NARRATOR: "The next morning, like every second Monday morning until he says otherwise, I have an appointment with the nurse. They allow me to skip part of my first class in the morning, and I don't feel any shame in skipping the rest, either. Rather than being thankful I get to miss world history, I instead feel dread when I think about these appointments. I wake up at the normal time anyway and wash myself in the bathroom I share with Kenji, tidying my sleep-disheveled hair. I quickly get dressed and put my laundry in the basket. I pack up for the school day. I have all my homework done, like usual, so I have a bit of free time now. There's no point in going to the morning class for 20 minutes before I'd have to get to the nurse's office, so I lie down on my bed and read a book until it's time to go. The door to the nurse's office is open, which is unusual. I enter while knocking to announce my arrival. Looking up from his computer screen, he motions me to take a seat with a friendly hello. Steam wafts up from a piping hot cup of coffee on his desk. It's probably not his first today."
NURSE: "How are you feeling on this wonderful morning, Hisao?"
HISAO: "I'm all right, I think. It was cold yesterday because of the rain so I woke up feeling a bit groggy."
NURSE: "You too, huh? Quite a few kids got caught without an umbrella, so we've been spending time handing out masks and curing sniffles. Hmm... all right, today it's tests day. Give me your arm."
NARRATOR: "I extend my left arm towards him, keeping my face expressionless. The nurse ties a rubber tourniquet around my bicep with a practiced movement and briskly goes about his business. I don't think anybody really likes getting stuck with needles, but at least I got over my distaste for them. I had to. Now, I barely even twitch at the moment of truth. Once that's done, a blood pressure check follows, then there are checklists and questionnaires to go through. The nurse nods and scribbles in my answers to the questions as I give them."
NURSE: "All right. Let's have a listen, now."
NARRATOR: "I unbutton my shirt and put it neatly on the back of the chair I was using while he puts on his stethoscope. I know by heart the order of places where he's going to listen to my lungs and heartbeat. I adjust my breathing to be even and deep without even being asked. It's become routine now, for both of us. It's funny, this is pretty much the only time in one's life when you really concentrate on breathing and nothing else. It has always amused me. The nurse lifts the cold steel stethoscope from my chest and places it a few inches lower, listening again. The contact of the metal makes me flinch on reflex, even though I was expecting it. He furrows his brow, but I can't tell if it's because he's unhappy or if he's trying to pick something specific out among the complex multitude of irregularities in my heartbeat."
HISAO: "Is there something wrong?"
NURSE: "Please don't talk."
NARRATOR: "I shut up and become more anxious. The nurse is nice, but I can't help disliking these mandatory checkups. I wonder if I'm going to end up hating all medical appointments from now on because of these. He finally lifts the circular metal plate from my chest, allowing me to talk again."
NURSE: "Everything seems to be fine. Are you feeling all right yourself?"
HISAO: "I suppose. I was out yesterday when it was raining, and yeah, I really felt a bit under the weather in the morning. Maybe I caught a cold."
NURSE: "Were you with Emi? She came down with a cold, too. My people told her to stay in bed for a day or two."
HISAO: "Really? I mean, I was with her but I didn't know she got sick."
NARRATOR: "I guess it was a dumb thing after all, for her to go out in the rain like that."
NURSE: "Yeah. Well, let's put that aside. Everything seems to check out for you, but remember to be careful."
HISAO: "Of course. I really don't want to go back to the hospital."
NARRATOR: "He catches something - maybe repressed terror, I don't know - in my voice and glances up from some papers he was looking at."
NURSE: "Hey, don't worry. At this stage, it would take a huge crash in your condition to get you rehospitalized."
NARRATOR: "It doesn't really reassure me, but grumbling about it to him won't make any difference. I quietly take my leave. Walking along the corridor from the auxiliary building to the main school building, I encounter a young female nurse coming the other way. She smiles at me when we pass by each other. The lobby is empty of people. No surprise, since classes are still going on. I hear muffled sounds of discussion coming from behind the first floor classroom doors. I glance at my watch. I'd have to rush to get to my classroom in time, and I don't feel like going to class anyway, so I decide to climb up to the roof and have an extra-long lunch break. Emi promised she'd bring something for me today but if she's sick, that's probably not going to happen. I'm not feeling hungry anyway, so it's all the same."
