Kamisama no Memochou:Volume 1 Chapter 2

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Chapter 2

However, I was still a member of the Gardening Club a week after December began; that was because Ayaka captured me after school every day for club activities. Why must she keep bothering me? I don't even know, and I thought my head was going to burst open.

As I did not have any knowledge about gardening, I still had to stick to the railings while blankly looking at the streets as usual. That day, the brilliant blue skies trailed across the horizon. There were only two or three clouds in the skies like stickers stuck onto the sky, dazzling anyone who dared to stare at it for a long period of time.

I had always wanted to ask Ayaka: "Why did you say all that on the day when we were on the way home from the ramen shop?" However, since I could not think of a suitable question to ask, I could only continue looking at the view opposite to the railings.

“Seriously, you should really give me a hand!”

Ayaka said while puffing out her cheeks and holding a pair of scissors used for pruning.

“…… I don't even know what to do, and the flowers have already been watered.”

“Then help me use the ampoule on the trees, one for each plant.”

Ayaka handed the ampoule fertilizer to me. The ampoule was like a small bottle of soy sauce that comes with a sumptuous bento but instead of soy sauce, it had a yellowish-green liquid inside.

“Opening an ampoule is quite hard! If the opening is too big, the fertilizer would spill out too quickly; the ones that I open are actually done with professional-level skill.”

Ayaka said triumphantly while using her scissors to cut off a little of the the tip of the ampoule.

“I'll be in charge of cutting, while you just stick them into the pot.”

“I hate work.”

I mumbled complaints while turning the ampoule over to stick it into the pot.

“You probably don't hate work. It's just that you can't imagine yourself working!”

“Hime-sama, why are you so sharp about these things?” I got flustered and accidentally blurted out honorifics.

“Because my brother has said similar things before. He said that he doesn't know why we must work if we want to live, so he left school halfway through high school. He didn't even find a job, and just went here and there without an objective.”

Don't know why we have to work if we want to live… Indeed, I feel that way too. If such a day came upon me, would I really accept the fact that I need to work in order to continue living? Or would I become one of the guys behind Hanamaru Ramen?

I shuddered, denying the horrendous imagination of my future, and shifted my attention to sticking the ampoules into the pots. It was already past flowering season; many dry leaves and branches could be found lying on the ground. Now is the time to prepare for the next flowering season.

“If I misunderstood, I apologize now to you first. But I think that you and my brother probably have an illness that is worse than hating work.”

“Eh?” So this is an illness?

“For instance, some people hate to eat carrots or celery when they are little, but they eat them as adults! But if I tell you to eat boots or diamonds, that can't be achieved for eternity. This isn't a problem of liking or hating: they cannot be eaten even as an adult.”

“Do you mean to say: ‘I cannot imagine myself eating carrots or celery,’ huh?”

“Exactly.”

“Your analogy makes me feel down.”

“Cheer up!” Ayaka patted my back. Oh please, the person who made me feel down was you in the first place!

“The people at ‘Hanamaru’ seem to like Fujishima-kun a lot, probably because you guys give off the same aura! Tetsu-senpai told me to take you there again.”

“I had already decided to never go there again.” If I continue to go, I would definitely become one of them sooner or later.

“Please go! Everyone's waiting for you!”

Which quality in me do they admire? I almost never spoke to others willingly, so my social skills are quite poor!

“You are not as introverted as an armadillidium like you thought!”

“Really?” I didn't say that I'm like an armadillidium.

“That's right, and you keep talking to yourself.”

I accidentally stuck the ampoule onto my shoes.

“Do…… Do I often talk to myself?”

“Oh yes, I think that's why you could communicate with them. Are you okay? You look terrible!”

I probably couldn't function anymore.

“But if you don't speak your mind, nobody would understand you!”

“I always forget how to communicate.” I answered randomly. But when I think about it, things are indeed so. Ayaka stared at me for awhile, and sighed.

“Then you should practice! Right?”

*

In the end, I still couldn't refuse her, and could only follow Ayaka to the ramen shop. That day, there wasn't anyone behind "Hanamaru's" kitchen door. Although it was already evening, there weren't any customers there.

“So you're here again, Narumi?”

A surprised expression appeared on Min-san's face, and she said so while cutting cabbages, glaring at me as well. As I saw before this, she wore a vest while her breast was covered up with a sarashi, her appearance looked as if people could easily take advantage of her.

“Forget it, I thought that you would turn out like that the last time we met.”

“Turn out how?”

“It's still not too late!” Min-san said just that. What does she mean by not too late?

“If you just practice your communication skills, you probably would not become a NEET.”

After saying that, Ayaka went into the kitchen and put on an apron. I sighed, and sat down on a gas tank. Say whatever you want!

“Oh yeah, do you want to work part time here too, Fujishima-kun?”

Min-san replied immediately: “Narumi looks like he doesn't know how to do anything, the shop doesn't need these type of people.”

Discouraged, I took a spoon and stirred my coffee ice cream. Min-san took a bowl and poked her head out of the kitchen.

“That's right, there's still something that you can do.”

“What is it?”

“Take this to Alice.”

It was Japanese styled Dan Dan Noodles filled with vegetables, but this time, some noodles could be seen in the sea of vegetables.

“The last time you delivered it, Alice ate them all. Before that, she usually didn't finish them, so please help today too. If there's anything left in the bowl, I'll beat you up!”

*

“What is this? I ordered Dan Dan Noodles, but without noodles, carrots, mushrooms or meat.”

Alice puffed out her cheeks, eyeing the food in the bowl in displeasure.

That day, the air-conditioning in the detective agency was still very cold, but Alice was just wearing pajamas with teddy bears on it. Won't she be cold like this?

“But there are obviously noodles, meat and other stuff in it! Please tell me a reason for me to eat this.”

“Min-san is worried that you will have malnutrition.”

“Oh, so there's a standard for malnutrition? Then please enlighten me about this standard of yours. Let me make this clear, having lived for over ten years on only Dr. Pepper, I will not listen to unreasonable excuses, and don't try to use a bad excuse to convince me. I will eliminate your arguments completely.”

I sighed. I wasn't sure if Alice was a detective or not, but this little girl really had a lot to say. I had already known that I couldn't convince her, so I quickly used the secret technique that Min-san taught me.

“Min-san said that you can't have ice cream if you don't finish them.”

Alice's froze, and her lips started to tremble.

