“Listen, Senjougahara-san, listen! I ran into a tiger on the way to school today.
“Oh, is that so? By the way, Hanekawa-san, why do you think I’m obliged to hear you out in detail? You said ‘listen!’ but are you seriously asking me, or were you just being positive?”
After the opening ceremony of the school term, as everyone headed back to the classrooms in groups, I ran up to my classmate Senjougahara-san.
Then, I talked about what had happened this morning.
When I did this, Senjougahara-san donned a somewhat annoyed expression and gave me a downright annoyed response. However, rather than blindly refusing me,
“What is it?”
she demanded I continue.
During the summer break, the hair she had grown out to her waist had been drastically cut, and she left for her father’s family home straight away, so, putting aside how it may seem to Araragi-kun, the short-haired Senjougahara-san was a novelty to me.
She had very fine features in the first place so any kind of hairstyle would suit her, more or less, but thanks to her trim, that air of a ‘high-class daughter’ she had during the first trimester had completely disappeared.
While it had caused some quiet controversy among the classmates (perhaps even more than when I had cut my hair) the way I see it, a high-schooler calling someone a ‘high-class daughter’ is infinitely close to an insult, so this might be for the better.
“You said ‘tiger’, Hanekawa-san? Not a cat?”
“Nope. A tiger, not a cat.”
“Not a tiger-striped cat?”
“Nope. A tiger-striped tiger.”
“Not a tiger-striped zebra?”
“That’s just a normal zebra, I think, but no.”
“Don’t you think more people would like to be born under Libra if it were renamed Zebra?”
“I don’t.” 
Hmm — Senjougahara-san nodded,
and pulled at my hand.
She brought me to a secluded spot.
There was still a little time before homeroom lessons began, so she wanted to get us away from the crowd — we certainly could not talk freely when the eyes of the class were on us.
We were behind the gymnasium.
Despite the description giving it a somewhat eerie atmosphere, the management of the area around the gym had been awfully thorough ever since the great success of the girl’s basketball team last year, so it was in fact an open and wholesome place.
The weather was good as well, so it was a fitting environment for the flowers of a love story to bloom, but for us, there bloomed the flowers of a ghost story.
Or rather, there the flowers withered.
“You saw a tiger…? If it’s true, isn’t that very serious, Hanekawa-san?”
“I think so. Oh, but it’s not a real tiger. It was probably an abnormality. It talked.”
“That’s the same thing. It makes no difference. To a Japanese, even a real tiger is an abnormality.”
That was true.
As always, Senjougahara-san was unabashed in her outlook.
She was unapologetically realistic.
“If someone told me the panda was some kind of specter, I would believe it.”
“Mmn, I wonder.”
“Isn’t a giraffe just a rokurokubi?”
“So is a zoo like a haunted house to you?”
Perhaps, nodded Senjougahara-san.
How frank she was.
“But Hanekawa-san, you really did run into something unexpected — though excuse me when I say that it’s just like you to do something like that. A tiger, I mean. Really now. A tiger! That’s really too stylish. Crab, snail, monkey — and Karen-san, a wasp, was it? That was the lineup we’ve had and suddenly, a tiger. Everyone had been running the same race, keeping level, watching out for one another and not rushing ahead, everything all nice and friendly, and now this. There should be a law for people who can’t pick up on the mood as much as you. I hate to say it, but this might be even more wonderful than Araragi-kun and his demon.”
“That sort of outlook is probably something unique to you, too…”
“Did it do anything to you?”
“No, it didn’t do anything — I think. It’s just that it would be hard for me to know by myself. That’s why I am asking. Is there anything strange about me right now?”
“Hmm. Well, absence is one thing, but being late wasn’t like you at all, Hanekawa-san. But that’s not what you mean, is it?”
Saying this, Senjougahara-san put her face close to me and looked up and down at my skin. She stared as though she was going to lick it. And far from just the skin, she examined my eyes, my nose, my eyebrows, my lips, part by part.
When she was finished with my face, she took my hand again and scrutinized my nails and even the blood vessels appearing on the back of my hand.
“…What are you doing, Senjougahara-san?”
“Making sure there’s nothing strange about you.”
“At least, that was my original plan.”
“So what are you doing now?”
“Enjoying the sights.”
I shook her hand off.
As forcibly as possible.
