Golden Time

By TAKEMIYA Yuyuko

Golden Time Volume 5 Prologue

Golden Time Volume 5 Prologue

Prologue[]

That over there, wasn't that the twinkling of a star?

Without even thinking, he knew it was not, but even so, the little flickering light over there in the darkness, to Banri's eyes, of course, looked like a star.

But a star shouldn't be so close to the ground, in a low place. Even under his current circumstances, he understood that much. So he felt it was certainly something man made.

What was it? Some kind of lighting, like a miniature light bulb?

Anyhow, it seemed that whether on purpose, or by mistake, that a little light had been set there. ...Or was it perhaps the light of a firefly? There aren't fireflies in Shizuoka in May. Ordinarily.

A dark night sky, and the inky edge of the mountains.

The flickering was amongst what could be seen during the day as thickly growing trees on the other side of the hospital grounds. The walking path used for rehabilitation went under the trees and continued onwards far up the gentle slopes.

From between the trees and thickets, clearly as if it had a will of its own, the faintly bluish light was even now flickering and turning back.

At that moment, with a light sound, as if one had plucked a bowstring, the short and long hands of the clock on the wall overlapped. The clock was large compared to the size of the room, and Banri thought it was surely so that it could call out "Hey, old man!" "The hour of your death... will be in X minutes..." (fold your hands as if in prayer).

The date changed.

His living flesh still laying down in a bed which had until now sustained many people at the hours of their deaths, Banri opened his eyes. For now, his body didn't feel any more connection with that. Having tasted the signs of death one by one, he did not want to live in a hospital.

The strangely heavy futon bothering his skin, his weakened feet throwing off the loose sheets, he remained unable to sleep as the night deepened. His head cleared.

Flickering on the other side of the hospital room's window, he could still see the mysterious point of light.

Banri thought, really, what the heck is it? While he guessed this and that, however much he strained his eyes towards the distant darkness, he of course could not see what it really was.

The first time he'd noticed it was three nights before.

It was after most things had been turned off. As usual unable to sleep, he had just idly rolled over when on the other side of the window he saw a light, flickering softly. While he gazed at it, thinking it a wonder, at last it disappeared, and he could not see it anymore. The whole incident was all of two hours long.

Morning came, and Banri tried to ask a young nurse about the strange light. But she answered right away "Well, I wonder what it was?" and then said there were more important things.

Why were you up at such an hour? Couldn't you sleep? Did you tell the psychiatrist the last time you talked with him? Did you tell him all about it, clearly? Don't you want to get better? ...No matter what, she couldn't avoid the usual small talk, with the attitude of a 'medical official.' Banri, hiding his expression with an ambiguous smile, said "Enough already" with his mouth shut, tongue firmly stuck to his upper palate.

During the time for his noon rehabilitation, he casually left the walking route, thinking he would check out the area where he'd seen the light. But the moment he went so much as a half step out of the way, a physical therapist guy right behind him would call out for him to watch out.

When he squirmed and tried to give an awful excuse 'It's just that I want to look among the trees for signs of summer coming...', the physical therapist suddenly pulled a wildflower from the ground by his feet and placed it in Banri's hand. Eh... he flinched at the wildness of it. Anyway, he was quickly yanked back to the route he'd followed up to that point.

White, with cute little petals, the leaves and stems had a simple straight shape. The flower people call 'Chinese Chives' --- that's what it seemed to be.

He could not ignore this thing which had been broken from its root and pulled completely out of the ground by his own fault, so putting water in a cup he tried setting it on his bedstand, to see if "Mother" would say to him, "Oh, that's a Chive flower." This time of year, behind the house, it seems many of them were blooming on their own.

Now that he thought about it, there was no need to even think about whether such a pretty thing could be Chive. It was certainly Chive. It simply reeked of the peculiar aura of Chives.

And then the mysterious light appeared that night too.

Around eleven o'clock that evening, Banri noticed the appearance of the light. It had come out again! He watched it for quite a while, and after a couple of hours it suddenly disappeared.

Eventually, towards morning, it started raining softly.

Things were arranged so he could do his daily rehabilitation even inside the hospital, so thanks to the rain, Banri the whole day long was unable to go outside. And of course, he could not go out to where the chive flowers grew.

Nobody could blame Banri for wandering about, even with his luxurious private hospital room, what with coming and going to the bathrooms on the third floor, medical checkups (of course), always going to see the physical therapists and nurses for rehabilitation, between "I don't have that" or "I want this", and his "Mother" always hanging around, looking after his daily needs.

Everybody was so awfully nice.

But he wasn't permitted "freedom", even as the days passed.

Clearly, he was being treated as some sort of monster, kept in a cell, for now not provoking him, as if they'd decided to keep him alive and quiet. It felt like everybody was to some extent keeping their distance and observing his every action. He must've been some really horrible kind of guy. He was receiving help, and receiving such good treatment, and yet he seemed to be awfully ungrateful for it.

Nonetheless, that's what he felt. Passing the days as an in-patient in that hospital was so terribly, terribly suffocating.

In the absence of a persecution complex or something like that, observations… or bluntly, surveillance, seemed to actually be taking place.

Banri, lying down on the cool white sheets, staring at the mysterious light that had appeared again this evening, but unable to confirm what it was, looked back over what had happened to him.

All of one month ago, there was a day in March. It seems he was brought to this hospital in an ambulance. By the time he woke up, several days had already passed.

When he came to, he was throbbing from multiple broken bones, and his head was splitting. He was gasping through an oxygen mask placed on him, his completely naked body being rolled around immodestly.

