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第五章
Chapter 5
翌日、土曜日の朝。 On the morning of the next day (Saturday)-
慣れない土建屋バイト(無償)をしたせいで上半身がところどころ筋肉痛になっている。ま、昨夜は変な夢を見ることなく心地よく熟睡できたからよしとしよう。 Because I was never really good at manual labor, I found my body aching all over, no thanks to Haruhi. Fortunately, I didn’t dream of anything weird last night, and due to that I had a nice, deep sleep.
俺は封筒#3をコートの内ポケット奥にしまって玄関を出ると、タイヤの空気がヘタり気味のママチャリを引き出し、乾燥した冷風の吹く道を走り出した。うむ、今日も順調に寒い。 I placed letter #3 into the pocket of my outer coat and proceeded to fetch my bicycle. Cold winds blew through the streets, and it appeared that today would be a cold day too.
不法|駐輪して業者に持ってかれるのも何なので、駅前に新しくできた駐輪所に金を払って自転車を預けてから、駅前の待ち合わせ場所に足を運ぶと例によって俺が一番最後だった。 Due to the rising incidents of illegal parking, the authorities had decided to build a whole new parking lot in front of the train station. Anyone could park their bicycles inside if they purchased a ticket. After parking my bicycle, I proceeded towards the station, and found out that, unsurprisingly, I was again the last one to arrive. Asahina-san looked like a new kind of adorable pet, wearing a warm, cozy outfit while waiting for my arrival. Koizumi wore one of those elegant smiles that was bound to get at least one out of five high school girls’ heads turning, and Nagato wore her sailor suit as usual, coupled with her cardigan and a hat, standing there quietly without uttering a word.
朝比奈さんは新種の愛玩動物のような暖かそうな出で立ちで迎えてくれ、古泉はすれ違う女子中高生のうち五人に一人は振り返りそうなハンサムスマイル、長門は今日も制服の上にフード付きダッフルをまとった無口なサンドピープルスタイルである。
ピーコートにマフラーを巻いたハルヒが指鉄砲で俺に狙いをつけて、 With a scarf wrapped around her neck, Haruhi pointed her finger towards me and said, “We’ve been waiting for a long time, Kyon. Thirty seconds, to be exact.”
「待ったわよ、キョン。三十秒も」
それは惜しいことをした。チャリをその辺に置いてたら市内不思議探し第一回から数えて俺が初のブービーだったかもしれんな。一度はハルヒに奢らせたいものだ。 Oh that’s too bad. If only I had parked my bicycle somewhere else instead of in the new parking lot, it would be the first city-wide search where I wasn’t the last one to arrive. Or maybe I just wanted Haruhi to treat us.
「そりゃあ奢ってあげるわよ。あたしがドベになった日にはね。言っとくけどあたしはビリとかドン引きとか周回|遅れとか予選落ちなんて言葉が一番|嫌いなの。寝坊して遅れるくらいなら前日からここに泊まり込むくらいの意気込みはあるわよ」 “If that were the case, I would definitely treat all of you. But before that, let me make this clear: I do not like winding up last for anything, be it mock examinations, a race, or a meeting like this! I would rather sleep here overnight than be late.”
勇ましい笑顔はとことん挑発的だ。もうまったく、今のハルヒにはどんな巨大な敵も太刀打ちできそうにない。こんなことならブルーな時に何かしとけばよかったぜ。ところで過去を振り返って、やんなきゃよかったと思う後悔とやっとけばよかったという後悔とではどちらが尾を引くのかね。 Haruhi announced this with a big, energetic smile, like a knight eagerly awaiting a challenge. Indeed, the Haruhi before me looked as if she could knock down any foe before her while swinging a tachi. She should really learn to concentrate that overwhelming enthusiasm of hers into more useful endeavors. As I was thinking about what she could have done with her enthusiasm, Haruhi had already forcefully pulled me and the other brigade members to the coffee house.
などと、考えたところでどうしようもないことを考えているうちに、俺はハルヒに引きずられるようにしていつもの喫茶店に移動していた。
「昨日はなんにも見つかんなかったけど」とハルヒはホットブレンドをガブガブ飲みながら、「よーく考えたら、SOS団の探査目標は過去の遺産じゃなくてもっと不思議なものなのよね。何て言うの? 未来的なイメージなものというか、秘密っぽいものよ。この市内にだって一つくらいは何かあるでしょ。けっこう広いんだしさ」 “Even though we didn’t find anything yesterday,” Haruhi said while chugging down her hot drink, “We should think about it for a moment. The SOS Brigade’s goal is not to find some ancient relic, but rather extraordinary events, like for instance some mysterious object left behind by a time traveler from the future. This town just reeks of time travelers! I’m sure we’ll be able to find something today!”
Isn’t the town a little bit too big a scope?
面積の問題じゃないだろう。重要なのはどれだけ栄えてるかとか人口密度とか----。 “It’s not a matter of how big the town is, but rather how advanced, how populated it is that time travelers will mostly take into consideration.”
「……やれやれだ」 “…Just forget it.”
やめた。都市の繁栄度も人間の数なんかも関係ないんだ。本当はな、ハルヒ。不思議なものは気づいたらいつの間にか近くに存在しているものなんだよ。それこそいつの間にかだったので、誰にも気づかれないうちにすべて進行してたりするのさ。 I give up. What’s this have to do with how advanced a town is, or how heavily populated it is? Haruhi’s “extraordinary events” were those that didn’t appear on a schedule, and nobody knew when they would happen, or what they would be for that matter. Under these circumstances, all we could do was wait for the predetermined events to happen.
俺の場合、気づいたんじゃなくて気づかされたんだが、知ることができてよかったよ。それもお前が俺の席の後ろにいてくれたせい……いや、おかげだな。 From my point of view, I didn’t “discover” these extraordinary events, but was rather “forced to discover” these events instead. All I could do was do what I was told, and that’s all because… I mean, thanks, to you.
などと、俺がナレーション的なモノローグに浸っているうちに、ハルヒはツマヨウジにボールペンで印を付けたクジを作り上げ、全員に引くように促した。 As I was busy thinking back on what had happened during my past experiences, Haruhi had already marked the toothpicks with a ballpoint pen, and was ushering everyone to make their picks.
「一緒に行動する組み分けよ。印入りが二つと、ないのが三つね」 “In order to speed things up, we’ll divide into two groups. There are two toothpicks with marks, and three without marks.”
反射的に長門のほうを見てしまう。小柄な制服姿は無音でフルーツティーのカップを傾けつつ、メニューに静かな瞳を向けていた。おっと、これは勇み足だった。今日の初っぱなは無理に長門とコンビにならなくてもいいわけで、そういや朝比奈さんは何と言っていたっけ。そうだ、俺と古泉だったか。 I instinctively looked at the sailor-suit clad Nagato, who was quietly sipping away at her fruit juice, while studying the menu before her. If I couldn’t be grouped together with Nagato, that was all right.
Everything would be fine as long as I was grouped together with Koizumi.
「どうしたのよ、引きなさいよ」 “Come on, draw your lot!”
ハルヒが五本のツマヨウジを握った拳を突き出している。 Haruhi said as she shoved five toothpicks in my face.
「そんなに組み合わせが気になるわけ? ふふーん、誰と一緒になりたいって? 子供みたいね、あんた」 “Are you hesitating because you’re not willing to be in a same group with someone? Hohoho. Who’d you like to be with then? You’re so childish!”
そんな隣のお姉さんが悪ガキを見るような顔で笑うなよな。だが、考えてもラチが明かないことは確かでもある。朝比奈さんの未来予報は俺と古泉の二人で同組になることを教えてくれている。どの楊枝を引いても同じ結果が出るわけはない。印の入っている確率は五分の二、普通に計算すれば無印を引く可能性のほうが高く、で、もし印のないクジを引き当てちまったらどうなるんだ? 朝比奈さんの記憶違いってことでうまくまとまるのだろうか----。 Haruhi’s smile resembled that of my neighbor, who in turn resembled a certain man-eating female ghost who lived in the attic. Thinking back about it, according to Asahina-san (Michiru), I would be grouped together with Koizumi. That means that I would have to pick a marked toothpick, and the probability of doing so was 2 out of 5. According to the basic principles of probability, there was a higher chance of me picking an unmarked toothpick than a marked one. What if the principles of probability overrode Asahina-san’s memory? If I indeed picked an unmarked toothpick, what could I do to tie up the present to Asahina-san’s future?
などと考えているのが悪かった。ハルヒは沈思黙考する俺を放っておいて、さっさと他の三人にクジを引かせ、いざ俺の番になったとき残っているのは二本だけだった。 Oh well, there was probably nothing I could do about it. Faced with a silent, thinking, unmoving me, Haruhi passed the toothpicks to the other three brigade members. After the others had made their picks, I was left with the final 2 toothpicks. I nervously glanced at the toothpick in Koizumi’s hand. In his hand, Koizumi elegantly grasped a marked toothpick.
慌てて古泉の手元を確認する。優雅な手つきで持たれたクジの先には、印がちゃんとあった。これで引いていないのは俺とハルヒだけ、ハルヒはいつも残り福的に最後の一本を自分のクジにする習慣だから、後は俺のヒキにかかっているというわけである。 Now only Haruhi and I have yet to draw lots. Since Haruhi had a habit of picking the last lot, it would mean that it was my turn to draw a lot.
俺は目を閉じて深呼吸し、さらに十秒ほどハルヒの拳を見つめながら精神を統一させた。 Closing my eyes and taking a deep breath, I reached for Haruhi’s fist and concentrated for about ten seconds.
「何やってんの? 大げさねえ」 “That’s a bit over the top, no?” Haruhi said with a bewildered expression on her face. That’s what it may seem to you, but to me, it was more like sacred ritual. If everything didn't go as Asahina-san had said, I would be in trouble.
呆れ口調のハルヒであるが、俺には割と重要な儀式なんだ。ここで帳尻を合わせておかないとゆくゆく面倒事になりかねないからな。
「ままよ!」とばかりに俺は右手を高速移動させた。右か左かなんてチラとも思わず、適当に手を動かして触ったほうを引こうと試みたわけだったが、あまりうまくはいかなかった。あまりに適当すぎたようだ。俺はハルヒの手からツマヨウジを二本ともはじき飛ばしてしまい、しまったと思ったときには一本がテーブルの上を転がり、もう一本はハルヒが空いていた手で空中キャッチしており、そして転がっているクジの先にはシミのような印がついていた。 “Oh, whatever!” I yelled as my hand flew forward at godlike speed. I can’t remember if it was my left hand or my right, all I remember was that I grabbed a lot based purely on intuition. But apparently that wasn’t a good thing to do, as in my anxiety, I accidentally pulled both toothpicks out of Haruhi’s fist.
Watching the two toothpicks fly out of Haruhi’s fist, I initially thought, ‘It’s over.’ Suddenly, one of the toothpicks fell on the table and began spinning horizontally. As I searched frantically for the second toothpick, I gazed up, only to see Haruhi grab it in midair.
I cautiously lowered my gaze to the toothpick on the table. There was a small, yet visible, mark on it, like a small speck of dirt.
「なーんだ」とハルヒは幾分か| 唇 を尖らせて、「男と女で別れただけじゃん。なんだかつまんない分け方になっちゃったわねえ」 “Oh, come on!” Haruhi said. “An all-guys and all-girls pairing? How boring!”
気負って損したよ。この午前の組み合わせは時間移動的に重要ではない、というか俺が無印を引いていれば長門と朝比奈さんという両手に花状態が発生していたわけで、休日に古泉と二人で行動するより心が豊潤になっただろうに、それを思うと小さな過去なんかに囚われることもなかったかもしれない。考えなきゃよかったかな。 That’s too bad. Truth to be told, the morning pairing really wasn’t of much importance to me. If only Koizumi hadn’t picked a marked toothpick, he would very well be grouped together with Asahina-san and Nagato. Since I couldn’t allow this potential two-timing, it was vital that he and I pick a marked toothpick. That’s why I calmed down after knowing I would be grouped together with Koizumi.
しばらくウダウダしてから席を立つ。もちろん払いは俺任せだ。習慣とは恐ろしいもので、押しつけられてもいない伝票を自然に取ってしまう自分が恨めしい。 After that, all of us stood up and prepared to leave. Needless to say, it was my duty to settle the bill. A habit can be such a dangerous thing. How I loathe myself for picking up the bill so naturally!
「キョンくん、いつもすみません。ありがとね」 “I’m sorry you have to do this again, Kyon-kun. Thank you.”
申しわけなさそうに言ってくれる朝比奈さんだけが心の回復薬だった。古泉も似たようなことを言うのだが、こういう場合、爽快な笑顔で言われてもなぜか嬉しくねえな。 Asahina-san’s apology was the only thing that made me feel better. Koizumi also said something to that effect, but when coupled together with such a situation, and a happy smile to boot, how could you expect me to feel appeased?
All he said was:
「財布の中身にお困りのようでしたら、いいバイト先を紹介しようか」 “If you ever run out of money, I can always find a part-time job for you.”
* * *
俺と肩を並べて喫茶店を出ながら、古泉が囁きかけてきた。 As I was about to leave the coffee shop, Koizumi approached me and told me more about this “job”.
「とても簡単なアルバイトでね、慣れたら単純な作業になります。日当のよさは僕が保証してもいいですよ」 “It’s an easy job, really. After you get used to it, I’m sure it’ll be a piece of cake for you. The salary is absurdly high too, this I can guarantee you.”
「していらんね」 Thanks, but no thanks.
甘い言葉には常に悪魔の思惑が潜んでいるものだ。うっかり変な書類にサインして、連れて行かれたところが奇妙な研究所の手術台だったりしたら目も当てられない。パートタイム超能力者に改造される恐れがある。俺は無人の灰色空間でハルヒのストレスと戦闘を繰り広げたりはしたくないぞ。 An image of a devil hiding behind that smiling face suddenly flashed into my mind, as I found myself signing a mysterious guest book and brought into a mysterious research facility. As I was blindfolded, modifications were done to my mind and body, allowing me to temporarily receive esper powers. I’m sorry, Koizumi, but I’ve had enough of sealed spaces. I don’t want to be stuck in another one of those gray worlds again, thank you.
「それは僕がやりますよ。あなたに求めているのは、そのストレスと戦闘しないでもいいような|状 況を作り上げることです」 “I’m also working on that part-time job. You can work too, if you wish. It’s not something stressful, don’t worry.”
そんなもん、お前がやればいいだろう。 I think I’ll leave that kind of work to you.
「あなたにしかできそうにないんですよ。少なくとも、今のところは」 “Only you can do something like that,”
俺は普遍性を逸脱した特殊技能なんか持っていないはずだ。 I quickly replied, trying to exit this conversation as soon as possible. I wish to remain a normal human without special powers, be it real or manufactured, thank you.
「そうでしたね」 “Hmm…” Koizumi said as his lips curled upwards, revealing a smile.
