Prologue: Sakaguchi, Michiyo. “Cra Cra Diary” Bungeishunjū Part I.
A flock of sparrows flew up all at once from the building’s eaves as I pulled open the shop’s rattling sliding door.
They fled across the street until they reached the train station platform on the other side. I had been seeing an unusual number of birds all over the place recently. It was probably because someone in the area had been feeding them. There were quite a few old families with well-maintained gardens in the area, so it wouldn’t be strange if there were people around here who liked having wild birds in their yards.
The weather this morning was as pleasant as always. The lukewarm breeze blowing in from the ocean was no doubt a remnant of the burning heat wave from earlier this year. Despite that, the greenery above many of the houses had already begun to fade a little as we entered the month of October.
Kita-Kamakura was also slowly starting to see signs of autumn. Before long, there would be throngs of tourists coming to see the crimson leaves at the Engaku and Kenchou temples.
I took the rotating iron sign outside the shop. The engraved lettering was in old-fashioned brush strokes, but the sign was actually brand new. The old one had recently been damaged in a small commotion the other day, and a special order had been put in with a longstanding and reputable local blacksmith to make a replica. It was certainly well made, but its only fault lay in how heavy it was.
I placed it in front of the store with some difficulty. The text on the sign said “Purchasing of old books, providing honest valuation”. The sign spun a bit as I set it down, and the name of the shop came into view.
“Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia”
That’s right, this was a shop that specialized in old books. It was a business that had been established many years ago in Kita-Kamakura. I started working here last summer—
Well, putting it that way wouldn’t be entirely accurate. I did quit the job once and only started working here again about a week ago. So many things happened the short time between when I started and resigned, that it would be difficult to explain in a word. In fact, if I were to tell the story in its entirety, it could probably turn into a book. Leaving that aside for now, I had to get everything ready in order to open the store for the day.
I moved the cart with the 100-yen books outside, and after that, swept away the dust that had piled up in the aisles with a broom. The books not only filled the bookshelves, but spilled into the aisles as well, giving off the damp smell only old books could have.
This shop specialized in classical literature as well as history, philosophy, and other humanities books. There weren’t many recently published books that could be found here as a result. Naturally, all of the books that the store owned had once resided in someone else’s bookshelf in the past. Each and every one of them carried some sort of story. There were books that had been carefully read and loved by their owners, and books that had probably been stored away and forgotten.
It’s said that an old book handed down from one person to another contains more than just its contents; the history of the book itself is also a story waiting to be told. The books in this shop will eventually fall into another person’s hands, and that will be the beginning of a brand new story.
Well, assuming they get sold at all, that is.
I heard a woman’s voice calling faintly and stopped what I was doing to turn my head. There was a door behind the counter that led to the main house where the shop owner lived. The voice seemed to have come from that direction. After putting change into the cash register, the owner had said earlier that she was going to pick up a few things inside the house, but she still hadn’t come back.
“…Goura-san.” She was calling for me.
I opened the door behind the counter and came across a small space to place my shoes in front of the dimly lit hallway that extended inside. I still could not see the person who had called my name a moment ago.
A muffled voice drifted down from the ceiling. It sounded like she was on the second floor. I hesitated a bit, then took off my shoes and stepped into the hallway.
The main building was just as old as the shop and the warped floorboards creaked as I made my way across the hall. I normally only went into the main building to use the toilet. Just because I was an employee, it didn’t mean I could walk into the owner’s house whenever I felt like it. There were two young ladies living here, after all.
“Do you need any help?”
I spoke from the foot of the staircase. The steps turned at an angle halfway up, which made it difficult to see what was happening on the second floor. The owner had a bad leg, and a brand new handrail had recently been installed to make it easier for her to go up and down the stairs.
I heard the muffled voice reply but wasn’t sure what it was supposed to mean. Did she want me to come upstairs or wait down here?
“Is it alright if I come up?”
What could this be about? I started to get nervous as I climbed the stairs. I had heard that the owner’s room was on the second floor, so I told myself not to look around any more than I had to.