The first thing he saw when his eyes opened was darkness. In the still darkness, shadows like hazy smoke wriggling in the air, his first thought was "I am seeing darkness." Eventually, the haze wound into a spiral, as if it were threads of white paint dripping and beginning to mix together. The rotation of the marble pattern gradually become more complex, but in the end it came to a stop. On the white ceiling, the rectangular lighting fixtures stood out sharply.

In the moment he took a breath, it all started.

What the... Where am I... It hurts... The agony... What happened to me... Not even wanting to know his situation, he couldn't even move. And then for some reason between his legs it hurt like crazy. He couldn't even cry, but if he moaned somebody jumped into his field of view. A catheter and a breathing tube inserted into him, he couldn't even whisper, and his confusion just grew more and more.

This was a hospital, an emergency intensive care unit, and he had just come to. Even when they explained it to him, he had no idea what they were saying. Perhaps he was too close to the problem to understand. ...He didn't even know who he was.

And this time, they thought it was a case of attempted suicide.

"So, you have no memories, and you've forgotten everything about yourself?" the attending physician boldly declared to Banri, neither beating around the bush nor having any intentions of taking it easy on him. He seemed to have come to ask him, "Are you sure you aren't pretending so you can sweep under the rug the fact that you utterly failed in wanting to take your own life?"

The doctor was wrong. He really couldn't remember anything. Whether it was a simple fall, or an attempted suicide, even he didn't know. There was already no way to verify it. Because the person himself had forgotten completely. Unable to do anything but repeat that explanation, just how much they trusted him was still a mystery to him.

Still, Banri wasn't that sort of troubled child. Though they had determined for sure that he was a guy who'd failed his college entrance exams, yet still had hopes of heading to Tokyo to attend classes in preparation for retaking those same tests, and so it wasn't an attempted suicide, his memories were truly lost, completely and without a doubt, as his family had claimed. Officially, this matter had settled down to being an "accidental fall."

But, the true heart of the matter was, of course, that nobody knew. And so, they monitored him.

In this way, everybody surrounded at a distance, as if he were locked up in a prison cell, the mysterious "something" which had only the appearance of "Tada Banri."

He had no idea just how long he would continue to live like this. Though the necessities of life were guaranteed, that was still all it was: the inside of a jail cell. Banri wondered when the day would come that he could leave this place.

Besides, before long the injuries to this body would be entirely healed, and with the need for him to be in the surgery ward going away, he wondered where in the world he would be sent. He didn't want to think if thinking was going to scare him, but of course, unable to sleep in the night, he thought things out to the max.

Walking around under an ordinary sun, reaching out to ordinary people, he wondered, would he be able to lead such a normal life?

Even without his memories, he understood more or less what was normal. Such concepts he hadn't lost. He even thought, "I want to go back" to that place, oddly enough.

Some day out of the blue, huh!? What was I doing before now!? When he remembered everything, it would probably be very nice. In the end, it would be a perfectly happy ending, with smiles, cheers and flower petals dancing in the air. The doctors and nurses would send him off applauding. He himself would turn and wave his arms broadly to them, and then run back to a circle of family and friends. So it would be, just like waking up from a bad dream.

A nightmare. ...A nightmare, eh?

Without realizing it, Banri was taking short, low breaths in the darkness. Whether it was a nightmare or something else, he couldn't help but live it through, alone in the dead of the night.

Setting one elbow on his towel-covered pillow, posed like a reclining Buddha, he lifted his head. Kicking the futon even further away with his bare toes, he suddenly thrust one hand down into his pajama pants and underwear. ...He wasn't worried about what he might touch. For some reason, simply inserting his hand down in his warm crotch calmed his mind. The rain, which had fallen a bit earlier, finally stopped.

In the darkness beyond the glass, the light was twinkling now too.

(Really, what in the world is that...?)

The day before yesterday, yesterday, and now tonight. This makes three days. How long would he continue to look out like this, of course he had no idea. Since it would be brighter out, he didn't think he would be able to check it out during rehabilitation. It would be impossible to shake off the physical therapist who followed along with him just in case something happened to him along the way. ...Would they rather come along with him? Was it impossible? He didn't think something like “We're in the middle of rehabilitation, but would you like to help me search for a mysterious light I'm confused about?” would be allowed. He might as well be trying as hard as he could to be ridiculous.

When he turned his head a bit, trying to raise his face, the chive flower on the nightstand had withered. Looking sad at having been plucked, the white flower was drooping to the side.

The shape was just like a girl, standing alone and dejected. Of course, it was a poor little thing.

Murmuring silently a tiny apology, he returned to looking out, staring once more at the unidentified light.

(Even if it's... lighting something... it's strange. In a place like that, so small like that, it can't be meaningless.)

For starters, he was the only guy gazing out through the hospital ward's window and able to notice that light. Most of the patients in the hospital, because getting up early was their habit, were probably sound asleep already.

He was an in-patient with a tendency towards insomnia, but with his sanity under question, so he didn't want to be asking for medicine. Such a tiny object... it seemed to be visible only to Banri... being shone towards him, what the heck was it? With what kind of intentions, by whom?

(...Perhaps, it was some sort of sign. Like a signal...)

Hah! As if Banri's heart had been poked by his own thoughts, he reflexively pulled his one hand out from his pants. He touched his mouth with that hand. He wasn't concerned about what he may have touched.

(A signal? What was it trying to let him know? ...Well, but indeed. Indeed... but...)

Once that occurred to him, it seemed that the twinkling light, flickering as if it were jumping about, wanted to be spotted by him.

Holding his breath, Banri focused his eyes more and more.

The light was saying "Hey!"

Here, here! Can you see me!? Do you notice me...!? ...It was as if it were shouting like that while it flickered.

