1. Present: 14.3km; 5.7km Remaining
Around what I think was ten years ago, I had walked a fairly long distance with my sister. Apparently they were going to be tearing down an old community center and my older sister decided to take me along with her to go see it, excitingly wondering if they were going to destroy it with explosives. Actually, I’m fairly certain I was equally as excited. If I could go back in time, I would have wanted to grab my shoulders from behind and tell myself with a smile, “There’s no way that’d happen.” At any rate, the two of us fervently walked and walked. Even when I was on the verge of tears, she’d tell me, “It’ll definitely be amazing!” and I would continue pressing forward. I was a tenacious child, wasn’t I?
Of course, they used heavy machinery to assist with the demolition without a single explosive in sight, but I don’t really remember feeling disappointed as a result. I think the sight of a giant building being destroyed with various crunchings and gnawings was definitely enough to satisfy me.
What I vividly remembered, however, was the brutal road home. The excitement of the trip going there had already become a thing of the past, so I blindly followed on an unknown road without even remotely knowing where we were, my stomach growling and the sun setting. As I dawdled behind, my sister said this to me.
“If you keep stopping while you walk, your legs will really start to hurt. Make sure you keep up with me.”
Was I able to make it all the way back home on my own that day? I didn’t remember.
Of course, the reason I even recalled this in the first place was because my legs started to hurt as I constantly switched between walking and running. Specifically, it was the joint in my right leg that started to flare up with pain. Had it been my feet or calves, hell even my spleen, that had hurt instead, I would have been able to accept it as being something inevitable, but why did it have to hurt there?
The downward slope had all but ended.
I intentionally raised my head and saw a vast scene in front of me containing sprawling, green rice paddies that were sparsely dotted with several estates. Perhaps they hadn’t cleaned it up yet, or perhaps they simply combined the Boys’ and Peach festivals in this area, but I could see flying carp banners on the houses in the distance.1 I saw the form of the wind as it flew through the banners, creating wave-like ripples, and finally felt it as it refreshingly blew over my body. The sun had already risen, but I didn’t feel any discomforting heat from it. For the first time since I had begun the race on the school grounds, I felt like running a little bit. The point at which I actually wanted to run was, of course, also the point at which I could no longer bear the pain in my leg.
It probably wasn’t too big of a deal, but just to be sure, I slowed down and came to a stop. A white flower had bloomed on the side of the road. Even someone thoughtless and insensitive like me could understand the beauty of nature. It was a lily bell. As I stared fixedly at the small flower without really paying attention, I touched the leg joint with my palm. I tried pressing down on it and then tried hitting it.
“Well, if this is all…”
The pain hadn’t subsided, but putting pressure on the area didn’t really seem to make it any worse. It didn’t feel stiff either. As I finished making sure that it would probably be fine and went to start running again, a harsh voice called out from behind me.
“How about you start running seriously, you piece of shit?”
I raised my head wondering what happened and saw Nanigashi, a boy who was in my class last year, as he ran past me.
I didn’t know much about him. Even though we were in the same class, we didn’t really talk at all. Thinking about it, actually, I remembered hearing that same tone of voice from a while back. It was before winter break, when all of the students were cleaning up the school facilities. The trashcan had filled up, but when I went to empty it, he yelled at me with an extremely loathing voice, “You’re not going.” Perhaps thinking that he was just looking forward to doing it himself, I simply left without saying anything in return.
If he had known I was in Class A, he probably would have been confused to see me all the way back here. What confused me, however, was the harsh severity in his tone. I suppose somewhat unsurprisingly, it appeared that he held some deep-seated hostility with regards to me. I had no memory of me doing anything to him, but whatever it was, it probably got on his nerves regardless. Maybe he was just irritable from all the running.
If I started running now, I would end up following right behind him, and I didn’t like the sound of that no matter how I sliced it. My legs were probably fine, but I decided to walk for a while regardless.
As several students passed me, I started thinking about the act of disliking something.
I don’t consider myself to be the type of person that stands out and makes enemies, but I’m also not really the type of person that’s loved by others either. If I were to involve myself with a hundred or so people, there’d probably be some that would absolutely not be able to stand me. After all, no matter how favorably you might try to frame me, I wasn’t the kind of person that took an active role in a group setting. There were many times when I expressed flagrant disinterest in class activities. And, of course, even though I was then a recipient of all the cold, silent stares that judged me due to my nonparticipation, how should I put this, even then I was the kind of person that didn’t care. Maybe it could even be called indifference.
That said, I really didn’t want to approach the people that did genuinely hate me. The fact that I was walking was even a testament to that. I was different from Satoshi in that regard.
That guy never shied away from things like dealing with others, so he constantly showed his face everywhere. As well as lent a hand. And also ran his mouth. Though, in saying that, it wasn’t like he was intrusive or anything. Rather than being the type that said, “Leave it all to me,” he never pushed any further than, “Let me help out just a little bit.” He never did anything irresponsible like that. Occasionally, there were times when his intentions were misunderstood due to his incessant flippancy. However in the end, even if he was fully aware that he was hated, he would still go out there regardless. Essentially, he was even less concerned about what others thought of him than I was. Perhaps this was also indifference.
But there were also those extremely far removed from that indifference. Thanks to Nanigashi’s violent swearing, I suddenly recalled something. I felt like I had heard a similar story yesterday.
Except, the only ones who could talk about its contents were probably the two directly involved.
There was a bus stop on the side of the road.
Thankfully, there was also a small waiting area with a roof over it. The sheet iron walls were spotted with rust; the nailed-in sign had an old-looking font and glossy enamel finish. The bench was made out of plastic, and although the structure looked like it was supposed to be able to stave off a typhoon, the constant weathering made it appear somewhat fragile. In actuality, there was a large fissure stretching across it. A portion of it had faded and none of the pieces had fallen. It didn’t look like it had split recently.
It was the perfect place to watch the Kamiyama High School students as they passed by. I nonchalantly stepped inside the structure and pressed myself against the shady portion as if to hide myself. As long as I waited, I’d be able to catch Chitanda when she came.
Even though Nanigashi had hissed at me to run, I ended up not even walking. There was more or less a reason for doing this.
This morning, before I had even left the starting line, I came up with an idea. Yesterday, there were three of us in the Earth Sciences lecture room: Chitanda, Ōhinata, and I. Afterwards came Ibara, who told us that Ōhinata said she was going to leave the club. As a basic summary, none of that was incorrect.
My recollections ended there, however, and the rest of the stories I heard from Ibara and Satoshi later on only served to illustrate just how important those dozens of minutes after school truly were. Saying “I was reading a book at the time so I don’t remember anything” wouldn’t cut it. As I realized this, a memory that I once deemed meaningless and threw out as a result resurfaced once more.
