Full Chapter Edit
“Well, you’d have to spend at least two hundred thousand yen for this.”
The boss of Popo’s workplace as well as a maker of fireworks, said, as he pressed his cigarette with his thick and short fingers.
“What?! Two hundred thousand…”
“Hey, can’t you give us a discount?”
“That’s a big discount already.”
Popo and I looked at each other at the gate of that man’s house. In the court where weird tools were placed messily, the cat in the house was stepping on grasshoppers with its paw.
“Ugu…I wonder if I can make it if I work longer.”
“Popo, I can also work…”
Popo interrupted me before I could finish, “You’re still in high school, right?”
“Eh? I didn’t really…well, you can say I’m a student in a high school.”
“Then you’ll need to get permission to work.”
“A permission to work?”
“Before I had once let a young guy come in and work, but he brought great trouble for us. Since then, we don’t let students in if they don’t get permission from their high school.”
I must get permission…which means…
“So I’ll need to go to school to get permission, correct?”
I said to myself. Popo stared at me silently, making no voice.
‘It’s fine, Jintan! Leave the money to me!”
On the way back home, Popo bought me a can of coffee from an automatic vending machine.
To go to school to get permission to work.
Why did such an easy thing drag my leg? Why was such an easy task so insurmountable for me?
“Jintan, you're the leader after all. You have to be the main force that stand firmly behind us.”
“Besides, you’re the only one who can see Menma. So you have to take care of her and pay attention to her feelings. Oh, by the way, get into contact with Anaru.”
Popo took his phone out and started calling Anjo…well, he said that just to be considerate to me.
“What the heck, Anaru is not even answering the call.”
“She’s still in school, I guess.”
“Okay, I see. Then let’s give Yukiatsu an email.”
I was given such favour by this useless man Popo.
I…I had no dignity.
It was still early.
Popo had work in the afternoon, so I parted with him at the crossing road. It was still hot, but the wind had a refreshing grassy taste. The big clouds floating on the sky foretold the coming of autumn.
In this situation, I couldn’t even do a little thing.
But Menma coming back wasn’t anything little to start with.
On the following day, I found something I could at least pull out.
Having brushed my teeth and washed my face, I did my usual chores of pretending to go to school, but before heading out, Menam said something out of the blue.
“Hey, Jintan, I’m sorry.”
“What? Why are you apologising?”
“Because apologising doesn’t need money!”
“Are you apologising first just to lower the threatening power of what you are going to say and do later?”
“Yes, that’s what I’m thinking.”
Why did Menma apologise to me?
Did she notice what I was thinking? Or did she found out I was troubled by trying to hide my job from school?
While I walked with these muddled thoughts, I had hit the road to school.
High-pitched laughter stung my ears. Students in uniform strode past me. I had increased my step length, yet people still walked past me.
Leave them alone. I had to keep my head high and keep calm.
I couldn’t get to school if I let weird thoughts get into me.
If I couldn’t get to school, I couldn’t work. Then that would mean I couldn’t let Menma pass on to the afterlife.
“Jintan, recently, I…”
To keep my spirits up, I quietly hummed a song.
Calmness worked out. I reached the stairs of the school, hit by the special smell of rubber from the slippers I hadn’t smelled for a long time.
“Woah, it’s real.”
“I can’t believe she still has the guts to come to school.”
I could hear people giving opinion on others.
My calmness was shaken. Anyway, what is being normal in school?
For the time being I just looked down at the floor. If my eyes meet with someone else, who knows what…
“That person, from the third class of the first year…”
“Yeah, her, Naruko Anjo!”
Upon hearing Anjo’s name, I couldn’t help lifting my head that I had tried to lower so hard.
At the front of the corridor, I happened to see Anjo following a teacher sulkily.
At the instant when Anjo met my eyes, she showed a face of about to cry and quickly averted her gaze.
To that back of hers, the students continued badmouthing her. But because I was in the corridor, the subtle echoing effects only passed noise to my ears.
I soon knew the rumours, for everyone in the classroom was talking about Anjo.
I had almost forgot where I sit, so I asked an unattractive male classmate, and he pointed to a seat and told me it was an empty seat. It seemed he had no interest in me.
Of course, a few people still noticed my presence and whisper, “Who’s that guy?” to other girls, but I didn’t receive much attention a while later. I was only some a rare breed who hadn’t come to school for a long time. On the other hand, oddity in people who usually go to school would arouse more interest.
