Chapter 7: Prayer

Following the rainstorm, the evening wind started to carry the smell of an autumn night. Cicadas halfway to the grave made dull buzzing sounds as they crawled around on the ground, and the sunflowers to the side of the road had their heads drooped like stray dogs, never to lift up again.

Summer was starting to end.

Freed of Touka, I drank gin by myself, I smoked by myself, I got meals by myself, and I drank gin by myself again. The life cycle she had built up for me over 20 days fell apart in just one. You can say it about anything: building it up is hard, but demolishing it is shockingly easy.

That said, my eating habits had gotten a bit better. I bought ingredients from the supermarket every evening, and took the time to cook them. I didn't grow to hate cup ramen or anything. But cooking was just the thing to keep me from boredom. While I was in the kitchen doing work that took concentration, I didn't have to think about extraneous nonsense.

I didn't have any experience cooking for myself, but I naturally picked up the procedures while watching Touka do it. I relied on my memory to replicate each of the dishes she'd made. After my meal, I washed and put away the utensils, then drank gin again. When I had nothing to do, I listened to music on the record player she left behind. The old music that just felt tedious when we listened to it together, to my surprise, wasn't so bad when I listened to it alone. Right now, some simple and slow music was just what I was looking for.

On the fourth day, Emori contacted me. I woke up from a nap and checked the voice mails on my phone.

I played it without even thinking about it.

"I've figured out who Touka Natsunagi is. I'll contact you again later."

I put the phone down by my bed and closed my eyes.

Two hours later, I got a phone call.

I showered for the first time in two days, put on new clothes, and headed for the children's park.


"You want the long explanation, or the short explanation?"

That's how Emori broke the ice. I thought for just five seconds, then said "the long one, please." While part of me did want to hear the short explanation first to learn the truth, I would probably be asking for details afterward either way. I would try to get the most amount of information I could, in an attempt to come to my own conclusion that might differ from his. In that case, I thought, I should get the long explanation first.

"Well then, we're going to have to go a ways back." Then Emori had a bit of a hesitant pause. "Why was it not you, an involved party, but me, a third party, who could see through to the truth about Touka Natsunagi? To explain the logic there, I'm gonna have to talk about a time I was seriously considering buying Mimories. And to explain why I was considering buying Mimories, I'm gonna need to go into some of my personal life. It's not the happiest stuff, and not the kind of stuff you want to talk about in public..."

He scratched the back of his neck and breathed out.

"Well, maybe it might not be so bad to open up about it to you, Amagai."

I nodded and urged him to continue.

"Take a look at this."

With that, he showed me something: a dirty school notebook.

"It's a notebook from middle school," he explained. "Turn it over."

On the back of the notebook was a student identification, with a photo of middle-school age Emori.

That said, if I had been shown this photo without any context, I probably wouldn't realize it was Emori.

That's how different he was in this photo compared to him now.

To put it bluntly: he was ugly.

"Awful, right?", Emori said. Not self-derisively, but like he was spitting something out. "I had a miserable childhood. None of the boys or girls wanted to be around me. I was teased by older students all the time, and even younger students made fun of me. Hell, even the teachers were reluctant to deal with me. I was just praying for time to pass quicker in the corner of the classroom, day after day."

I compared the person in the photo with the one before my eyes. Sure, there were faint similarities between them. But said similarities were on the level of "tofu and natto are made from the same base ingredients"; you could find them if you tried, just as much as you could find similarities between any two total strangers.

"I made up my mind to change myself in spring, when I was 18. March 9th, four years ago," he continued. "When I was walking home alone from graduation, this couple walked in front of me. They were wearing the same uniforms as me and holding diplomas, so I knew they were graduates from my school. In fact, then I noticed the girl was one of my classmates. The one person in class who would always say hi to me every day. Secretly, I felt something toward her, though it could barely even be called a crush. I knew I wasn't the kind of guy who could get with her, so I didn't make any moves, but during class or at lunch, I'd sneak peeks at her when I got the chance."

