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Chapter 3 - The Night of Curry

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Meiko walked on her bare feet.

At night, the asphalt road still had traces of the heat of the setting sun: it was a bit warm, a bit moist, and very serene and tranquil.

Walking on this road, I stepped on it and rubbed it against my foot. I felt a slight pain from under my foot, a vague pain as if I was punched on the cheeks while sleeping.

(Where had Menma gone until now?)

Because of this vague pain, Meiko started to become numb to time. She couldn’t remember anything. The only thing she knew was that a long time had passed since then.

Meiko reminisced the instant she vanished from the world.

(Did it hurt?)

At the instant she tried to remember it, a sharp, cold pain like a piece of glass slicing through her back shot right through her.

She wanted to fulfil a wish.

That wish could only be fulfilled when everyone in the Super Peace Busters were together.

Every time she thought of something about herself, pain would crawl throughout her whole body, but this didn’t. This was the only fact that wouldn’t hurt when she thought of it.

She wanted everyone to know how each other felt, just like back then.

However, because of her adamant thoughts…

(Jintan…was hurt because of me.)

Jinta said that he had a tough life after that, and that everyone had changed.

Meiko wanted to deny this fact. She wanted the Super Peace Busters, including Jinta, to return to how they were before.

She knew, however, practically nothing after she passed away. As such, she wasn't fit to make the decisions for others…she was aware of this.

“Arghahahahaha!!”

A coarse laugh interrupted Meiko’s thoughts.

(Eh…?)

“Arghahaha! Naruko, you really did go there—to Yadomi’s house. You’re fabulous!”

“Eh. Yeah. It’s so troublesome!”

Naruko and her high school friends strolled in front of the station.

If they didn’t have a special destination, McDonalds would have been a great choice. Or they could spend a bit more and go to a family restaurant to kill time. However, they chose to gather in front of the station and chat there. This was to flaunt their equipment to the pedestrians.

She was wearing a new-bought, laced bra, and had her fingernails colored aqua-blue.

“Ahaha…!”

When did her laughing voice sound so loud? Naruko sometimes would even think this inconceivable.

Since the autumn of grade 2 in middle school, she would wear super-short skirts. By the summer of grade 3 she even started to wear high-heeled shoes.

Naruko was thinking about Jinta. She saw him today, but it had been a long time. The last time dated back to the opening ceremony of the school.

(How does he think of me?)

After Meiko’s incident, the Super Peace Busters drifted apart. Gradually, Jinta’s attitude changed. To sum it up in one word, it was the word ‘sullen’.

There were quite a few children around here who had to face the examination of promotion to high school. They entered the same high school, yet every time they met in the corridor, Jinta would always turn away, pretending he didn’t see her.

Naruko wanted to catch Jinta’s attention.

Did he say anything to her after she had taken off her glasses?

No, he didn’t.

Did he say anything to her after she had worn super-short skirts?

No, he didn’t.

There was only once, during the third year of middle school, that she caught Jinta saying something when they met.

“…like some straw.”

At that time, Naruko bought a hair dye and tried her first time in dying her hair, but she messed up the bleaching and made her hair have too much color.

Nevertheless, it was enough to excite her.

To see Jinta leaving and shouting like this was exciting and joyful.

‘'What should I do now? Time’s up.”

Naruko’s friend’s voice pulled Naruko back to reality.

“Ah. Yeah.”

“There aren't any good ones here. Let’s just play around a bit and get out of here.”

Naruko and her friends agreed to go to sing KTV with boys from other schools later. KTV partying, chatting in front of the station, or buying a one-hundred-yan snack if they were starving…going to Tokyo for shopping via the express at the holidays to buy exclusive things there—this was the vanity they were submerged in.

They spent their time with a serious attitude after lessons were over in their rural school.

They left their beverage cans on the bench they sat on and left.

This was their everyday life.

“…”

Naruko imitated their behavior.

This was uneasy for Naruko, who loved to clean things up. If she were to walk forward a few steps and throw it into the trash bin beside the vending machine…she really wanted to do this, but…

“Naruko?”

“Ah, sorry. Wait for me!”

She left the can alone. She didn’t have time to care for the different thoughts in her mind. She only had to focus on what was happening before her: there was no need to care for abandoned things.

Naruko began to think when she had turned into such a person.

At the same moment, Menma stared at the person Naruko had now become.

