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Part 3 - Tamero's Decision

My name is Tamero and I'm a Coco Panda. I prefer to do things on my own, so I don't spend a lot of time with the others in my pack. When I'm in a crowd, all I can see is everyone hiding their true intentions. Subtly fighting over territory, obsessing over social standing, giving fruit, just to make sure someone else owes them a favor. It all makes me sick. That's why I moved my bed out to the edge of the camp. I thought I could avoid all that stuff, live on my own, and solve my own problems.
But Yuiyui, a panda I'd known since we were subs, was always pestering me.
'We're both usually in the same part of camp, so why don't we hang out for a while?' she'd ask.
We're only in the same part of camp because you moved your bed closer to where mine is, I'd think to myself.
'Tamero, stop! You can't eat that fruit! It's rotten!' she said, grabbing my food out of my hand.
Honestly, I'd rather eat rotten fruit than have to go beg someone else for theirs.
'Why didn't you call for help as soon as that Bracked Monkey attacked you?' she grabbed me, tears still in her eyes.
I didn't have an answer. Maybe, deep down, part of me knew if I was in trouble, she'd come to my rescue...
'You might like the idea that you're some strong independent loner, but in reality, when you push everyone away, you're just being self-absorbed!'
She was right... Any time things got truly difficult for me, I'd end up relying on her help in the end. I was only being so stubborn because I wanted everyoine to think I couldn handle things on my own.
This whole time, I'd just been acting tough... but I couldn't keep it up anymore.
'Yuiyui, I...I don't work hard at all. I'm just a pathetic excuse for a panda who's done nothing but take advantage of your kindness. I was only fooling myself, thinking I was fine on my own. I'm such an idiot...'
But it was too late now. She probably couldn't even udnerstand what I was saying anymore. She'd become a wild beast. I watched as she approached the Bracken Monkey, snarling.
It only took a few quick strikes from her before the monkey was collasped in a heap on the ground. I could tell that he wouldn't be waking up any time soon, but I knew I couldn't relax just yet.
Her opponent defeated, Yuiyui began to gnaw on the fern-like crest on his head. I could only imagine that she saw it as just another plant in her feral state.
'Yuiyui, stop!' I pleased, 'Don't eat that! This isn't like you...'
I grabbed her and tried to pull her away, but it was no use. She was the strongest Coco Panda I knew--even if I hadn't been exhaused from the battle, I wouldn't have been able to budge her.
I wasn't about to give up, though. I couldn't let my best friend lose herself liek this.
I looked around for a way to help her, and saw my weapon lying on the ground nearby. I thought that if I her her with it just right, it might bring her back to her senses...
But no, it was too risky. If I messed up, it'd just make her angry, and if I had to fight her, I could end up going feral, too. Yuiyui wouldn't want that.
'You said you didn't want to lose me...' I looked at her and dusted myself off, 'Well, I don't want to lose you, either, and I don't care what I have to do. It's time I stopped acting tough...'
I took a deep breath and shouted for help as loud as I possibly could. I shouted until I was completely out of breath. It was the first time in my life I'd ever asked for help, but I didn't care anymore.
Getting Yuiyui back to normal was the only thing that mattered to me.
In mere moments, our entire pack had come to my side.
'When we heard ya finally askin' fer help, we was all so happy, the whole pack come a'runnin',' one of them said to me.
I recognized him--he was the same panda who had shared his food with us the other night. I never knew he could move that quickly. He'd always seemed kind of dopey to me, but now, his eyes were sharp and focused.
'It's Yuiyui! She got hurt protecting me, and now she's gone feral. P-Please! I need your help to calm her down!' I stumbled over my words trying to get them out as quickly as I could.
Everyone banded together to drag Yuiyui away from the monkey and hold her still. Then, with a swift blow to the head, they knocked her out.
She slumped to the ground and lay there, as if she'd simply fallen asleep.
'That oughta do the trick. Now, we better go'n and grab somma her favorite berries. The smell'll help wake her up,' the helpful Coco Panda said.
The others all went to gather some berries and placed them in a neat little pile right in front of Yuiyui's face. After a few moments, her nose began to twich, smelling the sweet fragrance, and her eyes fluttered open.
'Huh...? I'm...okay?' she said, still a bit groggy.
I couldn't believe my eyes. She was back to her old self! I was immediately overcome with relief, so much so, that I might have even cried a little. It was then that I finally understood how she must have felt when she came to save me.
'Tamero...? Are you okay? My head hurts a little, but other than that I'm fine and--Huh? What are all of you doing here.' She looked at the rest of our pack with a bewildered expression. It was no wonder she was confused. I bet she never expected me to swallow my pride and ask the whole pack for help.
Everyone looked on with warm smiles as I took Yuiyui's paw in mine. I decided there and then that I wouldn't tryo to act tough anymore. I was going to tell her exactly how I felt.
'It's just like you said. It only makes sense for us to all help each other out.'
I turned to the rest of our pack. 'Thank you, everyone, for helping us.'
'And thank you, Yuiyui,' I said, turning back to her, 'for always being there for me.

From that day on, I decided to give the other Coco Pandas a chance. It turned out that working together isn't so bad every now and then. We're all friends now, and the days I spend with Yuiyui and the others are filled with smiles.

