"...So? Can you fix it?"
A girl stood over a boy with a wrench in his hand. In reply, he moaned with a face that suggested a week of constipation.
"I've been trying for four days now, but as things stand, we might reach the next town before I get this done."
"That's not what I wanted to hear! The next town is still miles away."
With a dry laugh, the girl sat down on a bench. The dry wood, cracked by the persistently shining sun, pricked her exposed legs, but at the moment her fatigue overcame the discomfort. She was wearing a typical school uniform blazer, but because of the heat she had taken off her jacket and was fanning herself with her hand.
"Maybe you're just not cut out for fixing things, boy. You're not going to get any praise for having pushed a broken motorcycle 140 miles, you know?"
"Please stop bugging me about it. We're always moving, so I don't have the time to do extensive repairs."
The boy who had been addressed as "boy" tapped his stiff shoulders with the wrench. He was wearing the same uniform as the girl, though of course the boys' version. He had taken off his jacket and necktie, and had unbuttoned his collar as well.
True, there was a limit to the repairs he was able to perform. For their journey, they had bodged a pillion seat on to their originally one-person Super Cub and loaded it with things like food, clothes, gasoline, and water. Two people's luggage meant there was little space left for much in the way of tools.
Bolts and nuts constituted the sum of their parts stock, along with oil and a spark plug. Considering that their tools consisted of just spanner and hex keys and a folding Gerber Knife, a proper repair was beyond even their dreams.
"Maybe we should just trash it..." he suggested.
"Don't be silly. Do you plan on carrying all this luggage on your back?"
"Ngh." The boy was nonplussed after his unrealistic suggestion was shut down. "Then could you at least help me push it, girl?"
"No way." The girl who he had called "girl" glared at him. "What do you think you're doing, trying to make a lady like me to do heavy labor? You even fail at humor."
"Heh, a track and field girl is calling herself a lady? You're probably more muscular than I am."
Her response was a kick in his side.
I guess the lady didn't appreciate the joke. Ouch.
"I guess we'll camp here tonight. At least it's better than pitching a tent in the middle of the road, right?"
"Mmm, Can't argue with that."
They were stopped at a rest area that had been established for nearby farmers. It was only a toilet, a water supply, and some benches among a handful of trees, but it was just what the two of them needed. In areas like this where there is nothing other than a long road and endless meadows, rest areas are more valuable than anything else. Just try sleeping on an asphalt road once: you'll be attacked by insects, hurt your back on the hard ground and be assaulted by the morning heat.
"Well, let's get ready for night then. It's going to get dark soon."
"Mm," the boy nodded. The hour hand of his dear chronograph was already past six. Admittedly, the rather old-fashioned wind-up mechanism wasn't that accurate, but judging from the reddening sky, the time it indicated was probably about right.
"OK, girl, please prepare dinner then. I'll take care of the beds."
"Got it, boy."
They both started with their respective tasks without once calling each other by name.
From the Super Cub's luggage carrier, which they had extended down both sides of the rear wheel, the boy removed a big bundle of their sleeping equipment, while the girl took out a bag once stuffed with ingredients but was now mostly empty except for cookware. Then they set to their respective tasks.
The boy went to two old wooden benches that were sitting end-to-end. Despite being well-worn, they were ideal for his purpose: barely long enough to stretch one's legs out on them and free of disturbing objects like a back or armrests. Even better, the benches were set up between two trees at their sides. Perfect.
He slowly took out some small rolled-up blankets from the bundle. There were eight of those sheets in total, carefully compacted and secured using a clever technique they had thought up. They would therefore get four sheets apiece. On each bench, he folded a pair of these sheets three times and laid them down as a sleeping mat. Then, he laid one sheet down on each bench as a blanket. Though it was summer, they were in the high north on an island, so the weather could change in an instant. The last two blankets he rolled up as pillows.
Next, he made a roof using a laundry line and a large blue sheet. He tied the line to the tree trunks, stretching it over their improvised beds, and pulled the blue sheet over it. The roof was made tent-shaped by placing a weight on each corner. That would be enough to shield them from sunlight as well as from light rain. The arrangement would be pretty vulnerable to the wind, but tying it to the Super Cub, would probably prevent it from being blown away.
Finally, he placed a hollow ceramic pig which had been to the side of the luggage carrier between the benches and loaded its belly with a mosquito coil.
After completing the camping preparations, an appetizing smell wafting his way caused the boy to turn and look.
What greeted his eyes was not merely a delicious meal, but a crucial part of every man's dream—a girl preparing dinner in an apron. She was using a small gas camp stove and a little frying pan to warm some corned beef and canned white asparagus.
While he wasn't too happy about the asparagus, the aroma of the beef roasting in butter called out to his empty stomach and he had to struggle to keep it quiet.
She divided the small meal into two portions with their pocketknife, took out two slices of bread from an airtight container and sandwiched half of the ingredients between them. Finally, she toasted the sandwich as a whole.
Though the knife wasn't really meant for cooking, the girl moved skillfully and the sandwich was completed in no time. It was topped with the perfect amount of mustard, and the golden-brown color of the toasted bread made him even hungrier.
However, the boy did not eat the sandwich right away.
They had, after all, decided to always eat their meals together.
While the girl was preparing a similar sandwich—with a rather different amount of mustard—for herself, the boy struggled to hold back a waterfall of saliva that was threatening to flow from his mouth.
"Okay, I'm done. Let's eat!"
The girl swiftly untied her apron and sat down on her temporary bed.
Then she noticed the boy's stare.
"Ah, I just thought that you've become quite girl...like."
Ow! my shin!
"What's that supposed to mean!"
"No, uhm, the way you cook and take off your apron makes you look somehow..." To be honest, she rather gave the impression of a housewife, but I don't think I would survive telling her that.
"Well, even you would get used to it if you had to play chef for three months straight!"
"I'm sorry for pushing it on you all the time! ...Anyway, let's eat."
The girl sat down again and picked up her sandwich.
They gave each other a slight smile and took their first bites at the same time.
Neither of them talked to the other, but they exchanged smiles from time to time.
Both the succulent corned beef and the spicy mustard whetted their appetites, so they both dug ravenously into their sandwiches. It was so tasty that the boy didn't even mind the asparagus.
The only bad thing about it was that there was but one bite left.
The boy threw the last bit into his mouth with slight regret, and dusted the bread crumbs from his hands.
"Thanks for the meal."
"Yeah. Thanks for the meal."
The girl folded her hands.
"...By the way, boy."
"...We're out of bread and beef now."
The girl gave him a cold, hard look.
"It's been a week since we last picked up any food supplies. If you don't get that bike working, starting tomorrow asparagus will be the only thing on the menu!"
"I-Is that a threat?!"
"Of course not. I'm just informing you, my dear driver."
This verbal blow sent the boy spiraling from cloud nine to the pits of despair. The girl, who had no problems with eating asparagus, beamed at him. He found that she looked more hateful than triumphant, though. Damn. I seriously have to get this fixed...!
