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As long as you don’t die or go into a coma, no natural resource is as constant and impartially provided to people as time is.
And I don’t believe there exists a field where people can use their time with complete efficiency either.
By that standard, I’m aware that I’m a terrible example.
Grandfather is early to bed and early to rise, making people feel that his life’s rhythm is stable. Meanwhile, mine proceeds at random. For example, whenever I wake up in the morning, it’s a matter of course for the outcome to be decided on a coin flip.
Alarm clocks exist even in this day and age, but they don’t seem to have much effect on me.
Reporting to the office by noon is the one basic rule I’ve set for myself. Still, lately, I’ve been able to stick to it less often, and I’m often plagued by impatience.
But today goes well.
I show up at the office a little before eleven o’clock.
I get to enjoy the eleven o’clock break tea.
“Good morning, Grandfather.”
I’m even able to give Grandfather a proper greeting.
All I get back is a half-hearted reply.
Grandfather is reading something while sitting with his back to the window in the most sun-kissed section of the office.
This office, whose inhabitants are naught but ordinary scholars, has somehow, over the ages, accumulated a large corpus of books and records of every kind, in every field.
Grandfather has never been much of a reader or a bibliophile by any means, but he has turned into an exemplary bookworm now.
“We found some more rare books; please take care of them for us, Professor.”
The books that would come swaying with the caravan would be left to us accompanied by that line. Grandfather has spent his days reading each of those books cover to cover, then throwing them into the empty room two doors away from our office.
Our office is the only occupant of the Camphorwood Cultural Center’s third floor. In fact, the building itself has been in a constant cycle of reuse, with the identity of its original owner lost in the annals of time.
Oh, and the reason I mentioned the room two doors away is that the room which is our immediate neighbor is already chock-full of pagoda-like stacks of books.
Seeing a room bursting with piles of books like that is quite a sight.
Three book towers are burdening Grandfather’s desk today. The book he’s reading probably came out of one of those towers.
“A caravan had stopped by?”
That has to be it since Grandfather is reading a new (secondhand) book.
The caravans have multiple routes they can take, so small ones sometimes stop by without warning.
“By the way,” Grandfather raises his head, “They also delivered something huge. It’s over at the parlor.”
“It seems so.”
And with that, he goes back to reading.
“A cargo box?”
The parlor is one in name alone; it is merely an area of the office room sectioned off with partitions. There is a rather large wooden crate at its center.
Wondering what could be inside, I crack it open with a makeshift crowbar.
“Ah, the tin of sweets…?”
A huge golden tin is nestled within a straw bed inside the crate.
During the papercraft incident a while back, the fairies won a prize-winning caramel. I applied in their stead since they didn’t know what that meant. An application costs one gold or five silver. The caramel the fairies found was a gold one.
“It got here in less than two months… They responded pretty quickly.”
Even with the world’s population dwindling, there are some who take their work seriously.
I take it out, only to find that I need both arms to lift it. It’s profoundly heavy, to the point where it’s a bit of a pain to hold it without using the attached handle.
“This is the first time in my life I’ve seen it.”
I applied, but I didn’t expect them to actually mail it to me.
As an authority on confectioneries, I want to review its contents, but this belongs to the fairies. I have to deliver it to them first.
With that thought in mind, I tell Grandfather I’m going out.
“No, wait. I didn’t tell you, but my assistant will return to the office today.”
I immediately freeze, still holding the golden can.
“I’d been telling you, hadn’t I? He’s been on leave due to his condition but is back on the job starting today.”
I did hear that Grandfather had an assistant, but…
“If I’m not mistaken, he was hospitalized for a checkup, wasn’t he?”
“That’s right. And what’s more, his condition made it necessary for someone to stay with him as his caretaker as well… but that shouldn’t be a problem now.”
I can’t react.
I stand there like a statue of a woman holding a can of gold. At this point, I may as well have been excavated from some 200-year-old ruin in the Mediterranean region.
I’m all kinds of shocked.
I’m not good at dealing with strangers entering a space I’m comfortable in, especially when they’re of the opposite sex.
I’m a highly territorial animal. Practically a big cat.
Grandfather delivers another blow to my frozen self.
“Please go receive him.”
“That’s a tall order.”
“What are you getting at?”
A person of the opposite sex from my own generation is about to settle down right next to me.
