In the end, it didn't rain. To think I had prayed as much as I had, too.
My prayer didn’t go through last year either. This could only mean that praying for rain was completely useless. Now that I understood this, I suppose I’d be able to peacefully come to terms with the inevitable next year when this happens again. If I don’t need to do something, I won’t do it. If I absolutely have to, I’ll make it quick. Today, I, Hōtarō Oreki, learned that praying for rain was something I didn't need to do.
Of the thousand or so Kamiyama High School students that were initially spread about the school grounds, a third had already disappeared. They had set off on a journey to the far reaches of the distant horizon. I knew that what they were doing was nothing more than profitless toil, but I felt no sympathy. After all, I would soon be following after them in their suffering.
With an ear-grating howl, the megaphone was switched on again, and from it came a command.
“That concludes the third-years. Class 2-A, come forward.”
Fellow students filled into their set positions as if they were being dragged along by something. Among them were faces brimming with spirited passion, however, most of the students had such a look of resignation on their faces that the tranquility it radiated was almost saintly. I probably had the same exact expression on mine.
There was a line drawn in chalk on the ground. Alongside it stood a General Committee member, pistol in hand. He didn’t radiate any bit of the usual no-nonsense severity normally found in a cold enforcer of cruel judgement like himself. Considering his markedly middle school face, he must be a first-year. He stared intently at his stopwatch, itself looking as if it wouldn’t tolerate disorder for even a second. At the end of the day, he was just following his orders. Most likely, he wasn't even thinking about what kind of special significance his actions towards us held. Even if he were to consider it, at most it would be something along the lines of:
“I didn’t make this decision. My superiors told me to do it, and I have to do what's assigned to me. It’s not like I want to do this, so I hold no responsibility in the matter.”
It was precisely this thought process that allowed him to be capable of such incalculable cruelty without even so much as a change in his expression. Slowly, he raised the pistol in his hand.
Perhaps even now, at this very moment, we will see a torrential rain so violent and so sudden that it will forever change the field of meteorology as we know it. And yet, the July sky remained so refreshingly clear that it pissed me off. Not even foxes would get married on a day like this.
Ah, that’s right. Didn’t I realize it just a second ago? Heaven didn't respond to our prayers. I had other choice than to find the solution in a way only I could.
Even until the very end, the committee member didn’t look up from his stopwatch. With a thin finger, he pulled the trigger.
An explosive noise rang out, and white smoke rose from the barrel.
This was Kamiyama High School’s Hoshigaya Cup. At last, Class 2-A was ordered to start running.
Kamiyama High School was well known for the sheer amount of enthusiasm with which it treated club activities on campus, to the extent that even counting just how many clubs there were was a pain in and of itself. If I recall correctly, there were over fifty of them this year. The autumn culture festival took place over the span of three days, and the passion surrounding it was normally so intense that anyone with a cool head would agree that everyone was overdoing it a little.
On the other hand, this meant that there was an overabundance of sports events as well. Although there were no athletes from our school that looked like they could compete in last year’s sports inter-high, I heard that the martial arts clubs had a fairly impressive history with it. While things started to quiet down after the culture festival ended, the sports festival started up right away, and in addition to that, a lot of major sports tournaments also took place right after the start of a new academic year. That said, I didn't find it all that grueling. It’s not like I was bursting at the seams with the desire to participate either, but I could at least agree to something like playing as a volleyball receiver or running in a 200 meter relay. If I absolutely had to, I could find it in me to work up a little sweat and show everyone a smile.
I couldn't summon even that smile, however, was when I was told to run further.
…Specifically, when I was told to run 20,000 meters.
The Kamiyama High School long-distance running tournament takes place every year at the end of May. Apparently, its actual name is the “Hoshigaya Cup.” Even though the event was supposedly named after a graduate who previously established himself in Japan as a skilled long-distance runner, no one calls it that. In contrast to how the culture festival was called something enigmatic like the “Kanya Festival” even though it had no proper name, the “Hoshigaya Cup” was usually known simply as the “Marathon Event.” In my case, however, because my friend Satoshi Fukube only ever called it the Hoshigaya Cup, the name ended up sticking for me as well.
