I walked through the quiet connecting corridor to the lobby for outgoing patients. If it were here, there was the liveliness of background noise despite it being part of the hospital. There was the constant stream of announcements for patients and the sounds of people moving about. I felt the warmth that had enveloped my heart suddenly diffuse. I struggled for breath as I rushed past the lobby.
I bumped into Tetsuya at the entrance of the hospital.
He flashed a carefree smile my way.
“So you finally went to visit her, huh? Took you long enough. She must’ve been psyched, right?”
I gave a vague answer.
“So what? You’re leaving already? Hey, why don’t we go visit her room together this time?”
“I can’t. I don’t have any time.”
His smile remained on his face as he lifted his hand into a light wave. “Okay, then see ya.”
I said my goodbyes before turning to leave.
I cut across the front garden. As I made it to the road, I turned around and I saw that Tetsuya was still standing at the entrance of the hospital. He was waving his hand as a child would. His childish innocence touched my heart. For someone like me who with a secret, it made me want to look away from such innocence.
I couldn’t focus on my studies. Although all my classes were ones important to the entrance exams like English and Math, my mind kept drifting to Naomi and Tetsuya and so I couldn’t pay attention to what the teacher was saying.
Even when it came time for lunch, I was in a daze.
Despite the fact that I couldn’t focus on class at all, the idle small talk of the others in my class caught my attention. A group of boys who were sitting near my desk were talking about land. They were talking about whether the houses they were living in now were owned or rented by their families. They were talking about whether they were the eldest or the second son, and if they could continue to live in their parent’s house in the future.
They were discussing the prices of the apartment complexes and condominiums that were being advertised in the flyers included in the newspapers. Their discussion came to a conclusion that even if they were to graduate from a top-rate university, a house in the heart of the city would be out of reach. Everyone was jealous of the boy who was the son of a sake shop that had a warehouse behind the store; those who lived in apartments their families rented lamented that there was no point in even studying for entrance exams.
Eventually the topic switched to how to deal with the inheritance tax. There was someone who was acting like a know-it-all suggesting that the boy should tear down the warehouse, take out a loan and build an apartment building on the plot in order to lower the inheritance tax.
Hearing their talk made me want to cover my ears.
There was something that burned deep within me; it wasn’t painful, but it felt like a localized infection… the kind of twitch I felt right before an asthma attack.
Where was I…
There was such a stark contrast between the atmosphere of those around me and this feeling that was being harboured in my heart that I felt the faint oncoming signs of a sharp pain.
After I got off the elevator, I made a beeline for Naomi’s hospital room.
I didn’t want to waste another second before seeing her.
My steps were rushed as I came to a stop in front of her hospital room door. I made a move to reach over to the door knob when I heard someone’s voice on the other side. It was a stifled moan of someone who was trying to hold back their emotions.
My hand, which had begun to reach out for the door came to a stop, and I stood rooted at my spot.
I realized that Tetsuya must be in there.
I stepped back from the door as if I had touched a branding iron, and with that I turned back around and made my way back to the elevator.
I received the results of my mock test from September. A small card printed out from the computer was distributed to everyone in the class.
Strangely enough, I felt as if it didn’t really matter what my academic deviation value was, but since there was a part of me that was curious to know the answer, I peeked at the number printed on my card.
My score had remained at almost the same level.
I couldn’t help but think about how hard I had studied during the summer. It was true though that the rest of the class had also similarly attended cram school and putting their all into their studies, so it would have been more strange if my marks had been the only one to improve.
I was sure though that explaining how my mark hadn’t improved because everyone else was trying just as hard would only come across as an excuse for someone like my mother.
There was excited chatter in the class room.
The results of the mock exam were of utmost importance to the third year students at a municipal junior high. Regardless of whether the student got a high or low deviation value though, there were those who raised their voice and talking in a lively manner. The commotion was almost too much to bear.
“Hey, what’s with the glum look?”
Higashiyama, whose desk was to the upper right of mine, turned around and asked me. He was the only one who remained calm and collected throughout this whole ordeal.
“I just can’t get in the mood for this; there’s no point being swayed by something like this.”
“Yeah, that’s what I think. Even if you mess up when it comes to the real deal, it’s not like that means your life is over.”
He probably meant this in a light-hearted way, but the mere mention of “life” caused a heavy weight to press down on my chest.
Perhaps he sensed how I had turned pale, because he peered down at me with a look of concern.
“Yeah, it really looks like you aren’t into this whole thing.”
I just gave a slight nod in reply.
“Are you still thinking about whether to apply for a music school or not?”
“Well, that’s part of the reason, but…”
My sentence trailed off. He didn’t press the issue.
Higashiyama was someone who was quick-witted and had sharp instincts. He probably sensed there was a deeper reason for why I didn’t try to finish the sentence, because he quickly changed the topic.
“That reminds me. Funabashi hasn’t been acting himself lately either.”
As he said this, he turned to look at Funabashi, whose desk was located next to the window.
Funabashi was staring off to the sky outside. On any other occasion, if he saw us talking, he would have cut into the conversation to crack a joke or complain about something. He was someone who was never satisfied unless he was the center of attention, so I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him sitting by himself at his desk like that.
“He seems to have given up on trying to get into a high school, but it still probably stings to watch others get worked up like this. If only Shimoma were still here…”
Shimoma was someone akin to an underling of Funabashi’s who was treated more like a servant at times.
Back when we were in first year, Shimoma and I were picked on a lot by Funabashi. We were both the type who were often targets of bullying. We were both small in stature with reserved personalities.
Before long though, I stopped being picked on. It was because I began to show him my homework so I had earned his respect. This led to Shimoma being needlessly bullied. I did feel sorry for him, but I thought there was nothing I could do.
Eventually, Funabashi became the leader of the pack, and the number of followers increased. Even those followers though looked down on Shimoma and picked on him and it wasn’t long before he stopped showing up to school.
Shimoma was completely hopeless when it came to his studies. If he were still here, Funabashi would have been able to avoid being the last in the class.
“I can kind of understand why he stopped coming to school though.”
I related to him, and at the same time, I felt indebted to him. I felt ashamed that I hadn’t been able to stop Funabashi from bullying him.
Watching Funabashi acting like this though, he made a pitiful sight.
“He’s not that bad of a guy though,” I commented.
Higashiyama replied, “Yeah, but at this rate, it’s not looking too good for him”
He was right. The majority of the students in this class would be advancing on to high school. Those who had given up on continuing on to high school would have to endure another half a year of being surrounded in this atmosphere.
“Tomorrow’s the day of her surgery. You’ll come, won’t you?”
He was short in his message as he spoke from the other end of the line.
