Kamisama no Memochou:Volume 9 Chapter 1

From Baka-Tsuki
Jump to: navigation, search

"I can probably die now," said Ender. "All my life's work is done."

"Mine too," said Novinha. "But I think that means that it's time to start to live."


Orson Scott Card -- Speaker of the Dead.

Chapter 1[edit]

Till this day, I still vividly remember the day mom died.

Every word my sister said on the phone, dad's drool in his half-opened mouth, the instruction posters pasted on the white hospital walls--I still remember them all. These were all too bright that I wondered if I mistook them for being in a movie or some other places. But looking back at my memories, I realized it could be associated with the last time I saw off mom at the door in the morning. There is no doubt this is my memory. I wondered why I could still remember that so vividly.

I supposed it was because I did not see the corpse for myself, and the makeborn up for the surrealism, my mind frantically pieced together everything I saw and heard in my mind. I was still in elementary school when mom's body was knocked down by a trailer, and deformed as she was crushed between it and the building wall, so obviously, dad didn't allow me into the morgue.

Dad himself could not move as he stood in front of the stairs leading to the basement, so my sister was the one who identified the corpse. Back then, she was still in high school, but she did everything, from speaking to the police and doctors, and calling for the funerary parlor.

Dad became weird after that, as though his fractured bones were put back in the wrong places. I did not remember exactly what happened at the funeral, but I knew that he did not say anything. Perhaps that was when he snapped. The next day, he started calling my sister by my mom's name. I could not understand what happened at all. It seemed sister knew, but did not know how to respond.

"Maybe I'm too capable."

While we were alone together, sister shrugged as she said this.

"Dad's someone who can't live on without mom. He probably escaped to the past, pretending that Alice didn't die."

I didn't know how she could calmly rationalize this.

However, sister's deduction was amazingly accurate. After observing dad, who had lost it, for a little while, I had to come to agree with that assessment. Dad's mind was back to when he first got married with mom, and because of that, he saw the only female in the house--his own daughter--as his wife. Also, he would say such passionate things like "Sorry for always having world." or "I might be deployed to Kansai next time. Sorry to bother you." For a while, I couldn't believe that my stoic dad actually became like that, and to be honest, it felt really disgusting. Also, he could not recognize me anymore. His mind 'went back' to when he got married with mom, back when she had yet to bear a kid. For dad, I'm someone who shouldn't exist. I didn't know how to deal with dad when he was like this, and to be honest, it was easier for me not to interact with him. There was not much change to this daily life. Dad continued to work, earning money for the family. While things would get awkward whenever the school called (whenever the teacher called, he would say something like 'that's strange. I don't have a son'), but sister could normally handle that well. Since it was not a hassle to any of us, we did not care no matter how mentally disturbed he was.

After a long while, I asked sister,

"Sister...are you really alright?"

"Eh, well...about mom's death."

My sister chuckled. Her past experiences gave birth to such a smile.

"Of course I'm not. But neither you nor dad are able to help, Narumi. I got no choice but to shoulder the load."

No choice.

Just as dad remained mentally disturbed, I too could only stand by the side, watching. Sister did all she could to protect our lives in a realistic sense.

"It's stupid."

She sighed.

"Humans can't revive. Can't he just cry it all out and forget?"

Those words appear to be directed at me as well. To be honest, I really had the same thoughts as dad--as long as I did not admit that mom died, maybe I could have waived off the past? Maybe sister saw through me, and that I didn't have the guts to be 'broken mentally', unwilling to say it out.

The dead can't revive.

I held my breath, enduring this youth filled with simple yet cruel truth.

When I was in my 10th grade, dad bought a house in Tokyo. He was dispatched to the main office in Tokyo, and did not have to wander everywhere.

Because of that, I too came to this city, encountering many lives and deaths, sometimes causing commotion, sometimes getting hurt, sometimes dirtying myself, soiling my face with dirt as I remembered it all, welcoming this second Spring. In the process of recording every memo in a story, I learned something--no matter who the narrator was, what they said formed their story. I might not be the one bleeding, but if the truth was as I heard and witnessed, turned into words with my own hands, what I write would be my story. On the other hand, I could only recount the stories I heard and saw, what were related to me. All I could describe were the stories of those who were similarly suffering, anguished, and contorted like me.

Finally, I could say it.

The final case of the detective who shut herself in the frigid room.

The cruel battle of the girl who like me, wanted to revive her dead mother.

Why did she not choose that one smart move? What kind of grass would the land grow after absorbing so much blood, such that one would laugh for, shed tears for, break themselves for, be forgotten? What kind of flowers would bloom--

The me now probably had a right to say this story.

For I lost Alice again.

*

First day of Spring Break, we held an important meeting at the back of Hanamaru Ramen Shop.

This meeting was organized by Tetsu-senpai. Like usual, he's dressed in a short-sleeved T-shirt, his arms folded, emphasizing the biceps that were trained over a long time. Tagging along was Major, who as usual, was wearing a camouflage patterned helmet and a jacket on his small body that's like an elementary school kid. Also, there's Hiro-san, looking like a star as he wore the classy pink jacket representing the Sakura season. He was like a youth representing the fragrant spring breeze, but was a pretty face who lived on scamming women. Last of all, there's me.

"...So the topic of this evaluation meeting is--"

Tetsu-senpai scowled hard, and said,

"Why is it that Narumi's able to avoid repeating the year."

"How about you do a proper celebration for me!?"

I slammed the wooden desk that acted as our table.

"What are you saying now, Vice Admiral Fujishima?" Major looked a little surprised, sighing as he shook his head, "You don't look like you have a sense of danger. Now there's only one more chance to repeat the year."

"What kind of chance is that!?"

With much peril, I managed to glide past my second year end of semester tests held in early March, salvaged my dire failing grades with retests and remedial, and was finally able to enjoy Spring vacation without a care, so I came to Hanamaru Ramen Shop to report the good news, only for everything to turn out this way. Major was so furious, his shoulders were huffing, and he lashed out at me,

"You never repeated in high school. What kind of NEET are you!?"

"Didn't you graduate from high school straight away, Major? And you entered the school that only the smart ones enter."

"But I never understood how wonderful this world is before I entered college..."

Major looked far away as he said this. Right, I just had a thought. What did this person do to fall so far from the elites?

"You want to know?" Major asked as his eyebrows twitched.

Only those that desire to say something really unbelievable would ask such a line, no exceptions. Without waiting for my reply, he continued on,

“The opportunity that allowed me the chance to enter the world of NEETs was a book. It affected the philosophies of many thinkers and literary experts, a book every man should read.”

“Really? What book is it? Just get straight to the point already.”

“The path of knowing death--” Major's goggles lens sparkled, and he said, “'Bushido'.[1]

“Are you going to say that the author's name is Inazou NitobeNEET?”

