Chapter 3: A Goodbye Meant for No One.
There was a chill in the morning air as we strolled through the city, a strong wind pushing my hair behind me.
We were currently walking down the wide street that headed to the train station, and since the recent stray dog commotion had put the entire city on alert, Shiro was hiding by camouflaging himself with shadows.
Recently, he had been in rather low spirits and would only give half hearted responses to me, so staying home would only make him worse.
I had changed into my school uniform earlier when we were heading out, but I didn’t feel like going there.
In the first place, I didn’t really have anywhere in particular that I could go to.
I stopped where I was after a short exclamation. Up ahead of us, I spotted a certain parent and child group.
The child was a sad-looking girl who walked with a lowered head, carrying a leathered backpack on her back. She wore a yellow dress with a jacket of the same color, and her hair fell past her shoulders, held together by a hairband.
Leading her by the hand was a well dressed middle-aged lady that wore a pale yellow cardigan. In contrast to her graceful appearance, her gait was hasty, and when she noticed that the girl suddenly stopped walking, she pulled the girl’s arm a few times.
The girl looked up. Her eyes almost pleaded for help as she looked at me.
After a bit of thought, I walked closer to them, trying to look like a regular middle schooler.
As I approached nearer, I could faintly smell a sweet perfume.
I put a fake smile and bowed to them.
“Oh?” The lady–––I assumed that it had to be Yuuka’s mother——slightly tilted her head to one side with a questioning smile. A perfect, made-up smile.
“I assume you are Yuuka’s mom? It’s nice to meet you,” I told her, and in attempt to no seem too formal, I added “I have played together with Yuuka-chan before.”
“Ahh, so that’s what this child has been up to.”
As she spoke, she glanced at Yuuka. Noticing it, Yuuka’s stiffened body flinched for an instant.
“I’m really sorry about that, this child never listens to anything I say to her. She must have bothered you a lot.”
“No, not at all.”
I shook my head and crouched down so my eyes were at Yuuka’s height.
A feeble, sincere smile appeared on her face, and although it was mixed with a helpless dysphoria, it still showed some relief.
“Let’s play again sometime.”
Only then did it turn into a pure smile.
“It’s a promise,” I said as I lifted my pinky, and once she curled hers around it, I stood up.
With a broken smile, her mother interrupted us.
“We really need to leave now. We’ll be late for school if we stay here any longer .”
“Oh right, I’m sorry to have stopped you for so long.”
I bowed to them once again with a fake smile.
Her mother pulled at her hand and walked away without saying anything more.
“Bye bye big sis.”
She lifelessly waved at me, and I waved back.
The sweet scent once again passed in front of me.
I detected an uncomfortable smell mixed in with it.
It seemed like an illusion, but it wasn’t one.
There was a burn scar on the inner side of her wrist. I saw it when I did that pinky promise with her.
The kind of scars one would get if a lit cigarette was pressed onto the skin.
I stood still where I was, many passersby looked bothered as they evaded me.
Soon after I heard the clatter of my footsteps on the concrete as I started walking again.
“Huh? Was that Yuuka’s mom?” Kou said from beside me. I hadn’t noticed him standing there until now.
Wearing brown knee length pants, an ultramarine sweatshirt, and a black backpack, his face under his roughly cut hair had an expression of sorrow mixed with anger.
“It was them…right?” There was still a slight trace of them.
“…Hey, big sis. When two people get married, it means they like each other, right?”
“Then why do they fight so much every evening? They should get along nicely instead.”
“They fight because they can’t get along.” I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, which manifested itself as a white puff before promptly vanishing into the sea of people around us.
“It’s easier for them to fight than to try getting along better.”
“Really? I think it’s easier for people to get along with each other than for them to fight.”
“Yeah–––” I said without really meaning it. “That might be true.”
He tilted his head sideways and looked at me in confusion. I lightly patted his head.