Setting aside if it’s even true or not, Chitanda believed that Ōhinata quitting was her fault and took the responsibility for it on herself. Even had I shamelessly got up and chased after her, saying, “I might be able to help, so please tell me the entire story,” she would have likely just shook her head silently. She was the kind of person that wouldn’t bend after something like that.
I had to stop Chitanda.
To that end, I absolutely had to remember what exactly happened yesterday after school and present her with a single inference. In other words, an inference explaining why Chitanda thought she herself was responsible for Ōhinata quitting.
I felt like I might know why.
2. Past: Approximately 19 Hours and 30 Minutes Ago
I hadn’t realized it ahead of time, but it was still too early for it to be evening outside. I left the 2-A classroom on the third floor and casually strolled over to the Classics Club room, to the Earth Sciences lecture room. I only had a little left to go before I finished the paperback I was carrying with me, so I thought I’d go over there to read it.
Students getting ready to leave were coming and going all throughout the hallway. There was a student pinning up posters on the bulletin board, but I couldn’t tell which club he was from. A student carrying a massive cardboard box in both hands, her head constantly peeking out from the left and right to see where she was going, passed by me. It was the same scene I had always been witness to after school; I could hear the high-pitched laughter and low-pitched bustle all around me. I stuck both of my hands inside my pockets. I still had the change in there from when I bought lunch, so I started playing around with the coins.
You had to pass through the connecting corridor to go the special wing of the school that housed our clubroom. It was constructed on the second floor, but if it was sunny out, you could also pass through on its roof, accessible on the third floor. I walked out onto that breezy roof and could hear the high-pitched sounds of the Baseball Club’s metal bats striking multiple balls.
Generally in Kamiyama High School, you could always hear the echoing sounds of the Brass Band and Acapella Clubs as they practiced after school, but it was quiet that day. I saw a girl I had never seen before leaning over the rusted handrail, wearing a melancholic expression that seemed to be saying there was not a single happy thing that existed on this planet. Had the sun been a bit lower, it might’ve made for an excellent painting.
I climbed the stairs up to the fourth floor. There was another bulletin board hanging in the level area between the alternating stairs, but new-student recruit had already ended so the brown of the cork stood out. The sole poster still on it featured a beautiful, grinning actress with the caption “Wait up! There’s a way for you to live a bright life as well!” written at the bottom. I had no idea what it was trying to say.
This year, the only two clubs on the fourth floor of the special wing were the Classics Club and the Astronomy Club. The Astronomy Club could occasion get noise, but yesterday they were so quiet you could hear a pin drop. As I headed towards the Earth Sciences lecture room through the vacant hallway I suddenly stopped, almost falling forwards.
The door to an empty classroom stood slid open. A person remained dangling from the doorframe above it.
As disturbing as it was, I had actually thought for a split-second that someone had hanged themselves there. How could you be so hasty, even though there was a way for you to live a bright life as well?!
I quickly realized that that wasn’t the case however. The person was hanging onto the frame with both hands.
The dangling person was a girl wearing a sailor uniform, but I could only see her profile because she faced the closed section of the door. In reality, however, that should have been plenty for me to figure out who it was. I looked at her feet and saw that her navy-colored socks were completely separated from the floor. I thought about calling out to her but hesitated. Perhaps this wasn’t something that she wanted someone else to see, and I should be sympathetic and simply continue walking along like nothing even happened in the first place.
However, the consideration ended up being in vain. I thought I hadn’t made any noise, but she seemed to notice me anyways. As she did, she let loose a little yelp and released her grip, colliding into the door with an excess of energy and falling back onto her butt. She quickly stood up in an embarrassed manner and then started to act like nothing had happened.
What a polite greeting.
“Yeah, good afternoon.”
“Nice weather out, isn’t it?”
Why had Tomoko Ōhinata been hanging from a doorframe on the fourth floor in the special wing after school? Had Chitanda been here, this would have turned into a profound mystery of the upmost priority. Smiling brightly, Ōhinata brought her hands behind her to nonchalantly brush off the back of her skirt.
Most likely because she already knew I saw, her acting was half-assed. I tried to ask what she was doing in the most harmless manner I could muster, but I couldn’t think of what to say.
I waved my index finger around for no real reason, and then it suddenly dawned on me.
“You were trying that out, right? You were trying to extend your back?”
To this absolutely terrible attempt at consolation, she smiled bitterly.
“I’m pretty sure my back wouldn’t extend with that. If anything, my arms would.”
“Then you were trying to extend your arms?”
“Well yeah, something like that.”
With this lie, she began to look outside, beyond the window. She then looked at me out of the corner of her eyes and asked me a question this time.
“Are you planning on going to the clubroom right now?”
She muttered this in a casual manner, but I could tell that it went contrary to what she wanted. She had probably assumed I wasn’t going to show up. Well, it was never really known for sure who was going to show up on any given day. People came if they felt like it; that much hadn’t changed, even after a year had passed.
At the end of the hallway, I could see that door to the Earth Sciences lecture room was currently being kept open, possibly for ventilation purposes.
“It looks like somebody is already in there.”
As she stared at the opened door, she responded.
“It’s the president.”
“Fukube-senpai is apparently at a General Committee meeting. He came for a little bit and then left right after.”
Satoshi had tomorrow’s Hoshigaya Cup to prepare for. I was more uncertain as to why he even came to the clubroom in the first place.
“Busy like always, I guess.”
Ōhinata nodded with a slight smile.
“That seems to be the case. Even this weekend, he…”
She then stopped speaking midway. Suddenly, she asked a question with a serious expression that looked as if it were skirting around some deep secret.
“You’re Fukube-senpai’s friend, Oreki-senpai, so you know, right?”
While not as bad as Chitanda, I noticed that Ōhinata also had a habit of omitting important details when she talked. With Chitanda, she would often move a conversation far too quickly and then suddenly drop it on a dime. Ōhinata, on the other hand, seemed to constantly think that she could omit certain details because the other party would know what she was talking about due to the subject being so intimate to them.
I mentioned that Satoshi was a busy person. Ōhinata agreed and then started to mention something about the weekend. I couldn’t say I knew Satoshi’s weekend plans, but I could guess that it was something that kept him busy. If pressed, I guess there was one thing I knew about, but it wasn’t really that easy to talk about.
“For the most part. You?”
“I heard about it from someone I know in my class.”
“Someone you know?”
No matter which way you looked at it, a single first-year classroom wasn’t big enough for these kinds of rumors to get around.
“Are you friends with Satoshi’s little sister?”
“Kind of. Only to the extent that we eat lunch with each other.”
“I haven’t talked with her much, but she’s a pretty strange one, isn’t she?”
