“I was thinking of having you do these, Takuya-kun,” Mamizu said, giving a slightly embarrassed laugh. There was something childish about her smile.
I couldn’t quite take in what she was saying.
“I want you to do the things that I want to do before I die in my place. And then I want you to come here and tell me your impressions on those experiences.”
“That’s crazy…” I said, astonished. There were a hundred question marks floating around inside my head.
What’s the point in that? If it were me, I’d only get pissed off if someone else was doing the things I wanted to do right in front of my eyes, I thought. But it seemed that Mamizu didn’t think like this.
“After all, it can’t be helped, can it? I can’t go outside even if I want to. There’s no other way. Don’t you think it’s a good idea?” Mamizu said, as if convincing herself.
She probably wanted to do these things herself. She would have considered that first. But the fact that there were circumstances preventing her from doing so was, in a way, something I could understand.
“… Well, I understand what you’re trying to say. I just have to do what you want to do, right? So, tell me about those,” I said as if pondering her idea, still confused.
“That’s exactly it.” Seeming to be happy for some reason, Mamizu smiled. “It wouldn’t be good to start off with the heavy ones. I suppose we’ll go with a light one to begin with. I wonder which one I should choose?” she said, opening her notebook and staring at it with a serious gaze. And then she suddenly broke into a smile. “Well then, I already have a request…”
Honestly, I had nothing but a bad feeling about this.
“I've always wanted to go to an amusement park before I die.”
According to Mamizu, she had only ever been to an amusement park when she was very young, with her parents. She was interested in what an amusement park would be like now that she was more aware of the world around her.
Since it was something that she wanted to do before she died, I’d expected something more spectacular. I’d been prepared for something like one of her dreams for the future that had never been fulfilled. But her desire was a petty one, like that of someone in the lower middle class. So I was a little let down at first.
“Huh? … That means…” Thinking about it and recalling the fact that the one doing this would be me, I felt flustered.
“So Takuya-kun, go to an amusement park in my place.”
“No, wait a minute! … You’re kidding, right?”
“I’m serious, you know?” Mamizu said with no signs of shyness, and then gave a mischievous laugh.
A week later, for some reason, I’d come to a famous theme park outside the prefecture.
Of course, I was alone.
How sad would a guy of my age have to be to come to an amusement park alone?
Amusement parks are places visited by families and lovers. This is an established fact. Nobody would come here alone.
And it was Golden Week. There was an incredible amount of people, people and people, as far as the eye could see. Of course, they were in groups, such as couples, families and friends. Naturally, I couldn’t spot anyone who had come alone like me.
A guy going to an amusement park alone – it’s difficult to imagine that such a guy would be in a sane state. He would either be a real amusement park freak, or simply crazy. But I was neither of those. I wasn’t an amusement park freak, and I wanted to believe that I was still sane.
In fact, I stood out. That was to be expected. It wouldn't have been an exaggeration to say that I was attracting a lot more attention than the performers. The people passing by me sometimes looked at the dark expression on my face before leaving. There was the occasional person blatantly sneering at me, and delinquents pointing and laughing. I was definitely the center of attention.
I’m not a crazy person!
I wanted to shout this out with a megaphone. Just where in an amusement park would I be able to buy a megaphone? Would I be able to find out if I asked someone? Excuse me, I want a megaphone, where could I purchase one? Wait! I’m not a suspicious person. I’m not crazy! Please wait!
However, I had plans. I hadn’t come to this amusement park just to play. Well, I had, but this wasn’t just playing for me.
My first destination was the rollercoaster.
In a gloomy mood, I purchased a ticket and lined up for the rollercoaster. There was a one-hour wait for it. Ah, I wanted to go home. I’d become completely fed up with this.
Incidentally, I hated thrill rides. I'd been on one once as a child, and never again since. I didn’t understand their purpose. What was so fun about riding in an exposed machine as it hurtled around high places at crazy speeds? I couldn’t understand it at all. It wasn’t that I was scared of them, that definitely wasn’t it, but… in any case, I didn’t want to ride them if I had the choice.
I’ll never ride that again.
That is the worst ride ever created in the history of humanity, I thought.
