It was raining the next day, so I went to the hospital with an umbrella in hand. The umbrella stands were full of umbrellas. Was there a cold going around? I couldn’t be bothered putting my umbrella in one of the locked stands, so I stuffed it into the nearest one and went inside. When Mamizu moved from a shared room to a private one, she had moved from the fourth floor to the sixth. But I couldn’t even wait for the elevator. That was how unbearably impatient I felt. The snow globe was inside my bag. I climbed the stairs, one by one. I started sweating slightly. It was like some kind of light training.
I would say it properly.
Today, I would say it properly one more time.
I somehow finished climbing to the sixth floor and arrived in front of Mamizu’s room.
There was some kind of note hanging on the door.
That was what was written on it.
I shuddered. It was like those words had hit me in the back of the head. My spine froze. No way, I thought.
Unable to stand properly, I crouched down. My breathing grew wild. I felt like I was short of breath. The world was spinning. I felt like throwing up. I squatted there for a while.
What was going on inside? I wondered. But even if I went inside, I wouldn’t be able to do anything. If it caused Mamizu’s condition to worsen, it would defeat the purpose. But I wanted to know what kind situation Mamizu was in no matter what.
Wondering if Okazaki-san was around, I went to the nurse center. I’d only been here the day before, but the nurse center was a completely different sight now. It somehow seemed distant to me. Nothing had changed, but that was how I felt.
“Excuse me, I want to ask about Watarase Mamizu. What is her current situation?” I asked.
But Okazaki-san wasn’t there. She was either off-duty or busy somewhere else.
“Who are you?” the nurse there asked.
I paused, disconcerted. What was I to Mamizu? I couldn’t think of an appropriate word to define our relationship.
“Just an acquaintance,” I said.
“Well then, Watarase-san is not accepting visitors. Please come and visit another day.”
Having been given this superficial answer, I turned around, feeling powerless.
But I couldn’t just go home.
I sat on the bench in front of Mamizu’s room and stared at the floor.
I wondered if Okazaki-san would come and call out to me if I sat there like that. But in the end, she didn’t appear.
I was so anxious and helpless that I thought I was going to die.
Before I knew it, it was past eight o’clock in the evening.
“Visiting hours are over, so…” one of the other nurses said, telling me to go home.
I didn’t even have the will to respond. I silently stepped onto the elevator with heavy footsteps.
On the way home, I sent about twenty messages to Mamizu from my phone.
> What’s wrong?
> Are you alright?
> Are you not alright?
> You’re alive, right?
> You’re fine, right?
> Please tell me you’re fine
> Don’t die
> You can’t die
> You still have things you want me to do, right?
> There are still a lot of things, right?
> Dying is boring, you know
> Because it’s empty [無]
> It’s really dull
> Let’s play
> I’m eating cup noodles at a convenience store now
> I get hungry even when I’m sad
> That fact is sad
> Let’s sneak you out of the hospital next time and go somewhere
> We should have done that sooner
> Let’s enjoy life
> You’re alive, right?
> Please be alive
> I’m begging you
> Please be alive
There was no display of the messages having been read. Mamizu was completely silent.
I couldn’t get a wink of sleep, and it became morning. I felt like I could live on without ever sleeping again. I felt nauseous, so I vomited. It was the cup noodles I’d eaten the day before. I wanted to become sick in Mamizu’s place. Either that, or die in her place. I couldn’t prepare myself to live in a world without Mamizu.
I didn’t feel like I could sleep even if I stayed at home, and I didn’t feel like going to school either, so I went outside. My mind was hazy because I was sleep-deprived, but at the same time, it was clear. When it was put into words like that, they contradicted each other, but the haziness and clarity co-existed inside me.
There wasn’t anyone around in the residential area in the morning. That made me feel lonely. I didn’t even know when I’d become so weak to solitude. Despite having once thought that other people were just annoying. People change, I thought calmly.
I got on the train, went to the business district and shot zombies at the arcade. No matter how many I killed, the zombies kept attacking me. They have so much HP, I thought. In the end, I was eaten by the zombies, so I moved over to a racing game. Despite crashing spectacularly, I was alive. I was immortal. No matter what I did, I didn’t die.
