I let out a big sigh in class after school.
Today as well, I had to attend the meeting at the community center in order to assist Isshiki after this.
I didn’t really mind the act itself all that much.
Although having to participate in that meeting was a drag, currently, it was entirely managed by Kaihin Sogo High. Thanks to that, it was a situation where we only did the things we were told. With vigorous discussions left and right from the BS, motivation was high. I should add that our consciences were also high.
The one thing that caught my attention was Sobu High’s student council. Judging from how they were yesterday, it was hard to say if Sobu High’s student council was functioning properly.
And the biggest cause of this was the feeling of distance between Isshiki and the other members.
A president that was a first year was surprisingly bothersome. It was only a one year discrepancy, but to us high school students, that was rather big. They would act tactfully around each other, but that tactfulness and consideration were things that obstructed their interactions.
It’d be nice to do something about it, but it was a problem with Isshiki and the others. It wasn’t about whether I could do something about it. Even in that club with only us three, there wasn’t anything I could do either.
Besides, given the current circumstances, it wasn’t that big of a problem. They just needed to do something until Christmas.
It was a student council that just recently started up. Eventually they’d give up and then they’d get used to how they were originally.
With those thoughts so far, I let out another sigh.
There was still plenty of time until the start of the meeting. In the meantime, I would be in the club room.
My assistance with Isshiki was wholly kept secret from Yukinoshita and Yuigahama, so I had to at least show my face at the club. If I suddenly took some days off, it wouldn’t be very good to have them be suspicious of me.
It was a club room with nothing in it. Avoiding putting anything further into it should’ve definitely been the right thing to do.
Still, after showing my face at the club, I had to go do some mysterious work afterwards, huh…? As far as the club was concerned, it’s not like there was work to do, but standing by was also part of the job. It might’ve actually been pretty troublesome.
The acquired Reality Marble “Unlimited Double Works: Infinite Side Jobs”1 had been activated at some point unknown to me… It’s like I was about to begin this odd double life or something…
When I let out a small sigh, I stood up abruptly from my seat.
Yuigahama was already gone from the classroom. It’s not like we could go to club together every time. We probably both had the mutual belief that we would show up to club. It’s been like that to this day and it would continue from here on out.
I left the classroom and walked down the hallway to the special building.
I was sure that it was getting colder and colder day by day, but it was hard to feel the absolute difference from two days ago to a day ago.
There wasn’t that much of a change in the chilly hallway I was walking through right now from yesterday. If you lived your life normally, you usually wouldn’t perceive the timing in which the freezing late autumn would transition to winter.
That’s why the room further ahead down the hallway actually felt much colder than it was yesterday. It’s just that I never noticed it.
I put my hand on the door and entered the room.
As I lightly greeted Yuigahama and Yukinoshita, I sat at my seat.
I quickly looked around the room.
Yukinoshita returned her eyes to her book and Yuigahama stared at her cellphone. As I thought, there wasn’t anything noticeably different from yesterday.
The chair near the window. From there was the chair that confusingly maintained a neutral position. And then, diagonally from the chair by the window was the chair that was facing away from the others.
The other chairs were stacked on top each other together with the unused desk.
On the desk were the light blanket of dust and a tiny stack of finished books which slightly told the passage of time in this room.
Yuigahama talked to Yukinoshita and had their typical exchange. As I lent my ear to the meaningless conversation, I took out my book.
This was the usual scenery played recursively these past few days.
The feeling of discomfort was nowhere to be found. There wasn’t anything that could be called a change.
Only my gaze would move up with my upper body, shoulders, and neck unmoving. I snuck a glance such that it wouldn’t look like the time was bothering me.
Just how many times have I repeated this? The long hand of the clock that wouldn’t proceed as I wanted finally ticked to the position that I hoped for.
The two were enjoying themselves in their conversation with the topic being different from just a moment ago. There was an energetic voice that talked out and a calm smile. After confirming that, I slowly let out a breath.
“Aah, right… Do you mind if I leave early today?”
As I said that, I quietly closed my book. When I did, Yukinoshita and Yuigahama stopped their conversation and looked my way.
Yuigahama looked out the window as if checking the time. Evening had come slightly earlier. If it was like always, then we’d continue to stay in the room.
As if remembering a feeling of discomfort from that, Yuigahama asked with a mysterious expression.
“You’re leaving rather early today, huh! Do you have something to do?”
“…Aah. I was asked to reserve a party barrel.”
The first reason that came to mind spilled out of my mouth. In reality, I was asked to do it, so I’ll stop by KFC on the way back home.
When I answered, Yuigahama nodded convincingly.
“Haa, a reservation, huh?”
“Yeah. It’s for Christmas at home. It’s actually pretty popular so it looks like I’ll need to do it as soon as possible. Apparently Komachi did it last year too.”
“I see. Komachi-san’s in the middle of tests, after all.”
“That’s exactly it. Anyway, I’ll see you later.”
“Uh huh. See you tomorrow.”
Yuigahama called to me as I stood up. Yukinoshita added a “give my regards to Komachi-san” as well. I waved my hands to them and left the club room. Behind me was Yuigahama who started to talk about various things regarding Komachi’s tests.
In the soundless hallway partitioned by a single door, the thin sound of speaking voices could still be heard. I reluctantly left the place behind as well as those voices.
× × ×
After I left the school building, I immediately headed for the community center.
I locked my bike in the bike parking area. After several steps, I readjusted my bag that wasn’t all that heavy over my shoulders.
When I walked up to the entrance, there was the sound of footsteps approaching me from behind.
Along with the voice was a light strike that hit my back. But even without turning around, I knew who it was. There was only one person who would call me senpai aside from my little sister Komachi who would also do this kind of thing. It could only be Isshiki Iroha.
I answered as I turned around and the owner of the voice was Isshiki Iroha as expected. Isshiki puffed her cheeks in discontent as she lightly glared at me.
“Isn’t your reaction a little too weak…?”
