The 8th of August, Friday. The culprit of the serial arson case was arrested, and that news was reported on the television.
Since Hiya Yuuto was underage, the culprit’s name was displayed as “High School Student (17)”.
Apparently, the brave youth who captured the arsonist had disappeared without leaving his name.
The male passerby who called the police said that “he looked like a high school student”.
Thus, the impertinent brat was juxtaposed with the brave young man who saved the day.
However, the Kira City serial arson case was not heinous enough to become a widespread, everlasting story.
After the case ended, it was forgotten at a ridiculously quick rate.
Then summer ended, and autumn began.
I was reading Funado Monthly in the classroom until the appointed time.
Copies of Funado Monthly were not distributed on the day of the second trimester’s opening ceremony, and with not a word from the Newspaper Club a while after that, I’d assumed that there would be no September issue. It was only quite some time later that copies of Funado Monthly were distributed, as if they’d just remembered to do it. I had an idea of why they were late, so I was wondering if my guess was correct. As for the rest of my classmates… none of them were interested in something as dreary as school news in the first place.
There was an interview with a sports club that had an outstanding performance, an article regarding the volunteering activities of the Gardening Club. Each page was uneventful and boring as usual. Naturally, I headed straight for the column on the last page.
|(16 September – Funado Monthly, Page 8 Column)
This column has been writing about the serial arson attacks since February this year, and now the outcome of that case will be reported. On the 8th of August, the culprit was witnessed setting a fire, and was thereafter arrested. It is regrettable that he wasn’t caught earlier, but that was probably difficult since the town is big. According to the newspapers, the culprit admitted, “I did it because I was irritated. It was fun watching my friend make a big fuss about it every time (I started a fire).” It needn’t be said that the culprit is at fault, but the one who made a big fuss about it may have some small responsibility to bear. If that is so, there is some self-reflection to be done in this column.
It always elicited a dry laugh from me, no matter how many times I read it.
Itsukaichi-kun must have had quite some frustration pent up in him. The statement, “I did it because I was irritated. It was fun watching my friend make a big fuss about it every time (I started a fire).” was also reported in the national newspapers, and was even explained on television as “the result of modernity causing people to desire such connections in the midst of shallow human relationships”.
He was just a normal arsonist at the beginning. Frustrated at having to go to cram school multiple days in a row, or being weighed down by everyone’s expectations for him as a prodigy, and perhaps it could indeed be explained away as “the result of modernity”, but he initially set fires on a whim. He probably treated it as a small monthly distraction. Since he didn’t have any specific reasons, the first few fires were concentrated on the west side of the city, where he lived.
He set the fires late at night on Fridays because he had cram school until the late hours of the night on Fridays. I’d considered that fact, but I hadn’t noticed that August was part of the summer holidays, so cram school timings would change and would end earlier than usual. That was a failure on my part.
It was hard to tell if it was still true at the present day, but Hiya-kun eventually grew to enjoy setting things on fire and continuing it because Urino-kun was reporting on the incidents in his articles. On top of that, he followed Urino-kun’s articles for his arson attacks. Urino-kun based his articles on the Disaster Prevention Plan and triumphantly announced his findings. Seeing that, Hiya-kun set the fires at the predicted locations and probably even said something like, “That’s impressive, Urino-kun! You predicted it again!”
It wasn’t about having fun by causing a stir. Hiya-kun wholeheartedly thought Urino-kun to be an idiot, and was making fun of him. In that case, there was a good chance that the hammer marks at the crime scene were created just for Urino-kun’s sake.
Or perhaps he was simply a pathetic criminal who depended on someone else for his plans and lacked the self-discipline to control his stress relief.
It was probably a bit of both.
Urino-kun was continually fooled by his friend, thoroughly scolded by a girl he thought to be his lover during the summer vacation, and to add insult to injury, a club member of the same age that he thought to be a subordinate wrote an ironic article targeting him this month. He must be feeling that the entire world was against him. at this point. Up until recently, he’d thought of himself as a useful man of talent, too. Thinking of his future, even I felt sorry for him.
I looked up at the wall clock to see that it was time for me to leave. I stood up from my seat and returned the school newspaper in my hands to my bag. I could see that it was still bright outside the windows. The wind did bring hints of autumn, but the days were still long.
I exited to the corridor and walked past many students who were still in school. They were all faces I didn’t know, except for one girl, who put on a meaningful smile and approached me as our eyes met. It was Yoshiguchi-san.
