After Akihito-san left, the interior of Kura, which had been quite lively, suddenly quietened down.
All that flowed in the air was a gentle jazz rhythm.
Holmes-san put away the reading materials, while I placed the empty coffee cups onto a tray.
“…As I thought, I can’t get used to wearing a yukata. I feel like it will make my work a lot slower than usual.”
I can’t help but be concerned about the sleeves. Should I tuck them up with a cord or something?
“We had you wear this out of our own selfishness, so there’s no need to force yourself to wear it.”
“No no, it’s fine. My classmate works part-time at a small restaurant and has to wear a kimono all the time. She still manages to work with all her might, so I’ll wear the yukata for the entire time period as well.”
After hearing my words, Holmes-san chuckled.
“It’s amazing that you’re so straight, Aoi-san.”
“Eh… straight, you say?”
“Yes. My father and I said that you just need to look after the store, but you believe that you should work properly as long as you’re getting paid, and keep looking for things that you can do to help. There’s a sense of aesthetics within you, and you always act according to it.”
“N-No, it’s not as great as that. If I take up your offer and do nothing but sit around in the shop while getting paid, I wouldn’t be able to stand the guilt, and more importantly, it’s boring to sit around doing nothing.”
Being overvalued like that made me feel somewhat uncomfortable.
“Also, I can’t say that I’m straight. I’m a soft person who can easily swayed by small things.”
I wiped the table with a cloth so that our gazes wouldn’t meet.
…Because I had the feeling that he would see through me if our eyes made contact.
“…You’ve recently been quite under the weather. Is anything wrong?”
Holmes-san questioned quietly.
…Ahh, he’s seen through me already.
A self-deprecating smile rose on my face.
I stopped wiping the table and lifted my head silently.
There were many people milling around on the other side of the shop window.
The quiet shop interior was like a completely different world.
As I hesitated to open my mouth, the sound of the doorbell resonated in the shop.
The person who walked in was a young woman in a dress.
She had a delicate figure and wavy hair that reached her shoulders.
While she gave off a cute appearance, her eyes showed signs of nervousness.
Astonished by her sudden entry, I was late in saying, “Welcome.”
Holmes-san said in surprise.
“H-Hello, Holmes-san.” She shrugged.
For a short moment, I could see bewilderment rise up on Holmes-san’s face, but in the next, he had his usual smile.
“Long time no see. I hope you’ve been well.”
Yes, that usual smile. No, it was probably a bigger smile than usual.
“You don’t have to be so polite to me…”
But in response to the woman’s weak words, Holmes-san narrowed his eyes and continued smiling.
“I hear that you’re married now. Congratulations.”
Could she be… I thought, but I gained conviction in those words.
That beautiful, cute person known as Izumi-san, was indeed Holmes-san’s ex-girlfriend.
With the flaky atmosphere about her, I was reminded of Saori-san, the Saiō representative.
“Actually, I have something for you to appraise.”
She hesitantly walked forward.
“Here, take a seat,” Holmes-san swiftly stood up and pulled over a chair.
Izumi-san shyly sat down.
The store was surrounded by a silent tension.
I wordlessly entered the pantry and started preparing some coffee.
Whenever Holmes-san was around, he would always be the one making the coffee, though…
For some reason, I didn’t want her to drink Holmes-san’s delicious coffee.
“As you said… I am married now.”
The words that slowly fell out of that woman’s mouth reached the pantry.
“Once again, congratulations.” Holmes-san’s calm voice could be heard as well.
“…Thank you. So, my aunt who lives in Kobe sent us some tableware as a congratulatory gift. When we got them, my husband said, ‘Get them appraised to see how much they’re worth.’ And then…”
The woman spoke as if it was difficult for her. I was actually quite surprised by those words.
By ‘aunt’, she meant her aunt, and not Izumi-san’s aunt, right?
He told her to appraise the tableware she received from her aunt?
I can’t believe it.
Well, perhaps he didn’t want to get rid of them, and was simply curious about their worth?
Realizing that I was putting on a bitter smile, I poured the coffee into a dripper.
The fragrant aroma spread around the shop.
“…Please take a look.”
Izumi-san softly placed a box on the table, while Holmes-san put on his usual pair of white gloves. Wanting to see the articles, I hurriedly filled a cup with coffee, then placed it on the table as well.
“Now, I shall examine it.”
Holmes-san carefully removed the lid of the box to reveal square plates with some scenery drawn on them.
They had a faint, dry tint and were definitely Western.
