Prologue

Monday – July 7, 1992 (Heisei 4)

I had a thought before leaving the house and decided to call one more time. The line rang and rang, but the person on the other end wouldn’t pick up. I knew she was only pretending to be away, so I wasn’t expecting the call to go through this time, either.

Imagine my surprise when she, Machi Tachiarai, picked up on the third ring. I was taken aback. Without even saying hello, she spoke. In a voice that bordered irritation, she uttered a single word in her characteristically low voice.

“Yeah?”

I dampened my lips inside my mouth. “It’s Moriya.”

A small sigh came from the other end. “You never learn. It’s about that again, isn’t it?”

I nodded, but there was no way Tachiarai could see that, of course. Another sigh escaped her lips, becoming white noise by the time it reached my receiver. As if carefully warning me, she continued slowly, putting weight behind each word.

“I thought I already told you my answer—pretty clearly, if you ask me—but I’ll say it for you one more time: No.”

“I’m meeting up with Shirakawa today. The two of us are going to talk about it.”

“Two people, three people—I don’t care. Do whatever you want, but I’m not having any part in it. Haven’t I already said this plenty of times? I’d recommend you give it up as well, Morika-kun. You should forget about her already.”

There was no way to reason with her. That said, Tachiarai wasn’t lying. She had told me the same thing over and over; but a year ago, in our senior year of high school, she wasn’t like this at all. No matter how cold she may have seemed, Tachiarai had—in her own special way—always accepted her, spent time with her, and had even seen her off with a smile. And yet, even though that had only been a year ago…

My grip on the receiver tightened.

I wouldn’t be able to persuade her. I had known as much before I even dialed her number, but I wasn’t about to give up so easily.

“Today, we’ll have the research materials that Fumihara’s gathered—we’ll even use the diary. Now that we can search through all of them together for clues, we should be able to find the answer. Things would go even more smoothly if you were there. We won’t be wasting our time.”

There was a brief silence. I held out the smallest of hope.

“Listen, Moriya-kun: The reason I don’t want to help you isn’t because I’m afraid our efforts will be in vain, it’s because I just want to forget about her.”

“…”

“I see,” I whispered. Why would she say something like that? I didn’t think she had any painful memories associated with what happened. No, I suppose her happy memories could have soured over the last year. The one thing I knew, though, was that Tachiarai wasn’t going to tell me either way.

“I understand.”

“I’m happy you do.”

The voice on the other end softened a bit.

“But if you managed to gather all of that, I suppose you might get to the bottom of it after all, Moriya-kun.”

“I’ll tell you about what we figure out, then.”

“Don’t bother. I keep telling you: I want to forget.”

The call disconnected without so much as a goodbye. I wasn’t expecting the conversation turn out any differently, so I can’t say I was disappointed. On the contrary, I think it was cathartic to have been able to talk to her at all.

I picked up the bag lying at my feet. Inside was a diary from the previous year. I put on my shoes in the entranceway and opened the door. My brow furrowed as it greeted the hot air.

 

The sofa was far too soft, sitting on it proved to be uncomfortable. The mild air conditioning, the coffee with chunks of ice floating on the surface, the laughter from the other side of the room—all of it was uncomfortable.

I had misjudged how long it would take to walk there, so I arrived a little late. My tardiness gave Shirakawa enough time to have prepared everything in advance. On the gray table, there laid a scrapbook, loose leaf paper, publications, paperbacks, hardcovers, and even some tradebooks. All of these materials had been methodically chosen and logically arranged. As my eyes trailed down this mountain, they finally met with Shirakawa’s.

Her hair was cut into several layers and bobbed in a way that could only be described as looking like a kappa. Her bangs were light and shaggy; not too long ago, she didn’t have them at all. Neither her black jeans nor white and light-pink striped tank top seemed like clothes the Shirakawa I used to know would wear at all, but the warm aura that her round face and ever sleepy eyes exuded hadn’t changed one bit. Her name was Izuru Shirakawa. It had been about half a year since I last had a proper conversation with her. At the moment, though, her eyes were dark and depressed.

It was a small cafe. The barista himself came to our table to take my order. Anything would have been fine, but I ended up ordering an iced coffee to match Shirakawa.

Next to our materials was a manila envelope. I could see three folded sheets of stationery inside. The envelope had its intended recipients printed on its front: Izuru Shirakawa and Michiyuki Moriya. Shirakawa noticed my staring at it.

“It’s from Fumihara-kun. He said he’s sorry he couldn’t come. It’s for me and you. Want to read it?”

I shook my head. I still talked with Takehiko Fumihara over the phone every now and then. I’d already heard more than enough about his opinions on the matter. A written letter out of the blue wouldn’t add much. Still, it was pretty strange for Fumihara, someone who was famously disagreeable about anything and everything, to send something like a letter. A letter from him could be considered the utmost gesture of solidarity. I couldn’t help but smile as I thought this.

The materials on the table had mostly been gathered by Fumihara himself. Since he lived far away, he sent a cardboard box full of resources to join us in his stead. I couldn’t really do much with the reference books, but I was extremely grateful for the scrapbook. I was truly glad to have received Fumihara’s assistance, curt as it may be.

On the other hand, though…

“Machi’s not coming after all?” Shirakawa muttered.

