The Berry Berry Sanya-dori shop, as the name suggests, was a shop located on Sanya-dori, one of the streets extending north and south of the city center. As I found out, the shop was a stone’s throw away from the train station.
I had arrived a little too early. It was about 2:30 in the afternoon when I left my bicycle at the parking spot and confirmed the location of the shop. There was still about an hour to the appointed time, so I returned to the train station.
The sun was partially hidden by clouds today, so the heat was not intense enough to make me feel that I was being roasted alive. However, since it was August, it was still pretty hot. While I could see people who looked like students from high school and middle school, there were not that many of them around. That was only natural, for there was almost nothing near Kira Station that young people would find enjoyable. A bus terminal was situated outside the station, with one bus from which people were alighting. There were only a few passengers, which was normal, given the time.
Spacing out under the sun like this for an hour was an undesirable option. I wanted to get under the shade, and if possible, somewhere with a functioning air conditioner. Incidentally, I was also feeling quite peckish. I hadn’t had breakfast and lunch the other day, but I’d also skipped lunch today.
If only there’s some random place somewhere nearby… I mentioned earlier that there was nothing near the station that young people would find enjoyable, but that could also mean that I, as a young person, was not familiar with the area. After some walking around, I found a hamburger shop. That’s perfect, let’s have a light meal there.
Next to a poster that said, “Special Set Just For Summer” on the glass door of the shop was another poster that read, “Sanya-dori Festival”. While it was supposedly a festival, no one was really celebrating anything, and it was basically just a big sale throughout the shopping street. Written in a corner of the poster were the words, “Organized by: Sanya-dori Promotion Association”. It was a yearly custom to turn Sanya-dori into a pedestrian paradise, with all sorts of food stalls lining the street. I always looked forward to it when I was an elementary school student. Thinking about the fun times I had back then, I passed through the automatic door.
I was greeted with a warm smile and cool air. Ah, that feels good.
“Have you decided on your order?”
The part-timer who asked me that question looked to be a high school student just like me. I replied after glancing at the menu.
“A cheeseburger, please.”
“Would you like a drink with that?”
“Would you like some fries?”
“We have a summer-exclusive special set right now.”
“Thank you. One cheeseburger!”
Being a high school student, there were limits to my purchasing power. Since I also needed the means to pay my way through Osanai-san’s sweets pilgrimage, I should tighten my spending wherever I can.
A tray lined with paper and a singular cheeseburger on it emerged. On top of the advertisement tray liner proclaiming that the lettuce was organically farmed and the tomatoes were from a contracted farmer was a flyer for the Sanya-dori festival. A map of Sanya-dori that extended to the left and right of the train station was depicted on the flyer, with small notes detailing the shop names and what they were selling. There was one that I was pretty sure I’d seen before. Candied apples at Muramatsu House. That ranked quite highly on Osanai-san’s Sweets Selection, right? Though I can’t confirm that without returning home.
I looked for an empty seat. While it was two thirty in the afternoon, the store was quite crowded. At the interior of the store was a party of people with dreadlocks, wearing clothes with shades of green, black and yellow on them and giving off the impression of a reggae group. Their foreheads were close to touching distance of each other, and they seemed to be solemnly discussing something. There was a couple on another table who kept taking interested glances at the reggae group. That wasn’t unreasonable, for I was curious about them too. The counter seats were also filled. I noticed a person of short stature sitting there and sipping on a milkshake, while wearing a pair of short jeans and an excessively well-worn leather jacket, as if they were a rocker or a hippie. A leather hat was pulled firmly on their head, although we were indoors. As a petit bourgeois wishing for peaceful and uneventful days, I didn’t want to approach the reggae group or the hippie, so I went off to a counter next to a window a good distance away and placed my tray there. I removed the cheeseburger from the paper packaging and was about to sink my teeth in when a voice called out to me.
A familiar face was just two seats away from me.
