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I burnt a mosquito-repellent incense. A strand of smoke gradually floated, and flew around the damp living room.

“Mmmah. That’s so fragrant. Menma thinks that the smell of mosquito-repellent incense is the best smell in the world!”

Menma was aberrantly excited when I returned home. It was blatant she was just pretending to be joyous, so my look tensed under the action of my subconscious.

Perhaps, Menma was very wary of my look. I have no means to reproach her for this, yet she sang out the happy things happened today.

“Ah…ah. Menma wants to look at Menma. Too bad!”

“…”

“Will Menma Luigi wear the same green dress? Ah, but Menma doesn’t have a bit of red.”

Everyone believed in the presence of Menma.

As I had imagined, everyone changed their faces and didn’t talk after that. They left without leaving a word about Menma. It seemed like they at least believed what I said, like Hisakawa.

“Will Menma Luigi get taller than Menma Mario?”

Even she freaked me out at first. There was no way around.

I could see Menma and talk with her. That was the reason I could accept her presence. But even if I said Menma was there, perhaps to they, who couldn’t see spirits, will imagine Menma as a zombie who was incessantly throwing off flesh bits.

She drew ‘infinity’ in the air. At that time, the Menma they knew wasn’t their best friend, Menma they had in their memories.

It was a spirit.

“If Menma Luigi is a quiet beauty, then will Jintan think Menma Luigi is better?”

If they would take her as a spirit—to take her as something with obvious bias—I rather let them reckon Menma as just as my hallucination.

Yes, I hated the fact that she was crowned by another name.

I hated her being crowned by any name other than Menma.

“Hey, Jintan?”

“Ah…eh? What?”

“You’re not listening to what I’m saying! Hmph. I’m telling you…Menma Mario...”

“…Menma, let me ask you.”

“Ah! You’re asking me questions again! You didn’t even reply to what I said!”

“Why…should I apologise?”

“!”

Fu. Menma lowered her head.

She thought about it with her head lowered for a while, then slowly, bit by bit, she replied in a soft voice as if unwrapping a messy bundle.

“Menma is better of being secluded.”

“Eh…”

Being secluded?

“When I returned home, mother gave Menma…she put curry on Menma’s shrine.”

“Ah…”

Menma’s face became wan.

Menma had returned home. This wasn’t any thing inconceviable. But why was she saying this with such a tone and such a lamentable face?

“Mum said Menma is a bit stupid, so she might return home. Mum acting like this will surely make father, Satori, and everyone sad.”

Menma said while she clenched the palms put on her kneecap, trying her best to cease the tears rushing into her eyes.

Why did I ask such a cruel question? I wanted to switch our topic immediately, but I knew I must listen to Menma when I saw her trying to weave some words while trembling.

“So, Menma thinks that perhaps it’s better to let everyone feel that Menma is already dead and have returned to heaven.”

“…”

“This is because no one could see Menma. So, Menma thinks that it’s better to be secluded.”

Ahah…I sighed.

She was always like this. She said words of fools, did acts of idiots, yet her behaviour was always embedded with the care to her surroundings.

She observed how everyone felt and looked, even when she would become the clown.

“As a result, I did that carelessly. I told everyone I was here. I even ignited the fire rod. If I don’t let them see it when they shouldn’t…everything would certiainly…”

Tears affluently rushed out from Menma’s eyes out of her control.

But, Menma, aren’t you very strange now? That is because…

“You couldn’t be a recluse.”

“Jintan…”

“This is because I can still see you. I’ve already believed in your presence; I can’t believe more.”

“Ah!”

Menma looked at me as if seeing something peculiar, such as a spirit, staring at me blankly.

“I’m very happy,” Menma murmured in a quiet, surprised voice.

“I’m turning the lights off.”

“Okay. Goodnight!”

Menma slept on the bed, and thus I had to sleep on the sofa. I chose another pose to sleep today—my waist aches.

The only light in the dark room was the moonlight spilled through the curtains. The moonlight gently and hazily fell on Menma’s white shoulders.

Was the moonlight that bright?

My recent life was basically playing games until I fall asleep…twenty-four seven. The lights in the house were always turned on. I didn’t even turn them off even in days when they are not needed.

The flashy fluorescent light always glittered at the dark me, but now…

The natural and gentle brightness covered Menma…

“Jintan.”

“Eh…?”

Lying on her side, Menma spoke to me with her back facing me.

“Can I ask you something?”

