Part 101: Underwater and a Maple with a Name
Muto and Meiko are "special friends" confirmed?
Think that's supposed to be the Nurse, but who knows?
Update 91: Underwater and a Maple with a Name (Act 2, Scenes 9-10)
I catch up to Rin who left the club room just a moment earlier, so we're walking down the stairs to the ground floor while I try to go over Nomiya's passionate speech about art, and Rin seems to be lost in thought. Not an unusual state for her, I've learned, but something about her expression makes me feel uneasy.
HISAO: "Penny for your thoughts."
RIN: "That'd be too cheap."
HISAO: "You're just overpricing your thoughts."
RIN: "I wouldn't be able to sell them anyway. I'm not sure what I'm thinking yet. That'd be fraud too, like stealing a candy from a baby."
HISAO: "That's theft, not fraud."
RIN: "I have to think about what I think."
HISAO: "Is this about what the teacher said? Getting your work put on display and all that?"
She doesn't answer, but stops in her tracks as we reach the lobby. We're the only people around, so it's very quiet. Footsteps echo from a few floors up as someone hurries along a hallway.
RIN: "I think I'm going to go somewhere elsewhere."
I think she really is troubled.
HISAO: "Want company? I can't promise much help with the thinking, but it's not like I have much else to do, and I'm supposed to do some light exercise."
RIN: "If you like."
Rin leads me outside, to the wall behind the dormitories. There is a small back gate there, made from the same wrought iron as the main gate. It leads to the shadowy woodland park behind the school. The gate is rusty, as if it hasn't seen much use. However, it sits open, so we pass through. It's not forbidden for students to leave the grounds, but somehow I feel a little uneasy.
A path leads deeper into the forest. Tall zelkova and maple trees rustle in the wind, their canopies creating patches of chill air hanging in the places where the shadows fall. The forest smells strongly of earth. I almost feel cold, even though the midsummer day is as hot as ever. Rin trudges ahead like a sleepwalker, surefooted but with no apparent destination in mind. Her thoughts seem to be somewhere else. I follow a few steps behind, taking more care to watch where my feet land. The path follows the land uphill at a low angle, sometimes making little detours downhill before climbing back upward. The muted brown and gray trunks line the path on both sides, peppered with ferns and other undergrowth. After a little while, I start getting worried. The path is still wide and clear, so there's no chance of getting lost, but it doesn't look like we have any particular destination. There's nothing wrong with a bit of aimless wandering around, but I don't want to go so far that I get too tired to walk back. I'm starting to get a little winded and my legs feel heavy. I want to stop and get a chance to catch my breath and rest my legs, but Rin keeps on going.
HISAO: "Where are we going? Or are we going anywhere at all?"
RIN: "Worry Tree."
HISAO: "I see. So what exactly is the Worry Tree?"
RIN: "It's just a tree. Like this."
She stops in front of a particularly large maple that might or might not be the Worry Tree. Its lush green leaves sway lightly in the breeze blowing through the small clearing we entered.
HISAO: "I guessed as much."
RIN: "There are people who believe that you must come here to wallow in misery, if you are miserable, only by people I mean me, and the tree isn't really called anything."
HISAO: "So... if you're miserable, you talk to a tree about it?"
RIN: "No. What? You can't talk to trees. What do you think I am, crazy?"
HISAO: "No... I didn't mean it like that."
RIN: "Or maybe you talk to trees? I'm sorry, I didn't mean to say that you are crazy. Even though you probably are if you talk to trees. I wouldn't recommend it in either case. People will think you are a weird person."
HISAO: "No, I... just forget it."
She looks mildly confused, for which I don't blame her at all. She tilts her head a little to the side, expression melting back to her usual one.
RIN: "All right. I'm good at forgetting things."
HISAO: "So why are were here? Are you miserable then?"
