Owari no Chronicle:Volume11 Chapter 21
Chapter 21: In the Past
On the hill where the past flutters through the air
The flower petals last a mere thirty years
Shinjou was in a black and white space.
The white was the color of the walls and ceiling while the black was the color of the chairs and tables.
Several tables were lined up in a ten square meter room.
It was a cafeteria.
The wooden clock on the wall said it was half past seven, but only the heat of an early dinner remained in the room.
The food had been eaten at six and the faint scent of spices hung in the air.
Several tapestries were lined up to either side of the clock.
The pictures embroidered on them had been made by the children. They started with story of creation and continued up to the beginning of the current age.
Each tapestry had a single image, but the children must have hung them up as they liked because the order was completely wrong.
One image showed a man and woman living in a garden, but the very next one showed the Virgin Mary holding her child, and that was followed by a snake, a flood, and a tower. The very last picture was a shepherd looking up into the starry sky.
It almost looked like a test to see if you could put them in order, but Shinjou remembered this was not a church and so it was not the place to teach the children those things.
Whoever was in charge must just let the kids do what they want, she guessed.
She doubted the woman who ran the place had created that policy, so it had likely been the decision of someone from an older time.
…There must have been someone here as terribly arbitrary as Sayama-kun and the others.
She then looked to the pile of documents on the table in front of her.
The pile included albums, sketchbooks, and notebooks.
Each of them had the same name on them.
She had found these without much difficulty.
After the director had calmed her from her tears, she had told the woman why she had been searching for the orphanage.
The woman had invited her in and said the following.
“I was left in charge of this orphanage a while after it was moved here. I hear a lot of registers and other documents were lost when the old building collapsed, but the things left by the graduates were in the previous director’s storehouse, which survived. How about we look through there?”
She had ended up going through all the albums and such piled up in the back of the storehouse.
After finishing their dinner, the orphans had said they would help, but Shinjou had politely turned them down.
…I want to do this on my own.
The name she was looking for had appeared suddenly.
She now had Shinjou Yukio’s albums as well as her notebooks, reports, printouts, and report cards from school. The given dates ended at 1976.
The records for that final year said she was fifteen in 1976 and the records in Izumo UCAT had said Shinjou Yukio was born in 1960, so it added up.
This was actually her.
After learning that, she had taken those documents to the cafeteria.
She had not forgotten to call UCAT while the director made her a light dinner of toast and such.
Hiba had answered and she had told him the time of her train home and the orphanage’s address. He said Harakawa’s mother had collapsed and she was worried, but there was nothing she could do.
…I just hope nothing bad happens.
With that thought, she took a quiet breath and reached for the pile of documents.
First, she picked up an album.
All of a sudden, Shinjou saw several photographs depicting moments from the past.
The photographs pasted in the album showed a certain girl.
She had a strong-willed look to her and she could be seen playing in the yard of the old orphanage, studying in one of its rooms, and dressed in a bird-like costume for some kind of festival.
As the date advanced, her hair grew longer and she wore a red ribbon in her hair by the time she was wearing a middle school uniform.
…Does she look like me?
She was not sure and she could not find anything in the photos to connect the girl to her.
However, she saw the girl helping the younger children change or otherwise taking charge more often as time went on.
She also saw the girl smile. Sometimes it was a powerful smile and other times it was a weak one.
In one photograph, she was showing off a flute she had probably gotten in middle school. In another one, Shinjou saw the flute’s brown bag sticking out of her rectangular leather bag.
But Shinjou noticed something.
At what Shinjou guessed was her shift up to the third year, the flute’s bag vanished from the leather bag.
She also noticed a white scrape along the surface of the leather bag.
She did not know what had happened, but the girl’s smile looked troubled as she knitted.
That was the final school year in the album.
The date to the side of the photo was November 1975. In December, the girl wore a white stole as she sang something in a large room lit only by candles.
It was likely a scene from Christmas.
She was younger than I am now, thought Shinjou. But at the same time…
…This is from thirty years ago.
She reached toward the photograph, but no matter how gently she touched it, she could not reach the girl in the past.
The girl would not answer if she asked if she was her mother.
