Part 114: To Rokkenjima
Once again, Captain Kawabata's ferryboat to Rokkenjima cut across the sea in perfect form. Yes. The tale of October 4th, 1986, always begins with Battler's screams. But this time, one thing was different. There was another person's yell alongside Battler's. Battler was screaming. The other was... laughing?
"Battler looks funny, Battler looks funny!! *giggle*, *giggle*giggle*!!"
Alongside the big brother, who was grasping at the handrail and screaming in a way no one that age should scream, was the little sister, also grasping the handrail and jumping about like it was a ride at an amusement park. George and the others just couldn't hold in their laughter at the difference.
"I guess Battler-kun hasn't changed much these past six years. He's as energetic as ever."
"Plus, Ange and Maria look more energetic than usual this year."
"Could this be the first time we've had all five cousins together?"
"Oh, is it? That's right. So, this year should be more energetic than any before."
"G, George-anikiiiiiiiii!! This is way too fast, right?! I'm begging you, ask the driver to slow down before it's too laaaate!!"
"Kihihahahahahahahaha! This is too fast? Battler's so pathetic!"
"I wanna go faster!! Faster, faster! *giggle*giggle*!!"
"Any faster than this, and I'll fall right off the boat!! Will that make you happy?! I'm gonna faaaaaaaaaaaalllll!!!"
"Hahaha. Going by popular vote, I'd have to say that Battler-kun's proposal is-"
"Look out, Onii-chan. Look, you're gonna fall! Ahhahahahahahahaha!!"
"Battler needs to be punished for his cowardice!! Tickle time! Kihihihihi-!!"
"W, wait, stop, Maria!! You too, Ange! N, noooooooooooooooooooo!!"
"Thank goodness for that. I was worried about Ange's health though."
"It'd be too sad to leave her behind at home. I'm glad we decided to bring her anyway."
"Wasn't she very sick shortly before you left?"
"She was all better this morning. Kids can be so incredible sometimes."
"She's the kind of person who lets it show when she's under pressure! It's not that strange for people like that to get all better when the big day finally comes."
"She must really have been looking forward to playing with all five of the cousins together."
"Hohoho. Just watching them play together makes one feel charged with energy, doesn't it?"
The adults smiled as they watched the children play around. Ange, who had gotten very sick, and who was supposed to have been absent at one point in time, made a miraculous recovery. Thanks in part to her strong desire to join in, she had come along to the family conference with the others. And so... For the first time ever, all five cousins were gathered together. October 4th, 1986, became a day like no other.
They were probably so charged up that even walking was too boring for them.
"Wahhahahaha! See that?! First pla~ce!"
Battler was the first one to reach the rose garden, which was the goal. Apparently, he was trying to make up for the dishonor he had suffered on the boat by proving his superiority on land. A short while later, Ange and Maria reached him in a dead heat.
"I'm second!! I'm faster than Ange, uu-uu-uu-!!"
"No, you aren't! Maria onee-chan cheated!! I'm second!!"
The three year gap between Ange and Maria was large, especially since both of them were growing kids. It was only natural that Maria was faster, but Ange seemed to be complaining about a shoulder bump at the start line. Maria onee-chan cheated, so she gets last place! Teacher always says you get last place if you cheat! Protested Ange.
"Come on, no need to fight. Still, both of you really are fast...!"
"It's been a long time since I last ran like that... Ah, the breeze feels so nice."
"Are you out of shape, George-aniki? You know, anyone who has to run the race-to-make-it-before-the-bell every day automatically gets strong legs."
"In other words, being a fast runner is proof that you sleep in."
"Onii-chan always sleeps in! He didn't wake up today either, so I had to wake him up! Right?!"
"A stomp followed by a flying elbow. And that body-plex from the top rope at the end there just about finished me."
"Sounds like that'd put you in an eternal sleep before you woke up..."
"Sounds fun! I wanna do it too!"
"I'll bet Onii-chan sleeps in tomorrow! We'll wake him up together this time, okay?! *giggle*giggle*!"
"...I'd recommend against staying up too late tonight."
Finally, the adults came into sight. The cousins waved at them, urging them to hurry up. Ange and Maria were so excited that they could hardly wait. Just by having all five cousins together...
