11. Pushing for a Vending Machine Tour

After walking for four hours from the community center, we finally reached the apartment. The smell of my own room was nostalgic.
My body was drenched in sweat and my feet were blistered. As I opened the door to use the shower, I suddenly wondered if I should let Miyagi use it first. But if I showed too much concern, I might be the one to destroy that sense of distance she'd created between us.

Resisting the urge to keep the water running, I quickly washed myself, changed, and went back to the living room.
From what I'd seen so far, Miyagi could freely shower and eat while I slept. So I lay down and went right to sleep.
While I pretended to sleep, I heard Miyagi quietly head for the shower. When I was about to get back up, I heard her footsteps coming back, so I hastily closed my eyes.

"Mr. Kusunoki," Miyagi said.
I pretended not to notice her.
"Mr. Kusunoki, are you sleeping?", Miyagi whispered by my pillow. "I ask, of course, because you appear to be feigning sleep. And if you are indeed, then I thought it would be nice if it were out of concern for me. ...Good night. I'll be borrowing your shower."

When I heard the door to the shower shut, I got up and looked toward the corner of the room where Miyagi typically was.
She'd be sleeping there again tonight, wouldn't she. In a position that didn't seem like you could get any sleep in, taking a few minutes to watch and a few minutes to nap.

Just as an experiment, I sat there, imitating the way Miyagi sat, and tried to sleep. But sleep just wouldn't come.
Miyagi returned and tapped me on the shoulder. "What are you doing there? You should sleep in bed," she admonished.
"That's my line. You should sleep in bed. It's ridiculous sleeping like this."
"Ridiculous as it may be, I am used to it."

I lay down on the left side of my bed. "I'm sleeping on the left side from now on. No matter what, I won't intrude on the right side, won't even look. It'd be a perfect place for you to observe me up close. It's up to you if you want to use it or not, but I'll sleep on the left at any rate."

I was trying to find a meeting point. I doubted if Miyagi would accept something like me sleeping on the floor and her in a bed. Though even if I told her it was fine to sleep beside me, it didn't mean she'd easily accept it.
"Are you still half-asleep, Mr. Kusunoki?", Miyagi asked as if confirming my intentions.
I ignored her and closed my eyes. After about twenty minutes, I felt Miyagi getting on the other side.

We shared the one bed with our backs to each other. I acknowledged that the suggestion was for my own self-satisfaction. Thus, I was troubling Miyagi again.
Really, she shouldn't have wanted to do this. Responding to my kindness could damage her tenacity as an observer, built up over years.
Furthermore, the kindness of someone nearing death was a fickle, unstable thing. That sort of kindness doesn't help people, it hurts them.

Even so, Miyagi accepted my lackluster show of tenderness with greater tenderness still.
I supposed she was showing me respect. Or maybe she was just deathly tired.

I woke up with a red sunset filling the room. I thought Miyagi would have long been awake, but she seemed like she'd be sleeping a little longer. I got out of bed and squinted at the bright sunlight.
The moment we made eye contact, we both looked away. After such a deep sleep, her hair and clothes were messy, and she seemed almost defenseless.

"I was just a little tired today," Miyagi gave as an excuse. "I'll sleep in my usual spot from tomorrow on."
Then she added, "But thank you very much."

I walked with Miyagi in the sunset. The cicadas were buzzing.
Maybe because of the bed incident, Miyagi seemed a little more distant today.
At the convenience store, I withdrew the small amount of money I had left and collected my part-time money for the month.

These would be my last war funds.
I'd have to use it carefully.

After watching the sunset from a pedestrian bridge, I had the special at a beef bowl shop. It used a meal ticket system, so Miyagi bought her own ticket and handed it to me.
"Running out of things to do," I said as I finished my miso soup. "I've done everything on my Things to Do Before I Die list. So now what?"
"Do what you like. Even you must have hobbies of some sort, yes?"
"Yeah, they were listening to music and reading. ...But now that I think about it, those two were just means to keep living. I used music and books as a way to make a compromise with life. Now that there's no need to force myself to keep going, they're not so necessary as before."

