Table of Contents
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.
I don’t know what gave Osanai-san a bigger shock – that her bicycle had been stolen, or that her she’d missed the chance to eat the spring-exclusive strawberry tarts. Another bicycle could be bought, but the strawberry tarts were products exclusive to this spring. On the other hand, the two strawberry tarts only cost three thousand yen in total, but a bicycle would cost at least three times more. In her stunned state, Osanai-san was unable to move her hands, and had dropped the polyester bag of milk on the way home. She showed no reaction even when I tried to call out to her or console her.
The next day, I tried sending her an email between lessons, but there was no reply. While I was in a dilemma regarding whether I should leave her alone, lessons ended for the day, and an email was soon delivered to my phone.
“I’ll come find you, as agreed.”
Seeing that the sender was Kengo, I was reminded of the appointment with him, which I had all but forgotten about.
Well, let’s forget about Osanai-san for a while. She’ll never despair of the world for the sake of a bicycle and strawberry tarts. Moving on from that, I waited for Kengo. A mere two or three minutes after I received the email, Kengo appeared. In his hand was a university notebook. I thought that it contained the picture he mentioned, but I was wrong.
“Where are we going? Since we’re looking at a picture, it’ll be the Art Room, right?”
I was wondering if I should bring along my favorite loose-leaf notebook if I had to take notes, but since Kengo already had a notebook, I’ll leave it to him.
The first-year classrooms were concentrated on the fourth floor in the North Block, while the Art Room was on the fourth floor in the South Block. Since the passageway between blocks was on the second floor, we had to go to the third floor and walk across the roof of the passageway.
“I find it strange, Kengo.”
I started as we calmly walked down the stairs.
“That you would be involved in art even when you don’t know what ‘impressionist’ means.”
“Who says I don’t know? I understand the word, and I know what kind of art it describes… though they just look crude to me.”
“So, what about them?”
“I’m supposed to introduce some cultural clubs together. I went to the Art Club to ask about it, and that topic came up. It turned out to be an interesting story, so I decided to give them a big introduction.”
I tilted my head.
Kengo gave me an exasperated look, but it soon changed to one of understanding.
“Oh, I didn’t tell you, did I? I joined the Newspaper Club. One of the articles we’re running is an introduction of clubs in the school.”
The Newspaper Club, huh.
That term brings to mind journalists, and I imagine that journalists have intellectual curiosity for a wide range of topics. However, that doesn’t seem to be a good description for Kengo.
“What’s with that smirk?”
Well, the members of the Newspaper Club are not exactly journalists, and the link between journalists and intellectual curiosity is just my guess. I shouldn’t say this aloud.
“I was thinking that you don’t have to be in charge of the Art Club. There are clubs for stuff like Kendo and Judo here, right?”
Kengo said, “Yeah,” and nodded.
“That is so, but I was requested to do this by the upperclassmen. Since it’s a social obligation, I couldn’t refuse.”
Well, if there’s an obligation, Kengo definitely wouldn’t be able to refuse it.
We reached the front of the Art Room. There was a green felt notice board installed on the wall in the hallway, which was decorated with a few pictures that was really fitting for the area near an Art Room. Canvases can’t be put up on a notice board, so the pictures were all framed. I was wondering if Kengo would knock on the door, but he simply opened it.
With a light greeting, he entered the room. Since it was an Art Room, I’d expected club member to be in the midst of carving out their youth on canvas, by sitting in a circle and making a sketch of a torso or something. My expectations weren’t far off the mark, except that there were too few club members for them to form a circle, and they were spread out in the room, all drawing different things.
“Hello, Katsube-senpai. I have arrived.”
The one called Katsube was a female student who wasn’t facing a canvas, but was reading a book. She had gentle features on her round face, and was quite far removed from the sternness one would associate with art. I could tell that she was a third-year student from the badge on her chest. When she caught sight of Kengo, the expression on her face relaxed.
