There was no response when I knocked on the door, so I opened the door and entered the room.
The setting sun was shining into the room through the window, and for an instant, I was unable to see the bed as it was partially covered behind increasingly tall stacks of old books. The patient–my employer, Shioriko Shinokawa, was nowhere to be seen on the bed.
She was probably doing her rehabilitation, and she wouldn’t normally be around during this time. Perhaps she was too anxious when she went out, as her notepad computer was left on the bedside. Though this was a hospital, it was too careless of her. There was a safe at the rack beside the bed, but she seemed to have no intention of opening it.
I bent my waist and walked into the room. Recently, it had become a daily routine for me to watch the shop starting in the morning and bring the books the customers left with me to this place in the evening. She would appraise and value the books, I would bring the books back to the shop, negotiate with the customers, and if a deal was struck, keep them in the shop–my job was simply a repeat of the same motions.
A soft voice rang, and I looked around.There was a woman dressed in blue pajamas and a cardigan sweater outside the ajar door on a wheelchair. She had long black hair and thick-framed glasses. It seemed she was at a loss of what to do as she lowered her head and fidgeted unnervingly.
I hurriedly moved aside, and she entered the ward room on the wheelchair. The middle-aged nurse pushing the wheelchair entered as well, and she frowned as she avoided the obstacles and pushed the wheelchair towards the bed. Her movements were not clumsy, but a wheel knocked into a stack of books, and the tower of Japan Ideology Series1 books stacked from the floor nearly tumbled over.
The two women called out at the same time; Shinokawa hastily checked the books, while the nurse checked the wheelchair.
“…I did mention it before, but please reduce the number of books here.”
The nurse warned sternly as she helped Shinokawa from the wheelchair to the bed. It seemed she was warned before, but I guess this was to be expected.
“…Ye-yes. I’m sorry, I’ll take note next time…”
Shinokawa lowered her head earnestly on the bed–but it was doubtful if she would really take note. This beauty is an incorrigibly hopeless ‘bookworm’, and reading is as important as breathing to her. If the reminder before this couldn’t change her, would it not be futile now?
“You too, please take note of this!”
Suddenly the nurse directed her complaint towards me. I was leisurely listening to their conversation, and upon hearing the nurse’s words, I unwittingly straightened my back.
“Right! Please do not bring any books when you visit next time. Even if she is your girlfriend, you cannot pamper her too much!”
I was speechless. The nurse folded the wheelchair, placed it as close to the bedside as possible, gave us a glance, and walked out. An awkward atmosphere lingered.
The ambiguous line broke this silence.
Of course, we weren’t lovers–but the relationship between us was not simply that of a shop owner and employee. She wanted to talk about books with others, but nobody else would listen to her, and this was the only situation where she could talk about books with me freely. I, who couldn’t read even though I wanted to, could also listen to her as much as I want. We had a relationship of supporting each other in this sense.
“Y-yeah…it-it’s really troubling.”
Shinokawa eked out a voice on the bed. Her ears were completely red.
“…It-it must have been troubling…that she said I-I-I’m your girl-girlfriend, Mr. Goura.”
“No no no! That isn’t it!”
I, who was about to continue on, hurriedly denied it greatly.
“I’m just saying it’s troubling that I was misunderstood! I’m not troubled about that! I’m not troubled at all. Rather, I’ll say that I’m very happy.”
I immediately closed my mouth. That was really an ambiguous line; did it feel like a confession?
“Ah…so we’re thinking the same thing…I’m the same.”
She said. I had the urge to ask her, ‘How is it like me? Was it about ‘it’s troubling I was misunderstood’? Or about the ‘Rather, I’ll say that I’m very happy’?’ –However, I wasted the opportunity while choosing my words.
“Ho-how is it, your rehab? Can you walk now?”
In the end, I asked something unrelated, and moved away from what we were talking about.
“…Ye…yes. I can walk…slightly…with support…”
“Has the discharge date been decided?”
“Not yet…maybe next month?”
To a bystander, this conversation was completely bland, but this could be considered an obvious improvement when compared to the past. This person was inapt at talking about anything other than books after all.
I suppose it was time to get down to business. I sat on the round chair, took out a pocket book from a paper bag, and gave it to her to look.
“…Please appraise this book.”
Vinogradov Kuzmin Introduction to logic. It was a rather old book; the book did not seem to be in good condition, as the cover trims and the edges were tattered.
“Ah, it’s Aoki Paperback!”
Even so, she received this book with a beaming smile, and just like last time, was a completely different person from before. She started to stroke the cover slowly in a manner akin to petting a puppy on its head.
“It’s been a while since I last saw it! This book and publisher is no longer around anymore.”
Truly, it was the first time I heard of the name ‘Aoki Paperback’. This book was probably limited in print.
“How much can it fetch?”
“No…this isn’t the case.”
She shook her head regrettably.
“Eh? But this book is rare, right?”
“The book is good, but there isn’t any demand for it in the Antiquarian Book market…the state of this book isn’t too good either. This book can only fetch 500 Yen.”
I widened my eyes. This was completely different from the Sanrio SF Paperback the book watchman Shida brought before.
“Aoki Paperback is a united publisher company, and it published books for around 30 years ever since it started operations in the Fifties. Most of the Social Sciences Idealogy books and the old Communist Literature works are printed by Aoki paperback. This book, Introduction to logic, is as its name implies, a deciphering of logic. There had been many reprints, and it had always been popular…what was that person like?”
