I don’t understand. I got one question wrong on a test. I got ninety-five for the test and this is my reward? All because I carry the school’s expectations now? So I’ll get in trouble whenever I don’t get a hundred percent? I never signed up for this!
I take deep breaths to compose myself before entering the classroom, right as Mr. Gary is finishing off the attendance call. He doesn’t ask me anything, so I guess Misu or Saori told him that I was in Mr. Miyazaki’s office when he called out my name. It’s safe to assume that the whole class knows about it now.
The next question is: what do I tell Suzaku and the others? I could lie and say that I got called to be congratulated on my exam results, but that could cause problems. And any other lie would likely make me look bad anyway, so maybe it’s better if I just tell the truth.
Saori is the one that asks the dreaded question.
“What did you do?”
“I got ninety-five on one of the maths papers, so I got scolded,” I answer seriously.
“Huh?” Saori staggers. “That’s a joke, right?”
“I wish it was.”
“You’ve gotta be messing with us, why would you get in trouble for getting ninety-five in a test?”
“Because apparently they expected more.”
Saori looks at Misu with a baffled look on her face. Misu is uncharacteristically silent. Suzaku speaks up next.
“But you always get ninety-somethings for maths tests, don’t you? What are they on about?”
“I got ninety-seven for the previous exam paper, so getting ninety-five this time reflects poorly on the school, apparently.”
Misu erupts, “Ninety-five is surely the highest mark on that test! What is that geezer’s problem?? Some of us struggle to pass and then you’re the one who gets in trouble? Give me a break!”
Without looking away from me, Saori puts a hand on Misu’s shoulder in an attempt to calm him a little.
“So what now?” she asks.
“Nothing,” I answer, “I just got warned that it mustn’t happen again.”
“Screw him, he’s got no right to do that to you,” Misu says in a softer tone, but clearly still somewhat upset on my behalf.
“Yeah,” Saori adds, “you shouldn’t let that bother you. They can’t ask the unreasonable of you. My guess is that he was just grumpy and wanted to take it out on someone.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
Suzaku looks like he wants to say something, but before he can, our next class’ teacher arrives.
The fact that they took my side so strongly makes it a bit easier for me to calm down as classes continue for the day. I eventually settle my own mind by saying that there’s nothing they can do to me if I don’t meet their ridiculous expectations. I can just keep trying as hard as I have been, and that’s that. Although I’m not sure I even want to keep trying hard if this is going to be my reward.
At lunch, things seem back to normal. At some point, someone even makes a joke about how getting ninety-five is equivalent to failing. I prefer it this way, at least the air between us isn’t awkward.
After classes finish, I’m unsure about what to do. Misu has already departed for practice and Saori for a literature club meeting, leaving me and Suzaku behind.
“You’re not gonna go home and study now, are you?” Suzaku asks sarcastically.
“No,” I chuckle, “but I do want to stop by the Shogi and Chess Club real quick.”
Suzaku gets up.
“You do that. I bought a new game the day before yesterday, so I’m off to go lose myself in it.”
“Sounds like fun,” I say as I walk down the hall with Suzaku.
We separate at the stairs with a wave and I continue to the clubroom.
There are fewer students present than I remember from last time. It seems like taking a break after exams means taking a break from shogi as well. Takiya is there, but he is so immersed in his shogi game that he doesn’t notice me.
Not particularly interested in being roped into a shogi game myself, I take a remote seat against the wall. I instinctively take out my keycards, only to realise that there’s no reason to study anymore. At least, not right now. This train of thought takes me back to Mr. Miyazaki’s words, and all of a sudden I feel like throwing these keycards away completely.
I should have brought my book with me.
Nevertheless, I occupy myself with my keycards long enough for Mr. Gary to arrive. He goes around the rest of the club first, but no-one seems to have anything pressing to take up his time. After a while, he comes over and leans against the wall right next to me. He speaks up a few seconds later, in a more serious tone than usual.
“So, I might lose my position as teacher at this school if anyone heard me say this, but high school marks don’t dictate life.”
I remain silent, taken aback by his decision to start the conversation so seriously.
“They do help,” he continues, “but I don’t think one should sacrifice their own personal development in the process.”
I nod. He looks at me before he continues.
“Go and lose yourself in the festival preparations, have fun at the festival, and come back to academics with a vengeance afterward.”
“Right,” I can’t help but smile as I respond.
“Now then,” Mr. Gary heaves himself off of the wall, “do you want to play a game?”
We play one game, after which I excuse myself from the club.
“I won’t see you here for a while due to festival preparations, right?” Mr. Gary asks rhetorically as I leave.
“I guess not. I’ll be ready to beat you after the festival.”
He chuckles and waves. His final words only reach me once I turn around to leave.
”Be careful out there.”
What an odd thing to say. I ponder the meaning while walking down the hallway, but I eventually chalk it up to ‘strange things Mr. Gary sometimes says to look cool’.
I arrive at home, and while taking off my school uniform, I contemplate telling my parents about what Mr. Miyazaki said. I originally thought it would be best if I did tell them, because they would surely make a complaint to the school about it, which could get Mr. Miyazaki off my back. But that could also have its own drawbacks, and after hearing what Mr. Gary said, I don’t really feel the need to burden my parents with it anymore.
