Chapter 5:

A Decision

Mayuka To Ryu (繭価 と 龍)

“You know what,” Toshio said while her hand took several books on the tray. She placed them on the shelves according to the popular Dewey Decimal Classification system. Since they were trying to get the abundance of literature books home, on their respective shelves, she and Mayuka had spent almost an hour at the 800-899 (Literature) section. 

“I think you should be a permanent staff. You're more hardworking than Suzuki-san and the other useless male staff. They’re all talk,” she clicked her tongue.

Mayuka began to nictate. “Is it okay for you to say that, Toshio-san?”

Toshio frowned, shooting Mayuka a ‘why-can’t-I’ look. Mayuka explained that they might hear her and things could get complicated. 

Listening to her explanation, Toshio was relieved as she initially thought that Mayuka was on their defense. She grumbled how some of the male staff were incompetent and wished that the higher-ups would extradite those termites. Mayuka remained silent as she believed that something must have happened before she came here. Toshio’s anger wasn’t entirely about work. She loathed the male staff more than their incompetence as librarians.

The library had slowly become less crowded as they entered the second month of summer. However, more and more books arrived every week which did not change the fact that all staff were as busy as bees. Since Kaimei Public Library has unique architecture where the wall and roof have countless holes to welcome natural light, they often distracted Mayuka; she saw birds through that many glass holes.

Although the lower holes were so opaque that she could not peek through them to see what was happening outside, the higher ones allowed her to gaze dreamily at the soft blue sky. Moreover, when it started raining, she found it arduous to concentrate as she desired to witness the droplets racing with each other.

“All right. Let’s stop here,” Toshio clapped her hand, simply delighted to see that they had slashed the mountain of books. “I’ll treat you to some Udon at my favourite eatery. Will you join me for lunch?” 

Mayuka nodded and pushed the trolley of books to the counter. 

It has been a week since she received her spare key from Ryu and never heard anything from him. He was unreachable. Her student, Yukimura Hana, had come to Ryu’s house to send some food that her sister cooked. However, she would return, in vain. Since Mayuka lied that Ryu was just her neighbour, Hana did not ask her anything about him.

She had been inattentive in her daily routine. It was her subconscious mind and body clock that kept her punctual. However, when something new got in her way, it took her a while to get a grip on herself. Like a huge bowl of Udon that was already served in front of her.

Toshio noticed the swift change. Mayuka has never been a talkative colleague but she did her task precisely. For innumerable times, Toshio thanked the universe for granting a capable young woman who was smart, discerning, and needed minimum guidance like Mayuka. Although it made her a little greedy that she started hoping for Mayuka to be a permanent staff member, she did not feel guilty to have such wishful thinking. 

Now, Mayuka was floundering in the mud of sentiments. And soon, she would get herself drowned if nobody saved her. “Tsu-chan.” Toshio handed the chopsticks to her and Mayuka accepted them with a faint ‘thank-you’, a little startled. 

The eatery was tiny and cosy. It could only cater to ten customers at once. There was a long table with four wooden stools for solo customers. While three rectangular tables were provided to fit couples, and the chefs were preparing food in front of the long table where the four customers could enjoy seeing how their food was prepared.

“I’m not sure if you’re under the weather or anything. Just… make sure that you’re eating properly,” Toshio smiled. “I’ve witnessed so many lifeless pairs of eyes on the subway and I can’t afford to see another pair from you.”

Mayuka lowered her head and started feeding herself the thick noodles. When she slurped the long white strips, tears began trickling down on her cheeks, and neither she nor Toshio said anything. The Udon was delectable that she savoured them quietly until the last drop of the gravy. Her bowl was clean and she would not hesitate to order for a second bowl but Toshio suggested the fried dumplings. She told Mayuka that fried dumplings were the best medicine to cure a heartbroken woman and it made Mayuka giggled like an innocent child.

Toshio never knew what had happened in the young lady’s life but she could guess that it connected to Tanaka Ryu who suddenly stopped fetching Mayuka when her shift ended.

“T-Toshio-san,” Mayuka took another tissue paper and wiped away her tears. “Thank you. I haven’t eaten properly these past few days. Truly enjoyed the Udon.”