"Perhaps you should change the way you appreciate them, then. From now on, you can purely enjoy their beauty."
"Yeah, but there's a problem. No matter how I look at books and listen to music, I feel distant, like it's got nothing to do with me. ...Think about it. Most things in the world are made for people who are going to keep living. Which is only natural, of course. You don't create for people who are going to die soon."
A nearby man around 50 who was working through his beef bowl furrowed his brow at me for talking to myself about death.

"Do you not appreciate anything more on the simple side? ...For example, do you like looking at abandoned places, or walking along tracks and counting railroad ties, or playing arcade cabinets abandoned decades ago?"
"Those are awfully specific. Let me guess, you observed guys like that?"
"Yes. There was even one who spent their last month lying in the back of a pickup truck and looking up at the sky. They gave all the money from selling their lifespan to an old man they didn't know, and asked him to drive a pickup truck around places where people wouldn't stop him."

"Sounds peaceful. That sounds like it might be the smartest way to go, surprisingly enough."
"It is rather interesting. It would be a fresh feeling watching the scenery fly by."
I tried to imagine it. Under a blue sky, down winding rural roads, feeling a comfortable breeze - going anywhere. All the memories and regrets would rise from my head and be left behind on the road. A sense of the further you go, the further away you are - much like a dying person.

"Could I hear more like that? As long as it's nothing you can't tell me for business reasons or secrecy," I requested.
"I can tell you plenty when we return to the apartment," Miyagi said. "But you will appear rather suspicious if you keep talking here."

We took a big detour on the way back, passing through a small sunflower field, a former elementary school building, and a graveyard built on slanted land.
There was some kind of event at the middle school, and we passed by healthy, tanned kids smelling of deodorant and bug spray. It was a vivacious night that felt like pure, condensed summer.

When we got back to the apartment, I got on the Cub with Miyagi and we set out again.
Maybe because we were both dressed lightly, I clearly felt the smoothness of her body and was made restless.
After accidentally ignoring a red light, I quickly grabbed the brake, sticking us even closer to each other, and I hoped she didn't notice my quickened pulse.

We went up the hills and parked on one that seemed to have the best view of town. I bought us two canned coffees from a vending machine, and enjoyed the meager view.
Below us was a residential district which released a simple orange glow, seeming so small in comparison to the light of the city some distance away.

Once we were back, I brushed my teeth, lay down on the bed, and listened to Miyagi talk. She told me the less hurtful anecdotes about her past subjects with the same rhythm one would read a child a storybook.
There was nothing particularly unique about these stories, so to speak, but they soothed me more than most works of literature.

The next day, as I folded more paper cranes with the remaining origami paper, I thought about what I should do. Miyagi sat at the table folding cranes, too.
Wouldn't be bad to die drowning in paper cranes, I said, scooping some up in my hands and tossing them up. Miyagi similarly collected a lot of them in her hands and dropped them over my head.

When I got tired of origami, I went out to get some fresh air. I bought short Hopes from the cigarette shop, lit one on the spot, and after drinking a canned coffee from a vending machine, I realized something.
I didn't even see it right under my nose.

I guess a little mutter must have slipped out, because Miyagi looked at my face and asked "What is it?"
"No, well, it's really stupid... I just remembered something I can really, truly say I like."
"Please, tell me."
"I love vending machines," I said, scratching my head.

"Ah," Miyagi said, seeming to miss a beat. "...What about them do you like?"
"Hmm. I don't know if I can say for sure myself. But as a kid, I really wanted to be a vending machine when I grew up.”
Miyagi slowly tilted her head and looked at my blankly.

