Utsuro no Hako to Zero no Maria V1-C7


2601st time



“I’m Aya Otonashi.”

The transfer student murmurs only these words.



“Oh my god! That’s intense!”

My friend Haruaki Usui, who is sitting next to me , says so in a rather loud voice, although class is still in session, and slaps my back vigorously.

Haruaki? You know, it hurts, and the glances of our classmates are also quite embarrassing…

Haruaki’s look is already turned towards the back, towards the transfer student, Aya Otonashi.

“Our eyes met! That's intense!”

“Well, when you turn around to look at her, then it’s only natural that your eyes meet.”

“Hoshii, it’s DESTINY!”

Wait, what? Destiny?

“Anyway, she’s just too pretty! She would definitely pass as a work of art on the world market…and then be acknowledged as a national treasure. Oh, it’s too late for me, my heart has already been taken…I’ll go confess to her.”

Quick!!

The chime rings. After we stood up and thanked the teacher, Haruaki goes straight to Otonashi-san without bothering to sit down.

“Aya Otonashi-san! I fell for you at first sight. I love you!”

Uwaa, he’s seriously doing it…

I cannot hear Otonashi-san’s reply but Haruaki’s face reveals it right away. Ah, no…it’s not even necessary to look at his face.

Haruaki returns to the front of my desk.

“Absurd… I got dumped?”

He thought he could succeed…? It’s scary because he actually looks serious.

“Isn’t that natural? Confessing to her all of a sudden will only bother her!”

“Mh, I see your point. Well then, I shall confess again. But this time not all of a sudden! These feelings of mine are bound to get through to her one day!”

On one hand I consider his positive way of thinking enviable, but on the other hand I'd rather pass on it.

“Having fun, guys? For me it’s pretty good entertainment, but the girls are giving you two disdaining glances.”

Daiya joins with these words.

“Eeh?! Isn’t it only Haruaki who’s getting disdained?!”

“Nope, you are, too. The girls regard you as birds of a feather.”

“Oho, the same bird as me? What an honor! Don’t you think so, Hoshii?”

A-Anything but…

“Leaving that aside, Daiyan, even you would want to make a move on her, right?”

Haruaki pokes Daiya with his elbow. The reason he doesn’t fear doing that to Daiya is probably because they are childhood friends. Or it’s just because he doesn’t care about consequences.

Daiya lets out a sigh and answers right away.

“Not at all.”

“That’s impossible! Who can move your heart then, Daiyan!”

“It doesn’t matter whether my heart beats faster because of Otonashi-san’s looks. I may have to admit her beauty, but I still don’t want to make a move on her.”

“Huuh…?”

“Haruaki, you haven’t understood anything at all, have you? Well, of course this feeling can’t be understood by such a monkey as you who lives by following his instincts and thus would take any girl as long as she’s got a pretty face.”

“What!? To begin with, what has instinct to do with caring about appearance?!”

“Since the appearance of a child is directly related to it becoming prosperous, it’s instinctual to be attracted to someone with good looks.”

“Ooh”, “Ooh” Haruaki and I let out breaths of admiration at the same time. Daiya makes an amazed face as if he was shocked that we didn’t even know such a thing.

“Ah, I got it, Daiyan! So you’re saying that her beauty is so beyond reach that even you can’t make a move on her! Inevitable defeat! That’s it, right? Like foxes make themselves think that ‘this grape is sour’ when a grape’s out of their reach. It’s called rationalization. How uncool! That’s so uncool, Daiyan!”

“How much of my talk did you listen to? The heck?…well, the first half of your statement wasn’t necessarily wrong. But for the other half I’ll kill you.”

“Oho, so you really can’t make a move on her.”

At last, Daiya punches Haruaki who has made a triumphant face. Uwaa, what he endured until now went straight into his punches, it looks like…

“It’s not ‘I can’t make a move on her.’ It’s ‘she doesn’t make a move on me.’”

