[Chapter 2 – Lilies in the Afternoon]
“How are you feeling, Naho?”
“Naho! Are you alright?”
“Naho, what happened?!”
Classmates crowd around me as I walk into the classroom, asking if I’m alright.
“I’m fine. I wasn’t hurt,” I reply.
I made it through the accident with only a scratch, but others weren’t as lucky.
Two days ago, after a meeting with the student council ended, I walked home alone. I was crossing the street just outside the school when a man on the other side noticed me.
“… Naho…” he started to speak.
I was so startled by a stranger calling my name that I did not notice the car.
“Look out!” the stranger yelled.
A car had run the red light, swerving back and forth towards me. The headlights blinded me. Fear locked my legs.
When the stranger saw I wasn’t moving, he ran into the street and pushed me backwards. All I remember was his face looking towards mine. His eyes were tired and dull eyes belonging to a face with deep wrinkles of regret and age. Yet, it was a face that seemed to say to me “everything’s going to be okay.” It was the face of a man that I felt I could trust.
In an instant and a flash of red, that face was gone.
The push caused me to hit my head on a street railing. As I blacked out, I heard voices and footsteps running towards the accident.
A man was first to arrive. I could only hear a few words as I lost consciousness.
“Stand aside! I’m a police officer! Someone call an ambulance!”
I woke up staring at fluorescent lights and a white ceiling. I had been transported to a hospital and been sleeping for a couple hours. The doctor told me what had happened. A drunk driver sped across the intersection, killed the stranger who pushed me out of the way, crashed into a telephone pole, and died.
That was last Wednesday. Two days after the accident, I’m back at school as if nothing happened, sitting through the last class of the day and looking out the window. The scratch on my head was minor, so I only took one day off of school.
Just who was the man who saved my life, though? What scares me is that he knew my name. Who was he?
“Naho! Class is over!” exclaims a voice into my ear.
“Yamanananananananaka-chan~~~~~ I’ve been calling you for the past five minutes!
Tamago Yukiyo and I have been childhood friends for as long as I can remember. She’s a bit on the eccentric side, but she makes every outing together interesting and enjoyable; she’s a happy bubble of energy that always makes me smile.
“You included an extra ‘na,’” I criticize how Yukiyo butchers my last name, “Actually, that was a lot of extra ‘na’s!” Yukiyo almost never calls me by my last name, that is, unless she’s making fun of me.
“Ehehe sorry, I stuttered. Anyway, you okay?”
“Yeah, just a bit tired after Wednesday.”
“Oh no! Are you still hurt? Do you need to go to the nurse’s office? Isitserious? Areyougoingtodie? Yamananannananananaakachaaaaaaaaan!Don’tdieonmenoyoucan’tdieonmeweweregoingtogotokaraoketogetherandhavetonsoffuntogetherbutifyoudiewecan’thavefunandit’snofunifIhavetogobymyselfbecause you’redead!!!!”
“It’s okay! Nothing’s wrong,” I interrupt her panicking, “I’m just tired. That’s all.”
“Oh. Should we cancel today’s plans?”
“Don’t tell me you forgot! You’re the one who brought it up too!”
“I didn’t forget?”
“… Then tell me what we have planned.”
“Okay! Okay! It’s been a rough week, okay? I forgot!”
Yukiyo suddenly slaps her hand on my shoulder repeatedly with a huge grin on her face.
“Of course I know that! I’m not mad at you, silly.”
“Ow, stop hitting me.”
“People forget things all that time.”
“You could say everyone has slight cases of amnesia. I mean it’sprettyamazingthatpeopleevenrememberthingsliketheirnamechandtheirfriend’snamesandthingsfromschoolandfrombooksatall.”
“Imeanwouldn’tbefunnyifnobodyrememberedanything? Everypersonyoumeet wouldbeanewfriend!Icouldbelike’HeymynameisTamagoYukiyo’toyoueverydaybutIguessIcouldn’tbecauseIwouldn’trememberbyownname,huh?”
