Volume 1: Miss Shioriko and the Peculiar Guests (originally translated by TehPing at hellping.org. this chapter has been fully edited by ND)
Chapter Two: Kiyoshi Koyama, Monument Gleaning + Saint Andersen (Shincho Paperback)
Before I knew it, the hour hand of the clock was pointing at eleven. It was time to open the shop.
I had been leisurely dusting away the at top of the bookshelves, but now I pushed the wagon filled with books, worth about 100 yen each, to the front of the shop, and flipped the signboard around.
But for all my effort, there wasn’t a single customer waiting. I didn’t see a soul on the narrow street near the station platform. It was overwhelmingly hot; no one would want to go out in this weather. Massive, puffy cumulonimbus clouds were gathered in the sky above the station’s roof. I guessed there would be a thunderstorm in the afternoon.
The breeze blowing by was humid, blistering, and as musty-smelling as anyone’s breath. The signboard, showing the word “Biblia”, spun around, and the words “Antiquarian Bookshop” came into view from the reverse side.
Nevertheless, a new day was beginning.
I stretched my back and turned back into the so-called “shop”; it was more like a cave made out of books. The dim interior was slightly humid, but it was much cooler than outside.
This was the third day that I, Daisuke Goura, had spent working in the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia. I hadn’t known this before becoming an employee, but the shop was actually rather famous locally, since it dealt with very expensive books. After a search on the internet, I found out that the shop actually leased books out for exhibitions on occasion.
A few days ago. I had an encounter with the shop owner Shioriko Shinokawa, when I brought her Sōseki’s Complete Collection—a set of books owned by my grandmother. Even though my “condition” prevents me from reading books, meeting her led me to start working here.
Shinokawa felt that old books had their own tales in addition to the contents on the pages. She perfectly unraveled my grandmother’s “tale “hidden in Sōseki’s Complete Collection, and this “tale” revealed a secret about my own birth. Shinokawa had an exceptional amount of knowledge about old books and displayed astounding insight. But, she was extremely introverted; she wouldn’t dare look anyone in the eye, unless they were talking about books.
And so three days passed.
Shinokawa’s little sister was named Shinokawa Ayaka, and she minded the shop before I started. That girl never taught me anything except how to use the cash register and where to put the cleaning equipment. In fact, Ayaka didn’t even seem to be certain what a job at an antique bookstore entailed; she just watched my actions skeptically. Though certainly, it is unbelievable that I, who came in as a customer, could be an apprentice shop attendant by the next morning.
“You do know that my sister is ignorant of anything that isn’t a book, right?”
She repeated the same line so many times, it kind of got on my nerves.
“And do you know that a thief came in here a few days ago? Nothing was stolen, but it does feel a little unsafe around here now.”
The way she prattled about it seemed to imply that I was that thief. I really wanted to remind her that she was the one who made me find Shinokawa at the hospital, but kept it in and continued my work silently. I grew up in a restaurant, after all. I could do some basic customer service if I put my mind to it.
Ayaka hadn’t come out of the main house yet this morning. Perhaps she had decided to ease up on me a bit. Or maybe she had just gotten tired of looking after me all the time.
Whatever the reason, it had left the shop eerily quiet. Feeling the silence all around me, I went over to the counter and started up the computer there. When I checked my email, I found a long message from Shinokawa. “Good morning, this is Shinokawa,” it began. The body of the email contained a long list of work instructions followed by her sign off, “I’ll leave everything to you. If there’s anything you need, please send me an email.”
All of her instructions since my first day of work had been sent through email. In the Ofuna General Hospital, where Shinokawa was staying, the use of cellphones was prohibited in the patient ward. She could call from the lobby, but she probably wasn’t in a state where she could leave the bed.
Of course, if I had anything to tell her, I could head over to the hospital myself. However, there hadn’t been any customers, so there wasn’t really any reason for me to go see her.
My morning “work” included preparing deliveries based on customer invoice requests. The Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia had listings in antique books catalogs, as well as books available for purchase online. Most of the shop’s income seemed to come from remote purchases like those. I suppose that was why the shop could run just fine without any in-store customers.
I searched through avenues of books, looking for the contents of the invoices.
At this point, I had realized that the shop mostly sold specialty books, covering topics like literature, history, philosophy, and the arts. There were a few manga and paperbacks for sale as well, but these were older books that I had never heard of.
I took the books I had found, and returned to the counter. I then packed them up, carefully checking through the email Shinokawa had sent as I worked.
It probably goes without saying but, she only wrote about work in her emails. For some reason, it felt like there was subtext behind the words, ”If there’s anything you need.” She seemed to be saying, ”please do not contact me if there is nothing going on, and do not go to the hospital.”
I didn’t think she would be happy to hear any chitchat from me. The image of her whispering, “…Is that so,” and then reverting back to silence appeared clearly in my mind. Of course, it would be vastly different if it had anything to do with books. If that were the case, I’m sure she’d give me an animated explanation, her eyes shining. That was something I looked forward to.
The door creaked open. I lifted my head and found an old lady with white hair walking into the shop. She looked extremely refined, with a neat, plain dress on and a parasol dangling from her arm.
I didn’t recognize her at all, but I supposed she was someone who lived nearby. She must have come straight from the supermarket, since she was holding a grocery bag in her hand. She smiled and nodded at me, and I nodded back at her. The morning customers are all old people like her.
The old woman went around the shop once, stopping occasionally to excitedly flip through the books. Finally, she nodded at me again and opened the glass door. She probably hadn’t been able to find a book she wanted to buy.
The old woman stepped aside as she exited, making room for another customer who was just arriving.
I stopped what I was doing, surprised by how oddly dressed the new customer was. His head was bald, and his eyes were large and wide. He was a short man, and I could tell from the wrinkles on his tanned face that he was in his late 50s. He had on an oversized T-shirt with a Union Jack flag on it and jeans that were tattered along the edges. His neck had a pink towel draped around it.
I didn’t know what his occupation was, but he definitely wasn’t a salaryman on his day off. He was holding a large bag made from picnic sheets.
The old woman seemed to be as shocked as I was. She tried to squeeze by the bald man, as if trying to escape— but bumped into him as she went. At this moment, the bald man suddenly grabbed her shoulder.
“…Hey you, hold on for a moment.”
The baritone voice was filled with a menacing intent, and the old lady immediately turned as pale as paper. I hurriedly got up from my seat. This wasn’t some bustling street at night, but rather an antique bookshop during the day. I never expected to see such a dispute here.
“What are you doing!?”
I was about to pull the bald man aside, but he suddenly gritted his teeth and bellowed, “You idiot, why’re you grabbing me!? Here, look!”
He reached into the old lady’s shopping bag, and pulled out the item at the top. At that moment, I couldn’t help but exclaim. He was holding a large covered book, Modernology by Konwa Jirō and Yoshida Kenkichi. I had just placed it on the counter only moments before. The name was a little unique, so it had stuck in my memory. I returned to the counter, and found that there was, in fact, a book missing—in other words, she was a thief.
She groaned in dismay. I was more surprised than shocked. The way she pretended to use the bookshelves as supports must have been a feint to help her steal books. I thought middle or high school students might try to steal something, but never expected that an old lady would do something like that.
“…I hope you can forgive me.”
She suddenly looked at me with begging eyes, a vast difference from the rich, lady-like attitude she had shown before. Perhaps this was her true nature.
“It’s not like I’m doing this because I like it. At my age, there are times when I have to do this, so please spare me some sympathy here, please?”
She gave me a pitiful look. I felt incredibly awkward. I knew, as a member of the service industry, I was supposed to formally hand her over to the police, but I was a little hesitant to do so. Perhaps, since I was brought up by grandmother, it was hard for me to treat old women harshly.
“Such indecent things you’re saying for your age!” the bald man bellowed. “This world has no room for shameless old folks like you. You might as well sell chickens instead of stealing books!”
He was much more furious than I, as the employee, was. He grabbed the old lady again—I had to stop him. We were at a standstill in the narrow passage, when the old lady lowered her head slightly.
“Sorry to trouble you.”
She suddenly turned and ran out, quickly disappearing from sight. I hurried after her, but couldn’t find her anywhere. She was surprisingly fast for her age.
“She’s most likely a serial culprit,” the bald man said to me as I returned to the shop. “Be wary of thieves, will you? What’s the point of you watching the shop if this keeps up?”