. . . .

Mayuka entered her matric number and password to access the student portal. She received an official email from the Education Department that informed the final-year students to apply for their practical teaching placements. The due date was next week; Mayuka mentally reminded herself that she had one week to deliberate and decide. 

She had heard various endearing experiences from her seniors, as well as the dejected ones. Their conclusions would come to one important matter: choose your school carefully.

As the page completed loading, she saw her name in Kanji and romaji, as well as some information about herself. She looked for the ‘Registration’ button and clicked on it. Later, she found a long list of schools; elementary to high schools that have affiliations with her university. 

She went closer to the screen and squinted her eyes. Her quick skim came to an end as she saw Haikido High School. It was located in the Tohoku region, a one-and-half hour ride by train could get her there very quickly. Besides, she has never been to Fukushima Prefecture. It could be a discovery.

But why Haikido? A small voice in her head inquired.

Mayuka breathed out a long sigh. Her head went lower to the laptop keyboard and soon, she let her forehead rested on the touchpad. What kind of discovery was she hoping for? Fukushima Prefecture had never crossed her mind before but was she willing to travel three hours or more for her practical teaching? Perhaps it was to increase the probability of stumbling across Ryu again. 

That’s it, Mayuka clicked her tongue. “I just want to see him,” her eyes slowly shut and she appreciated the serenity in this tiny room of hers.

Then, her phone vibrated next to the laptop, hurling away the momentary serenity. She lazily got her head up and glanced at the phone. Mahiro, she sighed and answered the call. Mahiro, the second child, her three-year-apart younger brother who always got in touch with her when he needed money. Mayuka asked about his well-being and Mahiro, on the other line, chuckled as he updated that he was doing fine at the new workplace. He told her that he worked as a cashier at one of the famous eatery franchises. Mayuka congratulated him and stated that she would always support his decision.

Although Mahiro kept prattling about his life and big circle of friends, Mayuka could see how they were reaching the denouement, even before Mahiro entered the climax. Behind the frustration dealing with friend A that has caused extreme distress with friend B, he mentioned that his friends needed money. However, those friends of his just started their jobs, and he wanted to be a good friend because those friends had helped him during his life crisis.

“So?” Mayuka retorted to Mahiro’s periphrastic tales. “How are you going to help them?”

Mahiro laughed nervously. “Nee-chan. You know that I just started working at this new eatery,” he was still beating around the bush.

Mayuka gave in and asked him how much that he wanted. Mahiro quickly mentioned a certain figure, but the sister refused and offered half of the initial amount. Mahiro did not negotiate further and briskly agreed. He thanked her and hung up.

The end.

His perfunctory behaviour should not stupefy her, yet she still blinked in perplexity. Mayuka brushed the discomfort in her chest aside and transferred the amount of money they had agreed on through online banking. When it was successful, she saw the balance in her account. It was more than adequate to live comfortably. Mayuka also received a teacher scholarship; her third and final years were in bliss. The part-time jobs were unnecessary. And Ryu also acknowledged that.

She sighed. It wore her out to repetitively get reminded of Ryu. Because when she did, all the answerless questions would garrotte her and send her off to space that has no gravity. Mayuka would be floating in the emptiness in her head and heart. She knew she hated that feeling and wished for it to vanish. Together with Ryu.

Her fingers unconsciously unlocked her smartphone, sought for ‘Home’, and pressed on the green call button. After a few beeps, her youngest brother, Makoto picked up the call with the usual greeting, ‘Hello, Tsukushi here.' Makoto was a junior in high school, but his voice was deeper than Mahiro's.

“Aka-chan (baby),” Mayuka blurted out Makoto’s childhood endearment, and the youngest whined as he immediately recognised the voice of his sister. He immediately told her to stop calling him ‘baby’.

A moment ago, Mayuka knew she was about to drown in a reservoir of despair. However, now, she understood that it was not that simple to drown herself when she could swim well. Mayuka laughed. Although Makoto was still nagging how Mayuka had ruined his fierce impression among his friends once, the sister could only laugh at the other side.

“Aka-chan, Aka-chan!” She teased him more.

And now, she could see how her practical teaching would lead her to. She has decided on the school, and it was final.