* 51 *

"I want you to listen to what I'm about to say in silence, for the time being. But tell me if anything seems to be wrong."

Homes lined both sides of the bridge, the warm light from their windows reflecting off the river.
The iron railings were so cold it felt like my hands would get stuck. But I had to hold onto them, of course; I could easily fall.

"I know you've been following me, more or less. And I've gathered enough proof that it wouldn't be easy for you to get away. Forgive me, but I asked a friend to tail you. Yes, it was a double-stalking, so to speak. ...Boy, I never thought I'd get to say that one day."
Tokiwa laughed to himself.

"I don't understand why you've been following me around. After all, while I honestly hate to brag, I'm kind of a saint. I've never done anything guilty. I've done many things to be thanked for, but never to be loathed for. And it appears the only real link between us is that we're in the same department at school. Still, I can't discard the possibility that you may want to inflict harm on me for some unjustified resentment... So I wanted to give this a try."

I looked straight down. At night, the river was completely black, like there'd been an ink spill.
And I realized that I could use it not only for pushing Tokiwa for his death, but for jumping to mine. That would be one way to resolve things. Never mind if I had the guts to do it.

"I gave you three chances before this. I intentionally fabricated three occasions while you were following me where you could easily inflict harm upon me. ...But of course, as you've now seen, I allowed just enough time for me to save myself if you did threaten any violence."

I took my hands off the railing, reached into my pocket, and timidly lit a cigarette.
The wind on the bridge was so strong, it took some effort to get it lit.

"Yet you didn't act. Maybe you had no intention of hurting me from the start, maybe you got cold feet, I don't know. At any rate, I knew that you were harmless. Even if you had the intent to kill me, it seemed impossible for you to carry out.

"Naturally, it was always possible you would later get serious about killing me. But getting to look at you in person now, I think I know the truth. You can't hurt me. Just call it a hunch. Or maybe a subconscious feeling."

I spoke for the first time. "When did you first notice?"
"The week after the college festival day," he replied. "That was fairly early on, I'd expect? I would think it wasn't long after you began."
Exactly right, I confirmed in my head.

"It's not that I'm lucky, or that I have eyes in the back of my head. I'm not particularly sharp, nor do I have experience being followed. So why did I notice so early? ...Simple. Despite how I might look, I'm a highly self-conscious person - unusually so, you could say. I notice when people's eyes are on me frequently. I read everyone's actions, any messages directed at me. I'm the kind of person who, if I see the same person three times in a day, will think they're trying to ambush me."

"Huh... I didn't really see you looking around restlessly or anything...", I said.
He replied unconcerned. "Really self-conscious people don't let themselves be seen looking around nervously. Rather, they make it look natural. You'd know if you tailed someone else that normal people do baffling things like stop and look behind them more frequently. I actually provided an easier environment for you to stalk me."

In essence, he'd seen through everything. I let out a deep sigh with the smoke.
Yet I didn't feel much in the way of regret or embarrassment. I didn't know how I'd felt so calm just a moment ago. Perhaps I'd already gotten accustomed to Tokiwa knocking me down.

"So what are you going to do with me?", I asked. "Turn me in to the police?"
"Certainly not," he shook his head. "You might think that surprising, but... I can't see what you've done to me in the past month as ill-natured. In fact, I think I'd like to thank you. Not that I liked being watched from the shadows, no. What I mean to say is, by you watching me all this time, I've come to acquire your point of view. And such a wondrous thing it is; it can't be found in abundance in this world."

I didn't particularly grasp his meaning, but he went on innocently explaining.

"I've been rather blessed, but if I had to say I was unhappy about anything in my life, it's that I've been too happy since I was very young. And it's by speaking as the person I am that what I'm about to say has meaning - happiness gets wearisome when you get too used to it. It's like eating sugar for all three meals every day. It numbs your tongue, and you can't taste the flavor anymore. I'm not lying. Almost every day, all kinds of people praise me, innumerable women show their affection for me, and I have the best girlfriend I could ask for... But one day, I realized that I didn't feel a thing.

