13. A Very Real Way

The story's nearing the end now. I've got less time to devote to writing this, so I'm not sure if it'll get cut off before the end or what.
It's too bad, but I think the writing'll have to be a little less detailed than before.

Though I'd made up my mind to repay Miyagi's debt, my blind idiocy wasn't something easily cured. But at least when it comes to what's to follow, maybe my misjudgment isn't too much to blame.
After all, it seemed impossible from the start. Her debt was a sum far greater than the salaryman's expenditures which Himeno once spoke of. There was no surefire way for a boring college student to make that much in two months.

But for the time being, I searched for one. Doing admirable work was something that seemed unrealistic in this case. No matter how hard I worked, having only two months to do so, it would be squeezing water from a stone.
I could arguably make back the 300,000 yen Miyagi gave me, but I didn't think she'd want me to labor away my last months like that. Similarly, she wouldn't want me to resort to anything criminal like larceny, robbery, fraud, or kidnapping.
And because I was trying to earn the money for her, of course I wouldn't want to do it in any way she didn't approve of.

I considered gambling, but even I wasn't stupid enough to go through with that one. I knew very well that I wouldn't be winning any bets with my back to the wall like this. Gambling is something always won by those with money to spare.
If you reach out to the goddess of fortune, she runs away. You have to tough it out and wait for her to approach, then catch her at just the right moment. But I didn't have time left for that, and I didn't have any sense for what the right moment was.

It was like trying to catch a cloud. If there were some amazing way to make a lifetime of money in two months, everyone would be doing it. Basically all I was doing was trying to check one more time something that everyone else would plainly state was impossible.
My only "weapon," so to speak, was the fact that with such little life left I could take any risk, but I wouldn't be the first person who's thrown their life away for money. And I could tell how that didn't pan out for them.

But I still kept thinking. Reckless, I know. But even if no one else had succeeded before, I just had to be the first.
I kept telling myself: Think, think, think. How can I pay the debt in the remaining two months? How can I ensure Miyagi will sleep peacefully? How can I ensure Miyagi won't be alone after I'm gone?

I pondered while walking around town. I sort of picked up in my twenty years of experience that it's best to walk around when you're thinking about something with no clear answer.
I kept walking the next day, and the day after that. I hoped for an answer to come rolling at my feet.

I didn't eat much of anything during that time.
Again speaking from experience, I knew that at a certain level of hunger, my head cleared up; so I was counting on that.

It didn't take long for me to arrive at the thought of going to the shop again.
My last hope was the shop in that musty old building, that had once thrown me into the pits of despair, and still allowed me two more transactions.

One day I asked Miyagi. "Thanks to you, Miyagi, I'm a lot happier than I used to be. If I were to hypothetically sell my lifespan at that shop now, how much would it go for?"
"...As you predict, the values are fluid to some extent," Miyagi confirmed. "But unfortunately, a subjective sense of happiness will have little effect on the value of a lifespan. Their focus is on objectively measurable happinesses with a basis. ...Though I question that approach."
"So then, what would add the most value?"
"Social contributions, popularity... I believe they favor things which are easily recognizable through objective means."
"Easily recognizable, huh."

"Um, Mr. Kusunoki?"
"What's up?"
"Please don't think of doing anything strange," Miyagi said with concern.
"I'm not thinking anything strange. I'm thinking perfectly natural thoughts for this situation."

"...I believe I know more or less what you are considering," Miyagi said. "The majority of it is ways to repay my debt, yes? If so, then I'm glad. But while I am glad, I must say I don't want you to waste your remaining time. If you are trying to look out for my happiness... I'm terribly sorry, but that is a definite lapse of judgment."
"Just for reference, Miyagi, what's happiness for you?"
"...Pay attention to me," Miyagi pouted. "You haven't been talking to me much lately, have you?"

Miyagi was definitely right. What I was doing was a total misjudgment on my part.
But it didn't mean I'd give up that easily. I had resolve. I'd acquire easily-recognizable things like contributions to society and popularity.
Once I did, I could get more value from my life. That seemed to be so. Dare I say, I hoped I'd be famous enough that my name would be known by all.

I honestly didn't know which was more realistic - purely making money, or becoming someone who only had value in that his lifespan could sell for a high price.
I came to think that they were equally unrealistic. But I had nothing else, so I had to at least give it a try.

I was approaching the limits of what I could think up myself. I would need the imagination of others.
I first visited the old bookstore. I did tend to go there when I was troubled, after all. Casually looking through books that had nothing to do with the situation seemed to make most problems evaporate.
I figured it probably wouldn't work quite so well this time, but that day, I wouldn't be relying on books alone.