Whether he liked it or not, it was, of course, not so. Certainly not. He would look like a fool. If he were known to be a person who would think such things, he would be thought of as a truly dangerous airhead. No, no, I can't. I am an honest person. Because if it were not for the trauma he had received from the accident, he must normally have been honest.

He was rather frantically contradicting his own thoughts, and Banri couldn't help sitting up the bed.

The light flickered while swaying from side to side, and then, as if it noticed Banri watching, it suddenly got faster.

"Whoa!?"

A surprised exclamation escaped him.

Just as Banri saw it before him, the little sparkle suddenly seemed to split in two. Then, as if they were dancing, they jumped up and down together, synchronized. Sparkling, they disappeared. When at last he saw it reappear, there was only one.

"Eh, eh, eh...!? Eeeehh...!?"

If he could see himself, he would probably see an incredibly foolish looking face. But he could no longer control the dumbfounded look on his face. Combined with a look of astonishment, his eyes were so wide open the corners hurt. But, can't such things exist? Really, there was just more and more he didn't understand.

The mysterious light, as to sign to him, was telling him something. It was flickering desperately, trying to make its existence known. He wondered whether something like that was even possible.

At last, Banri got down from the bed.

He was trying to be stealthy, wearing no shoes so as not to make any noise, but even so,

"Uu...!"

He'd gone and done it.

The cup with the chive flower by his pillow had fallen down. Fortunately, the plastic cup hadn't made much noise, and even though it hadn't broken, the water had all spilled out. In a hurry, he picked up the wet flower from the floor, grasping it softly in one hand, tidying things up for the moment.

The pitifully withered white flower still grasped in his hand, he stepped up to the window, gathered his strength and pulled up the stiff window frame.

The smell of greenery welling up in the early summer's evening made Banri cough just then, pushing his body back into the room a little. Before long, it enveloped him completely. The smell of deep green, the fishy smell left by rain. The smell of a refreshingly clear night, too. Twice, three times, each time he took a breath, even Banri's breath blended into the silence with hints of damp stone.

The damp wind was still blowing in, clearing out the air in the room all at once. The heavy beige curtains flapped slowly, the hem swinging back and forth.

The light was flickering.

As if it were calling 'Heey!' to Banri. Like it was screaming 'Here I am!'

I'm here! I'm flickering here! ...It was giving him a sign.

But what the heck was the sign? What was it telling him to do?

He still did not understand, yet Banri felt his heart begin to beat furiously. Unable to move his feet, they began to shake along with it. Breathing deeper, he was getting dizzy. His hair follicles began to tickle.

In his one hand was the little white flower. Withering, having lost the water that kept it alive, it was already on the verge of dying. A sad plant simply waiting to wither away. But the half-torn root was still full of life, and he had a feeling that if he hurried and planted it, it could be saved.

"..."

Once more, he saw the light. It was twinkling as always.

It was flickering still.

"...Are you calling? For me?"

Twinkling,

"...For something like me? For something like this? Without a name, nor anything else, empty, letting everybody down, disgusting and scary, this me? Are you really calling for me?"

The sign flickered in the darkness like a pulse. Yes I am... Yes I am... Yes I am...

But, there was nothing more he could do... thinking like that, he looked down at the flower in his hand. By his own fault, its future was being cut unreasonably short.

He thought if he did something now, he might just make it on time, abandoning all the "I can't do it", "They won't let me" and "They'll laugh at me" that had kept him just sitting in this jail cell. If he could break out of here, he just might be able to help this little guy out.

Which was to say... he wanted out.

He thought, "Let's run, now! I want to get out of here. I want to go outside. I want to search for that light. I want to take a deep breath and run with all my might." Without being questioned by anybody, without anybody watching him, without being judged at all, simply him, running off by himself. And then he was sure that in the light, he would have freedom.

There, living in freedom, he would be himself.

It was so absurd, without foundation, but a creepy, sudden hunch, made Banri's chest grow hot in a single breath.

Could I try and believe in that light as a sign, in the voice calling me? I want to try and believe. I want to believe.

As if to sum it up, he took a breath, his body shaking from his pounding pulse. As if forced into existence, the phrase "Shall we go?" appeared, piercing to the very core of his body. With it a matching urge came up in his mind.

...Shall we go?

As things were, by himself. Slipping past the watching eyes. Relying on that sign. According to his thoughts. Using this body. The white flower in his hand, swaying with its head downcast, looked entirely like it was nodding in approval. Yes yes! Let's go! Let's go outside! And then you can help me! Kind of like that.

The situation seemed to him so very cute, a little laugh unconsciously slipped from him. Then with the excitement of the sleepness night,

(...All right! Let's go!)

He decided.

He peered down from the window. The ground was far away, the three floors making him dizzy. Holding on to the frame still, he unconsciously drew back, his feet frozen in place. But, he was determined.

Shaking his head from side to side, he caught his breath, bent his knees as hard as he could and crouched way down. Jumping up forcefully, Banri pulled back from the window.

Quietly, he closed the window sash. He drew the curtains too. His sandals stuffed inside his pajama top in Hideyoshi style, the flower still clasped in one hand, he walked quickly barefoot. Grabbing the door-knob firmly, he turned it carefully so as to not make any noise. He pushed it open. Sticking his head out into the darkened hallway at once, he looked left and right to make sure nobody was there. Breathing in deeply, bringing energy into his lungs, seemingly without a sound, his pounding heart was overwhelming him.

In that way, Banri took one step from his hospital room.

Still making demands of his heart, he continued to move his feet. He walked alone down the deathly quiet corridor, lit only by the green emergency lights. Floating lightly over the floor, his shadow fell slanting to the wall. Walking on his toes, he continued forward.