“I mean, you’re just too sly, mmkay…”
Besides, I was used to this because of Komachi anyway…
“Oh c’mooon, that’s just me being honest with you, duuuh.”
Isshiki pressed on her cheeks with one hand and acted shy. Really, you didn’t have to go through the trouble of doing that so slyly… When I looked at Isshiki’s hands, Isshiki was holding a bag with snacks and pet bottles today as well.
I extended out my hand wordlessly indicating to her to hand it over.
Isshiki had a slightly surprised face by my suddenly extended hand, but after a chuckle, she handed over the bags. She then spoke teasingly.
“Then again, I think you’re being pretty sly there yourself, you knooow…”
“Oh c’mooon, that’s just me being honest with you, duuuh.”
Wasn’t that dreadful? My onii-chan skills ended up being activated automatically. If this got me conscious, it’d so embarrassing that my hands would start sweating. Ah, I was conscious of it already so now my hands were suddenly sweaty.
As we had that kind of conversation, we entered the same Training Room that we were in yesterday. Already gathered inside was everyone from Kaihin Sogo High and Sobu High.
“Thank you for your hard wooork.”
Kaihin Sogo’s student president, Tamanawa, raised his hand and called Isshiki. Isshiki responded to him as she made her way to the same seat she was in yesterday. I followed right after her.
It looked like we were the last ones to arrive. Everyone shuffled to their seats and focused their attention on Tamanawa.
“Okay, shall we get started? I look forward to working with you.”
After his call, the conference began.
First, Tamanawa checked with the minutes that we created yesterday. He pressed, pressed, and pressed2 his Macbook Air. He looked like he had tired eyes as he squeezed his brow. He then spoke up.
“Hmm, there’s still just a little more that needs to be certain, so let’s continue the brainstorm from yesterday.”
No, it wasn’t as simple as “a little more”. I didn’t understand a single thing that was discussed in that conference yesterday. Because of that, the minutes were absurdly abstract.
“It’d be nice if we could write some proper minutes today,” I thought that as I lent my ear to the details of the conference.
The one who started the conference was Kaihin Sogo High.
“Since we’re going to be doing this, it’d be nice if we could make it a little flashier.”
“That’s it! That’s totally it. I mean, we definitely should do something big or something.”
I turned my head to the familiar sounding voice and Orimoto was leaning forward, approving of the idea. When she did, Tamanawa had a complicated expression as he stared at his Macbook Air.
“…True. I think we might’ve settled on too many small scale things.”
Eh? Really? We were? A look at the minutes and the only thing I could see recorded was a bunch of LOGICAL THINKING strategic considerations though?
Could it be that they decided on something without me knowing? I grew slightly anxious and spoke to Isshiki next to me.
“Hey… I’m not really sure what you guys are trying to do here…”
“…Well, that’s because nothing specific has been decided yet.”
Isshiki had a resigned tone when she replied in a small voice.
As for what had been decided as of now, the only things were the date, the location, and the objective.
The date was on Christmas Eve. The location was the big hall in this community center. The objective was to hold a Christmas event that targeted the kindergarteners at the nearby nursery and the seniors who commuted to the day service as a form of volunteer activity with the goal of regional contribution and cultural exchange.
But the crucial details had yet to be finalized.
The direction of the discussion right now should’ve been the concept behind those details. But, well, it didn’t feel like that at all though.
Tamanawa finalized most of their opinions and asked Isshiki.
“That being the case, I’d like to expand the scale of the event. What do you think?”
“Mmm. Let’s seeee.”
Asked for her opinion, Isshiki made a perky smile as she mumbled vaguely. Tamanawa seemingly had the same opinion as he returned a smile.
A slipped sigh could be heard close by. When I took a sidelong look, the sigh originated from our vice president.
Regardless of how trivial our task as a helper was, there was a problem if more work was forced down our throats. This was where we should firmly object.
“Isshiki, we don’t have enough time and people to be increasing the scale of the event.”
It wouldn’t be of much use if someone like me who at most accounted for one person’s worth of work had said it. My intention was to whisper it to Isshiki who was our representative to have her say it instead.
But Tamanawa seemed to have overheard it.
“NO, NO. That’s not it.”
Tamanawa combined considerably exaggerated body and hand gestures as he began to speak in a tone that not only I could hear, but everyone else as well.
“BRAINSTORMING is, you see, where you don’t reject a person’s opinion. Because of time constraints and personnel shortages, we can’t expand it further. In that case, we want to figure out how we can address that. That way, we can easily move forward with the discussion. We have to quickly come to a decision. That’s why your opinion is no good.”
R-Right… So you say, but just now, you instantly rejected my opinion though…
Tamanawa faced me with a fresh and nice guy smile.
“Let’s talk about how we can make it possible!”
So increasing the scale was set in stone, huh…?
Not a single voice raised an objection to Tamanawa’s suggestion. Then again, thanks to his speech earlier, there wasn’t any room for dissenting opinions.
After that, the conference turned into a discussion on how to approach increasing the scale of the event and the exchange of opinions that focused on the implementation of said approaches.
“Maybe we can involve the regional COMMUNITY somehow.”
“In that case, we should do it so we can bury the generational GAP.”
For the time being, I was recording the minutes, but the proposals that made me wonder whether I should take a memo of them or not continued.
“What if we had a nearby high school join in?”
Another new opinion came from Kaihin Sogo High. Hey, hey, what was it with these overly conscious types (lol) being so fond of working together with other people?
Could it be they were watching a dream where their conscious was so high that they ascended to the higher dimensions and as a result, they became a part of the Data Integration Thought Entity3, I wonder?
Still, there weren’t any merits to including another high school. We were already having issues managing ourselves even now. Increasing the output of opinions of other people would just make it harder to keep track of them all. There’s no doubt the workload would increase too. I had to avoid that at all costs…
But a simple objection would be shot down. What should I do to keep that from happening?
…No choice then. The only way to give an objecting opinion was to say it in a roundabout fashion that conformed to their rules. If that’s the case, it most certainly would be difficult to have Isshiki to say it as my proxy since it’d be too long.