古泉は唇の先二センチ前で笑うような表情をした。
「その気になったらいつでも言ってください。仕事の内容を教えて差し上げますから。僕としては、すでに教えたような気分になっていたんですがね」 “If you ever change your mind, be sure to give me a call. I can teach you the basics, and even go beyond that, if you wish.”
古泉らしからぬ曖昧模糊としたセリフだったが、俺は追及しなかった。聞きたくもないことを言い出す予感があったからである。考えなしに突っ込んで返り討ちに遭ってはしかたがない。時には自重が必要なのだ。だいたい罠にはめるほうが最初は守勢でいるものだしさ。 For some reason, Koizumi’s choice of words sounded strange and peculiar today. I had a feeling that he would be mentioning something I didn’t like should I play along with him, and for that one reason alone my gut told me to reject his offer all the way till the end, lest I end up falling into a trap. Sometimes, a man’s just gotta trust his gut.
* * *
店の外で俺の支払いを待っていたハルヒが、 Haruhi was waiting for me outside the coffee shop.
「集合は一二時ジャストよ」 “Meet here at 12.”
右手を長門の、左手を朝比奈さんの腰に回して南国系の花の笑顔。 Nagato was positioned at Haruhi’s right, as Haruhi curled her left arm around Asahina-san’s waist, grinning maniacally.
「それまでに何でもいいわ、不思議なものを見つけてきなさい。昨日まではなかったはずのマンホールとか、知らないうちに増えていた横断歩道の横線とか、目を皿にして歩いていれば一つくらいは見つかるでしょ。いいえ、見つけるつもりで探すわけよ。そうしないと見つかるものも見つからないからね」 “Listen up. I don’t care what it is, you have to uncover something mysterious today! Maybe you could try the sewers, since we’ve never been there before, or try counting the number of stripes in pedestrian crossings to see if they’ve mysteriously increased! As long as you put your hearts into it, I’m sure you’ll be able to find something interesting! If you do something half-heartedly, you’ll never achieve anything!”
お前が等身大人型カイロのように身体にくっつけているその二人は宇宙人と未来人というこの上ない取り合わせなのだが、もう、それはいいか。それに、もし体育祭の借り物競走で不思議なものを持ってこいと言われたら俺は即座にハルヒの手を引いてゴールするだろうが、それももういいな。こんなおかしなバックステージを持つ一団の中に俺がいるという事態が最大の不思議だが、全部ひっくるめて今さら持ち出すことでもない。ハルヒが本能みたいに不思議を追い求めるように、俺は今の日常が続いて欲しいと思っている。もはや間違えようのない、それが真実ってやつさ。 You know, you’ve been the target of two aliens and a time traveler now, and yet you’re still in the dark about it… Oh, I give up.
Now if I were competing in a scavenger hunt, and the object I was supposed to seek was “something strange”, the first thing that I would drag all the way to the finish line would be Haruhi. Come to think of it, someone normal like me being a member of the mystery-ridden SOS Brigade was perhaps the strangest thing of all. While Haruhi pressured us to look for “mysterious things”, I found myself wishing for nothing more than a normal high school life. Reality is always so paradoxical, it seems.
* * *
あたしたちは線路のあっち側に行くから、というハルヒに引っ張られるようにして長門と朝比奈さんが踏切を渡るのを見届け、俺はマフラーをまき直した。 Haruhi dragged Nagato and Asahina-san across the streets and parted ways with us. I tightened my scarf and turned to Koizumi.
「どこか行くあてでもあるか?」 “So where do mysterious things appear?”
二時間限定のツレに訊いてみる。古泉は固まりそうに寒い空気の中でもあくまで朗らかに、 We had two hours to search for something mysterious. In this freezing cold weather, Koizumi smiled and said coolly, “Even if I were to tell you where, I’m sure you wouldn’t like it. Nor am I willing to go to such a place. Let’s just take this opportunity to take a stroll and chit-chat a little.”
「あったとしても、あなたの足が僕の心当たりなどに向いてくれそうにはありませんからね。普通に散策を楽しむとしましょうか」
意外なことに、歩き出しても古泉は俺に余計なことを話しかけたりはしなかった。大きなドブ川を泳いでいる鯉の魚影を見つけてその生命力に感心したり、コンビニに入って雑誌を立ち読みしたり、ようはどこから見ても由緒あるヒマな高校生二人組だ。 Koizumi was surprisingly quiet the whole time. All we did was look at some carp in an aquarium, before proceeding to flip through some magazines at the convenience store. No matter how you look at it, both of us looked like ordinary high school students.
話すことも学期末試験の話やら、昨日見たドラマのツッコミどころやら、おいおい、こいつとこんなまともな会話すると、かえって疑心暗鬼に陥るじゃないか。 As for the dialog exchanged between us, this was mostly limited to stuff like the term-end exams, the drama shows which aired yesterday, and the sort. Hearing him talk so casually did nothing, but increase my suspicion. Or was I wrong?
「僕は一般高校生に身をやつした超能力者ということになっています。こういう表の部分も重要なんですよ」 “I want to become someone who appears to be a normal high school student on the outside, but in reality is an esper on the inside. That’s why, in my opinion, appearances are very important.”
古泉は横断歩道の線を歩数で数えるように車道を渡りつつ、
「僕だって永遠に超能力者でいられるとは思っていません。誰かにパスできるのなら、僕の持っている力と役目を包装紙に包んで差し上げたいくらいです、と、そう思うときも、たまにあるんですよ」 Koizumi spoke as we slowly crossed the streets. “I never once thought that I would be an esper forever. Sometimes, I wish that I could just gift wrap my esper powers and give them to someone else, freeing myself of both my powers and my burden.”
安心させるつもりか、古泉はこっちを見て微笑んだ。 Am I supposed to be relieved upon hearing that?
「たまにです。どちらか選べと言われたなら、僕は今の立場を選択します。地球外生命の端末体や未来人と自覚的に対話できるなんて、これ以上に物珍しい体験はちょっとやそっとでは思いつきませんね。あなたには敵わないでしょうが」 Koizumi smiled at me and continued. “I don’t have these thoughts often, only sometimes. If I were given the choice right now, I would undoubtedly choose for things to remain how they are. Being able to come in contact with cosmic beings, being able to communicate with those from beyond this time plane; I don’t think there’s anything more amazing and awe-inspiring than that. But of course, your experiences far outweigh mine.”
俺ときたら、お前の挙げたその二人にお前が加わる珍しさだからな。 If I were you, I’d include you in those ‘amazing and awe-inspiring’ experiences.
「僕から超能力者という肩書きが取れるのがいつになるかは解りませんが、僕の属性から高校生という一文が削除される日は必ず来るんです。涼宮さんが留年でもしないかぎりね。だとしたら今しかない高校生という立場をそれなりに謳歌しておかないと」 “From my point of view, even though being an esper is strange and unexplainable, it’s neither amazing nor awe-inspiring. One day, I’m going to graduate from being a high school student, provided that Suzumiya-san does not repeat her grade. That’s why I try to enjoy life as it is right now, both as a high school student and as an esper.”
俺はけたたましく過ぎていった今年度の日々を思い返した。 All I want to do is enjoy a peaceful high school life. However, I will say that you’re pretty praiseworthy of your actions during the summer and winter co-ed incidents.
「俺にはお前が、じゅうぶん謳歌していたように見えたぜ。特に夏と冬の合宿では大活躍だっただろ」 “That’s because I’ve been a member of the ‘Organization’ for about 4 years now. If I hadn’t received any esper powers at that time, I would not have transferred into North High, and would probably be engaged in some activity that does not concern the fate of the world right now.”
「それも僕が『機関』の一員だったからです。もうそろそろ四年前になりますが、あの時自分の身に降りかかった奇妙な能力がなければ、転校生として北高に編入することはなく、世界の命運うんぬんなどとは特に無関係に暮らしていたことでしょう」
「いいじゃねえか」 “Isn’t that supposed to be a good thing?”
点滅する歩行者用信号機を見上げ、歩きながら言った。 As the traffic lights turned green, both of us proceeded to cross the streets.
「超能力だか何だか知らんが、それがあったおかげで今こうしてここにいるんじゃねえか。あったせいで、とか言いやがるなよ。それとも何か、お前はSOS団なんてアホな団体に入ったことを悔やんでいるのか? ものは試しだ、退団届けを書いてみろよ。代理で俺がハルヒに提出してやってもいいぜ」 “I have no idea if I transferred here due to my esper powers or some other-worldly powers, but it doesn’t really matter, right? I’m already here, after all. And although you constantly say that the SOS Brigade is a silly club, you’ve never once regretted joining it, have you? If you were truly fed up with it, you could write a letter of resignation. I suppose I could help you hand it over to Suzumiya-san.”
古泉は口の端を歪める人工的な笑みを俺に向けた。やや間があって、 Koizumi said this as his lips curled upwards, as if mocking me.
「いいえ」 “Just forget it.”
面白がっているような声で告げた。 Koizumi ignored me and continued on with an amused voice.
「現在のあなたが、ある種の開き直りの境地に達したように、僕もまた涼宮さんやあなたがた団員の皆さんに初対面時には考えられないほどの好意を抱いています。副団長でもありますし……いえ、そんな肩書きを理由にすることもないですね。あの雪山の館で僕が言ったことを覚えていますか?」 “You’re like a totally different person now. I still remember the first time meeting you and Suzumiya-san, and the good vibes I felt from all of you back then. And then, I was promoted to Vice-Commander… But let’s just forget about that for a moment. Do you still remember what I said during the Snow Mountain incident?”
当たり前だ。お前が忘れても俺が忘れん。あの約束を反故にするようなことがあれば、俺はハルヒと力を合わせてお前にとびっきりの特製バツゲームを与えてやる。 Of course I do. Even if you eventually forget it someday, I’ll never forget it for the rest of my life. And if you dare to go back on your word, I’ll make sure to combine forces with Haruhi and crush you with full force.
「安心しましたよ。僕が記憶喪失になってもだいじょうぶそうですね。あなたたちが思い出させてくれそうだ」 “I’m greatly relieved then. Even if I do contract amnesia one day, at least someone will be there to remind me about it.”
微笑み、古泉は緩やかに白い息を吐いた。 Koizumi smiled as he said:
「長門さんがあっさりと窮地に立つなどよほどのことで、そう何度もあるとは思いたくありませんが、僕にできることならしますよ」 “Nagato-san almost said, ‘I hope such a situation won’t befall all of you again,’ back then. If something like that ever happens again, I’ll surely help all of you out, so don’t worry.”
その決意に長門以外の仲間にも向けてもらいたいもんだな。 Upon hearing this, I suddenly felt relieved that aside from Nagato, there was somebody else I could rely on.
「言うまでもないと思ったんですよ。朝比奈さんも守ってあげたくなる人に変わりはありません。無意識のうちに庇護欲をくすぐってくれますからね。超能力の一種かと思えるくらいですよ」 “I think this goes without saying, but the desire to protect Asahina-san has always been present within everyone. Without knowing it, you suddenly get the urge to protect her. I think this also qualifies as a ‘power’, no?”
横断歩道を渡りきった古泉は、ふと足を止め、腕時計に視線を落とした。つられて俺も左手首を上げる。ずいぶんブラブラしていたな。そろそろ集合時間だ。 After crossing the streets, Koizumi abruptly stopped and looked at his watch. Taking a hint, I too looked at my watch, and found out that we had in fact been strolling around for quite some time. It was almost time for us to gather again. Just as I was about to head for the station, Koizumi suddenly said softly,
俺が駅前に戻る道を目指しかけた時、三歩ほど遅れた後ろから古泉の声が小さくかかった。
「現在の朝比奈さんは僕にも『機関』にとっても守護の対象です。ですが気をつけてください。あなたのあの朝比奈さんとは違う、別の出で立ちをした朝比奈さんはそうではないかもしれませんよ」 “As for the other Asahina-san, although I will be protecting her as a part of the ‘Organization’, please be careful. That Asahina-san may be different from the other Asahina-sans.”
朝比奈さん大人バージョンのシルエットが網膜に再生される。俺は振り返らずに歩き続け、古泉の声はさらに遠くなった。 Asahina-san (Big)’s image suddenly popped in my mind, as I continued on forward without turning back. Even though Koizumi’s voice grew fainter and fainter, I could still make out what he was trying to say. “She is, to us --- The SOS Brigade--- more than a simple mascot.”
「彼女[#「彼女」に傍点]が僕たちに----SOS団に、福だけをもたらすという保証はありません」
かもな。だが、これもお前が言ったことだぞ。 That may be so. After all, you were the first one to tell me so. “That’s why,”
「だとしたら」
と、俺は言った。 I said,
「その未来を変えてやればいいのさ。今のこの時からな」 “Even if the future were to change, I don’t care. What’s important is it should start changing now.”
* * *
* * *
駅前に戻ってきた俺と古泉を、先に帰還していた三人が待っていた。 When Koizumi and I reached the station, the other three were already there waiting for us. “Did you find anything mysterious?” was what Haruhi first asked. I’m sorry Haruhi, but even if we had really looked, I doubt that we would have found anything.
「何かあった?」
ハルヒが訊いてくるものの、探してもないものは発見できたりはしないので、
「ない」 “No.”
正直に答えるのみである。 That was the only logical answer, followed up with “Same goes with the three of you. You guys didn’t find anything either right? That makes us even.”
「そっちこそ、面白いもんを発見できたのかよ。なかったならお互い様だぜ」
「うん、そんなに不思議なものはなかったけどね」 “You’re right, we didn’t spot anything mysterious.”
落胆も| 憤 りも見せず、ハルヒは恐ろしくニコヤカに、 Haruhi replied without sighing or flying into a rage. She must be really happy today.
「面白かったわよ。三人でデパートの食品売り場で試食したりね。ね、楽しかったわよねえ?」 “But we did have fun, trying out the various food samples offered in the supermarket, didn’t we?” Haruhi happily asked Asahina-san.
含んだようにハルヒが笑いかける先は朝比奈さんだった。
「そ、そうですね」 “Y-Yea!” Asahina-san agreed as she nodded, and for a split second, her fluttering hair reminded me of the crimson butterflies which were flying about in my house’s garden right now. “We saw many interesting things, and even bought some new tea!”
朝比奈さんは何度も素早くうなずきながら調子を合わせている。ふわふわする栗毛がのんびり屋の蝶の羽を思わせた。
「いろいろ見て回って面白かったです。新しいお茶も買っちゃった」
幸せそうに微笑する朝比奈さんは、本日はすっかり買い物気分である。よく見りゃ長門が手に持っているのは本屋の袋じゃないか。この三人、いったいどんな不思議をデパートの食品売り場や書籍コーナーで探していたというんだ。不思議な話オンリーなら書店にいっぱい並んでいるだろうが。 Asahina-san had a very contented look on her face, as if she had just gone on a shopping spree. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that Nagato had a plastic bag, which bore the label of a bookshop, in her hand. Come on, do you guys really think that there’ll be something mysterious in a shopping mall?
Unless you’re talking about mystery books, which can be found in the book store, of course.
