NARRATOR: "The first thing I do this morning is trip once again over Kenji's package as I get out of bed, finding myself diving headfirst into the floor before I'm even fully awake. I want to smack this thing with the first blunt object I can find, like I'm going for a home run, but I don't even have the energy for that this early in the morning... and it would likely damage whatever's inside. And that would be mean. I slide it into the hallway. It sails along the smooth floor with little difficulty and stops with a soft and almost inaudible bump on colliding with Kenji's door. Immediately, a dozen locks unbolt in succession like a mounting symphony."

KENJI: "Who is it?"

NARRATOR: "He says, as he blindly steps forward into the hallway anyway, somehow stepping over the box in a way that would be uncharacteristically, impressively graceful if it weren't for the fact I know it was wholly accidental."

HISAO: "It's me, I got your mail. You're standing over it."

KENJI: "I know. Thanks a lot, man."

HISAO: "...Yeah, whatever. So what's in it?"

NARRATOR: "He cringes, instantly turning very defensive and agitated."

KENJI: "It's nothing."

HISAO: "Come on, tell me, I'm curious. And you know, I almost broke my neck falling over it, and before that I had to carry the stupidly large box around with it blocking my vision, crossing roads with it in front of me... I think you can at least tell me what's inside in return."

KENJI: "It's secret stuff. I can't tell you, because then it wouldn't be very secret and shit. It's nothing important."

HISAO: "Well, if it's nothing important, you can tell me."

KENJI: "If it's nothing important, why do you have to know?"

HISAO: "Why is that wrong?"

KENJI: "Why do you have to know?"

HISAO: "Why can't I know?"

KENJI: "Why are you answering my questions with questions?"

HISAO: "Why won't you answer my first question?"

KENJI: "Why won't you answer my last question?!"

NARRATOR: "I realize our voices are getting higher with each reply. Down the hall, a door pops open and someone sticks his head out quizzically to see what is going on. We must look like such tools, but I bet I'm the only one out of the two of us with enough shame to realize it."

HISAO: "Fine, you can take it to your grave. I have to get ready for school anyway."

KENJI: "Damn, no. Why are you so hasty to leave? Stick around a little. You want some coffee? It's been a while. You know, I thought you were dead since you were so slow with the package delivery."

HISAO: "You're lucky I was willing to do package delivery in the first place, smartass!"

KENJI: "Whoa, calm down. Man, you are so confrontational. Is it because of the Student Council thing? I hear you hang out with them now."

HISAO: "You heard it from me. When I told you."

KENJI: "Really? Yeah, well, whatever, man. The point is they are terrible. You're the new guy, so of course you wouldn't know, but around here she's a very divisive figure. Before you came here, she tried to institute a badge policy. It's a long story, so maybe you should sit down."

NARRATOR: "I look around for a chair, but can't find one as we are in a goddamn hallway. I raise a finger and start thinking that maybe I should tell him that, but he's already started talking. Not wanting to waste the arm movement, I look at my watch instead."

KENJI: "It would have been a real reign of terror, if it had happened."

HISAO: "Wait, you're judging her based on something that didn't even happen?"

KENJI: "Yes. Anyway, her idea was like merit badges, but there would also be demerit badges."

HISAO: "What would those do?"

KENJI: "I don't know, it never happened. It seemed bad, though, so when I heard about it I didn't leave my room for a few weeks."

HISAO: "So you heard there would be massive change and hid in your room, trying to just ride the change out."

KENJI: "Nah, I decided to do something about it. I found the student council office after a while and marched right in with a list of demands and a bunch of people I grabbed in order to make myself look like I had supporters."

HISAO: "Wait, so not only did it not happen, but no one even cared?"

NARRATOR: "Kenji doesn't hear me, having gotten a good momentum going. Wrapped up in the energy of his own ranting, he starts to completely flip out and flail his arms, appearing to wildly throw gang signs."

KENJI: "I walked up to the desk and said to her, “Hey you, fascist woman! What is this badge idea? How out of touch can you be, here in your ivory tower, smugly looking down upon us like we're just a bunch of idiots? Who do you think you are? Your level of elitism is terrible, you're probably one of those outrageous rich people who have chaffeurs drive them around slums so they can point and laugh... ...and only drink pricey coffee beans shat out by the last living dinosaur and brewed in a solid gold skull. And how could you? Go open up a history book; don't you know that the bourgeoisie are always overthrown in a bloody revolution for shit like this? Stupid! You're an idiot! Sure, the revolutionaries usually end up turning everything into an utter clusterfuck later on, but a maniac is the only kind of person who would create a policy like this...'s like something I would create to make people suffer, only real and you want to institutionalize it! Where will this desecration of our rights end? We are people! This is not justice!” That's what I said."