NARRATOR: "The climb up the steep stairwell to the roof is oddly liberating, almost like losing weight. I feel satisfaction that it doesn't wind me as badly as it did the first time I came up here. I push open the squeaky door at the top and step into sunlight. The chain link fence allows for a grand view over the treetops, all the way to the gray silhouettes of downtown, further away. The dreary weather of yesterday is just a memory now. The silvery blue sky seems to be a mere arm's reach away. I forget for a moment that I'm in a bad mood. The warmth of the sun soaks into my bones, making me drowsy and lazy instead."
NARRATOR: "The bells ring for lunch break, startling me back into reality. Soon afterwards, the quad below me bursts into life. Students pour out of the doors down on the ground floor, intent on enjoying lunch at the quad and the lush gardens in this perfect weather. When I hear the door to the stairwell being pushed open, I don't bother turning to see who it is. The intruder starts coming towards me with uneven footsteps. The little riverstones the roof is covered with rattle and crunch underfoot. The footsteps stop a few feet behind me, followed by a silence. I look upwards, into the glowing eye of the sun, absorbing its warmth with my whole body."
RIN: "What are you doing?"
NARRATOR: "I turn around out of courtesy at her first words, to behold the slim, awkward figure of Rin Tezuka. She looks very much like herself today, too. Her hair is maybe a tad messier than usual, as if she just got out of bed. She stands with her weight shifted onto one foot, looking at me with mild curiosity, as if I were something in a store's display window."
HISAO: "I don't know. Just spacing out, I guess. What about you?"
RIN: "Emi promised food. We usually eat here."
HISAO: "I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed. I heard Emi came down with a cold."
RIN: "Oh. I guess that makes sense. She wasn't in class."
HISAO: "It's not that common to get a cold in June though. You don't think she went running at the track afterwards like she said? The rain just kept going."
HISAO: "In the rain?"
RIN: "In the rain."
NARRATOR: "That sounds like a bit too much for just keeping up with training regime. Emi is a hard-headed one, though, so I can see her running in the downpour just because she “had to.”"
HISAO: "Well, that's obviously overdoing it. Probably why she came down with that cold, too. But I guess it's kinda cool."
RIN: "Speaking of that, I'm not feeling well either. I... ACHOO!"
NARRATOR: "Rin sneezes pretty hard, failing to stop it in time. She cranes her head down to wipe her nose on her shoulder, so deciding that would be too unladlylike I pull out my handkerchief and hold it to her nose."
HISAO: "Here. Bless you."
NARRATOR: "She clears her nose and I dab the handkerchief gently on it, wiping it clean. Her nose is really cute. Oddly enough it's probably the girliest part of Rin's face. I think I'm blushing a little, but Rin doesn't notice."
RIN: "Thanks - I think I might be coming up or down with something, too. Like I was saying."
HISAO: "Hope not."
NARRATOR: "Rin doesn't seem to be to bothered about eating, so despite the lack of Emi-provided lunch, we stay up on the rooftop. She comes over and stands next to me, right up against the fence, looking into the same abstract distance as I am. Nobody else seems to be coming around to intrude upon this calmness, either. It's quiet and peaceful. What does one do on a lunch break if not eat? It turns out that, between the two of us, we don't really know. Fortunately, passing time is an activity that manages itself just fine. Even though there's no conversation to fill the silence between the passing seconds, no pointless activities like cloud-gazing to spend upon the minutes between now and then, time marches on relentlessly. I keep checking the time on my watch, then decide it's a dumb thing to do. Instead, I try to hold out for as long as possible before I check it again. Maybe I can hold out for six or seven minutes."
NARRATOR: "Rin remains silent, idly looking up at the cerulean expanse above us. I wonder why, more often than not, we don't speak much. She said that she doesn't like speaking because of her perceived difficulties with expressing herself properly. As for me, I think I just got sucked into the habit at the hospital, where I spent such a long stretch of time never really talking to anyone. Most of the time I feel comfortable about this quiet mood. And even when I get the feeling that I have to break the silence, it's always so difficult to come up with something to talk about when it's with Rin. She and I are on such different wavelengths that nothing seems to be on common ground."
