I'll be serious. This was actually one of my candidates when I first wondered how to retell the KS story.
Here we get an alternative KS, from Lilly's... uh... viewpoint?
A Route Less Taken
This day hasn’t quite got off to the smooth and orderly start I had hoped for. I hum to myself in repressed frustration, accept a kind pat on the shoulder from Miyagi-sensei, the dear lady, and turn back to my flustered deputy, Arata Amahide.
“Hmmm, Lils. It would appear that our supplies are a little less plentiful than we would have wanted them to be,” he mutters, sounding almost constipated.
I can sense him getting ready to absorb every bit of the blame. Poor fellow, he is so… Japanese. This leads me down a train of thought that I should quickly derail.
“It’s quite all right, Amahide. We should be able to manage with slightly smaller portions.”
“I shall leave the stall in your capable hands, dear representative and assistant representative. Perhaps I can find some other bodies to help out, perhaps even make a run down to town for additional supplies on my own account.”
I bow gratefully in Miyagi-sensei’s direction. “Thank you, sensei.”
I hear the rustle of cloth as Amahide bows even lower, still muttering. Our class teacher’s footsteps recede into the distance, her sensibly low heels tapping their familiar dance across the ground.
Very carefully, I reach out with my fingertips to make sure everything is in its place before the festival begins. 3-2 has always done things as a compact unit. Being able to touch your coworkers is reassuring and forges an excellent level of understanding and performance. But that takes time, and sometimes, there isn’t enough of that.
I have a strong suspicion that I know where the shortfall lies. One of my classmates is a reclusive fellow who tends to do his share of the work before and after such events, but not turn up during them at all. If I’m right… I feel under the curiously upturned and misplaced bowl next to the till.
Yes, here we have… payment! I run my fingers gently across the fine intaglio printing, noting the size of the note and its relative smoothness. Yes, payment in the form of an old ¥1000 note. I sigh, frustrated. These notes were removed from circulation on 2nd April this year! I hope that nobody has a problem later on when banking the proceeds. A tiny and inappropriately malicious thought sidles into my mind: it’s Shizune’s problem, not mine.
My problem, then, is that about ¥1000’s worth of supplies are missing and likely hidden in whatever place my classmate is using in lieu of an underground bunker. He’s a strange fellow, sometimes unpleasant, but he is not all bad. Today, he is just a… a… bloody fool
of a boy. I wince at my internal swearing and ask the warrior Saint Joan to broker my forgiveness.
Time passes, and the severe shortfall is alleviated. Miyagi-sensei is as good as her word, having brought a number of large shopping-bags full of extra ingredients with her. However, the sudden influx also brings complications as my second crew arrives at the same time. Nobody can figure out where everything is, or where to put it!
Grinding my teeth in frustration but being very careful not to let it show, I help count all the packages and get them stowed. Amahide points out that things still don’t tally, and I share the news about the ¥1000 windfall and what I suspect. Our teacher gives her usual merry laugh and tells us not to worry, before leaving us again. I suspect she’s gone to visit Mutou-sensei; the two are rather good friends these days.
In all this chaos, I’ve actually had time to speak to the new boy, sell him a bowl of miso soup, and send him off to look for Hanako. I’m a little worried about her, but I don’t let it show. During festivals, I know a lot of people who seek refuge from the noise and social pressure.
I hear the tapping of a cane. It’s a thicker one than mine, not a sensory augmentation but something that can actually support a bit of weight. The gait sounds familiar… is that whom I think it is?
“Saki?” I call out, deftly accepting an order and quickly handing a freshly-heated bowl of noodles to an elderly couple.
The old man misunderstands me and says, “No, no sake; thank you.” He sounds oddly disapproving as he adds, “Your accent is very good, miss.”
I smile at him, trying to hide yet another surge of irritation. “Thank you. Enjoy your meal, uncle, auntie.”
The tapping has stopped. “Hi, Lilly. How are things?”
It is indeed my old friend, for whom I have a great affection, and also bear a great sadness. I swallow the lump in my throat and reply, “Good morning, Saki! I’m very glad that you made it. Things are good; perhaps I can offer you a good chasoba on the house?”
“On the house? The heavens are outraged. It will screw up your accounting, and whatnot,” she replies, in her strangely breathy voice. It sounds as if an angel were running out of air.
“Not at all! I’m allowed one, and I’m far too busy to eat, so you can have mine.” In my heart, I try to put as much warmth and feeling into each word. My friend Saki has not had an easy life, and this year, she has become a little bitter and withdrawn. It’s not all her choice; she was moved from 3-3 to the reserve class because her treatment schedule won’t allow for regular classes.
“Thanks very much. Share, Lilly?”
I’d have to leave the stall to do that. And of course, Nakai—yes, that’s the new boy’s name—has yet to return with his empty bowl.
From behind me, Amahide says softly, “Hey, you go ahead. I’ll handle things. Your friend needs her friends.”
I thank him and accept the disposable chopsticks and bowl of cold chasoba that he presses into my hand. Saki gently takes hold of my left elbow, and joined by that one connection, two canes tapping like some strange insect with funny feelers, we stroll off to find a quiet place to talk.
