Three Days of Happiness

Novel by Sugaru Miaki HOW MUCH IS LIFE TRULY WORTH? Kusunoki used to believe he was destined for great things. Ostracized as a child, he held on to a belief that a good life was waiting for him in the years ahead. Now approaching the age of twenty, he's a completely mediocre college student with no motivation, no dreams, and no money. After learning he can sell his remaining years-and just how little they're worth-he chooses to divest himself of all but his last three months. Has Kusunoki truly destroyed his last chance to find happiness...or has he somehow found it?

KyoIshigami · Urban
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15 Chs

Chapter 1 : A Promise in Ten Years

When I first heard about the idea of buying and selling your life span, it reminded me of a lecture on morals from elementary school. Our teacher, a woman in her late twenties, posed a stark question to her class full of ten-year-olds who didn't yet know how to think for themselves.

"Now, children, human life is considered to be the most valuable thing of all, completely irreplaceable. If you were to put that in an actual monetary amount, how much do you think it would be?"

She paused and made a face at her own question. Apparently, that had been an inadequate way to phrase it. She faced the blackboard, chalk in hand, and froze for a good twenty seconds.

During this time, the class gravely considered their answers to the question. The majority of the students liked our young and pretty teacher and wanted to get the right answer to make her happy and win her praise.

One smarty-pants offered an answer.

"The lifetime earnings of a Japanese salaryman is around two or three hundred million yen, according to a book I read. That should be about right for the average person."

Half of the class looked impressed. The other half looked annoyed.

Nearly all the students in the class hated that smarty-pants.

"Well, that is true," said the teacher with a grimace. "I think most adults would give you the same answer. Calculating the worth of a person as the amount of money they make in their lifetime is one way to derive an answer. But I want you to put aside that way of thinking for now… How about this? I'll make an analogy. Another one of my tricky thought experiments."

Nobody could tell exactly what she had drawn on the blackboard with blue chalk. It looked vaguely like a person, but it also looked like a piece of gum stuck to the road.

But that was her intention.

"This strange, unidentifiable something has an infinite supply of money. The something is seeking to lead a human life. So what it wants to do is buy someone's life from them. And one day, you just so happen to cross paths with the something. It asks you, 'Hey, would you sell me the life you're about to lead?'"

The teacher paused there.

"What happens if you sell it?" asked a very serious boy, raising his hand.

"You'd die, I suppose," she said matter-of-factly. "Which is why you'll initially turn down the request. But the something is persistent. 'Just half, then. You have sixty more years ahead. Will you sell me thirty of them? You see, I really need them,' it says."

At the time, I sat there with my fist propping up my cheek, thinking, Ah, I get it. I could sell that much. A shorter but richer life (within reason) was better than a longer but meager one, of course.

"But here's the problem. How much per year will this mysterious buyer pay you for your life span? And let me tell you first—there is no right answer. I just want to know what you think about this and what your answer is. Now, turn to the people sitting near you and discuss."

The classroom began to buzz with conversation.

But I did not take part. More accurately, I couldn't.

Because like the smarty-pants who brought up lifetime earnings earlier, I was considered something of a class pariah.

Instead, I pretended not to be interested in the discussion and waited for the time to pass.

I heard the people in the seats ahead of me saying, "If an entire life is worth three hundred million yen, then…"

Well, if they're worth three hundred million, I thought, then I should be worth three billion.

I don't remember the actual consensus of the discussion, just that it was pointless from start to finish. For one thing, the subject was far too complex for elementary school children to break down. Who knows if you could even get productive discourse out of a group of high schoolers?

I do distinctly remember a passionate argument from a girl who had no future, as far as I could tell, that "you can't put a price on human life." Sure, if I had a life like hers, I wouldn't put a price on it, either. I'd probably have to sell it at a loss.

Every class has some witty clown, and he was on the same train of thought as me. "If I sold you the right to have my life, you wouldn't even pay three hundred yen, would you?" he said, to hearty laughs. I agreed with the sentiment, but of course, he was only being sarcastically self-effacing for laughs and attention. He clearly considered himself to be far more valuable to the group than the boring, serious students—a fact I found detestable.

However, although the teacher told us there was no right answer, in fact, there was. Ten years later, when I turned twenty, I actually did sell my future life span and received something of value in return.

When I was a kid, I thought I would grow up to be someone important. I believed I was exceedingly special compared with my peers. Unfortunately, because my neighborhood was filled with extremely unimpressive parents who gave birth to many extremely unimpressive children, that misconception only grew over time.

I looked down on the children around me. I wasn't clever or humble enough to hide my overbearing pride, and my classmates shunned me for it. They excluded me from their cliques and often hid my belongings when I wasn't looking.

I got full marks on my tests all the time, but I wasn't the only one.

The other person who did was the aforementioned "smarty-pants," a girl named Himeno.

Because of her, I couldn't truly be the best, and because of me, she couldn't truly be the best. On the surface, I think, we were always bickering. All we thought about was trying to outdo the other.

But at the same time, we were also the only people either of us could really talk to. She was the only one who would accept what I said without misunderstanding it, and I was probably the same thing to her.

In the end, we always wound up together.

Even before that, our houses were across the street from each other, so we spent a lot of time together as kids. I suppose you could call us something like childhood friends. Our parents got along, and until we started going to school, when my parents were busy, Himeno's parents would watch me at their house, and when her parents were busy, Himeno came over to our house.

We saw each other as competitive rivals but had a tacit understanding that we would play nicely together in front of our parents. Not for any particular reason. It just seemed like a good idea. We might have kicked shins and pinched thighs under the table, but whenever the adults were watching, we were like close friends.

I suppose it's possible we really were.

For reasons much like my own, Himeno was despised by the rest of the class. She thought she was smart, sniffed at the people around her, and made no attempt to hide it. So she was shunned by everyone else.

