Ever since I was young, I have always been bad at reading.
Of course, books that were typed out were even more of a no-go for me. After long periods of constantly flipping through the pages while reading every single word, I would feel extremely frustrated for some reason. My heart would scream as it pounded in my chest, my palms would be covered in sweat, and in the end, I would end up in a terrible mood. I could say that I had bibliophobia…
As a result, I constantly suffered in school. Regardless of the subject, there were always textbooks with printed words on them. Taking notes during lessons were alright but my English and Modern Language grades were horrible since I had to memorize them. I could feel the hairs on my neck stand whenever I heard the term ‘Reading Comprehension’.
I told my teachers and my mother about my problem, but all I got was some encouragement as they told me that it could not be helped that I hated books. They told me that since it was natural for people to have their own strengths and weaknesses, that I shouldn’t worry too much.
I was really grateful for their reassuring words, but it was a total misinterpretation of my problem. It wasn’t that I hated reading books but that I just couldn’t keep reading even if I wanted to. Whenever I start to read, my body would start to resist.
Part of the reason why this misunderstanding was never cleared was because not only was I bad at explaining, I looked as if I had no relations with reading at all. Wherever I went, my large, tall, and muscular figure just looked so outstanding. Anyone who saw me would think that I was a physical-type. I was always chosen to take part in games, meets, and sports festivals and I would often be invited to join sports clubs.
However, I had no real interest in sports. I wanted to read. I often took up the role of a library committee member, and did not feel that it was tedious to tidy up the library books as much everyone thought. At the time, I enjoyed staring at the spines of the books from one end of the bookshelf. There was no problem if I merely imagined the contents instead of opening the pages.
By the way, this ‘nature’ did not come naturally. There is a reason behind this thinking. It is a story about Sōseki’s complete collection, and a prelude to my story.
It was something that happened before I entered primary school. On a soppy day in spring, I was reading alone in the guest room on the second floor.
I suppose I should introduce my home.
My home is located in Ōfuna, a place located right between Yokohama City and Kamakura City and was a must-see tourist spot for those riding the East Japan Railway Company line from Tokyo.
There was a large Guanyin statue on the hill near Ōfuna station1. It looked very impressive when lit by light, but the white face that protruded between the trees was somewhat scary. However, except for this Guanyin watching over the land 24 hours a day, it was a rather plain town.
In the past, there used to be another treasured attraction other than the Guanyin statue. It was the cinematography studio, one of the rare few in Japan. It was abandoned when I entered middle school, but I would often hear my grandmother mention about it. It once supported the Golden Age of Japanese cinematography, but I did not know anything about it as I was not familiar with movies.
The “Goura Eatery” located beside the cinematography studio was my house, and my family’s specialty dish was very ordinary: katsudon with green peas and pickles.
My great grandfather was the one who opened this eatery, and my grandmother took over afterwards. In the past, the staff from the studio would come and eat and our shop was bustling with business but after I grew up, our shop’s once flourishing business gradually receded
It was not because the shop had bad ratings, but because the number of workers decreased as the number of films taken at the cinematography studio decreased. In the end, grandmother fired her staff and started to run the shop alone.
My grandmother, mother, and I lived in the second floor of our eatery. My father had died before I was born, and my mother gave birth to me when she returned back to her hometown. As a side note, my grandmother was the one who gave me the name “Daisuke”.
As my mother worked at a food company in Yokohama, my grandmother was in charge of my upbringing. She would make 10 lectures for every single mistake I made, ranging from day-to-day chores to the bow angle. As the only grandchild, I did not remember ever being pampered.
My grandmother looked rather kind and had an ample chin but her stare was exceptionally sharp like the Guanyin statue on the hill.
Anyway, it was just like what was written. That day, I went to the living room on the second floor to look for picture books. I remembered that the book was “Guri and Gura”, and until that point, I was still an obedient child who loved to read books. I not only read picture books, but also a few children books that had furigana on the titles, and I remembered that I would harass the adults to buy me some new books whenever we went to the bookshop.
Tired after reading all the books at home, I felt bored. Lunchtime was ending, and there were the sounds of the customers chatting away and the television downstairs. I wanted to go outside but it was impossible with the rain pouring outside.
I walked out of the living room towards my grandmother’s room at the end of the corridor. It was a Japanese-styled room facing north and it was room was cramped with an extremely low ceiling. Our house had went through many building extensions so the layout of the rooms was somewhat inconsistent.
Despite my grandmother telling me not to enter her room whenever I wanted to, I had an objective in doing so—to look for books.
There was a large bookshelf at a wall of this Japanese-styled room that had grandmother’s books lying on top. It seemed that my Guanyin Bodhisattva-like grandmother was once a lovely literature girl and I heard that she spent almost all the pocket money she earned working at the restaurant on books.
The books grandmother collected were mostly the old Japanese literature texts from the Meiji and the Taisho era and the me of that time did not understand the contents of the books. But with so many books, I thought that there might be books for children. Thus, I arrived here filled with expectations.
I continued to pull books out, checking the contents inside. At that time, I did not understand kanji, and I left the books aside on the floor without putting them back before drawing the next book. In the end, I didn’t know whether I was finding a book or making a mess.
Once I created openings all over the bookshelf, I noticed a box at the lowest level filled with pocket books. As they were small, I thought that they might be children books, and brought my face closer to read. The name was printed at the back, but unfortunately, they were mostly kanji, and there was only a book with hiragana on it. I slowly read this line,
What kind of book was it? Just as I was about to pull the stack out from the shelf,
“What are you doing?”
A deep voice bellowed from above my head, shocking me. I looked back and saw my grandmother who was wearing her cooking clothes as she lowered her head at me. When did she come up to the second level? The long narrow eyes that were reminiscent of Guanyin Bodhisattva 2 in the past really scared me.
I sat down on the tatami mat that was covered with many books.
I immediately recalled the latter half of the line when my grandmother warned me not to enter her room—even if you enter, you are not allowed to touch the books on the shelf. Those are the things I treasured most.
At this moment, I knew what I had to do. My grandmother was strict, but I would be forgiven if I apologized sincerely. That was the case when I lined up the chairs in the eatery as a tunnel. I sat properly in a seiza and lowered my head, apologizing—
But grandmother’s reaction was beyond my expectations. She grabbed my shoulders violently and slapped me twice, completely shocking me. She was completely merciless as she used the strength of an adult. My elbows and thighs slammed into the pile of books, and I was lifted up before I could cry. It was really horrifying to see the angry Sanpaku eyes of Guanyin Bodhisattva and I nearly pissed myself there. That was the first and last time I got beaten up by grandmother.
“…You are not allowed to read these books.”
Grandmother said hoarsely, and added on,
“If you make the same mistake again, you’re no longer a child from our house.”
I nodded my head lightly in silence.
To be honest, as to whether this incident was responsible for this kind of ‘nature’ within me, I cannot conclude as I am not a psychologist. It was only when I became an adult that I thought of this as a plausible reason.
It is clear however that I could not read printed text ever since I incurred the imperial wrath from my grandmother. Naturally, I never entered her room ever since that incident.
I did not know when my grandmother first noticed my change, but we never talked about that incident after so many years. Perhaps it was a painful memory for her as well.
It was not until more than fifteen years later that we talked again about what happened that day. When I went to visit my grandmother, who was admitted into a nearby hospital, “about the time when I beat you” she suddenly started to talk about it.
“I was really shocked to see you in my room that time. You never went in before that, right?”
Her tone sounded like it happened the previous week, and it took me a while to digest the words and understand what she was talking about.
At this point, both of us were different from before; both my grandmother, who spoke up, and I, who listened. I grew taller than an ordinary person and went through my coming of age, while my already-short grandmother became a lot thinner and frail. After her body condition started to worsen, the number of times the shop closed down for breaks began to increase.
At the time, we were headed into the rainy season, and the rain was pouring down outside. Whenever the seasons changed, my grandmother’s migraine would start to work up, bothering her. However, since she showed no signs of recovering, she was admitted into hospital for a checkup. I was at my busiest, looking for a job at that time, and after hearing the company’s briefing, I went to the hospital for a visit. I inadvertently felt somewhat inexplicable that I would be talking about what happened when I was 5 while dressed in a suit.
“I never thought of hitting you at first. That was my fault at that time, I suppose.”
I stared at the clarity that could be seen in my grandmother’s eyes and felt that the atmosphere had somewhat declined.
“It was my fault for entering on my own in the first place. Don’t fret over it.”
I did not begrudge her for this. That was the first and last time she ever hit me, but she still showed a gloomy expression as she said.
“I often thought that if you can read books now, your life will be changed greatly.”
I used my fingers to rub my eyebrows lightly. That perhaps might be the case. During university, I gave up my insistence on reading books and accepted an invitation to the judo club. During those 4 years, I attained a respectable Dan Judo 3 rankings, and was ranked one of the top in the district’s weight-division tournament. I suppose during that time, I got stronger and the areas around my neck and my shoulders got sturdy as I built up on my physique.
“…It doesn’t matter even if I can’t read books now.”
