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Junai - Volume 1 - Chapter 5



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Just like a person’s fate is uncertain, the fate of a company is also in darkness and it’s unknown what would happen to it in the future. This spring, I came to experience this fact first hand. The company I had worked at for four years was merged with a new major software company and ‘job security’ was not an aspect of the merge, so a lot of employees were laid off. I was prepared to be the first one on that list of people being laid off, because I had been on a leave-of-work for three months, but fortunately, for some reason I was not fired. I was to join a major trading company and help create the new system accounting software – a new project that began in April after the merge.

The head office was located in Osaka, so I left Tokyo, my permanent home since birth, and came to live in Osaka at the company dormitory, which was far away from work. Being an introvert had always been my disposition and since a good number of my previous colleagues, as well as friends, had been laid off, it came to be that I practically knew no one at the firm. On top of that, since the head office was in Osaka, it was only natural that the Kansai dialect was everywhere.

I couldn’t help but think how aggressive the unfamiliar the pronunciation of speech sounded, even though I knew the people speaking didn’t intend it to be so.

Because of that, I became completely withdrawn, and before long, it became a pain to go to work. I thought about quitting work, but because it was hard to find employment these days, due to a shortage of jobs on the job market, I didn’t have the courage to quit. Clearly, there was no way out for me.

One day, Shirai, a project leader, as well as a manager of one of the sections of the system, said to me, “How about we go get something to eat?”

Among all the people speaking Kansai dialect, Shirai mostly spoke standard Japanese, perhaps because we was a Kanto native. He was thirty-two years old and appeared very capable at his job. I heard that the young man had been entrusted with a rather important position of being a project leader by a special-case promotion. People said that he was quite a shrewd man, but he was actually soft-spoken. On top of that, when he passed by a group of people, he turned everyone’s heads because he was so handsome. He was highly popular with the women in the office.

I didn’t have the courage to refuse an invitation from my boss, so on the day Shirai invited me, I had to go out to eat with him, but the restaurant he had selected surprised me. Even though I was sure that he would take me to the casual restaurant by the office, the place that Shirai chose could hardly be called casual. It was an Italian restaurant where it was deemed not unusual to serve on guests. The prices startled me, and I was at a loss about what to order.

I was unfamiliar with the restaurants in Osaka, but the customers at this particular restaurant were only rich, married couples and well-dressed salary men accompanied by beautiful young women.

“Choose what you’d like, but if you’re unsure, let’s settle on the full-course meal,” Shirai said to me, perhaps sensing that I was at a loss about what to choose. I thought we were getting the prix-fixe menu for two, but Shirai chose the most expensive ‘Chef’s Recommendation’ as if it were nothing.

Maybe he’s putting it on his expense account? I wondered.

I wanted to know if he was paying out of his own pocket, but naturally that was an impolite thing to ask. Nevertheless, when I tried to spy on him to see how he was paying, our eyes met and Shirai smiled.

“Nothing to be modest for. I chose this restaurant, because I'm fond of the cuisine and because no one from the company will come here.”

Although he told me I didn’t need to be modest, in my opinion, I thought I hadn’t been ‘modest’ from the start.

“I see…” was all I could say as I cast my eyes down.

“It seems you haven’t quite warmed up to your new environment. But frankly, I think this job is hard, isn’t it?” Shirai got straight to the point, after we clinked our glasses of sparkling wine in a toast.

“No, the job is not hard. All the problems are with me.”

I was scared of the Kansai dialect and I didn’t know anyone, but naturally, an adult with a healthy mentality would be able to overcome these types of problems. Even if I were to confide about this with somebody, they would just make me out into a fool and typically suggest I resign from my job. However, I didn’t tell any of that to Shirai, but Shirai’s next words were not something I was expecting.

“No need to condemn yourself. What is troubling you? Is it the unfamiliar Kansai dialect? Are you perhaps feeling lonely because there isn’t anyone to seek advice from? Ah, and yes, on top of everything, the food here doesn’t suit your taste, correct?”

“……Well……”

Everything he said applied to me. I was at a loss for words as to how he knew.

“I’m right, aren’t I?” Shirai smiled, narrowing his eyes. “I’ve felt all of that myself.”

“Are you from Tokyo, Mr. Shirai?”

 

 

I thought that he was, because of how he pronounced his words, and then he said “Yeah”, confirming it. Shirai nodded and told me his hometown.

“My family home is on the boulevard along the Chuo Line in Kunitachi.”

“Oh, so is mine!” What a coincidence! I exclaimed without thinking, but quickly quieted down, thinking I mustn’t be so loud here. A woman at a table next to ours turned around in surprise.

“A coincidence, indeed. Which area? I live on the west side.”

“I live in the center. Near Kunitachi Gakuen Elementary School…”

“I went to Gakuen Elementary.”

“I went to Nishou Elementary.”

Now that we found out we lived in the same vicinity, it was surprisingly easy to continue our conversation. We were six years apart in age, so we didn’t know the same people, but we talked a lot about the shops we had frequented when we had been students.

