1 – 9 : Chapter 1 ALMOST PARADISE : Good bye, WADATSUMI / He and a little witch of Tokyo Bay

 Ho’ori knew the faces of the late teen girls, who were coming close by riding on bayaks and sliding on the surface of the water. They greeted him showing cheerful smiles before he tried to open the mouth. Guessing from the uniforms, they would be probably the students of a high school of the upper reaches.

 “Good morning, sheriff!”

 Undressing the morning haze one after another the girls passed through the side of him together with merry healthy laughing. Their white teeth gave a refreshing impression on him.

 A standard morning scene of the river in the early summer was there. Though the heat of the sunlight was becoming stronger day by day, for this hour, on the river, it was cool yet. The skyscrapers which were towering high over on both river shores like the narrow part of the Grand Canyon were blocking off the sunlight moderately. And strong wind which often blew through on the river from the sea in the night had finished brushing away stagnations of hot air.

 So, on the river, for people, the new morning is prepared every morning perfectly.

 Not limited today, the morning, which finished hatching just before, removes the vain tension from all people’s faces.

 Using the surface of the river like this, Ho’ori commuted to his office every morning. He didn’t use the roads on the ground unless the water surface got rough by typhoons or heavy wind. On a rainy day, it tended to be difficult a little, but nowadays because commuters using the river were increasing, a simple shower room was prepared in many offices and people were allowed to take a shower time before working hours. On his office too. So, he was not afraid to get wet. The main purpose of the preparing of these rooms of course was the river commuters washed away salty sweat or warm themselves, but recently it was said there were also some people who chose the water surface commuting for the purpose to get refreshing by a shower.

 Being careful about sudden strong waves from the side, Ho’ori was pedaling slowly and smoothly. Because his office of now was downstream from his apartment, only paying attention not to ride wrong tides he could get his destination almost automatically. So, his commute was very easier than other people driving around him now. In this hour, there were few people going down the river like him. Almost all people sliding on the surface by bayaks were residents of Tsukuda, Tsukishima, Kachidoki, Harumi, and other manmade islands floating on the river mouth, and they had to commute to their offices or schools by pedaling toward upstream every morning. Saying about their goal of them, nearest was Nihonbashi, but there were even some tough people who had a very distant goal. For example, to Itabashi ward which is one of the edge areas of Tokyo.

 But, in spite of that long commuting, people basically kept showing off their best smiles on the morning river.

 As next, some males looking like office workers bowed to Ho’ori with smiles and smoothly passed through his side. They were wearing very tight sportswear in modest color for driving but their bayaks had brilliant emblems of a famous mega-bank. Nowadays the human diversity on the river also was increasing.

 On the surface of the river, each people were allowed to take enough space. They need not anymore get scared by baseness molesters. They need not also anymore be careful about a fake accuse by a criminal pretending a victim of a molester. To be squeezed together with other passengers into a crazy crowded train while being ignored bone’s hardness and directions of joints had already become an old story.

 Commuting on the river! (and by a bayak!) Now, that became a luxurious lifestyle that made the people living on the mainland envy.

 Because of high-rise buildings which are being constructed one after another on the out edge of inland as if cutting off the wind from the sea, the heat-island phenomenon is prompted more and more, so the inland area of Tokyo in summer becomes like a bottom of a heated pan. The gap of temperature between noon and night is reduced day by day, sultry nights paste the day to the next day, the two days are bound with each other like a long-long one day.

 Every day is being continued as the long-long one-day that never ends. On the interior land, days continue as a day. Dates are only markings for office works. The inside of the one day which is never renewed, people will be stewed together with many ingredients, which were from social problems like the incompetent government to just personal problems like depression or other diseases. As a result, people get being soaked and sticky with each other in sweat which is leaking out from themselves. But they cannot do anything except to stew themselves more and more without added water. In the end, they will be cooked to the thick soup which tastes awful and no one can eat, in the inside of the pot which is called ‘the city of summer’.

 But on the river, everything is different at all. Of course, people here also have many problems as same as the inland people, but there is a new morning here definitely. The day and also the next day, every day is renewed every day precisely, the time is continuing but being reborn repeatedly. ‘There is not a night that does not dawn’, the evidence of that word is here.

 Maybe, even for only this fact, it had been well worth coming to here…., yes, it’s not so bad. Ho’ori often said so to himself in his mind.

