After lessons ended, we left the school.
“It would be great if your bicycle can be fixed.”
The conversation that passed between us was devoid of life or color. Even our eyes, which would usually be looking about restlessly at our surroundings, were fixated at our feet. I didn’t have anything to say, and even if I did so, it would be like pushing aside the curtains at the front of a store, or like driving a stake into sawdust. In other words, it would be completely useless.
I walked beside Osanai-san as she pushed the bicycle that she’d bought after her bicycle had been stolen. We walked on the path that we’d passed the day before. As we neared the outskirts of town, we started seeing fields sandwiched between houses. The pavement also became more narrow, causing the two of us to block the entire path when we were walking side by side. Noticing an elderly woman on a bicycle approaching us from the back, I went behind Osanai-san to let her pass, and continued staying behind afterwards. Walking side by side without saying anything made me feel ill at ease.
We headed straight at the junction where the National Highway split east, towards the small northward path and approached the hill we’d seen the day before. Sakagami had ridden the bicycle until some point in the hill, where he dismounted and started pulling it along. Osanai-san, on the other hand, started pulling her bicycle along from the very beginning. Actually, after getting a feel of the hill, I noticed that it wasn’t very steep. Even someone like me could get over to the other side while riding a bicycle.
We stood at the peak of the hill. It was about fifty meters past the end of the downward slope before us. A metallic silver bicycle lay on the road shoulder of a one-lane road. It was, of course, Osanai-san’s bicycle. Osanai-san stared at her bicycle and opened her mouth for a moment, but no words came out. Instead, a sigh escaped her lips, which, for some reason, I thought as disquieting. However, that was just a minor premonition that I could dismiss as a product of my imagination.
The two of us went down the hill.
When we were only a short distance away from the bicycle, I was the first one to open my mouth, and shouted in an especially bright voice.
“Look! It’s not even broken that badly!”
The handles and saddle were properly fitted on, and its frame didn’t seem to have suffered much damage. The chain had been displaced from the two-speed gear, but that could be easily fixed. Machine oil was splattered everywhere, but if Osanai-san wanted, I could clean it up right here. Sakagami seemed to have exposed the bicycle to the rain, so the entire bicycle was covered by a light stain, but we should be thankful that it came back without any problems, right?
However, Osanai-san had a better eye for observation. That said, even if I’d found the bicycle to be in a worse state, I could do nothing else but shout, “Look!”
Osanai-san’s gaze was concentrated on the back tire. I could see what was wrong in an instant… it had been crushed, and the entire wheel was twisted. I frowned. Osanai-san would need to switch it out to get it working again.
Before I could say anything, Osanai-san muttered.
“They said that it was collapsed on its side, with the back tire sticking out on the road. It was crushed by a car in the evening, and the person driving the car called the school this morning.”
A colorful seal was on the back tire’s mudguard, with Funa High’s emblem and the bicycle license number printed on it.
“But wouldn’t it be fine if you just change one tire?”
I asked with an unnatural brightness, almost like a professional jester, but Osanai-san just pointed at the front wheel without even looking at me. There’s nothing wrong with it, I thought, but took a better look before saying that out loud.
The front tire was also damaged. The wheel itself was fine, but a number of spokes were twisted. That would probably make the bicycle quite uncomfortable to ride, but it still wasn’t such a big problem.
“But you could fix this with a hammer.”
Osanai-san shook her head.
“I’m alright with the spokes being twisted. But look, there are signs that they were stepped on.”
Indeed, it seemed like the spokes had taken the impact as a whole. There was also some mud stuck on them. As Osanai-san had mentioned, it did look like the bicycle had been stepped on while lying on its side. Sherlock Holmes would be able to figure out where Sakagami had walked at just from the mud on the spokes, but unfortunately, I’m not that skilled.
Osanai-san’s eyes were quicker than usual today. She continued by pointing at the area near my feet, urging me to take a look.
“He stepped on it here.”
It was difficult for me to see if there was anything there with my eyesight. I would have to crouch down, but I was hesitant to kneel before Osanai-san’s feet. I gestured for her to stoop down a little, then folded my knees to the ground.
