I'll be back in July with the next book. Enjoy.
Chapter 4: We are the Newspaper Club
Part 1: You Head to the Capital District
Your shock is understandable.
“Me? A Capital District secondary school?”
After all, you attend a secondary school in the Republic of Raputoa, thousands of kilometers from the Special Capital District.
Your parents are farmers, neither particularly rich nor poor. Simply put, you are an ordinary student living in an ordinary countryside.
And yet you are being sent to a bustling metropolis to attend a secondary school that you are certain is full of heirs and heiresses. You suspect that the teacher must be playing a particularly cruel joke on you.
There are all kinds of rumors going around about the middle-aged teacher. Some say he swore at a waiter at a restaurant, or that he sexually harassed a young female teacher at the faculty conference. He is infamous for his rotten character. So it is no surprise you ask again, trying not to sound too accusatory.
“Maybe there was a mistake, sir?”
“You’re accusing me of making a mistake?” The teacher shoots back, his round belly trembling. He seems always to be on the verge of developing diabetes.
‘With your diet, yeah,’ you think to yourself, but you are not so clueless as to say so out loud at a time like this. And now that you think about it, this teacher also has a history of making spelling mistakes in class.
You stay silent. The teacher continues.
“You will leave for the 4th Capital Secondary School next month on a four-week exchange program. You will be housed in the campus dormitories. This is not a joke; it is a message from the Ministry of Education.”
The Ministry of Education. Suddenly the joke stops sounding like one. Still hesitant, you ask what you must.
“Could I ask why?”
“No need, I’m telling you now. Have you ever heard of Ra Ze-Ohm?”
It is an unfamiliar acronym. You shake your head.
“It stands for ‘Republic of Raputoa Broader Horizons Student Exchange Program’, which was started last year. You wouldn’t know the details.”
It bothers you to have to nod at such a condescending comment, but you have little choice in the matter.
“The program’s aim is to allow the future pillars of Raputoan society to experience the advanced ways of the Capital District and broaden their horizons. Pah. It’s like the Ministry of Education isn’t even trying to hide that we’re an underdeveloped little country.”
“R-right…” You reply for response’s sake, but a part of you is outraged.
‘Who cares if Raputoa is in the countryside?’
The Republic of Raputoa, situated on the eastern bank of the Lutoni River between Roxche and Sou Be-Il, is a beautiful country with rolling plains, fields, and forests. Mother nature is mostly intact in Raputoa, unlike in other member states.
‘I like Raputoa, you old pig! Have some pride for your own country! Hold your head high, not your gut!’ You think, but say nothing.
The teacher continues to explain the program.
“The Ministry of Education sends one student every term—in spring and autumn—to the Capital District to try out their advanced facilities and curriculum, and to get a taste of life in the city. They want you to broaden your horizons, make new friends, and use the experience to make Raputoa a better place someday.”
The explanation continues.
“The program lasts for a month, but it can be extended so long as you do not make any trouble there. All expenses are paid for by the state—in other words, your tuition and dormitory expenses are all covered by the Republic. By your parents’ tax money. They are also granting you an allowance.”
Setting your anger aside, you muse to yourself about how lucky you are to be chosen for an all-expenses paid program.
“This term, the Ministry of Education chose this school. And this school chose you. Do you understand why?”
“What? No, sir.”
You shake your head again. You cannot think of a reason.
“How humble of you,” the teacher remarks snidely, “it’s because you have the highest grades in the entire school.”
Now that you think about it, he is right.
You never really think about it, but you have never not been at the top of your class since starting here.
“Of course. Er…it’s an honor, sir,” you reply mechanically, internally brimming with excitement.
You do not dislike Raputoa, but in all your 14 years you have never once visited the Capital District.
The Republic of Raputoa is situated at the western tip of the Roxcheanuk Confederation. Geographically, it is closer to the land west of the river—the Allied Kingdoms of Bezel-Iltoa—than it is to the Capital.
You have, in fact, visited Sou Be-Il on a trip across the river in primary school.
You remember how the language they spoke at the Western primary school—Bezelese—was completely incomprehensible.
When Roxche was first formed, the Confederation strictly enforced the use of the standardized Roxchean language. That decision had its advantages, as anyone from anywhere in Roxche can now communicate without difficulty, but it also eliminated all foreign languages from the eastern half of the continent.
During the trip, you were fascinated by the first foreign language to reach your ears. And once you started attending secondary school, you always made sure to take Bezelese class every term.
Because Raputoa is so close to the border, many people are keen on learning the language. And at times, a Bezelese-speaking teacher comes across the river to teach classes.
The Capital District is very far removed from that life you live.
The Special Capital District is an area independent from all other member states. It is the center of Roxchean politics, economy, and culture. Though there is no class or caste system in Roxche anymore, it is where the president, politicians, and the richest of the rich—in other words, the upper classes—reside.
Black-and-white photographs of the Capital District come flooding into your mind.
What kind of people will you meet attending secondary school in such a city?
Your stay will be a short one, but you begin to imagine studying, befriending, and having fun with students in the Capital District.
The teacher catches you grinning.
“Never had stupid programs like this when I was your age… Tch. If they have the budget to spare, they could have fixed up our building…” He grumbles, “try not to get bullied by the rich Capital District students. And try not to let your Raputoan show, if that’s even possible.”
Why is this teacher taking out his anger on you?
You think for a moment and find an answer.
‘You’re jealous of me!’ You think, absolutely convinced, but manage to swallow the thought before it leaves your mouth.
* * *
“Hey, is it true?”
You have just accepted the offer for the program, signed and sent in the forms, and received the official acceptance letter—
“How’d you know?”
—When the entire school suddenly seems to be informed.
You do not know who leaked the information, or if the school itself was responsible for the leak (no doubt for promotion, if true).
“Bring back some souvenirs, eh?”
“Take me along in your suitcase!”
“Don’t turn delinquent on us in the Capital District!”
“Don’t suffocate on the exhaust!”
Your classmates bombard you with congratulations, requests, and warnings.
“An entire month chilling in the Capital District? That’s ridiculous! What gives?”
And some jealousy as well.
Meanwhile, your parents pause in shock when you break the news—
“That’s wonderful, honey. Have fun.”
But they give you more support than anyone else. And—
“Isn’t it wonderful that the government is covering all the expenses?”
You expected nothing less from your parents.
The tenth month goes by in a flash as you prepare to leave.
You receive a thorough health examination at a nearby hospital.
It is your first time getting an examination that lasts an entire half-day. The results could potentially break your chances of going, but thankfully the doctor gives you the green light.
You receive the money you need for the program.
You almost wonder if the Ministry of Education made a mistake when you look at the amount on the money order.
You are tempted to immediately deposit half into your savings account, but when you hear that the cost of living is much higher in the Capital District, you set the thought aside.
You will have to buy your own school supplies. And since you are getting the chance to live in the Capital District, you will need spending money—and quite a bit of it.
You go back into town and buy a suitcase.
The store has many on display, but you are only allowed to bring one. You buy the biggest you can carry.
The program information package arrives.
The package includes brief warnings and things of note, but also an informational pamphlet on the 4th Capital Secondary School, which you will attend for a month.
“What the heck…?”
You are overwhelmed.
The pamphlet itself is cause for shock. It is printed in full color—a luxury unheard of for schools in Raputoa. You wonder if all primary school students in the Capital District get glimpses at their options from pamphlets like this.
There are no other secondary schools in your area, so you never had a choice to begin with. It is almost impossible to imagine getting a choice of schools at all.
Another cause for shock is the area around the campus. Five-story apartment buildings stand like a forest around it. You have never seen so many similar buildings clustered together in one area.
It is completely different from your secondary school, which stands in a field where the horizon is visible, is an hour away from home on foot, and dense with insects at night. All they seem to have in common is the label ‘secondary school’.
The school itself is, of course, no less spectacular.
A paved intersection sits before the gates, with expensive cars parked by the curb.
The intersection is about three times wider than the dirt-paved crossing at the local station, where old buses spout black smoke as they idle.
This must be from a movie, you tell yourself. You spot a car with a long body, reminiscent of a dachshund. Someone must have made a mistake when they were developing the photo, you assume.
The buildings are magnificent. If the pamphlet didn’t label it as such, you would never guess that it is a school at all.
The student cafeteria by the central gardens are almost too splendid for your sensibilities. It looks like what you picture to be a five-star restaurant at a luxury hotel.
The foods featured look expensive and mouth-watering. Even the plates are clearly not cheap. It almost feels like a punishment game that you would have to eat here every day.
The dormitory you will stay at is large enough to rival the entire school building in Raputoa, and better-equipped to boot.
The photos of the rooms, and the description which states that each room is fully furnished and houses one student, leads you to think that the dormitory was originally a hotel that has been refurbished by the school. That is the only reasonable answer you can think of.
Phone booths are lined up in the lobby of the dormitory building, about 30 in all. In Raputoa, your area has a grand total of three public phones, none of them equipped with a booth. You often line up before the phones waiting endlessly for your turn, which makes the photo seem even more otherworldly.
You close the thick pamphlet.
Your mind goes blank.
“Aha hah hah!”
And laughter escapes your lips.
You will live in this strange, foreign world for an entire month. The thought excites you.
“Gods bless Raputoa!” You cry, jumping onto bed. But you lose your footing and crash to the floor.
* * *
You leave for the Capital District on the 29th of the tenth month.
You begin the day by heading to school as you usually do. You greet the teachers and listen to their advice and warnings. The school even holds a small going-away party for you.