Looking up, he noticed that the sun was just about to go completely below the horizon. The dusk remaining slowly faded and thick darkness blanketed the world. It wouldn't be long until they would be completely blanketed by the dark.
To fight back, he turned on a lamp comprised of an LED penlight and a few fluorescent sticks.
"It's already dark out. How about you hit the sack, girl?"
"Huh—? You're staying up?" The girl frowzily turned her head toward him. She had already lain down on her bed some time before the boy told her to.
"I still have to write today's diary entry...Haven't you noticed that the entries have taken a rather tragic turn for the last few days?"
"Of course. There really hasn't been anything good to say since then. Like I told you before, we're running really low on supplies."
"What about water?"
"I think we're OK for now, but all we have left is from the water tower, so we need to boil it tomorrow."
They were in a truly dire situation. They had enough fuel for the Super Cub, but it would be too dangerous to boil water with it. At most they could use it to help start a fire.
The boy sighed deeply and took a thick volume from the bookbag they kept random things in.
It wasn't really a book; but their diary. The front cover was blank, so you couldn't tell what it was originally supposed to be used for, but the two of them used this massive book to record their travels. It was about two inches thick, and the corners of its hard cover were reinforced with brass. It even had a belt around it with a matching brass lock.
The key for the diary was on the same key chain as the ignition key for the Super Cub. As always, the boy opened the lock, turned to that day's page, and put pencil to paper.
The white penlight provided more than enough illumination for him to write. It shone with an artificial light that balanced against the stars twinkling in the purple night sky. In contrast to the countless lights above, below there was only the penlight and the glowing mosquito coil.
After about 10 minutes, the boy finished his diary entry. He resealed the book with its key and returned it to the bookbag. Then he turned off the light and lay down on his improvised bed.
The penlight left behind a green afterimage behind on their retinas, and as if to compensate for its absence, the stars in the dark sky seemed to brighten in their eyes.
All that could be seen were the kaleidoscopic orbs painting the heavens, endless meadows carpeting the land from horizon to horizon, and a narrow gray road slicing through the landscape.
And in one corner of that scene, two travelers slowly fell asleep.
Back pain woke the girl the next morning.
She opened her eyes, and found herself lying on the bare ground. Her body was contorted into the posture of a stereotypical murder victim. If someone were to draw a chalk line around her body, she would form a perfect corpse. Obviously, she hadn't been murdered, but had merely fallen from her makeshift bed. Seeing no need to panic, she stirred herself and sat up. The other bed was already empty. A few yards away, the boy was dueling with the Super Cub, wielding a spanner in one hand.
"...Quite the early bird, aren't you?"
"'Early to bed and late to rise' isn't a good thing, you know?"
The girl was, however, no longer groggy enough to ignore such an insolent remark. She let him off with a kick to his back for now.
Satisfied by seeing the boy fall over in pain, she tried to relax her sore back by taking yoga-like poses, twisting her hips left and right, and finally stretching her arms up as high as she could reach. She considered running through a whole set of calisthenics, but she cut her stretching short and finished with a deep breath on the grounds that doing them by herself would look pretty pathetic.
"But boy, did you get up early so you could fix the bike?"
"Well, yeah. Otherwise it would get too hot before I finish." The boy took off his work gloves, which were black with oil and carbon. "Anyway, as soon as I'm through with this, I will have done everything I can. If it still doesn't work, then we can't fix it with what we have on hand."
"Uwaa, so now it's make-or-break, huh." The girl smiled wryly and started to gather everything she needed to treat their water.
As all of the water they had remaining had been taken from an unsafe source, she prepared to sterilize it by boiling. Using their small gas stove to heat such a large amount of water would be wasteful, so instead she collected branches and dried grass for an open fire. After arranging them on a brick, she lit the kindling using the boy's Zippo lighter.
It was already past seven in the morning and the sun was rising steadily. Before they knew it, the northern island's cool night air had been completely swept away and the hot summer sun beat down on them with the same intensity as it did in the other parts of the country.
While the girl labored at her torrid work, the boy continued his repair attempt.
The Super Cub's engine was actually rather simple. In fact, the boy had become quite good at disassembling its single-cylinder four-stroke engine.
He could, however, do little in the way of actual repairs beyond adjusting parts that had come out of classment and tightening loose bolts. There wasn't enough space on the bike to carry spare parts in case something actually broke. If that was the source of their current problems, then they were in quite a bind indeed.
The bike had endured a lot of abuse from its previous owner; a broken part wasn't exactly unlikely. Bolts had come loose, rivets were damaged, the head gasket was developing a crack, and the oil was dirty. The tires and brake pads had become as smooth as a bald head, and the suspension was worn out. Unfortunately, they still needed the Super Cub to hold out for a good while longer.
"I wish I could get some replacement parts..." murmured the boy. Or if I could at least get my hands on some fresh oil, I could clean the parts we have. Though there wouldn't be any point in cleaning the parts if they would immediately become contaminated by the dirty oil in the engine.
"So, how does it look?" The boy was addressed from behind.
"Uh-oh. Should I get ready for a walk?"
"Maybe? Well, we'll find out really soon." He gripped the handlebars, work gloves still on, and placed his foot on the starter pedal.
...Please, God, make this work, he prayed, and stomped on the starter pedal with all his might.
The engine turned over a few times, emitting a weak chugging sound. Even the girl, who had little experience with machines, could tell that it was a failure.
Not one to give up so quickly, he tried again. This time, he not only prayed to God, but also to the Super Cub itself.
It made the same burdened chugging, but this time it stopped with a loud clank.
It seemed that neither God nor the Super Cub felt like answering his prayer.
After giving up on repairing the bike, they started quickly packing.
Three months had passed since they started their journey, and with all that practice they had become accordingly efficient in their daily tasks. They poured the newly-disinfected water into two-liter bottles and stuffed a few useful-looking pieces of firewood in a special bag after breaking them into smaller pieces. Their camping equipment managed to wander back into the bundle, and they attached it to the silent Super Cub.
In the 30 minutes required they had already become soaked with sweat.
Though they were pretty far north, it was past nine and the summer sun was already broiling the land without mercy. If they could, they would have loved to ask the sun to lower its thermostat, but their voices would never be heard from 93 million miles away.
"Are we going to throw Cubby away after all?" Holding a helmet in one hand, the girl tapped her other hand on the saddle of their silver Super Cub. The black synthetic leather had already become too hot to touch for long. "I wish we could get it fixed somehow. I mean, we finally got used to riding on it together.
"Well, you've got a point there. Neither of us has ever used any other vehicle before, so we might not be able to use another bike even if we found one." The Super Cub is generally considered to be ideal for new riders because it was designed to be simple to operate... "But if it doesn't work..."
"Then it's useless junk!"
The girl kicked the Super Cub.
That moment, as if to protest the abuse of his dear two-wheeler, the boy's stomach suddenly growled. The girl's stomach, too, started growling in response.
"What are you looking at?! I haven't had breakfast either, so of course I'm hungry!"
"Ah, I was just surprised at how loud your stomach can...Ah—ouchouchouch!!"
The girl pulled his earlobe, stopping his words in their tracks.
