Mamizu’s mother, Ritsu-san, seemed like a somewhat forceful person.
There was a strained atmosphere about her, but at the same time, she was worn out. She had a well-featured face that made me think she’d probably been a beauty in the past. But there were no signs of her wearing any makeup, and although she was apparently still in her forties, she actually looked older.
“Ah, you’ve come again today,” she said.
That day was the second day that I’d met her. Her words were gentle, but there was something biting about the way she spoke. Ritsu-san never called me by my name. It was always “you.” I got the feeling that she didn’t think much of me, someone she didn’t know who had suddenly started frequently visiting her daughter’s hospital room.
“Well then, I’m going home. Don’t be in too high spirits; make sure you sleep quietly,” Ritsu-san said to Mamizu in a rather scolding tone, and then left the room.
“Takuya-kun, you’ve wearing a rather dark-looking expression today, aren’t you?” Mamizu said as she looked at my face, sounding a little worried. “Are you alright? Are you not feeling well?”
“No… it’s not a big deal,” I said.
“My earphones broke.”
I took my earphones out of my pocket and showed them to Mamizu. I had been listening to music on my way to the hospital when they got caught on a tree branch. Now, I could only hear sound through one side.
“Were they expensive?” Mamizu asked.
“Not really,” I said.
But the earphones were a birthday present that Meiko bought for me with the pay from her first part-time job in high school, so it was kind of a shock for me.
Mamizu took my earphones and stared at them intently for a while. And then she looked at me with an expression that looked as if she’d just thought of a sinister idea. “Say, Takuya-kun.”
“What is it?”
She isn’t going to suggest something troublesome again, is she? I thought, bracing myself.
“Shall we try doing a little something that we shouldn’t do?”
The “something that we shouldn’t do” Mamizu had referred to was going to the store on the first floor of the hospital. She was apparently prohibited from leaving her bed. But her excuse was that even if that was the case, being caught wouldn’t cost us our lives.
I walked ahead to check the corridor. If we were seen by a nurse or doctor, it would be game over. We proceeded carefully through the corridor and arrived at the stairs. This was because we were more likely to run into someone if we took the elevator.
Mamizu clutched the handrail and descended the staircase with somewhat shaky steps.
“Are you actually alright?” I asked her.
“Don’t make fun of me. I’m not a grandma,” she said.
We reached the first floor and made it to the store safely. It was decided that I would stand at the store’s entrance and look out for anyone it would be bad for Mamizu to be found by.
“It’s here! Takuya-kun, it’s here!” Mamizu’s voice shouted at me quietly after a while.
I turned around to see what she was so happy about, and saw her waving at me like a child. Looking more closely, I could see that a package was being waved around in her hand.
“What is that?” I asked.
Mamizu drew closer and held the package up in front of my face.
“Look closely. It’s the same as your earphones, Takuya-kun.”
Indeed, it was the same brand and the exact same model. What’s she thinking? I wondered. Had she made the effort of sneaking out of her hospital room just for something like this?
“Please give me this,” Mamizu said, and before I could stop her, she handed the earphones to the lady at the register.
“Even if you say that, you don’t have any cash, do you?” I said calmly.
“Ta-dah. I have a magic card,” Mamizu said, producing an IC card that I hadn’t seen before. “It’s a prepaid card for the hospital. If I have this, I can watch TV and do all kinds of things.”
“I mean, you don’t really have to buy them,” I said.
But Mamizu didn’t respond, and bought the earphones. “Treat them with care this time,” she said.
“It’s… not like I wasn’t treating them with care before.” I should have just thanked her, but for some reason, I said something else instead.
Mamizu suddenly became expressionless and stared at me.
“What? If you want to say something, say it,” I said.
In the next moment, Mamizu’s body swayed in a large, slow motion. Not giving me time to think about why, it collapsed towards me as if she were snuggling against me. I reflexively extended my hands and embraced her.
“Oi, what’s this all of a sudden?” I asked.
