Maria-sama ga Miteru:Volume33 Chapter6
Soloist's Ad lib
"The formal reply."
The vice-principal announced.
"The graduating students' representative, third year pine class, Ogasawara Sachiko."
When her name was called, Sachiko responded with, 'Here,' and stood up from her chair.
The sound of people inhaling could be heard from the PTA and guest seating areas. So, how many people will be giving the formal reply? That's probably what the intake of breath meant.
Since the farewell address had been given by three people, they probably assumed that the formal reply would also be given by three people. But after Sachiko's name had been called and it became apparent that no other name would be, there was an audible sound of exhaling.
Sorry to disappoint you, but there's only one person giving the formal reply.
The graduating student's representative reads the formal reply. That was why she was now making her way towards the stage. That alone was enough for Sachiko.
The farewell address had been very good. The accident in the middle had been a bit of a surprise, but it gave everyone an opportunity to see the true face of the student council. It was a miracle hit brought about by an unexpected set of circumstances, although it was a tad unfortunate for Yoshino-chan.
There was a world of difference when compared to last year's farewell address. Naturally, last year had cast a shadow over this year. Breaking down in tears and completely relying on your friends was out of the question.
Sachiko took to the stage.
The Sachiko that read the farewell address last year, and the Sachiko that was to read the formal reply this year. Although Sachiko was still the same entity, she felt as though they were two completely different people.
For now, Sachiko swept her gaze from left to right across the student's seating area. Rei would be with the graduating students, Noriko-chan and Touko-chan with the first years, and Shimako and Yoshino-chan, as well as Yumi, amongst the second years.
Sachiko didn't allow her gaze to linger on her petit soeur, instead adjusting the angle of the microphone.
Sachiko had most definitely received the message that had been sent to her.
Yumi didn't say it in words, but her posture clearly communicated that she was watching out for Sachiko.
So it'll be alright. She wasn't about to crumble.
Sachiko unfolded the paper that had been used in place of an envelope and quietly removed the object encased within. The single sheet of paper that was her script had been folded into many layers.
The insect that had disappeared when the three girls had stepped down from the stage after finishing the farewell address had reappeared to read the formal reply.
Lifting her head slightly, Sachiko watched the flying figure.
(It was a bee after all.)
She had expected as much based on Yoshino-chan's shriek. And she was right. But it really wasn't very big. Just a honey bee.
It was said that honey bees can only use their stingers once, and then they die. So it was unlikely to attack her unless she threatened it. But, still. Even though it was only flying around the general area, it was still annoying.
(What to do about that?)
The bee circled around, about one and a half meters above Sachiko's head.
(The only thing I can do is to deliver the formal reply as is.)
There had been no guidance about how to deal with such a situation if it were to arise. It was probably something that the teachers had never even considered. They could halt the graduation ceremony until the bee was chased out of the gymnasium, but there was no telling how long that would take.
(For one thing, how would you even chase the bee out?)
As she calmly pondered these things, Sachiko finished unfolding her script.
The bee glided down in front of Sachiko's eyes, and landed on the script for the formal reply, as though it had been aiming straight for it.
Sachiko's hand moved of its own accord before she had a chance to think about it. Her actions drew everyone's attention.
The script had a crease about a third of the way down from where it had been folded. The bee had come to a halt in a space between two words, as though it was just another letter. Like watching a video being rewound, Sachiko smoothly refolded the paper until it was in its original shape.
That was all.
Alas, the bee was imprisoned within the paper.
"Even the bees have come to celebrate our graduation. However, it was getting a bit carried away, so I thought we should give it some time to rest."
Sachiko adjusted the microphone while she was speaking then, just to be sure, put the speech back in its paper envelope.
"I'll set it free outside afterward."
After placing the envelope back on the table, Sachiko looked ahead once more.
"To everyone who is celebrating our commencement of a new journey..."
The formal reply had begun.
"I want to give the formal reply."
That was how Sachiko began the conversation.
A day in January.
From memory, it was just before the student council elections.
Yamamura-sensei leaned her face forward and acted as though Sachiko had said something ambiguous. She didn't come out and say, 'Pardon?' but it was written all over her face.
"Like I said, I want to give the formal reply. When I asked the vice-principal, I was told to speak to you, Yamamura-sensei."
Sachiko omitted the irrelevant detail that she had been directed from her homeroom teacher to the seniors' head teacher and then to the vice-principal.
"Let me just make sure I'm hearing you correctly."
Yamamura-sensei lowered her voice.
"You're talking about the formal reply during the graduation ceremony."
There were other things she could have meant.  Hot spring bath or housekeeper. Since they were measures of time, you wouldn't normally say 'I want to give some time ago,' or 'I want to give the winter solstice,' and as Yamamura-sensei wasn't about to pass away it would be rude to say 'I want to give your funeral address.'
"I see. I didn't think the Ogasawara-san who had been accepted into Lillian's Girls University would be interested in learning how to brew Japanese rice wine from scratch."
"Are you a rice wine brewer?"
