“Kiyotaka, your grandfather was a bad man, you know that right? You must never be like him! You must bring pride back to our name! Do you understand, Kiyotaka?” Shake… shake… “Kiyotaka! You must understand what I am telling you! Prove yourself to those geniuses and those slackers! Your happiness can come later, when it is most deserved and earned!”
Drills… repetitions… books… cramped hands… tears… shoves… hits…
“Hey, nerd!” Slam. “What are you doing here so late, huh? Can you not leave for one goddamn second and let us be?”
Profanity. Ignorance. Selfishness. Slackery. Detention.
“Oh, you’re really asking for it now, aren’t you? It’s after school, we can do whatever the hell we want! Not even the teachers are here now!”
I gaze into the eyes of my tormentors, staring at a group of young boys with partially-opened backpacks slung lazily over one shoulder. The main bully, a brunette, spiky-haired boy named Akihiko Narukami, had my pristine white uniform bunched up into his fist. “I must ask you to let go!” I grasp firmly onto his fist, attempting to force it off of me. No use. Narukami was president of the athletics club, a high honor at the prestigious high school of Kaiseidan, where everything happened to be led by a slacking, conceited genius… even the public morals committee had a president that didn’t care nearly as much as I!
“Why should I?” taunted Narukami, “so you can write us a detention slip?” Dirty, cocky brown eyes traveled to my arm. “Hmm… what about we get rid of that little arm band of yours? Then you couldn’t give us a detention, right?” Horror sunk into my gut, twisting and turning and snapping.
“No!” I cried, “no, don’t do that! You can’t--”
Narukami cut me off, “oh, I can’t?” He shot me a bright-eyed, arrogant smirk with model white teeth that appeared so undeserved on such an insolent child! “Hold him.” He gestured towards his goonies, who immediately grabbed hold of my arms as Narukami made quick work of unclipping my armband from my right arm.
I watched, silently and tearfully, as the gang of boys began ripping up my armband, piece for piece, dirt from nasty fingernails and hardly-swept floors splotching it. After a moment, maybe two, or maybe more, they stopped, letting pieces of red fabric flutter to the ground. I felt a wetness descend upon my cheeks, and when they let go of me, I allowed myself to fall, crawling towards the fabrics laid upon the floor. I bunched it up in my hands. Another one gone… perhaps I can try to sew it--
I heard thumps and pounds upon the wooden floors as the gaggle of high-schoolers ran off. I jump to my feet, prepared to give them a detention, when Narukami’s words caught up with me. Without this armband… am I really fit to be a hall monitor? Without it, what am I worth? How would I manage to make this world a better place, if not for my status? Is hard work really enough?
“Your happiness can come later, when it is most deserved and earned!” Ah, yes, now I remember! With resolve, I prepare to run after the boys, only to find myself faced with an empty corridor, soundless walls, and nothing but myself, my backpack, and the remains of my dignity.
A feminine voice whispers in my ear, “don’t you want to make them pay?” I spin around, fully expecting someone of the likes of Hisashi or Gontama or someone visible to be playing a trick on me, only to find empty air.
For a moment, I consider replying to the voice, but I cannot pull myself to. I do want to make them pay… but should I? At what cost?
“Your happiness can come later, when it is most deserved and earned!”
Yes! For now I must tolerate them, no matter how much it infuriates me! No matter how much they make me cry and sniffle and moan and ache and agonize and--
No matter what! They will get what’s coming to them when they completely fail at life!
… even if they truly do make me want to die…
My mother laid on the couch, drifting off into a sleep. I gently laid her quilt over her, as routine. “Taka…” she murmured, red eyes flickering open to stare at me, “thank you…” How odd… she was always too tired and frail after work to communicate with me, much less thank me!
Nevertheless, “oh, you are quite welcome, Mother!” She gave a small, barely-there smile, closing her eyes completely and snuggling into the couch cushions.
