when i first saw you
the end was soon
to bethlehem it slouched and then,
it must’ve caught a good look at you
— hozier; nfwmb
The small room reeks of wet fabric and mould.
Behind you, the steady rumble of the washing machine puts you in a lazy, tired state; the words on the page in front of you merge into a blurry line, the letters shifting and eating each other. Squeezing a study session between your last class and the shitty part-time job at the hotel buffet as a way of killing time until your laundry’s ready wasn’t one of your brightest ideas, but it’s the only open window to catch up with a much needed study session.
You’d probably execute it a lot better, were it not for the dim light in the room withholding any possibility to actually see what’s in front of you, and the sound of buzzing cicadas drilling into your head and stopping you from thinking. Everything would be a lot easier if you could do your laundry in your dormitory, but well… one just can’t rely on adults.
It’s past 10pm, and when you look at the small, red numbers on the washer, it tells you with very lacking interest there are still 13 minutes to go before you can buzz off. The night’s calm, somewhere outside a cat hisses at someone, and despite it all, you feel strangely at peace. Maybe because you’re alone and no one’s talking, maybe it’s because it’s actually the first time today you can sit and think about nothing at all. It’s like someone tugged your brain into a cosy blanket and accidentally left it there even though there’s all kinds of stuff it should rather focus on. “Well, a break is important,” no one says, because actually, you really can’t afford it, so you slap your brain awake and look back at the page, only to have your eyes fix midway on something else in front of you.
In the doorway of the tiny, cramped Laundromat, a tall guy is standing, a wash basket in his arms. Behind round glasses, dark eyes scan the room for a free machine, before they land on you, and he just stands there for a moment as if he needs your permission to enter. You give him a lazy wave, and eventually his legs move and he decides to take the machine farthest away from you, loading it with wrinkled clothes. “Stupid dormitory washers, right? You see the caretaker all the time on his break, but when does he actually fix something,” you open the conversation, happy to have something to distract your mind after unsuccessfully convincing yourself to continue. He throws a quick glance your way, then nods.
Settling back, your eyes scan the page and the yellow marked sentences but they don’t make any sense to you. Cognitive processes involved in the updating of current task goals, in their shielding against irrelevant information and action tendencies, and in the dynamic switching between goals or foci of attention* … Sure. Whatever. You yield, snap the magazine shut and shift your focus back on the guy. He’s lanky with slumped shoulders (it’s such a bad posture you can feel your grandma— may her not so gentle soul rest in peace, claw at her grave to get out and smack him over the head), and a mop of curly, black hair that’s probably never made acquaintance with a comb. He’s probably the shy, nerdy type unable to start a conversation with a girl because all he knows are the 2D models of young, pretty girls in his video games, but at least he washes his own clothes and doesn’t live with his mom. Or maybe he does and he’s just starting to look after himself. You stop with your shameless prejudices as he looks back at you, considering you with reserved but palpable interest until his eyes fall on the magazine in your lap and he’s trying to get a better look at the front page.
You raise it, wave it in his direction like a leaflet. “Really boring, if you ask me. But our professor swears the Advances in Cognitive Psychology has the best articles in the field.”
He keeps staring at you, and you realize he’s probably giving two shits about whatever you were reading.
“You’re a first year?” you ask, shifting the conversation back to him, because people liked to talk about themselves. “I promise, college doesn’t suck later as much as at the beginning.” What a blatant lie, shame on you and your non-existent cow.
“Is it interesting?” he asks, and your first instinct is to say, “So you can speak” but instead you just shrug. “Sort of. If you’re into that stuff.”
He nods like it’s self-evident, then leans his slim hips against one of the dryers. “So you’re a psychology student?”
“Look at you, Sherlock.” You smile at him. “Guilty as charged. What about you?”
“Law,” he immediately replies, and you try not to show the surprise on your face because you definitely expected something like game design or IT.
“Cool,” you say, because that’s what you say about any major people study even when it isn’t. Not that law isn’t cool. It’s just… it isn’t something you want to dwell on. “Then maybe I’ll see you either on the street, Mr. Police Officer, or in the courtroom. Hopefully not because I’m actually charged, but…” You gesture with your hand like that might actually help. “You know.”
He nods, though you’re pretty sure he doesn’t, because even you don’t know what the hell you’re saying (who’s the one unable to hold conversations now, huh).
Luckily, the soft beeping of your washer signals that you can unload your laundry and go. You smack the magazine on top of your wet clothes and heave the basket up. Unable to wave him, you just awkwardly nod, making your way past the law student. “Well, maybe I’ll see you around,” you say but you’re pretty sure you won’t because you a) don’t know where he studies, and b) don’t know him.
But he goes along, and nods, hands tugged deep inside the pockets of his jeans. “Maybe.”