Yoshiguchi-san’s ability to gather information from gossip had played a huge role in this case. Her name wasn’t widely known among the general student population, and while she might look like a normal female student, she was not to be underestimated. Come to think of it, people who should not be underestimated can be found almost everywhere. Even in this small high school, the useful and talented make accomplishments, while the rest fade away from the limelight. Somehow I’d made this mortal world feel like Shuraba1, but that wasn’t a problem for me right now.
Yoshiguchi-san probably already knew that my relationship with Osanai-san had been brought back to life.
As we passed each other, I could hear a murmur from her.
“Way to go!”
In her eyes, I probably looked like I was the victor who’d stolen Osanai-san away from Urino-kun. In the past, I was fine with that. Since we were just in a symbiotic relationship, it was actually beneficial for rumors about us to spread.
I didn’t really want a misunderstanding like that to spread.
As I was scratching my cheek and walking down the stairs with that thought, I noticed Osanai-san waiting at the stairwell. She was idly leaning on a wall and swinging her legs, so I went to her in a small trot.
“Sorry to make you wait.”
Osanai-san slowly shook her head.
“It’s fine. I like waiting.”
“So, what are we doing today?”
I was called out via email, but I had no idea what for. Osanai-san’s emails were always outrageously abbreviated, and today’s email simply read, “Stairwell at 4?” Though I had to admit it was well abbreviated since I understood its contents.
“Y’know, Ouan started selling autumn-exclusive kuri kinton. But for that shop, they’ll send you to the counter if you’re alone, right? I want to slowly enjoy it in a box, so…”
Basically, she was saying that she wanted me to come along just to make up the numbers.
Well, that was just like Osanai-san.
I’d been to the Japanese-style cafe Ouan once. It was last year, and I was with Osanai-san during that time. There was also an instance when I thought of bringing Nakamaru-san here, though I couldn’t remember exactly when it was, or why we ended up not going into the shop.
Ouan was located on the first storey of an old building. Its décor was based on a shade of black and red that make me think of lacquer and Bengal Red. When the two of us walked in, the waitress said, “Please follow me to your seats,” and led us to a box, as expected.
On the wall was a small strip of paper with the words “New Summer Exclusive – Kuri Kinton”. I thought that was it, but Osanai-san picked up the menu and read it intently. She was looking at it so seriously that I wondered if there was some sort of secret code written on it, but she eventually put it down and sighed.
“I suppose I’ll have the ice cream combination next time.”
She was talking to herself. Osanai-san would be able to easily demolish both the kuri kinton and the ice cream combination, but she was holding back for some reason. Was it perhaps for some feminine, aesthetic reason?
The waitress who was wearing what looked like a kappogi2 first took Osanai-san’s order.
“Kuri kinton and matcha3 set, please.”
“I’ll have the same.”
Perhaps because it was an exclusive product, the kuri kinton set was quite pricey. Well, I guess it’s fine once in a while.
We killed time by talking about the weather and mock exams. Eventually, the kuri kinton sets were brought in on trays. The matcha was served in a type of tea bowl called shirashino, if I wasn’t mistaken. On a lacquered square plate lay two pieces of kuri kinton. Each piece was quite large, and in an astringent yellow. They were in the shape of a squeezed tea cloth, and it was cute that they each had a small, elegant horn sticking out. The kuri kinton came with kuromoji4, which was certainly more tasteful than a fork or spoon.
“Ah, about that… Wait, it’s here.”
It was as if she’d found a drop of water in a desert.
“You were looking forward to it that much?”
“Yup. I’ve always wanted to eat it since I told you the other time.”
“The other time?”
Did we talk about kuri kinton before? I tilted my head as Osanai-san’s hand, which was holding a kuromoji, stopped.
“Ah, sorry. We never talked about it.”
I see. That must mean that the one she’d talked to about this was Urino-kun.
In the past, Nakamaru-san had gotten angry at me for knowing too much about cafes, and called me insensitive. Now that a similar situation happened to me, I didn’t get angry, but it certainly made me falter.
For the time being, I drank some matcha. Osanai-san, on the other hand, started on the kuri kinton, having waited so eagerly for them. Using the kuromoji, she sliced a piece into half and brought it to her mouth.
She went into a blissful trance. She was smiling so defenselessly that one might think that it would be the perfect opportunity to stab her.
Imitating her, I brought half a piece of kuri kinton into my mouth.
Ah, so that was why.
