Chapter 2: First and last summer
It became summer. I’d first met Mamizu just at the start of spring, but now the hot summer days that caused sweat to well up on the skin had well and truly begun. I was surprised at myself for thinking of the changing of the season in relation to Mamizu.
Normally, summer vacation would mean freedom. Despite that, I was a little busy during that time.
“I’ve always wanted to try working a part-time job at a maid café,” said Mamizu.
Well, it was true that I’d been running out of money recently, so I had been feeling a need to get a part-time job. I didn’t have any preferences as to what kind of work it was, so I suppose you could say that I was fine with anywhere.
That being said, there was no need for me to work at a maid café of all places.
I tried calling out of desperation rather than just giving it a try because I had nothing to lose, and I somehow managed to get an interview. I went to the café at the specified time during its opening hours, was shown into an office at the back and was immediately put through an interview.
The one who interviewed me was a man in about his mid-thirties who introduced himself as the owner. He was wearing a black shirt, white necktie, Chrome Hearts jewelry and there was a tattoo on his arm peeking out of his sleeve. No matter how I looked at it, his fashion sense couldn’t be called anything respectable.
“I was just looking for some male help in the kitchen, you see,” he said.
Apparently, my role was helping make the dishes that the maids served. I see, that work would be fine for a male to do, I thought, with a look of comprehension making its way onto my face for the first time. The owner stared at me as if he was looking at something strange.
“What, there’s no way you wanted to be a maid, right?” he said.
He was probably joking, but I couldn’t do anything except desperately force a smile.
He told me to start tomorrow. It wasn’t that far off Mamizu’s request of working at a maid café, and it would fulfil my objective of getting a part-time job. Well, this can probably be considered a success, I thought as I immediately agreed.
My part-time job had been sorted out, so I got the feeling that it was alright to spend a little money. I’d just remembered Mamizu saying, “I’ve always wanted to have a pet.”
Both of her parents had allergies, so she had never had a dog or a cat. There was also the fact that tests showed Mamizu herself was allergic as well.
“It doesn’t have to be a dog or a cat; I don’t want one that dies so quickly. I want one that lives long, that at least won’t die before me,” she’d said.
“Like a turtle?”
I’d suggested it as a joke, but she’d exclaimed, “That’s it!”
But where was I supposed to buy a turtle?
On the way back home from the maid café, I looked on the internet to find out that there was conveniently a nearby store at which I could buy a turtle. When I went to the pet corner of the hardware store, I did indeed find turtles being sold.
Turtles were cheap.
I’d lived my life up until now without ever knowing the market price of turtles, but even the most expensive ones were less than a thousand yen. If it’s this cheap, can’t I just buy it without even having to wait for my pay from the part-time job? I thought.
Cranes live for a thousand years, turtles live for ten thousand.
So the proverb goes, but I wonder how long turtles actually live. I’m sure they don’t actually live for ten thousand years. They could be considered monsters if that were the case.
I asked the store employee, and he said they live for up to thirty years. But when I asked him more questions, I found out that turtles need a water tank and various other things to take care of them, and these cost quite a bit of money. I told him that I’d be back and left for now.
“Welcome home, Master! I’m Riko-chan!”
This was the greeting given to me on the first day of my part-time job by a short-haired maid with bright hair. I felt really apologetic.
“Umm, I’m working here starting today. My name is Okada,” I said.
The maid’s face turned visibly red, right before my eyes. “Th-the service entrance is that way. This is the entry hall for the customers,” she said, seeming quite embarrassed despite the fact that I was definitely in the wrong here. “I’m Hirabayashi Riko. I’m forever seventeen, but I’m actually seventeen, in my second year of high school. That’s a secret from the customers, though. Nice to meet you.”
I quickly thanked her and then headed for the service entrance.
I went inside and was told that the owner was absent. Without even having time to introduce myself, I was quickly told by a senior maid to get in the kitchen. Since I was in charge of food preparation, I didn’t have a uniform; I was just required to wear a white shirt and black trousers. I put on an apron in place of a uniform and entered the kitchen.
Surprisingly, there wasn’t a senior member in the kitchen.
I was told that the person in charge of cooking had a fight with the owner and quit months ago, and the maids had been taking turns to do the work.
“Hurry, help out,” the senior maid said.
In stark contrast to the relaxed atmosphere inside the store, the inside of the kitchen was hellishly busy. There were maids navigating this deadly environment, never standing still, never stopping their hands from moving. I learned by watching them and helped them with their work.
I started working at noon, and it was ten o’clock at night when I finished. Exhausted, I was sitting in the office when the short-haired maid I met earlier when I arrived called out to me.
“Good work,” she said.
