Part 105: Ange and Maria
BGM: Steady Pace
"...G-Good day to you."
No matter how many years pass by, this style of greeting still feels very awkward... Even though I'd responded to the greeting in order to stifle that awkward feeling, the classmate who had spoken looked at me blankly.
"Huuuh, what's that? It seems you're mistaken, *giggle*giggle*..."
Their choice of words and manner were certainly what you'd expect from a school for rich girls, but the actual meaning was as innocent and cruel as you'd expect from kids of that age. It seems they found it funny that I'd mistakenly thought the greeting was directed at me. No, it might be the opposite. Maybe they didn't know how to react after being suddenly greeted by a gloomy, quiet kid like me.
No, judging by the gazes of my classmates, who were looking this way over their shoulders and whispering to each other, it looked as though some of them considered this refreshing morning ruined. I was... dark. Because I was disliked. So, trying not to get in the way of everyone's refreshing morning any more, I stooped lower and entered the classroom. Almost like I was cutting through the aisle in a movie theater while the movie was running.
It's not a school that anyone can get into by taking a test. It's a hidden rich girls' school, known of only by a select group of celebrities from various fields. For lofty nobles who truly wish their daughters could be raised like saints, this is probably the ideal school in which to protect them from the impurities of the common world. But at the same time, it was probably also convenient for nobles who wanted to confine daughters they didn't want out in public. As well as an academy isolated from the impurities of the common world, it also held excellent potential as a prison school. I was truly among the latter... and was confined in Saint Lucia Academy, forced to live my life in dreariness.
Of course, there weren't that many students like me, and you couldn't tell us apart at a glance. However, even if we never fessed up about it, you could usually figure out who we were by watching how we acted. After all, we were always hanging our heads, with an expression on our faces as though the whole world had abandoned us.
Anyway, every class had one or two kids like that, so even if they didn't speak up about it, you could guess who they were. Therefore. Even though I never confessed that I was one of those kids, at some point, everyone in my class knew about it... Just like how the seriousness of an injury becomes a sign of status in a hospital room, how noble a birth one had became a sign of status here. Those girls who couldn't be acknowledged in public were probably nothing more than filth to the others. They must've thought that getting involved with such students would dirty them as well. When a rumor sprang up about a particular student, those fastidious girls would grow cold and distant, chasing that student out of all social groups.
Thanks to that, I led a quiet school life like this, all by myself... Well, that's only if hearing people whisper behind my back, finding my things lost or broken all the time, and having everyone pretend like they didn't know anything... can be called a quiet school life. Even this early in the morning, I must look worn out. I can almost understand why my other classmates, who had a refreshing morning, looked at my face and wanted to click their tongues.
Consciously trying to do as I should and avoid tainting my classmates' morning, I quietly took my seat. Then, unusually, someone came to talk to me. It was the class leader.
"...Is there some business you have with me?"
"You're the only one who has not submitted her questionnaire for the class presentation, Ushiromiya-san. Did you forget that the deadline was yesterday?"
...I'm pretty sure I heard something about that last week. But I'd thought that the questionnaire hadn't been passed out yet. The details would be written there, so there shouldn't have been any need to remember them beforehand...
"...I wasn't given a questionnaire..."
"That can't be. I believe the dormitory leader handed them out to everyone. If you lost it, all you have to do is honestly say so."
"...I lost it. I'll fill it in right now, so could you give me a sheet?"
But I have no way of knowing who was behind that. In the end, treating it as though it was my own carelessness would settle everything more quickly...
"Once you've filled it out, drop it in the questionnaire box in the student council room yourself. Our class is the only one that didn't get everyone's in by yesterday."
As I hung my head at the class leader's scolding, I could hear the giggles and whispers of people watching, coming from no direction in particular... Ushiromiya-san did it again. She's just so careless. She doesn't deserve to be in this school. She has no dignity, and no manners either. Sorry girls, but I've dealt with much worse when it comes to unfair personal attacks.
As I froze my heart and let those arrows of ridicule pass by, I quickly filled out the questionnaire...
The only survivor of the accident was... Ushiromiya Eva. Only Aunt Eva. Even at the time, I hadn't really liked Aunt Eva. At a glance, she would act kindly, but even as young as I was, I could see that she was somehow making fun of Father and the rest, and I hadn't liked it. So when it was decided that Aunt Eva would take care of me, I was pretty miserable. Maybe it wouldn't have mattered if that gentle Uncle Hideyoshi and George onii-chan had been with me, but I hated the thought of living all alone with Aunt Eva.
