Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Papa no Iukoto wo Kikinasai! Vol. 1 - Chapter 3

Time passed by itself even without me having to do anything.

Even though there were many things I wanted to start over again, unfortunately, no matter how hard I was willing to try, it was just not possible.

So the only thing I can do now is to prepare for something better tomorrow.

After finishing my part-time job which was shining brilliantly at the top of that "What I can do now" list, I hastened back home on my 7800-yen cheap bicycle.

Until just recently, I had never felt that the road from my workplace back to my home was such a long one.

The difference from that time was that there were people waiting for me at home.

But the problem was, there was also a wolf who was targeting those who were waiting for me there.

"Yo, welcome back."

When I reached home, Nimura was the first to call out to me.

I shot him an unpleasant look as he raised his hand in a considerably lighthearted manner, but he seemed to be completely unaffected by that.

"Oji-san! Welcome back."

"Welcome back."

The greetings from my nieces followed after Nimura.

They appeared to be having fun chatting, but I was not amused at all.

"I'll go heat up dinner for you."

"U-Uhn, thanks."

Miu-chan took out a film-wrapped bowl from the fridge and heated it up with the microwave.

"By the way, the one who made it was me."

"...... ah, I see."

I made the most unpleasant face possible.

"Hey hey, shouldn't you be a little more grateful?"

"Thank you. I'm grateful for that. So you may go back now."

"What's with that!? Is that the attitude you should show to a friend who comes and makes dinner for you everyday!?"

That was why I found it annoying everyday. Well, I was worried about having to leave the three sisters at home while I went for my part-time job. So, to have a somewhat trustworthy adult man to watch over them for me, I should indeed be grateful instead of feeling unhappy about it but......

Regrettably, the house-sitter was a person who had lost the honor one needs to uphold towards ladies sometime during the course of compulsory education, and had never bothered claiming it back from the lost and found center and that was why I was worried in another way. Aah, I could now understand the feelings of their father, Shingo-san, when he was brandishing a shoehorn at me.

"Today, he made soup curry for us. It's really delicious."

After Miu said that, I could smell a spicy aroma coming from the kitchen.

"This is even more major than the curry made using roux in Hokkaido."

"Hehh, I see. I might like this better. It's simple and easy to eat, and there are lots of vegetables as well. Teach me how to make it next time."

Even Sora-chan, who had been brusque with me numerous times all this while, relaxed her guard with Nimura. Mmh, is this the true power of a popular man? ...... it's really not amusing at all.

"Hey Nimura, how long did you intend to remain here?"

"Uwah, aren't you being too cruel? Segawa-kun, haven't I been taking your place as a bodyguard to the girls while you were working from morning till night?"

"I get the feeling that the bodyguard is the really dangerous one here."

"That's upsetting. Even I won't lay my hands on a middle-schooler and under. Really."

"That sounds so much like a lie."

"You started hitting on us out of the blue when we first met."

Sora-chan and Miu-chan started retorting in unison.

Oh yeah, he did say stuff like "become my wife".

"N-No way, that's just a type of social manners, or should I say a type of habit...... hey, speaking of that, what about school?"

Nimura, who was breaking out in cold sweat under the gazes of the sisters, forcefully changed the subject.

"As for university, I'll continue with that. And I'll go back to working evening or latter shifts in my part-time job."

Nee-san had strongly wanted me to go to university. That was why, as best as I could, I would want to go through and properly graduate from it. Aside from being an act of repayment to her, I was also receiving a bursary.

"No no, Segawa-chan, I was not referring to you but to these two."

Nimura was pointing at Sora-chan and Miu-chan.

"The new term is going to start soon right?"


That's right, not just university, the schools of Sora-chan and Miu-chan were also beginning their terms.

I'm such a blockhead......

"Huh, you haven't given a serious thought to it?"

"...... uhn."

Oh my god, Nimura clutched his head in an exaggerated manner.

"It's fine. We are planning to take a break for a while."


I was doubting my ears on hearing Sora-chan's words.

Taking a break...... from school?

"We've already contacted our schools. After what has happened, it seems like our teachers are agreeable to it."

"This is news to me!?"

"Obviously. We didn't tell you before."


This was another one of those curt replies.

"Wait a minute! Why didn't you discuss this with me first"

I raised my voice without thinking. Immediately, the sleeping Hina seemed to be on the verge of getting roused and I hurriedly lowered my voice to a whisper before resuming.

"Even if we discussed it with you, it can't be helped right. In the end, someone has to take care of Hina."

"T-That's right but......"

