updated regularly too?”
“As you command.”
Like I said, are you guys ninjas or something?
The executive members of the student council mustered all their efforts and ran out to search.
Every ninja master was able to track Sagami’s movements up until the afternoon, but was unable to pursue her any farther past that time. Their efforts all came to a halt.
Once Hayama and his group finished their upcoming performance, the ending ceremony would be immediately held after. If we consider checks right before the ceremony and its preparations, there wasn’t very much time left.
Yukinoshita crossed her arms and gravely closed her eyes. When Yuigahama saw that, she jogged over to her.
“What’s up, Yukinon?”
“Do you know where Sagami-san is?” asked Yukinoshita.
Yuigahama shook her head. “I wonder? I haven’t seen her… Are you in trouble if she isn’t here?” Yukinoshita nodded and Yuigahama took out her cellphone. “Hmm. I’ll try giving her a call.”
As Yuigahama moved away from Yukinoshita to make the call came into view, I made another suggestion.
“How about making an announcement for her?”
“I suppose so.”
We made arrangements with the broadcast room and made a campus announcement, but there was no response.
Hiratsuka-sensei quietly came in from the back entrance, likely having heard that broadcast.
She asked, “Did Sagami show?”
Yukinoshita shook her head.
“…I see. The faculty are more or less aware of the situation after hearing the announcement. If they find her, they’ll contact me, but…” said Hiratsuka-sensei, but her expression was bleak. It looked like she was indicating to us that we shouldn’t expect too much.
In contrast to the audience that burned with fervor, the backstage dipped to colder levels. As time passed, the absence of the Planning Committee Chairwoman grew graver
“This is a problem… At this rate, we won’t be able to hold the ending ceremony.”
“Right…” Meguri-senpai nodded with a slightly worried look.
Concerned about their two gloomy expressions, Yuigahama asked, “Is it bad if Sagamin isn’t here?”
“Yes. It’s Sagami-san’s job to give a speech, express her thoughts on the festival, and present the awards.”
Those were jobs handled by the Planning Committee Chairman for every generation. It didn’t matter what condition Sagami was in, the job she was entrusted with wouldn’t change.
“…At worst, we’ll need a substitute.”
Meguri-senpai considered the next best option. In that case, the substitute would have to be either Meguri-senpai or Yukinoshita. Considering their roles and positions, even if one of them took up the torch, we could make easily make up an excuse. But it wouldn’t change how unsightly the situation would look.
However, Yukinoshita shot down that suggestion.
“I think that will be difficult. Sagami-san’s the only one who knows the voting results for the excellence and community awards…”
The tally of the votes was all done by people at the conference room, taking turns as the situation called for it. As such, everyone only had a partial understanding of what the results were and only Sagami who had compiled it knew it all.
“How about moving the award announcements to another day?” I said.
Yukinoshita nodded. However, her expression was still rigid.
“We’ll have to in the worst case scenario. But there’s no point if we don’t announce the community award today.”
This Cultural Festival was for advocating connections with the community. Announcing the very first community award, a new award that was established with this festival, on another day wouldn’t make good publicity.
Either way, searching for Sagami was essential.
But we were stuck since we still hadn’t been able to get in touch with her.
Yukinoshita tensely bit her lips.
“Is something wrong?”
Even though his performance was coming right up, Hayama came over and asked with a composed look. He must have sensed the severity of the atmosphere.
“Ah, actually, we can’t seem to get in touch with Sagami-san…” Meguri-senpai explained the situation to him.
Hayama then quickly moved into action.
“Vice Chair, I want to request a change to the program. Could we add one more song to it…? We don’t have the time, so a verbal agreement should be good enough, right?”
“Can you do that?”
“Yeah… Yumiko. Can you play the guitar and sing for one more song?”
“Eh, one more? Are you serious? No, no, no, no way. Really! I’m, like, gonna explode as it is right now!”
When Miura was thrown into the conversation while she was already tensing up, she showed genuine surprise.
But with Hayama smiling at her, Miura was stumped and groaned. Then, she went “uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh” and held her head. She looked just a little cute doing that.
Yukinoshita took a step forward in front of the worrying Miura.
“…If we can ask you to bear with it for us, that would be a big help to us.”
“…Ugh… You must be joking…” Miura sighed in resignation and shot up her face. She then glared at Yukinoshita. “I’m not doing this for you or anything, you got that?”
Instead of trying to hide her embarrassment, Miura glared at Yukinoshita with a considerable hostility and turned her heels.
“C’mon, Tobe, Oooka, Yamato. Standby, guys.” Miura bonked their heads as she gallantly headed for the stage.
The three followed after her obediently, “Seriously?”, “Crap, crap”, “You gotta be joking”.
The four of them went into standby and the volunteer management group moved in a frantic. They went over every time slot again and strenuously squeezed time for another song.
In that time, Hayama took out his cellphone and promptly operated it. Aside from simple text, he used a variety of other things: mailing lists, SNS, Facebook, LINE, and so forth. Once he was done with those, he made several phone calls as well.
After doing enough to warrant a break, Hayama breathed out.
“…You have my gratitude.”