“Good, I was waiting. Is the kid behind you from the Newspaper Club as well?”
“No, he’s a friend. I’m not really cut out for art, so I asked for help.”
Now, with the number of people unrelated to art increased from one to two, will be able to achieve something? All I can do now is look forward to the full story. Though if I’m wanted for my wisdom rather than my eye for appraisal, I might be of some use.
Katsube-senpai looked around the room for an instant. Almost all members had stopped drawing, and were looking at us while staying seated. Not a single person was moving their brush with undivided attention. Katsube-senpai waved us over to a table by a window overlooking the courtyard, apparently having judged that we would not be a nuisance to the other members if we talked here. She told us to sit wherever we wanted and wait for a moment, then disappeared into the preparation room.
Katsube-senpai immediately returned with two sheets of paper, which seemed to be smaller than posters. I asked Kengo if they were the pictures in question, and he nodded silently.
“Take a look at this.”
Katsube-senpai placed one piece of paper face down on a nearby table, and laid the other in front of us.
If that was a sigh of admiration, it would have been good in terms of life experience, but it was actually a sigh of disappointment.
Well, it was certainly a picture. Since it had no words or numbers, it could only be called a picture.
It was fully covered with pastel colors, depicting a rural scenery. There was a mountain range on the other side of a plain lit up by the brilliant rays of the sun, and a pair of horses, probably parent and child, were galloping in the middle of the picture. On the mountainside was a farmhouse, as well as a small field and an open forest. The subject of the picture wasn’t particularly extraordinary, but the painting style was. The paint was so thick that it was as if multiple layers of pastel colors had been applied, leaving behind no trace of the brushstrokes.
On top of that, there was no contrast in shading and lighting, and the mountains were the same shade of green. The plain was uniformly emerald green, and the sky was light blue everywhere. You could see it as cutting corners, but applying such a thoroughly monotone coat of paint is probably a form of hard work in itself.
Upon further inspection, I noticed that the picture still had some peculiarities. There was a clear distinction between the horses and the plain, between the plain and the mountains, between the farmhouse and the field. More specifically, their outlines were drawn.
If asked to summarize my honest impression of the picture in one phrase, I would have probably gone with “What the heck is this?” Rather than a watercolor painting, oil painting, pastel painting or ink wash painting, the genre it was closer to was…
“What do you think, Jougorou?”
I instinctively let out my honest thoughts.
“It’s like a cel painting4.”
I could hear Katsube-senpai release a small giggle. If not a cel painting, then it would be a drawing in a coloring book.
I felt the back of the picture. It seemed that it wasn’t drawn on art paper, but on Kent paper5. It was in a size I was used to seeing, B5. If B5-sized Kent paper was not being sold somewhere, they must have cut it themselves.
“Did someone in the Art Club draw this?”
“Is this a good picture?”
“As you can see.”
I asked because I don’t have the eye to make such a judgment. I changed the question.
“So, does this picture contain some artistic message that we don’t get?”
Kengo put a hand on my shoulder.
“That’s it, Jougorou.”
“You want me to decipher the artistic message behind this picture?”
“Yeah, that’s basically it. I don’t understand it at all. If only I could see it as a good picture, it would be a lot easier to understand.”
“Sorry Kengo, but I have an appointment with Osanai-san later…”
“Wait, you said you would at least listen to the story.”
I was about to stand up, but some force was put into the hand on my shoulder. Katsube-senpai gave me a pitiful look as I was forcefully made to sit back down.
“The person who painted this graduated last year. It has been here for the last two years.”
I gave a half-hearted reply which showed my lack of motivation.
“In the first place, that person… Katsube-senpai, what was his name again?”
Katsube-senpai nodded once.
“I’ve talked to Doujima-kun about this already, but the artist of this painting was someone called Ōhama-san, and he mainly did oil paintings.”
“Oil paintings? Were his oil paintings like this, too?”
