(WARNING: COMPLETE SPOILERS FOR CHAOS;CHILD)
Chapter 3: Arimura Hinae
In the midst of a wordless battle between the teacher and her, Arimura Hinae was flipping through the memories of the contents of the novel in her bag.
This wasn’t a good tendency. She was aware of the fact that thinking about the story of a novel she read instead of how to continue her own novel was a sign that she was depressed. But then, she hadn’t written down a single thing ever since the incident and only kept reading.
She was in the staffroom. Her homeroom teacher was sitting in his seat tapping his pen against the desk while Hinae was standing. On the desk was her future course survey with nothing filled up in it.
He sure is being rather persistent today, thought Hinae.
“……Indeed, there is still some time before the deadline on the closing ceremony, but.”
Just as the reflection on the large window of the staffroom entered her eye and caused her to grimace, her homeroom teacher spoke.
“Everyone in the class except you has already submitted it. At least, they’ve narrowed it down to two choices.”
“But, I still haven’t decided if I’m going to further my studies or not.”
“……All of your classmates are all planning to further their studies though?”
“I know,” nodded Hinae. On the future course survey, they would choose either to further their studies or look for employment, and those who pick further study will indicate up to their top three choices of universities or vocational schools. None of her classmates had chosen to look for employment.
Seeing her unchanging attitude, the teacher stopped tapping his pen. With a plain look of resignation, he handed the survey back to Hinae.
“Decide by monday next week.”
The closing ceremony wasn’t on next monday, but Hinae took the document back respectfully and said, “I understand.” Ha, too easy, she muttered in her mind as she bowed and took her leave.
“Oh, right. Do your best for the presentation by your committee. The parents are all expecting something great.”
Hinae only turned her head and replied.
Then, after closing the door gently, she stuck her tongue out and thought, ‘I’ll do my best even without you saying it.’
When Hinae returned to the usual room, formerly of the Newspaper club and the current headquarters of the Student’s Autonomy Committee, she found Senri tapping away at the keyboard of the laptop at a furious pace. It felt like the stack of documents piled up next to her had grown in height since she left for the staffroom.
“Ciao, I’m back…… Where’s Hana?”
“She went out to collect the feedback forms since they seem to be piling up again.”
“What about Mizuki and Machi?”
“They said they’ll go deliver some feedback forms, then head to the Tennis club. ……They’ll bring them when they return, it seems.”
Hinae expressed her surprise with a, “Woah,” when she saw that even Senri was showing signs of fatigue. It appeared that it wasn’t just her imagination that the pile of forms was getting higher after all. Hinae took an arbitrary stack of forms from the pile and came before the PC belonging to the club room. Then, she opened up the spreadsheet which seemed to extend infinitely and started to transcribe the forms into it.
“My homeroom teacher further upped the pressure by telling me to do my best for the presentation. He said the parents are expecting something great.”
“……Someone’s parents must have called him up or something.”
It had only been a few weeks since the Student’s Autonomy Committee was established. However, the amount of feedback and suggestions far exceed their expectations, and Hinae and the rest were up to their necks in work.
Their motivation had been minor. It all began when Hana, who was the head of the committee, said this at the start, “I want to hear about the opinions of everyone in the school regarding the syndrome, and what they felt about it.” Both Hinae and Senri concurred. After all, the committee was set up with the motive to ‘contemplate about the circumstances surrounding former Chaos Child Syndrome patients’. They thought Hana’s words were perfect as a first step to ascertaining that.
After getting approval from the school, they announced the launch of the committee school-wide and distributed questionnaires everywhere. The only instruction they gave was a vague, ‘Please write about anything you think or feel about the syndrome,’ but the amount of responses was overwhelming beyond their expectations. Perhaps, the students all had various thoughts about the syndrome unvoiced thus far, or that Senri’s words of, ‘Please indicate any of your thoughts at all,’ had too strong of an impact coming from the Empress, as a considerable amount of forms were submitted right from the first day despite it being non-mandatory.
And as the days passed, that number only increased. They could only regret not instructing them to send the feedback by email. Naturally, they have passed the peak of submissions now a few weeks after, but the number of students saying, “Please pass me another form as I’ve already used up both sides and still have more to write,” did not stop. In addition, their workload further increased when they have to directly approach those students who wrote something unclear or intriguing in order to verify them. Then, for some reason, a rumor spread saying, ‘It seems that the committee is very knowledgeable about the syndrome, and can answer any doubts you have,’ causing people to call out to Hinae and the rest as and when they saw them. Since they managed to gain some insights from talking to those who did, they also did not deny the rumor.
As a result, the rumor got so widespread that even the school administration got ahold of it. They instantly gave down the order, “Since this has turned out to be so big, why don’t you announce the results of your findings during the closing ceremony.” Hinae and the rest were not in a position to refuse at all.
They had split the duties, with the first-years, Hana, Hatsuyama Mizuki and Nitani Machi who joined the committee together, in charge of going around to hear out the students, while Hinae and Senri converted their accounts and responses into data. In terms of the speed of data entry, Hana was much faster than Hinae and she herself also volunteered to do that, but she was shut down by Senri who said, “You are the head of the committee, thus you need to be at the forefront more so than anyone else.”
The parents and guardians seemed to have found out about the presentation during the closing ceremony from either the school or their children, and phone calls asking for the particulars of it started ringing on the next day.
“……Out of curiosity, what is the ratio of the choices for the future course survey for your batch like?”
Hinae asked without stopping her work.
“Are there more people pursuing further studies, or looking for employment?”
“As of now, most of them are pursuing further studies, I think. The number of students looking for employment for each grade could be counted on both hands, it seems. ……Well, who knows what will happen when we actually graduate however.”
Currently, as of December 2016, Hinae was a second-year student at Hekihou Academy High School, while Senri was a third-year. In accordance with that of a normal high school, Senri should have already graduated in March of this year, while Hinae was supposed to promote to the third-year as of April. However, due to the rehabilitation they underwent as a result of the syndrome, all of the students were placed back in their respective years after school reopened. And specially for Senri and the other third-years, they were made to spend one additional year with the reason that their remaining time before graduation was too short.
“By then, we would already be 20 years-old. I’m sure there are more than a few of them who will be panicking about their futures by then.”
“I heard that they still haven’t decided on what to call them the coming April. Wouldn’t fourth-years be fine?”
“Who knows?”, answered Senri as she shrugged her shoulders. By next April, the third-years in the middle school section would enter high school as first-years. This would result in there being four grades in the high school temporarily.
“……I never would have imagined graduating at the same time as you, Senri.”
“That’s only speaking for now, isn’t it. We don’t know how they’ll handle it in terms of the law or the society, so there’s also a chance that you’ll end up as a fourth-year too.”
“Then you’d be a fifth-year.”
“Just spare me that,” grumbled Senri, to which Hinae flashed a wry grin.
Ultimately, the cause of them making such a troublesome arrangement lies in the fact that society still does not know how to handle the former patients of the syndrome. The reason for most of the students choosing to further their studies instead of looking for employment was also because they would face less discrimination and prejudice that way. When one entered a university or vocational school through their entrance examinations, they usually do not take into account past mental records.
But, things were different when one was looking for a job, to say nothing of the fact that close to nothing was known about the Chaos Child Syndrome other than it being a kind of mental ailment. Consequently, there were even some voices raising doubts on whether they should even treat graduates from Hekihou Academy the same as that of any other high schools.
As Hinae looked back at the stack of documents which did not seem to diminish at all, she heaved a sigh.
“Just what should we do……”
“Indeed, what can we do.”
Perhaps her fingers and eyes were tired, as Senri got up after a while to get some coffee. She passed a cup to Hinae and drank her coffee next to her without returning to her seat, her eyes fluttering here and there.
That’s another rare occurrence, thought Hinae as she looked up at Senri. She seemed to be hesitating over whether or not to say something. When like this, she gave off a different impression from the reliable big sister image she usually had, which made her look like a normal high school girl or even younger, and Hinae had thought that was unfair of her since a while back.
“What’s the matter?”
Still, she appeared restless, and after a while, cupped the cup with both hands and asked with her gaze looking down into the cup.
“Erm…… what about the confession?”
Hinae was taken aback by the suddenness. Seeing her reaction, Senri was surprised as well.
“How did you know about that?”
“Eh, didn’t someone confessed to you yesterday?”
“No, I mean yes, there was, but……”
He was a boy from the same year but different class as Hinae. Nonetheless, he was a friend of a friend, and she recognized him and knew his name.
“……I received one too. Yesterday.”
When she asked Senri about it, apparently, the other party mentioned, “Right about now, one of my friend who’s our junior is probably also asking one of your friends called Arimura out too.”
The two boys had coordinated their confessions and were thinking of going on a double date this weekend.
Hinae was lost for words.
“What the hell is that.”
“You rejected him?”
“Of course. Surely, you did too?”
Senri looked away awkwardly. It can’t be, thought Hinae as she sprung out of her seat.
“……I told him to give me some time.”
Seriously? Hinae was shocked. She never thought Senri would make this decision.
“Eh, what do you plan to do?”
“……I’m thinking on going on the date.”
“……Did he piqued your interest?”
Hinae could tell that the pitch of her voice had gone lower.
But, there was nothing she could do about that. This was not the kind of fun girls’ talk they having.
“……It’s not like that.”
Senri’s expression turned vague when she heard Arimura follow up with a clear disapproving tone.
As if she needed to do so to organize her feelings, Senri slowly sipped her coffee, returned and sat down her seat carefully, and rubbed her hands.
“How should I say this, it’s difficult to put this into words.”
When she finally spoke again, there wasn’t the usual confidence and strength in her voice.
“Many things have happened, and there are many people in the school who have accepted me as who I am now, right.”
“……Is it about your appearance?”
Yeah, Senri nodded.
In the long period of time she had been afflicted with the Chaos Child Syndrome, not only did Senri exhibited the characteristic aging phenomenon of the syndrome, but her external appearance had also turned into that of her past friend, Kurusu Nono. When she recovered from the syndrome, both of those symptoms also reverted. But, as for whether she would be able to live life on as Minamisawa Senri or not, having been perceived as Kurusu Nono for the past six years, she had not known at that time.
That’s only to be expected, thought Hinae. Why did Senri’s appearance turned into that of Nono’s, and how had that happened. It was one thing for their members who knew the truth about the incident, but for others, it was obvious that they would not be able to accept it so easily.
Senri had sought their understanding honestly. She started from her friends in the same grade, then the people whom she had interacted with, to the others who began rehabilitation at the same time. She obviously could not state the truth, and so, used the explanation that the change in her appearance was caused by the syndrome somehow. Hinae and the rest also helped with that.
By the time she was released from the hospital, the majority of people whom she was close to in school no longer called her by Nono.
“The one who confessed to me is a boy called Masuda, one of my classmates. Of course, he had seen me as Nono all this time, but is now looking at me as Minamisawa Senri. Well, he still keeps calling me by ‘Empress’ no matter how many times I told him not to. ……But for me, this is a first. To have a boy say they like me as Minamisawa Senri.”
“……Is that so.”
“That’s why, I want to give him an answer after thinking this through properly. And at the same time, experience what a date is like.”
As Senri continued with a bitter smile, “……It sure is complicated when it comes to myself, don’t you think,” Hinae looked away sheepishly.
When she thought back to yesterday during the confession, Hinae felt the distance between Senri and her widening.
It felt like she had just been shown strength truly was.
“……How do you feel about Takuru?”
Trying her best not to sound mean-spirited, Hinae inquired of her.
Senri answered instantly.
“I like him.”
