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Chapter 10: Boy Meets Girl
I immersed myself in work for about the next six months.
The Mimories I produced in this period were so well-made, even I was cocking my head. Maybe because I'd lost patience with reality (or it lost me), it increased my attachment to fiction? No, not exactly. It also wasn't that I was starting to feel how little time I had left, making me want to leave the world with proof that I lived. The explosive agent was the forgetting caused by New Alzheimer's.
You'd think that when you lose memories, your creative abilities would decrease in turn, but it was actually exactly the opposite. Forgetting had beneficial effects on Mimory creation. Because New Alzheimer's didn't take knowledge, only experiences, it served as a tailwind for a creator of my type. The symptoms would be devastating for a Mimory engineer who referenced their own experiences to make Mimories, but being a Mimory engineer who created Mimories from nothing, forgetting my experiences really wasn't an issue for me. It actually brought many boons: an escape from narrow-mindedness, the destruction of fixed notions, an objective perspective, increased processing speed by freeing up working memory, etcetera.
I wondered if this was why artists tended to like smoking and drinking. Strictly in professions where moments of enlightenment were key, forgetting was a powerful weapon. With it, we could write out line 100 or line 1000 as if it were line 1. We could have both the freedom of an adult and the freedom of a child.
If one of the foundations of identity is a consistent memory, then I was day by day becoming someone who was no one. In early winter, I came to perceive myself as a filtration device placed between clients and their Mimories. It was the closest you could get to the state of perfect "selflessness" some creators consider ideal. What made it different from selflessness obtained through training was that I was literally losing myself as a person, turning into a two-dimensional representation. Within the year, I lost my memories up to age 18. Less than 10 percent of myself remained within me.
Ever since becoming a Mimory engineer at 16, I had consistently done that job at home, but around fall when I was 19, I slowly started to show my face at the office. Because I felt like I was going mad staying at home alone. There wasn't a single coworker I could go up and talk to now because of my feigned aloofness, but just having the sense of being near other people was enough. I wanted to taste just the slightest sense that I was part of something.
I kept my disease a secret. I feared no longer getting work more than anything. If I lost that, I'd lose my reason for being. I would have no place in this world. The symptoms of New Alzheimer's would never be noticed if you kept quiet. Seeing me feverishly back to work after my vacation, my coworkers simply seemed to think "guess she must have gotten some good rest for once."
One time, I was invited to go drinking. It was a few days before Christmas. While silently facing my computer with headphones on, someone tapped my shoulder from behind. I turned around, and one of my coworkers - a woman in her late twenties, I forgot her name - said something modestly. I didn't catch what she said, but based on her mouth movement, I think she asked "Sorry, is now a good time?" I took off my headphones and faced toward her.
Some of us are going out to drink, so do you want to come too?, the coworker asked. I stared at her absentmindedly for a while. I looked around, wondering if she was trying to invite the wrong person. But we were the only two left in the office at the time, and her eyes were clearly looking right at me.
I'd be lying to say I wasn't happy. But I instinctively replied like so.
"Thank you very much. But I still have some work I need to finish up before the year is out."
I put up my best civil smile (or actually, maybe it was a naturally-occurring smile) and turned down her invitation. She smiled with some disappointment, then kindly told me "Be sure to take care of yourself."
When she left the office, she gave me a little wave. While I was hesitating over whether to wave back, she closed the door and left.
I lowered my half-raised arm and put my elbows on my desk. I casually looked toward the window to discover that it was snowing. As far as I knew, the first snow of the season.
The last words she said to me kept reverberating in my ears, comfortably vibrating my eardrums. "Be sure to take care of yourself." I was impossibly happy about those words alone, and impossibly saddened that I had felt so saved by those words alone.
The same way a person about to starve to death has no ability left to digest, maybe I no longer had the energy left to accept people's good will. That invitation of hers might have been the last chance I'd have in my life. But even if it were, I also feel like I wouldn't have made good use of it. So it came to the same thing either way.
My final client requested that we meet and talk in person.
This wasn't anything unusual. There are tons of clients who think the personal record's information alone is insufficient and ask for a direct interview with the Mimory engineer. Most people are convinced they're the ones who know their desires best. So they attach all kinds of comments; yet if an engineer created Mimories by faithfully following those, few would actually be satisfied. They would speak with irritation about how yes, I can see how my comments are reflected here, but there's something crucial missing. That's where they finally realize that it takes skill and experience to precisely grasp your desires. We're too used to suppressing our desires as we live lives that don't go our way, so it takes expert training to salvage them from the bottommost depths of the heart where they sleep. Thus, there isn't much to be gained from a direct interview between the client and the Mimory engineer. It does far more harm than good.
