Hyouka:Volume 5 Chapter 5-1
Chapter 5 - Approximating the Distance between Two People
1. Presentː 17.0km; 3.0km Remaining
I ran without thinking for some time after.
Chitanda had started a couple minutes before I did, so I wasn’t likely to catch up with her. All that was left for me to do was to wait for Ōhinata. I could’ve achieved this by simply standing still and waiting for her, but I ran regardless. Some of the pain in my knee still remained, but be it through the small river path that was constantly hounded by the May wind, be it on the cedar-lined road that chilled my skin with the moisture in the air, be it over the exhaust-filled sidewalk that followed the bypass, I ran regardless.
A traffic signal appeared in front of me, and the green pedestrian walk light began to blink. In front of the signal stood a General Committee member with a face looking like a first-year’s appearing poised to potentially stop my rhythm. I slipped past the side and flew across the crosswalk in one go. At that moment, I realized I had finally entered the city’s center once more. Residential cars and trucks came up and down the bypass, and looking up, I could see several rows of featureless apartment buildings.
Running was scary. The inside of my mind went blank. It felt like all of the events I had remembered as well as all of the ideas I had formulated were all beginning to melt and drip down from my brain. I could understand the happiness behind achieving that pure, detached mental state, but I absolutely had to remember everything at this point. And yet, I continued to run. Wasn’t it possible that I had indeed forgotten something along the way, like water spilling recklessly from a cup? I knew I had to calm down, but I couldn’t stop running. Just like you’d see in an actual long-distance race, my breathing was short and my arms swung bit-by-bit.
It was strange. Last year, I had experienced so many one-on-one encounters. During summer break when we watched the upperclassmen’s video movie project, it was with Irisu-senpai. In the parking lot during the culture festival, I had a face-to-face conversation with only two of us. There were probably so many others as well, but because my breathing was so rapid, I couldn’t remember any of it.
I had a certain thought, however. No matter the extent to which I had confronted them at those moments, none of it weighed as heavily on my heart as it did now.
Possibly in order to steer clear of any intersections, the course that previously stretched straight alongside the bypass as it skirted the suburbs turned onto a thin street passing through a residential area. Because it was in a particularly old corner of Kamiyama City, rust and amber-colored sheet iron roofs stood out on all sides. I slipped by postboxes with their cinnabar paint peeling off and by telephone poles with fading, yellow reflectors and approached a bridge built over a small channel only several meters wide.
This place would probably be good. There was water nearby, it was cool and refreshing out, and there was a small area at the foot of the bridge I could stand on without getting in anyone’s way. I steeled my nerves and stopped running. I squatted down with an “Oh, my laces came undone!” and put on a show like I was retying my dirtied shoes, but it only made me feel like a smart-ass.
I could hear the slight murmuring of the water in the channel. Students clothed in white and crimson passed me on my side.
It was difficult to smile after running a ten or so kilometer track.
There was an exhausted boy moving even more slowly than a normal walk, but he continued to move his arms up and down as he maintained a running posture. There were two girls walking side-by side, their heads handing down, perhaps bound by some promise like “Let’s run all the way to the end together!” There was another student trudging along, face contorted in agony, likely in some sort of pain. I couldn’t see a single smile among any of their faces.
I figured that, by this point, essentially all of the second-years had already gone ahead. Everyone I could see now was a first-year. Judging by their faces as they ran without knowing how much longer they needed to run, they were a miserable bunch. It made me want to reassure them that if they continued running earnestly, they would reach the end in no time. If I did, I guess I would also turn into everyone’s beloved “senpai,” whether I wanted to become one or not.
Once I retied the laces on my right shoe, I started retying the laces on my left one. Once I retied the laces on my left shoe, I started retying the laces on my right one. This was how I earned myself time crouching there.
I saw off dozens of tired faces, and wondered how long I had been waiting there.
Then Ōhinata appeared.
Just like I had assumed would be the case, she wasn’t with anyone else. With her arms hugging her flanks and her mouth slightly open, she ran at a fairly quick pace, entirely alone.
I slowly stood up and waved to her. She noticed me immediately.
I had initially thought that she might decide to ignore me. If that was the case, then it couldn’t be helped, and I was prepared to give up on the entire thing altogether.
However, Ōhinata looked at me wide-eyed and began to drop her speed, eventually coming to a halt right in front of me. She calmed her slightly labored breathing, and then suddenly brought her face up to look at mine.