“So what did we plan to do, Yukiyo?” I interrupt; if I let her continue, I’ll be here all day.
“Beeeeeeeats me! You were the one who asked me to make time for you today for some student council activities or another.”
“Oh! I probably wanted you to keep me company today while I make my rounds supervising the different clubs working for the student festival.”
Our annual school festival is exactly two weeks from now. While most clubs do not start preparation until next week, some of the larger clubs with extravagant displays or projects get permission to start preparing this weekend. Because the faculty members do not get involved with the festival, clubs are supervised by student council members after school. On paper, the members are supposed enforce policies and look for misuses of school property. Fortunately, most of the students are well-mannered, so my job really consists of walking around the school.
“Well, it’s up to you. Will you join me? You can come see which clubs to check out during the festival,” I request Yukiyo.
“That doesn’t sound very fun~~~” she whines.
“Did I mention student council members get free food samples?”
And with that, Yukiyo and I start our rounds.
Much to Yukiyo’s enthusiasm, the first club on the agenda is the baking club, the biggest non-athletic club at the school. The light fragrance of bread and other baked goods slowly fill the air as we approach the home economics room.
“Naho~ the smell is so good~” remarks Yukiyo as she drools in anticipation.
“Hello? This is the student council representative reporting,” I announce as I enter.
“Come in! Come in!”
Many students are bustling about, mixing ingredients, checking ovens, and washing dishes. The clamor of hard-working bakers mixes with the clattering of metallic bowls and utensils. Yukiyo remains behind me, waving her head back and forth and looking at the bustling scene.
“Hello, student council representative,” says one member as she approaches.
“Hello. My name is Yamanaka Naho. I’ll be the one supervising your after-school hours. I hope to get along with you well,” I introduce myself with a light bow.
“Thank you, Yamanaka-senpai. My name is Sumada Nanako. I’ve been charged with showing you around today,” my guide replies.
My guide is a small girl with a height that barely reaches up to my chin. Considering I am not very tall myself, she is especially small. Her glossy, jet black hair is tied up in a bun under a hairnet, presumably to keep hair from falling into the food. Judging from the sheer size of the bun itself, she must have extremely long hair. Her apron is unsurprisingly covered in flour. Amusingly, the apron stretches down to her ankles, further accentuating her short stature. She resembles a small child donning her mother’s apron to play house.
“Senpai? You’re mistaken, I am only a first year,” I address my guide’s confusion.
“Oh! You are a first year as well? Very well then, Yama-na-naka-san. Please call me Nanako.”
“Wait, you added an extra ‘na!’”
“Oops, I stuttered.”
“You can just call me Naho. Okay, Nanako?”
Yukiyo, desiring treats, reveals herself from behind me. “Naho~ when can we try the goodies?”
“There are two representatives!” Nanako mistakenly concludes, “My apologies!”
“No, no,” I quickly try to remedy the misunderstanding, “Yukiyo is just a friend of mine. She’s not affiliated with the student council.” As much as I love Yukiyo, I cannot afford to have her actions be seen as connected to the student council.
“Yep! I’m just here for the treats,” affirms Yukiyo triumphantly, as if her non-affiliation is admirable.
“Well the, we can’t let a potential customer go without samples, can we?” responds another voice, this time a male.
“Ah! Club president!” exclaims Nanako.
“I haven’t gotten the position just yet, Nanako. Jeez, there are plenty of other people here well qualified enough to be the president, and the club nominates me of all people unanimously? I swear you all planned this to play a prank on me or something. Ah, where are my manners? Naho, was it? Pleased to meet you. Call me Kenji.”
“But Mori-senpai,” Nanako argues, “you’re a second-year, so calling you by your first name…”
“Nope,” he interrupts Nanako, “Kenji.”
“Mori ‘Yu’ Kenji? You’re in the baking club?” I inquire, shocked at his appearance.
