I was lying on the sofa and reading a bunkobon in the well air-conditioned living room. I was wearing a pair of short pants and a running shirt, sloppy attire by anyone’s standards, but it was fine, since I was in my own home, which didn’t contain anyone except for me. No one would have complained if I wore only a pair of trunks, but well, that’s a little too much even for me.
I’d been dragged around by Osanai-san quite frequently in this summer break, but there were no plans today. We’d gone through this desserts pilgrimage at an extremely high pace; only half the summer break had passed, and we were only left with the top three stores. Going for the Special Sunday at fifth place the other day was quite awful. I had been told that they served delicious sundae at a food corner in a station on a road along a bypass, but it was so far away that I went limp with fatigue. We went out for an afternoon snack at three o’clock, but when I finally got home, the sun was already setting, even though the days are long in the summer. I could get some much-needed rest today.
I hadn’t expected much from the book I was currently reading, but after opening it after breakfast, I just couldn’t put it down. It didn’t exactly give me strong emotions at every moment, but it kept pulling me in and always compelled me to wonder what would happen next. The unassuming writing style also allowed me to read comfortably without even pausing for lunch. This is what you would call being lost in a good book, I suppose. The story had finally reached its climax, and I had an inkling that the foreshadowing done earlier would meticulously bring the story to its closure, but I had no idea what exactly was being foreshadowed. As I’d expected, the fate of the protagonist was left to the final chapter, and I was about to continue when I was rudely interrupted.
It was a phone call. My mobile phone was sitting in my room, but the fixed-line phone was ringing, What a nuisance, I thought as I cursed the caller, thinking that it would be just another worthless solicitation. Unwillingly, I slid off the sofa and picked up the receiver.
“Is this Kobato-kun’s residence? I am Doujima.”
…Ah, seriously, I don’t even get a phone call from him every year, and he decides to call me right before the final chapter. What a man with poor timing! Without controlling my voice, I answered in a disgruntled manner.
“Kengo, huh. What is it? You could have sent me an email.”
But as expected of Kengo, he didn’t mind me being so uncharacteristically brusque.
“I did, but you didn’t respond.”
“Well, I don’t have my mobile phone on me all the time.”
“Were you in the middle of something?”
“I was engrossed.”
“…You were what?”
I sighed. My mood was ruined. I decided to leave the final chapter for later at night, when I would be able to slowly read it without anyone bothering me.
“Never mind. So, what do you need me for?”
It must be something quite significant, I thought. Even by the biggest overestimation, the two of us could not be considered close friends, so for Kengo to intentionally make a phone call to my house number, he must surely have some important business with me. I hadn’t done a post-event report since he asked me to do a stakeout at the hamburger shop. It should probably be about that.
“Have you had lunch?”
“…Not yet. Why?”
“Good. I’ll be going out for some tanmen1, so come with me.”
An invitation to lunch? Hahaha, pull the other one.
I cleared my throat. In an easy-to-understand manner, I replied.
“I see. That’s interesting. So, what do you need me for?”
An indignant voice could be heard over the receiver.
“I’m not joking. Well, I’ll tell you the details when you come over. I’ll treat you.”
“Jougorou, you aren’t going to be so impudent as to say that you can’t eat ramen in the middle of summer, right? Bring a towel to wipe your sweat. It’s hot in the shop.”
Osanai-san’s dessert pilgrimage was certainly tough, but at least it was smart. We were sitting on stylish tables and going “Delicious” and “Yes, delicious”, after all. There’s quite a gap between that and eating tanmen with a thickset, coarse and uncultured man in the afternoon, the two of us equipped with towels, right? I’m so happy, I can almost cry.
“If you’re going to tell me the details when I get there, it means you have something to say. I’ll listen on the phone.”
It was swelteringly hot today, and apparently so was the shop, after all.
But Kengo said something strange.
“Just come over. I’ll let you hear about a grievance I have.”
A grievance, huh.
Since that way of speaking was just like Kengo, I almost laughed. It just meant that he wanted to complain to someone, but when I mentioned that to him, he immediately rejected my assertion, saying, “No, it is a grievance that I have!”, which was dignified, or perhaps silly of him. I decided to respect him being true to himself.
“Alright, I’ll go. Which shop is it?”
“Do you know ‘Kinryuu’2?”