 He had rented a room at the opposite shore area being called ‘Eitai’, because of his budget. It is not in Tsukuda island area where his office was in, but after all, his choice looked to be making a good result. Comparing with the flourishing Tsukuda-area, as natural, that location was not comfortable about almost all situations in daily life except to go rowing out onto the river. Moreover, the apartment building itself was so old like ancient remains. But when he thought about his life plan being with the river, it let him feel a lighted potential. The apartment had a free bayak parking space on land and the building itself also was so close to a public slope of the river. Considering his need wanting smoothly to use his bayak in everyday life, this situation seemed ideal.

 When his department transfer was announced in the former office, he had already decided to buy his own bayak, not a rental from his next office. In the lunch break of that day, he ordered the new bayak soon on the internet from his office. At first, he was feeling uncomfortable about eyes laughing at him from around his rear. But while repeating to order each part of the machine on a maker’s site he gradually became not mind about them. The pure mind about the inside of the monitor happened in him, and he very concentrated on the 3D design drawing. Into the inside of the display, watching at the virtual factory-machines assembling up his virtual craft which he must be falling in love with in the future, he was riding on the wave from the heart. Probably that wave was the expectation toward this morning. In his office, at his chair, he had noticed by his back that there were some eyes making a fool of him yet, but he didn’t mind about it already at all. He couldn’t help focusing on his just front.

 As if showing off to the back people, Ho’ori ordered the high-performance bayak as possible to suit his budget. However, unfortunately, even if his fellows of those times directly looked into his monitor from the rear, they would have not been capable of understanding even what Ho’ori was doing. Because they were pure terrestrial human beings.

 The day that the new bayak was delivered to him was just the day of moving. Soon after he had arrived at a new room, in the best timing, the delivery driver wildly rang the doorbell of the room. 

 He had brought back calmness now, but at least for some days after receiving the bayak, Ho’ori was excited like a child who got a toy that he was wanting for a long time.

 The body color was gun-metallic. Simple and sturdy, that design of the watercraft looked powerfully like a steam engine vessel in old days. In fact, because of the big gear and the powerful screw, the catamaran cycling ship which had two parallel trunks had even the power that can pull a stopped small boat easily. Of course, by the two-air trunk and the tough body the weight was heavier than ordinary models, so pedaling also was tough a little, but because of it, the machine could withstand a little rough wind or violent wave. And Ho’ori had chosen a tandem seat instead of a big rear carrier which normal models have. So, before he received that, he had been worried that the loading capacity would have been decreased, but when he watched the body, he understood soon it had been a groundless worry. As proved by the no supply alone sailing between Izu-Shimoda and Hachijo-island which had been done as advertising, even under the tandem seat enough loading space had been secured. That seemed too enough for a date plan by just two persons on a day.

 (Now it’s too hot, yet.)

 Ho’ori was warming a plan of a one-day touring with Mana and was thinking it must become a good timing about two months later. He had heard from the children that in that season, the temperature will be comfortable, and a cool breeze would start to stroke softly the surface of the river. Because she was a resident of a pretty inside area of land, this hour, probably Mana should be on an awful crowded train for commuting. When imagined her now situation like that, Ho’ori got filled up with a feeling like an apology. She was a person to laugh very easily, so if he would take her to the river and let her ride on the rear seat of his bayak, she will shout in joy even to tiny waves of small pleasure boats. In the brilliant splash water like popped and scattered big pearls, while tightly clinging to his back, while strongly pushing her face to his back, she should laugh endlessly.

 When imagining that time, that moment, he could feel gentle expectation and easiness. Even if noisy hours and heavy works will be waiting for him from now as same as usual day, that is only a passing point in a long time and the huge world until to reach the precious time with her. Though it was vague, he could grasp the world as so. Till that day, he just will only pass on the surface of these flowing conceptions. Like now, like this river, and like himself… There might be some gap between this abstract concept and his own character a little. He felt so, and then, tried to recall one sentence of the classical literature of Japan which he learned in student age. Because that was exactly the sentence that could explain his now feeling. But unfortunately, he couldn’t recall even one word. That had been washed away at all from the surface. He laughed at himself on the water alone.

 But soon after, namely, after he arrived at his office, and after completely washed away sweat containing salt in a shower room, moreover, after changed wearing to a fieldwork shirts style which probably had been designed with inspiration from park ranger’s clothes of USA or Canada, and then after sat on the chair, the problem was solved soon.

 “The flowing of a river will never be cut, and have never been kept as same before.”

 “Oh, that is!”

