Since I don’t have any books, I’ll make some myself .
Ever since I decided on that particular course of action, my mood has improved drastically, and I’ve been way more forward-thinking . Trouble is, there isn’t a single scrap of paper in this house . This is something I know from my earlier home explorations . So, I need to go and buy paper, but I have no idea where I’d find it . Trouble is, this town doesn’t have any convenience stores, hardware stores, supermarkets, or stationery shops .
Well, where the heck do I go to buy paper? The old man at the general store said that you have to copy books by hand if you want them, so I think there might be blank books available for sale . Although, where the heck do I find those? Perhaps there’s a store that deals exclusively in paper .
If I were in Japan, I’d be done in an instant . I’d write everything out on loose-leaf in a binder, or in a notebook, or on stapled-together printer paper . Here, though, there’s no end to my problems .
There isn’t any paper in the house, so I’m going to need to start searching for some if I want to have any chance of making a book . My mother went to work this morning, so right now at home there’s just Tory and me . Of course, this means there’s only one person around to interrogate .
“Tory,” I ask, “Do you know where to buy ‘paper’?”
“Hm? What did you say?” she replies .
“’Paper’! Where do I go to… oh!”
Tory looks at me quizzically, her braided hair swinging as she tilts her head to one side . This is the face of someone who doesn’t understand the Japanese word I just used .
Not good . I don’t know how to say “paper” in this language . Argh! I really should have asked the old guy at the general store what it was called!
“…you wouldn’t know, huh?”
“Sorry, Maine,” says Tory, “I guess I don’t . That’s a funny word, though . ”
I hang my head with a dramatic jerk, and let out a deep sigh . The truth is, not knowing where to buy paper is just one of my problems . I also have no idea where to find pencils or pens . Based on what I’ve seen of this city, I doubt anything like a mechanical pencil or a ballpoint exists . Even fountain pens might be unlikely .
Well then, what should I use a writing implement? And, of course, where should I go to find it? And, above all, I’m certainly not able to go out, by myself, in order to buy all of these materials . This really is troublesome .
“Ah!” exclaims Tory, from the kitchen . “Dad forgot this!”
I make my way over to the kitchen, where Tory is holding a bundle .
Sure enough, this looks like the thing from this morning, where our father had suddenly said “I need that thing for work, can you get it out for me” and our mother had gotten mad and shot back “why didn’t you ask me earlier”, then she frantically tore apart the storage room looking for it . Thinking about how mad she would be if she were to find out that our father had then forgotten that thing sends shivers down my spine .
“Tory, Mommy’s going to be mad, right?”
“You think so too, Maine?”
I don’t know if it’s this family or this world, but people here are very forthright about their emotions . When they laugh, it’s with a booming voice and an idiotic grin, and when they’re mad, they burn like a raging fire . In other words, my mother’s explosive anger is terrifying .
“Tory, should we take this to Daddy?” I ask .
“…Ummm, well, leaving you alone is, uh…”
When she had stepped outside for just a moment to wash the dishes, I snuck out of the bedroom and then cried my eyes out . When I had gone outshopping with our mother, I fainted and collapsed in a heap . My family’s estimation of me is probably scraping rock bottom, so Tory probably isn’t going to let me out of her sight .
“If Daddy doesn’t have this he’ll be in trouble, right?”
“…Maine, are you able to walk all the way to the gates?”
Rather than leaving me alone, it looks like we’re going to go out together . Thinking of the distance between here and the town market makes me a little bit uneasy, but my mother’s wrath is far more terrifying . I clench my fist and put on my bravest face .
“I’ll… I’ll do it!” I say .
“Well, let’s go, then . ”
Package in hand, we depart, bundled up in our countless layers of clothing . Although we may be wearing many layers, we are not at all fashionable in the slightest . This is entirely for protection from the cold .
By the way, my selection of clothing includes two pairs of underwear, two woolen one-piece dresses, one knitted woolen sweater, two pairs of knit pants that are kind of like long johns, and two pairs of socks, also knitted out of wool . I am wearing every single piece of it .
“Tory, isn’t this too heavy to move in?” I had asked, while we were bundling up .
“If we don’t wear it all, though, the wind’s going to break in through the patches and seams, you know? You catch cold super easily too, so you definitely have to wear everything . ”
There had been no arguing with my mother when she made me do this, but I briefly entertained the notion that maybe I’d be able to push back against Tory . She, however, was adamant that I dress appropriately to keep myself healthy . I surrendered to her strong sense of responsibility and put everything on . Thanks to that, it’s very hard to move right now .
Tory is really fit, so even though she’s bundled up just as tightly as I am, she’s as nimble as she usually is . To make things worse, she’s always going out to collect firewood with the other children and run errands for our mother, so she’s used to walking around a lot . I, on the other hand, am neither strong nor fast . And I’m wearing a ton of clothing .
“Maine, are you alright?” “Haaah… haaah…” I pant, “If we go… a little slower… I’ll be fine . ”
Just like last time, I’m out of breath after climbing down all those stairs . I walk at my own pace . If I push it too hard and collapse, I’m just going to burden Tory even more . It’s important for me to start building her trust in me back up .