Gasping from the tension, desperately clutching his chest, he carefully descended the stairs as well. If by chance they spotted him crawling past the nurse's station, with its lights turned on, he planned to say his flower wanted some water.

He passed under the jutting counter, clinging to the wall while praying that nobody would come out, he slowly made it past his greatest obstacle. Nervous enough to die, and about to burst out laughing from sheer nervousness, Banri desperately kept his mouth shut. From his nose, his breath hissed "hmph... hmph..." The sound almost made him laugh again.

(Just a little further...!)

Resisting the urge to make a run for it with all he had, making all his muscles tremble with the effort to be quiet, as if he were practicing Tai Chi in the dark corridor, he headed for the night exit.

Holding his breath, he disappeared into the darkness like a ninja. If he were discovered, he would be without excuse, his pajama-clad form plainly marking him as a patient. Banri (somehow) advanced, praying as he went. Stretching out his neck like a turtle, he checked the state of the reception desk. Lucky, "Customers, please ring the bell." There wasn't anybody there.

Somehow, to not be discovered... somehow, for nobody to show up... for the door to not be locked...

Finally, reaching the heavy glass door and pushing on it, it clicked and opened without any particular difficulty. Without thinking, a soft "heave ho" sound escaped his lips.

He pushed it open only just far enough for his body, that time. Suddenly, he felt the air moving all around him. As if it were drawing him out, one step, two steps. The darkness of the evening fell over him, and it felt as if it pushed lightly against his entire body. It seemed as if gravity had suddenly lightened.

The warm moist wind caressed Banri's cheeks tenderly, and clear before his open eyes was the night.

The deep, black night.

Under the eaves, the flourescent lights flickering, it became a gentle slope of tile. Taking out his sandals from where they were, warmed by his chest, he impatiently put them on his feet. Under the lights, he wasn't savoring any excess of feeling like Nobunaga, though later it was a dream.

While looking back at the still quiet hospital ward many times to make sure that nobody noticed, Banri took off running.

At first he was unsteady, his feet staggering like those of a hatchling bird. His body was heavy. His feet seemed to have forgotten the rhythm of running, and his limbs felt uncoordinated. He didn't know where to place his weight. He had lost control over his whole body, and ran into things over and over again. He seemed to be jolted with every step; even his teeth were chattering. Living in a hospital had made all his muscles wither away. His arms wouldn't swing, nor would his thighs rise up. He started breathing hard at once, and he flailed shamefully, but, but,

...Aah! But!

"...Ya,"

Face forward. Close your eyes, then open them up. The heavens above, the night sky after rain. The stars, as if they were falling. The shock of your heels against the hard ground. The sound of the wind, the far away scenery, the darkness of the night, the puddles. It's mine, all of it. I, this me, right now, is feeling it all!

His stride was indeed stiff, but before long he remembered the trick of loosening up his lower extremities. As if oil had been applied to his joints, his knees and ankles finally started moving as he wished them to.

"Yahoooooooooooo!"

Joyfully, and yet carefully, shouting out from deep in his lungs, Banri opened his arms as if to receive the wind.

Facing towards the night sky, he could see the black shadows of the mountains. He could see the lights of the towns stretched out at the feet of the mountains. The wind was gently fragrant. He was gasping as if in pain, and yet entranced, he disregarded his screaming heart and losing himself in it, he rejected the ground with all he had. He dashed with all his strength.

...He really had gotten outside!

...He really had gotten outside!

Now you've gone and done it, Tada Banri! You're the guilty one! Are I that kind of guy!?

"Wahahahahahahahahaha!"

He laughed like a fool at how he had gotten more and more out of shape. So he could check on the light sign, he immediately entered the forest along the rehabilitation route.

Overhung thickly by branches from the trees on either side, the path was dark. But the trees didn't quite fall over on to the pavement. Discovering the place where the chives had been growing en masse, Banri was gasping violently as his feet came to a stop. Breathing heavily, his shoulders heaving up and down like those of a wild animal, he stepped into the thicket without hesitation. Going down on his knees, he dug into the wet ground with his hand. Inserting the root of the chive plant clasped in his hand into the ground, he softly covered it with dirt. With a feeling as if in prayer, he pressed down the smooth earth gently with the palm of his hand, then,

"...All right!"

He stood up. Sweat ran down his forehead.

Clapping his dirt-stained hands against his pajamas, getting them unnecessarily dirty, he walked deeper and deeper into the brush. Pushing through grass as tall as his chest, he headed towards the forest.

That light, it had to have been flickering around here.

Restraining his eagerness, he nervously went down the totally dark animal trail, which was starting to descend. Disappearing into the trees as he was, he could not have seen the light had it come from here.

But he couldn't have mistaken the direction. Planting his sandaled feet, once more Banri asked for the light to shine for him. Show me a sign. Call for me. Flicker for me like you did a little while ago. If you do that, I'll be able to find you right away.

But along his path the thicket got darker and darker, the trees extending more and more around him.

Two, one concern fell on his chest. ...He wondered, what if today's sign was over already? Even though he had finally acted, making his desperate dash, he still couldn't check it out. Whether it was some sort of sign or not, was he (of course) screwing up and making a fool out of himself? If he had come this far, it already didn't matter. Anything was okay, so he would prefer to have an answer in any case. He would like there to be meaning in him breaking out like he had. With that sole purpose, Banri continued moving forward.

As he muttered as if groaning "let it be", at that moment he brushed away some dry branches that were hanging down before his eyes.

"...Uwa..."

The soles of his sandals slipped.

Twisting, trying to put his panicked body back in order, he overbalanced.

Even though he had been weak since the accident, suddenly his abused muscles lost all their strength, and could no longer support his weight. Banri fell over backwards as if he'd been planted on his tail. Doing that, he let out a shriek. Shouting "Wah, wah, waaaah!?" he turned towards the steep slope and rolled awkwardly down.

