Mamizu had gradually started to talk less and less. I got the feeling that even speaking was tiring for her.
She started lashing out at me from time to time. She started arguments with me over trivial things. When that happened, she said things like “You actually should stop coming,” and “Goodbye.” These had already become standard phrases for her to say. I never really responded to them.
Unlike in the past, Mamizu cried often these days. It was possible that she had done her best to not cry in front of me up until now. It was possible that her lashing out at me was because she was hesitant to show weakness. With that being the case, strangely enough, I didn’t have any negative feelings about it.
“Dying of illness would be annoying, so maybe I’ll have you kill me, Takuya-kun,” Mamizu said.
She was lively that day. And she was in a good mood, too. She was talking a lot, which was unusual these days.
“I don’t really want to go to prison yet, though,” I said.
“Then shall we commit a double suicide? Takuya-kun, will you die with me?” Mamizu said, making a joke that couldn’t be laughed at.
“Sure,” I said. “So, how do you want us to commit the double suicide?”
“Suicide by drowning is a bit common, isn’t it?”
“Do you really need to think so hard about this?”
“How about hanging?”
I tried imagining it. Our two corpses, dangling somewhere together. It seemed stupid to me.
“Then how about jumping off a building?” Mamizu suggested.
The two of us flying through the air together. That seemed stupid as well. It was more like some kind of special fighting move than something romantic. Like Double whatever Buster, or something.
“Seppuku?” I tried suggesting.
“Isn’t that a bit too all-out?” Mamizu said. “And that would need someone to behead us to finish us off. One of us wouldn’t be able to die. It’ll be really painful if you fail to die, you know. I think a more casual double suicide would be better.”
“How about freezing to death?”
“But where would we freeze?”
“A snowy mountain or something?”
“That’s too far!”
“What about inside a freezer?”
“Will there be any that would fit two people inside?”
“An industrial-sized one.”
“We should find an industrial-sized one then, shouldn’t we?”
Although we were exchanging jokes like this, I didn’t really feel any better.
I actually wanted her to say more easy-to-understand, selfish things and laugh.
I wanted her to make me do something ridiculous that seemed like it would be a punishment game, then laugh at me as she watched me endure it, just like she did in the beginning.
“Don’t you have any more ‘things you want to do before you die’ left?” I asked.
“Well then, here’s the final one,” Mamizu said, looking at me directly.
The word “final” startled me.
“I want to know what happens after death,” Mamizu said.
Hearing those words, a thought suddenly occurred to me.
The day that Kayama saved me was in my mind.
Ever since that day, the day that I didn’t die, it had always been there.
I’d always felt like I was dead, even while I was living.
So, I thought of a good way.
“Mamizu. I’ll visit you one more time tonight,” I said, and then I left the hospital room.
Mamizu had a curious expression on her face. It was an expression that said, “I don’t understand.”
You’ll understand soon, I thought.
I returned home, calmed myself and thought about my idea. But it wasn’t an idea that I’d come up with on impulse. That was why I didn’t waver. I thought that this was the best idea.
I pressed my hands together in front of Meiko’s butsudan.
After you died, I wondered why you’d died, over and over. I thought about it about a hundred times. But I didn’t understand your feelings at all. I thought you were an idiot. I couldn’t understand the feeling of dying at all. I even gave up on trying to understand, thinking that it couldn’t be helped because we were two separate people, even if we were brother and sister. But still, it stayed on my mind.
If you died because your boyfriend died, then there was no way I could understand your feelings back then. I’d never liked anyone or had any serious troubles over the death of someone important.
But I finally understand.
I understand the meaning behind that despair.
– When the ones we love die, we must commit suicide.
The other day, I tried being hit by a car as well, and nearly got hit.
At that moment, I felt like I finally understood.
I thought I finally understood your feelings.
“Hey, how long are you going to be praying to Meiko for?”
I was pulled back into reality by my mother’s voice. I saw her busily putting food on the dining table.
“I’ll help,” I said, going to stand up next to my mother.
“That’s kind of unusual,” she remarked.
Dinner was curry and rice. It was the dish that Meiko had liked. Even after Meiko died, my mother had continued making it every week without fail.