"I'll cut your rations for that comment!"
"What am I, a dog?!"
"If you're not, then use your calories to move your feet instead of talking!"
"...it hardly uses any energy to talk..."
The girl did not object, but merely murmured something while taking a can out from the bag attached to the rear wheel and sat down on the nearest bench.
"It's hardtack. You don't have any problems with this, right?"
"...but it's too bland."
"Oh my! Aren't you the spoiled brat?"
"You complain as much as I do."
"Shut up. I made sure to prepare something. Look." She placed something next to the hardtack — a jar of strawberry jam.
"Happy? This is the best we have. We don't have much in the way of fruit preserves like this, so you better not use it all up."
With only a few ounces of spread, the dry and tasteless hardtack would blossom into a graceful dessert. When they opened the jar, a sour yet fruity fragrance wafted out and sharpened their hunger.
"Shall we eat then?"
They took out enough for one meal and ate breakfast before departing. Having replenished a little energy, the pair's steps seemed a lot lighter than they had the day before.
What we know as a "mirage" the Japanese call "escaping water." It is the refraction of light by hot air over a very hot flat surface, resembling reflections off of a nonexistent pool of water. Because it only occurs a long way off, you can never reach the pool and so the water is said to "escape." Since the boy and girl were both born and raised in a large city, mirages were a new and interesting experience, but it didn't take long before they became merely nerve-wracking.
They had already walked half a day, getting roasted both by the sun's rays from above and heat radiating up from below. Other than four short breaks, they had walked non-stop.
From time to time, they could even sense malice that seemed to come from the sun. However, any traces of emotion they displayed in reaction seemed to evaporate into a shimmer of hot air. They trudged on in a robotic state, pushing the bike with vacant expressions.
The scenery around them was exactly the same as half a day before, consisting solely of an endlessly long road flanked by meadows on both sides. The only thing that had changed was the angle from which they were being roasted by the sun.
"...I'm hot," murmured the girl while pushing the Super Cub along from the side.
"...What a coincidence...So am I," replied the boy while equally pushing the bike's handlebars from the other side.
This was the first conversation they had had in an hour. Their steps were as unreliable as a sleepwalker's, and they would have long since fallen down if they hadn't been leaning on the Super Cub while they were pushing it.
The boy had taken off his white shirt and was using it as a sunshade, while the girl had put a small plastic sheet on her head.
The heat would have been much less torturous if they could at least dampen their makeshift sunshades, but they had none to spare. They only had ten liters of water remaining, enough for them to last five days at the very most. Since they couldn't predict when they would find their next water source, careless water use could spell death for both of them.
If everything were working normally, they might have been able to call for help with a mobile phone, but that was not the case. Because the cellular infrastructure had broken down, mobile phones had turned into mere pocket lamps with an included clock, calendar, camera, and notebook functionality. The boy's phone, however, had run out of batteries, rendering it entirely useless.
"...why can't there...at least be a downhill slope..."
"...don't even say it...If you remind me...that we're still going uphill...I'll lose all my strength..."
They were struggling up the worst kind of incline. Even though the road continued straight all the way to the horizon, it gently rose the whole way. The effort needed to push the bike up the slight slope sapped their energy like a leech, and their legs grew heavier and heavier.
"It's still quite a ways...to the next city...are we really going to be okay like this...?"
"Hang in there...girl! Look, we're almost...to the top."
"...I hope it'll be steep...enough to ride down on the bike."
Silently agreeing with her, the boy took a few more steps. He firmly gripped the handlebars of the heavily laden bike for one last push, and they finally arrived at the top of the slope.
"Haaah," the girl panted aloud. She turned to the road they had just climbed up. The gentle slope continued downward unceasingly until it merged in the sky. The rest area which they had departed from that morning was already beyond the horizon. "We walked quite a bit just now, didn't we..."
When the boy didn't react to her murmur, the girl turned to him. She found him peering through a pair of binoculars he had taken out of their bag.
"Do you see something?"
The girl just cocked her head, so he thrust the binoculars into her hands.
At first she was startled by a blurry view, but after a quick focus adjustment, she saw another downward slope that mirrored the one they had just come up. When she raised the binoculars to look at the horizon, she saw a small patch where the color of the vegetation was a little different. It wasn't very big, but a section of the grassy area was covered with a slightly more intense green than its surroundings.
".......it's farmland... and there's a house, boy!"
The magnified image was shaking in her tired hands, but it was certainly someone's residence. No doubt about it: by the side of the road dividing the green scenery was a roof and some cultivated land.
The ground was sectioned off by what looked like hand-made fences and seemed to be cultivated with fruits and vegetables. They could even see a rice paddy next to it. The land was in good order and had clearly been recently maintained by someone.
Of course, it wasn't possible to tell if anybody was actually there from this distance, but any place that has ever been inhabited must have had a water supply. And judging from the greener vegetation they saw, there was probably some water left.
"Let's get going, boy! It's right over there at the horizon! We'll be there in no time!"
The girl tossed the binoculars back into the bag and they started pushing the bike down the hill with renewed vigor. While the slope wasn't steep enough for them to coast on the bike, their destination was in sight and they were filled with a sudden burst of energy.
After sprinting just over halfway at full speed, they remembered that the distance to the horizon varies depending on the ground level.
The conversations between them had at last decreased to a few words from time to time. It was only natural, though, because they had pushed their bike at a run over a distance that would be classified "long" in track and field athletics. On top of that, they were having a hard time holding their bike back because the steepness of the second half was nasty and added to their labor. While it wasn't as bad as during the rising slope, it was no comparison to walking on a flat ground.
Nevertheless, they eventually reached the house in question. Their shadows had grown long and from somewhere one could hear a crow's call.
The girl didn't have enough power left to even raise her head, therefore it was the boy who set the kickstand of the bike and approached the building.
"Could this be... a general store and farm combination...?" he muttered to himself, while surveying the isolated house and the field with his gaze.
On the left side of the road was a general store which was also used as a residence and on the right side was cultivated land. Both of them showed signs of human maintenance.
The combination of the gray road running through a landscape of green meadows and this small "foreign matter" in the middle of it somehow reminded him of a railway and its station. He could also see lots of vegetables that were nearing harvest. It had been a long time since he had last seen such scenery. Tomatoes, shining bright red in the sunlight, cucumbers, so big he started to suspect that the growers were using strange chemicals, and types of vegetables he hadn't seen in ages were swaying in the wind.
"Wow...... hey, girl... girl? Whoa! Girl! Are you OK?!"
The girl, who was supposed stand behind the Super Cub, had fallen prostrate on the hot ground without moving a muscle. Most likely, it was not just the crimson light of the slowly setting sun that dyed her face red.
The boy heaved her up in a hurry and walked towards the field, searching for a source of water. There should be a source of water for it. Maybe he would be going to get scolded for entering without permission, but in that case he could do nothing but apologize.
However, when he was about to pass by the general store, something that was rather out-of-place caught his eye.
A foreign automobile was parked in the shadow of the building - a very luxurious one at that.