Now, it was possible that I should've been happy considering the Marathon Event was shorter than an actual marathon, but in the end, I really wished it would have rained today. According to Satoshi, the notice concerning the use of public roads indicated that, in the event of rain, the marathon was to be stopped immediately and without resumption for the rest of the day.
However, then he also added, “But it’s strange, isn’t it? As far as I can tell from the records, the Hoshigaya Cup hasn’t been stopped once to date.”
There must be a god out there looking out for the athletes in the Hoshigaya Cup.
That god is undeniably rotten to the core.
I wore a white short-sleeved shirt and shorts that were somewhere in-between red and purple, something like a crimson. The girls wore short tights in the same color. The school’s emblem was embroidered on the shirt’s chest-area, and below that was sewn a paper bib displaying the student’s class and name. The string holding my “Class 2-A / Oreki” bib in place was already beginning to turn ragged. Sewing it on was a pain, and I ended up doing a half-baked job anyways. Not good.
It was currently the end of May, so it didn't rain as much as it might have in subsequent rainy season. Considering they wouldn't be able to hold it the next day because of the weekend if it had to be cancelled on Friday, it seemed like minimal consideration was given to the whole thing. Due to the 9:00 AM start, it was still unpleasantly cold. As the sun rose, I would almost certainly start to sweat.
On the school grounds, there was another entrance aside from the front gates, and all of Class 2-A exited from it as they started to run. Goodbye, Kamiyama High School. May we meet again in 20 kilometers.
The Hoshigaya Cup course was not very clearly defined in that the only specific instructions were really “Do a lap around the back of the school.” The thing was, however, the mountainous area behind the school continued all the way to the distant, snowy Kamikakiuchi range, so in reality, the “long-distance run” was something more along the lines of long-distance mountain trek.
I knew the exact course.
You run a bit alongside the river that flows in front of the school and then go up hilly road to the right at the first intersection. The slope starts off gently at first but quickly ramps up in steepness. As you approach the very top, it becomes a slope that mercilessly breaks one's body.
Once you’ve climbed it, the road immediately drops. Just like the upward slope, the decline is much longer and more violent than one might expect, and your overworked knees will surely cry out in pain.
The end of the decline opens up a bit into a large expanse of countryside. You should be able to see the occasional house here and there. While there’s little inclination in the road at this point, it continues in a straight line for what seems like eternity, so this stretch tends to do the most mental damage.
Once you reach the end of the flat section, you have to overcome another hill, but unlike the previous slope, the climb on this one isn’t as violent. The thing is, however, the road becomes extremely windy at this point, and the constant hairpin turns coming one after another tend to ruin one's rhythm.
Ahead of that is an area in the north-eastern section of Kamiyama City called Jinde, the place where Chitanda’s house is located. At this point, you follow a thin river downhill.
Continue making your way through the valley like this, and you will eventually return to the town area. Though, in saying this, it’s not exactly like we can run alongside the dead center of a street used by cars, so, as a result, you use a back road. Once you pass by in front of Arekusa Shrine and look past the stereotypically white Rengō Hospital, you will begin to see Kamiyama High School.
How did I know this? Well, you see, I ran it last year as well. I knew every length of the track from start to finish. But that knowledge wouldn't shorten the distance one bit. While I understood where it was we had to go, I felt it was necessary to omit the process in getting there. Even though it was probably impossible, it was likely the most optimal strategy at the same time. In other words, when needing to cover a 20km distance, one should at least be allowed to choose between using a bus or a bike. Unfortunately however, this extremely rational thought process of mine didn’t seem like it would be given much consideration.
Up first was the river in front of the campus, and already issues began to crop up. The majority of the course took place in areas that had little traffic, however this section alone connected to a city bypass, so there were a considerable number of passing cars. Additionally, there wasn’t anything like a curb separating the pedestrian and motor roads—only a single white line. The only reason we had to start running this early was so we didn’t cause any congestion in the streets.
The students of Class 2-A ran in a single-file line inside the area marked off by the white line. This was the only point in the entire 20km during which both the fast students and the slow students had to run at the exact same pace. If they didn’t, they would end up poking out into the roadway. Last year we were more-or-less allowed to expand out from the single-file line, however this year, it was strictly prohibited. It was a measure that the school took to prevent any accidents as a third-year was hit by a car in this area yesterday. Thanks to that, we were allowed the immense pleasure of being packed into a line that was difficult to run in.
