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.


14. The Blue Period

A definite change started to take place when my lifespan went below fifty days.
As I said before, there were lots of people who took offense to my actions, which were both famous and infamous. There were numerous people who would see me happily talking to an invisible person, and say cruel things loud enough for me and passersby to hear.
Of course, I had no right to complain. I was the one who made them feel unpleasant in the first place.

One day, at a bar, I got involved with three men. They were loud, sharp-eyed, always taking opportunities to make themselves look tough, and from their numbers and stature I knew I needed to be careful about offending them.
Probably out of boredom, when they saw me drinking alone and talking to an empty seat, they purposefully sat next to me and talked to me, trying to provoke me.
Maybe at one point I would have tried to stand up for myself and say something back, but I just couldn't devote energy to that anymore, so I waited it out until they got bored.

But they didn't get bored - upon realizing I wasn't saying anything back, they took advantage of it to up the attitude even further.
I considered leaving the bar, but seeing how much time they seemed to have on their hands, I thought they might just follow me.
"This is problematic," Miyagi said with a concerned look.

Just as I was worrying about what to do, I heard a voice from behind say "Huh? Is that you, Mr. Kusunoki?"
It was a man's voice. I couldn't identify anyone who talked to me like that, so I was surprised enough as it was, but what he followed with made both Miyagi and I too stunned to speak.
"You're with Ms. Miyagi again today?"

I turned to look. I did indeed know this man.
He was the man who lived next door at the apartment. The man who'd always given me a disturbed look watching me go in and out while talking to Miyagi.
I seemed to remember his name was Shinbashi.

Shinbashi walked right up to me, turned to one of the guys bothering me, and said "I'm very sorry, but could you give up this seat?"
His words were polite, but his tone was oppressive. Shinbashi was over six foot and looked at him like he was used to threatening people, so the man he spoke to changed his attitude very quickly.

Once Shinbashi sat next to me, he faced not me, but Miyagi. "I always hear about you from Mr. Kusunoki, but I've never talked to you myself. Nice to meet you. I'm Shinbashi."
Miyagi's face was frozen in shock, but Shinbashi nodded as if she'd made some kind of reply. "Yes, that's right. I'm honored you remember. We've passed by in the apartment many times."
It wasn't much of a conversation. Thus it was clear that Shinbashi couldn't actually see Miyagi.
Maybe this man is just "pretending" he can see Miyagi, I thought.

The men pestering me seemingly gave up with Shinbashi's appearance and prepared to leave. Once the three were gone, Shinbashi sighed with relief and threw away his polite smile for his usual sullen look.
"Let me just say first," Shinbashi clarified, "I don't necessarily believe this "Miyagi" girl honestly exists."
"I know. You were just helping, huh?", I said. "Thanks, I'm grateful."
He shook his head. "No, it's not really that either."
"Then what is it?"

"You may not admit this, but... at least personally, this is what I think. I see what you're doing as sort of a performance, attempting to fool as many people as you can into believing this "Miyagi" really exists. You're attempting to prove through perfect pantomime that people's common sense can be shaken. ...And that attempt has succeeded on me somewhat."

"You mean you feel Miyagi's existence to an extent?"
"I don't like to admit it, but I believe so," Shinbashi said, shrugging his shoulders. "And while I'm at it, I'm somewhat interested in the change taking place within myself. I wonder that if I were to actively accept "Ms. Miyagi's" existence like you're causing me to, I'll eventually be able to see her for real."

"Miyagi," I began, "isn't that tall. She has fair skin, and I would say she's more delicate than not. Usually she has sober eyes, but sometimes she'll show a modest smile. Her eyes are a little bad, but when she needs to read small writing, she wears thinly-framed glasses, and they suit her really well. Her hair's shoulder-length, and tends to curl in at the ends."

"...I wonder why," Shinbashi said, tilting his head. "Every single one of those characteristics matches how I imagined Miyagi."
"Miyagi's right in front of you now. Why do you think that is?"
Shinbashi closed his eyes and thought. "I'm not sure of that part."
"She wants a handshake," I said. "Hold out your right hand, will you?"

He did so, his face half-doubting, half-believing. Miyagi looked at the hand gladly and grabbed it with both of hers.
Watching his own hand shake up and down, Shinbashi said, "Am I to believe Ms. Miyagi is shaking my hand?"
"Yep. You think you're moving it yourself, but actually, Miyagi's shaking it. Seems pretty happy about it."

