If someone asked if I have confidence in myself, I would have answered in the negative.
Unless the one asking that question was a god and could guarantee that no one would think badly of me even if I told the truth. If so, I would have likely said that “I didn’t even consider the chance of failing.”
Funado High School was known as a highly selective school in the area. That said, since it was a public school, the number of examinees was regulated by the middle schools, so it had an acceptance rate of more than 80%. The numbers of the successful applicants were posted in front of the gymnasium. I went over to look at the numbers with a light-hearted air, as if I were viewing the cherry blossoms nearby, and soon found my number. I let out a small sigh, showing that I still had some degree of anxiety.
In any case, I was done with myself. However, I couldn’t relax just yet. I was still worried about another person, the comrade I had a promise with. We came here together, so she should be around here somewhere… but the crowd of people in front of the notice board made it impossible to spot her. This is hopeless. After all, this partner of mine is a tiny person, and on top of that she doesn’t stand out. I gave up searching for her with my eyes, then went a distance away from the chaos. I took out my mobile phone and started sending an email. The name registered for the address was “Osanai Yuki Mobile”.
“I passed. What about you, Osanai-san?”
The reply read,
“Where are you now?”
I spun around, searching for a landmark. It was only my second time here, with the first being the time I took the examination. After having a dilemma about which landmark to use, I replied as such:
“I’m heading for the school gate.”
“I’ll be there soon.”
With our communication complete, I kept my flip phone in my pocket. The emails we exchange are always short. Osanai-san doesn’t use face marks or emoji, and neither do I. Quite a while ago, I asked her about it, and apparently she doesn’t use that sort of thing to match my tastes. Which one of us has genuinely simple tastes, and which one of us is following the other? I think both of us are split fifty-fifty on those two traits.
Many other people were also meeting near the school gate. It seems that Osanai-san isn’t here yet… That was what I thought, when the top half of a small girl dressed in a sailor uniform peeked out from the shadow of the unappealing, concrete school gate. Who is she hiding from? I waved a hand at that girl, and lightly darted towards her. Once I had reached her, she spoke in a faint voice.
“What are you talking about?”
“Kobato-kun, you passed, right?”
Ah, I see. With that, I produced a wide smile.
“So you passed as well. That’s good.”
“Yes… I’ll be in your care from now on.”
It was a perfectly normal conversation that wouldn’t be troubling even if overheard by others. Even so, Osanai-san maintained her hushed voice, as if mindful of her surroundings.
Her name was Osanai Yuki. Aside from her small body, there was nothing about her outer appearance that stood out at all. She had narrow eyes, thin lips, and a small nose. The parts that made up her face, as well as her face itself, were all small. If pressed, I’d say that her ears were like fukumimi1. She had an amasogi2 hairstyle, and as if to match her thin frame, her hands and legs were slender. She was so petite that she could get onto a bus with an elementary school student’s fee. On top of the middle school sailor uniform, she was wearing a milk-colored cardigan. As for the atmosphere she gave off… she was like a small animal, a description that she liked herself.
I got to know Osanai-san from early summer of my third year in middle school.
A weak breeze blew past. It was close to spring, and while the cherry blossoms were already blooming, the air between Osanai-san and I was still quite cold. I shivered. There was no need for us to be here until the opening ceremony.
“It’s cold, so I’ll be heading home.”
Osanai-san replied, then thought for a while.
“It’s cold, huh.”
“Exactly, which is why I said I’m going home.”
“How about something warm to celebrate our passing of the exam?”
That was a great suggestion. I don’t know much about this area, but Osanai-san should know a shop or two. I was about to agree and say, “Let’s go” without a second thought, when an unexpected voice was directed toward me.
I looked up to see a tawdry-looking man clad in a rose gray windbreaker and holding a notebook in his hand. He had on a russet armband with the word “Reporter” in white lettering. Osanai-san immediately whirled around and hid behind me. That was a swift reaction. The man took a short glance at her, then faced me and spoke in an almost expressionless voice.
“It seems that you’ve passed. Congratulations. Could you spare a bit of your time?”
He wants to interview me? I see.
I instantly responded with a smile.
“Sorry, I still have some business to settle.”
Leaving those words, I quickly walked towards the crowd of people without waiting for a reply. Osanai-san also followed behind closely. It’s not like I especially distrusted the mass media, but I would rather not be involved with them. Osanai-san should also share that sentiment, but after we had covered a sufficient distance, she looked up at me with her eyebrows clouded in unease.
“Kobato-kun… do you think that person was angry?”
Also curious about that, I took a glance over my shoulder. The reporter was not pursuing us at all, and instead seemed to be scanning his surroundings for his next target.
“I think he’s fine. Even if he did get angry, I imagine it would be part of his job.”
Even as she nodded, her expression did not thaw.
Professor Clark3 left the words, “Be gentlemen” to the students of Hokkaido University. Osanai-san and I also have a similar-sounding motto, but at a lower social class compared to “gentlemen”. It is “Be petit bourgeois4.” For the sake of everyday peace and stability, Osanai-san and I were to firmly play our roles as little citizens. But that expression was a little imprecise to describe our habits. Osanai-san would usually hide, while I would play it off.