“Hm, he was in the latter stage of his 50s, dressed in a suit…”
At this moment, I paused. Regarding my memory of that customer, there were a few points that couldn’t be explained with just a few mere sentences.
“…What is it?”
“Actually, there’s something I want to tell you. That customer was a little weird…”
“Weird, is it?”
She tilted her head doubtfully.
“Yeah. It’s a long story…”
September had just began, but that man was neatly dressed in a suit, and his tie was fastened all the way to his neck. His hair was combed neatly, and his moustache was cleanly shaved, giving the impression of a bank’s branch manager. However, he had a pair of sunglasses donned, and looked somewhat conspicuous.
The man walked into the shop, and went straight for the counter without looking around. He was tall and lanky, and his skin was of a healthy tan.
“I would like to sell a book here.”
He enunciated each word clearly with a deep voice, and left the Introduction to logic on the counter. My impression of a bank employee changed slightly in my mind. Perhaps he was a veteran broadcaster, or maybe a commentator.
“The one in charge of appraisal isn’t around. Would you mind leaving the book here for today?”
I managed to explain matters to him properly, at the very least. After 3 weeks, I was somewhat used to the process of welcoming customers in this Antiquarian Bookshop.
“Thank you very much. Please record your name and address here.”
I placed a sales invoice slip and a ball-point pen on the table, and pointed my finger at the name and address column. The man took off his sunglasses, fished out a pen, and started to write. His name was Masashi Sakaguchi, birthday October 2nd 1950, and lived in Zushi City, right beside Kamakura.
His handwriting was not exceptionally pretty, especially in contrast to his neat attire. Perhaps he wanted to write neatly, but he ended up writing outside of the boxes.
Unwittingly, I noticed an obvious scar at the corner of Sakauguchi’s eye. Perhaps the sunglasses were meant to hide this wound.
It didn’t seem to be an injury he received today or yesterday, and it made his stern expression terrifying. This truly gave a completely different impression to me now. This man was dressed in a neat suit, had an abnormally deep voice and a scar on his face—combining these factors together, I could not tell what kind of work he did, and what kind of person he was. He simply stated ‘company employee’ on the invoice slip’s occupation column.
“This should be enough, right?”
“The price doesn’t matter. If it can’t sell, I’ll take it back.”
“I will come by again tomorrow afternoon, and I hope the appraisal will be completed by then. If there are any changes to this appointment, please contact me anytime. That is all from me. Is there anything you would like to say?”
There was nothing I wanted to add, but it made me little uneasy.
“No, nothing special.”
“I see. I will leave it to you then.”
Sakaguchi again put on his sunglasses, and left the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia the same way he walked in.
“…He seemed to be a meticulous person.”
The moment I finished what I wanted to say, Shinokawa spoke.
“Yeah. Maybe he’s someone meticulous, but he felt a little unnatural…well, he just felt a little too meticulous.”
I was not insinuating that Sakaguchi’s actions were weird, but I was very concerned that he immediately answered without hesitation. It seemed like he had already decided on how to answer, as if he had already considered all the possible conversations. Perhaps he really was an extremely meticulous person.
“Is there another reason why you find him a little weird, Mr. Goura?”
I was a little surprised by her question—this person was really intuitive.
“Yeah, there’s still a second part to this.”
I continued. Right, this would be where the problem began.
“An hour after Sakaguchi left…”
I remembered the time was past 2pm; I was having a conversation with the book watchman Kasai, who appeared at the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia. It seemed he had received some request consisting only of Antiquarian Books through the internet, and did not know how to deal with this as he did not have the relevant knowledge required. He asked Shida for help, and later thought of getting the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia to help out as well; of course, he would give compensation.
I was thinking it was not a bad thing, but the phone in the shop rang.
“Thank you for your patronage. This is the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia…”
I picked up the receiver, and was about to report my name, but a high-pitched voice caused my ears to ring.
“Hello, is this the Antiquarian Bookshop? You purchase books here? Did a man called Sakaguchi go over to sell a pocket book? Tall, a little gloomy looking, a stiff-voiced old man. Masashi Sakaguchi. Masa, shi, Saka, guchi…”
At this moment, I recovered from my startled state.
“Well, if you don’t mind, may I know who you are?”
“I’m Sakaguchi’s wife…to be honest, it’s a little awkward to say this so formally. Kukukukuku, seriously!”
For some reason, there was some laughter mixed within the voice. How tense was this person exactly? The man who called himself Sakaguchi was acting weirdly, but this woman who professed to be his wife was acting weirder. Speaking of which, was she really his wife? Is it really alright to say that Sakaguchi came by?
“How about it? Did our family member come over?”
I frowned and pondered. She knew Sakaguchi’s name and that he came here to sell the Pocket Book. Maybe she was really his wife, and there was an emergency.
“…Yes, he did drop by.”
“Is that so? Has he sold that Pocket book yet? Has the ownership been transferred?”
“No. He simply left the book with us. The one in charge of appraisal will do so later.”
“When will it be done?”
“Then our family member will head over there again. Today? Or tomorrow?”
“Understood! Thank you very much! What’s your name?”
“Mr. Goura? Then, I’ll contact you again, Mr. Goura.”
I inadvertently asked. What did she mean by that? But she had already hung up.
“…She seemed to be a very lively person.”
Shinokawa cautiously expressed her thoughts. Would this be considered lively? She seemed strangely anticipative.
“What do you think? Something happened between this couple, right?”
She placed a fist at her lips, and pondered for a while. Suddenly, she asked,
“Did Mr. Sakaguchi’s wife drop by at the shop after hanging up?”