I lowered my head. I was grateful that he managed to stop the thief, but I was a little confused as to why he was lecturing me. Who was he?
When he noticed my shocked and doubtful stare, the man suddenly pointed at his chest and said, “My name’s Shida. I’m a regular here.”
The man who called himself Shida approached the counter and stacked seven or eight paperbacks there.
“…What are these?’
“Can’t you see? I’m selling these books.”
My heart throbbed a little. With these, I had a proper reason to go see Shinokawa. I delightedly returned to the counter.
“The person in charge of appraising isn’t here, so please leave them and come back tomorrow…”
“I know,” Shida said impatiently. “She’s hurt and hospitalized. Are you a new employee? You must really like this job. Don’t you find the shopkeeper weird? It’s rare to see such an introverted antiquarian bookshop owner.”
He was definitely a regular customer. He casually reached his hand towards the counter and drew a piece of paper from the file holder. It was the invoice slip for customers to record transactions. He had a better idea of where things were than I did.
He wrote in an ardent manner. As he did, I inadvertently noticed his right hand; his long, narrow fingers were heavily cracked and blackened with ink. This was the hand of someone living a tough life.
“Right, this should do it,” he said as he handed me the receipt. The address given was ”Under the Bridge of the Kugenuma Beach in Fujisawa City.” I found this troubling. I thought I was rather familiar with the Kugenuma Beach area, but I had never heard of the place “under the bridge.”
“Where’s that?” I asked, noticing that nothing was written in the telephone number field.
“Hikijigawa river flows this way, and there’s a bridge right in front of the Kugenuma Beach. You know where I’m talking about? It’s slightly up from coastal road.”
Shiba drew an imaginary map with his index finger as he spoke.
“It’s right below the bridge.”
I stared at his face without looking away—and after a while, I understood what he meant. This man was homeless.
“I picked up these books recently. I’m a book hunter.”
What does that mean? Rather than answer my question, Shida merely smiled and tapped at the books in his hands a few times.
“Anyway, bring these to the hospital and get the shopkeeper to appraise them. They might not look it, but these are decent books. Your shopkeeper will definitely love them.”
I wanted to ask Shida what he meant by ”book hunter,” but before I could, he leaned his body over the counter as if he was afraid someone would overhear. It was all quite pointless, as I was the only other person in the shop. He really exaggerated his actions.
“…Well, there’s something I want to ask the shopkeeper about. Can you please pass it on to her for me?”
I didn’t know what he meant at all, but he didn’t give me any room to interject.
“I’m a regular customer here, so there’s no problem, I guess?… Anyway, it happened yesterday …”
As I remained speechless, Shida began his story.
That evening, I went to the hospital. Shinokawa’s sister had no club activities in the afternoon, so she took over at the shop. As I knocked on the hospital door, I heard a soft voice from within. The sound was vague and muffled, but it seemed to be coming from Shinokawa.
We hadn’t seen each other in three days, but I wasn’t particularly excited. I was still thinking about the customer, Shida, who had come to the shop earlier—about the “request” he had presented to us.
“This is Goura. Please excuse me,” I said as I opened the door.
“I just emailed you. The book appraisal…”
I was suddenly speechless. Shinokawa was on the bed, drying her hair with towel. It seemed she had just taken a shower, turning her usually white skin a pale cherry pink. As soon as she noticed me, she stopped what she was doing and got very still.
“Sorry. I’ll wait in the corridor.”
Flustered, I headed outside.
“It—it’s fine…please come in…”
Shinokawa quietly called out to me, lowering her head as she motioned for me to sit down. Her beautiful, glossy black hair was drenched, drooping over her eyes. I inadvertently gulped.
“I—I just…showered…I thought you would come by later…erm, sorry…”
She seemed to be saying that she had just showered because she thought I would arrive later, but that she was sorry for her current appearance.
“No, you don’t have to apologize to me about that.”
The shop was being attended to, so I came by earlier than expected. I coughed for a while; if there was silence, I’d inadvertently think too much about the scene in front of me.
“You showered in the hospital’s bathroom?”
She nodded. The fragrance of her shampoo still lingered in the air.
“Helped me do it…”
Shinokawa murmured as she put aside the towel. She probably wanted to say that the nurse helped her shower. I see.
She suddenly took a deep breath, as if trying to relax. As she did, her chest rose greatly beneath her pajamas, and my vision instantly settled there. I thought she was a petite person, but I may have been mistaken—ah, am I an idiot? What would happen if she found out? Better get down to proper business.
“Can you look at these books?”
I handed over the bag I had brought along. To be honest, I was a little skeptical. The paperbacks Shida brought didn’t seem to be as good as he advertised, and they didn’t look old at all.
However, once Shinokawa took out the books, her attitude changed.
“Wow, this is amazing.”
Shinokawa squealed in delight, like a child receiving a Christmas present. She embraced the books tightly. With the spines pressing into her breasts, I was at a loss for where to look.
Her eyes dazzled, and she turned the spines towards me. They were all published by Chikuma Publishing and Kodansha Arts Publishing. There I saw the three volumes of Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens, the first and second halves of The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing by Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin, the Limited Edition, Gentle Love Story of Nishōtei by Shikiba Ryūzaburō, the first and second halves of Sugiyama Shigemaru’s Hundred Demons…. It seemed each book was cryptic in content, and I didn’t know what was so good about them.
“…Are they really that valuable?”
“Yes. Each book can sell for two or three thousand yen.”
I was shocked. That was more expensive than I thought. Those books didn’t look that old.
“All these books are highly rated by critics, and there haven’t been any reprints. It’s possible to purchase hardcover copies, but they can’t be bought with just two, three thousand yen. There’s a huge demand for such limited edition books in the antique books market.”
I remembered Shida’s spirited look. He may look suspicious, but his ability to pick books was not to be underestimated. I was a little concerned as to how he got the books though. He said that he had picked them up recently.
“A customer named Shida brought them in.”
“Ah, so it was him after all! I was wondering if he was the one,” she said excitedly.
“He specializes in these types of books.”
“Specializes? What does he do?”
“That man’s a book hunter. Did he not say so?”
“He did … but what’s a book hunter?”
I hadn’t gotten the chance to ask the man himself, as he never gave me the opportunity.
“They’re people who buy cheap books from antique book stores and sell them at high prices. Mr. Shida goes around the new antique bookshops in the area every day.”
This was the first I had heard of such a thing. I didn’t know people could earn a living that way.
“Then why did he call himself a ‘book hunter’?”
“There are many given explanations. One is that they hunt through bookshelves for any potentially valuable titles. Mr. Shida has always specialized in rare books trading … he may even know more than I do.”
So Shida was a special customer who could contribute rare book titles to our shop. I couldn’t help but regret what had happened earlier; if only I had listened to him seriously.
“Did Mr. Shida make any requests?”
She looked at me through bespectacled eyes.
“H-how did you know?”
“He always does this whenever he sells good books to us. He wants to purchase some limited edition books of a certain publishing unit…am I right?”
She gave a sweet smile as she said this. I guessed it was because he often came to the store with requests. Since he wanted to sell his books to this antiquarian book shop, it would be better to keep a good relationship with him.
“Hm, how do I put it…it’s about a limited edition book.”
I didn’t know where to begin. It was a request that was a little—no, very intriguing. Anyway, I first took a note from my pocket, something I had jotted down to prevent myself from forgetting.
“He wants us to get the First Edition of Koyama Kiyoshi’s Monument Gleaning + Saint Andersen…”
“It’s an anthology from Shinchō Paperback. It seems like the first edition was released in the 30th year of the Showa Era.”
Shinokawa’s reply was immediate, and filled with detail.
“In that case, our shop should have some entries. It’s really not uncommon…”
“No. He doesn’t want a book in our stock.”
I shook my head.
“His request was, ‘My book’s been stolen, and I hope you can help me get it back.’”
She blinked her eyes. I arranged Shida’s long description in my mind. It would be better, I thought, to convey what he had said in the correct order.
“… I don’t have any money, and I’m not young anymore. Right now, I’m still satisfied with my life. I don’t have to be a burden for others, and can still live on my own. Not all old people complain about unreasonable things like that woman who just stole.
“There are some books I won’t sell no matter what. Everyone can have a book they treasure, right? For me, that would be Koyama Kiyoshi’s anthology Monument Gleaning + Saint Andersen. You’ve never…read it before? Such an unstudious person.