“Don't ruin the punchline now, okay!?”

Stop being so proud of such a lousy punchline.

“Samurai and NEET have nothing to do with each other. Of course I know where the punchline's coming from.”

“Oh? Vice Admiral Fujishima. I guess you read 'Bushido' since you're saying this now?

The sharp stare made me struggle with my reply,

“Eh...I never read it...”

“Of course, I didn't read it either.” “So you didn't read it either!” The only ones who can ask such questions are the ones who read it!

Hiro-san overheard our bickering, and answered in Major's stead,

"Some time back, Alice had Tetsu and me investigate a stalker. The peeping cameras that guy used was of an incredulously high quality, and couldn't be found in the market. We finally managed to track it down to a certain college student."

"What's with that face, Vice Admiral Fujishima? Are you thinking this Major Mukai Hitoshi is a stalker?"

"Eh...ah, no, that's not what happened? I thought the conversation would end up like that."

"I was a victim too!" Major lashed out, "The culprrit was a student in the same faculty as me. He used my prototypes without my permission."

Thus, Major was distrustful of college, and at the same time, Alice and the others witnessed his skills, interacted with him, and integrated him into the backyard of Ramen Hanamaru.

"For us NEETs, just graduating from high school is a shame. Moreso ever, I ended up in a national college. I want to surpass Tetsu and Hiro, be a full-fledged NEET, and repeat my years in college!"

"I didn't enter high school anymore. Better than Tetsu who met a pretty female teacher and had to undergo her tutelage."

"No, you got so many licenses that are helpful with work, Hiro. My rank as a NEET should be higher."

"I do nothing other than to leech money off women. Thus I'm more of a NEET."

"I do nothing other than fighting and gambling. I'm the King NEET here!"

What are you guys competing over?

"Alice never attended school though. We're lightweights compared to her."

Major's words left everyone silent.

I had been curious about this all this time, but I never found the opportunity to speak up. It's a stupid topic, but it might be the perfect time to ask. I checked the expressions of the trio, and spoke up,

"So...why did Alice become a NEET detective?"

Tetsu-senpai and Major looked around, and then, they looked over at Hiro.

"I don't know either."

Hiro grimaced.

"It's true that Master Gorou entrusted Alice to me, but..."

Shionji Gorou--Alice's great uncle, and the master to Hiro's gigolo antics. He had quite some history with me, but even he never discussed about Alice's past with me. I guess Hiro knew as much as I did, that the Shionjis were a conglomerate, and due to some complicated reasons, Alice left home. End of story.

"Maybe she'll tell you if you ask her now, Narumi."

Hiro gave a vague looking smile.

"No, it's fine. I'm just a little curious. It's not a good thing to ask her without reason..."

"Just ask her how to be a perfect NEET, and then ask the question."

Tetsu-senpai redirected us back to this topic.

"That's right, Vice Admiral Fujishima. This is your last chance before you graduate from high school."

"Alright everyone, let's discuss the matter on 'how to submit a school withdrawal slip as coolly as possible'. Hiro's eyes were glowing.

"I knew this would happen, so I developed a fully-automatic school withdrawl slip shooting machine. 60 rounds in 1 second!" Saying that, Major took out a device resembling a miniature printer. Seriously, I had no idea what's the purpose of developing such a thing.

"Relying on machines? That's a second-rate move. I'll show you the secret, first-class style of submitting it."

Tetsu-senpai said as he gave me a serious look.

"Hold the form down on the teacher's head, and deliver a few punches. That'll deal quite a bit of damage."

"Because you beat up the teacher!" That has nothing to do with withdrawing from school!

"So just submit the school withdrawal form along with the marriage certificate request."

Hiro came up with another ridiculous idea. A marriage certificate request?

"But this can only one on female teachers who aren't married. 'Since the student-teacher relationship is stopping us, I won't be attending school'. Once you say that, surely she will accept it with tears of joy."

"Surely not." Even without that arduous process, the teacher will accept the form. Eh, but I have no intention to drop out of school though?

"Ah wait, Hiro. Being unmarried is a key to being a NEET. If you get married after dropping out, that defeats the purpose, doesn't it?"

Tetsu-senpai's opinion was straight to the point. But to be honest, this discussion's too ridiculous to be called defeating the purpose. Hiro merely shrugged at this predicament he expected,

"No biggie. I can simply not submit the request to the marriage council."

"As to be expected of you, Hiro! I heard you collected hundreds of women's signatures on these certificates, right?" "Aren't those incriminating evidence? Why didn't you get rid of them?" Tetsu-senpai asked.

"Oi oi, that's cruel of you, Hiro. Discarding them is a show of dishonesty to women."

"You're never honest to begin with! Anyway, isn't this a marriage scam?"

"It's not a scam, but a fantasy granted to people. You have taught me that, no, Narumi-kun?"

"I didn't, stop fabricating this!"

"To deal with this, my device's able to switch into an auto-firing marriage certificates mode!"

So I say, what's the point of that?

Hiro activated it out of curiosity, and it rattled and fired off a bunch of papers. The marriage certificates fluttered at the door of the ramen shop like snowflakes.

And the door opened,

"Yo Narumi, bring this bowl to Alice--"

Hiro hurriedly stopped it, but it was too late. The marriage certifcates land right on Min-san's face, just as she was holding the bowl in her hands. She had a look, and went beetroot.

"If you want to purpose, do it right!"

She beat Hiro up, and retreated to the kitchen. All that was left was the bowl of miso ramen with char siu and corn, without ramen (it should have been called miso soup instead).

   

"Hm? You want to know about my background?"

Alice, eating the beansprouts, spring onions, and dousing them with Dr. Pepper, questioned me. The temperature of the air-conditioning in the NEET detective agency was a migraine-inducing freezing. She was seated on the bed inside, with the ill-looking lights of the many monitors shining upon her. Once again, our detective's living unhealthily.

"Hm, well, I can't say that I'm not interested at all.."

Shionji Yuuko, commonly known as Alice. My employer, a hikikomori of a detective. Pale skin, dressed in thin pajamas, her slender legs exposed, as though she was not exposed to the cold. How in the world does she live in such an environment? What kind of growing up did she have to hav esuch a strangle quirk?

"So why are you only asking me this now? You have been my assistant for a year and a half, haven't you?"

Alice tilted her head, showing some confusion.

A year and a half...?

While realizing how fast time passed, I lamented how short the time was. The conflicting thoughts occupied half of my mind. While Alice should have aged as long as I did, her physical shape showed nary a change.

"I've been curious. Like, what did you do before being a detective, how old you are...eh, of course, there has to be some reason, so I didn't dare to ask."

"I don't know how old I am either."

"...Huh?"

"No matter how intelligent I am, there are periods in my infancy that I do not remember. I do not remember the moment I was born, so I do not know my birthday and age."

For a moment, I was flabbergasted.

