And, in the end,
the love you take is equal to the love you make.
1. A Promise For Ten Years Time
When I was first told about how I could sell my lifespan, what immediately came to mind was a morality lesson from elementary school.
We were ten-year-olds who still didn't know how to think for ourselves, so the teacher for our grade, a woman in her late twenties, asked us something like this:
"You've all been told that a human life is something that can't be replaced, and it's more valuable than anything. Now, if it were given a monetary value, how much money do you think it would be worth?"
She then took a thoughtful pose. I thought her way of asking the question was inadequate, personally. She was silent for a good twenty seconds, still holding a piece of chalk and staring down the blackboard with her back to the students.
While she did that, the students earnestly mulled over the question. A lot of them liked the young, pretty teacher, so they wanted to say something pleasing that would get them a compliment.
One smart-aleck raised her hand.
"I read in a book once that the total life expenses for a salaryman are about 200 million to 300 million yen. So I think the average person would be somewhere around there."
Half the students in class oohed and aahed. The other half looked bored and fed up. Most of the students hated that smart-aleck.
The teacher managed a smile and a nod. "That's certainly true. Maybe grown-ups would give you the same answer. One answer could be that the money spent throughout a lifetime is equal to the value of that life. But I want you to get away from that line of thinking. ...I know, let's do an allegory. The usual hard-to-understand allegory."
No one understood what the... figure the teacher drew on the board in blue chalk was supposed to be. You could look at it as a human, or as a splotch of gum on the road.
But this was exactly her intent.
"This "Something of Unknown Nature" has more money than it could ever need. But the Something longs to live a human sort of life. So it's trying to buy someone else's life. One day, you suddenly walk by the Something. And when you do, it asks you: "Hey, you wanna sell me that life you're going to lead?"... says the Something."
She stopped the story there for a moment.
"If I did sell it, what would happen?", an overly-serious boy asked after raising his hand.
"You'd die, surely," the teacher flatly replied. "So you'd refuse the Something, for the time being. But it hangs onto you. "Well, just half is fine. Wanna just sell me thirty years off the sixty you have left? I really need it, y'know.""
I remember thinking as I'd listened to her with my chin in my hands, "I get it." Indeed, if it went down like that, I really might have felt like selling. I have limits, and it seemed apparent that a fat short life would be preferable to a long thin life.
"Now, here's the question. This Something who longs to live a human life must have assigned a per-year value to your remaining life, yes? ...I'll tell you in advance, there's no right answer. I want to know what you think, and how you came to that answer. Now, talk with your neighbors."
The classroom began to buzz with conversation. But I didn't take part in any of it. To be exact, I couldn't.
Because like that smart-aleck who came up with the answer about lifetime expenses, I was one of the class stinkers.
I pretended I wasn't interested in talking about it and just waited for time to pass.
I heard a group sitting in front of me talking about "If a whole life is about 300 million yen..."
I thought. If they were 300 million, then...
I wouldn't think it odd if I were 3 billion.
I don't remember what the results of the discussion were like. Barren arguments from beginning to end, that much was certain.
It wasn't really a simple enough theme for elementary school kids to tackle. And if you got a bunch of high schoolers together, they'd probably bring sex into it somehow.
At any rate, I clearly remember one girl with gloomy prospects fiercely insisting "You can't assign a value to a person's life."
Yeah, if you were selling the chance to live the same life as her, I wouldn't give that a value, I thought. Probably ask for a disposal fee, actually.
The wise-cracking clown you get at least one of in every class seemed to be thinking along similar lines. "But if I were selling the chance to live the same life as me, you guys wouldn't even pay 300 yen, would you?", he said, making the others laugh.
I could agree with his thinking, but it annoyed me somewhat how he was aware he would be worth much more than the overly-serious bunch around him, yet had a self-deprecating laugh about it.
Incidentally, the teacher said back then that there was no right answer. But a right answer of sorts did exist.
Because ten years later, when I was twenty, I did in fact sell my lifespan and receive its value.
I thought, when I was a kid, I'd grow up to be someone famous. I thought that I was ahead of the pack and excelled compared to others in my generation.
Unfortunately, in the little piece of hell I lived in, boring, hopeless parents who gave birth to boring, hopeless children were the norm, which helped spur that misconception.
I looked down upon the children around me. I had no skills worth bragging about nor humility, so naturally, my classmates were unsympathetic.
It wasn't a rare occasion that I was left out of a group, or that my things were taken and hidden from me.
I was always able to get perfect scores on tests, but I wasn't the only one who could do that.
Yes, so could Himeno, the aforementioned "smart-aleck."
Thanks to her, I couldn't truly be number one, and thanks to me, Himeno couldn't truly be number one.
So at least on the surface, we quarreled, or something like it. We could only think of trying to one-up each other.
But on the other hand, it was evident we were the only ones who understood each other. She was the only one who always knew what I was talking about without misunderstanding, and maybe the opposite was true as well.
Because of that, ultimately, we were always together.
From the outset, our houses were nearly right across from each other, so we'd played together often since infancy. I suppose the term "childhood friend" would apply.
Our parents were friends with each other, so until we entered elementary, I would be taken care of at her house when my parents were busy, and Himeno would be taken care of at my house when her parents were busy.
Though we only saw each other as competitors, there was a tacit agreement to behave in a friendly manner in front of our parents.
There wasn't any particular reason, so to speak. We just thought that it would be best that way. Though under the table, it was a relationship of shin-kicking and thigh-pinching, as least when our parents were around, we were affable childhood friends.
But you know, maybe that really was true.
Himeno was disliked by our classmates for similar reasons to me. She was convinced of her own smarts and looked down on those around her, and since that attitude was so blatant, she was avoided in the classroom.
My house and Himeno's were built in a neighborhood on top of a hill, a long way away from any of the other students' houses.
That was fortunate. We could thus use distance as an excuse to justify holing up in our homes instead of going to our friends' houses.
Only when we were hopelessly bored would we visit each other, reluctant and grimacing to imply "I'm not here because I want to be."
On days like the summer festival or Christmas, to keep our parents from worrying, we'd go out and waste time together; on days with parent-child activities and class visits, we'd pretend to get along.
We acted as if to say "We like it best when it's just the two of us, so we're doing it by choice." I did think it was much preferable to be with my hated childhood friend than to force my way into the good graces of my feeble-minded classmates.
To us, elementary school was a place where motivation went to die. Often, the pestering directed at me and Himeno became a problem, and we'd have a class council.
The woman who taught us from fourth to sixth grade had an understanding of this kind of problem, and as long as it wasn't too awful, kept us from having to call our parents about it.
Indeed, if our parents came to know that we were being bullied, our standing would be set in stone. Our teacher recognized that we needed at least one place where we could forget about our cruel treatment.
