Haruko stayed motionless.
“Didn’t I say I’d come by the apartment to visit you for once? This time it seems I was too late… What happened to my magazines…? ...No, that’s not it.”
Haruko felt her head throb. It was Yulan’s voice. What was he talking about? She faintly remembered a day where she’d talked to him, after such a long time, on a busy bridge. What happened after that?
I missed you everyday when you disappeared. I realized I wanted to be with you everyday. But, you are a stranger to me. When you held my hand at the station, I hoped you would never let go. I realized then how much I liked you. I feel terrible, liking the person who raised me. I’m so disgusted. I am still a child... I thought I could convince myself it wasn't true...
“Let’s go now. Since both of us are running out of time, I will bring you there myself.”
Haruko felt a strange sound in the man’s voice for the first time but still, she remained motionless. The man bent down and picked her up. She couldn’t see. She couldn’t hear his heartbeat. He didn’t have one. The last time he held her so close was when she was a small child. Back then, he didn’t have a heartbeat either. After only a brief moment, he spoke again.
“Here we are.”
The man let go of her and Haruko wobbled on her two feet, her eyes still closed. She felt a freezing cold breeze brush past her, before the man put something on her shoulders.
She opened her eyes. Yulan was standing in front of her, his hair flowing in the wind. He was wearing his white dress shirt and black pants that matched the suit top. The top was covering Haruko’s cold shoulders. They stood on the Miyazaki High’s rooftop. You could see most of the city from here. Haruko had only been here during the day but it was completely different at night. The lights shined brightly, blinding her. She felt like she was in space. She looked hesitantly at Yulan. He held the black book in his hand. On the front, the letters “52 Hertz, the loneliest man in the world, by Sekai '' glimmered in the darkness.
“You found my diary. It’s a little embarrassing, to be honest.”
Haruko tried talking, but no noise came out.
“Haruko-chan. Do you know? The meaning of this title?”
Haruko gave up and shook her head.
“When I was writing this diary, I actually called it “52 Hertz”. When your mother, Suki-san, found it, she wrote the next part. “The loneliest man in the world.” In this world, there are many wonderful things to experience. There are many lifeforms, some of which we are not even aware of. In high school, we researched a certain mammal. The blue whale. Apparently, there is a whale called the “52 Hertz whale.” It sings at a unique frequency you see. Other, normal whales will only sing at around 10 to 39 hertz. That’s why scientists called the “52 Hertz whale” “the loneliest whale in the world.””
Yulan walked over towards Haruko, who was staring at the ground.
“Your mother must’ve thought it would be funny to compare me to that whale. She always said I talked about things she could never understand. Just like that whale, who sings and sings, yet other whales will never be able to understand it. It’s a little bit...cliché, really. I used to cringe at it everyday haha.”
Yulan opened the book and started reading.
“Sunday, June 5th
Today, Suki-chan showed up at my door. She wasn’t even carrying an umbrella, even though it was raining so much. She said that boy broke up with her. Now, she won’t be able to spend her vacation with him. They’re done for good.”
“Your mother was a very nice person. I loved her dearly. Your father did not treat her fairly though.”
Haruko suddenly felt how distant Yulan was all over again. She tried to move and scream, but an unknown force kept her from doing anything. All she could do was stand there, powerless.
“Even though I loved her so much… she didn’t love me back you see. Well, kids are always like this. Drama follows them like a curse. Your father… was quite the character. Suki-san liked him a lot. He, on the other hand.... I watched them from afar nearly every day of my final year. But… he was a bully. Students feared him. He was notorious for getting suspended. He even beat a student so badly the poor boy had to be sent to the hospital twice!! Hahaha… that was quite the show.”
Haruko felt like fainting.
“Your mother… Perhaps she thought she could change him. But of course she couldn’t. He was far gone. Instead, he got her pregnant. They hadn't even finished high school, and she was pregnant with you. The school expelled both of them. And me? You know the rest.”
Haruko felt the tears, but they wouldn’t come out. Yulan looked so strange. He looked almost the same as he looked all those years ago… when he offered her cake in the hospital’s hallway. That day, the day her parents died. Haruko knew it. Yulan never really changed since that day. He let his hair grow out. He didn’t shave often, the stubble on his face made him seem drastically older. Although, all these years, he’d never aged. Not once. Yulan never aged because he was dead from the beginning.
Yulan dropped the book to the floor. He got even close to Haruko and bent down to her level. She spoke softly and her voice finally came out.
“You took me in, even though you were 18 years old. But now, even if your body hasn’t changed, your mind has. You aren’t 18 years old anymore. When you jumped from this roof, your body ceased to age but that's all that’s stopped.”
Yulan smiled and held Haruko’s hand.
“Hmmm. How old am I?”
