3. The Observer With Her Knees Up

On top of feeling bad enough as it was, it was a hot, restless night. Thanks to that, I had a very vivid dream.
Even after waking up, I ruminated over the dream in my mattress. It wasn't a bad dream. In fact, it was a happy dream. But there's nothing crueler than a happy dream.

In my dream, I was in high school, in a park. It wasn't a park I knew, but my classmates from elementary school were there. The notion of the dream seemed to be that it was some kind of class reunion.
Everyone was having a fun time watching fireworks. Their light colored the smoke red. I stood outside the park, watching them.

I suddenly noticed Himeno beside me when she asked - How's high school going?
I gave her a sidelong glance, but her face was blurry. I didn't know anything about her beyond when she was ten, so I couldn't really imagine how she looked now.
But in my dream, I thought that her face was absolutely stunning. I felt proud to have been acquaintances with her for so long.

Can't say I've been enjoying it, I replied honestly. But it's far from being the worst.
I guess that's pretty much my answer too, Himeno nodded.
I secretly delighted that she'd gone through a similarly miserable adolescence.

You know, thinking about it now, she said, it really was a lot of fun back then.
What "back then" are you talking about?, I asked back.
Himeno didn't answer. She squatted down, looked up at me, and said, Kusunoki, are you still on the shelf?

I guess, I replied, while keeping an eye on her expression. Checking her reaction.
I see, Himeno said with an amazed smile on her lips. Well, you know, so am I.
Then she added, with a bashful look, good. That's perfect.
Yeah, it's great, I agreed.

That was the dream.

It's not the kind of dream you should be having at twenty. I berated myself for what a childish dream it was. But at the same time, I wanted to keep it in my memory. I would regret it if I forgot it.
I'm certain that when I was ten, I didn't have much affection for Himeno at all. Maybe only the tiniest bit. The problem was that I couldn't feel even a "tiniest bit of affection" for anyone else since.
Perhaps that minuscule amount of affection was the biggest thing in my entire life - something I only realized long after she was gone.

Keeping all the details of the Himeno dream in memory, I laid in bed thinking about yesterday's events. I'd sold all but three months of my remaining lifespan at that shoddy old building.
When I thought back on it, I didn't think, oh, it could only have been a daydream. I considered the event to be absolute reality.

I didn't, say, regret selling off the majority of my lifespan in the heat of the moment. I didn't, say, realize the importance of what I had now that it was gone. Rather, it felt like a load off my shoulders.
What had kept me bound to life thus far had been the shallow hope that something good might happen someday. It was a baseless hope, but discarding it was a difficult task.
No matter how worthless someone is, there's no proving that good fortune won't befall them and allow them to write all that off as never having happened.
That was my salvation, but it was also a trap. Which is why now that I'd been clearly told "Nothing good will happen in your life," I could see it as a blessing.
Now, I could die at peace.

I said, if this is my plight, then I might as well enjoy the three months I have left. I wanted to spend them such that I could think, "It was an awkward life, but at least once I accepted death, I had a reasonably happy final three months."
First, I decided I'd go to the bookstore, read some magazines, think about what I should do next - but just then, the doorbell rang.

I was not expecting any visitors. I hadn't had one of those in years, and surely wouldn't in my last months.
Did they get the wrong room? Money collector? Door-to-door? Didn't seem like it could be anything good, at any rate.
The doorbell rang again. I rose from bed and was immediately hit with last night's queasiness. Hangover.
Still, I forced my way to the front door, and found an unfamiliar girl standing there. At her side was a luggage case that seemed to contain her things.

"...Who might you be?", I asked.
After giving me a stunned look, she pulled glasses out of her bag with a sigh, wore them, and gave me a "How about now?" look.
That was when I finally realized. "You're the one who evaluated my..."
"I am," the girl said.

The image of the suit stood out in my mind, so in casual clothes she looked like someone else entirely. She wore a cotton blouse and a sax blue dungaree skirt.
I didn't see it yesterday, since it was tied up behind her, but her shoulder-length black hair had a tendency to curl slightly inward at the ends.
Looking at her eyes through the glasses she'd put on, they seemed to carry a certain sorrow somehow.
Glancing down at her thin legs, I saw a big band-aid on her right knee. It must have been a deep wound, as I could tell the state of it through the bandage.
When I first met her, I couldn't pin her age down any more accurately than between 18 and 24, but looking at her that day, I figured it out. Maybe she's about my age. 19 or 20.

