Our School is Perfectly Ordinary
It’s what everyone else tells him too, that although Saori left as soon as class ended, she was in the classroom all day. Shun wonders if he really did hit his head too hard this time. Maybe he does need to get his vision checked.
But something still isn’t adding up, and his misgivings lead him to the east wing of the school where he’s told the dojo is. According to Saori’s friends, she left early for kyudo practice. Shun wonders if he’s being too pushy, wanting to confirm with his own eyes that she’s doing fine.
He tells himself he won’t ask any questions, he’ll just check that she’s okay—that she still exists, a tiny voice in his brain says, cryptic and unhelpful—and then he’ll leave. And he’s hovering awkwardly in the hallway just outside the door when he sees several figures dressed in martial arts uniforms heading over.
One of them recognizes him first, but it’s not who he’s looking for.
“Shun, my boy! You’ve finally recovered enough to join us again!”
Shun dips his head. “Hi, Captain. No, I’m actually—”
“Captain? That title is no longer mine. We are now equals under the same sun!” Jinpachi’s booming voice has always resonated loudly through the halls, resulting in frequent noise complaints from the neighboring tea ceremony club back in middle school. “Hurry and get changed, Shun! We don’t have all day!”
“The kyudo club,” he says. Jinpachi’s hearty laughter dies in his throat.
“No, I’m not!” Shun says quickly. “I’m just looking for someone.”
“Kyudo is on Tuesdays,” Jinpachi tells him, perking right up. “All the martial arts clubs share the dojo space on a rotating basis, see. We get Mondays, kendo gets Wednesdays and Fridays, and judo gets Thursdays.”
“Oh, I see…”
Saori’s friends might’ve been mistaken, Shun decides. That’s all there is to it. He’s not sure what came over him earlier when he decided to rush over here to look for her. Maybe he just needs some rest. So Shun thanks his former middle school aikido captain and excuses himself—
A hand clamps down on his shoulder.
“You’re not thinking of skipping practice, are you?”
Instead of having to drag rubber mats across the gymnasium floor like in junior high, the high school has an actual dojo with nice, padded flooring. It’s a little small though. Shun isn’t sure how the kyudo practitioners practise here without the outdoor archery range, but Jinpachi explains that the club only uses the space to train form and meditation.
“They do full shooting practice at the sports center a couple blocks away,” he tells Shun. “Perhaps the person you’re looking for went there. But worry about that later. For now, it’s time to train!”
So Shun gets dragged into joining aikido practice, forced to borrow Jinpachi’s gym wear because he didn’t bring a change of clothes. It’s awkward at first, because he stands out starkly in the sea of matching white and black uniforms. But after a shaky start, muscle memory takes over, leading him through the familiar forms and techniques. The final few months of middle school wasn’t too long ago, and he spent much of that time with the aikido club before he quit.
Why is he only remembering that now?
When they move on to partner drills, the instructor lets him sit out at Jinpachi’s request. As Shun kneels respectfully at the edge of the dojo, he realizes he recognizes more people than he initially thought. Most of his friends from back in the aikido club last year stuck around. Why didn’t he?
After practice ends, he keeps asking himself that question in the changeroom later, searching the back of his mind for the answer. The more he thinks about it, the more ridiculous it sounds. And he still needs to apologize to Jinpachi for quitting aikido so suddenly—
“Hey, Captain,” Shun calls, raising his voice over the sound of running water in the showers. “Why did I quit the club again?”
There’s a brief pause.
“Huh, did you?” Jinpachi shouts back. “You’re here now, that’s all that matters!”
Shun’s headache starts to flare up again, and he rubs his temple absentmindedly. Yeah, what’s the point in dwelling on the past now? None of that really matters.
That’s the tipping point, actually, when he realizes it does matter, to him, to the tiny voice in his head that he’s always been tuning out. This whole situation is weird as hell—an aikido club that he doesn’t remember leaving, kyudo practice that doesn’t exist, and a girl that isn’t anywhere to be found. He still doesn’t get it at all, but against the flow of sluggish thoughts forming in his brain, it feels like he’s waking up from a long dream.
For the first time in a long time, the memory of the end of his first day of aikido practice surfaces.
He remembers dragging his blistered feet across the gym floor, struggling to lug the weight of several rubber mats along. There’s a tap on his shoulder.
“You good, Shun?”
He blinks sweat out of his eyes to see Jinpachi grinning broadly at him. The mats he’s carrying are slung over his shoulder like it’s effortless, and the sight makes Shun feel even more exhausted than he already is. After breathing exercises and basic footwork, he’s more tired than he should be—and actually, putting up and taking down the mats is what wore him out.
His pride won’t let him admit it though.
“I’m fine,” he says, as Jinpachi reaches over and swipes the two rubber mats at the top of his pile. “No, seriously. I can—”
“You worrying about me? I’m real strong,” Jinpachi says proudly, though he staggers a little under the additional and unbalanced weight. “Take it easy, captain’s orders.”
“W-wait, you’re the club captain?”
“What’s with that reaction? Who’d you think it was, huh?”
“I thought…maybe the instructor?”
With the last of the mats stacked neatly by the wall, everyone starts to head out of the gym. Shun follows Jinpachi to the doorway, pausing to bow to the front of the dojo—the basketball net makes it feel kind of weird—before stepping outside.
“How can you get as strong as me?” Jinpachi’s saying, his booming laughter reverberating through the hallways. “Well first, you need to start working out.”
The sound of water shuts off, and Shun blinks. He’s sitting on a bench in the changing room, wearing his wrinkled school uniform. The gym clothes he changed out of earlier are folded messily on the seat next to him.
The shower door swings open, and Jinpachi pokes his head out. His damp brown hair clings to his forehead and drips water into his face.
“You good, Shun?” he asks, rubbing the droplets of water out of his eyes. “You’re looking kind of pale, my guy. One of these days, you have to start working out, or you won’t be able to keep up.”
The scene is so familiar and nostalgic that Shun feels like he might actually cry. The wobbly half smile he gives the aikido captain is returned tenfold, and Jinpachi reaches for a towel on the rack to dry his hair.
“Can I really join the aikido club again?” Shun asks suddenly.
Jinpachi laughs. “When have you ever left?”
“I—” Shun bows, low to the ground despite the other’s protests. “Thank you very much! I’ll see you tomorrow in the dojo, Captain!”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself. Tomorrow, kyudo’s in there.” Jinpachi reaches out a hand for his gym clothes, and Shun quickly hands them over. “Thanks, Shun. I’ll see you next week, and you’d better not forget to bring your uniform!”
Kyudo. Right, he was looking for the kyudo club, for Saori. That’s why he came here in the first place. In a sudden moment of clarity, he remembers something from not too long ago. Something perplexing, something that’d he’d look back on in the distant future, wishing he’d never remembered.
Back at the library, she—Saori Ichikawa—was the one who knocked him out.