Chapter 15: Awakening, Graduation Day
"Wake up, Kakeru! Wake up!" the voice repeated several times. Furthermore, it switched from a masculine tone to a feminine tone.
Suddenly, Kakeru finally opened up his eyes and waited for the blurry shapes to become clearer as he got up from his bed. The first shape he recognized was his girlfriend, Nana, who was standing over him and wearing Enoshima High School's uniform. It was her who asked Kakeru to wake up.
"Geez, you are always such a sleepyhead. You need to change your sleeping habits and learn to wake up earlier." Nana said.
"Where am I? What day is it? What are you doing here?" Kakeru asked.
"Have you forgotten? It's Wednesday, March 13, and the biggest day of our lives outside of soccer. I told you that I'd come here to pick you up early in the morning even though the Graduation ceremony is only scheduled to begin around 9:50 AM." Nana replied.
Looking around, Kakeru realized that he was in his room, at home in Kamakura. Realizing that everything he saw and did in Manchester was only just a dream, Kakeru put his hands on his forehead and tears started rolling down his cheeks.
"Kakeru... Are you alright?" Nana asked.
"It was such a beautiful dream, Seven... It was one of those dreams you don't want to wake up from, but want to live it on forever instead." Kakeru replied.
Instinctively, Nana hugged Kakeru from behind in an attempt to comfort him. "It's OK, Kakeru. I'm right here with you."
"Is everything OK with Kake-nii up there?" Mito asked from the ground floor below.
"Yeah. Kakeru just woke up." Nana replied to Mito before he turned her attention back to Kakeru. "Was I in that dream?" she asked.
"Yes, you were. We were living together as medical students and fulfilling part of our dreams as professional soccer players on one big occasion." Kakeru replied while wiping off his tears.
"Perhaps you want to talk about it with me on the way to school. For some reason, I feel there is a fascinating story that happened in your dream and I would love to hear more about it. What do you say?" Nana asked.
"You're right, Seven. Thank you for being always there when I need you." Kakeru replied as he stroked Nana’s hair fondly.
"Well, go ahead and get ready. I'll wait for you downstairs with breakfast; you'll need it today." Nana finished before she left the room.
Although the Graduation ceremony would not take place before 9:50 AM, Kakeru and Nana wanted to get to school early just before 9:00 AM in order to pick up a few remaining personal effects, join their fellow third-years in their classroom and get ready for the ceremony itself. Hence, Kakeru and Nana left the Aizawas' house early while Mito and Mrs. Aizawa would come to school a little later before time. However, for a number of parents like M. Aizawa and M. Mishima, it would be impossible for them to attend the ceremony because of work. Because of that reality, most graduates usually have only one parent in the attendance.
On the way to school with their bikes on a cold and yet sunny day of March, Kakeru and Nana took on the usual route. Once Nana felt that Kakeru was comfortable enough to talk, she asked the question she wanted to ask: "So, Kakeru, what was your dream all about?"
"In that dream, I woke up in an empty Old Trafford stadium. I was wearing a Manchester United training kit just like you, practicing both passing and shooting with you on the pitch. Sir Alex Ferguson then came to us and told us that we would both get spots in the 18-man squad because of many injured players." Kakeru said.
"Me playing for Manchester United? That sounds crazy, but it would be nice it if they give me the opportunity to play and manage to get past FIFA's discriminatory position." Nana said.
"I know it sounds crazy at first, Seven. However in my dream, the club worked things out to give you the right to play with the reserve team and then the first team. Despite a knee injury, Paul Scholes was acting as a player-coach and as your senpai."
"Paul Scholes teaching me a few tricks would be quite a dream. What happened next?" Nana asked.
"We spent... what seemed to be 3 of the next 4 days training alongside the likes of Kagawa, Van Persie, Rooney, Ferdinand, Giggs and all of them. After training in the morning and early afternoon, we were mostly studying medical courses and living our lives in an apartment with a roommate. She was a half-Japanese, half-British medical student in Manchester."
"Was she pretty?" Nana asked with a slight frown.
"She was, but she was also a very supportive friend for both of us and she didn't mind us as a couple." Kakeru replied. Nana also sighed in relief considering that she always had that little jealous side when Kakeru's speaking about pretty girls.
"After that, I guess it was the day of the big match. What was the context?"