Just by adding Ange into the group... Look at how energetic this day has become.
BGM: Doorway of Summer
"So, they made it. I must let Father know."
"Are they all in the guesthouse now?"
"Yes. They will come here to meet you after they have set down their luggage."
"Understood. Kanon, please guide everyone. Shannon, quickly get some tea ready."
""As you wish, Madam.""
After Krauss knocked on the door, it opened from the inside.
"Oh, Doctor Nanjo. How is Father doing?"
"No need to worry. He's changing as we speak. I think he's just a little nervous."
Apparently, Kinzo had been running around for some time, just because he couldn't decide on a tie and a tie pin. Kinzo, who felt that the dignity of the family head must always be preserved, usually made a big deal about the head's attire being equally dignified.
"...Will he make it in time?"
"Do you think you could give us a little longer? We'll come down as soon as he's ready."
"Understood. I'm counting on you, Doctor Nanjo. Father. I must say, that necktie pin looks splendid on you."
"This necktie pin, you say?! This pin?!! The family conference is held but once a year! There shall be no compromise! I must have that necktie pin!! Where is it... where?!!"
"Hmmmmmm, you think so? So, I don't need to use the One-winged Eagle pin...? Hmmmmm..."
As Krauss watched Nanjo calm Kinzo down, he began to wonder why this doctor wasn't his mother. Well, it was always like this. He always makes a fuss when no one's looking, but when the time comes, he makes his decision with pride. After asking Nanjo to come down by lunch at the latest, Krauss snuck out of the study...
"I've never had pumpkin tea before... That little touch of sweetness makes it delicious."
As one step in preparing the tea for the guests, Gohda let Shannon try a bit first. Until then, Shannon had thought it would be outrageous for a servant such as herself to drink the same thing as the family and their guests. However, according to Gohda, that kind of thinking was a mistake.
"One must not serve something if one does not know the taste beforehand. For example, when you visit a restaurant and a dish you've never heard of catches your eye, what are you likely to ask the waiter? 'How does this dish taste', correct?"
"I see... So, if the waiter says that he's never eaten it before, that would seem a bit odd..."
"Precisely. As a matter of course, anyone serving their customers must be deeply acquainted with the taste of the tea and food they serve."
"Hohohoho. And you'll always feel happier serving a sort of tea that you've tried and enjoyed for yourself."
"That's right. After tasting tea this delicious, I can't wait to let everyone else try it."
"And because of that! We servants must be very familiar with the tastes of all sorts of foods. That's why 'sampling' food whenever I can is part of my job description, hohoho."
"It's our role in the household as well as our job. Do you understand?"
"...Everything is proceeding smoothly. Are there any problems with the tea?"
"Oh, Genji-san, you must try some as well. Seeing as it's almost Halloween, I decided to make some pumpkin tea."
"Later, perhaps. The family will be arriving at the mansion very soon. It looks as though the children will be joining in."
"Yes sir. The cups are ready to go as well."
At that moment, the kitchen's extension line started to ring. Genji, who was standing right beside it, swiftly picked up the receiver before the second ring. Shannon and the others always thought Genji looked like a samurai when he did this.
"...Understood. Take care when guiding them."
After making that short response, Genji set the receiver down.
"That was Kanon. The relatives will be here shortly. The children are with them. Shannon, Kumasawa, go to serve them. Gohda, hurry up with that tea."
The family conference. The largest event of the year for the servants. They were all excited and determined to make it through together once again this year.
"Oho, there you are. Were there any troubles on your trip here?"
"Nii-san, you've been doing pretty well for yourself lately, haven't you? Isn't it about time you bought a private jet?"
"Wahahahaha. After all, as usual, no one was in the plane but the family!"
"I'm so glad, Ange-chan made it. I was so worried when I heard she was too sick to come."
"Thanks for your concern. She suddenly got all better this morning."
"My tummy ache went away! I rubbed my tummy clockwise!"
"Uu-uu-! That's a magic charm to heal tummy aches!"
"Now, Maria, quiet down..."
"Oh, is that Battler-kun...?! You've grown so big!"