“Oh, that variety store is gone?”

“Yes, it became a Chinese chain restaurant now.”

“They remodeled the train station, too. Kunitachi has changed a lot.”

“I see……”

From this, I understood that Shirai didn’t go to his parents’ home very much. Shirai forced a smile and shrugged his shoulders.

“Actually, I have cut ties with my parents. One thing led to another and it’s been ten years…no, twelve to thirteen years since I’ve seen them.”

“Eh?”

Cut ties? I was surprised to hear such a shocking thing and was at a loss for words again. I knew that cutting ties with one’s parents was devastating, so I immediately thought that I should avoid that topic and changed the subject.

“Not only did Kunitachi change, Tachikawa, our neighboring city, also changed. Places along Chuo Line are really changing. Musashi-Sakai station, also…”

“Ahaha! I’ve troubled you, haven’t I? Sorry,” Shirai laughed and cut me off.

“Ah, um…”

“I let that slip. I was just enjoying talking to you so much,” Shirai said smiling, and leaned a little towards me as he gazed into my eyes.

“You always have your head down at the office, but I think it’d be easier to talk to everyone if you looked up.”

“……Ah, yes…….” I agreed, nodding. So this put an end to that topic of conversation. From this, I understood that he hadn’t been lying when he had said that he had ‘cut ties’. After that, our conversation shifted to how much progress I had made in the task assigned to me and how I was settling into the dormitory.

“Oh, you’ve made a lot of progress, haven’t you? You don’t need to work so hard, you know,” he told me, regarding the progress of my work. Regarding the dormitory, he announced that I could move out if I found it inconvenient. “It’s a single room, but you probably can’t relax much in such a small space. You’re more sensitive than others, so why don’t you move out of the dormitory? I’ll show you some affordable apartments.”

Shirai smiled and added that his friend ran a real estate business. Before I could answer, he said that he would pick some out for me tomorrow. I immediately tried to pursue the conversation further.

“But, won’t that be a problem?”

The room and board fee was higher than I had expected, but it was definitely less than renting an apartment. Besides, practically all the single employees at the office who couldn’t commute to work from their parents’ home resided in the dormitory. Up until now, I had never experienced communal living, and living the dorm life where you had to use a public bath and eat in a cafeteria was honestly a pain.

I mean, I did have a single room, but the size of that room was only three tatami mats. By any standard, having your bed, closet, and desk all be built-in did not give you enough space to relax, and the walls of that room were so thin, you could hear the people next door. The people next door often had their stereo on during the night. Even though they were smart enough to lower the volume, I still couldn’t sleep because of the noise.

Hearing this noise made it seem like I had no privacy, so that was also quite a pain, but to move out of the dormitory……I didn’t have the courage to do what other people didn’t do.

“It won’t be a problem. It wasn’t long before I moved out of the dormitory myself. Isn’t it unbelievable that it takes close to about one hour to get to work from there? There’s no definite rule that says you must live in the dormitory, anyways. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Right now there’s a strong demand for dorm rooms, since it’s something they’re lacking at the moment, so they’ll be pleased if you move out and won’t have any complaints.”



“…….I see……” for some reason I felt like I was being favorited. I wondered if he took care of his subordinates like this in order to inspire them to work diligently on their projects. But it would become a problem if he took such ‘care’ towards all of his subordinates, I thought, intently gazing at Shirai’s face without even realizing it.

“What is it?”

Immediately noticing my gaze, Shirai smiled, narrowing his eyes again.

“No, I’m just……I’m sorry……”

I’m sorry for being a bad subordinate. I was about to say but stopped myself, thinking it sounded slavish. Nevertheless, it seemed that it had shown on my face, because he was being considerate again.

“No need to be sorry. I’m doing this, because I want to. I just want you to regain your smile.”

“………………..I see………………..”

He was showing me such hospitality, but when I heard him say that, I couldn’t stop myself from rudely feeling it set my teeth on edge.

Naturally, it would be ill of me to have him realize that I was thinking badly of him, so I looked down. Then I heard Shirai’s kind voice in my ear.

“I’ve probably offended you, but I mean it when I say I want you to smile. I’m more than willing to cooperate with you on that. I’d like to invite you out to eat like this again sometime, so I’d be glad if we could get together.”

“……….Thank you.”

When I looked up, I saw that Shirai was smiling a little shyly.

Perhaps because he was slightly drunk, his eyes were misty and reflected the twinkling flame of the candle on the table. The moment I thought that they looked beautiful, I felt uncomfortable. My former boss at the office had acted quite warmly towards me, because I had been mentally unstable at that time, but he had never done anything bold like invite me out to eat. A boss and subordinate are not family or even friends. Naturally, they’re not lovers either. It seemed that I had felt uncomfortable because Shirai’s invitation had sounded like he was trying to invite me out on a date. It was only after we had parted ways that I realized this, but I still pondered whether this was actually the reason for his superfluous care towards me.