"United were trailing Manchester City by 3 points and by 2 goals on goal difference before that final match of the season, a Manchester derby. The only way we could win the title was to beat City by 2 goals in the derby to get goal difference to our advantage while both teams would be equal on points. We were losing 1-2 at halftime, I came off the bench at the start of the second half because of an injury to another player, and I also helped United leading again 3-2 at the hour mark while scoring once." Kakeru said.
"It looks similar to the pre-match context of Arsenal against Liverpool in 1989. Did I play in the match?" Nana asked.
"After City made it 3-3, you came on to replace another injured player with less than 10 minutes to go, you blasted a rocket to give us the 4-3 lead, and then set up the title-winning 5-3 goal for me with a killer pass at the very end of injury time. Just before you woke me up, I could see the Premier League trophy so close to us in the players' tunnel after a few celebrations." Kakeru replied.
"Wow! I understand why you said it was a beautiful dream, Kakeru." Nana said.
"It was almost as if I spent 5 whole days in the life of us being professional players for Manchester United and studying medicine through distance education. Also the context of the match, everything that happened, winning the League and standing so close to one of the top club trophies in the game... it really felt so real." Kakeru added.
"I'm really sorry for cutting your dream short." Nana tried to apologize.
"It's OK, Seven; I feel better now. After all, United currently have a 12-point lead over City and I'm confident that they will win the title easily this time. And besides, it’s still a little early for me to think about life as a professional player since I have not chosen my club yet. Perhaps some time down the road, I'll live this dream for real."
"You still have to choose your J-League club and join their squad before the end of Japan's pre-season transfer window on April 2, right?" Nana asked.
"Yes. But since I think about it, there's something weird."
"What is it, Kakeru?"
"Since the J-League teams came with their contract offers, Shibata-san asked me to keep the offers on hold before I graduate from school, but she has not spoken a lot to me recently about what to do in the time being except telling me not to sign anything."
"She told me exactly the same thing about offers from Nadeshiko League teams. She also said that she had a lot of business to do outside of the country these days." Nana said.
"I wonder what she is up to this time. I hope she has a very good reason asking me not to give any reply to those offers yet." Kakeru replied.
"I don't think she's all about going for money... unlike a number of agents in this domain who are very greedy. I have good faith in her since I also chose her to be my agent." Nana said.
"I guess you're right, Seven."
"Let's not think about it for now. I can't wait for us to finally get our diplomas. After that, it will be a brand new life for us ahead with no rule and no one telling us that dating is forbidden." Nana said.
"Yes. I also look forward into this new life." Kakeru finished.
After Kakeru and Nana picked up their remaining personal effects, they were joined by Kaoru, Kouta and the tall Takase. For the 5 of them, it was their special moment just like when their senpais graduated in the previous 2 years and passed up the torch. The third-years were all gathering in their respective homerooms and were mostly working on their appearance and school uniform for the ceremony.
"Finally, this is the last ride for us as Enoshima students!" Kouta exclaimed.
"Still, make sure to avoid doing anything clumsy for once." Kaoru said.
"Yeah, yeah, I know."
"Kakeru, are you doing alright? It looks like something's bothering you." Takase asked.
"I'm a little anxious to get out there and receive my diploma." Kakeru replied. "Well... In fact, it's just that I’m only realizing now how much mileage I've made since I first enlisted myself here, how all the hardships since my first year shaped me to become a better player and a better person."
"I know; I feel the same way too. Sometimes, I remember how I was that young and tall newbie who just dropped basketball for soccer not knowing if I would be good enough or not. I'm glad I made the right choice by going on this journey alongside excellent friends, and I can now help my family while doing something I love: playing soccer."
"I'm really happy that you found your way, Takase." Kakeru said.
"Perhaps we'll see each other in the J-League in a few weeks or a few months after today." Takase said.
"I hope so too." Kakeru replied.
"There will always be a special bond between all of us, even when you'll play for different teams. I know that the spirit will always live on." Nana added.
"You're right about that, Seven. Before we ever reach for hate as adversaries, always, always we'll remember Enoshima High School." Kakeru finished.
Meanwhile in the gym, second-year underclassmen, parents and teachers were taking their seats. Although Mito was not under the obligation of being in the attendance since she was still a Kamakura Middle School student set to enter Enoshima High School in April, she was seated in full school uniform alongside her mother and Mrs. Mishima.
