“There’s something that’s been bugging me,” Yukio said when they had changed trains once and hopped into a taxi.
Kyoko shifted a little to give room to Noriko who had fallen asleep again. The last day sure had taken its toll on her small frame.
“About the entire affair with the four of them?”
Yukio turned to face her. She could see how deep in thought he was. Right now he was thinking aloud rather than talking with her.
“No. It’s about the two different worlds thing.” Yukio fell silent again.
Kyoko waited for him to resume his train of thought. In the meanwhile she stared out the windows where small rice paddies were replaced by even smaller tea plantations. They were definitely heading into the mountains, and everything was smaller here. Well, apart from the mountains. Those might be ever present for most Japanese, but being a Tokyoite she had little reasons and even fewer occasions visiting them herself.
“The people who talked with Ryu,” she heard Yukio’s voice say. “It’s the thing with a Swedish organisation that keeps bugging me.”
But the arrivals all came from Sweden. Or at least the Sweden in that other world. Kyoko didn’t understand what her boyfriend was getting at.
“You see,” Yukio continued as if he’d been reading her mind, “they pop up here in Japan. People who have never existed in this world.”
“Yes?” Kyoko said.
He wasn’t. Wasn’t merely thinking aloud that was. She knew he wanted her to react to what he was saying from time to time.
“So there’s little reason for that Swedish section for whatever.”
“Why not?” Kyoko said. She could hear from his voice that he had reached the point where he was bouncing his thoughts with her.
“Urufu told me there had to be a Swedish organisation in that other world, because both he and Kuri got invites, so someone knew what was going to happen.”
That made sense. But a Swedish organisation in this world? Suddenly she felt cold in a way that had nothing to do with the AC in the taxi hammering them with a freezing draught.
“So you arrived there as well?” Yukio said. “If there is a Swedish organisation in this world I’m pretty sure there are people vanishing from this one and ending up in another.”
“But that means there aren’t just two worlds.”
Yukio nodded. “A chain of them I believe. I can’t explain, but I’d call them upstream and downstream worlds.” He frowned. “I don’t think it’s possible to go back to the world Urufu came from from this one, so upstream.” Then he grinned, an expression he’d had the help from Urufu to master, and one that still melted Kyoko’s heart. “That would make this one a downstream one.”
Under her arm Noriko shifted uncomfortably in her sleep, and Kyoko nudged a little away in her seat to make it a little more comfortable for her petite friend.
“And you think this one is an upstream one for another world?”
Yukio nodded. “I have to work on this idea with Urufu, but yeah, I believe so.”
“I wonder what it’s like,” Kyoko said as the taxi left what went for a main road up here and started climbing up streets so narrow meeting another car would have been impossible. Would I feel that creepy feeling of almost the same that Kuri-chan spoke about?
“What what is like?” Noriko asked sleepily and freed herself from where she had nestled under Kyoko’s arm.
“Hello sleepyhead,” Kyoko said. “We’re almost there.”
“What what is like?” Noriko repeated.
Kyoko glanced at Yukio.
“The thing with two worlds and all that,” he said.
“Urufu’s old world?”
“Uhum.” Kyoko wanted to have this conversation together with Urufu, just like Yukio, so she chose to give Noriko the simpler answer.
The taxi came to a stop, and Yukio paid the driver.
“We’re here?” Noriko said, and Kyoko smiled at how she turned her head in search of Urufu.
A short guffaw had them both look at Yukio.
“Almost,” he said. “I don’t know exactly where it is, but I have his mother’s maiden name, so I thought we’d ask in the shop here,” Yukio added and nodded at a small shop squeezed in between two houses.
Kyoko watched him go inside while she shouldered her backpack. Noriko did the same.
Looking around Kyoko noted how everything was small except the houses. Apparently, in a relative sense, there was more space here, but also more money. Where she lived houses like these would have cost a fortune, or rather the plot they stood on. Housing in Tokyo was brutally expensive according to her parents.
They were also surrounded by a less oppressive heat. It was still hot, but no longer the brutal heat at the resort. The valley the sides of which the village climbed funnelled a weak breeze that refreshed the air, and Kyoko stood admiring the greenery further up the mountainsides together with her friend until Yukio came back out from the shop.
“Straight ahead and just across a public parking place. She said we couldn’t miss it,” Yukio added and nodded at the shop he had just left. “Anyone wants a snack? I couldn’t just ask and not buy anything.”
“Urufu once told me I’d know if I ever saw it, but that he didn’t understand himself. The lady in the shop basically said the same thing.”
“He didn’t understand it himself?” Noriko said.
Yukio shouldered his backpack and took the lead. “This was back before Himekaizen,” he said over his shoulders. His safe and wonderful shoulders. “There was a time when it was important for him to tell me memories of his.”
Kyoko wondered where this was going, but for now she was content with listening to Yukio’s voice. This was the voice of a boy who made best friends with Urufu. Not the disillusioned Yukio of recent. She preferred the Yukio who took pride in his friend. If for no other reason then because it reminded her of when she still took pride in Kuri-chan. I have to make up with her. Even if I can’t forgive, at least we have to make up.
They rounded a corner and suddenly a small gravel parking place spread out before them.
Across it old style Japanese houses competed for space with more modern ones. All in what both Urufu and Kuri-chan had described as a faux European style. And then there was the exception. It shouted out it’s foreignness, blared how it didn’t belong here and in general made her wonder if the builders had taken leave of their brains.
It also spoke of a familiar world. One she had seen on pictures every days since Urufu filled their first club room with photos from Sweden.
Yeah, I see how we couldn’t possibly miss it.
Yellow, standing panel, white corners and tiles a burned orange red colour that basically never roofed a Japanese home. Urufu must have grown up around houses like this one. As alien as it was to her, as much a definition of normality for the child he once was.
“Didn’t you say his relatives were Japanese?”
Kyoko looked at Noriko. “Yes, they are.” Well, in as much as this family is related to him. He wasn’t born in this world.
“Then, why?” Noriko said and pointed at the abomination across the gravel.
“I guess influences work both ways. Why don’t you ask him?”
“Ask him? When...”
Kyoko grinned. On the street an open mouthed Urufu stood staring back at them. Even from this distance she could see how shame competed with joy in his eyes.
“Noriko, run to him! He’s all yours now.”