Utsuro no Hako to Zero no Maria V1-C5


10876th time



It's «March 2». It's supposed to be «March 2» today.

Why am I making sure that's the date?

...It's probably because the sky's still cloudy, even though it's already March. That's probably it. It's the weather's fault that I'm a bit melancholic, considering that recently, the blue sky has been hiding behind clouds all the time.

Geez, I wonder when the weather will finally clear up.

I am in the classroom before school starts, staring out of the window, just thinking.

I guess I'm having these thoughts because I'm feeling unwell. No, I don't feel bad. I feel like I always have. I'm just... uncomfortable. I can't explain it, but it feels like I'm suddenly the only one without a shadow. It's more like the 'something's wrong' kind of uncomfortable.

...Odd. I can't make out the reason. Nothing unusual happened yesterday, I ate breakfast this morning, I listened to the new album of my favorite artist on the train, and I have safe "average luck" according to the fortune-telling show I watched by chance.

Deciding to not wrack my brain thinking about it, I take an Umaibō from my bag. Today's is pork flavor. I take a bite. No matter how many I eat, I can't get fed up with that taste.

"Again with the Umaibō-? You really can't get enough of those, can you? If you keep eating Umaibō all the time, your blood will turn Umaibō color, you know?"

"...err, what color is that?"

"Who knows!"

The girl joking with me is my classmate Kokone Kirino. Her brown hair, somewhere between long and quite long, is bound in a ponytail, high up on the back of her head. Kokone changes her hair style all the time, but she seems to like the current one. Or at least I have the feeling that this is the only style I've seen recently.

Kokone then arbitrarily grabs the seat beside me and starts doing her make-up in her blue hand mirror, using a tool that I, as man, do not know very well. I wish she'd put this much effort into everything, not just into make-up.

"Come to think of it, you have a lot of blue stuff, haven't you?"

"Oh yeah, I like blue... Ooh, right, Kazu-kun! Isn't there something different about me today? Isn't there?"

Kokone suddenly says, looking at me with sparkling eyes.

"Mh...?"

How should I know? There's no way I'd know if you ask me that all of a sudden.

"I'll give you a hint! My charm point has changed!"

"Eh?"

I reflexively look at her breasts.

"Whoah, hey! Why my breasts?!"

Well, because you're always boasting that you finally crossed into D-cup, so I was sure...

"Of course my eyes are my charm! And anyway, breasts don't just suddenly get bigger! Or is that what you'd like?! You closet perv! You titty maniac!"

"...Sorry."

There's no way I could have known such a self-proclaimed charm point, but for now I'll apologize.

"...So?"

Kokone looks into my eyes expectantly. I have to admit her eyes are big. I feel a bit bashful as I realize that.

"...I think your face looks the same as always...?"

I say, not really looking at her face.

"Eh? What? My face looks cute as always, you said?"

"No, I didn't."

"Say it!"

I am being compelled.

"To tell you the truth, I'm using mascara today. How is it? How is it?"

I don't see any difference. I can't see how she looks any different compared to yesterday.

"......no, there's really no way I could judge something like that."

I tell her in all honesty, and fail.

"'Something like that'...you say?!"

She hits me.

"Ow..."

"Tz! What a boring rascal you are!"

She says in a forced voice, but... Aah, she might really be a bit angry. Kokone makes a gesture of spitting at me and goes to the other classmates to show off her mascara-face.

"Haa..."

Now I'm tired. Kokone may be funny, but I can't cope with her temper.

"Done with your lovers' quarrel?"

The first thing I see when I turn are three piercings in a right ear. There is only one person in this school styled like that.

"...Daiya. That wasn't anything like a lover's quarrel. Just where were you looking to have come to that conclusion?"

My friend Daiya Oomine just sneers at my objection. Yeah, he's arrogant as always. Well, I guess it would be weird if someone like him, who puts on such accessories and doesn't just ignore the school rules but rather deliberately provokes them, abased himself.

