Chapter 17:

The Value of Life

Second Chances

I sat down to have breakfast with my parents.Bookmark here

And, I decided to tell them about my resolve and my declaration at Chiaki’s parents.Bookmark here

My father was stunned with his cup of coffee in his hand; my mother grinned and kept pushing and pulling my father’s shoulders with her hands, back and forth.Bookmark here

“It’s finally happening!” she yelled at my father.Bookmark here

My father looked like his brain had a short circuit, and he’s now trying to process things through. He put down his cup of coffee.Bookmark here

He looked at me. “Really?”Bookmark here

“Yeah.”Bookmark here

My mother started to shake him harder.Bookmark here

“Shin’s mom,” my father said. “Calm down.”Bookmark here

Then my father looked at me. “Shin, after breakfast, buy something for Chiaki. Your mom and I will visit some stores as well, and then we’ll visit her family on New Year’s.”Bookmark here

“What do you mean?”Bookmark here

My mother looked excited, with her hands still on my father’s shoulder.Bookmark here

“Just get her a gift, something that you think she’ll like,” my father said.Bookmark here

He looked at the clock in the kitchen, “You know what, you should go already, some stores might close earlier today. You’ve got money, right? From your part-time jobs? Also, I need to make a phone call.”Bookmark here

My mother took one of the bread toasts, put it on my hand and urged me to go out. She closed the main door with me outside, with a wide smile on her face.Bookmark here

I sighed, as I ate the toast.Bookmark here

I then walked to the train station and sat on one of the benches there. There’s not a lot of shops or things to do in our small town, we either can visit book shops that sell exercises book, stationeries, a flower shop with limited choices, a post office, a convenience store, a small police station, some grocery shops, elementary, secondary, and high school. And, a shrine, which is probably the most famous destination here.Bookmark here

I took my phone out and texted Hideki. “Are you home now?”Bookmark here

A minute later, he replied, “No. I’m at the zoo.”Bookmark here

“Have you not been there before? Why are you at the zoo this early in the morning?”Bookmark here

Half a minute later, “Yui and I talked about zoos yesterday evening, both of us hadn’t been there, so she asked if I wanted to join her. It’s freezing today, by the way.”Bookmark here

“So, it’s a date then? A zoo date.”Bookmark here

A minute passed before he replied. “DATE? PFF—NO! OR IS IT? IDK. I’M still waiting for her to come.”Bookmark here

“Then are you free later in the afternoon?”Bookmark here

“Not sure. Yui mentioned she wanted to buy a new kimono for tonight. Why do you want to meet me so badly?”Bookmark here

There was a few seconds’ gap. “Shin, I told you many times. I don’t go that way.”Bookmark here

“Shut up. Just REMEMBER to bring my gift tonight. And, don’t let Yui or Chiaki know about what’s inside.”Bookmark here

“Fineeeeeee. I will see you tonight.”Bookmark here

I looked at the time on my phone. 8:45AM.Bookmark here

I bought a ticket and hopped onto the next train. A mother holding her small daughter’s hand also boarded the same train.Bookmark here

“Mom! Mom!” she jumped up and down. “Are we going to grandparents’ house tomorrow?”Bookmark here

“Yes,” her mother replied. “We are going to buy some souvenirs for them.”Bookmark here

“Yes, yes!” she hopped, “Souvenirs!”Bookmark here

I chuckled.Bookmark here

She noticed and looked at me. “Hey… are you going to buy souvenirs too?”Bookmark here

Souvenirs? Right, I might as well buy something for them as well. For my father, my mother, and Hideki. Maybe if I can find something better, then I could add it into my gift for Chiaki too.Bookmark here

“No,” I replied to the little girl. “I’m going to buy some gifts.”Bookmark here

“Gifts? What are gifts?”Bookmark here

“It’s something… special, I think. You buy them when you want to thank or show how much you appreciate the people.”Bookmark here

She nodded slightly, like she half-understood it.Bookmark here

“Then who are you giving the gifts to?”Bookmark here

“Hmmm… let’s see. Five people that I really love, and care about. Someone… just like how much you love your grandparents.”Bookmark here

She nodded slightly again. She then tugged her mother’s shirt. “Mom, can we buy gifts for grandparents too?”Bookmark here

Her mother also awkwardly nodded at me as a gesture of thanks, I nodded back.Bookmark here

She then looked at her daughter. “Sure. But I have an important mission for you: you will help me choose the gifts. So you must not run around. Promise?”Bookmark here