"It'd be fine. We'll only do it until we find a nursery for Hina."

Miu-chan touched my shoulder to pacify me.

The very Hina we were discussing about was sound asleep, apparently unaware of the circumstances she had been thrust in, as usual.

While getting riled up at my own uselessness...... I decided to skip tomorrow's classes and promptly make a trip to the municipal office and nurseries.

Somehow, it seemed like problems just kept on accumulating day after day ---

Some days later, while walking on the campus, my head was filled with the various problems which had been piling up incessantly.

"Oh, Segawa. Good morn ---"

The easygoing Nimura greeted me in the morning. I could feel that a new wrinkle had been added to my brow.

"So, in the end, you came huh."

He probably meant that I had left the troublesome things to Sora-chan and Miu-chan and was attending class on my own.

"No. I just came to make some changes to the modules I'm going to take in the next term."

I was going to reduce my classes to take on more part-time jobs.

While I knew it would be easier for me latter if I took as many modules as I could in my first year, I knew that this was not possible for me anymore.

Surprisingly, I managed to find a nursery quite readily. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the accident that Nee-san and the rest were in had remained the top news, and everyone had been kind to me. After telling the municipal office roughly about my situation, before long, people from the toddler counselling center came over to join in the discussion.

However, during the process, upon asking around, I found that even for compulsory education, it did not mean that it was free. There would be tons of necessary stuff like textbooks and other stuff along the way, and I would also need to give allowance to Miu-chan who was still in elementary school. I might also need to save up for their field trips.

In other words, just sending one child to school was not an easy thing at all.

And I just realized how difficult it had been for Nee-san for her to make it all the way to this point by herself.

Much to my regret, it was too late to express my gratitude to her now.

I would definitely did what Nee-san had done, for the sake of those kids.

"Anyway, for their sake, I have to increase my part-time jobs...... that's right, do you know of any good-paying part-time jobs?"

"Good-paying part-time jobs huh...... won't it be better to ask that person instead?"

Following the direction where Nimura was pointing in, was Raika-san.

"Morning, how are you doing?"

"Ra-Raika-san, good morning! Er, are you going for class now?"

After not seeing Raika-san for a few week, it seemed to me that she had become even more beautiful than before.

It made me realize how lonely I felt when I was unable to see her......

"Alright, so why don't you ask her about that now?"


"About what?"

Indeed, Raika-san who was our upperclassman might know more about the part-time jobs in the neighborhood.

But then, I would have to tell her about my circumstances......

"This fella here is quite tight on money now and is looking for good-paying part-time jobs. Oda-senpai, do you know of any such jobs?"

Nimura spilled out just as I was fretting about it.

"I have never done any part-time jobs."

"Ah, I see......"

She replied more readily than I expected.

"But...... you might want to check with President."

"Do you mean Sako-senpai......? Er, but......"

The president of the Road Observation Research Society, the self-proclaimed third year student, Sako-senpai.

Why was it a self-proclaimed thing, well, at the time when Raika-san entered into this school --- no, even way before that, he had been a third-year student.

In a way, he could be said to be a guardian spirit of this school.

That was the reason why he might know where good-paying jobs could be found, but, that person's hentaism, or rather, his deviation from common sense made me feel uneasy.

But...... this was a situation which I could not avoid without making some sacrifice.

"You're right. I shall go ask Sako-senpai about it."

"Uhn, that's good", said Riaka-san as a faint smile surfaced on her. But, that was followed by her tilting her head to the side,

"But, why?"

"Eh...... ah, but, it's a long story so...... I'll tell you about it another time!"

I pulled Nimura along with me, and tried to disappear from Raika-san's sight.

"Isn't it ok to tell Oda-senpai about it?"

"That might be so but......"

I could tell what the incredulous-looking Nimura was thinking but...... somehow, it seemed to me that I would be letting my worthlessness out in plain sight, and I couldn't say it.

Ego...... you might call it that but since I was the one who had said with confidence, "I am the guardian of those children", I would like to do a little bit more to get things in order.

"Anyway, I'll tell her about it when the time is right."

At the time when I said that, the cellphone in my pocket vibrated discreetly.

When I took out and looked at it, it was a number unknown to me. No, it looked kind of familiar......

"Hello...... eh."

The caller was somebody I didn't expect.

I headed to the station on my bicycle after receiving the call.

I stopped my bicycle at a nearby bicycle lot and ran to the meeting place. Even on the afternoon of a weekday, the coffee shop in the station building was jam-packed with customers who were on the way back from shopping.


