6. One Who Changed, One Who Never Did

The rain continued into morning. It was heavy enough to serve as an excuse for not moving immediately after getting out of bed. Thus, I had time to think about what I should do next.
While I looked at my "Things to Do Before I Die," Miyagi approached and asked, "How do you plan to spend today?"
I was getting accustomed to hearing bad news out of her mouth, so I waited for her next sentence, prepared to not be swayed whatever she said - but that was all she said, just looking over my list afterward. It didn't seem to be a question with any deep meaning behind it.

I took another look at Miyagi.
I'd thought this since I first met her, but her appearance was, in its own way, rather orderly.
Well, let me come out and say it. Speaking strictly of appearance, she was exactly my type. Refreshing eyes, gloomy eyebrows, tight lips, a pretty-shaped head, smooth-looking hair, nervous fingers, slender thighs - well, I could go on.

Because of that fact, ever since her appearance in my apartment, my behavior was thrown for a loop.
I couldn't even carelessly yawn in front of a girl who so perfectly matched my tastes. I wanted to conceal my broken expressions and idiotic breathing.
If my observer were the opposite of her - ugly, dirty and middle-aged - I'm sure I'd be able to relax more and think about what the right thing to do was.
But having Miyagi here made my overly embarrassed about my warped desires and miserable hopes.

"This is just a personal opinion," Miyagi began, "but do you consider that list to be the things you really want to do, deep down?"
"Well, that's what I was thinking about too."
"If I might say... I feel that you've made a list out of things which you feel someone else would want to do before they died."
"You might be right," I admitted. "Maybe there's nothing I really want to do before I die. But I feel like I can't do nothing, so I'm trying to imitate someone else."
"Still, I feel that there must be a method more suited to you."
Leaving me with that presumably meaningful comment, Miyagi returned to her usual position.

The conclusion I arrived at that morning was as follows.
I need to correct my warped desires and miserable hopes a little bit more. I should think cheaper, more impudent, more vulgar, and spend my last months following my instinct.
What needs repairing at this point? I thought I had nothing to lose.

I looked over the list again, and then, preparing myself, called a friend.
This time, after only a few dialtones, they answered.

I left with an umbrella, but by the time I reached the train station, the rain had stopped - an event which seemed to perfectly define me.
Carrying an umbrella under a sky so clear that the rain prior seemed like a lie felt extremely improper, like carrying around a pair of skates.

The wet roads sparkled. I went into the station as if to escape the heat, but it was just the same inside.
I hadn't taken a train in a long time. I entered the waiting room, bought a soda from a vending machine by the trash can, sat down on a bench, and finished it in three drinks. Miyagi bought mineral water for herself, and chugged it down with eyes closed.

I looked up at the sky through the window. There was a faint rainbow forming. I'd forgotten that such a phenomenon even occurred.
Of course I should have known what a rainbow is like, when a rainbow happens, what people associate rainbows with - but for some reason, I'd at some point forgotten the basic knowledge that "they're actually real."
There was something I noticed, having a new look on it. I could only see a total of five colors in that great arching bow in the sky - I was two short of seven. Red, yellow, green, blue, violet.
Wondering what colors I was missing, I mixed the colors on an imaginary palette, only then realizing the other two were orange and indigo.

"Yes, you should probably get a good look," Miyagi said from the side. "This may be the last rainbow you ever see."
"Yeah," I nodded. "And if we take it further, I might never use another waiting room, or this might be it for drinking soda, or this is the last time I'll throw a can."
I tossed the empty soda can into a blue garbage can. The sound of it colliding with its fellow cans echoed through the waiting room.
"Anything might be the last. But it's always been that way, even before I sold my lifespan."

So I said, but Miyagi's statement had begun to make me feel a little antsy.
Rainbows, waiting rooms, sodas, cans, who cared about that. But... How many more CDs would I listen to between now and when I died? How many books would I read? How many cigarettes would I smoke?
Thinking of it that way, I suddenly began to feel some vague fears. Death means the inability to do anything ever again but be dead.

After getting off the train, I went to a restaurant that was about fifteen minutes away by bus to meet Naruse.
Naruse was a friend of mine from high school. He was average height like me, maybe a little shorter, with an overly-chiseled face.
His head worked fast, and he could speak in a way that captivated people, so he was liked by his peers. It's strange to think now that a social outcast like me was on good terms with him.