Takahashi Yuichi. Now, he’s known for his picture of salmon, or was it trout? Seriously, you shouldn’t be trying to get an art analysis from someone like me.
Anyway, if that person called Ōhama did oil paintings, and was in the orthodox party with his declaration to aim for Nitten, this sketch in front of us must be a joke of his, no matter how you think about it. It isn’t something worth keeping for two whole years. My face must have revealed those thoughts, for Katsube-senpai correctly deduced what I was thinking.
“You must be thinking, why keep this for two years?”
I reluctantly nodded.
“Yes, I was.”
“There were some circumstances surrounding it. I haven’t talked about the details with Doujima-kun yet, but…”
As Katsube-senpai shot him a look, Kengo responded in a low voice.
“Circumstances, you say?”
He opened the university notebook that he’d brought along, and took a ballpoint pen from his pocket.
“I want to relay this to the senpai in my club later, so I will be taking notes. Sorry, but I’m a slow writer, so please speak slowly.”
“You’ll be taking notes?”
Katsube-senpai raised her voice in surprise. Since someone in the Newspaper Club taking notes of what is being said amounts to an interview, it was understandable for Katsube-senpai to react that way especially if she didn’t plan on participating in an interview. Although no recording was being done, the upperclassman cleared her throat and kept silent for a moment, probably thinking about where to begin.
“…I see. I think I’ll start from the very beginning. I’m sorry if it goes on for too long.”
With that preface, she started.
“Ōhama-san drew this in the summer of his third year here, although he should have left the club already. I think no one else knew about the painting. Me knowing about it was a coincidence, after all.
“I was surprised when I saw the painting, because I couldn’t think of it as Ōhama-san’s work. Then again, no matter how much he likes art, he doesn’t have to stay true to his beliefs in every single work that he creates. I thought that painting was done on a whim by Ōhama-san.”
“Was that wrong?”
“Ōhama-san can get extremely serious, so I was a little afraid of getting close to him, but he was usually a warm person who often smiled. When I accidentally asked him if it was a doodle, he answered while smiling, that it was the most refined painting in the world.”
I instinctively took another look at the painting that was like a picture in a coloring book, but it did not suddenly emit light, or anything of the sort.
“He said it was too refined for me to understand it. He was putting emphasis on the word ‘refined’, and it seemed like he was trying to hold in his laughter as he said it, so I thought it was just a joke. Wouldn’t you think so too?
“So, I asked if he was joking.”
Katsube-senpai waited for Kengo’s hand to catch up, then continued.
“He swore to the gods that he was serious.
“After taking a few days to complete the painting, he entrusted me with it. ‘I will come and pick it up when the time is right, so hold on to it for me,’ he said. Later on, he graduated before I got the opportunity to talk to him again.”
I interrupted the recount.
“So, it’s been two years?”
Katsube-senpai gave a small nod.
“I’ll also be graduating next year… so I want to do something about this. I was thinking of calling him, but he apparently moved, and I don’t have his new contact information.”
“How about passing it down through Funa High’s Art Club from generation to generation?”
I asked in a joking manner, but Katsube-senpai shook her head firmly.
“To be honest, it’s a nuisance.”
Saying that it’s a nuisance it quite a drastic evaluation.
Katsube-senpai started to speed up with her words.
“Since there are no other drawings on paper, we have to go out of our way to preserve it. Furthermore, because it’s something that was left in our care, we can’t treat it carelessly. We could certainly leave it here if it has some meaning, but if it’s really a doodle, I’d like to throw it away.”
She made some logical statements with her kindly, round face.
If it’s been two years since the painting was handed over and one year without any contact, that Ōhama person shouldn’t have any complaints if it were disposed of. That said, I can understand why Katsube-senpai is hesitant about throwing it out. It would be unbearable to receive some weird criticisms later on, and if some artistic test was being conducted… that would be quite scary.
I recalled that Katsube-senpai had brought along two pieces of paper.
“Is that picture similar to this one?”
