Books: Impossible to acquire .
“Now then, last on the list is meat . We’re going to get a lot of it, and then we’re going to need to salt it, or maybe smoke it…”
My mother, finished with buying our fruits and vegetables, heads towards the center of the market . There, it seems like the meat sellers are lined up against the outer wall .
“Why are we buying so much?” I ask .
“We have to prepare for winter, you know?” replies my mother . “Around this time of year, the farmers all have to bring their livestock in for the year . Anything that won’t make it through the winter gets butchered, so this time of the year is when the most meat is sold . The animals have also been eating a lot to prepare for winter, so their meat is very fatty and delicious . ”
“…Umm, in the winter, does the market go away too?”
“Of course it does, you know? There aren’t very many vegetables gathered during the winter, so the market isn’t open very often . ”
Now that I think about it, it’s obvious, but the thought hadn’t occurred to me at all . In Japan, before greenhouse cultivation became commonplace, vegetables were sold seasonally, and before distribution methods were developed, they were all grown locally . You can keep food fresh for long periods of time with freezers or refrigerators, but before those things existed, you needed to actually preserve the food in your house .
“…I’ve never actually prepared for winter,” I mumble .
“Did you say something?” asks my mother .
“Nuh-uh . ”
Preserving food at home, huh… Where in that tiny apartment are we going to preserve anything? That storage room isn’t nearly big enough, right? Man, I’m glad that I’m a such a little girl; I’m so small that I’d only get in the way if I tried to help, so I’m not going to be scolded when I don’t .
“…Erk, it stinks!”
“That’s the smell of meat!”
The stench grows unbearable as we approach the butchers . I pinch my nose to stop the smell, but my mother keeps walking forward, looking like this was nothing out of the ordinary .
Meat’s supposed to smell like this? Ughhh, I’ve got a bad feeling about this…
Even though my nose is plugged, the air is so foul that the very taste of it makes my eyes water as I finally arrive at the row of butchers’ shops . On the counters, aside from the bacon and ham I expected, legs of meat are lined up, still attached to the feet and recognizable as animal parts . Inside the shop, dead animals, drained of blood, swing from the rafters . Bunnies and birds line the shelves, their eyes wide open and their tongues lolling out of their mouths .
“Gyaaaaaaah!!” I scream .
“What’s wrong, Maine?!”
To be honest, for someone like me, who’s only ever seen raw meat after it’s already been completely disassembled, cut up into little pieces, and put in packs, the butchers’ shops of this world are a little too over-stimulating . All the hairs on my body stand on end, tears stream down my face, and I screw my eyes shut to block out the awful sight . The single glimpse I caught, though, remains fixated with my mind, and won’t go away no matter how much I want to forget it .
My mother shakes me side to side . At that instant, a pig screams as its dissection begins, and my eyes snap open . Smiling people have gathered around me, watching and waiting eagerly as an animal is murdered right in front of them .
Why do you look like this is fun, people? Why are you smiling so much?! Stop it! Stop it stop it! This is terrifying!!
The pig squeals out one final time as the knife rams home . My own small cry joins it, and I faint on the spot .
Something’s being poured into my mouth . It’s a harsh, astringent,extremely stimulating liquid that smells like strong alcohol . Since I’m not quite awake enough to drink it properly, it flows straight down my windpipe . I leap to my feet, my eyes wide open, and start an enormous coughing fit .
“Cough! Cough! Cough!”
Is this actual alcohol?! What unbelievable idiot would dare force such a powerful spirit down the throat of such a helpless and innocent young child?! What would you do if I’d gotten alcohol poisoning?!
My mother is next to me, holding a bottle of alcohol .
“Maine, are you awake? Ahh, that’s a relief, I’m so glad that I could wake you up . ”
With a huge sigh of relief, my mother hugs me tightly . I might not be very good at putting things into words at the moment, but I can speak my mind now, right?
Don’t shove such a strong alcohol down the throat of a small child!! And especially do not do so to a child who not only has a weak constitution, but has also just finally recovered from a fever so high that you thought she would die!! Are you trying to kill me?! Are you an idiot?! Do you want me to die?!
“Alright then, Maine . Now that you’re awake, let’s go back and get that meat . ”
A shudder ripples through me . That horrifying spectacle has already been seared into my memory . It flashes before my eyes like a daydream, and just the memory of it gives me goosebumps . I do not want to go back there . This woman, she used strong alcohol to revive a young girl, and now she’s taking the girl who literally just fainted at the sight of the butcher and dragging her back to the butcher… could it be that she’s a brute?
