Chapter 4 – Present
My pay is calculated on an hourly basis and given to me every day—in cash.
That’s because Towako-san can’t be bothered—and would forget—to make a payment to my account at the end of each month.
On days when she’s away making purchases, Saki is in charge of paying me.
Since I live in an apartment on my own, I have to spend my pay carefully. My parents do send me money, but my wages still cover a significant part of my daily expenses.
I don’t line up for discount sales, but at the very least, I try my best not to waste any money. I even save a little.
I can’t say whether or not it’s really okay for a high school boy to act so much like a housewife…
Anyway, because of that, I’m not so stupid as to use up my day’s pay the day I get it like other students who have gotten a part-time job out of greed.
Living for the moment doesn’t suit me.
Always use your money wisely. That’s my motto.
“Here, this is a present.”
I hardly believed my ears when Tokiya said it out of the blue.
I, Saki Maino, stood stone-still for twenty-two seconds holding a shopping bag in my hands.
Tokiya said something during that time, but because my mind had gone blank, everything went in one ear and out the other.
“…So, got it?”
“Eh? Ah, yes. Sure.”
I nodded instinctively, although I had no idea what he had been talking about.
“Anyway, that’s all there is to it, okay?” he said and left, perhaps embarrassed.
Left alone, I was at a loss of what to do with the present which—by his words—he had given me and kept standing in one spot.
People—namely Tokiya—often say that I have no feelings, but that’s not true. I have some trouble showing them, but naturally I do have feelings, and my heart is as sensitive as anyone else’s.
To the extent that I get a little flustered when I receive an unexpected present.
I need to remember what just happened.
Tokiya and I were working together until closing time like we always do.
Towako-san was away to acquire Relics again, and there were next to no customers as usual, so there was pretty much nothing to do.
We really don’t get many customers.
I’m convinced that we ought to brighten both the interior and exterior to make it more appealing to customers. I also think it would be best if we included Asian merchandise and luxury items in our range of goods instead of sticking to forgeries of Relics.
When I suggested this to Towako-san, she told me there was no need for it. Apparently, she didn’t have any plans to make her shop flourish, despite her concern over its sales figures.
Maybe I should lend her the copy of “Becoming a Famous Shop Manager made easy!” that I finished reading yesterday?
Oh no. My thoughts have wandered off track.
Anyway, we worked until closing time and then Tokiya left.
But then he came back, for some reason.
At first, I thought he had forgotten something, but then he suddenly handed a shopping bag over to me and told me it was a present.
A present? Why would he give me a present?
I also wondered if today was my birthday, but it isn’t.
Labor Thanksgiving Day? Not really. To begin with, there’s nothing he should be thankful about.
Mother’s Day? I’m not his mother. Father’s Day… goes without saying.
Today isn’t a special occasion, nor is it a holiday.
Another possibility would be that it’s an apology for something he did.
I tried searching my memories, but nothing came to mind that would require an apology.
H-He cheated on me…?
No, we don’t have that kind of relationship, so infidelity doesn’t apply here.
……I came to my senses again and felt a little ashamed of having such dull thoughts.
With bag in hand, I went back into the house.
Towako-san is absent so I am alone today.
I put the bag on the table in the living room.
I turned on the TV.
A not particularly interesting variety show was on. The TV failed to draw my attention, so my gaze went back and forth between the TV and the shopping bag on the table.
I gently touched the bag.
It gave off a rustling sound.
I jerked away my hand.
Then I went back to the TV and changed the channel.
A baseball match was on, but I don’t know the rules of the game. The TV failed to draw my attention, so my gaze went back and forth between the TV and the shopping bag on the table.
I sneaked a peek into the bag.
There was something pink inside.
I quickly pulled my head back.
Girl, what are you doing…?
In the first place, how dare Tokiya confuse me like that all of a sudden!
I started to calm down and my disturbance was replaced by anger.
Is he watching me and having a good laugh…?
Ah! That’s it! That must be it!
And I was so silly as to act like this right before his eyes…
“How careless of me.”
I shot a gaze around the room, searching for any signs of Tokiya.
…I didn’t find anything.
Just in case, I also took a look at the shop, but with the lights turned off, there was only an absolute stillness. I peeked out of the window, but of course did not find anyone. I also checked the kitchen and the restroom, but remained unsuccessful.
What else is this supposed to mean, then?
Is it by any chance really a present?
With a deep breath, I made up my mind and opened the bag.
Inside was a dress. A sleeveless dress with lots of frills. Its color was… not black (my favorite color), but pink.
After knowing me for so long, he still doesn’t understand what I like. Anyway, choosing that color comes close to harassment. No, he is trying to harass me.
At that point, I remembered a certain thing and fetched a magazine from my room.
I had bought a magazine with the hope that it might help me improve my customer service. It aimed specifically at high schoolers, but that was no issue. After all, I am a teenager too. But Tokiya had given me an awkward glance when was I reading it back then.
I flipped through the magazine. There was supposed to be a featured article on presents. Making a present to someone can be related to suggesting articles to a customer. That’s why I bought it.
I found the caption of the article, “What do I do with such a present?!”.
“If a boy gives you a present you don’t like, don’t get angry! It’s a sign that he wants you to share his likes! Go, jump at the chance!”