“How cocky…hey, Hoshii, isn’t that guy getting carried away just because of his looks?”

Haruaki states without showing any sign of reform.

“It’s not like she doesn’t make a move because I’m out of reach! Well, that would be possible as well, but in her case it doesn’t apply.”

“Uwaa, he’s boldly saying strange things.”

“She doesn’t regard me as outside of her reach, no, she doesn’t even do such a classification. In the first place, she’s not interested in us. She’s not even looking down on us. Like we recognize bugs just as bugs, she recognizes people just as people. That’s all. She doesn’t care about slight differences like my pretty face or Haruaki’s ugly face. Just like we don’t recognize the gender of cockroaches. How do you want to make a move on such a girl?”

Even Haruaki seems overwhelmed by this merciless statement about Otonashi-san and keeps silent.

“…Daiya.”

Therefore I open my mouth.

“Looks like you’re surprisingly interested in Otonashi-san.”

Daiya is at a loss for words. Ah, that's an extremely rare reaction. But am I not right? Leaving aside whether or not his opinion is correct, he must have observed her to a certain degree to be able to do such an analysis.

“…tze, I have no interest!”

“Oh, you blushed!”

“…hey Kazu. You’re going to step on a land mine if you keep going like this. Shall I treat you with a huge spring onion that exceeds your imagination until you suffer from PTSD to an extent that you get nettle rash just by seeing an onion?”

I gather that Daiya is quite angry, so I try to get away by laughing awkwardly.

Anyhow, Daiya seems to know that he can't get along with Otonashi-san.

“Even you guys will soon take notice of her abnormality despite your dumb intuition of an insect.”

It sounded just a bit like a poor excuse.

But it wasn’t one.

You know, it was exactly as he said.



Right after homeroom has ended, Otonashi-san suddenly raises her hand. The class teacher Hokubo-sensei notices her, but not only does she not care about his consent, she doesn't even wait for his answer, stands up and starts speaking.

“I’ll have everyone of the first year’s 6 th class do something now.”

Otonashi-san doesn’t care about us being dumbfounded, either, and continues.

“It will take five minutes. You can spare that much, right?’

Nobody replies, but she heads to the platform nonetheless. She drives Hokubo-sensei out of the classroom as if it is completely natural, and takes his place on the platform. Although this is supposed to be an abnormal scene, she doesn’t make it feel like one. Judging from the reaction of the others, they seem to think so as well.

Dead silence in the classroom.

Standing on the platform, Otonashi-san opens her mouth, gazing straight ahead.

“You will now write «a certain thing» for me.”

Otonashi-san once steps down from the platform and hands something over to the students in the front row. The students that have accepted this something from her take one sheet and pass it on to the seats behind them; just like they usually do with handouts that need to be distributed to the whole class.

It arrives at my seat. It is an ordinary, plain sheet of recycled paper with about 10cm long sides.

“When you’re done writing, hand it to me please.”

“So what’s that «certain thing»?”

When Kokone asks in place of the entire class, Otonashi-san explains plainly:

“My name.”

With this, the silent classroom finally starts to get noisy. Fair enough, I don’t get it either. Her name? Everyone knows that. She introduced herself as “Aya Otonashi” just this morning after all.

“How idiotic!”

Someone exclaims. There is only one person that could possibly say such a thing to Otonashi-san.

Daiya Oomine.

My classmates hold their breath all at once. This is because everyone in this class knows that one mustn’t turn Daiya into an enemy.

“Your name’s Aya Otonashi. Why do you want us to write that down? Do you want us to quickly remember your name that badly?”

Otonashi-san stays composed even against that kind of talk.

“I would write «Aya Otonashi». But I told you just now. So there’s no need for me to write it anymore, right?”

“Yeah, I don’t mind.”

Apparently he didn’t expect such a simple affirmation and is left bereft of speech.

He clicks his tongue, tears the paper up as loudly as possible and leaves the classroom.

