As I walked alongside Gabriel, who gently gripped my left arm, I couldn’t help but feel like I was being watched. Several times I looked around to see if I could spot the source of my unease.
I found nothing each time. Even so, the feeling persisted.
“Are you okay, Jacob?” Gabriel asked.
I tried to give her what I hoped was a reassuring smile. “I’m fine. Anyway, where would you like to go? I know you said you wanted to do something besides sit in the library, but…”
“I still haven’t had much of a chance to see this city,” Gabriel said. “It might come as a surprise, but outside of the library and a few of the parks along the route from there to my hotel, I haven’t actually explored any of it yet.”
“When did you arrive in Saitama?”
“About four days ago.”
Gabriel and I had met three days ago, which meant she had only been here a day longer than our meeting. I suppose it was only natural that she wouldn’t have been able to see much yet. It would be nice if I could show her around. But…
“So, do you have anything specific you would like to see?” I asked.
“I would like to visit the fair,” Gabriel said. “I’ve never been to a fair before, but I saw a flier for one that’s not far from here. It’s a single train stop away.”
At the mention of trains, my mind froze. I wasn’t afraid of trains. Far from it. I actually thought they were fascinating, mostly because I had never been on one myself.
Back when I had traveled across Japan, it had been on foot. The last time I had tried taking a train, I had been kicked out by security, who had used the excuse that I was disrupting the peace.
Of course, they were right. I had been disrupting the peace with my presence, but ever since then, I had refused to try going anywhere by train again.
That had been ten years ago. I had been six at the time.
“Is something the matter?” Gabriel asked.
“Oh, no,” I said, rubbing the back of my head. “I was just wondering if we’d be able to get to the fair today. I mean…” I trailed off as Gabriel tilted her head, not understanding what I was getting. She didn’t know I was Nephalem, so it only made sense. I shook my head. “It’s nothing. Since you want to spend time at the fair, let’s go to the fair.”
The way Gabriel’s eyes lit up, sparkling like aquamarine, told me that I had said the right thing, but at the same time, there was no guarantee that those eyes wouldn’t dim soon. It was, after all, pretty much a given that security would not allow me to ride on the train.
Urawa Station was the closest train station. As we arrived, several cars traveled into the oval-shaped drop off road, disengaging several people, businessmen and women mostly, who were likely commuters. The aluminum shading above our heads kept the sun off our backs. I tried to ignore the looks I received as Gabriel and I walked toward the station entrance.
“Do you have your train pass ready?” I asked as I fished out my own train pass. Azazel had given it to me, but I had never had the chance to use it before. I wondered if I would even be able to use it.
“Train pass?” Gabriel asked. “What are those?”
I opened my mouth, but no words came out. Gabriel had told me that she just arrived in Saitama four days ago, but she should have known what a train pass was. They were one of the first things people traveling to Japan bought.
Of course, they could always buy tickets, but if someone was coming to Japan as a tourist, they would be traveling a lot, in which case, it was easier to order a temporary train pass before coming to Japan.
“Nevermind,” I said. “Let’s buy you a ticket at the vending machine.”
Gabriel must have been one of those tourists who hadn’t planned out everything in advance. She had probably just wanted to visit Japan for the novelty of it. There were many people in other nations, the United States especially, who were like that, or so Alicia had told him one time when they were watching anime together.
Perhaps it was because of Gabriel’s presence, but I was able to buy her train ticket without incident, and we boarded the train that would take us to Akabaneiwabuchi. As we were getting on, I felt the sensation of being watched again. However, there was no one suspicious when I looked around.
The train wasn’t that crowded. Gabriel and I were able to find seats, and of course, the few people who were present sat as far from us as possible. This didn’t bother me as much as it normally would have. Gabriel spoke to me, asking me all kinds of questions about Japan, my school, and what sort of things I did for fun.
I couldn’t answer all of her questions. Living as I did, I had never once tried to have fun. She didn’t seem to mind.
It was a ten minute walk from the station to the fair, but it felt like it went by in less than five minutes. The fairgrounds consisted mostly of narrow paths lined with dozens of stalls. It was evening by now, so there were quite a few people present. As we wandered through the crowd together, I found it odd that no one looked my way.
