Part 11: House of Sweets ~un petit nid~ (11)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
Chise arrived at the station while the police were taking their statements.
Rio burst into tears again at the relief from seeing his mother. Chise hugged Rio close as she patted his back and said, “There, there.”
Agi also arrived a little later, having received a call from Chise.
“What were you doing? Weren’t you at Hello Work?”
Kase was too ashamed and couldn’t raise his head. Next to him, Chise started asking Rio questions.
“Rio, Mommy was surprised to hear that there was a fight. What happened?”
“I-It wasn’t a fight. Umm, those older kids there burned the cat’s ear—”
“I didn’t do it!” the child sitting across from them screamed, and Rio cowered back from him in fear.
“I didn’t do anything. Don’t lie.”
“I-I’m not lying. They took a lighter and—”
“You’re lying, you’re lying, you big fat liar.”
“I’m not lying…” Rio started crying again.
“Rio, it’s okay, it’s okay. Mommy believes you.” Chise gently hugged Rio again to comfort him.
As the other child watched this, he stuck out his tongue and spat on the floor of the police station.
“Hey! How could you do that?” the police officer admonished.
The child’s father stood up, set off in a chain reaction. “Don’t pin all the blame on my kid. That brat over there was the one who started it first. My kid wasn’t even bullying the cat, but the brat cried that he was. Plus that man shoved my kid and hurt him. He was the one who threw the first punch at me.”
Kase bit his lip. The man wasn’t wrong about the things he said about him. Even if it was to protect Rio and the cat, Kase had shoved the man’s child out of the way. And Kase was the first to hit the man too.
“My kid was shoved, and I got punched. Heh, I should demand consolation money as the victim here.”
The atmosphere was unpleasant, and Agi, who had been listening to them silently, let out a sigh.
“I would like to offer you my apologies on behalf of my employee’s poor behavior.” Agi stood in front of the man and looked down at him.
The man narrowed his eyes. “Who the hell are you?”
“I run the bakery un petit nid over by the train station. Allow me to offer you my apologies at another time. In return, I hope that we can settle our differences quietly.”
“You gotta be kidding me. I was the one who was hit here.”
Agi suddenly lowered his voice. “And it appears that you’ve hit ours many times over.”
Kase couldn’t see his expression with Agi faced away from him, but the mood that radiated from his back was incredibly threatening. The man’s face paled before their eyes.
“I will be sure to offer you my apologies. Next time, we can put it to bed.”
Agi’s voice was so low that it crawled against the ground. The man gulped loudly.
“…No, it’s fine, don’t worry about it. Oi, can we leave now?” the man asked the officer.
The officer nodded. He had taken brief statements of the incident, and the rest was up to the people involved to resolve. The man pulled the child’s hand and left the police station like he was running away.
“…Mommy, the cat…” Rio murmured with worry. He had been holding it the entire time.
“Oh, that’s right. We should take the cat to see the doctor.”
Chise lifted Rio with the cat up into her arms and said, “There, there.”
She looked quite slender, but she was surprisingly strong. Maybe it was due to kneading all that heavy bread dough every day.
“Agi-san, we’re going to the vet for now.”
“Sure, be careful. If anything happens, give me a call.”
“Thank you. You too, Agi-san, take care of the bigger cat for us.”
Chise giggled a little, and Agi gave her a wry smile.
After they returned to the apartment, Kase secluded himself in his room. He had caused trouble for Agi on his day off. Kase had given him a rushed apology, but for now he wanted to be alone.
In the room that only had Japanese bedding laid out, Kase leaned against a wall hugging his knees to his chest.
There had been burn scars on the child’s arm. Kase had those same scars on his body. When he remembered the abuse from the past, his body grew cold from his core. Kase stood up to remove the lemon yellow shirt hanging from the wall, and he hugged it to his chest along with his knees.
Normally his emotions would slowly calm down, but today it didn’t work. The harsh sensation of his fist hitting a person clung to his hand and tried to drag Kase into a dark place.
He hated it. He knew that place very well, and that was why he didn’t want to go back there.
Kase hugged his knees tightly, and there was a knock on the door.
“Hey, you hungry?” Agi stuck his head through the crack of the door.
Kase slowly lifted his head, and Agi murmured, “Whoa.”
“Your face looks terrible. The left eye has swelled so much, it’s almost closed up.”
Agi walked into the room and sat down next to Kase.
“Well, I think you’re probably fine, but do you want to go to the emergency room?”
Kase shook his head. He turned away so that his swollen face wouldn’t be seen.
“How’s your stomach? You’re hungry, right?”
Kase shook his head again. He should probably answer Agi properly, but the words wouldn’t come out.
Agi didn’t appear to be offended. “You know you can’t think straight when you’re hungry,” he said. “Your mouth’s all cut up, so let’s have rice porridge. You’re not sick, and we can add plenty of things to it. Meat… Hmm, it will probably bother the wounds even if I make the pieces small. Eggs would work. Salmon broken into flakes and small vegetables would be good too.”