Despite all the noise, it was a wonder that Oba-san's voice managed to reach me.

Oba-san waved her hand to me from a seat by the window. This was the first time we met face to face since the day of the funeral. I took the seat opposite her and ordered a cold drink. Oba-san continued drinking her tea and waited quietly until the drink I ordered arrived.

In a short while, a waitress placed a glass of iced coffee before me, and at last, Oba-san looked at me and began.

"Yuuta-san, what are you going to do about university?"

"Er, the second semester started from today."

"I see...... please study hard. Yuri-san would also wish the same for you."

She fumbled for an instant when bringing out Nee-san's name.

Oba-san then looked at me straight in the face.

"I'll be direct about it. Yuuta-tan, what are you planning to do with those kids?"

As if to drive in another blow, Oba-san continued.

"It seems like you really are going to take in those kids...... so what do you intend to do from now?"

"W-What do I intend to do, you say......"

"You are in university, and the kids also have their schools to attend. To top it off, the youngest is just three years......"

Oba-san cut off her sentence at that point, and used an even stronger tone and said.

"I'll be straight about it. It's impossible for you."


That was really straight.

"B-But, I'm making things work."

"Making things work? What do you mean by that?"

Oba-san shot me a piercing gaze.

"It seems like those kids have not been attending school."

"That's just temporary...... once Hina is put into a nursery, I'll make sure they go to school! I have already found a nursery......"

"You can't be called a guardian with that kind of naivety. Listen to me, Yuuta-san, leave the matter of those kids to their relatives, and concentrate on your studies."

"But, if that happens, they will......"

I recalled the pained face of Sora-chan on that day.

"They will...... get separated right?"

"...... that can't be helped. It's not like their relatives bear them any ill. There are things that can't be accomplished with just feelings alone. After you took those sisters away, everyone was really feeling down."

I see, Oba-san remained up till the very end on that day......

"Sorry. But, but the conclusion...... won't change right?"

"That's right. But, if Sora-chan is willing to stay in a dormitory or something similar, it'll be fine for Miu-chan and Hina-chan to stay together, the relatives had said...... why don't we discuss it over with them?"

...... Sora-chan will be the only one to be separated?

I tried to imagine the faces of the three sisters if I told them that.


In the first place, if I told them that, the eldest Sora-chan, who had a strong sense of responsibility, would be willing to bear with it and stay in the dormitory by herself.

"...... Oba-san, in spite of that, I'll still live with them."

"That's impossible. If it's going to end up with you abandoning them halfway, then it's better to let go now. Please listen to me. Since Yuri-san is no longer around, I'll be responsible for you......"

I stopped listening midway. I was grateful for Oba-san's feelings. But, right now, those words sounded like nothing but a challenge. In response to that......

Clatter! I stood up and bowed once.

"Thank you, Oba-san. But, I'll definitely not let go of those kids!"


I slammed some loose change onto the table and left the coffee shop.

After coming out of the station building, I headed straight for the bicycle lot, jammed my parking fare violently, and mounted my bicycle.

With that, I cycled back home along the main street before the station.

Along the way, the people I passed by wondered about what was up with me, seeing how hard I was pedaling, but without looking back, I rode on. Crossing the bridge spanning over the river, and just at about the time I entered a narrow street, I finally calmed down and Oba-san's words surfaced in my head one by one.

Oba-san's words sounded overly correct, and I could only feel chagrined and irritated......

Consequently, I started pedaling furiously again as blood rushed up to my head once more.

Unspeakable feelings came and go.

This is too unreasonable. Why don't I have the ability to support those kids?

As a mere year one university student, I would never have thought that I would experience such days of chagrin.

On the next day, as before, Oba-san's words kept on surfacing in my head.

Last night, Miu-chan noticed me moping around and tried her best to cheer me up. Jeez, to have a ten-year old girl being thoughtful towards me, I must be really pathetic.

Oba-san was right, it was too early for me to be a guardian.

But, even so, I didn't think that what I did was wrong.

Even though I was not yet managing it well, I just needed to do my best and make improvements along the way.

After my lessons ended, Nimura and I headed to the clubroom.

To find out about the part-time jobs that I have asked president about.

"Listen to this first. 1. A dangerous job which can give loads of money 2. A tough but reasonably well paying job 3. A job which to some, can be said to be enjoyable, and it also pays reasonably well...... now, which one do you prefer?"

"Well, I prefer the one that give loads of money...... but, how dangerous is it really?"


"Er, don't keep quiet all of a sudden."

It seemed like it was something difficult to say, as Sako-senpai averted his eyes.