“Don’t worry about it. I want to show off a bit today too. Anyways… we’re going to be on stage now, but at most, we can only get you ten minutes. You’ll need to find her by then.”
Only ten minutes… Since she wasn’t picking up her phone and wasn’t responding to the announcement, she clearly just wanted to run away. Given this short amount of time, there was no way you could find someone who wanted to hide.
“I’ll try looking too,” said Yuigahama, and she tried to go out.
I stopped her. “Blindly looking isn’t going to get you anywhere.”
The student council members were already out there looking for her. We were utilizing a lot of resources. Yet, we still hadn’t found her. Even if Yuigahama went out to search for her, I could only see her coming back empty handed.
Instead, if we assume Sagami wasn’t coming back, then we should use the extra time productively and think of the next option.
“The quickest way is to have a substitute take her place and make up the results of the awards on the spot. It’s not like the results are public knowledge, anyway,” I said
Everyone then made a “ugh” expression.
“That might be overboard…”
“That’s just a little…”
“I think that might not be a good idea.”
Hiratsuka-sensei, Meguri-senpai, Yuigahama and Hayama expressed their good conscientious opinions… No good, huh? I thought it was a considerably realistic suggestion though.
Yukinoshita, who should have been the first one to reject my opinion at a time like this, was quiet. I looked at her out of curiosity and Yukinoshita placed her hand on her mouth, looking like she was thinking of something.
I stood there in suspense, wondering what amazing things she would blurt out considering the time she took to think, but Yukinoshita directly gazed at me.
“If we can buy you ten more minutes, do you think you could find her?” asked Yukinoshita.
“Hard to say…”
I gave that possibility some thought.
It was just about time for Miura and the others to be on stage. Their repertoire included one extra song. If they do well, could they throw in some MC work too before and after the songs? There was also the time to go on and off the stage. Then there was the amount of time the visitors would be willing to wait quietly until the ending ceremony. But there’s also the chance that something unexpected could spring up and take up time.
With all of that in mind, the actual net time they could buy from this point on was about seven to eight minutes.
So adding another ten minutes here to that, I had effectively fifteen minutes to do something. In that case, my feet could only carry me to at most one place from the gymnasium. If Sagami was outside the premises, that was game. That’s why I could only guess and wager on that single chance.
“…I don’t know is all I can say.”
“I see, but you didn’t say it’s impossible. That’s more than enough.”
My vague answer was answered with a definite answer from Yukinoshita.
She then took out her cellphone. As she held it in her hand, she let out one, deep breath. As if she had made her resolution, she made a phone call.
Her eyes remaining closed as she waited for the other party to pick up. A few seconds later, Yukinoshita abruptly opened her eyes.
“Nee-san? Come to the wing of the stage right now.”
How was she going to get ten more minutes? Yukinoshita had found the answer to that question.
× × ×
After Yukinoshita called, the person on the other end immediately appeared.
“Helloooo, Yukino-chan. Did you need something? I want to watch the bands perform, you know. It’s almost Hayato’s turn too.”
Yukinoshita Haruno’s smile was frighteningly overflowing with composure. Apparently, she had been watching the volunteer bands the entire time. The phone call wasn’t actually necessary since she was surprisingly close by.
Yukinoshita went straight to business, not complaining about Haruno-san in response.
“Nee-san, help us.”
She was so frank with her declaration that the look in Haruno-san’s eyes changed. Keeping silent, she looked down on Yukinoshita with a frigid gaze.
Even so, Yukinoshita didn’t avert her eyes. If anything, her eyes contained a powerful conviction as she glared back.
The mingling of their gazes was quiet and incredibly intense. It was as if liquid nitrogen was dumped on the surrounding air, freezing it over.
A chuckle was accompanied by an icy, broad smile.
“Ohh… sure. This is actually the first time Yukino-chan has ever asked me for something. So I’ll listen to your request just this once.”
Those words that were spoken from high above sounded benevolent yet in them were no traces of sweetness. It was overly relentless, much more so than outright refusal.
But Yukinoshita tilted her head to those words. Abruptly, she smiled.
“…Request? I can’t have you misunderstanding me. This is an order for you as a Planning Committee member. Did you not look at the organogram? In a command hierarchy, you need to be aware that I am in a higher position than you are. Volunteer representatives have the obligation of cooperation even if they happen to be people unaffiliated with the school.”
Yukinoshita snapped back with absolute confidence. She insisted on keeping her arrogant attitude. She may have been the one who had asked for her help, but she wouldn’t back down from her absolute, superior position.
That appearance of hers caused me to recall her from half a year ago.
She wouldn’t pamper the other party, she would wield overhead her own righteousness, and use that as a blade to cut down her enemies; that appearance itself was Yukinoshita Yukino.
The opposite, Yukinoshita Haruno, was giggling, laughing with actual enjoyment.
“So, is there some kind of penalty for going against that obligation? You don’t have any legal means to make me comply, right? You can revoke my right to the stage, but that doesn’t matter to me anymore. What are you going to do? Tattle to the teacher?”
All she did was chuckle, as if ridiculing that childish righteousness, as if laughing at that miniature garden of justice.
