Swallow’s Nest

    Tomoka Shibasaki
    (柴崎 友香 Shibasaki Tomoka?) is a Japanese author, born on October 20, 1973, in Osaka. She graduated from Osaka Prefecture University and worked for four years before her debut in 2000, the novel Kyō no dekigoto, which was filmed by Isao Yukisada in 2003 (English title: A day on the planet). She wrote Sono Machi No Ima Wa (Today, in that City), which first appeared in Shincho in 2006. It was nominated in 2007 for the Akutagawa Prize.

    Swallow’s Nest
    By Shibasaki Tomoka (Translated from Japanese by Laurel Taylor)

    The air was white, whether from rain or clouds or fog or spray thrown up by the car tires I couldn’t tell. With the windows closed, the car grew hot and muggy, and on top of that, the windshield started fogging up. We were trying to get to Himeji Castle, the world heritage site.
    “Hatsu, will you wipe the windows for me?”
    “Yeah, sure,” I said as I took the towel on top of the dashboard and swiftly moved my hand, all the while trying not to block Rie’s view of the road. I don’t ever drive, and every time she asked me to clean the windshield, unease bubbled up inside me: What if I’m wiping too slowly and she can’t see and we get into an accident? Since we’d set off, she’d had me wipe down the window more than ten times.
    “It sure is muggy,” Rie said for about the seventh time, switching on the air conditioning. Throughout the whole of the car, there came a huge bwo! and cool air rushed in. Even though she was the one who’d switched it on, in a few minutes she’d say she was too cold and turn it off again. She’d done that over and over as well. In the rainy days of June, it was easy to think that it would just continue on like this forever.
    “Next time we take a break, I’ll switch out with you,” Ako said from the back seat. From where I was sitting, I couldn’t see her face, but the faint scent of the green-apple candy she was eating drifted through the front of the car.
    “Sure. But on the ride back. By then I’ll probably be getting sleepy.”
    “Are you sure? You can tag me in any time.”
    Outside the car, I heard the relentless sound of tires running over water and sending spray flying; it blended in with the sound of the iPod playing random songs on the car stereo. The current song was Brazilian. On the other side of the expressway walls, the tall buildings of Kobe’s Sannomiya and the peaks of Rokkō-san drifted through the white mist.
    “How’s your boyfriend?” I asked, and Rie answered immediately.
    “He had a little accident.”
    “Playing futsal. He only broke a toe, so it’s nothing serious.”
    “Which toe? Right foot or left?” Ako asked from the back seat.
    Rie gripped the steering wheel and stared straight ahead, as though it was difficult for her to remember. “His right foot. It wasn’t his big toe or his pinky toe—one of the other ones, I think. They’re all wrapped up in a cast together, so I don’t know. No, wait! It might be his left foot.”
    “Must be tough for him.”
    An image of the boyfriend I’d only met once floated through my mind. He’d had bushy eyebrows, and his face had been sturdy and stout; he hadn’t seemed very breakable.
    “He sits all day at work, so he says he’s fine. Though I’m kind of sad, because he can’t come to visit.”
    “Are you lonely? You only just started dating him, right?” Ako asked.
    Today was only the third time Ako and Rie were meeting. Ako worked at the same company I had—I quit four years ago—and I’d originally met Rie because she worked at a clothing store I used to shop at all the time.
    Rie ruminated on Ako’s question for a few seconds, and then she answered. “I’ll have too many vegetables.” At the exact same moment, she turned off the AC.
    Ako said, “Vegetables?”
    About six months ago, Rie started having organic vegetables delivered, but the company sent them in one-week installments and even the smallest package had too many vegetables, so they went to waste. When I met up with her last month, she’d happily told me that she’d started dating a systems engineer who stopped by her apparel company sometimes, and in the same breath, she said that she was finally able to use up all her vegetables.
    “And you’d been telling me how great it was to have someone who’d eat it all.”
    “Well, except for the wilted stuff like the outer cabbage leaves.” The windshield was already trying to fog up again, but Rie found a peephole in it and was gazing far into the distance as she continued. “Sometimes I wish I had a rabbit.”
