Title: Open for business, awaiting clients
Summary: "You see, the ones to solve others' problems should be the most problematic people themselves."
Soubu Municipal High School
Looking back at the high school life
First and foremost, I want to make a statement. I won't write anything about the supposed topic of the essay due to many reasons.
Our educational system claims it's encouraging students to independent thinking and self-improving. Yet when someone believes that and writes their thoughts on the matter, they get scolded for missing the point of the essay. Turns out that no, it's not what you were supposed to write. You were supposed to write a sweet, neutral, unoffensive and standardized set of sentences describing your undoubtedly positive and nostalgic outlook on your school life along with many undoubtedly colorful and meaningful events that made you who you are. Even if it's not true at all. Especially if it's not true at all.
A paragraph for the introduction, a couple of paragraphs for the main thoughts and a paragraph for the conclusion, which must mirror the thoughts in the introduction down to the sentence count. Anything else is a blasphemy.
I completely agree with encouraging students' independent thinking. It's just apparently there is some state standard for it, and a very strict one at that.
So no, I won't write anything about the supposed topic of the essay due to many reasons, some of them stated above. Though I did mirror my introduction and conclusion paragraphs, down to the sentence count.
Shizuka Hiratsuka, my language teacher, was reading my essay aloud. Her tone was calm and wistful, and I could swear I saw a faint smile on her lips. I expected her to be angry, but apparently she wasn't. Instead she continued reading my essay like it was some slice of life light novel.
And here I was trying to make it as blunt and offensive as possible. Should I feel ashamed of myself?
Oh, wait, maybe she's a yandere who reads students' crappy essays with a sweet smile, then takes her knife and slaughters them? And and then finely minces the bodies and uses them to fertilize all these potted plants in the teachers' lounge... I shuddered at the thought. No. No way, it doesn't happen in real life. Besides, deep down inside I knew it would have been too easy for me.
Upon finishing the essay Hiratsuka-sensei sighed, fished out a cigarette from her chest pocket, lit it and took a drag. I involuntarily held my gaze on the said pocket and, by extension, her chest. I always thought "big-breasted Japanese" was an urban legend. Or an oxymoron. Until I entered this school and met Hiratsuka-sensei, that is.
Damn it, I'm almost sixteen and I don't even need to wear a bra yet!
My (rather long) train of thoughts was interrupted by Hiratsuka-sensei.
"You need to try harder than that, Tsurumi. It's not even that creative, nevermind offensive. It's about," she paused, contemplating something, then smiled, "zero point twenty-five on the Hikigaya scale."
"Hikigaya scale? What is that?"
And why so low? Now I do feel ashamed.
"A scale for measuring the comprehensive level of creative offensiveness in essays. Doesn't affect your final score for the assignment, don't worry."
That's a good thing, because you'd definitely be in trouble otherwise, Sensei.
"Who is that Hikigaya? Is he some pedagogy professor?"
Because who else would have time and funds to invent something this useless?
In response Hiratsuka-sensei just let out a short laugh.
"It's me who thought it up. Hikigaya-kun's just the only one to score a solid one on that scale, is all," The look in her eyes became a bit cloudy, and I saw that ghost of a smile again. Now I'd really like to meet that Hikigaya fellow. And definitely get a signed copy of his essay. And maybe even gather all my courage and ask him out only to get rejected immediately.
"Anyway, that's not what I want to talk about. What I want to talk about is you yourself."
She puffed a smoke cloud and looked at me with a serious expression.
"It's been only a month since you entered our school. This is your first writing assignment in my class and this is what I get. Care to explain?"
The thought of that yandere stunt resurfaced again. If she aims for throat it won't even be that painful…
I took a deep sigh. Why...Really, why? I'm quite capable of writing what teachers want from us students, I've done it countless times in junior high. Why was this time different? Is that what people call…"snapped"? Oh well. Too late to take my words back, and no words can fix the situation.
Let's dig ourselves deeper, shall we?
"I feel these essays are exercise in futility. Every single time we get something like this, we are expected to make a copy of some… some stereotypical paper written by a perfect model student. If you need us to copy a document by hand, you can just say so."
Hiratsuka-sensei glanced sideways, then looked at me again.