So I guess I wouldn't be walking this kilometer stretch. The line was jogging at a light, easy pace. The road ahead of me was long. If I imagined the jogging to be next-level walking instead, I suppose I could tolerate it.
We finished the kilometer section before too long, and the course swung a wide right. We veered away from the main road leading into town and approached the school’s rear. Thus began the upward slope.
The single-file line crumbled away. As if they were propelled by the building frustration of not being allowed to run at their own pace, those in the class that were more physically oriented immediately broke away from the group. Several groups of girls, most likely motivated by some promise to happily run alongside each other, also began to move up.
And as for me, I slowed down.
…And slowed down even more.
I was essentially walking at that point, but I continued to make it look like I was running regardless.
Sorry to all the Hoshigaya athletes out there, but I can’t afford to be happy-go-lucky like you. In the span of this 20km, there was something I absolutely had to find out, and I only had 19km left to do it. Roughly 100m into the upward slope, I heard a voice call out from behind me.
“Ah, there he is.”
I didn’t turn around. The owner of the voice popped out in front of me anyways.
He, Satoshi Fukube, then got off the bicycle he had been riding.
From a distance, I thought he looked like some sort of androgynous gentleman, but up close his face looked so different from what you might have expected had you looked at his old middle school yearbook that it surprised even me. Of course, the trouble was not that his face had actually changed that much, but rather, that over the course of the previous year, he had come to lock up all of his emotions behind that façade. I didn’t realize it, however, because I hadn't been face-to-face with him for almost three days.
This year around, Satoshi became the General Committee vice-president. As the General Committee was running the Hoshigaya Cup, its members didn't need to run. After all, they set up before the race started and were expected to be distributed around the course. He wore a yellow helmet and pushed his usual mountain bike. I looked at him with a sideward glance and said, “You sure it’s fine to be slacking off like this?”
“It’s fine, it’s fine. I already made sure the race started without a hitch, and I’m not going to come back until the last runner passes the finish line.”
“Must be tough.”
I understood that the General Committee didn’t have to run as thanks for their efforts in supervising every aspect of the Hoshigaya Cup, but now this guy was going to be flying all over the 20km course on his mountain bike to report if any unforeseen situations should ever occur. Satoshi dropped his shoulders.
“Well, it’s not like I hate cycling, so it’s not all that bad, but I wouldn’t need to do this if I could only use my cellphone.”
“How about you tell them that?”
“None of the students on campus are technically allowed to carry cellphones, but in reality, if someone were to get hurt you would use a cellphone to call for help, right? They seriously need to re-evaluate their rules, I swear.”
With this he lamented over the General Committee’s inflexible organizational structure, but then a serious expression suddenly came over him.
“In any case, do you think you have an idea yet?”
As I sluggishly walked on, I responded carefully.
He started to speak, but faltered. I had an idea of what he wanted to say, so I started talking instead.
“It’s clear that she suspects me.”
“No, I don’t think that’s the case. It actually seems like she thinks it can’t be you. This is something someone told me, but apparently she said, ‘I don’t think Hōtarō did anything. After all, he literally does nothing.’”
A bitter smile crept across my face. Not only did that definitely sound like something Ibara would say, but it had been like that in reality as well. I did absolutely nothing yesterday.
If that’s what she really thought however, things became quite problematic.
“If it’s not me…”
“Exactly,” replied Satoshi with a deep sigh.
If it wasn’t me, there was only one other person it could be. I remembered what had happened yesterday.
I was reading a paperback in the clubroom after school. It was a period novel chronicling the early days of a man who became a master spy later on in his life, and it was so ridiculously interesting that I had become uncharacteristically engrossed in it.
At Kamiyama High School, a place overflowing with various clubs, several of which disband and are then replaced by newer ones each year, it was quite common for clubrooms to be switched around at the start of a new academic term. That said, the Classics Club remained in the same Earth Sciences lecture room. It's not like I was particularly attached to it, but because I'd been in this room so regularly over the course of the previous year, I ended up sitting in my "usual seat." It was the chair positioned, as always, third row from the back and three seats from the window overlooking the school grounds.