下巻【運命の分かれ道】
俺、ココパンダーのタメロウは一匹でいることが好きな、群
れないココパンダーだ。群れの中に居ると、水面下の縄張り争
いや社交辞令の言葉の数々、恩を着せるための木の実のやりと
りばかりで嫌気がさす。恩を売るだの買うだの、そういった関
係に巻き込まれたくなかった。だから俺は群れから外れた場所
に寝床を作り、他のココパンダーと距離を取ったのだ。これで
もう俺は悩む事は無い。一匹だけでは生きにくい世の中ではあ
ったが、他のココパンダーとは違い、孤高に生きている自分が
好きだった。
俺が群れと距離を取ってしばらくすると、俺の寝床の近くに
幼馴染のユイユイが引っ越して来た。
「寝床が近い者同士、せっかくだから一緒におしゃべりでもし
ない?」
ユイユイの方が勝手に俺の寝床の近くに来たんだろと思った。
「ちょっとタメロウ!腐った木の実なんて食べないでよ」
うるさいな、誰かに頼るなんて御免だ。それよりは腐った木
の実を食べる方がマシなんだよ。
「まず、野性のワラビモンチに襲われた時に、
どうしてすぐ仲間を呼ばなかったの!?」
それはきっと――俺が頼まなくても、いつもみたいにユイユ
イが来てくれるんじゃないかって、期待してたんだ。
「独りで無茶をするなんて、
孤独に生きる自分に酔ってるだけだよ!」
ユイユイの方から俺を助けてくれることに甘えて、格好つけ
てた。一匹で生きていけるって周りから思われている、格好い
い自分を壊したくないから、いつも見栄を張ってたんだ。
「ユイユイ……俺は頑張ってない。ただの甘ったれ野郎だ。
ユイユイの優しさに甘えながら自分の力で孤独に生きてると
思い込んでる、馬鹿なココパンダーだ……」
いつも真っ直ぐ俺の目を見て話をする彼女の姿は遠く、
俺の目の前には完全な獣と化したココパンダーの姿があった。
ワラビモンチの投石によって野性と化したユイユイは、反撃す
るかのようにワラビモンチに向かって拳を放つ。ユイユイの鋭
い三段突きが急所に入ると、今度こそワラビモンチは気を失っ
た。
「だからって安心できる状況じゃないけどな……」
俺は一難去ったことに少し安堵した。しかし、本能の塊と化
したユイユイは、ワラビモンチの頭に生えている、ワラビそっ
くりの頭皮にかじりついたのだ。今のユイユイにはワラビにし
か見えていない、ということだろう。
「止めるんだユイユイ!
そんな変なものを食べるなんて、ユイユイらしくないぞ!」
ワラビモンチにかじりつくユイユイを引き剥がすため、俺は
ユイユイの胴体を抱えて力いっぱい引っ張った。しかし相手は
百戦錬磨のユイユイだ。彼女の力が緩まるはずもなく、俺では
全く及ばない。だからと言って、野性化したユイユイを認める
つもりも毛頭無かった。
1つ方法があるとすれば、俺が持っている武器だ。これで彼
女を殴れば、気絶させて正気を取り戻させる事が出来るかもし
れない。……運が良ければの話だがな。一番恐れている事は、
野性のユイユイの怒りを買ってしまう状況だった。怒ったユイ
ユイを正気に戻すために奮闘したなら、俺も野性に目覚めてし
まうことだろう。
「もし俺が野性に目覚めたら……ユイユイは悲しむんだろうな。
こうなったら――もう格好つけるのは、おしまいだ」
自嘲気味に呟いた俺は覚悟を決めた。大きく息を吸って――
生まれて初めて、ココパンダーの仲間を大声で呼ぶ。すると、
草木をかき分けて群れに属するココパンダー全員が駆けつける。
「タメロウが初めて仲間を呼んでくれたから、
全員で来ちゃったよぉ」
ユイユイが近所のココパンダーと呼んでいたヤツが、間の抜
けた声とは裏腹に俊敏な動きで俺の前に出た。
「ユイユイが怪我をして、野性に目覚めたんだ……
頼む、なんとかして正気に戻してあげてくれ」
近所のココパンダーは二つ返事でうなずくと、他のココパン
ダー達と力を合わせてユイユイをワラビモンチから引き剥がし
た。そしてすかさず跳躍をすると、ユイユイの鎖骨らへんを狙
い両手でチョップをきめる。ユイユイはあっという間に気を失
って、力なく森に倒れ伏すのだった。
「これで正気に戻ったはずだよぉ。
後はユイユイの好物の匂いで目を覚ますはずぅ」
近所のココパンダーがそう告げると、他のココパンダーがユ
イユイの鼻に新鮮なベリーを近づけた。すると、彼女は鼻をひ
くつかせて早速目を覚ます。
「…………あれ……私、元に戻れたの?」
そう言って瞬きを繰り返す姿は、いつものユイユイだ。俺は
安堵のあまり少しだけ涙する。不覚にも、彼女が俺を助けてく
れた時の気持ちが分かってしまい、苦い思いをした。
「そうだ、タメロウ無事なの?
私の怪我も少し頭が痛いくらいだし、
どうして……一体どうやって?」
俺が助けを呼ぶなんて考えもしない様子でユイユイが辺りを
見渡した。そこには群れの仲間が全員集結しており、暖かい眼
差しで俺たち2匹を見守っている。
「ユイユイが俺に教えてくれたんだろ」
俺は驚くユイユイの手を握りしめて、今まで孤高のココパン
ダーを装っていた自分が嘘のように、ありのままを声に出す。
「ココパンダーのみんな、助けに来てくれてありがとう。
――そしてユイユイ、いつも俺を助けてくれてありがとな」

こうして今までの自分を捨てた俺は、ユイユイや群れの仲間
たちと一緒に助け合い、笑顔が絶えない幸せな日々を送るのだ
った。

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