“Remember the pride of Raputoa and represent our school to your best efforts!” The headmaster says in a half-sob of joy. He even salutes, having grown up when conscription was still in effect. Even though it’s not as though you are going into battle.
Soon, the car from the Ministry of Education arrives.
You finally take the first step outside, to the Capital District.
“Come back alive, yeah?”
“Don’t forget! Be proud of your homeland!”
“Don’t pick fights even if they call you a hick!”
“Don’t come back a Cappie, you hear me?”
“Yeah! We don’t need any Cappies around here!”
Your friends lean out the classroom windows, waving and shouting. It is supposed to be class time now. And what in the world is a Cappie, you wonder as you tilt your head.
“Thanks, everyone!” You reply, waving vigorously. Then you step into the car marked with the emblem of the Republic of Raputoa’s Ministry of Education. It is driven by a civil servant and not even close to being a recent model.
The seats are flat with use, clearly uncomfortable to sit on.
The car takes you home, giving you time to grab your suitcase and winter coat.
The coat is for the chilly weather to come over the next month. Inside the suitcase are extra uniforms and textbooks.
You wanted to take some of Raputoa’s specialty products, but because agricultural products cannot be transported freely, you instead opted for several books about the country.
During your stay in the Capital District, you are to wear your Raputoan school uniform.
On the left sleeve of your navy jacket is a large Raputoan flag, and your school emblem is embroidered over the left breast. The emblem of the Republic of Raputoa’s Ministry of Education is embroidered on the collar. Your tie is patterned with red and black checkers.
It is not as impressive as the uniforms you saw in the pamphlet for the 4th Capital Secondary School, but it is filled with your pride for your homeland. You are not cowed in the least.
All the emblems and flags does seem a bit much, however.
The uniforms at the Capital District school are all from luxury brands, each one tailor-made and astronomically expensive. It costs many times as much as one of your uniforms. Not even the Ministry of Education could fit one reasonably into the budget, so you are mandated to wear your own uniform. But you will be borrowing a set of school-issue sweats from the 4th Capital Secondary School.
As you set out, you say goodbye to your parents.
“Take care with the water, honey. I hear some of the taps are actually for liquor.”
“Have fun. Don’t get too homesick.”
Your parents worry over the most trivial things.
“Don’t worry! I’ll be fine,” you reply with a smile, getting back in the car.
The car starts. The village where you were born and raised disappears into the distance.
You have never left your home for so long in your entire life.
But you are neither nervous nor sad.
* * *
You are not nervous, but the trip is long.
First is the shaky eight-hour car ride.
Other than during the brief lunch break, you are traveling continuously across the Republic of Raputoa. The familiar fields and the horizon continue as far as the eye can see.
You shift around many times during the ride. The bumpy dirt roads and the flat seats hurt your buttocks.
The driver advises you to roll up your coat to use as a cushion. You follow his advice and immediately feel the difference.
Around evening, you arrive at Raputoa City—the national capital.
Raputoa City is the largest city in the republic. It is your first time here as well. Just the sight of high-rise buildings past the dusky horizon sends your heart aflutter.
You see an airport for the first time in your life.
Raputoa International Airport, situated on the outskirts of the city. It is the largest airport in the area, and because of its proximity to the border it is also often used by Sou Be-Il airlines.
Two long runways run side-by-side on the wide-open space. Large cake-shaped fuel tanks lie on the pavement.
In spite of the word ‘port’ in the word ‘airport’, there is no ship in sight. You are awestruck.
And you finally get a glimpse at something you have only seen in books—an aeroplane, or specifically, several of them.
How does something shaped like that fly, you wonder to yourself. You still do not understand when one of the aeroplanes rumbles loudly as it takes off into the air.
You spend the night at a lodging in the airport.
You are forced to share a room with six other guests, but you cannot afford to use precious tax money on luxuries. But because everyone has a bed to themselves, you enjoy a good night’s sleep.
You even get the chance to speak with some of your roommates before you go to bed. They are scheduled to board the same flight, and are surprised first by your youth and then by the fact that you are a government-funded scholarship student.
From the way your roommates dress, you guess that aeroplane tickets must cost a fortune, and then some.
* * *
The next day. The 30th.
The weather is great again. It is a perfect day for flying.
The aeroplane takes off on time early in the morning.
The aeroplane sparkles, sunlight glinting off the engine on each wing.
Someone says that this is the latest model, but you do not know what about the aeroplane exactly is better than the rest. All you know is that the fishlike body of the plane is very impressive.
You climb the stairs as instructed and enter the round cabin. It is completely different from the rectangular interior of the local buses.
When the engines start, the aeroplane rumbles. You remember hearing about how loud the engines could get, but this goes beyond anything you have ever expected. You begin to understand why earplugs are provided.
And, for the first time in your life, you fly.
The aeroplane glides gracefully into the air and gives you a glimpse from a whole new angle.
The large city grows smaller in the distance and disappears.
The plains are aglow with the orange light of dawn. It is beautiful. And when the sun rises fully, the sky and the ground change colors, never giving you time to get bored of the scenery.
You cling to the window and watch the world pass by until landing.
The aeroplane lands once to refuel and give passengers time for food and a short walk. You do not think you will ever get tired of watching the ground draw near and then grow distant again.
You want to keep staring out the window, but soon the world below is obscured by cloud cover.
You sit in your seat with nothing to do, and eventually sleep takes over. You open your eyes to the vibrations of the aeroplane landing.
Your second landing. You are just outside the Capital District.
“Ah, we’re here. Welcome to the Capital District,” the passenger next to you says, to your disbelief.
But when you disembark, you can disbelieve no longer. Until that morning you were in the Republic of Raputoa, surrounded by its green horizons. But now, in the evening, you are staring at countless high-rises and apartments in the distance.
“Aeroplanes are terrifying…” You mumble, standing on the airstrip.
“You say that now?” Another passenger quips.
Two men from the 4th Capital Secondary School are waiting for you at the airport.
Both are in their thirties, but one looks friendly and the other decidedly less so. The friendly one introduces himself as a teacher and flashes his ID. When you internally wonder who the other man is, the teacher explains.
“This is our bodyguard. The school hired him for our safety.”
You are floored.
“I’m just a secondary school student from Raputoa, sir. I’m no one important.”
“Yes, we understand. But sometimes kidnappers strike arbitrarily, so we can never be too careful.”
You want to go back.
This is the first and last time during you trip that the thought crosses your mind.
The teacher takes you to a shiny, sturdy-looking car.
There isn’t a speck of dust on the car, and the tires do not smell of horse dung. The trunk is large enough for your suitcase, and then three of you on top of that.
But there is no school emblem or marking on the car. When you point that out, the teacher explains.
“Yes, the car is not marked because any emblems might make us a target for kidnappers or attackers.”
You take hesitant steps into the car.
The back seat is made of luxurious leather. Soft, but not too soft. Your buttocks would never get sore on this seat, you think to yourself.
“We’re heading off now. Please put on your seatbelt.”
You do as you are told and notice something.
That you have never heard a teacher say ‘please’ to a student before.
The car seems to glide its way out of the airport. Soon, you enter the Special Capital District.
And everything comes into view.
Six-lane streets paved to perfection. And sidewalks lining the streets.
The countless cars that manage to cause congestion in spite of the quality of the streets.
The endless streams of impeccably-dressed pedestrians at the crossing.
The jam-packed streetcars sweeping down the middle of the road, and the large buses—also packed—driving down the bus-only lanes.
The high-rises you cannot see the tops of without tilting back your head.
The fine infrastructure that must have cost countless Roxes from the Confederation government’s vaults.
The military base-sized train station, which is the last station in the line, and the department stores looming beyond it. The advertising balloons floating over the rooftops make them seem even more like military bases.
You are stunned into silence by the sights that fill your eyes.
For the first time in your life, you realize that there are some places in the world where the horizon simply is not visible.
By the time the car glides all the way to the school, the sun has already set.
But the streetlights dotting the campus make the night a brighter one than you have ever seen in your hometown. It feels strange to see the lights lined up at regular intervals.
“You must be exhausted. Here, let me carry your suitcase.”
You step through the gates, leaving your suitcase to the teacher.
To your surprise, stationed at the gates is a security guard armed with a gun. You must show him your student ID to enter. The teacher had handed you yours in the car—without the ID, you cannot enter the premises. You resolve to put a lanyard on your ID.
The intersection and the luxurious school facilities are all exactly as you remember from the pamphlet. There was no lie, exaggeration, or manipulation in the photos.
The streetlights on campus cast warm orange light onto the buildings.
“We’ll give you a briefing tomorrow, so please get some rest. This building will be your home for the next month.”
The building the teacher brings you to, as with the rest of the school, looks exactly as it did in the photos.
Two boys are chatting by the entrance. They are the first students you have seen at the 4th Capital Secondary School. They are around your age, or a little older.
They are wearing identical school-issue sweats. The sweats are green like the uniforms, with lines running down the arms and legs and the school emblem embroidered over the right breast. You are excited to try on such an elegantly-designed outfit.
When the students spot the teacher, they greet him. They seem completely calm.
“Good evening, boys. Is the dormitory cafeteria emptying out about now?” The teacher asks.
“Perfect timing, sir. There isn’t even a line at this point,” one of the students replies.
And as expected, their eyes then fall on you.
“G-good evening,” you say.
The teacher introduces you to the boys.
“This is ———, an exchange student from the Republic of Raputoa who will be staying with us for the next month. Could you believe ——— was just in Raputoa, all the way by the Lutoni, until this morning? Aeroplanes are making the world a better place.”
