The clouds that had been hanging in the sky from the night before thickened in the morning, which cannot be said to be a perfect day for an event. Probably because the heat failed to escape in the night, it was humid and hot in the morning, causing me to be in considerably low spirits. Furthermore, I felt that the tanmen from yesterday was still in my stomach. That’s what I get for stuffing myself with something so spicy…
The appointed time was at one o’clock. Even with the condition of my stomach, it definitely wouldn’t be good to eat nothing. After lightly filling my stomach with some toast, I headed off. Since there would be an event at the shopping street, I was quite doubtful as to whether there would be any free spots at the bicycle parking area there, but I decided to go to Osanai-san’s house by bicycle anyway.
While the sun wasn’t showing its face, the temperature was still gradually increasing, causing me to feel languid and want to neglect everything. Since I had left the house with time to spare, there was no need for me to hurry, so I was absolutely unable to put much effort into pedalling. Even the gentle slope of the narrow back alley at the residential area was giving me problems.
On the way, I was unable to bear it any longer, and stopped at a convenience store to cool down, but I regrettably spent more time than expected. It was already one o’clock, or the time of our appointment, when I reached Osanai-san’s apartment building. Perhaps it was National Rudeness Week, for Kengo had been quite an impolite fellow the day before, and Osanai-san didn’t seem to be at home.
That said, I didn’t slam the locked metal door and head home dejectedly. I took the elevator to the third floor and rang the doorbell for Osanai-san’s residence, but the person who opened the door was not Osanai-san, but a woman with similar-looking eyes and a similarly shaped nose.
I had intruded on Osanai-san’s home multiple times, and in each of those instances, there had been no one else at home. I hadn’t really asked about her family situation, but I knew that both of her parents were working. Also, I realized that Osanai-san only invited me over whenever her family was not around. Since I thought that would also be the case for today, I was taken aback when someone other than Osanai-san appeared.
As my eyes widened in surprise, the woman spoke to me.
“Welcome. You must be Kobato-san.”
I didn’t mean to flatter her in such a cliched manner, but I truly thought that she was Osanai-san’s elder sister. However, I knew Osanai-san to be an only child. If so…
“Ah, nice to meet you. I am Kobato. Umm, you are Osanai-san’s…”
The woman gently smiled.
“I’m her mother.”
Of course. Osanai-san looking like a young elementary school student given her age must be thanks to her mother’s blood. That was the extent to which the woman in front of me didn’t look like she had a daughter who was in the second year of high school. She definitely couldn’t look like a high school student, but she might be able to pass off as a university student, depending on her outfit.
However, the warmth in her smile was the thing that was completely different from Osanai-san, whose smile was generally far removed from warmth.
I gave a light bow.
“Nice to meet you too… Um, is Osanai-san, I mean Yuki-san, in?”
She placed a hand on her cheek.
“That girl went out. I think she’ll be back soon, though.”
“She went out?”
It was Osanai-san who had set our meeting time, too… but well, perhaps something important suddenly cropped up. That happens. I could come again, or I could meet her directly at Sanya-dori. As I was having that thought, her mother opened the door wide.
“She asked me to let you in and wait for her if you arrive before she gets back. It might be a bit messy, but please come in.”
“Come, this way.”
If Osanai-san had asked her mother to relay the message for me to go in and wait for her, then she would probably be back soon. I felt ill at ease with this, but unreasonably rejecting such an offer is not befitting of a petit bourgeois. Sighing and stammering something along the lines of “Thank you”, I decided to take up the offer of going into Osanai-san’s house.
I was led to the living room.
The air conditioner was working well, causing my displeasure, which had been rising along with the Temperature-Humidity Index outside, to fall in an instant. As I thought, having a good environment is important. Just by getting some cool air, I could feel myself becoming more magnanimous.
I had been told at the entranceway that the house was a little messy, but that, as I expected, was a lie. Perhaps other areas were messy, but the living room was clean and tidy. Essentially, there were only a few items around, so it couldn’t be messy. However, as I was given a cushion and served cold barley tea, I started feeling a little comfortable as it was quite different from the other times I’d been over. Usually, I would think that Osanai-san’s home was too clean and didn’t seem lived in, giving it the feel of a hotel, but I didn’t have that feeling at all today. It hit me while I was drinking the barley tea. The lifelessness might not have been caused by the cleanliness of the room, but was probably due to Osanai-san herself. She was just quite a bit different from everyone else.
Then again, I was like that as well, and the main focus of our petit bourgeois plan was to rectify these areas.
I was also served some okaki1 in a tray, to which I responded by thanking Osanai-san’s mother for the gracious hospitality. She elegantly sat on the opposite side of the low table.
“Thank you for taking care of Yuki.”
She said and bowed. I should have returned a suitable polite salutation, but…
I had the feeling that I was being appraised. Just what is this strange sense of tension under that smile? She probably didn’t intentionally mean to stare at me, but I could feel myself being scrutinized by a feverish gaze. It even seemed like my hand that was raising and putting up the cup was being watched.
As I somehow managed to put on a smile, it hit me. Ah, I see. I should have realized. Of course, she’s evaluating the worm hanging around her beloved only daughter. However, her reply betrayed my conjecture.
“Good, you’re the proper sort of person.”
It was certainly an honor to win her favor, but she had probably misunderstood the relationship between me and Osanai-san. Of course, we’d aimed for such a misunderstanding to act as a cloak of invisibility in our school life, but what about our families thinking that way as well?