I can't read the expression she makes. I hate how bad I am at interpreting Rin's mood. She doesn't answer right away, as if she herself isn't quite certain of her own mood. The blank stare changes into a more difficult expression as she shuffles her weight around. Finally, coming to a conclusion, Rin shrugs her shoulders. I've grown to seriously dislike that gesture. It doesn't mean anything.
RIN: "Maybe. I just feel kind of like I'm sinking underwater. I don't know what I should do. I don't know where I should go, that's all. Maybe it's not a big deal but I thought walking might help. Kind of like, if I go somewhere I would know where I should go. I don't really know if it did. It really would've made sense if walking had helped to decide where to go.
HISAO: "So you don't want to try to get an exhibition? Or rather, you don't know if you do? Can't decide?"
Rin doesn't say anything for a while, arranging her thoughts in silence. The quiet is broken by birdsong from somewhere in the treetops, followed by rustling leaves as the bird takes flight.
RIN: "Maybe. I'm not sure if I can have a thing like that. So far I've only painted for myself. I don't think I could have my things on display the way I am now. This me couldn't do it."
Her reason sounds like a weak excuse. I make my trademark frown but she doesn't notice it.
HISAO: "I don't get it. The teacher certainly thinks you could. I don't think he'd suggest it otherwise. Sounds like he's calling in favors from his friends, too."
RIN: "I know. He's really done a lot for me. But this might be too much. Becoming someone who can do it might be pretty hard. Maybe I couldn't do it at all. He can't do it for me and if I let him try, I'd just sink deeper and deeper."
Rin stands in front of the large maple and turns away from me. I want to close the few feet of distance between us and... I don't know. My irritation is suddenly gone, and I start feeling sympathetic to her.
HISAO: "I know exactly how you feel. Well, maybe I don't, but still. I think I haven't felt like I was actually in control of my own life this whole year. I'm just helplessly going along with the flow. Like coming here to this school. I didn't really choose it myself. And I certainly didn't choose this time of my life to learn that I have... this condition."
I still can't casually say the word aloud.
HISAO: "It's like... yeah, it's exactly like being underwater. Like I can't even breathe."
Rin turns to face me again, a sad expression on her face.
RIN: "Is that why you look so sad all the time? I don't want to look sad like you. Do I look to you like you look to me?"
HISAO: "I don't look sad all the time. I just... don't know what I should be feeling. What kind of face I should be making."
RIN: "Me neither. Do I look sad now?"
HISAO: "Not really. You look like you always do, I think."
RIN: "But I'm sinking. I should try to float. Up, like a rubber duck. Quack quack all yellow and creepy."
I have to think for a few seconds about which direction I should pursue in this conversation, then I realize that it doesn't matter.
HISAO: "You think rubber ducks are creepy?"
RIN: "You don't? I think they look very creepy. Everything that has eyes but isn't alive is very disturbing. Like rubber ducks and reflections in mirrors."
She plops down on the forest bed, leaning on the maple she named the Worry Tree. After wondering what to do for a minute, I sit down too, three feet apart from her.
The forest envelops us in its embrace, and its stillness falls upon the two of us. We sit there without speaking for a long while. I can literally feel the time passing. Patches of sunlight litter the small clearing in a pattern that echoes the maple canopies. One of them falls directly on me, warming me all the way to the bone. I wonder what I could do for myself, and maybe for Rin. For now, I just keep watching her from this distance.
Sometimes she cranes her neck all the way back, so much that it looks almost painful, and stares up at the small patch of sky visible past the canopy of the Worry Tree. Sometimes she just stares blankly ahead, as if seeing something just beyond her reach. She keeps whispering to herself but so quietly that I can't hear her, even though I'm sitting right next to her. I only see her lips moving, like she was in the middle of a distant dream.
I realize that right now, I no longer feel any of the intense loneliness I feel at night, just before falling asleep. I might be more like Rin than I thought. I can either give up and stay submerged under the weight of all the crap in my life, or try to change myself for the better. Her decision is different, yet the same. And unlike her, I know for sure that I can't stay like this forever.