"But did you really not notice the mascara? Even I noticed the difference. And I'm absolutely, completely uninterested in her."

"...Seriously?"

They are neighbors and they seem to have been childhood friends since kindergarten. That he isn't interested in her is undoubtedly a lie. Even so, overlooking something even Daiya noticed might be a small problem. After all, he is someone that isn't interested in others and doesn't even seem to look at people.

"...But, y'know."

I have the feeling she's applied that mascara yesterday as well.

"I see, I got it, Kazu. So you told the bitch 'I'm not interested in you'. I agree with you. I'll take the same attitude. But I'll do it more bluntly."

"You malicious chairman! I can hear you clearly!"

Daiya ignores the sharp-eared girl and keeps on talking.

"Kazu, let's move our talk away from that irrelevant chick- Did you know that a transfer student's coming today?"

"A transfer student?"

I'll make sure of this again- it's «March 2» today. Why would someone transfer in so late in the year?

"A transfer student?! Really?!"

Kokone has, as expected, heard us talking, and raised her voice to ask.

"Kiri. I'm not talking to you. Don't go butting in from over there. Oh, but don't come closer, either! That desperately made-up face of yours isn't good for my mental health."

"W-What-?! You're one to talk, Daiya! You should start fixing that dishonest personality of yours soon. Maybe we should hang you upside-down for 24 hours, so some blood can finally get to your brain and you become able to say something upright!"

To interrupt their abuse, I raise my voice a bit and return to the topic.

"A transfer student, right? I think I heard something about that."

Daiya closes his mouth as planned and glares at me.

"...Who told you?"

He asks with a serious face.

"Eh? Why do you want to know?"

"Don't answer a question with a question."

"Err... who was it again? Wasn't it you?"

"Impossible. I've only heard it just now when I went to the staff room for some business. There shouldn't have been an opportunity to tell you."

"Really?"

"This kind of rumor spreads all over the place straight away. But apparently even this babbler, Kiri, didn't know of it yet."

This is probably true, considering her reaction just now. And not just her; no one in the first year's 6th class seems to have known.

"That's why I conclude that the information was kept secret until the day of the transfer, which is today. But then, how do you know?"

"...Err?"

I wonder.

"Well, whatever. But isn't it weird, Kazu? Why would someone come transferring in at this point? There are probably circumstances. For example, how about the problem child daughter of some board chairman was expelled from a bunch of other schools? In that case, it'd make sense that the information was hidden."

"Daiya, it's not good to be making these guesses about the transfer student, it's prejudice. I mean she's already in a suspicious position even without that. Also, everyone's secretly listening."

The rest of the students, who have indeed been listening to our words secretly, smile awkwardly.

"Ah? Why should I care?"

Uwaa...

The moment I let out a sigh at Daiya's high-handed attitude, the bell rings. The class scurries back to their seats.

Kokone, whose seat is on the window side, opens the window and leans out. Apparently she wants to see the transfer student as soon as possible.

"Ooh!"

Seemingly having found a person who looks just like a transfer student, Kokone raises her voice. After letting out this 'Ooh', she sits down on her seat with a frozen expression, even though she's been so cheerful when she looked through the window before.

I wonder what's wrong.

Kokone smiles and murmurs 'this is amazing!'. Probably not just me, but everyone wants to ask what's up, but our homeroom teacher's entered the room right now. The silhouette of a girl can be seen behind the cloudy glass of the door. It has to be the transfer student. Looking around in the classroom, the teacher guesses that everyone is wondering about the person behind the door, and quickly calls her in.

The silhouette behind the cloudy glass moves.

And then I see --- her.

In an instant---

As if I was pushed of a cliff, the scenery changes at once.

First, I hear a sound. The sound of the scenery getting torn off. Forcedly, violently, one image after the other comes thrusting into my mind. Over and over, similar sceneries appear. I feel as if my consciousness is about to be blown away, but then it's pulled back and gets firmly fixated as if it was forcibly crammed into a little metallic box. Deja vu. Deja vu.

