Battery: Volume 1 Chapter 1
Credits and Translator's Notice:
Driving Over Orochi Ridge
While driving over Orochi Ridge, it was apparent that a blanket of snow covered the foothills. On the right was the snow-capped mountains, while the valley was to the left.
“I can’t believe there’s still snow at the end of March.”
Takumi looked out the window from the passenger’s seat. The sheer whiteness from the snow was rather dazzling.
“Eeh, which side are you talking about?”
Seiha asked with a mumbling lisp. Earlier, he had been sleeping while using his mother’s lap as a pillow.
"Wow, it’s true! Daddy, stop! Stop the car!"
Dad, Mom, Takumi, and Seiha parked the car on the left side of the road beside the white guard rail.
Takumi quietly clicked his tongue and thought to himself, ‘If I had known we were going to stop again, I would have never brought up the snow.’
About an hour ago, Seiha had said he was car sick, nauseated, and wanted to throw up. Then he closed his eyes and kept swallowing his saliva. To let Seiha recover, the entire family stopped by a tiny mobile food stall for nearly a half hour. The sugary aftertaste of the orange juice Takumi had ordered back then was still stuck in the back of his throat.
“Here, Seiha, put on your jacket. Otherwise you’ll catch a cold!”
His mother, Makiko, chased after Seiha with a blue jacket the color of water. Seiha shouted with excitement as he climbed up the slope, but not before he accidentally slipped and fell in the snow. Makiko cried after him in a panic:
"Seiha! Are you alright? Come here, don't mess around anymore. You'll catch a cold."
"I'm fine, Mommy! This is sooo cold! It's real snow!"
"That's why I said you'll catch a cold. You're almost a fourth grader and you're still this excited about seeing snow?"
Takumi passively listened to the conversation between his mother and brother while he slowly meandered out of the car. Facing the valley, he stretched his entire body towards the sky. Muscles from his shoulders to his lower back immediately relaxed, and he felt very comfortable. The stiffness from sitting in that cramped front passenger seat was gradually fading. Takumi took a deep breath and stretched a bit further.
"Takumi, you grew taller."
His father, Hiroshi, walked to his side and lit a cigarette.
"You're probably taller than your mother now, eh? Probably close to the same height as me, I think."
My height? I'm already 167cm tall! It was 'last' summer when I outgrew my mother. This year during sixth grade, I nearly grew a full nine centimeters!
Originally, Takumi wanted to answer like this, but decided it would be a pain to grumble out a pile of useless numbers. In the end, he only muttered a sentence:
"Well, I'll be in middle school this April."
Then he took another deep breath.
"Hmm. You'll be in middle school."
Hiroshi said softly, slowly blowing out white smoke.
A gust of wind blew. It was a warm breeze, and it blew away all the smoke.
"Takumi, look! It's pretty cool, isn't it?"
"Are you talking about the smoke?"
Hiroshi waved his right hand, which was holding the cigarette. Then he smiled and spoke:
"Nah! I meant these mountains. There's still snow up the mountain, but down in the valley it's already spring."
Takumi gripped the guard rail with his hands as he surveyed the valley below.
Many faceless trees were swaying in the wind. While there were a few green leaves, the vast majority were shaking with just bare twigs. Even further in the distance there was a trace of gurgling water, which was actually audible. The ice-blue streams were fed by generous snowmelt, but there wasn't a single shadow of any living creature.
It didn't really feel like scenery from spring.
Hiroshi quizzically at his son's face. Takumi was looking down at the brook in the valley in total silence. He didn't really hate this scenery. It had no flowers, no leaves on the branches, and the stream seemed lifeless. It was like a total rejection of all superfluous things, which actually left him with a good impression. But he didn't want to tell these thoughts to his father. He didn't like to share his feelings with anyone, so he remained silent, quietly observing the landscape of the valley.
"When spring comes closer, the color of the tree trunks will lighten. Every time it rains, it will get even lighter and before long bud. The whole valley will look like it is covered with a layer of pale-green fuzz. You'll be able to see it soon."
Hiroshi held his cigarette between his fingers as he spoke.
"The Orochi Ridge is very interesting. Because of the terrain, the foothills over here are still covered in snow in early April, while the other side of the valley starts to blossom in green."
I knew that leaves changed their color with the season, but I didn't know tree trunks did that too.
"I had no idea."
"I couldn't tell that the tree trunks were whatever color."
Hiroshi blinked two or three times before murmuring to himself an "Ah" of understanding.
"Well, you've got a point. After being born in Tokyo, and them moving to Hakata, Osaka, Chiba, and Okayama, you and Seiha grew up in the cities. It's not surprising that you don't have a feel for the mountain trees."
Takumi turned and looked at the side of his father's face. There were dark circles under his father's eyes, and the gray hair on his temples were very apparent.
"Dad, you look tired."
"Well yeah. After leaving our apartment in Okayama and driving for nearly three hours, I am a bit tired."
I wasn't referring to that. Takumi thought to himself. Ever since a long time ago, his father seemed to have a very exhausted look.