That shiny thing on its bonnet that was sparkling despite being in the shadow looked like the Mercedes-Benz emblem. The boy wasn't very interested in the car market, but it reeked of money just by looking at the big aluminum wheels and the real leather seats. A white-gloved chauffeur, brushing off the dust from that gorgeous car with a feather duster, would have fit perfectly into the picture.
But why on earth would such a rich Mercedes driver want to work on a field in the northern back of beyond?
He couldn't wipe away his wonderment, but right now the girl he was lending a shoulder seemed to on the verge of melting away, so he hurried to the fields.
While admiring the fabulous condition of the tomatoes and the cucumbers, he slipped through between them and headed deeper into the area. It was hard to search for a source of water while carrying the exhausted girl, but he found one surprisingly quickly.
It was a watering place that was built like a well and was located almost exactly in the center of the field along the road.
Right behind of it was the face of an artificial, small hill-like construction, which was reinforced with stones and equipped with a PVC pipe. Surprisingly clear water flowed out of that pipe into an overflowing concrete basin.
After making the girl sit down on the stone bench beside it, the boy grabbed himself a plastic wash bowl that was floating in the basin and started scooping water.
Well, and then:
"Wake up, girl!"
Sunstroke, heatstroke, an empty stomach and exhaustion had almost turned the girl into a dried cuttlefish, so, to help her, he splashed it all on her with vigor.
"...whatrya doing you MORON!?"
With a lightning right hand, the girl stole the wash bowl from him and smashed it against his face. Without water.
On the left side was, the boy holding his nose. On the opposite side, the girl wet from head to toe. Each of them took a weapon within reach, scooped some water and then stood still, facing each other.
Both of them crouched, taking an attack stance, and at the very moment before a dramatic splashing contest would have started, a voice interrupted them.
"Hello there! Are you guests?"
The boy and girl turned around to the owner of the voice while letting the water in their bowls pour to the ground. And then, both of them were thunderstruck.
Both of them lowered their knees, taking an attack stance, and at the very moment before a dramatic splash contest would have started, a voice interrupted them.
There was a brightly smiling man who wiped away his sweat. A man in his forties, probably, and still in the prime of life was standing there with a straw hat, a towel, a pair of leather boots, a white shirt and an Armani suit, which was rolled up to his knees. His slender yet firm body reminded of the typical sports teacher and his warm smile strongly suggested the landed gentry. He was the living example that a gentleman remains a gentleman even when working on a farm.
However, it wasn't his sudden appearance or his contrastive outfit that surprised them. What surprised them most was his hair.
His hair was not deep-black as it was supposed to be, but snow white like after using some strong decolorant. Moreover, his skin was almost as white as an albino's, showing no signs of tanning despite his work under the blazing sun.
"Oh, did I startle you?"
"Ah, no, um..."
"Excuse us for staring at you like this."
She lowered her head. This gave the boy the feeling that women might be more skillful in apologizing than men. It was kind of the wrong time to think about such things, though.
Because the two travelers had just come through hovering between life and death and the man was currently making a pause anyway, they decided to sit down on the stone bench and take a break.
The bench was broad enough for about five people and, thanks to the roof that was installed over it, they were protected from the sunlight. Because the water trough was right over there, it was much cooler than on the asphalt road. The ground had gotten wet with the water the boy had splashed on it, but the midsummer sun was drying it. Of course, the same applied to the soaking wet girl.
"...Ah, right. I should introduce myself. This is who I am,"
He took out a little case from his chest pocket, with truly fluent movements at that, and held a business card out to them while giving them a nod.
This sequence of movements was already brought to perfection and made it clear that he had been used to doing this in his daily life.
« Transport Corporation, Representative Director » was written on it.
The name of the transport company and the name of the person himself were missing.
There were no traces of a misprint or abrasion; the letters themselves had completely vanished. In fact, the paper was perfectly fine. It was almost like he had made empty cards for fun.
One had to concentrate to see it, but only the logo of the company was printed faintly in a corner of the card.
I'm not too sure, but I think that was a quite famous company.
"...well, it's not like there is a point in giving you a business card without my name on it, though."
The boy reluctantly looked up at the bitterly smiling man.
"So... it was «lost»?"
"Yeah, exactly. My name has vanished," he stated plainly. "One day while I was working at the company as usual, the people in my department told me that they had forgotten my name. I had a bad feeling about it because they couldn't remember whatever they tried, so I investigated that matter. What I discovered was that my name had disappeared from all kinds of places: from the data and documents of the company, from my own business cards, my name plate and so on. But what's most, I myself was unable to recall my name."
On hearing the indifferent tone in his voice, the boy and the girl exchanged glances and returned their attention to the man again.
"Even our business partners had forgotten my name altogether. Some among them had even forgotten my face. Well, you can imagine how wearisome it was to continue to work like that."
The man let out a laugh and put the business card back into the case.
"In the end, I could see no point in continuing my work anymore, so I threw everything away and left. After some time of wandering around the country I eventually settled down here. ...Do you want to join me?"
It wasn't farm work that he offered them, but some bright red tomatoes that had been cooled with spring water to an appealing temperature and reflected the sunlight.
It goes without saying that their "Yes" wasn't long in coming.
"...To tell you the truth, I've always wanted to work in agriculture. Yet, I ended up employed in a transport company for vegetables. After a period of hard work there, I suddenly became the head of a department, then a managing director, then the director of the branch and before I knew it, I had reached this age and had become the representative director of the main branch."
"...but that's quite amazing, isn't it?"
The boy set his eyes on the man while biting into his second red gem.
This fabulously mellow tomato was so luscious it almost seemed to burst. There was no comparison between the usual tomato juice and this wonderful fresh fruit flesh. A sense of wellbeing spread through his entire body, which hadn't received any fresh vegetables recently.
He had never thought that he could experience such a magnificent feeling with a mere tomato. Right now he was confident to be able to even munch a hated green pepper. Raw.
"Well, it may look amazing to others I guess. But you see, I liked my work and, as it seems, I had a talent for it. I was interested, so I was absorbed in what I was doing and had climbed high on my career ladder without noticing. But at the same time, I had also removed myself more and more from the work I actually wanted to do."
The girl was sitting next to the boy and having a hard time deciding whether she should ignore the danger of getting a stomach ache and set about a third tomato.
"Thus you made your dream of working on a farm come true under the convenient pretext that your name had been «lost». Uh-huh."
Her choice of words contained a thorny undertone. But not out of ill will. It was more something like sarcasm that she mixed into her words to tease him. The director seemed to be aware of this as well and flashed a smile.
"Yeah. This may be rude to my former colleagues in the company, but every day here is so much fun! ...Well, but the stuff I learned in school and my experience at work don't really come into any use."
The man smiled wryly.
"Why did you come all the way here from Honshu anyway? Wouldn't you have been able to find some cultivated land over there, too?"
"There's no real reason. It's not like I planned to work on a field from the very beginning. At first, I thought I'd drive about a bit for sightseeing, but then I came across this house here. At the time, an old woman was running the general store all on her own. She let me live here and taught me how to grow up vegetables, while I gave her a hand on the field."
"How is she doing now?"
