Before I knew it, the hour hand of the clock pointed at 11am. It was time to open the shop.
I, who had been leisurely dusting away the top of the bookshelves, hurriedly moved the wagon filled with books, worth 100 yen on average, to the front of the shop, and flipped the rotatable signboard around.
But though I hastily opened the door, there wasn’t a single customer waiting. I couldn’t see a person on the narrow street near the station platform. The weather was overbearingly hot, and it wasn’t appropriate for going out. Large cumulonimbus clouds were gathered in the sky above the roof of the platform, so I guessed there would be a thunderstorm in the afternoon.
The breeze blowing by was humid and blistering, as fusty as anyone’s breath. The signboard ‘Biblia’ spun around, and the words ‘Antiquarian Bookshop’ came into view.
Anyway, a new day began.
I stretched my back forcefully, and turned back into the shop that was ostensibly a cave made out of books. The dim interior was slightly humid, but it was much cooler than outside.
This was the 3rd day I, Daisuke Goura, was working at the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia. I hadn’t known this before, but the shop seemed rather famous in the area as it dealt with some expensive books. After a web search through the Net, I found that this shop actually leased the books for some exhibitions.
I, who had this ‘nature’ of being unable to read books, had an encounter with the shop owner Shioriko Shinokawa a few days ago, when I brought my grandmother’s Sōseki’s Complete Collection to her. Because of that, I started working here.
Shinokawa felt that old stories had their own tales in addition to the contents of the books, and had perfectly decoded my grandmother’s ‘story’ hidden in the Sōseki’s Complete Collection. That ‘story’ was related to the secrets of my birth. Shinokawa had an exceptional amount of knowledge in regards to old books, and could display astoundingly uncanny insight. However, she was extremely introverted, and wouldn’t dare look at others in the eyes when the topic was not about books.
3 days passed by just like that.
The one who had been watching the shop before me, Shinokawa’s little sister—Ayaka Shinokawa—never told me anything except how to use the cash register and where to put the cleaning equipment. It also seemed she was not too certain about what a job in an old bookshop entailed, and had been simply watching my actions skeptically. It certainly was unbelievable that I, who had once appeared in the shop as a customer, suddenly became an apprentice attendant of this shop overnight.
“Besides books, my sister is very ignorant of everything else other than books, you know?”
She repeated the same line so many times it felt somewhat annoying.
“A thief came into this shop a few days ago, you know? Nothing was stolen, but this area does feel a little unsafe now.”
The way she rattled on seemed to imply that I was that thief. I remember you’re the one who made me go find Shinokawa in the hospital—I really wanted to say this, but managed to hold it within me, and I continued to work silently. I was someone who grew up in a diner, and I could do some basic customer service if I put my mind to it.
Ayaka had been inside the main house this morning, and had not come out yet. Perhaps she had eased up a little of her guard on me, or maybe she thought that it was too annoying to keep watch on me all the time.
The shop was eerily quiet, and I started the computer situated beside the counter. I checked the mail, and found a long email Shinokawa sent. “Good morning, this is Shinokawa.” This was the opening, and after that, there was a long list of work instructions. Finally, she ended off with a “I’ll leave everything to you. If there’s anything you want to know, please send me an email.”
All the instructions since my first day of work came in through email. Shinokawa was in the Ōfuna General Hospital, and use of cellphones was prohibited in the patient ward. She could call from the lobby, but she probably wasn’t in a state where she could leave the bed.
Of course, I could head over to the hospital properly if it had anything to do with books. However, the issue was that there were no customers. I had no opportunity to talk with her at all.
My morning ‘work’ included preparing deliveries based on the customers’ invoice requests. The Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia was one of the shops listed under the antique books catalogue, and many of the books inside this shop could be ordered through the Net. It seemed like the income of the shop was mostly derived from this aspect; I suppose this was why the shop could still run despite the lack of customers coming here.
I moved through the shop that was stacked with books on its avenues, looking for the listed books on the invoices.
At this point, I finally knew what genres this shop dealt with. It mainly dealt with specialty books like literature, history, philosophy, and arts. There were a few Mangas and Pocket books, but these were old books that I had never heard of.
I took the listed books, and returned to the counter. I carefully checked through the email Shinokawa sent to me as I packed them.
It was probably evident without me saying this, but she only wrote about work in her emails. For some reason, I felt that there were unwritten words implied when she stated, ‘If there is anything else.’ It seemed to say, ‘please do not contact me if there is nothing going on, and do not go to the hospital.’
I didn’t think she would be happy to hear unnecessary and random talk from me; the image of her whispering, “…Is that so,” and reverting back to silence appeared clearly in my mind. Of course, it would be vastly different if it had anything to do with books. She would definitely explain to me with her eyes dazzling, just like before, and this was what I was looking forward to.
The door creaked open; I lifted my head and found an old lady with white hair walking into the shop. A parasol dangled from her armpit, she was dressed in a neat plain one-piece dress, and looked extremely refined.
It was an unfamiliar face that I met for the first time, but I supposed she was someone who lived nearby. She seemed to have come back just after completing her groceries, since she was holding onto a shopping bag with a supermarket label on it. She smiled and nodded at me, and I nodded back at her. The customers in the morning are all old people like her.
The old woman went around the shop once, stopping at several corners, flipping through the books, and browsing through them excitedly. Finally, she again nodded at me and opened the glass door, probably unable to find a book she wanted to buy.
At this moment, another customer was also entering, so she stepped aside.
I stopped what I was doing, as the new customer was dressed very oddly. His head was bald, and his eyes were large and wide. He was a short man, and I could tell from the wrinkles on his tanned face that he was in his late 50s. He was dressed in a T-shirt way too large for him, with a Union Jack flag on it, and jeans that were tattered along the edges. His neck had a pink towel draped around it.
I didn’t know what his occupation was, but he definitely wasn’t a salaryman on his day off. He was also holding a large bag that was made from leisure sheets.
The woman seemed to be as shocked as I was. She tried to squeeze by the bald man, ostensibly trying to escape—and she seemed to bump into him with her shoulder. At this moment, the bald man suddenly grabbed her shoulder.
“…Hey you, hold on for a moment.”
The baritone voice was filled with a menacing intent, and the old lady immediately turned as pale as paper. I hurriedly got up from my seat; this wasn’t some bustling street at night, but rather an antique bookshop during the day. I never unexpected to see such a dispute here.
“What are you doing!?”
I was about to pull the bald man aside, but he suddenly gritted his teeth and bellowed,
“You idiot, why’re you grabbing me here!? Look!”
He reached into the old lady’s shopping bag, and pulled out the item at the top. At that moment, I could not help but exclaim. He was holding a large book that was encased; it was the book written by Jirō Konwa and Kenkichi Yoshida, ‘Modernology’, the one I just placed on the counter. The name was a little unique, so I still had an impression of it. I returned to the counter, and found that there was a missing book—in other words, she was a thief.
She groaned in surprise. I was more surprised than shocked to learn that she approached the bookshelves by pretending to support herself off the shelves because she wanted to steal books. I thought thieves would be Middle or High School students, but never expected that an old lady would do such a thing.
“…I hope you can forgive me here.”
She suddenly gave me an begging look, a vast difference from the rich lady-like attitude she showed before. Perhaps this was her true nature.
“It’s not like I’m doing this because I like it. At this age here, there are times where I have to do this, so please spare me some sympathy here, please?”
She suddenly gave me a pitiful look, and it really was awkward. In such situations, I should formally hand her over to the police, according to the stipulations of the service industry, but I was a little hesitant on doing this. Perhaps it was because of my grandmother’s upbringing that I was not used to dealing with old women.
“Such indecent things you’re saying for your age!”
The bald man bellowed.
“This world has no room for shameless old folks like you. You might as well sell some chickens instead of stealing books!”
He was much more furious than I as the employee was, and he grabbed the old lady again. I had to stop him, and while we remained in a faceoff on the narrow passage, the old lady lowered her head slightly.
“Sorry to trouble you.”
She suddenly turned around, ran out, and quickly disappeared from my sights. I also hurried after her, but lost sight of her. She escaped really quickly in a way unbefitting her age.
“She’s most likely a serial culprit.”
The bald man said to me as I returned to the shop.
“Be wary of thieves or something, will you? Won’t it be pointless for you to watch the shop if this keeps up?”
I lowered my head. I was grateful that he managed to stop a thief, but I was a little confused as to why he was lecturing me. Who was he? Once he noticed my shocked and doubtful stare, the man suddenly pointed at his chest and said,
“My name’s Shida; I’m a frequent customer of this shop.”
The man who called himself Shida approached the counter, and stacked some Pocket books there. There were 7, 8 of them in total.
