New Game Plus
Hi, I’m Iwanako Daidouji, and I’m here because I can’t confess to a boy without almost dying from a severe heart attack.
Or how about:
It’s nice to meet you all; I’m Iwanako Daidouji and this is the greatest catastrophe of my entire life.
No, that’s no good. Maybe this:
How do you do? I’m Iwanako Daidouji, and I could drop dead any day now, so if you make friends with me, there’s no long-term commitment! I’m also quite talented at ikebana...
“Er, I’d rather not introduce myself, actually,” I say demurely.
Mutou nods. “I understand; it’s no problem. Well, then, if you’ll just come with me…”
I stare at his back for a moment, sighing quietly, then follow along, retrieving a compact from my bag to contemplate my reflection as we both trudge methodically up the stairs, in my case from my oppressive melancholy, and in his because trudging just seems to be his preferred way of getting someplace.
I just saw my reflection a few minutes ago, but focusing on something other than where I’m going helps me combat my anxieties. Even I can see the exhaustion and sadness in my silver eyes, and I make a few attempts at changing my expression to appear more cool and controlled.
And then I’m struck with a question: What does it matter? Should I even care
about what my classmates are going to see in me? Why? So that I can make a new circle of friends with whom to waste my time gossiping? Except that these
friends are on dialysis or motorized wheelchairs? That’s
going to fill the void my condition left in me?
I don’t have a good answer by the time Mutou begins to open the door to classroom 3-3. I hastily place the compact back in my bag and put my agonizing on hold.
Mutou stares inside the classroom for a moment, regarding it with a bemused expression and checking his watch. “Oh, there’s still ten minutes before class starts,” he says, looking a little surprised. “You can just come in and take a seat until we’re ready to begin, if you’d like.”
He walks towards his desk at the head of the room, and I follow him in. It’s a well-lit room, like most classrooms, and the far wall has two large fenestrated windows with a nice view of the school grounds. Other than the fact that the floor is hardwood paneling instead of linoleum tiles, which is admittedly nice, there’s nothing remarkable or even interesting about the classroom itself.
Most of the desks are still empty. Only five or six students are already in the classroom. “Where should I sit?”
Mutou slackly gestures towards the far wall of the room. “Your desk is in the middle row, right next to the window. Feel free to put your belongings down.”
A window seat… That’s something to be thankful for, at least. I thank him and seat myself at my desk, resting my hands atop my bag. There’s only one student sitting nearby, the girl in the desk in front of me, and she twists around to face me.
“New student, huh?”
I glance upwards, meeting her eyes. “Er… yes,” I say softly. “My name is Iwanako Daidouji.”
She smiles. “I’m Molly Kapur. Welcome to Yamaku.”
Her skin is ecru in color, and from her facial features and name it seems apparent that she’s foreign, ethnically if not nationally. She doesn’t seem to have an accent though. There’s surely a story behind that, but I won’t get to hear it today, if ever.
“Thanks,” I say, smiling back, but I know it doesn’t reach my eyes. I realize suddenly with a bit of a shock that this girl, Molly, is the first person my age I’ve spoken to since… Well, she won’t realize it, but she’s inadvertently etched herself into what is sure to be an auspicious memory of mine.
“First day jitters? You’ve got this faraway look in your eyes…”
“N, nothing like that,” I reply. “It’s just… been a while since I was in a classroom.”
The gravity of what I’m saying only hits me after I finish speaking. I felt like the implication was vague, but her expression softens at my comment and I can see the revelation in her eyes.
There’s an awkward pause in the conversation before she continues. “Well—”
“Woohoo, new student~!”
A voice like the synthesis of a piccolo and a foghorn. I’m so startled, I nearly jump out of my seat. Reflexively turning to face the owner of the voice, I almost can’t believe what I see.