I closed the magazine.
The article had made quite an impression on me.
Yes, the dress on the table doesn’t match my preference.
But does that mean that he has a preference for such things?
Tokiya likes this kind of dress? Does he want me to wear it?
As a test, I repeat, as a test. No really, as a little test—believe me. I held the dress in front of me and stood before a mirror.
In the mirror was my body, which was always clad in black, shrouded by pink.
Honestly speaking, it didn’t suit me.
A pinkish frilled dress just didn’t fit my sour face.
Still, I didn’t put the dress away.
It was a present from Tokiya.
The first one ever.
Nothing like this had happened before.
I hadn’t even dreamed of it.
People—namely Tokiya—often say that I have no feelings, but that’s not true. I merely have trouble showing them, but naturally I do have feelings, and my heart is as sensitive as everyone else’s.
To the extent that I get a little excited when I suddenly receive a present.
The incident occurred the day before yesterday.
Right after I had arrived at the shop for my shift, I switched with Saki so she could go do some shopping.
Towako-san was away making her purchases.
Alone and bored, I went to the living room to watch TV, since there wasn’t going to be a customer anyway.
But then something caught my eye.
It was a wallet. A normal brown leather wallet like you can get at any store. Knowing that Saki’s was black, I supposed that it was Towako-sans’.
Dumbfounded how she could forget her wallet when she was making purchases, I took a peek at its contents. It was completely empty; no credit cards or cash slips even, let alone money.
Apparently, she had bought a new one and left the old one here.
It just so happened that the coin pocket of my worn-out wallet had gotten a hole just that day and had become useless.
I decided to borrow Towako-san’s old wallet until I bought myself a new one. I didn’t see why I should not use it if she didn’t need it anymore.
After switching all my money and things like my video rental membership card, I stuffed the wallet away in my pocket.
The shop closed for the day and I received my wage from Saki. On my way home, I went to a convenience store and bought myself a few things like a microwave dinner.
The change I had left would be barely sufficient for my lunch the next day.
On the next day.
I found my wallet empty.
The cards were still there. But the change that should have been there had disappeared.
I hadn’t noticed until I was at the checkout of a convenience store I had dropped by on my way to school, wanting to buy a canned coffee. The embarrassment that came with returning the coffee because I had no money was beyond description.
Most likely, I had dropped it the day before somewhere. Or perhaps I had forgotten to accept the change. It was a shame that this happened when I had only just swapped out my broken wallet.
But the real crying shame was the amount of money I had lost. The money that had been there from the beginning plus the change would have made about 800 yen.
That day, I was forced to go without the sole luxury granted to me: a canned coffee.
Of course, no lunch for me, either.
Despite having eaten two several-day-old buns in the morning, I felt hungry already.
After I had suffered through the lunch break while being teased by my classmates, I headed to the shop.
I tried to get my hands on some leftovers by explaining to Saki that I had dropped my money, thus hadn’t eaten anything, but on that day of all days, there was nothing left.
I’m completely out of luck.
I bore through my shift while enduring my empty stomach, and earned my wage. On my way home, I dropped by the convenience store again and bought another microwave dinner and some new buns for breakfast. At last I got something to eat.
I accepted my change and put it carefully into my wallet, checking every single yen.
1262 yen. Exactly.
The following day.
I found my wallet empty.
The cards were still there. But the change that should have been there had disappeared.
Strange. I can’t have dropped my money two days in a row.
Besides, I checked the sum yesterday. As precisely as I could. There should be 1262 yen. In the first place, it would be one thing if I had lost my wallet, but it’s just ridiculous to exactly only lose a 1000-yen note and the coins from the wallet. That’s just absurd.
If I think like this, it also becomes questionable whether or not I really lost my money yesterday, too.
Suddenly, I noticed that the buns I had bought for breakfast had disappeared.
Did a burglar break in?
I checked my room. All that was missing was the money and the buns I had bought the day before. Upon further consideration, it seemed rather unlikely that a burglar would come to steal my only loose change—two days in a row at that—and a few buns.
But what was it then…
I looked at the wallet on the table where I had thrown it.
It lay there still. A perfectly ordinary brown wallet. Yes, as ordinary as it gets.
The only special thing about it was that it belonged to Towako-san…
I picked up my mobile phone and gave Towako-san a call. Most of the time, she isn’t available by phone when she is on her purchase trips, but this time, by a miracle, I got through to her.
“Mmmm…Tokiyaa? Mwhat’s wrong?” a sleepy Towako-san replied at the other end.
“Towako-san, I’m sorry, but tell me whatever you know!”
“About the wallet you left at the shop!”
“Yes. A brown wallet.”
“A brown wallet? Aah, I see. Mm? Why do you know about it?”
“It was on the table in the living room.”
“Eh? I put it in such a place? Yikes. My mind was someplace else. Please put it away somewhere. Ah, absolutely don’t put it out in the shop! And don’t use it on any account! Well, it’s not like you were so dimwitted as to touch my things.”
“……Eh? Did you… use it?”
“Fool! Didn’t I tell you not to?”
“That was just now!”
As she said, I had been thoughtless. I couldn’t deny it.
I should have known the moment I noticed it belonged to her.
