Table of Contents
If someone I know well takes an unthinkable course of action, I would wonder about what happened to them. If these unthinkable actions pile up, I would be worried for them and wonder if some significant incident happened that brought about a change in their mental state. And if that continues further, I would start doubting if I was failing to properly understand that person in the first place.
The feelings of doubt I had about Osanai-san was entering that realm.
It was the summer vacation in our second year of high school. While Osanai-san and I should have no reason to meet outside school, we had met multiple times in this particular summer break. About one week had passed since I was handed the “Osanai Summer Sweets Selection” or whatever it was called, and we had that battle of wits with Charlottes as the focal point. Having made a careless error, I lost the match, and as a result was frequently called out by Osanai-san. We’d gone out to eat the peach mille-feuille in sixth place and the Ujikintoki in ninth place. Both of them were delicious, as expected of desserts selected by Osanai-san. However, as for why she, as a person not cute enough to eat desserts alone, always asked me to accompany her, I had no idea.
And this email arrived today.
“Today, we’ll be going to a shop between La Roche and Ginsendo. We’ll meet there at 3:30pm.”
Checking the map attached the Osanai Summer Sweets Selection, I found La Roche at the north-northeast section of this town, Kira Town. It was located almost at the border to a neighboring town. On the other hand, Ginsendo was at the west-southwest. It was also a shop at the edge of town. Since the email mentioned a shop in between those two, I drew a line from one shop to the other. There were two dessert shops on that line, but one was really close to La Roche, while the other was almost in the exact middle point of the line. That would be the strongest candidate.
The shop was called “Berry Berry Sanya-dori Shop”. It was seventh place in the list with its frozen watermelon yogurt, so that was likely to be the right one.
The problem with the email was that it was too simple. That meant she expected me to figure it out on my own, and was just playing around.
As I pedalled on my bicycle towards the destination, I frowned as I thought of something that I was not satisfied with.
We’ve been hopping from one dessert store to another for three days straight in the summer holidays, and on top of that, sending playful, mysterious messages. It’s almost like we’re dating.
As a healthy second-year student, it’s not like I have no interest in dating. Having Osanai-san as my dating partner would be, to put it mildly, thrilling, but I don’t think of her badly such that I would reject her. If I had to say, I prefer girls with a more mature appearance, but it’s not like I can’t cover up that preference. Rather, as a high school student with a not-so-nice personality, I, Kobato Jougorou, would be honored.
However… that differs too much from the image of Osanai-san I have in my mind. The actions of Osanai-san this summer totally betrayed my expectations. That means that either I severely misunderstood her, or…
I stopped my bicycle at the traffic light and muttered.
“Or she’s up to something.”
I’m even willing to bet ten dollars on that.
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.
Half? What does that mean? I probably looked confused for a few moments, but no sooner had Kengo left than an email arrived in my mobile phone. The sender was Osanai-san, and it read:
“Hello, it’s Osanai-san.”
Of course I know that, I thought as I continued standing in place, when another message arrived.
“I’m right behind you.”
M-Mary-san?2 Since I was sitting at the counter by the window, I could see the reflection of the landscape behind me. Although there’s no one who looks like Osanai-san there…
Instead, there stood a person in a frayed, sleeveless jacket, vest, or in any case, some piece of outer layer clothing made of leather and was excessively well-worn. That was the person who looked like a rocker, one of the people I had given a respectful distance to, along with the reggae group. That person was wearing a leather hat, and in their hand was… a shake in a paper cup.
I still had a long way to go to understanding Osanai-san. The general principle was that if I saw a small-sized person wearing a hat, I would think of Osanai-san. The rocker reflected in the glass steadily removed their hat, looked into my eyes and gave me a modest smile. She had a bob cut that fell to the top of her shoulders, thin eyes and thin lips. That was Osanai Yuki.
Without turning around, I returned a light smile to the girl reflected in the glass.
“That’s an extraordinary outfit.”
In response, a question was directed at me from behind.
“You don’t think it suits me?”
Well, if I had to choose, my answer would be an unexpected one.
“No, I think it actually looks good on you.”
“…I have mixed feelings about it. It’s fine, I can change when we get to the shop.”
Osanai-san looked at the seat two places from mine, or in other words, the seat that Kengo had been at until recently.
“Can I get rid of this tray?”