Ōhinata tilted her head in thought.
“She’s certainly unusual, but not enough to where I’d call her strange. I’d say Fukube-senpai is stranger.”
With that, she became quiet.
Well then, I wonder what exactly it was that Ōhinata had heard from Satoshi’s slightly unusual little sister.
The both of us seemed to be watching each other’s expressions. I tried to gauge how much she knew and how much I could tell her before things might become problematic, and it created a silence between us that made it difficult to breathe.
I grew tired of the pussyfooting. Why did I have to talk about Satoshi like I was about to touch a burning pot again? I ended up speaking loosely.
“It’s about Satoshi and Ibara, right?”
Ōhinata drew a deep breath of relief and softened her expression.
“Yeah, that’s right. I guess you knew after all.”
Ibara had liked Satoshi for a long time now. At the latest, I learned about in the winter of our third year in middle school. Satoshi had continued to evade the matter, but I, intending to neither cheer on Ibara nor support Satoshi, didn’t observe what became of it in the slightest.
That said, I heard that over Spring break Satoshi had finally stopped his running and hiding. Ever since then, it seems that his weekends have been consistently busy.
“This is just something that she told me, but…”
Up until this moment, I had never been blessed with the opportunity to gossip with a female student over some rumor. I’m sure anyone in this position right now would have undoubtedly had a happy expression looking as if it were submerged in some guilty pleasure. I remained silent as she continued.
“Since the two of them started dating, for three days now, Fukube-senpai’s become some pitiful creature that can only repeat ‘I’m sorry’ over and over, like he’s supposed to be apologizing to Ibara-senpai for some reason. Did something happen?”
Oh come on. To think Satoshi’s situation would be found out by his sister and even passed along to his junior, talk about a pitiful story. At least the saving grace was the fact that Ōhinata apparently didn’t know any of the specifics. Certainly enough, in order to remedy the fact that he had put off his answer for over a year, Satoshi probably had a lot of things he needed to tell her.
That said, I really wasn’t all that interested. I prepared a brief answer to appease Ōhinata as she looked at me expectantly.
“He was probably just apologizing for making her wait so long when he didn’t deserve her patience in the first place.”
As I said something bewildering like this, Ōhinata sat there dumbfounded for a second.
I had assumed she was going to question me further, but instead, she smiled unexpectedly and simply said this:
“How nice. I like how friendly it all sounds when you say it like that.”
I didn’t know how to respond. Ōhinata continued to stare at me, and then quietly stopped smiling. As I tried to force some idle chitchat between us, she stopped me and said, “Um, senpai.”
I stopped and turned around. Calling out to me, Ōhinata started to mumble in a garbled manner, “Umm, well,” and then finally resumed like she had given up on what she was trying to say.
“Please wait up for a second.”
She then headed back over towards the doorframe she was previously hanging from and jumped up to it once more.
I was understandably surprised. As a result, I didn’t really have it in me to ask what she was doing and simply waited like I was told.
I stared at Ōhinata’s back as she dangled there. Her skirt still had some white dust on it from when she had fallen earlier. It was regrettable that the school-wide cleaning had been so glossed over.
“At any rate, it gets really tiring hanging like this.”
I thought that it looked tiring as well, but I mentioned, “But you’re hanging there of your own volition.”
“Yeah, well, I guess I just felt like doing it,” she said as if she were hiding something.
I asked a question.
“Or maybe someone is hanging you from there.”
“I feel like that also might be that case.”
I thought for a little bit. If she was hanging there because of someone else, I truly felt sorry for her. I had often been in the same situation with my sister, so I understood what it felt like.
“If that’s the case, you should just pull yourself up, yeah?”
Ōhinata turned her head to look at me.
“I don’t have enough strength in my arms to do that. Wait a sec.”
I’m pretty sure it had only been for some tens of seconds. Ōhinata let go and stuck a perfect landing this time. She then turned around with a bright smile.
“It’s probably easier to just let go. Sorry to keep you waiting.”
At that moment, it hit me that something was a little bit strange. On the day of the New Recruit Festival, when Ōhinata came to our table and signed up, I had thought that she was awfully tall for a first-year. Perhaps I had even thought that her constantly smiling, snow-tanned face and ever-excited disposition were somewhat of a hassle.
Yet, at this moment, yesterday after school in the special wing’s fourth floor hallway, Ōhinata began to resemble a normal first-year, perhaps even a middle school third-year, she appeared so small.
“Well then, should we get going?”
I felt a false bravado emanate from her happy-go-lucky voice and knew I wasn’t far from the truth.
I wondered what Chitanda was doing by her lonesome, but it turned out she was diligently reviewing her textbooks and dictionary in a manner befitting an exceptionally serious student. When she realized we entered, she looked up with a wide grin and closed her books.
“What were you two talking about?”
I wasn’t surprised in the least. Not only was the Earth Sciences lecture room door open, but Chitanda had incredible hearing. Even though she wasn’t able to suss out the exact details, she was probably at least aware of the fact that we were talking in the first place. I didn’t feel like lying to her, so I spoke truthfully.
“We were talking about how Satoshi seemed really busy.”
It wasn’t the whole truth, but it wasn’t a lie either. Chitanda nodded without a trace of doubt.
“Yeah, tomorrow’s the Hoshigaya Cup after all.”
It might’ve been my first time hearing someone other than Satoshi call the Marathon Competition the Hoshigaya Cup.
“It’s been three days since I’ve seen you Ōhinata, hasn’t it?”
“Oh… is that so?”
Ōhinata responded halfheartedly as her eyes wandered around the room. She then slowly began to approach Chitanda.
“Um, would it be alright if I sat next to you?”
Chitanda appeared to be started, but responded with a kind expression regardless.
“Yeah, feel free.”
I suppose the reason the door was open was to allow for ventilation after all. Several of the windows overlooking the school grounds were pulled open as well, and the bundled up curtains were swaying to a minuscule degree. Because it was already the end of May, the wind that blew inside wasn’t cold.
I set up a chair in the third row from the back and three seats from the window overlooking the school grounds. I sat down and pulled out a paperback from my school-issued shoulder bag.
I heard the sound of a chair being pulled back. Looking up, I saw that Ōhinata had situated herself at the desk directly in front of Chitanda’s. As I found the page that I left off on and started to follow the characters on the page, I became aware of the fact that Chitanda and Ōhinata were talking.
How long had it been, I wonder.
My concentration broke after hearing that one word.
The book was very interesting, but there were a few boring scenes as well. As I was losing interest during one of these portions, an unexpected voice suddenly brought me back to reality. I looked up and saw Chitanda facing away from me. It didn’t look like she had turned around in my direction at all.