"We have quite a good crowd in for today." Mito said.
"You're right. Still, it's always a special moment to attend something like this for a student or for a parent. You'll have your own ceremony in middle school next week; it will be a taste of what is to come in 3 years." Mrs. Aizawa replied.
"It will be even more special for me, Aizawa-san. It's in days like today that we realize how time quickly flew by and how my only child has grown up. She could even be regarded as an adult in many countries." Mrs. Mishima said.
"I know. It will be emotional for all of us. Still, my mother told me on the day I graduated that it wasn't the end, but rather the beginning of something new and that there's always something good to come. That's how she got through this emotional day many years ago." Mrs. Aizawa replied.
"You're right, Aizawa-san. We should look on the bright side of this day." Nana's mother said.
"Well, let the show begin." Mito said.
At around 9:50 AM, the school's musical band started to play and the third-year students entered into the gym led by their respective homeroom teachers. One class at the time, the students stood before their seats and sat down as a class when told by the teacher. Kakeru's class was led by Teppei Iwaki himself, who then joined the other homeroom teachers in the front row.
When the clock hit 10:00 AM, the master of ceremony asked everyone to stand and bow towards the Japanese flag as required by the protocol. Then after a few opening comments by the principal, everyone in the gym sang Kimigayo, the Japanese national anthem, followed by the city's anthem and the school's anthem.
With the singing done a little later, everyone sat down. The principal went to the podium while a female teacher brought out diplomas on a large tray. For each class, the homeroom teacher called out the name of the students in alphabetical order. A little while later, it was the turn for Coach Iwaki's students to receive their diplomas.
"Aizawa, Kakeru." Coach Iwaki called for the first student.
Upon the call from his homeroom teacher, Kakeru stood up and responded loudly: "Hai!"
When Kakeru arrived on the stage, the principal read the diploma out loud only for the first student of the class. The diploma was handed over full size in an open cover by the principal. Following the protocol, Kakeru received his diploma by using his left hand first, and then his right hand before pulling it towards him. Kakeru stepped back and exchanged bows with the principal. After that, Kakeru closed slowly the diploma and folded it under his left hand before retreating backwards off of the stage. On his way back to his seat, Kakeru also bowed to the special guests in the attendance.
Following Kakeru, several students from Coach Iwaki's class, including Kaoru and Takase received their diplomas. Then it was Nana's turn to receive hers.
"Mishima, Nana" Coach Iwaki called.
"Hai!" Nana stood up and shouted.
Following the same procedure as the other students did before her, Nana went to receive her diploma from the principal's hands on the stage, and exchange bows with the principal and the special guests afterwards. At that time, Mrs. Mishima was so overwhelmed by the emotion of watching her daughter earning proudly the diploma, so much that she had to dab a few tears with her handkerchief.
Out of the 5 third-year students involved with the soccer team, Kouta was the last to receive his diploma. As Kaoru asked earlier, Kouta didn't do anything clumsy when he went to receive his diploma.
Whenever a speaker took to the stage or left it, the master of ceremony barked out 3 commands: "Attention! Bow! Sit down!" After handing out the diplomas, the principal spoke for the second time before he's followed by speeches from a member of the governing council, the chairman of the parent-teacher association (PTA), a designated second-year student addressing to his upperclassmen, and, finally, the student president.
As the ceremony was reaching near the end, everyone was asked to stand up and sing Hotaru no Hikari (Glow of the Fireflies). The song itself described the student's hardships in his or her quest for knowledge, and was played on the melody of Auld Lang Syne.
HOTARU NO HIKARI, MADO NO YUKI (Light of fireflies, snow by the window)
FUMI YOMU TSUKIHI, KASANETSUTSU (Many suns and moons spent reading)
ITSUSHIKA TOSHI MO, SUGI NO TO WO (Years have gone by without notice)
AKETEZO KESA WA, WAKARE YUKU. (Day has dawned; this morning we part)
When the song ended, the homeroom teachers for the third-year classes called their students to stand and to start leaving the gym. At the time, proud parents dabbed at their eyes as their sons and daughters left the gym for the last time. Teachers and second-year students gave a solid round of applause as they watched the procession.