Two years ago, Takumi had discovered his father with dark circles under his eyes. That was a year after they had moved to Okayama.
And it wasn't just his eyes. His once sturdy shoulders started to sag, his chin became rugged, and he lost weight.
"Honey, are you not feeling well? Maybe you should go to the hospital."
"Ah, I might be a tiny bit tired. When I wrap this up at work I'll go for a checkup."
"When will this be wrapped up?"
"You mean you don't know?"
"No idea. With appliance manufacturing, you really have no idea when operations will slow down."
"But your body. Even if you can't find the time, you still have to go to the hospital."
Takumi once heard this kind of dialogue between his parents. But at the beginning of the summer last year, just before inspections, Hiroshi fell ill. He was diagnosed with severe liver cirrhosis and slight cardiovascular hypertrophy. The doctors said he needed long-term treatment.
After two months in the hospital, Hiroshi came home. He was slightly fatter, but the dark circles under his eyes had yet to disappear.
This spring, Hiroshi was transferred again. He was placed in Nitta City, bordering Hiroshima and Okayama prefecture, with a population less than sixty thousand. At the foot of the Orochi Ridge, it was also Hiroshi and Makiko's birthplace and hometown.
An freezing hand as cold as ice grabbed Takumi's wrist.
"Look, I made a snowball."
Seiha took out a snowball about the size of a tennis ball.
"Mhm, looks good. Why don't you give it a throw, Seiha?"
Seiha nodded, turned and faced the the valley, and then gave a cry of surprise.
"It's so snowy on the mountain! But over here it looks like it's already spring."
Hiroshi and Takumi glanced at each other.
"Where did you see things like that?"
"Because the color of the trees are so beautiful! Look, it's glittering and shining."
Out of all the family members, only Seiha had an accent. Listening to him say "glittering and shining" with that accent made Takumi's eyes, which were previously dull from looking at a dead tree trunk, vibrant again.
"Is that so? How incredible of you to notice, Seiha."
Hiroshi seemed to be full of admiration. Seiha giggled and extended his arm as he said:
"The branch has birds on it."
At the front of a branch quite some distance away, there was a red-breasted bird that Takumi never noticed before. A flock of sparrow-like birds neither chirped nor moved, and they swayed with the branches in the wind. The birds were hidden in the scenery, and Takumi wasn't able to spot them like Seiha was.
"Ah! Those should be chickadees."
Hiroshi didn't even finish speaking when Seiha threw the snowball. It painted a parabola in the air and seemed drawn by a magnet as it flew true to its target, hitting the branch where the chickadees rested. All the birds flew up. The branches faintly vibrated. Takumi squinted his eyes as he looked forward.
"Well, it's about time to get moving. It's getting dark."
Makiko, who was leaning against the car, shouted at the three of them.
"Huh? We're leaving already? Bummer."
As he walked back towards the card, Seiha shook out his hands that previously held snowballs.
Seiha turned around a looked at his brother's face.
"Did you aim earlier?"
"The birds! When you throw the ball, were you aiming for them?"
Seiha slowly shook his head.
"No. I mean, wouldn't it be cruel if I accidentally hit them?"
"So you were aiming for the branches?"
Seiha tilted his head slightly, and then chuckled with laughter:
"It's a good thing it wasn't you who threw the snowball, Onii-chan!"
"What do you mean?"
"Because if you were throwing, Onii-chan, you'd throw it straight at the birds! Those birds might die if they're hit by my brother's fastball!"
"Seiha, Takumi, hurry it up."
Drawn by Makiko's voice, Seiha got into the car.
Takumi turned and faced the valley. Wind had become stronger, and the branches were shaking quite violently.
Could he hit the birds above that branch?
So he wound up his arms, raised his legs, and took a striding step. His right arm shot forward.
Seiha shouted, looking out from the car window.
Nice pitch? No, but he missed.
The ball grazed the bird with a red breasted plumage. He saw this image all in his mind's eye. Takumi bit his lip and climbed into the front passenger seat.
The Orochi Ridge got its name from the the roads that meandered like a serpent on the mountains.
"Nowadays there's an asphalt road, wide enough to allow one lane of traffic on each side. It was really bad back in the day. Not only was the road narrow, but there was no guard rail in some places, so there were frequent accidents. My mom and pop, that is your grandparents, both died on these mountains. That was fifteen years ago though. They were rear-ended by a truck, and their car tumbled into the ravine. It was terrible."
For the entire ride down the mountain, Hiroshi spoke non-stop. Takumi stuffed his right hand into the pocket of his sportswear, which always had a ball. Soft-type baseball model C. For three years in Okayama City, this was the kind of ball he held in his hands.
"Look, we're about to enter Nitta City. See that white building on top of the hill? That's Nitta High School, your mom and dad's alma mater."
Takumi gripped the ball between his index and middle fingers. This is a forkball grip. With a little more of a gap on the middle finger, reversed, it's a curveball. And a slider is...
Seiha's voice piped up inside the car.
"I wasn't even alive fifteen years ago! They're terrible for dying before I was born."