“……Is that like as a member of the opposite gender? Or, is it as a brother?”
“Well, I wonder.”
“You don’t know?”
“What about you?”
“Uuu,” Hinae flinched.
“……If you were to ask if I like or dislike him, I’d choose like.”
“Is that as a member of the opposite gender? Or is that as a comrade-in-arms?”
That was an unexpected phrase. But, she concurred to it readily. Hinae nodded in response to her words.
“As a comrade-in-arms, there’s no one better. I love him even. As a boy however…… I don’t really know.”
“I see,” Senri’s lips softened.
“As his big sister, that is high praise. Thank you.”
When Hinae returned to her uncle’s house at which she was lodging at, she found her uncle and aunt waiting for her while preparing dinner.
Seeing the radish and nameko mushroom miso soup on the table, she sighed with a bitter smile inwardly. This was the third day in a row already.
“You seem busy at school.”
“We heard that the committee has begun their work. Aren’t you part of it?”
Hinae answered her uncle and aunt’s questions perfunctorily with a smile. She knew that they were just trying to be cordial. They even made the miso soup only because she mentioned it was her favorite. In fact, Hinae didn’t particularly liked or disliked this flavor. She merely replied offhandedly that it was her favorite when they asked for her opinion about it three days ago.
After returning to her room, she threw herself onto the bed.
She took out her smartphone and looked at the name ‘Ishiwata Keisuke’ on the display.
It was that of the boy who confessed to her. She couldn’t remember when she exchanged numbers with him. It was probably back during the time when she was still afflicted with the syndrome and could tell when someone was lying.
They were at the back of the school building after school.
His voice was slightly stiff due to nervousness, but Ishiwata somehow forced the words out of his mouth.
“I have liked you since a while back. Please go out with me.”
“Oops, I’m so sorry, but I already have someone else in mind. My apologies.”
When she recalled what she said, Hinae covered her face with the pillow. She then pushed down hard on it until she couldn’t breathe and her legs flailed about.
That was a lie. She was not thinking about any single person even as she said that. Ishiwata was stunned for a moment before his face twisted in hurt.
What the heck am I doing, muttered Hinae from under the pillow.
When school reopened, Hinae interacted with her friends in the same sociable way as she always had. However, she could feel a keen difference compared to in the past. The reason for that lies in that after her recovery from the syndrome, she lost the ability to tell whether one was telling the truth or lying. Unlike back then when she would just shrug everything off with a joke, her replies nowadays were more heartfelt. Though the only people with which she could truly bare her heart to were Hana and the rest whom she went through the ordeal with together still, she was now relating with her other friends at a deeper level. It could be expressed as the wide and shallow network she had built just becoming narrower and more earnest, but that change had a tremendous impact on Hinae.
The distance between her and her uncle and aunt also changed. Presently, there was still a delicate air between them as they try to accommodate each other, but even that was impossible back when she still suffered from the syndrome. Both the fact that her uncle and aunt were trying to get closer to her, and that she herself did not reject their advance were unthinkable in the past. After all, lip service was what Hinae hated the most back then.
She even talked to her estranged parents over the phone occasionally nowadays.
She thought she had since progressed.
Yet, during the confession, the reply which she came up with instantaneously was non-commitmental and a complete lie.
Like that, she was pretty much the same as the past, cladded in lies and molding herself to fit into the surroundings, yet isolating her heart from everyone else.
Ishiwata had been saddened and hurt due to her half-hearted attitude.
When he said he liked her, didn’t she compared him to that comrade-in-arms somewhere in her mind, she pondered.
Senri had faced the other party properly. Despite being that close to that person, she had accepted the confession as her current self and considered it seriously. Hinae recalled how Uki always said, “I can never beat Big Sis.”
Hinae got up with a spring and picked up her smartphone once more.
“Hello, is this Ishiwata? This is Arimura.”
She stated her business and ended the call.
Out of habit, Hinae took a novel out of her bag and started reading. Ironically, the female main character was having her feelings waver between two guys.
None of the contents made it into her head.
“……What is it.”
“What’s up with that appearance and makeup.”
“Ms. Komori went over the top and…… Then, even Uki got carried away as well……”
When Hinae reached the meetup spot and found Senri who always arrived earlier than the appointed time, her eyes narrowed upon seeing her figure. Senri drooped her shoulders in exhaustion.
Her face which was usually partially hidden behind her forelocks was now completely exposed. Her hair which was usually tied into two at her sides was now gathered into one with a scrunchie and nestled down her front. In addition to her usual foundation and lip gloss, she also had eye makeup and cheek rouge applied, making her look more adult-like than usual. Her coat was the same as usual, but the clothes peeking underneath it was vibrant beyond Senri’s taste, and to top it off, she wore boots with a relatively high heel.
“I didn’t know you had such clothes.”
“Besides this coat, all these clothes and makeup belongs to Ms. Komori. She even bought this boots yesterday just for today. And I was even wondering why……”
When Hinae asked about it, Senri grumbled about how Komori and Uki pretty much treated her as their mannequin all the way from last night till this morning. She also laughed in sympathy for Yuuto when Senri mentioned how he looked extremely troubled when they forced him for his opinion.
Just as the appointed time came, the other two arrived.
Masuda Kouta, the one who confessed to Senri, was so flabbergasted he might as well be rude.
“……What happened to you, Empress. That appearance and hairstyle. I mean, it makes me very happy to see you like that, though.”
His height was around the average for boys, but his body was slightly on the robust side and he wore black-rimmed spectacles. He also had large eyes, which when paired with his frizzy hair that couldn’t be differentiated from bed hair, gave him a somewhat charming look.
Senri replied in a fed-up tone.
“Just leave it. It’s what my family forced onto me. And also, stop with the ‘Empress’.”
As for Ishiwata, to put it into one word, it would be well-featured. His height easily went past 180 cm and he looked handsome with his lazily-combed hair.
He asked with a somewhat resigned smile.
“……And Arimura, this is your usual?”
“That’s right. Because it’s the inside that’s more important.”
It turns out that the two of them were friends since elementary school, and that their houses were close together such that even their family knew each other.
“Oh, and I’m sorry, ‘cause we don’t really know much about other places.”
In accordance with what Kouta said, Ishiwata also lowered his head.
Their rendezvous was in front of the familiar Shibuya station just after noon, having been decided by the boys. Hinae returned a smile to the truly apologetic-looking two with a, “It’s okay. We don’t mind.”
The first place they went to was a planetarium that was a five-minutes walk away from Shibuya station. When Hinae asked, “You like stars?”, Ishiwata replied with a bitter laugh, “No, not in particular. But then, it doesn’t take as long as a movie and isn’t as crowded either.” Heh, uttered Hinae. She thought, so this is what you should be considering on a date. The last time she went to a planetarium was in elementary school during some event, and so, even the simple programme of identifying the stars in the night sky felt fresh and enjoyable to Hinae.
After that, the boys suggested to take a look around the general store and the CD shop, and Hinae and Senri followed. The CD shop was one thing, but do high school boys have an interest in the general store, Hinae wondered, but did not commented as they had probably thought things through and she just tried to enjoy herself.
Her conversation with Ishiwata along the way was at just the comfortable level. She thought he would be more assertive and try to find out more about her, but he did not do so. Hinae was thankful for that. On the other hand, from what she could hear of their conversation, it seems that Kouta was being scolded by Senri one-sidedly. Kouta appears to be someone who gets carried away easily, which caused Senri to keep repeating, “Look here……” with a sigh, but she wasn’t really feeling peeved. That must have been how their exchanges at school was like usually as they seemed completely used to it too.
The general store was in a building near Inokashira Street, a ten-minutes walk in the opposite direction of the planetarium from Shibuya station.
When the door to the elevator opened, the four of them stiffened up at the same time.
The reason for it was apparent. Hinae could feel the impatient gazes of the other customers bearing on them from behind, and entered the elevator hurriedly. The other three followed in after her without saying anything. “Are you interested in sundries?” Hinae asked Ishiwata in order to change the mood. “It’s actually the first time I’m visiting a general store,” he replied, quick to understand her intentions, at which everyone laughed lightly.
At the general store, Hinae accompanied Senri as she looked around at some tabletop accessories. Her eyes were drawn to a memo holder decorated with bunnies all over. Hinae asked, “Are Uki and Yuuto still carrying out the bunny wars?”, to which she answered with a sigh, “They’ve even come up with a list of names already. And for both genders too.” In contrast, the boys did not seem to be very interested as to be expected.
In heeds of their bored expressions, Hinae and Senri left the general store soon enough.
Of course, they used the stairs on the way down.
None of them felt like taking the elevator again.
They took a quick look around a major CD shop nearby the general store before heading to an ethnic food restaurant further up north along the park. It was a trendy place which used irregularly-sized sofas as seats apart from the few counter seats. The interior design and faint music playing throughout the restaurant created a pleasant atmosphere. Ishiwata mentioned that they frequented this place quite a lot.
At first, Hinae thought they seemed rather unsuited for such a place, but understood why after seeing the menu. Although the pricing was a bit costly for a high schooler to visit daily, almost all the main dishes had a notice which read, ‘Take note of large serving, it’s seriously a lot.’ Senri must have thought of the same thing, as she looked at her with a wry smile. The time was just past lunchtime at around 3, but there were several groups of teenagers or couples around already, and it seems that the restaurant operates till late in the night during weekends.
Ishiwata suggested for Hinae and Senri to share a plate of taco rice as he thought they could not finish one plate each.
“Arimura, how did you and…… Minamisawa got to know each other?”
“What do you mean how?” Retorted Hinae.
“Well, since you’re in the same committee now, but that wasn’t the case previously, right? Are you old acquaintances?”
“Nah. We only met after entering high school.”
“Since Arimura is the president of the Literary club and I’m the student council president, we sometimes have discussions together.”
When Senri added on, Hinae thought, I see. That was true indeed.
“So that’s how,” Ishiwata nodded in understanding.
“I see Arimura working surprisingly hard in the committee, isn’t she.”
“And what do you mean by surprisingly, huh?”
“No, I’m being serious. With her previous club activities being the way it is, I just didn’t think it was in her character to be working so hard on something, don’t you say?”
“Uuu,” pouted Hinae, and Senri replied happily, “You sure are looking at her closely, aren’t you.”
This caused Ishiwata to scratch his head to hide his embarrassment.
“……Well, but I guess there probably isn’t anyone in Hekihou who didn’t change at all with what happened.”
When he continued unthinkingly, a veil of silence fell between them.
Masuda’s expression was somewhat stiff when he supplemented a moment later with a, “That’s for sure.” Hinae thought, surely I must be making the same face as him right now.
As Hinae sipped her large cup of lassi, the voices of the neighboring couple came into her ears. When she turned to look, she found a pair of high-schoolers who seemed to be around the same age as them.
They were discussing about their future pathway.
When she heard that, Hinae’s mood turned sour. It must have shown on her face, as Senri poked her lightly between her brows.
She turned back while rubbing her forehead and saw that Ishiwata and Masuda were feeling ill at ease as well.
“……Speaking of which. I heard that the committee also received all kinds of requests and the like from our parents as well?”
Ishiwata changed the topic and said that.
Hinae answered in a loud voice so as to drown out the voice of the couple.
“Ah, they sure did, and a lot at that. I heard some of them even came directly to the school to convey their suggestions.”
“I see. Sorry about that.”
“Why do you have to be sorry?”
“My Mom is very fired-up about this kind of stuff. It seems that she even formed a group with other parents or something. Even back then……”
His voice abruptly faded into nothing and he frowned. He tried to hide that by taking a gulp of water.