I have to change.
>I want to be more like Rin.
>I want to be more like Emi.
I think I got a little too clever with this one. Platonic solids referred to Emis platonic relationship with the protagonists, and graveyard poetry referred to a pre-romantic literary movement. But we went with platonic and so the Emi choice is canon for this run. I do think the Rin answer is worth touching on before we continue, though:
A hypothetical Update 91 posted:
Rin could probably do it. Even though she seems to doubt herself, I have no doubts about her strength. She could do it, even if she can't.
=>I want to be more like Emi.
Emi probably has done it. She's so happy and energetic, a runner girl without legs. If anyone has beaten a disability, it must be her.
It makes me feel a little bit better too, and I lean back against the tree, breathing out deeply as if for the first time in a long time. We stay that way in the small clearing until the angle of sun changes and the chilly shadows deepen. No longer warm where we sit, we leave the forest, returning along the same path we took coming in. It doesn't seem like Rin has come to a decision.
HISAO: "I wonder if it was a bad idea for me to come along."
RIN: "It's all right. I don't mind. I'm sure the trees and dirt and rocks won't mind either. Did you mind?"
HISAO: "No, not at all. I think it helped me too."
While we walk back towards the dormitories, the sky is changing to a deep ultramarine. The first summer stars twinkle softly from between spots in the canopy, barely visible like tiny fireflies. I become very self-conscious about Rin's presence.
I haven't thought much about girls since things fell apart with Iwanako. This is kind of the same situation as then, but to be honest I don't think it really counts for much. Not with Rin. And yet... it feels good walking next to her, even if it isn't anything more than this.
At first, I think Rin agitated me quite a bit with her unpredictable behavior. But recently, I feel I haven't had to be on my toes so much. I've managed to let myself go a little. It makes me feel satisfied, even though ultimately I think it's more thanks to Rin than myself. She seems to be disinterested in a huge number of things, but something in her makes me try harder than I normally would. It's not that I want to impress her; I think that truly impressing Rin would take near-superhuman effort just because of how she is. Instead, it's because there is this relentless feeling inside of me that I shouldn't let Rin down. It's really weird.
I wonder why I started thinking like that. I don't even know what sort of expectations she has about pretty much anything. So how could I let her down? Rin has this unassuming air around her, and she doesn't really talk about stuff very often. Even today's confession of her self-doubt caught me a little bit off guard. I feel like I want to talk more with her.
The realization suddenly dawns on me that Rin is basically the only person I talk to nowadays, apart from whatever I have to endure from Shizune, Misha or Kenji. I feel slightly depressed.
In front of the dormitories, as if summoned by my dark thoughts, we run into Kenji himself. It feels very odd seeing him outside, breathing fresh outdoor air. At least it's already dusk; I partially expect Kenji would disintegrate upon direct exposure to the sun. Kenji himself seems very insecure as well, standing around looking like he's waiting for something, but doesn't know himself what it might be.
HISAO: "Hey, Kenji. What're you doing?"
(Nature Sounds Stop Suddenly)
KENJI: "Who're you?"
HISAO: "It's me, Hisao. Umm... I'm not sure if you know Tezuka from class 3-4?"
From his face I can see that not only he doesn't know Rin, he also can't see her from this short distance.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Out of the Loop
KENJI: "Oh, sup dudes?"
Kenji sticks his hand enthusiastically forward, almost straight into Rin's stomach. Rin looks at his outstretched hand in confusion until Kenji clears his throat and retracts the hand. There is something almost cool that he manages to do with social awkwardness. It's not like I'm the most suave man on the planet, but I don't think I'll ever be able to even approach Kenji's level. I think I respect Kenji a little bit more.
HISAO: "So you're waiting for someone?"
He leans closer and lowers his voice to an agitated whisper. I see his facial muscles twitching.