I called for the old owner, who was in the back listening to baseball relays on the radio, surrounded by piles of books on all sides. He raised his head and gave an unenergetic "Ah."
I decided not to touch upon the shop that dealt in lifespan. Though I did have some desire to find out just how much he knew about the shop, and above all I wanted to tell him about everything that had happened in the past month.
But if I were to talk about that, naturally my having only two months left would come up, and he might have felt guilty about it coming to that.

So I didn't mention anything about lifespan, and had an idle chat with him, for just this once acting like I didn't feel Miyagi's presence.
About the weather. About books. About baseball. About festivals. There wasn't much of note to speak of, but surprisingly, the conversation gave me a unique sense of ease. Maybe I liked this store, and this old man.

While Miyagi was busy staring at the bookshelves, I whispered a question to the old man.
"How do you think you can improve your own value?"

The owner - at last - turned down the volume on the radio.
"Hmm. Guess you just have to be reliable about doing things. That's not something I can do, though. I guess you just see things you "can" do in front of you, and you get good at staying on top of them. That what I think at my age."
"I see," I nodded.

"But," he said as if denying what he just said, "there's something more important than that. And that's not to trust the advice of somebody like me. Somebody who never achieved anything talking about success is just somebody who's just blind to their own failings. So don't follow my example. I can't even understand why exactly I failed. Don't have to show any respect to what a guy like that says.

"...People who've had lots of failures talk about those failures as if to imply that if they have another life, they'll be a big success. After facing all that hardship, they think they won't mess up again. But they're all - me included, of course - making a fundamental mistake. Failures know a lot about failure, sure. But knowing failure is completely different from knowing success. Fixing your mistakes doesn't mean success takes their place - you've just got a point to start at, is all. That's something failures don't understand.”

I found it a little funny remembering how Miyagi had said something very similar.
"They have only just arrived at the starting line. They have only just regained their composure after a long losing streak. Mistaking that as a chance to turn things around will do them no good."

Lastly, he said:
"Hey, you thinking of selling your lifespan again?"
"What does that mean?", I smiled innocently.

After leaving the bookstore, just the same as before, I entered the CD shop. The usual blond clerk greeted me kindly.
Here, too, I didn't talk about lifespan, but just chatted about stuff like CDs I'd listened to lately.

Lastly, again finding a time when Miyagi wouldn't hear, I asked:
"How do you think you can accomplish something in a short time?"

His reply came quick. "Guess you gotta depend on others, dude. ‘Cause a single guy can't do that much on his own, yeah? Which means you gotta have someone else's help. I don't have a whole lotta faith in my own ability, tell you the truth. If it's a problem I can't tackle with, like, 80% of my all, I go straight to somebody else.”
It was advice I wasn't sure if I should take to heart or not.

Outside, it had suddenly started raining heavily, as it does in the summer.
I went to leave the store prepared to get soaked, but the clerk lent me a vinyl umbrella.

"I dunno what's goin' on, but if you wanna accomplish something, don't forget about your health," he said.
I thanked him, put up the umbrella, and walked home with Miyagi. It was a small umbrella, so our shoulders got soaking wet.
People watching looked at me quizzically - they saw an idiot holding an umbrella the wrong position.

"I like this," Miyagi laughed.
"What do you like?", I asked.
"Well, essentially... Despite how comical it looks to others, you letting your shoulder get wet is a very kind gesture. I like that sort of thing."
"Oh," I said, my cheeks getting a little red.
"You're a shameless shy man," Miyagi said, poking my shoulder.

By this point, I didn't just not care what people thought of me, I enjoyed being treated like a weirdo.
Because it would make Miyagi happy, too. Because the more comical I looked, the more it would make Miyagi smile.

I took shelter from the rain with Miyagi under a shop overhang. I heard thunder in the distance, rain pouring out of the gutter, and squishing inside my wet shoes.
There, I saw a familiar face. The man, walking quickly with a dark blue umbrella, looked up at me and stopped.
He was a guy in my department at school who I knew well enough to exchange greetings with.

"Been a while," he said with cold eyes. "Where the hell have you been? Haven't seen you on campus at all lately."
I put my hand on Miyagi's shoulder and said, “I've been going around with this girl. Her name's Miyagi.”

"Not funny," he said, clearly displeased. "You're such a creep."
"Can't stop you from thinking that," I replied. "I'm sure I'd say the same thing in your position. But Miyagi's here, all right. And she's real cute. I'll respect that you don't believe it, so I want you to respect that I do.”
"...I always knew it, but man, you really are deranged, Kusunoki. You're always hiding in your husk instead of interacting with people, huh? How about a peek at the outside world?"
Then he left, fed up with me and stunned.

