Hyouka:Volume 5 Chapter 5-2
2. Present: 18.6km; 1.4km Remaining
“This road leads back to Kamiyama High School, right?”
Considering she was being taken along an unfamiliar road, it was no wonder she felt uneasy.
“It connects back up to the course in front of Arekusa Shrine. It’s quite the shortcut, you know.”
“A shortcut, huh…”
Apparently still hung up on our leaving the course, I could hear her grumbling.
“You pretty much do whatever you want, don’t you Oreki-senpai.”
I wouldn’t say that was true. If I absolutely had to, even I would properly run the entire length of the course. I just couldn’t think of any others alternatives, so it couldn’t be helped that I had to resort to this.
The two of us walked. There was no longer a need for us to run.
“Hey, a cat,” muttered Ōhinata. I looked, and certainly enough, I saw a cat sitting atop the wooden fence. It was striped like a tiger.
“Senpai, you don’t like animals, do you?”
“I haven’t considered whether or not I do. Why’d you assume that?”
“Because animals are a pain in the ass. Don’t you dislike things that are a pain in the ass, senpai?”
She was dead-on. At the same time however, I’ve never really considered myself to be someone that disliked animals. I never really went out of my way to like them either, however.
“Aren’t you assuming a little too much?”
Her voice became slightly quieter.
“That’s just like me. I always assume too much.”
“Give me an example.”
“I’m assuming that you’re covering for Chitanda-senpai by lying to me about her not knowing anything. If she didn’t know anyone, then how could you have known about it?”
During this Hoshigaya Cup, I had done a lot of thinking about Ōhinata. …
“That’s not it. If you think about it, you can learn a surprisingly large number of things.”
I assured her that was the case, and she sighed.
“From the very start, it’s not like I even said Chitanda-senpai was the reason I was quitting.”
“You didn’t say it outright, but you told Ibara ‘Chitanda looked like a bodhisattva,’ right?”
“Isn’t that compliment?”
If that was truly the case, then why was her head hanging so low as she said it.
“’If someone looks like a bodhisattva on the outside, then they must be a yakṣa on the inside,’ right?”
Ōhinata weakly looked up at me with a bitter smile.
“I went through the trouble of pretending I didn’t know about it, so couldn’t you just follow suit?”
“Second-years know a whole bunch. If you didn’t want us to know, you should’ve tried something harder.”
A small pebble rolled in front of us. Ōhinata kicked it down the street and let out a shallow sigh.
“I guess you found me out. If Chitanda-senpai really didn’t tell you anything, then how about you tell me, senpai? How was I wrong?”
“This isn’t about being wrong.”
“It was just a figure of speech.”
I had arrived at my conclusion based on what I remembered from Ōhinata’s behavior; I hadn’t heard anything from Chitanda. As long as I didn’t explain this process to her, she probably wouldn’t listen to what I had to say. There was probably no working about it, but it was difficult to arrange everything in order.
“I wonder where I should start.”
“Why not from when we first met?”
Of course that seemed to be the easiest solution, but…
“That would make it really long. I feel like it should be possible to condense it a little.”
“It’s fine if it’s long, isn’t it? After all, we…”
She paused as if to think about her choice of words, and then continued with a conflicted smile full of self-mockery.
“After all, we accidentally veered from the proper path.”
To think she could say such disreputable things about us. I even told her we would join up with the main group later...
I suppose it was true, however, that we broke off from the school event. There wasn’t a single trace of anyone in the alleyway around us under the midday sun. Even the cat that was there earlier seemed to have disappeared amidst the silence. Only the sound of our footsteps and voices resounded off the wooden fences.
“Well then, for now I guess I’ll start at the very beginning, on the day of the New Recruit Festival.”
As I said this, Ōhinata stared hard into the side of my face. I continued, slightly put off.
“On the day of the New Recruit Festival, you overheard Chitanda and I having an unimportant conversation. Even thinking back on it now, you must have ended up stopping in a really inconspicuous place.”
“It wasn’t unimportant at all. You may have potentially saved somebody’s life then.”
Now that she mentioned it, I suppose that really was a serious case of food poisoning. I hadn’t considered up to this point that was took place at our table ended up being that significant of a conversation. At the moment, however, I didn’t care to think about it.
