Maria-sama ga Miteru:Volume4 Chapter6
The first of January
"We're thinking of going to Yamanashi."
Everything started when my parents said that.
My brother, Yuuki, and I of course responded, as their children, "When?" "Why?" –etc. Placing a slight feeling of surprise into those questions.
Because that "We're thinking of going to Yamanashi" proposal was given right when the countdown finally ended on the year's end TV show, after my father pasted this amulet on the wall, one we got from some temple somewhere and were told we had to hang it up right as the year turned its page, and then we all said "Happy New Years!" That's when he said it.
So, of course we were filled with question marks, because it was such a contextually out-of-place statement. We hadn't even received our New Year's gifts.
"Grandmother's alone, apparently, this New Year's."
Mother said, sighing. –Well, when they mentioned Yamanashi it was obvious it was related to my aunt.
"But, aunt Taeko?"
Yamanashi's grandmother was my mother's mother, and she turned down offers to live with her children after grandfather died, stubbornly choosing to live alone. Luckily, mother's sister, aunt Taeko, lived about 500 meters away, so she went to check on her a lot, and they spent Christmas and New Year's, among other holidays, together, so they were able to breath easy.
"She won a trip to Hawaii through the year's end lottery."
"A trip to Hawaii?"
The children sat up on the sofa. What? What? This is the first time we're hearing this.
"Right. An invitation for a family of four. And aunt Taeko's is a family of three, right? So they were supposed to take grandmother along, but she suddenly refused to go, and went home alone."
"… What a waste."
I mumbled. After all, I'd never gone outside the country. But Yuuki, sitting next to me, poked my head.
"Idiot. Think about grandmother's welfare, first."
"Ow. Mother and father are going to Yamanashi because she got home safely, right?"
Yuuki kept muttering. As kind as ever.
The considerateness that I forgot in mother's stomach had been secured by my brother when he was born. Not just his share, but what was supposed to be my share, too. So, sometimes he covers for me to the point of irritation. Like he's still trying to deliver lost goods from fifteen years ago. Even though he was a premature baby, his height and maturity was far past mine, and it was vexing to have to admit it.
But I'm glad Yuuki is a guy. If we both had to go to a girls' school, I'd always be compared to him. And since we're both the same age, it would be horrible.
"And so aunt Taeko called us about grandmother from the airport. We don't have to go the first three days of January, but she wanted us to check in on grandmother at some point. But father says we should go soon."
Of course, in this case, father was not the grandfather that had passed away, but rather my father, who was drinking beer right at the start of the new year.
"Because the elderly are worrisome."
He was deftly removing the peanuts from the pile of kakipi on his paper plate. Father was fond of mother's mother. Because his parents died relatively early.
When he wanted to have filial piety, he had no parents.
You can't put a blanket over a tombstone.
That's father's saying. It made sense, but it was hard to appreciate, because both parents were quite lively.
Yuuki said, as he put all of the kaki seeds father had left onto his own plate. Even if they had different tastes, they still behaved similarly. As such, at the Fukuzawa household, kakipi was eradicated without any remnants.
"So, when're you going?"
"Today… well, the first day is busy, so probably the morning of the 2nd. The U-turn rush is brutal, though, so we'll stay one night and come back on the 3rd."
"How about you two?"
"Oh, I'll pass. I'm staying over at a friend's house the second."
Yuuki said, without any hesitation. "Eh-!?"
"What do you mean, eh-. Yumi has no right to complain. Father and mother consented long ago."
"Nee-chan, you can just forget about me and go."
But going to a place like Yamanashi for one night was just going for the sake of getting tired. She would have preferred to stay home with Yuuki, but since he was going out, it was a different story altogether. It was too scary to be left alone in this gigantic, three-story house.
"How about Yumi-chan?"
They were probably going by car, so it wouldn't bother them if she came along. And she didn't see any other option. And it's a bit impolite to say it so, but she could also check on grandmother's health.
