Aimi City, a city in the neighboring prefecture with a population of less than half a million people, didn’t have any characteristic features.
It was paved evenly with concrete and overrun by chain stores. The students attending my high school would never come here to enjoy themselves. It was too far, and there were too few things that were actually better here.
Of course, there was a reason I had made the effort of going on a three-hour journey by train to get here.
Mamizu’s father lived in this city.
The reason her father lived in this faraway place was because, as Kayama had said, Mamizu’s parents were divorced.
Apparently through discussions between Mamizu’s father, who was managing a company, and her mother, Ritsu-san, it had been decided that Mamizu would live with Ritsu-san. But Mamizu had never heard the reason for the divorce directly from Ritsu-san. Even when she asked, the question had always been avoided.
“I want to ask my father why he and my mother got divorced.”
This was Mamizu’s “thing she wants to do before she dies” this time.
Isn’t that a bit too heavy to ask someone else to do? I’d thought.
“Please. I’m really serious; I want to know before I die, no matter what. But I haven’t been told my father’s phone number or e-mail address. I don’t know what to do.”
Indeed, Mamizu requested this of me very seriously. With a serious tone that was different from any other tone of speech she had used before.
“Could it be…?” Something had occurred to me. “Have you been testing me up until now so that you could ask me to do this?”
When I broke the snow globe, Mamizu had told me that she wanted me to do the “things that she wants to do before she dies” in her place. That snow globe was a treasured possession given to her by her father.
That snow globe might have been the scenery in Mamizu’s imagination.
A world inside a glass sphere in which snow continued to fall, as if time inside had stopped.
Perhaps for Mamizu, the house inside had been a reminder of the happy household that she’d once belonged to.
Hadn’t she wanted communication with her father instead of that snow globe? Yet she couldn’t meet her father. Isn’t that why she had come up with the idea of making me do it in her place?
Hadn’t all of the things up until now been a test for this task? Hadn’t she just been hesitant to make such a heavy request from the beginning? This was what I’d thought.
“… There’s no way that’s true, is there. I was just playing around by making you do crazy things, Takuya-kun.”
In the end, I’d begun feeling like I couldn’t really turn down Mamizu’s requests once I’d heard them.
“I’ll do what I can,” I’d said as I left the hospital room.
The only clue I had was that I knew his address. Mamizu’s father had left the house where their family had once lived, and was now apparently living in his own house. That house was in Aimi city. Relying on my smartphone’s map application, I found that house.
The doorplate read, “Fukami.”
I was a little nervous, but I boldly rang the intercom.
“Who is it?” said a man’s voice.
Was this Mamizu’s father?
“Is Fukami Makoto-san here?” I asked.
“There is nobody by that name here.”
There was something incredibly dark in the man’s voice. And there was something like wariness in it as well. But I’d definitely heard that Mamizu’s father lived here. What was the meaning behind telling me that that he wasn’t here?
“What is your business?” the man asked.
“Umm, my name is Okada Takuya. Actually, I’m an acquaintance of Mamizu’s… Mamizu-san’s. There is something I would like to talk to you about, if you could allow me.”
“Has something happened to Mamizu?” The tone in his voice had suddenly changed; it had a sense of urgency now.
And then the voice cut off. A short while later, a middle-aged man hurriedly came out from the house.
He was an unshaven, muscular man with dark, suntanned skin, and his clothes could only be described as pajamas. I didn’t really have a clear impression of him.
“I am Fukami Makoto. I am Mamizu’s father,” he said.
Honestly speaking, he was far off the stereotypical image of a president who ran a company. That was my first impression of Mamizu’s father.
“I see. I understand.”
I’d been let inside Makoto-san’s house, and I explained to him why I’d come here today at the table in his living room. The fact that Mamizu wanted to know why he and Ritsu-san had divorced.
“Mamizu-san… how do I put this? It seems that she thinks her illness, the fact that she has luminescence disease, was the cause of the divorce,” I said. “She thinks that maybe she was discarded out of disgust.”
“No… I think that the fault lies with me for not having gone and told her the truth,” Makoto-san said, looking at me with a direct look in his eyes. “By the way, are you Mamizu’s boyfriend, Takuya-kun?”