“…What are these?’
“Can’t you see? I’m selling these books.”
My heart throbbed for a little. Like this, I could go look for Shinokawa with a proper reason, and delightedly returned to the counter.
“The person in charge of appraising isn’t here, so please leave them and come back tomorrow…”
Shida said impatiently.
“She’s hurt and hospitalized now. Are you a new employee? You must really like this job. Don’t you find the shopkeeper weird? It’s rare to see such an introverted antiquarian bookshop owner like her.”
As he had said, he proved he was a regular customer of the shop. He casually reached his hand towards the counter, and drew a piece of paper from the file holder. It was the invoice slip for customers to record transactions; he knew where the items were placed better than I was.
He wrote in an ardent manner. I inadvertently noticed his right hand, and his fingers were heavily cracked. The black ink stain reached into the narrow and long fingers, and that was the hand of someone living a tough life.
“Right, this should do it.”
He said as he handed me the receipt. The address given was ‘Under the Bridge of the Kugenuma Beach in Fujisawa City’, and that troubled me. I thought I was rather familiar with the Kugenuma Beach area, but I never heard of the place ‘under the bridge’.
I asked, and at the same time, I noticed nothing was written in the telephone number column.
“Hikijigawa river flows this way, and there’s a bridge right in front of the Kugenuma Beach. You know that place? It’s slightly up from coastal road.”
Shiba drew an imaginary map with his index finger as he said.
“It’s right below the bridge.”
I stared at his face without looking away—and after a while, I understood what he meant. This man was homeless.
“I picked these books recently. I’m a book watchman.”
What does that mean? Shida however did not answer my question and tapped at the books in his hands a few times with a smiling face.
“Anyway, bring these to the hospital and get the shopkeeper to appraise them. They might not look this way, but they are decent old books. Your shopkeeper will definitely love them.”
I wanted to ask Shida what he meant by being a Book Watchman, but Shida leaned his body over the counter, ostensibly afraid of letting others eavesdrop. I was the only person present in the shop. He really exaggerated his actions.
“…Well, there’s something I want to ask this shop about. Can you please notify the shopkeeper for me?”
I didn’t know what he meant at all, but he did not give me any room to interject.
“I’m a regular customer here, so there’s no problem, I guess? …Anyway, it happened yesterday…”
As I remained speechless, Shida started to articulate further.
That evening, I went to the hospital. Shinokawa’s sister had no club activities in the afternoon, so she took over in keeping watch over the shop. I knocked on the hospital door, and there was a soft voice inside. It was vague and muffled, but it seemed like she was inside the room.
We had not met in 3 days, but I wasn’t particularly delighted. I had been thinking about the customer Shida who had appeared during the day—the ‘request’ he presented to us.
“This is Goura. Please excuse me.”
I said as I opened the door.
“I just sent the email. The book appraisal…”
I was suddenly speechless. Shinokawa was on the bed, drying her hair with a towel. It seemed she just finished her shower, and her white skin was dyed a little cherry pink. Once she realized my presence, she stopped what she was doing and remained still.
“Sorry. I’ll wait in the corridor.”
Flustered, I headed outside.
“It-it’s fine…please come in…”
Shinokawa called me with a teeny-weeny voice, and lowered her head as she let me sit on a chair. Her beautiful and glossy black hair was drenched, drooping above her eyes, and I inadvertently gulped.
“I-I just…showered…I thought you would come by later…erm, sorry…”
It seemed like she wanted to say she just showered, thought I would be late, and was sorry for tidying herself at this moment.
“No, you don’t have to apologize to me about that.”
The shop was being attended to, so I came by earlier. I coughed for a while; if there was silence, I’d inadvertently think too much about the scene right now.
“You showered in the hospital’s bathroom?”
She nodded. The fragrance of the shampoo still lingered in the air.
Shinokawa murmured as she put aside the towel. She probably wanted to say that the nurse helped her bath. I see.
She suddenly took a deep breath, as if she wanted to relax. Her pajamas rose greatly with her chest, and my vision instantly settled there. I thought she was just a petite person, but I may have been mistaken—ah, am I an idiot? What would happen if she found out? Better get down to proper business.
“Can you look at these books?”
I handed over the bag I brought along. To be honest, I was a little skeptical. The Pocket books Shida brought did not seem to be as good as he advertised, and they did not look old at all.
However, once Shinokawa took out the books, her attitude changed.
“Wow, this is amazing.”
Shinokawa squealed in delight like a child receiving a Christmas present. She enveloped the Pocket books tightly, and the spines pressed into her breasts, leaving me at a loss for where I should look.
Her eyes dazzled, and she turned the spines towards me. They were of Chikuma Publishing and Kōdansha Arts Publishing, the three volumes of ”Our Mutual Friend” by Charles Dickens, the first and second halves of ”The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing” by Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin, the ”Limited Edition, Gentle Love Story of Nishōtei” by Ryūzaburō Shikiba, the first and second halves of Shigemaru Sugiyama’s ”Hundred Demons”… It seemed each book was cryptic in content, and I didn’t know what was so good about them.
“…Are they really that valuable?”
“Yes. Each book can sell for 2000, 3000 Yen.”
I was shocked. That was more expensive than what I thought. Those books did not look that old.
“All these books are highly rated by critics, and there haven’t been any reprints. It’s possible to purchase hardcover books, but they can’t be bought with just two, three thousand Yen. There’s a huge demand for such limited edition books in the old books market.”
I remembered Shida’s spirited look. He may look suspicious, but his ability to pick books was not to be underestimated. I was a little concerned as to how he got the books. He said that he ‘picked them recently’ after all.
“A customer called Shida brought them here.”
“Ah, so it’s him after all! I was wondering if it was him.”
She said excitedly.
“That’s because this is his specialized genre.”
“Specialized genre? What does that person do?”
“That man’s a book watchman. Did he not say so?”
“He did… but what’s a book watchman?”
I hadn’t gotten the chance to ask the man himself, as he never gave me the opportunity to raise the question.
“They’re people who buy cheap books from antique book stores and sell them at high prices. Mr. Shida goes around the new antique bookshops in the area every day.”
This was the first time I had heard of such a business. I didn’t expect people could earn a living through such a mission.
“Then why did he call himself a ‘Book watchman’?”
“There are many given explanations, and one of them is that they check the bookshelves and spot for any potentially valuable titles. 1. Mr. Shida has always specialized in rare books trading…maybe he knows more than I do.”
Anyways, Shida was a rare customer who could contribute rare book titles to our shop. I couldn’t help but regret it a little; if only I had listened to him seriously.
“Did Mr. Shida make any requests?”
She looked at me through her spectacle frames.
“H-how did you know?”
“He always does this whenever he sells some good books to us. He wants to purchase some limited edition books of a certain publishing unit…am I right?”
She gave a sweet smile as she said this. I guess that would be because he often came to them with requests; since he wanted to sell the old books he has to this antiquarian book shop, it would be more beneficial to have connections.
“Hm, how do I put it…it’s about a limited edition book.”
I didn’t know where to begin. It was a request that was a little—no, very intriguing. Anyway, I first took a note from my pocket, something I had jotted down to prevent myself from forgetting.
“He wants us to get the First Edition of Kiyoshi Koyama’s Monument Gleaning + Saint Andersen…
“It’s an anthology from Shinchō Paperback. It seems like the First Edition was released in the 30th year of the Showa Era.”
Shinokawa immediately replied with the details.
“In that case, our shop should have some entries. It’s really not uncommon…”
“No. He doesn’t want a book in our stock.”
I shook my head.
“His request was, ‘My book’s stolen, and I hope you can help me get it back’.”
She blinked her eyes. I arranged Shida’s long description in my mind; it would be better, I thought, to convey what he said in the correct order.
”“…I don’t have any money, and I’m not young anymore. Right now, I’m still satisfied with my life; I don’t have to be a burden for others, and can still live on my own. Not all old people complain about unreasonable things like that woman who just stole.”
”There are some books I won’t sell no matter what. Everyone can have a book they treasure, right? For me, that would be Kiyoshi Koyama’s anthology Monument Gleaning + Saint Andersen. You’ve never…read it before? Such an unstudious person.”
”That, was basically my talisman; I always put it in my bag and brought it along so that I could read it whenever I wanted to…but that book was stolen. It happened yesterday.”
”Isn’t there a path to Kobukuroya on that side (he pointed in the north-west direction)? It’s the place overlapping with the coastal road. You know the first traffic light when you head down the coastal path?…Right. There’s a cross junction. The left leads to Ōfuna station, and there’s a temple at the front. 2I rode a bicycle there yesterday afternoon.”