“The biggest hint from that conversation was actually something you said.”
She pointed at herself.
“What did I say again?”
“I don’t remember your exact choice of words, but it was something along the lines of ‘shady people don’t wear nametags.’ It was because you said that that we were able to figure out what it was that the Confectionery Society was missing.”
A somewhat happy look appeared in Ōhinata’s eyes.
“Now that you mention it, I guess I did say something like that.”
It certainly felt like it happened ages ago considering not even two months had passed since then. A recollection that had previously been trapped in my memories somehow escaped and reminded me of the smiles that Chitanda and Ōhinata had exchanged that day, completely uninhibited by worry.
“What captured my interest even more than that, however, was what you said right before it. I think it was something like this.”
I took a single breath.
“’This is just something a friend told me, but...’”
“...You have quite the memory.”
“After all, the second I heard it, I thought that it was probably you just expressing your own opinions.”
During the Hoshigaya Cup, I had asked Satoshi to try something for me. What would he think if I told him, “This is just something a friend told me, but no matter how you think about it, it’s pretty unfair that the General Committee doesn’t have to run.” Satoshi responded with, “So that’s what you really think, huh? I’d think something like that would make me pretty upset.” I thought it was a fairly representative answer.
“When people have something difficult to say to someone else, they often use phrases like ‘I heard this from someone,’ ‘there’s this rumor,’ or ‘I overheard this just now’ and make up some imaginary third-party to soften the blow. This wasn’t something that I said, and I don’t believe it at all, but apparently it exists somewhere in the realm of thought... I suppose it feels like a way of talking to someone using their back gate.”
“Using their back gate... what a roundabout way of saying that.”
Ōhinata smiled bitterly.
“Just say what you’re thinking and call it cowardly.”
“I’m not so brazen that I could criticize somebody like that.”
The alleyway continued to stretch on. I thought I saw something move out of the corner of my eye, but it simply turned out to be laundry hanging on a drying pole over someone’s veranda as it swayed in the wind.
Had Ōhinata been using a method like this when talking with us? That’s what I had originally thought, however...
“In your case, that back gate comparison didn’t apply.”
There was no response.
“‘This is just something a friend told me.’ This ‘friend’ isn’t an imaginary third-party, but rather actually exists in reality. I can’t be certain that every phrase you evoked your friend for was something that they actually said, but some of them undeniably came from that very real ‘friend’ of yours.”
Without either affirming or denying this, Ōhinata continued to stare at me with an incredibly calm expression.
“Why do you think this?”
“Your actions and your ‘friend’s’ actions contradicted each other. Things happened that wouldn’t have had you been simply using this ‘friend’ as a pretense for expression your own opinions.”
“No way... nothing like that happened.”
She complained listlessly as she stared at her feet.
“It was on the very last Sunday in April, from 2 PM onwards.”
“I don’t remember anything about that, but considering you can talk about it so specifically, I’m assuming it was on your birthday, senpai?”
“That’s correct. Let me just thank you again for celebrating it with me in the first place.”
“I’m very happy to hear that you enjoyed it.”
Even as we exchanged these pleasantries, the uncomfortable tension between us as we carefully watched each other showed no signs of letting up. It wasn’t like it was incredibly tense, but I figured I’d proceed with caution anyways.
“That day, if I remember correctly, I brought up the idea of getting some pizza. It’d be perfect for the five of us to snack on, but in the end, we didn’t order any. Do you remember why?”
She raised her head and responded immediately.
“It was because Ibara-senpai doesn’t like cheese.”
“That’s right. ...By the way, did you know that even though Ibara talked about it like she didn’t like any cheese at all, she’s apparently perfectly fine with cheesecake?”
I cracked a small grin.
“I’ve eaten it with her once before.”
She didn’t respond to this little observation of mine. Ibara and I might’ve not been on the best of terms, but we had known each other for over ten years. I had seen her many times, and in one of those scenes she happened to be eating cheesecake.
“Do you remember what you said at that moment?”
After I asked that, she nodded slightly.
“I believe I said ‘You don’t like cheese either?’ or something like that. ‘One should throw away rotten mandarin oranges and spoiled milk.’”