    I laughed out loud, and just as I did, Ako made a strange little sound. I turned around and found her sitting in the very middle of the backseat, staring back at me with huge eyes.
    “Have you seen those jumbo rabbits? They’re seriously really huge. I can’t believe they’re actually real. It just seems like they’re going to take over the world.”
    “I guess rabbits do look a little scary,” I said.
    Rie asked, “Why’s that?”
    “Because they don’t have necks.”
    “You don’t like mice either, do you Hatsumi?” Ako asked.
    “But rabbits are delicious,” Rie added. She writes a food blog. She’s been to over seven hundred restaurants in the last five years.
    “Must be nice, Rie,” Ako sighed. “Going to all those nice restaurants.”
    “It still looked like a rabbit, though.”
    “What did it taste like?”
    “Well, they served it up like a stew, and it was boiled with vegetables. I guess I think normal meat is better.
    “No matter what, I could never eat dog. No way.” Ako’s face was solemn in a way I’d never seen before. After that, we started talking about what we wanted to have for dinner that night.
    It seemed like we might just forget why we’d even headed for Himeji Castle in the first place.
    After we left Kobe’s city-center and started drawing nearer to the mountains, Ako said she needed to use the bathroom, and shortly after, we found a rest stop.
    “Let’s eat something,” Rie said as she stopped the car, and I checked my phone to see that it was just after two. I’m not even that hungry, I thought to myself as I opened my door and leapt down onto the asphalt. I put my back into it as I closed the door. It shut with a satisfying slam, but beneath the car, I noticed something white.
    Huh? I thought, and turned to look at it. From the space between the front wheel and the car, something like faint white steam was drifting up.
    At first I thought the tire was hot, and steam from friction was coming off the rubber. But as I stared, the white vapor grew thicker. And it looked like it was coming from somewhere deeper behind the tire. I looked up to see Ako get out of the car, take a long stretch, and promptly walk off toward the toilet. The rain was so fine it was like mist, and there was no need for umbrellas.
    “Maybe I’ll go to the bathroom, too,” Rie said as she got out of the car and shut her door. The low ka-chunk of the locks clicking reverberated from the car, and Rie turned toward me. Between Rie and me, thick, white vapor began rising from the edge of the gleaming black hood. It was even whiter than the vapor that had been drifting from behind the tire, and it looked distinctly like smoke rather than steam.
    No, it was undeniably smoke.
    Rie said, “What in the world?”
    “Well, something’s definitely coming out.”
    “What? What? What?” Each of Rie’s “what”s gradually grew louder. Ako returned, having finally noticed the situation; Rie looked from her face to the car and back again, as though comparing, and said, “What do we do? Should we drive down to that gas station and have them pour water on it?”
    Rie turned to look down the road, and beyond her, I could see a gas station with a flat roof and a sign with a logo. Ako gazed at the white smoke and answered, “No, no. We definitely can’t move it. We shouldn’t touch it at all. It’s ok. I’ve done this before.” Ako nodded, even though she was the one who had said it would be ok, and neither Rie nor I understood what exactly would be ok.
    Rie looked at Ako with imploring eyes. “Are you sure? What are we going to do?”
    “Are you a member of JAF? They do roadside assistance, right? We can call them and—“
    “I’m not, but maybe my insurance company would be ok.” Rie said. She looked flustered as she poked her hand into her plump handbag, pulled out an equally plump wallet, opened it, selected a light blue insurance card from among her many cards, and showed it to Ako.
    “Call them,” she said. “I think they’ll probably be better than my insurance company.”
    “You’re sure?” Rie said again and again, her voice growing higher and higher as she started pressing the buttons of her cell phone.
    I stood still in front of the tire where I’d first seen the smoke coming out. The rain grew a little stronger. Little by little, the white smoke died away.

