NARRATOR: "Now, we're going to be graduating soon. I've grown so comfortable here that it kind of crept up on me. When it did, I felt sad and didn't want to think about it. So, I didn't. Not until recently. About a week ago, I started making a list of people I thought I should say goodbye to before graduation. The first rule I laid out for myself was that I would try not to write them down in any kind of special order, like least important to most important. Somehow, it ended up like that anyway, even though it also ended up being a shorter list than I expected it to be. Kenji is somewhere in the middle."
KENJI: "They said I would have to graduate eventually. Well, I showed them. I've lived here rent free for more than long enough. If you take into account the rising cost of land, I think you could say I've won in the end. No, you know what? I did win. History will acknowledge me as the victor."
HISAO: "The victor of what?"
KENJI: "I managed to stay out of sight, and slip through the cracks. I beat the system."
HISAO: "If you put it that way, it sounds like you just ran away from the system."
KENJI: "Sometimes, running is the greatest form of victory; like in the Olympics."
NARRATOR: "I'm too tired to argue with him. Who's he kidding? Everyone knows the shot put is the best Olympic event, in any case."
HISAO: "So, what you're basically saying is, you won't miss it?"
KENJI: "Miss what?"
HISAO: "School, dummy."
KENJI: "No. I told you, this place is too filled with feminists. It's beyond saving. But at least I'll be able to get out before it reaches critical mass. I'll only come back, years later, when they build a statue to honor me."
HISAO: "Do they do the ten year later reunion thing here?"
KENJI: "How would I know that? Probably. Anyway, I have to start packing now. Take care of yourself, man."
HISAO: "You should have packed a week ago, like I did."
NARRATOR: "Not that I had much to pack."
KENJI: "That's not how it goes. You're supposed to do everything at the last minute. Men are better at doing everything at the last minute, the last minute can have more productivity than like, the entire week before it. It's how we keep shit fair. Pffft, you'll never understand our manly ways."
HISAO: "You take care of yourself, too."
NARRATOR: "With a salute, he shoots backwards through the door, slamming it shut behind him hard enough that the entire dorm probably heard it. I've noticed that a lot of people slam doors here. Maybe it's a local thing. “Take care of myself.” It's the first time I've heard him say it. Usually he ends our conversations with something like, “seeya.” “I'll pay you back later, man.” Well, he was a little annoying sometimes, but I'll miss him. I cross him off my list mentally. The list is very short now, and I once again discard the notion of going through it in any kind of order. Like I said, I never had that intention."
NARRATOR: "So, I go out to look for Shizune and Misha. I can only think of one place they could be. The student council room, of course. Turning the corner, I almost bump into a small group of students. For a second, a bitter feeling flashes through me, since for all I know, that could have been fatal. It's the new Student Council. There aren't a lot of them, but a lot more than three. Which is good, since it means there's enough of them that they can each have their own title. It would have been cool if I could have had a little desk plaque with my name and title on it. I don't think they do that now, or ever did, unfortunately."
NARRATOR: "The new Student Council surrounds me while I'm thinking. If anyone were looking at this from afar, it would be a pretty sinister sight. Maybe they have come to finally get back on me for calling them “the new Student Council” all those times. I was just translating for Shizune, but I guess I should have been less lazy and more tactful. I regret nothing. I find myself being thanked for “everything I've done.” I'm being thanked. This should make me happy, considering how often I would think to myself that being in the Student Council was a completely thankless job. It does make me happy, but I can't enjoy it fully."
NARRATOR: "I wonder how things would have turned out if our Student Council had grown as large as the one that's set to replace us. Even though they've only got two or three other members, it's enough that they have set roles. Not like us, where Shizune seemed to be the president, but that was it. The new council thanking me gives me a strange feeling. It's like coming back home and seeing that a tree you nurtured years before has grown. But I feel like I didn't nurture that tree enough. I wonder what more I could have done. It would likely make Shizune furious that I would feel distant from what I did in the Student Council this way, or that I'd imply I didn't do enough, but it's true. I was only following her. So, in a way, I also feel like I'm viewing that same tree from far away. As if I'm seeing it from the window of a train as it passes by."