“What is it?” Asked Hinae.
“Never mind, it’s nothing much. Since we’re out on a date and all.”
Seeing him hesitating over his words, Senri cut in, “You don’t have to mind us.”
“It’s probably something related to us in the committee or about the syndrome, right? It’s okay, just tell us.”
When he still seemed hard-pressed to speak, Senri urged him on with a gesture of her hand before he started to recount, “……Right. I’m sorry.”
“It’s really nothing much. A while back, me and Kou went for an interview for a part-time job at the convenience store.”
“Kou?” Interrupted Hinae, and Masuda pointed to himself and said, “That’s me. Masuda Kouta.”
“The shop manager was very young and felt very easy-going or at home you could say. When we stated that we were looking for a part-time job, he was like ‘I could use you guys straight away’ and ‘lately, we’ve been so busy so you’ll be a great help’. So, he said he wanted to take a look at our résumé and parent consent form just for the sake of it, and we showed it to him……”
From just hearing that far, Senri nodded in comprehension, “……I see.” Hinae understood too.
“He suddenly went kind of like, ‘oh no.’ Then, he said there was a call for him and told us to go back for now. He’ll call again to inform us if he wanted to hire us or not, he said.”
“……So, he didn’t accept you in the end.”
Senri followed up for him, and Ishiwata nodded with a, “Yes.”
“Well, I already knew from the start that once he knew we were from Hekihou, we’d probably be rejected so I wasn’t especially surprised or anything…… But, when my Mom found out about this, she became furious. She called up that convenience store and lodged complaints about why we were rejected. That’s just about it.”
Hinae gave a loud utter, “……Uwah.”
With an expression like there was something stuck between her teeth, Senri said.
“Sounds like your mother is very hot-tempered indeed.”
“Well, that’s ‘cause it’s just this guy and his mom,” Masuda followed up.
No wonder, thought Hinae.
Hinae wasn’t in a position to think of other people’s family background as peculiar, but she thought that it was rare for a high school boy to bring up the topic of his mother. Perhaps, they don’t feel averse to that in a single-mother family, she wondered.
“So, ‘bout that, Empress. Do you think it’s better if we discussed this with the committee?”
Senri started with the usual preface of, “Stop calling me that,” in a sick-of-it tone.
“I can’t say anything at this point. Though, of course, hearing about that made for a good reference. As far as I know, there isn’t a single student in our school who was interviewed for a part-time job. But, even if we bring this up to the committee……”
As she looked at Senri thinking pensively, Hinae simulated several scenarios in her mind.
The outcomes immediately came to her and she asked Senri.
“……It would be very difficult, wouldn’t it? It would be one thing if it was an unfair dismissal after they have been hired officially, but.”
“……That’s right. Neither Arimura nor I are well-versed in this, but if it was just a verbal promise without any paperwork done, I don’t think anything can be done about it.”
Looking at the two of them deliberating so seriously, Ishiwata waved his hands flusteredly.
“No no, it’s quite alright, there’s no need to think so seriously about it. It’s not like I was thinking of doing something about it. It’s just, how do I say it…… Why is this so.”
As though to drown out his softening voice, rambunctious laughter came from the next table.
The couple probably finished their discussion about their future plans and were chatting with smiles.
Right, why is this so, thought Hinae as she repeated Ishiwata’s words to herself mutely. Then, without trying to deny these feelings of vexations in her chest, she lifted up her drink.
“Eh?” The other three looked at her.
“Let’s just have a toast. To this feeling of ‘Why is this so’. Come on, raise your drinks!”
Paying no heed to the other three who raised their cups limply, Hinae bumped hers into their loudly with a, “Cheers!”
After that, they went to the karaoke before ending the day. Hinae was totally fine with it, but Senri was somewhat weary as she said, “Well, I get that it’s a typical itinerary, but……” It seemed that she was still traumatized by that time Hinae locked them up in the karaoke for nearly five and a half hours.
After separating from the guys, Senri asked.
“Come to say, what did Ishiwata tell you to get you come for the date? I thought you rejected his confession?”
Hinae replied a bit awkwardly.
“……I just thought I’d think over it a little bit more. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m going out with him now, but…… I’ll try out a date, at least.”
“I see. He seems like a pretty good kid, isn’t he. And, he’s handsome to boot.”
“You think? What about Masuda, he’s pretty chirpy too.”
When she looked at Senri after saying that, she found a complicated expression on her face. Hinae could somehow understand how she felt, and laughed out reflexively.
“It feels kinda gross that we’re like having some kind of after-party review of the guys after a mixer. Totally feels like our womanly value is falling this way.”
“……I guess you’re right. Perhaps, it’s because we went out of our way to do something we’re not used too? Speaking of which, have you gone to a mixer before?”
“No way. What’s even fun about those.”
Hinae must have been more tensed than she thought, as a wave of lethargy hit her all of a sudden the moment she returned home. She retired to her room without making much conversation with her uncle and aunt.
She thought back to the date today as she lay on the bed. Callously, what came into her mind was not about Ishiwata himself.
It was about what happened at the elevator to the general store.
About the couple who sat next to them at the restaurant.
And, about what Ishiwata mentioned about the part-time job interview.
Maybe, it’s because his phrase of ‘Why is this so’ accurately hit the bull’s-eye on her own feelings as well, she thought.
Just then, the matter about her future course survey popped up in her mind.
The deadline to submit it was tomorrow. Hinae forcibly raised her tired body up and headed for her desk while muttering again, “Why is this so.”
Next day, the Student’s Autonomy Committee got even busier.
With the presentation of their findings during the closing ceremony coming up on the end of next week, they determined that they should at least have all the questions and request tabulated in data by this week. Hinae and Senri upped their pace as they continued to summarize the data, while Mizuki and Machi would devote their time to gathering feedback once the Tennis club activities officially ends. Hana was drafting up the outline of the speech which has to be submitted to the school administration for approval.
“Senri, can I have your attention for a minute.”
Hana spoke up in the midst of typing up the draft on the laptop.
“I have finished up the rough draft, maybe…… but.”
“What is it?” Asked Senri.
“Mm…… I was thinking, shouldn’t we put the comment by the heads of the committees and club presidents in a separate section, or so. That way, it would be easier to look over what the overall opinions of each of the clubs or committees are, maybe. So I thought, wouldn’t it be more convenient for you as the student council president who knows all of them to get their comments rather than me……”
Senri stopped her hands and looked towards Hana.
“To think of counting on me, you sure have turned reliable.”
“No no, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t being sarcastic but truly impressed. That’s a good idea and also the right judgement to make.”
“Then, let’s get right down to it,” Senri continued and left the room without paying heed to Hana’s words of, “Ah, it doesn’t have to be now.”
Hinae too was awed by her.
Unconsciously, she turned to look at Hana.
“……Hana, it feels like you’ve changed.”
“Err…… somehow…… that’s to say…… just somehow.”
“What’s with that,” Hana laughed and said, “I’ll go get the papers from Mizuki’s. They must’ve piled up quite nicely, maybe,” and got up from her seat hastily.
Hinae was still staring at her. Perhaps, there was something in that gaze of hers, or that she felt something from it, as Hana turned back and said just before she left the room.
“……Mm. I don’t really think I have changed or anything. But, Hina, didn’t you say this. ‘Precisely because something is precious, that we must let go of it. Lest we hold on to it so tightly that we destroy it by our own hands.’ ……That’s what you said, right?”
“Eh? Y-yeah, probably.”
Hinae was slightly taken aback by those serious words as she nodded. That was probably what she said back at the theater last month, when Hana was troubling over the matter with Mizuki.
“That way of thinking, I really like it, maybe.”
Hana said so with some embarrassment and left the room.
Left alone, Hinae could only let Hana’s words echo in her ears without making a sound. Her fingers on the keyboard stopped and she remained like that for a while.
She felt an unease as though she was a lost child.
“……Ain’t that just well said by you.”
She muttered and brought out the future course survey from her bag.
It was blank. In the end, she could not write down anything. She made up an excuse of ‘work at the committee was too busy’ to her homeroom teacher, which was true to a certain extent, but not quite the real reason.
She heard from Senri that she chose to further her studies as she aimed to be a nurse. Additionally, Hana had indicated to proceed to a science major in university. She still haven’t decided on any specific career, but there was no doubt that she wanted to advance her studies.
Everyone was progressing ahead.
“And I’ll be the only one left behind…… huh.”
If it was her self from the past, she would have indicated to further her studies without much consideration and just put down the names of a few universities within her academic ability. Before that, she might not even have thought of it as anything important. Just that the future course survey was merely a piece of paper. There was nothing forcing her to advance her studies even if that was what she wrote down. She could change her decision as and when she wanted.
However, she did not think that way now. She got the feeling that she must not think that way.
Hinae thought back hazily to all the novels she had read. There should have been multiple characters facing the same dilemma as she did. What was the choice they settle on again? What did they thought when they made that decision?
—And then, she thought back to him, her comrade-in-arms.
Just then, her cell phone rang.
With some surprise at the identity of the caller, Hinae picked up the call. To lift herself up from her broodings, she deliberately spoke up in a bright voice.
“Ciao, Ishiwata. What’s up?”
“……I apologize for the sudden call. There’s something I need your help with.”
When Hinae arrived at the AH Tokyo General Hospital in Yoyogi, she found Ishiwata waiting by the front of the lobby looking extremely apologetic.
“I’m really sorry for this. I tried my best to stop her since I didn’t want to trouble you, but……”
“Nah, no worries. With the situation being the way it is, I’m glad you called me.”
It was a hospital that was familiar to any of the former Chaos Child Syndrome patients like Hinae and the rest. This was the sole location where the research and treatment for the syndrome were being investigated, and where many of those who had yet to recover fully psychologically convalesce at. Hinae herself lied in one of the beds here half a year ago.
Ishiwata had called her here for something which just happened.
When he came for his periodic checkup, what seemed to be reporters from a weekly magazine were there to interview patients. That in itself wasn’t unusual, and he ignored the recorders pointed to his face and went for the checkup.
However, when the checkup was done and he came out, he found that his mother who always came to pick him up have accepted an interview from them. As she answered the questions thrown at her non-stop, she also mentioned for the parents of other former patients to join her in finding a way to address the problems regarding the syndrome, when the term Student’s Autonomy Committee came up.
It seemed the flow went like this: the students who are the party concerned has formed a committee on the school’s side, so we as their guardians should come together as well so that we cooperate with them to address this issue. The mass media bit onto the words Student’s Autonomy Committee like fishes on a bait, and his mother took their interest as an opportunity. She was probably thinking that just as the media wanted to know about the committee, the committee could also make use of them to find out about the public’s perception of the patients, which could help in their future activities, and so wanted to contact the school.
Naturally, Ishiwata tried to stop her. But, his mother did not listen to him, thinking that this chance was not to let by, resulting in him contacting Hinae who was a member of the committee.
“What did the school say?” Asked Ishiwata, to which Hinae knotted her brows tiresomely.
“ ‘Don’t mention anything unnecessary,’ they say. Well, not that there is much that we in the committee have to say. After all, we’ve only begun for less than a month. For now, that’s what I came here to tell them directly. So, where is your Mom and the people from the media…… Are they inside?”
“Yeah. They’re inside the psychological ward on level 5. You know, the small lobby where we always wait for our checkups.”
Woah, groaned Hinae exaggeratedly. It was surprising to find them entering so deep into the hospital, as the people from the mass media usually required a high level of authorization and paperwork before they were let in.
