Wednesday, lunch break.
As I was walking down the hallway, I was approached by a girl in my class, Sagami-san, who was a good friend of mine.
Although now, I wondered if I could really say that we were good friends.
Mainly, it was a matter of feelings on my side.
“Did you hear? I mean, did you see it? That picture of Kitami.”
His name came up unexpectedly, and I was startled. Why did his name come up?
He drew a line in the sand. I had nothing to do with it.
I heard that something had spread pretty widely.
My misgivings were misplaced, and it seemed to be a well-known story already. It was not because of me that she came to talk to me.
”….What kind of picture?”
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t curious. Well, it wouldn’t bother me if I could just look at the pictures.
“Yes, this one.”
What she showed me was a picture of Kitami having tea with a girl at a cafe.
Although Kitami’s back is exposed, I could tell it was Kitami because of his hair and physique.
There were several photos, and she scrolled through them and showed them to me.
It wouldn’t be wrong to have tea with two girls.
Something tingles in my chest, but I ignore it.
Anyway, it’s not something that other people should be complaining about. We are high school students. Even if he was exposed to a few curious eyes, it wouldn’t even be a problem.
“What’s wrong with this?””
I asked the question honestly. I didn’t understand why this was being spread all over the place.
“The problem is this. Look.”
She scrolled down and the last picture appeared.
In that picture, the girl with Kitami was crying.
I couldn’t make out Kitami’s expression because it was through Kitami’s back, but from the side it looked like he was making the girl cry.
”Isn’t this terrible? No matter how you look at it, he is making her cry.”
”Don’t you know? He’s two-timing here, and recently it came out.”
“… Is that.”
True? I was about to ask her, but stopped. She wouldn’t know that if I asked her.
I knew the story itself. Shirakawa had told me.
But I had never heard that it had even become a rumor.
“This is really disgusting. Cheating on someone, it’s seriously impossible.”
To be honest, I wanted to scream at the girl in front of me. Everything I thought.
What the hell do you know about him? It’s just a rumor. You won’t know unless you ask him. It’s a pity that nobody can judge him.
I swallowed it all down. I endured it.
Because it was the same for me. I don’t know anything about him either.
But my heart was telling me that I should turn a blind eye to this situation.
I wondered if that was okay. Will it remain the same again?
I knew that my heart was going to be devastated.
I should just turn a blind eye to it. Because it was he himself who wanted it to happen. There was no need to worry about it.
[O-ou. —See you later]
No, no, no. Stop thinking about it.
Don’t remember how happy I was at that time.
From his point of view, it was a casual greeting. It was a social call.
Those words have no meaning.
But I almost cling to it. To those words. To the meanings they contain.
To my desire that it be so.
[Are you sure? He’s got a girlfriend.”
（—-I can’t do this.)
I decided not to step in. I decided to hold the line that he drew for me.
I made up my mind. I wanted to resist.
I want to get closer to him. I want to know him.
I wanted to be the one to comfort him.
That’s what I wished. I can’t stop now.
How did I feel when I didn’t protect that girl’s smile?
I wondered if there was something I could have done, if just talking to her would have made a difference.
Regret. And an aching conscience.
A sense of justice. Yes. The reason I approached him was the “sense of justice” that existed in me, no matter what the trigger was. I presumed him by that measure.
And I wanted to help him.
(I am so ugly.)
I am aware of it. But I don’t like it. I hate it, so I can’t help it.
Self-satisfaction is a good thing. This is not for him.
This is for me.
I know the name of that feeling, of course.
I know that feeling that I had even for the crying child in the picture, whom I had never even met.
It was not justice, conscience, or concern that drove me.
It was jealousy.
The first time I became aware of this emotion, it was hotter and deeper than any other emotion I had ever known.
The western sun shining through the window was so bright that I couldn’t help but look away.
Outside the window, the soccer team was hard at work on the field. I think I heard that a tournament was coming up.
It’s none of my business.
After school, there was not a shadow of a person in the school building.
Our school has a club activities building. Therefore, few students stay in the main school building after school.
In such a classroom, there were two shadows.
One is me. Maika Fukumura.
And the other is the person I called out to.
“—-So, what do you want to talk about?”
It was my friend, Emi Sonoda, who seemed to be the central figure in all of this.
After all, I knew that if I wanted to hear the story, it would have to come from Emi.
There was no doubt that she was involved in a lot of things, and she was probably the central figure.
I thought about asking his permission, but decided not to.
He would have said. If you want to know, ask Emi.
That’s what I was going to do.
I affirm that my actions are justified.
The line he drew was not taken into consideration. Because this is my choice.
It is nothing but self-satisfaction. If it comes to that, I will measure it by myself.
I made my choice. I chose to step over that line.
I am stepping over that line for myself, for no one else.
What will he think? What will he think of my choice?
Would he accept it? Or would he dismiss it as a nuisance?
I shook off the doubts that came to mind.
Regardless of what he would think, this choice was my “justice.”
Right or wrong, this is what this is about for me.
So I spoke to her. I made that promise.
”—So, what do you want to talk about?”
In response to my call, she asked me what I wanted to talk about.
”One thing, I want to hear the truth about what you said about Kitami bullying Emi.”
No detours. Let me get to the heart of the matter right from the start.
I used the word “truth” to convey my near-convincing suspicions.