After I got down from the rollercoaster, I walked slowly, feeling an indescribable sense of fatigue. My stomach was in chaos. I felt like throwing up the toast I’d eaten that morning. I felt sick. My spirits were at an all-time low.
Even so, my business here wasn’t finished.
I continued on, heading for the store that Mamizu had specified. It was a café inside the amusement park that mostly sold sweets. After waiting in line for around thirty minutes, I went inside. It seemed that with everything in here, the time you spent waiting in line was longer than the time you spent enjoying the things you were waiting in line for. Ninety-five percent of the people in line were couples. That was the kind of sweet atmosphere this store had.
There were a lot of employees striding around the store, wearing revealing clothes designed to emphasize the chest. These uniforms were said to be one of the two specialties of this store, and enthusiasts apparently couldn’t get enough of them. One of the employees brought a menu over, but without even looking at it, I placed my order as if spitting out the words.
“Please give me an ‘Our First Love’ parfait!”
The inside of the store became noisy. They were so noisy that I wanted to ask them what they were all so happy about. A guy on his own, in a store full of couples, ordering a First Love parfait. This parfait was the other specialty of this store.
“What is with that guy?”
“He’s seriously dangerous.”
I could tell that everyone was whispering about me. I looked up at the ceiling and closed my eyes. I shut down my consciousness as much as I could.
What kind of punishment game is this?
I want to disappear, I want to disappear, I want to disappear.
While I was repeating this phrase over and over to myself in my head, the First Love parfait was brought to me.
A generous amount of strawberry sauce had been poured on the enormous parfait. There were numerous wafers inserted into it as if to make it livelier, and a heart-shaped piece of chocolate was enshrined in the center. It looked like it was enough for two or three people.
Was I going to eat this alone…?
I heard the click of a camera shutter from a cellphone.
I turned around in surprise wondering what it was and saw a couple in the seats behind me, taking a photograph of me. I glared at them silently, but it wasn’t very menacing.
This is shit. This is really shit.
Even as I thought this, I took a photograph of the parfait as well. Incidentally, the parfait cost 1,500 yen. What a rip-off, I thought. In the end, I ate it all by myself, as I thought it would be a waste if I didn’t. As I ate, the giggling laughter around me never stopped.
“Takuya-kun, you’re the best! My stomach hurts!”
Watarase Mamizu was laughing heartily after seeing the photo of the First Love parfait and hearing about my episode at the amusement park. She was laughing so hard that I wondered whether she was bothering the other people in the shared room.
“And then, and then? What did you do after the First Love parfait?” she asked.
“I went to the haunted house and got surprised by the ghosts, surprised by the kids on the merry-go-round, then got creeped-out looks from couples at the Ferris wheel, and then I came back,” I told her, feeling fed up.
“How did you feel? Was it fun?”
“It was the absolute worst feeling. I thought it would be best if a nuclear missile fell on that amusement park.”
Finding something about this hilarious, Mamizu burst into laughter once more. So, she’s someone who laughs honestly like this, I thought, a little surprised.
“I see, I see, thanks,” she said. “I guess amusement parks aren’t places you’re supposed to go alone after all.”
I wanted to say, “You knew that fully well without having to go there, didn’t you?” But before I could, Mamizu began speaking again.
“Well then, about my next request,” she said, turning on the TV in the room. Each of the beds in this shared room had a TV, but I had never seen Mamizu watching hers until now.
After flipping through the channels for a while, she found the evening news program.
“This one, it’s this one!” Mamizu pointed at the TV screen, as if excited about something.
It was news about the sale of a new smartphone. It was the one that was so hard to get that queues formed every year on the day it went on sale. It was apparently going on sale at night this weekend.
“I’ve wanted to try waiting in an all-night queue,” Mamizu said.
… I decided to ignore her and go home.
“Wait! Wait, Takuya-kun.”
“I’m definitely not doing it!”
“Look at this.” Mamizu opened a drawer in the chest next to her bed and took out a cellphone. It looked really old; it was a flip phone of white color that had faded into ivory. “I’m still using a flip phone. I’ve been using this for four years, since before I was hospitalized. Don’t you feel sorry for me?”