Our houses were near the top of a hill, a good distance away from where the rest of our classmates lived. That was convenient for us; we could use the distance as an excuse not to hang out at their houses, and we rationalized staying at home instead. If we really got that bored, we could visit each other and play while we pretended we were there under duress.

On summer festival days and Christmas, we would go out and kill time on our own so as not to trouble our parents needlessly, and on family recreation days and open house days at school when our parents could come and watch the class, we pretended to be good friends. It was as if we were saying, "It's easiest for us to be together, so we choose to be like this." Rather than beg our inferior classmates to let us join their groups, we much preferred the company of our frenemy.

Elementary school was a depressing place for us. The other kids would keep pranking and harassing Himeno and me, which prompted class assemblies.

The teacher in charge of our class from fourth through sixth grade understood how this sort of thing went, and unless it was really bad, she was considerate enough not to inform our parents. After all, if they knew we were bullied, that would only make it worse. The teacher knew we needed to have at least one place where we could rest easy and not be reminded of the fact that we were victims.

But in any case, Himeno and I were sick of it—sick of the people around us, and even a little sick of ourselves for being unable to have any other relationships with the rest of the class.

The biggest problem for us was that we couldn't really laugh. We never figured out how to react at the same time as the rest of the kids. If I tried to force my facial muscles into that expression, I could almost hear something at the core of myself scraping and grinding down. Himeno probably felt something similar. Even when someone was directly looking for a response from us, we wouldn't raise an eyebrow. We couldn't, in fact.

The rest of the class thought we were stuck-up and pretentious. We probably were. But that wasn't the only reason we couldn't join in with them when they laughed. It was something more fundamental. Himeno and I were helplessly out of sync, like flowers blooming in the wrong season.

It was the summer when I was ten. Himeno pulled her schoolbag out of the trash can for at least the thirtieth time, and I put on the shoes they'd cut open with scissors, and we went to sit on the stone steps of the shrine, lit by the setting sun and waiting for something.

From our position, we could look down on the place where the summer festival would be held. Stands and carts lined the narrow path to the shrine, with two rows of paper lanterns hanging over them like runway light strips that brought a low red glow to the shrine grounds. The people milling about were in high spirits, which was why we couldn't go down to be among them.

Neither of us said anything, because we knew that if we did, the tears would spill over. So we kept our mouths shut and patiently sat there, bottling our feelings inside.

What Himeno and I were waiting for was something that would back us up and help everything make sense.

Perhaps we really were praying to the god of the shrine at that moment, with the droning of the cicadas flooding the air around us.

As the sun began to cross the horizon, Himeno rose to her feet, brushed the dust from her skirt, and stared straight ahead.

"In the future, we're going to be very important people," she said in that clear voice of purpose only she possessed. As if she were speaking a simple fact that had just been set in stone.

"…How far in the future are we talking about?" I asked.

"Probably not that soon. But not that far, either. About ten years, I bet."

"Ten years," I repeated. "We'll be twenty by then."

At ten years old, twenty was the age of adulthood and ultimate maturity. As far as I could tell, Himeno's statement was practical, even probable.

She continued, "Something will happen during the summer. Ten years from now, something's gonna happen for us. Something great. And then we'll finally be glad to be alive. Once we're important and rich, we'll look back on elementary school and say, 'That school didn't give us anything, not even a negative example to avoid. They were all idiots. It was just a terrible school.'"

"You're right. They are nothing but idiots. It is a terrible school," I repeated. Back then, that was a very fresh point of view for me. When you're in elementary school, it's your entire world, and it's difficult to consider it in terms of "good" or "bad."

"The point is, we need to be really important and rich in ten years. We can make our classmates so jealous, they'll all have heart attacks."

"So jealous, they'll chew off their own lips," I agreed.

"Otherwise, it wouldn't be fair," she said, grinning.

I didn't think Himeno was just trying to make me feel better. As soon as she said it, it felt as real to me as a vision of the actual future. The words had the ring of prophecy to them.

And it's not like we can't be big and famous. In ten years, we'll show them all. We'll make them regret mistreating us like this. They'll see.

"…Twenty years old. It's amazing, if you think about it," said Himeno, pulling her hands behind her back as she stared at the sunset. "We'll be twenty in ten years."

"We can drink alcohol. We can smoke. We can get married—well, I guess we can do that earlier," I said.

"That's true. Girls can get married when they're sixteen."

"It's eighteen for guys. But I feel like I'll probably never get married."

"How come?"

"I hate too many things. I despise everything that happens in the world. How can I possibly get along with someone for the rest of my life?"

"I see. Maybe that's true for me, too," said Himeno, her face downcast. In the light of the setting sun, her profile looked as if it belonged to a completely different person. She seemed more grown-up and more fragile. Breakable.

"Well…in that case," she continued, glancing at me very briefly before looking away again, "when we turn twenty, and we're important and powerful…if we're both sad enough not to have anyone to marry…"

She coughed, clearing her throat.

"…then why don't we be leftovers together?"

Even at my immature age, I could tell the change in her voice was evidence of bashfulness.

"What do you mean?" I replied, also feeling awkwardly polite.

"…I'm kidding. Forget it," she said with a laugh, trying to play it off. "I just wanted to try saying that. I know I'll never be a leftover."

"Ah, that's good." I laughed, too.

But—stupid as it was—even after Himeno and I went separate ways in life, I always remembered that promise. Even when a reasonably attractive girl showed interest in me, I would firmly turn her down. I did it in middle school. In high school. And in college.

I did that so when we met again, I could show her I was a leftover after all.

As I said, it was a really stupid idea.

Ten years have passed since then.

And when I look back, I think, Maybe that really was the most wonderful time of my life.