“That book was basically my talisman. I always put it in my bag and brought it along so that I could read it whenever I wanted to…but then yesterday … it was stolen.
“Isn’t there a path to Kobukuroya on that side, over to the northwest? It’s the place overlapping with the coastal road. You know the first traffic light when you head down the coastal path?…Right. There’s a cross junction. The left leads to Ofuna station, and there’s a temple in front. I rode a bicycle there yesterday afternoon.
“Why, you ask? For work, work. Recently, I agreed to exchange books there with someone like me. The second half of The Coming of the Book that I just brought, I got from him.
“…Huh? You’re asking me if I only have the second volume? Are you serious? The latter volumes of such a rare book series are harder to get. Some people only buy the first volume and not the second, not the other way around, right? There are fewer copies of the second volume on the market, and that makes them more valuable.
“We agreed to meet outside the temple. I arrived there first and parked my bicycle at the pine tree beside the shrine gates…there wasn’t anyone around, and it was very quiet. I didn’t bring my watch, but I guess it should have been almost 2pm.
“The temple in Kamakura isn’t a very large one, and there weren’t many visitors, especially since it was so hot yesterday. I fared well under the shade of the trees, though. Much better than the poor, sweltering folks waiting at the bus station.
“I was bored and had nothing to do, so I decided to read a book under the tree. My bag was in my bicycle basket, and naturally, I had my Koyama Kiyoshi book with me.
“Just when I was about to take it out, I suddenly felt my stomach ache. It probably isn’t proper of me to say this, but I’ve been having diarrhea for the past few days. I want to watch my food intake, but it’s really hot, and my house doesn’t have a fridge.
“I went to look for a restroom, but there was no sign of any convenience stores or restrooms nearby. Instead, I went to the temple. I thought there would be a restroom for tourists to use there.
“Before I left, I placed my bag and bicycle under the tree, thinking that nobody would steal them. It was really careless of me, and now that I think about it, a grave mistake.
“I passed through the gates and went down the path to the temple. After a while, I heard a crash from behind. I looked back and found a young girl lying beside a bicycle. My first thought was that she crashed into my bicycle, since it was parked somewhere along the pedestrian pathway.
“‘Are you alright?’ I asked the girl… well, that girl was about 16, 17 years old, had short hair, and was rather tall. If not for the fact that she was wearing a skirt, I would have assumed she was a boy.”
“All our stuff was scattered in front of the temple, including the book I just mentioned.
“‘Sorry, could you please help me lift this bicycle?’ I said loudly. Well… I guess I reached my limit there, because I had no strength left to pick everything up and put it all back in the bicycle basket.
“The girl, however, did not look back, ignored my bag, and instead just picked up her own dropped bag in order to check if everything was still there… I didn’t know what was inside, but the plain maroon paper bag looked pretty high-class.
“Then the kid started to look around. It seemed like something very important had fallen out of her bag. Suddenly, she picked something up and ran off.
“To be honest, I felt it was a little strange. That kid picked up what looked like a paperback. Anyway, when I came back from the restroom, my friend had already arrived, and he helped me pick up my stuff. I thanked him and looked inside my bag, only to find that my Koyama Kiyoshi was book missing… it took me a while to realize what had happened.
“I asked my friend, and he said that he just passed a tall girl. He told me that he saw her cross the road and that she seemed to be heading for the bus stop. Of course, by the time I got there, there was no one there and the bus had already left.
“I bid my friend farewell, and checked the bus stop one more time just in case, but she wasn’t there after all. I guess she got on the bus.
“Anyway, I couldn’t get my beloved book back. So, there’s something I want to ask this shop…
“Huh? You’re asking me why the girl stole the book? Isn’t that obvious? That kind of old book is definitely worth a lot of money; she must have intended to sell it!
“That’s why, when I thought about it, I realized this antiquarian book shop is the closest one to the temple. If that kid brings in my Koyama Kiyoshi book, can you help me buy it back quietly? I’ll pay for it.
“…The police? No, I don’t want to call the police. I don’t want to catch the culprit, I just want to get my book back. There are times when people do the wrong things in a stupor… but I don’t really want to give her a piece of my mind.
“Anyway, please help me notify your shop owner… I’ll come back again later tonight. I’m off then!”
“…And that’s what he said. What do you think?”
I crudely summarized what happened and looked over at Shinokawa. Her hands were folded on her knees, and she seemed pensive.
“I guess Mr. Shida really likes Koyama Kiyoshi’s works. I first noticed this when he prevented that book theft.”
She said calmly. I was about to nod in agreement—
“Eh? That has nothing to do with Mr. Shida’s request, right?”
I merely mentioned that he prevented a theft offhandedly when I was explaining Shida’s request. Shinokawa smiled and shook her head.
“The anthology Mr. Shida had would certainly contain Koyama’s signature work, Monument Gleaning. Do you know what it’s about?”
“It’s a short story featuring an insipid description of a poor novelist’s daily life. Of course, the basis of the story is the author himself. He meets a young girl in an old bookshop who gives him a birthday present. And when he opens the wrapping … ahh, sorry, I went on a tangent again.”
I had already leaned forward unconsciously. I was actually more interested in how he met the girl and what happened when the present was opened than in Shida. But she deliberately coughed and changed the subject.
“Back to the main topic, the opening of Monument Gleaning has a line like this.”
She looked up and recited fluently, “‘If possible, I hope to age faster, to a point when my back arches and prevents me from doing anything. When that happens, I may try raising a few chickens to make a living, but not all old people spend their time grumbling about the misfortunes of the world.’”
I was a little surprised. This truly was similar what Shida said to the old lady. I did think it was weird when he suddenly mentioned selling chickens.
But right now, I was more shocked by something else.
“…Do you memorize all the novels you read?”
Upon hearing this, she waved her hands in a flustered manner.
“H-how could I? That’s not it. Memorizing everything is… I just remember the good parts…”
“Eh? Isn’t that amazing? I’ve never met anyone like that before.”
I expressed my true thoughts, but her response was beyond my expectations. Stupefied, her mouth hung wide open, and her face turned bright red.
“…I-it feels weird to be complimented.”
“Eh? Is that so?”
“This is the first time someone’s ever said that I was amazing…”
She peered at me from behind her spectacles, and just when her eyes were about to meet mine, she suddenly lowered her head again. I felt a little lost as to what I should do.
“…A-anyway, I suppose we should help Mr. Shida.”
The room took on a peculiar atmosphere. Shinokawa coughed again to change the topic.
“Mr. Goura, please take note if anyone comes back to sell Monument Gleaning + Saint Andersen. Also…”
Her forehead wrinkled in a frown above her glasses.
“…I do wonder about something.”
“Did that girl really steal the book for money?”
I had been wondering this too. Maybe if she were a book hunter like Shida, but would an ordinary person think of selling a random old book off the street?
“I feel like it’s a little strange to only steal a single book,” she said.
“Mr. Shida agreed to exchange books with another book hunter. That meant that Mr. Shida had other items that were worth something. If she wanted money, don’t you find it weird that she left those other items behind…?”
I nodded. It certainly was intriguing. Shinokawa, who had been folding her arms, suddenly uncrossed them and leaned towards me. I thought it looked like the pose of a magazine model, but I hurriedly dispelled that notion.
“Wh-what is it?”
“Mr Shida won’t get his lost book back if this keeps up…why don’t we look for that girl?”
I never thought of that. Was there a need to go to such extremes for that book hunter? However, I resisted the urge to disagree. Shinokawa’s large eyes widened. Even without any books to bring in, this incident could be the best excuse for me to be here.
At the same time, my enthusiasm to search for the culprit kindled within me.
“Let’s help out then. I’ve been thinking about doing this too, actually,” I said with conviction, or at least something close to that. She happily clapped her hands in front of her chest.
“Thank you very much. I knew you’d say that, Mr. Goura.”
Upon hearing her say that, I couldn’t help but feel a little touched. So she really trusts me?
Just when my mood changed for the better, she continued, “But if the girl’s not going to sell it for money, why did she steal the book? What do you think, Mr. Goura?”
I was a little startled at this sudden question. I actually intended to hear her out all the way, just like how it went when she unraveled the mystery behind the Sōseki’s Complete Collection the last time.
“Ah, yeah… maybe she stole it because she wanted to read a book? Or maybe she wanted to read, but couldn’t find a book?”
“I think the chances of that are rather slim.”