But Haruno-san’s statement was so painfully realistic that it couldn’t be refuted.
Yukinoshita’s discourse was supposed to be ideally based on fundamental truths and rules, a position that demanded for them. In other words, you could call her idealistic.
Ultimately, Haruno-san’s pragmatic attitude was incompatible with Yukinoshita.
Ah, this isn’t good. Yukinoshita was at a slight disadvantage here. The one who should be opposing realists should be a nihilist like me.
Yukinoshita sensed that I was going to say something and she gently raised her hand to stop me. She turned her head ever so slightly and softly smiled.
“I’ll be fine. I’ll stay strong.” Both were conveyed with just one smile.
She returned her gaze back to Haruno-san and strengthened the tone of her voice.
“There isn’t a penalty… But there’s a merit for you.”
“Like?” Haruno-san laughed with interest.
Yukinoshita pushed aside the intensity that seeped from Haruno-san’s beautifully distorted smile and placed her hand on her bosom.
“You can make me be in your debt. You can interpret that as you wish, nee-san.” Yukinoshita stated boldly, and Haruno-san jerked to a stop.
“Uh huh…” Haruno-san was no longer laughing. Nevertheless, she continued to gaze at Yukinoshita with a cold expression. “…Yukino-chan, you sure have grown.”
“No…” In contrast, Yukinoshita smiled. “I was always this kind of person. We’ve been together for seventeen years and you never noticed?”
“I see…” Haruno-san answered briefly, and then partially shut her eyes. Because of that, I couldn’t easily read into what she was thinking.
“Heh…” I chuckled involuntarily.
“No, it’s nothing…”
Yukinoshita gave me a glancing glare, and I laughed again.
––Yeah, she’s absolutely right. Yukinoshita Yukino is this kind of person.
Haruno-san folded her arms to lighten up. Her gesture looked very similar to Yukinoshita.
“So, what are you planning to do?”
“Add fillers to the stage,” said Yukinoshita, frankly. It wasn’t an answer, however.
Looking slightly indignant, Haruno-san asked again, “And just how are you going to do that?”
“With me, nee-san… and two other people, we should be able to manage something. If possible, with one more person.” Yukinoshita looked at the instruments in the wing. I had a rough idea of what she was going to do from just that.
“Hey, Yukinoshita, you can’t be serious.” I asked in surprise.
Haruno-san who interpreted it similarly with the same view as me broadly grinned. “Oh ho, you think of some fun stuff. So, what song?”
“Since we’re going to perform without rehearsal, then we can only go with what we can do. Nee-san, can you still play the song you performed a long time ago during the Cultural Festival?” asked Yukinoshita.
Haruno-san tried singing the song, the one she had likely played long ago during the Cultural Festival. I should have known since it was Yukinoshita Haruno, but I found myself listening in to her humming. Yuigahama went “ohh, that song, huh?” looked impressed, and enjoyed listening. It was a song that even I knew. Of course, Yuigahama should know it as well.
After Haruno-san finished her brief singing, she made an unyielding smirk. “Now just who are you saying that to? The question is, can you, Yukino-chan?”
“If it’s something nee-san has done before, then for the most part, I can do it too.”
…She definitely practiced behind her back, no doubt about it.
Hearing that, Haruno-san nodded. “Really. Okay, just one more person and we’re good to go.”
We all looked at each other after hearing Haruno-san’s words. No, no, no, Yukinoshita just said earlier that you needed two more people, you know? Your arithmetic level is one thing, but there was a problem before that… I thought, but an audible deep and loud sigh came from nearby.
Haruno-san called the name of the person who made that sigh. “Shizuka-chan.”
“…I guess I’ll have to. I’ll handle the bass. If it’s the song Haruno performed before, then I should still be able to play it.”
Speaking of which, when we met during summer, she said Haruno-san had forced her into the band for the Cultural Festival or something to that effect…
And then, Haruno-san turned around on her feet and said, “Meguri, you can support with the keyboard, right?”
“Yes, leave it to me!” Meguri-senpai answered energetically, forming fists with both of her hands.
She was someone who had seen Haruno-san’s live performance before and was also used to standing in front of people. There was no indecision in her reply.
“Now we just need vocals?” asked Haruno-san.
With a contemplative expression, Yukinoshita said, “…Yuigahama-san.”
She probably wasn’t expecting to be called on given the direction the situation was heading in. She responded with an earnestly surprised voice.
Yukinoshita took a step closer to Yuigahama.
“Is it okay, if I can rely on you for this?”
“Ah, umm… Well, I kind of don’t have confidence… I mean, I don’t think I’ll be able to do it very well, and I might just get in the way, so um…”
Yuigahama pressed her fingers together, averting her eyes while mumbling her words in embarrassment.
“But—” She cut her word short and gripped Yukinoshita’s hands. “…I’ve been waiting for you to say that.”
Yukinoshita delicately returned her squeeze. “…Thank you.”
“Uh huh… B-But I have a funny recollection of the lyrics in my head, okay!? You better not expect any more from me there, okay!?”