"I understand your point. Moreover, I know exactly where our argument will go, I know all your questions and all my answers. It's going to be pointless. To hell with that, I'm going straight to the point this time."
Was the pun intended?
She took a drag again.
"You don't have any friends, do you?" Where did that come from? Also, some blatantly rhetorical question that was.
"Why do you need to know that?" I replied.
"Want to check something."
And by getting an answer to that question you're going to check exactly what?
"I think it depends on what you consider a friend…"
Hiratsuka-sensei smiled and sighed.
"People who say things like "define friendship" don't have any friends at all. Source: Hikigaya."
That Hikigaya again. Though that quote does ring some bells…
"You didn't have to point that out so rudely."
Even if it's true… Especially if it's true.
Where is this conversation going? I liked bashing my essay more.
Sensei took another drag and continued:
"What about a boyfriend or something like that?"
'Something like that'? I don't think you would react well if a female student said she had a girlfriend, would you. On second thought, might as well check...
"I have a girlfriend actually."
I expected her to be baffled. She wasn't. Instead she looked at me and smiled yet again.
"It's not like I'm a pro at lesbian relationships, but all couples form upon some kind of connection. And the only people who know how to make it are the ones who have-"
"...Friends. Fine, fine, you got me, Sensei. Yes, no friends, no boyfriend. Thank you for poking at the matter, I really appreciated that."
Crap, I got too angry. Have to apologize now.
"I apologize for the last part. I was being rude."
"No need to, it's me who was being rude. I'm sorry, Tsurumi." Looked like Hiratsuka-sensei was sincere. That was a first. "Anyway, I checked what I needed. You're cynical, blunt and bitter. Obviously no social intelligence to speak of. Bet you were isolated and ostracized a lot."
I momentarily flinched. Damn, that was unintentional. Now she will be reaffirmed in her suggestion and start pitying me. And that right there is the last thing I need, honestly.
"Not really. It was on my own volition and didn't really affect me in any way."
Sensei smiled and looked somewhere sideways with a thoughtful expression.
"Of course it didn't. When I first met them, they both said the same thing. Though now at least I know how to help you all… somewhat."
She nodded to herself and stood up.
"Follow me, Tsurumi."
"Where to? And what for?"
"We're going to the Service club. It's getting open for business again."
And then there we were in the club wing, standing before one of the clubrooms.
I raised my head to read the nameplate and found that, well, there was nothing to read. Instead it was covered in stickers. Many, many silly stickers. Three rows and at least nine columns.
"Oh, that," Hiratsuka-Sensei followed my gaze."They marked their solved cases."
"Members of the Service Club."
"And what is this Service Club?"
And what's with the name? It sounds full of subtext like you wouldn't believe.
"A Volunteer Service Club was founded to provide help and advice to those who need it. They take on anything. Review newbies' light novels, help with Student Council elections, save someone's love life, pose for the fashion magazine, you name it, they've done it. "
"And now they're going to solve my problems?" Of which I didn't ask at all, mind you.
"Not quite. The original members of the club graduated four years ago, and since then I couldn't find anyone suitable to succeed them. But then I've got you."
"You see, the ones to solve others' problems should be the most problematic people themselves."
"Where's the logic?"
"There is logic, Tsurumi, you just don't see it yet. Besides, it's not the only reason. You've got just the right combination of wit, cynicism and social experience. Or more like inexperience. Sorry for the pun."
You're a punny person, Sensei. Sorry for that pun.
"Wait, you mean I'm a member of the club now?"
"Yep. No objections. Though, as a compensation, you'll get additional credit on my subject until graduation."
"Oh come on, you get a free room for yourself and won't get disturbed most of the time."
"You're not going to back down, are you?"
I sighed again.
"All right, I agree."
"Awesome. Didn't get to use my fists this time."
"And yeah, we may as well come in."
I realized that all this conversation appeared before the still-closed door.
When I entered the room, the first thing I noticed was giant stack of desks and chairs at the far wall. Right, the clubroom is actually a makeshift furniture storage. Some importance this Service Club holds.
Aside from that… A large blackboard, a desk with a kettle and tea accessories, some kind of conference table made from another three desks, upon it a laptop with school property sticker, three chairs... And not a single speck of dust.
