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The color of their class T-shirts was yellow.
On the front side, in large characters fading from deep green to orange was their graduation year, "3-4", drawn with a font to make them appear as if they were flying out towards you. On the back side in light blue was their home-room teacher's name, and then all forty of the class member's names were written in small letters, made to look like an English-language newspaper.
Though it looked rather crude, the design wasn't bad. If you were to look at it finished, you might very well call it something a high-schooler had made as a memento of graduation.
But to get to this point was a battle.
It was good to see the enthusiasm, "Let's make matching goods for the whole class!", but first they argued about whether to make T-shirts, ecobags or straps, and when they settled on making T-shirts, they then argued about the color, the design, the font... anyhow, they argued about everything the whole time. Did they argue so much on purpose?
Nevertheless, there was nobody speaking out, saying "enough, stop it". Everybody was aware of how much time remained before they graduated. Their state: the home room shut down and everybody arguing at once, would not happen a second time in their lives. Perhaps it was because they knew they wouldn't have another chance.
From gathering everybody's opinions, to placing an order with a contractor, had taken two whole months.
From that point they waited another month, and forty special order T-shirts arrived at the end of February.
In class, since springtime, half of them had decided their lines of study.
Of the remainder, some still had to take their entrance exams, some were still awaiting the results of their exams, some had decided to try again next year, some were working various part time jobs, and some were hoping to take over their family businesses.
Whether bright or gloomy, anyhow everybody had their own outlook. Even though their various circumstances varied, on that day everybody’s face was present in the classroom.
They lovingly passed around the plastic bags from the cardboard box, each with T-shirts packed inside. Waiting until everybody got theirs, they opened their bags simultaneously with a tearing sound.
All at once, shouts of joy erupted.
They went through the invoice, figured out who's was who's, and got them all passed out. It was nice to see such reasonableness from high school students. Things got more lively right away. One after another people put them on over their uniform shirts, pointed at each other while telling each other "It looks good on you!", gave each other high-fives, mugged to have their pictures taken with cell-phones, and even, overcome with emotion, put their arms weirdly over the shoulders of their fellow classmates.
In the middle of such uproar, nevertheless alone, seated in a chair, frozen in place as if he were dead, there was one more fellow.
He was Tada Banri.
"My name... is the only one missing..."
Banri was running his finger back and forth over the back side of the T-shirt spread out on his desk, verifying the lined up names over and over again. Slowly, carefully, so as not to mistake any letters for something else.
Yet he couldn't find his own name. However many times he counted them, from the very start he came up with thirty-nine names of students.
His own name only, nowhere.
However many times he checked, it did not change. Eventually, his field of vision began to tremble.
Without warning, he had been erased. It had been decided that he did not exist. Even though he'd always been there. Even though he'd been together here with them.
Or, was it that he only thought he was together with everybody?
He tried to mutter to himself, "Let's turn it all into a joke," but at that very moment, like they'd become a stupid faucet, tears overflowed from Banri's eyes.
This plan, how dare they? They dared remove Tada? How could only he, amongst the forty people in this private liberal arts course of study, with no shuffling since the second year, not notice that he was disliked and being shunned?
Saying "I must be gray!" aloud, he blushed suddenly in embarrassment at his memories. Though he was fully flushed now, strangely, his tension had risen, and Banri stubbornly continued in his assertion. Still alone in the middle of a class roughly half blue and half yellow, he concluded with an odd heat that he was gray. Of course I'm feeling awfully gray! I must be a mix of black and white! Gray must be my only choice! ---I must have been rejected. Come to think of it, he was even turning yellow. In truth, nobody noticed Banri, and their cold expressions said "You're nothing anyway..."
How could they be this way? How low could they go? They'd broken his heart. If he was going to be publicly humiliated like this, treated like a convicted criminal, he wanted rather to be smashed to little bits and disappear from this place at once.
"Eh!? Banri!? What's with you; what's the matter!?"
The one who noticed Banri secretly choked by tears and gasping, whose body was bent over him and whose face was looking him, was Linda. "What what what, what's happening? What's wrong?", she pulled on his sleeve to shake him.
"M, mai! Mai, dame...!"
---My name isn't there!
Somehow saying only that, Banri turned away Linda's hand and fell flat on his desk.
Wouldn't Linda have known too? Just before preparing for the last scene of their high school life, this excessively cruel play at erasing him.
"Wow, Tada's crying something awful!", some girl commented from behind, and all the happy chattering in the classroom suddenly stopped, and it went completely quiet. Banri thought. Will the public execution start at this point? Hey, you've noticed? It was intentional. We girls, and then the guys, in truth have always thought you were annoying. You have no presence at all. That was just what his friends and others over there had to be thinking... what kind of expression would he need to guard against the cutting edge of such words?
"It's true, what the heck! Teacher! Banri's name isn't here!"
He lifted his tear-stained face.
The truth rang out in Linda's strong voice, her warm hand rested on the back of Banri's blazer as if to cheer him up.