But at any rate, Himeno and I were always fed up. So was everyone else with us, vaguely, since "fed up" was the only relationship we had with them.
The biggest problem for us was that we didn't have good smiles. I couldn't nail down the "timing" for when everyone smiles all at once.
When I tried to force my face muscles to move, I heard my very core being whittled away. Himeno must have felt similarly.
Even in a situation that should bring about an approving smile, we didn't move an eyebrow. Couldn't move an eyebrow, I should say.
We were thus mocked for being cocky and on our high horse. Indeed, we were cocky, and we were on our respective high horses.
But that wasn't the only reason we couldn't smile with the others. Himeno and I were misaligned on a more fundamental level, like flowers trying to bloom in the wrong season.
It was the summer when I was ten. Himeno carrying her bag thrown into the garbage dozens of times, and I wearing shoes with many a cut made by scissors, we sat on the stone steps of a shrine reddened by the sunset, waiting for something.
From where we sat, we could look down at the festival grounds. The narrow road leading up to the shrine was packed with carts, and two rows of paper lanterns ran straight like runway lights, illuminating their dim surroundings red.
Everyone passing through looked cheery, and that was why we couldn't go down there.
We were both silent because we knew that if we opened our mouths, the voice would ooze out. We kept our mouths firmly shut and sat there, enduring.
What Himeno and I were waiting for was "something" that would acknowledge our existence and understand us fully.
Since we were at a shrine surrounded by the incessant buzzing of cicadas, it's entirely possible we were praying.
When the sun was half-set, Himeno suddenly stood up, wiped away dirt from her skirt, and stared straight ahead.
"Our future is going to be really great," she said in the transparent-esque voice that only she had. It was like she was stating a fact she only just realized.
"...About how soon a future are we talking?", I asked.
"Not that soon, I think. But not that far away, either. Maybe in about ten years."
"In ten years," I repeated. "We'll be twenty then."
To us ten-year-olds, twenty seemed a really grown grown-up age. So I felt like there was some truth to Himeno's claim.
She continued. "Yes, that "something" will definitely happen in the summer. Something really good will happen to us in the summer ten years from now, and then we'll finally really feel like we're glad to have lived. We'll get rich and famous, and looking back on elementary school, we'll say... "That school didn't give us anything. All the students were such dunces - it wasn't even any good as a mistake to learn from. A really foul elementary school," we'd say."
"Yeah, it really was full of dunces. It really was foul," I said.
That viewpoint was rather novel to me at the time. To a grade schooler, their school is their whole world, so it's unthinkable that it would have such things as pros and cons.
"So in ten years, we need to be really rich and famous. So famous our classmates will have heart attacks from jealousy."
"So they'll bite their lips from jealousy," I agreed.
"And if they don't, it won't be worth it," she smiled.
It didn't feel like mere consolation. The moment it came out of Himeno's mouth, I almost felt like it was our guaranteed future. It echoed like a premonition.
Maybe we won't necessarily become famous. But in ten years, we'll triumph over them. We'll make them regret treating us this way to their graves.
"...Still, it must be great to be twenty," Himeno said, putting her hands behind her back and looking up at the sunset sky. "Twenty in ten years..."
"We can drink. And smoke. And get married - wait, that's earlier," I said.
"Right. Girls can get married at sixteen."
"And boys at eighteen... But I feel like I'll never be able to marry."
"There's too much stuff I don't like. I hate a lot of stuff that happens in the world. So I don't think I could keep a marriage going."
"Huh. Yeah, I might be the same." Himeno lowered her head.
Dyed by the sunset, her face looked different than usual. It seemed more mature, but also more vulnerable.
"...Hey, so," Himeno said, looking me in the eyes briefly, but quickly looking away. "When we turn twenty and get famous... If, shameful as it is, we haven't found anyone we want to marry..."
She coughed quietly.
"If that happens, since we'd both be left on the shelf, would you want us to be together?"
Her sudden change in tone proved her embarrassment, and even back then I knew it full well.
"What was that?", I politely replied.
"...A joke. Forget it," Himeno laughed as if to push it away. "Just wanted to hear myself say it. Not like I would go unsold."
That's good, I laughed.
But - and I know this is going to sound extremely stupid - even after Himeno and I went our separate ways, I always remembered that promise.
So even if a reasonably charming girl were to show her affection for me, I would definitively turn her down. Even in middle school, even in high school, even in college.
So when I someday met her again, I could show her I was still "on the shelf."
As a matter of fact, yes, I do think it's stupid.
It's been ten years since then.
Looking back on it now, I think maybe it was a glorious time, in its own way.
2. The Beginning of the End
After deeply bowing my head with an "I'm really sorry" for the 19th time that day, I had a dizzy spell, collapsed to the ground, passed out, and fell unconscious.
This happened during my part-time job at a beer garden. The cause was clear; anybody would pass out working on so little food under a simmering sun.
After pushing myself to get back to the apartment, my eyes hurt like they were being dug out from within, so I ended up having to go to the hospital.
Having to take a taxi to an emergency clinic dealt yet another blow to my hurting wallet. On top of that, my boss told me to take some time off.
I knew I had to cut costs, but I had no idea what more I could possibly cut.
I couldn't remember the last time I ate any meat. I hadn't cut my hair in four months, and I hadn't bought any clothing since that coat I got last winter. I'd never even gone to visit anyone since entering college.
I wasn't able to depend on my parents, so I had to make my own money somehow.
Having to part with CDs and books made my heart ache. They were all second-hand purchases made after careful consideration, but they were the only things in my apartment that could get me any money - I didn't even have a computer or a TV.
I decided I'd at least give all the CDs another listen before saying goodbye. I put on headphones, lay down on a mat, and pressed play.
I switched on a blue-bladed fan from a thrift shop and periodically went to the kitchen for a cup of cold water.
It was my first time taking the day off college. But no one would really pay any mind to my absence. They might not even notice I took the day off.
One album after another was transferred from a tower on my right to a tower on my left.
It was summer, and I was twenty. But like Paul Nizan, I won't let anyone say those are the best years of your life.
"Something really good will happen to us in the summer ten years from now, and then we'll finally really feel like we're glad to have lived."
Himeno's premonition was wrong. At least on my end, nothing good was happening, and there was no sign of good things to come.
I wondered what she was up to now. She changed schools in fourth grade, so we hadn't met since.
It shouldn't have been this way. But maybe it was good in a way. By not following me through middle school, high school, and college, she didn't have to see my transformation into a consistently average and boring person.
Though you could also think of it like this: If my childhood friend went to the same schools as me, I might not have ended up like this.
When she was around, it put a good kind of strain on me. If I did something shameful, she'd laugh at me, and if I did something great, she'd curse me.
Perhaps because of that tension she made me feel, I was always striving to be the best I could be.
