Anyone Can Write A Light Novel!
The school bell went off, interrupting the lecture. The teacher gave her closing statements and then everyone left for recess. Except for me. I had packed my own lunch because I don’t plan on going anywhere. Straight from my desk, I whip out the fourth volume of the Barry Hopper series. An American book that had recently exploded into a movie franchise involving a wizard academy. Skipping straight to the bookmarked page, I read each line intently as I satiate myself with the bento I had prepared.
But as I ate, I felt a breath on my ear. As I turned back, I see a brunette peeking over my shoulder. We jump back consequently with a yelp.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” She apologized, bowing repeatedly. “You looked so focus on that book that I was curious to see what it’s about.”
“Yeah…” I covered my face with the book to hide my flushed cheeks after being so near to her. “It’s Barry Hopper, you know, those big movies that come out every summer?”
“I thought so!” Her eyes sparkled with excitement as she clenched her fists. “I’m a huge fan of those movies! Although, I find it hard having to read the subtitles just because I don’t understand a word they’re saying.” She moves closer to me, almost inches apart. “Oh! Oh! Who’s your favorite character?”
“Mine?” I rolled my eyes about, trying to find an answer. “I guess it’d be Harriette. She works hard in the academy so she always has the right answers to everything.”
“I like her too!” She clasped her hands together and swings back as she looks toward the ceiling in thought. “But I think that I like Ross the most in the end.”
“The cowardly friend?”
“He’s a coward, yeah, but I mean, he shows how competent he can be when has to be. And whenever Barry and Harriette are in a pinch, he stops at nothing to save them! I don’t know, maybe I feel like I relate to him a little. I’m somewhat of a klutz and I feel like I can’t do anything right, so I when I see someone like Ross succeed, I feel inspired in a way.”
“Huh. I did hear that people often tend to gravitate toward characters that they can relate with.”
“And I guess you see a lot of yourself in Harriette?”
“I wouldn’t say that, per se.”
“I can see it.” She put her hands behind her back and hunched over to meet me eye to eye. “Ito Ryuji, right? I’ve never seen you without a book in your hand. Sounds a lot like Harriette, don’t you think?”
“I guess so?”
“Do you know my name?”
I bit my lip and lowered my gaze. “I’m sorry. I don’t really pay attention to people in my class.”
“Haruna Mana.” She tapped me on the head gently with her knuckles. “I’ll get mad if you don’t remember it the next time we meet.”
A nervous sweat rolled down my brow. For some reason, the thought of her angry frightens me.
“Mana! What’s the hold up? My tummy’s a-rumblin! Hurry up!” Someone called out at the doorway.
“Just a minute!” Haruna replied before turning back to me. “Let’s talk more about Barry Hopper after school! And I want to hear more about all the other books you read! You look so invested, it must be interesting!”
The pouring sunlight flooded into the classroom, illuminating her back which was turned against the direction of the windows. Her neck hunched over, causing her short, bobbed hair to fall over her amber eyes. She let out a light chuckle as she gave me a smile.
“Let’s meet again, Ito.”
My heart pounded as if I had run a marathon twice. I gripped my knee with my fingers, trying to channel all the blood that was flooding my system anywhere I could. The saliva struck in my throat would’ve drowned me from how nervous I felt. Still, I managed to find an answer.
She grinned at me and leaves the classroom with her friend. Just as the door shut, I hear a faint, “What was that about?” before I was left in the distant cacophony of the bustling recess.
It was cheesy to say it. I had fallen in love the moment I met her. I’ve read enough books to know how romanticized the concept was. And how it doesn’t usually happen. But still, something about her energy and her excitement drew me to her. And I’d never forget her name ever since.
My shift ends so I change out of that horrible striped uniform. Normally I would leave out the back, but I don’t want to get in trouble with this particular woman. Not when she’s so close to my ex. That’s why I had to approach her as she sat before me, still fast asleep. I now recall who she is very clearly. Did you catch her in my flashback?
