Volume 2 Chapter 2: 18:47:32 I (Part 3)

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Volume 2 – Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu, Sono Ni

Chapter 2 – 18:47:32 I (Part 3)

 

She felt that all she needed was one day to win him over to her side.

Resources like time and manpower were limited. This is especially so for the Journalism Club, which, including Iriya, had only four members. Yet Suizenji, in the spirit of whoever-strikes-first-wins, went ahead to start preparations for an activity that was rather labor-intensive.

 

Iriya didn’t count, because she wouldn’t help with the efforts anyway.

That would leave her with only Asaba in Journalism Club to use.

If she stood by and did nothing she would have played straight into Suizenji’s hands. If she did not have time nor Asaba on her side, Suizenji would wear her down, bit by bit, and eventually she would have no choice but to help with his plans for the festival.

As if she would be taken in by him! Akiho couldn’t afford to dawdle. She had to be unwavering in her stance and take decisive action before it is too late.

The next morning, Akiho entered the classroom and wasted no delay in catching hold of Asaba and explaining her thoughts to him.

“—you, think so?”

“Course I do. That is why we have to come up with a plan and execute it. When he said that ‘everyone could do an activity they liked’, it was simply a trick to get us to lower our guards.”

“I don’t think Chief intended it as a bluff. I do think he really meant it when he said that. It’s just that when he gets into something he seems to have a never-ending supply of stamina, and since he has the energy to execute multiple plans at the same time, he might have thought everyone else could, too.”

Truth was, Asaba thought that Akiho did not lose to Chief when it came to stamina. However, he had a feeling that she would only get angry again if he said that, so he kept his mouth shut. Despite his silence, Akiho’s expression became pinched, like she could read Asaba’s mind.

 

“—it doesn’t matter. If we go along with his plans all the time we would never be able to do what we want to do. You have already thought of what you want to do for the school festival, I presume?”

“Ah.”

She needed to yell at him right here, right now.

However, Asaba was at present a valuable resource, and Akiho somehow managed to reel in her anger. She had been wondering why a sleepyhead like Asaba would be in the classroom so early in the morning, but she realized how stupid she was. Asaba had, of course, spent the night in the clubroom, wholeheartedly helping Suizenji with his preparations for the festival.

“—erm, Akiho, did you think of anything?” Asaba asked timidly, and Akiho puffed her chest out as if to say well of course I did.

“We shall publish a special issue called ‘Sonohara Radio Wave Newspaper – Festival of the Rising Sun’.”

“Special issue?”

“In other words, an extra edition. First, we would need to find out what everyone plans to do for the festival and pick out some promising or noteworthy attractions. Then we summarize them into an article spanning two A4 sheets and put large stacks of them at the school entrance or something, so that visitors can pick them up and carry them around the school. That is for the first day. Next, we will write articles covering actual events and activities during the first day and summarize them in a sheet of the same format for second day of the festival.”

“But if we do that—”

 

 “If you come to our school festival without a plan, you won’t have time to see everything, will you? That is why it would be handy to have something like a guide on hand. The official Festival of the Rising Sun pamphlet has a list of all activities for both days, but all it does is give you the name of the activity and a very short description of each activity. It wouldn’t be a very good reference if you were looking for something interesting to do. Furthermore, given the Committee’s role in all these they can’t very well write ‘We recommend this activity!’ on the official pamphlet, can’t they? But we can.”

“—but would it be alright? I mean,”

“Of course, we will be objective when writing our articles. If anyone questions us we’ll just insist that we were fair in our evaluations. I mean, that’s a given anyway. That’s one of the basic tenets of journalism. We will not be helping our friends publicize their activities, or entertaining requests to be featured. Right now, we should use whatever time we have left to collect information about activities we think ‘sound interesting’ and write about them in our first special issue. Then we make our rounds at the festival and write about activities that ‘were indeed interesting’ in the second special issue. Anyone caught accepting bribes will face a death sentence. Okay? If you got me, don’t space out like that and get on your feet now! We have work to do!”

“R-Right now?! But it’s already—”

“It’s only 8:17 AM, and we have 43 minutes till the start of the first period, don’t we? Besides, I think there will be many students who stayed in for the night to prepare for the festival and most of them will already be in school, so it’s okay if we go around now. If we want to make recommendations, we will need to take a look at every single activity and we only have ten days till the start of the festival. Now what are you dawdling for? Go on, hurry.”

