Full Chapter Edit
“Phew, so boring.”
Meiko was playing the DS console she borrowed from Jinta. The screen quality improved a lot compared to five years ago, but soon after she was captivated by its freshness, she grew tired of it.
The blazing sun still shone at the white sky outside, but there was not a single window in the living room to let fresh light hop in, rendering the atmosphere dull. It was when night came and the fluorescent lights were on that her joyful laughter would feel more lively.
She could tell Jinta didn’t go to school, and she understood why. Carelessly she once told him that perhaps her wish was for him to go to school, which burdened him greatly. She felt the same towards the affairs with Atsumu and her mother. It was her “careless existence” that injured them. She could apologise if it were Jinta, but she couldn’t do even this much to Atsumu. Why could she?
Taking a fountain pen, she flipped a page in a diary and started writing, but the words she wrote vanished slightly above the paper.
Meiko could embrace Jinta and eat ramen, but why couldn’t she write or voice her thoughts to everyone?
I really am isolated.
Jinta once told her that she wasn’t an isolated person, yet this feeling kept lingering. When she returned home where her parents and her brother live, she accidently broke a cup. This mere accident threw the whole family like a pebble into the pond, stifling it with sinister atmosphere.
There was things in this world that could never be left, and she was one of them—a person isolated.
Evil, am I?
Meiko, again, began to remember the time when she first joined the super peace busters.
For her different hair and eye colour, she was referred to as an outsider in kindergarten. She knew nothing of what the word outsider meant, and she asked her mother. Her mother answered her, with a hint of loneliness in her smile, that there was no need for her to think about it at that time. It per se was an answer, but it didn’t answer her question. Not long after, she knew outsiders meant foreigners, and was taken literally as “outside people”. According to this word, she could imagine such a scene: in the freezing winter night, she was kicked barefoot outside the door. And as if receiving someone’s goodwill, she would hold some kind of pocket that would hold rice backpackers take along, the only things are sesame sprinkled on top of the rice. Warm orange fluorescent lights would seep out from the windows; laughter would crawl out from within. But she couldn’t join their circle. The doghouse was where she could sleep in. As her house raised no dogs, she would have to borrow a dog house from their neighbour. The dog residing in was a scary dog that howled frequently at her. Could she be in good terms with the dog? Would it bite her? She would imagine herself in this state and naturally fall in tears.
Before she met Jinta and the super peace busters, she was always the outsider. But they were the turning point for her: they treated her like they would to anyone else.
She could empathise with Jinta’s feeling of resistance to go to school, for Jinta now was too an outsider in school. But she couldn’t bring Jinta back to their circle, for she herself had become the outsider in this world.
Jinta treated so kindly to her, yet she couldn’t do anything in return.
Everything would have been better if she was alone from the very beginning. She wouldn’t have been so lonely now had she not gone through a roller costar of emotions. It was because she experienced the joy in living with the super peace busters that pained her so much when she returned to loneliness. The sultry feeling doubled and even tripled
“Jintan, come back sooner.”
What was that?
Wind coursed in from the open windows. Listening to the crisp bell sounds, Meiko turned around, only to see Jinta’s mother staring silently at her. It was the picture of the deceased placed on top of the shrine, looking as though she was staring at her from that small window.
Ding dong, ding dong…
It was an ever-present memory.
The breeze embodied the softness of lukewarm water mixed with BATHCLIN soap as well as comfortable humidity, caressing the curtains ever so softly. Jinta’s mother was stroking Meiko, who went to visit her all by herself. Her fingers were extremely skinny and out of place; countless injection scars stirred one’s sympathy; yet Meiko felt her touch gentle and caring.
“Actually, I have something I want you to help me with, Menma.”
“Yes, what is it?”
Meiko’s vision started to blur.
Wasn’t it she herself that embraced some kind of hope?
Passing through the bridge that connected the secret base, we came to some place in the shopping district. I didn’t know why I started going back home with Anjo. Disturbing sounds of crackling high-heeled shoes incessantly hit me from behind. Her height was similar to mine, yet her pace was totally different.
Women are such troublemakers.
I could do nothing but to decrease my pace as much as I could. Under the setting sun, Anjo’s shadow showed the contours of the two sides of her bundled hair swaying. This shadow seemed to want to tell me something.
Hell, women are such a trouble.
Suddenly, the shadow danced to a completely new beat.
I followed Anjo’s gaze, happening to see a washing shop. An old lady walked out from the shop, holding a basket full of clothes. Though I say her an old lady, she looked pretty delicate. Her back was straight, and she wearing an elegant long dress that went over her knees. If you look at her by her contours, she was no old lady but a young woman. If you ask why she would look like an old lady, it was because of her complete and not dyed white hair.
She was Menma’s mother. Why, why in this moment I had to be with Anjo? Although I would imagine she would avert her eyes the way she normally did when we come cross each other, the little difference today created a subtle effect…
“Jinta, and Naruko?”