She was perplexed when she thought about the possibility of the Roses inviting her while she was gone. Could there be an invitation? Of course, it was just a personal wish, but if that "maybe" became real, and she wasn't around for it, she would definitely regret it.
"Can you wait on that?"
She pleaded her mother.
"Sure? But tell us by evening today, because we have to pack."
"Oh, Yumi-chan has plans, too?"
Father looked a bit lonely, "I guess once you become a high-schooler you find friends to hang out with," so instead of answering "I don't know," Yumi simply giggled, "Eheheh" and poured him more beer.
Father happily chugged the cheer his daughter poured, reached into the pockets of his cardigan and handed a small pouch to Yuuki and I.
"Good luck, this year."
We said, "Okay," with our brightest, liveliest voices of the year, and accepted the pouches.
When I dashed to the kitchen, as if I was helping mother, and checked the contents, I noticed the New Year's gift sum had risen a bit from last year.
I was up until one on New Year's Day, but I was still awakened at seven o'clock by my mother.
But, this was customary in the Fukuzawa household on New Year's Day, so I had to get up, rubbing my eyes.
Well no, actually, stumbling down while rubbing my eyes wasn't allowed. First I had to brush my teeth, wash my face, and of course I had to change out of my pajamas. When I finally finished dressing myself, we were to gather in the only Japanese-style room in the house.
After all, we have to prepare ourselves for the upcoming year on New Year's Day.
When we became middle-schoolers, the ban on watching Kouhaku Utagassen was lifted, so ever since then it became customary to exchange "Happy New Years!" greetings deep in the night. Even so, we still maintained our tradition of waking up in the morning and once again exchanging greetings before eating our ojuu. Then we received a sip of otoso, and opened our ojuu.
"Alright, I'll be taking mochi orders."
When everyone placed their chopsticks on the ojuu food, Yuuki stood up and began taking note of how much mochi everyone wanted. At the same time, father stood up and walked to the kitchen. In our household, it was customary that grilling mochi and boiling soba was done by the men, so mother and I didn't move. That said, it wasn't like we were supposed to happily eat while waiting. In the meantime, we'd prepare the ozouni for the mochi, and set up oshouyu and nori.
"But his unusual obstinacy is such a bother."
Whispered mother. Usually you could just toast mochi in a microwave, but mochi is better when it's grilled on an iron, my father said, and so we did it the old way. As a result, the one who washed the irons with carbonized mochi was his assistant. Poor Yuuki, he was destined to become the victim of father's obstinacy on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.
The living room had a television, like it was from a completely different era, and it showed things like the first sunrise of the year, a shouchikubai, or an announcer wearing a kimono. The morning newspaper that was placed in the sideboard after father had finished reading it was thicker than usual, being the New Year's edition. And from those small differences from the normal day, you could feel that New Year's Day was a relatively special occasion, I think.
And while we dug ourselves into the horigotatsu while eating mochi and osechi, and sipping tea, the New Year's Cards would be distributed. Usually the postman would be riding around in a bike at this time of day, but during New Year's, the job is instead taking by university part-time workers. So even if a stack of postcards were placed in the mailbox, sometimes you never heard them coming, and you'd only realize it later.
It was the job of children to retrieve the New Year's Cards. –Or rather, more like a hobby. It was like trying to get a magazine you were waiting eagerly for. It was a pain to write them, but receiving them was a joyful occasion. Who sent me a post card? I wanna see! And so Yuuki and I alternated peeking out of the house and checked the mailbox every ten minutes.
After a number of whiffs, I coincidentally opened the door and saw the onii-san placing the stacks in our mailbox. Well, I say onii-san, but he didn't look like he was that much older than me.
"Thank you for your troubles."
We greeted each other, and he handed me to postcards directly. There were two stacks. The part-time nii-san, before moving on to the next house, stopped by the mailbox a few steps down, and placed a stack into my father's office's mailbox. It was ten forty in the morning.
