Sakaguchi, Michiyo. Cra Cra Diary. Bungeishunjū
Perhaps having been blown from somewhere, dead leaves littered the front of the shop. I currently swept them out once a week, but maybe it would be better to start doing it every day for a while.
I moved the discount cart and the sign back inside and flipped the “open” plate over to the “closed for business” side. Cawing crows could be heard in the distance.
It was closing time at Biblia Books. I came back into the shop as Shioriko was finishing up putting the cash into a zippered bank bag.
“I’m going to put the money in the safe. Could you turn off the lights please?”
She briskly gave me instructions and left for the main house. When she opened the door, the faint smell of curry wafted out. That was probably Shioriko’s dinner.
The shop suddenly felt much bigger now that I was alone. It was strange to think that this had been normal when I was managing the shop on my own over the summer.
Two weeks had already passed since we went to Fujisawa to buy the old manga. It felt like Shioriko had finally regained her spirits.
Some of the books ended up being sold online, and the rest were put up for sale in the antiquarian book market where other book sellers could buy them. Quite a few used bookstores entered bids for them. A long standing shop in Kanda-Jinbōchō had the highest bid and won the lot. Perhaps the books would find a home on the bookshelf of some other Fujiko Fujio enthusiast.
I turned off all the lights above the counter. Shioriko returned just after I pulled the plug for the display window’s fluorescent light. She was holding a large paper bag as well as a steaming mug in her cane-less hand. They must have been considerably heavy since her arms were trembling.
“Umm…Could you take these for me?”
I took the paper bag and mug from her like she asked and placed them on the counter. There were hardcover books tightly packed into the paper bag.
“As for the books, please take them out to the discount cart tomorrow…the coffee is for you if you want it. Good work today.”
“Thank you very much.”
I took a sip of coffee from the mug. Shioriko looked me over with a smile on her face. Being the only one drinking somehow made me feel uneasy.
“I have milk and sugar in the back…but are you okay with having it black?”
I nodded. Either way was fine with me.
“Um, what about you?”
She put her hand to her mouth. It wasn’t that she didn’t want any, she’d just forgotten to make some for herself, it seemed.
“I’m going to brew some more for myself, please wait a moment.”
I called out to her before she excitedly went back. Coming and going would take too much time.
“If you’re okay with me having put my mouth on it, will you drink this together with me? I can’t finish it all myself.”
After thinking for a moment, she quickly nodded.
“Sorry…I’ll have some too.”
I put the mug on the corner of the counter, and we took turns drinking from it. She had recently started bringing drinks like this after work on occasion.
“Ah, that’s right. Would you like to have dinner with us this evening?”
She said as if suddenly remembering to ask.
“My sister is making curry today, but she always ends up making more than the two of us can eat.”
“Eh? Is it really okay?”
It had been about three months since I started working here, but this was the first time I had ever gotten a request like this.
“If you’re fine with chicken curry…”
“I’d love to…we always have chicken curry at my house.”
“Same here. But we buy other types of curry when we go out.”
I had the feeling that we had gotten closer lately, after our conversation at Shichirigahama Beach. Maybe it was because I listened to her talk about her mother for a long time—I also unfortunately ended up hearing her declaration that she never wanted to get married in the process.
I absentmindedly took the books out of the paper bag and stacked them on the counter as Shinokawa chit-chatted. It looked like she had gotten them from her room as usual.
There was a familiar title mixed in among them. Sakaguchi Michiyo’s Cra Cra Diary. Not only that, there were three copies. But we should have already sold 5 or 6 of them. I put them on the now-empty paper bag and looked at her.
“Why do you have so many copies of Cra Cra Diary?”
“Because I bought them.”
“You bought them?”
I replied with a question. She was the one who told me that this was the book her missing mother had left behind and that she couldn’t bring herself to like it.
“Why did you buy them?”
“That’s a secret.”
A smile floated onto her full lips…no perhaps it was a bitter smile. I took another sip of the coffee. It seemed that asking any further would be prying.
A thought occurred to me.
There was no way around asking prying questions if I really wanted to know someone deeply. If I watched over her without doing anything, even the relationship we had now would end up disappearing. I only needed to experience that once.
I quietly set down the mug.
“Can I guess at what that secret is?”
Shioriko, who was about to drink the coffee next, blinked behind her glasses. I was starting to think that I shouldn’t have said that and got a little flustered, but there was no taking it back now.
She tilted her head.
“No…well, you said that and didn’t mention any conditions if you got it right or if you got it wrong…”
It seemed she wasn’t opposed to talking about it. I didn’t expect her to ask about a condition though.
“Ah—alright, I see….”
I was panicking. Thinking up a good condition on the spot wasn’t easy.
“…What about going somewhere with me this weekend? I can drive to wherever you like.”
It was a transparent ploy, even for me. Anyone who heard that would think it was an invitation to a date. How did this even turn into a bet in the first place?
“Alright. That works.”
It was now my turn to be surprised. She accepted my suggestion so easily.
“Is that really okay?
“I’ve been unable to go around bookshops since my injury, and it’s been bothering me quite a lot…will you be fine no matter what store we go to?”
In fact, she sounded cheerful. It seemed our destination was limited only to antiquarian bookshops. She didn’t think of this as a date even a little bit.
I guess that was alright. I cleared my throat.
“Can I ask a question?”
I asked her while putting my finger to my temple. The truth was that I already had a vague idea, but there were a few things I wanted to confirm.
“If it’s something I can answer.”
“What did you do with the book that your mother left you?”
“I disposed of it.”
“Did she end up leaving behind a message for you?”
“…I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“Question time is now over.”
Shioriko had a mischievous smile. Although we were talking about her mother, a topic which she disliked, she seemed more lively than usual. Maybe she enjoyed mysteries involving books, even if she wasn’t the one solving them. Well, I was similar to her in that regard.
“Do you have an answer?”
I was organizing all of the information I had obtained until now in my head. It felt like I had pretty much zeroed in on the answer. Rather than deducing the solution, I merely used my knowledge of what kind of person Shinokawa Shioriko was.
“You said that you disposed of the book that your mother left behind for you, correct?”
“But you never said you threw it away.”
I continued talking. It was the main point from here.
“It ended up in the used book market, didn’t it? The one who took it there was the person who was managing the shop at the time, your father. Because of that, you never found out which store it went to…”
Shioriko silently listened. It seemed none of what I said so far was wrong.
“You’ve been looking for the book ever since. Perhaps it’s being sold in an antiquarian bookshop somewhere…the ones you have here are ones you purchased online, right? You make an order whenever find a similar copy, check the contents, and sell it on the discount cart once you find that it’s wrong. That’s the reason why you have so many copies of the same book.”
The coffee was no longer steaming. Shioriko took a long sip before speaking.
“What makes you think I’m looking for a book I lost?”
“You said it yourself just now, that you didn’t know whether or not there was a message. When you first saw the book your mother left behind, you thought you already understood the message she was trying to convey. Because of that, you disposed of it without even reading it. But you realized afterwards, didn’t you? That there could have also been a letter for you inside. That’s what you’re trying to confirm.”
Silence returned to the store. I quietly waited for Shioriko’s reply.
Despite the fact that she resembled her mother, she couldn’t understand all of what her mother was thinking. Because of that, she probably wanted to find the book her mother left behind and confirm the truth with her own eyes.
“There’s an antiquarian bookshop in Yokohama that I’ve always wanted to go to…”
She muttered without looking at me.
“Can you please take me there this weekend?”
Kanda-Jinbōchō is Tokyo’s center of used bookstores, apparently. Pretty cool. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jinb%C5%8Dch%C5%8D,_Tokyo