”Why, you ask? For work, work. Recently, I knew someone working in the same line of business, and we agreed to exchange our books there. The second half of ‘The Coming of the Book’ that I just brought was obtained from him.”
”…Huh? You’re asking me if I only have the second volume? Are you serious? The latter volumes of such rare book series are harder to get. There are those who only buy the first volume and not the second volume, not the other way around, right? There are fewer copies of the second volume in the market, and that makes them more valuable.”
”We agreed to meet outside the temple. I arrived there first and parked my bicycle at the pine tree beside the shrine gates…there wasn’t anyone around, and it was very quiet. I didn’t bring my watch, and I guessed it should have been almost 2pm.”
”That temple in Kamakura isn’t considered to be a large one, and there weren’t many visitors, especially since the sun was scorching hot yesterday. I fared much better under the shade of the trees; those waiting for the bus at the station were sweltering there.”
”I was bored and had nothing to do, so I thought of reading a book under the tree. My bag was in my bicycle basket, and naturally, I brought that Kiyoshi Koyama book.”
”Just when I was about to take it out, I suddenly felt my stomach ache. It probably isn’t proper of me to say this, but I’d been having diarrhea for the past few days. I wanted to watch my food intake, but it was really hot, and my house didn’t have a fridge.”
”But there was no sign of any convenience stores or restrooms nearby, so I went to the temple. I thought there would be a restroom for tourists to use.”
”I then placed the bag and the bicycle under the tree, thinking that nobody would steal it. I was really careless, and now that I think about it, it was a grave mistake.”
”I passed through the gates and went down the sandō3. After a while, I heard a crash from behind. I looked back and found a young girl lying beside a bicycle, and my first instinct was that she crashed into my bicycle, as my bicycle was parked somewhere along the pedestrian pathway.”
”“Are you alright?” I asked the girl… well, that girl was about 16, 17 years old, had short hair, and was rather tall. If it were not for the fact that she was wearing a skirt, I would have assumed she was a boy.”
”Our stuff were scattered in front of the temple, and my bag naturally had the book I just mentioned.”
”“Sorry. Please help me lift this bicycle.””
”I said that loudly. Well… I guess I reached my limit there, and I had no strength to pick everything up and put them back into the bicycle.”
”That girl however did not look back, ignored my bag, and instead picked up her dropped paper bag to check the contents carefully… I did not know what was inside, but the plain maroon bag looked pretty high-class.”
”That kid then started to look around. It seemed like something very important dropped out of her bag, and she suddenly picked up something before running off.”
”To be honest, I felt it was strange back then. That kid picked up what looked like a Pocket book. Anyway, when I came back from the restroom, that friend of mine had already arrived and helped me pick up my stuff. I thanked him and checked the contents of the bag, only to find that Kiyoshi Koyama book missing… it took me a while to realize it was missing.”
”I asked my friend, and he said that he just passed a tall girl. That girl crossed the road and seemed to be headed for the bus stop. Of course, there was no one there when I reached there, as the bus had already gone by.”
”I bid my friend farewell, and checked the bus stop just in case, but she was not there after all. I guess she took the book and got on the bus.”
”Anyway, I couldn’t get that important book back. So there’s something I want to ask this shop…”
”Huh? You’re asking me the reason why the girl stole the book? Isn’t that obvious? That kind of old book is definitely worth a lot of money; she must have intended to sell it for money.”
”That’s why, when I thought about it, I realized this old book shop was the closest one from that temple. If that kid brought that Kiyoshi Koyama book, can you help me buy it quietly? I’ll pay for it.”
”…The police? No, I don’t want to call the police. I don’t want to catch the culprit. I just want to get the book back. There are times when people do the wrong things in a stupor… but I really want to give her a piece of my mind.”
”Anyway, please help me notify your shop owner… I’ll come back again tonight. I’m going off then!””
“…That’s how it was. What do you think?”
I made this crude summary, and looked over at Shinokawa. Her hands were folded on her knees, and she gave a pondering look.
“I guess Mr. Shida really likes Kiyoshi Koyama’s works. I noticed this first when he prevented that book theft.”
She said calmly, and I was about to nod and agree.
“Eh? That has nothing to do with Mr. Shida’s request, right?”
I merely mentioned that he prevented a theft offhandedly when I was explaining Shida’s request, but she smiled and shook her head.
“In the anthology Mr. Shida had, there would certainly be Koyama’s signature work Monument Gleaning. Do you know what it is about?”
“It’s a short story about an insipid description of a poor novelist’s daily life. Of course, the basis of this story was the author himself. He met a young girl in an old bookshop, received a birthday present from the girl, opened the wrapping, and…ahh, sorry, I went on a tangent again.”
I had already leaned forward unconsciously. I was actually more interested about the meeting with the girl at such a place, and what happened after the wrapping was opened. But she deliberately coughed and changed the topic.
“Back to the main topic, the opening of Monument Gleaning has a line like this.”
She looked up and recited fluently.
“‘If possible, I hope to age earlier, to a point when my back arches and prevents me from doing anything. At that moment, I may try raising a few chickens to make a living, but not all old people spend their time grumbling about the misfortunes of the world’.”
I was a little surprised. This truly was just like what Shida said to the old lady. I did feel a little surprised when he suddenly mentioned selling chickens.
But right now, I was surprised about something else.
“…Did you memorize all the novels you’ve read so far?”
Upon hearing this, she waved her hands in a flustered manner.
“H-how can that be? That’s not it. Memorizing everything is really… I merely just remembered some pages with the good parts of the books…”
“Eh? Isn’t that amazing? I’ve never met anyone like that before.”
I expressed my true thoughts verbally, but her response was beyond my expectations. Stupefied, her mouth was wide open, and her face turned bright red.
“…I-it feels weird to be praised.”
“Eh? Is that so?”
“This is the first time someone’s said that I’m amazing…”
She peered at me from behind her spectacles, and just when her eyes were about to meet my stare, she suddenly lowered her head again. I felt a little lost as to what I should do.
“…An-anyway, I suppose we should help Mr. Shida here.”
A peculiar atmosphere surrounded us for a moment, and Shinokawa again coughed purportedly to change the topic.
“Mr. Goura, please take note if anyone comes back to sell Monument Gleaning + Saint Andersen. Also…”
The eyes behind the glasses frowned.
“…I do wonder about something.”
“Did that girl really steal the book for money?”
I had been wondering about this question too. It would have been a different case if she were a book watchman like Shida, but would an ordinary person think of exchanging an old book that was randomly picked up for money?
“I feel like it’s a little strange to only steal a single book.”
“Mr. Shida agreed to exchange books with another book watchman. That meant that there were other items that could be exchanged for money. If she wanted money, don’t you find it weird that she left the other items behind…?”
I nodded. It certainly was intriguing—Shinokawa, who had been folding her arms, suddenly brought her body and leaned out at me. I thought that it felt like a pose of a model in a magazine, but I hurriedly dispelled that notion.
“Wh-what is it?”
“I feel that Mr Shida won’t get his lost book back if this keeps up…why don’t we look for that girl?”
I never thought of that. Was there a need to go to such an extent for that book watchman? However, I resisted the urge to say something and stop her. Shinokawa’s large eyes widened. Even without the involvement of book trading at this point, this incident could be the best excuse for me to be here.
At the same time, my enthusiasm to search for the culprit kindled within me.
“Let’s help out then. I’ve been thinking about saying this too, actually.”
I said with conviction, or at least something to the extent of that hyperbole. She happily clapped her hands in front of her chest.
“Thank you very much. I knew you’d say that, Mr. Goura.”
Upon hearing her say that about me, I couldn’t help but feel a little touched. So she really trusts me? Just when my mood changed for the better, she continued,
“But if the girl’s not going to sell it for money, why did she steal the book? What do you think, Mr. Goura?”
I was a little lost due to this sudden question. I actually intended to hear her out all the way, just like how it went when she unraveled the mystery behind the Sōseki’s Complete Collection the last time.
“Ah, yeah… maybe she stole it because she wanted to read a book? Or maybe she wanted to read, but couldn’t find a book.”
“I think the chances of that are rather slim.”
Shinokawa firmly denied this with a twinkle in her eyes. The way she answered with such an expression showed more conviction than any words she said.
“This book isn’t really considered rare, and it’s not hard to find them in old book shops. There was a reprint of the book 15 years ago.”
“Then… ah, yes, maybe she took the wrong book during the mix up…”
I heard from Shida that the girl’s bag dropped. There was no way to be sure she didn’t have a similar book, and took the wrong one in the confusion.
“I thought of that too, but in that situation, the girl’s book would have remained at the scene… I think there must have been a reason that caused her to steal the book.”