Kase stared mystified at Agi’s profile as he talked to himself.
Agi hadn’t asked Kase any questions when they left the police station and returned home. Kase should have been at Hello Work, so why had he been at the alley? Why had a fight broken out like that? He was just a selfish freeloader who caused Agi trouble on his day off, only to immediately hole up in his room after getting home and giving a rushed apology.
“Hmm?” Agi looked at Kase.
“Why aren’t you asking anything?”
“…You’re asking why?”
Agi tilted his head like he thought that Kase was asking something strange.
“Everyone gets annoyed if you keep asking questions that they don’t want to be asked. And you’re especially that type. I don’t really like asking people questions if they don’t want to answer.”
It was true that it was annoying to be asked questions that he didn’t want to answer. But if he wasn’t asked anything, it felt like he was pushed aside, and it made him lonely. The vortex of contradictions made his heart uneasy, and a few words spilled from his mouth.
“…The burn scars.”
“There were scars on the child’s arm, left from pressing lit cigarettes there. The child had burned the cat’s ear, kicked Rio, and raged the whole time, but as soon as his father came out, he started shaking in fear.”
“Oh—… Maybe his father had made the scars.”
Agi stared into space, thinking about something, and suddenly he turned to face Kase again.
“Is that why you hit the dad?”
Kase hung his head without answering, and Agi made a face that looked surprised.
“So you’re pretty kind deep down inside. You have a surprisingly compassionate side to you.”
He sounded really surprised. That was rude of him.
“…Not really. It wasn’t like that.”
Kindness and compassion hadn’t been what drove him. Kase had the same scars on his body as the child. The child, the cat with the burned ear—they were all Kase. Kase had only saved himself.
“So, what do you want to do?”
“About what happens next. Was it enough to hit the father and now you’re done?”
Kase didn’t know what to think. His emotions had exploded, and he wasn’t thinking about what he would do next.
“If you leave it alone, the kid will probably see the same problems again. If you want to do something about it, then you should report it. The government office will talk to the parents, and if it’s bad enough, he’ll go to the child center.”
Agi took out cigarettes from his pocket and lit one up.
“The child consultation center. It’s kind of like a facility that takes temporary custody of kids. While they’re there, their cases are examined to see if they should be returned to their families, or if there’s no improvement in the situation, they’re sent to a children’s home. But there’s no telling if it’s a ‘good thing’ for the kid or not. No matter how much they suffer, kids tend to love their parents after all. And children’s homes aren’t paradise either. Your concern could be unwanted in the end.”
“…You don’t have any kids, but you sure know a lot about this stuff.”
“Because I grew up at a children’s home.”
Kase widened his eyes.
“My mom was the type to prioritize men over her kid, so she was always spending money on men and left me for dirt. She never gave me any money, and I would shoplift in order to eat. When I got caught, they would try to call her, but there was never any answer. After it happened a number of times, I was sent to a children’s home.”
Kase listened so intently, he forgot to hum or nod to show that he was listening.
“Right now she’s in Kyushu living with a man. I haven’t seen her since eight years ago, I guess. She used to be fairly beautiful when she was younger, but she had turned into this countryside grandma. I decided to give her some pocket money while I was at it, and then I left.”
Agi laughed out loud. It sounded easy and simple, like peeling a banana, and Kase was confused. How could he laugh and talk about such a difficult situation?
“…Why can you laugh like that?”
“Is it wrong to laugh?”
“…It’s not wrong.” Kase hugged his knees to his chest and looked down.
“It’s not something I think about. When you do things that are fun, in time you just naturally laugh,” Agi said.
He threw an arm around Kase’s shoulders playfully. Kase forgot to brush it away and came back with a question.
“What are things that are fun?”
“It’s different for every person. What do you think is fun?”
Kase dropped his gaze to the shirt on his knees in reflex. But it wasn’t exactly right. This was something important to him, not something that was fun to him. Kase tried to think if there was anything. But nothing immediate came to mind.
“Nothing. I don’t really understand what is fun.”
Agi hummed for a bit. “Then do you want to try something fun with me?”
“With you? Like what?”
“Dunno, not sure.”
“That’s pretty vague, and you brought it up.”
Kase brushed the arm off of his shoulders, but Agi smiled calmly and soothed him with a “Now, now.”
Agi leaned back against the wall with his knees up, lazily resting his arms on them. “Hmm, something fun, something fun, something fun.”
His cigarette was held between his fingers. The smoke rose up in a thin, straight line before it swirled up in the air. Around and around it went, and in the end, the smoke spread out in a gentle cloud.
“What?” Kase asked, and short silence fell between them.
“…Nothing, I just thought that you’re similar.”
“Similar to who?”
“Someone I knew a long time ago.”
Agi tried to casually brush the question off, however…
“Yuzuru?” Kase asked.