There were distinct tire marks on the asphalt pavement, but they were small and still quite difficult to spot.
Osanai-san dragged the bicycle, placed it on its side so that the back tire stuck out on the road and the front tire fit the markings on the pavement. With that, I was convinced that the tire marks were indeed left by the spokes of the bicycle when they were being stomped on.
I looked up to see Osanai-san biting down strongly on her thin lip. She must be desperately trying to endure the frustration. Considering her emotions, I decided to stop the cheery jester act.
Instead of leaving the scene, Osanai-san moved her eyes finely, searching if Sakagami had left any more traces behind. I accompanied her through her silence, noticing that her fists were clenched.
Eventually, she asked me a question in a voice uncharacteristically lacking in emotion.
“Kobato-kun, what do you think happened yesterday? Why did my bicycle…”
I hesitated, unsure about how to answer that question. There was no need for me to do that, and I’d already decided not to show off my intellect. Even Osanai-san should understand, or rather, Osanai-san should understand it the most. If she was still asking me about that, it meant that she probably wouldn’t be able to calm down unless I made a deduction that could convincingly explain the circumstances. I studied the broken bicycle, turned around to look at the hill, then thought back to Sakagami’s figure from yesterday.
What happened the day before appeared in my mind as a relatively clear sequence of events. Discarding the deliberate brightness I’d used earlier, I replied in my normal tone.
“Alright, this is what happened.
“As we noticed yesterday, Sakagami was in quite a hurry. He hurried up the hill and probably tried to forcibly switch gears midway, causing the chain to come off. This hill isn’t so steep that you can’t get a bicycle over it without pushing it up, after all.
“Since the chain came off while he was rushing for time, Sakagami was annoyed. However, he didn’t abandon the bicycle there. It wasn’t as simple as that. A bicycle without its chain cannot be used to traverse a hill or flat ground, but it can still be ridden down a slope. He must have straddled the bicycle at the peak of the hill and used the gravitational force to travel down.
“It’s about fifteen meters from here to the foot of the hill. When the bicycle’s momentum weakened enough such that it became faster to walk than to ride the bicycle, Sakagami abandoned the bicycle. He did that right here.
“After that, he hit the bicycle because he was pissed off that it malfunctioned while he was in a hurry. To be precise, he stomped down on the spokes of the bicycle with a great deal of strength. Then, he ran off, on his own two feet, down this road.”
I turned my head around and peered at the other end of the road I’d mentioned.
But the problem was immediately apparent. The only things that could be seen from here, a location one hill away from a road that deviates from the National Highway, were farms, farms, more farms, as well as the occasional fields, vinyl greenhouses and sheds used to store farming equipment. The road soon ended in a T junction, with the right path eventually leading to a road that crosses the mountains, and the left forming an arc that surrounds the farmland region and eventually returns to town. As I was momentarily lost for words in my confusion, Osanai-san spoke in my place.
“Where to? You’re not seriously saying that he’s toiling away at a farm, are you?”
I was taken aback by Osanai-san’s rude, sarcastic comment. She was resting her arms on the moss green bicycle she’d ridden here, which was leaning diagonally against an oak tree. She also had on a faint smile, causing the premonition that I’d dismissed earlier to return. Osanai-san cannot be complimented as being an honest person in the first place, but she was giving off a rather dangerous atmosphere right now. I called out at her profile.
“Osanai-san, calm down.”
“I’m calm enough. More importantly, where do you think he was rushing off to? The left path goes back to town, and the right one goes to the mountains. It’s far either way, even with a bicycle.”
…That was certainly true. If he wanted to turn left and get to town, he wouldn’t have needed to go over the hill. If he wanted to turn right, he wouldn’t be able to get to his destination without sufficient leg strength and stamina. Abandoning the bicycle further cut his ability to get anywhere. It wouldn’t be a problem if Sakagami were a long walker, but I can’t imagine that he would have that kind of disposition, though I admit that it isn’t right to judge a book by its cover. Then again, if he is the kind of person who doesn’t mind walking on his own two feet, he wouldn’t have stolen Osanai-san’s bicycle in the first place.