HISAO: "What is that you like about the sky so much?"
NARRATOR: "She turns to me, her eyes dark and serious."
RIN: "Sky is the only thing that is perfect. I know it. You could say I'm an expert of sky if you wanted. And I am even if you didn't want to. A sky expert. It's always different, but it's always perfect also when it's different."
NARRATOR: "I follow her gaze up into the boundless blue expanse, thinking of her words."
HISAO: "Have you ever wanted to be something different?"
RIN: "It wouldn't be so bad to be the sky."
HISAO: "No, I mean, someone else, someone different. To go to a normal school like everyone else, not have to worry about stuff..."
RIN: "What stuff?"
NARRATOR: "I try to find the right words for a moment, but can't manage to form a sentence that I'd be comfortable with actually using."
HISAO: "Man, I don't really want to say it aloud."
RIN: "Try. I'm not so good at mind reading."
HISAO: "Don't you ever want to not be disabled?"
NARRATOR: "She thinks about this and then shakes her head, frowning."
RIN: "That's a hard question. I don't know what to say."
HISAO: "It's okay if you don't say anything. For some reason, I'm just so unsatisfied with who I am right now that I'm constantly thinking stuff like that. It's pretty hard to admit, but there it is."
NARRATOR: "Honestly, I feel relieved about finally saying it aloud to someone, even if it's just Rin."
RIN: "I think I want to be different, sometimes. I've thought about changing myself lately, but it's a bit scary, like walking backwards with your eyes closed. The difficult part is to know where your toes are not pointing at. I mean, directions. Even if I don't do anything, I would never stay the same. It's like my old paintings. They are different than what I paint now, because I'm different, but they are still my paintings so there's something same. That's really strange. I am different every day, but I'm still me every day. Who am I then?"
HISAO: "Is that a riddle?"
RIN: "If you want it to be. I don't know the right answer though, so you have to come up with it yourself."
HISAO: "Well, it's the sky, isn't it? Going by your definition just now."
NARRATOR: "I actually manage to surprise her by that. Maybe she had already forgotten about it."
RIN: "That's right! But I was thinking about myself when I said that. Very strange. Could it be that I actually am the sky?"
HISAO: "I don't think that's possible. Your logic's a bit off somewhere."
NARRATOR: "She looks down and shuts up and I can see she's quickly going over the deduction mentally, seemingly unhappy with the result she finally arrives at."
RIN: "Yeah, maybe I'm not the sky. Would make sense, I have a hard time knowing what kind of a person I am."
HISAO: "You're not the only one."
RIN: "It's like my mind is in some other place than the rest of me."
RIN: "Yeah. I wonder how it got there."
NARRATOR: "I have no answer, so a brief silence falls between us for a moment. I shift my gaze back to the sky above us. The last time I really paid much attention to the sky was... I guess it must've been at the hospital. I could only see a thin strip of sky from the window of my room. If I walked up to the windows and pressed my face against the cold glass, the strip became bigger, but not by much. That sky made me feel sad and lonely, a reminder of the world on the other side. I wonder if there's another world beyond the sky we see from up here on the school's roof, as well. I can't stop comparing life at Yamaku to my hospitalization, but I really should. I'm not there any more. The narrow sky from the window of my hospital room, the faces of the doctors, the faces of my parents. The off-white walls everywhere. Iwanako's letter, echoing the words she never said. They're things of the past now. I wish I could forget everything up until now and that time would stop completely. There would be only me, Rin, and the sky, an eternal lunch break on this rooftop. Perfect, unchanging, and forever."
HISAO: "I'm not sure if I like or hate this school."
RIN: "I could have gone to a normal school if I wanted, but I chose to come here."
RIN: "I just decided I would. Kind of like melon or plum jelly."
HISAO: "Do you think it was a good idea? I mean, there are a lot of good things about this school, but I think there are a few bad things also."
RIN: "I know. I kind of collect people, because they are interesting. People here really are amazing. Most of them. But not all. Some people can't take it. They hurt too much. It gets really bad sometimes, you know. They hurt. I wonder if you're like that too? I hope not. I don't like things like that."
HISAO: "Hey, I'm not your case study. And I'm not going to give up and die or anything. Anyway, I meant more that this place is too distant from the real world."
