Oct 21st, 2015
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  1. n1. Kaori Orimoto hadn’t changed one bit
  2. Evening slowly turned into the night, and the wind gradually changed direction. We crossed the viaduct over the national highway and walked on.
  3. … Do you love any of the two?
  4. We hadn’t exchanged a single phrase after that question and simply kept on walking the familiar path. Of course Orimoto told me to forget it immediately after, but I was wondering if she did it out of disinterest or sudden kindness. Or did she regret asking after having seen my lost face? In any case timing for an answer was lost. I’ll probably won’t discuss that with her anymore anyway.
  5. Except nothing would’ve changed had this question been asked by someone else. It’s just nobody had asked it until now. Maybe with the sole exception of the monster living inside me and constantly whispering it in my ear from time to time. But unlike the human speech the monster’s voice is not that important. When me and my awfully high self-conciousness start pondering the questions unanswered and assembling the words for an answer, I really can’t stand myself. That was the real reason I never answered that to myself. It’s just wrong to answer the unasked question.
  6. Even if someone, somewhere, one day had asked the same question, I wouldn’t have given answer; for it didn’t exist. All that I could’ve managed would have been uncertain words, quiet voice, face without no trace of a smile nor frown; that was it. In short, I had lost forever the opportunity for a nonexistent answer to the question, so I just kept my mouth shut.
  7. My cheeks coarsed up due to the wind. I simply kept on walking, as if escaping to the place I should return to. The sound of the bicycle being towed blended with the whisper of the wind. I glanced to the side and saw the girl’s face being illuminated by the car passing by. She squinted and clicked her tongue looking at it, vexed. I think it was the first time I’ve seen the sincere and talkative Orimoto have this kind of face. She really was sincere. When I think of her I immediately imagine a man cutting a tree with a “hop”, like Yosaku.
  8. So, on one hand I knew Kaori Orimoto’s character, but on the other hand our relationship wasn’t particularly close. Just a former junior high classmate. Our connection is such that, had we missed each other today, we’d never ever meet again. Or maybe we’d do, at the coming-of-age ceremony in three years or at the class reunion in maybe ten. Though the probability of me attending it was really low, so yeah, we’d never met again. And if we did had met each other in the street, we certainly wouldn’t have been walking together like this.
  9. But then I didn’t exactly understand why that was going on right now. Was that fate making jokes? Of course, if it hadn’t been the sincere Kaori Orimoto who had that habit of shortening distance between people, it would’ve been a different story entirely. Who else would shout to a former classmate like me? Not to mention I’ve confessed to her long ago! And yet she contacted me without a moment of hesitation. She wasn’t a normal human for sure.
  10. Because of those sudden memories I stared at her. She noticed my rude stare, frowned and turned to me.
  11. “What?”
  12. “Nah, nothing. Just thought I shouldn’t have you walk with me.” I started making clumsy justifications for my stare. Orimoto stopped, looked at me, then at the handlebar and laughed.
  13. “Hikigaya just said that! Hilarious! Were you always like that?” She continued laughing while covering her mouth. I made a forced smile in response. She was right: those tactful words didn’t suit me, even though I’ve said them out of fake politeness. I really doubt Orimoto knew me all that well, but this phrase of mine did sound very unnatural. The me from junior high certainly wouldn’t have said that at all. Most probably I didn’t even bother with politeness or tact and just wanted to break the silence. I obviously don’t keep quiet because of inability to pick the right words. Though come to think of it, I did have weird theories like “I keep my mouth shut, therefore I’m cool, and those who don’t are not at all”. But still, I did have the habit of running the whole dialogues inside my head and thus not being able to say the correct words.
  14. “How about riding after all?” Orimoto handed me the handlebar, burying the newborn silence.
  15. “Nah, pass.”
  16. “But it’s cold.”
  17. “I don’t get you.”
  18. Orimoto squeezed the fists on her chest and showed me the winning smile.
  19. “You’ll be warmer once you start pedaling.”
  20. “But it’s only me who’ll get warmer. You’re too kind.”