“Okay, I’ll be there,” I replied before hanging up.
After classes finished, I headed straight to the hospital. Tetsuya had taken the day off from school. I asked for the location of the surgery room at the nurse’s station, and made my way to it. In the hallway, I saw Naomi’s parents and Tetsuya.
“The surgery’s gone on for longer than scheduled.”
He said in a low voice.
“It seems that the tumour’s spread to her lungs. It’s turned into a major surgery.”
He had worked himself up into a state. I walked over to her parents. Her mother was visibly anxious, and even when I had walked up to them, she didn’t attempt to look my way. Naomi’s father smiled weakly and gave a nod of greeting. I silently returned the nod.
When I had made my way back to where Tetsuya was standing, he said quickly as if he couldn’t bear to wait anymore: “I’m not much use standing around here like this. Let’s walk around for a bit.”
We began to walk side-by-side down the hallway.
“Why don’t we go to the café?”
There was a café directly across from the outgoing patient’s waiting room. It was a lounge similar to one you might find at a rest station of an express way with its resin tables and steel chairs. It was less like a café and more like a cafeteria if anything. From the looks of it though, it looked like they served some casual meals.
Tetsuya said as he looked at the samples that were set up at the side of the front entrance: “I’m starving; I haven’t had anything for lunch.”
“I’m going to order a deep fried pork rice bowl.”
I ordered a cup of coffee.
It was probably the case that this place was only crowded during lunch time, because it was quiet now. Tetsuya began to scarf down the meal silently.
“You’re probably thinking how I could have an appetite at a time like this, aren’t you?”
He said this after he had finished eating and let out a sigh of content.
I remained silent. He continued talking: “Well, I can’t help it. Humans have no choice but to eat and continue living. Even I can’t help but think how pathetic that is. This isn’t the time to be eating a deep fried pork rice bowl, but I had an urge to eat one, and I ended up eating it all. I can’t forgive the me that did that.”
He had a pained expression on his face. His expressions were constantly changing as he tried to cheer himself up by demonstrating bravado, with brief moments of his weakened state showing through.
“This might be the end of the road for her.”
His shoulders were slumped as he said this. Even when his team had lost their sayonara match, he hadn’t shown an expression like this. It was probably the case that my expression mirrored his. In the past few days, I had avoided her and I hadn’t gone to see her. I couldn’t help but regret my actions now.
The cafeteria overlooked the courtyard. Although it was technically a courtyard, it had no flower garden; it was just lined with gravel with the vent pipe and the piping work for the basement set up in plain view. It was a cheerless space. There was nothing that moved. Only the immobile objects like the rock, wall and steel pipes emitted a dull shine under the drab rays of sunset.
Time passed. It might just be that while we were here, things were taking a turn for the worst. Even if that were so, there was nothing that either of us could do.
We wasted some time at the cafeteria before making our way back to the hallway outside the surgery room. The surgery was still ongoing. We stayed there for a short while. I didn’t know if there was a God out there, but in a situation like this, I couldn’t help but pray.
I couldn’t hear the sounds of anyone moving on the other side of the door. I could make out though the faint sound of a rhythm. It was akin to the sound of a heartbeat; Naomi was using the last of her energy to continue to do what kept her alive: breathing. That heartbreaking sound was faint but sure in its rhythm. I recalled seeing on some show or movie an equipment that amplified the sound of a patient’s heartbeats. I saw that very same medical equipment in the storage room of this hospital.
Was that where the sound was coming from? Was it her heartbeat, amplified by the machine, that could be heard from even the hallway? Or was this the sound of my own heart beating? Or was it that I was picking up on some sound that couldn’t possibly be heard through some strange natural phenomenon?
I wondered if Tetsuya was hearing this sound…
As if he couldn’t bear to stand still, Tetsuya began to walk down the hall. I followed suit. He once again headed for the direction of the front entrance. The cafeteria had closed and they had long since stopped accepting outgoing patients. There was no sign of another person in the waiting room. The fluorescent lights of the ceiling had been turned off. The small electric light of the pharmacy and the light from the hallway softly outlined the contours of the spacious room.
“It sure is tough to wait like this.”
He sighed before turning to me.
“Hey, why don’t you say something?”
I didn’t reply; I didn’t know what I could say. Suddenly, he reached over and grabbed my arm.
“Yo, let’s do some sumo.”
“Yep, sumo. Keeping still like this is driving me crazy.”
I’d never wrestled in my life. Since I was young, I always avoided roughhousing. Not only that, but the difference in physical strength between Tetsuya and I were too big.
It seemed though, that Tetsuya was dead serious.
“Let’s make the sumo ring from this chair to the wall. If you touch either, you lose, okay?”
And with that, he placed his hands on the floor and crouched down into position. There was no choice but to go along with him. I had watched sumo on TV before so I knew the gist of what to do. I mirrored his actions and got into position.
We were still dressed in our school uniforms— navy blue pants and a white shirt. Our belts served in place of the sumo wrestler’s belt. As soon as we broke hold, it turned into a migiyotsu. There was a significant difference in our physical strength, so I got into a defensive position by backing away.
“Hey, you’re not half bad!”
He exclaimed. I was terrible when it came to running, but I was pretty good at mat exercises. And with my fingers trained from playing the piano, I had confidence in my grip. I got a firm grip on his belt and pulled with all my might. I felt my body begin to tilt.
He raised his voice as his body twisted as he used his left arm to attempt an over arm throw. I tried to keep my feet planted firmly on the ground, but his throw was an aggressive one that pulled me forward, and after swinging around a few times, I was flat on the ground before I had fully registered what had happened.
A sharp paint shot through my shoulder and left thigh.
He asked, “Do you want to have another go at it?”
“Yeah!” I replied.
This time, he was the one to make the first move. His long arm shot forward so swiftly that I couldn’t get a grip on his belt. I was dragged backwards and he almost had me touching the wall. I made a quick right. This wasn’t a round sumo wrestling ring. Since the only boundary that existed was the chair and wall located directly in front and behind me, I could avoid him at any time by escaping to the sides.
He came at me with a serious look on his face. I ran away. If this turned into a foot race, I was no match for him. After doing one lap around the long oval ring, he managed to grab me by the waist and threw me in the direction of the chair.
“Hey, you okay?”
He had thrown me with such force that I had gone flying above the chair and landed on the cushions of the sofa before tumbling onto the floor.
I wasn’t sure if I was, but I got up: “How about another round?”
“Oh? You’re up for it?”
He looked a little surprised.
This time, I didn’t give him a chance to take the upper hand because I quickly moved forward to grab his belt. He struggled as he tried to get himself out of the hold, but I lowered my center of gravity and held on.
