It is the 7th of April, the last of the Sakura are in full bloom and with that, a new season is about to come, for me as well. Today is my first day at St. Stephen's international school, the most prestigious high school in all of Japan. That said, getting admission here isn’t an easy feat, every year thousands of students apply here, in order to open a path for achieving their dreams, of those only a select few hundred get to be here.
My name is Akio Takase, I was a model student in middle school, I always got the best scores in every subject and the highest rank in every exam. My old classmates used to think that I study all the time, which is surprisingly not true, I don’t study nearly as much as people think I do. My memory is pretty sharp, I remember anything I see almost immediately, and I understand anything taught to me instantly. And with these gifts, I’m now standing in the entrance ceremony of the first years in St. Stephen's, quite the suitable place to exploit these gifts, and that’s what I plan to do. I see around me all these students, with just a glance I can tell, they are overjoyed. It’s no surprise, after all, they are standing in a place, they worked so hard to get into, I on the other hand am feeling anxious. I’ve managed to stay on the top of the ladder until now but from here onwards, my real competition starts.
This place is the alma mater of my father Ichiro Takase, a Physics Nobel laureate, and also where my big sis is studying, she is a third-year, and these two are the people who I respect the most in my life. I’ve always been compared to them my whole life, compared and looked down upon because, in front of these geniuses, I appear average, which is why I am here, I want to be just like them. They are amazing, anything they put their minds into, they excel at it, everyone around them is always charmed by their charisma, everyone looks up to them, I included. I want to reach the same height as them so that I can stand head-to-head with them, but the pressure of this place is already dawning on me. My rank in the entrance exam was second, which may seem like a great score but not here. Ranking is everything here at St. Stephen's. My idols, my sis, and my father were the top rankers in every exam they’ve ever given. The top rankers of this school have the highest chances of getting admission to the best universities across the world, the top five rankers are sure to get admission wherever they want, in this school of prodigies, they receive the most respect, they are known as the toppers. Being the second rank, currently, I’m amongst these toppers, but this position is not guaranteed, even a single point can affect one’s rank because the competition for the top spot is always on.
After the ceremony, we went to our classes. Then we had our physics class right after homeroom, it was tough, just as I expected it would be. Here, students are expected to have at least flipped through pages of their new books, most live up to that expectation. Almost every student here is ahead of the syllabus, although I’m not one of them. I only work for what I need to achieve my current objective. So, I studied for the entrance exam, but not any more than that, and it is about to take its toll on me because it's Maths class right now, My worst nightmare. Maths is my weak point. I did get a perfect score in Maths as well, but I had to put a lot of effort into it, and now I’m competing with these geniuses. I don’t even understand any of the equations on the blackboard at all.
‘Mr. Takase, can you tell us how we solve this?’
Just great! Of all the twenty-nine students present here, he asked me. Can only say my luck bites, since rank one is absent it’s obvious, he’ll ask me the second rank. Whatever the case I have to answer him. It must have been a pretty bad first impression but I stand up and say…
‘I’m sorry sir, I don’t know’
Since I didn’t know the solution, this was my only option.
‘Sit down, anyone else?’
Instinctively, I turn towards the source of the sound, to my left, I see the boy sitting next to me looking at the teacher while raising his hand.
He explained the solution and our teacher told him to sit down, but even after listening to him, I couldn’t follow. Although I do understand things quickly, Maths can be a bit tricky. It’s impossible to understand a solution without knowing the necessary formulas and methods. Not to mention, here everything is taught at twice the normal speed.
I managed to get by through the next three classes without getting into any trouble and now it’s break time and I’m standing in front of the cafeteria. More like between the mob that’s in front of the cafeteria. Just how is anybody supposed to buy anything here? There are more than five hundred students all flooding here at the same time.
‘It’s a waste of time. You won’t be able to buy anything now.’
Says the guy who solved the equation, standing next to me carrying two fried Kinako bread. I didn’t even notice him until he spoke, this crowd is crazy.
He said as he offered one to me.
‘No... no, it’s fine’
‘Just take it, buddy I can’t eat both of them. I bought one for my friend but he brought his lunchbox today.’
I wasn’t so hungry that I’d need to accept food given to me by a stranger. But I took this opportunity to make a new friend. I think the guy approached me with the same intention as well.
We went to a table in the cafeteria, sat across from each other, and started eating the bread. It was crispy and simple.
‘You have to get to the cafeteria within two to three minutes of the recess bell, or you’ll never be able to reach the counter in time.’
‘Is that so? I didn’t know. Have you been studying here since middle school or something?’
I mean, how does he know such little things, he must have seen this situation before to know it.
‘Nah, an acquaintance of mine is a third-year here. She told me.’
‘Oh, I see.’
‘Oh, I’m Shun Tomonaga by the way. What’s your name?’
‘My name is Akio Takase. Nice to meet you.’
‘Takase? wait a minute. You’re rank two?’