I sat on the bench and watched the raindrops. It soon started to clear up, seemingly only a brief shower. We squinted at the light off the wet ground.
"Um... Thank you for that," Miyagi said, leaning on my shoulder.
I put my hand on her head and ran my fingers through her smooth hair.

Be “reliable,” huh?
I mouthed the advice of the old man at the bookstore. Though he'd told me I shouldn't trust him, the words seemed to have meaning to me now.

Maybe the idea of paying back her debt was too much of a stretch. Thinking about it, there was something I could do that would make Miyagi happy in a very real way.
It was like she'd told me herself - to "pay attention to her." Simply being treated like an oddity by those around me gave her considerable delight.
It was right in front of me all this time - so why didn't I do it?

Miyagi spoke at such a time that she seemed to see the change in my thoughts.
"Mr. Kusunoki? I'm truly, truly glad that you would use what little remains of your life to help me. ...But it's not necessary. Because you've saved me long ago. Even once decades have passed without you, I believe I'll be able to think back on the days I spent with you, and laugh and cry. I believe just having memories like that will make living somewhat easier. So you've done enough. Please, forget about the debt."

"Instead," Miyagi said, shifting her weight toward me.
"Instead, give me memories. For after you're gone, when I feel hopelessly alone, to warm myself with again and again - as many as you can."

And that was how I'd decided that I was to end my life as the most foolish person you ever did meet.
But you'll see, should you read this to the end, how it was ironically the wisest decision I made in my entire life.

Miyagi and I got on a bus for a park with a big pond.
Most would raise their eyebrows or burst out laughing when they heard what I did there.

I rented a boat on the lake. While there were simple rowboats, I dared to rent one of those ridiculous swan boats.
Since I appeared to be alone, the clerk on the dock gave me a bewildered look as if to say “Alone?” - normally only lovers or pairs of girls would ride them.
I turned to Miyagi and smiled, “Okay, let's go!”, and the clerk's face stiffened. There was some amount of terror in his eyes.

Miyagi couldn't help laughing at how funny it was the entire time we were on the boat.
"I mean, to them it looks like an adult male riding one of these alone, yes?"
"Can't be that stupid. I mean, how fun is this?", I laughed.
We slowly toured the lake. Amid the sounds of the water, Miyagi whistled "Stand By Me." It was a tranquil summer afternoon.

There were Yoshino cherry trees planted all around the perimeter of the lake. In spring, surely the lake would be covered with cherry petals.
On the other hand, in winter, the lake would be mostly frozen and the swan boats would be retired, the real swans taking their place.
It was a somewhat lonely thought, as a person who would never see spring nor winter again. But looking at Miyagi smiling beside me, it quickly stopped mattering.

It didn't end with the boat. I did one ridiculous act after another over the next few days. To put it simply, I did everything you're not supposed to do alone. Of course, I was doing it with Miyagi, but no one else saw it that way.
The one-man Ferris wheel. The one-man merry-go-round. The one-man picnic. The one-man aquarium visit. The one-man zoo visit. The one-man see-saw. The one-man pool. The one-man toast at a bar. The one-man barbecue.
Nearly anything that would be embarrassing to do alone, I did it. And whatever I was doing, I would always actively say Miyagi's name, walk holding hands with her, make eye contact with her, and generally try to insist on her existence.
Whenever I ran low on money, I'd spend a few days doing part-time jobs, and then go have fun again.

I didn't notice at the time, but I was gradually becoming an infamous celebrity in the small town.
Naturally, there were people who sneered, bluntly looked away, and furrowed their eyebrows, but on the other hand, some thought of me as a pantomime trying to show off his skills, or interpreted my actions as a thought exercise.
No, not only that - apparently some people's hearts were soothed when they saw me, and I actually made people happy. The response truly was varied.

Surprisingly, the proportion of those who got a bad impression and those who got a good impression were pretty equal.
Why did nearly half of people feel better seeing my idiotic actions? Maybe the reason was surprisingly simple.
Because I looked like I was having the time of my life.
That might have been it.

"Mr. Kusunoki, is there anything you'd like me to do?", Miyagi asked one morning.
"What's this all of a sudden?"
"I felt that you've been giving me everything. I'd like to occasionally give something to you."
"I don't remember doing anything that big, but I'll keep it in mind," I said. "But Miyagi, is there anything you want me to do for you?"
"There isn't. My wish is to know what your wish is."
"Then my wish is to know your wish."
"Thus it is my wish to know your wish, Mr. Kusunoki."