I was opposed to Mimory engineers meeting face to face with their clients, but coming from a completely different perspective. It was the simple reason that it would create impurities in the Mimories. If the client knew of me, the author of their Mimories, as a person, then whenever they recalled those Mimories, they would incidentally remember me. It would surely cast my shadow behind every word and action in the Mimories. And every time this happened, it would surely deepen the sense that Mimories are just artificial in the end.
That was not what I wanted. The role of a Mimory engineer should strictly be akin to a stagehand's. They should show their face and make statements as little as possible, and if they must appear in front of people, they shouldn't deviate from the image people would naturally picture from the Mimories. And they should behave as unrealistically as possible. We provide a certain kind of dream to clients, and the guides of dreamland should not be normal, commonplace humans.
In accordance with that creed, I consistently refused to directly meet with my clients. However, a letter that was sent to me in late April greatly shook my belief. Something about the letter was so captivating, it made me feel like I would like to meet this person and talk face to face. Each and every word was carefully chosen, and those words were arranged in the perfect order. And despite this, it cleverly hid the sense of being "a well-crafted letter," having a simple and breezy feel that someone who didn't write for a living would just call "easy to read." I had received many letters from clients before, but none had left such a favorable impression.
The client was an elderly woman, but she accurately understood the brand new job of Mimory engineering, and held great respect for it. It was her hobby to walk with people who'd bought Mimories and hear their stories (as she wrote in her letter, "I have a deep interest not in "what really happened," but "what should have happened""), and my name apparently came up in the process.
She wrote some thoughts about a few of the Mimories I'd created, which were shockingly to-the-point. She hit the nail on the head to make me go "that's right, I did put my efforts into that." When even the clients themselves had never given me such detailed opinions.
I think I'll meet the sender of this letter. If someone who so intimately knows the way I work wants to meet with me directly, I'm sure it won't be for anything more than that. I sent a reply to the email given in the letter, and made plans to meet five days later.
The client wrote in her letter, "this is a very strange request, so if it's not any bother, I want to meet outside the clinic." She didn't explain what was strange or how, but I assented without thinking too deeply about it. After all, talking about Mimories should be at least a little strange to anyone.
I arrived at the appointed hotel that day and waited for the client in the coffee lounge. I say "hotel," but it had a kind of rustic hospitality, and everything associated with the building was shabby and dirty. The carpet was fully faded, the chairs creaked gratingly when you sat in them, the tablecloths had noticeable stains. However, the coffee tasted awfully good for the price. For some reason, this place reminded me of the hospital I frequently visited as a child. What a calming place, I quietly muttered as I closed my eyes.
The client appeared ten minutes early. I'd heard she was 70, but she looked even older. Her body was bony, her every action was uncertain, and even sitting down seemed laborious, so I was quietly worried we wouldn't be able to hold a decent conversation. But this was a needless fear; once she opened her mouth, she spoke with a clear and youthful voice.
I first politely apologized for making the client walk to see me. Apparently her legs were bad, and she lacked the confidence to walk on unfamiliar roads. "This is a wonderful hotel," I said, and she nodded happily as if I'd complimented a relative. After that, she once more rattled off thoughts on my work thus far. They were even more courteous and passionate than those in the letter, and all I could do was lower my head and thank her. I had no immunization against someone complimenting me to my face.
Once she'd given her thoughts for a while, she readjusted her posture and cleared her throat. Then she got to business.
She took some envelopes out of her bag and placed them on the table. There were two.
"One is mine, and the other is my husband's personal record," the client informed me.
I looked between the two envelopes.
"Do you mean you're requesting Mimories for the two of you?", I questioned hesitatingly, and she slowly shook her head.
"No, that's not it. My husband left this world four years ago."
I hurried to apologize for my rudeness, but she spoke first.
"I'd like you to create Mimories of myself and my husband."
I had to think for a second about what the difference between those two things was. It felt a little like I was working out a puzzle.
The client placed her hand mournfully on one of the envelopes and began to speak.
"My husband and I met in this town six years ago, and fell in love in a blink. Though a common expression, I feel it should be called a fateful encounter. Like with most fateful encounters, our love was an average and boring thing in the eyes of anyone but ourselves, but I feel the two years I spent with my husband were of far more value than the 60 years that preceded our meeting."
She continued after a long pause strolling down memory lane.
"We spoke together about everything. Anything we could remember since the moment we were given life in this world to the present. When we fully exhausted all we could talk about, we reconfirmed that ours was a fateful meeting, and at the same time sunk into an abyss of despair. Why, you ask? Because our meeting had been all too late."