"...No, but, well, your parents would have told you, right?"

"So I said, my family situation isn't like that."

Alice said with a self-reproaching tone,

"I was born to the Shionjis, one who 'should not be born', so ever since young, I was locked in a room, and the servants did the cleaning. I never met my parents before."

I was left speechless. What was more chilling was the nonchalence in Alice's tone.

"In the family, the only ones who interacted with me were either great uncle Gorou, or the other children. For example, there's my sister, cousins. Once a week at most. Well, the doctor does drop by every day though. Needless to say, I never had a birthday before, and never went through kindergarten or school. Think about it, do you think I do have a chance to know of my own birthday?"

Someone who should not be born--the words continued to echo in my mind. I cursed my foolish self for accidentally peeking into the abyss of a girl's heart.

"If this isn't enough to satisfy your curiosity, do you need me to go into the specifics?"

Alice said impishly. With a frozen face, I shook my head.

"No, sorry. It's my fault."

"Why apologize? I don't mind. It's simply because you never asked that I never said."

Alice shrugged."

"There's no reason to hide these facts, and I don't think of my predicament as unfortunate. I do feel grateful, fortunate to some extent even. I won't be shackled by all the things of the world, and simply focus on living a life dedicated to absorbing knowledge."

After hearing those words, I was left more speechless than before.

Certainly she was not lacking in food and clothing, and she was not exactly abused in any case. She might not have any freedom to leave home, but with the internet present, Alice had no need to. She might even scorn upon the concept of familial love and warmth.

"Also, I have been blaming everything on my family circumstances till this point. But I do know that my age isn't something I can just investigate. Basically, I do not have any interest in those thoughts. I do have a vested interest in the person 'Shionji Yuuko', but everything about 'when was she born', and 'how long has she lived' remains as unimportant information to me. Do you agree?"

"Yes...?"

With her mentioning this, I suddenly realized that age wasn't exactly such an important information.

"But without knowing your birthday and age, there will be many issues unbeknownst to you too, right?"

"How so?" Alice raised her chopsticks? "My bank account and credit cards were handled while I was still with the Shionjis. There is no need for any personal particulars until then. I have no affiliation with school or licenses after all."

Since she said so, it probably was the case.

"No, well, what if you need to handle procedures at some government agency?"

"Government agency? Why do I need to go to such a place--"

Saying that, Alice placed the chopsticks back onto the tray. At this moment, she noticed the existence of a certain thing.

There was a piece of paper pressed beneath the bowl. It was the marriage certificate Hiro fired with the device. It seemed I had served it along with the bowl, without noticing. Alice took it out, had a glance, and immediately went beetroot.

"Wh-wh-what is this!?"

“Ahh, this is, well just now--”

“And I was wondering why you’re so curious about my age out of a sudden. So-so-so this is what you mean!?”

“Ah? No, not at all, you’re mistaken, it’s Major--”

“Are you asking me about my family because you’re foolish enough to think of greeting my family!? Also, there has to be a proper process to this sort of thing! You’re so unromantic in delivering it under the bowl.”

“So I say, calm down already. What do you mean by that?”

While I was trying to calm her down, someone else who would mess the situation further opened the door to the detective agency.

“Hello Alice. I’ve starting Spring break today, so I’ll take care of you--”

Dropping by was Ayaka in casual clothes, who entered the bedroom, and looked beyond my shoulder towards Alice. Once she realized that Alice was holding onto the marriage certificate, she widened her eyes, she shoved me aside, and got onto the bed.

“Alice, what is this? Why do you have a proposal with the bowl of miso soup? Are you trying to imitate the I want to taste your miso soup cliché? This won’t do though. Fujishima-kun is bad at cooking; choose something else.”

“Hey, what are you saying? How did it end up with me proposing to him?”

With a blushing face, Alice yelled,

“Hm? So is it the other way around?” What’s with that, “No can do, Fujishima-kun!? Alice might add Dr. Pepper if she’s to cook miso coup!”

My appetite was gone just from imagining that.

“No, can’t you just get away from this miso soup thing already?”

Ayaka immediately retreated, pulling some distance from the miso soup.

“That’s not it!”

“Listen up, Alice. You got to know that if you can’t play dumb to this extent, you can’t continue to act as a couple manzai with Fujishima-kun!”

“What nonsense are you spouting here!?”

The bed shook as Alice was enraged, and the empty cans piled high up tumbled over.

*

Surprisingly, the one closest to the truth was Yondaime. The following day, I visited the Hirasaka-gumi office, discussed the future plans in the storage restroom cum computer room, while casually dropping this topic.

“Probably 14 or 15.”

Yondaime simply answered.

“…Eh. How do you know?”

“There was once when Alice wasn’t feeling well, and I brought her to the hospital. That general hospital was ridiculously big, and she often visited it when she was at home. Alice had no health insurance, but they let her in after seeing her face. I’m guessing the Shionjis invested heavily in that hospital. Alice herself said that she was born in that hospital.”

Alice somehow visited a doctor. I was a little surprised.

“Then, I heard from the doctor that it used to be some common small-scale hospital, but before Alice was born, the hospital suddenly received a large investment of various top-notch facilities. The Shionjis probably invested heavily behind the scenes to ensure a failsafe, that there might be a high risk of miscarriage. I was curious about it, and looked into it; I found that it was 15 years ago.”

I was impressed. As a detective, this guy’s way better than me.

“…But why spend so much effort to elevate the facilities of a small hospital? Her family’s rich, and has lots of top-notch hospitals under its name.”

Yondaime narrowed his eyes, and coldly said,

“Surely there’s a reason why they couldn’t deliver her there.”

Suddenly, I recalled the words from Alice, that she was ‘a child who should not be born’.

At this moment, I began to regret, for not denying Alice’s self-reproaching.

“Hey, let me make this clear. Everything’s just my conjecture.”

Yondaime hurriedly added on, probably because he noticed the grim look on my face.

“What the doctors say are no more than rumors. Maybe the investments had nothing to do with Alice. Also, the matter of age isn’t exactly important here.”

“Eh, ah, yeah, that’s right…”

But, 14-15? Is it really okay if her appearance differs so much from her actual age? She looks like an elementary school kid, and no more than 11-12. Of course, it’s no wonder she developed poorly given her poor eating habits.

“It’s likely she was born differently.” Yondaime said with a gloomy look, “Living on carbonic acid, sleeping only an hour. She doesn’t have a normal body for one. The doctor said that it’s a probably of genetics.”

“I…see. So that’s how it is…”

She’s been such a unique girl, and it might be acceptable to say that her body was weird to begin with. Well, it’s too unhealthy either way.

But even so, if I’m to switch off the air conditioning of the office immediately, have her put on normal clothes, eat normal foods, and go out to exercise, surely she would faint. What do I do then?