「まあ、いいじゃないの」 “Oh well, it’s not that bad.”
ハルヒはけろりと言い放ち、 Asahina-san said, as if unsatisfied. “If we do things in a rush, we may regret it later on. The more anxious we are, the more slowly we should try to handle things. It’s the same with driving. If we frequently accelerate, when something happens, we won’t be able to brake in time, as opposed to if we didn’t accelerate. Things like this happen because we never thought they would, and when they really do, problems arise.”
「慌ててやっちゃうとね、たいてい後で悔いるハメになっちゃうものよ。急ぐときこそ逆にゆっくりすべきなんだわ。車の運転なんかそうよね。猛スピードで事故ったりしたら間に合う間に合わない以前の問題だもん。それにね、まさかと思うようなことは、まさかと思ってるからやって来るわけ」
お前の言っている理屈が徐々に解らなくなってきたぜ。 I don’t get your logic here.
「簡単な理屈じゃないの。いいこと、キョン?」とハルヒは偉そばる。「だるまさんが転んだみたいなものよ。見てないところでは動くけど、さっと振り返った瞬間にピタって止まるでしょ。不思議さんもそんな感じよ。だからって振り返らないでいると通り過ぎちゃうから、その瞬間にとっつかまえるの。タイミングよ、タイミング」 “It’s not an easy theory, is it, Kyon.” Haruhi suddenly said. “The same can be said with a Daruma doll. You would think that it wouldn’t stop rocking, and when you finally look away for that one second, it suddenly stops. That’s how mysterious things work. If you don’t turn back and look at it at the right moment, you’ll miss it altogether. You need to grasp the right moment, that’s what we mean by chance, Kyon. Chance.”
ますます解らなくなってきた。ハルヒの頭の中では整合性がついているかもしれないが、そんな幸運の女神の前髪を比喩でなくつかめ、みたいなことを言われても困る。実体のないものを捕獲できるのは未知の電波を受信している人間だけだ。 I’m getting lost here. I have no idea what's going on in Haruhi’s brain, but the way she worded it, it was as if she wanted me to grasp my goddess’ hair the moment it began fluttering in the wind. It’s impossible, I tell you. The only person who can grasp something as abstract as that is someone who is fed information from the future.
「それより昼ご飯、どこにする?」 “Come to think of it, where should we have lunch?”
俺の疑問はそれ扱いか。 That’s how you answer my question?
「銀行の向かいに新しいイタリア料理屋さんがオープンしてたわ。ランチメニューがおいしそうだったから五人分予約しといたけど、いいわよね?」 “I know of a new Italian restaurant which just opened opposite the bank. I’ve scanned the menu once, and from the looks of it, it looks really delicious. So, shall we get a table for five?”
どうやらハルヒは完全にダウナーモードを脱したようだ。このハイペースなマイペースぶり、馬の耳元でお経を上げていた坊さんのほうがよほどやり甲斐のある仕事であったろう。功徳だけはありそうだからさ。 It seems that Haruhi has totally dodged the question. I felt like a Buddhist Monk reciting Holy Scriptures to a nearby cow. Aside from increasing my karma, doing so served no purpose, as no matter how I tried, the cow would not be swayed. Sometimes, I feel that the same goes with Haruhi.
「俺はいいが、古泉はどうだ?」 “I have no problems with that. What about you, Koizumi?”
ここで「いやぁ実はトマトソースが食べられなくて」とか空気を読まないセリフでも吐いてくれたらどうなるだろうと考えてゲタを放ってやったものの、古泉がハルヒの計画に反するような意見を発するわけがなく、「いいですね」と短く答えて微笑むばかりだった。 I wondered what would happen if Koizumi suddenly put on a face and said, ‘I’m sorry but I can’t stand ‘Insalata Caprese.’ Of course, this would never happen, as Koizumi would never say no to anything that popped out of Haruhi’s mouth. All he did was smile and reply with a joyful ‘Sure’.
「決まりね」 “It’s decided then.” Haruhi said, as if giving us the signal that we needn’t run round the city meaninglessly anymore and could finally sit down and enjoy a meal. When we reached the restaurant and were finally seated, I found my body aching all over, no thanks to Haruhi.
すでに決まっていたことをあらためて告げたハルヒは号令を下し、俺たちは意味もなく駆け足を強制されてランチタイムで混雑するイタリアンレストランへ直行、おかげで案内されたテーブルに着く頃には筋肉痛が再発しかけていた。
猫と同じで、やんちゃすぎるのもどうかと思うぜ。元気をなくしていれば心配するから元気でいすぎるほうがいいのだが、ハルヒがちょうどいい湯加減になってくれるような日が来るのだろうかと頭の一部分が考える。 Sometimes I wonder if I worry about that girl too much, just like I sometimes wonder if I’m being too nice to Shamisen. Whenever I see her looking down and depressed, I would worry about her, and think that it would be much better if she remained energetic all the time. I wonder if one day Haruhi would become just like the glass of warm water before me – neither too hot, nor too cold; neither too energetic, nor too quiet.
ウェイターの運んできたお冷やを三秒で飲み干し、おかわりを要求する姿を見ていると、うーん、そうだな。朝比奈さん(小)が朝比奈さん(大)になるくらいの時間はかかりそうだ。 As I wondered about this, my eyes shot instinctively towards Haruhi, who had already gulped down her glass of water in three seconds, and was asking the waiter for refills. Just like how it would take time for Asahina-san (Small) to grow up into someone like Asahina-san (Big), it would also take time for Haruhi to become someone like that.
日替わりドリア定食なるお手頃価格の昼飯を食べ終わるなり、ハルヒはまたもや揚枝クジのシャッフルに入った。 After ordering Today’s Special (‘Risotto alla Milanese’), I felt my wallet deflate completely, as Haruhi once again began marking the toothpicks.
本日のクライマックスはここからだ。どうも目の前にも朝比奈さんがいるせいで惑わされがちになってしまうんだが、現時点で俺が気にしないといけないのは朝比奈さん(みちる)のほうなのである。ちゃんと待っていてくれればいいんだが。 This was it, the most important moment of the day. It was because Asahina-san was concerned that I felt so anxious. Up until now, I had been constantly worrying whether Asahina-san (Michiru) would show up at the prearranged spot. Please be there!
斜め横を見ると、いち早く食べ終えて黙々とメニューを読んでいた長門は、今はハルヒの握る五本のツマヨウジを関心なさそうに見つめている。長門が依頼を忘れたりしくじったりするとは思えず、俺は安心してまっ先に即席クジを引いた。 As I glanced around me, the first person to have finished her meal, now silently studying the menu, was none other than Nagato. She looked as if she was keenly interested in the toothpicks in Haruhi’s hand. Since I had asked for her help earlier, I knew that I needn’t worry, as I confidently went first and picked a toothpick.
印が入っている。 A marked one, as always.
次に長門が手を伸ばし、印入りの楊枝を見事に引き当てて、静かにテーブルに置いた。 Nagato went next, gracefully pulling out another marked toothpick. Without uttering a word, she placed the toothpick on the table, and returned to the menu.
「あら、もう引く必要ないわね」 “I guess there’s no need to continue drawing lots,” Haruhi said as she stuffed the remaining three toothpicks in the ashtray. Without complaining or crying foul play, Haruhi picked up the bill and began studying it. Since there was no way Haruhi would treat us, each of us paid for our own share and we left. Emerging into the cool winter air, the five of us strolled aimlessly on the streets, like fish swimming here and there in the ocean.
どこかに不正があったのだとしても、気取られるほどのヘマを長門はしていなかったようで、ハルヒは三本の楊枝をぽいっと灰皿に捨てると伝票を手に立ち上がった。と言っても奢ってくれるわけではない。一円単位の割り勘である。
支払を終えた俺たちは再び冷たい風に吹かれながら、街中をあてどもなく巡る昼の回遊魚と化さねばならない。しかし、それはハルヒと朝比奈さんと古泉にお任せだ。俺と長門は別の道を歩かせてもらう。正確には俺と三日後から来た朝比奈さん(みちる)とで。 As Haruhi, Asahina-san, and Koizumi went their way, Nagato and I headed for a different path. Or more specifically, the two of us headed towards the place I had arranged to meet up with Asahina-san (Michiru).
* * *
長門と二人で歩いていると、どうしても最初の春の日を思い出す。まだ眼鏡をかけていた頃の製氷所のような無表情、そういや中河はその時の俺たちを見かけたんだったな。 Whenever I walk together with Nagato, my mind drifts back to the first time I walked with her like this last spring, back when she was still wearing glasses, without a sliver of emotion on her ice cold poker face. Come to think of it, it was then that Nakagawa noticed us.
俺が進む道を長門は二歩ほど遅れて音もなくついてくる。あまりにも気配がないもんだから、等間隔を保っている姿を何度も振り向いて確認してしまうほどだ。無論、長門は雪解け天然水のような無表情で俺のマフラーの先を見つめ続けていた。 As I walked, I found Nagato silently following me two steps behind. Because I couldn’t detect her presence, I had to constantly turn back to make sure that she was still there. Of course, she would always return my gaze with an expressionless face.
感慨深いものがあるのは、俺たちの向かっている目的地のせいもある。市立図書館。長門はちょくちょく通っているようだが、俺は長門を最初に連れてきたとき以来であり、あの改変された眼鏡付き長門の思い出の地でもあり、現在の俺と長門にとっても共通する思い出を持つ場所だ。 I’m sure both of us felt a sense of nostalgia, as we were headed for a place we’d both remember – the public library. After I brought her here for the first time, while she was still wearing glasses, it seemed that Nagato frequently visited this place. For both me and Nagato, this was one memorable place indeed.
ハルヒたち三人と別れ、俺が誘ったのも以前と同じ。違うのは長門がすでに図書カードを持っていることくらいだろう。あと眼鏡。 This time is no different from the other, aside from the fact that Nagato had already obtained a library card, and is no longer wearing glasses. The both of us headed silently towards the library, without uttering a single word, yet not feeling the slightest bit awkward. For me, silence was gold, and speech was silver. If it were Haruhi or Koizumi we were talking about, then I would have thought that they were up to something, but since it was Nagato, I fully acknowledge her silence as a positive point.
互いにいっさい喋ることなく俺と長門は図書館への道を歩いていた。二人きりでいてずっと黙りっぱなしでも気詰まりにならずにすむ相手というのは貴重だ。これがハルヒか古泉なら何たくらんでんだと勘ぐるところだが、その点、長門なら折り紙付きだ。
心地よい沈黙に包まれつつ、図書館の中に入った俺が視線を左右させる手間を省いてくれるように、ソファーに座っていた背の低い待ち人がたたっと小走りで駆けてきた。 Immersed in silence, we entered the library, and then I paused to gaze around looking for someone. As I spotted her sitting on a sofa, Asahina-san stood up and walked towards me, as if wanting to save me the trouble of walking.
鶴屋さんが好みそうなロングコートにショールを巻き付けた小柄な姿、ニット帽をかぶって白いマスクをつけているのは変装のつもりだろう。
朝比奈さん(みちる)は隠しようのない大きな目を瞬かせた。 Asahina-san was wearing Tsuruya-san’s favorite jacket, a flowery muffler, and a straw hat. Upon seeing who I was with, Asahina-san (Michiru)’s eyes grew large, as she said, “Kyon-kun… A-Ah… Nagato-san…”
「キョンくん、……あ。と、長門さん……」
静粛であるべき図書館だ。口の前に手をやっている朝比奈さんを倣って俺も小声で、 Since I was in a library, I mimicked Asahina-san’s actions by placing my finger upon my lips, before toning down my voice and saying, “Tsuruya-san’s not here, is she?”
「鶴屋さんはいないんですか?」
「はい」 “No, she’s not,”
朝比奈さんはおどおどした目で俺の背後をうかがっていた。そんなビクつかんでも。 Asahina-san said as she glanced nervously behind my back. You don’t have to be that afraid, you know.
「鶴屋さん、今日も外せない用事があるって、ついてきてはくれなかったんです。あ、でも」 “Tsuruya-san said she had something to do today, so she couldn’t come with me here, however…”
ぱたぱたと片手を振り、 Asahina-san nervously twirled her fingers,
「家からここまで車で送ってくれました。帰りはタクシー使いなさいって、お金借りちゃった……」 “She arranged for a car to transport me here, and even gave me some money to take a cab back home…”
鶴屋さんの外せない用事もそりゃ気になるんだが、朝比奈さんの目が盛大に泳いでいるのはもっと気がかりだ。俺の後ろに長門以外の背後霊でもついているのかと、振り返ってみると、 I was slightly disturbed by the fact that Tsuruya-san couldn’t follow her to the library, but was even more disturbed by Asahina-san’s large eyes. I turned around, wondering if there was anything else behind me, like a vengeful spirit or the sort, other than Nagato.
「…………」 “…”
長門の揺るぎない無表情が朝比奈さんをじっと見つめていた。そして俺は昨夜かけた電話が単にクジ引きの不正要求だけだったことを思い出した。 Nagato looked at Asahina-san, without any trace of expression on her face. I suddenly recalled that when I told Nagato to help me manipulate the outcome of the lot drawing…
しまった、何の理由も言ってなかった。 I had totally forgotten to tell her why.
Oh crap.
「ああ、その、長門」 “A-Ah, Nagato, you see…”
「…………」 “…”
この程度の変装では長門はおろか誰もだませやしないだろうが。 With Asahina-san clad in such an outfit, I don’t think the “She’s her identical twin!” story would fool anyone, never mind Nagato.
「この人は、もう一人の朝比奈さんだ」 “This is another Asahina-san.”
「知っている」 “I know.”
長門の取りつくしまのない返答に、 Nagato said without looking the least bit shocked.
「あ、ああ。そうだった。何日か前に紹介したよな」 “O-Oh, that’s right, I’ve introduced her to you before!”
「…………」
「ええとだ、な」 “E-Erm…”
「…………」 “…”
「ご、ごめんなさい」 “I’m sorry. Really sorry.”
なぜか謝る朝比奈さんと逆立ちした氷柱のように佇む長門に挟まれた俺を、貸し出しカウンター内の司書さんが眠り続けたまま動かないパンダを見るような目で眺めていたのは三日ほど忘れられそうにない。 Why was the librarian looking at me, who was sandwiched between an apologizing Asahina-san and an ice-cold Nagato, with such weird eyes? I doubt I’ll forget them even after three days. What was she thinking?
* * *
しかしそこは長門である。説明開始十秒で、 Ten seconds later, Nagato said,
「そう」 “Is that so?”
棒立ちのままだったが、顎をナノ単位で引いた。長門式うなずきサインである。 I looked at Nagato, as her chin drooped down that millionth of a centimeter for a split second. It seemed that she had approved.
ちなみに俺がした説明の論旨内容とは、「これからこの朝比奈さんと行かないといけないところがあるので、すまんが戻ってくるまでここで待っていてくれないか」の謂いであり、だいたい「待っていてく」あたりで長門は理解してくれたようだ。 I took this opportunity to briefly explain what I had to do. “I have to head somewhere with this Asahina-san to accomplish something important. After we’re done, I’ll be back for you. Can you wait here?”