Right, that was what I said, but it was also half the truth. My university life was definitely more fulfilling—but if I could read books, it would definitely be a lot different.
“Is that so?”
Grandmother sighed as she closed her eyes. I thought that she was going to sleep but after a while, she started to talk again,
“…What kind of person will you be married to?”
The sudden change in topic caused me to be taken aback. It was the same as when she talked about me, and she had been saying some strange words I could not comprehend. This situation just felt too weird.
“It’s too early to talk about marriage.”
I said that as I looked outside the ajar door. If there was a nurse passing through, it would be good if I call her in.
“Maybe it might be good for you to get married to a lady who likes books. You can’t read books, but she’ll definitely tell you all sorts of interesting things regarding them…well, it’s kind of difficult since bookworms mostly like those who share the same interest.”
Grandmother said that in a teasing manner. I did not know if she was just joking, or if her consciousness was fading off to a weird place. Then, she seemed to remember something as she added,
“…Once I die, I’ll leave all my books to you two to handle as you please.”
I felt like my face was splashed with cold water as I was not a person who could pretend to remain calm and adapt quickly.
“Wha-what are you saying…isn’t that too early?”
I muttered softly.
My grandfather and my father died before I was born and this was the first time I actually heard a kin of mine say such things. Grandmother closed her eyes as she gave a wry smile. It seemed that she could detect the anxiety in me that was expressing itself clearly.
She had a malignant tumor in her brain, and there was not much time left before she died. I did not tell her the results of the detailed examination, but she probably knew from the attitudes my mother and I showed. This was not going to fool the eyes of Guanyin Bodhisattva.
I finally understood what my grandmother was trying to tell me.
Those were words she wanted to tell her grandson beforehand—her last words.
By the time I recalled about my grandmother’s books, it was more than a year after the funeral—during the midsummer of August 2010. Having graduated from university, I continued to stay at my house in Ōfuna, and as I finally managed to get out of bed at noon, I heard my mother yelling for me outside the house.
“Come down here, Joblessuke.”
I felt puzzled as to why my mother, who would normally be working at the company at this time, was in the house. I then remembered that it was Sunday, and honestly, I cannot seem to determine when its Sunday ever since I graduated.
I yawned as I walked out of the room, and saw that the door at the end of the corridor was opened. It seemed that mom was in grandmother’s Japanese-styled room.
My forehead hit the door frame hard as I was about to enter. The beam then let out a creaking sound.
“What are you doing, Joblessuke. Stop wrecking the house.”
Mom grumbled as she stood in the middle of the room. Her head was nearly hitting the lampshade of the fluorescent light, and though she is not as tall as me, she is still rather tall.
“The doorframe here is really low.”
I press my head as I argue back. I did mention before that due to the many expansions in the house, the layout of the rooms everywhere has become a little weird. Though
it looks like it is lower by a mere few centimeters, this slight difference is still noticeable.
“You’re still not awake yet. Nobody else has knocked into that before.”
I don’t think so. There is black duct tape fastened to the door frame, and it was there before I was wise enough. Someone definitely knocked into it before, and it is really depressing to think that I’m the only one who had been careless.
“I’m now clearing up the stuff your grandmother left behind…”
She spoke halfway, and then paused, seemingly sighing.
“…Ah seriously, it’s troublesome to have two tall people inside here. Come sit down.”
I was prompted to sit down cross-legged as I faced mom, who was sitting in a Seiza. She has a wide chin, long narrow eyes, and would say such cruel words with a calm unflinching face. Height aside, she is basically a chip off the old block when compared to my grandmother. Mom has two older sisters—my aunts, and she resembles my grandmother most amongst the three sisters.
However, she does not seem like she is happy with inheriting such aspects from her mother, and she is probably fuming because they looked identical. I have never seen mom talk with grandmother calmly for more than 5 minutes, and she probably went out to work instead of taking over “Goura Eatery” because she wanted to avoid meeting each other too much.
“The one year anniversary of your grandmother’s death has passed. I’m wondering if I should pack things up.”
She said. It is just like what my mother said; we have lots of folded cardboard boxes gathered below our waists. My grandmother’s clothes and ornaments were already divided amongst our aunts, and the only things left in this house were untouched. This messy scene caused me to recall the incident when I was 5 years ago. I decided to look around the room in order to change my mood, but suddenly, I noticed an important change.
“Where are grandmother’s books?”
The bookshelf that filled the wall completely was left empty, and not a single book was left behind.
“The books are over there. I did say that I’m clearing them up, didn’t I? Weren’t you listening to me?”
Mom grumbled as she knocked on a few boxes beside her.
“Isn’t there a nursing home near the Sekiya Intersection? I know of some acquaintance working there, building some reading room there, and is collecting books recently. He was delighted when I offered him the books in our house, saying that he wants as many as he can get. I told him that I’ll send over our jobless-suke slacking at home then.”
“Why are you calling me that when talking to outsiders?”
Of course, this jobless-suke here will refer to me. The –suke in my Daisuke is added on with a ‘jobless’, and she actually calls me by this nickname in front of everyone else.
“This is a face after all. You’re really slacking at home without working anyway.”
“…It’s not like I wanted to slack around like this either.”
I still have not found a job. I once received a job offer from a construction company in Yokohama, but that company closed down during February this year. Currently, I am still attending some inauguration exercises, but I just could not get through to the interview stage. I am not a student of some famous and prestigious university, and I have no real noted specialty other than my physique. The economy downtime too is making it more difficult for me to find job opportunities.
“You’re being too picky here. Try taking the acceptance tests of the JSDF or the police then. You do inherit the good physique from me, so it’s probably good if you can actually show these advantages.”
I did not answer. This isn’t the first time I’m advised to take the acceptance tests of the JSDF and the police. My judo dan ranking is definitely a plus here, but after 4 years of judo training, I clearly understood that fighting to win isn’t a characteristic I have. I don’t feel that physical jobs are really tiring, but I actually want a simpler job instead of having to ensure the safety of the people and the peace in the country.
“Then, regarding the books.”
I changed the topic and temporarily pushed this public servant talk to the back of my head.
“Grandmother really treasures these books. There’s no need to actually donate them all…”
“She had already said ‘I’ll leave my books to you once I die’. Didn’t you hear her?”
“I did, but I feel that she wants us to keep them in an appropriate manner.”
I thought grandmother meant that while we were free to share them, she hoped that we set them aside and cherish them. However, mom merely shook her head hard.
“Do you still not understand? Her catchphrase is basically ‘nothing can be brought over to that world’. It was the same too when your grandfather died; she just dealt with all the leftovers without hesitation. She’s someone with this kind of mindset.”
Speaking of which, I did not remember grandmother leaving any things grandfather left behind. Grandfather died a long time ago, and I heard it was when mom first entered elementary school. He got into a traffic accident on a hot summer day no different from how it’s like now, when he was returning from the Kawasaki Daishi 4.
“It’s a different situation altogether if only you can read books, right?”
No, I won’t read, or more specifically, I can’t read. They’re just left in my house as displays anyway. It might be good to give them to someone who reads.
“Then, how about I drive and deliver these books?”
I quickly looked around the room. The books from the bookshelves were not in cardboard boxes, but were scattered on the tatami. I had to first store them in the cardboard boxes.
“So be it then. But before you leave, there’s something I want to discuss with you.”
Mom took out a set of books from beside her, and put it in front of my eyes. There were approximately 30 books in total, and they were small and thin compared to the others, the size of a single young boys manga volume. I felt as if I pricked a barb as the bad memories awoken in me again. Those were definitely the books I wanted to take back then, but this was the first time I noticed the name of the book set ‘Sōseki’s Complete Collection’. This set included the And Then book of Sōseki Natsume.
“I thought she might had some personal savings she left in the books and forgot, so I flipped them open one by one.”
So that was what she was doing. Mom ignored my surprise, took out a book from the case with the words 8th volume: And Then printed on it, and showed me the inner lining paper wrapped over it.
“See, I found this.”
There was a thin line of handwritten brushstrokes on the right side of the blank space. The words weren’t really elegant, and the balance and spacing between each letter was delicately weird:
To Mr Yoshio Tanaka”
There was a thin line of handwritten brush words on the right side of the blank space. The words were not really elegant, and the balance and spacing between each letter was delicately weird:
These were the only two lines written. ‘Sōseki Natsume’ was written right in the middle, while the ‘To Mr Yoshio Tanaka’ was near the filing.
“This is Sōseki Natsume’s signature, right? It’ll be really amazing if it’s the real thing!”
Mom’s eyes were dazzling, but I just couldn’t summon the enthusiasm. It would be really amazing if it was the real thing, but it’s nothing if it’s just a fake.
I received the book, flipped it open, and the stench of old paper came at me. I felt the area around my heart start to cool down the moment I saw printed words lined by the side; I frantically flipped to the last page, and found the publishing date at the top edge. The date was the 31st year of the Showa Era, July 27th, and the distributor was ‘Iwanami Shoten’.
“…It’s the year before grandmother got married.”
I was puzzled. Was Sōseki Natsume still alive at that time? I thought that he was someone who lived a long time ago.
