Hopelessness and a Way of Life
TOKYO WAS UNUSUALLY hit by heavy snowfall.
The garden seen from the corridor window was lit up with a scenery of a snowy night.
Kamogawa and I were light on our feet and headed for the appointed location ahead of the others.
On the way, Kamogawa stopped and looked at the snowy landscape.
“Do you remember? More than ten years ago, when we were waiting for Naoe-sensei under the cold weather.”
“Yes, it seems like it was only a few days ago.”
“That day, Ayanokouji-san took charge of the White Room Project and appointed me as well. It's been a lot of hard work, but we've made it this far.”
That's true. There are more than one or two secrets that you can't tell people and must take to your grave.
“You have grown up a lot. I see you've learned the rudiments of politics.”
“Thank you, Naoe-sensei, Ayanokouji-san... No, working under Ayanokouji-sensei has been a great step forward for me. The only thing I regret is not being able to report to my father, who passed away last year...”
Kamogawa's father passed away around this time last year after suffering a heart attack.
It had been Kamogawa's goal to tell him directly about the White Room Project’s release.
The state should provide institutions that take in and nurture children.
The Advanced Nurturing High School is a pioneer now, but it will go further than that.
An institution that saves the lives of unborn children.
An institution that educates children and produces geniuses.
The White Room Project is what the world will absolutely need in the future.
Lives thrown down the toilet. Lives cut off by abortion. Lives killed by abandonment.
Under the leadership of the government, we will eliminate all of these problems.
It’s a plan that will also help to address the problem of declining birthrates.
“We're going to achieve results that will reach the heavens. Don't be satisfied now, Kamogawa.”
Today was a special day. Things were different from the time when we were waiting for Naoe-sensei in the cold.
The White Room experiment had been steadily producing results, despite its many twists and turns.
Finally, it was the day I would report to Naoe-sensei in detail and go out on the stage.
The first step toward seeing the light of day was about to begin.
This was something that couldn’t have been done without a lot of hard work and perseverance.
We were supposed to take our seats first and wait for Naoe-sensei to appear in the upper section.
I knew it was polite to wait outside, but this was Naoe-sensei's order. In other words, I interpreted it as a sign of appreciation for my hard work.
“With this project’s announcement, Naoe-sensei finally stands at the top of the country.”
“Prime minister, huh…?”
He was now fully prepared for the forthcoming election.
“He won’t just be the prime minister. Not only will he be honored on the front page, but he’ll be one or two times more powerful than the previous prime ministers.”
In the truest sense of the word, he will be the man at the top of this country.
I’m rarely nervous, but I could feel my heartbeat speeding up slightly.
I put my political life on the line for this project.
I dreamed over and over again of the day when it would pay off.
“Naoe-sensei is here.”
After a long, yet short 30 minutes, the news of Naoe-sensei's arrival came.
“You arrived earlier than I expected.”
He was only ten minutes late from the appointed time.
I had planned to wait an hour or two without worrying about him being late, but I was surprised.
“Is that how interested Naoe-sensei is in you?”
I lightly warned Kamogawa as he happily spoke.
From that point on, we put aside our loose feelings and began a serious discussion with Naoe-sensei.
Before the shoji was opened, we sat on our knees and bowed our heads, rubbing our foreheads against the ground.
I heard Naoe-sensei's dignified, quiet footsteps.
“I'm sorry for keeping you waiting.”
Naoe-sensei appeared and apologized for his tardiness.
I couldn't help but feel a strange tugging at my insides when he said those words.
“No, sir, of course not. Thank you for coming all the way here today in the cold.”
As I said this, I shook the unnecessary thoughts out of my head.
I shouldn’t worry about it.
I was definitely on my way up the stairs to fulfill my ambitions.
“Just raise your head. We're not getting anywhere.”
Kamogawa and I raised our heads and quickly reached for our glasses to pour Naoe-sensei a beer.
But Naoe-sensei stopped us.
“Before you do that, I need to talk to you,” he said.
“I beg your pardon?”
Kamogawa quickly stepped aside and returned to listening to what Sensei had to say.