"I am Aya Otonashi." I heard you.

"I'm Aya Otonashi." I heard you.

"I'm Aya Otonashi." Enough, I heard you already!

I reject the massive amount of information that's trying to unload itself into my mind. I mean, there's no way all this could fit. My brain would overload. I can't process it all.

"Ah..."

What,

What incomprehensible things――am I...?

I realize that I am having incomprehensible thoughts and thus close my thinking―――and then I return.

Eh? What did I just think?

Having forgotten that, I face the front and look at her again. I look at the transfer student, Aya Otonashi, whose name I don’t yet know .

“Aya Otonashi.”

The transfer student murmurs only this in a low voice, as if she doesn’t care whether we can understand her.

Aya Otonashi steps off the platform.

Her extremely simple self-introduction spawns a rush of chatter in the classroom.

She doesn’t care one bit about her bewildered classmates, and comes walking.

Towards me.

Looking directly into my face.

She sits down naturally at the empty seat beside mine, almost as if this seat has been prepared for her from the start .

Otonashi-san scowls at me suspiciously when I watch her silently, unable to do anything.

…I guess I should say something.

“……Err, pleased to meet you.”

Her frown, however, does not change one bit.

“That’s all?”

“Eh…?”

“I asked if that was all.”

Was there something else? Even if you say so, I can’t think of anything. After all, this is our first meeting.

But the atmosphere forces me to say something.

“……Err, your uniform. Is that uniform from your former school?”

Otonashi-san does not react to my frantic words in any way and just keeps staring at me.

“…Eh, well?”

Seeing my confusion, Otonashi-san lets out a sigh for some reason and smiles. A smile, like that of amazement at a shallow-witted child.

“I’ll tell you something good, Hoshino.”

…Eh? I didn’t tell her my name yet.

But that thought is a mere trifle. Otonashi-san says something to me that makes me sit completely still for a full five seconds.

“Kasumi Mogi is wearing light blue panties today.”



Kasumi Mogi’s basic style during P.E. is not a gym uniform, but her usual uniform.

Today, she is once again watching the boys play soccer, wearing her uniform, expressionless as an ornament.

The white legs that look out from Mogi-san’s skirt are so thin, they seem like they could break any moment.

And I, for some reason, am sleeping with my head on her lap.

Ah, yeah. I don't have a clue anymore of what’s going on, either. While there certainly is a sensation of bliss, I can’t enjoy it since I am desperately stopping my nosebleed with a tissue. It wouldn’t end well if I didn’t.

I can, by the way, remember how it came to this. Since I lost my ability to concentrate because of Otonashi-san, the soccer ball hit me right in the face and my nose started to bleed. Then Mogi-san was worrying about me and, for some reason, let me sleep with my head on her lap.

Mogi-san’s legs aren’t soft at all, and to be honest, they even hurt my head a bit.

I wonder why she cares for me like that. I look up to Mogi-san but can’t tell anything from her expressionless face.

But I am happy.

Very, very happy.

Otonashi-san’s ‘panties’ utterance.

Of course I was surprised. Not only of that lack of context and that unpredictability. What I mean is, Otonashi-san said ‘I’ll tell you something good’. Basically, she declared information about «Kasumi Mogi» to be «something good» for me.

I haven’t even told Kokone or Daiya about my crush on Kasumi Mogi. So there is no way Otonashi-san, who I met for the first time today, could know. Even so, she said that.

“……Say, Mogi-san.”

“What is it?”

Mogi-san answers quietly. It is a voice like a little bird, which fits her overall short and delicate appearance.

“Today, um, did Otonashi-san talk to you?”

“…The transfer student?…No.”

“You aren’t acquainted otherwise either, right?”

Mogi-san affirms by nodding.

“Did she do something suspicious to you?”

She thinks for a moment and then shakes her head. Her lightly waved hair sways.

“Why are you asking this…?”

She inclines her head and asks.

“Ah, no…if there’s nothing, that’s fine.”