It was true that people using such a retro, previous-era phone were rare these days.
“I want to try using a smartphone before I die,” she said wistfully.
“… But those are pretty expensive, you know,” I said. “Do you have money?”
“Ta-dah.” Mamizu produced a bankbook from another drawer.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“My New Year’s gift savings.”
So there really are people who save that money, I thought.
“My relatives like my grandpa and grandma give it to me every year, but in a place like this, I have even less things to spend it on than someone in prison. So, I’ve been saving it up.”
I looked at the bankbook Mamizu handed me to discover that there was indeed a considerable amount registered inside.
“Use that. I’ll tell you my PIN,” she said, handing me a cash card as well.
“Wait a second,” I said, finally feeling that this was somewhat heavy. “You can’t just go and tell someone else something like that, can you?”
“Why?” Mamizu asked, staring at me in puzzlement.
“It could be misused.”
“Are you going to misuse it, Takuya-kun?”
I couldn’t mention it, but I got the feeling that she was doing this on purpose.
“You’re alright, Takuya-kun.”
With this unfounded statement, Mamizu pushed the bankbook towards me.
Late at night, when I tried to leave the house, my mother called out and stopped me.
“Where are you going at this time of night? Are you meeting someone?” My mother looked at me with a suspicious expression.
It was too bothersome to explain. It was nearly midnight. I was trying to catch the last train out.
“I’m going out to play for a bit,” I said.
“That’s what Meiko said that day when she went out.” My mother was staring at me with a needlessly serious look. “Takuya, you’re not going to die, are you?”
My mother said these crazy words to me. But this wasn’t the first time she’d said these kinds of things.
“There’s no way I’d die,” I replied, tired of this.
“You know, Takuya. If you were to die in some strange way as well, I’d…”
In that moment, I couldn’t take it anymore.
“Meiko was just in a car accident, right?”
My mother tried to say something, but I didn’t want to hear any more.
“I’m fine,” I said.
Finding this conversation a little tiresome, I ended it there and went outside.
I got on the train and headed for the queue for the smartphone that Mamizu had asked for.
I was quite cold waiting in the all-night queue, despite it being spring. It seemed that there were a lot of people in this world with a lot of free time on their hands; a queue with many people had formed on the road of the business district. All alone, I shivered as I waited for the morning to come. Since I was unoccupied, I kind of thought back on the way my mother had been acting since Meiko died.
Since Meiko died, for some reason, my mother had always had a strange worry that I would die as well.
“There’s a typhoon, so don’t go to school today.”
When I asked her for a reason, she earnestly gave answers like, “What if you were blown away by the wind, hit your head on a sign and died?” or, “What if a car slipped because of the rain and sped towards you?”
Seriously, spare me, I thought.
“What if you ate sashimi during the summer and died of food poisoning?”
“What if you fell asleep in the bath and drowned?”
“If you wear black clothes, you’re going to be killed by bee-stings, aren’t you?”
Just like this, my mother was zealous about perceiving omens of death in trivial, everyday things.
There was a time when my mother frequently visited a dodgy spiritualist. She made me come along with her. The reason was that about half a year before Meiko died in a traffic accident, her boyfriend at the time had died in a traffic accident in the exact same way. My mother had seriously thought that she’d been possessed by his evil spirit. In short, my mother had gone a little mad. Despite not having had any miscarriages, she had been told that she was possessed by the spirit of a miscarried fetus, and believed that for a while.
My mother’s mind was a little ill.
And so, in the past, I was even forced to attend counseling. After Meiko died, I was quite depressed as well. It seemed that seeing this had made my mother worry. What if I became mentally ill and died as a result?
Have you ever thought that you want to die?
Are you sleeping well?
Do you have an appetite?
Is there anything troubling you right now?
I answered all of these with, “I’m fine.” I made sure to consciously act cheerful during such times.
There aren’t any problems.
Because of this, I was acquitted, but… even so, it seemed like my mother still doubted me.
Won’t this boy die sometime soon as well?
It seemed like this thought had always been on my mother’s mind.
It’s true that my personality had become somewhat more reserved after Meiko’s death. I remember not talking to my family much at all right after she died.
