Chapter 8: Each Others’ Hurts
Back in Tokyo, a figure of a tall man who stood head above the crowd walked the streets.
People stared as he passed by.
Tall and broad shouldered with a long, prominent, western-styled nose and full beard, it was little wonder they stared.
“Is he a Hollywood actor?”
Young women whispered together as they watched him go by.
The man was completely unconcerned at their whispers.
“Oh, what a good smell…”
He approached a counter where they were selling cream croquettes.
“Yes, welcome – eh! Um… <I kyant s-peak English>!”
The man running the fried food counter panicked.
“Ahaha, no, no, I’m Japanese, see, I have black hair.”
It means nothing if it’s just the hair-!
The man behind the counter swallowed his words, but put on his smile.
“Ah, sorry about that. Then, what can I do for you?”
With no further complications, the tall man bought a croquette and continued on his way, casually chewing on his purchase. It disappeared in two bites.
“Hm, it’s good, but as I thought, it can’t compare… It’s been 5 years, huh? I want to eat that guy’s croquettes again.”
Although he had only been there once, long ago, the tall man’s steps didn’t falter as he made his way through the city.
His destination was a certain high-end apartment building.
Standing on the walk, the tall man looked up at the window that he was certain belonged to the room he had visited before.
… No. He was no longer sure.
“… Not there. THOSE aren’t there. Not good. I wonder what happened.”
Taking advantage of a woman walking out of the building, the tall man was able to get into the apartment building despite not having a security card.
He approached the security guard’s window quickly.
Even if the security guard just tells him to leave or threw him out, it’s not like it would stop him much. Or like, it’s not like there’s any need for him to go through the trouble to ask, but the tall man felt that he should at least attempt to do things properly first, so he approached the security guard’s desk to asked about that boy.
“Excuse me, but I haven’t been able to get into contact with the young master in room 708, and I was just worried …”
The security guard stared at him for a moment before realization dawned in his eyes.
“Ah, the young man in room 708, was it? He moved with a different relative just recently, within the month, although the owner of the apartment is still the same. Ah, I understand you’re worried, but I can’t give out any of his personal information; I hope you understand.”
“Of course, of course. I was just worried, ahaha. Ah, I suppose I could have just asked his family, now, sorry about that.”
The security guard smiled a bit, and then lowered his voice,
“Panic gets the better of everyone. I’m relieved that young man had other people who cared about him. Between you and me, I think the way he was treated was just horrible. I mean, it’s not like I think they abused him, but when you don’t see anyone but the kid come in and out everyday, with no one coming to check on him, well. He had a lot of things to deal with.”
As the tall man left the apartment building, he pulled on a weather-beaten hat with a brim that had long lost its rigidity low over his eyes and a smile slowly spread across his face.
“Hm. You have no idea what kind of things he has to deal with.”
Looking upwards into the sky, large, glistening black wings suddenly sprouted from his back as his smile became a grin.
No one in that busy city seemed to notice the sudden change to the tall man, even though there were many who were staring at him. And then suddenly, as if they all lost interest at the same time, no one was staring at him any longer.
“Guess I’ll track him down. I want to eat those croquettes again.”
Naturally, since he didn’t know any of that boy’s relatives, he didn’t even entertain the thought of going to them and just took to the skies.
“I’m home already, there’s no need for that anymore!”
Although I retort to the voice as if it were annoying, actually, it was super reassuring to have someone to talk to on the way home.
It took my mind off the thought that youkai would jump out at any moment at me from the shadows.
Gu-! I must have looked like a 100% suspicious person, jumping at small noises all the way home.
But even though I made it home… is it going to be safe?
Let’s line the entryways with salt… I have no idea what I’m going to tell Daiki-san when he comes in and sees little lines of salt everywhere… but this is a matter of life or death!
“…What a waste of salt. This really sucks. I hate doing this weird crap because everyone thinks you’re a weirdo, but if I don’t do it, I get eaten!”
This is the most unfair part about it – it’s not like I want to be weird, I just want to stay alive!
I apologize to all my classmates I made fun of in my previous life for doing this kind of thing. It has to be retribution-!
Ah, sorry, I’ll be serious now.
“Fumu. I understand your worries, but that’s all the more reason you should have obediently admitted to being able to see youkai to the head priest, right?”
I know there was that option. Admitting my troubles and asking for protection against youkai. New wards, new charms … yeah, that’s true, it could have helped.
But I don’t want to do that.