“The correct phrasing is ‘vague recollection’. Now I’m worried from your little mistake…”
“Yukinon, aren’t you being a little too mean!?” Yuigahama rocked their joined hands around in objection.
Yukinoshita smiled. “I’m just kidding. If you think you’ll run into problems, I can sing as well. That’s why, um, I don’t mind, if you rely on me, so…”
“…Okay!” Yuigahama answered Yukinoshita whose cheeks were blushing so much that you could tell even in the dark wing.
After seeing those two with my own eyes, I quietly headed for the exit of the gymnasium at the back of the stage. Quietly and secretly, I commenced my operation.
“Hikigaya-kun.” A sudden voice reached my back. “We’re counting on you.”
“Hikki, do your best.”
I kept to myself in response to those voices.
Instead, I answered back by lifting my hand overhead and went straight out the door.
Now then, from here on, this is my time. These next ten minutes will be my ten minutes alone.
The stage under the spotlight isn’t the place I should be at.
The stage I should be standing on is the very path that is scarce of people, the path that continued from the dimly lit exit.
It’s the stage for Hikigaya Hachiman’s one-man act.
× × ×
The exit of the gym connected directly to the school building.
Every year, it was this school’s tradition to assign a volunteer band that could attract the most number of visitors to conclude the festival. Doing it this way made the movements of the students much more efficient, making the program somewhat irregular with the transition to the ending ceremony.
In other words, right now, this period of time was when the campus would be devoid of people.
Whatever the case, the ending ceremony was coming right up. So if the pervading thought was for everyone to gather to make some noise, then everyone would make their way towards the volunteer performances.
A campus desolate of people was convenient.
It was convenient enough that students would stick out like a sore thumb no matter how far away they were. It was essentially an ideal environment for digging out the enemy, Sagami.
But that didn’t mean I had the luxury to visit every single place. Time was limited. Even checking the time was already a wasteful expenditure.
The clock couldn’t tick any slower than it is now.
I couldn’t move my body faster than it is able to.
The only thing I could do was accelerate my thought processes.
Loners have one thing to boast of; that’s the intensity in their thinking. The resources that should have been meant for human relationships are directed only to themselves instead. Through repetitive personal reflection, introspection of their actions, regrets, delusions and, imagination, they develop the worthless ability to think, to the point it’s become an ideology, a philosophy. By utilizing all of that, I’ll explore every possibility, refute every conceivable conclusion, and reject them.
For the one possibility that remains, I will use every fiber of my being to substantiate it as if trying to protect myself.
Judgment on others and self-defense are the true worth of Hikigaya Hachiman.
As long I continue to go through the repetitions, I will naturally come across an answer.
It’s a simple problem.
Right now, Sagami was by herself, most likely.
In that case, all I needed to do was follow her train of thought.
After all, when it comes to being a loner, I am one step, no, thousand steps higher. It isn’t a yesterday and today career for me, for I am a veteran.
Don’t sell me short.
Sagami was incredibly self-conscious. She should have been. In our first year, she was in a conspicuous group and she became accustomed to that environment and that hierarchy. But upon advancing to the second year, Miura’s existence led to her decline in that social ladder. Surely enough, Sagami wasn’t the least amused by that fact. But for someone so infatuated with ranks, Sagami couldn’t lift a finger.
The result, she sought out others who were lower than her. At the very least, she wanted to aim for the second best group. She should have succeeded on that front. But having already had her quality of life improved once, it wasn’t so easy to settle for worse.
And there, to satisfy herself, she had to look at alternatives.
And that was where the Cultural Festival came in.
Was the position of the Cultural Festival Planning Committee Chairwoman sufficient for that? It should have been. Even more so when she had become a Planning Committee member on Hayama’s recommendation, and as soon as she became the Chairwoman, she was commended by the so-called legendary Yukinoshita Haruno. Lastly, she was able to gain Yukinoshita Yukino’s excellent with her actual duties.
But suppose that all of that didn’t go as planned.
Suppose that she wasn’t able to obtain the things she wanted and suppose that she was outshined by even a substitute.
Sagami wasn’t able to participate in her class as much as she would have liked to because of the Planning Committee. Even if she found that unsatisfactory and participated in her class preparations, there was someone who could fill in, no, exceed what she could ever do in the committee. As a matter of fact, even Haruno-san and Hayama who were the foundations of her confidence had acknowledged that substitute.
In that case, consider Sagami’s pride, Sagami’s self-esteem, and Sagami’s self-consciousness.
It was a bitterness I understood as if I had picked it up with my hand.
It was a path that everyone had treaded through.
You’re naïve, Sagami. That was a path that I had already gone through.
Getting caught skipping school and reported to the school was one of my memories.
Back then, I was so hopelessly and uncontrollably concerned with myself that I exploded, wanting someone to look at me.
That’s why I can understand.
What it was that you wanted to do. Why you were doing it.
And possibly, why you didn’t want to do it.
You’re five years too slow.
That was something I had already gone through in elementary school.
I could narrow out the places she would go to.
When people lost their place to belong, what is it that they wished for? That is, to have someone find a place for them. If they can’t find a place with their own eyes, then the only thing they can do is have someone else do it for them.
