Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Chapter one (segment three), twenty four years earlier, April, Yukio

There were rumours about class 3:1.

Normally there would have been rumours about a few named freshmen in the beginning of a new year. Like, for example, the clown Wakayama Ryu, who had a mobile personal harem swooning for him wherever he went. Or the fashion model with the strange name, Ageruman Kuritina, or something like that. Or the 'magic duo', the Watabe twins, who took an obscure junior high school all the way to the district finals in soccer.

In this case, however, they had all been grouped into the same class, and so the halo of fame spread to just about anyone who was a part of that class.

This was, as far as Matsumoto Yukio understood it, a blessing for his friend Urufu-kun. They had, officially, gone their separate ways after Urufu-kun was summarily expelled after he maimed four students from their junior high school almost a year ago.

Yukio picked apart his memories from the preceding half a year while he waited for Urufu-kun outside the mall. Their mall. Urufu-kun always took an early train, switched to his bike and rode here where they met up. Because the story about what had happened was a lie. One that Urufu-kun made no attempts to gainsay. Two lies to be more exact.

Urufu-kun had indeed maimed three students, and Yukio had his own reasons to keep that a secret. That the fourth student had been sent to hospital by none other than the popular clown in 3:1.

No wonder the rumours about 3:1 had awakened those memories.

The second lie concerned to what degree Yukio and Urufu-kun really had gone their separate ways. For half a year, during which Urufu-kun was placed in an institution for juvenile delinquents, he had been studying Japanese as if his life depended on it. Despite this he found time and ways to sneak out from the compound.

And that was why Yukio stood in the morning shade waiting for his friend outside what had become their own mall. This was where they always met, and that was the reason Urufu-kun didn't take the train to the station closest to school.

Now, one would have thought that the two mismatched friends would have spent the time together loitering in the city, something they, to a certain degree, had done. Most of the time though, the two of them learned a language. They had agreed upon a peculiar system where Urufu-kun spoke in atrocious Japanese and Yukio answered in equally awful English.

When the time came for them to find themselves in the same class again Urufu-kun's Japanese was merely poor, and Yukio's English was substantially better that just about anyone else's in their class. Well, Urufu-kun excepted obviously.

This day, after Urufu-kun had locked his expensive bike to a bike stand in front of the mall the way he did every day, they walked the last fifteen minutes to school.

Yukio couldn't let go of his thoughts, and he wondered about Urufu-kun's.

3:1. They say they need extra chairs there for lunch break,” came Yukio's opening salvo.

They both looked back as they turned a corner, as if to make sure Urufu-kun's bike was safely locked to its stand.

They say a lot of things about 3:1,” Urufu-kun agreed. “Ryu Wakayama and Christina Agerman plays in the main cast.”

Almost right, but you're really supposed to name them more politely. “Wakayama-san and Ageruman-san really are the main source for the news these days, aren't they?” That had to suffice as a reminder of proper naming conventions, Yukio thought.

By now their mutual lessons had take on a more subtle tone, and they barely spoke in English any more, unless something had to be understood in detail.

He looked at the people they met. It was the usual Tokyo crowd heading to work, or in the case of uniforms, to school. Some of the latter gave away startled giggles or snorts of amusement when they saw Urufu-kun. Yukio, however, had gotten used to Urufu-kun's visual application to geek squad.

If you only knew, he thought when a couple of girls made faces at his friend.

It was a ruse, but given Urufu-kun's past, probably a good idea. The tall, sinewy, Japanese-looking foreigner with his dyed crew cut hair and strangely angular face would have stood out too much. Too easy to remember.

But you wouldn't have snorted at him, that's a given. More likely given him a wide berth. He wiped a few sakura petals from his shoulders. Two weeks late the season was finally here.

Don't you ever get angry at the way people treat you?”

It's better this way. Besides, to be honest, this really is more like the original me. When I was fifteen the first time I mean.”

That was news. “I, I had expected you to be the same.” Yukio tried flashing a smile at one of the girls they met, and received a surprisingly friendly one in return.” Why should he be the same? If he's given me this much self confidence in half a year… “Sorry, I should have guessed.”

I was a...” Urufu-kun searched for words. “It's different back home.”

Yukio gave his friend a quizzical look. Sometimes it was better to let him sort out his thoughts in silence. So he waited, and practised wordlessly getting the attention of girls they met. With varying results. Still, a negative reaction was better than staying the uncertain loner he had been when he met Urufu-kun the first time.

In Sweden you don't get popular if your grades are good. It's a reason to get bullied. So there's a difference from Japan.”

People with good grades get bullied here as well,” Yukio said.

No, it's different. Getting good grades is the very reason itself back home.”

Eh,” now that was just plain stupid. “Why would you bully someone for their good grades. Much smarter to make friends for study sessions.”

A throaty laughter drew attention from Yukio and bystanders alike. The mirth made Urufu-kun shine, and he forgot to keep up his poor composure and stretched out in his full length while he gave air to the unintentional joke.

The giggles around them had a slightly different colour to them this time, Yukio noted. Shyer, with just a glimmer of admiration added as extra spice.

