Sorry for the lack of updates this past week and a half. Took a week off for vacation. Anyhow, I'm back now. Enjoy!
Scene 15: Near-Life Experience
I slog through the rest of the afternoon, drained of what little energy I had earlier. Misha gives me a few concerned looks during English class; I guess I wear my worry and fatigue a little too close to the surface. She doesn't say anything, though, which is good. I don't really feel like talking, even if it is in the form of passing notes.
The day ends, and I find myself in my room, keeping the company of my bare walls and spartan furniture. Studying is slow going as well; the fluorescent light above me keeps flickering, making a soft buzzing noise each time its light fades. It's been irritating me for a few days. I wonder how you go about getting that kind of stuff fixed in the dorms.
I'm only distracted by the light for a few seconds, though. My brain decides to rest on the far more pressing issue.
What do I love?
That's the question that keeps weighing on me. It's been racing to the forefront of my mind, preventing me from completing my rather simple math assignment in any decent amount of time.
Not much, according to my room. I've managed to keep it rather neat, which is somewhat of an accomplishment in itself, but it doesn't exactly seem tidy as much as it seems unused. Except for my clothes in the closet, a rumpled set of sheets on the bed, and a small stack of books at the edge of my desk, this room could be unoccupied.
In a way, I suppose it's kind of like me. Except for my books, my slight affinity for science, and my recently acquired running habit, I'm kind of a blank slate.
And my heart. My stupid, defective heart. That's who I am right now. This afternoon's hiccup all but cemented that. I am Hisao Nakai: invalid at large. Could die at any moment.
Nothing else seems to come to mind, though. When you're as fresh from the edge of the grave as I am, I suppose that's to be expected.
I glance down at my math paper, which has been scrunched under my tightly balled fist. Guess I must really be frustrated. I slowly relax my hand and smooth out the wrinkles running through the paper in front of me. Despite a few smudges, it's still salvageable.
Focus, Nakai. Derivatives. That's what you love right now. Chain rule, d/dx, etc. If I'm able to finish a few problems without getting distracted again, I'll consider it a success.
Knock knock knock.
Three impossibly loud raps at the door interrupt my concentration. Dammit, Kenji. Go away. The last thing I want right now is to listen to more of your-
Knock knock knock.
I guess he's not going away. I sigh. Better get this over with.
However, when I open the door, it's not Kenji that greets me, but a frowning Shizune, seemingly without Misha in tow.
She starts to sign something, but apparently realizes Misha isn't there to translate halfway through. She produces a small pad of paper and pen from her bag and quickly scrawls something before thrusting the pad at my chest.
"Mail delivery for Hisao Nakai."
Oh. I guess that explains the rather large satchel over her shoulder. I didn't realize it was the student council's job to deliver mail... or that we even had our mail delivered at all.
Shizune produces two pieces of paper from her bag and nearly throws them at me with the same intensity as before. I fumble with the pen and paper for a bit, eventually dropping the pen and crinkling one of my pieces of mail. Shizune places one of her hands to her mouth in a silent giggle.
I frustratedly toss my mail onto the dresser and retrieve Shizune's pen from the ground.
"Thanks," I write before handing her pad of paper back to her. Shizune's mouth idly twists as she reads my single-word reply. I should probably know how to sign something so simple. However, she simply stuffs the pad back into her bag, gives a quick wave, and starts down the hall in her usual brisk manner.
I shut my door and turn to the two pieces of mail lying on top of the wooden surface next to me. They're both striking, but for different reasons. The first is a large envelope, obviously part of some kind of neon fever dream stationery set. I pick up the envelope and read a single word on the back: "Iwanako". Hm. I wonder what she could be writing me about? It's not like we had anything left to discuss, really. I suppose I did leave without saying goodbye. But then again, so did she.
I'll look at this later. The second piece of mail worries me more than enough to be concerned about Iwanako. It's a small slip of white paper with a single line of red pen spanning its length.