After giving a short greeting to the nurse at the counter who was totally familiar with her by now, Hinae and Ishiwata headed for the fifth floor through the stairs.
“I can’t apologize enough for getting you involved in this mess.”
“Nah, you don’t have to keep apologizing. If your mom had contacted the school directly instead, it would’ve turned out to be a bigger ruckus, or rather a more serious matter. In the end, the committee would be cast into the spotlight in a more troublesome manner still. That’s why you’ve really helped us.”
As she climbed up the stairs with which she was so familiar she knew how many steps there were, they came out to a lobby lined with benches in a gentle color. A lady dressed in a suit was talking to two middle-aged man in the corner. They were probably the people from the magazine. Hinae signalled to Ishiwata with her eyes and he nodded.
The first thing she felt as she approached them was surprise.
She was under the impression that Ishiwata’s mother would be stern and cantankerous, but it was the exact opposite. She was a beauty with semi-long hair and the figure of a model. Her age should be around 40 at the least, but it did not appear that way at all. She could even pass for the early-thirties.
When he called out to her, she immediately turned around and her eyes stopped on Hinae.
Looking at her up front like this, Hinae thought that she was beautiful after all. She was dumbstruck for a moment, but she repeated in her heart, ‘take the initiative, take the initiative,’ and bowed her head.
“Nice to meet you. My name is Arimura Hinae and I am a friend of Ishiwata. I belong to the Student’s Autonomy Committee at Hekihou Academy. Erm, in the time……”
As she thought about where to start from, Ishiwata’s mother suddenly reached out her hand around Hinae’s waist and pulled her close as if hugging her.
“You see. There’s even such a cute girl. There’s nothing about her appearance at all which suggests she had the syndrome before, isn’t it? It’s also not a communicable disease or whatsoever—Look, I’m totally fine.”
Next, she wrapped her fingers around Hinae’s like a lover. Then, she raised it towards the people from the magazine.
Ishiwata gave a small shout in remonstration and his mother quickly let go of her hand. Hinae was so taken by surprise that she did not know how to react and could only put on a smile.
Urgh, she desperately tried to not let the nausea rising from within her show up in her expression.
Hinae was bad with this type of person who did not respect the distance between others. If it was in the past when she could still discern whether Ishiwata’s mother’s words were true or not, she would have taken the action that would please her most, she thought.
On the other hand, Hinae did not bother making an insincere smile now. She could tell that Ishiwata’s mother’s expression had stiffened a little, but she ignored it. She willfully emphasized on a business-like tone as she spoke.
“We have just confirmed with the school administration regarding this matter. The school—or rather, the committee has nothing of note to share with everyone from the mass media at this point. We are sorry to inform you of this.”
The two men from the magazine looked puzzled. However, the first to raise her voice was Ishiwata’s mother.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean exactly what I said. Currently, the committee is in the midst of gathering feedback from the students schoolwide. Since our committee has only been established as of late.”
“What kind of opinions have come up?”
“As I mentioned, we are still in the midst of summarizing the feedback.”
Just then, one of the reporters cut into their dialogue with a, “Excuse me.” He held a recorder in one hand and brought it close unreservedly.
“Is it true that the committee is composed of students only?”
“Are you one of the person-in-charge of the committee?”
“No, I am just a regular member. I apologize as the school has instructed me not to mention too much, so if you would like to conduct an interview, please contact the school at another time. Thank you.”
The two did not give up as they kept hounding Hinae with questions and pointing the recorder at her, but she only repeated the same reply, “Please contact the school.” This was not the first time she was interviewed like that, and she already knew how to answer them. In any case, she could not share her own thoughts and feelings with them.
“Wait. Does that mean you have nothing that you wish to ask or request of the media?”
Ishiwata’s mother asked. She was not trying to mediate between them, but simply looked like she was displeased with Hinae’s attitude.
Hinae replied instantly.
“None at all.”
“……Isn’t the objective of your committee to address the problems regarding the syndrome? I’m sure it’s important to hear about the opinions of those involved, but don’t you think you should make more use of such opportunities. There’s no need to be reserved around these gentlemen as this is their job. Am I right?”
She turned to the men with a smile and they nodded readily. They too were smiling.
“Us guardians are also finally taking some concrete actions. We have long since petitioned of the hospital to hold lectures on a regular basis to clear up doubts about the syndrome. I’ve even just discussed with these gentlemen for them to cover the lectures. It would be greatly beneficial for us if you people from the committee can join us.”
Lectures. This was news to Hinae.
“I apologize, but please bring that up on another occasion.”
“……Arimura, was it. I know the school may have said some things to you, but this is a really good opportunity. At this times, you should—”
“Mom! Isn’t that enough already. Let’s go, Arimura.”
Ishiwata seemed to have reached his limit as he cut in and led Hinae away by her arm.
Hinae followed along compliantly and headed for the stairs. One of the men followed after them and held something out. It was a business card.
When Arimura took it without much option, the man spoke.
“Are you really fine with this? Just like she said, I think that it’s better for you to be more forward-looking.”
Under his gaze, Hinae stopped moving.
When he saw that she was not going to reply, he left with the words, “Anyway, feel free to contact us at this number.”
Despite being right next to her, Ishiwata’s voice sounded very far away.
The sentence, ‘Are you really fine with this?’, kept swirling around in her head.
Was she really fine with this?
There’s no way she was. Hinae lightly bit her lip and went down the stairs.
The sun was already set completely by the time they returned to Shibuya.
Hinae wanted to return to school to finish up her work for the committee, but Ishiwata insisted on treating her to something as an apology and she reluctantly imposed on it.
She got a red bean bun and a can of hot tea from the convenience store before they headed to Miyashita park nearby for a short break.
“Is that really enough?” Asked Ishiwata.
“More than. Don’t you dare look down on the convenience store’s red bean bun.”
They took a seat on a random bench.
This was a familiar park to Hinae. The park was brightly lit even at night, and a large number of homeless people were gathered here as usual. A group of volunteers were preparing a soup in the middle of the park to distribute as the weather was cold.
Hinae spoke out first in consideration of Ishiwata’s discomfort.
“Your mom sure is a beauty.”
“……I’m sorry, but she’s just like that.”
He sighed in resignation.
“She’s very self-assured. She may work as a manager at a talent agency now, but she did modelling work originally. She’s well aware of her own beauty.”
“……Well, that’s what I thought so too.”
Hinae nodded. She clearly used her good looks to her advantage while talking to the two from the magazine company.
From her youthful image and style, she was probably the type to treat her own son in a manner of a younger brother or a friend. Hinae seemed to understand why Ishiwata could talk about his mother so readily.
“Indeed, she looks like the type who’ll readily give that convenience store a call even once at least.”
“……It’s been like this since the past, everything that she says or does are correct. But still……”
He stopped there, but Hinae could tell that he wanted to grouch.
“Why is this so?”
Hinae muttered what Ishiwata once said and he laughed.
He then concurred with a, “True that,” and took a gulp of his drink.
She also smiled back. For the first time, she began to take an interest in him.
Now that she stared closely at his face from beside him, she found that he did have some nice features as Senri said. Perhaps, he got it from his mother?
Their eyes suddenly met. Hinae played it off by asking him a question.
“Err…… Ah, have you submitted your future course survey?”
“Ah…… I guess so. I’ll be looking for employment.”
“Eh, no kidding.”
Hinae was surprised. It was so for Senri’s grade which was one above hers, as did the majority of Hinae’s grade who chose to further their studies. The few countable ones in her grade who chose to work had family businesses as far as she remembered, but that was not so for Ishiwata.
“What about you?”
“……I still haven’t submitted it. And now, they’re pestering me over it incessantly.”
“You’re still uncertain?”
“Err…… yeah. I guess so. I’m still uncertain.”
“……Same, me too.”
“Eh?” Hinae uttered, to which Ishiwata shrugged his shoulders.
“I know I said I put down to look for employment. ……Well, it’s kind of pathetic to say this now, but that was actually my Mom’s idea, to look for work. It’s also not like I really want to continue studying, also, I’ve been a burden all this time. So, I’m totally fine with finding a job.”
Hinae recalled Masuda mentioning that Ishiwata’s was a single-mother family. There was also the issue about the syndrome. She did not know if his mother felt that she was inconvenienced or not, but surely raising a son who had the syndrome was not something that could be done by anyone.
“My Mom also didn’t have a high education level. She would often say, rather than being one other student in the list of a university or vocational school, the experience of a part-time job is definitely better for your future. The case with the convenience store was also because of her suggestion.”
“But, I’m still thinking, is this really for the best? ……What about you? Is there anything you would like to learn more about? Any particular subject you’re interested in?”
Things she’d like to learn more about. Nothing’s coming to her head. Since she liked reading novels, one could say that she held an interest in what a publisher or editorial department does. However, she had never given any thought to those as a future career seriously.
Even if she chose to further her studies, she would need to indicate her preferred university and major. Objectively speaking, she would choose the department of literature as her major. Also, if she wrote to look for employment, it would probably be at some publisher label. However, it was dubious if they’d even hire her based on her high school qualifications. In fact, it was questionable if graduation from Hekihou Academy even counted as receiving a high school qualification.
“……It sure is difficult.”
Hinae herself wasn’t even sure about what she muttering with regards to. But, she held those feelings in her heart as stood up from the bench nonetheless. If she did not return now, it would be difficult for her to finish summarizing the data by today. Ishiwata also didn’t enquire of her any deeper.
When they approached the exit of the park, Hinae came to a sudden stop.
She heard that it was originally just some space next to the entrance of the carpark. That spot was now a wide empty space.
In the past, a trailer-house once stood there. The whole vehicle has since been towed away by the police and nothing remained there now. It wasn’t even marked out with the ‘No entry’ tapes and safety cones anymore.
It appears that the homeless people who came here to look for dwelling did not enter the space either.
Hinae snapped back to her senses.
“So, what do you say?”
It seems that Ishiwata was asking her about something. Hinae waved her hands around flusteredly.
“Sorry, I was daydreaming. What did you say?”
“……Nah, never mind. It’s nothing much. I’m really sorry about today. See you in school again tomorrow.”
Hinae watched as Ishiwata waved his hands and left.
When she turned to head back the way to school, an empty can lying on the ground caught her eye. Hinae bent down to pick it up. As she did, something felt out from her pocket.
It was the business card she received just now.
“Are you really fine with this?”
She heaved a sigh and tossed the can into a nearby bin.
Then, she spotted a familiar face amongst the homeless people walking around and called out to him.
Gen was a lively man whose past changed with each passing day. After making some light banter with him, she borrowed a lighter. Gen escorted her to a smoking area in the park where she burnt the card in an ashtray.
By the time she returned to school and narrated what happened at the hospital to Senri and Hana, she already forgot the name of the reporter who gave her the card.
For that whole week, they focused solely on consolidating the data.
All five members of the committee followed up with that pace till Sunday when they finally began to see the end, when Hinae recalled what happened at the hospital and reported it to the school. However, the media did not contact the school for any interview.
But, when the following week started and they finally began preparing for the presentation at the end of the week, they abruptly got in touch with the school.
“It seems that the magazine company is coming to the closing ceremony to cover the presentation by your committee.”
After school, Hinae was informed of that by her homeroom teacher when she came to the staffroom. In the end, she still couldn’t fill up the future course survey and intended to inform her homeroom teacher that she’d submit it on the deadline which was the closing ceremony, when he brought up the subject first.
It was right when the reflection off the window entered her eyes.
“Apparently, the parent of a second-year student contacted the company directly. She told them to definitely reserve a few pages so as to write a feature on it.”
