Kamisama no Memochou:Volume 1 Chapter 1

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"It's a primitive response to gratitude. To give pleasure. You see, our normal hosts are quite mindless; they can be thanked only by physical sensation."

"Thank you for agreeing to transport me. Thank you very much."

  • "The Only Neat Thing to Do" by James Tiptree, Jr.


Chapter 1[edit]

A boxer, a soldier, a gigolo, a detective, even a Yakuza boss—

I met so many different types of people that winter; the winter I was sixteen. Technically they were all classified as NEETs, but they were different kinds. NEET, the term occasionally manages to find its way into newspapers or television. At the time I thought it merely referred to unmotivated and unemployed youths, but the reality was that there were many different sides to them. There was no all-encompassing reason they remain jobless and fail to attend school.

“The term NEET refers to neither ‘useless people’ nor ‘lazy people’”. It was those words which that detective said to me. “The only difference lies in the rules. While everybody seems content using the board to play checkers we play chess instead.”

“I don't get it. Doesn't that mean you're just getting in the way?” The naive me of then questioned. The detective seemed to think for a moment, pursing those cherry-like lips which eventually gave way to a silent smile.

“I suppose that it would seem that way to those who just want to rush ahead. I understand that society wants to just group us together and label us: flinging us out into a rubbish dump. I also understand that they want to point at us, to laugh mockingly. Let them laugh all they want. No matter how you argue with it, the fact remains. We're a negative influence on society at large, that's undeniable.”

The detective lowered her head, gazing at her opened palms before looking at me again. This time her smile was not one of sarcasm or of bitterness, instead it was one comparable to the rays of sunlight on a freezing winter's day. “We will never laugh at ourselves. Just as earthworms do not fear darkness and penguins are not ashamed of their inability to fly. That's the meaning of life, is it not?”

I couldn't muster a response. Perhaps it was that I had never thought so deeply about matters such as these before. Regardless of how you dress it up, of how many metaphors you use, doesn't the main fact remain? You're still all useless people.

However, it was that same winter I saw my first corpse, that I assaulted another person. It was the first time in this life of mine that I had contemplated what it truly meant to be alive. Though, I suppose anyone who'd witnessed another person forfeit their life and seek death might feel the same way.

But I digress, that is a story for later. For now I will tell you about the winter I first met these people, and the story of a normal, non-NEET girl.


*

Near the end of November, I met Ayaka for the first time.

After school ended on Tuesday, I sat on the water tower on the roof of the southern campus, and stared blankly at tall buildings far away. Normally once school ends, I would go to the computer lab and focus on club activities that only need one person. But on afternoons with computer lessons, there are a lot of students remaining to play on the computers that they usually don't have access to. I am unable to bring myself to walk in just like that, so I end up coming up to the roof to waste time every Tuesday and Thursday. Staring at the computer lab on the second story of the northern campus, I gave off a lot of "Get lost already!" waves, and sighed as I looked at the streets below.

The streets of the city I currently live in can be divided into two colors, while the long thin river that flows like the artery of a patient is the divider of the colors. The side closer to me has rusted roofs of factories, cheap apartments lying side by side, and then there is the high school. I am not sure why, but there are a lot of shrines and graves in this area; My house is also on this side. On the other side is a tall flyover bridge with a highway leading to the capital, a gigantic train station with countless railways, tall buildings packed along complicatedly interweaving roads on the slope, shopping malls and television stations. On sunny days, you can even see the shadow of the government building far away. Tokyo is an amazing place to let boring housings that can be found anywhere in Japan and tall modern buildings co-exist peacefully here.

Looking down from the roof, the train station is like a scene in an advertisement on TV, without realism. Perhaps it's because I don't want to get close to that area? As we can wear our school uniform and straightaway go out to play immediately after school, I heard that our school is rather popular in Tokyo; If the sailor costume has bright colors, it might even increases the attractiveness by around 40%.

That day was a cloudy day, just nice enough that you can closely examine the glass panels of the tall buildings that are normally unclear due to their piercing reflections. Speaking of which, they are just a bunch of glass windows that are cut using similar methods. I always filled those glass squares with colors in my mind, as though I was sketching pixel art.

I've gotten used to killing time like that. I think it's because I'm always transferring schools due to my dad's work. At the beginning of October, when I transferred into my current high school, I joined the Computer Club just because there was no one else active there, and went about my school life without getting noticed by anyone. I've often thought that there's no point in me going to high school, while I couldn't follow the lessons as well.

As I was gazing at the building, I suddenly heard a clattering sound below me, and thus I leaned my upper body outwards to have a look. The water supply tower was set on top of the stair room jutting out from the roof while the sound was that of someone who had climbed up the stairs and opened the door.

"Eh? He's not here?"

I heard a girl's voice. When I carefully leaned forward and peered directly below, she turned around, meeting my gaze.

She had short hair, and strong-spirited eyebrows, in contrast her eyes, which gave off a cute, friendly impression. I felt like I'd seen her before. As I moved to get up, she made an extremely surprised face, letting out a "Wah!", causing me to tumble down from the water supply tower.

It was lucky that I fell from my feet, but as the backs of my hands scraped roughly against the concrete wall, the first thing she did when we met was to wash my wounds with water from the watering can she had.

"Why would you climb up a place like that, it's dangerous!"

She said while applying plasters on my wound. Being asked such a question, I couldn't answer her.

“……idiots and something like high places, after all.”

“You have to play down the ‘idiots’ part when you say that!” [1]

She calmly replied. Although I wanted to escape, I couldn't do so as my hand was held tightly.

“There, I'm done. Remember not to climb to high places again.” She lightly tapped my right hand that was full of plasters, just like a caretaker who was scolding small children. Then, she said while smiling, “Even though I said all that, I actually climbed it before myself. Seeing the ladder over there really gives you an urge to climb it, doesn't it?”

Anyway, who on earth is this girl? As I can't recall neither faces nor names of anyone in school, I cannot think of any girl who would talk to me with such a friendly tone.