"Would you tell Mr. Shinbashi "thank you very much"?", Miyagi requested.
"Miyagi told me to say "thank you very much"," I conveyed.
"I somehow felt she might," Shinbashi said with wonder. "Don't mention it."

With me as an intermediary, Miyagi and Shinbashi exchanged a few more words.
Before going back to the table he had been at before, Shinbashi turned back and told me this.

"I somehow doubt that I'm the only one who can sense Ms. Miyagi's presence at your side. I think everyone feels it temporarily, but simply dismisses it as a stupid illusion. But if there's an opportunity - such as learning that they're not the only one feeling that illusion - I wonder if Ms. Miyagi's existence might be very quickly accepted by everyone. ...Of course, what I'm saying has no basis. But I hope to be right."

Shinbashi was right.

It was hard to believe, but after that event, people around us started to accept Miyagi's existence.
Of course, it wasn't that people seriously believed in the existence of this invisible person. It was more like people accepted my nonsense, like a mutual agreement, and played along with it.
Miyagi's existence didn't quite reach the level of "supposedly exists," but still, it was definitely a big change.

While we frequently made appearances as the town's places of amusement, the high school culture festival, and other local festivals, I became a little bit famous.
As someone who enjoyed a comical happiness, I came to be treated as a pitiable, but amusing person. More than a few people came to watch me, holding hands with and hugging my fictional girlfriend, in a warm way.

One night, Miyagi and I were invited to Shinbashi's place.
"I have some alcohol left at my apartment, and I have to drink it all before I go home. ...Mr. Kusunoki, Ms. Miyagi, would you drink it with me?"

We went into the neighboring room and found three of his friends already drinking. One man, two women.
The drunks had already heard about me from Shinbashi, and they asked one question after another about Miyagi. I answered each and every one.

"So li'l Miyagi's right here?", asked Suzumi, a tall girl with heavy makeup who was drunkenly touching Miyagi's arm. "Now that you say it, I feel like she is."
She couldn't sense anything through touch, but maybe Miyagi's presence wasn't completely gone. Miyagi softly held Suzumi's hand.

A quick-thinking man named Asakura had a few questions for me about Miyagi, trying to catch me on an inconsistency.
But he found it interesting how everything matched up, and started doing things like putting the cushion he was using where Miyagi was, and giving her a glass of alcohol.
"I like that kind of girl," Asakura said. "It's probably a good thing I can't see Ms. Miyagi, or else I'd soon fall for her."
"Doesn't matter either way. Miyagi likes me."
"Don't go saying things like that," Miyagi said, hitting me with a cushion.

Riko, a short girl with a neat face who was the most drunk, looked up at me while lying on the floor.
"Misser Kusunoki, Misser Kusunoki, show us how much you like Ms. Miyagi!", she said with sleepy eyes.
"I wanna see too," Suzumi agreed. Shinbashi and Asakura gave me expectant glances.

"Miyagi," I called.
I kissed Miyagi on her slightly-reddened face. The drunks gave a cheer.
I was surprised myself what an absurd thing I was doing. None of the people here honestly believed in Miyagi's existence. They must have thought of me as a crazed, happy fool.

But what was wrong with that?
That summer, I was the best clown in town. For better or worse.

Some days passed after that, until one sunny afternoon.
The doorbell rang, and I heard Shinbashi's voice. When I opened the door, he threw something at me. I caught it in my palm and looked - they were car keys.

"I'm going home," Shinbashi said. "So I won't need it for a while. You can borrow it if you want. How about going to the beach or mountains with Ms. Miyagi?"
I thanked him again and again.

As he was leaving, Shinbashi said this.
"You know, I just can't see you as a liar. I really can't believe that Ms. Miyagi is just a fabrication of some pantomime. ...Maybe by some chance there really is a world that only you can see. Maybe the world as the rest of us see it is only a small part of what's really there, only the things that we're allowed to see."

After seeing him get on the bus and leave, I looked up at the sky.
As ever, the sunlight was dizzying. But I smelled a faint trace of autumn in the air.
The tsukutsuku-boushi were crying all at once, bringing an end to summer.