The girl in front of me, her fists triumphantly on her hips like she’s presiding over some sort of dynastic genocide, has hair as pink as a carnation, styled in large ringlets like a British noblewoman. Before I can even say anything, she suddenly begins gesticulating with her arms so wildly that I flinch from the fear of an assault.
“So you’re really the new student?” The girl says, her hands going every which way as she bellows out the words. “Well, yeah, she must be, right? I guess we weren’t getting a boy after all.”
What? She’s talking to herself? What?
I’m so baffled, so shocked, that I don’t realize I’ve been leaning away from her in horror until the back of my head gently bumps against the far wall. Who is this person…?! Is she crazy? Do I have to sit next to her?
I glance over at Molly, but she’s just giving me a sympathetic expression. She opens her mouth to say something, but it’s immediately drowned out by the human non sequitur standing over me.
“Waha~! Welcome to Yamaku Academy!” Her hands continue to flail wildly. “I’m Misha! We’ll be sitting right next to each other!”
“This is Shicchan, the class representative! She says ‘it’s nice to meet you!’”
‘Misha’ shifts slightly and for the first time I notice that she’s standing with another girl, roughly the same height as her (and quite a few centimeters taller than me.) The bespectacled girl has short, dark hair with delicate, almost elfin features. She has an intense, scrutinizing gaze, one that’s hard to ignore; I notice it quickly and covertly falling upon my hair, my makeup, my jewelry… Finally she stops and meets my eyes, shooting me an enigmatic smile.
I am so confused.
“Ah… It’s nice to meet you, too,” I say, for the lack of any better idea. “My name is Iwanako.”
Now it’s this girl’s— ‘Shicchan’s’ turn to flail her hands, and it is only from the diligence with which Misha reads the other girl’s gestures that I'm able to figure out, with my mind addled as it is, that what they're doing is speaking sign language. I didn’t even know we’d have
any deaf students in our class. It would have been courteous for somebody to mention that at some point…
“Good morning, everyone; we’re going to get started,” Mutou says from the front of the room. I had forgotten he was still here. “Today, we have a new student.”
He turns to make eye contact with me. “Would you please come to the front for a moment?”
Oh, right, I’d forgotten about the class introduction. Showtime, I suppose. Nodding respectfully, I stand up and begin to head over to the teacher’s desk. I brush past Misha as I walk– she smells as pink as she looks, like a freshly opened pack of bubblegum.
I take my place standing awkwardly next to Mutou. From the front of the room, I realize that the entire classroom has filled up while I was struggling through the encounter with the apparent class representative and her pink friend. There’s not even twenty students in the classroom, but all their eyes are upon me, and the attention makes me feel extremely uncomfortable. That’s a new development; I would have felt shy, but not uncomfortable, prior to my experience in the hospital.
Determined not to shrivel under the spotlight, I try to distract myself by glancing over some of my new classmates, just as they’re glancing over me. To my relief, and mild surprise, they don’t look too different from my old class. It was probably silly of me to have gotten myself worked up over the prospect of girls missing their faces. No dialysis machines either, thankfully. Not even a wheelchair.
At first I feel a sense of incredulity that any of these students actually have anything wrong with them, other than Shicchan, but then I notice a dusky-skinned girl in the front row missing her left hand. No, these students have problems like mine, but they’re more subtle than I expected.
Am I as subtle as they are? I suppose I must be; my scar is completely concealed, but it doesn’t feel that way at all. I feel like my infirmity radiates off of me like a beacon.
Absurdly, as my gaze drifts across the students in the back row, one of them, a tall, dark-haired girl, covers her face with her hands, ostensibly to prevent me from looking at her. Silly as that is, I can’t help but relate—somehow it’s like looking into a very skittish mirror.
As I look away from her, I can’t help but notice that some of the boys in the center row are leering at me. A sandy-haired guy in the center row, particularly, with an ugly hat and a bandage on his ear. The way he seems to be undressing me with his eyes makes me feel even more uncomfortable than before, and I quickly decide I’m done visually appraising my classmates. I shouldn’t even have started.