I thought I might’ve just imagined it. No, I was fairly certain that I heard someone say the word “yes.” It had to have been Chitanda. I suddenly realized something else. Ōhinata must’ve disappeared at some point. Well it wasn’t like it was that strange. She probably just left to go home.
At any rate, I tried calling out to Chitanda from behind.
My voice wasn’t very loud, but it wasn’t so quiet as to not reach her either. However, she didn’t budge an inch. At first I thought she might’ve fallen asleep, but there was no way anyone could’ve slept with their spine as straight as hers was sitting there. I tried calling out to her again, this time making sure I did so in a louder voice.
Chitanda’s body jerked in surprise.
She slowly looked back over her shoulder. She wore an expression I had never seen up until this very moment. There was not a hint of light present in her stiffened eyes. She briefly shook her head like she was frightened of something and then quickly returned to her front-facing position. I thought something might have happened, but thinking that nothing grave could’ve happened in a classroom with only the two of us and thinking that even had there been a problem, Chitanda would have certainly told me, “I’m curious,” I assumed nothing was wrong.
I suddenly realized that the wind outside had become somewhat fierce. It blew all throughout the Earth Sciences lecture room. The sun hadn’t set yet, but the temperature was already beginning to drop. I stood up to go close the windows. Chitanda remained sitting upright as she stared into the space in front of her.
I returned to my seat and started reading once more.
I began to fly through the passages, and by the time I raised my head once more, I had finished one more chapter. I doubt much time had passed in that period.
I had intended on finishing it, but it was gradually becoming dark outside. As I put my book back down, thinking that I should leave shortly, the door suddenly opened and Ibara walked inside.
“Hey, did something happen?”
When Chitanda muttered falteringly with a “no,” Ibara turned back towards the hallway and then spoke with a somewhat concealed voice.
“I just passed by Hina-chan over there, and she was saying she wasn’t going to join.”
3. Present: 14.5km; 5.5km Remaining
A few Kamiyama High School students passed me as I hid in the darkness of the enclosed bus stop. While some of them looked as if they had just left the start line on the school grounds, others looked as if they had expended the last of their energy on the vicious uphill and downhill sections as they gasped for air. There were even some that looked like they gave up on the Hoshigaya Cup as they casually lumbered along.
Truthfully, I wanted to be able to look down at the ground and think in peace. If I were to do that, however, I would almost certainly miss Chitanda when she eventually walked by.
I planted myself on the weathered bench and raised my chin as I thought.
I was convinced that the reason Ōhinata had decided to quit was hidden somewhere in the 40 or so days between the New Recruit Festival and yesterday. If I kept that suspicion in the forefront of my mind and retraced my memories then, I could certainly remember various incidents that suddenly started to seem strange. The answer she gave to the question concerning Ibara and Satoshi seemed to back up that possibility.
But what about Chitanda? Judging by her appearance yesterday, she seemed to have an idea as to why Ōhinata had decided to quit. Perhaps she thought that the reason was the result of a gradual accumulation over that 40 or so day period. Or perhaps she thought that the entire reason was due to that small period of time yesterday after school.
If the reason took place somewhere within that 40 or so day span, then that meant this:
Chitanda was convinced that she was the one who drove Ōhinata into a corner. It might have not been inspired by any sort of clear hostility or ill-will, but Chitanda was at least aware of the situation to the point where she had immediately assumed something like, “Because I did what I did to that extent, Ōhinata is going to quit the club.” As a fact, she thought she did something to drive Ōhinata away.
If the reason took place sometime within the short amount of time after school yesterday, then that meant this:
While I was absorbed by the thrill of reading about the incredible life of a master spy, Chitanda had made Ōhinata decidedly and undeniably angry. For example, she might have done something like squeezing lemon juice over her chicken karaage without warning nor mercy.2 Ōhinata became furious, saying something like, “I can’t bear being around a person like you any longer!” and then stormed off to quit the club. Essentially, it was something along the lines of an explosion of repressed feelings.
Which was it, I wonder?
Without a doubt, something had been festering inside of Ōhinata for the previous 40 or so days. Only that would explain why Ōhinata had criticized Chitanda in such a roundabout manner saying “she resembled a bodhisattva on the outside.”
But in that case, did that mean Chitanda was actually a yakṣa? Had she actually continued to pressure Ōhinata mentally enough to the point where she would quit?
It gradually became clearer and cleared as to what I should have focused on.
Waiting was difficult. I wasn’t the Ōhinata of yesterday, but hanging midair was truly exhausting.
This might go without saying, but the worst part was the possibility of accidentally missing Chitanda when I might not be paying attention. If that happened, I would end up remaining at the bus stop, waiting for someone who would never come, continuing to wait, continue waiting even longer in vain, and finally after being found, cold and starving one winter morning, eventually inspiring a theatre production entitled Waiting for Chitanda. At any rate, I could no longer even try to predict the distance between the two us.
I played with a certain idea.
If I didn’t return to Kamiyama High School from here, the Hoshigaya Cup wouldn’t end. However, running was still a pain. Or perhaps more precisely, I was exhausted. On the other hand, I was in a bus stop. Busses were certainly a method of transportation.
In that case I would really prefer it if a bus could come and take me to the high school. It would be fine; I had some loose change in my pocket after all. I had prepared it to use in a vending machine just in case I happened to get really thirsty along the way. What a splendid idea, no? If you aren’t good at mental calculation, you should use a calculator. If you aren’t good at English, you should use translation software. If you aren’t good at running, you should consider using an alternate form of suitable transportation. I had known this from the very get-go. Might this very thing be considered the manifestation of the strength one requires to go on living? I’ve truly learned some great things today.
As I was engrossed in these thoughts of mine, Chitanda passed by.
For a moment, I wasn’t entirely convinced by what I saw. A part of it had to do with the fact that I still wasn’t used to seeing her in the white short-sleeved shirt and crimson short tights that made up the gym uniform ensemble, but her long, tied-up hair also left me with a somewhat different impression than usual. I had seen her hair put up before, for example, when we visited the shrine right after New-Year’s Day. She did it to match it with her traditional clothing. Yet this was probably the first time I’ve seen her tie it up high like this. It was because I was so familiar with her usual demeanor that I almost missed Chitanda as she ran past me, her lips slightly open.
I stood up and broke out into a run. My moment of confusion caused me to react late, so I made an effort to hurry.
The difficult mountain pass was directly up ahead, but I couldn’t see any signs of fatigue in Chitanda’s running gait. Her arms were pressed to her sides as her waist shook up and down, her feet kicked off the asphalt, and her body seemed perfectly in rhythm with the white lines that pulled the road along as she ran.
