Chapter 3:

The Pleasure in Solitude III

Backward Steps


Second Memory: Kanzaki Hina, 2020Bookmark here

And suddenly we are in a new setting. The abrupt change of temperature leaves me dazed, I feel my head spinning, I am not well. Only until I remember that this is not real, and the situation I am in. When I think about it, I feel fine again, almost as if I have given my body an order.Bookmark here

Looking around, I notice that we really are in a totally different place than before: A huge space, with buildings crowded with rooms in the distance, and many people walking in and out of the building, all equally uniformed. Several group together to head for what I imagine is the restroom, while others move to the exteriors of the property for various reasons. We are in an elementary school.Bookmark here

From the temperature I could already tell that we are no longer in the same summer as 2011, however I still could not tell for sure what time of year we were reliving just by that. But, as I look at the trees around the school, which are letting brownish leaves lightly descend from their branches, and touch the ground already permeated by older leaves than these, I am sure: it was an autumn.Bookmark here

"Did you study here?" the man begins his questionnaire. Bookmark here

I nod my head. Probably every child in my town went there, it was the biggest school we had, maybe even the only school within a radius of several miles. Kitagawara Municipal School, that's what it was called. It didn't have many restrictions, not so many support programs or charity, it was quite simple, in the most natural sense of the word. The boys' uniforms were a white shirt and blue pants, and the girls' were a shirt and skirt, both the same color. It was a Chuugakkou, a school that covered the 3 years of education considered "middle", and was attended by teenagers from 12 to 15 years old.Bookmark here

"Aren't you glad to see the place where you studied again?"Bookmark here

I don't particularly remember Chuugakkou. I was already popular, certainly, because I was already one of the best players on the school volleyball team, and I used to hang out with the most influential people in school, even though, looking at it now, that was pretty shallow. I didn't even like them.Bookmark here

"Are we going to see my 15-year-old self?", I ask him, uncertain. My mouth involuntarily trembles, such is the cold I begin to feel, but I push that thought away, and it stops almost immediately.Bookmark here

"You see, I didn't intend to go anywhere else with you after Hina's house," the man says. He looks at the running children, and I see that his eyes sparkle a little, as if seeing them was invigorating for him. "But you are not making it easy. Your stubbornness is first class, Kazuta."Bookmark here

Stubbornness, you say. Feeling confused around this mysterious man is already starting to sound normal in my eyes, so I don't hold back too much on the subject. Well, if he wants me to see something, I have no choice, right? This has already been made clear twice; I have no freedom to run away from what this man is showing me. He intends to force me to see things from the past.Bookmark here

"Hina taught you something in that period, but you let it go," the man says, "and we are here for you to acquire the knowledge back."Bookmark here

He starts walking toward the building, entering not from the front, but from the side. I follow him in stride, without much to comment on. According to what he tells me, we are still following Hina. So this period covers Hina's elementary school, she must be between twelve and fifteen. Bookmark here

But if she is fifteen, we will be in 2021, which is the year I had the accident and was induced into a coma.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

Kitagawara is no different from how I remembered it: simple, the walls have been painted with had white, and the floor is so polished that you can see the reflection of things in it (even if I had no reflection myself). It was not a special school, yet it was well cared for. We walked up one floor, past the shoe lockers and the principal's office.Bookmark here

On the bulletin board, events and invitations to clubs adorned the view of passers-by with their colorful letters and hand-made drawings. In huge corridors, the classrooms indicate the classes within them with signs above the door, which give the school year and the letter of the class present there.Bookmark here

As we move forward, students rush past us, obviously without even noticing our presence. It is like being inside a movie, looking at everything there, yet not being able to change anything. But for me this is more than convenient, so I can hear everything they say, be present of their moments, without necessarily being part of it. And observing is something I have always done.Bookmark here

With just a few minutes inside the school I am already able to remember about the colors: blue ties are for first-year students, green ties for second-year students, and yellow ties for third-year students. And even if there were no such way to discern, this would not be difficult to do by the heights of the children. Because they were in full development, the students with yellow details on their clothes were clearly much taller than those with blue details, and that could serve as the standard for much of the school's students.Bookmark here

"Hina is probably around here, don't you think?" the man asks me, and I affirm, as he probably already knows this previously. The man I have next to me doesn't make much sense sometimes, if he is God, why does he ask me things so much? Maybe he's not that powerful... but it's undeniable that he has a lot of authority over my mind. Maybe he is just having fun with me and the past.Bookmark here

"Do you know where she usually eats lunch?"Bookmark here

When he asks me this, memories start to pop up in my mind; things that Hina must have said to me more than once, in the many times we "talked", and I erased it all from my head as soon as I got home. Hina was telling me about her time at school. A fifteen-year-old girl dating a young graduate, Hina was very willing to share her daily life with me, and I enjoyed listening to her talk, even if I didn't absorb much of what she said.Bookmark here