“This is just a FLASH IDEA, but as a COUNTER to the suggestion earlier, I’m thinking it’d be better to expect the best SYNERGY effect from two schools forming a close relationship and their coordination instead, but what do you think?”
With this, I could ask him what he thought about it while mixing in some katakana lingo in there. A commotion occurred when an unexpected person suddenly spoke up. Diagonally opposite of me was Orimoto who stared at me blankly.
But the one I was dealing with was just one person.
As I thought, the katakana lingo loving Tamanawa took the bait.
“…I see. Then, it’d be better if it wasn’t another high school then. Like a college or something.”
No gooood, huh? Damn it. At this rate, it’ll become a hassle to try to take CONTROL of things. I should pursue further here.
“No, wait. If that’s the case, we won’t be able to take the INITIATIVE. Even if we got our hands on STAKEHOLDERS and a CONSENSUS, we would need a PARTNERSHIP where we could have an UNBLURRY MANIFESTO that would allow us to make transparent SUGGESTIONS…”
“Senpai, what in the world are you saying…?”
Isshiki had an appalled face. Well, I didn’t even know what I was saying myself. MANIFESTO was completely random here too. But right now, that was the only way to say it.
Although I did say it out of desperation, thanks to the high percentage of used katakana lingo in my speech, Tamanawa was nodding his head.
Good, good, it looked like Tamanawa was going to be convinced this time around. What did you know? This guy was the type to listen once you talked to him. He’s a pretty good guy. Did I end up destroying his argument again? I wish to know defeat4
In the moment that I thought that, Tamanawa raised his index finger.
“Then, how does the nearby elementary school sound? We might be able to include a different audience aside from us high school students.”
What was this guy blabbering about…? Unable to respond to his sudden proposal, Tamanawa tacked on another opinion. It looked like he was really interested in his proposal.
“Hmm, something like GAMEDUCATION? By doing it that way, we can make it fun to work and we could garner the help from the elementary students in the region.”
“That’s a WIN WIN, huh?”
Someone from Kaihin Sogo High agreed with the idea. When that person did, Orimoto clapped her hands and pointed.
“WIN WIN! That’s it!”
Not only was it Orimoto, but the others agreed as well. Tamanawa nodded convincingly and began leading as if the matter was settled.
“Our side will handle the APPOINTMENT and NEGOTIATION with the elementary school. After that, I’d like to ask the people from Sobu High to handle the rest.”
He smiled as he said that to Isshiki.
But Isshiki had an ambiguous attitude as she replied “hmm”, not giving a clear yes or no answer. In the first place, Isshiki was on the side that had no motivation to work. She probably had a negative impression of the idea of having the workload increased. That was likely correlated to her hesitation.
“How about it?”
But Tamanawa pressed her on.
“…Okay, I understaaand.”
With a sudden perky, fresh smile, Isshiki answered.
Well, not much she could do. To Isshiki, the person she was dealing with was a boy older than her and also the student council president of the other school. It wasn’t something she could easily refuse. It was likely that this was the form in which their opinions were forced on to them.
With this, our increased workload was set in stone.
Another sigh from the vice president could be heard again. I wanted to sigh too. It’s just sighs all the time!
But simply being given more work was quite the annoyance.
Even if it was one or two pointless jobs, we had to bet on the possibility that we could lower the amount of work. If it’s for the sake of not having to work, then I didn’t hate the amount of effort it would take to do so…
“Hey, is this something we can just decide on our own?”
“If anything, wouldn’t it mean something if we were able to put our INITIATIVE into action?”
Tamanawa answered my question as he flicked away his bangs. Talking with this guy really made my head hurt… I squeezed my brow as I talked.
“That’s not what I mean… Even if we had the elementary kids help out, that also meant we would need guardians to participate as well. At that point, we’ll have issues regarding the CAPACITY of the hall.”
The community center was designated as the meeting place in the early stages of this plan. That was something that couldn’t be changed. If that was the case, then there was an upper limit to the number of people who could participate in this event. You couldn’t go around inviting someone or some guy however you pleased.
When I explained, Isshiki nodded.
“Aah, that’s right. We won’t know how many people from the nursery and day service will come after all…”
That wasn’t confirmed…? I felt there were plenty of other things that had to be done before thinking about increasing the scale, but even so, Tamanawa wouldn’t yield. He factored in our opinions and reinforced his own.
“Hmm, that means we’ll have to confirm it then. Also, it’d be better if we contacted them in advance. After that, we’ll decide on the number of participating elementary students and contact them.”
For now, what we would do was decided.
Sobu High and Kaihin Sogo High would check with the nursery and day service respectively. After that, we would check with the elementary school.
Well, it couldn’t be helped … We managed to secure a limit on the number of participants. I should at least be relieved that I didn’t have to deal with an endless group of people.
That’s right, Hachiman! No matter the time, you have to find the good things!
The conference, which started off as a brainstorm, ended and we all quickly went to our designated jobs.
“Um, so what should we do?”
Isshiki gathered the student council and me and started up.
“We have other work too so I’d like to determine who should go to the nursery and who should stay to do the minutes or something…”
Fumu. Well, since it’s just to confirm information, then there wasn’t a need for everyone to go all at once. The number of people who should go should be as small as possible. The problem was who would go… Honestly, this really wasn’t something that needed to be discussed.
Before I was about to say something about that, the vice president spoke reluctantly.
“I think it’d be better if the president handled the negotiating…”
“Ah, aah, yes, I see. I suppose so…”
When she said that, Isshiki’s shoulders dropped. Well, the representative going was the correct decision here. What Isshiki should be doing right now was not deciding who would go, but delegating work to the remaining staff members.
The vice president seemed to be thinking the same thing as he added with restraint.
“Yeah… No, it’s not just limited to this. There are various other things too, I think.”
“Haa… I suppose sooo.”
The vice president sighed at Isshiki’s attitude.
–Aah, so his sigh during the conference was that, huh?
Unlike me, the vice president wasn’t upset about the increased workload.
