Hyouka:Volume 5 Chapter 4-2
2. Past: Approximately 19 Hours and 30 Minutes Ago
I hadn’t realized it ahead of time, but it was still too early for it to be evening outside. I left the 2-A classroom on the third floor and casually strolled over to the Classics Club room, to the Earth Sciences lecture room. I only had a little left to go before I finished the paperback I was carrying with me, so I thought I’d go over there to read it.
Students getting ready to leave were coming and going all throughout the hallway. There was a student pinning up posters on the bulletin board, but I couldn’t tell which club he was from. A student carrying a massive cardboard box in both hands, her head constantly peeking out from the left and right to see where she was going, passed by me. It was the same scene I had always been witness to after school; I could hear the high-pitched laughter and low-pitched bustle all around me. I stuck both of my hands inside my pockets. I still had the change in there from when I bought lunch, so I started playing around with the coins.
You had to pass through the connecting corridor to go the special wing of the school that housed our clubroom. It was constructed on the second floor, but if it was sunny out, you could also pass through on its roof, accessible on the third floor. I walked out onto that breezy roof and could hear the high-pitched sounds of the Baseball Club’s metal bats striking multiple balls.
Generally in Kamiyama High School, you could always hear the echoing sounds of the Brass Band and Acapella Clubs as they practiced after school, but it was quiet that day. I saw a girl I had never seen before leaning over the rusted handrail, wearing a melancholic expression that seemed to be saying there was not a single happy thing that existed on this planet. Had the sun been a bit lower, it might’ve made for an excellent painting.
I climbed the stairs up to the fourth floor. There was another bulletin board hanging in the level area between the alternating stairs, but new-student recruit had already ended so the brown of the cork stood out. The sole poster still on it featured a beautiful, grinning actress with the caption “Wait up! There’s a way for you to live a bright life as well!” written at the bottom. I had no idea what it was trying to say.
This year, the only two clubs on the fourth floor of the special wing were the Classics Club and the Astronomy Club. The Astronomy Club could occasionally get noisy, but yesterday they were so quiet you could hear a pin drop. As I headed towards the Earth Sciences lecture room through the vacant hallway I suddenly stopped, almost falling forwards.
The door to an empty classroom stood slid open. A person remained dangling from the doorframe above it.
As disturbing as it was, I had actually thought for a split-second that someone had hanged themselves there. How could you be so hasty, even though there was a way for you to live a bright life as well?!
I quickly realized that that wasn’t the case however. The person was hanging onto the frame with both hands.
The dangling person was a girl wearing a sailor uniform, but I could only see her profile because she faced the closed section of the door. In reality, however, that should have been plenty for me to figure out who it was. I looked at her feet and saw that her navy-colored socks were completely separated from the floor. I thought about calling out to her but hesitated. Perhaps this wasn’t something that she wanted someone else to see, and I should be sympathetic and simply continue walking along like nothing even happened in the first place.
However, the consideration ended up being in vain. I thought I hadn’t made any noise, but she seemed to notice me anyways. As she did, she let loose a little yelp and released her grip, colliding into the door with an excess of energy and falling back onto her butt. She quickly stood up in an embarrassed manner and then started to act like nothing had happened.
What a polite greeting.
“Yeah, good afternoon.”
“Nice weather out, isn’t it?”
Why had Tomoko Ōhinata been hanging from a doorframe on the fourth floor in the special wing after school? Had Chitanda been here, this would have turned into a profound mystery of the upmost priority. Smiling brightly, Ōhinata brought her hands behind her to nonchalantly brush off the back of her skirt.
Most likely because she already knew I saw, her acting was half-assed. I tried to ask what she was doing in the most harmless manner I could muster, but I couldn’t think of what to say.
I waved my index finger around for no real reason, and then it suddenly dawned on me.
“You were trying that out, right? You were trying to extend your back?”
To this absolutely terrible attempt at consolation, she smiled bitterly.
“I’m pretty sure my back wouldn’t extend with that. If anything, my arms would.”
“Then you were trying to extend your arms?”
“Well yeah, something like that.”
With this lie, she began to look outside, beyond the window. She then looked at me out of the corner of her eyes and asked me a question this time.
“Are you planning on going to the clubroom right now?”
She muttered this in a casual manner, but I could tell that it went contrary to what she wanted. She had probably assumed I wasn’t going to show up. Well, it was never really known for sure who was going to show up on any given day. People came if they felt like it; that much hadn’t changed, even after a year had passed.
At the end of the hallway, I could see that door to the Earth Sciences lecture room was currently being kept open, possibly for ventilation purposes.
“It looks like somebody is already in there.”
As she stared at the opened door, she responded.
“It’s the president.”
“Fukube-senpai is apparently at a General Committee meeting. He came for a little bit and then left right after.”
Satoshi had tomorrow’s Hoshigaya Cup to prepare for. I was more uncertain as to why he even came to the clubroom in the first place.
“Busy like always, I guess.”
