Part 10: House of Sweets ~un petit nid~ (10)
He got no results from the Hello Work office. A hiring manager had called to say there was an open position with their food importation company that was similar to Kase’s previous company and that a candidate with experience in the industry would be an asset, but then he got the reply at the interview that the position was already filled and they weren’t looking for candidates anymore.
It was still early afternoon when Kase left the Hello Work office. Instead of going home right away, Kase wandered around the shopping area by the train station to kill some time first.
For the past three days, Kase had left the apartment early in the morning with Agi, worked at the same workplace, and returned home to the same place again. Essentially they were together from morning to night. It didn’t make Kase feel stifled, which was unexpected, but he didn’t know how Agi felt about it. Agi probably wanted to spend the day off by himself, but he just didn’t say anything about it.
I’m not someone who’s fun to be with after all.
Kase browsed around at a large electronics store for the time being.
He had stopped by his apartment a few times after the fire, but it was sopping wet and terrible inside. He only moved his valuables and clothing over to Agi’s apartment, but he would have to repurchase everything else.
Kase wandered around the store looking for the lowest prices. Chise had said she would ask her friend at a second-hand shop for a discount, but Kase didn’t want to rely on favors from other people if possible.
When Kase left the electronics store, it was still too early for the late afternoon, and he browsed the magazine shelves at the bookstore. Computers, cars, travel—he had no interest in any of it. As he realized that he had no hobbies or interests, his eyes stopped on a book in the medical section: Scary Modern Diseases You Need to Know About.
Kase looked up taste disorders in the book, and it said that cases were on the rise due to the stresses of society. However, the most frequent cause of the disorder was zinc deficiency. Zinc… Kase went over to the cooking section next and looked up foods that were rich in zinc. Dairy products, fish, meat, beans—they were all common foods.
Kase cooked at home a lot, and he didn’t think that his nutrition was too unbalanced. If food wasn’t the issue, then maybe it really was psychological? He regretted that he had increased his knowledge in a haphazard way, and next he stopped by the drugstore to buy zinc supplements for some peace of mind.
When Kase checked the time, it was around 5 o’clock, and he figured it was about time to head home. However, he headed in the opposite direction from Agi’s apartment, towards his old apartment instead.
He wanted to check on the stray cat that had made the front of the greengrocer its home. Kase had been worried about the cat, unable to see how it was doing these past three days since he was always with Agi on his way to and from work. He was buying rice balls at a convenience store to give to the cat when his cell phone rang. It was from Agi.
“It’s me. Where are you?”
“S-Still at Hello Work.”
He lied without thinking. He didn’t want Agi thinking that he had already left the office.
“Huh, it’s sure taking a while. Okay, when you’re done, give me a call. I’ll come pick you up, so let’s go out to dinner somewhere. Think about what you’d like to eat.”
“What? Do you have other plans or something?”
Kase shook his head in reflex. Not that Agi could see him over the phone.
“If you have plans then—”
“I don’t. I’ll eat with you.”
Kase accidentally cut him off in order to correct him.
“Okay, then call me when you’re done.”
The call ended, and Kase stood frozen in place at the convenience store with his cell phone in his hand. He would eat dinner with Agi even on their day off. He had thought that Agi would want some time to himself occasionally—
A place somewhere in his chest itched. It felt strange, and he wasn’t used to it.
After standing and holding his cell phone for a while, Kase came back to his senses. He quickly put the rice balls into his basket and moved on. When he was done, he left the convenience store and walked through the town with long strides.
Would the cat still be in the same place? If it wasn’t, he could remove the rice balls from the plastic and leave them for the cat. The cat should be able to find and eat them. And when he was done, he would call Agi for dinner. But if he called too early, Agi might think that it was strange. Then maybe he should kill some more time… What should they eat for dinner? Agi liked sushi. But he should eat vegetables sometimes too.
Kase suddenly stopped.
He had been walking with a light step in his feet, and it was a strange feeling for him. What was this? He was strangely giddy like an idiot. He started walking again, but this time he consciously slowed himself down.
“Stop! It’s going to die!”
When Kase approached the cat’s territory, he heard the shout of a familiar voice. He looked down the alley and saw Rio crying, surrounded by several children. The other children clearly looked older than Rio. Mixed in with Rio’s repeated cries of “Stop,” there was a voice that sounded like a baby crying.
“Move it, shrimp. Give it back to me.”
“No, if I give it back, you’ll kill it.”
“What? I’m just playing with it.”
The skinny child, almost stick-thin, hit Rio in the temple and dragged something from Rio’s lap where he was crouched on the ground. It was a large, black furry body—the stray cat that Kase had been feeding. The skinny child was holding a lighter in his hand and brought the flame up to the cat’s ear. Thin, shrill cries echoed through the alley, and Kase started running.
Kase shoved aside the child holding the lighter, and the child fell on his rear. The cat must have suffered badly before Kase arrived, and it convulsed on the ground without stopping. Rio squatted down next to the cat and gently touched its belly. He looked up at Kase.
“Hiro-kun, what do we do? The cat is shaking so much.” Rio started crying again.
“Shut up! Quit your stupid whimpering!”