 

Asahi tried to say something but thought better of it, since it would seem that Akiho had already made up her mind to carry out her plan. In any case, Chief did inform them that they were free to ‘do every single activity that any member wanted to do’, therefore Asaba, and of course Chief himself, were in no position to say anything against Akiho.

About ten pairs of eyes in the classroom watched quizzically as Akiho pulled Asaba along with her and exited the classroom. She shut the door behind her with a firm click and walked briskly ahead while dragging Asaba behind her, but halfway down the corridor she stopped to look down at the floor, like she was pondering something.

“—erm, where should we start making the rounds?” asked Asaba.

“Asaba.”

“Yes?”

“Has Iriya arrived at school? She wasn’t in the classroom just now, though.”

Asaba felt a tiny bit relieved. What happened in the clubroom yesterday and the memory of how Akiho looked as she told him that it was natural that Iriya should be left out of their discussions wouldn’t leave his head since just now. He thought that perhaps Akiho had decided that what she said had been too harsh after reflecting on it for a day.

That was why he answered her without much thought: “Uh, I think she is already in school. But I haven’t seen her yet.”

“—? How do you know that, if you haven’t seen her?”

 

Asaba was momentarily at a loss for words, and his inability to answer did not escape Akiho. She drew her brows together in a suspicious frown, and just as she was going to grill him for that, the speakers lining the corridor sputtered to life with a pop. Two bars of the school song played over the broadcasting system, followed by the sound of Vice Principal Tashiro’s voice.

 

“Iriya Kana-san, you have a phone call from Satou-san. Iriya Kana-san of Class 2-4, you have a phone call waiting for you so please make your way to the staff room immediately.”

 

Tashiro’s voice didn’t sound as smug or self-absorbed as it usually did. He took his finger off the ‘broadcast’ button too late and as a result, his grumble: “Seriously what is this about? It’s still so early in the morning.” could be heard over the speakers as well.

The speakers fell silent, and Asaba and Akiho was left staring dazedly up at them.

Cicadas started to warble outside the school building, somewhere far away from where they were.

“—that’s weird,” Akiho muttered. “I thought it was weird before, but this! What is with that broadcast, so early in the morning? Who is this Satou-san, or Suzuki-san, or Tanaka-san? This means that Iriya will have to leave without finishing school today, but where on earth does she go after this?”

 

Asaba didn’t know, either.

“—let’s go,” said Akiho as she tugged on Asaba’s hand.

When Asaba didn’t move, she continued: “Hey, let’s go. Or else we won’t have enough time.” She gave Asaba’s hand another tug, and Asaba finally started walking behind her. Akiho stared at her own fidgety feet as she made her way down the corridor that was filled with festival props and morning sunlight.

Akiho had no love for Iriya.

However, this was the first time she thought that Iriya was plain strange.

—so what if I do? Akiho thought crossly. She felt that she was losing to Iriya, somehow, and although a few seconds ago she had been feeling unnerved, that emotion was slowly morphing into anger. It was all Iriya’s fault that she felt this way, she thought. Iriya was always so stuck-up, never said anything about herself, and shrouded herself in secrecy. That was why people thought her strange.

Perhaps she should just leave Iriya alone after all. There is nothing she can do for her anyway, since Iriya wasn’t even in school much to begin with; she always had to leave after being summoned to the staff room by one of those announcements. It was true that she probably had her own set of circumstances to grapple with, but as long as she refused to tell anyone about them, no one should be obliged to show concern for a person who was determined to remain silent. Iriya already had no friends, and if she ended up having to go to the festival with no one to accompany her… well, she only had herself to blame. Yes, Akiho decided. She should just leave Iriya be.

 

After all, she herself was busy with the preparations for the festival, and she did not have the time to be poking her nose into other people’s affairs. Right now, she had to go around the school with Asaba to collect information about what everyone was planning to do for the festival. She would also have to prepare to summarize everything in an article, with Asaba’s help. And since she would have to make rounds at the festival to collect information for the second article, she would have to eat yakisoba with Asaba, eat roasted sweet potatoes with Asaba, watch movies with Asaba, and visit haunted houses with Asaba.

If Kiyomi teases her about it again, she would tell her this:

I had no other choice. It was our club’s activity for the festival.

 

 

Squish.

Asaba stepped on something soft when he placed a foot inside the clubroom after opening the door. He lifted his foot to inspect his sole, only to find ‘something’ stuck at the bottom of his shoe.

