“Welcome! It’s fine to look at anything, looking is free.”
Makoto, Akira and Kiichi were hawking items in the marketplace. But Makoto was the only one with enthusiasm. The other two were entirely listless. Not to mention the three had been there since the morning but hadn’t sold a thing.
It was only to be expected - among the goods they’d laid out, there was a broken globe, a broken desk lamp, a half-filled sketchbook, and a guitar with only three strings... honestly speaking, it was all crap. None of it would sell.
While Makoto and the others were considering closing up their pretend shop, nearby Yamato and Takeru sat together under the bright orange blanket that had been delivered.
“Of course, as a Japanese person, I like rice best. Warm rice. Just imagine it. Pickled plums, salmon, kelp, dried fish... Yamato, what’s your favorite filling for rice balls?” Takeru asked, in a dreamy tone.
Yamato answered in the same, “Cod roe.”
“Cod roe? You want to taste that crunchiness, right?”
Yamato swallowed, and nodded.
“Why don’t you ask Shibazaki? He promised, right? If everyone was calm he’d listen to our requests,” Takeru said, suddenly down to earth. Yamato was alone in his dreaming about eating rice balls.
“Yamato!” Mori ran up with a strange expression. He pulled an open-mouthed Yamato towards the gate. There, Ryuu with a group looked up at the watching guards. The children held torches, and every face was fierce.
“The general promised to listen to us, didn’t he?” Ryuu yelled.
“What are you talking about?”
“We want real food. Every day we get nothing but cans, give us something decent to eat!”
Not looking at Ryuu, the guard addressed Yamato who’d just come up. “What are you doing? Don’t let them do whatever they want!”
Ryuu looked at Yamato with a scornful smile.
“Hey, since when are you the boss of us?”
“Don’t make a fuss,” Yamato told him.
“You’re giving me orders? We’re not your followers.”
“Hey, this isn’t a question of leaders or followers. Yamato’s just the point of contact, so to speak. If everyone’s talking about various things, they won’t listen to any of us.”
When Takeru answered for Yamato, Ryuu’s oldest friend Reiji said, “You, shut up.” He twisted Takeru’s arm.
“Owowowow!” Takeru grimaced.
In the middle of the uneasy atmosphere, Yamato said to Ryuu, “If there’s something you want, I’ll ask for it.”
Scowling at him, Ryuu spit on the ground.
In the music room, Takeru, Kiichi and Mori had gathered.
When Takeru mentioned the coldness of Reji’s hand when he grabbed his arm, everyone’s faces grew dark.
“His hand was really cold?” Kiichi asked.
“Yeah, I only felt it for a second, but it was freezing.”
When Takeru nodded, Mori and Kiichi exchanged glances. “That’s the sign.
“When a person is going to die in a couple of days, their hands get cold.”
“Before he died, my dad said his hands felt cold.” At Kiichi’s words, Mori shook his head, frightened.
“He’s already twenty, that Reiji guy...”
As they fell silent, they all felt a sudden chill. But of course, that was only because of the temperature of the room...
The moon had come out.
Shibazaki spoke to Yamato from behind a metal grate.
“How is it, inside?” The guards with guns stood behind him.
“It’s pretty much changed.”
“It seems like the food isn’t quite enough, everyone’s saying... well...”
“If it’s impossible, just tell me.”
“What is it?”
“...rice balls,” Yamato said in a low voice.
“What was that?”
This time Yamato said it clearly. “We’d like to eat rice balls.”
Yamato bowed his head apologetically, but Shibazaki answered, “I’ll see what I can do.”
His face brightening, Yamato bowed again, deeply.
The next day, a changed atmosphere surrounded the delivery. Rice balls had been added to the usual supplies. It was like a dream - pure white rice wrapped in crisp seaweed. Genuine rice balls.
Everyone lingered over eating them, slowly and regretfully taking the last bite. They understand that, more than anything, they were taking bites of happiness.
Yamato felt extremely grateful to Shibazaki, eating his dreamed-of rice ball. An idea suddenly popped into his head.
In a short while, a piece of paper appeared in the marketplace:
Since the delivery only comes once a day, we should ask General Shibazaki for things we really need. Write down your requests, and bring it to the gym.