Suddenly, I saw the yellow badge on her left arm. Although it was quite old and was already somewhat faded, the words ‘Gardening Committee’ could still be seen on it. At that moment, I finally noticed the large number of flower pots arranged by the railings. Does our school even have a Gardening Committee?

“Ah, so you have to climb that high to see the computer lab! Are you that type of person, Fujishima-kun? Those who can't concentrate when someone else is in the room? The type that people call the artistic type?

The girl held on to the railings, saying all that while looking at the school building opposite of us. I was taken aback.

“——How do you know about that?”

I let out a shout that startled even myself. She turned around to look at me with a look of shock on her face.

“Well, our class is on this side of the third floor, so that's why the computer lab can be seen from there. Besides, Fujishima-kun always sits beside the windows.”

I was found out. Color drained out of my face. How much does this girl know? She doesn't know that I was drawing naughty pictures on the computer, does she? Wait, that's not the main point…

“Why do you know my name?”

She raised her arms like a baseball pitcher who was getting ready to pitch the ball. It seemed my question surprised her.

“Don't you remember me? We're even in the same class!”

“Huh?”

I started to become anxious. From the time when I transferred to this school, I practically avoided all contact with other people, which is why I can't remember the names of my classmates.

“It was I who told you where the canteen is and also collected information of World History for you. Even when you were changing clothes during P.E class, I have helped you out!”

“Wa- Wait a minute!”

“That last comment was just a joke~”

Ugh, this girl…

“Although I thought that you might have forgotten about me, I didn't really believe that it would really be true…..”

Seeing the girl with tears glistening in her eyes, I can't help but feel somewhat guilty.

“My name is Ayaka Shinozaki, and I sit just beside you in class. How can you forget about me even like this?”

“I'm sorry…”

“Fujishima-kun, you don't think that you are a part of class 1-4, do you? You even skipped school during the school festival.

But the school festival was held just a week after I transferred, so I had no other choice but to skip it!

“And you aren't even wearing the class badge. It's rare for public high schools to have class badges, so it would be a pity if you don't wear it!”

I didn't really think it's a pity, so I lied to her: “ I lost it.”

“Then I'll lend you mine then, I have some to spare at home.” Said Ayaka while she took off her class badge from her sailor uniform.

“Huh? No, there's really no need to.”

“Seriously, don't move.”

She caught me from the back when I was trying to escape. I couldn't help but freeze and pause my breathing for a moment. She moved her hands to the front of my blazer and put on the class badge on the collar of my blazer. Looking at this from another angle, wouldn't it seem like she was hugging me from behind? No, wait, I have to calm down.

After what seemed like a very long time, the warmth of her body finally faded from my back.

“Hmm, that's better.”

She turned me around and nodded with a satisfied look on her face. With a complicated feeling, I lowered my gaze and gazed at the blue and green badge. It was as though an alien thing appeared on my neck. Why did she help me to this extent? I saw many other people who take very good care of transfer students, but it was the first time I saw someone who was that helpful.

“It is a requirement of the school rules that one must wear a class badge, so don't you take it off.”

“Why do the schools in Tokyo have so many odd rules…..”

Actually, isn't it my fault for feeling that Tokyo is a very free place in the first place? One of the many annoying rules is that students must join at least one club. It was all because of these rules that I got into these kinds of troubles.

“If it weren't for the school rules, you probably would have been in the Going-Home-Club, wouldn't you?”

So? So what?

“But isn't the Computer Club going to be abolished next year?”

“……Huh?”

“You see, the Third Years are going to graduate soon. I heard that they are going to abolish clubs that have less than two members when they decide the club budgets next April.”

It was the first time that I've heard of such an important matter. I thought of the pale, tomato-shaped face of the Computer Club advisor. That guy wants to let the Computer Club close down without saying a thing, huh? No wonder my club activities are so relaxing.

“As I was saying…”

Ayaka suddenly raised her voice, startling me into stepping back half a step.

“I have something to discuss with you. If you accept my conditions…..” Her expression was that of one who made a strong resolution. “I agree to join the Computer Club!”

“……Conditions?”

“Actually, I'm the only member left in the Gardening Club as well.”

Ayaka, who had a triumphant look on her face for some reason, placed the armband on her left arm on my palm. Gardening Club? Isn't it the Gardening Committee?

“The committee was closed down ages ago. I found this lying around in a cupboard. Isn't it cool?”

“Not at all.”

“Why do you always say things like that!”

Her whole face flushed red. Why do you have to be so agitated, I don't understand at all.

“Small clubs have to help each other out, isn't that right?”

*

In the end, I succumbed to Ayaka's threats and accepted her conditions. We went to the staff room to hand in our application forms, and things were supposed to end just like that. Realizing that I cannot stay at the rooftop alone anymore, I could only find another place to while away time after school. On the way home, I thought to myself: Is the library better or is the restroom exclusive for teachers better?

However, Ayaka walked by my table right after school.

“I'm going to borrow the keys to the rooftop, so you can get the gardening tools first! You know where they are, right? You can find them in the cupboard with “Gardening Committee” on it.”

My classmates' gazes fluttered between Ayaka and I, who was busy putting away my books.

“Am I not just a ghost member?” I started to say.

“…..A ghost member?” With her face pale, Ayaka turned away and covered her mouth. “Th- That's right, I'm so sorry. I- I was just too excited, and that confused me for a moment.”

It looked like tears could pour out of her eyes at any moment. My classmates' gazes pierced through me, as though it was I who made Ayaka cry…… No, it was I who made her cry. Anyhow, this situation is just terrible.

“Erm, uh, wait a sec!”

“Fujishima-kun, you're busy with your activities at the Computer Club, right? I'm really sorry for bothering you.”

“O- Of course not——”

“Aren't you going to complete your drawing of the girl on the computer soon? You just haven't added the dress yet, right?”

“UWAAAAAAHHHHH!”

I hastily covered Ayaka's mouth.