We did have one thing in common. And that was that we could afford to laugh off most things in this world.
In high school, we'd sit in fast food restaurants for a long time, making a mockery of all kinds of daily occurrences to the point of impudence.
I wanted to laugh at everything in that way once more. That was my first objective. But there was a second reason I wanted to meet him.

While waiting for Naruse to arrive, Miyagi sat in the seat beside me, on the aisle side. It was a table for four, but the seats weren't made very wide, so Miyagi and I were naturally brought closer.
Miyagi continued to observe me at close range. Sometimes we'd make eye contact, but she'd keep staring without paying it any mind.

That Naruse would mistake my relationship with Miyagi, who always dangled behind me wherever I went, in a way convenient for me - that was my hope.
I could recognize what an unbearably pathetic hope it was. But if I wanted to do something, I had to do it. It's sad, but that was the first thing after selling my lifespan I clearly thought "I want to do this" about.

"Hey, miss observer," I said to Miyagi.
"What is it?"
Scratching my neck, I said "Well, I have a request -"
I wanted to ask Miyagi to provide appropriate answers to the man who was going to arrive, but I noticed a waitress stood by our table, giving us a full-faced smile. "Excuse me, are you ready to order?"

Giving up for the moment, I ordered coffee. The waitress then started confirming the order, so I turned to Miyagi and asked just in case.
“You okay not ordering anything?”
When I did that, Miyagi made an awkward face.

"...Um, you shouldn't talk to me in front of others."
"What, is there something bad about that?"
"I believe I did explain this to you before, but... Well, you see, the presence of us observers cannot be sensed by anyone except for those we observe. Like so."
Miyagi grabbed the waitress's sleeve and shook it slightly. Indeed, as Miyagi said, there was no response.

"Any and all sensation I give to a person is treated as if it didn't happen," she said, picking up a glass. "So though I may hold up this glass, it is not as if she sees it floating. That said, neither does she see the glass suddenly disappear when I touch it, nor does she think it didn't move at all - it just didn't happen. I cannot be perceived as being "there," but furthermore, I cannot even be perceived as being "gone." ...However, there is one exception. The lone individual who can perceive an observer is the person they observe. Troublingly, while I am essentially "non-existent," I cannot be non-existent to you, as you're already aware of me. ...The point is, Mr. Kusunoki, that you currently appear as if you are talking to air."

I checked the waitress's expression.
She was looking at me as if I was a lunatic.

My coffee arrived a few minutes later, and as I sipped it, I considered leaving once I was done drinking, without meeting Naruse.
If he had arrived just a few dozen seconds later, I'm sure I would have done it. But before I'd firmly decided upon it, I saw Naruse entering the restaurant. I reluctantly went over and greeted him.
After he sat down, he showed exaggerated joy over our reunion. He indeed didn't seem to notice Miyagi beside me at all.

"Long time no see. You been doing good?", Naruse asked.
"Yeah, I guess."
Not the kind of thing for a guy with less than six months left to say, I thought.

By the time we were done telling each other how things were going for us now, we started to speak as if returning to high school days.
I don't concretely remember what we talked about, and the contents of our conversation definitely didn't matter.
We tore into everything, and that was our intent. Naruse and I said trivial things we'd forget immediately and laughed together.

I didn't say a word about the lifespan thing. I wasn't sure if he'd believe me, and I didn't want to spoil what we had going.
If Naruse knew I had months to live, he'd probably at least act differently, try not to be rude to me. He'd cut down on the jokes, and become obsessed with finding comforting things to tell me. I didn't want to think about that nonsense.

Until that came out of his mouth, I'd say I was having fun.

"By the way, Kusunoki," Naruse said in remembrance. "Do you still draw?"
"Nah," I promptly replied, then carefully looked for the right words to follow with. "...I haven't drawn at all since I got to college."
"Thought so," Naruse laughed. "If you were still drawing, I dunno what I would've done."

That put an end to it.
I knew it was bizarre, but that exchange, not even ten seconds long, obliterated all the fondness I'd built up for Naruse over three years. All too quickly.
As he kept running his mouth as if trying to smooth something over, I spoke his name without speaking.

Hey. Naruse.
That's the one thing you can't laugh at.

True, I gave up on it. But that absolutely doesn't mean it's something that's okay to laugh at.
I thought you would have understood that.
The smile I gave Naruse gradually came to have nothing behind it. I lit a cigarette and stopped talking myself, just nodding at Naruse.