I nodded. “She actually answered her phone today, but she might as well not have. It looks like she wants to forget about the whole ordeal.”

“I see…”

“Sendou’s being so cold.”

I wasn’t saying that to criticize her. Sendou—Machi Tachiarai—was always known to act that way, so bringing it up now wasn’t me lashing out at her or anything like that. However, even though I thought we had that mutual understanding, Shirakawa came to her defense.

“Don’t say it like that. I don’t think Machi means it that way…”

Without asking her which “way” Tachiarai meant it, I dropped the subject. After all, we didn’t meet today to discuss Tachiarai.

The four of us—Shirakawa, Fumihara, Tachiarai, and I—all had a common friend. The time she spent with us was short, but it left a lasting impression. Those vivid memories were deeply rooted in our minds and would never fade. Her name was Maja.

Condensation dripped down the side of my glass of iced coffee and dampened the coaster beneath it. Shirakawa pushed both of our glasses to the edge of the table and then placed a Campus notebook in front of her. She gripped the ballpoint pen with her dainty fingers and the opened the notebook to the first page. Even its price tag remained untouched. She started to slowly move the pen across the page. I looked down, curious as to what she was writing, and I saw her jot down the names of several countries with somewhat bubbly handwriting. As I watched, I understood. Just as I had expected, there were six names lined up on that singe page—the names of far, faraway countries. Shirakawa looked down at the list.

“It’s got to be on this page, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“Maja’s returned to one of these places.”

It looks like that whisper wasn’t directed to me. There was no doubt that one of these places was where Maja had been born. Among these, one was likely in no immediate danger. The remaining five had become embroiled in conflicts both large and small. Had Maja returned home to a safe area, there wouldn’t be any problems. But there’s a chance—what if she had returned to a battleground instead? The letter that she had promised to send after going back still hasn’t arrived.

It wasn’t for long, but while she was here, Maja had lived under the same roof as Shirakawa. Shirakawa always was an emotional person, so it wasn’t impossible that she might let her emotions get the better of her here. I had to take a strong stance.

“It’s probably best if we’re as detached as possible today.”

“What?”

“Look, I understand what you’re going through, but this will be hard if we get too emotional.” I crossed my arms naturally and looked down at the six country names as well. “I want to know if Maja’s safe, too, but if we don’t approach today objectively—as simply gathering and analyzing information—it’ll throw our judgement off. We’ll get some half-assed result and still end up anxious. Be it through deduction, induction, reduction to absurdity—I don’t care what—we need to suppress our emotions or else today will be a waste.”

I thought I might’ve been too harsh, but to my surprise, Shirakawa nodded understandingly.

“Yeah. No, you’re right.” She then continued, “…But I’m not confident I’ll be able to do that. It’s not like this is some stranger. It’s Maja we’re talking about. Can you stay emotionless, Moriya-kun?”

I didn’t tell her I could. I stayed truthful: “I’ll do my best.”

It was all I could do.

As if putting her feelings aside, she nodded with conviction. “So, do you have it?”

I nodded, and then pulled out a notebook from within my bag. Just like the newly bought one on the table, it was a simple Campus notebook, devoid of any personalization. It wasn’t brand new, though. It was a diary that had been thoroughly worn in over the last year. I flipped through the pages to show her the contents. Her expression was clearly pained at first, but only moments later, a faint smile surfaced.

“It’s really her diary, isn’t it?”

“That’s what I’ve been telling you.”

“I know, but… you really are a hard worker, Moriya-kun.”

She reached out her hand, and I pulled the diary the same distance away. Her brow furrowed with suspicion.

“You’re not going to let me see?”

“It is a diary, after all.”

“Then how are we going to use it?”

“Don’t worry, I’ll read the important bits out loud.”

Shirakawa looked like she had become all the more uneasy. But her actions defied her expression as she turned to a fresh page in her notebook, without saying a single word. With the pen in her hand once more, she lowered her head and then looked at me with upturned eyes. “Fine, I understand. Shall we begin?”

I silently nodded.

From Shirakawa came a faint whisper so quiet and earnest that it could have been confused for a prayer. “I hope this goes well.”

Instead of vocally agreeing, I responded with a small nod.

I exhaled deeply to calm my nerves.

The barista with round glasses brought the iced coffee I ordered and placed it on the table in front of me, taking care to avoid the documents. The cup’s exterior hadn’t even started to condensate yet.

I opened the diary and searched for the entry marked “April 23.”

Of the hazy memories from my blurred past, several images still remained vivid in my mind: eyes that seemed to pierce into my own, black hair, a soft white neck, the phrase: “Does it have a deeper meaning?”, and a chrysanthemum. As if those memories illuminated their surroundings, brightening my other memories for me to see, I began to recall the days, one-by-one, that had come and gone in my past. Freshly brought forth into my memory once more, she was still beautiful. But the reason I might’ve forgotten that up until now was because she had shown me something of even greater worth.

…It was fifteen months ago in Fujishiba City. It happened while Tachiarai and I were returning home from school. It was while we were chatting like usual.

And then… that’s right, it was raining that day. It was a seemingly eternal rain. It was a spring shower. It was spring.

 

I felt like I could even hear the sound of the raindrops hitting my umbrella once more.


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