Saturday, 2 May 2015

Chapter three (segment five), twenty four years earlier, May, Noriko

Noriko stapled a pamphlet to yet another billboard. With the headship leaning heavily on the student council Urufu-kun's and Kuri-chan's meting the council had been a mere formality.

“Join the Himekaizen Cultural Exchange Club,” the pamphlet read. “President Ageruman Kuritina welcomes you to taste high school life in exotic Sweden.” After that the current members were named along with what position they held in the club. At the bottom, prominently displayed, she found her idiot brother. “Club Mascot,” was printed in bold letters beside his name.

They would get their new members. Noriko knew that. With her brother backing the tragic and beautiful heroine there was no stopping them.

The teachers hadn't taken any action when the bullying of Kuri-chan started, and none when it escalated. When it finally culminated in a physical assault and the exceptionally public aftermath it was already much too late to put the lid back on.

Kuri-chan could ask the principal to bring stars down for her, and he would only ask how many she wanted.

And I wouldn't care, but you're taking my star from me. That was, she had to admit to herself, not entirely true. To claim ownership of her star she should at least confess first. And confessing wasn't her strongest subject.

Sure, she had turned Yu-kun down in middle school, and that creepy Takemoto, but that wasn't the same as doing the confessing.

Anything else and I could just have studied harder. But this? Noriko shook her head and went for the next billboard. Her feet tapped gently on the floor. Tapped lonely on the floor. There were almost no students in the corridors during club hours.

I'm so small, and she's so, large? No, that's not it. She's bright like the sun. Nothing can shine beside her. Life just wasn't fair. But Noriko hadn't been truthful. Ryu could shine almost as brightly as Kuri-chan. Would he help me? I don't think so. He doesn't seem to care much for Urufu-kun.

She arrived and brought out her stapler.

“Is that tomorrow?” she heard a question behind her when she had fastened the pamphlet to the billboard.

“Yes, Thursday and Friday at five, and Saturday at two,” she answered.

“Is it true that Wakayama-san is a member?”

“Yes.” Why ask for club activities when you can ask for my moronic brother instead?


Sometimes I wonder if they used two different entrance exams for this school. Noriko stared at the girl. It was their school uniform. She must have passed the exam.

Himekaizen Cultural Exchange. Right! It's going to be exchange all-right, but 'culture' will have just about nothing to with what's going to be exchanged.

Noriko bagged her stapler. That was the last pamphlet, and she could go back to their club room. Why did I suggest I join the dating central? As a bean counter to boot. She pouted. At least I get to be near him.

Noriko started climbing the right wing stairs. Tap, tap, tap, went her feet. Dok, dok, dok, went her heart. I'm lost, went the thoughts in her head.

She left the stairwell at the third floor and turned left into the endless corridor that connected the right and left wings. Among all the doors there was one with a sign that still read: “Sengoku Cultural Studies.”

When she arrived she was met by minor chaos.

“What do you mean it's too late for the sister club?” That was Ryu.

“Cause they're all but finished. School's out in a month,” Urufu-kun answered.

“No, school began a month ago!”

“Christina, please help me get through here! Gods, why did we have to end up in a place where school starts halfway through the spring term?”

“Ryu-kun, please listen to me,” Kuri-chan suggested.

Sure enough, he went meek as a lamb in seconds. That's my brother for you. He's mind-controlled by that girl. Why? He never changed because of a girl before!

“Yes, Ageruman-san.”

“Kuri-chan, please,” she said. “We're on a first name basis in the club.”

“Why is that?” Kyoko-chan asked.

Noriko looked at her. Then she turned to Kuri-chan. The answer was actually interesting.

“Look, it's a cultural exchange club with Sweden at the other end, OK?”


“The only time you'd use the last name addressing someone is if you're old, old, old people. As in ancient.”

“Or if you're in uniform,” Urufu-kun said helpfully and discovered the school uniform he had worn for a month. “Eh, we don't use school uniforms,” he added equally helpfully.

“He's trying to say if you're in the police force or in the military. That kind of uniform,” Kuri-chan said. “Anyway, normal people back home only use the first name, even to strangers.”

“That's not proper, Kyoko-chan protested.”

“That's proper in Sweden.”