Shinokawa firmly denied this with a twinkle in her eyes. Her expression showed more conviction than any words she could’ve used.
“This book isn’t really considered rare, and it’s not hard to find in old book shops. There was a reprint 15 years ago.”
“Then… ah, yes, maybe she took the wrong book during the mix up…”
I heard from Shida that the girl’s bag dropped. There was no way to be sure she didn’t have a similar book, and took the wrong one in the confusion.
“I thought of that too, but in that situation, the girl’s book would have remained at the scene… I think there must have been a reason why she stole the book.”
I couldn’t think of any more explanations. This would be the limit of my mental abilities—no, wait, wasn’t this weird?
“If she’s not selling it for money or to read, why did she steal the book?”
“Yes, I do feel that is the crux of the incident,” Shinokawa said spiritedly.
“The real reason why the book was stolen will lead us to the girl. Let’s investigate this.”
“Eh… but how do we go about doing that?”
“From what Mr. Shida told you, I understand a few things.”
She raised her delicate index finger as she said this.
“First, she was very anxious back then. She knocked into the bicycle parked at the side of pedestrian pathway because she was running too fast.”
I nodded to prompt her, and she raised her middle finger.
“Second, the bus arrives infrequently. According to what Mr. Shida said, there were people waiting at the bus stop… I can guess that she was in a hurry trying to get there.”
I started to gradually understand. The girl was anxious because there were others waiting for the bus.
“But this is confusing. She was anxious, but why didn’t she run to the station after getting up… he said she checked through the contents of her bag and looked around first.”
“Ah, yes. She was looking around for the item she dropped…”
“But she didn’t pick up the item she dropped… she picked up Mr. Shida’s book. I think there’s another possibility.”
She enunciated as she spoke.
“Maybe the item in her bag didn’t fall out, maybe she was checking her bag because the item broke or something?”
“Broke? What kind of item is that?”
“I don’t know…in that case, it might be possible she took the book to replace the broken item or to use it to repair something. She looked around anxiously, picked up a paperback…”
I continued to stare at her intently. It was the same as when she solved the Sōseki’s Complete Collection. She could deduce so much given so few clues, and she didn’t even need to leave the ward room.
However, there was something I didn’t understand.
“…Anyway, what are paperbacks used for?”
Shinokawa sighed, and bent her raised fingers. She might not have realized it herself, but she looked as adorable as a lucky cat, to the point that it made me feel awkward.
“I can’t think this through no matter how I try. There’s too little information,” she said sternly while maintaining her lucky cat pose.
“…Maybe we should ask the book hunter who met with Mr. Shida. He might know something.”
“Mr. Shida’s associate said that he brushed by the girl, but he wouldn’t have known where she went if he had only brushed by her. He knew she went to the bus stop because he looked back, right?”
My interest was piqued again.
Shida said he would stop by the shop later. Would I have to ask him how to contact the other book hunter?
“But Mr. Shida’s friend might not come here.”
“Yes, that’s true. I think we should be the ones to visit him.”
“I see… wait, who’s going to ask?”
She looked at me doubtfully. That was a really stupid question. Shinokawa couldn’t leave this hospital. Wasn’t it obvious that I’d have to go?
The next day was a day off for the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia.
It was the first day off there’d been since I started working there. I was spending my free time outdoors, baking under the sunlight. I parked my scooter in front of the Kamakura temple, the scene of the “crime”.
I stood under the shade of a pine tree, wiping my sweat as I looked around. This place was close to my old high school, and I often used to come here for school trips— Kamakura temple sightseeing was a staple activity at schools here. The houses were positioned not too differently from how they were back then. It was near the coastal road, but I couldn’t find any convenience stores or family restaurants. This was a quiet residential area, and I couldn’t find any pedestrians no matter where I looked.
I had agreed to meet Shida’s associate here.
Shida had come to the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia last night, and was extremely delighted to hear that we’d look for the thief girl (and about the prices his books would sell for). He told me he had something he wanted to ask his book hunter friend, so he called him using the phone in the shop. I didn’t talk to Shida’s associate directly, but apparently he cheerfully agreed to meet me, and told Shida when and where.
“You should read Monument Gleaning sometime,” Shida said after he contacted his associate. “The first time I read that book was when I was just starting up as a book hunter. I didn’t intend to do what I’m doing now, but my company and family was in a mess and … but I guess it’s nothing much. I do find it blissful reading under the bridge.”
Shida first appeared at the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia several years ago, and Shinokawa didn’t know where and what he used to do for a living before that.
“In the book, the main character’s just a poor man who’s not good at building relationships and is bad in social situations. My wish to live a completely content life was simply a wish. It’s all the more impossible to find an innocent and benevolent girl who could treat such a man gently, I guess.”
Shida’s tone was much gentler than his words. He spoke as if talking about a brother.
“But though the author knew this very well, he still wrote this story. You’ll understand if you read it… I really found myself empathizing with the author of such a blissful story.”
I nodded—I really did want to read it.
“…Actually, I know it’s difficult to get that book back, but I’m unwilling to give up so easily… I won’t blame you even if you can’t find it, so please don’t worry… send my regards to the Baron.”
“…What does he mean by Baron?”
I muttered under the pine tree. Is that the book hunter’s nickname? Shida never told me what he looked like, but I guess I would know when I saw him.
I checked the clock on my cellphone. It was slightly past the meeting time. Just when I was starting to get annoyed—
“May I ask why you’re here?”
I heard an inquiring voice behind me. I looked back and found a tall man in a white shirt walking over from the temple gates. He was probably in his late twenties and had curly hair and long eyes. His untanned skin smelled of cologne, and if not for the leather business bag he was carrying, I would have believed he was a model taking photos in his free time. Was he returning from a grave visit?
“I’m waiting for someone.”
Upon hearing my answer, the man’s eyes shined and he revealed his teeth in a passionate smile.
“In other words, you’re the same as me. I walked around the temple because I came by a little early…. Are you the one helping Mr. Shida find his book?”
The man held my hands tightly and shook them a few times. I was still a little confused, and I alternated between looking at his hands and his face.
“I’m Mr. Shida’s friend Kasai. For some reason, he gave me the nickname Baron.”
Kasai shrugged his shoulders. Anyway, he was just like a pretty boy in a painting, and I really wanted to call him something regal.
Kasai presented me with a business card. Naturally, I didn’t have one.
“I’m Goura. I work at the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia.” I had no choice but to introduce myself verbally.
“Ah, so you’re from that antique book shop? I’ve passed it before, but never actually gone in. Are you the owner?”
“No, I’m just a shop attendant. I just started working there.”
“Is that so? Please allow me to visit when I have time in the future,” he said with clarity.
“All I know is that you’re Mr. Shida’s friend, so I thought you’d be a book hunter too. I’m really sorry to call you out on a work day.”
Kasai scratched his head slightly. He looked a little scrawny, but he didn’t seem to be a bad person.
I looked down at the business card in my hands, at the words, “Owner of Kasai Bookstore” above the name Kasai Kikuya. I heard that he was a book hunter before, but it seemed he also operated a shop.
“Kasai Bookstore is the name of the online shop I use. Normally, I specialize in purchases, which I then sell online, so my methods are a little different from Mr. Shida’s.”
I could not help but marvel at these people called book hunters. It’s true that it would be faster to sell books to customers directly rather than through other shops. This method of operation was probably no different than any ordinary antiquarian book shop.
“I’m not too knowledgeable about books, and most of my merchandise is limited edition albums and games. I’ve exchanged goods with Mr. Shida before, and, luckily, our specialties don’t clash with each other.”
Looking at his attire alone, he did not seem to be someone lacking in funds. He seemed to be a rather capable book hunter.
“Oh yes. Is this about the kid who took Mr. Shida’s book?”
I recovered upon hearing Kasai mention the true reason for this meeting. I then explained to him what Shinokawa discovered; that the current information we had was not enough for us to look for the girl. After hearing my story, Kasai raised his eyebrows.
“What? I described it fully to Mr. Shida. He never said such an important book was stolen.”
“Do you know something?”
“I know more than you think. I didn’t just brush by her, actually. Come, follow me,” Kasai said, as he went to the coastal road. We were headed right towards the bus stop, and I could see the traffic lights and cross junction just up ahead. He stopped in front of the old gates leading to the temple rafters.
