Hyouka:Volume 1 Chapter 4
4 - The Descendants of the Eventful Classics Club
It was on a Sunday that I was invited out by Chitanda. She said she wanted to see me outside school, though she counted on me to arrange where to meet, so as a result, here I was waiting at the "Cafe Pineapple Sandwich". The coffee shop, which serves the sourest seasoned Kilimanjaro coffee I've ever known, was decorated in a sombre dark brown hue. The conspicuous advertising board outside was quite hard to miss.
This coffee shop was quiet as there was no radio or TV being broadcast. Though it was indeed a pleasant environment, it was quite a boring place to wait for someone. There were only a few minutes before the appointed time, so I was getting a bit fidgety about Chitanda not yet arriving as I stared at my cup of coffee within the compartmentalized table I was seated at.
Finally, Chitanda arrived, and according to my watch, right on time at half past one. It's quite a small coffee shop, so she quickly found me. Dressed in a mostly white one-piece dress, she came over and got herself seated. One could say there's no other person more well-dressed than this casually dressed Chitanda.
"Sorry for calling you out on such short notice."
"It's fine," I replied as I emptied my cup of coffee, and then called for the waiter. Chitanda had a look at the menu and said, "I'll have a Vienna Cocoa, please."
She decided on something sweet. As an ordinary high school student, I wasn't wealthy enough to make another order myself.
Before getting to the main agenda, we had some small talk, which started with Chitanda's favourable impression with this coffee shop. I then commented on how a person like her who doesn't order coffee in a coffee shop was like a person who visits Ueno Zoo but doesn't go to see the giant pandas. As Chitanda began listing many examples of coffee which were weak in caffeine, her Vienna Cocoa had arrived. I was startled to see the amount of cream on her cup. Seems like she has a sweet tooth.
Chitanda began to use the spoon to stir in the cream. She seemed to be enjoying herself while she was at it. At this rate, she'll just be drinking her coffee and engaging in small talk all day before going home. Being half serious and half fearful about that happening, I decided to get the ball rolling.
"So, what do you want?"
Is this the attitude you should have for asking people to take time out of their holy weekends?
"What is it that you asked me out for?"
Silently sipping her coffee and muttering "That was delicious", Chitanda tilted her head and said, "Well, it was you who chose to meet at this place."
"That's it, I'm going home."
"Ah! Please wait!"
Placing her spoon and cup down, Chitanda quickly sat upright and said, "I'm sorry, I... I was a bit nervous."
Though she looked as though she was calming herself down, her expression was hardly stiff to begin with. It would seem it's her nature to just blurt anything out whenever she's nervous. So I decided to tease her by asking, "Nervous? You have something to confess to me?"
Upon saying that, I quickly noticed that such a generic joke had a subtle effect on her.
As though trying to conceal her embarrassment, she looked hesitant as she slowly nodded.
I started to panic, and quickly called for the waiter.
"... I'd like another coffee, please."
Not minding my reaction, Chitanda silently spoke.
"While it might be a confession, it's more of a request I have for you. In truth this is my problem alone, so I don't know if I'm justified to make such a request. So, would you please hear my story first?"
Chitanda was no longer staring at her cup of cocoa. Is that so... Though I'm no good with such solemnness, I replied, "Okay, let's hear it."
And so, after taking a gulp, Chitanda began to slowly speak.
"... I have an uncle, he was my mother's older brother. His name was Sekitani Jun. Ten years ago he went on a voyage to Malaysia, but he has been missing since seven years ago.
"When I was young... no, I'm probably still young right now — ten years ago, I was quite attached to my uncle. From what I can remember, he could answer any question that I could ask him. As a child, what he said naturally sounded amazing to me, though I can't exactly remember anymore the things he told me. The image I have of my uncle is that there was nothing that he didn't know of."
"Sounds like an amazing fellow."
"He was knowledgeable and eloquent, though I don't know if that's still true now."
I smiled and replied half-jokingly, "Well, at least you knew he was when he was still around. I have two to three uncles myself, though none of them are missing. So why are you asking a request of me? You're not expecting me to go to Malaysia to search for him, are you?"
"No. My uncle was last seen in the Bengali region, umm, in India, that is. What I wanted to request from Oreki-san is... to help me remember what it was that my uncle said to me."