Oddity in what Anjo did…that was…
“You’re too careless, Anjo. Love hotels aren’t that big a matter.”
“I heard the people from PTA< >PTA (Parents and Teachers Association) is the association formed by both the parents and teachers to improve students’ welfare</ref> saw her. It was a middle-aged man, I hear.”
“Is it compensated dating?”
Those pork chops that had once been close to Anjo hid themselves in a corner.
I could guess what had happened.
Even so, I didn’t think I could believe it.
For Anjo to go with someone to a love hotel is not something unexpected based on how she looked now…but still…
At this moment, the door of the classroom was suddenly opened.
“Okay, return to your seats right now.”
The person coming in was a seemingly weak class teacher. Behind her was Anjo, looking aloft with provocation.
Glances in the classroom fell all at her. Of course, mine included.
“Well, let’s begin. Anjo, you should go to your seat too.”
Like Moses, Anjo crossed the sea of curious gazes as if nothing happened.
I should have been the protagonist in this kind of stage.
Anjo sat behind me. Well, I did remember this was the seat arrangement we had. A pork chop seating beside her approached her and chat with her, pretending to be very close.
Her words also slipped into my ears.
“What bad luck, Naruko.”
Anjo completely ignored that pork chop, who consequently returned to her seat in embarrassment. She might well be partly responsible for Anjo going to the love hotel.
“Okay, first open your textbooks to page…”
Followed by the teacher’s slacking voice, we started the lesson.
Now no one was bothered that I was around.
I had ignored the weak teacher, secretly glancing at Anjo at times. In the noise of my classmates, I could often find easy and simple keywords like ‘love hotel’, ‘erotic’, or even something as obscene as ‘if I ask her, she might have a go with me’. Followed by those keywords was deliberately suppressed laughter.
What torture. The victim should have been me.
When I hear keywords such as ‘shut-in’ or ‘a rare face’, though, I was so excited I could skip to a dance.
Behind me were scratching sounds made by a mechanical pencil. It was Anjo.
Even in times like this, she was making notes. Even when matters had fallen to this state, she was still serious in her work, just like the old times.
Anjo wasn’t good at learning. She was more serious than everybody in making and compiling her notes, yet she didn’t earn a good grade in the exams.
Even so, she didn’t give up making notes in every lesson. She had always worked so hard to write the small characters in her notebook.
I couldn’t help turning my head around to have a glimpse. I was worried about her…no, maybe I was just curious of ‘the Anjo’s notebook’ I hadn’t seen for a long time.
I couldn’t find the reason of doing so myself, but I still did it. What I found, on her notebook, though, had no trace of seriousness: there were only messed up characters running wildly along the paper.
Words included ‘I didn’t do it’, ‘I told you it isn’t’, ‘stop badmouthing me’, ‘shut up now, go to die’ and the like…and written at a corner was—‘save me’.
Anjo kept feigning a face that she didn’t care by repeatedly writing with her mechanical pencil.
Those scratching sounds were the same as sobbing sounds to me.
Despicable laughter made Anjo’s shoulders twitch vibrantly. My shoulders twitched as well.
Before I could notice, I had rose to my feet.
My hands raised sky high, I declared loudly to the entire class, “You guys…look at me!”
“Look at me! I am that man who had never come to school! Ever since the opening ceremony and the first week, I had been skipping school. Doesn’t this face here look unfamiliar to you?!”
The class teacher seemed to have finally noticed my presence and flipped the student handbook in a flurry.
Among the noise in the class was “Who’s that guy?” “Isn’t he that Yadomi guy” and the like. All of their attention had fallen on me.
All of these glances should belong to me! I wouldn’t just hand them to someone else! With that in mind, I pointed to Anjo violently.
“You can see this bloke anytime you want! Love hotel? Are you guys getting so worked up for something this trivial? You can tell from her looks she has gone to a love hotel for more than once!”
“From her looks? Hey…”
I couldn’t stop.
I could feel my ears getting hot, but I just blended the heat into my words.
“Let me make it clear to all of you. This bloke would never do anything like compensated dating! Because this bloke’s a blood-type-A, Virgo, glasses-wearing girl! She’s a woman who works off her ass wearing her glasses, having no relation to adventure whatsoever, boring to hell…Wu!”
“Stop saying any more useless crap!”
In a panic, Anjo stopped me by locking me under my two shoulders.
