Chapter 1: Close Encounter of the Third Kind
“It’s probably spelled ‘Iriya1,’” he thought. “There’s a place with that name in Sonohara City.” The girl was waiting patiently for Asaba’s next words. “I have to say something.”
“You can’t swim?” he asked. After saying that, he thought to himself, “You idiot, can’t you ask something a little bit more substantive? Of course she can’t swim; didn’t you just save her from drowning moments ago?”
Avoiding direct eye contact with her, Asaba watched as she nodded. “I have to say something,” he thought. That’s what he thought, but being led along along by a girl who only spoke in incomplete sentences, he was unable to properly formulate a meaningful question from all of the suspicions swirling around in his mind. If he took those raw suspicions and put them into words, it would be three simple words: “Who are you?” He couldn’t imagine this girl giving a clear answer to such a question.
The silence continued, the tension increased all the more, and the more he hurried trying to think of something to say, the more the only words that came to mind were, “Well, I’ll be going now.”
“You can swim?” the girl suddenly asked.
“She’s asking me if I can swim,” he realized. It took him a little while before he fully comprehended that. With those three words, the floodgates opened. “Hey, if you’d like I could teach you how to swim,“ he said. He thought to himself, “This girl can’t swim, and although I’m not exactly the best at it, I still can. I can probably make a bit of a good impression here.”
After saying that, he felt a bit of hesitation towards his own idea. “This girl just had a nosebleed. Her bag was stuffed with strange drugs. I don’t know how she feels about it, but maybe it’s impossible for her to even swim in the first place.”
Nevertheless, her face lit up just a bit, and she nodded. Just looking at that face, Asaba all too easily got excited.
“Wait here just a second,” Asaba said. He quickly headed towards the equipment storehouse to grab a kickboard. Sensing a presence behind him, Asaba suddenly turned around. Even though he had told her to wait there, the girl was following him like a puppy. The entire time Asaba was digging through the mountain of kickboards trying to find the cleanest and least slimy one, his back was burning up from her gaze.
He began to think. “Perhaps this girl, more than just not knowing how to swim, has never swam in her life until today. Despite that, wanting to swim no matter what, she probably made a considerable decision to come here. That has to be it,” Asaba baselessly thought.
“When I asked her if she was sick, she shook her head. But even if she’s not sick in the traditional sense of the word, walking around with that many drugs is definitely not normal. Maybe she was born with a weak body, and has finally just recovered from a major chronic illness. That’s got to be it,” Asaba thought. “In the past, this girl lived her life going in and out of the hospital, frequently missed school, and because of that always had to sit out during gym class and watch, and during swim class all she did was watch her friends swim, and yet she became completely fascinated with swimming, and now just recently her body’s finally recovered, so she asked her mother, ‘Can I go to the pool?’ but her mother replied, ‘What on Earth is this child saying, of course you can’t, oh look at the time, have you taken your medicine yet?’ and yet despite that, she couldn’t give up on swimming, and quietly snuck out of the house and came to the pool, that’s it, that’s definitely it,” Asaba thought.
If he thought about it like that, he felt like all of the pieces fit together, explaining that feeling he had about why she was so sensitive, that intense and brooding aura she emanated as she was staring at the pool, why she was seriously wearing a swimming cap, the nosebleed, the drugs, all of it.
Grabbing two kickboards, he returned to the pool and jumped in feet first with a splash. The girl hesitated for a moment on the edge of the pool, and then jumped in feet first like Asaba. It looked like she was trying to mimic everything Asaba did exactly.
He handed her a kickboard and said, “As long as you hold onto this, you won’t drown.” Suddenly he felt worried, and asked, “Hey, can you put your face in the water?” The girl nervously shook her head.
And so, that’s where they had to begin from first. That was also what took up the most time. No matter how much he tried to encourage her, or tried to calm her down, she couldn’t seem to put her face in the water. However, after quite a bit of time, she was able to put her entire head in the water, and everything after that went quickly. She practiced holding onto the edge of the pool and stretching her body, kicking her legs, breathing, and finally moved onto practice using the kickboard.
