During afternoon class, Yoshie-sensei was wearing a mourning dress. One of her teachers at university had passed away, and apparently there was going to be a wake funeral. She explained this at the beginning of the class.
When I got home, I sat in front of Meiko’s butsudan and imagined what kind of funeral I’d have when I died.
I had a clear picture in mind. It would be ideal if nobody came to my funeral. Because I hated funerals.
And then I remembered Meiko’s funeral. That was terrible, I thought.
It had been a sudden death, so everyone was confused. I was a close relative, so I attended, unable to skip out on it. Everyone was making their own speculations about my sister’s death. I didn’t want to hear them. Everyone was crying and just being noisy. I wanted them to shut up. I didn’t cry. I heard relatives, uncles, looking at me and whispering, “I have no idea what he’s thinking,” and, “What a cold person.” Maybe that’s true, I thought.
There was a lot of alcohol and food at the wake funeral.
I didn’t understand why people were drinking when Meiko had died, but everyone drank. I even saw people who looked like they were having fun. Have they gone crazy? I wondered. Out of my relatives’ sight, I borrowed one of the beers. I shut myself in the toilet and drank it straight out of the bottle. It was my first time drinking alcohol. It was bitter and disgusting. Numerous people knocked on the door. I ignored all of them and continued drinking the beer in the toilet.
I’m sorry for being a cold person.
I silently apologized to Meiko in front of the butsudan.
Meiko was now just a photograph, so she was always smiling.
In the end, I tried to imagine Mamizu’s funeral. But I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like. When would Mamizu die? Would I go to her funeral? I definitely won’t go, I thought.
“Isn’t there something strange about you lately, Okada-kun?” Riko-chan-san said during a break at work.
I did have the feeling that I’d been making a lot of mistakes while working. I’d over-boiled spaghetti and turned it into mush, and accidentally turned grilled chicken on rice into burnt chicken on rice. Am I supposed to be a clumsy girl?
“Sorry, I’ll be more careful,” I said.
“No, I’m not talking about your mistakes. Well, your mistakes as well. It’s just that you’re kind of making a face that looks like the world is about to end.”
Was I making such a depressed-looking expression? I hadn’t been aware of it at all.
“Did something happen?” Riko-chan-san asked.
Feeling that trying to fool her would be too troublesome, I gave her an honest reply. “I was rejected not long ago.”
“Eh, so you had someone you liked,” Riko-chan-san said, as if that was the more surprising thing. This was kind of unexpected.
The maid café’s business ran on a never-ending routine. The service was generally standard, and there wasn’t much that needed changing. There weren’t that many repeat customers, either. Even so, as if bored of doing the same things every day, the maids frequently adapted and ad-libbed things.
“Okada-kun, about the omelet rice dish, write ‘Happy birthday’ on it instead of a heart mark,” one of the maids said.
Although that was the instruction given to me, when I went to write the letters with ketchup, my hands stopped. How can you expect me to write ‘tan!’ I thought. But if I wrote it in hiragana, there would be too many characters and it wouldn’t fit. In the end, I wrote ‘Happy birsday’ in English and got it over with.
TLN: 誕 (tan) is the first kanji in 誕生日 (tanjoubi, meaning birthday). It’s actually not that difficult a kanji, but it does have a lot of strokes, so it seems that Takuya forgot how to write it. Writing “happy birthday” in hiragana would be おたんじょうびおめでとう, which is a lot of characters.
Work ended as usual, and while I was walking home with Riko-chan-san, she suddenly pointed it out to me.
“Okada-kun, you made a spelling mistake. It’s ‘th,’ not ‘s.’ It’s middle school-level English. You’re going to quite a smart high school, right? Will you be alright like that?”
I’d always been bad at English, but it was true that I hadn’t been studying at all these days. Would I be alright? I felt a little anxious.
“Come to think of it, Okada-kun, you don’t really come in to work much these days, do you?” Riko-chan-san said.
“Ah, because summer vacation is over and I have various things to do, like preparing for the cultural festival. I might quit soon.”
I’d only been coming to work at the maid café about once a week lately.
“Eh, it’ll become kind of lonely around here, won’t it? You looked like the type who wouldn’t participate in things like a cultural festival, though,” Riko-chan-san said.
“I was that type of person…” My life had changed rather completely after I met Mamizu.
“So, what are you doing?”
“Romeo and Juliet. I’m playing Juliet.”
Riko-chan-san suppressed a laugh and looked at me as if to ask me whether I was sane. I was quite used to this kind of reaction.
“I’m normal,” I said.
“… That kind of intrigues me,” Riko-chan-san said.
“The way you say that.”
“Yes, that’s what I’m talking about.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, never mind.”