For the past few years, I'd been constantly having regrets to that effect.
What would ten-year-old me think of me now?
After spending three days listening to most of my CDs, I stuffed all but a few absolutely essential albums into a paper bag. I'd already filled another full of books. I lifted them both up and went into town.
My ears started to ring as I walked under the sun. I might have just been hearing things because of the irregular cries of cicadas. But it felt like it was right there in my ears.
The first time I visited this particular bookstore was last summer, a few months after entering college.
I hadn't yet gotten a good grasp on the geography of the town, so I was lost, and had to keep checking where I was walking.
After going through an alley and up some stairs, I found the bookstore. I tried to go there many times afterward, but I could never remember where it was. Even when I attempted to look it up, I always forgot the store's name.
So the way it usually worked was that whenever I got lost, I'd end up there. Almost like the roads leading to the store changed themselves around on a whim.
It was only this year that I became able to get there without getting lost.
There was a morning-glory blooming in front of the store now. Out of habit, I checked the cheap bookshelves in front to be sure there wasn't anything different on them, then went inside.
It was gloomy inside the building, with an overwhelming scent of old paper wafting about. I heard a radio playing in the back.
Passing through a tight passage by turning myself sideways, I called to the store's owner. The old man poked his wrinkled, tired-looking face out from between piles of books.
The old man who owned this store wouldn't show a smile to absolutely anyone. He usually just kept his head down and quietly rang things up.
But today was different. When I brought in a load of books to sell, he turned his head up and looked me in the eyes.
The man's face appeared to have something of surprise in it. Well, I could understand that.
The books I was selling were the kind of books whose value lay in keeping them to read again and again. Giving them up must have been difficult for a book-lover to understand.
"Are you moving or something?", he asked me. It was a voice that carried surprisingly well.
"No, nothing like that."
"Well then," he said, looking down at the piled books, "why do something so wasteful?"
"Paper doesn't make for a good meal. Not very nutritious."
The old man seemed to understand my joke. "Short on cash," his mouth uttered, twisting.
I nodded, and he held his arms together as if thinking deeply.
Then like he changed his mind, he breathed, said "It'll take about thirty minutes to evaluate," and carried the books to the back.
I went outside and looked at an old billboard on the end of the road. There were posters on it about the summer festival, firefly-watching, star-watching, and a book club.
From the other side of the fence, I smelled incense and tatami mats, mixed with the smell of trees - a rather nostalgic smell overall. Wind chimes rang from a distant house.
After the evaluation was done and I was paid about two-thirds what I'd expected, the old man spoke.
"Hey. I wanna talk to you about something."
"You're hurting for money, right?"
"It's not like it just started now," I ambiguously replied, and the old man nodded, seeming to understand.
"Well, I don't care to know how poor you are, or how poor you've gotten. I just wanna ask you something."
The old man paused for a beat.
"You wanna sell some of your lifespan?"
My reply came a bit late, thrown off by the unnatural combination of words.
"Lifespan?", I asked back, intending to confirm if heard him right.
"Yeah, lifespan. No, but I'm not buying. I know it sells for a lot, though."
It didn't seem likely that the heat was making my ears play tricks on me.
I thought for a moment.
A fear of old age must have sent this old man off his rocker - that was the first conclusion I came to.
Seeing my face, the old man spoke.
"Can't blame you for thinking I'm joking. Or thinking this old coot's gone senile. But if you want to entertain my nonsense, go take a look, I'll tell you where. You'll see I'm not lying."
I heard out his explanation, all with a grain of salt. In short, this is what he told me.
On the fourth floor of a building not too far from here, there's a shop that'll buy your lifespan.
How much it sells for varies between people; it'll be more if the life that would lie ahead of you is more fulfilling.
"I don't really know you much at all, but you don't look like a bad guy, and I guess you do like books. Must have some value, right?"
I nostalgically recalled the lesson I heard back in elementary school, and thought how familiar it all was.
According to him, besides lifespan, you could also sell your time and your health at this shop.
"What's the difference between lifespan and time?", I asked. "Not sure about the difference between lifespan and health, either."
"Dunno the details. It's not like I've ever sold any of it. But outrageously unhealthy people can live decades, and healthy people can suddenly die - that must be the difference there, right? Can't imagine what the deal is with time, though."
The man drew a map on a notepad and wrote a phone number for me.
I thanked him and put the store behind.
But I was sure this "shop that deals in lifespan" was only a fantasy of the old man's to make himself feel better.
He must have feared that death was approaching and come up with this notion of being able to buy and sell life.
Because, I mean, wouldn't that just be too good to be true?
My expectation was half-right.
It was certainly too good to be true.
But my expectation was half-wrong.
There certainly was a shop that dealt in lifespan.
After selling off my books, my legs carried me to a CD shop.
The reflection of the sun off the asphalt was awful, and beads of sweat ran down my face. I was thirsty, but I didn't even have money to spare on juice from a vending machine. I'd have to endure until I got to my apartment.
Unlike the bookstore, the CD shop had decent air conditioning. When the automatic doors opened and I was bathed in cool air, I found myself wanting to stretch.
I took a deep breath and let the air soak into my body. The store was playing a popular summer song, which I suppose was still just as popular as when I was in middle school.
I went to the counter, called to the usual blond clerk, and pointed at the paper bag in my right hand; he looked at me dubiously.
His face gradually changed to something that seemed to imply I had severely betrayed him. A face that said "How could you let go of all these CDs?" Basically the same reaction as the old man at the bookstore.
"What kinda turn of events is this?", the blond asked me. He was a man in his late twenties with droopy eyes. He wore a rock band T-shirt and faded denim, and his fingers were always moving nervously.
Similarly to the bookstore, I explained how I had to sell my CDs. Then he clapped his hands with a "In that case..."
"I've got somethin' good for you. Maybe I shouldn't really be tellin' you, but I'm real into your taste in music, bud. So just between us, a'ight?"
It sounded like it was word-for-word the kind of thing a swindler would say.
The blond said: "There's a shop that'll buy your lifespan here in town!"
"Lifespan?", I asked back. Of course, I realized this was becoming a rehash of the conversation I had earlier. But I just had to repeat the question.
"Yeah, lifespan," he confirmed with all seriousness.
Was it some kind of fad to make fun of poor people?
While I puzzled over how to respond, he explained, speaking quickly.
It was largely the same story as what the old man at the bookstore told me, but in this man's case, apparently he actually had sold some lifespan. When I asked how much it went for, he dodged with a "Can't really tell you that."
The blond drew a map and wrote a phone number. It should go without saying that they matched what the old man gave me.
I gestured my thanks and left the shop.
The moment I stepped out under the sun, the heavy, hot air clung to my skin.
Just for today, I said to myself, inserting a coin into a nearby vending machine, and after much deliberation choosing cider.
