The water is alive. Even when you gently touch the water’s surface, the faint ripples don’t go unnoticed, it lies in wait with bated breath for its prey. Then, once you leap in with a splash, it suddenly attacks you with its fangs bared. Coiling around your body, it snatches away the freedom of your hands and feet. The more you fight against it, the more persistently it coils around you, before long you end up exhausting all your physical strength.
However, if you don’t fight against it and go in with your stance prepared, the water gently calms down. Creating a rift by piercing the water’s surface with your fingertips in that stance, your body slowly slips into it. Your arms, your head, your chest, your stomach and then your feet.
Instead of rejecting the water, you accept it. Instead of denying it, you mutually recognize each other’s existence. The important thing is to feel the water. To feel it in your heart. Then, to trust what you felt. To believe in yourself.
Haruka raised his head from the water, touching the wall of the pool. Even though he swam 1000m in forward crawl, not a single breath was labored. As he took off his goggles, a hand reached out for him. He glanced up, following the hand. Makoto looked down on Haruka with a friendly smile.
For an elementary school 6th grader, he had fairly large body. Solidly built shoulders and above that, an unbalancedly childish face. And, eyebrows in the shape of an eight (八), like a good person. That, is Tachibana Makoto.
When Haruka grabbed his hand, he pulled him up with such strength that you couldn’t have imagined from that eight-shaped eyebrow’s smile.
“You swam as gracefully as usual. Just like a dolphin, Haru-chan.”
“It’s about time you stop calling me with -‘chan’.”
He wasn’t as tall as Makoto, but his tensed up, narrow body gave off a sense of strong energy without being too muscular. And, a gaze that seemed to be looking somewhere far away. That, is Nanase Haruka.
It’s been three years since the two of them had started frequenting the Iwatobi Swimming Club. Makoto was the one who had suggested going there, Haruka just went along with him, and that’s the kind of impression they gave off even now.
Their common points are that they’re 6th graders in the same school and that they attend the same swimming club. And one more. They both have girlish names.
It’s not the case for Makoto, but Haruka was hung up about that last point. He hated being teased for his name the most, in front of people he tried only saying his family name as much as possible. Even so, when he had to say his full name, he had a habit of always deliberately looking down and mumbling it. Whenever Makoto saw him doing that, he wore an amused expression.
“Alright. So, are you done for the day, Haru?”
Ever since kindergarten, he called him Haru-chan and he called him Makoto. Just by changing the way they called each other, it felt like even the relation between them had changed.
“Hey, you don’t have to say my name after every sentence. Besides, call me by family name instead.” He wasn’t angry, but he said it in a blunt, commanding tone. This happened all the time. Acting like it didn’t bother him, Makoto replied with a smile.
“But Haru, you call me Makoto. Then, should I call you Haruka?” He shrugged his shoulders at the unfamiliar naming.
“If you call me that, I won’t talk to you anymore.”
“Then, Haru it is.”
It was always like that. No matter how strong a tone he tried using to suppress him, no matter how much he tried resisting, in the end he got caught up in Makoto’s pace. It was Haruka’s habit to silently turn to the side at those times. Saying that any further arguing was a drag, it didn’t mean that he completely surrendered. In Haruka’s case, it showed on his attitude, he started to silently turn to the side.
Makoto put on his goggles and stood on the starting block, diving in no time. Then, he raised huge splashes on the water’s surface. Unlike Haruka, he forcibly plunged forward in the water with wild strokes and kicks that seemed to strike. Just like a ferocious killer whole pursuing its prey.
Haruka walked to the shower room without even waiting around to see Makoto arrive at the 50m wall.
–– Because of Makoto, I want to hurry and wash off the lukewarm water.
Only thinking of that, he took off his cap and left to get undressed.
The poplar trees’ branches made a sound as the north wind blew through them. Since not a single leaf remained on them to fall, the trees’ voice trembled like old people begging for forgiveness.
From Iwatobi Elementary School’s main gate, the road lined with poplar trees stretched straight ahead, on one side it was split into two wide traffic lanes that few cars passed on, the street only continued until the next intersection. Since there were barely any obstacles, they had to walk against the wind in the winter. Then, the children going there became reticent as they decidedly narrowed their shoulders.
When Matsuoka Rin transferred in, it was that season just as the year began.
“I’m Matsuoka Rin. I came from Sano Elementary School. It’s a girlish name but I’m properly a man. Nice to meet you.”