“The curry and rice we have is strange, isn’t it?” I said.
My mother’s expression changed into one of complete surprise.
“I mean, it’s seafood every time,” I continued. “It’s normally meat, isn’t it? Is it to match Meiko-neechan’s tastes?”
My mother laughed. “Actually, it’s me who likes it,” she said. She’d never told me that before. “Your father dislikes curry, right? So, it was hard for me to put it on the dinner table until Meiko was born. But Meiko took after me. She liked seafood curry. That’s how I started being able to put it on the table with confidence.”
“So, in other words, you’ve always been making it just because you want to eat it yourself?”
“Exactly,” my mother said with a mischievous smile.
“Seconds, please,” I said, though I was honestly full.
“Go and get it yourself,” my mother said as she brought me a second serving.
“You know, Mom,” I said as I ate. “I’m alright now.”
For a moment, my mother made an expression that showed that she didn’t know what I was talking about. And then it turned into an expression of understanding.
It was hard to say everything that was on my mind, so that was the only way I could say it.
“Really?” my mother said, looking somewhat happy.
I felt a stab of pain in my chest as I looked at her.
“Yeah. I’m alright.”
After that, I took a shower, brushed my teeth and changed into a white shirt.
I went out onto the veranda and called Kayama.
“What do you want?” said Kayama’s voice on the other end.
“I’m transferring schools,” I said. In the end, I couldn’t tell him everything.
“Huh? That’s sudden.”
“My dad moved jobs.”
“Where?” Kayama asked.
“Where do you think?”
“Exactly,” I said, as if to say that I was impressed he knew.
“Things will get lonely around here.”
“Kayama, thanks for everything up until now.”
A little silence passed after I said that.
“You’re lying, aren’t you?” Kayama said plainly. “Okada, where are you now?”
I ended the call and turned my phone off.
After that, I gave Kamenosuke a large amount of food. Kamenosuke was wandering around his tank, looking at me with the same carefree, sleepy-looking expression. If I’m reborn, I want to be a turtle, I thought, despite thinking that there was probably no such thing as reincarnation.
I left the house after ten o’clock.
“Where are you going at this time of night?” my mother asked in a worried tone, stopping me. Perhaps she had noticed something.
“Just over there, not far,” I said.
And then I left the house.
In the middle of the night, I snuck into Mamizu’s room. When I went inside, Mamizu was waiting for me with bated breath.
“You’re late, Takuya-kun,” she said.
I took the wheelchair in the corner of the room and moved it next to the bed. Mamizu’s body had weakened so much that she was barely able to walk.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
“To the roof,” I replied.
“Hey, the elevator only goes up to the seventh floor, so we can’t go all the way to the roof,” Mamizu said, meaning that we couldn’t use the wheelchair because of that. “Will you carry me?”
She sounded a little excited. So, I felt excited too.
I’d never carried a girl on my back before, so I wasn’t confident, but this wasn’t the time to be flustered or make mistakes. I calmly leaned over near the bed and gestured for her to get on.
Mamizu made a small noise as she jumped onto my back as if embracing me. At first, I thought for a moment that she was messing around, but I quickly realized that she no longer had the strength to slowly lower herself onto my back and rest her weight gently against me.
I opened the door and went out into the corridor.
There were no signs of the enemy, the nurses who would thwart us. It was fine.
I turned at the end of the corridor and approached the stairs. I climbed carefully, one stair at a time.
Mamizu was clinging onto me, not saying a word.
I thought that this was the ultimate happiness.
I wasn’t sad at all.
I even felt like I had been born into this world for the purpose of living this very moment.
Cherishing this very brief period of time, I climbed up the stairs towards the roof.
And then we arrived.
It was the rooftop of the hospital that we hadn’t visited since we went stargazing.
“It’s pitch-black, isn’t it?” Mamizu whispered near my ear, sounding like she were humming.
There was a clear, cloudless night sky outside. The moon and stars were gleaming in the dark. Perhaps because it was autumn, the moon looked more beautiful than before.
I walked on, one firm footstep at a time, across the concrete floor of the rooftop.