After holding the cold can with both hands for a while, I pulled the tab and took my time drinking it.
The refreshing soft drink sweetness spread through my mouth. I hadn't had anything carbonated in a while, so each sip made my throat tingle.
Once I had finished off the whole thing, I threw the empty can in the trash.
I took the maps the two clerks had drawn out of my pocket and stared at them. It was certainly within walking distance.
It seemed like I was in fact going to go to this building and sell my lifespan, time, or health.
I was being so stupid.
I rolled my eyes, balled up the maps, and threw them away.
But ultimately, I found myself in front of that building.
It was old. The walls were so darkened that it was impossible to imagine the original color. Maybe even the building itself couldn't remember anymore.
It wasn't very wide - I felt like it was being crushed between the buildings on either side.
The elevator didn't work, so I had to take the stairs to my destination of the fourth floor. I sweat with each step I climbed, taking in musty air, lit by yellowed fluorescent lights.
I certainly didn't believe the story about selling your lifespan.
Rather, I considered the possibility that the two clerks were using some kind of metaphor to allude to a lucrative job they couldn't talk about directly - like it was “at the risk of shortening your lifespan."
There was nothing written on the door I found on the fourth floor. But somehow, I was convinced this was the place they had been talking about.
I stared at the doorknob for a good five seconds without breathing, then grabbed it with determination.
Through the door was a room unimaginably clean considering the exterior of the building. I didn't show any surprise.
In the center were rows of empty showcases, and along the walls were empty shelves - but somehow, they felt natural to me.
From a general point of view, though, it was a very bizarre room. Like a jewelry shop with no jewelry, an optometrist's with no glasses, a bookstore with no books.
Those are the kinds of comparisons I would make.
I didn't notice there was someone right next to me until they spoke.
I turned to the voice and saw a woman sitting down, wearing a suit. She looked at me from under thin-framed glasses as if silently evaluating.
I failed to find the time to ask "Just what the heck kind of shop is this?", because she asked before I could open my mouth:
"Your time? Your health? Or your lifespan?"
I was fed up with thinking by then.
If you want to tease me, go ahead and tease.
"Lifespan," I immediately replied.
I'd just let this play out for now, I thought. What did I have to lose at this point?
It was never anything exact, but assuming I had sixty years left, it was my estimate that it would be worth around 600 million yen.
I wasn't as cocky as I was back in elementary school, but I still held onto the belief that I was worth more than the average person. So I thought I could sell for 10 million a year.
Even at twenty, I was unable to escape from the idea that I was "special." That belief certainly wasn't supported by anything. I was just trying to hang onto past glory.
I turned away from reality, which showed no signs of a turnaround, and told myself that someday, surely, I'd be such a big success I could write off these worthless years as never taking place.
With every year I aged, the scale of the success I dreamt about grew. The more cornered you are, the more desperate you are for the tables to suddenly turn.
But this was to be expected. When you're ten points down in the bottom of the ninth, a sacrifice bunt won't do you any good. Even if you know you're more likely to strike, you have no option but to do a full swing and aim for a long hit.
Soon enough, I came to dream of eternity. I thought that unless I achieved such legendary success that my name would be known by all and never forgotten over the ages, I couldn't be saved.
Maybe for my course to be corrected, I'd need someone, just once, to completely deny me. With nowhere to run and no way to protect myself, I needed to be beaten until I wept.
Thinking of it that way, selling my lifespan must have been the answer.
Then not only my past life, but even my life to come would be completely denied.
Taking a closer look at her, the woman was pretty young. Just from her appearance, I would've expected somewhere between 18 to 24.
"Your evaluation will take about three hours," she said, her hands already beginning to type on a keyboard.
I thought there would have been some kind of tedious process, but it seemed like I didn't even have to give my name. Not to mention the value of something as irreplaceable as a human life could be known in just three hours.
Of course, that value was strictly something decided upon by them, not necessarily universal. But it was one standard.
I left the building and puttered around aimlessly. The sky was starting to dim. My legs were getting tired. And I was hungry. I wanted to take a break in a restaurant, but I didn't have the funds to spare.
Conveniently, I found a pack of Seven Stars and a hundred-yen lighter on a bench in the shopping district. I looked around, but didn't see anyone who might have been their owner.
I sat down, casually slid them into my pocket, then went into an alley. I stood by a pile of scrap wood, lit a cigarette, and took a deep breath of smoke. It had been all too long since my last smoke, so it hurt my throat.
I stamped out the cigarette and headed for the train station. My throat began to feel dry again.
I sat on a bench in the plaza and watched the pigeons. A middle-aged woman sitting across from me was feeding them.
Her fashions seemed too young for her age, and the way she threw the food seemed restless; watching her filled me with a feeling I can't say for sure what it was.
Plus, watching the birds pecking the bread, I came to hate it for inciting my hunger. I wasn't quite that hungry, but I was this close to pecking at the ground along with the pigeons.
...I hope my lifespan sells for a lot, I thought.
Like most people do when selling things, I tried to low-ball my estimate of how much it was going to be until I saw the actual evaluation.
I'd initially thought in the realm of 600 million, but as if to avoid having to haggle for more, I tried to imagine the worst case scenario.
Considering that, I was thinking maybe 300 million. When I was a child, I thought I was worth about 3 billion - so compared to that, you could say it was a rather modest estimate.
But I was yet overestimating the value of my life. I remembered Himeno's suggestion of the average salaryman's expenditures, 200 to 300 million.
Though, when I first considered the value of life back in elementary school, and I heard that from a classmate with such gloomy prospects ahead of her, I thought "You couldn't put a price on the chance to live your life - I'd ask for a disposal fee!" That, I had forgotten.
I returned to the shop early and dozed off on a sofa, then was woken by a woman calling my name. It seemed my evaluation was complete.
"Mr. Kusunoki," the woman said - she definitely said that. I had no memory of giving my name to them, nor any form of identification. But they knew it, some way or another.
Indeed, this place must operate on something beyond common sense after all.
Strangely, by the time I returned to the building, I was willing to believe this highly shady story about selling your lifespan.
I could give all number of complex reasons for why that came to happen, but the one that stood out most was that woman.
Maybe it's strange to have such an impression of someone from the very first time you meet them. But... I felt like anything she was involved in couldn't be a lie.
With nothing to do with their sense of justice or logic, not even their quality, some people just hate wrongness. And that's the kind of impression I got from her.
But looking back on it, I came to realize maybe my intuition wasn't quite right.
...Let's get back to the evaluation.
As soon as I started to hear the word "three" out of her mouth, clinging onto a hope deep in my heart, I think for an instant my face lit up with expectation. I instinctively thought that my childhood estimate of 3 billion was right on.
