I took my leave from the Art Room. Immediately after I closed the door, Kengo spoke.
“What do you think? It’s a strange story, right?”
“You’re right. It would be fine if it were a copy or if it were computer-generated, but having two hand-drawn pictures that are similar is just…”
He’d probably been through a great deal of hardship to create the second painting, too. You might think that he only had to exert the same amount of effort twice, but drawing something a second time usually fills you with a sense of futility, so that might not be enough.
“While they’re similar, they’re not exactly the same, though.”
“Really? I didn’t notice.”
“You can tell if you look at it closely. I’m thinking that perhaps the painting is jammed with a considerable number of ideas, so he made a copy in case one gets dirty or gets torn.”
“Considerable number of ideas?”
“That’s what I’m expecting from you to figure out.”
I’m honestly grateful to be on the receiving end of such expectations, but it’s way out of my field of expertise. If I can come up with the answer just by thinking about it, most of the reasoning, or the solution, would have come to me already. As for ideas, it could be that the picture changes when tilted, or that the picture becomes three-dimensional when viewed at a parallel angle… If that were the case, it would be interesting, but even so, those aren’t exactly innovative.
“…So, what’s that?”
“Yeah, I’ll show it to you.”
Kengo brought out a copy from his uniform pocket. Katsube-senpai had passed it to him after the interview.
“It’s a copy of the student newspaper from two years ago. There’s an interview of Ōhama-senpai on it, and apparently, it was a commemoration of him winning an award at a prefectural exhibition. She thought I could use it in my article.”
“Wow, so Katsube-senpai was holding on to something like that.”
“There’s an article of a ball game tournament in June on the back, with a huge photograph of the senpai playing an active part in it.”
“I see. So, why does someone currently in the Newspaper Club need to get an old snippet of news from an outsider?”
As if saying, “What a stupid question”, Kengo gently lifted his hands.
“I can get this copy from Katsube-senpai in one day, but it’ll take me three days to find a back number from two years ago in the Newspaper Club Room.”
You should clean it up, then.
We crossed the passageway from the South Block to the North Block.
“So, what do you think? Got any ideas?”
“Sorry that I can’t live up to your expectations.”
I shook my head, causing Kengo to peek at my face, surprised.
“You admit that you don’t know?”
“Isn’t that what I’m saying?”
“…You’re being awfully honest.”
Isn’t that a good thing? Though Kengo seems strangely disappointed by that.
Anyway, it wasn’t my intention to be honest there, but I was lacking in devotion to finding an answer. Not taking a look at material right in front of my eyes just doesn’t sit right with me. I held a hand out to Kengo.
“Huh? What is it?”
“Could you let me take a look at that copy?”
Kengo retrieved the copy once again, gave it a cursory glance and handed it to me.
“Thanks. I’ll read it now.”
It wasn’t a particularly long article. I could read it while walking.
Interviewer: Congratulations at winning an award at the Prefectural Art Exhibition.
Ōhama: Thank you very much.
Interviewer: Actually, I have not seen the painting that won the award. What kind of painting is it?
Ōhama: It’s a size 20 oil painting. Up till now, I’ve usually based my paintings on the color red, but this time, I mainly used a shade of blue that is close to sky-blue. I think the picture turned out considerably bright because of that.
Interviewer: By size 20, you mean…
Ōhama: Basically, it’s in a normal size.
Interviewer: What did you paint?
Ōhama: Fruit. It’s a weird subject, don’t you think?
Interviewer: Even at this stage, you paint fruit?
Ōhama: Basically, I’m at the stage where I’m polishing my skills. I feel like I’ve been painting the same things since I entered this school. Right, I’ve also painted many pictures of fish.
Interviewer: Fish? In the Art Room?
Ōhama: No, at home. If I painted them in the Art Room, I would be chased out for the fishy smell (laughs).
Interviewer: You’re right (laughs). By the way, I have a really refined image of oil paintings in my mind. What made you start making oil paintings?
Ōhama: I have never thought of them as refined, so I could start carefreely. I started out with a prank, just for fun, and I believe my principles have not changed since.
Interviewer: Do you often make prank paintings?
Ōhama: That’s right. As for whether I’m a refined person, I can’t say for sure, but if you make a case based on the fact that my paintings often contain many vulgar parts, I can only think that you’re basing your argument on mere quantities.
Ōhama: Sorry for the weird response.
Interviewer: Anyway, it will soon be the time to decide on your future path. Do you have any goals in mind?
Ōhama: I think that no matter where I go, I’ll end up painting anyway. I’m not sure if I can do that as a job, though.
Interviewer: Don’t your family have high expectations for your paintings?
