NARRATOR: "A headache is relentlessly thumping against the back of my head as I push open the door to the 22nd Corner. Apart from that, I'm perfectly calm. After venting on Rin all that anger that I had bottled inside, it felt like a great weight had been lifted from my heart. The tension that had grasped my mind for the past few weeks faded away without leaving even a shadow behind. In this nearly Zen-like state of enlightenment I realized that perhaps it was a bad idea to yell at her like that. I really meant it, but what good does blowing up like that do? Nothing. I am not like that. I don't normally yell at people. I don't know why I did yesterday. So I keep feeling really guilty about it and wanting to take my words back. Rin is probably upset too. Even more than my own behavior, her reaction shocked me."
NARRATOR: "I've always thought of her as unchanging, detached from her surroundings so that seeing my yelling get her so upset felt... out of place. I wonder if she understands how I feel? In Rin's world everything seems to be so absolute and subjective... absolutely subjective, as if she was completely unable to see things from other points of view than her own. But ultimately, is anyone able to do it? Maybe objectivity and altruism are just illusions for people who like to think of themselves as compassionate. Just like art is an illusion for people who think reality is merely a veil for something greater. Even when you stop thinking that the world revolves around you or start thinking outside of the mythical box, you are just inside another, bigger box that you can't escape. Maybe that, ultimately, makes her like the rest of us."
NARRATOR: "I step through the door to find a gallery full of illusioned people. Despite Sae's remarks during my earlier visits I always thought it was very spacious, but now when it's crowded like this it looks positively cramped. I immediately notice Sae standing in the middle of a lively discussion, busily chattering with some old gentlemen. She's actually pretty tall and kind of cool-looking, so she stands out in the crowd. There are a few dozen wine glasses laid on the tables along the back wall, filled with burgundy liquid. A vast majority of the guests are sipping from their own glasses. The socialites and art connoisseurs are mingling happily, exchanging mild opinions about Rin's art which seems to be a secondary object of interest for most. I feel distanced, excluded from the other people here. I can't claim even at a stretch to be a social chameleon, so this situation is quite unnerving. Since I don't blend into the crowd at all, I just fake that I do, trying to look as cool and smooth as I can. I wonder how Rin is handling all this. If it was me, I would be quite freaked out. Throwing the anxiety aside, I try to carefully navigate through the crowd, stealing peeks at the framed paintings now hanging on the walls."
NARRATOR: "Rin's exhibition takes about half of the gallery's wall space. Some paintings are less familiar than others, but I recognize most of them. Some I've seen being created at the club meetings after all, or remember from the time when Rin was choosing her portfolio. I note that a couple of the unfinished paintings are framed and on the wall as well. Maybe that's what they call coincidental art? Even Rin's failures, if you can call them that, became exhibits of her skill. Quite paradoxical."
NARRATOR: "She herself is nowhere to be seen, which is strange because even though it's crowded, the gallery is pretty small. It's fine, sort of. I don't know how to face her after yesterday. Maybe I shouldn't have even come. But I promised various people, Rin included, that I would, so... Damn, it sounds like I do the things I do because some kind of instinctual properness compels me to, not because it would be sensible (or not). I sneak closer to Sae to wait for a lull in the conversation so I can chat her up too. Even though her voice is almost completely buried under the general background noise, I hear bits and pieces of her talking about Rin."
SAIONJI: "Yes, she is a high schooler at a local school... even though she's graduating next year I'm sure various art schools would be interested in... ...I thought it'd be interesting to have an exhibition of someone who is still in early stages of development..."
NARRATOR: "It's so strange, it's like Rin is some kind of mini-celebrity even though this is nothing but a small exhibition opening at a small art gallery of a small town."
SAIONJI: "In fact, there is a friend of mine from..."
???: "It's Hisao!"
NARRATOR: "My eavesdropping is interrupted by a familiar voice and a familiar slap to the back. I don't need to guess the source of either, even without turning around."
HISAO: "Hi Emi."
EMI: "Hi! Are you like, a representative of the art club or something? I don't see anyone else from the school here..."
HISAO: "Umm... I don't know, really. I guess I am if that's the case. What about you?"
EMI: "What about me?"
EMI: "You didn't think I'm interested in art? Is that it, Hisao?"
