The first floor of the hospital that Mamizu was staying in was an outpatient ward reception desk, and it was lined with benches of the faded color that was specific to public institutions. When I visited the hospital one day, I saw Ritsu-san sitting there. As I approached to greet her, I noticed that something was strange about her.
Her face looked as if she were about to die.
The skin of her face was ashen, and her expression was stiff. When I looked closely, I saw that she was trembling. Not just her fingers or her legs; her entire body was trembling. It was a saddening sight. Retracting the “hello” that I had been planning to greet her with, I called out to her with, “Are you alright?” instead.
Ritsu turned her face, which looked as if she was having a feverish nightmare, towards me. “… Are you here to visit Mamizu today as well?”
“Did something happen?” I asked, suppressing my anxiety.
“I can’t be like this, can I?” Ritsu-san said.
Unable to respond with either “That’s right,” or “That’s not true at all,” I remained silent.
During my silence, Ritsu-san held out a paper bag that she had placed next to her. “I’m sorry, but can you give this to Mamizu?”
You can give it to her yourself, I thought for a moment, but then I took it without saying anything.
“It seems like it’s best for me to not see her right now.” Ritsu-san stood up. “Well then, I’m counting on you,” she said as she began walking towards the exit with faltering footsteps.
I blankly watched her leave and then headed towards Mamizu’s hospital room. I spent the entire elevator ride pondering Ritsu-san’s words. I thought about the meaning behind them, numerous times. I couldn’t imagine that they meant anything good.
As I entered the room, Mamizu’s eyes met mine immediately.
“I thought you might not come anymore,” she said.
The light streaming in from the window faintly illuminated her contours.
She has a pretty face, I thought blankly. If Mamizu wasn’t ill, I wonder what kind of life she would live. I’m sure she would always be surrounded by people, and have a far brighter personality than she does now. And maybe she wouldn’t have even talked to me.
“Why?” I asked, sitting down on the stool next to the bed and crossing my legs.
“I thought you might be angry.”
“I said that we’d go somewhere, but it didn’t turn out that way.”
“Why would I be angry over something like that?” I couldn’t understand her way of thinking at all.
“I think about it all the time. I’m always just saying selfish things and causing you trouble. So before long, you’d get sick of me, and one day, you’d just suddenly stop coming, Takuya-kun. And that would be the end.”
“That won’t happen,” I said without any deep thought, to calm her down.
“Hey, one day, if I said don’t come anymore no matter what, would you still come and see me?” Mamizu asked.
Her absurd question put me on the spot.
… She seemed to have become weak-hearted. I didn’t know whether it was because her inspection went badly or because of something else, but she seemed to have lost her presence of mind and become disheartened.
“Don’t worry about strange things like that.” To end this conversation, I handed Mamizu the paper bag that I’d been entrusted with. “I met your mother at the entrance just now. She seemed busy, and she told me to give this to you.”
“My mother isn’t really a bad person. Takuya-kun, I’m sorry about the other time. She was a gentler person in the past. She’s probably tired. Because of me, you know,” Mamizu said, taking out what was inside the paper bag. It was a pair of knitting needles and a partially-knitted piece of clothing.
“What is that?” I asked curiously.
“I started this just after I entered middle school, and then kind of got discouraged from finishing it soon after that. I suddenly remembered and thought that while I’m at it, I might as well finish these kinds of things too, so that I don’t leave anything unfinished.”
For some reason, Mamizu gazed at the incomplete mass of wool, as if at a loss for what to do. It hadn’t taken on a proper shape yet.
“Back then, I thought I’d knit a sweater, but it wouldn’t be finished in time, would it?”
“In time for what?”
“Winter. There’s no point in having knitted clothes in spring, right?” Mamizu gave a deep sigh and flopped onto her bed. And then she looked at me with depressed-looking eyes.
“Hey, what do you want to do next?” I asked, as if it were only natural for me to ask this.
“… Well, then. I want to go stargazing! I like stars,” she added in a spoiled voice, smiling as if she knew that she was asking something unreasonable.
It’s the first time I’ve heard her voice like that, I thought.
Perhaps the distance between us had shortened a little. Or perhaps it had shortened too much.