"...in March this year... she vanished."
"...I see," the boy said thoughtfully, while the girl next to him at last gave in to the temptation and took a big bite of her third tomato.
At this moment.
"Oh, director? Do we have guests?"
A female voice had suddenly interrupted.
The beautiful voice was clear like an announcer's. Its owner stood amidst a corn field dyed in the colors of the setting sun.
At once, the corn grown tall enough for someone to hide in rustled and through it a female secretary appeared. Properly wearing a suit. You may call it a matter of course, but she was a stunning beauty.
"...you've got a secretary even for farm work?!"
They gave him a fierce clip in his belly. Of course, with some restraint.
After recovering from the agony, the director introduced the lady who had joined in the round.
"...uhm, she is my secretary. Since her name has been «lost», she's simply called secretary."
"I am the secretary. It is a pleasure to meet you."
The woman bowed in a truly beautiful angle.
This angle and the position of her hands were proof that she had brought these movements to perfection as a part of her job. However, her suit was dirty and her skin, once white, had been browned by the sun. She was wearing a straw hat on top of her long, pretty black hair and holding some fresh-picked corn in both hands. A hand towel was draped over her shoulders and she wasn't wearing high heels but rubber boots. It was a queer contrast.
She gave them a bright smile, whereupon the two of them exchanged glances. The time to introduce themselves had come.
"Err... I'm simply the boy. My favorite dish at the moment is tomato."
"I'm the girl. My temporary favorite dish is tomato. There are plans to shift this to corn very soon."
They bowed together and were requited with the secretary's giggle; a delightful one that would have made for a perfect example of how to laugh brilliantly.
In the end, she decided to pause work as well and joined in the chatter. It was already 6pm. The environment was ideal for taking a break as the air was pleasantly fresh thanks to the gradually dropping temperature and the water nearby.
"Are you on a journey?"
"Yes. We dropped everything and went on a journey. So it's basically the same as it was for the director, isn't it?"
The secretary giggled again on hearing the girl's confident answer.
"Meaning you eloped with your boyfriend?"
When she asked this question, confident that she were spot-on, the girl's face froze with an uneasy expression. Then, with exactly that expression, she turned a look that contained a strange combination of doubt and expectation to the boy.
"Are you...... my boyfriend?"
She straight-out asked his view on the matter. Puzzled over how he should answer her, he put his hand under his chin and pondered.
"...we never made such an oath... I think."
When he had finally managed to work out this reply, he got kicked by her for whatever reason. This is what they call unreasonableness.
The secretary giggled once more. "I see you are on very good terms with each other. Don't make me jealous!"
After the secretary had said so, the girl stopped her kick assault and proceeded with her tomato.
"But doesn't that go for yourself too, secretary? I mean, you accompanied the director when he abandoned his company, and now you're even working on his farm. Don't you mix quite well in a sense?"
"Oh? But I have not abandoned my work at all?" the secretary said in a wholly stunned-seeming voice, surrounded by three wondering observers. "You see, my job is to support the director. I have not abandoned my work. The director is the only one who has."
"H-How can you say that! Sure, you've come here because of me, but I never forced you, did I?"
"None of your excuses! In spite of the fact that I only came along with you due to my job, you told me to «please wash the tomatoes» and to «go get some water to wash the radish». How could I ever refuse your orders in my position?"
She pursed her lips, "Hmph!" and pushed the full corn basket upon the director. "Thanks to that I have gotten completely used to farm work. Anyway, I will go prepare some tea for our guests, so please wash these and make some grilled corn in the meantime, director."
After forcing this giant amount of corn upon the director - almost like a pile of documents - she went away at a good pace in order to make them some tea. The director followed her, leaving the boy and girl behind alone by the well.
Neither the director nor the secretary had shown any signs of wonderment when they didn't tell them their names.
The corn field rustled in the gentle wind. Behind it, they could see the slowly setting sun at the horizon.
"...Mhm?" he answered her whisper without giving her a look.
"The director's color is very weak, isn't it?"
His hair had turned completely white. His age was approximately somewhere between late thirties to mid-forties. Such white hair in this age would normally be nearly impossible, but that only applies to normal people.
It was the same for his skin. In comparison, the secretary had probably done equally or less work than he, but she was suntanned. However, his skin was pigment-poor, almost like an albino's.
"...Isn't it hot today?"
"...Well, it's already August..."
The sound of the secretary's hurrying steps cut into their pointless conversation.
She put a tray on the stone bench and, along with a refreshing sound, filled their cups with tea. It could be expected that she, as a secretary, knew how to prepare delicious tea, but sadly it should be rather difficult to make full use of these skills for barley tea.
However, the served barley tea had been cooled with fresh spring water and was so chilly that the surface of their cups fogged.
The girl emptied the cup in one go, as if this was the etiquette in this land.
However, the sight of her gulping down the tea wasn't exactly "elegant".
The two girls turned their gazes to the boy.
"What's the matter, boy?"
"Ah, it's not like it's urgent right now, but I was thinking about replenishing our reserves if the water isn't limited."
"Ah, I see..."
Asking gazes focused on the secretary.
"Yes. I think it is fine! This well seems to take its water from a natural spring after all."
"Yay! Fresh water ahoy!"
As the water is that clear, it shouldn't be necessary to boil it up. Mh... in that case, we ought to throw away the water from yesterday's rest area and fill with fresh. It feels kind of like a waste since we went through the trouble of disinfecting it, but that can't be helped.
"Alright, I'll go and fill our bottles up then."
"Eh? Wait, I'll help you."
"I'm fine, no worries. ...in return, you can save me some corn!"
The boy thrust his finger before her, lending weight to his words, after which the girl sat down again.
The secretary watched his back while he was getting the water, fanning himself due to the heat, with a somewhat meaningful look and muttered, "...he looks very kind. Get going and make him your boyfriend!"
The girl spat out a mouthful of barley tea. Mainly from her mouth. But wasn't there also some that came out of her nose...?
The secretary smiled wryly while patting her back.
"Is it really something to get that startled about? The pair of you slipping out of school and then starting a journey on a bike - what else other than a couple should this be?"
"W-Who knows? I mean, aren't there many different relationships between boys and girls apart from spouses, lovers and siblings?"
Her voice was hoarse because some tea had entered her wind-pipe.
"For instance, the relationship between a director and a secretary?"
The secretary giggled, but the girl averted her gaze uncomfortably.
"But you followed the director here although you aren't a couple, right?"
"Yes. Because I am his secretary."
"...so you have no special feelings for him?"
"Well... as things stand, not in particular?"
"Which means you're merely superior and employee?"
"Yes. After all, he had always addressed me using my surname or no name at all, so maybe he did not even know my full name to begin with?" she said and added a little quieter. "The truth will remain unrevealed though."
The unconcerned voice of the secretary and her amused smile were something to exceed the understanding of girl.
However, she could very much agree with the vague motive veiled in her words. The girl didn't intend to put her thoughts into words, but by looking into her eyes she also realized that secretary didn't seek her understanding anyway.
"And still you don't mind his egoism and keep helping his work on the field?"