The woman, seeing my face, made an awkward look and scratched her cheek with her index finger. Seemingly feeling that she couldn't tell me directly, she looked to the computer screen, rapidly tapped some keys, and placed a printout on the counter.
"These are the results of your evaluation. What would you like to do?"
At first, I thought the number "300,000" on the form was the value of one year.
With eighty years of lifespan, that would be 24 million in all.
"24 million" repeated itself again and again in my head.
I felt like all the energy left my body. Surely that's too cheap by any means?
I began to doubt the shop a second time. Maybe this was a setup for a TV show, or a psychological experiment. No, maybe it was just a nasty prank...
But as much as I tried to make excuses, it was futile. The only thing having a hard time was my common sense. Every other of my senses told me "She's right." And it's my belief that when faced with something irrational, those are the ones you trust.
At any rate, I had to accept this number of 24 million. That alone took quite a bit of courage.
But the woman faced me and told me the crueler truth.
"As it turns out, your per-year value is 10,000 yen, the bare minimum one can fetch for lifespan. Since you have thirty years and three months remaining, you will be able to leave here with up to 300,000 yen."
I laughed then not because I took her words as a joke, but because I couldn't help but laugh at myself when faced with such an awful reality.
And there on the form were my results, an order of magnitude below my expectations.
"Of course, this in no way indicates a universal value. This is strictly the result that is in accordance with our standards," the woman said, as if justifying herself.
"I want to know more about those standards," I said, and she gave an annoyed sigh. She must have gotten the question hundreds, thousands of times.
"The exact evaluation is done by a separate consulting body, so I don't know the specifics myself. But I'm told that factors like degree of happiness, actualization, and contribution can greatly affect the value. ...In short, the value is decided based upon how happy your remaining life will be, how it will make others happy, how many dreams are achieved in it, how much it contributes to society, and so on."
The sheer impartiality knocked me down yet again.
If I just wouldn't be happy, or just wouldn't make anyone happy, or just wouldn't achieve any dreams, or just wouldn't contribute to society - if I would just be worthless in one of their categories, I'd be fine with that.
But if I wouldn't be happy and wouldn't make anyone happy and wouldn't achieve any dreams and wouldn't contribute to society... I didn't know where I could look to for salvation.
On top of that, thirty years to go was much too little going on from twenty. I must come down with some major illness, right? Or get in an accident?
"Why's my lifespan so short?", I asked, thinking I'd at least try.
"I'm terribly sorry, but," the woman said, lowering her head slightly, "I may not divulge any further information except to customers who have sold their time, health, or lifespan."
I thought deeply, my brow furrowed.
"Let me think for a little."
"Take your time," she replied, but from her tone seemed to want me to make up my mind already.
Ultimately, I sold off all thirty years, keeping only three months.
My life of jumping between part-time jobs and the events at the bookstore and CD shop had built up a tolerance in me for getting raw deals.
While the woman had me confirm every detail of the contract, I mostly just kept nodding to everything without thinking. Even when she asked if I had any questions, I said not really.
I just wanted to end this and get out of here. Out of this shop. Out of this life.
"You can perform a transaction up to three times," the woman said. "Which is to say, you can sell your lifespan, health, or time twice more."
I left the shop with an envelope containing 300,000 yen.
Though I had no visual indication or any idea of how it was done, I definitely felt like I'd lost my lifespan. I felt like upwards of 90 percent of something in the core of my body had left me.
They say a chicken can run around for a while with its head cut off - and I imagine it must be a similar feeling. Maybe you could have already called me a corpse.
I felt more impatient in a body that was all but guaranteed to die without seeing 21 than one I expected to survive to 80. The weight of a single second was greater than ever.
I had also unconsciously thought that "Hey, I've still got sixty years left" back then. But with three months left, now I was attacked with impatience - like I had to do something.
And yet for today, I wanted to go home and sleep. I was dead tired from walking around all over. I wanted to think about what was next after I was comfortably rested and could wake up feeling good.
On the way home, I passed by a bizarre man. He seemed to be in his early twenties, and walked alone with a smile that seemed to span his entire face, like he couldn't help enjoying himself.
It extremely aggravated me.
I stopped by a liquor store on the shopping district and bought four cans of beer, then five pieces of grilled chicken from a shop I stumbled on, and worked through both of them as I walked home.
Three months left. No point in worrying so much about money.
It had been a long time since I'd had alcohol. It calmed me down, but maybe it wasn't such a good idea.
I was feeling sick in no time, and spent thirty minutes puking once I got home.
This was how I started my last three months.
In almost the worst possible way.
3. The Observer With Her Knees Up
On top of feeling bad enough as it was, it was a hot, restless night. Thanks to that, I had a very vivid dream.
Even after waking up, I ruminated over the dream in my mattress. It wasn't a bad dream. In fact, it was a happy dream. But there's nothing crueler than a happy dream.
In my dream, I was in high school, in a park. It wasn't a park I knew, but my classmates from elementary school were there. The notion of the dream seemed to be that it was some kind of class reunion.
Everyone was having a fun time watching fireworks. Their light colored the smoke red. I stood outside the park, watching them.
I suddenly noticed Himeno beside me when she asked - How's high school going?
I gave her a sidelong glance, but her face was blurry. I didn't know anything about her beyond when she was ten, so I couldn't really imagine how she looked now.
But in my dream, I thought that her face was absolutely stunning. I felt proud to have been acquaintances with her for so long.
Can't say I've been enjoying it, I replied honestly. But it's far from being the worst.
I guess that's pretty much my answer too, Himeno nodded.
I secretly delighted that she'd gone through a similarly miserable adolescence.
You know, thinking about it now, she said, it really was a lot of fun back then.
What "back then" are you talking about?, I asked back.
Himeno didn't answer. She squatted down, looked up at me, and said, Kusunoki, are you still on the shelf?
I guess, I replied, while keeping an eye on her expression. Checking her reaction.
I see, Himeno said with an amazed smile on her lips. Well, you know, so am I.
Then she added, with a bashful look, good. That's perfect.
Yeah, it's great, I agreed.
That was the dream.
It's not the kind of dream you should be having at twenty. I berated myself for what a childish dream it was. But at the same time, I wanted to keep it in my memory. I would regret it if I forgot it.
I'm certain that when I was ten, I didn't have much affection for Himeno at all. Maybe only the tiniest bit. The problem was that I couldn't feel even a "tiniest bit of affection" for anyone else since.
Perhaps that minuscule amount of affection was the biggest thing in my entire life - something I only realized long after she was gone.
Keeping all the details of the Himeno dream in memory, I laid in bed thinking about yesterday's events. I'd sold all but three months of my remaining lifespan at that shoddy old building.
When I thought back on it, I didn't think, oh, it could only have been a daydream. I considered the event to be absolute reality.