KENJI: "Come on man, you know I can't talk about stuff here in public. They might be listening. I'm going to have to go pick up some stuff from somewhere, and I don't want those snooping student council hags to get on my case. Also, I don't trust your friend. Nothing personal. Are you sure he's trustworthy?"
I briefly consider telling Kenji about Rin's gender, but as it might end up badly for one or both of them, I decide against it.
HISAO: "Yeah, I'm sure."
He turns from me to Rin, and I immediately get the feeling that I have to prevent them from talking to each other with whatever means necessary. However, there is little I can do now, apart from physical violence.
KENJI: "In that case, would you be interested in knowing about the worst threat to mankind since they invented vegetarianism?"
He sounds like a vacuum cleaner salesman.
RIN: "I thought it was Sunday."
KENJI: "I see you're not in the know. Yeah man, I'm talking about man-eating cows here. Very few people know what I know, so I'm not surprised. We can't talk here, but if you'd like a pamphlet, come to my room after curfew on Mondays or Wednesdays."
He suddenly reaches to his pocket and draws out a ballpoint pen and what looks like a convenience store receipt. Kenji furiously scribbles on the scrap of paper and then thrusts it towards Rin.
KENJI: "Here's the password. Memorize it and then eradicate any trace of this document. Eat it, burn it, dissolve in acid, whatever."
I take the receipt from Kenji as Rin is unable to do so, and glance at it. It's indeed a receipt, apparently for two rice balls and five boxes of matches. I hope he is not planning to burn anything down. On the other side is written just one word.
I show it to Rin too, but she shows no reaction.
RIN: "Thank you."
KENJI: "Yo, Hisao. You still in that club? The club of dark arts?"
HISAO: "Fine art. Anyway yeah, actually just had a meeting today."
KENJI: "Still got your wits about you? No shady mind tricks going on? Nothing personal man, but I have to be on top of things. Can't get caught with my pants down. Speaking of which, you should really take showers a bit later. Gotta respect that personal space. Nothing personal."
Kenji looks around as if he heard something and then straightens his jacket.
KENJI: "Okay, I gotta scoot now before it gets too late. Later dudes. Good luck."
(Silence, Nature Sounds)
Kenji takes off rapidly towards the main gate. Rin looks after him, frowning. We watch after Kenji's diminishing figure in silence.
RIN: "What's wrong with him?"
HISAO: "Technically speaking, I think he's legally blind."
RIN: "Oh. I see."
Katawa Shoujo OST ~ Passing of Time
I can immediately tell from the envelope that it's not about official matters of any sort. Someone actually wrote me an old-fashioned, hand-written paper letter. Who bothers doing something like that in this day and age, anyway? Yet, as unlikely as the prospect of receiving one sounds, there is definitely a letter lying on my desk. The classes for the day are over. Still feeling pretty full from the big lunch that I had unexpectedly eaten at the cafeteria, I returned to my dorm, planning on finishing my homework and probably skipping dinner, or at least just eating light. I feel like I need to eat less than I used to. Maybe I don't use that much energy, now that I don't do much beyond reading. However, the letter on my desk has naturally caught my interest. It's the first piece of mail I've received here at Yamaku, so it'd feel special even if it wasn't something as rare as a handwritten letter. What causes me even more trepidation is the name of the sender, written neatly on the back of the envelope.
I have no idea why she would write to me. I haven't been in contact with anyone from my old school since I transferred, and Iwanako is the last person I'd expect to want to write me a letter.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Caged Heart
The last time I saw Iwanako was terribly awkward; embarrassingly so. She came to my hospital room, peeled me an apple out of courtesy and then we practically sat in silence for half an hour. She said goodbye and didn't look me in the eye when she closed the door. It might've been a natural end to the series of visits that were probably pretty painful for both of us. Every time she visited me in the hospital I wanted to talk to her, but something stopped me every time. Every time that I didn't speak made the next time even harder. Iwanako always had this aura of fragility around her, as if she'd shatter into pieces at the slightest disturbance. Initially I think it might've been that delicacy that attracted me to her, but after what happened back then, it felt as if she really had shattered.