When I shift my glance to the sports ground, Otonashi-san stands alone in the center of the schoolyard with a daunting pose, showing neither interest in the ball nor in the girls swarming after the ball. When the ball came casually rolling towards her, she weakly kicked it back.…Err, didn’t she just kick it to that girl on the other team?

“Mmhh”

I might have been reading too much into it, thinking that she noticed my feelings.

Otonashi-san had quite an impact on me because of her appearance and attitude. Yeah, I merely read too much into it because such a person suddenly told me something like that. A logic everyone can understand.

And yet—why can’t I believe that?

Otonashi-san looks at me.

And fixes her gaze on me, not looking away.

Staring straight into my eyes. She boldly raises the corner of her mouth. Although the lesson has not ended yet, she comes walking towards me.

Before I knew it, I stood up. Abandoning the privilege of sleeping on Mogi-san’s lap, which is supposed to be the utmost happiness for me. My entire body shudders. No metaphor; I really am shuddering.

Mogi-san, who seems to have noticed Otonashi-san as well, tenses up in anxiety and stands up like me. Still with a daring smile, Otonashi-san points at me…no, at Mogi-san.

Just then.

A sudden gust blows. A completely sudden gust. A gust no one could possibly foresee.

This sudden gust lifts Mogi-san’s skirt.

“~~~!!”

Mogi-san immediately pushes her skirt down. But just the front of it. I am standing behind her. Right after the gust ends, Mogi-san turns around and looks at me. She is indeed expressionless as always, but her cheeks seem slightly red to me.

She silently forms the words “Did you see them?” with her mouth. No, she might have spoken actually, but at least I couldn’t hear her low voice. I shake my head frantically. I guess, due to my frantic reaction, it’s obvious that I’ve seen them. But Mogi-san doesn’t reply anything and casts her eyes down.

By now, Otonashi-san is standing right beside me.

I get a glimpse of her expression.

“Aah—”

Then I grasp the reason why I am trembling like that. I read the meaning behind her expression. A sentiment that has not been aimed at me once in my life so far.

—Hostility.

Why? Why is it aimed at someone like me?

Otonashi-san raises the corner of her mouth and scowls at me. While I am just shaking and can’t move, she puts her hand on my shoulder and places her lips near my ear.

“They were light blue, weren’t they?”

Otonashi-san has known it all. My affection towards Mogi-san, that a sudden gust would expose her panties to me, she had known it all.

That statement wasn’t some kind of joke. It was a—threat to insinuate that she knows me perfectly, that she has grasped my way of thinking, that she’s ruling over me.

“Hoshino, you should have recalled it by now, right?”

Otonashi-san observes me while I am petrified. We stay like this for a few moments, but when I keep silent, she lets out a sigh and drops her gaze to the ground.

“So it’s useless, even though I went this far…I see, you’re even one level duller today.”

She murmurs her complaints.

“If you’ve forgotten, remember now. My name’s «Maria».”

…«Maria»? No, err…you’re «Aya Otonashi», aren’t you?

“…I-Is that your pen name or something?”

“Shut up.”

She scowls at me, not even trying to hide her irritation.

“Well then. You aren’t challenging at all like this, but I’ll act on my own convenience then.”

Otonashi-san says that and turns her back to me.

“Ah, wait…”

I reflexively stop her. She turns around, appearing stressed out. I unintentionally wince at her frown.

I’m not sure. But judging from Otonashi-san’s attitude, maybe—

“Could it be that we’ve met in the past?”

Hearing these words, Otonashi-san raises the corner of her mouth.

“Yeah, we were lovers in our previous life. Oh my beloved Hathaway, how miserable your current state! You weren’t such a fool back then when you came praising me, the princess of the enemy country.”

“………Umm, what?”

I am at a loss for words. Otonashi-san seems satisfied seeing me like that and, for the first time today, shows a smile that actually looks like one.

“I’m joking.”



The next day.

I saw Aya Otonashi’s corpse.

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