As I reached the end of one of the chapters and raised my head to exhale from the excitement, the room’s sliding door suddenly opened. Ibara walked in, her eyebrows furrowed and her face betraying a concerned expression.
Mayaka Ibara was a second-year now, and she had changed slightly. She had quit the Manga Research Society she was once a part of alongside the Classics Club. She herself said it was because she “just got tired of it.” Judging by Satoshi’s conflicted face, it seemed there were other circumstances involved as well, but I didn’t ask.
It’s not like I thought her appearance had changed or anything. If you tossed Ibara into a group of new students and told a hundred people to pick out the second-year, I doubt a single person would have chosen her. She had recently started wearing clips in her hair, however had Satoshi and the others not brought it up, I would have never even noticed.
There was only me and one other person in the clubroom. Just until a little bit ago, there had been three of us.
“Hey, did something happen?”
The one who muttered that was Chitanda.
Eru Chitanda was the recurring Classics Club president. She hadn’t cut her hair in a while, so it had grown a bit.
Ibara looked back towards the hallway and then spoke in a somewhat concealed voice.
“I just passed by Hina-chan over there. She said she wasn’t going to join.”
“Her eyes were kind of red. Was she crying?”
Chitanda was at a loss for words. Without responding to the question, she muttered to herself.
I didn’t know what had happened.
A year passed, and as we became second-years, naturally so were there new first-years. We opened up the Classics Club for new students to join, and while there were a lot of complications along the way, finally we managed to recruit one member.
Tomoko Ōhinata had turned in a provisional club enrollment form, and all that was left was for her to submit the actual club entry form. Not only had she become extremely attached to Ibara, but she seemed to also be constantly enjoying her discussions with Chitanda. She could be a bit annoying at times, but it’s not like I was cold towards her because of that. Everyone thought she would join the club without a problem; rather, I wonder if in reality we all forgot you were even required to turn in an actual club enrollment form after the provisional one in the first place.
And now, we were being told that she wouldn’t be joining. Had all of this collapsed in the short time I had been reading my book?
Chitanda faced Ibara and spoke once more with quivering lips.
"I see,” she repeated as best she could. Even though Ibara didn't know what had happened, she listened carefully and asked, “Are you okay, Chi-chan?”
“I knew it. Because of me…”
“What do you mean ‘because of me’? If you’re talking about Hina-chan, you’re wrong. She even said it wasn’t your fault.”
“No, I’m sorry. I have to go.”
Chitana forcibly ended the conversation and left the Earth Sciences room with her bag as if she were running.
All I could do was stare.
Ibara watched Chitanda as she left and then turned around to face me. With an expressionless, monotone voice, she spoke.
“So, what happened?”
All I could do was shake my head, mouth wide-open.
While there were tons of clubs, there were only so many new students. The race to recruit these incoming students reached peak ferocity every April. Last year, I didn’t really have any reason to join the other clubs so I ignored the whole thing, however this time around I ended up in the center of the maelstrom. Doing it, I experienced something for the first time; it was my first true bloodbath.
New students I had never seen before were being snatched away left and right in recruiting attempts, so issues began to crop up to some extent. While it was probably true that the new students who couldn’t turn down the incessant soliciting of a club they had no interest in had mostly themselves to blame, there were apparently certain clubs that had gathered massive amounts of members to pressure the first-years into joining. Using high-handed tactics like this was something that simply did not work, however. The reason behind the two-step process requiring students to submit both a provisional club entry form and an actual club entry form was to make sure the students joined of their own volition. If a student didn’t turn in the actual club entry form later, they were automatically dropped.
The deadline to turn it in was this weekend, so essentially, the deadline was today.
Before anything, there was something I wanted to confirm.
“Just because you don’t turn in the actual club entry form doesn’t mean you can’t join at a later date, right?”
“Of course. You can join or quit any Kamiyama High School club you want at any time. It’s completely up to you.”
After he said that, however, Satoshi continued with a slight grimace.
“The thing is though, a club’s budget is based on its member count at the end of the provisional club entry period, so any member changes after that point are really looked down upon. Anyways, more importantly…”
The problem wasn’t the bureaucracy.