She asked. There were still some French fries on it, but I replied in the affirmative.
“Yeah, why not?”
After swiftly returning the tray, Osanai-san sat down next to me and placed the shake she was holding onto the counter.
“You managed to figure out that we’re going to Berry Berry, huh.”
She gave another modest smile. Come to think of it, the instruction to go to Berry Berry had been hidden in a little riddle.
“Well, I can manage something of that level.”
“I thought that Kobato-kun would definitely be able to figure it out.”
Osanai-san replied with a shy facial expression. Is she happy? That’s a face that I’ve hardly seen before.
“What was Doujima-kun talking about?”
“Ah, he was talking about some drug group. There was one in middle school, right? Another one has shown up, and the older sister of Kengo’s girlfriend is caught up in it.”
The Osanai-san that looked like a rocker didn’t show a hint of interest.
“Ah, the one with Isawa Hasemi-san?”
“Isawa? Is that the girl who got reprimanded?”
“I wasn’t expecting you to know her so well.”
With a gentle smile, she replied.
“You’re a boy, and I’m a girl. We get our information from other girls.”
It takes one to know one, I suppose.
“So Osanai-san, what do you think, as someone with detailed information on girls? Knowing that there’s this new drug group in high school, do you think it could be related to Isawa?”
However, she frowned, looking troubled as she gazed out of the window and sipped some of her shake without making a sound.
…She sipped for such a long time that I started getting worried that she would run out of oxygen.
“Osanai-san… Is it delicious?”
After finally distancing her lips from the straw, Osanai-san raised her chin and looked down at the shake.
“This? You’re asking me if this is delicious?”
She then shook her head, as if to say, “How ridiculous.” So it goes without saying, huh. The shake probably isn’t terrible, but it is quite difficult to satisfy Osanai-san.
Her answer to my main question came in the form of a shy murmur.
“Isawa-san was only put under probation… so they probably don’t think that she did anything particularly bad. However, that group may not be the only one in town, or rather, there are definitely other groups, so I don’t know.”
“Anyway, what is that?”
Osanai-san pointed at the memo in my hand, and I read what was written on it.
“Kengo asked me to kill some more time here, and contact this if I see any suspicious movements.”
For some reason, Osanai-san timidly asked.
“Erm… Is this a secret signal that only you and Doujima-kun know?”
I laughed and shook my head.
“No, I don’t know anything about it at all.”
Yes, I don’t know a thing about this memo that Kengo left behind.
I carefully studied the note.
It was a scrap of paper torn from a pocket-sized notebook. On the front were faint ruled lines, while the back was plain. The character for “half” was written on the front, but was not written in between the ruled lines. It was written in a disorderly fashion, but since Kengo had written it right before rushing out of the door to tail someone, it was not strange for his handwriting to be a little disorderly.
The word “half” was not written in the middle, but was written at the side, as if stuck to the right edges of the note. I don’t know if that has any significance to it, though.
The shake must not have been to Osanai-san’s taste, for she looked out the window with the straw in her mouth and an unpleasant look on her face. Suddenly, she released the straw.
“Can you think of any locations, people or numbers with ‘half’ in their name?”
She asked. Without looking up from the memo, I said whatever came into my head.
“Half… There’s this area called Hanzawa-chō in this town, but using the name of a neighborhood opens up too many possibilities, and I have not been there with Kengo before.
“As for names, I can’t think of anyone except Hanmura Ryou. No, there was another guy with the same surname, Hanmura, although that was a classmate in middle school. He’s never had contact with Kengo, and I haven’t even talked to him in the first place.
“As for numbers, that character means half. Half… fifty. Fifty-fifty. 50-50?”
I smiled bitterly.
“No, that can’t be it, he would have just written 50-50 instead. In the first place, that doesn’t even make up a phone number.”
“That’s not it. You’re thinking in the wrong direction. Kengo was in a hurry, so he wrote it like that, as an abbreviation. There are instances where things are abbreviated too much such that they become difficult to understand, but Kengo did not have that little time left. He thought that I would be able to understand if he wrote it like that, and that’s why he did so.”
But Osanai-san did not agree with that opinion.
“You don’t know that. Doujima-kun might have gotten some amazing spark of inspiration in his head.”
She sipped the shake again, grimacing at the taste.
