The smell of burning sauce wafted by. It would have probably smelled fine if that was all, but it was mixed with the smell of soy sauce and oil, as well as the sweet smell of melting sugar, resulting in a combination that definitely did not smell fine. It was an ennichi1 today. Cars had stopped at the largest street in town since evening, while night stalls with their gaudy shop curtains drawn open were tightly filled with customers. I was taking a leisurely stroll through the heavy clamor and stuffy atmosphere.
It was the middle of the test preparation period in Funado High School, which I was attending. They even gave us a notice saying “While there may be a festival, you should not be indulging in night outs during this period which should be dedicated to your studies.”
How should I, Jougorou Kobato, perceive this notice, as someone who will not stop pursuing the path of the petit bourgeois?
You might think that since a prohibition is in place, the act of not going would be befitting of a petit bourgeois, but that is naïve. A true little citizen would recite the phrase, “Rules are meant to be broken,” while going out to the night festival and hide or escape after spotting a teacher or counselor. Thus, I was loitering around the night stalls.
However, a big problem was that there was almost nothing that seemed tempting to me. I suppose that being caught up in the festival mood and splurging on something I didn’t even want to buy would be the right thing to do for a petit bourgeois, but seeing the cheap products up close failed to stimulate my appetite or material desire. Thinking that there was a store at an alley near the station that sold better and cheaper takoyaki, I shot cold glances here and there, obviously not caught up in the festival atmosphere at all. Well, I suppose it’s fine to just have a taste of that atmosphere. Although it smells like soy sauce, oil and sugar.
The wind that blew past was warm. That was not caused by the hotplates from the night stalls, but simply because it was already summer. Considering the crowd, I should have probably entered at a better time tonight.
It was July, and the tests waiting for us were those held at the end of the first trimester. As someone who could humbly say that my grades were upper intermediate and brag of having no grades higher than pre-advanced2, I didn’t need to be told by the Student Guidance Department that I couldn’t spend my time idling about. After a year or so of steady high school life, I had turned into a second-year student tasting the reality of career-path selection. Then again… there is still quite a long time before I’ll start feeling the heat. As I’ve said, discontinuing this night stall tour and working diligently to cram overnight before a test is not befitting of a petit bourgeois.
I found a familiar face in front of the grilled squid stall. It was someone who had been in my class since last year. Since he had an easy-going personality and was relatively easy to talk to, I often talked to him in school. Tonight, the hairs on his head were standing up, showing that he was pretty fired up as well. There was something written in letters of the alphabet on his shirt, but I couldn’t understand since it was unfortunately not in English. I wonder if he even understood what it meant. What would he do if it were written in German or some other foreign language? Then again, there isn’t a problem if no one else can understand it either. With those thoughts, my eyes met his as he walked away from the stall carrying a skewer of squid tentacles.
Raising a hand, I called out to him, although I didn’t think my voice would reach him at that distance.
He followed suit, but that was all. Forgetting about him, I walked off, and he probably did the same. It’s not like I was distancing myself from him because there was a female classmate snuggling up to him, but the two of us were not close enough to be friendly to each other outside of school. Both he and I knew that to be true.
The two of us were not at all indifferent to human interaction. For us high school students, life outside the small realm of school is wholly different from life outside, as a matter of course. The same goes for human interaction, fashion, and even personality. There might even be a bigger gap compared to that between being inside of the house and being outside. Everyone puts on a different face in school.
Actually, I had already spotted a few acquaintances here and there. Some were also students from Funado High School, and there were also those I had seen while I was a troubled student in Takaba Middle School. I either gave them a brief nod, or ignored them by pretending not to notice. This kind of indifference to formalities is a problem that was present even before I started embarking on the path of the petit bourgeois. It belonged to the realm of common sense, so to speak.
I was not exactly a loner in school, but there was only one person I would exchange words with even outside of school.
Speaking of Doujima Kengo, he was a brawny guy with physical strength and chivalrous spirit as his selling points. When he first entered high school, only his face looked cubical, but within the time span of a year, muscles had gradually formed on his body, making his entire form look blockish. Well, I wouldn’t say that we were close. In fact, we were supposed to be estranged, but poor Kengo, with his lack of ability to read the atmosphere, did not understand the difference in etiquette in and out of school.
Well, there is no way I would run into that one person in the throngs of people at the night festival. As I was about to buy a baby castella or Tianjin sweet roasted chestnuts and head home for the night, the scruff of my Henley shirt3 was suddenly grabbed from behind.
Twisting my neck, a frog-like croak escaped from my throat. What in the world? Did someone just pick a fight with me? I turned to look over my shoulder…
But what I saw was a fox.