“…… So-so despicable…… According to Act 222 of the penal code, this can already be counted as a threat, and violates the Competition law for refusing to sell as well.”

The teary-eyed Alice waved her hands, listing out one suspicious law after another. As I found it interesting, I watched Alice's actions silently temporarily.

She probably gave up, huh? Alice picked up her chopsticks while pouting.

“Get me some Dr. Pepper! Three cans of them!”

“Do you want to drink them after eating?”

“I want to eat while drinking! How can carrots and meat be eaten directly?”

Alice, who was holding a dark red can in one hand while eating Dan Dan Noodles teary-eyed, was really worth watching.

“Stop scrutinizing me!”

Alice swiftly finished her first can of Dr. Pepper, picked up the empty can and threw it at me, while I could only hold in my laughter while turning my back on her. But Alice really is a picky eater! Is she really from Earth?

“What do you do when eating nutrition lunch at school? Didn't you get scolded?”

I suddenly thought about that and asked Alice.

Alice was silent for awhile, and then she answered me:

“I have never been to a school.”

“Eh?”

"Although I know what a nutrition lunch is, I have never entered any educational institutions from birth.”

I didn't think that Alice had a normal life, but I never would have thought that she hadn't even gone to primary school.

“According to Tetsu, the NEETs who haven't graduated from primary school are on the highest level of them all. Hmph, I am completely uninterested in these rankings.”

Even so, I have this faint feeling that if Alice went to school like other people do, she would think that a normal life is very uninteresting as well.

“No such thing, I will not look down on normal things.”

I was startled and turned my head over. It looks like I accidentally spoke my inner thoughts again.

“I was really determined to finish primary school and middle school. Even though I hate ignorance, it is completely irrelevant to normalcy. Going to school is an experience that I never had, and that is also my regret. But when people who are the same age as me are going for mandatory education, what do you think I was doing?”

Alice paused to put a piece of noodle in her mouth, soured her face and gulped it down with some Dr. Pepper. It looks like she is asking for my opinion.

“Learning how to be a good wife?”

Alice nearly spat the food out of her mouth.

“…… Your sense of humor is indeed perplexing, it's no wonder that you are excluded from other people. I pity you very much.”

I'm now pitied, but what Alice said was the truth.

“So what's the correct answer?”

“Eh? Ah, the answer is as you see——opening windows in the network world, observing the limited and twisted world.”

Alice's gaze fell on the black machines that covered up the whole wall behind her.

“…… Every day?”

“The ‘every day’ that I meant is worse than you imagine. My life consisted of only saving information into my body, and washing away my helplessness by drinking Dr. Pepper. I kept searching for the meaning of my existence. Do you know this? On Earth, a child dies because of poverty every 3.6 seconds, and actually all of this is ‘my fault’.”

“…… Ah?”

I couldn't help but exclaim in surprise. What nonsense is she spouting?

“This is purely a hypothetical problem. Listen, if I have enough resources and ways to produce food, I can save the starving children. I am not worried about poverty, and I am not a holy person. I repeat, this is purely a hypothetical problem. If I have enough power, I can save the children who are gradually dying, so the death of the children is due to the fact that I do not have enough power to save them. Similarly, when a plane is kept hostage by terrorists and hits a building, it is because I do not have the power to stop it; The harm that is caused due to earthquakes or tsunamis is because I do not have the power to predict them.”

Purely a hypothetical problem.

But in that case, wouldn't that mean everything that happened is Alice's fault?

“That is how I passed my days, using my time to confirm my helplessness. To be exact, it should be about eight years or so, huh? I want to know what a powerless person like me can do for this world, for instance, to do something for the people who died hopelessly, or I cannot do anything for them at all.”

Using eight years. It's just too stupid.

“Because I felt some limitations, I ran away from home. I sealed myself in a new fortress, and continued to open windows in this world. Hehe, actually I'm now in pursuit by my family, so I have no choice but to open a window in the real world.”

Alice laughed self-deprecatingly, and looked at the countless cubical monitors at the right side of her bed. Although the monitors were small, I could not see what it was. It was not until the curtains of ‘Hanamura’ appeared on the monitor that I realized that it was the view of the surroundings of the building. There were six live videos that were taken from surveillance cameras, including the space between this building and the next, and also their interiors.

“Being pursued…..?

“As the people in my family aren't stupid, they probably know where I am hiding already. This is just as a precaution for them from using unorthodox methods to look for me! I ran away from home, running away from my helplessness and from the world that is gradually lost because of my powerlessness…… But even so I couldn't find the answer to that, so……”

I looked at Alice's face, taken aback.

This girl is serious, although I thought that the things that she said were just a joke.

“So I chose to become a detective.”

“…… Sorry, your words confuse me, I don't get it.”

“You don't understand? In this world, there are only two jobs that can help those who are dead or have lost something, a novelist and a detective: A novelist can revive them in their dreams, detectives can dig out the real message from their graves. This is what leaders of a religion, a politician, a burial agency or the firefighters can't do.”

I could not say anything that moment. Alice lowered her head in loneliness, using her chopsticks to swirl the food in her bowl.

“But sometimes I still feel somewhat queasy. A detective can only take action on things that have already been lost, right? They cannot solve the things that have not happened, or dig a grave that has not been made yet. So for people who might be hurt in the future, I am still powerless.”

After that, Alice became silent and shifted her attention to the food left in her bowl. Ashamed, I turned away from her yet again. The sound of Alice chewing the cabbage sounded sorrowful, for some reason.

After a very long time, Alice finally cleared away the food in the bowl. I silently handed her the vanilla ice cream that I kept hidden for some time, but Alice just placed it on the table, not even touching it, but raised her head to look at my face.

“Eh…… Is there something wrong?”

“Nothing, I just felt inconceivable, to why I would tell you so much.”

I felt mystified too, never had I thought that Alice would tell me so much about herself, making me feel a bit worried about the future of this pajamas clad girl—— even though I am absolutely not qualified to be worried for other people.

“You can just tell me what you think! I don't mind.”

“Okay.” Although I hesitated, I still spoke my mind honestly, because I know how hurtful a white lie can be. “What you said was too abstract, I have absolutely no idea what you said.”

I thought Alice would throw a second empty can at me, but instead she laughed out loud. Alice, with her long, black hair that has become unruly, said while wiping away the tears at the corner of her eyes:

“What an interesting fellow you are. Just listening to Ayaka's description of you, I thought that you were a hopeless person! It seems that it is not so.”

