When I was first told about how I could sell my lifespan, what immediately came to mind was a morality lesson from elementary school.
We were ten-year-olds who still didn’t know how to think for ourselves, so the teacher for our grade, a woman in her late twenties, asked us something like this:
“You’ve all been told that a human life is something that can’t be replaced, and it’s more valuable than anything. Now, if it were given a monetary value, how much money do you think it would be worth?”
She then took a thoughtful pose. I thought her way of asking the question was inadequate, personally. She was silent for a good twenty seconds, still holding a piece of chalk and staring down the blackboard with her back to the students.
While she did that, the students earnestly mulled over the question. A lot of them liked the young, pretty teacher, so they wanted to say something pleasing that would get them a compliment.
One smart-aleck raised her hand.
“I read in a book once that the total life expenses for a salaryman are about 200 million to 300 million yen. So I think the average person would be somewhere around there.”
Half the students in class oohed and aahed. The other half looked bored and fed up. Most of the students hated that smart-aleck.
The teacher managed a smile and a nod. “That’s certainly true. Maybe grown-ups would give you the same answer. One answer could be that the money spent throughout a lifetime is equal to the value of that life. But I want you to get away from that line of thinking. …I know, let’s do an allegory. The usual hard-to-understand allegory.”
No one understood what the… figure the teacher drew on the board in blue chalk was supposed to be. You could look at it as a human, or as a splotch of gum on the road.
But this was exactly her intent.
“This "Something of Unknown Nature” has more money than it could ever need. But the Something longs to live a human sort of life. So it’s trying to buy someone else’s life. One day, you suddenly walk by the Something. And when you do, it asks you: “Hey, you wanna sell me that life you’re going to lead?”… says the Something.“
She stopped the story there for a moment.
"If I did sell it, what would happen?”, an overly-serious boy asked after raising his hand.
“You’d die, surely,” the teacher flatly replied. “So you’d refuse the Something, for the time being. But it hangs onto you. "Well, just half is fine. Wanna just sell me thirty years off the sixty you have left? I really need it, y'know.”
I remember thinking as I’d listened to her with my chin in my hands, "I get it.” Indeed, if it went down like that, I really might have felt like selling. I have limits, and it seemed apparent that a fat short life would be preferable to a long thin life.
“Now, here’s the question. This Something who longs to live a human life must have assigned a per-year value to your remaining life, yes? …I’ll tell you in advance, there’s no right answer. I want to know what you think, and how you came to that answer. Now, talk with your neighbors.”
The classroom began to buzz with conversation. But I didn’t take part in any of it. To be exact, I couldn’t.
Because like that smart-aleck who came up with the answer about lifetime expenses, I was one of the class stinkers.
I pretended I wasn’t interested in talking about it and just waited for time to pass.
I heard a group sitting in front of me talking about “If a whole life is about 300 million yen…”
I thought. If they were 300 million, then…
I wouldn’t think it odd if I were 3 billion.
I don’t remember what the results of the discussion were like. Barren arguments from beginning to end, that much was certain.
It wasn’t really a simple enough theme for elementary school kids to tackle. And if you got a bunch of high schoolers together, they’d probably bring sex into it somehow.
At any rate, I clearly remember one girl with gloomy prospects fiercely insisting “You can’t assign a value to a person’s life.”
Yeah, if you were selling the chance to live the same life as her, I wouldn’t give that a value, I thought. Probably ask for a disposal fee, actually.
The wise-cracking clown you get at least one of in every class seemed to be thinking along similar lines. “But if I were selling the chance to live the same life as me, you guys wouldn’t even pay 300 yen, would you?”, he said, making the others laugh.
I could agree with his thinking, but it annoyed me somewhat how he was aware he would be worth much more than the overly-serious bunch around him, yet had a self-deprecating laugh about it.
Incidentally, the teacher said back then that there was no right answer. But a right answer of sorts did exist.
Because ten years later, when I was twenty, I did in fact sell my lifespan and receive its value.
I thought, when I was a kid, I’d grow up to be someone famous. I thought that I was ahead of the pack and excelled compared to others in my generation.
Unfortunately, in the little piece of hell I lived in, boring, hopeless parents who gave birth to boring, hopeless children were the norm, which helped spur that misconception.
I looked down upon the children around me. I had no skills worth bragging about nor humility, so naturally, my classmates were unsympathetic.
It wasn’t a rare occasion that I was left out of a group, or that my things were taken and hidden from me.
I was always able to get perfect scores on tests, but I wasn’t the only one who could do that.
Yes, so could Himeno, the aforementioned “smart-aleck.”
Thanks to her, I couldn’t truly be number one, and thanks to me, Himeno couldn’t truly be number one.
So at least on the surface, we quarreled, or something like it. We could only think of trying to one-up each other.
But on the other hand, it was evident we were the only ones who understood each other. She was the only one who always knew what I was talking about without misunderstanding, and maybe the opposite was true as well.
Because of that, ultimately, we were always together.
From the outset, our houses were nearly right across from each other, so we’d played together often since infancy. I suppose the term “childhood friend” would apply.
Our parents were friends with each other, so until we entered elementary, I would be taken care of at her house when my parents were busy, and Himeno would be taken care of at my house when her parents were busy.
Though we only saw each other as competitors, there was a tacit agreement to behave in a friendly manner in front of our parents.
There wasn’t any particular reason, so to speak. We just thought that it would be best that way. Though under the table, it was a relationship of shin-kicking and thigh-pinching, as least when our parents were around, we were affable childhood friends.
But you know, maybe that really was true.
Himeno was disliked by our classmates for similar reasons to me. She was convinced of her own smarts and looked down on those around her, and since that attitude was so blatant, she was avoided in the classroom.