The clinking of cutlery and chatter around you cuts through your napping plans, but since it isn’t even well-conceived in the first place (really, sleeping in the canteen is a dumb idea, don’t do it), you have to settle for the shittiest doze you’ve had in a long time. With your head on the table and eyes closed, you pick up a few conversations varying from gossip about professors, complaints about classes and work, and worst of all desperate tries to have intellectual and mind blowing discussions no one really cares about.
Suddenly, there’s a thud and the table shakes after someone walks into it. You flinch, your head snaps up at the soft “Fuck”, and you watch Narukami limp to the chair opposite from you, slumping into the seat. He’s probably just finished a class and was heading to the next when he saw your pathetic form. There’s no tray with him, only a steaming coffee cup you know he’s able to down in one go because Narukami’s a crazy man.
“I am so done with this week,” you say instead of greeting him properly.
Narukami blows in his cup. “It’s only Monday.”
He gives you a weary smile, but doesn’t further comment on it because he’s an actual angel who endures all your whining, and that makes him easily one of your top three greatest friends of all time, right next to your grandma and rice cooker.
“You wanna head over to Jinbocho this weekend?” you ask, turning your head so you’re resting on your chin, ignoring the awful pain in your back because you really can’t bring up the energy to sit properly. “There this reading our professor wants us attending, and I really can’t will myself to endure that all by myself.”
Narukami thinks about it, sipping on his coffee. He picks his phone out of his pockets and tabs through it, eyebrows drawing together. “I’m heading back to Inaba for this weekend,” he says. “Sorry.”
“Ohhh, seeing someone?” You ask, wiggling your eyebrows.
He gives you one of his silent smiles, and somehow Narukami’s always been good at making them louder than words. A sigh wedges between your lips, a weekend off away from the city sounds so great but ridiculously unaffordable you don’t even start imagining it.
“Very well. But you can bet I’ll spam you once I’m bored,” you warn him. Narukami nods, and maybe that’s the worst thing, that you know he’ll spend time with someone and you’ll still annoy him because you know he’s too kind to not respond to your texts. Maybe it would be easier to meet up with some of your classmates and end the day getting wasted in one of the student’s pubs. As if you needed another reason to drown in alcohol with all the bills and essays coming up.
Eventually, Narukami gets on his feet and glances at his watch. He picks some leftover food from your tray and pulls at some of your strands in way of saying See ya (it’s staggering how much of older-brother material he is, and it never fails to tug at certain strings in your heart you thought you’ve cut off long ago). But he manages just a few steps before he U-turns and stands right next to you.
“By the way, I saw this and thought you might be interested.” Narukami picks a folded paper out of his back and puts it on your head, the world’s worst waterproof roof, ignoring your protest. “It can’t be worse than your current job, so hurry, or someone else will take it.” Narukami gives you a lazy wave, then disappears. You really can’t stand to hunt down another underpaid, exhausting job, but will yourself to do him the favour, suffer through it, and then burn it and use it to light a cigarette.
You pull the paper from your head, unfolding it neatly and read the tiny, curvy writing.
2nd year high school student looking for a home tutor in following subjects:
• Social studies
• Contemporary Japanese Literature
But then comes the last line and you can’t peel your eyes off it. Meeting twice a week, cash (7,000 yen) in hand after each session. If interested, please contact 090-xxxx-xxx
The payment is like a neon sign drilling into your eyes. “What the fuck,” you whisper, quickly calculating how much you’ll make by the end of the month and it’s so much more than with your current shitty part-time job. Without even questioning it, you pull out your phone, ignore the dozen texts from a few classmates, two from your mother, and seven from your floor neighbour living opposite from you (though you’re pretty sure the last just completely consists of cowboy emojis).
You quickly type an introduction and ask for a day to meet. The chance of nailing such an amazing job fuels you with energy you thought was long gone with all your motivation to care for your diet. After cleaning your tray away and getting into line for some much deserved coffee, your phone vibrates in your pocket and you hurry to get it in your hands, ignoring the others in line complaining about your elbows almost clocking them.
[unknown number]: Hello, nice to meet you. If it’s possible, can you please come this evening?
Now, that’s what you call polite. 2nd year high school students should be around 16 or 17 years, and you know all too well how much of shitheads those teenagers can be. Apparently, you’ve really hit the jackpot.
[you]: Hi! Sure, I can come around 7pm! Let’s meet somewhere public, there’s no need for me to enter your home if it doesn’t work out, plus it will save your parents from worrying about someone knowing your address. I’ll bring bring some quizzes with me to see what you can already do and where you need help.
[unknown number]: Okay, thank you very much. Please come to the café Leblanc in Yongen-Jaya, the owner will know.
You pause and wonder. The cafe is foreign to you, but it’s such a big coincidence the student lives in the same district as you. Well, actually you can consider yourself lucky, it’ll definitely save you travel time, and with a positive outlook like that you easily manage through the last three hours of classes.