The home-room teacher in front twisted his glasses and said "Are you kidding?", and started verifying the names in the list. Before long, from here and there he could hear "Ah, it's true", "Horrible", "This, of course for Tada we will have to get them to do it over, right?", and so on, and those that had put them on already took them off, and every began to return the T-shirts to their plastic bags.
Finally Banri, from this seeing that he wasn't being shunned, understood that it was merely a mistake of the manufacturer.
And as he understood, suddenly ashamed of having shed a flood of tears, having overreacted to a little mistake,
"...I, I'd thought it was on purpose... in a hurry... I'd thought I'd been left out to die...!"
Trying to somehow restore his sticky face to normal, he hurriedly rubbed around his eyes with both hands. Third-year high school student, male. Even though he might look like one.
"No no no, how could such a thing be? Aah, sheesh, what a dunce you are, Banri. Don't cry over such a thing, now come over here."
While talking as if she were exasperated with him, Linda was rubbing Banri's head with her hands, stirring up his hair as if he were a house dog. "Wow, Tada's really smiling", some girl could again be heard muttering, and Banri in an instant realized that he was grinning.
Linda didn't care, and she looked Banri straight in the eyes,
"Once we're apart... I, for one, will be worried about you. Really and truly. Will you be OK once I'm not here?"
She spoke in a low voice. His grinning face stiffening, at that moment Banri too understood. He could not give an answer, his still-stiffened mouth twitching awkwardly. Once spring arrived, Linda will have left for Tokyo. Himself, here, from Shizuoka, after a year not studying hard enough, could not leave. Because, blast it all, he'd entirely failed to enter the school he'd chosen. The time of their separation, even now, even this very instant, was without a doubt drawing closer.
And then, several weeks to exchange everybody's goods.
By the time the revised class T-shirts, with Tada Banri's name entered correctly, arrived from the vendor, it was the night before the graduation ceremony.
And then today, everybody wearing them, they had a wholesome class party under the supervision of their homeroom teacher, gathered together in a private karaoke room. Tears, tears from a graduation safely achieved, this evening.
It was completely over with by nine o'clock at night.
Banri was walking aimlessly, Linda a little behind him--- he was pretending a certain degree of composure, but in truth, in his heart he was barely there as they walked.
A mild breeze, a little strong, was disturbing what remained of the day's clear skies and warm weather.
This area was not like that near Banri's home, rather than tea plantations there were normal farms, and then rather than farms there were many houses. There were convenience stores with spacious parking lots, and there were little co-op housing units with gaudy towel-blankets with character designs, indecently hung out to dry. There were local bookstores, a takoyaki place with an octopus on its sign, and a candy-store, and if they were to look a bit to the other side, a huge and brilliantly illuminated billboard for APiTA washing out the night sky. Three two-seated bicycles passed them by, even in the darkness they could tell it was a Brazilian family.
Though they were graduated from high school, until three days ago they had still been high-schoolers.
While the two of them were walking in such a vague, ambiguous night, Banri finally spoke the words he had been preparing forever.
"...Yes, or no?"
Upon leaving the intersection, Linda slowly turned towards him. There wasn't anybody else crossing. Right now there weren't cars either.
Beneath the streetlight in the quiet of the night, he couldn't see the expression on her face very well for the shadows. In Linda's hand was a paper bag. She had put a long-haired brown wig in there. Banri was holding a blonde wig openly in his right hand. Banri as Lady Gaga, Linda as Beyonce. They'd done a duet in full character, showing off in front of the whole class.
"I would like a clear answer. This is the end of the beginning. For that reason, I would like a one word answer."
The duet came off pretty good. Banri and Linda really were a good combination. While their classmates were half in shock, they laughed and said they were the same as ever.
"I don't want to be separated from you. If we are separated, it will never be OK. ...Because I love you. I want to be with you every day. I want to be with you forever. I don't want to go out with any other girl, nor do I want you to date some other guy. To be best friends, or like brother and sister, perhaps, is no longer what I need. If you were to have the same feelings... to love me, to come to love each other, if you thought so towards me... I, want to go to Tokyo with you. My parents even told me it was OK to go to a public preparatory school in Tokyo to get ready. But then, afterwards... afterwards I would be alone. I would just like Linda's answer."
Catching the wig from the inside with his finger and swinging it around, Banri watched it motionlessly. The tangled bunch of hair shone with a smooth tint that looked fake. He’d bought it off the net. For 2900 yen. In the same way pretending to not be concerned, however, but, in reality--- kind of like the wig. Not even wanting to look. Looking not even being necessary. But not knowing if it was OK to look anywhere. As it was, if he were to stand up the shivering of his miserable form would expose him.
Turning towards Banri, Linda held up one finger.
As if he were a cat, Banri’s eyes were captured by that fingertip.
"Could you wait a bit for me? ...Let me sleep on it. Is that OK?"
He picked up his wig from where it had fallen to the ground. Lightly wiping off the tangled artificial wig, thinking a bit about what was best to do,
"Understood. See you tomorrow then. I’ll be waiting for your answer."
For the time being, he put it on his head.
"Since I’ll be waiting..."
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