There is a kind of instance in which people feel that they’re having the best time of their lives. It is not one of the numerous peaks you can see if you look far enough down the scale of time, but it is a moment that is truly one of a kind. We yearn for such an instance, and strongly wish to at least be able to catch sight of it. That is because we are unable to beckon such a moment into our lives. All we can do is wait for someone else to produce one.
Moreover, this kind of instance will not appear so easily. That is why we cannot help by compensating for it as a means of consoling ourselves. You could say that being attracted by phrases like “only now”, “only here” and “only this” is a wholly unavoidable phenomenon. And no matter how many times it is used, “for you only” will remain as a powerful killer phrase.
For that reason, when an email with the words “For your eyes only! A sneak peek only for you!” arrives in a mobile phone, especially when that phone in question is owned by a high school first-year high school student in his prime, you can expect the student to be zealously absorbed in reading through the email. That is a remarkably refined reaction borne from an aspiration for an aesthetic afflatus.
I tried to explain as such, but while I was stammering, unable to summarize it well, Osanai-san blushed.
“Kobato-kun, you also read this kind of emails, huh.”
She murmured. She then continued, “…Not that I care.”
Peeking at someone else’s phone from behind might seem bad on Osanai-san’s part, but she was always standing behind me, and she was bound to catch a sight of whatever was on my phone’s monitor. Basically, it was careless of me to read this kind of spam mail while my back wasn’t leaning against a wall. I was about to give a response, but Osanai-san trotted a few steps away and started browsing Italian recipes, her cheeks still red.
It was a month since school started. Osanai-san and I were not participating in any extracurricular activities as of yet, so we could go home as soon as lessons ended. There was a large bookshop on the way back, and for its size, it seemed to only have books that you could find anywhere. It was a bookshop lacking in appeal, but I still stopped by here after school. It was becoming a new habit to accompany Osanai-san to browse for a while returning home from school.
Osanai-san was staring fixedly at the Italian recipes, although I knew that she was clearly trying to ignore me. I sighed, folded my phone, then picked out a magazine at random. “Short Trips – Kyoto in Spring” was written in large lettering on the cover. I was interested in the phrase “Short Trips”, so I picked the magazine up and opened it. As I was admiring the vivid photographs of Kyoto vegetables, I muttered, “Wow, these look delicious,”, and I instantly heard a voice from right behind me that was as soft as a whisper.
“But aren’t those expensive?”
I turned around to see Osanai-san bending slightly forward. She’d just been looking at the recipes, too… No, if I’m unsettled by her ability to erase her presence, I can’t be with her. I put on a smile.
“Don’t worry, I won’t click on any weird areas.”
Osanai-san moved away again. This time, she buried her face in a book of cake recipes. Peeking at her from the side, I turned the pages of the magazine to see a photograph of torii1 lined up as if they were reflected by a pair of mirrors. So this is Fushimi Inari. As my breath was taken away for a moment…
She appeared behind me again. Why behind? It would have been perfectly fine for her to be at the side.
“About that email from just now…”
Didn’t she say that she didn’t care? Is it that much of a crime to read a spam mail that arouses the low passions? Suddenly filled with an urge to run away, I looked around the shop. Is there no path for me to escape?
I habitually have no confidence in myself, but I was lucky today. I spotted a familiar face lined up with a short bookshelf close to the wall on the other side of the shop. The person who was staring at the manga on the shelf was…
“Oh, if it isn’t Kengo! I think I’ll go say hi.”
Uttering those unnatural words in a monotone, I shook free from Osanai-san, who obviously still had something to say, and walked towards Kengo.
He eventually noticed and beckoned me to come quickly. It’s strange that Kengo would put on a pleasant face when he had no business with me. Speaking of strange, I find it weird that Kengo was at a manga bookshelf. The Kengo I knew didn’t read manga.
Kengo’s arms were folded and his eyebrows were slightly furrowed. Wondering if he needed me for anything, I called out with a light tone.
“Hey, it’s rare for us to meet at a bookshop. Are you looking for something?”
Kengo glanced at me, then spoke in a throaty voice.
“Yeah, though I’m not sure what exactly I’m looking for… You’re proud of your head, right?”
