Wandering at will, we passed through Tatsuoka-chō to Ikenohata, then entered the park at Ueno. At this point, K suddenly broached the subject. Taking in the situation as a whole, it's quite clear that this was why he'd invited me out. However, he still had no idea where to go with his feelings. He turned to me and asked, in the vaguest of terms, what I thought. What he wanted to know was what I thought of his falling in love. In short, he sought my critique of his present state. This confirmed to me that he was far from his usual self. As I've often noted before, he was not one to bend his will to the whims of others. He was stronger than that. If he thought something right, he had the courage and grit to do it, on his own if need be. The affair with his foster family had impressed upon me his strength of character. It should be no surprise then, that I regarded him now as changed.
I turned to K and asked him why he sought my opinion on this occasion. He replied, in an uncharacteristically disconsolate tone, that he was truly ashamed of his own weakness. He was in a quandary and had lost his way, he added, and saw no recourse but to turn to me for objective advice. I asked him, first off, what he meant by 'losing his way.' He explained that he wasn't sure whether to advance or withdraw. I immediately moved a step forward. Was he capable of withdrawal, I asked, if that were his chosen course. His words stuck in his throat. All he could say was that he found it unbearable. His anguish, in fact, was written on his face. Had the other party been anyone other than the young lady, I would have been moved to comfort him, to quench his pain with merciful words. If you'll allow me to say so, I believe I possess such noble compassion. In that moment, though, that is not who I was.