He took the notebook from my hand and put it back in his pocket. I wondered if he periodically looked at that notebook to remind himself of his past self. Like taking a bitter medicine.

"You know why I didn't notice she was one half of that couple right away? 'Cause she wore a totally different expression walking with her boyfriend than anything I saw in the classroom. Ahh, so that's how she smiles when she's actually happy, I thought. She was a pretty girl, so I wasn't really shocked she had a boyfriend. I hadn't gotten my hopes up that she was mine or anything, so I couldn't possibly get jealous now. I'd already estimated myself to be at rock bottom, so nothing could make me more miserable from there. I just thought, "she looks happy.""

He glanced at me, as if to say "you probably know how that feels."

Of course I do, my eyes responded.

"But for some reason... while I was getting ready to live my new life, I was constantly remembering what I saw then, and getting my heart thrown into disarray. While I was packing, while I was going between the dump and my home, while I was buying living supplies, I kept ruminating over the scene I saw on the way home from graduation. After I was done preparing for my move, I lay down in my empty room with arms and legs outstretched, and thought long and hard about what the hell I was doing to myself. And that night, I made a resolution to myself: I'll start over from scratch."

As if waiting for the meaning of those words to soak into me, he paused for a few seconds.

"Luckily, I didn't know a single person at my new school. I bumped up my original moving date and started living on my own. And then, I tried everything I could think of for the sake of my "rebirth." For a while, I hardly showed my face around college, 'cause I was working so hard on my body I nearly coughed up blood. I researched every night about how I should dress and act for people to like me, and put those things into practice in places with no ties to school. And I tampered with my face as much as you can without a scalpel being involved. Once I'd gotten enough confidence, I started to show up to class in earnest. I made tons of friends and attractive partners in no time, but I still didn't work any less on self-improvement. In fact, seeing visible results for my efforts lit the fires of ambition in me. I put tons of effort, like I was possessed, into appearance and everything else. By a year later, I had girls fawning on me without me even sneezing in their direction."

Then he flashed me a smile, as if firing off a test shot. It was a smile that would make any girl who came to college full of dreams instantly fall in love.

"It was like the world revolved around me. After that, I started feeling eager to get back my lost childhood. Wanting to get revenge on both my past self and those who wouldn't give him the time of day, I slept with loads of young, pretty girls. Like some noble from the Middle Ages who bathed in the blood of young girls to keep up their good looks. I thought that would save the other me inside me. I thought I'd be able to give salvation to the kid who could only sit in the corner of the classroom and enviously watch from afar as his classmates had childhoods."

At this point in the story, Emori finally took a sip of beer. It had probably gone warm a while ago, so he scrunched up his face and looked at the label on the can. Then he poured out the contents on the ground and started smoking, using the can as an ashtray. I lit a cigarette to match him.

"In my fourth year of college, in summer, I finally came to my senses. And I had a revelation. I can struggle all I want, but it's impossible to get back a lost childhood. As it turns out, you can only have the experiences a 15-year-old should have at 15, so if I didn't have them at that age, no fulfilling experiences after the fact can save the spirit of 15-year-old me. Took me too long to realize something so obvious. Everything felt futile then, and I gave up my womanizing. I deleted all my lady friends' contact info, no exceptions. I befriended you a little after that, Amagai. I guess at the time, I was looking for somebody who felt a similar emptiness."

Him saying that reminded me. The girls who visited Emori's room near-daily did stop showing up right around the time he and I got to know each other.

I never even stopped to think that those two phenomenons had a cause-and-effect relationship.

"I learned about Green Green at the end of summer - right around this timeframe." He finally spoke those words. Gradually, he was approaching the main topic. "It was the perfect product for a childhood-craving zombie like me. The wonder cure for an unfulfilling childhood, which gives users memories of a beautiful one. I leapt for it right away. I tried to, anyway. I made it as far as making an appointment for counseling. This can save 12-year-old and 15-year-old me, I thought. But just before it came up, I rethought it and canceled."