At this moment did I find out that the curious glances landing on me and the whispers were gone. In their stead were mouths agape.
“Gah! Go, go now, Yadomi!”
Anjo dragged me by the arm and ran out of the classroom frantically.
No one chased us. Only the class teacher’s dragged sound followed, “H-Hey, wait….”
He managed to pretend stopping us.
I couldn’t stop laughing. Yadomi was tired and pouting, like his old self, which further excited me.
“You even tell them to ‘look at me!’ That’s what a pervert would say!”
We sat in the pavilion in the park. Even the primary kids had yet to get off school, so we were the only ones in this desolate park. The bright sky gave a feeling of acceptance that permitted me to laugh my lungs out in this wide space.
“Aha…haha. Man. My sides hurt!” I said, wiping off tears with her fingers. She discharged all her sultry feelings with her laughter. She felt pleasant and refreshed.
“Anyway, thank you.”
“You stood up for me.”
“But hold on! Where did I have a look of going to love hotels! I have never been to love hotels. Not even once!”
“Okay, okay. I know.”
“How is this okay?!”
Before we noticed, things had taken a sudden turn. It was comfortable for me, though. In a corner of the park was a net for ball games. Chatting leisurely with Jinta at such a far distance seemed like a game of passing conversational balls under the summer sky.
(Jinta’s changed…to put it correctly...Jinta has gradually reverted to ‘the past Jinta’…)
(It must have been because of Menma.)
In my heart, there was always an emotion pressing on her.
(If I didn't say that…that day…Menma maybe wouldn’t have…)
This was why it was painful for her to confront Menma. If Menma really came back, and she continued neglecting reality, Menma would only leave everyone ‘again’.
I kept the exchange diary I got from the secret base in my schoolbag.
“Can I go to your house now, Yadomi? I want to call everyone else as well.”
Jinta was surprised at first, but he gave me a natural smile soon after, “Please do so. Thanks.”
Thanks—what a warming word. I didn’t do anything that deserved his gratitude.
I couldn’t forgive my past self for saying those words. Neither can I forgive my past self for loving Yadomi.
Perhaps this is why I would do such hateful things to anger Yadomi. Perhaps this is why I would throw myself in this situation that would heed no warm or comforting words from others.
But I don’t want to escape any longer.
It was only for Meiko or Jinta, it was also for myself.
Menma flew to Anjo with a dash.
Anjo’s body shook lightly. She became a bit nervous.
“Woah. Anjo’s butt. Woman’s butt becomes so big~!”
Flushed, Anjo pretended she wanted to hit Menma. But soon after, the tension in her was gone.
Her stretched arm headed to an odd direction. Even so, Menma teased around her in ecstasy.
“I’m really sorry!”
“What do you mean? The one who should be apologising is the dear Menma.”
“What’s that, Yadomi? What’s a dear Menma?”
“Dear Menma? What’s that, a letter?”
The ‘dear Menma’ thing didn’t work last time. But this time Anjo’s seriousness saved it. Still, I wouldn’t have any weird thought like she saved me some trouble or something.
“That’s actually another form of apologising. It’s only useful towards Menma…”
“Wahah! What the heck is that? It’s not funny at all!”
“It’s not funny at all~”
“If it’s not funny, stop laughing, both of you!”
The conversation is thus made.
Now it became convincing that Anjo could see Menma…at least from my perspective. While a good sense of accomplishment and relief came into me, the doorbell rang.
“Menma’s such a failure. Menma should have made the steamed bread beforehand!”
It was summer, yet the kotatsu, was still used as a normal coffee table instead of being put to a side.
On the three sides of the table sat Matsuyuki, Tsurumi, and Anjo. Still worried about the silent atmosphere, I was being pulled by Menma into the kitchen.
“Ehh? Aren’t there Country Ma’ams here? Can’t we serve them? They are guests after all!”
“Okay, okay. Do as you want.”
Those crackers were in the cupboard where ‘those guests’ could see. Menma opened the cupboard without second thought and took a bag of candies out.
Until now did I notice the changing atmosphere behind me.
I had forgotten.
Whenever Menma touches something, it moves along with her. This supernatural phenomenon was only shown to them once through drawing the figure of infinity with a fire rod.
“Come and have some Country Ma’ams~!”
Menma said, happily, walking to the living room, the bag of candy in her hand.