 A banana peel.

For some reason, someone was also considerate enough to place a first-aid kit right by the door.

 

Asaba suddenly felt very tired, like something heavy that fallen onto his shoulders. He looked behind him and saw that Suizenji had tacked a notice on the inside of the clubroom door. There was a cipher written on it, and Asaba tore it off the door. Throwing the clubroom key on the table that was piled high with building materials, he flung himself on the sleeping bag that was already spread out on the floor, with all his limbs outstretched. Waves of heat billowed out in the room like balloons, but to Asaba, who didn’t get much sleep the night before, the hot, stuffy room was comfortable.

He turned his attention on the cipher he had in his hands.

Then he rolled over till he was now lying on his belly, and picked up a ball-point pen that was on the floor nearby. Using the 7-digit number at the end of the cipher and that day’s date, he started to turn the cipher into plain text. His brain was clouded with weariness and the cogs in it creaked noisily as he worked the cipher, and by the time he was done he had slight headache but Asaba roughly got what Suizenji was trying to tell him. The cipher said: I need more photos for the construction of the diorama so I have set off for Sonohara Air Base, but I should be able to return by tomorrow morning. The banana peel in front of the door was an experiment. If you had slipped on it and fallen, I would expect a detailed report from you tomorrow.

Asaba drew languid circles on that notice with the pen he had been using to add and subtract numbers for the cipher. Then he dropped his head to lie face-down on his sleeping bag.

—jeez, not him too, he thought.

In the far corner of the school grounds on the other side of the clubroom door a bell rang, signifying the start of the fourth period. In the midst of his hazy consciousness Asaba listened disinterestedly to the bell peal, like it had nothing to do with him whatsoever.

 

In any case, all he wanted to do was to lie down. There was no way he could go on listening to his lessons; he would only fall asleep and be berated by his teachers, so he might as well skip them altogether. Right after the bell rang after the third period he had handed a 500-yen coin to Endou. Endou was a professional truant support service provider, and he would get rid of his clients’ tables and chairs for them. Teachers only noticed that a student was skipping out on lessons if there was an empty seat in the classroom. They wouldn’t notice that a student was missing if all the seats were filled. Furthermore it was already the fourth period, and by that time even the teachers would have begun to tire and get hungry, thus becoming less observant. Endou’s job was fairly complex; he would have to find an appropriate time to dispose of his client’s chair and table and expertly re-arrange the tables in the classroom to make it look like that seat never existed. He would also observe the teacher carefully during the lessons; if the teacher looked like he or she was going to discover his client’s absence, he would even co-operate with his friends and cause a disturbance in class to divert the teacher’s attention.

Something stirred in hazy consciousness, and Asaba raised his face sluggishly. His conversation with Akiho this morning replayed in his head.

—I think she is already in school. But I haven’t seen her yet.

—how do you know that, if you haven’t seen her?

Excellent question, Special Correspondent Sudou! I’ll paste one ‘Good Job!’ sticker on your column for you.

Asaba sighed.

As one would expect, Iriya was not present in the classroom when the first period started. Her seat was always empty when she was absent; she had no need for a truant support service provider. It is likely that she would not return to school for the day, and perhaps be absent for the following day, or even the day after.

 

But she came to school today, at least. Asaba could declare with some confidence that when Tashiro’s announcement played, Iriya was in school.

That was because in Asaba’s shoe locker in the school foyer today was a live frog.

This was something that begun on the day the ‘Incident at the Shelter’ happened. On that day, Asaba had found a cat in his shoe locker. Since then, strange things would occasionally show up in his locker in the morning. Many times it would be small, live animals like today’s frog, but sometimes it would be a discount coupon for a beef bowl restaurant, an empty juice can, a packet tissue advertising a credit firm, a plastic capsule from a Gumball machine, a postcard from a matchmaking agency… things like that.

However, all of them had something in common.

All of them were things (or animals) you could pick up from the sidewalk. Either that, or things you could get for free from while walking along the streets.

It was plain that Iriya was the culprit from the very beginning, and Asaba had tried many times to casually ask her about it. However, every time he did Iriya would turn bright red and shake her head vigorously in denial, and refuse to admit that she was the one putting things in his locker.

But Asaba knew.

He knew that those items were a form of ‘private correspondence’ with Iriya.

