| This article contains HEAVY spoilers. Please view at your own risk.
"I wonder if we've got onions at home..."
"Are you kidding me? Ah--- This is pissing me off, pissing me off, pissing, me, off!"
"I'm sure we've still got some bell peppers, maybe not enough mushrooms... and then..."
"That moron Bakachi! When she comes back to life, I'll make sure she ends up in hell!"
"... We've still got two or three pieces of sausages I guess... Right then! I'll use that for tomorrow's boxed lunch..."
"Hey, what should we do!? Has it really been decided!?"
"Hmm, what to do... I wonder if we need some cabbage as well?"
The one-sided conversation came to a halt as Taiga stuck out her thumb. In the next moment, a loud wail echoed under the sky in the sunset.
On the elm tree path where housewives would ride on bicycles full of their groceries and junior high students would chat away happily, Ryuuji was on the ground writhing in pain.
A curious dog came over and sniffed Ryuuji, causing its owner to pull it away by its leash.
Ryuuji was neither kicked by Taiga (who seemed to have regained her memories), nor was he beaten or even strangled by her.
"... That'll teach you."
Using only her thumb, Taiga had it jabbed into Ryuuji's left waist with all her strength. With only that, Taiga had caused Ryuuji's vision to blank out. For a sadist, she had to be the most efficient master ever. The only problem was that Ryuuji was no masochist.
"W... what are you doing...!?"
Ryuuji held onto his waist, still reeling in pain, and glared viciously at his assailant, who stood before him and simply said,
"The thumb represents my heart, and your pain is the manifestation of mine."**
(TL: Can someone with the raw verify this somewhat enigmatic phrase Taiga's saying? This is the best I can come up with.)
(I believe the correct translation is actually a pun of sorts. I'm pretty sure she is saying, "Shiatsu's heart is my heart. Your pain is my aim.") As Taiga cracked her knuckles, Ryuuji couldn't help but shiver and turn his eyes away. Where on earth did she learn such a technique? Looking down at the intimidated Ryuuji, Taiga satisfyingly squinted her sadistic eyes and said,
"This is what you get for not listening to my complaints. So seriously listen, since I'm feeling quite annoyed. Even though you're a dog, if your heart loses its humanity, you're really a goner."
"Wasn't I listening to you all along!?"
"Like I said, I was listening the whole time! I said you ought to give it up, as you should occasionally take part in the class activities, didn't you hear that? But you kept going 'But, but, but' to no end! Since you were the one who refused to listen, how can you blame me?"
"Because I really don't want to join! I can't help it!"
Hmph! Taiga snorted, half-closing her eyelids and lifted her chin up insolently. Her fair-coloured hair fluttered under the breeze, like the clouds floating under the crimson sky. The lines on her pale complexion and rose-coloured lips looked as fine and elegant as a ceramic doll's. Looking at that grouchy-looking beauty, Ryuuji held onto his waist as he got up,
"You really are narrow-minded, you know that?"
Indeed, if it weren't for that acupuncture attack on Ryuuji, he could have said it with more consideration. Something like "Didn't Kitamura also think you were the best choice?" or "You'll win this, don't worry" in order to comfort Taiga. "Ugh..." Upon hearing Ryuuji's criticism, Taiga folded her arms across her chest, bit her lips and furrowed her brow as her face showed a pained expression. What was surprising was that even Taiga too felt that she was being narrow-minded.
"Serves you right!" Ryuuji continued with his assaults, "There was never any room for your heart, was there? Do you plan to live so narrow-minded for the rest of your life?" Occasionally giving her some stinging criticism can be a good thing.
Taiga looked unyieldingly at Ryuuji, but as he was quite correct, she could say nothing in return. Instead, she replied painfully,
"What, why are you so excited for..."
"Excited? Me? How?"
Taiga was moaning ambiguously.
Ryuuji could hardly recall when he was ever excited. One month into the new semester, he had no memory of anything that could get him excited... If Taiga meant the source of his agony, Minori, then she was seriously mistaken. Ryuuji had felt an unspeakable distance had appeared between him and Minori, which occasionally led him to feel depressed when Taiga was not around, so he was particularly pissed off at Taiga's remark.
"Tell me, when was I ever excited? What do you know anyway?"
"Forget it... Forget I ever said that, dalmatian."
"Who you calling a dalmatian!?"
Losing interest quickly, Taiga scowled and clicked her tongue, "Tch!", and then quickly turned around and increased her pace.
"We're moving. The supermarket's limited sale is about to begin. Didn't you say you want to get some pork? I might as well remind you, remember to buy some cabbage... what are you squirming over there for!? I'm gonna abandon you in the streets like a stray dog if you don't hurry..."
You were the one talking enigmatically and wasting our time! Besides, whose fault was it that I couldn't move after getting jabbed on the waist!? Ryuuji said nothing, and quietly followed Taiga, swallowing his complaints as he headed towards the supermarket they used to frequent. Taiga said she wanted to have ginger pork rice for dinner, but looking at the pork for sale today, might as well make marinated pork belly. As for the common ingredient for these two dishes...
"The ginger's already chopped up, and Yasuko's rinsed them already, right... Taiga, give me your monthly living fee."
