Chapter 41:

Momotaro's Modern-day Melodrama

It’s My First Time Working Late Nights at a Convenience Store, and If I Keep Getting Demon Lords, Kappa and Other Oddballs as Customers, I’m Giving My Two-Weeks’ Notice

Tonight’s my forty-first late-night stint at the store.Bookmark here

Ding-a-ling-a-ling...  Bookmark here

“Welcome, irasshaima-... Aha.”Bookmark here

In walks a slightly chubby guy wearing a headband with a peach motif, and a pouch at his side that’s got to be filled with kibi dango, or some other snack. He uses his middle finger to push his glasses up along his nose as he enters the store. One look, and I know exactly who this guy is.Bookmark here

About time you showed up, Momotaro.Bookmark here

...But where’s the dog, monkey and pheasant?Bookmark here

Anyways, now that we’re into July, even the middle of the night offers no escape from the heat and humidity. I see Momotaro breathe a sigh of relief when the store’s air-conditioned breeze hits him, as his eyes dart left and right.Bookmark here

He’s looking for something, that much I can tell.Bookmark here

He does one circuit of the store, then another, before finally coming up to the counter.Bookmark here

“Uh... Um... ‘Scuze me, sir... If you don’t mind my a-asking... Where’re the r-r-raffle tickets?”Bookmark here

He’s mumbling and stuttering so much that I can barely make out the question — but I do at least catch the word “raffle.”Bookmark here

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“The raffle...? Oh, that one. With the anime prizes, right?”Bookmark here

“...Y-Yeah! That’s the one! Uh, this month it’s... Um, it’s all Mahou Shoujo Puri-puri Harumi-chan. A-And what’s more...s-she’s in her m-mizugi. O-Or so I heard... Ehehe...”Bookmark here

Momotaro giggles nervously, an expectant grin spreading across his face.Bookmark here

“Well, if that’s what you’re after, you’ve come to the right place.”Bookmark here

I pull out a small-ish figure of a bikini-clad young woman, placing it on the countertop. My manager had warned me earlier to keep it hidden, since he didn’t want the neighborhood’s seniors to “shame us for having such scandalous material on display.”  Bookmark here

“Oooh! Harumi-chan, my lovely waifu... I’ve been dying to see you... Ehehe...”Bookmark here

Momotaro picks up the box the statue’s still packaged in, appreciating the er, craftsmanship from every possible angle.Bookmark here

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“Okay, so... I’ll take all the tickets you’ve got.”Bookmark here

“ALL of them?!”Bookmark here

“...Yu-huh. Don’t worry, I can pay for it.”Bookmark here

“...That’s fine, I was just shocked that we’re going to be sold out right on the first day.”Bookmark here

It’s win-win. Momotaro gets what he requested, and my manager won’t have to worry about offending the sensibilities of our older clientele.Bookmark here

“Heh. Ehehe...”Bookmark here

“Well, lucky you.”Bookmark here

I smile back, but just as I’m about to start ringing him up...Bookmark here

Ding-a-ling-a-ling...  Bookmark here

The animal trio appear. And boy, do they look pissed.Bookmark here

They come storming in, as a unified front.Bookmark here

“Hey, ass-wipe. What the hell d’you think you’re doing here?”Bookmark here

Holy crap, that monkey just spoke.Bookmark here

Well, it’s not like I haven’t had full-on conversations with a booze hound. Talking animals really shouldn’t come as a surprise.Bookmark here

“Momo! You stop this, right now! All these raffles, the online shopping, the in-app purchases...! You don’t have a job, but you’re spending money like it grows on trees!”Bookmark here

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The white shiba inu pleads with him, in tears.Bookmark here

This time, it’s a lot less jarring when the rest of the party pipes up.Bookmark here

“To put it bluntly... Eat shit and die.”Bookmark here

The pheasant gives him a withering glare.Bookmark here

Whoa, even Mac’s party wasn’t this aggressively antagonistic.Bookmark here

“S-Shut up! You’re not the boss of me! None of you are! What’re you even doing out here, anyways?!”Bookmark here