The road continued in a straight line between the dense forests and the approaching, freshly-planted fields. It was possible that the road was repaved in recent years as the asphalt was a thick black, looking as if it were brand-new. I had thought there was still some time left before it reached noon, but I squinted as I looked up at the dazzling sun already sitting high in the sky. As I measured the distance between Chitanda and myself, I continued to run.
I considered suddenly rushing to catch up with her. While it was true that one was unlikely to be paying attention to others while he/she was running, there were also a lot of classmates in front of and behind us. It also felt weird to shadow her like this. I wanted to run as fast as I could while at the same time catching up with her in a natural manner.
Keeping in line with this desire, I slowly closed the gap. I didn’t need to be close enough to physically reach out to her, simply close enough for my voice to reach her.
Even then, however, it was still far.
My voice struck in my throat. My legs felt heavy. Even the pain in my leg joints seemed to relapse. My breathing suddenly became more violent.
“This is bad.”
The mutter barely left my mouth.
I didn’t feel like catching up.
I didn’t feel like catching up because I simply didn’t want to. The second I did, I would have to hammer her over the head with my reasoning and deductions. As this thought crossed my mind, my legs instantly began to feel explicitly dull. Yeah, that must have been the reason. Even then, I couldn’t give up.
Were there 50 meters between us? Or were 100? Perhaps there were even more than that. I remained at a fixed interval behind Chitanda; I could neither shorten nor even extend that distance. I couldn’t afford to continue like this, running as I watched her ponytail sway from left to right.
I clenched my teeth. I decided I would go either now or never.
At around the same time, something unbelievable happened.
Chitanda twisted the upper-half of her body as she ran and looked back.
Our eyes met.
There was no choice but to go. I increased my pace. Although she had turned to look behind her, Chitanda most likely had no idea that I would be there. Her eyes widened, and she quickly faced forward once more. No matter how you looked at it, it was dangerous to run while looking behind you. While Chitanda naturally took the Hoshigaya Cup seriously as a part of the school’s physical education and didn’t slow down as a result, she also didn’t make any special effort to shake me off.
If I at least had the resolve to catch up with her, I’d be able to do it. Amidst the end-of-May breeze, I ran alongside Chitanda.
She never once broke her rhythm. I saw her looking at me from out of the corner of her eye, and started talking behind a mask of composure.
“Sorry. I was thinking about calling out to you, but…”
Even though I considered how weird shadowing her would be, it ended up turning out that way anyways. Although she didn’t appear to be very interested in my excuses, I could see her tense features unravel slightly as a hint of doubt crept across her face. Perhaps in an effort to save her breath, she kept her question brief.
“Why’re you here?”
She probably realized I was supposed to be far up ahead by this point. I got to the point without a moment’s hesitation.
“I want to talk about Ōhinata.”
“To that end, I want to hear your side of the story.”
At that moment, Chitanda’s breathing became somewhat shallow. Her speed didn’t change in the slightest. As the two of us continued to run, some tens of centimeters apart, I waited for her response.
Finally, Chitanda replied with a pained look in her eyes.
“It was my fault.”
“What happened yesterday, right?”
“That’s between me and Ōhinata.”
In the short amount of time it took for her to catch her breath, she continued.
“I’m sorry you went out of your way, but I can’t bother you with this.”
Although her eyes glistened with moisture, possibly due to being too dry, Chitanda looked straight ahead regardless, not saying any more. I had predicted she would try to pile all of the responsibility onto herself like this, but I now understood that she was even refusing to simply stop and tell me her side of the story.
Even then, I didn’t want to give up without first revealing my trump card, so I asked once more.
“I want you to tell me what happened yesterday. Ōhinata might be misunderstanding something.”
“I appreciate the thought. I really do. But…”
Chitanda turned her head slightly and showed me a soft smile.
“This isn’t anyone else’s fault.”
Had I not been running, I would have most likely sighed then. She was so utterly convinced that that was the case. Even though there was something I knew and wanted to tell her…
I wanted to grab her shoulder to get her to stand still, but was no way I could’ve done that. Putting as much strength as I could behind my voice and praying that it would be enough to reach Chitanda, I spoke.
I tried to reason with that profile of hers.
“That’s not what it was. Ōhinata wasn’t angry at you for peeking at her phone. That wasn’t the case at all.”
For the first time, Chitanda’s infallibly rhythmic breathing began to crumble apart.
The course ran alongside the edge of the forest, but it looked less like a forest and more like some sort of grove surrounding the local shrine. The street in front of Mizunashi Shrine led to the riverside as well.
There were no traces of anyone else being in the shrine grounds. I couldn’t tell exactly what kind it was, but I could hear the sound of a bird chirping in the distance. There was a water spout, the kind that didn’t pour into any sort of basin, so Chitanda stood there collecting the water running from its diagonally cut bamboo nozzle using the shrine ladle and then brought it to her mouth.
“I’m quite skilled at running long distances.”
Chitanda continued, her gym clothes impeccably aligned on her body.
“I was thinking I would try to go through the entire course without walking once.”
“The water here is really cold and delicious. You should have some.”
Because she moved aside as she said that, I washed my hands and then took some as well. The crisp water looked cold enough to sparkle, so I figured it would hurt my stomach if I drank it all in one go. I took only a little into my mouth and let it slowly trickle down my throat from there.
When looking beyond the shrine’s tori, you could see the line of Kamiyama High School students running the course.3 None of them looked through this tori and up the stone stairs to notice us standing here, however. Chitanda suggested that we enter Mizunashi Shrine because “it wasn’t the kind of story you could tell while running on the roadside. Certainly enough, this place was very quiet, and it probably made it easier to calmly tell a story.
Chitanda’s head drooped slightly, and she stood gripping her left arm with her right hand. Watching me as I slowly drank the water, she asked me a question in a collected voice.
“You saw, right? What I did…”
“No, I didn’t. That’s why I want you to tell me everything.”
“You didn’t… see?”
Even as she muttered this, Chitanda didn’t urge me to go on. I washed my hands once more beneath the stream of water. The cold sensation felt good.
“I could only see your back. That, and I also heard you say ‘Yes.’ I could pretty much guess what happened though.”
“Did I really say something like that?”
“I guess you did it subconsciously after all.”
I showed her a wry smile.
When I parsed through my memories of yesterday, I remembered a single voice saying the word “Yes.” I had thought that it was somewhat sudden, but because Chitanda didn’t really say anything about it, I assumed it wasn’t a big deal and forgot about it accordingly.
However, when that single word brought me back into reality from the book I was reading, Chitanda and I were the only ones in the Earth Science lecture room. Thinking perhaps that Chitanda had been trying to call for me, I then replied with the typical response, “What’s wrong?”
What was that all about, then? Hypothetically, even had I mistook the sound of the wind for her voice, she should have reacted instantly when I called out to her. And yet, the first time I called she didn’t even turn around, and the second time I called she only briefly turned in her seat.