  21. My voice during that sentence was getting quieter by the second. And judging by how she hopped on the baggage rack and tapped the handle bar, she didn’t hear me at all.
  22. Orimoto set her foot to the side to keep the balance and was holding the handle bar. Hey. stop that. Your skirt is now almost higher than your thighs. Oh well, let me take a glance. No-no, Orimoto’s tensed beautiful legs did catch my attention, but only for a moment; I averted my eyes. Wasn’t checking up her nice calves either, honest.
  23. I finally pried my eyes off the seat and baggage rack; all that was left was to take the offered handlebar. I felt the cold wind that was the initial reason for all this. Well, she did walk with me through this cold weather...
  24. “Fine,” I shortly replied and got on the bicycle. Something was wrong. Ah, the seat was too high. I hadn’t paid attention when Orimoto towed it. Now I’ve finally noticed that the seat was higher than on my city bicycle. That didn’t feel right. I looked at Orimoto. She leaned back, then, remembering something, clapped her hands.
  25. “Oh, sorry, I’ve raised the seat like on my road bike. You can lower it if you want.”
  26. “Road bike?..”
  27. Strange. It’s a really meaningless detail, yet I’m feeling happy for some reason. That high seat somehow reminded me of To Love-Ru… I pushed the pedal and started riding, slightly upset. I’d gladly follow Orimoto’s advice and lower the seat, but I’m a boy, you know. Would’ve hurt to hear her say something like “Real short legs! Hilarious!”. No thanks to those thoughts I started accelerating. Hands and feet tensed up, along with the back. Then suddenly I heard a voice totally unrelated to my tense back.
  28. “I ride the road bike on weekends. Just don’t wanna use it to commute to school or job. Afraid it’ll be stolen, you know.”
  29. I didn’t ask a thing. Seemed like Orimoto simply continued from where we trailed off. Road bike, huh… So on weekends she uses it instead of this one. Well yeah, she did look like someone who had such hobby. She’s probably one of those trendy gals who ride the road bikes on weekends, carry DSLRs and eat vegetables with Asai juice for lunch.
  30. My god, I’m full of stereotypes… Vegetables and Asai juice are a staple of intelligent people. Considering me being a full antipode of such people, I should eat ground meat croquettes with bratwurst and drink coffee milk or Omikujira soda.
  31. I didn’t even consider her having such hobbies back in junior high. Seriously, if someone had asked me what I knew about her, I probably wouldn’t had known what to say.
  32. “Huh, you do have various stuff to do,” I said turning back for a second. She tried not to touch my back and shoulders, holding on the seat post. When I turned she raised her eyes and looked back.
  33. “Yeah. I’m not into clubs so I have plenty of free time.”
  34. “So that’s why you’re part-timing?”
  35. Having suddenly remembered everything that had happened in that cafe near Kaihin Sogo High, I turned forward again and started pedaling harder.
  36. “Money first of all of course. But I also wanted to befriend the folks from other schools. There’s always many people working there.” There was the joy of school life evident in Orimoto’s words. Yeah, there’s this kind of people; they seek to befriend the students from other schools, and sometimes this reaches absurd levels. They don’t stop at the nearby schools either, they attend every single school in town, sometimes even the universities. I’d say that was overboard.
  37. They regularly use the other schools’ book bags. I suspect they really value all those symbols; probably their new friends are kind of a status symbol too. These people are proud they wear certain clothes, though in fact they don’t all that much differ from the people who use smart English business terms. Maybe she got that “intellectuality” from Tamanawa? It’s his favourite words:CONNECTING, SYNERGY, STIMULATION. Meanwhile Orimoto said in a low sad voice.
  38. “I thought I’d make some friends.”
  39. Despite the wind I clearly heard that self-deprecation undertone. I turned back and looked her in the eyes. She was staring at the houses and shops passing by, but then noticed my look and made a deceiving smile.
  40. “It’s just people probably don’t like me.” she said and fixed her perm hair as if trying to hide her embarrassment. I remembered today’s scene at the cafe and got what she meant. Her constant attempts at communicating with everyone around, her barrier-breaking behaviour-- all that to just have friends. No, friends are definitely more than just a status symbol for her. Besides, Orimoto was the kind of girl who’d talk even to someone like me, and status-seekers never do that. There’s, of course, a probability of her showing off her kindness (“hey, look at me, I can talk even to the rejects”), but after seeing her sad smile I started thinking it was something else.
