Volume 1: Miss Shioriko and the Peculiar Guests (originally translated by TehPing at hellping.org.This chapter has been fully edited by ND.)
On a certain day six years ago, I walked down the slopes of Kita-Kamakura, strolling through the narrow alley by the railway.
The sweat permeating my white t-shirt made it stick to my back. Cicadas, chirping incessantly, filled and irritated my ears, and hydrangeas could be seen everywhere. It was already summer after the rainy season, and the flowers would remain unwilted still.
Other than the surfer hobbyists, this was not a season the locals particularly liked. Though the beaches of Yuigahama and Enoshima were already open to the public, the middle and high school students here did not really want to play on the beaches nearby—all the tourists, as well as the strange corroded color in the water at high tide, made those places unattractive.
I was a second-year at the prefectural high school situated on the mountainside. It was a Sunday, but I had gone to school to retrieve a textbook I had forgotten and was just on my way home. I had always taken the bus to school, but I missed it this time, and since it only came each hour I had to make my way to the JR station to take the train. Kamakura was surrounded by mountains, and the roads here were narrow, which made certain areas incredibly inconvenient for transportation.
I could see the platform of Kita-Kamakura Station to my right. It was very long, and since the ticket gate was located on only one side, I had to take a lengthy walk around before I could enter.
There were rows of old residences on my left, and the trees that were planted in their courtyards were huge, and they showed an exuberant green.
Maybe not many know of this, or maybe they would not care about it even if they did—but there was a second-hand bookstore located along this alley.
This wooden house had been around for many years, but had never had a shop name put up. There was, at the shop entrance, merely an old signboard dangling in the breeze. On it, the words “Purchasing of old books, providing honest valuation” were inscribed with a showy hand. It could not spin much, probably due to its rust.
I was about to pass by that bookstore whose name I did not know.
However, something unexpected happened then. The timber-framed sliding door creaked open, and a young woman stepped out.
She was dressed in plain clothes that included a white sleeveless blouse and a long navy-blue skirt. Her long hair was braided behind her neck, and her tender white skin complimented large, dazzling black eyes. Her lips were thin in their place below her nose.
She was probably a little older than me. She looked different from anyone I knew, and really, her features would make any passerby do a double-take. However, she seemed also demure. Her lips were puckered like a little bird’s beak as she made a strange, rough sound.
“Su— Susu— Su—”
It took me a while before I managed to realize that she was trying to whistle. Perhaps she was an awkward person.
She pulled out a small cart from the old single-story wooden house. She seemed, by all appearances, like an employee of this second-hand bookstore about to open.
She did not stop to glance at me as I stood still beside her. She was focused on pushing the cart to its destination. A wooden plank with the sloppily handwritten words “A hundred yen each” was set on this cart, which was probably used to display the discounted books.
She was about to head back into the shop, but then suddenly laid eyes upon the signboard. She let out a soft sound—”Eh?”—and nudged the metal plate, which spun creakily. It stopped when the back side of “Purchasing of old books, providing honest valuation” was facing the street.
“Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia”
I thought for a moment and realized that it was most likely the name of the shop. It was not nameless after all. She walked back into the shop with a bounce in each of her steps, without ever noticing me.
Who is she?
I remembered that the shop had been run single-handedly by a middle-aged man with greying hair. Had he hired a college student?
I made my way to the Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia tentatively, and peeked into the dimly-lit shop through the glass panel of the sliding door. There was a cashier counter opposite the bookshelf, stacked with tall piles of books. I could see her behind them through the gaps. The girl was buried within the books, and currently she was reading through a particularly large one. From where I was, I could see her eyes beneath the spectacles; wide open, sparkling with brilliance. At times she chuckled, and at others she nodded her head hard. She never remained still.
She really loves to read.
I suppose that would be the very picture of losing yourself. Her actions might seem a little eccentric, but it was the first time I had seen someone so engrossed in reading books. You could say I was extremely envious. What was she reading? What was so interesting about it?
I placed my hand on the sliding door, but lost resolve before I could open it. What was the point of asking her those questions? I had no affinity for the printed word… the reason being my particular “condition”. Dejected, I left the entrance of the bookstore and trudged my way towards the station.
Her silhouette, which I had seen in the dim bookstore, hung in my memory like a painting on a wall. As I made my way past the ticketing gates and onto the platform, there were several instances where I felt I had to turn back, that I had to go back to that shop and talk to her. That, however, did not happen.
I took the Yokosuka line to return home.
I did not feel that I could do anything that could reveal her smile. Only talented people could seize an encounter like this one, and an ordinary person would most likely let it slip by. I had merely done an ordinary thing for an ordinary person.
But even then, there were moments when I said to myself — What if I’d gone in, said hi and got to know her? Maybe this is a fork in the road of my life, and now my life changes, for better or worse.
Well, such presumptions were meaningless. Not to mention endless, if I kept dwelling on it.
Allow me to bring us out of this prologue.
This is a story involving old books. This would include the old books themselves as well as the the people connected to them.
These books, handed down as they were, not only had the stories on the page, but also the stories worn into their substance. Even if one of them had been traded, those stories would survive intact. Also, if I could, I would add that not all of these “stories” were wonderful. Some might be so heinous that none would want to recall them, but they were just another piece of the world’s existence.
My name is Daisuke Goura. I am 23 this year. The old books connected to me were none other than Sōseki’s Complete Collection.
Well then, please allow me to tell you my story.