Ryuuji caught up with Taiga and stuck his palm out as he walked besides her.
"Or I won't have enough cash to buy tonight's food."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, Your wish is my command, master."
"What's with that mode of speech anyway?"
Dependent on Ryuuji for her three meals every day, Taiga would pay 10,000 yen to Ryuuji once every month for him to cover ingredients he needed to buy, as well as all other living expenses. Taiga did not show any reluctance as she obediently took out her pink cat-faced pattern purse from her bag, though she ended up dropping her pens, books and notes on the road as well.
"S...seriously... You really ought to be more tidy..."
The fallen objects were left to Ryuuji to pick them up while Taiga looked inside her cat-faced purse,
"Oh, I need to go to the bank. I'm out of cash."
"This won't do...", she muttered to herself and walked on her own pace. Her cat-faced purse kept on dropping all sorts of bills, which were all left to Ryuuji to pick up as well.
Their destination was the ATM machine in the convenience store.
"Hey, they're serving oden already."
"Oh really? So it's that time of year already, huh?"
Upon entering the automatic doors, they could smell the smell of oden, informing them that autumn had arrived. Smelling the oden, Taiga slowly wandered towards it, but was quickly caught by the neck by Ryuuji, who turned her towards the direction of the ATM machine. Ryuuji decided to go read some magazines while he waited for Taiga, so he headed towards the colourful magazine shelf, but after only taking a quick glance...
He heard some repeated beeping, and saw Taiga tilting her head in puzzlement.
"That's strange, no money's coming out... But why? What's going on?"
Taiga handed the advice slip to Ryuuji. Just when Ryuuji was about to only take a glance, he couldn't help but notice the amount printed on it. The amount remaining in Taiga's bank account was 0 yen. Of course no money's going to come out that way. Ryuuji looked towards Taiga, who was frowning and was at a loss.
"How do you expect to withdraw money when there's nothing in your account, dummy? Sigh, you can give it to me tomorrow, I'll do the paying today."
Ryuuji took out his cash card from his red bag and was about to stick it into the ATM machine without hesitation. As for why he did not hesitate, this was because the ATM machines in convenience stores do not charge any extra fees (Ryuuji is extremely cautious when it comes to his own family's expenses). Yet Taiga stopped him,
"What now? Don't worry, it won't charge me anything extra."
"That's not it! It's too strange... Something is definitely wrong! It's just impossible!"
"It can't be helped even if you say it's impossible. You don't have any money alright? Stop moaning already, you'll be troubling other people now..."
"Because when I withdrew money last week, I was sure there was still money inside my account! Even with transfers, there would always be some remainder left. So how is it possible? That person would always wire money into my account every month...... I get it now..."
Taiga suddenly went silent, and stared bitterly at her cash card,
"Is it because I wouldn't answer his calls...?"
"That's why he decided to do such a thing..."
"S-sorry about that... Anyway, let's go outside so the other people can use the ATM machine. Come on."
Apologizing to the people on the queue that were waiting to use the ATM, Ryuuji grabbed the motionless Taiga and exited the convenience store. He brought Taiga near where the dustbin was so as not to get in the way of other people.
"What are you talking about? Just what happened?"
"I can't believe he would use such a method... That's why I hate him..."
Taiga didn't look at Ryuuji's face. She didn't even move her lowered head as she continued to stare at her cash card. The breeze blew her hair around, causing it to touch her lips, yet she remained still.
"I don't know what's going on, but... you alright?"
Ryuuji parted Taiga's hair with his fingers and bent to look at Taiga's expression. Feeling annoyed, she pushed Ryuuji off and finally said softly,
"A while ago, that person - my dad, called me many times. But I was mad at him, so I ignored them. I even deleted all his messages... That's why he decided to wipe my account..."
Absolutely ridiculous. Ryuuji kept silent.
Ryuuji wasn't sure whether it was the daughter's fault for collecting her allowance from her father but ignoring his phone calls, or was the father being ridiculous for confiscating her allowance... Or was it reclaiming it? ... and messing around with his daughter's life. Ryuuji felt confused, not because he didn't have a father himself, but because the relationship between father and daughter in the Aisaka family just seems very complicated.
Taiga, of course, felt that her father was being ridiculous,
"That damn old man..."
She muttered in a near mute voice,
"I'm really going to have to kill you... really..."
She was about to crush the cash card she was carrying. Ryuuji frantically snatched it from her and placed it back into her cat-faced purse.
"How can you say such stuff about your own dad!?"
The moral gauge that Ryuuji used at such a moment felt unusually empty and hard to understand. Perhaps already guessing what Ryuuji was thinking, she looked coldly and disdainfully at Ryuuji, who could only remain silent and helplessly be stared at.
As though on cue, the phone in Taiga's pocket began to vibrate. Taiga grabbed her phone through the decoration on it and roughly pulled it out of her pocket before flicking it open,
"He must be calling to threaten me..."
Her eyes were lacking in focus as she gave a twisted smile. Looking at her face alone, Ryuuji could guess who was calling.
"Answer it, you still need to say what needs to be said, or how are you going to survive without your allowance?"
