Respect for Ancient Egypt
Now then, even though I have my heart absolutely set on making books, I have yet to actually secure a source of paper . My Japanese sensibilities are telling me that I should just go to an office supply store, where they sell five hundred sheets of copy paper for two hundred yen1, but in the world I live in now, just one page of parchment would make an entire month’s worth of my father’s salary disappear .
To make that just one page, a hide has to be stripped, all of the fur shaved off, and then from the largest usable part of a single animal’s hide, sheets must be cut that are of a size that’s easy to work with . The page that I saw at my father’s workplace was about the size of an A4 sheet of paper2 . If I were to cut up a single page of parchment, I wouldn’t get more than about five to eight usable pages . To put it plainly, it’s so expensive that there’s no way a commoner like me could possibly buy enough to write a book .
So, if I’m going to make a book, I need to make some paper .
However, I know nothing about how to actually make paper other than what I’ve read in books . After all, paper has always been something that I could just go to a store and buy . I could go into any drugstore and find loose-leaf paper and notebooks with the rest of the school supplies . I lived in a world where people would just hand out little notepads on the street as promotional items . Banks gave out free calendars, and my mailbox was stuffed full of unwanted flyers that went straight into the trash .
If I had one of those unwanted flyers now, I’d read every last word on it, and treasure every centimeter of the margin . A world where paper can be obtained so easily is such a luxurious one . Viva, Japan! If I were to be reborn someday, Japan would be nice .
To make things worse, there aren’t any machines here for making paper! If I don’t have a machine to help me, the entire process is going to have to be done entirely through my own manual labor .
You must be thinking that the solution to my problems is so obvious, now that I’ve been reborn in an alternate world without machines . I read a lot of books, you’re thinking, so I have a lot of knowledge that I can use, right? …Please, think about it for a little bit .
All I ever wanted to do was read, and I thought that even using electrical appliances to do the daily chores was too much work . You think that such a worthless Japanese woman could suddenly start doing all the manual labor required to make paper by hand? On top of that, my current body is a child, with a weak constitution, who simply can’t do some things, isn’t allowed to do others, and is otherwise extremely restricted in action .
In conclusion: there’s no way in hell .
However, it’s too early to give up . Throughout the world’s history, businesses and governments have needed to keep records . This goes back to ancient times, but machine-made paper certainly isn’t that old . In other words, I might be able to take the ancient methods used in ancient times and reproduce them here and now .
Hmmm, what did they do before they had machines?
I scrunch up my eyebrows and open my tiny five-year-old’s hands (more like three-year-old’s because of my tiny physique) as far as they can go, concentrating hard .
Ancient civilizations, ancient civilizations… If you’re talking about ancient civilizations, Ancient Egypt is first on the list! And, if you’re talking about Ancient Egypt, you have to talk about papyrus! Three cheers for Ancient Egypt!
Thanks to that word-association game, I’ve hit upon the idea of making Papyrus like the Ancient Egyptians did . If it’s something they invented in ancient history, I should be able to do it myself, somehow, even with my tiny hands .
I think that they made it out of some kind of plant, like a straight tree or tall grass… probably . Here, there are plenty of plants . I’m positive that I could find plants suitable for making paper scattered around the forest .
Yeah, the forest . Let’s go to the forest .
Whenever it came to books, I’d always happily do whatever impossible legwork I needed to do . My family, and even little Shu always looked on with wonder, then sighed in lament . So, now that I’ve got this idea, I want to implement it immediately . I try begging Tory to take me with her to the forest .
“Tory, I wanna go to the forest too! Can I go w―”
“Eh?! You?! No way!”
She shot me down before I even had a chance to finish talking . She reacted so fast that it was obvious she hadn’t even had to think twice . On top of that, she said “no way”, not “you shouldn’t”, which implied that there wasn’t any room for me to change her mind, which really hurt .
“You couldn’t make it there, you know?” she says, then starts counting the reasons off on her fingers . “If you can’t make it to the gates, you absolutely can’t make it all the way to the forest . And when we go to the forest, we’re going to gather firewood, fruits, and nuts, right? You really can’t take it easy out there . Also, can you even climb a tree? And when we’re coming back, would you be able to carry a big, heavy box on your back while you walk? If we wanted to make it back before the gates closed for the day, we wouldn’t be able to take any breaks on the way back . There’s no way you can do it, see?”
The list is a little long, but it essentially all boils down to “you’re not strong enough” .
“Also,” she says, “it’s almost winter, so there aren’t really many things we can find in the forest right now…”
Even if I were to make it, there isn’t really anything to harvest, she’s saying .
This is really tough . Do I go to the forest even though there might not be anything to harvest, or do I give up on making paper? This decision is way too tough .
Tory notices the deep look of worry on my face . “What do you want to get?” she asks, tilting her head to one side . “There’s not going to be many melia fruits left, you know . ”
Melia fruits are what I’ve been making our simple shampoo out of . We haven’t been eating the fruits Tory brings back; instead, we’ve been extracting all of the oil from them and storing it . Then, occasionally, we use it as a moisturizer for our hair .