Mutou has been trailing on, talking a lot but ultimately saying very little. “Please welcome our newest classmate,” he finally says, clapping his hands. The rest of the class follows along and I feel a rush of embarrassment at the gesture.
Why are you applauding me?
I want to ask. Don’t applaud me. I’m not going to do anything worthy of it.
After the clapping subsides, silence washes over the room, and everybody seems to be waiting for somebody to do something.
I realize all the eyes are still on me. What, they were actually expecting me to give an introduction? I told Mutou I didn’t want to give one, and I truly don’t, but I feel a voiceless sense of peer pressure, and finally crumple against it.
“Ah, I’m… Iwanako Daidouji,” I offer, weakly.
The class begins to look at me in apparent consternation, and for a moment I don’t know what I did wrong.
“You’ll want to speak up a bit,” the teacher offers.
I can feel myself redden. It’s been so long since I’ve had to speak to a whole room like this that I’ve forgotten how my own voice sounds. I was always soft-spoken; more so now, after four months of not having much to say.
“Iwanako Daidouji,” I say, speaking louder. My voice sounds squeaky and shaky to me, but at least it’s audible. “I’m from Shibuya.”
I decide to leave it at that. I don’t know what else there is to be said.
More silence; I’m getting a lot of blank, glassy-eyed expressions. Some people are giving me puzzled looks. One girl in the front row is literally asleep.
Perhaps there’s still time for me to track Mother down and head back to Tokyo with her? This was a nice little experiment.
Mutou, quickly realizing I’m not an especially loquacious girl, finally picks up from there and speaks a handful of platitudes about being welcoming and getting along. The students glance back to him and I notice Misha continuing to speak sign language in the middle row. I still don’t know what to think of her. Well, frankly I think she’s insane, but hopefully she’s something other than that.
As I’m pondering if her strange hairstyle isn’t some regrettable new fashion trend I missed during my long hospitalization, Mutou finishes speaking and the classroom starts applauding again.
I really don’t care for it. Quit it,
is what I’d say, if I had no self-control and wanted to push away the entire class on the first day of school.
Mutou turns to me, and the other students, realizing he’s not addressing them for a moment, go back to engaging each other in a low, ambient hum of conversation.
“Today we’re doing some group work, so you’ll have an opportunity to talk to some of the other students. Is that alright?”
“Uh… sure,” I stammer.
“You can go ahead and work with Hakamichi, the class representative. Shizune Hakamichi. You already met her, I believe. She can help you get up to speed on the coursework. And feel free to ask her any questions you might have about the school. Who else would be able to do that better, right?”
…Actually, I was the class rep our first year, but it’s not an experience I’d want to repeat. I can’t remember... How did I even get that position? I don’t think it made me any more of an expert on the school than anybody else, but there’s no point to arguing this.
In fact, Mutou has already walked away. Misha waves me back over as I sigh resignedly and return to my seat.
Her enormous gold eyes peer at me. For some reason, she reminds me of a tanuki.
“So… I guess we’re going to work together,” I say, finally.
“We sure are~! I’m really excited!” She practically shouts when she speaks, and this time I really do
jump. Her voice is so loud that, by comparison, I’m not even sure if I’ve said anything yet. Her face breaks out into a grin and, inexplicably, the sight of her cheerful expression is almost suffocating.
The two girls start signing something to each other, and I stare at them curiously. Though neither of them is actually speaking, I feel like I can’t get a word in edgewise. For her part, Molly has already turned to work with the other two students in the row ahead of us, and I can’t seem to get her attention.
She stops signing for a moment and turns to me. “Mm-hmm?”
“Shizune… is… deaf? And you translate?”
Misha’s signing as I speak and I realize that my question is answered before I even finish asking it. A part of me feels a sudden pang of regret at the insensitivity of the question, but if these
two are about to chastise me for an absence of tact, that’s quite a double-standard.