"Um. Just checking, but by vending machine, you mean the machines which sell coffee, soda, and the like? Like the one you just used?"
"Yeah. But more than that. Cigarettes, umbrellas, charms, yaki onigiri, udon, ice, ice cream, hamburgers, oden, french fries, corned beef sandwiches, cup noodles, beer, liquor... Vending machines offer all manner of things. Japan is the land of vending machines. Because they're good for keeping order.”

"And you thus have a love for vending machines, then."
"Yeah, I do. I like to use them, I even like to just look at them. Even a plain old vending machine might catch my eye and get me looking closer at it."
"Hmm, well... It's a hobby with some individuality to it." Miyagi tried to follow up, but it was a really stupid hobby. It wasn't productive in the least. The symbol of a stupid, worthless life, I thought.

"But I think I do understand," Miyagi said to cheer me up.
"My burning desire to become a vending machine?", I smiled.
"No, that I don't think I can ever understand. But, you see... vending machines are always there. So long as you provide money, they will always offer warmth. They offer more than the sum of their products. They offer a clear function, with invariance and permanence.”
I was somewhat moved by her mini-speech. "Wow. You said what I wanted to say a lot better than I could."
"Thank you." She bowed her head, not looking particularly pleased. "Vending machines are important to us observers as well. Unlike clerks, they don't ignore us. ...So it's all well and good that you say you like vending machines. But what do you actually want to do, then?"

"Well, let me talk about something else I like. Every time I come to this cigarette shop, I'm reminded of Paul Auster's "Smoke." I really liked the thing about going in front of the cigar shop every morning without fail and repeatedly taking a photo of the same place. Getting invested in a simple thing like that felt really thrilling. ...So. I want to imitate Auggie Wren, and take photos that are meaningless at a glance. Just keep taking crude photos of ordinary vending machines, in a way that anybody could do."

"I'm not sure how to put it," Miyagi said, "but I think I like that too."
And so my vending machine tour began.

I bought a silver halide camera, a strap, and ten rolls of film from the thrift shop. Those were the only preparations I needed to make.
I knew a digital camera would be cheaper and easier to manage photos with, but I opted otherwise to get more of a sense of "taking photos."
I filled up the camera with film, got on the Cub, and went around taking pictures of vending machines that caught my eye in every nook and cranny.

Every time I took a picture, I tried to get as much of the stuff that surrounded the vending machine in the finder as I could.
I wasn't concerned about small differences like what drinks were offered and the layout of the buttons. I just wanted to capture what kind of place the vending machine was in, and in what condition.

I found far, far more vending machines around town than I'd expected once I started looking. I took a few dozen pictures just in the area around the apartment.
There were many vending machines I'd always overlooked despite how many times I'd passed them, and slight discoveries like that made my heart dance.
Sometimes the same vending machine would show a very different face at day and at night. While some vending machines glowed to stand out and had bugs flocking to them, others saved electricity by only lighting their buttons, so they floated in darkness.

I knew that even when it came to a hobby as dumb as this, there were people far more serious about it than me, and I could never compete with them.
But I wholeheartedly did not care. This was, as someone once said it, the method most suited to me.

At the start of each day, I'd head for the photo studio and get breakfast in the thirty minutes waiting for the film to develop. At the end of each day, I'd lay the photos I developed that morning on the table, look at them with Miyagi, and carefully put each one into an album.
Though the common point between all the photos was the focus on a vending machine, that made the differences of everything else stand out.
Kind of like the same person taking photos with them in the middle, always with the same pose and expression. Vending machines served like a measurement tool.

The owner of the photo studio seemed interested in me and how I came every morning just to develop photos of vending machines.
He was about forty, had many gray hairs, was unhealthily thin, and very modest. One day he noticed me casually talking to empty space and asked.
"So there's someone there, is there?"

Miyagi and I looked at each other.
"That's right. A girl named Miyagi. Her job's to observe me," I said. Though she knew it was pointless, Miyagi also bowed her head to him.
I didn't expect him to believe me, but he nodded "I see," quickly accepting Miyagi's existence. Apparently there was the occasional strange person.