“What’s wrong? Won’t you write already?”

No one could start writing. It may have still not shown on their faces, but they are surprised and overwhelmed by her. She just talked down Daiya. Being Daiya’s classmates, we have come to know very well just how impressive that is.

No one is able to do anything for a while. But starting with the sound of someone’s pencil scraping paper, the same sound starts to resound from various places as if to follow suit.

Probably no one knows Otonashi-san’s intention. But it doesn’t matter. In the end, there is only one thing we can write, after all.

There’s only the name «Aya Otonashi».

The first one to take his sheet to Otonashi-san was Haruaki. Seeing him stand up, several classmates follow suit. Otonashi-san’s expression doesn’t really change when she accepts the paper from Haruaki.

It was probably…the wrong answer .

“Haruaki.”

I call out to Haruaki when he comes towards me after exchanging a word or two with Mogi-san.

“What’s wrong, Hoshii?”

“What did you write?”

“Mh? Well, one can only write «Aya Otonashi», right? I almost forgot to write the last letter, though.”

Haruaki says so while seeming a bit desolate for some reason.

“…well yeah, I guess there’s only that…”

“Don’t waver too much and write it down!”

“But do you really think she did this to make us write this name?”

In that case, I can’t think of much meaning in doing so.

Haruaki immediately answers with

“Of course not,”

confirming my doubt.

“Eh? But…you wrote «Aya Otonashi», didn’t you?"

“Yeah.…listen, Daiyan is so intelligent it’s not even funny, right? Well, but contrastingly his personality is so bad it’s not funny, either.”

Because he suddenly changes the topic, I incline my head.

“And he said he would simply write «Aya Otonashi». So he couldn’t think of anything else to write. Of course it’s the same for me. What I want to say is, well, we can’t think of anything, so we can’t write anything else, either.”

“If you can’t think of anything…you can’t write it.”

“Exactly. In other words, this wasn’t directed at us.”

I have the feeling that Haruaki’s words hit the bull’s eye. He should be right on this.

In other words, Otonashi-san doesn’t care about most of her classmates and does this only for the person who can actually think of something .

I understand the reason why Haruaki seemed so desolate just now. I mean, he fell for her at the first sight. He might have acted jokingly, but I don’t know of anyone else he’s confessed to. So he was more or less serious.

But she didn’t play his companion. His existence was being ignored…just like Daiya said.

“…Haruaki, you’re surprisingly bright.”

“The ‘surprisingly’ is unnecessary!”

While I hide the bashfulness of saying something rude with a smile, Haruaki reacts by smiling bitterly.

“See you. If I don’t go now, I’ll get killed by my seniors. No, I’m not exaggerating!”

“Ah, yeah. Go for it.”

The so-so strong baseball club seems to be pretty demanding.

I face my empty sheet of paper. I am about to write «Aya Otonashi», but cannot do so in the end.

I gaze at Otonashi-san. There is not the slightest change in her expression while she looks through the papers handed to her. I guess there is «Aya Otonashi» written on every single one.

—someone who can't think of anything can't write anything .

“——”

Then what am I supposed to do?

After all, I manage to think of something. For some reason, the absurd name «Maria» comes to mind.

No, I’m aware of it. Something’s wrong with me. «Maria» of all things. I have no idea where this name comes from. If I hand it to her with this name, she will just roar something at me, like «You’ve gotta be kidding me!»

But if this is, by any chance, the answer she’s wishing for…?

After some severe wavering, I start writing on the 10cm recycled paper.

«Maria»

I stand up and head to Otonashi-san. There isn’t a queue anymore. Looks like I am the last one. I nervously hand her my sheet. Otonashi-san accepts it wordlessly.

Then she looks at the letters written there.

And her expression changes. Massively.

“…eh?”

Otonashi-san, who didn’t show any stirring of unease when faced with the teacher or Daiya, has her eyes wide open?

“Fufufu…”

She suddenly bursts into laughter.