Seeing Menma’s mother straightforwardly approaching me, I got tensed up all of a sudden, cold sweat instantly pouring throughout my body.
“Ah, h-how are you?” My voice changed by my over-nervousness. Menma’s mother, despite noticing my nervousness, managed a smile easily.
“Please take a seat, although it’s a bit messy around.”
How did it end up like this?
We were invited passionately by Menma’s mother to go to her house and have tea.
“Menma must be overjoyed, for you two always come by.”
We had always been frightened by Menma’s father. Even when we politely talked with him, he would still put out a dull face and continue reading his newspapers, telling us to go away to play or something. So, in total we had only came twice…wait, probably thrice. But why did Menma’s mother had to lie?
“Could you two greet Meiko?”
With that said, Menma’s mother threw a glance at a corner of the room. A shrine was placed there, along with Menma’s photo of her big smile. It wasn’t the Menma before me now that had grown slightly, but the one completely consistent with my memory. For there were no discrepancy, it looked more like a smile by another girl, placed there alone.
Feeling a pain of something grasping my heart, I couldn’t help but avert my eyes. I believe Anjo experienced a similar thing. The strong emotion wave from our backs hit us through air. It seemed I had become sort of companions with Anjo.
There was no humbleness of remembering the deceased embodied in the action of closing the hands and ringing the bell. It was all simple and habitual. Menma’s mother brought them out, the only sense in her being the constant supervision over us.
“Um, I actually have something to give you two,” she said, then smiling, but her smile was painted apparently with colours of declaring war with us.
“Please hold on for a moment.”
The room she brought us to was an empty orange room. It wasn’t orange because of its wallpaper, nor was it of any furniture, for there was none, not even curtains on the windows; it was because of the setting sun’s glow that shone in every corner of the room.
Affected by these tones, sweat oozed throughout my body—cold sweat, maybe.
This was Menma’s room. I wouldn’t believe this was her room if no one had told me.
Scarcely had I been here that I could have any strong memories of this place, yet I remembered there were all kinds of toys and plushies originally placed in this room.
But in this striking scene, I could not bring myself to remember. My body was hot, yet no sweat really came out.
Anjo and I looked at each other, knowing nothing to do. We only prayed for time to pass faster.
Menma’s mother, having rummaged through the wardrobe for a while, said, “Everything is inside here.”
With that said, she placed a small cardboard box and placed it in the centre of the room.
Probably this was what you call being struck speechless.
In that cardboard box were several photo albums, Menma’s drawings, and some miscellaneous stuff like her reading reflections.
Everything, as I quote from Menma’s mother, that showed Menma’s evidence in this world was stuffed in this small cardboard box.
“Her father said we shouldn’t let her stuff to stick around, “ Menma’s mother continued with her calm smile, “I want to keep this, but it also belongs to you, so I guess it’s better to give it to you.”
Menma’s mother took something out from the box.
Should I call it coincidence? What she took was what we were looking for—our exchange diary.
Anjo and I returned straight to the secret base and reported everything to Popo.
Popo said we had to get everyone to agree before we could start reading, so he sent emails to the others.
“They probably won’t come anyway. We’ll read first.”
“No way. It’s bad luck!”
“How’s this bad luck? Besides…”
Matsuyuki wouldn’t even come. That was what I thought, but…
“Yo, thanks for the effort.”
Matsuyuki and Tsurumi had just arrived to the station, wearing the uniform of the prestigious high school I hate.
“I heard you guys found the exchange diary.”
Despite this being his first appearance after his embarrassing incident, he threw condescending glances at us. I thought of giving him a good luck by pretending to hold on to my laughter, but I let it go.
“Everyone’s here now! Let’s start reading the exchange diary.”
Popo flipped the diary with his big fingers.
Nervousness coursed through the secret base, but unable to read the air, Popo continued his own business.
On the first page of the diary were crowded scribbles. Popo commenced with a joyful tone, “Oh! Anaru’s the first one hitting the bat!”
“Don’t put it in such a weird way!”
“What is this? I don’t get you. Even if there are painful things in my life, I still want to celebrate on my birthday, because…”
Fluttered, Anjo quickly flipped to the next page.
“What do you mean?”
“Th-There’s nothing there! Now read Menma’s!”
Anjo fingered the diary in a flurry. Not long, Menma’s iconic round letters appeared.
They were what Menma wrote.
Everyone was drawn in by Menma’s letters before they had even read what was on it, for the illusion that Menma had leaped through time and space was so strong in those letters.
Even I who had recently been used to Menma’s presence was thrown off.
“Yes! It was fun today playing in the secret base.”
Anjo read aloud the lines Menma wrote.
“We went digging taros today. It was interesting.”