She held out her pinkie, and her daughter hooked on it with a smile. “I promise!”Bookmark here

After a few hours, we reached our station. My father was right, it was already 11:45AM. I then exchanged a ‘goodbye and have fun’ wave with the little girl and we went our separate path.Bookmark here

I then walked to the public library, 5 minutes away from the station. I wanted to find some quiet place to deal with the next death, before buying anything. For my father, I’d likely buy two new umbrellas; for my mother, maybe a pressure cooker; for Hideki, I’ll buy him a pen.Bookmark here

I stepped into the library, scanned my card at 11:51AM.Bookmark here

I chose a seat on the upper floor of the library, with a random book on ‘The Gift of Fear’ by Gavin de Becker. 11:53 AM.Bookmark here

I waited.Bookmark here

My own death.Bookmark here

The fifth death.Bookmark here

The first time I did it, was after I called an ambulance for Chiaki and called her parents. I didn’t follow the ambulance to the hospital. I didn’t visit her afterwards. I wasn’t there to bring them the news of their sole daughter’s death, because of me.Bookmark here

I went home that day.Bookmark here

I was a coward; I didn’t want to experience any pain anymore. I wanted a quick resolution. Efficient, and clean. So, I swallowed a bottle of headache pill; I chucked all of it into my mouth at once.Bookmark here

There was a label on it put by my mother to remind us: only one pill per day.Bookmark here

Then, I immediately felt a sharp pain and collapsed on the kitchen floor. But what I didn’t realize is that pills take time to be digested by our body. Since I didn’t choke myself to death when I swallowed those pills, I had to wait.Bookmark here

I looked at the clock in our kitchen.Bookmark here

It was 9:02AM.Bookmark here

I waited for two hours for the effects to kick in.Bookmark here

During that time, I heard everything around me clearer than ever. I heard the loud barking of a dog when a mailman arrived with his loud motorcycle on my neighbor’s doorstep. I heard the yell of a mother to her children that ran down the street in front of my house. I heard the airplane whooshing above our sky. I heard the rustling of the leaves of the small oak tree in our backyard. I heard the fade consistent sound of a vacuum cleaner. I heard a vague TV broadcast on live game shows.Bookmark here

All of the sounds, intertwining each other, sometimes occurring sequentially, sometimes simultaneously. All of them amplified when the clock showed 11:30AM.Bookmark here

Louder, and louder, and I wasn’t able to move my hands to cover my ears. I wasn’t able to move, or to speak. My strength has been entirely drained out of my body. My mind, running in circles; I was having a serious, deadly headache. I couldn’t do anything but wait. To wait for death.Bookmark here

It was then the bell of my house rang.Bookmark here

Once.Bookmark here

Twice.Bookmark here

Then, followed by a few knocks.Bookmark here

“Shin,” the voice called out. “I know it must have been hard for you, but we need to talk. About Chiaki. What happened? We called the police and they said it was likely a hit and run. Did you see the suspect?”Bookmark here

Then, another knock loudly landed on the door. “Please, Shin. If you’re not ready, we will come back in an hour, with the police to record your statement.”Bookmark here

There was a slight pause. “We’re here for you, Shin. So, please, for the sake of Chiaki and your parents, don’t do anything stupid.”Bookmark here

Their footsteps then became distant, and faded away.Bookmark here

A few small single drops of tears flowed out of my already dried eyes.Bookmark here

It was too late.Bookmark here

It was, too late.Bookmark here

Everything was taken away from me, and until the every end, only I felt how poignant regrets are, how precious certain moments were, how important, my own life was.Bookmark here

But everything, every word, every action I took—my entire life had been wasted at that moment, because I wasn’t able to bear with the sadness that haunted me.Bookmark here

Ahhh… maybe if I was a little bit stronger, I wouldn’t have made such a foolish choice.Bookmark here

It was 12:00PM when Reaper came.Bookmark here

I sat in the black, empty space, with only a small portable lamp in front of me.Bookmark here

I was all alone.Bookmark here

“Finally, Shin,” he said.Bookmark here

I ignored him.Bookmark here

“Shin, listen to me,” he added.Bookmark here

I only stared at the lamp, without another word. I was tired, and just didn’t care anymore.Bookmark here

He knocked the lamp down. "Hey! Hey! Shin. Focus. Do you want it? To save five of them. Your so-called loved ones. In trade for your life. Make a contract with me, and I shall grant your wish with my supreme Grim Reaper power."Bookmark here

“… What?”Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.