“Who’s the person called Tanaka?”
My grandmother’s name was Kinuko Goura, a completely different name. if Sōseki Natsume really signed for this person, why did these books end up in grandmother’s hands?
“I don’t know either. Maybe it’s a signature the owner before your grandmother wanted. This book looks like it’s bought from an old book store.”
Mom reached her hand out and flipped through the pages. There was a bookmark the size of business cards placed inside, and it seemed to be the price of this entire collection. The writing was a little faded, but the words were, ’34 volumes, first edition, 3500 Yen’. I’m not too sure of the prices in the past, but if it’s a book collection, wasn’t this price too cheap. If it was something someone wrote as a prank—
Upon looking at it, I found that there was a ‘Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia’ line printed at the corner of the price card. My mind immediately thought of that beautiful profile reading inside the slightly dim shop. It was the bookshop near the High School I studied at.
“I want to know how much worth does this whole collection has. If it’s a memorabilia, it’ll be a waste to give it away like this; it’ll be better to keep it at home. I don’t know of anyone who knows anything about such things, do you?”
I got off my scooter near the Kita-Kamakura Station, and put my helmet under the seat.
I took out the shopping bag with the ‘Sōseki’s Complete Collection’ from the basket at the front of the scooter. After many years, I stood in front of the ‘Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia’. The surroundings had not changed since my time in High School, just like how I was. There was a narrow alley vehicles could not drive into, an old wooden house, a rusted swinging display, and not many pedestrians at all.
This shop was probably around since my grandmother’s youth. It should be impossible for the daughter of a diner family to save enough pocket money and buy new books. She was able to collect so many books because she could get them cheaply at old book stores like this, and this was a natural conclusion I could derive as I thought about this.
I came here to let the owner of the shop appraise the ‘Sōseki’s Complete Collection’, and to ask if my grandmother really came to this shop. Also, I was a little upbeat about hearing some news regarding the beauty I saw during my second year in High School.
6 years after that day, I would look into the shop whenever I passed by, but I would only see the white-haired shopkeeper glower as he continued to walk. It was a little awkward to go in and ask about her for no good reason; since I had some proper business to deal with today, it should be fine to hear some news about her.
The sliding door of the old book store had the ‘we are open’ board hanging on it. I glanced inside, and found it to be the same as how it was in the past. There were several large bookshelves, and there was a counter opposite.
Someone was sitting behind the counter.
It was not the aloof looking shop owner, but probably a young petite female. She had her head lowered, so I could not see her face. I felt my body heating up, thinking that she might be the one I saw back then. Before I realized it, I opened the sliding door, causing it to make a sound.
The shop attendant lifted her face, and the surging temperature rising in me cooled a little. Her wide eyes under the short fringe, and her skin was tanned like an elementary school student in summer break; she was dressed in a white shirt similar to that of a High School uniform, and was different from the girl back then. She’s a different person.
A high schooler working part time–no, perhaps she was the daughter of the shop owner, since their faces had a canny resemblance. She looked over at the paper bag in my hands.
“Ah, are you here to buy old books?”
She welcomed me in with a very lively voice. I was not here to buy or sell books, but just to appraise the value of the complete collection with the signature on it. Perhaps I might be thick-skinned about this.
But at this point, it will be awkward to return back. I decided to ask her first anyway.
There were a lot of books on the aisles between the bookshelves, and it was impossible for me to pass through with my size. It was practically impossible to take the books at the bottom; how is a customer supposed to buy books anyway?
The girl stood up from behind the counter. She seemed to be my junior, and her blouse and skirt were from my alma mater. Since she’s dressed in school uniform even in the middle of summer vacation, it seems that she had club activity training in the morning.
“…I’m not here to buy old books, but to ask you to help me check something. May I? It’s about the books my grandmother bought from this shop.”
I peeked over at the girl’s reaction for a moment, and she simply waited quietly for me to continue. I put the paper bag with the ‘Sōseki’s Complete Collection’ on the table, and took out the 8th volume: And Then book. I removed the book from its cover and showed the lining paper to the girl. She narrowed her eyes as she brought her face here.
“It’s this signature.”
“Wow! It’s written as Sōseki Natsume! Is this the real thing?”
For an instant, I did not know how I should respond. I never thought that she would be asking me in return.
“I don’t know at all. This is why I’m here.”
“I see…hm, what shall I do?”
She folded her arms as she looked up at my face. Why is it that she’s the one asking me now?
“…You can’t tell if this is the real thing?”
“Ah, it’s impossible now. The shopkeeper’s not here, and I’m not certain about such things.”
She said without hesitation?
“When will the shopkeeper be back?”
The moment I asked, the girl gave a frown, and her eyebrows were touching each other.
“…The shopkeeper’s hospitalized at the moment.”
She lowered her voice a little. Speaking of which, this shop did seem to be closed for the moment. Perhaps the shopkeeper was not feeling too well.
“Is he sick?”
“No…well, the leg got injured…if there are books sent here, I will have to bring it to the hospital for the owner to appraise it. Ah seriously, it’s really troublesome!”
The explanation instantly became a rambling, but I was a little shocked to learn that the owner was still working even when hospitalized. Is the old book shop still in operation under such situations?
“But it’s at the Ōfuna General Hospital, so it’s not too far. It’s a 15 minute ride on a bicycle from here.”
“…Ah, so it’s there.”
I could not help but mutter. It was near my house, and whenever a hospital was mentioned, I would immediately think of the Ōfuna General Hospital. That was the place where my mother gave birth to me, and where my grandmother died.
“Anyway, just leave them here for the time being. I still have club activities in the summer, and I don’t know if I can go over to the hospital immediately. Will you be fine with it if this takes quite a while?”
I thought about it for a little. It was too troublesome to deliberately ask her to send the books over to the hospital. I would ‘not be selling them if they were the real thing’, and it would be bothersome to her if she was to bring them back. The moment I was about to say this, she spoke up first,
“Erm, do you often go to the Ōfuna General Hospital?”
“…It’s near my house.”
Her expression immediately brightened.
“In that case, can you please head to the hospital on your own? I’ll contact the owner first, and the appraisal can be done for you immediately.”
I never heard of anyone going to a hospital to appraise old books, and most important, this shop would not gain a profit because of it. That scary looking shop owner might even throw a fit.
“No…it’ll be too troublesome though…”
She did not hear my words at all, and had already opened her phone, and quickly typed out a message. In an instant, she sent it out, and when she closed her phone she bared her teeth as she grinned at me.
“The mail’s sent! Now you can head over there whenever you want to.”
At this point, there was no way I could refuse. I could only nod my head in silence.
Approximately 15 minutes after that, I reached the parking lot of the Ōfuna General Hospital.
The white 6 leveled building was dazzling under the sunshine of midsummer. This hospital became the largest in the area ever since it was refurbished 10 years ago. There was a wide courtyard in front of the entrance, but there were no signs of any hospitalized patients on the walkways or the benches, merely the sounds of crickets echoing.
I carried the paper bag with the Sōseki’s Complete Collection in my hands, passed through the automatic doors, and entered the building. The air-conditioned hall was filled with outpatients.
I wondered why I came here as I went up to the stairs leading to the surgical ward. This was the first time I came here since the moment when I came to claim my grandmother’s corpse.
Grandmother went to the other world a month after that conversation. Once she got the formal notice, she said that she wanted to go to the Kusatsu Onsen resort as her final memory. Her condition was still rather stable, and since it was her wish, the attending doctor gave his permission.
With the company of my mother and I, she was very energetic and enjoyed her onsen trip thoroughly. It seemed that even her little quibbles with my mother were rather delightful, and she did not resemble an ill person at all. However, a week after we returned home to Ōfuna, she fainted and died without regaining consciousness. Her life went out like a flame on a candlewick, ostensibly planned, and our relatives were inadvertently shocked before they felt anguish.
I recorded my name on the nurse duty book, and went to the patient room the girl told me to go to. Before I was mentally prepared, I found the room. I let out a soft sigh, prepared myself, and knocked on the door.
“Please excuse me.”
There was no answer. I knocked on the door again, but there was no reply. I peered in through the little opening of the slightly ajar door.
At that moment, I was immediately stunned.
It was an elegant and bright single bed room. There was an adjustable hospital bed beside the window. The mattress at the middle bulk sank a little, and a long haired woman in cream-colored pajamas had her eyes closed.
She must have fallen asleep while reading. The opened book was resting her her knees, and there was a nice delicate bridge under the eyebrows, with a pair of thick-framed spectacles resting on it. Her lips were slightly opened, and her tenderness and beautiful face resembled that of someone–the person I saw in the Biblia Bookshop 6 years ago. her face was a little slimmer, but the other aspects had not changed much. The way she looked at this point was prettier.
There were stacks of old books lined all over the bed, and it looked like a mini street. She brought so many books over, but was not doing so to kill the time. Was she not told off by the hospital staff?
She suddenly woke up, rubbed her eyes, and looked over at me.
She said a name that was unfamiliar with me. Her voice was soft and clear, causing me to be taken aback. This was the first time I heard her name.