“Wow, cool,” one of the boys says. They seem to know about the exchange program.
You brace yourself for what they will say next. But the first thing out of the boy’s mouth is—
“I recommend the beef stew today! It’s really good!”
Your eyes turn to dinner plates. The boys burst out laughing.
“Welcome to the 4th Capital Secondary School!”
“Thank you!” You reply.
* * *
The next day. The 1st day of the eleventh month.
You open your eyes in your dorm room, feeling refreshed. It is your first morning at the 4th Capital Secondary School.
Last evening, you were floored by the sheer size and scale, and the incredible quality of the dormitory cafeteria, before being kindly led all the way to your room by the matron. You soon fell asleep in the room, which was heated 24 hours a day.
The first thing you see in the morning is the school grounds, and the veritable forest of apartment buildings beyond. You almost feel like the window is a massive framed painting.
You wish you had a camera with you. You want to share this incredible view with your classmates and your family.
But you cannot possibly afford such a thing. Your family does not have one, and even your school only has a few.
Excited and disappointed at the same time, you have breakfast at the dormitory cafeteria. The selection and the quality of the food seem to have come straight out of a hotel, though you have never been to one before.
Though there are other students around you, you are alone. Which is natural, as this is your first day here. But there are surprisingly many other students eating alone.
Thankfully for you, eating alone does not seem to be uncommon here.
The teacher from last night comes to get you at the dorms and gives you a detailed tour of the campus. He points out all the facilities and provisions as he guides you through the massive school, and you take detailed notes while drawing a map.
For a moment you wonder where you could buy school supplies, but when the teacher explains that most school supplies are available at the campus store, you breathe a sigh of relief.
You have lunch at the dormitory cafeteria before meeting with an advising teacher at the faculty office.
First, the advisor asks you how far your studies have come along in Raputoa. You recite your current progress for all your subjects.
But immediately, you feel anxious.
“Do I have to take a test, by any chance?”
“This is the test,” the advisor chuckles, “and you’ve passed with flying colors.”
The advisor suggests what courses you should take, pointing out classes that would let you continue your studies from Raputoa without overlapping. Some of the classes are for third-years, you point out nervously, but—
“I’m sure you’ll manage just fine,” the advisor assures you. Before you know it, you are holding your completed timetable.
That evening, you return to your room and write to your parents and your classmates.
‘I’ve arrived safely at the Capital District. I will study hard and make many friends whom I can keep in touch with even after I return home. I will write again next week.’
* * *
Eight days later, on a weekend afternoon.
You sit at your desk, staring at the blank piece of paper meant to be a letter to your parents.
“I…haven’t made any friends…” You agonize, head in your hands.
Your week went by in a flash.
Classes began on the 2nd day of the 11th month.
You went to class in a clearly different uniform. People stared, but did not come to speak with you or try to make friends with you.
You had forgotten that the 4th Capital Secondary School was home to more students than your own school.
The students at the 4th Capital Secondary School did not pay much attention to others on campus, and were not particularly concerned about you. And the morning rush was another matter altogether; you almost suffocated in the crowds, to which rush hour back in your hometown did not hold a candle.
In your first class, the teacher introduced you.
“This is ———, an exchange student from the Republic of Raputoa who will be studying with us for the next month. Please get along.”
And you introduced yourself as well, but your classmates did not surround you during break out of curiosity or anything of the sort. All they did was speak with you for group exercises. It was completely different from your own school, which received perhaps one transfer student a year and each new student received the full attention of the entire student body.
During breaks, you had to move to a different classroom and the campus was so large you never had time to talk with your classmates.
The classes themselves were much harder than in Raputoa.
You could not help but be impressed by the teachers and students at the 4th Capital Secondary School. It was hard for you to match their pace, but the lessons themselves were very enjoyable.
And so, the week went on.
Every day, you woke up, had breakfast, went to class, had a delicious lunch at the incredible dormitory cafeteria, went to afternoon class, and returned to your room or the library to study—alone.
Being alone did not bother you. Many other students often kept to themselves. You were doing a fine job of studying in the Capital District, doing exactly as the program guidelines dictated.
Yesterday was the first day of the weekend, so you took a walk around the area. You just walked and walked because you did not want to spend money.
It was fun getting a look at the endless rows of apartment buildings and the streets around campus, but naturally you were completely alone.
“I can’t write anything…”
You bragged to everyone that you would make many friends. But you can not lie to them. You do not know what to do.
Finally, you manage to write, ‘at first the classes were so hard I had to study the whole time. But now that I’ve gotten used to the pace, I’m going to get out there and make friends’, packaging the cold truth as nicely as you possibly can.
* * *
The next day. The 10th day of the eleventh month.
At lunchtime, you finish your food quickly and visit the advisor to discuss your situation.
“I see. First off, I’m glad you aren’t having any trouble keeping up with classes. That’s one of the biggest issues exchange students struggle with. I expected nothing less from you,” the advisor says, “now, it’s not uncommon for students here to have a hard time making friends. There are so many people here that sometimes it takes first-year students half a year to really connect with someone. But you don’t have that kind of time, so…”
The teacher makes a suggestion that completely changes the next three weeks of your life.
“…How about joining a club?”
“Is that even possible?” You ask. You assumed that your stay was not long enough to allow you to join a club.
“You certainly can. I’m sorry, I should have told you,” the advisor says, and takes out a list of all the clubs in the school.
There was a list of clubs on the pamphlet you received earlier, and you looked at each and every one. But you never really considered them carefully because you never thought you would be able to join one.
Appropriately enough considering the large student population, there are many clubs at the 4th Capital Secondary School. Your interest is particularly piqued by the fencing club, the car racing club, the billiards club, the bowling club, the Capital District history research club, the teddy bear-making club, and the creative cooking club, among others.
“Were you in a club back in Raputoa?” The advisor asks.
“No, because I had to help out at home during the busy farming season. A lot of my classmates are in the same boat, so our school doesn’t have a strong tradition of club activities,” you confess. The advisor seems to sense the difference in culture.
“I understand. Shall we have a close look at the clubs, then? The athletic clubs might be a bit difficult if you don’t have any prior knowledge.”
You walk almost 10 kilometers to school every day and are confident in your stamina, but you have never been called athletic. Your marks in physical education are lower than the rest.
“How about one of the liberal arts clubs? Do any of them look interesting?”
You scan the list.
Everything seems at least a little interesting, but that makes it even harder to decide. You scan faster.
And you spot a certain club at the bottom of the list.
The club was not listed on the pamphlet you received earlier. You are quite confident in your memory.
You think for a moment, and—
“Er, about this club,” you say, “the newspaper club. It sounds interesting. What does it do exactly?”
* * *
Part 2: You Head to the Newspaper Club
It is after class. You are standing at the door to the newspaper club’s office.
The halls and the first floor of the classroom building, which is closed in the evenings, are deserted. Though classes only just ended, it is strangely quiet.
Before you knock on the door, you recall what happened at lunchtime.
“The newspaper club…” The advisor trailed off, as though having stumbled upon a historical site in the middle of construction.
In other words, the construction could not happen unless the historical site was covered up, but that was no longer possible.
But the advisor still answered your question.
“The newspaper club was only recently recognized as an official club.”
It was a vague answer, but you couldn’t tell why. Still, you assumed it would be easier to join a club that had only recently been formed.
“So that’s why it wasn’t on the pamphlet. What does the club do?”
“They publish newspapers to post on the walls around campus. It’s a student-oriented newspaper by students and for students.”
It sounded wonderful to you. Your school had a teacher on newsletter duty, but no newspaper written from the students’ perspective.
“But they only have six members at the moment.”
“That’s amazing,” you breathed. It sounded very exclusive. The six students must have been a tight-knit group.
“The president is a rather famous girl in her third year…”
“Ah, a charismatic president?”
It was surprising that the club was led by someone famous in such a big school. Not only that, she was not even close to being in her sixth year, as many club presidents tended to be.
It sounded fun.
You decided that you would spend the few weeks you had left in the Capital District with the newspaper club.
You asked the advisor how to sign up for the club. Normally a student would have to speak to the supervisor, but the advisor suggested something different.
“You should go visit their office first. Get to know the members before you officially sign up.”
You wondered if you really didn’t need to speak to the supervisor first, but the advisor said it was all right.
So you concluded that the president of the newspaper club was trusted so completely by her supervisor that she was given full authority over the club. You began to admire the president even more.
After thanking the advisor, you looked around the halls, hoping to find the newspaper club’s latest issue, but found none in sight.
Instead, you spotted the results of the recent Orienteering Day competition.
You briefly scanned the results—an orienteering competition was unthinkable for your own school—when you spotted something.
The newspaper club had clinched a spectacular victory, according to the poster, beating the ski club (with their inherent advantage) by a single second. You were even more fired up to join this club.
Heart pounding, you finished afternoon classes and came straight to the newspaper club. And now you stand at the door.
You steel yourself so as to make a good impression, and fix your tie.
Knock knock knock knock.
You knock four times.
There is no answer.
You knock again, just in case, but no one seems to be in. Perhaps you are too early, or perhaps the club is taking the day off today.
There is no point in waiting at the door.
You decide to return to your room. You would put away your things and come back again. Living on campus has its advantages.
You would have to go all the way to the other side of the massive campus, but it is no difficult task. You are used to walking, and back in Raputoa a round trip between home and school would take you two hours.
As you walk down the hall, a girl comes from around the corner.
She is very tall, with her long brown hair tied up. She wears glasses with a black frame, and is carrying a bag and a large guitar case.