She seemed so happy talking to me about how delicious her mother's food was, about how much she liked to study, about how she would love it if we were in the same classroom...Bookmark here

Suddenly I don't feel like being there anymore.Bookmark here

"Hina doesn't really like being alone either, does she?" the man questions while we are still walking down the noisy hallway. Desperation takes over, "You guys are even a little similar in that."Bookmark here

"I don't want to be here anymore," I force myself to speak, and feel my voice quiver.Bookmark here

"Oh." I see the man's face form a smile. "I see it's starting to take effect, your memories that were blocked by your subconscious are becoming accepted now. Lying to yourself, trying to fool yourself, can sometimes cause psychological problems, you know-"Bookmark here

"Hear me" I plead, once again. But the man keeps walking.Bookmark here

In a desperate attempt, I hold the old gentleman's arm. Instead of an arm weakened by time, a result of age, I squeeze muscles and feel a vibration of flesh beneath the tuxedo fabric; the man does not look like an old man, on the contrary, it was as if he brimmed with vigor, despite his appearance. Bookmark here

He made no attempt to disengage himself; he stopped walking as soon as I squeezed his arm. Turning to look at me, I felt a twinge of hope. Maybe he will listen to me, I thought.
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"We can't stay here." I try to keep my voice steady, but I am not successful. Now, more than ever, this man strikes me as a soul reaper. "We simply can't."Bookmark here

The man initially says nothing. But his rigid look of disapproval, his lips drawn together in an expression of disappointment, are all back. I feel more distant than ever from him, more than the moment we met, more than the moment I was asked about the guilt I should feel but didn't. It was as if he were my father, trying to get me to confess that I broke that kitchen window, looking at me with disgust as he sees that I would not give in, and would rather deceive myself than confess my crime.Bookmark here

The man leans toward me, and I try to back away. But I am trapped by him and the wall, and have nowhere to run. Moving closer to my face, he afflicts me even more. I feel so small that now I am afraid to disappear under the shadow of this man, my God, my demon, the one who tries to make me pass through the Styx River and carry me through the hell of my sins.Bookmark here

"How long do you intend to run away?" his voice reverberates throughout my being. I lose the strength in my legs, sitting helplessly on the ground. This is not normal. "You won't change if you keep avoiding your past."Bookmark here

"And...," I feel tears burning my face, and speaking becomes more difficult, "And why do I need to change?"Bookmark here

The man frowns as he hears this, still looking at me. I lower my head, hiding it between my knees. I feel ashamed; ashamed of myself. I know why I need to change. I know that my self, the Kazuta I built and believed to be my best version of myself, is full of covered up flaws; it is a young man who, in order to keep up with his presentable house, chooses to cover up the imperfections, and never, under any circumstances, find a definitive solution to them. And at the point in life where I am, these decisions of mine have begun to affect other people, to do them harm. People that I should help and do well.Bookmark here

And Hina is one of these people.Bookmark here

"I'll go ahead," the old man says, without waiting for me to lift my head to see him. "I imagine you have some idea where to go."Bookmark here

And the sound of school children intensifies, for that is all I hear. The man is no longer around. Slowly, I lift my head: he is gone. I feel a sharp pain in the front of my head, probably caused by the sudden tears that have overwhelmed my eyes, and my mouth is now full of saliva. It seems too real... I feel fear again, but this time it is not fear of the reaper, the fear I feel comes from what I am experiencing. I am afraid to see her... Bookmark here

But the man is right. There are things I must face. If he expected to see guilt in my eyes when we meet, surely he has found the moment that will make me feel it. I know now, the moment I am in, and I know the moment Hina is in, that has become clear to me.Bookmark here

In fact, I know where Hina eats lunch, I know where she eats lunch since she started attending Chuugakkou. And I imagine that she is in that very place right now. Bookmark here

My leg strength returns, so I stand up again. I walk, alone, down the long hallway filled with classrooms, ignoring the noisy children. I am not in the mood to see them anymore... for the first time, I am trying to think about the conversations I had so much with Hina, trying to absorb information from them. I am thinking a little about myself.Bookmark here

I reach the end of the corridor, which ends at the bathrooms, and there are the flights of stairs, leading to the terrace of the school. This last flight of stairs is full of dirty and broken desks, so it has become an uninhabited staircase. If the students wanted to go up to the terrace, they would probably have to go through the middle of the dirty desks, and would probably have to force the door to get up. Bookmark here

But going to the terrace was forbidden by the school principal, and no one had been going there for quite some time. My friends and I had managed to get up there once or twice, but it was so dull, since nobody looked for us or noticed our absence, that we did it very few times. So that staircase was rarely used, and the students avoided it.Bookmark here

Except for Hina. Bookmark here

I knew I would find her there.Bookmark here

Alone, she is slowly chewing the onigiri inside her lunch, surrounded by dust and dirt. Her skirt has a huge rip in the left corner.Bookmark here

And her tears are salting her food.Bookmark here

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