Ryuuji said only that and left Taiga alone as he reentered the convenience store. He spent time reading at the magazine shelf. He then went to have a look at Taiga's favourite milk dessert, and took a look at some drinks as he walked into the snacks aisle, checking if there were any new snacks for sale. He finally took a glance at the oden beside the cashier, although he didn't see carefully what the ingredients were.
He mechanically estimated the time left while peeking outside the window to see how Taiga was doing. When he saw her closing her cell phone lid, he knew Taiga was done talking. Her fair face looked troubled as she placed her phone back into her pocket.
He decided to walk solemnly towards Taiga.
"What did your dad say?"
He asked in a casual tone, while holding his breath, trying not to get too involved in the tightrope-like father-daughter relationship within the Aisaka family.
"Ryuuji, are you free afterward?"
Taiga turned her face around and spoke stiffly.
"Nope, I still need to go to the supermarket."
"Let me do the shopping, give me your money. If you don't have enough, go draw some more. You don't need to do the shopping. What you need to do is head to the coffee shop on the second floor of the station complex. Do you remember? The non-smoking bagel shop next to the place where I bought my handbag?"
"Have you forgotten already? It was raining that day and we didn't bring our umbrellas. So we ended up killing time there with Minorin and Bakachi, remember? You ordered coffee while I ordered a salmon bagel..."
"That's not what I meant... Why don't I need to do the shopping?"
"... Minorin and Bakachi both ordered cheese toast, and then Bakachi said she's got some temporary joining order or something like that and can't open her mouth too wide..."
"Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, you mean? No, that's not the point. I'm not really asking about that shop, because I completely don't get what you're talking about."
"No, I don't."
Taiga swallowed what she was about to say and shook her head, as though thinking how to say it...
"You will go to that coffee shop and meet him in my place, and then get the money back from him. Any questions?"
Ryuuji finally understood what was going on...
Taiga yelled and said,
"Just go! Don't worry! You can definitely sort things out! Go get the money! GO!"
Unwilling to yield, Ryuuji yelled even louder,
"I said no! If there's nothing to worry about, why don't you go yourself!? Why must I get involved in your family matters!?"
"I'm not ordering you to go, I'm hoping you would go! So please go!"
"That can't be done! Besides, your dad doesn't know me! Won't you find it strange if he suddenly sees a guy he's never met before coming up to him and say 'I'm here to collect your daughter's money' with a face like this? If I were him, I would refuse outright!"
"Then couldn't you just explain to him? What is that mouth of yours used for? Or has your dog brain forgotten how to utter human words already?"
"What is this attitude? Is this how you request a favour from other people!?"
"Stop fooling around already! Listen to me...!"
"Don't be ridiculous!"
Toradora vol05 075.jpg Not content with just being loud, they started shoving each other back and forth outside the convenience store, and neither was willing to yield.
"Please! I beg you! I've never begged you before, have I!?"
"Of, course, you, have! You've been begging me to do things for you everyday! Just last night at your apartment, didn't you say you couldn't find your remote control and begged me to look for it? I spent two whole hours looking for that!"
"You really like to bicker on the small stuff, don't you? No wonder no one loves you! Now go! Come on! Just go! I'll prepare dinner! And wash all the dishes! I'll wash tomorrow's as well! And the day after! So please... go!"
Thud! Taiga suddenly turned the tables, and Ryuuji fell on the ground on his bottom as the passers-by coldly glared at him. Maybe I should just make a run for it? Unwilling to surrender, Ryuuji was about to get up when...
Instead of saying "Serves you right!", or "You should have listened to me earlier", she was now begging in a weak voice. Her brows were tilted upwards as she went quiet and softly tugged Ryuuji's sleeve.
"Sigh... really... Why must I go..."
Taiga lowered her head pitiably and tugged at Ryuuji's sleeve with her tiny white hand until he nodded.
When Taiga saw the photo that was the source of Ryuuji's depression, she burst out laughing.
With such a menacing face with those intimidating eyes, besides the word "gangster", there was just no other word to describe such a person. An aura of terrifying unpleasantness emanated from the person in the photo, and all these characteristics had been passed on to Ryuuji. The whereabouts of the source of his genes, the person in that photo - his father, is currently unknown. When she saw that photo in the family restaurant in the middle of the night, Taiga laughed and shook her body so much that she was in tears as she said, "Wha-, what is this? You look just like him! How did you manage to get such genes?!"
And right now, Ryuuji was thinking the exact same thing. Does that mean I'm allowed to laugh as well?
"Oh... is that so? I understand now. In other words, my daughter won't be coming, right?"
Before him was a man in his forties reading a memo written by Taiga while wiping a sorry tear off his eye. His mannerism aside, besides using the word "small", there was no better word that could be used to describe his size. Just one look at him and one could guess that he was Taiga's father.
"This fellow here is Takasu Ryuuji, a friend of mine. Give the money to him. - Taiga" The memo containing Taiga's messy handwriting was now being carefully folded up by Mr. Aisaka, before being carefully placed into the inside pocket of his seemingly expensive coat. It was never Ryuuji's habit to observe other people's mannerisms, but he just couldn't help but notice how the man before him moved. It was really rare to see a person with such mannerisms; Ryuuji felt like this was probably his first time seeing someone like him.