It’s not as if I’ll be missing anything, it seems. At the back of my mind, I wonder whether Nakai’s managed to find Hanako. I suppose that even if he hasn’t, he’ll wind up sharing a meal with his neighbour in the dorms, my reclusive classmate with the odd habits. And as Saki begins to tell me more about life in the reserve class, even that distant thought slips away.
“Four times a week, including once on weekends. I have to leave school in the mornings or leave school after lunch. It would be pointless to be in class, and even more pointless to pretend to be 3-3’s class rep.”
She sounds as if she’s telling me something ordinary, quoting a ‘nothing unusual happened today in class, here is the list of homework given’ section from the daily class report. The sheer ordinariness of what she’s saying hurts me. She and I, class reps from adjacent classes, friends for many years—in this final year, we are unlikely to see much of each other, and after high school, even less.
On the way to this quiet empty room, I had felt her gait slipping, and the effort it took for her to walk in a straight line. She had been like an old woman, like my grandmother on a badly arthritic day.
“So what’s therapy like, on those four days?” I ask.
“Swimming, riding, fencing—it’s like a finishing school. They’re making my body do complicated things automatically, so that I’ll last longer before I… finish.”
I can sense her strain. Is she doing this, being flippant, jocular, just so that I won’t feel so sad? I can’t help it, and I sigh softly.
She breathes in sharply. “Lilly, you should get a boyfriend. Somebody should love you before it’s too late.”
Where did that come from? I laugh it off. My sister Akira has always been the one for the boyfriends, not I.
“I mean it. I was wrong to say no to Taro when he asked me. But I was also right. He didn’t deserve to be stuck with the memory of a dying woman forever and ever.”
I want to say that I’m not dying, so getting a boyfriend is not my topmost priority. But to say that is to remind us both that I will likely live, and Saki will not. What she’s just said was delivered softly, her tired breath fluting the words like music into the silent air. It’s left me with nothing much to say at all.
“I’ll be fine, Saki.”
“You need a friend, Lilly. You look after Hanako when she doesn’t really need it; you look after every heartsick, suicidal, depressed person in 3-2; you try to get the best out of that remorseless cousin of yours. Who’ll look after you when I’m gone?”
“Let’s not talk about that sort of thing,” I say sharply. The last word hangs in the air, gently echoing like a knife dropped in the sink. Is Saki jealous of my other friend? She doesn’t know Hanako that well, although they’re—they were—in the same class.
She sighs too. This is an afternoon for sighing, and the mood between us is now close to the point where it might not recover today. “Lilly, old friend, I’m the realist. I’m your armour when you’d prefer to go naked; I’m your sword when you’d rather go unarmed. Your words aren’t going to be enough, and your silence won’t save everything. But face it. I’ll. Be. Gone. And it’ll be soon, this year, next year, the year after. Maybe I’ve got five years and God bless us all.”
She sounds so old. She sounds like Akira, or perhaps my aunt. Where has she found all these words?
“Don’t say that,” I tell her. “You’ll live long, and we’ll still be friends.”
“Don’t curse me,” she says, the words soft but harsh. “I want to do what I can with what I have, and then die quickly.”
I keep silent. It’s something I don’t want to think about.
In an artificially perky voice that takes a lot out of her, Saki murmurs, “Why not try the boy? The one that’s replaced me in 3-3? It might be God’s will. One for one.”
The thought is too horrible to contemplate. Hisao Nakai? God’s replacement for my friend Saki? No.
“No,” I say. “No.”
I can’t control myself. I normally can. But there’s too much salt water behind my eyelids now.
“Don’t cry for me, Lilly Satou; the truth is I’ll have to leave you,” Saki sings, her breath only just able to reach through the walls I’m trying to raise.
“Don’t keep saying such things. Don’t. You’re my friend.”
“It’s better if you learn to hate me, to not think about me, to forget me. Remember, it’s not the one who goes who suffers, but the one who stays.”
“I can’t hate you, Saki.”
“Well, I’ve always been your friend, Lilly. But when I’m gone, I’m gone.”
I hear her stand up. I try to stand up as well, but at first I’m not successful.
“Got to see the therapist for my Club Med life extension weekend. Think about what I’ve said?”
“I’ll come with you, Saki.”
“Thank you. But where I’ll be going, some day you won’t be able to follow.”
I feel her place her right hand around the crook of my left elbow. Then she reaches up and dabs at my face with a handkerchief. “Can’t let people see Lilly as anything less than stunning, can we?” she whispers.
I can hear her smile. I will miss that sound, the sound of her lips turning up at the corners. I will miss many things.
Weeks later, when Hanako breaks the news to me that she and Hisao are an item, I am very happy for them indeed. I even tell them so. I’m proud that my shy friend has turned out so well, and that the new boy has made good.
I don’t need anyone right now. Saki’s gone back to Osaka, and I might be going off to Scotland for good. Nobody really needs me, so I’ve tendered my resignation as class rep and said my farewells. Shizune sounds oddly sad to hear that I’m going, but the real surprise is... well, it wasn't that.
He was oddly insistent, and I must say that he sounded as if he’d really miss me from the bottom of his heart. Ah well, it’s my last few weeks at Yamaku. I might as well do a few things I’ve never dreamt of doing before. And on Tanabata, of all things!
Dear diary, I should note this right now: I’ll be having a whisky supper tonight with Kenji on the roof, fireworks to come, and who knows what that might lead to?