She looked so sad that I didn't want to say anything that might upset her, and I never could figure out the right words to say. I told her that it wasn't her fault, she nodded and I really think she understood that if it hadn't been that, then sooner or later something else would've made my heart give out. Yet she looked so hopelessly sad every time she opened that door and entered my room. So I never managed to say the things I wanted to say. In the end, that might've hurt her even more.
Carefully, I open the envelope and draw out the folded letter from within.
Iwanakos Letter posted:
How are you? I hope you are well and happy at your new school. Everyone here misses you. Almost all of our second-year class got put together in class 3-1 for the final year, so we are pretty comfortable right from the beginning of the year. I'm sure you would've been assigned to this class as well.
The mood among the third-years seems to be very anxious about the final exams, even though they are so far away. The teachers are badgering us about it all the time - even old Mr. Tachibana who is, by the way, our homeroom teacher this year. Would you believe it? I was sure that he'd retire after our second year, but here he is, nagging everyone about studying for exams.
I think things like that are the main reason why the mood among the third-years is so nervous. I must admit that I'm somehow losing confidence in myself as well, even though I've always fared reasonably well in exams.
It's so weird to think we are already seniors, isn't it? Time has really flown past. I wonder where it went. The new first-years seem so young and somehow really innocent. I keep wondering if I was like them in my first year. I've been feeling nostalgic like this for the whole first trimester.
There are other things I want to say. I'm writing to you because I felt that there are things I should've said after the incident back in winter. I really regret that I wasn't able to say them in person, and I have no excuse for it.
The truth is, the times when I visited you at the hospital made me worried about you. I am not talking about your health. You seemed to become more distant and disheartened. It was natural after something like that happened, I'm sure, but somehow I got the feeling that you had given up on something back then. Happiness, maybe?
I wanted to somehow express my feelings, but the right words didn't come to me. I couldn't say anything to comfort you. I am really sorry for not being able to support you when it mattered the most, even though I like you so much. At least now, finally, I can be more honest.
If I could go back to those quiet days in February and March, I'd tell you to not give up on yourself. That's what I would say. Maybe you wouldn't have drifted so far away if I had just said something. I hope you've managed to get back on your feet on your own.
Now that the distance between us is also physical, it also feels more final, somehow. I wonder if we will meet again. Perhaps it's for the best if we don't? Still, if you would like to correspond with me, by all means write me back. I'd very much like to hear about your new school and how you are doing. I wish you all the best.
After finishing reading the letter I fold it like it was, and place it on my desk. I don't know what to think of this. I feel empty and confused. Why now, after all this time? Just yesterday I decided that I can't let myself stay like this, that I'd try to get on top of my own life. Reading this letter just reminds me of what could have been. Of course I wish that I didn't have to be here. I'd want to be in the same class with Iwanako again. Maybe we would talk every day now and go on dates.
My life didn't go like that. I didn't really need to be reminded of this. Iwanako needed to write this letter for her own sake and I'm glad for her that she could, but it would've been better if I hadn't read it. Of course, she is right. I thought of the same thing yesterday. I had fallen into a pit of depression and now have to try to climb out.
I rip out a page from my notebook, and after a moment of thinking how to frame my words, write a short reply to Iwanako. I find it difficult to be really honest to her, but at least I try to appear somewhat convincing. I don't write her about Yamaku at all. I doubt she will write me again, but I don't feel at all sad about it. I fold my own letter to her and as I have no envelope, set it next to Iwanako's. I'll mail it to her later. Then I lie back on my bed, looking at the monotone gray ceiling. A bird sings outside of my window and a sudden gust of wind flutters my curtains. The summer afternoon feels still, as if time had stopped for a brief moment. I think about all the things I've lost and will never regain.