“What is it? Ahah. Do you have to ask Menma Mario?”

“School. Are you not going to school because of Menma?”

“…”

So soft was the sound that it was about to disappear. What was that?

“Are you very mindful of what Matsuyuki said?”

Matsuyuki did say that I didn’t go to school because of Menma’s absence, but I didn’t have the stamina to bother about every word he said after being said so many bad things by him.

“Yeah. But… but this isn’t because of you.”

I didn’t know what the reason was.

Menma was gone. Mum was gone. I failed my exams. There were so many reasons for refusing to go to school, but…

“…This is because I hate to be bothered. That’s all.”

“Yes. Oh…”

Menma turned around, the blanket curling around her leg. She looked at me with her eyes flashing with a mischevious beam.

“Ah. Perhaps, this is Menma wish? It’s to hope Jintan could go to school!” She said with a playful tone.

“I’m telling you. You’re exploiting your wish just to weave reasons.”

“Hehe…”

Menma had a bright smile that was obviously pretended.

I spoke as if I wanted to get away with another possibility of mentioning the things that happened in school…

“Well then. Goodnight for real!”

“Yeah. Goodnight.”

After a while, Menma’s breathing patterns became regular and long.

A lot of things had changed while Menma wasn’t here.

My age, height was different from then.

The friendship of the Super Peace Busters was also different. But it would be great if only a bit…no, it would be great if we could be as close as back then.

“Eheh. Jinta-kun. What’s the matter?”

The living room was filled with the morning air. During this time, I rarely would wake up before dad goes to work…and I was even wearing my high school uniform. Dad glared at me while I walked downstairs.

“No. Nothing. Nothing special.”

“No. Nothing.”

Dad repeated what I had said like a parrot mimicing the words of someone. Although he pretended as if nothing had happened, he looked fidgeting apparently.

“H-Have you eaten your breakfast?”

“Yeah. No.”

“Is that so? But, eat somehitng. Oh, there’s some sour milk.”

“Okay…”

I directly walked to the sink and spread a thick paste of toothpaste on my toothbrush. After all, I just wanted to use some stimuli to get away with things that had happened in the past.

I could see dad was preparing for his work through the mirror. He was indeed restless, spying at me occasionaly, and then averting his eyes away when he met his eyes with mine on the mirror.

“Pat.”

I spat the peppermint-flavoured saliva out of my mouth.

I was going to school, yet dad seemed not so happy about it.

Having seen dad’s response, I was even sure I had given him much trouble. At that time, when I said I didn’t want to go to school, he must have been very puzzled…

“Wuaghh!”

Suddenly, Menma was kneeling down beside my feet.

“Eh. Jinta-kun?”

“Ah…No. Nothing.”

“This again? You alien from planet No-nothing!”

Exploiting the fact that dad couldn’t hear her voice, Menma spoke to me loudly as usual. I could only reply softly, “You woke up so early…”

“Menma was joking.”

“Heh?”

Joking—Menma stared at me and said sternly this unappropriate word.

“Menma was joking yesterday about having a wish for Jintan to go to school.”

“Eh…”

“It’s fine if you don’t. Don’t push yourself so hard.”

As if about to cry, yet trying to provoke me…Sigh. I’m fed up with her already.

“Idiot.”

I lightly poked Menma’s forehead from an angle dad couldn’t see.

“Ah!”

“I just think it’s about time I get to school. It’s the same as I not going to school: there isn’t any specific reason.”

“Jintan…”

I definitely would fulfill Menma’s wish.

Of course, I don’t reckon that Menma’s wish was for me to go to school. After all, this had nothing to do with ‘everyone’.

But, if I don’t do anything, I’ll get restless and impatient.

I wanted to be more like myself back then. That’s it.

The elongated, nasty, disturbing buzzing sounds of cicadas mixed with the disturbing, iditoic laughing sounds of some blokes. In this ensemble, the voices of those blokes were even advantagous.

The road to school was so short. I gasped in surprise. Of course, this wasn’t that surprising. After all, the times I had gone to school aside from the few times for examination were just few and far between.

I really didn’t want to go. The more I thought, the faster I got there.

My neck was burnt under the sun so tensely it hurt. Ahah. My sweat is trickling.

Every face of the students passing by seemed familiar to me, yet I felt I had never seen them before. Recognizing people by their faces wasn’t that useful. Right. Wasn’t it better if I didn’t recognize them while I entered the school? Let me just take these noises as a pointless chunk of sound.

