Ascendance of a Bookworm – 055
As we work on our hairpin handicrafts, someone knocks on our front door . Tuuli and I exchange glances, then she gets up to see what’s going on .
“Yes, who is it?”
“It’s me, Lutz . I’ve brought some pins with me . ”
“Alright, let me open up for you . ”
Tuuli unlocks the door, and it creaks open, letting in a gust of fresh, freezing air . Lutz walks in, snow still clinging to him .
“Whoaaa, it looks cold out there,” I say .
“Is it snowing hard?” asks Tuuli .
“The road to the well was completely covered, but it isn’t that bad out right now,” says Lutz .
As we talk, all the snow falls off of him, landing where he stands, just inside the entranceway .
“Here, some pins . Each of my brothers made three of them, so there’s nine here . ”
He sets the pin parts of our hairpins out on the table . As he lines them up in a row, Tuuli stands up and goes to fetch the decorations that we’ve finished so far .
“Ah, so, how about we finish putting together the hairpins we can?” says my mother . “If we do that, though, we’re missing a few pins, you know?”
It looks like while I was out sick, she and my mother managed to finish quite a few decorations . I glance at the decorations she lines up on the table, and pose a question to Lutz .
“We’ve finished twelve decorations . You’ve brought nine pins with you . How many pins are we short by?”
“Oh? Umm… three . ”
“That’s right! Good job . You’ve been studying hard!” Glancing down, I notice that he has a bag in one hand, carrying his slate and his calculator . “Mommy, Tuuli, can I leave you to work on the hairpins? I’m going to go help Lutz study . ”
Tuuli blinks incredulously, tilting her head to one side . “I heard that you go do calculations at the gates, but do you really know how to teach it?”
“Um, yeah, I think I can teach basic reading and math . ”
I pout, sullenly, at how little faith my sister seems to have in me . Lutz, though, beams broadly .
“Maïne’s really amazing at reading and math! Well, she’s also really amazingly weak, too . ”
You could have stopped after the first sentence, Lutz .
Even though I shoot him a nasty glare, my mother and Tuuli got a good laugh out of it, so it doesn’t make a difference .
Lutz starts pulling out his slate and some slate pencils from his bag, so I run to the bedroom to go get my own things . From the wooden box by my bed, I pull out my soot pencils and the little memo book that I managed to assemble from the usable parts of our slightly-failed paper prototypes .
I’ve been thinking that I could work on my book-making project under the pretense of helping Lutz study . Ordinarily, when my mother and Tuuli are working diligently on their handicrafts, it feels really awkward to sit next to them and play around with this by myself . If I’m doing it while teaching Lutz, though, then the both of us are writing on things, so I don’t think it would look too out of place .
Now then, let’s get back to working on this book!
Since I’ve worked on this whenever I’ve been able to find bits of free time, I’ve gotten just a little bit of work done on writing down my mother’s bedtime stories, but it’s still not fleshed-out enough for me to really be able to call this little memo pad a proper book .
With my memo book, soot pencils, slate, and slate pencils held in my arms, I cheerfully start heading back to the kitchen . Before I get there, though, I hear my mother speak .
“Lutz, don’t Karla and the rest of your family not like the idea of you becoming a merchant? Are you sure you’re okay with that?”
The sudden, serious question makes me stop dead in my tracks, my breath caught in my throat . Taking care to silence my footsteps, I slowly continue back into the kitchen .
Tuuli, seated next to my mother, is rigid and unmoving . Across from her sits Lutz, looking back at her with a stiff expression . As I sit down next to Lutz, my mother looks between the two of us, sighing, then opens her mouth to speak .
“I was wondering, you know, if Maïne was the reason you’ve been saying that you want to be a merchant . You’re such a kind boy, so I thought that perhaps Maïne said that she wanted to be one, and you’re following along to look after her . ”
“No way!” he immediately objects . “I said I wanted to be a merchant, and Maïne got me an introduction . She’s the one getting dragged along, not me . ”
Lutz was thinking that he wanted to become a trader, then he listened to what Otto had to say, learned about what citizenship meant, and decided he wanted to be a merchant instead . I honestly didn’t have much to do with that decision-making process at all .
My mother nods slightly, quietly staring at him . “I see . You’re the one who wants to be a merchant . But, if Maïne goes to the same apprenticeship as you do, then you’ll continue to look after her like you’re doing now, won’t you? If you’re spending time on her, then you’re not going to do a very good job at your actual job as an apprentice . You’re going to do sloppy work if you’re preoccupied with her all the time . ”
I think my mother’s warning hit Lutz right in the heart . Sitting next to him, I can tell that this unexpected revelation has caused his breath to catch in his throat . Her warning struck close to home for me, too . She’s not at all wrong .
While I worriedly grind my teeth, Lutz lifts his head determinedly to look at my mother .