“Hoshino.”

“Oh, you remembered my name.”

I regret it in an instant. Because, when she stops laughing, she scowls at me like she would at the enemy of her ancestors.

“…You…! Are you freaking kidding me?!?”

She seems to frantically suppress her anger since she speaks in a low, chesty voice. I expected the ‘kidding’ part, but this tone in her voice is rather sudden.

She seizes me by the collar with all her heart.

“Wa! I-I’m sorry! I-It’s not like I was kidding you…”

“So you’re telling me you can write such an answer without kidding?”

“…err, well. You…might be right. I might have been kidding.”

This may have been the finishing blow.

Without ever letting go she pulls me along, all the way to the backside of the school building.



“Hoshino. Are you making fun of me?”

Otonashi-san presses me against the wall of the school building and glares at me.

“I’m not that good at working out plans. I’m aware of that. It’s an insane plan that’s about the same as saying «Culprit, turn yourself in!» No, you can’t even call it a plan. And yet…Why the heck are you taking the bait!? And this is already the second time I’ve done this! The first time you completely ignored it!”

She removes her hand from my collar, but her eyes are more than enough to hold me in place.

Otonashi-san is looking at me while chewing on her lips and lets out a sigh.

“…no, I lost my head because I finally got a foothold using such a ridiculous method. But the situation is improving without a doubt, so I should rather be happy.”

“…yeah, I guess. You should be happy! Hahaha”

Otonashi-san scowls at my forced smile again. It’s probably best to keep quiet.

“…I don’t get it. Actually, I was thinking you might have lost to my persistence…but what’s with this ignorant, comfortable face of yours!”

Rather than being thoughtless, I have no clue what you’re talking about.

“You kept ignoring me for 2,600 times. However many times this endless recurrence should continue, I won’t surrender. However, I do tire. It should be the same for you, yet how can you maintain this composure!”

What should I…I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Apparently she finally notices my bewilderment at her words and looks at me suspiciously.

“……are you perhaps not self-aware?”

“Self-aware? Of what?”

“…very well. No matter whether you’re acting or not, an explanation shouldn’t cause any remarkable harm. Hm, right. To put it simple—I’ve already ‘transferred’ 2,601 times.”

Falling into blank amazement is all I could do.

“If you’re just acting then you’re quite a big deal. But certainly, if you really «didn’t know», you’d make such a dull face. Whatever. I’ll explain to you what I grasped. Mh, right—today’s March 2 nd , right?"

I nodded.

“It would be comfortable to say that I’ve repeated this March 2 nd 2,601 times, but that isn’t true. For this reason I use the expression ‘School Transfer’, although I can’t really call it appropriate.”

“Haa…”

“I’ve been sent back to March 2 nd , 6:27 A.M. 2,601 times.”

“……”

“‘Sent back’ is the correct expression from my own perspective, but generally it’s not. So I’m using the expression ‘School Transfer’ here, since it’s closer to what actually happens—”

Otonashi-san sees that my jaw has dropped and scratched her head.

“Aah, geez! Just how dumb are you! If there’s some inconvenience for you after 6:27, you simply declare it «void», don’t you!”

She shouts at me, boiling inside. No, no…there’s no one that would understand such a sudden thing right away, is there?

“…I don’t understand very well, but so you’re repeating the same time over and over?”

It is the instant I say so.

“Ah—”

What? What’s this?

I push on my chest where this intense, strange sensation attacks me. An unease…the word ‘unease’ isn’t sufficient. It is an eerie sensation, like, say your town is replaced by another one without anyone noticing but you.

It’s not like my memories have been brought back. I haven’t recalled anything.

But for some reason I can feel that this «happened.»

Otonashi-san is telling the truth.

Nothing but the blank truth.

“Did you finally understand?”

“…w-wait a sec.”

She’s experienced March 2 nd for 2,601 times. That alone would be more than enough to confuse me, but basically Otonashi-san is stating this:

“…I am causing this?”