"So these strange photos, then - you're actually taking photos of her?", he asked.
"No, that's not it. They're just photos of vending machines. I'm going around with Miyagi's help and doing a vending machine tour."
"And will that do something good for her?"
"No, this is simply my hobby. Miyagi just comes along with me. For her job."
The owner's face told how little he understood. "Well, keep at it," he said.

We left the shop, and I took a picture of Miyagi standing next to the tandem seat on the Cub.
"What are you doing?", Miyagi said with head tilted.
"Just figured I'd take one, after what the owner said."
"It will only appear as a meaningless photo of a bike to others."
"All my pictures are meaningless to others," I said.

Of course, people like the photo studio owner - and I'd be concerned if they weren't - were the minority.
One morning when we were leaving the apartment to visit a dump, and I held the door waiting for Miyagi to put on her shoes, my neighbor came downstairs. He was a tall man with coercive eyes.
When Miyagi stepped out and said "Sorry to make you wait," and I closed the door behind her with an "Alright, let's go," he gave me a disturbed look.

It was an utterly clear, not very windy day. I was lost in an area I'd never seen nor heard of, wandering for two hours, and when I finally found places I knew, I was again in my - and Himeno's - hometown.
Maybe that was the fundamental direction I went in when I was lost. Maybe it was a sort of homecoming instinct.

Of course, it didn't change the fact that it was a place with vending machines. I ran the Cub down the roads taking pictures.
I found a retro ice cream vending machine at the candy store I'd often gone to as a boy. My particular favorites were the chocolate barley puffs, kinako sticks, dice caramel, orange gum, Botan Rice Candy - come to think of it, I ate nothing but sweets.
The candy store had closed shop a long time ago, but the red-rusted, busted vending machine that was there the first time I visited was the same as ever.
The phone booth on the other side of the street, which looked like a public bathroom on the outside, had been there about as long, but the machine still seemed just barely functional.

Miyagi and I sat on a bench in the weed-ridden park, illuminated by sunlight coming through the trees, and ate onigiri we'd made in the morning.
There was no sign of any people around, but there was a black cat and a brown-speckled one. The cats looked from afar, and as if sensing no danger, gradually came closer.
I wished I had some food to give them, but unfortunately I didn't carry around things which cats would like with me.

"Come to think of it, Miyagi, can cats see you?"
Miyagi stood up and walked over to the cats. The black cat ran away, and the brown-speckled cat kept its distance, then followed a few seconds later.
"Indeed, dogs and cats can see me," Miyagi said, turning around. "That said, it's not as if they like me."

We took a short rest after eating, and Miyagi started drawing in her notebook with a pencil.
I followed her gaze to find the cats. They'd moved up to the top of a slide, and Miyagi seemed to like the scene.
I was surprised she had that kind of hobby. Maybe all this time she looked like she was writing an observation log, she was immersing herself in her own pastime.

"So you do this for a hobby," I remarked.
"Yes. Are you surprised?"
"Yeah. You're not so great, though."
"Which is why I'm practicing. And isn't that great," Miyagi said, proudly for some reason.

"Could you show me what you've drawn?"
She suddenly closed her notebook and put it in her bag.
"We should be moving on now," she said, hurrying me along.

It was after spending half the day searching my hometown, as we headed for the next town, when I passed in front of the candy store again.
There was someone sitting on the Snow Brand bench in front of the store. And it was someone I knew well.

I parked the Cub on the roadside, stopped the engine, and approached the old woman on the bench.
Her response came slowly. But my voice seemed to get through to her, and she turned her eyes to me.
She must have been over 90. Her face and her hands folded on her lap had what I felt were thousands of wrinkles. Her sheer white hair hung down lifelessly, and her dejected look was at once tragic.