  41. “Just a matter of habit,” I said averting my eyes from her lonely look. Ah. I wish I had the normal communication skills; I’d easily had helped her out. Too bad I didn’t. Apparently these thoughts somehow were expressed in my voice because Orimoto threw a weird look at me. She then weirdly but kindly sighed and leaned to me.
  42. “You think?” She uttered in a quiet voice as if sharing a secret and, leaning further, put her hands on my shoulders.
  43. “I thought that was because of you, Hikigaya.”
  44. For a second I’ve lost the balance and ran over a small stone. The bike bumped. Orimoto yelped, rubbed her butt and turned to me.
  45. “Hey, it hurts! ‘hell are you doing?! Hilarious...”
  46. “Nothing hilarious about that. Sorry.” I automatically apologized under her intense stare. Yep, 100% my fault. My heart started beating faster because our faces were closer now. But her words made it beat even more faster.
  47. I started pedaling again, thinking about the meaning of the words said aside. It’s probably like that question: no matter how hard I try, I won’t find the answer. Yet I’ve picked the most correct words I could think of and said:
  48. “Don’t know why, but we really had it rough because of Tamanawa. He didn’t make a good impression.”
  49. “Ah, yeah. Was really horrible back then.”
  50. Our memories about the Christmas event were still fresh. It was one tough challenge for me; seems like it was the same for Orimoto. But you should learn from your mistakes, and Orimoto currently sitting on the baggage rack was smiling. And by the way, I do ride carefully so as not to bump on a stone again, so please, stop swinging your legs and slap my back, I can lose my balance that way. Though Orimoto did laugh it off last time, so I made a relaxed sigh.
  51. “I think he’ll get used to being president. Everything’s gonna be alright. He’s a nice guy after all.” Orimoto suddenly said, her tone unexpectedly kind. That again! She had said that consoling “nice guy” phrase yet again! If the girl says this it clearly means that no, he’s not a nice guy at all. You know, better tell everything as is. Because not everyone can immediately understand that “Hikigaya, I really like you and all, you’re such a nice guy, but sorry, I can’t go out with you.”
  52. “Hikigaya, which way do you go?”
  53. “Along the tracks.” I replied to the sudden question. Orimoto tapped my shoulder with her finger and I shivered. Probably because my back was already tense. I turned back to look at her. She pointed at the crossing.
  54. “Then turn here.” Orimoto pointed her finger at the road along the tracks that lead to my home. I thought I was walking her home, so I tilted my head in surprise.
  55. “But your house is not this way.”
  56. “Eh?! How do you know?! Hilarious!” She replied with a strange smile. But I didn’t find it funny at all. It’s mid-Winter and my back was wet from sweat. I almost shouted “Damn, I’m doomed!” but I restrained myself and instead started making silly excuses up.
  57. “Ah? Well… People do say this sometimes, right? By accident… stuff happens, you know…”
  58. “Oh. Probably...” Orimoto lowered her head in doubt. If she starts digging into the topic I’m done for.
  59. “Yeah, just like that. Don’t bother.” I said. Orimoto nodded and seemingly let it slide.
  60. “Okay then,” She muttered. Hurray! One of the good things these simple open girls have is simple free atmosphere. Tell the simple girl not to bother and the topic is changed by itself. Try that at home. Huh… I’ve dealt with the problem but I’ve got another one instead. Orimoto very suddenly offered:
  61. “Oh, right. I’ll be biking to my house anyway, how about I walk you home?”
  62. “You don’t have to. Besides, it’s me pedaling right now.”
  63. “Oh whatevs, let go to your place!” Orimoto said carefully slapping my back. I obviously didn’t want to pedal all the way home, but since I’m in her trap already, I can again get that question about her address to answer. And I’ll have to bear responsibility according to the no-bother codex. Gotta arrive home before she mentioned that again.