At night, I slept in the bed with Miyagi. The border between the sides had at some point vanished.
Miyagi slept facing me. It was a sound sleep, as peaceful as a child's. I adored her face in sleep, never getting used to it, never getting tired of it.

I left the bed, careful not to wake her. I drank some water in the kitchen, and when I went back to my room, I noticed the sketchbook on the floor in front of the dressing room door.
I picked it up, turned on the light by the sink, and slowly opened to the first page.

There was much more drawn in there than I'd expected.

The waiting room at the train station. The restaurant where I met Naruse. The elementary school where the time capsule was buried. My and Himeno's secret base. The room flooded with a thousand paper cranes. The old library. The stands at the summer festival. The riverfront we walked down the day before I met Himeno. The viewing platform. The community center we stayed at. The Cub. The candy store. A vending machine. A public phone. Starry Lake. The old bookstore. The swan boat. The Ferris wheel.

And me sleeping.

I turned to a new page and started drawing Miyagi sleeping in return.
Probably because of my drowsiness, I didn't realize it had been years since I'd drawn any art without stopping until after I was done.
Art, which I'd thought was only frustrating.

When I looked at my completed drawing, I was filled with a surprising sense of satisfaction. But I also had a tiny feeling that something was amiss.
It was easy to overlook. It was minor enough that if I just thought about something else for a moment, it would go away entirely.
I could have ignored it, closed the sketchbook, put it beside the bed near Miyagi, and been able to sleep happily awaiting her reaction in the morning.

But I was sure of something.
I concentrated to the best of my ability. I strained my senses to find the source of the wrongness.
I reached for it like a letter floating in a dark, stormy sea, my hand slipping as I tried to grab it.

After a few dozen minutes, as I pulled my hand back in defeat, it landed right in my palm.
I very, very carefully lifted it out of the water. And suddenly, I understood.

The next moment, as if possessed, I intently moved the pencil across the sketchbook.
I continued for the entire night.

A few days later, I took Miyagi to see some fireworks. Walking the sunset footpath, crossing the railroad tracks, going through the shopping district, we arrived at the elementary school.
It was a famous local fireworks display, and it was a bigger affair than I expected, with many more carts. There were enough visitors as to make me wonder how the town had room for all these people.

When children saw me walking and holding hangs with Miyagi, they laughed “It's Mr. Kusunoki!”
They were laughs of approval. Weirdos are popular with kids too. I raised the hand I was holding Miyagi's with in response to their jeers.

While in line for grilled chicken, a group of boys in high school approached and teased “What a girl you've got there!”
"Great, isn't she? Well you can't have her," I said, holding Miyagi's shoulder, and they guffawed.

That made me happy. Even if they didn't believe it, everyone enjoyed my “Miyagi's right there!” nonsense.
It was much better to imagine that I had a fictitious girlfriend than to think I was really alone.

The announcement came that the show was starting, and a few seconds later, the first firework went up.
Orange light filled the sky, the crowd cheered, and the delayed sound shook the air.

It had been a long time since I'd seen fireworks up close. Compared to my expectations, they were much bigger, much more colorful, and disappeared much quicker.
I'd also forgotten that the huge fireworks take a few seconds to spread out, and hadn't even imagined how much the explosive sound reverberated in the pit of your stomach.

Dozens of fireworks went up. We laid behind a building where we could be alone, watching them.
Suddenly, I wanted to sneak a look at her face, and once I saw her in the moment the sky was lit up, it seemed she was thinking the same, and our eyes met.

"We're a good match," I laughed. "That's happened before. In the bed."
"So it did," Miyagi shyly smiled. "But you can see me anytime, Mr. Kusunoki, so you should watch the fireworks."
"Incidentally, that may not be true."

Maybe my timing could have been better.
I would be laying myself bare in the fireworks' glare.

"Well, you're right that I have tomorrow off, but I will be back the day after. Unlike last time, it will only be one day I'm gone."
"That's not the problem."
"Then what is the problem?"

"...Hey, Miyagi. I'm kind of popular in town. Half the smiles I get are sneers, but the other half come from pure fondness. Whatever sorts of smiles they are, I'm proud. I was convinced something this good would never happen."
I lifted myself up and looked down at Miyagi with my hands on the ground.