I heard his rough breathing. My breaths were also coming out in short gasps. My mind was blank. As long as I was moving my body about like this, I didn’t have to think about anything. I could empty my mind of thoughts, and put all my focus onto the movements of my opponent. Tetsuya grabbed at my shoulder and arm and tried to forcibly do a forearm throw. I kept a firm grip on his belt, and braced myself against his attacks.
When he realized he wasn’t getting anywhere, he once again began to try to push me off of him. I didn’t take a step back. The thought of backing away or pulling an under arm throw never crossed my mind. I wanted to go head-to-head against his strength with all the power that I had.
It might just be that he sensed this, because he no longer tried to any throws or pulling techniques, and switched to an attempt to pull forward. Although the evening was a chilly one, sweat poured down our faces. Tetsuya’s breathing became even more pronounced.
We both grabbed at the other’s belt or arm, and before long, I lost my balance, and my body tilted sharply. I kept my grip on Tetsuya’s belt. He attempted to push me back but our legs got tangled. He made a last ditch effort to throw me. I felt my body being lifted from the ground, but I continued to hold on to his belt. We were still tangled as we both crashed to the ground. I didn’t know who won or lost, just that when I came to my senses, I was flat on my back and he was sprawled over me. I couldn’t move.
My body felt hot from the exercise. The floor beneath me felt unusually cold, and was a stark contrast to Tetsuya’s body, which was emitting heat. That very body was shaking slightly now. His weight was making it hard for me to breathe. I shifted to the side, and I was finally able to free my left arm and I was about to push him off me when I came to a stop.
I realized why he was shaking.
He had his face buried in my chest and was crying silently. I felt the full weight of his shaking, heat, and weight of his body.
I reached over to put an arm around his shoulder.
We took the back entrance normally reserved for the security guards to go outside. While we were cooling down, Izumi-san came looking for us.
“There you two are! I’ve been looking all over for you!”
I gulped. I was scared to find out the results.
“The surgery’s over.”
“It’s over?” He repeated.
“So is Naomi…”
“She’s still under anaesthesia so she can’t talk now.”
“So she’s all right?”
“Of course! She’ll probably have to be given an IV drip for a short while, but the surgery went well.”
We exchanged glances.
“So where is she now?”
“We’ve moved her over to a private room, but no visitors are allowed. We can’t risk infection. It’s better if you two went home now. Look at the time!”
She pointed to the clock hanging on the wall; it was close to midnight.
We followed Izumi-san to the front of Naomi’s hospital room. Her father was standing there, so I asked what had happened while we were gone. He explained that Naomi’s mother was with the doctor right now so he didn’t now the details. He also said how when he briefly saw Naomi when she was being wheeled out of the surgery room, she was sleeping but she had a peaceful expression. Although he was smiling, his tired state seeped through from the way he talked. It might just be that just the act of talking was exhausting him. Since we didn’t want to stay too long and be a bother, we said our goodbyes and made our way to the exit.
The last bus had long since left. Tetsuya and I walked side-by-side through the night town void of people. He didn’t say one word, and I was the same.
We continued walking for what felt like a long time.
I saw the expressway; the underpass located directly below it was where we would part ways.
“Kitazawa,” he began to speak just as we approached the intersection.
I asked: “What is it?”
“How old are you?”
Three days earlier, I had had my birthday. Our family though didn’t make a big deal of birthdays. My father didn’t come home as usual. My mother left a birthday card on top of my desk with a bookstore gift card inside; it was the same present she gave me every year.
Kousuke gave me a pencil case. It was made out of black leather, and it was pretty tasteful. Since he passed through the terminal station to get to school, he knew a lot when it came to the kind of shops that sold stuff like this. When he gave me this gift, he had patted me on the shoulder saying, “From this day forward, we’ll be two years apart.”
Although we were only a grade apart, since he was born early in the year, we’d be two years apart for the next half year. That was all that was. My mother had lessons that evening, so the meal that night was the kind of meal we usually had.
“So you’re fifteen now, huh? Then that makes the three of us.”
I didn’t know why he brought up something like that out of the blue.
“Kitazawa, you were saying before about how you want to commit suicide, right?”
I didn’t reply.
“Don’t die, okay?” He said.
“Live to be a hundred, okay? And I’ll do the same.”
He grabbed my arm.
“Live to be a hundred, and during that time, let’s always keep Naomi in our memories, all right?”
He squeezed my arm.
He looked intently at me under the traffic lights.
“Let’s form an alliance. Since we’re all fifteen, let’s make it: ‘The Alliance of the 15s’. This is a promise between men, all right?”
“Okay,” I agreed.
When I had made my way away from the bus route, I could no longer hear any cars so it was like I was walking on no man’s land, with the sound of only my footsteps to keep me company. As I walked, I continued to pray. I didn’t know to who, or what it was that I was praying for. I didn’t know. I felt the tinge of the feeling that had taken over me back in the hallway of the hospital. I remembered back to Tetsuya’s tears. I couldn’t cry like that.
Suddenly, I heard the sounds of a car approaching. The light from the car headlights pierced the darkness, and a taxi with a green-coloured sign drove past.
It came to a stop not far from where I was. The door opened, and I saw the dark figure of a customer getting out; the person was drunk. He had his arms raised, and he looked to be doing some kind of dance. The person took a few unstable steps forward, and he began to head to the private road that led to my house. That was when I realized it was my father.
He looked like he was going to fall over at any moment, so I quickened my steps and caught up to him.
“…so what’s the…”
I couldn’t make out what he was saying very well, but he seemed to be muttering something. Before I could catch him, he went sprawling onto the ground. It might just be that he had simply tripped, but it seemed like he had purposely fallen.
“God damnit… this house…”
He raised himself to his knees and was staring at the house. There were tears in his eyes. I never guessed him to be a maudlin drinker.
I crouched down and spoke to him.
“Whose ‘father’? I’m not a father!”
He laid back down and rolled over onto his back.
“Father, it’s me.”
“Oh, well if it isn’t Ryoichi! What are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same thing. You shouldn’t be lying down in a place like this.”
“Where is this?”
“It’s the road in front of our house.”
“What? The house? Drat! I thought something wasn’t right!”
“What do you mean?”
“I was planning on going back to my office, but I guess I gave the taxi driver the wrong address. Ryoichi, do me a favour and grab me another taxi.”
“Taxis won’t be passing this way. What do you want to do? If you can manage to walk back to the main road, I can flag down one for you.”
“No, forget it. I’ll go home. Is your mother awake?”
“I don’t know. I’m just coming back myself.”