Sure it was a normal food to dislike when divvying your likes and dislikes, but it seemed like an awfully excessive way to word it. That wasn’t all, however.
“You forgot the ‘This is just something a friend told me, but...’ in front of it.”
“Is that so.”
I was sure she remembered, but she played dumb regardless.
“You have quite the memory. You get unexpectedly hung up on the small stuff, don’t you senpai?”
“Even you remembered something like Ibara not liking cheese. So even I try to make it a point to remember what people can’t eat. It’d be bad if I ended up recommending something bad to them even after hearing it after all.”
“...Is that really how it goes?”
She scratched her check and showed me an embarrassed smile.
For a bit, the alleyway seemed to curve around an old house with sheet iron walls. A lot of water appeared to be dripping onto one of the walls from a raised gutter, and the sound it made felt refreshing to my ears.
“After that I assumed that you couldn’t eat cheese. After all, I thought that the ‘This is just something a friend told me’ simply prefaced your own words and opinions. That’s why I thought something seemed off when we went to the coffee shop.”
After reaching this point, Ōhinata seemed to be able to piece the rest together on her own.
“I see, so that’s what it was. I’m an idiot as well.”
“I thought for sure that you’d order the plain cream. Imagine my surprise when you didn’t.”
At the coffee shop started up by Ōhinata’s cousin, the only thing we could eat there were scones as well as the jam and cream to spread on top. There were two types of jam, and as for the cream, he offered us plain cream and mascarpone.
I didn’t remember most of the specifics, but the two things I did remember were that all of us had ordered a different combination of jam and cream to the shop owner’s dismay and that the same Ōhinata who had said “One should throw away rotten mandarin oranges and spoiled milk” had chosen a cheese-flavored cream.
“I realized it at that moment, although I suppose I would’ve realized it far sooner had I accepted what you always said at face value.”
Ōhinata had told us “This is just something a friend told me” from the very start. I should’ve simply accepted that for what it was rather than trying to add all sorts of complicated, unnecessary layers to it.
“You have a ‘friend’, and unlike you, this person dislikes cheese.”
Ōhinata bit her lip and didn’t reply.
She didn’t even retort with the obvious response, “Of course I have friends, what of it?”
That silence of hers spoke plenty. Ōhinata had a certain friend she didn’t want anyone to know about.
The back alleyway became somewhat convoluted and it contained some small crevices along the way that only a single person could squeeze through at a time. To my surprise, I saw a nameplate attached to a wall containing the name of this particular neighborhood. That meant that even this narrow road was an actual street in the city registry. As I silently applauded myself for getting this far, Ōhinata spoke up from behind.
“Is this even an real street? Kinda suspicious if you ask me.”
Although she said this in a joking manner, her voice contained none of its usual playful lightheartedness.
“What are you planning on doing if I’m lying?”
“What are you planning on doing?”
“Well I’m not lying, so I have no idea.”
There was no way to continue this kind of constricted small talk. We passed through the back alleyway, carefully stepped over a flowerpot sitting in the middle of the path, and finally stepped out into a slightly larger street. I finally took a deep breath.
It was halfway up a gentle slope. Ōhinata looked left and right and muttered a question.
“Where are we?”
I had no idea how to explain it in relation to other points in the area, so I decided to just cover up that fact.
“You’ll find out soon enough.”
As we started to descend the hill, Ōhinata walked alongside me.
There was no doubt that in our previous conversation, Ōhinata indicated that she indeed had a friend and had also been parroting this friend in her talks with us. There were other things I knew about that friend, however.
“By the way, that ‘friend’ is also from middle school I assume. That’s quite a special relationship. There’s also the possibility of that person being from your prep school or something else, but that aside, they must have transferred here in their third year, and after, didn’t enter Kamiyama High School with you.”
As I suddenly brought this up, Ōhinata fiercely raised her eyebrows. It was clearly a look of suspicion. There was no reason for me to repeat what I had just said.
“Chitanda didn’t tell me this.”
“But there’s no way you could know that much...”
“You said yourself that you didn’t have any friends in high school. When you, Satoshi, and I walked home after school that one day, I’m pretty sure you said just that. If you didn’t have any in high school, then it’s clear that that ‘friend’ of yours must have been from your middle school days, right?”