 

Iriya expressed so little of what she felt that it was almost pathological. For someone like Iriya to put something in his locker would mean that she was trying to communicate with him. Asaba thought that it was important that he simply ‘accepted’ the item she proffered, and not to read too much into the intention behind the gifts.

Furthermore, Iriya’s absences had grown even more frequent in recent times. He thought she could attend classes today but she had to leave right after that announcement this morning. That was why opening his shoe locker became some sort of a ritual for Asaba.

Of course, Iriya didn’t stuff something in his locker every single day she was present at school. However, if there was something in his locker that morning, he would be assured that Iriya was indeed in school today, and he would feel relieved.

Like this morning.

In fact, he was so relieved that he almost let his guard down.

—I think she is already in school. But I haven’t seen her yet.

—how do you know that, if you haven’t seen her?

When Akiho made a face like that, the interrogation that followed was relentless. If Tashiro’s announcement hadn’t distracted her this morning, she might have made him cough up his secret about his shoe locker, something he intended to never let anyone know about. The thought that he was now indebted to Baldy Tashiro grated on his nerves, so he decided to just bury his face in his dusty sleeping bag and go to sleep.

 

Just as he did, however, someone knocked cautiously on the clubroom door and Asaba answered slovenly, with his face still pressed against the sleeping bag: “There isn’t anyone here you know… and if you were ask why… it is because it is mid-period…”

It was then that Asaba sensed that the presence behind the door was a powerful one.

The person knocking on the door now must not have imagined that there really was someone inside the clubroom right now. He must have jumped like he had been electrocuted at the sound of Asaba’s voice, and his surprise emanated from the other side of the door, passing effortlessly through the thin wood.

Asaba turned on his eyes to glare at the door in annoyance.

Just when he was about to fall asleep, too… who was it?

It wasn’t Chief, because Chief did not have the word ‘knock’ in his dictionary. It wasn’t Akiho, either.

A teacher making his rounds.

Asaba sat up with a jolt. It was possible. The school festival was nearly upon them and there was an increasing number of students skipping lessons to finish their preparations for the festival. Teachers who had some time on their hands could be patrolling the school. Crap. What should he do? No, hang on. It was still okay for a teacher to find him now. What if a Committee member was with him? Do not neglect your school work—, Obey all school rules—, Fight on—, they had said. What if he was caught playing hooky by one of those Committee members?

They might drag him off to a labor camp where there would be jeers flying about in the air and they would make him state aloud all the wrongs he have done. And by the time they release him he would have become someone who would answer “Fight on—!” no matter what he was asked… woah he should run away now, he should really be running away now oh right he could escape out of the window! Quickly, quickly, but oh shit wait why can’t I get this window to open at such a crucial time like this I need to hurry open this whoa…!

 

The doorknob turned, and the door swung open. To the person standing at the doorway the room would have appeared empty. Only the window at the end of the room with a stiff hinge was open at a gap of about 10 centimeters before getting stuck, and lying on the floor among the huge mess was a sleeping bag that was motionless, but it was obvious that was someone in it. Naturally, that someone was Asaba, who had failed to escape via the window. He had zipped the fastener of the sleeping bag all the way up to his chin and turned his back on the door, so he must be enjoying how Uemura Naomi must have felt when his camp was attacked by a polar bear during his North Pole expedition in 1978.

Iriya called: “—Asaba,” and the sleeping bag sat up.

Asaba struggled like a stuck bug as he hurriedly tried to crawl out of his sleeping bag, but the hem of his trousers got caught in the fastener and he very nearly tripped over. With a sound of surprise, Iriya took a step backward, and—

Squish.

Her gaze fell onto her shoe, and just like how toddlers often call out the name of item they were looking at, she murmured:

“Banana.”

 

He must say something, Asaba thought as he looked around in panic, only to catch sight of what was left of the entire bunch of bananas that Chief had bought peeking out of a bag. On the spur of the moment, he said:

“Hey Iriya. Would you like a banana?”

Iriya shook her head.

“—right. Iriya, you were called to the staff room by an announcement this morning, weren’t you? And since you weren’t in the classroom during first period, I thought you might have gone home…”

“I did. But...” Iriya groped for the correct words to say, before continuing, “They gave me a bit of a time off. For about an hour.”

Asaba didn’t quite understand her. Did she mean that she had left the school early, but came back because she was free about an hour so?

Iriya was studying the mess on clubroom floor with some wonderment.

