“I want to eat your pancreas.”
We were in the archive of the school library. While arranging the books on those dusty shelves – our duty as library committee members – Sakura Yamauchi made an odd confession.
Though I was thinking of simply ignoring it, the only ones in the vicinity were her and myself. Since talking to oneself would be a little bizarre, it must have been directed at me.
It couldn’t be helped – I responded to her, who was facing another bookshelf with her back to mine.
“Have you suddenly been awakened to cannibalism?”
She took a large breath and promptly choked on some dust, coughing a few times to clear her throat. Only then did she start to explain, her voice tinged with a sense of triumph. I didn’t turn to look at her.
“I saw it on TV yesterday – if someone in the past had a part of their body that wasn’t well, they would eat the corresponding part of another animal.”
“What about it?”
“Eat liver if your liver is unwell, eat stomach if your stomach is unwell – it seems they believed that doing so would cure their illness. That’s why I want to eat your pancreas.”
“Could it be that the ‘your’ you mentioned is referring to me?”
“Who else could it be?”
She giggled without looking my way, seemingly engaged in her work. I could hear the slam and rustle of hardcover books being arranged.
“My little organ could never bear the burden of something like saving you.”
“Seems like the pressure’s starting to make your stomach hurt, huh.”
“That’s why you should find someone else.”
“Then who should I find? Even someone like me wouldn’t consider eating my family.”
She giggled again. As for me, since I was calmly and diligently carrying out my task, I would’ve liked for her to take her work seriously too.
“In conclusion, there’s no one else I can depend on but Secret-Knowing-Classmate-kun.”
“So while coming up with your plans, you haven’t considered the possibility that I too need a pancreas?”
“But it’s not like you even know the function of a pancreas.”
I knew about it – that seldom-mentioned organ. I’d read up on it before. Naturally, she jumped at the opportunity.
I heard her breathing and her footsteps behind me, and knew that she had excitedly turned around. Staying angled to the bookshelf, I took just a momentary glance. Behind me was a sweaty girl, flashing a smile that no one would’ve expected from the terminally ill.
Even though we were in the era of global warming and it was already July, someone had neglected to switch on the air-conditioner; I was sweaty too.
“Could it be possible that you’ve read up on it?”
Her voice echoed a little, and I, who didn’t have a choice, answered her question.
“The pancreas aids in digestion and energy production. For example, it creates the insulin that’s used to turn sugar into energy. Without the pancreas, people would be unable to obtain energy and die. That’s why I can’t let you feast on my pancreas. Sorry.”
Having said everything I wanted to say, I returned to my task. She was roaring with laughter. Receiving my jokes like that had become a little speciality of hers, though this felt a little different.
“Who would’ve thought – Secret-Knowing-Classmate-kun has really taken an interest in me, huh.”
“……Well, there’s no exhausting the interest in classmates that suffer from serious illnesses.”
“I don’t mean it that way. What about me as a person?”
“What’s up with that!”
She burst out into laughter once again. The adrenaline from the heat must have made her weird in the head. I was worried about my classmate’s condition.
We quietly continued our work, until the teacher in charge of the library came calling for us.
Somehow or other, it seemed like the time for the library to close had arrived. We marked our progress in sorting by pulling a book slightly out of line, after which we checked for forgotten items and left the archive. Leaving behind the sweltering heat of the archive, our sweat-soaked bodies shivered as we were reacquainted with the cool library air.
She cheerfully spun around, entered the library reception counter, and wiped the sweat off her face with a towel conjured from her bag. I followed vaguely in her footsteps and began drying my own drenched body.
“Good work. We’re already closed, so take your time. Here, have some tea and snacks.”
“Woah, thank you!”
After taking a sip of the barley tea that Sensei had brought out, I took another look at the library. It was true – there wasn’t a single student left.
“The steamed bun’s delicious!”
The girl who pointed out every single positive thing was relaxing on the chair inside the counter. With a steamed bun in one hand, I dragged out a chair that was a little distance away from her and sat down too.
“Sorry for getting you two to help out, even though tests begin next week.”
“Don’t worry about it, it’s okay. We’re the kind that always get pretty average scores. Right? Secret-Knowing-Classmate-kun.”
“Well, if we listen during class, I guess so.”
I made an appropriate response and took a bite of the steamed bun.
It was delicious.
“Have the both of you begun thinking about university? What about you, Yamauchi-san?”
“I haven’t really thought about it – I mean, there’s still time.”
“What about you, Adult-Like-Student-kun?”
“I haven’t thought about it either.”
“That’s no good – you’ve got to think about it properly, Secret-Knowing-Classmate-kun!”
She held out her second steamed bun in her hands while making that unnecessary comment. I ignored her and took another sip of my barley tea. The taste of the familiar, widely-available barley tea was delicious.
“So the both of you haven’t really thought about the future, eh? If you continue being lazy, you’ll be the same age as me before you know it.”
“Ahaha, there’s no way that’s going to happen!”
While the two of them laughed merrily, I kept a straight face. I munched on my steamed bun and drank my barley tea.
It was as she said. There was no way that would happen.
It was impossible for her to become the same age as our teacher, who was in her forties. In this place, it was something only the girl and I knew, which was why she had winked at me and laughed. It was as though she were one of those actors from American films that winked when they told a joke.
But just to be clear, the reason I didn’t laugh wasn’t because of how ill-conceived her joke was. It was because of that proud face she made whenever she thought she had said something interesting – it was borderline mental.
Annoyed that I remained expressionless, she frowned at me. Having seen that, the edges of my lips finally curved up slightly.
