Story 8: bless you
Author’s Note: I kind of invited myself onto a fanzine project put together by my readers, but then I got cold feet at the “High School AU” theme. I would love to see Tsuzuki-sensei and his student Kunieda-kun next, please!
First published in 2016 in the doujinshi Daydream Album.
Translator Note: Ichiho Michi loves teacher-student relationship stories, and her debut novel, “Snow! With the Scent of Apples” (Yuki yo Ringo no Ka no Gotoku), features such a relationship.
The world (a small portion of it) was covered in a cold, thin layer of white just a few centimeters thick. He wondered how such an insignificant difference could completely change everything. It went beyond the landscape of what the eye could see—water soaked through his shoes and froze his feet, ice made the sidewalks slippery and hard to walk, traffic slowed to a crawl and made it frustrating to navigate. Even if he was born and raised somewhere further north, he thought that he would probably have these very same thoughts. This daily life of his disappointed him. His days transformed all too easily with a bit of weather, a fluke, or a misunderstanding. If so, then what exactly was this life, this routine, that he was trying to establish for himself day in and day out for? It was a thorn of anxiety that suffocated him whenever he thought too deeply like this.
There were so many things in this world that he couldn’t do—not with his head, not with his body, not with his effort or quick thinking. The number was endless, and he didn’t want the truth of this fact flaunted in his face. Especially not with this beautiful, pure white appearance.
“It’s really coming down,” an airy voice murmured next to him.
“It is,” Ushio acknowledged, staring straight ahead. It wasn’t that he was cold and unsociable; he was simply paying attention to the traffic in front of him and he wasn’t supposed be having fun chats with the people he was driving. Unless it was related to business matters, starting conversations and engaging in them openly was typically off limits.
“Sorry for making you wait.”
“It’s all right,” Ushio replied.
His part-time job entailed driving hostesses back to their homes after they got off from work. Normally Ushio would be done before dawn, but today there was a party after the club closed, though they had called it a “meeting,” and it dragged on well into the morning when people with respectable jobs would be reporting to work.
“I’ll tell the manager to add some extra for overtime.”
“Please don’t worry about it. I get paid very well as it is now.”
He was actually very good at handling people with a mild but firm curtness to his face and voice. It didn’t mean that he put up a front for them—just that even if they noticed his curtness, they would somehow never make a big fuss about it.
“Ushio-kun, you’re always so formal~”
Just like this.
They approached a traffic signal, and Ushio carefully applied the brakes to the car. He was still a new driver, and he was a little nervous about driving in the snow.
This is so slow. I want to go home already.
Ushio didn’t find the woman unpleasant or anything, but he wanted to go home as soon as possible so he could sleep.
On the other side of the wipers slowly moving back and forth, there was a crowd of people waiting for the traffic light, all looking expressionless.
“It’s the season,” the woman commented.
“Over there. See the students reading through their workbooks?”
“Oh, you mean entrance exams. Seems like a bad omen for the exams to be on a day like today though.”
“You’re so young, but you think about things like that,” the woman laughed. She was probably around 20 years old herself, but Ushio didn’t find a hostess acting older than her age to be very funny. He thought that it was sad actually, but it was probably none of his business.
“Just like that protection charm that you have.” She pointed a long, tapered fingernail at the traffic safety charm that hung from the end of the car key.
“My grandma gave it to me when I got my license.”
Because his other set of grandparents had died in a traffic accident.
“Did you know you’re not supposed to hang that somewhere below your head? At least, that’s what they say.”
“No, I didn’t.”
He was about to say, You’re so young, but you know a lot about these things, but he stopped himself.
“It’s because it makes God unhappy. That’s why everyone hangs them from the top of the windshield with a suction cup. Anyway, that’s what I had heard from a customer when we went for a drive together recently. There was a huge charm swaying inside his BMW… it was hilarious.”
“Hanging something from the windshield blocks part of the view, and so I’m not allowed to do that for safety reasons.”
“So that’s why— Oh, it’s green.”
But the streets were congested and the cars crept along cautiously, and so they stopped again for the light. The crosswalk was right in front of them—white paint on asphalt, snow trampled with footprints—a smattering of white and black and gray jumbled together. He liked how it felt all in disarray.
“There are a lot of exam students here too.”
In the group of students next to them heading in the same direction and waiting for the light, there was a beautiful profile of a face that seemed to draw people’s attention. The bridge of the nose was high and straight, and the gaze was fixed firmly ahead towards the other side of the street. He wouldn’t describe the face as androgynous, but it didn’t have a hard masculinity to it. The boy didn’t refer to any reference books or vocabulary flash cards—not like it would help at this point anyway. Ushio thought that the boy could probably get into any university that he wanted. That was his impression anyway.