Me first, we probably looked like, as we scrambled into the house and began dividing the cards.
To father, to mother, to me, to Yuuki, and then to father's office, they were all mixed together. Oh, and a few that had been accidentally mixed in, that were supposed to be sent elsewhere. As a result, the postcards were split into six mountains, and piled up before each respective person.
"Yumi, read your cards later."
Yuuki cautioned, not stopping. But even so, when you saw the name of who wrote you the card, wasn't it normal to want to flip to the back?
"Father, father, Yuuki, me, father, mother, father, father."
When she resumed working, to catch up, this time she was warned, "Quiet."
"Think it in your head, it's distracting."
"Yuuki's like a mother-in-law."
"Anyone would complain like this if their son had a wife like Yumi."
Giving up, I started saying, "father, father, mother, Yuuki," in my head.
But when she split a card to Yuuki, she felt like the name on the card was familiar. And it stuck her mind because the card was to Yuuki. Yumi thought, most high-school cards were from classmates or club-mates, but it wasn't a name she'd heard from Yuuki's mouth-.
(Who was it?)
But she couldn't double-check, because Yuuki stacked more cards on top of it.
She could have asked Yuuki, can I see who that was? But it would have been wasted effort if she'd been wrong, so she forgot about it. There're plenty of people with similar names, after all. And if Yuuki asked her about a card sent to her, she wouldn't feel too comfortable, either. Privacy is important.
Of course, almost half of the cards sent to our household were to father. And if you counted the cards sent to his office, how many is he receiving? It was overwhelming. Because, if you're receiving cards, it also means you're sending around that many, too, right? Becoming an adult is dreadful. Even our mother, a housewife, received far more than we did.
Having finished splitting the cards, Yuuki and I took our shares, split up a bit, and sat down on the sofa. It wasn't like "whoever has more cards is more popular," but it did put a bit of pressure on the other person. Luckily, we were about the same, judging from the thickness of our stacks. I was happy that the number of cards I received went up along with my New Year's gift when I became a high-schooler. Even though I wasn't a part of any club.
Instead of reading them in order, I looked for one name. Ogasawara Sachiko.
The person I love the most at school.
Silently apologizing to Yoshino-san and Tsutako-san, I skipped past their cards, and as I began to worry, "Maybe she didn't send me one?" I found it.
Would it be called India-ink painting? It was a relatively simple postcard, with a plum flower painted using faint hues, and on top of it, with black India ink, "Happy New Year's," and "Best regards for the year," and then the year, and then "New Year's Day." The little stamp pressed to the side was Sachiko-sama's "Sachiko," in a brilliant scarlet accent.
When I remembered the card I'd sent out, my face felt like it was on fire. It was bad enough that I hurriedly wrote it because I'd forgotten about it until the second-semester closing ceremony, but the New Year's card that I'd begged father to let me print off of his computer was rather scrambled and noisy. I should have just used a template that came with the word processor software, but I ended up adding a bunch of things, and in retrospect that was a bad idea. The letters were extremely fancy, and I used way too many colors.
Your personality showed in your New Year's cards. I carved that into my brain.
The first phone call we received for the new year came when mother was hurrying me about my Yamanashi decision.
"It's from grandmother."
Wait right there, she scolded, before she picked up the receiver.
"Happy New Years. It's Fukuzawa." Her voice was an octave high. Oh, mother, her voice was in New Year's mode, too.
"Ah, yes. No, not at all. Thank you for looking after her all the time. Has she been bothering you much?"
Wait right there, I'd been told, so I couldn't return to my room. Plus, I'd finally finished writing the thank you cards, and had stumbled down the stairs to go to the bathroom, so the air conditioner in my room was still on.
(I hope it's not a long phone call.)
I tried to reason out who the caller might be, by concentrating on the receiver. From the speech mannerism, I could tell it wasn't grandmother. And it was someone "looking after" someone other than mother.
"I see. Please guide her in the future, too. … Please wait a second. I'll switch to her."