“What’s with this question from out of the blue?”
I was a little embarrassed, but Kengo didn’t care.
“Introduce me to some good manga.”
Wow. I’d thought that he was a straight-laced person with no interest in fiction, but he’d apparently become interested in reading manga. Even so, that morose look on his face was exaggerated. While I was a little disappointed by the easy task, I accepted it with a smile.
I’m not particularly familiar with manga, but I can definitely find one to recommend. It probably wouldn’t be the best to start him off with an overly surreal fantasy, or something in the realm of paraphilia right off the bat. It should be sports then, I thought as I took a book off the shelf. It didn’t exactly break new ground, but was easy to read, and since it didn’t have as many pages, was easy to buy as well.
“Jougorou, is this good?”
“You’re looking for a manga with good art?”
“…Is that how it is?”
“Does that mean you can’t decide?”
“As I said, I don’t know what I’m looking for.”
“What about these?”
Kengo groaned as he received the manga with an unexpectedly solemn air. I was about to say that if he plans to read them, he might find some boring stories mixed in, but Kengo nodded deeply.
“I see. The art is more detailed than the one earlier.”
“Though there are some manga with detailed artwork only on the cover.”
“You’re knowledgeable about art, then?”
“By art, you mean the artistic kind, and not manga art, right?”
Are you an idiot? I was about to ask, but swallowed my words.
“…I think knowing some manga authors with good art is unrelated to having good aesthetic sense.”
“Is that so?”
“I’m more of an impressionist.”
I meant those words as a little joke, and was trying to convey that I only possessed the appreciation of a petit bourgeois, but Kengo replied with interest.
“If that’s so, you’re probably better off than me.”
I suppose that’s certainly true, comparatively speaking. Kengo thought for a while and spoke.
There’s something I don’t understand about art. Lend me your knowledge.”
I took a glance at the recipe corner. Osanai-san was peeking at us with a cake recipe book in one hand, and our eyes met.
“I’ve got no knowledge that will help. I can lend a hand anytime you need it, though.”
“It’s hard to find a use for your thin arms. Anyway, I’d like you to look at some actual art. I’ll give you the details next time.”
“Thin arms” was quite a cruel way of putting it. If I did a physical fitness test, I would get an average score for almost all items. Although my arms are certainly smaller compared to Kengo’s.
In any case, I was definitely interested in what Kengo, who would usually be quite far removed from the term “appreciation”, had started. It wouldn’t be late for me to decide whether or not to lend my knowledge after listening to him.
Kengo nodded. Since the artwork was in school, it was decided that he would contact me by email once lessons ended the next day. Apparently having no more need for manga, he walked toward the exit with large strides. It was now my job to put away the manga volumes that were left behind.
I turned to the recipe corner to look for Osanai-san again, but she was nowhere to be found. Well, she’s small, so it’s no wonder that I instantly lose sight of her. I whirled around, and instantly produced a weird sound.
With the manga volumes in my hand, I’d accidentally given an impressive smack to Osanai-san’s forehead as she stood behind me. Bending backwards, Osanai-san staggered for two or three steps, then put a hand to her forehead and stared at me wordlessly.
“Ah, erm, Osanai-san…”
“It’s dangerous, so I think you should stop standing directly behind me.”
“So, did you need me for something?”
I asked. Osanai-san stroked her forehead, which had turned red, apparently having forgotten about what she wanted to say the moment she was hit. With a start, she looked up.
“About just now…”
“That email with ‘For your eyes only’.”
So she’s still going on about that!
I winced at her words, but she firmly shook her head.
“No, not about its contents, but that phrase made me think of something.”
I fearfully asked. At that moment, a cheerful smile appeared on Osanai-san’s face.
“It reminded me of the spring-exclusive strawberry tarts at Alice. They’re available up till today.”
“Kobato-kun, will you come with me?”
It’s an honor to be invited, but I understood the reason all too well. I knew that it would sound really sad if I asked, but I asked anyway.
“Basically, the tarts are limited to one per person, correct?”
Osanai-san nodded in an unexpectedly bright manner.