She lowered her eyes and clasped her hands tight as if holding something in.
"It is not because we were old. There was a proper timing for our chance meeting, yet it was but one chance, and we let it go. To be specific, my husband and I should have met when we were seven. By missing that chance, the same was true into our teens and our twenties. There was no coming back from it. Perhaps it was lucky that even though we half gave up, we could finally meet each other after we grew old."
And then finally, she spoke her request.
"What if we had been able to meet when we were seven?
I would like you to replicate that theoretical past. I am well aware that incorporating living people in Mimories breaches the Mimory engineer code of ethics. Even so, I simply must ask if you would take this job."
I could feel the strength of will in her voice. As I sat dumbstruck with a coffee cup in my hand, the client glanced toward the two envelopes on the table.
"I believe a Mimory engineer on your level should be able to understand what I am saying by reading these personal records."
I nodded wordlessly, nervously reached for the envelopes, and put them in my bag.
"I'll ask you pretend you never heard this. If you would like to accept, I will pay five times your standard fee."
After that addendum, she elegantly narrowed her eyes in a smile.
"If you simply do your job as you always do, that will be perfectly sufficient."
After the client left, I took the personal records out of my bag and started to read them on the spot. Normally you wouldn't want to read personal records somewhere people might see you, but this wasn't an official request in the first place, and more importantly, I couldn't hold back my curiosity about what she meant by "if you read these, I think you'll understand what I'm saying."
Her life, like her writing, was polite, gentle, and comfortable. Though you could hardly call it the best, you certainly could say she tried her very best. There was beauty in a defeat that came only after being beaten down by the limits of possibility. Her way of life was quiet and self-contained prior to meeting her husband, and struck me as infinitely similar to my ideal way of life before my disease. Her personal record had apparently been created right after the two met, so I unfortunately didn't know what kind of transformation her life underwent afterward.
After finishing up the client's personal record in no time, I ordered a coffee refill and a chocolate cake, quickly consumed both, and got started on the husband's record. And one-third of the way in, I understood what the client had been talking about.
It was as she said. The two should have met when they were seven. Not any earlier or any later. It had to be at exactly seven.
If they had met at seven, they probably could've been the happiest boy and girl in the world. In that very short period, the girl held a key that would fit perfectly into the boy's heart, and the boy held a key that would fit perfectly into the girl's heart. They should have put those keys into each other and achieved perfect harmony.
But in reality, the two hadn't been able to meet at seven. When they ultimately found each other was over half a century later, and by then, both their keys had completely rusted. They had tried them in all the wrong keyholes, taking away their luster. Still, the two knew that the keys would have formerly been able to unlock their old locks.
It could be a happy thing depending on your perspective. There was always the possibility that their lives would end without ever meeting.
Regardless, to me, the pair's much-too-late meeting felt like the world's cruelest tragedy.
I decided to accept the request. Like the client had said, the modeling of Substites after real people goes against the code of ethics used by Mimory engineers. If this breach came to light, my position would be in danger. But I didn't even care. I didn't have long left at any rate. And the chances of a more worthwhile job coming along in my short time left were nigh-zero. Besides, I felt an intimate connection with this old couple. As fellow former "girls without a boy," I wanted to do everything I could to save her.
I was stimulated, having my first request in some time I could get passionate about. For the two who should have met but didn't, I fabricated a past in which they did. In a way, it was a protest about how the world should be. Furthermore, it was revenge. An alternative solution showing how the two really should have been like this. An observation in hindsight that if it were up to me, I could've made better use of these two. In general, I wanted to point out the faults in this world. Through this action, I could indirectly, satisfyingly condemn this world that couldn't save me.
It suddenly occurred to me: maybe that client could be an image of my future self, from a world where I didn't become a Mimory engineer nor contract New Alzheimer's. I then laughed off that idea. The boundary between myself and others had been getting vague lately. My brain might be starting to wear away.
It was a fun job. I came up with a fated meeting, found the best solutions for the two out of possibilities that could have realistically happened, and saved the soul of my client in a parallel universe. Like I was leaping into the past with time travel and rewriting history.
One month later, the Mimories were complete. Even though it was my first attempt at "blending" two personal histories into one set of Mimories - or maybe because of that fact - it was the greatest work of my career as a Mimory engineer. I secretly gave the Mimories the name "Boy Meets Girl."
I had the finished Mimories written to nanobots without the involvement of my editor, mailed them off to the client (at this point, she was dying of a stroke, but I had no way of knowing that), then went to town and showered myself in beer. Though blackout drunk, I somehow made it home without vomiting, and while stumbling toward the bed to lie down, I bumped into my table and fell over. I'd hit my knee hard, so I groaned for a while. I couldn't muster the energy to stand up, so I closed my eyes and laid down on the floor.