“Are the books here…?”
She seemed to have seen me as someone else, probably because she was not wearing her glasses. It would not be good to keep silent like this, and I forced a few coughs to clear the blockage feeling in my throat.
This time, I spoke clearly for her to hear. Her shoulders jumped in shock, and she reached to adjust her glasses. She then knocked into the book, and it dropped off from the bed.
”Ah”. There was a little cry.
I did not think too much and moved quickly. I leapt into the room and reached for the book I could barely get with one hand. It did not seem to be a really large book, but it was extremely heavy. There was a title printed on it, and the words ‘Farewell, photoshooting. August 2nd, at the hotel on the top of the mountain.’ filled the white cover. It seemed to be a little aged, and a side of the cover was raffled to the outside, a little black.
I felt that I did well, but upon lifting my head up, I found that she had her blanket lifted to her chest. Her hand was placed on the bedroom call button on the wall, and her widened eyes clearly showed a timid look. Anyone would be shock to see an unfamiliar muscular guy suddenly barge into the room like this, and I immediately stood up and pulled my distance away frantically.
“Sorry, I’m here to ask something about my grandmother’s books. I went to the shop in Kita-Kamakura, and the girl there told me to come here…did you not receive the message?”
The hand that was about to press on the button stopped still. she looked back to see the notebook laptop placed on the side table, narrowed her eyes to look at the screen–and her face became flushed red after that.
“…I’m really sorry.”
I’m really sorry? I looked at her doubtfully. She lowered her head deeply, and her beautiful hair was facing towards me. This was the first time I saw someone give me a look like that.
“S-sorry…erm, my little sister caused you…quite some trouble…”
She said with a barely audible voice, and stumbled somewhat in her words as her ears got redder.
“Sorry for, making you, come all the way here…I’m the owner of the ‘Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia’, Shioriko Shinokawa.”
At this point, I finally realized what was going on. The girl in the shop just now was her little sister, and that girl said that she was going to send a mail. In other words, there was a switch of owners.
“The previous shop owner should be someone else, right? A man with some white hair.”
“…That was my father…”
I asked, and she nodded.
“He died last year…and I took over this shop…”
“I see. My sympathies regarding your loss.”
I bowed. Last year, one of my family members died too. I felt a closer bond to her.
The room immediately fell into silence. She averted her gaze at me, and merely looked at the area near my throat. She had an introverted and shy personality, completely different from what I expected; of course, she was still a beauty, but I just felt that I missed out a little. How is someone with this personality supposed to receive the customers? it’s someone else’s business, but I can’t help but worry about this.
“Did you help take care of the shop in your father’s place a few years ago?”
I said, and she stupefied.
“I occasionally passed by the shop during my High School days. The school was near there.”
“Is-is that so…yes, I do once in a while…”
Her shoulders relaxed somewhat. It seemed that she had eased her guard against me somewhat now.
She timidly reached her hand out. Does she want a handshake? I put the paper bag in doubt and wiped my sweaty hand off my jeans. Then, she said gently,
“…The books, thank you very much…”
I was completely mistaken. The moment she said this, I realized that I still had the ‘Farewell, photoshooting’ book.
“This one must have been expensive.”
I handed the book over, and said this line to get rid of the awkwardness. She tilted the side of her head, and it certainly felt vague in which I could not ascertain if she was shaking it or nodding.
“This is the First Edition…but it isn’t preserved too well…it’s about 250,000 Yen.”
The calm reply surprised me somewhat. This dusty book? I did not think too much as I examined the cover again, but she did not continue with her explanation or anything. She carelessly put the 250,000 Yen book on the side table that casually, and reached her hand over to me again. Now, what reason will it be this time?
“…May I look at the books you are holding onto?”
I looked over at where she was looking, and realized it was the paper bag with the Sōseki’s Complete Collection. I felt really bad for troubling people like this as I continued to trouble her like this. I licked my dry lips.
“Actually, I’m not here to sell them. When I was clearing through my grandmother’s leftover stuff, I found a signature in this complete collection…it seems the series was bought from this shop a long time ago. Can you help me find out how much value does this have?”
If she showed even the slightest bit of hesitation, i would have brought the books back immediately.
However, Shioriko Shinokawa continued to stare at me like a completely changed person, and I felt a strong will in her eyes.
“Please let me see it.”
She answered with a clear voice.
“Ah, it’s the Iwanami Shoten New Edition.”
She looked into the bag she received, and her eyes immediately showed a dazzling glow; she simply looked like a child opening a birthday present. She took out the volumes from the case, one by one, starting from the first volume, and flipped through them. The names of the works were printed on the spine, including stories like I am A Cat5 and Botchan6, and these were titles I was familiar with.
She continued to flip through the books, the smile on her lips intensifying as she proceeded. She would nod her head from time to time, narrow her eyes, or even make clumsy attempts to whistle, which I heard her do before. It seemed she had no realization of what she was doing, and it was probably a habit she had when she was too engrossed in the books.
(…Ah, this is the one.)
This was the expression etched in my memories, the expression of being too engrossed in reading to a point where she was enjoying herself. She continued to read on, and I pulled a round chair and sat down quietly.
She suddenly stopped whistling. The 8th Volume: And then was placed on her lap. She lowered her head with a troubled look, and looked over at the signature on the paraffin cover, but merely gave it a glance. She started to flip through the pages again, and suddenly leaned towards the 34 volumes, first edition, 3500 Yen label to inspect it closely. She seemed interested in the price for some reason.
Shinokawa placed the book with the signature on her knees and continued to look into the other books. Finally, she again flipped through the 8th volume: And then meticulously.
She muttered softly, and lifted her head towards me.
“Sorry to keep you waiting for so long. I’ve a rough gist of what’s going on.”
“How is it?”
“Unfortunately, this signature is a fake.”
She said in an apologetic manner, but I was not particularly surprised. I did have such suspcions before.
“So it’s not the real thing?”
“Yes. The eras don’t match at all. Sōseki Natsume died in the 5th year of the Taisho era, and this complete collection new edition was released in the 31st year of the Showa era…that will be 40 years later.”
There was no doubts as to whether it was authentic or not anymore. There was no way a deceased person could make a signature on an item published 40 years later.
“Then, are these books not expensive?”
“Yes…this collection is the cheap edition. It was reprinted a lot of times, and there are many of such collections in old book shops. However, the commentary is rich, and the packaging is very intricate. It is ordinary, but it’s a fine book. I like it a lot.”
She was speaking as if she was praising an old friend, and her expression and tone were completely devoid of the demure attitude she showed before. She looked calmer, and this was probably her natural personality.
“Iwanami Shoten was the publishing company that first published the Sōseki’s Complete Collection. The founder Shigeo Iwanami had a close relationship with Sōseki, and often interacted with Sōseki’s disciples. Together, they published the first complete collection, and after several years, they would make revised reprints. This cheaper edition isn’t any inferior in quality. Sōseki’s diary was first revealed to the public in this complete collection, and the commentaries for each volume in the complete series was added by Sōseki’s disciple, Komiya Toyotaka.”
There was no stagnation in her explanation. I was naturally absorbed in it the more I listened.
“Then, are there many editions of the Sōseki’s Complete Collection?”
“Iwanami Shoten’s not the only one; an assortment of publishers have published the series under this name. If we’re to include suspended publishing prior to completion, there should be at least 30 editions.”
I inadvertently said it out as I thought.
“Isn’t it? I think he might be the most beloved author in Japan.”
Shioriko Shinokawa seemed to agree with me as she nodded. However, I was not simply complimenting the literary great, but how Shinokawa could rattle on with her explanations to me. I felt somewhat regretful and yet relieved that I could not express myself; my heart simply felt complicated.
I glanced at the ‘8th Volume: After then’ that was left behind.
“Then, I suppose the signature on this book is simply some random doodle?”
This was the first time there was a pause since she was so quick in her responses.
“…You can look at it that way, I think…”
She looked extremely troubled, and her eyebrows were practically touching. I could not help but wonder what it was about.
“Is there something troubling you?”
“I don’t suppose it’s a big deal, but there’s something I don’t really understand…it may be rude of me to ask this, but was your grandmother who would leave marks on her books?”
“Eh? No, I guess not.”
I shook my head. It was really hard to imagine that.
“She really treasured those books…and even forbade family members from touching them. She would be really furious if someone were to touch them accidentally.”
Touching grandmother’s books was a taboo in the family, and besides me, all our relatives knew of this. Even my mother, who was on bad terms with my grandmother, did not dare to this. There was no one else who really liked books at home, so nobody thought of touching her books anyway.
“I think this explanation might be plausible…but it would be a different story if she had written her own name…”
Shinokawa took out the 8th Volume: And Then from the case and opened the cover. While sitting on the chair, I leaned forward and looked at the signature again.
To Mr Yoshio Tanaka”
The lines were rather fine as the brushstrokes were light, and on a closer look, it did look feminine. It was a handwriting that was not unique, and was easy to imitate, but this was certainly not grandmother’s handwriting.
“Someone sold this complete collection to Biblia, and my grandmother bought them.”