I squatted down in front of the bench and again greeted her.
"Hello. You probably don't remember me, do you?"
It seemed I could take her silence as a confirmation.
"It's understandable. It was about ten years ago I last came here."
As expected, she didn't reply. The old woman's gaze remained fixed several meters ahead of her. I carried the conversation myself.

"But I remember you very well. It's not necessarily true that you'll have a good memory just because you're young. I'm still only 20, but I've forgotten a lot about the past. However happy or sad something is, you'll soon forget it if you don't get a chance to recall it. What people don't realize is that they've forgotten about forgetting. If everyone really preserved the happiest memory from their past perfectly, they'd only be sadder living in their relatively hollow present. And if everyone preserved the worst memory from their past perfectly, well, they'd still be sad. Everyone just remembers what it's inconvenient not to remember."

There was no argument nor agreement. The old woman was as still as a scarecrow.
"And though memory is so unstable like that, you still haven't faded in my mind because of how much you helped me back then. It was a very uncommon thing. Of course, ten years ago, I was rarely grateful to people. Even when adults were nice to me, I was convinced they were just in a position where they had to be, so it wasn't a pure act of good will. ...Yes, I was a charmless child. A kid like that would even consider running away from home. When I was 8, or when I was 9, I forget exactly when, I got in a fight with my mother and left home. I've completely forgotten what we fought about. It must have been something stupidly trivial."

I sat beside the old woman, leaned on the back of the bench, and gazed up at distant pylons and the clouds in the blue sky.
"I hadn't thought ahead much, so I went to kill time at the candy store. It clearly wasn't the time of day that a kid my age would be out walking alone, so you asked me. "Don't you need to go home?" Having just had a heated argument with a parent, I blubbered something back. When you heard that, you opened a door behind the register, led me over, and took out some teas and candies from inside. A few hours later, a call came from my parents, and when they asked if I was over there, you replied "He is, but let's say he isn't for another hour" and hung up. ...Maybe it didn't mean anything at all to you. But I think thanks to that experience, I can still put my deepest hopes in someone else - or at least, so I've convinced myself."

Will you put up with my chatter for a little longer?, I asked.
The old woman closed her eyes, seeming to get increasingly stiff.

"If you've forgotten about me, then I'm sure you've forgotten about Himeno too. I always came along to the shop with her. ...Like her name implies, she was like a princess out of a fairy tale. I don't mean any offense, but her unique beauty was something that seemed entirely unfitting for this town. Both Himeno and I were black sheep at school. I was probably just hated because I was a snot-nosed kid. But I think Himeno was hated because she was just so different. ...I know it's rude of me, but I can't help but feel gratitude for that. Because by being driven away from the group, Himeno and I ended up together. Just having Himeno by my side, I could handle all the bullying from everyone else. I could think that, at any rate, they treated Himeno and I the same way."

Every time I said "Himeno," the old woman seemed to show just the slightest reaction. Pleased by this, I continued.

"In the summer of fourth grade, Himeno had to change schools because of her parents changing jobs. That served as a trigger for my image of her being increasingly deified. I used her remark about "being together if we hadn't found anyone by 20" as a prop for ten whole years. But just the other day, I learned that Himeno's fondness for me, once a certain point had passed, turned into a vicious hate. She'd even planned to commit suicide before my eyes. ...Then later, I suddenly remembered. Just before I reunited with Himeno, I went by myself to dig up a time capsule that our class had filled with letters and buried back in elementary school. I knew that I really shouldn't have, but I was going to die very soon due to some circumstances, so I thought I should be allowed at least that."

How about we compare answers.

"Now the strange thing was, Himeno's letter wasn't in the time capsule. I reasoned it was because Himeno happened to be absent that day, but once I thought about it, I realized that couldn't be. Those letters were something our teacher took plenty of time to have us prepare. She wasn't the kind of person to bury a time capsule without someone's letter just because they happened to be absent. It's conceivable that someone dug up the time capsule before me and took Himeno's letter. And if that was what happened - I can't think of anyone else who would do so than Himeno herself."

