THE MEANING OF FREEDOM
The questions Kouenji asked Sakura and I had been on my mind for a long time. On day 3, I left the base camp just before noon and turned my feet to enter the forest. Just then, there was a girl who came near, running from behind.
“Gasp, gasp, pant… what are you planning to do now, Ayanokouji-kun?”
Sakura came running like she was searching for me. She exhaled and with every breath, her big breasts moved up and down.
“Have I not tied a handkerchief to a tree? I’m going there to check something out.”
I wanted to confirm if it was true at an earlier date but I hardly had the time to do it.
“Wow…… I know I shouldn’t come……………. right? I’d be a hindrance, but…………..”
“You shouldn’t do it. Aren’t you worried about the various rumours in circulation?”
“It doesn’t bother me at all. Besides…… mumble mumble”
With a whisper, she coughed something out but even though I drew my ear near, I couldn’t comprehend it. Her voice was that low.
“I don’t think this would be a fun thing to do, though? After coming to this island at great pains, I think it’d be better for you to have a little fun…. even though I don’t have a fun side myself.”
I decided to turn down Sakura’s proposal with an appropriate excuse. But…
“Well, doing that is fun for me!”
Sakura recoiled, feeling bad more than I imagined. At those strong words, our eyes met with a look of horror. Then Sakura squatted down, hiding her face.
“Flustered… Ahhh, in other words, this will be different! Urghhh!! ….”
….I didn’t know exactly what Sakura was saying. All I could tell was she’s an interesting girl. She only had to show this part of herself to others.
“Well then, should we go together? There’s a condition. Later, even if we get in trouble, you won’t blame yourself.”
She replied while hiding her face with her hands. What kind of exchange was this….
On the way, finding the silence weird, I decided to kill time by bringing up a familiar topic. Nothing could be more awkward than the lone sound of crispy and crunchy footsteps on the soil.
“Are you doing well with the girls’ company? For this kind of life, you can’t do it alone.”
“Nuh-uh, not at all. I don’t even talk to them, nor do I something else.”
As if I was embarrassed by my pathetic self, I coughed while rolling a strand of hair with my index finger.
“I really can’t do anything. I can neither study nor do sports, I’m never improving in anything.”
“That’s not true at all. Sakura-chan is improving steadily.”
“Ehhh? Me, improving? Hahahah…… No way.”
“It’s true. Maybe you may not see it yourself, but little by little, you’re surely growing.”
I conveyed these things, not only by words but also through my behaviour. It’s effective for types that aren’t confident like Sakura. It was the first time I made an appeal with words from the bottom of my heart, hoping they could ring out in my partner’s heart too. Sakura stopped walking and looked at me with wavering eyes. Like those words didn’t come from me. She was unconsciously trying to find the true meaning of my words.
“It’s okay. Sakura can make new friends soon. School will be even more fun.”
When our eyes met, Sakura hurriedly averted her gaze and looked down.
Even the fact that she managed to look at people for one moment. Even taking in only one reaction from others was such a great difference from when we first met.
“That said… it seems like that man retired after the incident.”
That man worked at an electronics retail store located on the school’s premises. That man was an extremely enthusiastic fan of Sakura when she was a gravure idol…. No, he was more of a stalker. He wasn’t satisfied with only spending all his time on Sakura’s homepage but if there was a chance, he would attempt any contact with her and I understood he was up to something.
“Thanks for that time….. It’s all thanks to Ayanokouji-kun.”
“I didn’t do anything. Sakura has been saved only because Kushida became close with you and because Horikita and Ichinose cooperated, while I was like a bystander. Apart from that, nothing strange happened from that incident?”
Even though the stalker left the school grounds, it’s also possible to make contact through the internet.
“Yeah, it’s all ok. Now, the bulletin board’s people are also taking a little break.”
This was by way of precaution, right? I think they made a good choice.
“And yet, even if you were nervous and frightened when you were an idol, you always had a dignified expression.”
“About that……. basically, I wanted to take photographs by myself.”
“Long ago? Were they selfies in the magazines?”
Sakura, who heard it, answered with a little bitter smile.
“It didn’t go well at all and I took much more time than others. Also, a cameraman would take shots of all the girls to reduce the number of people involved as much as possible. Besides…. as if I was without emotion when I erased myself, I could endure it emptily. But, in the end, since I reached my breaking point, I stopped doing it.”
