Mini After Story – Kazusa ending (Ch. 4)

Kazusa
“Japanese trains haven’t changed a bit…
Why is this thing so crowded?”
Haruki
“I don’t think you’ve ridden enough trains anywhere else
to be making that kind of comparison.
You don’t go out walking anywhere, you just take taxis.”
Kazusa
“I’ve earned it.
I don’t have to put up with this nonsense from my manager.”
Haruki
“You don’t have a bottomless supply of money for “expenses”…
You and your mother both need to do something about your wasteful habits.”
Kazusa
“Oh, we’ll be fine. We have people like you and Miyo-chan for that.
As long as you two are around, Youko Touma’s office is secure.”

…And so, carrying on conversations that had long since departed from any sort of point,
we gazed out the train window at the scenery that we hadn’t seen in years.

It was a few days after we had arrived in Japan—
December 30th. In two days, the year would be over.

We were in the midst of one of our holidays, which, as usual,
had come up suddenly, with no clear definition or ending point.

Train announcement
“Iwazu-cho. We have reached Iwazu-cho.
If you are departing, please mind the doors.”
Kazusa
“Here, this is our stop.
Hurry up.”
Haruki
“I know that.
Will you quit pulling on my necktie?
You know that’s dangerous.”
Kazusa
“Oh, listen to you! Bringing up something from that long ago…”
Haruki
“But if you’re saying that, that means you remember it, too, right?”
Kazusa
“…”
Haruki
“Getting caught up in memories?”
Kazusa
“Of course.
This was the station I always used, starting when I was a kid.”

The place we had decided to visit today was,
as the train announcer said, Iwazu-cho.

The town where Kazusa had lived until she graduated high school.

Kazusa
“Oh, that’s right.
What are we going to do about presents?
We can’t just show up empty-handed.”
Haruki
“I appreciate that you’re considerate enough now to worry about that,
but couldn’t you have brought it up when we were in Onjuku?
Around here, there’s nothing but convenience stores.”
Kazusa
“Haruki, you are underestimating convenience store sweets.
Times have changed. Nowadays, you can get stuff on a level
that’s suitable for formal gifts.”
Haruki
“You’re just the kind of person who buys stuff like that.
I’ve got you figured out.”

And, now…

Kazusa
“…”
Haruki
“…”

I already knew, but…

Seeing it before my eyes like this, I was still at a loss for words.

Because we were looking at a house
that had once been on the brink of ruin.

No doorplate,
a for-sale sign,
the yard overgrown.

Kazusa
“It really is just like it used to be.”
Haruki
“…Yeah.”

But now,
this place was calling up even older memories.

The day I looked up at it, astounded by its size.

The day I entered it, boggled by its splendor.

And the day that I felt admiration, respect, and sympathy
for the little girl living alone in that enormous mansion.

Haruki
“Let’s go.”
Kazusa
“Yeah.”

Harboring all of these recollections,
we walked up to the door of the house that had once been hers, and rang the bell.

…Even the bell sounded just like it had so long ago.

Youko
“Oh, how lovely to see you two! It’s been such a long time!”
Kazusa
“We had dinner together yesterday and the day before.”
Youko
“Come, now, Kazusa. That was just diplomacy, a rite of passage,
a formal engagement!”

The one who greeted us at the entrance
was the “current” owner of the house.

Really, she was the one who had owned the house this entire time.

Haruki
“You really did come back.”
Youko
“Well, in all these years I wasn’t able to sell it, so…”

Youko-san had decided six months ago to start living in this house again.

She had spent the entire time since then, up until the past month, reconstructing it,
and today, finally, she introduced us to it.

Normally, Kudou-san and I, who were supposed to oppose things like this,
would call it a “frivolous expense,”
and would never let something this self-indulgent slide.

Kazusa
“It doesn’t seem like anything has changed…”
Youko
“You’re right. I didn’t change a single thing.
Although, that actually meant it cost more money.”

