On that day six years ago, I walked down the slopes of Kita-Kamakura, strolling through the narrow alley by the railway.
Being soaked in sweat, my white half-sleeved shirt was sticking to my back. The annoying chirping of cicadas rang in my ears without stopping, and hydrangeas could be seen everywhere. However, it was already summer before they wilted, after the rainy season ended.
Other than for the surfer hobbyists, this was not a season the locals particularly liked. Though the beaches of Yuigahama and Enoshima were already open to the public, the middle and high-school students here did not really want to play on the beaches nearby—because of the large number of tourists and the strange corroded color found in the waters when the tide rose.
I was a second-year high-school student attending the prefectural high school situated on the mountainside. It was a Sunday, but I had to go to school to retrieve a textbook I forgot to take back, and was just on my way home. I missed the bus that would arrive once every hour, and thus had to make my way to the JR station despite being used to take it to go to from home to school. or vice-versa. Kamakura was surrounded by mountains, and the roads here were narrow, which made certain areas incredibly inconvenient for transportation.
I could see the platform of Kita-Kamakura Station to my right. It was really long, and since the ticket gate was located on only one side, I had to take a long walk before I could enter the station.
There were rows of old residences on my left, and the trees that were planted in their courtyards were huge, bringing about an exuberant amount of green.
Not a lot of people might know of this, or maybe they would not care about it even if they did—but there was a second-hand bookstore located along this alley.
This wooden house had been around for many years, but never had a shop name put up. There was, at the shop entrance, merely an old signboard dangling with the breeze on which the words “Acquisition of old books, providing honest valuation” inscribed with a flamboyant handwriting. It could not spin much though, probably due to its rust.
I was about to pass by that bookstore whose name I did not know.
However, something unexpected happened then. The timber-framed sliding door creaked open, and a young woman stepped out.
She was dressed in a set of plain clothes that included a white sleeveless blouse as well as a long navy-blue skirt. Her long hair was braided behind her neck, her white tender skin complimented her large dazzling black eyes, and there was a pair of thin lips below her nose.
She was probably a little older than me, looked different from anyone whom I knew, and was honestly a pretty person who would cause passersby to stop and look at her again. She however seemed demure, with her lips pursed out like a little bird’s beak as she made a strange, hoarse sound.
“Su— Susu— Su—”
It took me a while before I managed to realize that she was trying to whistle. Perhaps she was a clumsy person.
She pulled out a small cart from the old one-storeyed wooden house, and seeming ostensibly like an employee of this second-hand bookstore that was getting ready for its opening.
She did not stop to glance at me, who was standing still beside her, as she was focused on pushing the cart to its destination. through the corner of her eyes. A wooden plank with the sloppy handwriting of words “A hundred yen each” was set on this cart, which was probably used to display books at discounted prices.
She was about to head back into the shop, but then suddenly laid her eyes upon the signboard. She let out a soft sound—”Eh?”—and nudged the metal plate which spun with a creaking sound. It stopped when the back side of the “Acquisition of old books, providing honest valuation” signboard was facing the street.
Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia
I thought for a moment and realized that it was most likely the name of the shop. It was not a nameless shop. She walked back into the shop with a bounce in each of her steps, and until the end, she never noticed me.
Who is she?
I remembered that the shop was run single-handedly by a middle-aged man with greying hair. Did he hire a college student?
I made my way to the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia tentatively, and peeked into the dimly-lit shop through the glass panel of the sliding door. There was a cashier counter, opposite the bookshelf, stacked with tall piles of books. I could see her behind them through the gaps. The girl was ostensibly buried within the books as she read through a very large one. I could see from my position that her eyes beneath the spectacles were wide open, sparkling with brilliance. There were moments when she chuckled, when she nodded her head hard, as she never remained still.
She really loves to read.
I suppose that would be the meaning of losing yourself. Her actions might seem a little eccentric, but it was the first time I had seen someone reading books in such an engrossed manner. I could be said to be extremely envious. What was she reading? What was so interesting about it?
I placed my hand on the sliding door, but lost strength before I could open it. What was the point of asking her those questions? I have no affinity for reading at all…the reason being the ‘nature’ within me. Depressed, I left the entrance of the bookstore and trudged my way towards the station.
Her silhouette, which I saw in the dim bookstore, was etched deep in my memory like a painting. There were several instances on which I wanted to turn back and return to that shop as I made my way past the ticketing gates and onto the platform, just so I could talk with her. That however did not happen.
I took the Yokosuka line to return home.
I did not feel that I did not do anything that would make her chuckle. Those that could seize the chance of an encounter were talented, and an ordinary person would most likely let it slip by. I merely did a normal thing, just like an ordinary person.
But even at this point, there were moments when I said to myself — What would have happened if I entered the shop and acquainted myself with her? Perhaps my life would be different because of this turning point.
Well, such presumptions were meaningless. They would be endless if I continued to dwell on it.
Allow me to bring us out of this prologue.
This is a story involving old books. This would include the old books themselves, as well as the stories of the people involved.
The books handed down not only included the original stories, but also their own stories. Even if one of them was traded, this line would still hold truth. Plus, if I could, I would add that not all ‘stories’ were wonderful. Some might be so heinously ugly that no one would want to face, but they were just like everything else that existed in this world.
My name is Daisuke Goura. I am 23 this year. The old books related to me—were none other than Sōseki’s Complete Collection.
Well then, please allow me to tell you my story.