“What were you doing out so late at night? Were you out with your friends?”
He was trying to cross examine me, but since he was sprawled out on the ground like this, his words lacked power.
“At any rate, you need to get up.”
I grabbed his arm, and he didn’t put up a resistance as he sat up. His steps were unstable though, and he couldn’t walk properly. I grabbed his arm to put around my shoulder so I could support him.
“I’m sorry, son. The older I get, the lower my alcohol tolerance gets. My life might as well be over.”
“Father, it’s not much longer so just do your best to walk.”
Kousuke had long since passed my father in height, but walking side by side with my father like this, I realized I had become about the same height as him.
“This is the best I can do. Back in the day, I could down a 1.8 litre of alcohol like it was nothing. Lately, even though I’ve been doing my best to be careful, there are days when I wake up and I don’t remember what happened the night before. I bet that come tomorrow, I won’t even remember that you helped me back to the house like this.”
My father had mentioned before that when he drank too much, he had a tendency to forget what happened. I found out this first hand when he had no recollections the next day of how he had raised a ruckus which had led to a neighbour logging a complaint when he had invited a visitor to the house.
If he wasn’t going to have any memory of this…
I didn’t care who, but I wanted to talk to someone about everything that I had bottled inside.
“Father… Someone very important to me underwent surgery today. She’s… probably going to die.”
“Is she your friend?”
He asked as he leaned against me.
I thought about this for a brief moment before replying: “That’s right. She’s a very important friend.”
He put strength into his hand to give a firm squeeze on my shoulder.
“Ryoichi, you’ll realize this someday, but when you live a long life, people important to you will die one after another. This is something that can’t be stopped.”
I wasn’t sure if he had lost his footing, but he threw his other arm around me and leaned in close as he said: “And… Ryoichi. As you grow up and reach middle age, your dreams disappear one by one. Humans have to withstand this.”
He leaned into my ear and whispered: “Tonight, I went drinking with friends from back in college.”
His voice became choked with tears as he continued: “They were those I joined protests with. Originally, there were two others in our group, but one was killed in an infighting, and the other committed suicide. The bores that were still alive got together to think of the past with nostalgia and lament the times that have passed; being middle aged can be such an ugly thing. Do you get it, Ryoichi?”
At the very least, I could get the fact that the father who was in front of me yelling out the question wasn’t beautiful in the very least.
I didn’t reply. Since we had made it partly up the stairs leading to the front door, I gritted my teeth as I supported him.
“No, you couldn’t possibly understand.”
“The reason why I got into this soul-sucking job was to feed you three. You couldn’t possibly understand the level of self-loathing I had to face and how much I suffered to get this house built… Damn it all to hell… what good is this house for!”
The front door opened, and my mother stepped out.
“What are you doing? Quiet down before you wake the neighbours!”
She was glaring at us. I saw Kousuke standing behind her. It seems that my father’s shouts surpassed even Mahler’s music in volume.
“Kousuke, lend me a hand, will you?”
Kousuke came down the last of the stairs and helped to support him. With Kousuke helping me, it was easy to hold my father up. We carried him inside, and after taking off his shoes, we laid him down on the long sofa in the living room.
He began snoring loudly as he fell into a deep sleep.
The next day, I headed to the hospital with the intention of taking the day off of school.
Tetsuya was already there in the hallway by the time I got there.
“They’re still not allowing any visitors,” he explained.
He had dark bags under his eyes as if he hadn’t gotten any sleep the previous night.
“You might as well go to school.”
“I’m worried about her, so I’ll stay too.”
“Don’t worry; you should be able to see her this evening. If you go now, you’ll probably be able to get there just in time.”
“But you’re going to stay here, aren’t you?”
“I can get into any high school that I want to go to, but you need to be worried about the school recommendations, right?”
“Naomi’s more important to me than that.”
“It’s okay. Even if you stay here, it’s not as if it’s going to save her life.”
When he saw that I wasn’t budging from my spot, he got a troubled look on his face as he looked around. He spotted Izumi-san, who just happened to be stepping out of a different hospital room, and he called out to her.
“He’s saying he won’t go to school, so can you help me out? It’s not as if Naomi’s going to die at any second, right?”
“Of course not. You should go to school— that goes for you too, Tecchan.”
“Okay, I got it.”
And with that, he grabbed my arm and led me over to the exit.
But he only walked with me as far as the back entrance before returning to the hallway.
I decided I would go to school. I didn’t think Izumi-san was one to lie, and I thought I could take my mind off of things if I went to school. And, if I were to be honest, I was a little worried about my school recommendations too.
I got on the bus that was crowded from the morning rush. I got off at a stop partway through the route, so it was no easy task to make my way through the throngs of people to get to the door.
I heard someone call my name, so I turned to the road from where I had heard the voice. Shimoma was there sitting astride a motorbike. It was a 50CC motorbike but it goes without saying that a junior high school student couldn’t get a driver’s license at that age.
“What’s with the bike?”
“Pretty sweet, huh?”
Shimoma grinned proudly. The last time I had seen him was back in the beginning of first term. In this short time, he had grown, and he was built like an adult, but his expression was one of a young child’s. It made me think back to back when we had just started junior high school, and Funabashi had been bullying both of us. I had this feeling that it was because of me that Shimoma came to excessively bullied so that had been weighing on my mind.
It was clear he was riding the bike without a license, and the bike itself might have been something he had stolen; even then though, I felt uneasy at the thought of criticizing him.
“Riding a bike’s pretty sweet. Even a small one like this can reach close to 100kms. When I’m riding this, I can forget about everything. Want me to give you a ride?”
I turned him down. Since this was a small motorbike, it wasn’t meant for two people to ride on. It just had a small bike rack at the back.
“What? You scared?”
He said this as if he were challenging me. He had always been someone who was easily intimidated and who always looked away first, so it was as if this person in front of me wasn’t Shimoma at all. He had a look of confidence on his face that I had never seen. But at the same time, that confidence seem to be stemming from tough front that was fragile in its strength.
“Don’t get into an accident, okay?”
When I told him this, he snorted: “I’m not afraid of dying.”
And with that, he turned the grip shifter and took off. The engine let out a roar, and the tires gave a screech. He cut through the stream of cars before making a sharp U-turn and making his way back this way. He came to a stop a little farther on down the road and once again turned the bike around.
He was going around in circles in the same spot over and over as if he were showing off. The cars on the road were moving at a snails pace because of the traffic jam that came with the morning rush, but the buses and cars that suddenly had their ways stepped on their breaks and honked their horns.