When Satoshi and I went to walk home that one rainy day, we ended up seeing Ōhinata right as we left the gate. Because she told us, “I haven’t really made any friends yet,” the three of us ended up walking together. I distinctly remember thinking on the inside, “Is that so? You really seem like the social type though...”
Even though she spoke up, she quickly became quiet again.
“You didn’t mean, however, that you didn’t have anyone you could speak intimately with. It seems like you’re on good terms with a bunch of people in your class, and yet, you don’t refer to them as friends.”
I waited a little bit for her to respond. She stayed silent.
If she continued to clam up even as I baited her like this, however, she would probably need energy equal to something like the equivalent in order to speak up once more. In reality, it looked like she had become quite depressed just from me talking like this.
I was going to tread on her feelings and thoughts and analyze this girl that I had so naturally talked to yesterday as her upperclassman. Essentially, I was going to be telling her "This is who you are." I ended up stopping as the gravity of my actions towards her flooded into the front of my mind. I had to continue.
“Because I’m going to be talking about yesterday now, I’m sure the both of us will be able to remember it perfectly. We had a little talk in the hallway before entering the clubroom. The talk itself was meaningful of course, but I was also intrigued when you mentioned being in the same class as Satoshi’s little sister.”
Ōhinata had known about what had happened between Satoshi and Ibara, and while not knowing the exact details, she also knew about him owing her. She had apparently heard all of this from Satoshi’s little sister.
“I think that Satoshi’s little sister is a considerably strange person, but apparently you don’t feel the same way. By the way, someone who talks about all of her sibling’s romantic entanglements to someone she isn’t very close to is strange no matter how you might try and frame it.
“If you did hear about Satoshi’s entanglements from that girl, then you had to at least have had a friendship with her strong enough for her to be able to tell you those kinds of things. Additionally, you said you also ate lunch with her, right? And yet, you wouldn’t even refer to someone like Satoshi’s little sister as a friend. I essentially realized it because you kept on simply calling her your ‘classmate’.”
A truck was coming up the hill towards us. The road was getting wider, but I stepped in front of Ōhinata to form a single file just in case. The sun was right in front of us. I had used this pass every now and then, but I didn’t realize the hill faced the south.
Smelling the exhaust as it passed me, I lined up with Ōhinata once more. I then continued on like nothing had happened.
“Thanks to a certain strange meeting, I’ve been constantly dragged into hassle after hassle over the past year. I got to thinking in all of that and it made me realize something. The situation always required me to solve everything. At that moment, Satoshi had said I had the ‘detective’s role’, but I didn’t like the sound of that at all. It made me kind of embarrassed, and I didn’t want to be referred to in that manner.
“That act of not wanting to call it that purely due to a selfish desire that held no regard for its validity... isn’t that what you’re doing right now? You don’t want to use the word ‘friend’ like it was cheap. Since not even two months had passed since you entered high school, even though you had intimate conversations with her and sat by her side as you both ate lunch, you still couldn’t find it in you to use that word to describe Satoshi’s little sister. Isn’t that the case?”
I should’ve realized how preciously Ōhinata regarded that word a lot time ago. She even said it clearly herself when talking about what it was she treasured the most on that rainy day. Again, things turned out so convoluted and roundabout because I hadn’t taken her words at face value.
Ōhinata opened her mouth. A slight “I...” leaked out.
But in the end, she didn’t continue.
She restrained herself almost as if sighing. The problem wasn’t over yet.
“In this case, what kind of person is the one you call your ‘friend’ then? The only thing that’s certain is that that person doesn’t go to Kamiyama High School.
“Well, that kind of thing couldn’t be avoided. When I graduated from middle school, I ended up having to leave a bunch of people who I was on good terms with as well. Satoshi was about the only person that came with me.”
Although I said it like that, I couldn’t actually think of any names aside from Satoshi’s. What a heartless reality.
Was it a case of them being seldom seen and soon forgotten? Or was I truly a little coldhearted after all?