Makoto raised his voice cheerfully. Sitting next to him, Takeru also looked up. There was finally a customer standing in front of their shop. But as Makoto saw who it was, a cloud crossed his face. It was Ryuu’s buddy, Reiji.
“What do you want?” Akira asked suspiciously, but Makoto spoke in a friendly voice.
“Hey now, he’s a customer. What can we get you?”
Reiji’s blank eyes rested on the guitar.
“Well, as expect, the customer has excellent taste. This is a good choice, this guitar. It’s a Guild, do you know of it?”
“It’s my guitar,” muttered Reiji. “Where’d you get it?”
“We found it in an empty lot,” Akira answered quickly. Reiji took the guitar by the neck, and Makoto tried to stop him in a panic.
“Wait! Finders, keepers, right? Give it back. If you want it, give us something.”
At Makoto’s threatening attitude, Reiji turned with surprising calmness and left that place. With his hands in his pockets, his hunched figure looked lonely as he walked away. Takeru, watching him go, remembered his cold touch from the day before.
Takeru found Reiji shortly afterward staying in an abandoned building. He was holding that guitar.
“What,” Reiji asked bluntly. He’d been reading a book, and Takeru couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen someone doing that.
“I was thinking I wanted to apologize about earlier. Sorry, we really didn’t know it was your guitar.”
“I brought it back.” Saying this, Takeru put the guitar next to Reiji.
“But can you actually play it? There’s no strings.”
Without answering, Reiji silently picked it up.
They sat next to each other. Reiji was trying to tune the three-stringed guitar. He seemed happy to have it in his hands after a long time, and he and Takeru were having their first real conversation about various topics.
It seemed he’d wanted to be a musician. He hadn't passed any auditions. He’d been thinking if he got out of here, he’d like to write some good songs, get into the indies scene.
When he’d finished talking, Reiji muttered, “I’ve got to get out of here, quick.”
For a second, Takeru felt that chill again. Looking over at the other boy’s profile, he gave a small nod.
There was an incredible crowd in the gym. Everyone had come because they’d seen the paper and wanted to add something to the requests box.
“This is a huge turnout,” said Kiichi, his eyes wide.
“If we charged a can of food from each one, we’d make a killing,” Makoto whispered to Yamato.
“Don’t be an idiot.”
“Hey, can I ask for a ‘Dreams Come True’ CD?”
“I want some mousse, and chap-stick.”
Yamato rolled his eyes at Makoto and Akira’s chattering.
“What are you going to do, asking for things like that?”
“But I think everyone will ask for what they personally want.”
At Kiichi’s words, Yamato responded plainly, “Useless requests will be dismissed. We’ll present Shibazaki with the items that the most number of people want.”
“Well, aren’t you almighty, just because you got your rice balls.”
Yamato looked at the line, not even halfway done with their requests. The children slid pieces of paper into a box one after the other. Their eyes were shining, as though they’d been given hope.
“Wouldn’t it be a good thing if all of us could have just a little more comfort in our lives?”
The busy day ended. Yamato and the others sorted through the request box, checking off items.
“Can we ask for something like that?”
“No good. We’ve got scissors.”
“Don’t screw around.”
“A lot of people want miso soup.”
Just then, Yamato noticed Yuuri nearby.
“Yuuri, help us out. We’re going to be doing this until tomorrow morning,” Kiichi called, but she just smiled bitterly at him.
“It’s because you’re trying to listen to everyone’s opinion. Didn’t you know what you were getting into?”
Yamato’s hand stilled as he looked at her. She’d changed her trademark white bandana for a brown one. She seemed a little more gentle lately. Her words didn’t have the same sharp sting as before.
Thinking of that, Yamato smiled brightly. "That's democracy.
“And you’re acting like a politician,” said a voice suddenly from the entryway. It was Ryuu. He had a gang behind him, and they glared at Yamato.
“You’re not being impartial.”
“What do you mean?” Yamato asked, puzzled.
“Whatever they give us, you’re going to keep for yourself.”
“We wouldn’t do something dirty like that!”
“So you say, but like a politician you’re in the position to control it all.”
Yamato was starting to return their angry looks. “I’m not thinking about politics here. I’m considering what’s best for everyone...”
“So how about you hand over all those papers to us? Then we’d be equal.”
As soon as Ryuu had spoken, Kiichi stood up, his face bright red. “Then why don’t you do this?”