"After that, I was putting on a smile, but deep down it was like I was chewing sand. Worryingly, while happy things couldn't really make me happy, I was easily able to get gloomy and angry over sad and annoying things. I was disturbingly dulled to the positive, but well-attuned to the negative. ...Can I have a cigarette?"

I silently passed Tokiwa a Pall Mall and a lighter. He lit it with experienced hands, looked briefly at the Morrissey pictured on the lighter, and handed it back.
I suddenly wondered if Tokiwa knew Tsugumi was a smoker. If he didn't, I came out just barely ahead in terms of knowing her.
So I clung to that memory, and replayed it in my head. Remembered her pretty fingers holding the slender cigarette.

"But," he continued after a smoky breath, "when you showed up, it brought about a bit of a change in me. Essentially, by having you following me, I got your viewpoint. The whole time, I was wondering... Not "Why would he want to follow me?", but "How does he view someone like me?" That was what intrigued me. Before I went to bed, I always thought back on what had happened that day, and imagined how it would look through your eyes. I couldn't help myself. I guess people like me get very reflective when they're alone. Wondering how my words and actions were seen by others, and what meaning the things said to me had - there are people out there who stay up all night thinking about it, you see."

You didn't have to tell me that, I said without speaking. I knew it was true of none other than myself.

Tokiwa skillfully spun the cigarette between his fingers, and said "Well."
"I suppose it was about two weeks after you started following me. I suddenly realized there was a big change going on inside me. It was an unbelievable thing. My numbed senses were coming back to me."
He said that without irony, as if he was speaking of a truly beautiful memory.

"When I woke up in the morning, I was filled with hope for the coming days. When I looked in the mirror, I was glad to be born this way. Walking through town, I adored each and every person I saw. When I saw my girlfriend's face, I was filled with gratitude for being able to meet her. Flowers were flower-like, rocks were rock-like - their individual qualities jumped out at me. Everything was perfectly normal and as it should be. Too normal, even. And perhaps I'd never before been able to look at the world in such a normal way since I was born. I was going to faint with joy. I was finally able to accept that all-too-common happiness as appreciable happiness.

"At first, I thought it was only temporary. And indeed, as time passed, that joyful feeling lessened. By the time lunch with my friends at school came around, it seemed gone without a trace, like it had never been. But just as I was despairing and looked up... though quite far away, there you were. Suddenly, my joy was as clear as before. I wanted to stand up and celebrate, no kidding.

"Finally, then, I realized. That happiness was something you gave me. By borrowing your viewpoint to look at myself, I could see the happiness that had become commonplace to me in a new light."

There, he temporarily stopped.
I had listened in silence, and I understood what he was saying. After all, it was similar to the way I always grieved about my situation more than I needed to, thanks to my memories.

"There's one thing which you should be aware of. My stalker had to be you. If someone else were to have followed me around like this, I don't think I would be able to so passionately consider their feelings. So in that sense, I'm very grateful to you. It may sound sarcastic, but... You really resemble me in a way. I don't mean to displease you, but what I honestly think when I see you is, "With just a single misstep, I could have ended up like him."

"...I'm convinced we're the same at our foundation. Alarmingly similar in our initial conditions. I believe it's possible that coming from the same place, the slightest difference in environment or twist of fate could result in such a difference. So I know how you feel. I can even imagine what you must think of me."

Once finished, he took a deep-blue notebook from his bag. "Give me a moment, I'll be quick," he said, beginning to write something.
Three minutes later, he ripped out the page and handed it to me.
When I saw the paper, I was moved rather than offended.

He explained what he'd written. "I still don't know why you're following me. However, if you would continue to harmlessly do so, then please refer to this. I've written everything I currently know about my schedule for the near future. It must be difficult work to follow me.

"...Christmas is coming up soon. When it does, my life will be more fulfilling than ever. And if you could see that it is... nothing would make me happier."

Chapter 52

Novel List