“…I want to become a merchant, no matter what . Since I have Maïne here with me, I think that’s actually possible . So, while I do want to be as much help to her as I can, it’s not like I’m trying to become a merchant for her sake . ”
That’s right, Lutz has his own dreams, and being a merchant would put him in a much better place to let him do what he wants to do than being a craftsman would . Talking with Benno and Mark has only made him more sure of this . He may be doing everything with me, but there’s no way he’s becoming a merchant solely for my sake . This is the fastest way for him to get where he wants to go .
“Then, if Maïne can’t be there with you―say, if she’s too weak and has to quit her job―would you still continue trying to be a merchant?”
Lutz clenches his fists together tightly on top of the table, looking steadily into my mother’s eyes . “Yes,” he says, nodding slowly . “Of course I would . My mom and dad are telling me to stop and just be a craftsman, but I’m not going to give up now that I’ve made so much progress . Even if Maïne tells me to stop now, I’m still going to do it . ”
“I see,” she replies . “…Well, that’s good then! All I’ve heard is what Karla’s been telling me, so I’ve been a bit concerned . Thanks for talking with me about this, Lutz . ”
To Karla, it probably looks like I’m making Lutz follow along behind me . That isn’t entirelyfalse, given how visible my condition is, but it seems like she barely even half-listens to what Lutz says and is punishing him for the warped view of his goals that she thinks he has .
And then, even though she told him to stop, he refused…
I actually kind of want to know just what it was that Karla said to my mother, but I have a feeling she wouldn’t tell me if I asked . I’m pretty sure she’d just say that if I wanted to know so badly, I should go ask her myself .
“Mrs . Eva,” asks Lutz, “I have something I’d like to ask you too . ”
“What is it?” she replies, tilting her head to one side . I can tell from the way she is looking quietly back at Lutz that she intends to answer seriously .
Lutz breaths a little sigh of relief before opening his mouth . “Why aren’t you fighting against Maïne becoming a merchant? My mom and dad keep saying that merchants are people that everybody hates, so why let Maïne be one?”
Well, merchants are people who always take their commission fees and pinch their profit margins, so I guess it’s understandable for a craftsman to think badly of the profession, but… isn’t saying that literally everybody hates merchants a little too harsh?
As if she heard my thoughts, my mother smiles wryly at me, then frowns slightly, looking troubled .
“I think everyone has different ideas about what merchants are like, so I can’t say anything about an entire profession like that . But, to answer your question… I think the reason I’m not objecting is that Maïne’s always been very weak, you know?”
“Huh? It’s because she’s weak?” he replies, tilting his head uncomprehendingly to the side .
My mother smiles a little . “To be honest, I wasn’t sure if there was a job Maïne could do . I couldn’t imagine that anyone would be able to find a use for her . So, if she’s found herself a useful job where she can do the things that she’s good at, and she’s working as hard as she can to do it, how could I possibly object to that?”
My throat tightens a little when I hear those words . The motherly love she feels for me makes my eyes grow hot .
“Oh, okay . …I’m trying my hardest too, but they still won’t accept me, though…”
Hearing the bitter words he spits out, I reach out to put my hand on top of his .
“It would be good if they would, wouldn’t it?”
“Yeah . ”
“So, let’s make that happen . Which starts with studying!”
“Yeah, you’re right!”
Lutz smiles, and the mood immediately lightens . As the serious-talk atmosphere dissipates, Tuuli, who had been stock still the entire time, lets out a huge sigh of relief as she relaxes . She gets her sewing kit out and starts working on attaching decorations to pins . As I watch all this through the corner of my eye, I tap my finger on Lutz’s slate .
“Now, let’s start by reviewing your basic letters . Try writing them out, let’s see if you remember them all . ”
“Got it . ”
After giving Lutz his challenge, I resume my book-making project, writing down the stories my mother told me in my memo book . The soot pencils I’m using are much darker than a regular pencil would be, but they don’t cost me any money to use, unlike ink .
As I work, I occasionally glance over at Lutz’s slate to see how he’s doing . When I do, I see him writing out each letter without hesitation .
Lutz’s studying is almost going too well . When we start our apprenticeships together at Benno’s shop, his time to simply study is going to be dramatically reduced . Since he knows that this is going to be the most disadvantageous situation he could be in, he’s devouring information like he was starving .
Since his family’s displeasure at the idea that he might become a merchant is straining the atmosphere at his home so much, Lutz has been considering, in the worst case, leaving home entirely . For that reason, it’s really obvious that he’s in a hurry to cram every bit of information into his head as he can .
“Nice, you’ve got all the basic letters memorized, and you’ve written them out so neatly! That’s amazing, Lutz!”
“I’m just following your lead,” he replies .
Writing clean, legible letters is no easy feat without having practiced countless, countless times . Lutz isn’t like me, with my experience from my past life . Now that I think about that, I really do have to admire his raw perseverance .