Now, all I needed to do was map out the locations in my head.
Because she wanted someone to search for her and find her that she was still on campus. It was also a place that was easily noticeable. Thus, she shouldn’t be occupying a vacant classroom, let alone have it locked and closed off.
There was one more point.
It should be a place that she could be by herself. Hiding away in a congested area would mean she really would never be found. If she was aware of her own worthlessness, then she should have factored in that being in a group would mean she would disappear.
She couldn’t go to a place that wasn’t physically reachable. Mentally, she shouldn’t be at a place that was too far off.
Then where else was left?
There were still too many options.
I needed a little more material, material that could be proof, or even counterproof.
If it’s an explosion of excessive self-concern, then there was one other person besides me from the past.
To whittle down my ideas, I took out my cellphone.
I called the most recent phone call in my sad history of received calls.
[It is I.]
He instantly picked up. That’s Zaimokuza for you. He wasn’t fiddling with his cellphone because he had little to do for nothing. While I wanted to commend him, unfortunately, I didn’t have the luxury. I quickly shot him a question.
“Zaimokuza, where are you at on campus by yourself normally?”
[Hoh, what is this all of a sudden? Bahon, I am always in suspended mode.]
“Just answer, I’m in a hurry.”
[…Surely, you are serious?]
“Tch. I’m hanging up.”
[Wait, wait, wait, please! The nurse’s office or the veranda! Sometimes, I go to the library a lot! There’s also the top of the special building.]
There were people in the nurse’s office, and the veranda was being used by all the classes. The library was locked, so no one had access.
The top of the special building… The roof, huh?
[As for other where no one is usually present, there is also the space between the school annex and the club building. It is refreshing and quiet, for the sun does not reach there. It brings stability to your mind… Are you searching for someone?]
“Yeah, the Planning Committee Chairwoman.”
[Hoh, the woman who addressed us, eh? It seems you will require my powers…”
“You’re going to help out?”
[Inevitably. Where shall I search?]
“Can you look near the annex? Thanks, man! Love ya, Zaimokuza!”
[Indeed, as do I!]
“Shaddup, that’s gross!”
I cut off the call vigorously.
I had a feeling if it was the roof.
I ran as hard as I could to my class. The empty hallway was no different from a comfortable track.
But the less people there were, the higher the probability the person I was searching for would be there.
C’mon, please be there…
I dashed up the stairs with the feeling of toppling over. Luckily for me, there was someone sitting on a pipe chair at the front of my class.
The dark blue ponytail was crossing her legs in displeasure, absentmindedly gazing out of the window of the hallway.
I called out to her as I desperately tried to catch my breath. “Kawasaki…”
“What’s with the hard breathing…? Don’t you have Planning Committee work to do?”
I didn’t pay any attention to her question.
“A while back, you were on the roof, right?”
“Huh? What are you blabbering about?”
“Answer my question.”
I was limited on time, so my voice came out rough. I ended up speaking to her with a blunt tone.
“Y-You don’t n-need to get so angry…” Kawasaki started trembling with teary eyes.
After calming down, I slowly breathed out.
“I’m not angry. I’m just in a rush for the committee.”
“O-Okay, good…” Kawasaki breathed out and pressed her hand against her chest. Surprisingly, she was weak to pressure. Agh, not good, right now, the roof came first.
“So, before, you were on the rooftop, right? How did you get up there?”
“You have a really good memory…” Kawasaki whispered with a soft voice in nostalgia. Her gaze looked at me in embarrassment.
…I said I was in a hurry, didn’t I? When that showed on my face, Kawasaki got flustered and tried to go back to what she was saying.
“U-Um, the roof door from the middle stairs has a broken lock. It’s famous amongst the girls.”
…Really? In that case, it wouldn’t be odd for Sagami to know about it. The condition that it was a place that other people would be aware of was also satisfied.
“What about it?”
Kawasaki asked me again, finding it strange why I went quiet after listening to her. My feet, however, were already on the move before I could even answer.
While I may have been in a hurry, I wanted to at least properly give her my thanks.
“Thanks! Love ya, Kawasaki!” I yelled out and sprinted off.
The moment I turned the hallway, an extremely loud shriek could be heard from behind me.
× × ×
Running up the stairs that continued to the roof was no easy feat because they were turned into a storage place for the Cultural Festival.
But there were small openings that allowed for people to pass through.
And most likely, Sagami had left a trail in these openings. For every step I pursued, the feeling I was getting closer grew stronger.
Sagami probably wanted to be like Yukinoshita and Yuigahama. To become a person that people would look up to, seek out, and rely on.
That’s why she would instantly give out titles.
She wanted to increase her own worth by giving herself the label of Chairwoman and she wanted to make sure of her superiority by labeling others and looking down on them.
That was the true form of the “growth” that Sagami spoke of.
But growth isn’t something like that.
Don’t go mixing up simple change with growth.
I don’t want to call simple change and the end solution of compromise, “growth”. I don’t want to pretend that “to become an adult” is to resign to your fate.
As if people can dramatically change so quickly within the span of a several months. Humans aren’t transformers.