Raika-san shook her head, signaling that it might be better if I didn't ask.

"Th-Then...... what do you mean by the job which can be said to be enjoyable to some?"

"Mm. About that, it's the host club before the station."

"H-Host? Er, that's only possible for people with good looks right?"

"No, that place, if I have to put it in words, is more geared towards the macho type. The clients are all men."

"With due respect, I'll pass."

I replied immediately.

"So as to speak, in the first place I have only one choice right!"

"What are you saying, the host club "Manly Fellas" will welcome you at any time."

"Thanks, but no thanks! And what's with the name of that place!

Though I was curious to the relationship between that host club and Sako-senpai, I was afraid that I would hear something unpleasant if I questioned further, so I just left it at that.

"So, its number 2. Alright, I'll contact the party sometime today."

"Thanks for the trouble."

Even though I was feeling uneasy about it, I couldn't help but risk it.

"By the way, why do you need money all of a sudden."


"Isn't it fine? Don't sweat the small stuff! Right, Oda-senpai?"

At my hesitation, Nimura smartly tried to divert the conversation.

"No, it's ok Nimura. I think it's better for them to know about it."

And thus, I told my upperclassmen about all that had happened up till now.

Perhaps, right from the beginning, I had wanted someone to listen to it. After I finished, I felt kind of refreshed.

"I see, I understand...... it must be tough on you, Segawa-kun."

"Yuuta, you've done well."

"Raika-san...... Sako-senpai......"

I was almost moved to tears.

Even more so after just receiving those unforgiving words from Oba-san, their words sank into my heart.

Frankly, I had been fretting over whether to tell these two about it, but it seemed like that was totally a needless worry.

"By the way, Segawa-kun, your house is nearby right?"

"Eh...... ah, yes, that's right."

"This is totally unrelated to what we've been talking about, but I was thinking it should be about time to hold some sort of social gathering for the new students. Right now, at your place."

Sako-senpai's eyes shifted back and forth suspiciously.

"Hey, you guys! Why are you looking at me like that! I'm definitely not feeling guilty or anything like that......"

"We haven't even said a thing."

"Ugugugu...... eeh! Whatever, just let me meet those nieces of yours!"

Unable to withstand our gaze, Sako-senpai's true nature slipped out.

"Rather, allow me to meet them, please! Shall I kneel down? You'll allow it if I kneel right!?"

"That desperation is making me fearful instead! Rather, I'll definitely not let you meet them!"

"Then, just let me watch them from afar! It'll be fine! My eyesight is good!"

"I don't get what you are saying!"

The excited Sako-senpai, who had lost control of himself, with unhealthy looking sweat pouring out of him, desperately clung to me. Frankly speaking, he was gross. His glasses were fogged up.

"Eeh, please calm down, Sako-senpai!"

Nimura pinned him from behind.

"Segawa, run! I'll hold him here!"

"Yuuta, run."

Raika-san said as well while grasping her favorite harisen.

"Nimura......! Raika-san! Thanks!"

"Little girllllllllllllllllllll! Little girllllllllllllllllllll!"

Relishing the sweet taste of friendship, I darted out of the clubroom. Leaving the cries of Sako-senpai behind.

For now, I shall give up on the good paying job introduced by Sako-senpai and go to my usual part-time job. But, if I don't attend lectures, I won't have the face to see Oba-san again, I thought as I reached my apartment, opened the door, just to find another troublesome thing before me.

"I'm back...... h-hey, what's this!"

A few pieces of cloth were hanging down from the ceiling like curtains, as if partitioning the room into a complicated maze. It was like a makeshift haunted house for the school festival.

"Oi-tan, welcome back."

"Welcome back, Oji-san."

From the gaps between the cloth, the faces of the criminal duo responsible for this state poked out.

"What in the word is this!?"

"Ah, you mean this? How is it? It was really difficult to pin them up."

"That's not the problem......"

"I'm back."

Just as I was thinking about how to point out the problematic part of this situation, Sora-chan, whose figure I couldn't see, had come back. When I saw the bag of bento takeouts in her hand, I realized she was in charge of buying dinner today.

"Ah, it's already done."

Sora-chan looked at the makeshift drapery as she said that in a matter-of-fact manner.

"No no no! That's not it! I was asking why are you doing this!"

I cut in frantically, fearing that I might let this slip if not.

"Well, it won't be good if the incident the other day happen again right?"

I understood immediately that she was referring to the incident that day when I bumped into Sora-chan when she came out of the bath. Then, for some reason, Sora-chan's face turned red as we exchanged looks and she glared at me. It seemed like she was still angry.