In all reality, the second we learned that there was some kind of trouble yesterday, we should have tried to resolve it, though I suppose there wasn’t anything we could have done in the first place considering both Ōhinata and Chitanda had left by that point. Only one day had passed, and yet it already felt like it was too late. If this were to remain unresolved before everyone was separated over the weekend, Ōhinata’s resignation would almost certainly end up being a done deal, and changing her mind might be impossible.
There were no classes being held today after the Hoshigaya Cup ended. You had to attend homeroom for a small period, but after that, everyone could meet with their clubs.
In other words, though today was the only day we’d be able to pull Ōhinata aside, we had hardly the time nor the chance to get into contact with her.
“That said, I don’t know what specifically happened,” said Satoshi with a hushed voice. “It seems like yesterday after school, something made her extremely angry or depressed, but we have no idea what caused that, right?”
“Yeah, I was reading the entire time.”
“If that’s the case, then Chitanda had to have been the cause. Except now, it contradicts what Mayaka was told.”
The upward slope hadn’t yet become physically strenuous. Houses lined the left and right sides of the road and the hill gently continued forward. Someone nimbly caught up beside me as I continued my slow pace. He was probably a student from 2-B, the class that started after us, who had faith his legs would carry him to the end like this.
I whispered my question.
“What did Ibara say?”
Satoshi seemed to be disappointed in me at a quick glance.
“Come on, you didn’t hear?”
“She didn't tell me anything.”
“I wonder if she didn’t have any time. I wasn’t there either, so the details are a bit fuzzy.”
Satoshi’s eyes darted about, and then he awkwardly added, “If I remember correctly, Ōhinata said Chitanda was ‘like a Buddha,’ or something like that. I only remember it was something that wasn’t insinuating anything mean.”
I hadn’t heard anything at all about this. I didn’t know anything other than the fact that Ōhinata said she wasn’t going to join the club.
“Was this really yesterday?”
“The phrasing might have been off, but it happened yesterday without a doubt.”
Then Ōhinata had said both “I’m not going to join” and “Chitanda’s like Buddha”? If that was the case, then that would honestly have me assume that she was essentially saying, “I’m not going to join, but it’s not Chitanda’s fault.”
That would therefore mean I was the reason that Ōhinata decided to quit. Yet, I truly didn’t do anything yesterday. Of course, I would be lying if I said I didn’t remember nor hear anything. I talked a bit before entering the clubroom, and I did hear the occasional thing as I was reading, but that was all.
“I guess this isn’t going to be simple after all.”
However, then Satoshi murmured under his breath, “I wonder if that’s the case.”
“I think it’s simple,” he continued. “A new recruit joined. She changed her mind. She decided to quit. This was all that happened.”
Even as I continued to more or less run, Satoshi managed to follow alongside me while pushing his mountain bike. As expected from a cycling hobbyist, his walking was top-notch.
Satoshi let out a sigh and finally started to talk.
“Hey, Hōtarō. This might be a bit cruel, but if Ōhinata quits, I think we should just give up on her. I mean she’s certainly an interesting person, and Mayaka really seems to like her, but if she herself decided on this, I don’t think we have any right to dispute that.”
He looked at me and added.
“Although I thought you’d be the one to say that instead of me.”
That wasn’t an unreasonable assumption. In reality, when Mayaka came in yesterday feeling distressed, I didn’t really think what had happened was all too important.
I’m sure Ōhinata had her own circumstances. At Kamiyama High School, you were allowed to be in up to two clubs at the same time, so if there were three you wanted to join, it would be completely understandable if you dropped the Classics Club. In any case, her intentions were unclear. Possibly she found a sport she wanted to do, or perhaps she decided to start participating in General Committee activities. Maybe she just decided she needed to concentrate on her studies. There were any number of reasons why she might have decided to quit, and the Classics Club didn’t have a single reason to dispute that. It was unfortunate, but maybe it wasn’t meant to be. Those thoughts had certainly crossed my mind at one point.
I had changed my mind on the matter for a couple of reasons however, but I didn’t feel like explaining them to Satoshi one-by-one while I was running. After this, he gets to ride his bike the rest of the way, but I’m stuck on my legs. I would only tire myself out more if I tried to talk while running, so I wanted to limit my speech as much as possible.