“Ahh, right, to prevent something like that from happening again, I’ll tell you where the hospital is.”

Yondaime tossed a note with the hospital address and number.

“I’m not going to bring her to that sort of place again.”

“Eh, bu-but, you want me to bring her there?”

“Aren’t you her assistant?”

“But I don’t have a car…”

“Ask Hiro, or call for a taxi.”

I sighed. Let’s just hope this doesn’t happen.

“Speaking of which, are you intending to accompany her for the rest of your life?”

Once we were done, Yondaime looked over at me,

“…Ah? …eh, no, well…”

I could only speak vaguely.

“There’s still a year until you graduate. What will you do in the future? The admin and accountant roles for the gang are still available. Best if you can just continue with these jobs.”

I blinked in a daze as I stared back at Yondaime.

“…Erm, I can’t actually join the gang, right?”

“You’re still a student. Once you graduate or drop out, you can join.”

Yondaime sat back on the resting bed, looking back and forth between me and the computer.

“Even as Alice’s assistant, you can’t be receiving requests 24-7. Our work here isn’t that heavy, so it should be fine for you to handle both sides at once. What do you think?”

Then, Yondaime gave a specific salary. The compensation package was pretty hefty.

Surprisingly to myself even, without hesitation, I gave an immediate answer,

“Thanks for the offer, but I don’t intend to bother the Hirasaka-gumi further.”

Once I said so, I found my tone to be arrogant, and hastily added on,

“Eh, while I’ve been under everyone’s care till this point, I will surely help if there’s a need to, as payment. But I don’t intend to be employed here…”

“I guessed so.”

Yondaime’s answer was pretty calm.

“You know quite a fair bit of our gang’s secrets, and it’ll be easy to get you involved in some way--”

Yondaime quietly looked over at a dark corner of the room,

“But I knew you would reject.”

Why? I gave a doubtful look at his sidelong face.

“You aren’t made for this gang. While I don’t think you’ll get a proper job, if you really are to be part of the underworld, you’ll rather work alone.”

“R-really?” I was so taken aback, my tone changed, “While I just rejected you, it’s not like I don’t have any clear goals regarding the future. To be honest, whether I can actually graduate from high school is one issue.”

“I know. I can tell.”

I guessed so.

“But there has to be a path somehow. Your talent is in going crazy and doing unscrupulous things at crucial moments, and then making it through in the end.”

…I don’t think you’re praising me at all.

“If you’re a little more daring, you can become an elite in this world.”

“Daring, eh, basically…”

Better not ask what this world is about. I could infer, and if I was mistaken, the mood would have worsened. Thus, better use this chance to ask something that might come in handy.

“For example, while you rejected my invitation, you never thought about what you’re going to do in the future. Why aren’t you more daring in asking me to recommend you a job?”

I didn’t know how to ask,

“…Eh, no, this might be too daring. If I really did ask, wouldn’t you be fuming, Yondaime?”

“Of course, and I would have beaten you until you can’t open your mouth.”

Of course you’ll be pissed off!

“But, that’ll just be it.”

“What do you mean ‘just be it’ after beating me so badly I can’t open my mouth!”

“It’s not like I’ll kill you or break ties with you. Also, if I’m to meet such a shameless guy, I’ll give him a few blows, show some pity, and give him some lifeline.”

I scratched my head, sighing,

“So without any risk, it’s possible to be a little more daring; is that what you’re saying?”

“That’s how it is.”

“I’ll consider that.”

“I’ll repeat myself though. Once this happen, I’ll go all out.”

“I’ll really consider that…”

Once I was done with business, I intended to get up, only for there to be cracking beyond the door behind me.

“Hey stop pushing.” “What’s going on?” “Can’t hear clearly.”

Yondaime frowned as he got up from the bed, went over, and pulled the handle down. At that moment, a bunch of hulks in black T-shirt, who were pressing upon the door, were tangled up as they tumbled into the storage.

“…What the hell are you idiots doing?”

Yondaime’s temples were popping as he glared down at his subordinates lying on the floor.

“S-sorry.” Pole, lying at the bottom, was sheepishly grinning away,

“We heard that you have been trying to invite Narumi Aniki, Sou-san, and wanted to know the response.” Lying atop Pole was Rocky, looking at us as he answered.

“We’re done. Now scram, don’t blow us.”

Yondaime poked at Pole’s head with a finger, and the latter excitedly got up, saying,

“So Aniki’s gonna put on our logo?”

The blockheads lying on Pole rolled away to the restroom of the office,

“Eh...ahh, no, er, sorry. I didn’t do so.”

I said as I hid behind Yondaime. Pole and Rocky’s faces looked roasted as a result.

“Wh-why!? Is there something bad about our gang?”

“Is the office too small!? Too dirty!? Too noisy!?”

Everything, I guess.

“Erm, I’ve been under the Hirasaka-gumi’s care for a long time. Sorry for getting you gets to help me with work, so…”

“We’ll improbe!” “We’ll be kinder when we treat others!”

The gang members knelt downbefore me. Yondaime shot me a look, hinting me for to do something. Seriously, I wanted to jump out of the window…

“How do we become more approachable?” “We’re a bunch of gorillas though.”

“Can’t we imitate some popular animals?” “But those popular animals are all small, right?” “We can’t change out of our black uniforms. We don’t have the money.” “Anyway, is there really an animal that’s black, large and popular?”

“A panda!” “That’s it!” “You’re pretty smart!” Seriously, none of these add up.

“Alright, get the white paint!”

“Sou-san, are the panda eyes black or white?”

Yondaime landed a punch on the face of Rocky, who asked the question.

“Blue!” “As to be expected of you, Sou-san!”

The others saw the blue bruise appear on Rocky’s eye as the latter fell over, and started a ruckus. Yondaime was taken aback by how stupid they were, and after a second, he turned to look at me,

“Hey, get these idiots to shut up. You’re the expert, right?”

Not at all!

But if they were to continue with this tomfoolery while blocking the door, I wouldn’t be able to return back. No choice. I could only approach Pole and the others who were blocking the door, debating furiously over the color of a panda’s paw.

“Erm, dressing up as a panda isn’t a good thing.”

“Why!?” "Aren't pandas popular!?”

“I bought some sasamochi!” “We'll just eat the bamboo leaves, so please finish the rest, aniki!”

No thanks. I'll puke from eating too much. Wait, this isn't the time for this.

“Think about it, aren't pandas black and white?”

“Yeah!" “That's why we're using white paint--”

“Black and white are the same colors as a patrol car, right? Those are police colors. Is it really okay to be dressed like them?”

The hunks in black T-shirts paled in unison,

“I-I see...”

“We never thought of that...”

“As to be expected of you, aniki. Straight to the point!”

“We're all idiots!”

“We nearly became one of the stripes!”

They really bought what I said. Even I found this to be utterly ridiculous.