Upon hearing my words, she lifted her face away from the book.
“…So this is how it is?”
“Did the previous owner write it down? Or is it written by the person called ‘Yoshio Tanaka’?”
“No, this doesn’t seem to be the case.”
She took out the book’s price card and showed it to me. ’34 volumes, first edition, 3500 Yen’.
“This price card was used when my grandfather first opened Biblia. That was 45, 46 years ago.”
In other words, grandmother bought the Sōseki’s complete collection at that time. If we were to go by the Western Calendar, 45, 46 years ago would be–I could not calculate the numbers out of a sudden. Well, it’s fine either way.
“This price card doesn’t have the words ‘there were words written on it’.”
She pointed at the price card and said,
“If it was purchased from the old bookshop, we’ll first check the condition of the books, as I did before this. It’s normal to notice such words in conspicuous places, and we would write them on the price card to indicate this. Otherwise, there will be situation where customers who will demand for compensation.”
I see. At that point, I totally understood. It was weird not to have a note on the price card indicating that the book was ‘vandalized’.
“Therefore, this book did not have the fake signature when your grandmother bought this collection from my family’s shop.”
I folded my arms. For some reason, this topic got weirder. If we were correct, the person who forged this signature would not exist. How could that be possible?”
I suddenly thought of something.
“…Maybe grandfather wrote it.”
“He died several decades ago, and I never met him. I think he accidentally touched grandmother’s bookcase once, and they got into an argument…”
According to mom, grandfather was nearly chased out of the house that time. If he not only touched the book, but left some words on it–it would make sense why I was beaten up when I touched the book. Perhaps she recalled a painful memory in the past. ‘If you make the same mistake again, you’re no longer a child from our house’. She probably remembered what grandfather did when she said those words.
“I really can’t think of who else would do such a thing. Nobody dared to touch that bookshelf.”
But Shinokawa shook her head slightly.
“I don’t think this is the case.”
“I don’t think it was done by any other family members…I think it was done by your grandmother.”
I asked. How was it possible that she could conclude this so firmly?
“If it were someone else who scribbled on it, your grandmother would not leave the book like this. This book doesn’t have any signs of any attempts to erase the words…even if it was difficult, it would be easy to buy another 8th volume to replace it. As I said, this book isn’t expensive. There had been a lot of reprints, and they do sell them in the new bookstores for a long time.”
“However…she did not seem to have left it alone like that. Maybe someone wrote on it, and she might not have realized it…”
I was tongue-tied as I spoke halfway through. That would be the least likely thing. The Guanyin Bodhisattva of the Goura family would never be this careless. If someone really touched the books in that room, she would definitely find out.
(…Did grandmother really write that?)
If that were the case, it would not be a simple doodle. Grandmother must have done it because of a reason. I frowned over this as I folded by elbows.
“There’s something I’m also concerned about. It’s about the price card…”
I was suddenly at a loss of words. I lifted my head, and Shinokawa looked at her knees in shock. Her long and beautiful black hair covered her face.
“…Well…I’m really sorry…”
She muttered softly, and reverted back to her attitude before she took out the Sōseki’s complete collection. I had no idea what she was apologizing for.
“Eh? What is it?”
“Anyway…sorry to trouble you…”
“Eh? Sorry, but can you please repeat that again?”
The voice was too soft, and I poked my head forward, but Shinokawa was almost at the point of retreating to the window. What was it that I did weird? While I wondered, her white throat throbbed, and she let out a weird voice.
“I…I only wanted to see if the signature was authentic…but, I got carried away and said a lot of things…”
I was beginning to feel even more confused.
“In-in the past, people said that…I-I just can’t stop talking when it comes to books.”
At this point, I noticed my profile reflected off the window. There was a muscular man sitting on a round chair, brooding, his eyebrows frown, his narrow and long eyes glaring sharply, and he was giving off a killing intent. I inadvertently revealed the stare of my grandmother, which I had inherited from while I was in deep thought.
“I-I’m really sorry for taking too much of your time…”
She said as she wanted to put the 8th Volume: And then into the paper bag. Just when she was about to finish her words though…
“You aren’t causing me any trouble!”
I then realized that I was too loud; this caused her to tremble in fright as even the paper bag and book dropped, and she flailed her arms around flusteredly. She managed to catch them before they dropped onto the floor, and heaved a sigh of relief, but upon realizing that I was staring at her, she covered her face in an embarrassed manner.
“…Please continue on with what you’re saying.”
This time, I deliberately spoke with a softer voice. She looked at me worriedly from behind the bag, and was practically a completely different person from how she was when she made her explanation so eloquently.
“When I was young, I had a bad memory about books, and I was unable to read them as a result. However, I always wanted to read books, so I’ll be really happy if I hear about such things.”
I inadvertently said this. Up till this point, nobody understood this ‘nature’ of mine. She widened her eyes at me, probably because she did not understand. Just when I was about to give up, she removed the bag from her face, and her wide black eyes were showing signs of life. It seemed like a switch was pressed as her attitude immediately changed.
“You can’t read books because you were scolded by your grandmother?”
Her voice was clear and definitive. This time, I was the shocked one.
“How did you know?”
“Your grandmother seemed to be the kind of person who will be furious if anyone were to accidentally touch her bookshelf. But this ‘nobody dared to touch it’ probably would mean anyone other than her…from the way she became so angry over such a matter, I suppose it isn’t surprising that you’re at the point where you can’t read books…”
I was at a loss of words. She was able to hit the bullseye so easily. It seemed that she was savvy as long as it was anything related to books.
I put my hands on my knees, and sat down again. I really wanted to hear her continue.
“I really love old books…I feel that books that are handed down have their own stories as well…and not simply the content of the stories within.”
She paused and looked at me right in the eyes as if this was the first time she noticed my existence.
“…May I know what is your name?”
“Mr Goura, actually, there is something else I’m concerned about.”
I was inadvertently startled the moment I heard her call my name. It felt as if the distance between us was closed up.
She again handed me the price card with the words ’34 volumes, first edition, 3500 Yen’.
“There is a ‘stamp of ownership’ written as part of this price card.”
“Eh…? Ah, yes.”
She took out a book from the ‘Sōseki’s complete collection’ on her bedsheet and removed the cover. It was the ’12th Volume: The Heart’. She opened the cover, and there was no sign of any signature on the inner lining paper. Instead, there was a Hydrangea-styled stamp on it.
“This is a stamp of ownership, a mark the book’s owner puts on his or her collection of books. It used to be more popular in China and Japan, and there were all sorts of different stamps, varying according to the user’s preferences. They work the same as ordinary stamps; the word-styled stamps were more common, but there were also those with patterns like this. The person who used this stamp might be someone who likes Hydrangeas.”
I did not know about this at all, and I was somewhat impressed by her. However, I immediately had a suspicion.
“Then, that means this book should have a stamp too?”
I asked as I looked at the 8th Volume: And Then on her knees. If there was such an obvious stamp, it would be easy to notice.
“No, and this is the weird part. In fact, this And Then is the only book that doesn’t have any ownership stamp on it, though the other volumes had them.”
“…Isn’t that strange?”
“It’s very strange.”
I lowered my head and sighed. Amongst the 34 volumes, there were books with stamps, and no signature, while there was a book with a signature, but no stamp. I got more and more confounded.
“…How did your grandmother make her purchase of the complete collection at my family’s bookstore? Did you not ask before?”
“No…I only knew she often bought books before she got married…maybe mom and my aunts were not too clear about this. Nobody was really concerned about these old books anyway.”
“…Is that so.”
She said as she placed a fist at the end of her lips.
“In that case, the only thing I can think of is that the 8th volume…”
Shinokawa suddenly stopped talking, and I hurriedly looked at the glass window. This time, I did not see anyone’s eyes glaring. This certainly was not because of my stare.
“What about the 8th volume?”
I anxiously prompted her to continue, and she seemed to be very hesitant. After a while, she suddenly put her index finger on her lips.
“…Can we keep this conversation amongst us?”
“It seems we’ll be infringing on your grandmother’s privacy.”
I hesitated slightly, and nodded. If my grandmother were alive, it would be a different case altogether, but we just passed her one year death anniversary. As her grandson, I probably will be forgiven if I listen in on her private matters. I really wanted to hear and know more about this.”
“Actually, the answers already came when you brought this book to me, Mr Goura.”
“What do you mean?”
“Without this signature or the price card, nobody would know this book was bought from an old book shop. Your grandmother probably wanted your family to think this way, Mr Goura.”
I widened my eyes. I had no idea what she meant at all.
“Whether the case, grandmother did buy this book from the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia, and she did make this signature after that, I suppose?”
“That was what I thought up till just now, but there seems to be something more complicated than this.”
She flipped open the 8th Volume: And Then, and touched the signature on the inner cover paper.
“This signature is styled as though it was a dedicatory signature to someone else. Normally, in such situations…”
She spoke till this point, and realized that I had doubts about this.
“The dedication here will be a note written to someone else as a token of appreciation or esteem. When writing a dedication, the names written here will be the author’s own name and the person the book is dedicated to.”