“Ah, this is the preparation for the Festival of the Rising Sun.”

“—Festival of the Rising Sun?”

“Right. —uh, Iriya, do you know what a school festival is?”

She looked at him glumly, and didn’t say anything.

Asaba tried asking her more questions after that, but all her answers were off the mark. It would seem that Iriya had absolutely no idea what a school festival was.

 

From Iriya’s perspective, who had been frequently absent for the past few weeks, the school would have simply kept changing every time she came. Since she would not have asked anyone about it, she must have been confused and anxious at being left behind.

Asaba tried explaining the concept of a school festival to her.

A school festival was, in short, a festival held in a school, he said. There will be no lessons for two days, and there would food stalls, cafés, and haunted houses and stuff like that and everyone would be playing to their heart’s delight. They could have a good time patronizing the stalls, or they could set up their own stalls and strive to give their patrons a good time. He also explained that every now and then, strange people in stiff-collared jackets might come near her and shout “Fight on—!”, but there was no cause for worry.

As Iriya listened to Asaba’s earnest explanation, the stiff expression on her face slowly began to grow lax. In a voice that could finally be understood, Iriya looked up at Asaba and asked if the school festival is similar to a tally-ho festival [fox-hunting festival].

“Yea, yea something like that,” said Asaba as he nodded, but in actual fact he had no idea what a tally-ho festival was. Perhaps it was the name of an event that was often held in the overseas military base that Iriya lived in.

 

Right, he needed to ask her something. He needed to ask her what she wanted to do for the festival.

“Iriya, do you have anything you would like to do for the festival? It could be anything you want; a food stall, a café, a haunted house…”

Of course, they had no time to do the preparations for anything that large-scale, but to say so might confuse her so Asaba decided to keep it simple.

“—I’ll do whatever Asaba does,” she said.

Whoa.

“What about you, Asaba? What would you be doing?”

It would seem like Iriya did not fully understand what a school festival was. It was natural that she would feel apprehensive about attending an event that she had never heard of, so she might have thought that she wouldn’t be afraid as long she stuck to Asaba for the whole of the two days. What would you be doing, she asked Asaba as she leaned towards him with an extremely solemn expression in her eyes. Asaba instinctively took a step backward and stepped on a bottle of silicone sealant that was lying on the floor behind him.

The plastic bottle rolled away, and Asaba flailed his arms to maintain his balance to no avail. Iriya hurriedly tried to stop his fall but instead fell into a tangle with him onto his sleeping bag. Her elbow caught him in his stomach, knocking the wind out of him. In Asaba’s head girls were as light as feathers but Iriya, who had fallen on top of him, felt very heavy indeed.

 

“Ouch…” said Asaba with a grimace.

Half of it was because it had hurt where his head had hit the floor, and half of it was pretense. Right now, Iriya’s body was plastered on his. If he could die now, well… there were many ways that man would like to die, but this would be ranked amongst his top-three.

But Iriya wouldn’t move away.

Asaba mustered up some courage and looked up at the expression on Iriya’s face, but she wasn’t even looking at him. She was staring at something at their ten o’clock, looking like she had just seen a ghost. Even while she put her palms on either side of Asaba and pushed herself up, her gaze remained fixed on the same thing. Then, Asaba propped himself up on his elbows and sat up to turn to look at what Iriya was looking at, and finally understood.

How careless they were, he thought.

She has been in clubroom but quite a while, but her attention had been on Asaba the entire time. Furthermore, Asaba, being Asaba, couldn’t keep his wits about him at her sudden visit.

 

During the period of time that Iriya was mostly absent from school, they made been making progress with the preparations for Chief’s plan for the festival. Until this moment, Asaba did not even think about what might ensue if Iriya would enter the clubroom. What she was now staring at had been sitting in the clubroom this whole time, unbeknownst to her.

The model of the Foo Fighter.

“What is that?” said Iriya as she absent-mindedly got onto her feet, but didn’t take her eyes off the odd-looking model for even a second.

“T-That is Chief’s idea, for the festival. It isn’t complete yet… erm, by the way.” Hastily, Asaba also stood up and for some reason couldn’t look at Iriya as she stood with her back on him. Almost apologetically, he asked: “—do you know anything about Sonohara’s Foo Fighters?”

Iriya didn’t answer his question. She did not nod, nor did she shake her head.

“How? How did you make this?”