Er, that matter was already over..... and didn't I apologize enough yet?

"Oji-san, it's tough for you to wait outside every time we take a bath right? And it's getting colder as well."


When I thought about it, October, November were approaching, and it would get colder and colder, and it might be more preferable to go to the public baths every day.

But, even when she said that, this kind of partitioning......

"With this, Onee-chan can change her clothes in peace, and she won't start clinging to you when she oversleeps."

"I-I won't do that again! That kind of thing!"

Upon saying that, she glared at me again with an extremely angry face. No, even if you say that......

"Onee-chan, dinner dinner."

"Ah, aah, sorry. I'll get to it right away."

Hina, who had been ignored all this while, seemed to have grown impatient and shook her big sister's leg.

"I'll pour the Miso soup. Ah, Oji-san, please set the table."

"U-Uhn...... wait, where's the table?"

While I was certain that it was somewhere within the jungle of drapes, I could see no sign of it nor its shadow within my field of vision. I wondered how we could have our meals in this maze-like, horror-house-like room.

On hearing my question, Miu-chan answered in a matter-of-fact manner,

"We'll take them down during meals."

"...... then put them up again after meals? Who's doing it?"

"That of course will be......"

Miu-chan grinned with a smiling face that even idols couldn't match up to.

That means I have to do it huh......

Even though it felt like Miu-chan had the whole house completely under her thumb, I proceeded to take down the cloth without being told to do so and returned the chabudai back to its original location. Just at the time when I finished all that, Sora-chan brought out a tray of instant Miso soup, a bowl for each of us.

"Hina, hamburger!"

"By the way, Oji-san, we picked yours without asking you."

"Oi-tan, Hina chose it."

"I see...... I'm looking forward to it."

With mixed feelings of anticipation and apprehension, I took out a box from the carrier and it was ginger-fried pork bento.

"Ah, that's mine."

Seems like it's not mine. Following that was a stamina bento[1]

"No. That's mine."

Sora-chan snatched it away from me. That's also wrong? Wait, when middle school girls get riled up over a stamina bento, the world may be coming to an end......

"What, do you want to say something?"

She readily saw through my thoughts and as such, I turned my attention back to the bento.

Now now, my long awaited bento......

"...... what's this?"

Only "what's this" could be used to describe the last remaining article in the vinyl carrier.

"H-Hina...... this is?"

"Isn't it kewt?"

Right now, it was a little hard to look at the innocent smiling face of my cute niece.

Even though autumn was nearing, as a pretty healthy male university student, I was not sure what kind of face I should make when a bento that was jam-packed with nothing but mushrooms was put in front of me.

"This bento is made up of mushrooms only eaten during autumn, it seems."

Like what Miu-chan said, it had nothing but mushrooms. In other words, there was no meat. It was really healthy. But just mushrooms.

"Didn't you say that you are getting tired of bento, so this should be good right?"

Though I was pretty sure that the nearby bento shop's menu had almost all kinds of choices......

"Hina...... if possible, let me have something with meat, or at the very least some fish next time."

"Got it."

I couldn't afford to go for my part-time job with an empty stomach, so I stuffed myself with the mushroom bento while on the verge of weeping.

Then, as I was spending the precious time before my part-time job sipping tea, Miu-chan suddenly snuggled up to me.

"Oji-san, I have a small request......"

"Hn? What is it?"

"Er, you see, we'd like to go out to town on our next rest day......"

"The three of you?"

"Yes. And so...... we'd like some allowance to cover our transport and meals...... eh-heh."


Well, if they are going to town, they do need money for transport and meals.

"Er, how much will you need?"

"Around 3000 yen?"

"3-3000 yen......"

3000 yen meant three pieces of 1000-yen notes. It was to be expected but.

If I put it in simpler terms, it could cover about three to four days worth of meals for us. It was also a figure achieved through saving and scrimping. And all that would be spent in a single day.

No, as a man, I did't want to say things like "You need 3000 yen!?". If I could, I'd hand over it with a generous gesture but......

"As I thought...... money is tight right?"

Sora-chan asked with an apologetic face.

"I-It's fine. 3000 yen only? Here you go."

I took out three pieces of 1000-yen notes from my wallet and handed them to Sora-chan.

"Is that enough? If you need more......"

"No, this is plenty."

Even though my wallet became lighter, I thought that it didn't matter. As their guardian, I didn't want them to feel troubled by money hardships from as early as elementary school. But it didn't mean that I would allow them to waste money.

