The moment was all; the moment was enough.
Virginia Woolf, The Waves.
Mutou spent a few moments fiddling with his tie, before giving up on getting it straight, and pulling the thing off in frustration. His hands were shaking too much anyway, and nearly everyone had left the café, so he didn’t have to keep up appearances anymore. He had tried to temper his expectations, he did every year, but the ritual never became easier. Whether out of obligation, or because deep down the good outweighed the bad, he kept coming to the Shanghai at the same time and day every year. But today was particularly bad.
Nomiya had already left, his mood seemingly unaltered by the news.
Maybe it came with the business.
Maybe it was part of some cosmic plan he didn’t believe in.
Maybe it was the weight of the past, and the permanent impermanence of the future on either side of him. Whatever it was, it hurt. It really hurt; it hurt more than usual.
With his tie now scrunched up and in his jacket pocket, and the bill paid generously by the deputy head, Mutou made his way outside. His phone vibrated, and in the dark outside the Shanghai, it light up his face.
[It never gets easier.] It read.
[It never does.] He replied.
His phone vibrated again, but this time he let it go, and tucked it back into his pocket. Mindless conversation wasn’t really on the agenda tonight; nor was the mindful kind.
It was warmer than usual, and it being such a nice night was frustrating. It’s meant to rain at times like this. Rain. Thunder. Lightning. For a minute, he imagined them all.
It should be colder for this time of the year, he thought to himself, as he began the slow climb towards Yamaku. But it wasn’t cold, it was really warm. Still, he pulled his jacket tight across his chest.
At least there was a pleasant breeze; a breeze that kept him from sweating too much from the exercise. He could have driven up, but that didn’t feel right somehow. The walk would do him good. Right?
He’d said the same thing to her once.
She was a good kid.
Of course, there were positives from tonight. Nakai was doing well for himself, but then, they kept up regularly anyway. That shy girl Nakai had dated, she was also accomplished enough... something to do with marketing.
Then there was Kapur. That girl had talent and passion, but it wasn’t until the creation of the science club that she’d really come into her element. Now she’d written my accomplished academic work than Mutou and Nakai combined, the clever girl.
These were things Mutou had already known, however. The success stories of Yamaku academy.
It felt a bit colder when he reached the gates to the school, but he couldn’t work out if that was the sweat beginning to form on his back, or if it was merely in his head. Now that he’d gotten what he wanted, it wasn’t that important – and the doors to the school entrance opened with a groan. Thankfully, the night staff wouldn’t be locking up for a few more hours.
There was an image repeatedly dancing around Mutou’s mind. The image of a limp body twisting, north, north-east, north, north-east, and the image of toppled stool, like a paint can spilling everywhere. It was such an awful way to go.
There were only so many things Yamaku taught you to expect.
He gave a polite nod to the janitor as he passed towards the staircase, and took the three flights to his homeroom. The door was locked, and a bit stiff to open, but as always it gave way after a bit of finicking. It didn’t really matter though; he wasn’t in a rush.
After clearing a few stacks of paper from his desk, he opened the drawer and pulled out his trusty hip flask. In the bottom cupboard of the desk, he had a fairly nice tumbler, though it was due a clean. With both in hand, he exited back into the hallway, and down the first set of stairs to the second level.
He followed the corridor, thankful it was empty, until he reached the end, where a huge canvas painting was hanging on a large column before the library. It was once this awful harrowing picture of a… man screaming? He still didn’t know what it used to be.
The replacement, now seven years old, was still fairly abstract but far more gorgeous. It was a Sakura tree, with petals falling above a festival scene, and what looked like paper-cut-out men dancing. There was something ultimately beautiful and tranquil about the piece, and its sheer size allowed it to entirely capture the atmosphere surrounding it; not that Mutou was an art buff.
It had been painted on a thick canvas, and the delicate brush strokes all poured into one-another, as though they had been delicately pressed each time so that every line seems to go on forever. Everything in the painting was connected. There were roots at the bottom of the canvas, and in the far corner, the name, Suzuki
. It was so small that most students wouldn’t ever know it was there.