I didn't, say, regret selling off the majority of my lifespan in the heat of the moment. I didn't, say, realize the importance of what I had now that it was gone. Rather, it felt like a load off my shoulders.
What had kept me bound to life thus far had been the shallow hope that something good might happen someday. It was a baseless hope, but discarding it was a difficult task.
No matter how worthless someone is, there's no proving that good fortune won't befall them and allow them to write all that off as never having happened.
That was my salvation, but it was also a trap. Which is why now that I'd been clearly told "Nothing good will happen in your life," I could see it as a blessing.
Now, I could die at peace.
I said, if this is my plight, then I might as well enjoy the three months I have left. I wanted to spend them such that I could think, "It was an awkward life, but at least once I accepted death, I had a reasonably happy final three months."
First, I decided I'd go to the bookstore, read some magazines, think about what I should do next - but just then, the doorbell rang.
I was not expecting any visitors. I hadn't had one of those in years, and surely wouldn't in my last months.
Did they get the wrong room? Money collector? Door-to-door? Didn't seem like it could be anything good, at any rate.
The doorbell rang again. I rose from bed and was immediately hit with last night's queasiness. Hangover.
Still, I forced my way to the front door, and found an unfamiliar girl standing there. At her side was a luggage case that seemed to contain her things.
"...Who might you be?", I asked.
After giving me a stunned look, she pulled glasses out of her bag with a sigh, wore them, and gave me a "How about now?" look.
That was when I finally realized. "You're the one who evaluated my..."
"I am," the girl said.
The image of the suit stood out in my mind, so in casual clothes she looked like someone else entirely. She wore a cotton blouse and a sax blue dungaree skirt.
I didn't see it yesterday, since it was tied up behind her, but her shoulder-length black hair had a tendency to curl slightly inward at the ends.
Looking at her eyes through the glasses she'd put on, they seemed to carry a certain sorrow somehow.
Glancing down at her thin legs, I saw a big band-aid on her right knee. It must have been a deep wound, as I could tell the state of it through the bandage.
When I first met her, I couldn't pin her age down any more accurately than between 18 and 24, but looking at her that day, I figured it out. Maybe she's about my age. 19 or 20.
But all that aside, why was she here? Actually, one of the first ideas that came to mind was that she was here to tell me there'd been a mistake in the evaluation.
They'd gotten a digit or two wrong. Or they accidentally mixed me up with someone else. I couldn't help hoping that she had come to make an apology to that effect.
The girl took her glasses off, methodically placed them back in her bag, and looked back at me with emotionless eyes.
"I'm Miyagi. I'll be your observer from today forth."
The girl, Miyagi, lightly bowed toward me.
Observer... I'd completely forgotten. Yeah, she did say something about that.
As I tried to remember my conversation with Miyagi yesterday, I became unable to stomach my nausea, and ran to the toilet to throw up again.
Leaving the bathroom with my stomach emptied, I stumbled into Miyagi standing right by the door. Granted, it was her duty, but she certainly wasn't a shy girl.
I tried to brush her aside, going to the sink. I washed my face, gargled, and took a swig of water from a cup, then laid on my bed again. I had a killer headache. And the killer heat helped foster it.
"While I explained it yesterday," Miyagi said, suddenly standing at my bedside, "since your lifespan has been reduced to less than a year, I will be observing you from today forth. Therefore..."
"Can this wait until later?", I interrupted with blunt irritation.
"Understood. Later, then," she said. Miyagi took her luggage to the corner of the room, and sat with her knees up and her back to the wall.
After that, she just watched me. Her intent seemed to be to observe me anytime I was in my apartment.
"It's perfectly fine if you just pretend I'm not here," Miyagi said from her corner. "Conduct yourself as you usually would."
But just having her tell me that wasn't going to change the reality of being constantly monitored by a girl no more than two years away from my age.
I couldn't help being uneasy, and kept sneaking glances Miyagi's way. She seemed to be writing things in a notebook. It might have been some kind of observation log.
The one-sided surveillance was unpleasant. The half of me she was looking at felt like it was being grilled by her gaze.
Indeed, I had received a detailed explanation about this "observer" business yesterday.
According to Miyagi, many of the people who sell their lifespans there become desperate when they're down to a year left, and start to cause trouble if they're left alone. I didn't ask for an explanation of what kind of trouble, but I could imagine.
Because one of the biggest keys to having people follow rules is their faith that they'll keep living. But if you have confirmation that your life will soon end, that all changes. You can't take that faith to the afterlife.
The observer system, then, is what was instated to prevent desperate people from bringing harm to others.
Essentially, people with less than a year to go are observed, and should they do anything inappropriate, the observer will immediately contact headquarters to have their life terminated on the spot, regardless of their usual lifespan.
Which meant the girl sitting with her knees up in the corner of my room was a single phone call away from ending my life.
However - and this is apparently backed by statistics - once there are mere days before death, people seem to lose the will to bother others. So when there are only three days of lifespan remaining, the observer leaves.
For just those final three days, you can be alone.
I ended up falling asleep, apparently. My headache and nausea were gone when I woke up. The clock showed 7 in the afternoon. I'd call that a pretty awful way to spend the first day of the most important three months of my life.
Miyagi was staring from the corner as before. I was determined to do my usual thing, trying not to be aware of her presence.
I washed my face with cool water, undressed in my room, changed into jeans that were no longer blue and a frayed T-shirt, and went out to get dinner.
My observer Miyagi followed about five paces behind.
While I walked, the bright westering sun dazed me. Today's sunset was a sheer yellow.
I heard evening cicadas crying from a distant thicket. Railcars listlessly ran along the track beside the road.
I arrived at an auto-restaurant along a former national highway. It was a wide building, and the trees growing behind seemed to loom over its roof.
Signs, roof, walls - it was harder to find a place that wasn't totally faded. There was a row of about a dozen vending machines inside, and in front of them were two thin tables with cayenne pepper samples and ashtrays.
In the corner were arcade cabinets over a decade old, whose background music helped brighten the place's desolate atmosphere just a little.
I put 300 yen in a noodle vending machine, then took a smoke while I waited for the process to finish. Miyagi sat on a stool, looking up at the single flickering light.
How did she intend to get food while she was observing me? I didn't suppose she had no need to eat or drink, but she had such an eeriness to her that I could accept it if she told me that.
She felt unusually mechanical, you might say. Not so much like a human.
After gobbling down tempura soba that was all heat and a cheap taste, I got a coffee from another vending machine. The sweet iced coffee spread throughout my dry body.
Even though I only had three months left to live, I still went and got unappetizing schlock from vending machines because that was all I knew.
Until very recently, splurging and eating at a fancy restaurant simply wasn't an option. I'd been living in poverty for years, and I must have lost a lot of imagination in that time too.