If I could become something I wanted to become, then I wouldn’t have become like this in the first place.
You should change, I’ll change, I have to change, I changed.
Lies and more lies.
Why can you accept so easily that your current self is wrong? Why do you deny your past self? Why can’t you acknowledge your current self now? Why is it that you believe in your future self instead?
If you can’t acknowledge yourself when you were the worst from long ago and yourself when you’re at the very bottom right now, exactly when can you acknowledge someone? If you’re going to reject yourself now and yourself up to this point now, can you really approve yourself from this point onwards?
Don’t go thinking you can change by rejecting and overwriting yourself.
Holding onto a title from start to end, getting arrogant from acknowledgement, getting drunk on your own circumstances, screaming out how important you are, abiding by your own created rules, and being blind to your own world unless you are told outright; don’t you dare call that growth.
Why can’t you just say that you don’t have to change, that it’s fine to stay as you are?
As I continued to climb up the stairs that continued to the roof, boxes and material decreased and decreased.
Eventually, at the end, an opened platform of the stairs appeared.
Beyond the door is a dead end, the end of the line.
This game of hide-and-seek is over.
× × ×
The padlock of the door was broken like Kawasaki had said. I grabbed the padlock attached to the door and fiddled with it. I locked it and though it looked locked, pulling at it with a little strength caused it to come apart. With this, it was pretty easy to trespass on the roof…
I opened the flimsy door that was slightly rusted over. The door made screeeeek noises as it pushed out.
The wind blew past me and at the same time, the blue sky expanded before me.
The sky was supposed to feel closer for how high up I was, but with nothing to compare, it felt much farther than usual.
Sagami was leaning on the fence as she was looking my way.
Her expression was surprised which transitioned to disappointment.
Well, what did you expect? The one who Sagami wanted to come searching for her wasn’t me. As a matter of fact, she didn’t even want someone like me here.
I felt apologetic for not meeting her expectations, but I didn’t even want to look for her either. So give me a break and let’s call it even.
In any case, our conditions were the same.
That meant we should be able to start a conversation on equal grounds.
“The ending ceremony’s about to start so go back.” I curtly conveyed to her my business.
Sagami frowned with an unpleasant look.
“It’s not like I’m the one that needs to do it,” said Sagami, and she turned away from me. She clearly wasn’t planning on listening to me any further.
“Sorry but issues came up, so we can’t have that. There really isn’t much time left. You’ll save us some trouble if you hurry up and go back.”
Even I thought my words weren’t very convincing.
But even so, I carefully chose my words, making sure not to give Sagami the words she wanted to hear.
“Time… Huh? Hasn’t the ending ceremony, like, already started?”
So the person in question was fully aware of that. That fact slightly rubbed me the wrong way.
“Yeah, normally, it would have. But somehow, we’re managing to push it back. So—”
“Uh huh, and who’s doing that?”
“Ahh, right. Miura, Yukinoshita, and the others, pretty much,” I answered.
That being said, it’s likely that Miura’s group’s turn was long over. It was just about the time for Yukinoshita and the others to be on standby.
Sagami strongly gripped the fence. “Oh I see…”
“If you get it, then go back.”
“Then just have Yukinoshita-san do it. I mean, she can do everything.”
“Huh? That’s not the problem. We have other things like presenting the voting results that you’re holding onto.”
As I expected, Sagami blurted out incredibly aggravating things that my irritation with her intensified. This wasn’t even the time to be taking it easy and have this exchange too…
“Well, you guys could have just, like, recalculated the total results again. If everyone helped out, then it’d be done in no time…”
“No, that’s not possible. There’s no one free enough to do that right now.”
“Then just take the voting results with you!”
The wires of the fence shook as Sagami slapped the sheet of paper recorded with the aggregated results.
For an instant, I seriously considered taking just the paper and going back.
But I couldn’t do that.
The request that Yukinoshita—the Service Club—had accepted was to assist Sagami with her work as the Cultural Festival Planning Committee Chairwoman. That’s to say, we were to make Sagami Minami properly fulfill her duty as the Cultural Festival Planning Committee Chairwoman.
If it wasn’t for that request, I wouldn’t be here, nor would Yukinoshita have had to be the Vice Chair. Abandoning the request now would equate to denying everything Yukinoshita had done thus far.
That’s why what I needed to do right now was to get Sagami Minami to attend the ending ceremony; to have her stand on the stage as the Chairwoman, to have her be bestowed the glory of the Chairwoman, and without fail, to bestow her the regrets and frustrations as the Chairwoman.
What should I do to make that happen?
Truthfully, if we just had the person Sagami had wished for to tell her the words she wanted to hear, then the case was closed.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t something I could do.
I could try talking her out of it, but Sagami would stubbornly stay put.
Should I get in touch with someone and have him come here? But who? The only contacts I had in hand were Yuigahama and Hiratsuka-sensei and they were likely already onstage. I had the feeling there wouldn’t be much of a difference with Totsuka and Zaimokuza here.
To think of all times my isolation would backfire on me at a place like this.
I came this far and I’m stuck, huh…?
I unconsciously and strongly gripped my fists in aggravation.