I had not actually realized this in advance.
But right then, everything started to come together in my mind.

"When I was 17, I received a single letter from Himeno. There was nothing particularly important about what was written in the letter itself. It was just enough that I was the recipient, and Himeno was the sender. She was never the sort of person to write letters to others or call them, no matter how friendly she was with them. So the moment a letter from her arrived... I should have realized."

I should have realized much, much sooner.

"That letter was Himeno's form of an SOS. She must have been asking for my help with that letter. Much like me, when she was cornered, she clung to her past, dug up the time capsule, remembered her one and only childhood friend, and sent me a letter. Not noticing her intent, I was no longer qualified for that position - and so I lost Himeno. She became hollow, and the moment I realized it, so did I. Himeno's going to commit suicide soon, and I'm going to run out of life soon. ...A bad place to stop, but that's the end of this gloomy story. I'm terribly sorry for making you sit through all that."

As I stood up to leave, the old woman said "Goodbye," in a voice fading as soon as it left her lips.
That parting word was the only thing she said to me.
"Thank you very much. Goodbye," I replied, leaving the candy store behind.

Being forgotten by a past benefactor didn't hurt me that much. I was beginning to get used to being betrayed by my memories.
But at the time, I completely overlooked a certain possibility.

The girl who was always beside me, providing support as I experienced every form of disappointment.
The girl who felt despair like mine, but still chose to sell her time over her lifespan, leaving her with no future.
The girl who made up for what she lacked in courtesy with incredibly sweet concern.
I overlooked the possibility that she, Miyagi, could betray me.

"Mr. Kusunoki? Mr. Kusunoki."
Miyagi, who had stopping hesitating about embracing me if only while we rode in tandem, poked me in the flank while I drove.

I slowed down and asked "What?", and she said, as if in an attempt to impress me, "I'll tell you something good."
"I just remembered. I've been on this road a long time ago. Long before I became an observer. ...If you follow the road a bit more, then make a right turn somewhere and go straight, you'll arrive at Starry Lake."
"Starry Lake?"
"The lake I told you I would want to visit again before I died. I don't know what it's officially called."
"Oh yeah, you did tell me about that."
"Now wasn't that something good?"
"Yeah it was," I agreed, also trying to lighten the mood. "We should go for sure."
"Do you think you have enough gas?"
"I'll fill it up somewhere."

After filling the tank as full as it could go at the nearest gas station, I drove on following Miyagi's directions.
It was already past midnight. We went up a mountain trail, resting the engine where necessary, and arrived at what she called Starry Lake after about half an hour.

After buying cup ramen from the nearby convenience store and eating it on the bench outside, I stopped the Cub in the parking area ahead and walked down a mostly unlit road.
While Miyagi looked around at all the buildings fondly, she repeatedly warned me "You cannot look up yet." At the edge of my vision, I could indeed see part of an amazing starry sky, but I walked with my head down as Miyagi told me.

"Now, listen carefully to what I say," Miyagi said. "I will guide you, so I want you to keep your eyes closed until I tell you to open them."
"You don't want to show me until the very end, huh?"
"Yes. After all the effort, do you not want to see the stars in the best of conditions as well, Mr. Kusunoki? ...Now close your eyes."

I closed my eyes and Miyagi took my hand, slowly guiding me with "this way"s. Walking with my eyes closed allowed me to hear sounds I hadn't before.
I'd thought the noises of the summer bugs were all one sound, but I was able to make out four different types. Lowly-buzzing bugs, shrilly high-pitched bugs, bugs with bird-like voices standing out at once, and ear-hurting frog-sounding bugs.
I heard the sounds of slight breezes and distant waves, and could even tell my footsteps apart from hers.

