Full Chapter Edit
“Yo, yo. Welcome. Do you want coffee?”
“Okay, sure. Thanks.”
It had been a week since the visual impact Matsuyuki gave us on that night in the secret base.
The days and nights after that felt short.
Mornings with Meiko around, and nights also.
Meaningless chats continued endlessly. Everyone played games and fooled around joyfully, sleeping once tired. Days like this, with the starting point and the ending point on the same day, were extremely refreshing.
The normal weekdays, though, when compared, became exceptionally long.
Even if I wanted to go to school, my legs wouldn’t heed to my request. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to let Meiko know I hadn’t gone to school, so I wandered around the whole day—there was only one bookstore, not a single manga restaurant, even the arcade centre was shut down—in this boring old town, where I could go was certainly limited.
Having nothing to do, I started to hide in the secret base three days ago.
I was a bit reluctant at first, but Popo was the same old guy I knew, and it was much breezier up in the mountains than down below. Ventilation was great and soothing too. Although I knew I was a coward for not going to school, it was already improvement compared to idling at home.
I sat flat down on the sofa in the secret base, shuffling some dust out.
“Hey, how does Meiko feel like?”
There wasn’t anything normal to this, yet I deliberately replied in this way.
Meiko was back.
And she lived casually like the way she did back thn.
All the members in super peace busters believed she was back, yet none of them came to my house.
There wasn’t anything like “Meiko, let’s go play.”
To this unusual phenomenon, they might still be trying to acclimatise, which was justifiable, as even I was at a bit of loss when I first encountered it.
And the most important thing was that only I could see Meiko, but none others.
Popo was handing me the mug Tsurumi gave. In these mugs of various sizes, Popo had, since sometime, reckoned that this mug was ‘for my exclusive use’. Whenever possible, he would definitely use this mug to brew coffee for me.
And since sometime, I had unwarily called him by his nickname Popo, just like those days.
“Hey, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time thinking over this.”
“What’s up, Popo?”
Popo suddenly faced me straight and formally.
“Meiko’s wish...we must seriously, dedicatedly grant it for real!”
To grant her wish for real.
“So you didn’t think of granting her wish for real before?”
“Ah, no! I didn’t mean that...but...”
Popo became a bit lost for words. Of course, I could understand his thoughts.
Until now, granting Meiko’s wish in Popo’s heart had the same feeling as presenting a flower when cleaning the grave. The more the heartfelt thoughts for Meiko, the more one wanted to present to her more beautiful flowers. At the same time, it was an act of assuring oneself.
But since feeling Meiko’s presence in reality, the thought of granting her wish had become to do something for her instead...albeit they could do nothing for her on that day before her leave, they hoped they could do something now with these new given circumstances...
“After all, everyone had believed in Meiko’s existence. Why don’t we call Tsuruko and Yukiatsu to come by...”
At this instant, both of us ceased our movements.
A scene flashed through my mind—that figure making a strong impression, conjuring a mixed feeling of undesired sympathy, comedy, and horror.
No, I knew I must not laugh at him, and I didn’t at that time.
But truth be told, I often think of that figure throughout this week when I take a shower, go to the toilet, or eat with Meiko. Whenever this happened, sophisticated feelings would stirr from the bottom of my heart.
Something was telling me Yukiatsu wouldn’t work this out with us.
Because he was seen with that figure...
“Normally speaking, it would be difficult for him to get his spirits back up...”
“Yeah, it’s impossible, normally speaking.”
Popo and I nodded our head deeply together, our brows furrowed clearly.
Normally speaking, it was impossible.
Yet things worked out the opposite from what Jinta and Popo surmised, for Atsumu was now having his supreme life casually and comfortably. He talked with prompting girls with ease, handed his homework swiftly, and ate scrambled eggs with shrimps in the cafeteria, and not ordinary every-day-switched lunch sets like udon or fried pork with fresh ginger.
Chiriko left her short, precise comment.
“Yeah, I’m shocked too. What happened back there must be because I was haunted.”
“So you say, but you seemed fully prepared for this? Even your thigh hair was shaved.”
“I didn’t bear much hair from the start, for my male hormones are little.”
“What shocked me wasn’t that perverted behaviour; it’s how you could return to your everyday life as if nothing happened.”
“Then what should I do to meet your expectation?”
“Be the second social recluse in the super peace busters, the first one being Yadomi Jinta.”
“It seems you are a genius at annoying me.”
Atsumu and Chiriko was spending their noon break leisurely behind the school building, leaning on the white walls of the new school building. Passing female juniors would cast glances at them from time to time, and whisper whatnots to each other. Glances casted at Chiriko were all but enmity.