It was an unquestionable masterpiece. Even supposing an ordinary person were given the same amount of time left to live, I was sure it would be impossible to create better Mimories. I had used up a once-in-a-lifetime miracle on this. If I had even a little talent, I'd probably used up all of that as well. I was completely rid of any desire to continue working.
I might be fine just dying right now, I thought. Taking my life right after I complete the greatest masterpiece of it. The ideal way for a creator to die is for the curtain to close on their life right at the peak of their career. Even a fast food chef has pride as a fast food chef. Whatever anyone says, I could find pride in this.
But how should I die? I wanted to avoid hanging, drowning, or gas if possible. Though I'd lost the memories of my asthma a while ago, my body still clearly pleaded "I don't want to feel suffocation even when I die." In that case, maybe I would jump off a building. Jumping in front of a train wouldn't be bad either. Did I care about causing people trouble? The jeers of the living can't reach the dead.
As I sat with my eyes closed thinking about it, all of a sudden, I felt this awful sensation like bugs were crawling over my body. I opened my eyes and looked around. The white walls and ceiling hurt my eyes, and swept away that black unease. I was scared of the dark lately. I guess I physiologically feared anything related to death. I told myself I was aware of it, but my body kept resisting. The fear of death would follow me to my last.
When I rolled over to clear my mind, I saw an envelope with a personal record on the floor. It had apparently fallen off the table when I bumped it earlier.
The photo beside the profile strangely caught my eye.
It was a young man. The same age as me, even his birthday was close to mine. It was rare for people this young to purchase Green Green. He went to a decent enough college, and his appearance wasn't bad either, so what could dissatisfy him about reality?
I reached out and picked up the personal record, flipped my body face-up, and read it. And just a few lines in, I felt like I'd been struck by lightning.
I finally found him.
Someone carrying the same despair as me.
Someone tormented by the same emptiness as me.
Someone possessed by the same fantasies as me.
Someone who I should've met at seven.
Chihiro Amagai. To me, he was the ultimate boy.
I decided within the day that I would create Boy Meets Girl for myself.
It didn't feel like creating a story. I was able to write it as if I were recalling the past. My ten fingers tapped on the keyboard like an automated writing machine. Naturally. I had been working on that fiction from a young age. A patchwork quilt of all the pieces I liked from every story and poem and song I'd witnessed. Even if the surface-level thoughts were gone, these things were etched deep in my soul in the form of preferences. I could just look there and transcribe.
The Mimories I created this way were, however, much clumsier than those I'd made before. Not because New Alzheimer's had finally destroyed my abilities as a Mimory engineer. The simple reason was that these were Mimories for none other than myself.
Come to think of it, a crucial element for creating superb Mimories was having a level-headed perspective of the client. Needless to say, it was important to empathize with the client, but on the other hand, the client who was the protagonist of the Mimories had to be someone with no connection to me. Why? Because people can't think calmly about themselves. Should the Mimory engineer become the client, the force of their imagination vanishes in a moment, and the world they create assumes a boring, pre-established harmony. As such, empathy has to come from the other shore. I broke all of those taboos.
Regardless, I completed Boy Meets Girl. Though imperfect in form, they were Mimories containing a pure prayer. If this work were to have a wide release, I'm sure no one would praise it. Too much wish fulfillment, too conceited, too childish, they'd complain. But that, I thought, was fine. I don't care if others don't give it recognition. Because this is a story for me.
I didn't make just one dose of Boy Meets Girl. There was not only the one from Chihiro Amagai's perspective, but one from Touka Natsunagi's (one consonant different from my real surname "Matsunagi" - truly, the allusion to "summer" gave it a heroine-like air), both made in tandem, to be implanted in each of our brains.
Mimories were said to have a degree of resistance against the forgetting caused by New Alzheimer's. So by doing this, even in the final stages of the disease when all my own memories were erased, the Mimories of "Touka Natsunagi" would stick around for a while.
Then, I would become the real Touka Natsunagi.
Toward the beginning, I didn't intend to do anything beyond secretly sprinkle a trace of myself in the Green Green Chihiro Amagai had ordered. Even if we didn't have a real connection, I wanted someone in this world to be thinking of me. I probably could've died peacefully just knowing that much.
However, people's greed knows no end. As I thought about him offering up prayers for me in a distant town, a small flame lit in my dead heart. Just like I was seeking him, maybe he was seeking me? And not only in memories; maybe he was seeking a relationship with me in real life? Those hopes quietly swelled in my chest.