My eyes went wide when I finally reached the dimly lit second floor. The short hallway was filled with waist-high stacks of old books piled up together. If someone were to see this without knowing anything, they would definitely have thought it was just a storage area. There was a narrow path between the books that led to a sliding door at the end of the hall.
To be honest, coming across a scene like that really wasn’t much of a surprise. The owner of the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia was someone who was happiest with her nose buried in a book. That is to say, she was a bookworm in every sense of the word. She had been hospitalized until just recently, and the nurses had constantly complained about her having too many books in her hospital room.
I stopped at the sliding door at the end of the hallway and I was just about to call out to her when something odd caught my eye. The wall to my immediate left had yet another pile of books.
There was also a small white bird with its wings folded hidden among them. Of course, it wasn’t actually a real bird, but a painting on a canvas caught between the books and the wall. The corner of the painting was the only part of it that I could see.
Why is there even a painting here?
I tilted my head. The painting looked pretty old, and its surface was covered in a thin layer of dust. The fact that it had been carelessly tossed into a pile of books instead of being hung up or stored away struck me as odd.
The painting itself piqued my curiosity as well.
There was a mountain of books in the background behind the bird to the point that it looked like it could have been a part of this hallway’s scenery. I had never seen a painting with such a heavy book motif before and seeing this made me wonder what the rest of it looked like.
The sliding door opened suddenly, jolting me back to my senses.
The one who let out that cry wasn’t me, but a thin young lady with long black hair. She had a pretty, pale face, and looked to be about 25 years old. She wore a plain outfit composed of cardigan over a blue floral-patterned dress, and the glasses set on the bridge of her thin nose had almost collided into my chest just now.
Her face, devoid of makeup, turned bright red as she took a clumsy step back. Her upper body swayed unsteadily, and she grabbed onto the handle of her crutches to regain her balance.
Her name was Shinokawa Shioriko, and she was the owner of the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia.
“Are you all right?”
She averted her eyes and turned around with embarrassment—
No, that wasn’t it. She was actually making sure the Modern Popular Literature Full Collection stacked behind her hadn’t fallen over.
The partition between two small rooms had been removed to combine the two Japanese-styled rooms into one. Judging by the bed and wardrobe near the south-facing window, the second floor was their living area.
The rest of the room, however, was filled with books. There were steel racks with multicolored paperbacks, photo albums, and art books stacked so high that they almost reached the ceiling. Alongside them were wooden bookshelves with encyclopedia volumes arranged neatly behind glass doors. Even the floor was piled with everything from niche philosophy and history books to old literature collections and back issue manga anthologies. It was just like the hallway in that there was barely any space left to stand.
The clutter in the hallway was probably just the overflow from this room. At this rate, it wouldn’t be long until the books spilled down the stairs onto the first floor.
“I-I couldn’t keep everything organized. It’s a bit much, isn’t it?”
“Eh? Not at all.”
I didn’t plan on making any follow-up to that. I’d already known she would have at least this many books. Besides, seeing the room like this was pretty soothing.
It wasn’t like I hated books or anything. I had an interest in them, but reading was extremely difficult for me. If I read even ten pages or so, I would break out into a cold sweat, and my fingers would tremble. The cause for that was probably psychological. Simply put, it was a problem with my “condition”.
I was still interested in books and things related to them even though I was unable to read.
“So what’s going on?”
“Umm… Could you take this bundle of books downstairs? They’re mine, but I won’t read them again…so I’d like to put them on the wagon outside and sell them.”
She pointed to the stack of books right next to her. They were all hardcover, and were bound together with a vinyl cord. There were two bundles of ten or so books, and judging by the spines, they looked like old novels and essays. They didn’t seem to be in bad condition, though.
“…Are these going to be sold at 100 yen each?”
“No…please label those for sale at 300 and 500 yen respectively. The books in the top bundle will be sold at 500 yen, and the ones at the bottom will be sold at 300. Check their condition one last time before you do that, though.”
