It was during our first year of high school. She probably doesn’t even remember, but we actually sat next to each other once. At that time, we had a conversation… just once.
From the time I met her in high school, Hayashi was a girl with many friends. Her assertive manner of speaking was sometimes harsh, but she had a beautiful face and was persuasive, so she had followers who acted like loyal servants. That’s why, during breaks, Hayashi’s seat would constantly be surrounded by her entourage. Back then, I couldn’t even go to the bathroom during breaks because my seat would be taken if I left.
Our first conversation took place in the classroom, just after the break, when people had left her overly crowded area, and the class was about to start.
I think it was a history class. The now-nostalgic Sakigawa-sensei came into the classroom and was about to start the lesson.
That’s when an eraser fell from Hayashi’s desk.
As I yawned, I witnessed the eraser falling from her desk, and she didn’t seem to notice.
I thought about it. Should I pick up the eraser or leave it be?
Then I realized that she might complain later if I didn’t pick it up, so I decided to pick up the eraser purely out of self-interest.
As I bent down to pick up the eraser, I felt a piercing, painful gaze from Hayashi, who was sitting next to me. I was needlessly nervous just picking up the eraser, and it was the first time I had ever felt that way.
“You dropped this.”
I picked up the eraser, placed it on her desk, and said that.
Hayashi responded to me.
But it wasn’t gratitude nor an apology for bothering me.
Rather, it wasn’t even a word. It was a so-called click of the tongue.
The response she gave me after I had gone through the effort of picking up the eraser was an unexpected tongue click.
What a woman. To repay my goodwill in such a way. Since that day, I had decided in my heart not to speak to her and spent three years that way.
That’s why the number of times we had conversations can be counted on one hand. Even though we were in the same class for three years, you would think the number would be higher.
Back then, I hated her.
I hated that arrogant, haughty, queen-like girl.
However, having spent three years in the same classroom studying together, I had more opportunities to catch her in my peripheral vision than I expected, and that’s how I came to know certain things about her.
She was indeed an overbearing and unapproachable girl.
But she had a strong sense of camaraderie, was not unintelligent, and had the mental strength and motivation to convey her intentions and push them through.
And, surprisingly, she was easily brought to tears.
During the sports festival in our third year, our class aimed to win because it was our last chance. Unfortunately, we finished in second place. Everyone was happy with our great effort, but there was one girl shedding large tears.
“Megu-chan, it’s great that we got second place, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it is.”
She didn’t pay any attention to the words of her followers.
“I wanted to win with everyone.”
Back then, I coldly watched her loudly express her frustration because of our past quarrels. However, as time passed, I came to understand her feelings. I could see her point.
I used to hate her.
I hated that arrogant, haughty, queen-like person.
But by the time we graduated from high school, I surprisingly had feelings of acknowledging her. There were many moments when I was impressed by her unwavering determination.
Maybe, at that time, I had a kind of admiration for her.
So when I found out that she was a victim of domestic violence, maybe that’s why I took her to my home.
It might have been painful to see her, who I admired, cower from a man’s violence.
Of course, I have no intention of ever telling her this story.
I plan to take these feelings with me to the grave, without ever telling anyone.
Well, maybe I don’t need to make such a grand resolution.
About a week after hiding Hayashi at my house, it was after we finished dinner.
My smartphone rang. The number displayed on my phone was from the police station.
I answered the phone.
Hayashi didn’t seem to know who I was talking to, but she had turned down the volume on her tablet.
“Yes. Yes. …Then I’ll hand the phone to her.”
I stood up and handed the smartphone to Hayashi.
“Who is it?”
“It’s the police. They’re calling about that matter.”
I could see Hayashi’s face tense up. Her hand holding the tablet suddenly started to tremble.
“…You have to listen to it, right?”
Hayashi took the smartphone from me.
“Hello. Um… Yes. …Yes. Yes. …I see.”
I could see her expression become even more downcast. A bad feeling crossed my mind.
“…Yes. Yes. …Yes. I understand. Thank you. …Goodbye.”
Hayashi hung up the phone.
I asked, but Hayashi didn’t reply with her head down. Her complexion didn’t look good. It must have been an unfavourable result for her.
“He got arrested.”
There was a moment of silence.
Only the sound of the clock’s ticking echoed eerily in the room.
Hayashi’s face didn’t brighten. …It was the arrest of someone she had once been in a relationship with. Even though what he did was wrong, she must have had mixed feelings.
“Usually, domestic violence cases that lead to arrest are mostly caught in the act. But due to the investigation and the severity of my injuries, they confirmed the maliciousness and arrested him.”
“…That’s good, Hayashi.”
“Is it really?”
Hayashi’s voice was trembling.
“…I didn’t tell him to stop at the time. But then I filed a complaint without consulting him. As a result, he got arrested. I did it all on my own, without talking to him. Was it really the right thing to do?”
“…It was the right thing.”
“I’m just glad you’re alive.”
Hayashi looked at me with a frightened expression.
“…Even if I say I won’t forgive him for the wounds you’ve suffered, it probably won’t resonate with you. That’s why I have nothing to say or think about him in this matter. I’m an outsider in the first place. …But I’m just glad you’re safe. That’s all that matters.”
Hayashi looked down.
“You’ll worry about it, I know. That you’ve ruined his life. But you were just one step away from… having your own life ended by him. Everything you did this time was for the sake of you living.”
I approached Hayashi and grabbed her shoulders.
“It’s okay to worry. But don’t be self-punishing. Don’t embrace self-destruction. That would be the same as saying that everything you did to live was a waste.”
I wonder if I’ve ever directed such a serious gaze at someone else before.
“…It would be the same as making my efforts go to waste.”
I felt an itch on my back, and it was unbearable.
“It’s natural for you to worry. But don’t waste my efforts. Even if you get tired of living, live on, even if you bear a grudge against me.”
Feeling embarrassed, I decided to resume the bathroom cleaning I had started before dinner. Hair had accumulated in the drain, and the shampoo that had been washed away was tangled in it, making it quite uncomfortable to touch.
“Thank you, Yamamoto.”
Before I knew it, Hayashi was standing behind me as I headed to the bathroom.
“I don’t deserve your thanks. After all, I’m saying terrible things to you. In the end, I’m just asking you to go along with my selfish actions, aren’t I?”
“Maybe you just can’t express it any other way.”
“…If you think so, then maybe that’s the case.”
“I’ve been thinking lately.”
“Why didn’t I talk more with you during high school?”
“…What a coincidence. I’ve been thinking the same.”
I had more than enough reasons to dislike her. I wasn’t the kind of person who had a sense of superiority or avoided contact with others to an extreme degree.
But Hayashi was the only exception. For her alone, even if my inner evaluation of her changed, I never changed the way I interacted with her.
“Isn’t that a good thing?”
“We were given a chance to change our mindset.”
Even if someone were to experience a second round of life, my belief is that it’s not guaranteed that the second round would be better than the first.
What is necessary to make life better is not time, but mindset. Facing challenges, struggling, and making decisions. Through these experiences, people polish their lives. Whether it’s the first or second round, that doesn’t change. Life becomes dull for those who slack off.
“From now on, I’m going to change the way I interact with people too.”
“…You don’t have any friends to change your interactions with.”
“I do. Right behind me.”
Hayashi, standing behind me, fell silent.
Embarrassed, I didn’t say anything more and continued working in silence.
However, we soon realized something.
Hayashi’s ex-boyfriend’s arrest meant that her safety was secured. In other words, there was no longer any reason for me to hide her.
Hayashi began searching for a new place to live two days after her ex-boyfriend’s arrest.