NARRATOR: "I indulged in these thoughts for too long. When I snap out of it, I realize that I'm still standing there, surrounded by the new Student Council. I do the only thing I can do, and apologize for zoning out. Then, I thank them back. When they walk away, I enter the student council room, which looks a lot messier, but seems to have gained a computer. It makes sense; I recall hearing one of the clipboard girls talking about her plans to use a computer to make all the boring data entry Shizune does more tolerable. I can't remember which one said it, though. Aoi seems to be the more ambitious one, but then again, Keiko appears more serious. Well, it doesn't matter now. I'm not alone in the room, but instead of finding Shizune here like I expected, it's just Misha. She's sitting on Shizune's desk, like Shizune herself often does, swinging her legs back and forth. When our eyes meet, she hops off and inexplicably poses like a superhero."
MISHA: "Hi, Hicchan~! I'm surprised to see you here~!"
HISAO: "What are you doing?"
MISHA: "You first~."
HISAO: "I was looking for Shizune."
MISHA: "Me, too~! I thought she would be here, but I got Hicchan instead~!"
HISAO: "Gee, thanks."
MISHA: "Wahaha! Well~, this is good. Really, really~. I wanted to talk to you, anyway~."
HISAO: "About what?"
NARRATOR: "I take the time to glance around the room a little more. I see a hot plate. They are really living high."
MISHA: "I wanted to say sorry~, of course~, for all the trouble I made for you and Shicchan."
HISAO: "Don't call it “trouble.”"
MISHA: "Right~, right~."
HISAO: "Don't apologize to Shizune."
MISHA: "Ahaha~. Right~, right~. But that isn't why I'm here, Hicchan. I wouldn't apologize to Shicchan. Since you're here, I want to ask you a question."
MISHA: "Hicchan, what do you think it would take for Shicchan to be happy?"
HISAO: "World domination, obviously."
MISHA: "Wahaha~! Even though you're joking, Hicchan~... No, even if she could, it wouldn't make Shicchan happy. Only for a little while. Hicchan, have you ever heard of artists who tear up their paintings as soon as they finish them? Such people really exist in the world, you know~! remembered it all of a sudden. It's just like Shicchan, now that I think about it. Whenever Shicchan sets up a challenge for herself and completes it, she acts like her skills have no meaning any more. I wonder~, is it because she can't create anything permanent? It's just like those artists, and how they want to create a piece of art to leave behind~, a really great one~, but can't do it. It's really obvious when I look back at it~, but~, I didn't see it before. Now, I'm scared. I wonder if Shicchan will ever be happy."
HISAO: "No, I don't think so. Not about her ever being happy. I think you're wrong. Shizune is actually happy more often than I'd thought. I think it's actually kind of amazing. Usually, people don't think about that kind of stuff until they're middle aged or dying. Then they think “I want to leave something behind” or “I want to be remembered.”"
NARRATOR: "Like me. Only I skipped ahead a little. My life was short, and seemed even shorter after my heart attack. I didn't think about what I was leaving behind, because I very quickly thought there was almost nothing I was leaving behind. So all that was left was for me to stew in my own bitterness."
HISAO: "Shizune already wants to leave her mark somewhere. But she wants to do it by helping people. That's why celebrations are so important to her. She even wants to be a philanthropist. I think it's the best way to live, living on by what you give to others. Even if it's for a selfish reason, that's okay, too. Shizune is already happy, because if something goes well, there will always be someone else to see it and remember it. That's what makes her happy."
NARRATOR: "Misha sighs, arms stiff at her sides, hands tapping the air softly."