Because she talked without pausing, Sakura suddenly paused a moment and breathed in and out. The case of the stalker seemed to have left a big scar on Sakura, but it’s all turning for the better.
Before our eyes, there was quite a thick bunch of trees. I left Sakura’s side and went ahead to lead and open a path. If Sakura ended up hurt because of the branches, there’d be a lot of trouble. Then, after continuing walking for a while, I felt that the front of the path was becoming steep so I decided it’d be better to take a break soon.
I looked back. I never thought that looking back, I would see Sakura trembling with shaking shoulders.
“Let’s take a break. It’ll take a little while longer to reach the destination.”
Sakura would be exhausted if we walked on such a wild trail for 30 minutes. She was just beginning to look a little happy.
I searched for a big tree that could protect us with shade from the weather that was becoming hotter and hotter. I sat down between the roots in a space where two people could sit well. However, Sakura, maybe for precaution or modesty, wanted to sit a little apart. But the ground was uneven, and it would only hurt if she sat there.
“Sit down here.”
“Is it okay?”
“Here is good. But we won’t ever get enough rest in this place.”
After the short interaction, Sakura sank down next to me, keeping her distance. It’s a distance where the sleeves of our gym uniforms were touching slightly.
“Nature is amazing, isn’t it………… I just like to spend a lot of precious time even only walking around for a while.”
“Considering that Kouenji seemed disappointed, it looks like this place is still good enough for the school that tended to it with great care. Going to a jungle overseas would have brought more dangers.”
“When we departed at the beginning, I was very depressed. I had no friends, nor did I enjoy travelling. And I thought it’d be better to confine myself to my room. Because like that, it’d be the same as always. But then, this happened. We’ve been told this would be a trial…..”
I placed my back on the tree and Sakura looked up at the sky.
“But, this moment… I think that it was good that we’ve come here, together even for a little. I never had the opportunity to chat with you like this at school, Ayanokouji-kun…”
It seemed that sitting within the deep woods, wrapped in nature, brought a feeling of calmness.
“I wish we could stay like this forever!”
“Yes, that would be nice.”
It was still the third day since we had come to the deserted island and I felt like I’d spent the longest time just being with Sakura. I wondered if this was some kind of a mutual arrangement between people who did not have friends.
However, it did not feel strange and it did not happen in vain. As Sakura said, I felt like the distance between us had shortened a little.
It wasn’t a love affair or something like that, but indeed, we became friends. Our relationship changed so suddenly that I did not even understand when it had begun to actually change.
“Hmm… It’s a pity. If we had a digital camera, we could have taken the best photos…”
Sakura made a thumbs-up with both her hands, but instantly she felt embarrassed by the gesture and regret showed on her face.
Certainly, cameras are essential in shaping memories. A certain form remains intact.
As I remembered watching Sakura at school carrying a digital camera and taking photos all the time, I thought that this moment must be a perfect shuttered chance for her.
So that a certain form remained intact… I see why Ibuki had a digital camera.
“However, when we enter the photo, does that mean that we also mess up the scenery?”
“If there is Ayanokouji-kun, then it seems that it’ll be the best one.. Ah!.. No!!.. I mean.. That’s because I’ve never taken any pictures together with a friend!”
Sakura kept denying what she said, shaking her face. It’s genuinely natural. At that point, I had conclusive evidence.
While sitting side by side, I suddenly stared at Sakura.
At first, Sakura did not notice that my eyes were watching her, but as our long silence continued, she finally noticed it.
“Wh… What? What is it?
“Hey! Calm down. Be quiet.”
I firmly held Sakura, who had fallen into a panic, on both her shoulders.
As I held Sakura’s body closer to mine, she was unable to move, like a frog snatched by a snake. I took a peek at Sakura over her head. I saw something moving… a bug was crawling on Sakura’s hair. Even I, who didn’t know a lot about insects, could easily identify it. It’s what we commonly call “a caterpillar”.
For real, just by looking at it, I felt sick. A body that moved, and attached to the body, a myriad of limbs that were moving too, so that it’s too much to make the spine straight. Apparently, it fell from the leaves of the tree we used as a backrest.