“They say that the limits of the human mind disappear in the presence of unparalleled sanctity.”
“Of the moment before death.”
“An anastrophe3? And he’s going to die? We’re talking about Kengo here, right?”
Osanai-san sent a glance in my direction, then looked down.
“Kobato-kun, you seem to be enjoying yourself.”
Now I’ve done it, I thought as a freezing sensation ran through my spine. Right, I was trying to figure out the meaning behind the strange memo that Kengo left behind, and that is nothing if not an instance of detective-like behaviour. I’m a petit bourgeois. When a petit bourgeois looks at a note of unknown meaning, they wouldn’t try to find the meaning behind it.
I lowered my head towards Osanai-san.
“Yes, and I’m sorry for that. Of course, I should have just done this.”
Instead of staring at the memo, I brought out my phone. If the meaning behind it is unclear, I should just ask the person who wrote it himself. It’s a simple matter. I’ll just call Kengo and ask him this: “Kengo, I couldn’t figure out the meaning of the memo you wrote earlier. Could you tell me how to read it?”
I called Kengo’s mobile phone. One ringback tone, two ringback tones.
“Seems like he isn’t answering it.”
I stopped the phone call.
“Kobato-kun… You’re so quick to cancel…”
I don’t think that’s the case, though.
Anyway, it’s quite a shame. With Kengo not answering the phone call, I have no choice but to decipher the note myself. Kengo is working to help one female student, and to then end, asked for my assistance. It is only a natural course of action to respond to that request as a responsible human being, and it is nothing to be ashamed of, even as a petit bourgeois.
While feeling a somewhat cold gaze from Osanai-san, I looked at the note again. I received a phone call from someone, but ignored it since I was busy.
“Was that from Doujima-kun…”
I could hear Osanai-san mutter something.
“The first thing we should consider is whether there is anything I can associate from the character for ‘half’ at a glance. Kengo should know about it, and since the note is meant for me, he must have presumed that I also know about it. I’d like to believe that even Doujima Kengo wouldn’t do something as foolish as leaving a message that only he knows how to decode.”
“Kobato-kun, you’re usually really mean towards Doujima-kun.”
I’d prefer if you didn’t butt in. I’m doing this as a response to the honor he’s shown, after all.
I could just be having a lapse of memory. Kengo thought that I would definitely understand as soon as I saw the character, and it is something that I should know, but it is possible that it has slipped my mind for the moment. Half, half-holiday, Chō-Han Bakuchi4, half-mast.
But… it’s really not coming to me. If it’s something so difficult to get to, he should have just told me directly.
I was thinking, when it hit me.
“…Why did Kengo not tell me directly?”
With a light sigh that seemed to signify that seemed to say, “I give up,” Osanai-san laid out her theory.
“The thing that was noted down is something that can be easily forgotten even if he told you directly. For example, when you’re unable to memorize a phone number the first time you hear it, you write a note for it, right?”
“You’re right. I also make a memo for the date and time of appointments. I can memorize those details on the spot, but there is the possibility that I forget them in the future.”
“What did Doujima-kun say when he left this?”
Umm, what did he say again?
Traversing my memory, I realized that I couldn’t actually recall it clearly. Kengo looked outside, said, “They’ve moved,” requested me to continue the stakeout, then…
“He said something like, ‘Please contact them.’”
“So, is that ‘half’ character pointing to some contact address, as we thought?”
I folded my arms.
“…No, I don’t know. I was looking outside, so I didn’t really hear what he was saying. If he said, ‘Please contact me at half’, then…”
Osanai-san looked at her wristwatch. It was a recherche affair, with a black leather belt, which suited the leather vest she was wearing.
“It’s three o’clock now. He could have said, ‘Please contact me at half past three.’”
“Do you really think so?”
She shook her head.
“If so, he could have just said that without needing to leave a note.”
Exactly. Basically, the essence of “half” is…
“In this one character, there must be information that is impossible to describe via verbal means, or cannot be memorized… I think that will be the key to decoding this message.”
Half is half. It’s just one word. A double-byte character. If I, the receiver of the message, don’t have any idea what it could be about, it would be difficult to imagine the character holding information “that is impossible to describe”.
“This is not ‘half’. It’s just something that takes the shape of ‘half’.”
Osanai-san was making a pained face again. She was still sipping on her shake. Unable to watch her any longer, I spoke up.
