Three years passed by in the blink of an eye. Both me and Ei-kun were sixth graders now, we had to study even more to pass the exams to be admitted to a middle school. We decided that we’d be going to the same school but this brought us to have many arguments. I wanted to go the the best school in the district, while Ei-kun wanted to go to the unruly, all-male school on the opposite side of the school I chose. I immediately turned him down, obviously. Kazumo was there, too.
I then proposed that we should study together so as to help him raise his grades and his chances to enter the best middle school near us. Ei-kun, with the passing of the years, got more and more bored at the idea of studying. In class he was rarely paying attention to the teachers, and most of the homework he had to do was copied from me.
Because of this, the nearer the entrance exam for our middle school were, the more we fought. Today I was at Ei-kun’s house to help him with some difficult homework and to read up on the possible questions that could be present in the exam, but once I saw his umpteenth stupid answer on his assignments I couldn’t stand it anymore and I got angry at him.
“How can you not even try to do your homework correctly, Ei-kun?!”
“Tsk. I’m trying.”
Ei-kun clicked his tongue and turned his head sideways as he answered me. He didn’t even dare to look at me in the eyes. I wanted to say I was fed up with his behavior, but he was my only remaining friend now. After Hou-kun moved, my relationships with my classmates only worsened. Though my actions didn’t help, Mizushima didn’t help either. She created a group of “popular girls” and with their help they started bullying me, with discreet obviously. Not even Eichirou noticed it.
“Stop ‘trying’ and study seriously! Did you forget you said we’d go to the same middle school?! If you continue like this we won’t be able to!”
“I’m not smart like you, Ame.”
He even glared at me as he denigrated himself. I couldn’t understand him; did he perhaps have an inferiority complex? It couldn’t be. I only have grades a slightly over the average, but that’s because in my free time at the orphanage I can only study to distract myself.
“I’m not smart! I study! Just because Hou-kun isn’t here, it doesn’t mean you could’ve slacked off during this last three years of school!”
After that we remained in silence until Ei-kun was almost done reading the list of possible questions that I made for him. The room we were in wasn’t that big, but it was spacious enough that even if there were five people it wouldn’t feel overly stuffed. There was only one window but it was pretty large, opposite that was the door leading to the main entrance, to the left of it was the door to the kitchen while to the right there was a television positioned between two bookshelves, on which there were almost no books and only miscellaneous objects and curios. In the middle of the room was a low table with all our stuff over it; our notebooks, books and pencil-cases.
“… Ah! I remembered…”
“…What is it now?”
Ei-kun suddenly talked aloud and instead of replying me, he started searching through his books. Finally, he took out a leaflet depicting a starless night with a huge, bright white moon with a small hourglass inside it. I recognized it immediately:
“The Shirotsuki festival? What does it have to do with all this now?”
“Nothing. Just wanted to know if you’ll be coming or not. Ariama-kun asked me to go with him and some other people, mainly of our class; that is why he also requested me to ask you if were willing to join us too.”
The God Shirotsuki, to whom this festival was dedicated, was the local deity and protector of this City, or so was believed. It was also said that He could control the flow of time, that is why at his temple there were a lot of request regarding that; some were even quite… peculiar.
I actually doubted the Gods’ existence. And even if they did exist, I would not worship them; I would loathe all of them. EVERY SINGLE ONE.
…Moreover, thinking of all those people that pray to them, begging for miracles and favors, I thought that if they really existed they certainly wouldn’t do such things for free.
“I can’t go, I have to stay at the orphanage this year.”
“Why? Can’t you just ask the Head Sister to let you come?”
“No, I really can’t this time, I went the last year and the year before that, so this time it’s my turn to remain at the orphanage, so now let’s put a stop to discussion. You start reviewing those questions again this instant, did you think I’d forget about it while we talked about the festival?”
“I heard you.”
“Ame-chan, do you want to go to the festival?”
My shoulders jerked in surprise and I turned around to see who was speaking to me. Once I saw that it was one of the Sisters of the orphanage I stopped cleaning the floor and rested the broom against a nearby wall.
“But Sister, it’s my turn to work during the festival this year, and I…”
I couldn’t understand what the Sister wanted from me, so I just tilted my head sideways as I replied to her. She took out what she was hiding behind her and I noticed that they were folded traditional clothes.
“Look, I prepared this for you. I talked with the Head Sister and she said that as long as you can fulfill your duties before evening, you are allowed to go to the festival.”
“Thank you Sister, but why are you giving me a kimono¹?”
I bowed to show my thanks to her. In reality, I couldn’t care less about the festival. I know perfectly well, though, why they assigned me those duties and are also sending me to the festival. Just like for the previous years, during the day of the Shirotsuki festival, the orphanage organizes some kind of attraction for the adults, and if you’re lucky enough, you could even be adopted. It’s not like the Sisters want to keep me here, it’s just that every time I showed my face during this kind of events no kid would be adopted, which in turn lowered my reputation even more.
“Well, we can’t have you go with regular clothes, can we? And this is the only thing we have that suits you.”
“… If you insist, I shall go.”
She hid it well, but I was still able to notice the trace of ridicule present in her eyes. Having had enough of this farce, I just accepted the “gift” and went to my room to check it out. The kimono was pitch black with a few pink petals, probably from sakura flowers, at the bottom. They were barely noticeable because of the position if you were near me, but from far away they stood out like a sore thumb. I was already feeling embarrassed at sole the idea of wearing it,
‘Why do I have to wear this?!’
After I was able to come to terms with the awful truth that I had to wear the kimono (certainly, the Sister who gave it to me would be really pissed off if she knew that I left the orphanage without wearing it, I knew my “siblings” wouldn’t lose the opportunity to snitch on me), I decided to call Ei-kun to tell him I’d be going to the festival too.