Who would expect a Relic wallet to be lying about at such a place?
But there’s no use crying over spilt milk.
“So, what power does this wallet have?”
I asked what nightmare this Relic was going to bring forth.
“You lose all the money you’ve earned during the day if you don’t spend it on the same day.”
I don’t know who created this “Relic”, but I must ask this:
Are you a freaking party animal or something?!
I’ll summarize what Towako-san told me about the Relic:
- If I don’t spend my earnings the same day I received them, they disappear.
- Things that I bought myself with these earnings disappear as well.
- The effect lasts seven days.
The fact that my earnings would disappear if I didn’t spend them on the same day meant that I would always be flat broke on the following day, right after midnight.
The fact that things I bought myself with my earnings disappear as well means that I couldn’t buy any buns for breakfast, because it was impossible to stock up food.
The fact that the effect lasts seven days means that I had to live with with this stupid power for a whole week.
The effect had, incidentally, activated the moment I’d put money into the wallet and wasn’t going to stop even if I quit using it, trashed it or burned it. In fact, Towako-san threatened to make me work for free for the rest of my life if I did that.
The only saving grace was that everything I had bought before using that wallet did not disappear, thus my clothes and utensils were still okay. I bitterly regretted that I hadn’t also bought cup noodles in advance, but now it was too late.
But I have to say…
These Relics really always seem to have downright absurd powers.
Depending on how you look at it, I was given the opportunity to wallow in luxury for a week, eating expensive dishes and playing all night and so on, but as the money was still all mine, that wasn’t exactly meaningful.
If I really were to spend all my wages of that week, I would be unable to pay my rent, my electricity bill, my cell phone bill and so forth when they came due at the end of the month.
I started to think about a way to handle this dire situation for the time being.
However, it was obviously not possible to put money aside when I had to spend all my money and consume everything I bought for me.
But hell, what an unspectacular power.
Leaving aside if they’re good or evil, I always thought Relics were uniformly spectacular, but it seems like there are also some with powers dripping with mundanity.
At that thought, an e-mail from Towako-san arrived.
“Why don’t you give a present to Saki for once? Or me!”
Why should I have to give you or Saki a present? Rather give me one!
Mm? A present…?
Ah. Hadn’t thought of that!
After work, I immediately went to buy a present.
I had been thinking all day long about what I should buy, paying no attention to classes or job, and had decided on clothes.
After getting paid by Saki and buying my dinner, I took the remaining money and bought a pink dress in a department store that cost just enough so that I got nearly no change.
I know that she likes black, but in this case it didn’t matter what color it was.
I pictured how she would look in such a pink dress and couldn’t help laughing. With her personality, she’d never buy such a color. Of course, I hadn’t seen her in such a color, either. Although curiosity would get the better of fear if I were given the chance.
“Is it a gift?” asked the shop assistant.
“Ah, kind of.”
I declined the offer to have it wrapped, and returned to the Tsukumodo Antique Shop with the shopping bag that contained the dress.
The shop was already closed, so I went round to to the rear and rang the doorbell. After a few moments, I heard Saki’s voice through the intercom.
“It’s me. Can you open the door for a moment?” I replied and waited for her to come.
Those few moments were spent racking my brains.
What should I say when I hand it over? It will seem strange if I just give it to her out of the blue. She might get the wrong idea. Not that I’m used to giving presents to girls. In fact, it’s a first. No, this may be a present, but it’s not a present. It’s only “sort of a present”. But it’s still a present.
I just completely tensed up.
Suddenly, the door opened and Saki appeared.
“What’s the matter? Did you forget something?”
“Here, this is a present.”
The moment she showed up, I just gave her the present out of the blue.
Oh shit. I wasn’t ready yet. I took a random action. Do I seem weird to her now? I bet…
Her standing there stone-still with the bag hanging from her hands proved my fears were justified.
Her face looked the same as always, but it being just a tad firmer than ever before proved that she was surprised.
“D-Don’t get me wrong, okay? It’s a present, but it’s not a present. You look like you have no idea what I’m talking about, huh? Well, perk up your ears…”
I explained to her in full sincerity and complete detail what had happened and what the present meant.
I can’t deny that I felt somewhat like I was making up excuses to cover my embarrassment, but wanted to get this straight. It was only “kind of” a present. There was no deeper meaning.
After a full 22 seconds of explanation, I confirmed once more:
“…So, got it?”
“Eh? Ah, yes. Sure.”
All right! Looks like she understood.
“Anyway, that’s all there is to it, okay?” I said and left.
Tokiya’s strange behavior didn’t stop there.
In other words, I received a present the following day as well. A snow-white broad‐brimmed hat.
And the day after that day as well. A pair of red fashion accessory glasses.
Both of them weren’t to my taste at all, but they were still presents.
I don’t get it.
I took another look inside the magazine I had dug out previously.
“Boys are silly and think girls will fall for them if they give the girls presents. As if! Of course you can’t hook a girl with gifts.
A savvy girl might well make a show of delight for a such a silly boy.
Who knows, it might be the start of your true love?”
I closed the magazine in a hurry.
No way. That wouldn’t happen.
Instead, I should consider his behavior suspicious. He must be up to something.
Most likely those presents use up all his pay each day. But why would he go that far?