Noriko took a chair and sat down. The room was still in a funny no man's land between clubs. Strange how unfamiliar some people still were with western naming conventions, she thought. Not that you should use them in Japan, but you could at least be aware of them.

“Kuri-chan, I think you'll have to explain the part with the school year, Noriko suggested.”

While she waited for Kuri-chan to formulate an answer Noriko studied the walls were pictures of medieval Japan competed for space with colour-prints of an exotic, forested landscape with no mountains but lakes everywhere.

“Ah, yes,” Kuri-chan finally began. “In most of the world school starts late summer or early autumn. OK? It's beautiful and romantic and whatever they way you start school in April here, but it's not exactly an international standard.”

“Strange people,” Kyoko said.

“OK, fine, the rest of the world is strange and everyone on this island is normal. I heard that a lot back home as well.” Kuri-chan rolled her eyes. For a short moment Noriko felt something like sympathy for her. Then she recalled that Kuri-chan was monopolising Urufu-kun's attention.

“Sweden has,” Urufu-kun filled in, “a two semester school year. The first starts in late August and ends just prior to Christmas. Pretty much like the second term here. The second starts early January and ends early June. Summer break is two and a half months long.”

“Two and a half?”

That got them. Let them chew on that for a while. They're morons in Sweden for allowing students to forget all about school during summer, but you kids should at least have studied in what way they're morons if you plan to join this club!

“Urufu-kun, when do you think we'll have a sister club to communicate with?” Noriko asked.

Urufu-kun looked at Kuri-chan. Then they both nodded. “Officially? Mid September.”

That's ages ahead! “And unofficially?”

“About three days from now,” Kuri-chan guessed. Urufu-kun nodded back at her.

“Three days?”

“A week, tops. They haven't had any chance to plan this, so it'll take a few days to get it all set up.”

Noriko froze. That was plain boasting. “And if they were prepared?”

“Tomorrow. It's Sweden we're talking about after all.”


“I've formed and organised a twenty members club over a lunch. It's no big deal. We're good at self organising,” Kuri-chan said.

“Prove it!” Ryu said suddenly.

“Yeah, prove it!”

Kuri-chan looked at Urufu-kun.

“Sure,” he said. “It's around nine in the morning there.” He fished up his phone. After he fingered it for a while he tapped in a long phone-number.

He's faking it!

The club room had gone almost silent. Only Kuri-chan moved around. She was powering up a laptop. Yet another of those foreign brands. What's wrong with a Japanese computer?

Urufu-kun said something incomprehensible into his phone. After a while Noriko realised that he must be speaking in his native language. Then he shone up and gave Kuri-chan instructions in the same language.

The screen suddenly showed a strange face. Middle aged and heavily bearded.

“Hi, do you mind if we speak English? My friends here can't understand Swedish.”


“No problem,” the beard answered. “My colleague is fetching a union representative. She's running some copies and should be here soon.”

It was English with a peculiar sing song accent.

Then another blond teacher showed up on the screen, and behind her Noriko could see the outlines of long, black hair.

“Are you Skyping us from Japan? That's so cool!”

No way! The black hair had spoken Japanese.

“That was… unexpected,” Kuri-chan said. Then she turned on her biggest smile and faced the laptop. “Did you get the part about a cultural exchange club?”

“Yes, we'd love to. Himekaizen, you said?”

“Yes, you heard of it?”

“Sorry, can't say I have.”

By now Noriko had gotten used to the delays and was staring spellbound at the unreal conversation. Shouldn't those two change places?

She shook her head. She had been lost in her own thoughts and only woke up because Kuri-chan sounded agitated all of a sudden.

“Wonderful! Then we'll arrange some kind of mutual schedule. And your students are welcome to email us during summer. We'll be at school for most of it anyway.”

“Bye then.” Kuri-chan, closed the laptop.

What, what just happened?

Urufu-kun high fived Yu-kun, and then, out of nowhere, he hugged Kuri-chan.

“What just happened?” Noriko repeated aloud.

“Urufu-kun just got his sister club,” Kuri-chan beamed. “That was faster than I had hoped.”

“That was a hell of a lot faster,” Urufu-kun admitted. “But, damn this feels good!”

Four shell-shocked faces exchanged shell-shocked looks.

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