NARRATOR: "In class the next afternoon, I'm two problems into a math logic worksheet when a folded up piece of paper hits me in the head. I'm sure I know whom it's from, but I quickly look around the classroom anyway, just in case. No one in this classroom is good at acting casual. I can tell that everyone saw who threw it at me, and looking at the culprit herself it was obviously Shizune. She isn't even trying to be coy about it. The countryside is so different. At my old school I would have no idea who it was right now. Opening up the note, it says:"
Misha is absent! Help me out today after school!
HISAO: "I don't understand what's with the note, why can't you just use sign language?"
NARRATOR: "A large part of how I learned sign language was by copying Misha's style of signing her words as she speaks, so I end up blurting the sentence out loud as I sign it to Shizune. A slight laugh goes around the room. How awkward."
HISAO: (signing) "I'll help if I don't have to do a lot."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "That's silly, obviously if Misha is absent you have to help as much as two people."
NARRATOR: "I don't know if that really means anything. After all, Misha was complaining yesterday mostly about how Shizune wouldn't let her help her. I don't do much as-is, either. After pretending to think it over for a bit, I write her a note back telling her I will. I'm actually happy that she asked me, because I've been meaning to talk to her for a while. It's a good opportunity, but I feel I should at least make it look like I'm putting up some resistance to the idea. I go back to my worksheet and immediately get stuck on the third problem. After trying to work around it, I casually toss my own note over to Shizune. It says:"
Why is Misha absent? And what's the answer to question 3?
SHIZUNE: (signing) "She told me that she was sick and her stomach hurt. Misha gets stomachaches a lot, but I wish she'd picked a better time for it this week. Use sign language."
NARRATOR: "I'd think she has a stomachache because of the way she sucked down a parfait larger than her head the other day. If she gets them quite often, though, either it's a coincidence or she has a habit of eating things that can put her in debilitating pain. I notice the teacher staring at us disapprovingly. I don't blame him. We're “talking” in class, and with sign language, in quite a visible and distracting way. I try clearing my throat to back out of our conversation, but Shizune doesn't get the hint. Well, obviously. Before I try to get the message across again with my hands, however, I can see Shizune notices what's up, she just doesn't care."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "Do you still want to know the answer to question 3? I will tell you, but you have to give me the answer for question 25."
HISAO: (signing) "Hey, I was just thinking about how a teacher who didn't know sign language could think we were abusing it and using it to cheat, if he were to assume the worst. I can't believe you're actually doing that! And, I'm not up to 25."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "You wanted to know what the answer to 3 was; you asked first. Hypocrite."
HISAO: (signing) "You're the Student Council president, you can't cheat."
NARRATOR: "I don't have time for this, and I think I'm trying the teacher's patience to the breaking point. I'd like to continue taking potshots at her while working on the math problems in front of me, but it would require at least two extra hands. Shizune is a bit more creative, and gets around this limitation by using long, semi-broken strings of simpler words. I take a couple mental notes in between being dizzied by a couple of particularly long equations. Right before the bell rings, she caps her pen and triumphantly slams it on her desk with an ear-popping crack that makes the whole room jump, quickly forgotten because everyone would rather go to lunch than question its origin. After a couple brief stretches, she gets up and hovers around my left shoulder."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "Are you still not done? I was going to ask if you wanted me to hand in yours too, while I was up."
HISAO: (signing) "Someone distracted me. I had to beg the teacher to give me nine minutes between now and the end of passing to finish it. It's not easy to solve this one-handed while having a conversation, by the way."
NARRATOR: "He wasn't happy with the request, wanting to get out of here as much as I do. Since I'm only one problem away from finishing, it looks like Shizune doesn't really believe me. The second that I'm done handing it in, I find myself being dragged to the student council room. It's eerily and annoyingly clean. I can't find what I was working on yesterday."
HISAO: (signing) "Where is everything?"
SHIZUNE: (signing) "I did some cleaning."
HISAO: (signing) "That doesn't tell me anything. See, it's like you forgot where you even put the stuff you put away. Oh well, If I can't find it, I guess I'll just go home."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "It's in the drawer right there."
NARRATOR: "Shizune sulks as I pull out the posters I was working on, and then shuffle them around a little, since she stacked them by color. It's not that I'm taunting her; I just have my own system, although I doubt she would believe me if I were to tell her."
HISAO: (signing) "I like it when things are a little messy. It's more natural. And a time saver. It's all right where I left it, and I don't have to go looking through shelves just to find what I was working on yesterday."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "Lazy."
HISAO: (signing) "That's not true. I'm not lazy, you just always go too far."