Is there any profit for Tokiya in making presents to me?
The time I thought to myself that I should press him on that matter, the phone rang.
It was Towako-san. It was very unusual for her to call the phone at the shop when she was away making purchases. Normally she would stay out of touch until she came back.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
“Mm, sorta… By the way, did anything odd happen recently?”
Tokiya’s presents immediately came to mind. But saying that at this point was only going to add fuel to the fire.
Oh no. My voice was way too high-pitched.
I could virtually see how Towako-san grinned at the other end of the line.
“Mm? Mm? Did something happen?”
“As I said, no.”
“But something did, right? Right? Come on, tell your girlfriend.”
“As I said, nothing ha…”
I stopped mid-sentence.
It was unusual for her to give me a call when she was away, but today she was oddly insistent on top of that. Like she was convinced that something had happened.
“What did you say to Tokiya?” I asked.
“Uh? Ah, no…”
Bull’s eye. The tables turned. Towako-san knew something. No, she was in this business up to her neck.
“What did you say to him?”
“So I take you don’t mind whatever happens to your ‘Relics’, right? Ah, there’s one right there…”
“Aaah! Wait wait! I got it! I’ll tell you.” She gave in and started to explain, “To tell the truth, that fool used a Relic wallet and got something like a curse that makes his earnings disappear unless he spends them on the same day. So, I suggested buying you presents if his money was going to disappear anyway!”
I had thought that they weren’t just presents, but jeez, such a stupid…
Perhaps, he had explained all that to me when he gave the first present. I recalled that I hadn’t listened to him because I had been so perplexed.
“But isn’t he quite the devoted type? I mean, he bought you a present rather than partying hard or going out and spending it on himself!”
A teasing and smirking undertone returned to Towako-san’s voice. Apparently she had gotten herself back under control.
But I thought she might actually be right about Tokiya.
Normally, if you were forced to spend all your money, you’d eat something expensive you’d have to pass on normally, or you’d spend it for your own entertainment, like going to a movie. In short, you’d give yourself a little luxury.
But despite the circumstances, Tokiya was spending his money for my sake.
There might have been such a reason, and everything he had bought for me might have not been to my taste at all, but they were still true presents.
“Well, so accept his favor gently.”
“…U-Um, should I do something for him, too? I feel a little uncomfortable if it’s just me who always…”
“Oh ho? Did you go into your cute-mode?”
Something must be wrong with me, asking her for advice. How careless of me.
“Never mind. Forget it please. It’s just your imagination.”
“Now that’s cold… But well, why don’t you prepare something tasty for him? Maybe he’ll be so overjoyed that he’ll buy you an even better present? Two birds with one stone!”
“As I said, never mind.”
“Whew, seeing a new side of my Saki-chan just set me up. I’m completely satisfied. Right, I’ll leave the stage to the young folks now! I won’t be back for three days. I can even keep away longer if I’d be intruding…?”
“I’m awaiting an early return.”
Towako-san uttered a strange chuckle as she hung up.
With a deep sigh, I also hung up. That call had somehow been really exhausting.
It was then that the doorbell rang. I knew immediately that had to be Tokiya.
I opened the door immediately without bothering with the intercom, and as I had expected, Tokiya was standing there with a present in a shopping bag.
“Here, today’s present.”
The present he gave me was packed in a longish box and had a checkered wrapping around it.
“Wait,” I instinctively stopped him.
“What is it?”
“W-Why don’t you come in for a cup of tea?”
“Do you want it straight? Or with milk?”
I placed a cup in front of Tokiya and poured some tea from a teapot.
“Mm? Don’t you usually use bargain tea bags?”
“Oh, I felt like drinking this tea today.”
“So you serve the cheap one when I’m here and always enjoy the good stuff when you’re alone?”
“You don’t notice the difference anyway, do you?”
Tokiya, while complaining, took a sip of the black tea and declared confidently:
“No doubt. Earl Grey.”
Most likely he had just said the most expensive kind of tea he knew. And probably, his knowledge was restricted to Darjeeling and Earl Grey, and the fact that the former is cheap and the latter expensive.
Tokiya’s became silent and his triumphant face turned into a daunted one.
We were at loose ends, and so only our sipping the tea could be heard.
I looked at Tokiya’s present that was still on the table.
“May I open it?”
“Mm? Well, if you only open it, sure.”
I carefully took off the wrapping. Inside was a watch. It was the type of watch that had a cute character on its dial. But again it was not to my taste. I know: never look a gift horse in the mouth, but I’d still have preferred something that suited my preferences.
Why does he not know what I like even though we’re always together?
My gaze drifted to Tokiya.
“Nothing. Um, anyway, thank y…” I started, but suddenly he choked hard on his tea. Apparently it had gone down the wrong pipe.
I messed up the timing. What an awkward feeling.
I fetched a damp cloth and wiped the table.
“…Saki, did you listen to the explanation I gave you?” he asked, confirming, while watching me wipe the table.
“When I gave you the first present.”
“O-Of course! I did. I even heard it one more time today from Towako-san.”
So that really was an explanation back then. Thank goodness I got that call today.
“Eh? She gave you a call?”
“Yeah. She asked if anything had happened recently.”
“And what did you say?”
