Part 5: House of Sweets ~un petit nid~ (5)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
Agi had said that Kase would work until 4 pm, but with the increased customers from the late afternoon peak, Kase decided to stay and work until close since he had nothing to do anyway if he left. He wasn’t good with human relationships, but working wasn’t a problem for him.
Kase helped close up the shop, and by the time he left the bakery, it was a little past 7:30. On his way home, he saw a cat fishing around in the garbage bags in front of a greengrocer with its shutters lowered. It was a black silhouette with a rough coat—the stray cat that he had seen this morning. Apparently this area was his territory. The cat clawed desperately at the garbage bags, but the city-designated bags were too thick to be torn open.
Kase opened the paper bag he was holding. Inside were leftover unsold croissants from the bakery, and he tossed one over to the cat. The cat jumped back about a meter, surprised by the pastry that suddenly flew its way. It bristled its fur in a hostile stance and hissed at Kase.
So that it could attack at any time, or so that it could defend itself as needed—two shining eyes flashed with all of its nerves sharpened.
It’s okay. I won’t touch you.
Kase turned his eyes away and started walking again. He glanced back over his shoulder just before he turned the corner. There was no sign of the cat, and the pastry was gone.
Kase stopped by the supermarket to buy more food before returning home. He put away the food in the refrigerator first before changing his clothes. Eggs, vegetables, bottled water. He closed the refrigerator and went to go change when his gaze landed on the row of seasonings and spices on the shelf.
For some reason, he reached for the container of salt. He opened the lid and brought it up to his nose. Naturally it smelled like nothing. He tried sticking his finger into the salt. Semi-transparent crystals stuck to the tip of his finger.
—Kase-kun, it doesn’t taste salty to you?
Kase closed his eyes and slowly placed the fingertip on his tongue. He rubbed it into his tongue and his palate. There was the sensation of crystal granules dissolving, and he concentrated on that response that he felt. But no matter how long he waited, there was no stimulation on his tongue. Kase opened his eyes.
He tried it again; this time with a lot more salt. But he still tasted nothing. Even more. Even more. When he placed enough salt that could be pinched between his fingers, he finally tasted it.
Kase stood there dumbfounded. He wanted to say, You’re kidding me. Just when did he start losing his sense of taste? Now that he thought about it, he hadn’t eaten with anyone since he broke up with his ex. At best, he shared a table with some colleagues at the cafeteria. Even then, he hadn’t engaged in any personal conversation with them.
There was no one—
He shuddered and went into the apartment. He didn’t even think about turning on the lights. He removed the lemon yellow shirt hanging on the wall from its hanger and sat down in the tiny space between his bed and the table. He hugged his knees with the shirt and stared off into space.
The next time he fell in love with someone, he had decided that he would be kind and gentle with them.
However, the truth of the matter was he had no friends, let alone someone he liked. There was no one he could chat with even for trivial things. He hadn’t formed any decent relationships with anyone. That was why no one had realized that Kase’s taste buds were broken. He hadn’t even noticed it himself.
Kase thought that it was terrifying that he was not connected to anyone.
He wanted someone to touch him gently. He wanted someone to stroke his hair. Someone to tell him that it was okay. Someone to tell him that they would be by his side. That way, he could be kind to someone.
No, that was wrong. That was backwards. Kase was the one who had to be kind first. But what was it to be kind and gentle?
The film that separated him from the world gradually grew thicker. It was like a cloudy, wobbly gel that felt unpleasant to the touch. It was something that he had created, and even if he pushed on it, it only deformed, and he couldn’t get out. Even if he hit it, it made no sound. It was cloudy, and no one from the other side could see him. Underneath this thick massive gel that enclosed him, Kase hugged the shirt close, at a loss for what to do.
A month had passed since he started his job at the bakery, and Kase was finally accustomed to the work.
He piped cream onto the golden brown danishes that had come from the oven and topped them with a mixed berry jam. The flavor would be fresher with raw fruit covered in a nappage glaze, but with the many children and senior citizens in the area, Chise had decided to cook the fruit down even in the summer. One of the customers had said that this consideration for the residents in the area was a reason that this bakery was so popular.
Kase added the finishing touches to the danishes and headed over to the gas stove. Meat and vegetables had been stewing in a pot, and all that was left was to season it. Today’s lunch was tomato and chicken stew with salad.
“Rio, come help me,” Kase called out.
Rio was in the corner of the kitchen, quietly drawing pictures. Summer vacation had started last week, and Kase was teamed up with Rio to prepare the staff meals. Kase would cook, and Rio would taste. Rio came over to the stove, and Kase added salt to the stew little by little, letting Rio taste it along the way.
“Oh, this is tasty~” Rio gave Kase a bright smile.
“It’s not too salty, is it?”
“It’s good. You could add a little more broth to it.”
Kase nodded and added consomme to the stew. Rio wasn’t good at school, but he had a good sense of taste. Kase was ladling out the stew when Agi stopped into the kitchen from the front of the shop.
“Hiroaki, two iced coffees and two iced milk teas. Bring them out yourself.”
Kase gave him a dissatisfied look, but Agi returned to the front, pretending that he hadn’t seen it. It was early afternoon, and happy laughter echoed from the dining area.
“Thank you for waiting.”
Kase brought out the drinks, and excited voices rose from the table. They were a group of four women in their mid-forties, regulars of the dining area, and during the weekday they would always eat a light lunch here.
