Chapter 1 – Mamori, Enjoy Your Last Supper in Nerima
The first sign of Kurisaka Mamori’s changed life came during the summer of her last year in high school.
She was living in a company house1 in Kawasaki at the time, in the Kanagawa Prefecture. In that oil company-owned complex, where you could still spot bicycles going about, the nighttime temperatures hardly dropped.
With the remaining humidity from the heat of the day shut out by the door and window glass, the ancient air conditioner2 in the living room ran at full force while Mamori wracked her brain over her exam reference books.
—B-ring ring ring. B-ring ring ring.
Her younger brother was an eyesore, as he played on his smartphone, sprawled out on the floor, and her father was an earsore, as he blasted the night game from the living room. However, Mamori’s 4.5 tatami-mat room didn’t have any air conditioning, so she had to rely on the cool air flowing in from the living room. As such, she couldn’t close her sliding screen door.
—B-ring ring ring. B-ring ring ring.
Even as she tried to focus on dissecting the parts of speech in The Narrow Road to the Interior3, the telephone rang, distracting her again.
“Hey guys, the phone’s ringing!”
Even as she said it, she knew that the men of the Kurisaka family would never answer a call unless it came from their own cell phones.
Her younger brother on the ground answered. His gaze hadn’t even left his smartphone’s LCD screen.
—B-ring ring ring. B-ring ring ring.
(Ah, jeez.) Mamori clicked her tongue, put down her pencil, and got up.
She stepped on her brother on the floor as she left her room. He made a croaking sound, but she didn’t care.
The problem was with the landline. An unfamiliar number appeared on the screen.
If she hesitated for too long, the call would switch over to the answering machine.
Mamori hurried to pick up the receiver.
‘…Ah, thank God it connected. Good evening, this is Kurisaka… ah, but it’s the same. Is that voice Mamori?’
“Eh— Is it actually Big Sis Ryouko?”
Mamori grew excited.
Kurisaka Ryouko was Mamori’s cousin on her father’s side.
“Wow, what’s up? It’s been a while. When was the last time we met? Grandpa’s funeral? Are you doing well? Has the crick in your neck from back then healed yet?”
‘I’m good~ Super good. My neck’s also healed. You see, I have something I wanna ask Uncle or Aunt about. Is that alright?’
“Eh, Dad and Mom?”
Mamori lowered the receiver and peeked behind her.
Her dad was bawling his eyes out after Hanshin4 hit a home run.
“Sorry, Dad’s watching a night game, and Mom hasn’t come out of the tub yet.”
‘Ah, right. It’s around this time, huh…’
Her father’s shoulders trembled slightly. As long as it concerned baseball, his tears were as cheap as Uniqlo5.
“What? Do you have something for Dad? Or wait, could it be that you’re announcing your wedding? Are you getting married?”
‘Nuh-uh. Why are all of you like this? Whatever. You’ll have to do.’
What did she mean by, “You’ll have to do,” huh?
Big Sis Ryouko was as frivolous as usual.
‘Hey, you see, Mamori. I just got a job transfer notice.’
From the topic of marriage to a job transfer. And to Dallas at that.
That was quite the jump. No matter how she looked at it, it definitely wasn’t somewhere within the 47 prefectures of Japan.
Then, what country would that be…? Then again, she didn’t have any confidence that she actually knew. All she could guess was that it was probably some large city.
“I-I guess I should say ‘Congrats’ then?”
‘Yup. I’ve always dreamed of working overseas. With it coming true, I couldn’t be happier. I got it!’
“Good for you!”
‘So, the problem is about the place I’m living in right now. Mamori, I believe you mentioned before that you’re taking your exams this year, right?’
“Yeah, I’m a senior preparing for them.”
‘Your first choice is Ritsukai University, right? The one in Ikebukuro?’
“…Well, I was told to aim for higher ground.”
Even now, she thought that was a bit reckless of her.
To Ryouko, who had easily entered a former imperial university6, a private university like Ritsukai probably wasn’t anything big. However, for Mamori, it was a shot in the dark. During her interview, her homeroom teacher jokingly asked her how much she intended to study before summer vacation.
‘Then, that should be perfect! Mamori, if you get accepted there, want to commute from my condo? For four years at most.’
“Eh, a condominium?”
‘I’m renting a condo in Nerima. A 1LDK7 facing south. My transfer is only for a limited time so once it’s over, I wanna go back to my place. I also wanna leave my larger furniture behind, and it’ll be hell to find a similar unit in that location again. So, what d’ya think?’
—A condo unit in Nerima.
—If accepted, living alone.
(I could live alone.)
…In the metro area.
She felt like a door in her head was opened.
“—I-I’ll go. Definitely go! Absolutely go! I’ll live alone!”
The excitement in Mamori’s voice drew the gazes of the two men of the Kurisaka household in her direction.
Hanshin was still scoring additional points in Tokyo Dome on the TV. However, that didn’t matter to Mamori.
‘Right. Then, you’ll just need to be accepted. No failing, alright?’
“Nope, nope, nope! I’ll definitely pass! I’ll work hard, so it’s alright!”
