Chapter 1: Rain
Thud, a sound echoed as a smartphone fell next to my feet.
The lady in the suit who was seated beside me suddenly flinched in surprise.
I quickly picked up the phone and handed it back to her.
“Oh, I’m so sorry about that.”
“Don’t worry about it… If you’re planning on taking a nap, I think it would be safer to keep your phone inside your bag instead.”
At my suggestion, the lady gave an embarrassed smile and nodded in acknowledgement. After placing the phone inside her bag, she slouched her shoulders tightly and closed her eyes.
Once the sudden exchange had come to an end, the clattering of the train tracks and the noise from the air conditioning could be heard clearly once more.
Dozens of people were cramped up within this small enclosure, sitting or standing next to one another, yet completely indifferent about their peers. The person who was sitting next to me was no exception to this either.
Complete strangers would gather together within this space. They would come from somewhere, perhaps glance at one another, and then in time they would depart to somewhere else.
This interaction was nothing out of the ordinary, yet when I became conscious of it, I couldn’t help but feel a certain sensation that I couldn’t quite put into words.
If the people in this compartment were acquaintances instead, then would I have been interested in where they got off the train and where they were headed to?
As I was absentmindedly following this train of thought, I heard the casually-dressed man in front of me murmuring.
“Oh… It’s raining.”
I couldn’t help but yelp in surprise. Clearing my throat quietly with a light cough, I turned around and looked outside the window.
The glass was gradually becoming covered by the droplets of water.
I had to resist the urge to click my tongue aloud. Sure, the sky was covered with thick clouds in the late afternoon and it wasn’t strange for it to be raining, but I had believed that I would have at least arrived home before it would have started.
Usually, I would read the weather forecast on my phone when I woke up every morning and put a retractable umbrella in my bag if it was predicted to rain on that day, but I had overslept today and had forgone that routine.
I couldn’t let my suit get soaked, so if the drizzle doesn’t weaken then I’ll have to compromise with buying a plastic umbrella.
Having recollected my thoughts, I turned my gaze towards the casually-dressed man, who was looking out the window with a frown.
Had he also forgotten to bring his umbrella? Would he also be purchasing an umbrella at the station or would he rather brave through the rain? Would anyone be there to greet him when he returned home? I hope he has someone like that waiting for him; they could hand him a towel as he returned home so that he could avoid catching a cold.
Catching myself stuck in these thoughts, I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself internally.
This was just a daydream of sorts in the end. I hadn’t the slightest clue of who he was.
I let out a nasal sigh. Getting completely absorbed in these strange mental simulations was a really bad habit of mine.
Looking out the window again, I confirmed that the drizzle had turned into a full-fledged rain.
I hope that no one here catches a cold, or so I idly thought.
“Damn… It’s seriously pouring out here.”
Arriving at the station that was the nearest to my home, the sound of the downpour made me question myself for a moment on whether I was standing inside a waterfall. It was as though a bucket full of water was turned over.
I dropped by the convenience store that was attached to the station to buy an umbrella for myself, but it was already completely sold out by the time I arrived.
“Well, no one would really want to walk through this rain…”
I approached the edge of the area under the ceiling to confirm the amount of rain; it was truly tremendous. It was as though the droplets were bashing directly against the ground – it could be seen visibly splattering off of the pavement.
“Need some help?”
Startled by the sudden call, I turned my gaze away from the skies and found a high school girl standing in her uniform with the shaft of her open umbrella resting lightly on her shoulder.
“It’s really pouring hard, isn’t it?”
“You left your umbrella at home, so I came here figuring that something like this might happen.”
Now that I had the chance to collect myself properly, I noticed that aside from the umbrella that she was balancing with her right hand, she also held my usual black umbrella in her left hand.
“Now, what are you supposed to say?”
She asked with a smug smile as she offered me the umbrella that was in her left hand.
She’s… gotten a little cheeky now.
Mentally clicking my tongue, I received the umbrella from her and replied.
“Mhm, that’s right.”
Sayu nodded to herself with a triumphant look. She bore her usual lax smile.
“Let’s go home, dinner’s ready.”
Opening my umbrella and exiting the station, I could feel the roaring sensation of rain crashing directly into my umbrella.