“I have a few things to tell you. Well, let's start with that.”
After a slight pause, Naoe-sensei muttered as if remembering something he forgot.
“As for the next election, I've decided not to run.”
For a moment, I didn't understand what Naoe-sensei said, and for the first time, I gave a dumb reply.
I guess it was the same for Kamogawa who was sat next to me.
The ringing in my ears was intense in the silence.
“Sensei... That's some kind of a joke, isn't it?”
The words came out naturally from Kamogawa's mouth rather than as a confirmation.
I would’ve said the same thing even if he hadn't taken the liberty of saying it.
“It's true. The day after tomorrow, when the candidates will be announced, I will vote for Kijima.”
Kijima? Why is Naoe-sensei choosing Kijima-sensei?
No matter how promising he was, Naoe-sensei was in a better position than Kijima-sensei.
“Wait a minute. You’ve made a lot of preparations for this moment—!”
As I leaned forward, I couldn't hold back my emotions.
I knew that becoming the prime minister wasn’t everything.
In fact, the Naoe-sensei that was in front of me had his chances in the past, but he remained a fixer in the shadows for many years without sticking to his post.
Still, it was a foregone conclusion that he would be the prime minister this time around.
In fact, if he didn’t run for the prime minister's office... He would be practically giving up his prime minister's seat.
Once Kijima-sensei takes over the position, he would surely hold on to it.
Naoe-sensei's faction would start to lose its cohesive power and he would never have the opportunity to become prime minister again.
Considering the fact that he had withdrawn his position, one can't help but think that something bad had happened.
And that could have a huge impact on the White Room.
I had to check because I knew instinctively.
What surprised me the most was that it was Kijima-sensei that Naoe-sensei decided to support.
“Oh, that Kijima-sensei... You’re a clear adversary of his... Right?”
Kamogawa couldn’t help but mention the name.
The number of candidates from the Citizen's Party for the election had been narrowed down to three, both inside and outside the government and in the media. The main candidate was Naoe-sensei, who was right in front of me, and the runners-up were Isomaru-sensei, his rival, and Kijima-sensei, who came a little later. These three were the only candidates who had the ticket to become the prime minister, and Naoe-sensei was definitely the first candidate.
“I had no intention of making him prime minister, but that's no longer the case,” he said.
“You think you won't be able to get votes…?”
“That's how it is. The votes for me, Isomaru, and Kijima were nicely divided among the Citizens Party, but now it seems that some of the opposition parties have decided to destroy me. I’ve calculated that I won’t even get 20 to 30 votes.”
After trying all the strategies, Naoe-sensei had a resigned smile on his face.
“Even if I do well, if I fail, I’ll lose a lot of my appeal. If that’s the case, I’ll have no choice but to support him instead of running for office while protecting my current position, right? He's still young, but he has momentum and power. I thoroughly fumbled around for scandals, but not a single speck of dust has turned up…”
A politician with no women, no money, and nothing to hide.
He was capable of utilizing his abilities just as he had always been doing.
“But in that case, wouldn't it be better to recommend Isomaru-sensei? He may be a rival within the same party, but he must also be an old acquaintance. I don't think there’s any need to recommend Kijima-sensei, who’s difficult to handle...”
He would not be thinking so childishly that he doesn't want to let his colleagues have credit where credit is due.
If he decided that it was right for him to be under Isomaru-sensei, there would be no need to hesitate.
“You already know that it’s better to be under Kijima, don't you? If we try to force our way onto Isomaru's ship, there’s a strong possibility that we’ll fall together. There are many voices from our faction saying that Kijima is the best choice between the two.”
Even Naoe-sensei was afraid of defection if he tried to force his way into Isomaru-sensei's side.
I had no idea that he had been pushed to this point.
I thought I had been in on the political scene, but it seems that even I hadn’t been exposed to the other side of the story.
“Oh, it's too early to give up, Naoe-sensei. We have the White Room Project!”
“Stop it, Kamogawa.”
Kamogawa tried to talk back, but I strongly restrained him.