Ryuu knocked over the box, glaring at Kiichi. Yamato jumped between the two of them.
“Don’t fight! I promised Shibazaki that we wouldn’t quarrel.”
“Aren’t you a good boy,” Ryuu spat.
As the gang was leaving, Takeru came in.
“Nothing,” Yamato said, shaking his head.
Akira confirmed it. “We should leave those guys out of it.”
“Well, let’s finish this up quickly.”
“Takeru, you help,” Kiichi urged him, but Takeru watched them work as though there was something he wanted to say.
“What?” When Yamato looked over at him, Takeru spoke with a rare diffidence.
“Could you ask Shibazaki for something?”
“What is it?”
For a second, Takeru’s eyes were lowered. Then he lifted his head, and opened his mouth decisively.
That night, heating up their bath in the courtyard, Yamato and Takeru continued their conversation.
“He doesn’t know yet, that he’s going to die soon. He’s writing a song on his guitar, and I want him to be able to play it before... that’s why I asked.”
At Takeru’s words, Yamato sat thinking for a moment, before raising his head.
“I can’t ask for that. Don’t get me wrong - “
“I understand your feelings, but I have to put some limits on listening to everyone’s requests. If I relay every single one, Shibazaki isn’t going to have confidence in me anymore.”
“Plus, even if he plays his guitar it won’t save his life.”
“I know that, but - “ Takeru stammered, not understanding.
“I know it sounds cruel, but I’m doing this for everyone. Please understand.”
And saying this, Yamato left quickly, Takeru watching his back as he fled.
… Of course I understand Takeru’s feelings. We’ve been together this whole time, even sleeping together. And yet... Yamato told himself, If he were in my position, would he think the same way? If it were possible, I’d like to give Reiji a real opportunity to perform once before he died. That’s why Takeru wants the strings. He’s painfully pure-hearted like that. I understand that, but everyone who gathered in the gym today is the same. Everyone wrote down their requests with the same genuine hope. If I fail to be impartial... I can’t favor Takeru above everyone else.
“Yamato. Do your best!”
He was walking through the streets lost in his own dark thoughts, when a sudden voice pulled him back. It was a tiny girl. She didn’t have a place to live, so she’d found a corner of the square where a plank blocked the night wind. Returning her warm smile, Yamato raised his head.
He saw Reiji’s figure. He struck a lonely figure, walking with his guitar in one hand.
Yamato stood still, filled with unbearable thoughts. Mori came up, catching his breath. He carried a strange flower.
“You’ve never seen this kind of flower before, right?”
“What is it?”
“I don’t know for sure, but it was growing where the meteor crashed.”
“In the crater?”
Shibazaki looked stunned when Yamato showed him the flower. Just as Mori had said, they were blooming all around the meteor site. Yamato had picked one witth large white petals, and brought it to the negotiating seat.
“Yes, I thought it might give us a hint about the microbe.”
“I’ll have it studied.”
Yamato handed the flower.
A guard interjected. “Is that all you came to say?”
Taken aback by his harsh tone, Yamato stammered, “Ye-es?”
“Didn’t you come to make more demands?”
“...If it’s possible, we’d like some miso soup. That, and - “
For a second, the guitar came to Yamato’s mind, and Reiji’s lonely figure, but it disappeared.
“And?” Shibazaki asked.
The guard grew angry at his indecision.
“Don’t get carried away! You think you can just make a sweet face. You get one thing and right away you ask for a second, you get that and you want a third. You take it for granted. Well, don’t be thinking you’ll get a third.”
“That’s not true! I’m doing my best, and there are even more things that people are asking for.”
As Yamato’s voice rose, the guard pointed his gun at him. But Shibazaki pushed it down.
“I understand. I trust in your judgement as leader.”
Yamato couldn’t bring himself to deceive the man. He had to keep trying to be impartial... Yamato bit his lip, and nodded.
I can’t say it. I can’t ask for something like guitar strings.
Shibazaki watched Yamato leave, his head hanging. He remembered the meeting he’d had that morning.
A staff member had revealed the investigation results so far.
“We are calling the microbe that arrived on the meteor type T-Makuhara. It transfers by skin-to-skin contact. It only affects humans. Symptoms may vary, but around the age of twenty there is degradation of cells followed by death.”