Wow, how does he know? I mean the school did put all the qualified candidate names on the bulletin board but I didn’t expect anyone to remember them. I don’t remember what rank he was on. I didn’t even check below my name.
‘Yeah, I am’
‘That’s amazing! Just how much time do spend studying? I studied like crazy before the exam yet only managed to rank 6.’
‘Oh… about three to four hours a…’
‘But then how come you didn’t know the solution to that equation, it was pretty basic.’
Oh, so that’s it! He’s not here to make friends. He’s here to rub that to my face. He only wants to show off, to state that he’s not inferior to me. Guess I should’ve known, why else would he approach me of all people on the first day?
‘I didn’t prepare ahead of syllabus. I only studied for the entrance exam.’
‘Really? I’m surprised. I should warn you that that kind of attitude won’t be enough to survive here. Every student that enrolls here stays at least ten chapters ahead of others. What surprises me is you didn’t know that despite being a topper.’
Yep, that’s it. That’s all he wanted. I should’ve known, the world is full of people like him. They just achieve one little thing and just start showing it off, demeaning others, these people enjoy it so much. Comparing others and humiliating them for their inferiority. I hate people like him.
‘How much was the bread?’
‘Oh, never mind, It’s on me.’
‘No, just tell me.’
‘Don’t worry about it, it’s no big deal. Sorry if I offended you, I was just speaking my mind that’s all’
I hate this guy.
‘Thanks for the bread. I’ll be going now; our art class will start soon’
‘Wait, I’m coming too.’
I would rather go alone. I always try to avoid people like him. They only cause me anxiety. But despite what I wanted we ended up going together.
It’s our painting class right now. Although we’re science students, we have to opt for one additional subject aside from our honors subject. We have to choose from Painting, music, and such. I chose arts because I’ve been pretty good at it since childhood. I’ve always loved nature, just sitting and looking at beautiful scenery filled with nature puts my mind at ease. Once while sitting on a bench on the top of a hill, I looked at the water of the lake below, shining like gold with the reflected light of the setting sun amidst the hazy red water. I’ve never seen anything more beautiful. The next day, I just felt like painting it and when I grabbed my brush, I spent hours trying to paint that very scenery. It was my first painting despite that it turned out quite well. The memory of that evening is still vivid in my mind. After that whenever I saw any beautiful scene, whether in reality or my imagination, whenever anything like that came to my mind, I painted it.
Since it’s our first class, our teacher told us to paint whatever comes to mind. Maybe to evaluate our current level and potential. Since I was just thinking about all this, a similar scene came to my mind, it was not as beautiful or vibrant, but I painted it anyway.
Once the class was over, the teacher asked the class vice rep to submit all the artwork so that he can evaluate it later. And when she arrived at my seat and looked at my artwork, she immediately uttered a question.
‘What’s its name?’
A name? were we supposed to name them? Also, I don’t think she asked any other students for the names, so why ask me? Moreover, what am I supposed to say here? I don’t have any names in mind. Guess I should just tell her the truth.
What does she mean?
‘Is that it? ‘Truth is false’? Is that its name?’
‘I mean Yes! But no… er eh it’s ‘True false’’
I don’t even know what I’m saying. I’m nervous, because of this girl in front of me. I can’t explain why? Maybe because of the excitement I see in her eyes or maybe because she suddenly dropped that question. Whatever the reason, I’m flustered.
‘Oh, you know? That’s the first name that came to my mind when I saw this.’
‘Anyways, good job Takase, I’ll be taking it now’
Wait how does she know my name? Did she also check the whole list on the bulletin board? But that doesn’t explain how she knows what I look like. Does she remember it from the attendance? That’s it…
Here, the class representatives are chosen by ranks, with one male and one female member. Since the top student is a guy the vice rep would be a girl. She could very well be one of the toppers, and since I’m rank 2, she was looking out for rivals.
And now I’m curious about what did she paint? I want to know what level she is on. If I remember correctly her name is ‘Chizuru Yukawa’. I remembered it because it was announced during the homeroom as the vice class rep. I looked for her painting, and when I saw it, I froze there for a second, it was like an old memory materialized in front of me.
On the canvas, I saw the glittering like gold, the reflected light of the sun by pink lake water. It wasn’t the same, but it felt to me like an illustration of a vivid image seen through my head, almost like she read my mind and made it from there. I can do better than this but it was an extraordinary piece of art for sure. Compared to this what I made today looks like a toddler’s doodle. I guess that excitement in her eyes was her relief and pride that she is better than me in something, that though I have her beat in ranking she beat me in something too.
And that’s just the start, I can’t let my guard down here. I have to improve my game if I want to compete with these people. It’s just the first day and they are already focusing on their rivals. The competition has already started, and I have to survive here and reach the top rank so that I can be on the same level as my sis and father. But it won’t be easy for sure, today I was bested by rank 6 in maths class and the vice rep in art class. And the real trouble starts from tomorrow, when he shows up, St. Stephen’s science course rank 1 Kenzo Ishiguro.