“No. Why do you ask?”
“Didn’t she say she would contact you later? I think she wanted to head to the shop.”
Upon hearing her say this, I supposed this could be what she meant. That person even asked me, who answered the call, for my name.
“But what would she want to do at our shop?”
“She wanted to get the book back before it’s sold, I guess…thus, she asked when we would be appraising the book, and when her husband came by at the shop.”
I see. After thinking about it, I could understand why she bombarded me with a one-sided barrage of questions—I was not certain, but this would at least explain things.
“Then, is that his wife’s book?”
“Why do you think so?”
“Her aim’s to prevent the book from being sold, right? Maybe it’s her own book that’s going to be sold or something…”
“I don’t think that’s the case.”
Shinokawa shook her head.
“If that were the case, she would have explained matters to you in the first place, Mr. Goura…she’s not the type who can control her emotions, right?”
“…Is that so?”
She didn’t seem to be angry at her husband at all. Or rather, she laughed when she mentioned that she was his wife. If the book was something her husband sold without her consent, she would have added one or two begrudging words.
“Hm? But in this case, that man called Sakaguchi wanted to sell his book, and his wife wanted to stop him?”
“Yes, that’s how it is.”
Shinokawa showed me the cover of Introduction to logic. There was a large blue half-crescent stamp under the title. The cover was very plain, and I supposed the old books were all like this.
“This book must have contained some secret.”
She started flipping through the pages as she said so, and I probed my body forward as well. Unlike the ‘Sōseki’s Complete Collection’, there was no signature here, and there was no markings on any pages. It seemed the book was not in a good state due to constant reading, not because of abrasive use.
“Then, what study of logic does this book talk about?”
I asked. It was the most basic question, but Shinokawa did not really mind.
“This book introduces syllogism. Hm…a simple example would be, A equals to B, B equals to C; therefore, A equals to C, something like this…”
I searched through my memory. I had heard of this before.
“Yes. This logic order, if explained through mathematical symbols, would be syllogism. This book was a textbook used by schools in Russia…the Soviet Union back then, and afterwards the book was translated into Chinese. Naturally, the contents consist of an introduction to symbolic logic, and the common questions used inside are very interesting, mostly about ‘Proletariats’2 and ‘Kolkhoz’3. It often includes quotes from Stalin.”
Upon hearing about this logic sequence, I inadvertently thought of the man called Sakaguchi. I suppose his systematic verbal etiquette could be explained by his fondness of such books.
“…This is the first edition.”
Shinokawa said so after flipping over to the publisher’s note. I leaned over to look, and found it was the first edition released on July 1st, 1955.
“It seemed Mr. Masashi Sakaguchi did not buy this from a retail bookshop.”
“How do you know?”
Shinokawa pulled out the invoice slip I placed in the book, and showed me the birthday column. Masashi Sakaguchi, born on October 2nd, 1950—I see. He would be 5 years old at the time the first edition was circulated. This was not a book a kindergartener would buy.
“Did he buy it at an Antiquarian Bookshop?”
“Or maybe someone gave it to him as a present…ah!”
Shinokawa suddenly cried out, and covered her mouth, ostensibly surprised by her outcry. It was rare of her to call out like this.
Her stare was fixated on the last page of Introduction to logic. A label-like item was ostensibly stuck deliberately on the new edition introduction. There was a ‘personal reading permit’, and a few columns with the words ‘book name’, ‘owner’, ‘permit date’, ‘cell number’. Introduction to logic was written on the ‘book title’, and the name Masashi Sakaguchi was written on the ‘owner’ column. For some reason, there was a number ‘109’ written above the name.
The ‘permit date’ was October 21st, Year 47. I supposed that was the Shōwa Era rather than the Western Calendar. After that incident with the Sōseki’s Complete Collection the previous month, I memorized the method for calculating the actual year. The 47th year of the Shōwa Era would be 1972. The year presently is 2010, which means this label was most probably stuck on 40 years ago.
“What is it?”
It did not seem to be a library card. ‘Personal reading’ and ‘cell number’ were unfamiliar terms to me.
Shinokawa did not answer me, and merely looked at the ‘Personal reading permit’.
I raised my voice slightly to call her, and she finally answered.
“…I do occasionally see this since I manage old books.
She seemed to have difficulty articulating as she stammered.
“The books a prison library lends to its inmates are called ‘official’s books’, while the books belonging to the inmates are called ‘personal books’…this is a permit pasted on a ‘personal book’.”
I silently looked down at the ‘personal reading permit’. After a while, I finally understood what Shinokawa meant. This permit had Sakaguchi’s name on it. in other words—
“That man went into jail before?”
“…Most likely. This ‘109’ is probably the criminal number.”
He was eccentric, but he did not seem like the kind who would commit a crime. I never met anyone with a record before, however.
“…Do you want to check if he really served time?”
“Eh? We can?”
“Since we have a clue, we might be able to.”
Shinokawa pulled the laptop on the side table close to her, and activated it for me to see. I was hoping for a cute wallpaper, but an image of a book cover appeared instead, which made me a little disappointed. The book name was The Late Years; she certainly liked to read, and I was impressed, rather than surprised by this.
“E-erm, about this…please don’t look…”
She immediately blushed, and opened the browser with a click. The side of the notepad computer has a portable data terminal to allow her to access the internet from this ward room. She accessed the database of a renowned news firm, and quickly entered the name ‘Masashi Sakaguchi’ in the search column.