Not stopping, unable to stop, he tumbled down the grassy slope. As he tumbled, he pointlessly joked to himself "Doesn't this look like a manga!?"

Finally, like a can coming out of a vending machine really hard ("Kerchunk!"), Banri was spit out of the field on to an asphalt surface.

At wit's end, giving up and rolling spread-eagled

"...Ah..."

He'd finally stopped.

Was this vacant land, he wondered?

Dazed, he opened his eyes.

Without the shadow of dark branches overhead, the faraway stars of the night sky spread out before his eyes.

He tried turning his face to the side in surprise, and then, he saw.

That pale light. It was different from the twinkling stars.

There were two lights, and when he tried to look from these few meters away,

"...S, neakers...?"

The shoes were of a high tech design.

Like fluorescent lights on the tips of the toes, there were strips of brightly reflective material on both shoes, left and right. Flickering close by, they shone all of two meters away.

"...Oh...?"

Naturally, if those were shoes, then they were connected to human feet.

When he raised his sight, still fallen from rolling down, he saw legs wearing slim denims, a worn T-shirt over the upper half of the body, and long hair falling down over that bosom.

She had beautiful, glossy straight long hair. Close back behind her head, it was neatly gathered together and drawn to one side, spilling over her shoulder.

It was a girl.

She had a sharp chin, and a white face. Her bangs had a strangely tousled, as if by habit.

She had an incredible look on her face. A look of unpleasant shock there still, she was practically white in the face. She was shaking all over. Her shoulders squared as if she were a puppet on strings, she looked down stiffly at Banri.

So it must have seemed. Banri was of the same opinion.

If a guy had suddenly come rolling out of the field in front of you, even if you weren't a girl, you would be unpleasantly shocked too.

And worse, all in muddy pajamas. An ordinary, living, flesh and blood guy, somehow looking like a ghost, however unlikely that may be. Even more than a psychic phenomenon, it was a very real sign of danger. Shouting aloud, running and escaping, not even calling the police.

But, if you could, I'd like you to wait a little bit.

"...The, the way things are... could you please wait a little bit...!?"

He tried to whisper in a quiet voice.

His back... and his hips. As they seem to have been hurt, he could not get up right away. He tried to moving his shoulders gently, and his collarbone at least, which had been broken in the accident, seemed to be okay.

"...I'm not something suspicious...!"

Even to himself, he'd become awfully suspicious looking. Even smiling with the best of intentions was already making it worse. The girl's expression was getting stiffer and stiffer, and was now truly a picture out of Umezu's work.

His voice shaking from enduring the pain, the very image of a pervert... his pajamas still muddied from rolling around on the ground, yet he wanted to somehow appear to be wholesome. Lightly, he raised one hand. He tried to wave it. It was important for her to understand, somehow, that it wasn't a sign of attack, that he wasn't a dangerous person, before she went and reported him to the police.

The girl, that look still on her face, watched Banri wave, in shock. Wobbling, her slender body swayed back and forth. Both her legs were trembling as if she were Bambi, the baby deer. ...If she didn't come to understand soon, she might just die of fright.

"Umm... I'm one of the new patients in the hospital over there!"

Unable to get up yet and getting desperate, Banri pointed at the trees above them, towards where the hospital should be.

"How is it that the light, in truth, turned out to be something like this?"

Right on the toes of the sneakers the girl was wearing.

"I could see it from my room! 'What could it be?', I said! 'Isn't that really mysterious?', I said! Thinking about it all, because of it, without thinking, I mean, I wanted to check it out..."

While watching the sprawled on the ground Banri Still trying to explain his recklessness, the girl finally moved, staggering. Like a drunken person, a balancing toy or something, she swayed far to the left and to the right,

"U, waa..."

She let out a strange cry.

Pointing at Banri's face, right then and there she sat down on the asphalt with a thud. What the heck? She was sitting there with her legs wide open.

"...Are, are you okay!?"

Because she must've said it without thinking,

"Shouldn't I be the one asking you!?"

Suddenly coming back to his senses, he remembered his situation. Hospital in-patients didn't usually go out in the middle of the night like this, so there wouldn't be anybody worrying about him.

"...Are, are are... are,"

The girl, her voice still quivering, was unable to get up, her legs spread indecently. She was probably trying to say, "Are, are are, are you okay? I'm okay so don't get close to me, kyaa!"

But, turning such expectations on their head,

"Shall... I call somebody... from the hospital...!?"

Her sneakers flashing, the girl was worrying over Banri. Wow, what a nice person... Banri thought. Worrying about such a suspicious character in this kind of ambiguous situation, even with her legs spread like that.

"No, I'm fine! That's okay!"

Banri shook his head from side to side clearly.

"I've managed to escape! So I won't have people being called for me! I will return on my own once I've been able to move around... fu...!"

This is bad, he thought.

I have, to endure, but... nfu, nfufu, nfufufufufu... Banri was assailed by a sudden fit of laughter. Snot rolled out his nostrils and his breath came in shaking spasms.

But just look at this mess. Himself, out of doors, muddy, sprawled out, legs and arms akimbo, and a girl, worrying about him while sitting with her legs spread open.

The image of the two of them... if you looked at from outside... it was, worthy of...

"Wha, what am I doing? Fu... nha, hahahahahahahaha! Ahahahahaha, hahahahaha, wahahahahahahahaha!"

Still unable to get up, curling and uncurling his whole body like a shrimp, Banri suddenly burst into laughter, unable to stop himself.

"A~hahahaha... that's rich, wahahaha, open, hi~aahahahaha!"