Hinae had a sense of foreboding as she asked back.
“You know, the lady who called you out to the hospital last week.”
It was just as she expected. Hinae could not hide her emotions and grimaced.
At which, the teacher smiled bitterly with a knowing expression and held out a stack of documents that was on the table.
“She sure was an ardent parent. Here, this document is something of a proposal of sorts for the committee and the school administration. She just came by to hand it over specifically.”
“……Are you serious.”
“I thought it was a bit too high-handed, but it’s not a bad thing for the school and guardians to join hands. This proposal is also pretty intricate, just so you know. Or rather, it’s a great proposal. The school is also supportive of it, and I think they’ll want to go ahead with it.”
“By the school, you mean the principal has already approved of it?”
“Hm? Ah, something like that.”
They sure are hasty, thought Hinae in half-amazement.
What could it mean for the principal to have already given his thoughts on the proposal when it had only just been delivered? Now that she thought about it, both her homeroom teacher and the principal was male.
“Can I take a look at it for a bit?”
“Of course, sure. In fact, you can bring it back with you. That copy is for you guys in the committee.”
Hinae skimmed through the documents on the spot.
Indeed, a number of requests and suggestions were written down in great details. When she quickly flipped through it, several points were printed out in large font for emphasis. They were two suggestions directed towards the committee.
‘We recommend for the committee to work together with the hospital to hold regular lectures to enlighten the public about the woes faced by a sufferer of the syndrome.’
‘We recommend for the eventual establishment of an organization solely managed by former syndrome patients in charge of the propagation of correct information regarding the syndrome, and cooperation for the research into the syndrome.’
No wonder, thought Hinae. This was what the school was interested in and wanted to go ahead with.
She understood why they thought that way.
“Aren’t you late.”
When she reached the usual room, she found Senri typing away on the keyboard as usual.
She was writing up the draft of the speech for the presentation during the closing ceremony. The first-year trio led by Hana had already decided on the topics and concerns to be raised during the presentation, and should be in the midst of going around the student body to confirm if the nuances of the actual speech matches what they were thinking.
“Sorry, I was being held up by this again.”
Hinae took a seat nearby and placed the future course survey on the desk. She had reluctantly written her name down, but the future course portion was still blank.
Senri looked at the blank space and nodded gently with, “……I see,” as if she understood something from it.
“You can just ignore whatever they say. Think it through for as long as you need up till the deadline. Since they’re the ones who said it’s fine to submit by the closing ceremony.”
As expected of the Empress, Hinae marvelled. She was really thankful for that.
Hinae, feeling the load on her chest lightening just a little, continued with a slight joking tone.
“And, I received this in return.”
“She really is amazing, Ishiwata’s mother.”
Hinae described what happened earlier at the staffroom to Senri and passed her the proposal.
‘We recommend for the committee to work together with the hospital to hold regular lectures to enlighten the public about the woes faced by a sufferer of the syndrome.’
‘We recommend for the eventual establishment of an organization solely managed by former syndrome patients in charge of the propagation of correct information regarding the syndrome, and cooperation for the research into the syndrome.’
Senri took a quick scan through it and muttered.
Hinae smiled bitterly. Did she had the same look on her face just now?
“What do you think?”
“Even if you asked me what I think……”
Senri read through the whole document once again, then mumbled as she tried to find the right words, and eventually stated her opinion clearly.
When she was done, Hinae nodded in agreement. Her thoughts were completely the same.
“That’s what I thought too.”
“Well now, what should we do. It’s not like we can just ignore it either……”
As she said that, she held down on the backspace key, erasing everything she had written so far. It seems that she was going to rewrite the entire thing.
“I must say…… I can now see that she wouldn’t hesitate to call the convenience store.”
“Oh, that’s what came to my mind as well. In fact, I even told Ishiwata that.”
“Speaking of that. How is it going with him?”
“How, you ask,” Hinae was lost for words. There was nothing going on with him in particular. They were only at a level where they would greet each other when they walk by. He did tell her to reconsider about his confession, but she did not have the time nor mood to think about it, honestly speaking.
She told Senri exactly that, and she acknowledged it while still typing busily, “Indeed, there’s a bit too much on our plates for that, I guess.”
“What about you, Senri? With erm…… right, with Masuda.”
“Same here. There’s nothing going on.”
“Are you sure about that? Didn’t I hear that you were having lunch together with him quite often now.”
Senri stopped her work.
“How did you know that?”
“ ‘Cause that’s what he said when I ran across him someday last week. He was like, ‘Imma gonna have lunch with the Empress now, bye bye,’ and ran off like a hit-and-run driver.”
“Just what was he thinking……”
Senri sighed deeply in exasperation. Hinae could slightly understand how she felt.
“Really, there’s nothing between us. It’s just—”
A knock came from the door right then.
“Yes,” Hinae called out, and the door opened.
“Excuse me, is this the Student’s Autonomy Committee?”
Ah, Hinae uttered and got up from her chair when she saw the woman who entered.
She was Ishiwata’s mother. Same as the other day, she was dressed in a suit. An exquisite-looking box of cakes hung off her hand.
When their eyes met, she gave a smile.
“I decided to come by since I had some business at the staffroom anyway. At the same time, to take a look around the school and bring over some refreshments.”
“T-thank you very much.”
Hinae gave her thanks as she accepted the gift, and introduced her to Senri and vice-versa.
“Is coffee all right?” Senri asked.
“Thank you, but I’m fine. I only came to pass you the refreshments. After all, you’re also busy, isn’t it.”
Ishiwata’s mother firmly shook her hand to indicate her refusal and looked around the room as though to confirm the scale of their workplace. Then, her eyes stopped on the desk, where the proposal sat open.
“Ah, I see you have already received it. Have you read it?”
Hinae nodded in response to the question.
“What do you think?”
“I think the proposal is not bad.”
“R-right, the teacher also said so……”
As soon as she spoke, Ishiwata’s mother’s face clouded.
“Then, you do not think that way, Arimura?”
“Uu.” Hinae turned mum and her gaze drifted over to Senri to seek help. She immediately surmised her plea and replied in lieu of her, “Actually……”
“We haven’t had the chance to go over it assiduously, so we were hoping to express the committee’s opinion of it during the presentation on the closing ceremony…… Is it okay if I ask you a question?”
“……What is it?”
She replied irritably.
The thought of ‘Never mind that, answer me now’ could be seen written all over her face transparently. Senri noted that, but deliberately did not meet her eye and continued while staring at the proposal.
“About the suggestion of holding a lecture at the hospital. It says here that cooperation has been requested of the hospitalized patients of the syndrome who have yet to recover, but…… have the individuals agreed to it?”
“We have already gotten them. It’s not all of them, but at least the children of the parents working with us have consented.”
“W-wait a minute……!”
Hinae shouted out unconsciously. Her voice ended up being louder than she thought.
The other two were taken aback, but Ishiwata’s mother’s expression soon turned into puzzlement.
“What is it, Arimura.”
“No, it’s just…… Isn’t that a bit too tough on them. After all, they are still being hospitalized due to the instability of their mental states.”
“I know how you feel.”
With a jolt, Hinae and Senri’s expression stiffened at the same time. However, Ishiwata’s mother did not seem to have noticed that.
“Still, they have to find a way to get over it anyhow. Of course, we as their guardians will be by their sides the whole time. Keisuke too—that is, my son has also surmounted it which was why he could be discharged. Isn’t that the same with you girls.”
Hinae’s gaze turned sharp as she glared at her unconsciously. She tried her best to at least keep her voice level as she responded.
“……I’m sure Ishiwata feels the same, but we patients of the syndrome feel bad about our own conditions. We felt as though we were a liability. When asking for their cooperation, was it their parents who asked, ‘Will you help us?’ to the patients themselves?”
“Result-wise, these patients might have agreed to it, but don’t you think this is playing on their feelings of responsibility? All of them are already feeling so lost since they do not understand anything about their own illness. Which was why they consented, since their guardians are pretty much the only ones they could rely on.”
Ishiwata’s mother clearly had a look of displeasure on her face now. Her lips turned into a frown as she glared at Hinae.
Hinae bore it without looking away. The one who gave in first was Ishiwata’s mother. She massaged her neck, as if to indicate she was tired of this, and spat out these words, “……Well, you will understand soon to come.”
She then turned around to take her leave when she suddenly stopped. She then asked out of the blue.
“……Arimura, you still haven’t decided?”
She was looking at the top of the desk.
What was there was Hinae’s future course survey which only had her name written down. “Oh no,” thought Hinae for some reason.
“……I’m not trying to pick an argument with you. However, do you understand the feelings of us guardians?”
Hinae couldn’t answer her. There was no way she would know that.
“All of a sudden, something like that happened to our children, and no one around us knew what to do. You wouldn’t know what were the kind of things we have had to bear with. Those of us all wishes to resolve this matter even one second faster. ……Not that a child who is still uncertain in her footing could understand though.”
Leaving those words, she left the room.
A silence like the aftermath of an eruption fell over them. Hinae collapsed back on her chair and it gave a screech as it slid.
Senri was first to speak out.
“……Want some coffee?”
“……Oui. I’ll have a cup.”
Feeling a numbness in her head for some reason, Hinae dumped a large amount of sugar into the coffee she was given and gulped it all down in one shot.
“You all right?” Asked Senri.
“With regards to what.”
“……With what indeed.”
Senri lowered her shoulders in self-derision.
When Hinae saw her like that, she relaxed her body and went to pour some warm water for herself. This time, she slowly sipped it as if to flush her emotions down into her stomach.
“……Well, it’s true that I’m still uncertain in my footing.”
She held up her future course survey by the corner and blew at it. It flapped erratically in the air.
After a while, Senri drank her own sweetened coffee and spoke.
“Really? I do not think so however.”
“About what she was saying about your footing. Just now, you suddenly shouted out, right. Regarding the ones who are still hospitalized.”
“Aah…… No, that was so disgraceful of me.”
Hinae herself was surprised by that. It was like her mouth moved on its own.
“……There are still many of them who are hospitalized yet. Even some who look like they are not going to be discharged any time soon.”
Senri cast her head downwards as if she was enduring something painful.
Hinae suddenly recalled and asked.
“Come to think of it, is Kawahara still……?”
“……Yeah. I have gone to visit him too.”
Kawahara Masashi was Senri’s childhood friend who was in the same grade. He served as the vice-president of the student council before the chain of incidents occurred and the subsequent hospitalizations. —He was Senri’s right-hand man at the student council so to speak, back when she was still in the figure of Kurusu Nono.
Hinae did not ask about how Senri explained the truth regarding Minamisawa Senri and Kurusu Nono, nor how Kawahara took that fact. It wasn’t a boundary she could cross so easily. But, that he was still being hospitalized spoke volumes about the situation.
He still needed more time, no matter in what way does he takes the truth.
“……Hm? So, how are those linked?” Hinae asked.
“Me shouting out and my footing not being uncertain.”
“Oh, that,” Senri nodded in understanding and finished her coffee before continuing. She resumed her work as she spoke.
“I was wondering, if you have the emotions that make you want to shout out at that moment, wouldn’t that mean that your footing is already steady.”
“……Is that really the case?”
Hinae felt happy about those words even if they were just mere consolation. She rested her cheek on the table so as to hide her embarrassment and continued to play with the survey form by blowing on it again.
Senri did not rebuke her for not returning to her work.
The box of cakes left by Ishiwata’s mother was still on the table. As she stared at it in a daze, Hinae was suddenly reminded of Ishiwata.
At the same time, she recalled what she said.
Honestly speaking, Hinae felt chagrined.