Just what kind of work does he do for him to be able to wear such clothes and have so much free time in the evening? Beneath his wrinkle-free wind coat was a high collar shirt, which shone with a glow, Ryuuji could instantly tell it was made from a fine material. He wore no tie, but instead, around his neck was an elegant silk scarf. He definitely doesn't look like your average salary man, though I already know he's quite rich...
It's just that... he's hardly unlikeable at all.
Although he was probably the least qualified to do so, Ryuuji had already decided Taiga's father had passed his first impression test quite well. He's not so bad. He looked tidy, and didn't really give out any negative vibes. Just one look and Ryuuji could tell what his tastes were. His slightly tanned skin matched quite well with his beige jacket. He could already be called an "old man" at that age, so it was quite impressive that he could still dress in such a way. Although truth be told, he wasn't exactly handsome. Compared to Taiga's doll-like beauty, though his appearance wasn't that bad, it was hard for Ryuuji to describe this trendy old man as handsome.
"I'm sorry that you have to be Taiga's messenger. Um...Takasu-kun... I really wanted to see Taiga, which is why I used such a drastic method... I've ended up being hated by her, haven't I?"
"Takasu-kun, are you mad?"
"No, it's just my eyes... they look fierce..."
"I- I see, I'm sorry."
To be more precise, it was Ryuuji's expression that looked fierce, not his eyes. Taiga's father seemed more relieved after Ryuuji had explained it, relaxing his stiff shoulders, and smiled for the first time. On his hand that was holding a cigarette, he wore a watch with an elegantly designed crocodile skin strap, while the gold watch itself was polished so clean that it glittered. In order to reveal the mechanical gears within, the digits were made of transparent material carved so finely that it was dazzling.
What a beautiful watch. Ryuuji couldn't help but stare. Although, with some hesitation, he finally spoke,
"Umm... I think smoking's not allowed here..."
Ryuuji had stopped the retro-looking lighter from lighting up the cigarette. Taiga's father widened his eyes and looked around before realizing the situation,
"Really!? Oh yeah! That's right! I see... no smoking here as well, huh... It seems like everything is non-smoking nowadays... Sigh, to be hated by my daughter, now I'm even being driven out for being a smoker... I feel like the world hates me now."
Feeling depressed, Taiga's father sighed. Caressing his face like a cat, he unhappily put his cigarette back.
"Then... should we go outside?"
"Oh, no, it's fine. You haven't even drunk your coffee yet, and neither have I."
He then passed the menu to Ryuuji, while waving his hand like a bird,
"If that's the case, how about ordering something you like? Would you like cake or something?"
"I... I'm fine, really... since I'm about to have dinner soon..."
Taiga's father once again leaned on the table with his hands on his head.
"Er, no, I mean... Yeah, I'll order this one, egg bagel would do..."
"Really!? Excuse me, I'd like to order something."
Taiga's father lifted his head and beamed happily. That face was indeed different from Taiga's, with only his round head resembling Taiga's somewhat. To put it simply, Taiga's father was quite small in stature, probably even smaller than Yasuko. His shoulders were small, and so was the hand used to summon the waitress. Even his well-manicured fingernails looked miniature. Ryuuji noticed his nails were varnished with a layer of polish and glittered slightly. This old man even knows how to maintain his fingernails.
"An egg bagel for him, and as for me... a salmon bagel will do. What does it have inside? Butter and cheese? Really? Then I'll have that, with lots of cheese please! Thanks!"
"You like cheese?"
"Huh!? How did you know!?"
Ryuuji could feel himself getting tired and sighed deeply. It was how he would often respond whenever he saw Taiga reacting like that. He looked helplessly at Taiga's father. "Why's that? Come on, tell me!" Taiga's father smiled happily, and waited for Ryuuji to reply.
How should I put this...? It seemed like all the friendliness and cuteness that was lacking in Taiga could all be found in her father. Although he was a middle-aged man, his smile was unusually friendly, and his round eyes turned round and round slowly.
"Hmm... bagels huh...? Hoho, there seems to be quite a lot of trendy stores here, all catered for girls, no doubt? This isn't a bad place for the OLs that commute home from work to take a break here when passing through. The interior decorating's gorgeous as well, Scandinavian, I guess? A lot of people say girls tend to like this sort of wood, but I wonder how the guys would think? Do you normally come alone into these sort of stores?"
Taiga's father had suddenly changed the subject.
"No, I wouldn't come in alone myself... Lately, I found myself preferring the more elegant wood colour, how should I put it... something with burls ... the ones that look heavy... Yeah, something like chestnut."
Ryuuji had unknowingly reverted to his usual habit. "Oh, we've got similar tastes it seems!" Taiga's father exclaimed excitedly at Ryuuji,
"Me too, I prefer the deeper-coloured wood, like chestnut or oak... These walls are purposefully painted with diatomite in order to contrast with the sepia decorations and bring out the casual feeling. The chairs should be made of a rough material, while the kitchen ought to be decorated in a way to display all of its stainless steel utensils."
"The floorboards should be made of a sturdy material so your footsteps can be heard when you step on it."
"The ashtrays should give people an impression that they're heavy."
"They should arrange the lamps to hang down on top of the tables."