I knew. It was a ramen shop built next to Funado High School, and was frequented by purveyors of the sports clubs. It was lined by swivel chairs with vinyl upholstery. This, when I’d just been to Ouan, with its refined wooden tables, and enjoyed Japanese-style ice cream while listening to the shishi-odoshi3.
“I can reach in about thirty minutes.”
Osanai-san doesn’t really count, but with Kengo calling me to meet him in person, I’m quite popular this summer, aren’t I? Well, as a male, going out for tanmen is a lot more normal than going out for cake, and thus can be said to be more fitting for a little citizen. Then again, I don’t think I’ll be able to continue reading my book at the counter of the ramen shop with Kengo sitting next to me.
The sign for Kinryuu, framed by yellow light bulbs, hung on a wall of the building that was dilapidated and even had some fractures running through it. I reached the front of the shop in the swelteringly hot weather that was like a scorching hell compared to the living room, in which I had lowered the temperature as much as I’d wanted. I would have obediently followed Kengo’s advice, but bringing out a towel was just too embarrassing for me, so I settled with a pocket towel.
Kengo was standing firmly next to the door, his arms folded. He was clad in a white-and-green rugby shirt and khaki pants. While it was just an outfit, he really did look like he was a player on the rugby team. He glared at me with a frown on his face as I parked my bicycle.
“So you’ve come.”
“Thanks for the treat.”
“Since this is a rare occasion, let’s eat to our heart’s content… Come on, let’s go.”
With a solemn tone, he spoke, unfolded his arms and opened the door.
A voice rang out as we were walking in. It came from a bearded man who was larger than even Kengo, and who had been stuffed into a white chef’s outfit. Undaunted, Kengo also raised his voice.
“Two bowls of tanmen, extra-spicy, extra-large!”
“Two bowls of tanmen, extra-spicy, extra-large coming up!”
“Er, Kengo, I’m not sure about extra-spicy…”
I received a slap on my back.
“Don’t worry. It’s not so spicy that your tongue will die from it.”
“That might be true for you, but I’m not sure about myself.”
“You won’t die.”
Well, of course spicy food doesn’t kill anyone, but I wonder if my pocket towel is enough? Behind the counter, an air-conditioning unit that was approximately as long as I was tall groaned on, so the interior of the shop was not as hot as Kengo had implied it to be.
Since it was already quite late for lunch, there was no one else in the shop. I took a seat at one of the swivel chairs.
I’d been a little suspicious during the phone call earlier, but I immediately understood upon meeting him directly. Kengo was a little strange today. As a blockhead who lacked an attention to detail and could never read the room, he was usually an uncouth male student with a sulky look on his face. While dragging me out without asking about my situation was just like him, he was awfully excited today. Rather than being in a good mood, he seemed to be somewhat desperate. Well, I suppose that was why he said that he would let me listen to a grievance of his.
After rubbing his hands hard with a wet towel, Kengo put a slight smile on his square face. It was an ironic smile that did not fit him at all.
“Sorry for suddenly calling you out.”
“You weren’t doing anything, right?”
“Why do you think that? I’ve been quite busy this summer.”
“Busy? You were really busy?”
“Well… it’s just that I had no plans today, but Osanai-san has been bringing me around. It could be parfait one day, and sundae the next.”
Wait, how are those two desserts different again?
“Osanai-san, you say?”
With a smirk, Kengo continued.
“You two are real chummy, huh?”
Chummy? According to my relationship with Osanai-san, me being invited that much is a clearly weird state of affairs. However, it was simply troublesome to tell Kengo such a subtlety, and more significantly, I had already become numb to that, having experienced it way too many times over the course of this summer. I shrugged and made my reply.
“So? Shall we hear what you have to say?”
“Well, I suppose. I’ve thought about it, but having you listen to grievances is the second most suitable thing for you.”
“Second? What’s the first?”
“Digging a hole and shouting to fill the hole back up.”
But if a reed grows on top of the hole, a grievance will be heard every time the wind blows4. I didn’t think it was as good a method as Kengo thought it to be, but it being at second place was just incomprehensible to me.
“Why don’t you just tell your girlfriend? Umm… Kawamata-san, was it?”
Kengo stiffened. I thought he was embarrassed, but I was wrong. He answered in a self-depreciating manner.
“Kawamata’s not my girlfriend, and anyway, this is about her. What use would it be to talk to the person involved here?”
He suddenly looked up.
“How do you know about Kawamata?”