“Hm? You’ve gone quiet all of a sudden, though… na, you could have looked for help against seeing youkai from the shrine, though? I give you my assurance that THAT shrine is the real deal, though? Shrines are generally happy to help against that sort of thing, as long as they’re ‘real’.”
“… Even more so then, I don’t want let them know about being able to see youkai. They’d have to make a Divination to confirm I’m telling the truth, right? That means they’d see my Blessings. You know, I told you about my cursed Blessing.”
“Ah… that’s right. Eh? But then, you should definitely go! If it’s a ‘real’ shrine, then they might know something! Their Divinations might figure something out, if they’re actually connected to a kami. And if it’s bad, they could do a Benediction, or if that doesn’t work, they can do an Exorci-“
“That’s why! It never works! I don’t feel like getting almost drowned again!”
Haa, haa … ah.
Somehow, my emotions just exploded out. It seems I still haven’t gotten over it.
I pull at my bangs a little sullenly.
“Ah… um, well, ah, un. It’s okay. M-maa, this is the first time I heard you get seriously upset. I mean, you make a fuss a lot, but… un. Ah… er… do you … want to talk about it?”
“… If this is the first time you’ve heard me upset, this is the first time I’ve heard you so flustered.”
“Brat! I’m trying to be sympathetic!”
I pull at my bangs, thinking about what just happened.
Do I try to hide my hurts with stupid things and retorts?
To be honest, I didn’t think that was the case from my past life. Although, I was criticized for never reflecting on the things that went wrong (mostly by my girlfriend) and why things turned out the way they did.
But maybe that’s because I never had any hurts in that life that ran quite as deep in this life.
Maybe I AM that guy who just laughs things off while trying not to think about things from the past.
… That leaves a bad taste in my mouth, so I kind of want to ignore it.
Anyway, I don’t really like thinking about that time when I still lived with my aunt, because it’s a story about how my existence LITERALLY drove my aunt insane.
“…Well, I see there are some circumstances, but I’m startled that a shrine’s people would still take to such drastic measures with a mysterious boy in this day and age. Although I know humanity’s cruelness at things that are different from them hasn’t changed, from what I hear on the TV.”
I sigh a little.
That’s not right; I have to correct that misunderstanding.
“It wasn’t the shrines, it was my aunt. And it wasn’t like she was trying to drown a cursed boy, she honestly thought that she had to drive the curse out her brother’s son. It’s that kind of sad, painful story about a woman who was driven into madness.”
I think, as a child who had been mistreated, I should fear and hate that woman. She had gone psychotic, and by all means should have been put in an institution, or at least gone for medical treatment for a mental disorder.
But instead, even at the end when I thought I would have died, I couldn’t help but feel pity for her. How can I blame her, when it was the youkai that I attracted that drove her that far? That it was the whispered rumors about me behind her back that made her paranoid and unstable? What about the pressure to raise her brother’s only child safely, but only to watch it fall apart in front of her?
As someone who had become an adult in a previous life, I can’t just avert my eyes from her circumstances.
“Oi oi. What is this child saying, my goodness. It hurt, didn’t it? It was frightening, wasn’t it? Why should you also bear her burdens as well? Even though you’re getting close to the age of an adult, you are still a child, so it’s alright to just cry without worrying about the circumstances to that degree.”
Ah… somehow, I do feel like crying a little.
This secret that I’d been carrying; short of my aunt and Kenji-san, who came home just at the right time and dragged both me and my aunt out of the bathroom in horror, no one else knew such that scandalous secret. None of us talked about it, none of us acknowledged it.
Even though I really shouldn’t be trusting this shady voice with its shady origins, somehow I’m spilling my guts to it, and it’s telling me something I wish someone close to me had been able to tell me.
Although there’s no one really close to me, so perhaps it’s a foolish wish.
Because deep down, it does feel like my fault, you know? Even though I know it’s not really my fault, it can’t be denied that it happened because of me.
“Even if I’m a child, if I had become an adult in another life, I can’t just say I’m allowed to ignore it.”
I said that kind of ambiguous, weird thing in a kind of joking tone.
Although I’m totally just swallowing my tears behind it.
“Fufufu, so you’re saying you have memories of a past life, so you’re allowed to be mature? That’s no good. No matter which life, when you’re a child you should be a child. After all, experiences are as important as memories.”
Thank you for not touching on the fact that my voice got husky from tearing up.
“E-eh? Is it not weird to have memories from a past life?”
“Hohoho, well, you have them, don’t you? It happens, where there are children who have strangely developed Blessings and memories from a past life. It’s rare to none, though.”