After that, I took purikura on my own. I looked at my own face and laughed as I saw my eyes growing wider and wider. I went outside and burned them all. I smoked three cigarettes at the same time. The smoke stung my eyes.
The thought kind of occurred to me as I was going across a pedestrian crossing, so I got in a taxi that was parked nearby.
“Please take me to the ocean,” I said.
I didn’t know if I had enough money, but I didn’t really care.
Anything would have been fun if Mamizu was with me, but doing things alone made me sad.
I arrived at the ocean. I just barely had enough money. But the problem was that I didn’t know how I would get back. Well, things would probably work out. I could just hitchhike. Not that I’d ever done it before.
There were few people at the beach during the off season. I dived into the sand. I became covered in it. People occasionally walked past, looking at me like I was crazy. I didn’t care. I rolled around on the sand as if it were the carpet of my own home. My sense of time started to become paralyzed. Perhaps I slept for a moment, perhaps I didn’t. Even if I did, it was only for a few seconds. It became evening, and then night.
Before I knew it, there was a police officer who’d come to have a look at me.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
“I’m alright… I’m still normal,” I replied with no expression on my face.
And then my phone rang. I answered it immediately without even looking at the screen.
“Sorry. I was sleeping yesterday. What was with those messages? Were you worried?”
It was Mamizu’s voice. There was no strength in it.
“Yeah. Sorry. I was just feeling kind of worked up,” I said.
“Takuya-kun?! Are you crying?” Mamizu said, sounding surprised.
“Shut up. I’m not crying.” That was all I managed to say.
The next morning, when I went to Mamizu’s hospital room, she had a number of strange tubes in her arm. Even so, there was a surprisingly lively-looking Mamizu there. When I entered the room, she got up and faced me right away.
“I’ve been a bit sleepy lately, so I sleep a lot,” she said.
Was Mamizu unaware that I’d come here yesterday?
Well, I didn’t care about that.
“I’m glad you’re alive.” That’s how I honestly felt. I almost felt like laughing.
If Mamizu was healthy, perhaps I would have had more thoughts regarding her.
Like wanting to be with her like this more.
Or wanting to be liked by her.
Or wanting to be treated kindly by her.
Or wanting her to not lie to me.
But all of that had been stripped off like layers of skin around a fruit, one by one, and the only thing left in the end was the feeling that it was fine as long as she was alive.
It was fine as long as she was alive.
“What’s wrong, Takuya-kun?”
I squeezed my eyes shut a little to endure this feeling.
“Don’t just stay quiet,” Mamizu said.
“I don’t have money,” I said.
“Huh? Are you asking me for money?”
“That’s not it. I went to the ocean by taxi and lost all my money, so I was in all kinds of trouble.”
“Why did you go to the ocean?”
“I thought I’d go to swim, but it looked too cold, so I gave up. After that, a policeman thought I was some kind of suspicious person, so I got questioned.”
“Are you an idiot?” Mamizu asked.
“Maybe I am. I borrowed money at the police box to get home,” I said.
“Making a return trip is troublesome, huh.”
“It’s quite far by train.”
“Takuya-kun, come here. Listen.” Mamizu beckoned me over.
“Alright.” I approached Mamizu’s bed.
I was a little nervous.
Mamizu’s arms reached out and pulled me strongly.
I fell against her chest.
I felt a soft sensation.
“What are you doing?” I asked. I was being held tightly. “Didn’t you say, ‘listen?’”
“Yeah. Listen to the sound of my heart.”
I listened carefully, and I could hear it clearly.
“It’s still beating strongly, isn’t it?” Mamizu said.
I quietly hugged her.
“Wah, hey, it’s hard to breathe!” Mamizu laughed, seeming embarrassed. “Let me go, pervert, molester!”
I didn’t want to let go.
“Takuya-kun, my heart hurts,” Mamizu said, pushing me away. Her hands still had strength in them. “Hey, try imagining it. If the person you loved died, it would be painful. It would be tiring. You wouldn’t be able to forget them. You don’t want that, right? I tried imagining it. I think it would be impossible to live on. So let’s stop this, okay? Let’s stop it here.”
“Shut up,” I said, looking into her eyes. “I don’t care if it’s painful or tiring. I’ll never forget.”
“That bothers me,” Mamizu said, averting her eyes and covering her face.
“I love you.”
I’ll stop running away from my feelings, I thought. I can’t escape them.