"That's right, that's a great idea! The lamps should be sepia and antique-looking! That would be the most ideal design for men!"
That's right! Ryuuji realized he was about to reply without regard to his manner, and quickly swallowed what he was about to say. He's an adult, and this is my first time meeting him. I shouldn't have gotten so carried away.
Ryuuji concealed his awkwardness with a cough and took a small breath. That was close! I nearly got dragged into some strange world. Ryuuji sipped some coffee to calm himself down, and was mindful not to say too many unnecessary things, though he still carried a smile on his face.
He was a bit happy, all because Taiga's father said they had similar tastes. As a rabid follower of interior design magazines, to be able to have a chance to discuss this with a man with such exquisite tastes was a rare opportunity.
On the other hand, Is Taiga's dad really that glad to be exchanging his tastes with a high school student? Although he looked worried a while ago, Taiga's father's eyes now glittered with curiousness as he looked around the store, happily knocking the table and wall with his fists, as well as sticking his head out to inspect the indirect lighting.
Thinking about it, Ryuuji realized this was the first time he had such a conversation with a man of that age. At the same time, Ryuuji wondered what he should say next. If possible, he hoped the cheerful conversation could end now, so that he could finish what he came to do and go home quickly. But Taiga's father still looked rather enthusiastic, inspecting the tablecloth at one moment, staring at the postcard used for decoration the next while muttering, "Ah, so it's a photograph. And I thought it was a painting."
Is this what you call being idiosyncratic?
"Ah yes, before I forget, I'd better hand this to you. Ah... looks like my plan failed. Taiga's really mad at me, right? I could feel her murderous intent over the phone..."
"Um, sort of... whoa!"
Ryuuji nodded casually as he received an envelope from Taiga's father, only to be put off by its incredible weight. Could it all be 10,000 yen notes inside? This is so thick and heavy... just how much money is in it? Ryuuji dared not imagine, just thinking about having to carry all this home on his own was enough for him to break out in a cold sweat. This is an insanely huge amount of money! Does Taiga always receive this much all the time?
"Please tell Taiga I'll transfer the usual amount to her account by the end of the month."
Ryuuji was shocked once again. Transfer some more at the end of the month? Just the money in the envelope was enough for him and his mother to live for six months. And he's saying he'll transfer another lot by the end of the month? But that's only a few days away from now! How is this possible!?
Yet Taiga's father did not notice Ryuuji's stunned expression and sighed softly, caressing his small face as he said,
"I really want to see Taiga, I really do. She wouldn't even let me hear her voice... I'd like to talk to her... as I have something important to tell her."
At that moment, Ryuuji suddenly saw true sadness on the face of Taiga's father, and the envelope he held now felt unusually heavy.
After her father remarried, Taiga's presence was deemed to be irrelevant, so she was driven out, and placed into a huge apartment. Taiga's dad had abandoned her, and he was a man that would do such a cold-blooded thing... That was what Taiga had told him, and it was what Ryuuji believed, but...
Would a cold-blooded man make such an expression? Would he sigh like that and have such distraught looking eyes?
I'm not sure about the details, but has something been confused? Ryuuji didn't know what to do with the heavy envelope, and could only hold it with both hands.
Taiga's father never once looked at the out-of-place envelope and said,
"Is Taiga fine lately? Has she been feeling troubled? Well... how should I say this? Are you... and Taiga... in that sort of relationship? I mean... are you guys dating?"
The sudden question from Taiga's father gave Ryuuji a fright, but he quickly shook his head and denied it at once,
"No. How should I put it... we're friends. It's just that I happen to live next to her apartment block... and we get along together quite well. We're not dating... we're more like a brother-sister relationship... That's what I think anyway..."
"I see... so that's why..."
No matter how much our interests are alike, any guy that tries to approach my baby Taiga must be exterminated like the pests that they are. Ryuuji reckoned that was probably what Taiga's father was thinking, as he saw him now looking more happy and nodding his head upon learning the truth.
"Let me ask you, has Taiga been stalked by any weird people? I've been hearing a lot about crazy stalkers and stuff like that."
"That's already been taken care of, besides, Taiga's very strong."
"You're absolutely right!"
Taiga's father now looked quite relieved and smiled with his eyes squinted. That being said, there were some wrinkles at the corner of his eyes. Could he have been...
"Taiga's... still mad about her account, right... Yeah, I guess she must be mad..."
Is he feeling painful and remorseful at being hated by his daughter? He smiled in a self-deprecating way,
"When we spoke on the phone, she told me that I must take responsibility for abandoning my child... As expected, she still thinks the same as before, she still believes that I had abandoned her."
"No, I didn't."
For just a second, Ryuuji felt that the strong glance Taiga's father gave to him looked just as painful as Taiga's.
"No, it wasn't like that. It was definitely a misunderstanding... Our divorce was unavoidable. I just couldn't get along with her mother, so we had to come to this last resort... Afterward, I found a new partner who wasn't so bad, so I married her. But as my new wife was too young, Taiga just could not get used to living with her, not to mention all sorts of misunderstandings led to things snowballing out of control, and in the end either Taiga or... Yuu, my present wife... would have to leave that house. So Taiga..."
The two bagels had arrived. The one as big as what Taiga had before was wrapped in paper.