RIN: "What's the real world?"
HISAO: "Everything out there. Real people, with normal everyday lives that fit together like a puzzle."
RIN: "You don't think we aren't like that? Real people?"
HISAO: "Maybe we aren't. Well, no, we are. I just meant that it feels more like we're the leftover pieces."
NARRATOR: "Rin thinks for a while, her almond-shaped eyes narrowing as she bites her lip a little bit, like a child."
RIN: "Is it hard to be disabled?"
NARRATOR: "Her question earns a dry chuckle from me."
HISAO: "You tell me. You've been in this business a lot longer than I have."
NARRATOR: "She thinks about that for another while."
RIN: "I don't really feel that disabled. I mean I do pretty much everything differently, but it's not that hard. I can always practice. I've started to practice food things this year. I think I'd want to learn to cook in a real kitchen someday."
HISAO: "That's admirable, but I don't think it's just a state of mind."
RIN: "Maybe not to you."
NARRATOR: "I have no good counter to that, so I concede by falling silent. The situation is making me more and more confused. I know what I want, but don't know how to reach it. Rin seems to believe she can simply will herself into the shape she thinks she needs to be, but can't decide whether she wants to be a bird or a butterfly."
RIN: "I think, in the end I'm not really that happy with who I am either, but that doesn't mean I regret being who I am. That's the thing that's wrong with you, Hisao."
NARRATOR: "I've only started to process that rather blunt statement before Rin suddenly hugs me."
HISAO: "What are you doing?"
NARRATOR: "I've never been hugged by a girl with no arms before. To be honest, it doesn't really, physically feel like a hug. The awkward way she presses her body against mine and the lack of embracing arms makes it feel like she fell on top of me."
NARRATOR: "But the warmth of a real hug is still there, and that's how I recognize it for what it is."
RIN: "I'm hugging you, Hisao."
HISAO: "I know that, but..."
RIN: "Is it wrong? I thought this is what you're supposed to do. I'm not really used to this kind of thing. The first time Emi hugged me I got surprised and kicked her in the stomach. I can kick pretty hard so she hasn't been hugging me an awful lot after that."
HISAO: "It's not wrong. Just, no, it's just me... things are a bit hard for me, for the time being. I can't seem to react properly to anything."
RIN: "Really? So it is hard being disabled after all?"
NARRATOR: "I guess she has me cornered there. I don't have the energy to start arguing against it, but I feel like I have to get something out."
HISAO: "Well, I... no, it's not hard. I think it's just me overthinking things. I really wish I didn't feel so sorry for myself all the time."
NARRATOR: "I wonder if I always was this fragile or if I became this way after my incident. Nothing had ever truly shaken my world like that before, so there's no telling. Rin presses her cheek against me tightly. I can feel the warmth of her body close against me. Her body temperature feels really high, as if she had absorbed the sunlight into herself and was now sharing it with me. Or perhaps it's a natural state for her. It's the most comforting thing I've felt in a long, long time."
RIN: "Wow, your heartbeat really does sound really weird. It's like a drunken percussion orchestra."
HISAO: "Please don't say stuff like that. I get very uncomfortable."
NARRATOR: "I laugh at her comment anyway, in an attempt to ease the tension. It sounds a little bit too forced."
HISAO: "Man, I'm sorry I'm such a mess."
RIN: "It's okay. It's the best part of you."
HISAO: "Hearing that doesn't make me happy."
NARRATOR: "She breaks off the hug and settles down. An awkward silence falls upon us like a blanket; me feeling embarrassed about myself and Rin trying to arrange her expression to something she likes. One last time, I glance upwards."
HISAO: "This rooftop is really great. It's like I'm just a little bit closer to the sky."
RIN: "I know a better place, but we can't go there on lunch break. I can take you there sometime if you want."
NARRATOR: "The bells ring for the beginning of the afternoon classes and Rin stands up to make her way downstairs. I don't hurry after her, deciding to stay up here for just a little while longer."
HISAO: "Thanks for the hug."
RIN: "Thanks for not kicking me."
NARRATOR: "After Rin leaves I finally let tears roll down my cheeks and cry for my condition for the first and only time in my life. Then I cast away that hollow person lying on the hospital bed, forever."
Next Scene: Indecision