I understood her intention. If ‘Masashi Sakaguchi’ had committed an offence, it might appear on the newspapers. I never thought of using such a method to investigate—I tersely stared at the page, and looked through the search results. There were a few large reports, all linking to the same incident. January 9th, 1971, a year before the permit was issued.
“Robbery at Hodogaya Bank/Chase Footage in the day.
There was a robbery at the Hodogaya Branch of the Yokohama City’s Sagamino bank on the afternoon of 8th January. A young man broke into the bank with a hunting rifle, stole 400,000 Yen in cash, and escaped on a passenger car parked outside. The police cars arrived at the scene hurriedly pursued after the suspect, stopped at a civilian’s residence 1km away when the latter crashed into it, and arrested him. The suspect is an ex-worker living nearby—Masashi Sakaguchi (20 years old), and is now undergoing police investigations.”
I was shocked speechless. That man, who looked like a bank employee, was actually a criminal in a bank robbery—it was really unbelievable, but this certainly was the case. The age matched completely, and there was an additional report.
“Sakaguchi’s facial region took minor damage when he crashed into the civilian residence wall, and is currently undergoing treatment at the hospital. The police has revealed that this incident isn’t affecting the investigation proceedings.”
I recalled the wound at the corner of Sakaguchi’s eye. It must have been the injury incurred in this situation.
“That guy…really has a record?”
Shinokawa nodded with a serious look.
“But after this incident, there was no mention of the name ‘Masashi Sakaguchi’ in the news…this was the only crime he committed. Right now, he must have become a new man.”
I too felt this way, but I was a little worried about him not changing his ways for good. Either way, I would be the one dealing with him the next day.
“What do I do with this book?”
“It will be good if you can purchase it like usual. Please tell him this book can be sold for 100 Yen.”
It was certainly an appraisal as usual. As she said, no matter who the customer is, it would be expected of us to carry out deals normally—but it would be a lie to say that we were not worried at all.
“But there’s something I’m concerned about.”
She said as she closed the laptop, and turned herself towards me.
“What is it?”
“Why does Sakaguchi want to sell the book, and why does his wife want to prevent him from selling it?”
“Eh? Isn’t it because he doesn’t need it anymore?”
“But this is a book he had with him for 40 years, right? He said the price doesn’t matter, so it doesn’t seem to be a matter of money. It’s improbable that he doesn’t have a place to leave this book…why must he sell it?”
I folded my arms. It was true there would have to be a reason to sell a book Sakaguchi kept with him for a long time. Maybe it had something to do with the call his wife made.
At this moment, tapping footsteps rang outside the quiet ward room. We looked back, and saw the door swing open. A petite woman entered.
“Hello! Is this the shopkeeper’s ward room?”
A shrill voice shook my head as it echoed within. She was dressed in a red one-piece, and the ends of her brown hair were curled up. She had double eyelids, a round face, and looked just like a child, but there were wrinkles at the corners of her eyes and lips. She was most likely in her late thirties, and the thick make-up showed the contours on her flat face.
The long gloves used to block off the sunlight felt different however as they were plain in contrast to the rest of her clothing. There was no doubt, however I looked at her, that she was a hostess preparing to go to work.
She narrowed her eyes and looked around.
“There’re a lot of books. This is the first time I’ve seen so many. Is the bespectacled beauty the owner? It’s already the beginning of September, but it’s so hot today. I walked over from Ōfuna Station; it’s really hot out there…ah, sorry. I started talking so much without introducing myself.”
I knew who she was even without her introduction. She formally lowered her head.
“I’m the wife of Masashi Sakaguchi, Shinobu. Please return to me that book!”
Shinobu Sakaguchi smiled as she pulled a round chair over and sat down. There was no pause during this time, and she continued to rattle on. Her face was not notably attractive, but she had a myriad of expressions, and gave a sense of familiarity.
“I went to the shop in Kita-Kamakura before this, and the high school student working there told me the one who knows about this went off to the hospital, so I took the bus here…ah, goodness me. I came to the hospital empty-handed! I’m really sorry, shopkeeper.”
Shinokawa immediately blushed the moment her name was mentioned.
“It-it’s nothing, you don’t have to…erm, I’m Shinokawa…nice to meet you…”
She stammered, and she adjusted her body’s position slightly, ostensibly wanting to hide behind me. Either way, this person would not relax unless we start talking about books. I coughed.
“May I ask, what do you mean about hoping that we return the book?”
“A-are you Mr. Goura? The one who picked up the phone? You’re really tall, taller than our Masa…ah, no, taller than my husband.”
I suppose this Masa would be an abbreviation of the Masashi from Masashi Sakaguchi—for the time being, I did not want to think of this unfitting name.
“Your husband wants to sell the book to us, right?”
“Yes, but there’s definitely a problem! He suddenly said he wanted to sell a book he always treasured, and wouldn’t tell me the reason no matter what. I told him not to sell it, but he wouldn’t listen…I thought I should come here since I want the book back. Well, that man’s rather stiff when he speaks, right?”
“Hm? …well, a little…”
The topic changed suddenly, and it was a little tedious to catch up with her words.
“It seemed to be because of this Introduction to logic book. He was a very ridiculous man when he was young, and when he was practicing at a monastery, his High School teacher gave him this book, telling him that he could talk with others logically if he read it a few times. It was an amazing book that changed his personality.”
At that moment, Shinokawa and I glanced at each other—monastery?
“…Well, what was that monastery about?”