"Yeah... why didn't I stop her back then? Even now I still dream of that scene. It was a cold winter's day, and it was snowing outside. Taiga was crying and making a ruckus as usual, and she threw lots of stuff at Yuu, causing her nose to bleed... Our house had become like a battlefield, or rather, like hell... I went through so much just to remarry, thinking I could rebuild a happy family, but I never expected it to have come to this. Even I was getting agitated by it all, and accidentally said some very mean stuff. I never really meant it, but... it must have sounded like it was aimed towards her, in the end, Taiga's face... lost all expression, like a lamp being switched off."
Ryuuji looked at his bagel. Can I really finish such a large piece?
"Then it was like loosening a knot that was tied, Taiga disappeared beyond the door. No matter how much I ran after her, she ran further away, and now, I can't ever catch her again... And that was it... Why couldn't I catch her? I couldn't even catch her in my dreams, as she would always slip away from my fingertips. The clothes she was wearing... Yes, I can still remember she was wearing a lavender-coloured cashmere jumper, with a ribbon tied on her waist. I tried to grab her ribbon, but it slipped off my fingers. And I tried to hold onto her tied hair, that too slipped off... I could hear the door opening, very loudly. At that moment, Taiga ran out..."
The eyes of Taiga's father looked distant as he recalled that day in the snow,
"... And never came back home."
This is too unbearable. thought Ryuuji as he picked up his egg bagel and chomped a piece down. Taiga's father then said,
"I want to live together with Taiga, once again. I wanted to tell her that."
What did he just say? With his mouth full of food, Ryuuji had forgotten how to chew as he widened his triangular-looking eyes and glanced perplexedly at the man before him.
Live with Taiga... That's what I heard, alright. Can't be wrong.
Ryuuji could not care about the taste anymore as the food rolled around in his mouth while he tried to remain calm. Although he couldn't figure out what he was feeling inside, Ryuuji still quietly asked a question that he had to ask,
"But... won't it just end up the same again? Because... because of that..."
"No, I won't allow the same thing to happen again. Because I know it's my fault, I hope to start all over with Taiga, just the two of us. Taiga is the only princess that I have and I value her more than my life, and this time, I won't make the same mistake again... This bagel looks good, I'd best start eating."
Ryuuji looked at Taiga's father pick up his salmon bagel with his small hands, slowly unwrapping the paper wrapping. He could not understand the meaning of what Taiga's father had just said.
Hope to start all over, just the two of them... That means...
"I'm going to get a divorce with Yuu, it's already been confirmed, and I've spoken with Yuu. After that, I'll be living with Taiga, since I am her parent after all... I love her, there's no need for us to be apart. If I ever see her another day, I'll definitely say that to her."
"Are you... serious...?"
"Of course I'm serious... oops!"
The salmon flew out from the bagel as Taiga's father was about to chew on it. Just as it was about to fall on the floor, Ryuuji quickly caught it. Now what? Lightning-shaped furrows appeared on Ryuuji's brow as he frowned.
Taiga's father took the salmon from Ryuuji's hand without hesitation, and clumsily placed it back into the bagel, giving Ryuuji a thumbs up. He is indeed related to Taiga. They're both clumsy. Not to mention they look very alike whenever they get excited about something. Ryuuji then felt strange, because he had finally realized it.
Although it was quite embarrassing to talk about Taiga with this man, it didn't feel bad.
Ryuuji could feel his unsteady heart telling Taiga,
Something big is happening! Your dad is coming to pick you up!
Every time that sound was made,
"I told you everything's fine, so stop coming in all the time!"
"Okay, okay... just don't break the dishes."
Ryuuji could not sit still. Without noticing it himself, he was standing behind Taiga, looking worried at her inexperienced movements.
"You're annoying, get lost!"
Roar. Taiga bore her sharp tiger fangs towards Ryuuji. If he was not careful, she could bite his hand. Yet Ryuuji could not bring himself to leave. For him, the sight before him was that of fear, terror and suspense, so he continued to stand anxiously outside the kitchen.
Taiga was placing the dishes she had washed precariously onto the dish rack, and rather nonchalantly stacked the heavier dishes on top of the smaller bowls...
The dishes once again made an unbearable sound as the pile collapsed in the stainless steel sink. Ryuuji could watch no longer,
"Like I said, these dishes should be..."
He couldn't resist helping out.
"I know already! Enough! Stay away! Didn't I tell you that I'd wash the dishes? You go boil some water to make tea!"
"And don't look over!"
Hmph! Taiga snorted, but seemed intent on continuing with the dish washing. While Ryuuji was glad that she had kept her word, seeing her like that only made him even more worried. Being naturally clumsy, Taiga's movements tended to be too abrasive. Coupled with her personality, she refused to accept any of this. She would apply detergent on every dish, and after scrubbing it very roughly, would place the sponge aside and rinse the dish with both hands. The way she placed the dishes was messy as well, since she didn't bother turning the bowls upside down after washing them. Not to mention she allowed the detergent to splatter around too. Being this messy and straightforward, this was her indifferent attitude. Moreover, water was splashing all over the sink, dripping onto the floor as well as getting her apron all soaked.
How can she be this clumsy?!