At that time, Mamori was only thinking about her rose-colored future.
* * *
—Living alone is actually hard.
Once Kurisaka Mamori was accepted into university and allowed to live alone, she promised her parents three things.
First was to properly wake up by herself every day.
Second was to make sure to always lock the door.
Third was to have plenty of fresh vegetables for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
When these conditions were presented to her, she rebutted, “I’m not in elementary!”
But in reality, she had only been living this lonely lifestyle for half a month before she learned that it was quite difficult.
Especially that third condition: Eat plenty of vegetables.
“…Ah. They really did go bad…”
This morning, Mamori hung her head down, heartbroken in front of the vegetable drawer in her refrigerator.
The lettuce and cucumbers that she bought at a special sale at the supermarket to stock up a week ago—
At that time, the lettuce had been fresh and crispy, the cucumbers firm and neatly wrapped in tight plastic.
But now, both were beginning to melt and release a horrid stench before they were totally used up. They were rotting.
(…They did feel kind of soft yesterday…)
She had failed. She had even thought about eating them in a salad today.
Mamori probably needed to learn that buying something more for less wasn’t necessarily a good thing if she couldn’t use them all.
In the end, the spoiled vegetables were thrown out with the kitchen scraps and the refrigerator was completely emptied.
Now that she thought about it, back when she lived in that company house in Kawasaki with her father, mother, and younger brother, there was always enough meat and vegetables in their fridge to make her lick her lips.
But, now it was just Mamori inside this 1LDK condo.
All that wasted food finally dawned upon her when the two images were compared.
(But I mean, rather than buying a single cucumber and one-fourth a head of lettuce, wouldn’t it be cheaper to grab a bag and a whole head…?)
Numbers spun around her head in spiteful frugality.
The large size of the three-door refrigerator8, thoughtlessly unfit for living alone, might have been the reason she wasn’t restrained in her shopping.
(How exactly did Ryouko live here?)
Room 503 in the condominium building “Palace Nerima” where Mamori was currently living was once occupied by its real tenant. That was her 28-year-old cousin and single career-woman: Kurisaka Ryouko.
Before Mamori had even realized what was happening, the beautiful and talented ‘Big Sis Ryouko’ had finally departed and settled in Dallas. When she first heard of the location, she didn’t know where it was, but after some investigation, she learned that it was a large city in the south of the USA.
The transfer was for at most four years and Ryouko didn’t want to let go of this place, which was at such an advantageous location, so she had proposed that Mamori stay here.
(If I can’t handle this, I won’t be able to live by myself in a condo in the metro area. I mean, even the rent would be way too much.)
This condominium was six stories of reinforced concrete and gave off a rather stylish, brickwork aesthetic. It was constructed several years ago, so there were no auto-locks9, but the condo included an 8 tatami-mat bedroom, a kitchen, and a living room, totaling 15 tatami-mats10.
Plenty of the morning sunshine came through the large, south-facing veranda.
It only took a few minutes on foot to reach the Seibu line and the Nerima subway station. Furthermore, even the first choice university in Ikebukuro that Mamori had aimed for was a straight ride from here. This was the perfect spot.
It was safe to say that, with the bait of living alone dangling in front of her face, Mamori managed to overcome that dark examination period.
And that was how she left the company house in Kawasaki on a good note, only to have her lettuce and cucumbers rot on her.
(This is bad. If Mom found out about this, I’ll be in trouble.)
In the first place, Mamori’s mother was against her living alone.
Mamori had desperately tried to persuade her mother, saying that she wasn’t particularly far away from here in Ikebukuro and that, even if it might be too dangerous for an underaged girl to live alone, Ryouko managed to live just fine.
Her mother’s angle was this: ‘That girl is different. Rather than tough, she’s just dense. While it might be good to be strong, it’s something different for a girl. I mean, even before she worked things out, she already decided to go overseas…’
While this may have been quite a sharp opinion from the experiences of a housewife, she tried her best to agree with it for the sake of her future condo.
“I’m sorry, Mom. In the end, I can’t even make salad…!”
Mamori quickly downed her sweet bun and instant coffee before preparing to go to university.
For some reason, it had become a routine recently.
Constantly buying salad and cut vegetables from the convenience store had been tough on her wallet. If she asked anyone, they would say that her speed of burning through everything could make it to the Olympics.
Although she was already rushing in the morning and doubtful that she could eat vegetables for three meals a day, she made sure to properly keep her remaining promise: locking her door.
After Mamori repeatedly checked the gas and locks, she left Room 503.
After disembarking the elevator and heading to the entrance, there were some people just coming back into the condominium building.
(—I-It’s Mr. Agata.)
Lucky! She arbitrarily decided that today was a good day.
He was Mamori’s neighbor— the owner of Room 502.
Age-wise, he was roughly close to Ryouko, so in his late twenties. His tall stature that easily exceeded 180 cm and his fashionable, MODE-style11 suit caused Mamori to label him as a ‘handsome elite’ whenever she passed by him.
She believed he did share his full name once: it was Agata Youji.
Mr. Agata appeared to have a very busy job, and the times at which he would return to his room always varied. Even if Mamori passed by him coming home late at night as she went to the convenience store, she might next meet him entering the building in the morning, like today.
