These disturbances manifested in the form of Yukimura Shouhei, the top student in our class during our second year. He did not seem to be a cruel person, but I didn’t expect much from him either. Like the others, I assumed I would not have to come in contact with him as long as he left me alone. But that wasn’t the case for Ono and Maeda.
Yukimura did not try to keep up appearances, and was excessively blunt towards the two of them. On multiple occasions, he called them out for flaws he saw in their characters, whether it was Maeda’s shallow and mercenary tendencies, or Ono’s manipulative nature and glib speech. He did not know them well, and yet he vilified them, spreading slanders throughout the school’s population. It was enough to drive the reason and fear right out of my mind anytime I thought of it.
All I wanted was to enjoy the rest of my high school years with the group that I had found. But when I was constantly witness to the distress and disappointment that had wedged itself in between us, I could not control the bitterness that slowly seeped in and flooded my days.
“Yukimura spoke up against me again today.”
I glanced up to see Ono standing against the hallway walls, eyes deep with discontentment.
“I’m growing sick of it,” he muttered. “He always accuses me of the same things.”
“What did he say?” Noguchi asked.
“The same old ideas that I take advantage of my background, that I use people…” he paused. “And that I don’t deserve what I have.”
“What?” Maeda responded, turning to face him. “That’s nonsense. Don’t listen to him; he hardly knows what he’s talking about.”
“I know, but it still hurts to think that he views me like that,” Ono stated. “It makes me wonder if everyone else believes his words.”
My pencil snapped.
The three of them turned to face me, a little surprised.
“Hanzou?” Ono asked. “Are you okay?”
I gripped the broken pieces tight in my fist, pressing against my skin. “...I can’t stand it. I’m going to get him back for it.”
Noguchi stared at me incredulously. “You don’t mean to say… you’re going to beat him up?”
“He makes my blood boil,” I spoke through gritted teeth. “I need to let it out on him.”
At first, they appeared a bit taken aback, but then Ono smiled. Contrary to his soft expression that seemed as if he could do no harm, he stated, “Yeah, he drives me crazy too.”
“Well,” Noguchi added, “it’s true that he’s wronged us. And I’m always up for a fight.”
It started like that, a relatively simple and one-time intention to make Yukimura realize the consequences of his words and actions. In fact, we hardly roughed him up that day, only briefly knocking him down off his feet. I just felt that I needed to relieve the tension in my mind, and in my body. If one time was enough to knock some sense into him, then perhaps we would have stopped.
But Yukimura acted no different in the days that followed, and was no more willing to see past the many flaws that he claimed to exist in people. He was not willing to back down, and we followed suit.
Before I was aware of it, it had become second nature to detest hearing his voice from across the room, and to avoid wanting to look into his face where his caramel eyes bored holes into my soul. Just as easily, it had become instinctive to want to bare my fists at him, and to actually go through with the punch to see him stumbling to the floor. I had become a monster again. But that wasn’t my main concern; my main concern was for him to stop hurting my friends so that they could be at ease again, and smile once more.
Throughout the endless game of defiance we pulled against each other, Yukimura never spoke up to the teacher, or to any other faculty member in our school. He likely believed that he was above it all, and that even together, we’d never be worth the attention. It’s true that a part of me was relieved that my parents wouldn’t be called to the school to apologize on my behalf again. But to say that that increased my affections for Yukimura would be grossly false.
As such, it wasn’t remorse that filled my mind each time Ono and Maeda spit back words of the same kind to Yukimura, nor when I saw him bruised or limping as a result of Noguchi’s or my own hands. Rather, I didn’t want to think about it. I had been content with feeling satisfaction at beating Yukimura down, at least more so than I had felt when coming to my senses when I was alone. I wasn’t just an insane, maniacal boy, I was one fighting for the sake of my friends. When I thought of all that I had received from them, I always felt like I wanted to give something back. Those were the kind of thoughts that ran through my head then. I justified my actions, and I justified our actions, consistently believing in them until we left him battered with a swollen face and eyes that could no longer open in the midst of pouring, numbing rain. And when I was afar and the four of us had split paths and I heard the sound of the ambulance piercing in the distance, suddenly that confidence inside of me started to crumble and shatter into pieces.