One picture was right before our eyes, but the other was face down. But when I asked that question, Katsube-senpai gave me a quizzical look. I was wondering if I’d failed to hear her talking about it, when Kengo spoke up from the side.
“You haven’t told him about the situation yet.”
“Ah, I see. Right, you currently don’t understand why we think of this as mysterious.”
It’s certainly a weird painting, but I never thought of it as mysterious. If first painting’s like this, no matter how awful the second one is, I probably wouldn’t think of it as mysterious, either. That was what I thought, but…
The second painting was flipped over, and with one glance, I could agree that it was indeed mysterious. A rural landscape, the sun, a mountain range on the other side of a plain. Horses, a farmhouse, a field, an open forest.
The second painting was exactly the same as the first.
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 copies8 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…”
It is always better to nip a problem in the bud. On the day after I visited Osanai-san’s house, I had had every intention to put an end to the mystery.
Unfortunately, Kengo had apparently gone to the Art Room alone once classes had ended. That was what Osanai-san, who had been gazing out of the window in the direction of the Art Room, told me. That completely derails the plan. I’d intended to explain to Kengo, then have him convey that explanation to Katsube-senpai. Even if Osanai-san says that I can use her as a shield, I feel heavy-hearted imagining her play the role of detective in front of Katsube-senpai and the other members of the Art Club. I have no confidence that she can pull it off.
But it wouldn’t do to delay it any further. Having no other choice, I headed to the Art Room on my own. I knocked and opened the sliding door to see Kengo inside, as per Osanai-san’s information. He was talking to Katsube-senpai in the same spot as we were two days ago. He turned around as he spotted me.
“I never thought you’d come here, Jougorou.”
I responded with a vague smile and sat next to Kengo, who immediately asked, “What about your friend or whoever?”
After taking a deep breath, I looked at Katsube-senpai and recited the words that I’d memorized.
“When I showed my friend the photographs of those paintings I took yesterday, they managed to see the paintings’ aim.”
Katsube-senpai’s eyes widened. Kengo was also momentarily taken aback.
“Really, Jougorou? Who is that?”
“It’s Osanai-san. I believe I’ve introduced you to her before, Kengo.”
Kengo nodded slightly as the name registered in his memory. It’s actually quite amazing that he remembered her after seeing her only once, especially when she can hide her presence so well.
“…Ah, her. I didn’t know she was knowledgeable about paintings.”
“She didn’t need knowledge about paintings for that deduction.”
I asked Katsube-senpai to bring the paintings, and she did so, even with an incredulous look on her face. She arranged the paintings side by side on a table, allowing me to study them and confirm my points.
“What is it, Jougorou?”
“You were saying two days ago that while they’re the same picture, there are differences here and there. Osanai-san noticed that when she first saw the paintings.”
Katsube-senpai objected calmly.
“What’s about it? If you have some time after finishing a painting, wouldn’t you want to touch it up a little?”
“Yes, that is true, but let us count the differences in the two paintings. Kengo, where is it different?”
A slight grimace appeared on Kengo’s face, but he answered as he was asked.
“There’s a white spot on the small horse’s hind leg.”
“The leftmost mountain is at a different angle.”
“That’s all I noticed.”
“How about you, Katsube-senpai?”
However, Katsube-senpai did not answer obediently as Kengo had.
“As I said, what about it?”
It seemed that the upperclassman was starting to feel ticked off at me for asking questions I already knew the answer to. I definitely understand that it’s not a pleasant feeling to have someone act like a detective in front of you. I was feeling apologetic for causing Katsube-senpai’s discomfort, and at the same time uncomfortable for using Osanai-san as a shield.
Not wanting my mental state to be worsened, I decided to answer my own question.
“The time shown on the wall clock in the farmhouse is different. The number of ridges in the field is different. The second tree on the right of the open forest has a different height in each painting. Also, the size of the sun is slightly different.”
Katsube-senpai kept silent. I continued at a faster pace.