You pass her by. The girl casts you a glance, but continues walking.
You reach the end of the hall. As you turn the corner, you catch one last glimpse of the newspaper club office.
And to your shock, you spot the guitar case going through the door. Specifically, you see the person carrying the case go inside.
“Is she in the newspaper club?”
The guitar case led you to think she was from a music club. You quickly rush back.
You come to a stop at the door, take a deep breath, and knock.
This time, you hear a response.
Your jaw drops at the sheer opulence of the office.
Two comfy sofas, an expensive coffee table, a kitchenette with a hot plate, and a dish rack. And even a tea set.
On the desk in the corner is a typewriter in perfect condition. There is a cabinet, and next to it a darkroom for developing and printing photographs.
What shocks you most is the telephone.
Your family saved up for a long time to finally buy a telephone last year. And yet here is a telephone in the office of a secondary school club, as though it is the most natural thing in the world. At first glance you think it is a replica, but you soon realize that it is real.
Are all club offices in the 4th Capital Secondary School so magnificent, you wonder.
“Ah, an exchange student from Raputoa?” The bespectacled girl sitting across from you muses curiously, “good on you for coming all this way.”
She talks almost like a boy, without a hint of reservation. But it is not irritating in the least.
The senior-classman introduces herself as Natalia Steinbeck and listens to you explain your reasons for coming.
“Gotcha. Yeah, the chief’s not gonna turn you down.”
“What? Aren’t you the president, SC Natalia?” You ask, surprised.
“Whoa, do I look like one? Hah hah!” She laughs, embarrassed.
Then she takes out an expensive-looking acoustic guitar and begins strumming. She seems to be in a good mood.
You listen curiously to the chords, when suddenly a voice joins in.
“The autumn~ is a lonely season~”
The door opens, and the voice becomes clear. It is a beautiful soprano.
You turn to find a girl with fair skin and dark hair tied in pigtails.
“The heart mourns and…huh?”
She freezes when she notices you. So does the sound of the guitar.
You and the pigtailed girl stare blankly at one another in surprise.
“Hey Megmica. This here’s an exchange student from Raputoa who wants to join us,” Natalia explains.
“Oh…I understand. Now I am so embarrassed,” the girl covers her face in shame. Her pronunciation and tone is slightly off, but she comes across as quite adorable.
“Don’t worry ‘bout it, Megmica! Just sing! Pour out your heart!”
Natalia strums again. The girl called Megmica turns and gives you a light bow.
“Good afternoon. My name is Strauski Megmica. I am a third-year student. I am a member of the newspaper club and the chorus club.”
You stand and introduce yourself as well. Then you ask, “excuse me, SC Strauski, but are you by any chance from Sou Be-Il?”
Natalia and Megmica seem surprised.
“How’d you guess, newbie?!”
“It is very surprising! It is true, yes.”
It is not hard to guess from her name, accent, and tone. But you do not say so.
“I am from the Republic of Raputoa, east of the Lutoni River. It is nice to meet you, SC Strauski. How are you?” You say in Bezelese. Megmica is pleasantly surprised.
“I’m really well, thanks! How about you?” She responds.
“I am fine as well. Thank you.”
“Your pronunciation’s really good. Have you been learning Bezelese long?”
“Yes. I have been studying Bezelese for three years. Many students in the Republic of Raputoa are studying the language very hard. And I have visited Sou Be-Il just once, over the Lutoni River.”
“Wow! I’ve only seen the Lutoni from the mouth. I’m sure it must look so majestic, cutting across the continent.”
“Yes. It is a very big, motherly river.”
“MOONTONGUE!” Natalia interjects with a chord.
At the same time, the door opens.
“Hey there! Oh, is this a guest?”
“Good afternoon. Hm?”
Three boys enter the office.
“Hey! Get some tea for the guest!” Natalia orders one of the boys, without even giving him time to sit.
“What were you doing all this time? I’ll teach you to brew your own tea later.”
You turn to the three boys. Megmica introduces them in Roxchean.
“They are all club members. This person with long hair is Nicholas Browning, called Nick. He is good in acting and swinging a staff.”
Nick looks very feminine.
At the annual harvest festival back home, some of the men cross-dress and take on the role of ghosts who spray water at people. But the point is that it is funny to see a hulking farmer dressed up as a woman. If Nick were to take on the role, it would not be nearly as hilarious. In fact, women might get jealous of his good looks. But what does Megmica mean by ‘swinging a staff’?
“And this person with black hair,” Megmica introduces everyone by their hair, making it easier to remember them, “is Seron Maxwell. He is very smart.”
If Nick is beautiful, Seron is cool and handsome. His slightly long black hair goes well with his grey eyes.
Something occurs to you at that point, but you do not know what.
“Last, the person with blond hair in the kitchen is Larry Hepburn. His tea is very good. He is also good in reading the map. We are all in the same year.”
Larry has a small but powerful build, much like the boys back home. Most of them are muscular because they help out with farm work at home. But what about Larry? Does his family also own a farm? It is a mystery.
And just like when you were introduced to Seron, something occurs to you again.
And you soon realize what it is.
You have seen Seron and Larry somewhere. Where? Seron looks at you, then.
“You’re the exchange student from Raputoa, right?”
“Yeah! I remember!” Larry adds from the kitchenette.
“Oh?” Nick raises a curious eyebrow.
“Oh my goodness!” Megmica cries, “how did you know? Did the uniform show you?”
The uniform is indeed a giveaway, with the Raputoan flag displayed proudly on the sleeve.
But you remember now that you met Seron and Larry at the dormitory entrance on your first day here.
“It was the evening of Orienteering Day. You came to the dorms with a teacher, right?” Seron asks.
“We were on our way back from the dormitory cafeteria,” Larry chimes in, “I recommended the beef stew.”
Both of them seem to remember you.
“Yes!” You reply, “thank you for the recommendation, The beef stew was very good. I order it every time I see it on the menu,” you say, and introduce yourself to the boys. You finish off by saying you want to join the newspaper club for the rest of your stay in the Capital District. You emphasize how you want to broaden your horizons and make new friends.
“Oh my, it is wonderful,” Megmica says, clasping her hands together.
“Sounds lovely,” Nick agrees with an elegant smile.
“Dunno who came up with the idea, but sounds good to me!” Larry pipes up from the kitchenette.
“Ah~ I see no reason to say no~” Natalia sings, strumming.
“Same,” Seron says.
“Th-thank you,” you say with a bow, moved. You are overjoyed. But something still bothers you. “Er…don’t I need the president’s permission?”
“Oh. She’s not here yet, but who cares? Tea ready yet, Larry?” Natalia waves off your concern. You are now even more curious.
“Er, what is the president like? I heard she was a famous third-year.”
“Hm…” Natalia sighs, falling into thought.
“She is a very very good person! And she is an uncommon, cool person!” Megmica comments first.
“She does have a petty side, but she is certainly fun to be around,” Nick adds.
“Yeah. She’s a weirdo, but basically a good person,” Natalia concludes.
Half the descriptions are unflattering. You wonder if Larry and Seron are keeping silent for a reason. And your guess is soon proven correct.
The door slams open.
“I heard that!”
A short girl with short red hair stomps inside. She is full of energy, the large leather bag on her back bouncing.
She must be the president, you note.
“Aw, chief. It’s not nice to eavesdrop,” Natalia scolds the girl. So she is indeed the president.
The president puts her bag on one of the desks and strides over to the sofa. She looks into your eyes just as you prepare to introduce yourself.
“An exchange student from Raputoa, huh. Interesting. Welcome to the Capital District.”
You miss your chance to stand, so you greet her from your seat.
“Thank you. Actually, I—”
“Welcome to the club. I’m Jenny Jones, the president. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Th-thank you! Thank you so much, president! It’s a pleasure to meet you,” you say, bowing your head.
“How long have you been listening, chief?” Natalia asks from beside you.
“A while. I wanted to know what you guys thought of me.”
“Don’t be such a naughty girl.”
“Eavesdropping is the foundation of information gathering. Thank you for all the compliments.”
“Now, now. Take a seat, chief. The tea’s ready.”
Before you know it, Seron and Megmica are preparing the teacups. They carefully arrange the cups on the coffee table.
“Erm! If there’s anything I can do—” you begin, but are interrupted.
“Don’t worry. Sit down and relax. We’re almost done,” Seron says.
He is both handsome and courteous, which means he is probably popular with the girls.
“It’s nice to have more cups on the table once in a while,” Larry says, pouring seven cups of tea with an expert hand.
You are not certain, but the cups and saucers seem very expensive. You must take care not to break them.
It seems that afternoon tea is part of a routine school day for the 4th Capital Secondary School. You expected no less from the upper classes. You resolve to remember all this so you can tell everyone back home.
You take a sip of tea.
It is very good, no worse than the tea straight from the farms back in Raputoa. The Capital District impresses you once again.
And finally, you introduce yourself for the third time. You confess that you decided to join a club in order to make friends.
“It is a very good idea! I did this too!” Megmica says, being a transfer student.
They are all senior-classmen and can be a little strange—especially Jenny and Natalia—but you like them. They seem to be good people.
“Thank you. Oh, I have a question…” you begin, all eyes on you.
It is a very natural and inevitable question. A simple one you are sure will be answered very quickly.
“What do you have planned for your next issue?”
Everyone looks away.
“Look at this, guys. Even the temporary newbie is more concerned than you!” Jenny roars.
“But it’s not like you have any ideas, chief. Non-fictional ones, I mean,” Natalia points out. She does not seem apologetic in the least.