"Yes. Because I have decided to stay."
"On this farm?"
"No. With him."
Her confident smile was very calm, yet fulfilled with a strong will.
For some reason, the girl became wholeheartedly embarrassed and felt that she was blushing up to the ears although it wasn't about herself.
Unable to endure, she averted her eyes and looked in another direction.
"...until death parts you?"
The girl heard a somehow triumphant voice from behind her and couldn't bear up against the impulse to scratch her head.
"......You have my support."
The secretary was a little surprised at this sudden and indirect yell, but then she replied with a beaming smile, "Thank you."
It was not an artificial smile like she used to use at work, nor was it an expression of comfort. It was the first wholehearted smile she showed them since they had met.
Just, it was a pity that neither the girl, who had her look turned away, nor the boy, who had gone to fetch their water, and not even the director, who was grilling the corn, could see it.
"Oi! I didn't know how much we'd need, so I just made lots of them!"
They turned around towards the direction of the voice and spotted the director in question bringing a full basket of corn with him.
"D-Director! Who on earth is going to eat all that?!"
The secretary's roaring rebuke made the director wince.
"But they're still so young... I thought they would eat about this much."
"Nobody can eat this much bare corn without any side dishes! ...It seems like we have to make this our dinner...... besides, I am still young, too."
"My... there is no helping it. Please call the boy."
Contrary to their original relationship, it was the director who was scolded. He walked back the way he had just come from with a confused face.
A fragrant smell arose from the basket that had been left here in his place. Apparently, the director had kindly prepared two types of corn for them. One that was grilled with no special seasoning and another that was first dipped in soy sauce.
The two girls gulped wordlessly.
"...I just remembered another reason why I am here."
"Eh?" She turned around to the secretary who had muttered something.
The secretary continued, still gazing at the steaming corn.
"......I am bad at cooking."
What could be called a light conversation was still moving on, but their gazes and concentration were fully arrested by the corn.
"...The director is very good at it. Really."
"...It does look that way."
Less than a minute later, they were finally freed from the shackles of self-control and could reach out for the grilled corn.
"Ah... ouch, ugh..."
"That's what you get from eating without restraint! It seems like they will let us spend the night here, so just lie still for a while."
The boy smiled wryly and laid a cushion on the veranda for her as a substitute for a pillow.
The cause for her stomach ache was, naturally, overeating.
At the moment, the two of them were cooling down on the veranda at the back of the shop with fans in their hands.
"Geez... Wasn't it clear that you would get a stomach-ache from that much corn?"
"B-Be quiet already..."
Even her abusive remarks were lacking power. In the end, she had eaten a whole three cobs of corn. So it was certainly not a weak digestive system that was at fault for her stomach-ache.
Well, one must remember that it was freshly picked freshly grilled extra-big corn. Corn is said to be best immediately after being picked. He himself couldn't get enough of it, either, so he could understand her.
However, she had already eaten four cold tomatoes at the time. It was natural that even a stomach like hers, which made the boy think it was titan-made at times, would naturally hurt with such a lot of heavy food in it.
"Dammit...! Why does it have to be so tasty when it's grilled...!"
The boy was amazed at her undue complaints but kept quiet because he feared the consequences. Therefore, he decided for a slightly more reserved reply.
"Well, it was freshly grilled after all. It would be fraud if it wasn't tasty."
"...Word... I guess something like this suits us much better than high-class stuff like crabs and tuna."
The boy agreed with a wry smile. However, he was pretty confident that the girl would take back that word the very moment when she actually saw some crab or tuna.
Incidentally, the boy had controlled himself a little and had only eaten two tomatoes and two ears of corn, which is why he was full but not in a "critical" state like the girl.
Judging only from her, it seemed true that women are hungrier than men.
By now, the heat that had tormented them during the day had gone down quite a bit. In the background one could hear the harmonic sound of wind chimes softly swaying. This melody was accompanied by the fragrance of summer - the smell of mosquito coil.
He suddenly turned his gaze to the garden. The thoroughly groomed garden was planted with some hydrangeas, whose season had already ended, and a bunch of the typical flowers of summer behind them.
A group of magnificent, tall sunflowers reflected the evening sun with their widely-spread yellow petals as if to substitute what they symbolized.
Further down the garden he could see a plastic greenhouse, which had apparently been repaired by the director. Because it was still midsummer, there was only soil inside.
But it seemed, they had already sown some sprouts; there were small green plants inside a row of neatly ordered planters.
The girl suddenly addressed him with a reserved voice, but then got flustered herself.
Because they were alone and in the right mood, so she had called his name. But there was no topic.
Naturally unable to continue the debate on food, she opened and closed her mouth for a while like a goldfish.
"They're strawberries. They won't be ready for picking until next year, though. But you have to plant them already at this period."
The boy turned his head towards the sudden voice from behind.
The girl could just turn over on her side because she was lying down anyway. The director showed no signs of noticing the grudge in her eyes.
"To tell the truth, I love fruit just as much as I love vegetables. Oh boy, I'm so looking forward to next year!"
It was unclear to the boy and girl whether he loved raising them or eating them, but they didn't ask. It was probably both.
"Director, how is your stomach?"
"Please don't ask!"
The director sat down next to the boy while holding his painfully growling stomach.
Because he had made a great amount of grilled corn, the secretary had forced him to dispose of the left-overs. In other words: to eat the remaining corn.
It was obvious that after consuming such an amount of high-fiber corn, the toilet had become his best friend.
However, what had surprised him even more was the secretary. She had easily eaten up four corncobs and, on top of that, she had munched a miso-covered cucumber afterwards, calling it her dessert.
Considering the current state of the girl, he couldn't attribute it to "women have stronger stomachs than men", but people that live in the middle of this giant land might just be built differently than them city folk. In a good sense, of course.
"So, did you manage to get rid of the corn in the end?"
"......Sorry. I left some over."
"My, my. Well, such 'a lot' decreased to 'some', so it should be fine."
But while I won't say you deserved it, I don't feel like helping you out, either.
Suddenly, "Director. Please come over here for a moment." A voice came from the kitchen.
The director got up with a pathetic-sounding "Heave-ho!" and headed to the kitchen, where he eventually left their sight. They could only dimly hear their conversation.
"Is there still something to do?"
"No. We are mostly done."
"Eh? Why did you call me then?"
"I do not think you would understand, director."
"Never mind! You talk with me here for a while. No objections allowed."
"Let us begin with the weather."
The boy could virtually see the bewildered face of the director.
The lying girl gave the secretary the thumbs up in her mind. Well done!
She couldn't waste this extraordinary chance the secretary had provided.
"Mh~?" he replied absent-mindedly.
"I request your lap as my pillow."
Ignoring any complaints, she crawled along the wooden veranda towards him like a caterpillar and invaded his lap with her head.
She also laid the cushion she had used as a pillow before on her stomach to prevent any worse stomach-ache.
"Shouldn't the roles normally be reversed?"
"It's fine in my case. I'm genuinely sick."
"So you call the stomach-ache of a glutton that has simply eaten too much 'sickness', huh... ou-ouch-ouch!?"