He opened the flask, and poured a generous helping of the deep amber liquid into his tumbler glass.
After a brief moment, he took a long swig from the glass and closed his eyes.
Mutou saw the students who looked at the canvas every day when they walked from their classrooms to the library, or their various club rooms. Few ever stopped to consider the painting, to consider what it might have meant, to consider its' painter.
Few saw the painted world of Suzu Suzuki, and even those who knew her seemed to feel lost and confused after seeing it. Mutou thought he might be the only one in the whole world who saw the painting for what it was. Maybe he would be the only one ever.
In the dark and lonely corridor, he poured himself another whiskey, and thought about the world.
But he thought, with a toast to the Sakura tree.
“I know things are tough right now,” Mutou whispered, awkwardly scratching the back of his head. “Everyone learns to cope in their own way, but everyone does
It was only the two of them in class 3-3, but still, Mutou felt the need to whisper. The girl sat before him was quiet at the best of times, but with only the two of them in the room, everything felt louder, and harsher.
Suzu yawned, and buried her head deeper into her arms.
“I know, I just feel helpless,” she explained. “I am trying to keep up, it’s just stressful.”
Mutou leaned back and began to stroke his chin. He coughed to clear his throat, and began speaking a little louder.
“I know you are. I know it is. It’s a difficult time of your life,” he explained, feeling particularly old now. “Why don’t you join the Science club, Nakai has proven perhaps a better teacher than me.”
His joke lightened the mood a little, and Suzu smiled at him, though her head was still tucked into her arms.
“I’ll try, but I think it’s more than that.”
“Hmm?” Mutou asked, and wordlessly, the two began to pack up their belongings in order to leave. The class had finished quite some time ago anyway.
“It’s like I feel this… restlessness,” she explained, and Mutou slowly nodded. The pair made their way out into the hallway, and down the first set of stairs whilst both thought of what to say next.
“Whilst I’m happy to give you my own advice, and listen to you, there are counselling sessions provided by the school, should you need them?” He asked and explained. Something inside him already knew that Suzu Suzuki was the not the kind of person who needed therapy though. She wasn’t sad, he thought. She was lost. He could empathise with that. In fact, something in her eyes made him feel like he was looking back into his own.
“Thank you, but I think I just wanted to vent a bit,” Suzu replied. They stopped on the second floor and looked down the hall. He was heading towards the staff room, and, coincidentally, she was heading to the library.
“That’s… good, really.” He thought for a second as they continued down the hallway. “Would you like to know what I do when I feel restless?”
They reached the centre column, where an ugly canvas of a face loomed over them. Suzu looked up at Mutou, searching for answers, maybe. She nodded.
“I go for a walk. I know that for your condition that can be dangerous, but perhaps with a friend you could clear your head. There’s a lot of majesty in the world around us, a lot of beauty. You should find something beautiful.” He couldn’t help but smile.
When he was young, he would walk the village streets to unwind, staring at the sky, dreaming of one day swimming between the stars. He thought about the little steam that ran beside his house, where he would delicately pick up beautiful beetles, each a different colour. He thought about the melding colours everywhere around him as a boy, and once again his eyes met the short bluish haired girl before him.
“Do you have something like that?” he asked, and Suzu pondered this strange advice for a moment. She was willing to try though; she was always willing to try.
“Yes, I think so. There’s this tree, back home.”
“I don’t know what you believe in Suzuki, but I think sometimes all it takes is the beautiful to make you realise that there is meaning in the universe,” he was looking a bit past her now. “Whether you take meaning from it, or make meaning within it.”
After a moment pause, he continued.
“We all get restless sometimes, but we get back on track. I promise.” He said with finality. It was a little unlike him to think so…nebulously. Still, Suzuku didn’t seem to mind.
She smiled at him, in the dim light of the hallway.
“Okay,” she said.
“Okay,” he said back.
Then, with a bow, they went their separate ways.