After the meeting, Shibazaki had been grilled by his superior. Why he’d had extra food sent inside, whether their first priority was the lives of the children or the containment of T-Makuhara.
Their first priority... wasn’t the lives of the children....
Shibazaki closed his eyes, and for a moment he stood there silently as though there was something he was trying to resist.
“I wonder what it feels like,” Kiichi muttered that night in the gym, unable to sleep.
“What?” Takeru asked, in the same mood.
“When you understand that you’re going to die soon... If possible, I’d like to die without realizing. It’s the counting down that’s hardest to bear.”
“...Yeah.” Takeru remembered the figure Reiji struck desperately trying to play a song with only three strings. Swamped with unbearable emotions, he pulled his blanket over his head. An unspoken misery had been building up in the depths of his heart since Yamato had refused him.
The guitar fell with a clatter, and Reiji opened his eyes.
In the bright morning sunlight, Ryuu and his gang were picking through his things.
Ryuu laughed coldly at Reiji’s puzzled face.
“Hey, you’re still alive.”
“We came to get your stuff. Since you won’t need it anymore.”
“Of course I’m still alive, what are you talking about?”
“You don’t know?”
Everyone exchanged strange glances.
“You’re going to die soon. When your hands got cold, that’s the sign.”
Reiji’s expression changed. “That’s a lie. You’re lying, right? I’m not dying!”
Reiji leapt at him, but Ryuu shoved him away, and snorted.
“Whether it’s a lie or the truth, you’ll understand soon enough.”
“What happened? Why isn’t there any food?” Yamato called up to a guard.
The helicopter hadn’t come for some reason, and they wouldn’t explain anything.
“Say something! Answer me! Where’s Shibazaki? Tell him to come out!”
No matter how much Yamato yelled, the guards kept silent with their backs turned.
Before Yamato could learn the reason, Ryuu came up surrounded by his gang. In a loud voice, he called, “it’s annoying, you always suiting yourself. Because of you, we’ve got no food. I heard a rumor that you’ve been meeting with the other side in secret, and they let you eat to your heart’s content. That true?”
“Shut up! Yamato wouldn’t do something like that!” Mori jumped to his defense. But his voice fell on unheeding ears. Everyone gathered around Ryuu glared at Yamato with cold eyes.
“We’re not going to let you do whatever you want anymore. You’ve been talking about equality and a democracy, right? So let’s let everyone decide. You or me, who should be the leader. We’ll let them vote, how’s that? If you refuse, you’re just a dictator.”
“Fine,” Yamato said.
As soon as Yamato agreed to an election, Ryuu’s gang left with no fuss.
“Is that really okay? If Ryuu becomes leader, he’s going to keep the food and everything else for himself.”
“I’ll take care of it, if it comes to that,” Yamato answered Mori with little energy. More than Ryuu, right now his main worry was why the delivery had stopped.
At the same time, Shibazaki was meeting with the vice-minister of the committee.
“Why have you stopped the food delivery?”
“It was an executive decision,” said the vice-minister in a cold, haughty tone.
“Why was this decided so suddenly? Nothing was mentioned at yesterday’s meeting...”
“If the children show alarm, emergency measures will be taken. However, we must not let the disease leak to the outside. That’s an order.”
He started to walk away as he said this, but Shibazaki followed.
“Please wait a minute. Why was this decided so suddenly? Please explain the reason to me.”
“You don’t need an explanation!” His eyes glinted with a cold light. Shibazaki persisted.
“Is it the flower? Is there something secret about that flower? Is that what it is? Answer me! Vice-minister, I am the General of the committee! I am in charge here!”
The vice-minister looked at him, and opened his mouth. “This was a decision made by the state.”
That final ultimatum, Shibazaki understood better than anyone else.
As Yamato and Mori ran up to the square, they saw that Reiji was throwing a fit.
“I don’t get it! Why am I going to get killed by something like a microbe? I refuse, I won’t stand for it!”
“Calm down,” Takeru coaxed him. “Reiji! Calm down!”
But Reiji wouldn’t. Yamato came up to them. “Be quiet! Think about the others.”
The children surrounding them all were watching Reiji with the same frightened eyes.
“You can’t possibly understand what I’m feeling!” Reiji ranted.
