Shizusawa Sou was an autobiographical writer from before the war. He wasn’t very well-known to the public, but apparently, he had some loyal fans.
His most notable work, ‘One Ray of Light,’ was known as a typical piece of sanatorium literature. Sanatorium literature refers to works depicting the lives of patients hospitalized in sanatoriums. ‘One Ray of Light’ depicted the life of a protagonist who suffered from luminescence disease. Shizusawa Sou was an autobiographical writer, and autobiographies are generally stories written based on actual experiences. Shizusawa Sou himself had suffered from luminescence disease and died in his twenties.
I couldn’t quite get a grasp on the image his work portrayed just from this description on the internet, so I decided to actually borrow the book from Mamizu and read it.
While I was reading ‘One Ray of Light’ at my own seat between classes, Kayama called out to me.
“What are you reading that for?” he asked.
“Ah, it’s just…”
It was an old book; its literary style and metaphors were old-fashioned, so it took me quite a while to read through it. Honestly, it was such a minor work, and I would never have picked it up in my life if Mamizu hadn’t been reading it.
“That’s the book that Watarase Mamizu likes, isn’t it?”
I was startled.
Did Kayama know something?
“Oh, really?” I played dumb. Isn’t this a really obvious way to play dumb? I thought.
“I like it too, actually,” Kayama said.
This was an unexpected fact. Or rather, I couldn’t imagine that it was a coincidence. I would have understood if it were a famous novel, but it was no coincidence that Kayama liked an obscure book like this.
“I haven’t finished reading it yet, so don’t spoil it,” I said.
“He dies in the end,” Kayama said, spoiling the story immediately.
But even I knew that much of the ending, so I didn’t feel like getting angry.
‘One Ray of Light’ wasn’t that long a book. It wasn’t even two hundred pages in paperback form. I finished reading it within the day. Honestly speaking, I didn’t find it particularly interesting. Well, there were interesting parts, but the story seemed to have few redeeming features in my eyes. Maybe that was because it was a work where an autobiographer knew that he was dying and depicted what he thought his own death was going to be like. It was melancholic and induced a dark mood.
The next day, we had an educational field trip. It had been decided that our class would go to the folklore museum. I could kind of imagine what the folklore museum would be like, but not quite. What kind of things would be on display? Earthenware? Bears?
It was at nine o’clock in the morning, just after I got past the ticket gate at the station near the museum we were supposed to be meeting at. I’d arrived early, but I encountered Kayama, who had arrived even earlier. Almost none of the other students had arrived yet.
“Hey, shall we skip out on this?” Kayama suggested. Of course Kayama would be the one to suggest something like this.
I decided to join him, because I didn’t have much interest in the origins of the people of our hometown.
“I want to visit Shizusawa Sou’s grave,” I said.
Kayama looked a little taken aback, but he quickly regained his composure. “Well then, let’s go,” he said. “We’re leaving early,” he said to one of our classmates, who stared at him blankly.
We went through the ticket gate and got on the train. I looked on the internet to find that Shizusawa Sou’s grave was deep in the mountains at the prefectural border. It would take about an hour and a half by train to get there, but then we’d have to climb a mountain after that.
“Kayama, can you climb mountains?” I asked, worrying about his legs.
“Well, I’ll manage. If I can’t, you’ll carry me anyway, Okada,” Kayama said in a tone that made it hard to tell whether he was serious or joking.
Our conversation stopped there.
Rush hour had passed, so there were few people inside the train and, it was quiet.
Now that I thought about it, the two of us had never gone out somewhere together. We hadn’t even established hobbies or topics of conversation that we might have in common. I couldn’t imagine that we’d have a lively conversation during our journey.
“About Watarase Mamizu,” Kayama said.
No, that’s right. That was the single topic of conversation we had in common.
“I liked her,” Kayama said briefly.
“I know,” I said, not playing dumb this time.
“I guess you do,” Kayama said, not playing dumb either.
And then, Kayama began telling me why he had come to like Mamizu.
The first time Kayama met Mamizu was in the gathering place for the entrance exams for middle school.
Our school was a private combined middle and high school, so those entrance exams were considered to be quite difficult. Apparently, Kayama was running a high fever due to influenza at the time. He had a fever on the very day of the exams. Despite being nervous, Kayama managed to take the exams. But his mind was hazy and he was unsteady on his feet. On top of that, he had terrible nausea. Despite having managed to endure during the exams, he apparently ran to the toilet and vomited during the breaks in between.