And so at the end of May, on a starry, comfy night, I devised the Childhood Friend Plan.
I would make these lies into truths.
I would meet Chihiro Amagai as Touka Natsunagi, and fulfill years' worth of dreams.
I would dedicate everything I had left to die as a beloved girl.
That's what I set my heart on.
Of course, there would be many difficulties in the execution. Chihiro Amagai knew that the days he spent with Touka Natsunagi were artificial. If I wanted to create the illusion that his Mimories were real, I had to perfectly play the part of the Substite Touka Natsunagi. I had to make him crave the existence of Touka Natsunagi enough to personally rewrite his own memories. My chances of success were extremely low.
Even so, I thought it was worth giving it a shot. I think I have the right to that. So I chose to bet on that miracle.
The one-sided Childhood Friend Plan that swallowed up a total stranger's life began like so. The first thing I decided was to make our meeting be in summer. I wanted to actually create the fateful meeting I'd imagined happening in my hometown. I also considered that establishing a "preparation period" would make Touka Natsunagi have a bigger presence within Chihiro Amagai.
There were still about two months to go until summer. I couldn't waste a single second of the time I had left. I told the clinic about my disease and sent in a resignation, and once I was done with all the paperwork, I resumed my initiative from last summer. More thorough than before, and with clearer intent than before. To get if only a little closer to his ideal. So that he would see me as the "heroine." So that before I died, if only for a little bit, I could have a wonderful love.
Early in planning, I considered a meeting at the end of the rainy season, but I wanted everything to be perfect before I met him, so I pushed the plans back a week, two weeks. I knew it would all be for naught if I died before the main event, but maybe because of my renewed zest, the progression of New Alzheimer's temporarily slowed.
Not long after I quit, I heard that the clinic went bankrupt. Apparently it was some bad luck involving failed capital investments or something. It unintentionally came off as if I had jumped from a sinking ship (but that clinic had always felt like all it had was me, so it wasn't impossible to claim I dealt the finishing blow). This was advantageous to me. Now if Chihiro Amagai had any doubts about his Mimories, the place to turn to for questions would be shut down. Medical records are obligated to be preserved for several years, so it wasn't impossible for him to request to see them, but he would have to go through a troublesome process to do so. It would at least delay him in finding the truth. I did feel a slight worry about the coworker who once kindly invited me to go drinking, though.
By the end of July, my mind and body had achieved the standard I sought. Thinking back, in my teens, I was so focused on work that I neglecting eating, exercise, and sleep, so I looked more aged than I should have. My eyes were bloodshot, my lips dry, my limbs like a skeleton. Those were fun times for what they were, so I didn't care to reject the way I lived then. I did have thoughts about how if I had been born with this sort of appearance from the start, I might have had a happier life. But if things were like that, I probably wouldn't have become a Mimory engineer, and wouldn't be able to find the one and only ultimate boy in this whole wide world.
So I wouldn't curse my fate.
The day after I completed my move while Chihiro Amagai was out at work, I put on a yukata and went out into town. I had never worn a yukata until age 20, so I wanted to get accustomed to it quickly.
I chose a yukata and hair ornaments exactly like the girl I saw when visiting home. A deep blue texture with a simple fireworks pattern, and small red chrysanthemums. I wasn't actually going out to meet anyone, but I even neatly did up my hair. Because that's what I felt "Touka Natsunagi" would do. Given that she was a girl always accompanied by a boy, whom she allowed to see all of her.
Some time after getting on the train, I realized there were many other women wearing yukatas around me. So evidently there was a festival nearby. I got off the train at their stop and followed after the yukata group. As I struggled to walk in my geta sandals, I remarked how this was like a repeat of that day last year. But there was one crucial difference this year. The person I was hoping to see here wasn't an illusion.
It was a large festival. The whole town was overflowing with energy, carrying a feverish heat. Colorful lanterns and banners gaudied up the street, and the crowds of people wriggled through like a giant lifeform with its own will. Countless taiko drums roared like thunder, blowing out even the buzzing of cicadas. A portable shrine proceeded along the street, shaking in tandem with the shouts of the carriers wearing happi coats and headbands.
The dizzying heat forced me to stop and stand still. This kind of rough activity was a little too stimulating for me now.
Even so, I didn't turn my back to this summer madness. I parted through the congestion and kept moving forward without slowing pace. As if someone was certainly waiting for me beyond it all.
Soon, as if something had led me there, I arrived at the shrine. I knew that I would from the start.
If fated reunions exist, I thought again.
Wouldn't this be the most fitting stage for one?
Much like that prior day, I wandered around the premises. In search of Chihiro Amagai, who would surely be guided by his Mimories to arrive at the shrine like me.