I’d be happy to get more melia, but the important thing here is not beauty, it’s books . I need plant fibers to use as raw materials for my pseudo-papyrus .
“Ummm… are there any ‘plants whose fibers can be easily extracted’?”
Tory has a dubious look on her face, so I repeat myself . That’s definitely the face of someone who did not understand my Japanese . I think for a moment, then try to explain it again using very easy-to-understand words .
“…I need grass with a straight, fat stalk . I just want the stalk . ”
“Hmmm…” Tory ponders my question . Does she have some kind of idea? I watch her intently as I wait for a reply . After a little while, she shrugs her shoulders with a resigned look on her face .
“Sure, I’ll try asking Ralph and Lutz for help . ”
“Huh?” She didn’t say she was going to do it for me, but she said she’d try?
I don’t quite understand what she’s getting at, and I tilt my head to one side . Tory seems a little surprised by my reaction . I blink a few times, my head tilted confusedly, as if to ask her what she said just now .
“Ralph’s family raises chickens, you know? They need a lot of feed to make it through the winter . ”
Uh, even if you say “you know,” I didn’t actually know that . Tory’s saying these things as if they’re blatantly obvious, though, so I keep my actual reaction hidden . “Oh yeah!” I say .
“So, I’ll offer to help them gather grass, then I’ll try asking them for some stalks . The seasons where we get a lot of grass are over now, so there might not be that much, okay?”
“That’s okay! Thanks, Tory!”
Really, Tory, you’re an amazing older sister .
The next day, I accompany Tory downstairs as she leaves to go to the forest, and ask Ralph and Lutz if they’ll help me . They agree to do it, and I breathe a small sigh of relief . However, there’s no way I’m going to rely solely on them .
I’m going to go and gather some grass myself . Fortunately, grass grows around the well in the places the paving stones don’t cover . I don’t know if the stalks can be used, though .
“Mommy, I want to go down to the well with you . ”
“Oh! Do you want to help out?”
“Nuh-uh . Something else . ” It might be kind of rude, but if I spend all my time helping out, I won’t be able to gather any grass . “I wanna gather grass . ” I show her the little basket Tory made earlier .
“Ah, do your best . ”
I may have refused to help out, but she’s still letting me accompany her down, whether it’s because she doesn’t want to get in the way of my enthusiasm or because she’s happy that I have enough strength to move around like this .
Once again, I go down the stairs, following my mother as she carries the laundry down . This is my second trip today, so just going down the stairs made me so winded that there’s no way I can gather any grass .
I rest next to my mother as she draws water from the well, then uses a foul-smelling, not-foamy, animal-based detergent to start scrubbing away at the laundry .
“Ohh! If it isn’t little Maine!” calls out a woman, who I don’t recognize, in a friendly voice .
“Good morning,” I say politely .
“Ah, Carla!” says my mother, with a smile . “Morning . You’re up early today . ”
From my mother’s reaction, it would seem that I’m misremembering . This must be an acquaintance of Maine’s . I try to keep my lack of recognition off of my face while I dig through my memories a little .
I really do know this person . According to my memory, this is Ralph and Lutz’s mother . She’s got a fairly strong build and, hmmmm, actually seems like a very reliable person .
So, should I something like, “thanks for all your help”? Wait, no, no, that is absolutely not what a five-year-old would say . What does a little kid say to an older woman that she’s on really good terms with? Someone, help!
Carla looks over at me as I’m caught up in spinning thoughts around my head, then goes to draw water from the well . She hauls the bucket up effortlessly, then starts washing her own laundry as well . Of course, she’s using the foul animal-based soap .
“How are you doing today, Maine?” she asks . “It’s rare to see you outside . ”
“I’m picking some grass! Ralph and Lutz said that they’re gathering it for the chickens . ”
“Aww, for us? You shouldn’t have,” she says, in a tone of voice that seems to imply that it’s no big deal either way as she continues to pound away at her laundry .
She, along with my mother, is having a lively conversation about this and that with the other mothers that have gathered around the well . Incidentally, it’s amazing how all of these mothers are talking so much while continuing to work so diligently .
Nevertheless, this soap really stinks . If you tried using some herbs to help erase the smell, wouldn’t it be nicer? Or maybe would the two smells multiply and turn into an unbearable stench?
Reminded of my plans for improvement, I stand up and start tearing grass from the ground . I try to look for plants with thick, straight stalks that I can use, but I can’t actually tear those out with my own strength .
Doing this with my bare hands is impossible . Someone, get me a sickle, please…
Of course, no sickle arrives, and there’s no way I can get any of this with just my bare hands . Well, whatever . I’m going to just rely on Tory, Ralph, and Lutz, who went to the forest to help feed the chickens .
I’ve given up on finding grass that I can use, so I start pulling up the little sprouts or weaker leaves that the chickens might be able to eat . Even I can pull these out with no problem .