Yukio suspected that Urufu-kun could keep up the ruse for only a little longer. Apart from his reaction to a joke that hadn't been meant as one, his personality shone through whenever his sense of right was challenged. It wasn't honour and duty, something that was familiar to Yukio, but a more foreign concept. It was a code of honour, but one based on the individual's responsibility to do what was morally right rather than standing up for family and friends.

We're not much for doing homework. Especially not with friends. This is a good thing with Japan,” Urufu-kun admitted when he had stopped laughing.

You are, or you were?”

Because there was that thing. Urufu-kun was older, by a wide margin, than he looked, and by now Yukio found little reason to dispute that statement. Whenever Urufu-kun spoke about Sweden Yukio knew he had to be wary of which decade was referenced.

They were close to their school, having just turned around the last corner, when Urufu-kun stopped and beckoned Yukio aside. Fingers up rather than down. Urufu-kun never learned that it was insulting in Japan. Old habits, I guess. In truth Yukio didn't care any longer. They were friends, and they quickly sorted out any cultural differences that were truly hurtful to the other.

I have a favour to ask,” Urufu-kun said.

Yukio looked at him. “Took you long enough.”

The favour or a favour?” Urufu-kun threw a sidelong glance as if to make sure they weren't overheard.

A favour. I don't know what you want yet,” Yukio answered after a few moments of thought. He threw a glance at the clock. They still had some time to finish their conversation before class.

Urufu-kun grinned back. Then his expression turned serious all of a sudden. “I want to start a club.”

That was unexpected. Yukio looked at Urufu-kun as he fished for his smart phone in his blazer. A plain looking, foreign model. South Korean brand. So we're going to have one of those talks when he needs help translating.

Yukio aimed at shooting down the topic quickly. Urufu-kun was prone to exotic fantasies from time to time. “Yeah, first years always start clubs and get them recognised. In manga, that is. How were you planning to do it in the real world?”

Look, I'll just do it as in a manga. I'm a fifty year old CEO in a teenage body, so I see no reason why I should adhere to any real world constraints.”

There was that, of course. “No one here believes that,” Yukio tried.

They exchanged glances. Both knew that wasn't entirely true.

Be that as it may. I have an idea that should have a chance of not getting shot down immediately.”

Yukio let his eyes wander along the trees framing the school yard. “Explain.”

Urufu-kun stabbed a few sentences into the screen and showed the translation. “Cultural exchange. A youth partnership club, secondary education. We'll need one in Sweden as well, but I believe I can arrange that.”


Two clubs, organised by students. One here, and one in Sweden. Both clubs exist to exchange knowledge and experience, for the benefit of their members.


In the other world, where I'm fifty, I went to a small, elite, senior high school in my home city. They're fairly open minded, so that end shouldn't pose any problems. At least not if they're contacted by a Swedish student from here.”

You're not Swedish,” Yukio objected, referring both to Urufu-kun's official status as well as his looks. This was turning into one of those strange three part conversations. Urufu-kun, himself and a digital gadget.

Hence the favour,” came the reply. Urufu-kun hesitated for a moment, as if he was ashamed. “I know this may be a bit too much to ask. But anyway.” He hesitated again. “I understand that you're acquainted with Takeida Kyoko-san.”

I wish,” Yukio responded.

Come, come. You are… ah, at least interested in being so,” Urufu-kun suggested.

That was true, Yukio admitted to himself. “And so?”

I'm primarily interested in that Swedish girl, Christina.”

You don't say,” Yukio laughed. “That makes you unique, along with just about every guy in this school.”

Urufu-kun smiled. “Ah, yes, that, of course.” At least he had the decency to blush slightly before he continued. “But no, not in that way. At least not for the purpose of the club I'm talking about.” The last sentence could have served as a minor confession in itself, but then Urufu-kun probably shared a crush on her together with all the rest of them.

Urufu-kun sighed. “I need her as a member. If she's the one contacting my old high school, the people over there will say: Yes, my lady. When do you want us to start?”

That was, Yukio admitted, probably true. “And attracting members here would be easier as well,” he said. “At least male members,” he added.

Girls as well. Gather a bunch of guys aiming for one girl, and you should be able to get a few girls who head for those who get shot down first.”

Yukio stared at his friend. That was harsh. He grabbed Urufu-kun's phone and tapped a few choice words into it. Yeah, that one covers it. He turned the display to his friend. “You're a cold blooded bastard, you know that?”

I know.” He didn't even make an attempt to deny it.

So, you want me to talk with Takeida-san to get her best friend to join?”

No, not really. I want you to talk to Takeida-san to arrange a meeting between Christina and myself.”

I guess it's all right for him to call a westerner by her first name. “And Ageruman-san would agree to it, exactly why?”

Because you'll tell Takeida-san that I represent a connection to Sweden. Despite her looks Christina's still just a fifteen year old kid all alone in a foreign country. She's bound to be homesick.”

Did I say you're a cold blooded bastard?”

“You did, and I am.”

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