I got a word in for the first time. "Why was that?"

His mouth warped as if in agony.

"What's more hollow than my most beautiful memories being someone else's fabrication?"

I nodded.

I felt I could now fully understand why this man had befriended me.

"I gave up purchasing Green Green, but my interest in Mimories themselves stuck around. In particular, I was really fascinated by the job of "Mimory engineer" I learned about while researching Mimories. I've had to confront my own memories way more than your average person. I felt like a person like me who has countless cases of "if only it'd been like this" in his past might just be suited to be a Mimory engineer. I gathered as much information as I could on that occupation. I think it was in the process of collecting that information that I learned about her. It took me a while to remember, being an article I just skimmed over nearly a year ago, but that's why I felt like I'd seen that girl you were walking with a few weeks ago, Amagai."

Emori showed me a news article on his phone. At the top was a date from three years ago.

The Genius 17-Year-Old Mimory Engineer

"The preface went a little long, but now for the conclusion," Emori said. "Touka Natsunagi is a Mimory engineer. The Mimories about Touka Natsunagi in your head, Amagai, she probably made them herself."

He scrolled the screen down and zoomed in on the photo below. A familiar face jumped out at me.

It was Touka Natsunagi's smile that I hadn't seen in four days.


Back at the apartment, I reread the article over and over. After doing that, I gathered information about her on the web.

Touka Natsunagi wasn't her real name, but there was only the slightest difference between her real name and her alias. One of the consonants in her surname was different, and that was all. She probably thought this minimal disguise would be sufficient for me. Or maybe in the event she said her real name by mistake, she was making sure she could talk her way out of it.

At the time, she was the youngest Mimory engineer in history. She was hired as a Mimory engineer by a major clinic as young as 16, and worked on many Mimories while going through high school.

In just three years, she created over 50 years' worth of Mimories. This was an absurd pace, regardless of her youth. And it wasn't all quantity, but quality as well. Needless to say, she drew attention in the world of Mimory engineering as a rising star, but she sent in a resignation letter just before her 20th birthday and hadn't been heard from since then. It made the local news, at least. People who were anticipating her work were left to despair. The Mimories she drew up were somehow fundamentally different from those of other Mimory engineers; no one was able to imitate her.

She referred to that unparalleled difference as "prayer."

In a short interview on a news site, Touka answered the reporter's questions cautiously with basic and harmless words. The interviewer went through great lengths to try and get a childish reaction or some nefarious statement out of the 17-year-old prodigy, but the further forward he stepped, the deeper she retreated into her shell. So she responded with modest, safe, and boring answers.

There were only two questions at the end that were able to get her to speak her thoughts. The first was: "People say the Mimories you create are entirely different from what other Mimory engineers make. How would you concretely describe what that "difference" is?"

I guess I'd say "prayer."

When the interviewer tried to dig deeper into what she meant by "prayer," Touka gave a simple answer. "Basically, I mean earnestness."

But in truth, it was probably something for which no word except "prayer" would work.

At least that's how I felt.

The interviewer went on to ask her ultimate goal as a Mimory engineer. Touka answered this like so.

I want to make Mimories so powerful, they throw that person's life into chaos.

And was I the test subject?

Had her aim been to throw my life into chaos through Mimories?

Had her smiles, and her tears, all just been an act to shake up my heart?

I guess I should be irritated. I guess I should be indignant about being used to feed her ego. One month ago, I probably would have been.

But that was impossible for me now. Only knowing the truth now was too late. Any attempt to cast negative feelings toward her would be firmly impeded by my memories of this summer break. It wasn't just "I can't hate her." I looked at this photo of 17-year-old Touka over and over, and every time, my heart was filled with yearning.

Strangely enough, 17-year-old Touka looked a bit older than the 20-year-old Touka I knew. In the photo, her eyes were slightly bleary, and the fact she wore a high school uniform felt out of place, even. It might have honestly fit present-day Touka better.