“Look, I’m always being glared at because of you.”
“Well, those glares would vanish if I give them the photos of you dressing up as a girl.”
“It’s such a wonder to see what will become of you when your poker face is torn apart.”
“Now I think about it, I was in my worst condition after all.”
Even to someone as strong and tough as Atsumu, it was terribly embarrassing when his other side was exposed to the super peace busters.
A hair clip started it all. It was a hair clip he gave to Meiko, but rejected. One day, he saw an oddly familiar hair clip. Almost as if by instinct, he bought it, even when he knew Chiriko was right by his side, looking at him with disbelief. When he returned home, he put the hairclip on himself, feeling this act pathetic.
It was, however, a ritual to approach Meiko, a vital ritual to supersede the image of Meiko rejecting him, a process of visualising what would have happened if she accepted it.
To reinforce this visualisation, he concentrated on every shard of Meiko he could collect in his memory and infused it into himself. Looking at himself in the mirror, he repeatedly spoke of the words he wanted to hear from Meiko on that day. This meaningless ritual had turned tremendously meaningful eventually, and he became obsessed with harbouring the feeling of he himself being the sole knower of the present Meiko. Since Meiko had left the world, the Meiko he created was the closest existence of her. He was deeply convinced he was the only person in the super peace busters able to think of and visualise the most existing Meiko; hence, these thoughts made up of Meiko and her remains.
But he was completely devastated when Jinta called to grant Menma’s wish. It shattered him. It threw him into running around like a freak in the night dressed as a girl. It was only natural for him, as Chiriko stated, to turn into a social recluse or fall into total despair, but he didn’t. It soothed him. He now knew that Meiko’s existence had grown too large to be embedded in his own thoughts or feelings.
“How’s the white sundress?”
“Are you still clinging to it?”
“Trash spirits would come out if I dumped it.”
If that trash spirit were Meiko, and if she had come to his house and not Jinta’s…a thought flashed through his mind.
“Oh, forget it then. Let’s leave that aside.”
Popo and I decided to leave Matsuyuki’s affairs aside for the moment.
It would be a nice pause to abstain from thinking of that appalling image of coarse thighs floating over the flying sundress, the apparent masculine features strongly remarking their presence on the thighs.
“Aren’t there any traces or hints on Menma’s wish? Something like a diary?”
Hearing Popo’s suggestion, I raised my head abruptly. Popo seemed too to have remembered what I was having in mind, and we said almost in unison, “The Exchange Diary!”
Indeed we had forgotten of it till now: in the period before summer, during those rainy days, we began to write a daily dairy.
“Let’s start writing exchange diaries!”
Anjo ran and started the idea ecstatically. She even prepared a notebook printed with an anime character I didn’t know.
“I heard that all best friends do this! Every kid in Tokyo! I saw it from the nicola magazine!”
All the boys felt it troublesome, save Matsuyuki who immediately replied, “I want to write! I want to write!” And Meiko said, “Well, that sounds fine.” Heck, thinking about it now, I found it too easy to know their respective reactions. We then started to exchange diaries. Anjo wrote meticulously with small font as if it was a book report for summer assignment. Because it was too sleep-inducing, I skipped what she wrote. For Popo’s diary, because of his bad handwriting and hence impossible to read, I skipped it as well. Matsuyuki’s were used as a reminder for what to be brought to school the day after, so it didn’t help me much either. The most normal diary was probably Tsurumi’s, where she even drew the animated version of heads of our class teacher and the headmaster, causing us to laugh our heads off. For Meiko’s part, what she wrote was dull stuff. To be honest, I don’t remember much. Left in my memories were only her special round characters. Yeah, nothing was quite left in my memories, as it ended quite in a rush. The deepest thing that carved into me was that—was that I was the one who ended the diary exchange.
I managed to get away with it for the first several times, but it became more and more tedious and tiring as Anjo and Tsurumi intiated their waves of reprimanding.
“Jintan, you stopped writing the exchange diary, didn’t you?”
“I have no idea. Wasn’t it Popo?”
“N-No. That isn’t me. I can swear: it isn’t me!”
Hearing my forced rebuttal, Meiko looked into me, her eyes wide. And though I know she knew it, I feigned ignorance since I did not plan to write anymore.
It happened that it was just the two of us returning home from school. Others had stuff to do or had a sick-leave. There wasn’t much to play for just two…well, maybe it was because of being alone with her that suggested some kind of uneasiness and embarrassment. So I decided to return home without doing anything else. While we were walking, vertically aligned, along the narrow passage beside the fields, she spoke from behind, “Hey, Jintan.”