"When I was in elementary school, there was this guy I hated. He was actually really smart, but he hid it and acted like a fool to get people to like him. ...But recently, I've come to understand. I couldn't help being envious of him. I think I wanted to do what he was doing from the start. And thanks to you, Miyagi, I made it happen. I succeeded at making friends with the world."
"Isn't that a good thing?" Miyagi raised herself and took the same position.

"...So what are you really trying to say?"
"Thanks for everything, I suppose," I said. "I really don't know what to say."
"And for everything to come, yes?", Miyagi questioned. "You still have over a month left. It seems a bit soon for "thanks for everything.""

"Hey, Miyagi? You said you wanted to know my wish, and I promised I'd tell you when I thought of it."
There were seconds of pause.
"Yes. I'll do anything that I can."
"Okay. Then I'll be honest. Miyagi, when I die, forget about me completely. That's my meager wish."

After her immediate reply, Miyagi seemed to guess at my intention.
She picked up on what I was going to do tomorrow.

"...Um, Mr. Kusunoki. I'm sure you wouldn't, but please don't do anything stupid. I'm begging you."

I shook my head.
"Think about it. Who would have expected thirty-yen me to live such wonderful final days? Probably nobody. Not even you could have predicted it from reading my evaluation or whatever. I should've lived the worst life imaginable, but I got some serious happiness. So then your future is just as uncertain, Miyagi. Maybe someone else reliable will show up and make you much happier."

"They won't."
"But you never should've showed up for me either, Miyagi. So then -"
"They won't!"
Without leaving me time to respond, Miyagi pushed me to the ground.
As I laid flat, she buried her face in my arm.

"...Mr. Kusunoki, I'm begging you."
It was the first time I'd heard her speak through tears.

"I'm begging you, stay with me for at least this last month. I can put up with everything else. The fact that you'll die soon, the fact I can't see you on my days off, the fact that others can't see us holding hands, the fact that I'll have to live alone thirty years more, all of it. So at least for now - at least while you're with me, don't throw yourself away. I'm begging you."

I stroked Miyagi's head as she wailed.
Back at the apartment, Miyagi and I slept holding each other.
Her tears didn't stop to the very end.

Miyagi left the apartment in the middle of the night.
We hugged again at the front door, and she parted from me with hints of regret, giving me a lonely smile.
"Goodbye. You made me happy."
With that, she bowed her head and turned away.
She walked slowly into the moonlight.

The next morning, I headed to the old building with my replacement observer.
The place where Miyagi and I first met.

And there, I sold thirty days of my lifespan.
In truth, I was going to sell absolutely all of it. But they wouldn't let you sell those final three days.

The observer looked at the results and was shocked.
"Did you come here knowin' this was gonna happen?"
"Yep," I said.

The thirty-some woman at the counter who audited me looked bewildered.
"...I honestly can't recommend this. At this point, money can't be that much of a concern, can it? After all... in the next thirty days, you're going to paint pictures that end up in art textbooks for years to come.”

She looked toward the sketchbook I held at my side.
"Listen carefully. If you leave here without doing this, you'll have thirty-three days left to fervently paint. In that time, your observer will always be there, giving you courage. She absolutely won't blame you for your choice. And after death, your name will survive in the history of art forever. You should know all that yourself, shouldn't you? ...Just what about that dissatisfies you? I can't understand."

"Just like money is pointless once I die, so is fame."
"Don't you want to be eternal?"
"Even if I am eternal in a world without me, that's nothing to be glad about," I said.

"The world's plainest pictures."
That's what my paintings were called, and while they caused a lot of dispute, they ultimately sold for very high prices.
But of course, since I'd sold those thirty days, that was "no longer a possibility, but a thing that would now never happen."

This is what I thought. Maybe in my original life, over a really long period of time, my ability to draw that kind of art would eventually blossom. And just before that happened, I was destined to lose my chance because of the bike accident.
But by selling my lifespan, and most importantly by having Miyagi there, the huge amount of time I originally wasn't given was shortened to the extreme. Thanks to that, my talent could bloom before my lifespan ended.
That was my thought.