Shinokawa’s speech had become a little more eloquent. She always became livelier when talking about books.
“Please take the 100 yen label off of the wagon as well, if you could.”
I nodded my head in acknowledgement but was suddenly taken aback. After finishing her explanation, she picked up one of the bundles with her left hand and placed it on the floor in front me. Perhaps it was due to her loose fitting dress, but when I looked downward, I was able to see her cleavage for a moment. I wasn’t exactly thrilled, since I wasn’t sure where to look anymore.
Telling her about it wasn’t an option either, so I just crouched in front of the books to get it out of my line of sight.
“…So the ones at the bottom of the pile are 500 yen each?”
I asked a question to diffuse the awkward situation, and her white index finger came into view.
“It’s the other way around. The ones at the top are 500 yen.”
She reached over the top of my head, and I felt just a hint of her large breasts on my hair. The ends of her black hair brushed against my ear and left me unable to move from shock.
“…Sorry… Were you able to understand my explanation?”
Her voice drifted down sweetly. She might not have been doing it intentionally, but that actually made it so much worse.
I stared the spines of the bundled books to calm my fluttering heart.
Cra Cra Diary
The title of a book came into my sight. The author was listed as Sakaguchi Michiyo. The text, which looked like it was hastily written, was printed onto the grey covers. For some reason, all five of the books in the set had the exact same title. Cra Cra Diary, Cra Cra Diary, Cra Cra, Cra Cra— It was really vexing how spot on they described my feelings at this moment.
“…what is this Cra Cra Diary about?”
My question was met with a brief silence.
“…They’re essays that Sakaguchi Ango’s wife wrote after he passed away.”
So the family name was Sakaguchi? I had heard of Sakaguchi Ango before; I seemed to remember that he was an author from long ago. The fact that I even knew his name must have meant he was pretty famous. Unfortunately, I had never read any of his books.
“It’s a story about the Sakaguchis, from the time they met until the day Ango passed away…it brings to mind stories about happy couples. I think it’s pretty nice.”
Her voice was so soft that I could hardly hear it.
“Why is it called the Cra Cra Diary then?”
“After her husband’s death, the author opened a bar in Ginza and named it ‘Cra Cra’. According to the book’s afterword, Shishi Bunroku was asked to come up with a name for the bar. It seems it was often frequented by prominent figures in the literary community.”
She answered almost offhandedly, without even pausing to think. As always, her knowledge was formidable when it came to books.
“Does Cra Cra mean getting tipsy?”1
“No…. It means pigeon in French.”
That was an unexpected answer.
“Well, it’s also a name for the type of common girl that can be found anywhere.”
Hearing about pigeons reminded me of the painting with the bird I saw in the hallway. Perhaps that was also a white pigeon.
I internally sighed a little. Something about her attitude was a little strange. She normally got really excited whenever there was an opportunity to talk about books.
“…Shinokawa-san, is something wrong?”
I lifted my head to look at her, but her creased dress blocked my view.
“Oh? No…not really……”
She got up and moved a bit further away. I still couldn’t see the expression on her face.
“It’s just…these books….”
“I just can’t bring myself to like them. I do think they’re well-written, though.”
So it wasn’t the type of book she liked. Perhaps that’s why they were being sold so cheaply. It was normal for readers to have their own preferences, anyway. I picked up the books with both hands and stood up.
“Alright, I’ll take these outside.”
I left the room and walked through the hall carefully so the books wouldn’t fall out of my hands. They gently shook in time to my steps.
Suddenly a small doubt popped into my head.
…Why does she have so many copies of the same book, anyway?
She most likely bought them herself. But if she didn’t like the book, why would she have bought so many copies? I stopped and turned to look at the open sliding door behind me.
…well, it’s probably not important.
I shrugged my shoulders and headed down the stairs. There really was no point in thinking about it. I heard some birds chirping in the distance. Perhaps that was a Cra Cra sound…
With that, I stopped thinking about the books altogether.
- “Kura Kura” is an onomatopoeic for getting dizzy (or in this case, tipsy.)