To be precise, it was a fox mask with a white base and red gradation, looking up at me from my shoulder height. The mask had a long snout, and had three black whiskers drawn on each side.
While a mask stall is indispensable to a night festival, the texture of that mask was quite different from the plastic ones you could find anywhere. In fact, it looked like a genuine wood carving… what the heck?
The person wearing that mask was a small child in a yukata, which was made of light pink material and featured a white morning glory framed in gold. The child’s right hand was gripping on my collar, while the left hand was hanging down languidly. That meant that the mask was not held up by the hand, but was properly attached with a string or something like that. Even for a night festival brimming with a sense of liberation, wearing a yukata as well as a fox mask showed that the child was relishing too much in the atmosphere.
So a messenger of Inari-sama4 appeared in front of me on a summer night, during a festival that was packed with a sea of people. Just what use could they have for a humble high school student like myself? I felt a strong desire to ask that question.
Shaking free from the hand that was grabbing my collar, I stooped a little, until our eyes were at about the same height. I asked the question.
“What’s the matter, little girl? Did you get separated from your mother?”
…At that moment, a sharp pain ran through my shin. The girl in the yukata, probably being particular about the traditional Japanese theme, was also wearing black-lacquered geta5 with long teeth. Having been kicked with the heavy, hard and sharp part of the geta, I was temporarily stunned.
It was so painful that tears even welled up in my eyes.
After pathetically hopping about two or three times while holding my leg, I couldn’t hold it in any longer, and protested.
“You kicked way too hard… Osanai-san!”
The girl in the yukata held the mask with both hands and slowly took it off, revealing a bobcut, jet-black like a crow, that reached just above the shoulders. Since it seemed too old-fashioned to call it a bob, I called it an amasogi haircut. She had pristine pupils in her narrow eyes, and small lips. On her child-like face that no one would complain about were child-like features. Even though I was not at all tall for a boy, she only came up to my shoulders. I can guarantee that if strangers saw us, they would think that she was an elementary school student brought to see the night festival by an older relative.
But this girl was also a high school student in her second year. Her name, Osanai Yuki.
Osanai-san and I started being together from the summer of our third year in middle school… I couldn’t be totally sure, but she seemed to have grown a little from back then. How did I know that it was her even though she was wearing that fox mask? The trick was simple. I could only think of one girl who would put on such a tribal mask and suddenly pull someone’s collar.
Osanai-san was currently looking on with widened eyes and a hand on her mouth.
“S-Sorry, I’m not used to wearing geta, so I couldn’t kick well…”
“What kind of footwear are you used to kicking someone’s shin with?”
She shook her head, along with the fox mask.
“Ah, I didn’t mean it that way… Sorry, does it hurt?”
Some sparks had flown from my eyes the moment I was kicked, but it wasn’t so bad that it would hurt forever. I put down my leg, and put on a smile.
“It doesn’t hurt that much now.”
Osanai-san hung her head weakly.
“But I was also hurt by your words… so you’ll forgive me, right?”
She smiled gently. Hahaha, what a bald-faced lie. As if Osanai-san would get hurt from something like that. Her getting hurt would result in a much more… troubling situation than this.
Osanai-san tried to attach the fox mask on the right side of her head. It seemed like it was fastened by a kite string, but the string was too thin, so she was struggling with it. Anyway…
“Where did you buy something like this?”
“Eh? This mask?”
As she tied a butterfly knot with the kite string, Osanai-san turned her eyes to look at me.
“They were selling it at the woodworking shop. It was really cute, so I bought it.”
As far as I knew, Osanai-san usually did not rate something as cute. To be precise, she did not abuse the word “cute” for a wide range of meanings like “beautiful” and “intriguing”. That meant that Osanai-san really thought this white fox mask that looked like it could have come out of a dream, to be cute.
…Well, nobody has the right to criticize others’ tastes.
Finally managing to somehow tie the kite string up, Osanai-san linked her hands behind her, smiled lightly and spoke.
“So, shall we walk together?”
I was a little bewildered by that.
The only person I exchanged close words with even outside of school was Doujima Kengo. That was no lie.
Osanai-san and I often moved and acted together, but that was only because of our common goal. The big goal that Osanai-san and I hold, the star of stellar magnitude 66 right in front of us, yet cannot be grabbed, is becoming a “petit bourgeois”. Seeking to acquire peaceful everyday life, we resolutely take positions to avoid situations that can hinder that peace. In order to quickly rid our hands of trouble or even signs of trouble, we make use of each other.