“My friend spent thirty minutes comparing the minute details of the paintings, and found all these differences.”
In reality, Osanai-san and I only spent fifteen minutes on that task. It was easy for the first five differences, but we were slow to notice that the angle of the mountain was different.
I looked up to notice Kengo comparing at the two paintings and counting with his fingers. One spot, two spots…
“I see. The paintings are different in six spots.”
“Yes. Those are the ‘Six Mysteries’.”
At that moment, both Kengo and Katsube-senpai looked at me, surprised… Perhaps I was being overly flamboyant there. I should have uttered those lines with a little more disinterest, but I couldn’t shake off my bad habits. I might as well state the conclusion, then. I took a deep breath.
“Basically, these two paintings make up a game of Spot the Difference.
“To ensure that there wouldn’t be differences other than those that he’d planned, the artist drew distinct outlines and filled it in with a thick layer of paint so there wouldn’t be differences in shading. He didn’t make an oil painting, probably because it’s more convenient to copy the sketch on paper.”
Katsube-senpai’s voice was stuck for a moment, but was released in the next moment with an exclamation.
“That’s ridiculous! Which high school student would be happy to find the differences…”
“The person supposed to receive this is three years old.”
In face of the pressure emanating from Katsube-senpai, I managed to continue.
“It’s in the title – ‘For the Three-year-old you’, right?”
Katsube-senpai seemed like she was about to say, “That’s ridiculous” again, but broke off. Using that opportunity, I continued with the words I had decided to say.
“The paintings were drawn on Kent paper because it was the most fitting for them. But they were also in B5 size, which makes me think that they were meant to be mailed. Even though B5 and A4 are not standard letter sizes, there are envelopes for those sizes.
“Ōhama-san asked you to hold on to it until the time is right, which probably means the time of the recipient’s third birthday. Ōhama-san had a brother, and his brother’s child apparently loved seeing Ōhama-san’s paintings. Going by age, the paintings’ recipient should be that child.”
“Indeed, that would explain the strange title. But Jougorou…”
Perhaps acting as a representative for Katsube-senpai, who was seemingly lost for words, Kengo asked a question.
“According to Katsube-senpai, Ōhama-san described these paintings as ‘refined’, but you can’t say that a game of spot the difference is refined. Even if there is such a thing it this world, can you say that this is it?”
“‘As for whether I’m a refined person, I can’t say for sure.’”
Urgh, Kengo groaned.
“That was written in the copy that I received from you. And then it went on like this. Hang on a moment.”
I reached into my pocket for the copy.
“‘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.’ That’s quite an interesting quote. It shows that the word ‘refined’ is a significant keyword in Ōhama-san’s mind. The interviewer was not emphasizing that word, but Ōhama-san was considerably hung up on it. That means that our definition of the word ‘refined’ does not fit with Ōhama-san’s definition, Osanai-san said.
“Now, how did Ōhama-san perceive the word ‘refined’? If his ‘paintings often contain many vulgar elements’, it follows that they often contain few refined elements. If we turn that around, it means that he makes his paintings with many vulgar elements and few refined elements. That would mean that it’s a concept of quantities, and not a concept of qualities, right?
“I think that deep down, Ōhama-san did not believe in that. When he told Katsube-senpai that the two paintings are refined, he was smiling, and that was a meaningful action. He was looking at the term ‘refined’ with cynical eyes, because the difference between that as a concept of quantities and a concept of qualities has grown fuzzy.”
Since Katsube-senpai didn’t seem to like being questioned by me, I turned towards Kengo.
“I neither support nor oppose Ōhama-san’s view.
“Osanai-san continued on from this line of thought. If Ōhama-san’s concepts of ‘refined’ and ‘vulgar’ were ‘based on mere quantities’, what kind of thing would be ‘the most refined in the world’?”
With his arms folded, Kengo looked at the ceiling.
“I suppose… something that no one can understand would be the most refined.”
“That’s not it. A thing that no one can understand cannot be judged to be refined or vulgar.”