To think that I would’ve had to go through this rain if Sayu hadn’t come to my rescue. I couldn’t help but shudder a little.
Then glancing at Sayu who was walking beside me, I had a sincere thought.
My housemate was astonishingly thoughtful of others.
That day, my unrequited love of several years had just been shattered. I had been drunk and was slouching my way home when I met Sayu.
What I know, is that she ran away from home for reasons yet unknown to me, coming all the way to Tokyo from Hokkaido, and had gone from one man’s house to another man’s during her time here.
To elaborate on that, she had allowed those men to use her body to secure her stay; a measure I thought was distasteful to say the least even if it was out of necessity.
She approached me in the same manner, but I didn’t really have an interest in high school girls. Though it may not have been the best idea, I couldn’t just leave her alone there, so I ended up letting her stay at my place on the condition that she would do all the housework, albeit…
“I tried going for a stronger flavor this time around, since it’s the weekend and I’m sure that you’re also probably worn out.”
“Uhuh, I see…”
I couldn’t quite put what I felt into words, but the way she was looking right now, adjusting the temperature of the pot of miso soup with a ladle in hand, was strangely becoming of her.
Under normal circumstances, she would have still been a student in Hokkaido; a pretty and thoughtful girl who would have been living out the springtime of her youth.
From time to time, I would find myself wondering how she came to be. Though I had felt the urge to ask her just why she would be willing to stay in the house of an unrelated man, as someone who had allowed it to become the way it was, it was hard for me to do so.
And so, another day, all whilst we maintained our interdependent relationship, had passed.
The situation was a bit intricate, but it was still comforting nonetheless.
I was solemnly sipping on my bowl of miso soup when my eyes were met with a strong gaze. Our gazes meeting was nothing out of the ordinary, but the intensity of her gaze right now was. Her gaze was usually rather timid,
“…What’s on your mind?”
I called out to her. Her gaze darted around in a bout of indecision, though it was clear that she had been waiting for this moment. So, she quickly adjusted her sitting posture.
“Huh, why are you being so formal?”
Sayu, who was carrying a relaxed smile just a moment ago, was now suddenly showing a stern and serious expression. I mentally braced myself for the impact.
Would she try to pressure me in her underwear or something like that?
When something gets to her head there’s no telling what she might do.
As I restlessly awaited her answer, Sayu suddenly dropped her head to the floor and brought her hands together and bowed.
“Please let me take a part-time job.”
My mouth reflexively gaped open in surprise.
Then immediately after, I let out an audible sigh.
“Haah-, so that’s what it was.”
“That is everything!”
“But-! …Wait, it’s fine?”
“That’s what I said.”
“I thought you’d be more, you know…”
Seeing Sayu raising her upper body with her mouth still wide open, I couldn’t help but chuckle.
“Anyway, isn’t asking me like that a little overkill?”
“I mean, you told me before that I should just focus on the housework first.”
Hearing that, I naturally turned my gaze towards our surroundings.
There wasn’t a smidgen of dust anywhere to be seen. The bed that I had left as it was when I woke up in the morning had been folded and the clothes that I would just leave in a pile when I used to lived alone were now folded and perfectly organized within the closet.
To be honest, I think that she went overboard with the housework.
Her incredible thoroughness not only made me feel moved by her efforts, but also made me come to a sudden realization – that this place was too small.
The story would have been different if I were living in a luxurious mansion, but for a home of this size, doing the housework everyday would eventually lead to a situation where there was nothing left to do in the end. Given that it was just the two of us living here, the laundry that needed to be done on a daily basis was essentially limited to underwear and the like. Doing the laundry regularly with so few things to wash would just be adding pointlessly to the water bill. As for the cleaning – while I was grateful that the house was being vacuumed everyday, with the increase in the frequency of the vacuuming, the amount of dust would accumulate, and there would come a point where doing so would make a reasonable difference. As this routine continued, the tasks that needed to be done would gradually decrease over time.
“I did say that, but it’s not like there’s a lot of housework to do these days. At least, you seem to be bothered by the lack of things you have to do these days”
“Hmpf… so you noticed.”
When she wasn’t doing the housework, she didn’t have much else to do other than reading the books and the manga that we bought a while ago or just simply surfing the internet on her smartphone in order to kill time.