“How about leaving that behind if it tastes so bad?”
“…What an outstanding idea, Kobato-kun.”
Pushing the paper cup containing the shake as far as her arm could reach, she looked down at the memo.
“If not ‘half’, then ‘sheep’5.”
“Don’t they just look similar?”
“Now that’s quite a stretch.”
All in all, kanji just do not possess information “that is impossible to describe”. They say that there’s a character in the Chinese language for “look around restlessly”7, but I can’t imagine the character for “half” holding that much meaning.
“Besides that, it also looks like the letter V standing on the katakana キ.”
“Well… that’s all it is…”
Osanai-san looked off into the distance, as if to say, “Do whatever you like.”
She didn’t understand. This being a memo that Kengo left behind, it can’t possibly have such a complicated solution. It should be read as if it were only natural.
I looked at the note again.
“…? This is…”
Up till now, I’d thought that it was just due to excessive force on the pen.
“This is a little strange.”
Not caring that Osanai-san was no longer looking in my direction, I pointed at the weird part of the “half” character that I could see. To be precise, the top portion of it.
“The first and second strokes are a little off.”
For the “half” character, the first and second strokes, or in other words, the ten and the hidari-harai8, have to be either touching the horizontal stroke, or be on the left and right side of the horizontal stroke respectively. However, in the note that Kengo had written, the hidari-harai had penetrated the horizontal stroke, and was touching the end of the ten.
Consequently, it looked bad as a character. Of course, it isn’t impossible that it was simply caused by overly forceful writing, but…
Come to think of it, the two horizontal strokes were also quite strange. Usually, the lower horizontal stroke has to be longer than the one on top, but in Kengo’s note, they were almost equal in terms of length… no, the one below looked shorter.
“The hidari-harai is penetrating the horizontal stroke, and the lower stroke is shorter…”
With a finger, I tried tracing out the character that Kengo had written that looked like “half”. But I couldn’t get it to work. I could make the lower horizontal stroke shorter, but I couldn’t trace the first two strokes as Kengo had written. Are these really supposed to be ten and hidari-harai?
No, they’re not.
It finally hit me. Why did Kengo take so much time to write this note? Of course, that was because what he wrote was not the “half” character.
“I got it.”
Focus returned to Osanai-san’s eyes, which had been staring off into the distance.
I drew a キcharacter on the counter, then added a checkmark in the shape of a V.
“It is impossible to exceed the information that can be transmitted orally with just one word. However, it’s a different story if it’s a map.
“This is a map. There are two intersections, and a check is added to the second intersection. Kengo said to contact them with this, right? He was probably telling me to contact the person at the intersection.”
It was really quite foolish of me. At first, I was convinced that it was the character for “half”, but even when I considered the possibility that it might not be the case, I couldn’t quite shake off the fixed idea of it being a word.
But Osanai-san did not brighten up.
“…A map. That might be it, but… Where of?”
There are two intersections, and the person that Kengo is keeping in contact with was probably waiting at the second intersection. That person could be Kawamata Kasumi, or someone from the Newspaper Club, which is working with Kengo.
Incidentally, the city center of Kira Town has roads laid on in a grid like a Go board. In other words, there are intersections all over the place.
Also, we could rule out the possibility of the intersection being straight down the path in front of us. Right in front was the rotary at the train station, or basically, a dead end.
“Ah. Am I wrong?”
Osanai-san took Kengo’s note from my hand.
“…No, I also think it’s a map. When you said it was the character for ‘half’, I thought it was written weirdly, but now you say that it’s a map with a checkmark, I can see that the pen did indeed move that way.”
Kengo used quite a lot of pressure on the pen, and on top of that, his lines stopped perfectly, so I couldn’t imagine how he moved the pen. However, if Osanai-san says that was how the pen moved, then it was probably correct.
“There should be a reference point for the map.”
“In the ‘half’?”
“Somewhere on the map.”
However, according to my initial scrutinization of the memo, there was nothing written on the paper besides the ‘half’ character, and the back of the note was completely white. Besides that feature, it also had some traces of being torn off at the top, and the ‘half’ was written flush to the right side of the note.
Thanks to the traces at the top, I could tell the orientation of the ‘half’. Obviously, the part with the checkmark was the top. Even if we turned the note upside-down, the checkmark would become a へ, and no one would make that sort of mark.