Haruko laughed softly.
“Well… really old. Like... 30?”
Yulan laughed. Not his usual laugh, but a weaker version.
He stood up straight and let go of Haruko but she immediately grabbed both his hands back.
“How did you do it? You hated my dad. He got my mother pregnant. Is that why you jumped? From this roof? It’s true? That’s how you...”
Yulan looked into Haruko’s eyes, then away.
“...Yes. After all, I was foolish back then.”
“But… but you raised me. That day, you even gave me cake. At the hospital.”
“Haha. You remember that, don’t you? Yes. Sadly, I had to eat it all by myself.”
“Lan-san. Just tell me how you did it. Tell me how you came back.”
“.... I can’t tell you that.”
“How did you come find me! Please, I want to know why… why did you come back to find me…”
Yulan sighed. He looked exhausted yet at ease. Haruko knew it. She could read him like a book now. His usual unreadable expressions, mysterious like an unsolved case were now tremendously easy to read.
“When I heard Suki-san was pregnant, I thought to myself that I would never want to see you. A child born out of a terrible event. I was scared you would look like that bastard. But then… Suki-san passed away. I felt like I had to see you, at least once, and tell you that you should live well. That’s why I returned, and went to the hospital. When I saw you… haha… in your little dress, walking around, I suddenly regretted dying.”
Haruko was still holding Yulan’s hands. He sighed again. Haruko could swear he was crying, yet she couldn’t see his face. Well, it would’ve been out of character for him… no... everything he did now was already out of character. Of course, Haruko came to realize that Yulan put on an act for many years. He never wanted to be a parent. He hid away his personality and became someone else. No one would remember him. If he didn’t do anything sincere, people would forget about him. If he left Haruko alone in the apartment, she wouldn’t get attached to him. She wouldn’t get attached to a dead person.
“THEN WHY! WHY DID YOU SEND ME TO THIS SCHOOL!”
“Why did you?”
“Perhaps I felt guilty. If, by any chance, you found my book here… I could tell you the truth. In the end, you did find it.”
“But, the author of the book is named Sekai. Did you choose that name?”
“Hehe, isn't it obvious? Of course I did. Sekai means “the world.” A word we use everyday. There isn’t much thought behind it.”
There was a short pause as Haruko wiped her tears away. Yulan tilted his head slightly.
“Why aren’t you asking any more questions?.”
“I...when I found your apartment… I knew something was off. I guess I realized everything then...but...it’s all a blur.”
“Then. It looks like this is goodbye then.”
“Someone like me shouldn’t be here like this. Ko-ko, you aren’t a little girl anymore. Your birthday is coming up. Then, you’ll be 18 years old. That’s an adult. You even made some friends. Right?”
“But- still you can’t just leave-!”
“Haha. But Haruko-chan, it seems you knew it would end up this way. Hiding your fears away in a blind rage. I wanted to help you, I really did. But I can’t. I’m not a good parent. I’m sorry for that.”
“Here. I can’t be here for your birthday, so I’ll give it now.”
Yulan held out a golden bracelet. Haruko sobbed loudly as Yulan tied it around her wrist. He smiled, satisfied.
Haruko had many questions, but so little time. Why didn’t Yulan spend more time with Haruko if he was going to leave like this? Where did Yulan stay, all this time? Was he a ghost? But then, how did the man who gave her Yulan’s address know of his existence? And when she was younger, Yulan had brought her to the office. Did Yulan ever truly exist? That day he came back, as they stood on the bridge, what happened to him during the time he was gone? Why did he have to leave now?
“Don’t leave… please… it’s fine if you disappear here and there, just don’t leave…”
Haruko grabbed his hand again but Yulan shook his head as tears fell down his pale face, for the first time.
“I can’t… ah…. Haruko-chan, my only regret now is that I couldn’t become a proper parent for you. No matter how much I tried… a dead person can only do so much in the end… I thought that if I just tried defying the odds for a little longer- ah...I’m sorry…”
He stopped himself, as if he knew nothing he would say would change anything anymore.
“It’s fine! Everything’s fine so just stay here and I’ll get better… please...”
He said softly. A soft glow slowly enveloped him as he started to fade away, like fine dust.
“AH...YULAN DON’T GO! I PROMISE I’LL BE BETTER… PLEASE!”
Haruko grabbed him quickly but her hands went right through him. It was like he was made of smoke.
“STOP! STOP! DON’T LEAVE ME ALONE!”
The wind blew softly, making a soft whistling sound. Then, Yulan was gone. Just like that. As Haruko fell to the ground, she saw a faint glow amongst the pile of dust on the ground that once was where Yulan stood. She carefully picked up the glowing object. It was the brooch she picked out for his birthday. The one she’d thrown away.