“Ah, sorry. That fellow from our house left his house after he was 20 years old, and seemed to have spent his time at some monastery for around 5 years. He wasn’t planning on becoming a monk, but it seemed he had to go there because something happened.”
I tried my best to maintain a look of admiration. It seemed this person did not know anything about Sakaguchi’s criminal past, and even talked about some monastery practise.
“Anyway, he said it was a really tough place, with a wall so high he couldn’t get over, and he could only meet visitors for a short while. After he finished his training, he was shocked by how greatly the outside world had changed.”
Wouldn’t that mean our guess is correct here? I inadvertently muttered in my heart. Even after listening to this part, she still did not realize that he was talking about prison; she really has a trusting personality—
No, that was not all. She really had trusted her husband deep down.
“Anyway, I just think it’s better not to sell it, or else I’ll regret it…erm, is that book over there his? Is it possible for me to take it back if you haven’t paid?”
Shinobu Sakaguchi straightened her back and pointed at the Introduction to logic on Shinokawa’s thighs. She looked ready to snatch it away immediately, and I hesitated on whether I should stop her.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t hand it over.”
Shinokawa said decisively, and unknowingly, she was not hiding behind me, but staring right at Shinobu. This would be her state whenever she talked about books.
Shinobu, who was vehemently refused, widened her eyes.
“Eh? What’s the matter? Why not?”
“Your husband’s the owner of this book, and your husband hopes to sell it…as someone who trades old books, I can’t ignore the wishes of the customers. If you want to stop your husband from selling it, please convince him, and not us.”
Shinokawa held onto the book tightly as she looked down deeply. Shinobu Sakaguchi seemed to have lost her strength as she bent her waist forward. She suddenly became silent, and soon, smiled weakly like what Shinokawa did.
“Hm, that’s true…it’s as you say, shopkeeper. I’m not good at thinking, and I just said something unreasonable…sorry.”
She then sighed and narrowed her eyes at the ceiling.
“But why did he really want to sell it? I feel there’s something wrong with that…he wouldn’t say so himself, and I don’t know if anyone does.”
That would be too much to expect. If his family members didn’t know, how would ‘anyone else’ know—no, there would be someone who would know. I turned my head back to look at Shinokawa; she was someone who was good at solving such mysteries.
“…You have quite a nice relationship with your husband.”
Shinokawa said. Embarrassed, Shinobu grinned as she nodded hard.
“Yes, that’s right. We’re married for almost 20 years already, and we still have quite a sweet relationship even now.”
It seemed the additional use of love lines made it very chummy. Shinokawa too seemed to be affected by her as she smiled.
“How did you first meet your husband?”
I knew she wanted to obtain more information. Shinobu corrected her behavior and leaned her upper body forward to us.
“It will take a long time for me to explain this. Is it alright?”
We nodded silently. She then quickly spoke up without hesitation.
“I first met him in on the year after I graduated High School…”
“At that time, I was working at a hostess…ah, I’m helping out at a friend’s snack bar now. I’m dressed up like this because I have to get to work later.
My relationship with my parents isn’t really good. My parents are very smart, and graduated from good universities; as for me, I was completely inept in my studies, so I had been scolded for being stupid ever since I was young…it would be one thing if I had been passionate about learning, but I really hated it.
Thus, I immediately left home once I graduated from high school. At first, I was a clerk at an ordinary company, but I could not understand anything, and was of no use at all. Half a year later, I was fired.
To live on, I tried all sorts of part-time jobs, but I just kept getting scolded…I thought there would be a job suited for me, so I went to a night pub.
It’s rare to see any of those recently; there has been fewer of them since my youth. There was an old and famous pub at the west exit of Yokohama station, and during my interview there, I was taken in.
As you can see, I can talk quite a lot now, right? At that time, I could talk a lot more. However, a hostess’ job was to take care of customers, but I kept talking about my own things…the customers are all adults; who would be willing to listen to a kid who just graduated from high school. I really intended to work hard, but I just kept getting scolded. My boss told me that he would fire me if this kept up. Just when I was feeling downhearted, that man came to the shop alone.
It was a hot day, but he was dressed neatly in a suit, and his back was straight. He was no different from now, and at that time, he could be considered an old man…of course, he was not married. He said that he would normally not come to a bar with women for a drink, but did so that day to relieve his boredom.
At first, I thought he was a really scary man. He would not talk about himself, and his method of speaking was rather stiff. He was just like my father, and I thought he was a graduate from some good university, and working at some bank. As I thought about that, I tensed up…we never said anything for 30 minutes, and the only thing we did was drinking.
And then, he suddenly spoke up.
“I am not good at talking about myself, but I would like to hear about you. I would be willing to hear you talk about anything, whatever you say.”
The customers in the past would rattle on without care, and this was the first time I heard someone say that I could talk to my heart’s content. I was a little surprised; if he said so, would that not mean that I had to talk? Either way, I started talking about things I could think of, whether it was yesterday’s dinner or the dog I raised when I was young.
I gradually relaxed, and talked about depressing things, like how I nearly got fired. After that, I felt like I was in some counseling session, and I sobbed as I talked about all the misfortunes I had in my life, how I couldn’t do anything because I was too stupid, that I didn’t know where and how I should live on…now that I think about it, he was listening very intently even though I was simply grumbling away.
And then, what happened next was important! After I grumbled so much, I said, “A hostess isn’t the right job for an idiot. I’m not suited as a hostess because I’m so stupid”.”