“It might be more appropriate to say that we met each other by chance. It was around 2pm, and I was walking over from the road junction. She was squatting in front of this gate doing something, and I could hear a rustling sound.”
The gates were slightly concave into the garden, and I couldn’t see the scenery within. I looked back at the pine tree. It seemed the girl must have come here and waited for a while after stealing the book.
“What was she doing?”
“Her back was facing me, so I’m not too sure. There was a maroon bag placed on the ground, and she had her hand inside. She seemed really anxious, looking at the station from time to time. I thought it was weird, but since I had an appointment I started on my way. Just when I was about to leave, she called out to me.”
I was a little surprised.
“Eh? You talked to the girl?”
“Yes. She asked me, ‘Do you have a pair of scissors?’”
“Yes, scissors to cut paper. I thought she would ask something else, and to be honest, I’ve never heard of pedestrians asking others to lend them scissors…but I just so happened to have a pair with me. I often have to deliver goods by mail, and it helps a lot with tying packages.”
Kasai took out a pair of stainless steel scissors and contentedly opened and closed them.
I stared at the glittering blades. If it was as Shinokawa said, that the book was used to repair something, would that mean Shida’s book was cut into pieces?
“I didn’t know Mr. Shida’s book was stolen when I lent her the scissors, and she looked really embarrassed. She only used them for a little bit, and then returned them to me.”
“Did you see what she did?”
“Her bag was turned away from me, and I couldn’t see what was inside… no, wait. She was holding something when I lent her the scissors. I guess that was…”
Kasai looked up at the sky for a while, before slowly continuing, “…I think it was an cooler.”
“The kind of thing you use to keep food cold, you know?”
I knew that, but I didn’t understand why the girl would be holding one.
“Does that mean the bag contained food or something?”
“Maybe, but I couldn’t tell either way.”
A paperback, scissors, and a cooler — I had no idea what linked them all.
“After returning the scissors to me, she immediately crossed the road and ran over to the bus stop.”
Kasai pointed at the bus stop on the opposite side of the road. There was a female high school student with her uniform on waiting there. It was the uniform of my alma mater. She was probably going home after her club activities, and there was a bow bag taller than her standing on the ground.
“Another high school student was waiting for the bus here yesterday, but it was a blond boy with a guitar strapped behind his back… the bus hadn’t arrived, and it was meaningless to watch on, so I headed to the temple.”
“So the girl got on the bus, right?”
“She should have been able to, but she never did.”
“Eh? What do you mean?”
She should be able to ride the bus from here to Ofuna station. I always thought she was headed to the station.
“I reached the gates, and started to pack up Mr. Shida’s belongings. After a while, I was a little concerned about that kid, so I looked back at the station. The bus just so happened to be leaving, and the other passengers had already gotten on, but she was still standing there all alone.”
“She was already at the station. She didn’t get on the bus?”
“That’s how it was. I don’t know why, though. After that, she carried the bag in her arms towards the street junction, and that’s all I saw.”
I tilted my head. After hearing Kasai’s description, I had even more questions. She had a cooler in her bag, stole a book, used scissors to cut something, ran to the station, did not board the bus, and watched it leave— I had no idea what was going on at all.
As soon as I left Kasai, my phone rang. It was an unknown number, and I hesitated a little before picking up. “Yes?” I said. I waited for a reply, but the line remained silent.
“Hello, may I ask who is calling?”
There was still no reply. Was it a prank call?
“What in the world, seriously,”
I said impatiently. But just when I was about to hang up the phone—
“…This is Shinokawa.”
Her soft voice shocked me.
“Shinokawa? Erm, why did you call all of a sudden…”
My mind was in complete chaos. I did tell her my number before, but I never thought she would really call me. She wasn’t allowed to use the phone in the room she was staying in, but it was possible to send me emails using the computer.
“I-I’m, in the corridor now… I just came out of the rehab room…”
Now that she mentioned it, I remembered there was a space in the corridor there for patients to make calls. She must have called from there. It would have been better if she had told me that right from the beginning.
“I was really curious about what the book hunter told you… so I gave you a call. I’m really sorry… so…”
She was about to hang up, and to my surprise, I inadvertently raised my voice when I spoke into the phone.
“Wai-wai-wait, please wait!”
If she hung up like this, this misunderstanding would probably continue.
“There’s something I want to ask you. I just finished my conversation with the book hunter!”
I started relaying what I had heard from Kasai without further ado. Luckily, she didn’t hang up, but I got the feeling she was getting more and more confused as I went. It was unlikely that anyone could understand such fragmented information over the phone.
I got all the way to the point where the girl crossed the road when, showing no surprise or doubt, Shinokawa asked, “…She left the bus stop with the bag like that?”
I heaved a sigh of relief. Her attitude had changed the moment the conversation turned to books. This was the Shinokawa that solved mysteries.
“Eh? Yes, that seems to be the case,” I answered. I really couldn’t think of anything else important. Shinokawa let out a sigh.
“…I see. I understand now.”
“What she wanted to do, and why she stole the book…”
I widened my mouth in shock.
“I don’t know everything, but I have a rough idea of what happened.”
“Amazing! I couldn’t think of anything…”
I was really shocked she was able to deduce the truth from what I had said. It seemed I was wrong to think nobody could crack this case. Shinokawa could could figure out anything that had to do with books.
“…No, I’m not that amazing…”
She went silent. Even though I was still excited , I felt that something was amiss. She said she solved the case, but still sounded dejected. She didn’t seem happy at all.
“So, what did you figure out?”
Affected by her mood, my voice softened. After a while, she spoke.
“…It was a present.”
“That girl had a present in her bag, probably food that required cooling. Since the bag wasn’t from any store, I suppose she made the food herself rather than buying it. She was anxious because she wanted to deliver it in person.”
At that moment, I recalled Kasai’s words. There was another person waiting for the bus, a young man with blond hair carrying a guitar on his back.
“And the reason why she didn’t get on the bus is…”
“She didn’t intend to get on the bus. She just wanted to give the boy her present… but got into trouble in the meantime. She knocked into Mr. Shida’s bicycle and fell over… and the bag with the present dropped to the floor.”
“…Did it break inside?”
I remembered the cookie sandwich I had eaten with Shinokawa. That was my most recent dessert. Was it something like that?
“No, if it’s broken, it can’t be given. What was broken wasn’t the dessert… there was something around the dessert.”
“It’s a present to the opposite gender, so it was probably delicately wrapped. Maybe the decoration or something broke, and she had to repack it again quickly, but she didn’t bring anything to do it with. There weren’t any convenience stores nearby either … at that moment, her eyes spotted Mr. Shida’s book…”
“But there’s something weird about this,” I interrupted. I had been listening quietly, but I really couldn’t follow.
“I’ve never heard of using book pages to wrap something.”
“…I don’t think she used the book either. What I want to say is…”
The sound of a bus door opening chimed. I was looking at the large bus in front of the station when I noticed. I inadvertently let out a cry.
A young man got off the bus. His school pants were partially covered by a white shirt, and he had a guitar case on his back. He was probably headed to school for practice. My alma mater would always hold cultural festivals right after summer vacation. Did he form a band with his friends and join the light music club?
His short hair was bright and blond. He must have bleached it.
“…What is it?”
“A high school student just got off the bus. It might be the guy who was waiting at the bus stop yesterday when the book was stolen…”
“Go after him!”
Shinokawa blurted into the phone.
“Please ask him about that girl.”
“Got it. I’ll call you later.”
I hung up for the time being and trotted over. I saw public bus close its doors and leave. The boy had his back to me as he walked. If the school rules hadn’t changed, students should have been banned from having such brightly dyed hair. He probably dyed it this eye-catching color because it was the summer holidays.
“Sorry, may I disturb you for a moment?”
The boy stopped and looked back. He immediately glared at me, his eyes long and narrow. He was probably scowling at me like that on purpose.
“…What?” he said unhappily, dragging out the word. This was a common manner of speaking here, and I used to do the same thing when I was in middle and high school.
“A few days ago, did a girl come to this bus stop…?” I asked. It was then that I realized. If it was true that the girl still had her bag when she left, then the boy must not have accepted her present.
“…A girl tried to give you a present, right? That’s what I wanted to ask you about.”
The boy looked as if he’d eaten something bitter, and frowned.
“Ah, you mean Kosuga? What, do you know her?”
I committed the name “Kosuga” to memory. This boy seemed to know her.