“Ayaka…… said something about me to you?”

“Hmph, so you mind? That's surprising. I thought you have absolutely no interest in other people.”

Alice started to laugh mischievously.

“Of course I don't mind.” I couldn't help but retort.

“Really? Then I don't have any reason to tell you.”

I bit my lower lip, finding that I was starting to get restless. Of course I mind how Ayaka sees me. As if she had seen through my thoughts, Alice finally answered.

“…… Ayaka said that you are similar to Toshi.”

“Toshi? Who is that?”

“He's Ayaka's brother! He's also a dropout who always hangs out with Tetsu and the others, but he's not here lately. Which reminds me, useless, doesn't speak when he's in a bad mood, always talking to himself and always giving trouble to Ayaka, these qualities of his are extremely similar to you.”

What Alice said is really too over. When I thought about the situation when Ayaka was describing her brother, a complicated feeling came upon me. So it was because Ayaka was worried of me, who is similar to her brother, which compelled her to invite me into the Gardening Club? I couldn't help but think that the things that I think about are quite silly.

“You don't need to worry, you're not that much alike, and also you're not a NEET.” Alice said to me, who was silent. “Toshi is not as stubborn as you, at least……”

Alice suddenly stopped talking, her eyes glued to the monitor beside her bed.

“…… Is something the matter?”

“Well, speak of the devil. Here's Toshi.”

“Eh?”

“Why did he come out from inside?”

Following Alice's lead, I stared at the monitor, which was showing a skinny silhouette at the third box from the right. The surroundings of the gas tanks that could be seen at the bottom left corner of the screen was filmed from above, where the NEETs like to gather. The silhouette wearing a dark blue hoodie was standing at the gap between the buildings, not even moving an inch.

“Narumi, go catch that fellow for me. He probably just wants to go back like this.”

“Why……”

“Because Ayaka is worried about him. Don't ask anymore, just hurry!”

*

When I walked down the ladder, the silhouette was walking further into the gap with his back to me. I pushed away the hill of garbage bags while running towards him.

“Hey!”

The silhouette donning a sports jacket shook for a moment, and then turned his head over. He had a thin, pale face, and had a nervous expression behind his spectacles that wandered here and there. It was obvious that he was Ayaka's brother, as their eyes were identical. Seeing as he was so nervous, I, who originally wanted to talk to him, could not think of anything to say.

“Onii-chan?”

Ayaka's voice rang in the alley. I turned around, and saw Ayaka, who was wearing an apron, poke half of her body out of the kitchen.

Ayaka's brother —— Toshi sighed, as if he has given up on something.

“You could just give us a call before you come here.”

“My phone service has been cancelled because I didn't pay up.”

Ayaka dragged Toshi out of the gap between the buildings, and stealthily took some cash out of her wallet and handed it to him. Whoa, there's actually such a useless brother, I could only pretend not to see anything.

Toshi, who went back to the ramen shop, sat on the ladders and said towards the kitchen: “Min-san, give me an ice cream! I'm parched.” Min-san, who walked out of the kitchen, knitted her brows, peered at Toshi and said: “You probably ate some strange stuff again, didn't you? If you eat cold things you'll throw up.” She returned to the kitchen after saying that.

Ayaka said: “ Onii-chan, wait for me awhile, I'll make something hot for you to eat.” And she returned to the kitchen after saying that too.

Toshi smacked his lips, and then took out a small plastic bag out of his pockets, broke the pills in the plastic bag into half, crushed them, swallowed it down without even a drink of water, and then stared at me after he finished eating the medicine.

“Ayaka told me about you some time ago, so you're in the same club?”

Toshi finally said to me, and I nodded a bit nervously.

“Oh really, so you're Narumi.”

I thought to myself, what did Ayaka say to Toshi?

“She's very dumb, being together with her is hard, isn't it?”

I shook my head. Toshi looked at the winter sky that was full of clouds and gave a hollow laugh, his laughter felt like someone using a cold metal stick to scratch his back.

After that our conversation came to a stop. Toshi hunched his back, and then stuck his hands into the pockets of his sports jacket. His eyes wandered while starting to shake his legs. I secretly observed Toshi from the side.

Is he really that similar to me?

I dunno, maybe it really is that similar? He was older than me by about one or two years, but his skin looked dry, coarse and pale. No wonder Ayaka would be worried about him.

“Oh? How rare for you to turn up here!”

A voice suddenly sounded behind us. I turned my head around, and saw Tetsu-senpai wearing a short-sleeved T-shirt as usual, Hiro-san was wearing a leather jacket, while Major wore what seemed like clothes for the Siberian garrisons. The three walked into the gap between the buildings together.

“Toshi, what were you doing before this?”

“Nothing, I'm just busy with a lot of things.”

Facing Tetsu-senpai's questions, Toshi averted his gaze and answered mysteriously.

Tetsu-senpai looked at me and then looked at Toshi, and said:” Narumi's here again! That way, the three dropouts are all here, NEETs who graduated from middle school are truly the best!”

“I haven't dropped out yet, don't group me together with you guys!”

My objections were completely ignored.

“It's because Tetsu-san says things like this, NEETs-in-waiting would increase! We can't wait until he drops out, we must figure out a way for him to drop out willingly!” “The one who graduated from high school, you're too noisy! Wanna have a fight?” Major and Tetsu-senpai started to argue for some reason.

“It's rare that Toshi is here, since we haven't gone to the arcade for a long time, let's go together!” Hiro-san suggested. “I learnt a new chain technique, and can use a new killer technique, so I can defeat Toshi now!”

“Eh, I don't want to, aiyo!”

Toshi was unwilling to go, but his arms were held by Tetsu-senpai, and was forced to stand up.

“Will you come with us, Narumi?”

“To where?” Ayaka flew out of the kitchen in a hurry.

Hiro-san smiled and said: “The arcade.”

“Is Onii-chan going too?”

“Let's go quickly!”

As if he found the situation hassling, Toshi looked at Ayaka for a moment and then quickly walked to the main streets.

*

I was brought to the arcade at the shopping center of the station. The first floor was filled with crane games and sticker making machines, while half of the second floor was occupied by large music game machines, online games and racing games. The older games were all squeezed in a corner.