 After clapping his own hands once and had his eyes back to the front again, Ho’ori noticed his coworker, Uruchi, was staring at him with a little shocked face from her desk which was opposite his. She was a researcher of social education who had come as an observer from this area’s education board and,

 “Hey, young man, I recommend to you to acquire basic our culture a bit more…,”

 Like either a teacher advising a kid or an old sister preaching against a little brother, the pedagogist, who was older about ten age than Ho’ori, said so to him. No luster Bob Cut, a minimum makeup, old designed glasses, the face with the hot will, she was a woman making imagine a veteran teacher of an elementary or a junior high school.

 “I think you must have studied about Hojyou-ki or Kamono Choumei. Didn’t you?”

 “yes, of course, I did…, but I remember only that I learned about that…,”

 “On the surface of the stagnant water, the bubbles appear or disappear within their short life, and never stay at one place. People and their nests being in this world also behave on the same way…,”

 “Yeah! There was such thing too!”

 With very calm eyes, Uruchi looked at her colleague who had snapped the fingers.

 “I can understand you, Ho’ori.”

 Shiota, the boss of this office, laughed and said so.

 “We need muscle than culture, to associate with the children here.”

 But Uruchi exaggeratedly shook her head to show disagreement against his words.

 “Our kids are worth getting expected about their learning ability too, boss!”

 She worked as a stuff of this office two years longer than Ho’ori. This woman, who had come here for research on the educational effect of special local culture, had a longer career about the relationship with the pirate children, and always was openly declaring the love for the here children from the heart.

 “Without doubt, the here kids have great abilities about learning than Ho’ori-kun who was in the same age of them.” 

 Heard what she said, Ho’ori tasted a complicated feeling. But what she said was correct. The children of the river who grow up in a playground including complex natural environments read climates or currents on the river every day as natural. For this reason, especially about the pirate kids, almost all kids were excelled than normal adults on reading abilities against these natural phenomena. In addition to that, it was said that the lifestyle of the kids like that was promoting even a learning ability on a desk. Now the children of the river were called an ideal model case and being regarded as an example that a managing sense in a chaotic natural environment changing in a very short time is improving synthetic learning skills of kids. Especially about their sensing ability against three-dimensional space was being praised widely. On some hypotheses in modern researching about education ways, it was said that because they dive into the river almost every day since the age when they were tiny kids, so got that special ability. And surely, it seemed proper thinking.

 And it was also said that from a very young age, joining a pirate which had common interests and composed of many age kids was promoting social skill training to adjust themselves into the real society.

 After all, why the kids of the river could be playing with no bondage every day was by the reason that their parents welcomed an affirmative hypothesis insisting on the good effects of the fishing play on learning and social skills. So naturally, the kids were being expected to become smarter, than to stop requesting more pocket money or to bring more seafood. If there was not that hypothesis, no one would be able to prospect how this culture and children playing with the river will have been.

 “What dangerous play!”

 That might have been the lost future taken away with such a word. When thought about that so, we may notice that this world was weaker than the thing generally imagined. The shore ruled only by nostalgia never exists. And for these reasons, the kids such as Kohada who was performing very well on both learning on the desk and playing on the river will be capable of being regarded as a symbol of the now river.

 “Oh, hey.”

 Uruchi suddenly changed the talking theme.

 “Have you seen Toyomi lately?”

 “Just two days ago. She was fighting other children as every time.”

  Hearing what Ho’ori said, Uruchi frowned.

 “I can’t understand her anymore.”

 It seemed that ‘the bad girl Toyomi’ was being treated as an unmanageable kid also in her school. Ho’ori’s office was including a close connection with the here children commuting to public schools in this area, adding that, there was a strong relationship between Uruchi and the school board, so this office also was receiving requests to cooperate for education. In short, the teachers were requiring that as same as them the river keepers also held their eyes on Toyomi.

 “Something happened?”

 “I heard that last night three elementary school kids were threatened and chased by Toyomi on the river shore.”

 “Last night? Why kids were there at such time?”

 “They are saying that they were on a way home from a cramming school. I don’t know anything about Toyomi’s excuse. Anyway, first of all, the parents of the three kids complained to the elementary school of the kids within the night. Second, the elementary school complained to the junior high school of Toyomi this morning. And finally, her school complained to this office soon after that. It means that I took up the phone a short time ago and heard their requests enough. They required ‘please watch her more carefully!’”

 “Humph!”

 “It seems they are giving up about that girl perfectly.”

 “Maybe it’s true. But…, I wonder why Toyomi showed such idiot motion?”