Shimoma’s figure as he slipped in and out between the trucks and buses looked unbelievably small, and I couldn’t help but think what a reckless rebellion he was putting up. I wondered if I would have been the one refusing to go to school had my relationship with Funabashi had not improved.
It almost felt as if I could hear his voice. It was a familiar voice that I had heard many times before. But this time, it wasn’t one that I could relate to. I couldn’t get in the mood to ride on the back of a motorbike either. If it had been me a little while before, I might have just taken Shimoma up on his offer.
I ignored Shimoma, and began to head towards the school entrance. When I got onto the street that led directly to the school, I saw many students wearing the same school uniform walking. The time for the opening ceremony was soon approaching, so everyone was walking quickly.
Shimoma turned into the same street, and advanced towards the front gate. There were a few people who recognized him who waved to him or spoke to him. I cast my eyes down and walked towards the school as if I didn’t know him.
The moment I walked through the gates, I heard from behind me a deafening screech of brakes being hit. Followed closely was a thud, and the screams of the female students. I ran back past the gates, and I spotted the bike which was tangled into a mess under a truck.
I didn’t see Shimoma’s figure right away. I spotted some students as well as some passerbys rushing up to a spot near where I was standing. It seemed that he had been sent flying the moment his bike had collided with the truck, and he was lying face down on the road opposite to the truck.
By the time I went to where he was, there was someone who had attempted to roll him over. That person quickly abandoned hope and let go. Shimoma’s lifeless eyes were open, and his head was hanging limply. There was blood dripping down his face from his head, but his face had been spared of injuries.
His body and face didn’t look that different from how he was when he was alive, but it was immediately clear that his spirit was leaving his body, and what was left was a human-shaped object.
A group of people had formed a ring around Shimoma’s lifeless body. It wasn’t long before an ambulance and a police car came and he was taken away. I stood among the crowd in a daze.
As I neared the hospital, I began to feel weak-kneed.
The image of Shimoma lying on the ground was still burned into the back of my mind. It was my first time being that close to death.
It was probably the case that within the walls of this hospital, there were a countless number of patients who were battling with this thing called “death.”
My footsteps quickened.
There was no one in the hall standing in front of her hospital room. I wasn’t sure if I could just let myself in. I thought about going back to the nurse’s station just to make sure, but suddenly, the door opened.
Tetsuya’s head peered out.
“I knew it! It was you. I thought I heard a sigh.”
“I wasn’t sure if I could just go into the hospital room, so…”
“Sure you can. Come on in.”
He opened the door wider.
I saw Naomi. White sheets covered her up to her neck. Her eyes were open. She was staring straight up at the ceiling. Since Tetsuya was talking in a loud voice, she must have known that I had come, but she didn’t try to look in my direction. I quickly came to a realization that it wasn’t that she wasn’t trying to avoid me though.
It was that she was drained of energy. Like a receding tide, it felt as if her spirit has been sucked out of her.
The only other people in the room besides me was her mother and Tetsuya. Her mother seemed distracted, with a hollow look in her eyes. When I gave a nod in greeting, her eyes moved just barely in my direction, and she gave a slight nod in response. I was so nervous that I stood by the side of the bed.
Her gaze wavered slightly. Her eyes began to fill with tears and slid down the sides of her cheeks.
“I’m still alive.”
She said this in a hoarse voice. Her eyes remained trained to the ceiling.
“My chest feels empty.”
She closed her eyes. The tears that had already begun to fill her eyes again continued to flow steadily.
“How cruel life is. Even after my body’s become like this, I’m still alive.”
Her face was still a little swollen from the effects of anaesthesia. She had her eyes closed, so I couldn’t read her expression. Even though she was there in front of me, I felt as if she had gone somewhere far away.
I called out to her as if she were far off in the distance.
She asked, “What is it?”
“Don’t go anywhere, okay?”
“I’ll stay by your side.”
What could I say? We had only just met, and we already had to say our goodbyes.
I heard someone exhale. Tetsuya was watching us. Naomi’s gasps as she struggled to breathe pained me.
The time that Tetsuya and Naomi had spent together… the years they had shared that I could do nothing about was something that once again weighed on my feelings.
The class was abuzz with talk of what had happened to Shimoma. A newspaper article was written in the morning papers. It focused on not only the motorbike accident, but the problems he had of refusing to come to school.
“Well, I guess there’s no hope now of Funabashi going to high school, huh?”
Higashyama said this in a low voice.
The newspaper hadn’t mentioned anything about the bullying. Not only that, but it was back in our first year of junior high that Funabashi had bullied Shimoma. It was true he was still showing off what he was capable of behind the scenes as a gang leader even after becoming a regular player on the baseball, but the ones who started up the problems were always his followers.
When it came right down to it though, he was still their leader, so he was indirectly responsible for their actions, so it came as no surprise that the school wouldn’t write a letter of recommendation to a student like that.
The others in the class kept on glancing in Funabashi’s direction. He didn’t talk to anyone though, and he kept his head turned to the window. He had been like this lately. It made me even want to comfort him, but I couldn’t think of one thing I could say.
When I got to the hospital, Tetsuya was already there.
“The doctor’s examining her now.” He said in a low voice.
This wasn’t the time when regular check-ups were usually done; I had a bad feeling about this. It was only yesterday though that I had spoken to Naomi. Surely things couldn’t have taken a turn for the worse in this short time.
“Let’s go to the café.”
He began walking ahead of me without waiting for a reply.
As we walked, I told him about Shimoma’s accident, and about how Funabashi had been acting lately. He listened quietly.
By the time we got to the cafeteria, I had nothing left to talk about. Tetsuya didn’t show the same level of appetite that he showed the other day; he ordered the same thing I did: a cup of coffee. He didn’t try to start a conversation. I finally realized something wasn’t quite right.
“What is it? Did something happen?”
He kept his eyes on the ground and didn’t reply right away.
“It’s not a regular check-up, is it?”
He shook his head.
“She’s got an onset of pneumonia.”
She had one lung removed during the operation, and pneumonia had set in on her remaining lung; it was what we all feared the most.
“Fluid and pus got stuck in her throat which made it hard for her to breathe. They just finished cutting open her windpipe to drain the stuff. She can’t speak anymore.”
His voice was shaking. The feelings he had been trying to keep bottled up must have overflowed as he talked to me about it. His eyes were bright red.
I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t say anything.
He roughly rubbed his face with the back of his hand.
“I guess I’m a little tired.”
He had been coming to the hospital everyday. The tanned face that he had gotten from playing baseball outside everywhere was tinged with tiredness. The silence continued. He sighed deeply.
