After a twenty minute drive, he arrived at the station. It was a much shorter distance to the station from the office at his workplace than from his apartment. In favor of parking in the parking lot, he turned into a roundabout, and a group of junior high school students started shuffling out of the station entrance. He was just in time.
The junior high students were all in their sailor-style uniforms, and each of them carried a backpack and overnight bag for traveling. One courageous student dragged along a colossal suitcase – something like what a news anchor would use on a vacation abroad – which he must have borrowed from his parents. He surely must have been older than the others to want to use a thing like that.
Mixed in among the black-haired boys and girls was a single blond-haired girl. She carried a yellow leather-backed knapsack-like overnight bag and a paper bag was hanging from each hand. In her right hand she also carried something that looked like a stick, and looking more closely, Ryuuji saw that it was a wooden sword.
Ryuuji abandoned entering the parking lot and pulled over to the side of the road.
As he gazed out from inside the car, the girl informed her classmates of her parting and waved goodbye, then took out her folding mobile phone, and begin to dial a number.
Ryuuji held his portable terminal and waited.
Before long a ringing sound reverberated, and Ryuuji quickly touched the terminal screen.
“Ah, Ryuuji? It’s Lilie. I’m at the station now,” came Lilie’s voice.
“Come pick me up. I’m waiting at the west entrance,” she continued.
“I’m already here. That’s a cool wooden sword you’re holding.”
And, just as he spoke, Lilie recognized Ryuuji’s car and got to her feet.
She walked up, opened the car door, and slid into the passenger seat.
“I’m home!” she said.
She twisted her body in her seat, leaned forward, and, holding herself in place, put a large amount of luggage in the back seat.
“It was amazing! There were a lot of deer!” she said.
It was a first year junior high school trip. They spent three nights and four days visiting Nara and Kyoto, and it was a while before the heat of excitement finally cooled down.
Ryuuji waited for Lilie to fasten her seat-belt, then started the car. She kept talking all the while. As she made gestures with her hands, her long curly hair shook.
“And then the sun shone on it, it was so beautiful,” she said.
“The Kyoto Golden Pavilion?” asked Ryuuji.
“No, the deer.”
As he listened to the tales of her travels, Ryuuji soon reached the road that led to his apartment.
“…Anyway. It was really big and sublime, and it had a mysterious ambiance about it,” she said.
“The Buddha statue in Nara?”
“No, the deer. Geez, are you even listening?”
“This conversation is a little biased,” said Ryuuji, who was a little shocked, as one would expect.
“Didn’t you see anything besides deer and souvenir shops?” he added.
Lilie turned around and took a paper bag from the back seat.
“Even if I bought everyone’s time, there still wouldn’t be enough to tell you everything. There was Nomu and Nene. Oh, and there was Tokio…”
While she fished through the contents, Lilie muttered the names of her acquaintances.
“By the way, who’s wooden sword is that?” asked Ryuuji.
“Ahhh, I see…”
“I got you a gift, Ryuuji. Look, pickled vegetables. I sampled some and they were delicious. We can eat them with dinner.”
“Sorry, I have to go to work,” said Ryuuji in a gentle, casual tone.
“I don’t know how late I’ll be back. I should be finished before it gets dark,” he continued.
“What, really? I thought we’d eat together…”
Lilie was extremely disheartened by Ryuuji’s words.
He parked his car in front of his apartment and Lilie turned to the back seat and collected her things.
“Will you be okay by yourself?” asked Ryuuji.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine.”
Lilie was tougher than her delicate looks suggested.
Ryuuji spoke as he passed her the wooden sword.
“Go to bed early tonight. And there’s some pudding in the fridge you can have,” he said.
Lilie stopped and looked at Ryuuji.
“Pudding? The stuff from last week?”
Her blue eyes became very sharp in a flash.
“Hey, you did say you’d get rid of it if it wasn’t eaten by the best-before date, didn’t you?” she continued.
“Right…” said Ryuuji.
“You didn’t listen to me at all… What about the laundry?”
“Did you do the laundry?”
“Of course I did.”
“Really? You don’t just pile it in your office?”
Lilie had a habit of looking directly at a person’s eyes. Ryuuji averted his eyes and put a candy up to his mouth again.
“I wonder how it’s doing. Ah, if it’s still there.”
“You better have it when you come back. I’ll go through it and wash it tomorrow morning.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Ryuuji.
“Also, don’t forget to buy new garbage bags.”
“Garbage bags, certainly…”
“Speaking of forgetting, don’t forget to take stock of your non-flammable materials and separate them from the flammable stuff.”
“Right. Thanks for reminding me.”
“You’re welcome,” said Lilie.
END OF CHAPTER