The conversation paused there. We silently continued to walk along the footpath of the main road.
“About what you said the other time,” Riko-chan-san said, being the first to speak again.
“The other time?”
“You said, ‘next time.’”
“Next time, do you want to go somewhere, the two of us?” Riko-chan-san said boldly.
I suddenly stopped walking. Riko-chan-san walked a few steps ahead of me.
“Don’t get so serious about it,” she added hastily.
“I’m sorry.” I didn’t feel like saying more than that.
Riko-chan-san’s expression was a little stiff. “I was joking. Let’s go home, Okada-kun.”
Unable to give anything else as a response, I just started moving my feet.
After parting with Riko-chan-san, I suddenly wanted to see Mamizu. I thought it was strange for me to be driven by such an impulse. I thought I was being spoiled. I wondered whether I should go home. But my feet headed naturally towards Mamizu’s hospital room.
It was a quiet night, and the moon was beautiful. As I entered the hospital, it suddenly occurred to me. Like an everyday event, like it’s completely ordinary, people die in here. I just don’t know about them.
When I snuck into Mamizu’s room, she was standing by the open window, looking outside. The curtains were swaying.
“Hurry up and go to sleep,” I said.
Mamizu turned around in surprise. “Wow, what is it all of a sudden?” Her voice hurt my feelings a little.
“Sorry. I was a bit free, so I came to play.” I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t even explain it to myself, so that was all I could say.
“Are you an idiot? Think about the time,” Mamizu said.
Indeed, it was already eleven o’clock at night. Maybe this had been a little rash.
“Well, whatever. Hey, Takuya-kun, come here for a bit.” Mamizu’s voice returned to its usual soft tone and she beckoned me towards the window. “Here, look,” she said, pointing at the night air outside.
“What am I supposed to be looking at?” I asked.
As if in response to my question, Mamizu extended her arm outside the window.
The moon was beautiful tonight.
Under the moonlight, Mamizu’s arm gradually began to glow.
No matter how many times I saw it, I would never get used to it. It seemed kind of mystical in my eyes. Though Mamizu might have disliked being seen that way.
“Hey, don’t you think the light has become stronger than before?” Mamizu said.
I strained my eyes and looked closely. Indeed, as she said, the light looked stronger than when we’d gone stargazing on the roof.
“The fact that the light has become stronger means… my condition has gotten that much worse,” Mamizu said in a tone that was as if she was talking about someone else.
“Yeah.” I didn’t know how to respond. I got the feeling that I couldn’t say anything.
“Say, Takuya-kun, you’ve lost someone important before, haven’t you?” Mamizu said suddenly, as if she’d wanted to say it before but only just remembered.
“That’s not true,” I lied.
“Really? It kind of seemed like you’re used to it.”
“Used to what?”
I don’t want to become someone like that, I thought.
“What is that supposed to mean?” I kind of regretted coming to Mamizu’s room today. “I’m going home.”
As I turned my back to Mamizu and tried to head for the door, she grabbed the edge of my shirt.
“I’m sorry, Takuya-kun. Are you angry?” she asked.
“Not really,” I replied coldly.
“Hey.” Mamizu’s voice was trembling a little. “If I told you that I was too scared to sleep, would you stay with me until morning?”
It was the first time that Mamizu had spoken such weak-hearted words.
I didn’t reply. But the inside of my head was in chaos.
Just what kind of intentions did Mamizu have, saying something like that?
Mamizu closed the curtains and lay down on her bed. I sat down on the chair.
“Come here,” she said quietly.
In the end, I slipped into her bed.
“I’ll tell you in advance that this isn’t that kind of thing, so don’t do anything strange, okay?”
I didn’t feel like I could get in the mood for that anyway. Having said that, I couldn’t calmly go to sleep, either.
“They said they’re going to take my cerebrospinal fluid for tests tomorrow,” Mamizu said, as if checking whether I was still awake. It seemed that she couldn’t sleep, either.
But I stayed silent and didn’t reply.
“There are two kinds of tests. The cause of my illness still hasn’t been identified. That’s why a way to cure it hasn’t been found. The main treatment is treatment of the symptoms as a temporary measure. And so, one type of test is for researching why people get this disease and finding out what causes it. In other words, I’m a guinea pig. They’re testing new drugs, and they’re doing experiments with my body every day.”
Despite my silence, Mamizu continued talking, not caring whether I was listening or not.
“Even if the cause is identified, the research will take years or decades, so I won’t be saved, though. But one day in the future, a cure might be found and other people might be saved, right? I’m a nice, good person, so I’m cooperating for humanity’s future.”
I was lying down with my eyes closed and my back facing Mamizu, so I didn’t know what kind of expression Mamizu was making as she said this.