“Yes, this is the Ozuma family, who’s speaking?”
“Ah, ehm… Ei-kun? I was just calling you to say that I’ll be able to go to the festival after all.”
“Finally, I was tired of waiting. I’m glad you managed to convince the Head Sister in the end.”
“Y-yeah… something like that… Well, that’s all I wanted to tell you so goodbye!”
“Okay, then, see you tomorrow at school.”
I couldn’t stay too much on the phone, so like usual we would talk about the details, like where to meet up and when, later at school.
‘At least it seems no one noticed that I’m wearing a kimono.’
“It’s your turn to try to catch a goldfish. Here, give me your cotton candy, with that you can’t play properly. Humph, I bet you also won’t be able to win, Notsuki-kun.”
Ariama-kun was almost as bossy as Ei-kun, but more than that he was an insatiable glutton. This blonde haired round ball tried to
steal take a bite of everyone’s food at every possible occasion.
“Hell no, you’ll just go ahead and eat it, won’t you?”
‘Well, how could they? This cheap kimono really does resemble a yukata².’
“Ame, you can pass it to me.”
I gave my cotton candy to Ei-kun, leaving Ariama-kun completely heart-broken; he even started crying crocodile tears as he wailed:
“Notsuki-kun you’re so mean~”
“Shut up, I’m concentrating.”
I “jokingly” admonished him as I started focusing on the game once again. In spite of that, dark thoughts began swirling in my mind, slowly oppressing it.
‘I know lot of people in manga use tons of theories to win, but they cheat. I know it. Even if they don’t cheat, they cheat.’
‘That’s why it’s ok even if I can’t do it.’
‘Because I don’t cheat, that’s why I won’t be able to do it.’
‘Because I’m me, that’s why I won’t be able to do it.’
‘Because it’s all my fault.’
“In the end no one was able to win, uh…”
“Hey, don’t get so depressed guys! I bet that game was rigged! Let’s try the ring toss over there next!”
Seeing that everyone wasn’t feeling so energetic anymore, Ariama-kun tried to liven up the atmosphere. I still felt quite annoyed so without thinking, I replied to him curtly:
“Tsk… You say that, but didn’t you use all your money already?”
“Notsuki-kun really is in a bad mood~”
“I’m not! Come on, let’s get going n—”
After our banter evoked a laugh from the group, one of the guys tried to poke fun at me, incensed, I abruptly turned around and walked away while also yelling at him, without looking at where I was going. Though this was my mistake. A big mistake. Looking back on it, that was probably the biggest mistake in my whole life.
“Ame look ou—!”
As I bumped into someone and proceeded to promptly fall on said person, I still found the leisure to think. Maybe if I wasn’t so focused on the voice I would’ve have noticed the hand that caught the end of my sleeve and caused me to fall down forward.
“Ouch… I’m sorry, I wasn’t… soft?”
Straight, black long hair failed to cover the chest of the girl I fell on. I was momentarily bewildered while I tried to recognize exactly on whom I fell down. But then I heard her cold voice and realized the awkward situation.
“Get off pervert.”
‘I swear I’ve seen her before…’
“Y-yes, I’m sorry…”
“Ah! It’s Mizushima-chan!”
When I was about to bow my head in apology, Ariama-kun’s clear voice came from behind me and finally made me understand who it was. I felt strange for a moment. I could’ve sworn I saw a different face, instead her she was. Mizushima Mida, a stunning beauty with golden eyes and curly blonde hair long enough to reach her chest. I was just too surprised to notice it.
“Stop being so friendly, Ariama-kun. It’s disgusting.”
“Oh? And who might this freak be?”
When I heard her calling me a freak I hurriedly reached for my left eye, and as I had thought, the eyepatch wasn’t there anymore. I desperately looked for it and I saw it there, on the ground, the string cleanly cut off. Something that at the time I didn’t notice. Nobody did.
‘My eyepatch fell off?! How?! Why now?! I… I have to quickly pick it up!’
As I tried to bend down to pick it up, Mida reacted much faster than me and she put her foot over it, making it impossible for me to retrieve it.
“Mh? That’s no good~ you shouldn’t pick up the dirty things that areon the ground, ahahah~”
“Are you okay, Ame?”
Fortunately, all the other guys were behind me, so they didn’t see it, but Mida and her friends… Thanks to Ei-kun, Mida also recognized me now, unless she was just pretending before.
“ ‘Ame’…? …I see. It’s been a long time, isn’t it, Ame-kun? You seem to be doing fine, especially that left eye of yours.”
I didn’t know what to say, words didn’t come to me and I could only incoherently try to speak to her. But before I was able to beg her, she continued to talk:
“I remember you saying that your left eye couldn’t see because of an accident… so what’s up with that amber-coloured left eye of yours, uh? Was it just another one of your lies? In the end, can’t you do anything but lie, you freak?”
‘NO! NO! NO! I tried so hard to have a normal life!’
“Gyahahaha~! So pathetic~ I thought Notsuki-kun was trying to look cool, wearing an eyepatch and all, but you were actually just a freak, weren’t you?”
I couldn’t endure it any longer. My body kept trembling and tears were staining my face. Mida’s words cut right through my heart now more than any other time she tried to bully me.
‘I… I can’t stay here anymore!’
“Wh— Wait! Ame, were are you going?!”
I wasn’t able to take it anymore and so I started to run. I ran away. I ran from the pain and I ran away from reality.
¹The kimono is a Japanese traditional garment, it has come to denote these full-length robes. It is always used in important festival or formal moments, it is the representative of polite and a very formal clothing. Nowadays kimono are most often worn by women and on special occasions.
²A yukata is a Japanese garment, a casual summer kimono worn by men and women.