I could not think of any more explanations. This would be the limit of my mental abilities—no, wait, wasn’t this weird?
“If she’s not selling it for money or to read, why did she steal the book?”
“Yes, I do feel this is the crux of the incident too.”
Shinokawa said spiritedly.
“The real reason why the book was stolen will become the clue leading to the girl. Let’s investigate this through.”
“Eh… but how do we go about doing that?”
From what Mr. Shida described to us, I understand a few things.”
She raised her delicate index finger as she said this, and I inadvertently looked at it.
“First, she was very anxious back then. She knocked into the bicycle parked at the side of pedestrian pathway because she was running too fast.”
I nodded to prompt her, and she then raised her middle finger.
“Also, another thing is that the bus arrives infrequently. According to what Mr. Shida said, there were people waiting at the bus stop… I can guess that she was in a hurry trying to get to there.”
I started to gradually understand. She was very anxious because there were others waiting for the bus.
“But this is confusing. She was anxious, but why didn’t she run to the station after getting up… he said she checked through the contents of the bag and looked around.”
“Ah, yes. She was looking around for the item she dropped…”
“But she didn’t pick up the item she dropped… she picked up Mr. Shida’s book. I think there’s another possibility.”
She slowly pronounced each word separately.
“The item in the bag did not drop out, probably because it broke or something?”
“Broke? What kind of item is that?”
“I don’t know…in that case, it might be possible she took the book to replace the broken item or to use it to repair something. She looked around anxiously, picked up a pocket book…”
I continued to stare at her intently. It was the same as when she solved the Sōseki’s Complete Collection. She could deduce so much given so few clues, and she didn’t step out from the ward room at all.
However, there was something I didn’t understand very well.
“…Anyway, what are pocket books used for?”
Shinokawa sighed, and she bent her raised fingers. She might not have realized it herself, but she looked as adorable as a Lucky Cat4, to a point it made me feel awkward.
“I can’t think this through no matter how I try. There’s too little information.”
She said sternly while maintaining the pose of the Lucky Cat.
“…It might be better to ask the book watchman who agreed to meet with Mr. Shida. Maybe he might know something.”
“Mr. Shida’s associate said that he brushed by the girl, but he wouldn’t know where she went if he only brushed by. He knew she went to the bus stop because he looked back, right?”
My enthusiasm was pricked again.
Shida would come to the shop later. Would I have to ask him how to contact that man?
“But that man might not come here.”
“Yes, that’s true. I think we should be the ones to visit him.”
“I see… wait, who’s going to ask?”
She looked at me doubtfully. That was a really stupid question between us. Shinokawa couldn’t leave this hospital. Wasn’t it already decided that I’d be the one to go?
The next day was a regular rest day for the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia.
It was the first rest day since I started working, but I was outdoors, baking under the sunlight. I parked my scooter in front of the Kamakura temple, the ‘scene’ where Shida lost his book.
I stood under the shade of the pine tree, wiping my sweat as I looked around. This place was close to my High School, and I often came here when I participated in the school’s temple sightseeing activity—a staple activity for schools in Kamakura. The houses were positioned not too differently from how they were back then. It was near the coastal road, but I couldn’t find any convenience stores or family restaurants. This was a quiet residential area that seemed quite sleepy, and I couldn’t find any pedestrians no matter where I looked.
I agreed to meet Shida’s associate at this place.
Shida again came to the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia the previous night, and was extremely delighted to hear that we’d look for the thief girl (and the prices his books would sell for). He told me he had something he wanted to ask the associate, and contacted the associate using the phone in the shop. I didn’t talk to the associate directly, but he agreed to meet me cheerfully, and told me the time and location to meet.
“You should read the ‘Monument Gleaning’ once.”
Shida said to me after he contacted his associate.
“I first read that book when I was starting this business. I did not intend to do this business like what I’m doing now; my company and family was in a mess… but I guess it’s nothing much. I do find it blissful to read under a bridge.”
Shida first appeared at the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia several years ago, and Shinokawa did not know where and what he did for a living before that.
“He was just a poor man who’s not good at building relationships and bad at social affairs. My wish to live a completely content life was simply a wish. It’s all the more impossible to find an innocent and benevolent girl who could treat such a man gently, I guess.”
Shida’s tone was much gentler compared to what he said. He was ostensibly talking to a brother helping him.
“But though the author knew this very well, he still wrote this story. You’ll understand if you read it… I really found myself empathizing with the author who wrote this overly blissful story.”
I nodded—and really had the urge to read it.
“…Actually, I know it’s difficult to get that book back, but I’m unwilling to give up so easily… I won’t blame you even if you can’t find it, so please relax with regards to that… send my regards to that ‘baron’.”
“…What does he mean by baron?”
I muttered under the pine tree. Would that be the nickname of the book watchman? Shida never told me how he looked like, but I guess I would know the moment I meet him.
I checked the clock on my cellphone. It was slightly past the agreed time to meet, and just when I thought about how we had already talked about where to meet,
“May I know what you are doing here?”
An inquiring voice came from behind. I looked back, and found a tall man in white shirt walking over from the temple gates. He was probably in his late 20’s, and had curly hair and long eyes. His un-tanned skin gave off a fragrance of cologne, and if not for the leather business bag he was carrying, I would have believed he was a model taking photos in his free time. Did he come back from a grave visit?
“I’m waiting for someone.”
I answered, and the man’s eyes immediately dazzled. He then revealed his teeth and smiled at me passionately.
“In other words, you’re the same as well. I walked around the temple because I came by a little early… are you the one helping Mr. Shida find his book?”
The man held my hands tightly and shook it a few times. I was still a little lost regarding the situation, and I alternated looking at his hands and his face.
“I’m Mr. Shida’s friend Kasai. For some reason, he gave me the nickname ‘baron’.”
Kasai shrugged his shoulders. Anyway, he was just like a pretty boy in a painting, and I really wanted to call him something regal.
Kasai presented me with a business card. Naturally, I didn’t have one. “I’m Goura, working at the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia.” I had no choice but to introduce myself verbally.
“Ah, so you’re from that old book shop? I did pass by the shop before, but never went in. Are you the owner?”
“No, I’m just a shop attendant. I just started working there.”
“Is that so? Please allow me to visit it when I have time in the future.”
He said with clarity.
“I only knew you were Mr. Shida’s friend, so I thought you’d be in the same line of business. I’m really sorry to call you out on a working day.”
Kasai scratched his head slightly. He looked a little scrawny, but he did not seem to be a bad person.
I looked down at the business card in my hands, at the words, ‘Owner of Kasai Bookstore’ above the name Kikuya Kasai. I heard that he was a book watchman before, but it seemed he also operated a shop.
“‘Kasai bookstore’ is the name of the shop I use online. Normally, I specialize in purchases and sell them online, so my methods are a little different from Mr Shida.”
I could not help but marvel at how there were such book watchmen. It was true that it would be faster to sell the books to the customers directly rather than through other shops; this method of operation was probably no different from an ordinary old book shop.
“I’m not too knowledge about books, and I mainly manage some limited edition song albums and games. I’ve exchanged goods with Mr. Shida, and the genres we manage don’t clash with each other.”
Looking at the attire alone, he did not seem to be someone lacking in funds. He seemed to be a rather capable book watchman.
“Oh yes. Is it regarding the kid who took Mr. Shida’s book?”
I recovered upon hearing Kasai mention it. I then explained to him what Shinokawa discovered; that the current information we had was not enough for us to look for that girl who stole the Kiyoshi Koyama book—after hearing my story, Kasai raised his eyebrows.
“What? I described it fully to Mr. Shida. He never said such an important book was stolen.”
“Do you know something?”
“What I know is not just what you know; I didn’t just brush by her, actually. Right there.”
Kasai said this as he went to the coastal road. The bus stop was right where we were headed, and I could see the traffic lights and cross junction a little further. He stopped in front of the old gates in front of the temple rafters.
“It might be more appropriate to say that we met each other coincidentally rather than brushed by. It was around 2pm, and I was walking over from the road junction. She was squatting in front of this gate doing something, and there’s some rustling sound.”
The gates were slightly concave into the garden, and I could not see the scenery within. I looked back at the pine tree; from the positioning, it seemed the girl arrived there and waited for a while after stealing the book.
“What was she doing?”
“She turned her back away from me, so I’m not too sure. There was a maroon bag placed on the ground, and she reached her hand inside. She seemed really anxious, looking at the station from time to time. I thought it was weird, but since there was a appointment I was about to head off. When I was about to leave, she called me.”
I was a little surprised.
“Eh? You talked to the girl?”
“Yes. She asked me, ‘Do you have a pair of scissors?’.”