The classroom became still like it was hit with water. The new friend at the front, maybe he’s nervous. Or has he always been an obedient honor student. They thought that for a moment, the silence turned into a commotion in an instant.
It was a natural reaction, considering that a 6th grader transferred in January, that is to say out of season, and on top of that one with a girlish name. Thinking that, Rin was looking around the classroom when a boy stood up.
Tachibana Makoto. With a friendly smile, he happily looked at Rin. He already knew that he’d be at this school.
“Tachibana….-kun. So we’re in the same class.”
“Yeah, that’s right. Haru-cha……I mean, Haru’s with us, too. ”
Makoto looked to the side, turning his neck. He glanced at Haruka, who was expressionlessly staring at Rin.
“I see, Nanase….-kun is here, too.”
Nanase Haruka. Appearing to be blunt as usual. He knew that he was here, but he didn’t think that they’d be in the same class.
The common points about the three of them are that they’re 6th graders, they swim and they have girlish names. And now they have one more, with being in the same class. The class began to stir again. The commotion was about what sort of relation the three of them have. The mystery became a target of their inquisitiveness, it completely drew in everyone’s interest.
During recess, it was not an unusual sight that the classmates gathered around the transfer student. In a way, you could even say that it was the transfer student’s destiny. Meeting the barrage of questions, he was thoroughly questioned to the point of baring himself to them. You could almost say that even close friends don’t know as much about each other as they made him talk. That said, for things to go well for a transfer student, the first impression is important. They have to answer clearly with a smile, no matter the question.
But, as one would expect by the 3rd recess, they started to get a little tired of it. Then, by lunch time, those who finished their lunches gathered in a line again.
–– Well, let’s start the second half of today’s battle.
Preparing himself like that, when he was taking a deep breath, someone put a hand on Rin’s shoulder. Even though there wasn’t that much force in it, sensing a strong energy coming from, he grimaced a little. He knew without having to turn around. It’s Haruka––. It was impossible to think that anyone apart from Haruka could do that in the class.
“Come with me for a bit.”
Only saying that, he walked ahead by himself. Those who saw him stand up were shocked by Haruka’s pushiness, took a breath. Though it was the kind of scene where he wanted to spread both his hands like a foreigner, he thought that such a pretentious pose would surely be unfitting for transfer student, he stopped. Not knowing what to do, as he was staring at Haruka’s retreating figure for a while, unexpectedly he was lightly pushed forward from behind.
“What are you doing? You’ll be left behind.”
Makoto’s smile slipped through beside Rin.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m going.”
Sensing someone’s eyes on him, as he looked around himself, everyone in the class was staring back and forth between the three of them, their gazes full of curiosity. He thought that it was a good thing he didn’t do the pretentious pose after all. To escape from those stares, Rin hurried after Makoto.
Haruka’s feet stopped between the school building and the pool. In the cold winter weather, the large cherry blossom tree spread its branches without flowers or leaves. It seemed as if it were searching for something, vigorously stretching towards the tall sky. They say that the cherry blossom was there long before the school was built.
Rin raised his out of tune voice.
“Woah, this tree’s amazing. Is it a cherry blossom?”
It’s a cherry blossom. Haruka thought that, but didn’t say it.
“It’s a cherry blossom.”
He knew that Makoto would answer that.
Rin placed his hand on the treetrunk, tracing a complicated branch as he looked up at the sky.
“When spring comes and the cherry blossoms fall, they’ll fall into that pool over there, won’t they.”
Haruka and Makoto looked at the pool. Since it hasn’t been maintained, the fallen dead leaves were spread out all over it.
“I wanna try swimming in it, a pool of cherry blossoms.”
Rin said it strangely filled with emotion, Makoto intently stared at his face.
“That’s impossible, the water will still be cold then. I think it’s better to wait for summer to swim after all.”
Rin was shocked.
“Do you plan on staying here next year?”
That voice overlapped with the sound of the branches blown by the north wind, drowning out the end of it.
Rin took his hand off the tree and put it in his pocket.
“What is it, calling me out to a place like this. Do you leave the transfer student tied up on the first day?”
After he said that, Rin burst out in laughter. Lured by out, Makoto laughed, too. When he saw Haruka looking at him with cold eyes, Makoto lightly cleared his throat and turned towards Rin.
“No, Matsuoka-kun. Jokes aside, there’s something we want to ask.”
Before Makoto could finish, Rin interrupted him.