Though he’d been calm, Yamato finally burst out, “Of course I do! You’re not the only who’s scared of dying here. Everyone is scared, but they’re keeping quiet about it! Don’t act like a spoiled child, it’s pathetic!”
“That’s enough, Yamato, stop it.” Takeru broke in.
“Ahhh!” Raising his voice in a wild yell, Reiji broke free of Takeru’s hand and fled.
Takeru watched him go, then turned to glare straight at Yamato. “You’ve really changed. Try thinking about his feelings before you say things like that. Have you forgotten how to be gentle? The Yamato who came here because he was worried about Kiichi, where’s he gotten to?”
Once he’d thrown these words at Yamato, Takeru took off after Reiji. Left behind, Yamato stood struck dumb in the square.
Reiji had climbed on top of a warehouse. He was up so high his eyes swam when he looked at the ground, and he drew in a deep breath.
“What are you planning to do now that you’re up there?” Takeru called up to him.
“Should I just wait calmly to die? It’s better if I just jump.”
“What about your guitar?” Takeru yelled as a last ditch attempt. Reiji froze. “Are you through with music? You’ve given up on your new song?”
“What about it? What can I do about it now?” Reiji muttered, his head hanging.
“How about you teach me? Teach me to play the song you wrote. Even if you can’t play anymore, I’ll be able to convey it. I’ll show everyone the song you made, in whatever time you have left. Will you let me do that?” Takeru asked as though his life depended on it.
Tears fell from Reiji’s lowered face. “Damn it... I don’t want to die!”
Reiji burst into long-repressed sobs. Looking up at him, Takeru’s chest tightened painfully.
Yamato returned to the gym in no better a mood. He saw Kiichi and the others had divded up the work of making something.
“What’s all this?” he asked, and Kiichi answered.
“You can’t tell by looking? It’s your campaign posters.”
“It’s fine. You don’t need to make something like that.”
“What do you mean? To start with, we have to make it clear that it wasn’t your fault the food delivery stopped.”
“Plus, Ryuu’s gang is doing dirty tricks like threatening and buying votes.”
As Makoto spoke, Takeru entered with a loud noise.
“Yamato. I really need those strings after all. Please.” He looked straight at Yamato as he spoke. There was an impatient light in his eyes.
“That’s...” Yamato started hesitantly, but couldn’t bring himself to say yes or no.
“I’m begging you.”
“...There’s no delivery now, and I can’t meet with Shibazaki anyway.”
“Anything you can do, and quickly.”
“Stop asking so much.
“Stop talking about how much trouble it is and do something!” Takeru yelled suddenly. He was angrier than any of them had seen him before.
“This is the last thing I’ll ask you for,” Takeru pressed Yamato without meeting his eyes.
“You can ask all you want, but there’s nothing I can do.”
“But you’ve got time to make things like this?”
“What?” Yamato returned Takeru’s sharp look for the first time. For a moment, there seemed to be violent sparks showering from where their eyes met.
“What’s the thing you want most? Before you ask anyone else, think about it for yourself. Rice balls are fine, miso soup is good, but the number one thing you want? Isn’t it to have some proof that you’re still alive?”
Takeru, it seemed, had struck onto the secret that had been hidden until now in Yamato’s breast.
“We aren’t dead yet. We’re still alive in here, and we want real evidence that that is true. Even if we’re going to die in here, we want to believe that we’ll be able to return to normal life someday, we desperately want someone to know that we were alive . That is the number one thing that could make us happy!”
Takeru yelled this, and his shoulders rose with a great sigh. He shot Yamato another glance.
“I want to leave something behind. So does he. He wants proof that he was alive, and that’s going to be his song.”
The gym once more fell silent. Kiichi and Makoto and Akira didn’t even move a muscle. Takeru’s words alone could move, and were entering into their hearts.
How long was it that they felt that? Finally, Yamato spoke.
“You don’t understand. You’re not thinking about anyone but that Reiji guy. What would you do in my position? You’d choice the guitar strings over anything?”
“...I understand. I won’t ask you anymore. Maybe you’re the leader, but you won’t get my support! You might be trying hard for the group, but for a single human being you’re useless,” Takeru barked, and Yamato suddenly grabbed him by the shirt.
“Don’t act so superior! There are three hundred people here, and I have to look out for all of them.”