Probably realizing that I wasn’t going to reply, Satoshi casually continued to speak.
“But you know how it goes. If you’ve decided on trying to dissuade her, I have no reason to stop you. So, do you plan on finding her and then begging her to not leave?”
I was immediately caught off guard.
“Yeah, lower your head like this and tell her, ‘I know you must have experienced much displeasure at our hands, but I implore you, bear with it just this once.’”
Satoshi said this while gesturing with his hands, and then continued with a puzzled face.
“You weren’t going to do that?”
I hadn’t even thought of that. I suppose it was an option, but in the end…
“Ōhinata up and said she had a reason as to why she was quitting, right? I wonder if we can truly bring this issue to a close without knowing that reason first.”
He responded with a groan.
“You’re actually going to try and resolve the issue, huh. I suppose begging’s not something you’d really do in the first place, although quickly apologizing and begging her by all means necessary is certainly the fastest way to go about this. It might even go over better than expected."
I wondered if that was how it'd really go. I had a hard time believing it. At the very least, I didn’t think that prostrating in front of her would completely settle the issue at hand.
In the first place, it wasn’t that I was doing this because I wanted to dissuade her from leaving. I’m not sure putting everything aside so I could beg her to sign the actual club entry form and then going on like I didn’t know her after was something I could even do. All that would do would be put off the hassle until later. Now, I like avoiding work, and I love being able to omit it even more, but what I don’t like is putting something off until later. If you see something that looks like a hassle but pretend it isn't there, having to deal with it later becomes even more of a hassle.
“I guess I’m probably not going to beg her.”
“How about persuade her upfront?”
“That’s also a pain. Besides, did you think I was even a smooth-talker in the first place?”
“I don’t. Rather than gently convincing someone, you’re more the type that settles a conversation with a single piece of sagely wisdom.”
He said this and then became quiet.
He stared at my face carefully.
“Earlier you said that resolving this issue wasn’t going to be simple. Are you really actually trying to figure out the exact reason why Ōhinata wants to leave?”
Calling it ‘figuring out’ was an exaggeration.
“I’m just trying to remember everything that happened up until now. As long as I just do that, I can spare myself the effort.”
Satoshi started thinking for a bit.
“Remember, huh? I see. In other words, you don’t think whatever made Ōhinata angry or sad was necessarily something that only happened yesterday after school. The cause, or rather the original, underlying problem, was something that happened at a different time.”
He was pretty sharp.
I knew for a fact that I didn’t do anything yesterday, and when it came to Chitanda, even if you didn’t take into consideration Ibara’s ‘Chitanda is like a Buddha’ account, the idea that Ōhinata would be so hurt and angry after talking to Chitanda made me feel like Ibara might have played it up a bit.
I felt bad saying it, but considering it was Ibara, I could understand that being the case. She seemed like the type of person that might shank you if you simply mentioned something that rubbed her the wrong way, no matter how trifling it was. When it came to Chitanda on the other hand, she would have simply tilted her head in confusion.
If I were to think about it like that, the cause might have been related in some part to something that had happened prior to yesterday. Possibly at some point, starting from when Ōhinata joined the club as a provisional member, unbearable thoughts had been slowly accumulating in her head. Perhaps yesterday, she had reached her limit.
“I said I wasn’t planning on stopping you, but… this is quite convoluted, isn’t it?”
“No matter how much you try to remember, Hōtarō, there’s no guarantee that you’ll have all the information necessary to crack this one.”
“I guess that’s true.”
It’s not like the Classics Club members were always together; even I didn’t go to the clubroom every day. There were likely tons of things I had neither seen nor heard. Had all of it started and ended while I was unaware it was even happening, just thinking would be useless.
That said, and I couldn’t tell any of this to Satoshi yet, I did have some ideas here and there. Ever since Ōhinata joined as a provisional member, there were a couple things that I thought seemed strange. Maybe if I focused my attention on those parts, something would become clear. I might be completely wrong, but at least it was somewhere to start. Besides, I had 20 kilometers. This course took far too long when simply running.
“If there’s anything I need to know, I’ll try asking you.”
Satoshi furrowed his eyebrows in suspicion.