 “I know nothing special. But it seems not first. I guess her teachers are holding and hiding more information that kids around here are often threatened by her on a way home from a cramming school at night.”

 “Ummm…,”

 “On the night river shore, kids can never hide themselves from her. Probably for this reason she’s called ‘witch’ by kids. And on the other hand, it seems she herself too thinks that the night river is her territory. Of course, this is not good. But…, well…, even if the situation is like so, it would be far better than she will go to the mainland and truly get related to a hotbed of bad guys.”

 “Ummm…,”

 To the inside of Ho’ori’s mind, that slender silhouette appeared. Of course, it was hers. Toyomi was standing alone on the river shore, straitening her back and was letting the not-long dark hair dancing into the wind of the night river. Said nothing and was staring at far with shining eyes.

 Uruchi continued,

 “Teachers said that she does not get familiar with her school or her class at all. And moreover, I heard now she tends to get being negligent to learning and to fall asleep even in class. Her defiant attitude became too strong, so almost all teachers seem to give up about what they can do for her, even the homeroom teacher of her.”

 No, it’s not ‘negligent attitude’…, Ho’ori muttered so in the mind. He was understanding that she just wanted only to sleep. That was exactly a natural phenomenon. She should be on the river till later almost every night. Despite such daily life, if she was cheerful in the school in the daytime too, it must be said more unordinary than now situation. Ho’ori felt as if he could see the scene that the girl was in a deep sleep while doing like pasting the just front of the face onto the desk. She was sleeping like dead without any dream.

 “You know something about her?”

 By the sudden question of Uruchi, Ho’ori became conscious. Her eyes were watching him calmly from the inside of the glasses, so he was upset a little. And,

 “…There is nothing special. But…,”

 He stopped his mouth.

 Yes, he had already reached that conclusion many times. In short, it was the way that he would give up her by considering her as a just bad girl. In fact, that way would be the best orthodox method. And if he would choose that way, he should tell everything about her which he knew, on just here, now, and leave everything to an expert in education such as Uruchi. If he did so, after that, Uruchi or someone as an acquaintance with her would make Toyomi a correct bright girl.

 But,

 “But…,”

 On the other hand, that was also true that something was hanging at the edge of the Ho’ori’s mind. ‘But’, I need not mind anything really? About the possibility that someone loses something…? Even if that possibility is related to me?

 (It’s merely a justification!)

 He pointed out in his mind. Certainly, or probably, that worry was not the truth. Yes, it was true there had been that worry in his mind but the worry itself had not been the truth. In fact, maybe he was only waiting for his mind to get calm. If there would be no meaning to continue this feeling, he should be able to get calm even soon. Only imagination had been the reason after all.

 If Mana knew his such mind, while showing a mischievous smile she might diagnose such as,

 “You have fallen in love.”

 Yes certainly, that may resemble it. But! But, after all, it was not such a thing. That seemed not such a thing being brought by personal motive. If it was true that this odd emotion was rooting to such a selfish mind, the anxiety would not be needed. Because that is always no more than a temporary thing. Toward the future, he should become gradually but surely able to treat Toyomi as same as he did do for other kids. Perfectly, as the other person, as a kid. ‘She is aggravating own youthfulness? Oh, it’s so serious!’ by this, it would be ended.

 But, in practice, it seemed difficult yet that he really would do so…, he was sensing something odd.

 “Oh, it doesn’t mean I want you to talk about everything you know.”

 Ho’ori was surprised and looked at the colleague’s face quickly. The pedagogist was gently smiling at him. Then, she said clearly but softly.

 “Naturally, on actual scenes as education, it tends to be said that sharing basic information about students between teachers is an absolute ideal premise. And of course, it really helps teachers in many situations. But I guess that, on the other hand, at the same time, something will be lost is also true. If you are being watched at always by systems, should get uncomfortable too, don’t you? To the here kids like the wildlife, it should be more uncomfortable.”

 She continued to talk showing the eyes filled with a strong will.

 “Do you know? You now have a pretty rare position not bound by the existing education system despite you are closer to the kids than any adults. So can take also another way.”

 “Another way?”

 “Yes. The way to regard the thing that maybe we will lose as more important, for you and Toyomi.”

 “uhm…, but can that bring a better end?”

 “I can’t guarantee such thing. But one of the happy ends by your choice must be definitely there. Of course, I’m willing to help you, when you get feel difficult.”

 She said so with a big-nice smile.

 “Hey, sheriff. Do you know? You are her favorite. Me? I’m almost ignored even now. On the river, you are the only one who she is opening the heart.”