I wondered what ulterior motive Osanai-san must have, to want to walk down the main street of the night festival with me. I was unable to grasp her intentions, but only for a short moment. Noticing that she was silently positioning herself on my right, I ascertained the truth.
“There’s someone in front that you don’t want to meet, right?”
The fox mask attached on the right side of Osanai-san’s head helped cover most of her profile. Furthermore, I was standing on her left. If she walked while looking down and staring at the strap of her geta, she wouldn’t be recognized as long as she didn’t get seen from directly in front. Not to mention that this effect would be further enhanced by the thick traditional Japanese atmosphere given off by her.
Confirming my hypothesis, Osanai-san had already started looking down, not even raising her head when she answered my question.
“A classmate or something?”
“An old classmate.”
Standing still in the middle of a crowd would cause trouble for others. I started walking off, and Osanai-san followed suit, matching my pace. Even in the clamor of the night festival, I could hear the click-clack of her geta.
“Isn’t it better to go back, then?”
“My bicycle’s just in front.”
Since Osanai-san was looking at the ground, it was quite difficult to hear her voice. In a muffled voice, she spoke again.
“It’s good that I was able to find you, Kobato-kun.”
That’s what I think she said, anyway.
“You were looking for me?”
“You did say that you were coming to the festival, so I thought that I would be able to find you if I looked around… though I wasn’t expecting much.”
“There is indeed a huge turnout today. I’m amazed you managed to find me.”
Especially when you’re so short, I was about to add, but swallowed those words down. I wouldn’t want to receive another kick.
That reminds me, it has been a while since I walked with Osanai-san in town like this. When was the last time, I wonder… Traversing my memory, I went all the way back to an extraordinary event. It was more than a year ago, in the spring of last year. Osanai-san, who had just obtained a new phone, just happened to find me walking about in town.
Ah, I also thought of something unnecessary. That day, I told Osanai-san that I would treat her to a yogurt with delicious home-made fruit sauce. Come to think of it, that promise has not been fulfilled yet. I wonder if she would remember something from more than a year ago. If so… it wouldn’t be too late now. I should think of some way to follow up on that, because Osanai-san absolutely loves sweet things.
Osanai-san’s second favorite thing is sweets. She will go anywhere for them, as far as her stamina and wallet will allow.
…And her most favorite thing is actually revenge.
She might look cute, but she is like a counter-puncher. She would wait for someone else to punch her, so that she can punch back harder. Since she is trying to seal away that wolf-like part of her personality, she aims to be a little citizen.
On the other hand, the part of me that I’m trying to fix is the part of me that cuts in with unnecessary words, a trait I’ve had since I was born. By commenting about others’ actions from a bystander’s vantage point, working my wisdom and showing off my knowledge like a smart aleck, I managed to earn the hate of many people. I must hold down this fox-like characteristic with the principles of the petit bourgeois.
…From spring to summer of last year, Osanai-san and I exposed the forgery of sealed official documents, which led to five people getting arrested. I don’t know if we were the direct cause, but that was definitely something a petit bourgeois should not do. Since that summer, we lived the past year obediently, as a reflection on our misdoings. It would be perfectly natural for us to assume the seats of the petit bourgeois at this point.
Osanai-san suddenly exclaimed in a wild voice. She was pointing at something. I looked at that direction to see what was wrong, but all I saw was a cotton candy stall.
She spoke in a strained voice, her features contorted in grief.
“I forgot to eat cotton candy!”
I’d come to this night festival to take a walk.
But it seemed that Osanai-san had come here to get her fill of sweets.
Even though I knew it was boorish, I couldn’t help but rain on her parade after seeing her joyful appearance.
“Osanai-san, do you know the cost of cotton candy?”
“Do you know how cheap sugar is, and how little energy is needed to turn that into cotton candy?”
Clack! Osanai-san stomped down with her geta. Raising her head that she’d kept down, she forcefully insisted.
“I don’t care if it’s expensive or cheap… I’ll be licking some cotton candy no matter what.”
I must have underestimated her; I never expected her to have that much resolve.
In the end, Osanai-san walked in the huge crowd with the fox mask covering the right side of her face, me covering the left, and a gigantic white fluff of cotton candy obscuring her front. As she walked with her click-clacking geta, she would intermittently munch on the cotton candy with a huge grin on her face. At first, the thought of asking her to buying cotton candy to cover her face instead of the fox mask did pop up in my head, but judging by her state now, that suggestion would be quite suspect.