I looked up from my feet to stare into the distance, where the country road caused the line between pavement and main road to fade and crack. There was nothing there. I didn’t mean that it was a vacuum, but… well, I might be on to something here.
“…I see. It could be that his destination was this very road.”
Osanai-san’s eyes turned to look at me.
“What do you mean?”
“Perhaps he had an agreement that a car would pick him up here?”
“Did he have to hurry to such an extent that the bicycle chain fell off, or would that car not wait for him? Also, he should have a cell phone, so wouldn’t he be able to contact them?”
“It would make sense if it was a bus. A bus wouldn’t wait for him.”
“Basically, it was like this. Sakagami had planned to go somewhere far by taking a bus. However, he was late, and the bus he’d wanted to take just left the station closest to him. Thus, he hopped onto the bicycle and rushed over the hill to overtake the bus.”
Osanai-san gave a small nod, but made a rebuttal.
“But there’s no bus stop that can be seen from here.”
“A bus would probably stop if you waved at it on a peaceful road in the outskirts like this one.”
Osanai-san leant on her bicycle at a deeper angle. She let out a sigh, then slowly replied.
“It might be as you say, Kobato-kun. A bus might stop if you wave at it here. However, I wonder if any buses go through this area, and at what frequency? One bus every hour… or perhaps every two hours?”
“Who knows? You can check up that information, but there’s nothing we can do here.”
I don’t know if Osanai-san had been listening to what I said, but she rolled up the sleeve of her sailor uniform which was too long for her, and her gaze fell to the watch on her now exposed wrist.
“I understand your frustration, but you’ve gotten back your bicycle. Come on, let’s get out of here.”
However, she gave a strange reply.
“I’m not frustrated at all… I’ll be here for another three and a half minutes.”
Fine, if it’s just that, I was about to reply on reflex, when I noticed the peculiarity in her answer.
“Three and a half minutes? Is something happening then?”
Osanai-san kept a watchful eye on the left and right side of the road. However, her gaze was completely different from the one she usually made in school, where she would be wary of her surroundings to allow her to escape from any situation. It had an alert sharpness about it that was cold but at the same time, somewhat gentle. She didn’t even look in my direction at all.
“Another three and a half minutes, and it would be the time when the two of us spotted Sakagami yesterday.”
“If it’s a bus, it should come soon.”
I see, that is certainly true.
Imitating Osanai-san, I raised up the metallic silver bicycle lying on the road and rested my arms on the saddle. We waited for time to pass in similar poses. Osanai-san didn’t seem to be fretting about it, and was naturally waiting for something to happen.
However, I couldn’t help but feel that something was out of place once again. Due to Osanai-san’s skillful inducement, I’d given some thought to yesterday’s events, even though I hadn’t intended to… Osanai-san was clearly acting strangely. Thinking about it calmly and considering her current position, it only made sense for her to have the following attitude: “What a horrible thing to do, stealing someone else’s bicycle, and on top of that abandoning and destroying it! But it’s fine now that it has been returned to me. It’s just a shame that I’ll have to pay for repairs.” Could she really be that upset about Sakagami’s actions?
I silently observed that her right hand was slowly moving. Her slender fingers were inserted in a pocket of her flared skirt, while her eyes were fixated on the road. For some reason, the small Osanai-san didn’t look so small now. After raising my head and straightening myself, I realized that her countenance didn’t look so weak, either. Perhaps she’d noticed me looking at her face from the side, for she pulled her hand out of her pocket, bringing something out.
“You want one, Kobato-kun?”
“Ah, yes. Thanks.”
It was a cola-flavored lollipop, which I rolled around my mouth. Osanai-san’s lollipop was, judging from the wrapping that I’d peeked at, melon-flavored. Since a large lollipop was stuffed into her small mouth, her cheeks were bulging, like a squirrel storing food in its mouth. However, that was currently the only bit of her appearance that gave off the impression of a small animal.