She punished his impudent remark by pinching his thigh. Experience the proverb "Loose lips sink ships" with your very own body!
"Geez... this is one hard pillow..."
"Please don't ask a man for the impossible!"
But even while saying so, he carefully moved her head to a place where it didn't hit against any bones. He felt a pleasant heaviness on his thighs.
There was a rather long silence between them then.
It was one of those calm moments, which they had almost never come to enjoy in their busy days of worrying about today's meal and tomorrow's fuel. No, listening to the sound of wind chimes while nestling a veranda with a filled stomach was something they had almost never experienced even in their past.
"...mnyah... this is happiness..."
"Yeah. Somehow I'm kinda sorry for making them care so much for us."
"...If you want, we can stay here for a few days? We aren't in a hurry after all, and they also said it would be fine."
"There you go again. How would you answer if I agreed?"
"I would disagree. I mean, we are on a journey. While it's okay to stay somewhere to get our provisions, I don't intend to stay somewhere just for some rest."
"Don't ask me then."
"But it would be unfair if I didn't at least hear out your opinion."
One may wonder if there was a point in doing this when the result would stay the same anyway.
"Well, I'm here to accompany you wherever you go."
"I see," the girl said as if she had comprehended everything and closed her eyes.
In fact, the boy had worked a little by helping them out on the field or by doing some housework during the time the girl had been put out of commission.
He did not, however, consider this enough for a night's board and lodging. Leaving aside the housework, the director had almost only been teaching him things about farm work, so it wasn't labor at all.
Paying with money was no option, either. In this region, where the physical distribution has pretty much been cut off, money wasn't worth much anymore. But did he have anything else other than cash that he could give them...?
When he searched his pockets for his wallet, a little book fell out of it to the ground.
It was a notebook with a green vinyl-cover - the notebook containing his student information.
He opened it and, naturally, found his picture and name on the first page.
However, his name had completely vanished from the corresponding field.
"...my picture has faded quite a lot, huh..."
The colors of this picture, in which he was scowling grimly, had changed from weak pastel into nearly monochrome.
If it went on like this, it was just a matter of time until it would become entirely white as well.
It was a few minutes later when the boy noticed that the girl was breathing calmly on his lap.
While the secretary was changing the soundly sleeping girl into her pajama, the boy prepared their beds by taking out two guest-futons from the closet, assisted by the director.
Suddenly, the boy recalled something most important.
"Director. Are there any tools for repairing a motorbike in this house?"
"A motorbike? ...Ah, right. You came here on a motorcycle. Is it broken?"
"Yes. For the last five days."
The director made his eyes wide.
"...my sympathies! Tell me, what do you need?"
"Since I just need to replace some parts, a few simple tools, parts, of course..., and some fresh oil should do it."
"Mhm. Let's search the storage shed. Maybe we'll find something there."
With these words the director headed to the garden, followed by the boy.
Nighttime. The sun had completely disappeared from the sky, and the world, the little general store in the middle of the meadows was no exception. It too was shrouded in the veil of darkness. Since naturally there was no electricity, the only light source was one of those antique lanterns. Nevertheless, its warm orange light was bright enough for their eyes that had adjusted to the darkness and lit the room. Apparently, the candle used was homemade. To the boy and girl, this softly swaying but brightly shining candle seemed very unique and characteristic for 'this place'.
Because it was such a place, there was no traffic noise and hurly-burly like in the city, which they were used to. Instead, one could hear the mighty mixed chorus performed by the insects of summer, which had to be an annoying impediment to sleep for unaccustomed people.
In the boy's case, this amount of noise was nothing special. He hadn't been traveling for three months merely for show.
However, there were situations that even the boy had trouble dealing with.
For instance when he was under immense mental pressure - like now, that the girl was sleeping on the futon right next to him.
He couldn't imagine the director doing something like this, so it probably was one of the secretary's jokes. Their two futons were placed tightly beside each other without any space between, which made it look like the scene of a wedding night.
But the secretary made a miscalculation. Surely she was expecting that he would blush like a tomato and move his futon away. Too bad, that was wrong. The boy was a healthy high schooler - such a sweet happening was rather exactly what he wished for. As long as it wouldn't make the girl scorn him.
He sat down next to their luggage and started preparing for their departure tomorrow while humming a song.
Since they wouldn't be able to take vegetables with them under this scorching sun, asking for some provisions was out of question. Thus, the problem concerning the food remained unsolved, but there was no use worrying about that now. There was nothing else they could do but stuff themselves as full as possible before departing.
But naturally there were things that had changed for the better since morning.
Namely, he had come upon a way to repair their Super Cub.
When he had gone searching the storage shed together with the director, they had found several usable parts. Even the type of the spark plug was the same, so it was easily conceivable that a Super Cub had been stored here in the past.
With those parts, it would certainly be possible to repair the bike.
He took their diary out of the luggage when he suddenly recalled it. Today was the girl's turn because the boy had written it yesterday. She's not going to wake up anyway, so I'll lay it next to her pillow.
"Mhh? What is that book?"
The boy raised his head when someone suddenly posed such a question.
Through the crack that was left open in the sliding door, he could see the secretary with a candle in one hand. She was also carrying a towel, so she had probably just taken a bath. Her uncouth pajama in combination with her wet hair made her look sexy.
She entered the room curiously and cowered down beside the boy. He showed her a wry smile.
"It's a diary. ...or perhaps I should call it a travelogue?"
"Is it the record of your journey?"
"This diary sure looks splendid, huh... is it foreign-made?"
A thick cover reinforced with brass. On top of that it even got a lock. If it weren't on a futon in a Japanese house, it would surely look exactly like a magical grimoire.
"Beats me. There was no price tag or any other label."
He cocked his head. Then he took out the key of the Super Cub, and the other key that was tied to it, and opened the seal of the book. On the page of yesterday one could see his peculiar handwriting.
"Yesterday's date... is this your writing?"
"Yes. We take turns at writing this diary, so the girl would be next today," he said with a wry smile and pointed at the soundly sleeping girl with his chin.
"Well, it seems like there is no helping it. I am sure she would get angry if we woke her up now."
"Last time I woke her up in such a situation, my punishment was a cobra twist. Next would be a roll-up I guess?"
The secretary laughed on hearing his confident answer.
"You don't have it easy either, do you?"
"But it's something I took on of my own accord. Just like you, secretary."
She evaded his nudge with a giggle.
"My, my. What an impertinent child. Rather than being pretentious, you ought to take a bath and sleep."
The secretary turned elegantly and left the room. While watching her from behind, he put his hand to his chin. Not because he was bewitched by her smooth legs . No, he was pondering over something in her words that had attracted his attention.
First he looked at the sleeping girl.
Then he looked in the direction of the bath.
He didn't need to ponder very long.
The next day in the early morning by the door of the store.
The two travelers were preparing for an early departure because they wanted to go while the morning sun was still low in the horizon.
"We really can't thank you enough for your kindness," the girl bowed down and so did the boy hurriedly when he saw her doing so.