“There’s something I want to ask her about. Could you please tell me her address, or how to contact her for that matter?”
“…Are you the police?”
I didn’t know how to continue. I failed. In my haste to call him, I couldn’t think of what to ask him at all. No one would give the personal information of an acquaintance just because someone asked. But, after thinking about it a little, he heartily took out his phone and showed me his contacts. A phone number and email address were listed right below the name, Kosuga Nao.
“She probably lives around here, I don’t really know that much about her. Is the phone number and email address enough?”
“…Thanks,” I said doubtfully. The boy suddenly curled his lips, and gave a thin smile befitting a painting. He seemed to have practiced it in front of the mirror.
“Did that brat do something bad? She’s a strange one,” he said with amusement, showing no concern at all for the girl called Kosuga Nao. I could tell he was extremely delighted.
“…What do you mean?”
“You’re looking for her for some reason, right? How come? Are you going to abduct her and throw her in the deep sea?”
I frowned. It seemed he thought of me as a delinquent. My appearance often gave this impression.
“You don’t really know her?”
“Not really. We just happen to be in the same class. I do talk to her in the classroom sometimes, but I really hate women with bad attitudes.”
“So you rejected the present?”
“Even if it’s my birthday, I do have the right to refuse, right? She was so shocked when I told her I didn’t want her present.”
So he acted friendly in school, but was completely different behind the scenes. He was someone who could enjoy rejecting a present, who could actually tell a stranger someone’s personal information.
There was no reason for me to get involved, but the more I listened, the worse my mood got. I needed a way to contact Kosuga Nao, however. I let him use his infrared communication to send the data to my cellphone.
“I’ll be off then. I still have club activities.”
After the boy left, I stayed there for a while. Although I got an important piece of information, I couldn’t bring myself to be happy.
While scouting for book related clues, we discovered that a girl had tried to give a boy a birthday present, and he had rejected her gift. Shinokawa probably wanted to be certain if Kosuga Nao took the bag with her when she left.
I suddenly recalled Koyama Kiyoshi’s Monument Gleaning. After Shida recommended it to me, I bought a copy of Koyama Kiyoshi’s short story anthology. It had been a while since I personally bought a book with printed text. Monument Gleaning was a very short novel, and I barely managed to finish it before I started feeling uncomfortable.
The protagonist, a novelist, was extremely poor and lived his life peacefully every day. He was destitute, but he had quite the idle life. He spent his time buying things, cooking, and reading books.
One day, he became friends with a young girl from an old bookstore who called herself a “protector of the books.” This hardworking and down-to-earth girl gave the protagonist a nail clipper and an ear pick. In the end, the protagonist accepted the presents heartily.
The story was overly blissful, just as Shida had said. It could cause people to forget the bitterness and loneliness of reality. Of course, it wasn’t clear if these things had actually happened to the protagonist. One could think it was all a fictitious diary written by the protagonist, and, by extension, the author.
A present that could cause someone to feel such warmth would never exist in reality. Even if someone were to give something like that, there was the possibility of rejection, just like what happened to Kosuga.
I recovered from my deep thoughts. Anyway, I would first tell Shinokawa what I heard from the boy, and then discuss with her what to do next.
I took out my cellphone, and dialed her number.
The sun was setting outside the window, and a narrow crescent moon appeared in the sky, looking just ready to disappear. I sat on the chair beside the bed, and checked the time on my cellphone.
It was 7 pm, the appointed time.
“…She’ll be here, right?” I asked Shinokawa.
“She’ll come… that’s what she told me.”
After I explained everything that happened, Shinokawa sent Kosuga Nao an email informing her that we were looking for the book in place of its owner and hoped she would make a trip to the hospital.
“I’ll go,” she said simply. She had something to say to us—I guess.
“It’s good if she can return the book.”
Kosuga Nao borrowed scissors from Kasai, and definitely cut the book in some way. I supposed the book would be incomplete.
“…It’s fine. I don’t think the book will be cut to a point where it’s unreadable.”
“Why? Didn’t she cut it with scissors?”
“No, she cut…”
Before Shinokawa could finish, we heard a sharp knock on the door. We didn’t even have a chance to reply before the door swung open and a tall girl dressed in jeans and T-shirt walked in. She had well-defined eyes and a refined figure. I thought she looked more like a pretty boy than a pretty girl.
She walked into the middle of the room, stopped, looked around quickly, and lowered her head towards us with what seemed to be a glare on her face.
“…I’m Kosuga Nao.”
Shinokawa’s eyes fluttered as she spoke her name.
“Huh? Be louder, yeah? I can’t hear anything when your voice’s so soft,” the girl chided forcefully. Shinokawa’s face immediately turned beet red.
“No… erm… well…”
She was at a loss for what to say. Shinokawa seemed to be confused by Kosuga Nao’s sudden appearance. Why was the book thief the one acting justified, while the inquirer was fidgeting?
“We are from the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia near Kita-Kamakura station.”
There was no choice, so I spoke up for her. Even after stating our shop’s name, the girl showed no reaction at all. It seemed she didn’t know anything about our shop.
“I’m Goura Daisuke, the shop attendant there. This is the shop owner Shinokawa. The owner of the stolen book is a regular customer of ours, so we’re helping him look for it.”
Suddenly, I noticed that Kosuga Nao didn’t bring anything. Where was the stolen book?
“You stole the book, right?”
She folded her arms and raised her chest arrogantly.
I didn’t know respond to such a rhetorical question. Was she denying her guilt, or did she intend to admit and apologize? This girl’s attitude was certainly bad, just like the boy said.
“How did you find my email address? I don’t remember telling anyone. Did you steal it from someone else?”
She was really infuriating me. Given her position, she had no right to begrudge others for peeping in on her.
“Your classmate told us.”
“…A blond guy. I met him at the bus stop near your house.”
Suddenly, her face turned pale.
“…Is it Nishino?’
So that guy was called Nishino … I had already noticed that the boy never told me his name back then. He was rather cautious when it came to his own personal information.
“Did you say anything to Nishino about that book?” Kosuga Nao said, a groan in her voice.
“No, not at all, but he told me right away.”
Her shoulders shuddered slightly. This girl had been let down twice, first when she gave the present, and second at this moment.
“Can you return the book?” I asked. Even if I said anything to console her, she wouldn’t feel relieved at all. What happened between Nishino and her was still her problem, and our job was to get Shida’s book back.
“…I can’t return it now.”
Kosuga Nao suddenly turned aside angrily.
“HUH?” I inadvertently raised my voice. “What do you mean you can’t return it?”
“Shut up! This has nothing to do with you, alright!? You definitely don’t know what happened anyway!”
“Wait, why are you angry!? You’re the one who stole the book…”
“…I think I know what happened,” Shinokawa suddenly said from the bed with her back straight as she stared at Kosuga Nao. The hesitant attitude she had shown before disappeared. It was like she had become a different person.
“I had intended to wait for the book’s owner to arrive before talking about your situation…or do you want me to tell him later?”
Her voice had a force that caused Kosuga Nao—and me—to quiet down instantly. It was just for a fleeting moment, however, and soon the girl was glaring at Shinokawa again.
“Don’t talk like you understand. Can you even describe to me what happened?”
“…Yes, most probably,” Shinokawa answered without missing a beat. The girl’s stare became even more heinous.
“Explain it to me then. If you really can do it, show me.”
This was not good. If Shinokawa made a single mistake, Kosuga Nao probably wouldn’t return the book. Of course, this case could be solved if we called the police, but that wasn’t what Shida, the victim, wanted.
“Are you sure?”
I asked Shinokawa, not because I was doubting her innate insight, but because I was worried if she could convince the other party—however, she nodded without hesitation.
“Sure, it’s fine.”
Then, she closed her eyes and began her eloquent explanation.
“That day, you made a dessert for your classmate, Mr. Nishino, as a birthday present…you needed a cooler, and since it didn’t break even when it dropped on the floor, I guess it’s a tart or something similar. After wrapping it, you decorated it with a deep red ribbon, packed it inside a paper bag, and left the house. You knew Mr. Nishino would head to the nearby bus stop after club activities and ride the bus back home…am I wrong in any way up till this point?”
Kosuga Nao opened her mouth wide. It seemed everything fit.
“…You crashed into the bicycle in front of the temple, and the bag dropped to the floor. Though the contents did not break, the packaging changed shape. The decorations near the knot were probably damaged…an artificial flower or something similar. You needed a string to fasten it.”