It was that moment.
The sounds of screeeek could be heard.
I and likely Sagami as well, turned around.
“So this was where you were… We’ve been looking for you.”
Appearing from the door was Hayama Hayato. Following behind him were Sagami’s two friends she associated with in the Planning Committee. It looked like they were brought along by Hayama.
“Hayama-kun… You guys, too…” Sagami called his name and looked away. The development that Sagami was expecting for was likely this.
As if living up to her expectations, Hayama approached her step by step. “We were really worried since we couldn’t get in touch with you. We went around asking and some first years saw you go up the stairs.”
Utilizing his inherent personal connections, it looked like Hayama traversed on thin threads to make his way here. I couldn’t expect any less from him.
But in contrast to Hayama who had finally found his way here, Sagami’s attitude remained obstinate.
“Why don’t we hurry and go back? Everyone’s waiting. Okay?”
“We were really worried!”
Hayama was well aware that we had no time. He gave Sagami the words she had been hoping for with sincerity, trying to convince her.
With those three calling for her, Sagami’s attitude began to weaken. She grasped the hands of her friends and shared their warmth together.
But that still wasn’t enough.
“But even if I go back now…”
“That’s not true, everyone’s waiting for you.”
“Let’s go back together, okay?”
Hayama watched over their exchange, but for an instant, his eyes were directed towards his wristwatch. He, too, was in a hurry.
“That’s right. Everyone’s trying their best for you too, Sagami-san.”
The last push, or probably not, but Hayama used whatever words he could to persuade her.
“But, like, I’ve been a huge bother to everyone, so I just can’t look them all in the eye…”
Sagami’s eyes watered and she sobbed with her friends surrounding her. Everyone tried to give her sooth her with words, but Sagami’s feet refused to move.
The only things in motion were the hands of the clock.
So Hayama’s presence had no effect either, huh…?
The time continued to pass, moment by moment.
There was no more time until we hit the time limit.
What was the fastest and shortest way to force Sagami to leave from here?
Had it been just Hayama and me, it may have been possible. But with her two friends present, they would definitely get in the way. We would lose time.
Doing it that way wouldn’t have been what Yukinoshita would have wanted. Ultimately, we had to get Sagami to move from here with her own legs, with her own conviction.
Yukinoshita would attack things head-on and stake her pride by doing things her way all within the scope of her full capacity; this way of doing things was what she abided by.
In that case, I had no choice.
I had no choice but to stick with my way of doing things.
That is, fair and square, straight on, despicably, maliciously, and underhandedly.
Just how could I communicate properly with Sagami?
There are two ways of communication between two people of the lowest stratum.
One is to lick each other’s wounds and the other is to kick each other down.
Thus, there is only one method.
I looked at Sagami, and then at Hayama.
Hayama was still trying to encourage Sagami, offering her kind words while taking one step closer and closer.
“It’s fine, so let’s go back.”
“Like, I’m just the worst…” Sagami uttered those self-inflicting words and his legs stopped again.
That’s why, this was the exact moment. Good grief, I really was disgusted; disgusted that I could only come up with things like these and that I surprisingly didn’t hate it.
I forced out a deep and long sigh, “Haaa”, mixed with irritation.
“You really are the worst.”
Those words caused everyone to lose their words and go stiff.
Their four gazes focused on me.
My audience was four people.
For someone like me, it was a turnout that I couldn’t ask for more.
“Sagami. In the end, the only thing you really want is to be pampered. You’re acting like that because you want people to care about you, right? Like now, you just want them to say ‘that’s not true at all’ to you. It’s obvious a person like that won’t be treated as the Chairperson. You really are the worst.”
“What, are you saying…?”
I interrupted Sagami’s trembling voice.
“I’m pretty sure everyone’s already realized. Even someone like me who doesn’t know a single thing about you can understand.”
“Don’t, put me together with the likes of you…”
“We’re the same. We’re both living at the bottom of the world.”
Sagami’s eyes were no longer moist. They were dry, seething with hatred.
I meticulously chose my words, all the while not giving her a chance to argue back. What I blurted out earlier was the subjective reality that I saw. The only thing I could do with that was anger Sagami.
“Think about it. I don’t give a damn about you, yet I was the first one to find you.”
It’s when the objective truth is stated that the situation starts to move.
“So, doesn’t that mean… no one was actually seriously looking for you at all?”
Sagami turned pale. The anger and hatred she had kept buried the entire time was replaced with shock and despair that distorted her expression. Unable to repress her jumbled emotions, coming to surface was only the act of biting her lips in agony.
“Don’t you realize it yourself? That you’re just—”
Before my words could leave my mouth, I was stopped. Instead, my neck had sounded out.
“Hikigaya, shut up for a bit.” Hayama gripped my collar with his right hand and forced me against the wall.
My breath left my mouth the moment I had received the impact from slamming in the wall.
To disguise that voice, I sneered in desperation. Hayama’s fist that strongly gripped onto my collar trembled. He took a shallow breath in and then deeply breathed out as if trying to pacify his feelings.
Our glares lasted a few seconds.