The primary reason had to do with Isshiki.
I see… It truly felt like a subcontractor in the worst sense of the word.
The members of Sobu High’s student council including the vice president sought from Isshiki Iroha to behave like a student council president.
But the person in question, Isshiki, was considerate towards the other student council president who also forced his opinions onto her from beginning to end. In addition to that, her being a first year also contributed to the Sobu High side acting reserved as well.
From the perspective of our members, they probably didn’t mind it so much as they just wanted to have some work to do.
Well, it was in people’s S a g a5 to mind something once they were told not to mind it. For now, they’d have to work as they were with this odd feeling of distance.
But as long as I was the reason for making Isshiki the president, I held some responsibility as well. I had to make sure I properly supported her during this event.
“Isshiki, I’ll go with you to the nursery too. In the meantime, we can leave the rest of the work to the others.”
I sent a look to the vice president asking if this was good enough and he nodded. Isshiki who watched our exchange looked slightly relieved as she made a gentler expression.
“Yes. Then we’ll go with that. Okay, I’ll do a quick phone call.”
When she said that, Isshiki pressed on her cellphone and called. Even if it was something as simple as confirming, suddenly intruding on them wasn’t something we could do. It was necessary to make an APPOINTMENT beforehand.
As I waited for that phone call to end, I stood there in a daze thinking how much free time I had and in the corners of my eyes was a familiar face approaching me.
Orimoto raised her hand and talked to me.
“Hikigaya, were you in the student council in middle school?”
“Nope, not at all.”
We were in the same middle school and she didn’t know that? But when I thought about it more carefully, I couldn’t remember a single person from the student council at the time either. But on the other hand, being unable to remember them meant they weren’t a part of my trauma, so they were probably good people. Forgetting these good people made me somewhat apologetic.
Orimoto searched through her Orimoto memories. She nodded.
“I knew it. But you seem kind of used to it though?”
“That’s not really true.”
Although I said that, I had accumulated some experience since I was involved in the Culture Festival and Athletics Festival recently. Compared to before, I had built some tolerance to these kinds of jobs.
“By the way, why are you helping anyway?”
“Well, I was asked to.”
Orimoto slightly paused in response to my explanation. Her staring at me made me slightly uncomfortable. I twisted my body in such a way to get out of her sight and she asked me something outrageous.
“Did you break up with your girlfriend?”
What was she saying…? When I asked back not understanding what she meant, Orimoto looked at Isshiki who was on the phone a little further away.
“Oh, I just thought you were aiming for Iroha-chan because of that.”
Again, what was she saying…? Sure, Isshiki’s face was cute, but I wasn’t someone that could handle her anyway. In the first place, I didn’t think she was the type that would try to do something either.
“I’m not… Besides, I never had a girlfriend so I didn’t break up with anyone.”
Why did I have to say this stuff to a girl I confessed to a long time ago? Was it that? A new bullying method that transcended time…? Besides, I loved myself that could honestly answer these questions. If this was a Japanese folktale, then I’d be a winner. Ah, not good, I didn’t have a dog. I didn’t have seaweed either. Wasn’t seaweed a different story?
Orimoto blinked in response.
“Oh I see… I thought for sure you were dating one of those girls too.”
Which girls were you talking about…? I asked her with a stare and seeing that, Orimoto twirled her raised index finger and added.
“Remember? The ones when we went out that one time.”
There was only one time that Orimoto and I went out. That said, Hayama and her friend were also present and it wasn’t just the two of us. If I were to say it more correctly, then I was just an extra so the numbers could match.
At the time, in accordance with Hayama’s plan, we had an encounter with two girls. They were Yukinoshita and Yuigahama.
The girls Orimoto were talking about were no doubt those two.
“They’re… just in the same club as me.”
Words accurately describing our relationship just wouldn’t come out. I wanted to say the truth upfront, but I wasn’t sure if that was correct either. Just how much of the meaning of the words “in the same club” did I understand? Just as I was about to go into thought regarding that, Orimoto stopped me with a “heeeh” in a stupid voice.
“So you’re in a club. Which club?”
“…The Service Club.”
I didn’t know how to explain it, but it’d be strangely problematic if the conversation headed in the direction of a lie. When I stated frankly, Orimoto snorted.
“What the heck is that? I totally don’t get it! That’s super hilarious.”
“No, no it’s not…”
Orimoto held her stomach and exploded into laughter. Well, it definitely was an incomprehensible club. But it wasn’t hilarious at all.
Really, I couldn’t laugh at all.
× × ×
I followed Isshiki after she finished her call to the nursery. Since it was roughly right next to the community center, making the arrangements was straightforward. Moreover, it being a municipal nursery made it easier for the school’s story to get accepted.
By making an appointment in advance, we were able to proceed inside as soon as we arrived.
The spectacle of the nursery that was once branded in my eyes in the distant past and the drifting sweet smell of baby formula gave rise to a feeling of nostalgia.
The classroom, although I wasn’t sure whether I could call it that, but everything in the room that I peeked into through the glass window was small. And inside were children playing with building blocks and running around.
On the wall were pictures of incomprehensible drawings in crayon hung like scribbled words. And decorating around them like paint were tulips and shooting stars made from colored paper.
I was also an alumnus from a nursery as well, but my memories of that time were quite fuzzy. During that time, there was the possibility that I was told something like “Zawsze in love”6and given keys and a locket, but unfortunately, I couldn’t remember at all.
I let out an impressed “ooh” partly due to my intense curiosity as I restlessly looked around and my eyes clashed with the eyes of a nursery teacher past the glass window.
That teacher exchanged words covertly with another nursery teacher nearby. Their stares were clearly wary of me. Mmmm, madams, here at this nursery, it’s encouraged to deal with any possible problems as soon as you can!
For now, I quickly left that area and called out to Isshiki who was walking ahead.
“It feels like I’m totally not welcome here.”
“It looks that way… Senpai, your eyes are pretty bad, after all.”
Isshiki quickly took a glance at my eyes and spoke. How mean! I even thought you’d take my side too!