Toshi was really good in fighting games, Tetsu-senpai and Hiro-san challenged him in turn, but still couldn't defeat him.

Major dragged Toshi to a Gundam fighting machine and challenged him with brimming confidence, but was also completely defeated. Toshi, who was controlling Sac II, had superhuman-like senses, making people think that he had another pair of eyes behind his back. Toshi did not want to play at the start, but his eyes became somewhat eerie after winning a few matches, and he also made strange noises. Having a six time winning streak while playing with Major, I originally thought that Toshi would again make the annoying laugh again, but his face suddenly turned green, said ‘I'm going to the washroom for awhile’, and left his game that was playing halfway.

“…… That guy, seems like he's in trouble again.” Tetsu-senpai said worriedly.

“In trouble?”

“He once bought legal medicine from the Internet before.” [1]

I recalled the pills that Toshi swallowed just now, would that be the legal medicine that Tetsu-senpai said? I started to get a bit worried.

“I'll go check out Toshi's condition.”

Toshi walked out of the washroom with a sickly expression on his face, the corner of his lips were wet, and smelled somewhat sour. He probably threw up.

Toshi said: “I'll go outside to get some fresh air.” I was still worried, so I followed him out.

Under the setting sun, the road was full of cars, Bing Crosby's Christmas song and the red green lights of the decoration could be seen and heard in the sidewalk that was full of people. Toshi sat down on the stone steps outside the arcade, and drank the Fanta carbonated water that he bought from the automatic vendor. Toshi's eyes wandered again, making people feel queasy.

“…… Are you okay?”

“They look as if they're not moving.”

“Eh?”

“The people look as if they're not moving. It's true, I can even see the movement of a dot. Even if I close my eyes, and just listen to the noise, I could win.”

After saying that, he laughed, giving no thought to the people walking around.

“Do you always hang out with Tetsu and the guys?”

Toshi said while having hiccups.

“No…… I only came to know them recently.”

“But you look like you're very close to them.”

Toshi laughed again. Do I look like I'm very close to them?

“…… It was because I often skip school to go to the arcades, then I gradually became closer to them. They taught me a lot of things, so why don't you go play fighting games too! I can teach you the next time.”

I felt a bit shy, and dropped my gaze to look at my knees. If I can play like this everyday, even if I'm kicked out of school, even if I become a NEET, then —— it isn't really a bad thing.

“Toshi, would you still come to ‘Hanamaru’ after this?”

“Eh? Ah….. Hmmm, yes, right, I've already……”

Facing my questions, Toshi looked like he was looking far away.

“Forgot, because I didn't meet them for quite a long time already……”

Toshi suddenly stopped talking, and started to cough violently. After he stopped coughing, he was still breathing heavily, his hunched back rocking up and down. I didn't know what to do, and can only rub his back covered by the sports jacket.

Toshi used his trembling hands to take out a plastic bag from his pockets, this time he swallowed a pill with a gulp of Fanta. I tried to stop him, but it was too late. The carbonated drink spilled onto Toshi's jeans, but he doesn't seem to mind. The people passing by stared at us.

Toshi's body finally stopped trembling.

“…… Angel Fix.”

“What is that?”

“This! Great name, isn't it!? It brings you to heaven.”

Toshi pressed the remaining two pills left in the bag to my face. I could see a picture of wings and the letters A.F engraved on the small pink pills.

“Do you want it? I could sell it to you for a discount.”

“No thanks…… That isn't normal medication, is it?”

“That doesn't matter. It isn't a drug, the others are just making a big fuss out of nothing, this is just a legal medication.”

I swallowed my saliva in anguish.

“Why? This type of medicine……”

“You ask me why? You, you……” What Toshi is saying started to get muddled up. “Why do you think humans live in this world?”

I don't know what Toshi meant by suddenly saying this, so I could only remain silent.

“In a human's brain, there is a type of thing called the compensation nervous system, which is what we call the A10 nervous system. When we eat tasty stuff, we are praised by other people or have bought something that we want, the system would synthesize neurotransmitters, and change it into signals so that we would have a blissful feeling. In contrast, schizophrenia or depression is usually caused by a decrease in dopamine. In short, no matter how hard we try to pursue happiness, if the brain does not synthesize neurotransmitters properly, we would not feel happy, so the reason we continue to live is to stimulate the A10 nervous system.”

I didn't say anything, but only stared at Toshi's face. I could see that Toshi was not focused on me anymore, does he know who he is talking to? It was as if he was a different person from the Toshi just now, and has become very garrulous.

“That is why, we could just depend on medication! It's straightforward, easy and you could feel pleasure straightaway. You don't need to work hard to earn money, and don't need to look for girls to marry, we can achieve the same results just depending on the medication. But The process is not the same, no pain and not time-consuming. Medication is perfect. For instance, people like me, kicked out of high school, fired at work, has only graduated from middle school and could not find any work, but I don't really feel like looking for a job anyway. Only angels would not look down on me, that's what this is all about.”

Toshi raised the plastic bag containing the pink pills to cover the glaring streetlights in the night. I couldn't help but take hold of his shoulders and start to shake him.

“I'm alright, it hurts, stop shaking me.”

I'm alright, I'm alright, as if following a beat for a song, Toshi kept repeating this sentence.

“That's right, I have something to ask you, did you see some yakuzas that are about the same age as us at the ramen shop recently?”

“…… Do you mean Yondaime?”

I told Toshi about Yondaime visiting Alice's room.

“What the heck, so you even know about Yondaime and Alice! That's good, I just wanted to know about this thing. Hahaha, you've completely become one of them now!”

Toshi strolled towards the sidewalk, laughing maniacally at the night skies. The people passing by knitted their brows and walked far away from us, forming a space shaped like a half circle.

“Does Ayaka get along with the others?”

I nodded.

“Isn't she somewhat lonesome at school?”

"Although she's a bit eccentric, Ayaka isn't the same as me, she can happily talk to our classmates naturally."

“Is that so? Why is that, I wonder? She once refused to go to school when she was in middle school, why is that? When did she become a normal person again? And she even wanted to drag me to school too. I just couldn't do it, it's not that I like not going to school. She flew into a temper when I said that I wanted to drop out, really, nagging me should have its limits.”

After listening to this, I, who was sitting down, froze. While laughing boisterously, Toshi walked into the crowd, going towards the main road. Seeing Toshi disappear in the sea of people, I could only stare at the view in a daze.