I could see from Kengo’s eyes that he understood.
“If not zero, then one, right?”
“Exactly. They are paintings that are only meant to be judged as good by their recipient, a three-year-old child, who probably likes horses and lives in an area with wide open plains. The child, who might not even be able to read yet, must have liked picture books and playing spot the difference.
“Ōhama-san created these paintings aiming to please only one person. Following his views, or rather, his cynical views, he could have certainly considered this to be one of the most refined works in the world.”
After finishing my statement, I hastily added.
“…That was what Osanai-san said, anyway.”
Kengo groaned as he scratched his head.
Katsube-senpai, who had had an awfully perplexed look on her face, had finally composed herself. Even so, she looked at the two paintings coldly.
“Why did he entrust me with these things, then?”
“The child often came to Ōhama-san’s house. He must have wanted to present it as a surprise gift, and wanted to keep it secret until the child’s birthday. He could be certain of the paintings’ secrecy if he left them at school.”
“So why didn’t he come back for them?”
“Who knows? Perhaps his relationship with the child’s family broke down, causing him to be unable to give the child the paintings as a present… Or perhaps the child’s tastes changed, causing the paintings to be meaningless…”
“You’re wrong. If that’s the case, he could have told me.”
Ah, so she noticed. While she noticed it, I think I shouldn’t say it.
“Basically, he forgot. To him, it might have been a trifle he could easily forget about.”
I blurted out. With great reluctance, I nodded.
“That’s what I think… which was what Osanai-san said.”
“Do you still think these paintings are refined?”
Her voice was markedly dark. Sensing instability, I evaded the question.
“To me, not quite.”
Being an honest person, Kengo gave an honest response.
“In two years, an infant’s tastes can drastically change. There is now no one who can understand these paintings.”
That made me suddenly think of the events at the bookstore some time back. We yearn for an instance in which people feel that they’re having the best time of their lives, because we are unable to beckon such a moment into our lives. However, that instance in these paintings has been lost forever, without anyone having experienced it.
…Of course, that is assuming that the pair of paintings truly contained such an instance in the first place. I don’t believe Ōhama-san’s words. I don’t even consider them. Facing a word like “refined” with a serious attitude is something that a small citizen should avoid doing.
A cold smile crept onto Katsube-senpai’s lips. It was a sneer, absolutely unbefitting of her round face.
“In other words, this is…”
Katsube-senpai stacked the two paintings on top of each other, and ripped the stack in two.
Editors (Tier 2) : Joshua Fisher, Slush56, Jen Murph, _Maki
Assistants (Tier 1) : Karen Kronenberg, Anna, Definitelynotme, Rolando Sanchez, Kevin Kohn, Jaime Cuellar, Yazmin Arostegui, Mikaell
Thank you very much for all your support!
- A traditional Japanese arched gate most commonly found at the entrance of or within a Shinto shrine, usually red in color.
- A subset of manga that is generally targeted at a 18–30 year old male audience.
- Manga aimed at a young teen female target-demographic readership.
- A cel is a transparent sheet on which objects are drawn or painted for traditional hand-drawn animation (Like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs).
- Kent paper is very smooth, has a moderate amount of elasticity and thickness, and is well-suited for many drawing materials and writing instruments, including pencils, pens, and water-soluble paints. Also, use of an eraser produces little scuffing.
- A Japanese painter noted for his pioneering work in developing the Western-style art movement in 19th century Japan. His best-known painting is a salmon hung up to dry.
- Nitten claims to be the largest combined art exhibition of its kind in the world, attracting a great number of fans and art critics. The exhibition consists five art categories: Japanese and Western Style Painting, Sculpture, Crafts and Calligraphy. During each exhibition, works of the great masters are shown alongside works of the new but talented artists.
- Osanai said “iki-utsushi”, which means carbon copy or a spitting image, while Kobato said “hiki-utsushi”, which just means copy or replication.