The child had gotten up, and he lifted his leg to try to kick the cat. Rio immediately protected the cat, and he was kicked in the back instead. The child lifted his leg again, but Kase stopped him.
“What do you want, old man? Scram.”
Kase was at a loss for words. The eyes of the child glaring at him were far too wild.
“You’re so mean, all of you. Why would you do something like this?” Rio asked, crying.
The children looked down at Rio indifferently.
“It’s the cat’s fault. Here I give it food, and it won’t even eat it. I try to catch it and make it eat, but it scratches my hand instead. It’s a stupid stray, but it’s so ungrateful. The cat should just die.”
The back of Kase’s head burned at the child who ranted. He felt like he knew this child.
He looked down on others from a position of power, and when the kindness he gave out on a whim was refused, it infuriated him. He brandished around an egocentric theory that the weak should be grateful to accept his charity in order to satisfy his own sense of superiority. This child was exactly like the cousins at his uncle’s house who had sneered at Kase when he was young.
The old wounds slowly opened again, leaking the misery and resentment that Kase had experienced back then. The child kicked Rio again in front of Kase, and when Rio fell over, he struck his head against the ground.
Kase held Rio as he cried in his arms, and a young man appeared from one of the old houses lining the back alley.
“Keep it down,” he scowled, looking at them in irritation.
The man walked over to Kase. “Oi, what have you done to my kid?”
There was the cat convulsing on the ground and Rio holding his head as he cried. The man took a look around, and his eyes stopped in front of the skinny child holding the lighter.
“Kouji, what did you do?”
The child shrugged his shoulders when his name was called. Apparently the man was the child’s father.
“I-I didn’t do anything. The little kid there was bullying the cat, so I tried to save it. And then that old man came and shoved me to the ground. Right, guys? That’s what happened.”
The child demanded their corroboration, and the other children looked at each other and nodded weakly.
“You son of a bitch, you shoved my kid?”
The father brought his face up to his, and Kase grimaced. The father’s breath reeked of alcohol. If he looked closely, the whites of the father’s eyes were tinted yellow. He must have been drinking the whole day.
Behind the father dressed like a thug in cheap cheesy clothing, the child was trembling with his head down, the spirit from earlier gone. In the midsummer heat and humidity of the alley, he held himself with his thin arms like he was cold, and there Kase spotted a certain something.
“Oi, are you listening?”
The father grabbed Kase’s collar and shook him, and Kase returned to consciousness in front of the guy.
“…What did you do to your child?”
Kase shook free from the father and walked over to the skinny child. He grabbed the child’s arm, lifted the sleeve of the dirty T-shirt, and just where the sleeve covered the thin arm, there was a dense smattering of small circles that dotted the skin. No matter how he looked at them, they were scars from pressing lit cigarettes into the skin there.
“What are you doing!? Let go of me!”
The child scowled at Kase. His eyes were aggressive but frightened. The sharp look in his eyes was a defense disguised as an attack. Like a stray cat that hissed hostilely with its fur bristled—
Kase definitely knew this child.
This child was him when he was younger. And this child was the stray cat convulsing on the ground.
Kase had the same scars on his own body, from the cigarette burns that his drunk uncle had pressed there. He had heard that in many cases where people were abused as children, they would inflict the same abuse on their own children, passing it down from parent to child. Or they would abuse animals. It was a vicious cycle of violence and abuse.
A sudden nausea hit him, and Kase pressed his hand to his mouth. His chest felt horrible. His head throbbed, and beads of sweat slowly formed on his forehead. Kase wanted to forget that it had happened. However, his memories continued to dwell inside of him like damp gunpowder, and an unexpected trigger had raised his temperature until he was about to ignite. The stench of burning filled the back of his head.
“Oi, don’t touch my kid. Let go of him.”
The father grabbed the back of Kase’s neck from the side, and Kase ground down on the back of his teeth.
Hold it in. I won’t use violence again when I’m emotional.
He had decided that he wouldn’t let himself get swept away by the pain of the past.
“You too. Quit causing trouble for me.”
The father kicked the child with his head down in the back of the knees. He hit him right at the joint, and the skinny child collapsed to the ground. At that moment, a thread snapped.
Kase felt a heavy impact against his fist.
The father was sent flying, and the children around them started screaming.
A voice echoed in his head, yelling at him to stop. And yet he didn’t.
When Kase was about to punch the father a second time, he caught a glimpse of Rio from the corner of his eyes. Rio was watching him with his eyes widened, and Kase suddenly applied the brakes. Just when Kase stopped in his tracks, his feet were swept out from under him.
The moment he fell to the ground, the father threw himself onto Kase and straddled him, pummeling punches onto him from above. Kase’s vision went black from the impact, and more punches came down on him. When Kase thought how Rio was watching him, he couldn’t fight back, and every time the father hit him, his consciousness started to black out.
“Noo! Hiro-kun! Hiro-kun! Help! Somebody help!”
Kase could see Rio running from the alley as he cried.
A short time later, Rio and some adults came running over, and three people had to tear the man off of Kase. An officer was also called from the nearby police station, and he took Kase and the man back for questioning.
The children and Rio, who carried the cat, also followed the officer.
The cat was limp, but it was alive.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.