Chapter 2: Love Letter
Following that, Asaba spent the rest of fifth period killing time in the library, and showed up properly for sixth period. Iriya ended up not returning after being called to the faculty office, and Modern Japanese teacher Ujiki explained, “Due to certain circumstances, Iriya had to leave school early.”
When cleanup time came around, Asaba was informed for the first time about Iriya’s ‘go away’ comment. After Asaba had said, ‘I have to go the bathroom’ and ran away, it seemed like Iriya made a few comments towards the Nakagomi group surrounding her desk: ‘Shut up. Go away.’
“It was amazing, man,” Nishikubo said in a low voice, leaning against the blackboard that had just been wiped with a wet cloth.
“Nakagomi even cried. The other three were furious,” Hanamura said. He sat on the teaching platform, deftly balancing a broom on the tips of his toes. With a smirk on his face, he began to mimic them. “Stuff like, ’Is that how you talk to us!?’”
Nishikubo nodded. “They were going nuts.”
“Stuff like, ‘What’s wrong with you!? I cannot believe you!!’”
“But man, no matter what they said to Iriya, she kept her cool. Just as I was watching her, thinking, ‘Despite how she looks, she’s got some balls,’ blood starting dripping out of her nose. Drip, drip, drip,” Nishikubo added.
“Huh?” Asaba instinctively returned.
“Like, a nosebleed. Blood that comes out of the nose.”
The smell of chlorine and the image of crimson red staining the towel rose into Asaba’s mind.
“Anyway, those girls making a huge fuss retreated like wharf roaches upon facing Iriya’s nosebleed attack. Iriya took advantage of that opening and quickly left the classroom, and came back after the third period bell rang with a scrap of tissue paper stuffed up her nose.”
Asaba tried to visualize Iriya with a scrap of tissue paper stuffed up her nose, but he couldn’t picture it at all.
“And?” Asaba asked, wanting to know what happened next.
Nishikubo smirked. “It’s obvious, isn’t it? After that, everyone was like, ‘let sleeping dogs do whatever,’ or something.”
“I guess so,” Asaba thought. “She did tell them to ‘go away,’ after all. While I was dying in the nurse’s office, Iriya managed to isolate herself in just the span of one day. Nakagomi and her friends are like the popular girls in class, so the other girls are afraid of getting pulled into a ‘the ally of my enemy is my enemy’ situation. It was over for Iriya. It was probably hard for Iriya to stay in the classroom, so she must’ve been wandering about the school aimlessly during lunch break. It’s only natural that nobody told her anything and she was left behind when they changed classes.”
His feelings of guilt deepened. “At that time, I didn’t even need to do anything. If only I didn’t run away to the bathroom, Iriya might have been able to make it through without saying, ‘go away,’” he thought to himself. “And to make matters worse, she was confronted by a scene of me opening and rummaging through her bag without permission.”
“I wanted to at least apologize to her. If only that baldy Tashiro hadn’t called Iriya, right about now things would be—“
“Hey, you three over there. Stop slacking off and help carry these desks!” In the end, they ended up getting yelled at by Akiho. Akiho glared at them with a terrifying scowl, and Nishikubo and Hanamura grudgingly returned to cleaning. However, Asaba continued to stand flatfooted, deep in thought. Akiho tapped Asaba on the head with her broom.
“What’re you spacing out for? Hurry up and—“ she began. Her face suddenly grew serious. “Hey, are you alright? Are you okay? Do you feel sick again?”
“Huh? Did you say something?”
Akiho sighed softly, as if to say, ‘Just that usual habit, huh?’
“Ah, oh yeah, Asaba. I’m skipping club activities today.”
“I’m an Air Defense Committee Member now. I have to listen to the instructions for tomorrow, start preparations, that kind of stuff.”
“Oh. The air raid drills are tomorrow, right?”
A Library Committee Member’s job is to take care of the library’s routine duties, a Health Committee Member’s job is to bring students who are injured or who feel sick to the nurse’s office, and an Air Defense Committee Member’s job is to lead students and to conduct headcounts during air raid drills. Usually, Air Defense Committee Members don’t have to do anything, so it’s relatively popular among students as an “easy job.”
Akiho smiled wryly. “Nakamura-sensei was really excited about this. He said like, ‘This time, the theme is going to be realism.’ It’ll definitely drag on late, so I’ll head straight home after. Tell the President for me too.
Asaba replied halfheartedly. He went back to cleaning. He rewired his brain, allotting 90% to meditation, and the remaining 10% to autopilot for everything below his neck. He mindlessly went about carrying desks, sweeping, and throwing away trash. Everything he was doing was on cruise control, and just like that, without even realizing it, he ended up working harder than everyone else around him.
He aimlessly continued to think about Iriya.