I stopped unconsciously while I tried to recognize everyone’s face.

“…Hot. It’s hot. It’s so hot…”

I repeated this same thing again and again.

I was bound to be thought as a weird guy, someone talking to himself over there. However, it couldn’t be helped. If I don’t say anything, the information invading my ears would be too much I could handle.

“Oh look. Isn’t he Yadomi?”

“!!”

Striking out from that chunk of sound was some middle-aged woman with her throat buldged with fat.

I couldn’t help but to turn around, happening to see two women, which I seemed to know yet I seemed didn’t.

“You’re coming to school. Bravo! Bravo!”

Perhaps it was of for I faced directly at them, their vague faces became clear. I could recognize of them was someone that studied at my adajcent class when I was still in middle school.

They should be Anjo’s friends by now. But, they didn’t seem to this black before? Why the heck would they blacken themselves? It was the colour of roasted pork.

“Uh? You don’t look quite right?”

“…”

I glared at her in a bad mood. Stop speaking to me, I tried to imply to her.

The roasted pork seemed to back off a bit, but…

“Rest assured. Rest assured. No one would care if you just didn’t come for a semester, or should I say, no would would care about Yadomi.”

“Ahahaha!”

An even louder voice came in.

What the heck are they doing? This roasted pork and that nobody—what are they scheming? Do they want to make fun of me? Or are they…

“Morning…?!”

“Ah. You’ve come. Naruko.”

“Yadomi!”

Oh my, Anjo came at the worst moment. She looked at me; my breathing went stuck.

I couldn’t imagine this would happen after all that time we had been toegether yesterday. I also remembered I even grabbed her by the wrist.

But, when I saw her in front of this unfamiliar school…

“But, so to speak, isn’t the power of love too magnificent? That’s all because you ran an errand to his house!”

“What?!”

“It’s so hot! It’s a blazingly hot love!!”

The pork chop girl and that nobody ranted all day long. Flustered, Anjo said, “stop it! Who would want this kind of a person to…ah!”

Flashing her eyes, Anjo looked at the ‘this kind of a person’, I. I, this kind of a person, must have been had his lips trembling crazily…I’m helpless.

But, I don’t plan to be helpless forever.

“Hot. That’s what it was…”

“Eh?”

I quickly spun my mind around. I was spinning my mind to find the right words to destroy them.

“It was all for this heat that made me dizzy. I wouldn’t even have a smallest eager to come to this place almost…like a dumb zoo!”

I screwed it up.

“Ahaha! You bit your tongue!”

“This guy even bit his tongue when he’s trying to act cool!”

My face reddened, and my ears heated up.

“Ah…Yadomi!!”

I ran away. Why would I always run away from things?

It was so hot. My ears were blazing hot. The laughing sounds chased me.

But, there were no sounds from Anjo among those laughing sounds, though it was pointless to have noticed this.

Whatever that may mean,I had no companions here.

“…sigh.”

I leant on the long bench in the park, the rough wood surface hanging my shirt. A dense canopy of green stretched across and over my head.

I used to play in this park, although there weren’t much amusement facilities, making it a boring park for children. It was a place where old men would play croquet.

It was a rod that looked like a wooden rod but much thicker. All of us wanted to touch it and play with it.

As a result, the old men told us this was a sport only for old people. Stamping her feat and yearning, Menma said, “I hope to quickly become an old woman!”

“Menma…I didn't go to school.”

I murmured to myself reluctantly.

When I was small, if someone doesn’t come to school, I would think it would be all right if those normal ones would still come. However, the truth wasn’t that simple. During my half-year of deferring my studies, my body became used to being alone, being unable to handle the eyes of others…

“It’s fine if you don’t. Don’t push yourself so hard.”

“…”

Damn it.

I felt as if Menma had seen through all my thoughts and feelings. Perhaps she had also foreseen half of the fact that I didn’t go to school at last and ran here.

I couldn’t transform back to myself at that time…Menma knew it already.

“…”

I would never admit such a thing.

I could also foresee Menma’s behaviour. If I return home now, she would definitely come out to greet me with a smile printed on her face.

Even if I didn’t go to school, Menma wouldn’t have a word about it. She was that kind of a person who would just plainly accept it.

“…I couldn’t return home.”

My sweat had trickled below my nose. It was September already, yet summer’s end seemed so far a date that was unpredictable…I licked away the sweat that was rolled to my mouth’s corner, sensing a salty flavour.

