Part 16: Foot and MouthUpdate 14: Foot and Mouth
There is some way to get to the school building straight from the auxiliary building, but I'm not keen to find out and possibly get lost, so I go out from the exit that I know works. I stop at the stairs of the auxiliary building, deliberating for a moment between going to the dorms to get my books and stuff and going straight away to the class. The sun stings my eyes, so I head towards the dorms. The halls are quiet as the courtyard was, naturally so since everyone is in class. I knock lightly at the door of 3-3 and push open the door when Mutou calls from the other side.
HISAO: "Sorry I'm late."
Fifteen pairs of eyes turn to me.
MUTO: "Good morning, Nakai."
Mutou seems to be somewhat confounded by my coming in late, as if I interrupted his flow or something. Judging from the rambling lectures his classes tend to be, that might be the case. I pass him the note the nurse gave me. Mutou takes it with a nod and reads it quickly.
He lifts his eyebrows and gives me a kind of a stern look but doesn't say anything, just nods solemnly again. I shrug and he gestures at me to run along so I naturally do.
Katawa Shoujo OST - School Days
The class goes on lazily. I think I'm starting to get into the rhythm of the school. I have even stopped worrying about taking notes and being overtly attentive. The first days, I was pretty high-strung in class. Mutou finishes his lecture about electricity early, but continues without a pause about the festival.
MUTO: "So, as you know, the festival is on the day after tomorrow. I hope everyone's projects are going to be successful this year. Have a good time, but also come Sunday, please keep the meaning of this festival in your minds..."
MISHA: "Games and fried food!"
Everyone bursts out in laughter, and so do I.
MUTO: "Yes, thank you Mikado. But what I meant was more the"
The remainder of his sentence is buried beneath the ring of the lunch bells, and everyone starts packing their things. Mutou deliberates for a moment, but since almost nobody seems to pay attention any more, he gives up and sits down.
(Silence, Chattering Crowd Sound Effect)
It's crowded in the hallway... or as crowded as hallways in this school probably get. Most of the students seem to be heading down for the cafeteria.
Normally, I'd join the flow and grab a lunch myself, but today is different. Today, I've been invited to lunch on the roof. An odd location, but that's where I was told to go. Fortunately, I manage to find shelter from the storm in the lee of the classroom door. Eventually the torrent subsides and I step tentatively out into the hallway. Only to be met by Emi, who comes flouncing down the hallway like a cannonball.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Standing Tall (Emi's Theme)
EMI: "Hey! Hi Hisao! Great timing! I have super extra lunch today, as promised! Let's go upstairs!"
The stairway to the roof is a little dilapidated, but it's clearly been used recently. At the top of the stairs is a door, complete with missing padlock. I wonder who the intrepid individual was that removed the lock? Emi shoves the door open and steps beaming into the sunlight. Suddenly, a tall dark stranger appears out of nowhere, standing imposingly in front of us. Emi flinches back, almost falling back down the stairs.
EMI: "Yipes! You scared me, Rin!"
Wait, isn't she...
Katawa Shoujo OST - Parity (Rin's Theme)
Noticing that Rin is speaking to me, Emi looks curiously at me.
EMI: "You two know each other?"
I look confusedly at Emi.
HISAO: "She's that friend of yours?"
Rin has turned her gaze towards the clouds drifting above the school.
RIN: "I didn't know you knew this person, Emi."
... The awkward silence lasts only for a few seconds until Emi lets out a tiny giggle, shrugging the coincidence off.
EMI: "I invited Hisao for lunch. If you know him, that's just better."
RIN: "Oh. Does this mean I don't get food? Or did you invite him for lunch without the lunch?"
EMI: "Erm, neither, I have food for three."
RIN: "Nice thinking."
Katawa Shoujo OST - Air Guitar
They walk to the other end of the roof while I stay at the clock tower for a while, taking in the atmosphere. There is nobody else but us here. I guess the roof is not as popular as it is in other schools. A few rundown benches and tables are scattered around the edges, perhaps in an attempt to make the rooftop look less desolate. The small pebbles covering the roof rattle beneath our feet. I peek through the chain link fence to take a look at the school grounds and beyond. Students are strolling in pairs and groups around the quadrangle and at the cafeteria. A few delivery trucks are driving past the school towards the convenience store nearby. Somewhere a watchdog barks at a passer-by.