"Hisao - come to my office as soon as you can. Bring your pills. -Nurse"
Uh-oh. Could he possibly know about my heart flutter in the classroom with Kagami this afternoon? Could... would Kagami have told him? I didn't think it was anything serious, but thinking back on it... well, if Emi had been there she would have dragged me to Nurse's office straightaway.
I quickly scoop sixteen orange translucent cylinders from the edge of my desk into a gallon-sized bag. Man, that's a tight fit. I briefly marvel at how empty some of the pill containers have become. Have I really put all of these drugs into my body in less than a month?
I hurry out the door and through the gardens, being careful not to exert myself too much. A few minutes later I knock on the door to Nurse's office.
"Come in!" I hear from behind the wooden barrier. I turn the handle.
"Oh, good, Hisao. Have a seat up there, please. Did you bring your pills?"
I nod and hand my pills over to Nurse, who snatches the bag, opens it, and begins sorting through my medications, studying the labels intently. I make my way over to the examination table and half-jump onto it, seating myself in the middle.
"Hisao, have you had any more irregularities with your heart since last week? Small ones you wouldn't normally come see me for?" Nurse asks, still studying my pills intensely.
I flounder for a few seconds before blurting, "W-well not really. I mean, there was something this afternoon..." I don't know why I feel embarrassed about my condition in front of Nurse any more. Old habits dying a slow death, I guess.
Nurse frowns, turning his gaze from the pills to me. "How serious? Compared to last week?"
"Um, I dunno. It was bad for a few seconds, but I didn't fall over or anything," I say, wondering where his questions could be leading.
"That's not good," he mumbles, turning his attention back to the small container perched between his forefinger and thumb for a second before turning back to face me. "What were you doing this afternoon?"
I instinctively throw my hands up in defense. "I-I..." I stutter, before I realize there's no reason to be defensive. I was just having a conversation, after all. I lower my hands. "I was just talking with a friend. We were having lunch."
"That's even worse," he says, more clearly this time. He stares at the label in front of him for a few more seconds before flicking it vehemently. "A-ha! Got you."
"Nurse? What's going on?"
"Hm?" Nurse asks, as if he'd momentarily forgotten my presence. "Oh, I... well, let's just say there's a student here at Yamaku with a condition not too dissimilar to yours. As a result, they're on a number of the same medications as you are."
"He means me," I hear from a voice on the other side of the curtain. "I'm the one with the bad heart."
Nurse rolls his eyes. "Ms. Katayama, if you refuse to rest, please have at least some respect for doctor-patient confidentiality, here."
"What?" returns the mysterious female voice. Nurse merely shakes his head and lowers his hands.
"Anyway," he continues, "this patient who will remain unnamed
"But you just said my name, so that's out the window," the girl says, interrupting.
"Did I?" Nurse asks to himself, quietly. "Damn."
He clears his throat.
"As I was saying, this particular patient came to me today after suffering a fairly major heart flutter in the middle of... dangerous activities, and-"
"Oh, come on! I was on the roof for a bit, that's all."
"Which may have been fine if you weren't also walking along the edge of the roof and smoking
at the same time," Nurse says, exasperation coming to the forefront of his voice.
"Psh, details," retorts the girl.
Nurse straightens his coat and addresses me once more. "Well, long story short, I discovered a potentially dangerous drug interaction that normally could be easily overlooked. Given the amount of pills people with heart conditions have to take, as well as the relative newness of some of these medications, I'm surprised I happened upon it. I suspected you were at risk as well, and as it turns out, I was right."
I'm a little dumbstruck. My medications could kill me?
"So..." I say, "What do I do?"
"Well, I'm reverting Ms. Katayama back..."—Nurse catches himself—"...I mean mystery patient
back to his or her old regimen. I'm fairly certain I have a small stock of the old pills here around here somewhere. As for you... well, I have to make some calls to make sure that the same pills won't kill you, but until we can get some sort of new regimen worked out, I think the same solution may work for you."