    In front of the square building with its shops and simple cafeteria, they’d put up a tent with a red- and yellow-striped roof. Beneath it, silver tables and chairs were set out in rows of moderate disarray. The shops and cafeteria were fairly crowded, but there was no one besides us sitting in the outdoor dining area.
    Ako was telling us about her own car troubles. “When it happened to me, it was the absolute worst, because I was going across the Akashi Kaikyō Bridge, and l’d only gone a kilometer when suddenly everything went white. And I was alone, too. Because you know, my grandma lives in Sumoto, so it was just a little further to Awaji Island, and the old guy driving the truck next to me pointed and yelled as loud as he could about the smoke, and of course I was like ‘I know, but what am I supposed to do,’ and I was panicking and crying until I got to the end of the bridge where I could finally stop. But apparently going just that little way was like pouring oil on the fire and I shouldn’t have done it, so anyway when I took it in to the mechanic, they told me it was going to cost more than a hundred thousand yen, and even if they fixed it there were other problems too and before long something else was bound to break so they said I ought to just get a new one, but if a hundred thousand is going to put me in a tight spot, it’s not like I’ve got the money for a new car either, so I decided to go car-less. I guess it was a junky car even when I bought it.”
    “Wow. One hundred thousand.” Rie sighed hugely, and opened the cell phone she still gripped in her right hand. “I guess the signal really is bad. I’m going to go sit over there and wait for the phone call to come.”
    “Maybe we should…”
    Ako and I tried to stand, but as we did, Rie put out her hand to stop us and quickly hitched her bag over her shoulder. “It’s fine. Just sit here. You’ll get rained on over there.”
    Maybe when she’s agitated or depressed, she’s bad at being around people, I thought as I watched her walk away, opening and closing her cell phone. As though to take Rie’s place, a couple with a baby huddled under an umbrella as they came into the tent. Once they’d passed in front of us, Ako stood.
    “I’m going to go buy something. Hatsumi, what do you want to eat?”
    On the other side of the still-open door, I saw a sign with “Tajima Beef Steak and Rice Bowls” written on it. In front of the building, too, there were three prefab shops; there was ice cream for sale, and the one closest to us was flying a banner that read “Jumbo Wagyu Grilled on a Stick.” I felt like I could eat a cow, but…
    “Um. Just something plain, udon or ramen or something.”
    Ako gave a huge nod to my order, and then marched off to the cafeteria with an air of responsibility.
    The chairs were made of aluminum piping with vinyl strung between them, and they felt cool to the touch; it was nice. Next to me, the parking lot stretched into the distance, and even though it was a Sunday, fewer than half of the parking spaces were filled—maybe because the weather was bad.
    Even though the tent above my head was narrow, it stretched all the way to the toilets at the edge of the building. Beside the garbage bins that cut a line between the building and the tent, Rie stood speaking on the phone. I thought maybe she’d gotten the call from her insurance company, but based on her visibly troubled expression, she looked like she might be talking to someone she knew, though I didn’t know if it might be her boyfriend or her family or a friend. Rie sure is tall, I thought, as though noticing for the first time.
    In the waterlogged air between Rie and I, a small black shadow darted past. It moved quickly and smoothly. I followed its trajectory with my eyes for a bit, and then from the place it had gone, the black shadow came slipping back in the other direction. It really was fast. On the other side of the crossed bars of the aluminum chairs, I noticed there was an orange traffic cone with a piece of paper stuck to it that read “Watch your head.” Looking right above that, I saw a swallow’s nest.
    The iron support frame of the tent reflected a translucent orange from the tent’s colors, and in the gap between the bars, gray and brown lumps poked out. The chicks are watching, I thought as the parent bird returned, and suddenly those little black heads split violently into yellow maws and began crying pii! pii! The swallow alighted on the nest, poked food into one of the yellow maws, and took off again. From the eaves of the tent it descended, took a turn over the stores, glided down a very low path in front of the cone, and flew off to a young, green thicket on the other side of the parking lot.
    Its path drew a beautiful ellipse, and it reminded me of the kinds of diagrams that explained planetary orbits.
    “Green onion ramen or kitsune udon, which do you want?”