Even so, walking on cobblestones is haaaard…
They’re extremely uneven, so if you aren’t paying too much attention to where you step, your foot will get caught and you’ll fall on your face . I hold onto Tory’s hand, letting her do the navigating while I concentrate on putting my feet in the right place .
From a little ways away, a boy’s voice rings out . “Oh hey, it’s Tory! What are you up to?”
I raise my head . Three boys, wearing wooden backpacks and carrying bows, come running up to us . With red, blond, and pink hair, the trio is certainly eye-catchingly colorful .
Their clothing might have originally been dyed, but years of dirt and food stains have made them a mottled gray . They seem like hand-me-downs, covered in patches . It’s not that different than what I’m wearing, so their standard of living is probably the same as ours .
“Ah, Ralph! And Lutz and Fey too!”
Since Tory seems so friendly with these three, it’s likely that Maine has some sort of connection to them as well . I scrunch up my forehead in concentration, digging through Maine’s memories .
Ah, yep, there it is . Oh, they’re the neighborhood kids .
Ralph, same age as Tory . He’s redheaded and is the strongest . The leader of the kids, gives off an atmosphere as if he’s everyone’s big brother .
Fey, also the same age as Tory . Pink-haired, with the kind of mischievous face you’d see on the worst kind of prankster . He and Maine never got very close, maybe because of the differences in their constitution, so she doesn’t have very many memories of him .
Lutz, Ralph’s younger brother and the same age as me . He tries to act like he’s my older brother, but he comes across like a cute little boy that wants to grow up .
The three of them seem to be part of Tory’s usual party when she heads off to the forest, and it seems like they sometimes brought Maine along with them . The memories of those few outings seem much clearer than Maine’s other memories .
While my focus was turned inward as I dug through my memory, Tory had struck up a lively conversation with Ralph .
“My dad forgot something, so we’re going to the gates to bring it to him,” she says . “You guys going to the forest?”
“Yeah . Wanna go to the gate together?”
When I see how her face lights up as she talks to Ralph, I realize how much trouble I’m putting her through every day . Of course heading off to the forest with your friends is way more fun than babysitting, isn’t it? I’m sorry for being such a drag of a little sister . Although, my fever has been down for a few days, so it should be okay for me to start going out again . Specifically, to go out and find a store that will sell me some paper .
When the other kids had just joined up with us, they’d started going at my speed, but Tory suddenly sped up . Since we’re holding hands, I’m pulled along with her . Quickly, my feet get tangled together .
“Maine?!” Tory immediately stops moving, so I don’t fall flat on my face, but I do scrape my knee . “I’m so sorry! Are you okay?”
“…Yeah . ”
My knee doesn’t hurt very much, but now that I’ve sat down, standing up seems so hard . I just want to rest a little . As I think about how oppressive this situation is, Lutz offers me his hand .
“…Hey, Maine . Want to ride on my pack?”
Lutz, you’re such a good kid!
According to Maine’s memories, Ralph and Fey are always acting like they’re better than Lutz, so even though he’s the same age as Maine, he tries to act like her older brother, especially because she’s so small and weak . Whenever she started getting too exhausted, he’d take her pack so she could keep going . What a gentleman!
On top of that, his blond hair is a color that I’m actually used to seeing, unlike pink or green, which is comforting .
“Maine, are you getting another fever? If it’s getting too hard, I can carry you . ”
Lutz seems so happy . Seriously, he does! However, even though he’s bigger than me, we’re still the same age, so having him carry me on his back might be kind of bad…
As I worry about what I should do, Ralph sighs a little, then puts down his backpack .
“Lutz,” he says, “if you’re carrying her, it’ll take us forever to get to the forest . I’ll carry Maine . Lutz, you take my bow, Fey, you take my backpack . ”
Lutz scowls resentfully at Ralph . He must feel like his good deed was just snatched away from him .
I grab his hand tightly . “You were the first to help me, Lutz,” I say, smiling broadly . “You’re so kind . Thanks! You made me happy . ”
Being praised for noticing me seems to be enough for Lutz . He smiles shyly, and takes Ralph’s bow without complaint .
If you praise a child for being kind, they’ll keep that kindness with them as they grow up . I’m speaking, of course, from my adult perspective .
“Hey, come here,” says Ralph, beckoning .
“Okay! Thanks, Ralph,” I reply .
Ralph is just a little bit bigger than Tory . I lean my weight against his back . There’s no need here for the shyness of a little girl . No need at all . With me riding securely on his back, Ralph starts walking at a steady pace .
My field of view is about thirty to forty centimeters higher than it usually is, and the world looks so different from up here . Or, more precisely, I don’t have to keep my eyes on the ground to avoid tripping, so I can actually look around freely . On top of that, Ralph doesn’t have to slow down to match my usual pace, so the scenery is flowing by at a steady rate .
“Whoa, I’m so high!” I exclaim . “So fast, too!”