Momotaro suddenly grows a spine, snapping back at the others with all the indignant rage of an overgrown man-child.Bookmark here

“To stop you from making another stupid decision, what else? We’re not just going to sit back and let you waste any more money on this useless bimbo. ...No thanks to you, our food budget’s vanished into thin air. Can’t you see how much you’re upsetting Shibako?”Bookmark here

The monkey lays out the problem in a low, gravelly voice as Momotaro tightens his hold on the bathing suit beauty, resting his chin on the lid of the box.Bookmark here

Whoa, whoa. Hold up. This guy’s been blowing the money they’ve set aside for the essentials on frivolous purchases? Yeah, that’s just wrong.Bookmark here

“...Saruo, it’s fine. I don’t mind having even less to eat at mealtimes. But Momo, honey, I’m worried about you. I know you’ve been busy selling the kibi dango your grandmother sends you — they’re your trademark, after all — but sales have been so slow, lately...”Bookmark here

The shiba inu’s motherly tone reveals another unexpected layer to this situation.Bookmark here

Wait, so that’s the household’s main source of income? He’s just re-selling traditional snacks that he didn’t even have to make himself?Bookmark here

...And did that adorable shiba say “even less to eat”? How much kibble has she already cut back on?Bookmark here

“I’ll say this in a way that you can understand. If you don’t go home right the hell now, I’ll peck the shit out of that useless lump you call a brain.”Bookmark here

Man, that’s a gruesome mental image.Bookmark here

...I get the feeling that the pheasant wouldn’t stop there, either.Bookmark here

“I don’t wanna! I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks! I even made sure to go shopping in the middle of the night, so that I wouldn’t have to deal with anyone! I promised Harumi-chan that I’d come pick her up! I can’t just break my yakusoku!”Bookmark here

Momotaro twists away from the intervening trio, still clutching the raffle prize.Bookmark here

“What good’s that thing going to do you, huh? Or are you blind to the fact that we’re completely broke because you keep wasting every cent we have?!”Bookmark here

Saruo’s severe questioning only pushes Momotaro over the edge.Bookmark here

“It’s not a waste! Harumi-chan’s my tenshi! My angel! My goddess! Cost means nothing when it comes to my waifu! All that matters is that we love each other!!”Bookmark here

“Now, now. Calm down, honey. We’re not saying that you can’t have any hobbies. But we ARE concerned that you’re heading down the road to financial ruin.”Bookmark here

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“Lay off, you old hag! You’re not my real mom!”Bookmark here

“What’d you say?! You treat Shibako with some respect, young man!”Bookmark here

Wow, this is all playing out just like the messy family dramas that you see on TV.Bookmark here

“Look, I’ll make this brief. Shibako’s putting herself through hell trying to balance the books, eating like a bird, all because you’re too busy playing make-believe with those damn pieces of plastic. You’re lower than dirt, you scum-sucking bastard. You’re not even worth the air you breathe.”Bookmark here

Uh, I think that was a few lines too long to be brief, but I’m not about to tell him that.Bookmark here

Especially not with that murderous aura of his. Seriously, I think we’re on the verge of our first actual convenience store fatality.Bookmark here

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“None of you understand my kimochi! I tried to get a job, but I keep bombing the interviews! No one cares that I can put ‘ogre slayer’ on my resume! Back in the day, the whole country called me a hero, but now I can’t even get a foot in the door! We’re living in a cruel world, you know!”Bookmark here

Momotaro is crying now, his face scrunching up each time he sniffles.Bookmark here

Yeah, I hear you, dude. This world isn’t always kind. Still...Bookmark here

“Let me be blunt, then. If people won’t hire you, then you take a good, long look at yourself, figure out what the hell your problem is, then FIX IT. Even someone with your head full of bird seed should be able to manage at least that much.”Bookmark here

