9. Too Good to Be True

For the few days to follow, I was obedient. I didn't go out except to eat, and keeping myself to a small area, I just kept folding paper cranes with a ton of origami paper I bought from the stationery store.

Looking at all the cranes lined up on the table, Miyagi asked, "Are you making a thousand-crane chain?"
"Yep. As you can see."
Miyagi picked up a blue one from among the dozens, pinching it by both wings, and looked at it with interest. "You intend to do so all by yourself? For what?"
"To wish for a happy life before I die," I answered.

I enjoyed the pointless work. I filled the apartment with colorful paper cranes. Pink cranes, red cranes, orange cranes, yellow cranes, yellow-green cranes, green cranes, light blue cranes, sky blue cranes, violet cranes.
The cranes flooded off the table, and would be blown all over the floor by the slowly-turning fan, coloring the dull room.
I felt a slight sense of satisfaction looking at them. Is there a more pure wish than to do something pointless yet beautiful?

While folding cranes, I had the urge to talk to Miyagi many times, but I tried to start as few conversations with her as possible. I felt that I didn't want to rely on her. That didn't seem like the right way to give her relief.
But meanwhile, Miyagi's attitude toward me softened. When we met eyes, she actually looked at me. Rather than looking at me like an object, I'd say she was much more warm than before.
Maybe she'd opened her heart to me in our conversation at the station. Or maybe observers are simply instructed to be nicer as their subjects' lifespans dwindle.
In any event, she was with me for the purposes of her job. If I were to forget that, it would surely come back to bite me.

After five days, the task was finally done. While I went through recounting them, I found many cranes that were too good to believe I made them.
These ones must have been folded by a certain nosy individual while I slept.
I ran a string through the thousand cranes, and hung my completed creation from the ceiling.

Now, let's talk about the letter.

The night I finished folding the cranes, I checked the pockets of my jeans before washing them and found a crumpled letter.
It was the letter to myself ten years in the future. I'd left it in my pocket since the day I dug up the time capsule.
I turned the jeans inside-out and put them in the washing machine, then re-read the letter which I'd only skimmed before.
This is what it said.

To me ten years from now:

You're the only one I can count on to do this.
If I'm still on the shelf in ten years, I want you to meet Himeno.
Because Himeno's hopeless without me,
and I'm hopeless without Himeno.

I dared to show the letter to Miyagi.
"You were surprisingly honest and kind ten years ago," she remarked after reading, impressed. "So then, what do you intend to do?"

"Go meet Himeno," I replied. "I'm starting to realize how foolish and pointless that is. I can definitely acknowledge how stupid it is to still be attached to a childhood friend I haven't seen in a decade. But this is a request from myself. I made it ten years ago to me right now, and I want to respect it. Sure, it might bring me more pain. I might be even more disappointed. But until I see it with my own eyes, I can't give up.

"...I want to talk with her just one more time. And as thanks for giving me my life, I want to give her the 300,000 yen from selling it. Even if I've already spent some of it. You might be opposed, but I don't care. It's my lifespan, and my money.”
"I won't stop you," Miyagi said. "I can't say I don't understand the feeling myself."

I hadn't expected Miyagi to agree so easily, so I stumbled briefly. I also didn't think on the significance of her words.
But later I would think back on them, and realize their true meaning.
Miyagi didn't just "understand" the feeling. She knew it. Long before I did.

"I'm thinking of going to Himeno's house, tomorrow, even. You know if she's at her parents'?"
"Indeed. It seems she's been depending on them ever since her husband left."
After saying that, Miyagi turned her eyes up as observing my face. She was hesitant to talk about Himeno in front of me. Worrying I'd get irrationally irritated.
I uncharacteristically told her "Thanks."
"Don't mention it," Miyagi said with relief.

To explain how I knew where Himeno lived after changing schools, first I'd have to talk about the single letter I received from Himeno in the summer, when I was 17.
I felt an indescribable feeling of wrongness after reading it. This doesn't seem like something she'd write, I thought.

It was filled with frivolous things. About how she was too busy with studies to even have time to read, about how she'd had to find numerous gaps between homework to even write this letter, about the college she hoped to go to, about how she might come visit on winter break.
It really seemed like the kind of things a 10-year-old girl would write, but in the handwriting of a 17-year-old girl.
And that was what was so strange. If this were your ordinary 17-year-old girl, then no problem. But this was Himeno. The girl who was, unlike me, supposed to remain far away from "average."

Yet I couldn't find a hint of sarcasm or an insulting word. What did it mean? Where did the distorted Himeno I knew go? Would a person change that much after turning 17?
Or was it simply that, despite how she talked, she always wrote like she was an ordinary girl?

Unable to find a satisfactory answer to my doubts, two weeks later, I sent a reply rather similar in content to the letter I'd received.
About how I had been too busy studying for exams to write a reply myself, about the college I was hoping to go to, and about how I would be glad if Himeno did visit.
I patiently waited for a reply, but after a week, after a month, there were no further letters from Himeno.
Himeno didn't come visit over winter break, either.