“We heard that you were the one who made the berry danishes today, Kase-kun.”
“Chise-san was the one who made the danishes. I just finished them.”
“Hmmm, they taste somewhat sweeter than usual,” a cheerful woman in short hair said with a smile.
The other women twittered, “Oh, quit it,” and smirked, “Maybe because Kase-kun had made it.”
Kase bowed his head in apology. “Oh… I may have gotten the recipe wrong then.”
The women gaped at him for a moment and burst into laughter all at once.
“Aww, that’s what makes you so cute, Kase-kun.”
They giggled at him teasingly, and Kase realized that he had misunderstood them. He walked away from the area as quickly as he could. This was why he didn’t like going to the dining area.
He didn’t feel like returning to the kitchen right away and went out the backdoor into the yard. This place was a residential home that had been remodeled into a shop, and it looked no different from a normal house from the second floor or the backyard.
Piercing sunlight poured down on the yard, and Kase went to stand under a crape myrtle tree with dark red flowers. He gazed at the bright summer yard from under the shade.
He could hear laughter from the shop, coming from Agi and the customers.
Agi was tough-looking at first glance, but he was popular with the women customers because of his welcoming hospitality and rugged handsome looks. The dining area was always pretty busy. Kase didn’t want to be like him, but he at least wanted to be able to respond to the customers normally. Every time something like that happened, he hated himself for exposing his stupidity.
Kase squatted down, and there were ants marching across the dirt, carrying something tiny and white. These little guys had it good. They followed the order of the natural world, working silently until the end of life, and then they just died. They probably didn’t worry if their social interactions with others were good or bad.
The voice that suddenly spoke out surprised him. Kase lifted his head, and Agi was leaning against the door of the back entrance.
“Don’t hang your head down to stare at ants on such a beautiful day. You’ll scare people.” Agi walked over as he talked.
Kase stood up and felt a slight dizziness.
“Were you bothered about earlier?”
Kase turned his eyes away with a sour look. He felt uncomfortable when others probed his feelings.
“Don’t take things so seriously. It’s just a little joke. This isn’t a host club, so you don’t have to force yourself to be charming for this job. Just be yourself; be normal.”
He couldn’t do that, that was why he was depressed about it. He wasn’t cut out for serving customers. He wasn’t even cut out for working at a company, and he was laid off three times because of it. It was mostly his own fault because he was so gloomy. He knew this; he wanted to do something about it—but he couldn’t. And he was fed up that he couldn’t do something about it for so long.
“Well, whatever, it’s fine. You’re a little awkward, but you quietly do your work. It’s a little worrying that you’re too quiet, but when it comes to your work, you never slack off. That’s much better than someone who only makes himself friendly on the outside. Hm, if you want to, you could become Chise’s apprentice and try to be a baker.”
“Someone who has no sense of taste?”
Agi tilted his head at the question infused with sarcasm. “So do you have like a taste disorder? Is it an incurable disease or something?”
“How should I know,” Kase spat without thinking.
“If you don’t know, then go to the hospital,” Agi answered smoothly. There was no hint of any anger in his voice.
“It’s not like you were born without the sense of taste, right? And Chise mentioned before that fatigue or stress can make people lose it. If you go to the hospital to get it checked out, can’t it be fixed?”
Kase turned his face away. He hated things like this.
Don’t get involved with my personal issues.
Agi sighed when Kase ignored him. He placed a hand on the trunk of the crape myrtle, walling Kase in.
“Hey, quit approaching everything like it’s rejected from the start.”
Oh, just shut up. Go away. Leave me alone.
“If you drive everyone away like this, you’ll just be miserable in the end.”
Agi reached a hand out towards Kase. Kase tried to retreat from him, but his back only hit the tree trunk. The large hand hung over his face in front of him. Was he going to be hit? If so, he would hit him back. The moment Kase clenched his hand into a fist, Agi ran his fingers up through Kase’s bangs, and Kase widened his eyes. He was so surprised that he couldn’t move.
“Don’t get so scared.”
“Haha, you’re like a stray cat that’s been captured.”
Agi lifted the bangs a little, and Kase stood there frozen stiff as he stared at Agi.
“I knew someone who was a lot like you…” Agi murmured, almost to himself. His eyes were distant. They were looking at Kase, and yet they looked past him, like looking at someone else. However, Agi came back to his senses and gave Kase an embarrassed smile.
“Well, that’s about it.”
And with that, Agi went back into the shop.
The backdoor closed, and Kase was alone again. Agi’s words gradually spread through him, and he naturally turned his head back down.
The wind blew between the leaves and the red flowers of the crape myrtle, and little by little his head cooled down.
—You’re like a stray cat.
It was a fitting description. He was always hungry, searching around for food to eat, but when it was offered to him, he would bring his claws out in hostility. A weak but aggressive creature.
The ants were still marching along at his feet. They knew the things that they needed. They just marched towards their objective with no need for any pretense or bluster. Much different from himself who didn’t know where or what to face. Kase hung his head looking down at his feet when the door opened with a loud sound.
“Hiro-kun~ I’m hungry~ Uncle Agi said that we should go ahead and eat first.”
A little hand held onto his chef coat. Kase went back into the kitchen, and his eyes met Agi’s through the glass window open to the front of the shop. For some reason, Agi smiled and waved at him, but Kase didn’t know how to return the gesture and turned his face away.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.