Come to think of it, her first time at the beach had been ten years ago.
As she sat in the train, she looked over her shoulder whimsically at the view unfolding through the window.
Before Heaven’s Fall, when the world still had some semblance of peace, she had gone swimming in the sea with her parents… That was Yuki’s only memory of her family trip.
Every time the train shook, Inaho’s tiny shoulders shook beside her.
Yuki gazed down at her little brother, who sat unobtrusively, clasping the water bottle. “I was even younger than he was,” she muttered softly.
Right. I was even younger than he was.
Inaho wasn’t even born yet. I was four years old.
She was so young that her feet didn’t even reach the floor when she sat on the train seat.
Clad in her favourite orange sandals and a one piece with a hibiscus design made by her mother, she was on her way to the beach, something she had been looking forward to for a long time. Her father’s polo shirt was bright, reflecting the sunlight shining through the window.
When she strained to look outside, her mother said, “Take off your sandals if you’re going to climb on the seat.”
She didn’t want to take off her favourite sandals, but she also wanted to look outside. She looked at her father beside her, wanting him to persuade her mother for her, but he’d folded his arms and was fast asleep.
After exchanging glances with her mother and giggling, she remembered pressing a finger against her lips and saying “Shhh!”
The air conditioner was on inside the train and her skin felt slightly cold… Unable to stand it, she shivered, prompting her mother to drape her lemon-coloured cardigan around her shoulders.
It was a bright-coloured memory that carried the tint of midsummer.
After walking so far down memory lane, Yuki looked at her brother sitting beside her once again. He was wrapped up in his woollen scarf like a mummy, and while he might have done that to himself, he did make for a somewhat pitiful figure.
Thanks to the mild early-spring weather, the heater was turned up so high inside the train that it felt slightly stuffy.
“It’s so easy to fall asleep when it’s warm like this.” Quite naturally, she felt sorry for him, so she took off his scarf. Inaho stared straight out the window while Yuki did all of this. “You can sleep, Nao-kun. I’ll wake you when we arrive at the station.”
“I’m fine. Isn’t Yuki-nee the sleepy one? I woke up at seven as usual.”
“But I was making a noise in the kitchen, so didn’t you wake up earlier?”
“Were you making something? We had toast for breakfast. You wouldn’t have woken early for that.”
“I made packed lunches.”
“Yep, they’re for the beach.”
Because that’s what mother did, Yuki was about to continue, only to choke on her words.
She couldn’t say it. Inaho never knew his parents; she couldn’t help but think she was rubbing that in.
“What’s in the packed lunch?” Inaho’s gaze was pointed at the backpack on Yuki’s lap.
“Omelettes and rice balls. To be honest, I really wanted to include more things…”
It took time to cook dishes she was unfamiliar with, and before she knew it they had to catch the train. She couldn’t include the cherry tomatoes and wieners she had gone out of her way to purchase.
“Cooking really takes a lot of effort.”
Ever since their move, they’d been having toast for breakfast, noodles for lunch (or, failing that, something you could whip up in a microwave), and dinner at Inko’s house almost every day.
“Yuki-nee has never actually cooked anything. You’ve only boiled things on the stove and put them in the microwave.”
“Boiling is cooking! You have to use a fire!”
She wasn’t talking like a sore loser. That was what she genuinely believed.
“…but the only flavouring you add is noodle sauce.”
“What? Are you sick of noodles?”
“Not particularly. I only said you used the same flavouring every time.”
“Weeeell, if you’re having noodles, you have to add noodle sauce.”
“Right. If I had to say it, it’s the noodle sauce I’m sick of.”
“…should we use a different brand, then?”
His silence probably didn’t mean that she was on the right track.
Yuki thought about the first time she had made omelettes. They certainly weren’t appetising—she knew that with deep conviction. For one thing, she had no memory of putting in flavouring even though it was supposed to be an omelette. She had no idea what sort of seasoning would make it salty, so she resorted to sprinkling salt after she’d fried the eggs.
So strictly speaking—no, not even strictly speaking—these fried eggs were not omelettes. They were just fried eggs with salt on them. They didn’t even look nice—the ‘scrambled’ part of scrambled eggs would fail to describe the final product.
The fried eggs at the Home had a sweet flavouring. They were tasty and all, but Yuki’s heart was set on omelettes. Omelettes were fluffy and soft, and when you chewed them, the flavour oozed into your mouth.
Out of all her mother’s dishes, what remained most vividly in her mind was the omelette she ate at the sandy shores. It was the best omelette in the world.
I was so sure I’d experience that taste again.
When she made that packed lunch this morning, she realised with a start. No, perhaps it was better to say she had known it all along.
For whatever reason, she had no talent at cooking, it seemed. No talent at all.
“I wanted to give you a taste of it, Nao-kun…”
“Mmm, never mind.”
The scene outside the window gradually shifted to a suburban backdrop. The cloudy sky was white as far as the eye could see, lacking the brightness of spring, but it wasn’t heavy or gloomy either.
In contrast, the sky that day had been so blue you could lose yourself in it.
She remembered how her mother had plastered so much sunscreen on Yuki’s infant body that her skin turned pure white. While she never came to enjoy the weird sensation of water slapping against the sunblock on her skin, she didn’t mind the smell of that coconut-like scent. She had held her arms around her nose, trying again and again to catch that sweet scent.
That trifling memory was a source of comfort to the orphaned Yuki. Even if I lose everything, I’ll still have those memories… That was what she always believed.
But then what about Inaho? Just what did her little brother have?
The two of them were war orphans. All they had to their name was their bodies. Other than that, there was nothing.
Surely Inaho’s seeming lack of emotion all the time—although she had no idea whether that was just for appearance’s sake—was, at its heart, driven by the fact that he had nothing to lean on.
And so the trip to the beach she had come up with… was perhaps a little too simple-minded.
Still, she longed for something to remain in her brother’s heart. A memory he could call his own—she didn’t mind if it was trivial.
As long as it could bring out Inaho’s feelings and emotions.
“Yuki-nee, are you asleep?”
Something tickled her cheek, probably Inaho’s hair.
Even though she had told herself not to lean against him, here she was completely entrusting herself to him. “No… I’m not sleeping… really, I’m not.”
“You can sleep if you want.”
“Mmm… I’m sorry.”
“…you don’t have to apologise.”
The combination of warm sunlight, the heater on the train and a child’s warm body beside her was more than enough to invite drowsiness. “Nao-kun…”
“You don’t have to apologise.”
Gently, he adjusted his sister’s body, so that she wouldn’t slip off her seat when the train shook.
“…I’m the one who should be sorry.”
His quiet spoken apology slipped past his sister’s sleeping exterior and was soon crushed underfoot.