I resigned from the Antiquarian Bookstore Biblia just like that. Afterwards, I went to the store for the last time to receive my remaining salary, but I never met Shinokawa even once since then.
My mother was most enraged when I went back to being unemployed.
“WHAT WERE YOU THINKING, RESIGNING AFTER WORKING FOR A SINGLE MONTH? YOU HAVEN’T EVEN WORKED ENOUGH TO DECIDE WHETHER THE JOB’S FINE OR NOT. FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE, AN UMEMPLOYED PERSON IS WORTH AS MUCH AS AN INSECT HERE, YOU KNOW? THOSE UNWILLING TO WORK WILL NOT GET TO EAT!”
She was telling me off me as much as she wanted, and seemed to feel that she might have said too much once she saw me looking all gloomy. Before she went to work the next day, she had left a note for me in the kitchen.
(You earned enough money to eat. Calm down and look for another job.)
I was bothered that she was able to say such legitimate things once in a while.
To be honest, I really could not explain why I resigned from this job. As a human being, what was I not being trusted on? The only appraisal I needed as a store attendant was through the salary I earned from my job. Basically, I asked her for a relationship beyond one between a storekeeper’s and a store attendant’s. I did not know whether love was a factor. In the end, the relationship between someone talking about books and someone listening about books could not be defined.
Anyway, I should not expect unreasonable things when dealing with other workers, especially those bespectacled beauties that were older. I kept this in mind as I started attending job seminars.
Anyway, two weeks’ worth of time passed by peacefully. After writing an umpteenth number of resumes and attending briefings, I was finally about to have a final interview at a food company in Saitama. Maybe things would take a turn for the better. The moment I thought about that, the phone suddenly rang. Shinokawa’s sister was the one calling. I hesitantly picked up the phone, and after a simple greeting…
“…How’s the store doing?”
…I asked about what I was most concerned with. A store attendant suddenly resigning would definitely cause major inconveniences. However, she said in a pleasant mood:
“We closed the store for the time being until we get new workers. Ah, you don’t have to worry too much, Goura. It was already hard to open the store when my sister’s not at home.”
Even though she said that, I still could not erase the guilt in me. Either way, the store being closed was a direct consequence of my resignation.
“Anyway, there’s something more important I want to ask you.”
Suddenly, her tone became serious.
“Did something happen between you and my sister, Mr. Goura?”
The hardest thing right now was to answer to that question. I could not explain properly what happened with The Late Years, and I could not even understand myself what happened with Shinokawa.
“Hum, well…it’s a bit—”
“What do you mean it’s a bit…did you touch those large breasts?”
“HOW CAN THAT BE POSSIBLE?”
“But her breasts are really big. They’re well shaped too.”
She was obviously teasing me. I was really dumbfounded that it still managed to prick my imagination.
“…I’m hanging up.”
“Sorry, please hold on for a moment! My sister’s had been acting weird recently.”
“She’s not reading anymore.”
I was at a loss of words. That person who would bring in lots of books into a bookstore? That person who would lie to everyone around her just to protect a single book? It was really hard to imagine.
“Ever since you resigned, Mr. Goura, she had been spacing out…she was finally discharged after waiting for so long, but she’s feeling down, so I’m worried. Can’t you pay a visit to her, even just once?”
In the end, I did not say whether I would go or not. I simply told her that I would consider for a while, and hung up the phone.
After that call, I could not get the thoughts concerning Shinokawa out of my mind for a certain period of time. I was really concerned that she was feeling down. Was it really because of me? Was that person bothered because of me?
At this point, I had no intention of visiting her. She clearly stated that she could not rely on me, and I could not talk to her as if nothing happened. Plus, it would be impossible for me to talk to quiet Shinokawa anyway—but I was worried that she was feeling down.
And just like that, I ended up caught within the loop of my thoughts, and several days had passed before I knew it. I attended the final interview with the food company with Saitama. I felt fine about my performance, but I was tired out of a sudden when I reached Ofuna.
