“How was she? Watarase Mamizu.”
After school the next day, Kayama and I were eating ice cream in front of the convenience store on the way home when he suddenly asked me this question. He’d paid for mine, as if in reward for what I’d done. I absentmindedly recalled the previous day’s events as I moved the ice cream to my mouth.
“Well, she really was beautiful,” I replied, thinking that this wasn’t really what Kayama was asking about.
“How is her illness?” Kayama asked.
“Who knows?” I said, even as I questioned whether it was alright to say something like this. “Kayama, do you know her?”
“In the past, a little,” Kayama said ambiguously.
“Come to think of it, are her parents divorced?” I asked, as I was a little curious about it.
“Yeah, probably,” Kayama said. “Her surname was Fukami before.”
We couldn’t just eat ice cream forever, so after that, we moved to the station and got on the train.
There was only one empty seat, so I sat down. Kayama dangled from a handle and sluggishly gazed outside the window.
“I have one more favor to ask,” he said.
Outside the window, the green of the trees and the residential areas streamed past.
“Can you meet her one more time?”
“Ask her when her illness is going to get better.”
What is this guy saying? I wondered. I was already confused when he asked me to go back to that hospital room, but now I had no idea what he was thinking.
“Ask her yourself,” I said, a little fed up.
During this conversation, the train arrived at Kayama’s stop.
“And don’t mention me to Watarase Mamizu.” With those last words, Kayama stepped off the train and left without turning back.
“Oi, wait. What on earth is this about?” I shouted at his back.
In the next moment, the doors closed with a hiss resembling carbon dioxide being released from a drink and the train began moving.
… As usual, I couldn’t really tell what he was thinking.
There was still some time until my station. I was strangely sleepy. I closed my eyes and rested my body’s weight against the back of the seat, and before long, I lost consciousness.
When I came to, the train had arrived at the final station. The signboards of untrendy-looking cafés and privately-managed bookstores lined the station, and in front of it, there was a quiet scene befitting the terminal station of a provincial city, with the green colors of the half-pruned roadside trees. And then I immediately remembered.
This was the station where Watarase Mamizu’s hospital was.
It was seven stations away from the station closest to my house. I had ridden the train way too far. A voice announced, “This train is now returning.” As if being chased out by this announcement, I stepped out onto the platform to see that there was a store at this station. The rows of Pocky at the front of the store caught my eye. The Almond Crush that Mamizu had mentioned was there, too. Before I knew it, I was calling out to the old lady working at the store and asking her for one. I placed the product that was handed to me into my bag and headed for the ticket gate.
Well, since I’ve come all the way here, I suppose I can at least take some Pocky over there, I thought.
When I went to the hospital room, Watarase Mamizu wasn’t there.
Her bed was vacant.
“Watarase Mamizu has gone for an inspection,” someone said.
I hastily turned towards where the voice had come from to see a kind-looking elderly woman staying in the same hospital room speaking to me.
She didn’t know when Mamizu would come back, but since I’d come all the way here, I decided to wait a little.
The snow globe was on the bedside table.
I took it in my hand and shook it, imitating the way Mamizu had done yesterday.
Snow fell inside the snow globe. Feeling like there was some kind of secret hidden in the snow globe, I gazed at it for a while. Of course, no matter how long I looked at it, nothing about it changed.
I tried continuously shaking the snow globe like crazy. There was a blizzard inside it. Getting carried away, I shook it violently, multiple times.
In the next moment, my hand slipped.
The snow globe slid out of my hand and fell. It dropped vertically and crashed onto the hospital room floor.
A harsh sound echoed out.
Now I’ve gone and done it, I thought hopelessly.
“Oh, it’s you, Takuya-kun.”
Mamizu’s voice came from behind me, and I turned around in surprise.
It was the worst timing.
A little late, she noticed the glass fragments at my feet. The ruins of the snow globe, broken to pieces and scattered across the floor. I could clearly see her expression clouding over.
“Are you alright? Takuya-kun, are you hurt?” she asked as she rushed over, looking upset.
“I’m alright, but… I’m really sorry,” I said. I didn’t know what more to say.
Mamizu extended a hand towards the glass fragments.
“Ouch!” she gasped.
It seemed that she’d cut her finger. A few moments later, a red liquid forced its way through her skin and flowed out.
“Calm down,” I said hastily. “I’ll go and bring you a band-aid now. I’m going to clean this up, so stay in your bed.”