That man had been listening quietly all this time, but he suddenly put down his wine glass. It was so loud that it shocked me, and I thought he was angry. That was not the case however, and he said to me with a serious expression,
“You just talked using inductive reasoning in what you said just now. A foolish person would not use that…you are definitely not a fool.”
It’s strange, isn’t it? Even after saying it was some inductive reasoning, I understood very well that he was trying to encourage me…I felt a little moved. Nobody had ever encouraged me before.
And then, that man clasped my hands tightly and said to me.
“You are a lot smarter than I was when I was your age…the best vindictive proof of this is that you are using those hands of yours to earn money. No matter when you are scolded for some reason, you do not have to be ashamed.”
…When I heard that, I felt that it was the first time I could allow a man embrace me. No, or rather, I let him embrace me…and he really did. Just like that, I offered myself to him, and we got married. Kukuku, there’s a huge difference in age, he’s a little eccentric, and there’s a lot of gossip, but I don’t really mind what they say. It had been a long time after that, and we have quite the happy life together. That man looks very scary, right? But he’s really gentle. He probably went through all sorts of hardship, and I even felt, sometimes, that it’s a pity for such a rare good man to marry me!”
And after that, Shinobu Sakaguchi continued to talk about her husband’s good points as she proudly raised her chest.
“How about it? He’s really a good man, right?”
During this time, my heart became downhearted, and I started to pity Sakaguchi a little. It would be hard to admit to someone, who trusted in him so much, that he had a criminal record, and it would be reasonable to understand why he said a lie, that he became a monk.”
“Has there been anything weird about your husband recently?”
Shinokawa asked, and Shinobu immediately showed a worried look.
“It started a month ago. He was a little weird; he’s more silent than he was, he doesn’t smile, and wouldn’t look at my eyes anymore…a-and also, the sunglasses! He bought it recently. It’s of poor quality! That’s the weirdest part here!”
I suppose that would be the least important thing. Shinokawa handed the cover of the Introduction to logic to her for her to see.
“Has he ever let you read this book?”
She shook her head hard.
“He really treasured it greatly, and I couldn’t understand even if I tried to read it….ah, but when I was cleaning the house the last time, I flipped through it slightly. It was placed in the cutlery shelf of the living room, and there was some dust on it. I picked it up, and flipped through it.”
In other words, she really flipped through it before. It was clear to me from the change in facial expression on Shinokawa’s face—the same face she showed when she discovered the truth behind the Sōseki’s Complete Collection.
“…Was your husband around that time?”
“Was he…ah, well, maybe. I let him go to the corridor when I was cleaning, and he was listening to the radio on the Veranda. Recently, he liked to listen to the radio…”
“Is that so…”
Shinokawa muttered softly. I too think I knew the truth—the ‘private reading permit’ label pasted in this book can prove that Masashi Sakaguchi had a criminal record. If it were discovered, it might cause the marriage life to break up. He must have thought of that, and it was to be expected of me to move this danger as far away as possible.
“Then, can you please lend me this book? I want to look at it.”
Shinobu’s words caused me to widen my eyes, and Shinokawa too seemed to look reluctant.
“Ah, I won’t bring it home. I just want to know what sort of book it is. Now that I think about it, I never read through it. Hey, a little peek is alright, right?”
She smiled and reached her hand out innocently. Before I realized it, I spoke up,
“Well, there might be something he doesn’t want anyone to see…”
Shinokawa reminded me, causing me to recover. Not good, I nearly said some unnecessary things—but Shinokawa shook her head.
“…No, that isn’t it.”
Was I wrong? What did I say exactly that was wrong?
During the span he spent serving prison time, Sakaguchi had a book with the Introduction to logic with the ‘private reading permit’ label pasted on it. His wife flipped through the book recently, and he came to our shop to sell the book—either way, he did this to hide the fact that he had a criminal record. Is there any other reason?
“What is it? What’s the matter?”
Shinobu compared our expressions, and finally landed her sights upon the Introduction to logic.
“Is there something in this book?”
Shinokawa did not answer. The ward room was completely silent—I was regretting over my carelessness. If I let her see this book, maybe she would understand the reason of our uneasiness was the ‘private reading permit’. But even so, it would be more suspicious not to let her see. We didn’t know what to do.
At this moment, there was a knock on the door. I heaved a sigh of relief.
“…Please come in.”
Shinokawa answered, and the ward room door opened slightly. A tall man dressed in suit and sunglasses. He was panting away, ostensibly anxious.
Shinobu waved her hand happily.
Masashi Sakaguchi was the one who appeared.
“Sit here. Over here.”
Shinobu Sakaguchi pulled a round chair over and brought it beside her. Masashi Sakaguchi then sat on that chair slightly. They looked very intimate when seated together, and looked more like a daughter who returned home after a long time and a father, rather than a couple.
“Why did you come here, dear?”
“There’re some changes in the plans tomorrow. I called the Antiquarian Bookshop, and heard that you went to the hospital, so I came by.”
Sakaguchi frowned as he said, and added on with an unchanging expression,
“If possible, I hope you don’t call me ‘Masa’ in front of outsiders. Did I not mention it before?”
“Ah, sorry. Erm, Masa…shi! Don’t sell the book!”
She suddenly touched upon the crux of this case, and Masashi pulled his lips in.
“Sorry, this is something I decided. I decided to sell it because I feel I have no need for it.”
“Why do you say you don’t need it anymore!? Didn’t you always treasure that book that much?”
Shinobu said as she pointed at the Introduction to logic.
“But even I was seduced by that book! Doesn’t it have the syllogism theory written inside? It’s a book full of memories to me too!”