"Tell me, Mr. Kusunoki. What would you do if I were to deceive you, and lead you somewhere outrageous?"
"Outrageous how?"
"Hmm... Like a cliff, or a bridge. Somewhere where you would be in danger of falling."
"I didn't consider it, and I'm not gonna."
"Why not?"
"Can't see any reason why you'd do something like that."
"Is that right," Miyagi said, sounding bored.

I felt my feet no longer on asphalt, but on sand, and then soon it became wood. I guessed we'd arrived at a pier.
"Stop, keeping your eyes closed," Miyagi said as she let go of my hand. "Watch your step, but lie down flat. And then you may open your eyes."
I lowered myself, carefully laid my back on the ground, took a big breath, and opened my eyes.

That which filled my vision was not the "starry sky" I knew.
Maybe I should put it this way - that day, I learned what the stars looked like for the first time.

I had "seen" the stars via books and television. I knew of a sky which contained the Summer Triangle, through which the Milky Way ran, which looked like a sputtering of ink.
But with those points of reference, even knowing the color and shape, I couldn't really imagine the size of the thing.
The sight before my eyes was something much, much bigger than what I'd imagined. It was like a falling snow whose flakes radiated a powerful light.

I said to Miyagi beside me, "I feel like I understand why you'd want to see this again before you died."
"Don't you?", she said smugly.

We laid on the pier looking up at the stars for a long time.
We saw three shooting stars. I wondered what I'd wish for when I saw the next one.

I didn't have any thoughts of getting my lifespan back at this point. I didn't want to meet Himeno, and I didn't want to turn back time. I didn't have the energy in me to start things over.
I just wanted to die here peacefully, like falling asleep - that was my wish. Asking for any more than that would be not knowing my place.

I didn't even need to think about what Miyagi would wish for. Her wish was to quit her observer job - so she would be an invisible woman no longer.
Her existence ignored by everyone, with only her subjects to acknowledge her... I could see her dying within a year. As much endurance as Miyagi had, it in no way meant she could survive thirty years of that life.

"Miyagi," I voiced. "You've lied for my sake, haven't you? Lies like how Himeno barely remembered me."
Miyagi turned to me, still lying down, and instead of answering said, "I had a childhood friend as well."
I spoke while trying to remember. "That being, the "person who was important to you" you mentioned once?"
"Yes. Well-remembered."
I waited in silence, and Miyagi slowly began.

"I once had someone in my life who was to me as Ms. Himeno was to you. We could never feel accustomed to living in this world, so we relied on each other, and lived in our own world of mutual dependency. ...After becoming an observer, the first thing I did on my first day off was to go check on him. I thought that he would have been terribly sad about my disappearance. He would have retreated into his shell, waiting for me to return - I did not question it wouldn't be so. ...However, in a few weeks without me, he had quickly adapted to a world without me. No, not that; a mere month after I vanished, he had assimilated into this world in the same way as those who'd rejected us as "different.""

Miyagi looked at the sky again, and a warm smile came to her lips.
"That was when I realized. To him, I was merely a shackle. ...To speak truly, I wanted to make him unhappy. I wanted him to be sorrowful, and despair, and retreat into his shell, and wait for my never-to-come return, but to still somehow barely breathe. I didn't want to know that he could make it on his own. ...I have not gone to see him since. Whether he is happy or sad, it would only depress me."

"But before you died, you'd still wanna meet him after all?"
"Yes. Because I don't know anything else. In the end of it all, that's the only thing I can cling to."
Miyagi raised herself and sat with her knees up. "So I can very much understand how you feel. Though perhaps you don't want me to."
"Nah," I said. "Thanks for understanding."
"Don't mention it," Miyagi said with a reserved smile.

We took photos of the nearby vending machines, then went back to the apartment.
Miyagi dove into my bed, claiming "only because today was so tiring." When I tried to sneak a look at Miyagi, she appeared to be doing the same, so we both hastily looked away, and slept facing opposite to each other.

I should have wished on a shooting star that things could go on like this.
When I next woke, Miyagi was gone. Only her notebook remained by the bed.

Chapter 12

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