Finding Leblanc wasn’t as easy as you expected. At first, you walked twice past it, not even paying attention to the dimly lit, smalls shop tugged between two large, grey buildings, and then you weren’t even sure if this was the right place. Then again, after asking Google you saw there really is only one Leblanc in Yongen-Jaya (and wow, it’s actually opposite the Laundromat, you’re so daft), so now you’re finally entering the little establishment. The smell of coffee and something sweeter you can’t immediately place hits you, reminding you of all things that you haven’t had diner yet. You push that thought far away (is there even something considered food in your fridge?), and search for the student, but the café’s empty save for the barista leaning against the counter, perking up at the sound of a new costumer.
“Evening,” he greets. “What can I bring ya?”
Remembering the last bit of your student’s text, you fish the paper out of your back. “Well, I’m here for this,” you say. “The job offer.”
“Ah, this thing,” he says, and suddenly all the politeness is gone. He leans back, gives a gruff nod towards a table as invitation for you to sit down. Before you can make yourself comfortable, his voice thunders through the shop. “Come down, shithead! Your tutor’s here!”
There’s thumping above you like someone’s thrown over something heavy, then steps from somewhere behind you, and you turn around to see your student reach the end of a staircase, hidden at the very back of the café.
Only it’s not a 2nd year high school student, it’s the lean guy from yesterday, the one with unruly black hair and glasses who’s a 1st year law student and—
The boy closes the distance and slides in the seat opposite from you, throwing little, sheepish glances at you from behind the glasses (good, he has enough decency to be ashamed that he lied to you), and suddenly his young features are so fucking obvious, it punches you in the face like a hot iron. The clang though soft is like a gunshot beside you; the barista (owner since he knew you’d come?) grumbles something like “This time’s on the house” and leaves the cup of coffee next to you, retreating back behind the bar.
“So,” you start. “First year law student, huh.”
He sheepishly massages the back of his neck, but when he looks up at you from behind his thick curtain of lashes, there’s something sharp in his eyes. “Well, you just assumed I was a student, didn’t you? I just chose to not correct you on that.”
He’s got a point, and you bite your tongue to add the rest of the things you’ve yesterday thought beside that. “Let’s just forget that, okay. I’ll help you, but you better be serious about this. If I give you homework, you finish it before our next session, got it? We’ll meet Wednesday and Sunday, but I don’t want you whining about studying on your free day, or you can find someone else,” you say as if you are actually the one who can decide that; who has the power to make demands, as if you don’t depend on that money.
“Got it.” Well, at least he seems sincere about it. “It’s a deal then.”
You look up at those words and don’t miss the slight curl at one corner of his lips, like he’s sharing a secret with you.
“Okay.” Not strange at all. “Sure.”
He leans back in his seat, shifting slightly as if crossing one leg over the other. “So, you said you’d bring quizzes with you, teach?”
“God, please don’t call me that.”
“Not God. It’s Akira,” he says.
“My name.” He grins. “Akira Kurusu.”
After an hour of going through what you’ll cover with Kurusu in your next sessions, just as promised Kurusu pushes 7,000 yen in your hand and you will yourself to act cool about it, and not like you’ve been handed the last desert of a busily visited buffet— which reminds you, it’s time you hand in your letter of resignation. Saying your goodbyes to Kurusu and Sojiro (who’s been quiet all the time, but there was never a moment you didn’t feel his observant eyes on you), you finally leave the cafe and speed dial Narukami’s number. Before he can say anything, you greet him with, “You’re a fucking saint, Narukami.”
He gives you one of his deep, throaty laughs that never fails to make your toes curl. “If you only knew.”
“I said, good for you, huh?” he says. “If there’s someone deserving that job and payment, it’s you.”
“Aww.” You smile. “Stop it, you.”
“Oh, we’re finally at first name base?”
And just quickly as that, your smile disappears again at the bad pun. “Never mind, I take it back.”
Narukami laughs again, and until you reach the dormitory near the train station you just chat about unimportant things and decide to meet for lunch tomorrow. It’s the best you’ve felt since a long time, and even though your classes don’t really allow you to put in some extra time to prepare lessons, you’re pretty confidant you’ll manage it somehow. Still, it feels like you’re ripping off that high school student. 7k bucks is really too much for one hour of going through simple stuff (and it doesn’t feel like Kurusu’s dumb, maybe he’s just lazy), but you’d be actually dumb to point that out. Well, here’s to hoping he doesn’t figure it out for as long as possible. Cheers to the wild, dumb youth.
I am Thou , Thou art I…
Thou hast acquired a new vow.
It shall become the wings of rebellion
That breaketh thy chains of captivity.
With the birth of the Saint Persona,
I have obtained the winds of blessing that
Shall lead to freedom and new power …