After I was done eating and got back to the apartment, I grabbed a ball pen, opened a notebook, and wrote out a list of what I was going to do next.
Though it was easier at first to think of the things I didn't want to do, the more I moved my hand, the more things that I wanted to do before I died came to mind.
Things to Do Before I Die
- Don't go to school
- Don't do any work
- Don't resist desires
- Eat some tasty things
- See some beautiful things
- Write a will
- Meet and talk with Naruse
- Tell Himeno how I feel
"I would suggest against that."
I turned around, and Miyagi was no longer sitting in the corner, but stood right behind me staring at what I was writing.
She was specifically pointing at that last line, "Tell Himeno how I feel."
"Do observers really have the right to probe and meddle with this stuff?", I asked.
Miyagi didn't answer that question. Instead, she told me this.
"...About Ms. Himeno. Circumstances led her to give birth to a child at seventeen. She then dropped out of high school and married at eighteen, but divorced a year later. At twenty, she's currently raising a child on her own. In two years time, she will jump to her death, leaving a pitiful suicide note. ...If you go to meet her now, no good will come of it. After all, Ms. Himeno scarcely remembers you at all. That includes, of course, the promise you made at ten.”
I had trouble dislodging my voice from my throat. I felt like the air instantly left my lungs.
"...You know that much about me?", I finally breathed out, trying to hide how shaken I was. "From the way you're talking... do you know everything that's going to happen?"
Miyagi blinked a few times, then shook her head.
"All I know are the possibilities of what may happen in and around your life, Mr. Kusunoki. Of course, it's all meaningless information at this point, as your future changed drastically when you sold your lifespan. What's more, even those mere future possibilities I know are only the most important events."
Still looking into her notebook, Miyagi slowly raised her right hand and tucked her hair behind her ear.
"Ms. Himeno seemed a very significant person in your life, Mr. Kusunoki. Your life's "summary" was simply filled with her."
"That's only relatively speaking," I denied. "Like, it's just that everything else barely matters to me, right?"
"That may be," Miyagi said. "At any rate, if you want my opinion, meeting Ms. Himeno would be a waste of time. It would only spoil your memory of her."
"Thanks for your concern, but it was spoiled a long time ago."
"But you must still use your time wisely, yes?"
"Yeah, maybe. Can you really just talk to me about my future like that, though?"
Miyagi tilted her head. "Let me ask you instead. Why did you think I could not?"
I couldn't think of an answer to that. Even if I were to somehow use future knowledge to cause trouble, Miyagi would just contact HQ and have my life cut short.
"We fundamentally desire that you have a peaceful end to your life," said Miyagi. "To that end, I may predict your future and give you warnings."
I scratched my head. I was wanting to say something back to this girl.
"Look, maybe you're telling me this 'cause you're worried I'll get hurt and lose hope. But couldn't telling me be considered taking away the reason I'm getting hurt and losing hope? Yeah... Like, I bet you thought if I didn't hear the situation directly from you, but from Himeno's mouth, it'd hurt a lot more. That was pretty meddling of you."
Miyagi gave a tired sigh. "Is that so. Well, I had only good intentions. But if that is indeed the case, perhaps I did intrude too readily. I must apologize."
She quickly bowed her head.
"...But I will say one thing. You should not hope for much impartiality or consistency with regard to events to come. You have sold your lifespan. This signifies a leap into an irrational world that does not follow reason. And free will and choice are nigh-meaningless, for you took the leap of your own accord."
With that, Miyagi returned to the corner of the room and reassumed her knees-up position.
"That said, in this instance, having relinquished you of your, ah, "reason to get hurt and lose hope," I will refrain from meddling in any of the other items on your list. Do as you please, so long as it does not trouble others. I will not stop you."
Didn't have to tell me that, I thought.
I didn't overlook the fact that Miyagi had a somehow somber look.
But I didn't give any deep thought into what that expression meant.
4. Let's Compare Answers
Here, my buffoonery really picked up the pace.
I told Miyagi "Just making a call, I'll be right back," and purposefully went outside the apartment. My intent was to keep her from listening in to my calls, but sure enough, Miyagi was hobbling right behind.
It had too long since I'd called someone myself rather than being called. I stared at the name "Wakana" on the phone's screen for a long time.
Summer insects made high-pitched noises from the thicket behind the apartment.
I was extremely nervous on the phone. Actually, it had always been that way since I was a child; I also never invited anyone over, nor started a conversation with someone out of the blue.
True, I missed a lot of opportunities thanks to that, but it also allowed me to avoid an equal amount of worry. I'm not particularly regretful nor content with it.
I stopped my train of thought and used those few thoughtless seconds to press the call button. I just had to make the call. The actual conversation would be what it would.
The dialtone added to my nerves. Once, twice, three times. At this point, I finally recalled the possibility that she might not answer. I hadn't done this in so long, I'd come to think that people would always answer a call.
Four, five, six. It didn't feel like she was going to "answer any moment now." Part of me was relieved.
At the eighth dialtone, I gave up and pressed the end call button.
Wakana was a girl from college, younger than me. I'd planned to invite her out to eat or something. And if things went well, I would have wanted to spend the rest of my short life with her.
At this point, I felt a sudden welling of loneliness. The first change I felt once the end of my life was made clear was an unfathomable longing to be with another person. I had a violent urge to at least talk to someone.
Wakana was the only person at college who showed me any affection. I'd met her this spring, at that old bookstore, when she'd only just entered the school.
Seeing Wakana poring through musty old books, I gave her a "move it, lady" look. But it seemed to trigger one of those common mistakes made when entering a new life - she thought "I don't remember this guy who's giving me that stern look, but maybe we met somewhere?"
"Um, excuse me... Have we met before?", Wakana timidly asked.
"No," I answered. "Never seen you until now."
"Oh, I see... Sorry to bother you," Wakana said, realizing her mistake and awkwardly turning away. But then she smiled, as if wanting to take a second try.
"So, essentially, we met in this bookstore?"
It was my turn to be a bother. "I think you're right about that."
"I think I'm right about that, too. That's great," said Wakana, putting an old book back on the shelf.
A few days later, we reunited at college. After that, we had a few lunches together, having long conversations about books and music.
"I've never met someone in my generation who's read more than me before," Wakana said with eyes sparkling.
"I'm only reading, though. I don't get anything from it," I replied. "I lack the ability to get the real value out of a book. All I'm doing is pouring soup from a pot to a little plate. It overflows from the sides, and it doesn't make anything nutritious."
"What are you talking about?", Wakana said with a head-tilt. "Even if it might not seem nutritious, and like you'll forget it right away, I think the things you read always stay in your head and make themselves useful. Even if you don't notice it yourself."
"Well, maybe that's true. I just think... I'm saying this because of the way I am, but I don't think it's healthy to drown yourself in books when you're young. Reading is for people with nothing else to do."