I’m sure young people tend to feel like this, more or less, but… It might be somewhat unfair to expect such understanding from an old man like him, whose days of seniority far outnumber those of his youth.
Furthermore, those of old humanity have long been divested of conflict and are all more open-minded.
I don’t think many people in this day and age would understand the context of such a feeling.
While the youth tend to be rather hot-blooded, they have practically become a rare species in this age of ultra-low birth rates.
“I’m afraid such work would be too much for me.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Grandfather, he’s your assistant in the first place, right? Why don’t you go pick him up yourself?”
“I’ve got some business of my own.”
Ah… I don’t think I can get out of doing this…
“… You absolutely can’t?”
“Why are you acting like that? Is it such a thing to be afraid of? You’re both human, you know. You ought to just laugh away the awkwardness with a ‘Gahaha,’ give him a big hug, and get him back here in a jiffy.”
That’s probably how bearded Vikings greet each other.
I have no choice. There’s just nothing for it; I must go.
As if afflicted by some chronic illness, I pull a pained grimace and say, “Understood… I’ll go… It’s work, after all…”
Paying no heed to my anguish, Grandfather says, “There’s an inn called the Lamb and the Olive over at the plaza, isn’t there? They should be waiting for you there no later than by thirteen-hundred hours.”
I have one question.
“Ah, Grandfather, what’s the point in picking him up in the first place?”
“Your assistant knows where the office is, doesn’t he? Why would we need to go pick him up then?”
“…I didn’t explain that, did I?”
Grandfather’s expression turns serious.
“He’s actually… a rather strange one. Normally, he is, what to say, awfully uncertain.”
“You didn’t understand?”
“No… it’s just that I haven’t ever heard that term being used to describe a person.”
Grandfather gives me a look of gravity and ponders on what to say. The words that come out of his mouth a few minutes after are much heavier than expected.
“He came from a small ethnic group that dwelled in the highlands. Their numbers dwindled after a century of isolation. By the time he was discovered, he was the only one left. He was taken in as the last of his kind. It was judged that he couldn’t have survived in that region if he had stayed there any longer.”
“And after that, he got pinballed around all over the place until he finally came into my care.”
“So that’s what happened.”
“He’s a youngster who’s not used to the world and needs help…”
Grandfather’s voice seems to have gone hoarse with compassion.
He’s probably the type who leaves a very faint impression.
A sickly, unreliable young man, thin and lacking the will to live.
But I’ve met such people even at School, so I don’t think getting along with him would be much of a stretch.
“By the way, what does he look like?”
Grandfather nods and proceeds to rattle off his assistant’s traits.
“Talking about his appearance, he’s a normal youngster. He probably has impressive musculature, as would be characteristic of a boy his age. Indeed, if I were to liken him to a historical figure, he would be Hercules, and if we were to talk of gods, I would say Ares. Quite an average young man, I’d say.”
“What planet has such a masculine average?!”
My feelings swayed with compassion, are instantly dispersed by that muscle-twitching shock.
“That’s what it means to be young.”
But Grandfather, that’s just your image of what a youth should look like!"
I suppose I’ve hit the nail on its head because Grandfather groans and gives me a scowl, saying nothing more.
“…Well, even so, it depends on one’s spirit. Even if the average body type is tough and macho, you’d still end up looking like a weakling if you haven’t the spirit of heroism at your core.”
“So, your ideal world is filled with muscle men, is it?”
What a nasty world that would be.
“Being macho has nothing to do with giving off an impression of frailty, but… Well, I can more or less tell what kind of person he is.”
“Yes, so, please. At thirteen hundred hours.”
It’s nowhere near one o’clock yet, so let’s go deliver the gold can to the fairies while it’s still morning.
The timing should be just right if I stop by the village on the way back.
“Ah, that’s right. Could you tell me about any special characteristics of his such as glasses, or braids, that I could identify him by?”
For some reason, he seems puzzled.
“It can’t be that there’s nothing, right?”
“What was it now…”
“Are you telling me you haven’t even seen him?”
“No, that’s not true. I’ve met him many times, but… um, you know. As I said, he’s a young man who doesn’t leave much of an impression. His physique is average, though.”
Isn’t Grandfather’s perspective pretty warped…?
Now that it’s come to this, I’m not even sure if that assistant is actually a macho man. I’d be more than happy to welcome him, though.
“That’s enough. I’m going.”
I leave the office with the can and my lunch in hand.