Mamizu crawled wordlessly onto her bed and sat with her back leaning against the wall.
I brought a band-aid from the nurse station and handed it to Mamizu. And then I silently gathered the glass fragments.
After cleaning up most of the mess, I went to throw the glass into the rubbish bin outside the hospital room.
When I returned, Mamizu was gazing expressionlessly at the contents of the snow globe. She was holding the snow globe, of which only the base and the miniature log house remained, upon which snow no longer fell.
“It can’t be helped. Everything that has a form eventually breaks… it’s just like how there’s no such thing as a creature that doesn’t die.” She placed the object in her hand onto the bedside table. “Maybe it’s better that it broke,” she said.
Her voice somehow sounded like she was suppressing her emotions.
“Why would you say that?” I asked, despite being the one who had broken the snow globe.
“Because I feel like I’ll be able to die feeling more relieved if I don’t have anything that’s important to me,” she said. That was the strange answer she gave me. “Say, Takuya-kun, how much longer do I look like I have to live?”
Even if she asked me that, I had no way of knowing. Honestly speaking, I hadn’t really heard of any cases of people with luminescence disease living long lives. But at least in appearance, she didn’t seem at all like a person with an incurable disease.
“I don’t know,” I replied, giving up on thinking about it.
“My remaining life expectancy is zero,” Mamizu said. Her voice was completely neutral. “I’m like a ghost. Around this time last year, I was told that I have a year left, and a year passed as normal… I’m actually supposed to be dead already. Despite that, I’m quite healthy. I wonder what that’s all about?”
The way she spoke was as if she was talking about someone else.
Why is she saying this to me, someone she’s only just met? I wondered.
“I wonder when I’m going to die?” she said in a strangely bright tone.
At that moment, I felt agitated somewhere in my chest.
I didn’t really know why I felt so discomposed. What is this emotion? I wondered. Even after thinking about it, I couldn’t understand what it was.
Even after returning home, I was still thinking about Watarase Mamizu. I lay down in the corner of the living room, in front of the butsudan, and continued thinking.
TLN: A butsudan is a small, household Buddhist altar.
I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand what she was thinking inside. No matter how much I thought about it, I couldn’t even make a guess.
She was still a teenager.
Most humans feel despair when they are going to die. They become pessimistic. They feel helplessly sad. And then they accept their fate and are tormented by a sense of powerlessness. They become almost senile. I even got the feeling that it was like this when my grandfather passed the age of eighty and died.
But the way Mamizu had spoken sounded to me as if she was looking forward to dying.
Why is that? I wondered.
And then, because I kind of felt like it, I lit some incense and rang that bowl-like object made of a metal whose name I didn’t know.
In front of the butsudan, there was of a portrait of my older sister, smiling in a sailor uniform.
Okada Meiko. Fifteen years old at the time of her death.
My older sister who was hit by a car and died when I was in my first year of middle school.
Now that I thought about it, I’d become a freshman in high school, just like Meiko had been, without even realizing it.
What was it like when Meiko died?
At the end, what did she think?
I suddenly thought about these things.
I met a person called Watarase Mamizu. She looks delicate, but it’s like she isn’t scared of dying at all.
But you know. Still.
What was it like for you, Meiko? I asked her silently, but there was no response from my older sister in the photograph. That was to be expected, though.
It became time to sleep, and though I crawled into the bed in my room, I couldn’t sleep very well that night. For some reason, Watarase Mamizu’s face surfaced in my mind and wouldn’t disappear.
‘I wonder when I’m going to die?’
Her voice was still inside my brain. Like a line in a song that I liked or one of those strange commercial songs that became stuck in my head, her voice repeated itself endlessly.
The next day, when I arrived at school and opened my bag, a box of Almond Crush Pocky emerged from it.
What do I do with this? I thought.
Since those events had happened, I’d missed my chance to give it to Mamizu.
After thinking and worrying about it, I decided to go to that hospital room one more time on the way back from school, just for the purpose of giving it to her.
I even considered how I’d get there.
I thought about how I might be causing trouble by visiting a hospital room day after day in succession, and about how Mamizu might not want to ever see my face again after I’d broken something so precious to her.
Now that I thought about it, it was awkward. It would have been better if she’d been angry with me that time. I would have felt better if she’d just snapped and let her anger out at me. I felt an unpleasant pain in my gut.