“…Ummmm, I still don’t feel good,” I say . “I’m gonna stay here . Mommy, go ahead!”
I give my hesitant mother a sidelong glance, then spin in place to face the lady running the shop . I need to secure my position before she drags me away .
“Excuse me, but could you let me wait here?” I say to the shopkeep . “I’m not going to be any trouble, I’ll just sit right here . ”
“Oh, you’re very level-headed for such a little girl,” she replies, with a dry, crackling laugh . “Your mother did just buy some liquor, so I’ll let you stay for a bit . It would be awful if I kicked out a little girl who wasn’t feeling well and she had another accident, right? Take care of your shopping, ma’am, I’ll watch her for you . ”
It seems that this woman is the proprietor of this liquor stall, from where my mother just bought the alcohol she used to revive me . The old man from the general store next door seems to have taken pity on me as well, and he waves me over .
“Come and wait over here, missy, that way nobody’ll come by and try to snatch ya…”
He motions me to a spot behind and between the two stalls and helps me sit down . It feels like the liquor that was poured down my throat is churning around inside me . Right now, moving around too much would be dangerous . If, for instance, I were to collapse from acute alcohol poisoning, nobody else would be able to figure out why .
While sitting down, I idly look over the contents of the two shops . The liquor stand seems to have received a new shipment of cider, just in time for its most popular season, and customers come one right after the other to buy little casks of it . The general store, on the other hand, doesn’t have nearly as many customers .
Just what does a general store sell in this world?
I look over the various goods that are lined up for sale, but for the most part I have no idea what I’m looking at .
“Mister, what’s thiiis?” I ask, pointing at one of the random things on a nearby shelf .
“Oh, have you not used one of these before, little missy? This is what you use when you’re weavin’ cloth . Oh, and this one’s used for huntin’ . ”
Since he doesn’t have any customers at the moment, the old man gladly explains what each thing does as I point at it in succession . There’s so much stuff here that’s used in daily life around here that I just don’t know anything about . I dig through Maine’s memories, but she either wasn’t very interested in these things or she never really learned about them .
As I look around the items jumbled on the shelves in admiration, I notice something in the far corner . It may be just a single volume, but I definitely see the spine of some massive, bulky tome . It’s the kind of binding that I’d usually only see behind a glass case in a library, with a leather cover and fine gold caps on each of the corners . It’s so huge that I don’t think I’d be able to even hold it .
…That’s a book! That, don’t tell me, that’s a book, right?!
The instant I laid eyes on the spine of that book, color blasted back into my world . The heavy clouds that had weighed down on my mind were instantly driven away, and my very spirit was brightened in a moment .
“M… mister!! What’s this?! What do you call this?!”
“Ahh, that’s a book!”
Yessss! I finally found one! Books, they exist! It might just only be one, but they exist!
This book has scoured away my lingering depression from having been reborn into a world without any books . I tremble with emotion as I gaze longingly at its spine . It is absolutely too heavy for me to move, so it would merely be an ornament . From the looks of it, there’s no way that it isn’t prohibitively expensive, and there’s no way that I’ll be able to get my mother to buy it for me, no matter how much I pester her about it . However, if books like this exist, then there must be smaller, easier-to-carry books out there as well . I spin around to face the old man, eyes wide with raw hunger .
“Hey, mister, where can I find a store that sells books?”
“A store for books? There’s no store like that . ” He gives me a what-the-hell-is-this-kid-talking-about look, and my excitement drops down a couple of notches . There’s books, so why are there no bookstores?
“…Huh? Why? You’re selling one here . ”
“Books are only made when people transcribe them from the author’s original work, so they’re far too rare and valuable to just sell on the market . Even this one here ain’t actually for sale, it’s bein’ held as collateral for someone in the aristocracy . Well, if he don’t come back soon, I guess I’ll have to sell it, but the buyer’ll probably be another aristocrat . ”
Aristocrats!! If I were actually following the reborn-into-a-parallel-universe trope, I would have been born into the nobility! I would be able to read! Why am I just a commoner?!
Thoughts of slaughtering the aristocracy flash through my mind . They’re surrounded by books from the minute they’re born . What have they done to deserve such a blessing?
“Little missy, is this the first book you’ve ever seen?”
I tear my eyes away from the book, nodding vigorously in reply to the old man’s question . Yes, this is the first book I’ve ever seen in this world . On top of that, they’re not usually for sale, and there’s no bookstores, and there’s a very good chance that such a chance encounter may never ever happen again . …and, so!!