I used to be very proficient at art.
I could copy scenery in front of me as accurately as a photo like it was nothing, and used my understanding of that to naturally master switching it to another form without anyone teaching me.
At galleries, I could look at a painting and plainly understand, in some place very distant from language, why "something that shouldn't have been painted so" was "something that had to be painted so."
My way of looking at things wasn't completely correct. But the fact I had an incredible talent was something anyone who knew me at the time had to recognize.

In the winter when I was 17, I gave up on art. I thought that continuing on in the way I had been, I wouldn't be famous like I promised Himeno. At best, I could be a "jack of all trades" sort of artist.
Though that would have been considerable success in the eyes of most, to keep my promise with Himeno, I had to be outrageously special. I needed revolution. So I wouldn't allow myself to just keep drawing on momentum.
The next time I picked up a paintbrush would be once everything had come together within me. Until I could capture the world in a viewpoint totally unlike everyone else's, I wouldn't let myself paint.
That was what I decided.

Maybe that decision in itself wasn't mistaken. But in the summer when I was 19, I still hadn't solidified my view of things, so out of haste, I again picked up the brush.
It wasn't until long afterward that I realized it was a time when I absolutely shouldn't have been drawing.
As a result, I lost my ability to draw. I couldn't even draw a proper apple. As soon as I thought to draw something, I was filled with outrageous confusion. Like I was going to scream.
I was attacked with anxiety like stepping out into air. I no longer had a sense for what lines and what colors I needed.

I realized I had lost my talent. Furthermore, I didn't have any will to struggle and get it back. It was too late to start from scratch. I dropped my brush, ran from the competition, and retreated inside.
At some point, I became too desperate to have my art approved of by everyone. I think that was the primary cause of my confusion.
The mistake of trying to draw for everyone was a severe one. When that mistake reached its peak, it created a situation of not being able to draw.
Universality isn't what's going to get people's favor. You get that when you go deep into the well of yourself, toil to bring something back, and produce something that's wholly individual at a glance.

To notice that required me to be rid of all concerns, and just for pure enjoyment, draw for myself.
And it was Miyagi who gave me that opportunity. With her as my subject, I could "draw" in a realm completely different from what I considered "drawing" to mean before.

After that, I spent all night drawing landscapes, the ones I had pictured before I slept every night since I was five.
The world I wanted to live in, memories that I'd never had, a somewhere I'd never been, a someday that could have been past or future.
I didn't even realize it, but I had long been piling them up. And it was drawing Miyagi that made me understand how to express them.
Maybe I'd been awaiting that moment. Though it was only just before my death, my talent was finally perfected.

According to the woman who did my evaluation, the paintings I was to create in my last thirty days were "paintings that even de Chirico would consider too sentimental."
That was the only explanation she gave me, but I thought, yeah, that does sound like the sort of stuff I'd make.

Selling the part of my life in which I'd paint those and get my name in a little corner of history fetched me a ridiculous sum that made me doubt my eyes.
With just thirty days, I came just short of fully repaying Miyagi's debt. Still, she would be free in three more years of work.

"Thirty days more valuable than thirty years, huh?", the observer laughed as we parted.
And so I denied eternity.

The summer Himeno once made a prediction of was drawing to a close.
Her prediction was half-wrong.
Not even in the end was I ever rich, ever famous.
But her prediction was half-right.
"Something really good" happened, all right. And like she said, deep down, I could be "glad I lived."


15. The Gift of the Magi

It was the first morning of the remaining three days.
I wouldn't have an observer's eyes on me.
Thus, Miyagi was gone.

I decided how I'd spend those three days a while ago. In the morning, I filled up the notebook.
Once I was done writing events up to yesterday, I put down the pen and took a few hours to sleep.
When I woke up, I went out to smoke, then bought a cider from a vending machine for my thirst.

I looked back at my bed.
One hundred and eighty-seven yen. That was all. And sixty yen of it was in 1-yen coins.
Three times I counted it. One hundred and eighty-seven yen.

Realizing a strange coincidence, my cheeks burned. Passing the three days would be a somewhat uncertain business, but for now I enjoyed that happenstance.
Looking back at the notebook and adding important details, I got on the Cub and went around to the places I went with Miyagi, but this time I really was alone.

I drove under a blue sky as if in search of her lingering scent.
I wondered if Miyagi was off observing someone else now.
I prayed that they wouldn't attack Miyagi out of desperation.
I prayed that Miyagi could keep working until she paid her debt, and live such a happy life that she forgot all about me.
I prayed that someone would appear who Miyagi found more important than me, and who found Miyagi more important than I had.