The cool shade under the trees saved me. I lifted my head—the secret base was covered in the atmosphere of the last bits of summer.

It was so hot outside, yet the sunlight that fell upon the ledge of the secret base kept to strangely have the flavour of September. I always felt that this was a bit of a loss.

I had come here.

The things that happened in the Super Peace Busters reunion are mostly bad ones, but on the good side, it helped me to find a place to go aside from home.

“…Huh?”

I pushed the door, and it opened directly.

Wasn’t it locked? Hisakawa, you’re too careless. Don’t you live here all along? If something were stolen…Ah, there are nothing to be stolen here.

“Hey. Hisakawa?”

Having been flashed by the strong light of September, I looked inside the room again, and all I could see was a piece of darkness. It had been enough talking. Let me get in before doing anything else…

“…Wuagh!!”

There was something curled up by a blanket near the door. Curled inside was Hisakwa.

“…Yo, Jintan.”

It was a dejected, slow voice that didn’t seem what Hisakwa sounded before. His eyes were all red.

“Is…Menma here? Here.”

“N-No. She didn't come today. What happened to you?”

“Oh.”

The weather was so hot, yet Hisakawa still had to wrap himself with the blanket while crawling up. His pants had become loosened.

“What a thrilling night.”

“Ah? Yes…”

“I…believe in Menma’s presence,” Hisakwa said while scratching his buttocks; his eyes seemed a bit shallow.

“But, getting to the root of it, that’s because we trust you, Jintan. If you believe there’s Menma, we’ll also believe there’s Menma. That’s how it works.”

That was how it worked?

“But…how do I put it…um…”

Hisakawa repeated to scratch his buttocks, maybe he couldn’t think of any other action to do. At last, he did another action.

“Hmph! Fufu!”

He pulled the tissue roll on the edge of the table, wiped his snot, and deliberately added a sound effect with his mouth.

Then, he looked at me with a feeling that seemed to be refreshed.

“Indeed. Jintan is special to Menma.”

“!”

My face felt like burning.

Special—what a sweet remark. Besides, it wasn’t my own egotistical thinking but a name someone else gave. I was special to Menma.

“W-What are you talking about? There’s no such a thing,” I refuted in an indescribably loud voice.

“But, if it wasn’t the case, why do only you could see her?”

“I don’t know about this too…”

“Don’t be so modest! You’re special!”

“Wuaghh!”

Abruptly, I discovered Tsurumi was standing behind me.

“Tsurumi! Let me tell you. Yesterday night, you…!”

“Yesterday night?”

“No. Nothing…”

Tsurumi didn’t answer but handed a paper bag to Hisakawa. It was that kind of colourful, checkered, trendy paper bag you can only find in department stores of large cities.

“I’ve brought this: a mug. When we’re having the BBQ, I was shocked to find out that there are so few eating utensils here.”

“Eh? Can I…eh? What is this? Isn’t this a coffee brewing machine?”

“It’s just one we’ve used. My mum bought a new one back from the charity fund…so this is the old one.”

“Wuagh! Thanks! That’s so great. Are you one of the nobles, Tsurumi?!”

Hisakawa’s eyebrow returned to its original position. Or should I say, it ran to a place even lower than the regular position. Talk about finding people to help by first offering them with some benefits. He was such an easy guy to understand.

“Today Matsuyuki didn’t come to school. It seems like he’s going to have a long battle, so I think beverages are necessary.”

Tsurumi lightly squinted her eyes. What did she mean by a long battle?

“Ohehehehe! Let’s have some happy coffee time, shall we?”

Before I got the chance to ask what Tsurumi meant, Hisakawa had already been happily fiddling with the coffee brewing machine.

Tsurumi sat comfortably on the old sofa as if this was her place; she then moved her eye up to meet mine.

“Is Menma responsible to look after your house today?”

“You also believed it?!”

“I don’t know. However, I’m counted as skeptical.”

At this moment, Hisakawa joined our conversation with a picky tone while battling with the coffee brewing machine. It seemed like he had been listening to what we had been saying at the least.

“What. Didn’t you say it was a mass hallucination?”

“I don’t mind.”

“Heh?”

“I’ll also get hurt.”

Tsurumi murmured a reply completely irrelevant to Hisakawa’s question.

Previous: Chapter 12 - The Common Trauma Next: Chapter 14 - Call My Name

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