In the din of the crowd, Toshi's scary, screeching laughter could still be heard. I hastily stood up, pushing away the crowd and went after him. This is not good. Although I don't know why, I felt that a problem is going to arise.

The people nearby also seemed to sense what I have felt from the laughter. Toshi walked unsteadily on the road, and a circular space formed beside him, as if he was wearing a large, invisible float. The crowd stopped moving, causing me to be unable to get close to Toshi.

It was like Toshi was enclosed in an inexplicable membrane, springing towards the zebra crossing while the lights were yellow. The yellow light changed to red in a flash, and the drivers started sounding their horn at Toshi. He unsteadily walked to the other side of the zebra crossings while laughing, and I, who was standing at the other side, could not do anything but keep my eyes on him.

The crowd who was waiting for the light to change to green made a small noise, but Toshi's silhouette vanished in only a moment in the impatient horns and the cars that were passing the junction. As soon as Toshi's silhouette disappeared, everyone seemed to have forgot about the scary laughter. The people in this city are very tolerant of oddballs, because things will be endless if they care about each and every one of them.

Even so, a man kept staring at Toshi with a smile on his face, until Toshi vanished. The man was very young, and was waiting for the lights to change by my side. He donned a high class Kashmir wool coat, has thin cheeks, and had a pair of frameless glasses on his face with a sharp chin.

Our gazes locked for a moment, and that was enough for me to shiver. I don't know why, but I could feel that there is something hidden deep in his eyes that makes me feel queasy.

Music rang from the pockets of the man's coat, it was a steady sound of a plucking guitar. He took out his phone and answered it: “Hello…… Yes, I've found Shinozaki, I'll go back as soon as I pick him up. Hmm? Keep the distillation locked up first, and wait for me to go back.. Continue to put them in separate packs, you know that our stocks aren't enough, don't you? That's right, yeah……”

The voice that could never be forgotten even though it is only heard once, gave people an unpleasant feeling like thorns. The man started to walk while talking on the phone, while I was pushed by the people at the back, and nearly fell down on the streets.I hurriedly caught hold of the railings at the side of the sidewalk. The traffic light changed to green when I didn't notice, so the crowd rushed out to the zebra crossings.

But I could not move. The man's words left an unforgettable impression on me, causing my legs to tremble, unable to move even one step.

The man indeed said: “Shinozaki.” Does he know Toshi? But who on Earth is he?

A bad premonition flashed across my mind.

“Hey! Where's Toshi? Where has he gone?”

A voice spoke to me, who was standing at the end of the street, not knowing what to do. Turning my head to the voice, Tetsu-senpai, Hiro-san and Major were all there.

“…… I don't know where he ran off to.”

I finally said. After telling them about Toshi's condition, a dumbfounded expression appeared on Tetsu-senpai's face, and he scratched his head.

“Don't go crazy on the streets after taking drugs, that idiot……”

Major said: “Should we go find him?”

Hiro-san shook his phone: “But I can't get to his phone!”

Almost at the same time, the three looked at the street that was full of people. It was impossible to look for anyone on this street. Even so, Tetsu-senpai lightly patted my head.

“Narumi, you go back to ‘Hanamaru’ first and deal with Ayaka.”

“B- But……”

“Don't make her feel too worried. We'll go look for Toshi.”

I didn't even have enough time to answer him, then the three vanished in the crowd, looking for Toshi.


*

After returning to the ramen shop, I found that the shop was pitch dark, and there was not even one customer, while Ayaka could not be seen anywhere as well. Min-san was stirring the butter in a large bowl.

“I told Ayaka, since there's no customers today, she could go home first. But she said that Toshi might come back, so she's waiting upstairs.”

“Upstairs as in Alice's agency?”

“Yeah.”

Ayaka sat on the mattress of the agency, and she let Alice sit on her thighs, combing Alice's long hair.

“Is Onii-chan gone already? Where is he?”

“Ayaka, it hurts, you've pulled my hair.” Alice moved her neck in protest.

“Ah, so sorry.”

Ayaka wasn't really tall, but in comparison you could see that Alice was very petite, almost like a real doll.

“Did Onii-chan say where he lives right now?”

“…… I'm not really sure.”

I couldn't answer her properly. Getting delirious after taking drugs, and then disappearing, it was really hard to tell people about this kind of stuff.

“What a headache, he should at least tell me how to contact him!”

But it seemed like Toshi found Ayaka troublesome. Is that what he really thought? Or is it some nonsense that he said after taking drugs?

“Ayaka, just don't care about that specky, ignorant guy who suddenly disappeared. Blood relation is the first stupid cornerstone of belief that humans should break.”

“Alice, don't turn around!”

“(sobs)” Alice wanted to turn her head around to face Ayaka, but Ayaka held Alice's head, so she could not move her head, causing Alice to look terrible.

“And if you would also not care about my hair, I would be very happy.”

“That wouldn't do! You have such beautiful, luscious long hair, if you don't comb it properly, it would become unruly very soon. The shampoo and conditioners that I gave you, did you use them?”

“Really, there should be a limit to being a busybody!

Alice made a disgruntled noise, but still sat on Ayaka's thighs. There is a type of person in this world that are busybodies, and could not leave other people alone. Ayaka was one of them. That would probably be it.

When I was about to walk out of the agency, Ayaka said that she wanted to go home too.

While walking down the ladder, the ringtone of a phone rang from Ayaka's bag.

“…… Hello?”

“Hello, Ayaka? It's me……”

Toshi, who was on the phone was very loud, so loud that even I can hear him. The effects of the drug is probably still there, his voice sounded inexplicably cheerful.

“Onii-chan?”

“This is Hakamizaka-san's phone, so I can't talk to you so long. I'm at his place right now, so help me to tell mother.”

“Ah, but Onii-chan……”

He hung up suddenly, just like when he called just now. Ayaka silently looked at her phone, and then looked at me, showing me a troubled smile. I turned my head away.

“Was it Toshi?”

“Yeah. It seems like he's at Hakamizaka's.”

Hakamizaka?

“Yeah—— I've only seen him two or three times, so we're not that close. He's probably a university student. He's very knowledgeable about poppy flowers, so probably he'll become a scholar, huh?”

“So do you know where they are right now?”

“No, I don't know and the phone number was private too…… I couldn't call him again. Onii-chan is too over.”