“Well, I said ‘yes’ and told her that you had been giving me presents. So you were cursed by a Relic wallet? Silly. That’s what you get from using a Relic without care.”
“Oh be quiet. I just wanted to borrow it for a few days because my old one got a hole in it and it was there at the right time! You wouldn’t expect a Relic wallet to lie about at such a place, would you?”
“Can I see it?”
Tokiya took a brown wallet out of the pocket of his trousers.
Indeed, it looked rather normal at first glance. I didn’t care about how it looked, though. What I cared about was its contents. I took a look inside and found that there were only 50 yen.
“Only fifty yen? What about your dinner?”
“Already in my stomach.”
“And what about your breakfast tomorrow?”
“There’s no point in buying something when it disappears anyway, is there? Therefore, I always stuff myself as much as possible. That’s eating in advance.”
“There’s no way that would work.”
“Don’t say it! The important thing is to believe. Oh, that brings back memories of the time when I had no money and had to cut corners wherever possible.”
Tokiya looked out of the window with a nostalgic glance. I wondered how he had gotten by before earning money here, but the thought became quite horrifying, so I stopped.
But he’s right, now that I think of it. If he has to spend his earnings the same day, he can’t even buy himself a meal for tomorrow because it would disappear.
“Do you want me to lend you some money?”
“No, no need for that. I would borrow some if the situation was really hopeless, but if I only have to pass on my breakfast and lunch, I can make do. That’s nothing compared to earlier days when I had nothing to eat for three days and lived off water alone at times. For someone used to poverty, leaving out one or two meals is a piece of cake. If a poor guy cuts down on anything, its his food expenses!”
“That’s nothing to brag about!”
“Thinking about that has made me hungry. I’ll take my leave and hit the pillow.”
Tokiya stood up and before leaving, he asked:
“Can you put some of that tea in a bottle for me?”
I woke up to an empty stomach.
Apparently, stomachs get particularly active when they know there’s nothing to eat.
I cursed the faultless operation of my stomach.
But today was the last day of this suffering. Today was the seventh day: the day I was going to be released from that wallet’s curse. Today’s earnings could still give me strength tomorrow.
Moreover, it was Sunday, so there there was no school. I didn’t have to waste any energy. And, best of all, I didn’t have to watch my classmates enjoy their boxed lunches and sandwiches while having to fill my own stomach with water from the tap. Oh, how many times I had cursed my school for not having free lunches.
But today I was going to turn over a new leaf.
That agony would end today.
Looked at in that light, it was no big deal to endure an empty stomach for one more day.
It’ll be time for work in no time if I just hang around in my crumbly 80 square feet apartment.
As I was thinking that, someone knocked on the door.
An offer for a newspaper subscription, perhaps? If you had come a day earlier, I may have signed the contract by mistake. But not anymore. You’re too late. I have no spare money to spend for a lousy newspaper subscription. Letters don’t fill my stomach. …Should I really be saying this?
“Coming! Who is it?”
I opened the door so as not to be rude. Saki stood before me.
At first I wondered if I was late for work, but my alarm clock inside indicated 9am. It didn’t seem to have stopped, either.
“It’s nine in the morning, isn’t it?” I asked.
Saki took a look at her watch and answered, “Yes, it is.”
Of course it wasn’t the watch I had bought her, but her own silver watch with a black leather belt.
Now that’s a surprise. It’s quite unusual for her to come to my place. And so early in the morning.
“Is something wrong?”
Without saying a word, Saki held out a black, zippered, cloth pouch
I accepted the pouch. It was warm in my hands. Something warm was inside.
“Food for you,” she said in an even voice. “You don’t have anything else to eat, do you?”
She had remembered what I had told her the day before, and had bothered to bring me something to eat. There were two meals inside—probably one for breakfast and one for lunch.
“Please wash the boxes and bring them when you come to work,” she said with a straight face, turned on her heel, and walked away.
I hadn’t at all expected her to make me lunch.
Did she have a change of heart or something?
She, who usually faithfully obeys Towako-san’s order to draw the food expenses from my wages if I ask her to let me join their dinner, and thus eventually leaves me empty-handed?
Is this also an effect of my presents?
…It didn’t feel bad, but it did give me a bad premonition.
Had she really listened to my explanation before?
She said that she had. And she said she had also heard it from Towako-san.
But if that was true, then her attitude was inexplicable.
…Hold on. She heard from Towako-san?
Towako-san doesn’t know everything that I told Saki back then. Most likely she has only heard about the Relic wallet and Towako-san’s suggestion.
Moreover, she said:
“—So you were cursed by a Relic wallet?”
“So” implies that she didn’t know until learning from Towako-san.
If so, she hadn’t listened to my explanation after all.
Sure enough, she was quite confused.
I should have pressed her about it yesterday.
Perhaps it would be best if I caught up with her and explained it again?
But it’s too late now, anyway.
My strategy has already run its course.
There’s no point in telling her about it now.
If I told her the truth, it would probably depress her or make her angry.
No matter how much trouble she has showing her feelings, I don’t want to do that.
But I did explain it to her.
And she told me that she had understood.
That should keep this from becoming a messy affair.
And even if she did get angry, it would be worthwhile to see her angry face.
