After meeting with Sawakiguchi, we expected Eba would come, but in the end she didn't. It would be bothersome for us if she did not relay that we had rejected Sawakiguchi's deduction. I wonder what she's up to... At any rate, as the sun was setting, even the energetic Kami High students were beginning to scatter homeward, and we, too, began tidying up the club room. Well, I'm sure there's a way to contact them if something unexpected were to happen, as Chitanda does know Irisu quite well.
When Chitanda finally woke up, she was so embarrassed after realizing she was so drunk that she fell asleep that her face went very red. Though it seemed like she still hadn't completely woken up, as when heading towards the school entrance, she would occasionally wobble to and fro. I hope she reaches home safely.
Chitanda was accompanied by Ibara as they left school, while I walked together with Satoshi for half the journey. As we exited the school gate, Satoshi swung his drawstring bag as he grumbled alone.
"So we ended up rejecting them all. What will happen with the movie, then?"
Wasn't it obvious? For three days no one has figured out a correct solution.
So the only way was to not complete it.
After hearing that answer, Satoshi smiled while raising his brow.
"What a miserable answer. So it's basically The summer grass - It is all that's left of an ancient warrior's dream, huh? Or rather, All of Naniwa is dream after dream. If Chitanda-san woke up from such dreams, she'd probably make trouble."1
"What are you gonna do now?"
"Me? I'll be busy from now on. I don't have the time to help reduce stress for other classes."
We walked amongst the sparsely scattered students heading home. Under the crimson skies, the cool breeze blowing in the late summer was rather cold. Summer was truly coming to an end.
At the first traffic intersection, Satoshi pointed to the path where we part ways.
"I got something else to do, see ya."
And promptly left.
Since I'm all alone, I guess I'll head home.
Indeed, the movie was probably not going to be completed... I recalled the meetings with the people of Class 2-F during the past four days.
Nakajou - Armed with a passion to complete the movie, but not used to solving riddles.
Haba - Confident and prideful of his knowledge of mystery, with the conviction that his deduction was correct.
Sawakiguchi - Self-righteously declaring her method to be a matter of fact, but ended up being too far-fetched.
They all tried their best. Regardless of whether they were thoughtless, haughty or careless, their passion of wanting to complete their own project could not be faked. Though as we were entrusted with the responsibilities of judges, we ended up rejecting all their deductions. The reason being that they were simply wrong.
Well, I guess it can't be helped. They have my sympathies, but it's not our fault. This may sound cruel, but I'm not so softhearted as to oblige myself to put out a fire on the opposite shore of a river. That's why I said I did not want to get involved in this in the first place.
As I approached the residential streets, I could soon see my house. I'm just gonna get some sleep when I get home. Like Satoshi, I have no obligation to burden myself with another class's troubles. The responsibility for the movie being incomplete lies with the crew's lack of planning. They should not have gone ahead with such a project to begin with. I adjusted the shoulder bag that was slipping off my shoulder, and looked upwards at the sky.
As I returned my gaze to the ground, I noticed someone waiting for me in front of my house.
Standing at the end of the intersection where the road signal "stop" was written was Irisu Fuyumi in her school uniform. As I realized it was her, she walked a few steps towards me and said, "Do you mind taking some time off to have some tea with me?"
Incredibly, I nodded honestly and agreed.
Being in the unfamiliar situation of accompanying Irisu, we walked along the river. Just as I was wondering whether there were any cafés here, a reddish brown curtain and an electric lantern entered my field of vision. It was not the sort of trendy café which high school students would normally visit when heading home after school. Irisu flipped open the curtain in a nonchalant way and beckoned me to come inside. As I entered, I noticed the corner of the curtain was embossed in small lettering with the name of the place: "Hifumi".
It was an elegant looking tea house, with tatami mats and filled with the fragrant smell of roasted tea. The place had no counters, and all tables were boxed in cubicles. Needless to say, they were all covered in tatami mats. Irisu sat down neatly without creasing her uniform skirt, and promptly ordered a cup of green tea from the waitress wearing an apron.
"And what will you have?"
"Oh, when I heard you say have a cup of tea, I never really thought we were actually coming to a tea house. All right, I'll have iced green tea then,"
I picked an appropriate drink from the menu, to which Irisu smiled bitterly.
"It's my treat, so feel free to order what you like."
I went back to look at the menu upon being told that, though I became even more confused. They had prices higher than the average crappy dinner.
While I knew why Irisu invited me, as she had remained silent, I decided to coldly do nothing in turn as well. Though Irisu merely waited calmly.
Before long, our green tea and iced tea had arrived alongside some complimentary sweets. After taking a sip of her tea, Irisu spoke.
"So, Nakajou won't do?"
"Haba as well?"
She asked while breathing in, "Then what about Sawakiguchi?"
It wasn't our fault, but,
"...I don't think her idea would work."
All this time Irisu merely stared into my eyes, which made it feel like a very long time. For the next second or so, which felt more like half a minute, I was pinned down by her gaze.
Irisu breathed out deeply.
"Is it a pity?"
I took a sip of my iced tea after asking. It was a new taste befitting of its price... I might say that, but in truth I couldn't taste anything. Irisu didn't sound like she was blaming me, neither did she sound upset... It may just be that our personalities just don't match.
Irisu turned her gaze towards her cup. Before long she opened her lips.
"Pity is such a strange word for you to use. The one who should be feeling pity ought to be me or my friend, not you."
It was as she said, which was basically the stance I took for the past three days... But why did I say the word pity myself?