“Yeah.”

Otonashi-san answers on the spot.

“W-Why would I do that?”

“There’s no way I’d know your motive.”

“I’m not doing this!”

“How can you say that when you’re not even self-aware?”

Why me? When I was about to say so, I notice. There is only one factor that made her have an eye on me.

That is—because I wrote «Maria» on the paper.

“Similar to the unaware you, other people, who were just dragged into here, have no means to remember the past that was declared «void.» In other words, apart from me, only the culprit is able to write down the «Maria» I’ve mentioned in an iteration before.”

But I recalled this name. I have to admit it is unthinkable that a name like «Maria» would suddenly appear without reason.

“I don’t know whether it’s effective, but I always try to act in a way it remains in the memories of the others. I’ve waited for the culprit, who also has the memories of the past iterations that were declared «void», to make a mistake. But well, I didn’t really have any expectations.”

“…since when did you doubt me? I mean, you specially told me this name «Maria» in some world before, haven’t you?”

“I don’t specially doubt a person like you who seems harmless.”

“So…?”

“Hmpf, of course I tested everyone, one by one, and told them this name, since my time is basically unlimited.”

Her time is unlimited.

The time Otonashi-san has spent. An amount that big, I can’t even call it a metaphor anymore.

I understand. Her time is basically unlimited, so that’s why she’s arrived at this reckless plan of making the class write her name. With the slight hope that someone would write «Maria». Even if she didn’t even have any hope. All her breakthrough solutions had been exhausted long before in those 2,601 ‘School Transfers’, so it was probably a mere way of killing time until a new plan appeared to her. Even trying such a plan is better than not doing anything at all in order to calm down mentally. After all, her time could possibly go on forever.

That’s why Otonashi-san got angry when I fell for this trick. It is probably like when you can’t beat an enemy in an RPG and thus train and level up desperately, but in truth you can easily succeed just by using a certain item. You might have reached the goal, but you want the effort getting there back.

“Well, let’s cut this idle chatter. After all, this isn’t over yet.”

“Is that so?”

“Of course. Or does this look settled to you? Does this consecutive nightmare, the ‘Rejecting Classroom’, look like it has ended to you?”

‘The Rejecting Classroom’? I guessed that’s what she calls this repeating situation.

At any rate, there is just one point that bugs me.

“You know, I can understand that you treat me as the culprit because I’ve written «Maria». But listen, to begin with, why are you not affected by this ‘Rejecting Classroom’?”

“It’s not like I’m unaffected; Really, it can affect me just as well. If I surrendered and abandoned remembering, I’d get captured by the ‘Rejecting Classroom’ right away. I would continue to live meaninglessly in this endless recurrence. That’s about as easy as spilling a cup of water that’s put on top of one’s head. We would forever continue experiencing this one day you’re rejecting.”

“That would happen just by forgetting?”

“Think about it. Is there any other guy who could possibly notice this recurrence? If even you, the one who set it up, weren’t aware of the recurrence?”

…she might be right. And really, she already has repeated for 2,601 times.

“It would certainly be easier for me to abandon remembering. But that will absolutely never happen.”

“…never?”

“Yeah, never. It’s not possible that I give up. No matter whether I have to repeat 2,000 times, 20,000 times or a squillion times, I will overcome this recurrence and achieve my goal.”

2,000 times. Thinking about this number once again, we often come across this ‘2,000’ as a unit in our daily lives. But if we have to really pile it up piece by piece…for example, a year has 365 days, five years have 1,825 days…and that wouldn’t be enough yet.

That amount of time, Otonashi-san came to exceed.

“Hoshino. Are you also unaware of the reason why you produced this ‘Rejecting Classroom’?”

“Eh?…yeah.”

“Fufu, I see. Assuming you’re playing dumb just to dodge this question, there’s certainly a meaning behind this. In that case your acting is quite the deal.”

“I-I’m not acting!”