“Takuya-kun. I’m sorry. I’m in a bit of trouble now,” Mamizu said, and then, for some reason, she let out a self-deprecating laugh. “I can’t put any strength into my body.”
“Hey, you’re kidding, right?”
In front of a store’s register, in a pose that looked like we were embracing each other, we’d become unable to move. You’re kidding, right? I thought one more time.
“Excuse me, could you please call someone?” I asked the lady at the register.
There was a bit of an uproar. Doctors and nurses came running with changing expressions. Mamizu was put on a stretcher, something like a bed with rollers attached to its legs for mobility, and taken away somewhere.
“I failed, huh?” Mamizu said while she was being carried off, gazing at the ceiling.
Of course, I didn’t get away free, either.
Ritsu-san, who had been on her way home, came back to the hospital within less than an hour.
She and I sat in chairs next to Mamizu’s empty bed in her room and faced each other.
“I’ll be honest. I don’t really want you to come here,” Ritsu-san said frankly. There was clear anger in her voice.
“I’m sorry.” I made no excuse and simply apologized.
“Not only sad things, but enjoyable things, too, cause stress on humans. Do you understand? That girl is not normal,” she continued.
I just sat there quietly and received her anger. Dozens of words that I wanted to say back to her floated in my mind, but I couldn’t say anything.
After this continued for a while, Mamizu returned to the room.
She was sitting in a wheelchair with a nurse pushing it.
“Don’t make her push herself too hard,” the nurse said to me.
She seemed strong-willed and had a name tag that read ‘Okazaki’ on her chest.
I simply lowered my head.
And then, with the nurse and Ritsu-san’s help, Mamizu crawled onto the bed. She sat up with her back pressed against the wall and looked at us one after another.
“Don’t look at me with such scary faces,” she said. “Everyone’s making such a big fuss. These kinds of things happened quite often in the past, didn’t they? It wasn’t because we went to the store.”
“That’s the kind of condition that you’re in, so something terrible might happen if you just go walking around,” Okazaki-san said, as if scolding Mamizu.
“You as well, this is how it is, so I want you to not say anything unnecessary to tempt her,” said Ritsu-san. “If possible, you should take this opportunity to stop coming…”
Before Ritsu-san could say anything more, a single tear flowed from Mamizu’s eye.
“I’m sorry,” Mamizu said.
I could see Ritsu-san falter.
“It’s not Takuya-kun’s fault. I forced him to come with me. So don’t say such things and don’t be angry. If you’re going to be angry, be angry only at me.” Mamizu cried, her eyes bright red.
“Watarase-san, calm down,” the nurse Okazaki-san said, giving Ritsu-san a signal with her eyes.
Ritsu-san’s expression looked as if she’d given up on something, and she softened her stance. “I have business to attend to. I’m going home now.”
Without even looking at me, Ritsu-san left the hospital room.
“You should quickly go home, too. Well… Whatever you do, make sure you do it in moderation.” With those last words, Okazaki-san left with rushed footsteps.
I stood up to go home as I’d been told and turned to look at Mamizu. She was still crying.
Mamizu looked at me. “Well, these are fake tears,” she said.
I almost fell over. If that had been an act, it looked like a masterful one to me.
“I can’t really stop this very easily.” Tears were still flowing sorrowfully from Mamizu’s eyes, but her tone had returned to normal. “But I’m sorry. For causing you trouble.”
“Let’s focus on not crying first.” I took out a handkerchief and handed it to her.
“Thanks… Takuya-kun, you’re nice sometimes, aren’t you?”
“The ‘sometimes’ is unnecessary.”
And so, I waited a short while for Mamizu to stop crying.
“I was feeling bad for everything you’re doing for me. I wanted to do a little something for you as well, Takuya-kun,” she said in a tone that sounded as if she was embarrassed by her failure.
So that’s what she was thinking, I thought, a little surprised.
“I’ll take care of these earphones,” I said.
Mamizu looked at me, as if taken aback.
“Don’t make that weird face.”
“My face has always been like this,” Mamizu said, giving a slightly embarrassed laugh.