8. Inappropriate Acts

I woke up a few hours before the first train and bought an energy drink from a vending machine.
My body ached all over. It was still dim around, and I heard morning cicadas, crows, and turtle doves.

Back inside, I saw Miyagi sitting and stretching. That action seemed to show more of a human side to her than anything else I'd seen her do so far.
I looked at her, still holding the bottle. Perhaps because of what a sweltering night it was, she'd taken her summer cardigan off and put it on her lap, revealing her delicate shoulders.

...Maybe I was just confused.
Maybe it was having three months to live, maybe it was meeting one disappointment after another, maybe I was still half-asleep and fatigued and in pain.
Or maybe I really did like how this Miyagi girl looked, moreso than I'd expected.

Well, it didn't matter. At any rate, I had a sudden impulse to do something terrible to Miyagi. More bluntly, I wanted to push Miyagi down. I wanted to use her as an outlet for all my emotions.
What I was thinking of doing were inappropriate acts, ones that would surely get my lifespan terminated if I did them - but so what? I'd just die a few months sooner.
So I'd gladly die doing what I wanted to do. I had written not to go against my desires on my "Things to Do Before I Die" list.

I had previously considered her outside the range of those desires, but once I started looking at her that way, there seemed to be no one more suitable than Miyagi for that kind of desperate act.
I don't know why, but she seemed to stimulate my sadistic nature. Maybe since she was always acting stoic, I wanted to disturb the act and make her show her weakness. To tell her "You act so tough, but you're really this weak."

As I stood in front of her, Miyagi took a slightly defensive posture as if sensing my thoughts.
"I've got a question for you."
"Once an observer sees their target doing an "inappropriate act" or whatever, how much of a lag is there before their lifespan's terminated?"
Miyagi's eyes showed caution. "And why would you be asking?"
"Basically, I want to know how long it'd take before I got killed if I were to get violent with you right here."

However, she didn't look so surprised.
She looked at me with colder eyes than ever before, scorning me.
"I can make contact immediately. After that, it wouldn't take twenty minutes. And escape would be completely impossible."
"So, I'd have about ten-some minutes to act freely?", I promptly asked back.
Miyagi looked away and weakly said “Nobody said anything like that.”

Silence prevailed.
Oddly, Miyagi didn't try to run away. She just stared down at her lap.
I reached my hand for her.

I'd planned to insult her and hurt her, but as soon as I touched her bare shoulder, her sorrowful face made my body stiffen.
Was I really going to push Miyagi down on the floor and use her to realize my desires?

If I did, she would surely be hurt. Maybe I would be adding another wound like the big one on her knee. Maybe I would take even more light from her nearly pitch-black eyes.
Maybe once it was all over, she'd just make a sarcastic remark as if totally unfazed. "...Were you satisfied?"

And would I really be satisfied?
What was I trying to do here?

My high-strung nerves were quelled in an instant. Instead, I was filled with an intense emptiness.
When I saw Miyagi's resigned eyes, it went so far as to make me sad too.
I took my hand off her shoulder and sat next to her, leaving a seat's worth of room in the middle. I was embarrassed at how quickly my attitude flipped.

"Must be a nasty job," I said. "Having to deal with garbage like me all the time."
She continued to look away. "So long as you understand."
Now I see why I was worth 300,000 yen, I thought. I was a step away from doing something there was no taking back.

"Dangerous job. There's no shortage of guys like me, I bet? Guys who go nuts when they're about to die, and take their anger out on their observer."
Miyagi gently shook her head. "As a matter of fact, you are an easy case. There are many who go to much further extremes,” she said, trying to preserve my calm.

I wanted to ask about the wound on her knee I'd been curious about since we met, but I kept quiet. It'd be like a slap in the face for me to try and show concern now, and only result in depression.
Instead, I asked "Why would you take such a job?"

"To put it simply, because I had to."
"Tell me the not-simple version."
Miyagi looked surprised. "I would have thought you had no interest in anyone but Ms. Himeno."
"That's not true at all. If I didn't feel some charm in you, I wouldn't have tried to do what I just did."
"...Is that right. Thanks, I suppose."

"You don't have to talk if you don't want to."
"Well, I have nothing particularly to hide in my past... Um, I already told you that other than lifespan, one can sell their health and time, yes?"
I nodded.
"Well, I sold my time. Roughly thirty years of it."

...That's right. I'd been wondering about that from the beginning.
What it meant to sell your time.
"I see... And if you sold your time, that means..."
"Indeed. Most of the observers are people who came to the shop like you and sold their time. Though by doing so, they effectively sold their safety and relationships as well..."
"So you were a normal human until then?"
"Yes. A normal human just like you, Mr. Kusunoki."