“What she wrote was not entirely stupid, but it wasn’t anything worth reading.”
Anjo continued reading the lines Menma wrote on the diary in the following days, but…
“Everything is fun or interesting as long as those lines go.”
“She isn’t really good at writing.”
The difference of we looked at the diary now compared to the past ripped us of our strength. I bet we treated this diary routine really serious back then.
“Okay, this is a bit different! When I played with everybody today, I fell down. It hurt.”
“It’s different here as well? Let’s go to hospital today to visit Jintan’s mother…”
“Visiting her, uh?”
“Yeah, we used to meet together for the visit.”
We did visit my mum when her condition wasn’t that bad.
I don’t even have to mention how worried I was.
But I had no particular feeling towards death in those days. Hospital was only a place to go, an extra spot to play apart from the nearby playing ground. And there was a desolate pig farm close to the hospital that we could go to. We would cry to those pigs, “So big!” “It stinks!” “Wugh…” and the like. It was a good time for me.
My mother always greeted us smiling. My mother’s condition worsened in only two months, so we had no idea why she had to stay put in the hospital.
“Um, when can Jintan’s mother get out of the hospital?”
On the road back home, Anjo raised this question. It was responded swiftly by Menma’s suggestion, “Why don’t we write letters to the gods? We can ask them to make Jintan’s mother better!”
“Writing letters to gods?”
It was a weird suggestion, but we agreed. When we were small, we just attribute these unexplainable and faraway matters to the territory of gods.
“But how do we send them?”
While everyone was paining their heads, Popo stood up and said, “Jintan, use that!”
He pointed to a poster on an old display board for the annual dragon fireworks ceremony in this town. These fireworks weren’t the flowery beautiful types but the old traditional types that fire out a massive amount of paper-made snowflakes.
“Hm! Okay, I remember.”
On a whim, I snatched the diary from Popo and flipped through it.
“Everyone decided to make fireworks. It’ll be difficult, but I’ll work hard.”
“I can remember too. We thought of writing letters to gods and sending them by throwing them into fireworks directed to the gods!”
Upon hearing Tsurumi’s words, Popo jumped up.
“Oh! Wonderful! Hey, Jintan! I think this is it! This is Menma’s wish!”
“Right! We thought of doing that, but we couldn’t make it. Yadomi…”
They were all made for my mother.
Looking at the line ‘It’ll be difficult, but I’ll work hard’, I couldn’t help stroking the paper, as if I could feel her warm prayers through my fingers.
If this was what she wished—no, even if this wasn’t. Menma, as well as everyone, embraced such feelings for my mother.
“You guys are sure getting worked up. But sorry for raining the parade, this won’t work.”
I lifted my head abruptly to Matsuyuki’s cold remark.
Matsuyuki, who had been playing around with his smartphone, showed me the phone with a website on it. On it was information on using fireworks and the like.
“Here. Read it. Fireworks belong the category of explosives and can only be used by those over eighteen with a national license.”
“Of course. We might get by if we’re going to have toy fireworks, but even those need licenses.”
Dejected, Popo threw himself on the floor.
“It makes sense though. You would need a license to use fireworks…”
“What’s up on your mind, Yadomi?”
“If this is really Menma’s wish, I contend to make it come true.”
I said them on a whim.
I could feel eyes landing on me, my cheeks heating up.
“Um…no…how do I put it. I know it’s technically impossible, but I…”
When I tried to hide my embarrassment in a panic, Popo came in, his head straight and forward, “So that’s what it means!”
“What do you mean? You’re not making sense.”
“I found this half a year ago while cleaning things up.”
Popo rummaged through some pile in the room and lifted a ruffled piece of rough paper.
“Here, this is it!”
“The instructions on how to make a rocket firework?”
We rolled out the paper. On it were badly-written, crowded characters and illustrations on the rocket firework. Matsuyuki said with a frown, “Are you serious?”
Tsurumi readjusted her glasses and perused it.
“Gather a large amount of fireworks, extract the explosive contents and then converge them back together...”
“Stuffing them into the toilet paper roll → impossible because it will burn…okay, this person is being captain obvious.”
“Nasty. Ideas kids come up with are nasty.”
While we entertained ourselves with the ridiculous ideas on the paper, Matsuyuki murmured, “Well, we sure thought that would work before.”
“Yeah. I thought that would let those fireworks fly.”
Drawn on the paper was a crooked rocket.
It looked as huge as a real one, though its shape not even close to one.
Still, it appeared more triumphant than the fireworks used in the festival. It looked it was capable of shooting through the clouds into the sky, to where the gods resided…well, at least that was what we had once believed.
“Highschoolers sounded like omnipotent people to us back then.”
“Yeah, it sounded as if they were capable of almost everything.”
We felt beaten by our childhood innocent hopes; everyone remained silent, staring at the illustration on the paper.
Popo was the one who broke silence.