“If you’ve made that decision, then we will abide by it. But you know that the White Room Project is a different matter, don't you?”
Naoe-sensei's support for Kijima-sensei was promised, of course. In other words, it should be a given that he would receive almost the same post as before. We could safely conclude that it wouldn’t have that much of an impact.
“That's what I came to see you about today. I'm sorry for all the work you've done for me over the years, but I'm going to have to ask you to stay quiet for a while.”
He spoke what I least wanted to hear, and my cold sweat began to pour out of me.
“...What do you mean, Naoe-sensei?”
Even though I was beginning to understand the situation, I couldn't admit it.
“You know what I mean. I know what you're going to say, but all of that will only happen if I can maintain my position. You understand that, don't you?”
“Sure, I've been unofficially promised my next post. But that's not a fort that’s been won. It is the last stronghold that I defended in the face of defeat in the factional war. We can't promote the White Room Project, which has the potential to generate controversy here.”
If Naoe-sensei were to make a bad move, Kijima-sensei's side won’t remain silent.
It was obvious that we would be suspected of trying to gain more centrality by taking the credit. The logic is quite understandable.
“Ayanokouji. you are an excellent man.”
“...Thank you very much.”
“You know very well that I don't judge you only by your educational background since I picked you up from the ‘have-nots.’”
“In the world of politics, both now and in the past, a specific level of academic background is required, and if it weren't for your way of thinking, you wouldn't have used a man like me.”
Naoe-sensei nodded and took a breath.
“For better or worse, people who have been in politics for a long time are all copycats who imitate what the people around them do; they’re incompetent people with only their academic backgrounds to them. They come to think that it’s enough to maintain the politician title and a high income. Politicians who aspire to be righteous or aim to be villains are equally engulfed.”
Naoe-sensei reached for his empty glass but quickly withdrew his hand.
“But Kijima has never changed. He's serious about politics.”
I wondered if Naoe-sensei had ever praised his opponent in such a straightforward way.
He was no longer thinking about the battle after it was over.
“I feel the same way about you. You are the same, just in a different way.”
“...Yes. My beliefs and principles will never change.”
“To be the best in the country... That's your goal, isn't it?”
“I have no doubts. But that would mean we have to beat Kijima. He's a real piece of work, isn't he?”
“He is. He's got ambition. But if Naoe-sensei supports Kijima-sensei, let me follow suit. From now on, for the sake of Naoe-sensei and Kijima-sensei—”
“—As I said before, you'd better lay low for a while.”
Oh, Is that so?
I had a bad feeling about this.
I guess it turned out to be true.
“...I don't understand.”
“You've become an eyesore for Kijima. He's heard about all the fancy things you've been doing with the business community over the past few years. Do you understand? I can't have a guy like that working for me.”
“That's just what you told me to do. To build a facility beyond the high school, to change this country... Didn't you tell us to do it thoroughly?”
Naoe-sensei's face changed.
“You've been running the White Room enough and amassed quite a bit of money. You’ve got deep connections to the Yakuza and you’re becoming more than just a politician. Ah, aren’t I right?. Did I tell you to go that far? You've been going around doing all that fuss to protect yourself. Do you know how many times I've had to put out fires behind the scenes over the last few years?”
His tone of voice changed, and before I knew it, strong reprimands began to fly.
“So… What are you going to do about the White Room Project?
“It's a done deal. That's a blank piece of paper.”
“You can't tell me that… It's a blank piece of paper…”
Kamogawa's expression, which had still been half-joyful earlier, had turned to one of despair.
I remained as firm as a Buddha statue, but there was no denying that I still had a grim look on my face.
The White Room Project—a blank sheet of paper?
Did he know how much effort I put into the project?
I couldn't let that be reduced to a single phrase: a blank paper.
...No, it had always been that way.
With a single word from Naoe-sensei, any case could be moved to the right or to the left.
There was nothing special about it.
If we showed any kind of defiance here, we would only offend Naoe-sensei.
He was disrespectful to us young people, and that was why he came up to us like this.
If we didn't act maturely and calmly, we would be caught flat-footed.