MISHA: "Before, I still thought... hm~... I might be able to make Shizune happy; and I was in a good place to do it before. Since I was her interpreter, I could always be with her. Maybe... And~, I thought I would do it by becoming like... Shicchan's shadow. I kept trying even when she rejected me. It felt like I was stuck and I couldn't do anything but watch Shicchan's back getting smaller while she kept going. I was scared, even though I should have just accepted it. It's hard. Maybe I could have at least understood Shicchan~. But it looks like I was completely wrong after all~... I didn't even know that, or think about it... Shicchan would call it a complete loss. Okay~, I'm done. That's it, Hicchan~. But~! Since you're the one who knows Shicchan best of all, you can't make her cry. Or I'll be angry~! I'm going to go overseas after this. I even have letters of recommendation, or I don't think I would be able to normally~! Maybe I'll study and become a sign language teacher over there? Who knows~! That means~! You have to look after Shicchan, okay?"
NARRATOR: "Misha's smile is as honest as ever, but she's obviously changed. The look in her eyes is that of a much more attentive girl. It seems to be true that hardship builds wisdom. It reminds me of the look in Shizune's eyes. I wonder what Shizune might have been through to have become who she is. I can take a guess. Or maybe she was always like that. I want to see her even more, and suggest to Misha that we should look for her together. Of course, it's just a pretext to spend more time with a friend. It's strange how it hasn't been long since we last hung out together, the three of us, in the span of a routine student council day. Yet, it seems like it was long ago. Thinking about the future can put that kind of lens over the past. Speaking of lenses..."
NARRATOR: "Outside, Yuuko is standing around, fiddling with a tiny, modern-looking camera in her hands. It would be unnoticeable if it weren't metallic enough to reflect the sunlight. Misha calls out to her. I thought we were supposed to be looking for Shizune."
MISHA: "Hi~ hi~! What are you doing~?"
YUUKO: "I'm just taking photos of everyone."
MISHA: "That's obvious~!"
NARRATOR: "Awkward. Misha, I'll never forget how you taught me that someone can hold so many secrets, and still have a massive lack of tact."
HISAO: "Where's my photo?"
YUUKO: "Y-you want a copy? I... don't know. Well... Only if you promise to keep it a secret, or else everyone will want one too."
MISHA: "That happened to me in elementary school, only it was with candy~!"
YUUKO: "Okay... I'll take a photo of you now, then..."
HISAO: "Ah, wait, I'm not ready. I was just kidding."
MISHA: "Hicchan, make a peace sign~!"
HISAO: "I'm not going to do that."
NARRATOR: "The camera flash goes off, blinding me. Yuuko shields herself behind it, letting out a moan of frustration. You're not supposed to turn the flash on outdoors. She starts apologizing unnecessarily, and then quietly slips away."
HISAO: "Ah, wait."
MISHA: "Did you see Shicchan around here~?"
YUUKO: "Yes... In front of the gate."
NARRATOR: "I can barely get it out before I have to start following behind Misha. Fortunately, not for very long. The gate is barely a minute's walk from here, even though even that can be tiring for me sometimes. We see Shizune with the Student Council; they're probably thanking her too. As soon as she sees us, she shoos them away. Which is very easy, since I doubt any of them can understand sign language or use it, so they're not too sad about leaving. Which in turn makes me wonder why they would thank her without someone who can, but it's the thought that counts. Misha immediately hugs Shizune, and then leans against the gate, next to her. I, on the other hand, decide to hang back a little, and let them talk. After all, Misha wanted to talk to Shizune this whole time. I can wait. I even turn away, so I don't “eavesdrop” on their conversation. I end up losing track of the time. When I look at my watch, it's already been ten minutes. I wonder if they're done, and turn around to find them behind me."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "What are you thinking about?"
HISAO: "Boring philosophical things that I don't want to talk about. Don't worry, I'm not thinking about it too hard."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "Good. Getting philosophical at a time like this would be the worst thing you could do."
HISAO: "Yeah. I just want to stand here for a bit. It's relaxing."
MISHA: "Wahaha~! It was~ a busy week."
HISAO: "Not really, not for me."