Senjougahara, with an “Ah…”, looked at me with an expression of great disappointment — well, she was probably joking.
Surprisingly, Senjougahara-san quite liked her jokes.
…I hope she was joking.
All the more after I remembered what Araragi-kun had finally told me about Kanbaru-san’s preferences.
“It’s all right. Your skin will be smooth for another ten years, at least.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“There’s nothing, from the looks of it — there aren’t any tiger ears growing out of you, at least.”
Having experienced cat ears growing out from my head, this was not something I could pass off as a joke but, as an example, it was so realistic a possibility that I laughed as much as I could while nonchalantly confirming the area around my skull.
Nothing was growing out.
“But encountering an abnormality doesn’t mean that something abnormal will immediately happen — so it’s probably too soon to be relieved.”
“It’s not impossible for you to wake up next morning having turned into a insect.”
“That’s a bit too much of a leap, I think.”
We should at least keep it to tigers.
People might figure out that we like Kafka.
“But, in this case, I think it would be better if you were to discuss this with Araragi-kun. Of course, I was afflicted with a crab abnormality — and suffered through much for it — but that doesn’t make me any more knowledgeable on methods to deal with them.”
“Well, yes, that’s true.”
It was as she said.
While you may become afflicted by abnormalities, it is not something you can develop experience for.
Rather, it became more and more of a non-career the more you know of it.
Even if I discuss this with Senjougahara-san, it would only bother her. Worse, I might even end up doing what amounted to gouging at her wounds.
“But Araragi-kun is having a day off today.”
Senjougahara-san tilted her head, looking blank.
“Was he not in the line during the opening ceremony? — I didn’t even realize he was gone when he really was gone. That’s worse than not realizing he’s there when he really is.”
It gave me the chills.
At times, the vestiges of what Araragi-kun calls her ‘verbal abuse phase’ bleeds out.
However, an unexpectedly large amount of poison had been drawn from her over the summer break, and it was clear that even her comments just now were jokes.
People do change.
I am happy to say that she is a true example of that.
“Well apparently, the attendance record isn’t quite something to be bothered by anymore, but I wonder how my darling thinks about it?”
“Don’t call him ‘darling’.”
That’s too big a change.
People wouldn’t be able to connect your character with previous appearances.
“Speaking of which, I met Mayoi-chan before the tiger this morning. From what she says, I’m guessing that he’s doing — something.”
“‘Something’, you say?”
Senjougahara-san shook her head, as though to say, “My goodness”.
It was something of an oversell, but also a precise expression of disbelief.
“Perhaps that is typical of him.”
“Maybe. After all, he’s a man who can only see what’s in front of him.”
“Have you tried calling him? Or sending a message?”
“Mmm, well, I probably shouldn’t.”
I strongly feel that I shouldn’t bother him, not when it was certain that he was in action. If he’s at school, the first thing I do would be to discuss this with him, but I get that thought when I want to call him or write a message.
It was less me being reserved and more me worrying about his safety.
“Though I think you should be a bit more bold.”
“Or perhaps that should be ‘shameless’. That man would under no circumstances think it an annoyance to be relied upon by you. You know this much, don’t you?”
“Well, I’m not so sure.”
I was perplexed by Senjougahara-san’s words.
“Maybe I really don’t know very much about this.”
“Or are you being considerate for my sake?”
“Of course not. Not at all.”
Phew — this time, Senjougahara-san sighed.
A deep sigh.
“Well, it’s not certain that something will happen. And it doesn’t do much good to be nervous — it does more harm than good to worry, like a yandere. Though seeing as we can’t confirm that the tiger won’t attack somebody else, do you really think you have a choice besides talking to Araragi-kun? It doesn’t matter if it’s a tiger or a lion, because just like me, you don’t have the strength to fight the abnormality itself. Like me, you too have the knowledge but not the experience; enough to talk the talk, but still wet behind the ears.”
Her phrasing made it seem to carry a different meaning.
It was a complicated line, and I couldn’t tell if she phrased it on purpose.
Araragi-kun would probably be able to see through it and make a wonderful retort.
But I don’t have the skill to do so.
“Only Araragi-kun, who keeps a vampire in his shadow, can fight abnormalities — well, Kanbaru as well when she feels like it, but I shouldn’t make her do anything unreasonable.”
I had heard about that, vaguely.
The bandages on her right arm — I think.