There was quite a distance from the bookshop we were browsing at to Alice. It was fine for Osanai-san since she rode a bicycle, but it was a little far for me to go there by foot. After a discussion, it was decided that Osanai-san would lift the saddle of her bicycle, and we would travel together. The saddle on the metallic silver bicycle had been raised to the maximum range. I’d wondered if I would fit on the bicycle Osanai-san usually rides, given how short her legs are, but it seemed fine.
I’ve never asked, but Osanai-san’s weight was likely to be under forty kilograms. As a result, my pedalling was light even though there were two people on the bicycle. Instead of straddling the cargo rack behind, Osanai-san was sitting on it, and for safety she had a hand wrapped around my neck instead of my torso, causing me a small bit of pain.
A voice from a loudspeaker reached us from far away. It spoke of urban development that citizens desired. It spoke of a bright future. Thank you, thank you. Obviously, it was the car of a candidate for the city assembly election. Nothing to do with us, the legally incompetent. There was a traffic jam behind the candidate’s car, which was moving forward at a snail’s pace. I wonder if the people in those cars stuck behind will throw in their candidacy.
I’d been to Alice a few times. It was a small cake shop that took up the first floor of an apartment building. It’s not my style to visit a cake shop alone, so my previous visits were all with Osanai-san, and I’d memorized the route to get there. A widely spread back net used for baseball came into view, opposite a row of private houses. That would be the sports ground of Minakami High School. It was a good landmark, for Alice was located just a short distance away.
We continued moving on the sidewalk. I kept seeing the cars from a driving school, which was normal, since the mansion containing Alice was built diagonally opposite from Kiranishi Driving School. Along the way, I noticed a training car heading in the same direction, driven by a young woman with a freakishly solemn gaze. When our bicycle entered the parking area of Alice, so did the training car enter the driving school.
After hopping off the cargo rack, Osanai-san straightened her skirt, while I locked the bicycle. Looking through the glass door of the shop, I noticed that there were few people given that it was the last day for the spring-exclusive strawberry tarts that Osanai-san was so looking forward to.
I said, and Osanai-san entered Alice with a noticeable spring in her step. Seriously, she only seems to enjoy herself whenever something sweet is involved. Smiling wryly, I also stepped into the shop. As soon as I pulled open the glass door, I was surrounded by the sweet fragrance that seemed like it could come from a sponge cake being baked, sugar being melted, or fruits being heated. I don’t particularly like cakes, but this fragrance actually made me feel happy.
However, Osanai-san didn’t even glance at the other adorably-sized cakes arranged in the show window.
“One spring-exclusive strawberry tart, please!”
She piped up with an unusually energetic voice, causing me to turn around.
“Yeah, erm… one for me too, please.”
As if influenced by the fragrance in the air, a sweet smile drifted onto the face of the female shop clerk.
“Lucky you! These are the last two.”
Wow, we almost didn’t make it. I instinctively whispered into Osanai-san’s ear as she waited restlessly.
“That was close.”
Osanai-san beckoned me to get to her level, so I bent my knees. She then whispered into my ear.
“Thanks to that email.”
I suppose it’s true that you never know where good luck will spring from.
The spring-exclusive strawberry tarts were packed in boxes. I have no idea how they’re different from regular strawberry tarts. I posed that question to Osanai-san, who was grinning from ear to ear with the two boxes in her hands.
“It’s different every year, so I don’t know. It’s a taste just for this year… I can’t wait!”
She replied. Recently, or perhaps ever since I was born, have I ever made a face that showed my anticipation to that degree? As I was momentarily lost in thought, Osanai-san placed the two boxes in the bicycle’s basket, as if she were storing treasure. The tarts would be at an oblique angle, but there’s no helping that. I suppose I’ll cycle softly on the way back, to the best of my ability.
Besides Alice, a convenience store also occupied the first floor. Upon catching sight of it, Osanai-san said that she wanted to buy some milk. I followed her into the store, but unlike a certain someone, it’s not my habit to stick tightly behind someone else, so I headed for the magazine corner. Unlike the cake shop, the convenience store was mainly filled with students from Minakami High School. There were also many people behind the register. It seemed that buying even one bottle of milk would take quite a bit of time.
There was nothing that attracted my attention at the magazine corner. With no choice, I picked up a manga magazine. That reminded me of my talk with Kengo, and I became a little curious about what he wanted me to look at. Well, I’ll naturally find out about it tomorrow.