He was always a person with a large build and wide frame, but he seemed to have grown even more in the past year, giving off an imposing atmosphere. The swivel chair he was sitting on looked unreliable in comparison. The hairline along his neck had grown a little longer, leading to a light bristle at the top of his head, causing him to look more masculine. His outfit was made out of a patterned shirt and cargo pants that were not fashionable, but were still acceptable. The sharp face he was born with hadn’t changed at all, meaning that he could not erase the uncouth impression that he gave off, but he was probably fine with that. That person was Doujima Kengo, an old acquaintance of mine… It was a weird time to run into him, and an unfortunate coincidence. Now that he’d called out to me, I couldn’t pretend not to know him. I sluggishly replied.
“It’s been a really long time.”
“That’s because we’re in different classes.”
Instead of a reply, Kengo threw a handful of French fries into his mouth.
Kengo’s tray had a hamburger, coffee, French fries, as well as chicken nuggets on it. That would be the special summer set, I believe. Kengo sent me a quick glance, then immediately turned to look out the window at the scenery outside the train station. He then spoke to me in a low voice.
“Are you also here to check it out?”
“I just came here to fill my stomach. I didn’t have lunch.”
Kengo murmured in severe displeasure.
“Oh right, you were aiming for the life of a simpleton.”
Osanai-san and I were aiming to become petit bourgeois, not simpletons, but I did not correct him. Little citizens don’t loudly proclaim themselves to be little citizens.
Kengo and I were from the same elementary school, and he was holding that elementary school image of me while we were entering high school. Basically, he had the impression that I never shied away from poking my nose into matters involving insight and wisdom. He seemed to expect me to have the capabilities and propensity of a detective. However, the current me was not like that.
…I remember Kengo saying that I used to be an unpleasant person, but he could still acknowledge my strengths. At that time, he also commented that I had only become more subdued and furtive, making me seem like I was always hiding an ulterior motive.
I had reasons for my change, but in the end, there was a decisive deviation in our ways of thinking. Since it isn’t fitting for a petit bourgeois to have a friendly relationship with someone whom I always have disagreements with whenever we talk, I hadn’t exchanged words with Kengo for a while. Kengo didn’t seem to care, but I was giving him a respectful distance.
Well, basically, Kengo Doujima was a good person.
Unable to control the fact that he seemed to get confrontational every time we saw each other, I put on a smile.
“You seem to be investigating something, Kengo.”
“For the Newspaper Club?”
“No, it’s a personal matter.”
Still staring out the window, he continued.
“But it has nothing to do with you.”
You’re absolutely right. If that’s all you have to say, I have nothing to ask.
Thinking that the conversation was over, I bit into the cheeseburger. But Kengo spoke, still looking straight outside.
“…a girl from our school. I can’t say her name, though.”
Ah, we’re still talking? It’s not I really want to know, but… I still responded with an uh-huh.
“She was invited by an old acquaintance… or rather, she was forcefully pulled into this.”
This cheeseburger doesn’t taste very good.
“She was apparently pulled into a group.”
“What kind of group?”
Lately, I’ve been dragged along by Osanai-san, and that might have caused me to be particular about my food. Before, I wouldn’t have cared about the tastiness of a burger.
After a pause, Kengo answered with almost no undulations in his voice.
That’s a lot more serious than I expected.
“I was asked to do this by the younger sister of the girl who was pulled into this. She was saying that it would be good if there’s a way to cut ties to that group, but it’s difficult since we don’t have any information. I requested support from the Newspaper Club, and now we’re all trying to put together a profile of that group.”
“Drugs, you said… Are they legal? Or are they illegal?”
“They seem to focus on drugs they had access to when they were middle school students. Apparently, they were messing around with sleeping pills and entire bottles of cold medicine before… but we’re not sure about now. Hopefully they’ll be satisfied with just that. We’re also investigating this.”
Is that why he’s only been looking outside? Is he in the middle of a stakeout? That sure is hard work for a mere high school student.
However, Kengo glanced at me and grinned.
“What, Jougorou, you interested?”
“No, not at all.”
As a petit bourgeois, I won’t get involved with such a rough situation. I have no interest in it at all. Kengo’s expectations were completely off the mark. I took another bite out of my cheeseburger.
