It was the evening, and Koutarou had gone to do the shopping at the grocery store like usual.
Someone called out, but Koutarou didn’t think they were looking for him.
But someone tapped him on the shoulder, and of course, he stopped.
He turned around and saw a man completely unfamiliar to him.
Koutarou had fundamentally no interest in human beings, aside from Shuuji, but because of his excellent memory, he didn’t forget people, even if he’d only met them once.
Which was how he was certain he’d never met the man who was in front of him now.
He was even taller than Koutarou’s nearly 180 cm, and muscular, with a broad, sturdy frame.
He had a bushy stock of whiskers on his chin and under his nose, and maybe because his hair was long, he gave a rather bohemian impression.
He was likely older than Koutarou, too.
He looked to be past forty.
Koutarou watched him, but didn’t say anything, and the man didn’t seem to mind at all.
In fact he started speaking with a good-humored smile on his face.
“It’s you, right? The one who did first aid on that sick guy the other day.”
It had happened at this same supermarket.
The man had probably seen the whole incident, so Koutarou wasn’t surprised.
Even so, he didn’t understand why the man had called out to him.
“That’s true, but what about it?”
“You aren’t worried about what happened to him afterwards?”
To be frank, he wasn’t.
He’d only done it because it was right there in front of him, and it was something he was capable of.
He had no special interest in following up on a man he’d never met and didn’t know.
But if he came right out and said that, people would probably think he was cold and unfeeling.
Shuuji’d told him that it would only hinder his life if people had that image of him, so he’d learned the art of pretending to look like he could think like a normal person, even if he really couldn’t.
All of this so he wouldn’t be conspicuous, so he could avoid making anyone suspicious that the person they were speaking to was a clone.
“Oh, how is he, then?” Koutarou asked, acting like he actually had been concerned, and hiding his true feelings on the matter.
“It was nothing serious.
We admitted him for observation for a while, but he’ll probably be discharged soon.”
“You seem to know a lot about it.
Are you a family member?”
“I’m a doctor at the hospital he was taken to,” the man said, taking a hospital ID card from his jacket pocket and shoving it at Koutarou.
The name Gorou Nagasaki1 was written on it beside the man’s headshot.
To be carrying that around with him meant that he was still probably on duty, so the hospital must have been pretty close.
Koutarou was so busy thinking about things like that, that he didn’t immediately realize the man was staring at him pretty hard.
He was being kind of rude considering it was their first meeting, and his tone was pretty arrogant too, but maybe because of the way he looked, it didn’t make Koutarou uncomfortable.
And of course, Koutarou’s lack of interest in other people probably had something to do with it.
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say I have knowledge of it.
Just what I’ve read in books,” Koutarou replied ambiguously.
He couldn’t talk about things related to his past, but he had indeed learned plenty of stuff from reading books, so his answer wasn’t necessarily a lie.
“Well then, you’ve got some real skill.” Nagasaki in fact hadn’t been there to witness the scene, but he clapped in an exaggerated manner as he praised Koutarou.
This behavior stood out as unusual in the middle of a supermarket, and gathered the attention of the other customers instantly.
“Is that about all? Loitering around talking will trouble the whole store…”
Koutarou himself had nothing to talk about.
And it wasn’t just an excuse to leave, he did really want to finish the shopping quickly and get back home to Shuuji.
Keep shopping, don’t mind me.”
Nagasaki didn’t seem to notice, and waved his hands at the store shelves as if to say, please do.
Apparently, he had no intention of leaving.
With no other options, Koutarou ignored the way the man was following him around, and resumed his shopping.
You cook for yourself?”
“I do whatever I need to,” Koutarou answered, thinking over the dinner menu in his head.
“You came here yesterday about this time, too, didn’t you? You do the shopping before dinner every night?”
The questions continued, and Koutarou suddenly realized something.
“Today wasn’t a coincidence.
You were here looking for me?” Even as he asked it, he was confident he wasn’t wrong.
The sun was already sinking when Koutarou had come into town.
He did the shopping here almost every day, so he’d started to recognize faces, but there wasn’t anyone he’d developed enough of a relationship with to call each other by their names.
And yesterday, he’d left without giving his name, so no one should have known Koutarou’s true identity.
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say I was looking for you.
I heard there was someone who’d given first aid yesterday from one of the clerks here, and they told me he was a good looking guy who’d started coming here recently.
So, I thought I’d show up about the same time as yesterday, and ambush you.”
Nagasaki answered like it was nothing, but Koutarou scowled faintly.
He’d never bothered about his own appearance, and so he didn’t realize he was a conspicuous presence.
And even if they didn’t notice his face, a young man coming to the supermarket in the middle of the day was likely enough to make him stand out.
It was too late to regret it now, but it was a good lesson.
He’d have to be more cautious from now on, if he wanted to live in this town.
“Did you have some business with me?”
Unlike before, Koutarou didn’t hide his wariness.
This man had specifically come looking for him.
“No, I was just interested in finding out what kind of man deals so coolly with an emergency case, and then just leaves without even giving his name.
Well, course, now that I’ve met you, I’m even more interested,” Nagasaki said, throwing back a question even less reservedly.
“What line of work are you in? You don’t seem like a standard office drone.”
Nagasaki stared at him searchingly, looking him up and down.
“I’m in between jobs right now.” Koutarou answered briefly, just the bare facts.
“Oh? What a waste,” Nagasaki said, surprised, and then, “Do you speak any foreign languages?”
He continued asking questions like he was checking off a list, apparently assuming that Koutarou could in fact do it.
Normally, Koutarou would have been suspicious as to why he was being asked such questions, for instance how did this man know Koutarou was good with foreign languages? But the questions seemed to fit a pattern, like the man was confirming a prior hypothesis, so Koutarou again answered with the bare facts.