KENJI: "Then I added a cry of “They can take our things, but they'll never take our freeeeeedoooooom!” to appeal to the masses like in that movie about the life of William Wallace where they took his things but not his freedom, and then killed him. ...But she just ignored me and didn't even look up from writing in her little paper shit. Maybe I overwhelmed her with my logic, so badly that she just retreated into denial. Maybe she is just an asshole. Either way, she didn't reply, and the future refused to change. To top it off, on the way back I realized I had lost my student ID somewhere. This is the story of my life. A constant and seemingly futile struggle. Like trying to climb up a brick wall with sponges for hands."

HISAO: "Hey, you said nothing changed, but she didn't make everyone wear a bunch of stupid badges. So, it did change."

KENJI: "Yeah, that's true. Okay, maybe they're not so bad, then."

NARRATOR: "I guess that counts for something, if I can get Kenji to admit that maybe two women may not be so bad after all. I'll take it. Especially if it allows me to slip out of this conversation; I didn't realize how much time had gone by. I try to run through my usual morning routine as quickly as possible. I check my watch again as I leave the dorms and see that I'm already late. Fortunately, the rest of the day goes more smoothly, and after classes are over, I head to meet with Shizune again."

NARRATOR: "Behind the school, I catch her leaning against a completed stand with parts of it still flecked with bits of paper and tape, remnants of signs from the last time it was used. Absentmindedly spinning a nail in her hand, she hasn't noticed me yet. The temptation to sneak up on her is unbearable. Years of watching foreign wildlife documentaries have prepared me for this. I'm downwind, conditions are favorable. However, the more I think about it, the more it seems like a bad idea. If get caught halfway I'll look like an idiot, and if she doesn't know it's me, I could end up with an injury. Either way, I'll also look a little insensitive. So, it would probably be best not to try anything funny... as disappointing as it is. I walk in front of her, startling her a little."

HISAO: (signing) "Why so surprised? Did I catch you slacking off?"

SHIZUNE: (signing) "No, I was taking a break."

HISAO: (signing) "You don't look like you even broke a sweat. That's some break there, president."

NARRATOR: "Shizune's eyes dart back and forth momentarily, and I think I've managed to fluster her. There's exasperation on her face, and a little tension as well, but she can't back down; that would be unthinkable for her. Her fingers dance across each other impatiently."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "You're acting competitive today. Are you trying to get my blood boiling? Do you want to make it a contest? We'll race to see who can construct the most stalls by sundown."

HISAO: (signing) "No, no! I'm teasing you. That's okay, it's not a real Student Council if you can't tease the Student Council president a little. You agree, don't you?"

SHIZUNE: (signing) "That isn't in the student council charter, so it isn't true."

HISAO: (signing) "There is no charter!"

NARRATOR: "At least, I don't think there is. The only thing they pledge loyalty to are a stack of takeout menus."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Anyway, it's good that you're finally here, even if you could have been earlier. Pick up a hammer and we'll resume where we left off."

NARRATOR: "As we work assembling stalls again, I slowly realize that it's really much less work than I would have expected. In fact, according to Shizune, we should be done by the end of the day with a little luck. The last time I did something like this for them, it took her, Misha, and myself almost four days to do it. It can't be just my imagination."

HISAO: (signing) "You know, this doesn't seem like that much work."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Because it isn't."

NARRATOR: "That answer leaves me wanting a little more. Knowing that it isn't the best, Shizune puts down her hammer to elaborate."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "It would be impossible for two people to do that much work in less than a week. The truth is that I don't dismantle half the stalls, I just store them someplace else. Actually, more like I hide them in plain sight."

NARRATOR: "She waggles a finger mischievously."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "But that's a secret, and it's not proper to reveal the tricks of the trade."

HISAO: (signing) "You're not a magician."

NARRATOR: "Winking, she takes out two plastic containers from her bag, then puts them down on a nearby board before raising her hands slightly as if to say “ta-da!”"

