I resigned from the Antiquarian Bookstore Biblia just like that. Afterwards, I went to the store one last time to receive my remaining salary, but I never went to see Shinokawa even once.
My mother made quite the scene when I regressed to unemployment.
“WHAT WERE YOU THINKING, RESIGNING AFTER WORKING FOR JUST A MONTH? IT HASN’T EVEN BEEN LONG ENOUGH TO DECIDE WHETHER YOU LIKE THE JOB! FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE, AN UMEMPLOYED PERSON HAS ALL THE VALUE OF AN INSECT HERE! THOSE WHO DO NOT WORK, DO NOT EAT!!!”
She yelled as much as she wanted, and maybe she felt she said much when she saw how gloomy I was. Before she went to work the next day, she had left a note for me in the kitchen.
(You earned enough money to eat. Calm down and look for another job.)
I was bothered that she was able to say such reasonable things once in a while.
To be honest, I really couldn’t explain why I quit. Maybe it was because I felt she couldn’t trust me as a person. But as an employee, the only think I really needed was my pay. So maybe I was just looking for a relationship beyond that of a shop owner and employee. I couldn’t say if it was love, or something else. I didn’t know what that sort of relationship would even be called—between someone who loved talking about books, and someone who liked hearing about them.
Anyway, I should not expect the unreasonable from co-workers, especially older, bespectacled beauties. I kept this in mind as I started attending job seminars.
Two weeks passed by peacefully. After writing an untold number of resumes and attending as many briefings, I’d finally made it to final interviews at a food company in Saitama. Maybe things would take a turn for the better. As I was envisioning it, the phone rang. Shinokawa’s sister was on the line. I hesitantly picked up the phone, and after a simple greeting…
“…How’s the store doing?”
…I asked about something that always bothered me. A store attendant suddenly resigning had to have been a major inconvenience. However, she replied quite pleasantly.
“We closed the store for now, at least until we get new workers. Oh, you don’t have to worry too much, Goura. It was already hard to keep it open without my sister at home.”
Despite what she said, I couldn’t scrub away the guilt. The store being closed was a undeniably a direct consequence of my resignation.
“Anyway, there’s something more important I want to ask you.”
Suddenly, her tone became serious.
“Did something happen between you and my sister, Mr. Goura?”
The hardest thing right now was to answer that question. I couldn’t explain everything that happened with The Late Years, and I myself couldn’t even understand what happened between me and Shinokawa.
“Hum, well…I guess it’s, uh—”
“Uh, I guess, uh, uh, uh… listen, did you get to touch those huge boobs?”
“What the HELL?”
“Look, those are some huge boobs. They’re shaped nicely, too.”
She was obviously teasing me. It was dumbfounding how it still managed to start up my imagination.
“…I’m hanging up.”
“Okay sorry, hold on a sec! My sister’s been acting weird recently.”
“She hasn’t been reading.”
I was at a loss for words. The person who would bring in scores of books into a hospital ward? The person who would lie to everyone around her just to protect a single one? It was hard to imagine.
“Ever since you resigned, Mr. Goura, she’s been spacing out… she’s finally getting discharged after so long, but she’s been feeling down, and I’m worried. Couldn’t you pay her a visit, even just once?”
In the end, I didn’t say whether I would go or not. I simply told her that I would think about it for awhile, and hung up the phone.
For some time after that call, I couldn’t get Shinokawa out of my mind. I was worried about her mood. Was it really because of me? Could she be feeling badly because of me?
Right now, I had no intention of visiting her. She told me straight out that she couldn’t trust me, and I couldn’t just talk to her as if nothing happened. Plus, it would be impossible to talk to Shinokawa the Introvert, anyway—but it concerned me, her being down.
And just like that, my thoughts looped round and round and several days had passed before I knew it. I attended the final interview with the food company with Saitama. I felt fine about my performance, but became suddenly tired when I reached Ofuna.