“I’m great, aren’t I? So, you should praise me, Takuya-kun.”
I didn’t know what I should say. I continued pretending that I was asleep. After a while, I could hear Mamizu’s soft breathing as she slept. I quietly slipped out of the bed and went outside. I’d realized that it would be troublesome if I really stayed until morning and then someone found me there.
It was still three o’clock in the morning, so I killed some time at a late-night fast food restaurant and then took the first bus of the day home.
I was startled when I got home.
My mother was sitting at the table. She was sitting in the dim room with the lights off, not doing anything, just sitting there silently. I was surprised. Anyone would be surprised after seeing someone like that.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“You’ve been strange lately,” my mother said.
It seemed that she’d been waiting until morning for her son to come home.
“I’m begging you, please, just don’t commit suicide.” My mother was gazing at me with vacant eyes. Her voice sounded like it was coiling around me.
“You’re so annoying all the time. It’s my choice whether I live or die, isn’t it?” I would have normally let it go, but this time I said those words without thinking.
“You don’t understand the feelings of a parent who has lost a child, Takuya.”
I didn’t feel like arguing anymore. I was tired, and I wanted to hurry up and go to sleep. “You’re an adult, so get a hold of yourself.”
Even after I said that, my mother continued scolding me repeatedly with similar words, but I ignored all of it and decided to go to my room. I went straight to sleep without taking a shower or changing into my pajamas.
On a day some time later, practice for the play ended and I went to Mamizu’s hospital room to see her holding a red muffler. It seemed that this was the finished result of her knitting.
“You’re late, Takuya-kun,” Mamizu said.
“Sorry,” I said. I hadn’t promised that I’d be coming today, so there was no such thing as early or late, but I apologized anyway.
“Did you have practice for Romeo and Juliet today as well?”
“Juliet doesn’t have it easy.”
After that, I talked about the things that had happened during practice. I cut out the conversation I had with Kayama, though.
“How was the smoking?” Mamizu asked.
“It’s just bitter and it tastes bad. I can’t say I recommend it,” I said.
“Did you feel satisfied? Refreshed?”
“No… I didn’t really feel anything.”
“Oh. That’s boring,” Mamizu said, actually sounding very bored. “Hey, hey, Romeo is being played by Akira-kun, right?”
“Did you hear it from him the other day?”
“Yeah. Will you kiss? Kyah! How exciting.”
“Who’s going to kiss who!”
I felt kind of irritated, so I pinched Mamizu’s cheeks.
Mamizu’s dismay was amusing as she tried to push me away, so I did it more persistently.
“I won’t stop.”
And then I said it, while imitating her new, strange way of speaking. “Whooo dooo yoooou liiike?”
Mamizu pushed my hands away and suddenly made a serious expression. “I am making an effort to not like anyone.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“So, it would be problematic if you were to interfere with that.”
Mamizu’s words become more and more cryptic. Just what was I interfering with?
“Also, please give this muffler to my father. Without being found out by my mother,” Mamizu said.
“Huh? Well, fine, I suppose…”
The place Makoto-san lived was far, though.
I’d put the contact details I got from Makoto-san earlier in my phone. I contacted him, and he said that he couldn’t come to this city, but he would come to one of the nearby stations.
We met at a McDonald’s. I arrived first and waited for him. When Makoto-san entered the store, he was frequently looking over his shoulder for some reason. He was just like a criminal in a TV drama, being careful of people tailing him.
“It seems that you’ve been taking care of my daughter.” Makoto-san looked a little haggard. “This is a present for you, Okada-kun.”
As I was wondering what it would be, Makoto-san handed me a book. The bookstore’s packaging was still on it, so I didn’t know what kind of book it was, but I didn’t feel like checking it.
“… So, is it bad, Mamizu’s condition?” Makoto-san asked.
“It’s been almost a month since she was moved to a private room,” I said, telling him only the objective truth without including my subjective opinion.
“Since I’m divorced, legally, there are no problems. My bankruptcy problem won’t affect Mamizu and Ritsu. But… there are those who don’t mind using illegal means,” Makoto-san said.
“I was given this by Mamizu.” I put a paper bag on the table in front of Makoto-san.
The muffler that Mamizu had given me was inside it. But Makoto-san was engrossed in talking, and showed no interest in the bag’s contents.
“If it ever came out that this was a sham divorce, that I’ve been secretly sending money to Mamizu and Ritsu… it will cause trouble for them.”
Unable to bear it any longer, I took the muffler out of the paper bag and handed it to Makoto-san.
“Mamizu knitted it. For you, Makoto-san.”
Makoto-san looked touched after seeing what was inside the paper bag.