 

* * * *

 

Shirai acted quickly. The next day, he called me to the conference room as soon as I arrived to work and showed me a map of an apartment, which he had received through a fax from his real estate friend.

How about this? He asked, handing me the map.

“Ah, well……”

“Rent is sixty thousand1. But you can apply to the company for a housing allowance grant just short of twenty thousand2. The room is about eight tatami mats, but the bath and toilet are separate and the building itself is new, so I think you’ll be quite comfortable there. If you have time right after work, we could go see it?” He rattled on.

I was overwhelmed by this sales talk, but in the end, Shirai had convinced me, and on that day, in the evening, we went to see the apartment. While we were there, I agreed to sign the lease.

“Let’s have you move-in this weekend. As for your luggage, I’ll have them send it to you by car.” Still, it felt wrong to have Shirai be so considerate towards me, so I declined this too much of a generous offer. “No need to be so reserved,” he said and again won me over.

Naturally, I wasn’t the only person working on the project. I was afraid that the other members would be unhappy that only I was receiving special treatment, but everyone acted the same towards me whether they noticed this or not.

After I moved into the apartment, both my body and mood felt so at ease that it was surprising. It seemed that communal living was something I could never get used to, and it had been more of a pain to me than I had thought. Besides, Shirai had noticed it, hadn’t he? That’s exactly why he had urged me to move so quickly. His intuition is amazing, I thought, deeply impressed. After that, I decided to always listen to Shirai’s suggestions. Shirai didn’t only take me out to eat, he took me out to various other places as well: the movies, the theater, and to his friend’s house party too. That friend of his was a famous stylist, so there were models and actors whom I even knew names of at the party. I was getting so excited, I felt like a fan.

“You’ve cheered up.” You’re okay now? Shirai asked, smiling.

This is how I spent my days for one month after I had moved in.

One night, we went out for a light meal as usual on our way home from work, and when we sat down across from each other in Shirai’s favorite fancy restaurant, I began to speak.

“I’m thankful to you Mr. Shirai.”

After my mood had improved, I had become more efficient at work. I wanted to catch up with my work, because I had been holding back the whole project team. When I announced that, Shirai said, “You’re not holding anyone back.”

Not only did Shirai speak such kind words to me, he also said it from the bottom of his heart. I felt much obliged to him for that.

“I’m glad you’ve cheered up.”

“……I am very grateful……” That you take such care of me, I said, feeling guilty, because I knew none of Shirai’s subordinates besides me were such a handful. Perhaps Shirai knew that I had taken a break for three months at my previous company, because I had been mentally damaged. He was probably worrying over me, hoping that I never go back to that state again. A boss is held responsible if his subordinate is suffering, that’s why he was acting so warmly towards me. This was the only reason, right?

Because of that, none of the other subordinates complained, even though he gave me special treatment and the company allowed me to receive a housing allowance when I didn’t even live in the dormitory. Clearly, it was a fact that Shirai took extra care of me.

I’m sorry I’ve caused you trouble, I said, bowing, but Shirai cheerfully said,

“There’s nothing to apologize for. Like I told you before, I want to see your smile.”

“……….”

We had toasted with our wine, but both of our glasses were still half-full.

There was no way he was drunk. Shirai’s tone of voice and facial expression also did not look like he was joking. I had felt uncomfortable when he had told me this one-month ago, but now, I tried to dismiss this uncomfortable feeling by convincing myself that maybe Shirai was the type of person who said such forward things. But still, saying ‘I want to see your smile’ seemed like he was hitting on me, didn’t it? Shirai, being all-popular with women, wouldn’t hit on me, a man. I smiled wryly to myself.

“Hey, Shimizu,” Shirai called my name, having gotten a little impatient, because he couldn’t get inside my head of course.

“Ah, I’m sorry.” I inadvertently apologized.

Shirai widened his eyes in surprise and asked, “Why are you apologizing?”

“No, well, I was spacing out…” Obviously I couldn’t say that I was sorry for thinking that he was ‘being forward’ or that he ‘sounded like he was hitting on me’, so I lifted my wine glass to my mouth in a half-assed attempt to try to hide this.

“No, it’s okay,” Shirai gazed at me, smiling and looking like he was hesitating about something.

“…?”

The moment I was gulping down my wine, wondering what it was, Shirai said,

“Shimizu-kun, I’m sorry if this is out of line, but are you gay?”

“…!”

I was so shocked to hear this that I choked, and Shirai quickly got up from his chair and went behind me to pat me gently on the back.

“Are you alright?”

“……Ye- yes……”

The wine had gone down the wrong side of my throat, so I couldn’t quite stop coughing.

“Should I get you some water? Oh, here, you can use this for your mouth.”

I looked up over my shoulder at Shirai who was burning with consideration for me as he continued to pat my back, and I desperately wondered what on earth he was implying by saying the word ‘gay’.

 

1 ¥ 60,000 is about $600 USD

 

2 ¥ 20,000 is about $200 USD

 


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