When Kayama returned to the classroom for the next examination, he was at his limit. His legs gave out and he collapsed onto the floor. That was when Mamizu rushed over to him.
“Are you alright?”
Kayama said that she’d looked like an angel as she called out to him.
“Let’s go to the infirmary. I’ll follow you there,” Mamizu said gently.
“No. I want to take the exams no matter what,” Kayama replied.
“Well then… let’s do our best. Let’s take these exams together and make absolutely sure to meet at the entrance ceremony.”
Apparently, Kayama was touched by her strong words of “make absolutely sure” instead of “I’m sure we will” or “I hope I see you there.” And Kayama did his best in the entrance exams, encouraged by those words.
And apparently, Kayama thought that he wanted to become someone who would help others in their time of need, just like her.
Kayama saw Mamizu at the entrance ceremony. But she was in a different class. The two of them didn’t make contact with each other. After that, Mamizu had always been on Kayama’s mind.
He somehow managed to gather his courage and go to talk to her, but that was when Mamizu stopped coming to school. Kayama heard rumors that her body was in poor condition due to unknown causes. Apparently, during her last day at school, she had been reading ‘One Ray of Light’ alone in the library. She seemed to have been absorbed into the world within the book, and didn’t notice Kayama’s gaze. Watching her from afar like that was the last time Kayama saw her.
After that, Kayama awaited the day that Mamizu would return to school, but that day never came.
During the first homeroom of our first year in high school, when it was decided that someone should visit Watarase Mamizu’s hospital room, he’d thought that this was his chance. But he felt that he was too dirty to meet Watarase Mamizu back then. And so, he decided to have me check things out instead.
He wanted me to create some common ground for the day when he eventually went to visit her himself.
Kayama revealed all of this to me.
Shizusawa Sou’s grave was in quite a remote place. This was possibly a reflection of the misanthropic, eccentric personality he had while he was alive, just like the character in his book.
“This is quite tough.” Beads of sweat had formed on Kayama’s forehead.
I was a little worried about him, but I couldn’t say, “Shall we go back?” Exchanging few words, we continued walking.
And then we finally arrived at Shizusawa Sou’s grave.
“It’s kind of… is this the right place? It’s a lonely grave, isn’t it?” Kayama complained.
Maybe graves are lonely things to begin with, but even so, just as Kayama said, this grave was a very lonely sight. It was different from an ordinary graveyard; there weren’t any graves of anyone else. There was only a single grave, standing there alone. It was covered in mold and moss, and it had been significantly weathered. There weren’t any signs that anyone had visited it. It was difficult to imagine that this was the grave of someone who had attained a certain degree of success as an author. It was said that Shizusawa Sou had no relatives at the time of his death.
The characteristic feature of the grave was that his name wasn’t written on the gravestone. Neither his pen name nor his real name was written on it. Only a single character had been carved into it.
TLN: This kanji is pronounced “mu” and roughly translates to things like ‘nothing,’ ‘nothingness,’ ’empty,’ etc; the translation in English differs depending on the context. But this kanji and its meaning becomes a common theme throughout the story, so these translated words will be marked with [無].
That was Shizusawa Sou’s epitaph. Of course, I’d looked up information on the internet beforehand, so I’d known this, and this was unmistakably Shizusawa Sou’s grave, but looking at the real thing, I got the impression that it was quite an eccentric grave.
“‘無,’ huh. What a strange grave,” Kayama said, frankly speaking his mind.
Apparently, this strange grave had been made in accordance with Shizusawa Sou’s will. Supposedly, when someone asked him the meaning behind it while he was alive, he’d replied with a single sentence: “That is my view of life.” This had been written on the internet.
Indeed, when humans die, they become nothing. They don’t go to heaven or anywhere else. Nothing remains afterwards.
That is probably the truth.
I took out my phone and took a few photos to show Mamizu.
We went down the path we came and descended the mountain.
“… I’m going to confess to Watarase Mamizu,” Kayama said to me in a serious tone while we were riding the train back.
‘I like Watarase Mamizu, too. I confessed. But she rejected me.’
I couldn’t say those simple words to Kayama.
“Let’s go visit Mamizu together next time,” I suggested to him instead.