It was amazing; an explosion of taste in my mouth. I often ate roasted chestnuts, but after eating this kuri kinton, roasted chestnuts started tasting bland. It didn’t have a heavy, strong taste, but only had a faint one, and yet it was so delicious that I also naturally loosened my cheeks and broke into a smile.
While the kuri kinton was mild in sweetness, it wasn’t bitter. With its slippery texture, it continually threatened to collapse in my mouth. Although it was soft, it wasn’t sticky, and although it broke apart in flakes, it did not feel powdery. Perhaps due to the lack of fat as compared to other western confectionery, it didn’t seem too rich at all.
I might actually like Japanese sweets more than western ones. Out of the desserts that Osanai-san had shared with me, this gem was vying for first or second place.
Osanai-san sighed, then took a sip of matcha. Concentration returned to her eyes, as if she’d finally regained her consciousness.
“Was it ever this good?”
“Compared to what it’s like normally?”
“Yup. This year must be a banner year. It’ll be the best season for chestnuts soon, so it could become even more delicious.”
She sliced another half of the remaining kuri kinton half, and enjoyed that quarter. I could understand why she wanted to do that. It would be a waste to wolf a big piece down.
Eventually, one kuri kinton disappeared from our plates, and one remained. At that moment, the two of us took hold of our tea bowls in unison.
I saw it. For just a short moment, Osanai-san was sharply focused on my remaining kuri kinton. She was aiming for that. If I took a trip to the washroom, I would return to see an empty plate. I casually drew my tray closer to me, but that was enough to convey my sense of caution. After a short sigh, Osanai-san put down her tea bowl.
“Kobato-kun, do you know how kuri kinton is made?”
I seemed to remember something from the New Year Special on television. Dredging up that hazy memory, I replied.
“It’s boiled in sugared water, isn’t it?”
“That’s for osechi5…”
Once again, she eyed my kuri kinton like a wolf aiming for its prey.
“Does it really look like it was stewed in soy sauce and sugar?”
Now that she mentioned it, the kuri kinton didn’t seem like mere boiled chestnut. It was probably crushed, then squeezed by a tea cloth.
“I remember Muramatsu House selling some Japanese sweet that has a similar shape called kuri chakin.”
I muttered, but Osanai-san immediately retorted.
“This is this, that is that.”
I thought they were the same thing… well, there might be various ways to call it.
After tipping her tea bowl and putting it back on the tray, she continued.
“For this, boiled chestnuts are pureed, then mixed with sugar and cooked over low heat. Then, with only the water content extracted from the chestnuts as a binding agent, it is squeezed with a tea cloth. Simple, isn’t it?”
“On paper, yes.”
“It is really simple. You can even make them at home if you have chestnuts. But…”
She looked at my plate again. Even though there was still one kuri kinton on her plate!
“It wouldn’t be so delicious. They must have some secret formula.”
There had to be some deviation from the normal recipe. While it might simply be a difference in quality for the chestnuts and sugar used, they could have added something else into the recipe, and in that case no amateur would be able to figure it out.
Osanai-san reached out for the kuromoji she’d put down earlier. I thought that she was finally making a move for my plate, but she suddenly withdrew her hand. She looked at me with a feverish face and asked another question.
“So, do you know how marron glacé is made?”
I honestly replied.
“What’s marron glacé?”
It seemed that she hadn’t expected my response. Clearly at a loss for words, Osanai-san tilted her head.
“Er… it’s something like a western kuri kinton, I think.”
“They’re similar in that they both use chestnuts, but apart from that their recipes are completely different.”
I kept quiet and waited for her to continue. She always seemed happy when talking about sweets, so I didn’t want to rain on her parade.
“You boil the chestnut, peel it, then soak it in syrup. You’ll get a sugary membrane surrounding the chestnut. Next, you need to soak it in a slightly thicker syrup. With this, you get another sugary membrane on top of the first sugary membrane. Then you soak it again in another slightly thicker syrup, forming another membrane… You repeat this again and again.”
Isn’t kuromame6 here in Japan made with a similar method, by concentrating the sugared water the beans are soaked in? Then again, having never cooked osechi, I held no confidence in that claim.
“Actually, that outer sugary membrane isn’t important. It’s just sugar, after all. But while making that membrane…”
Our eyes met.
“At some time during that process, the chestnut itself becomes sweet.”
I also put down my tea bowl.
“Does the chestnut have to become sweet?”