“I’ll wait for you,” was all she said, as if understanding my current situation.
自分と入れ替わりに俺の背後霊化した朝比奈さんに目もくれず、長門は枕かと思うような分厚い学術書が詰め込まれた本棚へと歩いて行った。 After watching Nagato return a book that was as thick as my pillow back to a crammed bookshelf, I turned towards Asahina-san and said,
「行きましょうか、朝比奈さん」 “Let’s go, Asahina-san.”
ダッフルコートが完全に棚の陰に消えたのを見届けて声をかけた。館内の壁掛け時計は午後二時前を表示している。 I once again turned back to see Nagato disappear within the bookshelves. The clock on the wall read two o’clock.
「……あの、キョンくん」 “…Erm… Kyon-kun…” Asahina-san said with a tone that suggested she was having great difficulty getting her words out, “You brought Nagato-san here without telling her anything, didn't you?”
朝比奈さんは強張ったふうなニュアンスのオクターブで、
「長門さんに全然説明しないで、ここに一緒に来たんですか?」
「はあ、ついうっかり」 “Oh, I’m sorry. I had completely forgotten about that.”
「うっかりじゃないです。それは……」ふるふると首を振る朝比奈さん。「長門さんだって怒ります」 “No… That’s not it…” Asahina-san said as she shook her head.
“Nagato-san is probably angry at you now.”
すみません。と言うか、朝比奈さんに怒られているような気分だが。いやいや、長門は別にそんなに怒っては。 Huh? I’m sorry, but how do you put it? From the tone of her voice, it seemed that even Asahina-san was angry at me now! No, that’s not it. Nagato wouldn’t be angry at someone --- Gah, I give up. A sigh escaped my lips.
ひゅう、と吐息をつかれた。
「あたしは……、いいです。長門さんにもっとちゃんと謝っておいてください。いいですね」 “I don’t really care, but… Kyon-kun, you have to apologize to Nagato-san after we’re done, okay?”
奇妙な上級生ぶりを発揮して、ぷいと横を向いた朝比奈さんは図書館を出てしばらく反対車線側ばかりを眺めて口をきいてくれず、俺、困惑。 Asahina-san put her ‘senpai’ charm to full use as she made that statement. After that, as we left the library, Asahina-san glanced at the road without saying anything, leaving a very confused me behind.
これからどこに何をしに行くのか、内ポケットの手紙を読み返す必要があったくらいである。 Where should we go now, and what should we do, you ask? It would seem that the only logical course of action is to follow the instructions on the letter in my pocket.
木枯らしに吹かれつつ黙然と歩くこと十分、身体が冷えてきたのか、それとも話し相手をなくした俺が電柱に張り付いている住所プレートを逐一読み上げていたせいか、朝比奈さんの顔と足取りが緊張感を取り戻してきた。 As the wind blew through the trees, we both walked in silence. Did my body feel cold due to the coldness of winter? Or was it due to me walking beside Asahina-san and still managing to find time to read every single house number plate we passed by, instead of attempting to talk to her? From Asahina-san’s footsteps, I could tell that she too was pretty anxious.
そろそろ目的の住所だ。歩道橋の|橋 梁が見える。 We were almost at our destination, as the aforementioned bridge loomed close.
最後にもう一度、握りしめていた手紙を開いて、この歩道橋で間違いないことを確認し、俺と朝比奈さんは歩道に沿って並んでいる花壇の脇で立ち止まった。 I read the letter one last time, confirming that we were at the right bridge. As Asahina-san and I stopped before the bridge, we were amazed by the entire array of blooming flowers.
「ずいぶんと咲いてるもんですね」 The flowers were extremely pretty, making the flowers that grew on the path up to North High look like a joke. These were the flowers that bloomed despite the harshness of the winter, and deep inside my heart, I felt proud of them. Some had even blossomed completely, making me wonder if I were to search in this large, 10 meter flower patch, would I end up like yesterday, with nothing much save a face full of dirt?
健気な花たちがいるもんだ。南北に一本道の県道沿いに設置された花壇は県営か市営かだろう。冬の寒さと車の排気ガスに耐えて咲き誇る心意気に感心するが、ちょっと咲きすぎだな。十数メートルに亘って立ち並んでいるこの花々の中から落とし物を探さなければならんとは、昨日の宝探しに続いて土難の相でも出ているのか。
風に飛ばされないようにしながら手紙の二枚目をめくる。 Careful not to let the wind carry the letter away, I read it again.
「この中から見つけないといかんのか……」 “We have to find it within…”
隅々まで探すとなると、けっこう時間を食いそうだ。これは計算に入っていなかった。 If we were to search every nook and corner of this flower patch, it would be really time consuming, and I hadn’t taken that time into account.
「いえ、そんなにかからないと思うわ」 “No, I don’t think it’ll take much time at all,”
朝比奈さんが花壇を指して、 Asahina-san said as she pointed at one corner of the flower patch.
「パンジーが咲いているのって、あの一角だけですから」 “There’s only one area where purple common stock grow.”
花の名前にこれまで関心を払ってこなかった己の不明を恥じつつ、朝比奈さんが指し示す方を見る。小さな青白い花が風に首を振りながら群生していた。 I felt highly embarrassed for not even knowing the common name of flowers. As I peered in the direction Asahina-san pointed, all I could see were some small bluish flowers waving in the wind.
「あっちに咲いているのが福寿草、そっちのがシクラメンです。その隣にあるのは、ええと、ビオラかなあ?」 “Those yellow flowers are Pheasant's Eyes, while the violet ones there are Persian Violets. As for those, erm, I think they’re Hairy Violets.”
朝比奈さんが草花に詳しかったとは、これは意外。 I was shocked, and greatly impressed, by Asahina-san’s knowledge of flowers.
「うふ、こっちに来てから勉強しましたから。いろいろ。植物のことも」 “While attending class here, I learned a lot of things. One of them was about botany and the names of flowers.”
助かりますよ。昨日の藁の山から針を見つけ出すような宝探しより、一万倍はピンポイントで場所が限られる。パンジーの咲いている辺を探せばいいわけだ。 I’m saved then. Yesterday’s treasure hunt was like looking for a needle in a haystack. At least now I know specifically where to look.
「あ、お花を踏まないようにしてくださいね」 “Please be careful not to tread on the flowers.”
冬の花を気遣う朝比奈さんのお言葉を厳粛に受け止めつつ、俺は花壇の端に足をかけてパンジーのたちの上から地面を覗き込んだ。 I took Asahina-san’s request seriously, and proceeded with care towards the patch of common stock. It seemed that Asahina-san cared deeply about these flowers which bloomed in the winter. I peered down from above the patch of flowers.
落ちているのは記憶メディアだという話だ。そんなもんがどうしてこんなところに落ちているのか、とりあえずそんな疑問は無視しておこう。未来人が落ちているって書いているなら落ちてるのさ。でないと俺がやっていることはお使い以下になっちまう。 The letter asked for a transmitter, which would be present here. Purging all doubt from my mind, I began looking. If time travelers from the future said it would be here, then it would definitely be here. If it weren’t for that fact, what I was doing was no different from a servant following his master’s order.
朝比奈さんが見守ってくれている中、俺はしゃがみ込んでパンジーの茎をそっと傾けたり葉っぱをかき分けたりして花壇を探り続けた。さっさと終わらせたいね。通行人や車がばんばん通るという場所でもないが、これでは花|荒しと勘違いされてもしかたがない。パトロール中の警察官が通りがからないことを祈りながら、パンジーたちの根元に視線を這わせた。 Asahina-san looked at me from the side, as I dived into the patch of common stock, and cautiously turned every stem and leaf. Although there weren’t many cars or people who passed by this place, if someone else saw me, I wouldn’t blame them for thinking that I was ruining the flower patch. All I hoped for while searching in the flower patch was for a patrol car to not pass by.
* * *
そうすること三十分後、俺は指先についた土をズボンで拭いながら額をも拭った、 And so, thirty minutes passed. I brushed off the dirt on my fingertips on my pants, and proceeded to wipe off my sweat with the back of my hand.
おかしい。 That’s strange.
何も発見できない。パンジーの一角はそれはもう隅々まで調べてみた。リーダーの授業で次に当てられるセンテンスの英単語を調べる以上の注意深さで調べたとも。もしやと思って他の花壇にも同様の措置を試みた。シクラメンもビオラの中も探した。 I couldn’t find anything, even after inspecting every single common stock growing there. I even took the liberty of searching beneath the Persian Violets and Hairy Violets.
しかし、やっぱり記憶メディアはもとより、石ころよりも人工的な物体そのものがどこにもなかった。 But aside from rocks, I couldn’t find anything that was man-made, never mind a future transmitter.
途中から朝比奈さんも加わって、俺が見落としたかもしれない箇所を重点的に再確認してもらったが、二人がかりでも無為なことは無為だった。 While I was searching, Asahina-san also joined me in my search, just in case I missed a spot. However, even with four eyes searching, we still couldn’t find anything.
「どういうことだ……?」 “What’s going on…?” If we didn’t find anything here, Asahina-san (Big) would have surely known of it, no? Since Asahina-san (Michiru) had been searching by my side all this time, it was impossible that Asahina-san (Big) didn’t know about it. There would be no meaning to sending me that letter then.
もしここに何もなかったのだとしたら、朝比奈さん(大)がそれを知らないわけはない。ここで| 跪 いて花の根本に目を配っている朝比奈さん(みちる)は、彼女の過去の姿のはずだ。最初からないような落とし物を探せ、なんていう無益な指令を送ってくることもないだろう。
「どうしましょう、キョンくん」 “What should we do, Kyon-kun?”
朝比奈さんは泣きそうな顔と声で、 Asahina-san looked at me as if she were about to burst into tears any moment now.
「見つからないと、困ったことになっちゃいます。最優先の強制コードは絶対なんです。その通りにしないと、あたし……」 “If we don’t find it, it’ll be very troublesome for us. The first of the secret commands was the harshest, stating that it was crucial I find the device. If I don’t do so accordingly…”
マスクが外れて片耳にぶら下がっているのにも気づかないようだ。朝比奈さんは先刻、長門に出会ったときより深刻に落ち着きをなくしていた。実は俺もだ。これは花壇を掘り返すくらいはしないといけないかと意を決しかけたとき、 Asahina-san’s scarf had already loosened, but she paid no attention to it, or should I say, she didn’t even notice. The look on her face was even more terrified than when she had encountered Nagato with me in the library, and upon seeing her face, I began to panic. Just as I was about to search the flowerbeds again, someone called out from behind my back --- “Is this what you’re looking for?”
「捜し物はこれか?」
背後から思いも寄らない声がかかった。俺の知り合いの誰にも該当しない、本能的に立ち上がってしまうような声色だ。振り返るのに躊躇は皆無だった。そう、考えるよりも先に身体が動くときだってある。 The voice definitely didn’t come from someone I knew. It was deep and hoarse, and before I knew it, I had already spun around. Sometimes, the body does react faster than the mind. I stretched both my arms open, as if protecting Asahina-san behind my back, and looked at the source of the voice.
俺は朝比奈さんを庇うように片腕を広げ、歩道に向き直った。 The voice came from someone who was positioned roughly five or six steps away from me. He was almost the same height as I was, and his face was of a complete stranger's. Although it was the first time we had met, I knew that deep down something was wrong with him. He had an extremely detestable face, one that made you hate him even though you had just met him moments ago.
五歩分ほど離れたところに、俺たちと同年代くらいの男が立っていた。その顔に見覚えはない。初顔合わせに違いない。しかし一発で俺はそいつを気にくわない野郎だと認定した。その顔に浮かんでいるのは、紛れもなくネガティブな感情だ。
汚れ物を持つような手つきでそいつは指先に小さな板のようなものを挟んでいる。薄くて黒い、手紙にあった絵に酷似した品だった。 The stranger held up a board-shaped object by his fingertips, as if picking up something dirty. It was jet black, and resembled the object from the drawings.
「面白くもない光景だった。三十分も根気よく花荒しとは恐懼する。僕にはできそうにない」 “It looks so boring, waddling in the flowerbeds just for the sake of that girl’s future. I wouldn’t do it if I were you.”
そいつは酷薄そうな薄い| 唇 をわずかに歪めていた。いくら俺が鈍感でも、|嘲 笑されているくらいは解るぞ。 The stranger’s lips curled upwards slightly. Even though I’m pretty dim, I knew that he was making fun of me.
「あんたも奇特な人間だ」 “You’re a strange guy.”
高台から見下ろしているような目つきをする。 He said as he looked at me with disrespectful eyes.
「理由も知らず、余計な吉労をしょいこんで、それでも諾々と人生を統けている。僕には理解できない。あんたは他に考えること、やるべきことはないのか?」 “I don’t know why are you wasting your time doing useless stuff like this. Don’t you have other, better things to do?”
Due to my experiences this last year, I had developed a sixth sense capable of detecting danger, and right now it told me that things weren’t too good.
この一年、度重なる異変によって培われた俺の危機感知能力が|状 況イエローを伝えている。ところが危機というのは感知しただけでは意味がなく、回避して初めて「あんときはヤバかった」とお笑い昔話にもできるってものであり、解っていた危機が解っていたとおりにやって来たとき、それが終章になってしまう場合だってあるので解ったからといって安心している場合でもないのである。望みもしない終焉の到来を悟ったなら、それを避けるべく何とかしなければならず、どうやら今がその時らしい。 Come to think of it, what good was sensing danger if all I would do was smile and think, “Oh this is bad?” Now that I had identified the danger, it was time to think of a suitable course of action.
As expected, I couldn’t think of any. There was no choice, then. The only thing I could do was ask, “Erm, where did you get that from?”
「それ、どこで拾った?」
俺の問いに、野郎はニヤリとして、 Upon hearing my question, the stranger snickered. “Oh, in that flowerbed you’re standing on, before you guys arrived. It was pretty obvious, and all I had to do was walk over there and pick it up.”
「そこの花壇の中だ。あんたたちが来る直前に手に入れさせてもらった。簡単だったさ。難しい仕事じゃない」
「それをよこせ」 “Give it to me.” I said trying to look as fierce as possible. However, the stranger merely laughed at my feeble attempt.
精一杯の恐い顔を作ってやったつもりだが、そいつは鼻先で笑いのけた。
「あんたのものでもないのに、どうして渡さないといけないんだ? 落とし物は交番に届けないとな」 “Why should I give you something that isn’t even yours? Aren’t we supposed to hand lost items like this to the police?”
「俺が届けてやるさ。いっそのこと落とし主にな。警察に預けるより手っ取り早くすむ」 “Why don't I send it over, or even better, why don't you just give it to me for safekeeping? I’ll hand it back to its original owner for you. Isn’t that even better?”
「ふ」 “Hmm…” The stranger said as he sneered.