Dedicatory signature. I see. I learned something new again, and nodded to prompt her to continue.
“The style of dedicatory signature is not fixed. Normally, the other party’s signature is written in the middle, while the sender is written on the same side…and this sender would be the author. But this book has it completely reversed.”
This is the same as writing an address. It was true that the ‘Sōseki Natsume’ name was written in the middle, while the ‘To Mr Yoshio Tanaka’ was written on the left side.
“Maybe it’s simply because grandmother wasn’t clear about this?”
“Maybe…but there’s something weirder. Mr Goura, why would your grandmother write the sender’s name as a dedicatory signature? If she wanted to disguise this book as an autographed famous book, she would simply need to write Sōseki’s name. There’s no need for another name on it.”
I had been wondering about who this Yoshio Tanaka was since the first moment I saw this book–who was that person?
“…I think it’s the other way around.”
Shinokawa’s tone was flat, but her black eyes were showing a glint of excitement. I was again attracted by her words, and brought my chair closer to the bed.
“…Other way around?”
If it was someone writing it down continuously, the balance in the words of the signature is a little weird. Was it that the name written on the 8th volume was not Sōseki Natsume, but Yoshio Tanaka’s? And that your grandmother added Sōseki’s name afterwards…it is natural if you think about it this way.”
“Eh, but…this guy called Tanaka isn’t an author, but why did he put a signature on it?”
“I don’t think he intended to impersonate the author.”
She blushed as she answered.
“Is this not a gift? It’s not rare to see a sender write his own name.”
In other words, this Yoshio Tanaka gave this book to grandmother.
I suddenly recalled the words my grandmother said when she was alive–that those who like books would like those of the same type. Grandfather was not someone who liked reading, and it would be expected that grandmother would have good relations with men of a ‘similar type’.
I recovered from deep thoughts. If that were the case, it would not make sense.
“But grandmother bought this complete collection at Biblia, and not from Tanaka.”
“This is the case. It’s likely that Mr Tanaka only gave her this volume. Perhaps your grandmother came to our house to buy the set of 34 volumes after receiving the signature 8th Volume: And Then. It was probably a duplicate of the 8th volume that we got rid of. This book didn’t have a stamp, and there’s no indication of a signature on the price card; this explanation will explain everything.”
“But why do such a troublesome thing?”
“So that this 8th volume won’t be seen by the family members…if this full set disguise was seen, nobody would think it was a present. It would be too obvious if there was only the ‘Sōseki Complete Colleciton’ on the bookshelf. That’s why she bought the full set of 34 volumes from us…she deliberately left the bookmark in the 8th volume as ‘proof’ that she bought it at the Antiquarian Bookshop.”
“Then what about the signature?”
“The addition of Sōseki’s , I think, was added as a failsafe. It was not to let the family think this is the real deal, but possibly to make everyone think that it was ‘some useless doodle the original owner’ wrote down’.”
I thought about it when I first saw this signature. I did suspect that it may be a fake, but I never thought of it being anything other than a random doodle. I was really fooled by grandmother’s disguise.
“…Was there a need to go to this extent?”
I murmured. What was it that this grandmother of mine, who did not seem scared of anything, had to hide to this extent?
“It was something in the past…and I feel there is a reason.”
She said cautiously. I did realize there was a ‘reason’ too. My great-grandparents were still in good health before my grandmother got married. Unlike our current age, there were a lot more situations where people would have secretive dates with those of the opposite gender…in the end, grandmother married grandfather through an arranged marriage. This was something Yoshio Tanaka could never do.
I recalled the words my grandmother said to me in this hospital, when she suddenly talked about my marriage partner after expressing her remorse over hitting me. Was it because of the And Then that caused her to remember her marriage? In that case, there was meaning in the words ‘once I die, I’ll leave all my books to you two to handle as you please’. She probably felt it did not matter if we saw that signature.
To grandmother, those were all probably related.
“But why must she put it on the bookshelf? She could have hid them somewhere else.”
This was the only thing I could not understand. If she had tucked it deep in her drawer or something, there would be no need for such little tricks.
“Maybe she felt that it was safer to put it together with the other books instead of hiding it alone somewhere. And…”
Shinokawa stroked the cover of the 8th Volume: And Then, treasuring it. For some reason, I recalled the hand of my grandmother that beat me up.
“…She wanted to put her most treasured book somewhere she could reach for directly. Maybe it’s that kind of feeling.”
She lowered her head, looked beyond the book on the knees, and stared far away. In that case, that person was also someone who ‘loved books’. Lovers would naturally want to find those of the same kind. I got serious the moment I inadvertently thought about asking.
“…I don’t really know how much of what we said up till this point is true.”
She suddenly lifted her head and said,
“It was something that happened a long time before we’re born, and we can’t confirm it with your grandmother…these are the only things that we can gather from what we learnt from this book.”
The sides of her lips lips showed a smile, and I felt as if I just awoke from a dream. It is true that we do not know what parts are true, and what are not, given that grandmother has died.
Shinokawa suddenly looked down at her watch. She seemed to be checking the time, and maybe, she had some examination after this.
“What do you want to do with this complete collection? I can buy it if you want…”
“No, I want to bring it break. Thank you very much.”
I stood up. Even if it was not something very valuable, this complete collection was filled with grandmother’s past. I did not want to hand it over to anyone else so nonchalantly.
“…What you said was interesting, very interesting.”
I met Shinokawa in the eyes as she rested on the bed. It would be too awkward to go back like this. While I was wondering how to say that I wanted to hear her continuation of this explanation, she handed over the paper bag with the Sōseki’s Complete Collection inside.
While I received the bag, her lips moved.
“…Mr Daisuke Goura.”
I was a little troubled to be called by my full name.
“By any chance, did your grandmother give you this name?”
“Eh? …That’s right, but how did you know?”
Only my relatives knew about this, and nobody would want to know how my name came about.
After answering her, her expression became gloomy.
“…When did your grandmother get married?”
Now what is the matter? Is the story still not complete? Troubled, I started to search through my memory. I was not really clear, but I think someone mentioned it recently. Anyway, I suddenly looked into the paper bag.
“Ah, that’s right. I heard that this book came out the year before her marriage.”
I opened the bag and pointed at the 8th Volume: And Then at the top.
At that moment, her expression froze. Perhaps it was my imagination.
“I’m really sorry for making you hear so many weird things.”
She lowered her head honestly on the bed.
I returned home to report my findings, and my mother’s expression changed.
Of course, I did not mention anything about grandmother’s past. I simply told her that the signature was forged, but she was angry about something else.
“When did I say that you’re to take it to the bookstore? And you ran to the hospital just to get it validated. Do you know how much trouble that is!? That’s even worse than doing a dine-and dash!!”
As expected of the daugher of a diner family, she even said that it was a dine-and-dash. It was a sore point for me since I am the grandchild of the diner family. I decided to obey my mother’s instructions obediently and bring a meal the next day. This was the case, and it was a fact that I caused Shinokawa trouble, but I had an excuse to see her again.
The next day was a weekday.
Like the day before, I woke up at noon. Mom had already went out for work. I went downstairs to look at the mail, and found that the hiring company sent a notice. I opened it, and found my my resume and a ruthless rejection saying that I was not hired. Dejected, I sighed, dumped it into the trash bin, pulled the shutter of the eatery, and went out.
It was still a hot sunny day that burned my forehead. The damp hot winds blew from the sea, and the smell of the sea was vaguely mixed it. This was the summer of Kamakura I was familiar with ever since young, and was not comfortable at all.
I filled my stomach at the McDonalds in front of the station, and walked several rounds looking for some ‘delicious food’ at the station building. However, I had a tough time deciding. I did not know her favorites, and I could not focus on shopping. I was still wondering about the conversation before I left.
Did grandmother give me my name? When did she marry? These two questions did not seem to be too signification, but she was definitely shaken by my answer.
The previous day, I asked my mother regarding my name ‘Daisuke’.
“That person forcefully named this when you were born.”
She went on a tirade as she said this. It seemed she was still furious over what happened 20 years ago, but it certainly was a little weird to call grandmother as ‘that person’ so casually.
“She said it was a name she thought of a long time ago. I vehemently disagreed…’Daisuke’ sounds like the name of someone from the bōsōzoku7.”
I was not some former bōsōzoku member, and I really could not agree with her regarding that. How would I know what sort of names were common amongst the bōsōzoku?
“It seemed it was the name of a novel she loved most. The kanji changed, but the pronunciation is the same. I did not remember what novel it was though.”
I however knew which novel it was. When I reached home yesterday, I flipped open the 8th Volume: And Then, and discovered that the male protagonist was called Daisuke8. My name was definitely taken from here, and Shinokawa must have noticed it.
I did feel my body freeze up when I opened the book, and sweat rolled down me profusely, but I still hung on and read a part of the prologue. The content I read of merely introduced some idle chit-chat with a dormitory student working part-time. It was during this time I found out that Daisuke did not have a job, and I suddenly had a sense of familiarity with him. He was not an extremely motivated person, and I wondered what happened to this Daisuke in the end? Without this ‘nature’ of mine, I could have read on until the end.