Even the interior was perfectly restored.

The number of times I had set foot in this house
was limited to a few days.

And yet, my childhood experiences in this house remained vividly in my heart,
causing a great welling-up of nostalgia in me, all at once.

Youko
“Actually, Miyo-chan and I both live here,
but for today she decided to go back to her parents’ home,
saying that she didn’t want to get in the way of the family.”
Kazusa
“She didn’t have to show that much restraint…”
Youko
“It’s true…
For that girl, going home just means
having her parents start hounding her to get married.”
Haruki
“Maybe you should show a little more restraint. In what you say and do, you know.”

Well, but back then,
there wasn’t this sort of amusing mother-and-child rapport happening in this house.

Youko
“Well?”
Kazusa
“…Nope. It’s not sweet at all.”
Youko
“How strange.
I poured so much sugar into it…”
Kazusa
“Why not try adding some maple syrup, just to see?”
Youko
“Oh, now it looks like starch syrup.
Well, I guess we’ll leave this the way it is…”
Haruki
“No, when you’re simmering the black beans,
you should give them a bit more time over a low flame…
If you boil them down that much, the husks will crack…”
Kazusa
“Cut it out with the back seat driving.”
Youko
“Honestly, men are always like this…
They hardly ever do any of the cooking,
but they’re more than ready to complain!”
Haruki
“I do more cooking than you two!
Why don’t you let me help you?!”

The newly restored kitchen
was already on the verge of being overrun.

A suffocatingly sweet smell hung in the air,
with a white steam drifting about that almost felt sticky.

Ingredients and seasonings were scattered carelessly across the table,
and it seemed unlikely that anyone would be able to get it all back in order.

Youko
“I won’t let you interfere.
New Year’s cooking
is something passed down from mother to daughter.”
Haruki
“But if the mother never inherited it in the first place,
what exactly is she supposed to pass down to the daughter…?”
Kazusa
“I’m pretty sure the one who said in the first place
that he wanted to eat New Year’s food this year was you.
You really are incomprehensible.”
Haruki
“I said I wanted to eat it,
but I don’t recall saying I wanted you to make it…”

Because I knew very well that this was exactly how things would end up.

Once it was time to clean up afterward,
I knew that both of them would be sick of it.

Kazusa
“Anyway, go take a nap or something.
I’ll come wake you up when it’s time for dinner.”
Haruki
“Fine, fine…”

I knew that sticking around and freaking out would just be bad for my nerves,
so I decided to put off my despair for later
and leave the living room.

Youko
“Oh? The candied chestnuts for the sweet potatoes have gone missing…
Hey, Kazusa!”
Kazusa
“I didn’t eat the last of them.
I left two.”
Youko
“I only popped five of them, myself…”
Haruki
“…”

I had thought that at least they would be able to finish what they were making,
but it seemed I might need to revise my assessment of the situation.

Haruki
“Ah…”

I descended the stairs into the basement,
and pushed open the door, which was several times bulkier than normal…

And I saw everything precisely as I had seen it long ago.

In one corner of the sprawling, meticulously soundproofed studio
stood a piano by the same maker as Kazusa’s own favorite piano.

Guitars, drums, a saxophone…
The space was packed with all kinds of instruments.

The control room, partitioned off with a big soundproofed glass window,
seemed to have all new equipment.

…Though I didn’t know whether any of it was actually used.

With this absolute fastidious adherence to the way things were before,
I couldn’t keep a bewildered smile from coming to my face.

Several years before, when I was still a student…

In this house, in this room,
there was only one bitter, lonely girl.

That girl seemed to have no interest in others,
but a certain who was absolutely terrible at playing instruments was the only exception.

She took this layabout who wasn’t serious about music,
brought him to this room,
and played, and made him play, and hurled abuse at him…

And, until he could put on a fully-fledged performance,
she drilled him under her constant supervision.