Every time he twisted his body, his injured back hurt. But once started, the fit was hard to stop, and Banri wound up crying while he laughed his head off. Not knowing any more what was so funny, he kept on laughing, ridiculously, unable to stop. His stomach muscles cramping, he was about to mess his pants. The girl with her legs spread and still unable to stand simply stared at Banri's disgraceful behavior.

Wow, what a night.

"...About, that..."

While trying to bring his laughter under control, Banri once more pointed at the girl's toes.

Still opened very wide, the girl's two eyes shone brightly, sparkling in the darkness. If you looked from this distance, more so than her shoes, her eyes could be seen glittering the whole time.

Moist, clear, perfectly round, as if entirely fascinated... for sure, for sure. All at once embarrassed, his laughter suddenly subsided.

Somehow averting his eyes from her, which exerted a powerful attraction on him, Banri drew a sharp breath. And then several more, deeply. He discretely calmed his breathing.

"...That, the glittering, really, I've seen it a lot... ah, it hurts, I laughed too much. ...So, I've been seeing it a lot. From my room, that flashing, it looked like a star. 'What, what might it be?' I thought, wondering."

"..."

The M-legged girl, all of two meters distance from Banri, was still sitting there silently. But suddenly her body tensed up. For all Banri knew, she was holding her breath. As you might expect, facing a suspicious looking guy with such funny ways, wouldn't she be afraid? Wouldn't she be on guard?

"...But, I told myself there was no way it was a star."

In order to seem less frightening than before, he went to great effort to calm and quiet his voice. Unlike his earlier idiotic grin, he tried to present a normal smile.

"And so, I wondered if perhaps somebody was trying to give me a sign. I mean... a sign to escape? Kinda? Like it was calling me 'Here here!' I thought, I felt it was sort of guiding me, with that, I snuck quietly out of my hospital room, out of the ward... and in the end wound up like this. Yes, I'm a blooming idiot!"

Please don't laugh at me while I'm calling myself an idiot, Banri thought.

But it was easier said than done.

"...Is, ...that ...so...?"

In a stiff voice, as if it were squeezed from her throat, such few words. Her white cheeks remained stiff. But shortly, her shoulders could be seen moving up and down as she took a deep breath. Though it seemed to him her tension had eased... weren't such things just wishful thinking?

Gingerly trying to raise his body, Banri groaned. His back, of course, still hurt. Seeing Banri fall down suddenly for a second time, the M-legged girl showed an surprised expression. Reaching a hand out to him as if by reflex, trying to help him,

"It's okay, it's okay, don't worry about me."

At Banri's words, her hand stopped. It floated there in mid-air, doing nothing.

"..."

The M-legged girl was still in that strange pose, her mouth half-open, frowning and staring back at Banri looking like she could not speak at all.

In that expression emotions swirling as if in confusion: fear, nervousness, surprise... Banri didn't know what to make of them.

Simply understanding, but unable to do anything about it, she seemed to be concerned about Banri. She herself, despite being unable to move from her M-legged, seated state, did not take her eyes off of Banri for an instant. Neither did she try to escape from here. Her hand, still floating in the air, was white.

"...Leaving that aside, those shoes sparkle."

Rather than saying "I'm okay, really," Banri made his voice bright and cheerful.

"I wonder they seem to flash like that? From my hospital room I saw them twinkling like stars."

"...That. ...Maybe..."

Softly, she dropped the hand that had been floating in mid air to her side.

Likewise, she slowly got up, wobbling a little as if making sure of her footing.

"My wandering around might be to blame for this."

Still a little wobbly, she once more looked at Banri. For a number of seconds she didn't move, looking at Banri's eyes, his face, his head with its close cropped hair, the hospital patient ID tag on his wrist, his dirty feet and sandals, Banri's entire body and Banri himself, who could barely endure her gaze.

At long last, her hair swaying as she did so, she looked aside.

"Like this."

While she was looking Banri over, she walked back and forth, some steps in each direction. As she did so, of course, the lights, though they matched her steps, flickered as if they were jumping around.

"Ah, that's it!"

Banri spoke up automatically.

Precisely when she changed directions, just when she snapped herself around, the left and right foot's sparkles came together for an instant in a neat way, and then separated again. That was what had looked like a star, suddenly breaking up.

Now I get it! At the very moment he understood it clearly, it once again gave birth to a mystery.

He wondered why this girl, who he thought was about his same age, was wandering about at such a time and in such a place. And... oh yeah. For three days, even.

Behind her, he could see an old scooter with a helmet hanging from the handlebars. Wasn't that how she got here?

"...What are you doing, coming to such a place as this by yourself? Isn't it dangerous?"

When he asked without thinking,

"When I came up the mountain from below, I just happened to come to a stop here."

As if she were answering, as if not.

"You mean to say... you didn't come here before three days ago?"

"It's Golden Week, so..."

This wasn't an answer either... no, what was it? Oh yeah, the outside world had plunged into the series of consecutive holidays three days ago. Banri recalled that his schedule of checkups and rehabilitation had gotten all messed up.

But we're into the holiday period, so he wondered why she was wandering around here. Trying to ask her about it, he paused, thinking. He wondered if it would be asking too much, and sticking his nose into other's business. Was he stepping beyond the bounds of a first meeting, especially in this kind of ambiguous encounter?

Banri looked up and tried to get a glimpse of the standing girl's expression. He figured that if he found even a little displeasure in her expression, he would try and keep it short. And then he would say "It's already late, so let's get back." So he thought.

But when the girl noticed Banri's gaze, she pulled on her bangs with her finger as if out of habit, as if she were trying to hide her eyes from view. Having done so,

"...From here, I can see the hospital."

Only on her lips, a smile could barely be seen.