I should’ve realized the meaning behind it then and there. Essentially, Chitanda hadn’t directed a single word at me. As for why…
It wasn’t like she didn’t like me enough to suddenly start talking to me or anything.
“That ‘Yes’ was the was the sound you make when you answer a phone.”
“Is… that so?”
“Was I right about you answering a phone?”
“Yes, I certainly was answering a phone. I don’t really remember, however, if I said “Yes” or “Hello” at that time.”
It wasn’t an impossible story. People don’t often say those kinds of formalities consciously. Hypothetically, had I heard her say “Hello?” instead, I would have most likely known she was on the phone.
“Even when I called you, all you did was briefly turn around without saying anything.”
“I remember that. But I mean…”
“You couldn’t listen to me because you were on the phone.”
Of course, Chitanda wasn’t the one who made the call, she simply received it. If that weren’t the case, she probably wouldn’t have only started with a simple “Yes.”
Chitanda didn’t own a cellphone, however. I didn’t know if there was a reason behind it, but she didn’t have one regardless. Whose was it, then?
It may have been left behind by one of the students who had a class in the Earth Sciences lecture room that day. It was possible that it suddenly started to ring after classes had ended.
Upon further consideration, however, that seemed unlikely.
“If that phone was left behind by someone in a place that was difficult to see, I’d expect that the only way you would notice it would be if it made enough noise upon receiving a call or message. Yet, I didn’t hear a single thing.”
Ringing or beeping out loud was one thing, but even someone like me who didn’t have a phone knew that they made a dull “bzzz” sound when they vibrated against a hard surface. If a sound like that had reached my desk, I would have realized it after being pulled away from my book. After all, that’s’ exactly what happened when I heard the small “Yes.”
That meant that there was either no sound, or that the sound was so quiet it couldn’t reach me. Why was that?
“If the phone was Ōhinata’s, everything would make sense.”
“Ōhinata-san’s phone was silent?”
“No way, that’s not it. Try and remember; where was Ōhinata’s cellphone?”
Chitanda quickly responded.
“It was on top of the desk. Ōhinata-san put it there after she sat down.”
Thinking back on it now, something similar happened when we had all the Kagoshima artisan sweets laying around. Ōhinata placed her phone on the desk that time as well. I didn’t her remember doing anything like that when she was in her casual clothes, so maybe it’s solely a sailor uniform custom.
“And then yesterday, you had a textbook and notes on top of your desk. If you put a cellphone on a soft surface like those, the vibrating sound would have been quieter and I wouldn’t have been able to hear it.”
If you were visiting someone else’s house and the phone started to ring, what would you do if there was no one around to answer it. Simply ignoring it and waiting for it to stop ringing was certainly one option. However, the other option was to instead pick up the phone and inform the other party that “no one in the house is currently available.” In actuality, when we went to Blend earlier as trial customers, Chitanda ended up arriving late precisely because she had stopped to answer the phone at someone else’s house. When she realized that the cellphone was vibrating yesterday, she probably answered in order to pass on any messages.
It didn’t end happily with her good intentions, however.
“When you answered the phone yesterday, Ōhinata was missing, of course. It’s not like she left to go home, however. She probably just wandered off to go to the bathroom or something. That’s why she quickly returned. And that’s when she saw you using her phone.”
Chitanda slightly nodded.
Yesterday, after hearing that single “Yes,” the strong wind blowing around the classroom had started to make me chilly, so I went to close windows. The reason the wind was circulating so much could probably be attributed to the fact that the Earth Sciences lecture room door was open. When Ibara came later, however, I distinctly remembered that she had opened the door to get in.
This meant that someone had to have closed that door at some point.
That someone was probably Ōhinata. She had probably only briefly left, returned, and then finally left for her house. She closed the door behind her at that point, saw Ibara, and then told her she was going to quit.
“Ōhinata’s cellphone started to vibrate on top of my dictionary.”
Chitanda began to speak.
“Ōhinata-san went to go wash her hands so she wasn’t around. I thought it might be bad if I went ahead and answered on my own, but what if it happened to be really important… Anyways, I picked it up. I think I pressed a strange button and it suddenly stopped vibrating. I don’t really remember myself, but if I did say ‘yes,’ then I must’ve thought it connected. However, I couldn’t hear any voices coming from the other end.
“Because it wasn’t mine and I didn’t know how to handle it, I tried placing it in the palm of my hand and seeing if I could manage to hear something. At any rate, I was desperately thinking of how I could avoid breaking it… I remember you calling out to me. Thinking about it, actually, I should’ve asked you for help.”
If she thought that the call went through, I guess it couldn’t have been helped.
“You placed it into the palm of your hand, and after that, the person on the other end didn’t say anything.”
I fear Chitanda may have never used a cellphone before.
I’ve seen Satoshi use his phone numerous times in the past, so even I could hazard a guess as to how to use one. Ōhinata’s didn’t vibrate because it received a call. It most likely simply received a text. Chitanda probably didn’t press any strange buttons either. The phone vibrated for a predetermined number of seconds and then stopped by itself. Or perhaps it really was an incoming call, but the predetermined ringing length had expired, sending the call to voicemail. At any rate, Chitanda had held the cellphone in her palm and no call ended up going through.
Ōhinata had no way of knowing that, however.
“Ōhinata-san returned to the classroom. I had never seen her look at me with those kinds of eyes before, so I couldn’t even speak… She grabbed the phone from my hand and said, “Goodbye,” in a cold voice that it sounded like she was going to disappear forever, and then she immediately left. I’m stupid, aren’t I? It was then when I finally realized how much I messed up.”
“It was just a cellphone.”
“To me it was just a phone, but…”
Chitanda forced a bitter smile.
“All of us have something we treasure.”
Her voice was almost a whisper.
“Because I don’t have one myself, it was impossible for me to know just how much Ōhinata-san treasured her cellphone. Now I do know. To people who have one, its importance must be akin to something like that of a diary. No, perhaps even more so. If your friend peeked at your diary without telling you, wouldn’t that already be reason enough to cut ties with them? Everyone has secrets, and I thought that I knew that… It only makes sense that Ōhinata-san is angry at me.”
I could see where see was coming from. Certainly enough, things like that happened every now and then.
“What are you going to do now, then?”
“I planned on going to apologize to her once we returned to the school. After all, I couldn’t do even that yesterday.”
From Chitanda’s perspective, this was probably the obvious answer. If she tried her hardest to sincerely apologize, Ōhinata might be able to forgive her. That was if the cellphone was the only problem, however.
What happened yesterday wasn’t everything that had happened between them. Ōhinata most likely got angry when she saw Chitanda touching her phone. It might’ve even been the final straw, but it certainly wasn’t the whole problem. I responded.
