Qualia the Purple
Arc 2: 1/1,000,000,000th of a Kiss
Chapter 1: Yukari, Nice to Meet You
When it was roughly halfway through a new school semester, Yukari and I met around a corner in one of the long hallways at the school we both attended.
To be precise, we had seen each other a few times before that already.
I mean, we both lived in the same town and had attended the same elementary school, and when we entered junior high we were placed in the same class. So you could say I was already acquainted with her, and to be honest I knew her name and face from the first day of junior high.
She just had a face and figure that attracted attention, and I'm not saying that now just because I'm her friend.
I wouldn't call her "beautiful," but she would certainly do the phrase "pretty girl" plenty of justice, even if "pretty girl" is such an awkward phrase nowadays for all parties involved. Sure, there was the fact that she had been in elementary school until not too long ago, but Marii Yukari still looked surprisingly young, and it was impossible not to turn your head when she walked around wearing that obviously brand-new uniform that was just a bit too large for her. That first day of school was the first time I've ever looked at another human being and felt that I was looking at some kind of small animal... and that made it all the more obvious how I was now a junior high student who lived worlds apart from this small animal. Indeed, I was antisocial, curt, and because I had practiced the naginata since childhood, I had developed quite masculine muscles as well as hardened soles on my feet (in fact, I had yet to lose an arm wrestling match with a boy my age). I had never once thought of myself as "cute" in any way.
Perhaps because I thought of myself that way, I never really tried to approach Marii Yukari even though I remembered her name and face from that very first day.
A tomboy like me would never have anything to talk about with a girly girl like her, I thought.
In all truth, I didn't only think of Yukari like this, but treated all my other classmates similarly, never trying to get close to anyone, never trying very hard to fit into the class. Right when the school year began, I was granted the title of "the lone stranger that you could rely on if it came down to it" (although at some point after I got to know Yukari, that title was swept away). And so, both I and my surroundings managed to draw clear boundaries that mutually separated the two of us from each other.
And I was perfectly happy with that.
A few people I knew from elementary school were still around, so I didn't really find my school life very lacking - I had people to talk to during breaks, and during lunchtimes and gym class when there was a need to operate in groups I could always find one. I really didn't need any friends past that.
Well, I wouldn't say I had no interest in other people... or that I was disillusioned with the idea of having friends or anything (actually, I was the type who got easily fired up, which is why I'm telling the story like this in the first place), but for now let's just say I was a child but the kind of child who didn't want to be seen as a child. I was a junior high student now, and seeing all my friends from before dressed up in their uniforms (1) just made me think about how different they all looked from when they were in elementary school, and how much more mature they seemed, and how I really wanted to be seen that way by others as well. I wanted to act like a grown-up girl. But then, I was dull and had no real skills outside of the naginata, so I thought I had to cover all this up by just not talking as much. That would be for the best - instead of people thinking I was completely incapable of acting like a girl, I would rather people just think I wasn't interested in that kind of thing.
My pride existed to satisfy myself and only myself, and I worked hard to protect that pride by playing the character that everyone else expected of me.
Because of that, I didn't imagine that my and Yukari's worlds would ever intersect.
At her core, Hatou Manabu was a girl who had no interest in cute things, or any desire to become cute herself.
However, in the end, it was precisely the way I carried myself that got Yukari so alarmed.
To put it more clearly... well, this might sound like a bad joke when I say it, but because of those special purple eyes of hers, and because I never tried to act like a girl, it seemed that Yukari honestly couldn't tell if I was a boy or a girl.
And because she didn't want to say anything rude to me in the future, she became determined to quickly figure this out (whether I was a girl or a boy, I mean), and to that end she started following me around.
By the way, I should mention that because of my affinities for dojos (or maybe it was just a part of my personality), I tended to move around quite quickly.
When I walked around it was at quite a brisk pace, probably twice that of a normal person.
It got to the point where often when I had a friend walking along with me, I would suddenly find that I had left her behind.
On the other hand, Yukari was quite small.
Which meant the length of her stride was quite short.
She might be able to move her limbs quickly, but she wasn't covering much distance.
So, her version of stalking consisted of running after me with little steps, hiding somewhere, checking that I hadn't noticed her, and then running after me again to close the distance that had opened up between us. Yes, it was all quite cute, but I want you to imagine something: if you were following someone by hiding and running, hiding and running, hiding and running, what would you do once your target turned a corner?
Seeing that I had disappeared around a corner, Yukari quickly broke out into a run.
But in the next moment, I realized I had forgotten something, and turned myself around.
Everything after that honestly happened in the span of a mere second.
Turning the corner again, I noticed that someone was barreling straight for me.
I unconsciously bent my knees and readied myself.
Yukari and I made brief eye contact at point blank range.
Her purple eyes opened wide, but she couldn't stop and just smashed right into me. But even though she couldn't stop, that didn't mean she didn't try to avoid me, and she ended up twisting her body completely out of sorts. Meanwhile, I reflexively reached out and caught her. This was really reckless of me. I mean, it turns out that all those "don't run in the hallway!" warnings they issue at all the schools weren't just some dull cliché, but they actually were trying to warn us of real danger. And now I had the pleasure of experiencing that danger firsthand. Yukari might've had a pretty light build, but her running start had made the situation all the more dangerous; she had probably broken into a full sprint the minute she lost sight of me, and I had unconsciously lowered my center of gravity to prepare to take the force of her body colliding into mine while protecting her from harm, which led her to fall on top of me in spectacular fashion. I found myself pushed to the ground.
