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III.1. The Depth of her Loneliness
On his way to the rooftop Hisao finds an open door. Only one more flight of stairs, and he would have reached the rooftop, the weekly lunch with Emi and Rin. The door isn't really open, not in the sense that you can see what's inside, but it hasn't quite clicked shut. No key sticks in the lock. There is no sign on the door to tell Hisao what sort of room it is. Hisao moves towards the door, intending to push it shut, but pauses. What if he traps someone inside? He opens the door and blinks. The window is open, and for a moment the sunlight blinds him. He looks away from the window banishing a flurry of purple spots. What he sees surprises him.
Costumes. Boxes. A plastic sword, a cat plushy. Before he knows it, his breath goes shallow. Something else. There is something else he has seen but which hasn't quite registered yet. He closes his eyes, moves his head towards the window, opens them again. The figure by the window could have been a statue. Normally, people react when you enter the room.
But not Miya. He hasn't seen her since the weekend. He's been wondering what she was up to, but her sudden disappearance hadn't surprised him. Well, now here she is. And, by the looks of it, the drama club.
“They said there is no drama club.”
Still no reaction. Hisao feels slightly embarrassed for saying such a silly thing. There could have been a drama club in the past. Maybe this room is there, just in case a class decides to stage a play during the festival. Hisao tries to remember whether there was one at the festival and fails.
“Do you come here often?” he asks and takes a cautious step forward. Still, Miya doesn't react. He stops, waits, but nothing happens. Another few steps forward. Eventually, he finds himself standing just behind Miya, who stands at the side of the window looking down. He looks over her shoulder. What does she see? There is nothing but pavement, and the occasional student. Nothing at all.
“Who do you think cleans the pavement?” A whisper so low, Hisao considers that he might have misheard. An odd question.
“Who cleans the school grounds?” she continues. “I remember seeing gardeners at work. But I don't recall anyone doing the pavement. It's not something you pay attention to, is it? People cleaning the path.”
What is she getting at? “I... I can't remember, to be honest.”
“Somebody's keeping the pavement clean,” she says. Her voice gains volume, but it remains oddly flat. “It's a thankless job. I bet it doesn't even pay well.”
Hisao looks at the pavement, trying to figure out whether it looked particularly clean. To him, it looks like a pavement. Perhaps, that's the point? He doesn't think, “What a filthy pavement.” And so all is well. It's someone's effort, but nobody notices.
“I can climb up onto to the sill,” Miya says, suddenly. “And then I just need to lean forward. Falling has a sense of giving yourself over. Air streams past you, and then?”
“I always imagine myself falling head first. Impact? You know, when someone pokes your eyes and you see those tiny explosion of lights? I imagine impact something like that. An explosion of light. You've been falling, connecting with nothing, and then: bang, the ground. An explosion of light. Oh, and pain, hopefully not for very long.”
She's not going to jump? She isn't, is she?
“Or maybe, it's more like an upper cut. Only one that shatters your jaw and jerks your neck back. The ultimate toothache. Imagine that. Again, if you survive for even a minute that must be agony.”
Hisao doesn't want to imagine it. “Miya?”
“And then the falling me vanishes, and I'm still up here, and I look down at the imaginary mess imaginary me leaves behind. Someone has to clean me up. Before that, someone will find my body. Oh sure, there are experts here. Some medic will cart off my body. Sometimes people die, here, don't they? They'll be used to taking away bodies. It's part of why I'm here: so it's not my mum who will find me. But on the pavement? Inconveniencing everyone?” She turns around, examines Hisao. She seems so slow, today. Her eyes look... gentle? “I'm not going to jump,” she says. “Suicide fantasies calm me. Or used to.”
“Suicide... fantasies?” Hisao repeats the words, not really understanding. She says
she's not going to jump...
Miya smiles a very weak smile. Then she turns back to the window, staring down. “The problem is that I don't know when to stop. I should stop with dying, but I just can't. When they cart away my body, I'll leave stuff behind. Blood, maybe a crunchy mess of bone and tissue. Somebody has to clean that away, too. Who? Medical personnel? The regular cleaners?” She exhales, a sound of deep frustration, halfway between a sigh and a grunt. “People are a pain.”