While walking in the park, children waved to me. Getting a sudden idea, I pretended that Miyagi was there.
I put out my hand, said “Look, Miyagi!”, and held an imaginary Miyagi's hand.

It was the same as always for everyone else. "Ah, that idiot Kusunoki's walking with his imaginary girlfriend again."
But it was very different for me. In fact, it was hardly the same at all.
As I went on doing this to myself, I was hit with such sadness I could barely stand up. I realized Miyagi's absence more than ever.

I had a thought.
What if it had all been an illusion of mine from the start?

I was convinced my life would end in three days. I knew that all but a shred of my life had been used up. That sensation couldn't have been a lie.
But did that girl named Miyagi really exist? Had not only her existence, but the existence of a shop dealing in lifespan, been a convenient fantasy of mine as I recognized my coming death?
I had no way of knowing that now.

I sat on the edge of a fountain with my head low, and was called to by a boy and girl in middle school.
The boy innocently asked, “Mr. Kusunoki, how's Ms. Miyagi?”
"Miyagi's not here anymore," I said.

The girl put her hands to her mouth, shocked.
"Huh? What happened? Did you have a fight?"
"Something like that. Don't fight, you two."

The two looked at each other and shook their heads in unison.
"Well, I dunno... I mean, even Mr. Kusunoki and Ms. Miyagi argue?"
"If you two get along so well but still fight, then there's no way we wouldn't.”

I wanted to say "You know, that's true." But the words wouldn't come out.
Before I knew it, I was crying like a dam had burst. The more I tried to imagine Miyagi beside me to comfort myself, the more the tears came.
The two sat around me in my indecency and tried to console me.

Then, surprisingly, I found that there were far more people who knew about me than I thought.
People of all ages crowded around the scene, as if to say "Kusunoki's doing something new."

Shinbashi's friends Suzumi and Asakura were there. Suzumi asked me what had happened.
I wasn't sure how to answer, so I told them that Miyagi and I had fought and split up. I made up a story about how she had turned her back on me and abandoned me.

"What about Kusunoki didn't Miyagi like?", a high school girl with sharp eyes said angrily. She really spoke like she believed Miyagi existed.
"Why, did something happen?", said a man beside her. I remembered his face.
That's right - he was the owner of the photo studio. The first person to acknowledge Miyagi existed.

"She didn't seem like the kind of person to do something so cruel."
"But does that mean she's gone?", Suzumi asked.
A young man in a tank-top said to me, “That Miyagi's a good-for-nothing girl, ditching a good guy like this!”, slapping me on the back.

I turned my head up to say something, but I couldn't get any words out.

...Just then, there was a voice from behind me.

"Indeed. To think, when he's such a good person."

I knew the voice, of course. I wouldn't have forgotten it in a day or two.
It would take thirty - three hundred - three thousand years for me to forget.

I turned toward it.
I needed to be sure.
I couldn't have possibly misheard.
But until I saw it myself, I wouldn't believe it.

She chuckled to herself.
"That Miyagi girl really is a good-for-nothing."
Miyagi put her arm around my neck and hugged me.

"I'm back, Mr. Kusunoki. ...I was looking for you."
I reflexively hugged her back, smelling her hair. That smell was one with my sense of "Miyagi."
It was indeed her.

I wasn't the only one having trouble digesting the situation. Many of the people around were similarly bewildered and amazed. They were probably thinking, "Wasn't this Miyagi girl supposed to not exist?"
I was stunned into silence when I saw their reaction. Everyone could see Miyagi.

"Might you be Ms. Miyagi?", a man in a jersey timidly asked.
"Yes, I'm the good-for-nothing Miyagi," she answered, and the man slapped me on the shoulder.
"Thank goodness!", he laughed. "What do you know, she really exists. And you're really pretty, Ms. Miyagi! I'm jealous!"

But I still didn't understand what was going on.
Why was Miyagi here? Why could the other people see Miyagi?

"So Ms. Miyagi... really was Ms. Miyagi," the high school girl said, her eyes wide. "...Yeah, somehow, you're exactly like I imagined you."
Asakura, from the back of the crowd, suggested that they let us be alone. So the people left us banter and congratulations as they scattered away.