But then, the one who suffered the worst may have been Ishiwata, she thought.
It was Thursday, 22nd December 2016. The day of the closing ceremony.
For the students who resumed schooling intermittently since Autumn this year, this was officially the last day of school before the long vacation that was winter break.
The number of students gathered in the gymnasium did not even reach 70% of that before the school reopened, but a rare casual atmosphere distinctive of the sense of liberation before the holidays hung in the air. Almost all of the chatterings were either about where to go to play after the closing ceremony ended, or about the large encampment of parents and guardians at the back of the gymnasium.
All the seats prepared for them were filled, and others were left to stand. It may have been because this was the first time since school reopened that all attending students were gathered, but the topic of the committee was whispered ubiquitously, and they could distinctly feel the excitement felt by the audiences in anticipation of the presentation.
“I can’t do this after all. I’m going back.”
Thus, as a member of said committee, Hinae tried her best to somehow staunch the futile resistance of Hana who was due to step up to the dais to give the presentation.
“If you’re going back, then so do I. But, you know that can’t be done. Just accept your fate already.”
“I didn’t hear about so many people coming. I might faint, maybe. I’m going home.”
Hinae and the rest of the committee who were responsible for the presentation already separated from their classes and were told to standby here in the instrument room next to the stage. They were supposed to stay there until their turn came, but as Hana took a peek at the gymnasium, her face grew paler and paler as more parents arrived till she reached her limit when all the seats were filled up and the rest stood and watched.
“Well, I do agree that it may be a little challenging for a shut-in gamer like you to suddenly speak before such a large crowd out of nowhere, but—”
“Let me go. Nobody told me that we’d the last one up. I’m going home.”
“Oh, will you just stop with your ‘I didn’t hear about this or that’ and ‘I’m going home’.”
The presentation by the committee was the last act of the closing ceremony. When Senri asked the teacher why was that, they told her, “Because the parents and guardians have high expectations of you.” The closing ceremony would start off with an address by the school, followed by an explanation of the upcoming curriculum and overview of the management of the school. Then, they will finally reach the meat of the ceremony that is the presentation by the committee.
“Hey, what’s the matter. I can hear you from outside.”
Senri returned from the check of the equipment used for the presentation. Mizuki and Machi who went along with her seemed to have inferred what was going on just by looking at them and smiled wryly.
Hana implored of them.
“Mizuki, take over for me. I’m going back.”
“No can do. You’re the head, aren’t you?”
“Eh, do you seriously think I will take over for you?”
“T-then, how about both of you do it together. Ah, that’s a good idea, maybe. If the two of you take over after I go back—”
Senri’s right hand stretched out to grasp Hana’s cheeks in an eagle-grip without warning. Who knew what kind of grip strength was in her fingers as she pulled the unmoving Hana before her eyes.
There was a smile on her lips and a strong tone in her voice as she continued.
“I’ll only say this one more time. I-can-hear-your-voice-from-the-outside. Will you lower your volume?”
“Yes,” Hana’s lips moved to from the word, but no voice came out with her cheeks clamped like that.
“The head of the committee is you. No one else can give the presentation but you. Certainly, the presentation may have been made the last in order, but after your presentation, I will be giving a speech to summarize everything as the student council president, so the last act of the day falls upon me. No matter what happens, I will follow up on it. You understand?”
What other choice did she have other than to agree. Hinae grinned as she watched Hana bob her head up and down rapidly. Mizuki and Machi were probably not used to seeing this side of her as they took a few steps backwards.
When Senri released her hand, Hana walked over to the side of the room silently and started punching the wall, causing the sound to echo in the room. She immediately stopped when Senri said, “Kazuki?”, and froze with her shoulders drooping, mumbling, “I feel like dying……”
“Are the equipments all working?” Hinae asked Senri.
“Yes, they are quite all right, but.”
Senri seemed hesitant to speak and gestured Hinae over with her hands. She guided her to the door where she opened a slight peek and indicated at the back of the gymnasium with her eyes.
“Look over there.”
What is it, Hinae traced Senri’s line of sight.
There, she saw Ishiwata’s mother at the first row of seats reserved for the guardians. Her arms and legs were crossed and she was staring at the yet-empty dais.
“It feels like they’re prepared for war.”
Hinae nodded at her words.
Then, she noticed. Next to Ishiwata’s mother sat the two-man unit from the magazine company. Their hands held a pen and memo as though to signal that they are ready for whatever is thrown at them.
Hinae sagged her shoulders.
It appeared that those two were completely wrapped around her little finger. What a fine piece of work, thought Hinae.
The speakers resounded with the voice of the teacher who served as the master of ceremonies.
“We shall now begin the ceremony. I invite the guests who can do so to take their seats. Please welcome our vice-principal to give the opening address—”
The start of Hana’s presentation was a nerve-racking affair.
When her name was called, Hana walked up to the dais from the side of the stage with her face so pale it almost turned blue. She was so nervous her hand holding the agenda gripped it so hard as to crush it, her legs were shaking, and she extended her arm and leg on the same side when she took a step. To top it off, she even went passed the dais once.
Hinae thoughtlessly commented, “Doesn’t she kinda look like one of those old toys?”, only to receive a light flick on her forehead.
“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen I am Kazuki Hana the head of the Student’s Autonomy Committee firstly please take a look at this.”
The presentation started with Hana speaking at a speed never heard of before.
“This is a pie chart which depicts the overall summary of the opinions as written down by everyone priorly the number one concern is with regards to the unease felt in everybody’s daily lives followed by apprehensions about the future—”
All of a sudden, a loud *BOM* interrupted her voice.
It originated from Senri who stood at the bottom of the stage to the side. She had hit the head of a mic that was placed there.
Hana seemed to be stunned for a moment before she uttered an, “Ah……” when she finally realized that the projector behind her did not display anything. Senri gave a nod towards Hana, and tapped on a tablet that was prepared beforehand with slow movements.
A pie chart was displayed on the screen.
Hinae could hear some gigglings coming from the crowd. This made her furious, but she also couldn’t yell out at them. Thus, she only looked at the unmoving Hana on the stage and mouthed the words visibly to her, “It’s all right.”
Hana somehow managed to return a nod, and began to speak again slowly this time after confirming that the screen showed the chart.
“T-this is a pie chart which depicts the overall summary of the opinions as written down by everyone priorly. ……Err, the number one concern is with regards to the unease felt in everybody’s daily lives, followed by apprehensions about the future, then, i-issues regarding your health.”
Her voice was still shivering here and there, but since all the main points were already written on the script held in her hands, there wasn’t any major stumblings except for some small slips. Senri, probably used to it from her student council work, also handled the slides effectively, displaying the same slide for a while longer at times, and forwarding to the next slide before Hana went to it at others.
The buzz and snickering at the start of the presentation died down in no time.
Eventually, everyone’s attention was on the screen and there was no more whisperings.
“I-in response to the overwhelming number of questions we have received, there are several we can answer here. First off, in the event where reporters or people from the mass media ask you about something regarding the syndrome, you do not have an obligation to answer them. This also goes for the staff working in the hospital. If pressed, you may tell them to send their questions to the school administration. Mm…… next is…… Ah, about the headaches and pain in other parts of the body. The hospital has judged that those anomalies are not due to the syndrome. There are several of you who have visited the hospital over your headaches, but those were all diagnosed as being caused by other psychological factors. There is still a lot that is unknown about the syndrome, but we advise you not to panic and—”
Looking at the student body listen to the presentation attentively, Hinae felt a huge epiphany. “What is required to make people listen are a story and concrete examples,” were the wise words by Senri who wrote the script Hana was reciting now.
It seemed as if the students themselves were a little anxious over this presentation which was composed from their voices. In contrast, Hinae felt a sense of distance and disregard from the parents and guardians.
Halfway through, Hana seemed to have made a mistake on the ordering of the points, which caused Senri to have to move back and forth with the slides, lengthening the duration of the presentation somewhat. Nevertheless, the presentation concluded without any major problems.
“With that, I have…… come to the end of the presentation. ……Thank you…… for listening……”
With that last sentence by Hana, whose voice has gone feeble by then, the gymnasium was filled with applause.
At the same time as Hana bowed her head atop the dais, Hinae and the others also did so at the side.
Senri watched as Hana exit to the side of the stage with tottering steps before she took a cough.
It was her turn now.
Go finish it with a bang, Hinae was about to tell her when the master of ceremonies said.
“That was the presentation by the head of the Student’s Autonomy Committee. Before we continue on to the last address of the day, let us take a short break.”
“Huh?” Wondered Hinae as she stared at the teacher. There wasn’t supposed to be any intermission.
He was looking at the parents and guardians at the back of the gymnasium. A number of them without seats were leaning against the wall and had tired looks.
“We will be resuming in 10 minutes. I ask that any of the guardians who can give their seats to those who need them more to please do so.”
I see, Hinae thought. It must have been because the presentation dragged on too long.
“……I guess we don’t have a choice. Arimura, can you go get Kazuki a drink?” Asked Senri.
“Yes. She’s probably slumped down somewhere at the side of the stage since she can’t leave yet. We’re really not supposed to eat or drink here, so remember to hide it.”
Indeed, Hana hasn’t left the instrument room at all since she was done. Since she also did not hear any thumps, it seemed she wasn’t hitting the wall either.
“Roger that,” replied Hinae with a nod before she headed for the exit.
Right then, her eyes met with that of Ishiwata’s mother and she came to a stop.
Her breath came to a halt.
Ishiwata’s mother was smiling. It felt like a sneer to Hinae.
—Is that all you came up with?
Her eyes seemed to say that. It appears that she had no intention of giving up her seat as she still sat cross-legged.
Hinae clenched her fist and looked away.
She needed to go get a drink for her best friend. Hinae left the gymnasium with her head facing downwards, as if counting the number of boards on the floor.
While Hinae was buying a bottle of tea from the vending machine next to the school store, a voice called out to her unexpectedly.
She turned around to find Ishiwata there. He asked, “……Is something wrong?”, with his brows knitted.
Hinae took a deep breath before she answered.
“Unya, nothing’s wrong. What’s up?”
“……The presentation was really great. It was incredibly helpful.”
“Ooh, seriously? Hana will be so happy to hear that.”
“Yeah, she really did her best.”
Hinae smiled back to match his smile. Indeed, Hana went above and beyond.
She made a move to return to the gymnasium, but Ishiwata remain rooted. He looked pressed for words as he stared at her.
“What is it?”
“Erm, well…… I was just wondering, could it be that my Mom said something to you?”
“Actually, I should have brought this up straight away then, but I saw that you seemed very busy. ……It was a few days ago. When I returned home, she suddenly mentioned that the committee is no good still.”
“Oh…… that. Could it have been on Monday.”
That was the day when Ishiwata’s mother brought them some cakes.
“She must’ve said something to you, right? She wouldn’t tell me more, but I could sense that was the case somehow.”
“……Well, she certainly did. About the committee, and about my plans for the future.”
Ishiwata scratched his head awkwardly and mumbled a, “Sorry.” Then, he suddenly lifted up his face as if he just thought of something.
“I see…… that must be why.”
“……You remember I mentioned putting looking for employment as my choice.”
“Yeah,” Hinae nodded.
“When I graduate, I’ll be working at my Mom’s place.”
“Huh?” She uttered reflexively.
“Eh, how come?”
“My Mom said she’d already spoken it over with the people at her workplace. ……It’d be too late to wait for the committee to start with their activities, she said.”
A *Klak* sound entered her ears. She realized that she was crushing the bottle in her hand.
She naturally asked.