Unaware of my misgivings, she continued.
“She’s a meek girl, so I’m worried if she’s doing fine in school. We’re a dual-income family, so we haven’t had many chances to hear her talk about it…”
I continued with an encouraging tone.
“She seems to have quite a lot of friends. Also, with her bright personality, she’s liked by everyone.”
That was a rather huge exaggeration, but was not a lie. Osanai-san displayed an acceptable personality in school, so she had no enemies, to the best of my knowledge. While she seemed to have many friends, she didn’t have companions to do things together in the summer, which was exactly like me.
“Is that so? She seemed to be making more calls at night since the summer break started, so I was relieved that she managed to make some friends… but I wasn’t expecting her to have a boy friend.”
I looked at my wristwatch.
“…Do you know where Osanai-san went?”
She put a hand on her cheek.
“She went out in the morning. There was something she wanted to buy, she said. I thought that it was about time she returned, but… I’m really sorry. I wonder what that girl’s doing.”
The appointed time was one o’clock. By morning, Osanai-san’s mother could have meant twelve noon, but it was probably earlier than that. Osanai-san had been gone for at least an hour.
That was strange. She said she was going out to buy something, but we were about to go to the shopping district. She could have asked me to stop by a store while we were out if she wanted to buy something. Osanai-san usually wouldn’t refrain from doing that.
But she did, meaning that there was a good possibility that she really did go to a nearby shop to buy something small. Because it was nearby, she could go there even when she had an appointment with me. However, if that were the case, it was definitely strange for her to take more than one hour to complete that task.
Putting together the deductions, the result would be as such:
Osanai-san went out to buy something that isn’t sold nearby, but didn’t want to buy it together with me.
…Well, it’s not impossible to think of one or two such items. She would probably return sooner or later. It was certainly awkward, but I could still maintain a vague smile. I wasn’t like I was being interrogated with questions like, “What is your relationship with my daughter!” so I should avoid being so stiff.
We continued with trivial conversation in the living room. As if afraid that the silence that had once been broken would return, I was thrown topic after topic for the conversation, and I responded tactfully. In general, I was asked all about what Osanai-san was like in school, but I couldn’t tell any particularly interesting stories. I could have rattled off a few stories if she’d asked about Osanai-san during middle school, too. Although I wouldn’t.
I don’t know how long we spent conversing like that, but it was thankfully halted when the telephone rang.
I thought the ringing sound was coming from a mobile phone, but it as actually from the fixed telephone in the living room. We were just talking about Osanai-san’s homeroom teacher.
“Oh! Excuse me.”
She stood up and answered the telephone, which was just beside the television.
“Yes, Osanai speaking.”
Heaving a sigh of relief, I drained the last vestiges of the barley tea, then looked at my wristwatch. It was already a little past one thirty. Perhaps I should send an email to Osanai-san.
I retrieved my phone.
But at that moment…
A sharp cry reached my ears.
“Who are you!”
Osanai-san’s mother was tightly gripping the receiver, a tense look on her face. The diplomatic smile that was on her face earlier had disappeared. In face of the extraordinary situation, I also stopped moving.
After asking for the other person’s identity, she held the receiver without saying anything, apparently listening to whatever was being said on the other end. I pricked my ears, but all I could hear was the low whine of the air conditioner.
Finally, she burst out.
“Wait! Let me hear her voice!”
But there was no reply. She slowly put down the receiver.
This was no normal matter. I spoke in a solemn tone.
“Did something happen?”
The murmur that came out was weak, but was not incoherent. She picked up the receiver again, and used the speed dial function to make another phone call.
Ten seconds, twenty seconds… forty seconds, fifty seconds. Even after that long dial time, the other person didn’t accept the call. Finally, Osanai-san’s mother put down the receiver, seemingly having given up, and got startled, as if only noticing me for the first time.
“Did something happen to Osanai-san?”
Her response showed her distress, although she was trying to stifle it.
“It must be a prank, just a cruel prank from someone… They said that they caught Yuki, and they’ll return her without harm if we give them 5 million yen. They had a weird voice, like they were using a voice changer.”
They’ll return Osanai-san in exchange for money?
Is that basically what it means?
My voice was pathetically high-pitched.
“In other words… Osanai-san’s been kidnapped?”
She hesitated for a long time, as if she couldn’t understand what “kidnapped” meant.
But that turned out to be the truth in the end. She looked at me and nodded, then let her gaze wander around the room.
“Yes… yes, that’s it. Yuki got kidnapped…”
– The plan was executed on the 19th of August, at 12:50pm. Based on information from Kawamata, Isawa and two followers set up an ambush in Sanya-dori of Motoyoshi-chō in the municipality of Kira. The three of them spotted Osanai Yuki there, surrounded her and brought her to an alley, threatening her with violent words. They then walked her to the parking area in front of the train station by dragging her arm, whisked her into a car that was parked there, and left.
During that time, Osanai was curling up in fright, and could not give any comprehensible response. She resisted fiercely when they were about to put her in the car, but stopped after taking a beating from Isawa.
The incident occurred in the shopping district, and due to the Sanya-dori Festival that was taking place that day, the movement of cars was restricted. Many people went in and out of the area, but no one came to help. Traffic control officers had been stationed at the entrance and exit of the street, but they did not notice anything amiss.
Editors (Tier 2) : Joshua Fisher, _Maki
Assistants (Tier 1) : Definitelynotme, Rolando Sanchez
Thank you very much for all your support!