“Eh? A string?”
I inadvertently interrupted. Shinokawa opened her eyes, and drew a paperback from the pile of books. It was the book Sanctuary by William Faulkner and printed by Shincho Paperback. She flipped through to one of the pages, and raised a maroon cord from inside.
Ah, I couldn’t help but exclaim—now I understood.
“All the books from Shincho Paperback have this book cord…of this yarn-like texture. In the past, most printing companies had this, but only Shinchō Paperback does nowadays. Monument Gleaning + Saint Andersen has a similar deep red book cord, and you stole the book for this.”
“…Wh-where did you see it?” Kosuga Nao muttered.
“Then how did you even know the color of the ribbon…I should be the only one who knows what’s inside that bag. Even Nishino didn’t see it.”
“I can guess the color of the ribbon because you used this book cord. The paper bag was maroon, too, so I wondered if the wrapping inside was of the same color…also, the book cord in a paperback isn’t very long. There are only a few things it could possibly repair.”
Shinokawa closed the Sanctuary book and put it back into the pile of books beside her table.
“At first, you must have thought of using your hand to tear the book cord, but the cord was not as easy to remove as you thought. You had no choice, but to borrow a pair of scissors from a man passing by. You then removed the book cord…the book was useless at that point, but you didn’t throw it away immediately because the man was still there. You decided to give the present first, and you brought the book along with you to the bus stop…”
She hesitated for a moment.
“…In the end, you were unable to give the present. You left the bus stop, forgetting you still had the book…. Am I wrong anywhere up till this point?”
Kosuga Nao knelt down in a sudden, deflated manner. For a while, everyone remained silent.
“…You even knew about that?”
She buried her head into her knees and muttered weakly.
“By any chance, do you…know why I didn’t return the book?”
“I’m not too certain…you didn’t do anything to the book after you took it back, and you thought of returning it, but you aren’t explaining why you don’t have it. Looking at these few points…”
Shinokawa’s voice grew softer and gentler.
“…Are you now reading this book?”
The girl lifted her head, her ears slightly red. Then, she seeming to regret it, she looked away from the hospital bed.
“I didn’t intend to read it in the first place. I don’t like books…but it just happened to drop open right in front of my eyes…”
“…It opened to the page with the Monument Gleaning story, right?”
Shinokawa finished for her. So that’s how it was, I thought to myself. This was Shida’s favourite story, and he probably would have marked the page it started on.
“That story has a part where a girl in her teens gives a present to a man on his birthday.”
I managed to digest a little of what was going on. Kosuga Nao was of a similar age to the girl in the story, and once she read the scene where the girl gives a birthday present, she had the enthusiasm to read on.
Kosuga Nao continued to kneel, her hands pressed to her chin, her ferocious expression becoming gentler, and her face showing some signs of immaturity.
“I don’t know whether I like him or not, I just found him special…. That’s why I wanted to give him a present. I didn’t know he hated me. Well, I guess I wasted my time and effort there.”
Her voice was extremely cheery, and I couldn’t tell whether she was forcing herself or truly feeling relieved.
“That story was just plain wish fulfillment for me. At first, I wondered how there could be a girl like that, but maybe the writer knew it was a wild wish. I realized that, and it’s a good story…I thought I would continue to read the other stories in this book.”
She put her hands on her jean covered knees. The age, sex and circumstance were different, but maybe those that like similar books have similar senses.
“…I apologize for stealing the book and cutting the cord,” she said.
“If you don’t mind the cut cord, I’ll definitely return the book tomorrow. There’s still a little bit I want to finish reading…”
“That won’t do.”
Shinokawa interrupted the girl’s words in a quiet tone and spoke to the startled girl.
“You have to return the book to its owner, not to us. The owner of the book is Mr. Shida, and he likes the Monument Gleaning story, just like you. If you apologize sincerely, I’m sure he’ll forgive you.”
I finally realized, Shinokawa had always intended to make the girl apologize directly to Shida from the moment she called her here. This was a better solution than us giving the book back, and I guessed Shida would definitely be happy.
“…I understand. I’ll do that.”
Kosuga Nao nodded without hesitation.
One morning a few days later, I brought Kosuga Nao to the coast near Kugenuma station. Cars full of foreign tourists crowded the coastal road and traffic barely moved. The sound of waves breaking could be heard from afar, accompanied by the sight of windsurfer’s sails gliding along the rippling waves.
I should have noticed the moment we proposed Kosuga Nao return the book herself that she didn’t know where Shida lived. Someone had to take her there, and I was the only one who could do so.
I turned from the coastal road and into a narrow alley along Hikijigawa River. The number of pedestrians decreased drastically.
Kosuga Nao brought the book along as requested—no, I hadn’t seen it personally, but she was holding a slightly large paper bag. Of course, we did notify Shida beforehand, and he said he would be waiting for us at his lair.
She hardly spoke at all as we went on our way. I could tell she was a little tense.
“…It’s around there.”
I pointed below the steel bridge. There was a structure made of plastic sheets built near the foot of the concrete base. As if proving my point, a bald middle-aged man pulled a sheet aside and walked out.
Kosuga Nao was a little taken aback by Shida’s appearance, and her eyes widened slightly, but for just a moment.
“…This is enough. I’ll go alone.”
She quickly went down the diagonal side of the concrete block, and I hurriedly followed her. She said it was enough for me to take her there, but I had a duty to ensure her safety. Upon noticing me, Shida took off the towel he had on around his neck. The girl stopped right in front of him and stood there.
“I’m Shida. Good morning,”
Shida introduced himself. The girl fidgeted around clumsily, took out the book wrapped in cloth, and handed it to Shida with both hands.
“I’m returning this. I’m sorry for stealing it from you.”
Shida received the book silently, and removed the cloth as if to confirm the book’s existence. I could see the title, Koyama Kiyoshi’s Monument Gleaning + Saint Andersen, clearly. The book was very old, and the pages looked slightly brown. Shida flipped through the pages and touched the remaining part of the book cord lightly.
“…Ah, what a pity.”
He sighed. Kosuga Nao seemed to be a little worried and lowered her head.
“I’m really sorry that I can’t do anything to fix it…”
“No, I’m not talking about the book.”
Shida shook his head.
“I’m talking about you. You worked so hard for this, but your present wasn’t accepted.”
The girl went still, caught unawares by this development. I could see her expression stiffen.
“I only came here to apologize.”
She muttered softly, seemingly suppressing her feelings.
“I don’t need your sympathy…it doesn’t matter anyway.”
“No, it’s not about whether it matters or not. You’re hurt because your good intentions were trampled on…there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no need to lie about such a thing,”
Shida said quietly. He knew how devastated she was.
“I-I’m not lying…”
“You don’t have to be so defensive, there’s nobody related to your usual life with you here, right?…if you can, how about you try telling me what happened?”
Nao Kosuga gritted her teeth, and her shoulders shuddered.
“There’s no point in talking about it…isn’t it a waste of effort?”
“Well, I guess it may be a waste of effort,” said Shida, nodding. “But if you just share what happened with others, you might feel somewhat relieved…you see, Monument Gleaning’s the same, right? There’s a line in the story, ‘Whether it is useful or not, how great it can be if we could become people who are there for each other.’ These words may seem a little cheesy, but they can etch themselves deeply into people’s hearts. If there’s anything bothering you, I’m here to listen.”
The girl suddenly shut her eyes tightly and opened her mouth. I thought she was about to shout, and got ready to move, but an unexpected thing happened.
Tears trickled down her face. She did not make a single sound. Just silent tears.
During that short moment, none of us spoke up. I could vaguely hear the sound of waves from afar.
After a while, Shida said to me, “You can head back now. This is a conversation between the two of us now.”
My eyes widened. Was it fine to leave these two here—no, I didn’t think Shida would do anything to this girl, but would it be okay to leave a crying high school girl like this?
Shida looked surprised. “You’re an outsider, right? I’ll pay you back for helping me find this book sometime soon,” he said.
He then turned to ask Kosuga Nao. “What do you think? Do you want this guy to be here?”
She shook her head without hesitation, and nasally said, “…Go head back, then.”
Since both of them agreed, I had no choice. I left the riverside while feeling a little left behind.
The following days passed peacefully.
I still didn’t know what had happened between Shida and Kosuga. When I reported the outcome to Shinokawa, her only response was, “I see,” and she seemed to lose interest in the case after that. Well, we really were just outsiders, like Shida said. There was no reason for us to delve any further into this.