NARRATOR: "I quickly glance at her desk. A memo pad neatly placed at one corner, behind it a small desk calendar with each box filled with notes in a neat, but microscopic handwriting. On the right, three boxes of pens, in blue, black, and red."
HISAO: (signing) "Look, you even put the pens back in their original box at the end of each day, all color-coded and everything. I don't think that can even be called being a neat freak."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "What do you do with them, throw them in a mug on your desk?"
HISAO: (signing) "Hey, I think that's being organized enough."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "You're so disorganized, you can't even comb your hair down properly."
HISAO: (signing) "That hurts..."
NARRATOR: "It's not like I don't try; it just won't stay flat. I pick up a box of pens and quickly pop it open to see if she also puts them in so that they're all facing the same direction. She understands what I'm thinking, and doesn't look very amused. It turns out that the box wasn't closed properly on the bottom, and as soon as I pick it up, they immediately pour out of it like a waterfall."
HISAO: (signing) "My fault. I'll get them, don't worry."
NARRATOR: "I bend down to pick up the pens, forgetting that with her attention focused on them, she couldn't have possibly seen me signing to her. Shizune's head bumps into my chest; not very hard, but it unbalances me enough to make me fall over. I laugh it off, and expect her to do the same. When she stiffens and backs away from me instead, a feeling of dread begins to creep over me. That is a weird reaction. I start to think about why she would have such a strange reaction. It's pretty obvious: she just bumped headfirst into someone with a heart condition."
NARRATOR: "Shizune would know I have one, having seen the rows and rows of pills lining the edge of my dresser. Or at the very least, she would know I have something severe enough to require that much medication, but not visible at a glance."
NARRATOR: "Shizune would know I have one, maybe thanks to the records her student council duties give her access to. Or at the very least, she would know I have something severe enough to need monitoring."
NARRATOR: "So she is treating me like I'm made of glass. For her, it's the natural way to react. I haven't forgotten how she freaked out when Emi knocked into me on my first day here. Why would it be any different for her? I'm sure she is remembering that, right now. I can see it on her face. She looks angry at herself. It would be a good opportunity to bring up that time when she saw my pills. Even though I don't want to drag that back up, it would be a good idea to. It would clear the air. Still, I'm afraid, and end up saying nothing. Partly because as I imagine having to draw her attention from the floor, and then having to sign what kind of a cripple I am to her one gesture at a time, the idea begins to seem more and more depressing."
NARRATOR: "Taking a seat, I decide to just try and finish up these posters to get my mind off of it. There are some that I don't remember making. From the wall-to-wall text and ultra-neat handwriting, I can tell Shizune must have done these. That means that the remainder must have been done by Misha. They are a lot more visual, with cute little stylized pictures of us on them. I don't know how I feel about being used as a mascot character, but I'm not really thrilled by it. Some time passes; long enough for the sun to start setting. I hear Shizune putting down her pen and cracking her knuckles methodically, one at a time. It's so loud in the silence of the room that I look up, wondering if she is trying to get my attention. Although it wasn't what she intended, when she notices me looking at her, Shizune begins to sign without skipping a beat."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "Let's take a break."
HISAO: (signing) "I'm surprised you would say that."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "It's okay. I'm almost done, anyway. And I'm hungry. Aren't you?"
HISAO: (signing) "A little."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "I'm really hungry."
HISAO: (signing) "We could order something."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "I was thinking of you. I already have something to eat."
HISAO: (signing) "Where?"
NARRATOR: "She produces a cinnamon bun from under her desk, raising it to head level slowly, like a magician levitating a rock."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "But! There is only one. Not enough for both of us."
NARRATOR: "Ah, how dramatic. I can tell what this means. A feeling of déjà vu briefly washes over me."
HISAO: (signing) "We could just split it."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "That's. No. Fun. So boring. Let's play shogi for it."
NARRATOR: "She already has the board out. That desk must have everything in it."
HISAO: (signing) "Not chess?"
SHIZUNE: (signing) "Chess has boring promotions, this is better."
HISAO: (signing) "I don't know about that. Well, I'm actually pretty decent at shogi, so this is fine."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "Is that so? Okay, we can make it a little more interesting, then. Each move has to be completed in thirty seconds. You can add a rule, too."
HISAO: (signing) "No thanks, anything I could add would only hurt me more than it would help. A thirty-second time limit is already too tight for me. You're making me regret thinking it was all right to brag a little."