“Yes, scissors to cut paper. I thought she wanted something else, and to be honest, I never heard of pedestrians asking others to lend them scissors…but I just so happened to have a pair with me. I have to deliver a lot of goods by mail often, and it’s much more convenient to tie the packages.”
Kasai drew out a pair of stainless steel scissors from somewhere, and looked satisfied as he opened and closed it.
I stared at the blades that were glittering slightly. If it was just like what Shinokawa said, to use the book to repair some broken parts, would that mean Shida’s book was cut into pieces?
“I didn’t know Mr. Shida’s book was stolen when I lent her the scissors, and she looked really embarrassed. She used it only for a short while, and returned it to me.”
“Did you see what she did?”
“Her bag was turned away from me, and I couldn’t see what was inside the bag… no, wait. She was holding something when I lent her the scissors. I guess that was…”
Kasai looked up at the sky for a while, and soon continued slowly,
“…I think it was a coolant.”
“That kind of thing used to keep food cold, you know?”
I knew that, but I did not understand why that girl would be holding a coolant.
“Does that mean the bag contained food or something?”
“Maybe, but I couldn’t tell what it was.”
Pocket book, scissors, coolant; I had no idea what could be linked between them.
“After returning the scissors to me, she immediately crossed the road and ran over to the bus stop.”
Kasai pointed at the bus stop on the opposite side of the road. There was a female high school student in uniform, waiting for the bus there; it was the uniform of my alma mater. She probably came back after finishing club activities, and there was a bow bag taller than her, standing on the ground.
“There was such a high school student waiting for the bus yesterday, but it was a blond boy with a guitar strapped behind his back… the bus had not arrived, and it was meaningless to watch on, so I headed off to the temple.”
“So the girl got onto the bus, right?”
“She should have been able to, but she never did.”
“Eh? What’s going on?”
She should be able to ride the bus from here to Ōfuna station. I always thought that girl was headed to the station.
“I reached the gates, and started to pack up Mr. Shida’s belongings. After a while, I was a little concerned about that kid, so I looked back at the station. The bus just so happened to be leaving, and the other passengers had already got on, but she was the only one left there.”
“She already got all the way to the station. She didn’t get onto the bus?”
“That’s how it was. I didn’t know the reason, though. After that, she carried the bag in her arms towards the street junction, and that’s all I saw.”
I tilted my head. After hearing Kasai’s description, the mystery seemed to be bigger. She carried a bag with coolant, stole the pocket book, used the scissors to cut something, ran to the station, did not board the bus, and watched it leave—I had no idea what was going on at all.
After bidding farewell with Kasai, my phone immediately ran. It was an unknown number, and I hesitated a little before pressing the receive button. “Yes?” I merely said, and waited for a reply, but the other side of the telephone remained silent.
“Hello, may I ask who is calling?”
There was still no reply. Was it a prank call?
“What in the world, seriously.”
I said impatiently. But just when I was about to hang up the phone:
”“…This is Shinokawa.””
The soft voice that came shocked me.
“Shinokawa? Erm, why did you call all of a sudden…”
My mind was in complete chaos. I did tell her my number before, but I never thought she would really call me. She wasn’t allowed to use the phone in the ward room she was staying in, but it was possible to send me emails through the data communication terminal.
”“I-I’m, in the corridor now… I just came out from the rehab room…””
Now that she mentioned it, I remembered there was a space in the corridor for patients to make calls. She must have called from there; it would have been better if she had told me that right from the beginning.
”“I have an urge to know what Mr. Book Watchman said… so I gave you a call. I’m really sorry… so…””
She was about to hang up, and to my surprise, I inadvertently raised my voice when I spoke into the phone.
“Wai-wai-wait, please wait!”
If she hung up like this, this misunderstanding would probably continue.
”“There’s something I want to ask you. I just finished my conversation with that book watchman!””
I started relaying what I heard from Kasai without further ado. Luckily, she did not hang up—but I got the feeling she was getting more confused the more I described things to her. It was improbable to think that anyone could understand such fragmented information conveyed over the phone.
I got all the way to the point where the girl crossed the road. Shinokawa clearly asked me some questions, ostensibly showing no surprise or doubt.
”“…That child left the bus stop with the bag like that?””
I heaved a sigh of relief. Her attitude had changed the moment she asked about books; this was the state when she solves a mystery.
“Eh? Yes, that seems to be the case.”
I answered. I really couldn’t think of anything else important. At this moment, she let out a sigh:
”“…I see. I understand now.””
”“What she wanted to do, and why she stole that book…””
I widened my mouth in shock.
”“I don’t really understand, but I have a rough gist of things.””
“Amazing! I couldn’t even think of an idea…”
I was really shocked she was about to deduce the truth through such a message. It seemed I was wrong to think nobody could crack this case; she could show astounding insight whenever it was something related to goods.
”“…No, I’m not that amazing…””
She went silent, and I, who was excited about this, felt that something was amiss. She said she solved the case, but she sounded dejected; she did not seem happy at all.
“Then what’s it all about?”
I was affected by her, and my voice softened. After a while, she said.
”“…It’s a present.””
”“That girl had a present in the bag, and it seemed to be a food that required cooling. Since the bag did not have any commercial brand, I suppose she did not buy it from somewhere, but made it herself. She was that anxious because she wanted to deliver it in person.””
At that moment, I recalled Kasai’s words. There was another person waiting for the bus, a youth with blond hair, carrying a guitar on his back.
“And the reason why she didn’t get on the bus is…”
”“She didn’t intend to get on the bus, rather she wanted to hand that youth a present… but got into trouble in the meantime. She knocked into Mr. Shida’s bicycle and fell over… the bag with the present dropped onto the floor.””
“…Did it break inside?”
I remembered the sandwich cookie I ate with Shinokawa. That was the last dessert I had recently. Was it that type?
”“No, if it’s broken, it can’t be given. What was broken wasn’t the dessert… there should be something outside the dessert.””
”“It’s a present to the opposite gender, so there should be some delicate wrapping. Maybe the decoration or something broke, and she had to repack it again immediately, but she didn’t bring any materials and tools. She also couldn’t find any convenience stores nearby… at that moment, her eyes spotted Mr. Shida’s pocket book…””
“But there’s something weird about this.”
I, who had been listening quietly, was unable to catch up, and I interrupted.
“I’ve never heard of using book pages to repair a wrapping.”
”“…I don’t think she used the book either. What I want to say is…””
The sound of a bus door opening chimed, and there was a large bus stopped in front of the station when I realized this. I inadvertently let out a cry.
A young man got off the bus. His school pants were partially covered by a white shirt, and he had a guitar case on his back. He was probably headed to school for practice. My alma mater would always hold culture festivals right after summer vacation; did he form a band with his friends and join the light music club?
The short hair was bright and blond; it seemed he bleached it.
”“…What is it?””
“A high school student just got off the bus. Maybe it was the guy waiting at the bus stop when the book was stolen…”
”“Go after him!””
Shinokawa blurted on the phone.
”“Please ask him regarding that girl.””
“Got it. I’ll call you later.”
I hung up for the time being and trotted over. I saw public bus close its doors and leave. The boy had his back turned away from me as he walked forward. If the school rules hadn’t changed, students should have been banned from having such bright dyed hair. He probably dyed it this eye-catching color because it was the summer holidays.
“Sorry, may I disturb you for a moment?”
The boy stopped and looked backwards. He immediately glared at me; his eyes were long and narrow, probably showing a savage expression on purpose.
He said unhappily, and really dragged his ‘what’ out. This was a common manner of speaking here, and I used to say this when I was in middle school and high school.
“A few days ago, did a girl come to this bus stop…?”
I asked, and suddenly realized something. It was said the girl took the bag away; that meant the boy did not accept the present.
“…A girl wanted to give you a present, right? That’s what I want to ask.”
The boy looked as if he tasted something bitter as he frowned.
“Ah, you mean Kosuga? What, are you her acquaintance?”
I remembered the name ‘Kosuga’ firmly in my mind. This boy seemed to know her.
“There’s something I want to ask her about. Could you please tell me her address, or how to contact her for that matter?”
“…Are you the police?”
I didn’t know how to continue. I failed. In my haste to call him, I couldn’t think of what to ask him at all. No one would give the personal information of an acquaintance just because of this—but after thinking about it a little, he heartily took out his phone and showed me the phone book screen. The phone number and email address were listed right below the name, ‘Nao Kosuga’.
“She probably lives around here, and I don’t really know the details. Is the phone number and email address enough?”
I thanked him doubtfully. The boy suddenly curled his lips, and gave a thin smile befitting a painting. He seemed to have practiced it in front of a mirror.