"Sensei, you said the club was closed five years ago?"
"Not 'closed', just on hiatus."
"Whatever. I mean, why is it so clean here?" Is it me or did I start to talk casually to her?
"I clean here from time to time, annual club reuninons and all. That and I've got some precious memories about this club."
That was… strange to hear. But sincere.
"So, what am I going to do now?"
"Actually, nothing in particular. Sit back, relax, maybe read a book."She laughed." Almost every time I came in, they were reading new books. I suspect they've read more than school's official Literature Club combined. Memories… Anyway, don't forget to check former members' appeal on that laptop. You're free to go home when you're done. Everything else will also be in that laptop. Goodbye."
With that she just waved and left.
Out of sheer curiosity I checked every corner of the clubroom for anything interesting. There was none. Duh. I stood in the middle of the room for a bit, looking around, then finally sat on a chair near the window, took out my book and started reading.
Come to think of it, the place's really good to come by and read something. Especially in this chair by the window. Previous inhabitants were definitely the bookworms, I'm sure of it now.
I suddenly caught myself thinking that maybe I wanted to meet them.
Then I contemplated how many times in my life I had that desire- to get to know someone nice and interesting. Not that many, actually. Two or three, if I were completely honest with myself. This time including.
Then I remembered that they have graduated long time ago and now enjoy their careless lives in some universities. And that they wouldn't really bother to meet some high school outcast who thought that maybe they were fun to talk to.
Then finally I approached the lonely laptop and booted it.
I was greeted with mostly blank desktop with just a couple of folders and a single video file named "Please Watch: A Personal Appeal From The Graduating Members Of The Soubu High Service Club". In English. Did it ever occur to them that most people won't get the reference by this time?
When I launched it, I saw this same room, with that same pile of desks in the background. Apparently the video was shot on the webcam of this laptop. I heard a girl saying 'come on, Yukinon, you're the club prez, you go first' and another girl sighing and replying 'right, right' while someone adjusted the camera. Short time later, I saw a girl elegantly taking seat across the laptop.
Long black hair. Nice symmetric face- for a second I thought it was Photoshopped. Piercing blue eyes with that confident "I read you like a book" look. Well-manicured hands. School uniform that properly fit. In other words, holy cow, she was gorgeous!
At this point I noticed the graduate band over her uniform. So they recorded it at their grad'uation. Maybe even instead of the graduation ceremony. For some reason I expected them to do that.
The girl meanwhile straightened up her shoulders and put her hands on the table. Like a Victorian lady, really. Or like those Ojou-type girls I see in movies. Never thought they existed. Though, come to think of it, I never thought Hiratsuka-sensei's bust existed either. Oh well.
Then she started speaking.
"Good day to those watching this video. At least, I suggest it's daytime, otherwise I apologize if I got that wrong."
In the background I heard a loud slap and male voice saying "just say 'hello', dammit". The girl squinted her eyes and looked somewhere above the camera. Whoa. That look could kill. After five seconds of silence, apparently satisfied with the effect, the girl continued:
"Now that we're done with the outside interferences, I shall continue. My name is Yukino Yukinoshita, and I'm the president of the Service Club."
Yukino Yukinoshita? Prominent rookie writer with award-winning collection of stories who some people already nicknamed "the modern Kenji Miyazawa" is… her? I hit pause and took out my book again. Yes, "The Quietest Lake In The World", written by Y. Yukinoshita. Complete with author's afterword written in that same "haughty-sarcastic" manner.
All people know about her is that she's Waseda University student and supposedly a daughter of a rich family. And now that I think about it, our Prefectural Diet does have someone with Yukinoshita last name.
And to think she was a president of some obscure school club that helps people… I unpaused the video.
"Current members are graduating, so we were tasked by our club advisor to make a speech for the newcomers. Apparently she thinks someone actually will succeed the club, though I seriously doubt it. But if that does happen, don't be afraid. There are supplemental notes left by all members on this laptop, as well as Hiratsuka-sensei's guidance you can always rely on. As for my personal advice, I'd like to say several things that might help. First, don't bend under others around you."
Her expression became condescending.