But all that aside, why was she here? Actually, one of the first ideas that came to mind was that she was here to tell me there'd been a mistake in the evaluation.
They'd gotten a digit or two wrong. Or they accidentally mixed me up with someone else. I couldn't help hoping that she had come to make an apology to that effect.

The girl took her glasses off, methodically placed them back in her bag, and looked back at me with emotionless eyes.
"I'm Miyagi. I'll be your observer from today forth."
The girl, Miyagi, lightly bowed toward me.

Observer... I'd completely forgotten. Yeah, she did say something about that.
As I tried to remember my conversation with Miyagi yesterday, I became unable to stomach my nausea, and ran to the toilet to throw up again.

Leaving the bathroom with my stomach emptied, I stumbled into Miyagi standing right by the door. Granted, it was her duty, but she certainly wasn't a shy girl.
I tried to brush her aside, going to the sink. I washed my face, gargled, and took a swig of water from a cup, then laid on my bed again. I had a killer headache. And the killer heat helped foster it.

"While I explained it yesterday," Miyagi said, suddenly standing at my bedside, "since your lifespan has been reduced to less than a year, I will be observing you from today forth. Therefore..."
"Can this wait until later?", I interrupted with blunt irritation.
"Understood. Later, then," she said. Miyagi took her luggage to the corner of the room, and sat with her knees up and her back to the wall.
After that, she just watched me. Her intent seemed to be to observe me anytime I was in my apartment.

"It's perfectly fine if you just pretend I'm not here," Miyagi said from her corner. "Conduct yourself as you usually would."
But just having her tell me that wasn't going to change the reality of being constantly monitored by a girl no more than two years away from my age.
I couldn't help being uneasy, and kept sneaking glances Miyagi's way. She seemed to be writing things in a notebook. It might have been some kind of observation log.
The one-sided surveillance was unpleasant. The half of me she was looking at felt like it was being grilled by her gaze.

Indeed, I had received a detailed explanation about this "observer" business yesterday.
According to Miyagi, many of the people who sell their lifespans there become desperate when they're down to a year left, and start to cause trouble if they're left alone. I didn't ask for an explanation of what kind of trouble, but I could imagine.
Because one of the biggest keys to having people follow rules is their faith that they'll keep living. But if you have confirmation that your life will soon end, that all changes. You can't take that faith to the afterlife.

The observer system, then, is what was instated to prevent desperate people from bringing harm to others.
Essentially, people with less than a year to go are observed, and should they do anything inappropriate, the observer will immediately contact headquarters to have their life terminated on the spot, regardless of their usual lifespan.
Which meant the girl sitting with her knees up in the corner of my room was a single phone call away from ending my life.

However - and this is apparently backed by statistics - once there are mere days before death, people seem to lose the will to bother others. So when there are only three days of lifespan remaining, the observer leaves.
For just those final three days, you can be alone.

I ended up falling asleep, apparently. My headache and nausea were gone when I woke up. The clock showed 7 in the afternoon. I'd call that a pretty awful way to spend the first day of the most important three months of my life.
Miyagi was staring from the corner as before. I was determined to do my usual thing, trying not to be aware of her presence.
I washed my face with cool water, undressed in my room, changed into jeans that were no longer blue and a frayed T-shirt, and went out to get dinner.
My observer Miyagi followed about five paces behind.

While I walked, the bright westering sun dazed me. Today's sunset was a sheer yellow.
I heard evening cicadas crying from a distant thicket. Railcars listlessly ran along the track beside the road.

I arrived at an auto-restaurant along a former national highway. It was a wide building, and the trees growing behind seemed to loom over its roof.
Signs, roof, walls - it was harder to find a place that wasn't totally faded. There was a row of about a dozen vending machines inside, and in front of them were two thin tables with cayenne pepper samples and ashtrays.
In the corner were arcade cabinets over a decade old, whose background music helped brighten the place's desolate atmosphere just a little.

I put 300 yen in a noodle vending machine, then took a smoke while I waited for the process to finish. Miyagi sat on a stool, looking up at the single flickering light.
How did she intend to get food while she was observing me? I didn't suppose she had no need to eat or drink, but she had such an eeriness to her that I could accept it if she told me that.
She felt unusually mechanical, you might say. Not so much like a human.