Still, even if we had contacted them already, I suppose they’d still be somewhat wary if a boy in a high school uniform appeared. Going along with Isshiki only to frighten the children and teacher was something I shouldn’t do.
“…I think I’ll wait over there actually.”
I pointed to the wall of the hallway that wouldn’t be visible to the children as I told her and Isshiki placed her hands on her hips with a big sigh.
“There’s no helping it, huh? Senpai, I’ll handle things from here then.”
“Counting on you.”
After I said that, I sent her off. It looked like Isshiki would do the talking in the faculty room further ahead. She continued straight towards it.
Even though I tagged along, the matter would be settled with just me uselessly waiting for her.
I checked the area around me wondering how I would go about killing time until Isshiki was done with her discussion. I could easily just sit down in the hallway, but that would serve only to make me look even more suspicious. It looked like I got it backwards when I thought staying behind alone would ease the wariness of the children and teachers.
I guess I can’t do anything, but just stand here absentmindedly, huh…
A long time ago, I once had a part time job that lasted a day for the exhibition of a model room of an apartment complex where the only thing I had to do was continue standing for some number of hours holding an advertisement sign under the blazing sun. For someone like me with that kind of experience, this much was a breeze. I was able to kill about 8 hours by just standing around absentmindedly. It was actually a pretty tough job and there was also the time when I shed a few tears because the various deductions from being dispatched and insurance had me going “woow… my pay’s really low, isn’t it…?”
Compared to then, there was a roof, walls and the time was shorter. Just those alone made me think it was a good environment… Woow, my affinity as a corporate slave’s really high, isn’t it…?
It was that moment when I was standing there spacing out while going through repetitions of worthless thoughts in my head. The door of a nearby classroom silently inched opened.
What’s this? As I thought that, I took a look and a single little girl tip-toed out of the room. The little girl made advances towards the entrance stealthily and began restlessly looking around.
She tried her best to look outside with cute, nimble gestures such as stretching upwards while standing on her toes and jumping up, but once she realized that she couldn’t see anything, she disappointingly trudged back.
The little girl’s darkish blue hair was bounded by hair ties that split it into two. Her features displayed an innocence that made her look extremely sweet.
When she noticed me, she let out an “ah” and approached me.
After that, she pulled on the sleeve of my blazer and popped open her mouth as she looked up. Not good, was this that? Like how the situation would blow up into something bigger from a report that I called out to her? But then again, we’re inside the nursery and there was no one around, so it should be okay, right…?
At this point, I couldn’t really ignore her so I put some effort to speak to her in a calm demeanor. When I did, the little girl pulled on my sleeve further, so I slowly crouched down. After dropping to about her eye level, the little girl spoke with a troubled tone.
“Um, see, Saa-chan isn’t here yet.”
“Ooh, I see.”
What’s Saa-chan…? Could she be referring to her mom, I wonder…? Little kids typically tended to pronounce their words incorrectly. When Komachi was small, she’d say oi-chan instead of onii-chan too. For a split second, I thought for sure she was referring to Tora-san7.
Still, even if I had built some resistance to younger people thanks to Komachi, for a kid this young, I really couldn’t remember how to deal with them. I was once that small too. Now then, just how should I deal with her…? For the time being, it’d be trouble if I let her go outside alone. I guess I’ll take her to the classroom.
“It’ll be just a bit longer until Saa-chan comes. So let’s go play over there until then.”
I gently pushed her small shoulders and brought her to the front of the classroom. The little girl was unexpectedly obedient as she did what she was told and followed me up to the classroom. Just as I was about to place my hands on the glass sliding door, the little girl pulled on my sleeve again.
“Ah! Um, you see, that’s Saa-chan.”
As she said that, she pointed at the crayon pictures posted on the classroom wall. I had no clue which picture she was pointing at… Maybe it was a picture drawn by her mom? Still, there was quite a few of them so I couldn’t tell which one it was.
“Which one’s from Saa-chan, hmm?”
The little girl vaguely pointed at the wall. But on the wall were numerous pictures so in the end, I still didn’t have a clue. Hmm… Which one could it be, I wonder…?
I crouched down again and met my eyes with hers.
“…Okay, I got it. This one is right. And this one is left.”
I raised my right and left hand in succession in front of her and the little girl nodded her head and then repeated the motions.
“Yep, yep. Okay, raise your right.”
When I said, the little girl energetically raised her right hand.
“Raise your left.”
This time she energetically jumped with her left hand. Fumu, it looked like she knew her right from her left. That being the case, I pointed to the wall earlier with the pictures posted.
“Now then, here’s a riddle. Just how many of these are Saa-chan’s starting from the right?”
The little girl’s eyes sparkled as she went “oooh!” to the new game. After that, she began counting with her fingers.
“Ummm…… there’s four!”
“Correct. Very good job!”
As I said that, I lightly patted her head. I see, so that’s Saa-chan… Yeah, I still don’t get it. In the end, I couldn’t figure out which picture it was. But since I accompanied her for a bit, that should’ve cheered her up a bit.
Just as I was about to urge her to head on in to the classroom, a kind voice called out from behind.
When I turned around, a person I could remember very well was there. It was my classmate, Kawasaki Saki.
The little girl’s face perked up brightly when Kei-chan was called and she rushed up to her.
After jumping into her arms, Kawasaki affectionately caressed Kei-chan’s hair. After that, she shot me a suspicious stare.
“…Why are you here?”
“Er, well, work…”
In fact, I was the one who wanted to ask her why she was here, but she managed to say it first. She made a discrete look behind me.
“Uh huh… What about Yukinoshita and Yuigahama?”
I knew she was going to ask that. If it was work that I mentioned, that would imply activities of the Service Club. For Kawasaki who had been involved with us before, that was a natural question to ask. However, there wasn’t a need to explain the details to her. It’s not like she asked about it and telling her the specifics would just be a bother to Kawasaki too. That’s why my answer was simple.
“…They’re on another job. It’s just me by myself.”