“Since you’ve got your letters down, next let’s work on memorizing some words . Let’s practice by writing out ordering forms, which I think is going to be the most useful . ”
On my own slate, I try writing out a form for ordering lumber . Since this is something I wrote up countless times while making paper, I can get it down with ease . When I finish that, I also write down the names of Benno’s workshop and craftsman associates that I learned in the process .
“This is the name of the lumber merchant . This is where you put the name of the person making the order . When we were doing this, Mister Benno was doing the purchasing and then delivering it to us, so we’d put his name here . These are the kinds of lumber…”
Lutz watches me closely, trying his hardest to keep his transcriptions in pace with my writing .
“When spring comes around, do you want to try filling out the order forms for our paper-making supplies, Lutz?”
“Let’s practice a lot so that you can . ”
Having a concrete goal like that seems to have fired up his determination even more, as he starts earnestly practicing writing these forms, making sure not to misspell any words . I watch him work for a little while, then open my memo book back up and resume writing down my mother’s fairy tales . It’ll still take quite some time for me to finish copying down all of these bedtime stories .
“How about we practice math next?”
Having finally finished one story, I lean back and stretch my arms wide, calling out to Lutz . He looks up from his slate, where he’s practiced his vocabulary countless times by now, then nods at me, setting aside his slate and pulling his calculator from his bag .
“So, how about this for today?”
I start writing out math problems on my slate . Today, it’s addition and subtraction in three digits . After I get eight questions down, I look over and watch him as he uses his calculator . Unlike before, he’s barely hesitating at all as he flicks beads around on the device .
“Wow, you’re getting fast at that,” I say .
“I memorized how to do the ones-digit calculations like you said, and that’s made this way easier to do . ”
“Yeah . You’re getting faster at that than I am…”
The calculations that I’m teaching Lutz are simple enough that I can just do them in my head, so I haven’t really gotten any faster at using a calculator at all . As always, it’s much faster for me to just do the math on paper than it is for me to use a calculator .
It’s because I keep lending him my calculator so he can practice .
That’s the excuse I try telling myself . I don’t have a lot of time to work with it, so of course I’m not going to get any faster . If I were to actually have a calculator on hand all the time, though, it would… still be up for debate whether or not I’d actually practice as seriously with it as Lutz does .
“Your addition and subtraction is looking pretty good for now . When the number of digits starts growing, you’ll use the calculator the same way . ”
“Things start getting messy when there numbers get big, though,” he says, scratching at his cheek .
He’s been using a calculator for just about a month, though, so this is fantastic progress .
“I don’t know how to do multiplication or division on this either,” I say, “so I guess we’re stuck there . ”
Since I don’t know how to do it on the calculator, for now, the only way I can teach multiplication and division is through the times table . The numbers here doesn’t flow off the tongue like they do in Japanese, so I’ll need to adapt how we’ll be reading the times table out loud . It won’t be as easy to say, but as long as he can give a quick answer when given a pair of numbers, that won’t be a problem .
He’s also gotten good at reading large numbers and can accurately convert between currency denominations . With his absorption powers, if he tries hard during his initial training, I think he’ll be able to do just fine .
…Now, what the heck do I do?
What my mother said earlier is stuck very firmly in my mind . “If you’re spending time on her, then you’re not going to do a very good job at your actual job as an apprentice . You’re going to do sloppy work if you’re preoccupied with her all the time . ”
I am going to be nothing but a hindrance to Lutz when he’s trying to do his job . I have no strength, have no stamina, and am fundamentally useless . I guess I’ve got some use when it comes to product development, but since I don’t have any of this world’s common knowledge, without Lutz beside me to help me understand the situation, I’d wind up in a lot of trouble .
Now that I think about it, I made Benno worry, too .
I recall how he had asked me if I, with my condition, could actually work . I hum to myself thoughtfully as I ponder the answer . Here in the dead of winter, I have nothing but time to worry about this, so I absolutely have to think about this properly .
Can I actually work without being a hindrance to Lutz… or to the other employees at the shop? I wonder, what should I do?
The next day, I still didn’t have a good answer, so I continue thinking about it as I idly work with my crocheting needles .
As I work, my father calls out to me . “Maïne, if you’re feeling up to it, do you want to go to the gates? The snowstorm’s let up for today . ”
“Sure, I’ll go!”
I stand up with a clatter, immediately rushing to get ready to head out . I put my slate and slate pencils in my bag, then put on as many layers of clothing as I can so that I can brave the cold outdoors .
Otto is at the gates . He’ll have a merchant’s perspective and he’s a relatively uninvolved third party, so I’m certain he’ll be able to give me his unvarnished opinion if I ask him .
I’ll try asking him for advice about whether or not it’s actually alright for me to become an apprentice at Benno’s shop .