"Do you not have anything to do, Kusunoki?"
"Other than part-time jobs, not really," I answered.
Wakana couldn't hide a smile, and said "Well, we'll have to give you something to do," lightly slapping my shoulder. Then she picked up my cellphone and added her contact info.
If I'd known at that point that Himeno had already gotten pregnant, married, gave birth, divorced, and by then had completely forgotten me, I likely would have been more romantic with Wakana.
But I was still determined in my adolescence to keep Himeno's promise, and ensure I was still on the shelf. So I never called Wakana, and while I did get a few texts and calls, they soon stopped. I can't get her hopes up, I thought.
The fact of the matter was, I'd always been a person who made himself difficult to save.
I didn't feel like leaving a message on the answering machine. I decided to send a text instead, telling her I'd called.
"Sorry this is so sudden, but do you want to go anywhere tomorrow?" It was blunt, but I was being careful not to ruin Wakana's impression of me. I sent it.
The reply came right away. I was unmistakably comforted by it. So there is still someone who cares about me.
I uncharacteristically wanted to reply right away as well, but then I noticed my misunderstanding.
The text was not from Wakana. Which would have been fine. But the English on the screen told me that no such recipient existed.
Basically, it meant this. Wakana changed her address, but didn't tell me about it. It meant she didn't consider it necessary to keep communications between us.
Of course, it was always possible she'd done this by accident. I could even be informed about her new address very soon.
But I had a gut feeling what the truth was. That time had long past.
Miyagi seemed to have an idea of the situation from the hollow look I was giving the phone screen.
She briskly walked to my side and looked down at the phone.
"Now then, let's compare answers," she said.
"The girl you just tried to call was your last hope. Ms. Wakana was the last person who you thought may have loved you. I think that, had you made your move when she approached you in the spring, the two of you would have been getting on quite well by now. Were that to happen, the value of your lifespan would likely not be so low. ...But you were a bit too late. Ms. Wakana has become indifferent to you. No, more than that - perhaps she has a slight grudge toward Mr. Kusunoki for ignoring her affections, and may even consider showing you her new boyfriend."
Miyagi spoke in a tone that in no way sounded like she was talking about someone right in front of her.
"Henceforth, there will never again be a person who comes to love you. The fact that you see people as a means to fill your lonesomeness is much more transparent than you seem to think."
I heard happy laughter from the window next-door. It sounded like a group of college kids. The light from their window couldn't even be compared to the light from mine.
I wouldn't have paid it much mind before, but now, it was piercing me right in the heart.
My phone rang at the worst possible time. It was Wakana. I considered ignoring it, but I didn't want to bother with her calling later, so I answered.
"Kusunoki, did you call earlier? What's the matter?"
She might have had her usual tone, but maybe because of the preceding conversation, I felt like Wakana was criticizing me. Like she was telling me "What's the big idea calling me after all this time?"
"Sorry, I called by mistake," I said, trying to sound cheery.
"Really? Well, true. You're not the kind of person who calls first, Kusunoki," Wakana laughed. Her laugh felt like it had ridicule in it, too. Like adding on "which is why I gave up on you."
"Yeah, you're right." I told her thanks for calling back and hung up.
The party next door got noisier by the second.
I didn't feel like going back inside, so I stayed where I was and lit a cigarette.
After two smokes, I headed to a local supermarket and wandered around, putting a six pack of beer, fried chicken, and cup ramen in my basket.
It ended up being the first time I spent any of the 300,000 yen I got from selling my lifespan. I'd wanted to choose carefully given what I gave to get it, but I just had no idea what I wanted to buy.
Miyagi carried her own basket and filled it full of things like Calorie Mates and mineral water. Seeing her shopping like that wasn't strange in itself, but I had difficulty imagining her actually eating the things she bought.
She didn't feel like she was particularly human, so a fundamentally human act like eating didn't seem to fit her.
Still... We must look exactly like lovers who live together, I silently thought to myself. It was a truly ridiculous - but happy - hallucination.
I even thought it would be nice if other people saw the same hallucination I was seeing.
I’ll say it just in case - this girl herself, Miyagi, was disagreeable to me. However, I'd secretly had a long-time desire to live together with a girl, and go shopping for food and beer while still in our loungewear.
Every time I saw a couple doing that, I let out a shallow sigh. So even if her purpose was to observe me, I enjoyed shopping in a supermarket late at night with a young girl.
An empty happiness, perhaps. But don't judge, it was real enough for me.
Miyagi quickly finished up at the self-checkout before I did. We returned to the apartment together carrying our bags.
The noisiness next door was still going on, and I frequently heard footsteps through the walls.
To be honest, I was envious of them. I'd never felt that way before. When I saw a bunch of people enjoying themselves, all I thought was "What's so fun about that?"
But being made aware of my death must have corrected my desperately warped value system. I longed for companionship just like anyone else.
Most people probably look to family at times like this, I thought. Whatever the situation, you can always count on family for support, so it's the ultimate place to return to - I knew that was a common line of thought.
But "family" isn't a comfortable thing for everyone. I, for instance, had no plans to make any contact with my family in my last three months. Because I had so little time left, I absolutely wanted to avoid anything that would be sheerly unpleasant.
Ever since I was young, my younger brother constantly stole the affection from our parents. From the outset, he was superior to me on all fronts.
He was honest, tall, handsome. From twelve to his present nineteen, he was never lacking a girlfriend, and he went to a better college than me. He even had good reflexes, and took the mound at the national high school baseball tournament.
I, the older brother, didn't have him beat in any area. I had a slow start, and he rapidly widened the gap between us year after year.
It's natural that attention shifts to the younger sibling, and I can't even say it's unfair that my parents came to treat me like a failure.
It was absolutely true that compared to him, I was a failure. What would be unfair was if we did receive equal attention from our parents.
I would have done the same thing in their position. What's wrong with loving the one who's worth loving, and discarding the one who's worth discarding?
There was practically zero chance that if I went home to my parents, I could live peacefully with their unconditional parental love. It was more likely that if I jumped into the party next door, they'd let me in.
While I ran a bath, I drank beer while eating the fried chicken. By the time the cup ramen was ready, I was already pretty drunk.
Alcohol really is comforting in times like these. As long as you know when to stop.
I approached Miyagi writing in her notebook in the corner. “Want some?”, I invited. I didn't care who it was, I just wanted to drink with someone.
"That's fine. I'm on duty." Miyagi refused without even looking up.
"I've been wondering, what're you writing there?"
"A record of actions. Yours."
"Ah. I'm drunk right now."
"Yes, I can see that." Miyagi nodded begrudgingly.
"Not only that, but I'm really wanting to drink with you."
"Yes, I heard," Miyagi said with a sigh.