I fidget in my seat for a bit while nurse thumbs the bottle on the desk idly.
"Anyway, I'd like to keep you here for observation for at least a few hours. I'll have some dinner brought here later, but right now I need to make sure you're not going to keel over on the spot. If you will be so kind as to remove your shirt?"
"What about me?" says the voice from the other side of the curtain.
"You stay too, Ms. Katayama. Apparently both of you had close calls today, and I'm not going to risk either of you leaving until I'm sure you're well."
"Ugh, fine. Can I at least get a book or something?"
"We'll discuss that after I'm finished with Nakai- er, I mean, mystery patient on this side of the curtai... dammit. I need a larger office."
Despite his gaffe, Nurse recovers quickly, and pokes and prods at me in his usual manner for several minutes, never muttering more than a "Hm," or an "Ok."
He finally leans back into his chair and sighs. "Well, it appears you're fine for the moment. I noticed a slight murmur in addition to the normal irregularities-"
"Normal irregularities. Hah! That doesn't make any sense."
"Ms. Katayama, please.
" Nurse half-shouts into the curtain.
"Anyhow, I have to go make some phone calls and see about dinner for you two. You'll be ok for a little while without supervision, I think," he says, his gaze darting to the still-closed curtain. "However, I will be right down the hall, so no daring escapes, ok?" I think he's only half-joking. Who is this Katayama girl?
Nurse closes the door behind him gently, already dialing a number on his cell phone as he exits. It doesn't take long for Katayama to speak directly to me from behind the curtain.
"So, Nakai? You decent?"
Before I have a chance to respond, the curtain is whipped aside so quickly I'm surprised it doesn't tear. I whirl around on the examination table to face the now visible figure on the other side of the room, standing where the curtain was.
She's thin. That's the first thing I notice about her; the school uniform seems to hang from her like laundry on a clothesline. It's not an unhealthy-looking thin, though. She doesn't look frail or fragile, just... wisp-like, I suppose. Like she floats everywhere she goes. Her long, lithe fingers twirl around her long, silver braid as she looks me up and down with dark, red eyes. I feel like I'm being scanned with a laser. It's unsettling.
"Hm. Not what I was expecting," she says after a few seconds of silence.
"W-what were you expecting, exactly?" I respond.
She shrugs. "I dunno. I guess someone less good-looking. Maybe with tattoos and a beard, too."
"I'm pretty sure both of those things are against the dress code."
Another shrug. "I guess you're right. So, you've got heart problems too?"
"That's what I'm told," I say. Man, this girl is strange.
"Hypoplastic left heart syndrome. That's me. I was born without a left ventricle, basically." She points at her chest, as if to somehow illustrate her condition with a visual aid. "And you?"
She looks at me and raises her eyebrows, as if expecting me to continue. When I don't, she exhales loudly through her nose and shakes her head. "You don't talk about your condition much, do you?" she asks, seating herself on the examination table opposite mine.
"I guess not. I only found out about it a couple of months ago," I say quietly. I'm not really sure I want to be talking about this.
"Oh, so you're new to this whole thing, then?"
"Yeah, I've only been at Yamaku for a few weeks, actually."
"Hm," she says, lazily gazing at me with her dull, red eyes. "If you didn't catch it already, I'm Rika. Katayama Rika. But call me Rika."
I wait for her to finish her introduction, but apparently that's all she wants to say. Instead, she hops off of the table and strides effortlessly to stand a few feet in front of me.
"So, are you gonna introduce yourself, or what? It's only polite." she asks, apparently tired of waiting.
"Um, I'm Hisao... Nakai."
She gestures to the spot next to me on the examination table and says, "Scoot," waving her hand to the left. I oblige, and she takes a seat next to me. From this distance, I can smell the cigarette smoke embedded in her clothes. I almost gag.
"So, Hisao, how's dying going for you?" she asks nonchalantly.