Well, what should I do now? If I were to tell Sakura that there was a caterpillar in her hair, then, the possibility that she would panic and start screaming was high. If the caterpillar entered between her hair or went into her clothes, then it would be a further disaster.
“Sakura, there is something I want to ask you.”
“Wh.. What is it?”
“Well… Are you okay with insects?”
“Yes, insects, like grasshoppers or dragonflies, those kinds of insects.”
“N.. Not good at all with any of them. I can’t stand ants, either.”
“Ah, well, I get it.”
Just as I had guessed, it seemed that I couldn’t tell her what was happening. There was no alternative but to think of another way. I wish I could remove it quickly, but being a city boy myself, I hate them, too.
Even if I tried to remove it with a branch or something, Sakura would immediately notice my suspicious behaviour.
“Let me see, now. Do not move for the time being, okay?
“Ah, yes. All right.”
After I gave her this advice, I let go of Sakura’s shoulder. Meanwhile, the caterpillar was moving little by little — it seemed like it was going somewhere.
I had to think of a way to remove it safely.
Sakura tilted her head, puzzled, as I was trying to make a plan in my head.
Did it sense danger just by the movement of my hands? The caterpillar was trying to escape with strenuous movements. Aahhh… This is dangerous, caterpillar, stop being so stubborn!
This was going too far. But, I had to save Sakura, even at my own cost. I endured courageously, with my hands shaking, and with my right hand, I reached for Sakura’s hair as quickly as I could. Here! I could feel my fingertips touching the caterpillar. So, I grabbed it faster than my conscious judgement allowed me and threw it into the bushes.
Sakura couldn’t even swallow as I made such a move, but still, I managed to protect her.
“Uh… Somehow I felt that you saved me from something unpleasant…”
After a proper break, we arrived at our destination with the help of the mark by the handkerchief, while having a friendly chat.
It seemed to me as though it had taken less time than I thought. We arrived in 20 minutes. For the time being, I wrapped the handkerchief carefully and returned it to Sakura. I would try to observe the surroundings where I thought Kouenji had been standing. I couldn’t tell the difference by walking into the forest so far, especially at first glance. I wonder if it is here? There is nothing else around, here? What is the meaning of this?
“Did you see something?”
“Eh… something feels different.”
If you couldn’t take the necessary information from your sense of sight, then you would have to rely on your other senses.
“For now, let’s investigate around here randomly. However, we will check regularly without diverging from each other to the point that we can’t see each other anymore. If we are concentrating too much on finding something, it’s easy to become careless.”
We searched through the roots and bottom of big trees that couldn’t be seen while standing, green leaves and branches that grew thickly above our heads and the soil using our hands. Sometimes, the hot wind would quietly hit our noses and ears. While stimulating the five usable senses, we were checking the area without overlooking even the slightest change.
A surprised voice similar to a shriek came from Sakura, who was searching the bushes a little far away. The bushes were so deep, I could only see one part of Sakura’s body. I wondered if she had fallen again.
“Hey, look. I’ve found an amazing thing!” Sakura called me in excitement.
Looking at the bushes, there were different green leaves growing with yellow fruits sticking out from one part.
“That’s….. Corn…. Right?”
“It looks like it.”
I wondered if corn was growing only in this section. I was not well acquainted with plants, but it was obvious the situation was unnatural. The soil in which corn was planted is of a different color than the soil in this forest. It was proof which showed that this corn was cultivated artificially. Surrounded all around by bushes, it was odd how they were difficult to find due to weed.
“This is what Kouenji was hinting about…”
He was aware of this existence immediately but wasn’t willing to tell us.
Anyhow, there was no doubt that based on the spot, the school frequently visited this inhabited island. When I pulled out a piece in order to check it, a beautiful ordinary-looking corn came out. This beautiful form must have come to life due to thorough management and cultivation.
“I should have brought a bag… Probably not, but I wonder if we can take them with us at once.”
There were fewer than 50 corn, but taking them all at once in our hands was impossible. It was inevitable for us to make few round trips to carry them over. I took off the shirt I was wearing.
“Huuuuuh!? Wha wha wha, what are you doing Ayanokouji-kun! That’s too soon.” Sakura dropped the corn she had in her hands and blocked the view.