I walked to the ticket gate in the Ofuna station, walked down the stairs and stepped onto the main road. We were still having an Indian summer, and the remaining light of sunset seemed to pierce through my jacket sleeves. It was technically autumn, at least.
I walked down the avenue and saw the frontmost white building, the Ofuna General Hospital. Visiting hours were probably still on.
(…Should I really go?)
I couldn’t stop being worried about Shinokawa after all… but it was too late to visit her today. Maybe tomorrow would better… no, I was already here, so today might be—
A soft voice arose from a bench on the sidewalk. After walking for two, three steps more, it registered and I looked back in shock.
A bespectacled, long-haired woman was sitting on the bench. She was wearing a bright checkered skirt and a plain shirt, all covered by a knitted cardigan. It was the same plain outfit she wore when I met her a few years ago—speaking of which, this was the second time I’d met her in any outfit besides her pajamas.
“Shinokawa …what are you doing here?”
“I—I got…discharged today…” she muttered.
She was using a couple crutches to help her stand, with places to for her to put her elbows. I moved to help, but she shook her head shyly and straightened her waist to stand properly. I heard that she was going to be discharged, but I didn’t think she’d be so well recovered.
“…I thought that you would probably…pass by here.”
I felt my body temperature rise. From all appearances, she’d been waiting on this bench for me for a long time, and we just stayed standing there, several steps away from each other.
“Congratulations on your discharge.”
This was the only thing that I could say.
“…Thank you very much.”
She lowered her head as she said that. Both of us remained silent, not knowing how to carry on the conversation. Why did she come to see me?
“Did something happen?” I prompted.
She leaned on the crutch in her right hand to support her body, and handed the tote bag in her left hand to me.
“Please help me take care of this.”
I took it doubtfully, checked the contents of the bag—then widened my eyes. There was a book inside: the The Late Years from before. Dazai’s signature was inside the cover, and it looked like none other than the real thing.
“W-Well, I would like you to…help me keep it safe, please.”
I didn’t understand. Wasn’t this the very book she wanted to keep close to her even if she had to lie to the people around her? Did she not treasure it more than anything else?
“Erm…I want to try trusting you, I guess…”
After just squeezing out those words, she blushed—so that was how it was. I understood. She put the book she treasured most in my hands, as proof of her faith in me. In other words, this would be her proposed reconciliation. Well, it was just like her to hand over a book worth several million yen just like that.
I couldn’t help but laugh. In things like this, the first one laughing loses, but whatever; she got through to me, and just that was enough.
“I don’t want this.”
I put the book back into the bag and hung it on Shinokawa’s wrist. Her expression looked somewhat strained, so I spoke quickly.
“It would be pointless for me to have this when I can’t read, so it’s better to leave it with you, Shinokawa… well, if I ever want to hold on to it, I’ll tell you then. That aside…”
I straightened my back and faced her.
“Shouldn’t it be about time to fulfill your promise?”
She tilted her head wonderingly.
“You said that you would describe the stories of The Late Years, didn’t you?… Did you forget our promise?”
Her face immediately burst into a sunny smile. She seemingly changed into someone else entirely, making it hard for me not to look at her.
“Sure. Please sit here.”
The tone of her voice changed, and she invited me to sit on the bench. Did she want to tell me about the story immediately? I felt that was kind of weird, but of course I had no reason to refuse. I kept a small distance from her as I sat down, a distance that just so happened to be the dimensions of The Late Years. However, she closed the distance by leaning over to me slightly.
I could feel her warmth from where our bodies are in contact, and my whole left half stiffened. I wondered what I’d do if she said that she hoped I’d come back to the store with her, after listening to her talk about The Late Years. Somehow it felt like I was going to have a steady job.
But none of this for now. Let’s just listen to her story first.
In our current positions, she looked over at me, and when she started talking, her manner of speaking was different than before.
“I think I mentioned that The Late Years was Dazai Osamu’s debut work, published during Showa 11. At the time, Dazai was in his twenties, and it was said that he spent ten years on this work and wrote more than five thousand manuscripts. The collected works are just a small fraction…”