“Asking me? Just to let you know, I’m going to be riding ahead of you now.”
“I know, but we're bound to pass each other again at some point, right? See you then.”
I smiled at him and continued.
“After all, Ibara and Chitanda will be coming from behind.”
For a second, Satoshi stared at me dumbfounded.
“You’re terrible! So that’s what you were planning. How could you? Think about all the blood and sweat the General Committee poured into setting up the Hoshigaya Cup.”
“Isn’t it the Marathon Event?”
Without a doubt, I needed to talk with Ibara and Chitanda.
On the other hand, I also had to come into contact with Ōhinata by the end of the day.
There was only one way I could achieve both of these.
In order to prevent congestion in the streets, each of the classes’ start times were staggered. I was in class 2-A. If I remembered correctly, Ibara was in 2-C and Chitanda was in the very last one, class 2-H. If I ran slowly, eventually Ibara would catch up, and if I went even more slowly than that, Chitanda would as well.
“Which class was Ōhinata in?”
“Class 1-B. No wonder you were going at such a slow pace. No, I’m relieved. Actually I’m really relieved. That’s right, there’s no way you’d seriously try to run all the way through to the end.”
Satoshi laughed as he said this. How rude. I properly ran the course last year, even if I stopped around halfway and ended up walking for 10km or so.
“Now that I know your evil scheme, I suppose it’s about time for me to get moving. Even lazing around has its limits.”
He straddled his mountain bike. I thought he was going to push the pedal and ride away, but he suddenly hesitated for a second. He turned back towards me.
“I’m only going to tell you this because we’re friends. Make sure you don’t take this all on yourself, Hōtarō. You’re the kind of person that doesn’t normally care about another person’s circumstances, so don’t forget that you aren’t responsible for anything, no matter what ends up happening with Ōhinata.”
It was a mean way to phrase it, but I understood what he was trying to say. He wanted to tell me that no matter what I thought or found out, in the end, it was Ōhinata’s decision. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. I guess it would be a good idea to keep that in mind.
“I’m going now. See you again somewhere on the course.”
Satoshi finally started to pedal away. Even though the slope was getting steeper and steeper, his mountain bike picked up speed without staggering. He didn’t even stand up to pedal. With his rear planted firmly on the saddle and his body arched forward, he pedaled further and further away.
With my small steps and sluggish running, I saw him off.
Though I said I was going to talk with Ibara and Chitanda, it wasn’t as simple as it sounded.
Even when each of them did catch up, I wouldn't be able to talk with them for very long. Especially Ibara didn’t seem like she’d slow her pace for me. In the time that I had for her to catch up to and then pass me, I could probably only ask her around two questions.
I didn’t have enough time to ask everything I wanted to. If I didn’t decide on what I wanted to ask before she caught up, I was going to ruin my chance.
In order to ask the correct questions, I needed to correctly understand the situation. Specifically, what I need to understand was just exactly what kind of person the Kamiyama High School first-year Tomoko Ōhinata was.
…So I tried to remember. After Chitanda left yesterday, Ibara asked the only remaining person, me, a question.
“So, what happened?”
When I didn’t answer, she said something else.
“You don’t know? Should’ve seen that coming. After all, you’re not one to pay attention to other people.”
A single, nonchalant comment.
It almost felt like she was a bit surprised, however.
It’s not like I didn’t know because I was reading my book after class yesterday. Rather, I just wasn’t very interested in anything Ōhinata had to say. It was probably due to things like this that Satoshi always liked to call me a “people-hater.” It wasn't like that was entirely the case, but it wasn’t very far off either. Perhaps from an outsider’s perspective it looked like I was becoming more and more distant from Ōhinata.
For the most part, I came to not really care at all about her personal life, about what made her happy and what had hurt her in the past. I was essentially ignoring her. I wondered if, even now, I could manage a full U-turn from that apathy. Could I do it during this 20km distance? The course took far too long when simply running, however I wondered if even that was enough time for me to try and understand someone.
I had to try and think about it, no matter what it took.
The slope became increasingly steeper, and at some point, the scenery to the left and right of the road had changed to that of a cedar forest.
Another person continued to pass me by as I dawdled forward.
I first met her in April. It was during the new-student recruitment week.