「We went to a beach last year so why don’t we go to a mountain this time?」
「No no, let’s go to the beach this year too! We’ll have a barbecue!」
「Huh? Did you forget last year’s disaster? Noda used the barbecue fuel to make a campfire instead!」
「How could anyone forget that? All of us feeling blue, by the blue sea. And Noda’s excuse was ‘the meat has to be grilled well.’」
The campfire wasn’t catching fire so I threw the barbecue lighter fuel onto it, setting it ablaze. We’d put out all the ingredients for the barbecue before, so nothing was lost except the fuel and the members’ heartbeats.
「Look who’s talking! You were the one who kept saying stupid things like ‘we forgot the sauce, let’s evaporate some ocean water and use the salt so it tastes good!’」 I said firmly.
After arguing over our mutual past failures, we decided to reject the barbecue idea.
「Hmmm, Arioka and the upperclassmen are coming too so it should be somewhere in Kanto, right?」
「In that case, what about Chiba?」
「How about Kamakura?」
「Ooh! Looks like Michel understands Japan’s wabi-sabi aesthetic too!」[1. TL Note: Wabi-sabi is a Japanese aesthetic emphasizing simplicity and imperfection; Kamakura is a small, popular tourist city.]
「Location is important, but so are the activities! Will we have fireworks? Tests of courage? A date with Kinoshita?」
「All of those!!!」
We were planning out our summer training camp location, how many days we’d stay, and what we’d do each day.
「Mizuhara Eiichi-san, register number 928, studying economics in the economics department. Mizuhara Eiichi-san. Please arrive at the student affairs office on the first floor. Repeating…」
Mizuhara’s name was broadcasted on the school intercom. Although Mizuhara had a lecture to attend today, he wasn’t present.
He had gone to see a sweets exhibition in Osaka, and would come back the day after tomorrow.
I wondered why they were calling him before thinking ‘Whatever’, and ignoring it. I didn’t worry about it much, but they called him again the next day at the same time.
「Mizuhara Eiichi-san, register number 928, studying economics in the economics department. Mizuhara Eiichi-san. A family member is waiting for you, so please arrive at the student affairs office on the first floor. I repeat…」
「A family member?!」
「Woah! What is it, Noda?! Don’t roar like that. You should be awake in the first place!」
「She was sleeping even though we’re having a discussion about our training camp…」
「Sagiri-san, what is it?」
I replied, 「Nothing,」 to Michel’s question and sat properly. The discussion started again, but I couldn’t help but worry.
「Sorry, I’ll have to step out for a bit. Please choose whichever place is appropriate.」
I left the clubroom and went to the student affairs office on the first floor to see who was there. A woman stood there, bored, sticking out like a sore thumb. She stood out amidst the crowd of students, clad in a light pink kimono and had an air of elegance and modesty about her.
Her features vaguely resemble Mizuhara’s.
That time I accidentally asked Mizuhara about his family came to mind, when he told me he’d cut off all contact with them. I wondered what was going on, sneaking peeks at the woman. Suddenly, as if feeling my gaze on her, she made eye contact with me.
What should I do now?! I aimlessly wandered in the corridor, wracking my head over what to do, and the woman steadily approached me.
「Yes?」 The woman looked dubiously at me after my suspicious behavior.
「Um… are you Mizuhara Eiichi-kun’s mother?」
「Yes, that’s right.」
She asked if I was Eiichi’s friend, and I was perplexed. Friend? I wasn’t sure about calling us friends… I didn’t really understand, but I said yes since there was nothing else to call it.
「Uh, Mizuhara-kun is on a trip right now. I think he’ll be back tomorrow…」 No matter how much she called for him, Mizuhara wasn’t in school. 「I think it’ll be easier if you contact him by phone.」
Mizuhara’s mother made a slightly worried face as I said that. I realized she didn’t know his number.
If she’d known it, she wouldn’t be at his university in the first place.
「Would you happen to know Eiichi’s number?」
「Uhhh… Yes, just a second.」
He always sent mails that read like code. It was only recently that I’d started understanding what he meant.
「Right…. Well, is it alright if we have some tea together? I would like to know more about Eiichi. If you’re free… I know it’s a selfish request, but…」
A sudden invitation for some tea. I was a bit flustered, never having been asked out, but I agreed since I felt bad seeing her wait in vain like that.
I sent a mail to the members saying I wouldn’t be back today, and to call me later. In any case, their discussion wouldn’t progress today either, and they’d all end up messing around.
We had tea and cake at a cafe beside the university. She paid for us, since she was the one who had invited me.
I took the opportunity to email Mizuhara.
【 MOM HERE. COME HOME FAST. 】
It looked rather like a telegram, but hopefully Mizuhara would realize I was in a hurry and come home faster.
「Is Eiichi well?」
「Yes, he’s fine.」
「What is he going to do after he graduates?」
「He’s found a job already.」
「Where is he working?」
「At a large securities firm.」
It felt incredibly awkward, like an interrogation.
Time felt like it was passing much slower. I thought Mizuhara replied really late but it had only been 10 minutes, which was actually fast by Mizuhara’s standards.
The subject line said 「Takoyaki is a pastry.」 I wondered just what kind of takoyaki he was eating as I opened the email.
It said, 「Tell her I’ll come home tomorrow evening.」
「He says he’ll come home tomorrow evening. I think you should wait by his apartment then.」
She shook her head slightly, worried. It seemed she didn’t know where his apartment was either.
I thought she’d gone to his apartment, and assumed he was at school when he didn’t answer. She didn’t know where he lived or any way of contacting him – he really had broken all contact from his family.
「Ummm… Well…」 Was it alright if I told her his number and where he lived? I didn’t know what to do in all these complicated family matters.
I emailed Mizuhara, who was probably eating some strange pastry-like takoyaki: 「I’m giving her your number.」 I wrote his number in her memo book, and handed it to her.
Mizuhara’s mother took it, a hint of loneliness in her smile.