“Alright, alright! I got it. I'll help you then.”

“…… Really?” The tears vanished from her face in a flash. “Thank you so much!”

She stuck out her tongue, as though it was just a prank just now. Arrggh, this girl…

“Aya-chan, there's a new member in your club?”

A female classmate asked while giving me a suspicious look.

“Oh, yes. That's why we have more horsepower now. You can ask him anything about plants!”

My classmates exchanged looks.

“Oh, yeah!” a male classmate raised his hand. “There's a lot of mold on the washroom sink, please think of something to help.”

“Mold isn't even a plant!” exclaimed Ayaka.

“No, it should count as a plant, shouldn't it?” “Differentiating organisms by animals or plants is already outdated!” “Aren't the ones in the washroom moss?” “Lichen are definitely not plants!” “The ones in the Biology Club, shut up.” “But it's growing really quickly.” “Looks like a person's face.” “Seriously?”

The guys started to discuss the topic with vigor. What is wrong with this class? After about twenty minutes of discussion, Ayaka ended up getting a mold spray to clear it away. I hastily stopped Ayaka, who was about to dash into the men's washroom.

“……Allow me!”

My classmates probably feel sorry for me for having to clear away the mold that have spread on the whole wall. A few of them came in to give me a hand. The washroom soon stank of the pungent odor of chlorine.

“Fujishima, it was hard on you……”

They started to pity me.

“Of course, Shinozaki is not bad either.” “Not a bad person.” “Yeah.”

I nodded tiredly while scrubbing the wall vigorously with a sponge.

I suddenly noticed that it was the first time my classmates called me by my name. Even so, I just stammered, unable to even answer them properly.

*

“Let's have a welcome party! My treat!”

She said that evening as we were carrying the orchid plants indoors.

“I work part time at a ramen store, so I can give you a discount.”

I thought to myself: How rare for high school girls to work part time.

“As I often went there, I became a part time worker in the end. There are many interesting customers as well. Do you want to go with me?”

“Why——”

Thinking that I would have to see Ayaka's tearful face if I refuse her, I nodded reluctantly. After keeping the tools in the cupboard and returning the keys to the staff's office, I walked out of the school entrance with her.

After learning that I haven't even gone across the Shuto Expressway, she was astonished.

“But don't you live just nearby?”

“Well, I've just moved here recently, and there's a lot of people at the station, so I didn't really feel like going. Besides, I don't even have a reason to go there.”

“Don't you usually go to bookshops or record stores?”

I nodded. Usually, I would just buy books or records that I want online, as I might not find the things that I want even if the actual shops are big.

“Is that so? But the shop that I've just mentioned is very far from the station. The ramen isn't really that good, but the ice-cream there is extremely delicious, so it's still very famous.”

“Then just start an ice-cream shop instead…”

“Try not to say that to Min-san, or you'll get ramen served with ice cream.”

Min-san would probably be the owner of the ramen shop. Is he Chinese?

Ayaka walked a bit faster than me. Seeing her happily prancing around, I was extremely mystified. Where did it go wrong? How did it turn out like this? Why is she so nice to me?

When we were crossing the bridge, a large delivery truck passed by, spraying dust on us. After entering the streets, we walked past the Shuto Expressway viaduct and towards the station. Then, we went along with the crowd and entered the south side of the underpass and exited it through the east side.

We walked back to the surface in the direction of the railways. After we passed by a tramp's tent in a park, we found the ramen shop in a dark alley unreached by streetlights. On the first floor of the building that had both shops and lodgings, only the signboard that says ‘Hanamaru Ramen’ had any light on it. The customers gathered around the shop looked like bugs attracted to a bug zapper.

The interior of the ramen shop was very cramped. Most of the space in the shop was taken up by the kitchen, while only five tables were in the shop. The other customers could only dine outside on a steel chair. There were even some customers who were sitting on turned over beer crates, eating their ramen while holding the bowl.

“You can just sit wherever you like.”

After saying that, she entered the shop. Although she told me to sit wherever I like, the problem is the chairs and beer crates are already fully seated.

I saw a man sitting on the emergency staircase between a building and another one that Ayaka just went in, located by the entrance of the kitchen. Beneath the stairs, there were stacks of worn tires, small gas tanks and some cardboard boxes full of stains.

When he raised his head, I couldn't help but take a step back. The man was about twenty and had darkish skin. It was already November, but he was just wearing a T-shirt, completely showing off his bulging biceps. As soon as he stared at me, I even thought that I would get killed.

“Are you a student of M High School?”

“Nonono, I'm still in middle school. Do I look that much like a high schooler?” I lied for no reason at all. He put down his bowl and said:

“Really? There's a teacher teaching Maths, Fukumoto-sensei. Does he still have any hair left?”

“No, a lot of his hair has already dropped o……AHHH!”

He approached me and flicked my forehead. The pain made me feel as though it bore a hole on my forehead.

“…… Uuuuuu…… That's too despicable of you. Since you've graduated from our school, why don't you say so in the first place!” I, myself, don't understand why I feel that he is despicable (It was obvious from my school uniform that I'm from M High School, it's my problem for lying). I covered my aching forehead and crouched down while moaning. At that moment, a voice rang behind me:

“He didn't graduate. This guy was kicked out of school: a drop out. Here, eat this.”

When I turned my head, I saw a young lady in a gray, sleeveless vest standing behind me. Her hair was tied back in a ponytail, and you could see a white sarashi[2] around her chest. She looked just like a laborer. It was only because of the black apron with ‘Hanamaru’ printed on it in white that I realized that she was from the shop. Does that mean that she is Min-san? So she's a woman!

The thing that Min-san just stuffed into my hands was a paper cup filled with ice cream.

“Master, I've told you many times already, I was not kicked out. I dropped out myself.”

“Say that after you've cleared your tab, you bum.”

“Babies are jobless when they are born too! It's just that they are tainted in the large bathtub called life after that!"

