At our high school, it was decided that the first-years would put on a play for the cultural festival. What we would be doing had already been decided by vote.
Romeo and Juliet.
Isn’t it too cliché? I thought.
And then we had to decide on the cast.
“First of all, the role of Juliet. I was thinking that we’d nominate candidates, then have a show of hands to vote,” said our homeroom teacher, Yoshie-sensei.
She was wearing a light expression; it didn’t seem that she was dragging out the issue with Kayama. It was possible that Kayama had chosen his timing so that she could get her feelings in order over the summer vacation.
I looked around, but there was an air of avoidance among everyone. Our school was quite focused on preparing students for university, so there were a lot of people attending cram schools even among first-years, so the people who participated in events like this were in the minority. Supporting roles might have been fine, but main roles with many lines that needed a lot of practice were the most unpopular. This applied for every class, not just ours. Apparently, it was common for the teacher to just choose people.
“There aren’t any candidates, are there…” Yoshie-sensei said, sounding disappointed.
I took a moment to take a deep breath, harden my resolve and then raised my hand with all of my strength.
“I’ll do it,” I said.
The whole classroom exploded with roars of laughter at that moment. But I certainly hadn’t raised my hand to make people laugh.
“You know we’re talking about the Juliet role, right?” Yoshie-sensei said. “You’re a guy, aren’t you, Okada-kun?”
“I’ve always been interested in wearing women’s clothes,” I said.
More laughter echoed in the classroom.
“You can’t. Aren’t there any girls who want to do it?” Yoshie-sensei curtly rejected my statement and pressed the other students. Even so, nobody raised their hand. It was clear that nobody wanted to do it. And then someone said it.
“But maybe it would actually be more popular if a guy did it.”
That opinion triggered voices of approval with responses like, “You’re right,” “It’ll be hilarious,” and, “It’ll work, won’t it?”
Finally, Yoshie-sensei partially gave in. “Hmm… I’m against it, though. Well, in the end, it’s up to the students to decide. Well then, everyone in favor of Okada-kun in the role of Juliet, raise your hands.”
A few scattered hands went up across the classroom, and their number steadily increased. At a glance, it looked like more than two thirds of the class had raised their hands.
“Well then, we’ll give Okada-kun this role for now. But if a girl wants to take the role later, she will get it. That’s fine, right?”
I couldn’t imagine that anyone else would come forward, but Yoshie-sensei’s words settled the matter.
“Next, the role of Romeo. Well then, shall we make this one a girl?” Yoshie-sensei said, probably joking.
But nobody raised their hands. Finally, Yoshie-sensei looked around the classroom with a troubled expression.
And then Kayama raised his hand. “Well then, I’ll do it.”
“I-I see. Then, I suppose I’ll leave it to you, Kayama-kun.” Yoshie-sensei looked surprised, but she wrote our names on the blackboard.
Romeo: Kayama Akira
Juliet: Okada Takuya
What a terrible cast, I thought as I looked at the letters on the blackboard.
“Kayama, why did you raise your hand?” I asked him after homeroom was finished.
“Because I want to stand out,” he replied calmly.
“I was sure you just wanted to cause trouble for Yoshie-sensei,” I said.
“You’re overthinking things. And actually, you being Juliet is stranger than my problems. What on earth is that about? You’ve changed much more than I have.”
“… I have my own circumstances, too.”
Well, I wasn’t normally the type to participate in school events. I didn’t think Kayama’s reaction was unreasonable.
After homeroom was sixth period, PE.
In most PE lessons, Kayama just watched. Kayama was watching from the corner of the basketball court on that day as well. After being put in the same class as him, I was always nervous during PE lessons. But the one thing that made me the most nervous was basketball.
The ball was passed to me. I wondered whether I should dribble or shoot. At that moment, Kayama suddenly entered my field of vision. In the next moment, the ball was taken from me by someone on the opposite team.
“You’re so clumsy, Juliet!” Kayama shouted at me, sounding a little angry. I could hear chuckling laughter around me.
I looked behind me to see the match proceeding, and a goal was easily scored against my team. As I was thinking that it might be my fault for not getting back into position right away, a loss pass flew towards me from my teammate. I heard him shout.
It sounded like the stage name of an unsuccessful comedian. With a sigh, I jumped and threw a shot.
The ball flew through the air in an arc and fell into the net.
Surprised, I looked at Kayama. Our eyes met.
“What?” Kayama said, sounding irritated.
I stood stock still, unable to say anything. Why had I looked at Kayama now, after scoring a goal? I regretted that a little.
In the past, Kayama had been a basketball player.
Up until a certain point during our second year of middle school.
Kayama and I were in the same class back then. And during that time, I was being bullied by a certain group of delinquents in the class who had their eyes on me.
“Jump, Okada!” one of the delinquents shouted.
I was holding the handrail of a veranda, facing our classroom.
“If you hurry up and die, it’ll make us all happier, too.”