"Ah, but, don't stay out too late."

I reminded them, to which they energetically replied "Alright".

"By the way, where will you be going? Are you going to watch a movie or something?"

"It's a secret."

Said Hina while smiling secretively for some reason.

A bowl of 200-yen Su-Udon[2] stuffed with free-of-charge fried flour left over from fritters and with half of the soup gone made up my lunch for the day. On careful thought, I could only get nourishment from oil and wheat from such a meal, but with the money I had left, I was nevertheless thankful for it.


I sighed out upon emptying the last drop of the gooey broth from my bowl. After this, I had about an hour of free time. While I could go back to my apartment, there were times when I would prefer to be alone like this.

"Oh, isn't this Segawa-kun?"

It was Sako-senpai.

On his tray were a large serving of curry and fried potatoes, a separate plate of kaarage, and also pork soup, in truth, a bourgeois lineup. Frankly, it was an envious spread.

"What's with your simplistic lunch again?"

"You should know even without me saying it. I'm being thrifty."

"That's really admirable."

While saying that, Sako-senpai starting devouring generous helpings of his curry.

"I won't let you have any even if you stare at me like that."


He saw through me. He promptly smashed my wild hope of getting lucky enough to get bestowed a piece of those potatoes.

"But, if you are willing to accept a condition of mine, I may think about giving you some."

"No thanks."

"That's fast!? You should at least listen to what I have to say first."

"No, you are just going to ask me to let you meet my nieces."

"How...... how did you know?"

Who wouldn't?

Sako-senpai cleared his throat, downed the rest of his curry and pork soup and continued.

"Regarding the matter on the part-time job we talked about yesterday, the other party has contacted me and wants you to come down this weekend."


"It's just a one-day short term part-time job. And you will get paid in cash on that day itself."

That's great...... with this, I can tide over for a while.

"Details of the contact are written here. Call them later."

"Thank you very much!"

"So, in line with this, a visit to your house......"

I snatched the note where the details were written from Sako-senpai who was mumbling some nonsense, and without waiting for him to finish, I left the school cafeteria.

On that night.

"Eh...... part-time job......?"

I told Sora-chan and the rest about the part-time job introduced by Sako-senpai during dinner.

It was a monotonous job at a food processing plant from Saturday night to Sunday morning.

It seemed like the work only involved repetitive simple tasks and no moving of heavy objects, so it didn't seem like something that tough. But yet, it was a lot more high paying than expected.

I wouldn't mind working at such a job every weekend.

Even while I told them about it happily, Sora-chan and Miu-chan appeared to be crestfallen.

"Do you really have to go to that job?"

"W-What is it, all of a sudden?"


The two of them exchanged a troubled look.

"Didn't I say it before at the time when we just started living together? We should make and save up whenever we can."

What in the world are they troubled about?

Even when I asked them for the reason, the pair appeared to have difficulty saying it to me.

"Onee-tan, what's up?"

Hina, appearing to be worried about her sisters, snuggled up to them.

In the end, I went for my part-time job that night without hearing the reason behind their crestfallen looks.

In the place of Hina as well, who had already fallen asleep, the two sisters sent me off.

For some reason, the gathering place was the east gate of the university. Perhaps it was because the participants were mostly students from my university, or perhaps it was merely because the place was a convenient one.

When I arrived on my bicycle speedily, there were already several others who appeared to be students like me gathered there.

After a while, a large van drove up to the front of the gate. And inside it was a well-built man.

"What, there are surprisingly not many people this month."

The man snorted unhappily as he looked at the few of us gathered in front of the gate.

And as if to show his displeasure, his chest covered in a tank top trembled a little.

"And furthermore, they are all so frail-looking...... hey, that fella over there!"


"Say your name, your faculty and the year you are in."

"I'm Segawa Yuuta, first year in literature faculty."

"Segawa you say!?"

"Uwah! I'm sorry I'm sorry!"

Just at the moment I gave out my name, the man bellowed at me like an ogre, and consequently, I ended up apologizing earnestly in an involuntarily manner from fear. Then, that macho man grinned, came close to me, and suddenly slapped my shoulder.

"I see, you are Segawa huh! I've heard from Sako-san!"



"Er, are you an acquaintance of Sako-senpai?"

"Ha ha ha! Rather than being an acquaintance, you can say that I owed that person a few favors!"

Even though I couldn't imagine at all what kind of favors Sako-senpai could do for this man, but the truth was, it was thanks to him that I could get this well-paying job.

"Well, don't be so tense! Loosen up."

But, why is this Mr. Macho touching my body randomly......