Ōhama: I’m not too sure about that (laughs). I have an elder brother who is a lot older than I am and he frequently comes over to hang out, but only he and his children are delighted to see my paintings.
Interviewer: Thank you very much for today.
Ōhama: Thank you too.
I kept silent.
“So? You figured out something?”
I stretched my neck to the side and returned the copy to Kengo. As we were parting, Kengo spoke.
“There’s no helping it if you can’t figure it out. Well, that’s not the only story we have.”
For just a small moment, I was hit with a pang of guilt. That was actually an effective piece. With this, we can decipher his methods. Those words were at the back of my throat.
But I swallowed them back down.
Using your wisdom in a shrewd way is not necessarily seen as a good thing. I know as much. I thought I wouldn’t mind if I decided whether to lend my wisdom after listening to the situation, but that was a little naïve. If I had wanted to sit still, I shouldn’t have listened to the story in the first place.
I returned to my classroom to find someone sitting in my seat. It was Osanai-san. Is it just my imagination, or does she look worn out? She called out to me in a weak voice.
My response to that greeting was the result of a spinal reflex.
Since my chair was filled, I sat down at a nearby table.
“…So, why are you here?”
“Because I saw you go to the Art Room. I thought you would come back immediately.”
“You saw me?”
“I can see from my classroom.”
I see. Looking at the two buildings of Funa High from a bird’s eye view, they forms the character エ, with one horizontal stroke being longer on the left and the other horizontal stroke being longer on the right. As a map of that aerial view appeared in my mind, I realized that Osanai-san’s classroom was indeed directly opposite the Art Room. If she looked across the courtyard, she could have probably seen us in there. As I understood that point, she continued.
“Those were some weird paintings.”
“You could even see them!”
While I raised my voice without thinking, Osanai-san took a palm-sized pair or binoculars out of her pocket and showed it to me. With those, she was able to see the painting. I’m not sure why she walks around with a pair of binoculars, though.
“They’re like carbon copies of each other.”
That’s right, I was about to say, but there was something about those words that confused me. I wet my tongue and replied, bearing in mind my pronunciation.
“You mean they’re like exact copies1 of each other?”
“That’s what I said… that they’re like carbon copies of each other.”
So what if they’re like carbon copies of each other? Osanai-san may or may not have deciphered the meaning behind my wry smile, but she returned a gracious smile and continued.
“So, I was waiting for you, Kobato-kun… I thought I should apologize. You gave me so much encouragement yesterday, and I didn’t even reply.”
“Oh, about that?”
I waved my hand exaggeratedly.
“You don’t need to worry about that.”
Osanai-san nodded. Apparently having pulled herself together, she asked in a slightly louder voice.
“So, what did you talk with Doujima-kun?”
I made a difficult face. Due to my silence, unease immediately clouded Osanai-san’s face.
“It’s fine if you don’t want to talk about it. Was it insensitive of me?”
I shook my head.
“No, it’s not that I don’t want to talk about it. It’s nothing much, really.”
I wasn’t just trying to reassure Osanai-san, but I felt like telling her about the two paintings. I compiled Katsube-senpai’s old story with Ōhama’s words, and roughly relayed it to her. Since she was looking at the two paintings, albeit from a distance away, she was quick to understand.
“…And with how things are now, Kengo’s looking for a new story.”
However, just as I could somehow read Osanai-san’s preferences and movements from being next to her for such a long time, Osanai-san could apparently also read my feelings to a certain extent. As if thinking that I would flare up, she looked at me with slightly upturned eyes and spoke.
“Kobato-kun, you’re not helping them?”
“I don’t understand the picture.”
“But you’re close to understanding it, aren’t you?”
It seems that I really can’t underestimate her. However, the fact remains that I haven’t understood it yet.
“Sorry if it’s just my imagination, but you seem frustrated, Kobato-kun.”
I smiled wryly.
“Well, I suppose. It may have been just a glimpse, but I caught sight of the solution. But you should know, Osanai-san. Playing a detective is really not something for people who aspire to be part of the petit bourgeoisie. I think it’s better for me to act like I didn’t hear anything.”
“If you’re fine with that…”
Osanai-san muttered, fell into thought for a while, then suddenly asked again to make sure.
“But are you really?”
If you put it that way…
I’m not exactly trying to get in anyone’s good graces here.
And I haven’t completely solved it yet, but still…
After seeing this much and being requested to solve the mystery behind the paintings, letting it go would put me off.
“…I just think it seems a little cold-hearted.”
“I think so too.”
The two of us are not much of the emotional type, but that doesn’t mean that we’re cold-blooded. Having an indifference to civil matters is fine, but being cold or cool is not a virtue in the eyes of a little citizen.
But there remains the problem of how to find the solution.