Miyagi spoke from beside me.
"...Now then, let's compare answers."
I shook my head slightly, but she went on regardless.

"It seems you've just now come to hate Mr. Naruse a bit. But in truth, Mr. Naruse is not as fond of you as you believe. Originally, you would have met Mr. Naruse two years later in a similar way, and a minor thing would lead to a dispute, ending with the two of you parting. ...You should cut it off soon before it reaches that point. Nothing good will come of placing your hopes in this man."

The irritation I felt toward Miyagi didn't come from the fact she insulted my friend. It also wasn't because I was told something I didn't want to know, and it wasn't because I couldn't stand putting on an expression I didn't actually feel.
Lastly, it also wasn't my anger over Naruse sneering at my former dreams being irrationally misdirected at Miyagi.
Then what was I so irritated at, you ask? I wouldn't be too sure how to answer.

At any rate - Naruse in front of me prattling on thoughtlessly, Miyagi beside me muttering gloomy things, two young girls on the other side of the aisle gabbing in shrill voices in a conversation that was more interjections than words, a troupe behind me talking about their opinions as passionately as if they were drunk, a group of students in the far seats clapping and shouting - suddenly, I just couldn't take it anymore.

Shut UP, I thought.
Why can't you just be quiet?

In the next moment, I threw the glass next to me toward the wall on Miyagi's side.
It made a louder crash than I expected as it shattered, but the restaurant was silent for only a moment before the noise resumed.
Naruse looked at me with wide eyes. I saw an employee running over. Miyagi was sighing.

What the hell am I doing?

I put a couple of thousand-yen bills on the table and all but ran out of the place.

While I took the bus back to the train station, I looked out the window, and an old batting center caught my eye.
I hit the disembark button, got off the bus, and hit about three hundred pitches there. By the time I put the bat down, my hands were bloody and numb, and sweaty to boot.

I bought a Pocari Sweat from a vending machine and sat down on a bench to slowly drink it, watching a group of men bat who I would think were coming home from work.
Maybe it was just the lighting, but everything seemed to be tinged a strange blue.

I didn't regret leaving Naruse like that. I was definitely doubting now how much fondness he really had for me.
Maybe I didn't really care for people like Naruse, but just hoped I could love myself through him, since he approved of how I thought.

And while Naruse had changed, I never did.
Maybe it was Naruse who was in the right.

I left the batting center behind and walked to the station. Once on the platform, the train came right away.
The train was filled with high schoolers coming home from clubs, and all of a sudden I felt old. I closed my eyes and turned my attention to the sounds of the train.

Night had already fallen. I dropped by the convenience store before returning to the apartment.
There were a few big moths in the parking lot, but they showed no sign of moving.
While I took my beer and snacks to the register, I noticed a college couple in jerseys and sandals were shopping there too.
Back home, I had a warm meal of canned yakiniku with added green onion and beer. Thinking how many liters of beer I'd drink before I die, it got a lot tastier.

"Hey, miss observer," I said to Miyagi. "I'm sorry for what I did earlier. I think I was just confused. Sometimes I just flare up and do things, y'know."
"Yes. I know," Miyagi said, her eyes looking at me cautiously. I couldn't blame her. Anyone would be cautious in front of a guy who throws a glass in the middle of a conversation.

"You're not hurt?"
"I am not. Unfortunately."
"Hey, I really am sorry."
"It's fine. Because it didn't hit."
"Wanna drink when you're done writing that observation log or whatever?"
"...You're saying you want to drink with me?"

I didn't expect that reaction. I guess it's best to speak the truth, I thought. "Yeah, I'm lonely."
"I see. Well, apologies, but I can't. I'm on the job."
"You should've just said that first then."
"Sorry. I just found it odd. Wondering why you would say that."
"I get lonely sometimes, like anybody. Surely the other guys you've watched have wanted companionship before they died, right?"
"I don't recall," said Miyagi.

Once I emptied out the can of beer, took a hot shower, and brushed my teeth, I was able to have a healthy sleep. It must have been my fatigue from the batting center.
I turned off the light and dug into my mattress.

Looks like I need to revise my view of things, I thought. As close as I was to death, the world wouldn't suddenly get nicer.
Maybe the world was only nice when it came to people who were already dead. That should have been clear, but it seemed I couldn't get away from my naive thoughts.
Somewhere deep down, I was still hoping the world would suddenly get nicer.

Chapter 7

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