“Did that brat do something bad? She’s a strange one.”
He said with amusement, not showing any concern for that girl called Nao Kosuga at all. I could tell he was extremely delighted.
“…What do you mean?”
“You’re looking for her for some reason, right? What about here? Are you going to abduct her and throw her in some deep sea?”
I frowned. It seemed like I was considered a delinquent; my appearance often gave this impression.
“You don’t really know her?”
“Not really. We just happen to be in the same class. I do talk to her in the classroom, but I really hate women with bad attitudes.”
“So you rejected the present?”
“Even though it was my birthday, I do have the right to refuse, right? She was shocked when I told her, ‘I don’t want your present’.”
So he pretended to look amicable in school, yet was completely different behind the scenes and could even gain delight from doing this. He could actually tell a stranger someone’s personal information.
There was no reason for me to warn him about anything, but the more I listened, the worse my mood got. I needed to get a way to contact Nao Kosuga, however. I let him use his infrared communication to send the data to my cellphone.
“I’ll be off then. I still have club activities.”
After the boy left, I remained there for a while. Although I got an important piece of information, I could not bring myself to be happy.
While scouting for clues regarding the old book, we found out the girl wanted to give a birthday present, but her present was not accepted. Shinokawa probably wanted to be certain if Nao Kosuga took the bag with her when she left.
I suddenly recalled Kiyoshi Koyama’s Monument Gleaning. After Shida recommended it to me, I bought a copy of Kiyoshi Koyama’s short story anthology. It had been a while since I personally bought a book with printed text. Monument Gleaning was a very short novel, and I barely managed to finish it just when I was feeling uncomfortable.
The protagonist, a novelist, was extremely poor, and lived his life peacefully every day. He was destitute, but he had quite the idle life; he merely bought some things, cooked, and read some books.
On a certain day, he became friends with a young girl from an old bookstore who called herself a ‘protector of the books’. This hardworking and down-to-earth girl gave the protagonist a nail clipper and an ear pick. In the end, the protagonist accepted the presents heartily.
The story was overly blissful, just as what Shida said; it could cause people to forget the bitterness and loneliness in reality. Of course, the book didn’t state if the protagonist really had this experience, and one could think this was a fictitious diary by the author as a protagonist.
A present that could cause someone to feel such warmth in a story would never occur in reality. Even if someone were to give it, there was the possibility of rejection, just as what happened before.
I recovered from my deep thoughts. Anyway, I would first tell Shinokawa what I heard from the boy, and then discuss about what to do next.
I took out my cellphone, and dialed her number.
The sun was setting outside the window, and a narrow crescent moon appeared in the sky, looking just ready to disappear. I sat on the chair beside the bed, and checked the time on my cellphone.
It was 7pm, the appointed time.
“…She’ll be here, right?”
I asked Shinokawa.
“She’ll come… that’s what she replied to me.”
After hearing my words during the day, Shinokawa sent Nao Kosuga a mail, informing her we were looking for the book in place of the owner, and hoped she would make a trip to the hospital. “I’ll go.” she merely made a reply. She had something to say to us—I guess.
“It’s good if she can return the book.”
She borrowed scissors from Kasai, and definitely cut the book in some way. I guess the book would be incomplete.
“…It’s fine. I don’t think the book will be cut to a point where it’s unreadable.”
“Why? Didn’t she cut it with scissors?”
“She did cut…”
Before Shinokawa could finish, we heard someone knock on the door sharply. The door swung aside before we could reply, and a tall girl dressed in jeans and T-shirt walked in. She had well-defined eyes and a refined figure; I thought she resembled a pretty boy rather than a pretty girl.
She walked into the middle of the room, stopped, looked around quickly, and lowered her head at us while ostensibly glaring.
“…I’m Nao Kosuga.”
Shinokawa’s eyes fluttered as she reported her name.
“Huh? Be louder, ‘kay? I can’t hear anything when your voice’s so soft.”
The girl chided back with a forceful voice, and Shinokawa’s face immediately turned beet red.
“No… erm… well…”
She was at a loss of what to say. Shinokawa seemed to be confused due to Nao Kosuga’s sudden appearance. Why was the book thief the one acting justified, while the inquirer was fidgeting?
“We are from the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia near Kita-Kamakura station.”
There was no choice; I spoke up for her. Even after stating our shop’s name, the girl showed no reaction at all; it seemed she did not know about the existence of our shop.
“I’m Daisuke Goura, the shop attendant there. This is the shop owner Shinokawa. The owner of the stolen book is a regular customer of ours, so we’re helping him look for it.”
Suddenly, I noticed that Nao Kosuga didn’t bring anything. Where was the stolen book?
“You stole the book, right?”
She folded her arms and raised her chest arrogantly.
I didn’t know how to continue in response to such a rhetorical question. Was she denying her guilt, or did she intend to admit and apologize? This girl’s attitude was certainly bad, just as what the boy said.
“How did you find out my email address? I didn’t tell anyone before. Did you steal it from someone else?”
She was really infuriating me. Given her position, she had no right to begrudge others for peeping in on her.
“Your classmate told us.”
“…A blond guy. I met him at the bus stop near your house.”
Suddenly, her face turned pale.
“…Is it Nishino?’
So that guy was called Nishino… I had already noticed that the boy didn’t give his own name back then. He was rather cautious regarding his own personal information.
“Did you say anything to Nishino regarding that book?”
Nao Kosuga said in a groaning tone.
“No, not at all, but he told me right away.”
“Nishino… he actually…”
Her shoulders shuddered slightly. This girl had been let down twice, first when she gave the present, and second at this moment.
“Can you return the book?”
I asked. Even if I said anything to console her, she wouldn’t feel relieved at all. What happened between Nishino and her was still her problem, and our job was to get Shida’s book back.
“…I can’t return it now.”
Nao Kosuga suddenly turned aside angrily.
I inadvertently raised my voice.
“What do you mean by being unable to return the book?”
“Shut up! This has nothing to do with you, right!? You definitely don’t know what happened anyway!”
“Wait, why are you angry!? You’re the one who stole the book…”
“…I guess I know what happened.”
Shinokawa suddenly said as she remained on the bed, sitting up straight as she stared at Nao Kosuga . The hesitant attitude she showed before had disappeared; it seemed she had completely switched personalities.
“I had intended to wait for the book owner to arrive before talking about your situation… or do you wish for me to inform him?”
This voice had a force that caused Nao Kosuga—and also me to quiet down instantly. That was just for a fleeting moment, however, before the girl glared at Shinokawa again.
“Don’t talk like you understand. Can you describe to me what happened?”
“…Yes, most probably.”
Shinokawa answered without missing a beat, and the girl’s stare got more heinous.
“Then, explain it to me now. Show me if you really can do it.”
I felt this was not good. If Shinokawa made a single mistake, Nao Kosuga probably would not return the book. Of course, this case could be solved if we called the police, but that wasn’t what Shida the victim hoped for.
“Are you sure?”
I asked beside Shinokawa’s ears, not because I was doubting Shinokawa’s innate insight, but that I was worried if she could convince the other party—however, she nodded without hesitation.
“Sure, it’s fine.”
Then, she closed her eyes as she said, and said eloquently.
“That day, you made a dessert for your classmate, Mr Nishino, as a birthday present…you needed a coolant, and since it wouldn’t break even when it dropped on the floor, I guess it’s a tart or something similar. After wrapping it, you decorated it with a deep red ribbon, packed it inside a paper bag, and left the house. You knew Mr Nishino would head to the nearby bus stop after club activities and take the ride back home…am I wrong in any way up till this point?”
Nao Kosuga opened her mouth wide. It seemed everything fit.
“…You crashed into the bicycle in front of the temple, and the bag dropped onto the floor. Though the content itself did not break, the packaging changed shape. The decoration around at the knot was probably damaged…an artificial flower or something similar. You needed a string to fasten it.”
“Eh? A string?”
I inadvertently interrupted. Shinokawa opened her eyes, and drew a pocket book from the pile of books. It was the book Sanctuary by William Faulkner5., printed by Shinchō Paperback. She flipped through one of the pages, and raised the maroon cord in it.
Ah, I could not help but exclaim—that was how it was.
“All the books from Shinchō Paperback have this book cord…of this yarn-like texture. In the past, most of the printing companies would do so, but only Shinchō Paperback does so nowadays. Monument Gleaning + Saint Andersen does have a similar deep red book cord, and you stole the book for this.”
“…Wh-where did you see it?”
Nao Kosuga muttered.
“Then how did you even know about the color of the ribbon…I should be the only one who knows what’s inside the bag. Even Nishino did not see it.”