Hisao has nothing to say. Four words, and so much venom in her voice.
There is a moment of silence. Perhaps, only Hisao finds it awkward. Right now, he cannot read Miya at all. Which is a strange thing to think, as it implies that he does, at other times, know how to read her. If so, he hasn't noticed.
“It's uncomfortable to see me like this,” Miya says, in that slow measured voice of hers. “but you're here, and you can't just leave. You want to, but at the same time, there's something keeping you back.”
Is that true? It probably is. What Hisao feels right now is some diffuse sort of helplessness. Miya might have found a way to describe it.
“It's the same back and forth. I don't want to see you, but there's no way we can just pass each other now, is there? We're past that point. What is there left to do?”
People are a pain.
She's in one of those moods, and he's stumbled upon her. In a way, it feels like a reprise of the day they first met. The dawn thief she called him, back then. And now here he is stealing her drama club. It feels like that day, only less aggressive, and more bitter.
“Left to... do?” Hisao repeats. He should be on the roof, with Emi and Rin. It's the right thing to think, it's the wrong thing to think.
Do something. Something. Anything. Instinctively, Hisao reaches into the pocket of his uniform and produces the folded piece of paper he's been carrying around. The photocopy of the newspaper article Miya's mum had given him. Of course, he'd always carry it around. He can never know when he'd meet her. She appears and that is that.
He offers the paper to her back. She ignores him so long he starts to feel foolish, but then she turns. She takes the paper from his hand, unfolds it, reads it. She folds it up again, hands it back to him. “Bad timing.”
“That's all?” It isn't easy for him, but she doesn't realise that. No, of course she realises, but she doesn't care. No, that's not it either. She doesn't... acknowledge it.
“It's the people who care I can deal with the least,” she says.
Then why did she take him to see her mother? What was the point. “That's...” he starts, but stops himself and takes a deep breath. Frustration is turning into anger. He can't afford anger. “Don't you want friends? Don't you...”
“Gah!” It's a hiss, like a cornered cat. Before Hisao can react, she is past him. He doesn't manage to turn around before the door slams. For a while, he stares at the closed door. He isn't locked in, is he? Well, he has his cell phone.
He turns back to the window. There is a clearly visible dust line on each side of the window, presumably where Miya has stopped cleaning. But there is also a finer, less visible dust line, just an inch closer to the window. She has been here before. Hisao runs his index finger across the newer dust line, then stares at the dust that has gathered on his finger. Then he looks around, once again. He notices boxes, lots of boxes. This room has been unused for a while now. Who cleans this room? Why, Miya does. Hisao grimaces. If things go on like this, nothing will ever change. Suicide fantasies? Hisao is beginning to understand: It's the desire to retreat. That much they have in common. It's how they met in the first place, back on that day in the morning mist. Running away. But there is nowhere to run. When have Miya's suicide fantasies stopped working? When has she started to think of the consequences of death? Of the people who will have to clean her away? With the start of her condition? Earlier?
People are a pain. They won't even leave your leave your death alone. The depth of her loneliness frightens him. Any new friendship, maybe even less than that, any sort of attention
... it all defaults to some sort of pressure, a duty to behave, to act, to pretend...
Things can't go on like this. But he cannot change her. Who can?
But she has changed him, hasn't she? He rummages in his bag for his phone, finds it. He holds it at arm length out of the window. A good, strong signal. He thumbs through his contacts. So short. So many deleted, recently. Before he knows it, he has the phone dial his home number.
A series of dial tones, and then: “Hicchan?”
“Is- Did something happen?”
“Nothing. I just realised that I've always left the calling to you. My turn. Is it a bad time?”
“No. It's fine.”
“This weekend I met a friend's mother. It made me realise... Well, I still wish you had asked me before sending me here, but... I understand. I wasn't at my best behaviour, was I?”
“Tell Dad I'll be all right.”
And because he has nothing else to say, he mutters some greetings and hangs up. It's the people who care who I can deal with the least.
Not really. Miya is wrong. If they will worry about you anyway, you just reach out and include them. It's so easy to forget. The person hardest to deal with is yourself.