"If you've come to this club, you are certainly better and smarter than your classmates, and you've suffered for that a lot. Do remember that it's not your fault, and that it's you right and responsibility to fix them and, by extension, the world around you."
At this point I saw a hand in the right corner. The hand stealthily reached Yukinoshita's head…
"After all, one can't make scrambled eggs without breaking the shell…"
...nimbly fetched a stray lock of hair…
"… And it's the job of the higher human beings to…"
… and tugged.
Just one tug and cold beauty turned into a pouty girl holding her head with her hands and giving someone off the camera a hurt look. I'm surprised I say that, but it actually was pretty funny.
"I think we talked about that already, Nietzsche-tan.- Male voice, the same one as earlier. "Stop scaring newbies with your twisted philosophy. It's not like they're gonna crowd the club as it is."
"And I think you are overpraising me, calling me Nietzsche. I don't approve that."
"But you do approve 'tan', Yukinon," said the third girl I haven't seen yet.
Yukinoshita blushed, gave another pouty look off the camera, then straightened up and continued:
"While I was serious about the earlier advice..." Warning cough from the guy. "Oh, stop it! It's not like I was…"
"So, what I really want to say is… You're not completely alone. Even if you are, you still can have people close to you. You won't always perfectly understand each other, you will have conflicts. It's inevitable. And when the time comes, don't keep it to yourself. It's the only way to solve anything. We learned that the hard way. Don't repeat our mistakes. Good luck."
She got up and left.
"Hikigaya-kun, you're next."
"Me already, huh? All right."
Next was that hair-tug guy. He turned out to be tall (though hunched), with combed-but-not-really black hair and tired black eyes, dressed in an unruly shirt.
As in, the columnist in several newspapers? Yes, certainly him. Sharp tongue, smart and provoking articles, strange but precise sense of humor. Not exactly someone popular, but already gaining respect among the readers. Not much known about him except being Waseda university student. Right, Waseda again.
Not to mention being the top notch on the Hikigaya scale. Yes, I do have admit I'm no match.
At this point I couldn't help but wonder: If you straighten him up, iron his clothes and introduce him to a comb… Yes. Definitely ask him out and get rejected immediately.
"Well, hi. I'm Hachiman Hikigaya, a member of the service club. Worth mentioning that I was dragged here against my will and as the first client."
"But you stayed for some reason."
Hikigaya frowned and looked at Yukinoshita, who was standing somewhere to the left, then sideways.
" It's not like I stayed because I wanted to…or because of you, for that matter."
"Tsundere." From both sides of the screen, in perfect stereo.
Hikigaya made an irritated face.
"And this is my first advice to you. Don't ever give the proper rich heiresses popular light novels to read. They pick up the terms and start applying them to you. Also, I don't know how they do it, but they always get the wrong ideas from them, like with that band- OW!"
Lock tug again, this time by Yukinoshita. Do they control each other by their cowlicks or something?
Oh. Right. Both Waseda University students…Small wonder.
"I think we've talked that one case out. Besides, don't judge all the rich heiresses."
"It's called induction."
"It's called jumping to conclusions. And while we're on the subject, what did you yourself tell about scaring new members?"
"Fine, fine," Hikigaya sighed and gave the camera serious look. "Jokes aside… There will be times when you will have to make serious and hard decisions affecting someone's life. It will never be easy: you will doubt your choice, and sometimes won't be praised by anyone no matter what you choose. Don't sweat it. It's your choice, the one others imposed on you because they didn't want to make it themselves. Right or wrong, it's yours. You'll learn from your mistakes. Just don't give up."
"That was too solemn," Yukinoshita retorted.
"Look who's talking. 'sides, Yuigahama's better at sunshine and rainbows anyway."
"Hikki! Did you just insult me? Again..." I swear I've heard this voice somewhere.
Hikigaya raised his hands in apology:
"Sorry, sorry. And you're next anyway."
Hikigaya switched places with Yuigahama, who turned out to be a cute girl with dyed auburn hair and big brown eyes. And also with unbuttoned blouse, a pendant, and nails painted vibrant pink.
What does this typical high-school girl do in a club full of troubled bookworms?
"Umm, hi, I'm Yui Yuigahama, member of the Service Club. And a second client actually, long story."
