Even now I wonder. What in the world was the answer that Oikura had desired? What kind of result had she expected that would cause her to make such a suggestion? Perhaps she would have been satisfied as long as there was an answer, regardless of whether or not it was the right one.
Even without knowing the truth, we were able to make a decision.
We identified the culprit without knowing who they really were.
Which reminds me of what she said at the beginning. That until the culprit was identified, or the culprit stepped forward, the conference would not end. She never said anything about “knowing the real culprit”.
“…Since I was small, I’ve often been isolated from the rest of the class. Once, during middle school, a class meeting was held to help deal with this. Something along the lines of ‘a meeting to help Araragi get accustomed to the class’. Well, now that I think about it, that sounds like an outrageous reason to hold a class meeting. Anyhow, as the meeting progressed, the discussion started to become more and more incomprehensible. Somewhere around the middle of the meeting, it became about criticizing my antisocial nature. Maybe meetings held on Tuesdays lost their sense of direction easily? Well, personally I preferred to be alone, so I didn’t really pay much attention to the conclusion that they should ‘do their best so Araragi-kun can get along with everyone’, and I had no objections. …….However, determining the culprit through majority rule was a bit too…”
“I understand what you’re trying to say, but you can’t completely dismiss her actions. In the West, the jury system is the usual method used in court cases, and even in Japan, the quasi-jury system is gradually taking root. Granted, the jury works together to reach an agreement and the jury system isn’t solely based on majority rule… but if the conference wasn’t going anywhere, then I don’t think Oikura-senpai’s choice of actions was necessarily wrong.”
Ougi-chan whispered into my ear, as if comforting me. Caught off guard, I almost fell for her sweet words but—she’s wrong. That’s not it. That’s just a theory. We made a mistake. At that time, I should have stopped Oikura at all costs.
But in the end, majority rule was brought into play.
Moreover, we were raising our hands rather than voting anonymously. As Oikura read the attendance out loud in seating order, the students of Class 3-1 were invited to raise their hands.
Those who think Araragi, seat number 2, was the culprit, please raise your hands.
“Oooh. I see. Then, the majority of the class raised their hands, and you were made out to be the culprit, right? I now understand why it was the conclusion you despaired over rather than the discussion itself . It wouldn’t be unusual for someone to fall into despair over something like that. I offer you sympathy from the very bottom of my heart.”
“That’s not it. Oikura was the only person who raised her hand when my innocence was in question.”
“The majority of the class raised their hands when Sodachi Oikura, seat number 6, was called out.”
That was how everything concluded.
There was no need for the rest of the attendance to be listed. Oikura was left speechless.
I will never forget the look of despair on Oikura’s face at that moment. I probably succumbed to that same despair.
…Since then, no one has seen her on the school premises. However, unlike Yuba, it seems like she had the permission of her guardian. Oikura had completely withdrawn from school and was absent from both lectures and exams. Because she was so highly regarded as a brilliant student, she still received some preferential treatment, however. Apparently, her name is still listed in the attendance records for one of the third year classes despite the fact that she didn’t meet the attendance requirements. I don’t know exactly which class it is, though.
There were some who quietly thought to themselves that she’d had it coming for a while, and others who were more open about sharing their opinions. Regardless, in that situation, it was obvious that Oikura would be the clear choice in a battle of majority rule. She had trapped the entire class into a sealed room, which scored highly on the discomfort index. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, she had droned on a bit aggressively about a topic they had almost no interest in. It would be stranger for her to think that these actions wouldn’t result in any backlash. But, it’s not always an easy task, by any means, to recognize hatred directed at oneself. I was like her in that sense; I did not understand the true meaning behind her animosity towards me.
I could only watch as she stepped into despair of her own accord. There was no way I could have saved her. Naturally, Oikura would not have desired any help coming from me. But, still, I had understood what it meant to be in that kind of situation, didn’t I? What the conference would come to if it had been settled with majority rule. I wanted to see it, didn’t I? Watching her expression as she fell into despair—did I not savor it? No, I had definitely thought that I would be convicted as the culprit if it came to majority rule. Perhaps Oikura had envisioned the same outcome and thought it wasn’t such an undesirable result. By pinning the blame on a passive character like me, it would ensure that no future troubles would arise. In addition, having decided on seat number 2, she could end the unpleasant majority rule vote immediately… In her naivety, she overlooked her own situation. Her hatred for me also blinded her from the risks of trying to force her decision. So much so that she didn’t consider that no one would deal with Ashine, the “handsome boy” sitting in seat number 1, by framing him as the culprit.