Takeru shoved him away. “Which one of is acting important here? You don’t remember asking to be responsible for everyone’s requests? Meanwhile you’re overlooking one person who is near death!”
“Stop it! Can’t the two of you do anything but fight?” Mori yelled. But the two continued glaring at each other, and didn’t move.
Finally, Takeru shook off Yamato’s hand and the sound of his footsteps pounded out of the gym.
Takeru sat in the music room alone, his emotions still running high.
...That total idiot Yamato... Why couldn’t he understand?
As he calmed down, he noticed Yuuri standing in front of him.
“What?” He looked up at her with an unusually sharp gaze.
“You had a fight with Yamato?”
“You think there’s something funny about that?”
“I’m not laughing.”
Takeru looked down at the floor. “Look, sorry, but I don’t really feel like talking.”
“You should forgive him. Yamato is the type who really thinks about what he wants to do. You don’t get it? He hasn’t changed a bit. He’s still the straight-forward, stupidly kind guy.”
“You really look up to him, huh.” Raising his head, Takeru gave her a meaningful look.
“Not really,” Yuuri said, looking away. Takeru stood up.
“Well, it can’t be helped. Since you’re girl.”
Yuuri’s eyes grew wide. “What are you talking about?”
In an instant, Takeru had pulled the bandana of her head, and her long hair fell down around her face.
“You don’t need to hide it anymore. I get that before we got here everyone was on edge and it was a world where you do what you gotta do. I understand why you pretended to be a boy because you didn’t want to be thought of and treated like a girl. But it’s enough already. If you keep referring to yourself as a boy, then Yamato’s not going to understand how you feel.”
Yuuri glared as Yamato wound up his long-winded speech. “What are you on about?”
“Don’t act stupid. Say it already. You like him. Yamato.”
Yuuri answered, “Stop kidding around. Talking about liking other people, don’t be ridiculous.” But her tone was uneasy. She turned to go, her spine held straight. Takeru grabbed her arm.
“Whose the one kidding here?”
“What are you doing? Let go of me! It hurts, let go.”
Yuuri struggled, but Takeru’s hand wouldn’t let go, and he pushed her back to the wall.
“Stop hiding it, you like Yamato.”
Yuuri held herself still. Takeru’s eyes were seriousness itself.
“What’s with you, Takeru?”
“We don’t have time! So you have to say it. If you like him, then say it honestly!”
Yuuri’s eyes dropped. As though he couldn’t stand seeing her like that, Takeru continued yelling.
“Say it already! Say it!”
Finally, Yuuri raised her head. She met Takeru’s eyes straight on, and spoke clearly. “I like him.”
His hand that had been holding her arm lost strength. He nodded as he turned away, unable to look at her face. “I’m sorry.”
Without another word, he left the room.
The next day, trucks carrying food came one after another, entering the gate into Makuhara. They were making deliveries as ordered by Shibazaki.
The children ran up to the trucks. When the doors finally opened, pots of miso soup were carried out.
Shibazaki had remembered Yamato’s request. Everyone’s eyes glittered as they looked at the steaming soup.
“Sorry the food is late,” Shibazaki said to Yamato as he came up to the gate.
“It’s fine. But did something happen?”
“Nothing. There was a small blunder. It won’t happen again. Anyway, I hear you’re having an election?”
As Shibazaki examined his face, Yamato’s eyes widened. “How did you hear about that?”
“The guards informed me. You’re doing your best for everyone, but they don’t have faith in you. It’s my responsibility, and I apologize.”
Shibazaki lowered his head, and Yamato shook his. “That’s not it.”
“Let’s give everyone something to be happy about. To show my remorse. Think about something you’d like. Decide before tonight, then come back here.”
Thus cheerfully speaking, Shibazaki left. Yamato was left alone to think.
Something that would make everyone happy? What on earth was he supposed to do?
At the same time, Takeru was eagerly practicing guitar with Reiji. But Reiji no longer had the energy to play. On the guitar’s only strings, Takeru plucked just where Reiji told him to.
After he’d finished and was walking home, Takeru ran into Yamato.
Though he would have pretended not to notice and passed by, Yamato stopped him.
“Shibazaki wants to give something that will make everyone happy, in return for the food being late. He said to think about what we want.”
Though he was listening, Takeru played dumb. “So what? I don’t get what you’re trying to say.”