NARRATOR: "After Shizune wins the right to go first in a quick coin toss, she immediately starts playing with the aim of promoting all of her pieces as soon as possible. It seems like a very basic playstyle, and I can't help thinking it might be a trap of some sort. It's not, though. The draw of this game to Shizune appears to be the fact that she can upgrade her pieces, and steal mine. She's very good at it, but it makes her predictable. I end up doing a little better than I'd expected to. The 30-second time limit is pretty painful, though. The game ends in a draw. At this point, I think you're supposed to either go for a rematch or tally the pieces for points. Shizune doesn't want to go again in the interest of time, but winning on points clearly doesn't satisfy her. She sits there, shifting a silver general from one edge to the other as she contemplates which of those two options she'll go for. It takes so long that I think she has forgotten about the bet. Eventually, she stops fiddling with the shogi piece and puts it down."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "Is Misha angry at me?"
NARRATOR: "That really came out of nowhere. Shizune's frankness is disorienting, because with her, any kind of candor is a sign of total seriousness. There is no playful smile on her face, instead it's her usual stoic mask of concentration, ready to try and see if I'm about to tell her the truth. I'm upset that she thinks that I would tell her anything else, but I also know now that they have probably fought recently, out of my sight, and it makes me feel warm to know that they both care about each other so much."
HISAO: (signing) "No. I strongly doubt it. Did you know that she thinks you're angry at her?"
NARRATOR: "Shizune nods slowly and uncomfortably."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "Yes."
HISAO: (signing) "She was more roundabout with the question than you. Kind of surprising, because I thought that you were the one who liked playing games."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "Not all the time."
HISAO: (signing) "Are you two having some kind of fight?"
SHIZUNE: (signing) "No."
NARRATOR: "She is very quick to deny it, and not happy with the thought. I feel like I've stepped on a landmine."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "Sorry. Actually, yes. Just a tiny one. I know that she has no interest in the Student Council. She only joined because of me. I'm still grateful. I'm so happy she's my friend. But I don't understand what she is upset about this time."
HISAO: (signing) "Why don't you just ask her?"
SHIZUNE: (signing) "She won't tell me. I'll figure it out by myself, instead. I was sure that I was very perceptive, even if I can't hear. That was dumb. I know better now. It is probably something that is my fault."
NARRATOR: "Shizune doesn't elaborate further on what it could have been. I'm sure that it is because she does not fully understand the situation herself. It's odd to think that Shizune, usually so sure of everything, could be scared by a little argument with a friend. But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. They're a lot closer to each other than normal friends, and Shizune is pretty isolated from other people, in a way. The fact that she is deaf is no small part of it. But I get the feeling that she uses Misha as a buffer between other people of her own will, not just because it's been forced onto her. She can communicate well enough with her little pad. She just hates it. After such a long time of talking through another person, I guess you start to lose touch. It seems unavoidable. It isn't such a far-out idea to think that she isn't that great with people."
NARRATOR: "I return to working, kind of wanting to eat that cinnamon bun more as time drags on, but when I count the shogi pieces still left out on Shizune's table, I can tell at a glance she would win. I'm also too hungry to concentrate if we were to have a rematch. Motivated by my desire to wrap up and eat something, I put the finishing touches on the last of the posters."
HISAO: (signing) "Done. I think this many is enough. Too many can be a bad thing."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "Okay."
HISAO: (signing) "That's it? Just “okay?”"
SHIZUNE: (signing) "...I'll probably do some myself, after I'm done picking what voting format to go with."
HISAO: (signing) "Arrgghh. Too many posters is bad, too. Haven't you ever heard of oversaturation? I really think you're trying too hard."
NARRATOR: "Tenting her fingers, Shizune looks like she could almost admit it."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "Maybe."
HISAO: (signing) "It's what Misha thinks, too."
NARRATOR: "I watch as her fingers continue uneasily twining around and pulling at each other in a miniature tug-of-war."
HISAO: (signing) "I don't mind, but I asked around in a couple classes today and interest is low. It's like you said. So..."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "Does that make it wrong?"
HISAO: (signing) "No. But... it does make it kind of pointless."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "It's not."
NARRATOR: "Yeah, but to who? I doubt even Shizune truly believes that."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "I'm not doing all this work just for my own ego."
HISAO: (signing) "That isn't what I mean."
NARRATOR: "The first chance to be alone with her in days, and I have already really cocked it up. Still, she doesn't actually look angry. It's more like she's frustrated that she can't express herself clearly enough. Since she's an expert in sign language, I wouldn't think that would be the case. I wonder what advantage being able to speak would offer her, and if she has ever thought about it."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "It's another project of mine. Just like the festivals. I'm going to do it, because it's my job. It's just that a student council election isn't as fun as a festival, so no one cares."