"A friend is hospitalized there. But I can't go to see him. ...I cannot help but worry. I said to myself, ‘Can't I know at least how he's doing? Let's try and get as close as I can.'"

Suddenly, Banri was thinking.

He wondered if by some chance this girl wasn't here during the day too. After all, the flashes from her sneakers couldn't be seen during the day.

She was worried about a friend. ...But even like that.

When he thought of that, suddenly his chest hurt as if it had been twisted into a knot. No longer able to be touched there,

"...He will have gone to bed, so you don't have to stay close by, do you?"

He instinctively turned from their former conversation. Yes, smiling only with her lips, she nodded.

"It's Tokyo. I... I came here from Tokyo. I'm a college student."

"Oh, that so? ...That so, that's nice... I wish I were."

"...Wish you were? Going to Tokyo?"

At the voice that escaped Banri, she suddenly raised her eyes. Sparkling as if wet, the lovely pair, turned upwards slightly, focused directly on Banri.

"Yeah. I long for it. Because, if I'm staying here, really! It feels like I've been locked up, you know. It feels like I won't be able to leave here for eternity, and I see that I'm just going to turn dark and gloomy."

"...Hey, though I'm sorry to hear these sorts of things all of sudden, ...isn't your body bad like that?"

"Oh. Yes, it is."

So as to avoid as best he could being depressing, Banri had intended to answer her lightly. That's right. It's bad.

His body's wounds, such as they were, being parted from his memories... what in the world would happen to him, nobody knew. He might be like this his whole life. He might even live his whole life in a hospital. His whole life, perhaps, unable to hope for a normal existence.

Nobody knew.

"...Can't you leave the hospital?"

"I want to. I do."

Putting for some effort and getting the weight off from his spinal column, Banri slowly sat up. From a seated position, he lightly twisted his lower back. It hurt, but it wasn't more than he could deal with.

The girl watched Banri the whole while he was flexing his body. As if she had been nailed to the ground, she had once more frozen in place a little ways from him. Banri saw her hand, which reached out towards him as if hesitating. It was if it were trying to prop him up.

It's fine, I'm okay. While saying that, Banri slowly and carefully stretched his aching back. The girl stayed two meters away.

"Ow ow ow... ah, that's good. Tokyo."

As he let his breath go, he spoke.

"I want to go too. If I could become a college student in Tokyo... I mean, even though I'm a rounin, then I'd be able to say good bye to this cage. I think I can escape. With a little bit of work, before too long I may even be able to truly escape, two hundred kilometers from here."

"...Is the hospital such a cage? Are you talking of being hospitalized?"

"Yes. There's that too. For now, that's all included in the ties and relationships by which I am bound. There are many considerations, and as it is, it's like I'm ...horribly... confined. Ah, I could just as well go much, much further than Tokyo, I suppose. Okinawa, Hokkaido, better yet a foreign country."

"...I think Tokyo is just fine. It's..."

All of a sudden, her words cut off as if something had clogged her chest. But right away,

"It's fun. If you'd like, come over. Come over to where I am."

And so succeeding, she laughed and smiling for him.

Watching that smile, Banri thought. ...I really do want to go. One day, I should go to a university in Tokyo. I should go out on campus with a girl smiling like this. If he that then without a doubt he would be able to live incredibly wonderful, dazzling days. Dreamy new days.

Then he realized.

Himself, now, for the first time in his life, he saw what he wanted to do in the future.

Up to now, he had not been able to imagine anything but a nasty horror movie unfolding. But now, he saw a different future. Now, what was burning in his heart was something called "hope", for sure.

Without thinking, he put his hand over his heart. It was pounding. Hope was living within him now. He asked if he could live from now with this hope.

Without even realizing it, his mouth was open and he was moaning "Wow..."

In his heart there suddenly lit a terrific power of hope, and Banri had a clear vision of his next step. It was just like flames running along the ground.

He thought, "Once it's morning, I want to go to Tokyo." He wanted to tell his doctor, his mother, even his father that he wanted to make that his goal. Such were his thoughts. It was perhaps the first time in his life he had this experience: Looking forward to the next morning, even saying things like that.

He could not guess what their reaction would be to him saying such things all of a sudden, nor what it would look like, nor whether he would be allowed or not. But, his wanted to convey his own feelings and intentions clearly. He wanted them to understand that he wanted to leave this place, and what his feelings were.

And then he realized, as if connecting the dots more and more, how much he had avoided it up to now. He worried that no matter where he looked, out of fear of being shunned as an imposter, he could not speak what was in his heart to anybody.

To the point where he felt it was a jail. Banri had, by himself, locked himself in jail up to now.

He wanted to stop such things already. He wanted to take back his freedom. Like that time just now he'd taken off running, to follow his heart. In that way, using his body as hard as he could, the act of moving being the very same as freedom. Just where his body was having nothing to do with it, "freedom" was using his heart and body to his heart's content. He felt as if in this middle of this night's darkness, his eyes were finally open and clear.

"...Thank you!"

"Eh?"

Perhaps startled by Banri's words, the girl looked up, a surprised expression on her face.

"Thank you for giving me a sign. I understand that the sign was not directed at me, but as far as I am concerned, that, your light, was the sign for me to rush out."

The feelings were from his heart.

Thank you, really. Thank you... Banri said again. And then,

"I'm glad I rushed out at that sign!"

Refreshed, he smiled from deep inside.

The girl's flickering light in the darkness was the sign given to Banri to get up and go.

Then, rousing his courage and about to lose himself in running, Banri spotted a star. He spotted it well. While he had lost one part of himself, he felt that he had managed to take back the other part: life itself.

The girl, with a surprised look still on her face, watched the smiling Banri.