Osanai-san started in a didactic tone.
“I thought of something.”
“What is it?”
She tried looking into my eyes. That was rare for Osanai-san, who usually looks away whenever someone else makes eye contact with her.
“It shouldn’t be difficult to see that the ‘half’ character is actually a map. One would notice sooner or later that if it isn’t a character, it has to be a map. Kobato-kun, you were probably thinking that you would immediately understand something drawn by Doujima-kun, so you were slow to change your idea of the note.”
That hit a sore spot. It was more or less the truth.
“That’s why I think the key to reading this map is Doujima-kun’s way of thinking…”
Well… that is certainly true.
I was also disappointed that I couldn’t read the map that Kengo left behind. But as Osanai-san said, I was having difficulties because I had underestimated Kengo’s drawing.
“I know. Please be quiet for a bit.”
To figure out something that I don’t know, I must not concentrate. That is my rule of thumb. Of course, concentration is necessary when trying to grasp the problem itself. That helps to narrow down the thought process and tighten its scope. However, when getting to the end game, that is when I should dispel my concentration. Naturally, I don’t mean that I cut away all the strings of tension. I maintain that sense of tension, but I expand my thinking, to the point where it is as if I can see things even in the dark. The central part of the human eye is weak to darkness, so to see something in the dark, humans utilize the technique of peripheral vision. Similarly, to grasp the truth, one should spread their thoughts. The thing that should be seen is the full picture that encases the core of the issue.
With a deep breath, I caused my thinking to expand. The view that had become entrenched in my head due to all that concentration dispersed. I felt a nostalgic sense of comfort. It has been a long time since I used this way of thinking…
It is necessary for a map to have a reference point. And Kengo wrote on this note during that situation and handed it to me like it was something I would immediately understand.
No, he didn’t hand it to me.
In the scene of my memory, Kengo did not hand me the note.
I’d picked it up on my own.
That’s right. The memo had just been placed there.
“…I see. No wonder I can’t read it…”
I unconsciously muttered.
I moved my hands.
Having lost focus, I could sense Osanai-san grinning from the corner of my eye.
Before leaving the store, Osanai-san went into the toilet, while holding her sports bag in her hand.
The Osanai-san that returned had shed her worn-out leather vest, and was now sporting a vest made of denim fabric. She hadn’t changed out of her short jeans and inner shirt, but by just changing her vest, the suspicious rocker vibe she was giving off had completely disappeared. A hairclip raised her hair in an asymmetrical manner. Osanai Yuki, in a sporty arrangement. This way, I wouldn’t be embarrassed walking in the streets with her. Still, I wasn’t expecting her to carry a change of clothes. I wonder if she’s got a black ninja garb as well?
After that, the two of us walked through Sanya-dori, in the opposite direction of the train station. Since it was a distance away from the shopping and entertainment district, Sanya-dori was not lively, though it was not exactly a street full of shuttered stores. Next to the sports equipment was a small shrine, and next to that was Muramatsu House. I asked Osanai-san if the candied apple here made it in the ranking of her sweets selection, and she nodded with a broad smile on her face.
Behind Muramatsu House was a bookshop and a police box, marking the end of Sanya-dori. The path still continued, but it had a different name past that point. I took the two maps out of my pocket.
The first was the note that Kengo had left behind. The other was the “Sanya-dori Festival” flyer that was laid on the tray at the burger shop. I stacked the two maps on top of each other.
Obviously, Kengo had not challenged me to a challenge of wits. He just doesn’t do that sort of thing. What he had drawn was a map that could be understood in a glance. When he was about to leave the shop, the map printed on the flyer at the bottom of the tray was right in front of his eyes. He then tore off one piece of note paper, and made a continuation of that map. That was to tell me that his partner was over there, past the edge of the map on the flyer.
That was a an entirely natural course of action.
However, due to me not properly listening to Kengo, as well as Kengo not confirming with me, I had immediately picked up the note, separating it from the flyer, and turning the map to “half”.
The lower horizontal stroke of the “half” character showed the road that continued straight past Sanya-dori. Since the character was drawn flush to the right side of the note, it should connect to the left side of the flyer’s map. After going past Sanya-dori as shown on the map, turn right at the first intersection to reach the second intersection, the one with the checkmark. That would be the destination.