His cheeks soon flushed red and he looked away, then started lightly scratching his cheek, embarrassed.
“Please don’t treat me like a kid.”
“But you are a kid.”
“Tsk.” He pouted and clammed his mouth tight for a moment. “That’s really unfair though, sis.”
I relaxed my lips a bit and gently told him.
“All girls are unfair.”
I moved my hand down to his nape and lightly pushed him forward down the street.
“You’ll be late for school.”
After the push, he continued walking a bit before looking back.
“…How…well, what do I do to protect Yuuka?”
“Just stay at her side like you have been until now.”
I started walking again on the opposite direction from their school.
“Sis, I want to grow up soon.”
I pretended that I couldn’t hear him anymore.
I didn’t say anything more, I couldn’t do anything more.
And Yuuka didn’t give voice to her pleas for help, only cowering in fear.
It was still early in the morning, but the stand was already open.
The steam drifting off the cup of black tea I had ordered felt warm and had a gentle scent.
But the warmth passing through my fingertips wasn’t enough to thaw my heart.
“Worrying ’bout something?” asked the bandana guy, staring at me as he took out a can of black tea.
“Is it about those kids?”
I pressed my fingernails against the cup to lift it and drank it all.
“Maybe, who knows.”
He shrugged and silently poured another serving into the empty cup.
“Well, think about this, if I happened to be the strongest, nicest guy in the entire world…”
I knitted my brows together, narrowing my eyes at him as I lifted the refilled cup to my lips.
“…err, it’s just a what-if kinda thing, so just ignore it if you don’t agree.”
He forced a smile and moved about within the stand, producing a couple packs of chocolate cookies and placing some on a plate.
“But like I was saying—even if that was the case, it wouldn’t mean that I would automatically be able to stop a crying child from crying. That’s just how reality is.”
I picked up a cookie and threw it into my mouth.
It was a bit too sweet for me, but it didn’t seem like a bad combination for black tea.
“In other words, don’t try doing something you can’t do.”
“So never have any dreams, huh.”
“That’s because this is reality. Humans can’t save other humans. If not even God can save someone, why would a human even think about attempting it?”
He shrugged and pursed his lips to one side.
I moved the cup away from my lips and placed it on the table.
“A hawk flying in the sky can’t possibly attempt to understand a bug dwelling in the ground. The only thing that can understand a hawk is another hawk, just as a bug would understand another bug. I think you’re bringing God into the wrong argument.”
He remained silent, thinking about my words for a moment. Then he clapped and started laughing. It got a point where he even pressed down on his stomach and hit the counter with his hand multiple times as he tried to say something amidst his laughter.
“In that case, no one would be able to save you, girlie.”
“I’d rate that comeback an 8 out of 10.”
The reflection of my face in his sunglasses looked cold.
It didn’t resemble a bug or a flower, but rather was more like ice.
“Could you please stop looking so coldly at me? When you look at me like that, it almost makes me want to beg you to step on me.”
I couldn’t tell whether he was being serious or humorous from his tone, and I couldn’t read his eyes either, with them being hidden behind sunglasses.
“By the way, what happened to your wolf?”
He had been with me all this time.
Sitting in dead silence, close to the stand but almost separated from us—so silent it was hard to tell if he was even breathing.
His eyes were closed as though he were sleeping, but I knew he was awake.
“Is something on his mind?”
“Hmmm.” I couldn’t tell if there had been a deeper meaning behind his question.
The death of wolves, a pack that was no more, and an outsider that wasn’t even a traitor.
Having no place to return to, having no place to go to, an eternal orphan.
“Thanks for the tea.”
I withdrew some money from my wallet and placed it on the counter.
“Girlie, I really wonder where you came from, and where you’ll go.”
I didn’t say anything to that.
I only turned around and walked away, Shiro following behind me like a shadow.
Only silence filled the space between us.
The image of both our rotting corpses sinking into a sea of mud flashed through my mind.