She called herself Gaen Izuko.
With those big clothes on her small body, she looked liked a lady just about worn out of shape — of course, having failed to perceive Episode-kun’s age just moments before, I no longer felt much confidence in making guesses on anybody’s age.
I would have believed it if I had been told that she was in her twenties, but if she really was Oshino-san’s senior, then she must be over thirty at the least, though to be honest, she looked to me like she was in her teens.
Actually, despite all that I have said, she seemed so full of composure that trying to determine her age seemed rather meaningless — she possessed an air of aloofness.
Imagine that, if an excellent work of art were plopped down before her, she would think it unrefined and meaningless to consider the time, era, place in the world it had been created in, or perhaps even who its creator had been — she held that sense of resoluteness which permitted no dissent.
As such, despite her clothes being worn out of shape, she appeared splendid — while if a normal person tried wearing XL-size clothes on an S-size physique, it would simply give the impression of someone with a ‘loose’ sense of fashion, frankly, it looked refined on her.
Although she wore her baseball cap sideways and stomped on her sneakers like they were flats, it looked neither rough nor unrefined, but utterly as though it was an aspect of her personal fashion.
“Hey, Sode — you never got to our meeting place so I came to pick you up. When I did, it turned out you were hitting on someone. Sorry for the interruption.”
That was the first thing I heard from her.
She said this with a charming smile.
The way she spoke felt very off — like she was somehow providing a detailed exposition on her own actions.
It felt like she was trying to cover this sensation with her smile.
“Hmmn? Oh? And this is…?”
Then, she looked at me.
“…Hanekawa, Tsubasa-san… isn’t it?”
“Oh, yes — ”
Being told this before I had even named myself — I was taken aback.
Of course, I had already been shocked after being taught by Episode-kun that she was Oshino-san’s senior — and even if she did hear about me from Episode-kun or Oshino-san, there should have been no way she could have known I was Hanekawa Tsubasa now that I had cut my hair. Not without something like a vampire’s ‘sight’, at least.
” — I am.”
“My, my, this is unexpected. Thanks to me deciding on a whim to actually act for once, I got a chance to meet you. That makes me very happy, Tsubasa-chan. I doubt Meme said anything, but I am someone called Gaen Izuko. I was his senior. He called me Gaen-senpai. A lot of cases where I’m called ‘Senpai,’ me.”
She really did have a strange way of speaking, if I could put it that way.
Actually, this was all-in-all a somewhat strange self-introduction.
“Don’t saying I’m hitting on her, Gaen-san — I just saw someone really nostalgic and went for a stroll down memory lane with her.”
Said Episode-kun, appearing displeased (though it was surprising to me that he actually did ‘just’ want to do that) but Gaen-san said, “Well, that doesn’t make any difference.”
It really did seem to make no difference to her.
“Once you’re done that stroll or whatnot, what say we go — we’re racing against the clock here, hour by hour. Yotsugi should be here before long, but we haven’t got time to wait.”
“Yotsugi? Who’s that?”
“It doesn’t matter to you, Sode. Though that’s not the case for everyone, and it’s not the case for me. Well, to be honest, I thought that Meme or Deishuu would come. But those two just can’t help being wanderers. I don’t want Yotsuru here, by the way, not in the slightest.”
“You really do only talk for your own sake, don’t you — don’t just start talking like everyone already understands what you’re going on about.”
Episode-kun did not attempt to hide his discontent but, as though this reaction were of no concern to her,
Gaen-san said to me.
There was too much liberty in the way she talked.
“Normally, I would be trying to get myself involved into your conversation with Sode, maybe even buy you both juice from the vending machine if you were so inclined, seeing as I’m the adult here, but the situation is as you’ve just heard. Sorry, but I’ll be taking Sode with me.”
I did not mind that.
In fact, if she were to take him away, inside, I would feel like patting my own chest in relief — all things being considered, he was still rather scary (actually, the memory of the moment when I had been killed escaped me, but my body remembered. My stomach hurt.) and I was in the middle of my way to school, which I still had to go to.
It would more troublesome if she had offered me juice.
“So I can’t give you any help on your tiger problem at the moment. You’ll have to do something by yourself.”
My — tiger problem?
Wait… why does she…?
She must have heard me when I was talking to Episode-kun from before — no, that would be quite a contrivance, given her distance.
It would be a contrivance — though on somehow another level compared to when she had guessed my name before.
And it felt different from mind-reading.
I had not thought about the tiger while talking with Gaen-san, after all.
“Hm? Why the strange look? It’s not that surprising that I know about the tiger, is it? There’s nothing I don’t know.”
“Nothing — you don’t know.”
“I know everything.”
brimming with confidence.
As though she really did know —
As though she had a grasp on the entire story,
“Well, you’ll be facing off against that tiger by today or tomorrow, I’m sure. Soon, you yourself will name it, that abnormality with unprecedented, unparalleled power, the Inflaming Tiger. But no one will help you. You will be saved by no one. Because it is your own problem. It is not my problem, nor the problem of the boy you love.”
“Wha — ”
I lost my words at ‘what’.
The boy I love?
“I mean Araragi-kun. You’re not saying you don’t know him, are you?”
Gaen-san said, as though this were something extremely obvious and part of common knowledge — as though it were something anyone besides me would know.
“You really don’t know anything, do you, Tsubasa-chan — ”
she said this as though she was looking down on me, as though she was scorning me.
As though she pitied me — as though she sympathized with me.
As though she was looking at a pathetic child,
(I can’t think of a way to translate the pun in the next line into English. Sorry.)
“You don’t even know that you don’t know anything. You’re ignorant (無知 muchi) to your own ignorance in being ignorant, I suppose. Ahaha, if I keep repeating ‘ignorance’ like that, it sounds like I’m talking about your curvy and busty (むちむち muchimuchi) body. Lewd, isn’t it? I’m the slim type, so it’s really something to be envious about.”
“That being said, it would be better to not know than to know you don’t know — even the brainless scarecrow had lamented nothing could be more unbearable than knowing the truth that you were a fool.”
“…What do you,”
I said. My voice was shaking.
I did not know why my voice shook.
Even when I had been facing Episode-kun during spring break — my voice, my body did not shake like this.
“What do you — think you know about me?”
“I know everything. And that’s why,”
I know everything, repeated Gaen-san.
Again and again.
As though she had repeated that line many times before.
As though she were simply saying ‘good morning’ or ‘good night’ or ‘thanks for the meal’ or ‘I’m done eating’.
“I know that you don’t know anything. But that’s nothing to be ashamed of, because nobody in this world knows anything. They live on, lying while unknowing. You are not an exception, nor are you special.”
“Not an exception — not special.”
“You like it when people tell you that, don’t you?”
Of course, as though she was looking down on me.
“And naturally, I know all about the ruins of that tutorial school, that memorable place for all of you including Meme, burning up last night… ahh, and once again, I speak of information you do not yet know. Isn’t that right, ‘I-Know-Nothing’ Tsubasa-chan?”