After three days, my fever finally went away, and I’ve slowly recovered enough to be able to keep some food down . What I’ve been eating has been finely chopped vegetables floating in bland soup . It’s okay for now since I’ve been sick, but I don’t think I’ll be able to stand it once I’m healthy again . Also, I’m pretty used to being called Maine by now . I’m going to have to live as Maine for the rest of my life, so I need get used to it quickly .
“Maine, you done?” asks Tory as she comes in to check on me .
“Yeah . ”
I hand my empty dishes over to her, and quietly lie back down on my bed .
“Get some rest, Maine . ”
In these last three days, I haven’t even left this room! I’ve only ever gotten up to use the restroom, and after that I’m always brought right back to bed . Isn’t that too harsh? On top of that, I said “restroom”, but it’s really just a chamber pot kept in the bedroom . It’s extremely embarrassing! Also, not only does the rest of the family use this same chamber pot, but when they’re done, they just fling the contents out the window! And, of course, there’s no bath, either! I couldn’t stand it after a while and tried to wipe myself clean, and everyone looked at me as if I’d gone instane . This lifestyle… I can’t take it anymore!!
It’s not like I can do anything about it, though . As a very young, sick child, even if I were to run away, there’s no way I’d be able to live the kind of life I’d want . I still have the mind of an adult, so this much is obvious . I’m not going to heedlessly run away, no matter how much I hate this situation . Judging from what I’ve seen in here so far, I don’t think the outside is going to be much better . I have no idea if there’s any child protection services or shelters or anything like that around here, and even if there were I don’t know if they’d be any improvement over this place .
If I run away from the filth here, all that’ll happen is that I’ll spend my last few days running around the streets, getting covered in falling waste, and finally dying on the side of the road . What I need to do is focus on getting better so that I can then work on improving the conditions around here .
My first goal is to get well enough that I can get out of bed without people being mad at me . ……Well, it’s a start .
Then, before anything else: books . The first step towards improving my environment is definitely finding books . If I have a book, then I’ll be able put up with all of these grievances . I’ll persevere! And, so, I have decided that today I’m going to go explore this house . I’ve gone too long without reading a book; I’m starting to feel the edges of withdrawal .
Give me a book! Raaagh! I’ll cry! A grown woman will burst into tears in public!
Since I’ve got an older sister, I should be able to find around ten picture books somewhere in here . Unless I’m mistaken, I don’t think I actually know how to read this language, but at least I can look at the pictures and try to puzzle out the meanings of each word .
The door opens quietly, and Tory sticks her head in . “Maine, you sleeping?” she whispers . I lie quietly in my bed, and she nods in satisfaction . Every time I’ve woken up, I’ve slipped out of bed in search of a book, only to collapse as I wandering around, so Tory has taken it upon herself to keep a close watch on me . When our mother leaves in the morning to go to work, she leaves Tory in charge of my care . Tory has been desperately trying to keep me in bed, and with my tiny body, no matter how much I try to run I can never break free from her grip .
“I am absolutely going to ‘dominate’ you,” I mutter .
“What was that?” asks Maine .
“…Hm? Oh, I just want to get big . ”
Not really understanding the real meaning behind my answer, Tory gives me a troubled smile . “If you get healthy again, you’ll get bigger! You’re always so sick that you’re not eating, so even though you’re five, people still think that you’re three . ”
Oh, am I five, then? With an atypically frail build . This is the first I’ve heard of it . I can’t remember any birthday parties, so I couldn’t figure it out for myself . Or, maybe, could there have been parties that I just don’t recognize, since I don’t know the language very well?
“Tory,” I ask, “Are you big?”
“I’m six, but everyone thinks I’m seven or eight, so maybe I’m a little big?”
“Ahh . ”
We’re only a year apart, but what a difference in physique . Surpassing her might be extremely difficult, but I can’t give up just yet . I’m going to eat right, take care of my hygiene, and get healthy .