目障りな笑い方だ。
「あんたはその手紙に書いてある住所の宛名が、これを落とした人間の名前だと思っているのか。そんなことを誰に聞いた? あの宇宙人にか?」 “Do you think the owner’s address is written on that letter you have there? How can you be sure? Did you ask that alien friend of yours?”
こいつ----。長門を知ってるのか。いや待て、どうして手紙の内容まで知っているんだ。朝比奈さんにしか見せていないというのに。 This guy knows about Nagato? No, wait. How did he know about the letter in the first place? I’m sure the only ones who have seen it are Asahina-san and me!
ということは、こいつは……。 This can only mean one thing. This guy…
朝比奈さんは俺の腕を両手で持って小さく震えている。驚きと混乱がまじっているような表情に、問いかけた。 Behind me, Asahina-san had grabbed my wrists and was slowly shaking them. Without turning back, I asked the panicking Asahina-san:
「この野郎は朝比奈さんの知り合いですか?」 “Do you know this guy, Asahina-san?”
「いえっ、」ぶんぶんと頭を振った上級生は、「知りません。あたしの……その、知っている人の中にはいない人です」 “No…” Asahina-san said while shaking her head. “I haven’t even met him before… I know no such person…”
「僕が誰かなんてどうでもいいことだ。何も今すぐあんたたちを取って喰おうとはしない。いい機会だと思ったんだよ」 “It doesn’t matter who I am. It’s not like I’m going to eat the both of you up anyways, although I would greatly like to do so.”
そいつは持っていたブツに、埃を飛ばすような息を吹きかけ、憎々しげに微笑した。古泉がグレたらこんな笑い方をするかもしれない。それなりに整った顔立ちのせいで、いっそう敵意が際だって見える。 I was getting bad vibes from this guy. His smile was more of a grimace, one that I had never seen on even Koizumi’s face before. From his detestable face and annoying smile, I could clearly feel a sense of malevolence coming from him.
さあ、どうする。殴りかかってでも記憶媒体らしきものを奪い取るか。しかしこいつが常軌を逸した人間だったら、俺と朝比奈さんで二正面|攻撃したとしても勝利は薄い。くそ、長門も連れてくるんだったぜ。 What should I do? Should I fight for the transmitter? If this guy wasn’t a normal human, there was almost no way I could defeat him, even if Asahina-san and I were to attack him two versus one. I should have brought Nagato along, damn it!
俺が握った拳でファイティングポーズを取るかポケットの携帯電話を出そうか悩んでいたら、「ふん」 I clenched my fists, as two thoughts raced through my brain. Should I fight, or should I call for reinforcements?
“Hmph.”
そいつは興味をなくしたように鼻息を漏らし、指を弾いた。放物線を描いて宙を舞った小さな板が俺の前に落ちてきた。地面に落下する前に、とっさに拝み取る。 The stranger’s smile vanished off his face, and was replaced by a look of extreme boredom. With a flick of his finger, he flicked the transmitter towards me, as the small, black, board-like item traveled through the air in a trajectory course. Before it landed on the ground, I quickly shot forward to catch it.
「あんたにくれてやるよ。これは僕にとっても規定|事項だ。せいぜいがんばって指示通りに動くがいいさ。そして未来の指示で動く過去人形を続けるんだな」 “Take it then. It’s something I have to do after all. Do as you wish with it, and you can follow those silly orders for all I care. Continue to do as the time travelers tell you to, if you really want to.”
俺は手にした板に目をやった。デジカメあたりの記憶媒体に似ているが、見たことのない規格だ。ただし俺も詳しくはないので確かなことは言えない。どこか薄汚れているのは花壇に放置されていたからか。 I looked at the object in my arms, which resembled a digital camera’s memory card, albeit one which I had never seen before. I couldn’t tell if it was dirty after being placed in the flowerbed, or if that was its original color.
過程はどうあれ、目的の物が手に入ったのはいいとして、よくないのは目の前にいる男だ。 Ah, whatever. Most importantly, it was safely in my hands right now. The thing which I had to worry about was this guy before us now.
「お前は何者だ。どうして俺たちがここに来ると知っていた」 “Who the heck are you, and how did you know we would be here?”
「ふ」 “Hmph.”
そいつは薄い| 唇 をさらに薄くした。 The guy’s sneer became more apparent.
「僕より先に尋ねないといけないヤツがいるんじゃないか? あんたはどうしてここに来た? なぜだ? そっちを知るほうが先じゃないのか」 “Aren’t you the same? What are you doing here? Why have you come all the way here? Why? Aren’t I supposed to ask you that first?”
同い年ふうの野郎から偉そうにわけの解らないことを言われると無性に腹立たしい。だが、俺にも深謀遠慮の持ち合わせがある。そうそう感情優先で動いたりはしねえ。 Seeing someone who was roughly of the same age as I behave so arrogantly made my anger boil. However, I knew that I couldn’t let my anger get the best of me. Now was not the time to do things according to my own feelings.
俺にしがみついて怯えた視線をそいつに向けている朝比奈さんのこともある。 Plus, Asahina-san was tightly hugging me, apparently very much intimidated by the stranger.
「あんたが詰問しないといけないのは僕じゃない」 “The person you should be questioning isn’t me.”
そいつは険のある目を俺の傍らに据え、 The stranger said, as his gaze fell onto the figure by my side.
「そうだろう? 朝比奈みくる」 “Isn’t that so? Asahina Mikuru?”
ビクっと朝比奈さんの手に力がこもった。俺のコートをぎゅうと握りしめ、 I tightly held Asahina-san’s hand, as she continued to clutch onto my jacket.
「な----なんのことですか? あたしは、あなたを知りません。どこかで……?」 “W-What do you mean? I d-don’t know you… Where have you…”
そいつの唇の両端が下向きに歪む。 The stranger’s smile turned into a frown.
「その認識でいいんだ。あんたが僕に言う挨拶は初めましてでいいだろう。合格だ。しかし僕にはあんたに対して別の挨拶があるってわけだ。この意味が解るか? 朝比奈みくる」 “I see… It’s your first time meeting me eh. Treat this as ‘Nice to meet you’ then. But to me, I’ve already met you several times now. You get what I mean Asahina Mikuru?”
これまででも十三分に許し難かったが、完全に許容度を超えた。こいつが朝比奈さんを見る目には明らかに敵意しか感じない。こいつは朝比奈さんを目の敵にしている。 I never loathed someone so much in my life before, as I found myself being pushed to the limits. From the malice in this guy’s eyes, it was obvious that he viewed Asahina-san as his enemy.
場違いなことかもしれないが、俺はそいつに人間くさいものを感じていた。これほどダイレクトな悪意を放射する野郎には久しぶりに出会った。善人の振りなんか最初からせず、内心を隠した仮面もかぶらず、思考をそのまま言葉にしている印象である。いっそ話が早くていい。俺もハルヒも搦め手が嫌いだからな。 I may be mistaken, but I definitely felt that he was human. I’ve never met someone who so openly showed his animosity before. I never liked him from the first time I saw him, and it seemed that he had no intentions of hiding his hatred either, as he openly made snide remarks. I hate these type of characters, and I was sure Haruhi did too.
「言いたいことがあるならさっさと言いやがれ」 “If you have anything you want to say, just spit it out.”
うさんくさい野郎に対面したときは強気に出るに限る。曖昧なことを回りくどく喋るような人材は古泉一人で間に合っているんでな。俺は語気になけなしのパワーを込めて、 Whenever someone suspicious appeared before me, I would find myself toughening up. The only person I would allow to babble such crap would be Koizumi. I continued, as my voice became firm, “If there’s anything you need from me, just say it out loud. Do you need me to relay a message to Haruhi? Or how about I introduce you to her, huh?”
「俺に用があるんなら聞いてやってもいいぜ。何ならハルヒに取り次いでやろうか? 紹介するだけならタダだ」
「いらないね。涼宮ハルヒか。会う必要もないな」 “There’s no need for me to meet with Suzumiya Haruhi.”
その言葉は大いに意外だ。てっきりこいつもハルヒを取り巻く不思議人の一員なのかと思ったのだが。 Upon hearing his reply, I was initially shocked, but quickly got over it. I thought that this guy had some business with Haruhi. Apparently I was wrong.
「僕は朝比奈みくるとは違う」 “I am different from Asahina Mikuru,”
そいつは目を糸みたいに細め、俺の後ろから顔だけ見せているSOS団専従未来人を睨みつけて、同様の眼光を俺にも注いだ。 The stranger said as he shifted his eyes, gazing at the time traveler of the SOS Brigade, then shifting them towards me.
「彼女の規定事項を鵜呑みにしないほうがいい。事実が一つとは限らないんだ。もっとも、ここまでは僕の規定事項も同じだ。その記憶装置は未来にとって必要なものさ。あんたが自分の手で拾おうが、誰かからもらおうが結果は変わらない。あんたはそれを手に入れた。そうだろう?」 “You should think twice before following her orders so blindly. Reality is not just bound to you only. The same rules used to apply to me. That memory chip is an important artifact to the future. As long as you picked it up with your own hands, the future will not change no matter who obtains it. Isn’t that so?”
大違いだろうが。俺の予定表にはお前みたいなヤツに出くわすなんて項目は一文字も書かれていない。 No, I’m afraid I don’t agree. I’ve been following my schedule pretty tightly until now, and that schedule clearly doesn’t state the appearance of a stranger like you.
「あんたも鈍いな。それも大した違いにはならないってことがまだ解らないのか? 僕がここに出てきた意味が? 何のために来たと思うんだ?」 “You’re pretty dim, aren’t you? Don’t you get it? What you’re doing won’t make much difference. Why am I here, you ask? Well, what do you think I’m here for?”
「知るもんか」 “How the hell would I know,” I responded without thinking. I’m sorry, but I’m not the one who usually does the thinking in the SOS Brigade. If you want a detailed deduction, I’ll just have to refer you to our Vice-Commander instead.
俺は考えずに言った。代わりに考えてくれる団員に持ち合わせがあるんでな。悪いが、禅問答がしたいならウチの副団長の前に登場してくれ。
「お断りする。そんな予定はない」 “I decline, seeing as I don’t plan to do so.”
にべもなく断言し、そいつは風に押されるように後ろに歩を刻んだ。 What a cold answer. The stranger retreated, as if being carried by the wind. “The only reason I’m here today is to meet you and play with you. It’s a predetermined event, anyway. I’m not sure which future agenda you follow, but the one thing we time travelers must all adhere to is the prohibition of interfering with the past. Hmph!”
「今日はただの顔見せだ。ちょっとしたお遊びさ。僕の予定表には記されていた行為でもある。そちらの未来人さんの予定にあったのかどうかは知らないね。これ以上は、ふん、禁則だ」
さっと身を| 翻 し、そいつはゆっくりした歩調で歩いていく。言いたいことだけ言って自己紹介もなしに去ろうとする非礼を正してやるべきか、俺は後を追おうか半瞬迷い、結局は見逃すことになった。 After saying what he had to say, the stranger turned and quickly left. Geez, what an impolite fellow. Not even bothering to introduce himself, all he did was show up and spout some nonsense only he would understand. For a moment I wondered if I should pursue him, but I decided to let it slide.
朝比奈さんが銅像のように固まって、俺の腕を抱きしめていたからである。足に根を生やしたように動かない朝比奈さんは、ただ怯えた目でいけ好かない野郎の後ろ姿を見つめ、ヤツが角を曲がって完全に消え去るまでそうしていた。 Asahina-san stood behind me like a statue, her hands were closed tightly around my wrists, and it seemed that she had sprouted roots for legs, as she stood there unmoving. All she did was gaze at the despicable fellow, as he turned a corner and disappeared from sight.
「ふわぁ……」 “Kyaa~”
途端、小柄な上級生の手から力が抜けて、くたりとしかけたところを俺が支える。ハルヒがくっつきたがるのもよく解る温かさが俺の手に伝わってきたが、喜んでいる場合じゃないな。 As if losing all her strength, my petite senpai fell limp all of a sudden. I hurriedly supported her with my body. Asahina-san stuck to me, as if wanting to leech my body heat, but for some reason, I wasn’t the least bit happy.
* * *
「朝比奈さん、あの野郎に思い当たるふしはないんですか?」 “Asahina-san, do you really not recognize that fellow?”
よろよろと朝比奈さんは何とか下半身を立て直し、小さな小さな声で、 I asked a wobbling Asahina-san, who had at least regained the strength to stand. “…He’s probably… another time traveler…” Asahina-san said softly.
「……たぶんですけど……。あの人、未来から来た人だわ……」
だろうと俺も思う。使っている単語が朝比奈さんと一部かぶっていた。そこまでは俺の発想力でも推理可能だ。しかし、何しに来たんだ、あいつは。俺たちの先回りまでして、落とし物を事前に探し当ててくれたのが善意のものとは思えない。だったら三十分も俺と朝比奈さんが這いつくばっている様子を眺めてはいまい。 That was exactly what I thought. If I were to put it in words, I would say that he shared a similar aura with Asahina-san, and based on my skills of deduction, I had come to the same conclusion. However, I had absolutely no idea why he had come all the way to the past. He had specifically come to this area and picked up something important to us, and I don’t think his motive was to see me and Asahina-san crawl around in the flowerbeds for thirty minutes.
新手の未来人。そして朝比奈さんへの敵視。 A new time traveler. One that held feelings of animosity towards Asahina-san.
凍り付きそうな冬の気温とは関係なく、俺はうそ寒さを感じる。宇宙生命体に派閥があるように、未来にも意見の相違した連中がいたってことか。そういや古泉も『機関』以外の不愉快そうな組織があるとか仄めかしていた。今まで何をしていたのかは知らんが、とうとう新種がフラフラ現れるようになっちまった。 For some reason, this thought made me shiver more than the freezing winter wind. Just like how there were different cosmic entities present, it seemed that time travelers had their different agendas. Call me paranoid, but I also suspected that Koizumi’s ‘Organization’ had some inner conflicts within it. What these factions had done up until now, I have no idea. All I knew was that they were beginning to step on the stage, slowly revealing themselves to us.
「未来人にも色々ありそうですね」 “So there are different types of time travelers after all…” I sighed. As if wanting to reply me, Asahina-san opened her mouth and said, “Erm… Well…” Unfortunately, that was all that she said, as she hurriedly shut it, before proceeding to open it again. Her eyes drooped low, as she said:
俺の慨嘆に、朝比奈さんは返答しようとしたように口を開き、
「ええ。あの…………」
言葉になったのはそこまでで、しばらく口をパクパクさせてから目を伏せた。
「禁則|事項です。言おうとしても言えないってことは、そうなんだわ」 “I’m sorry, it’s classified information. Even if I wanted to tell you, I’m prohibited from doing so.”
充分ですよ。俺は気にしませんからあなたも気にしないでください。 Don’t worry, it’s fine with me. Don’t think of it too much.
「でも、きっと重要なことなんです。いつかはああいう人に会うと思っていました。けど……こんな不安定な時に会うなんて……」 “B-But… This is something important. That guy may just show up anytime again… And maybe even during unstable periods like this…”
「不安定?」 Unstable?