NARRATOR: "I know that they must have been busy. But I think I know what I want to do now, and when it hit me, I didn't feel particularly fired up, or anxious. It is the opposite. I feel at peace for the first time in a long time, and I want to savor that feeling a little more. I think that I want to teach here. As soon as I thought this, a long, winding road appeared in my mind. An uncertain road, that leads back here. I wonder if I'll be able to meet someone in the future like me. Someone filled with bitterness. I want to talk to that person, since I can't talk to myself. I want to tell them that life is too short; something that couldn't be told to me, only shown. I want to do it without pity. If I had been pitied, I'm sure that I'd have only died a little more. When I think about that first week, I still think about how well it went. So well that it could only be called the result of kindness. I feel like I want to show others the same kindness. And I also want to keep chasing Shizune."
MISHA: "What did the new Student Council want, Shicchan~?"
NARRATOR: "It's hard to daydream when you have to deal with Misha's voice."
HISAO: "I didn't know that they had someone who knew sign language."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "They don't. I think it was most likely just a goodbye, so I appreciate it, even though I couldn't tell them. How did you know I was here?"
HISAO: "Is it supposed to be a secret? Anyway, we just asked Yuuko. Did she take a photo of you, too?"
SHIZUNE: (signing) "Yes, without asking me first. Since Yuuko doing anything spur-of-the-moment is rare, though, I'll let it go."
NARRATOR: "She snaps her fingers, more because I think she likes it, than out of realization of an idea."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "We should take a photo of the three of us. We haven't taken a student council photo yet. Now's the perfect chance. But, if I have to look at this picture a year from now, I don't want us staring back at me."
MISHA: "Hm~? What does that mean, Shicchan?"
SHIZUNE: (signing) "Pictures are supposed to capture the moment, isn't that right? Without a doubt. They're not portraits. Just standing around would be so stiff. It wouldn't even capture how I feel. I feel like we'll meet again. So, this isn't an occasion to take such a serious photo. It should be a “see you later” type of photo; not a big deal. It should be something more... festive."
HISAO: "Oh boy."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "Like this. Follow me."
NARRATOR: "Shizune poses like a musketeer, so quickly that I'm sure even she knows it's silly."
HISAO: "Do we really have to do... such a cheesy pose?"
SHIZUNE: (signing) "I can think of no better pose. Misha, go find Yuuko!"
MISHA: "I don't like this pose either, but I think it's kind of nice~."
HISAO: "That doesn't even make sense."
NARRATOR: "She's already gone, and returns dragging Yuuko behind her."
NARRATOR: "The flash is off. A red LED blinks three times above it after Yuuko's finger presses the button. Shizune glances at both of us to make sure we have the timing down. Synchronize watches. We jump."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "I bet that turned out excellently. Okay, ..."
MISHA: "Now, let's get one with Yuuko, too~!"
YUUKO: "N-no, please..."
HISAO: "That's not necessary."
NARRATOR: "I want a copy of this photo, too. I'll likely die younger than the average person. My life could unexpectedly burn out at any time. I don't have any time to waste, then. I want to live as much as possible. I also want to see other people smile from what I've made and done. Living vicariously through the happiness of others doesn't seem so bad. Feeling joy through another person's happiness doesn't seem like such a bad thing. It's the easiest way I can think of to draw out my own life, and give it distinction. Maybe this is the meaning that Shizune has found for herself, although it's just my theory. People find themselves alone often in their lives, and without direction. However, people can take refuge in moments of happiness. They can dot a person's life like stops on a train map. Or waypoints of memory on a long trail. hese individual moments, on reflection, can give a person's life fulfillment. Every friend, and festival, and joyful meeting, and joyful parting. I want to be able to ask Shizune one day if I'm right. I want to spend the time I have with her. Finally, I want to make Shizune smile for herself."
HISAO: "I love you."
NARRATOR: "I pause, wondering if she'll look at me, confused, and ask why I'd say it out of the blue. She doesn't."
HISAO: "Do they do that reunion thing here?"
SHIZUNE: (signing) "Of course they do."
MISHA: "A Student Council member should know that~!"
SHIZUNE: (signing) "Sooner than that, though, okay? Both of you."
SHIZUNE: (signing) "Yuuko! You do the pose, too! Afterwards, we can go for tea."
NARRATOR: "Shizune laughs, as if she doesn't have a care in the world, Misha's laughter joining with hers as easily as if it were her own. We'll meet again."