“I think you do.”
“It’s weird, you being inconsistent.”
“Isn’t it good?”
Unable to meet Yamato’s entreating gaze, Takeru looked at the sky.
“You ought to keep everyone’s opinion in mind, as the leader. If I were in your position, I would probably be doing the same.”
And with that Takeru left, Yamato watching him go lost in his own complicated thoughts.
That night, a large crowd gathered near the gate.
Something special was coming from outside! The rumor had spread quickly. Anticipation welled in everyone’s chest, as before their eyes Yamato finally returned from the other side of the gate.
Makoto, Akira, and Kiichi went to meet him happily. With this, they could win the election.
But opposite them, Ryuu and his gang stood dissatisfied, and as Yamato appeared they greeted him with jeers. “You dirty jerk! You went begging for something to make people happy, in order to get more votes.”
Abruptly, Yamato knelt on the ground. “I’m sorry. Negotiations failed. I couldn’t get anything...”
Makoto, Akira, and Kiichi were shocked. Yuuri also watched painfully as Yamato planted his hands on the ground.
“Forgive me... I talked big but I’m unable to be everyone’s leader. I don’t have the right qualities...”
“You seriously didn’t get anything?” Makoto shook his head as though he couldn’t believe it.
“Sorry.” Yamato kept his head lowered without saying anything else.
Kiichi said in a firm voice, “Stand up. You don’t need to apologize. Stand up, Yamato!”
But just then Ryuu started to attack Yamato. “What the hell did you do? They stopped the food, and we still don’t get anything in return? Is everyone okay with that, having a leader like this guy?” With loathing, Ryuu pushed Yamato’s head down to the ground.
“Just kneeling isn’t enough. I want you to go even lower!”
Makoto shoved Ryuu away. Ryuu glared at him. It seemed a fight was about to start at any minute, but Yuuri stepped between them.
“And if you were the leader, that’d be better? You want everyone to follow your example?”
She spoke flatly, glaring at Ryuu. Then she turned to the still kneeling Yamato.
“Stand up, Yamato. For everyone’s sake, stand up!”
As though prompted by that voice, Yamato slowly stood up. Then, without making eye contact with anyone, he walked silently away from the gate.
No one moved as they watched him walk away.
Takeru’s fingertips had started bleeding from pressing the frets. Reiji, just watching him, seemed to be wasting away. Playing the guitar with desperate thoughts, but nothing could be done about the guitar’s three strings.
Just then, Yamato appeared before them. There was a pack of new strings in his hand. Shibazaki had granted their request.
First Takeru, then Reiji’s expression changed. With eyes that seemed to have lost their light, Reiji looked at Yamato. In a hoarse but firm tone, he said, “Thank you. I won’t forget all of you.”
Finally, the clear sound of the guitar echoed through Reiji’s room.
Takeru played it with the new strings, playing the song Reiji had written.
Reiji listened to it with a calm smile on his face. Around them, Mori, Akira, Makoto, Kiichi, Yamato and Yuuri sat, listening with serious expressions.
“We all keep searching for something,
In this town where everything was taken from us,
We can do nothing. Will we become adults?
Our knees trembling, they look down on us,
The cold-eyed adults who are shown
Our final courage.
So we’ll discover, in this windless town,
When tomorrow finally comes,
The sun will rise again.”
Takeru continued playing, thinking of nothing but the song. The words pierced their hearts, the melody pierced their hearts. Even when he had stopped singing, no one said a word.
Reiji’s eyes had closed, and he didn’t move. His expression was one of deep calm. This moment was the testimony of his life, here was where he’d found it - that’s what his expression said.
He was dead.
Desperately resisting the tears welling in his eyes, Takeru whispered to Reiji, “I’m not going to die, Reiji. I’m definitely not going to die, because we are all going to live for you.”
The next day, when Yamato entered the gym, everyone was sitting in deep thought. They were pale with hopes and fears. What were the election results? Had Yamato won, or Ryuu?
The sound of Yuuri and Mori’s running feet came. “The results are up,” Yuuri said with no expression. “Unfortunately, it’s what everyone expected.”
Then he’d lost... With heavy feet, Yamato headed to the square. But the results pasted up there - by an overwhelming majority, it was Yamato’s victory!
… that Yuuri!
END OF CHAPTER SIX