“Maine, it’s time to go!” calls my mother, holding her tub full of tightly wrung-out clothes . It seems like she’s done with the laundry already . I’ve barely filled my little basked halfway, but my mother has to go to work today, and there’s no way I’m going to get scolded for being selfish . I pick up my basket, and start walking back home .
“Are you all set?” she asks . “Right, let’s go . ”
When I first became Maine, I had a fever and my mother was taking time off from work to take care of me, so I didn’t know anything but how life inside my own home was like . Now that I’m healthy again, it seems that I’m going to be left in the care of my elderly neighbor, who’s agreed to babysit me .
If she hadn’t, Tory wouldn’t be able to go to the forest . Got it .
“Mommy’s got to go to work now, Maine . Be a good girl and keep quiet, okay?”
“I’ll leave her to you, Gerda . ”
“Right, right,” she says . “Come, Maine . ”
Gerda’s place is full of other children, being watched over just like me . All of these kids are basically infants, who could only really escape by toddling away . In this town, when you’re about three years old, you’re strong enough to start going with your older brothers and sisters to the forest and helping out with the chores . In short, it seems like my family thinks that I’m as weak as a toddler, and can’t stay at home by myself .
What the heck?!
As I fume about my family’s shocking evaluation of my own worth, I see a boy pick up a toy that had fallen on the ground and move to stick it in his mouth . Next to him, a tiny little girl suddenly started crying and hitting him .
“Whoa, gross!” I exclaim . “Don’t put that in your mouth!”
“Oh my,” says the old lady .
“Don’t just start hitting him,” I say to the little girl . “What’s going on?”
“Now, now,” says the old lady .
I’m supposed to be just another kid getting baby-sat, but as the biggest kid around I’ve started watching out for the other kids .
“Oh my,” “now, now,” what the heck! Gerda, old lady, do your job!
While I help Gerda put the littlest kids to sleep, I start thinking about how I’m going to turn the grass stalks I’m going to get into papyrus .
Honestly, I don’t really remember how papyrus was made . I never actually had to know .
Certainly, I remember seeing papyrus . It was remarkably thick, with fibers running horizontally and vertically . The fibers on the back were different from the ones on the front and only one side was writable, and there was a note to the side instructing us not to bend it… but there wasn’t anything written there about how it was made .
Even more troubling, I can’t remember what the photo I saw of it getting made even looked like . I have a hunch about how I might make the fibers all run in the right direction, but how do I bond them together? Is it like rice paper? Do I need some kind of glue or binding agent?
As I think back on how those historical documents neglected to mention these important details, my head tilts to one side . For now, I think I’ll try taking a part of the fibers from the hardest stems, then weaving them horizontally and vertically as tightly as I can . With this, I think I won’t need any sort of binding agent . That parchment seemed kind of cloth-like, and this is still my first time making pseudo-papyrus, so if I’ll be satisfied if I can just get a page i can write on .
“Maine, someone’s here for you,” says Gerda .
It’s evening time, so Tory and the others have come back from the forest to pick me up . I’m so relieved . I was so glad to hear that someone came for me . That emotion sweeps over me, and I cling tightly to Tory .
Old lady Gerda’s babysitting did not involve looking after anyone . If something wasn’t very dangerous, she’d just leave it be . If someone peed somewhere, she’d wipe it up with a wet cloth and do nothing else . The room reeked of filth . Since I’ve got the common knowledge of Japan stuck in my head, it’s obvious that this day-care is truly terrible . Leaving your kids with a baby-sitter like that is truly terrible .
Really, I want to do something about it, but the problem’s too big for my tiny hands . I can’t do any of the things I’m thinking of with my own hands, and I also don’t know if Gerda’s methods are common or not around here . If I start complaining, they might think that I’m the crazy one . I really wanted to run away from that deplorable environment as fast as I could . I waited in agony, wishing that someone would hurry up and come get me .
“What’s wrong, Maine?” asks Tory, patting me on the head . “Did you get lonely after staying there for so long?”
“When you get a little bit stronger, you can totally start coming with us to the forest,” says Ralph . “It would be great if you could come with us in the spring!” says Lutz .
I suddenly realize that I absolutely must get stronger . Every single one of my problems has been because I’m too weak .
“Oh, right!” says Ralph . “Here’s the grass stalks we promised you . ” He reaches into his basket and grabs a fistful of grass to show me . In an instant, my worries about the old lady Gerda are blasted out of my head . The important thing here is not old ladies, it’s books . It’s paper .
“Oh, so much! I’m so happy! Hey, while I was down at the well, I helped get you some grass too!”
I stand tall and proud as I deliver this information, but for some reason the three of them just pat my head . To make things worse, Lutz looks down at me with a warm smile, like he’s praising me for having tried my hardest .
Hey, how much does everyone think that I’m a child that can’t do anything useful? …I mean, I guess I can’t actually do real work, though .
I exchange the grass I’d collected in the little basket that Tory made for the grass that the three of them had collected for me .
Now then, with this, it’s time to make some pseudo-papyrus .