“Let’s do this!”
“I know an old man from my workplace who lets off fireworks in the festival. I can ask him!”
Popo’s suggestion revitalised the atmosphere.
“Wait. Yadomi, I think it’s better if you first ask Menma about this.”
Matsuyuki’s comment made the atmosphere sultry again.
“Asking Menam about this?”
“Yeah. Even if we were able to have a professional to help us and let out real fireworks, it would only be a waste of energy if this wasn’t that Menma’s wish you’re talking about.”
Matsuyuki showed a malicious smile.
I didn’t know how to answer him. I didn’t want myself or him to get hurt if I say something wrong.
But now that I had read the words written by Menma when she was small and understood her feelings, I decided not to think too much.
“Let’s go to Menma’s place next time, then.”
“Menma have long wanted to see everyone. She’s lonely.”
No one made an immediate answer.
After a while, Popo cheerfully said “You’re right!” Although everyone had reached a consensus on ‘the past Menma’, no one could agree on a way to treat ‘the present Menma’.
“I don’t mind going with you to Yadomi’s place.”
Hearing Chiriko’s offer, Matsuyuki couldn’t help looking down. They were walking along the small slope from the secret base. Unlike the summer, the buzzing sounds of early autumn bugs would cover the sounds of the flowing river.
“It’s fine to go and play at a friend’s house even if the guardian isn’t around.”
“By friend you mean Yadomi?”
Matsuyuki was poked at a weak spot, and though he wanted to rebuke, his disarrayed thoughts gave him no strength to do so.
Matsuyuki just remained silent, and Chiriko pursued no further.
The melancholic woods in the night were filled with various memories. The infinity sign drawn in the night sky during the BBQ, for one, had been deeply engraved in Matsuyuki’s heart.
It was the sign of the super peace busters, the proof that they were forever friends.
Matsuyuki was no longer doubtful of Meiko’s presence.
He could feel the infinity sign existing in the long line of the white dress. One day he would be led, by his strong stubbornness, to the ‘real Menma’.
He was sure this would happen.
That was why he was afraid of going to Jinta’s house.
If he came too close to Meiko, probably the next one to follow Meiko’s disappearance was himself—his intuitions told him.
Right after arriving home, Naruko flew herself below her blankets.
She regretted she had left the exchange diary at the secret base, but she couldn’t propose to them that she would take care of the diary.
Originally, she had completely forgotten what she had written on that diary, but when she saw a glimpse of that page, all of her memories were brought back from the grave.
“Even if there are painful things in my life, I still want to celebrate on my birthday.”
…because birthday cakes are delicious.
They always give me warmth and satisfaction.
The inventor of cakes must have been a great person.
He must have been a nice person.
It was a weird entry for a diary, but it was something that demanded a lot of her determination to write. It was a love letter that hid strong will.
Reading those lines vertically—it was something she learnt from a shoujo manga.
If you pick up the first letter from each line in that diary entry, you would end up with “I love Jintan.”
She wrote it, thinking that it would be great if Jintan would notice it, but it ended up being completely ignored.
She first thought no one in the secret base had discovered, but Chiriko’s wicked smile at her gave her an impression she had known.
I really want to teach my childhood self a lesson. How could I have fallen in love with that social recluse?
Whenever Naruko thought of Jinta, she would be yapping social recluse again and again as if it was a spell.
If she didn’t do this, however, her past feelings would come back to her—she feared this.
Just why did this happen?!
The stuff she had used to attract Jinta’s attention, including dying her hair, painting her fingernails, had somehow become tools to alienise herself from him.
Yadomi might hate me, because I don’t even like how I am now. So it might have been all the better to stay the same.
Her phone below her bed was ringing.
On the screen was her high school friends. She didn’t really enjoy their constant messages, but she still picked up the phone so she wouldn’t think too much about Jinta.
“Hey, what’s up?”
Karaoke music and boisterous voices came from the other end of the phone. Today was a party, but Naruko didn’t feel like joining.
“Hey, Hiroshi is already here waiting. You can come anytime now.”
“Eh? I told you I’m not coming.”
At this moment, a coarse “Drag her in!” line came from some rude man afar. It certainly was scary.
Probably to suppress what was said, her friend lowered her voice.
“Say, Naruko, aren’t you being a bit left out recently?”
“If you overdo it, you’d get hated. You have to show up from time to time. I say you should come.”
Her friend’s voice penetrated her body.
After ending the call, Naruko was still at a loss. When she was talking with Jinta and other members at the secret base, she didn’t need to care how others would think of her or what would happen. She could speak her heart.
But this was impossible with her new friends.
She could never face them with her real self, for the self she showed was forged difficultly.
Naruko heaved a sigh and opened the wardrobe. Although it was past eight, she still had to show up at the party.
It was all to make herself a person Yadomi would definitely hate.