I had also thought that if I were to let her start working on a part-time job, then it would have been around now. The person in question herself bringing it up was quite a convenient coincidence.
“E-, Erm… but I might fall behind a little on the housework.”
“Either way, it’s still 100 times better than when I was doing it myself.”
After she heard that, Sayu awkwardly scratched her head, and with a clumsy smile, murmured “Um, thanks”.
As of recent, I feel like Sayu has gradually shied away from holding back needlessly and has been actively replacing that with ‘thanks’ and the like here and there. That said, I think that it’s a change to be happy about.
“So, do you have any place in mind?”
“Mm, I was thinking of applying at the convenience store nearby.”
“Hmm… You mean Family Market?”
It was a convenience store that was just a short 5 minutes walk by foot from here. Being so close to home, it would also be easy to respond to unexpected trouble if it were ever to arise.
That said, since I hadn’t had any experience of working a part-time job during my high school days, there was a question that I needed to clear up.
“Say, don’t high schoolers need their parents’ approval to take a job?”
“Eh, I don’t think so. It might be a different story if there was some life-threatening risk involved though.”
“I see, so you don’t need their signature or anything like that.”
I let out a sigh of relief. There was nothing to worry about in that case. If she had required the approval of a guardian, then I would probably have had to act as her guardian. That being said, there was no way to go about that legally, so we would probably have to call it off in that case.
“So, are you going to go for an interview soon?”
“Yeah, that’s the plan.”
“Then we’d have to buy you some new clothes.”
“Ehh, can’t I just go in my uniform?” She rebutted as though it were a matter of course.
“Of course not. Isn’t your uniform from Asahikawa-something High School?”
“I mean, it’s not like they can really tell where it’s from.”
“It’d only take a bit of digging to figure it out. Plus, they’d probably notice immediately that your uniform isn’t from round these parts; going in and hoping that they won’t do a background check on you is just asking for more trouble.”
With a groan of acknowledgment, Sayu showed a bitter smile on her face.
“This uniform is really inconvenient at times like these.”
I shrugged my shoulders in affirmation.
I think that for high schoolers, the uniform is like a ‘proof of identity’ of sorts. It’s like the ‘beginner’s mark’ that’s stuck on cars – an identifier that allows various types of ‘allowances’ and ‘protections’ to be put on them. From a somewhat farfetched perspective, it’s a way of saying that they’re unable to take responsibility for themselves.
When I was a high-schooler, I’d honestly thought of it as an annoyance more than anything. Nowadays though, I’ve come to think of it as a way of legally protecting the minors from various dangers, while also stripping them of their freedom in the process.
“Do you dislike uniforms?”
I couldn’t exactly pinpoint why I would ask that, but it just followed naturally.
Maybe it’s because I had hated my uniform when I was a high schooler.
Hearing me ask such a question, Sayu blinked her eyes in surprise for a brief moment, before shaking her head.
“Nope, I actually kind of like it. Not to mention that it’s something that I can only wear right now.”
Honestly, I thought that the answer was a bit out of the left field.
To this day, I still don’t know how it had come to pass, but she was a young girl who had abandoned her high school life and had purposely come all this way to a city far away from her home on her lonesome. Given the circumstances, I had believed without a doubt that she would see her uniform as something to loathe. Perhaps I should’ve given it more thought.
“You know, don’t these uniforms make it kind of easy to tell if someone is a middle schooler or high schooler?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
With a chuckle, Sayu pinched the hem of her skirt with her fingers.
“The teachers were quite strict in middle school, so everyone wore their skirts beneath the knee. Even the rebellious girls would make sure that it was only slightly above the knee.”
Narrowing her eyes, she continued in a profound manner.
“In high school though, the first years would wear their skirts a little bit high, the second years would wear their skirts ridiculously high, and then the third years would calm down, since they have exams and all, and wear their skirts normally.”
I merely gazed at Sayu, who appeared to be having fun talking about this.
What could have driven this girl who spoke so fondly about her high school life to give it all up of her own accord and go this far?
As I was pondering on this thought, Sayu raised her gaze to look up towards me.
“You know, the uniforms of high school girls all look the same, but they’re actually all different.”