“Well I’ll ask you then—”

Otonashi-san smiled faintly.

“Hoshino, you have met—him , haven’t you?”

—who?

…Is not the question I ask myself right now. For whatever reason. Who have I met? I don’t know. I can’t remember.

Still, I understand.

I have met ‘*’.

When? Where? Of course I wouldn’t know such a thing. That isn’t part of my memories. Even so, I can feel that we have met.

I try to remember. But the information is blocked from my eyes like through a shutter coming down at extreme speed. Attention! You may not enter. Authorized personnel only.

“Fufu, so you met him.”

She chuckles.

Otonashi-san is convinced now. And I myself am convinced as well.

I, Kazuki Hoshino, am the originator who caused this situation.

“He should have handed it over to you. The ‘box’ that grants you a single ‘wish’.”

She suddenly uses the word “box”. Based on the context, that “box” seems to be the tool that produces this “Rejecting Classroom”.

“Ah, I didn’t tell you my goal yet.”

Otonashi-san tells me without stopping to chuckle.

“My goal is—to obtain the ‘box’.”

Then her laughter disappears. Otonashi-san, who is convinced that I have the “box”, scowls at me with cold eyes and commands.

“Now hand over the ‘box’.”

I surely have the “box”. It can’t be any other way, right?

But is it really alright to hand over this “box” that grants any “wish” to her?

I mean, Otonashi-san has endured 2,601 repetitions just for the sake of obtaining this “box”. So she has a “wish” that is worth such a huge effort. She wants to grant her own “wish”; even if it means making light of my own “wish”, stealing it. It’s like…

…this is—an almost abnormal tenacity.

Right, this is abnormal. Aya Otonashi is abnormal.

“…I don’t know how to.”

That is not a lie. But it is also my way of showing resistance.

“I see. So you’ll hand it over to me once you remember?”

“Well…”

“Forgetting how to take it out is a common case. But you have just forgotten it; somewhere, you still know how. Like you know how to ride a bicycle: you can’t teach it to others, but you know it as a feeling. You’re just bewildered because you can’t convert it into words.”

“…is there no way to end the ‘Rejecting Classroom’ without taking out the ‘box’?”

Otonashi-san shoots a cold glance at me.

“So you don’t plan to hand it over to me. Is this what you want to say?”

“I-It’s not like that…”

Seeing my obvious panic, Otonashi-san lets out a quiet sigh.

“Let’s see. I guess the ‘Rejecting Classroom’ would also end if we crushed the ‘box’ along with its ‘owner’.”

“Crush it along with its ‘owner’…?”

“Owner” probably refers to the culprit holding the “box”—in other words, me. Crush it along with me? In short—

Otonashi-san represses her feelings and says coldly.

“The ‘Rejecting Classroom’ will end if you die.”



Is this reason enough to prepare a «******»?

Do you want to tell me that you plan on doing this to me, too, if you need to? In that case, please do it quickly, that is easier to bear.

March 3 rd . Morning. Rain. A crossroads with a bad view.

I have thrown away my umbrella and look at the «******». Other things don’t really enter my sight. Neither the truck that has crashed into the wall nor Otonashi-san, who is just standing there, are being recognized by my eyes. A red liquid is flowing without rest, so much it cannot be washed away by the rain.

A cor***, missing half of its head, that has its bra** splashed out. ***pse. Corpse. Corpse. CORpse. CorpseCorpseCORPSE. corPSE. CorpsecorpseCORPSE. Corpse. Corpse. Corpse!

Haruaki’s «Corpse».

“—ah”

The thing before my eyes causes me to vomit as I recognize it.

I look at Aya Otonashi. She is expressionlessly staring at me.

“……Haruaki”

But don’t worry, Haruaki!

You know, this will be undone anyway.

This will be declared «void». Conveniently.

……Oh? Could it be…

Could this be the reason why I’m wishing for the “Rejecting Classroom”…? Because I’m rejecting situations of this kind?

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