“M… mister!! Please, hear me out!”
With my fists clasped tightly together, I stand straight up, then fall to my knees in front of the shopkeeper . “What’s all this now?” he says, wide-eyed in surprise as I kneel before him .
This isn’t just an idle wish . What I need to demonstrate to this man is that this is the foundation at the heart of my foundation, and the most sincere demonstration in the world is begging on your hands and knees . I bow my head sharply, and do my best to explain my feelings as clearly and frankly as I can .
“It may be obvious that I cannot buy that book, but, at least, let me touch it! Let me rub my face against it! At the very least, let me sniff it, let me breathe in the scent of its ink! Just that would be enough!!”
…The silence that filled the air after my heartfelt request was almost to painful to bear, yet the shopkeeper gave no reply . Timidly, I raise my head to look up at him . For some reason, he looks like he’s swallowed a bug, or maybe like he’s spotted some unbelievably disgusting pervert . Shock and disgust play across his face as he looks down at me .
Huh? Did my sincerity fail to shine through?
“I… don’t know if I’m really understandin’ what you mean, but… I think it might be dangerous for me to let you touch that . ”
I start to reiterate my passionate request, but my time is apparently up .
“Maine, I’m done!” says my mother . “Let’s head home . ”
Tears start falling from my eyes as soon as I hear her voice . The book’s right there, but I’ll never touch it . I’ll never smell it .
“What’s wrong, Maine?” she asks me, concerned . A dangerous look flashes across her face, and she spins around to face the shopkeeper . “What did you do to her?!”
I jump between them and shake my head vigorously . “N… nothing! Nothing!” If I don’t clear this misunderstanding up immediately, then I’d be just heaping more problems on the kind old man who let me take shelter in his shop and taught me about books . That’s no way to return a favor .
“I don’t feel too good . Mommy, what did you make me drink? I’ve been feeling really funny since I woke up . ”
“……Ahhh, maybe the liquor I used to wake you up was a little too effective . Let’s get you home, get you some water, and get you a nice quiet place to rest . You’ll be all right . ”
My mother nods her head in understanding, but it doesn’t look like she’s thinking at all about whether or not it was a bad idea to have given alcohol to a child in the first place . She takes my hand, and with a tug starts pulling me back towards home . I look behind me as I walk away, and smile my biggest smile at the two shopkeepers .
“Thanks for letting me sit down!”
I didn’t bow, like I’m accustomed to, but not because I’m emotionally compromised . Rather, I don’t remember actually seeing anyone bowing their heads, so I don’t think that’s the custom here . For now, I’ll just keep smiling . A great smile is indispensable when dealing with other people, and from the way they’re smiling and waving back, it looks like my guess was correct .
“Maine, are you still feeling bad?” asks my mother .
“…Yeah . ”
We don’t say very much as we trudge home, hand in hand . I look at the shops along our route home, and, of course, there aren’t any bookstores . My goal for today of coercing my mother into getting me a children’s book and maybe learning a few letters has ended in complete failure . Even though this city is home to the lord of the land, even though we are surrounded by such spectacular walls, there’s no bookstore here . If books truly aren’t for sale, even here, then there might not be a bookstore anywhere in the world .
I’m in despair . I had never thought that God could be so cruel as to force me, Urano Motosu, the book enthusiast who could go a day or two without eating as long as she had a book to read, to live a life bereft of books .
At least, why wasn’t I born a noblewoman… Sniff! To reincarnate me as a peasant… God… what did I do to earn this hatred?
Even if I say that I want my parents to become nobility so that they can buy me books, those are just childish fantasies . I’d never say that I don’t want to have been born into this family . Really, though, I want to be an aristocrat . If I can’t be an aristocrat, I at least want enough money to be able to buy all the books out of a disgraced aristocrat’s estate .
I may be stuck in this awful environment, but I know for a fact that no matter how hard I cry, it’s not going to get me a book . If there aren’t any bookstores, I can’t buy a book .
So, how am I going to get one?
I’m just going to have to make them myself, aren’t I?
Really, what I truly want are books from this world, but that’s an unreasonable luxury . In order to fulfill my most urgent desires, I’m going to have to put off learning how to read the language here . Instead, I’ll make books in Japanese, which I already know .
I haven’t yet figured out how I’m going to do all that, but that doesn’t matter right now . I will definitely acquire a book!