I wonder if Holmes-san can appraise Western articles? The shop had antiques from a variety of countries, but come to think of it, I hadn’t seen a Western artifact being appraised before.
“…It’s a Royal Copenhagen1.”
“Ah, I see. My aunt did say as such, but all we know about ‘Copenhagen’ is their yearplates2.”
Izumi-san replied with a bashful shrug.
All they knew about Royal Copenhagen was their yearplates.
Sadly, I could only say that I was just like them.
“Yes, you can see that Royal Copenhagen is so popular that they’re well-known for yearplates. They’ve been produced each year from 1908 without pause, after all.”
Izumi-san’s eyes opened wide in surprise as she heard Holmes-san’s fluent explanation. What, was it her first time seeing Holmes-san like that?
At any rate, I was secretly impressed that he knew so much about Western antiques.
“Actually, he said that Copenhagen plates always have a cobalt blue pattern, so perhaps this one is different?”
“Copenhagen may have been heavily influenced by Japan’s ko-imari porcelain, and are now best known for their cobalt blue designs with handwriting, but they have many other products. This is a piece from a series of designs with European scenery, produced over 60 years ago. If I were to put a value on it… these appear on the market quite often, so about twenty to thirty thousand, I suppose.”
“Twenty to thirty thousand…”
Izumi-san nodded, but she neither displayed joy nor showed her disappointment.
“It’s good that I know about it. It’s such a lovely plate. I’ll take good care of it.”
As if influenced by Holmes-san, Izumi-san bowed respectfully.
“Yes, please do that.”
I took a short breath, then turned my back on them and started dusting an area some distance away from them.
“Kiyotaka-san… that’s amazing. I knew you could do appraisals, but I never knew you were that good at it.”
“Well… it’s the family business, after all.”
“…Kiyotaka-san, you said, ‘Long time no see’ earlier, but it’s not the case for me.”
Izumi-san spoke with resolve. Instinctively, I stopped moving my hands.
“Eh?” Even Holmes-san was perplexed by that statement.
“I’ve seen you many times while passing by the front of Kura, and I’ve also been to the Kyoto University Campus… Ah, Kiyotaka-kun, it’s amazing that you’re studying there.”
“A-Actually, I, I’ve been thinking of breaking up with my husband for a while now. He keeps cheating on me…”
The woman looked down with a bright red face, but Holmes-san said nothing in reply.
It seemed that her husband’s arrogant, overbearing attitude wasn’t just for her, and his style didn’t change when engaging with other women.
“Whenever I found out that he cheated, he’d console me, saying that his love for just for me… and I’d always let it slide. But I’d always think of you, and how much I missed you. But I couldn’t possibly meet you after such a long time, so I always walked past without stopping.”
As she poured her heart out, Holmes-san continued listening without saying a word.
“…But I eventually became unable to forgive him any more for his cheating, and I said to his face, ‘Let’s break up.’ He wept and apologized, then suddenly said, ‘Please marry me.’
“At that time, I was overcome with emotion and nodded, but now that we’re married, I feel uneasy. I always wonder if he would continue cheating on me, and if he’s actually a good person. But more importantly, after we got married, Kiyotaka-kun’s face appeared in my head for some reason. You really treated me well, but I was young and stupid to be unable to understand that.”
As Izumi-san spoke, her body shook, and tears flowed from her eyes.
She exuded a faint helplessness that would stir one’s desire to protect.
My heart beat wildly as I observed that scene.
Holmes-san opened his mouth to say something, but at that moment,
“You don’t need to say anything. I know you’re going to call me an idiot.”
Acknowledging her words, Holmes-san closed his mouth.
She must be feeling quite uneasy after her marriage, so did she came here to vent those feelings?
But what else will she do?
In the silence that ensued, Izumi-san wiped off the tears in her eyes and took a short breath.
“…Kiyotaka-kun, do you still like waka poetry3?”
“Waka poetry, you say? …Yes, quite.”
I was thrown into confusion by her sudden, seemingly unrelated question.
“…I’d like you to take a look at this too. I’ll come over to pick it up the day after tomorrow, so please hold on to it till then.”
Izumi-san said as she retrieved a small box from the paper bag.
“The day after tomorrow?”
That would be the 15th.
“Yeah, I’d like you to take your time to look at it… It was made on a mountain in Shiga.”
Izumi-san quickly stood up.
“On a mountain in Shiga…”
Holmes-san frowned slightly.
Izumi-san stopped at the door, held it open, then turned around.
“Thanks for today. It’s good that I dared to meet you. Your yukata really suits you.”
Izumi-san spoke with a wide smile on her face.