But I was puzzled as to why grandmother gave me this name. She could not possibly be hoping that I become a person with nothing to do.
I thought as I went down the shopping street, and finally stopped at a Western-styled sweets shop. This shop’s specialty was the sandwich biscuits with raisins and butter cream. It might be good to bring these biscuits as a snack, and I would be struck with heatstroke if I were to continue on like this.
Just when I was about to step into the shop, I spotted a familiar petite woman. Her skin was slightly tan, and she was a little plump. She had large eyes, and I would think of a little bear cub when I saw her face. She was older than my mother, and seemed to have finish her purchase of pastries as she was holding a plastic bag with a pastry box in it.
“Oh my, isn’t this Daisuke? You’re here to buy sweets from this shop too?”
It was aunt Maiko who was staying at Fujisawa.
Aunt Maiko is the eldest daughter of the Goura family, and she can be said to be the most successful amongst my relatives.
Ever since young, her grades were outstanding, and once she graduated from a certain Mission school in Yokohama9, she immediately married a man from an electric works company, and gave birth to 2 girls without issues. They built a large house at Kugenuma in Fujisawa City, located near Ōfuna, and the four of them lived comfortable lives. She was someone who was passionate about taking care of others, but she would tense up when speaking.
She did not resemble grandmother and mom in appearance, and was a chip off the old block from grandfather’s photo on the altar.
“My Mina resigned last year, spent some time travelling and going around shopping and touring around with friends. She just found a job a few days ago, near the Kawasaki Center. Such a young girl working at Kawasaki; we kept telling her to resign, but she just wouldn’t listen.”
I was brought a certain national chain cafe in the station building, and I was the only male customer in the shop full of elderly women. It really felt weird.
“…Kawasaki doesn’t seem so dangerous.”
We were talking about my cousin, a year after my grandmother’s death.
“But Kawasaki had always been a place men always had fun at. There was a lot of overtime work, and I’m worried.”
She seemed to have concluded that Kawasaki was a street for merrymakers. That might be the case in the past, but now, there are ordinary shopping districts around the station. Just when I wanted to say this, my aunt changed the topic.
“Speaking of which, how’s Eri doing? Is she still busy with her work?”
Eri is my mom’s name. She had been working overtime often recently, and had been really busy.
“…More or less.”
“Then what about you? Have you found a job?”
“What kind of job do you want? Have you taken part in employment drives?”
Unknowingly, it became a lecture to me. I started to understand vaguely once I grew into an adult. Whenever this aunt start talking about her family affairs, it would be a sign that she wanted to hear out who she was talking to. I stumbled as I answered, saying that I went to interview at several companies, and was headed to the Hello Work Agency10.
“In this economic downtime, it will be hard for you to choose a job suitable for you. You do have an advantage in physical strength. How about you try out for the JSDF11 or the police?”
She was polite in her words, but she had the same intent as my mom. I inadvertently wondered whether it was because they were sisters that they thought the same thing.
“My husband’s worried about you too. If you can’t get a job no matter what, come talk with us.”
I was a little touched. My uncle-in-law is the second son of the Kugenuma magnate family, and had vast connections in Fujisawa. He retired last year, but I heard he was chosen as a candidate for the City Council. Maybe he could recommend me a job.
“If you continue to idle like this, your grandma will worry about you in the other world. She does treat you like the apple in her eye.”
I nearly spat out the ice coffee I was drinking.
“No. That can’t possibly be true.”
Those narrow eyes were too thin to allow anything in. She was not someone who could easily forgive and love a kid after the kid made a mistake.
“You’re just like Eri here, huh? Both of you certainly never realized it.”
Aunt sighed worriedly.
“I’ve seen her longer than anyone else, so I understand this. Your grandma loves you and Eri most…whenever she made to occasional trip to our house, she kept talking about you two all the time. She went for her final trip with you two, right? My husband and I were the ones who proposed to go out with her first, but she refused.”
This was the first time I heard this. It was true that my retired uncle and housewife aunt Maiko had much more free time as compared to my mom who had been busy with work, and me, who had been busy looking for a job.
Now that she said so, I never remembered seeing my grandmother quarrel with aunt Maiko before. I thought that they were able to get along unlike my mom, but it could be said that their relationship was not as close.
“Then, why are we…”
In terms of appearance, there was no way my mother and I were pleasing to the eyes. I never thought of anything that would make grandmother happy.”
“…Is it because you’re tall?”
I could not help but ask, but aunt’s expression was serious.
“I’m not joking here. Your grandfather was the same too; our family members’ build are typically short except for you and Eri. I feel she prefers taller people…you see, your grandmother’s room had such a thing, right?”
Aunt drew a rectangle with her finger, and after thinking about it for a while, I understood what she was referring to. It was the rubber board on the door frame.
“That was nailed on when we were young. No one in our household grew that tall, and yet she said something like ‘it’ll be bad if the next child grows up and ends up hitting into it’…that’s what she said before Eri was born. It had been 45, 46 years.”
I was momentarily stunned. All sorts of numbers in my mind, and I inadvertently recalled what my grandmother said– ‘if you make the same mistake again, you’re no longer a child from our house’.
Is that so? I muttered deep in my heart, and gulped down my ice coffee to hide my anxiousness. My mouth felt dry inside, but my hands were soaked.
“…You hit into it, Daisuke? That thing?”
I nodded silently.
“So it does have its purpose after all. Your grandmother must have been really happy.”
My aunt’s voice felt distance, and I finally understood why Shinokawa was so shocked–no, I still had not confirmed if it was true. I lifted my head.
“Speaking of which, about what I heard before.”
I tried my best to remain calm. It was a question I just thought of, rather than it being there for a while.
“What kind of person was grandfather?”
The hand reaching for the glass mug stopped, and my aunt went silent. I could suddenly hear the voices of the surrounding customers very clearly. There were two women of similar age as my aunt seated at the table next to us, chatting away loudly. They seemed to be discussing if the most effective health food was black vinegar.
“Did your grandmother ever mentioned about your grandfather?”
Now that she asked this, I realized I never heard her talk about grandfather.
“Then you never heard of how he died.”
“I did hear my mom mention it a little…she said that he died in a car accident while coming back from the Kawasaki Daishi in midsummer.”
Suddenly, aunt Maiko snorted and gave a bitter smile. This cold expression on her face really shocked me, as it was not an expression she would normally do.
“Eri was really young back then, and she really believe that.”
She murmured to herself.
“Why, with so many temples in Kamakura, did he choose to go pray at Kawasaki? And in the middle of summer too?…That Kawasaki Daishi was just an excuse your grandfather made.”
“Horse racing and car racing. Aren’t these the things that come to your mind when we talk about Kawasaki? Your father’s an alcoholic too, and he was dead drunk on the day he got into that accident.”
I was shocked speechless. I never thought that my grandfather was that kind of person.
“Your grandfather was a son-in-law adopted into the family, and I heard that he worked really hard when the marriage started. But after I was born, once your great grandparents died, he started to act weird. He would go to the ‘Kawasaki Daishi’ for several days and never come back.”
I finally understood why aunt hated Kawasaki. There was no way she could feel at ease about going to a place her father often went for gambling. She probably did not want to approach that place too.
“It was really amazing that your grandmother did not ask for a divorce…and she kept enduring no matter what happened. Of course, it was a different case when he touched the bookshelf; she was really scary that time.”
I held back the words I wanted to say. I still could not remain calm.
“Daisuke, you mustn’t act like your grandfather. You have to work hard.”
She reverted back to her lecturing tone, and probably told me something even my mom did not know of to warn me. That line was like a message. She moved her chair, and was about to stand up; it seemed she was about to head home.
“…Aunty, have you read Sōseki’s And Then?”
Aunt looked at me with surprise as she carried the plastic bag with the Western sweets shop logo on it, and kept blinking her eyes.
“Why ask this out of a sudden?”
“It seems to be a book grandmother really treasured. I started reading it recently.”
I said this while gauging grandmother’s response secretly. She was showing a doubtful expression, and it seemed she did not know there was a secret hidden in that book. If the eldest daughter Maiko did not know, it seemed that I was the only one in the family who knew.
“I never read the book, but I saw the movie, the one with Yūsaku Matsuda casted as the lead.”
This was the first time I heard it was made into a movie.
“What was the end? I only knew that the male lead didn’t have a job.”
“Hm, it seems…”
Aunt lowered her head to recall. It seemed she did not remember too well.
“I think the male lead got another man’s wife.”
The sun was setting by the time I reached the hospital.
Like the previous day, Shinokawa was reading on the bed. She seemed to be trying to whistle as she protruded her lips slightly. The moment she saw me however, her face was flushed red, and she brought her head backwards.
She greeted me softly, and her attitude was completely different from when she was explaining about ‘Sōseki’s Complete Collection’ yesterday. It seemed that she would revert back to her introverted nature if she was not talking about books.
“Hello. Do you have time now?”