“—Are you fine with that, Ishiwata?”
“Even if you asked if I’m fine with that…… Right, it’s just like that, that ‘Why is this so’ thing.”
Ishiwata laughed. *Klak* *Klak* The sound continued.
“……I guess you’re right, ‘Why is this so’, huh.”
When she repeated the phrase, the absurdity of it made her stomach seethe.
Why is this so.
Why is this so, is what you feel about your own future?
“—Ishiwata. That is no good.”
“Eh?” Uttered Ishiwata, but it did not reach Hinae.
She had already started running.
“Please switch with me.”
Hinae sprung into the instrument room where Senri and the rest were standing by and gushed out.
“……What’s the matter?”
Senri, who was nursing after the crouched Hana after all, frowned when she looked at Hinae. Mizuki, Machi and Hana also sensed that something was off about her.
“Please let me take over you for your address.”
“Just wait a moment. What’s the matter? Did something happen?”
“……It’s Ishiwata’s mother.”
“Did she say something to you?”
Hinae tried to explain what occurred earlier. However, she could not find a good way to put the reason into words.
Her emotions were aflamed. The word to describe this feeling immediately came to her.
It was anger.
She soon recalled one of the main reasons for that and spoke.
“Senri, do you remember about this Monday? When Ishiwata’s mother came to our room.”
“I don’t really recall what was it she mentioned that led up to it, but this was what she said: ‘I know how you feel.’ ”
Hinae thought back to Ishiwata’s smile of resignation just now. His mother had probably taken that action for the sake of him.
And Ishiwata was going to accept that.
He was going to accept the future that someone else decided for him on a whim.
“Did you hear that. ‘I know how you feel,’ she said. To me.”
He, Hinae’s respected comrade-in-arms who was no longer by her side, also once took an action for the sake of his most precious person.
He prioritized the future of that most precious someone above all else.
Hinae hollered out the words exactly as they came to her mind.
“She dared to say that. She, who didn’t even suffered from the syndrome, said that to me, who knew who it was thanks to that we could agonize over such things properly and demonstrated that to me. I may just be cavilling over this, but you know, she actually dared to say, ‘I know how you feel,’ to me as a matter of fact as if she knew everything!”
Hinae could hear her own bellows echoing in the small room. Her vision has turned blurry before she even realized. Mizuki and Machi had fearful expressions on their faces.
It was different for Senri and Hana. Their expressions were gentle.
Senri came before her and handed her the draft.
For a second, Hinae did not understand what she was saying. She was too agitated.
“Go for it. This also includes the summary I was going to give as the student council president, but you can just ignore that. Just use the relevant portions as you see fit. There’s not much time left so you’ll have to improvise pretty much most of it, but that’s your strong suit, isn’t it. Since you can say all these things all the time, not to mention, you’re also the president of the Literary club.”
Hinae only thought about this now that she mentioned it. There were certain matters that Senri needed to go over as the student council president.
Senri shook her head as though to say it’s all right.
“You don’t have to mind that, what will be will be. Or rather, since they already announced that the next address is the last, there’s no choice, isn’t it. It’s okay, so just go on and tell them what is it you want to say.”
The Empress is really too cool, thought Hinae as she looked at Senri.
Hinae finally realized she still had the bottle in her hand and held it out to Hana.
However, she declined it.
“It’s fine, you drink it. Go knock ‘em out.”
“……Thanks, love you much.”
The voice of the teacher announcing the end of the break came from beyond the door.
Hinae looked through the draft Senri prepared.
The contents of it shocked her to say the least, and she called Senri to a stop just as she was about to leave the room.
Hinae pointed to the draft. Senri gave her a smile as she replied.
“Did it perhaps overlapped a bit with what you wanted to say?”
Hinae nodded deeply. She never would have expected that Senri would give an address like this as the student council president.
“I didn’t mention this, did I. Honestly, when she said she knew how we felt, it didn’t sit well with me either. In fact, it made me pissed.”
At the unlikely choice of word and the charming way Senri said it, Hinae laughed out loud.
“This will be the last address of the day. Please welcome the deputy head of the Student’s Autonomy Committee and student council president, Minamisawa Senri.”
At the same time as the teacher announced, Hinae walked up to the dais from the side of the stage.
The sound of murmurings soon came from the students. The parents and guardians who did not know the names and faces of Hinae and Senri also began to feel something was amiss when they saw the students turn restless.
The teacher who served as the master of ceremonies came to the side of the stage flusteredly to question at Senri in a whisper. However, she did not budge. Instead, she looked at Hinae and signalled her with her eyes.
Hinae thanked her with a nod and drew close to the mic.
“I am Arimura Hinae from the Student’s Autonomy Committee. In lieu of Minamisawa, I will be expressing my thoughts and considerations having served as a member of the committee for a short one month.”
The clamor grew louder and several other teachers ran towards Senri’s side.
Senri attended to them without panic and waved her hand at Hinae as if to say, ‘Hurry up and begin.’ There was no stopping now.
As Hinae wondered where to start from, the figure of Ishiwata amongst the nonplussed students caught her eye.
That’s it, I shall begin from there, Hinae resolved inwardly.
After all, it was undeniable that one of the causes for the murky feelings in her chest belonged the Ishiwata mother and son pair. She shifted her gaze over to his mother at the back, along with the two other reporters, and saw that they were looking at her unsettled.
Bring it on, she thought as she recalled Senri’s words of, ‘What is required to make people listen are a story and concrete examples.’
It was time to fire off the first shot and give them a good lecturing.
“A while back, I went out with three other friends. To put it frankly, it was a date. A double-date.”
I’m sorry if this causes some rumors to arise, apologized Hinae internally to Ishiwata and Masuda who was somewhere in the crowd. She glanced to the side at Senri and found her with her mouth gaped.
Voices of doubts began to pop up here and there more frequently. Hinae continued nonetheless.
“My girl friend is similarly a member of the committee, and we have gone out together many times, but it was the first time we went out with those two boys. We went to Shibuya. The boys were the ones who decided on it, and they said this sheepishly. ‘Sorry, ‘cause we don’t really know much about other places.’ They appeared really apologetic. I think that all of us students should understand how they felt at that time. Do those of you parents, guardians, and teachers know that feeling?”
A portion of the students quietened down in an instant.
“At this time, I do not think that many of us students from Hekihou Academy would consciously pick Shibuya as a place to hang out. This is because there are remnants of the aftermath of the syndrome all around, constantly reminding us of the times while we were afflicted with it whether we like it or not. Of course, that includes the scenery of the streets itself, but also the many displays by bookshops promoting books pertaining to the cases, as well as the countless sight-seers who came here just to tour the crime scene. I told them that we do not mind. That was just the start of the date.”
Hinae gazed at Ishiwata.
The look of surprise was gone from his face and he was now only listening attentively.
“There was a moment when we had to take the elevator to reach a general store inside a building. When we entered the elevator, all of us cowered slightly. None of us said anything, but I’m sure we were all thinking of the same thing. Do you know the reason why? It was because of a mirror. The back of the elevator was covered in a large mirror, and our reflections in it made us wince for an instant. There was no way we could possibly forget what we saw in the mirror at the hospital back then. This goes for all the students present here. As a result of that time, there were some who developed a phobia of mirrors and are still undergoing treatment in the hospital even now. Those with especially serious triggers cannot even look at any even slightly reflective surfaces such as glass or polished metals. Teachers, do you notice the blinds and curtains in the classrooms being closed more often nowadays?”
Hinae gazed squarely at the teachers.
Some of the students followed her and turned their sights to them as well. The teachers around Senri immediately felt uncomfortable and opened some distance between Senri and them.
“Following the boys’ recommendation, we went to a stylish restaurant for our meal. Next to our table was a couple of around the same age as us. From the contents of their dialogue, I could tell that they were high school students from a different school. The two of them were discussing about their future plans, and the girl seemed to have decided to further her studies, while the boy appeared to be undecided. This was what he said: ‘It’s not like there’s gonna be any difference between further studies or finding a job, you know. You can go to a good university then join a good company, but you’ll still end up as a corporate slave anyway. Look for a job straight away and only the black ones will want you too.’ I thought, he sure is blind to his own shortcomings, what a kid. But also, I thought, they sure are different from us.”
“A bit earlier, the third-year students submitted their future course survey, and virtually all of them settled on furthering their studies. I think the reason for this is obvious, but I will explain still. This is because society has yet to set up the necessary groundworks for the employment of us former syndrome patients, nor the legislature for our classification as such created. I was irked by the couple. I thought, how can they fret about such everyday worries so leisurely, while those of us can’t even do so. No small part of that was due to envy, I’m sure. I would like to deny this, but these occurrences are nothing out of the ordinary. This is our everyday. I had fun on the date. But, the fact that I thought of these kind of things in the middle of the date is also commonplace to us.”
Since sometime, the student body had fallen completely silent.
Hinae’s sight fell onto Senri’s draft. She continued with the speech while modifying it with her own words impromptu.
“As the head of the committee, Kazuki Hana, mentioned earlier briefly, ever since the founding of our committee, we have received the many opinions of the parents and guardians, as well as the recommendations given by some as to the specific actions to be taken by the committee. In the case of the latter, here are a few examples. ‘We recommend for the committee to work together with the hospital to hold regular lectures to enlighten the public about the woes faced by a sufferer of the syndrome.’ ‘We recommend for the eventual establishment of an organization solely managed by former syndrome patients in charge of the propagation of correct information regarding the syndrome, and cooperation for the research into the syndrome.’ When I read them, I thought, ‘I see.’ After confirming with the teachers, it seemed that the school is interested in the proposal and are eager to go forward with it. Once more, I thought, ‘I see.’ ”
Hinae looked up from the script.
And stared straight at Ishiwata’s mother sitting at the back. She was looking back at her too. The parents and guardians around her were also nodding their heads in approval of the suggestions.
“—I apologize if this may sound rude, but this is what I personally thought: I see, the ones who thought up of these recommendations do not know a single thing about us.”
As soon as she said that, a stir was raised amongst the parents and teachers.
Ishiwata’s mother’s expression turned into one of rage, and Hinae saw that she uncrossed her legs and almost wanted to get up from her seat.
She then looked toward Senri and found that she stealthily positioned herself in front of the mic stand next to them. That must be to hinder the teachers.
What she had just said was Senri’s reply to that time Ishiwata’s mother asked for their thoughts in regards to the recommendations.
Hinae completely agreed with her.
“I would like to repeat that this is merely my personal opinion. While we were still in the hospital for rehabilitation, this is what the nurses said. ‘Everything will return back to normal if you just do your best now.’ I’m sure every one of us knew that that was untrue. To put in a negative light, as long as we remain labelled as former patients of the syndrome, or students of Hekihou Academy, it will be impossible for us to return to normal. We will never be able to be like the couple we saw at the stylish restaurant again. As for what the previous recommendations stated, especially the sentences, ‘enlighten the public about the woes faced by a sufferer of the syndrome’ and ‘establishment of an organization solely managed by former syndrome patients’. That is the direct opposite of what was said to us at the hospital. In other words, it is implying for us consciously display our status as former syndrome patients, and use that to segregate ourselves from the others. However, for us to speak about the woes we faced which no one has experienced, it just seems to me like we are closing off ourselves behind a wall. I cannot see any meaning in banding together as fellow victims and treating everyone else as our enemies. Let me put it more simply. I frankly do not want to go along with along with these recommendations.”
“Hold on!” The voice of a woman came from somewhere.
Hinae thought it to be Ishiwata’s mother, but that was not the case. She was only glaring at her austerely. It may be one of the parents working together with her for all Hinae knew.