“A coincidence, it’s really a coincidence. We happened to move here and I ended up at this school. I was surprised, too. I never would’ve thought that I’d be in the same class as Tachibana and Nanase. Really, coincidences are scary, aren’t they.”
They’ve met Rin several times at the town competitions. That was all the connection they had. It’s not like they were particularly close, they haven’t even really had a proper conversation.
March of last year––. Rin was the one to call out to them first.
“You sure are fast. Are you really in elementary school? ”
They couldn’t tell if he spoke to Haruka or Makoto, in that case, so Makoto replied for now.
“You, you’re Matsuoka-kun from Sano, right?”
He remembered how happy Rin looked when he said that to him.
“Ohh, so you knew that.”
That was from the first town competition that they participated in. Haruka competed in the 100m free, Makoto in the 100m breaststroke and they both won their respective races, but in the 50m races, Sano SC took the win in both. By Rin from Sano SC on his own.
“There are only long lanes today, but I’m sure I could win on 100m if it were on a short lane.”
It didn’t sound like he was being a sore loser or putting up a front. They thought that it was probably just as he said. Haruka and Makoto both let Rin ahead at the start. It was at the 70m mark, after the turn, that they passed him by.
Even though Haruka won, he didn’t seem happy about it. He didn’t care about losing or winning. He never once swam for the sake of winning. Still, he felt unusually irritated at the difference in starting.
When Haruka reached the goal after overtaking Rin, Makoto was as pleased about it as if he had done so.
“Congratulations. It’s amazing, you won.”
Even though you won, too. That’s what he thought, but he said something else instead.
“Who was that?”
“Matsuoka Rin from Sano SC, apparently.”
He realized that it was a name he already knew, he said so because he knew, he didn’t really have a reason for that. It’s just that he wanted to remember it. The person who irritated him. His figure as he lied down, chest heaving up and down with his goggles still on.
Maybe he’s crying. He disappeared from his field of vision for just one moment, thinking that, Haruka turned his back towards Rin.
It was afterwards that Rin had called out to them. They talked during the short period of time until the awards ceremony.
“I’ll have to get stronger, too.”
He was the same height as Haruka, but he was well-proportioned, his physique was indeed suited for swimming races.
“I don’t think it’s just strength, though.”
Haruka told him. There wasn’t a single time when he relied on physical strength for swimming. Then, he left the follow-up to Makoto as usual.
“Matsuoka-kun’s start dash is amazing. I was surprised by how you jumped in like that.”
“Hey, Rin. The awards ceremony is gonna start.”
A lanky person called for Rin from afar.
“Alright, Sousuke. I’ll be right there.”
After Rin replied, he turned back towards them.
“I won’t lose next time. Let’s swim again sometime.”
Rin lightly raised his hand as he left and Makoto reciprocated it with a smile.
“We’ll try our best so that we don’t lose to you, either. Ah, look, the awards ceremony is starting.”
Saying that, he pushed Haruka’s back.
That was their meeting with Rin. After that, they kept meeting at competitions.
A sudden gust stirred the cherry blossom’s branches, it let out a scream as it made a huge bend. A cloud of dust whirled, the three of them closed their eyes as a reflex. It only lasted for a moment, but the whirlwind was so strong that they couldn’t breathe as it passed them. The whirlwind clad in a cloud of dust howled as it jumped around in the schoolyard, violently spinning around as it pleased, it rolled around the swirl. Looking at the wind, Rin spit out some sand.
“What was with that wind. The sand went into my mouth. Does it always blow like that around here?”
He said that and spat again.
“Winds like that don’t blow. I thought it was going to blow us away. Let’s go back to the school building, Haru.”
Before he was done saying that, Makoto’s feet led him towards the school building. The other children playing in the schoolyard who were chased by the wind also headed towards the school building to take refuge.
He didn’t come here to show off the cherry blossom tree. He hasn’t asked anything yet, he still doesn’t know anything. Thinking the wind had tricked him, it felt like too much. He doesn’t know if Rin’s transfer was a coincidence or not. But it was easy to imagine that it was going to have an effect on Haruka and Makoto. Whatever kind of shape it’ll take, it’ll surely be a troublesome thing.
He was sorry that they got caught up in it. So that’s why he called Rin out, thinking that he could warn him in advance. But he thought that it’d be too much to trouble to keep pursuing it. The more he fussed about it, the more he’ll end up getting affected by it.
Taking his gaze off Rin heading towards the school building, Haruka looked up at the cherry blossom tree bent by the wind once more.