That would be colorless, not jobless. [3] But Min-san doesn't seem to want to reply to him, but instead turned around and went back into the kitchen that was filled with white smoke. I held the paper cup with the ice cream and just stood there in a daze for quite some time.

“Hey, you there!” the person who was kicked out of school called me. As soon as I turned around, I hastily covered my forehead.

“What are you so nervous for! So you're in first year now, huh?” He said while looking at my class badge. “How many fails did you get in your test?”

“Huh?”

Why on earth are you asking me something like this?

“Fujishima-kun, don't chat with Tetsu-senpai for too long, you'll get the NEET virus!”

Ayaka, who wore her black apron over her school uniform, said while walking out of the kitchen with a tray full of bowls. The dark skinned guy —— Tetsu-senpai gnashed his teeth, but only pretended to flick Ayaka's forehead. This is just plain preferential treatment! Ayaka stuck out her tongue, and started to serve the customers outside the shop.

“Oh, just answer me already! Your face is that of one who fails a lot since first year.”

Although I thought that he was a busybody, what he said was still the truth. I could only answer in a small voice: “ I need to retake my English and Japanese History.” Tetsu-senpai caught hold of my arms while beaming, forcefully dragged me to a gas tank and made me sit down.

“Actually, the seats here are specially for NEETs. You have the potential to be a NEET, so if you drop out, feel free to come here! We will always welcome you.”

“No, please don't expect that of me.” We? Is there anyone else who's with him?

“Why? I can start from teaching you how to choose pachinko machines! Also, I know some of the employees quite well, so I know which one has the highest frequency of hitting the jackpot!”

When I had a closer look, I saw some magazines about pachinko gambling stashed in Tetsu-senpai's hind pocket. Whoa, so this guy is a professional pachinko player. What a useless person. I averted my gaze, and started to eat the ice-cream using a wooden spoon. Basking in the evening sun of this late autumn and savoring the delightful aroma of the ramen soup while eating ice cream is indeed exceptionally scrumptious.

The second person of the ‘we’ that Tetsu-senpai spoke of appeared when I was eating roast pork noodles. He suddenly pressed a hard object against the back of my head and said: “Don't move. Throw away your weapon, raise your hands, declare your name and unit.” I almost spitted the roast pork out of my mouth.

“Erm…… Err…… But……” If I raised my hands, the roast pork will fall down!

“Major, you are so slow. Stop doing idiotic stuff and sit down.”

Tetsu-senpai said while stirring his vanilla flavored ice cream and caramel sauce.

“But he's sitting on my seat! Who is this fellow?”

“Narumi. He's in the same club as Ayaka.”

“Hiro-san said that he's coming later too, there won't be enough seats then.”

“Hiro can just sit on Narumi's thigh.”

“Oh, I see.”

What do you mean you see?

The guy called Major then walked into my field of vision. He wore a dark green and coffee-coloured camouflaging sports attire, a sturdy looking helmet, and a pair of sunglasses shaped like goggles. He was somewhat thin and his skin was a beautiful shade of pink that belongs to primary school students. He actually looked about my age. While putting away the model gun (Well, I think it might be a model gun, but what if it's a real gun?) into his khaki backpack, he looked at me and said:

“But isn't this guy a high schooler? He doesn't fit the description of a NEET.”

“Don't worry, he's my kouhai. He'll become a great NEET after a year or two.”

“I definitely won't become a NEET!” I protested hastily. Through his goggles, Major glared at me and sat on a cardboard box.

“In this era when there are about a billion NEETs in our country, NEETs-in-waiting like you are necessary, are they not? The future of our country sure is dark.”

“……in waiting?”

In bewilderment, I asked him what he meant by that. Major pointed at me and started to chatter enthusiastically:

“Speaking of which, do you know the how a NEET is defined? The term ‘NEET’ was originally used on people who are between the ages of 16 and 18 and are not in education or employment. When the word came to Japan from England, its meaning changed to include people from 15 to 34. As a lot of types appeared after that, they were even classified into an active type and a passive type, a sudden type, challenged type, caveman type and hesitating type. Besides that, there were also some attempts to classify them using three-dimensional coordination to divide them into eight quadrants, but they are actually just meaningless classifications to me.”

“Mukai-san, sorry for the wait.”

Ayaka served Major his salt-flavoured ramen. It looks like Mukai is Major's real name.

“I'm so sorry, Fujishima-kun, there would be less customers after a while.”

I tried to give Ayaka a ‘justfindanexcuseformetoleavethisseat’ signal, but she didn't get it. Major sipped some soup and continued:

“NEETs were originally just a cultural illness of reliance, and will only appear in a prosperous country like ours. We should be more proud of NEETs! Love the country that strives to produce NEETs, for world peace, we must stand up! We must find more non NEET-in-waiting elites, learn from each other , form a new Japanese Party, and bravely challenge the evil! Grow, NEETs! Grow like blazing fire! NEETs!”

“So noisy! Just shut up and eat your noodles!”

Min-san's furious outburst echoed from the kitchen, and a small frying pan flew out of the kitchen soon after, landing on Major's head.

“Huh? What's with that guy?”

A male voice rang in the alley, and a tall silhouette appeared at the end of the alley.

A young man daringly wearing a brightly colored coat with khaki jeans was standing at the end of the alley. His occupation was a mystery, but he radiated the aura of a professional person. His aura was different from what Tetsu-senpai had, but they have the same imposing manner. That man approached, almost causing me to fall off the gas tank.

“He's Ayaka's friend. See, he's from M High School.” Said Tetsu-senpai. “Oh? Oh——”That man patted my shoulders and said:

“There was a time when Tetsu was wearing this uniform too!”

He shot a look at the narrow kitchen back door and sat down beside Tetsu-senpai. I started to get confused. Aren't the seats here just for NEETs?

“Hi, nice to meet you. Here's my card.” He took a piece of card out of his pocket and handed it to me. He is a working person! While thinking so, I took the card, on the card it was printed:

‘NEET - Hiroaki Kuwabara’

…… Huh? I nearly fainted at that moment.