With that, it was about ten minutes past 9 P.M. of the final day of his middle school second year summer vacation. At that time, the girl was already able to swim about 15 meters holding onto the kickboard. Her knees were bending while she was kicking, so despite the impressive amount of water splashing everywhere, she was moving along pretty sluggishly, and if Asaba left her alone, she would steadily drift to the right. That being said, when he looked back at how she had started off sinking like a rock, they had made considerably rapid progress. “She was probably an athletic person to begin with,” he thought.
Asaba, the coach, was also scared to death at the beginning, and was planning on stopping immediately if the girl had another nosebleed. But, upon seeing the quickness with which she improved, he gradually wanted to do more.
As usual, the girl was completely reticent, and only nodded or shook her head in response to Asaba’s words; but every time she was able to learn something, her expression brightened little by little.
“Wow, you’re amazing. If you keep it up at this pace, you’ll be the ace of the swim team by next week,” Asaba said. The girl had a slightly pleased expression. In the span of about an hour, Asaba had somehow learned to read these “minor” and subtle changes. Up until now, this was her happiest face.
“Alright then, it’s about time to graduate from using a kickboard,” Asaba said. The girl’s expression stiffened instantly. “I’m telling you, it’ll be fine. You can already swim on your own; it’s the same with or without the kickboard.”
The girl nodded. Asaba could tell that it wasn’t just because she was convinced by what she was told; it was also because she was determined not to disappoint him.
“H-Hey,” Asaba immediately compromised. “In that case, I’ll be holding your hands in the beginning. That’ll be fine, right?” Asaba said and held out his hands. This time, the girl showed a slightly relieved expression, like she was convinced. She stretched out her hands and grabbed Asaba’s wrists. Asaba’s hands grabbed onto her wrists as well.
Then, Asaba finally noticed “that.”
In that instant, the girl also noticed that Asaba had noticed it, and stiffened up in surprise. Up until now, she herself had probably forgotten that “that” was on her wrists.
Asaba felt her wrists with the tips of his fingers. There was something hard and round. He turned her wrists over slowly. A metallic silver sphere, about the size of an egg yolk, was embedded in her wrists.
The girl stared at him intently. The water’s movement gently rocked their bodies. He felt as if reality drifted away again, shaken by the water.
“It doesn’t hurt,” she said. Holding out her hands so that Asaba could better see the metallic spheres, she moved closer to him.
He recalled his earlier raw suspicions. What he should have asked before doing anything was: “Who are you?”
“It’s nothing,” she said. The positions of superiority reversed. Now it was her that was telling Asaba not to be afraid. Asaba tried to move back, but was entranced by her intense gaze and foreign-sounding voice. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t take that first step back.
“You want to lick it?” She was already right in front of his eyes. The only thing between their faces was the metallic sphere embedded in her wrists. “It tastes like electricity.” The school at night that should have been empty, the pool at night that should have been empty, the starlight, this unknown girl, nothing felt like reality.
Suddenly, he heard the siren of a patrol car.
Asaba was so surprised that he let out a pathetic scream. He heard it extremely close by. It came from either within the school grounds, or from the roads surrounding the schoolyard. He could see the reflection of the flashing patrol car lights on the gymnasium window. It wasn’t just one or two cars.
The girl was silent. Her expression did slightly change, but in Asaba’s eyes, she didn’t look even one-tenth as surprised as he was. That fact increased Asaba’s panic even further.
“In any case, I have to do something,” he thought. Without knowing what was going on, Asaba pulled the girl’s hand and was completely caught up in trying to get out of the pool.
Then, before Asaba reached the edge of the pool, a man appeared. Emerging from the swinging locker room door, he walked slowly towards the poolside. He was a tall man, but Asaba couldn’t tell how old he was.
Hanging his suit jacket over his shoulder, he was already holding a towel in one hand. He wasn’t wearing a necktie. He had a young face, droopy eyes, and seemed like the type that would always tell vulgar jokes and laugh at them alone. However, he had a kind of terribly tired, worn down aura hanging around him.