"Um, sorry?" I balk.
dying, aren't you? Like me? Shorter-than-average lifespan, impending heart attacks, that sort of thing? Doom and gloom and all that jazz?" she asks, still nonchalantly swinging her feet from the edge of the table. It's obvious this stuff doesn't bother her as much as it does me.
"I s-suppose so," I reply sheepishly.
"So how's it going?" she asks, repeating her question.
I ponder my response for a moment. Rika doesn't seem to be the type to beat around the proverbial bush, so I suppose I won't either.
"It sucks," I say, attempting to insert the same amount of flippancy into my response as Rika does.
"Fair enough. I suppose it would for someone so new to all this."
We sit in silence for a few seconds, Rika still aimlessly swinging her feet from the edge of the table, me still reeling from the stink of cigarettes on her person.
"So, how about you?" I ask. "How's the whole dying thing working out for you?"
"Same as it always has," she replies, as if she expected my question. "I've never not
been dying, so I guess I don't really know how it is on the outside. Not that I particularly want to know, anyhow."
"You don't? Why not?"
"I dunno. There's... freedom, I guess, in it. You know?"
"No, I really don't," I say, my skepticism obviously rising to my face. How could sixteen pills a day be considered any sort of freedom? Especially when those pills may end up being the death of you anyhow?
"Hm," she says, placing her chin on her fist. "I suppose you haven't really had your condition that long."
She turns and looks at me, mouth drawn flat. "You know what you should do sometime, Hisao?"
I shake my head. "No. What?"
"You should go up to the roof, and walk along the edge. And look down. At the ground. It really gets your heart going."
I'm sure the quizzical expression hasn't faded from my face. "Isn't that... kind of the opposite of what we're supposed to be doing?"
"Yeah, but that's boring."
"Maybe I like boring," I retort.
"Hisao, you're dying
, for crying out loud. You can't afford to like boring. People who are going to live until they're seventy or eighty... they can like boring. Not us. We don't have the time for it."
I can feel the color drain from my face. Something about what she's saying is resonating with me, and not in a good way. I guess I've never really come to grips with the fact that I probably won't make it to fifty. Hell, a third of my life is already over, probably.
"S-so what do I have time for?" I ask, still attempting to gather myself.
"I dunno. Running as fast as you can for no reason other than to do it. Skipping class to walk along the roof. Smoking. Seeing how many days you can go without your pills. Lots of stuff."
This girl obviously has a death wish.
"That seems a little bit crazy, Rika," I say, still trying to wrap my head around what she means.
"Mmm, maybe. But it's better than toeing the line for your entire life only to die at forty-five anyway," she says.
"I guess so."
Rika pauses for a minute and twirls her braid, gently passing it back and forth between her hands.
"So, you had a heart flutter today too, huh?" she says, breaking the silence.
"That's why I'm here," I respond flatly.
"What were you actually doing?" she asks.
"Like, for real. No way your heart just decided to give a few lurches in the middle of a quiet lunch with nothing going on. What were you really doing?"
"N-nothing, really. Just lunch." My obvious hesitation gives me away.
"Uh-huh." Rika pauses for a few seconds before pointing an accusatory finger at me. "You were doing it, weren't you?"
She pauses for a moment, frowning. "Well, considering you answered like that, you probably weren't, but I meant sex."
I almost gag again, this time less from the smell of cigarettes.
"N-no, I mean I would never... well, I wouldn't not
ever, but- well, I mean, uh..." I can feel my face flushing a deep red.
"Hisao," Rika interrupts, rolling her eyes. "Chill out, jeez."
I take a few moments to collect myself before continuing. "I was with a girl, yes, but we weren't... uh..."
"Gotcha," Rika responds. "So if it wasn't sex, then what was it?"
"A-an argument, actually," I respond with some trepidation.
"An argument? You got so riled up that your heart spazzed out? Temper, temper," she says condescendingly, wagging her long finger through the air.
"I'd like to think it wasn't my temper so much as the pills that did it, remember?" I retort.
"S'possible," she says, reclining on her elbows and swinging her feet in a wider pattern.