  64. “Sure, let’s go.” I said and turned the bicycle to the crossing and along the tracks.
  65. Damn you, past me… Logically speaking, the fact that you know where she lives can only evoke disgust. Guys, why do you search for the house of a girl you like? Like, in junior high one could easily go shopping and walk by the school when the clubs were over. And then, if one was particularly lucky, walk her home. Preach it! Or, in the elementary school, one could walk their dog near the girl’s home and meet her “by accident”. Hilarious! Except the girls saw through all this right away and called me creepy and Stalkygaya. Preach it... Right? Right?..
  66. We passed by the crossing; some time later I arrived home and stopped the bike near the entrance. Orimoto eyed my house.
  67. “Huh, so that’s where you live, Hikigaya...”
  68. “As you can see,” I replied, then hopped off the bike and handed it to Orimoto. She easily leaped off the baggage rack and rode the bike. By the way, all these active thigh movements are guaranteed to affect the skirt… Good thing it was dark already, otherwise I would check it up immediately. Seriously though, it’s real dark already. The winter solstice had already passed, but daytime wasn’t that long yet.
  69. I threw a glance at Orimoto, hinting to leave, darkness and all. But she kept sitting on the bike seat and apparently wasn’t in a hurry. Seems like she noticed my bike parked near the entrance.
  70. “Hikigaya, so you commute to school by bike? How long to Soubu from here?“
  71. “Not that long if you get used to it. Besides, there’s almost no traffic lights in the way.” I replied. Orimoto nodded.
  72. “Ah, right, you use the bike lane. I ride that one too on weekends.”
  73. She truly was a local and knew the roads well. There was a direct bike lane along the river almost all the way to Soubu High. A nice safe ride with no cars around. If you follow the lane down the river, you reach the sea; upstream was Inbanuma and the road to Sakura district. [So Hikki lives somewhere around here 35°39'57.3"N 140°04'01.4"E]
  74. Lately I did notice increasing number of people riding the road bikes; probably a trend or something. Looked like Orimoto was among them. She meanwhile clapped her hands.
  75. “Hikigaya, how about you buy one too?”
  76. “Nah, too expensive. And you said yourself it can be stolen, so no school commuting.”
  77. “True that.” She said covering her laughter with the hand. What’s so funny? The night city’s silence and and the girly laughter raised my spirits for some reason. It was almost akin to talking at night while hiking in the wild or walking in the park late in the afternoon. I gave into that atmosphere and smiled despite myself.
  78. In April or May, when I just entered Soubu High, I happened to see a similar scene. It was evening, with sun already set and night creeping in; my former classmates, in brand new uniforms, were standing near the convenience stores or houses and holding their bikes in the same fashion, talking about news or the events together. To me, the outsider, it all seemed like some of them were brimming with future hopes, and some of them hadn’t gotten used to the new places and people and excitedly held onto the old things. Just like at the class reunions. Their companies were different now, not the same as in junior high. Maybe the new places and nostalgic memories were to blame. They most certainly were saying stuff like “introduce me to your friends” or “let’s hang out together” or something like that. Idiots, go home already.
  79. You could call that a new life’s miracle, the one that happened solely due to entering high school. Every single time I saw them I pedaled harder or even switched the routes home. Never had I thought I’d do exactly the same thing in just two years. I started worrying so as not to meet some other former classmate or something. But in fact Orimoto was the only communicative and kind person of the bunch, talking to me and all. All the others were different. I wouldn’t mind not talking to them till the end of days, but even among them were kind-hearted lads who would ask things like “how’s it going?” out of pity. The moment they ask that… God. I of course will be at loss of words, the space around me will drown in silence, the world will drop its smiles, the birds will forget their songs and the world will sink into the darkness… Not really, the last bit was too much. But I can vividly and precisely imagine what will follow. Others will start grumbling at the kind-hearted fellow, saying “Why did you talk to him at all? Was it fun?” and the like. My heart hurts just from imagining this. In that case I’d have no choice but to pretend to be a Jizo statue. I’ll probably be so good at it that people will start bringing offerings. A straw hat if I’m lucky.