“What do you mean? Didn’t you tell me about her at the burger shop in front of the train station?”
“Yeah, you were telling me about Kawamata-san’s younger sister; Kasumi-san was her name, right? I listened up to the point where you said you were taking action due to Kasumi-san’s request.”
“I told you that much…?”
He tilted his head in confusion. Well, he seemed to be quite out of it when he divulged that information back then, so it’s no wonder that he couldn’t remember.
I rested my arms on the red counter. In the kitchen, the chef was emptying a colander5 that contained a large amount of vegetables, green peppers, carrots, onions, cabbage and bean sprouts, into a wok, causing the loud sound of crashing water to reverberate around the entire shop.
“So? What did that one mere girl do to you, the renowned Doujima Kengo?”
With an even more dissatisfied look, Kengo wrapped his right fist in his left hand, as if having mustered his resolve.
“I don’t remember telling you her name, but I did tell you that I was trying to get her away from hanging out with those ill-natured characters, right?”
“Yes, you told me that.”
Kengo went silent for a while, as if unsure of what to say, then spoke again in a small voice.
“I was driven away.”
“That’s a shame. Then again, there’s no helping it if the person in question is joining the group on her own accord.”
“Do you think I would be feeling down if that were the case?”
I thought for a moment. Would Kengo feel down because that Kawamata person threw herself onto a “bad path” as she wanted, and he was unable to save her?
“…I think you would, though.”
The fragrance of stir-fried vegetables started wafting over. The chef, whose sleeves were rolled up, was expertly shaking the wok, causing the ingredients within to be tossed around. The wok collided with a kettle stand, producing a clattering noise.
Kengo smiled wrly.
“You based your thinking on how I was like in elementary school, didn’t you?”
“No, but that’s totally my line.”
“If someone wants to mess around with drugs by choice, I’d think that it’s none of my business telling them what to do. Since I was asked to help, I should try lending a helping hand, but that was actually what I thought at the beginning. If I’m driven away like that, then perhaps it’s not my place to do anything more.”
I was honestly surprised. I never thought that Doujima Kengo would be able to let go of an incident like this. He did show his dissatisfaction, so I should probably change my perception of him.
“…But Kawamata herself wanted to pull out. That was how she felt in her heart, anyway. Jougorou, you’re from Takada Middle School, right? Do you know of the people who got officially reprimanded for drugs in your school?”
“I know. I was even wondering if I should tell you about it.”
“Oh, so you do know about it.”
Kengo snorted. I wasn’t trying to hide it from him, but I felt a little ashamed for not telling him earlier.
The chef’s movements started becoming more frenzied. That was because there was only one person operating the shop, so he had to stir-fry the vegetables, pour soup into bowls and boil the noodles on his own. The noodles cannot be boiled for too long, and the vegetables cannot be stir-fried too much, so timing is key… It was probably manageable for only two customers, but I wonder how the chef handles it during the busy periods. Looking around, I noticed a piece of paper stuck on a wall with the following words in large text: “Cooking assistant urgently needed! Excellent salary, subject to negotiation.”
“Apparently, the leader who was reprimanded, Isawa, was always suspicious of Kawamata snitching on them. She found Kawamata this year, and threatened her considerably. Kawamata said that she was hit by a full swing from a wrench.”
It would depend on the size of the wrench, but that’s quite some murderous intent.
“It wasn’t Kawamata who snitched on them, but she felt so scared deep down that she couldn’t leave even if she wanted to. I somehow found all that out, but…”
He looked up and stared at the ceiling.
“I’m really at a loss. I tried to persuade her, but she didn’t believe me at all. She even initially thought that I was asked by Isawa to investigate if she was the one who betrayed them. I’ve poked my nose into all sorts of affairs, but this is the first time I’m not given even a milligram of belief.”
“You were requested by her little sister, right? Wouldn’t it have been fine if you just brought up her name?”
“Of course I did. I even had the person in question attest to that. But then she said as such: she understood her sister’s concerns, but even if I told her to get out, would I protect her around the clock? She was convinced that Isawa was crazy and would kill her on a whim if she silently pulled out of the group.
“Can I tell such a frightened person that I would protect them? We’re not in a manga, so I can’t be called with a summoning flute. In the first place, I don’t have an obligation to do that… In the end, all I could do was return with a heavy heart.”
He let out a deep sigh.
