4. Let's Compare Answers

Here, my buffoonery really picked up the pace.
I told Miyagi "Just making a call, I'll be right back," and purposefully went outside the apartment. My intent was to keep her from listening in to my calls, but sure enough, Miyagi was hobbling right behind.
It had too long since I'd called someone myself rather than being called. I stared at the name "Wakana" on the phone's screen for a long time.
Summer insects made high-pitched noises from the thicket behind the apartment.

I was extremely nervous on the phone. Actually, it had always been that way since I was a child; I also never invited anyone over, nor started a conversation with someone out of the blue.
True, I missed a lot of opportunities thanks to that, but it also allowed me to avoid an equal amount of worry. I'm not particularly regretful nor content with it.
I stopped my train of thought and used those few thoughtless seconds to press the call button. I just had to make the call. The actual conversation would be what it would.

The dialtone added to my nerves. Once, twice, three times. At this point, I finally recalled the possibility that she might not answer. I hadn't done this in so long, I'd come to think that people would always answer a call.
Four, five, six. It didn't feel like she was going to "answer any moment now." Part of me was relieved.
At the eighth dialtone, I gave up and pressed the end call button.

Wakana was a girl from college, younger than me. I'd planned to invite her out to eat or something. And if things went well, I would have wanted to spend the rest of my short life with her.
At this point, I felt a sudden welling of loneliness. The first change I felt once the end of my life was made clear was an unfathomable longing to be with another person. I had a violent urge to at least talk to someone.

Wakana was the only person at college who showed me any affection. I'd met her this spring, at that old bookstore, when she'd only just entered the school.
Seeing Wakana poring through musty old books, I gave her a "move it, lady" look. But it seemed to trigger one of those common mistakes made when entering a new life - she thought "I don't remember this guy who's giving me that stern look, but maybe we met somewhere?"

"Um, excuse me... Have we met before?", Wakana timidly asked.
"No," I answered. "Never seen you until now."
"Oh, I see... Sorry to bother you," Wakana said, realizing her mistake and awkwardly turning away. But then she smiled, as if wanting to take a second try.
"So, essentially, we met in this bookstore?"
It was my turn to be a bother. "I think you're right about that."
"I think I'm right about that, too. That's great," said Wakana, putting an old book back on the shelf.

A few days later, we reunited at college. After that, we had a few lunches together, having long conversations about books and music.
"I've never met someone in my generation who's read more than me before," Wakana said with eyes sparkling.
"I'm only reading, though. I don't get anything from it," I replied. "I lack the ability to get the real value out of a book. All I'm doing is pouring soup from a pot to a little plate. It overflows from the sides, and it doesn't make anything nutritious."
"What are you talking about?", Wakana said with a head-tilt. "Even if it might not seem nutritious, and like you'll forget it right away, I think the things you read always stay in your head and make themselves useful. Even if you don't notice it yourself."
"Well, maybe that's true. I just think... I'm saying this because of the way I am, but I don't think it's healthy to drown yourself in books when you're young. Reading is for people with nothing else to do."
"Do you not have anything to do, Kusunoki?"
"Other than part-time jobs, not really," I answered.
Wakana couldn't hide a smile, and said "Well, we'll have to give you something to do," lightly slapping my shoulder. Then she picked up my cellphone and added her contact info.

If I'd known at that point that Himeno had already gotten pregnant, married, gave birth, divorced, and by then had completely forgotten me, I likely would have been more romantic with Wakana.
But I was still determined in my adolescence to keep Himeno's promise, and ensure I was still on the shelf. So I never called Wakana, and while I did get a few texts and calls, they soon stopped. I can't get her hopes up, I thought.
The fact of the matter was, I'd always been a person who made himself difficult to save.

I didn't feel like leaving a message on the answering machine. I decided to send a text instead, telling her I'd called.
"Sorry this is so sudden, but do you want to go anywhere tomorrow?" It was blunt, but I was being careful not to ruin Wakana's impression of me. I sent it.
The reply came right away. I was unmistakably comforted by it. So there is still someone who cares about me.
I uncharacteristically wanted to reply right away as well, but then I noticed my misunderstanding.
The text was not from Wakana. Which would have been fine. But the English on the screen told me that no such recipient existed.

Basically, it meant this. Wakana changed her address, but didn't tell me about it. It meant she didn't consider it necessary to keep communications between us.
Of course, it was always possible she'd done this by accident. I could even be informed about her new address very soon.
But I had a gut feeling what the truth was. That time had long past.

Miyagi seemed to have an idea of the situation from the hollow look I was giving the phone screen.
She briskly walked to my side and looked down at the phone.
"Now then, let's compare answers," she said.

"The girl you just tried to call was your last hope. Ms. Wakana was the last person who you thought may have loved you. I think that, had you made your move when she approached you in the spring, the two of you would have been getting on quite well by now. Were that to happen, the value of your lifespan would likely not be so low. ...But you were a bit too late. Ms. Wakana has become indifferent to you. No, more than that - perhaps she has a slight grudge toward Mr. Kusunoki for ignoring her affections, and may even consider showing you her new boyfriend."