So I, being said layabout,
relied on that girl, grew dependent on her, shadowed her around.

I came to this room so many times, played so many times,
dozed off so many times, met the morning so many times.

And it took five years, but I at last realized my dream.

That is, my dream of getting close to this bitter girl—
a dream with a very high hurdle.

Kazusa
“Wait, why are you down here?”
Haruki
“Ah…”

The moment I heard her voice,
I awkwardly returned the guitar in my hand
to its stand.

Kazusa
“Huh…”
So you even have the nerve to revisit this far in.”
Haruki
“Y-yeah, I guess.”

But Kazusa turned a blind eye
to my unnatural conduct.

Probably…
because she understood my reason
for never wanting to play the guitar in front of her again.

Kazusa
“Hey, it’s even tuned correctly.
That woman’s meticulousness really knows no bounds.”

But Kazusa,
not breathing a word of consideration for me,
stroked the piano affectionately.

Haruki
“This place has a lot of memories for you, huh?”
Kazusa
“Well, the whole house has a lot of memories,
but this is the place where I spent the most time while I was in Japan.”
Haruki
“Huh… Yeah, I guess so.”

The piano that was here back then
was in Vienna now, still at Kazusa’s side.

Nevertheless, Kazusa gently greeted this new piano,
with the same expression she always had when facing the old one.

Kazusa
“Oh, by the way, Haruki,
it’s just about time for dinner.
I came to get you because the pizza’s arrived.”
Haruki
“…Weren’t you just in the middle of making something?”
Kazusa
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.
New Year’s food is for the New Year.
Why would you eat it before the year turns over?”
Haruki
“I mean, I figured we could at least have a taste.”
Kazusa
“Leave it for after tomorrow.
…I’m gonna rise to the challenge again.”
Haruki
“…No, you don’t have to do that.”
Haruki
“Well, I’ll go ahead and sleep in the guest room.”

The three of us sat around the dining table in the living room of the Touma household,
watching a stupid variety show and grousing about it,
getting caught up in lively conversations about trivial things.

Before, I never could have imagined
spending calm, idle hours like this,
with these people.

Even so—actually, because of that—
these precious hours flew by quickly,
and the clock showed that the date was on the verge of changing.

Soon, it would be the last day of the year.

Youko
“What do you mean? Why don’t you just stay here?
When we get tired, we can all just sleep in a huddle.”
Haruki
“No, no. This is the first time you two have had to yourselves in a while, so please.”
Youko
“Aw, are you really going?
It’s not as though it matters which one of you makes the first move…”
Kazusa
“It would matter to me, Mom…”
Youko
“Oh, my, so serious.
And to think you’re my child…!”

Even now, with the end of the year imminent,
the mother-daughter banter between the Toumas seemed to know no end.

Haruki
“Well, Kazusa, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Kazusa
“I’ll come to you early in the morning.”
Haruki
“All right. Good night.”
Kazusa
“Good night.”

Full of food, drink, and enjoyable conversation,
I left the living room,
feeling a mix of relief, wry humor, and just a little bit of jealousy.

The last day of the year was finally at hand.
And so was…

Youko
“You two are just sickeningly intimate with each other…
You caught yourself a nice man.”
Kazusa
“I wouldn’t say that.
He’s petty, irritating, depressing, and cruel.”
Youko
“Hmm?”
Kazusa
“But…
For me, he’s the only man.”
Youko
“…I suppose I just never
showed my entire hand to a man that way before.”
Kazusa
“Why?”
Youko
“Well, you know, love…
Ah, maybe I really did go wrong in the way I raised you.”