「はい。だって、本来ここにいるあたしは、いま涼宮さんといるほうですから」 “Yes, unstable. I’m supposed to be with Suzumiya-san in this current time period. Since he saw me here, it could have messed things up…”
だからかもしれない。 That kinda makes sense.
俺はコートの外側からポケット内の手紙を押さえた。もし、ここで俺と朝比奈さんとあの野郎が出会うことが規定事項だったのだとしたら、朝比奈さん(小)はこの時間にはハルヒと古泉の三人でいるのだから不可能だったはずだ。可能となったのは、八日後から朝比奈さん(みちる)がやって来て俺と行動をともにしていたからである。 I once again took out the crumpled letter from my pocket and began reading it. If, according to Asahina-san (Big), Asahina-san and I meeting with that guy was a predetermined event, the only way that would be possible, with Asahina-san (Mikuru) still being together with Haruhi and Koizumi would be to arrange for Asahina-san (Michiru) to be together with me when the event triggered.
握りっぱなしだった記憶媒体が汗ばんでいるのに気づく。今日の命題はこれだったはずだが、これが何なのかよりも気になることができちまったな。俺は手紙と同じ内ポケットに拾得物を落とし込み、別れたばかりのあの野郎に改めて腹を立てた。朝比奈さんにちょっかいをかけようなんてヤツは過去現在未来を通して俺が許さん。鶴屋さんも許さないだろう。ついでに言えばハルヒだって許さないだろうし、長門と古泉がやすやすと見逃すとも思えない。 The memory chip in my hand was probably covered in sweat right now. Although it seemed that luck was on our side, seeing that the stranger returned the chip to us, I felt that I had a pretty bad day today, running into someone like him. As I pocketed the object, I once again felt rage building up within me. Even though we had just parted, whenever I thought of that guy’s sneering face, I would be boiling all over. Someone who wanted to harm Asahina-san, and was even equipped with a pass to hop between the past, the present and the future, was way beyond my league. Even so, I definitely wouldn’t allow him to, and I’m sure Tsuruya-san wouldn’t either. Haruhi would probably never forgive him, and the same goes without saying for Nagato and Koizumi.
「あいつとはまた会いそうですか」 “Will we meet him again?”
「たぶん」 “I suppose so.”
朝比奈さんは案外あっさりとうなずいた。怯えの色は困惑に移行し、今は何かを考えている表情である。嬉しいことにまだ俺の腕を取っていることに気づかないようで、 Asahina-san said so with terrified eyes, which were still darting around in fear, as if she was looking out for something. The only consolation for the day was that Asahina-san still didn’t notice she was clinging tightly onto my wrists.
「あの人、これがあたしと同じ規定事項だって言っていました。きっとそんなにあたしと違わないんです。それに……」 “That person said something about a predetermined event… He must be similar to me. Furthermore…”
言いかけてまた言葉を途切らせる。それも禁則事項ですか。 Asahina-san abruptly stopped, leaving her sentence hanging in midair. Classified information?
「ううん」 “Yeah.”
朝比奈さんはやっと俺に密着していた身体を離して、 Asahina-san finally detached her body from mine.
「そんなに悪い人には見えなかったの、キョンくんはどうだった?」 “I’ve never seen such a bad guy before. What about you, Kyon-kun?”
どうだったも何も、何がムカついたと言って俺と朝比奈さんをあんた呼ばわりしたことが最悪だ。俺をそう呼んでいいのは、……まあ、ごく少人数であるのは確かなことで、その中には初対面のあの野郎など入ってはいない。 No matter how I look at it, or how I think of it, he still drives me mad. I hated him for shouting at Asahina-san and me. It was bad enough to shout at me, but at Asahina-san too? Oh forget it, it’s probably the first time anyone has done so anyway. Nice to meet you? Nice my ass!
もちろん、ニックネームで呼ばれたとしても嬉しくはなかっただろうが。
* * *
* * *
花壇荒しの真似事と、変なヤツが変な登場をしたせいで余計な時間を食っちまった。駅前でハルヒと合流せんといかんのが午後四時で、今の時間が三時過ぎ。ここから図書館に戻って長門を書架の前から引き剥がし、駅前に行くことを考えると余裕すらあるが、この朝比奈さんを一人で放っておくことはできない。タクシーに乗せるにしても、その運転手に得体の知れない連中の息がかかっていないとも限らず、俺の心配|性をアップさせてくれたさっきの冷笑野郎へのイラだちもいや増すってものだ。 Since we wasted most of our time unintentionally destroying the flowerbeds and meeting up with that strange fellow, it was already three in the afternoon. Haruhi had requested that we meet at four. Even if I dragged Nagato from the library and brought her to the station, there would still be some time remaining. I couldn’t just let Asahina-san hail a cab all on her own seeing that the person driving the cab may very well be one of our enemies. At this thought, that sneering bastard’s face came into mind.
| 懐 は痛むがしょうがない、俺もタクシーに同乗して鶴屋さんの家まで送り、そのまま図書館まで乗っていこう。 Even if my heart bleeds at my lost cash, I had no choice but to sit on the same cab with Asahina-san, and after leaving her at Tsuruya-san’s residence, board the same cab back to the library.
俺は通りがかった個人タクシーを止めると朝比奈さんと一緒に乗り込み、ドアが閉められたところで、 As I hailed down a cab and boarded it with Asahina-san, Asahina-san suddenly asked me: “Erm, what is Tsuruya-san’s house address again?”
「鶴屋さんの住所って何でしたっけ」 “Erm, I’m not too sure myself. Which street was it on again?”
「あ。あたしもよく知りません。何町だったかなぁ」 Hearing our conversation, the young driver turned back and told us politely: “Do you mean the big Tsuruya mansion? If that’s the case, you can leave everything to me.”
しかし中年の運ちゃんは、愛想よく、
「あの大きな鶴屋|邸のことですか? でしたら道は知っています」 Wow, you’re great, Tsuruya-san. It was a good thing she was the only one with the Tsuruya surname in this area. This way, I would be able to save back on the costs of making a phone call.
こんなところもさすがだ、鶴屋さんとその一家。電話して訊く手間が省けた。
話し好きらしいドライバーは俺たちの学年を知りたがり、高校生活を知りたがり、自分の息子が現在小学生であることを教えてくれたり、中学は私立のいいところに入れようと計画していることまで明かしてくれているうちに車は鶴屋家正門前に到着した。 The driver was a really talkative guy. He knew from a glance that we were high school students, and could even tell which grade we were in. He then proceeded to tell us about how his son was still an elementary school kid, and how he planned to send him to a well established private high school. Before we knew it, we had already arrived at Tsuruya-san’s mansion.
先に降りた朝比奈さんが俺と運転手に何度もお辞儀しながら鶴屋家|敷地内に消えたのを見届ける。一安心だ。ここなら新未来人だろうと手出しできないと思う。人間、持つべきものは信頼できる先輩だ。 After getting out of the cab, Asahina-san repeatedly thanked me and the driver, before disappearing within the walls of Tsuruya-san’s house. This way, it would be impossible for some new time traveler to harm Asahina-san. You can rest assured, Asahina-san, knowing that you’ll at least have someone to rely on.
「市立図書館まで行ってください」 “Please head to the library.”
俺はシートにもたれて次の行き先を告げ、ようやく張りつめていた精神を緩和させた。 I said to the driver, my tightened spirit finally being able to relax a little.
* * *
* * *
図書館に舞い戻った俺を、長門は立ち読み姿で待っていた。重量感豊かなハードカバーを立ったまま読みふける姿には、よく疲れないものだと感心する。 After I reached the library, I found Nagato already standing by the front counter waiting for me. Standing upright while reading such a thick hardback, I really admired her for not feeling the least bit tired.
「待たせた。すまない」 “Sorry for the wait.”
「いい」 “It’s okay.”
長門はパタンと表紙を閉じ、辞典みたいな書物をつま先立って戸棚に戻すと、俺の横を通ってすたすたと出口に向かい出す。 Nagato shut the book with a dull thud, before returning the book, which better resembled a dictionary to me, to the topmost shelf. After that, she walked to my side, as we hurriedly headed for the exit.
慌てて横に並びつつ、俺はポケットから記憶媒体とやらを取り出した。 Fumbling with my fingers, I finally managed to pull out the memory chip from my pocket.
「長門、これが何だか解るか?」 “Nagato, do you know what this is?”
外に出たところで長門はゆっくりと顔を横向かせ、足を止めずに俺の指先を見つめた。 Nagato turned her head and looked at the memory chip in my fingers, not bothering to stop as we headed out of the library.
「実はさ」
駅前へと北上しながら俺は話し始めた。長門に包み隠すことなど何もない。下駄箱の手紙の件も含めて、先ほどの出来事をつぶさに語ってやる。 While I was returning to the library just a while ago, I phoned Nagato to tell her about the past happenings, including the letters in my shoe locker, and the sneering bastard.
「……そう」 “…I see.”
長門は普通の無表情でうなずき、普通に平坦な声で答えた。 Nagato nodded her head, without revealing a bit of emotion on her face, as she answered me in her usual monotonous voice.
「その記録装置には破損したデータが入力されている」 “This is a broken memory chip. However, the data inside is still undamaged.”
薄っぺらい板をCTスキャンするように見つめながら、 As I looked at the chip again, I found that it was in fact broken in half. What was the use of it then, even though the data was preserved?
「半分以上が損壊している。そのままでは意味をなさない」
何のデータだ? What kind of data is held within?
「情報不足。損傷度が高く、消えている箇所が多すぎる」 “Although the majority of the data is not lost, a major portion of it is nevertheless corrupted, and it seems that several crucial files have been either damaged or lost.”
長門にも解らないようなものが入っているのか。だったらどんな人間にも理解不能だと思うが、俺がこれを送る先にいる誰かには解るのかな。 So it contains something even Nagato has no idea about. If Nagato didn’t know about it, no human possibly would. I wondered who I was supposed to mail this to. Was he even human?
「修復の過程でまったく別のデータになるのだと思われる」 “Data restoration in progress. Attempting to replicate and substitute lost or damaged data with similar hits.” Nagato said, suggesting that she had already scanned the entire contents of the memory chip and was currently attempting to restore it to how it was before.
長門はすべてを読みとったような顔をして記憶装置から目をそらした。
「推測は可能」 “Inferences can be formed.”
背中に垂らしたダッフルのフードが歩くたびに揺れている。 (no translation)
「そのデータの欠損部分を埋める際、元データとは異なる情報入力を二百十八ヵ所で施し、本来その記憶装置を参照する再生機とは別のフォーマットで閲覧すれば、ある技術の原始的|基盤となる理論を得ることができる」 “This memory chip contains a myriad of damaged data. However, there are also two hundred and eighteen pieces of different data that has been recently input. This memory chip is meant to be inserted in a transmitter. If played in correct sequence, it is possible to formulate a basic theory.”
俺が再度問う前に、長門は前を向いたまま言った。 As I was about to ask Nagato what was she saying, Nagato said simply:
「朝比奈みくるが使用している、時間移動理論の原理的|基礎データ」 “Something that Asahina Mikuru is currently using: The basic foundation of time travel.”
* * *
ただし----、と長門は解説してくれた。 “However...” Nagato continued,
仮に首尾よくそのデータが得られたとしても、人類の現代レベルの科学知識や技術力ではそれが何を意味するデータなのかも理解できず、それがただちに時間航行に繋がるわけではない。しかし必要不可欠なデータである。この情報がなければ航時機は開発されず、人間が時を超えることは不可能となる。彼女たちの時間移動方法は、何千通りもの偶発的な発見や発明によって稼働した。その根っこにあるのが----。 “Even if someone obtained the data, based on our current level of technology, it would be impossible to deduce what the data meant. Although it is still insufficient for someone to formulate the basic theories of time travel based on it, it is crucial to time travel. Without it, it would be impossible for humans to travel through time. This chip contained the basic foundations for time travel, including the correct method to move through time planes and the sort.”
「これだって言うのか」 “Can someone come to this conclusion based on this memory chip?”
「そう」 “Yes.” Nagato replied emotionlessly, without slowing her pace. Since she didn’t, I obviously couldn’t either. Although I suddenly had an overwhelming desire to hand the memory chip to her, seeing that it was a crucial thread of the time travelers’ fate, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
興味なさげな無表情で長門は歩調を緩めないが俺はそうはいかない。未来の命運が自分の| 掌 にすっぽり収まってしまうような物に詰められて、そいつを託されている気分など表現しようもないくらいのプレッシャーだ。
「ダミーの可能性もある」 “Of course, it could be a decoy.”
長門は水を差すわけでもなかろうが、 Since Nagato was the least likely to joke about such things, I took it seriously.
「そのデータが唯一のものとは考えにくい。バックアップの複数存在が自然」 “This is not the only one. There must be other copies somewhere.”
考えてみればそうだな。貴重品の運び屋を依頼されたと思ったら、実はオトリで本物は別のルートで安全に運ばれていた、なんてのもありがちな話だ。朝比奈さん(大)が片目を閉じて人差し指を| 唇 につけ、しれっと微笑む映像が目の前に浮く。だが彼女にも苦手科目があるはずで、それは俺のすぐそばにいる。 Come to think about it, that kinda makes sense. Who in their right minds would leave something important like this in the hands of someone who just happened to pick it up? This was probably a decoy, whereas the real chip was already being ferried safely to who-knows-where. Asahina-san (Big)’s smiling face, with an eye closed and her index finger by her lips, suddenly surfaced in my mind. However, knowing Asahina-san (Big), she could have had some difficulties in doing that, and as such secretly sent me to do it for her.
「ああ、そういえば、長門」 “Oh, one more thing, Nagato.”
俺はずんずんと先行する半端な長さの後ろ髪に、 I said as I hurried to catch up to the short haired silhouette.
「今日はすまなかった」 “Sorry for today.”
長門の歩行がやや微速になり、無表情が物問いたげに振り向く。 I’m sure Nagato’s footsteps slowed down, as she lifted her head and looked at me.
「いや、だからさ、朝比奈さんを連れて行くって昨目言ってなかっただろ? 説明|抜きで願い事をしたのは我ながらどうかと思ったんだよ」 “It’s my fault for not telling you I would bring Asahina-san along today when I called you last night. Asking someone for help without explaining things clearly to them, how would I have felt if someone had done the same to me?”
「…………」 Nagato looked at me without saying anything, as if I was being interrogated by those cold eyes. After walking about ten steps, I surrendered.
長門はこっちを向いたまま直進を続ける。俺の真意を探っているような瞳に凝視されること十歩、俺は白状した。
「朝比奈さんに謝っておくよう言われたんだ。とにかく、すまなかった」 “Asahina-san told me to apologize to you. I’m sorry.”
「……そう」 “…Is that so?”
やっと前を向く。長門は淡々と歩き続け、五秒くらいしてからまた言った。 Nagato said as she looked at the road before her once again, and continued walking. About 5 seconds later, she said again:
「そう」 “Is that so?”