“I can guess the color of the ribbon from the fact that you made use of the book cord. The paper bag was maroon in color too, so I wondered if the wrapping inside was of the same color…also, the book cord in a pocket book is definitely not long. There are only a few things it can repair.”
Shinokawa closed the Sanctuarybook and put it back into the pile of books beside her table.
“At first, you must have thought of using your hand to tear the book cord, but the cord was not as easy to remove as you thought. You had no choice, and borrowed a pair of scissors from a man passing by, and took down the book cord…the book was useless at that point, but you did not throw it away immediately because that man was still present. You decided to give the present first, and hid the book and brought it along to the bus stop…”
Suddenly, she stammered.
“…In the end, you were unable to give the present. You left the bus stop, forgetting to deal with the book…am I wrong anywhere up till this point?”
Nao Kosuga knelt down in a sudden deflated manner. Nobody spoke up during this short time.
“…You even knew about that?”
She buried her head into her knees and muttered weakly.
“By any chance, do you…know why I did not return the book?”
“I’m not too certain… you did not do anything to the book after you took it back, and you thought of returning the book, but you aren’t explaining it. Looking at these few points…”
Unknowingly, Shinokawa’s voice became softer and gentler.
“…Are you now reading the book?”
The girl lifted her head, her ears slightly red. Then, she seemed to be regretting her faltering as she looked away from the hospital bed.
“I did not intend to read in the first place. I don’t like books…but it just happened to drop open right in front of my eyes…”
“…So the page with the Monument Gleaning story was opened, right?”
Shinokawa continued. So that’s how it was, I muttered in my heart. This was Shida’s favourite story, and he probably would have marked the page of the short story he liked.
“That story has a part where a girl in her teens gave a present to a man on his birthday.”
I managed to digest a little of what was going on. The girl was of a similar age as her, and once she saw the episode about the girl giving a birthday present, she had the enthusiasm to read on.
Nao Kosuga continued to kneel down like that, her hands pressing her chin, her ferocious expression becoming gentler, and her face showed some signs of immaturity.
“I don’t know whether I like him or not, I just found him special… That’s why I wanted to give a present. I didn’t know that guy hated me. Well, I guess I wasted my time and effort here.”
Her voice was extremely cheery, and I did not if she was either forcing herself or really feeling relieved.
“That story was really a complete fulfilment of my wish. At first, I wondered how there could be such a girl, but maybe it was written with the knowledge it was a wild wish. I knew that, and it’s a good story…I thought I would continue to read the other stories in this book.”
She put her hands on her knees covered by the jeans. The age, sex and circumstances were different, but maybe those that like the same type of book have similar senses.
“…I apologize for stealing the book and cutting the cord.”
“If you don’t mind the cut cord, I’ll definitely bring it back tomorrow. There’s still a little bit I want to finish reading…”
“That won’t do.”
Shinokawa interrupted her words with a quiet tone, and continued to say to the startled girl.
“You have to return the book to the owner, rather than us. The owner of the book is Mr Shida, someone who likes the Monument Gleaning story just like you. If you apologize with such a sincere heart, he’ll definitely forgive you.”
I finally noticed it, that Shinokawa already had the intention of making the girl apologize directly to the man himself the moment she called her here. This method was more suitable instead of us giving the book back, and I guess Shida would definitely be happy.
“…I understand. I’ll do that.”
Nao Kosuga nodded without hesitation.
A few days later, in the morning, I brought Nao Kosuga to the coast of Kugenuma station. The coastal road was filled with vehicles filled with tourists from outside the county, and the traffic remained stagnant. The sound of waves breaking could be heard from afar, and the windsurfing sails glided on the rippling waves.
I should have noticed from the moment we proposed Nao Kosuga return the book herself that she did not know where Shida lived. Someone had to send her there, and I was the only one who could do so.
I made a turn at the coastal road, turned into a narrow alley along Hikijigawa River. The number of pedestrians here decreased drastically.
Nao Kosuga brought the book along honestly—no, I did not see it personally, but she was holding a slightly large paper bag. Of course, we did notify Shida beforehand, and he said he would be waiting for us at his lair.
She hardly spoke anything as we went on our way. I could tell she was a little tense.
“…It’s around there.”
I pointed below the steel bridge. There was a structure made of plastic sheets built near the foot of the concrete base; as if proving my point, a bald middle-aged man opened the sheet aside and walked out.
Nao Kosuga was a little taken aback by Shida’s appearance, and widened her eyes slightly, but merely for just a moment.
“…This is enough. I’ll go alone.”
She quickly went down the diagonal side of the concrete block, and I hurriedly followed her. She said it was enough of me to send her there, but I had a duty to ensure her safety. Upon noticing me, Shida took off the tower on his neck. The girl stopped right in front of Shida and stood there.
“I’m Shida. Good morning.”
Shida introduced himself. The girl fidgeted around clumsily, took out the pocket book wrapped in cloth, and handed it to Shida with both hands.
“I’m returning this. I’m sorry for stealing this from you.”
Shida received the book silently, and removed the cloth while seemingly wanting to confirm the existence of the book. I could see the book name of Kiyoshi Koyama’s Monument Gleaning + Saint Andersen clearly. It was really old, and the pages looked slightly brown. Shida flipped through the pages and touched the remaining part of the book cord lightly.
“…Ah, what a pity.”
He sighed. Nao Kosuga seemed to be a little worried and lowered her head.
“I’m really sorry that I can’t repair anything…”
“No, I’m not talking about the book.”
Shida shook his head.
“I’m talking about you. You worked so hard for this, but the other party did not did not accept your present.”
The girl remained still, ostensibly caught unaware by this. I could see her expression stiffen.
“I only came here to apologize.”
She muttered softly, seemingly suppressing her felings.
“I don’t need your sympathy…such a thing doesn’t matter.”
“No, it’s not about whether it matters or not. You’re hurt because your good intentions were trampled on…there’s nothing wrong about that. There’s no need to lie about such a thing.”
Shida said quietly. He knew how devastated Nao Kosuga was.
“I-I’m not lying…”
“It’s fine not to say such flaunting words, there’s nobody related to your daily life with you here, right…if possible, how about you try telling me what happened?”
Nao Kosuga gritted her teeth, and her shoulders shuddered.
“It’s meaningless to say such things…isn’t it a waste of effort?”
“Well, I guess it may be a waste of effort.”
“But if you just sound off to others, you will feel relieved somewhat…you see, the Monument Gleaning’s the same right. There is a line in the story, ‘whether it is useful or not, how great it can be if we can become people who can be there for each other’. These words seem a little cheesy, but they can etch deeply into people’s hearts. If there’s anything bothering you, I’m here to listen.”
The girl suddenly closed her eyes hard, and her mouth widened. I thought she wanted to shout, and got ready to move, but an unexpected thing happened.
Tears trickled down. She did not make a single sound; those were silent tears.
During that short moment, none of us spoke up. I could vaguely hear the sound of waves from afar. After a while, Shida said to me.
“You can head back now. It’s a conversation between us after that.”
I widened my eyes. Was it fine to leave these two here—no, I did not think Shida would do anything to this girl, but it would not be good to leave a crying High School girl like this, right?
“You’re an outsider right? I’ll pay you back for helping me find this book a few days later.”
Shida said with a surprised look, and asked Nao Kosuga.
“What do you think? Do you wish for this man to be here?”
She shook her head without hesitation, and said with nasal sounds.
“…You can head back then.”
Since the two parties said so, I had no choice. I left the riverside while feeling a little left behind.
A few days passed by peacefully afterwards.
I did not know what Shida said to Kosuga. Once I reported the outcome to Shinokawa, “I see.” she merely answered this and seemed to have lost interest in this case. Well, we were really outsiders, just like what Shida said that time. There was no reason to delve further into this.
However, a week later, I heard something I was concerned with from Kasai, who appeared at the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia. The latter said that he could not find Shida under the bright at Kugenuma Beach.
“His luggage is still there, but his bicycle was not. I feel he has been gone for many days…and I’m a little worried.”
Kasai said unenthusiastically. It would be good if there were any support facilities nearby, but there was a possibility he was involved in some accident or incident.
Perhaps it would be better to ask Shinokawa, or should I send an email to ask Nao Kosuga first? I thought about this as I worked, but just when it was approaching evening, Shida himself appeared in the shop.
“Yo, long time no see. Are you working hard?”
He approached the counter happily. His face was tanned, and his bald head was showing vague signs of greying hair. His clothes were a lot dirtier as compared to the last time I met. He looked like a survivor born somewhere.
“I caused you trouble before because of this book.”
He said as he drew a pocket book with a cover over it from his bag made from leisure sheets, and showed me the contents inside. It was Kiyoshi Koyama’s Monument Gleaning + Saint Andersen.