“Thank you very much.”
And with that, Izumi-san left the store.
Holmes-san wordlessly opened the small box that Izumi-san had left behind.
In it was a matcha bowl. With a skin-colored base, it had something green drawn in its center…
“Is it a leaf?”
I instinctively asked, and Holmes-san nodded in response.
“…Yes, it’s mugwort.”
“Is it worth anything?”
I asked curiously, but Holmes-san didn’t answer, and only narrowed his eyes gently.
It seemed that he didn’t want to talk about the tea bowl’s value at the moment.
“Holmes-san, do you like waka poetry?”
As I changed the subject, Holmes-san let out a short chuckle.
“Well, I like it as much as the average person… That was the trigger for me getting close with her.”
“Waka poetry was the trigger?”
“Yes. During autumn of my second year in high school, as part of a school event, we went to Tōfuku-ji4 in Higashiyama-ku, which is well known for its maple trees.”
“As part of a school event…” I was quite surprised by that.
“Seeing the deep red maple leaves get washed away by the small river, she said, ‘Wow, that reminds me of that famous poem. Unheard of even in the legendary age of the awesome gods: Tatsuta River… Um, what was the rest of it again?’ And that was when I answered, ‘…in scarlet and the water flowing under it.’
“That was the trigger to her thinking of me as a guy who likes waka poetry, and her coming to like me.”
“…I, I see.”
Indeed, I don’t think anyone can resist it when a handsome guy recites the latter half of that poem, with the river stained deep red from the maple leaves serving as a wondrous backdrop.
“…I do like waka poetry, but I not such a big fan as she claims me to be.”
Holmes-san shrugged in embarrassment, then burst out laughing.
He’d probably answered because he just happened to know the answer.
“…Even so, women are easily swayed, huh.”
Holmes-san muttered to himself with the tea bowl in his hand. I took a breath.
“That, might be true.”
I’d also been swayed by something small in the past.
“Come to think of it, we were in the middle of our conversation.”
“I was saying that you seemed under the weather. Did something happen?”
“Ah… well, my old school in Saitama… umm, I heard that the school is coming here on a trip to see the Gion Festival.”
Holmes-san’s eyes opened wide in surprise.
“It’s a cultural excursion, or something like that. Anyway, I got a message from the group of friends I’m close with, saying that they want to meet me at the lobby of the hotel they’re staying at.
“In that group is the girl who used to be my best friend, and it’s really complicated because I might run into my ex-boyfriend there. But I really wanted to meet with my other friends, so I replied, ‘Alright, I’ll see you all there.’” After explaining the situation, I let out a mirthless laugh.
“…I see,” Holmes-san said as he slowly stood up.
“…That’s good, isn’t it? You still have those feelings of anguish inside you, right, Aoi-san? Now, you don’t have to go all the way to Saitama to settle it, since they’ve come here. It’s a good opportunity, don’t you think?”
My chest tightened as Holmes-san looked at me with a firm gaze.
“…Yeah, you might be right.”
“When do they want to meet you?”
“During Yoi-yoi-yama5 on the 15th at 7:30 at night. They’ll meet me in the hotel lobby along Shijo Muromachi Street.”
Yoi-yoi-yama, meaning the night festival two nights before the Gion Festival.
Lots of stalls would line up around the lit up yamaboko, signalling the start of the festival.
On that day, I would be working part-time at Kura until 7 at night, so I could head there right after work.
As Holmes-san said, it was indeed a good chance.
However, I couldn’t help feeling uneasy about it.
“…Even if you fret that much, it’s easier to do something than to worry about it.”
Holmes-san placed a hand on my head and gave me a kind smile, causing my heart to tighten.
At that moment, Holmes-san’s smartphone started vibrating.
After checking the display, he said, “—Right, there are some documents I need to deliver to the union. I’ll be back soon, so please look after the store.”
Retrieving a manilla envelope from a drawer, he quickly dashed out of the shop.
When I answered, Holmes-san had already disappeared, so I went to take a look at the tea bowl that was left on the table.
…The tea bowl with the mugwort pattern.
It had already been a few months since I started working at Kura. During that time, I’d developed quite a good eye for judgment, in my own way.
No matter how you looked at it… it was made by an amateur.
Did Izumi-san make that tea bowl, I wonder?
Did she want her work to be appraised?
“Kiyotaka-kun, do you still like waka poetry?”
She brought out the tea bowl after saying that.
It was made on a mountain in Shiga… huh. There’s probably a waka poem attached to it.
Yes, and that poem probably has some message behind it!