“Mom’s gone to work,” says Tory, “so I need to wash the dishes . Really, don’t get out of bed! If you don’t sleep, you won’t get better, and if you don’t get better, you won’t grow any bigger!” “Okay!”
In preparation for sneaking out, I’ve been playing the good kid ever since last night so that Tory will let down her guard a little bit . I’ve been waiting patiently ever since for her to finally leave me alone and go somewhere else .
“Right, I’m going now . Be good and stay here, okay?”
“Okaaay!” I answer, the picture of obedience .
Tory closes the door with a clack . I wait quietly as she grabs the box full of dirty dishes and heads out the door . I don’t know where she goes to wash the dishes, but she’s always gone for about twenty to thirty minutes . It looks like each home doesn’t have its own water supply, so there’s probably a well or fountain for public use .
Heh heh heh… Now, get out!!
From what I think is the entranceway, I hear the clunk of a turning lock, followed by the fading sound of Tory’s footsteps on the stairway . I wait until I can’t hear her at all anymore, then quietly get out of my head . I grimace as I feel the grit of the floor bite into my bare feet . Walking around barefoot in a house where everyone wears shoes is profoundly disgusting, but Tory, in an attempt to stop me from walking around, hid my shoes, so I have no choice . Searching for a book is my top priority, I have no time to worry about the defilement of my feet .
“If they’re in here after all, I might have spoke too soon…”
In this bedroom where my feverish self has been locked away, there are two beds, three wooden boxes full of clothing and other miscellaneous things, and a few baskets with other sundry items . In the basket next to my bed, there’s a few toys made from wood and straw, but no books . If there’s a bookshelf, it would probably be in the living room .
With every step I take, the gritty floor grinds into the soles of my feet . It’s customary here to walk around the house with shoes on, so I know that even if I want to complain, it’s not going to do very much good . Even still, the customs of Japan have been so thoroughly ingrained in me that it’s going to be next to impossible to adapt . If I’m going to keep living as Maine, though, there are a lot of things I’m going to have to get used to .
“Grr, too high…”
I’ve hit the first major obstacle in my home exploration: the bedroom door . It’s not as if I can’t reach the knob at all; if I stand on my tiptoes and reach as high as I can go, my fingertips just barely brush the bottom of it . Turning it, however, is a much bigger problem . I glance around the room, looking for something to use as a stool . My gaze settles on the wooden box my clothes are stored in .
If I were an adult, moving this box would be a piece of cake, but no matter how hard I push and pull, my little hands can’t budge it . I could maybe flip over the basket that holds my toys, but it doesn’t look like it would be able to support my weight .
“Man, I’ve got to get bigger soon; there’s too much I can’t do right now . ”
After looking around the bedroom some more and thinking over my options, I decided to try folding up my parents’ bedding and standing on that . There’s absolutely no way that I’d let my own bedding touch this grimy floor that people walk on with boots, but my parents are used to living in conditions like this so it’s absolutely fine to use theirs . If it’s for the sake of finding a book, making my parents a little upset is no big deal at all .
Standing on tiptoes on top of the folded bedding
I stand on my tiptoes on top of the folded bedding and grab the doorknob . I twist with the entire weight of my body, and the knob turns . The door swings open with a creak… right towards me .
The door swings right towards my head with great force . I frantically let go of the knob, and stumble backwards .
With a clatter, I tumble off of the piled-up bedding and hit my head .
I clutch my head as I rise to my feet . I notice that the door is still slightly ajar! My headache is only just another sacrifice to the cause .
“I did it! It’s open!”
I leap forward, stick my fingers into the crack, and pull the door the rest of the way open . I see that my parents’ mattress has slid across the floor, and it’s left a clean track behind it… but I’ll pretend not to notice for now .
“Aha, the kitchen!”
I leave the bedroom and find myself in a kitchen . “Kitchen” in the modern sense of the word might be a little, generous; this really looks more like an old-style cookhouse . In the corner I see a stove, with a cast iron pot sitting on top, and something that looks like a frying pan hung up on the wall next to it . A clothesline runs across the room, from which a grimy-looking cleaning rag hangs . Anyone trying to wipe something off with that rag is surely only going to make it worse .