“Let’s settle down, everyone. We had a very busy month, with midterms and Orienteering Day,” Nick says, calming the others down.
“Yes, we can decide on it now!” Megmica says optimistically.
“Yeah, the newbie got here just in time!” Larry agrees, encouraging you.
Seron, meanwhile, says nothing. He seems to be a quiet person to begin with.
“All right, then!” Jenny rises. “I’m now accepting suggestions!”
The others go silent in unison, with the exception of the already-silent Seron.
You understand the situation completely. They do not have anything to write about.
There probably isn’t much to cover in such a rich, peaceful school, you think.
Or maybe things you consider to be newsworthy are considered mundane here. Maybe that is the right answer.
You watch the others as they sip their tea.
And you think of something.
It is a great idea. Divinely inspired, if you do say so yourself. You simply must share it with the others.
Six sets of eyes fall on you.
You tense, but make up your mind. You will never get another chance like this.
You take a breath, and suggest with a trembling voice—
“What about an issue that covers all the club members?”
Several seconds pass by in silence.
“Er…what exactly do you mean?” Larry asks. You now have the chance to explain yourself.
“You could publish short biographies of yourselves on the next issue, and show the school the faces behind the people who make the newspapers. With photographs, too! Then more people might cooperate with you and share information.”
Larry’s reaction is underwhelming, but you assume that is because he is moved by your innovative idea.
Another moment of silence.
Maybe your idea wasn’t such a good one after all.
Jenny says nothing, and Natalia continues sipping tea, her glasses fogging. Nick’s smile is plastered onto his face, and Seron—as usual—looks completely blank.
It was a stupid idea, never mind, you are about to say, when someone finally breaks the silence.
“I’m fine with it,” says Jenny, “it’s not a bad idea.”
You and the others turn.
Jenny sits cross-legged on the sofa, kicking etiquette to the curb. Her underwear is almost showing, but she does not seem to care, and nor do the others. So you decide not to worry about it either.
“I didn’t really feel the need to discuss the people behind the scenes, but it’s not something we necessarily need to hide. And if we’re out of ideas, it’s better than nothing.”
“You serious, chief?” Natalia asks. She seems about 20 percent worried and 80 percent psyched, although you are not sure in what sense.
“Yeah. But on one condition.”
“I’m the president, so I take the desk.”
You have no idea what the role of ‘desk’ entails, but it presumably goes to the highest-ranking club member.
“My job is to oversee you all,” Jenny says. Your guess is correct, it seems. “In other words, there will be no article covering me.”
“What?! That’s cheap!” Natalia complains, jumping to her feet. “I want to tell the entire school about the pain and glory of your past, the passion brimming in your heart, and your shining future!”
You realize that this was why Natalia was so psyched. Does Jenny really have such a newsworthy past, you wonder. But—
The proposal is shot down mercilessly.
“Argh…dammit! Now what am I supposed to do with my white-hot passion for reporting?” Natalia agonizes, dramatically falling into the sofa.
“Just cover Larry,” Jenny suggests.
“That’s a great idea!” Natalia claps, recovering instantly.
“Not a great idea!” Larry retorts, “then what happens to me?!”
It is apparent that Larry and Natalia are quite close. But you do not think that they are dating.
You understand how Larry would not want his past exposed to the entire school. You are starting to regret making that proposal.
“Then you’ll cover Nat,” Jenny says, saving the moment.
“Yes! That’s perfect!” “What? No!” Larry and Natalia reply at the same time. Jenny seems unfazed.
“You’ll just have to decide on a mutual line to stop at. It’ll help you practice for when you cover more serious stories.”
“Hm.” “Hm.” Larry and Natalia nod in unison. You are impressed by their co-ordination.
“Then what shall I do, Jenny?” Nick asks.
“Hm. I’ll have the rest of you go in a circle, then. Nick covers Megmica, Megmica covers the newbie, the newbie covers Seron, and Seron covers Nick.”
“I understand!” Megmica’s hand shoots up instantly. She might be too innocent for her own good.
“Pardon me, Jenny, but I must admit that I am not quite comfortable with this proposal. Would it bother you terribly to scrap this particular idea?” Nick asks, gently but clearly expressing opposition.
Does he not want to research things about a girl? You do not understand.
“Same here,” Seron adds cooly. “What about the rest of you?”
You are taken aback.
The idea is yours to begin with. Though Jenny gave it the green light, you start feeling more uncomfortable.
“Er…” You speak up. “I know I’m the one who brought it up, but I think it might not be such a smart idea after all. I’m sorry.”
Everyone else responds. Larry speaks first.
“Yeah, honestly, I’d prefer not to do this one.”
“I guess so,” Natalia nods, “it might not be so fun when me and Larry are going at it revealing one secret after another. And I can tell you his embarrassing stories anytime, anyway.”
Megmica chimes in as well. “Then I will follow everyone’s decision.”
“That seems to be the best course of action,” Nick says.
“Agreed.” Seron nods.
You and the others all turn to Jenny.
Slightly displeased, she nods.
“All right. We’re not going through with this one.”
You breathe a sigh of relief.
At the same time, you resolve to think your ideas through before voicing them.
“Now…what to do?”
You are back to square one. Jenny holds out her teacup to Larry.
You are impressed that the gesture gets through, as Larry rises and pours Jenny her tea. He reminds you of an experienced old butler.
“Stuff just doesn’t happen around here as much as outside campus. Not a bad thing, I guess. Larry, gimme more tea,” Natalia says.
Inwardly, you agree. You would not like it if all the things that happen outside campus were to happen at school.
“I realized something when we were working on the previous issue,” says Nick, “our format only allows us to publish one article at a time. If we have too much, the font size becomes too small to read comfortably and we will drive away readers.”
You nod. Newspapers posted on walls are certainly different from regular ones.
“But now that we are doing it, I want to publish one this month, at least! Is seven people work together, somehow we can do it!” Megmica says.
Megmica is always optimistic and full of passion. She must have an honest and outgoing character.
“Seven people, huh,” Seron mumbles, looking up. Then he falls into thought again.
Seron is always cautious and never speaks without thinking. You suspect that nothing could possibly faze him. And you decide to take a page out of his book, so you would not confuse people with sudden, ungrounded ideas.
Seron finishes thinking and looks up.
“Why don’t we take the opportunity to get an article from the newbie’s perspective?”
“Me?” You ask. Seron nods.
“Yeah. The Republic of Raputoa is far both geographically and culturally. You could write an article about how things are different here, what you think about the school and the Capital District, and the students here. Kind of like a travelogue.”
“Wow.” You nod, impressed. You indeed felt some culture shock during your stay. And you are reasonably confident that you could think of things to write with all the experiences you have had here.
But your consent alone is not enough. You wait for everyone else.
“Hm. Not bad,” Jenny says.
“Yeah. That way the whole school gets to know about how our newbie here feels,” Natalia agrees. She may be a jokester, but she seems to get serious when necessary and stands up for her opinions.
“I agree.” “Me too. Sounds interesting.” “It is like the old times.” Nick, Larry, and Megmica also agree.
“All right, it’s decided.” Jenny slaps her knee. “Are you all right with this?”
“Then write whatever you’d like about the Capital District and about our school. Don’t hold back; you’re not gonna be here by the time this issue goes up,” Jenny advises, “is there anywhere you’d like to cover in the Capital District? You can go check out places over the weekends. You can take a camera along, too.”
“Does the school loan out cameras?” You ask, surprised.
You would love to take some photographs to go with your article, but would the school loan out such an expensive device to a student, even if it is for club activities?
“Nope. They’re right here.”
Jenny gets up and reaches for the bag she put on the desk earlier.
And to your shock, she takes out a large metallic camera. It looks more expensive than the one at your school.
“Wow…I can’t believe the school supplies you with something so expensive!” Capital District schools sure are different, you tell yourself.
“Actually, it belongs to Jenny,” Nick points out. You are floored.
“What?! You have your own camera?”
“No way!” You blink rapidly.
“Don’t assume all of us here have multiple cameras, newbie. And by the way, feel free to write about this.”
Your course is clear.
In the next 10 days, you are to put down all your thoughts into writing. You must write honestly about the Capital District and the things you felt at the 4th Capital Secondary School.
You are free to visit places in the Capital District in the weekend. Anyone who is free will accompany you with a camera and show you around.
From this point on, you must visit the newspaper club after class every day and ask about the Capital District, discuss your progress, and throw out ideas.
Because some of the newspaper club members are in other clubs, sometimes they would miss meetings. But there would almost always be someone at the office.
Your draft is due on the 23rd. Naturally, Jenny will be editing your work to make it easier to read. The newspaper will be published on the weekend of the 24th and 25th, and posted on the 26th. Then you need only wait for the students’ reception to your article.
“Thank you! This sounds really fun. I’ll do my best!” You say.
“Then that’s all for today,” Jenny says. The sky outside is already orange.
Everyone leaves the office. Natalia leaves her guitar, but you forget to ask her why she brought one in the first place.
Partway past the central gardens, the group splits into two. You and Seron head for the dorms just ahead.
“See you, Seron! And good luck with everything, newbie!”
“Bye. Ask Seron if you need any help. He knows everything.”
“See you tomorrow.”
“Have a good day.”
Larry, Natalia, Nick, Megmica, and Jenny head for the gates.
You walk side-by-side with Seron without a word, past the grounds filled with the shouts of the sports clubs.
The silence compels you to wonder if Seron is not fond of you. But your worries turn out to be unfounded.
“Newbie. About dinner—”
“They have oyster and cheese gratin today. They only serve it a few times in the autumn, and it’s really good. I highly recommend it.”