I… We, can’t escape them.
“That’s what bothers me,” she said, looking away and drawing herself away from me. She was cowering as if she were afraid of something, as if she were fearful of it.
“Why? I asked.
Mamizu was silent for a long time. I wasn’t looking at a clock, so I didn’t know how many seconds or minutes it was, but the two of us remained silent, as if the world were standing still. We didn’t move.
And then Mamizu looked at me.
She glared at me in silence.
I didn’t look away.
We stared at each other for a long time.
I mustn’t look away, I thought. I felt like something would be damaged if I looked away at that moment.
Mamizu looked at me as if she were angry.
Her eyes are so beautiful, I thought.
Tears flowed from those eyes.
Like a burst dam, once her tears started, they began streaming down endlessly, one after another.
Even so, I continued staring at her without making the slightest move.
And then she finally spoke a few brief words.
“Because I love you too, Takuya-kun.”
I wished that time would stop at that moment.
Sometimes, when I thought about the fact that Mamizu would die soon, I felt like I should just die as well.
All humans die someday. Early or late, they inevitably die.
So in that case, whether I died now or some other time, it wouldn’t matter, right? I sometimes thought that.
It didn’t seem that I could endure the cruel fact that this world would continue on even after Mamizu was gone. I might not feel so angry if all of humanity was born at the same time and died at the same time, I thought.
I thought that the world was cruel.
I didn’t know the meaning behind living. This wasn’t something that had just started; I’d thought this for a long time.
“You look terrible lately,” Kayama said to me one lunch break, looking at my face.
“Leave me alone,” I said.
“You’re not thinking anything strange, are you?”
“What do you mean, ‘anything strange?’”
Kayama fell silent.
“Does my face look like I’m going to run into the parliament building holding a bomb or something?” I asked.
“Yeah. It looks like you’d raid a girls’ school.”
“Do you want to do it together?”
“I’ll join you anytime.”
I laughed a little.
Kayama laughed with me.
“Thanks, Kayama,” I said.
“How are things with Watarase Mamizu?” Kayama asked.
“Nothing’s going to happen.” That was my honest opinion.
“Then do something about it. You’re a man, right?”
I wanted to say, “It’s not a matter of being a man or a woman, is it?” But it seemed that this would just lead to a pointless conversation, so I didn’t.
“What should I do?” I asked, not expecting an answer.
“You just need to be by her side and listen to her.” Kayama’s response was something really obvious. It was just like a mundane piece of advice given to normal couples.
“I guess so,” I said briefly.
Mamizu and I counted the days as we spent them together. Her condition fluctuated violently, repeatedly getting better and then worse. There were some times when she didn’t take visitors, like before. Even so, on the days when she was feeling better, we were able to have clear conversations like before. Mamizu didn’t ask me to do those ‘things she wanted to do before she died’ anymore.
“Don’t you have anything you want to do?” I said one day.
“Well then… I want to try kissing,” Mamizu said.
“Which means, as usual, I need to go out somewhere and kiss someone in your place, right, Mamizu?”
“That’s right. You just need to go ahead and kiss whoever you want to kiss, Takuya-kun! Hey, wait, ah!”
I tried to push Mamizu down and kiss her forcibly. She struggled and resisted.
“Wait! It’s too early!”
She was struggling so much that I stopped.
“I love you, Takuya-kun. I’m sorry for everything up until now,” Mamizu said, as if consoling me for being unable to kiss her. “Hey, maybe we should have become honest like this earlier? It’s a bit too late now, isn’t it.”
“Well… But it was necessary for us. If these kinds of things didn’t happen, our relationship might have been different. We might have become different. So it’s fine like this,” I said.
“Like that unattractive snow globe?” Mamizu smiled, pointing at the snow globe by her bed. It was the snow globe that I’d hand-made with a glass bottle. The same miniature log house was inside it.
“You don’t like it?”
“It’s misshapen, but… I suppose I can feel the love.”
I’d been finding it harder and harder to sleep these days.
So, I slept during class instead. I did nothing but sleep during the day, so my lifestyle became completely nocturnal.
I woke up during the night. I looked at the clock to see that it was 2AM. Less than an hour had passed since I fell asleep. I tried to sleep again, but it seemed impossible.