“The heck do you mean by that? Are you talking about the design?’
“That’s not what I mean. Er-, how do I put this…”
Sayu propped up her chin on her hand and audibly went “Hmmmm”.
“Take for example how everyone at work wears suits. In this situation, everyone is wearing the same thing, aren’t they?”
“Well, yeah. It’s just the standard workplace etiquette.”
“That’s right. In the case of uniforms, it can differ from school to school, but it can also differ from the way each individual person wears it; I meant that sort of thing.”
Sayu paused for a brief moment, before continuing with a smile.
“With just a look at their uniform, you can sort of get a feel for that person, like ‘oh this person is like that!’, if you know what I mean.”
Sayu seemed to be enjoying herself.
To be honest, I couldn’t really wrap my head around what she meant, nor could I understand what was so interesting about it.
That said, I thought that the animated way in which she was trying to explain things was sweet in it’s own way.
“It’s just like some random person who looks at me wearing my suit and suddenly declares ‘Oh, this guy’s Yoshida from some IT company!’ right?”
“That, that! That’s what I meant!”
Hearing what I said, Sayu happily nodded with a smile.
Then, as if a lightbulb was lit in her head, she suddenly went “Ah!”.
“That’s right! Facial hair!”
I scrunched my forehead and tilted my head.
“What about it?”
“I was thinking that the hairs that are leftover after you shave are sort of like a uniform in their own way.”
I scowled, unable to decipher what she meant at all. Sayu’s shoulders rocked as she giggled.
“Well, when you’re wearing just your suit, people probably see you as just another old fart.”
“Was that last part necessary?”
“But, when you forget to shave cleanly, people instead get the impression that ‘Ah, it’s the type of old fart that doesn’t shave cleanly!’. You get what I mean?”
“What?” I responded with a strained smile.
Sayu murmured “was that not good enough?”, whilst scratching the back of her head in confusion.
“So basically, your facial hair gives people an idea of what kind of person you might be. In the same vein, by looking at a girl’s uniform, you can also get an idea of what kind of person she might be.”
“…Hmm, I don’t really get it.” I said, shaking my head.
Sayu raised and then dropped her shoulders in disappointment. Perhaps having resigned herself to the idea that further effort was pointless, Sayu let out a long sigh before lowering her gaze.
“Well, anyway… so since I can’t go in my uniform…”
Interrupting me, Sayu looked directly into my eyes.
“I’ll pay you back when I get paid, so may I buy some outdoor clothes?”
I tried responding, but I could feel that the words that I had previously planned on saying were caught in my throat. The mood in the room seemed to have visibly lightened as I swallowed down my words.
I was simply flabbergasted.
As she watched my mouth wordlessly open and then close like a nutcracker, Sayu tilted her head as if to remind me of the question. I quickly shook my head.
“Oh… No of course you can…. You can, alright.”
“What’s wrong, you’re not speaking very clearly.”
When she had first arrived here she was the very picture of extreme reservation, having not once asked for anything. Recently though, she’s been more willing to rely on others, which I saw as a positive development.
Though, I hadn’t thought that her personally recognizing that she needed something and her asking for it on her own accord would be such a gratifying moment.
I covered my mouth which was about to break into a grin and steadily nodded my head.
“I just thought that it was unusual of you to ask for something.”
Hearing me say that, she quickly avoided my gaze and blushed a little.
After a brief moment of hesitation, Sayu continued.
“Won’t you be happier that way?”
I was again at a loss of words. Then, I let out a long throaty sigh.
I had been trying my best to hold my smile back, but I could not hold it any longer.
“So you knew huh.”
Hearing that, Sayu showed a flippant smile and simply replied “Guess so.”
As I gradually came to know Sayu, she too gradually came to know me. Knowing that oddly made my chest jump a little.
“Alright then, let’s go shopping.”
“Huh, now!? Aren’t you rushing a little?”
“Well if you need it then you should start as soon as possible. Let’s continue eating.”
“Eh, ah, okay…!”
Glancing at Sayu who hurriedly picked up her chopsticks, I could feel the tension leaving my lips.
Though it was changing little by little, this bizarre life of cohabitation with the high school girl named Sayu continued onward.