But isn’t that to be expected? At least, that’s what I thought.
If I’d started laughing more after my older sister’s death, wouldn’t that have been more of a sign that I’d gone mad?
I wished that my mother would go to counseling instead.
Mamizu gave an exaggerated, happy reaction when I brought her the smartphone that I’d purchased.
“Yay! I’m finally a part of civilization, too.”
Before handing it to her, I tried to give her an earful of how tiring the all-night queue had been, more out of resentment than anything. But while I was mid-sentence, Mamizu began unwrapping the smartphone’s packaging.
“Oi… It wasn’t that you were interested in being in an all-night queue, you just wanted a smartphone, didn’t you?”
“That’s not true, you know?” Mamizu said with a smile as she held the smartphone up in front of her eyes. “Wow,” she whispered in admiration, her eyes shining. “With this, it’ll be easier to get in contact with you, won’t it, Takuya-kun?” she said happily.
I was completely taken aback.
After that, Mamizu asked me to show her how to use the basic functions, and I recorded my number in there.
A few days later, Mamizu’s phone contract that she had asked her mother to organize ended, and her smartphone was finally connected to the internet. I was immediately sent a message.
That’s all that was written in it.
Could it be that she had been too embarrassed to say it in person? Without hesitating, I sent back the simple message of, “You’re welcome.”
During lunchtime at school, for some reason, Kayama was holding an Othello set, and suggested we play while eating. Before I could try to decline, he quickly joined the desk of the guy in front of me to mine and began setting up the Othello board and taking out his bento.
In the end, I had no choice but to be Kayama’s opponent while eating the bread that I’d bought beforehand.
“Okada. When did you have your first crush?” Kayama asked suddenly, in the middle of our Othello game.
“Fourth year elementary. The girl in the seat next to me,” I said.
“Sixth year elementary for me. So, what became of yours?”
I could only vaguely recall her face. I didn’t know where she was or what she was doing.
“Well, I’ve stopped caring about her,” I said.
I hadn’t even approached her in any special way or confessed to her; our relationship and my faint love had come to a natural end with the changing of classes. But I think that’s how first crushes are for most people.
“You know, I think trivial things don’t really change. Things like our favorite foods, the way we eat our meals, how many tissues we use when we blow our nose,” Kayama said, using chopsticks to move the side dishes of his bento into his mouth with surprising dexterity.
“You use one tissue, right?”
“I use two.”
Kayama took the corner. My white pieces were all flipped over.
“But I think that the more important feelings are, the more easily they’re overturned, like Othello pieces,” Kayama said.
I couldn’t really understand what he was saying.
“But you know, I actually hate that,” he continued.
He talked like this from time to time. In other words, I had no idea what he was trying to say.
“… Come to think of it, I recently went and saw Watarase Mamizu, just as you told me,” I said.
The moment I said that, Kayama’s hand that was holding his chopsticks stopped. And then he stared at my face.
“What?” I said.
“… And then?” Kayama asked.
“Well, she’s relatively healthy. I don’t know the details, but it doesn’t seem like she’ll be dying for a while.”
I thought about explaining various things, but decided against it. The fact that I’d met her numerous times after that, and her list of things she wanted to do before she died. I didn’t know if it was alright to just go ahead and spill it out to others.
And I was a little angry at Kayama, who had continued to keep his real intentions behind making me go and meet Mamizu a secret. I didn’t think that I had any obligation to tell him, either. And the most important factor was that explaining all of this strange, incomprehensible stuff would have been troublesome.
“Kayama, is there something you wanted to ask?”
“Well then, her three sizes.”
“Ask her yourself.”
It seemed that victory was Kayama’s in the game of Othello. Despite being the one to start it, he’d apparently lost interest partway through the game and stood up before it was over.
“Don’t you have to go and see her?” I asked him as he went to leave.
“… Not now,” he said after thinking for a moment. “I don’t lack women right now, after all,” he added.
“Are you planning to make a move on her?” I asked, laughing. I’d thought he was joking.
But Kayama stared at me silently for a while without making any more remarks, and then returned to his seat, not saying anything more in the end.
What’s all that about? I wondered, finding this more and more strange.