This man is Mori Kenji. Though I’ve never met him before, I am fully aware of who he is. Kenji is one of the select few “Elite” at the school. The title of “Elite” is given to students with exemplary behavior. Chosen as role models for the student body by their peers, the seven “Elite” embody seven qualities the school’s founders identified as necessary virtues, which the founders shamelessly stole from the old samurai code of bushido:
righteousness or “gi”,
courage or “yu”,
loyalty or “chugi”,
honesty or “makoto”,
respect or “rei”,
benevolence or “jin”,
and honor or “meiyo.”
Just because there are seven slots for the “Elite,” however, does not mean there are always seven chosen; the title is given on such special occasion that rarely more than four or five are assigned at a time, making the title that much more prestigious.
Kenji is usually referred to as Mori “Yu” Kenji, the “Courageous Elite.”
“Jeez, again with that ‘Yu’ business… I frankly don’t care for being named for something anyone in my situation would have done. Anyway, who cares about me? We care about baking here, don’t we?” He turns to address Yukiyo. “You’re Yukiyo, right? Come over here. I’ve got some test samples I’d love for somebody to try and critique.”
“O-o-ok,” Yukiyo replies.
It seems even the energetic Yukiyo can be bashful when faced with the famous “Yu.”
As every member was creating new recipes in preparation for the festival, Yukiyo’s voracious appetite was well satisfied before we left.
“Hoooo. I’m so full~” sighs Yukiyo contently.
“Well good, because we spent so long at the club that the other clubs I was assigned are probably done for the day,”
“No way?! There are more to see?”
“We wouldn’t have stayed at the baking club for so long if you didn’t eat so much.”
“What? Are you saying it was my fault?”
“Yes,” I reply bluntly.
“It’s okay! They can’t be as awesome as the baking club. What other clubs were we going to go to anyway?”
“The league of cookie appreciators and ice cream connoisseurs united,” I joke as I list fake clubs based on her favorite desserts.
The orange glow of the setting sun blankets the street as I walk home after parting with Yukiyo. The days have been getting shorter lately, and I need to get home and take care of Mother. As I near the house, however, I notice something peculiar. A police car is parked in the normally empty street. Did something happen? I dash to the front door and thrust it open.
“Mother! What’s going on? Are you alright?” I call into the house.
After a pause, Mother’s meek voice replies, “Welcome back, Naho.”
I follow her voice to the dining room, “Mother? There is a police car parked outside, what’s going…”
I cut my sentence midway when I enter the dining room. My mother is seated at the far chair. Seated next to her are two men. One is a policeman whom I’ve never met, but the other is far too familiar. Even though he faces down into the mug in his hand, I recognize him immediately. A chill runs down my spine as I face once more the man who saved my life two days ago. I was told my savior was dead, yet here he sat before me in my home.
“Are… are you a ghost?” I manage to mutter.
My savior looks up confused and stares blankly at me.
“You’re… not him…” I slowly realize. He looks similar to the man who died saving me, but his face lacks the wrinkles and fatigue of the man I remember.
“Naho, this is Mr. Murakami,” Mother states, gesturing to the policeman. I realize she seems more tired than usual. Her voice is weak and void of the energy she’s regained in the past months, “and this here is…”
“It can’t be. You’re…” Mr. Murakami interrupts Mother, staring at me, “You’re the girl from the accident… I see. That’s why Seitaro jumped in front of the car.”
Seitaro? Was the policeman referring to the person who saved me? But that name…
“Seitaro,” continues Mr. Murakami, “… his full name was Yamanaka Seitaro. He was your father,” He turns to face mother, “and it seems the person he saved was none other than your daughter, Mrs. Yamanaka.”
Mother covers her mouth with her hands with a gasp, “What? Then he…”
Yamanaka Seitaro. I had never met my father, but that name was all too familiar; he sends us money and letters every other month. The person I met two days ago was him?
Suddenly, the other man stands up and approaches me. His fists clenched, he looks me dead in the eye.
“So… You’re…” he mutters under his breath. His eyes are nothing like my savior’s were. These eyes are fiery and full of vigor, piercing me with their stare.
“So you’re…” the man in front of me continues, “… you’re the one who killed Dad.”
END OF CHAPTER