To reconfirm the world that I live in, I breathed in deeply and looked at my surroundings. Tetsu-senpai was eating ice cream, Major was eating salt-flavored ramen. Ayaka was busy washing bowls in the smoky kitchen, Min-san was having a battle royale with flames. Looking at the night skies in this autumn, the only person who found something wrong was me.

“Is…… Is your job a NEET?”

I asked cautiously. Hiro-san showed me a smile worthy of a toothpaste advertisement while saying:

“What are you talking about? A NEET isn't an occupation!”

Well, that's true. As I was about to nod, Hiro-san's next comment completely devastated me.

“Being a NEET is a lifestyle.”

He actually said that it was a lifestyle? I almost cried. Hiro-san, with his eyes narrowed while pushing back his hair, was meaninglessly handsome. What on earth is with these people?

“Did you make these cards before this, Hiro?”

“Well, its quite convenient while flirting. People always laugh when they see it.”

“Didn't I tell you that you'll make your girlfriend angry like this, and that you shouldn't flirt with other people so much?”

“Ah, I broke up with her already. I'm now living at the house of a lady working at a night club. Making it clear that I'm jobless from the start makes my life much easier!”

So Hiro-san is a gigolo! Well, he did say that it was a lifestyle.

I listened to their conversation at the sidelines while drinking the ramen soup, but I didn't really notice its taste. From their conversation, I gathered that they were about 18 to 19, and are supposed to be teenagers who have bright futures.

I vaguely thought to myself: would Tetsu-senpai's words that I'll turn out like them soon come true? I could only hope that this won't be true.

After we finished eating the ramen, and were enjoying the ice creams (Tetsu-senpai was already eating a second), extremely noisy rock music suddenly blared in this narrow space. It was ‘Colorado Bulldog[4]. The three immediately sprang up, took out their cellphones that were almost simultaneously playing the same ringtone.

Tetsu-senpai picked up the call first, then Major and Hiro-san's phone immediately stopped ringing. An expression that looked very much like regret appeared on their faces.

“Min-san, Alice has an order for you! Onion ramen, without ramen, roast pork and egg.”

Doesn't that mean that there's only leeks left? I thought to myself. After three minutes, the bowl that Min-san took out did look like there was only leeks and soup.

“Tell this to her clearly, we sell ramen.” Min-san said with a sour expression on her face.

The leeks floating in the soup looked like islands in a sea of soup. Tetsu-senpai, Major and Hiro-san looked at each other.

“The problem is, who's gonna take it to her?” said Tetsu-senpai.

“Does Alice seem like she's in a bad mood?” asked Hiro-san.

“Definitely.”

“Are you guys taking it to her?” me asking this question was a sign of doom. Tetsu-senpai nodded, and then slapped his kneecap.

“Since there's four people here, let's decide by a Yamanote Line game[5]; whoever loses, delivers it.”

Four people?

“So what's the topic?”

“Let's use “Brochures commonly found at employment agencies” then.”

“Okay, but there's only one chance when you can't answer.”

“Wa- Wait a minute, did you count me in?”

“Okay, let's start from me. ‘Guide to a Laborer's Insurance’.”

“ ‘Searching for your Dreams from Thirty-two’.”

“ ‘Discover your Talents in Two Minutes’.”

“Ah, uh, erm……”

“Narumi, that's your first loss. ‘How to Resign Favorably’.”

“ ‘Starting Your Business From A Computer’!”

“ ‘Guide for Blending in your New Workplace’.”

“…… How on earth would I know any of those!”

“Ah, getting angry are you? Narumi, as long as you're a NEET, you'll have to know about these! Going to an employment agency but coming back without doing anything, this is a route that all of us must take.”

No, the problem is that I'm not a NEET.

“If you lose you'll have to admit it, loser.”

“Don't mind it, Narumi, it isn't embarrassing that you don't know about these.”

“Well, of course! Don't console me!”

“But you still have to deliver the ramen!”

Unable to retort, that was how I fell into their trap.

The place where I was supposed to deliver the ramen to was in the same building as the ramen shop, but on the third floor, room 308. As they said: “You'll know when you go.” There was a large signboard on the door.

‘NEET Detective Agency’

The words were written with a somewhat cute handwriting, and there were a row of mystifying English words.

It's the only NEET thing to do

My mind had already gone numb after the events that I've gone through today, so I won't be surprised even if I see a NEET being a detective. I used the corner of the tray that held the ramen to press the electric bell, and the side camera modified into the electric bell flashed blue. According to Tetsu-senpai, that was the sign for ‘Come in’.

After opening the door, I saw that it was a long single room. As the air-conditioner was going strong, it was even colder than outside. Walking past the fridge, kitchen and washing machine in the corridor, a narrow room could be seen. As there were not any partitions in the room, a computer rack could be seen even from the entrance, while countless monitors filled the walls of the room.

“Your ramen is here……”

“Please enter.”

The voice of a young girl rang from inside of the room.

While holding the tray, I walked into the room. This room is really quite something. Three sides of the walls were covered with unknown machines, liquid plasma monitors and electric cables, while the small space left —— the floor in the middle of the room, was filled with a mattress. As though she was buried in dolls, the silhouette wearing pajamas turned around.

She looked just like a doll.

She looked just like a doll. She had a small face, a pair of large eyes that were in contrast with her face, unbelievably white skin, thin limbs, sleek hair flowing on the sheets, and was wearing pale blue pajamas with pictures of cartoon bears on it. I held the tray and stared at the girl.

The girl shifted the table that the keyboard was on aside, and pulled to her bed another long table that was just like those small tables that were used with the mattresses in a hospital.

“What are you standing there for? I ordered leek ramen. I don't remember ordering a high school student-shaped ornament.”

“Ah, um…… Where should I put the ramen?”

“Since you're standing so far away, do you think that my arms seem like they're long enough that I can take the bowls from your hands?”