Makiko couldn't help but laugh. Her long straight hair and bangs shook.
"Seiha, it's strange if you say it that way. In that case, your mommy's mommy is also terrible~! It's been nine years since she's passed away."
"Terrible! It's so scary to be dead for nine years."
This dialogue broke out into laughter.
"Seiha. You still have a grandfather though."
Seiha grew silent for a little while, and then with a sudden cry of eureka, he leaned forward on the driver's seat.
"Since Daddy's mom and dad died, and Mommy's mom died, the only one who's left is Mommy's dad."
"That's right. From now on, we'll be living in Grandpa's house. He loves you very dearly."
"Don't worry Seiha, everyone loves you. Isn't that right?"
Seiha responded with a tender and brief laugh. Takumi gripped the baseball in his hand tightly.
Dad's mom and dad died... seriously that's enough, genius subtraction skills. But it's a good thing Mom's dad is still alive, because I have some things I want to ask Grandpa.
After fifteen minutes of driving down the mountain, Nitta city was already visible.
Although there were tall buildings and TV towers, most of the landscape was occupied by little houses with black roofs. Snow-covered mountains were visible in the distance. The river that ran through the city reflected the blue sky, and looked quite beautiful.
It seemed to be a depressing place.
When eyes accustomed to the bright light of the Seto Inland Sea looked upon this tiny town below the mountain, it was like looking at rusted old furnishings. It had an inexplicably dull feeling.
"Was Daddy demoted?"
Seiha leaned forward from the back seat. The entire car became silent.
"Seiha, I didn't know you actually knew the word, 'demoted'."
Hiroshi spoke as he turned the steering wheel to the right.
"Ah, it was what Auntie Nakamoto said. She said: 'Was Seiha's father demoted?' What does 'demoted' mean anyways? Does it mean to move, like living at Grandpa's place?"
"Nakamoto-san said that?"
Makiko swallowed a little.
Takumi tilted his head slightly and looked at his mother's face. Delicate chin. Slender eyes. Everyone said that Takumi and his mother looked alike. Her jaw tightened, and her beautiful lips pursed into a line.
'Auntie Nakamoto', who lived on the same floor and apartment complex as us, was relatively good friends with Makiko. Takumi averted his gaze after seeing the clear look of surprise on his mother's face.
Mom is way too trusting. For something like demotion, it's no big deal for that old lady Nakamoto to throw it around. Even her son took it better than she did.
Nakamoto Osamu and Takumi were team members on the White Tigers, their Little League team. In the past, they were a battery. Although he was younger than Takumi by a year, he was sturdy, had strong shoulders, and was quite determined.
"Harada-kun, how could you move away?"
When Osamu found out that Takumi was moving to Nitta City, his entire face wrinkled up like a bitter melon and he looked like he was about to cry.
"I wanted to enter middle school with you next year, so you and me could be a battery."
"I don't have a choice. As a kid I can only listen to my parents."
"Since when did you listen to others?! You have to think of a way to stay."
Osamu wiped the overflowing tears away from his eyes with his fist.
"Do you know how much time I spent practicing just so I could catch your ball?"
"There's no way you could have caught my ball if you didn't practice. Also you practice for your own good, don't blame me for it."
Osamu became silent for a while, before he suddenly looked up and spoke:
"I'm going to tell my dad I want him to transfer to Nitta too."
Osamu grumbled to himself out loud.
Staring down the streets of Nitta, Takumi remembered Osamu's words.
Perhaps that wouldn't have been so bad. If they decided to move to Nitta, then that old lady Nakamoto wouldn't have gotten that kind of impression.
"Is something wrong?"
Makiko's stern voice came from behind him.
Ah, he had been careless with showing that smile.
Takumi brought his hands to his cheeks. However, it was Hiroshi who responded.
"Nothing. I was just thinking about something my boss said, and smiled a bit. He said: 'Harada, it's great that you can work at your pace from your hometown. Just remember that it's a favor from the company.'"
"It's an incredible favor. To tell the truth, it's nice to be able to come back to Nitta."
Makiko ran her fingertips against the window glass.
"The air is completely different from the city's, and it'll definitely be good for Seiha's body."
Seiha was born preterm and weighed under two thousand grams. He had abnormal severe neonatal jaundice, and was hospitalized for nearly three months. Then there was atopic dermatitis, heat cramps, pneumonia, bronchitis, influenza, and acute nephritis. If one were to list all the kinds of diseases that Seiha caught, ten fingers wouldn't be enough to count them. When they lived in Osaka, the cabinet had been especially outfitted with "Seiha's Hospital Supplies" for changing diapers and bathing.
"Seiha, you'll get better if you breath clean air and eat healthy."
"But I am healthy. I haven't gone to the hospital recently."
Seiha rolled up his sleeves and showed off his arm muscles.
"Woah! That's amazing! You're so strong, Seiha."
Makiko clapped her hands, and the tension in the air loosened up.
Takumi closed his eyes. Slowly, a spell of numbing drowsiness blanketed the inside of his eyelids.
Translator notes and references
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