I'd frankly said that to Grandpa, hoping to live together in his house. However, Aunt Eva had been very insistent that she should be the one to look after me. She had no desire to remarry, so as her successor, I was essential if the Ushiromiya family was to continue. Aunt Eva felt very strongly about the family. She insisted that she take charge of me right away, so that she could give me an education and lifestyle fitting for a successor.
After that, it seems that confusing negotiations with lawyers took place. But in the end, I was forced to go live with Aunt Eva. After doing that, Aunt Eva told me something.
And in order to make you a fitting successor to bear that, the rest of your life will be dedicated to frantic studying. Sacrifice the rest of your life for the Ushiromiya family. That's what she said.
At first, I thought she meant that literally. But I quickly realized that wasn't the case. Because even now, in Aunt Eva's eyes, the one most fitting to succeed her was the late George onii-chan. At our first meal together, I received strict instructions and questioning about table manners... and was forced to listen to her abuse Mom and Dad as though they'd been neglectful in their discipline. I also received the same strict instructions regarding manners at my first party, and my clumsiness had been disparaged in front of everybody, forcing me to endure insults to Mom and Dad as well. After that repeated over and over, I eventually began to understand.
Aunt Eva didn't really want to make me her successor. She thought George onii-chan was the only one truly suited to be her successor, and she couldn't forgive the fact that it was to be me instead. So she insulted me in front of lots of people. She humiliated me. And she made it known exactly how I was inferior to George onii-chan to both acquaintances and strangers, surely in place of a memorial service for her dead son... Or rather, she must still be mourning his death.
...However, that wasn't something I could endure. I couldn't possibly live together with Aunt Eva. I was kept like a pet, my life continually compared with her dead son's. I understood that even when I was still in elementary school.
However, Aunt Eva had already foreseen that. No, thinking back on it, she might've lured me into escaping. I was caught by the guards and brought back, and for being a coward who had smeared the Ushiromiya family crest with mud and tried to throw it away, in a way that makes my whole body shake and shiver just remembering it, I was punished.
How should I describe what Aunt Eva was like when she punished me? In a frenzy? Gleeful? I saw the anger and sadness of losing her beloved son, and well as the hatred and pain from me stealing that inheritance from the son who should've received it. And the dark pleasure at being able to let those feelings out on me. I was hit with all those negative emotions at once.
Then, all of my free time and freedom to act was stolen, and I was put under surveillance around the clock. I may have lived in a gorgeous mansion, dressed in expensive clothes, but my heart and my dignity had been trampled upon, and I was the Ushiromiya family's slave... its cattle. Compared to that lifestyle, the derisive laughter of my classmates here was calm and pleasant. It caused my heart no trouble...
BGM: Mystic Forest
...Because if I left it in my desk, it might 'disappear' again. During lunch break, after dropping it off at the postbox in the student council room, I finished lunch by myself, as usual, and headed behind the school building, where no one could be seen. Only my time by myself could protect me from the derisive laughter and gossip.
Since I was hated and didn't have a single friend, my time alone was the most kind to me. After checking the surrounding bushes to see whether some malicious classmates were hiding and threatening my time of quiet, I finally relaxed the tension from my entire body, knowing that I had gained some true peace. Then, I let out a sigh. It faltered, heavy, as though it was the first time I had breathed out today. My old favorite place behind the vegetable garden storehouse... had been found out by my classmates, and I'd been teased, so this was my new lunchtime hideaway...
There was nowhere to sit behind the school building. As I crouched near the wall in the shadow of the bushes, I opened my bag and took out a book with an elaborate, old-fashioned binding...
But this wasn't a book. It was a diary.
Of course, it wasn't my diary. There weren't any special things worth writing about in my daily life. Every single day was just gray, cold and dry. In those completely unchanging days, there aren't any changes worth writing down.
This was... the diary of Maria onee-chan, a girl I'd been very close to. She'd been a bit strange and three years older than me, but Onee-chan was always a warm, wonderful cousin. She would always grab me by the hand and let me join in on some fun game. I remembered that being able to see her was the most fun part of our family gatherings...
When I opened the diary, the characters, which were made fairly skillfully considering that this was an elementary schooler, were packed close together, though they were written on every other line. Was she just hopelessly obsessed with jotting everything down in her diary? Probably not. To her, writing her daily life down in a diary was probably like having a conversation with another part of herself. So rather than an object on which the events of her day were written down, Maria onee-chan's diary was written like a letter to another part of herself, telling of the events of that day.
I found this diary among her belongings after her death and secretly took it home. At first, I'd felt that reading someone else's diary might be boorish... and satisfied myself with just keeping it by my side, but I couldn't help flipping through the pages and reading through it bit by bit. And by now, she had become my only friend.
I gently opened to the page with the bookmark.
At the same time, a very, very soft breeze blew, tickling the paper. I thought the open diary might have sparkled faintly.