“He’s Rio’s father, right? You and Chise-san mentioned him before when you were talking. At the fire, Mutou-san also mentioned something about him…”
“Oh… Right. Well, yeah. I suppose it’s easy enough to pick up from just listening to us.”
Agi dropped his cigarette into an emptied can of coffee that was in the room.
“…Yeah, it’s Yuzuru.”
“What kind of person was he?”
Kase didn’t have much interest in other people, but after hearing that they were similar, it made him wonder about it.
“…Hmm, what kind of person was he, I wonder,” Agi murmured. He seemed to dodge the question, even though there was no way that he had forgotten. He lit up another cigarette and took a long, deep drag. The movements were slow, like he was biding his time, and just as Kase was about to tell him that he didn’t have to talk about it if he didn’t want to, Agi started talking.
“He was at the same children’s home as Mutou and me. Me and Mutou were there before Yuzuru. He was five years younger and like a little brother to us. At first, his eyes had looked seriously menacing—”
Yuzuru had been a lowly newcomer, and he even dared to stare down Agi and Mutou. One day, the two of them finally beat Yuzuru up. Most newcomers would admit defeat at that point, but Yuzuru refused to back down, even though he had been beaten so badly that his face was unrecognizable. That made them take a liking to him, and since then, they treated him like a younger brother.
“And Yuzuru, once someone accepted him, he tended to get attached to them. We did nothing but get into trouble, but the three of us stuck together even after we left the children’s home.”
“Did I really look that much like him?”
“…Hmm, I wonder. Your faces don’t look all that similar, I guess.” Agi stared at Kase, examining him. “It’s probably your eyes. They’re similar to Yuzuru’s when he was a kid. Me and Mutou, we were abandoned by our parents and tossed to the children’s home, but apparently Yuzuru was abused, and his eyes were as dark as caverns.”
Abuse—Kase stiffened unconsciously.
“He was pretty rough. There was no light in his eyes. Expressionless and barely spoke to anyone. Treated everyone like they were the enemy. He became better as he horsed around with us though. That’s why Chise doesn’t think you’re similar to Yuzuru. She only knows the bright and cheerful version of him.”
Kase recalled that Chise hadn’t reacted to him when they first met, but Mutou had.
“Why did he die?”
Agi gave a vague smile and cast his eyes down, and Kase realized that he had pried too far. Kase hated it when others tried to pry into his life, and he should have hated the people who did it too.
“…Well, anyway, that’s why I couldn’t leave you alone since that time our eyes first met. I think it’s unlike me to want to help someone out so much, but just bear with it, and let yourself be cared for.”
“Yeah. So don’t worry about things; let yourself be spoiled.”
Agi ruffled Kase’s hair like he was trying to hide his embarrassment.
Let yourself be cared for. Let yourself be spoiled.
Kase didn’t know how to reply to those words.
It was similar to the time when Rio had told him, I love you. The words were sweet and warm, and so tender that they almost made him dizzy. What should he do? But he didn’t even know what was even happening.
Kase couldn’t look at Agi’s face somehow, and he shifted his gaze to Agi’s hand holding the cigarette. And he thought, Ah. He just noticed that the lit end of the cigarette was faced away from him, so that it wouldn’t touch his body. He wondered if there had been a lot of these little considerations that Agi had done for him that he had never noticed before. As Kase stared at the hand in a daze, the ash that had grown long and unstable fell from the end.
Kase pointed to it, and Agi looked at the cigarette in his hand. Then he looked at the ash that had fallen on the carpet and hit it with his hand as he said, “Ah, ah, ah.” It backfired on him, and the ash spread over the carpet and scattered everywhere.
“Hey, what are you doing? Go clean it with a cloth or something.”
“It’s a pain in the ass. You do it.”
“You were the one who dropped it.”
“Don’t nag at me. It’s not like a little ash will kill you.”
Agi got to his feet, probably to escape being forced to clean it.
“I’m starving. Let’s eat now.”
“What about the ash?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Agi said, pulling Kase’s arm to drag him up and out of the room. “So is rice porridge good with you? What do you want in it?”
Their hands were clasped together.
“You don’t have to make rice porridge. I’m fine with regular food.”
More importantly, he wanted Agi to let go of his hand. It was troubling for him.
“There’s no way you can eat with your mouth like that.”
Agi turned around, and with his other hand, he touched Kase’s mouth. Kase shrunk back in reflex, but Agi avoided touching the wounds and examined the area carefully.
“For now, let’s treat this first. Where did I put the first aid kit? Hmm, do I even have one?”
Agi pulled Kase over towards the living room, and Kase’s mind turned into a complicated marble pattern. He didn’t like being touched. But he didn’t hate Agi’s hands. He felt a relief as the large hand pulled him along. These hands wouldn’t hurt him. He didn’t know why, but that was what he thought.
But the one that Agi truly cared for was Yuzuru and not Kase. Nevertheless, Agi had been the one to pull Kase out of the room where he had been hugging his knees to his chest by himself.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.