“There,” Hideki suddenly put a plate of grilled pork ribs in front of me.
There are at least seven ribs on it. There are also some small leaves on his head. Just where did he go after he decided to skip classes?
“Grilled Pork Ribs with Honey Sauce,” he said.
I stared at this high-class dish, “You… you really went and got these?”
“Of course,” he sat in front of me. “I promised you, didn’t I?”
Then he started to grab one with his hand, and munched on it.
“Hey Shin… hi HIDEKI,” Chiaki greeted us as she sat beside me. There’s always an emphasis on her tone when she calls Hideki, maybe because she thinks that Hideki always dragged me into his troubles.
“mum humm” Hideki greeted her.
Chiaki looked at the plate of ribs in front of us but she decided not to ask us about it. I think she’s grown accustomed to Hideki’s quirks by now.
“Your bento,” she said, as she slid me a box of lunchbox.
“There were some vegetables left uncooked yesterday,” she explained. “So, don’t waste it.”
Hideki grinned at me, as I slapped away his attempt to pinch my face with greasy fingers.
“Thanks,” I said to Chiaki. “Where’s Yui?”
“Library,” Chiaki said. “She had to return some books before New Year’s.”
I nodded, after which I took my first bite of the bento. A mouthful of meatballs was stuffed into my mouth, as I ate it together with a spoon of rice and broccoli.
Chiaki has also started to eat hers, while Hideki is continuing on his next rib.
“So, Shin,” Hideki called out. “What did our professor teach in the class?”
“Umm… the heroic tale of Perseus, I think.”
“He’s the one who beheaded Medusa,” Chiaki added.
“Hwooom the girl with snakes as her hair?” Hideki asked, in the middle of biting into the rib.
“Yes. He’s also the son of Zeus, and is said to be the greatest monster slayer in Greek,” Chiaki continued. When we are in these topics, Chiaki often could not hold herself back, and will keep continuing until someone stops her.
I looked at the clock hanging at the cafeteria.
Then, I looked at my watch.
I excused myself and went to the toilet.
As I washed my hands in the basin, my watch updated.
Two more minutes, then the first death happened. Hideki’s death.
I took a deep breath. The reason pork ribs are never ordered in our cafeteria is because the ribs are too big, with some bone fragments on it that were not properly processed. These ribs, if accidentally stuck at the throat, would choke people to death in mere minutes.
I let the water run in the basin, as I watch the water rinsing over my hands.
My watch beeped at this moment.
I gripped my hands and punched them on the basin.
There are some ruckuses starting to form outside the toilet. I can hear people starting to panic, and even some yelling for help. And Chiaki… I can hear her yelling my name.
I punched the basin again.
Only Chiaki can save him. One minute.
I stared at myself in the mirror. I looked anxious, somewhat miserable. If I rush out now, then it’d all be for nothing. I calmed my fists down, as the sound of running water got louder and louder.
I turned my attention back to my watch.
A strong dizziness suddenly hit me as I kneel on the ground, trying to recollect my breath. I felt myself being warped into the grey shrine gate, in the middle of nowhere, again.
This time, my body jolted. I held my breath in. I started to see Hideki in his apartment, it’s midnight, and he’s cooking some noodles. He gulps at the smell. Suddenly, he puts his hands on his throat, scratching it like he’s trying to get something out. He starts to vigorously punch his chest, and attempts to cough. He runs to the door, trying to unlock it, but a few seconds later, he collapses.
The vision then stopped. I felt myself back in the toilet.
I took a deep breath, before rushing out from the toilet to where Hideki was.
Chiaki had already done the ‘Heimlich maneuver’ on him, dislodging one of the bone fragments out of his throat. One of the girls surrounding them was covering her mouth like she’s about to cry. I believe she accidentally elbowed Hideki while walking past him, that’s why Hideki choked on the ribs. At least, that’s what it looked like.
“I’m fine, I’m fine…” Hideki said.
But I didn’t care.
I went behind him and did the ‘Heimlich maneuver’ again, and again until he vomited out every single bone fragment from his throat.
It was a... frightful scene; I think he puked out his breakfast as well.
Everyone around us stared in disgust. I couldn't blame them. I almost puked myself, looking at Hideki’s vomit. But if I hadn’t done that, he would have died tonight, suffocated due to his throat tightening because of one small piece of bone.
No one will be able to save him, because he lived alone. He chose to live alone. And only until the next day’s afternoon, when Chiaki and I visited him out of worry, his body would have been found. That was my third attempt at saving him.
“Shin… what… what have you done,” Hideki said to me, with his weak breath.
“I just saved your life,” I said, as I smacked his back again to make sure he spit everything out.
We both sat on the floor, in front of his pile of puke.
“Was… was that… really necessary?” he asked.
“Yes, it was.” I said.
He then laid his back on the floor, trying to slow his breath down.
“Th—Thanks for embarrassing me,” he said.
“Anytime,” I replied as I laid beside him. “Anytime.”
“I’ll get a janitor, and then we’ll send you to the infirmary for a check,” Chiaki said to Hideki.
“Thanks,” Hideki replied, covering his eyes with his right arm.
Hideki also started chuckling.
“I’ll never forget this moment,” he said.
“That you almost died?”
“That you two saved me.”
I smiled. “You’re welcome.”
This is now officially my second ‘top embarrassing moment’ in my university’s life. And, the first out of five deaths evaded. The first death. The first beep.