I was always told that high school will be the best years of my life. People talk about unforgettable friends they made and about all of the typical high school events that they remember dearly. I don’t see what they’re on about, though. So far, high school just seems like a place where kids sort themselves into groups so they can feel better about themselves, despite the fact that in the end, they’re all just learning the exact same work for the exact same purpose. Everyone is the same, even though they all believe that they are different. Except, now more so than before, students think too much of themselves, so the disparity between them is even larger. How can this environment be the place that is supposed to house the best time of your life? How are you meant to make these so-called unforgettable friends if no-one around you is genuine? And what fond memories are there behind studying all day just to go home and study some more? I can’t help but feel like I’ve been lied to.
This train of thought is triggered almost daily by now, every morning while I walk to school. Even though I am so deep in my own thoughts, I can walk the route safely after countless iterations. The morning bus seems to be a bit behind where it normally is at this time. There also seems to be more people jogging than normal - maybe there is some sort of marathon coming up or something. I can’t say I am bothered either way.
I arrive at the school gates. Almost as if on a timer, I hear someone call my name.
Here we go. I put on my cheery expression, the one I’ve grown so accustomed to wearing at school.
“Hey, Suzaku, what’s up?”
“Not much. I see you’re right on time as always. And Misu is also late, so nothing new there.”
He chuckles slightly at his own joke, despite having used it a couple of times by now.
“Is Saori at class already?”
“Yeah, she said that she left her homework at school, so she rushed to go do it quickly before homeroom starts.”
“She must know that there’s no way that she’s finishing it in time, right?”
“Of course,” Suzaku sighs through the start of his reply, “but you know Saori, she’ll manage to fill it so that it looks like she at least attempted it. I’ll never understand how she can’t keep track of such things herself.”
“She can’t be expecting us to do that for her, right? We’re busy as well.”
“Oh yeah, speaking of, do you still want me to go to that club with you today?”
The tone of his voice makes it rather obvious that he doesn’t really want to go.
“It would make it a lot more fun if you did.”
“But I only know how to play shogi.”
Stop making excuses. If you don’t want to, just say ‘no’. Of course, this thought is compiled and the output is something completely different.
“Oh come on, if you know how to play shogi, then it shouldn’t be hard to learn how to play chess. Besides, shogi is still the main game being played at the club. It only became the ‘Shogi and Chess Club’ after I talked to Mr. Gary about it.”
“It’s weird, I haven’t heard you talk about chess before yesterday. I didn’t know that it would be something that interests you.”
That doesn’t surprise me. We usually talk about video games rather than board games.
“A guy’s gotta have a hobby, right?”
“I thought your hobby was studying? Hahaha!”
Something about the way he laughed bothers me.
“Yeah, but after I’m done studying I want to do something else and I thought that chess might be fun. Hahaha!”
I mirror the tone of his chuckle back at him.
“Fine, I guess I’ll join you. It can’t do much harm to at least check it out, right?”
You still sound like you would rather go anywhere else. But too bad, you’ve agreed to it now.
“Right. I’m sure it will be fun.”
I see a tall frame come up behind the two of us as we’re walking. It seems like Suzaku didn’t see him coming, since he jumps when an arm is thrown around his neck from behind.
“Yo! What is this about being fun? You two making plans by yourselves?”
Ugh, I’d rather avoid telling Misu. If he joins us, the whole serious atmosphere will be done for. But I doubt he’ll want to join anyway. With Misu leaning on the shoulders of Suzaku and myself, I look over, trying to signal Suzaku to not tell him about our plans. He doesn’t look at me.
“Ayato wants to go check out the Shogi Club after school.”
“Huhhh? Seriously? I didn’t know you were into shogi!”
Misu leans on me harder, proclaiming his shock to the entire world. This is exactly what I was trying to avoid.
“I’m not, really, I just thought it might be something worth checking out.”
I’m not even going to tell him that I’m actually going to play chess, not shogi. At this point, my mission is to brush him off so we can change the subject as quickly as possible.