“Hey.” The woman peered at Ushio’s hands gripping the steering wheel.
“What does it feel like to see kids like them? They’re about your age, right?”
“What does it feel like? Nothing really.”
“Do you think that it’s a different world from yours? Or that you’d like to go to college too?”
He wasn’t saying it out of pride; it was what he truly thought.
However, the woman reached her hand for Ushio’s chin and said, “I could let you go.” The tips of her fingers were cold.
“If you wanted to go to college, Ushio-kun, I would work so that you could go. You wouldn’t have to take any part-time jobs, and you could do whatever you wanted. I would take care of you.”
It was unbearable for Ushio to rely on others and have them take care of him. He knew that they expected something huge from him in return.
“…So look at me more.”
The woman turned his head towards hers. The scent of night, perfume and alcohol mixed with all sorts of things in the air, wafted over to Ushio’s nose.
Past the dyed light-brown hair and through the front windshield, Ushio met the eyes of the owner of that beautiful side profile. Ushio hadn’t noticed that the boy was looking over at him, and there a clear look of disdain in that pair of eyes. It said, What the hell are you doing in the middle of the street? The face had not made any movement, but somehow Ushio could read the sentiment there. He thought that the windshield wipers passing back and forth ruined the view.
Oh, he probably thinks I’m kissing her. But I’m not.
The boy probably couldn’t see the hand that he put up to block her lips. The crossing was only a few seconds, and the boy immediately turned his head away. The light turned green almost at the same time.
The woman probably anticipated his reaction and pouted jokingly as she quietly sat back in her seat. Ushio silently accelerated the car. He didn’t have time to look at the side profile again as they left the intersection behind. The charm that his grandmother gave him swayed back and forth from the end of the car key.
The snow stopped before noon. The Shinkansen that he took home wasn’t too chaotic (but it was crowded), and he arrived home safely.
“How did it go?” his mother asked.
“I don’t think I failed.”
“So you think you passed? You’re just so full of confidence. Can I laugh later if you fail?”
“Why would you laugh!?”
Well, I’m sure that I passed.
“Remember to thank your father when he gets home. He went all the way to Tenmangu Shrine to give you that charm for your entrance exams.”
“It’s all my own effort if I pass, not because of divine intervention.”
“That’s not what it means to give a charm.”
It was unusual for his mother to speak so seriously.
“Wishes are something that you can’t normally see, and so when someone wishes others to successfully pass their entrance exams or to safely give birth, they are giving you their wishes in the form of a charm, hoping that you keep their wishes with you. So you should always remember to be grateful for that, instead of a god that you’ve never seen before.”
It was too embarrassing for Kei to outright say, Okay, I will, so he grunted something that sounded like neither an Oh or a Hmm.
“Well, if I were God, I would let you fail,” his mother said.
“What the!? Why!?”
“You should experience failure at least once in your life.”
“How can you even say that!?”
“I’m home. Oh, Kei, how did it go?”
That night as Kei closed his eyes in bed, for some reason he recalled the scene that he saw in the morning. When he had casually looked over to the side, there was a scene of two people kissing in a car. A gaudy-looking woman, just judging by the back of her head, and a man—well, he didn’t get a good look at the face, but he could easily guess. He had thought, Ugh, why’d I have to see this? But he didn’t think about it any further. He would sleep, wake up the next day, and forget everything about it. The charm that his father had given him was still inside his coat pocket.
He had hurt his left wrist in some unforeseen circumstances. For now, he had put on a pain relief patch that he kept around at home, but it felt like the pain worsened instead of subsided. He picked up the charm that he had left next to his computer. It used to be attached to the key for his bike, but after carrying it for years, the cord eventually broke and he never fixed it. Maybe it was its fault that he had the accident.
No, it was all that guy’s fault. That shady-looking, outrageous guy who totally gave him the fake name “Owari.” And yet, when he remembered him, it made him strangely want to laugh. The guy was just so weird—everything about him.
Oh yeah, I’m starving. I should eat the beef rice bowl that he left. He’ll probably throw a fit about it if he comes back.
The phone number that Ushio had extracted from him could possibly be fake, but strangely enough, Ushio believed him. That “Owari” would come back again. That they would see each other again.
Maybe the charm that he had forgotten at home wasn’t a “fault” but a “blessing.” But he would only come to think that some time later.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.