Chapter 36: Where Home Is (12)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
Just the other day, he had watched from a late-night taxi ride, the ethereal glow of cherry blossom trees lining the streets in full bloom, but now the blossoms had scattered with only the leaves left behind on the trees.
A scandal in the Cabinet hailed the appointment of the new Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Wakamiya. Kei had heard that he had stopped in at Asahi TV recently, but Kei hadn’t actually seen him. It looked like they would have further dealings with each other outside of that stupid wayward son of his, but Kei would think about it later when the time came. And if he steadily progressed to become Prime Minister of Japan? …Kei would think about that later too if it actually happened. The ruckus of election news eventually settled to a simmer as the news media moved on to fresher, newer stories of the day and talk about Announcer Kunieda running for office disappeared. Kei made a living on society’s fickle and short attention span, and well, he thought that it was par for the course.
Now that the commotion was over, everything continued both “par for the course” and not so “par for the course.” Both good things and the not so good things. Time flowed equally for people who struggled to keep things “par for the course” and for people who fought to change things from staying “par for the course.”
Kei felt generous enough to let Ushio stay at his apartment (he would take his share of the expenses though), but Ushio only stayed for a few days before renting a fully-furnished, short-term apartment on a temporary basis while he got his life back into order. He seemed restless and unsettled around a place that he hadn’t built on his own—a homebase where he could spend every day. He probably worked and searched for a new home at the same time, but Kei didn’t ask him for any details. Ushio couldn’t stand the blandness in Kei’s spare room, so whatever, Ushio could do whatever he wanted for all he cared and Kei wouldn’t interfere. It wasn’t like Ushio could find another place remotely similar to his old house that was so close, so comfortable, and most of all, so much like Ushio. Kei would probably complain about any place Ushio found.
Kei sometimes walked by the vacant lot, knowing that it would only hurt his heart, and invariably, he felt heartsick and lonely every time he passed by. When Ushio happened to be there when Kei passed by one night, they fell asleep clinging to each other, only exchanging a few words. Only with his eyes closed, feeling Ushio’s body warmth, could he return back to that place.
“Kunieda-kun, let’s play~!”
Ushio came over suddenly one early morning. It was 6 am on a Saturday, just after Kei was released from the weekday grind.
Idiot, I feel like I only just got to sleep, dammit.
“I rented a car, so let’s go for a drive!”
“I’d rather play Mario Kart.”
“You’re just saying that~”
“I don’t wanna, it’s too much work. Go attack a mountain by yourself.”
“You don’t want to see my new home?”
Kei was finally fully awake.
“…Did you pick it out and everything?”
Yes, Kei appeared completely unconcerned with the house hunt, and yes, he was ready to nitpick everything that he saw, but he thought that Ushio would at least come to him with a few options first to ask him for his opinion about the location, layout, and such.
I don’t wanna see it. I’m going back to sleep. But…honestly, I do want to see it. But then again…
While Kei debated with himself, Ushio declared, “You’re awake, aren’t you?” and stole the bed covers.
“I didn’t say I would go.”
“I doubt you’ll run into people since it’s so early out. You can just wear your sweats.”
Kei could have complained some more, but Ushio looked like he was in a particularly good mood, and so Kei decided to go along with him. But he dressed himself up properly as Kunieda-san, and they bought breakfast at a drive-thru.
“…Isn’t this a bit far?”
“We made a detour for breakfast. With the network in between the two places, it’ll probably take you the same amount of time from there as you do now.”
That’s far. Couldn’t you have picked something within two stations of my apartment? Now I want to see it even less.
“You look unhappy. Did you not have enough to eat?”
“Nevermind me, hmph.”
Ushio was still in a great mood behind the steering wheel, and Kei felt less and less excited about the prospects.
They arrived at an area near a canal. Ushio parked the car at a meter and led Kei to a 5-story building. Yeah, it wasn’t a condo or an apartment complex, but a mixed-use building. It looked retro in design—rectangular with umber-colored exterior walls and arched windows that drew the eye. The facade was modestly but intricately ornamented, and it looked like it had seen a number of years. It seemed suited for the area, filled with similar old, low buildings that probably hadn’t been updated since the Showa era. Nothing felt off about the place just casually passing by the front, but when he stopped and looked up, he really noticed its age.
“How old is the building?”
“Probably almost 80 years.”
Seriously? That’s nearly the same as Old Man Eba.