Ayaka sadly knitted her brows, placing her phone back into her bag.

“He's like this every time, always disappearing without saying a thing.”

I thought to myself: "That's probably because he thinks that you're troublesome." Ayaka looked at me and cocked her head.

“What did you say just now?”

I faked a ‘ididn'tsayanything’ expression. I've probably let slip my inner thoughts again.

“…… Onii-chan probably said something to you, didn't he? I know that you're hiding something from me.”

I silently lowered my head.

“Really, why won't you tell me?”

I swallowed, and raised my head.

“…… I've heard that you refused to go to school when you were in middle school.”

Why did I ask this question? Ayaka's expression froze, and an anxious, unnatural smile appeared on her face, showing that she wanted to hide something.

“A- About me, huh? Eh, um, that is……”

Toshi can't be helped now, but if it was me——

“Do you think that I could still be saved?”

“…… What do you mean by that?”

I turned my back to Ayaka and walked quickly down the ladder. Even I do not know what I was talking about, why would I say such a thing?

“Fujishima-kun!”

I ignored Ayaka's shouts and ran out of the building. On the way home, Ayaka and Toshi's words muddled together, swirling in my mind.


*

The next day, I planned to skip the fifth and sixth period of Chemistry and go home straightaway. That was because I wasn't ready to speak to Ayaka alone.

But when break time started, the guys nearby started to come and chat with me, causing me to lose my chance to escape from the classroom.

“Fujishima, I saw you at the arcade yesterday. You were with Ichinomiya-senpai, weren't you?”

“Erm, hmm?”

Lately, my classmates kept chatting with me, but I'm still not used to it. To be exact, I haven't remembered their names yet, so I feel as if I did something wrong when I talk to them. But I still answered them:

“Are you talking about Tetsu-senpai, perhaps? Do you guys know him?”

“Of course, Ichinomiya-senpai is extremely famous, I've heard that some boxing centers tried to recruit him for their team.”

“That's right, he's a legendary person. Didn't he do a lot of great things before this? I've heard that the reason for which the P.E teacher's restroom was turned into a storeroom is that Ichinomiya-senpai ruined it.”

“It was also said that the back door is kept closed because Ichinomiya-senpai broke it. It's become crooked and can't be opened.”

“The Principal is bald because of Ichinomiya-senpai.”

Te- Tetsu-senpai is that famous?

“How did you get to know Ichinomiya-senpai, Fujishima?”

That is because……

“Is it because Ichinomiya-senpai always goes to the place where Ayaka is working part time? Isn't that right?”

The girls joined the conversation too.

“It's a ramen shop, right? I went there once.” “The shopkeeper's very pretty.” “Really? I want to go next time.” “Is it tasty?” “Their ice cream is the best.” “Why is it that the ice cream is tasty? Isn't it a ramen shop?”

But Ayaka as the person that they were talking about did not say anything, or join the conversation. Our classmates ignored Ayaka and I, chatting away happily. Just when we were starting to get rowdy, the bell marking the fifth period rang, and the Chemistry teacher walked into the classroom.

That caused me to be unable to skip the class, and so I was forced to stay until school ends. Usually, Ayaka would immediately drag me to the Gardening Club, but today she just looked at me for a moment, and walked out of the classroom while putting on her armband.

“Did you guys have a fight?”

The guy who sat in front of me asked me casually, and I shook my head. The focus of my classmates were on me. If I were to go home just like that, it seems like the atmosphere would get worse. I was forced to leave my bag in the room and went to look for Ayaka in the courtyard.

Ayaka was holding a spade while squatting at the side of the garden. I sat on the bricks beside the garden, watching the plants that we tended, as I did not know what to say.

The one who spoke first was Ayaka.

“You still don't remember the names of our classmates, right?”

“…… How did you know?”

“I sensed it from the way that you spoke.”

But is there a problem with that?

“It doesn't matter if you don't remember their names, it's just that you seem very guarded when talking to the others, like you're talking at two sides of a brick wall. You were like that yesterday too……”

Ayaka still minded what had happened yesterday…… Actually I mind it too. The words that Toshi had said were still lingering in my ears.

“…… Why do you butt in my business so much? Are those people who can't fit in school life such an eyesore?”

After I said that, I felt that I've been too harsh. From yesterday, I had been trying to control my temper. Ayaka looked dumbfounded, with her jaw open. After about three seconds, she suddenly blushed.

“Why are you asking such a thing?”

She actually asked me why.

“I can only speak to the others through a wall, does that bother anyone?”

“…… It bothers me!”

Ayaka answered with her face red.

“…… You've bothered me!”

Ayaka's tone became harsh, and she repeated it again. With my mouth half-open, I could only stare at her lips in a daze. What is she talking about? What does she man by that?

“You don't need to know the others in class better, but can't you lower your guard when talking to me? It makes me feel very lonely.”

“…… Why?”

“Why? You asked me why? Don't you know?”

Ayaka stood up and said loudly. Quite a few students in the courtyard shifted their gaze to us.

“I…… Eh? Ah, wh- why?” My muddled thoughts made me seem as if I'm raving. I stood up.

“…… I really don't know!”

“Forget it, never mind if you don't know.”

Ayaka, whose face was dyed a sunset red, bit her lips and shook her head. I froze, and Ayaka took her bag that was on the bench beside the garden, turned around and ran away.

“…… Wait!”

I don't know why I wanted to catch hold of Ayaka, but she roughly flung away my hand.

Bzzzzzzt.

The sound of something tearing rang out loud. My whole body suddenly became cold.

A yellow object fell onto the soil.

The armband of the Gardening Committee have become a torn, yellow piece of cloth.

“Ah……”

Ayaka turned around, used her hands to cover her mouth, and lowered her head to look at the armband for awhile. When I picked it up to say something, Ayaka hurriedly turned around and ran away, disappearing out of the school gate in a flash.

I was left behind. I squatted down and went into a daze in the winter sun, thinking repeatedly about the things that Ayaka has just said. I thought it over many times, but I still couldn't understand the reason for Ayaka's tears, and have no idea what to do now.

I stood there for awhile, and resignedly picked up the spade and the armband. I originally thought that Ayaka might come back immediately, but I as a member of the Gardening Club should still do my job. But I only know how to water and weed, after I finished doing them, it was as if there was a hole in my heart.

Until the sun had set, Ayaka still hasn't come back.