"I've just started recently. Although that's irrelevant to our discussion."
Yamamura-sensei looked grumpy as she continued.
"Why volunteer? Every year, the formal reply … and the farewell address, come to think of it, are jobs that no-one ever volunteers for – so much so that I mistook you for someone wanting to learn about brewing rice wine. So, traditionally, the teachers have to decide who they want to give the address and then ask them sweetly, 'Won't you please do this?'"
That was true, last year she had been summonsed to the educational guidance room and asked if she would like to give the farewell address. Although not by Yamamura-sensei.
"… So does that mean you've already decided who will give the speech this year too?"
"Usually we may have, but unfortunately we haven't narrowed it down just yet. The third year homeroom teachers have their heads full with career advice at the moment."
"Is that so? No, I thought that might be the case. This was only a declaration of intent, but I thought it better to put it out there."
If they had already decided, then it would have been too late. That was why Sachiko had come here during the middle of January, when it was still too early to be talking about the graduation ceremony.
"Then I acknowledge that you have expressed your desire to deliver the formal reply. But it's not something that I can decide right now. So for today, you should go home. I'll have to consult with the other teachers."
So for today – . Sachiko nodded. She hadn't expected it to be decided on the spot.
Since they usually don't get any volunteers, then surely they would give it to the person who volunteered this year. Thinking about this, Sachiko pictured scissors-paper-rock being used to decide which of the candidates would be selected, but then corrected herself. The farewell address and formal reply were solemn tasks given to representatives of the student body.
"Thank-you for your time."
Sachiko bowed her head and was making her way towards the door when Yamamura-sensei called to her.
"Why do you want to do it?"
"I won't stay beaten."
"Beaten... Are you talking about last year's farewell address?"
"Is there anything else?"
There were plenty of people who had praised and congratulated her on last year's farewell address, but to Sachiko it was nothing more than a disgrace.
The only one who deserved praise was Rei.
There was no way she could redo last year's farewell address, but she didn't want that unsightly impression to remain as she left this place.
The formal reply was her last chance to avenge that defeat.
Sachiko didn't hear anything more about this for some time.
It wasn't until the middle of February that Yamamura-sensei called for her. She had been kept waiting for a month.
During that time, the next school council had been chosen and the Valentine's Day events had taken place.
Yamamura-sensei escorted her to the Educational Guidance Room then sank down into the sofa facing Sachiko and said:
"The idea has been put forth that two people should deliver the speech."
"I won't say who, but there is another candidate."
At first Sachiko was relieved, since Yamamura-sensei had mentioned another candidate – which must mean she was one of the two. However.
"Having two people give the speech doesn't feel right to me."
Sachiko was still smarting over having to rely on Rei to complete the farewell address, which she had intended to deliver solo. She wouldn't be able to avenge that memory if someone else accompanied her from the start.
"I thought you'd say that."
Sachiko smiled. Yamamura-sensei was the only one with whom she had been completely upfront about her intentions.
So the other teachers held a different opinion, did they?
"But the mistakes I made last year rest solely on my shoulders, don't they?"
"No-one's saying that. Although you may disagree, the teaching staff thought this would be better given last year's farewell address. That's all."
"You just don't want to be embarrassed by me failing in the same way again."
Sachiko flared up, raising her voice. This was her one weak point – she would get emotional when people picked at her failings.
Yamamura-sensei silently regarded Sachiko.
The conversation continued after Sachiko's apology.
"And what does this other candidate think about being asked to give the formal reply with me?"
If Yamamura-sensei were to leave now, the door would close on Sachiko's opportunity to give the formal reply. Probably.
"I haven't told her about this yet. Only that she's a candidate. I thought I should speak to you first. That was my decision."
Sachiko was extremely grateful for that decision. If that other person were asked if she wanted to do the speech with Sachiko, things would have become hopelessly complicated.
Sachiko's expression turned serious.
"I don't know who this other person is, but I will stand against them. I quite like the idea of using my own ability to win the right to give the formal reply."
"You're determined to do this on your own, I see."
Sachiko nodded her head. Yamamura-sensei surreptitiously sighed as she smiled. She looked as though she had expected it would go like this.
"Very well. I'll take your feelings into account, and we'll discuss this further another day."
"Thank-you for your consideration."
That day came a week after this conversation.
"Ogasawara-san, do you have a minute?"
It was lunch-time, and Sachiko had been walking down the corridor in the opposite direction to Yamamura-sensei when the voice called her to stop.
She soon realized that this was about the formal reply. Sachiko thought that she would be escorted to the Educational Guidance Room once more, but instead Yamamura-sensei only guided her to an alcove away from the people rushing past, and they stopped to talk there.
"Do you remember that I told you there was another candidate?"
Although Sachiko hadn't been told the identity of the other person, at that time.
"My conversation with you turned everything on its head, so I spoke to her about the formal reply."
"And she refused."
That was unexpected. Sachiko believed that while there may be very few people willing to volunteer like she had, if someone was asked to deliver the formal reply they would readily accept. After all, it was an honor to be named as a representative of the students.