* * *
* * *
駅前では、ハルヒと朝比奈さんが遊び疲れた子犬の姉妹のようにくっついている横に、古泉が人畜無害スマイリーな顔をして立っていた。 Just outside the train station, Haruhi and Asahina-san looked like tired puppies, as they leaned on each other for support. Koizumi stood beside them, once again with a smile on his face.
合流した俺たちは午後の成果を報告し合うために喫茶店に転がり込む。もちろん、ハルヒに報告することなんざ去年の春から何もなく、また変なヤツが出てきましたなんてことも俺は言わない。幸いなのは第一回目と違って「不思議または不思議に類するものは見つかりませんでした」と告げてもハルヒの機嫌が変な方にすっ飛んで行かないことだ。 After we had all gathered, it was time to report our findings of the day, as we entered the familiar coffee shop. Of course, the reports were always the same ever since last year. Although I did meet some strange guy, I didn’t tell Haruhi about him. Fortunately, “I didn’t discover anything strange or mysterious” didn’t warrant a scowl from Haruhi this time, which was something I was relatively new to.
「まあ、こういう日もあるわ」 “It’s fine, days like this are bound to happen anyway.”
こういう日以外にどんな日があったというのか。 I’d like to know what would happen other than days like this.
むしろ上機嫌に見えるハルヒは、カプチーノをぐびぐびと飲みながら、 Seeing the way Haruhi drank her cup of cappuccino, I could tell that she is in a pretty good mood. “Let’s meet up again tomorrow. Those mysterious events are bound to not expect us looking for them for two days straight, and as such may let their guard down! I can feel something exciting happening tomorrow, like running into something paranormal just around the corner!”
「明日も集まりましょう。きっと不思議なことも二日連続で探されるとは思ってないわ。不意をつくの不意を。そこで尻尾をつかむわけ。きっと意外なところから出てくるんじゃないかしら。曲がり角で鉢合わせするとか」
いきなり後ろから声をかけてきたりとかな。思い出すと腹が立つ。あの野郎が俺と朝比奈さんを観察しながら蔑みの笑みを浮かべているところを想像すると、飲んでいるカフェオレがブラックコーヒーになったような錯覚に陥る。今度会ったときを覚悟しておけよ。首根っこを捉まえてハルヒか長門の前で正座させてやる。 For some reason, I suddenly recalled that incident where Asahina-san and I were shouted at by some stranger from behind. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that he had been monitoring us for some time then, and upon thinking about this, my glass of milkshake seemed to abruptly turn into a glass of black coffee. Just you wait, you sneering bastard! The next time I see you, I’ll bring you straight to Nagato or Haruhi, and let you feel their wrath!
よほど苦み走った顔をしていたのか、ハルヒは俺を覗き込んで何か言おうとしていたが、結局はコメントせずに、それからなぜか不可解な笑みを作った。 I wonder if I really had a pained expression on my face, for Haruhi continuously looked at me, as if wanting to say something, but lacked the courage to say it. In the end, she didn’t do anything, other than reveal an unfathomable smile.
「ま、いいわ。明日よ明日。日付が変わったら|状 況だって変わるわよ。永遠に同じ一日をやってたって面白くないでしょ? あたしの予想では日曜日が一番狙い目ね。だってなんとなく油断したようなダラけたイメージがあるじゃない。月曜日とは仲が悪いと思うわ。そんな気がするの」 “So, we meet again tomorrow, understand? I believe that if we change the day, the situation will change too. If we keep sticking to the same schedule, wouldn’t that be boring? I have a feeling that mysterious things are easier to find on Sunday. Maybe it’s because Sunday gives you the impression that it’s meant for lazing off, which is something those mysterious things may be doing! Just like how I feel that I won’t be so friendly on Monday, I’m sure mysterious things will be lazing about on Sunday! I’m sure of it!”
勝手に曜日を擬人化して性格まで決めつけるハルヒの話を聞きながら、そういや高校は週明けも休みだったことを思い出し、まさか不思議探しが三日連続になるんじゃないだろうなと考えて恐ろしくなりつつ、朝比奈さん(みちる)の話ではそうでなかったと思い返し、それよりハルヒと仲睦まじく話をしている朝比奈さん(小)の控えめな笑い声に心|癒されていると、 So did that mean Haruhi’s mood was set according to what day it was? Oh well, it’s not like I’ll be able to get any rest tomorrow, seeing that we’d be having yet another city-wide search. But what am I fretting about, didn’t Asahina-san (Michiru) already tell me this before? The only thing that soothed my heart was Asahina-san giggling, as she talked to Haruhi about something.
「今日はこのへんにしときましょ」 “That’s all for today.”
ハルヒが解散を宣言した。 Haruhi then gave us the command to dismiss, before reminding us to meet up again tomorrow.
聞いていたとおり、きっかり午後五時に。 I certainly had lots of things to think about today.
* * *
* * *
やれやれ。今日は考えることがえらく多かった一日だったな。 As I rode back home on my bike, various thoughts raced through my mind, from the things Koizumi said to me in the morning, to the two Asahina-sans; from the chattering, unknown stranger, to Nagato’s expressionless face, and last but not least, Haruhi’s bemused expression in the coffee shop. For one who had never been settled on by so many worries before, this was certainly a plague of troubles. But of course, I wasn’t someone who would let his worries get ahead of him. I still had things to do, I reminded myself, as I trudged through the snow towards the convenience store.
逆風をついて自転車を走らせながら、昼前の古泉のセリフや、二人ぶんの朝比奈さんや、名前も言わずに露悪的なことばっか眩いていたあの野郎や、長門の起伏のない顔や、ハルヒの意味なし元気顔なんかを回想する。これ以上|厄介ごとを抱えたくも、考えたくもない俺だったが、この上においてやることがまだ終わっていない。サクサクすんなり手ぶらで帰宅できるほど俺は物忘れが激しくなく、ポケットの中のブツを見て見ぬ振りはできないし、明日のこともある。
てなわけで、俺はコンビニに寄って切手と封筒を購入し、その足でホームセンターに向かった。 After purchasing an envelope and some stamps, I headed towards the shopping mall.
ペットコーナーをひとしきりウロウロして、シャミセンとは大違いの血統書付き犬猫たちに心を奪われつつ、なんとか誘惑を振り切って亀売り場を探し求め、ゼニガメとミドリガメが一緒になって仲よく一塊りになっている水槽を発見した。できれば朝比奈さんと一緒に来たかった。アメリカンショートヘアやシェルティが入ったガラスケースにくっついて「わぁ」とか言いながら目を輝かせる姿をぜひ見たい。ウチの妹がそれやってるシーンはもう見飽きた。 I entered the pet shop, and began looking at the different dogs and cats present there. Unlike Shamisen, these animals were of pure breed, and I found myself strangely fascinated by them. As I tried my best to pull myself away from the urge to purchase one of them, I dragged my body towards the turtle counter, and found out that the Chinese Box Turtle was pretty close with the Golden Coin Turtle. If possible, I would like to bring Asahina-san here one day. I could picture her picking up one of those adorable puppies, her eyes sparkling in the process, as she made a shout of “Kyaa~”. That was something I had seen my sister do before, and I had no doubt Asahina-san would be the same.
俺は亀の水槽に目を落とし、
「さてどいつにするか」
品定めを開始する。小さな亀たちはほとんど動こうとせず、ジオラマみたいな岩場の上でじっと積み重なっていた。これはこれで愛らしい。亀愛好家が多いらしいのもうなずける。しかしちょっと愛想がなさすぎるんだが、冬だから仕方がないのか。とはいえ、俺が明日にするのは真冬の川に亀を放り込むという、どちらかと言えば迷惑そうな行為である。果たして亀は喜んでくれるだろうか。ぬくぬくとした水槽暮らしと、自由なれど過酷な自然に帰されるのとではどっちが好印象を持たれるのかね。 I lowered my gaze back at the counter, and began thinking, “Which one should I buy?” The turtles there were basically hunched together and resembled unmoving rocks. Each seemed to be fond of another, and I found it hard to separate them. I know that many people liked turtles, but sometimes I wonder if I really imagine too much. However, seeing that I was about to fling one of these poor guys into a freezing cold river tomorrow, I began questioning myself, which would they prefer? Being trapped in a small and crowded place like this, or set into the free but punishing wild?
熱心に眺めている俺の視線を感じたか、一|匹のゼニガメがにゅるりと首を動かして空中を見上げた。バランスを崩したのだろう、岩場からぽちゃんと水の中に落ちたその亀くんは、濾過器でぶくぶく泡立っている水辺をちゃぶちゃぶとたゆたった後、やっぱり冷たいやとばかりに同類たちの背中の上に戻ってきた。よし、お前にしよう。 As if realizing I was staring at him, one of the golden coin turtles quickly turned away and attempted to escape. However, maybe it was due to his poor balancing, he stumbled and fell into the water. Being in the cold water was probably an unpleasant thing for him though, as he quickly climbed back out to the safety of the land.
All right, it’s you then.
俺はいそがしそうに荷出しをしていた店員を呼び止めると、その亀を指して購入意図を伝えた。アルバイトなのか知らんが大学生風の青年店員は、やけに嬉しそうな顔となって陳列されていた亀専用グッズを持ち出し、懇切丁寧なまでの熱心さで亀の飼い方を説き始めた。俺としては紙袋に提げて持って帰ってもいいくらいなのだが、いや飼育するんじゃなくて川に放流するために買うのです、とは言いにくい雰囲気であり、だいたい何のためにそんなことをするのか、訊かれてはかなわないし、俺だって理由が知りたい。 I quickly motioned for the shop assistant and pointed at that turtle, before telling her that I wished to purchase it. The shop assistant, whom I have no idea if she’s only working here or if this is her family’s business, revealed a huge smile on her face, and quickly went to fetch a tank. After that, she began teaching me how to take care of turtles, what to feed them, etcetera. To tell you the truth, all of that didn’t matter to me, since all I wanted to do was fling this poor guy into the river. But seeing her explain to me so patiently, I had no idea what I was supposed to say. When she asked me why I wanted to buy a turtle for a pet, I had wanted to tell her that it was something I couldn’t tell her, something secret, something classified.
結局、持ち合わせがそんなにないことを理由にゴニョゴニョ言いわけしていると、その青年店員は小さなプラケースに砂利を敷き詰めて水槽の水を入れ、俺が目をつけたゼニガメを貴重品を扱うような手で摘んでケースの中に置くとエサの箱とまとめて俺に手渡して、 In the end, as I tried to make up a suitable explanation as to why I had wanted to buy a turtle, the shop assistant had already decorated the tank with several marbles, filled it with water, picked up the golden coin turtle, and placed him gently into the tank. “This comes free with the turtle,” she said to me, smiling.
「亀代以外はサービスにしとくよ」
と、思い切り快い笑顔を見せて俺をレジまで誘導した。どうやら亀好きな店員さんだったようだ。 She was smiling as she led me all the way to the cash register. She must really like turtles.
「亀のことで何かあったら、いつでも訊いてくれ」 “If there’s anything you would like to know about turtles, you can come and find me anytime.”
そう言って彼は自分でレジを打ち、ケースとエサ代は自分の財布から出してまでくれている。|恐 縮するばかりだが、この亀くんは明日には水面に投擲される運命なのだ。 After that, I paid for the turtle, since the tank and turtle pellets came free with the turtle. I felt sorry for the turtle, who would most likely be thrown into the river tomorrow. Too bad, buddy. That’s fate for you.
若干の心苦しさを覚えつつ、俺はケースに入ったゼニガメを携えてホームセンターを出ると、荷物をチャリのカゴに置いて再び走り出した。 As I felt a slight pain in my chest, I carried the tank out of the shopping mall, placed it into the basket in front of my bicycle, and started pedaling. Even though it was already dark, I couldn’t go home yet. There was somewhere else I had to go first.
すっかり夜空となっている時間だが、俺にはまだ帰宅が許されていない。今日の締めくくり一つ、行っておかねばならぬ所があるのだ。
* * *
「やあ! キョンくん! また来ると思ってたよっ。こんばんはっ」 “Hi, Kyon-kun! I knew you would come today! Good evening!”
星空の下でも明るいオーラを放つこと丸出しの和装|娘さんが門を開け、自転車ごとお邪魔するのは鶴屋|邸に決まっていた。 Even though stars were shining in the sky, Tsuruya-san radiated a certain aura that made her stand out from them, as she opened her front door. I decided to park my bike inside Tsuruya-san’s mansion this time.
「ん? なんだいそれっ。お土産かなっ」 “Huh? What’s this? A souvenir?” Tsuruya-san said as her gaze fell upon the tank in my bicycle’s basket. “Oh, it’s a turtle, a turtle! Do you have them in your backyard too? I used to rear some in my pond, but then later felt sorry for them and released them into the wild!”
鶴屋さんはカゴの中のケースに目を留め、
「やや、亀だカメカメ。ありがたいけど、家の池にいっぱいいるんだよねクサガメがっ。いつの間にか繁殖しちゃってさ、そのちっこいのを放したらイヂメられるんじゃないかなっ」
残念ながら鶴屋さん向けのプレゼントではないのですよ。どちらかと言えば朝比奈さんに渡すべきペットです。 That’s too bad Tsuruya-san, but this turtle isn’t a present for you. It’s something I got for Asahina-san to keep her company.
「そっか、残念! それからキョンくんすまないっ。今日、みちるちゃんを図書館まで送ってあげらんなくてゴメンよ! どーしても抜けらんなくてさっ」 “Oh, that’s too bad, Kyon-kun. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to accompany Michiru-chan to the library today. Something important came up, you see.”
だだっ広い日本庭園の片隅にチャリを停め、亀ケースを持った俺は鶴屋さんと肩を並べて歩きながら尋ねる。 I parked my bike into Tsuruya-san’s front yard, before proceeding to take the tank out from the basket. I then asked Tsuruya-san:
「今日は用事でもあったんですか?」 “You had something to do again today?”
「法事だよっ。ご先祖様の霊前で一家|揃って思い出話をする日さ。父方の爺さんの命日なんだけどね、面白い人生を歩んでた爺さんでさ、エピソード満載だわで宴もたけなわっ!」 “Yea, we had to pay respects to one of my dead ancestors. This time, it was my father’s grandfather, as my various aunts and uncles talked about the old times before his grave. However, from what I heard, he used to be a really fun and jolly man. All of them looked as if they were enjoying themselves by recalling the good old days!”
くったくなく喋る鶴屋さんは、対|亀戦の長距離競技で本気を出す気になったウサギのような歩き方で、 Tsuruya-san had always loved to talk, and this time was no exception.
「そんなにあのみちるちゃんが心配かいっ? なんだったら同じ部屋で泊まっていくかい? あたしも横で寝てるけど、それが気にならないんならいいよんっ」 “Did anything worrisome happen to Michiru-chan? If you’re really that worried, why don’t you stay here for the night? I’ll be sleeping beside you too! Wouldn’t you like that ~nyoro?”