Misha just keeps grinning, though. “Of course, Iwacchan! Why do you think we’re signing to each other? Were you confused? I’m sorry! Wahaha~!”
Her laughter is like wind chimes flying through a plate glass window. I just can’t get over how much energy she seems to have.
Shizune, for her part, just regards me with a blank expression. I have no idea what she thinks about me, but I’m inclined to think she’s not as thrilled with me as Misha is.
Hey, wait. “Did you call me Iwacchan?”
Misha nods emphatically. “Sure, why not? You seem like a Iwacchan to me!”
I sigh again. Iwacchan... I’m not fond of that nickname, but if it makes Misha happy it’s not worth it to press the issue. As long as it doesn’t catch on with anybody else, I don’t care.
Suddenly Mutou comes around to place the assignments on our desks, and as I gingerly pick mine up to inspect it, I’m temporarily distracted from my two new keepers by the dawning realization that I know absolutely nothing about any of the material in this assignment. I can’t even remember what some of the words
I glance at Hakamichi to say something about it, but she and Misha are again preoccupied speaking to each other. I try to refocus on pondering the assignment, but there’s something eye-catching about the frantic, somatic conversation my new classmates are having, and I begin to stare.
I’ve only ever met a deaf person one other time in my life. It was about a year and a half ago. I was at the train station, getting Lipovitan from a machine, when a stocky, middle-aged salaryman walked up to me and waved a 5000-yen note in my face. I couldn’t figure out what he was asking me for, and he only answered my questions with a disquieting groaning sound, so, vexed, I turned away briskly and darted off. It was only later, as I was boarding the train, that I realized that he was just a deaf man asking me for change. I felt pretty bad about that for a while.
Maybe I should have anticipated that I’d have deaf classmates. I probably could have learned at least the basic greetings in sign before coming here…But I guess it doesn’t really matter if Misha’s always going to translate.
“Hakamichi,” I say, interrupting their voiceless conversation, “I’m not familiar with any of this content.” I hold up the paper in my hand for emphasis. “I don’t think I’m going to be much help on this assignment.”
The two girls briefly stop signing for a moment to regard me curiously. There’s something in the class rep’s eyes that makes me wary, but then she smiles confidently and begins signing rapidly. Misha just grins again.
“Haha~! You shouldn’t get worked up over that
, Iwacchan! It’s your first day!” she chirps. “You’ll have plenty of time to study later. Today, just worry about getting used to the school! Shicchan says you should ask her any questions you have.”
Hakamichi just smiles at me. There’s a sort of serene fierceness in it, but then it slackens and she continues to sign.
“So how do you like the school so far? Have you gotten a chance to look around much yet?”
To be honest, I haven’t formed much of an opinion. I guess I could have taken more time to stop and smell the proverbial roses, but I’ve just been so self-involved… The school itself didn’t matter, so much as that it was new
and it was mine
. Now that I’m actually
sitting at a desk in a classroom, speaking to my new classmates, it’s strange to be focusing on reality
and not just nebulous ideas.
“It’s… nice. It’s different.”
“Hahaha~! Nothing like Shibuya, huh?”
“I went to school further away, but no, it’s nothing like there, either.”
Misha just giggles. Hakamichi regards me with a curious expression. There really is something about her gaze that feels as though it’s coming from behind a one-way mirror.
Actually, I don’t want to talk about the past anymore. “So, ah, the assignment?”
“Oh, right! We need to do that! Especially because you said you needed help with it…”
Hakamichi signs something, and Misha nods. “Shicchan says ‘don’t worry, we’ll still get this finished before the end of class.’ So just try to help out wherever!”
“Thanks, class rep.”
“Waha~! Iwacchan, there’s no need to be so formal! Just call her ‘Shicchan!’”
Really? I glance over to Hakamichi, but her expression is too vague to read. Then she rolls her eyes and signs to Misha.