I was scolded by her. But I do not even feel angry or surprised anymore. I placed the tray on the table in front of the girl. She took the disposable chopsticks, looked at it for awhile and breathed in deeply. Her small face was full of determination while the hands holding the tip of the chopsticks were applying force on it. But when the chopsticks were dragged into a ‘人’ shape, it just shook but did not separate. How little strength does this girl have?

“…… Would you like me to give you a hand?”

The cute girl wearing the pajamas was visibly glaring at me.

“It seems that you're the type that sees a frail bird that couldn't fly, tosses them upwards and sink in your own satisfaction after that, are you not? These type of people are the most useless of them all. When you walk away triumphantly, the bird would fall back down on the asphalt road and die, but you won't even know that. Being dumb really should have a limit.”

It's just a pair of disposable chopsticks, why am I scolded like this? But I did not retort her. Again, she breathed in deeply and applied force to separate the chopsticks.

Thwack.

The chopstick on the right has split into two. This is the most common result. She emotionlessly stared for awhile at the chopsticks with unequal length, and then started to cry. Hey, don't cry!

She used the back of her hand to wipe away her tears, and started to eat the leek ramen(that pretty much has only leeks in it). As I was thinking of this, she started to glare at me again and said: “Your interests are really out of my comprehension. Does silently watching people eat make you happy?”

“Ah, so- sorry.”

When I was about to walk out of the room, this time she said: “Where do you think you're going? If you are gone, who will dispose of the bowls? You should really think about this.” I scratched my head, and having no other choice, I squatted down at the entrance with my back to the mattress.

While listening to the girl wearing pajamas eating the onions, I mulled over the things that happened today. I'm just here because I couldn't refuse Ayaka's request…… Then, I encountered a lot of stuff. I'm really tired. As I was about to drift into sleep, the girl's voice rang out yet again.

“Narumi, I'm done. Get some beverages for me from the fridge.”

Startled, I turned back to face the girl.

“Eh, huh?”

“I said, get me something to drink from the fridge. Falling asleep even in someone else's house, you really are shameless.”

Who are you to say that about me? But still, I followed her instructions as I did not have the energy to retort. After opening the fridge, I found that it was stuffed full of 350ml red cans, and nothing else. I thought that all of them were Coke, but they were actually all Dr. Pepper. I don't even have the energy to say anything anymore. The girl drank all of the Dr. Pepper that I brought her in one breath, and happiness welled out from her face. Seeing that expression made me feel that I could forgive everything.

“When God was creating the world, it was because He drank Dr. Pepper that He took a rest on the seventh day. If Dr. Pepper does not exist, there would be twelve days in a week instead of seven.”

“Is that so?”

“Narumi, you should drink it too! I can't give you the ones in my fridge, but I can tell you where you can get them.”

So you're not giving them to me?

“…… Wait!” That was when I realized: “Why do you know my name?”

Was it when she was talking to Tetsu-senpai on the phone? No, at that moment Alice was just ordering her leek ramen, and she hung up right after she ordered. There wasn't any time for them to say my name.

“Fujishima Narumi, sixteen, male, 164cm tall, weighs 51kg, in class 1-4 of M high school……” She fluently spoke of all of my personal information —— address, phone number, educational background, and family background. I was speechless.

“Ayaka said that there was a new club member, so I just did a little investigation. There is so much information in your school, but so few protective measures, so it's better if you start being more careful.”

At a loss for words, I looked at the wall formed of computers.

“…… Are you a hacker?”

“I'm not a hacker.”

The girl smiled while shaking her head.

“I'm a NEET detective.”

The detective said, Alice was partly her real name, and partly an alias.

“Yuuko can also be read as Alice [6]. The name Alice was taken from James Tiptree's real name.”

“Who is she?”

Alice sat on the mattress while hugging her knees, looking at me as though she was looking at an idiot.

“She's a novelist! Didn't you see the signboard at the door? Although I changed a letter, it was quite a famous quote! Haven't you read of it before?”

I cocked my head, thinking of the English words on the signboard.

“The detectives that you speak of…… Don't they just accept other people's requests and investigate various cases?”

“I am not an ordinary detective, but a NEET detective. They are as different as Chofu and Den Enchofu, mind you. An ordinary detective asks around for information, monitors other people, all in all going here and there to search for information and find their target. NEET detectives, on the other hand……”

Alice puffed out her chest, turned around to the wall covered with machines and waved her hands.

“Do not need to leave their rooms even a step, but can search the whole world to find out the truth. You probably just think that I'm just a hikkikomori who's overly reliant on the Internet, huh? You don't need to lie.”

“Erm….. Yeah.”

“Hmph, that's because the common man cannot understand the work of a detective. A detective is the messenger of the deceased, looking for the words lost from their graves, hurting the living for the sake of protecting the honor of the deceased, and condemning the dead for the sake of consoling the living. That is why this is such an unpopular and misunderstood occupation…… Is your expression questioning that why am I, as a hikkikomori, saying all these?”

“No, my expression shouldn't be that obvious.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“But you look like you have something to say. Don't worry, just ask! Because of my occupation, I am already used to never ending questions. And I will let you fall into despair very quickly.”

…… Despair?

I don't really have anything much to ask, just that I'm a bit shocked by the endless chatter of this strange girl, Alice. But in this situation, it seems that I need to ask a question. Looking around the room that looks like a control room, I asked the question that was the most confusing to me.

“You…… What do you usually eat? Do you always eat that stuff?”

Alice's round eyes became even rounder.

“This trivial matter is the first thing that you thought of?”

“…… I think that what we eat is very important.”

“Yes, you are correct. You are also an oddball, different from what Ayaka has said.”

Alice narrowed her eyes while looking at me, as though she was smiling.

“To obtain the nutrients essential for my body, drinking Dr. Pepper would suffice. But Min-san is very persistent, so sometimes I eat some vegetables as well.”

“So that's why you don't grow……”

“Where did your biased opinion that only tall people are good come from? I can list out fifty advantages for being a shorty and disadvantages of being tall, if you are willing to have a debate, I am always ready to accept the challenge.”