HISAO: "No, that's not what I... well, maybe a little, if you put it that way."
HISAO: "I mean, even though you hang out with Rin I've never heard you talk about art with her so..."
NARRATOR: "Emi huffs and looks around her, looking discontented."
EMI: "It's true, I don't get it at all, but she came to my track meet so I thought it's only fair to return the favor."
NARRATOR: "She leans closer, trying to look confidential but only managing to look conspiring."
EMI: "Do you get art?"
HISAO: "No. No, I don't. At all."
NARRATOR: "My emphasizing headshake draws a giggle and a cheery headshake of her own out of Emi."
EMI: "Me neither! Hey, let's go talk with Rin! I bet you haven't yet, because I haven't either. Come on!"
NARRATOR: "Before she has a chance to forcefully drag me to Rin, Nomiya appears behind her with Rin in his tow. She's not dressed for the occasion, instead opting for the usual school uniform and unkempt hair. Maybe her natural look is what suits her the best."
EMI: "Hello, teacher! Hi, Rin!"
NARRATOR: "Unfazed, Emi greets the teacher cheerfully, causing him to turn around and look down confusedly."
NOMIYA: "Who are you?"
EMI: "I'm Emi, from school, class 3-4. Don't you remember?"
NARRATOR: "She looks positively shocked at the prospect that there could be a person who doesn't know her."
NOMIYA: "Oh, sorry. You are in the same class as Tezuka is, right?"
NOMIYA: "You'll have to pardon me, I have trouble remembering students who don't take art."
EMI: "Don't mind, don't mind! Hi Rin!"
EMI: "Congratulations for your super cool art thing! I'm sure you'll be a big hit!"
NARRATOR: "She throws her arms into the air for boisterous emphasis, almost hitting me in the face."
EMI: "And look, Hisao came too!"
NARRATOR: "Rin doesn't look at me, nor does she greet me."
HISAO: "Congratulations, Rin."
NARRATOR: "She keeps averting her gaze, pointedly looking at her sandals. Oblivious to the tension between us and ignorant of what happened yesterday, Emi keeps on blabbering about this and that to an unresponsive Rin. I guess she's used to not getting much out of her at times. Before long, Nomiya and Sae turn to Rin, introducing her. Expecting it, I catch the second of confusion when the guests see her arms. Sae is luckily on the ball and briefly explains about our school. Doubtful faces quickly change to curious.
MAN: "Would you mind telling us something about your art? I thought the development is quite easily noticeable, what do you yourself think of the differences between the older and more current works? It's quite rare for someone so young to dabble into abstraction."
WOMAN: "It would've been interesting to see how you work!"
MAN: "Oh, definitely! I assume you use your feet? Must've been a great trouble to learn it, you should be proud."
RIN: "I... ummm..."
MAN: "Will you be pursuing a career as an artist after school?"
NARRATOR: "She is bombarded with so many questions she can't even hope to answer all of them. Maybe that's for the best, Rin tends to talk nonsense more than occasionally."
MAN: "So where do you get your ideas?"
RIN: "That's the fourth, I mean fifth worst..."
NARRATOR: "Rin keeps stumbling with her words, looking more and more vexed by the expectant inquiries."
NARRATOR: "Everyone is waiting for her to say something, but she looks like a cat got her tongue. Each question piling up just adds to her distress. I fail to hear the question that is the proverbial one too many. It's like a motor stalling."
NARRATOR: "Rin just freezes for a long, long second until she falls on her knees, hitting the floor ungracefully like a sack of potatoes."
WOMAN: "Are you all right?"
RIN: "I don't know..."
NOMIYA: "Tezuka? What's wrong, girl?"
RIN: "I don't know what's wrong..."
NARRATOR: "A terrible silence falls upon the people gathered around Rin. Everyone is petrified, not knowing how to react to her sudden... seizure, or something. She breathes with deep, trembling gasps as if she was running out of air, staring ahead of herself with hollow eyes. Seeing that nobody does anything, I force myself to step to Rin and lift her up from the floor, letting her lean against me to keep standing."
HISAO: "Would you like some fresh air? OK, let's go outside for a bit."