I walked into the computer lab that I didn't enter for a long time, tried to sit in the seat by the windows, but I couldn't find the energy to turn on the computer. So the computer lab that has only one person is actually so quiet.

I placed the torn armband on the table. Why? Why did Ayaka get angry? I got more and more angry thinking about it. She didn't even explain properly but started to cry, it gave me a headache too. I don't even know if it's my fault. No, it is probably my fault. If I cannot continue to be silent, what should I do?

Then I thought of something.

Doesn't this mean that I've returned to the days when I'm alone?

But the silence in the room was suffocating. I couldn't stand it, stuffed the armband back into my pocket and walked out of the computer laboratory.

*

When I think about it, it's the first time that I went to the station by myself. Around the station were a lot of people waiting to cross the road, sometimes the crowd rushed out as if a gate suddenly opened.

On the road, there was an orchestra of the sound of exhausts, footsteps of hundreds of people, people selling phones and music of Christmas songs. Walking in the crowd, my back and my shoulders kept getting pushed, so I could only continue to walk unsteadily. Suddenly I had an illusion that I was alone at a barren place in the winter.

I shook my head, crossed the zebra crossings and went to the arcade at the street center.

I remember using a few coins to play, but don't really remember what game I played. After I used up all the coins, I sat on the chair with my back to the wall and stared at the end screen of the game.

Before I met Ayaka, how did I pass my time alone? I actually could not remember it, it's really unbelievable. I don't know how to apologize to Ayaka if I went to the ramen shop and met her there, so I could only stay in the arcade, depressed. Because Ayaka doesn't even want to speak to me.

That was how I tiredly leaned against the wall, and did not leave until the arcade played the ‘Goodnight Song’.


*

It was already past midnight, the streets that were further away from the station were already in darkness. I walked near Hanamaru Ramen shop and peered inside the shop from between the buildings. The curtains were already taken down, and a dim light could be seen faintly in the dark kitchen. There weren't anyone else except Min-san, as it was already time for the shop to close.

What am I doing?

I squatted beside the air-conditioner to hide myself. Everything has already become messed up. I really feel like digging a hole to hide in it. When I sat down, the cold air passed through my thin coat. Maybe I should just sleep here? I might be able to freeze to death like this.

“Narumi, what are you doing here?”

Suddenly I heard a voice from above me. Shocked, I stood up and banged my head on the exhaust pipe. The pain made me see stars.

“…… It hurts.”

“Are you an idiot……”

A surprised expression appeared on Min-san's face.

“How……” How did you know that I was here?

“Alice called me to say that someone was loitering over here. Why did you come? Ayaka has already gone home!”

“Ah……”

It's the surveillance cameras. How annoying, wasting these high-tech machines on this useless place. I could not face Min-san, but felt her gaze on me.

I couldn't say anything for a moment.

Finally, I heard her sigh.

“Do you want to enter the shop? There are some new dishes for the winter.”

I raised my head. Min-san has even took off her vest, wearing an apron on the lower half of her body, while only a sarashi was bound to the upper part of her body.

Min-san took hold of my arms and dragged me into the shop. I just came here yesterday, but now I still feel that the smell in Hanamaru Ramen Shop is very nostalgic. The large pot that was used to cook soup in the kitchen was still being heated up, with white fumes wafting out of it. Even if it's winter, the soup that is prepared for a long time would still be steaming hot, wouldn't it? It's just that the way that Min-san was dressed: showing her stomach, was too hot for a teenager like me. I could only look away from her.

Min-san took two paper cups and sat down beside me.

Min-san took two paper cups and sat down beside me. Hello? You're just wearing a sarashi for your upper body! Why don't you at least wear a shirt? I tried very hard not to look at her and focused my attention on the ice cream. The ice cream this time was sprinkled with cocoa powder. Eating just a spoonful of it, I could taste the sweet flavor of cheese and the fragrance of orange wine, this is a flavor that even I know.

“…… Tiramisu?”

“That's right, sometimes I would try to make something mainstream too. Does it taste good?”

I nodded. Compared to the ramen here, saying that the ice cream is good isn't really just being courteous. I remember that tiramisu in Italian meant ‘give me a pull’, is my depressed feeling that clearly shown on my face? I fell into deep thought, and accidentally let my tongue slip.

“You can make such delicious ice cream, then why did you open a ramen shop?”

Whoops!

I cautiously took a peek at Min-san's expression, but could only see a melancholic expression on her face.

“This shop was originally my dad's.” Her expression suddenly returned to normal and said: “I have wanted to open an ice cream shop, so I became an apprentice at an ice cream shop. But one day my dad suddenly disappeared without a trace, so I came back to inherit the shop.

“So that's it……” I don't know what to say, and could only lower my head in apology. “I'm sorry, asking these strange questions.”

“You don't need to be sorry.” Min-san said while smiling.

“Haven't you ever thought of remodeling the shop into an ice cream shop?”

“Yeah, I did. But I like this shop, the customers and the atmosphere here. These are only present because of the ramen shop. If I remodeled the shop, these will disappear, so I chose to continue.”

Min-san looked around the dark shop. There were menus that were splattered with drops of oil, autographs of artists(probably) stuck onto the wall, a cracked counter, and an old but brightly polished kitchen ceiling and wall.

“Those who don't have a job claimed the back of the ramen shop as their territory, it's because they don't have any other places to go. I don't mind that!”

While saying that, Min-san patted her apron that had ‘Hanamaru’ printed on it. This is the symbol of the shop and the shop is what Min-san got for giving up on her dream of selling ice cream.

“Is…… that so?”

I again thought of meaningless stuff, and accidentally blurted out.

“But your father might be missing because he hated the ramen shop and may not have wanted you to inherit the ramen shop.”

“I know.”

Min-san slapped my shoulders roughly while laughing loudly.

“I don't care what other people think of, I just do it because I feel like doing it, and that's enough. People live by forcing others to accept other people to accept their own way of living.”

I blankly stared at Min-san's face.

“We don't even know what they're thinking about anyways, so we can only assume that they are the same as us!”

…… Ah, so that's how it is.

I finally understood the reason for Ayaka's anger.

She was the same as me. I, too, was depressed and angry because Ayaka went away without saying a thing.

Because the only person by my side was Ayaka.

Ayaka was the only person who talked to me.

Why did I find out about such a simple matter only now? Why now?