Still carrying a tinge of uneasiness, we boarded the van and left the assembly area.

Driving along the road from the east gate of the university, it passed over a hill and continued all the way straight to the neighboring city.

The van drove for about thirty minutes along that road, then turned into a small road and further drove for another twenty minutes before reaching its destination. There, was a factory surrounded by a forest.

With just a few lamps attached to the side of the factory, the illumination could hardly be said to be bright. Furthermore, it was surrounded by tall trees which blocked out most of the moonlight.

Clearly speaking, it was eerie.

Though Sako-senpai had mentioned that this was a food processing job...... no matter how I looked at it, it didn't seem to be so.

This factory seemed to have been built at such a remote place because it had something to hide. And to have gathered the part-timers at a time and place away from public view...... could it be some kind of terrible work?

No, Sako-senpai couldn't possibly send me to such a place...... or should I say the opposite?

"Hey, quickly get over here."

On Mr. Macho's urging, we went around to the back door of the factory.

It was already a dark place, and it was even darker at the back door area. Mr. Macho spoke something into the intercom attached to the door and then turned around.

"Alright, listen up. I'll have you all work here until morning. But let me say this first...... don't speak about anything you see inside to anyone. Get it?"

At the moment when things became increasingly suspicious, the back door opened slowly, and we were shoved inside.

And what lay before me was......!?

"Wh-What's all thissss!"

Well, you might wonder what triggered off my exaggerated exclamation, but in reality, I saw several men lining by the two sides of a conveyor belt.

To top it off, they all had well-built bodies and it seemed like the narrow work space was filled with their muscles.

"Er...... who may these people be?"

I asked Mr. Macho without thinking.

"They are all my underclassmen in the American Football club."

American Football club...... so that's why they are all so well built. Just when I was taking in all this, Mr. Macho started explaining to the newbie us on what our work entailed.

This was the factory of Mr. Macho's family, Hanamura-owned confectionary, and what the rough-looking American Football fellows were nimbly making was their bestseller, strawberry daifuku.

In a defense formation flanking both sides of the conveyor belt, they set the perfect combination of red bean grain paste and strawberries on top of the white ping-pong sized mochi running on the conveyor belt. And further up, the offense team awaited, and moving their stubby fingers in an unexpected nimble fashion, they stretched the mochi and wrapped it around the red bean grain paste and strawberries, thus completing the strawberry daifuku.[3]

It was really a beautifully synchronized teamwork.

"Listen up, even though you are temps, you are a member of the team! A mistake from one person becomes the mistake of the entire team! When things become tough, cry out this!"

""I love strawberries! I love strawberries!""

The American Football fellows chanted in unison at the signal given by Mr. Macho, Hanamura-senpai.

That line didn't sound particularly appealing coming from those brute-like voices.

Anyway, the only thing I knew was that I needed to spend the rest of the night with these hot-blooded fellows setting strawberries on top of the mochi. But, this was when a question popped up.

"Er, just now, you told us not to tell anyone about what we saw...... why's that?"


Mr. Macho's holler reverberated. Following that, Hamura-senpai shouted, "Look!" and thrust some packaging paper for strawberry daifuku before me.

Decorations of various animals like dogs, cats, rabbits, racoons, and elephants could be seen making mochi, harvesting strawberries and stirring the inside of a pot. This was probably depicting the scene of making a strawberry daifuku.

"The strawberry daifuku from the Hanamura confectionary are made by the animals of the forest! You can't go about destroying the dreams of children right!"

The nearly two-meter tall big man, Hanamura-san, was serious.

And thus, we 'battled' with the sweet daifuku until dawn.

"The world..... has become white......"[4]

After our work that had gone on for an entire night ended, Hanamura-senpai drove us back to the university with that same van we came in. From there on, I headed back to my apartment slowly on my bicycle.

Frankly speaking, it was a hellish part-time job.

I really wanted to knock down the 'me' who was underestimating this to be a simple and relaxed job from a few hours ago and jammed some of that strawberry daifuku into 'my' mouth.

Indeed, it didn't require physical strength. Since at any rate, the work I was responsible for, only involved placing strawberries on top of the mochi and red bean grain paste which are stacked up like a kagami mochi as they ran by me.

But, I underestimated it. This monotonous and yet rhythmical work required substantial mental endurance.

It was fine for the first hour but, gradually, my body became used to it and started reacting reflexively, and consequently, I started hallucinating that the world only consisted of me, strawberries and mochi.

I felt that if it had gone beyond that, I might start thinking that I'm a strawberry.