"I will do whatever I can to thank you. I've got it! I will look for your friend in the hospital ward, and if we meet, I will pass along your message."

"...If, you meet...?"

He gave her a big nod 'yes' back. But she didn't seem to be the least bit happier at Banri's proposal. Half her face was still smiling, while the other half looked sad.

He wondered if she wanted to convey her feelings in person. ...You could say probably that. Rather than entrust her message to somebody else, doubtless she wanted to see him for herself. Those feelings not even Banri understood, however.

"I promise you. I will properly convey your message, the reason you've been coming here. And so, you shouldn't come back to such a place alone again."

"...Eh..."

Her expression became even more clouded.

"It's dangerous, of course. I don't think you ought to be out alone in the dead of night like this, in such an empty place, even if you are on a scooter."

Staring back at Banri's face, her white face was stiffening once more, on the verge of crying. As if he were warning her, Banri looked straight back at that face.

"Hang in there, I think it'll be okay if you wait for your friend to return. I'll make sure your signal gets to him."

Banri wa sou omou no ni, But his own eyes wouldn't flash so prettily, sparkle like stars, nor have that light within them when opened wide... Even though Banri thought so,

"My... signal, such a..."

She covered her face with both hands and hung her head deeply.

"It's already too late for a 'signal'. I didn't make it on time. ...A signal, anything would have been good. By voice, any way at all. Anything would have been good. It would have be better had I made it on time then. Even for me, there was already nothing I could do. Nothing... already, not even any power..."

Understanding the muttered voice suddenly mixed with tears, Banri was surprised. As if he'd been struck, he couldn't say anything more.

"I told myself 'If these hands had only been on time... Hey, if only that moment I had been on time, then, then...' I asked myself whether he could have been rescued from that moment of such dreadful danger, whether he could not have lived without having to go through it. That was all I asked! Hey...!"

Her voice was, as it were, slaps, slaps directed at her own self.

"And then I would have held on to his hand tight, and would never have let go of him! Never! However heavy, I would never let you..."

That time, Banri could not ignore an uncomfortable feeling.

"...'You'? Me?"

The words streaming out of her like an uncontained leak stopped.

"Just now, were you talking about my accident?"

Could the friend about which she was speaking be none other than Tada Banri? Pulling back, he looked at her face anew.

"...Are you, perhaps, related to me? ...Did you know my former self?"

A friend of Tada Banri... in other words, the person to which his current self's abnormalities would be most clearly conspicuous, who would reject his current self's existence most severely, who would be tormented... the very last person he would want to see right now.

But,

"...No, that's not right, you see."

The voice that returned to him no longer shook. Tightly, as if she had come to a decision,

"I don't know you."

And so she moved on. For some reason adding "sorry" after that, she suddenly turned aside.

Her bound hair swaying in the night darkness, turning her back on the still seated Banri, she walked towards her parked scooter. Helmet in hand, with the appearance of being unaccustomed to it, she sat herself in the old seat.

Somehow it seemed that with that, she had done what she had intended to do. Though he wasn't yet fully satisfied, Banri still could not stand up, and waiting without speaking, unable to discover within himself reason to talk just a little bit longer,

"Hey! What about the message!?"

Somehow he managed to say that much. She put on her helmet, tightened the strap beneath her chin, and turned the key. The scooter's engine started. It sputtered, sounding slightly idiotic. As if through a crack in that sound,

"Tell him to do his best! ...Ah, I'm not supposed to say even that much."

She was silent for a few seconds, then drew a breath one more time. And then,


"XXXX!"


The engine sound distorted her voice to something like that of some marine animal, and just like that she took off. She hadn't told him what mattered: the message to convey, nor the name of her friend. By the time he noticed that he couldn't hear her, and that he couldn't make sense of it, the area was once more wrapped in the stillness of night.

Left behind by himself, Banri, nevertheless tried searching for a while in front of the trees where the red tail light had faded away.

But he never saw it again, and was unable to find it.

That particular night's events were just like a one act dream, strangely unreal.

...But no doubt about it, it really happened.

That he understood.

Even now, safely discharged from the hospital, truly gone to Tokyo and become a college student, Banri hadn't forgotten that time.

At some point the face in his memories and a certain face he was seeing now at college connected without him noticing, and he knew perfectly well that face was Linda's.

Still, after all this time he wasn't doing anything special to verify it. He didn't think it necessary. He was glad simply knowing that that person was Linda.

He knew that at that time, Linda had reason to lie, saying she didn't know him. The problem was that his mother had told him that she didn't want any of his old acquaintance seeming him at all. All of his friends had probably been told, in a manner of speaking, "We don't want you to come." In that time and those circumstances, Linda was right not to say her name.

And then, he decided to not look backwards anymore, choosing to make their mutual past as if it had never happened.

More and more, it was getting to where there weren't even reasons for bringing it up again between the two of them.

The guy that Linda wanted to see that time was longer part of this world. The Linda he had met was a girl who'd come into his view, tracing the steps of a guy no longer in the world. It was something of a dream, being linked with a guy already gone by the time you'd met that person. Counting it as "something that wasn't" and "a past you can't look back at" was surely the right thing to do.

But, no matter what else, there was just one thing worrying him.

He just couldn't remember. He could only put the words "Do your best!" into her mouth, since they seemed the memories had been drowned out by the engine noise. He just couldn't remember them. Though he should have heard them that time, he no longer knew, nor did he know when he forgot them.

Sometimes, he thought about it, wondering what Linda had said. But then he thought, I can't remember.

So he was fine with having forgotten. It was okay. The events of that night, as if they were still a dream flowing by, sometimes stroked him gently inside the heart.

And that was enough, now, Banri thought.

And then to Tokyo, Spring came.