“My body’s always been pretty strong so I never really knew what it was like to be tired. Remember how I was cracking jokes at you and Funabashi when you were running on the school grounds way back when? My body’s always been pretty sturdy, so I couldn’t really understand how others could be any different. But now, even the smallest thing can send pain shooting through my heart. It feels as if a part of my body was cut off, and the wound keeps on opening to bleed.”
As he said this, he leaned forward and rested his elbows on the table.
“Kitazawa, I’m afraid of myself.”
He confessed with an expression as if he were about to begin break down and begin crying at any moment.
“My old man’s blood is running through these veins. The blood of a fickle, loose man. Right now, I’m only thinking about Naomi. But as the years pass, I might just forget about her and go chasing after the skirt of some other girl. I’m afraid of the me that might do that…”
He closed his eyes.
“Now, I’m crying. I’ll probably cry tomorrow, and the day after that. But what about six months from now? I don’t have any confidence in myself. Half a year from now when I enter high school, training for baseball’s going to start. Fans will form a circle around me.
If I can go to the high school championships, I’ll become a star. There will probably be a lot of temptations waiting for me, and I’ll give in to those temptations one day. I have a feeling that will happen.”
He lifted his head, and stared at me with a serious look on his face.
“Kitazawa, don’t forget our promise, all right? You’re the only one I can count on. If you forget her, I have a feeling as if memories of her will disappear off this earth. So don’t forget, all right? And live to be a hundred.”
Without saying anything, I gave a deep nod.
Once we returned to her hospital room, there were people standing in front of the door. Naomi’s father was talking to them; I guessed that they were her relatives. Since her relatives had been contacted, it was clear how serious the situation was. We stood to the side of the hallway in silence.
I got back home at close to midnight. I heard Mahler’s music coming from Kousuke’s room. Since I didn’t see my mother, I guessed that she had retired for the night.
I stood still for a while in the middle of the living room.
There was a dull pain filled with heat in the recess of my heart. It was likely the case that right now, Tetsuya was feeling a similar pain. He probably dealt with this pain by scarfing down a rice bowl dish… either that or taking some practice swings with his baseball bat.
I had a feeling I wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight; it was going to be a long night.
I went down to the lesson room in the basement. I sat down in front of the piano. Whenever I had a day when I didn’t touch the piano, I could feel my fingers weakening. It wasn’t just that either. Sitting in front of the piano was where I felt the most comfortable.
I wasn’t in the mood to play an actual song so I began by doing some training exercises for my fingers by playing some Hanon.
I wasn’t sure if it was because of my dark mood, but my fingers felt heavy. I still had a sense of feeling in my fingers, but it didn’t feel as if I were the one playing. It felt as if I were listening to the echoing of the notes from somewhere off in the distance.
After Hanon, I contemplated what to play next. I had a feeling that I would be able to play the mechanical melody of Beethoven if it were tonight. I played “Grosse Fuge” in succession. The notes blended together, assaulted in waves before receding. This wave of sound echoed deep in my heart, and I felt a sense of peace settle over me.
I didn’t even consider playing Ravel. I didn’t want to wallow in sentimentality; I wanted to put myself in the hands of the flow of the mechanical sounds. I wanted to focus on just listening to the music without having to think…without having to feel anything. If I didn’t do this, I was afraid that the wall of this thing that I was desperately trying to hold back would come crumbling down.
That’s right…. Sonata No. 15 would suffice…
It was called “Pastoral”. It was a calm, emotionless song. It was painting a landscape with sound. It was a song that was assigned to me, so I practiced it dutifully everyday. This song that I could never find it in myself to like somehow became the song that I felt best fit the current me.
I placed my third finger of my left hand on the principal D major. I began to layer on the triple-time rhythm in what seemed initially to be a careless manner. The chords played with my right hand echoed at a miniscule delayed pace as the metronome-like rhythm from my left hand continued on. The gentle movement of sound that I wasn’t sure could even be called a melody unfolded in a tedium manner. Although the quarter note switched to an eight note, the monotonous rhythm that lacked both a dotted note and syncopation and the unremarkable melody that was void of emotion were played with razor sharp precision without even a hint of dynamics or the wandering of the tempo.
I even ignored the crescendos and sforzandos that were specified on the sheet music.
I thought I had kept my emotions in check, but without even realizing it, tears were streaming down my face.
Similar to how rain drops gradually accumulated in a glass container with a rain gauge until it eventually topped off, something threatened to overflow from inside my heart. I held back those feelings that were struggling to break free, and I continued to pound away at the key in a systematic way. There was no need to raise my voice. Each and every metronome-like sound encompassed the pain. With each echo of sound, I was shaken to the core.
It felt almost surreal; it was my first time playing a piece like this. I was playing this piece like I always did, but each and every chord had something deep hidden in it. The melody I had originally began to play so nonchalantly sounded different to my ears. I was embarrassed to think back to how I always tried to add emotion to a song by adding accents and altering the tempo.
I hadn’t realized now the depth to this song. Unlike the Sixth Symphony that shared the same title, this song was one that was often overlooked and was rarely performed out of the thirty two sonatas that the composer wrote. I never thought it could be played like this.
I began the second movement of the two-part time. From beyond the echo of the chord, another sound began to reverberate. It was a rhythm that was trying to gradually dwindle but was persevering although faintly. I had heard this sound before. It was a rhythm akin to a heart beating that rooted itself into the deep recesses of one’s heart.
Amidst the systematic tempo that never once faltered, there was something intense hidden within it. I realized it was the pulse of life. It was its monotonous and unchanging quality that made you feel acutely what it meant to be alive— this song captured the rhythm of life.
I felt my fingers undeniably keeping up with this rhythm. Not once did I waver, or fall behind; the tempo stayed perfectly in sync as the performance smoothly progressed. After the last of the chord from the last movement faded, a deep satisfaction unlike anything I had experienced until now wrapped me into a gentle embrace.
When I finally lifted my hands off of the clavier and gazed up, I saw my mother standing just outside the room with the door slightly ajar. She had a shocked expression on her face as she gazed at me. It seemed that she had started to come into the room but had become rooted to the spot.
I stood up from the chair and signalled her with my eyes. She appeared to still be in shock as she stared at me intently.
There were four junior high school girls who were talking to Tetsuya in front of Naomi’s hospital room. They were wearing a school uniform with crimson-coloured ribbons; it wasn’t the uniform from our school. I guessed that they were Naomi’s classmates.
I knew that she had been attending a private junior high school, but I never thought about what kind of school uniform she wore there.
Even with the uniform in front of me though, I couldn’t imagine her wearing them. The Naomi that I knew was always in a hospital room wearing light pink pyjamas with a blanket over her as she glared at me with a sulky expression.