The boy had repaired the engine early in the morning and it was now humming like a kitten, making it seem as though a shaky old man had rejuvenated into a sportsman in his twenties. Judging from this, the engine was in top condition.
"We're sorry for making you even give us a breakfast after already receiving so much from you."
"No problem. It was a pleasure talking to young people once again. It is too bad that you will not stay for a little longer."
The boy smiled after seeing the secretary's cheerful smile.
"Well, but we're still on a journey."
"...I see. But feel free to visit us anytime."
"Yes. But that's going to be far in the future."
"...Come to think of it, I did not ask for your destination. Tell me, where is your journey headed?" asked the secretary.
The two of them exchanged glances and answered point-blank.
"To the end of the world!"
As expected, the secretary opened her eyes wide.
Their answer meant "heading to a place that does not exist". It meant that they did not mind never arriving at their destination. In other words, that they did not intend to ever stop their journey.
"You could use some food then, right?"
The director appeared from the glass door of the store and was carrying a giant object in his arms.
It was an unbelievably large melon with green and black stripes on its brilliant surface.
"Oh, well, maybe it's too watery to fill your stomaches, but I can guarantee this melon will taste terrific! I chose one that's going to be ripe in a few days because eating it right away would be no fun."
"Are you serious?! ...this is awesome... just... how do we get it on the bike?"
The boy accepted the melon hesitatingly, but realized that it was as heavy as he had predicted. Not so heavy that it would be comparable to his own weight, but still not something to carry around easily.
"Can't you just use a net?", the girl suggested and took out a net from the bundle for their sleeping equipment, which they used to use as a hammock. Wobbly on his legs, the boy put the heavy melon down next to the bike.
"No, what I mean is where do we put it? The pillion is already occupied by you, the front is full, too, and the side bag may still be empty, but think about the balance..."
"All right, I'll go get another melon for balance!"
The secretary slammed the director with her elbow when he made this suggestion. Geez, in contrast to such a high position, he never learns.
"But surely... we could hold the balance with some water on the opposite site..."
While the boy cut off the engine and started taking off their luggage, trying out some things, the secretary secretly approached the girl.
Slightly away from the director, who was assisting the boy, their talk among women began.
"...Listen up, girl. Men are like wolves, so mark my words!"
"A... ahahaha... I'll bear that in mind."
She had been told the same thing several times already since their decision to depart.
"First, never sleep in the same bed as him whatever may happen! There is a saying that teaches you not to sleep with boys after reaching the age of seven!"
"I wouldn't dream of it!"
The mouth of the girl was quickly covered.
The secretary evaded the suspicious glance of the director and put her arm around the girl.
"...furthermore, be careful not to fall asleep before him!"
"You sound like a veteran housewife," the girl countered annoyed.
The secretary grasped her shoulders.
"And girl! Should you ever fall in love with each other and have you-know-what, ALWAYS USE A RUBBER!"
The girl thrust her away with a vengeance and the secretary landed hard on her back.
The boy, who had stolen some glances on them, cocked his head.
"They're being pretty noisy right now. Are our girls having some problem?"
"Better not mind them. They are a kind that will remain a riddle to us men for all eternity."
"Somehow it sounds extremely persuasive and unpersuasive at the same time when you say that, director..."
"Well, that's the difference in our life experience."
A grapple fight between the two females was just about to start in front of their eyes.
Since he was worried about the girl, the boy would have actually wanted to stop them, but as history has proven, the chances of success for interfering in a quarrel between women as a man are hopeless. At best, he would get roared at by both of them and be chased away. For sure.
Anyway, while praying for a peaceful draw between them, he somehow managed to succeed in getting the melon on the Super Cub.
He turned around to the loudly arguing girls.
"I'm done with the preparations! I somehow arranged our stuff so that the water keeps the balance."
Upon hearing him out, the girl instantly changed her attitude and rushed to him.
"Shall we depart then?"
"Okay... but are you all right?"
The boy took out a handkerchief and wiped her sweat. It was too early to be sweat-soaked - they were going to drive their motorbike under the blazing sun.
While the girl was loosening her necktie due to the heat, the boy put a half-helmet on her head and turned to their hosts.
"Alright, we're off then."
He gave them a nod and approached the bike.
"If you've had enough of the journey, feel free to visit us! Just in case, the strawberries will be ripe in May!"
He kicked up the kickstand and got on the saddle, making the loose suspension of the Super Cub sink down deeply.
After that, the girl took a seat on the pillion, so the height of their bike was quite a bit lower than usual.
"Will Cubby really be fine like this? It's not going to break in two, right?"
"Who knows...? No, I'm sure there's no prob!"
It was not clear whether he sneered spiritedly or sighed distressedly, but the sound of the engine after turning the key wiped such worries away in an instant.
The boy couldn't suppress a smile when he felt the slight but powerful vibration of the single cylinder.
"...it won't get broken again underway, I trust?"
"Don't worry! OK, let's get going."
"Mhm. Got it."
She fastened the chin strap and held onto his waist.
The boy checked on her with a brief glance and looked ahead again.
He opened the throttle wide and drove away.
At first the bike drove zig-zag due to the heavy luggage and passengers, but this settled quickly as they gained speed. The director and secretary, who were waving their hands, became smaller and smaller and eventually disappeared because of the rise and fall of the road.
While smoothly accelerating, they could at last drive their little motorbike again on this lonely road in the meadows.
It was seven in the morning and still summer. Bathing in the blazing light of the as usual brightly shining sun, another day of chasing after "escaping water" was about to start.
The girl raised her voice a while after they had departed.
"...the director mentioned that the strawberries will be ripe in May next year, right?"
"Do you think he will last until then?"
"...I don't know. But indeed. What will happen first? His 'disappearance' or the strawberry harvest?"
There was silence between them for a while. The girl held tightly onto him.
Hang in there, secretary. Hang in there!
The wind of the Super Cub carried her voice away and, maybe without reaching anyone, disappeared in the summery asphalt.
The Super Cub's several-horsepower engine kept running just fine even after the store of the director had disappeared below the horizon. The scenery that unfolded on both sides wasn't very different from what they had walked past the day before, but this time it was rather refreshing thanks to their speed. The sunlight still had a death-ray quality, but the fresh breeze eased it greatly.
"...by the way. Boy?"
The girl suddenly addressed him. With a cold voice at that.
"Yes. How may I help you, madam?"
"Could you tell me why I can smell the soft fragrance of soap from your body?"
The boy grew pale in an instant.
"Don't you think this is strange...? I mean, 'I' didn't have the occasion to take a bath. Why oh why?"
"...last night... after you fell asleep... I m-mean, you'd have gotten angry if I woke you up......ugh?!"
The girl wrapped her fingers around his neck.
"I see. Do you have anything left to say?"
"You wicked DEVIL!! Do you know when I had my last bath?! It's been more than A WEEK!! Can you imagine this agony?! Oh feel the distress of a girl that couldn't wash her hair for over a week!!"
Even while the remainder of the boy's life was slowly drained by her firm grip on his neck, the silver Super Cub continued its way on the dead straight road with a powerful sound.