 “Though I can’t feel such atmosphere…,”

 The specialist of social education smiled at him who shook the head and,

 “How do you think about this special valuable prepared environment? I’m always believing that this place will be a more wonderful place by all-stars assemble with harmonious on this huge stage and repeat happy endings!”

 She asserted so with a hot tone and with the eyes filled up with strong beliefs. Ho’ori felt that the expression, ‘repeat happy endings’, was exactly from her character as a person concerned with education. And she continued more,

 “We are the honorable backstage of that wonderful theater. Though some opinions saying that we are vain, but no theater which doesn’t have backstage.”

 “We’re vain? Who said such a thing?” 

 “We cannot do anything if we are upset by opinions on the Internet.”

 Following Shiota’s voice, Uruchi showed the display of her mobile personal terminal to Ho’ori.

 “Oh, ‘Dagon Net’…, I too know this.”

 According to that column, ‘any management by adults is not needed for the autonomous paradise…,’ Such tone was being continued at great length on the digital paper. So that,

 “I have never read this site, but now I guess I can understand why Kohada hates this.”

 “You think so too? Yes, we are not here as managers, we are being prepared as backstage staff on the great theater. This article writer is not understanding nothing at all about that.”

 “Ok. Let’s get down to our duties. Oh, I remember we have received a new job of the backstage staff. Start this fresh mission. Check your mailbox, Ho’ori.”

 Shiota said so with a carefree face, so Ho’ori also opened his working terminal with a stress-free face and saw the title of the new job, which had already arrived at as a digital document. That title was ‘The new research project in the lower reaches area of the river’…, but, then, while he was reading that, Ho’ori gradually came to feel as if his own mouth edge started twitching.

 After made a morning cup of tea empty, Shiota mentioned the name of the university which Ho’ori had graduated a long time ago, and continued,

 “In short, this is a request for cooperation on the academic research. They are wanting you to help them as a guide of diving in the night river.”

 “Yes, I understood, because I also read this. But…, why me?”

 “I don’t know the detail.”

 Shiota bent his thick lips and shook his head. 

 “But…, I cannot have interest to this.”

 Though Ho’ori insisted,

 “But this is your work. And…, a chance of restoring your honor must be welcomed. Isn’t it?”

 If being said so, Ho’ori couldn’t say anything. Why? Because that was the truth. Shiota said adding to that,

 “I think you don’t know, but about that case…about that attack mission, some people are saying that you completely performed good work. Your guide was perfect. Only the police team must take responsibility for that failure. They are saying so. And I think so, too. Yes, we, you are not related to that failure.”

 Shiota appeased him and,

 “I heard a professor of NUMST was caught by criminals as one of the hostages, in that case.”

 “Yes, I know. He was my study supervisor in the university age, and now he is the boss of my fiancée.”

 “Oh, it’s nice. Have you heard about anything from your future wife?”

 “…about what?”

 “About the thing that your teacher has watched something funny in the river of that night, through the transparent hold of that boat.”

 At that moment Ho’ori felt his own heartbeat hopped bigger once.

 “…What he watched?”

 That flower garden coming to expand toward him suddenly came back to his mind. And, Ho’ori felt a sense like an itch on the surface of the heart again. But it was not a bad thing. That feeling, that sweet, peaceful expectation…, then Toyomi’s face appeared from the inside of that. That shining eyes were gazing at him calmly. Why he had not noticed this fact until now. No, it was not. In the first place, he really had not noticed it? That night, Ho’ori met her, in the night river. It was the certain truth. And if that encounter was the truth, why only this encounter must be concluded as imaginary? Of course, ‘this encounter’ meant the encounter with that flower garden.

 “Last night, after you left here, I received the direct phone call from your teacher.”

 Shiota explained with a bitter smile.

 “The professor said it’s the first step of purification…, and he was talking on one way, for about ten minutes. But, after all, I could only understand the professor is wanting to appoint you as a tour guide. He was talking with no breath about that the paradise will open. I know a cult to pray to the water animas is getting popular now, so at first, I misunderstood that it was a new style of religious propagation pretending to request cooperating.”

 In the talking of his boss, only the one word stimulated the heart of Ho’ori. It very easily fell into his deep place. And then, he noticed he himself was strongly wanting to watch that again. Yes, he was wishing to observe that slowly and carefully, if the next chance would come. No, if the next time, it would not fit in just to watch. If the next time would come…,

Ⓒ2016 Takagi Tokio

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