We arrived at the intersection in question. There was a gasoline stand, as well as a café.
It was a small café named “Chaco”. I pushed the stained glass door, which creaked open. A portly woman smiled at me from behind the counter.
Osanai-san had hidden somewhere. I waved a hand and replied.
“Sorry, but I’m not a customer. I’m here at Doujima Kengo’s behest.”
A voice piped up from a booth that was hidden by a decorative plant.
“Did something happen to Doujima-senpai?”
The voice came from a girl with a faint pink shirt and denim pants. She had short hair which was dyed a little. She was slim, and had demure facial features. Is this Kawamata Kasumi, or is this a Newspaper Club member? Well, it didn’t matter either way. My work was done after confirming that Kengo’s partner was indeed here.
“Ah, yes. Kengo saw something, and he went chasing after them.”
“I see. Where is he now?”
“I don’t know. Well, that’s it for now. Good luck.”
Leaving behind some meaningless words, I exited from Chaco.
There was certainly more that I could have said. Kengo had told me to contact them if I saw anything suspicious, but I didn’t even know who to look out for.
Well, it is entirely possible that I was looking down the entire time.
At this rate, it would be possible for us to get to Berry Berry before the appointed time of half past three. We headed back to Sanya-dori, which we’d just been at.
Osanai-san followed a few paces behind me.
“As expected, you were able to decode it.”
I responded with my back still turned to her.
“Yeah… I suppose.”
“Even when you said you wouldn’t do something like that.”
I scratched my cheek.
“Yes, that is true.
“But then again, it’s not like I was showing off to anyone. I believe that this is a valid course of action even according to the path of the petit bourgeois. In that situation, anyone would have tried to solve the mystery behind the memo. All I did was solve that mystery.”
Osanai-san and I have a promise to cover for each other. At the same time, we also had a promise to stop the other party if they were about to act in a manner unbefitting of a petit bourgeois.
What I said was not devoid of reason. Osanai-san was probably just chiding me based on that promise. Just as she had always done.
…Since she was silent, I turned around to check on her, only to be greeted with a slight lifting of her lips, like a wry smile.
“Yes, you’re right.”
I responded to those words with a smile of my own.
But my head started filling up with doubts.
It was certainly strange, I thought. While I was trying to decode Kengo’s memo, Osanai-san was stirring me up, instead of stopping me, right?
And that smile that lingered even in her eyelids. Just when I thought I’d reached the truth, she smiled. I’d thought that I knew Osanai-san fairly well. I’d thought that I could grasp the pattern behind her thoughts and actions to a certain degree.
But something was clearly wrong with my assumptions. This was completely beyond the range of my current understanding.
Why did she seem so happy in the moment that I solved the mystery?
Still behind me, Osanai-san spoke excitedly.
“Hey, Kobato-kun, I’ll treat you to today’s frozen watermelon yoghurt!”
Editors (Tier 2) : Joshua Fisher, _Maki
Assistants (Tier 1) : Definitelynotme, Rolando Sanchez, empra
Thank you very much for all your support!
- Meaning “half”.
- A reference to the popular Japanese urban legend “Phone call from Mary-san”, about a porcelain doll called Mary-san that, after being abandoned by her owner, decides to murder her. For every step she takes, getting closer and closer to her victim, she greets the girl with a phone call. In the final call, the doll says, “Hi, it’s Mary. I’m right behind you.”
- A figure of speech where the normal word order of the subject, the verb, and the object is changed. Here Osanai-san says the main part of the sentence “Of the moment before death” at the end, instead of in the middle.
- A traditional Japanese gambling game using two dice, which are shaken in a bamboo cup or bowl by a dealer. The cup is then overturned onto the floor. Players then place their wagers on whether the sum total of numbers showing on the two dice will be “Chō” (even) or “Han” (odd). Here “Han” is also the character for “half”.
- The kanji for “sheep” is 羊, while the kanji for “half” is 半.
- The kanji for “sit” is 坐.
- I would like to think I know Chinese fairly well, but I can’t think of such a character. I suppose 巡 can mean look around, but it doesn’t contain the nuance of restlessness. I can think of an idiom to describe that, though. (It’s 东张西望, if you’re interested.)
- The ten is the diagonal stroke on the left of 半, while the hidari-harai is the diagonal stroke on the right.