However, a week later, I heard something concerning from Kasai when he visited the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia. He said said that he could not find Shida under the bridge at Kugenuma Beach.
“His luggage is still there, but his bicycle isn’t. I think he’s been gone for days…and I’m a little worried,” Kasai said gloomily. It would be good if there were any support facilities nearby, but there was the possibility he had gotten himself into an accident, or something similar.
Perhaps it would be better to ask Shinokawa? Or should I send an email to Kosuga Nao first? I thought about this as I worked, but just when it was approaching evening, Shida himself appeared in the shop.
“Yo, long time no see. Are you working hard?”
He approached the counter happily. His face was tanned and his bald head showed vague signs of greying hair. His clothes were a lot dirtier than the last time I’d seen him. He looked like he’d just survived some great ordeal.
“I caused you trouble before because of this book,” he said as he drew a covered paperback from his bag made from picnic sheets, showing me the title. It was Koyama Kiyoshi’s Monument Gleaning + Saint Andersen.
“After you left, we talked at the riverside for quite a while. We had a pretty lively discussion about Koyama Kiyoshi…she’s a little aloof, but a good kid,” he said graciously. Seeming to have remembered something, he drew a paper pouch from his bag. The pouch was likely a gift, judging by the pretty ribbon tied to it.
“She even gave me this, saying it’s repayment for cutting off the book cord…look inside.”
The bag still had ample space even with a book inside. I supposed there was a present inside. The bag had signs of being opened before. Doubtfully, I opened the paper bag and was immediately startled. Packed inside was a small nail clipper and a metal ear pick.
“It’s like she heard my heart, didn’t she? This might be the most valuable present I could get, right?”
Shida said smiling. I understood what he meant. It was the same gift the young girl in Monument Gleaning gave the protagonist. On a closer look, I found that Shida’s nails were neatly cut. It seemed he immediately used the gift after receiving it.
“I managed to get my book back thanks to the shop owner here. That kid even said…your boss managed to figure everything out even despite being stuck in hospital the entire time.”
He then hesitated a little before saying, “…It was scary how correct she was.”
I was a little unhappy. Shinokawa was the one who figured it out, but I thought I put in some effort too.
“Anyway, I didn’t expect to get my book back so quickly. I have to give something to this shop in return at least…this will be it.”
Shida put the nail clipper and ear pick back in the pouch, and handed me a paperback. It was not Koyama Kiyoshi’s book, and it was probably a little newer, though not recent. The title read Peter Dickinson’s Walking Dead, and it was printed by Sanrio SF Paperback. I had never heard of the book before, but I guessed it was probably a Sci-Fi novel.
“You still need to ask, you idiot!? Of course I came here to sell it!” Shida exclaimed loudly. “Name any price. I’ll sell it even if you say 1 Yen.”
I looked down at Walking Dead. The book was very thin, and looked cheap. The given price was 480 Yen. It did not seem to be a book Shida was proud of, but anyway, I would bring it over to Shinokawa for her to have a look.
“Where’ve you been the past few days?”
“Well, you know, I had some work to do. I looked all over and finally found this book…at least give me thank you or something.”
Why was it that I had to be the one thanking him? Didn’t he bring this book as a gift to us?
“…Thank you very much.”
Anyway, I lowered my head. I was really an idiot for worrying about him.
After closing the shop, I made a trip down to the hospital. The sun was setting, and Shinokawa, who was using her laptop in the ward room, greeted me clumsily.
After saying that, she went silent again. I had been working at this shop for more than a while, and we hardly talked about anything other than books.
We then went silent. Even though we met often, it would be pointless not to say anything. I decided to talk about something random for the time being.
“Shinokawa, how’s your injury?”
“Didn’t you say you went to the rehab room?”
“Ah, yeah…I guess I did…I’ve been rehabilitating,” she answered with a soft voice.
“Speaking of which, how did you injure yourself? I never asked.”
It seemed she had a corset on her waist, but her leg wasn’t in a cast. Before, I heard she’d injured her leg; had she recovered?
She fidgeted around, wondering what to say, and finally said nothing. I was a little disappointed. I had hoped to use this as a chance to improve our relationship, but we couldn’t even have a casual chat…
Suddenly, Shinokawa raised her voice. She seemed to be taken aback by her own voice as she cringed a little.
“I-I’m not good at talking about anything other than books…b-but I find it easier to talk to you, compared to other people…”
I couldn’t help but wonder. She said she found it easier to talk to me and still had a hard time communicating… just how bad was she with everyone else?
“Erm…you won’t resign from the shop, right?”
“I get along with you easily at work, Mr. Goura… so…”
I stared at her. I knew what she wanted to say. Of course, my answer would be a definite yes—she was a little eccentric, but I was very happy to hear she needed me.
“I won’t resign. I’m happy to listen to you talk about books.”
To someone like me, who can’t read even though he wants to, this is the sort of perfect environment that you can’t find anywhere else. I did have a few gripes about my pay though.
I suddenly remembered why I had come, and drew Peter Dickinson’s Walking Dead from the bag Shida brought.
She tentatively lifted her head and looked at the book I was handing her. Her eyes behind the glasses widened suddenly. As someone had flipped a switch on her personality, her expression immediately brightened.
“Ah, it’s Walking Dead!”
The next moment, the book disappeared from my hands and ended up in Shinokawa’s. She beamed blissfully as she examined the book from all angles. The black-clothed girl on the hard front cover continued to swivel around.
“Where did Mr Shida find this book…did he say anything about it?”
“No… is it really a rare book?”
“The Sanrio SF imprint was known for their lineup catered towards collectors. They published quite a few western science fiction and fantasy novels that Japanese readers were unfamiliar with, but ended up shutting down after about 10 years due to declining sales. There are many novels that can only be found translated under this imprint. There are still many fans to this day who try to collect everything published by Sanrio SF.
Her energy was incredible as she rattled on with her explanation.
“Walking Dead is a very rare book that’s still in circulation. It’s uncommon in the antiquarian book market, and nobody has ever imported it.”
I finally knew why she was so excited. So, if it was so valuable, would it sell for the same amount as the other paperbacks Shida brought in?
“How much can this book sell for?”
“Well…the top, bottom and edges aren’t darkened, and the cover is very pretty…it can probably sell for more than 50,000 Yen…”
I was speechless. For this one book? I never thought it could be worth this much. Shida even said he would sell this valuable book for ‘1 Yen’—this would be an ample show of gratitude for an antiquarian bookshop like ours. He probably spent quite a lot of effort getting this book.
“Did Mr. Shida mention anything about Miss Kosuga?”
“Well, it seems they had quite the lively chat about Koyama Kiyoshi.”
Shida had looked really delighted when he showed me the dazzling nail clipper and ear pick he had received. Perhaps it was because he met someone who shared his interests.
“Mr. Shida accepted her present. It was—”
“A nail clipper and an ear pick, right?”
She immediately filled in. I, who was about to continue on in a satisfied manner, was shocked by her response.
“Eh, how did you…”
I realized the answer as I was speaking and stopped my question midway through. When Shinokawa spoke with Kosuga Nao, she told Kosuga that Shida liked Monument Gleaning too, and even told her to apologize with their connection in mind.
I thought about what had happened, perhaps she had hinted for Kosuga Nao to give this very gift. She probably knew that Shida would be delighted and forgive Kosuga.
I stared at Shinokawa’s innocent expression and recalled the words Shida had said as he left the shop.
“I caused you some trouble here, and I really want to thank you, but…”
Shida had been at a loss of words, his face showing a serious expression.
“That shop owner of yours is so amazing, it worries me. Being too intelligent can cause trouble too. I don’t think she’s realized this though, so you need to take note of this, you know?”
At that time, I thought he was simply worrying too much. Shinokawa was only interested in books, how could she cause any trouble?
I hadn’t changed my mind or anything—but I was a little concerned about the nail clipper and ear pick. I knew she wasn’t acting out of malice, but I couldn’t honestly say she was innocent of manipulating anyone. If she ever realized the truth, she probably wouldn’t be so happy about how things turned out.
Maybe I just had to pay a little more attention. It would be fine as long as I continued working with her.
Shinokawa, who was flipping through the pages, opened her mouth and let out a hoarse sound.
It seemed she was whistling, or at least attempting to do so, without realizing it.