If you were kicked out for being a cocky guy, you would never get a chance to be useful again.
I had enough money to be the envy of others.
Even if Naoe-sensei discarded me, it was possible that I wouldn’t encounter any issues living my life.
But as a politician... I could never make a comeback.
Then my ambition won’t be realized.
“That's the way it is. No hard feelings.”
So this is how it all ends.
Naoe-sensei seemingly has no intention of taking his time eating here.
So at last, I didn't care to even hold my glass.
“When Kijima acknowledges that you don't have fangs, I'll bring you forward again. It's all right.”
To survive as a politician.
Throw out the White Room and start over.
It was my only choice.
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
This time, I couldn't be as calm and smart as I usually am.
I couldn't have done that.
Did he know how hard I worked for this project?
More than a decade of hard work in order to make it a reality just to end up giving up everything?
I won’t let it all go to waste.
“The White Room has received a lot of funding and is still operating. There's no way we can withdraw it now.”
“Oh? Who are you talking to, Ayanokouji?”
He was so overbearing that it was hard to believe that he was just an old man.
He was neither intimidated nor offended by my bluster, but simply turned his dark eyes on me.
For Naoe, who had been in politics for decades, this kind of thing was a common occurrence.
But it would be the same if I pulled out now.
Now that I had drawn my bow, there was no backing out.
“I told you to go back to the drawing board. Bow down and writhe to undo your mistakes. If you can't do that, hang yourself.”
“You're telling me this now?”
“What the hell do you expect me to say?”
“I'm not convinced.”
“I don't care if you agree with me or not, I said I'm calling it off.”
“Then what about me? I’ve only ever been under your tutelage, and I’ve given up many benefits for this project. Even if I get to keep my title as a politician, it's useless if I can't do anything.”
“You have to be patient for a few years. When it's over, I'll move you on to the next job.”
Could I believe that?
I couldn't believe it.
“Under your directions, I have been working solely on this project… This... I can't allow this absurdity to continue...!”
I could only mourn.
I couldn’t help but lament.
“I know how you feel. But you know better. That's the way this world works. And I've given you my full backing. I helped you get reelected so that you could move forward with your project. That's how you got reelected with the least amount of effort. Isn't that right?”
It was true that I entrusted Naoe-sensei with all of the campaigning that would normally be required.
And I owed him a debt of gratitude for getting me elected.
But if he overturned the tables at this point, that favor alone wouldn’t be enough.
“I am grateful for that. But—”
“If you get too attached to one project, you'll lose your footing.”
Why was I hanging on so tightly?
Perhaps Kamogawa, who was shrinking next to me, had no idea.
It wasn’t that I hated the fact that the White Room Project was going to fail, or that I was still obsessed with it. It was because I knew what the future held.
For Naoe-sensei, “I” turned into something to be discarded.
He said he’d give me another chance and leave me with nothing to do until the time of the election, but when the election comes, he’ll throw me out without any support.
How many times have I seen politicians cut in front of my eyes in the same way?
In other words, my fate as a politician was sealed as soon as the White Room was presented as a blank piece of paper.
My instinct was to resist at least until the end, and I chose to fight.
“So I'm the only one who has to cover my tracks... You mean to say I'm the only one who can get muddled?”
“You're still young. Unlike me, you'll get many more chances. But for me, it's now or never. I can't back down now. I'm going to die a politician.”
“I'm not asking you to quit politics. I'm just asking you to be quiet.”
“You're not going to cut me off, are you?”
“Of course not. I won't harm you. Kijima was very harsh with you, but he seemed to think highly of you, too. If you keep quiet for a while, your time will come. I'll ask you to show me what you can do then.”
I guess it's all over…
“Okay, that's good.”
“You’re right, the White Room Project is over with. I will start working on the cleanup tomorrow.”
I bowed deeply.
“Thank you for your cooperation.”
The Naoe-sensei that was in front of me had already lost all interest in me.
Whether I was capable or not was irrelevant. He just won’t take advantage of me anymore. I was cut off in conjunction with the project.