I thanked Asakura.
"Guess Miyagi really was just my kind of girl," Asakura laughed. "Be happy, you two."

And then we were alone.

Miyagi took my hand and explained.
"Strange, isn't it? How can I be here? How can others see me? ...It's simple. I did the same thing you did."
"The same thing...?"

A few seconds later, I realized what Miyagi meant.
"How much... did you sell?"
"Also the same. I sold all of it. All but three days."

My face went pale.

"Just after you sold your lifespan, the other observer contacted me. He told me you'd sold off even more of your life to pay off most of my debt. As soon as I heard that... I was determined. He did the formalities."

I'm sure I should have be saddened.
The person I had sacrificed everything to protect betrayed my desire and threw her own life away - I should have grieved.

And yet, I was happy.
Her betrayal, her foolishness, was now more dear to me than anything.

Miyagi sat beside and leaned on me.
"Quite impressive, Mr. Kusunoki. Buying back the majority of my life with just thirty days. ...And I'm sorry. I threw away the life you worked so hard to get back. I'm such a fool."
"Fool?", I said. "I'm the fool. I couldn't live without you for even three days, Miyagi. I wasn't sure what I was going to do."
Miyagi laughed happily and pressed her chin on my shoulder.

"Thanks to you, the value of my life went up a bit as well. So not only is the debt paid, there's plenty of money left. More than we could possibly go through in three days.”

"So we're rich," I said grandiosely, hugging Miyagi and shaking her.
"Yes, we are," Miyagi replied, doing the same.
Tears poured out again, but so did they for Miyagi, so I didn't pay it any mind.

I'll die leaving nothing behind.
Perhaps some curious person might remember me - as a fool, probably - but it's a lot more likely they'll forget.

But I don't mind that.
I don't need the eternity I once dreamed of now.
I don't mind if no one remembers me.

Because she's here with me, smiling at my side.
Just because of that, I can forgive everything else.

"Well, Mr. Kusunoki."

Miyagi turned back to me with a lovable grin.

"How do you plan to spend these three days?"

I believe those three days,

compared to the tragic thirty years I would have lived,

compared to the worthwhile thirty days I would have lived,

were of much, much more value.


They say that a fool can never be cured to his death.
But I like to take a slightly more optimistic view of this. Something more like "A fool will be cured by the time he's dead."

While we call them all fools (or its synonyms), there actually exist many different kinds of fool. The fool I speak of here is the fool who creates his own hell.
What is characteristic of this fool, first of all, is that he is strongly convinced he can never be happy. Made more severe, this conviction can be expanded to become "I shouldn't be happy," and ultimately arrive at "I don't want to be happy," a most destructive misunderstanding.

Once that point is reached, there's nothing left to fear. These fools become intensely familiar with dissatisfaction, and no matter how blessed their environment, they find some loophole to avoid happiness.
As this is all done subconsciously, they believe this world to be hell - when in actuality, they are just making it hell themselves with every step they take.

I myself am one of those hell-creators, which is why I believe so, but such fools cannot be cured quickly. To someone who has made being unhappy part of their identity, not being unhappy is losing oneself.
The self-pity they used to endure unhappiness eventually becomes their only enjoyment, and they actively seek out displeasure for that purpose.

However, as I stated at the outset, I believe such fools will be cured by the time they die. To be more exact, my thought is "Just before death, I'm sure they'd be cured."
The lucky ones may get an opportunity to be cured before that actually happens, but even the unlucky, when they realize the inevitability of their death and are freed of the chains of "having to keep living in this world" - finally, then, are they not also freed from their foolishness?

I called this viewpoint optimistic, but looking at it closer, it could be considered quite pessimistic as well. The first time he comes to love the world is when his death is made certain.
However, I consider that through the eyes of this "fool who was cured, but too late," everything is hopelessly beautiful.
The deeper the regrets and grievances like "To think I lived in such a beautiful world as this," or "Now I'd be able to accept it all and live," the more the world appears to be cruelly beautiful in return.

I'm always thinking about how I want to write on that kind of beauty.
At least here in "Three Days of Happiness," though it would seem I used the story to speak about the value of life, the power of love and whatnot... to be honest, that was not my intention in the least.

- Sugaru Miaki

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