NARRATOR: "She briefly touches her fingertips together, as if to say “but, maybe...” There is some truth to it, but Shizune doesn't want to say anything that could be boiled down into something so glib."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "But I don't care. I want to get people riled up, but it isn't about me. I don't want to be involved at all."
HISAO: (signing) "What do you mean? You go to like, every single festival."
NARRATOR: "Shizune waves her hand in mock indignation."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "Well... I have to have fun, too. But you know, it's not the same thing."
NARRATOR: "Her spirits seem to have improved, if she can manage to crack a joke."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "I don't want anyone to make a point of me being involved. It's a hassle. I don't want that responsibility. Things are becoming too complicated now as-is. The more I try to hype up the elections, the more involved I have to be. No one wants to play their hand yet, and it doesn't feel like my time is over, even though it should."
NARRATOR: "Crossing her arms and leaning back, she grinds her teeth together in frustration."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "They're all so lazy; it's impossible to get them to do anything. Anywhere else, the elections would be an exciting event. It's illogical, why does everyone have to be so different? If only there was some way to punish them... ...Like chaining the school to their desks. Voting is mandatory. If you don't vote, you get whipped."
NARRATOR: "Terrifying. I wonder how hypocritical it would be if I were to stay in bed on election day. With the flu. And a cold. And strep throat. And a sprained ankle."
HISAO: (signing) "You should put yourself on one of these. Not as punishment. Don't misunderstand."
NARRATOR: "I hold up one of Misha's posters."
HISAO: (signing) "Like this. It's kind of a neat idea. Misha was on to something. It's a lot cuter than just text. I'd think you would like it. Having cute mascots would drum up some excitement."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "Maybe if it's just Misha."
HISAO: (signing) "Why not me? Someone told me that this school has slightly more girls than boys... you have to cater to that demographic, too."
NARRATOR: "Shizune giggles, audibly this time. I'm surprised, and when she sees my face, so is she. Her face flushes pink, embarrassed to have let out a sound. Which is really confusing, to say the least."
HISAO: (signing) "Why don't you put yourself on it?"
NARRATOR: "She just waves my question away."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "It's troublesome."
HISAO: (signing) "What do you mean, troublesome? Everyone knows that you're in the Student Council."
NARRATOR: "My stomach growls, making me realize that I'm hungrier than I'd thought. Shizune uses the moment to deflect my question by changing the subject."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "Is something wrong?"
HISAO: (signing) "No. My stomach growled."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "I see."
NARRATOR: "She looks at the forgotten pastry on her desk then frowns, finding it inadequate for two people."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "Let's go to the Shanghai, if you are that hungry. It might be a little busy this late, but Yuuko is working there today. We will definitely get a table."
NARRATOR: "There is something worryingly underhanded in that smile."
HISAO: (signing) "I'll pass. I've already been there twice this week, back to back."
NARRATOR: "Shizune pouts, leaning back against her desk and scrunching up her posture in protest."
HISAO: (signing) "What?"
SHIZUNE: (signing) "I'm disappointed you said no."
HISAO: (signing) "Well, I can't agree with you on everything."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "You don't give your opinion often enough, anyway. It would be easiest for me if it was like that, but not very interesting, right? There are some decisions you should disagree with me on, then. You have a duty to."
HISAO: (signing) "How am I supposed to know which is which?"
SHIZUNE: (signing) "It's easy."
HISAO: (signing) "No, it's not. Sometimes it's hard for me to tell whether you're joking or serious."
NARRATOR: "Although, since she communicates entirely in sign language, that would seem pretty obvious. I wouldn't say that that's all there is to it, though. I remember when I had my heart attack, Iwanako wouldn't stop talking, at first. Eventually, I wished that she would just shut up. Or I would have, if I hadn't been happy to have any kind of company at all. Gradually, I stopped being so grateful. When we talked, I felt like it was nothing more than ritualized exchanges of politeness. Iwanako tried extremely hard to obfuscate how she felt, which was that I was hopeless. In the end, her outer behavior matched her inner feelings."
NARRATOR: "For that reason, I was able to accept it when one day she stopped showing up. I was no longer surprised by the time it happened. Even though she considered herself a master at hiding her feelings, I was not surprised. I've heard that games like shogi and chess can tell you a lot about a person. I wish I knew what Shizune thought they said about me. It could be that I'm a little more like Iwanako than I'd like to think, if I can only tie with Shizune by retreating. I suggest that we should order out."
Next Scene: Dewey Decimated