I’m a bit restless at dinner, since I’ve reached a very interesting part of my book on machine learning. It even has a link to a demonstration that I’m very excited to see. My parents tease me by deliberately eating slowly, but after a while they laughingly excuse me from the table anyway.
The demonstration is a video showing a strange-looking, four-legged robot. According to the parts of the explanation that I could understand, the robot was only programmed with the basic laws of motion in physics, as well as knowledge of how to move its own limbs. After that, the robot learned by itself how to balance, walk, and even run as fast as possible. One part in the demonstration showcases the robot being let loose on a frozen lake, where it starts slipping around for a few seconds before completely getting the hang of walking on ice without falling even once.
It’s truly amazing how humans can make something that can learn by itself. One might consider the robot to be able to think by itself, if one considers the prospect of learning complex actions from a set of very basic rules to be ‘thinking’. I don’t personally believe that this robot is capable of ‘thinking’ yet, but it makes me think about how long it will be before there is one that will be capable of it. I might get to see real intelligent machines in my own lifetime, or better yet, I might even be directly involved with making one. This prospect carries so much excitement for me that I struggle to fall asleep that night, despite being sufficiently tired.
“Listen up, everybody! We will need all of your help to make the upcoming cultural festival a success!”
Our class representative enthusiastically smacks the board containing the roles allocated to each group of students. For the festival, our class has decided to do some type of cliché café. Fortunately, I managed to avoid getting roped into being a waiter by Misu and Saori. Instead, I end up in the group responsible for decorations and supplies.
Despite not being in my group, I see Suzaku and Misu around quite often during preparations, since the waiters have comparably less long-term work to do. Suzaku isn’t too happy with his role as a waiter, but he comes to accept it rather quickly. For some reason, despite not being particularly artistic, I become the person to ask whether a decoration is presentable or not. I usually just comment on the colours and where in the classroom it might fit best.
Saori appearances are scarce, since the waitresses are apparently involved with the kitchen staff as well. On the other hand, waiters like Suzaku and Misu are put to good work with transporting the decorations and later the supplies. On this particular day, I find myself in the storage room with Misu to fetch some large banners that our class intends to use.
“Ugh, do they have to be underneath all of the stacked tables?” I groan as I begin digging out the banners we came to get.
“Listen, Aya,” Misu turns to me, “I wanna ask you something.”
He’s uncharacteristically serious, so I put down a table to properly face him before he continues.
“I have a crush on Saori, and I want to ask her out. Do you think the festival is a good time to do that?”
I pause for a moment. It sounds more like he’s asking for my approval rather than my opinion.
Why? We have all been getting along as friends, why do you have to go and change it now? Friend groups are often torn apart when romance gets involved. Surely our group won’t be any different. If Saori rejects you, everything will be awkward going forward. If you start dating, there will inevitably be squabbles that force the rest of us to take one side or the other. It can only mean trouble for us.
“How long have you liked her that way?” I answer, not letting my thoughts show.
“I don’t know, honestly,” he answers, rubbing the back of his head. “We’ve always gotten along, obviously, but after a while I just couldn’t stop thinking about her. There wasn’t one particular moment that started it.”
That’s the sort of answer I expected. Either way, I have bought enough time to formulate a proper response to his question.
“I think as far as places to confess go, the festival won’t be a bad choice. But are you prepared for the possibility that she’s happier just being friends?”
My response still sounds too negative, but it’s the best I managed to come up with.
“Hehehe,” he laughs nervously. “I’m not sure. I’d like to think that I could just go back to normal if she turns me down, but I’m not sure I could.”
So you’re at least aware of how you would compromise our group if this doesn’t go your way.
“Do you think she’ll reject me?”
I don’t want to answer that question. Realistically, I can see Saori accepting his confession, but it feels like a lose-lose situation from my end.
“I don’t know, I just want to be sure that you’re not a broken man if she does,” I answer.
“I appreciate the concern, but I think I might be more broken if I keep going on doing nothing. Suzaku thinks that I have a really good chance, so I think I should go for it.”
He’s made up his mind, so there’s no point in trying to stop him now.
“Well then, you go for it. I’ll do what I can to help you out,” I say, forcing a smile.
“Thanks, Aya! I’m pretty excited already!”
He beams a smile and then goes back to moving tables so that we can get to the banners we were sent to retrieve.
I wish I could be happy for him, but somehow it feels like the group we’ve had until now will change indefinitely, and that scares me.
Our classroom is brimming with excitement and anticipation as the decorations are being finalised. My job is done, so I sit in the corner, watching the last of the banners being hung up. The waiters are carrying boxes of cutlery to and fro and some of the waitresses are already flaunting their new outfits.
Despite saying that I would take things easy after the exam, I ended up far more involved with the arrangement of our class’ festival event than I intended. Fortunately, my hard work is finished now, so I don’t have any responsibilities to attend to at the festival tomorrow. I can walk around and see what the other classes have come up with.
The next morning, the school gates see a far larger flow of people than normal.
The cultural festival has started.