Kazusa
“…Phew.”
Youko
“Want more to drink?”
Kazusa
“No, Mom, stop.”
Youko
“Why don’t we go to bed, then?
We can share one futon.”
Kazusa
“…Even when I was a kid,
we never did anything like that.
Why are you trying to put on your “good parent” face now?”
Youko
“No, no… This is my “scheming mother
who wants to make her daughter take care of her in her old age,
even though she was so distant all her life” face.”
Kazusa
“I…”
Youko
“Yes, I am a schemer.
That’s why I arranged this house for you two to come home to.”
Kazusa
“I knew it… That’s why you came back here.”
Youko
“Come back any time.
I’m serious, you know.”
Kazusa
“Mom…”
Youko
“And… This is a big chance for you two, right?”
Kazusa
“What is?”
Yoko
“Well, you know, even supposing my illness does go away,
I’ll be taking off before you do, and that’s a fact…
And then you’ll have this house, without having to go to any trouble.”
Kazusa
“The only future I can see there is an absolutely crippling estate tax.”
Youko
“Then, why don’t you have your darling husband
take up cormorant fishing, or something, to pay it off?”
Kazusa
“Hey, just to be sure,
when you say “cormorant”…”

Kazusa
“…No, no. Absolutely not.”
Youko
“Why not?
This is where you were born.”
Kazusa
“You know very well
the reason that we can’t stay here…”
Youko
“There’s no reason!
…Not any more.”
Kazusa
“Mom…?”
Youko
“There’s no such thing, not for you, nor for him.
You’ve long since been forgiven.”
Kazusa
“B-but, I…”
Youko
“I’ve been to their house any number of times.”
Kazusa
“What…?”
Youko
“At first, they absolutely refused to see me,
but they finally let me in the fifth time.”
Kazusa
“Mom…?”
Youko
“I’ve lost track of how many times we’ve seen each other since then…
But their daughter helped persuade them, too.
And so, now…”
Kazusa
“Wh-what are you doing…?”
Youko
“What am I doing?
Really, I should be asking you.”
Kazusa
“Mom, why would you…”
Youko
“Because when a child makes a mess,
it’s the parent’s job to apologize.”
Kazusa
“I don’t need you to do that for me, Mom.
I’m an adult now.”
Youko
“However old you may be, you’re still my child.
Especially where the mental age is concerned, in your case…”
Kazusa
“…”
Youko
“Anyway, it was the first time in a while—
no, maybe the first time in my life that I’ve ever really felt,
“Ah, so this is parenting!””
Kazusa
“Stupid… You’re so stupid!”
Youko
“Well, you might be right…
But, now, there is nothing left in this country to hinder my ambitions.”
Kazusa
“U-Ugh…”
Youko
“So, Kazusa…
Come back here, all right? Any time…”
Youko
“Whether you’re holding a concert in Japan,
visiting for the Lantern Festival or the New Year,
or just stopping back to visit some old friends.”
Youko
“And, what’s more…
If you ever find yourself feeling just the littlest bit homesick,
don’t hesitate. Get yourself back here right away.”
Kazusa
“Mom… Mom…!”
Youko
“What? Is it sleepy time?
Come on, let’s share a futon.”
Kazusa
“No…
Before that… Listen.”
Youko
“Hm?”
Kazusa
“Mom…”
Youko
“What, what?”
Kazusa
“Thanks for… taking care of me for so long.”
Youko
“…”
Kazusa
“…”
Youko
“…Pff…
Hee hee hee… Ahaha!”
Kazusa
“Wh-what?!”
Youko
“Wh-what? What do you think?!
Kazusa! My own Kazusa…
bowed to me and said, “Thanks for taking care of me!””
Kazusa
“You were the one acting out of character in the first place!”
Youko
“Yes, but, but…!
Ahaha, ahahahahaha…!”
Kazusa
“Shut up, shut up!
Look, I’ll never forget everything you did for me,
not for the rest of my life, okay?!”
Youko
“And I, I…!
I’m never going to forget seeing this side of you, Kazusa!
Ahahahahahaha…! Phew… Pff… Ahahaha…!”
Kazusa
“M-mom, you idiot…!
Hueeeh… Ah, ahahaha…!”


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