As she approached the end of the album, she found some photographs of the girl’s middle school graduation.
Shinjou noticed a bandage on the girl’s cheek in the photograph on the way back to the church after the graduation. The paper tube holding her diploma was bent as well.
…But her smile is back.
The cliff by the old orphanage’s yard had a nice view of Sakai and it was filled with cherry blossoms.
Below the falling cherry blossoms, the girl smiled with the bandage on her cheek and the bent paper tube in her hand.
For some reason, Shinjou felt she had a bit of an understanding of the girl.
…She must have been a good person.
She had hidden thoughts, she tried to solve everything herself, and she would smile.
The word “alone” appeared in Shinjou’s mind, but she doubted that was entirely wrong.
She flipped to the final page which contained a single large photograph.
Cherry blossom petals danced through the air in front of the old orphanage’s entrance.
Below a blue sky, Shinjou Yukio stood in front of the open gate. She wore a light blue windbreaker and white jeans and she held a large white travel bag in one hand. And…
“She’s smiling…but it’s the weak smile.”
She was likely leaving the orphanage.
Shinjou realized the girl had a national railway envelope for a train ticket in her breast pocket.
After quickly flipping through the album and checking the other albums, she confirmed something.
…There isn’t a single picture of her crying. It’s always that proud smile or that weak one.
That was enough to imagine what kind of person she had been.
In that unreachable past, she had worked alone when she was at school, when she was in the orphanage, when she was dealing with her classmates, and when she was helping the younger children.
Shinjou had a sudden thought about that younger girl in the photographs who shared her family name.
…What if she was my mother?
She thought about it, considered it from a number of angles, and shook her head.
…The odds of that aren’t very good.
Needless to say, the girl was female. If she had married, her family name would have changed. As the push for equal rights between the sexes had grown, the law had changed to say a woman could use either name after marriage, but that had only happened in the mid-nineties. Even in the present day, very few people did so and she would have likely married in her twenties which would have been during the eighties.
The odds of her being Shinjou’s mother were low.
That thought filled her stomach with pain. The stomachache she always felt at the end of the month was rearing its ugly head due to stress.
So for the moment, she spoke aloud what she needed to investigate here.
“Where did she go after leaving here?”
If the orphanage kept records of their plans, she would know where the girl had gone. Following that trail would likely lead her to the answer and that might let her give up for the time being.
Curious, she searched through the documents and found a printout related to her future plans.
The straw paper had turned brown and it was only a schedule for a meeting about planning for the future, but Shinjou continued searching through the pile that schedule had come from.
“Here it is.”
She found a form filled in with the girl’s tentative plans for the future.
It had a space for the school she wanted to attend and the necessary score for acceptance.
Neat handwriting wrote out a school with Osaka in its name.
“I see. So did she go to a local school?”
If she had survived the Great Kansai Earthquake, she might be able to meet her.
With that faint hope in her heart, Shinjou looked through the document.
The area to explain her choice was filled in with small but clear handwriting.
“I want to go into theology in the future. I would like to use the knowledge I have in that field to help our cultural exchange with other countries. But I have no money for school, so I hope to attend a prefectural school that offers the courses I want.”
Is that what someone raised in a church would say? wondered Shinjou even as it made sense to her.
She flipped the document over in case anything was written on the back, but the back was blank.
The form was apparently only for the student’s tentative plans.
“Too bad,” she muttered while preparing to flip the fairly thick paper back over.
But just before she did, she noticed something odd about the form.
“It looks like something else was written here.”
The writing on the front had left indentations in the back, but the indentations at the very top were a complete mess.
She could tell some other school had been written below the one with Osaka in the name.
The girl had written some other school and then erased it.
Shinjou recalled the girl’s weak smile and guessed she had made that smile while erasing the first school.
Shinjou found herself wanting to know what it had been.
After all, she knew that weak smile.
As if telling the girl to cheer up, she began to move.
She pulled a black binder from her bag and pulled out a piece of tracing paper. She had brought it to hold old documents without damaging them.
She placed the tracing paper on the back of the document and lightly traced over it with the side of some mechanical pencil lead.
The thin tracing paper matched the indentations of the document and allowed her to bring out the handwriting.