“Thank you! I’ll definitely give it a try.”
* * *
Part 3: The Newspaper Club Says…
From the next day onwards, you head to the newspaper club after class with a spring in your step.
The other club members ask you to join them for lunch, but your class schedule does not work out. You can only meet them after class.
But there is always someone in the office, so you get to greet them, drink tea together, and chat.
Today, Seron, Larry, and Jenny are at the office.
Megmica is in the chorus club, Natalia is in the orchestra club, and Nick has extra lessons, which means the three of them miss some meetings.
Today, you talk mostly with Seron.
You ask him all kinds of questions about the Capital District.
Seron is very knowledgeable. He answers your every query clearly and calmly.
During your conversations you learn that Seron’s mother runs Maxwell Frozen Foods, the brand famous for its bright red packaging. Frozen food is common even in an agricultural state like Raputoa because of its convenience.
Seron also explains that he is from—not the Capital District, but—the city of Weld, which requires an overnight journey by train.
You capitalize on the opportunity and ask him how he felt when he first came to the Capital District.
“I was 12 years old back then, and really excited to learn about the Capital District.”
His impressions are similar to your own.
But Weld is a relatively developed city in its own right, so Seron explains that what surprised him were not the high-rises themselves, but the massive clusters of such buildings.
The degree of shock you experienced is different, as you are coming from a place with an unbroken horizon. How much something surprises you depends on what kind of knowledge and experience you already have. No one experiences the same degree of surprise.
You note down this thought so you can include it in your article.
The next day comes. It is the 12th. You talk with Larry.
Larry was born and raised in the Capital District, so he was always used to the big city.
He is from a renowned military family, and aims to one day become a soldier himself. He has loved the outdoors since childhood is is used to survival activities.
When you tell him that you are from a farm in the middle of the wilderness, he bombards you with questions. You feel a surge of pride when he mentions that he admires country living. Impressed, you make a note of this.
Larry continues asking about Raputoa, but one part stumps you.
“Lieutenant Colonel Walter McMillan’s Raputoa Plan is famous, you know.”
You are completely lost.
“Huh? Didn’t they teach you about the Great War in history class?”
You have never heard of this Lieutenant Colonel Walter McMillan. You would remember if you had.
When you admit this to Larry, he falls silent for a moment. Then,
“Huh. I was sure they’d teach you about him in Raputoa…”
The 13th. Megmica comes to the club office.
Nick is also there, but when he tells you he will be there tomorrow as well, you turn to Megmica.
You are curious to hear what Megmica—who has come from even further than you—thinks of the Capital District and the school. So you focus on such questions.
Megmica explains that she spent her first year in Roxche learning Roxchean from a private tutor, instead of going to school. She says she could not make many friends even after starting at the 4th Capital Secondary School.
She also tells you that she was constantly sad and homesick until she joined the chorus club.
Megmica found a place to be in the chorus club, but until she befriended a girl named Lillianne earlier this year, she had no one to chat with in classes.
And this summer, a series of coincidences led her to join the newspaper club. Now she has many friends and is enjoying every day in Roxche.
You realize that she had a much harder time than you.
“But looking back, they’re all just good memories. When I go back to Sou Be-Il, I’ll treasure all the times I spent with my friends here. Everyone here is great!” Megmica exclaims quickly, her dark eyes sparkling. You are almost embarrassed to listen.
“Hm.” Larry shakes his head. “I didn’t get a word of that.”
Seron, who is studying Bezelese on his own, seems a little upset that he could only catch a few words here and there.
“Heh.” Jenny, who took Bezelese courses and understands much of your conversation, snorts sheepishly.
“You have even less time than me at the Capital District, but I hope you’ll enjoy your time here to the fullest.”
Speaking in her mother tongue, Megmica sounds like a totally different person. She reminds you of a kind, loving older sister. Which is not too off-base, as she is two years older than you and one year older than the rest of the club.
“Yes! It’s an honor to meet you and the others, SC Megmica,” you reply. And you begin to wonder if there is anything you could do for the newspaper club and Megmica.
On the 14th, you chat with Natalia.
Natalia likes talking about food above all else; she rambles at length about the gourmand’s life in the Capital District.
She tells you where to find the best restaurants, and what foods are only available in the Capital District. You learn a lot, although you won’t know how good the food she described is until you try them.
Natalia is particularly insistent on having you try the Capital District’s famous crisps.
“The point is, you have to have them fresh out of the fryer! You can’s say you’ve tried a Capital District crisp until you’ve bitten into a sizzling-hot piece right there in the store!” Natalia emphasizes, grabbing you by the shoulders.
You feel like she is about to devour you head-first. Natalia’s height makes her very intimidating at times like this.
“R-right…I’ll definitely try them while I’m in town this weekend.”
You make a note about trying fresh crisps, when Natalia asks you and Larry what you plan to do this weekend.
Upon speaking with the others throughout the week, you decided to visit everything you possibly could—from the national assembly building to the presidential residence, the Roxee Museum of Art, and the department store.
Natalia’s eye glints suspiciously.
“All right! I’ll take you to the best crisp place in town!”
On the 15th, you talk to Nick.
Today, Natalia is in the office, but Megmica is not.
Nick’s extraordinary beauty, you realize, is matched by the depth of his knowledge of history. Any question you have about the Capital District is answered with a response straight out of an encyclopedia. Raputoa’s curriculum covers very little of the founding of the Capital District. The teachers simply tell you, ‘the Capital District was designated a special area at the founding of Roxche’.
You learn for the first time today that the school sits on the site of an old village that was swallowed by the expansion of the Capital District.
Why was this area selected as the capital? How did the Capital District develop? What are the major issues currently plaguing the city?
Nick answers each question with eloquence as you jot down as much as you possibly can.
When Nick asks you where you plan to go tomorrow, you list off the places you wrote down.
“Mm. Excellent choices,” Nick says with a smile, but he seems a little miffed that he has nothing more to add to the list.
* * *
The 16th finally arrives.
It is your second weekend in the Capital District. You booked off today and tomorrow to enjoy all the Capital District has to offer. Unfortunately—
“We won’t be walking around in this weather,” Larry remarks upon arriving at the dorms at eight in the morning. It is pouring outside.
It was perfectly clear yesterday, but the sudden emergence of a low pressure system causes rain to fall almost sideways in the gust.
Umbrellas are no use in this weather. Larry, in fact, is wearing a military-issue poncho and waterproof motorcycling pants. Beneath that he is wearing cargo pants and a light sweater.
Seron is wearing beige pants and an expensive black jacket.
In your case, you are of the opinion that a day out entails dressing up in your best clothes—even if it is a weekend—which means you are once again in your uniform.
“Yeah, it happens sometimes this time of year,” Larry explains, “makes you want to cry if you’re on a camping trip. We’re really careful about this kind of weather in the army. If you get drenched, in the worst-case scenario you could die of hypothermia.”
Your plan for today was to visit government offices, but the weather does not allow for such a thing.
“But our newbie doesn’t have a lot of time. Let’s try someplace else.”
Seron suggests a change of plans; a day-long tour of the Roxee Museum of Art.
The Roxee Museum of Art is the largest art museum in the Capital District and the Confederation. It is home to such a massive collection of works that not even a full day is enough to see them all. The museum was on your list of places to see.
Seron goes to a phone booth in the lobby and calls the others who are scheduled to come.
Jenny and Nick have no objections. They agree to meet at the entrance at 10, when the museum opens. Natalia and Megmica are supposed to be eating out with their families today. You wonder if they will be all right in this storm.
You take a taxi all the way to the museum. Seron and Larry cover the ride. The taxi comes all the way to the cargo entrance at the back of the dorms, preventing you from getting wet. It is technically against security regulations, but Seron says the guards let it slide at times like this. You note that this is the kind of knowledge only a dormitory resident would be privy to.
The taxi drives through the rain. The roads are nearly deserted.
This is your first taxi ride in the Capital District. The taxi is clean and the driver is dressed impeccably, as befitting the city.
You arrive at the Roxee Museum of Art.
The grounds are massive; the road continues even past the main gates, and beyond looms a majestic stone building. The entrance is in the middle, but you can barely make it out in the rain.
You are floored first by the museum’s size, then by its grandeur, then the number of visitors lining up for tickets in spite of the weather. There are over a hundred lined up, as far as you can count.
You begin to worry that, with so many people, the museum will be too crowded to enjoy properly.
“Don’t worry,” Seron reassures you, “it’s so big inside it’ll feel empty even with all these people.” Exactly how large is the museum, you wonder.
You pay for your ticket with the money from the Ministry of Education. Yours is a one-day pass, but the museum also offers eight-day and month-long passes as well.
“Good morning everyone,” Nick says, arriving by taxi, “it certainly is raining cats and dogs today.”
Finally, Jenny arrives in a large luxury car with a pair of bodyguards, drawing much attention.
You do not know much about automobiles, but even you have heard of Jones Motors. Jenny is the daughter of the president, which almost doesn’t surprise you considering what you have seen of her so far.
When the museum doors open, the visitors slowly disappear inside.
“Let’s go on in, newbie,” Larry says, “what do you feel like seeing? Seron’s gonna give you a great tour.”
You reply that you want to look at the paintings you saw in art class.
The museum is filled to the brim with classics and masterpieces you saw only in textbooks, although there is no literal danger of them spilling out.
“This way, then,” Seron responds without even consulting the guidebook. He seems to have the museum’s layout memorized.
You tour the museum for three hours, but according to the map you have seen less than 20 percent of the exhibits.