“Hey, now's not the time to be spacing out here!” Pole turned back to yell at the others, “Get to Ueno park and duke it out against the pandas!”

“Righto!” “Can't let the stripes underestimate us!”

The gang members stormed towards the exit of the office. While I was wondering if these gorillas should be caged in Ueno zoo, Yondaime said,

“You're not going to command them?”

“Don't say that!” No way am I going to lead this circus!

*

And so, it was the end of March, where the cherry blossoms would bloom in Tokyo. On a certain afternoon, I was requested by Alice to perform several procedures at the bank. I was intending to head down an alley to the right of the Meiji Highway, back to ‘Hanamaru’, only to hear a shrill honking of a car behind me. I turned around to look, and found a blue open bonnet Aston Martin parked right next to me. The one driving was a young woman with long hair, wearing sunglasses. She was probably in her twenties, and though it was early Spring, she was dressed in a low neckline dress along with a translucent shawl, giving a refreshing vibe. Also, she had a cross-shaped necklace upon her.

Once she saw my face, she was immediately taken aback--

“Fujishima, Narumi-kun?”

After a moment, I realized she called my name,

“…Ah, ehh, that’s me.”

“Get in.”

“Huh?”

“Into the car, now.”

While I was blinking away, at a loss of what to do, she leaned over, grabbed my arm, and pulled me into the seat next to her.

“Wah, eh?”

As the door was not opened, I fell head first into the seat.

I was struggling as I leaned over, and she pulled the brake, driving off.

“Hey, wa-wait up.”

“Put the seatbelt on. You don’t want to fall over, right?”

I fumbled around, and my butt tumbled onto the seat. While I withstood the acceleration strong enough to crush my body, I fidgeted for the seatbelt, and latched it.

By the time I managed to catch my breath, the car had already turned right at the Meiji Shrine juncture, racing towards Aoyama,

“Ah, erm,”

At this point, I stared at the sidelong face of the female driver. It seemed everything I wanted to say was blown aside by the oncoming gusts.

Through her sunglasses, she gave me a long stare. “There’s no need to ask, no?” so she appeared to imply. Surely, her facial appearance explained everything, and all my doubts were gone.

A forlorn feeling was born. While I did not know what it was about, and while I did not know her true identity, I instinctively knew something was about to come to an end.

   

The car drove into the underground parking lot of a large tower-shaped mansion in Aoyama.

“Let’s get off here. Do you mind carrying some stuff for me? I can’t take them all.”

So I did as she said, and moved out lots of paper bags and boxes out from the boot. These things had the logo of some high-end brands printed on them, probably clothes and shoes. She said she could not carry them all, but in fact, she had me carry them all. She’s acting like a Queen, here, and I could not bring myself to be angry. While waiting for the elevator, she unleashed a barrage of questions to me.

“Where do you normally buy your clothes?”

“Do you exercise well?”

“You do slouch quite a bit, you know?”

‘Have you had anyone customize shoes for you?”

It seemed she was pretty particular about my appearance, or rather, displeased about it.

After entering the massive elevator surrounded by mirrors, half the size of the classroom, she checked if there was anyone around, before circling me boldly, and sized me up from head to toe. As it was too awkward, I nearly dropped the bags of goods occupying my hands.

“I should have bought your clothes. Shall we do so another time?”

I really did not understand why she said so. I guess this person really was not bemused to see someone with such poor fashion sense so close to her.

The elevator stopped, and it was indicated that we had arrived at the top.

Since we had to remove our shoes, I supposed it’s a personal residence. Looking around the house, I could only marvel. It seemed I was in the living room, as there was a carpet on the floor along with tables and sofas. There was a step on the floor, and the other side of the room was a little lower than this place. A long sofa and coffee table was basked under the sun there. Two walls were completely made of glass, and the blue skies could be seen from beyond. It seemed this apartment was so spacious, it took up the entire floor, and I could not give an estimate of the area it occupied. The indirect lighting, wardrobe, flower pots, and everything else were designed with modern curves. The stairs leading to the upper level were made of glass, and there was a

“Just put aside the stuff and sit down. Will you like to have a drink?”

“Ah, erm, no, I’m fine.”

I placed the bags and boxes on the flooring, and with much trepidation, sat at the corner of a sofa. She ushered a tray from the bar to the far left, and served a bottle of vodka, two glasses, and an ice bucket on the table before me. I’m still underaged, you know? Also, drinking vodka in broad daylight?

She sat down on the sofa opposite mine, and finally removed her sunglasses.

With her bluish eyes staring at me, I felt strangely relaxed, and mesmerized, as though the air within me was quickly drawn out.

That’s right. My belief was strengthened. They were really alike.

“Shall I call you Narumi-kun?” she asked, filling the two glasses with vodka.

“Y-yes.”

“I suppose I won’t have to introduce myself now.”

She raised a glass, and gulped it down, her face unflinching.

“…I suppose.” I nodded. “But at least, do tell me your name.”

A fuzzy, faint smile appeared upon her eyes.

Beyond her fingertip were a few magazines piled carelessly upon the carpeted floor. Each of them was related to the fashion world, none I knew. All I knew that the model at the top was her, and the caption next to it was written.

‘Charismatic designer/model Shionji Mari, tells you all about beauty as she leads the artistic trends.’

Kamimemo09 040.jpeg

I looked back towards her, the smile finally looking somewhat realistic to me.

“You have been taking care of my little sister all this while, haven’t you?” Mari-san smiled.

*

The following day, I was cleaning the detective agency while Alice was eating, and my eyes inadvertently observed her face, matching her along with Mari-san’s. They’re really alive. If Alice’s able to grow into a healthy adult, she might be like Mari-san. Honestly though, I suspected if she really had this biological function.

“Now what? Why are you staring at me?”

Alice furiously slammed the chopsticks onto the table.

“This bad habit of yours just wouldn’t change no matter how I nitpick at this.”

“Ahh, so-sorry.”

Uh oh. I just stopped and staring at her without thinking.

“Seriously. You went back right away after you were done…and now you’re spacing out today for some reason…”

Alice muttered away as she brought the noodles to her mouth. Recently, she’s starting to consume some carbohydrates and proteins. Grow well and be like Mari-san, so I quietly prayed.

Speaking of which, I didn’t know how I was about to mention my encounter with Mari-san. After leaving her residence the previous day, I sent a message to Alice, stating that I was not going to return to the agency, and went home. To be honest, it was really tough for me to say things like, I met your sister, and we chatted lots.

“O-oh yeah, Alice.”

My voice got so cheery, it sounded fake,

“Are you intending to stay at this agency forever?”

Alice lifted her eyes from the bowl.

“What do you mean?”

“It’s nothing. Just, eh…”

Momentarily speechless, I scanned the room, and said,

“I see that you have so many dolls, and there’s no place to put them. Just wondering if you ever thought of moving out. Like, out of Tokyo or something?”

