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Trapped in the treehole, Menma had never disappeared, for she was only trapped, but had not vanished. Her voice would pass through the gaps between the pebbles, indicating her little but existing presence.

At night, even when I cover myself with blankets from head to toe, Menma’s voice would still reach me. Wuuuu Wahh sounds of moaning and sobbing.

What should I do? I could never sleep like this. My mother once told me that I wouldn’t grow up if I don’t sleep well. Surely, I would never become an adult I I don’t. I shouldn’t only trap Menma, but also had to erase her existence completely. But I could never do anything so cruel. Bullying is not permitted.

So, there’s only one way—to grant Menma’s wish.

“You’re back.”

When I returned home, Menma greeted me, albeit an elongated sweet voice, with a sultry face.

“Yeah, I’m back. Hey, what are you doing?”

“Breathing.”

“What a child you are!”

By the way, she really is a child, as she has never changed.

“Jintan’s father came back for a while during lunch, and then headed back to work.”

“Right.”

Held by a guilty conscious, I couldn’t look at Menma face on. And this girl really was reproaching me….of course she would know that I skipped school.

“Eh?”

Menma abruptly pulled my arm.

“Come over here!”

“Hey, what are you doing, Menma?”

Only after we had reached the kitchen did Menma loosen her hand. Then she spread her arms wide and gave a mischievous smile.

“Look!”

Following where she pointed, I saw something above the heating blanket—irregular white blobs stacked on a big white plate.

“Th-That’s…”

“Steamed bread!”

“Yeah!”


My mother used to make these for me back then. Before school began, once she said she would make steamed bread for snacks, I would immediately tell everyone, and couldn’t wait in class for eating that instead of the lunch distributed at school. After school, I would dash back home, taking everyone else along, open the door, and smell its puffing aroma.

“Mum, are they done?”

“Yes, they are.”

My mother’s smile and the white-smoke-puffing steamed bread were memorable days. Still, they are just impressions taken from my memory, scraps of events that had no relation whatsoever to the blob in front of me. The appearance was different. So was the smell. And there weren’t any white smoke since they had been put her for a long time.

But Menma made them for me.

“Try it, Jintain. Try it!”

I took a bite.

“…”

Instantly, a soft sensation comes from my front teeth, contrasting some small harder stuff within the steamed bread. Taking another bite, I can feel a gentle touch on my tongue, an increasing taste of nori expanding inside my mouth…

Nori?

“Why is there nori in the steamed bread?”

“Because that’s the version for night. It’s not a snack but the rice version. The rice version!”

What she said seemed true—all other steamed bread were ‘rice versions’. Inside the bread were dried plums, rice seasonings, along with Menma’s favourite chili oil…

“This is…very original.”

“Hehe, there’s also the crisp taste of garlic! It’s very delicious!”

Quickly I turned to take a look at the kitchen, deciding to know the status of the factory that produced this scary taste: unwashed cooking utensils stacked like a mountain, telling me how massive a project it is to create this new taste of steamed bread.

Was she spending all her time cooking while I was idling around outside? Well, she had a lot of free time to kill, though I did give her a DS console. The pain of staying at home and having nothing to do was too easy to understand for a social recluse like me.

“Is it good?”

“Yeah,” I replied in reflex, although it wasn’t anything good.

But the taste wasn’t important; it was Menma’s remembrance of my mother’s steamed bread; it was how I had left her at home all alone but she had no intention of reproaching me and even gave me a warm smile; this was why every bite would spread Menma’s warmth in my stomach.

“By the way…”

“What?”

“Could your wish…be something related to fireworks?”

“Fireworks? Ahh!” shrieked Menma, her eyes widened; perhaps that was her forgotten wish—she repeated enthusiastically.

“But why? You’re so good. How did you remember?”

“Yeah, it was Popo, and everyone else had also talked about you.”

“Ehh! Everyone has come together?”

“Eh? N-Not really, it was all incidental.”

“Menma wants to meet everyone too!”

“Well, sure, we would come back together for the fireworks. We said we would meet at the secret base after school. I’ll bring you next time.”

I still despised myself for continuing lying that I was still going to school, I always had those urges to win triumph.

“Together? Is everyone deciding to make fireworks for me?”

“Yeah.”

“I see. Everyone has finally…”

Menma fell silent.

Then she flashed a smile back again and said cheerfully, “Okay! Let me do more practice on making steamed buns. I’ll make them for everybody!”

“Sure.”

“Then we’ll eat steamed buns while drawing fireworks. After that, we’ll…”

“…hey, Menma.”

“Yes. What’s up?”

“Are you…crying?”

Although she forced herself to speak brightly and cheerfully, her eyes had long been overflowing with tears.

“Eh? Why am I…I am not sad. I’m…I’m happy…”

“…”

Menma incessantly wiped off the tears fro her eyes with the back of her hand, upholding her joyous smile at the same time. I stared silently at her, my memories slowly surfacing…

When I was small, I didn’t like Menma crying all the time.

This wasn’t because it appeared bothering to me.

This was because every time she cried, she cried not for herself, but for someone else.

When I look at her, I feel I am the one who made her cry. It is unbearable.


It was past midnight.

I lay on the sofa, glaring at Menma’s abdomen, which was rising and falling in repetition. This was a warm, heartfelt time.

For long, since the day Menma disappeared, my heart was shrinking.

I had long forgotten what I liked, or the simple feelings of happiness.

I declared I would help her wish come true, yet she was the one who was making the wish I had stored in my heart come true.

The wish to see her was the wish I embraced on the day I burst into tears.

In the warm, as if granted, gentle atmosphere, she granted my wish.

“Fu…fu…”

Tonight the pervasive buzzing sounds of the late summer insects were gone.

Only Menma’s breathing voice streamed through the quiet night.

Looking at her fine eyelashes, I couldn’t help but wonder how great it would be if this moment could be eternal.

“…but I must repay her.”

I must repay Menma, who granted my wish.

I must repay Menma, who only cries for others.

Previous: Chapter 3 - Exchange Diary Next: Chapter 5 - The Price of the Wish

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