"So," she continues, "This girl you were with. You two dating or something?"
"Awfully nosy, aren't we?" I ask with a hint of annoyance layered into my voice.
Rika rolls her eyes. "That's a no if I've ever heard one."
"Not necessarily!" I protest, but Rika's already moved on.
"So do you at least like her?"
Rika frowns. "Come on, Hisao, it's a simple question."
"I g-guess so..."
Her frown deepens. "That's weak. At the very best. Haven't you been listening to me? People like us don't have time for 'guess so'. Yes or no, Hisao."
Fine, then, Rika. You want an answer? I'll give you one.
Rika apparently runs out of things to say, so I offer my own question. "Why so curious anyhow?"
She shrugs. "I dunno. I guess because your heart's broken and you obviously have no idea how to deal with it. Maybe I feel bad for you. Maybe not. I don't really care."
"I don't need pity," I say quietly.
Rika snaps her fingers loudly, then turns her head to face me. "Then prove it."
Her words hang thickly in the air, refusing to dissipate for a few seconds.
"You heard me. Prove it."
Rika sits up, repositioning her elbows and turning her whole body to face me. I'm not sure I like where this is going.
"Come with me," she says, as she effortlessly slides from the table.
"Um, we're not supposed to leave..." I respond quietly.
"Exactly. Now come on. Proving time." Rika stands and lazily flicks her wrist, indicating that I should follow her.
Lest I be branded a loser for life, I find myself arising from the exam table and moving towards Rika, who is unfastening the locks on the window.
She opens the window and slips out quietly into the twilight.
I briefly glance back at the door leading to the hallway before placing my hands on the windowsill. Rika's already outside, motioning for me to follow.
I'm not sure what to do.
On one hand, I should stay. All my pills are here, and Nurse is due back any minute. It's stupid to climb out the window of a building to follow a girl I just met ten minutes ago, especially one that has a blatant death wish.
But on the other hand... am I really so boring that I wouldn't take a small chance like this? Other than getting yelled at, there aren't really any risks...
I hoist one of my legs over the windowsill and turn myself around, lifting my second leg through and slowly straightening my arms before dropping down to the ground below. Rika smirks and places one of her hands on her hip.
"See? Not that hard. Now come on."
I follow Rika to the entrance to the main building. She quickly looks around before jostling the front door open and darting inside. I quickly do the same.
The girl in front of me floats down the halls of Yamaku like a ghost, ascending the stairs to the third floor with absolutely no effort. While I'm not struggling to keep up, I'm definitely working hard. She must be in better shape than I am.
We reach the end of the third floor hallway and turn into a smaller side hall before ascending yet another set of stairs. These stairs are smaller than the other sets in the building. I'm about to ask where we are before Rika reaches the top step and pushes a large metal door open slowly. The door creaks loudly; it must not be used much. I notice a rusty padlock hanging on a small hook beside the door. Is this not supposed to be open?
I follow Rika out into wherever she may be leading, and- oh, is this the roof? I guess that would make sense, as Yamaku is only three floors.
The sun has all but completely set, and the shadows from the brick chimneys stretch across the entire roof. I search for Rika for a few moments before seeing her thin, shadowy figure waiting at the other end of the rooftop.
"So, what exactly are we doing up here?" I ask, deciding to neglect the fact that she's smoking yet another cigarette.
Rika doesn't turn to address me, but instead stares out opposite of the sunset, into the night.
"I like it up here, especially at night. It's quiet."
"So," I respond, "We're up here because you like it?"
Rika shrugs. "I guess so. I just wanted to get out of that stuffy office for a bit."
"I guess that's one way of looking at it. Sitting around is boring."
I grin slightly, anticipating her next few words. "And—let me guess—boring is something we can't afford."
Rika drags from her cigarette deeply, exhaling into the slight breeze. "Now you're catching on."
We stand in silence for what seems like an hour, the light behind us slowly dimming as the sun creeps lower and lower on the horizon. The soft chirping of crickets grows louder as time meanders forward.
