6 The night of the sixth day fell with the group in a foul mood. If we let this day end like this, the group probably won’t even form up tomorrow. I expect this terrible relationship to drag on. And if so, it will prove difficult to obtain a high score in the exam that awaits us in two days time. Even after I returned to the room after bathing, the mood in here is as foul as ever. Ishizaki’s putting up a wall around himself, not talking to anyone else. Keisei’s also severely blaming himself and trapped in his own shell, he’s not even speaking. The Class B students, in an attempt to liven us up, continued to excitedly chat repeatedly but no longer able to stand the oppressive atmosphere around them, they eventually fell silent too. Eventually, after confirming that it’s almost lights out time, Yahiko turned the power off in our room. In order to quickly put an end to this day. “Hey, Ishizaki. Can I have some of your time?” In the darkness, it was Hashimoto who broke that long silence. “No you can’t.” Hashimoto called out to him from atop his bunk but Ishizaki rejected him. Judging from the sound of the sheets shuffling, I suppose he’s turned his back towards us. “If we keep this up, our group’s probably in big trouble. We may possess some advantages because there’s only a few of us but in exchange, we bear several disadvantages when it comes to the contents of the exam. In the worst case scenario, Yukimura and someone else may be expelled.” If so, wouldn’t Ishizaki be the one to get dragged down? Is the implication of that remark. “Shut it. I don’t care whether it’s expulsion or whatever.” “Good grief…” It appeared that although Hashimoto extended a helping hand, Ishizaki rejected it. Hashimoto sighed as though giving up. “……fuu—”. I couldn’t see Hashimoto’s face in the dark. Does this mean our group can no longer return to a functional state? It was about time we gave up. “I played soccer during elementary and middle school. It was a prestigious school so every year our team would play in the nationals. We weren’t aces by any measure but we played matches on the regular and we did relatively well for ourselves.” Hashimoto said those words not to any person in particular, but to everyone in the room. “You aren’t in the soccer club, are you? You don’t seem injured to me either.” Yahiko pointed that out in the dark. “Yeah. I know it isn’t all that popular nowadays but there was a time when I used to smoke.” “So you were kicked out when they found out?” “No. I made sure to smoke in secret. Only my family knew about it.” “Even if smoking’s no good, it’s not a reason to quit playing soccer.” Yahiko’s doubts are spot on. If it isn’t revealed to anyone, then there’d be no problem. “I felt alienated. While everyone was united in their goal of winning the nationals, I alone observed that coldly. I felt like I didn’t belong there. And also, I probably didn’t like soccer all that much either. That’s why I could easily quit soccer and study. I was quite capable in the first place so it wasn’t really that difficult for me to keep up with my studies.” “Are you bragging? I can’t listen to this.” Ishizaki disagreeably interjected. “For better or for worse, all I could manage was to do passably well. But sometimes I do feel regret. When I see Hirata and Shibata, practicing hard on the grounds, I end up thinking that it could have been me there. Even though I didn’t like it all that much. Isn’t it strange?” Hashimoto laughed self-deprecatingly.
“What about you? What was your childhood like, Ishizaki?” “Huh? Why are you asking me?” “For no particular reason.” “Hah…I have nothing to say.” He refused to talk by saying he had nothing to talk about. Keisei then opened his mouth to join in the conversation happening in the dark. “Ever since I was little, studying was all I did. Maybe I was influenced by my older sister who aspired to be a teacher, I always acted the role of the model student. Ever since elementary, she’d give me problems that are almost absurdly difficult to solve. She’s a pretty unreasonable sister.” “So that’s how you became so good at studying?” Hashimoto, as though drawing out the conversation, asked that of Keisei. “Yeah. And also, I’m no good at sports. No matter what I did I could only barely pass most of the time. I decided not to overcome my weakness and instead improve on my strengths. Because I thought that with the exception of those aiming to become professional athletes, improving your physical abilities is pointless. After enrolling in this school, I was faced with several doubts. I never once doubted that someone like me who could study better than anyone else was most suited for Class A.” As though reminiscing, Keisei stopped speaking and thought for a little while. The class Keisei was assigned to was Class D. The despair he must have felt at the time must have been immeasurable. “After that, things I couldn’t accept happeed one after another. I couldn’t accept the joint responsibility system of the class and I couldn’t comprehend the lifestyle we had to live on the uninhabited island…in our class, Sudou was my polar opposite. Even though he excelled at sports, he couldn’t study. At first I thought I had been given an absurd burden to bear. But on the uninhabited island and during the sports festival, Sudou was far more useful than I was. I saw that shining figure of his beside me.” There was some frustration in his words. “To be honest, there are still some things I can’t accept. But I’m slowly starting to realize too. That if studying’s the only thing you can do or if sports is the only thing you’re good at, that’s no good. This applies to this exam as well. If we can’t do both those things, we won’t be able to obtain a good score. Am I wrong, Ishizaki?” Keisei then turned the conversation towards Ishizaki. “Then why did you—” “Just like during the sports festival and back on the uninhabited island, I’m filled with feelings of humiliation. I’m being a liability to the group. I hurt myself and end up increasing the burden on someone else. Most importantly, I ended up lowering our morale. I wasn’t able to show anything to Ishizaki, who contributed to the group more than the average person despite his complaints.” Ishizaki, who was about to mock him, stopped himself. You cannot see anything. It’s precisely because we’re in the dark where we cannot see the other person’s face that we are able to expose things like this. “I’m sorry, Ishizaki…that the leader who should be setting the example is in a condition like this.” He tried to choke it back but I could tell that Keisei is crying. But nobody’s uncouth enough to interject. It’s not like he’s crying because he wants to, these are tears of frustration. “Don’t screw around, why are you apologizing……I mean, I’m the one who blamed you……” Ishizaki scornfully laughed at himself and continued. “In the first place, you accepted the role of leader when nobody else would.” Even if it were pushed onto him, he could’ve refused. As a matter of fact, Ishizaki himself refused it. Ishizaki probably realized Keisei’s goodwill in accepting it. “I didn’t like taking orders from you but without those orders, the group would probably be even worse off. Both when it comes to making breakfast and the marathon training.” “No doubt about that.” Hashimoto said so while laughing. Students who excel in academics, students who don’t excel in academics. Students who excel at sports and students who don’t excel at sports. All different sorts of students gather to form one class or one group. There are problems to be found there too like enemies and allies. Here and there, Yahiko and the other students began chatting. On this day and this night, for the first time, our group started acting like a proper group. That is what I felt.