“Assuming that I do solve the mystery, I would hate to tell everyone about it. I did this, and thus I found that. You know how that kind of explanation goes.”
“Yup, I know.”
I wonder if there’s any good hand for me to play. One that would allow me to tell everyone about the solution, while not requiring me to appear in public. There’s no way such a convenient method exists. If only there was someone whom I can freely explain my deduction to and whom I can entrust with conveying that explanation…
…Before my eyes stood Osanai-san.
She figured it out just from my gaze. Seriously, it’s difficult to make light of her.
But in reality, it wouldn’t work. It would be just cruel to have the shy Osanai-san do that for the sake of my responsibilities. Also, I don’t want to do this purely based off my responsibilities, but my preferences are mixed up in this as well, making it even worse. Moreover, being so closely involved in a deduction is a violation of the promise I had with her.
As I was troubled by these thoughts, Osanai-san quietly spoke out.
“If you can’t give up on this… you can use me as an excuse.”
“…Oh yeah, you’re right.”
I immediately understood what she was talking about. Normally, we would use each other as a pretext to escape, but Osanai-san was saying that this time, I could use her as the detective for this particular system. I felt grateful to her, but at the same time, I was quite surprised. She was actually saying that it was fine for her to be used, and for me to break that agreement. Just in case, I questioned her.
“You’ll become the person who solved the mystery. Are you sure that’s fine?”
A smile, feeble as it was, appeared on Osanai-san’s face.
“Yup. It’s our promise to use each other as an excuse, anyway. Also, I probably won’t get acquainted with Katsube-senpai, and I caused you so much trouble yesterday…”
You don’t need to worry about that. Furthermore, even if Osanai-san will have no more interactions with Katsube-senpai afterwards, I can’t say the same thing about Kengo.
…However, after some consideration, I decided to go on board with Osanai-san’s suggestion. Not solving a problem when it can almost be solved actually gives me quite a lot of stress. This personality trait of wanting to solve problems is probably the greatest hurdle to my aspiration of becoming a petit bourgeois. I know this, and yet here I am violating the prohibition. Seriously, I’m still lacking in devotion. I replied in embarrassment.
“Alright, I’ll accept your kind offer, just this once.”
“You can see the solution, right?”
“Yeah. Well, I’ll be going home now. Shall we go together?”
Osanai-san looked up at the sky and nodded. She looked like she was thinking about something for a moment, then made a suggestion in a small voice.
“You know, I have a digital camera. If you take photographs of those two paintings, I could do some thinking with you.”
That’s a welcome suggestion. It would certainly help for me to get Osanai-san’s assistance, and to be able to store the paintings as digital data.
“It’s fine, you don’t have to help me that much.”
I declined, but a flush rose on Osanai-san’s face as she shook her head wildly.
“No… It’s for my own good. I’ll feel much better having something else to think about right now.”
I couldn’t say anything to that.
The next day.
I didn’t have it in me to visit the Art Club alone, especially since I wasn’t a member of the Newspaper Club. Thus, I cajoled Kengo into bringing me there again. There were no difficulties regarding that, and I managed to naturally store each painting as digital data in the camera.
As I was about to hurriedly leave the room, Katsube-senpai spoke, as if having just remembered something.
“Oh, right. Those paintings are titled.”
“Is there one title for each painting?”
“I’m not sure about that. It might be a title for just one of the paintings. Hang on, I’m trying to remember what it is… ‘To the Three of you, Six Mysteries’.”
That’s quite… Kengo and I responded at the same time.
“That sounds meaningful.”
“That’s not the title, is it?”
Katsube-senpai directed a light glare at me.
“I wasn’t the one who named it.”
And I wasn’t blaming you for it… I mumbled as I drained my tea, then quickly left the room.
While returning to our classrooms, Kengo asked a question.
“Your attitude today’s quite different compared to yesterday. Can you figure out anything with those pictures?”
I smiled to play it off.
“I might understand something, or I might not. But when I told the story to a friend, they said that they might be able to figure it out with the photographs.”
“A friend? Who is it?”
“…I’ll tell you if they manage to successfully solve the mystery.”
“You’re actually entrusting something you don’t know to someone else…?”
Kengo snorted, but thankfully didn’t pursue this line of questioning any further.
“Also, my friend asks if you could lend them the old news article as well as the notes you took.”
Kengo was taken aback for a moment, but readily accepted the request.
“Well, I have no plans to use them anyway. Come to my classroom and I’ll pass them to you.”
With those two items, I returned to my classroom and rendezvoused with Osanai-san.
“Did you take the photographs?”
“Let’s have a look, then.”