More voice followed after the woman’s, “What do you mean,” “What’s with that.” However, none of the students were speaking as far as Hinae could see.
“Please remain silent.”
Suddenly, Senri’s unusually firm voice filled the gymnasium. She had used the mic behind her.
“Let me say this again. This is just my personal opinion. If there are any students who concur with the recommendations and would like them to be taken up, please approach us at the committee after this. We welcome you. We promise to do our best to assist you as the committee. However, as long as none of us students, the parties involved, truly want it from the bottom of their hearts, I refuse this proposal. If this is something the parents and teachers want to go ahead with on their own without our approval, I vehemently reject it. You may be thinking, who am I to decide on that, but I would like to say that although you may be our protectors and nurturers, our lives are our own to decide. Some of you told us to live as an ordinary person, while others told us to live unlike an ordinary person. However, having seen for myself first-hand that we are different from them despite leading a normal everyday life, I am absolutely unable to accept these proposals.”
Hinae turned to look at Ishiwata again.
He was still looking straight at her unchanging.
“The boy who was my partner for the date told us about how he was rejected after an interview for a part-time job at the convenience store. The store manager did not clearly indicate the reason for not hiring him, but he suspects it has something to do with him being a former syndrome patient. I discussed with my friend who also belonged to the committee on the spot if there was anything we could do as the committee. We immediately came to a conclusion. There was nothing we could do. It would have been another matter if he was already hired and then dismissed unfairly, but there was nothing we could do at that point. I imagine you are thinking this now. In that case, then for what reason do we Student’s Autonomy Committee exist in the first place.”
Hinae took a breath and looked towards Ishiwata’s mother this time.
There was now some confusion mixed in her expression of anger. It seemed she did not know that the boy in the date referred to Ishiwata at first.
“That reason was clearly stated in the overview from when the committee was established. It is a committee to contemplate about the circumstances surrounding former Chaos Child Syndrome patients. This does not mean that we merely contemplate without taking any actions. But, as students of Hekihou Academy, I think that the very first thing we need to do is to contemplate. I was jealous of the couple. I felt envious. If I saw them again, I would probably feel the same. ‘How can they be so happy,’ I would definitely think. So, why would I be jealous and envious of them? That is because they are not patients of the syndrome. Because they do not know of my sufferings. Because they can freely choose whether to further their studies or look for employment, unlike us. Surely, it includes all of that. But, I do not know the names or ages of those two. I did not even try to find out if they were actually living in bliss or not. If I was to hear that the two of them had overcome some incurable disease I have never heard of in order to become a couple now, I might not have felt jealous of them. Of course, I highly doubt that, but if my impression of others would change just like that by hearing one thing about them, perhaps I don’t need to feel envious about them in the first place.”
“We must contemplate. If we want to stop fearing mirrors or glass, to stop feeling inferior when we see other people of the same age enjoying themselves, and to change ourselves, we need to first contemplate. The root of it probably lies in the fact that we are at a disadvantage compared to other people. But, just as we would think, ‘So what?’ when someone tells us, ‘There are plenty of people in the world who are more unfortunate than you,’ nothing in our surroundings would change even if we parade around the fact that we went through more hardships than them.”
The gist of Senri’s draft ended there.
The venue was deafeningly silent.
Hinae raised her face from the draft, searching for the words to express herself and begin speaking to the students before her.
“……My fellow students. We still do not know the cause of the syndrome. And we may never find out either. But, the truth of the fact is that we never realized about our own syndrome. We pretended not to see it although we did. Even if that was an effect of the syndrome, do you not think that we cannot remain as we did then? Are you not reminded of yourselves back then when you only listen to things you want to hear? We must contemplate. How shall we face our future and what must we do. We need to contemplate about them deeply.”
Lastly, Hinae watched over the entire place.
Everyone was looking atop the dais.
Bathed in their gazes, Hinae continued as she lowered her head.
“Dear parents, guardians and teachers. I apologize for my impoliteness. However, I beg that you lend us your strength so that all of us former patients of the syndrome may think and agonize over for ourselves, without leaving anyone behind. This is the end of my address. Thank you very much for listening.”
Hinae exhaled and bowed her head.
Silence and tension hung in the air.
It happened just when she was about to leave the stage.
A clap echoed in the gymnasium.
Hinae stopped in surprise and looked for the source of the sound.
It was Ishiwata. He was clapping his hands.
A few seconds later, another applause and even whistles came from somewhere else. She turned and saw that it was Masuda. She had not seen him as he was at the back of the rows.
With a wry smile, Hinae waved her hands at them. When she did, the whole student body burst into applause in an instant. It was the loudest it had been that day. Perhaps emboldened by Masuda’s whistling, her classmates began to shout out her name in shrill voices, “Hina!” “Arimura!”
The teacher serving as the MC broke out of his stupor and shouted, “Be quiet!” with the mic he snatched from Senri. Still, the cheers and applause did not stop.
Hinae did not return to the side of the stage, but went down to join Senri and the others with light steps.
Senri smiled at her in amazement.
“I did it. I told her off.”
Hinae raised her hand. Senri sighed with a, “Jeez……” and also raise her hand.
They high-fived each other, and Hana also raised her hands in excitement. Riding on the momentum, Hinae gave her a double high-five.
The parents and guardians were speechless at the uproar in the gymnasium.
The teachers continued to shout here and there for the students to quieten down, but none of them including Hinae listened.
“……So, you chose further studies, huh.”
After the closing ceremony ended.
Hinae was called to the staffroom. Senri and Hana too were called out by their respective homeroom teachers and due to be lectured for the presentation by the committee, it seems.
After a lengthy telling-off, Hinae took out the future course survey from her bag and passed it to her homeroom teacher.
There was a tick by the option of further studies.
She filled it in just a while earlier.
“Sorry, but I still haven’t decided on where to apply to.”
Before the start of the closing ceremony, Hinae was still undecided and intended to ask for an extension of time. However, after her big speech, she somehow felt that her feelings have cleared up.
Just as she said, she needed to contemplate about the future.
And for that, she needed a bit more time and a proper learning environment.
“The teachers will still be around here for some time during the break, right? I will confirm my choices then.”
At that, her homeroom teacher shook his head.
“No. It’s fine if you decide by next year. In fact, when winter break ends is fine too. Take your time to consider till then.”
When Hinae stared at her homeroom teacher in puzzlement, he scratched his head gawkily. Then, he stood up as if he just thought of something and walked towards the window.
He spoke without turning back.
“……After the closing ceremony, you know. A few students came to ask me. They asked if I could return the future course survey forms to them.”
“It was really troublesome for me, but I still returned it to them. They’ll be submitting it again at the start of the new term, so you can do the same.”
Her homeroom teacher shut the curtains.
The reflection from the window was cut off.
“Thank you very much.”
Hinae gave a bow and left the staffroom with her future course survey in hand.
As she walked along while flapping the piece of paper around, she suddenly thought. Wasn’t there a scene in some novel where they folded the document into a paper aeroplane and tossed it in the wind?
She knew that she did not have the freedom to do that.
But, her homeroom teacher had closed the curtains.
I guess we’ll just start from there then, she thought.
It was the next day, the start of winter break.
Hinae called Ishiwata out.
They were in the restaurant they ate at during the double-date. Hinae was thinking of meeting up outside of Shibuya, but Ishiwata suggested here as he had something going on nearby after this.
“About the confession. I’m sorry, but I cannot go out with you.”
Hinae looked straight at Ishiwata as she spoke and lowered her head.
Surely, this will hurt and make him sad again, but she cannot treat it as irresponsibly as she did the last time.
Hinae raised her head and found him smiling faintly.
“It’s fine. I understand.”
It was impolite, but she was surprised at his ease of acceptance.
There were many things that went on between his mother and her, but as a result of that, the distance between them shortened somewhat.
“You remember the time I called you to the hospital? On the way back at the park, I understood.”
“……Was I like being brusque or something?”
“It’s because of Miyashiro, right?”
Ah, Hinae recalled. Now that she thought back, Ishiwata was saying something while she was staring at the spot where Miyashiro’s trailer-house was.
“Back then, I wanted to invite you out on a weekend date using the excuse of it being an apology over calling you out to the hospital. ‘Are you free this weekend?’ I thought of asking.”
“A-ah, I’m sorry, I wasn’t ignoring you on purpose—”
“Nah, it’s fine. It’s Miyashiro, isn’t it? Even I know who lived there since it’s common knowledge. When I saw your face at that time, I somehow understood.”
“No no no, aren’t you a bit quick to jump to conclusions?”
“Is it not?”
When he asked back, Hinae became tongue-tied.
Ishiwata seemed to have misunderstood something. However, it was not wrong to say that Miyashiro was part of the reason.
When she compared her comrade-in-arms, who was in a different place from her now, not to Ishiwata but to herself, she just can’t seem to bring herself to go out with anybody.
“No…… yeah, it may be because of Miyashiro.”
Hinae smiled with slight resignation as she said, and Ishiwata nodded.
“Then, I’ll be going now.”
When Ishiwata made to stand up, Hinae almost wanted to say, ‘Already, so soon?’ but swallowed it. It did not feel right for her to say it.
Seeing the look of awkwardness on her face, Ishiwata shook his hands flusteredly.
“No no, don’t get me wrong, I’m not angry or anything. It’s just I’m going to my Mom’s workplace now. To see for myself.”
“……See for yourself?”
Yeah, replied Ishiwata with a nod.
“I told my Mom yesterday. To let me consider for a while if I wanted to work at her place or not. That was our first fight since a long time. And eventually, it ended up with me actually going to visit her workplace. There are quite a few other places that I think I’ll be going to take a look too. Perhaps, I might even decide to further my studies after seeing them.”
“Your address was fantastic. My Mom was really incensed, but I think she discerned something from it. Yesterday at home, I heard her yelling into the phone at the reporters to get them to publish your speech word-for-word.”
Hinae didn’t heard about that. Not to mention, her words yesterday were rather antagonistic too. Looks like it’s going to turn into something troubling again, she thought.
Ishiwata waved his hand.
“See you in school again.”
“Yeah. Ah, that right, Ishiwata. Thanks for back then.”
“For being the first to clap for me.”
Oh, uttered Ishiwata who just remembered. He looked embarrassed.
“It was nothing much.”
“—No. That’s where you’re wrong, young man Ishiwata.”
When he looked back perplexed, Hinae continued.
“Whenever the times, the forerunners always have it the worst.”
Hinae knew that herself.
This was something she never said to her comrade-in-arms. She couldn’t tell it to him directly.
“You did something amazing.”
After a period of comfortable silence, Ishiwata muttered, “Is that so?” Hinae nodded, “It sure is.”
“Yup, adios gracias.”
Hinae waved back to Ishiwata as he did so.
After she left the restaurant, Hinae took out her phone as she walked to the station.
She composed a mail to inform Senri that she rejected Ishiwata, and suddenly thought of it and added, ‘How about your end? With Masuda.’
The temperature was mercilessly chilly, but the weather was clear and befitting of the first day of the holidays.
This year’s Christmas Eve which was tomorrow fell on a weekend. The pedestrians seemed more exuberant than the usual somehow, which was probably enforced by the red and white decorations around.
All of a sudden, the urge to do something welled up from within Hinae, making her feel like sprinting and shouting out her lungs.
The nostalgic feeling brought a smile to her face.
If it’s now, I can probably write out something, she thought.
1. He is referring to a black company. In Japan, the term black company refers to a company that exploits their employees, such as forcing them to work large amounts of overtime without overtime pay. ↩