The wind was tapping against the window. With the sea nearby, the wind continued to blow against the structure, unobstructed due to the lack of tall buildings in the vicinity.
Following the noise, my eyes reflexively shifted to outside the window.
All the trees that were shedding leaves shook and dust clouds burst within the dry wind. The scattered pedestrians popped the collars of their coats, walking along with their shoulders ducked in.
This school, too, was finally seeing winter. The exact same season went by last year, yet I never knew how cold this blowing wind really was.
Mingled with the noise of the wind were several voices.
“And like, it’s super dry right now, right? Because of that, Yumiko brought in this small humidifier and in the middle of class, it was totally going puff-puff and stuff. And like recently, you can even get electricity from the USJ… USA? Something like that. You know, that thing!” Yuigahama energetically talked, moving her body with hand gestures.
Yukinoshita watched her with a smile and nodded in response. “I see. That must be convenient.”
Yukinoshita normally wasn’t the talkative type, so there wasn’t anything peculiar about her short response. But I just couldn’t look directly at her smile.
I slowly removed my gaze from her to the floor. Yuigahama’s feet, which were ahead of where I looked, rotated towards me.
“I know, right!? So I was thinking I’d want something like that in the clubroom too. Right, Hikki…? Hikki?”
It was likely that her entire body was turned in my direction. Yuigahama asked me again, prompting me for a reply. But because I was absorbed in my own anxiety, my response was slightly late.
I purposely let out an astonished sigh to cover up the pause and then answered, “…I’m listening. USB, right? Why do we need electricity from an American place like that?”
“Ah, that’s it!” Yuigahama answered and clapped her hands. She then immediately continued without waiting for Yukinoshita or me to respond. “Like nowadays, you can charge your cellphones by just connecting to the USB thing, so it’s super convenient, see~. And like recently, my battery dies really fast too!”
From there, Yuigahama continued the conversation, transitioning to a new topic about cellphone models.
Because of that, the conversation carried on without so much as an interruption. However, only her words had continuity, whereas the things that should’ve been at the heart of the matter didn’t.
I suddenly thought I was looking at drift ice from afar. Was the reason for that because of the wind shaking the trees that peeked in to the room from outside the window? It felt like I’d sink into the depths had I taken just one step off the right path.
The club room didn’t have a calendar, but I was completely aware of the date without needing to look at one. Checking the date slightly resembled the act of counting down the remaining years of your life, day by day.
It was already near halfway into December. Just a little over two weeks and it would be the New Year. This year was going to end.
Everything would end and you wouldn’t be able to take back those days.
As you gazed at the setting sun, you also became conscious of the year coming to a close.
Of course, the sun had settled like it always had been, and in the same way, so did the year. If you were asked whether the sun today was different from yesterday, the answer would be a negative because in the end, they were the same thing. It was only the awareness of the people who were watching it that had changed.
I had, no, we had. Undoubtedly, the visible dying existence there was something we had noticed and that’s why we held sentimental feelings for even the monotonous setting sun.
But along the passage of time, only this room was frozen.
Ever since the student council election, we had been spending our time in this club room without a single change whatsoever. We continued our discomforting exchanges that couldn’t be called anything but hollow, passing the time as if treading on thin ice.
“I was just thinking how cold it is, but that reminds me of something else. It’s almost Christmas, huh…” Yuigahama diverged, once again, into another topic.
Both I and Yukinoshita engaged ourselves in the conversation, responding with pointless responses: “it’s cold”, “it sure has gotten cold”, and “tomorrow’s going to be even colder”.
Noticing that the topic wasn’t going to be expanded any further, Yuigahama energetically leaned forward. “Ah! What if we asked Hiratsuka-sensei to add a stove to the room, you think she’d do it for us!?”
“Actually, I think that might be difficult.” Yukinoshita gently made a strained smile, unperturbed by Yuigahama’s vigor.
“In her case, she’d want a reward for herself first.”
Heck, I had the feeling she’d prioritize being a present to someone else instead. Someone take her already, seriously.
We both responded dully and in turn, Yuigahama became dispirited. “I see… I guess so, huh?” Yuigahama’s shoulders dropped slightly with a look of dejection.
I wonder if this feeling was similar to when a chain of downward slopes had ended?
Both I and Yukinoshita were originally the quiet types, so we couldn’t really casually bring anything up to talk about. That’s why, as of late, Yuigahama had been assertively leading the conversations.
The topics tended to be casual and harmless. It was a rather complex way to kill time.
Compared to before, I felt Yuigahama had gotten better at finding the right words to prolong a conversation.
No, that might be a bit wrong.
It was likely she was already proficient at it well before she had joined the Service Club. It was a skill that she cultivated to this day, reading the mood and burying the silence, smoothing things on a superficial level and pretending as if nothing had happened.
This may have been similar to how I would open a book I wasn’t even reading.
The words and the time continued to flow. I would ignore the prose, engage in the conversation and take casual looks at the clock.
If the day emulated the past few days, then it was almost about time for Yukinoshita to suggest calling it a day.
Everyone seemed to have understood that and Yuigahama looked up at the sky from the window. “It’s gotten pretty dark, huh?”
“…I suppose so. Shall we call it a day?” Yukinoshita closed her book and placed it in her bag using Yuigahama’s words as a signal.
We followed suit, finishing up our preparations to head home, and stood up.
As soon as the light was switched, the room was instantly shrouded in darkness. We left the room and ahead of us was the continuing darkness. We walked wordlessly down the silent hallway and exited outside from the front entrance.
The sun had already set and unreliable, flickering lights leaked from the school building. The afterglow didn’t illuminate past the shadow of the school building either. The side which we were standing on was already covered in the dark of the night.
With the gleam of the man-made lights on her back, Yuigahama quickly raised her hand. “Okay, I’ll be taking the bus!”
“Yeah.” I answered Yuigahama, who loudly declared with her lifted hand, and turned in the direction of the bike parking area.
The remaining one, Yukinoshita, watched us off and gave her parting words. “Yes, good bye.”
Due to the darkness, I wasn’t able to see up to her face very well. However, she was probably wearing that same smile from before. Yukinoshita quietly readjusted her bag and straightened the muffler at her collar. Her calm demeanor alone conveyed an image that didn’t look any different from the past Yukinoshita.
“See you.” I answered shortly, averting my gaze from Yukinoshita and hurried for the bike area.
But despite my efforts to avoid looking at her, her expression would spring right back in my mind and wouldn’t disappear.
It was that smile that hadn’t changed since that day.
I strongly pedaled away on my bike to drive that image away.
You get used to it, you act friendly, and you become a shell of your former self.
At some point, you would package this situation, labeling it as “every day”, and send it to the depths of your memories. There was no doubt you would try to justify it as something like a memory as well.
“Time was the medicine to everything.”
But that was wrong. Time was nothing but a slow inducing poison. It gradually eroded things of the past, with the only purpose of ending things and forcing you into resignation.
As I biked towards downtown, the illumination that decorated all the houses caught my eye. Just like Yuigahama said, it was almost Christmas.
It was something I had recognized only as a day I would get to receive the things I had wanted when I was smaller. Well, it was basically a lesser version of a birthday.
However, it was different now. I was no longer that small child and there were no presents prepared for me.
More than that.
And I was, surely, not even allowed to desire anything.