“You’re in quite the strange location, aren’t you senpai?”
It was difficult to smile after running a ten or so kilometer track.
And yet, Ōhinata showed me a beaming grin, just like she had done during the New Recruit Festival.
“What’s wrong Tomoko, who’s that?!”
Someone suddenly called out to Ōhinata in a teasing manner. Ōhinata responded to the figure.
“It’s just an upperclassman from my club!”
After finally being convinced by Ōhinata that it was nothing, the student started to run off once again. She was probably a classmate.
“She’s only shrewd when it concerns things that are none of her business.”
After jokingly complaining, Ōhinata started to squint at me.
“But seriously, senpai, what are you doing here? You were supposed to have started way ahead of me if I remember correctly.”
She suddenly stopped me with a sharp command and then brought a hand to her chin.
“Let me try to guess. General Committee members normally stand in places like that. But you aren’t a member, Oreki-senpai. Fukube-senpai, however, is a member, and the two of you are friends. I understand it now.”
She raised her head and asked me, “What do you think’s my guess?”
Was she perhaps unaware that she had already said it out loud?
“You think that Satoshi’s relying on me by having me serve as a replacement General Committee member.”
Her face instantly lit up. Unlike yesterday after school, it was a natural smile. Perhaps it was runner’s high? Or maybe she felt relieved of a large burden after deciding to quit the club.
“Well? Was I right?”
I pointed at my shoes.
“My shoes have dirt on them. If I was acting as a General Committee member, I would’ve been dropped off here, so my shoes wouldn’t have gotten this dirty. They’re like this because I had to run.”
Ōhinata looked at my sneakers and pouted seemingly in disappointment.
“But only a normal person would have been able to run enough to get them that dirty. How did you manage it, Oreki-senpai?”
“I’m telling you I ran here myself. What more do you want me to say?”
“Well, why are you here then?”
“I wanted to say something, so I waited here.”
After asking this, she suddenly pointed a finger at herself with a shocked expression.
“What? To me?! Yikes…”
I guess she wasn’t really averse to being ambushed like this. If anything, she seemed amazed.
“I’m sorry you took time out of your day for this.”
She briefly lowered her head in apology and then continued speaking while playing with her short hair.
“To be honest, I did expect that someone would come and say something to me, but I didn’t think it would be you during the Marathon Tournament, Oreki-senpai.”
She then stared fixedly at me and smiled.
“But I’m sorry. I’ve already made up my mind. It was a really fun club, so I’m sure someone else will join quickly enough.”
There was no way that would happen.
At the same time, I hadn’t really intended on trying to stop her from leaving either.
“That’s not what I wanted to talk with you about.”
I took a small breath.
“There’s something I want to tell you.”
“Um, I’d be in a bind if you asked me out here.”
I brushed the joke aside and hit her over the head with the single sentence I had spent my time carefully refining.
“Chitanda doesn’t know a single thing about your friend.”
“She doesn’t know a single thing.”
Ōhinata’s expression quietly vanished from her sun-tanned face.
Chitanda didn’t know a single thing. At the same time, however, that was exactly how much I knew as well, and Ōhinata quickly realized this herself.
How long did the silence continue, I wonder. A runner enjoying his spare stamina ran by directly next to us, causing wind to form in his wake. As if riding this breeze, Ōhinata started to speak.
“If Chitanda-senpai didn’t know anything, then who told you?”
“No one did.”
“I don’t want to have a long conversation here.”
I felt the same way. We’d stand out far too much if we talked while standing directly next to the course. I had prepared for this ahead of time. I gestured with my eyes over to an alleyway lined with wooden fences in-between two old houses.
“It should be fine if we take a different road.”
She was at a loss for words.
“Is that even allowed? This is the Marathon Event, right?”
“It’s the Hoshigaya Cup. Of course if you want to keep everything on record, I won’t say it’s impossible.”
Ōhinata looked at the alleyway and then at the students dutifully crossing the bridge as they progressed through the course, and she started to think. I didn’t have to wait very long for her answer.
“Alright, let’s do it. I’m a bit nervous though...”
It would be bad if we were seen blatantly leaving the course. Ōhinata and I waited for a lull in the passing line of Kamiyama High School students and then nonchalantly slipped into the alleyway.
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