“Sorry. Considering you’ve dismissed I thought it would be okay. What’s too soon…?”
I thought she wouldn’t particularly mind a man’s nakedness, but I lacked concern for her appropriate age.
“If we tie the openings of the shirt, we’ll get a substitute for a bag. We can carry more at once.”
There was fear of this place becoming harvested if people from the other classes found it while we were away. It was a risk I wanted to avoid to the utmost.
“We’ll report to other classmates and let them harvest when we return.”
The unexpected big harvest made our hearts pound with excitement, but unanticipated visitors made an appearance.
“Look, Katsuragi-san! That’s an amazing amount of food!”
Concentrating her attention on corn, Sakura’s shoulders jumped in surprise. She soon took a roundabout path and hid behind me. Seeing this, Katsuragi said a word of apology.
“Sorry, I did not mean to surprise you. This guy also had no evil intent, please forgive us.”
He gave Yahiko a harsh look, encouraging him to apologize. Like an angry puppy, Yahiko apologized, showing his low spirits. I didn’t think we would encounter them in a place like this. Katsuragi didn’t respond to us, but Yahiko noticed immediately.
“You were the one spying on us yesterday!”
Raising his voice in a shout, Sakura once again got surprised and curled herself up. Seeing this, Katsuragi dropped a fist on Yahiko’s head. A painful, sharp sound could be heard from all the way up here.
“I’m Katsuragi from A class. This is Yahiko. Since this is the second time we’ve seen each other, at least self-introduction would be alright.”
“I’m Ayanokouji from D class and this is Sakura.”
After a brief exchange of greetings, Katsuragi glanced at the large amount of corn and started walking.
“This is what you’ve found. Don’t worry, I have no intention of snatching it forcibly. But if someone else finds this spot, high chances are, it will be taken away from you.”
“There’s nothing we can do, there’s only two of us.”
Besides praying this place won’t be found, there were no other options. There was a thought of taking and hiding everything away, but the possibility of someone else finding it in the process wasn’t the lowest as well.
“Fool, one of you can stay and watch over it. Right? Katsuragi-san.”
“You’re the one who doesn’t understand, Yahiko. Don’t dismiss the danger of moving around in the forest alone. After all, actions will have its limits if both man and woman participate, not to mention if it’s only a man.”
Since Katsuragi understood this well, he acted together with Yahiko rather than alone.
“Let us help you.”
“R-really, Katsuragi-san? Working together with D class——–”
Yahiko showed obvious refusal, but the words stayed in his throat, having received Katsuragi’s sharp discernment.
“We appreciate your offer, but we were told by our class to be careful. They will get mad when they find out we turned to A class. Sorry, but let us decline.”
It was a promptly made lie, but Katsuragi could do nothing but withdraw after that.
“I see. If that’s the case, I can’t force you. But can you trust us? There’s a chance we will take it all after you leave, right?”
“In that case, I have no choice but to give up on the part I hold now.”
With this answer, Katsuragi got out of the way quietly. Sakura showed signs of uneasiness and we hurriedly returned back. Having returned with Sakura to the base camp, I reported about finding corn.
“Great achievement, Ayanokouji! Sakura as well! Let’s go get it right now, Yamauchi!” Standing nearby, Ike called out to Yamauchi. He then energetically dashed to us and with a force that could knock me down, he grabbed my arm, pulling me away from Sakura.
“ Y-y-you! Why are you alone with Sakura with your upper body naked!? What! Hey!?”
“Calm down. That’s a big misunderstanding. We didn’t do anything so, calm down.”
I didn’t know what sort of delusions he had, but this wasn’t the time to oppose Yamauchi.
“I have to talk to Hirata. I’m sorry.”
“I trust you, Ayanokouji!”
I passed by shouting at Yamauchi in order to report the case of corn. Soon after, we formed a team of students in the camp, who would depart once again to bring corn to us. In addition, there were also plans to explore other places and find food.
Sometime after 1PM, they returned after finishing all the harvest.
“There’s so many of it!”
We weren’t short of corn, with plenty packed in the bag.
“But it was dangerous. That guy Katsuragi from A class was nearby.”
It seemed like Katsuragi decided to follow us by staying at that place without taking away the corn. This guy seemed as if he lacked both good and bad intentions.
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