“—we looked at photos that UFO maniacs took of the Foo Fighters. Photos like that are often published on magazines, and we took references from all existing photos; from the most famous one to the most dubious-looking ones… there were quite a lot of them, you see. So if you were to create an artist impression using those photos and then tried to make a 3D model, like we did, it’ll look something like that.”

Iriya slowly approached the model, but stopped once to briefly run her eyes over the Sonohara Air Base diorama.

 

“Ah, that one over there is a model of the Sonohara Air Base. The base isn’t on the maps so Chief had quite a hard time making it.”

Crap, was that okay? Iriya was a resident in the base, after all. Would be it be okay for him to tell her that Chief had been doing things akin to spying?

“Both are still under construction, but I think they’ll look pretty well-made once they’re done. Well, you could call our exhibition rather ordinary and uninteresting, but lots of people do enjoy reading the stuff in our newspaper, so perhaps many people might come by to see our exhibits…”

He rambled on and on, unable to stop himself.

“Oh, right. Chief was saying that we should put a notice at the entrance of our exhibition that said that we wished to collect first-hand accounts of the Foo Fighters. The people who visit can write anything they want; they could tell us when and where they saw them and describe what they saw. And Chief was saying that we should give prizes to those who hand in accounts that sounded convincing.

Iriya, with her back still on Asaba, slowly a hand towards the model of the Foo Fighter.

Asaba finally ran out of things to say, so he lifted his face. What he saw before him looked like a painting of great verisimilitude, a trompe l’oeil.

 

In the reflected image of the clubroom he was now looking at, reality had become inverted. The window was painted white by the rays of the noon sun, but in contrast the inside of the clubroom was a dim bluish-gray. The mid-period calm that enveloped the school had slipped through the thin walls of the classrooms and slowly began to spread across the clubroom. There were things scattered all over the clubroom floor. The days they had spent frolicking around preparing for the festival broken into fragments, scattered all over the floor.

Cardboard boxes stuffed with tools and building materials. Convenience store bags and half-eaten junk food. Sleeping bags, toiletries, and an alarm clock. It must be fun to not be aware of what is truly going on. People pretending not to see or hear anything as they go ‘It’s the festival, the festival!” as they made merry and enjoyed themselves. And there they stay, safe and secure, inside an area they have demarcated and call ‘everyday life’.

A person who took a step over that boundary would be called a hero. A person who took two steps might be called a madman. Even if they did catch a fleeting glimpse of something on the horizon, they would dismiss it as an unpleasant figment of their imagination and shove it in a shabby-looking freak show tent, where all it could do it invite curious looks and scornful laughter.

And in midst of it all, stood Iriya.

She had her back on Asaba, and she was trailing a finger along the wing of the Foo Fighter. At that very moment, she was loneliness personified.

I must say something, thought Asaba. Even if he had nothing left to say, he should at least try to do something for her.

“—ah.”

Iriya had found something. She pinched it from the gap in between the body and of Foo Fighter and its wing, placed it on her palm, and turned back to look at Asaba.

It was the dry carcass of a cicada.

 

Asaba was slightly taken aback, for he never saw any cicadas inside the room. Perhaps it had snuck in through the windows when they were left open during the time they were painting the models, and hid itself somewhere in the room.

Iriya could devoured the cicada with her eyes, the way she was staring at it.

“—I see.” Asaba muttered, as he too looked at the sad carcass of the cicada.

 

“It’s almost time.”

 

A ragged cry fell from Iriya’s lips.

There was no time for Asaba to do anything about it. Her cries became louder and even more desperate until she finally broke down in sobs.

Iriya cried bitterly as she hung her head, and tears fell on the palm which held the dead cicada. Her face was screwed up in her distress, and her nose leaked. She looked just like a child that was left behind and forgotten.

Asaba was so overcome by dismay and a sense of helplessness that he almost sat down on the floor.

Perhaps Iriya was crying because he had said something unnecessary. Or perhaps it didn’t matter what someone like him said or did because Iriya would have cried anyway.

 

He placed a hand on Iriya’s shoulder, because Iriya looked like she wanted him to do something like that. She then placed her head on his shoulders and cradled the dead cicada against her chest as she continued to cry.

Iriya may have wanted to stay this way for a long time.

As long as no one invoked a summoning spell, as long as Tashiro did not make that announcement over the public-address system, she might have wanted to continue resting her head on Asaba’s shoulder, as she cried.

Asaba found himself at a loss for words.

 


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