Ōhinata nodded with a slight smile.
“That seems to be the case. Even this weekend, he…”
She then stopped speaking midway. Suddenly, she asked a question with a serious expression that looked as if it were skirting around some deep secret.
“You’re Fukube-senpai’s friend, Oreki-senpai, so you know, right?”
While not as bad as Chitanda, I noticed that Ōhinata also had a habit of omitting important details when she talked. With Chitanda, she would often move a conversation far too quickly and then suddenly drop it on a dime. Ōhinata, on the other hand, seemed to constantly think that she could omit certain details because the other party would know what she was talking about due to the subject being so intimate to them.
I mentioned that Satoshi was a busy person. Ōhinata agreed and then started to mention something about the weekend. I couldn’t say I knew Satoshi’s weekend plans, but I could guess that it was something that kept him busy. If pressed, I guess there was one thing I knew about, but it wasn’t really that easy to talk about.
“For the most part. You?”
“I heard about it from someone I know in my class.”
“Someone you know?”
No matter which way you looked at it, a single first-year classroom wasn’t big enough for these kinds of rumors to get around.
“Are you friends with Satoshi’s little sister?”
“Kind of. Only to the extent that we eat lunch with each other.”
“I haven’t talked with her much, but she’s a pretty strange one, isn’t she?”
Ōhinata tilted her head in thought.
“She’s certainly unusual, but not enough to where I’d call her strange. I’d say Fukube-senpai is stranger.”
With that, she became quiet.
Well then, I wonder what exactly it was that Ōhinata had heard from Satoshi’s slightly unusual little sister.
The both of us seemed to be watching each other’s expressions. I tried to gauge how much she knew and how much I could tell her before things might become problematic, and it created a silence between us that made it difficult to breathe.
I grew tired of the pussyfooting. Why did I have to talk about Satoshi like I was about to touch a burning pot again? I ended up speaking loosely.
“It’s about Satoshi and Ibara, right?”
Ōhinata drew a deep breath of relief and softened her expression.
“Yeah, that’s right. I guess you knew after all.”
Ibara had liked Satoshi for a long time now. At the latest, I learned about in the winter of our third year in middle school. Satoshi had continued to evade the matter, but I, intending to neither cheer on Ibara nor support Satoshi, didn’t observe what became of it in the slightest.
That said, I heard that over Spring break Satoshi had finally stopped his running and hiding. Ever since then, it seems that his weekends have been consistently busy.
“This is just something that she told me, but…”
Up until this moment, I had never been blessed with the opportunity to gossip with a female student over some rumor. I’m sure anyone in this position right now would have undoubtedly had a happy expression looking as if it were submerged in some guilty pleasure. I remained silent as she continued.
“Since the two of them started dating, for three days now, Fukube-senpai’s become some pitiful creature that can only repeat ‘I’m sorry’ over and over, like he’s supposed to be apologizing to Ibara-senpai for some reason. Did something happen?”
Oh come on. To think Satoshi’s situation would be found out by his sister and even passed along to his junior, talk about a pitiful story. At least the saving grace was the fact that Ōhinata apparently didn’t know any of the specifics. Certainly enough, in order to remedy the fact that he had put off his answer for over a year, Satoshi probably had a lot of things he needed to tell her.
That said, I really wasn’t all that interested. I prepared a brief answer to appease Ōhinata as she looked at me expectantly.
“He was probably just apologizing for making her wait so long when he didn’t deserve her patience in the first place.”
As I said something bewildering like this, Ōhinata sat there dumbfounded for a second.
I had assumed she was going to question me further, but instead, she smiled unexpectedly and simply said this:
“How nice. I like how friendly it all sounds when you say it like that.”
I didn’t know how to respond. Ōhinata continued to stare at me, and then quietly stopped smiling. As I tried to force some idle chitchat between us, she stopped me and said, “Um, senpai.”
I stopped and turned around. Calling out to me, Ōhinata started to mumble in a garbled manner, “Umm, well,” and then finally resumed like she had given up on what she was trying to say.
“Please wait up for a second.”
She then headed back over towards the doorframe she was previously hanging from and jumped up to it once more.
I was understandably surprised. As a result, I didn’t really have it in me to ask what she was doing and simply waited like I was told.
I stared at Ōhinata’s back as she dangled there. Her skirt still had some white dust on it from when she had fallen earlier. It was regrettable that the school-wide cleaning had been so glossed over.
“At any rate, it gets really tiring hanging like this.”
I thought that it looked tiring as well, but I mentioned, “But you’re hanging there of your own volition.”
“Yeah, well, I guess I just felt like doing it,” she said as if she were hiding something.
I asked a question.
“Or maybe someone is hanging you from there.”
“I feel like that also might be that case.”
I thought for a little bit. If she was hanging there because of someone else, I truly felt sorry for her. I had often been in the same situation with my sister, so I understood what it felt like.
“If that’s the case, you should just pull yourself up, yeah?”