It had all begun when I covered for another guy who was being bullied. I wasn’t good at fighting myself, and I had no way of winning a fight, but I couldn’t help myself when I saw that guy having the contents of his bento thrown over his head.
On the veranda, I laughed at myself for having done something so stupid. For some reason, the guy who had been bullied back then had joined the group that was bullying me now. I didn’t understand. Was he doing this to escape the fear that he might be the one to be bullied again one day?
It seemed that everyone in the class was pretending not to see the bullying that was targeted at me. That was to be expected; I was living proof that anyone trying to stop it would become the new target.
There are several forms of bullying; there are malicious ones like verbal abuse and harassment, but the bullying I faced was direct violence, being punched and kicked. At that moment, I’d become tired of that violence.
When I looked at the ground below me from that veranda, I felt like I was going to be sucked in. Maybe dying would be fine, I thought. I didn’t really understand, but there were a lot of troublesome things about being alive. When I thought about it, I hadn’t particularly enjoyed anything while living.
“Alright,” I said quickly, climbing over the veranda’s handrail.
Holding the handrail behind me, I placed my feet on the edge of the veranda, where there was only enough room to fit half of my sneakers, and looked down. I looked back and saw my classmates looking at me with blank expressions through the open window. They were looking, but showing no particular response. I felt like things being like this was good in its own way, so that I wouldn’t have to become like them.
I looked down once more.
The wind was blowing.
I remembered Meiko, who had died a year ago.
Dying is simple, I thought.
But my legs were shaking.
I couldn’t really make up my mind.
That was when it happened.
“Oi, class is starting soon.”
Kayama opened the door to the veranda and approached me.
Surprised, I turned around.
“Shut up, you. Get back.”
Ignoring the delinquents’ words as if he hadn’t heard them at all, Kayama got closer to me.
I’d never even had a proper conversation with Kayama before that. The only thing I knew about him was that he was in the basketball club.
But, with that said, the two of us did have a certain connection.
Kayama’s dead older brother had been Meiko’s boyfriend. Our siblings had been in a relationship with each other, so we had to acknowledge each other’s existence whether we liked it or not. That didn’t mean that we’d had any deep conversations about it or anything like that, but our eyes met from time to time.
But that was all our relationship came down to. Up until then.
“You guys are boring,” Kayama said in a clear voice.
I was completely surprised. Concealing that surprise, I spoke to Kayama in a calm voice.
“Leave me alone.”
“Let me join you,” Kayama said, lightly grabbing my shoulder.
With that, Kayama did a high jump over the handrail and stood next to me.
“Have you gone crazy?” one of the delinquents shouted.
“Okada has a hundred times the courage you guys have,” Kayama said, and then he let go of the handrail. With his free hands, he started clapping in a rhythm. “Well, I’m braver than him, though.”
And then, on tiptoes, Kayama began stepping around on the half-footstep’s worth of space outside the handrail, as if dancing to the rhythm of his clapping.
I couldn’t believe it.
Everyone there stared at Kayama dumbfoundedly. Everyone had been sucked into his atmosphere.
This was Kayama’s solo stage.
It looked as if Kayama didn’t fear death at all. He danced, skillfully and lightly.
He’s gone mad.
Something’s wrong with his head.
That was what I thought.
“What do you think!” Kayama turned towards me with a triumphant expression, full of confidence.
And then he let himself fall.
This time, I didn’t even have time to be surprised.
I reached my hand out, but it didn’t reach him.
As I stared at Kayama in a daze, he was in the air.
He managed to land on his feet, but then he lay on the ground, clutching his legs. Even from the second floor, I could see that his face was twisted in pain. There was a scream from below.
“Oi, someone call an ambulance!” I heard someone shouting.
Panicking, the delinquents scattered.
Only I was left on the veranda.
I was shaking.
And then I couldn’t help but laugh.
Kayama, who should have been suffering with pain, had smiled at me and given me a thumbs up for some reason.
Don’t act so cool.
But you really are cool, I thought honestly.
It would have been fine if the story ended there, but reality was a little crueler than that. Kayama had suffered compound fractures in his legs. He went through strenuous rehabilitation after that, and recovered to the point that the injury no longer affected his daily life, but the doctor told him that it would be best to stop participating in physically-demanding sports.
As if as an afterthought, Kayama told me later, “My legs won’t perform even if I continue with sports.” And so, he quit basketball. Apparently, as a tall person with good reflexes, he had been an ace player, and the basketball club had placed high expectations on him.
I actually hadn’t directly said a single thing to Kayama about this.
I’d never said sorry, thanks for doing that for my sake, or anything like that.
But I did once ask him why he’d done such a crazy thing.
“I kind of got the feeling that if you jumped, you’d have really died, Okada. Even from the second floor, if you landed badly, you’d probably die. And I sort of felt like you wanted to die. But I felt like if I jumped, I wouldn’t die. I’m immortal, you see. Ah, but I also thought that things wouldn’t calm down if I didn’t do it. I’m bad at fighting, you know. The bullying stopped completely, so things turned out alright in the end, didn’t they?”