I could see Menma, so it wasn’t anything spectacular for me. But to those who couldn’t, this was the most realistic ghost house they could be in.
This was the first time I had seen Tsurumi show a face of being mentally shaken. Anjo must have got used to her in some way after our previous conversation, so she instead gave a smile.
“I like Country Ma’ams! It is very delicious when you ‘beep’ it with a microwave,” Anjo said.
“Is it ‘beep’?! Jintan, go and ‘beep’ it, ‘beep’ it!”
“You’re noisy. Just eat it the way it is!”
“What?! I didn’t ask you to do that!” Anjo said, a bit frustrated.
“Well, it was Menma who…”
At this moment, Matsuyuki, who had been silently staring at the bag of candy, murmured, “Is…Is Menma there?”
“Eh? Ah, yeah.”
“I’m here, Matsuyuki! I’m right here!”
Menma ruffled Matsuyuki’s hair.
“Woah! H-His hair is…” Tsurumi couldn’t stop herself from bursting out.
In her persepective, Matsuyki’s hair flew into action by itself as if being blown by an electric hair blower.
“Menma! Quick, come here.”
In a panic, I pulled Menma’s hand.”
“Menma…is her hair still long?”
“Hm? Ah, well…she has grown like we did.”
The atmosphere changed again. Everyone’s gazes landed upon me.
“Grown? What do you mean?”
“Well, I want to know what why too.”
Tsurumi and Anjo looked puzzled, but Matsuyuki shot me with sharp glances and said in a low voice, “…is she beautiful?”
Being completely thrown off by this question, I could feel my face burning.
“Matsuyuki! Wh-What are you saying! This…!”
I stopped and turned my eyes to Menma.
Looking in her big round eyes, a scene flashed in my mind.
That day, when I was asked whether I like Menma, I just spat something at Menma.
“Who would like such an ugly girl!”
It was an utterance that bit on me wherever I went, filled with endless regret.
When I came to, everyone’s glances were still centered on me.
It was not troubling to look at Menma again, so I looked away and murmured vaguely, “W-Well, she can pass as a pretty girl…the cute type, I say.”
Then Menma gripped my neck and said, “What? What do you mean I pass!”
At this very moment, as if heavens had sent me help, my mobile phone vibrated.
“W-Wait! I’ve got a message.”
Anjo asked, joining the party.
“Oh, is it Hisagawa? It’s about time he came.”
“Wha-What? I thought he said he couldn’t get away from his job.”
“Eh~ I want to see Popo so much!”
There was an attachment to Popo’s message. I opened it: it was a paper written ‘Love I offer to Menma’ along with a disgusting selfie of himself sticking out his tongue.
“What the hell is this?”
“Haha! Popo looks like a Jynx~!”
Menma’s joyful look almost casted the tension out of my head. But when Matsuyuki told us to “try letting Menma reply him” in an apathetic voice, the tension came back to me.
“Letting Menma reply him?”
“Yeah, if she can make steamed bread, she might as well reply with a phone.”
“Eh, yeah but…”
Menma’s eyes glimmered, and she snatched my phone away.
“Okay! Let me, let me…is this how you press it?”
Menma mimicked me by pressing on the LCD screen, but the phone didn’t respond.
“It seems it doesn’t work.”
“Then can Menma write? Like we talk through pen or something.”
“Yeah, I let her tried, but…”
Menma could do anything basic: turning on the knob for the faucet or cooking or whatnot. But whenever she wanted to express her emotions, everything she did would lose its effects.
“This reason sounds weird.”
Matsuyki said, obviously dubious.
“What are you trying to say?”
“Doesn’t this sound odd? She can pick up a pen, yet she cannot write anything.”
“What? Do you want to say Menma is lying?”
When I hear his tone, I couldn’t stop myself from growling. Yet Matsuyuki just said matter-of-factly, “I’m saying it’s possible you might be the one lying.”
“Matsuyuki! Jintan would never do such a thing!”
“W-Wait. You two…oh, right! I have brought the exchange diary. Menma, look at this!”
To overturn the insidious atmosphere, Anjo quickly took the diary from her schoolbag. The direction she took it to was just where Menma was.
But Menma just stood there, at a loss.
“Did you…take this from my mother’s place?”
“Ah! No, well…”
Anjo only realised what she had said from the nervousness in the words I carry.