I didn’t have anything to do, so I started cleaning.
It didn’t have to be cleaning; I didn’t mind anything as long as I could immerse myself in it and be in a non-thinking state.
My room was full of things that I didn’t need. I suppose I’ll throw it all out, I thought.
A rope came out from deep inside a drawer of my desk.
That was something that I’d taken from my sister Meiko’s room and hidden in my own room.
Meiko was often in low spirits after her boyfriend was killed in a traffic accident.
Even so, I think she tried to act relatively cheerful in front of me.
I was only in my first year of middle school back then, and maybe from Meiko’s point of view, I was too young to be considered someone to open up and consult in regards to her problems.
That was how Meiko was, but I was worried about her.
One day, when I went inside her room, Meiko was doing something strange.
She was tying a piece of rope into a loop.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“You should learn to knock, Takuya,” my sister said angrily.
“What are you going to do with that?”
“What you saw today is a secret from everyone, even Mom. Make sure you keep it a secret, alright?”
“A person’s dignity depends on it.”
Back then, I didn’t really understand the meaning of Meiko’s words.
But Meiko’s expression was so serious that I had no choice but with reply, “Alright.”
I didn’t know the meaning of her words, but it wasn’t as if I didn’t know the meaning behind the rope.
The next day, a car collided with Meiko while she was crossing a road, and she died.
It was said that she tried to run across a main road with no traffic lights or anything, where cars went back and forth at great speed.
Nobody knew why she’d done such a reckless thing.
But before Meiko’s wake funeral, I’d remembered that rope. I’d gone inside Meiko’s room, taken the rope and hidden it in my own room. I’d never told anyone about it. I’d had the feeling that it was something that I shouldn’t tell anyone about. Of course, mentioning it during the counseling had been out of the question.
Now, I felt like I could understand the meaning of the ‘dignity’ that Meiko had mentioned.
Feeling like it, I tried passing my head through the loop that Meiko had made with the rope.
I closed my eyes a little and lay down.
I had the feeling that I might be able to meet Meiko in my dreams if I did that.
I decided to quit my part-time job at the maid café. Since I was completely unable to concentrate, I was causing trouble for everyone. With that said, the biggest reason was because I wanted to treasure the time I spent with Mamizu.
But when I told the owner that I was quitting, I suddenly felt very sad. Treasuring the remaining days. I felt like quitting my part-time job for that reason meant that I’d already accepted Mamizu’s death. I felt kind of weary-minded when that thought occurred to me.
After my last shift, I was with Riko-chan-san on the way home as always.
“Are you alright?” Riko-chan-san asked me for about the thirtieth time since we’d started walking. It had actually become a little irritating.
But knowing that I was probably making a face that made it seem that I wasn’t alright at all, I didn’t feel like talking back. In fact, my feelings of guilt came before my irritation.
“I’m alright,” I said.
The lights changed from green to red. I didn’t notice. Without even realizing it, I’d developed a habit of walking with my head facing downwards.
Riko-chan-san crossed the pedestrian crossing first, turned around, and called out to me. “Okada-kun, it’s dangerous if you don’t hurry and cross.”
I looked around and saw that the traffic was sparse. There was only one car approaching.
“I’m alright,” I said.
My body somehow lost its strength, and I stared at the car in a daze.
I noticed that it was the same model of car that had hit my sister Meiko.
At that moment, I felt a sensation like something softly slipping into my consciousness.
I felt like if I stood there a little longer, I would understand how Meiko felt.
I couldn’t take a single step.
It felt like I was in sleep paralysis.
Riko-chan-san shouted something, bringing me back to my senses. When I came to, she was there in front of me. She had thrown herself between me and the car.
The car suddenly put on its brakes and just barely stopped in time to avoid hitting Riko-chan-san. Riko-chan-san pulled me forcibly onto the footpath, half-dragging me.
She glared at me with a dreadful look in her eyes. I thought she was going to say something to me. I thought it would be fine for her to say anything to me. But she said nothing. She raised her hand. I thought she was going to slap me, but she didn’t. She placed her hand on my cheek instead.
Riko-chan-san was crying.
Why are you crying? I thought.
“Okada-kun, your heart is broken,” Riko-chan-san said, and with that, she turned her back to me and walked away.
I stood in a daze on the evening footpath for a long time.