The mad dog of Higashiyama middle school, Kuroda Hanzou. He was known for picking a fight with anyone, anywhere, with his incorrigible temper. Rumors said that he could beat up a group of ten people just for looking at him the wrong way. He was a force to be reckoned with.
This mad dog, he was violent and uncontrollable. I was violent, uncontrollable. And I hated it.
Throughout those middle school years, and even before and after them, I never changed. Countless times I caused troubles, only to recoil at the sight of my parents’ faces as they lowered their heads and apologized. It made me furious, and yet that fury was what had left me in that very position. Countless times I had thought, it’d be better if they didn’t have a son like me. But I couldn’t stop it, the insistent rage, the constant impulse to bear my fists. It was like my mind had two selves, and once it switched, I couldn’t hold myself back. I didn’t want to hurt anyone; I didn’t mean to trouble them. Even so, his face was bruised, the table was scratched, and the glass was broken. Every time I came back to my senses, there was only destruction, and the guilt and self-hatred would seep in again.
* * *
I glanced down at the figure before me, a student, beaten up and sprawled on the ground. My gaze trailed from the bruises on his face to my own trembling hands, which were battered with traces of blood. Ah, I… did it again. I clenched my fists tighter, getting caught up in my thoughts. But he started it first, he made me angry—
“D***, you really did him in good.”
Shocked, I turned around to find another student behind me, staring down at the person I had left defenseless on the ground. I took in his spiky auburn hair, his sharp glaring eyes, and his defined figure. He’s… Noguchi Taiga from my class. A notorious delinquent… My muscles tensed, and I began to panic before he looked up to face me and smiled.
“So you were a good fighter,” he laughed. “Kuroda, right?”
I paused for a moment, unsure of what to say. Regardless of who he is, it’s better to not get involved with anyone.
“...Yes,” I replied.
He glanced around briefly, and then returning his gaze to me, asked, “You know, I’ve always wondered, but why do I never see you with anyone else?”
I grimaced. “...I don’t need anyone by my side. That’s all.” It would only hurt them, anyway.
Noguchi laughed out loud again, surprising me amidst my tension and discomfort.
“You don’t need anyone, huh?” He responded, wiping his eyes in laughter. “Well, but I wouldn’t mind having you around.”
Before I could really process what he meant, he firmly patted my shoulder and then walked past me, adding, “Next time I see you, don’t just walk by, got it?”
I was left alone in a few moments of confusion, until I finally turned around to look after his receding figure. I couldn’t understand his carefree attitude, and his lack of worry. For me, who was constantly in a battle against myself and others, somehow, I found his silhouette to look amazingly free.
* * *
Throughout the next few weeks, I consistently found myself running into Noguchi, whether by chance, or by his design. Though I tried to avoid him at first, I couldn’t help but feel drawn to his uninhibited character. Noguchi was a typical delinquent, broke rules for the heck of it. Even so, it was somehow satisfying hanging out with him, because he wasn’t afraid of me, and he didn’t mind my bursts of anger.
“So you’re the mad dog, huh?”
I spun around instinctively, despite hating the association with that name from before. It was a habit, and I was acutely aware of the conversation that would follow.
The speaker lifted his hands and cracked his knuckles a few times, before baring his fists and staring me in the eyes. “You knocked out one of my good pals,” he drawled, “don’t you remember?”
I felt my blood boil a little as he dragged on and on about his companion who I could not remember. They were all the same, calling me out one by one in an endless chain of self-declared acquaintances. Ah… he’s so irritating… I clenched my fists, drowning out the last remaining pieces of his words, and glanced past him to see the two others who stood by. They glared at me, and I found irony at his so-called heroism in avenging his friend when he couldn’t bring himself to face me alone.
“Did you hear me, you b******?” the leader yelled, “You’ll be sorry for your attitude once I beat you up!”
I only briefly recall catching a glimpse of his right fist rising before I blacked out. By the time I was aware, he and his two friends lay on the ground, dirtied and unconscious. My knuckles were worn out and bloodied, and I shook them loose to regain feeling. Just as I was turning around to leave, someone grabbed my shoulder, and I immediately threw my fist at them, ready to knock them down.
To my surprise, I found my fist not making contact with a stranger’s cheek, but rather caught in Noguchi’s hand.
“Hey, why are you directing your punch at me? It’s not like I did anything to you.”
I glanced up at him, distraught, and my fear came rolling back into me. I did it again. It’s all my fault. He’ll leave me—
“Though, if you want to get it out of your system, I don’t mind having a go at it,” Noguchi scoffed. “Those three weren’t enough for you? Come at me, Kuroda.”
At those words, I felt an immense surge of relief. I didn’t have to explain myself to Noguchi, because he shared the desire for combat. Without any restrictions, he fought me head on, allowing me to share that freedom of his, if only a little. In the end, even with the both of us beaten and bruised, he didn’t care.
“That was a good one,” Noguchi laughed, pressing on his injuries. “You’ve got some skill.”
It was the first time I was wholeheartedly accepted by someone else, and I never had the ability to convey the extent of my gratitude towards him. But I finally found someone by whose side I could be at ease, and I hoped that even without words he could feel the same.