Not allowed to help out or say anything, Ryuuji was nearly going ballistic. The dishes should be applied with detergent once in one go, and then they should be stacked up like a pyramid inside the sink so that when the water flows from the faucet, they will be rinsed from top down. Not only is this efficient, but it saves a lot of water, ensuring all the dishes gets washed with the least amount of detergent. Speaking of which, she's turning the faucet to full blast, and if that huge water column is allowed to keep on flowing...
Water came gushing out, splashing everything. Taiga, with her hair wet, stood there motionless.
Not even Ryuuji knew what to say anymore. He knelt on the floor, took out his dry rag, and began rubbing the soaked wooden tile floor. Taiga didn't say anything, as though silently acknowledging Ryuuji's help. She didn't think twice as she wiped the water off her face with her lather-filled hands, and continued her dish washing.
"AH! You're kidding, right? You actually placed Inko-chan's bowl together with ours! You really are dense!"
Ryuuji's hand stopped rubbing on the floor after that senseless remark.
"Of course I didn't! Are you an idiot? That's the small container from your own lunch box!"
"Of course! How could I possibly place a bird's food bowl together with the other dishes..."
Ryuuji frantically turned his head and revealed a friendly smile, but it was already too late, the damage had been done. The ugly parrot Inko-chan glared at Taiga and Ryuuji with a sharp glance, disgusting foam drooled from his rotten meat-coloured beak. His half-closed eyes spun around with resentment, his feathers twitched as they expanded, and his glare was like a sharp arrow. From his personified appearance, one could easily tell that he was very unhappy.
"It's not like that, Inko-chan! Listen to me! I didn't mean to say Inko-chan is ugly, I was only just trying to emphasize what a stupid mistake Taiga made, that's all!"
His master began to explain.
"I'm a bird, I don't speak human..."
Inko-chan snubbed Ryuuji with a reply that Ryuuji wasn't sure who taught him. He continued to stare at Ryuuji. As he was about to look down, he suddenly lost his balance and fell. Thump, thump, thump. After walking three steps,
"Eh! Pee! Taking a pee... no, not a pee... eh...?"
He seemed to have lost his memories. Suddenly, he opened his beak, his dreamy eyes looked a bit confused, and tided his feathers while trying to figure out what he was doing a while ago. Aha! I remember! And then he went to nibble at his lettuce.
I see... Ryuuji clasped his fist. As expected from a bird brain, he'll forget things once he's walked three steps. It was a good thing Inko-chan only had a bird brain, or there would be an emotional scar from his master.
"Really... to talk with such an ugly thing... You're increasingly becoming un-dog-like."
"Stop calling him ugly! His name is Inko-chan! Right, Inko-chan? Ohh... you look great today. Ah... how cute, how amazing... Inko-chan's the most merciful child ever, I love you so much!"
"Hmph, you'd even probably find a pile of dog shit lying on the road cute as well."
"D, dog sh... wha!?"
Taiga closed the faucet and walked in great strides with her flat chest puffed up. Ryuuji was still shell shocked by Taiga's vulgar remark as she stood before him,
"See. I'm done washing. While you were talking to that ugly thing, I finished my dish washing."
Hmph! She then lifted her chin loftily, proudly declaring mission accomplished. Now's not the time to be shocked. Ryuuji stood up and nodded, he even applauded,
"Wow... amazing! You really are a genius in doing chores!"
"Of course. As long as I feel like doing it, nothing would look hard."
"You've got talent. If you do it more often you'll be able to master it!"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, go brew some tea already. Hurry!"
"I can feel your potential. Tea is it, I'll go brew it right away."
The apron Taiga held out was all wet, yet Ryuuji didn't complain a bit. He just calmly complimented her. This is definitely much easier than having to call a pile of dog shit cute.
Not to mention this was the first time Ryuuji has ever seen Taiga wash the dishes ever since he knew her. The anxiety in not being able to help dispersed upon Taiga finishing without much incident. It doesn't matter even if she doesn't do it well. What's most important is that she has the heart to continue... Compliment her so that she'll be willing to wash some more - that was Ryuuji's plan.
Besides, If Taiga's really going to live with her dad, it would be troublesome if she doesn't even know how to wash dishes, wouldn't it? Although I don't know if they'll be living together, I might as well treat it as so for now.
As the water was being boiled, Ryuuji quickly wiped the dishes dry and placed them back into the cupboard. He then filled the teapot with the tea leaves the landlord gave them. Normally when brewing green tea, one shouldn't apply hot water directly. Ryuuji, however, preferred to add hot water into the tea pot right away and allow the green tea leaves to expand and slowly drift apart along with the water flow. The fragrance of the leaves would then meander in the scorching steam. After quickly pouring the first brew into a cup, he allowed it to cool before pouring it back in to brew a second time. The first brew would be a bit bland in taste, but as it was hot, it was most suitable just after meals. The more condensed second brew could then be enjoyed slowly after finishing the first brew. A great advantage of brewing like this was that there was no need to leave the table to brew a second time.
"Where are the snacks?"
From the snack box Taiga had brought a few days ago, Ryuuji took out two Baumkuchen cakes and placed them on the plate. After having a 250g ginger pork and three bowls of rice, Taiga still wanted to have dessert. So Ryuuji decided to have some with her tonight.