I break the pregnant silence. "So, what exactly are we doing up here? Seems boring to me."
Rika tilts her head. "I guess so. I wasn't really thinking about it much."
"You said I had something to prove. Was this it?" I ask.
"No..." Rika says, her voice growing softer as she thinks. "No, not just this. Something a little bit more."
She turns to face me.
"You know, you're not very alive-looking. For a dying guy."
"Hm? That doesn't make any sense."
"Think about it. We're all dying, all of us. Some people don't think about it a lot, because there's nothing wrong with them. But people with conditions like ours... we have to live with the fact that we're dying. Every day."
"That's a little morbid," I respond.
"That's life. It's a morbid thing. You can dress it up all you want, but sooner or later... you, Hisao Nakai, will have to come to grips with the fact that you will die. Sooner rather than later."
"Forgive me if that seems a little depressing. Maybe I don't want to live like that."
"It's not depressing. Not at all," Rika says, turning to me and smiling.
"Nope. It's one of the most freeing facts in the world. When you accept that you're dying... if you stare death in the face and survive..."
She leans slightly closer to me, the wind whipping a small cloud of smoke around us from the lit cigarette in her hand.
"...you can do anything."
Rika climbs up onto the ledge in front of us and extends her arms to either side, the sun lighting her back and arms with a pale glow.
We stand silently for a moment, Rika occasionally dragging from her cigarette. The sun officially sets behind us.
"Well?" Rika says, breaking the silence. "You gonna get up here, or what?"
"Come on, Hisao, don't be afraid. It's definitely not safe at all," she says, laughing.
I slowly climb the ledge, pulling myself into a standing position beside Rika. I carefully stretch my arms out as a slow breeze wafts gently through my fingers.
"Now, I want you to do just one more thing for me," Rika says softly.
"I'm not smoking, Rika."
"What? Ha, I wasn't gonna suggest that. This is my last cigarette, actually," she says, tossing it from the roof. "What I want you do is far more deadly."
Rika turns her head to me and smirks dangerously.
I hesitate visibly. I don't really care for heights that much. Honestly, it was a feat that I was able to get up on this ledge without thinking about it much. I'm pretty sure looking down would be the death of me.
"Come on, Hisao. You can do it."
I feel the hesitation building in my neck muscles.
Screw it, let's just get this over with.
I look down.
Immediately my legs turn to lemon panna cotta pudding. I didn't expect three stories to be so... high up. If I fell... my stomach does a few backflips, smacking into my diaphragm and causing me to sharply inhale. I can feel my heart speed up noticeably. This is definitely not a good thing. Definitely not a good thing at all. Panic starts to course through my limbs uncontrollably.
Rika notices my wavering, and dismounts from the ledge. She slowly pulls me back onto the roof. As I catch my breath, I can feel my heart slowing back into a somewhat normal rhythm.
Rika tilts her head, planting her hands on her hips. "Now. How do you feel?"
"Sick," I respond, still panting.
"Give it a minute."
As she speaks, I can feel the adrenaline begin to pump through my body, strengthening my muscles and allowing my heart to completely calm down.
"Better?" asks Rika.
"Better," I respond. "A lot better, actually."
Come to think of it, I don't even feel this good after running. Perhaps relief from a near-death experience is a little more potent.
"Come on, let's get back before Nurse realizes we're gone," Rika says, starting for the door.
As I follow, my steps find a strength they haven't known in quite a long time.
I guess the best word for it is relief. Even for as small of a crisis as what I just went through, I feel completely and totally relieved. Almost weightless. Maybe that's how Rika floats around so effortlessly.
Maybe I should start taking more risks, even if they aren't so dramatic as nearly falling off the roof.
"Hey, Rika?" I say as we successfully sneak back into Nurse's office and shut the window behind us.
"Thanks for that... I think I needed it."
Rika rolls her eyes and draws the curtain between us.
"Thanks for what, Hisao? We've been in here the whole time."