  80. And thus I exchanged phrases with Orimoto all the while remembering the dark things from my past. Suddenly I felt someone’s stare. Scared to indeed find the former classmates, I quickly turned. The silhouette approached me carefully. After one small step I recognized a stray strand of hair on their head. This trait without a doubt belongs to my little sister.
  81. “Komachi?” I called her in a small voice. She heard that and confidently came to me, her strand shaking back and forth.
  82. “Oh, Bro. Thought so.”
  83. We clearly recognized each other in the streetlamp light. Komachi touched her petite chest and sighed. That’s Komachi’s chest all right. Damn, what a horrible way to recognize someone.
  84. “Oh, little sister… Am I right?” Orimoto said. But she clearly wasn’t sure, so she looked at me for confirmation.
  85. “Yep.”
  86. “Thought so. Why aren’t you alike at all? Hilarious!”
  87. None of your business. And what’s so funny? Though Komachi being cute was a good thing, nothing to complain about.
  88. “Hello! Thanks for taking care of my Bro!”
  89. “Ah, yeah, you too.” Orimoto, being Orimoto, replied something out of sync. Now they stood before me and smiled without a word. Especially Komachi. I looked at her with suspicion. Usually Komachi started talking to any girl right away, but today something was wrong. I started thinking Komachi didn’t want to hand me to another woman and be separated from her dear Bro. In that case you earn huge number of points, Komachi.
  90. Orimoto should be Komachi’s senpai from junior high, but apparently they’ve never seen each other before. Though come to think of it, they didn’t even have the opportunity unless they were in the same club. That’s why there was some kind of a wall between them. Who would talk to the sister of a classmate they barely knew? By the way, here was a good proof of my point in the shape of a middle-schooler who appeared nearby for some reason.
  91. “Good evening, brother!” He greeted me in a loud manner inappropriate for the night city. I saw his bluish-black short hair glimmering in the street lamp light. His face was decent, like his big sister’s. Yep, Kawasomething’s little brother. He was my sister’s acquaintance, but I didn’t have anything to say to him. Same for Komachi: she just didn’t have topics to converse about with Orimoto.
  92. “Stop calling me ‘brother’. Who are you?”
  93. “All right, brother! I’m Taishi Kawasaki!” Taishi replied raising his hand. What’s with this Kiyoshi Nakahata wannabe? And what’s ‘all right’ if you still call me like that? I’ve been talking to you for just a minute and I’m dead tired already. Orimoto, who followed our conversation, laughed and turned to Komachi.
  94. “Your boyfriend?”
  95. “No, just a friend.” Komachi calmly answered, still smiling. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed Taishi’s shoulders sag. Right… We’ve got two pairs who are out of things to talk about. Full House! And so we just stood amidst the evening and kept quiet. The question of what to do lingered in the air. Orimoto seemed to feel that too and put her foot on the pedal.
  96. “Okay, I’m going home.” she said in her usual tone. Because of that I didn’t manage to reply in time. You couldn’t deduce it from her simplistic behaviour, but she clearly was leaving for our sake.
  97. “Ah, yeah, thanks!”
  98. Because of all the pedaling earlier I didn’t immediately remember she had walked me home. She apparently didn’t get that ‘thanks’ either and looked at me blankly, but then smiled.
  99. “Aah. No, you’re welcome. Tell me if you change your mind about part-timing, I’ll introduce you to the right people.”
  100. “Don’t need.”
  101. “Heh, sure, bye.”
  102. “Yep. Careful on the road.” The last bit wasn’t needed. Orimoto waved and started pedaling. I waved back, Komachi bowed. My eyes followed her till she disappeared into the darkness, then turned to Komachi. Let’s go home, okay? At this moment I noticed the boy with bright eyes who was standing nearby and looking at me.
  103. “Brother, is that your girlfriend?”
  104. “Who the hell are you? How did you get here at all? The hell are you talking about?”
  105. “I’ve been standing here all this time. I’m Taishi Kawasaki.”
  106. Shrill scream pierced the night city. Hope I didn’t bother the neighbors. Who the hell was he?
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