I didn’t know if it was because Tetsuya cracked a joke, but the girls let out a laugh. They muffled their laughs because of where they were now, but despite this, Naomi’s relatives who were in the hallway frowned in their direction. Even then though, their laughter didn’t die down.
Tetsuya was laughing right along with them.
I stopped a short distance away from her room. It was probably the case that I had an expression similar to the one her relatives had.
When Tetsuya spotted me, a sour expression transformed his face.
“Well it took you long enough,” he muttered.
He said this in brusque way as if he were trying to hide his embarrassment. Although he had been laughing with those girls, I knew that as soon as they left, his eyes would become tinged with red again. He was just that kind of guy.
He walked up to me and avoided looking in my direction as he explained: “They’re Naomi’s classmates. I told them that she wasn’t receiving visitors but Naomi’s feeling a little better than she was yesterday. She’s awake, and she can understand what we say. She seemed like she wanted to see you. I’ll go and get those girls to leave, so once they’re gone, go inside, all right?”
I watched him as I wondered how he planned on doing that. He smiled and asked them if they wanted to get some tea as he ushered them to the front entrance. Once they rounded the corner, I could hear him cracking jokes and a light-hearted atmosphere overtook the conversation.
After I watched them walk away, I turned and went into the hospital room.
As I closed the door, I felt a suffocating quietness wrap itself around me. I could hear the swish-swish sounds of the machine. A material that reflected white caught my eye. It was an oxygen tent meant to administer oxygen inhalations to a patient. The plastic was transparent. Perhaps it was because of the condensation, but it seemed slightly cloudy. Through that white mist, I could make out her face.
Naomi’s mother and Izumi-san, the nurse, were in the room. Her mother was looking like a sick patient herself from worrying about her daughter. She didn’t even seem to notice that I had come into the room. When I stayed standing by the door, Izumi-san beckoned for me to step closer.
Naomi was awake, and noticed right away when I came to stand by her bed.
She couldn’t speak; her throat which had an incision made in it, had been wrapped with a white gauze.
Her hands and legs didn’t move either. Her skin was unnaturally white and dry. I wasn’t sure if it was because I was looking at her through the oxygen tent, but she looked like a lifeless doll. It was only her eyes that still retained its liveliness.
She gazed at me as if she were desperately trying to tell me something.
I touched the edge of the bed, and leaned down so I was closer to her. Her eyes watched me as I did so. I continued to gaze down at her as I watched her in silence.
“You’re always so quiet”
Her eyes said to me. I nodded in reply.
Her expression didn’t change, but I sensed that she laughed faintly through her eyes. And in the next moment, as if in slow motion, her lips began to move:
I couldn’t hear her voice. There was no denying her lips were moving though.
After a brief pause, her lips began to move once again:
Her eyes twinkled. I didn’t reply. She knew that death was drawing nearer.
Once I stepped out into the hallway, I spotted Naomi’s father. Tetsuya had yet to return.
When he noticed me, a smile appeared on his face. This person was always smiling and mild-mannered. The night before, there had been a hint of exhaustion in his expression, but today, he was back to his usual demeanour. It was probably the case that during the night, he had prepared himself for what was about to happen.
“Were you able to speak with Naomi?”
He asked this, but we both knew she couldn’t talk. I couldn’t help but think what a strange person he was.
“She can’t speak with words, but she can talk through her eyes. She’s just that kind of girl.”
His eyes softened and his expression was peaceful; but I could also see behind his expression a sharp gaze that studied me.
He walked up to me, and began to talk in a low voice akin to a whisper:
“Kitazawa-kun, was it? We never did have many opportunities to sit down and talk, but I am grateful to you for having given Naomi so many wonderful memories. I don’t know very much about music, but I sensed that you are a sensitive person. My daughter, Naomi, is the same. She is blessed to have met you. I truly believe that.”
He let out a small sigh. He turned his head to the side, and gazed absentmindedly down the hall as he continued:
“My wife is also the sensitive type. We were introduced through a mutual friend, but the actual meeting was more like a marriage meeting. I spent most of my time at the laboratory since back in my university days so I never had much of an opportunity to meet women.
My friends must have felt sorry for me since I was the age that I was, and went about setting up a meeting with her. My wife was also someone who wasn’t very social so even after she passed the age when most women married, she had yet to marry. The first time we met, I was struck by her beauty. I couldn’t understand why a woman as beautiful as her had yet to marry. Once I began to see her, I understood why.
She has a nervous temperament, and she had a tendency to close herself off from the rest of the world. Even now, I’m not sure why my wife chose to marry me. Perhaps she thought I was harmless since I was only ever thinking about my research, and in reality, there were many days when I would stay overnight at my laboratory so I never spent very much time at home.
We never really spent time sitting down to have a conversation either. It seemed to me that rather than be lonely, she derived a kind of joy from spending time alone. She’s just that kind of woman. She’s someone who’s scrupulous when it comes to cleanliness so she carried out the household chores with perfection.
There weren’t any particular problems in our marriage, but we didn’t have any common interests that we shared. To be honest, there were times when I wondered why it was that we married in the first place. I was worried that I would go a lifetime without ever seeing her heart…”
He gazed at somewhere far away, and a brief expression of pain flashed through his features. When he once again turned to look in my direction though, a smile had formed and he looked peaceful.
“But time soothed those worries. My wife’s health was frail, so the doctors had told us that she would likely never conceive, but miraculously, Naomi came into this world. Naomi was a sensitive child. Frankly speaking, until that point, I could never understand people with such personalities.
But Naomi also took after me with her cheerful and carefree demeanour. Since there were qualities we both shared, I could understand her well, and with time, I began to understand the other parts of her character as well. And it was through Naomi that I slowly began to understand my wife better.
These fifteen years that we have had Naomi have been wonderful years. I honestly believed that this happiness would continue with her becoming an adult, getting married, and bearing children, but it wasn’t to be. When the doctor diagnosed the illness, I was in shock, and I grieved for her.
When I thought about how she had only spent fifteen years on this earth, my mind went into a state of despair, and I couldn’t concentrate on my work. But this past six months, I’ve began to regain my sense of calm. No matter how much I grieved this reality, it wouldn’t make a difference. And although it may come across as harsh to say, it is true that we will have to continue living after Naomi departs from this earth.
I thought about my wife and I. There were times I worried that when Naomi, who served as a bridge to connect my wife and I, passed away, that we would once again go back to the way we were before she was born.”