Still holding onto the receiver, mother bowed toward the phone, pressed the hold button, and turned to me, "Yumi-chan."
She wouldn't say "please guide in the future" to a friend of mine. But I couldn't imagine my homeroom teacher calling-.
(C, could it be…)
"It's Rosa Gigantea."
"Rosa Gigantea, right? Satou-san. My, the Roses are so polite have such a proper way of speaking."
I forgot to mention that mother was a graduate of Lillian Girls' academy. She was a regular student who never dealt with the Roses, but her admiration of the Yamayurikai staff was extraordinary. She would probably be shocked beyond belief if she were to see how the real Rosa Gigantea acted, so I didn't deny it, simply agreeing, "Yes, she's so wonderful."
"Hello, it's me."
"Ah, Yumi-chan? Did you hope for a moment it was Sachiko?"
"… No. Happy New Year's."
"Happy New Year! Kingashinnen! Bonne année! Boy, how joyous, how auspicious!"
Even in the new year, Rosa Gigantea's old-fashioned methods were still in good health.
"Did something happen?"
"I wanted to hear Yumi-chan's voice."
"- Is a lie hohoho-"
"Did you call me to be the first to tease me?"
Rosa Gigantea might do it, seriously.
"Of course not. Getting right to the point, do you have any plans tomorrow and the day after?"
"What do you want?"
"I'm bored. Wanna go on a date?"
"Other people call it a hatsumoude."
I immediately OK'd it. This invitation was my wish. A hatsumoude with the Yamayurikai members.
And maybe I'd be able to see Sachiko-sama in a kimono.
"So, will it be the second or the third?"
"Are you open on both? Because it's a one-night two-day lodging course?"
"- Though by lodging I mean at a friend's house, so it's free. But, it's a sleep-over, so make sure you have your parents permission."
"It's a big house, but their family is out for the second and the third. So, we're going to barge in and help out with house-keeping, kind of. You know, if the young people are happily partying the night away, it'll ward robbers away."
"W, wait a second."
An unexpected development.
And it was far, far more enticing than staying at home or going to Yamanashi.
I turned to mother, who was listening not two meters away.
"Can I go to the Yamayurikai lodging?"
"Lodging, on New Year's?"
Mother looked dubious, at first, but I implored her enough that she finally reluctantly allowed me to go.
She'd allowed her son to go, so she probably felt guilty if she didn't let her daughter go, too. After all, our household is based on the fundamental of "boys and girls are equal."
Plus, Rosa Gigantea seemed like such a lady, that adults adore her. And so with a senpai like that, she doesn't have to worry as much about me. Of course, if she knew how Rosa Gigantea really is, maybe she would worry.
Finally, the kicker was that I was already hesitant on going to Yamanashi. She was probably worried about the prospect of leaving me at home alone anyways, on a level totally different from "boys and girls are equal." So me going to a friend's house put her at ease. Either way, I'm the kind of daughter that'd go anyways, even if they were to tell me, "Don't go," so I'm sure that just added to her worries.
"Rosa Gigantea, she's given me permission. I'll participate."
I jumped back on the receiver, panting.
"Roger. See you, then, we're meeting at M Station tomorrow at two. In front of the convenience store before the ticket gates, you know what I mean?"
She quickly took a mental note.
"Give mother my blessings. I'll be taking care of her tomorrow, like that."
"Yes. Then, tomorrow."
After hanging up, I remembered I forgot to ask who else was coming. It seemed like I was definitely excited. I felt a bit inconsiderate, as she might have wanted me to call the other people and spread the word.
(I hope onee-sama's with us.)
Ahh, and as I thought such a thing, my heart really went into Happy New Year mode.
My brain was so filled with rapture that, even though Yuuki and I usually did rock-scissors-paper to see who put the thank you cards in the mailbox, this time I went ahead and did it on my own accord.
I felt bad for grandmother, but I thanked her for coming back from Narita.
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