SHIZUNE: (signing) "I made lunch today for both of us. You can have this one. The food shifted in my bag and now some of it is mixed together."

NARRATOR: "She hands me one of the containers. I open it. It looks delicious, if a little simple. She hands me a pair of chopsticks, as if she had just remembered to, and I eat what looks like some grilled beef."

HISAO: (signing) "It's very tasty. You don't like your food touching other food?"

SHIZUNE: (signing) "I do not."

HISAO: (signing) "You're very picky."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Sometimes I mix my food on my own, but not always, and not everything. I don't like it when it's done for me. What is important is the choice."

NARRATOR: "She points decisively to emphasize it, and then breaks her chopsticks apart to eat her own meal. As I continue to eat, I notice two things. The first is that almost everything I'm eating besides the rice is fried. Even the vegetables are fried. And there's so much meat. Does she eat this kind of stuff all the time? I wonder how she manages to stay so thin in spite of it. The second thing I notice is that I can't talk to her while eating. Talking with your mouth full is a little rude anyway, but with our hands holding our chopsticks and bowls, communication between us is impossible. Just like yesterday. Even though we're spending time together, even though I took the time to learn sign language, it feels like I'm talking to her less. Despite that, it also feels like I'm understanding her more."

NARRATOR: "I hear the sound of something tapping against one of the stands and look up to see Lilly standing off to my side, feeling her way around with her cane."

HISAO: "Hi."

NARRATOR: "I narrowly catch myself before I can say “didn't see you there.”"

LILLY: "Oh, Hisao, is that you? I thought that I smelled something delicious cooking, and wondered who it might be."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "What is she saying?"

NARRATOR: "It's hard to move my hands in parallel to saying something completely different to Lilly. This has to be why Misha just signs everything all the time. A bit sillier, but it seems like it would simplify things a lot. Shizune tents her fingers delightedly at my translation, as if from hearing a joke."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "All of this food was cooked hours ago, but for someone as slow as yourself, who can't even turn in a piece of paper without being a week late, I guess your perception of time would have to be a little different!"

HISAO: "That's... not very nice."

NARRATOR: "A frown crosses Lilly's face in response to a reply to something she didn't hear."

HISAO: "Ah, sorry. I'm just having a late lunch here. The Student Council president cooked everything."

LILLY: "Is the Student Council president here right now?"

HISAO: "She's right here."

LILLY: "I apologize, I didn't notice. Normally her level of presence is much higher. I was not aware that the Student Council serves lunch outdoors, why wasn't I invited? I think that it is good to have enough free time to be able to do things like this, however."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "What is she saying?"


SHIZUNE: (signing) "If I were to invite you anywhere, you would just show up late."

NARRATOR: "But Shizune's words are outside of Lilly's perception, a fact that is by the second increasingly maddening to her."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Translate for me completely, please."

NARRATOR: "What polite phrasing. It's a shame she's essentially asking me to let her fully release the dogs of war. Still, I can't just do nothing. The feeling of being unable to even respond and be understood is so isolating. She would never forgive me. I'll just try to soften her words a little."

HISAO: "Well, actually, this was all cooked a while ago."

LILLY: "Really? That's nice."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Turn over here, it's very disrespectful to not look at the person you're speaking to. That isn't the way a prim and proper lady should conduct herself."

HISAO: "Half of what I'm saying is really what Shizune is saying. She doesn't like it when people don't look in her direction when she's trying to make a point. She's, uh, to the right of my voice."

NARRATOR: "Although in this case I can understand why Lilly wouldn't. This is a very awkward situation and it's daunting being the sole conduit for dialogue between the two of them. Truthfully, I had forgotten what happened the last time they butted heads like this. It's clear Shizune remembers, and Lilly is being pretty hostile herself, in her own way."

LILLY: "I'm sorry, such formalities slipped my mind completely. I forgot that the Student Council president is the type of person who would demand such respect and adherence to the rules at all times. I suppose student government requires you to keep a tight ship. Then again, she certainly has time for her own fun as well, so that must not be completely true."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Student Council is not a dictatorship, nor a zero-sum game!"

NARRATOR: "Shizune points at Lilly with her finger out like the barrel of a gun and snaps her fingers explosively, causing her to flinch and become visibly upset."

