(WARNING: COMPLETE SPOILERS FOR CHAOS;CHILD)
Epilogue: Onoe Serika
By the end of the reverberation of the temple bell coming from somewhere, it was already one hour into the New Year. The Meiji Shrine was inundated with visitors.
Looking more like a tide of people rather than a queue, it was hard to tell if one was even walking forwards or backwards in the crowd. The Meiji Shrine was the shrine with the largest number of visitors for the first shrine visit of the year. In just the first three days of the New Year, there was an average of over 3 million visitors.
“Uuu…… I feel sick.”
Muttered Onoe Serika, whose unsteady footsteps made it hard to tell if she was even walking on her own, or if she was being ferried along by the whims of the horde. Her two friends came over by her side and peered at her face.
“H-hey, you all right, Serika?”
“Please don’t throw up like you did the other time, I’m begging you~…… Wait, too close!”
They were Aoi and Ayaka, Serika’s classmate from her high school at Yokohama.
In the first place, she shouldn’t have relied on the information saying, ’Compared to the first or second day of the New Year, going on the night of the Eve is surprisingly less crowded.’ In actuality, it may be less crowded compared to then indeed, but it was misguided of her to use those days as a comparison from the start.
It was clear that this was not a good location nor timing for Serika, who was bad with crowds, to be.
“If only we’d went back after eating that hotdog……”
Serika whined as she tried to catch a glimpse of the shrine at the center of the plaza, but her small stature made that difficult. A seemingly drunk large-looking man immediately stepped in front of her, blocking her line of sight. The smell of alcohol hit her nose, causing to groan with a, “Uu……” again.
“Just to make it clear, Ayaka was the one who wanted to do the shrine visit no matter what.”
Aoi, who seemed to concur with Serika’s viewpoint, glared at the side as she said.
“Y-you girls agreed to it too, didn’t you! Don’t you want a boyfriend?”
With a volume which doesn’t lose to hers, Ayaka yelled back at Aoi, who returned the same.
“That’s your primary objective, isn’t it! I mean, sure, I was also going to wish for the same, though!”
Basically, that was Ayaka’s main reason for making the shrine visit. She was apparently in a rush after seeing all her friends getting attached recently.
As for Serika, she wasn’t particularly keen on making a boyfriend, or romance of the like as always, but was slightly interested in the event known as the first shrine visit of the year. To pray for one’s wish at the very start of the year. She felt that that was a wonderful thing.
However, she had some qualms about Meiji Shrine. Of course, there was the thing about the crowd, but also that it was located in the Shibuya area, even if Shibuya station wasn’t the closest station. This wasn’t a place she could come by so carefreely. Thus, she appealed to go to a different shrine, but Ayaka rejected that.
“Well, I get that it’s a once a year thing, but……”
She straightened her back as much as she could to glance at the front as she grumbled. They have already been standing in the line for about two hours. Slowly, but steadily, they were approaching the main shrine and was just about there, but she couldn’t really tell if they had moved at all in the past few minutes.
Her urge to vomit grew stronger. It was just when she was about to give up and tell her friends she was going to go back first.
A group of visitors who had finished their visit earlier passed by next to them. They jostled through the crowd and tottered along.
Serika caught sight of it at that moment.
And she moved reflexively.
Without answering Aoi, Serika dashed at the group that just went by. She lurched towards the ground as if she stumbled.
Someone stepped on her fingers, and a sharp pain ran up her hand. She clenched her teeth hard to withstand the pain. By the time she lifted up her head, she could no longer identify who had stepped on her hand.
The back of her hand and fingers was horribly scraped and blood oozed through the broken skin. But, that wasn’t important. Serika hurriedly checked the item she picked up.
It was a cell phone. Luckily, it was fine. The outer casing was slightly damaged, but the screen was intact.
“Serika, what’s the matter? Are you feeling nauseous?”
