Chapter 3: A Den of Angel Wings
When she opened her eyes, they were already at the sea.
“Whoa! It’s so close!” was the first thing that came out of Yuki’s mouth when she stepped off the train.
She could see the ocean from the station platform. The view wasn’t just crystal clear; the white sandy shores were displayed in all their glory not one metre away from the protective fence around the platform.
“It looks like this station was built after the war. Ah, look, the directions are written over there.” Inaho pointed to the wall of the platform lounge.
Did it have “The History of the Establishment” written there or something? It showed the full chronology of how the station was built, along with just why it was so close to the shore.
It was rusty here and there, giving the place a somewhat melancholy feel. Was it because of the sea breeze?
For no discernible reason, Yuki attempted to trace the rust on the board. It was rough and brittle.
Having stained her fingers dark red as a result, Yuki pulled back Inaho’s hand and left the station behind her.
The ocean wind was colder in the spring than she had assumed.
The beach’s smell hung over the entire vicinity. It was the smell of fish and of living beings.
“So the beach really does smell of fish.”
“Huh?” Yuki swung around at her brother’s words. “Nao-kun, is this your first time at the beach?”
“You didn’t go for a school trip? For a social studies class or something…?”
“Nuh-uh. We went to a factory, but it wasn’t really close to the sea.”
“I see… so this is your first time, huh.”
In that case, she wondered if it would leave a slight impression on him. She wondered if something so small could leave an impression on him.
Whether he was aware of his sister’s feelings or not—
“You’ll get sand in your shoes.”
Inaho, who had taken off his shoes to empty them of sand, looked rather carefree and innocent, more so than usual. Yet at the same time, doubt flickered in her mind—was she just seeing what she wanted to see?
Yuki’s sighing breath brought warmth to her cold fingers.
There was a world of difference between the heated train carriages and the cold sea breeze.
Yuki stood in front of the unusually new-looking vending machine installed beside the station building and pressed the corn soup button twice without any hesitation.
Plonk. The sound of the can falling was comforting to her ears.
At the same time, it felt somewhat nostalgic, probably because almost all of the vending machines on public roads had been destroyed immediately after the war. It had been done to conserve energy and prevent crime. Even a rather orderly country like this one was unable to leave the “treasure troves” on the roads unchecked in the days following that tragedy.
Heaven’s Fall was all it took for the world to fall into chaos.
There was one thing about being a child Yuki was eternally grateful for. Because of their age, she and Inaho fell under the country’s protection.
Every day, the televisions repeated the same news ad infinitum: adults on the brink of death, having lost their means to live, alongside word of the slowly recovering country. All the while acting as if there was no contradiction to be found.
“Here you go, Nao-kun. It’s a little hot.”
Gingerly, Inaho held the can between his palms, as if to test how warm it was for himself.
In front of him, Yuki opened her can partway and chugged down the warmth with a sigh of relish. “This really hits the spot… good old corn soup.”
She could feel the thick parts slowly spreading throughout her body. “You can’t drink all the corn in corn soup, huh.”
“You probably can.”
“How?” Yuki snapped her eyes open in puzzlement at her brother’s unexpected words.
With his tiny fingertip, he pointed at the lower area of the can’s rim. “I’m not strong enough to do it, but you can probably drink it all if you if you dent the lower part of the rim a little.”
“Mm, to put it simply, the indented part clogs the corn, although you can’t push it back in either.”
“Wait, wait. How do you know that?”
This time it was Inaho’s turn to look at her in puzzlement. His tiny head tilted to the side, as if there was something he wanted to say even in his confusion.
“How? I happened to read about it on the internet at the library…”
“You read about it, you say… and what about kanji? Isn’t there a lot of kanji you haven’t learned yet?”
“There’s a kanji dictionary in the library. Besides, there are various dictionaries and reference books, so I can look things up whenever I want.”
“Yuki-nee, when you’re interested in something you ask someone to tell you about it or you look it up, don’t you? It’s the same thing.”
The same—was it really the same?
Yuki had no way of knowing.
When they were living at the Home, and even after they’d moved to their apartment, Inaho had shown no inclination of reading a book or researching something in front of Yuki.
“You only research things at the library? You don’t do it at home?”
“No. A lot of books I read are bulky and heavy, so I can’t take them home. That’s why I read as much as I can at the library.”
She’d had no idea. To think Inaho hung around the library so much.
Now that she thought about it, there had been a library close to the Home. That said, the book collection was more like that of a community centre… Come to think of it, she got the feeling that there were more specialist books, ones that were difficult for children to read.
Faced with this new information about how her little brother spent his time, Yuki felt no small amount of shock. The shock did not stem from any dislike towards going to the library.
It was because of the realisation that she knew so little.
“…Yuki-nee, you aren’t going to drink it? It’ll cool down.”
“Huh? Oh, right. I’ll drink it. Yep.”
She made a small indent in the can, just as Inaho said. When she tilted the can, she was so surprised by how much corn gushed into her mouth that she inadvertently drank it all in one swallow.
“What the—?! Wow!”
“See? Just like I said.”
“They should sell them dented from the beginning if it makes this much of a difference. Ah, Nao-kun, I’ll do it for you too.”
Gripping his can with both hands, she applied pressure with her thumbs. When the can made a satisfying hiss that hadn’t occurred when she had dented her own can, Yuki burst into laughter for no reason.
Of course, her little brother beside her had nothing to laugh about.