    I looked up at the question, and Ako was standing there holding a light green tray. The steam rising from the bowls mixed with the mist in the air.
    “Either’s fine. You pick what you want.”
    “Really? I thank you, my lady.”
    Ako watches a lot of jidaigeki on TV, and after giving one of the old-fashioned phrases that sometimes popped out of her, she took the kitsune udon for herself and sat. Then she turned toward Rie.
    “It’ll be fine. Her car is way newer than mine was, and she found the problem early on.”
    Ako remained twisted in her seat, looking at Rie for a while. Rie leaned against a pole with her arms crossed in front of her, checking her cell phone over and over again. The rain had reached the point where I could no longer tell whether it was falling or not, but the mist still hung unchanging over everything.
    I finished eating my ramen with its too-pungent green onions, and as Ako slurped at her udon broth, the little swallow brought in food, flew off, brought in food again, and flew away—over and over. As I watched, I noticed that the swallow was flying along more or less the same route. It appeared from the other side of the parking lot where the semi-trucks lined up, flitted in front of Rie, took a sudden sharp angle at the orange cone, and flew up to the back of the tent. And then it traced the exact same route in reverse. Even though there was nothing like a road for it, it was so exact that I was charmed by its fixation. Gazing at its smooth flight, I had the same pleasant sense I felt when I watched the clean movements of a dance.
    Rie returned. “They told me it’ll be about half an hour, or if they’re running late an hour, before the tow truck comes. Then they have to haul it to the closest auto shop, and they’ll give me a rental to drive, but if we want a ride to the shop, they can only take me and one other person. They’re sending a tow truck and one more car with two extra guys, but the extra car has to go somewhere else afterward, and the tow truck only has room for two passengers. I don’t really get it. I said someone could just ride in my car, but they said that’s illegal.”
    Rie explained everything with an apologetic air, since apparently we would have to wait here one or two hours.
    “I’ll wait. I can’t drive anyway, and even if I went with you, I don’t think I’d be much help.”
    “No, no. You go with her, Hatsumi. I’ll wait here, ok?” From her red-checkered backpack, Ako pulled out a light blue Nintendo DS and smiled. We argued a bit more about who would remain, but eventually it was decided that Ako would stay behind. At the neighboring table, a whole family wearing tracksuits had arrived and were laughing together. They seemed like they were from a foreign country, somewhere warm and sunny. Rie glanced at them, and then looked over at the cafeteria.
    “Well, I’m hungry.”
    “Ooh, ooh! Those fluffy cheese potato dumplings, I noticed them before and I’m super curious!”
    We split up and waited our turn to buy something, and on our round silver table there appeared kakiage soba and coffee and fluffy cheese potato dumplings and purple yam ice cream and chocolate chip cookies.
    As the food gradually disappeared, I saw the swallow flying behind Rie’s head. Methodically it flew off, returned with food, then flew off again. When the parent swallow appeared, the chicks began crying as one, and when it flew off again, the chicks fell silent as one. The littlest boy from the track-suit family pointed at the swallows and said something to a woman who looked like she might be his mother. His track suit was pink, and the mother’s track suit was a deeper pink. Surely there were swallows in their country, too. Or even, perhaps, when the season changed, these swallows would fly off to their country.
    As I stared—and maybe this should have been evident right away—I noticed there was definitely something small clamped in the beak of the returning swallow. Whether an insect or worm, I didn’t know, but each time it flew back, the shape looked different. How did it catch them? I’d never seen a swallow catching prey before, so I couldn’t even imagine what it looked like. Did it glide through the air and dive like a raptor, or did it stop in a tree and peck at the bark, and how did it find something that was so very small—all unknowns.
    The swallow flew off, and I thought I’d lost track of it when it went beyond the fluffy leaves of a few closely-gathered trees, but after only a few seconds, it appeared again like magic. I didn’t think it looked like it was circling around looking for bugs. Somewhere beyond those trees, there was a feeding ground teeming with a mountain of insects, and I imagined the swallow picking them up and carrying them off one by one. But surely there was no such place.