NARRATOR: "I don't even wait for her to answer before grasping her shoulder and pulling her past the stunned-looking Nomiya, Sae, Emi and guests."
HISAO: "Excuse us."
NARRATOR: "The cool evening breeze hits my face at the door. I let go of Rin and she leans against the stone wall, trying to catch her breath."
HISAO: "Are you all right?"
RIN: "I couldn't say anything..."
NARRATOR: "Rin is still not looking at me, so I look away too. The streetlights and colored neon signs twist my vision into a blur of near-blindness, forcing me to look back. At least she talks, even if she's not directing her words to me."
HISAO: "What did you want to say?"
NARRATOR: "Maybe both of us can imagine that we are talking to an invisible friend."
RIN: "I don't know. Something that would have meant something."
NARRATOR: "... The silence lasts for a long time."
NARRATOR: "I don't feel comfortable being alone with Rin. I am not good at imagining things that don't exist, do... or that things that exist, don't."
HISAO: "We should go back in. The guests Sae invited are in there, they probably want to meet you and talk with you. You know, ask you questions and stuff. About those paintings you worked so hard for."
RIN: "I don't want them to ask me questions like that. I can never say the right things."
HISAO: "What do you want then?"
RIN: "That someone wouldn't have to ask questions from me."
HISAO: "But aren't you happy people are interested in your paintings? I mean, isn't that why you went ahead with having the exhibition and all? Of course they would ask you questions, if they think it's interesting."
RIN: "It's like having sunrise twice in a row when you want to bathe naked in moonlight. Nice, but..."
NARRATOR: "...it's not good enough, I complete the sentence for her even though I don't understand her inappropriate metaphor."
HISAO: "I don't get it. You should try to be happier. It's your big night, after all. All these people are here to see your paintings. I think it's awesome."
NARRATOR: "I wait for her to say something, either for or against, but Rin keeps brooding. She doesn't want to answer questions, or explain to me what's wrong. If she had something to say, the words are left unspoken. The words that she cannot say. I shudder against the chill wind that blows in the streets, and its howling fills the silence."
HISAO: "We should go back in. You've got everyone worried."
NOMIYA: "Ah, there you are! Feeling better? It can get pretty hot in here, a dizzy spell can catch you off guard."
NARRATOR: "He laughs brashly, almost obnoxiously."
NOMIYA: "You should drink something if you're feeling weak, Tezuka."
NARRATOR: "Rin nods weakly, but it seems to be enough to convince Nomiya that she is fine. He pushes Rin a bit forward to introduce her to the person he was conversing with before."
NOMIYA: "So, about what we were talking about before..."
MAN: "Ah yes, I'm very excited to meet..."
NARRATOR: "I am shut out of the conversation, and the background noise of dozens of other discussions fills my ears with indistinct buzz. Even Emi has disappeared somewhere. Standing in the middle of a crowd is a surprisingly lonely feeling. Not only Rin, but everyone else here seems to be a part of something I am not a part of. I am happy for her, I really am, but it makes me feel that I haven't accomplished anything yet. Rin is living proof of the potential of a human being. She overcame her disability, even made it a strength. She should be happy. What is my potential? Rin made it this far, but how far can I go?"
Next Scene: Wavelength
HISAO: "But if you found someone like that, then what? Do you really think that it would be some kind of be-all, end-all thing, star-crossed lovers and happily ever after?"
NARRATOR: "My question is met with a blank stare, the darkness in her eyes unfazed by the thinly veiled bitterness."
RIN: "No, I don't think that. But at least then I wouldn't have to be alone."
NARRATOR: "She whispers the words to the lights of the town but I hear them anyway."
RIN: "I shouldn't have done this. Not yet."
HISAO: "The exhibition?"
NARRATOR: "She nods and closes her eyes, breathing calmly out as if to prove she can, and then continues talking to herself."
HISAO: "Why? Wrong conjunction of the planets?"
RIN: "No, not that. I double-checked, and I got up with the right, I mean left, foot and did everything else left, I mean right. It's me. I was wrong."
NARRATOR: "She stands straight and stretches before stepping past me out into the street."
HISAO: "Wait, where are you going?"
NARRATOR: "She stops on her tracks and turns around, looking at me quizzically."
RIN: "School. I'm leaving."