Ōhinata turned her head to look at me.
“I don’t have enough strength in my arms to do that. Wait a sec.”
I’m pretty sure it had only been for some tens of seconds. Ōhinata let go and stuck a perfect landing this time. She then turned around with a bright smile.
“It’s probably easier to just let go. Sorry to keep you waiting.”
At that moment, it hit me that something was a little bit strange. On the day of the New Recruit Festival, when Ōhinata came to our table and signed up, I had thought that she was awfully tall for a first-year. Perhaps I had even thought that her constantly smiling, snow-tanned face and ever-excited disposition were somewhat of a hassle.
Yet, at this moment, yesterday after school in the special wing’s fourth floor hallway, Ōhinata began to resemble a normal first-year, perhaps even a middle school third-year, she appeared so small.
“Well then, should we get going?”
I felt a false bravado emanate from her happy-go-lucky voice and knew I wasn’t far from the truth.
I wondered what Chitanda was doing by her lonesome, but it turned out she was diligently reviewing her textbooks and dictionary in a manner befitting an exceptionally serious student. When she realized we entered, she looked up with a wide grin and closed her books.
“What were you two talking about?”
I wasn’t surprised in the least. Not only was the Earth Sciences lecture room door open, but Chitanda had incredible hearing. Even though she wasn’t able to suss out the exact details, she was probably at least aware of the fact that we were talking in the first place. I didn’t feel like lying to her, so I spoke truthfully.
“We were talking about how Satoshi seemed really busy.”
It wasn’t the whole truth, but it wasn’t a lie either. Chitanda nodded without a trace of doubt.
“Yeah, tomorrow’s the Hoshigaya Cup after all.”
It might’ve been my first time hearing someone other than Satoshi call the Marathon Competition the Hoshigaya Cup.
“It’s been three days since I’ve seen you Ōhinata, hasn’t it?”
“Oh… is that so?”
Ōhinata responded halfheartedly as her eyes wandered around the room. She then slowly began to approach Chitanda.
“Um, would it be alright if I sat next to you?”
Chitanda appeared to be started, but responded with a kind expression regardless.
“Yeah, feel free.”
I suppose the reason the door was open was to allow for ventilation after all. Several of the windows overlooking the school grounds were pulled open as well, and the bundled up curtains were swaying to a minuscule degree. Because it was already the end of May, the wind that blew inside wasn’t cold.
I set up a chair in the third row from the back and three seats from the window overlooking the school grounds. I sat down and pulled out a paperback from my school-issued shoulder bag.
I heard the sound of a chair being pulled back. Looking up, I saw that Ōhinata had situated herself at the desk directly in front of Chitanda’s. As I found the page that I left off on and started to follow the characters on the page, I became aware of the fact that Chitanda and Ōhinata were talking.
How long had it been, I wonder.
My concentration broke after hearing that one word.
The book was very interesting, but there were a few boring scenes as well. As I was losing interest during one of these portions, an unexpected voice suddenly brought me back to reality. I looked up and saw Chitanda facing away from me. It didn’t look like she had turned around in my direction at all.
I thought I might’ve just imagined it. No, I was fairly certain that I heard someone say the word “yes.” It had to have been Chitanda. I suddenly realized something else. Ōhinata must’ve disappeared at some point. Well it wasn’t like it was that strange. She probably just left to go home.
At any rate, I tried calling out to Chitanda from behind.
My voice wasn’t very loud, but it wasn’t so quiet as to not reach her either. However, she didn’t budge an inch. At first I thought she might’ve fallen asleep, but there was no way anyone could’ve slept with their spine as straight as hers was sitting there. I tried calling out to her again, this time making sure I did so in a louder voice.
Chitanda’s body jerked in surprise.
She slowly looked back over her shoulder. She wore an expression I had never seen up until this very moment. There was not a hint of light present in her stiffened eyes. She briefly shook her head like she was frightened of something and then quickly returned to her front-facing position. I thought something might have happened, but thinking that nothing grave could’ve happened in a classroom with only the two of us and thinking that even had there been a problem, Chitanda would have certainly told me, “I’m curious,” I assumed nothing was wrong.
I suddenly realized that the wind outside had become somewhat fierce. It blew all throughout the Earth Sciences lecture room. The sun hadn’t set yet, but the temperature was already beginning to drop. I stood up to go close the windows. Chitanda remained sitting upright as she stared into the space in front of her.
I returned to my seat and started reading once more.
I began to fly through the passages, and by the time I raised my head once more, I had finished one more chapter. I doubt much time had passed in that period.
I had intended on finishing it, but it was gradually becoming dark outside. As I put my book back down, thinking that I should leave shortly, the door suddenly opened and Ibara walked inside.
“Hey, did something happen?”
When Chitanda muttered falteringly with a “no,” Ibara turned back towards the hallway and then spoke with a somewhat concealed voice.
“I just passed by Hina-chan over there, and she was saying she wasn’t going to join.”
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