Ushio pulled out his keys from the pocket of his hooded sweatshirt, and there was a heavy jangle from the number of keys hanging on the keyring.
“My god, you need that many?”
“Well, yeah. First is the main door of the building.”
The double doors felt nostalgic—frosted glass fitted in a wooden frame, and when Ushio pushed them open, there were a set of tenant mailboxes, a building directory, and a flight of stairs.
“Where’s the elevator?”
“There isn’t one.”
“What floor is it?”
“The 5th floor.”
It’s ridiculously far, it’s exhausting… This has to be a prank or just plain damn spite.
The directory was full of names of small businesses, corporations, and offices for professionals such as tax counsellors and judicial scriveners. There was a diagonal line drawn where it said 5F.
“There’s only one residential floor—the 5th floor. There’s a basement floor that acts as storage for the tenants, and luckily there’s a free room there that I can use for my studio. There’s generally no one here on the weekends or after 11 at night on the weekdays, so the building is kept locked outside of business hours. That’s why I need a key to get in.”
Chocolate brown handrails lined the cold, concrete staircase, and light shined through the windows at each landing. It had the charm of an old school building. Kei could see why this place had caught Ushio’s eye.
The landing that continued to the 5th floor had a standing signboard that read, Private residences — no trespassing, but there was another door after climbing the steps. This time it was an iron door with an auto-locking mechanism that brought him back to the 21st century.
“I heard this door was put in after people tried coming up here to take pictures.”
Ushio pulled out a different key and unlocked the door. So the front door, the basement storage room, and now the 5th floor. That was already 3 keys so far.
Past the door was a landing, and Kei could see a similar iron door at one end of it.
“That’s the door to the spiral staircase,” Ushio explained as he inserted a key into one of the two apartment doors located there. That made a total of 5 keys. He could see a stupid misunderstanding unfold if a police officer happened to suddenly stop him. If Kei would be visiting regularly, he would need all the same keys, which meant he would be carrying around 6 keys with him every day.
Ugh, that’s a pain in the ass.
The entryway was cramped and the ceilings were low, reminding him of how ancient the building was, but it was nice inside. It was a small space with one bedroom, a living room, dining and kitchen, and a view of the canal from the balcony. On the other side of the canal were large warehouses with triangular-shaped roofs that looked copy and pasted into massive rows.
“The plumbing just finished renovations, and next I’ll knock down a wall to make it one huge apartment.”
“You’re going to knock down a wall? Can you really do that?”
“It’s fine, it’s fine.” Ushio removed one of the keys from his keyring and held it out to Kei. “Here, this is the key for your place.”
“Don’t you mean a spare key?”
“It can be your place.” Ushio pointed to the wall separating the two apartments. “The key is for the one next door.”
“It’s nice here, right? People are only around on weekdays during normal business hours. There’s a river outside the window. You’ll have to walk a little further to get to the station, but it’s nearly the same distance for you to get to work. There shouldn’t be much of a problem living here. The room layout is a mirrored version of this side.”
So that was why he was fine saying “with the network in between the two places.”
It wasn’t a bad idea, but it was such a sudden proposal that his head couldn’t keep up. Was there was no delivery locker here? …But Ushio could accept his packages for him.
“W-What about rent…?”
This place was larger, but his current apartment was newer and in a better location. But then again, he had heard that there was a surge in popularity in living in older places like this. Landlords could sometimes rip tenants off with property maintenance fees that were surprisingly high. If Ushio could afford the place though, Kei thought that it probably wasn’t a problem.
“Hmm, rent, huh?” Ushio said with a grave nod of his head. “What do you want to pay?”
“I more or less own both of the apartments.”
“Huh? You bought them!?”
Ushio could do whatever he liked, but buying property when he was currently homeless?
“They became mine just recently.”
The land and building originally belonged to Ushio’s great-grandfather on his father’s side. It was once a full office building, but as a wedding gift to his grandson, in other words, Ushio’s father, he had the top floor converted into two residences.
“I used to live here up until I was 2, but I don’t remember any of it. After everything happened and we moved to the main house, my mother apparently really still loved the place and maintained it without renting it out to anyone. After she died, the deed, or the rights or whatever, for the 5th floor went to my grandma.”
But Ushio’s grandmother had a weak back and couldn’t live in a building without an elevator, so she had contracted a management company to lease the apartments out to renters for extra income. However, due to a string of problems with renters, it had been left sitting empty for the past several years.
“If you had a place to live, then you should have said so in the beginning!”