In fact, now that I was thinking about this, 20-year-old her was way too young. In the photo, she was passing as 20, and in the present, she was passing as 17.

What did this strange inversion mean? Had the photo just come out bad because she was nervous? Had quitting her job freed her from stress, making her look younger? Had she tried to get as close as possible to her appearance in the Mimories to help deceive me?

The 17-year-old Touka who gave the camera an awkward smile looked like it could be a vision of herself from the near future.

My thoughts wouldn't stop racing. All I could rely on for sleepless nights was, you guessed it, alcohol. I poured the waters of forgetfulness into a glass, and got lost in an alley of gin with a ruin-like atmosphere.

My dad was also a lover of alcohol. There are drunks who drink to enjoy reality and those who drink to forget reality, and he was decisively the latter. If he didn't end up a Mimory addict, he'd probably have ended up a more dangerous alcohol addict. He seemed to bear subtle pain which no one would soothe, always looking like he was suffocating.

My sole objective in life was to never end up like my dad, yet maybe I did end up rather similar to my dad, just with a change in presentation. A life where I keep averting my eyes from anything inconvenient to me, the situation continues to worsen, and yet I keep looking away.

While gazing absentmindedly at the "one-line diary" hung on the wall, I realized my eyes were losing focus. I closed them, and found myself on a ship rocked by tall waves. I staggered over to the bathroom and emptied out my stomach. It had been a month since I last drank so much I threw up. It was that day I decided to drink the Lethe, couldn't do it, had a case of mistaken identity, drank in desperation, was kicked out of the bar, walked home to the apartment, and met her.

Touka Natsunagi.

There was just one thing that I was stuck on. On the last day, Touka told me this about her reason for acting like my childhood friend.

"You'll know eventually. It's a pretty complex objective, but I think you can manage to get the gist of it."

But could you call "throwing that person's life into chaos" a complex objective?

And did "I think you can manage to get the gist of it" imply that it was something the average person would find harder to figure out?

I can't help but feel I'm overlooking something major.

If you just wanted to throw my life into chaos, there should have been countless other ways.

Just leaving the contents of the Green Green as-is, appearing before me as "a girl who resembles the childhood friend in the Mimories," and putting on the act of a fateful encounter would surely have ensnared me, inviting little in the way of unnecessary doubt. It's hard to imagine she lacked the ability to conceive of that.

And yet she appeared before me as the childhood friend in the Mimories herself. She purposefully chose an approach with low odds of success. Does that just go to show how confident she was in the influence of her Mimories?

It can't just be that. She had to become the childhood friend I adored, and no one else. Until I could figure out the reason why that was, I wouldn't be able to say I understood her true intentions.

My thoughts continued to race even more.


At some point, the sky had started to brighten. Even with the power of alcohol, I hadn't been able to sleep a wink, and having drank beyond the recommended dosage, my body felt horribly sluggish. My eyes were bleary, my head heavy, my throat hurt, and I was hungry, too.

I crawled out of bed. It was probably my empty stomach that kept sleep away, but the childhood friend who would make me breakfast was gone now. I checked the fridge, and it only had a few shreds of cabbage and some orange juice. When I drank the orange juice to the last drop, it only seemed to make my stomach worse. I gave up on sleeping, put on my sandals, and left the room in my sleepwear.

Just as I opened the door, something moved in the corner of my vision. While in the act of closing my door, I instinctively turned to it.

It was a girl. She looked anywhere from 17 to 20. She was dressed like she'd visited someone's funeral far away, then returned on the earliest train she could. Her limbs, faintly lit, were like a transparent white, and her long, soft black hair was blown up by the wind in the hall,

and time stopped.

An invisible nail fixed us in place, her in the pose of opening her door, and myself closing my door with the back of my hand.

As if we temporarily lost the concept of words, we looked at each other for a long time.

The first thing to resume movement was my mouth.


I spoke her name.

"...And who would you be?"

The girl had forgotten mine.

Chapter 8

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