“You should probably give up on that. It’s useless.”
Chitanda gave a slight nod.
“Oreki-san, you said it wasn’t because of the phone, didn’t you? If that’s true, then it probably will be useless after all. But if that’s the case, then…”
She became quiet and started to think for a little bit.
For someone often slow on the uptake, Chitanda always seemed to be sensitive during times like these. She suddenly lifted her head to look at me and started speaking, her voice dipped in loneliness.
“I’ve probably hurt her without realizing it, haven’t I?”
Things somehow ended up turning out like this.
Yesterday, before entering the clubroom, Ōhinata had been doing something quite peculiar. She had been hanging from a doorframe, looking as if she wanted to do something. In all reality, it probably wasn’t the case that she wanted to do something at all. The Earth Sciences lecture room door had been open, so it was possible to see inside. Knowing that Chitanda was the only one inside, Ōhinata hesitated. Just like when I hesitated while chasing after Chitanda earlier.
When I would be called to the Student Guidance Room, as I would stand in front of the door, not knowing why I was called there in the first place, I would slap my cheeks to find the resolution to walk in. Whenever I received a letter from my sister and assumed that it would just be something unsavory again, I would look up to the heavens and sigh before I cut the seal. These rituals of mine that I used to strengthen my resolve were probably just like her “hanging.”
In other words, Ōhinata headed towards the classroom yesterday with the resolution of one prepared to settle a battle once-and-for-all. She had planned from the start to resolve things with Chitanda. This could also possibly explain why she looked so disappointed when I showed up.
Chitanda brought both her hands in front of her and gazed downwards with melancholic eyes. She then muttered something, almost as if sighing.
“I won’t ask you to believe me.”
“That whatever I did to her wasn’t my intent. That, although it appears that I wasn’t a good upperclassman to Ōhinata, I didn’t wish for that to happen. That I don’t know what it was that I did wrong. I won’t ask you to believe me when I say these things.”
How could she say that this late in the game? I had no idea what spawned it. Sometimes, the things Chitanda said made absolutely no sense whatsoever.
“It’s too late for that now.”
“Yes, I know.”
“If you had truly thought that you did something to wrong her, there’s no way that you’d do something like stop in the middle of the marathon. You wouldn’t do it purposefully, not on a tiring day like this one.”
Chitanda’s head came up in surprise. I was the one to turn away this time.
This was, above all, a gamble. Had Chitanda done it on purpose? Did she truly put on a beaming exterior while secretly harming Ōhinata, forcing her to quit the club?
None of the evidence denied it.
Had this been the me of one year ago, I probably would have come to that conclusion. With my subjectivity out of the picture, a lot of information seemed to be pointing to the possibility that Chitanda had indeed pressured Ōhinata. There wasn’t anything that could decisively deny that.
But this past year had happened. Even if it wasn’t everything about her, hell, even if it was nothing more than the utter smallest of fragments, I had come to know Chitanda. I had heard about the story of her uncle. I had been taken to the movie video preview. I had gone to stay over at the hot-springs inn. I had sold the anthologies at the culture festival. I had had the pointless discussion after school. I had been trapped inside the shed. I had held an umbrella up for a doll.
That’s why I denied it.
Even though Chitanda might’ve seemed different from other people because of the extraordinary tranquility surrounding her, I didn’t feel like she would have chased away a new recruit.
It was a gamble born from an extremely irrational premise full of “I didn’t feel likes,” and what I ended betting on looked something like this: “Ōhinata felt pressured by Chitanda in the 40 or so days that she had spent with us, but not only did Chitanda not intend for that to be the case, she couldn’t even think of anything aside from a simple misunderstanding that might have caused Ōhinata to become angry with her.” And somehow, it looked like I won.
Mizunashi Shrine lay surrounded by giant cedars. The birds around us cried ceaselessly. I glanced at Chitanda out of the corner of my eye, and as she stood there bathed in the spotted sunlight filtered by the branches above, I thought she looked somewhat like a lost child who had finally been found.
Unfortunately, however, I had no time to spare. Chitanda’s group was the last of the second-years to start. I needed know everything before Ōhinata caught up.
“So what kinds of things did you talk about yesterday?”
Chitanda looked like she wanted to say something, but she eventually responded with a resolute nod.
“I understand. I’ll tell you everything that happened.”
Immediately after she said that, however, I heard her mutter something else under her breath.
“But no matter how I look at it, it was your normal, everyday after-school conversation…”
4. Present: 14.6km; 5.4km Remaining
Yesterday, I was reviewing my English class materials.
I could tell someone was in the hallway. Because it was so quiet yesterday, I could clearly hear the sound of footsteps. I couldn’t tell exactly who it was, however, until I saw you enter the class yourself. I also realized then that the person you were talking to was Ōhinata.
I could really feel that there was some kind of wall between Ōhinata and me. It was like she was always being far too polite when she said hi. That’s why I was really happy when she started talking to me of her own volition yesterday.
At first, we started talking about the textbook sitting on top of my desk. Things like about how she wasn’t very good at English, about how math would probably be more useful anyways, and about what subjects I myself was good at. I had thought it was a very typical kind of chat.
After that, we moved on to the weather. Because the Hoshigaya Cup was going on the next day, Ōhinata was telling me how she was hoping it would rain. Because I had assumed she was the athletic type, I believe I told her that I found her saying that to be unexpected. She laughed and then told me, “Running cross-country because I like it and running in school are two entirely different things.”
It felt like this entire conversation was predetermined, however. Thinking back on it now, Ōhinata might have decided on exactly what she was going to say ahead of time. She suddenly cut herself off and looked like she wanted to say something else. I didn’t encourage her to say it or anything, but I don’t think I did anything to prevent her from telling me either. But she ended up taking a small breath, and said this in her usual cheery voice.
“Ibara-senpai isn’t here today, huh.”
I didn’t know whether Mayaka-san would be coming or not, so I just went along with that.
“I suppose so. Perhaps she went to the Manga Research Society?”
As soon as I said this however, I realized I made a mistake and went to correct it.
“Oh that’s right, she quit already.”
I remembered that as soon as I said this, Ōhinata started to lean in out of curiosity.
“What? Ibara-senpai was in the Manga Society?”
“That’s right. She’s really good at drawing. I think she had some friends in the club, but it’s probably for the best that she quit.”
As I said this, Ōhinata seemed to become a little tense.
“Ibara-senpai joined the Manga Society because she liked manga, right? If she had some friends there as well, why would her quitting be ‘for the best’?”
I was somewhat at a loss for words. After all, I knew that Mayaka-san had experienced many painful things while being in that club. Mayaka-san would have likely never told Ōhinata-san anything about these painful experiences herself, so I wondered if it was okay for me to talk about any of it without asking her first.