I walked to the ticket gate in the Ofuna station, walked down the stairs and stepped onto the main road. We were still having an Indian summer, and the remaining lights of sunset seemed like they were piercing through my jacket’s sleeves. But at least it was now technically autumn.
I walked down the avenue and saw the frontmost white building, the Ofuna General Hospital. The visiting period probably had not ended yet.
(…Should I really go?)
As expected, I was still worried about Shinokawa. However, it was too late today. It might be better to go tomorrow. No, since I decided to go today—
A soft voice came from a bench on the pedestrian pathway. After I continued to walk for two, three steps, I suddenly looked back in shock.
A bespectacled, long-haired woman was sitting on the bench. She was wearing a bright checkered skirt and a plain shirt, while being covered by a knitted cardigan. It was the same plain outfit she wore when I met her a few years ago—speaking of which, this was the second time I met her in this outfit beside when she used them as pyjamas.
“Shinokawa …what are you doing here?”
“I-I got…discharged today…”
She muttered as she used the two crutches to help her stand up. The sturdy crutches were structured for her to put her elbows on. I wanted to reach out to help her at that instant, but she shook her head shyly and straightened her waist to stand properly. I heard that she was going to be discharged, but I never expected her to recover so well.
“…I thought that you would probably…pass by here.”
I felt my body temperature rise. It seemed that she waited on this bench for me for a long time, and we just stayed standing there, several steps away from each other.
“Congratulations on your discharge.”
This was the only thing that I could say.
“…Thank you very much.”
She lowered her head as she said that. Both of us remained silent as we did not know how to carry on the conversation. Why did she come to see me?
“Did something happen?”
I tried to prompt the conversation. She leant on the crutch in her right hand to support her body, and handed the tote bag on her left side to me.
“Please help me take care of this.”
I took it doubtfully, checked the contents of the bag—then widened my eyes. There was a book inside: the The Late Years from before. Dazai’s signature was inside the cover, and it looked the real thing no matter what.
“W-Well, I would like you to…help me keep it, please.”
I really could not understand. Was this not the old book she wanted to keep in her possession even if she had to lie to the people around her? Did she not treasure it more than anything else?
“Erm…I want to try relying on you, I guess…”
She squeezed out these words as she blushed—so that was how it was. I understood. She would put the book she treasured most in my hands as the proof of her faith in me. In other words, this would be the method of reconciliation she was proposing. Well, it was just like this person to hand a book worth several hundred million yen to me like that.
I could not help but laugh. In this case, the first one laughing loses. In any case, her feelings have reached me, and just that was well enough.
“I don’t want this.”
I put the book back into the bag and hung it on Shinokawa’s wrist. Her expression looked somewhat stiff, so I hurriedly said:
“It would be pointless for me to have this when I can’t read, so it’s better to leave it with you, Shinokawa… well, if I ever want to hold on to it, I’ll tell you at that time. Rather than that…”
I straightened my back and faced her.
“Shouldn’t it be about time to fulfill that promise?”
She tilted her head doubtfully.
“You said that you would describe the contents of The Late Years, didn’t you…did you forget our promise?”
Her face immediately burst into a beaming smile, and she looked like she changed into a completely different person, making it hard for me to not look at her.
“Sure. Please sit here.”
She briskly changed her tone and invited me to sit on the bench. Did she want to tell me about this story immediately? I felt that it was kind of weird, but of course, I had no reason to refuse. I kept a little distance from her as I sat down, and the distance just so happened to be the length of that volume of The Late Years. However, she closed her distance and leaned over to me slightly.
I could feel her warmth from where our bodies are in contact, causing the left half of my body to stiffen. I wondered what if she said that she hoped for me to return to the store with her after listening to her story about The Late Years? Somehow, it seemed that I could find a steady job.
Anyway, let’s forget about this for now. I should just listen to her story first.
She looked over at me just like this, and suddenly changed her tone as she started talking.
“I think I said it before that the “Late Years” was an Osamu Dazai’s maiden work published during the 11th year of the Shōwa period. At that time, Dazai was in his twenties, and it was said that he spent ten years on this work and wrote more than 5,000 pieces of manuscripts. The recorded works were just a small fraction…”