Kengo sure works hard. Even though it was just a request from a younger girl, he was really putting in a lot of effort for it. However, there was just no helping it that his attempt to persuade Kawamata-san hadn’t been successful. Based on what he said, Kengo didn’t seem to have any materials at all to persuade her with.
“And that’s why you’re feeling down?”
But Kengo shook his head.
“No. It’s true that I couldn’t get anything significant done, but I don’t back down so easily as to give up after just one try. I wondered if there was anything I could do, and I met up with her once more. Jougorou, can you guess what she said to me?”
I thought for a while. He must have been flatly rejected.
“Did she say that you were being an annoyance?”
“No… I was called a hindrance.”
With a distant look, Kengo stared at the chef who was raising the noodles and draining the hot water from it without hesitation. At the same time, he murmured in a self-depreciating manner.
“I didn’t quite come to grips with the problem. I wasn’t willing to be covered with sparks to save Kawamata Sanae. That’s just hypocritical…”
I felt sorry for Kengo. Being a self-righteous person, he would often offer assistance where it wasn’t necessary. However, his simple-minded initiative was certainly fascinating to witness, as he would act first rather than hesitate. I couldn’t let him be shackled by a term like “hypocritical”. That’s a word that is a lot more interesting when used by a cynical kind of person.
It seemed that Kengo’s grievance-telling had ended. The extra-large, extra-spicy tanmen were also ready, as two white bowls were placed in front of us.
“Here’s the tanmen, extra-large, extra-spicy. Thanks for waiting!”
…Vegetables stood in a conical formation like soft-serve in basin-sized bowls. I couldn’t even see the soup or noodles.
While I did have a decrease in appetite in the height of summer, I couldn’t help but be roused when such an invigorating dish was placed before my eyes. I spoke while taking a pair of disposable chopsticks.
“Well, that happens. You’ll be able to figure something out. Thanks for the meal.”
With that consolation devoid of any meaning, I split the chopsticks, and Kengo lightly nodded in response.
“Sorry for all that boring talk.”
I was about to say that he didn’t have to worry, but then I suddenly got a little curious.
“…So, Kengo, why did you I’m suitable for listening to your grievance? If you can’t share it with Kawamata Kasumi, you must have a few friends in the Newspaper Club, right?”
“Ah, about that.”
He replied smoothly, as if it was just a simple matter.
“The people at the Newspaper Club are generally good people. If I share this grievance with them, they would definitely spare no effort in proving me innocent.
“As for you, you won’t show me much sympathy or give me a poorly-worded consolation. I had no doubt that you would half-heartedly listen and forget about it afterwards.”
…What a mean way of putting it.
If that’s so, you could have just told all that to a Jizo statue6. Seriously, Doujima Kengo is fundamentally so rude towards me.
Also picking up a pair of chopsticks, Kengo slapped his thighs loudly and shouted.
“Hey, Jougorou! So, you can’t help but eat this, right? Is there any other food in the world that would give you this feeling more than the tanmen at Kinryuu!”
“Yes, yes, I understand, so let’s eat.”
“Right, thanks for the food! Excuse me, two lunch specials, please!”
Two? One for me, too?
Fine, I get it. I’ll eat. I’ll eat it all. Before tackling the mountain of vegetables, I pushed the soup spoon into the bowl and scooped up a spoonful of soup, which I sipped.
Editors (Tier 2) : Joshua Fisher, _Maki
Assistants (Tier 1) : Definitelynotme, Rolando Sanchez, empra
Thank you very much for all your support!
- Stir-fried pork and vegetables on top of ramen and soup.
- The name translates literally as “gold dragon”.
- A type of water fountain consisting of a segmented tube, usually of bamboo, pivoted to one side of its balance point. At rest, its heavier end is down and resting against a rock. A trickle of water into the upper end of the tube accumulates and eventually moves the tube’s centre of gravity past the pivot, causing the tube to rotate and dump out the water. The heavier end then falls back against the rock, making a sharp sound, and the cycle repeats.
- I’m not very sure what Kobato means here, but I suspect it’s a reference to the Japanese proverb “to look at the ceiling through a reed”, which means to have a narrow view of things.
- A colander is a kitchen utensil used to strain foods such as pasta or to rinse vegetables. The perforated nature of the colander allows liquid to drain through while retaining the solids inside.
- Small stone statues shaped like children or depictions of Buddha, these are made in the image of Jizo Bosatsu, guardian deity of children and travelers.