I'd naturally assumed that Miyagi had been born indifferent, born sarcastic, born sturdy.
But from what she was telling me... maybe she was forced to acquire those traits to survive.

"You still age, right? So if you sold thirty years... once you're free from the job, you'll be about forty?"
"Indeed I will. Of course, that's only if I survive to see it," she said with a self-deprecating smile.
That meant she'd keep being invisible for decades to come.

"...Why would you need money that bad?"
"Lots of questions today, hm."
"I mean, you don't have to answer, of course."
"What if I told you it's not very interesting?"
"I'm sure it'd be more interesting than why I sold my lifespan."
Miyagi looked up at the time table. "Well, there's still time until the first train, I suppose."
Then she began telling me the answer bit by bit.

"I still don't understand why my mother sold decades of her time to buy more lifespan. As I recall her, my mother was always dissatisfied with the reality she lived in. My father evidently left just before I was born. She cursed him for every little thing, but deep in her heart I believe she wanted him to come back. Perhaps that was the only reason she wanted to extend her lifespan - to continue waiting for him. Of course, that would do nothing for my father's lifespan, and my mother would become invisible to all. And most importantly, I can't understand her reasoning for awaiting the return of a man who left so many wounds on her, never to go away. And yet if she wished to extend her life to wait for father - maybe it really didn't matter who it was. She just didn't have anyone else to rely upon. She didn't know anyone who loved her but him.

"...I hated my miserable mother. She hated me in turn, constantly reminding me how she wished "this" had never been born. When she sold her time and became an observer, vanishing from my sight, I recall that I was only six. I was taken into the care of my aunt for the following few years, but there, too, was I treated as a nuisance."

Miyagi then stopped, her mouth closed in thought.
She didn't seem to be overcome with emotion or anything. Maybe she'd realized her words were unintentionally sounding like a reach for sympathy.
As she continued, she sounded more disinterested than before, as if she were talking about someone else.

"My mother died when I was ten. It's unclear what exactly caused her death. However, it was clear she was killed by one of the people she observed. As much as you may extend your lifespan, injury and illness are another issue entirely. When I first heard it, I wondered if I wasn't being swindled.

"...The man who informed me of her death told me something else of importance. "You have a debt," he said. "An enormous debt your mother left. There are only three ways for you to pay it back - sell your lifespan, sell your time, or sell your health." My mother had sold nearly her entire life's worth of time to extend her lifespan, but died before she could work off the time she sold. The debt thus passed to her nearest relative, her daughter. And if I could not pay it back on the spot, I would be forced to choose one of the three."

"And you picked time," I said.
"Indeed. I had to sell a bit more than thirty years of my time to pay back the debt. ...And so I now work as an observer. It's a lonely line of work with many dangers, but for what it's worth, it has given me deep insight into people's lifestyles and the value of life. Once I do finish paying the debt, I feel I would be able to live a more "proper" life than anyone. Thinking of it in those terms, it's not such a bad job."

She talked about it like it was her salvation.
But no matter how I looked at it, Miyagi's life was sheer tragedy.

"I don't get it," I said. "I think I'd just sell off a life like that. 'Cause there's no guarantee you'll survive to pay off the debt, is there? And your mother's dead. Even if you do make it to the end, the best times of your life will be over. I don't mean to be ironic or anything, but I'm gonna borrow your words - you've only just hit the starting line. Having to deal with all this pain and then starting your life at forty... I just call that a tragedy. So it'd be better to sell it."

"If my lifespan were worth anything, I would."
"What's it worth?"
"The same as yours," Miyagi said, like it was funny. "10,000 yen a year. ...If I've been overly harsh with you, I believe it's because I can't accept having such little value. In some ways, we are similar. So I apologize for taking it out on you."

"...Well, I don't wanna be rude, but wouldn't it be better to just die already?", I asked. "There's less and less to look forward to."
"Yes, you're right. You're absolutely right. And yet I suppose I can't do so because I take after my mother. I'm a hopeless fool. There's no point in living, yet I'm compelled to live longer. Perhaps we may be the same even down to the way we die. But... You see, it's not that simple. Perhaps something good will happen someday.”

"I know a guy who died at fifty saying that to himself but getting nothing out of it," I joked.
"So do I," Miyagi smirked.

Smiling with her, I lit a cigarette. Then Miyagi stood up, took another cigarette from my hand, and put it in her mouth.
She held a lighter up to light it, but it seemed to have just run out of oil, the flint never sparking on repeated attempts.
Miyagi pointed to my cigarette and brought her face close. I followed her signal and did the same. The ends touched, and the flame was slowly transferred to Miyagi's.

Seeing Miyagi relaxing for the first time, I thought:
I'll at least make her remember me as the easiest subject to be around.

I looked across the tracks. The sun was starting to rise.

Chapter 9

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