“I don’t think it has to, but it’s naturally bitter. Then again, there may be some people who like it that way.”
“So sugar is added to make it easy to eat for everyone.”
Osanai-san was talking about ways to turn a naturally bitter chestnut into a dessert that everyone loves.
For kuri kinton, the chestnut is boiled, crushed and pureed, then cooked with sugar.
For marron glacé, the chestnut is soaked in increasingly sweeter syrup until the core itself turns sweet as well.
With a vague melancholy, she asked.
“Which one do you prefer, Kobato-kun?”
I understood what she was trying to say, but I could unfortunately only give one kind of answer. With a slight hint of jest, I replied.
“I haven’t had marron glacé before.”
Osanai-san must have predicted my answer, for she grinned.
“I’ll treat you to some next time, then.”
She picked up the kuromoji, then sliced her second kuri kinton in two. The halved kuri kinton did not collapse on the plate.
I understood all too well. Osanai-san was talking about ways to turn bitter, self-proclaimed petit bourgeois into people that would not be shunned by others.
One method was to be with a lover as sweet as syrup, thus turning sweet while wearing a sweet coating. Osanai-san had clearly stated that she was expecting this method to bear fruit.
But in the end, it didn’t go well. The marron glacé method failed.
Perhaps we have to be boiled and crushed for the bad taste within us to be properly removed. And while we had already been beaten and crushed multiple times before, we apparently had not been pureed enough.
My dear kuri kinton, it may have taken a while, but you’ve certainly turned out to be delicious.
Come to think of it, there was also something I wanted to talk about, so I decided to speak at this perfect opportunity.
“By the way, can I ask you something?”
“Sure… what is it?”
Osanai-san was holding the kuromoji, about to slice the already halved kuri kinton into four. She clearly showed dissatisfaction at being talked to. Sorry for bothering you, but I’ll end this quickly.
“I recently went to the elevated railway in Ueno Town, and I waited for a train to arrive. It made a really loud sound, but it wasn’t unbearable.”
“That’s good. I heard that those with a high tolerance for noise can get cheap housing if they go to university.”
“That’s true. But what I want to discuss is not lodging, but about that night.”
Still holding the kuromoji, Osanai-san swiveled her eyes towards me.
“Yes, the night of the arson in May.”
Her eyes immediately returned to the kuri kinton.
“Urino-kun argued that you were in Ueno Town that night. You thought the incident occurred on a Friday, which was a mistake caused by you seeing the broken clock near the crime scene. That’s why you were at the crime scene that night, or at least that’s how his argument goes… Osanai-san, you evaluated Urino-kun as ‘foolish’, and I wouldn’t rate him highly either. His point about the clock might have been a fluke, but it wasn’t bad, since you had actually been to that area.”
She cautiously lowered the kuromoji and cleanly quartered it such that it opened up like a blooming flower.
“But he said something else. That night, he received a phone call from you, but the train sounds were too loud, so you couldn’t communicate. Because he had already delivered his argument about the broken clock, Urino-kun paid little attention to the train sounds. However…
“Train sounds can be heard next to the tracks. The crime scene was next to the tracks. Thus, Osanai-san was at the crime scene. If Urino-kun hadn’t noticed the clock, this is probably how he would have argued his case.”
Osanai-san deeply pierced her kuromoji into one of the kuri kinton quarters and silently moved it to her mouth.
“In other words, he gained an important clue, of the train sounds on the other side of the phone call. But in reality, the train sounds aren’t that loud. It’s a minor detail, but I became a little curious about that.”
Osanai-san didn’t say anything. Even if she wanted to say anything, she was too busy tasting the kuri kinton. It would have been good if she could explain it herself, but since I had no choice, I continued.
“So, I gave it some thought. It is a fact that you were at the crime scene. It is also a fact that you couldn’t talk due to the sound of the train. If so, the lie would definitely be in that sound. It’s quite simple. With just one piece of audio reproduction equipment, you can instantly play it back. Or you could have waited for a train at Kira Train Station since it’s not that far.
“But this brings up a new question – why did you hold a tape recorder to the mouthpiece of your mobile phone?”
Apparently enjoying the taste of chestnut, Osanai-san let out a sigh of pleasure. Then, she said, “I think tape recorders are a little old-fashioned.”
She used a tape recorder just last summer, didn’t she…
“The reason is this: to appeal to Urino-kun that you were in Ueno Town.”
Again, there was no reply. Osanai-san was quick to start eating again, and had casually popped another piece into her mouth.