“No, sorry.”

I was just thinking about her height, which resulted in me mumbling to myself and getting heard.

“So do you depend on Min-san for your daily life?”

Alice raised her eyebrows.

“You're really impolite, you know. I've already said that I'm a NEET detective, a NEET detective is an occupational detective! I have an actual income, and pay her for everything.”

“Eh, eh, but aren't you a NEET?” aren't all NEETs jobless?

“You misunderstood NEETs from a fundamental level. The second E in NEET is Employment, being employed by someone. My occupation is a personal enterprise, so I'm not employed. How other people view that depends.”

How other people would view.

“…… Lifestyle huh?”

“In Hiro's life, that is so. Turgenev might say call it the ending of an illusion, Dostoyevsky might call it hell, William Somerset Maugham might call it reality, while Haruki Murakami might call it self. I use another name for it, but anyhow it's unrelated to the matter of income.”

I have absolutely no idea what she is talking about, but the fact that the pajamas-clad girl earned money by being a detective is somewhat unbelievable. Which reminds me, she seems to be familiar with the usage of computers and the Internet.

“Your expression tells me that you don't believe me. No matter, another man would come here in a moment to request for my investigation, you'll probably believe it after you've heard it.”

“…… Huh?”

At that moment, the doorbell rang as she had predicted. I turned around and looked at the door.

“Open the door.”

“Me?”

“It would be nice if the agency adds some other way to welcome guests besides the blue lights.”

As I walked to the entrance to open the door, I froze as there were three men outside the door. The young man in the middle was wearing a leather coat and looked slightly older than me, but his expression was like that of a wild wolf. Among the other two who were flanking his sides, one was a man having muscles like a rocky mountain, the other was tall like an electric pole. Both of them were wearing the same gray hoodie.

“Who is this guy? Where's Alice?”

The wolf said. It was as though I was pierced by his sharp gaze, my lips trembled and I was unable to speak. At this moment, Alice's voice came from inside the room:

“Oh, Yondaime, please come in.”

The two people behind the man who was called Yondaime said: “We'll wait here.” And then I was dragged into the room. After the door was closed, the two men disappeared from my field of vision. When I was closing the door, I felt as if I was glared at, and my hands holding the door handle trembled.

“Narumi, get another can of Dr. Pepper.”

Alice's voice finally peeled my hands off the door handle.

“Hey, who is that guy? Aren't we going to talk about the job?”

When I handed the Dr. Pepper to Alice, Yondaime who was sitting beside the mattress used his chin to point at me, and then turned around and said to me: “You, get out for a moment.”

“Eh?”

Telling me to go outside the room to become best friends with the two bear-like bodyguards, and wait for you to finish discussing? What are you talking about!

“Yondaime, just imagine that there's a high school student-shaped ornament here, relax and start the discussion.”

“Hey, Alice, are you joking? You should know that this isn't something that you can let outsiders know!”

“It doesn't matter, Narumi is only my assistant for today, I can guarantee that he will not speak of this to anyone else.”

I don't even know when I've become an assistant.

“That's not the point.”

“If you're so insistent, why don't you talk so that outsiders wouldn't understand? Your job has a lot of jargon anyway. If you would not want then, you can just give the request to some other people.”

An awkward expression appeared on Yondaime's face and he used his foot to kick the bedstead. Finally, he sighed and started to talk.

Indeed, I could not understand a thing, it was all a bunch of unknown nouns and verbs that you couldn't understand. The ones that I could barely understand “deal with him when we catch him”, are the ones that I really don't want to understand.

“Hmm.”

Alice finished listening to Yondaime's explanation and finished drinking her second can of Dr. Pepper.

“I understand. Narumi, do you understand what he just said?”

I hastily shook my head.

“Is that so? Basically, someone is doing unknown drug dealing behind Yondaime's back, so he requested me to help find out about the ways that they deal drugs.”

“What is the use of me talking like that when you explain it to him!” Yondaime flew into a rage. That was quite understandable. I felt somewhat happy and thought: Great, finally someone would teach her a lesson…… “What is with that happy look on your face!” Yondaime's changed the target of his anger to me. I could only retreat to the corridor and hide behind the fridge.

“Well, as I had a big headache this morning, I wanted to enrage the first person who came in to vent my annoyance, whoever it was. Although Narumi was the first person to come in, but for some reason he is quite tolerant of it, and didn't get angry at all.”

So she did all that on purpose!

“Coincidentally, the next person was you, so I vented my annoyance on you, so don't mind it. If I did anything wrong, you'll always get angry, and that's why I like you the most.”

Alice stretched her legs out of the blanket and smiled sweetly. At this moment, I was totally defeated (Yondaime probably was, too). Yondaime hammered the blanket for some time, tried to say something but then stopped, and then he stood up.

“So are you willing to accept the request?”

“I accept it, so just leave it all to me!”

“I will mail the details to you, goodbye.”

Yondaime walked to the corridor and dragged me out from the fridge. He caught hold of my left shoulder and applied force on it until his thumb almost sank into my body.

“Ah, ouch…….”

“I've remembered your face, and will find out your address immediately. Listen closely, you didn't hear anything just now. Is that clear?”

The wolfish eyes came closer to my eyes, while I could only nod while trembling.

“Answer me!”

“I…… I didn't hear anything.”

Yondaime tossed me to the ground and walked out of the room.

“Are you alright?”

Alice came over and asked as I was huddled up on the floor in exhaustion. So she can walk? I thought that she had an illness that causes her to die if she leaves her bed.

“I just feel very tired.”

The words popped out of my mouth. That would be my feelings about what occurred the whole day.

“If I didn't do so, I'm afraid you'll still think that I'm a hikkikomori who's over-reliant on the Internet. Don't mind it!”

“No, I already understand clearly.”

Because of Ayaka, I stepped into an unbelievable world. Drug dealing, detectives and hackers, I had always hoped that these only exist in worlds that I don't know of.