“It’s a lot bigger than I thought. But I’m having a lot of fun,” you say once you reach the museum restaurant.
The restaurant is encased in glass, just as beautiful as the artworks the museum houses. Rain continues to drum away at the window outside.
Around the large table sit Seron and the others. Your order is not yet ready.
The long walk has made you a little fatigued.
“Good to hear. You’re not tired?” Larry asks. He does not seem tired at all, which is what you would expect from an aspiring career soldier.
“I’m all right.”
You are used to walking as well. Back home, long walks are part of everyday life. You are still doing well.
“The exhibits are lovely as always, but I must say a trip here is always exhausting,” Nick comments with a smile.
“I’m totally bushed. The food’s gonna taste great,” Jenny says. They both seem a little tired.
Seron looks calm, however.
“Seeing results?” Larry asks.
“I think so,” Seron replied, “I’m feeling a lot better than before.”
Confused, you ask them what they are talking about.
“I’ve been running these days,” Seron replies tersely. Larry adds on.
“Seron realized just how out of shape he was on Orienteering Day last month, so he’s been running almost every night since. Starting the day you arrived, actually. I was at the dorms because I was planning out a route for him.”
“I see.” “Huh.” Nick and Jenny nod. It seems this is their first time hearing this as well.
So that was why Larry suggested the beef stew at the dormitory cafeteria even though he lives at home. You finally understand.
“That sounds wonderful. You would be running on campus then, Seron?” Nick asks. Seron nods.
“Yeah. It’s lit up pretty brightly at night. I run before taking a bath or early in the morning. Larry’s set a pretty interesting course for me.”
“What’s it like?” Asks Jenny.
“It involves a bunch of different exercises. I run slowly starting at the dorms, but I have to start sprinting on the track field. Then I have to hang from the horizontal bars by the grounds, run again, and do sit-ups on the grass. And other things too. It’s a lot more interesting than just running endlessly,” Seron replies.
It does sound interesting. Your walk to and from school—though a little different from exercising—involves an hour’s walk across farmland, and is the most boring thing in the world.
You often think how great it would be if you could listen to music as you walk. You once tried walking with a book in hand, but after you fell into the cornfields you decided not to try it again.
“It’s really rewarding to teach Seron. He’s hardworking and focused, and he does everything you tell him to do,” Larry says.
“Thank you for waiting.”
The waiter arrives with your food. He has a large platter on his right shoulder, supported by his right hand. In his left he has a folding cart for the platter.
First, he opens up the cart and places the platter atop it. Then he serves the dishes one after another. You have never seen this style of serving before.
Whoever came up with this system must have been very innovative, you think to yourself. As you note down the thought, Jenny snaps a photo.
Your meal is the most popular dish on the menu—the macaroni salad and fried chicken lunch.
It is much more expensive than eating out in Raputoa, but the money from the Ministry of Education covers the food.
The heaping helping of macaroni salad contains colorful vegetables like carrots and broccoli to spice up the visuals.
As for the fried chicken breast, the perfectly-fried batter seems to have been made with special spices. Your food also comes with clear consommé soup, a cup of tea, and a small scoop of ice cream for dessert.
It all looks and smells so good that you forget to ask Seron why he took up running after Orienteering Day.
After lunch, you continue your tour of the museum. Seron and Nick have explanations for all your questions, which makes the tour efficient because you do not have to stop to read the descriptions. You are happy that you get to see all the exhibits you have in mind.
At three in the afternoon, you step outside. The rain and wind have let up, giving you hope for nice weather tomorrow.
“We’ll look at as many places as we can tomorrow. It’d be nice if we had a car,” Larry says.
“I’ll bring one. A van, so we’ll all fit in,” Jenny says without batting an eye.
At this point, even you understand that the luxuries afforded by the newspaper club are not owed to the 4th Capital Secondary School, but to Jenny’s incredible resources.
Jenny gives you a ride back on her luxury car. Inside, it feels like a parlor has been transplanted into a vehicle. You are floored.
You take many, many notes and even get a photograph taken with the car.
You say goodbye to the others at the gates and return to the dorms with Seron.
The rain stops. The western sky grows brighter, tinting your room a bright orange.
As you organize your notes, you remind yourself how fortunate you are to have joined the newspaper club.
But you keep feeling as though you are only receiving from the others without giving back anything in return. Isn’t there anything you can do to help them?
* * *
The next day. The 17th.
It is a beautiful day. The morning sun makes it almost seem like yesterday’s storm never happened.
It is cooler than yesterday and the tap water is cold, likely because the weather cleared up overnight.
Before breakfast, you look out the window of your familiar dormitory room.
And you happen to spot Seron in the distance, running in his sweats on the deserted grounds. His breath is visible in the cold.
“He’s really hardworking.”
You recall hearing that Seron has excellent grades.
And you begin to think—Seron is handsome and well-mannered. And if he becomes athletic as a result of his training, what won’t he be able to do?
The plan is to meet at the gates at 10, so you pack your notepad and leave the room. Like yesterday, you are in your uniform, but you leave your coat because you do not get cold easily.
You run into Seron at the dormitory entrance. He is in a pair of jeans, a turtleneck shirt, and a jacket.
You came a little early because you did not want to cause trouble by being late, but it seems Seron thought the same thing.
You exchange greetings and walk together to the gates. Because Seron is so quiet you decide to break the ice.
“This might sound like a strange question, but is there anything you’re not good at, SC Seron? You seem to be an expert at everything.”
Seron thinks for a moment, then opens his mouth.
“Yeah. I can’t say what it is yet, but…”
“But right now, I’m fortunate enough to have a fighting chance even if I can’t achieve my goal yet. So I’m going to improve myself as much as I can—without pushing myself too hard—until I can reach that goal.”
After a short wait at the gates,
“Morning! Nice weather, huh?” Larry waves, arriving first.
Larry is always punctual. The sturdy-looking watch he always wears is probably there to help him with that habit. He seems to be dressed the same as yesterday, but upon closer inspection his sweater today is heavier.
“Morning, guys. Want something to chew on?” Natalia asks as she arrives. She looks good in pants thanks to her height. She is carrying a paper bag filled with cookies.
“What’s this?” Larry asks, peering inside.
“Made ‘em this morning. Hold your hands out, people. I’m distributing rations,” Natalia says, giving each person a fragrant chocolate chip cookie. The cookies are much bigger than the ones in stores, almost too large for the palm of your hand.
“This is huge! You bake, Lia?” Larry asks.
“There’s only one thing in the world I can’t do, and that’s making you smarter, Larry,” Natalia quips.
Everyone starts on their cookie. You take a bite.
It is crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. The flavor of chocolate and butter spreads throughout your mouth and assures you that yes, this cookie is indeed delicious.
“It’s really good, Lia. But you sure we can eat these now?”
“Sure. I mean, you said yesterday that you’re buying all the crisps for the day—”
“I did not.”
“It’s really good, Nat. Thanks.”
“How ‘bout adding this to Maxwell Frozen Foods’ repertoire? I could sell you the recipe.”
“I’ll ask Mother.”
“It’s really good, SC Natalia. This is the best cookie I’ve ever had.”
“Aha! You know your stuff, newbie. There’s plenty more where that came from, so dig in and maybe you’ll get taller.”
You munch on more of Natalia’s cookies as you wait for the others. Nick and Megmica arrive at almost exactly the designated time.
Nick arrives by taxi, and Megmica by luxury car. He is in a neat half-coat, and she in a one-piece dress and a short jacket.
“It seems I made it on time after all. Good day, everyone.”
“I’m sorry! The roads were choked. Good morning.”
Natalia hands each of them a cookie.
“Thank you, Nat. It tastes wonderful.”
“Please teach later to me to make this cookie, Natalia.”
You munch on more cookies together, and a little past the meeting time Jenny arrives by car. She is in an outdoor jacket as though dressed for a hunting trip.
The van—a Jones Motors model, obviously—is large enough to seat 10. The driver-cum-bodyguard is, as with yesterday, Kurtz. Litner is also there.
“Sorry I’m late, guys,” Jenny apologizes, opening the door with a wave.
“Ah, chief. Here. This is a legendary cookie bestowed only to the greatest of heroes! Now, guide us all!” Natalia cries dramatically, holding out a cookie.
“What’s this?” Jenny asks, grabbing the cookie with her mouth. She takes hold of the rest after the first bite. “Not bad. It’s homemade, isn’t it?”
“How’d you know?”
“Obviously, you wouldn’t break even selling cookies with so much chocolate inside.”
You take notes like no tomorrow.
You and the newspaper club go from place to place by van, visiting one site and then rushing off to the next.
First you visit the presidential residence, the national assembly building, the supreme court, and the major government buildings at the center of the Capital District. Because it is a weekend the traffic is not so bad.
Because the people in the buildings govern all of Roxche, they are as secure as they are majestic. Even as a tourist you must show ID at the entrance, and the police officers are armed with military-grade firearms.
“There was a fire in this building 140 years ago. One of the guards had used a fireplace to ward off the cold and failed to extinguish the fire properly. The interior was, unfortunately, completely gutted. But the building itself is sturdy in construction and made of stone, so it remained intact. Some traces of the great fire are preserved on the eastern wall—”
Nick’s explanations are as detailed as ever.
But you do not jot down his lecture. You can learn historical facts easily through independent research. You limit your notes to your impressions of what you see.
“Getting used to the city yet, newbie? Want a bite?” Natalia asks, looking off at the presidential residence.