After a long silence, I suddenly found that my forehead was on Min-san's bare shoulders, then I hastily backed away.

“Ah, err…… So- sorry.”

Min-san laughed, patted my head gently and showed a ‘it's all right, don't you mind’ kind of smile.

Things are probably alright now, right? Although I still don't know what to do. Probably because I was now relieved, my stomach started to grumble. Min-san did not miss that.

“There's a ramen with a new flavor, do you want to try it?”

“Err….. Erm…..” I hesitated for awhile. It seemed that Min-san has noticed something, then she squinted while coming close to me.

“……Hmmm, I feel that you often tell people of your true feelings, so I have something to ask you.”

“Ah?” Do I look like this kind of person? Do I talk to myself so frequently?

“…… How is my ramen? Are they good?”

Min-san's expression became very sincere. Her hands held both of my hands, wet eyes looking at me coquettishly, making me unable to keep silent.

“Err……”

“You can just tell me the truth, I won't hit you.”

“Sometimes the soup just feels a tiny bit sweet……”

“You can just tell me honestly, is it good or is it bad?”

“If you really want me to say, then of course it's bad. Ouch! That hurts, didn't you say you won't hit me?”

“Shut up, idiot!”

I was kicked out of the shop.

“I WILL make a soup that will make you say that it is tasty and touch you to tears, remember that!”

Like a child screaming at me, Min-san closed the grille door. I was the only person at the bottom of this building.

Will things turn out alright even now? How should I apologize? ‘It's simple…..’ Ayaka's words replayed in my mind. ‘Shout when you're angry like the others, and laugh when you're happy like the others, speak your mind when you want something, you could do it too.’

If things were that simple, I wouldn't be here right now. Then what on Earth could I do? I thought fuzzily while walking towards the cold, night streets.


*

I skipped classes for two days. It was not because I was sick or hurt. Although I, myself, thought that this is stupid, I still felt: I can't face Ayaka before I'm mentally prepared.

On Friday, I went to school after it had ended. I haven't gone to the rooftop after school for quite some time now, but Ayaka was nowhere to be seen. Crossing over the railings and looking at the campus, I could not see Ayaka at the garden.

I thought—— maybe it's already too late, maybe I have already lost everything, but is still comically turning around in circles, trying to make amends. That couldn't be helped, because I'm an idiot.

After pondering for a while, I thought of a place that I haven't searched for yet.

The greenhouse was at the interior of the school, near to the walls surrounding the school. At the other side of the wall is a graveyard, so not many people go there. Entering the Gardening Club for a month or so, this is still the first time that I've come to the greenhouse. As taking care of greenhouse plants requires special skills, Ayaka has always handled them alone.

Through the foggy glass, I could only faintly see the greenery inside, its interior should be about as big as a classroom.

When I was about to extend my hands to the high class rustless handle, the door opened from the inside.

“…… Fujishima-kun?”

Suddenly I came face to face with Ayaka, who looked shocked after giving out a scream. I was shocked too, and could not immediately accept the fact that Ayaka suddenly appeared before my eyes.

“I- I just sprayed some herbicide inside, so you can't go close to it!”

Ayaka regained her cool and pushed me out of the greenhouse by the chest.

“Why did you come here?”

Ayaka sounded as if she was still angry.

“…… Well, I'm also a part of the Gardening Club.”

“You don't need to force yourself again. It's all my fault, dragging you into the Gardening Club against your will. Let's just be a ghost member in each other's clubs.”

Ayaka said angrily, which was out of character for her.

“……That wouldn't do.”

I said with a voice that got smaller and smaller. Maybe Ayaka would never forgive me ever again. Thinking of this, my whole body shivered.

“Why? Aren't you…….”

“…… If things go on like this, won't the things that we've painstakingly done go to waste?”

“—— Eh?”

I took out a plastic bag from my pocket, took out one of them and stuffed it into her hands. She opened her hands and raised it to eye level. It was a piece of black cloth —— an armband, and on it was printed a round, orange shape.

Ayaka stared at the armband for a while, and raised her head.

“…… Pervert, Repelling, Machine?[2]

“I think it's better if you return that to me!”

“Whoa, I'm just joking, sorry.”

“You read it from the middle letter —— M High School Gardening Club.

“…… It means us, right?”

The expression on Ayaka's face went through complicated changes, looking as if she's both crying and laughing.

I shifted my gaze and nodded. The expression on Ayaka's face went through complicated changes, looking as if she was both crying and laughing.

“How did you make this? It wouldn't be because you wanted to make this that you took two days off, would it?”

“Yeah, I designed it using a computer, and made it at a shop.”

Ayaka looked relieved. She carefully wore the armband and then showed it to me; her stiff expression was gradually gone too.

Ayaka looked at the plastic bag in my bag and said: “Did you make one for yourself, too?”

“Yeah, you need to order at least ten if you want to make it there.”

I thought up a lot of things as an apology, but my mind was blank right now.

“I never thought that you were that bad at negotiating with other people.”

Ayaka laughed delightedly, while I was completely embarrassed, and could only lower my head.

“But you made the armband for me, I'm really happy.”

She said to me. I raised my head, clumsily returned her smile and said with my voice that sounded like it was going to vanish at any moment: “Uh, I'm sorry……” That was the best that I could do at that moment.

“Hey, let's make a bigger one! Like a flag or something. We can use it during the school festival for the club relay race.”

Who would take part, then? There's only two people in the club.

“That's right, we can make a webpage! We can let this logo take the stage on the website. Do you know how to do these things?”

What can you put on the website? But I did not have enough time to answer before Ayaka continued: “Then I'll go borrow the keys to the rooftop!” and then ran away.

While looking at her silhouette, I thought to myself: it's okay if things are like this.

I might be clumsy, but, it would be enough if I do the things that I know how to do bit by bit.


*

But all of this is too late. At a place that I do not know of, my small world is quietly but truly corroded by drugs. At the corner of the evening paper that night, there was a report of the death of a young man who was sent to the hospital because of overdose of medication.

The ‘Angel Fix’ incident made a mess of my sixteen year old life in that winter, and the first person who died in that incident was that person.



Translator's Notes and References

  1. Legal medicine: drugs. They're not legal at all, and are advertised as though they are by the sellers.
  2. Pervert, repel, and machine in Japanese are ‘Chikan’, ‘Genkitai’, and ‘Machine’ respectively. Their initials CGM are the same as the badge.


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