As Ryuuji carefully placed the plates on the short table,
"Get up, how are you going to drink your tea while lying down?"
He patted Taiga's legs. Taiga, who had already placed her cushion on the floor as a pillow, now waved her hair and got up,
"Snacks... how come there are only two cakes?"
"One is for me."
"Damn... how stingy. You should've brought the whole box over, for goodness' sake!"
Taiga scowled upon seeing Ryuuji had only brought two cakes. "Yeah, yeah," Ryuuji replied casually as they both sat upright, and turned up the TV volume to watch their weekly nonsensical quiz show. Their dialogue had turned rather monosyllabic,
Ryuuji found himself looking at Taiga's cheek. Taiga took no notice of him as she continued to watch the TV with her brow furrowed.
On this rather ordinary night, Ryuuji just couldn't help but look at Taiga because he had something he had to tell her. When Yasuko was still in the house, Ryuuji could not bring himself to say it with the three of them at the dining table, and Taiga was not going to let him mention that.
"Umm... you know... your dad... he's a strange person."
"This Baumkuchen, you really need to eat it layer by layer."
Taiga ignored Ryuuji and nibbled at the thin layers of the cake with her squirrel-like teeth.
"Nobody eats like that... Oh yeah, I had bagel earlier tonight. Your dad ordered a salmon bagel just like you did. You really do have the same interests as he does. You both like cheese."
"You're not eating yours? Then give it to me."
"We talked a lot... He seems to be worried about you."
Taiga snatched the layered cake from Ryuuji's hand, and chomped it down. She continued to ignore Ryuuji, and turned her face towards the TV, only her shoulders revealing her wavering.
"Hey, are you listening? Though I'm not in a position to say this, but shouldn't you at least meet up with your dad? Because lately... hey... are you even listening?"
I shouldn't be the one to tell her that. That was Ryuuji's way of thinking. It should be done personally by her dad, but just to avoid Taiga shooting down everything before she even knows what's going on, I might as well mention it to her...
"You dad... says he wants to live with you..."
"Are you an idiot?"
Inside the narrow apartment, only the TV sounds echoed throughout. Taiga didn't look at Ryuuji as she coldly said that while turning her head towards the side. What was that about? Ryuuji looked at Taiga's ears, which were sticking out from her hair. His voice began to grow stiff. Why must she always be like this?
"Stop eating already. I'm seriously talking to you here."
"And that's why I've seriously replied to you, 'Are you an idiot?' Is something wrong with that brain of yours?"
"I'm saying this for your own good!"
"Did someone ask you to do this? Stop trying to interfere in other people's family affairs!"
"What the!? Weren't you the one who asked me to meet with your dad!? You should at least hear my feelings about it! Or are you satisfied with just collecting the money?"
"Of course! I'm grateful to you, that's why I helped you wash the dishes. So it's over!"
"Don't be ridiculous! You should listen to me as well!"
"Shut up already! Stop trying to pretend like you know me very well!"
Taiga finally turned her head around, her eyes spewing flames of anger and irritation. However, when her eyes met Ryuuji's, the emotions in her eyes faded away, and the anger within cooled down as well.
"This conversation is over. How boring, I'm going home. Oh, let me tell you something, don't try to get moody about it. Wake me up as usual tomorrow. I am not at all affected by this level of unhappiness."
Ryuuji seemed to have made Taiga feel bored. Holding the half-finished Baumkuchen in one hand, she swiftly put on her socks with her other, and walked stridently on the tatami towards the entrance. Ryuuji followed behind her in order to stop her,
"Your dad's feeling very depressed that you've been ignoring him! Don't you pity him?"
"I'm even more pitiful!"
In the end it became a shouting match. Why does she have to be so stubborn even now!? Ryuuji was too surprised to say anything. Taiga looked contemptuously at Ryuuji, and then put her shoes and simply said, "See you tomorrow." as she left. She had really gone home.
Should I go after her? After wearing one slipper, Ryuuji hesitated again,
In the end, he didn't give chase.
Letting go of the doorknob, he locked the door and returned to his room realizing he was very angry, so angry in fact that he felt like kicking the tidy shoes lying at the entrance.
Ryuuji cursed at the person who was no longer here, attempting to substitute his desire to kick things around with that.
With a dad that misses her, and him having expressed his worry about her life, as well as being sorry for what he's done, he's even decided to live with her. If Taiga was a bit more honest with herself, the happiness she's been looking for would be right before her eyes. But still she refuses to see him, and continues to indulge in her "I'm so pitiful for being abandoned" self-pittance. Absolutely ridiculous!
The happiness that Ryuuji could never find no matter how hard he tried was now openly discarded by Taiga right before his eyes. Does Taiga really like to be so pitiful?
The tense atmosphere remained in the entrance, with only Yasuko's slippers and Ryuuji's school shoes sitting there looking rather lonely. No matter how much Yasuko and Ryuuji prayed and waited, that person would never come back.
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6|
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6 • Spin-off|
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5|
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6|
|Prologue • Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6 • Chapter 7|
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6|
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5|
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6|
|Prologue • Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5|
|Prologue • Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Epilogue|