HISAO: "What... why?"
RIN: "Because I want to be me."
NARRATOR: "Rin walks off, leaving me behind utterly confused."
NARRATOR: "But... something she said really touched me, or maybe it was the way she said it. Maybe it was the fact that she said it. I want to say something back to her, before I forget this feeling again. As if granting me a wish, Rin stops in her tracks. She doesn't turn around, just keeps waiting for me to say what I want to even though I didn't have time to think what..."
HISAO: "Rin... listen. I... I don't believe you have to be alone, even if you never meet anyone like that."
NARRATOR: "I don't know if she heard my words, but either way, she doesn't react in any way. For the final time, she starts walking away from the gallery."
NOMIYA: "So? Where's Tezuka?"
NARRATOR: "I can only shake my head, but as it doesn't seem to be a sufficient answer I have to say something."
HISAO: "She ran away."
NARRATOR: "The horrific realization spreads on his face like wildfire."
NOMIYA: "This is a fiasco! Catastrophe! What is that girl thinking, the most important event of her life, and she just runs off? And you! Why didn't you stop her? I'm going to hold you personally responsible..."
NARRATOR: "Sae interrupts him, holding her hands up calmingly. It's good she intervened; the teacher was starting to get a few weird looks from the nearby guests."
SAIONJI: "Now, now, Shinichi. She probably just had stage fright. I don't know her as well as you people do, but I did get the image that she is somewhat peculiar. This kind of thing can happen. It'll be fine. I'll explain that she suddenly became ill. The guests will surely understand."
SAIONJI: "Look around you, everyone seems to be rather happy with their free wine and chitchat."
NOMIYA: "The guests will be fine, but we are missing on opportunities here! Networking, making contacts and acquaintances!"
NARRATOR: "As the adults keep arguing about something that can't be helped, Emi tugs my sleeve to get my attention. She doesn't look very happy either."
EMI: "Come on."
EMI: "We are going to find Rin and kick her ass."
EMI: "I can't believe it, she is so stupid! That Rin, how can she do this? I'm telling you, she doesn't have a bit of common sense in her head!"
NARRATOR: "Emi is seriously angry, only missing steam rising from her ears. I guess I understand Emi, she is that kind of a person. “Give up” has never felt like a part of her vocabulary, and maybe she feels it shouldn't be a part of anyone's vocabulary."
HISAO: "It's probably best to leave her alone for tonight."
EMI: "What? Are you a Rin expert now?"
NARRATOR: "She takes a firm stance and puts her hands on her hips confrontationally. It's like she wants to pick a fight with me too."
HISAO: "No, I don't think that's even possible in the first place. I just don't think kicking her ass would do her any good."
NARRATOR: "My melancholic remark surprisingly works, as Emi slumps her shoulders a little and sighs."
EMI: "I know that."
HISAO: "You do?"
EMI: "The last time I did that, it changed nothing."
NARRATOR: "The ride back to school in an empty late-night bus is silent. Both of us keep staring at the lights flashing past the windows without saying a word. The nightly grounds are quiet, lit only by the wan moon and yellow lamp posts. We say our goodnights in front of my dormitory. Emi reflexively clenching her fists compels me to ensure that she won't assault Rin the moment I let her out of my sight."
HISAO: "Promise me to not go scold her?"
NARRATOR: "She looks up at me, her eyes again flaring with anger that I match with as calming a stare as I can. It's only easy to face an angry woman if you are not the target of her ire. After a minute of the mismatched staring contest, she sighs and shakes her head in defeat."
EMI: "You are too nice, Hisao. Did you know that?"
NARRATOR: "Hints of a smile are tugging the corners of her mouth as she says that, and she seems a lot more relaxed. What a sudden change of mood. Maybe she wasn't as angry as it seemed to begin with. Maybe her moods change easily."
HISAO: "If I was, I would've let you have your way."
EMI: "Does that mean you are only nice to Rin?"
NARRATOR: "Both of us are hiding our concern behind empty jokes, but at least it puts me in a good mood. Emi waggles her eyebrows with a half-amused smirk, trying to push my buttons. Not gonna work."
HISAO: "No, it just means I'm not nice only to you."
HISAO: "Good night, Emi."
Next Scene: Desperate Glory