For now, I had bigger things to worry about… my armband was still completely torn apart inside of my pocket, and I know that Mother is much too tired and busy to fix it for me! Father is also going to return home soon, so perhaps I could attempt to fix it myself before that happened! He would surely be disappointed if he discovered that I had destroyed another armband.
And so I sprang out that old, worn sewing machine that I had watched Mother use time and time again while I was growing up. I put the armband under the moving needle and I worked, trying to recall the times from long ago that would always remain in my memories. After a while, I find myself with a bundle of poorly-sewn red linen lying spooled in my hands, and I feel a teardrop fall from my eyes onto the cloth.
Without noticing, I had sunken to the floor. What happened to those times? Why doesn't Mother knit anymore? Why does she look so lonely? Do I fail as a son because she's so lonely? What do I do? What did I do?
If my brain were to be described as a crystal ball, a sharp crack resonated across its' surface just then.
"Alright, class! That's it for today!" All at once, the class stood and departed the biology classroom in a hurry. As usual, I was the last one left behind to pack up. I worked to the bell, until my muscles ached and my fingers cramped! Anything less and I'd be sorely disappointed with myself!
One of my fellow classmates – although I can't say who -- had decided to give my desk a little accessory today! A black rose, to be precise! Although much appreciated, it was also unneeded. Perhaps I could try to plant it once more safely outside of school bounds after school ended! Not counting my moral committee duties, I only had an hour left of classes. Hopefully it survived until then!
Without me realizing it, my teacher had walked up to my desk. "Ishimaru-kun."
"Ah!" I jumped. Quickly, I sprang to my feet and bowed. "Tomoe-sensei!" The relatively young teacher gave a hearty chuckle, resonating deep in his slightly-bulging gut and through his twinkling eyes.
"No need to be so formal, Ishimaru. Relax." His words were full of much needed advice and wisdom, but I could not relax! So long as I was still breathing, I would always and forever work myself to the bone! Just as Father had taught me!
I repeated the same mantra to my teacher. After a momentary silence, I felt the overwhelming need to fill in the gap. "Erm..." I began, "is everything alright, Tomoe-sensei? Is there a reason you're talking to me?" Admittedly, I wasn't the best at social situations. Nevertheless, like everything, my social skills would be honed with perseverance and an extra dose of hard work!
Tomoe looked around for a moment. "Listen..." he began, in a much softer tone than before, "you've been getting all perfect marks on your assignments..."
"Really?" I asked ecstatic, a wide grin pulling my face into two, "that's wonderful!"
Tomoe chuckled, "yes, well..." He reached into his coat pocket, a thick wad of yen in his hand when he pulled it out. "I'm sure you're well aware that Kaiseidan only accepts the very best of the best, next to Hope's Peak. Now, how do you think it would reflect on us if an Ishimaru were to be named valedictorian of our school?"
I didn't quite get where he was coming from. "Ah... what?"
"Now, now, I'm not saying to completely cast away your grades. Maybe just tone it back a little... just enough to allow Narukami to come on top, yeah? His parents are a very steady and large contributor to our school, so--"
The dots finally clicked. "Tomoe-sensei!" I gasped, "you're horribly abusing your authority right now!"
Tomoe's lips twisted into a scowl. "Wanna say that again?"
"Yes!" I stood up tall, straightening my back and pointing my finger directly into Tomoe's face. "You are exhibiting horrible misconduct right now! I should write you up for this!" At the thought of that, I considered running to the office to report him, but my thoughts were suddenly cut short by a triumphant crash!
Tomoe stood in front of me, arm outstretched as he panted, his chubby face red and gleaming with sweat. The vase with that single black rose lay shattered on the floor, water trailing across the floor and to my boots. "Shut the fuck up!" At the vile word, I jumped. Oh gods... what did I just do? What happened? "You think anyone will believe you, you idiot? Do you truly believe anyone would believe a dirty little Ishimaru?"
