In his 3 year of elementary school, Koremitsu did not have a single friend.
When they went hiking in the hills previously, he was the one sitting on the last seat in the bus. When they reached their destination, his classmates were gathered in groups, chatting and laughing away as they trekked on, but Koremitsu continued to keep his mouth shut, and his sharp expression was fixated forward as he wordlessly head towards the hilltop alone.
There were beautiful flowers beside his path, birds perched atop the branches, but he did not look at him.
He knew, at the tender age of 9, that if he were to meet them in the eyes, the birds would be fearful of him and run away, just like his classmates.
Even when they reached the hilltop, he would not talk with others, and would find a place where nobody would notice him. Once he found such a place, he would set his picnic cloth and eat his bento alone.
That was because, if the teacher saw it, he would probably say,
“Everyone, please let Akagi join in too.”
He might say such things.
In that case, the students who were chatting and eating happily would quiet down and avert their eyes as they lower their heads, fidgeting around.
—Akagi seems really scary. That red hair belongs to a delinquent.
—I heard he fought against a fifth year and injured him.
—I heard that he bit the bulldog Shingen belonging to Tanaka in front of the school.
He knew all too well these rumors that were said about him.
You’re too arrogant even though you’re just an underclassman. The 5 years looking for trouble said this, and Koremitsu ducked past a hole in the metal fence in order to escape. The 5 year too tried to follow through, but was stuck inside, and because he struggled as he was stuck, the tips of the wire fence cut his arms and back, causing him to bleed all over, and he wailed out in pain.
The famous bulldog, Shingen, which often barked at students leapt towards Koremitsu as its collar ring was released.
He tried to restrain Shingen and pressed his head down on its face. The passers-by, upon seeing this, yelled—3 year Akagi just bit Shingen—and the crowd gathered, creating quite a commotion.
“I…it’s fine even if I don’t have a friend.”
“Did you eat your bento with your friends?” his aunt Koharu asked as he came back from his trek, not thinking about what he felt at all, and he answered quietly,
Everyone, says that, I’m arrogant, unsociable, a delinquent, when they see my face.
Mom left me behind when she went off. I definitely have a face nobody likes. I might as well not hope for others. If I say that I don’t want to make friends right from the beginning, I won’t have any lonely feelings.
But his once divorced aunt, who returned to her maiden house, spoke with a serious look on her face.
“Koremitsu, you may look a little less cute than the average, more violent, and a little more lacking in gentleness, but this can’t be the excuse why you can’t make friends. Your grandfather looks like you, he does have a calligraphy class for 40 years, and he has quite a few Go player friends in the neighborhood. Even I have friends who’ll listen to my rambling.”
Koremitsu widened his mouth in shock.
It was true—that both his grandfather and Koharu both had savage looks like Koremitsu.
When the three of them were gathered at the dining table, it looked like they were discussing some devious ploy. When they go for their rare shrine visit together during the New Year, the other tourists who came along would instantly avoid them.
A few days ago, the Akagi residence had a thief, who collapsed in fear once he saw grandfather hold the carving knife with a savage expression on his face as the latter worked on his art print. He wanted to escape, but upon reaching the kitchen, found Koharu chopping the mackerel in the kitchen with a bloodied knife, and was immediately restrained.
I thought I just entered a demon’s lair—When he was questioned by the police, he shuddered as he admitted his guilt.
The neighbors muttered, seemingly pitying him…for entering that one particular house to steal.
But despite this, his grandfather and Koharu actually had friends.
Koharu taught him that despite his savage and scary appearance, these were not to be used as excuses for why he could not make friends. He was not to look for excuses, complain, give up easily, for that was not manly.
These were words of a senior who walked down the same arduous route, and they were immediately etched within the young Koremitsu’s heart.
At the same time, he lifted his head up in hope.
“…Can I make friends too?”
Koremitsu asked with a throbbing anticipation.
“Yeah, that’s why you have to try your best to form relationships with others. You won’t succeed easily, but that’s how you’ll make ‘real friends’.”
“Friends that are together for eternity are ‘close friends’.”
Those words caused a tremor in his heart.
Koremisu checked on the meaning of the term ‘close friend’ in the dictionary, and went towards the calligraphy classroom. Once the students left, he sat down on the table alone.
He grinded the ink and wrote ‘close friend’ in large font on the writing paper.
He continued to write the same words on every single piece of paper, again and again, and for every piece he wrote on, his heart soared higher.
In the end, there were pieces of paper with the words ‘close friend’ all around the table.
Such wonderful words.
Such awesome words.
He wiped off the sweat on his forehead, and his face was all red as he looked at the many ‘close friends’ in life.
I’ll take the best written words and put it under the pillow when I sleep.
Maybe I might finally dream of this close friend.
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