“After you left, we talked at the riverside for quite a while. We were really into it when talking about Kiyoshi Koyama…she’s a little aloof, but she’s a good kid.”
He said graciously, and seemed to suddenly remember something as he drew a paper pouch from his bag. It was like a gift, and the pouch had a pretty ribbon tied on it.
“She even gave me this, saying it’s to repay for cutting off the book cord…look inside.”
At that moment, I realized the bag still had ample space even with a pocket book inside. I suppose the present was placed inside. The bag had signs of being opened before; doubtfully, I opened the paper bag, and was immediately startled. Packed inside was a small clipper and a metal ear pick.
“It’s like she heard my heart, didn’t she? This might be the most valuable present to me, right?”
Shida smiled as he said. I understood his intention. This was the same as what the young girl in Monument Gleaning gave the protagonist. On a closer look, I found that Shida’s nails were neatly cut. It seemed he immediately used the gift once he received them.
“I managed to get the book back thanks to that big sister. That kid even said…she managed to depict everything correctly even though she was stuck in hospital the entire time.”
He then hesitated a little before continuing,
“…It was scary that she was absolutely correct.”
I was a little unhappy. She was the one who said everything correctly, but I thought I put in quite some effort too.
“Anyway, it’s really abnormal to get the book back so quickly. I have to return a gift to this shop at least…this will be it.”
Shida put the nail clipper and ear pick back in, and handed me a pocket book. It was not Kiyoshi Koyama’s book; it was probably a little newer, but not a recent book. It was Peter Dickinson’s Walking Dead6, printed by Sanrio SF Paperback. I never heard of this book before, but it should probably be a Sci-Fi novel.
“Why’re you still asking me, you idiot!? Of course I came here to sell it!”
Shida exclaimed loudly.
“Name any price. I’ll sell it even if it’s for 1 Yen.”
I lowered my head and looked at the Walking Dead. The book was overly thin, and it looked cheap. The given price was 480 Yen. It did not seem to be a book Shida was proud of, but anyway, I would bring it over to Shinokawa for her to have a look.
“Where’ve you been the past few days?”
“Well you know, it’s definitely something to do with work. I went through many places, and finally found this book…at least say a thank you very much or something.”
Why was it that I had to be the one thanking him? Did he not bring the book as a gift to us?
“…Thank you very much.”
Anyway, I lowered my head. I was really an idiot for worrying about him.
After closing the shop, I made a trip down to the hospital. The sun was setting, and Shinokawa, who had her laptop activated in the ward room, greeted me clumsily.
After saying that, she went silent again. I had been working at this shop for more than a while, and we hardly talked about anything other than books.
We then went silent. Even though we met often, it would be pointless not to say anything. I decided to talk about something random for the time being.
“Shinokawa, how’s your injury?”
“Didn’t you say you went to the rehab room?”
“Ah, yeah…I guess that’s the case…I have been rehabbing.”
She answered with a soft voice.
“How did you injure yourself? Speaking of which, I never asked about that before.”
It seemed she had a corset on her waist, and her legs were not bandaged in casts. I heard she injured her legs before; had she recovered?
She fidgeted around, wondering what to say, and finally said nothing. I was a little disappointed. I hoped to use this chance to improve my relationship with her, but we just could not even start with a random chat.
Suddenly, Shinokawa raised her voice. She seemed to be taken aback by her own voice as she cringed her neck.
“I-I’m not good at talking about anything other than books…bu-but I can talk to you about a lot more things than usual, Mu Coura…”
I could not help but ponder. If this was considered a little more, would this not be a bad thing?
“Erm…you won’t resign from this shop, right?”
“I get along with you easily at work, Mr Goura…so…”
I stared at her. I knew what she wanted to say. Of course, my answer would be a definite yes—she was a little eccentric, but I was very happy to hear she needed me.
“I won’t resign. I can also listen on regarding books.”
To me, who had been unable to read even though I want to, this would be the perfect environment no other place could provide. I do have a few grudges with regards to my pay though.
I suddenly remembered I came here because of the books, and drew out Peter Dickinson’s Walking Dead from the bag Shida brought.
She tentatively lifted her eyes and looked at the pocket book I handed her—and her eyes behind the glasses widened suddenly. Her expression immediately brightened, and it changed as if she switched into a different personality.
“Ah, it’s the Walking Dead!”
The next moment, the book disappeared from my hands, and ended up in Shinokawa’s. She beamed blissfully and looked at this pocket book from all angles. The black-clothed girl on the hard-covered book continued to swivel around.
“Where did Mr Shida find this book…did he say anything about it?”
“No…is it really a rare book?”
“Sanrio SF Paperback had a publishing lineup catered to collectors. They published a lot of Sci-Fi and Fantasy literature from the non Anglo-American circle that were uncommo in Japan, but bad sales caused them to stop printing for 10 years. This company translated and printed a lot of such Sci-Fi novels, and such titles are There are also quite a few Sci-Fi fans who collect these pocket books published by all Paperback companies too.
She was completely energetic, and continued to rattle on with her explaination.
“This Walking Dead is a very rare book that’s in circulation. It’s uncommon in the antiquarian book market, and nobody had imported it.”
I finally knew why she was really excited. Anyway, it was really very valuable; would it be the same as the previous pocket books?
“How much can this book sell?”
“Well…the top, bottom and edges aren’t darkened, and the cover is very pretty…it can probably sell for more than 50,000 Yen…”
I was speechless. For this one book? I never thought it would be this expensive. Shida even said he would sell this valuable book for ‘1 Yen’—this would be an ample ‘thanksgiving’ for an old bookshop. He probably spent quite a lot of effort getting the book.
“Did Mr Shida mention about Miss Kosuga?”
“Well, it seems they had quite the lively chat over Kiyoshi Koyama.”
Shida looked really delighted when he showed off the dazzling nail clipper and ear pick to me. Perhaps it was because he met someone who had similar interests as him.
“Mr Shida accepted that child’s birthday present. It was…”
“A nail clipper and an ear pick, am I right?”
She immediately answered. I, who was about to continue on in a satisfied manner, was inadvertently shocked by this.
“Eh, how did you…”
The reason appeared at that moment, and my question stopped midway through. When Shinokawa was talking to Nao Kosuga here, she told the latter that Shida liked the Monument Gleaning too, and—even told her to apologize with this attitude.
I thought about it at this point; perhaps she was hinting for Nao Kosuga to give a nail clipper and a hook. She probably expected Shida’s delight, and that he would forgive Kosuga.
I stared at the side of Shinokawa’s face that was dazzling innocently, and recalled the words Shida said before he left the shop after leaving the Walking Dead behind.
“I caused you some trouble here, and I really want to thank you, but…”
Shida was at a loss of words, his face showing a serious expression.
“That big sister is amazing, to a point where it worries me. Being too intelligent can be a troubling thing; that big sister hasn’t realized this however, you need to take note of this, you know?”
At that time, I thought he was simply worrying too much. This person only had interest in books, and would not cause trouble.
At this point, though I did not change my thinking—but I was a little concerned about the nail clipper and the ear pick. I knew she did not do this out of malice, but I could not say she was not instigating others according to her will. If she knew about it, she probably would not be happy about it.
Maybe I just had to pay a little more attention; it would be fine as long as I continued to work with her.
Shinokawa, who was flipping through the pages, opened her mouth, and let out a hoarse breath.
It seemed she wanted to whistle, but she herself did not realize this at all.
- The original has it as sedori, 背取り (せどり), which would mean ‘spine taker or withdrawer’. ‘Spine taker’ would mean that the seller would take (取り)the book by its spine, 背表紙 (せびょうし). In other words, ‘spine taker’ would mean ‘taking the book by the spine’. Obviously, that does not fit in as well in English, so I changed the text.
- The temple that would best fit this description would be the Kōmyō-ji, a Buddhist temple. Incidentally, Shida would have passed through a place called Yuigahama (notable because the names of the cast in Oregairu are based on locations in Kanagawa; Yuigahama, Yukinoshita, Komachi and Zaimokuza are based in Kamakura, for example).
- The road leading to a Shinto shrine or a Buddhist temple. In this case, it is a Buddhist temple.
- A lucky cat (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maneki-neko) is a ceramic cat statue placed at the front of many shops and restaurants. It often has a raised paw that waves around. Shinokawa has her hand raised in a similar fashion.
- Unlike the given name, this is actually a pretty grim story that talks about a lawyer’s failure to save a wrongly convicted person in a case of accused rape. Notably, the lawyer is the only morally upright party in the story.
- In case you’re wondering, this isn’t the story adapted into the American drama.