"It's been six years, hasn't it? You've grown splendidly."
"Well, ihihi. I do keep getting bigger, at least..."
"Can't really say that about his guts though!"
"Yep, it's nice to know he's still the same old Battler-kun."
Wahhahahahahahahaha. Battler may be bigger, but he's still Battler.
"This brat's always been terrified of falling off planes and boats and stuff."
"Would that be Asumu-san's blood?"
"Well, it's probably because we made him ride all those wild rides in amusement parks when he was little."
"Wasn't he too short to ride those?"
"No, I don't mean that kind. You know those paddle boats and teacup rides, right? Looks like we took those a bit too rough back in the day."
"You've always gone a bit overboard on rides like that, Rudolf nii-san."
"I see... Poor Battler-kun."
"Haha, poor Battler-kun indeed."
"Still, it's comforting, in a way. That fear of riding things is just like the Battler-kun we all know so well."
"Onii-chan isn't scared of riding things. He's just scared of falling off them!"
"Faaall, faaall!! Uu-uu-uu-!!"
"Hey, stop running around...! Maria! You're one of the big cousins now, right? Be a good example!"
"Pardon me. I've brought some tea for everyone."
A pleasant aroma followed Shannon as she came into the room, pushing a serving cart. Even Ange and Maria, who had been running around in circles, sat down obediently when they heard that drinks were here.
"He should be down here soon. He's been rushing about all morning trying to choose a tie."
"You mean, all that about choosing an attire suitable for the family head?"
"Father's always been picky about ties, hasn't he?"
"It's just something he has a passion for. Staying stylish is a good thing."
"And yet, he always shows up wearing the same tie in the end."
The family members burst out laughing. The sweet scent of Gohda's specially made pumpkin tea spread throughout the parlor, and the calm atmosphere grew more cheery and excited.
"Look, Mama! Look, Mama! It's a pumpkin cookie! For Halloween!!"
"Oh, that's right. This sweet scent is kabocha, isn't it?"
"That's right. Today, we have some special pumpkin-flavored tea for you to try. It really is delicious, so I suggest you try some without sugar first."
"Nee-san, watch your sleeve."
"Wow, so kabocha tea actually does exist. Gohda-san really did his homework."
"Delicious. This is excellent. You can taste the kabocha's natural sweetness."
"Kabocha tea, huh? Still, kabocha always tastes best in tempura!"
"Uu-! It's 'pumpkin', not 'kabocha'!"
"Yeah, pumpkin is different from kabocha! This is pumpkin!"
Maria seemed to be complaining about the difference of nuance between the Japanese and English words, but it looked like Ange thought kabocha and pumpkins were entirely different things. Everyone laughed, but Ange, not knowing why she was being laughed at, cocked her head to one side discontentedly. Just when it looked like she was about get in a bad mood and start grumbling, Maria started teaching her a 'cookie game', and Ange immediately became engrossed with that distraction.
When the relatives realized whose footsteps those must be, they straightened up. Those quick footsteps stopped for a moment just outside the parlor door. As though someone was taking a deep breath and setting up a dramatic pause. Then, the door exploded open, just as Kinzo yelled out loud, with Genji and Nanjo standing behind him.
The cousins shouted it back. The adults returned the greeting too, looking a little embarrassed. Ange alone stood there with her mouth open, unable to comprehend what had just happened.
"Welcome, my grandchildren!! If you don't give me a treat, I shall prank you!!"
"Go ahead, Maria."
"Happy Halloween, Grandfather!! I got you a really incredible one this year! You'll be surprised!!"
Maria picked up a present that had been hidden behind a sofa. Come to think of it, all of the relatives were now holding similar packages.
"Come on, Ange, you too. Give this to Grandfather."
Kyrie handed Ange a neatly wrapped present box.
"Ooooooh, Mariaaaaaaaaa, you're always so thoughtful!! Grandpa's so happyyyyyyyyyy!!"
As Kinzo took Maria's present box, a smile broke out across his face, and he rubbed his cheek up against it.
"Nngg... o, oh, that's right. You have pleased your grandfather greatly, my granddaughter. In return for the treat you have given me, I promise not to prank you at all this coming year."