It’s that girl who was at the doorway. I suppose she didn’t stand out all that much. Beneath Mana’ brilliance, she fades out like light bulb under the sun. If I could contextualize it as if my high school days were a romantic novel, I’d consider this woman a background character. Maybe a side character if we’re being generous.
She never once played a role in the relationship between Mana and I. When we joined the Literature Club, she had her sights set on some other one. Because she couldn’t keep her grades up, we never shared a class together. And when Mana hung out with me, she was nowhere in sight. There was only one time, one time, where this woman and I shared a conversation. It was…
“Oi, Ryuji, can I borrow a pen?”
“Don’t act so chummy with me. Here, take it.”
That was it. Three years in high school. Even though we were so close to the same girl, that was the only thing we’ve ever said to each other. I continued dating Mana for about seven years after graduating. I’ve never seen this woman, not even on Mana’s birthday, during that time.
Thinking on it then, I don’t think I liked her all that much. She’s always been this gaudy. Her hair was already dyed back in high school. She carries herself without a care in the world, that’s why she has the guts to sleep in a convenience store.
Back when I was in the Literature Club, all my clubmates would bug me about helping them get with her. Just because she’s friends with the girl I’m dating. I suppose she was popular in her own way. It seemed like she attracted a lot of my peers because of how she had an eye for current trends. But I found someone like that especially boring.
She only follows things that were trending. If it weren’t making the waves, she wouldn’t pay it any mind. She lacks talent and drive to put any effort in anything she’s interested in. That’s the impression I get of her. So back then and even now, I feel that she’s cheap. She was popular yes, but only under the most inane and materialistic sense of it. The boys who wanted to go out with her only saw her for the layers of makeup she put on herself, but I’m better than that. I can see the hollow shell she is underneath.
And her name is…
She snores louder. I shake her about rigorously.
“Up up! Get up! My shift’s over, so get outta here already!”
Her drool leaks down like a zombie disturbed from its slumber. She lets out a massive groan before pushing me away, yelling, “Okay, okay, I’m awake! You didn’t have to touch me. Gross.”
“You’re the one who’s gross. Sleeping in public and snoring like that? Don’t you feel the teeniest bit of embarrassment?”
She wraps her hand around her luggage as she prepares to leave. “Why would I? Maybe if I were showing that to a guy with prospects, I’d think twice. But a convenience store isn’t where you go to find hunks, don’t you agree?”
My colleague clenches his fist and hisses. I feel myself agitated too since that was likely a jab at me. As we left the store to walk into the glare of the sunrise, I wait for the doors to close before I point behind me.
“How many prospective guys do you think walked through those doors while you were snoring there?”
She gives me a catty smile as she shrugs. “At 2 am? A couple of drunks, I’d wager.”
“You’re not so prospective yourself, sleeping in public like that! Can’t you go home?!”
“Oh! Yes, about that.” She claps her hands together with a wink. “Ryuji, let me crash at your place.”
I almost lose my footing. She wants to what?
There was nary a hint of shame in her expression, tone and body language. She holds her hands to her waist and leans forward, reiterating, “I said, I want to crash at your place. I need a roof to sleep under.”
“My place? You do realize that I’m your friend’s ex, right?”
She giggles as she shows her pearly whites with a wide smile. “Yup. That’s what makes it convenient. You wouldn’t dare try anything cause who knows what Mana would think of it~”
“Quit mentioning her!” I snap back. “What the hell happened to you?! Are you actually homeless?”
“As of right now, yup. I got evicted.” She raises her arms and stretches her weary bones. “I could go lookin’ for some other lodging, but I’m way too busy with work. I was at my wit’s end about what to do in my situation, and what do you know, I find you at a Dawson.”
“And what exactly makes you think I’d agree to letting you squat, huh?! You’ve been rude to me this whole time!”
She waves her hands about and halfheartedly apologizes, “Okay, sorry, sorry. Are you happy now?”
I turn my back against her as I slot in the keys to my bike. “No! Go bother someone else!”