…so, if I was the cause for Oikura’s reckless actions and shortsightedness, then the responsibility for her lies in me after all.
Of course, that wasn’t the case.
But although that wasn’t the case, I still began to skip school even more frequently than I had before. A feeling of guilt clung to me as I attended the school where Oikura was no longer present.
Since then, I—
I have never achieved another perfect score on a math exam.
“…Did the guilt really bother you that much? I mean, it was brought up before, right?—that Oikura-senpai was the most plausible suspect. Wasn’t this outcome a result of everyone’s impartial judgment?”
“Of course, I realize that there were students who raised their hands in favor of that conclusion… but that’s just a convenient excuse to hide the truth. However, I cannot deny the fact that there were a number of people who truly thought that Oikura was the culprit. I tried to take that into consideration too, but I said this earlier, right? That conference was something Oikura had organized entirely of her own volition. She had organized that meeting to dispel any doubts towards her… and ironically reinforced suspicions that she was the culprit. But, if Oikura really was the culprit, there would have been no such need for her to organize such a meeting. With that reasoning, we can firmly dismiss any possibility of Oikura being the culprit.”
“Hehe. I see. Firmly, huh?”
“…? Well, what I’m saying is that the class meeting resulted in a misunderstanding. I think that’s the result of all the bad karma she’d been piling up over the years. That’s all.”
“Rather than call it karma, I’d say she just dug her own grave. It’s like she set up a tripwire to catch robbers, but got tangled up in it herself—ahaha, it sounds retarded.”
Ougi-chan held her stomach and laughed. She seemed to find Oikura and my former classmates comical.
Looking away, I continued.
“Watching as the meeting was closed without any closure—watching as the discussion came to that ridiculous conclusion right before my eyes, I had no choice but to watch it. What happened in that moment. The moment that the majority of the students, without a single word of discussion, raised their hands in unison was the moment the truth was decided—the moment justice was exacted. I have never seen anything more terrifying than what happened in that moment. In that moment, I lost sight of myself.”
No, I did not lose sight of myself.
I lost myself.
“Up until that moment, I had believed in that thing people call ‘justice’. That in this world, there was a clear distinction between what was ‘right’ and what was ‘wrong’ and that there were things you could do and things you couldn’t. Stuff like that. But I realized that no matter how incorrect, no matter how heartless, and no matter how foolish something was, if a large number of people upheld it, it would become ‘just’.“
An obvious mistake or even a foolish failure can be made just if a million people give their approval. If the entirety of the human race believed it, the universe would rotate around the Earth. (TN: in contrast to the Earth revolving)
Majority rule—The most unsightly method invented by humankind.
However, that is justice.
It is because everyone says it is ‘just’ that it is morally acceptable.
“Ahaha. That’s some extreme logic you’re using there, Araragi-senpai. It’s some extreme logic that originated from an extreme way of thinking. You’re basically saying that anything popular is an unsightly mistake, you know?”
“Perhaps that is what I’m saying. Perhaps I’m just spouting nonsense. But even if this idiot’s nonsense had the approval of a million people, it would undoubtedly become ‘right’. I realized that ‘justice’ was something that could be mass-produced. I realized that ‘justice’ was something determined by the masses. I realized that everything was dependent on the majority. So I chose isolation instead of ‘justice’.”
I have no use for friends. Friends are for the weak.
I began to say such things.
“That was the only method to preserve my own sense of justice. I avoided any contact with large groups of people. Though, the justice I held so dearly would crumble to the ground during spring break two years later… This has been quite a long talk, but that’s the story of Koyomi Araragi. Thank you for kindly listening that whole time, Ougi-chan. Aah, it really is like you said. Talking about it freely really takes a load off my chest.”
“It is still too early for you to let your guard down, Araragi-senpai.”