A popular song was being played in the wired broadcast. I quickly flipped through the pages of the manga. It’s not that I was reading quickly, but I wasn’t reading at all. I was just having fun flipping through the magazine.
Soon, I noticed a noisy clamor going on outside. Right on the other side of the glass was an assembly of about five people. All of them were wearing the Minakami High School blazer. Hmm… they seemed to be of the uncouth sort. Perhaps I should keep an eye on them, I thought as I focused my attention on the group. I could hear their conversation from here.
There was just one person in that group who gave off the atmosphere of a gentle-mannered man. He wasn’t at the level of a pretty guy, but he had a kind-looking visage, a slender body, and was wearing a small pair of spectacles. He gave an order.
“Alright, let’s get going.”
What, they’re leaving already? I didn’t have to worry at all, then. That was what I thought, when two people broke out of the group, and moved towards my side. They didn’t seem to notice that I was right by their eyes and noses, within the safety of the convenience store, not to mention that I was eavesdropping on them while pretending to read manga. One of the two was wearing his uniform in a manner that exemplified the “uncouth” impression I had of them, and had a restless gaze, causing me to imagine that he held a low position in the group. The other student was rather overweight and hadn’t shaven his beard properly. The former began talking to the latter in a pleading tone.
“Sorry, senpai, but I can’t make it.”
The fat guy frowned.
“What do you mean, you can’t make it? I told you to keep your schedule open, yeah?”
“No, it’s not because of my schedule, but I don’t have the means to get there.”
“The means? What about your bike? Didn’t you go back to get it?”
The one with the lower status continuously lowered his head in an attempt to apologize.
“It got jacked.”
“Are you stupid?”
That’s awkward… But if he doesn’t have a bicycle, then I wonder if they can have two people ride one bicycle, just like Osanai-san and I did.
The fat student turned back to the remaining three of the group and spoke in a loud voice that made me wish I hadn’t perked my ears to listen on them.
“Senpai! Sakagami’s bicycle got jacked!”
The genteel student in the group stared coldly at the one named Sakagami, who wordlessly looked off in the distance to evade everyone else’s gaze.
“Do something about it with your own talents. You know the location, get there in ten minutes.”
As I said, he could have just let two people ride together. But I suppose he couldn’t stand having to look after his underling.
In the end, the group left on bicycles, scooters, or motorcycles, leaving behind Sakagami, who was hanging his head in shame. Still looking down, he kicked the asphalt and disappeared from my field of vision.
I noticed a presence behind me. Turning around, I addressed that person.
“Did you buy your milk, Osanai-san?”
My eyes did widen a little upon seeing Osanai-san there, but I won’t be surprised so many times in just one hour. Osanai-san didn’t answer, but held up a polyester bag with a pack of milk in it.
“Let’s go, then.”
Osanai-san nodded slightly, then walked out of the convenience store, singing to herself a strange song with the lyrics “Tart tart tart”.
It was at that moment.
A metallic silver bicycle crossed us with an overwhelming intensity.
With two flat white boxes in its front cage.
…I don’t know which of us was the first to catch on. Osanai-san’s eyes widened, her mouth hanging wide open as she froze in place. I was the first to start moving. I dashed out and shouted, “Thief!”
But Sakagami put his strength into pedalling, neglecting to look back at us. The bicycle gradually sped up, quickly turned the corner and soon disappeared from view. There as no way we could chase after him. I noticed the lock, which had been stomped on and broken, lying on the ground in the parking area. Don’t tell me he actually did that in broad daylight…
I timidly turned around to look at the area near the door of the convenience store. My loud voice had attracted a bunch of onlookers. Meanwhile, Osanai-san was still carrying the polyester bag of milk, her mouth agape and her eyes hollow.
Captains (Tier 3) : Marieta Tan
Editors (Tier 2) : Joshua Fisher, Yazmin Arostegui, Slush56, _Maki, Jen Murph
Assistants (Tier 1) : Karen Kronenberg, Anna, Definitelynotme, Rolando Sanchez, Kevin Kohn, Jaime Cuellar
Thank you very much for all your support!