Why was I trying to get involved with her, to the point of having to experience these feelings?
Even I found it strange. I wonder why I’m doing this, I thought.
That was probably… I’m sure it was because she was similar to my older sister Meiko.
It wasn’t really that their faces were similar. Their personalities were quite different, too. But although I couldn’t really put it into words, there was something similar about them. The closest way to describe it was that the atmosphere around them was similar. Back then, Meiko had been similar to Watarase Mamizu.
There was something that I had never understood about my sister’s death.
I had the feeling that maybe I’d be able to understand it if I spent time with Mamizu.
I stopped in front of the room and took a single, deep breath. I inhaled deeply and exhaled thoroughly.
And then I finally hardened my resolve and entered.
Just like the first time I’d come here, Watarase Mamizu was at the bed furthest inside this shared room. I saw that she was facing a notebook and writing something. It was a brand new B5 notebook. It was spread open on the hospital table that had long, thin rollers attached to it, and she was single-mindedly writing something in it. Having a sideways view of her serious face, it was hard to call out to her. I hesitated for a moment. And then, as if detecting my presence, she noticed that I was there and looked up.
“If you’re here, you should have said something,” she said. She was looking at me with a curious-looking expression.
“What are you writing?” I asked.
She looked normal. The feeling I felt yesterday when we’d parted, the dangerous sense that she would break if she were touched, was gone. Despite that, no, perhaps because of it, I felt some kind of distance between us.
“It’s a secret.” She lifted the notebook so that the spine was facing me, as if to hide its contents.
“Alright,” I said.
Well, it was probably a diary or something. I didn’t pursue the subject, and gently placed the Pocky that I’d brought onto the table.
“Wow, it’s Almond Crush!” Mamizu picked up the Pocky with bright eyes. “Can I eat it?” she asked me. As I nodded, she opened the packaging neatly and bit into one of the Pocky sticks with a small crunch. “It’s quite different from the normal ones,” she said.
I wondered what she was so happy about as she smiled cheerfully.
“I’ll tell you a little,” she said.
For a moment, I didn’t know what she was talking about, but quickly realized that she was meant the notebook.
“I’m making a list of the things that I want to do before I die.”
That’s… something I’ve heard somewhere before. Before you die, you look back on your life and in the end, you finish the things you’ve left undone and fulfil your desires. It’s a common story, I thought. Things like emotional reunions, or wanting to meet famous people.
“During my test yesterday, I asked the doctor, you know. ‘Just how much longer do I have to live?’ And then he made a difficult expression and said something like, ‘I don’t really know, but it seems that you’ll last another half a year.’ A useless doctor, isn’t he? I wonder what he thinks human lives are? Anyway, I thought that I might as well use the precious time that I have left in the most worthwhile way possible.” Mamizu said all of this in one go, and then, in the next moment, she frowned a little. “But you know, I think it’s impossible after all.”
“Why?” I asked.
“I can’t go outside. My condition is quite bad, you see. I’ve been strictly told that I’m prohibited from leaving.”
At that moment, a thought suddenly occurred to me.
It wasn’t an admirable thought at all.
I just wanted to know.
What was written in that notebook?
For some reason, I was really curious.
What did Watarase Mamizu want to do before she died?
“Will you let me help you with that?” I suddenly blurted out.
Mamizu looked back at me, surprised. “Why?”
“I want you to let me make it up to you. For breaking the snow globe. I know I did something that can’t be undone. But I feel like the word ‘sorry’ isn’t enough. I feel like it’s too flimsy. I don’t know how to say it properly, but… whatever it is, I’ll do anything if it’s something that I can do.”
“I wonder if that’s true.” After a short silence, Mamizu opened her mouth again. “Will you really do anything?”
The pitch of her voice had gone up half a step. She was speaking as if she was testing me.
“Definitely. I promise,” I said energetically.
“Ah,” she said. She stared at me, her eyes suddenly wide open. “Something good has just come to mind.”
I wondered what was going on in that brain of hers as her expression changed hectically. Her difficult expression had changed completely, and now it was like a cloudy sky that had just cleared up.
“Say, will you listen?” she said.
At that moment, I felt something like a strange premonition.
If I listen to her speak any further, I won’t be able to turn back, will I? I thought.
… Even so, as if drawn in by her gaze, I gave her a simple response.
“What should I do?”
With this sequence of events, the strange relationship between me and Watarase Mamizu began.