19 July, Kōtarō Sunahara

文字数 3,777文字

Mistaken


Chōkichi drew water from the well, then cleared his throat and drank it all down in one go. He hadn’t felt like going to temple school and had just roamed the streets; it was early afternoon on a midsummer’s day. The heat was almost unbearable for a ten-year-old.
  “May I have some, too?”
  The woman’s hoarse voice came from the ramshackle house opposite. There was no one else around; perhaps the residents of the row houses were avoiding the heat, too. Feeling scared, he started to leave.
  “Please, it’s so hot I might die.”
  Her pleading voice came chasing after him. He remembered his mother, who died the year before last of influenza. By the end, she had not been able to stand on her own two feet. The woman begging might be the same.
  He picked up the bowl from where he’d thrown it down next to the well and filled it with water, then cautiously entered the house. Just inside the door was an old woman lying limply on her own. He helped her drink the water, and she sighed deeply. She stared at Chōkichi’s face; her expression changed to a happy one.
  “Thank you, my boy. You’ve saved your mother’s life. You’re a good son, Santa.”
  She seemed, in her state of confusion, to have mistaken him for someone else. Any son this woman had would already be full-grown. He decided to stand before she asked anything else of him. Just then, suddenly, he spotted a crude, perhaps handmade, memorial tablet. On it, in shaky handwriting, was the name “Santa.”
  So Santa’s dead, he thought.
  Chōkichi, unable to move, heard the old woman call out to him.
  “Are you going so soon? I suppose . . . if you’re late, your master will give you a scolding.”
  So her son had been a servant somewhere. Then, if I just say, “that’s right, I’m sorry,” I can leave here, he thought and felt calmer. The old woman looked as if she were trying to bear her sadness.
  “It’s fine, son. Go. I’m all right.”
  “No, I have a little more time. . . .”
  Not even he had expected himself to say that. He clucked his tongue, wondering what it was he was doing, as he went to fill the cup again and again, taking care of the old woman into the evening.
  When he left the house, the heat had eased off. A woman passing by looked at Chōkichi and smiled faintly.
  “So she roped you in.”
  “Hm?” He tilted his head; the woman was looking at him sympathetically.
  “She’s always been on her own. She never had children or anything. She went all out and made that memorial tablet. She’s pretty good at acting like she’s not all there, eh?”
  She walked off, muttering curses. Chōkichi bit his lip, staring intently at the ramshackle house. He stood there for a while before he made his mind up and put his hand on the door. He slid it open, and the old woman, who was fanning herself, turned in surprise.
  “S-santa . . . did you forget something?”
  “I’m not Santa,” he said briskly. Her face suddenly paled. “My name is Chōkichi. Santa told me he doesn’t get to come home much so he asked if I could drop by every now and then to see you.”


Translated by Morgan Giles/Arranged by TranNet KK

Kōtarō Sunahara
Writer. Born in Kobe City, Hyōgo Prefecture, 1969. Graduated from Waseda University’s School of Literature. After working in a publishing house, shifted to being a freelance editor and proof-reader. Won the 2nd Kessen! Literary Award in 2016 for

Inochigake

(Life on the line). His works include

Inochigake:

Kaga

hyakuman-goku

no

ishizue

(Life on the line: The foundation of establishing Kaga as a million-koku domain), which included the award-winning work as its first chapter, and the co-written

Kessen!

Okehazama

(Decisive battle! Okehazama), and

Kessen!

Shitagahara

(Decisive battle! Shitagahara), all published by Kodansha.

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