“Ah.” Mamizu made a noise of surprise.
At the same time, I felt the light on my back.
“I’m really shining, aren’t I?”
I looked over my shoulder and saw that her body was shining quite brilliantly.
With the glowing phenomenon in the human body that is specific to luminescence disease, the body glows when bathed in the moonlight, and as the disease progresses, the light becomes stronger. Mamizu’s body was emitting a light so intense that it was incomparable to the time when we were stargazing.
“I’m pretty, like a firefly, right?” Mamizu said, seeming embarrassed.
“You’re the most beautiful person in the universe,” I said.
I sat Mamizu down on the bench.
“The wind feels good, doesn’t it?” she said. Her long hair was swaying, unable to resist the wind. “I’m really glad that I met you, Takuya-kun.”
In this darkness, Mamizu’s expression was the only thing I could see clearly. I could see her even more clearly than the distant moon and stars.
“I don’t have any regrets left,” she said, a content expression on her face.
This is the face of someone who has completely accepted death, I thought.
“But I don’t, either. None at all,” I said. I really felt that.
“You’re different from me, Takuya-kun.”
My life had already become nothing [無].
“Be different,” Mamizu pleaded, wearing a sad expression.
I closed her eyes with my fingers.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Just do as I say. Keep your eyes closed until I tell you to open them. Okay?”
And now, this was where the real thing began.
I quickly walked towards the corner of the rooftop. With a single jump, I cleared the railing that was there to prevent people from falling. The darkness stretched out in front of me. I was nine floors up. So, it would be certain. The second floor of a building was nothing in comparison to this.
If I took a few more steps, I would be able to perform a brilliant jump. I would be able to perform a real jump that Kayama’s jump back then wouldn’t be able to compare to. I walked right up to the very edge.
Once I was half a step from falling, I turned and looked back. “You can open your eyes now, Mamizu!”
Mamizu opened her eyes. And then she looked at me with clear bewilderment. “What are you… doing?” She stared at me, dumbfounded.
“I’m going to die now.”
Am I crazy? That’s not it, I thought. What’s crazy is this world, a world where Mamizu is dying.
“I’m going to let you know what happens after death,” I said.
“… Are you stupid?”
“I’ll teach you that dying isn’t scary.”
“There’s no way that it isn’t scary,” Mamizu said, her voice trembling. “There’s no way it’s not scary! Of course it’s scary! Even for me; I’m still hopelessly scared of it!”
“I’m far more scared of living,” I said. “I’m scared of a me that will continue living on and forget. I’m scared of a me that will start to remember English words, the names of classmates I don’t care about, how to get to new places and how to hand people my business card instead of your voice, the way you laugh, the intense way you express your emotions and the way you breathe in and out. If I keep on living even after you die, a moment might come when I think that life isn’t all that bad. I’m scared of that.”
“So, because of that, you’re going to die?”
“I’ve always felt guilty for living.”
Always, ever since Meiko died.
“Don’t you think the world is cruel? I think it is. Every day, people die one after another, and new people are born. Everyone forgets the people who have died and turns their eyes towards the bright future. Precious people die, but the world continues on. Is there anything crueler than that? I can’t endure a world like that,” I said. “I don’t want to.”
“That’s crazy, Takuya-kun.”
“I want you to see me die, and see what happens after I die. You’re interested in death, right? I am, too. Maybe that’s why I’ve always been drawn to you. I want to die before you do.”
With that, I turned my back to Mamizu.
My eyes had started to gradually get used to the darkness of the night.
I looked down and saw the distant concrete, far below. Nine floors up is pretty high, I thought. Instant death was certain.
I’m going to do a far more incredible jump than you.
I thought that with this, I would finally understand Meiko’s true feelings. I thought that I could become closer to her.
My legs trembled.
I heard a metallic noise behind me.
It was the noise of the railing being shaken.
I turned around in surprise.
I couldn’t believe it.
Mamizu was right on the other side of the railing.
Even though she was supposed to be almost unable to walk.
She had used her own strength to crawl all the way there.
“I don’t care,” she said. “I don’t care about what happens after death.”