“You have the diary, haven’t you?”
“I don’t know. I said it might be at Popo’s…”
“I wouldn’t get mad. I’ll keep this a secret. So may you give it to me?”
I didn’t know what she meant at first.
Looking at me puzzled, Menma repeated slowly, “So may you give it to me?”
“Wuaghh! Is it really at your place? That’s terrible, Kintan! That’s absolutely insincere of you!”
Unlike those times, Popo, having grown big and strong, barked, his breathing heavy,
“It’s a sin of the past. Let it go.”
“I’ll let it go if you give me a ticket for a happy meal. One piece is now the featured item for the happy meal!”
“Okay, I know.”
“Hey! You have to wait for me, Hancock!”
Now that I think about it, why would Menma want to keep the exchange diary? Did she foresee her death? Did she want the memories of her pals to be at her side?
…of course that’s silly.
“Anyway, is the exchange diary at Menma’s place?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“So why don’t we pay Menma’s mother a visit?”
I didn’t attend Menma’s funeral.
In fact, I couldn’t. My father persisted to bring me to Toshimaen. Whenever he had a day off, he would bring me to hospital to visit my mother. I declined to go, for I heard from school that Menma’s funeral would be held on the same day. “I want to go to the funeral! I want to go! I want to go! Please let me!” I frantically insisted. My father was first silent for a while, but then he acquiesced. He laid his hands on my head and said softly, “Jinta, you have to do your best”—that was what my mother usually said.
Allowing me to wear black short pants, my father then went to the funeral with me. What was I thinking on the way there? I was quite emotional towards Menam’s death. Yet at that time I had no deep understanding of what it meant to attend her funeral.
This understanding was slapped onto me very soon. Near the entrance of the funeral, I saw a relative lifting Menma’s mother by the shoulder, who was all in tears. She didn’t put any makeup on, and perhaps her hair was not even cared for for the least bit. At first glance, I thought she was Menma’s grandmother. Unbelievable it was to see her aging so much.
When we were noticed, quite a few adults looked at us with caution. Menma’s mother, her face still wet with tears, lifted her head up to look at us—how she looked at us was so stunning that I couldn’t forget even till now. I believe what we call devils would bear such a look. On her face was nothingness created by complete lost of strength, yet filled subsequently with a convergence of all the dark hatred found in the world.
“Why are you here?” Her voice sounded like stabbing icicles into my back
Step by step, she approached me.
The relatives quickly pulled her by the shoulders. At the same time, she spoke of devilish spells. Although I knew she must have said something, I was deaf at that time; all I knew was fear, and all I could do was stand there, frozen. My father gave a big bow to those people, grabbed me, and took me away hastily.
The sounds of the cicadas, the sobs of Menam’s mother, and the murmurs of the monk combined into a form, chasing me, yet my legs were so stiff it seemed they didn’t belong to me anymore.
No one in the super peace busters attended her funeral. I believe they were stopped by their parents like me.
This was a small town, and there were times I came across Menma’s mother on the road. In spite of this, I had never dared to look at her. Did we turn away our gaze subconsciously? Or did her lowered her head while walking since then?
“To visit her mother…uh.”
Popo’s suggestion reminded me of those past memories. I couldn’t help lowering my head. For sure it was possible to acquire the diary through her, as she wouldn’t throw away the things her daughter had left, but…
“Just leave it!”
A loud voice came to my ears, and turning around, I happened to see Anjo.
“What! W-When were you here?”
“You’ve been to the washroom for too long, Anaru.”
“Because there isn’t one around!”
“Oh my, don’t tell me dug a hole at the back of the mountain for that purpose.”
“That’s impossible! I got down the mountain and did it at the public toilets on the bridge!”
Anjo was wearing her school uniform. Looking up at the clock on the wall, I found that it wasn’t even yet noon.
“Anjo, did you skip school?”
“Eh? I…I didn’t really want to go to school this morning.”
“This person here even came to invite me to go to your place to visit Menma or something.”
“Gah! Didn’t I tell you to keep it a secret! You bastard!”
“It’s better to be honest, Anjo.”
I was actually a bit excited to see her face red and puffy. We were still wary of the future, but we knew in our hearts we still care for Menma: those that care of her had gathered here.
“Look, this is what I said would happen.”
Anjo suddenly responded to my unconscious murmur.
“Ah, no. Nothing.”
Hearing her say that, I immediately remembered Anjo being named by Menma as someone from a planet of naught, and laughter came from my heart.
“Hmm? What should that mean, Yadomi; it’s gross!”
Menma, you really are not isolated.