I slapped myself on the forehead. I really, really should have remembered earlier. Yui 'Yui-Yui' Yuigahama the upcoming voice actress. Shy and clumsy on public, but very serious and concentrated at work, if the 'making of' videos are to be believed. Was typecast as basically herself on her first role in some generic harem nonsense, but then suddenly pulled off a perfect high-class lady in that new Gainax sci-fi drama. Everyone went 'huh?!' and then suddenly it's four leading roles for two seasons straight, with definitely more to come.
Still shy and clumsy in public, though.
Yuigahama meanwhile nervously fiddled with her hair for some time, then nervously smiled.
"Well. I really dunno what to say, I mean, Hikki and Yukinon said it all anyway, ahaha…"
"Yuigahama, stop being so nervous. You're not expected some smart things to say-"
"Hikigaya-kun, that's too much."
"Sorry, wrong choice of words. We like you for who you are, so stop trying to imitate us, that's what I wanted to say."
"Hmph!" and, quieter, "thanks… Well, anyway, it's not like it will be like they said. Not so gloomy, I mean. We had a lot of fun together, and I really like all those moments. Except when these two lovebirds lose their, what's it called again? Oh, yeah, situation awareness…"
Two hands from each side of the screen, reaching for her ears…
"... like when Hiratsuka-sensei told me to find them and they were on the roof…OW!"
"They don't need to know." Again, in perfect stereo. A nice test sample for stereo systems, if you ask me.
Also, this is getting repetitive. You three are aware of that, are you?
"Well, anyway… Try to enjoy the club as it is, it's really really fun, I promise!"
With that she stood up, went off the camera and dragged both Hikigaya and Yukinoshita into the view.
"Hey, let's say goodbye together or something."
And, After a synchronous sigh:
"Goodbye and good luck!"
Then "Sensei said she'll do the edit, and I hope none of that..." and then the video stopped.
Your hope was in vain, I'd say.
I closed the laptop and sat still for some time. I had… what's it called… mixed feelings? Yes, something like that.
Those people on the other side of the screen were… so happy. So content. So comfortable around each other. Even more so than the 'normal' people around me. When I saw them, I felt they were true.
If Sensei is to be believed, these people were problematic, just like me. Isolated, unsocial, cynical. Lonely. I've read Yukinoshita's book, I've read Hikigaya's articles, I've even seen Yuigahama's interviews and her blog. And I can say that despite all the adaptation they really were the misfits, just like Sensei said. Yet still...
I've given up improving my life long time ago, seeing no solutions to my problems other than a miracle. This video from four years ago can't be considered miracle by any means, but it did give me hope.
Because I do remember them.
There is that memory from the end of my elementary school. The one of a more unpleasant kind, the one I don't like to remember at all.
The memory of me being bullied for no reason.
My class went to a summer field trip. The trip was uneventful, and my classmates continued to ignore me and give me snide looks. I was lonely and felt stupid to agree to this trip.
Then I met those three- two cynical smartasses and bubbly yet oddly empathic girl. I've seen some spark between them, some feeling of camaraderie despite all the bickering. I've listened to them explaining to me the cold hard truth of social relationships. I've been exposed by them to a very nasty situation which destroyed normal friendships inside my class, but also stopped the bullying.
I remember being really angry at them for setting this up. So much that I didn't want to talk to them anymore, to forget about them. But after all these years, whenever I remembered that field trip, I reiterated the scenario several times over and couldn't think of how it could be done better when you only had three days and some girl you didn't even know.
And now… now I understand that there was no better solution. And that, for all their cynicism, they cared about me and did what they could.
By some strange twist of fate I succeeded their club, along with their solutions and their outlook- both by being from the same wrong planet and by understanding that no one else can do it. Indeed, the ones to solve others' problems should be the most problematic people themselves.
I'm pretty sure they too started like this. I'm pretty sure it will be hard.
I'm also pretty sure I'll manage. For the first time in my life, I was given the chance and methods to make life better. Others', my own, doesn't matter.
I stood up, packed my bag and headed to the exit. First day of my new club is over, but I'll be here tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, and many days after.
We're open for business and awaiting clients.