    Among its many journeys, there was one time the swallow didn’t return, even after a few minutes. From beyond the thicket, I could hear the sound of car engines passing without slowing and the sound of water spraying up from tires, and I watched the family in their track suits who’d finished eating, and I worried about the fact that the swallow hadn’t returned. Maybe it was strange that I worried. Whether the swallow returned or not, I wouldn’t do anything, and I’d probably forget about it soon, anyway. It was only a momentary unease.
    If that swallow is hit by a truck and doesn’t come back, I wonder if they’ll die, those chicks crying pii! pii!, their yellow beaks open as if to split their heads almost in half; what do you think Rie, Ako? I thought, but I had no intention of asking. But I did wonder, If I were reborn as a swallow chick, and my parents went to get food and didn’t come back, I would die without ever really understanding what happened, and then what?
    While I thought about those petty things, the swallow reappeared as expected and smoothly flew along its same elliptical trajectory, fulfilling its duties. The fluffy cheese potato dumplings were soaked through with oil, and not particularly good. The rain had finally stopped.
    A man built like a strongman, dressed in a mechanic’s uniform, guided the tow truck in by shouting, “All right! All right!” I had seen tow trucks hooking up illegally parked cars in town before, but this one wasn’t the kind that actually used a line to tow a car; rather, the car sat on the trailer behind it. There were three men, all of them in deep green uniforms. In the driver’s seat of the tow truck, there was an incredibly young-looking, short man, and there was an older man with salt-and-pepper hair and a friendly disposition who was having Rie sign paperwork; they all looked like they had a good grasp of their role in this work as they coordinated with complete efficiency to get Rie’s car up on the trailer.
    Ako and I sat on a fence surrounding the thicket a little ways away and watched the men work. Rie said, “They said someone can ride in my car as long as we don’t tell anyone. We’re not technically supposed to, but they said it’s ok.”

    Ako and I looked at each other. “Thank goodness. The only game I have on my DS is a program for improving your handwriting. I suppose my characters would’ve gotten better, but still.”
    “Just keep in mind, it’s up on the trailer, and my car already sits high off the ground, so apparently it’s going to rock a lot on the road, and I remember you get carsick easily, don’t you Hatsu?”
    Before Rie even finished asking her question, Ako was already speaking. “Oh, I want to ride in it. Let me ride in it. I like thrill rides. It’s not like I’ll have many chances to ride something like this.” Ako’s eyes were glittering. Two large tour busses pulled into the parking lot and parked nearby.

    The small man who’d been driving the tow truck got out and looked at our faces in turn as he asked, “Are you sure? It really shakes a lot. Have you got a way to call us?” In both of his ears, there were masses of small silver loops in lines up the cartilage, and all together they looked like some sort of machine.
    “I have my cell phone.” She had it in hand, and she thrust it in front of him; no one pointed out that she was already using it to try and take pictures of the inside of the car. Rie was worried, and even as Ako triumphantly climbed into the car perched on the trailer for a commemorative photo, Rie repeated, “If you start to feel sick, you’ll tell us right away, right? Right?”
    The muscular guy and the kind, older man got into the other car and headed off somewhere. Rie and I squashed together in the passenger seat next to the driver. The seat of the truck sat much higher up, and the scenery looked entirely different from before. The auto shop was apparently quite far away, and we set off in the same direction Rie had been driving us before. Even though I thought we’d get off the expressway fairly quickly, ten minutes passed with no sign of us turning off, and just as I started to think we ought to ask him to drive us all the way to Himeji Castle, we came to a tollbooth, and shortly after that we pulled a U-turn. Now we were heading in the opposite direction, and we continued down the expressway at a steady speed. I gazed out at the different shades of green between the trees on the inside of the outer gray guard rail and those outside it, and I felt how different the vibrations of the truck were compared to a car. While I did that, Rie was asking the boy with all the piercings about the state of her car. He was telling her the car had probably overheated, but they wouldn’t know until they opened it up at the auto shop. She asked him over and over again how much the repairs would cost, but he just told her that he couldn’t tell without looking inside, and Rie looked uneasy. But then the boy started listing warning signs she could look out for in the future, and she listened with rapt attention.