Aoi ran up to her and called out. She must have thought so when she saw Serika crouched on the floor. She got up and said, “I’m fine.”
When she did, Aoi’s eyes turn wide.
“Wait a minute, you’re bleeding!”
“Eh, ah, you’re right. It hurts a bit, but I’m okay. More importantly, here.”
Serika held out the cell phone to her.
“……This is, a smartphone?” Asked Aoi.
“Yup. Someone from that group seemed to have dropped it. Then, it was about to get stepped on.”
Serika said, and indicated at a group of people who was disappearing behind the throng of humans. The way back from the shrine wasn’t packed as that on the way, and the distance between them steadily increased.
“Eh, which ones?”
Aoi followed Serika’s finger.
“There, the group of girls holding hands. They’re around the same age as us.”
“The group with one boy?”
Right, nodded Serika.
“Wow, I’m surprised you saw that in such a crowd.”
“I just saw by coincidence. Hey, can you go pass it back?”
“Please. I don’t feel too good.”
Aoi was perplexed at Serika’s never-before assertive words. However, being strange was Serika’s normal. “Sure thing,” Aoi nodded.
“Ah, you stay in the line, Ayaka! I don’t know if I can join back here, but I’ll be back!”
She shouted as such and ran off, disappearing into the crowd of people in no time.
“Uu, it hurts……! God damn it.”
Serika sucked on her fingers before wrapping them with her handkerchief, then returned to the queue.
Ayaka was waiting by the side of the crowd. Serika bowed her head at those in front and behind her with a, “Excuse me……” out of consideration, and they probably remembered her face from the two-odd hours of shared experience of waiting as they readily let way to her.
Serika explained the situation to Ayaka who was shocked at her injury, and received a half-impressed and half-resigned utterance of, “There’s really no predicting of what you are going to do next……”
About five minutes later, Aoi returned to the queue in the same manner as Serika just now.
“Did you delivered it?”
Aoi nodded at her question.
“Yep, she said to give thanks to you. And also, to take care of yourself.”
“Well, it seems like some your blood have gotten on the phone. So, when I mentioned that, she said to take care like she was some kind of nurse.”
“She was really glad.”
“……I see. That’s good.”
After that, Serika just waited for their turn at the shrine while withstanding the pain in her fingers. The pain stung, but her nausea disappeared in turn.
Their turn finally came at around 2am. Instead of an offertory box, a large white cloth was spread in front of the main shrine where people would place their money offerings. After that, visitors would offer two bows, two claps, and a third bow before leaving.
There was no helping it when one considered the mass of visitors, but even so, this really brings down the mood, thought Serika when Ayaka spoke out.
“Doesn’t this seriously bring down the mood. Can I really get a boyfriend like this?”
Serika smiled bitterly as she pacified her together with Aoi, saying, “There, there.”
As she lived on a tight budget, Serika took out a 5-yen coin.
She then tossed it and gave two deep bows according to the books, following up with two claps of her hands.
Now that she thought about it, she has yet to decide on the key item, her wish. Just when she was mulling over it, her hand which was slightly caked with blood came into her view.
—I wish that everybody would have a great year ahead as they hoped for.
Praying as such in her heart earnestly, Serika gave one last bow.
“So, shall we get a move on?”
Serika nodded at Aoi’s words. As she slipped back to the crowd while heading for the exit, she queried Ayaka teasingly about the specifics of her wish for making a boyfriend.
When they were approaching the stairs, Serika’s legs suddenly froze.
The ordinary, everyday scene she witnessed just then caused her to come to a definite stop.
There was such a huge number of people below that they were nearly indistinguishable from each other. Many of them were smiling. They beamed at one another, most likely in celebration of the New Year.
Aoi called out to her.
Tears welled up at the corner of her eyes somehow, and she wiped at them as she shook her head.
“It’s nothing. Let’s go.”
Today was the New Year.
The start of a new time and day.
Serika walked forwards without turning back.