It wouldn’t be easy to notice that Menma cared about her parents if one couldn’t see her. But from what Anjo learnt and saw from Menma’s mother whom she visited recently, she quickly knew showing the diary to Menma was a wrong decision. As such, she put the diary back into her bag in a panic and tried to say something to carry on, “Ah, um, sorry. That’s…”
“Let me see, Anaru!”
Menma immediately snatched over the diary.
Menma started flipping the diary, and looked carefully at one page. Anjo, Matsuyuki, and Tsurumi all observed at where she was supposed to be, waiting.
“Ah, here! I spelled ‘good morning’ wrong! What a failure I am!”
With a bright voice, Menma took the small pen stuck on the diary.
“Eh…hey! Menma, forget it.”
Even when she knew she couldn’t write, she still took the pen. And she started moving her hands…
What was shocking was that the traces of the pen were flatly printed on the paper.
Shocked, Menma kept blinking. She must have been even more surprised than I. Still, she put on a light smile, as if nothing happened, “Heheh, this is correct!”
And even more shocked than us were those that couldn’t see her.
“These really are…Menma’s writing.”
Anjo silently stared at the ‘Good morning’. Slowly, tears came from her eyes.
“It really is.”
Tsurumi’s voice became shallow, her feelings and her voice had yet to be constant.
And for Matsuyuki…
“Mena, how are you? Well, I might sound a bit weird for asking this, though.”
The words written were “Menma is very good.” Matsuyuki stared intently while those words were written. Deep in his eyes something seemed to be wavering.
He looked up, twitching the corner of his mouth. It was too subtle to say he smiled. I could almost hear him gulp down his saliva.
“Well then, shouldn’t we restart writing the exchange diary?”
It was evening, the only time when it was a bit cool since September.
Atsumu, Chiriko, and Naruko had left Yadomi’s house, walking beside each other on their way home.
“Menma seems very happy about the exchange diary,” Naruko said softly at her shadow.
After Atsumu raised that suggestion, the opened page on the diary was all of a sudden scribbled with numerous “Super~!” words. At the end there were two hotdog-bread-like figures, which Meiko labeled beside it as “This is the V sign for Victory.”
“She can write on the exchange diary. What does this imply? Can she write on things that contain feelings?”
“Okay, that might be the case!”
Atsumu listened to them from a side and couldn’t help frowning.
(Who’d believe in that?)
Meiko could write with the pen in the exchange diary. Probably the truth was that Jinta did some kind of treatment to the pens in his house, say breaking the ink or whatnot. There could be a lot of possibilities.
Atsumu thought it natural. Everything happened only because jinta wanted to keep Meiko for himself.
“Then we can now…share our feelings with Meiko.”
“Share our feelings?” Atsumu said, glaring at Naruko, “Feelings cannot be felt simply through words. Anyone can write whatever they want.”
“If that’s what you want, then why don’t we just ask her? ‘When you died, Menma, we also kept growing. Would you forgive us?’ A question as simple as that.”
Naruko’s trembles trembled violently. Chiriko barged in, “Hey, hey, Matsuyuki…”
“She would certainly say ‘I don’t mind’, because that’s the person she is…but then why does she have to come back? Because she couldn’t forgive us. She came back to reprimand us. Isn’t this the most simple and easy answer?”
“I-If that’s true, then why did she only appear in front of Yadomi?!”
Atsumu was struck speechless.
It was truth as solid as stone that Meiko had returned.
He always had Meiko in his mind. Seeing her in his dream was already a special day for him. He would pray deep in his heart for her return, even as a ghost.
His wish was granted, and he should have been grateful, yet…
Yet Jinta was the only one who could come into contact with her.
“If it had to be snatched away by someone else, why don’t I crush it with my own hands.”
This was a popular line in pop songs. It was now that he finally understood its meaning.
“Anjo, you have to save up the money from your pay.”
“We’ll also think of ways to earn some money.”
“Doesn’t your school forbid working?”
“We’d think of ways. We…must…make the fireworks.”
Atsumu dismissed the sultriness in his eyes.
“We must…let Menma pass on to afterlife.”
Chiriko and Naruko were struck dumb by the strong emotions in his delcaration.
(Menma…everything will be fine if your wish is granted, right?)
To let Menma pass on afterlife. To make her leave Jinta.
This was also for the sake of Meiko. This method was justified. Again and again, trying to brainwash his own mind to deceive himself, Atsumu repeated the words in his heart.
If he didn’t do so, he was certain his heart would completely break down.