We were silent as we licked our lollipops. We spent about three minutes twirling the lollipops in our mouths, but nothing happened except for a light truck slowly trundling by. However, it was a little impatient to throw in the towel after waiting for only three minutes, and more importantly, we hadn’t finished our lollipops.
I hadn’t looked at my watch, but I estimated that another two or three minutes had passed. Osanai-san pulled the lollipop stick from her lips, wrapped it in some pocket tissues and returned it to her pocket. “What about mine?”, I was about to ask, but Osanai-san’s eyes had unexpectedly widened.
“Kobato-kun, look there.”
We could see a bus approach us from the left side of the T-junction. Since I had been so confident about the hypothesis that Sakagami wanted to overtake the bus and wait for it, I was deeply satisfied when I saw the approaching bus.
The only thing was that it was a small bus, or a minibus. It wasn’t for public transport. The bus quickly neared us, then flashed past us, right before our eyes. There were Gothic letters on the side of the bus. I see, so that’s how it is.
Osanai-san also seemed to be satisfied. She watched the bus as it disappeared from sight, then quietly murmured.
“So he abandoned my bicycle, huh.”
These words written on the side of the bus were: “Kira1 North Driving School”. It was a free shuttle bus.
That kind of bus would certainly stop in areas without a bus stop. Besides, there would also be fixed bus timings.
Finally, the bus disappeared from the end of the road. Kira North Driving School should be somewhere in the mountains on the right. It was like a solitary fort out of the way from town. Considering transportation convenience, it was a driving school that probably attracted many customers from the neighboring towns that surrounded the mountainous area. I’ve heard that it’s especially convenient because you can easily take the test for a driving license at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Center there.
“Oh well. That settles it, then. It’s over, so let’s go home. What are you going to do with your bicycle? You’re going to fix it, right? If you like, I can do the chain for you.”
Upon hearing those words, Osanai-san, who had been staring at the bus’s destination, turned her head to look at me, and smiled brightly. It was a beautiful, unrestrained smile… which freaked me out. Mt. Fuji is beautiful. So is Yellowstone National Park. But you would be freaked out if you saw Mt. Fuji in the middle of Yellowstone National Park. That was exactly how I felt when I saw that smile.
Or rather, I had seen that smile before. That’s why I was freaked out.
“It’s over? No, Kobato-kun, it’s has just begun, hasn’t it? We’ve just got a lead, after all.”
“He ruined my spring-exclusive strawberry tarts. He abandoned my bicycle for his own convenience. I was supposed to be living a peaceful life in high school, but thanks to him, I was called to the Student Guidance Office twice, and I was treated as a thief during the first time. So, Kobato-kun, what do you think about this?”
She spoke in a slow, detailed manner, her smile still not breaking.
Once again, she turned to look at the mountains where the bus had disappeared to.
“I’ll have to make him pay for what he did.”
She’s regressing. Osanai-san’s turning back to the version of her that she’d decided never to become again. I hurriedly put myself in the middle of her gaze.
“That’s no good, Osanai-san. The stolen item has been returned. You should be satisfied with that. You shouldn’t think any more than that. Just let it go. We promised to become petit bourgeois, right? If you don’t cry yourself to sleep in silence, you’re not being a little citizen.”
I spread out my arms to appeal to her. Osanai-san’s smile faded.
“…You’re right. But still, I…”
“You can endure it. This is where you have to put up with it.”
Osanai-san bit her lip. She looked at the bicycle she’d brought along, her stolen, destroyed bicycle, and the bus’s destination, in that order.
“But I did nothing. Nothing. Even so!
“…Right, Kobato-kun, what do you think?”
“What do you think is the most important thing for a little citizen?”
I immediately replied.
“Being satisfied with the status quo.”
But Osanai-san shook her head slowly.
“Isn’t the most important thing for petit bourgeois… the ability to protect their personal property?”
Editors (Tier 2) : Joshua Fisher, Slush56, _Maki
Assistants (Tier 1) : Karen Kronenberg, Definitelynotme, Rolando Sanchez, Kevin Kohn, Jaime Cuellar, Yazmin Arostegui
Thank you very much for all your support!