I suddenly began to smell the scent of miso soup drift in from somewhere. I saw a small puddle of water on the ground where some residents must have been washing something off. Most of it had already dried up under the shining spring sun. I hadn’t fully realized how dead the streets would be before noon. Even though I had assumed we see the occasional neighborhood resident and had even prepared a way to talk ourselves out of their certain questioning, we didn’t meet a single person. I thought it a little strange that we constantly saw these traces of human activity but never saw the people themselves. At any rate, had this not been the case, we wouldn’t have had the chance to walk around the town like this on a school day.
“All Chitanda told me was what you two talked about in the clubroom after school yesterday.”
As if half talking to myself, I continued.
“It was about Ibara, huh. About how she quit the Manga Society. Chitanda agreed with her decision to leave it. She probably even gave her a push. I don’t really know both sides of the issue, so I can’t say if I personally agree or disagree. What I do know, however, is that Ibara really calmed down after that. It may have been for the best simply on account of that alone.
“By the way, yesterday after school you clearly looked like you were preparing yourself to try and settle something. In order to clear up something and stop your feeling of perpetual suspension, you decided you were going to confirm something with Chitanda. Was it about what happened with Ibara? Did you argue with Chitanda over her decision to support Ibara because you didn’t want her to leave the Manga Society?”
Of course it wasn’t. Ōhinata herself quickly replied.
“If that was the kind of conversation that you couldn’t have without readying yourself, I would have a hard time believing that you could simply bring it up on the fly and in a single go. I figured you were just changing the subject or perhaps hiding your true intentions.
“So I tried to think further back. There was indeed a point at which you threw a sudden, unrelated question at her. It was when we were at the coffee shop started by your cousin. I believe it went something like this. Chitanda has a big face, but I wonder if she knows a certain someone? Chitanda responded by saying that person was a first year in Kamiyama High School.”
“Agawa. Sachi Agawa. Class 1-A”
“I have no idea who that is. She was simply someone you used to judge how large Chitanda’s face was, right?”
“You should know who Agawa is, Oreki-senpai.”
“Chitanda told me the same thing. She gave the pledge as the student representative this year in the entrance ceremony, but simply knowing that isn’t enough to say that you know them.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about.”
I stopped walking and turned to face her.
“If it’s someone that I should know, then do you mean she’s from Kaburaya Middle School?”
If Ōhinata knew her, then it wouldn’t be strange if she came from Kaburaya. Unlike Chitanda, however, I couldn’t do something like remember the names and faces of underclassmen that I had no connection with. As I thought this, however, Ōhinata started talking as if reproaching me.
“She was the Health Committee president. Do you seriously not remember her?”
“...Was that so.”
Certainly enough, in the latter half of my third year in Kabuyara Middle School, I lost to the majority vote and ended up joining the Health Committee. Because none of the third-years could handle an actual position on the committee as they prepared for the testing season, a second-year was chosen as the president. I guess her name was something like that after all.
Hearing this however, I understood something else.
“I see. If that’s the case, then I can say this with even more certainty. What you wanted to confirm by asking Chitanda that question was: was her face so large that she could even accurately identify a student from Kaburaya Middle School when she herself when to Inji Middle School? When she told you she did recognize that name, I remember that it came as quite the shock to you.”
Ōhinata probably expected her to say “I don’t know” at that moment. After that expectation was shattered, she was dumbfounded. Maybe expectation was the wrong word to use. Perhaps it was her hope. Even though she understood how many people Chitanda knew, she hoped that it wouldn’t be to that extent.
“What Satoshi said was poorly worded. After all, he made it sound like she knew everyone that lived in this city. I’m telling you this just to make sure that you understand, but Chitanda doesn’t know anything about Agawa outside of the fact that she was the student who gave the pledge during the entrance ceremony.”
I had already become used to his exaggerated phrasing. That’s why I took everything he said with a grain of salt. It wouldn’t be impossible for Ōhinata to misconstrue it as the truth, however, as she had only just started to hear him speak often this year.
Ōhinata shook her head slightly however.
“I wonder about that. And I’m not talking about Fukube-senpai. Didn’t Chitanda-senpai also know about your friends as well? She got one of them to show her your old Kaburaya Middle School anthology. She even knew about when Fukube-senpai was singing in the broadcasting room in middle school.”