"You know--" he stares contemplatively at the yen in his fist, "I would've given you enough money to write off your entire family's debt, but you know what--" he ripped the yen apart in front of my eyes, forcing me to watch as it fluttered to the floor and right into the quickly developing puddle of water. "—the deal is off!"
For the first time in my life, I questioned my own resolve. I could've done away with my entire family's debt if I hadn't been so stubborn! What will Father say? He will surely be angry! And Mother will have that sad look in her eyes once more!
I don't want to see that look... but--
I was always told hard work is the way to achieve greatness! Who would I be if I were to succumb to the pressures of money just to get my way?
Trying to keep my face perfectly neutral, I simply stare the man in the eyes. "I didn't want that deal to begin with!"
Tomoe stares at me for a second before bursting into laughter. "Wow, Ishimaru, you sure stick to your morals, huh?" He gave me a hard look. "Perhaps that's why your own classmates want you dead."
I nearly blanch in surprise. "W-What do you mean?" I somehow manage to utter.
He nods at the rose on the floor. It's weeping... it's dying. "I saw how happy you were when you saw that rose. You thought it was a sign of good faith, didn't you?"
"—but you should know that a black rose symbolizes death. They want you to die." He casts his gaze away from me, stalking towards the door to the hallway. Unmoving, I simply stare after him. They want me dead? I know I'm not the most tolerable of people, but that seems rather extreme!
"That... that's not..."
"I'll give you the first tip for politics, Ishimaru," he says, right as the bell decided to ring. I'm late to my first class. He gestures to the pile of torn-up yen on the floor. "Give the people what they want."
Just as he left, the impact of everything that had just transpired coursed through me. I sank to the ground in that tiny puddle of water, agonizing at the fact that not a single person alive cares about me; at the fact that multiple people want me dead. Maybe it would be easier if I just weren't around... maybe the burden of our family debt wouldn't be so harsh on Mother and Father... maybe Narukami could be the valedictorian after all, maybe everyone would jump in the streets and scream praises because I was dead.
... Death doesn't sound so bad right now.
For the first time in a while, I felt genuine hatred spark in me.
That feminine voice came back, "you want to make them pay, don't you?"
I didn't even realize I was answering back until I heard the words "I do" pass through my lips.
Life appeared so bleak.
I didn't want to live anymore; what was I doing this for? I worked hard each day, with the same regime, same attention to detail, same everything, but it never mattered! Nothing mattered!
So when I held that finely printed letter in my hand, I almost cried in a mixture of relief and outrage.
To Mr. Kiyotaka Ishimaru,
We have been looking for the perfect students for our academy, and you are one of them! You have fulfilled all of the criteria required for our school, and reading through said criteria, you have been selected to own the title of "Super High School Level Prefect" for the school of Hope's Peak Academy. If you choose to accept this offer, you will be guaranteed a life of success and prosperity. We will be very honored to have you in Hope's Peak Academy should you accept.
Call for more information:
Sincerely, Kirigiri Jin
"Guaranteed a life of success and prosperity," I recited. That didn't work out for my grandfather...
That's what those geniuses all expect, isn't it? For everything to be handed to them on a silver platter?
That feminine voice came back for the third time, "don't you hate them?"
"Don't you want to crush them?"
"Would you say you'd even be willing to kill them?"
I pause. Killing is a bit extreme... it goes completely against my morals, and it is absolutely illegal! But... those kids didn't care, did they? When they left that black rose? When they beat me up, left those foul words on my desk, forced me to the edge of a bridge until my legs quivered and my body shook and I nearly tipped over until I backed out finally and then they just shouted after me--
"Better luck next time!"
"YES!" I shout, clutching the letter in my fingers as I descend to the ground. "Yes," I murmur, much softer this time. "I'll kill them."
No matter what... they'll pay. Even if I have to infilitrate the school of geniuses in order to do it.