Had I made some kind of mistake? At the time, I'd simply written my honest feelings about wanting to meet Himeno.
Maybe I didn't write it very well, was my thought then. But... by then, Himeno was already carrying the child of someone I didn't even know. The child of someone she married at 18, then divorced a year later.

Looking back on it like this, I can't say it was a good memory. But the letter she sent did tell me where she was. I was glad for that now.

Though I'd intended to never go to school again, I needed to borrow a computer at the university library to know Himeno's exact location.
As I put the key in my moped and put my foot on the kick pedal, I remembered something Miyagi said.

"Oh yeah, I can't go more than 100 meters from you, huh."
"Indeed," Miyagi confirmed. "Apologies, but I can't let you go too far on your own. ...Though this bike does seat two, does it not?"
"I guess it can," I said. The second-hand Cub 110 I bought for commuting to school had a tandem seat instead of a rear carrier. I didn't have a spare helmet, but nobody could see Miyagi, so it wasn't like anyone would stop us.
"Then it will be possible to use this. As long as you aren't vehemently opposed to me riding."
"No way. Don't worry about it."
I started the engine and pointed behind me. Miyagi said "Pardon me" and sat in the tandem seat, wrapping her arms around my stomach.

I took the usual roads at a slower speed than usual. It was a pleasant, nostalgic morning.
While going down a long straight road, I noticed a tall tower of clouds in the sky.
I felt like I could see the outlines of things more clearly, but they also looked more hollow.

The campus, which I hadn't visited in many days now, felt unusually cold and distant. The students walking around seemed like happy creatures living in a totally different world.
Even the rare unhappy person I passed by seemed to be relishing their unhappiness.
After printing out a map and putting it in my bag, I left the library. The shops weren't open yet, so I bought anpan and drip coffee from the vending machines, and had breakfast in the lounge. Miyagi bought donuts and chewed on those.

"Hey, this isn't really a meaningful question, but if you were in my situation, how would you spend your last few months?", I asked Miyagi.
"Hmm... I don't think I'd know until I was in that position," she replied, then looked around her. "Um, I know I told you before, but you shouldn't talk to me in places like this. They'll think you're a strange guy who talks to himself."
"Let 'em. I am a strange guy."

Indeed, the people in the lounge were looking at me warily as I talked to empty space.
But I didn't mind. In fact, I wanted to be actively weird. Better to remembered as a weirdo than not remembered at all, I suppose I thought.

When I stood up after finishing breakfast, Miyagi came up beside me.
"Um, I've been thinking. About the answer to that question you asked. It... may be too serious a response, but if I were in the situation of having a few months left to live, there are three things I would absolutely want to do."
"Ooh, I'd love to hear them."
"Though I doubt they will be of use to you," Miyagi clarified. "...First, to go to a certain lake. Second, to make a grave for myself. And third, to go see the person who was important to me, as you're doing."

"I don't know if I get it. How about a little more info?"
"The lake is... just a lake. However, I do remember looking at an incredible starry sky there. It may be one of the most beautiful sights I've seen among my shabby life experiences. There are no doubt more beautiful sights in the world, but as far as those I "know," that starry lake is the most."

"I see. ...And the grave, you wanna make sure you buy a piece of land?"
"No. Strictly speaking, it would be fine if I just randomly found a large rock and decided "This is my grave." What's important is that whatever I decide to be my grave remains for at least a couple decades. ...And about the "person who was important to me"..." Miyagi looked down. "Well, I'd rather not tell you, Mr. Kusunoki."
"Huh. Suppose it's a guy?"
"Well, you would suppose right."
She evidently didn't want to go any deeper.

I thought. A person who was important to Miyagi. Well, she became an observer at ten. And by someone who "was once" important to her, she was probably talking about someone from before that.
"I think, as much as it might hurt me, as much as I might be disappointed, I would still ultimately go to meet them. Which of course means I have no right to deny what you're doing, Mr. Kusunoki."
"That doesn't seem like you. A lot more timid when it's you, huh?", I laughed.
"Well, I don't know anything about my own future," Miyagi said.

I found Himeno's house so easily, I did a double-take.
At first, I simply couldn't believe it was her house. I initially suspected it was for some other family with the same last name, but there were no other "Himeno" houses in the area. That was no doubt where Himeno lived.

Before she changed schools, Himeno lived in a fabulous Japanese-style house which to my childlike mind seemed perfectly fitting for a girl with "princess" in her name.
But the place I found with the map was a seedy-looking dwelling with so little personality, you'd forget it if you looked away for five seconds.

I didn't hesitate as I pushed the doorbell because I still had the faint impression that she wasn't there. I rang the doorbell three times three minutes apart, but no one came to the door.
I thought that if I waited until night, someone might come home, so I decided to waste some time in the area. I looked at the map I printed out at school to look for places to spend time until night fell.
"Public library" caught my eye. Ever since I visited the school library this morning, a faint desire to read had been bubbling up in me.

It looked like a neat little library on the outside, but one step inside told me it was a horribly old place.
It had a strong smell, and was dirty like an abandoned school building. But the books were arranged all right.