Regardless of what the future holds, those third-year students achieved 12 years of state education. By all means, it was a major milestone for of all of them.
After the ceremony, the students went back to their homeroom. Coach Iwaki then made one final address to his students: "In the last 3 years, you achieved something that is no small feat by any measure. As a result, you didn't only manage to get through school, but you also grew up to become better people and be ready to take on the future. Still, remember one thing wherever your path will take you: always believe that small goals can eventually grow into something bigger down the road. If you have to go out of the box to reach a greater objective after succeeding with the smaller ones, don't ever feel ashamed to do so. The world is vast, and there are multiple ways to find both success and happiness in life. Have fun in whatever you'll do in adulthood. That is all, people."
After Coach Iwaki finished his speech, the graduates received their yearbooks and spent time looking at the photos of everyone. They were also free to roam around the school and take pictures. However, the main place for the graduates to gather after the final address was outside as the whole school waited by the main entrance to say goodbye to all the graduating students. Once there, the homeroom teachers and the students took pictures and exchanged words as the last opportunity to have fun together and to immortalize the event a few more times. In the process, members of the soccer team took one last picture with their coach.
Kakeru then gave words of advice and congratulations to a second-year student who would take over the position as captain of the team for the next year. Meanwhile, Nana did the same to a younger girl among the soccer team managers. While Coach Iwaki was meddling with the students, he took out his smartphone on vibration mode and noticed the caller's ID on the device's small screen.
"Sorry, guys. I have to take a few minutes to answer an important phone call." Coach Iwaki said to his graduate students.
While Coach Iwaki was answering the call, Kakeru and his fellow graduate friends gathered together to talk about what to do next to celebrate this special day. "So, do you have plans for later today?" Kouta asked.
"Nope." Kakeru replied.
"Nothing for me either." Nana added.
"Wanna go with us? We know a good place for lunch." Kouta said.
"Where?" Kakeru asked.
"We were thinking of having a bite with the guys from the team at this restaurant not far from here. Their new chef is serving the best yakisoba noodles in town." Kouta said.
"That sounds good to me." Nana replied.
"I'm in too." Kakeru added.
"The choice's unanimous then. Let's go for some yakisoba noodles after this." Kouta said.
"Yes, of course, they're still here. We'll be on our way." Coach Iwaki finished the conversation on the phone before he went asking for Kakeru and Nana. "Aizawa-kun, Mishima-san. Before you leave, there are people asking to see you in the conference room."
"Now? Who are they, Iwaki-sensei?" Kakeru asked.
"I can't tell you at this time. Please follow me." Coach Iwaki replied.
"Wait for us, guys. We'll join you a little later." Kakeru said to his friends.
"OK, Kakeru." Kaoru replied.
At that moment, Kakeru felt that Coach Iwaki was hiding something very important based on the tone of the last reply. Still, he and Nana followed their now former teacher. "I wonder who wants to speak to us on this day." Kakeru asked.
"No idea, Kakeru. That's a little strange." Nana replied.
"Who called you on the phone, Iwaki-sensei?" Kakeru asked.
"It was Shibata-san. She came here with some very important people and reserved the conference room with the principal's approval, but I can't say anything more until you meet them yourselves.”
"Could they be representatives of the J-League teams that are behind all those contract offers for you?" Nana asked Kakeru.
"It's possible. However, it would be odd for them to make all this way to meet me at school after they already made their offers when they know how to reach me through Shibata-san's position as an intermediary."
"Also, I don't see exactly why I have to attend that meeting... unless some of those clubs also have contract offers for me with their women’s teams in the Nadeshiko League." Nana said.
"That's also a possibility. It better be good if they pick this time for a meeting." Kakeru said.
When Kakeru, Nana and Coach Iwaki finally arrived in front of the school's conference room, usually used for council meetings, Coach Iwaki knocked at the door. On the other side, Miwa Shibata, the woman who had been Kakeru's agent since he was 16, opened the door.
"Iwaki-san, Kakeru-kun, Nana-chan." Miwa greeted.
As Kakeru took a first glance at the conference room's main table, he noticed that his mother and Mrs. Mishima were both already there.
"Mom? Auntie? What are you doing here?" Kakeru asked as he went in first.
"It's a pleasure to finally meet you, M. Kakeru Aizawa." a voice greeted in English from the back of the conference room.