“It’s no wonder I’ve got a weak constitution with sanitation like this…”
In the center of the room is a somewhat small table, two three-legged stools, and a box that seems to be being used as another stool . On the right side of the room is a wooden cabinet, probably being used as a cupboard . In the corner opposite the stove sits a large basket, filled with raw vegetables that look almost like potatoes and onions . There’s a sink here as well, with a large jug of water next to it . The sink is probably filled by pouring water from the jug; it looks like there really isn’t running water here .
As I finish looking around the room, I notice two more doors besides the one leading back to the bedroom .
“Ohoho, which one is the right one?”
This kitchen really doesn’t look like the kind of place where I’d find a bookshelf, so I open one of the other doors that head out of the kitchen .
“Hm, a storage room?”
Beyond the door is a room that’s crammed full of a mess of tools and things that I’ve never seen before . Everything’s on shelves, but things are piled on them so haphazardly that it doesn’t look like anything in here is used very much at all .
“Wrong one, huh…”
I give up on this room and head over to the second door . I reach up and pull on the knob, but the lock only clunks dully against the frame . I rattle the door again and again, but there’s no sign of it giving way at all .
“Don’t tell me, this is the door Tory went through…? Eh? Both were wrong?! Neither were right?!”
Suddenly perplexed, I mumble aloud to myself . This is a two-bedroom apartment with a kitchen… but no bath, no toilet, no running water, and no bookshelves . No matter how hard I look, I can’t find another room .
Hey, God, do you have a grudge?!
In all of the light novels out there about reincarnation, the vast majority of them dropped the protagonist amongst the rich and noble, and very few of the remainder place her in abject poverty . I have the memories and sensibilities of a modern-day citizen of Japan; there is no way I’m going to be able to live in a house with no bath, no toilet, no running water .
On top of that, the thing that I was most worried about: I can’t find any books . I looked all through the storage room and couldn’t find anything even remotely resembling a book .
“…No way, are books expensive?”
On Earth, before the invention of machines that could print books easily, books were ridiculously expensive . If you weren’t a member of the highest echelons of society, your opportunities to read books were few and far between .
“I’ve got no choice . If it’s come to this, right now, I need to find words . ”
Even if I don’t have any books, it’s still possible for me to start learning to read . There could be newspapers, pamphlets, magazines, calendars, even advertisements! There absolutely has to be something around here that has at least one word written on it somewhere .
At least, there would be in Japan .
“…Nothing! Absolutely nothing! Not a single thing! What kind of house is this?!”
I have gone through every item on every shelf of the storage room and the cupboard, and not only have I, of course, still not found any books, but there hasn’t been so much as a single letter printed on anything at all . Printing aside, I can’t even find a single piece of paper!
“What the heck is… this…”
Blinding pain blasts through my head, as if my fever had come roaring back . My heart pounds in my chest, and I am deafened by the sudden ringing in my ears . I crumple to the floor, as if the strings holding me up were suddenly cut . My eyes are so hot .
Dying, crushed by books, had been my dream; being reincarnated, well, that’s okay too . But how am I supposed to live like this? What am I to live for? I hadn’t even thought that I could be reborn into a world without books . Why was I even born?!
Tears run down my face as I struggle to find a reason to keep living .
“Maine!! What are you doing up?! You shouldn’t have gotten out of bed without your shoes!” shouts Tory, as she walks into the kitchen to find me crumpled on the ground .
“…Tory… there’s no ‘books’…”
Even though I want to read so badly, there’s no books . I have no idea why, or even how, I’m going to keep living on .
“What’s wrong? Are you hurt?” asks Tory, concerned, as I lay there with tears constantly streaming from my eyes . There’s no way for me to explain . She can’t even see that not having books is a problem, how could she understand my feelings?
I want a book .
I want to read .
Hey, is there even anyone out there who would understand?
Where can I find a book?
Please, someone tell me .