She finished in less than a minute.
It included the second school name as well, so it was hard to read.
Even so, she managed to decipher that handwriting from the past.
The name that had been erased was one Shinjou knew very well.
Shinjou reflexively stood at the words she herself had spoken.
The chair scraped across the wooden floor and the director entered through the cafeteria entrance.
Shinjou ran over to the woman, while annoyed that the slippers she wore slowing her down.
“U-um! Are there any more documents on her!?”
Before, she had wanted to pursue her, but that thought was beginning to change.
…I have to pursue her!!
As if pulled forward by that thought, she smiled and asked the middle-aged woman in white a question.
“I still don’t know if she was my mother! But I need to know why she tried to go where I am now.”
She thought back to who she had been when she had been alone and who she was now.
“I need to know why she tried to go to the place where I learned to smile.”
A moment later, Shinjou saw the wooden plate hanging by the cafeteria’s entrance.
It gave the orphanage’s name and it was likely a piece recovered from the old building.
…The Soukou House.
As soon as she spoke those words in her heart, something seemed to connect inside her.
She thought back on what she had just said.
…Shinjou Yukio tried to go to Taka-Akita Academy.
Her heart shouted in denial of those words.
She took two logical steps to reach a conclusion that was nearly a gamble.
Her reasoning linked together and built her confidence as she spoke.
“She must have gone to where I am now!”
The ends of the director’s eyebrows lowered when she heard that.
She seemed to be hesitating and she tilted her head.
“Shinjou-san?” she began. “What makes you so sure of that?”
Shinjou moved back to the table and grabbed the album and the future plans document.
She walked back to the woman, flipped through the pages, and reached the final page and the photograph of the girl leaving.
She held the open album in her left hand and pointed at one point on the photograph with her right hand.
“Look in her breast pocket. See the train ticket? She wouldn’t need a ticket if she was moving somewhere within the Osaka Prefecture or somewhere else nearby. That means she wasn’t going to the school from her tentative plans on this form. I think she had to have gone to the school on the future plans form she actually submitted to her teacher. …And I think that was a school in Tokyo.”
“But where would she have gotten the money for that school?”
The woman brought a troubled hand to her cheek.
“We’re talking about a school in Tokyo…and probably a private one too.”
Shinjou responded with a deep nod.
“Director, you know who built this orphanage, don’t you?”
“Yes, the previous director told me.”
“I will now tell you that name.”
She took a calm, deep breath before answering.
The director’s shoulders shook, but Shinjou was not bothered by her surprise. That surprise was only natural.
Shinjou looked to the wooden plate hanging by the cafeteria entrance.
“Yes, it was a Mr. Soukou. ...Soukou is written with the characters ‘grass’ and ‘aroma’ and the character for the aroma rising from a plant can be read ‘Kaoru’. …This orphanage was funded by Sayama Kaoru, wasn’t it?”
Once she made it that far, the words kept coming.
“The previous director probably wanted to thank him by directly naming it after him, but I’m sure Sayama-kun’s grandfather was embarrassed and refused. That’s why the previous director used the name Soukou. And Sayama-kun’s grandfather…”
“He was a villain. He would do unbelievable things on the surface, but he would show his true feelings where no one could see. …So if he saw someone hesitating over her future and giving up on what she wanted to do out of consideration for those around her, he would have helped her even if she wasn’t his friend’s granddaughter.”
The director’s reaction was to sigh. It was a sigh of relief.
She brought her right hand to her cheek.
She slowly looked up and down Shinjou.
“Do you know the man the previous director called Daddy-Long-Legs?”
“Not him himself, but I know a relative of his very well.”
“I see,” said the woman again.
She held up what was in her hand and held it out at Shinjou’s eye level.
“These are the letters the orphanage’s graduates sent. We have always made sure to carefully store them since the previous director’s time, but I completely forgot we had them in the office. Some of those sent to the previous director survived and…I found them. These are what Shinjou Yukio sent over a decade ago.”
The woman held out an old notebook and two letters.
“I believe you should read these.”
The woman smiled and nodded.
“Here. This is the entrance to what you seek.”
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