In that case, the problem was not reservation but something more realistic — danger. Though her problem with the abnormality had been resolved, Kanbaru-san lived as though she was carrying a bomb at all times.
Or perhaps she herself could be called a bomb.
…Well, when I put it that way, then Araragi-kun is the same. That would be why I did not call him.
Though I know — that that wasn’t the reason.
Ultimately, it was as Senjougahara-san had said.
I could not bring myself to be bold when dealing with Araragi-kun.
Most likely, the reason was stunningly clear —
“Hanekawa-san, have you ever said, ‘help me’ to Araragi-kun?”
The abrupt question brought me back to reality.
I was surprised.
“What? ‘Help me’…? I wonder. It’s not really something that comes up in everyday conversations… probably not, I think.”
“I see. Me neither.”
Senjougahara-san looked up at the sky as she talked.
“After all, he saved us before we could say it — while saying things like ‘people just get saved all by themselves’ as though he heard it from somewhere.”
It wasn’t “as though” he heard it from somewhere, he really did hear it. That was the phrase that Oshino-san would constantly repeat.
“It wasn’t just with the crab. Yes, the case with Kanbaru, with Kaiki, and many other things, he came to help me both openly and secretly. But, just because he’ll save you even when you don’t say anything, doesn’t mean you don’t need to say anything.”
“Hm? What do you mean?”
“What I mean is, it could be that you’re just expecting Araragi-kun to come save you even as you stay silent.”
Could this be seen in that way?
However, the sad truth was, that being said, I could not completely deny it.
I myself do not approach.
Instead, do I wait to be approached?
That’s — “not who I am”, isn’t something I can say.
There was a darker me within myself.
Being within me, it was closer to me than anyone else.
“I think it’d be better if you could rely on him without reserve. That’s what he’s always wanted. If you had done that before during Golden Week,”
As she spoke — Senjougahara-san stopped what she was saying mid-sentence.
Perhaps she felt halfway through that she said too much.
But she did not apologize, and simply looked uncomfortable — though an apology would have been troubling as well.
I did not deserve one.
“Maybe we should head back to the classroom now.”
I wasn’t particularly trying to help her as she stood there awkwardly, but looking at my watch, it really was time for us to have to go back. We would have to run up the stairs.
“I won’t force you, but it’s not good to try to do something by yourself when anything happens. You still have a strong tendency to do that — so if you don’t want to trouble Araragi-kun, then drag me into it as well, though I wouldn’t be much help. At the least, you have me to die together with.”
Saying these ridiculous things offhandedly, Senjougahara-san walked towards the school building. Though she had been “rehabilitated”, it felt as though her, how you say, great power in this area remained in good condition.
Frankly speaking, Senjougahara-san wasn’t rehabilitated so much as she had simply gotten cuter.
Especially when in front of Araragi-kun.
Araragi-kun only knows about the Senjougahara-san who is before him, so it may take some time before he realizes this.
I’m in no hurry to tell him.
And so, the two of us went back to the classroom together — at worst, we were in danger of homeroom lessons having already started, but on that front we were all right.
Hoshina, our homeroom teacher, was already in the room.
By all rights, lessons should already have started — but everyone, teacher and student, was pressing up against the window overlooking the grounds, and nobody was in their seats, so this wasn’t a lesson but something else.
What were they looking at?
Next to me, Senjougahara-san murmured.
She was quite a bit taller than me, so she noticed ‘it’ before I did — strictly speaking, by the time I knew that everyone else was looking at something, she had taken off her shoes and stood up on one of the chairs.
In contrast with her appearance, she was an unexpectedly active girl.
Not being so courageous, I simply walked over, weaving my way through the gaps between classmates, and gazed outside the window.
I knew instantly what they were looking at.
Thoughtlessly, I fell in a daze.
I talked to myself — something I rarely did outside the house.
I watched the blazing fire, burning someplace so far away that it only appeared as a speck, but roaring so loudly that the sound reached us.
And I said it.
“My house is on fire.”
I called that house — my house.
This is a total rewrite but I couldn’t think of any way to translate it. Hitagi asks Tsubasa if renaming 練馬区 Nerima-ku (a ward of Tokyo) to 縞馬区 Shimauma-ku (shima-uma meaning ‘zebra’) would make more people move there, the two terms being the same except for the first character, and two fairly similar-looking characters at that.