"No, it is a pity. As we could not finish it,"
Softening her tone rapidly, Irisu smiled.
"You sympathize with us?"
"Just my emotions filling in."
I picked up one of the sweets with a toothpick and placed it in my mouth, and the sweetness instantly flowed into my mouth. This was especially true when eaten after drinking the green tea.
Remaining calm as ever, Irisu inquired, "I would like to ask you something. Who was it that rejected Nakajou's deduction?"
Now how should I answer this? Yet Irisu's expression revealed that she already knew. So I made no attempt to hide from her.
"...It was me."
"Then, I presume Haba's and Sawakiguchi's as well?"
"Where were they wrong?"
Since she'd asked me, I explained. About the consideration for the length of the grass, the field of vision of other members, the first sealed room, the second sealed room, the use of a rope to enter via the window, the poorly maintained building, the meaning of the word "mystery", Hongou's instructions... I plainly summarized the essence of the past three days, to which Irisu listened intently. Occasionally she would sip her tea, though I could not read her mind as to what she was thinking.
"And that was why we could not accept Sawakiguchi-sempai's proposal."
As I finished, I noticed my tea was now half empty. Irisu merely said, "I see." And went silent.
Before long, she caressed her cup and spoke.
"Back then, when I requested that you take up the case, you told me that you would feel quite uneasy to have such expectations placed on you. Yet for the past three days, what you have done has far exceeded my expectations. To think you could bury their deductions so neatly... It was just as I thought."
What did she mean by just as she thought? About no one's deductions being correct?
I was aware that I was gazing sharply at her, yet Irisu showed no signs of waver. Neither returning my gaze nor looking away, she said in a natural mood, "In the end, those three weren't suitable for the task. No matter how passionate they were, I realized from the beginning that they did not possess the skills needed to solve the problem.
"Of course, I'm not saying they are useless. Whether it's Nakajou as a leader figure, Haba as an outsider expert, or Sawakiguchi as a comedienne, they all possess invaluable skills. They were talented in their own right, but it is also because of that reason that I believe they could not succeed in the role given to them.
"If it hadn't been for you, I would have ended up adopting one of their proposals, and would not have realized any adverse effects it would have on the filming, resulting in the failure of the project."
A cold and ruthless assessment.
Irisu had never had any expectations from any one of them.
Then who was it that she had expectations for?
Irisu moved her hand away from the teacup and sat upright. The eyes that looked straight ahead were aimed at none other than me. I got the feeling she was not here to convince me, but to knock me down.
"For the past three days, I have been thinking about how you have proven your skills. I thought, if there's such a thing as a detective critic, then as one who has critiqued other detectives so well, you were good enough to become a detective yourself. I firmly believed my expectations were not misplaced. You are special.
"So, once again I make this request of you, Oreki-kun. Will you please lend your assistance to Class 2-F and show us the right answer to the mystery?"
As she finished, she bowed her head.
I felt as though I was being watched with eyes assessing a highly valued artwork of a deceased artist. My head was filled with all sorts of thoughts. It was my skills, not anyone's, but mine. I was special. She had a request of me.
But should I believe such stuff? For so long, I have always thought of myself as an ordinary person without any particular talents. Even with the bothersome stuff Chitanda involved me in where I ended up solving it before Satoshi and Ibara, it was just luck. In essence, I was hardly any different from them. Yet Irisu did not agree. Those words shook me more than any words of coercion ever could.
Skills, huh? As a result of Irisu's request, for a moment, I started doubting my very own existence...
Though Irisu patiently waited for me, as I was at a loss for an answer, she relaxed her expression and said, "It's not like we're burdening you with any responsibilities or anything... Don't be so vexed."
"Then let me tell you a story. Don't think too much into it, it's just something I thought of.
"There was once a bench player on a sports team. Everyday she would work very hard in hopes of making it to the regular team. As to why she could endure for so long, it was due to her love of the sport, as well as a modest ambition to make a name or some achievement for herself.
"Yet years had passed and she was still a bench player. As the team would replace the more talented players with other more talented players, it was only natural.
"Among this squad was a very talented player whose skills was on par with some of the top players out there. Of course, the bench warmer's skills were still miles away from this talented player. Then came a tournament, where this talented player was very active, and ended up being selected as the tournament's MVP. When she was interviewed, she was asked what the secret to her success was.
"She merely replied, 'I was just lucky.'
"Yet for the bench warmer, this answer rang with bitterness."
Irisu once again looked at me. I could feel myself getting thirsty again, yet there was hardly any tea left in my cup. The remaining coldness of the cup transmitted to hand.
She had revealed something in her words, it was as though the Empress had finally cast off her cloak. But should I say something then?
...I then heard her continue, "It means everyone ought to recognize their own talents... Or it would be painful to watch for those without."
I did not know whether the chill I felt was coming from my drink.
I did not feel I had any inferiority complex. My views on myself were merely the result of a long period of objective observation.
Yet Irisu had insisted that I was mistaken concerning my own worth with a resounding voice. Irisu was not the only one who had thought that. Satoshi, Chitanda, Ibara, and many others, too, have said the same to me. Were they, too, seeing me via a long period of objective observation?
Besides, compared to Nakajou, Haba, and Sawakiguchi, didn't I feel I could do a better job than they did?
...Perhaps I should believe her.
That I do possess worth of some sort.
As I thought along those lines, I gradually nodded. Yet it was still a long time before I finally spoke, and during that time, Irisu merely waited for me without saying anything.