“You just wanted me to understand your work, so you said nonsensically that I'm your assistant and that I'm tight-lipped……”

“That is not nonsense. You are indeed tight-lipped, I am sure of it.”

I raised my head to look at Alice and saw that she was smiling. Since this is the first time that we've met, why does she dare to say so?

“Hey, Narumi. The people who met me, each and every one of them would ask: ‘Are you really a NEET? Why did you become a NEET?’, and you are the first one who did not ask me this question.”

Adjusting to my eye level, Alice squatted down.

“Although it might be because you're thoughtless or uncaring, but I -- we NEETs would be extremely happy. Instead of pitying us, ignoring us would have been better. 'Why did we become NEETs?', this question shouldn't even be asked. Because there is only one reason – it is written on our page of God's notebook: ‘We lose when we work.’ There is no other reason.”

“…… God's notebook?”

“Isn't this statement so irresponsible that it's great?”

Placing her hands and chin on her knees, Alice said while smiling:

“What the word NEET really means, is actually not ‘Someone who doesn't know how to do anything’, and not ‘Someone who doesn't want to do anything’.”

*

Holding the empty bowl on the plate while walking out of the NEET Detective Agency, I saw that it was already completely dark outside. The starlight could not be seen as it was hidden by the piercing lights on the earth. The ramen shop below had become extremely crowded. Laughter and angry shouts coming from there could be heard even from here.

After I walked down the emergency backstairs, I found Yondaime sitting on the seat exclusively for NEETs that I was sitting on just now. Tetsu-senpai, Major, Hiro-san and Yondaime surrounded the wooden table, and looked like they were doing something together. The clear tinkle of a bell-like sound could be heard even from far away.

“Sou-san! Didn't you say that you are only playing for five minutes!?”

The bodyguard, Rocky, who was standing behind Yondaime was shouting angrily by Yondaime's ears.

“Shut up, how can I go back when I'm in a losing streak! Tetsu, hurry up and throw already!”

“Okay, four, five and six.”

“Impossible!”

A large bundle of money was on the bowl. So they're playing a game of dices. Do these four know each other?

“Fujishima-kun, Min-san made a flavored ice cream, do you want to try some?”

Ayaka ran out holding an ice cream cone. While licking the ice cream which was giving out a fragrant aroma, I listened to the dice tinkling along in the bowl. Yondaime was shouting with his whole face red, throwing his cash onto the bowl like a ninja throwing knives. Looking at this situation, I couldn't help but feel – somewhat happy.

*

On the way home, the streetlights on the street were very dim. Walking in front of me, Ayaka turned around and said:

“I'm so sorry, I did say that I wanted to have a welcome party for you, but coincidentally the shop was busy……”

Speaking of which, I don't think I've talked much with Ayaka today at the shop. There were so many customers that even I helped to deliver.

“Oh yeah, did you see Alice?”

“Yeah…… She's an oddball.” I couldn't say anything else about her.

“But it was really unbelievable today. There are indeed a lot of interesting people behind the ramen shop, but it's rare that all of them were present like today! You're so lucky, Fujishima-kun.”

“Does that count as lucky?”

Indeed, the people that I met and the faces that I've seen today have far exceeded my brain capacity, but I still remembered all of them. Tetsu-senpai, Min-san, Major, Hiro-san, Alice and Yondaime.

“It would be even better if Onii-chan could come.”

Onii-chan?

“After my brother left school, he became a NEET. He usually goes to the ramen shop to hang out with Tetsu-senpai and the others. But recently he didn't even go home or to the shop. I couldn't even reach his phone.”

“You can't really say that all of those who hang out there don't have a job……?”

A horrible illusion came upon me. Would I turn out like them when I leave school someday?

Ayaka turned around and said: “Did you ever think of leaving school?”

“Every day.”

Under the streetlight, an inscrutable expression appeared on Ayaka's face.

“…… Even now?”

I was momentarily speechless. Being unable to immediately answer this question is indeed strange.

Ayaka gazed sincerely at me.

I averted her gaze and lied: “Now…… I don't want to…… Probably!”

“Is that so.” A gentle smile appeared on Ayaka's face.

“But I think you have no need to lie right now.”

I stopped walking, speechless, and Ayaka stopped too. Coincidentally, we were standing in the middle of two streetlights, while our shadows interlaced on the asphalt road.

“…… Why?”

I could only say this one word. Why? How did she know that I was lying?

“Because…… That place originally belonged to me.” Ayaka said. “It was because there were no other members that I entered the Gardening Club. So in this case, I'm your senior for about half a year!”

I pondered the reason why Ayaka can smile while saying such a thing. Because she is different from me, and can chat with the other students in our class as if nothing had happened, it seemed as natural as breathing.

Hearing me speak of my true thoughts, she showed me a glass-like smile that was even more transparent.

“It's really simple, you can do it as well. Shout when you're angry like the others, laugh when you're happy like the others, and speak your mind when you want something.”

I lowered my head, and thought repeatedly about what Ayaka meant by her words. I still don't get it. I just felt that her words were like that of a busybody, although its contents completely suit my current situation.

After we crossed the bridge, Ayaka and I said goodbye to each other.

Looking at the silhouette of Ayaka running towards the station, I thought of a scene when she was shouting or laughing like the others. Wasn't she just pushing herself? Does she mean that I should do that as well? Forcing myself to talk to the other students, forcing myself to smile.

I wish that she would not care about me anymore. I just couldn't do what she said anyhow.


Translator's Notes and References[edit]

  1. Japanese idiom, idiots and smoke like high places.
  2. A cloth used to bind one's chest
  3. In Japanese, jobless and colorless have the same pronunciation (Mushoku)
  4. Song by the band Mr. Big
  5. Originally, it's a game where each player tells the name of a station that the Yamanote Line can reach. Here, they will say things that are related to the topic given
  6. 有子is read as Yuuko, but 有can be read as ari, 子 can be read as su


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