On top of that, the factory was filled with the aroma of strawberries and red bean grain paste. Even though I had not eaten for around eight hours, I felt kind of full.

The only redeeming factor was the feeling of accomplishment and a strange sense of solidarity, when it was time to go back, without thinking, I ended up embracing one of my comrades nearby. This was something I heard later, but every year, it was thanks to this part-time job that the number of people joining the American Football club was never lacking......

Anyway, the work was tough and I was dangerously close to betting my youth on American Football, but, the pay was extraordinary. On top of that, I could take back some strawberry daifuku.

But never would I want to do it again. Neither did I want to see any more of strawberry daifuku for a while.

"If this is how it is, then it may be better to just work at the convenience store......"

It was perhaps divine punishment on me for thinking naively that money could be made easily.

"I'll sleep once I get back......"

But I got that feeling that strawberry daifuku would appear in my dreams if I didn't bathe and wash off their aroma before I sleep. Completely exhausted, I pedaled up to my nostalgic home.

As I was dragging my heavy feet up the stairs, I could hear a bunch of lively voices from somewhere.

"This voice......"

Having heard them, I crept up to the second floor without making a sound, then stood just below the ventilation fan attached to the kitchen of my apartment and strained my ears.

"Onee-chan, cut those vegetables!"

"How do I cut the vegetables!? I have never really held a kitchen knife before."

"That goes the same for me. Well, just cut it in half or something."

"Uwuu...... got it...... ehyy!"


"O-Onee-chan, the chopping board!"

"Eh..... kyaa!? What should I do! The chopping board split!"

"Heyy, Hina also wants to helpp."

"No! If you come close to the kitchen, things will really get out of hand!"

"That's right, Hina, you should stay there and rub the meat!"

"Mm, got it."

What are they doing......?

It seemed like they were cooking something judging from their conversation.

Why would those kids, who have zero experience in cooking, do such a thing out of the blue......

"Er, the next thing is to grill the hamburger steak......"

"I think the consommé soup just needs to be boiled. Probably."

"Hina's done here."

"And what's left is the salad...... salad right. What do I need to do for that?"

"Hey, if we don't hurry up, Oji-san will be back soon."

"I know I know!"

Don't tell me they are making a meal for me......

But why a hamburger steak so early in the morning?

"Ah, I see...... that was why they asked me whether I could skip the part-time job."

They probably wanted to make dinner for me originally.

But, since I suddenly had a part-time job coming in, their plans got changed.

"Jeez...... are they going to make me eat a hamburger steak so early in the morning?"

Even while I muttered that, I could not help but break into a smile.

Even though I got worked up by myself and brought them here, my new place was cramped and they had been making a fuss during bath times, and I had thought that perhaps my willfulness might be causing them trouble instead......?

Those were the worries I had at times.

Above all, I myself had been weighed down by the harsh reality.

However...... right now, I feel that the choice I made was not a mistake.

"Living with those kids really didn't seem so bad...... right?"

Upon saying those words, miraculously, I could feel strength welling up in me.

"Now...... even so, I can't enter the house without waiting for them to complete it."

Even though my entire body was swamped with fatigue, I didn't feel sleepy.

Rather, I was looking forward to their completion of my breakfast.

See, if I close my eyes like this, I can catch a whiff of the burning smell...... burning smell!?

"Kyaaaaaaaaa! Onee-chan, it's burning! The patty is burning!"

"No way!? Why!? I did as I was told though!"

"This is not the time for that, open the windows! Windows!"

"Eeww, it's all black, ah-hahaha!"

"Woah!? Wait a minute!"

As I rushed in frantically, the whole room was covered in black smoke.

In the end, it was close to noon by the time my breakfast was done.

It was in fact after the third attempt when I got to eat a half-cooked hamburger steak.

"Fufu, I'm sorry. Oji-san. We are not too good with cooking."

After eating my brunch made from all that hilarious commotion, the very least I could do was to offer to clean up for them.

But, Miu-chan who had noticed that I was still light-headed from working throughout the night lent me a hand.

"No, your thoughts made me really happy."

"Hearing you say that makes me happy. We'll try again and make it better next time."

Miu-chan made a small gutsy pose. If my hands weren't covered with detergent, I would have hug her then. Seeing the smiling faces of these kids washed away all the tough moments and the unforgiving words from Oba-san. But, Miu-chan had always been a shrewd one.

"So...... Oji-san. There is one thing I'd like to consult you......"

With a devilish smile to which no one could say 'no' to, Miu-chan came whispering into my ear.


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