Somehow, when I look towards the town center the small town feel strikes me very strongly, almost palpably. The hectic lifestyle of big metropolises seems so far away and foreign here; nobody has to run to catch a bus like their life depended on it or get their senses overloaded by the neon lights and traffic jams. I feel surprisingly optimistic about this new life of mine, looking at my new hometown, even if it's going to be mine for only one short year. Finding out about my illness and having to move away from home all came so suddenly I haven't had time to think how I feel about it. When I step out of the shadow of the clock tower to the open I feel warmth touching my back. The sun shines from a perfectly clear cerulean sky. A cool breeze sweeping over the rooftop makes me shiver, but only briefly. The wind carries the scent of trees and flowers, not smog and car exhaust like it used to, just a few weeks ago.
Emi settles on a bench with Rin in tow and produces one big and two small lunch boxes from her bag.
EMI: "Come on, Hisao! What are you waiting for?"
She is beckoning me to join them, making room on the already small bench. I seat myself on the corner of the bench to take as little space as possible. It's pretty cramped, but somehow all three of us fit on it.
HISAO: "Impressive view."
Emi suppresses a giggle and places a lunchbox in front of Rin, and hands another lunchbox to me.
EMI: "Here you go! Lunch, as promised!"
Homemade, no less. I'm impressed.
HISAO: "Wow. This looks really good."
EMI: "Thanks! I make 'em myself when I can."
Conversation dies off as I set about the business of feeding myself. Taking a few bites, I glance up and notice Rin deftly opening the lunch box and popping a forkful of food into her mouth using only her feet. Even though I've seen it before, I can't help but be impressed at her dexterity. It's also a reminder of the sort of place I am in right now. Will I ever get used to sights such as this? I can't decide if getting used to such a thing would be a good thing or a bad thing either.
Does getting used to this place mean that I'm giving up on being a normal person?
Or does it just mean that I'm becoming more understanding about those around me?
I'm distracted from my thoughts by the sight of Emi tearing into her lunch as if it had insulted her ancestors.
HISAO: "You seem pretty hungry."
Emi looks up, mouth half full, and swallows before nodding.
EMI: "My morning run always works up an appetite. Which is great, because then I burn through lunch pretty quickly. Helps me keep my girlish figure."
RIN: "What would happen if you'd lose it? Would you become a man?"
I very nearly choke on my lunch trying not to laugh.
EMI: "It's a figure of speech."
RIN: "Does your figure have to run in the mornings too?"
HISAO: "Do you always talk like this?"
EMI: "Talk like what?" RIN: "Like what?"
I think that answers my question.
HISAO: "Er, never mind. So, uh..."
I struggle to think of small talk and settle on the obvious question.
HISAO: "How'd you two meet?"
Rin seems content to let Emi answer this question.
EMI: "Someone in the housing department thought that we'd complement each other well, so we were assigned rooms next to one another."
HISAO: "Complement each other?"
RIN: "Like shoes and a suit."
Emi giggles at my confusion.
EMI: "Put us together and we've got all our limbs, get it?"
EMI: "So I started helping Rin get ready in the mornings, and that was that! I mean, you can't help someone get dressed every morning and not get along."
HISAO: "I see."
Rin chooses this moment to interject.
RIN: "I have trouble with shirts."
HISAO: "Right, that seems... fairly obvious."
HISAO: "Kind of...?"
This isn't helping, but at least Emi seems to find the whole thing funny. That, combined with the fact that Rin is genuinely curious, makes me feel slightly better and yet, confused.
HISAO: "I mean, you've got no arms. So uh, putting on a shirt seems like one of those things that would be... difficult."
You know what? I'm going to just stop talking now. It'll save me a lot of trouble in the long run. Rin nods in what I suspect is meant to be a sage manner.
RIN: "I see."
The conversation dies as I turn my attention back to my lunch. It's really quite good. Emi finishes her lunch first and makes a contented noise.
EMI: "Ah, that was good."
As she busies herself with cleaning up her lunch, Rin speaks up.
RIN: "I'm thirsty."
EMI: "Oh! I almost forgot about that! Sorry!"