    I’ve never driven, and I’ll probably never drive, I listlessly thought as I listened to them talk.

    The truck dragging Rie’s car behind it finally turned off the expressway and rocketed down a hill with a yellow love hotel beside it, emerging on a road between fields. The road continued straight north, past a factory that looked like a wide, flat distribution center, before reaching an area where houses gradually began to grow in number. Fields appeared intermittently, and between gaps in the rows of green seedlings, water flooded up, as though supporting the bottom of the day’s waterlogged air.
    Rie pulled her cell phone from her bag. She had a call from Ako. “Hello? Are you ok?”
    When I checked the cell phone in my own bag, there were two missed calls from Ako, and I noted that I hadn’t noticed them at all.
    I could hear Ako’s voice seeping from the cell phone held to Rie’s ear: I’m totally fine. This is so much fun! It’s awesome!
    I realized the small man was laughing a little as he drove. “It’s really tough being in there,” he said. “I’ve done it before, and halfway through, I was done for.”
    “She apparently really likes thrill rides. Thinks they’re fun.”
    When I said that, he only hummed, and I wasn’t sure if his answer meant he understood or he didn’t understand. Rie handed me the phone, and in a cheerful voice, Ako told me she would show me a video of the ride after.
    We passed over a fairly long concrete bridge, even though the river that ran beneath it had barely any water at all, and then we reached the city. Along the road, there were the same signs and the same restaurants you’d find all over the country. I wasn’t used to seeing that kind of scenery, so it intrigued me a little to see the kinds of family restaurants I’d never entered before.
    Rie looked outside for a while, then leaned over and asked the driver, “You must really like cars, if you’re doing this kind of work.”
    “I do. I guess you could call it a hobby.”
    “Do you drive a really nice car?”
    “The body is a Mark II, and my old man drives it too, but I’ve put my life into souping it up. I say life, but I actually mean money.”
    “How much?”
    “Oh, about ten million yen give or take.”
    “What? Wow!” Rie and I exclaimed at the same time; his expression grew a little proud, and his tone changed to one of familiarity.
    “I’ve changed the interior, but the paint job is what really gets me going.”
    “What color is it?”
    “Silver, or I guess a kind of almost black silver.” He reported this with a tone that was almost blunt, yet at the same time boastful, and in profile, his nose looked flat and childish. I was fairly sure he was quite a bit younger than us. He handled the car in a way that said he was driving a road he knew so well he didn’t even need to look, and he turned onto a narrow meandering road at a corner next to a home and garden center. When he turned, he told us to please remember where he’d done so, and that’s when I realized that Rie would have to come back the next day to pick up her car after it was repaired.
    We paused at a red light on a four-way intersection with neither people nor cars, and he said, “This job is, for the most part, waiting. We’re on standby until a call comes from a customer, so if there’s no call, we spend all day fiddling with cars.”
    “So do you go out driving quite a bit?”
    “No, actually I don’t drive that much. I’d hate to scratch the body. If I parked it in a normal parking lot, I’d probably scrape the bottom on the curb.”
    “I see.”
    I suddenly remembered the shape of the low-to-the-ground car I’d seen in a movie quite a while ago—it was about cars racing in the mountains. I thought about the feeling I’d had then, wanting to try one of those high-end sports cars like a Ferrari or a Lamborghini.
    Maybe there was still a while to our destination, because he kept talking. “That’s why when I go shopping in our neighborhood, I use my wife’s car, but even that’s tempting fate a little.”
    “Does your wife like cars, too?”
    “In a different way. She loves Minnie.” There he looked at Rie and me, and grinned. “Mickey’s no good, just Minnie. I don’t really get the difference between them. She drives a normal Nissan March, but she’s probably got about a hundred Minnies in there.”
    A March with a hundred Minnie Mouses. I thought that if it was parked in a parking lot, I would probably have to peek inside it. Rie probably would, too.