Chitanda finished her sentence upon saying that, which seemed appropriate, as I had no idea what she had just said. She's asking me to help her remember what her uncle told her?
"... That's too ridiculous."
"I'm getting ahead of myself, aren't I? My memories relating to my uncle come from my childhood, so I can't exactly remember them myself. But, there's this one event that left a strong impression in my mind. I really want to recall that moment."
As her lips were getting dry, Chitanda took a sip of her cocoa. She then continued in a lower volume, "It was when I was still in kindergarten. For some reason, I managed to hear my uncle mention something about a 'classics club'. I always thought this 'jurassics club' had something to do with dinosaurs, so I became interested in this 'classics club' of his."
"Jurassics Club", "Classics Club", it was a silly pun, though kids that age usually pronounce things wrong. Maybe that's why. This must be when Chitanda Eru, the incarnation of Curiosity itself, was born.
"I heard many stories about my uncle's 'classics club'. Then one day, I went looking for my uncle to ask him about something concerning the 'classics club'. Normally he would answer me as usual, but on that day, he seemed reluctant to answer. He began wringing his hands with this regretful look, and when he finally calmed down, he answered my question. Upon hearing his answer, I..."
"... I cried. Whether it was something fearful or sad, I cried out loud. My mother was so startled that she came to see what was going on, and that's all I could remember. The last thing I can recall is that my uncle didn't come to console me like he normally would."
"You were shocked?"
"Yes, a bit, I believe. I've remembered that day all this time. Afterwards, yes, sometime during Junior High School, I began to be bothered by that event. Why did my uncle look so regretful? Why did he not console me? ... Oreki-san, what do you think?"
Upon being asked, I started thinking. Why would a person who would so patiently answer every single question asked by a young kid leave her crying by herself at that moment?
I quickly figured out the reason, and explained with as much composure as I could muster, "Your uncle told you something he could not take back. He didn't want to lie to a kid, and probably wanted you to know that what he said was true."
Chitanda gasped and smiled.
"Yes, that's what I thought of as well."
She said while looking straight at me... Umm, when's my coffee gonna come?
"Upon realizing that, I began to wonder in earnest just what it was that he had told me that day. So I began to take things into action, first by attempting to reenact the environment of that day. I sneaked into the residence of the Sekitanis, whom we have become estranged with."
She's definitely the sort that would go to all lengths in order to get things done.
"I see. So that's what you meant by 'personal reasons' when you said why you joined the Classics Club."
"Yes. I wasn't aware that the Classics Club was nearly abolished until recently. I knew it wasn't easy, but I didn't expect that there would be no one left behind who would know the truth. I considered asking the teachers, but the teachers who were around when my uncle was a student 33 years ago were no longer at the school."
"So, why are you asking me to help you?"
As Chitanda stopped her sentence midway, the waiter arrived with my coffee. Working mechanically, the bearded waiter withdrew my empty cup and replaced it with a new one. After the waiter had left, Chitanda sipped her cup of cocoa as though remembering everything and said, "... During the incident with the clubroom key, and the library mystery that Ibara-san raised, you have managed to deduce their solutions in ways beyond my imagination. While it may be shameless to say this, I believe Oreki-san is the one who can figure out the answer to my question."
I felt myself frowning.
"You overestimate me. I just relied on some insight, which required some luck in itself."
"Then I'm seeking help from this luck of yours."
"I don't think I can help you."
The reason I didn't think I could help her was firstly, I had no obligation to assist her in such a bothersome errand; secondly, if I couldn't figure out anything, then I would let Chitanda down, as well as feel very helpless myself. This wasn't some quiz show, but merely Chitanda's exaggerated way of finding out the meaning of a moment in her life. You expect an energy saver like me to bear such a responsibility? You must be kidding me.
"Why does it have to be me? Surely there are others who could help you."
Chitanda's eyes widened. Without knowing the meaning behind that, I continued, "Wouldn't it be more efficient to rely on more people to help out? You could ask Satoshi, Ibara, or other friends of yours."
There was no response. Chitanda merely remained silent at my refusal. She lowered her head and slowly muttered, "I... Oreki-san, I'm not the sort of person who would tell everyone about my past."