I quickly raised my head and immediately turned to look at the bookshelf in the store.
It had all sorts of material neatly arranged on its shelves.
First, I decided to pick out an atlas and check up the mountains in Shiga.
The names of the mountains were listed at the index in alphabetical order.
Mt. Ibuki, Mt. Kanaguso, Mt. Shirakura, Mt. Bungen, Mt. Oike… There were a lot more mountains than I thought.
“I don’t know…”
I looked down the list of Shiga mountains, but couldn’t figure out which one Izumi-san was referring to.
In the first place, Shiga is well-known for Shigaraki ware and pottery, so “being made on a mountain on Shiga” might not be a very useful clue. Now, time to look up information about mugwort.
Mugwort… It got its name because it can spread its roots out in four directions6. It has other names like mogusa7, yaitobana8, and is also called “sashimi grass” in waka poetry. That name is even used twice in two poems in Hyakunin Isshu9.
I muttered as I opened up a waka anthology this time.
Sashimo grass… Sashimo grass…
Finally, I found the two poems with the term “sashimogusa”.
“Depending with my life on promises that fell thick as dew on sasemo plants—alas! the autumn of this year too seems to be passing. — Fujiwara no Mototoshi”
It means… umm…
“You’ve said, ‘Please rely on me,’ and believing in those words, I continued living this evanescent life, but in the end, it couldn’t be fulfilled.”
Modern interpretation: I’ve asked you to put in a word for my son to be looked at for promotion, but your words were not taken into consideration. A poem written as a complaint.10
A complaint from the poet that he asked someone to use his influence for his son, but that influence fell short…
This poem definitely wasn’t it. What about the other one?
“Can I even say ‘I love you this much’?—No, and so you do not know of it anymore than of the sashimo grasses of Ibuki, my burning love for you! — Fujiwara no Sanekata”
Sashimo grasses of Ibuki… Mt. Ibuki, a mountain in Shiga.
With quivering fingers, I looked for the poem’s meaning.
“I love you so much, but cannot say it.
“Because I can’t say it, you don’t know about it.
My heart leapt.
I see, this is… this tea bowl is a confession, filled with all of Izumi-san’s heart and soul.
She must have thought that giving him a ceramic tea bowl with a waka attached to it would reach his heart, rather than saying something like, “I still love you, and I can’t forget about you.”
Just like the time when she fell for him after he recited the second part of the poem.
She wanted him to get her feelings after seeing the tea bowl.
And then she wanted him to accept those feelings.
She said that she would come over for his answer two days later, on the 15th.
Holmes-san should have instantly recognized her message upon seeing the tea bowl.
What exactly will he do?
He would be swayed after receiving a confession in the form of a sweet riddle from the woman he used to love, right?
“I love you so much, but cannot say it.”
With my forehead soaked with sweat, I gently placed the book back to the bookshelf. I was staring into space for a moment, when the store bell rang, and Holmes-san returned.
“Sorry, it took longer than I expected. You alright there?”
“Ah, yes. No customers came in, and the phone didn’t ring.”
I grinned with a duster in my hand, then slowly turned around.
— It would soon be the 15th, or yoi-yoi-yama, when the yamaboko would be colored.
Strangely enough, that was also the day when I would have to settle my problems.
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- A Danish manufacturer of porcelain products that was founded in Copenhagen in 1775.
- Plates with the year of production printed on them.
- Classical Japanese poetry written in Japanese, in contrast to other poems which were written in Classical Chinese.
- One of the “five great Zen temples of Kyoto”.
- Yoi-yama are street parties held on the three evenings preceding the main float processions. Incidentally, they’re called Yoi-yoi-yoi-yama, yoi-yoi-yama and yoi-yama, with yoi-yama being the one right before the main festival.
- Mugwort in Japanese is 四方草 (Yomogi) which means four-direction grass when read literally.
- Artemisia princeps
- Paederia scandens Meriill
- A classical Japanese anthology of one hundred waka by one hundred poets.
- The poet’s son, Bishop Kōkaku of Kofukuji Temple, wanted to be official lecturer of Vimalakirti Sutra, which is a highly prestigious position that required having the right skills and connections. Unforunately, Bishop Kōkaku wasn’t so lucky.
- Mugwort was used in moxibustion, which is a traditional Chinese medicine therapy in which dried mugwort is burnt on particular points of the body.
- Fujiwara no Sanekata was a waka poet of the mid-Heian period. The poem was sent to a woman he was first starting to court, so it was a sort of introduction to her, since she didn’t know who he was.