"Now it's your turn, Grandfather!! If you don't give me a treat, I'll prank you!!"
"Yes, splendid. Genji...!"
Genji fished through something that looked like Santa Claus's sack and pulled out a present addressed to Maria, handing it over to Kinzo.
"Heeere you go, Maria~!! Here's a present from meeeeeee!! I'm warning yoooou, it's so cuuuuute!! Such a waste to give it up to you♪"
"Nnngggyyyyhhhh... Th, this is a present from the Ushiromiya family head to Maria... It is a... cute... nnnggg, *cough*cough*. An item worthy of the Ushiromiya family's dignity and grace. T, take good care of it..."
"Thank you, Grandfather!! I love you!! *kiss*kiss*!"
"N, nngggwoooooooohhhhh...!! Ooohhh, Mariaaaaaaa, my cute granddaughter!! *kiss*kiss*!!!"
By this point, even Genji had to give up on Kinzo's dignity. Still, the dignity of the family head had lasted a full ten seconds longer than usual this year.
"Happy Halloween. This one's mine. I hope you like it."
"Oooooh, George, Jessica, I thank you for yet another year. I'm... I'm so happy..."
With tears streaming down his face, Kinzo hugged George and Jessica.
"Oh, and Battler too. I'm so glad you've returned to the family. It's been lonely without you, these six years..."
"...Well, um, anyway... Happy Halloween. Not sure if you'll like it though..."
"Don't worry... don't worry, Battler... I know you have things you want to say, things you want to ask. But now is not the time."
Slowly, Kinzo moved forward and hugged Battler. Battler drew back at first, but he then understood Kinzo's feelings and hugged him back.
Ange watched this scene play out... shocked. Was Ushiromiya Kinzo... always this kind of person...?
"Ange. You're up."
"Go on, give it to Grandfather."
Ange... didn't have a clue what was going on.
She took the present box her mother had given her... and walked forward timidly.
BGM: White Shadow
No, it didn't 'become' stern. That expression... was the one always worn by the Kinzo inside Ange's mind. This was Ushiromiya Kinzo. He was fickle, short-tempered, always with a stern expression on his face. The most terrifying person in the Ushiromiya family...
It felt as though the world went suddenly quiet, and it only did it when I stepped forward. Why? Why only for me? But, even so, isn't this the way it should be? Isn't this the Ushiromiya Kinzo I expect? The Ushiromiya Kinzo I understand...? I was like a puppet carrying tea. I walked forward, bewildered, with the present box held out in front of me, and stopped in front of Kinzo. Without letting his expression change in the slightest, Kinzo slowly reached out and touched the present...
In an instant, Ange was caught in a firm embrace, present and all. Kinzo's white beard rubbed against her cheek.
"Grandpa... Grandpa is so happyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!! I'm so glad to be blessed with such lovely grandchildren!! I feel happyyyyyyy!! So happy the tears just won't... just won't stoooooooooooop!!"
"...Master, your nose is running. That... and your dignity."
"Oh, Genji, forgive me!! *sniffle*!!"
As the old man blew his nose, he didn't look like he could possibly be anyone other than a kindly grandpa overcome with tears at his grandchildren's gifts.
"Thank you, Ange. I heard that you chose to come even though you weren't feeling well at all... I'm so glad...! Here, this is for you."
He pressed a large gift box to Ange's chest. She finally realized that all of Kinzo's presents were wrapped differently and in boxes of different sizes.
"I wonder what he got you, Ange. I hear that Grandfather always personally chooses what he'll give each one of us. Pretty incredible, with all these people."
"...He picks them himself. Every year. "
He does... what every year? He picks... what himself? This bizarre ceremony happens... every year. The cousins were all happily chattering about what their Halloween presents would be this year.
Maria came up to Ange and suggested that they compare the weights of their presents, but for some reason, Ange just stared blankly. After that, the adults also handed their presents to Kinzo one by one, receiving a gift in return, along with considerate words about their health and questions about how they'd been doing recently. Then, after watching to see that all exchanges had been completed, Gohda appeared... and announced that lunch was ready.
"So, it is ready...! Come, ladies and gentlemen! Let us enjoy the splendid lunch that Gohda has prepared for us. Quickly, to the dining hall!"