Diverting the topic this way might be stretching it. I reflected upon what I had just said. Alice frowned,

“Isn’t it wonderful to fill this room with so many dolls, I can’t move at all?”

Ah, right. I guess so.

“Anyway, why are we talking about moving out of the capital?”

I was intending to ask if she had any intending of moving overseas, but it’s no wonder she would assume out of the capital. It’s not natural to divert the topic again, so I went with the flow.

“Nothing much, just that a large house might be pricey in Tokyo.”

“I never thought you would be worried about my wallet. I do have enough finances to purchase a bungalow with a garden in the middle of Tokyo.”

“Ah, yeah, I’m really sorry…”

“Also, the capital’s much more chaotic, and cases come by often, so it’s better for a detective to reside here, no? Moving away is out of the question.”

I guessed so. All the cases we had received involved events in the capital.

“What’s with this sudden question? Are you unhappy about this office or something?”

“That’s not what I mean…”

We went completely off topic, and while regretting this, I started to recall what Mari-san talked about the previous day.

   

“No need for your self-introduction there. I have done thorough investigations on you, Narumi-kun.”

Mari-san shook the ice in the glass, causing a delightful clank. She had just finished her third drink, but showed no signs of drunkenness, her voice fluent.

“Of course I would investigate the partner of that cute Yuuko. I would have separated you from her long ago if you were some unsavoury person. Hoho, but that child really is well protected by her friends, some amazing people gathered around her, don’t you think so, Narumi-kun?”

“Erm, well…I guess.”

Since she had just included me, I answered sheepishly,

“So I watched her from afar, and not do anything.”

“But you just abducted me, you know…”

“Ahaha.” Mari-san laughed as she looked up at the ceiling, her black hair, as silky smooth as Alice, fluttered by her shoulders.

“Recently, I have something I have to discuss with Yuuko no matter what. Since I so happened to have bought something nearby, I intended to visit her, but I found so, so I couldn’t help but pull you in.”

Can you stop with the ‘can’t help but pull people into your car’ thing?

“Discuss what? Does it have anything to do with me?”

“Before then, do answer a question of mine.”

Mari-san left the sofa, went around the table, and sat next to me. We were so close that I lowered my head nervously, and she tapped my neck with the glass, which was so cold, I jolted.”

“Wh-what are you doing?”

“I see that you’re being so tense, so I can’t help myself here.”

Can you stop touching people as and when you want to?”

“Doesn’t Yuuko do such things to you?”

“Not—”

I stopped myself from denying it. Speaking of which, she does typically smack my face with Dr. Pepper cans or dolls.

Initially, I had assumed Mari-san was Alice’s older sister simply because of their physical resemblance, but they do act similarly. For example, the way they mock, or act dramatically.

“This is what I want to ask.” Mari-san said, “What is your relationship with Yuuko? My investigations can’t discern your heart after all.”

“What relationship, you mean?”

I carefully chose my words to avoid any trouble.

At this point, I can’t tell what Shionji Mari is thinking. She brought me to her house (it’s probably hers), but never stated her intent, and I didn’t know what she knew about me, or what she thought of me. What I wanted to know however was whether she was on Alice’s side.

I racked through my brain, trying to recall about the many things Alice mentioned about the Shionjis. The only Shionji she ever met was her uncle, Gorou, or so she said. In other words, she did not want to meet anyone else, including this Mari-san. Recently, she did mention that during her days at the Shionjis, she had interacted with her sister and cousins. Maybe she’s not too distant from Mari-san, but she was a lot closer to Gorou-sensei, at least.

“You two aren’t on unspeakable terms, right?”

Mari-san’s alluring smile pressed on while I remained silent.

“No, that’s—”

I hesitated, before speaking up again.

“Do you mind if I ask something?”

Mari-san looked a little surprised.

“Are you asking what I intend to ask you to do? Hm, what do I do now?”

“No, this isn’t what I mean. Mari-san, I want to know your relationship with Alice, erm Yuuko-san.”

This time, the surprised look remained for several seconds.

“…Sisters, you know?”

She blinked, answering. I shook my head, saying,

“That’s not what I mean. How do you view your little sister? To be direct, are you friend, or foe?”

I watched the murkiness spread over her face, and continued,

“I don’t know what kind of past Alice has, but I do know she ran away from home. You should understand why I’m a little wary of the Shionjis, right? I can’t just talk before I know what you’re planning to do to her.”

After a long silence, Mari-san shrugged, and chuckled. I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by this. It was an alluring chuckle, chiselled by the thousand stares. The shoulder brushed me by, and I was quietly taken aback, my breathing stifled.

“Well, you might think I’m just a brat who talks big,”

I felt I had to say something, so I continued,

“But I’m serious.”

“Understood. That’s pretty amazing of you.”

In any case, I really felt that she was treating me like a kid. I’m still a kid though.

“But Narumi-kun, I would have answered ‘friend’ to that question no matter whether it’s truthful or not. You can’t really tell much from there, right?”

Feeling a little repulsed,

“It’s not like I can’t determine something here. I can’t be certain whether you’re lying or not, but it’s a lot better than not asking.”

“That’s true” Mari-san smiled, “That should be enough from me however.”

“…Eh?”

“I already got the answer I wanted.”

I blinked in surprised, and stared back at Mari-san,

“From your tone, I can infer your relationship with Yuuko. You really view her as an important person, right?’

“Eh…ahh, I, erm, sorta.”

Having made a swing and a miss, I hastily tried to respond, only to fumble with my words.

“In that case, even for what I do intend to ask you to do next, you should be able to do something beneficial to Yuuko. I can tell you now.”

“What—is that request?”

Mari-san put the glass down, stopped smiling, and looked at me in the eyes, saying this,

“I will like you to ask if Yuuko has any intentions of leaving Tokyo.”

I held my breath, and quietly awaited her following words.

“Best if it’s overseas…”

“Why do you ask?”

She looked aside for the first time, pursing her lips, wondering how she should explain. I glared at her lips, and was peeved to think that she was hiding some cards.

“Simply put—”

Mari-san seemed to have given up on struggling as she sighed,

“I think it’s about time, that I should have Yuuko move in with me. I intend to move my base to Paris, so I thought I should ask.”

She stopped, glanced aside at me, and dropped her shoulders, saying,

“You won’t accept this simple explanation, right?”

“Of course.”

An older sister asking her little sister to live together after years of not meeting together? That’s definitely not as simple as ‘thought I should ask’.

“I really can’t reveal too much, you’re an outsider after all.”

And this time, I was infuriated.

“Since you refuse to say, please don’t ask me to do such a thing.”

“Why? I can make you promise without saying anything.”

“Eh? No-no way. Why do you think I’ll agree to your demands?”

“Now then, let’s think of ways to get you to agree, Narumi-kun.”