In that store, the maids referred to each other by their given names and added -chan. The customers referred to them like this as well, so the staff did the same. I was a little embarrassed, but when in Rome, I had to do as the Romans did. I followed this practice without going against the flow, but since they were older than me, I used a double honorific by adding -san.
“Okada-kun, how was your first day at work?” Riko-chan-san asked.
“I made a cake for the first time in my life,” I said.
Since they were short-handed, I was made to do all kinds of things. It was my first time working a part-time job, but my honest impression was that I hadn’t thought that it would be this tiring.
“If you want, we could go home together,” Riko-chan-san said.
I didn’t have any reason to decline, so I waited for her to get changed, and then we went home together.
“Okada-kun, are you around the same age as me?” she asked.
“No, I’m a year younger. I’m in my second year of high school,” I said.
“Wow! I see. You know, surprisingly enough, everyone is older than me here. I was the youngest. So I’m happy that you joined us! … Actually, being fully in charge of the cooking is tough, so everyone quits right away. I was a little worried, so I called out to you.”
I see; it seems that this work can indeed be considered harsh.
“But, well… I think I’ll continue,” I said. “Probably.”
Riko-chan-san looked surprised. “Huh, it’s rare for people to say that. Is there some kind of reason? Like wanting to save up some money and buy your girlfriend a present?”
“… Well, I have my reasons.”
“And a girlfriend?”
“Do I look like I have one?”
“I guess it’s hard to say,” Riko-chan-san said, laughing.
At night, I arrived home exhausted, and it seemed that my parents had already withdrawn to their bedroom. Dinner had been wrapped and left on the table. I didn’t have much of an appetite, so I put it in the fridge, quickly took a shower and decided to go to my own bedroom.
As I climbed the stairs and went out into the corridor, I saw that the door to my sister Meiko’s room was open. That was unusual. Meiko’s room had been left in the exact same state it had been in when she died. I’d thought that it was best to throw her things out and turn her room into a storage room or something, but with that said, I’d never had the heart to say that to my parents. Of course, nobody normally entered the room.
I went inside and turned the light on. It was probably my mother who had been in here. The room’s closet had been left open. At the very least, my father wasn’t the type of person to do something sentimental like this. Cardboard boxes were piled up inside the closet, containing my older sister’s possessions.
Looking at these things would only bring sadness. Even as I thought this, I looked inside the cardboard boxes. The box on the very top was filled with textbooks. Since Meiko had attended a different high school from me, the textbook lineup was quite different from mine. I picked up the Japanese language textbook and flicked through it.
There was a page with a red line drawn on it.
It was a poem, ‘Spring Day Rhapsody,’ by Nakahara Chuuya.
When the ones we love die,
we must commit suicide.
TLN: Nakahara Chuuya was a famous Japanese poet who lived 1907-1937; this is part of a real poem.
There was a red underline beneath the first verse.
… The fact that a red underline had been drawn here probably meant that my sister had a special interest in this book. But with that said, I couldn’t understand poems at all. Actually, was there a single person in this world who could understand them? At the very least, I’d never met such a person in my life. I thought it was quite surprising that my older sister was the kind of person who understood poems. While she was alive, if I had to say, Meiko was… at least, up until her boyfriend died, a lively character; by no means did she give off the impression of being a girl who was interested in literature.
I recalled Meiko’s boyfriend.
He was kind of an over-the-top, well-spoken sportsman, a type of person I didn’t get along with.
How much had Meiko loved him?
Still, it was quite a dark poem. Dark enough to make me wonder whether it was alright to put it in a textbook.
When the ones we love die, we must commit suicide.
There’s no way that’s true, I retorted lightly in my mind.
“Do they really make omelet rice dishes with heart-marks on them?”
Mamizu was very interested to hear stories about my part-time job.
“Actually, I’m the one who makes most of them,” I said.
Finding something very funny about this, Mamizu clutched her stomach and laughed. “Ah, stop it, my stomach hurts!”
“It’s quite interesting. They’re dedicated to the maid uniforms, too,” I said, showing Mamizu a photo I’d taken on my phone.
“This person… who is she?”
“Ah, that’s Riko-chan-san. I said I wanted to take a photo of the uniform, and she agreed to be my model. She’s a senior, one year older than me.”
For some reason, Mamizu suddenly made a disinterested noise and glared at me with a bored look on her face. I was bewildered, having no idea as to the reason for her abrupt bad mood. Seeming angry, she opened her mouth to speak.
“I want to go bungee-jumping,” she said in a stabbing, knife-like tone.
“… No, no, no, no.”
“I want to, I want to, I want to, I want to!” Mamizu said, as if throwing a tantrum.
“I definitely won’t do it,” I told her.