To be a petit bourgeois, one has to watch television and read the newspapers. Making an appearance in either medium would be out of the question. We have absolutely no intention of answering in a dubious interview which may or may not be used as material. However, being a hindrance to others’ work and earning their ire is also unbefitting of a petit bourgeois. That was why we were relieved upon seeing the attitude of the man in the windbreaker.
Even so… I stopped moving and turned around to face the school gate once again. Osanai-san looked at me quizzically.
“What’s the matter?”
“No, nothing much, just that we escaped in a bad direction.”
It would be a little awkward to walk past that man again after we’d just escaped from the school gate, and I hate awkward situations. There should be other exits, but I didn’t know where they were. As I was thinking about what to do, Osanai-san hid behind me again.
“…Don’t move, Kobato-kun.”
I looked around, and realized what she was hiding from.
Naturally, many of my schoolmates from middle school had taken the entrance exam here. Up till now, I had passed a few familiar faces. Osanai-san must have spotted such a schoolmate, and I understand why she would want to hide behind my back. She would certainly feel like running away if she passed while her schoolmate hadn’t.
Come to think of it, Osanai-san’s voice was many times softer than usual when we met at the school gate. That was probably because there were other students who had failed to make the cut. Indeed, while we’re comrades walking down the path of the petit bourgeois, I’m falling behind Osanai-san in terms of consideration towards others. Appreciating her concerns, I followed her request, and stood still.
Quite some time had passed since the numbers of the successful applicants had been released. While the excitement of the crowd was gradually cooling down, there were still shouts of “Banzai!” here and there that lacked Osanai-san’s consideration. Speaking of which, it would be more accurate to say that whatever lingering enthusiasm had already died down. Just as I was thinking that it was about time to move off and have something warm as promised, a voice called out.
“Hey, you over there!”
That rude line was delivered by an impudent voice. Osanai-san immediately stiffened, and I was also fairly surprised. I don’t remember being called in such an abrupt fashion before. For the time being, I meekly turned around.
The person standing in front of me was a boy with a rowdy look that corresponded with his voice. He had wide shoulders, a tough body and was quite a lot taller than me. His presence here meant that he was in the same year as me, as well as Osanai-san. If the two of them were to be photographed together, I’m sure the caption would be “The Effect of Nutrition on Physical Development”. Both sides of his head had been trimmed clean of hair, causing his entire head, which already sported a squarish face, to look cubical. I turned towards him and broke into a sincere, hearty smile.
“That’s what you say to me? What a horrible greeting.”
“It’s way better than suddenly shouting ‘Hey, you over there!’ Anyway, long time no see, Kengo!”
Kengo just snorted, not showing any particular form of deep affection. It stood to reason that Kengo and I were old acquaintances, but thinking about it, we weren’t exactly friends.
“So you also applied for Funa High?”
“Yeah, I suppose.”
“So, did you get in?”
“I see,” Kengo replied with a nod. He didn’t exactly frown, but put on a sour face as he folded his arms.
“Since you use your head, I knew you would never fail… Seems like we’re in the same school again.”
Kengo passed as well, huh. Congratulations to him, then.
By the way, Osanai-san was shying away from Kengo. Naturally, she tended to do that more to males, not to mention that the masculine Kengo was probably the type of person she couldn’t deal with. Yet again, she was gripping onto the hem of my fleece jacket and shrinking away. I often wonder if Osanai-san would be able to live an easier, more convenient life if she walked around with something to cover her face, like a cardboard box, for instance.
I turned back to look at Osanai-san, and smiled.
“He might look stern, but he’s not scary at all, Osanai-san.”
A frown finally showed on Kengo’s face.
“Who’s not scary?”
“Ah, sorry. Perhaps you were scary after all.”
“I’m just saying, don’t introduce me by using the standard of whether I’m scary or not.”
“You’re right, yeah. Sorry, I didn’t mean any ill intent.”
But the harder I tried to defend myself in all sincerity, the suspicious look on Kengo’s face only grew more pronounced.
He started, but then swallowed his words.
Since he didn’t continue, I had no choice but to introduce him.
“Osanai-san, this is Doujima Kengo. We were in the same elementary school.”
After receiving the introduction, Osanai-san reluctantly exposed her whole body to Kengo. She bowed politely.
“Kengo, this is Osanai-san. We were in the same middle school, and we’re friends.”
Kengo, on the other hand, was exceedingly sincere. He unfolded his arms, then puffed out his chest and gave his name again.
“Nice to meet you, Osanai-san. You must be a patient person if you’re friends with Jougorou. I’m Doujima Kengo. It seems that we’ll be schoolmates, so please treat me well.”
What a cruel remark. Also, Osanai-san didn’t say anything about passing the exam.
It might have been affected to some degree by their height difference, but Osanai-san was looking at Kengo with considerably upturned eyes. Since she seemed to be having a hard time conversing with him, I thought about helping her out, but even with her stiff countenance, she still managed a smile, as well as a small nod.
