The Spotty-Cracked Mirror
The Purple Mirror
My world is the coolest.
Rokumeikan Private University, located in Kinugasa, inKita Ward of Kyoto, has a total of three dining halls. Of the three, theZonshinkan Chika Dining Hall (lovingly abbreviated to "Zonchi") wasthought to be the most lively. This was probably because it had an extensivemenu, and it was right next door to the co-op bookstore.
That day, since I had no class during second period, Iwent straight to the Zonshinkan Chika after first period. I'd had no breakfastthat morning-I'd accidentally overslept by a whole hour-so I thought I mightgrab an early lunch.
"Man, it's empty at this hour. Risky business,"I mumbled to myself, doubting all the while that I was using the phrase"risky business" correctly. I picked up a tray.
Now, what to eat?
I'm no foodie, so usually I just eat whatever withoutmuch of a fuss. Be it spicy or sweet, I say bring it on. But lately things hadbeen just a little different.
It was only a month ago that I'd spent a hell of a weekin a place where I'd been served three gourmet meals a day. Now, as anaftereffect, my tongue was still stuck in Snootyville. It had been a wholemonth since anything had made me say, "Wow, this is good." Every timeI ate something, it always felt like something was missing, like some keyingredient was lacking.
It wasn't enough of a problem to merit being called aproblem, but I sure was sick of feeling that way. As far as solutions, I hadalready thought of two.
The first was fairly simple: Just eat tasty food.
Can't hope for that to happen in a school dininghall."
But that first suggestion was impossible to follow. Not,anyway, without heading back to that strange, isolated little island. I won'tsay I was totally against the idea, but I certainly had my reservations.
"So that's no good."
Yes, I was talking to myself.
This left one other possible measure, and it was astrong-arm tactic. It was the "beat the child who doesn't listen"tactic. Most problems in the world are solved by either giving or taking.
I made my way to the donburi corner and placed an order.
"Excuse me. Large kimchee bowl, please. Norice."
The lunch lady gave me a quizzical expression and said,"That's just kimchee, son," but she dished it out all the same. As ifit were nothing, she plopped it in front of me, displaying an admirable degree of professionalism.
A big, heaping, mountainous bowl of kimchee. I doubtthere was a single tongue in this world tough enough to chow all that down andstill preserve its sense of taste. I nodded with satisfaction, placed the bowlon my tray, and settled the bill.
The dining hall was so empty that I could hardly decidewhere to sit. In another hour, the place would be filled up with students whohad cut out of second period early. I was never a fan of crowds, so I consideredmyself under a time limit. I took a seat in the corner.
"Down the hatch," I muttered, and took thefirst bite....
This. Was. Awful.
I really had to eat a whole bowl of this stuff? Wasn'tthis what was commonly known as suicidal behavior? What cruel fate had broughtme to this pass? What had I done?
"Is this divine retribution?"
I guess they also say reap what you sow.
From then on, I wielded my chopsticks in silence. If Ikept on talking to myself, people would start thinking I was a weirdo. Andbesides, it's poor table manners to talk while you're eating.
And then, just as I hit my limit-my entire head had gonenumb from the tip of the tongue up, I didn't know what the hell I was doing,or, for that matter, who I was, or what the word who meant, and even what theword meant meant...
She sat in the chair across from me.
"Pull that tray back a little, will you?" shesaid. Then she pushed my tray toward me and placed her own tray in the newlyopened space. Her tray was laden with a plate of spaghetti carbonara, sometuna-and-kelp salad, and a bonus fruit dessert for a grand total of threecourses.
Oh, how bourgeois.
I looked to my right, then to my left. The dining hallwas empty as ever. You could practically call it deserted. So why had shedecided to eat her spaghetti directly across from me? Probably some kind ofdare.
"Oh my God, what is that?! It's all kimchee!"she exclaimed at the shocking sight of my lunch. "Wow! You're eating awhole entire bowl of kimchee!"
She was wide-eyed, her hands up in the air like she wasdoing a banzai cheer. Maybe that was what she was doing, or maybe she wassurrendering. There was also the possibility that she was just Muslim. Any ofthese was fine by me, but in reality, she was probably just surprised.
Her shoulder-length hair had a reddish tint and was doneup in a sort of bob. Her clothes were nothing out of the ordinary. They wereultra-plain, following the style of so much of the Rokumeikan student body. Allof a sudden, when she sat down, she seemed much shorter-but then I realizedmost of her height had come from her extra-tall London boots.
She had a young face, so I couldn't tell if she was mysenior or a peer. Judging by her demeanor alone, it would have seemed plausiblethat she was my junior, except that being that I was a freshman, that waspretty much impossible.
"Hey. Y'know, if you don't respond, I'll get lonelyand stuff." She stared at me with puppy-dog eyes.
"Right," I finally said. "Who areyou?"
