A 'thousand' is a very significant number. It sticks out in the human consciousness. For Japanese like us, the legend of folding a thousand cranes immediately comes to mind. I've heard an English idiom before in class that a picture is worth a thousand words. The largest milestone in humanity's history is noted in terms of millenniums, that is to say, a thousand years. And then there's Scheherazade's One Thousand and One Nights, which is really just named to emphasise an amount even larger than one thousand.
But what leads us to attach such significance to this number?
If I were to suggest some kind of haphazard theory for this - the explanation is probably simple. Humans think in terms of base 10 because of our numeric system. Humans live up until a hundred if they're extremely lucky. The next order of magnitude, then, is a thousand.
A number that a human's existence can never measure up to, no matter how much they struggle.
Akaba Sen. A name that denotes a thousand red feathers. I thought it was a beautiful name.
"Akaba-san? What are you doing here?"
In the midst of my rambling thoughts, I've completely forgotten about my surroundings. I'm not proud of it, but that was the kind of person I am, I guess.
But then again, I had gotten lost in this train of thought precisely because of the place that I was in.
A very, very long flight of stairs.
There was no other way to describe it, really. That was what it was. Made of grey stone, it was ancient and made no effort to hide its age. It was cracked and chipped all over with extremely large steps. It was not a staircase that wanted anything to climb it.
Or perhaps I was too hasty in that description. Just not humans.
As for the exact number of steps - anyone would be able to figure this out, but it numbered exactly a thousand.
There was a reason for it, of course.
But that wasn't what was important now. Besides, it was something that was just as easy to figure out, if one knew anything about where the staircase led.
I looked up at the girl with the long black hair who had called out to me.
She quickly descended the steps, pressing down on the skirt of her school uniform with one hand as she did so, until she was only a couple of steps above me.
Much like an angel coming down from heaven, perhaps?
A name that was quite at odds with the one I had thought about earlier.
I inclined my head as I spoke her name.
"What's wrong? I would have never expected to see you here."
I smiled briefly.
The pristine, elegant girl looked behind her.
"If you had asked me before this, I would have been quite sure that you weren't the type to believe in gods."
What do you even know about me?
Even in the far distance, the shrine behind her was clearly visible, complete with the traditional Torii gate. Its roofs were long and overbearing, but I knew from personal experience that a number of tiles were missing from them.
In other words, it was in the same condition as the stairs that preceded it.
Still majestic, but worn out. There was certainly a sense of tiredness about the place. It was an emotion that I could relate to.
"I wasn't even aware that you knew my name," I replied.
"How callous do you think I am, Akaba-san? I remember all of my classmates' names."
An innocent enough statement, but there had been an unexpected edge in her voice.
Not just a pretty face, then.
No, perhaps I had simply been arrogant to peg her to a generalisation like that.
"It has nothing to do with that. A person's memories are limited; that's why most people don't remember things that aren't important to them. Considering that it hasn't even been 2 months since we both entered high school, there's no reason why you should know my name. We've never even spoken to each other before this."
"Besides, I'm not a very interesting person," I added.
"Really? I think the opposite."
She stared at me. "I should say that I'm very interested in you."
It was a statement that would undoubtedly have sounded the death knell of my life if it were to be spoken aloud so brazenly in school.
That said, I did not pay much heed to it.
"You shouldn't speak like that, Kuroda-san. You need to be more careful with your words. You're going to break a lot of a boys' hearts otherwise."
She covered her mouth with a hand.
"If you'll excuse me, then," I inclined my head again before climbing up a step.
She grabbed on to my hand before I could ascend past her.
"Didn't you hear what I said earlier?" I asked.
"I already know that you aren't the type to misunderstand, from what you said earlier."
That wasn't what I was talking about. And why do you need to grab my hand like that?
I pulled my hand away, and she at least had the decency to let go.
"I want to hear your story," she said.
It was my time to stare at her. Was one of the most popular girls in the school actually crazy?
Some time elapsed before I finally spoke. "What...on earth are you talking about?"
"I know. There's something about you that's different from the rest of the rabble that surrounds me everywhere. You aren't ordinary. I want to know more."
"You're wrong. I'm just like any other high school student. I'm just a kid, and the same goes for you, whatever you seem to think."
That's right. Akaba Kou was just another ordinary, powerless kid.
Kuroda looked at me with a blank expression.
"Fine. Tell me why you're here, then."
And even now, I wonder why I told her.