Kawasaki stared at me and after a short reply, she looked away in disinterest.
“How about you?”
This time I asked her and Kawasaki lightly and caressingly grabbed ahold of the shoulders of the girl who she called Kei-chan. She then mumbled embarrassingly.
“I’m… here to pick up my little sister.”
Aah, so this Kei-chan was her little sister, huh? I’m glad… I thought for a second there she was her daughter…
Still, after she said it and I thought about it, I see. Their features looked rather similar. She definitely had a bright future ahead of her, I’d say. If there was one thing I’d wish for, it’d be for her to be brought up gracefully. That’s because her onee-chan’s really scary.
As I prayed for that in my head, I looked between the Kawasaki sisters. I wasn’t sure how she interpreted the intentions of my stare, but Kawasaki spoke up in a fluster.
“Ah, um, she’s my little sister Keika… C’mon, Kei-chan, say your name.”
When she was urged, Keika energetically shot up her arms.
As I thought about how pleasant Keika’s vigor was, I named myself as well. When I did, Keika blinked her big eyes in surprise.
“…Hachi, man…? Weird name!”
Kawasaki warned Keika in a panic. Even so, her softhearted tone didn’t change. Unlike her usual self, she gave off a very gentle impression. She was surprisingly quite the older sister. She seemed different from her brocon self too.
“No, I think my name’s pretty weird too, so it’s fine. Still, picking up your sister, huh? Must be rough.”
When I said so, Kawasaki was blunt.
“Not really… Usually my parents do it. It’s just I come on the days when I don’t have prep school.”
“But I remember your place was pretty far, wasn’t it?”
Our middle school districts may have been different, but the distance between our houses shouldn’t have been all that great. Going from there would take about one or two train stops at the most. I wasn’t too sure about the relevant distance was for them to entrust their child here, but it definitely wasn’t in the neighborhood. That point alone seemed tough. Still, Kawasaki spoke in a small voice as she stroked her long hair.
“That’s right, but when we drop her off, it’s usually by car… Right now, the nursery’s limited in space, but this city one is cheaper apparently.”
“Haa, I see.”
She seemed kind of domesticated. As I looked at her admiringly, the bag of things she brought in her hand came into sight. It looked like she came here right after doing the shopping for dinner as there was a leek sticking out of the bag. This made her look even more domesticated.
“I had part time jobs the entire time before so I couldn’t really come…”
“Aah, that did happen, huh?”
Kawasaki answered with a voice that was warm and what filled her gaze was Keika. She suddenly directed that gaze at me.
She glanced at me reservedly and looked like she was having trouble trying to say something with her mouth squirming about. It looked like she wouldn’t say anything even if I waited for her, but with her staring at me like that, it made me think there might be something after all. It’s a bit embarrassing so I’d like it if she could stop…
“…What is it?”
When I asked, Kawasaki shook her head. While she did, her ponytail would swing side to side and Keika would follow it with her eyes like a cat.
I watched as well and down the hallway, I discovered Isshiki.
“Ah, there you are. Senpaaai!”
The discussion in the faculty room must be over. Isshiki was back. If the confirmation and meeting was settled, then our job here was done. I didn’t really do anything though.
“…Eh, um, was it okay for me to come back?”
Isshiki noticed Kawasaki and asked me worriedly. When she did, Kawasaki made a quick look at Isshiki. Because of that, Isshiki’s body stiffened up like she was scared. Aah, Kawasaki’s usually like that so you don’t have to be scared, okay? Yankees may have that bad look to them, but they’re usually just scary and tend to be very good kids.
Still, if I were to explain that to her, Kawasaki would get angry again. As I thought about what to say, Kawasaki flicked away her hair and turned around. She put her hands on the glass sliding door. After she greeted the teacher, she looked like she was planning to head home.
She turned her upper half, said that and she pulled Keika’s hand. Keika squeezed her hand back and made a big wave with her free hand.
“Bye, bye, Haa-chan!”
“Oooh, see you.”
I lightly raised my hand and waved back. Still, what’s this Haa-chan about? Maybe she didn’t remember my name? You have to make sure to properly remember people’s names, okay? Even if you remember it wrong, don’t be random about it and use something like Hachisomething, okay?
As I saw those two off, standing next to me was Isshiki who shifted her look from Kawasaki to me. And then with a confused attitude, she slowly opened her mouth.
“S-Senpai’s acquaintances are kind of unique, aren’t they…?”
I won’t deny it, but you’re actually one of them too, though…
× × ×
It was the following morning after visiting the nursery. Once homeroom ended, I did a light stretch.
There was still a residual feeling of exhaustion from yesterday.
It wasn’t like I did anything particularly physically demanding, but that meaningless period of time was mentally draining.
As for what was accomplished, ultimately, we were only able to get an estimate on the number of participants from the nursery and a hearing of some of their requests. Although we made some progress with updating the minutes, we didn’t actually have a meeting.
When I thought about how I was going to spend today in that way again, a rather big yawn came out. I let out a sigh as if to push away the melancholic feeling.
After I wiped the slight tears at my eyes, I noticed Totsuka who was about to place his hands on the sliding door. It looked like he saw my yawn.
Totsuka made his way to my seat and covered his mouth with one of his lightly gripped hands and made an amused smile.
“You seem tired, huh?”
He must’ve said that because of the big yawn earlier.
I really was tired, but there was no way I could show off my exhaustion to Totsuka. The “exhausted” appeal was on the same level as the “I drank too much” appeal which was downright irritating. Why did that make them popular anyway? I thought that made them look really lame instead. In fact, I think the “I don’t drink sake” appeal would definitely be more popular.
As followed from the above, I think the “I’m not tired” appeal would be super effective against Totsuka!
“It’s the same like always.”
“Now that you mention it, that might be true.”
When I joked about it, Totsuka returned a smile. Those sighs that came out earlier wouldn’t come out at all this time. In place of that, it felt like pink colored sighs would come out instead. Didn’t Totsuka’s voice have a 1/f8 noise effect to it? By the way, I suppose f would stand for fairy…
While the outbreak of negative ions from Totsuka’s smile brought about a placebo effect on me, Totsuka readjusted his tennis bag.