“Hahhhh. Okay, then. By the by, have you been keeping up with all our old schoolmates? Do you know what all of them are up to now?”
“Don’t know, don’t care.”
“Do they… know that you’re working at a Dawson?”
I turn back at her to see her phone shining with an image of me at the counter. She was one click away from sending it onto her Intergram. And all the while, she wears a catty smile as she hovers her finger over the Upload button.
The only woman I have ever brought on my bike all these years was Mana. When she held on to me amidst this speedy breeze, her grip was soft, yet, tight enough to stay on. We spent many dates exploring the countryside a little out of Tokyo and taking in the scenery. With Mana’s warmth on my back, those days were beautiful pictures framed into my memories.
Right now, Tsukishima is strangling my waist.
“Ahhhhhhhh!” She screams as I go around a corner. “Why do you go so fast?!”
“I’m not! Is this your first time riding a bike?!”
“So what if it is?! Slow down already!”
I stomp on the brakes at the last corner and balance the bike with my right foot. Though the engine still ran, I get off and start rolling it manually. Tsukishima clings onto it like a koala bear to a tree. Her eyes are filled with agony.
“No more… Bikes… Bikes are scary…”
“Sheesh. You act like such a hothead, but compared to Mana, you don’t have any spine.”
She only grumbles incoherently at my criticism.
The last alley runs down about ten meters, so it would only take a minute to reach my house. The neighborhood was pretty run down. All the houses in the area had zinc roofs from a bygone era, and the rust was settling in. The walls separating each compound were planted twenty years ago, and that was clear from how the paint eroded. And as the apartment that I call my accommodation came to view, Tsukishima groans loudly once again.
“Don’t tell me it’s this dump.”
“Call it what you want, you’re the one who asked to live here.”
“I know you got kicked out of the flats, but I didn’t think you’d end up in a run-down two-floor apartment. How big is your room?”
“Four squares, single room.”
“For a guy who kept on going about how he was going to pen a masterpiece, you sure have fallen on hard times.”
“You don’t have to rub it in.”
“Do you even have a bathtub in there?”
“There’s a bathhouse five blocks down if that’s what you’re looking for.”
“Oh my god…” She pushes her face against the seat of my bike. “At least it beats sleeping at a bus stop…”
I shrug her complaints away. “Let’s just hope the landlord isn’t here when we get there. I don’t want to have to explain myself to her—”
“Explain yourself to who?”
Her face appears before me like a ghost in the dark as soon as I pass the entryway to the compound. Her sharp blue eyes peering into my soul, she sets her broom down and tilts her head to see Tsukishima past the wall. Tsukishima sheepishly waves at her when their gazes meet, then the landlord leers at me.
“Ryuji. What’s the meaning of this?” She crosses her arms over her apron. “What do you think you’re doing this early in the morning? You know my kids are about to prepare for school, right?”
“Uhh…” My eyes dart about, my mind scrambling to make up a decent excuse. “I can explain.”
The redhead’s slippers stomp on the soft ground as she grabs me by the collar and brings me to meet her piercing glare. “Explain what?! You keep holding off on paying rent allll this time, but suddenly, you can afford something like this?”
I swing my head upwards to avoid meeting the flames in her eyes. “Afford? This? What do you—” I pause. I look at the confused Tsukishima, then meet the landlord’s eyes. “You mean, afford her?”
She scowls at me like a delinquent as she brings my face closer to hers. “Whaddaya think I’m talking about, hahhhhh?!”
I press my lips together to trap my laughter. My cheeks bloat up from the compressed air. I give Tsukishima one more look, and see her cringing painfully at the misunderstanding that took place. She buries face on my bike to hide her humiliation. And when I see the landlord making all these scary faces, I lose control of myself.
Ever since my break up, I hadn’t laughed even once. I’m sure I woke all the neighbors that morning, but I didn’t care. Between losing the love of my life and being unable to get published, I needed that small bit of levity in this minimum wage life I live. And though Tsukishima blackmailed me and treated me like walking garbage, she provided me a joy that I hadn’t felt in three years.