(Anaru littered…)

Menma was a bit shocked, not because she wanted to reproach her for littering, but that the person Naruko once was would never do such an act.

She did everything according to the rules and loved to clean things up. When Meiko was eating a sweet cone, she would even pick up the scraps that had fallen beside her.

(Anaru looked like she didn’t really smile…)

Her pink chin painted with lipstick was a triangle, an expression of smiling. Even her eyes were bent…but that was not the smile Meiko knew.

Having confirmed that Naruko and her friends had left, Meiko picked up the can and threw it into the trash bin. The can knocked on the bottom of the bin and caused a clear crackling sound.

The leaves of the persimmon tree she was familiar with rustled in the night wind.

Meiko had gone to the family that raised her.

She had a feeling that there wasn’t an urgent need to come back here. Meiko who had a vague memory didn’t have a strong sense of belonging to this place. This place occurred to her like a place she had been to just yesterday. This feeling scared her for no reason.

(What should I do...)

Should she enter? She was scared to enter, but she didn’t know why.

Her thighs tensed, and her thumb curled up and opened up unconsciously. Suddenly, a rich, attracting scent flew into Meiko’s nose…

“Curry!”

Meiko blurted.

It was Meiko’s favorite curry. Mashing the sweet corn grains with a mixer into a mush, and then putting a lot of other things into it makes honey-sweet curry. Her brother Satoshi liked it a lot, and her dad would also eat it with Worcestershire sauce…

When she thought of this, her confused perception of time was eased, and she regained some sense of belonging.

At this moment, the doorknob Meiko was holding onto…

“Good evening…”

She pushed it a bit, creating a little gap, for her to spy inside and have a look into the living room.

“!!”

Meiko’s shoulders shivered.

When Meiko once again saw Jinta, Naruko, Chiriko, and Atsumu, all she felt was pure happiness.

But when she saw her own family members in the living room…

Her dad had grown a lot of white hair. Satoshi had grown a lot in a short time, looking like a young man. And her mum…had wrinkles on the corners of her eyes.

Changes. Everyone would change. Jinta and the others changed. Nevertheless…

(Ah…ne? What the...)

Everything was different. It was not the Honma home she had in her memory.

They didn’t talk: dad was reading the newspaper; Satoshi was playing the DS. On the table were dishes of curry surplus…Back then, mum would say in a lively voice, “The dishes had to be put to the sink!”.

But now mum was placing a small bowl of curry into a shrine that was installed after Meiko's death.

Then she rang the bell and clasped her hands, maintaining an upright sitting position, her thin socks pressing softly against the skin of her feet.

“…”

Meiko stopped moving.

She didn't remember seeing this shrine before. Suddenly realizing what that meant, she refrained from approaching it—she also refrained from approaching her beloved mum.

“Mum, can you stop giving the shrine a bowl of curry every time we have curry?”

(Satoshi…?)

Playing the DS, Satoshi complained, without even the slightest intention to lift his head and look at mum. “It looks very troublesome.”

“You shouldn’t say this.”

Mum wore a face Meiko had never seen before.

“Because your sister is a bit muddle-headed.”

It was as if the smallest and lightest ripple induced by the wind crossed her face. She seemed she had held back her tears, yet she seemed like she was crying…

“So, your sister may not even be aware she has passed away.”

The words of Meiko’s mother gave Meiko the creeps, making her shiver.

Following her shivering, the cup beside her was swept to the floor, making a bang sound.

“Satoshi. What are you doing? Go pick it up.”

“Hey. It wasn’t me!”

Satoshi was falsely accused by her father again. However, Meiko wasn’t even feeling the urge to protect him. She just murmured absent-mindedly.

“I know it…”

She knew little about this present world, but this was home. This home wasn’t the Honma home she once knew, and thus she was more alarmed of this unpalatable truth.

“Menma knows that she has already passed away.”

When she got outside, the warm night wind blew against her.

The fact of her passing away was perhaps painful…much more painful than having to accept the Japanese encephalitis vaccine.

Yet she wasn't a member who shared this memory. Her mother and other family members, on the other hand, were. They must have accepted this memory and this pain for her, bearing it for her ever since.

(Sorry…)

She uttered secretly in her heart.

Previous: Chapter 2 - The Best of Summer Next: Chapter 4 - Second Memory

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