Today, Sir Agata Youji was wearing a black dress shirt with no tie and a tight, gray, Calvin Klein suit. A document case, probably holding large diagrams, was placed by his feet as he retrieved various fliers and mail from the first-floor mailbox.
He was hardly the type of person you would spot around high schools or company houses.
So, to meet Mr. Agata in the morning like this, she must be really lucky—
As she ended up standing there and contemplating the meaning of “eye candy”, she ended up making eye contact.
“—I’m sorry. I’m in the way.”
“N-no. I’m the one who’s sorry…”
Because she was just standing there, she must have given off the impression that she wanted to grab her mail. Youji moved himself and his document case a step to the side and continued to look through the fliers.
Mamori couldn’t let her blatant staring be exposed at this point, so she approached her own mailbox with a low profile. The dial on hers ticked as she turned it.
But, she was more interested in Youji next to her.
Compared to when she introduced herself as the “substitute occupant of 503” back at the start of April, he had lost some weight. His chiseled features were made even sharper.
Nevertheless, his intelligent eyes and his slightly sharp monolids were nice. And with that high nose bridge, she thought he would even look nicer in glasses. The thin, silver-rimmed ones, of course.
It might be because of his job, but he was very well groomed. This much was conveyed just by standing next to him.
“Um, it must be hard every day at your job.”
Youji raised his face in surprise.
“You’re just returning home now, right? You must be very busy. How rough.”
She was immediately flustered and didn’t know what kind of face she should make. In the end, she decided on a lax smile, but Youji pondered for a bit.
“…Busy is busy12, but… well, it’s that kind of job after all…”
“Is that so?!”
“Yes. Well, excuse me.”
“Thank you for your hard work.”
Youji’s deep and soft voice was soothing, and it remained echoing in Mamori’s ears.
She could only let out a deep sigh as she watched the tall man leave the entrance.
(“It’s that kind of job after all.” Guh! How cool…!)
She was impressed, since she knew, no matter how old she would get, there was no way she could say such a thing in such a stylish way.
No matter how many times they passed by each other they had only exchanged greetings occasionally. She was certain that this kind of a perfect person wouldn’t let his cucumbers rot in his fridge.
(Although, he didn’t seem like the type to do his own cooking…?)
He probably had expensive wine and accompanying cheese perfectly stocked up in his place.
He would tilt the wine glass to his lips with jazz playing at a low volume in his monotone living room that didn’t seem too lived in — that kind of setting perfectly suited Agata Youji. His furniture was definitely made in Italy. Or, maybe it was antiques from the Americas made in the 60s.
Mamori was satisfied by her imagined fantasy and felt like she could live pleasantly for the time being.
Even though her mail had an unsettling document mixed into it, she would live on tenaciously.
Translator: Hey, guys. I was actually planning on translating this for my next project here, but then I found another one I wanted to do. Thus, this part will be treated as a teaser. I may come back…one day, since I do love this series.
- From gtalent.jp: Borrowed company housing is a system in which employees live in houses rented by the company. The size and layout varies from company to company, but it usually depends on whether the resident is single or married.
- From wikipedia: Oku no Hosomichi or The Narrow Road to the Interior is a major work of haibun (a literary form that combines prose and haiku) by the Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō and is considered as one of the major texts of Japanese literature of the Edo period.
- From wikipedia: The Hanshin Tigers are one of the oldest professional baseball teams in Japan, based in Nishinomiya, Hyōgo Prefecture and are owned by Hanshin Electric Railway Co., Ltd.
- From wikipedia: Uniqlo is a Japanese casual wear designer, manufacturer and retailer. Their clothing is considered to be quite affordable and good-quality.
- From wikipedia: The Imperial Universities (aka former Imperial Universities or National Seven Universities) are the most prestigious or “Ivy League” universities in Japan: University of Tokyo, Kyoto University, Tohoku University, Kyushu University, Hokkaido University, Osaka University and Nagoya University. There was also one in Korea (Keijo Imperial University) which was closed on August 22, 1946 and another in Taiwan (National Taiwan University).
- From resources.realestate.co.jp: 1LDK is an apartment with one bedroom (L), a dining room (D), and a separate kitchen area (K). They usually have between 23-sqm and 35-sqm of floor space.
- From gadgetreview.com: A 3-door French refrigerator has a dual-door chilling space at the top and a pull-out freezer compartment on the bottom.
- From resources.realestate.co.jp: An auto lock in an apartment building is an electronic lock usually equipped with an intercom and/or viewing monitor that allows you to buzz visitors from the entrance lobby to the part of the lobby with access to the elevator.
- From all-about-teaching-english-in-japan.com: 1 tatami mat is around 1.53 sqm or 16.46 sqft so 15 tatami mats is around 22.96 sqm or 247.14 sqft.
- From 2ndstreetusa.com: Mode is the most high-fashion in Japanese fashion subculture. It uses quality, designer-label garments, has a limited color pallet, and creates abstract shapes with the body to stand out by blending in.
- Every 60 seconds in Africa, a minute passes…