I looked up at the ceiling in despair, and found a dumb look reflected in a distorted manner on the metal ball décor.

I’m most terrified of such people who are reasonable and understanding, but yet so deliberately demanding. They’re able to exert pressure by smiling, knowing they have the advantage.

“Why do you think I’ll agree? Are you going to let me go and abduct me every day, starting tomorrow, and drag me on your car to this place until I agree?”

“That sounds good.” Mari-san smiled, “But, to make it a little simpler. I’m not letting you go home until you agree.”

Can she do it? I’m a guy after all, so I should be strong enough, right? Will there be some muscular bodyguards barging in once she whistles? Or is there a security function in the elevator that prevents guests from using it.

I started to sense that it was pointless to dispute this with her, and quickly surrendered.

“Got it. I just need to ask Alice, right? I’ll ask.”

Of course, if Alice really does go overseas, I’ll be really lonely, but she, a NEET who hates to toil, can’t possibly agree to this request. So I thought I could ask. Mari-san peeked at my face, asking,

“Can’t you put up a little more resistance? You’re no fun.”

“You think I’m here to play?”

She’s probably drunk without looking the part, is she?

“Anyway, thank you, Narumi-san.”

“No worries.” I answered, still feeling miffed.

“I know it’s a request from me, a ridiculous one at that, but why do you agree to it?”

“I’m finding it ridiculous too!” I started yelling, “I too have a ridiculous sounding question to ask. Have you not thought I’m agreeing to it because I just want to get out of here?”

“Not at all.”

I nearly tumbled over, and lowered my voice, asking,

“…Why?”

“I have investigated that you’re a prodigious con artist who managed to talk your way out with that amazing mouth of yours. I can tell that you’re not bluffing me.”

I gave an audible gulp.

I thought she was teasing me, but unwitting, I was being cornered.

“…Why’s that?”

“Because both of us do treasure Yuuko. I can tell you’re trusting me because of that reason, and agreed to my request, right?”

I couldn’t say anything more, and could only respond with my eyes. She was completely correct. I couldn’t say that I trusted her completely, No, she’s really spot on, just that I wasn’t willing to agree with that notion. I just trusted her without thinking, after seeing how unreasonable a woman she was who doted on her little sister.

Is this good?

Loving someone doesn’t mean being on someone’s side. I had encountered many tragic figures who loved others, only to cause ruination.

But I just couldn’t reject her request.

   

So I recalled the reluctant look on Mari-san’s face as I watched Alice, seated on the bed of the detective agency, once again realizing how similar the two sisters looked. This might be a reason why I agreed, because it felt as though Alice was the one asking me.

“You can move to anywhere away from Tokyo all you please. If you’re going to Kanagawa, you’ll have to take a half hour car ride to work every day.”

“Eh, but it’s pointless to move away by myself down.”

“What else do you want? You’ve been hinting in a roundabout manner—”

At that moment, Alice realized something, and kept quiet, her face blushing.

“Ar-are you talking about co-cohabitation?”

“Eh? How do you know?”

“What’s inside your head?”

The pile of dolls fell like an avalanche as Alice was once again enraged.

“Coronary arteriovenous fistula is a trivial matter compared to how short-circuited your mind is!”

“Coronary arteriovenous fistula? What’s that?”

“It’s a disease where the arteries and veins of the heart are connected! That’s not important! You-you want to live together with me? We haven’t made the request. Everything has to go in order, right? N-no, this doesn’t mean I’ll go make the request?’

I can’t believe she’s still thinking about that. Thanks to that, I was shocked into thinking that she knew about Mari-san’s request.

“Living with you? Enough with that joke already. Just cleaning the house is tiresome.”

“What did you say?” What’s she angry about?”

“Even if I really have such thoughts, you don’t want to live with me, do you?”

Her blushing face hid her drooping ears. What’s so awkward about this question? Or, is there anything to think about?

She turned her face aside, clenching her fists, releasing them, and clenched again.

“…I-I can consider if you’re willing to dress up as a doll forever

Please allow me to refuse.

The topic’s way out of hand, so I left the agency.

I knew this would have happened. She hates leaving that six tatami room, let alone Japan. How could she possibly think of moving?

I went to the back door, and gave Mari-san a call.

“Looks like she has no intention to leave.”

“I see. As expected….since you can’t convince her either—it appears we'll have to convince her in another manner

“But isn’t it too forceful to try probing her without telling me anything?”

That’s enough already, so I wanted to say, only to be cut off by her.

“No other choice. Thanks. I’ll talk to her directly.”

“…Huh? You’re coming over?”

“Right now.”

Right now?

   

An hour later, that blue Aston Martin was parked before ‘Ramen Hanamaru’. I was doing my Spring assignments at the back door back then. Good thing the teachers were merciful enough not to retain me, but the price was that I had loads of assignments to do. The NEET detective gang isn’t around, Min-san and Ayaka were working quietly in the kitchen, and I was quietly doing my homework. The solace was however shattered by the overwhelmingly powerful engine. Stunned, I lifted my head, and found that bright blue car, she actually came by? I thought with disbelief.

On this day, Mari-san was dressed in a white, slightly green pantsuit, the cross-shaped necklace still upon her. Once she got off the car, she approached in a stylish manner, as though grass would grow at every step she took. She was holding a bag in her right hand, and once she noticed me, gently waved her left hand.

“Min Li-san is here, no? I’ll go greet her.”

Saying that, Mari-san pulled the back door of the kitchen, shocking me. She’s unexpectedly someone who knows social etiquette. I hastily followed her through the back door.

Once they saw her enter, both Min-san and Ayaka were unsurprisingly taken aback, rooted to the spot with chopper and onions in hands.

“Hello there. My sister has been in your care.”

Mari-san bowed and greeted Min-san from beyond the counter.

“…Ahhh…you’re Alice’s—older sister, right?”

Min-san was spaced out for a moment, only to say this. Next to her, Ayaka sounded increasingly excited, but was still in a state of shock, her mouth agape, unable to say anything. Ehh~ Alice’s older sister? They really look alike! I could practically hear her screaming that inside her heart.

“A token of appreciation. Here.”

Mari-san handed the bag over the counter.

“Eh? Ahh, no, you don’t have to—”

Saying that, Min-san widened her eyes at the content of the bag.

“—I-isn’t this Frankie Wattier ice cream? They don’t have a shop in Japan, right?”

“I’ve heard that you’re an ice cream expert, so I had others import it over. Hope you love it.”

“I don’t just love it. I wanted to fly to France to learn. I had it once, and always wanted to eat it.”

It’s the first time I ever saw Min-san’s eyes sparkle like a kid, even twirling around while raising her bag up high. After that, she seemed to have noticed Ayaka and me looking at her dumbfoundedly, awkwardly wiped her hands on her apron, and coughed,

Kamimemo09 058.jpeg

“Ahh, erm, hello. I’m the boss here.”