I'd been thinking about what sorts of books I'd like to read before I died. Or put otherwise, "what kind of book could possibly be useful right before death?"
I figured I would only read those books. I didn't want to read one that had essentially lost its value at this point and regretfully think, "What was so enjoyable about reading this?"

Maybe it would have been different a month later. But then, my choices were Paul Auster, Kenji Miyazawa, O. Henry, and Hemingway. Not particularly interesting picks.
All the books I took were short ones, probably not because I necessarily liked those better, but because I just didn't want to read any long stories. I was unsure if I had the energy to tackle a story longer than a certain length.

While I sat reading O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi, Miyagi moved from sitting in front of me and watching to beside me, and looked at the page I was on.
"Wanting to try observing and reading at the same time?", I asked in a whisper.
"Something like that," Miyagi said, coming closer.
She sure does have a calming smell to her, I thought.

I read until the library closed at 6 PM. Sometimes I'd go outside to rest my eyes and smoke in the smoking area.
It was my first experience reading a book with someone else. It seemed like more enriching reading that way, since I wasn't just thinking about how I felt, but how Miyagi felt reading the same part.

We headed back for Himeno's house, but still no one came when I rang the doorbell. Fully aware of what the neighbors must have thought, I waited in front of Himeno's house for someone to come for about an hour.
The sun set, and the safety lights on the power poles came on. Cigarette butts piled up by my feet. Miyagi looked at them disapprovingly, so I took a portable ashtray out of my bag and collected them.

It seemed best to call it a day and try again some other time.
I couldn't deny that I was partly relieved that Himeno didn't show up.

We apparently took a wrong turn on the way back, and ended up in a shopping district lined with paper lanterns. It took a while for me to realize it was right near my parents' house, since I'd never come down this way before.
There seemed to be a summer festival going on at the shrine up ahead. I was just starting to feel hungry, so I stopped the Cub in a parking lot and went walking through the sauce-scented stands, looking for something good to eat.

I hadn't seen such a festival in ten years. I'd stopped going to the local one since Himeno left.
It was a small festival, with only ten to fifteen stands. But it had its own kind of liveliness. The fewer amusements in an area, the more excited people get.

Everything went to plan up to me buying sukiyaki and a frankfurter, but after that, stricken by some madness, I decided to buy something from every stand.
I bought octopus dumplings, shaved ice, broiled sweet corn, usuyaki, deep-fried chicken, a candy apple, a chocolate banana, grilled chicken, grilled squid, and tropical juice, and took them all to the stone steps.

"What are you doing buying all that?", Miyagi asked, shocked.
"Fulfilling a boyish dream. There's no way I can eat this all myself, so you'll have to help."
I started working through them. Miyagi hesitantly reached into my bag and began eating the usuyaki.

By the time we'd partaken in all twelve items, Miyagi and I were deeply fed up with the smell of food. We both had pretty small stomachs, after all; it was like trying to fit a volleyball in there.
Overly full, we didn't feel like standing up for a while. Miyagi licked the candy apple with a standoffish look.

From where we sat, we could look down at the festival grounds. The narrow road leading up to the shrine was packed with carts, and two rows of paper lanterns ran straight like runway lights, illuminating their dim surroundings red.
Everyone passing through looked cheery... in short, it was no different from that day ten years ago.

That day, too, I - Himeno and I - had sat on the steps like this, looking at the people walking down below. We conceded we had no right to mingle among them.
We were waiting for "something" that would acknowledge our existence and understand us fully.

And then Himeno made her premonition. "Something really good" would happen, and one day we'd be "glad we lived," in the summer ten years later.
Furthermore, she said that if we both hadn't found someone to marry in ten years, being that we were both "on the shelf," we should be together.

Well, I was in that summer now. And the girl who made that promise wasn't on the shelf, but was second-hand goods - and my life was going to end with me being not only unsold, but unfit to sell.
But ultimately, we were both without owners. We were once again left alone.

I wonder where Himeno is now, and what she's doing?
Once more I prayed at that shrine surrounded by the buzzing of cicadas.

I noticed quite a lot of time had passed. I heard Miyagi's pencil against her notebook. The festival was drawing to a close, the shadows of people growing sparse.
I raised my head, gathered up the trash, and gently stood up.

There was a figure coming up the steps.

It was too dark to see their face, but the instant I saw her outline, time stopped for me.
Some things are too good to be true. So people say.
And yet, though people may not notice it, things do come together, in this sort of perverse, prankstery way.

I felt the cells of my body trembling with joy.
With each step she took, everything from the day we first met at 4 years old, to the summer day she went away and moved schools, ran through my mind.
Though she looked different from ten years ago - well, no matter how much she changed, it wouldn't mean I wouldn't be able to recognize her.

By the time we were close enough to see each other's faces, I called to her in a hoarse voice.

The girl stopped and looked at me with hollow eyes.
Her expression gradually became one taken completely aback.

Himeno said my name in the same transparent-esque voice that only she had.

Chapter 10

Novel List