“Don’t get too excited, okay?” he says . “You’ll get sick again . ”
“Yeah! I’ll be careful . ”
Eh heh heh, being a frail little girl has its advantages~! Even better, boys who keep going to the forest to get firewood are pretty strong . He’s got way more muscle than you’d expect from a kid .
If I compare these people to my recollection of what Japanese elementary schoolers are like, there is a significant difference in physique . This might not be a fair comparison, though; not only is the lifestyle very different, but these people are of a different race .
Another thing I shouldn’t be comparing to Japan is the scenery . Thin streams of filth ooze out from the narrow alleys, and the pack mules that wander up and down the main street are walking through piles of their own shit…
It’s… it’s not like I’ve been specifically staring at the filth! This is just the kind of spectacle that you’d never see in Japan, so I was a little surprised, so of course my eyes were drawn to it!
Unlike when I had gone out to the town market, the streets are filled with people going to work, so I can’t see into any of the first-floor shops as we go past . The shops that deal only in commodities have glass windows, but from here, all I can see are the signs hung above the doors . To make things worse, all of the buildings along the street are of similar color and design, so my eyes are, of course, drawn to anything that stands out in the slightest . It’s not my fault!
“You okay, Ralph?” asks Tory, looking a little concerned . “Maine isn’t too heavy?”
Ralph shifts me around slightly with a jolt, securing his grip . He turns his head away a little . “I said it was okay,” he says, curtly . “Maine’s really tiny, and she’s light . If we let her walk, wouldn’t it trouble you more?”
I can sympathize with the shy expression on Tory’s troubled face, and I want to help her out . Aren’t you supposed to be thanking her right now?
…Oh ho! Ralph’s just a boy! Perhaps he’s interested in Tory? He’s trying to use me to get into her heart . I don’t particularly mind, though . Alright, let’s make this puppy love happen!
…Of course, this is just my particular delusion . The both of them are still very young, so they probably aren’t able to really feel true love… but I have no books to keep me busy, so at least let me have my fantasies .
Then, Ralph suddenly says “Tory, you smell… nice,” acting so smooth as he smells her hair . What the hell, kid, do you think you’re the hero of a YA romance novel? Then, of course, Tory blushes shyly and says “Really? Thanks…”
I may not have very many bittersweet experiences under my own belt, even at 22, but Tory is so ridiculously sweet at six years old that it’s only natural for me to have these sorts of thoughts, right?
I never used to pay it any mind when people told me that I’d never have any sort of male presence in my life if I just stayed in my dream world, reading my books and lost in my fantasies . It wasn’t just my family telling me this; even Shuu from next door kept saying it . None of your business! Idiots . Idiots!
While I was distracted by my irritating memories of Japan, Ralph and Tory’s puppy love has blossomed into a proper reverse harem, with Tory in the middle .
“Oh, yeah! It does smell good!”
Fey and Lutz have also moved in on Tory, smelling her braided hair . They’re all about the same age, so this is definitely a reverse harem .
“Whoa, your hair is super glossy!”
“What did you do to it?”
Eh heh heh . That’s right, that’s right!
Satisfied with the surprised reactions of the reverse harem’s members, I nod approvingly from my vantage point on Ralph’s back . I’ve keeping a potpourri of dried flowers in our clothing box, boiling water at dinner time so that Tory and I can give ourselves sponge baths, washing our hair with herb oils and carefully brushing it out, and, bit by bit, bringing up the level of hygiene in our house .
It looks like my efforts are finally starting to pay off!
Incidentally, Ralph and co . are a little bit on the smelly side . Everything around here stinks, so I’ve somewhat gotten used to it, but things that stink still stink . Although I’d never say it out loud, from my position on Ralph’s back, I can definitely say that he stinks .
I really want to make everyone start washing with soap . The only soap kept at home is a foul-smelling animal-based soap that’s used for cleaning and doing laundry . Nobody has any nice-smelling vegetable-based soaps to wash themselves with, which is terrible .
Aaaah, even just hand soap would be nice…
As I spaced out, lost in my own thoughts, Lutz suddenly tugs on my hair, sniffing it like he did to Tory’s . “Maine, you smell good too! I can see your face really well with your hair up like that too, you look really cute . ”
He gazes innocently at me with his pale green eyes .
Not good! Lutz, your color scheme is too good! Blond hair and green eyes, that’s the recipe for a really hot dude!
Noooooooo! My opponent is a child, why am I suddenly so shy?! I know he has zero intentions, but the framing of this scene is just too awkward! Please, stop! I should be old enough to know better, but I have no experience with these things! I can’t cope!!
I’m the only one here who’s trying to keep their heart from doing backflips . Everyone else is already talking about the things they’re going to find in the forest or when they think the first snowfall of the season will come . Ignoring how I’m about to faint, Lutz is bragging about how much better he’s gotten at shooting his bow lately . Unlike Tory, who’s shyly thanking everyone for their help, I can barely say a word . My heart is pounding again .
For five and six year olds to do this stuff so calmly, is this normal?! What’s with this world! What’s a humble, shy, pure girl to do? Will my heart be stained by evil?
…Don’t you dare ask who I was calling a pure girl!