I was pretty sure this was our first encounter. But I'dlearned one thing in the past month: This weird little pocket of space known asa "university" had an unusually large number of people who werefriendly and genuine. These strange people would strike up conversations withyou like you had been their close friend for the past ten years-even if you hadnever seen them before in your life. For a guy like me who's bad at evenremembering personal encounters, this made things difficult from time to time.
And surely this girl was another one of those types. Fearingthe hassle of having to deal with a club invitation or, worse, some religiousthing, I went ahead and posed the above question.
Doing so launched her into an over-the-top shocked pose."Hwa?!" she said. "Oh my God! You mean you forgot? You've forgotten?You freaking forgot?! Ikkun, that's so cold!"
Judging from her reaction, it seemed this was not ourfirst encounter.
"Ohhh. I am shocked. But what are you gonna do,right? Yeah, nothing, I guess. You've just got a bad memory after all, right?Well, might as well introduce myself again." She flashed both hands at meand gave a full-faced grin. "I'm Aoii Mikoko!"<o:p></o:p> <o:p></o:p> This might prove to be a painful encounter.
Whether it was our first encounter or not, this was, tobe sure, my first impression of Aoii Mikoko.Chapter Two
Her story was simple. Mikoko-chan and I were classmates.Not only were we taking the same core subjects, but we were also in the sameforeign-language class. We had met face-to-face a number of times, and were inthe same group for the class training camp before Golden Week. We had even beenpaired up before in English class.
"Man...from this conversation alone, I must seemlike a total nut for not remembering you."
"I think you are a total nut!" She laughedlightheartedly. To be able to laugh so cheerfully after someone had entirelyforgotten her existence took a special kind of vacuousness. I figured she wasprobably a pretty nice girl after all.
"Normally, I'd find it pretty disturbing that youforgot me like that. Or rather, I'd be pissed. But that's just how you are,right? Like, you don't forget the stuff that's really important, but you forgetnormal stuff," she said.
"Well, I can't argue with that."
She was exactly right. One time I had even forgotten if Iwas right- or left-handed, and found myself in quite a bind when I actuallytried to sit down and have a meal. To top it all off, when all was said anddone, I turned out to be ambidextrous.
"Okay, and what's happening with you?" I asked."Why aren't you in class?"
"Class? Well, the thing about that is..."
For some reason she seemed abnormally happy. But I gotthe feeling that "abnormally happy" was her default setting. To behonest, even though I'd seen her before, I still couldn't remember what she waslike normally. But either way, it was hard to be put off by this smiley-facedgirl.
"I'm playing hooky."
"Freshmen really ought to go to class," I said.
"Aw, come on, it's boring. Totally boring. What wasit again? Oh, yeah, my economics class. It's just a nonstop stream of jargon.And it's like a math class. I'm a humanities person! And you're skipping classtoo!"
"I don't have a class right now."
"Yep. Fridays I only have a first period and a fifthperiod."
She flung her hands wildly in the air again."Doesn't that kind of suck? That's like six hours of boredom."
"Boredom isn't necessarily a bad thing."
"Hm, I thought boredom was practically thedefinition of 'a bad thing.' Different strokes, I guess." She beganwinding the spaghetti around her fork as she spoke. Unable to successfully getit all on the utensil, it soon became a matter of trial and error. I reckonedit would be awhile before the food actually reached her mouth. Before I knewit, she had put the fork down and switched to chopsticks. So much for stick-to-itiveness.
"Say..." I said.
"There are tons of open seats."
"Yeah, for real. I think this place will fill uppretty soon, though," she said.
"But it's empty now, right?"
"You said it. Something wrong with that?"
"I wanna eat alone, so let's move along now, honey,"I wanted to say. But then I saw her smile-a vulnerable smile that showed she couldn'tpossibly have imagined she was about to be completely rejected-even I had totake pity.
"Hm? You're a weird guy." She gave me the poutylips. "Ah, but I guess if you weren't weird, you wouldn't be you.Weirdness is like your identity, right?"
I couldn't help but feel like I was being inadvertentlyinsulted. But then again, it wasn't as bad as completely forgetting someone youhad been regularly interacting with for a whole month. So I swept the notionaside and switched my focus back to the kimchee.
"Ikkun, you're a kimchee fan?"
"Nah, not particularly."
"But that's a ton of kimchee. Not even Koreans eatthat much in one sitting."
"Well, I have my reasons," I said as I crammedsome kimchee into my mouth. More than half of it still remained in my bowl."Not very interesting ones, but still."
"Try to figure it out yourself first."
"Huh? Oh, right...okay." Mikoko-chan crossedher arms and began to contemplate my rationale. Of course, figuring whatcircumstances could possibly require my eating an entire bowl of kimchee wasn'texactly easy. After just a few moments of pondering, shelet her arms drop back down apathetically. She really was quick to throw in the towel.
Excerpted from Zaregoto 2 by NISIOISIN. Copyright © 2010 by NISIOISIN. Excerpted by permission of Del Rey, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.