The moment I considered the problem solved, my stomach grumbled. I’m such a simple guy.
I took the breakfast box out of the bag and opened it.
There were sandwiches inside. One fresh tuna, one egg, one canned tuna, one lettuce and ham, and finally one cutlet. There was also a side of potato salad.
Out of curiosity, I also took a peek inside the lunch box.
There were three rice balls, some fried meat, croquettes, and asparagus with bacon. There was even a warm vegetable salad.
If that weren’t enough, these were all among my favorite dishes. Didn’t expect that she’d remember something like that.
I put the lid back on the lunch box and, after taking a bite of a sandwich, poured the content of the thermos bottle that came with the lunch box in a cup. It was a consommé.
The scent it gave off rose up to the ceiling.
A sip from it warmed me up to the core.
I was impressed that a thermos bottle could preserve heat that well.
After breakfast and an early lunch, I left my apartment when it was still a little early to go to work.
Why? Because I wanted to drop by someplace on the way. Namely, the department store. This time not to buy Saki a present, of course, but to make my own purchases.
Apparently, Saki was under the impression that I was flat broke. But of course, I wasn’t a fool either; I had been saving up money little by little, always putting some small part of my pay aside. That’s under-the-mattress banking for you. I had gotten out my pre-Relic savings to buy myself a new wallet.
I was going to need a new wallet when I bid farewell to the Relic. Of course I was interested in a normal, proper one that was also cheap. I hoped to spend about 1000 yen.
After looking up at the elevator, I entered it and selected the floor with general merchandise.
There was also a floor with fashion for gentlemen and accessories, but they only carried branded stuff that was out of my reach and not my style anyway.
The elevator door slid open and revealed a well-organized line of counters for writing materials, books, music CDs and a corner for silver accessories. There was a huge variety.
I took a look at the map and searched for a place where I was likely to find wallets. There was one next to the silver accessory counter.
As I walked through the floor and was passing the silver accessory counter I spotted Saki by chance.
“Hey, Saki,” I called.
Oddly, she seemed startled. She shifted her gaze to me from the glass case.
“What are you doing here?”
“Nothing in particular.”
I peeked in the glass case as she had been doing. Inside I found various reasonably-priced accessories shaped like stars, swords, roses and so on.
“Is there one you’d like to have or what?”
“Surely not. I was just checking my bed hair.”
She ran her fingers through her silver hair. There was a time when I believed that such lustrous hair wouldn’t stand up in the morning, but apparently, I had been wrong with that idea. Well, of course.
“But what are you doing here, Tokiya?”
“Aah, just to buy something. Oh yeah, this,” I held out the bag with the empty boxes inside. “It was delicious!”
“Of course it was. I put all my skill… never-mind.”
She snatched it away from me and pushed it into the bag hanging from her shoulder. A shopping bag from the department store caught my eye when she did so.
“Mm? Did you buy something?”
“N-Not really. Okay, I’m leaving. Make sure you’re on time for work!”
Leaving behind these words, she went away from the glass case and headed to the elevator.
“Bed hair, huh.”
I took a look at the glass case and then looked past it. There was a sign hanging from the ceiling right over there that indicated the way to the ladies room.
“Can I help you?”
A shop assistant approached me.
“Did the girl just now buy anything?”
“The girl just now? No, she was just looking in the cases.”
“Do you know what exactly she was looking at?”
“Um, I’m afraid I don’t know. But at the moment, this heart-shaped necklace with an embedded pink stone is very popular, so she would certainly be delighted!”
That’s definitely not her taste.
If I were to pick something that she liked, I’d say… in this glass case, it would be the crescent-shaped one here with a diamond-shaped black stone embedded. Probably.
I thought so as I looked in the glass case.
Whoops, I shouldn’t be idling here. I came to buy a wallet.
After telling the shop assistant I’d come again another time, I left the accessory counter and headed to the wallet counter right next to it.
After work, I invited Tokiya to stay for dinner.
He replied, “Sure, that comes in just useful.”
He didn’t have to spend all his money every day anymore, so he no longer needed to insist on buying a frozen dinner. And if I prepared dinner for him, he wouldn’t have to use any money, so it really came in handy for him.
Besides, I wasn’t mentally prepared just yet, so it also came in handy for me.
I made cabbage rolls and fried chicken. Unlike the lunch I had made for him, I went for a salty-sweet seasoning. I also made a few things from the leftovers of the breakfast, which he finished off as well.
“Aah, I’m stuffed. It feels like ages since I ate something other than a microwave dinner.”
“You never go to restaurants?”
“Nope. Too expensive. If anything, I’d go eat gyuudon somewhere.”
Tokiya’s bad eating habits are no news to me, but I find that troubling. Maybe I should ask Towako-san if we can let him eat here?
Having finished eating, Tokiya made himself comfortable, watching TV and drinking tea I had poured him.
As for me, I was preparing myself while doing the washing up.
While washing the dishes—and nearly breaking them a few times—I started a simulation in my mind. I thought it was best if I seemed natural, and not too concerned or patronizing. But sadly, seeming natural was the most difficult.
Like I would be able to do that naturally.
“No, it’s a piece of cake,” I told to myself.
But doing that was a first for me and thus quite important.
The thought that it was my first time made me a little nervous somehow.