“I didn’t know that it even existed. I was telling her that I was looking for a new place to live, and it was a huge surprise when she suggested this place to me.”
Now Kei understood. She probably couldn’t have said anything before. Ushio would have rejected it outright, not wanting to hear anything about it, let alone live there. It would have been a betrayal to Ushio if he ever knew that he had accepted any of the Wakamiya family assets.
She probably brought it up now, thinking that Ushio was finally okay with it.
Ushio grumbled, “Isn’t it terrible of her to hide it for so long?” but he probably understood her reasons for doing so.
“Isn’t it strange to have two separate apartments for your family though? They should have made it one big penthouse.”
“There’s a reason for that,” Ushio answered, like he was dying to reveal the reason. “One apartment was to live in, and the other one was for my father’s atelier. He wasn’t even a working artist, but he was spoiled so rotten… He got an entire floor of a building, sponging off of his parents and grandparents, but now he’s all high and mighty about himself.”
That was when Ushio’s father had a free and easy life. What if he could have continued that life, if it had never shattered, if they had raised Ushio here through his childhood? How differently would have Ushio become? Would he have ever met Kei? But there was no use in thinking about these things.
“Let’s knock a hole here and make a doorway.” Ushio knocked on the wall. “That way we can come and go as we want, and on paper, we would be living at different addresses. It shouldn’t be a problem, right?”
“But you have visitors to your place sometimes.”
“When that happens, we can move a bookshelf or something to cover it up. We can make it like the shelves at a library and put it on a rail with casters. If we do that, then we don’t need to buy another fridge or washing machine…”
“And there comes the true reason for all of this.”
“So? What do you think? Right now we can add shelves to the walls or whatever you want.”
With Ushio asking for Kei’s opinion again, Kei had pretty much made up his mind, but it annoyed him a little about it so instead he puffed out his chest and said, “I’ll decide after I see it.”
The apartment next door was renovated in the exact same way. Ushio had picked out everything for the kitchen and bathroom to his own specific tastes, but Kei didn’t have any preferences either way, so he didn’t care. The Prince was far too busy to be flipping through home improvement catalogs.
The ivory-colored wallpaper was peeling in areas, so Kei asked, “We can change the wallpaper, right?”
“Sure, I’ll change it for you. Which do you prefer: TV static or color bars?”
“I’ll end up losing my damn mind.”
Since they were putting up new wallpaper anyway, Kei started peeling back one of the loosened edges.
Oh, this is pretty fun.
It reminded him of the postcards that could be peeled back to reveal extra information and advertisements.
Ushio said, exasperated, “What are you, a child?” but he started planning the secret entryway between their two apartments.
Kei crouched down and tugged hard at the piece of wallpaper that had loosened by his feet.
“—Oi!” Kei shouted and turned around in surprise.
“What, did you find human remains?”
Ushio walked over to Kei, his face puzzled since Kei hadn’t responded to his joke. He crouched down next to Kei and immediately caught his breath.
There were handprints on the wall. They were considerably faded, but there were three of them there—a tiny one, a normal one, and a larger one. A child, a mother, and a father. The paint was a beautiful, early morning sky blue, just like the color of the sky outside.
The handprints were placed fairly low on the wall. Likely the child had toddled over and put their hand there first. Maybe the family had been remodeling and the child got their hands in the paint.
There were letters next to the handprints, like a signature for an artwork—U, H and H.
“…Hana,” Ushio whispered. “That was my mother’s name.”
Ushio, Hana, and Homare.
Ushio didn’t remember what had happened at the time, and Kei, of course, had no idea. But a toddler Ushio had left his prints on the wall, and his parents hadn’t been upset and instead commemorated it like a keepsake, stamping their own handprints next to it—smiling and believing that those days would continue. They probably also thought there was no harm in leaving it like that.
Ushio gently touched the wall, and then he pulled back and stared down at his hand that was now fully grown. He was probably thinking all sorts of things to himself. About when he had lived here in this apartment with parents. About his mother who loved this apartment. About his father who had left this apartment to his grandmother after his mother died. About his grandmother who passed this apartment to him. About all the things he could understand and all the things that he couldn’t.
Kei placed his hand on top of the defenseless-looking palm of Ushio’s hand. Tears fell from Ushio’s face onto the back of Kei’s hand. The morning sun basked the empty, curtainless apartment in pure white.
There was nothing here but the two of them, holding hands, as they sat in the light of a brand-new beginning.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.