Eh… is that so. So that’s why, although there was a bit of a fuss from my other Blessings, they were quickly overshadowed by my unreadable Blessing.
I was wondering about that… Oh, but then…
“Th-then, what about past lives from another world?”
“… … Eh. What’s that. This isn’t an anime or something, you know…”
“Eh? What’s that, what’s that? What kind of delusions are you having?”
Ah, mou! It’s not a delusion! I want to cry now for a different reason!
“A-anyway, there’s rarely anything good from getting my Blessings Divined at a shrine. In the first place, I don’t have [Sixth Sense], so it’s going to be super suspicious if I tell them I need help because I can see youkai.”
There’s even the risk of being called a demon child, when you don’t have a Blessing you should have but you have a Blessing you probably shouldn’t have.
“Fumu. I see.”
As expected, even a youkai understands the problem.
“What do you mean, ‘So?’”
“Kukuku, you aren’t going to ask my about why I knew about that shrine, even though I can’t sense anything else. Well, except the wisteria.”
“As if I could know if you’ll actually answer that.”
“Well that’s true.”
“Maa, this time I feel like talking, so you might as well humor me.”
“Even if I didn’t, you always find a way to make me pay attention…”
“Mah~ How cheeky! You’re even more irritable today! Well, to put it frankly, I really do just feel like exchanging information on a more personal level. It won’t do if I only find out about you, ne?”
It kind of made me feel relieved to talk about it to someone, finally …. I’m not going to tell the voice that I was secretly moved by discussing it with her, though. Even if she already knows, it’s embarrassing.
“Maa, I used to be a youkai in the employment of Inari-kami-sama. It’s only natural that I can still sense a shrine that has Inari-kami-sama’s power bestowed on it, even if I am sealed. Or rather, I can still sense the presence of Inari-kami-sama’s power within this town, no matter who or what it is bestowed on.”
“Is that how it works… Hm? Or is it because you’re actually pretty high up in the ranks?”
“Formerly, I was.”
“Then, as expected, it was Inari-sa – Inari-kami-sama who sealed you?”
“…Yes. To be honest, she was terribly lenient. It was an offense that should have been punished by obliteration.”
That’s so scary! Not death, but obliteration! The wraths of the kami are terrifying.
“I was the head guard of one of Inari-kami-sama’s divine rice field, one devoted to making Sacred Sake. But one day I got drunk, fell asleep, and when I woke up the fields were on fire.”
“What are you doing?!”
The words burst out from me.
No, before, the voice said it was ashamed of what it had done, or at least that’s what it sounded like, so that was an unnecessary outburst…
“No, well, I wonder what I was doing as well…”
“But to think that would have gotten you sealed up forever…”
“Fool! This is Inari-kami-sama’s sacred rice paddy! It’s not just something you can laugh off! Ah, it may be different now, with people disliking the death penalty, but… hm. It’s like, the Shogun assigned a man to be in charge of a storeroom full of his wealth and treasures that displayed his authority, but that man fell asleep and all the treasures are stolen and the storeroom burned down. What would happen to that man?”
“I see. He’d have to slit his stomach at best…”
“It could be punishable for up to 3 generations. As for my case, this is a kami-sama we’re talking about. Anyone who shared even a drop of my blood should have been executed, if we’re going by human standards. It is only Inari-kami-sama’s mercy that allows me to still be alive today.”
Although the voice is talking about it matter-of-factly, a slight tremor betrays the emotions it feels.
“…It must have been mortifying.”
“Haha… ah, it was. To have betrayed the one I had dedicated my being to, to have let my subordinates be slaughtered, all through negligence – somehow, it would have been easier to stomach if I had just shot a fireball at Inari-kami-sama.”
“Somehow, that doesn’t sound good at all. Please don’t do that.”
“Kukuku, I can’t do anything with how I am right now, so rest assured, even if I wanted to, there’s nothing I can do. I’m mostly mortified that such a little amount of alcohol caused me to get that drunk.”
“Please don’t drink on the job.”
“It was cold. You need something to warm yourself up on a night like that.”
“Are you honestly reflecting on your mistakes or not?!”
Betraying its frustration by laughing and joking; I couldn’t help but feel a bit of a connection to this mysterious voice that only I can hear.
This chapter was kind of hard to write… Kousei isn’t as introspective as Jun, but he also isn’t as impulsive as Naru. He’s had time to think about things that bother him, but at the same time he doesn’t really like thinking about them… Basically, I kept bouncing between too emo and too candid for a while, and having a ‘down’ depression day really didn’t help, lol.>