After we pointlessly repeated that four times, Miyagi spoke with resignation.
"Before, you asked me what I would do if I had months to live, and I gave you three answers, yes?"
"Starry Lake, your grave, childhood friend."
"You wanna meet your childhood friend, then?"

Miyagi nodded apologetically. "Thinking on it, I do not know when I'll die. Thus, I thought that it may be best to visit him soon, while I still know where he is. Though we will not be meeting, only me seeing him. ...Will you accompany me?"
"Yeah, of course."
"Please tell me your wish soon, Mr. Kusunoki."
"Once I think of one."

We quickly checked out the transportation we'd need to take to her destination and arranged to visit Miyagi's hometown.
While riding the bus along hilly roads, she looked out the window nostalgically.
"I'm sure I'll be disappointed. My wish is very unrealistic, selfish, and childish. A wish of "I never want anything to change" has never once been heard. ...But even my memories may be spoiled, I feel I can endure it now. Because you're here, Mr. Kusunoki."

"Because misery loves company."
"That's not what I meant at all. Are you stupid?"
"I know, my bad," I said, then stroked Miyagi's head. "Like this, right?"
"Like that," Miyagi nodded.

It was a small town. The shopping district was all appliance stores, there were long lines at the register at small chain supermarkets, students with nowhere to go gathered at the community center - that kind of town.
It lacked personality no matter what slice you took out of it, but now, it was all beautiful to me. I no longer needed to just take a quick, efficient glance at the world, nor blame my wretchedness on it. I could afford to stop and look at things how they were.
Looking at the world without a hint of any grudge, it was as vivid as if I'd peeled off a clear membrane that had covered everything.

Unusually, Miyagi was the one leading me that day. She knew that her childhood friend lived in this town, but didn't know what house he lived in.
I'll look for places where it seems he might be, Miyagi said. Apparently his name was Enishi.

When we finally found Enishi, Miyagi didn't approach him right away. At once, she hid behind my back, timidly put her head out, and gradually drew near until at last standing beside him.
It was in a puny station that would feel cramped if there were ten people inside. Enishi was sitting on a bench in a corner, reading a book.

He was a bit more blessed in his posture and face than most, but his expression deserved special mention. It was a relaxed expression as if to cover a kind of self-confidence. I'd recently begun to understand what it took to create such a look.
In essence, it was an expression that could only be had by those with the confidence from loving someone and being loved.
I could tell just from the mood that Enishi wasn't waiting for a train, but for someone coming off of one.

I figured Miyagi didn't want to see who that "someone" was. I checked the time and whispered "Guess we better get going," but Miyagi shook her head.
"Thank you. But I want to watch. I want to see what kind of person he loves now."

A two-car train arrived. Most of the passengers that spilled out were high school students, but one was an agreeable woman in her middle twenties.
I could predict that she was the person Enishi was waiting for even before they exchanged friendly smiles.

The woman had a very natural smile. So natural that it nearly wasn't.
Most people's smiles are at least somewhat forced no matter how natural they appear, but hers showed no trace of being unnatural. Maybe it was simply the result of smiling very often.

Since they naturally came together without saying a word, it seemed they had been dating for a while. But from the happiness on their faces the instant they saw each other, it was like they'd only just had a rendezvous for the first time.
It only lasted seconds, but that was enough to know that they were happy.
Enishi was getting on happily without Miyagi.

Miyagi looked at them emotionlessly, not crying or laughing.
Maybe I was the one who was more disturbed. I could see myself and Himeno in Enishi and his girlfriend. Though only for a moment, I pictured a peaceful, happy future that perhaps could have been.
A future I may not have been satisfied simply dying in.

The couple left, and only Miyagi and I remained inside.
"I'd actually considered doing a number of things, despite how they couldn't see me," Miyagi said. "But I changed my mind."
"Like what?", I asked.
"Like forcibly hugging him. That sort of thing."
"Like that, huh. Well, if I were in that position, I'd do more than that."
"Such as?"

Before Miyagi could finish saying those two words, I wrapped my arms around her hips and showed her "more than that."
We stayed that way for about two minutes.
Though Miyagi initially stiffened from surprise, she gradually calmed down and responded similarly.

When our lips parted, I said, "If nobody's gonna blame me, then sure, I'm gonna do selfish stuff like this."
"...Indeed. No one will blame you," Miyagi finally said, her head still lowered.

Chapter 14

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