I accidentally spat out the tea that I’d been offered. “N-no! I’m, how do I put it… just an acquaintance,” I said.
“But it seems that at the very least, Mamizu trusts you. She wouldn’t ask a mere acquaintance to do something like this for her.”
That’s… I wonder, I thought. What does Mamizu think of me? It’s like I understand, but I don’t.
“By the way, Takuya-kun, what do you think of me?” Makoto-san asked.
I got the feeling that this was my first time meeting an adult who would ask this question. To think that Makoto-san would be concerned about how he appeared in the eyes of a high school student – his question felt a little unusual to me.
“I kind of think you’re really wild,” I said honestly.
Makoto-san gave an indifferent laugh. The way he laughed was a little similar to Mamizu’s.
“I don’t look like the president of a company, do I?” Makoto-san said, still laughing but with a sharp look suddenly appearing in his eyes. That part of him was a little like Mamizu, too.
“No, that’s…” I was at a loss for words.
“So, you’re the type who can’t tell lies… you’ll suffer when it comes to women.” With those hint-like words, Makoto-san emptied the cup of tea in his hand in one go. “To tell you the truth, I’m not the president of a company anymore.”
And then Makoto-san began telling me the truth behind his divorce.
Makoto-san originally managed a small-scale component manufacturer in our city.
That company, which had pretty much started from being a small factory in town, succeeded in making a number of deals with major firms and grew rapidly. But just as a large-scale capital investment was made, a big-talking client apparently went bankrupt, and the business failed as a result.
Makoto-san had been cornered into personal bankruptcy, and after much thought, decided to divorce Ritsu-san before he declared bankruptcy. Once he declared personal bankruptcy, his personal assets such as his house and the funds in his bank account would be seized.
The treatment of Mamizu, who suffered from luminescence disease, cost a large sum of money. It was a disease that piled up medical bills. It could never be cured, and methods of treatment hadn’t been established. Typically, patients were hospitalized and received continuous treatment. Makoto-san had thought that through divorce, he could leave money to pay for Mamizu’s treatment.
It would have been problematic for Makoto-san to meet Mamizu and her mother in front of his creditors and debt collectors. That was why he hadn’t even told Mamizu his contact details. He had now returned to his own home and was living with his elderly parents, Mamizu’s grandparents, while performing dangerous physical labor on construction sites. And he was sending money to Ritsu-san in secret.
The two of them had decided to keep this a secret from Mamizu. They didn’t want to cause any unnecessary concern for their ill, hospitalized daughter who had only known a wealthy life.
They’d thought that if they revealed everything, Mamizu would quit attending high school, at which she had poor prospects anyway. But Makoto-san didn’t want her to quit high school in case there was a miraculous event and her illness was cured.
“Not only that, but maybe my pride was too high back then to reveal everything to my daughter,” Makoto-san said.
That was the truth behind the divorce of Mamizu’s parents.
It was so much that I couldn’t even give any responses; I simply sat there and listened.
“Are you going to tell my daughter all of this?” Makoto-san asked when he was finished. It seemed that he still had doubts.
“It might be impertinent of me to say this, but… I think that it’s cruel to hide things out of kindness or consideration. It’s unbearable for the one things are being kept hidden from,” I said.
“You have a way with words, don’t you?” Makoto-san was listening to me speak with a bitter smile on his face.
Even so, I continued. “Mamizu-san wants to know the truth before she dies.”
“Die, huh. You have a very clear way of speaking, don’t you?” Makoto-san said, his face suddenly becoming serious. For a second, I thought he was angry. But I was wrong. “It might be just as you say, Takuya-kun. Maybe I should tell Mamizu these things properly.”
And then Makoto-san gave me a forced smile. I covered my face, somewhat embarrassed at having said too much.
“Actually, I have something to apologize to you about, Makoto-san,” I said, and I took out a certain object out of my bag. It was the snow globe that I had broken. “I dropped it and it broke. I’m really sorry.”
The contents of the snow globe, the now-bare log house, had toppled over.