And the two of us who had never met reunited. We passed each other at first, but after walking a few steps, turned around, and clearly acknowledged one another.
That night, the gears of my world finally started to mesh together.
My biggest miscalculation was Chihiro Amagai's overpowering allergy to fiction. Raised by a textbook dysfunctional family, he vehemently despised Mimories for that reason, and as a consequence. That hatred was ever so slightly greater than his desire to seek the ultimate girl that lurked within him. No matter how favorable a situation was presented to him, if it contained even a tiny portion of fiction, he would reject it.
I should have easily been able to determine that from reading his personal record. And yet, I overlooked it. Though I read over Chihiro Amagai's life enough to recite it from memory, I passed right in front of that fundamental thing. I saw only the similarities between his life and mine, and behaved as if the parts that I needed to comprehend most didn't exist.
But maybe I couldn't blame myself for it. With the end approaching second by second, it's absurd to think I could make calm judgements. I didn't have the time to think about any inconvenient facts. And besides, love makes people blind.
If I had known that his order being Green Green was just the counselor's hasty conclusion, and what he'd actually ordered was Lethe, events would have surely unfolded differently. But by the time the clinic obtained that information, I had long since sent in my resignation and left the workplace. And of course I wouldn't consider that the kind of person who wanted Green Green hated fiction. I decided that he must be like me, a childhood-craving zombie who wanted to reclaim those years he'd lost from the start.
Despite this, even if Chihiro Amagai was just
a person who hated lies, maybe there would still be a way to deal with that. What further complicated the issue was that he was also the type to become more suspicious the more ideal the situation was. A normal person will more or less interpret things in a way that's convenient to them, but he was the polar opposite. Whatever you put in front of him, he would immediately assume the worst and refuse to look at it. (This too was a trend I should have figured out from his personal record.)
Chihiro Amagai loved me in my role as "Touka Natsunagi." There's no mistake there. But at the same time, he stubbornly refused to admit those feelings. Or maybe, while he did admit those feelings, he dismissed them as a temporary delusion. To him, hope was just a kind of despair, so he thoroughly eradicated it to preserve a mental equilibrium. Before it was even a question of believing my story or not believing it, he was distrustful of happiness itself. The same way I hadn't even been able to feel loneliness before my disease, he couldn't even have happy dreams.
Thinking it through, I feel like I would have the same response if I were in his shoes. Something so convenient couldn't be happening to me. I shouldn't be able to be this happy. Which must mean there's something behind this. I'm sure this person, after showing me dreams for just a moment, is going to take that opportunity to push me down into hell. I definitely can't let my guard down.
When I returned to my room every night, I held my head in my hands. How can I possibly break through this troublesome, double-layered defense? How can I make him believe in both lies and happiness? I would just have to tediously take the time to build up trust after all, I suppose. But I didn't have that kind of time. Judging from the progression of my disease in the last few months, I would probably lose everything alongside the end of this summer. Not only my memories, but also my life.
Maybe I had gone a little overboard. From the moment I conceived of the plan, maybe I shouldn't have put in all the effort to become a pretty girl and just gone to meet him, looking as shameful as I was. Maybe I should have disappointed him from the outset, with a "Touka Natsunagi" who had changed for the worse in those five years. Then, at least, he surely wouldn't have been this wary. Instead, maybe I'd earn a sense of closeness, and maybe even secure two more months to build trust.
I had the simple conception that by acting as the childhood friend he wanted, he would eventually become the childhood friend I wanted. However... it took me too long to realize that in terms of The North Wind and the Sun, I was referencing the North Wind's strategy.
But I couldn't take it back now. You can't rewind time.
So what should I do?
When he threw away my cooking in front of me, I strangely didn't feel any anger. This must be my punishment, I thought. I wished for a happiness that was beyond me, used my position as a Mimory engineer to stomp around in a stranger's memories, and destroyed his peace, so this was what I deserved.
I had been wrong about everything from the start. I shouldn't have appeared anywhere outside of fiction. I shouldn't have sought a connection with someone else. I should have been content being alone as the ruler of a self-sufficient sandbox. If I'd just done that, I wouldn't trouble or hurt anyone.
I could easily tell from his expression that it wasn't feelings deep in his heart that made Chihiro Amagai do such things. He just had to overcome the idea of "Touka Natsunagi" to protect his world. His voice trembled with a deep unrest as he threw out my meal and thrust the plate in my direction. It seemed the sword he swung down to hurt me bounced back and hurt him as well.
But at any rate, this was the time to pull back. His treatment had dealt unrecoverable damage to my heart. I couldn't muster the will to keep up the act anymore. I didn't feel like I could bear another second of the animosity he felt toward me.