Luckily we have almost arrived at the classroom by now - I can already see the sign for room 2-2 just up ahead.
“There’s like a million other things that you can check out, but you do you, bro! I’ve got a soccer meet after school, anyway.”
I wasn’t asking you to join anyway. I open my mouth in an attempt to repel the accusation of my interest in shogi in some shallow manner, but before I can, Misu turns to Suzaku and starts talking.
“By the way, have you seen Ri?”
Fortunately they changed the topic on their own.
“Yeah, she said that she’d go ahead to class to try and get some of yesterday’s homework done.”
“I thought so! She called me yesterday asking if her homework was somehow left at my place, so I knew it had to be something like that! Hahaha! What a moron, she’s gonna get in so much trouble!”
We enter our classroom to find Saori at her desk, bouncing up and down as she writes frantically. She has some other papers sprawled out over her desk. I wonder if she managed to convince some of the other students to let her copy parts of their own. It wouldn’t be the first time. Surely just doing the homework is far less effort than this? This time she actually did forget her homework at school, but still, that’s an amateur mistake.
“You’re gonna get it today, Ri!!”
Every time I believe that Misu is at maximum volume, I get proven wrong not too long after. And this time we are in a classroom, so the spectacle is far greater. I guess I should be used to this level of attention by now.
“Leave me alone, I’ve only got a minute or two left, I can make it!”
The other students seem to be giggling at this comedic skit unfolding before them. To me it’s just the usual antics that they come up with, but I act along, shaking my head and joining the rest of the almost full classroom in soft laughter. The actors play it up even more, Misu listing off all of the punishments she will get for not finishing her homework, and Saori retaliating by trying to kick him in the shin while copying someone else’s work at full speed.
I shift my focus to unpacking my own desk, and soon the bell signals the start of homeroom. As if on queue, our homeroom teacher, Mr. Gary, enters the room. He’s young and stands out a lot among the other teachers at this school. Not only because he’s a foreign exchange teacher from America, but just in the way that he treats all of the students. It might be because of a difference in culture, but rather than the typical deep divide present between a Japanese student and teacher, Mr. Gary makes it feel like he’s friends with us. A lot of the students find this off-putting, and I know he’s gotten in trouble with the school for how casually he interacts with the students. To me, though, it feels like he’s putting in more effort to understand us than the other teachers.
I would never say this out loud, though, since it would seem like I’m putting down the very culture that I am part of in favour of a different culture that I can’t hope to understand. Maybe I am more drawn towards Mr. Gary’s way of acting because I am subconsciously rejecting all of the mundane things I have seen all my life. That might even explain my sudden interest in chess over shogi. Or maybe I am reading into my own thoughts too much, as I so often do.
It was Mr. Gary who first proposed that I come to the Shogi Club, promising that we can make chess a thing in that club as well. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one that even mentioned chess, yet he still made a promise like that. I was a fool to think that I could mention it to my friends without getting at least some level of judgement from them.
My thoughts are suddenly interrupted by the second bell, and so, another not-so-memorable school day begins.
The school day finishes, uneventful for me at least. Saori manages to get away with her homework, although I’m sure she’ll get in trouble once the teacher notices that her work was clearly rushed and obviously not her own. She treats it as a victory, though.
“Phew, I thought I was a goner today.”
Misu is the first to approach her.
“How do you always get away with it??”
“I’m just that good.”
Saori has a special knack for handling Misu’s energy without matching his volume. It’s rather impressive.
“Just make sure to not forget your homework here again! Should I hold on to it for you? Or even better, should we strike a deal with Aya so that he’d do your homework for you? It’d be an easy way to get your grades up!”
I’ve made my way over to them with my bag over my shoulder.
“Woah, woah, don’t get me involved in this. You should learn to manage your own homework, or else you aren’t really learning anything.”
Misu laughs so loudly that he struggles to form his next sentence.