I didn’t understand what Kayama was thinking even after hearing this explanation, though.
Occasionally, Kayama was a guy who said and did crazy things that ordinary people couldn’t understand.
But after that, though I said various things about him, I had a slight respect towards Kayama, and what he did that day was why he was my savior.
As I walked along a corridor during lunch break, I came across Kayama, who was talking to a girl from another class. As I tried to pass by, pretending that I hadn’t noticed, the girl suddenly gave Kayama a slap in the face. All of the other students in the corridor turned around to see what was going on.
“Someone like you should just go and die,” the girl said, and then she hurriedly walked away down the corridor. She was a pretty girl.
Kayama had a somewhat refreshed expression on his face. Noticing me, he smiled. I had no idea why he would smile at a time like this.
“Come along with me for a bit,” he said, walking towards the emergency stairs at the back of the corridor. Having no choice, I followed him.
The wind was blowing strongly on the landing of the emergency stairs. Kayama sat on one of the stairs and looked up at the sky.
“With that, I’m finally finished with all of them,” he said.
“Cutting your relationships with women?” I asked.
“Yeah. Ah man, I’m tired,” he said emotionally, rubbing the cheek that had been slapped earlier.
“Say, Kayama, why are you doing something like that?”
“Hmm… I’ve gotten bored of my game. I mean, there’s no game that you don’t get bored of, is there?”
A self-centered way to say things as always, I thought. It would have been unbearable for the people who had gone out with him.
“Say, Okada. Do you think life can be started over again?” Kayama asked.
“It’s impossible,” I replied immediately.
“I had a dream,” Kayama said with his eyes closed, as if recalling something. “It was a dream where I traveled back in time to before my older brother died and relived my whole life from the beginning.” And then he suddenly gave a wordless shout as he stood up. “I think I’m going to go and see Watarase Mamizu.”
Has Kayama been cutting his relationships with women for that purpose? I wondered. As I realized what that would mean, I felt startled, but before I could confirm it with Kayama, he walked off, leaving me behind.
Somehow, I felt really shocked.
A short while after summer vacation ended, Mamizu was transferred from the shared room to a private one. Apparently, it wasn’t unrelated to the results of the inspection she had earlier. Little by little, she was growing thinner, and her face had become visibly paler.
Mamizu hadn’t told me the meaning behind the “I’m sorry” when I confessed to her the other day, and I hadn’t asked. This was because I kind of understood even without asking or having her explain, and I felt like it would be extremely difficult to put it into words.
“I was told how much longer I have to live again today,” Mamizu said.
Apparently, her condition wasn’t very good these days. She could feel it in her skin.
“He’s a useless doctor, right? He’s going to be wrong again anyway,” I said, with a sense of desire in my words.
“Maybe… who knows?” Mamizu’s voice sounded a little helpless. Her expression was different from how it was when we first met. “Do you want to know how many months I have left?”
“I don’t want to hear it.”
That was how I honestly felt. It wasn’t like I could do anything about it by knowing. I might have wanted to know if it were my lifespan in question, but I didn’t want to hear about Mamizu’s. Maybe I’m a more weak-hearted person than I thought. A bitter smile almost appeared on my face.
“I managed to get the Juliet role,” I said.
No, that’s right. There was just one thing that I could do. Doing the things on Mamizu’s list of ‘things she wanted to do before she died,’ one by one, and crossing them off.
“Really? It was worth the try, wasn’t it!” Mamizu exclaimed.
Of course, that had been something that Mamizu had requested. When I told her that the class’s project for the cultural festival was Romeo and Juliet, Mamizu had said that she wanted to be a part of it. I had replied, “Alright,” before Mamizu could even say anything further.
“Well, about the next ‘thing I want to do before I die,’” Mamizu said, handing me the paperback book that she was holding. “I want to visit the grave of the author that I like.”
I looked at the cover of the paperback book that I’d been handed. The author was Shizusawa Sou, and the title was, ‘One Ray of Light.’ I opened the book to see that the contents were written in old-fashioned language; it felt like a really old piece of literature. This was the book that Mamizu was always reading.
“This is the writer that I like the most,” Mamizu said. “I wanted visit his grave no matter what, but…”
I’d probably get the information I needed with enough Googling. I didn’t know where it was, but I decided to make the promise that I’d do it first.
“Takuya-kun. Really, thank you for everything,” Mamizu said in an admiring tone.
“What are you saying? It’s unpleasant.” Her words didn’t make me happy at all. “You sound like you’re going to die tomorrow.”
The words slipped from my mouth. Damn it, I thought, the moment I spoke them. Because Mamizu’s expression had suddenly changed.
“It’s alright. You don’t have to worry, it’ll be alright,” Mamizu said, as if comforting a child.
I had no idea what was supposed to be alright.