On the other hand, I planned to slowly enjoy mine after finishing our talk. For now, I moistened my throat with some matcha.
“Urino-kun remembered that phone call. At a later time, this is what he thought: ‘What if Osanai is the arsonist? Come to think of it, wasn’t the phone call in May strange? Ah, what the heck! It’s so clear now that I think about it. Osanai Yuki was at the crime scene on that day!’”
I might have overacted a little. Osanai’s gaze, which was directed slightly upwards, was awfully cold.
I cleared my throat.
“Basically, the train sounds in that phone call can be said to be a method to incite Urino-kun to accuse you.”
“For some reason, you wanted Urino-kun to say, ‘You’re the culprit.’ On top of that, you wanted to perform a cruel refutation like the one you did in summer. It was an act to smash his self-esteem to smithereens.
“His self-esteem, being unaccompanied by actual ability, was a nuisance to others. He would have been taken down a few pegs sooner or later. To some extent, that could even be considered an act of kindness. But what you did was too much. It wasn’t just a warning.”
We were having a fun, thrilling conversation while enjoying an exquisite dessert.
This kind of after-school activity could only be described as “wonderful”.
I believed Osanai-san. After learning that she was engaging in secret maneuvers behind the Newspaper Club’s back, I was convinced that it was some sort of retaliation towards something. Osanai-san’s explanation was that she wanted to know what love is, which was why she secretly helped Urino-kun.
That was probably true. However…
“I only noticed it after sorting out all the information from the case, but your actions changed in May. Before that, you might have been helping him as the power behind the scenes, but that changed in May. When Urino-kun accused you, his rationale was entirely based on events that occurred in May and beyond.”
Osanai-san placed a third piece into her mouth. For the first time today, she raised her head, looked at me straight in the eye and nodded.
I couldn’t tell which statement she was agreeing with, though.
“In May, or perhaps in April, your thinking changed, and you started your revenge against Urino-kun, to get him to falsely accuse you.”
Now for the question I wanted to ask. Leaning forward a little, I asked.
“I wonder if you could tell me… what did Urino-kun do to deserve this?”
Osanai-san still had a quarter of a kuri kinton left on her square plate. She reached out with her kuromoji for that last piece, but stopped. She tilted her head, straightened it, then shifted her gaze.
She was now looking at her prey, or my kuri kinton.
I was being wordlessly pressed for a negotiation, and it seemed that I’d regrettably chosen the wrong time to talk about this. It was a poor move to request something of her while the bargaining chip was still on the table. With painful reluctance, I pushed my square plate forward.
Apparently satisfied with that, Osanai-san gave a small nod and took a sip of matcha.
“I thought that you would understand, Kobato-kun.”
My kuri kinton was now being pulled towards her.
“That was the first time I truly took revenge since I entered high school. The Case of the Spring-Exclusive Strawberry Tart was just me getting my own back, while in the Case of the Summer-Exclusive Tropical Parfait, I acted in self-defense. Those are not cases of revenge.
“Revenge is when you cultivate a sense of defeat in the target, make them think their actions to be foolish and forcing them to understand how powerless they are.
“I know that I’m a bad liar. But I really don’t like going this far. I only did it this time because I thought that I had to. I don’t do this all the time.”
I had my own values, just as Osanai-san had hers. Even if we were together again, it would still take some time for us to understand each others’ values again.
But would we be able to? There were only six months to graduation.
“So, did Urino-kun commit some sort of unforgivable crime?”
“It was absolutely unforgivable. You know…”
With the intact kuri kinton in front of her, Osanai-san put on a gentle grin.
“He tried to kiss me without consent!”
Assistants (Tier 1) : Rolando Sanchez
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- The battlefield where Asura (demigods with three heads and four or six arms) and Śakra (ruler of the Trāyastriṃśa Heaven) fought. Usually, this means “a situation you want to run away from”, but I think Kobato is going for the Buddhist scripture meaning here.
- A type of smock going down to the wearer’s knees and with baggy sleeves to protect kimono from stains when cooking.
- Similar to green tea but with a richer, more intense flavor.
- Traditional Japanese toothpicks, though “toothpick” might be a misnomer because they are only used for cutting Japanese sweets and/or bringing them to your mouth.
- Traditional Japanese new year foods that consisted only of boiled vegetables with soy sauce and sugar or mirin in the earliest days.
- Simmered black beans, part of osechi.