Still, I wrung out the last of my energy to keep behaving as "Touka Natsunagi" until I left his room. And once back in mine, I buried my face in my pillow and cried inaudibly.
In the end, nothing about me can be satisfied, I thought. All I got for my blood, sweat, and tears was the sadness of rejection by the one I loved most. And of course, that's something I'd rather have died not knowing.
I gave up on meeting with him anymore, not taking a step outside my room. I didn't fantasize anymore, and no plans circled my mind. I played records at a low volume, and just watched the rain. After the last drop of hope had been squeezed out of me, I was strangely at peace. I had nothing left to expect from my last days, so nothing more could disturb my heart. With a comfortable fatigue like riding the train home from a long trip, I awaited judgement day.
My journey was going to end soon.
I found a dead cicada on my veranda a week later.
The sound of wind woke me up that day. A typhoon seemed to be passing very close. I stood at the window and watched the town as it was devastated by the storm. The fierce winds shook the roadside trees just up to the point of snapping. Signs outside stores were knocked over, flowerbeds scattered, trash cans next to vending machines flipped over. It almost felt like someone was trying to reshuffle the world with those acts of destruction. I glanced over every inch of the scene from above, then discovered a small dead cicada on the floor of the veranda.
The messenger of summer's end had politely perished right in the middle of my veranda. Had it purposefully jumped down from a thicket and chosen this place to die? Or had it been caught up in the strong winds, lost control, and made an emergency landing here? And while waiting for the wind to settle, had its lifespan run out, its purpose unfulfilled?
Attempting to interpret the message it imparted, I stared at the corpse. August was already half over. This typhoon had probably killed off a number of cicadas. Which would be extinguished first, the crying of the cicadas or my life? I wanted to die while I still heard their annoying buzz, if possible. That would at least distract from my loneliness a little.
That's when I suddenly realized.
There was no need to patiently wait for a death to be handed down to me.
If I couldn't bear to wait, then I could go meet it.
In fact, I had made that same decision once before a few months ago. Resolving to end my life after the completion of my greatest masterwork, but having a sudden change of plans after finding Chihiro Amagai's personal record. If I hadn't found that, one would assume I would've killed myself then and there.
I considered that option once again. Even if I kept living, there was nothing more I could do. Everything I did just backfired on me anyway, so it was futile to try and enjoy the rest of my life. It was better to put a period on it quickly. Before I lost this lull in my heart.
I left my room for the first time in a week. When I opened the door and felt the wind directly, a warning was quietly issued somewhere in my body. The back of my throat faintly ached. Likely remnants of my time with asthma. My body still remembered how I would have attacks whenever a typhoon came along.
I put up an umbrella and walked into the rain. The powerful winds might break it before long, but I didn't care if they did. Because I didn't have to worry about coming home today.
My destination was set from the start. To begin with, there were only so many places nearby you could jump into or jump from. And faced with the choice, I felt it was more suitable for me to jump and fall from a high place rather than jump in front of a train. I'd heard that if you wanted to reliably die from jumping, you needed a height of over 40 meters. So inevitably, the large apartment complex by the highway, about 30 minutes from mine, was the only place that satisfied the conditions.
I headed there.
It was an old apartment complex, so there was just a poor excuse for a fence on the emergency stairs, one which even I could easily clear despite my relatively small size. I didn't see any security cameras, and even if I was found, it wouldn't take me more than five minutes to finish up here. Hardly anyone was walking around because of the typhoon, so no one spotted me hopping over the fence.
I went up the concrete stairs, firmly putting my feet on each step. They must not have been cleaned in a long time, as a light moss was growing on the stairs, which turned slimy from the rain. I would have preferred a sunny day to jump, but my determination might have faltered if I waited for the weather to clear. And if I saw my first blue sky in a week, the quiet resignation brought about by the long rain might've been blown away. So today was most ideal.
After climbing to floor 15, I bent over and caught my breath. Compared to the lower floors, those near the top were clean and free of moss or mildew. When my panting ceased and the burning sensation in my body withdrew, I grabbed the railing on the emergency stairs. As I put force into my arm to try and lift my body up, I caught sight of something at my feet.
I leaned down and picked it up. It was a firework. A single firework you could hold and light, like they sell at convenience stories and supermarkets. A child living in the apartments was probably playing here in secret and left it behind.
I leaned on the wall and brought the firework near my face, smelling the gunpowder like you would smell a flower.
Touka. That was my name. A fitting name for me, who was born in July; meaning "lit flower" in Japanese, it was bound to bring to mind fireworks that bloomed in the sky.