“…Oh. Or ‘Shizune’ is fine too, she says.”
I nod, and the three of us get to work. Or, I should say, the two of them get to work, while I frantically flip through the textbook in a halfhearted and vain effort to get some kind of grasp on the knowledge base I’m apparently supposed to have to do this assignment.
Shizune and Misha were nonchalant about my warning that I was completely inept at this subject, but after twenty minutes the full extent of my uselessness seems to dawn on them, and Shizune occasionally glances my way with a nonplussed expression.
Sorry, I’m not actually as indolent as you probably think I am
, is what I would say to her, if I knew how to sign.
For his part, Mutou doesn’t seem to realize I’m sitting here like a fool, not doing anything. I suppose I could flag him over and tell him that I need additional instruction, but for some reason that feels like it would be disrespectful to Shizune and Misha. At the same time, I don’t feel right asking them
to drop what they’re doing and get me up to speed, either.
And, on some level, I realize these are just excuses to cover the fact that on some level, I just don’t care.
Another ten minutes into the assignment, Shizune looks me in the eyes and pushes her glasses to the bridge of her nose. Her eyes are a deep, dark, blue, and something about them reminds me of my father, actually, whenever I disappointed him as a child.
She signs to me and the words come out of Misha’s mouth. “Iwacchan, what do you
I blink at Shizune. “Beg your pardon?”
“About the problem.”
I blink again, and stare down at the assignment. “The problem… Er, this problem here?”
Shizune furrows her brow and signs at me more… kinetically, for the lack of a better word, then she points at a portion of the page.
“No, Iwacchan, we solved that problem already. We’re on this
one now. You need to pay attention!” Misha’s amused voice doesn’t transmit Shizune’s annoyance, but I can figure it out easily enough.
Feeling the color rising to my cheeks, I glance back at Shizune. “I… I’m sorry, I said I wasn’t good at this subject, and I was trying to catch up…”
“No excuses, Iwacchan! I can’t know you need help unless you say
something! We could have walked you through the problems, we could have asked Mutou over to help you, anything would be better than you just sitting there like a lump! You’ve been staring at the same page of that textbook for half an hour! What? Really, Shicchan? I thought we said it wasn’t a big deal?”
They start to proceed into another silent conversation, but I interject. “I’m sorry… I guess I’m just a little overwhelmed with everything, still…”
Misha translates my words and Shizune rolls her eyes. “Forget… Don’t worry about it, Iwacchan. We’re almost done with the assignment anyway! Just make sure you’re ready tomorrow!”
Misha smiles at me, not the manic grin she was giving me before but a softer smile, seemingly intended to reassure me. Shizune, for her part, isn’t even looking at me anymore, focused on the remainder of the assignment.
I return to staring at the textbook, but after a few minutes I look up and realize they’ve finished all the exercises. I contributed absolutely nothing. I was just a hanger-on.
Despite my indignation, I feel a sense of shame, which only worsens when Shizune shoots me an unmistakable glare. She doesn’t say anything, though, and turns away, leaving me feeling as though I’ve failed some sort of test. I stare at the back of her head for a moment, speechless.
And yet, I feel pretty annoyed with Hakamichi, too. I told
her that I wasn’t going to be any help, and she
said that wasn’t a problem, but after seeing me unwilling to fully dedicate myself to the assignment a few hours into my first day, whatever enthusiasm she might have had about a having a new classmate seems to have quickly petered out. What would she have had me do?
What a joke... Not even a few hours into Day One, and I’ve already succeeded in alienating one of my classmates, though apparently she alienates quite easily. At least Misha, for her part, seems peacefully oblivious to Shizune’s stern disapproval of me, though I’m not sure how much of a consolation that is.
I’m still contemplating what on earth just happened when the clock tower bells start to ring, indicating the end of class. Shizune wastes no time in moving toward the door, but Misha smiles and beckons me to follow. I guess it’s time to eat, though food is the last thing on my mind right now.
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