“You’re really afraid that Chitanda may know your ‘friend’, aren’t you.”
There was no response.
Essentially, that meant Ōhinata had yet to tell me the entire story.
This “friend” was a special existence to her. Even though it influenced her to the extent that she even borrowed phrases, Ōhinata didn’t want anyone else to know anything about it. And then, enter Chitanda. She knew about Satoshi’s and my past, and according to Satoshi’s exaggeration as well, her knowledge of others was something incredible.
“I should’ve realized you were afraid of Chitanda then and there.”
“Then and there?”
“Don’t you remember?”
Although I said this, even I myself couldn’t remember exactly when it was. Pulling it as clearly as I could from my memories, however, I continued.
“It was when we were talking about how Ibara was sharp-tongued, but we couldn’t imagine her ever snapping at Chitanda. You said maybe it was because she knew and could exploit all of Ibara’s weaknesses. Because it was so ridiculous, neither of us gave it any thought. Thinking about why you might’ve imagined something like that, however, I finally understand why.”
It was because, rather than knowing Ibara’s weaknesses, she was afraid that Chitanda would know hers.
“You were only cautious around Chitanda. Thinking rationally about it, rather than it being Chitanda who would know about your friend, shouldn’t it be me? I went to the same middle school as you after all.”
“Oh, that’s why...”
Ōhinata’s voice seemed to be blurred with resignation as she continued.
“That’s why you said she must’ve transferred here in her third year.”
“That’s right. If she was someone in Kaburaya Middle School and yet there was no way we’d know her, she must’ve transferred in after we had already graduated. At any rate, the fact that you seemed very relaxed around us supports this. You only feared Chitanda.”
It wasn’t something that I did consciously. Before I realized it, a small sigh escaped from my lips. As if fearing that sigh alone, her body stiffened. I couldn’t see a single trace of the underclassman with the winning attitude that I had known in her.
“In order to start thinking about this, I put together a hypothesis based on what I heard about your conversation with Chitanda yesterday after school. Chitanda talked about Ibara. There was neither subtext nor an ulterior meaning. She talked about Ibara.
“But that’s not how you heard it. As you hung from the doorframe contemplating just how much Chitanda knew, you decided that you needed to bring this whole dark and shady matter to light. The conversation you had after was the result of you steeling yourself with the resolution needed to confirm your suspicions. It was possible that that was some sort of metaphor.”
If you implicitly distrusted someone, you might end up seeing them as some sort of demon.
If I accepted this to be true, then I could say that Ōhinata likely saw Chitanda as a yakṣa.
With that, the misunderstanding became clear.
“In her conversation with you yesterday, this is the gist of what she said. To Ibara, the Manga Society was already a detrimental lost cause. In the interest of protecting herself, Chitanda believed that her decision to quit was the correct one. To that, you responded with this. ‘Even then, you shouldn’t just abandon them, right?’ It was strange for you to suddenly use the word abandon. If I had to choose, I’d say it was the Manga Society that chased her away, and yet, why did you choose that word to describe it all of a sudden?”
I took a breath.
“If I’m wrong, just tell me.”
I prefaced it with that.
“Isn’t it that you felt Chitanda was trying telling you to abandon your own ‘friend’ in that conversation?”
Ōhinata looked up at me weakly.
“How can you say for sure that that’s not what she was getting at?”
Even as she said that, I could tell that she herself didn’t believe the words coming out of her own mouth. No one whose voice resonated in such a weak, raspy manner could think something like that.
“...Hey. Can you think of the reason why Chitanda thinks you’re quitting?”
She had a confused look in her eyes, but she didn’t respond.
“She thinks it was because she touched your cellphone without asking you that you got angry at her and wanted to quit the club.”
“Can you believe it? Someone who just became a second-year on the verge of tears as she told me she honestly thought that that was the reason. That girl told me she was planning on going to see you after reaching the finish line to apologize for touching your cellphone yesterday.”
Ōhinata’s eyes became wide and her mouth looked as if it were poised to laugh. The only thing that escaped from her throat, however, was something that sounded like a strange, choked sob.
Ōhinata lowered her head. Her shoulders started to shake.
They shook because she was silently laughing; that’s what I wanted to believe.
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