“You live alone, don’t you?”
She was probably thinking, how on earth did he know that?
I was about to ask whether she lived with her family, but stopped short when I saw her eyelashes cast down subtly. Memories of her room void of almost all furnishing came back to me. My first visit was seven months ago, and the cosmic telepathic talk on a scale that knew no bounds was in many ways plain scary. The second visit was Tanabata three years ago, and I was with Asahina-san. The second visit happened earlier on the timeline than the first visit, which is some accomplishment to me.
“How about keeping a cat? Cats are great! They may look flaccid all the time, but sometimes I just wonder if they can understand what I am saying. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are cats that can speak. I am not joking here.”
After the response, she grew silent for some time, fluttering her eyes in sorrow. Like the sound of the wind from a soaring swallow, she took in a breath, and spoke in a brittle voice.
“Want to come?”
Nagato looked at my fingernails.
My fingernails asked back.
A half-note rest of silence.
What on earth had happened? Was she shy, timid, or aggressive? This Nagato’s psychological curve was just discontinuous! Or, is the mentality of an average high school girl nowadays just as irregular as the light curve period of Mira A?
Of course, I followed. Nagato’s room. Room 708 in a luxury apartment. I would just take a peek at the living room. I might find some new hints there.
If I found another me sleeping there, I would wake him at once with my fist.
On the way back from school, Nagato and I didn’t talk at all.
Nagato only walked straight ahead down the slope in silence, stepping as if some strong chilling wind was beating against her. Her hair was ruffled, blown about by sudden gusts of wind. Looking at the back of her head, I only continued to move my legs matter-of-factly. There were not many topics I felt right to talk about, and I sensed that I had better not ask why I was invited.
After walking for some time, Nagato finally stopped her tracks in front of the luxury apartment. How many times had I visited here? I had visited Nagato’s room twice, Asakura’s room once, and the rooftop once. Punching the password into the entrance’s keylock, Nagato unlocked the doors and stepped into the lobby without even looking back.
She was even silent in the elevator. At the eighth room on the seventh floor she inserted the key into the door and opened it, but even then she only invited me in with a gesture.
I walked in without a word. The room’s arrangement was not different from my memory’s impression. It was just one nondescript room. There was no other furnishing in the living room except a kotatsu. As usual, there were not even any curtains.
And then there was the guest room. It should be the room separated by a slide door.
“May I take a look in this room?”
I asked Nagato, who went out of the kitchen with a Japanese tea set. Nagato blinked slowly.
“Sorry for intruding.”
The slide door slid open, as if there were bearings attached to it.
There were only tatami mats inside.
Well, I should have guessed. There was no way I could have traveled to the past so many times.
I slid the door back to its original position, and showed my open hands to Nagato who was watching over me. The gesture must have meant nothing to her. However, without a word, Nagato put two tea cups on the kotatsu table, sat up straight with her legs tucked under her, and started to pour tea.
I sat opposite to her with my legs crossed, the same position I sat in when I visited her for the first time. I had meaninglessly drunk several cups of tea prepared by Nagato, and then listened to that monologue about the universe. It had been a season of fresh greens and extreme heat, a completely different dimension from the current coldness. Even my heart was more chilled now.
Drinking tea face-to-face in silence, Nagato’s eyes drooped down behind her spectacles.
For some reason Nagato was hesitating. Her mouth opened, but then shut. She looked up at me as if she had gathered her courage, but then looked down again. She repeated this a couple of times. Finally, she put her teacup aside and forced her voice out with great effort.
“I met you before.”
As if in addition,
“Do you remember?”
Upon hearing this word, the gear at the back of my brain squeaked into action. The memory in the library with Nagato popped up. It was the inaugural first Search for the Mysterious.
Nagato drooped her eyes,
“You helped me make a library card.”
My psyche was electrocuted by a bolt, and failed to function.
…Yes. Otherwise you would have been stuck in front of the bookshelves! Haruhi’s summoning came like prank calls, and there was no other way to bring us back to the gathering point quickly…
However, as Nagato continued to explain, I found her description of the situation different from my impression. Here was Nagato’s explanation using her faint murmuring voice:
Around mid-May Nagato visited the city library for the first time, but she did not know how to create a library card. It would have been good enough if she asked one of the librarians, but the few librarians were all busy. Moreover, as an introvert who was bad with words, Nagato could not bring up her courage to ask, so she started to wander around the counter in vain. Probably unable to stand watching her like that, a high school boy who passed by volunteered all the procedures in her place.
“That was you.”
Nagato turned her face towards me, and our eyes met for half a second, before she dropped her eyes again on the kotatsu.
The dot-dot-dot was shared between Nagato and me. Silence returned to the void of the living room, but I could not come up with any words. That was because I could not possibly answer her question whether I could remember. My memory and hers were subtly different. It was true that I created the library card for her, but I was not a passer-by; instead, I was the one who took her to the library in the first place. Giving up on the Search for the Mysterious patrol that was doomed to fail, we chose to go to the library to loiter away our time. Even if my ability to remember was as tiny as an infant sea anemone, I could never forget the image of the silent Nagato in uniform.
Unsure of how to deal with my silence, Nagato twitched her lips with a tinge of sorrow, and made circles around the teacup rim with her slender finger. Watching the barely visible shaking of her finger, I was even more withdrawn from bringing up any topic, and the silence thickened.
It would be simple to just answer that I remembered. It would not be a plain lie. There were just some gaps from the truth. In this case, these gaps became the biggest issues at hand.
Why was there such a difference?
The alien I had known had gone off to somewhere else, leaving behind only a bookmark.