“English and German don’t give me much trouble…”
Koutarou wasn’t boasting, he wasn’t being humble either, he only meant that he’d needed it and so he could do it.
It was best to read the details of overseas papers and things in the language of the country they’d originally been written in, so that he didn’t feel like things were out of place.
So he’d learned the appropriate languages on his own.
Not just reading and writing, either.
He wanted to avoid having trouble in conversations with overseas researchers, and so Koutarou had made his self-study a success.
You’ve got some time until you find another job then.
How about some part time work?”
That was a proposal he hadn’t expected, and Koutarou’s suspicions grew stronger.
This was the first time he’d ever met Nagasaki.
And unlike Nagasaki, who’d identified himself as a physician right away, Koutarou had tried not to reveal anything about himself.
He hadn’t even given his name yet.
No matter how unfamiliar Koutarou was with the world, the offer of a part time job wasn’t going to wipe away how unnatural this conversation was.
“Yeah, listen.” In the face of Koutarou’s obvious suspicions, Nagasaki started explaining the part time job in detail.
“It’s true that I came looking for you because I was curious, but I have also been looking for someone who can speak German.”
It was an unnatural excuse, and Koutarou’s suspicions didn’t lessen.
“There’s this professor who’s helped me out, and he asked me if I couldn’t read through some papers for him.
Or at least, he tried to ask me, but I don’t have any spare time myself.”
But he couldn’t turn the professor down flat, so apparently, the conversation had turned to finding someone else.
“English isn’t that bad, but it’s hard to find someone who can handle German.
Plus, these papers are full of technical jargon, so it’s even harder.”
“That probably is true.” Koutarou nodded, indicating he understood.
Koutarou had no interest in anything outside of research, but even he had often seen fellow researchers suffer through eight circles of hell for overseas papers.
“Given all that, if a guy shows up with medical knowledge, and he can speak German, of course I’m gonna ask him.
Why don’t you just give it a try for a while, see if you can do it?” Nagasaki said, putting his hands together in front of his face like he was praying.
It was a convenient situation for Koutarou.
This was something that would use his knowledge, and he wouldn’t have to interact with people.
But he shook his head.
“I’m sorry you’re in a tight spot, but it’s impossible.”
“You’re looking for a job though, aren’t you?”
“I wasn’t really looking for a part time job…”
After all, if he did get a full-time offer, he’d have to turn it down because he wouldn’t be able to start right away, since he’d be busy with a part time gig.
“It’s fine, just until you find steady work.”
Maybe there really wasn’t anyone else capable of doing it, because Nagasaki wasn’t giving up.
“From what I can see, you don’t seem to be living a particularly extravagant life.
I’m sure you need some money to get you along until you find a suitable position?”
“That is true, but…”
With the contents of his shopping cart perfectly visible, he couldn’t deny that his budget didn’t leave much room to work with.
He didn’t have a single high-priced item in there, it was obvious at a glance that he was only buying the cheap stuff.
“I think it’s a far better option than some kind of day labor.
It’ll be about a hundred thousand per paper.2 If you finish one a week, that would be more than a thousand a day.
Sounds pretty good, huh?”
Presented with concrete sums, Koutarou’s feelings wavered.
Being told so bluntly that he was living on a pretty thin margin had stuck his heart like a thorn.
If it was just him, he would have been fine.
But the fact that Shuuji had to live like this too now, and that it was all his fault, weighed heavily on him.
If he could take on even one paper, maybe that would lessen Shuuji’s workload by one book.
Once he’d had that thought, his mind was made up.
“Maybe as a trial, just one–”
Nagasaki didn’t even let Koutarou finish his sentence.
It was like he was trying to extract a promise quickly, before Koutarou changed his mind.
Looks like coming out to look for you was all worth it.”
“It’s just a trial, right?” Koutarou said, trying to make sure, and Nagasaki nodded like it was all perfectly natural.
For me too.
You might not turn out to be of any use to me, but I can’t keep asking around forever.
So we need a trial period.”
Nagasaki wasn’t shy about saying things directly, and even Koutarou had to give a wry smile.
But he might be useful to Shuuji like this.
Besides, even Shuuji would probably agree to this job.
He always looked at Koutarou like he wanted to apologize for making him do all the housework.
But Shuuji hadn’t done anything wrong.
It was just that he was overly worried about Koutarou, he didn’t want to make Koutarou compromise on his choice of job.
But as a result, Koutarou had ended up stuck at home.
“Well then, thanks very much for the opportunity.”
Koutarou bowed to Nagasaki, picturing how happy Shuuji would look.
“No, thank you.
What did you say your name was?”
He said it like he’d asked and only forgotten, but the truth was Koutarou had never actually told him.
Nagasaki had tried to introduce a job to a person he didn’t even know the name of, and Koutarou wondered if they were similar somehow.
Without hesitating, Koutarou gave the name he’d been using since he’d first started living in this town.
There hadn’t been any opportunity to introduce himself to anyone, but he’d practiced it with Shuuji plenty of times, so it didn’t come off as artificial.
Koutarou Seno had died.
There was still a risk to using that name even now that they’d left Tokyo.
So the two of them had thought up a new name.
They’d only changed his surname, though, so Shuuji wouldn’t call him the wrong thing in public.
They spent almost every day together, and even during the short times they were apart, his mind was still filled with Shuuji.
Realizing it about himself, the corners of Koutarou’s mouth pulled up gently.
長 naga, long; 崎saki, slope; 吾 go, (first person pronoun, usually for older men, usually pronounced ware); 郎 rou, boy (this is the same rou as Koutarou, it’s a really common part of masculine names). like US$1000 per paper.
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