“Going to club now?”
“Yeah! Hachiman too, right?”
Because of the odd pause there, Totsuka slightly tilted his head. I made an effort to make my voice energetic to try to hide it.
“Well, do your best at club.”
“Hachiman too. Do your best, okay?”
Totsuka did a little wave in front of his chest and left the classroom. I returned his wave with a smile. Still, even when Totsuka disappeared down into the hallway, I didn’t feel like standing up at all.
I rested my back against the chair and looked up to the ceiling.
And in my line of sight was Yuigahama.
Further away, she was nervously peeking in my direction. It looked like she was waiting for the right timing for when I was done talking.
I moved my body and looked at her with eyes that indicated it was safe to come over here. When I did, Yuigahama awkwardly walked over.
She stood opposite of me and peeked at me with an anxious face.
“…Are you going to the club today?”
When she asked me, words got lodged in my throat.
Did I make Yuigahama worry because I went home early yesterday? When I looked at Yuigahama’s face, the words “I’m not going” wouldn’t come out. Don’t look at me with those puppy eyes… I got it, I got it, I’ll go.
“Yeah. Well, I guess we should get going…”
“Got it! I’ll go get my bag.”
When she said that, Yuigahama retraced her steps back to her seat. I left the classroom first and waited in the hallway that led to the special building.
In the meantime, in that desolate hallway, I thought about the club and the work for the event afterwards.
Right now, the workload wasn’t all that big.
But if I considered the plans in the future, then the lack of time became evident. In order to allocate more time to the work, then it might be necessary to open up my schedule.
If so, that meant I’d have to find the timing to say I would take a break from club.
Still, I wanted to avoid doing that if I could. It was probably better if it didn’t become the situation where I wasn’t present at the club. In that case, ultimately, I had to do what I usually did and that was to call it a day earlier.
As I was thinking, I received a soft shock on the waist. Ouch, what’s that for…? I turned around and standing there with an upset face was Yuighama. It looked like she had struck me lightly with the bag in her hand.
“Why are you going ahead?”
“I was just waiting for you…”
As we walked down the hallway that continued to the club room, we repeated the same exchange we had recently. It was the same rehashed pre-established harmony. It made me think naturally that that time would start up again.
If there was a tiny deviation to point out, then it’d be regarding Isshiki’s request before and after. I decided to tell Yuigahama about my early excusal today.
“…Ah, about today, I might need to leave early. Actually, it’ll be like that for a while.”
When I said, Yuigahama nodded once and spoke.
“Helping out Iroha-chan?”
The words she spoke startled me.
“Just watching you is enough to tell.”
Yuigahama brushed it off with a laugh.
Well, leaving club early alone and looking tired in class would make you think there was something going on, huh? My own shallowness got the better of me. If Yuigahama saw through that, then it wouldn’t have been odd for one other person to have noticed it too.
“Does Yukinoshita know too?”
When I asked her, Yuigahama moved her eyes outside the window.
“Hmm… I wonder? We don’t talk about Hikki after all.”
I couldn’t see past Yuigahama’s expression. However, her overly quiet voice made me think she wouldn’t allow for me to press any further about it. Her answer that was left vague reflected the situation we were in. It felt like she was only thinking about how she wanted to avoid saying the few words that made that definite.
From thereon, we stopped talking as we continued down the hallway.
Only the sound of footsteps echoed.
Yuigahama was still looking outside.
I emulated her and looked out the opposite window.
This time of the year where winter was nearing, the sun was already setting even though it was this early. The special building where it was difficult for sunlight to reach felt darker than before.
When I entered the shadows where the sun wouldn’t hit, Yuigahama briefly uttered.
“…Are you going to do it by yourself again?”
Even in this encroaching darkness, I could see her face very clearly. Her sorrowful cast down eyes and the weakly biting of her lips. I even thought that I did all this just so she didn’t have to make that kind of face.
As I tried to push away the squeezing feeling in my chest, I quickly moved my feet forward.
“I’m only doing it because I have something I need to do. You don’t need to worry about it.”
“Of course I’m going to worry about it…”
Yuigahama made a troubled smile as she said that.
When I looked at her smile, the question that one time reared its ugly head.
…Did I make a mistake?
Ever since then, I continued to ask myself that question that I already had an answer to.
I definitely did make a mistake.
The days following the student council election gave weight to that reality. Yuigahama was showing this lonely smile. Yukinoshita stabbed me with those eyes full of resignation.
That’s why I had to take responsibility. Owning up to your actions was a natural thing to do.
You shouldn’t rely on someone else when fixing your own mistakes. What good would it do to be a bother to them too? To easily rely on someone, make a mistake, and waste the efforts of the trust of that person was something I could only see as a betrayal.
I thought about the actions I needed to take that were grounded based on the correct rules and principles for the sake of not failing any more than I already have.
For now, I had to do away with Yuigahama’s needless worries.
“You have other things to worry about other than me, don’t you?”
After a small sigh, I spoke up and made a loose smile. I changed the topic fully well aware of how cowardly it was.
Yuigahama responded with a small voice and looked down.
As we walked down the hallway of the special building, our feet began to get heavier as if we were walking through coal tar in a body of water.
We walked in a pace that was much slower than usual and eventually, we could see the door to the club room.
Was the door already unlocked? The only one who had that key was just her alone as the two of us had never laid a hand on it.
Suddenly, Yuigahama stopped. I matched with her and stopped as well. Yuigahama’s gaze was directed at the room.
“Yukinon, I wonder if she wanted to be the student council president…?”
“…I don’t know.”
There wasn’t any point in confirming that now. Considering Yukinoshita’s personality, even if we asked her, she probably wouldn’t answer honestly. If she didn’t say it back then, she wouldn’t say it now. I didn’t feel like asking her something she probably wouldn’t answer either.
No, it’s more like I didn’t want her to answer.