The pheasant continues to hammer his point home with the same sharply honed frankness.Bookmark here

“Why bother? All I have left to live for is my beloved Harumi-chan! Oooh, my lovely loli dream girl... You won’t ever let me down, will you?”Bookmark here

“But, you’re not alone, Momo! You still have us! We’ll always be with you — just like when all went ogre-exterminating together! Come now, leave those cartoons of yours behind and live with your friends in the real world.”Bookmark here

Shibako’s eyes are still shimmering with tears as she fights to keep her voice level.Bookmark here

“...Noooo, you’re not my tomodachiiiii! I know you just think I’m a useless baka! My TRUE friends wouldn’t be so hard on me! I just wanna be freeee! Uwaaaaaaah!”Bookmark here

The fully grown man breaks down into a sobbing fit, slumping down onto the floor with the anime figure still in his arms.Bookmark here

“Oh, for the love of... Don’t collapse there, you’re just being a nuisance. ...Sorry, sir. We’ll have him out of your hair soon enough.”Bookmark here

Saruo quickly glances over at me, his voice softening in apology.Bookmark here

For all that Momotaro’s put them through, they still love him. That’s why they’re so focused on getting him to change his irresponsible ways.Bookmark here

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Even I can see that.Bookmark here

Still, I don’t know that they’re taking his depression seriously enough. It sounds like he’s really been struggling to fit into (modern) society, so it’s no surprise that he’s taking solace in more forgiving 2D fantasies.Bookmark here

“Come on, Momo. Let’s go home. When we get back, we’ll open up a can of peaches, and you can have the biggest serving.”Bookmark here

There’s a long stretch of silence before Momotaro finally replies.Bookmark here

“...Yeah, I guess. I’m sorry, I was wrong. You’ve been looking out for me all this time, but I’ve only been thinking about myself. Thanks for sticking with me, for supporting me, even though I’m the worst. ...I love you guys.”Bookmark here

He pushes his glasses back up along his nose with a smile, seemingly moved by everyone’s words.Bookmark here

“...Sheesh, you’re still as much of a pain in the ass as you’ve always been.”Bookmark here

“Momo, honey...? Did that work? Did we finally get through to you? Oh, let’s all hurry up and go home together!”Bookmark here

“Well. Like I said the first time...your options are either that or death.”Bookmark here

“Ow! Hey, Kijimatsu, that hurt! Attacking from behind’s not fair! C’mon, I said I was sorry...!”Bookmark here

The pheasant jabs Momotaro in the back of the head with his beak, herding him towards the automatic doors as he whines all the way. But, when he passes near my register...Bookmark here

“Alright, I get it! I’m going!”Bookmark here

Momostaro suddenly cries out, stopping dead in his tracks.Bookmark here

“Look, I just wanna ask the teiin-san something real quick, okay? ...Do you guys have this in stock? I saw it online.”Bookmark here

Momotaro pulls his cell phone out from his pocket, and starts typing something out. He flips the screen around so that I can see it. It reads:Bookmark here

“I’m already plotting my escape. Watch over my kawaii Harumi-chan until then.”Bookmark here

I gulp, not entirely sure what to say to that.Bookmark here

“So, uh, thanks. I’d say ‘sayonara,’ but, um, I won’t be seeing you again, so... Heh heh...”Bookmark here

“Of course you’re not! Because you won’t be spending money on crap like this anymore!”Bookmark here

 The group makes their way out of the store, Saruo scolding Momotaro all the while.Bookmark here

I’ll never forget the look of pure determination he shoots at me as he heads out the door. He’ll be back.Bookmark here

That earlier change of heart was all just an act. He’s definitely not going to be turning over any new leaves any time soon. ...I do feel sorry for his animal companions, though. So, I’m kind of hoping that the figure gets sold before he manages to make a break for it. Resting my chin in my hands, I stare at the scantily clad statue that’s been left on the counter, appreciating the, uh...craftsmanship. Yeah. That.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.