I knew entirely too well that it wasn’t like me to do that.
I just have to give it up to him without showing any expression at all, as always. I know that. But can I really pull it off?
After finishing the dishes, I made up my mind and went from the kitchen to the living room.
“Tokiya, listen…!” I said, further firming my resolve, but there was no reply.
Tokiya was lying on the couch, watching TV… I thought, but in truth he was sound asleep. Apparently, he had dropped off while watching TV.
I slouched my shoulders because of feeling both relief and letdown, and let out a deep sigh.
I fetched a blanket from my room and put it over him. Tokiya was sleeping so deeply that he didn’t even notice. This week must have tired him out extremely.
The time was ten PM. I supposed I could let him sleep a little longer.
While gazing at his face out of the corner of my eye, I enjoyed a quiet cup of black tea.
I looked up when someone shook my shoulders.
Like a fluorescent lamp turning on, my consciousness flickered for a moment and eventually became clear.
Oh? What have I been doing again?
That was the first thought that crossed my clearing mind.
“You were sleeping!”
I turned my face 90 degrees upwards in the direction I heard the voice and discovered Tokiya’s face.
“I was asleep, too?”
“Yeah, I also woke up just now. Looks like we had quite the long nap.”
I incidentally cast a glance at the clock. It was almost midnight. So I had been asleep for nearly two hours. As it seemed, Tokiya wasn’t the only one who was tired. Mental fatigue, perhaps?
“Mkay, I guess it’s time to leave,” he said and stood up.
Mm? Didn’t I want to do something before falling asleep?
“Ah. The present,” I said.
I held a bag, which I had hidden under the table, out to Tokiya.
Because I was still drowsy, I handed it over to him quickly and without caring about any of the simulations I had made beforehand.
But perhaps, that made me seem natural.
“A present? For me?”
“Yes. But it’s just a wallet. A black one!”
I revealed what was inside. Somehow I didn’t want him to get his expectations up before opening the box.
Choosing a wallet had turned out to be a difficult task.
It was an endless cycle of picking up wallets and putting them down again, while pondering which might suit his tastes the best. It came as a surprise to me that it’s so hard to select a present for someone.
I wondered if Tokiya also went through all this to select my presents.
“Yes! Your old one has got a hole, right? I thought you’d need one as soon as you stop using the Relic wallet.”
“Will come in handy, thanks! All right, and this is from me.”
Our situations reversed as he gave me a bag.
Inside was a small cube with a black wrapping and a silver ribbon around it. It seemed to be a present.
“Is this for me?”
“But this is a true present now.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? Mine is a true present just as well!”
I untied the ribbon and carefully undid the wrapping. Inside the box was a crescent-shaped pendant with a diamond-shaped black stone embedded.
“I thought that it would probably suit you…”
Back then I had indeed been looking at that pendant.
On my return from buying Tokiya’s wallet, a glass case in a silver accessory store happened to catch my eye. Inside was a range of different accessories. But only that pendant drew my interest.
All his presents so far hadn’t been to my taste, but this one was a bull’s eye.
Suddenly, the pendulum clock chimed midnight.
“Midnight? So it’s finally over,” he muttered.
Tokiya’s curse had just been lifted.
He took out the Relic wallet, took out its contents, and hatefully said, “You caused me a lot of trouble!”
After putting it on a shelf, he unboxed the one I had given him. It was a folding black leather wallet.
He then put his money into his new wallet.
He has used it right away.
Somehow I was happy to see that he used the present I had given to him.
Perhaps, giving presents feels better than receiving presents.
That might be why we give gifts.
It might seem obvious to most, but to me it was a big discovery.
“Wait a moment,” I said and went into the next room and closed the door.
The presents I had received from Tokiya were stored there. Namely, the pink dress, the white hat, the red glasses, and the picture watch.
None of them suited my taste. I hadn’t worn nor used any of them.
I hadn’t realised that the recipient using a present made such a pleasant feeling for the one who gave it.
I put them on as fast as I could.
With a deep breath I made up my mind in front of the door and stepped into the other room, showing myself to Tokiya.
Tokiya looked at me with a surprised face.
While I had once held the pink dress in front of me, I had never actually worn it. And because there was no mirror, I had no idea how it looked on me.
I felt the blood rise to my face.
I was sure it didn’t really suit me, but I didn’t know what he thought of it.
“What do you say?” I asked reluctantly.
“Why are you wearing that?!”
I didn’t quite understand.
They were all presents he had given me.
A pink dress. A white hat. A pair of red glasses. A picture watch.
Each was a present from him.
“So you didn’t pay attention after all, did you?”
“I’m going to repeat once more what I said back then, so listen.”
After this introduction, he reproduced the explanation he had given me during those 22 blanked-out seconds.
“D-Don’t get me wrong, okay? It’s a present, but it’s not a present. You look like you have no idea what I’m talking about, huh? Well, perk up your ears! To tell you the truth, I happen to be under the effect of a strange Relic. Something like a curse. It’s an absurd curse that makes my money disappear if I don’t use it on the same day as I earned it. And the nasty thing about this curse is that it also makes everything disappear that I bought for myself. In short, nothing remains. Therefore, this is not a present. It’s only kind of a present, and I’ll have you return it to me afterwards. This is a present for you, but you have to give it back to me later. Got it?”
