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I went back home and checked: Menma was not there.

Would she just vanish like this? If she really vanished, did this mean he had forgiven me, the present me?

No. It should be completely the opposite: he wanted to make me feel much more pain.

It was because I had always wanted to say ‘my dear Menma’ that I saw the hallucination of Menma.

‘The present I’ was cowardly and timid.

“Jinta, what bath salt do you want? Kusatsu or Abashiri?”

My dad’s slovenly voice sounded from the bathroom. As usual, I told him anything was fine.

Dad didn’t have any means to reproach me for not going to school. He just acted like he usually did and lived a leisurely life. However, it was certainly abnormal for him to permit his son me to hide at home.

He even helped me to put in bath salt after he had finished bathing. This kind of care, or this kind of empathy weighed too heavily on me.

Having bathed and unwinded, the first thing my dad did was not to drink beer but to brew coffee.

Then, he also placed a cup in mum’s shrine. Crossing his legs, he sat in front of it and drank slowly with her.

“Touko, I’ll also do my best today—to do my best.”

It was a saying mum always repeated.

My mum’s body conditions weren’t good from the start. Ever since I got into senior classes of Elementary school, she had always been living in the hospital. I hated the view from the windows of the ward, as it was a scene that would only change colour according to the seasons. I would always find excuses to abstain from seeing her.

I didn’t want to see mum’s face even changing quicker than the view outside the window in that unchanging ward…the only thing was…

I would have never expected Menma would pass away even earlier than mum would.

That day, my father also told me not to tell mum about this. I didn't plan on doing so.

Yet rumours spread fast in this town, and got to the hospital swiftly. When my mum heard of this, she…

“Jinta, you have to do your best—to do your best.”

She didn’t ask me anything, and only repeated her usual motto, lightly holding me in her arms.

Her warm chest and rhythmic heartbeat patterns assured me. When I was still a baby, mum would do this to me every time I cried. But at that time, mum’s chest was skinny and thin, her collarbone exposed, the rich smell of medicine running into my nose…my eyes became teary eyed until the dam collapsed and tears overflowed, way beyond my control.

I wanted to see Menma—I really wanted to. I wanted to cry and sob.

“What am I doing…?” I couldn’t help but murmur. The chance came to me, the rare chance that I could apologize. Even if it was a hallucination, something I made up, still wasn’t it a rare chance that I could apologize?

I was lost in thought and didn’t enter the bathroom until dad had gone upstairs.

When I came back to my senses, the television had already been playing static. I didn’t turn it off but stared at its screen, lost in thought.

“Jin-Ta-Kun! Come-out-and-play!”

I was woken up by this straightforward voice, filled with wondrous intonation.

When I lifted my head, a vague sense told me it was already morning. Dad seemed to have already gone to work. I stood up, shaking, my scapula making creaking sounds.

“Jin-Ta-Kun! Come-out-and-play!”

Although I wanted to neglect her, I couldn’t do so. This annoying sound that had the same tone and the same repeated greeting sound—ah, it was Hisakawa.

Reluctantly, I opened the door. Hisakawa had turned his scooter’s throttle wide open at the bright morning.

“I’ve come to meet you, Jintan!”

“Hah? To meet me…”

“Yesterday night, I heard the broadcast ‘Pray Like the Stars’ at my workplace. I felt that wishes are things to be fulfilled! So I’ve thought over it!”

“I told you. There is no way…”

“Ah. That’s okay! I’ve already called everyone!”

“Haah?” So surprised I was even my voice shuddered. According to Hisakawa, he had already informed every member of Super Peace Busters of the appearance of Menma, and everyone had agreed to meet.

“Everyone becomes so serious when they think of Menma. This is love!”

“…” It was too suspicious.

I wanted to drop out, but I dismissed this idea and went with the flow.

“I understand…let me first change my clothes. Wait for a moment.”

“Oh! I’ll wait for you no matter how long it takes, my partner!”

While I changed my shirt, I thought to myself: Hisakawa must have filtered my trauma, my hallucinations with his ‘Poppo filtering machine’ and exaggerated it. Originally I had been alleged to be sick, now I was bound to be reckoned sick.

I remembered the eyes of Yukiatsu when he looked down on me—if I don’t see them now, most likely I would incessantly remember those eyes he held.

I wore the most neat and tidy clothes I had and stretched my hand towards the nylon hat that was a few degrees lower than my eye view.

“Forget it.”

I didn’t want Yukiatsu to scoff at me again. No, I don't want anyone to scoff at me. Even if I had changed completely, I still had some remains of self-esteem...

...although I knew that self-esteem would only aggravate the situation.

Previous: Chapter 4 - Second Memory Next: Chapter 6 - The French Fries Deity

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