With a flourish, she reaches into her bag and removes a trio of juiceboxes. She tosses me one that appears to be cranberry juice, one to Rin that appears to be some kind of strawberry milk (complete with pink color scheme), and keeps a (equally pink) box of some kind of fruit punch for herself. Rin dexterously stabs her straw through the top of her box and begins to drink. I'm once again impressed by how flexible she is, but this time I keep my comment to myself.
Somehow I don't think either Emi or Rin are the sorts of people to think twice about the way they work around their particular disabilities. Rin especially so. Indeed, she gives off the impression of being entirely unaware that she's missing any limbs at all. Whether or not that's a conscious decision is another matter. I'm honestly not sure.
EMI: "So Hisao, how do you like it up here?"
HISAO: "Hmm? It's quite nice, actually. I like high places, for the view. Thanks for inviting me up here. And for the lunch, too."
Emi grins a thousand-watt grin, pleased by my response I suppose.
EMI: "No problem! Feel free to eat with us next time too, okay? I won't make you a lunch, but you can bring your own up here."
HISAO: "No lunch service? I don't know..."
Emi looks mock offended.
EMI: "Trying to take advantage of my good nature? The nerve!"
EMI: "Well, if that's your answer, I guess Rin and I will just keep eating lunch all alone..."
I am suddenly assaulted by the most heart-rending puppy-dog eyes I've ever seen as Emi pouts.
HISAO: "Kidding! I was kidding! I'd love to eat lunch up here again. Good location, and the company's okay too."
Emi frowns a bit at my declaration of okay but seems happy enough that I've accepted her invitation. I guess this makes us friends now. Or at least acquaintances. The lunch bell rings, signaling a return downstairs.
EMI: "Rin, you didn't finish your lunch again!"
RIN: "I wasn't that hungry."
EMI: "If you don't eat more, you're going to fade away!"
Rin shrugs, as if this is an acceptable risk.
HISAO: "Come on, we'd better get going."
The three of us head down the stairs together.
The afternoon class passes.
Once again, I find myself without a plan for something to do after school, so I head to the library to return a couple of the books I finished reading. Walking inside, I see that there are about as many students here as there were on Tuesday, all the more evident from the almost total silence enveloping the room. As I drop the books I'd borrowed into the returns slot in the counter, Yuuko suddenly pops up from behind it, quite startled from the banging they make as they hit the trolley next to her.
Katawa Shoujo OST Fripperies
HISAO: "Ah, sorry Yuuko. Didn't mean to startle you."
YUUKO: "No, no. That's fine. It happens... a lot. I'm used to it by now. Um, can I help you?"
HISAO: "It's okay, I think I know where everything is. Thanks anyway."
I suppose I'll grab another book or two while I'm here. There's not much else to do, and after reading so much during my stay in the hospital, it's become a hard habit to break. I wander down to the fiction section towards the back of the library, scanning the bookshelves for anything that catches my eye. As I do, I look over to the corner where Hanako had been the last time I was here, not really expecting anything to come of it. ...surprisingly, though, she's there, absorbed completely in a fairly thick book. I decide against intruding on her like last time and get back to finding reading material.
Katawa Shoujo OST Afternoon
After an indiscernible amount of time spent perusing the aisles, I finally decide on a couple of books to get and slide them off the shelf. With a minimum of fuss, I quickly walk over to the counter, check out my books and pop them into my bag as I walk out. By the time I leave the main building, sunset isn't too far away. A small trickle of students remain, but the majority have left; presumably to their homes and dorms.
Feeling utterly drained, I head to my room to read the books I borrowed. There's been enough action and excitement for one day already. The first is Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. I know the story, of course, but I've never actually read the original book. It's just as trippy as I remember the story to be, with the wacky characters and nonsense plot. I start thinking of myself as some kind of an Alice too, haplessly tumbling down the rabbit hole into this Cripple Wonderland. Okay, that's a rather strong expression. Still, the isolated location and the overt way the school accommodates to absolutely everything is unsettling. It is like another world. I wonder why I can't shake the feeling of being an outsider like Alice, despite most everyone being so hospitable and friendly with me.