“You really don’t lie, do you?” Makoto-san said, looking surprised. “It’s fine. Everything that has a form eventually breaks.” He spoke the exact same words as Mamizu. “But Mamizu is…” He couldn’t say any more.
“I’m sure she’s really sad.” I managed to finish his sentence.
“Alright. Well, I’ll do something about it. Don’t worry about it,” Makoto-san said to me.
“Umm, could you at least tell Mamizu-san your contact details?” I asked Makoto-san as I was leaving.
Makoto-san pondered for quite a long while. “Only if she promises not to ask me to meet her,” he said finally, handing me a memo with an e-mail address written on it. “Takuya-kun, make sure you get along well with Mamizu,” he said to me at the end.
I simply replied, “Yes, sir.”
When I went to her hospital room, Watarase Mamizu was spending that day reading a book as well. Looking carefully, it was the same paperback book that she was always reading. I’m surprised that she can keep reading the same book without getting tired of it, I always thought.
“How was it?” Mamizu asked, not taking her eyes off the the book’s pages. “Has Father at least found a new woman?”
I got the vague feeling that these words weren’t a reflection of her true feelings. She was feeling nervous to hear my report, too. She was only saying these words to hide that nervousness and act strong. Even so, I didn’t want her to listen to Makoto-san’s story while she was speaking with that tone and acting in that manner.
“Makoto-san told me his story properly.” I sat on the round chair next to Mamizu’s bed and looked at her intently. And then I stopped her hands that were turning the pages of her book. “So you need to listen properly too, Mamizu.”
“… Alright,” Mamizu said, very obediently.
And so, I told her the story I’d heard from Makoto-san, from start to finish.
I told her that Makoto-san hadn’t abandoned her, that it was the exact opposite, and that he was now putting all his effort into working for her sake. That he’d kept the reasons behind the divorce from her because he didn’t want her to worry about his lifestyle while she was in hospital. That he didn’t want Mamizu to worry about anything after learning of all of this, and that she should feel the same way towards him as she had done up until now.
I took my time telling her all of this in order to convey Makoto-san’s feelings as accurately as possible. And at the end, I handed her the memo with contact details that Makoto-san had given me.
“So, Father and Mother didn’t get divorced because they had become on bad terms with each other.” This was the first thing Mamizu said after listening to what I had to say.
“Yeah. Makoto-san said that your mother is still an important partner to him,” I said.
“Say Takuya-kun. If I didn’t become sick, the two of them wouldn’t have separated, would they?” Mamizu spoke such words.
“That’s wrong, Mamizu,” I said.
“It would have been best if I was never born, right?” Mamizu said with a dark expression.
“That’s not true. Makoto-san, your father, doesn’t think that at all,” I said out of conditioned reflex, with almost no thought behind my words. Even I was surprised at myself for being able to say these words as if they came naturally.
“But it’s true, isn’t it? I’ve become sick and all I do is make the people around me unhappy. And if my illness could be cured and I could live, it would still be alright. But I’m definitely going to die. So there’s no meaning to this, is there?”
Mamizu’s voice sounded so dispirited that I shuddered. What was I supposed to say at a time like this? I tried to say something. All kinds of words floated into my mind, like “Cheer up,” or “It’s alright,” but none of them struck me as appropriate.
“It was even bothersome for you, wasn’t it? Having met such a troublesome, sick girl. Doing what she says. I’m going to stop being spoiled by you now, Takuya-kun.”
At that moment, I couldn’t give her any positive words. I thought that her earnest feelings couldn’t be healed with light-hearted words. I thought that I as a human was too insignificant to say such words to her.
And most importantly, I couldn’t believe in such words myself. I thought that if I spoke words that I myself didn’t believe, they would sound hollow and dishonest.
“You still have a lot of things on your ‘things you want to do before you die’ list, right? What do I need to do next?” I asked.
Mamizu looked at me with a surprised expression. “But don’t you dislike it?”
“Well… I suppose I don’t dislike it,” I said after a little thought.
It was a little difficult for me to be any more honest than that.
“Takuya-kun, could it be that you’re actually a really good guy?” Mamizu stared at me blankly.
“I guess I am,” I replied, feeling exasperated.
End of chapter one.