“It’s a bit early, but she said that she might not survive until winter,” I said. I could see tears welling up in Makoto-san’s eyes. But I wasn’t composed, either. “Anyway, come and see her. Please,” I said, and then I left the store.
“Takuya-kun!” Makoto-san shouted at me from behind as I was walking down the street.
I didn’t want to turn around, but I had no choice, so I did.
“Do you love Mamizu?” Makoto-san’s expression looked somewhat pathetic and lacking in dignity.
“So what if I do love her?” I shouted angrily. And then I went across the pedestrian crossing without looking back again.
After that, I started to run.
Slipping between the people walking down the road, I ran as fast as I could.
It’s like I’m in an adolescent drama, I thought. It’s like I’m an idiot. I am an idiot.
Watarase Mamizu would die soon.
The reality of her death that I’d been trying not to look at, that I’d been averting my eyes from, was closing in on me.
After that, I reflected on the days that had gone by.
Most of Mamizu’s requests had been boring.
The fact that she had wanted to do such boring things before dying highlighted the reality of the situation even more in its own way.
But that’s not right, is it? I thought.
Are those things really what you wanted to do before you died?
Do you really have no regrets left?
Can Watarase Mamizu really die without regretting anything?
What is it that I’m able to do?
I began to hate how powerless I was.
I continued thinking in circles about these questions that seemed to have no answer.
I got home, but I kind of felt wide awake, so I couldn’t sleep. Suddenly remembering the book that I got from Makoto-san, I took it out of my bag. I took off the packaging and looked at the title of the book.
How to make a snow globe
That was the title written on it. Snow globes can be made? This was surprising to me.
Actually, can’t I fix this? I thought as I flipped through the pages.
Maybe Makoto-san had been trying to send me this kind of message when he gave me this book.
I stared at the wreckage of the snow globe that I still had in my possession. The miniature log house had lost the snowy world around it, and it was now lying idly in my tiny room. Feeling guilty to leave it in that state, I’d tried several times to at least stand it up properly, but it hadn’t gone very well. It was like a house that had been washed away by a tsunami. While it was inside the glass sphere, it had looked as if someone lived inside it, but now, it just looked like junk. It was a house that had lost something crucial.
A dysfunctional house.
For a moment, I saw a strange optical illusion. It felt like I was looking at my own house from the veranda of an apartment somewhere else through binoculars. Of course, my house wasn’t a log house. But I felt like they were similar. It was a mysterious sensation. Next, I imagined Mamizu’s house.
It seemed like I could get the materials I needed at a hardware store.
After second semester began, I’d begun visiting Mamizu’s hospital room less frequently than during summer vacation. Two or three times a week. Mamizu’s face grew paler each time I went.
Death was closing in on Watarase Mamizu.
I’d recently begun to feel it when I was next to her in the room.
Mamizu was rapidly losing weight.
“Mamizu. Isn’t there something you want to do next?” I asked.
“… I want to sleep.”
At first, I thought Mamizu was joking. But she wasn’t. She lay down on her bed with a melancholic expression on her face. She didn’t even try to make eye contact with me.
“You don’t have to come anymore, Takuya-kun,” she said.
“Why would you say something like that?”
“Just forget about me completely.”
“What’s that supposed to mean…”
“Because it’s painful. I don’t want to see your face anymore.” Mamizu’s voice sounded a little hysterical. “Leave me alone. I hate you as a person. You’re irritating.”
“… Are you saying those kinds of things to try and make me hate you?” My voice was shaking, even though there was no use in me getting emotional. But I couldn’t stay calm.
“That’s right,” Mamizu said in a tired, desperate-sounding voice. “That’s my final request. ‘Never come to see me again.’ Do you understand?”
“… I understand.”
Why am I saying I understand? I don’t.
I left the room. It was possible that this was my last time seeing Mamizu. Is this how it ends? I thought as I realized this. Just what was the time that we spent together meant to be?
But there was no use in thinking about those things. I closed the door and put the hospital room behind me. Everything is over, I tried to tell myself.
All of it was just a bad dream.
I tried to forget about it right away.
In fact, after I met Mamizu, it’s been nothing but troublesome.
She made me do all kinds of absurd things, and right at the start, she was clearly having fun by causing me trouble.
She’s an unpleasant person.
Doesn’t she have a twisted personality?
And she’s quite self-centered as well.
And she’s selfish.
And she tries to hide what she’s thinking instead of saying it.
In other words, she’s not honest.
And she’s strong-willed.
Despite that, she’s weak-hearted sometimes, too.
She cries easily.
Her emotions are intense.
She thinks about her family.
She’s really kind.
She’s easily hurt.
I always ended up hurting her.
Will I ever be able to forget Mamizu?
That’s impossible, I thought.