His expression clouded over briefly as he gazed at me. He nodded deeply twice as if he were telling this to himself: “There’s nothing to worry about. I’m not the me that I was when I was younger. I’ve noticed that these past few days, my wife has been on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
But the person I am now can understand her. I have Naomi to be thankful for this. And I am sure that with time, her suffering will be soothed. And I truly believe that just as I understood her, she would do the same for me in return. If you are wondering why, it is because we share the same pain. We can live our lives soothing each other’s pains.
It’s probably the case that even after many years have passed, we will still continue to talk about Naomi. Those memories we share of hers will be enough to tie us together for a lifetime. I am thankful to Naomi. I am also thankful to this fate that blessed me with a daughter like Naomi. It was only half a year ago that I cursed fate, but now, I feel as if I can be grateful for it.”
He let out a deep sigh, and smiled at me. It was a beautiful smile. It was the kind of smile you saw only once or twice in your life. By the time I realized it, tears were streaming down my face.
I also had memories of Naomi. I could understand his feelings, if only a little. I wondered if that feeling was reflected in my expression. Naomi’s father, who had been looking at me as if he were curious as to see my expression hastily looked away; I also noticed tears in his eyes.
“I’m sorry that I bored you with talk about my wife and I. It’s just that I had a feeling that you might understand, so I couldn’t stop myself.”
He grasped my hand with his and I also returned his grip. I never thought that I would be holding hands with a grown man like this.
I parted ways with Naomi’s father, and I headed in the direction of the exit. Tetsuya still hadn’t returned. I doubted that he was in the cafeteria talking away with those girls. He put up a cheerful front in their presence, but it had to be the case that deep down inside, he was suffering. I understood that he was the kind of person who pushed himself to be cheerful when he was suffering.
The outgoing patients’ waiting room became crowded near the end of the afternoon visitation hours. Amidst those people, I spotted Tetsuya.
The moment my eyes landed on him, I was shaken.
He hadn’t realized that someone was looking at him, because he had a dark expression on his face. It was as if a spotlight were being cast over him. Amidst the crowd, he was the only one who stood out. He was standing there. We shared the same memories. He was the only one who understood how I felt, and it was the same for me. I continued to watch him intently.
When I stepped into the classroom in the morning, Funabashi suddenly came up to me.
“Yo, guess what! I’m gonna be able to go to high school!”
He looked excited, and it was as if the Funabashi from yesterday had never even existed. Higashiyama was standing nearby. I guessed that Funabashi had been telling him the good news just now.
Higashiyama explained: “It seems Tetsuya was the one who arranged it all.”
I looked towards Funabashi. For an instant, a worried expression flashed across his face.
“He put out a condition that he would only go to the school if they’d accept both a pitcher and catcher, and only one school ended up agreeing to those conditions. It doesn’t seem like the school that offered was his first choice. I don’t feel too good about that.”
He lowered his eyes and rounded his shoulders. Higashyama patted him on the back and said: “Don’t worry about it. Tetsuya didn’t care which school he went to. It’s true that the private schools are more popular, but it’s not like he’s been thinking about university anyway. He was searching for a school that needed him, so the school that asked him to come regardless of the conditions is his number one choice.”
It was only two days ago that I had told him about Funabashi. It might just be that he had spent all afternoon and evening calling up the schools from the hospital. It was just like him to put to action something as soon as he decided on something. He hadn’t mentioned a word of this when I saw him last night. I guess that was like him too.
“Kitazawa-kun! Hey, Kitazawa-kun!”
Ms. Miyazaka stopped me in the hall. I hadn’t even noticed that we had walked past one another.
“What’s wrong, Kitazawa-kun?”
She looked surprised as she asked me this.
“What do you mean what’s wrong? Do I look that strange?”
“Well, no, you don’t look strange… it’s just you have such a cheerful expression on your face!”
It was my turn to be surprised. That couldn’t possibly be true. This morning, I received word that Naomi had slipped into a coma. Tetsuya remained at the hospital, and I had headed to school. It was because I thought he had that right considering how long he had known Naomi.
Even then though, I couldn’t bear the thought of being here any longer, so I had decided to leave school early and was rushing down the hall. It might just be that it looked to hr as if I had a cheerful expression because I was in a rush.
When I stayed silent, she studied me closely as she commented: “You’ve become so mature lately. I’m guessing you’ve decided about the entrance examinations?”
That was true. Two nights ago, my mother had agreed to let me try out for a music school. I briefly explained this to her.
“Oh really? Well I’m glad to hear that.”
But my mind wasn’t on that now. I cut the conversation short and left the school grounds as quick as my legs would carry me.
When I got off the bus, the clear autumn sky was almost blinding in its brightness. I practically ran to her room. There were a throng of people standing in the hallway; they were her relatives. There were a few people that I recognized, so I nodded my head in greeting before heading into the hospital room.
Inside, there were even more people. There was a doctor along with a few nurses who were watching over her. Naomi was in the oxygen tent. Long cords and pipes were connected to the large machine. There was also a machine that showed the rate of her heartbeat. It felt as if the machine was the one who was moving her heart rather than the other way around.
A hand reached out from the crowd and grabbed my hand. I was pulled into the throng of people. It was Tetsuya; he pushed me in her direction. I stood right beside her bed and gazed at Naomi, who was lying flat on her back with her eyes closed. The transparent vinyl of the tent had condensation built up in it, so it was as if a veil were covering her. Naomi didn’t move an inch.
A wall that couldn’t be broken separated us. Even if I were to reach out to her, I wouldn’t be able to reach her…that’s how I felt.
I wasn’t sure how much time passed, but the atmosphere in the room suddenly relaxed. The machine continued to show her heartbeat, but it was only an electric pulse that was sent from the machine itself. Naomi’s father gave a deep nod and whispered something to the doctor.
The doctor also leaned down to say something to him. I heard someone sniffling. Naomi’s mother was holding onto the edge of her bed and was sobbing hysterically. Her father had his mouth closed in a tight line but he wasn’t crying.
Tetsuya’s eyes were red, but he was holding himself back. One by one, the switches for the machines were turned off, and finally, the heartbeat shown on the monitor stopped.
We all left the room. The hallway was abuzz with noise. Naomi’s father was making his way around to the relatives. It was probably the case that the next while would be a busy one with the wake and funeral. Tetsuya and I walked side by side down the hallway in silence.
It was night. The front entrance was closed. We left the building through the back entrance. The lights of the town looked blurry. We continued along the bus route at a slow pace.
“Kitazawa,” he said after we had been walking for a while.
I looked his way. He kept his eyes trained forward somewhere far away.
“Live, you hear me?”
He said this in a harsh voice.
“Yeah, I hear you,” I replied.
And with that, we continued walking straight on the night road void of human shadows.
[ THE END ]
[Note: Please do NOT post these translations on other sites or message boards.]