As we’d discussed earlier, we went to one of Osanai-san’s favorite coffee shops and ordered something hot. I had coffee, while Osanai-san had hot lemonade and a strawberry tart on the side. It was a small-sized tart, well within the definition of a petit cake.
Wrapping both palms around the cup filled with lemonade, Osanai-san heaved a sigh. She then removed her scarlet muffler and placed it on her knee. To warm up her freezing fingertips, she repeatedly stroked the cup, then finally took a sip. Using a fork, she cut off a slice from the end of the strawberry tart and brought it to her mouth. For an instant, her usually gloomy countenance was bathed in delight. Seeing that, I laughed.
“Is it tasty?”
Osanai-san nodded deeply. She drank the lemonade for a short while, then tilted her head to the side.
“Yes, it is, but…”
She replied with a muffled voice.
“I know an even tastier strawberry tart.”
Since I wasn’t a fan of sweet things, I couldn’t help but give a perfunctory response. Even so, I followed the flow of conversation and asked a question.
A natural smile formed on Osanai-san’s lips.
“‘Alice’ has spring-exclusive strawberry tarts. They’re filled to the brim with strawberries. I’m definitely buying them this year.”
Filled to the brim with strawberries? That doesn’t sound very appetizing, I thought. Then again, Osanai-san would only smile like this when talking about something sweet.
Not wanting to rain on her parade, I replied saying that it seemed delightful.
Despite Osanai-san’s slow savoring of the small tart, it disappeared within ten minutes. During that time, I had also finished my coffee, leaving only a bit near the bottom. With the tart gone and a gloomy expression returned to Osanai-san’s face, she started asking a question hesitatingly.
“By the way, Kobato-kun.”
“What kind of person is Doujima-kun?”
That’s a difficult question. I’m far from proficient at summarizing a person’s characteristics in a single phrase. I unintentionally replied with another question.
“Interested in him?”
Osanai-san looked down, then peeked at me with upturned eyes. She was probably holding back because I was a friend of Kengo. I smiled and waited for her to speak.
Her voice was so small that it came out as a whisper.
“That person… He seemed really pushy towards you. It might be bad to say this of someone I met for the first time, but he seemed overbearing.”
I can understand her concern. She must have sensed that air in our relationship. Indeed, Kengo does come off that way sometimes.
“You’re right. If he hasn’t changed in the three years since I last saw him, he’s a relatively meddlesome guy.”
The expression on Osanai-san’s face, which was already quite dark, clouded over even more. She was probably feeling that a dark cloud was hanging over her upcoming high school life. I could understand her sentiments, but I felt like defending Kengo for a bit.
“You don’t need to worry. He’s a good guy, that Kengo.”
I instantly realized that it was a stupid thing to say. As expected, Osanai-san shook her head.
“I’m even more worried that you said he’s a good guy… he won’t let me go. You’ve said that bad people are easier to handle, haven’t you?”
Ah, I see.
However, Kengo isn’t the type of “good guy” that we’re afraid of. He’s not a person who would corner us under the slogan “for the sake of…” Of course, he’s not a bad guy, either. How should I explain this?
Noticing my silence, Osanai-san hurriedly spoke.
“Are you thinking about what to say? It’s fine, you don’t have to bother. If he’s a person you can think of as a friend, he’ll probably leave us be.”
“…Yes, that’s what I think.”
Realizing that I’d given a half-hearted answer, I slowly drained the rest of my coffee. Osanai-san followed suit by taking a sip of her lemonade. Kengo and I did not exactly get along well, but I acknowledged him as a person. If possible, I wouldn’t want Osanai-san to harbor ill feelings towards Kengo, but that’s for her to decide. I shall not intervene.
Soon after, our cups became empty.
As if having made up her mind, Osanai-san spoke with determination.
“Kobato-kun, if you ever need to escape from something, use me as an excuse. You don’t need to worry about me.”
I put on a light grin.
“Of course. That’s exactly what I’ll do.”
There was no need for her to confirm at this point of time, since it was a promise that we had made. Just as I would use Osanai-san as an excuse, Osanai-san would use me as an excuse. I would use Osanai-san as a shield, and she would in turn use me as a shield. By doing that, we would create a peaceful time for us.
We would soon become high school students. We cannot let this chance go to waste.
Our bounding journey towards becoming the perfect petit bourgeois was beginning.
Captains (Tier 3) : SuperKatsu, Marieta Tan
Editors (Tier 2) : Joshua Fisher, Yazmin Arostegui, Slush56, Ashley Soffietti, Jen Murph
Assistants (Tier 1) : Karen Kronenberg, Anna, Definitelynotme, Rolando Sanchez, Kevin Kohn, _Maki
Thank you very much for all your support!
- Plump ears said to bring good fortune.
- A hairstyle of both nuns and young girls of the Heian Period, consisting of straight, usually cheek-length sidelocks and frontal fringe.
- An American professor of chemistry, botany and zoology who was hired by the Japanese government as a foreign advisor to establish Sapporo Agricultural College (now Hokkaido University).
- Translated literally as “little citizen”, petit bourgeois refers to a member of the lower middle class.