"That's right. She said she didn't want to do it. She wanted no part of it. Indeed, she thought it was better to completely refuse."
Yamamura-sensei smiled as she recalled the conversation.
"So that means you have no-one left to fight."
Sachiko understood what the words meant, but she didn't get any satisfaction from them. It was as though they had robbed her of her fighting spirit.
"What's the matter? I've just told you that you've been selected to give the formal reply."
It seemed a strange way to look at it, but Yamamura-sensei was correct.
"You're not pleased?"
"I am pleased. But."
"But you wanted to have to fight to get this?"
Sachiko winced at her keen observation.
"I'm not sure… No, you're probably right."
There had been a clean slate when Sachiko volunteered, and her wholehearted desire to give the formal reply had been enough to carry her through. She hadn't stopped to think about whether or not she would be an appropriate choice to play that role.
When she heard that there were two candidates, she was pleased that she would have to defeat someone to be awarded the role. If she were to win in a fair fight, then it would prove that she was worthy of giving the speech. Everyone would agree, if it was put like that.
But what now, since her opponent had stood down without a fight? Sachiko was suddenly uneasy. Was she really the right choice for this?
"Shall I tell you something interesting?"
Yamamura-sensei prefixed what she said next with, 'Although this is strictly between us.'
"This other candidate, I never told them that someone else was being considered."
"And despite this, she said, 'Ogasawara-san should deliver the formal reply.'"
"She said that you should deliver the speech alone. So you see, you're not the only one who feels this way. There are other people that think you should deliver the formal reply too.... Well, does that make you more willing to do this?"
Really, it was foolishness on her part to suddenly start wondering if she would be good enough.
It was best to put a stop to any worrying she might do over that.
As long as she wanted to deliver the formal reply, any thoughts about whether or not she would be suitable were pointless.
So she had to deliver a formal reply that everyone would appreciate. That was the only way Sachiko could respond to the kindness of the other candidate, who had recommended her.
"Well then. We can discuss the details later."
Yamamura-sensei gave a small wave, then walked off down the hallway.
Sachiko turned around and called out. Hearing her voice, Yamamura-sensei also turned around.
Sachiko was glad that Yamamura-sensei had stopped, but the words wouldn't come. There was something she had to say to Yamamura-sensei. Not just one thing, but two or three. They were probably all words of gratitude.
"It's okay, it's okay."
Sachiko was still trying to work out where to start and what words of thanks to use. Yamamura-sensei smiled at Sachiko, and said:
"You know, it'd be a serious problem if you lost your nerve, as there would be no-one left to give the formal reply."
Yamamura-sensei left her with those parting words and walked away. Sachiko merely bowed her head and said, 'Thank-you.'
Yamamura-sensei was a Lillian's Academy old-girl.
She had surely been a wonderful onee-sama while she was at school. Of course, she was wonderful still.
" – and to these words of thanks, let me add my personal gratitude for being given the opportunity to deliver this formal reply."
Onee-sama smiled broadly.
"Graduating students' representative, third year pine class, Ogasawara Sachiko."
Finally, she looked straight at Yumi. That wasn't Yumi reading too much into it, nor conceit. Despite the distance between them, their eyes still met.
A thunderous round of applause rolled through the gymnasium. Everyone was clapping so hard their hands must have been turning bright red. The applause just kept coming, not quieting down. On the contrary, people started rising from their chairs.
A standing ovation.
Has a formal reply ever received such a response in the history of Lillian's Girls Academy? Yumi didn't know for sure, but she thought this was probably a first.
Having used her script to capture the honey bee, Sachiko-sama hadn't read the formal reply. Instead, she had expressed it.
That didn't mean she had memorized the script beforehand and was just reciting it verbatim. She was expressing what she was feeling at that very moment. Even someone who didn't know the contents of the script would have been able to see that.
The style of the phrases she used hadn't overpowered the substance of the reply, but the words she had spontaneously chosen reached the hearts of the people listening.
From beginning to end, she had kept her head held high, looking out over her fellow graduates, the petit soeurs they would leave behind, the teachers that had guided them, the families that had raised them, and the guests that had come to honor them as she weaved her words together.
She was magnificent.
Even as Sachiko-sama stepped down from the stage, the applause didn't stop.
Atsumi-sensei rose from her seat in the teacher's area, walked over to Sachiko-sama and relieved her of the script for the formal reply, before leaving the gymnasium. She had probably gone to set the bee free. The way she walked made it look as though she was protecting something, but she made it out of there.
The applause continued even after Sachiko-sama had returned to her seat amongst the graduating students.
As Yumi applauded, tears tumbled from both her eyes.
Even though her goal had been for no major crying episodes, it was alright. Because these weren't tears of sorrow at their separation.
Ogasawara Sachiko-sama was truly amazing.
And these tears were due to the pride that Yumi felt, knowing that Sachiko-sama was her onee-sama.
- Again, words that sound the same as 'formal reply' have been italicized.
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