But… I’ve heard this story before, and I don’t mean that in the sense that using one or two kinds of legitimate drugs is commonplace nowadays. While I was still in middle school, there was such a group in my grade. I think they were a group made up of only girls, and in the end, those girls were given an official reprimand in their third year of middle school. Could those girls be the people that Kengo is investigating?
I was in a dilemma as to whether I should bring up that group. I had sworn to stop saying anything clever, and it would certainly be vexing for Kengo to say, “I told you that the soul of a child of three stays the same” with a triumphant look on his face. However, it just feels wrong to hide something that I know.
Or perhaps Kengo knows about this already? Kengo went to a different middle school, but that story was known by almost all students who went to Takaba Middle School. With Kengo’s wide personal connections, he should have a friend or two from Takaba Middle School.
Wanting to prolong the talk while I had my internal debate, I asked a question.
“So, you said that she wanted to cut her ties with the group, but do you have any ideas about that?”
Wrinkles formed around Kengo’s eyebrows.
“We could find the group’s gathering spot.”
“And raid that spot with a wooden sword.”
Wow, that’s amazing.
Kengo took a sip of his coffee and gulped down a chicken nugget whole.
“Aren’t you going to play the straight man to that joke?”
“Ah, so it was just a joke.”
I’d actually thought that he would be capable of such a feat. It seems that even Kengo has some sense in him.
“I can’t tell what Kawamata wants. Was she dragged in like Kasumi said, or did she join the group because she wanted to? Well, whatever the case, we’re trying to think of a way for her to escape.”
I see, so the one who joined the group is Kawamata, a second-year student in Funado High School, and the little sister’s name is Kasumi. Kengo said earlier that he couldn’t say their names, but he just readily revealed them, showing that he doesn’t really care about that. That’s good, this aversion to detail is just like Kengo. Incidentally, that also allows me to roughly understand the relationship between him and Kawamata Kasumi.
I had almost finished eating my cheeseburger. The conversation with Kengo was interesting, especially since I hadn’t talked with him for quite a while, but it might turn into a weird situation again if I listened further. In the end, I decided to talk about the case that started in Takaba Middle School.
“By the way, Kengo…”
I started, but Kengo suddenly stood up.
The area in front of the train station was not exactly packed with people, but there were still quite a few people around. I couldn’t tell where Kengo spotted the movement that he’d pointed out.
“Shit, they split up into two groups…”
Where are they? I tried following Kengo’s line of sight, but there were no young people making conspicuously suspicious actions. Kengo abruptly took a notebook and a felt-tip pen from his pocket. After tearing out a page from the notebook, he began writing on it with the pen. Thinking that the girl from Takaba Middle School that I remembered might be near the station, I opened my eyes as wide as saucers and stared at that area.
While moving his pen, Kengo spoke sharply.
“Sorry Jougorou, but please help me with this. Stay here for a while more and look for any suspicious movement. Only if you have the time, of course.”
“Ah, yeah, sure.”
As I gave a half-hearted reply, I was drawn to a face in the corner of my vision. She had make-up on and was in casual clothes, so I couldn’t really tell, but could it be that girl? No, that’s not her.
“…and contact them. See you later.”
Kengo hurriedly left the store, while I stayed there, looking at the girl I’d spotted, though I didn’t have any confidence in my abilities. My eyesight is not particularly good.
With quick footsteps, Kengo had already turned the corner and disappeared from my view. I hope he doesn’t chase too far. Kengo is certainly well-built, but as far as I know, he is neither battle-hardened nor a match for thousands.
Shrugging, I took a look at the note that Kengo had left behind.
I picked it up, scrutinized it, turned it around, and even checked it against the sunlight, but I finally opened my mouth, flabbergasted.
“…What the heck is this?”
A single character was written on the note.
Editors (Tier 2) : Joshua Fisher, _Maki
Assistants (Tier 1) : Definitelynotme, Rolando Sanchez, empra
Thank you very much for all your support!