After gobbling down tempura soba that was all heat and a cheap taste, I got a coffee from another vending machine. The sweet iced coffee spread throughout my dry body.
Even though I only had three months left to live, I still went and got unappetizing schlock from vending machines because that was all I knew.
Until very recently, splurging and eating at a fancy restaurant simply wasn't an option. I'd been living in poverty for years, and I must have lost a lot of imagination in that time too.

After I was done eating and got back to the apartment, I grabbed a ball pen, opened a notebook, and wrote out a list of what I was going to do next.
Though it was easier at first to think of the things I didn't want to do, the more I moved my hand, the more things that I wanted to do before I died came to mind.

Things to Do Before I Die

- Don't go to school
- Don't do any work
- Don't resist desires
- Eat some tasty things
- See some beautiful things
- Write a will
- Meet and talk with Naruse
- Tell Himeno how I feel

"I would suggest against that."
I turned around, and Miyagi was no longer sitting in the corner, but stood right behind me staring at what I was writing.
She was specifically pointing at that last line, "Tell Himeno how I feel."
"Do observers really have the right to probe and meddle with this stuff?", I asked.
Miyagi didn't answer that question. Instead, she told me this.

"...About Ms. Himeno. Circumstances led her to give birth to a child at seventeen. She then dropped out of high school and married at eighteen, but divorced a year later. At twenty, she's currently raising a child on her own. In two years time, she will jump to her death, leaving a pitiful suicide note. ...If you go to meet her now, no good will come of it. After all, Ms. Himeno scarcely remembers you at all. That includes, of course, the promise you made at ten.”

I had trouble dislodging my voice from my throat. I felt like the air instantly left my lungs.
"...You know that much about me?", I finally breathed out, trying to hide how shaken I was. "From the way you're talking... do you know everything that's going to happen?"
Miyagi blinked a few times, then shook her head.
"All I know are the possibilities of what may happen in and around your life, Mr. Kusunoki. Of course, it's all meaningless information at this point, as your future changed drastically when you sold your lifespan. What's more, even those mere future possibilities I know are only the most important events."

Still looking into her notebook, Miyagi slowly raised her right hand and tucked her hair behind her ear.
"Ms. Himeno seemed a very significant person in your life, Mr. Kusunoki. Your life's "summary" was simply filled with her."
"That's only relatively speaking," I denied. "Like, it's just that everything else barely matters to me, right?"
"That may be," Miyagi said. "At any rate, if you want my opinion, meeting Ms. Himeno would be a waste of time. It would only spoil your memory of her."
"Thanks for your concern, but it was spoiled a long time ago."
"But you must still use your time wisely, yes?"
"Yeah, maybe. Can you really just talk to me about my future like that, though?"
Miyagi tilted her head. "Let me ask you instead. Why did you think I could not?"

I couldn't think of an answer to that. Even if I were to somehow use future knowledge to cause trouble, Miyagi would just contact HQ and have my life cut short.
"We fundamentally desire that you have a peaceful end to your life," said Miyagi. "To that end, I may predict your future and give you warnings."
I scratched my head. I was wanting to say something back to this girl.

"Look, maybe you're telling me this 'cause you're worried I'll get hurt and lose hope. But couldn't telling me be considered taking away the reason I'm getting hurt and losing hope? Yeah... Like, I bet you thought if I didn't hear the situation directly from you, but from Himeno's mouth, it'd hurt a lot more. That was pretty meddling of you."
Miyagi gave a tired sigh. "Is that so. Well, I had only good intentions. But if that is indeed the case, perhaps I did intrude too readily. I must apologize."
She quickly bowed her head.

"...But I will say one thing. You should not hope for much impartiality or consistency with regard to events to come. You have sold your lifespan. This signifies a leap into an irrational world that does not follow reason. And free will and choice are nigh-meaningless, for you took the leap of your own accord."
With that, Miyagi returned to the corner of the room and reassumed her knees-up position.

"That said, in this instance, having relinquished you of your, ah, "reason to get hurt and lose hope," I will refrain from meddling in any of the other items on your list. Do as you please, so long as it does not trouble others. I will not stop you."
Didn't have to tell me that, I thought.

I didn't overlook the fact that Miyagi had a somehow somber look.
But I didn't give any deep thought into what that expression meant.

Chapter 4

Novel List