Vol. 00 Chapter 00
Translated by LyraDhani
Edited by LyraDhani
It was a rare sight.
I was visiting Jimbocho, a bookstore district built during the reconstruction after the Great Fire in the second year of the Taisho era, when my attention was caught by a female student.
Kanda was home not only to universities such as Meiji University and Chuo University, but also to many junior high schools and vocational schools, so it wasn’t surprising that there were female students here.
However, it was unusual to see a girl-yes, a girl who appeared to be only 12 or 13 years old and had graduated from an ordinary elementary school-visiting a bookstore alone, let alone an ordinary bookstore that specialized in Western books written in English, German, French, and Western French. I would say it was very rare.
The reason I recognized the young girl as a schoolgirl was because she was wearing a white summer sailor suit.
Until a few years ago, most female students were dressed in Meisen kimono and hakama, but recently, I heard that some girls’ schools started wearing western-style sailor suits or one-piece dresses as school uniforms.
I didn’t know which girls’ school it was, but the sailor uniform with its big collar seemed a bit large for the girl. Her arms and legs peeking out from the white sleeves and knee-length skirt were thin and unreliable, and seemed to float vaguely among the dark shelves.
The girl, with long black hair in two buns, took steps forward and stopped to look up at the shelves. She was staring at the book spines at an angle as if she were looking up at the sky, perhaps because she was too short to look at the top shelves.
What kind of book is she looking for?
Does she even understand foreign languages?
Her young profile was so serious that I hesitated to talk to her.
It seemed I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.
The boys around me, dressed in western-style clothing and hakama, looked flustered, sneaking glances at the girl and nudging each other with their elbows. I could tell without hearing them whispering to each other, ‘Talk to her, you do it.’.
But I had no companion to poke around with, so I looked sideways at the girl and then turned my attention back to the shelves in front of me.
I was curious, but I didn’t want to get involved.
My eyes followed the alphabet on the shelf where the German books were placed, and soon I caught the girl reaching for the top shelf. The girl, standing on her tiptoes, didn’t ask anyone to help her, and instead tried to take the book by herself.
The boys were still not moving. This would be a good opportunity to help her and talk to her.
I sighed, but I was the one closest to the girl, so I ended up moving.
“Which book do you want?”
I took a few steps to the girl’s side and called out to her, even though I knew it was rude.
Immediately, the girl’s shoulders jumped and she looked up at me. The eyes were wide open, like a fawn’s but slightly slanted.
The border between the luminescence and the pupil fused together in the dimly lit room, and the black eyes, blotting out a weak light, stared at me.
The girl was stunned for a moment, but then gasped and backed away slightly in alarm. Well, it was natural for her to be wary since she was suddenly approached by a boy she did not know.
To show that I had no strange intentions, I offered, “I can take the book for you if you want.” She hesitated, but answered in a low voice, indicating with the index finger of her right hand, which was extended to the shelf.
“It’s ‘Kinder- und Hausmärchen‘…”
I was inwardly impressed by the beautiful German pronunciation that came out of the young girl’s mouth.
Indeed, it was appropriate to be in a foreign book store. Still, what is “Fairy Tales for Children and Families”?
“Do you like Grimm’s Fairy Tales?”
“You know about it?”
The question was directed back at me. The answer was “Yes, I do,” but not many people knew the official title of the original, which was generally translated as “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” in Japan.
When I nodded my head in affirmation, the girl’s face lit up. Perhaps she thought she had found a friend, and the look of alarm faded from her eyes.
I took a book on the top shelf with the title written in gold letters on the book spine and handed it to her, and she thanked me with a smile on her cheeks. The girl’s happy expression made me suddenly interested in the book.
“You must have loved it so much that you read the original.”
“Yes, it’s a good way to learn German. Besides, I was curious about something.”
“What are you curious about?”
“Yes. I was curious about the sleeping position of Sleeping Beauty.”
“Because if the prince comes and she’s lying on her face, she’s not going to look good, is she? If you sleep in the same position for a hundred years, you might get irritated and need to turn over in bed. The same goes for kings, queens, dogs, and horses. How did it work if fire and wind disappear?”
The girl who suddenly became talkative and began to speak with great vigor did not stop. She continued to enthusiastically say, “It’s not written in the translation, so I thought the original would have more details.”
While being taken aback by the girl’s momentum, I thought in a corner of my head that she was a strange child.
The original book probably didn’t go into that much detail either. It was just a story, after all, a children’s book with fairies and magic that couldn’t exist in reality.
I thought about it, but I felt bad about destroying the sparkle in the girl’s lively eyes and her childlike curiosity.
“I still think it would be better to tie her legs up with a string to improve her sleep. Just like when a woman binds her legs below the knees so as not to disturb the hem of her kimono when she commits suicide–“
“No, wait, you.”
I took back what I said before.
I hastily interfered.
The girl’s pale red lips were full of noisy words such as “suicide,” and the people around me were looking at her to see what was going on. I held up my index finger in front of her lips.
“Don’t say anything too dangerous.”
The girl seemed to come to her senses and hurriedly held her mouth with both hands. It was a cute gesture, but now that I’d seen her strange side, I couldn’t help but look at her with a complicated expression on my face.
“I’m sorry… I have already been warned again and again by my brother…”
The girl, red-faced and ashamed, became a little pathetic and smiled to calm herself down.
“Well, that… I think it’s a very good thing that you are looking it up with interest.”
“…Is that right?”
The girl’s eyes remained puzzled, but she looked down with an amused look.
“Thank you very much,” she said, smiling and thanking me again, looking her age, and this time she looked cute.
It was at the end of July 1923 that I met this strange girl.
About a month later, at 11:58 a.m. on September 1, a violent tremor hit the southern part of the Kanto region.
It was an unprecedented disaster that later would be called the Great Kanto earthquake. The earthquake devastated the imperial capital of Tokyo, leaving many dead and missing and leaving deep scars both on the city and on the hearts of its people.
I had no way of knowing at the time that this would be the catalyst for the reconnection of our fates.
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