Ougi-chan finally distanced herself from my neck, soundlessly stepping in front of me. With an eerily sweet smile, she turned her body towards me.
“If the story ends there then we can’t escape from this room, after all. Did you forget? In order to leave this room, we need to identify the culprit. Without using majority rule, of course.”
We must decide.
That’s what Ougi-chan meant.
Now that I think about it, that is the situation. But, well, Ougi-chan’s explanation was still an estimated guess at the very best.
“…Wasn’t this classroom born from the grudges that Oikura held that day? In that case, wouldn’t it be necessary for me to be confined here?”
Oikura probably… still hasn’t forgiven me.
And continues to despise me.
“Naaah, hasn’t Oikura-senpai already forgotten about you? Maybe kind of unexpectedly.”
“…Then what in the world is this classroom…”
“Didn’t I say so earlier? I think this classroom is a materialization of your own feelings. It’s a room born from the regrets buried at the bottom of your heart. That day, if the true identity of the culprit had been determined, Sodachi Oikura would not have suffered the despair she experienced afterwards.”
A person who firmly held onto the concept of justice.
It was the regrets of that kind of person that gave birth to this classroom.
If only, on that day, the last school bell had never rung.
58 minutes past five. The clocked stopped. Time itself—froze.
It froze—for over two years.
“You have been constantly pursuing the ‘justice’ that you lost, and in order to regain it, you subconsciously created this classroom.”
Was it possible? I doubt I have Shinobu’s matter creation ability, so spontaneously creating a room is… But there’s always a suitable reason for an apparition to materialize. Well, in this case, I’m guessing that I was the reason for it to appear.
“But even if I’m told to seek out ‘justice’—”
Two years have already passed. And two years ago, we couldn’t pinpoint the culprit, even with all of that debating, so who was I to say we could uncover the truth now? If we can’t, will Ougi-chan and I be confined here forever? Unable to leave school for eternity?
Disregarding my own circumstances, I would be dragging Ougi-chan into my own miserable situation. Even if she was the one to suggest it in the first place, I would feel terribly sorry for her. Then there’s only one thing that I can do. No matter how impossible the task, it is something that I have to do at all costs.
“I guess we’ll organize a class meeting one more time. But this time, we’ll determine the true culprit.”
“Aaah, about that. We already know the true culprit, right?”
Ougi-chan threw my resolution out the window.
“I mean, you should really know the answer as well. Who should have been condemned during the class meeting? According to Oikura-senpai, who was the culprit who made a mess of the ‘sacredness’ of their math test? It was obvious after listening to your story. The reason your feelings of sympathy for her are so unnaturally strong is because, subconsciously, you actually know who the culprit is. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have told the story that way.”
“In order to avoid raising suspicions against a certain someone, you voluntarily withheld a single piece of information while telling the story. Intentionally or not, you are covering for the true culprit. That explains your guilt towards Oikura, who was falsely accused for the crime.”
Voluntarily? Withholding? That’s absurd. What did I hide? I would never forget a single detail of that class meeting. I wouldn’t be able to conceal anything.
“Yup, you never concealed any details. That’s exactly why I know you subconsciously know the identity of the real culprit. You’ve been averting your eyes from the truth. The same way Tsubasa Hanekawa has done before.”
What in the world is this girl saying?
What in the world does this girl know?
“I don’t know anything. You’re the one who knows, Araragi-senpai. Koyomi Araragi.”
“At this point, the great detective would gather all the clues and piece them together. But, since we don’t have such a character, I’ll say his lines instead. Now then! In order to pay our respects to the miserable fool who drowned in her own bad karma, we must once again organize an ‘investigation’. And oh, me must not forget that if we are going to commence a trial, there is something we must point out beforehand. Whether we are aiming to exorcise an apparition or solve a riddle, please be sure to mind your manners at all times.”
That’s what Ougi-chan said, giggling at my perplexed expression.
Meme Oshino’s niece—the transfer student, Ougi Oshino, turned away from me. Then, facing towards the blackboard, she struck a dramatic, operatic pose. I could not see her expression at this angle, but it was clear what she was thinking.
“I invite the readers to give it some thought.”