LILLY: "Is that so? Then that makes it more impressive that you have been a part of it for so long, playing it as though it were one. I admire the fact that you are so tenacious. To manage it all, you must be so responsible as well."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Not as much as I would like to be. You can't complain about yourself, though, can you? You're very responsible; actions like requesting a deadline to be extended and then running all the way through to the next deadline? That's the very model of responsibility!"

HISAO: "Shizune is happy to hear that. But, apparently you're pretty responsible yourself, she says."

LILLY: "Does she really?"

HISAO: "More or less..."

NARRATOR: "Lilly doesn't seem very happy."

HISAO: "We're not holding a cookout, we're just taking a little lunch break. We're actually out here building stalls for the festival."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "You wouldn't know, since you never go outside. Did you run out of tea?"

HISAO: "Are you going into town? Shopping?"

LILLY: "No. As I said before, I was just passing by, in case you did not hear. I would hate to interrupt the Student Council president. You're not doing anything now, but you must both be very busy. In any case, Hisao, I'm sure that the Student Council president will be able to find or make work for the both of you if she needs to."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "I'll devour you!"

HISAO: "Yeah, very busy."

NARRATOR: "“Devour” is a hard word. I'm pleased that I can read it. This isn't time to celebrate, thought, not over that. Instead, it looks like they might stop squabbling. I would drink to that."

LILLY: "Have a nice day, Hisao. Goodbye, Student Council president."

HISAO: "Thanks, you too."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Stay classy."

NARRATOR: "As soon as Lilly leaves, Shizune dives into the remains of her lunch as quickly as possible, as if each bite she shovels away is a means to forgetting any of this ever happened. When she is done, she heads right back to hammering with the same mindset. It's good that she's working off her frustration, but now it doesn't look like she is in any mood to talk any more. About two hours later, she stops, having mowed through the rest of the stalls nonstop in that time. It still feels hard to approach her, and I think about how easily a conversation can die. After it took so long to be able to get her alone and speak to her directly, it almost hurts."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Your translation was good."

HISAO: (signing) "Really?"

SHIZUNE: (signing) "First class!"

NARRATOR: "She punctuates it with a thumbs up."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "...For your level. There aren't many deaf people in the school, and sign language classes have been on the edge of getting cut for a while now. I'm sure you don't have many classmates, am I right? If you're only learning sign language now, your speed is going to be limited. That is why interest in it wanes, because it takes more effort than normal just to communicate. I imagine it's the same with all languages. In such a situation, conversations in sign language are less ... than they would inherently be to start with."

HISAO: (signing) "I don't understand that word. Less what?"

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Sp— on— ta— ne— ou— s. Misha is the only person who can really capture it."

HISAO: (signing) "Yeah, that's definitely true."

NARRATOR: "Her expression changes for a second, and changes back too quickly to digest, but I get the feeling that this isn't meant to be pursued. What I really want to know about is..."

HISAO: (signing) "Why do you and Lilly fight so much?"

NARRATOR: "Tensing a little and visibly frowning, Shizune tents her fingers and overlays them repeatedly as if shuffling an invisible deck of cards."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Two fights that you know of aren't worth calling “so much.” If you had been here last year you could say that."

HISAO: (signing) "I heard it was a rough year. Something about how you tried to institute a badge policy. Ha ha, surprised? Well, I want to hear more about that later, definitely, but... you don't like Lilly very much, do you? Don't dodge my question."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "I'm not dodging anything. She was part of the Student Council until last year. We didn't get along very well. She wanted to keep doing things like the old Student Council did. The old Student Council was just so ineffectual. It was stupid, and insulting. I wanted to do more, and we had a fight. A lot of fights. She couldn't do anything on time. Then, she said that what I wanted to do was meaningless, just extra busywork. Does this look like meaningless busywork to you?"

NARRATOR: "Shizune gestures around us."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "What's really meaningless is a Student Council that doesn't do anything. Weak, lazy, and boring. Especially boring! I couldn't get excited over sitting in a room with nothing to do, that's just a waste of time. Why would I even be there? It didn't get my blood flowing. Arguing with her does that! If she could have been that motivated before, she wouldn't have to put so much dedication into being my enemy. But if she shows that much spirit, it's not a complete loss. At least it's something! It's still exciting."

HISAO: (signing) "I see. And what about the badge thing?"

NARRATOR: "She laughs, covering her mouth with her hand as if to hide it. Her laughter is the only thing she regularly tries to hide."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "That was just a joke. Having a little fun sometimes is important, too."

Next Scene: Past Imperfective