I was quite bewildered.
You don’t care?
There’s no way you don’t care, is there?
You’re about to die, Mamizu. It’s only only natural for that to be the thing you’re most curious about. It’s the same for everyone. Even for a healthy person like me. We don’t know what happens after death, and we’re afraid of it.
“I’ve only just realized that I don’t care. I always thought that I wanted to know. But I was wrong. Thanks to you, I’ve finally realized that,” Mamizu said.
I thought she was lying. Mamizu was lying. She just wanted to stop me.
“I’ve always known that you admire me because I’m going to die soon.”
Mamizu grasped the railing with both hands and raised herself up unsteadily. She stood on her feet, resting her body’s weight against the railing. My chest tightened as I watched her.
“I’ve always been worried about you. But I couldn’t reach out to you. Because I thought I couldn’t understand people’s despair. Your despair is different from mine. I thought that if my despair is the despair of a dying person, your despair is the despair of someone who has to live on. I thought we were really, really far apart.
“I was always desperately trying to accept my death. I told myself that death is a divine gift given to humans. There’s no such thing as a human who doesn’t die. I wanted to erase my attachments to living, one by one. That’s why I made a list of ‘things I want to do before I die.’
“But it was really painful. I thought that it would have been better to never be born than to feel this pain. Countless times, I thought that if I was going to die like this, I shouldn’t have been born at all. I thought that if there’s a god, he must be a cold-blooded psychopath or something. He let me be born and have a taste of all kinds of things, only to take it all away from me again and kill me in the end. I thought that all of life was something to be regretted. I was frustrated at how happy and fun things had become horrible and bitter. I suffered because of that.
“It would have been better if my life was empty [無] from the start. It would have been better for it to be empty from start to finish. If I didn’t know about living, I wouldn’t have felt the pain of dying. I always wanted to become nothing [無]. I always wanted to become closer to nothing. I wanted to make it as if my life had never happened. I wanted to lose the interest I have in this world.
“But there was a person who changed the way I was. It was you. Even if I gave up on everything else, you were the only thing that I couldn’t give up on. Even though I always tried. Maybe I’ve gone crazy, thinking that you’re more important to me than I am to myself.
“Just now, I imagined the future in a world where you died. I thought, ‘That can’t happen.’ At that moment, I realized that I still have expectations for this world. I thought that a world where you are alive and a world where you are dead would be completely different from each other.
“And then I became aware of a desire that I’ve always kept sealed inside me. I wanted to live. I want to live. I want to live more. I want to live much longer. I want to live a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand years. I want to live forever. I don’t care what happens after death! I just want to live. I want to live, Takuya-kun. Because of you, I want to live so badly that I can’t help myself. So please take responsibility for making someone who is about to die feel this way.”
Mamizu’s voice felt like it was right next to me. Her voice carried well on this rooftop at night. It was as if her voice were transparent.
“I, Watarase Mamizu, will now declare my final request to Okada Takuya-kun. Please listen,” she said, an enraptured expression on her face. “I want to know what will happen if you keep living from now. I’m so immensely curious about how the world will continue after I die that I feel like my heart will burst. It’s because of you that I feel this way.
“Before I met you, I thought the world would end when I died. If I died and became nothing [無], I wouldn’t be able to know whether the world existed or not. So I thought that would be the end of the world.
“But it was you who made me realize that I was wrong. I’m helplessly curious about this wonderful world where you exist, Takuya-kun. So…”
Mamizu inhaled deeply, and then continued.
“Please live on in my stead. Please search the corners of this world and see and listen to and experience all kinds of things. And please continue to teach the meaning of life to the me who lives on inside you.”
Without thinking, as if I were being drawn in, I approached the railing from the edge of the rooftop. I approached life, walking away from death.
This was my defeat.
I had been defeated by Watarase Mamizu.
“Will you fulfil my last request?” she whispered.
Her lips were right there.
Without any hesitation, I kissed her.
Mamizu quickly pulled her lips away and looked at me.
And then she kissed me back.
I love you.
I love you.
I said that to her, over and over.
Watarase Mamizu lived for fourteen more days after that.