This it the seventh chapter of a novel I am translating and publishing on this blog. See this post for the first chapter and more details about the novel.
I want to thank the author, Yuki Hoshizaki (星崎ゆうき) for giving me permission to translate and publish this chapter here, as well as Yeti san (from the site Shousetsu Ninja) for performing a quality check on this chapter. You can find the original Japanese text of this chapter here.
Because of the large amount of time it takes to translate a chapter, as well as my desire to focus on content that my readers enjoy, I consider this translation to be in a provisional state––in other words, if I don’t get enough positive feedback, I may stop translating this story.
So if you enjoy it, please consider liking or commenting here, or rating/commenting on novelupdates.com (see this story’s page here, which has links to all the other chapters). You can also send feedback on the story to the email address “selftaughtjapanese (at) com”, and commentary will be forwarded to the author as needed.
Past, Present, You
by Yuki Hoshizaki
Translated by J.D. Wisgo
Chapter 7: July 5 (evening)
I sit before the softly illuminated altar and make a slight bow. The picture of Sora on display there has a touch of innocence unlike the Sora that I knew. Perhaps it was taken when she first began middle school. The red scarf draped over her neck is, sure enough, from Joyo middle school’s uniform. I touch a stick of incense to the candle’s tiny flame, then place it on the incense burner once I see a wisp of smoke begin to rise.
“Today I’m all alone so I don’t have much to offer. Only this, it’s called chichibu mochi and is popular around these parts.”
I ring a small bell and put my hands together in prayer for a moment when the old woman sets a plate upon the low, round table with a plunk. Upon it are candies that look like pure-white manju sweet buns.
“Oh, please don’t trouble yourself. Really, I’m fine.”
“Well then, make yourself comfortable. Just be yourself. So Sora is your friend from elementary school?”
“Middle school, hmm. She wasn’t able to go very often. But what a cheerful, friendly girl…”
Sora Itono, the girl who came out of nowhere several days ago and saved my life from that horrible train accident. I know practically nothing about her.
“What was…Sora like?”
“That girl loved nature. When she was young…you see, on the other side of that door is a bench, and she would sit there all day, staring at things like ants crawling on the ground. Sora would grab the leaves of the hydrangeas in the garden and catch snails crawling on them. Covered in mud from head to toe, she looked like a little boy.”
Saying that, the old woman chuckles loudly.
I direct my gaze to the photograph resting on the altar. Thanks to short-cropped hair Sora did indeed have a neutral look to her reminiscent of a boy. I get up slowly from the tatami mat and open the door in front of me. On the opposite side of the garden is a bench, just as the old woman said.
“Well now…the weather is turning,” the woman says suddenly as she looks up at the gray sky through the open door. The next instant, the sunlight beaming into the room darkens. A flock of birds in the shape of a perfect inverted triangle cuts across the colorless sky, heading west. Right then a warm breeze blows in from the east, disturbing the smoke rising from the incense burner.
“Yes, it’s coming. Hold on a minute, I’ll go take in the laundry.”
“Oh, I’ll help!”
“I’m fine. It’s just some face towels. Wait there.”
Saying this, the old woman suddenly hops off the bench with an agility at odds with her appearance, puts on a pair of sandals sitting in the garden, then pulls a series of large, white towels from the clothesline and stuffs them under her arms.
“Are you sure you don’t need any help?”
The rain that started as a light pitter-patter soon becomes a loud, earth-shaking downpour. As large drops make splashes, tiny currents begin to form on the muddy ground.
“Everyone dislikes rain, do they not?”
“I’m not so sure about that. I don’t particularly dislike it…”
I take a single mochi from the table. Generally I’m not too fond of traditional Japanese candy, but the gummy texture and subdued sweetness pleasantly satisfies my empty stomach.
I don’t know how much time passes, but before I realize it the diminishing sound of the rain has been replaced by the clamour of croaking frogs. Around this area is nothing but rice fields, so perhaps it’s a perfect home for frogs.
“Yeah, but I’m not good at using an umbrella…”
No matter how careful I am, the bottom edge of my pants always gets wet. It doesn’t matter how heavy the rain is. Daiki tells me that the problem isn’t with how I hold the umbrella, but how I walk, although I’m always trying to be careful as I walk.
“Sora, you know, also loved rain. She’d stare for hours out the window at puddles, or go searching for frogs, umbrella in hand.”
The old woman’s perfectly round eyes are somehow similar to Sora’s dark brown ones. Maybe she took after her grandmother.
“You’re right, she really was like a boy.”
“Oh, the rain has let up,” the old woman says as she slowly opens up the door to the Japanese-style room. The raindrops on the leaves of the hydrangeas filling the garden glitter brightly, illuminated by the sunlight streaming in from the west.
“It’s just a passing shower.”
Turbulent weather is like a turbulent mind. Once the storm passes, before you know it the gray clouds are gone, and the summer twilight sky is close at hand. I guess it’s similar to the sensation of a tiny splash of color returning to the world.
“I’m sorry for staying so long.”
I grab the bag at my feet, stand up, and bow to the old woman.
“It’s no problem. Come back and see me.”
“I will. I’ll stop by again someday.”
I cross the kitchen’s earthen floor that is slightly more damp now, probably because of the rain, and put on my shoes in the entryway.
“Thank you for everything.”
“By the way, what’s your name?”
Come to mention it, I haven’t told her my name. Kind of like the time I first met Sora.
“Oh, my apologies. I’m Mizuki Aiba.”
“Mizuki, huh? You saw her, right?”
“Didn’t you meet Sora?”
What does she mean by that?
“Alright then. I met her yesterday myself. She’s grown a little.”
“You take good care of that girl, OK?”
To what degree is a story just a story, and to what degree is it real?
Just as the world of a movie is a narrative, physical phenomena are also a kind of narrative. Events we experience are cut and reformed by our personal interests, and the fragments of the events resulting from this process are, in time, made into a story using the mechanism we call “interpretation”. Inherently there is no clearly defined boundary between fiction and fact.
My encounter with Sora is a type of story, but it is also an irrevocable reality.
[end of chapter]
(English Translation Copyright © 2019 by J.D. Wisgo)