“That’s the most Aya answer I’ve ever heard!”
Saori grabs her bag off of her desk and laughs along.
“Yeah, but what did you expect? Ayato would never do someone else’s homework for them. He’s selfish like that, keeping all the brains to himself.” She sticks her tongue out at me and gets ready to leave. “I’ve gotta go return some books to the library, so I’ll see you guys later.”
Suzaku chimes in from his desk just two places ahead of Saori’s.
“You mean, return some manga to the library.”
“They were for research!”
“Research for what? The homework that you didn’t do?”
“That’s in the past now, we’re over it!”
Saori leaves the classroom with a wave. Misu follows suit, still laughing at this whole exchange.
“Well, I gotta go too. See you guys tomorrow! Hey Ri, wait up!”
The class is practically empty now, but Suzaku is still sitting at his desk when I approach him.
“You ready to go?”
“Yeah… Just gimme a second.”
He seems to be shuffling around in his bag aimlessly, so I shift my focus toward the field I can see in the distance out of the classroom window. Most people find the sight of a sunset like this beautiful. To me, it just feels like confirmation that yet another day of the supposed best time of my life has passed without anything exceptional happening. I suppress the thought for now, since I’ve still got Chess Club to go to.
“Alright, let’s go. You lead the way.”
Finally, Suzaku gets up and follows me out of the class, down one floor and all the way down the hallway. Despite it being so remote, the Shogi Club has many attendees, but I don’t really know any of them. That’s why I thought it might be a good idea to bring someone I do know along, but now I just get the feeling that he would rather be somewhere else. As we walk in, one of the students - already playing a game of shogi - waves at me. I think his name is Taki-something, but I’m not sure.
“Yo, Ayato. Haven’t seen you in a while.”
“Hi, yeah, I’ve been really busy recently. Sorry about that. Is Mr. Gary here yet?”
“We haven’t seen him. Did you challenge him to a game of chess again?”
“It’s not quite a ‘challenge’, but yes.”
“Woah, confident, are we? Saying that he won’t even be a challenge for you.”
That’s clearly not what I meant. But I’ll run with it.
“I at least have to give him a chance, right? Hahaha.”
Suzaku is looking around the room silently. I wonder whether I should introduce him to the club.
“That a friend of yours?”
Oh good, that makes things easier.
“Yes, this is Suzaku. He’s just here to check out the club for today.”
Suzaku bows, but only the guy I’ve been talking to and two others actually reciprocate. The rest are either not paying attention or too immersed in their games. Suzaku turns to me.
“Dude, everyone here is playing shogi, why don’t we just join them? I’m gonna get destroyed either way.”
I could give ample reasons why I prefer chess over shogi, but I plan on asking Mr. Gary to play as soon as he gets here, so I don’t really care if Suzaku ends up just playing shogi. It might have been fun to teach a friend how to play chess, but I won’t force him.
“If you want to play shogi, Ayato or I would be your best bet,” the guy that greeted me interjects. “Everyone else here will actually destroy you.”
“True, I’m not really that good. But let’s wait for Mr. Gary first.”
I’m probably not actually such a bad player, but I don’t want to say anything that might get me occupied with playing shogi rather than chess today. It’s not like it matters, anyway.
“You’ve gotta be lying, there’s no way you’re one of the worst players in this room. Right, uh… Sorry, I never actually got your name?” Suzaku adds, seemingly a bit embarrassed.
“Oh sorry, that’s my bad man. The name’s Takiya. Anyway, I’ve only seen him play shogi once or twice, so I’m actually just guessing that he’s as bad as me. Hahaha!”
“Trust me, I’m not good at it. If you want to learn shogi properly you’re better off with any of these guys, anyway.”
“I still don’t believe you.”
Before needing to waste more energy defending myself from this strange accusation, my salvation arrives in the form of Mr. Gary. He enters the room, places his belongings on the counter immediately to his right and turns to face the room with a huge smile on his face.
“Sorry I’m late!”