“…I have no intention of complaining.”
“It’s the same since I felt I was being seduced! Didn’t you kiss me after you confessed!?”
Sakaguchi glanced over at us. His expression had not changed, but large drops of sweat were dripping down his neck. He was really pitiful; because such a woman mentioned this, even the secret matters between husband and wife was revealed.
“At least tell me the real reason why you want to sell this book. You’ve been acting weird recently. You don’t really talk much now, you don’t seem energetic, and you’re wearing those sunglasses! Anyway, you just look weird!”
It seemed she was very insistent against those sunglasses, but upon hearing her words, Sakaguchi’s stared turned away somewhat. Why did it waver? Did it waver because of the sunglasses?”
Shinokawa slowly said.
“The people around you will soon know. It’s not something you can hide…this is something different from the rest.”
She spoke with more emphasis at the end. It was a little weird; she was clearly hinting that there was another secret beside the fact that he had a criminal past. I suddenly recalled her saying ‘that’s not it’—what exactly will the people around him know of?
Sakaguchi’s face became pale. It seemed he realized that Shinokawa was talking about his criminal past. The eyes behind the sunglasses narrowed, and he stared at us again.
“It seems like you know everything.”
I nearly raised my hand—no, I did not understand. What other secret was there other than the incident 40 years ago? How did Shinokawa find out? I should have known everything she knew.
“I understand that you aren’t good at talking about yourself.”
“But if there’s anything troubling you, please, just tell me.”
Sakaguchi slowly removed his sunglasses. He stared at his wife’s face for quite some time, and after that, spoke calmly with a quiet voice.
“…Even from up close, I can no longer see your face clearly. I cannot tell whether your eyes are opened or closed.”
His wife cried out in surprise.
“I have an eye illness. My eyeballs have accumulated excess liquid, and unfortunately, they cannot be treated. The unlucky thing is that my eyes were injured when I was young. Thus, the worsening of the illness accelerated…I am selling that book because I can no longer read it.”
Silence descended upon the room again. Sakaguchi turned towards us,
“How did you know? I wanted to keep it all hushed.”
I wanted to know too—was there any clue in whatever we talked about? I turned my head back to look at the bed, and Shinokawa confidently said,
“…This note is the crux.”
She pulled out the sales invoice from the Introduction to logic. Sakaguchi leaned over to look at the tip of her hand.
“This is what you wrote in our shop, Mr. Sakaguchi. The words are outside the boxes…this is a weird thing for someone with a meticulous personality.”
“…To think I didn’t even notice that I wrote outside the boxes.”
Sakaguchi muttered in a self-deprecating manner.
“Now I cannot see clearly what I write anymore…you knew just from that alone?”
“No. I learned of this when I asked your wife about your recent activities. You started listening to the radio because you have difficulty reading the newspaper, you wore sunglasses to protect your eyes from direct sunlight, and the book you never flipped open even though it was covered with dust…is because your eyesight’s worsening.”
I was dumbfounded. Now that she mentioned it, it certainly was the case.
Even so, she never had a conversation with Sakaguchi before. She even knew he was hiding something from his wife just from the news; she was really intuitive.
“…But, why wouldn’t you tell your wife?”
I asked Sakaguchi. Normally, he would first tell his family members in such circumstances. However, Sakaguchi suddenly lowered his eyes.
“I may lose my eyesight, and from now on, I will probably have to rely on others for help. I am almost going to retire from my current company, and there will be no chances of me being reemployed after this. We may end up on hard times…and she really suffered a lot for marrying me despite our difference in age. I need to clear my thoughts before I confess.”
Sakaguchi lifted his eyes and looked at my face. For the first time, I discovered he was unable to look right at me, for he was unable to see clearly.
“It is true that some things are harder to reveal to your family. There might be a lot of people who think otherwise, but I am not one of them.”
I knew he was talking about his criminal past. Sakaguchi was someone who lived with such a huge secret. Perhaps the act of being honest was something he was resistant against.
“I am really sorry for hiding it from you up till now.”
He lowered his head towards his wife. Shinobu Sakaguchi frowned as she folded her arms. This unhappy expression did not match her too much, probably because she looked like a child. After a whole, she spoke with that shrill voice from before.
“I don’t really understand, Masa.”
She called Sakaguchi by that name again, and this time, the latter did not point this out,
“…What do you not understand exactly?”
“Why do you want to sell that book?”
“Did I not say it? I can no longer read it. Books are existences that are meant for reading, and I hope to hand it over to someone else rather than throw it away…”
“Can’t I read it out loud instead?”
She nonchalantly said so, and then continued on as she looked at the stunned Sakaguchi,
“This is a book you really treasure, right, Masa? I’ll read it to you every day. I never recited before, so maybe my reading will be bad. Hey, isn’t this good enough?”
She bare her teeth as she grinned.
“It’s fine even if you have difficulty saying it. No matter whether you can see or not, Masa, I’ll always be with you…then, if there’s anything you want to say to me, I can hear you…I’ll definitely be happier here.”
Sakaguchi remained silent like a sculpture, and after a while, the edges of his lips showed a smile.
“…I understand. Thank you.”
He stood up, and approached Shinokawa’s bed.
“Sorry, but I do not want to sell that book anymore. Can you please hand it to me?”
Shinokawa nodded deeply, and handed Sakaguchi the Introduction to logic.
“Of course. Please have it back.”
With the Pocket Book in his hands, Sakaguchi returned to his wife.
“Do you still have some time before work? I want to find some place to talk about future plans.”