That’s why I spoke about it very broadly, making sure as to not give any specifics.
“Let’s see. I do think that Mayaka-san still has some affection for the club, but… it seems that there were a lot of people in the Manga Society who had views differing from Mayaka-san’s. I’m sure there were still ways for everyone to agree on certain things, of course. Last year, I believe she put up with quite a bit.
“However, trying to reach an agreement while everyone continues to hold onto their differing opinions can be quite difficult. While she might have some regrets, I do think that she made the correct decision in the end.”
Ōhinata-san listened to me as I said this with uncharacteristic attention. It looked as if she were peeking into my eyes, and then as she politely lowered her head in front of me as I sat there troubled, she said this.
“Even then, you shouldn’t just abandon them, right?”
“Abandon” was such a harsh word to have chosen.
I’m sure you were also aware of this, Oreki-san, but Mayaka-san actively alienated herself from the dominating faction in the Manga Society. When talking solely about her supporters in the club, however, I suppose one could make the point that she abandoned those in the minority that looked up to her by quitting. Thinking that was Ōhinata-san’s point, I responded.
“It might’ve been painful, but Mayaka-san needed to look out for herself as well. Even though she was hurt in all the conflict, no one in the Manga Society came to her aid.
“Truthfully, there was no reason Mayaka-san had to introduce conflict into the Manga Society. It probably would have been best if she had simply remained aloof, appearing to only be concerned about the manga aspect. It’s already far too late for that however, and Mayaka-san isn’t the kind of person to do that anyways.
“…If she was going to eventually quit at some point, wouldn’t you agree that it was a good idea to do so at the start of a new academic year?”
Ōhinata-san was lost in thought. It made me feel a little happy that she was thinking of Mayaka-san to that extent.
After a little while, Ōhinata-san showed me a smile that even I knew was fake and got up from her seat, saying “I guess she didn’t choose a bad time, did she?”
She then added, “Excuse me for a second,” and proceeded to leave the classroom.
Oreki-san, I don’t get any of it! I didn’t really say anything that strange yesterday after school!
5. Present: 14.6km; 5.4km Remaining
I understood what Chitanda was saying. Certainly enough, had you heard only that, all her story would amount to would be “Chitanda was worried about Ibara and supported her decision.” The story being strange or not aside, none of it even concerned Ōhinata from the start.
However, I had also heard several other stories as well. I started to understand the true nature of the invisible wall that Ōhinata had holed herself up behind. Knowing this information while listening to Chitanda’s story, I felt like I understood somewhat just what it was that welled up from within Ōhinata.
Ōhinata thought that Chitanda was a terrifying upperclassman. Chitanda thought that she had pushed Ōhinata to the point of quitting. Before today’s Hoshigaya Cup had even started, I had realized something was off.
Satoshi had said it from the very start. He found it surprising that I had been able to recruit a new student into the club. I felt indifferently about the entire thing. It’s not like we really did anything in the club after all. Whether Ōhinata joined or left, none of it mattered to me.
However, I didn’t want there to be any unresolved misunderstandings left behind. If I was the one being misunderstood, I probably wouldn’t have minded, but that wasn’t the case.
“Is there anything else I can do?”
There shouldn’t have been anything else that I absolutely needed to know. There was still something, however, that I had decided I would ask Chitanda before the race had even started.
When I retraced through my memories before arriving at Mizunashi Shrine, I realized that there was one more thing I could only confirm with Chitanda. I thought it would’ve been strange to ask about it when it was brought up initially, but now I understood why.
”There is. I want to ask you one more question.”
“It concerns the day when all of us went to the coffee shop owned by Ōhinata’s relative. Before we left, Ōhinata asked you a single question. It was about whether or not you knew a certain first-year.”
As I expected, Chitanda instantly remembered.
“Yes, it was Agawa-san.”
“Who is she?”
That day, if I remember correctly, Chitanda was instantly able to answer when asked by Ōhinata if she knew her. I naturally assumed that she had some relationship with Chitanda.
“Well… I don’t really know anything about her.”
“All I know is that she’s a first-year in Class A.”
“Even though you don’t know her, you know which class she’s in?”
“Even you should know, Oreki-san.”
Chitanda had an incredible knack for remembering faces and names. After all, last year, she was able to remember my name after simply meeting me once in a music class that we were only briefly in together. That’s why I didn’t find it strange that she might have seen Sachi Agawa’s name somewhere. But I wasn’t capable of doing that myself.
There shouldn’t have been many opportunities for us to learn the name of an underclassman. I looked downwards as I thought.
First-year. Class A. Sachi Agawa.
“Someone I should know… Agawa… Agawa…”
Chitanda suddenly spoke up. She probably didn’t say it like that in order to tease me. At the same time, however, it suddenly dawned on me.
Agawa from Class A.
It was likely that out of all of the girls’ seating numbers, she sat at the most obvious one. This was representative of one having the best grades before entering the school.
“Was she the student representative during the entrance ceremony?”
“The number one boy from Class A, Naoya Aikura-san, and the number one girl from the same class, Sachi Agawa-san, were the ones who said the pledge during the ceremony. Of course, I thought the question was abrupt and somewhat strange, but I just assumed she was just trying to test my recollection.”
That wasn’t it. There was no way that was a simple test.
“Do you know anything else about her?”
“She had extremely long hair. Because I could only see her from behind, that was all I knew.”
Ōhinata probably wasn’t aware of this, however.
With that, I had asked everything I had wanted to ask. All that was left was to talk to Ōhinata.
I couldn’t say I wasn’t anxious. It was enough to make me want to follow Ōhinata’s example and try hanging from some doorframe somewhere.
“Okay, that’s plenty. I should be able to take care of the rest, so you should return to the course.”
As I said this, I raised my head.
Chitanda’s eyes lay massive right before mine.
As I recoiled back, she said this to me.
“I’m sorry, Oreki-san. I’ll leave the rest to you. Ōhinata probably won’t listen to anything I have to say anymore. But…
“If Ōhinata-san is truly suffering because of something, won’t you please help her? It there was some sort of unfortunate misunderstanding, won’t you please unravel it? I won’t ask you to bring her back to the Classics Club, but could you do at least this?”
That was my intent. That was my intent from the very start. I nodded that I understood, and Chitanda lowered her head slightly, turning back and dashing to the road once more.
- Boys’ Festival, taking place on May 5th, is often celebrated by hanging carp-like tube banners that flow in the wind. ↩
- Karaage is a method of deep-frying something without coating it with anything other than a small layer of flour. ↩
- The large, wooden (and often red) arches that are commonly found lining paths leading into shrines. ↩