My house and Himeno’s were built in a neighborhood on top of a hill, a long way away from any of the other students’ houses.
That was fortunate. We could thus use distance as an excuse to justify holing up in our homes instead of going to our friends’ houses.
Only when we were hopelessly bored would we visit each other, reluctant and grimacing to imply “I’m not here because I want to be.”
On days like the summer festival or Christmas, to keep our parents from worrying, we’d go out and waste time together; on days with parent-child activities and class visits, we’d pretend to get along.
We acted as if to say “We like it best when it’s just the two of us, so we’re doing it by choice.” I did think it was much preferable to be with my hated childhood friend than to force my way into the good graces of my feeble-minded classmates.
To us, elementary school was a place where motivation went to die. Often, the pestering directed at me and Himeno became a problem, and we’d have a class council.
The woman who taught us from fourth to sixth grade had an understanding of this kind of problem, and as long as it wasn’t too awful, kept us from having to call our parents about it.
Indeed, if our parents came to know that we were being bullied, our standing would be set in stone. Our teacher recognized that we needed at least one place where we could forget about our cruel treatment.
But at any rate, Himeno and I were always fed up. So was everyone else with us, vaguely, since “fed up” was the only relationship we had with them.
The biggest problem for us was that we didn’t have good smiles. I couldn’t nail down the “timing” for when everyone smiles all at once.
When I tried to force my face muscles to move, I heard my very core being whittled away. Himeno must have felt similarly.
Even in a situation that should bring about an approving smile, we didn’t move an eyebrow. Couldn’t move an eyebrow, I should say.
We were thus mocked for being cocky and on our high horse. Indeed, we were cocky, and we were on our respective high horses.
But that wasn’t the only reason we couldn’t smile with the others. Himeno and I were misaligned on a more fundamental level, like flowers trying to bloom in the wrong season.
It was the summer when I was ten. Himeno carrying her bag thrown into the garbage dozens of times, and I wearing shoes with many a cut made by scissors, we sat on the stone steps of a shrine reddened by the sunset, waiting for something.
From where we sat, we could look down at the festival grounds. The narrow road leading up to the shrine was packed with carts, and two rows of paper lanterns ran straight like runway lights, illuminating their dim surroundings red.
Everyone passing through looked cheery, and that was why we couldn’t go down there.
We were both silent because we knew that if we opened our mouths, the voice would ooze out. We kept our mouths firmly shut and sat there, enduring.
What Himeno and I were waiting for was “something” that would acknowledge our existence and understand us fully.
Since we were at a shrine surrounded by the incessant buzzing of cicadas, it’s entirely possible we were praying.
When the sun was half-set, Himeno suddenly stood up, wiped away dirt from her skirt, and stared straight ahead.
“Our future is going to be really great,” she said in the transparent-esque voice that only she had. It was like she was stating a fact she only just realized.
“…About how soon a future are we talking?”, I asked.
“Not that soon, I think. But not that far away, either. Maybe in about ten years.”
“In ten years,” I repeated. “We’ll be twenty then.”
To us ten-year-olds, twenty seemed a really grown grown-up age. So I felt like there was some truth to Himeno’s claim.
She continued. “Yes, that "something” will definitely happen in the summer. Something really good will happen to us in the summer ten years from now, and then we’ll finally really feel like we’re glad to have lived. We’ll get rich and famous, and looking back on elementary school, we’ll say… “That school didn’t give us anything. All the students were such dunces - it wasn’t even any good as a mistake to learn from. A really foul elementary school,” we’d say.“
"Yeah, it really was full of dunces. It really was foul,” I said.
That viewpoint was rather novel to me at the time. To a grade schooler, their school is their whole world, so it’s unthinkable that it would have such things as pros and cons.
“So in ten years, we need to be really rich and famous. So famous our classmates will have heart attacks from jealousy.”
“So they’ll bite their lips from jealousy,” I agreed.
“And if they don’t, it won’t be worth it,” she smiled.
I didn’t consider that a consolation. The moment it came out of Himeno’s mouth, I almost felt like it was our guaranteed future. It echoed like a premonition.
Maybe we won’t necessarily become famous. But in ten years, we’ll triumph over them. We’ll make them regret treating us this way to their graves.
“…Still, it must be great to be twenty,” Himeno said, putting her hands behind her back and looking up at the sunset sky. “Twenty in ten years…”
“We can drink. And smoke. And get married - wait, that’s earlier,” I said.
“Right. Girls can get married at sixteen.”
“And boys at eighteen… But I feel like I’ll never be able to marry.”
“There’s too much stuff I don’t like. I hate a lot of stuff that happens in the world. So I don’t think I could keep a marriage going.”
“Huh. Yeah, I might be the same.” Himeno lowered her head.
Dyed by the sunset, her face looked different than usual. It seemed more mature, but also more vulnerable.
“…Hey, so,” Himeno said, looking me in the eyes briefly, but quickly looking away. “When we turn twenty and get famous… If, shameful as it is, we haven’t found anyone we want to marry…”
She coughed quietly.
“If that happens, since we’d both be left on the shelf, would you want us to be together?”
Her sudden change in tone proved her embarrassment, and even back then I knew it full well.
“What was that?”, I politely replied.
“…A joke. Forget it,” Himeno laughed as if to push it away. “Just wanted to hear myself say it. Not like I would go unsold.”
That’s good, I laughed.
But - and I know this is going to sound extremely stupid - even after Himeno and I went our separate ways, I always remembered that promise.
So even if a reasonably charming girl were to show her affection for me, I would definitively turn her down. Even in middle school, even in high school, even in college.
So when I someday met her again, I could show her I was still “on the shelf.”
As a matter of fact, yes, I do think it’s stupid.
It’s been ten years since then.
Looking back on it now, I think maybe it was a glorious time, in its own way.