"This way, everyone. Follow me."
"We will carry your presents to your rooms in the guesthouse."
"Please, feel free to leave them here as you leave for lunch."
The relatives stood up, leaving their presents where they lay on tables and sofas, and followed Kinzo out of the parlor.
Gohda's lunches had never betrayed expectations before. When Hideyoshi said that the lunches were the only reason anyone ever came to these family conferences, everyone laughed and nodded. The delicious food caused conversations to erupt all over the room. You've gotten so big. How have you been lately? Pretty good. It was a fun meal, with everyone asking each other about the latest and laughing together. The Ushiromiya family sat at meals in a specific ranked seating order, so the adult siblings, the cousins, and the spouses all sat in groups. So, conversations sprung up naturally.
Ange had withdrawn slightly from the cousins' chat and was looking around the dining hall. What are Kinzo and the adult siblings doing? Their conversation seemed to be peaceful and fun. Most of the time, the siblings were mothers or fathers of their own households. However, when they gathered together by themselves in front of Kinzo, that burden was lifted from their shoulders, and they became young and bright as though they'd gone back to being kids again.
Even Kinzo looked peaceful and relaxed. He didn't say a word about money or the inheritance. In fact, he didn't even insult his children or call them incompetent. He just looked like a happy old man, genuinely pleased to have his whole family together for the only time this year.
The group of spouses was just as harmonious. The mothers kept bringing up problems with education and household matters, as well as family health issues. Hideyoshi and Nanjo happily joined in on their conversation. And what about the cousins? There was no way such a fun meal with such a fun group of friends could fail to be raucous. Maria was in her element, showing off her knowledge of Halloween trivia. George and Jessica would nod in understanding, Battler would say something stupid, and Maria would laugh at him. If I wanted, I could easily join in on the conversation... and if my attention was drawn to my dessert, I could easily slip out of the conversation too. It was... happiness, both fun and natural. It felt like waking up from a daydream to be greeted by the rays of the springtime sun.
"It's supposed to be a typhoon. Looks like we'll be stuck here for more than one night again."
"I do not mind in the least. You may stay here as long as you wish. If it would mean seeing my cute grandchildren's faces more often, I would pray for rain every day."
"Give us a break. We do have work to worry about."
"Why don't you leave the island, Father? That way, you could see your grandchildren whenever you wanted."
"Hahhahaha, true. Living on a remote island may have a sense of majesty, but haven't you had enough of it?"
"...It's too noisy in the city. I much prefer a quiet island, with no one on it but my family. I like it here."
"But on Rokkenjima, if something happens, it would take some time for a doctor to arrive."
"I agree. At your age, I think you should at least consider moving to Niijima."
"...Yes, I am old. I want to live in peace, surrounded only by my family. And I am satisfied. I have this island to make that dream of mine come true."
"Hmm... It seems I've gotten you all down. Ladies and gentlemen, Gohda's lunch is now complete. Grandchildren, it will probably be raining constantly starting tomorrow. Now is the only time that you'll have clear skies. Why not go to enjoy the flowers and then take a walk on the beach?"
"That sounds good. Okay, everyone. Want to go?"
"Uu-! I wanna see the flowers and walk on the beach! We can collect shells, and collect glass too!"
"Collect glass? That, uh, sounds a bit dangerous...!"
"Fragments of glass get washed by the waves and become round, beautiful gems, which drift to shore. Did you forget, Battler? Remember how we used to pick them up together?"
"Oh... Were those glass shards? I always thought they were just pretty gems."
"Have you ever seen a glass gem, Ange?!"
"Then let's go!! I'll show you!! Let's go, let's go! But the first to see them gets them! I'm gonna get them all!"
"Heheh, in that case, I'm not gonna lose either. Let's see who can find the prettiest, biggest glass gem!"
"Alright! Times like this, why not be a kid?! I'm not gonna lose either!"
"Then I guess we'll be heading down to the beach."
"Very well. Take it easy and enjoy your time together, grandchildren."
The cousins rose from their seats and noisily left the dining hall. Maria grabbed Ange's hand and dragged her along.