The back of my spine tingled briefly as a familiar feeling came over me. I thought I felt a divine presence for a moment. However, the feeling faded before I could place it.
Perhaps it was one of Japan’s many gods. I heard they enjoyed festivals and would occasionally disguise themselves as humans to partake. Then again, Azazel could have been yanking my chain when he said that. I had never met a god myself.
“Look at all the fun games!” Gabriel’s eyes were like beacons as she twisted her head this way and that, gazing at the stalls with the wonder of a child. “There are so many strange-looking stalls! What is that?! Goldfish scooping?! What kind of game involves capturing goldfish?!”
“Do you want to try it?”
I almost leaned back when Gabriel pushed her face so close our noses almost touched. My face felt hot, causing me to look away.
“S-sure. Let’s go,” I said.
We went over to the goldfish scooping stall, and while it looked like the stall owner was halfway ready to kick me out, Gabriel somehow managed to smooth things over. We paid the money necessary for the paper nets. Then Gabriel knelt down and attempted to capture a goldfish.
She sucked at it.
Her first attempt ended with the net breaking. Her second try also ended with the net breaking after she held the goldfish in it for too long. During her third pass she didn’t even get close to a goldfish before her net broke.
I knelt down beside her. “I think you need to be more gentle, but you also need to be quick. The key to scooping goldfish is to swiftly scoop it into the bowl before the net breaks.”
“That sounds difficult. Would you be willing to try?” Gabriel asked me.
I was surprised when the stall owner allowed me to try my hand at this, but I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Crouching over the goldfish pond next to Gabriel, I took a deep breath, and then tried to scoop up a goldfish.
I tried again.
I failed again.
In the end, neither of us could get a goldfish, and the stall owner wasn’t willing to give us a consolation prize.
“I’m sorry,” I apologized.
“Don’t be.” Gabriel’s brilliant smile could have outshone the stars at night. “I’m having a lot of fun.”
I looked away and scratched my head. “Well, I guess it’s okay so long as you’re having fun.”
“Right! Now let’s try some of the food! I’ve never had fair food before.”
I don’t know how long we stayed there, sampling food and playing stall games, but the sky had darkened by the time we got back on the train.
We sat on the bench. The whirring of the train racing along the tracks was accompanied by a slight rumbling underneath us. No one else was present. Also, the feeling of someone watching us had stopped some time ago.
“Gabriel,” I said to the young woman.
Shifting in her seat, Gabriel turned to me. “What for?”
“For taking me out, for asking me to come to the fair with you.” I leaned back in my seat and looked at the ceiling. “I’ve never been allowed to go to a fair before. I’m pretty sure the only reason I could go today was because of you, so thanks.”
Gabriel looked at me with wide eyes. I didn’t know why she would be so shocked, but then she turned her head and peered out the window. Even without looking at me, I could see her reflection in the window, so I noticed how her brows furrowed as though troubled.
“You don’t need to thank me,” she said sullenly. “Rather, I don’t think I did anything to deserve your thanks.”
It sounded like there was some hidden meaning to her words, though I didn’t think much of it. Everyone had their own problems. She was probably like me, someone who had issues accepting others gratitude, or maybe she had unique circumstances, which made her feel guilty for something that wasn’t her fault. I wouldn’t pry unless she wanted me to.
“You might think that, but I am grateful to you regardless.” I grinned at her. “Thanks to you, I had one of the best days of my life.”
I didn’t know the reason, but in that moment, Gabriel looked like she was going to cry. Opening my mouth, I prepared to say something. Whether this was to offer false platitudes, tell not to cry, or something else entirely, not even I was sure.
I would never get the chance.
Gabriel leaned against me, resting her head on my shoulder. A jolt like electricity traveled up my spine and shocked my brain.
My tongue went numb.
“Let me stay like this for awhile, please,” Gabriel said.
I said nothing. There was nothing I could say. My mouth wasn’t working.
Sitting on the train with Gabriel, I could do nothing but listen to the pounding of my own heart.