At the very least, both she and I wouldn’t ever do something like lamenting over the now unattainable past openly. Just how much easier would it be if she could just voice her grudges to me?
It’s just that only Yuigahama was the one who could bring up the past that she and I couldn’t. She spoke with a voice that was filled with a will and strength unlike the weak one she exhibited earlier.
“…I think we should’ve taken that request as a club after all.”
When Isshiki came with that request, Yuigahama certainly did say something about how she wanted to accept it. She didn’t look for a reason then, but to bring it up again meant that she definitely had something in mind. When I looked at her eyes, Yuigahama spoke clearly.
“If it was Yukinon before, then she would’ve accepted it for sure.”
“…Why do you think that?”
“Because Yukinon’s someone who tries to go above and beyond. It’s like… how should I say this? It’s because she couldn’t become something that she would try to aim for something even bigger…”
Yuigahama spoke with a passionate tone and confirmed word by word with difficulty.
That was probably why. I reflexively stared at Yuigahama. These crude, but warm words were something very typical of Yuigahama.
Yuigahama choked on her words as if it was because of my staring at her face to face. She then continued confidently.
“That’s why I thought maybe it would’ve been a good trigger or something…”
The things you lost won’t come back.
If you wanted to atone for it, then you had to do it with the things beyond that.
The things that you parted with, by losing these things, loss was born. You had to make up for all of them. Atonement was that kind of thing.
The Yukinoshita whom I assumed to know should have been atoning for her own actions. That’s why what Yuigahama was thinking may not have been wrong.
Yuigahama had thought that far. Even if she knew that the request for the student council was hard on Yukinoshita, she still thought it a possibility.
What did I think?
I only wanted to keep that room from deteriorating. Didn’t I make the choice for the sake of not making that room emptier than it was now? When the realization that my choice was to preserve and satisfy myself stabbed me, I reflexively looked away from Yuigahama.
“…Well, that might be true if she was like before… But now, I’m not so sure.”
Yuigahama’s voice was somehow downfallen. It was likely that even she knew herself that the possibility of that wasn’t high.
Yukinoshita’s attitude when Isshiki came that time was different from how it was long ago.
It felt like she had lost the tenacity in dealing with requests and consultations.
Even now, beyond the door, she was probably quietly sitting like before as if she had given up on something and as if she had forgotten something.
I finally placed my hands on the sliding door that took longer than usual to arrive at.
When the door opened, I went in first, followed by Yuigahama.
Yuigahama greeted cheerfully and Yukinoshita sitting near the window looked at us.
When we exchanged our greetings, I sat on the chair that no longer moved.
I looked to see how Yukinoshita was doing, but she didn’t look any different from yesterday. If there was one change to notice, then it would be the addition of another book she had finished reading on the stack. It was as if that was like The Children’s Limbo9
Yuigahama moved her thumb as she checked her mail on her cellphone. I did the same thing as always and moved to take a book out of my hand until something suddenly came to mind in which I stopped my hands.
There was something I needed to mention to Yukinoshita before we would pass the frozen time. I had already passed it on to Yuigahama, but I had to say I was going to leave early from club for a while or else.
“Hey, do you have a second?”
When I called to her, Yukinoshita’s shoulders twitched. I wasn’t intending my voice to be that loud, but it may have reverberated quite well in this quiet room. Yuigahama straightened her posture as well and looked my way.
Yukinoshita looked at me and stayed still for a moment. She then let out a breath, closed her book, and spoke up.
“……What is it?”
Her composed voice and her intellectual eyes faced my way. I probably had the same face as well.
“Do you mind if I leave early for a while?”
When I said, Yukinoshita blinked two to three times. She then placed her hand on her chin and took a thinking gesture.
“Let’s see, it’s not like we’re particularly busy with anything…”
I waited for her words to continue, but they didn’t seem to come out.
“Well, that’s, you know… I just have some stuff on my plate… Komachi’s in the middle of her tests too.”
My added reason wasn’t at all random. But I just couldn’t tell her the actual reason. It should’ve been fine if I didn’t say it and she didn’t know about it.
Yukinoshita gently rubbed the cover of the book she had in hand. It looked like she was still thinking. Even if I waited for her to come out with a clear conclusion, it looked like it was going to take a considerable amount of time. But Yuigahama who was watching things unfold continued the conversation.
“…But that might be better, huh? We can’t really do anything for Komachi-chan after all. That’s why Hikki will have to try his best for the both of us too. Right, Yukinon?”
Yuigahama rested her body on the table and then looked at Yukinoshita. Yukinoshita returned a delicate smile.
“…Yes, I suppose so.”
Unknowingly, I was scratching my head as I said that and Yukinoshita lightly shook her head saying not to worry about it. And then, the room was suddenly submerged in silence.
Yuigahama raised her voice as if trying to bury the silence.
“Ah, right. Let’s send Komachi-chan a mail.”
Yuigahama said and quickly went into doing what she just thought up as she began pressing away making a mail.
It formally hit me again. Yuigahama was always supporting this space. This meant that this relationship that would break down to pieces at any moment’s notice was held together by just one person.
An empty and monotonous exchange. Depending on how you wanted to look at it, I felt it was a respectable and gentle period of time.
A world that was guided by a conclusion based on compromise and management. Words were properly exchanged and the parties had acknowledged each other and everyone would present a convincing answer and this would be established as consensus.
Was this really correct? I ended up swallowing that doubt.
In place of that came out an uncomfortably hot breath that left my throat terribly parched. Unknowingly, I was watching the tea set that was no longer being used now.
- Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works ↩
- Ka-cha-ka-cha-ka-cha ↩
- The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi ↩
- A quote stated by Umehara Daigo said in an interview because he won quite a bit which subsequently became a 2chan meme(?). ↩
- Not really sure if this was a reference to something, but it means “disposition, nature”. ↩
- Nisekoi ↩
- Otoko wa Tsurai yo – The uncle of the main character was nicknamed Oi-chan. ↩
- Pink noise ↩
- Sai no Kawara ↩