"I... I've never told anyone else about this story before."
I was taken aback. I see, now it makes sense.
Why would Chitanda purposely call me out on a Sunday just to talk to me alone? The answer was simple, she did not want many people to know about her uncle's story. Chitanda had decided to put her trust in me, a person she barely knew, and yet I had told her to "rely on more people".
It would of course be embarrassing for many people to find out such private information. Who wouldn't have their own deepest secret that they want to cherish?
I felt myself going red, and I lowered my head.
"... I'm sorry."
Seeing Chitanda smile at me, I felt that she'd probably forgiven me.
Silence then followed. Chitanda seemed to be waiting for me to speak. Yet I couldn't find anything appropriate to say. The steam from my cup of coffee rose between us. Chitanda's Vienna Cocoa had gone cold by now, as no steam came from her cup.
I held my cup in my hands. As though to break the awkwardness, Chitanda said with a gentle expression, "I've said something unreasonable. I know I've involved you in something I shouldn't, but yet, I..."
"Oreki-san, when you managed to solve my queries... you probably reminded me a lot of my uncle. No offense to my uncle, but you too have managed to answer my questions. That's why... Oh no, I'm being too selfish here."
"You still have three years of high school remaining, so you could take your time finding out. If you're still troubled, then I won't necessarily stand aside and not help."
Chitanda slowly shook her head.
"I wish to remember what happened that day with my uncle before he dies. I wish to find out before his funeral why my uncle had told me something that he could not take back, and what it was that he told me."
"Before he dies?"
What a strange way of describing a person. A dead person would already be dead, while a missing person isn't exactly dead.
... No wait.
That's right, people who have gone missing, are dead.
"It has been seven years since my uncle, Sekitani Jun, has gone missing. In case you didn't know, people who have been missing for seven years are declared legally dead... The Sekitani family has been informed of such by the Missing Persons Bureau and will be holding a funeral in due time. So I wish to settle my questions regarding my uncle before then."
Chitanda sighed after informing me as such, and then turned her gaze outside the window. I followed her gaze as well, and saw only a generic street view.
I took another sip of my coffee. It seemed Chitanda was done speaking.
I began to think.
There is a memory that needs to be remembered, and it was a memory worth remembering. This matter was hard to define according to my motto. For someone like me who was used to dodging crisis after crisis, I don't have many memories worth remembering myself.
However, for Chitanda, she would seek to recollect any memories that she may have forgotten. Now that I think about it, that curiosity of hers is what's driving her to dig for her own memories, so it wasn't strange for her to be digging into her own past. She was digging not just for her uncle's sake, but for herself as well. And what would happen if she is not able to achieve what she had intended?
As I was thinking, a passage from my sister's letter flashed across my mind: "After all, you don't have anything better to do, do you?"
... Indeed. I am Houtarou the energy saver. I will not do anything if I don't have to.
In that case, it wouldn't be too strange if I were to help someone do something that needs to be done, right?
I placed my cup down and flicked my fingers as I felt a strange feeling within me. The ceramic cup made a thudding sound as it touched the table, causing Chitanda to turn her gaze away from the streets and towards me. I slowly spoke as though trying to catch her attention.
"I will not be responsible for what you intend to do."
"That's why I won't say that I'll accept your request. However, I will take your story into consideration, and if any hints should come my way, I'll let you know right away. That'll save me the trouble of having to explain too much."
"If that's fine with you, then I'll help you."
Chitanda quickly sat up straight, and bowed at a perfect 45 degree angle.
"Thank you so much. This may cause you a lot of trouble, but I am gratefully in your debt."
Cause me a lot of trouble, huh?
I turned my face away where Chitanda couldn't see and smiled softly. I was quite amazed with myself for not refusing a request from someone. If Satoshi ever finds out, I wonder what he'll say about it. He'd probably widen his eyes in surprise, and express his amazement using vocabulary I've never heard of before, saying something like, "But Houtarou's the sort who would turn down a request at once."
I wonder how I should explain myself to him then.
I went into deep thought while being thanked many times by Chitanda. I'd already finished two cups of coffee, but her cup of cocoa had already gone cold.
Translator's Notes and References
- TL Note: Modified to fit the pun
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