Miyagi spoke in a tone that in no way sounded like she was talking about someone right in front of her.
"Henceforth, there will never again be a person who comes to love you. The fact that you see people as a means to fill your lonesomeness is much more transparent than you seem to think."

I heard happy laughter from the window next-door. It sounded like a group of college kids. The light from their window couldn't even be compared to the light from mine.
I wouldn't have paid it much mind before, but now, it was piercing me right in the heart.
My phone rang at the worst possible time. It was Wakana. I considered ignoring it, but I didn't want to bother with her calling later, so I answered.

"Kusunoki, did you call earlier? What's the matter?"
She might have had her usual tone, but maybe because of the preceding conversation, I felt like Wakana was criticizing me. Like she was telling me "What's the big idea calling me after all this time?"
"Sorry, I called by mistake," I said, trying to sound cheery.
"Really? Well, true. You're not the kind of person who calls first, Kusunoki," Wakana laughed. Her laugh felt like it had ridicule in it, too. Like adding on "which is why I gave up on you."
"Yeah, you're right." I told her thanks for calling back and hung up.

The party next door got noisier by the second.

I didn't feel like going back inside, so I stayed where I was and lit a cigarette.
After two smokes, I headed to a local supermarket and wandered around, putting a six pack of beer, fried chicken, and cup ramen in my basket.
It ended up being the first time I spent any of the 300,000 yen I got from selling my lifespan. I'd wanted to choose carefully given what I gave to get it, but I just had no idea what I wanted to buy.

Miyagi carried her own basket and filled it full of things like Calorie Mates and mineral water. Seeing her shopping like that wasn't strange in itself, but I had difficulty imagining her actually eating the things she bought.
She didn't feel like she was particularly human, so a fundamentally human act like eating didn't seem to fit her.

Still... We must look exactly like lovers who live together, I silently thought to myself. It was a truly ridiculous - but happy - hallucination.
I even thought it would be nice if other people saw the same hallucination I was seeing.

I’ll say it just in case - this girl herself, Miyagi, was disagreeable to me. However, I'd secretly had a long-time desire to live together with a girl, and go shopping for food and beer while still in our loungewear.
Every time I saw a couple doing that, I let out a shallow sigh. So even if her purpose was to observe me, I enjoyed shopping in a supermarket late at night with a young girl.
An empty happiness, perhaps. But don't judge, it was real enough for me.
Miyagi quickly finished up at the self-checkout before I did. We returned to the apartment together carrying our bags.

The noisiness next door was still going on, and I frequently heard footsteps through the walls.
To be honest, I was envious of them. I'd never felt that way before. When I saw a bunch of people enjoying themselves, all I thought was "What's so fun about that?"
But being made aware of my death must have corrected my desperately warped value system. I longed for companionship just like anyone else.

Most people probably look to family at times like this, I thought. Whatever the situation, you can always count on family for support, so it's the ultimate place to return to - I knew that was a common line of thought.
But "family" isn't a comfortable thing for everyone. I, for instance, had no plans to make any contact with my family in my last three months. Because I had so little time left, I absolutely wanted to avoid anything that would be sheerly unpleasant.

Ever since I was young, my younger brother constantly stole the affection from our parents. From the outset, he was superior to me on all fronts.
He was honest, tall, handsome. From twelve to his present nineteen, he was never lacking a girlfriend, and he went to a better college than me. He even had good reflexes, and took the mound at the national high school baseball tournament.
I, the older brother, didn't have him beat in any area. I had a slow start, and he rapidly widened the gap between us year after year.

It's natural that attention shifts to the younger sibling, and I can't even say it's unfair that my parents came to treat me like a failure.
It was absolutely true that compared to him, I was a failure. What would be unfair was if we did receive equal attention from our parents.
I would have done the same thing in their position. What's wrong with loving the one who's worth loving, and discarding the one who's worth discarding?
There was practically zero chance that if I went home to my parents, I could live peacefully with their unconditional parental love. It was more likely that if I jumped into the party next door, they'd let me in.

While I ran a bath, I drank beer while eating the fried chicken. By the time the cup ramen was ready, I was already pretty drunk.
Alcohol really is comforting in times like these. As long as you know when to stop.

I approached Miyagi writing in her notebook in the corner. “Want some?”, I invited. I didn't care who it was, I just wanted to drink with someone.
"That's fine. I'm on duty." Miyagi refused without even looking up.
"I've been wondering, what're you writing there?"
"A record of actions. Yours."
"Ah. I'm drunk right now."
"Yes, I can see that." Miyagi nodded begrudgingly.
"Not only that, but I'm really wanting to drink with you."
"Yes, I heard," Miyagi said with a sigh.

Chapter 5

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