まるで緊張感のない笑顔を俺に向ける。シンデレラに上等な衣装を与える魔法使いなみの好意だったが、きっと申し出にうかうか乗ったりするとしっぺ返しを喰らうのだ。安易な誘惑は遠回りな罠となって遠からず戻ってくる。鶴屋さんも解っているからそんなことを言ってくれるのさ。 Tsuruya-san said this without looking the slightest bit nervous. She was like Cinderella asking her fairy godmother for a dress; asking me at my moment of weakness. Such simple traps won’t work on me, Tsuruya-san, and it seemed that Tsuruya-san understood that too. There was no way she would have said something like that otherwise.
「そこまでは俺もしませんよ」 “No thanks.”
と、俺が答えることくらい彼女ならお解りであろう。仮に実現したのだとしても上級生二人に挟まれていては、気疲れのあまり一睡もできないに違いない。身体だけはやけに疲れているのだが。 I’m sure Tsuruya-san understood what I meant. Even if I agreed, I’m sure that being sandwiched in between two ravishing upperclassmen would probably derive me of all sleep. I’m tired enough, thank you. I don’t want another sleepless night.
ゼニガメくんは寒さのせいかケースの角で固まったように動かない。自然の川より鶴屋家の池に投じた方がいいような気がしてきたが、朝比奈さん(大)の指令を破るわけにもいかず、なんとなくジレンマ、隔靴掻痒だ。 Perhaps due to the cold weather, the golden coin turtle had withdrawn itself into its shell, and was hunched in a corner. Compared to throwing it into the freezing cold river, I would have preferred to let it live in Tsuruya-san’s pond, but alas, there was no way I could ignore Asahina-san (Big)’s order.
「あ、キョンくん?」 “K-Kyon-kun?”
離れに上がらせてもらった俺を、朝比奈さん(みちる)が意外性を帯びた声で出迎えた。別れたばっかなのにまたやって来るとは思わなかったのだろうが、これをお忘れです。俺は亀ケースを差し出して、 Just as I was about to enter her room, I heard Asahina-san gently call my name, as she came out to greet me. There’s no way I would come for a visit after we’ve just barely parted. It’s just because I forgot to give you something that I came back to hand it to you.
「明日、これを持って来てくれますか」 Handing the tank to Asahina-san, I said, “Can you please bring this along with you tomorrow?” Hopefully she still remembered the contents of letter #4: “Tomorrow, please throw this turtle into the river before 10:50 AM.” This was the last task I had to accomplish with Asahina-san. Tomorrow, we would all meet again for a city-wide search at 9. After that, we would head to the coffee shop, have breakfast, and draw lots again. This would take presumably an hour. If Asahina-san could bring the turtle to the river for me, it would save me much time and energy. Plus, if I brought this to the station, Haruhi and the others would probably ask me what I was up to.
#4の手紙の内容を思い出していただきたい。『明日の午前十時五十分までに川に亀を投げ込んでください』ってのが俺と朝比奈さんのおこなう最後の仕事だ。市内パトロールは明日も実行の運びなので、時間的にみて午前九時にはハルヒたちと駅前集合、それから喫茶店でだべったりクジを引いたりで一時間はロスするだろうから、亀は朝比奈さんに持ってきてもらうのが合理的だ。こんなものを持って集合場所に行ったりしたら、ハルヒでなくとも質問の雨を浴びせたくもなるだろう。
「うん、そう、そうですね」 “Erm, yeah, that’s it…” Asahina-san said as she took the tank from me. “Kyon-kun didn’t bring anything to the meeting on Sunday either.”
朝比奈さんはケースを受け取りながら、
「日曜の朝、キョンくんは何も持ってませんでしたし……」
えへん。わざとらしい咳払いが聞こえた。ちゃぶ台で人数分のお茶の用意をしている鶴屋さんが放ったものである。彼女はもう少しでウインクになりそうな感じに片目を閉じ、 For a moment I thought I heard a dry cough. I turned, only to see Tsuruya-san place some snacks on the table, before closing her eyes, as if saying, ‘I didn’t hear anything.’
「明日もこのみちるちゃんをどっかに送り届けたほうがいいのかなっ?」 “Do you need me to send Michiru-chan there tomorrow?”
「頼めますか?」 “Are you fine with that?”
お伺いを立てた俺に、鶴屋さんはくしゃりとした笑顔で、 After hearing my counter-question, Tsuruya-san answered coolly, “Ahaha~ I happen to have more family affairs tomorrow, so I’m afraid I can’t send her there in person. But don’t worry. I’ll have someone drive Michiru-chan there, okay? Just tell me what time you wish for.”
「あーそれなんだけどね、明日もあたしは用事まみれなのさっ。親族会議に出ないといけないのだっ。でも安心してちょん。家の者に言っといて、みちるちゃんを車で送るようにさせっからっ。で、何時だい?」
午前十時四十五分、桜並木のある川沿いまでお願いします。細かい場所はこの朝比奈さんが知っている。例の思い出ベンチの場所を見失うほど、朝比奈さんも方向|音痴ではあるまい。 “10:45 AM tomorrow, near the riverbank where cherry-blossom trees grow. Asahina-san knows about the place, too. Thanks a lot.”
Provided Asahina-san doesn’t contract amnesia, she should remember the bench by the cherry-blossom trees.
「おっけ、おっけ。任しといてっ。帰りはタク使ってちょうだいねっ」 “Okay, you can leave it all to me! You can hail a cab if you want to come back!” Tsuruya-san said as she beat her chest proudly.
鶴屋さんはスマートな胸をドンと叩いて、
「キョンくんが心配するのもよく解るっさ。みくると二人で繁華街なんか歩くじゃん? そすっと二百メートルおきにナンパされるんだよね。もうメンドイったらないさっ。みくるパワーってやつかなっ」 “I understand your feelings Kyon-kun. Choosing not to stroll by the busy streets, where you would meet obstacles every 200 meters, that’s a wise choice! You should feel happy about this, Michiru-chan!”
鶴屋パワーも入ってると思いますけど。 I felt that Tsuruya-san was the only one feeling happy about this.
「みくるはスキのある娘に見えちゃうからなぁ。それがあたしはちょっぴり心配なのさっ。いい男とくっつけば少しは安心なんだけどっ」 “I think Michiru already has a crush on someone. I’m kinda worried about her, since she’s so naïve and all. Now if I knew who the person was, and if he was a good guy or not, then I would be greatly relieved.”
それだと俺が安心できませんね。いらんことを想像して煩悶する毎日を送ることになりそうですよ。 Upon hearing that statement, I felt uneasy. I think about those things every day. Every single day.
「はっははっ。キミぃ、キョンくんが安心できる方法があるにょろ?」 “Ahaha~ Isn’t there any way to make Kyon-kun calm down?”
あるにょろ、と言われても思いつかないが、朝比奈さんは鶴屋さんの言葉に照れているのか顔を赤らめて手をパタパタと振っていた。何とも言いようのない表情をしているのは、いちおうここにいるのは朝比奈みくるさんではなく、みちるさんであるという設定を守っているつもりだからだろう。俺はもうどうでもよくなっているし鶴屋さんだってそうだろうが、まあそうしておこう。俺の言い出したことだ。 Even though I wanted to say “There is,” I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Asahina-san was already blushing furiously, apparently embarrassed by Tsuruya-san’s words, as she twirled her fingers in her lap. I had decided long ago to protect Asahina-san, not only the Asahina-san who currently resided in my time plane, but all other Asahina-sans. I don’t care what happens to me then. Apparently, Tsuruya-san knew of this too.
明日用の打ち合わせはこんなもんでいいか。俺は鶴屋さんが入れた渋いお茶を飲みながら、朝比奈さんを眺めた。子亀を見つめてケースをちょんちょんとつついている姿に思わず笑みをこぼしつつ、さて、この朝比奈さんをいつまでここに置いておけばいいのかと考える。このまま行けば朝比奈さん(小)と入れ違いにこの時間帯に留まることになりそうだが、本当にそれでいいのか、それとも八日後----いや、もう三日後だな----に戻す必要があるのか。 This is the turtle we’re going to use tomorrow. That was what ran through my mind, as I looked at Asahina-san, hoping to relay that message to her, while silently gulping down Tsuruya-san’s tea. Asahina-san looked at the turtle swimming around in the tank, and let out a series of soft giggles. Would this Asahina-san remain here forever? If things continue on like this, Asahina-san (Small) will be dragged in this too. Eight days --- No wait, three days now --- later, would I really have to send Asahina-san (small) back to the past?
俺は封筒にナンバリングされた数字を思い起こす。#3、#4、そして#6。数の数え方が変化して、未来では四の次が六になっているんでもない限り、#5の手紙がどこかにあるはずだ。欠けたピースはまだ俺のもとに届いていない。 Thinking about this, I suddenly thought of the series of letters I had been receiving recently - #3, #4 and #6. Why had #6 suddenly popped up after #4? By now, I had no doubt that this was not a printing error. #5 must be out there somewhere. It was only that I hadn’t received it yet.
#6の手紙はこの朝比奈さんには内緒だ。おそらく俺の口から言うことはないだろう。そこにはこう書いてあった。 I hadn’t told Asahina-san about letter #6 yet, simply because it had specifically told me to keep it a secret from Asahina-san. “When everything is over, please head over to the bench where you and I met during the festival of Tanabata. I’ll be waiting.”
* * *
『すべてが終わったとき、七夕の夜にわたしとあなたが出会った、あの公園のベンチに来てください』
* * *
鶴屋家のお茶は部室で味わうものより高級な風味がする。俺が持ってきた亀について必要以上の質問をしてこない鶴屋さんの配慮がありがたい。寄り添うようにしてケースを覗き込む二人の上級生を見ながら俺は思考を巡らせる。 I was grateful that Tsuruya-san had served me a cup of expensive tea, and that she didn’t ask me anything about the turtle. As I looked at both of my upperclassmen, I began thinking, what did ‘When everything is over’ mean? Was it when Asahina-san (small) was sent to the past, thus completing the cycle? It was, after all, a predetermined event for Asahina-san (Big). Does it mean that I get to see her when I finish cleaning up this mess?
すべてが終わったとき----。つまり朝比奈さんが八日後からやって来たこの件は朝比奈さん(大)には規定|事項なのだ。遠からず解決するのは間違いない。
わたしとあなたが----。この『わたし』は朝比奈さん(大)であって、(小)でも(みちる)さんでもない。今から四年前の七夕。俺はそこで二回も同じ人に対面した。 ‘You and I’ was a no brainer. The ‘I’ in question was without a doubt Asahina-san. During the Tanabata festival four years ago, I had met the same person twice, though they were different version of me.
口元がムズムズしてきた。朝比奈さんにハッキリ言ってしまうべきだろうか。意味不明な手紙の数々を俺の下駄箱に入れているのは未来のあなたなのです、と。どこまで朝比奈さん(大)は読んでいるんだ? どうやってもそれは規定事項になっちまうのか? My heart jumped as I thought about this. When could I reveal all of this to Asahina-san? The day I tell Asahina-san ‘Actually, it was your future self who put those letters in my shoe locker’, was it a predetermined event too?
そして、この朝比奈さんはどこまで気づいているんだろう。未来からの指示、それに従う俺。そんな俺は朝比奈さんに口を濁してばかりいる。これは正しいことなのか……。 Besides, just how much could I reveal to this current Asahina-san? From the orders I had received from the future, all I had been doing so far was make Asahina-san commit crimes together with me. Was this the right thing to do?
俺は小刻みに頭を振った。 I shook my head lightly. It doesn’t matter now, does it? Besides, I wasn’t used to thinking. Is this an aftereffect of meeting that strange guy?
どうもいかんね。下手の考え休みに似たりってやつだ。これもあの変な野郎が変なことを言い去りやがった後遺症だな。どれが正しいもへったくれもあるもんか。長門の教えてくれた訓辞その一である。
未来のことを考えて思い悩んでいてもしかたがない。未来における自分の責任は現在の自分が負うべきだ。そんときはせいぜい過去の自分を呪ってやるさ。で、今の俺は未来の自分から呪われないよう最善を尽くすのみだ。考えているヒマはない。 Nagato’s words suddenly rang in my mind – There is no such thing as a win-win situation. There was no point worrying about the future. It is my duty and responsibility to shape my own future. Sometimes, I would curse my past self for making stupid mistakes, but I would never curse my future self. All I have done is do what I had to do, leaving everything for time to decide. That was the only thing I could do.
ただ動くのみだ。 It was my future, after all.
* * *
* * *
しばらくして俺は鶴屋家をお暇し、自宅に戻った。ベッドで寝ているシャミセンの寝顔がひたすら平和だ。こいつがこんな顔して眠れている限り、この世界も平穏でいてくれるだろう。まあ、どんな目に遭ってもこいつが不眠症になるとは思えないが。 After staying at Tsuruya-san’s house for a little longer, I got on my bike and pedaled back home. Upon returning home, I found Shamisen sleeping peacefully on my bed. The only time he would look so peaceful was when he was sleeping. How I envy him. I don’t think even a world plunged into chaos would prevent Shamisen from sleeping peacefully.
「すべては明日か……」 “Everything depends on tomorrow…”
明日には片が付く。ハルヒの不思議探し二日連続招集に、亀の放流。俺のすべきことはそれだけであるはずだった。それくらいなら別段難しくはない。見つからない宝を求めて穴を掘ったり、見知らぬ人を病院送りにしたり、石を移動させたり、記憶装置を拾ってどこかに送ったり----っと、まだそれがあったな。忘れる前にやっておかねばならん。 Tomorrow we begin part two of Haruhi’s exclusive two-day city wide search and commence the releasing of the turtle. I had done all necessary preparations, and there was nothing else I could do now. I had searched for buried treasure, dug holes, sent unknown people to the hospital, moved rocks, and even mailed memory chips --- Oh wait, that’s something I haven’t done yet. Best get it done before I forget again.
俺はコンビニで買ってきたサラの封筒に、#3に記されていた住所と名前を手書きすると例の記憶|媒体を入れ、こんだけ貼れば世界のどこにでも届くだろうと思われるぶんの切手を貼り付けて再びコートを羽織った。もちろんこっちの名前は書かない。 Using the envelope I had bought from the convenience store, I copied the address from letter #3, inserted the broken memory chip, sealed it tight, and attached some stamps. After that, I once again put on my jacket and headed out. Oh, and of course I didn’t put my address on the back of the envelope.
郵便ポストに投函した後は、もう郵送事故のないよう祈るだけだった。そこまでは俺も面倒見切れないぜ、朝比奈さん(大)。 After cycling all the way to the post office and depositing it into the mailbox, I silently prayed that nothing would happen to it while it was being mailed. I don’t want to have another matter to worry about, Asahina-san (Big). Everything should have a smooth start, and a good end. Now that the end was near, I hope that nothing will happen from now onwards, up until I meet Asahina-san (Big) when everything is over at the bench of the Tanabata Festival.
俺は頼まれたことを首尾よく果たしているはずさ。そのうち絶対聞かせてもらう。すべてが終わったとき、あの七夕のベンチで。
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