“Ah, yes…please come in…”
She fidgeted and let me sit down. When I went into the room, I found a book lying on her knees. She was reading a novel, and the I wondered what book it was, she shyly showed me the cover. It was ‘Julia and the Bazooka’ by Anna Kavan. It is really a strange name; I could not imagine what the content was about12.
I again apologized for what happened the previous day, and handed her the sandwich biscuits. She shook her head hurriedly.
“No…you-don’t have to mind…I’m the one at fault for saying so much useless stuff…”
The term ‘useless stuff’ seemed to have some hidden power in it. She refused to take it, and I brought the box to Shinokawa’s hands in a half-forceful manner. She then lowered her head awkwardly.
While I was wondering if I was a little too forceful, she spoke softly,
“…I…I just thought of having snacks.”
She said with a soft voice.
“If-if possible…can we eat it together?”
Of course, I did not refuse. She opened the box and handed me a biscuit with a separate packaging. We opened our bags at the same time.
It was nicer than I thought. The fragrance of butter and the sourness of raisins were a perfect match, and the crispness of the biscuit was a nice feeling on the teeth.
“I do occasionally buy this to eat…but I can’t taste the flavor if I leave it to the next day.”
Shinokawa smiled as she said. I was not too sure, but it seemed I made the right choice.
I finished the biscuit in two mouthfuls, and she kept on nibbling. She invited me to eat, but she was not talking at all. Of course, we never talked about the ‘Sōseki Complete Collection’.
She knew the secret my grandmother kept for several decades from what I said and from the clues on the book. She also tried her best not to let me discover this secret, and that was why she called it ‘useless stuff’.
Of course, it was already too late.
The 8th Volume: And Then mentioned before was published on July 27 in the 31st year of the Showa Era. That would be 1956—54 years later. My grandmother was married the following year, and I thought that Yoshio Tanaka was the one who gave her the book.
But upon thinking about it carefully, Yoshio Tanaka might have sent the book before it was published, and it might be plausible to say that he gave my grandmother his most treasured book.
My grandmother bought the other books 45, 46 years ago, around 10 years after their marriage. ‘’If Yoshio Tanaka gave that book to grandmother at that time, their interactions happened after her marriage.’’ Sōseki’s ‘After That’ was ostensibly a story about how Daisuke stole another man’s wife. My grandparents’ marriage was not happy at all.
My grandmother gave me the name ‘Daisuke’ based on the male protagonist, and it was something she thought of a long time ago—in other words, she did not name this simply because of me, but because there was a possibility my mom would be a boy when she was about to be born. Grandmother bought the ‘Sōseki’s Complete Collection’ from around the time my mom was born.
Aunt Maiko said that grandmother liked tall people, which was why she preferred mom and me. But this was probably half the truth. We were the only tall ones in the family, and the rest were short. I did not look like grandfather at all.
Did grandmother see the face of her secret lover through mom and me?
She nailed a rubber board on the Japanese-styled room on the second floor. This was something short people would not think about—that someone must have knocked his head into it.
Perhaps she did not nail it simply because of the children after they grew up. If she did not want someone to hurt his head, that would be a certain someone my family did not know of, someone as tall as me.
My real grandfather was the man called Yoshio Tanaka—perhaps this was the secret my grandmother hid at all costs. ‘You’re no longer a child from our house’, did she mean it as what she really said?
But these were only guesses I could make. Since grandmother died, I could not confirm it, but there was a possibility.
“…Is Yoshio Tanaka still alive?”
Upon hearing my question, Shinokawa, who was about to take her last bite, stopped.
“Maybe he’s still alive…and maybe…”
She lowered her head. I knew what she was saying. Yoshio Tanaka could meet my grandmother when she was busy with the eatery; that meant that he could be staying nearby.
The patient room was in silence under the sunset. This fact we could not say out was something only the two of us were clear about. We did not know anything about each other, but for some reason, we were related by this common secret.
Shinokawa’s voice suddenly rang in my ears clearly.
“What kind of job are you doing now?”
I was suddenly pulled back into reality. Since she asked me so directly, I had to answer honestly.
“…I haven’t found one.”
“…I’m not doing any at the moment.”
I did not know when I would be called in for interviews, so it was hard for me to do part-time work for long hours. I felt more awkward when I said this—but for some reason, her face showed delight. What was going on? Was she happy that I did not have work?
“I…got a fracture, and there’s still some time before I get discharged…the shop’s already lacking in staff, and it ended up like this.”
She added on vaguely, and I really did not know what she meant at all.
“Then, if you don’t mind, can you please come to my shop to work?”
I widened my eyes at her, and she lowered her head deeply.
“Please. My little sister will help, but she’s not very reliable.”
“Wa…wait a second. I don’t understand books at all.”
And I should have mentioned about my ‘nature’. It was unheard of for someone bad at reading books to work at a bookstore.
“…Do you have a license?”
“Great. There are no problems then.”
She nodded hard.
She nodded her head hard.
“…Is it more important to have someone who knows how to drive instead of being able to read?”
“What a person working at an old bookstore needs to know is not about the content of the books, but the market prices. It’s naturally good if you read through many books, and you can learn even if you never read them before. In fact, there are quite a few old book store workers who don’t read other than their work period. Maybe someone like me who reads everything is weird…”
I opened my mouth wide. My impression of an old book store had completely collapsed, and I felt that I heard something I should not have.
“Anyway, there’s a need to move a large number of books, so a license is necessary. I’ve been doing the acquisition and valuations of the books, so if you can follow my instructions, Mr Goura…”
Unknowingly, things ended up like this. I immediately recovered.
“Bu-but…isn’t there anyone more suitable?”
“Did you not say that you’re happy when you hear anything regarding books?”
“Eh? Ah, yes.”
“I do become very talkative when I start mention about books…the children working part-time before this all resigned because they could not stand me. I really couldn’t find anyone who could work with me.”
So she wanted to hire me and let me listen to her talk? As I gave her a stupefied expression, she lifted her eyes, ostensibly pleading for assistance. My head felt hot as I looked at her teary eyes. That expression was a crime.
“Anyway, our family bookshop requires lots of physical work, and there are a lot of things to memorize. Our little shop here also gives quite a bit of salary too…”
I inadvertently felt there was no way I could just leave her alone like this, but I did not answer. She leaned over while being surrounded by a hill of books, and nearly fell off the bed.
“…You don’t want to do such a job?”
I suddenly recalled the words my grandmother said to me in this hospital.
(If you can read books now, your life will be changed greatly.)
This person here is a bookworm who has always been reading. I was not really unsatisfied with the me at that point, but I felt deep within my heart that I wanted to live in this pile of books.
And also—I was thinking about Yoshio Tanaka. Most likely, he was a ‘bookworm’ just like grandmother and Shinokawa. If he stayed nearby, perhaps he might appear at the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia.
Mentally prepared, I stood up and nodded.
“But I have a condition.”
She immediately tensed up.
“…What is it?”
“Can you tell me about the story of Sōseki Natsume’s And then? What kind of story is it? I want to know as much as I can.”
The books passed down through different hands do not simply have contents, but also their own stories.
I learned about the story of how my grandmother treasured this 8th volume: And then. I was also very interested in the story of the book—however, I couldn’t read it until the end.
She nodded firmly and answered with a smile. Her smiling face made me unable to look away. She seemed to be reminiscing something as she looked up into the sky. After a while, her nice and delicate lips let out a gentle voice.
“The story of And then was a novel published on the Morning news in the 42nd year of the Meiji Era. This was part of a trilogy that also includes Sanshirō and The Gate…”
Is she going to start from the background? It seemed we were headed for a long conversation. I listened to each word silently as I gently pulled the round chair towards the bed.
- IIn actual fact, it is more like a Buddhist temple. Built in 1929, this temple is 25m tall. More details on Guanyin in the next point. Here is a picture of it [http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/ja/6/64/%E5%A4%A7%E8%88%B9%E8%A6%B3%E9%9F%B3%E5%83%8F%E6%AD%A3%E9%9D%A2.jpg]
- Note, in Japanese, they call Guanyin as Byakuekannon, 白衣観音, literally, white-clothed Guanyin. In Buddhism, this religious figure is the Bodhisattiva, or enlightened being of compassion, and is also revered by Taoists. The name, when translated, means ‘The One who observes the sounds (of the world)’. A prominent god in East Asian religions. Commonly referred to as female nowadays, but was sometimes deemed a male in the past.
- Judo rankings. Looking at how Daisuke got a Dan at least, that will mean that he is ranked at least a blackbelt
- Popular Buddhist temple. Informal name of Heiken-ji, 平間寺
- Published in 1905-1906 as novel, this story is a satire about how Japanese society was undergoing reforms and aping Western customs
- Highly popular in Japan, Botchan (or translated as Master Darling) is a story that revolves around morality.
- 暴走族. Pretty much the biker gangs. Think Shonan Junai Gumi.
- Goura’s given name was 大輔, while the name of the protagonist was 代助
- Yokohama International Christian Academy
- The Japanese government’s Employment Service Center
- Japan Self-Defense Force
- It’s the story of a drug addict, the world revolving around her, and delves into the psychological aspects of addiction.