* 43 *

I realized I'd forgotten my book and returned to the restaurant.
Luckily, the red [translator's note: blue] book was still where I left it. I put it in my bag and left once more.

I met eyes with a man.
At first, I looked away. There was something about his face that drew my gaze, but whoever it was, I knew there was no one I felt like talking to right now.

But something stopped me. I looked at him again. Once we made eye contact once more, my brain had finally told me who this was.
In contrast, he called my name with a smile. Nostalgically, like he was glad to meet me again.

"Hey, hey! It's been too long! You been doing well?", he greeted me, sitting in the seat in front.
I wasn't sure how to respond. I didn't have the acting skill to send back a smile, and I didn't have the courage to flat-out ignore him.
I stopped in my tracks with a vague smirk and clumsily sat down across from him. Looked like I didn't even know how to sit in a chair.

I couldn't understand why he was talking to me with such familiarity.
After all, this man - Usumizu was his name - and I didn't have the most congenial relationship.

"How many years? Not since middle school, so about four?"

I guess I should just say it. In my third year of middle school, I was bullied by Usumizu.
In ways easily understood as such, nowhere near the fine line where it could be considered teasing.
I absolutely didn't want to remember anything about when I was bullied. And I'm sure you don't want to hear that gloominess either, so I won't go into detail.
Point is, Usumizu bullied me, and that's all you need to know.

I struggled to keep myself from being reminded of those times. But those kinds of memories are like a mouth ulcer.
It hurts to touch, and you know it'll make it take longer to heal, but you can't help touching it.
As much as I tried to forget, I always had dreams about it. But oddly, I wasn't dreaming about being bullied.
I dreamt I was reconciling with the one who bullied me. I dreamt we were looking back on it and laughing.
Well, clearly that was a product of my latent desires. If possible, I didn't want to antagonize anyone, no. I wanted to be get along even with those who bullied me.

But thinking of it that way made me sad, so on the surface I just despised him.
It's easier to bear being hated by someone you hate than someone you like.

So now that Usumizu was here in front of me after years, and talked to me so cordially, my reaction was one of concern.
Actually, I wanted to do the same, and say "Hey, it's been a while. I'm fine, how about you?" That was among my hopes.
But on the other hand, I felt like that would be disrespectful to myself when I was bullied all those years ago. Was it right to so easily forgive someone?

"What're you up to now? College student?"
I told him the university I went to, and he said "Whoa, dang! You're smart!"
He seemed to earnestly believe what he said. Something was off, I thought.

From his attitude, I wondered if he'd totally forgotten about bullying me in middle school.
But that's always how it is. The bullies forget, but the bullied remember for life.
And when they forget about their bullying, in some cases they replace it with false memories; they explain their guilt as having been unacting observers of bullying.

"What are you up to, then?", I asked him, and he started talking enthusiastically, as if to say "I'm glad you asked!"
Typical stuff about his spectacular college life. Shouldn't have asked, I regretted as I nodded my way through it.

While unwillingly listening to his story, I began to get used to this Usumizu person, and finally got a good look at his face.
I noticed that Usumizu just couldn't seem to calm down. He unconsciously tapped his foot, his gaze went all around, he repositioned his arms frequently.
Despite looking me right in the face, his eyes kept wandering off.

It was as if he was nervous to be sitting in front of me. But at the same time, he was clearly overjoyed he had a chance to see me.
Whichever it was, it was strange. Second-time me was a person who made you relax in a bad way, not a person who was fun to be around.

About ten minutes passed with me unable to identify what was so off. Suddenly, Usumizu stopped talking.
It was seriously abrupt, so I thought he'd remembered something really important.
"What's up?"
After staring at his lap for five seconds, he said "I gave up."
"Gave up what?", I asked back. I was fearful that I'd done something to make him angry.
He said "Forget it. That was all lies," leaned back in the chair, and sighed with his hands put together between his legs.

"Yes, it was all a lie. I don't go to college. And I don't work, either. It's been months since I had a real conversation with someone. I haven't heard myself speak in so long. I'm so nervous I can't stop sweating."
He spoke rapidly and without breaks, as if to fill the prior five-second gap.

"I'll be honest. I can't get my mind off death lately. There's too many reasons to list. So I won't. But I wanted to do it as soon as I thought of it. But I wanted to do something before I died. So I saved up money. Once I had enough, I left home. I haven't been back since. I'm constantly on the move. I'm having fun with it. I'm planning to keep doing it until I run out of money. Once I do... Yeah, I'll probably do it as a hobo for a while. So I'm planning to die once enough time has passed. Simple, right?"

It all came so fast, I was hopelessly lost.
What was this guy trying to tell me all of a sudden?

Chapter 44

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