It was fine for small items like the digital camera and binoculars, but she couldn’t bring her personal computer to school, so we had to go home. That leads us to the next question. Should Osanai-san come to my house, or should I go over to Osanai-san’s house? In the first place, my house doesn’t have a personal computer with the function to download the data from a digital camera, so me visiting Osanai-san’s house was inevitable.
Osanai-san lived in an apartment. It wasn’t loaned, but was owned by her family. I had only been there once, so I couldn’t remember how to get there. We walked there while I followed Osanai-san’s directions.
On the way, I told her that we now knew the title of the paintings.
“‘To the Three of you’?”
Recalling the earlier conversation, I made a bitter face.
“When I said that it can’t be the title, Katsube-senpai glared at me. ‘I wasn’t the one who named it’, she said.”
Osanai-san swallowed a breath.
“I would have said the same thing in her situation… Anyway, Kobato-kun, do you think that the title holds some meaning?”
“Probably. The word ‘Three’ is a counter for something. If ‘you’ refers to something non-human, it’s a counter for a number of objects. If ‘you’ refers to a human, then it would be a counter for age.”
“…I never thought that it could be referring to age.”
“As for the six mysteries, I’m not sure. What do you think, Osanai-san?”
Osanai-san slowed down and thought for a while. With her small stature, her walking speed was originally slow, so I also had to slow down considerably.
After going across a small junction with a push button at the traffic light, an apartment building with cream-colored walls came into view. That would be Osanai-san’s house.
After such a long wait, she finally responded.
“We’ll have to see…”
That was all she said.
Let’s take a look, then. Osanai-san’s house was on the third floor. She retrieved a key from one of her pockets and went in first. She was probably cleaning up, for I was made to wait for a few minutes before being let in. It was neat and tidy all over, which made it hard to believe that it was the result of a few minutes of cleaning. It was so pristine that it looked hardly lived-in. I’d heard about it. Osanai-san was an only child, and her parents apparently always reached home late and went off to work early.
A desktop computer was installed in one corner of the wooden-floored living room. With unexpected familiarity, Osanai-san adeptly downloaded the data onto the computer. She then spent a little more time adjusting the size and other properties.
During that time, I brought the loose-leaf notebook out from my bag. As I thought, it was filled with information about the case. I distilled the main points from Kengo’s notebook and the old news article.
Kengo’s Notebook (Katsube Asuka-senpai’s Testimony):
1) Ōhama usually did oil paintings.
2) Ōhama created the second painting in the summer of his third year of high school.
3) Only Katsube knew about Ōhama’s second painting (whether he hid it, or whether it is a coincidence is unclear).
4) When Katsube asked Ōhama if it was a doodle, Ōhama denied it (saying that it was ‘the most refined painting in the world’).
4’) However, when he said that, he looked like he was trying to contain his laughter.
5) Ōhama entrusted Katsube with the painting.
5’) Katsube was supposed to hold onto it until “the right time”.
1) This was from June, two years ago.
2) It was an interview for winning an award in the Prefectural Art Exhibition. (Proof that Ōhama’s aim to get into Nitten was not just talk?)
3) Ōhama usually used a lot of red.
3’) “The picture turned out considerably bright” (Meaning that it usually isn’t like that?
4) Ōhama thought of himself as in the stage of polishing his skills
5) Ōhama did not think of his paintings as refined.
5’) “As for whether I’m refined, I can’t say for sure.”
6) The only people close to him who showed interest in his paintings were his elder brother and his kids (Ōhama was a third-year high school student, but his brother had kids?)
The keywords were clear after extracting them.
And the title, ‘To the Three of You, Six Mysteries’. Also, there were two of the same painting. Or to be precise, they looked the same.
The answer seemed obvious. All that was left was to confirm it in the paintings.
Two icons with the names “mittsunokimi.jpg” and “muttsunonazo.jpg” appeared on the monitor of the computer Osanai-san was operating. Those were some long file names. We opened up the two files and placed them next to each other.
A mountain range in the horizon overlooking a plain. A farmhouse and a field. A horse and its child. An open forest.
Osanai-san expressed her thoughts after seeing it up close for the first time.
She remarked. I liked her frankness.
Once again, I looked at the pastel color paint that had been thickly applied on the Kent paper cut in B5 size.
I made a request to Osanai-san.
“About that farmhouse. Could you enlarge it? Yeah, both of them.”
The farmhouse had large windows, and a wall clock could be seen within. After enlarging the two images, Osanai-san turned to look at me, her hand still on the mouse.
“…Kobato-kun, this is…”
Editors (Tier 2) : Joshua Fisher, Slush56, Jen Murph, _Maki
Assistants (Tier 1) : Karen Kronenberg, Anna, Definitelynotme, Rolando Sanchez, Kevin Kohn, Jaime Cuellar, Yazmin Arostegui
Thank you very much for all your support!