Turning another page, my mind starts drifting further away from the book. It's quiet, I can hear my heartbeat thumping against the fabric of my shirt. For some reason, it makes me feel really bad like it has since that time in the forest with Iwanako. Like I was locked in a cage with something nasty and scary. I put the book down for a while and stare at the ceiling, taking my time to shake off the feeling. 200 pages later, I fall asleep.
Katawa Shoujo OST - School Days
The students roll into class for the Saturday morning session, each and every one of them sporting the tired eyes of people that have worked through the night. With only a day left to prepare, I suppose it's not so surprising. Thankfully, we only have to suffer through classes until the lunch break, and then our time is our own. Mutou lurches into class in a tired stagger. I suppose students aren't the only people here that enjoy their late Friday nights. Without saying a word, he scrawls some page and question numbers on the board and slumps down at his desk. It's completely atypical behavior for him, but it appears that no one in the class is going to call him out on it. Wordlessly, the students shuffle their textbooks into position and get to work. Not wanting to break the trend, I do the same. Fatigue has made the class antisocial; not a peep is heard among the ruffling papers. That can partly be attributed to the two empty seats beside me. For some reason Misha and Shizune aren't present; probably doing council work for the festival. It's very quiet without Misha present. I wonder if she was born as rowdy as she is, or if she is making up for Shizune's lack of voice.
MUTO: "Nakai, can I speak to you for a moment?"
I'm so engrossed in thinking about Misha that I don't even notice Mutou approaching my desk."
HISAO: "Sure... what's this about?"
MUTO: "It's probably better if we speak outside the classroom..."
Something about this doesn't sound too good, but I stand up and follow him out into the hallway. Mutou stands in the hallway, scratching his head as he works out what he is trying to say. Not knowing what's going on, I wait silently.
MUTO: "I heard from the school's head nurse that you had an incident the other day.
Ah. So it's about that.
HISAO: "Well, kind of, but it's not anything to be worried about.
MUTO: "Yes, yes it is. Anything that can endanger your health is something to be worried about. We try our best here to prepare you for life here. Part of that involves knowing your limits, and how to work around them. It would be remiss of me if I didn't speak up about this."
HISAO: "All right, I get it. I'm sorry."
Mutou closes his eyes in frustration, and I realize that this probably wasn't the best thing to say."
MUTO: Something tells me that you're not sorry. Pretend as much as you want, but this isn't a normal school. A lot of people have put in a lot of time, effort, and money to make sure that you, and every other student here, can have the same level of education as your peers. For you to abuse that by throwing out advice, especially medical advice, is plain selfish."
I'm not quite sure if this is actually how he feels, or if it is some act that he's practiced many times to guilt-trip students into doing the right thing.
Either way, it's working.
HISAO: "I understand. This is all new to me, and I apologize. I know my limits now, and I'll be sticking to them."
Mutou appears to lighten up a little, satisfied that his message has been received.
MUTO: "So then, onto my next question; how are you finding your studies? I understand you were laid up for a while. We're not too far ahead, are we?
HISAO: "I don't really think so. I tried to keep up when I was in the hospital, so it hasn't been too hard."
Mutou taps his chin and raises an eyebrow as he absorbs this information.
Katawa Shoujo OST - School Days
MUTO: "Is that so... I suppose there are still students out there that realize the importance of learning..."
I wouldn't go that far, I was only trying to keep myself occupied in my little life-support prison.
HISAO: "Well, yeah. You've got to keep up with these things, right?"
MUTO: "That's exactly it. One wrong move in this world and you're left behind, right?"
HISAO: "Er, right. Wouldn't want that to happen."
MUTO: "No, no you wouldn't. Every week there's a new scientific discovery. Most of them mean nothing to the layperson, but any one of them could be the key to the Next Big Thing."
HISAO: "I'll keep that in mind..."
It's obvious that Mutou's Serious Talk is over, and he's gone back to his standard, slightly scatterbrained approach to life. I think, in hindsight, that I prefer him this way. He's slightly more predictable in his unpredictability.
MUTO: "Well then, I think that's all I really had to say. Let's get back inside, shall we?"
My relief at that suggestion is insurmountable.
HISAO: "Sure. You're the boss, right?"
Mutou pauses for a moment.
MUTO: "I don't think any of my students have ever said that to me before."
For an instant I consider replying to this, but something deep within me tells me to shut my mouth and get back into the classroom.