Min-san bowed to greet Mari-san as though nothing had happened, and the latter too responded with a smile.

“The name’s Shionji Mari.”

“Shinozaki Ayaka!” Ayaka hastily leaned over the counter, “Eh, I’m a part-timer here. Alice’s friend.”

“So you’re the one who gets Yuuko to enter the bath.”

“Woah! You know that?”

She investigated that much? I quietly clicked my tongue.

“Spacing out here is Fujishima!” Ayaka said, grabbing my shoulders.

“Yes, I know. We met just yesterday.”

Mari-san beamed.

“Really? Fujishima-kun, you knew Alice has an older sister? Why didn’t you tell us, seriously?”

Why are you so excited?”

“Erm, ehhh, Mari-san? Well?”

Min-san glanced aside at the ceiling, saying,

“Alice’s upstairs, always locked in her room, so—”

At that moment, bum bum bum, I could hear noisy footsteps down the emergency stairs outside. Right after,, the door behind Mari-san opened,

“—Nee-sama?”

It was Alice, dressed in pajamas. She probably came running downstairs after seeing the surveillance footage. Her cheeks were flushed with agitation, and within her sights was Mari-san, who had just turned around.

For a moment, I felt time stand still.

They were really alike, but this wasn’t a simple issue.

It felt as though there was a magic mirror between them, reflecting their appearances from the distant past or future. That was the impression I had as a third party watching the Shionji sisters.

The various complicated emotions appeared upon Alice’s face, and vanished. Her thin lips attempted to say something, but remained frozen at the first word.

Mari-san took a step towards her sister, embracing the slender body into her clutches.

“…Yuuko. We finally meet.”

Alice didn’t answer. She reached her hands out with a disgruntled look, pushing away from her sister.

For some reason, seeing them then left me with much sadness. I had a feeling the sisters shouldn’t have been reunited.

Sadly, my premonition became real.

But back then—I had no way of knowing.

   

“Stay here, Narumi.”

I brought Mari-san up to the detective agency, and was about to leave, but Alice called me from the bed, stopping me. I had my hand on the door handle as I turned around to ask.

“Eh? Erm, but…”

Mari-san too was seated on the bed, hugging a doll, raising it, and flipping it around, looking interested.

“Don’t you have something to discuss with Mari-san? Isn’t it inconvenient for me to be around?”

“Never mind that. You should just stay behind. I don’t want to be alone with nee-sama. She’s definitely not going to talk about anything good here.”

Hearing Alice say this so disgruntledly, I looked over worriedly to Mari-san.

“It’s fine. I’m fine if it’s you, Narumi-kun.” Mari-san smiled.

“You don’t mind if it’s Narumi?” Alice pursed her little mouth, “Why, sounds like you already trust him? Seriously, when did you meet? Those weird questions he made were from you, right?”

“Y-yeah, hmm.”

No wonder she figured it out. It was really unnatural.

“I suppose it’s time for you to live with me, so I had Narumi-kun ask if you’re willing to. I asked him not to mention me too, so it’s not his fault.”

“Enough with the excuses. I’ll lecture him good later.”

Ahh, she’s fuming…

“Leaving that aside. Nee-sama.” Alice turned towards her sister, asking, “You want me to stay with you? Which country makes such jokes?”

“I’m serious. Do you want to move to Paris? I’ve been there a few times. It’s really nice there. You’ll probably take a liking to that place.”

Alice coldly narrowed her eyes,

“If something’s up, just spill it. This stupid dithering is just a waste of time.”

Even I, who knew nothing, realized it’s been years since the sisters talked to each other, and there was no way Mari-san could ask to live together for no reason. She scowled, and glanced towards me. Alice too followed suit, saying,

“If it’s not something Narumi should know of, I don’t want to know either.”

Does Alice not trust her sister that much? I was really perturbed by this. She was as wary as an angered porcupine, the spikes poking at my heart, leaving me restless. Left with no choice, I leaned my back on the fridge, and sat on the floor. Mari-san remained still by the bedside, staring at me. Finally, she lowered her eyes, and sighed, turning towards her little sister who was within grasp, yet so despairingly distant.

“…Grandpa has fallen ill.”

Alice, who was cupping a knee, clearly looked stiffened and cold on her aloof face. Without looking at Alice, Mari-san said,

“He was hospitalized last weekend, at the hospital father’s at. It’s really sudden…he was well, yet the doctor’s saying his condition’s critical. He said he really want to meet you, so—”

I could feel Mari-san trying her best to consider how to explain. Even I was grimacing bitterly.

“From now on, the Shionjis will be gathered around you, but I can protect you. How about you come along with me to Paris?”

“I’m not so arrogant to say that I can protect myself.”

Alice statedly coldly,

“But I should at least choose how I should protect myself. I don’t need your care, nee-sama. I’ve been living this way after all.”

Mari-san appeared to be on the verge of tears once she heard this blunt answer.

   

After Mari-san left, Alice silently went back to type at the keyboard. I took out the posh looking dolls from the bags on the bed, and left behind beside her. These were from Mari-san, but she never once looked at them.

It’s probably a complicated relationship between them. So I could think.

Even in the past, I could figure out that she didn’t have a nice family. Seems like it was worse than I thought though. Oh, it seemed Alice had said she installed so many cameras around the building; probably because she didn’t want her family to take her back. Does it involve domestic violence, or something as simple as being lonely? The family name Shionji bound Alice’s life in a chaotic, malicious manner,

Call me up if there’s anything. So I wanted to tell Alice, but my throat just wouldn’t abide. I thought it’s because the room filled with cold air was filled with baseless thoughts, listening to their conversation. I wanted to clear my throat, and Alice said, her back turned on me,

“My sister and I were born out of wedlock.”

Wedlock. This distant term fluttered uneasily within my heart, like the dust in the sunlight.

“My father never had a child with his wife, but had two with his mistress. It seemed my mother died soon after I was born. I didn’t know how she looked.”

The tapping at the keyboard echoed vaguely in this brief silence.

“The grandpa we talk of is actually the oldest grand uncle, not the actual one. He himself has no children, and treats his nephew as his children. That nephew is our father. He probably really wanted ‘grandchildren’. Even after us sisters were born out of wedlock, he never abandoned us. However, he couldn’t raise us openly as Shionjis.”

Alice’s tone left me really uneasy. Children that shouldn’t be born. I recalled how she had described herself.

“It’s common. Nothing important.”

I shook my head, wanting to say, that’s not the case. It might be true, but this life does belong to the one and only Alice.

However, I felt this consolation was too hollow, and couldn’t say anything.



Notes[edit]

  1. Full title-- Bushido: The Soul of Japan
Back to Novel Illustrations Return to Main Page Forward to Chapter 2