“It’s time to go home,” the man said, stopping at the poolside and staring straight at the girl.
Asaba felt like reality went down the pool drain and disappeared along with the blood from the girl’s nosebleed. He had no idea what was going on. He was confused, and he’d be lying if he said that he wasn’t afraid. However, Asaba put on a bold front. Taking one step forward, he stood in a position covering the girl behind him. The man looked at him, and made a face like he had seen something unexpected and impressive.
“It’s okay, I know him,” the girl whispered from behind.
Despite that, without taking his eyes off of the man, Asaba asked over his shoulder, “Who is he?”
The man answered, “Let’s see. I guess I’m something of an older brother to her. Who are you?”
Asaba swallowed his saliva, and purposely put on an irritated voice. “A student of this school.” He held back from speaking with honorifics2.
The man slowly looked at his surroundings. “And what are you doing here at this hour?”
“I wanted to swim.”
Upon hearing Asaba’s words, the man suddenly broke into laughter. “So that’s how it is. Now I see. Summer vacation ends today, after all.” The man crouched by the edge of the pool. Looking at Asaba with a broad grin, the man said, “I also used to do that a lot in the past. At the school I was at, there was this live-in janitor who was one hell of an angry old man. Although in my case, rather than going for a swim, it was more of a dare from my buddy. I was swimming around making a huge racket, and one out of two times this old man would come flying out holding a broom, but that’s what I was going for in the first place so I didn’t let myself get caught. After making my great escape, I’d make a prank call to the old man’s house, ‘Ahh, Nagasawa-kun—‘ this is an imitation of the principal, Nagasawa is the old man’s name, ‘Ahh, Nagasawa-kun, about that thing. You can’t even catch those kids sneaking into the pool? If you can’t, I’m going to fire you.’ That old man was raging. Those were good times.”
Asaba sensed multiple people and cars outside of the pool. He heard the sound of quiet engines, tires biting into the gravel, doors being slammed shut. He was surrounded. And yet, nobody other than this man had entered the pool.
He had no idea who this man was either. That aura he had of an older and experienced brother didn’t seem pretentious to Asaba. However, on the contrary, Asaba was kind of disgusted by it.
“Um,” Asaba began. It was his raw suspicion again: who are you guys? And just like the girl, he couldn’t imagine this man giving him a clear answer either. Asaba had just begun to speak, but his words suddenly lost momentum as the man cut him off.
“Even now I’m thankful for that. You know, old man Nagasawa played along with all of our stupid games. It was obvious who was messing around each and every time, and even if he didn’t catch us, our names should’ve been identified. But the old man didn’t say anything about us to the teachers. And that’s why, well, even now I’m pretty lenient with pranksters like you,” he said, staring intently at Asaba.
“I’ll keep quiet about you being here, so don’t ask anything.” That’s what he was saying. Asaba comprehended that. Asaba stared at the man and nodded quietly.
The man gave him a big grin. He pulled a wireless transceiver from his jacket pocket, and said, “I’m done in here. There’s 1 C, I’m coming out right now.” He spoke quickly, and then stretched as he stood up.
“Alright, time to get out. Don’t forget to put away the kickboards. Wash your eyes too. Oh, and you,” he turned and faced the girl, “Today’s your first time swimming right?”
Using Asaba’s hand to get out of the pool, the girl uttered three words: “He taught me.”
The man had a surprised expression. Tossing a towel towards the girl’s head, the man said, “Thanks for looking after her. Here, you too.” Putting his hand on her towel, he recklessly pushed her head downward and made her bow. “You leave first. The guys outside won’t hurt you.”
Asaba’s head was spinning. He had a ton of things he wanted to say, things he wanted to ask. Walking along the poolside with uneasy steps, Asaba pushed open the swinging locker room door and turned around. The man waved to him. The girl stood next to him, like a poorly balanced doll. She stared intently at Asaba from the shadows of the towel covering her head.
None of this felt like reality to Asaba.
He’d forgotten to put away the kickboards and wash his eyes, but the man didn’t say a thing.
2. He refrains from using “desu”