With her attention taken up by the cotton candy, Osanai-san’s footsteps slowed, so it was now my turn to match her pace. Since the difference in our heights was comparable to magnetic deviation7, it was quite hard for me to match her slow walking speed. While I was walking at an extremely leisurely pace with an unconcerned attitude, I was in fact keeping a watchful eye out for our surroundings. I was a little interested in the person that Osanai-san didn’t want to be seen by.
By the way, Osanai-san’s story about leaving her bicycle in front and having to collect it even though there was someone she didn’t want to be seen by was, in fact, a lie. She was wearing a yukata. To ride a bicycle, she would have to hitch up the hem of her yukata.
Well, even if she did that, it would only be up to her calves. There is the logical consideration that it isn’t that much different from the skirt she wears in her school uniform, but Osanai-san also had geta as her footwear. Even if she can straddle the saddle while wearing a yukata, it is too difficult to step on the pedal with geta. If she wanted to dress in traditional Japanese garb, she could have gone for zōri8 instead, so if she intentionally put on geta, she most likely did not come here by bicycle.
Even so, she came here while hiding her face, and that could only mean that she didn’t want to be seen, but also wanted to see the other person. I wanted to see such a person’s face as well.
Osanai-san must have some reason behind her actions. That much is obvious. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have approached me. But I couldn’t think of that reason, since there were not enough materials for consideration as of yet.
…Well, then again, I don’t think that reason is anything important. The two of us are aiming to be petit bourgeois. Because of that, we are too self-conscious. We would make a mountain out of a molehill, and panic while thinking that we must do something about the disastrous situation. This kind of exaggeration, which is not at all grounded in reality, is just like cotton candy.
As I continued darting my eyes left and right, Osanai-san asked from the cover of her cotton candy.
“Why are you looking about?”
“Ah, I was thinking of buying some Tianjin sweet roasted chestnuts to bring home if there’s a stall nearby.”
That was not a complete lie. I did feel that way, though it took up only about 10 percent of my thoughts. Osanai-san tilted her head, causing the cotton candy, which was wrapped around disposable chopsticks, to tilt as well.
“I don’t think there’s one in front.”
“I see. Well, it’s not something I absolutely must have.”
It was exactly as she said. In front of us stood a buttered potato stall, a shooting gallery, a Superball scooping stand, a chocolate banana stall and a balloon stall, which ended the row of night stalls. I pulled out my mobile phone and checked the time. It was later than I thought. Since there are upcoming tests, I should get home soon.
“I’ll be going off, then,” I said as I stopped walking. Osanai-san stopped munching on her cotton candy.
“By the way, Kobato-kun, do you have any plans for the summer?”
After the examinations at the end of the first semester, it would naturally be the summer holidays. As for my plans…
“I have none. What about you, Osanai-san?”
She looked up in the air and thought for a moment, took a few seconds to lick some more cotton candy, then broke into a smile again.
“I… I just feel like something good is going to happen!”
Seeing her smile, I grinned back.
So she feels that something good is going to happen in the summer holidays, huh.
As little citizens, should we aim to create memories in the summer?
Editors (Tier 2) : Joshua Fisher, _Maki
Assistants (Tier 1) : Karen Kronenberg, Definitelynotme, Rolando Sanchez
Thank you very much for all your support!
- A day believed to have a special relation with a particular Japanese deity. Japanese people generally think that visiting a temple or a shrine on these holy days will bring greater fortunes than on regular days, so temples and shrines often hold festivals.
- Some places in Japan use a 9-point system, that goes: upper advanced, advanced, pre-advanced, upper intermediate, intermediate, low intermediate, pre-intermediate, elementary, beginner.
- Essentially a collarless polo shirt.
- The Japanese god (or to be precise, holy power) of foxes, fertility, rice, tea and sake, of agriculture and industry, of general prosperity and worldly success. Inari’s foxes are pure white and act as their messengers.
- A form of traditional Japanese footwear resembling flip-flops. They are a kind of sandal with a flat wooden base elevated with up to three prongs (or “teeth”), held on the foot with a fabric thong, which keeps the foot above the ground.
- A measure of the brightness of a star or other astronomical object observed from Earth. The brighter an object is, the lower its magnitude number. Astronomical objects of stellar magnitude 6 are at the limit of what can be seen by the naked eye.
- Error in a compass due to the angular difference between magnetic North (the local direction of the Earth’s magnetic field) and true North, as well as the angular difference between magnetic North and the compass needle due to nearby sources of interference such as magnetically permeable bodies.
- Flat and thonged Japanese sandals made of rice straw, cloth, lacquered wood, leather, rubber, or—most commonly and informally—synthetic materials.