The three girls who had gone stiff from the frozen mood exploding came over frantically to stop him.
“Hayama-kun, don’t, you don’t need to do anymore! Let’s just leave somebody like him and get out of here, okay? Okay?” said Sagami, placing her palm on Hayama’s back.
With that acting as a trigger, Hayama strongly breathed out and released my collar as if to shove me away. He turned his back without so much a look at me and urged the other three in composure. “…Let’s hurry back.”
Sagami left the roof enclosed by her two friends as if she was being escorted out. As they were leaving, they deliberately had an insulting conversation.
“Sagamin, are you okay?”
“Anyway, let’s go, okay?”
“Like, who the heck is he? Isn’t he terrible?”
“I don’t know. The heck is up with him?”
After those three disappeared, Hayama closed the door last.
“…Why is that the only way you know how to do things?”
Those whispered words that sounded like a mutter stung my ears.
Left alone on the rooftop, I rested my back against the wall. I slid down the wall and dropped my waist to the floor.
The sky was far up.
Hayama, I’m glad that you’re a really upstanding and good guy.
You aren’t Hayama if you didn’t get angry there.
Hayama, I’m glad that you’re a guy who can’t stand seeing people be hurt right in front of you. I’m glad that you’re a guy who can’t forgive someone who hurt others.
See, it’s simple. ––A world where no one was hurt is now complete.
I’m sure it’s exactly as Hayama said, that this way of doing things is wrong.
But even so, as I am now, this is the only way I knew.
However, I think that even someone like me will change eventually.
One day, without a doubt, I will change. I will be changed.
It didn’t matter what my heart was like, how I am seen, how I am perceived and how I am judged will undoubtedly change.
If a world that is in a constant state of flux continues to change, then my surroundings, my environments, and the axis around which I evaluate will distort and change, and my essential nature will change.
––I won’t change.
“Jeez…” I let out a deep, deep sigh.
…It should be about time for the ending ceremony.
I sent a text to Zaimokuza written with “Solved” and forcibly lifted my heavy body from the floor and left the rooftop.
× × ×
I naturally picked up my pace towards the gym.
It’s not like I wanted to know what the situation was like. Quite frankly, I didn’t really care at all about what happened to Sagami.
It’s just that the gazes and interests of people in the hallway were all directed towards the gymnasium.
Low bass sounds that reached the hallway caused the students and visitors to pursue the origin of those sounds. And from there, their legs would carry them to the gymnasium as if they were being pulled in.
This low, creeping sound that could be felt circulating throughout the entire school building was likely coming from a bass and a bass drum.
But the shaking vibrations weren’t the only things that reverberated at the bottom of my stomach.
They were the cheering voices.
The clapping of hands with the simultaneous interjection of stamping feet was a living rhythm.
Those vibrations and the rhythmic palpitations of every person gave birth to a beat within the school.
In the school building, there were very little people.
The students and the teachers were all gathered here for the sake of the ending ceremony.
I placed my hands on the door of the gymnasium.
The moment I opened the door, spilling out was a surge of light and sound.
The searchlights danced and hopped, the mirror ball hanging from the ceiling dispersed irregular reflections of light throughout.
Standing within that vortex of light were the girls.
The bassist that engraved her sounds with a starving greed.
The drummer that pranced in whimsical fashion to emphasize her existence.
The sincere guitarist that regulated the entire song through her unparalleled and accurate picking as if she was restraining the crowd of rhythm that did whatever they wanted.
And then, a carefree voice. The vocalist that occasionally rebounded, but sang the straightforward, note by note, musical rhythm and line by line of the lyrics, with care.
The guitarist took a step to the center as if to get close to that vocalist. The both of them had changed at some point to matching T-shirts, and weaved the song together as if they were supporting each other.
Those who waved their arms at the front, those who rocked their heads, those who shook their dimly glowing phones like sea lilies, and those who got carried away and dived from the seats of the audience into the audience and then lifted high up.
It’s because of the professional… No, it’s because of the amateurish nature that there was this fervent enthusiasm.
If the drummer accelerated with provocation, the guitarist would lash back, challenging her through the picking of her guitar strings. When it looked like things were going to collapse, the slapping of the bass would scold them back into shape.
Then, as if holding everything tightly together at her chest, the vocalist stretched out her arms and sang out her voice with all her might.
Mid-song, the calls of the vocalist would be returned with responses from the audience. Raging waves would travel from right to left. The glow sticks that emitted a brilliant were as though they were scattered stars.
It was this moment alone, in this darkness, that everyone had become one.
Not a single individual had noticed my entry.
Of course, there was no way those on stage had either.
I leaned against the wall within that irritating, fervent enthusiasm.
Because everyone was trying to get closer to the stage, the space in the back was vacant. The surroundings, too, were devoid of people.
It was the final stage of the long, long Cultural Festival. With this, everything would end.
Ahh, speaking of which, I was an assistant historian, wasn’t I?
So, at the very least, I will remember this.
I likely won’t forget this view. I can’t forget it.
I may not be on that dazzling stage.
I may not be a part of that leaping arena.
I may be just watching furthest at the back by myself.
But I will definitely not forget this view.