After staying in the library for about an extra half an hour, we began to head home.
When we got to the shoe lockers, it was already 6 PM. Despite this, we could still hear the ruckus made by sports club members as they gave their all under the equally relentless sun.
“Wasn’t the archive hot?”
“We still have to do this again tomorrow, huh. But at least tomorrow’s the last school day of the week.”
“……Are you listening?”
I swapped my indoor shoes for my loafers and left through the hatch aligned with the lockers. The school gate was in the opposite direction from the sports field, so the voices of the baseball and rugby clubs slowly dwindled as I walked. With heavy footsteps, she caught up and positioned herself next to me.
“Haven’t you learned to listen properly when others are speaking?”
“I have – that’s why I’m listening properly right now.”
“Then, what was I talking about?”
“So you weren’t listening! Lying is a no-no!”
She chided me like a kindergarten teacher. She – who was tall for a girl – and I – who was short for a boy – were almost of the same height. Truth be told, it was quite refreshing to be admonished by someone while having to look down slightly to face them.
“Sorry, sorry – I was thinking about something.”
“Hm? Thinking about what?”
Her frown dissolved instantly, as though she had never been upset in the first place. She peeked at me with curiosity written all over her face. After putting a little distance between us, I nodded slightly.
“Yeah, I’ve always been thinking about it, very seriously.”
“Oh! What’s wrong?”
“It’s about you.”
I didn’t stop, and I didn’t look in her direction – I was careful to make it a very ordinary conversation, without any sort of dramatic atmosphere. Because that would make things serious and troublesome.
Cutting past the words I had planned to say next, she -as expected – responded in a troublesome manner.
“Me? Huh, what, a love confession?! Wah! I’ll get nervous!”
“…………It’s not that. Hey.”
“Is it really fine to spend the little remaining time you have to live on something like tidying up the library?”
Having heard my very casual question, she tilted her head to the side.
“It’s definitely fine.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Really? Then, what else should I be doing?”
“Well, don’t you want to do something like finding your first love, or taking a beach hike overseas and deciding where you want to spend your last moments?”
This time, she tilted her head to the other side.
“Hmm, it’s not like I don’t understand what you are trying to say. For example, even Secret-Knowing-Classmate-kun has things he wants to do before he dies, right?”
“…………I wouldn’t say I don’t, I guess.”
“But right now, you aren’t doing those things, even though both you and I could die tomorrow. It’s with this understanding that both you and I carry on as we do, surely. The value of each and every day is the same – no matter what I did, to me, the value of today won’t change. I had fun today, you know.”
Maybe it really was as she said. I was frustrated by her declaration, but at the same time, I understood it.
Even I – like her in the near future – would certainly die someday. Even though I couldn’t tell when my time would come, it was the inevitable future. Perhaps I would even die before her.
As expected, the words of people who were aware of their own demise had a certain depth to them. The views of the girl beside me stirred me up a little inside.
Of course, what I thought didn’t matter to her. Surely there were many people that liked her, so it was natural that she didn’t have the time to be interested in someone like me. As proof of that fact, boys wearing the soccer club uniform were running from the direction of the school gate, and they were all looking at her walking.
She recognised one of the boys running over, and she waved her hand at him.
“Do your best!”
The soccer boys made refreshing smiles as they passed by us. If I recalled correctly, he should have been a classmate of mine, but he didn’t give me a single look.
“He ignored Secret-Knowing-Classmate-kun. He better watch out tomorrow!”
“It’s fine, and you should stop. Because I don’t mind.”
I really didn’t mind. She and I were polar opposites, so it couldn’t be helped that we would be treated differently by our classmate.
“Gah, that’s precisely why you can’t make any friends!”
“I know it’s the truth, but you’re too concerned about it.”
“Argh, that’s precisely why!”
In the midst of our conversation, we had reached the school gate. Our houses were in opposite directions from here on, so this was where I parted ways with her. What a real pity.
“Hey, about what we talked about earlier.”
I, who was turning away without any hesitation, was stopped by her words.
She made a cheerful face, as though she had suddenly thought of something. I realised that I’ve never really expressed any sort of cheerfulness on my face.
“If I had to choose, I’d use the little remaining time of my life to help Secret-Knowing-Classmate-kun.”
“What do you mean?”
“Are you free on Sunday?”
“Ah, sorry, I have a date with my cute girlfriend. She’ll be hysterical if I leave her alone, so I can’t.”
“That’s a lie, right?”
“And if it is?”
“Okay, so we’ll meet at 11 AM in front of the station! I’ll bring along the ‘Disease Coexistence Journal’ too!”
Having said that, without at all having asked for my acknowledgement, she waved her hand while walking in the opposite direction from my home.
The summer sky behind her was still orange and pink, and tinged most slightly with an ultramarine finish, it showered us with its fading glow.
Without returning the gesture, I once again turned my back to her and began to head home.
In the absence of her blusterous laughter, I continued to walk that familiar path home as the warm hues of the dying day made way for the evening blue. Surely, my view of the road home was different from hers.
I’d most probably continue walking on this road until I graduated.
How many more times would she get to walk on the same road?
But it was true – just as she said, even I wouldn’t know how many more times I would get to walk on this road. As such, the roads we walked weren’t so different.
I brought my finger to the side of my neck and made certain that I was alive. Taking each step to the beat of my heart, my mood was ruined as I felt my transient life tremble against my will.
The evening breeze blew against me, distracting me from my thoughts.
Just a little, I started to look forward to our outing on Sunday.