I had no idea what god in heaven was trying to play a prank on me, but our lips had fallen right on top of each other's.
... Exactly how long did we spend in that position?
I don't think it was actually that long.
After all, I never felt her breath on my face before we separated.
But it still felt like an eternity. I had one hand on Yukari's bottom, and my other hand was firmly on the floor to brace myself from the fall. Inside, I was calmly freaking out. On one hand, I couldn't stop my heart from beating out my chest, but on the other hand I was calm enough to enjoy the feeling. I had forgotten to even breathe, but I allowed myself to have my fill of the comforting lightness and warmth I felt coming from Yukari's body through her uniform. I had been pushed to the ground and had my lips stolen by another girl in our school hallway, and I should've been deathly afraid of being seen in this position, but the thought never crossed my mind and instead I felt that we were the only two people in the entire world. I patiently waited for time to start moving again.
I found myself staring again at Yukari's eyes.
Purple is such a pretty color, I thought.
Exactly how long did I stay like that, staring at her?
And then, perhaps the dryness in the air was getting to me, but I felt my tongue darting out of my mouth to lick my lips. Together with the lips that were right on top of mine.
At that moment, the top half of Yukari's body snapped off mine.
Her weight was now all concentrated at my midsection, and I let out a groan. Perhaps Yukari heard me, but she hurriedly got off my body.
Wah, wah, wah, I heard her stammering, before her stammers slowly turned into words.
"Wah, wah, wah, umm... no, you've got it wrong! I'm... umm... I'm sorry! I... Hatou... san... I didn't know you were going to turn back around, and-"
"... Wait just a second. Does that mean this wasn't just a pure accident, and you were actually following me?"
"Wah? Umm, no no, that's... well, it's not like I really wanted anything from you, or... well, no, I did want something, but... umm... it was something personal, and I didn't really want to bother Hatou-san with it, and... well, I just wanted to make sure I didn't end up saying something rude in the future, you know? I just wanted to make sure whether Hatou-san was a girl or a boy, so I was trying to be a bit sneaky-"
"... Wait, you can't tell I'm a girl? Do you think guys would wear a skirt like this? And that's why you suddenly kissed me?"
"Wah! No no no! It's not like you don't look like a girl, umm, well, I just wanted to check you were a girl, and, umm... so, that means Hatou-san really is a girl, right? ... Wah, wait, no, that's not what I meant... umm, I also didn't mean to kiss you, it's just... sorry, I'm uhh... wah, wah, wah..."
Well, I knew she didn't kiss me on purpose, so I just wanted to tease her a bit. But now she was starting to cry, so I set about trying to calm her down now. And in the process of doing so I learned about her special eyes.
Through Marii Yukari's purple eyes, all living things other than herself looked like robots.
In other words, I also looked like a robot to her, and because my name was Manabu (also, she was deliberately skirting this issue a bit, but there was also the way I carried myself), she couldn't really tell if I really was a girl or not and was trying to make sure.
Of course, it's not like I believed her right after she told me that.
Not only was her story just purely impossible to believe, but with something as subjective as how people saw things, one could make up any number of fantastic stories.
So, at that point, I just concluded that Marii Yukari was one of those "strange people" - the ones who claim to be aliens from outer space or people who can see fairies. I ended up humoring her and pretending to believe her and promising to make our run-in with each other our own little secret. And thus ended that particular event.
But, after that I couldn't really get what Yukari said out of my head, and when I observed her I certainly did see some strange points about how she behaved from day to day.
Points that made me really think that she saw everyone else as a robot.
Points that she would desperately try to cover up, trying her best to keep herself from being found out.
If she really was one of those typical "strange people," why would she be trying to hide her strangeness from others?
If I thought about those idols on TV who acted like "strange people," they insisted on continuing to act strange openly even though they knew perfectly well that what they were doing wasn't normal (rather, if they tried to hide it, nobody would call them "strange" anymore).
But Yukari didn't seem to want to be known as strange; she just wanted to be normal, and exhausted every effort to make herself seem that way.
She desperately just wanted to be a normal human being.
Those desires of hers were all too obvious after I learned about her eyes, and so when I saw Yukari try to act normal but get herself backed into a corner instead, I couldn't just look away regardless of whether or not I believed her about her eyes. So whenever Yukari got into a jam - whether that be in art class or at a swimming lesson - I couldn't help but back her up, and we ended up spending more and more time together like that. Yukari was also a lot more open around me now (maybe because she had already told me her secret?) so she began to depend on me, began to hang around me a lot, and before I knew it we had grown quite close.
That was how I met Marii Yukari.
I actually once asked Yukari as well - how did she feel during our rather violent first meeting? Or should I say, during our first kiss?
Yukari answered me. She told me that her head had just gone completely white, and she really didn't have any free time to feel anything.
She wasn't just being shy; I believed that's what really happened.
To be honest, even though that had been my first kiss, it's not like the kiss itself left much of an impression on me.
I didn't really remember if Yukari's lips were very soft, even if people often said that about their first kisses.
No, what I remembered wasn't the feeling of Yukari's lips, but the sensation and warmth of her body atop mine.
It had felt like Yukari and I were the only people left in the world.
That was the sensation of my first meeting with Yukari.
And that was the beginning of my story.
(1) In Japan, it's not customary for elementary school students to have uniforms, but you do when you enter junior high.