That is what I had told her back then, and at the same time it’s the strategy that I had worked out.
In other words, in order to spend all your money and still make no loss, you just have to give it to someone as a present and reclaim it when the curse is lifted.
I was going to return those things, claiming that they didn’t fit or that they didn’t suit my taste. To be sure, I only chose trustworthy shops that would let you return the goods within a week. Since returning everything at the same shop was unreasonable, I went through the trouble of switching shops every day. As a result, the type of item also changed.
In the worst case, I could sell them as used goods. That would mean some loss, but it was still better than losing everything.
It was a splendid idea based on taking advantage of presents.
“So that was it what you were doing…”
“Yeah! But I did explain it to you and I even asked if you understood! Oka…?”
I retreated into my room without listening.
After switching on the light I took a look in the mirror. A dress, a white hat, a pair of red glasses, a picture watch—in there was a Saki wearing things that didn’t suit her at all.
I felt like laughing. But I couldn’t.
I doffed the white hat, removed the picture watch, took off the red glasses, stepped out of the pink dress and regained my usual appearance.
Then I put them back into their boxes.
They are going to find someone they suit better.
I left the room and gave them back to Tokiya.
“Please don’t be angry because I wore them, okay?”
“No, of course not.”
After that, I saw him to the door. Tokiya suddenly patted one of his pockets in which he had put his new wallet.
“Ah, and thanks for the wallet!”
“Don’t mention it.”
With an uneasy face, he added, “You can have them if you insist?” and returned the bag with the presents to my hands.
I thrust the has-been presents back at him with all my strength and shut the door.
Losing all my energy, I sank down against the outside door.
What am I doing?
What have I been expecting?
As if fate would allow me to have any hopes.
“…how careless of me, really.”
People—namely Tokiya—often say that I have no feelings, but that’s not true. I merely have trouble showing them, but naturally I do have feelings, and my heart is as sensitive as anyone else’s.
To the extent that it hurts when my hopes were falsely raised.
As I said earlier.
I did explain my strategy to her. And she did nod.
I even confirmed once more because I didn’t rule out the possibility that she hadn’t listened. And she said that she understood.
I wasn’t at fault. Well, I wasn’t the only one at fault.
But I did have pangs of remorse.
There had been signs that she hadn’t understood, and I hadn’t actually explained it again to her.
It was partly on purpose that I hadn’t.
I didn’t expect her feelings to swing back and forth like that just because of a present.
No, I did think that she might get a little angry. I was even interested in seeing her angry face.
It was a capricious feeling.
I was irresponsible.
I was careless.
—I didn’t think she’d cry.
It’s not like she actually shed tears. But I had never before seen her eyes so wet.
Maybe she was crying in her room right now.
As I leaned against the wall besides the door, I made the stupid realization that even she had such feelings.
I always considered her down-to-earth – someone with few emotional highs and lows.
I still don’t think I’m wrong about that.
But that’s not the same as being emotionless.
She does have emotions. They just don’t usually appear on her face, and it’s hard to read her thoughts, but she does feel joy, anger and sadness.
Today, I saw her angry and her sad faces.
The angry face hadn’t come unexpected in a sense.
But now I realized that wasn’t her face that I had wanted to see.
I would have been able to avoid this if “Vision” had activated…
This irresponsible thought crossed my mind and added to my self-scorn.
Suddenly, the door opened.
Saki looked down at me.
“You forgot something,” she said in an evener voice than ever and held something out to me.
It was the crescent-shaped pendant I had given her today.
“Hey, did you not listen to me?” I asked.
“What? Is there still something you forgot to say?”
“Are you doing this deliberately? Or do you really not know?”
“I’m giving it back to you deliberately! Or do you want me to go return it for you?”
“…You really don’t listen to anything I say, do you?” I sighed. “Why would I buy something to return today? The curse is already lifted!”
“Come on! I told you earlier that this one today is a true present!”
It finally got through to her.
—That, today, there had been no more reason to buy a temporary present.
“Originally, I went to the department store to buy myself a new wallet, but when I saw you looking at those accessories, I changed my mind.”
At the time, I hadn’t known that she’d bought me a wallet. It was a good thing that I hadn’t bought one.
“…It’s not like I approved of what I was doing! But you were the only one I could rely on. And you even made me lunch. That’s why I thought about giving a true present to you, as a token of my gratitude!”
I didn’t honestly think it suited me to do that. Nor was it pure gratitude. I just somehow felt the desire to buy it for her. I also hoped to see a smile from her.
I had noticed that my presents baffled her. I didn’t notice that my presents pleased her, but I did have a hunch.
That’s why my conscience pricked me. If I had thought otherwise, I wouldn’t have had any remorse.
Saki turned away from me.
But her hand was facing me.
In that hand she was holding the pendant I had given her.
“Put it on me.”
I took the pendant and stood behind her.
Holding the corners of the chain, I lowered the pendant from above and put it around her neck. Finally, I fastened the clasp.
When I brushed up her silver hair that had gotten under the chain, I noticed that her cheeks moved slightly.
Aah, what a blunder.
I should have picked a ring instead.
That way, I could have seen her face when I put it on her finger—