“Right, no problems.”
Shinobu Sakaguchi said as she stood up. I was finally relieved, at least, that this incident was seemingly resolved without revealing that Sakaguchi had a criminal past. There was no doubt that Shinokawa intended to let them talk after discovering what happened to Sakaguchi’s eyes.
As for whether the past will be revealed, it would take Sakaguchi a long time to decide—
“…Actually, there is something else I want to say.”
Sakaguchi suddenly spoke up. At this point, I was still immersed in relief, and his wife looked up at her husband doubtfully.
“What is it?”
“I have a criminal record.”
Instead of Shinobu Sakaguchi, Shinokawa, and I were the ones who inadvertently called out. He barely managed to keep his criminal past a secret, so why must he say so now?
“I lied when I said I went to become a monk. When I was 20, I was fired from my job, and I did not have money to pay for food the next day…I thought that no matter what I did, I had to get a large sum of money so that I would not have to worry for my life. I stole a car and a hunting rifle from my friend’s home, robbed a nearby bank, and of course, I was immediately arrested.”
He calmly explained his criminal past like a news report. Shinobu widened her mouth in shock as she stared at her husband’s face. Sakaguchi then pointed at the wound on the corner of his eye.
“This wound was caused by that incident…I apologize for hiding matters from you up till now.”
Sakaguchi lowered his head deeply. I could not see his expression, but his back was obviously trembling. As I looked on, my palms were all sweaty from the tension; this was the heaviest confession he made in 20 years.
His wife took a deep breath and looked up at his face from below. She was the one to break this long silence.
“Seriously, why’re you so serious here…are you thinking about something?”
She then held her husband by the arms.
“I knew about that already.”
Both Shinokawa and I cried out again. For this short while, we were shocked by these two.
Sakaguchi lifted his eyes as he asked.
“Yes. Anyone who isn’t an idiot would know.”
She gave her husband a meaningful smile.
“I’m not an idiot, right? That’s why I already knew it…ah, this is syllogism, right?”
“Ah, yes…that is right.”
The two of them looked behind, nodded at us, and then walked out of the ward room with their elbows intertwined.
“…It really is the correct choice to get married with you.”
Sakaguchi’s muttering rang at the end, and the door closed again.
The room looked exceptionally spacious after the Sakaguchi couple left, and it seemed a typhoon had just left completely.
“…When did she find out?”
I said. Perhaps it was when they were living together, or maybe it was by some chance. However, Shinokawa shook her head.
“No, she actually did not know.”
“Eh, didn’t she say she knew?”
“If she really knew, she would not have talked about her husband’s past so happily. She would have been very cautious to prevent us from knowing this secret.”
I recalled Shinobu Sakaguchi’s words. It was true that if she had realized her husband’s criminal past, she would not have talked about ‘becoming a monk’ so easily.
“But why did she make such a lie…”
“If she said that she did not know, the situation would be that her husband had lied to his wife for 20 years. This itself is fact, but Sakaguchi had been troubled; he had yet to confess about his illness at all. She did not want him to feel guilty again…I think this is the reason. There is no other way to explain this.”
I let out a cry of amazement. If that was really true, she did not falter when told of her husband’s shameful past, and even lied with a smile. As Sakaguchi had said, she really was not a fool.
“I feel that Sakaguchi too realized his wife was lying. Logically thinking, his wife’s words did not match…but there was no meaning in revealing this lie. He saw that it was most appropriate to accept his wife’s graciousness.”
It had always been like this, but I was truly astounded by this person. I inadvertently felt that she could solve any mystery as long as it had anything to do with old books.
I stared at the side of Shinokawa’s face. She talked a lot about books during the past three weeks, but I did not know a lot about her personally. All I knew was that she liked old books, and liked to talk about anything relating to that. I suppose that she, like Masashi Sakaguchi, found difficulty in expressing herself.
That did not matter, I guess. At this point, I felt happy too.
“I should head back to the shop then.”
I left the shop to Shinokawa’s little sister. Perhaps she was angry because I never returned.
I straightened my back, only to stop what I was doing. Shinokawa’s white fingers were tugging at a corner of my shirt, and she gave a pondering stare.
“…What is it?”
Suddenly, I felt my entire body heat up. This was a first for me. I sat down on the chair again.
“If I, like Mr Sakaguchi, am hiding something, what would you do?”
“Would you like to hear the truth?”
It seemed she read what I was thinking. I was doubtful. What exactly happened?
“…I want to hear.”
My mind was fuzzy, but I answered firmly. She checked that the door was shut, and slowly spoke with a soft voice.
“Mr. Goura, you asked me before…why I was injured.”
“Two months ago, I went to the residence of my father’s friend. It was a house built on a slope, and I suddenly slipped on the way up the stone steps…it was raining really heavily…so I gave an excuse, saying that I slipped.”
“…But that isn’t the truth?”
She nodded. Unknowingly, we were close enough to a point where our foreheads could meet.
“I never told this to anyone…but is it fine for me to tell you, Mr. Goura?”
I answered. My heart was being faster; for some reason, I felt that I was about to hear something terrifying.
“I was pushed down the stone steps. I had been looking for this culprit during these two months.”
Shinokawa stared at me, her eyes were filled with a strong will within—it was the expression whenever she solved a mystery.
- 日本思想大系, Nihonshisōtaikei, a series of 67 books from Iwanami Shoten (the same publisher as the Sōseki’s Complete Collection in Chapter 1).
- Soviet Workers.
- Collective farmers under the unique Soviet farming system