    “I guess there’s all sorts of people. I don’t drive at all.”
    “The other guy with us, the big guy. He’s my boss.”
    That man had looked like he’d spent a hundred kilometers stuffed inside a tow truck, and he’d never spoken a word the whole time he was with us.
    “His car is a Honda Stepwgn. Do you know them? The kind that have a thing behind the tires that raises up and makes this gakun! gakun! sound.”
    “I’ve seen it on TV.”
    “The back is half-filled with speakers.”
    “Like Ichiro,” I said, and Rie looked at me and asked, “Why is it like Ichiro?”
    “Ichiro’s car is a Nissan March, but it only seats two, and it cost about twenty million yen; I saw it in a weekly magazine. I’m sure he drives a foreign car now, though.”
    “You must like Nissans,” the young man said with a smile, and I was a little happy at that.
    “Um,” Rie began, staring at the man’s face, “you don’t seem like you’re from Kansai.”
    “Oh, yeah, I’m from Kanagawa.”
    “What? Really? I’m from Kanagawa! Isn’t that weird? Meeting someone else from Kanagawa out here.”
    “I met my wife in Okinawa, but she’s originally from here, and her family works with cars, so when I married her, they asked if I’d take on the family business someday. Though they did ask me to stop dying my hair blond.”
    “Where? Where in Kanagawa?”
    “What, seriously? I’m from Ōfuna. We’re so close. What high school did you go to?”
    The man looked a little confused by Rie’s excitement, but he named the high school he’d gone to. Rie grew even more animated. “Then you must know Yajima-kun, Yajima Keiji, but maybe he was older than you. What middle school?”
    After that, Rie listed proper nouns for quite a while. They at last found the name of a sweets shop they both knew just as we reached the green-roofed auto shop. When I first saw the part of the shop that appeared be a used car lot, I realized that until that point I’d been imagining it as the sort of huge car factory I’d visited on a school field trip when I was in elementary school, and I laughed at myself.
    Ako leapt down from the trailer and said with a beaming smile, “That was so much fun!”

    The rental car was small and red and round. Even at the auto shop, we were told that they wouldn’t be able to tell us how much the repairs would be until they actually went and fixed the car, but in the worst-case scenario it would probably be more than a hundred thousand yen, and Rie looked down in the mouth. We climbed into the new car, which had no bells or whistles, and decided to head back to Osaka, though we stopped at the Suma Aqualife Park to see the dolphin show. Around Kobe, friends of Ako’s called, and we were invited to go out drinking in Umeda.
    Her friend was a man who’d used his May vacation to go surfing in Hainan, but another person’s surfboard had struck his head, and he’d had fifteen stitches; he was completely healed now, though. The other man who came had apparently dropped ten thousand yen last night and just couldn’t get it out of his head.
    Rie wrapped her samgyeopsal in a lettuce leaf and said, “You know, when the smoke first started coming out of my car, I imagined myself yelling at you all to get away and getting into the car on my own, driving it to the edge of the parking lot, jumping out, and then the car exploding and flying off the edge of a cliff. Seriously.”
    Afterward, we said goodbye to the men, and walked to the toll parking lot. It was a narrow crevice surrounded by old buildings, and the red car was parked in the farthest parking space, just barely fitting.
    “Let’s go to Himeji Castle some other time,” Rie said.
    “It’s a World Heritage Site,” Ako said with a sleepy voice; she liked World Heritage Sites. Maybe she was the one who’d first wanted to go.
    “I’m sorry. You went to all the trouble of lining up your days off,” Rie apologized.
    “It’s fine. It was an experience.” Hearing my own voice in my ears, I realized I’d said something rude. Ako’s eyes popped open with shock, and she looked at me. Rie was feeding a thousand-yen note into the parking meter.
    “I wonder if it will really cost a hundred thousand…” she said.
    Note: The story is from Shibasaki Tomoka’s an upcoming book title ‘Weekend Coming’ from publisher ‘Kadokawa’.