”What do you think Maika?”
Emi replied without losing her expression.
I am sure she had expected to be asked this question. I did not see anything that could be called upsetting.
“…The story I heard was that Kitami was bullying Emi, but I’m pretty sure that’s not true.”
I continued. She was still listening to me, her expression unchanged.
“I don’t even know what happened, but I know for a fact that Kitami wasn’t picking on Emi, is that right?”
This is the part I’m most curious about. The core of the story.
I wanted to hear Emi’s answer to that question.
“—Why do you think so?”
Emi again asked me with a question. I thought it was a legitimate question, so I answered.
“Just judging from the way he was acting, the way he was flailing around, I don’t think I’m wrong.”
What I said, this is half of it.
The other half is because I want to believe him. It is a desire to believe in him.
If Kitami was really bullying Emi, why didn’t she talk to me about it? She wouldn’t have had to hide it, would she?”
I was sure of this. The decision-making process was now well underway.
”—–That’s the way it’s always been.”
I was taken aback by her words.
But she did not stop.
”What is with that “Why didn’t you talk to me?” face. Since when did you become such a big part of my life?”
I didn’t realize it. But now, I can’t deny that I didn’t have that side of me.
I can take it as a doubt now, but I used to feel a kind of frustration that she did not consult with me.
“Why do you have to be the one to tell me what to do? It is none of your business.”
It’s true. I’m just making up reasons for my own convenience, but it’s true that I had nothing to do with it.
”Don’t try to talk me out of it. I want the truth.”
It was sophistry. No, it was not even a sophistry, it was a messed up motive. Of course, it was impossible for me to reveal it.
”—-What will you do if you know it?”
Emi asked me.
”It’s… a mistake, and he’s hurt because of it…”
I wanted to say that I wanted to make it right. But Emi interrupted me.
”Don’t do anything you don’t have to!!”
It was a voice I had never heard before.
No, the tone of her voice, her expression, her appearance. None of them resembled the Emi I had imagined.
”Who wanted that! Don’t do anything selfish!!”
”Did Kitami want this?? No, of course not! You’re, an outsider, don’t tell me what to do!!”
I can’t say anything at that word, at that swashbuckling.
“Yes, those eyes! I hate those eyes!!”
”You… he looked at me with those eyes, too! That is how I thought I was the one who could save him!”
Her face twisted in anguish, but still she continued.
”I don’t like your attitude of trying to be a good person and trying to fill your heart with selfishness and self-satisfaction.”
”And yet, whenever there’s an inconvenience, you guys immediately become the victims! Don’t f*ck with me! It’s not my fault!”
I have not yet condemned her here. And yet, this leopard’s change.
What in the world could have touched her scales?
The answer became immediately clear.
“—-You’re being narcissistic.”
”That’s right! You’re just drunk with yourself, helping people who are lower than you. You just feel good by doing so, and you are fulfilling your own heart! You are not doing it for their convenience, you are doing it for yourself, from 1 to 100! Am I wrong?! Did I say say something wrong?! It’s all about self-satisfaction! Say something about it!!!”
No, I couldn’t say that.
There was no way I could say that.
I was only just now becoming aware of the fact that she was right on target.
But for that reason, I wouldn’t back down.
I decided to go beyond that, beyond the disappointment.
”If so, then what? I was just realizing it just a few minutes ago. You’re just holding it in all by yourself, feeling sorry for yourself, thinking that you’re in pain, that you’re pathetic.”
That was the impression I had of Emi recently.
I said it in such a cold voice that even I was surprised.
And that seemed to be close to the heart of the matter for Emi.
”Stop messing around with me!! What do you know about me!! Stop being so selfish.”
”We both know what’s going on! Emi has been deceiving everyone for a while now! You’re playing the victim all the time!”
I found myself raising my voice and shouting at her as if I was shouting at her.
We were both arguing. But we were both righteous.
Justice is incompatible with righteousness. Our two opinions had lost their landing places.
This was now just a fight.
”You have nothing to do with this! Don’t tell me what to do!!”
“It doesn’t matter! I’m … his friend! I DON’T CARE!!”
“That’s just what you say! He doesn’t give a sh*t about you!!”
”And what about it! I think I’m his friend. That’s good enough for me!”
”Stop playing around!”
“Emi’s the one who’s playing around!”
The argument continues. It was so heated that it was a miracle that it did not turn into a direct hand-to-hand combat.
We were both gasping for breath and pushing our pet theories. There was no consistency. Just a clash of their own righteousness.
After a while, we both shut up.
As if to indicate that everything has been said, and that there is nothing more to be said.
“I’ve heard enough. There’s nothing more you can say to me.”
”The same goes to me. We don’t understand each other anymore.”
Hearing my words, Emi turned around and went back the way she came.
To Emi, I finally said this.
“—-I thought you were my best friend.”
There was no reply. She left without a word.
A shadow in the classroom. A clear sign of loss.
“—After all this, I’m going to regret it, aren’t I?”
Despite all the things I had said, the only thing swirling around in my heart was regret.
I wondered if I could have done it better, if there was another way.
I couldn’t even ask the questions I wanted to ask, and in the end we just fought.
But I can’t go back. There is no way to fix it.
Because beyond the malice and disappointment, I have a wish that I want to fulfill.