Fourth Story – On Becoming Independent – Prologue
“The months and days are travelers of eternity…” Wasn’t it Basho (1) who wrote that? As I met many clients, time seemed to pass by in a blink of an eye and I’m now almost done with my training.
As soon as I arrived at the office, I quickly cleaned the place which had turned into a rubbish mess overnight, then woke up Senpai who had stayed in the office again, before making instant coffee.
While waiting for client requests, I passed my time by chit-chatting with Senpai. When a client drops by, we become extremely busy, but when we have no consultations, we’re idle as a bee. After getting used to living that way, I realized how much I value those days. I wanted it to last forever. Thinking thus far, I shook the cup of milk tea I prepared for myself.
What have I learned after coming here? What am I training for? Have I possibly grown more mature? Even a little bit? Have I been useful to Senpai?
Those questions had always made me feel uneasy. I had been branded as “Yuma the failure” for years and it had shaken and ate away at my self-confidence and self-esteem. But it’s a little different from the inferiority complex I’ve always had. Through my encounter with various clients, I was able to realize my lack of power, and my limits were always challenged, so was my existence. It was tough at times, making me frustrated, but other times it made me happy. The experience I had drawn from all the cases had made me start to like myself a little lately.
Senpai might be blunt and strict, but he’s also gentle at times. He always showed sincerity towards every client. Seeing his warm back also comforted me and I felt like he was always there to support me. He’s sloppy but rigid, sometimes mean but also very kind. Even though I follow after his shadow, I’m still far from being a “good agent”.
“Senpai, thanks for everything.” I could never say those words to him even when he was just there in front of me, taking his morning coffee fix. They carried so much weight that they just lingered in my mouth without ever being voiced out.
The passage of time in the office was very slow. Our office was invisible to humans, so only clients ever come to visit. There seemed to be younger people (Senpai wouldn’t tell me their exact age) living in the same building, but other than them, it was only me and Senpai. And it was because we have this kind of warm relationship that every passing day felt vibrant and peaceful.
However, such blissful and relaxed feeling suddenly stopped today. The front door suddenly burst open, cutting the serene existence I had been reveling in.
As soon as the door opened, the man raised his right hand and waved hello. Apparently, he was our first visitor, who wasn’t a client.
The man who suddenly appeared without even knocking seemed to be in his early thirties. His hair was dyed orange, which didn’t really look good on him but was impressive nonetheless, and he wore a rugged aloha shirt and sandals. When he looked at me and Senpai, he gave us a friendly smile and I noticed that he’s also got a high-bridged nose and his eyes were sharp and cool.
“Oh, it’s you, Sasamine. What brings you here? Need my help?” Senpai greeted him rather unwelcomingly. He smiled at the man, Mr. Sasamine, sullenly as though the coffee he had been drinking suddenly tasted more bitter. He then scratched his head with a sigh.
Was he a friend of Senpai’s? Out of courtesy, I hurriedly introduced myself. “Um, I’m Yuma Nikado, Senpai’s apprentice. Mr. Sasamine, right? Nice to meet you.”
Mr. Sasamine looked at me as though I was a specimen to examine, then nodded, “Yep, yep, it’s nice to be young,” before continuing, “Ah, Yuma, I’ve heard so much about you from Shindo. You’re the treasured student of Professor Yoshizumi and the best disciple of the dead-fish-eyed Shindo, aren’t you?”
“Cut it out. You’re being nosy.” Senpai’s face turned sour, as though he had swallowed a bitter bug.
“Oh well. But Shindo, I’m sad. You didn’t tell me Yuma’s such an adorable girl. You treat me like a stranger even though I consider you as my buddy. I haven’t heard from you so I had to come here and visit you!”
People normally would feel embarrassed when called “adorable”, but Mr. Sasamine’s words carried no malice so I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all. Could he also be an agent? He sure wouldn’t be a human to be able to barge into the office like that.
“What do you need?” As Senpai annoyingly asked, Mr. Sasamine simply shrugged his shoulders quite exaggeratedly in response.
“You’re still so unfriendly. It’s unfortunate that your words aren’t as palatable as that instant coffee you’re drinking. Well, aside from women, there are only ‘two’ reasons for me to come, right? This time, I’m here for a consignment. A referral.”
Clients whose lingering regrets weren’t resolved had to be turned over to a higher level or a specialized agent. Clients with difficult cases were usually given to first-class agents. That’s how the system goes. But what’s with his rather informal and casual approach if he came to turn over a case he couldn’t solve? Shouldn’t he be more dispirited and reluctant or something? I assume he’s a good friend of Senpai… probably. But what did he mean he usually comes for two reasons? But well, it’s like I can pursue the matter.
“Um, it looks like you have a lot to discuss, would you like to drink something?”
Even though I felt overwhelmed by his strong personality, I had to carry out my role as an apprentice (or more like a secretary). Mr. Sasamine looked pleased as he said, “You’re such a good girl. If I ever have a daughter, I hope she becomes as nice as you are. It’s so good to be young. Although I must say, I’m much more elegant than that sloppy guy there drinking that murky instant coffee. I’d love a cup of Darjeeling tea but I also wouldn’t mind an Earl Grey. But considering that foolish host, it’s best to ask for coffee instead. Just a regular one, with three cubes of sugar.”
That was hardly elegant.
Feeling the pressure, I answered, “I got it. A cup of coffee.”
On the way to the kitchen I heard him say, “Shindo, about Yuma. She’s adorable and has good eyes. She had that spark in her eyes like that one you used to have before yours turned like a dead fish. Ah, I guess it’s rude of me to say that. Sorry, dead fish. Don’t get mad. After that incident, and well, even before, you still have that dubious look in your eyes. But, even though you weren’t exactly a good boy, I still envy you. If such an adorable girl came to me, I’d surely move on quickly unlike you, blockhead. Besides, if you don’t, do you think you can call yourself a man? A gentleman must not embarrass a lady. Oh come on, don’t give me that look. Fine, let’s talk about the case…”
It seemed like Mr. Sasamine was praising me but his frivolous demeanor didn’t quite match with his personality, so I assumed he was just blabbering nonsense. Even though he talked as if he understood me at first glance, it was rare to find someone like him who’s as straightforward as me. We barely exchanged a few words, and yet he talked as though he had known me for a long time. I guess that’s the kind of person he was, so it was better that I didn’t take his words to heart.
Oh, that’s right, coffee. Not instant coffee but a regular one, with three cubes of sugar, he said.
Perhaps all agents, including Senpai, were as eccentric as I thought? This time though, I felt like there was something different about the image of an agent from the one I had in mind. Or maybe it’s just a case of birds of the same feather flock together?
While grinding the Blue Mountain coffee beans, I heaved a sigh.
- Matsuo Basho – a famous poet during the Edo period. For reference, the full quote is “月日は百代の過客にして、行かふ年も又旅人也。(The months and days are travelers of eternity; the years that come and go are also voyagers.)”