56. Reunion with childhood friend
Satoko Souya walked through a quiet residential area and looked up at a certain apartment.
It was an apartment that seemed to have strict security, as wasn’t often seen in the countryside.
When Satoko typed in a room number into the auto-lock system at the entrance, the speaker responded,
「”Hey, I’ve been waiting for you.”」
Then, the glass door was unlocked, and Satoko walked to the entrance.
She took the elevator to the fifth floor and was welcomed with open arms by Rio Okae, the person whom she came to see.
“It’s been a while, Rio-chan.”
“Sato-chan, you’re just the same as always.”
After hugging each other, they clapped hands and rejoiced in their reunion.
The two grew up together in a rural town in Nagano.
Satoko remained in her hometown and became a truck driver.
Rio, on the other hand, worked as a lecturer there after graduating from a graduate course at a local university.
She then left her hometown to teach at the Souran University, which was located in the special ward.
“Let’s go inside first. Are you okay to stay late today?”
“Well, yeah. But, please no drink. Since I got this job, I haven’t drunk at all.”
“Can’t force you then. In that case, I’ll have coffee, too.”
Rio laughed and invited Satoko into the room.
“…… So, the local area is the same as always. Minimal infrastructure and, minimal number of people. Neither increase nor decrease.”
“Is the scenery still the same?”
“Yeah, I can say that at least, not much has changed.”
Rio looked up at the sky. She must have longed for the past.
Running through the mountains together… The two of them must be thinking of this same scenery now.
“I haven’t been there for over ten years. It’s not that far away, but feels like it’s getting farther and farther away.”
Satoko nodded slowly at Rio’s words.
“Well, you don’t need to come. The place hasn’t changed at all after all.”
“At least, I don’t think there will be anyone aiming for my life now.”
When Rio was young, her research focused on revitalizing the local economy.
In business transactions, the Kazoku’s wills were considered most important, and it was a problem that old customs and unique rules continued to interfere with people’s business.
The paper she published drew the ire of a certain noble, but the young Rio took the criticism head-on and stood up.
Then a fight broke out between the ignorant noble and Rio, a university lecturer. It was only natural that Rio would be the winner.
Unfortunately, the noble had a method of deciding the situation for himself.
Once the noble mobilized all the power in the family, it would be easy to swap white and black.
But that wasn’t the case. The noble had another way to put pressure on the university.
As a result, it became difficult for Rio to stay at the university, and around the same time, suspicious people began to appear frequently near the apartment where she was living at the time.
A small fire around the garbage dumb.
Tampered car’s brake.
A stone the size of a man’s fist was thrown through the window glass.
Feeling threatened for her life, Rio relied on a friend from her school days and came to the Special Ward Tokyo.
She then became an associate professor at a women’s university in the special ward, and after a while, she rose to become a professor.
At that time, Satoko, who was traveling all over Japan for work, learned about Rio’s situation late.
Satoko only found out after Rio decided to go to the Special Ward Tokyo.
“If it had not been for that, would you still be in there?”
“That’s right. But it’s not so bad here either. Come to think of it, the students are happy when I talk bad about men in class. I wonder if that’s what they call the “sour grapes”.”
“Oi, oi… is it okay for you to say that in a special ward?”
Satoko opened her eyes big as if she had heard something unexpected.
“I say it in moderation, so don’t worry about it. Sometimes it’s quite convenient if you can keep some distance. Even if it causes some students to frown.”
“Fine then, just don’t go over the line.”
“I know. But, you know, I’m still continuing “that research”. So, it’s a perfect disguise, isn’t it?”
When Satoko heard those words, she was really surprised this time.
“Even if you’re in the special ward, if you stand out too much, you’ll get caught by those people.”
“Maybe? But well, relax, I won’t announce it.”
Said Rio with a wink.
“Well, that’s fine I guess, but…”
“In the end, the more I researched, the more I realized that it’s impossible to change the status quo.”
Rio changed her expression and looked down.
“Is the power of the Kazoku still that strong?”
“That’s part of it, but people don’t have enough energy to revitalize rural areas. Even if someone walks at the front, they won’t follow. Even if someone pushes their backs, they’re still slow. Living in rural areas, I’ve learned that unless someone with a certain charisma, enough to make women rush to the front, come to lead, it’s just an empty theory.”
“Someone with a charisma that makes women rush forward, huh…? In the rural areas, only those from the Kazoku can do that.”
“Right. Even if the Kazoku’s power is scraped away, normalizing the economy after that just… in the first place, those who are under their rule and believed in them aren’t aware of the fragile system. And that, made me realize again how unreasonable my hope was.”
“Having such a dream is okay. But, you don’t have to worry about it alone, you know?”
“Well… I wonder if there’s someone out there who has the charisma to pull the women…. no, to get them rush to the front willingly.”
Rio looked out the window.
A beautiful sunset was visible.
“Ara, mother, welcome home.”
When Satoko arrived home, she was greeted by Satomi.
It was already after 10:00 pm.
“I thought you were going to stay over?”
“We’ve talked enough. What about the kids?”
“Aki-chan has been studying until a while ago. And Take-chan, he must have gone to bed already, I guess?…… That reminds me, I’ve got Minayo’s schedule. I’m planning to have a BBQ the day after tomorrow, is that okay?”
“I see. I’ll look forward to it then.”
“Also, Take-chan seems to be interested in where you live.”
“Hmm… Wait, Taketo has never been there?”
“Take-chan is a boy, so I don’t think it’ll be as easy as Aki-chan……”
“I guess it can’t be helped. But, he’s interested in the countryside huh?”
“……? What’s the matter?”
“Compared to when I first came here five years ago, he’s changed a lot.”
“For a while he distrusted women, but the people in the group he was in his third year of middle school were really nice. Maybe that’s why.”
“Is that so? It seems like he’s been working out his body lately, maybe his way of thinking has changed too?”
“Come to think of it, he started running early in the morning after he entered high school. Maybe he found a goal he wants to pursue?”
“On the other hand, Aki has become a weakling. She needs more “lessons”.”
“Well, she’ll have an exam soon.”
“All the more. If that’s all she does, her personality will change. And not for the better. It would be nice if she could experience a little more various things.”
“Come to think of it, I remember when mother told me that, it caused me to start a part-time job.”
“Was it useful?”
“In a way, yes. After all, I did it while studying for the exam. I was so busy back then.”
“Wasn’t it good? Tell Aki not to focus just on one thing, but to broaden her horizons.”
“Yes, I understand.”
“But… what kind of future will Taketo choose…”
“Well, I think a job as a civil servant is safe.”
“I wonder if that’s case. I don’t think such a small place can hold him down…”
At Satoko’s prophetic words, Satomi closed her eyes for a while and thought of Taketo.
Remembering how Takeko was today, Satomi felt that Satoko’s words were not wrong.
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