However, no one had ever properly called me that name. My parents only ever referred to me as "you," and my classmates and coworkers called me by my last name. Whenever anyone spoke my first name, it always came alongside my family name "Matsunagi." That's why I had "him" in my Mimories frequently use my first name. However, the real Chihiro Amagai had only used that name for me a single time. The first time we exchanged words, he whispered it in a doubting voice. That was all. That hardly even counted.
Maybe that name suggested my fate. Like a firework, my life would just have a brief sparkle, then fleetingly burn out and turn to ash. A launched firework, at the height of its ascent, would burst into a red flower in the night sky; yet just like my name was an inversion of the word for "firework," I would, at the bottom of my fall, burst into a red flower on the ground.
I found myself laughing at the ironic coincidence. It had been an awfully long time since I last laughed outside of an act. So it made me feel a little better.
I noticed the wind was starting to die down. I leaned on the guardrail, snapped the handheld firework, and dropped it. The firework obeyed gravity and fell, and landed soundlessly on the asphalt.
Now it was Touka's turn.
I went barefoot, neatly arranged my shoes, then closed my eyes, put my left hand to my chest, and took a deep breath. Then lastly, I apologized to Chihiro Amagai in my heart. I'm sorry for getting you wrapped up in my self-centered plan.
It couldn't have been any more than ten seconds I spent looking at the firework and thinking. In the long span of a human life, ten seconds is a minuscule margin of error. I'd never heard anyone claim everything would be different if they'd lived just ten seconds longer.
Regardless, this time, those ten seconds greatly changed my fate.
Maybe that firework had fallen from the apartment in my place, buying me those ten seconds. Like a favor between comrades.
That's how I came to think quite some time later.
As I was climbing over the guardrail, there was an electronic noise.
At first, I thought it was some kind of alarm sound. Maybe I just now set off the sensor for an intruder alarm, or someone saw me and called it in. But the sound was coming from my pocket. I took out my phone, and when I saw the name on screen, my head went blank.
I wiped my rain-soaked eyelids and checked again. Chihiro Amagai.
No mistake. It was a call from him.
I fell into a deep confusion. Why was he calling me now? Don't tell me that at this point, he was now willing to believe my lies? Or maybe he'd finally figured out who I was, and had made preparations to condemn me? Both seemed equally inconceivable. Whether he believed my lies or saw through them, he wasn't the kind of person to make a call himself. He was as passive as possible, so as long as I didn't make a move, he would be content with his personal truth. Coming to apologize or coming to question me didn't fit his character.
After a few seconds of stopped thoughts, I came back to my senses. At any rate, I had to answer the call. I tried to press the accept-call button with a quivering finger. Just then, the phone slipped out of my hand wet with rain and sweat, and danced through the air. I nearly grabbed it back, but it bounced out of my palm, and while it momentarily seemed to freeze in midair, it then immediately fell cruelly down a 15-story distance. I put my shoes back on and ran down the stairs as if jumping down, hopped over the fence, and grabbed my phone, panting. The screen had cracked into pieces, and the power button naturally did nothing.
I need to make sure, I thought. Until I know why he tried to call me, I can't die.
I was lucky enough to quickly catch a taxi in this rural town. I told the driver my destination, and he wordlessly drove. The roads were empty, and I arrived at the apartment in just a matter of minutes. I declined taking the change and got out of the car, then raced up the stairs to the second floor.
And there, I witnessed an unbelievable sight.
Chihiro Amagai was standing in front of my room, pounding on the door, calling my name.
He wasn't wearing shoes, and I could tell he had barged out of his room in a hurry.
He must have been there a long time, as he was wet all over with rain.
After a few beats, I understood what was going on.
He had mistakenly thought I had an asthma attack because of the typhoon.
He was convinced I was doubled over in my room, unable to move.
And he was trying to save me.
...What a fool.
A laugh naturally came out.
I sat on the stairs out of his sight, and listened to the sound of him banging on my door behind me.
Then, I reflected upon the sound of that word I'd heard a moment ago.
I soaked my body in the reverberation of a happy illusion.
Something warm welled up from my chest, and sent tears down my cheek before I knew it.
My vision blurred, and the summer scenery became runny.
He called me my first name.
By now, that alone was enough.
The sound of knocking stopped. I quietly poked out my face to check on Chihiro.
He was leaning on the wall by the door, smoking a cigarette with an absentminded expression.
The wind had stopped, and a ray of light shone through the clouds and lit his face.
I sniffed up my snot, wiped my tears, and stood up.
Then I put on a special smile and stealthily approached him.
I'll keep trying for just a little longer, I thought.