In her hand is a hotdog with salted cabbage and pickles, which she bought at a stand in the park around the building. It looks delicious but you cannot possibly eat any more at the moment.
First, you politely decline the hotdog. “I’m not sure. But it definitely feels different from my first few days here,” you admit.
Like it or not, humans adapt to new environments. Which is why you have been taking notes so as to not forget how you felt before.
You make sure to note down, ‘someday I’ll even get used to SC Natalia’s endless appetite’.
After touring the Confederation Library, you sit on a bench outside and gaze upon the building’s unusual structure.
“Now that I think about it,” Larry begins, “I’ve never actually gone on such an in-depth tour of the Capital District before.”
“Same.” Natalia nods. “I haven’t been to the national assembly since they took us on a social studies trip in primary school five years ago. Can’t believe it’s still around.” She is, of course, joking—it is no surprise that the national assembly building still remains.
Nick also agrees, “indeed. I would never tour this area unless we had guests from outside the city.”
Because the locals have lived here their whole lives, they end up not going to sites they can visit anytime.
The other tourists around you also seem to be from out of town, as they are smiling and exclaiming at everything they see.
“It’s so beautiful here. I almost want to pack up and move tomorrow.”
“Yeah. Let’s do our best to find work here.”
A couple passes by in front of you, full of hope for their future.
The couple passes, and—
“Have you ever heard of something called Capital Syndrome?” Seron says out of the blue. It is almost scary how he does that sometimes.
“What’s that?” “Seron, I do not like scary disease stories.” You and Megmica flinch at the term.
Is it a disease going around the Capital District? Is it contagious?
The others seem unaffected, meaning the disease is known to the locals. You wait for Seron to explain.
“You could call it an illness of the mind. It’s what happens when people who admire the capital and all it has to offer actually arrive, only to be terribly disappointed by the reality of the city. It’s a kind of culture shock.”
You nod in understanding.
“I know this feeling very well,” Megmica says, nodding again and again.
Natalia expands on the topic. “Some people think you’ll automatically have a cooler, better life in the Capital District. But people here don’t dress like models all the time. Even expensive old apartment buildings are crummy—elevators breaking all the time, angry old ladies next door, or loud brats on the floor above.”
“That is not all,” Nick adds, “some people romanticize the winding old alleys of the Capital District, but many alleyways are filled with nothing but garbage and feral cats. It’s even more difficult for car owners, as finding parking space is nearly impossible. They say it is local custom to rub bumpers in parking lots, but that is simply an unwanted result of the lack of parking space. Traffic is terrible every day of the year, and costs of living are probably the most expensive in Roxche.”
Even Larry has things to add. “Human relationships are the worst in Roxche, too. It’s hard to make friends in a bustling place like this, and even harder to find people to find someone to really have a heart-to-heart with.”
They are taking no prisoners. The locals can only say such things because they live here, you realize. It makes sense that those who harbor delusions about the city would end up disillusioned by its realities.
“It makes sense. But I don’t think I’ll be around long enough to be disappointed,” you admit.
“Hearing everyone’s stories, I am relieved, I think,” Megmica says gravely, “because I did not come alone, and I did not come for admiring. I am very relieved in many ways.”
She is right. For Megmica, Roxche is a completely foreign land. She is only here because her parents are here, and she is with her family. That must be what gives Megmica comfort.
This might not be appropriate material for the article, but you note it down anyway. Megmica is also writing something in her notepad.
Jenny snaps a photo of you and Megmica together and speaks up.
“Should we move on, then?”
“Where to next, chief?”
“The place you’ve all been waiting for. Lunch!”
“Yessss!” Natalia swoons, clasping her hands together. She has been eating all morning without pause—what in the world does her digestive system look like?
“The restaurant’s a little ways off, but I guarantee it’s good. We might be in for heavy traffic so go to the bathroom now if you have to,” Jenny instructs.
“Oh, I’ll do that.”
You are the only person to raise their hand.
“It’ll be a while before Kurtz brings the car around; take your time.”
You head to the nearest bathroom—the one by the Confederation Library entrance.
After you finish your business, you walk out through the lobby with the high ceiling when someone calls to you.
You turn to find a man in his mid-to-late thirties.
He is in a navy suit and a pair of rimless glasses, and looks very calm and gentle.
The man does not seem suspicious—he comes off as a scholar more than anything else.
Appearances are not everything, however. For all you know, this man might be a skilled assassin with multiple kills under his belt.
But more importantly, whatever question the man has is probably not something a tourist like you could answer. You feel a little sorry for him, but you must reply.
“Yes, what is it?”
“That’s a Raputoan uniform, isn’t it,” the man comments, “I’m terribly sorry. It surprised me so much to see the uniform here I called out to you without thinking.”
You are floored.
How does he know? For a moment you are stunned, but you quickly remember the flag on your sleeve. You swell a little with pride. “Yes! I’m a short-term exchange student sponsored by the Republic of Raputoa. I’m studying at a secondary school here for the month.”
The man’s eyes widen slightly.
“That sounds wonderful. Actually, I once lived in Raputoa.”
“Yes. I recognize the Ministry of Education’s emblem. How nostalgic.”
That is enough to convince you that the man is telling the truth.
The Ministry of Education’s emblem is not only on your uniform, but on the car that drove you to the airport from your hometown, and on all school property. Every Raputoan citizen knows the emblem. But few people recognize it outside Raputoa.
You cannot tell how long the man might have lived in Raputoa, but it must have been a long time ago if he feels nostalgic about it.
“Raputoa probably hasn’t changed much in the past few years, except for in the bigger cities. You should come back to visit someday,” you suggest earnestly.
“Thank you. I sincerely hope I’ll get the chance,” the man replies, just as earnestly. “Sorry to bother you. I must be keeping you from your group.”
“Oh, right. It was nice meeting you.”
You turn and walk away from the bespectacled man.
You do not know his name, and you do not know what kind of life he has led. You will never see him again, barring a miracle.
And yet it makes you very happy to meet someone in the Capital District who knows of your homeland. You may not be able to write about this in your article, but you decide to tell your family and friends about it once you get home.
* * *
“Finally, lunch!” Natalia cheers.
You are in a luxurious restaurant a little outside the city center.
“Easy there, Lia. You’re not eight anymore,” Larry scolds her. Natalia is indeed acting a little childish.
The restaurant is nearly full, its patrons mostly dressed to impress. Clearly rich ladies and gentlemen.
You see no one else around your age, but the rest of the newspaper club shows no reservations about being here. Because they behave like they belong, you manage to not be completely overwhelmed.
You and the rest of the newspaper club sit around a long table, eyes on the dishes being served.
Salads arranged to perfection and veal steak topped with foie gras of the same size. Steaming-hot bread straight out of the oven. Fresh-squeezed juice.
To top it all off, the food is all served on expensive white ceramic plates. The plates seem to shine with quality.
It all reminds you that this is indeed a high-end Capital District restaurant. The dishes, the food, everything is marvelous. The dormitory cafeteria was impressive enough, but this goes above and beyond anything you have eaten at school.
“Let’s eat. Gotta keep ourselves going,” Larry says. Everyone takes a moment to pray before their meal. Larry and Megmica take the longest, lifting up very earnest prayers.
You dig in.
You are not used to such luxurious food, but everything is delicious. You scarf down the food with as much grace as you can muster.
Then you think about the price and shudder.
You followed Jenny into the restaurant, and when she asked you if there was anything you couldn’t eat, you said there was not. Then she ordered the special for everyone—without once mentioning the bill.
You did not use much of your allowance since coming to the Capital District, but you want to at least set some aside to get souvenirs for friends and family.
You hope this meal will not cost you half your spending money.
“Er, SC Jenny?”
“Yeah?” Jenny replies, tearing some warm bread in two.
“Isn’t this place supposed to be very expensive?”
“But it’s all free. So don’t hold back.”
“You’ll see,” Jenny says, spreading butter on the bread and popping it into her mouth before it can melt.
You stare, dumbfounded, when someone calls out.
A man in his fifties raises his voice almost loud enough to disturb the other patrons.
He is short and very overweight, his bulges threatening to tear his vest.
The man reminds you of the kindly middle-aged men back home. You feel a little homesick.
As the other patrons and the rest of the newspaper club watch in shock, the man approaches Jenny. Jenny wipes her mouth with a napkin.
“It’s been so long, Jenny! How are you?” He cries, pulling her into a tight hug.
“Ack! It’s been a while, Manager,” Jenny struggles to reply in his arms.
You and the others finally understand the situation. The Manager knows Jenny, which is why the food is free.
“Aye, it’s been half a year now! Glad you came in to visit!” His large hand slapped Jenny on the back again and again. “Have you gotten smaller?”
“You’re still as big as ever, Manager. You might die if you don’t get yourself fixed up—unless you’re hoping to become foie gras yourself?”
“Of course not. I plan to live long enough to see you marry, Jenny. I can’t rest until I bake you the perfect wedding cake. So do find yourself a good man and marry soon. Let me rest in peace.”
“Aw, shut up, Manager. It’s gonna be a long while, you know.”
They seem to have known each other for a very long time.
“You should visit more often, Jenny. I’ll fatten you right up.”
“I don’t wanna look like you, Manager.”
The exchange goes on briefly, but Jenny finally gets to the point.
“Manager, these are my friends from school.”
Then she introduces everyone, one after another.
The manager is outgoing and personable, and holds nothing back. His conversation with Seron says it all.
“Ah! Maxwell Frozen Foods, you say? Please do tell your mother that she’s going to drive me out of business with frozen food that good!”
“Of course. I’ll make sure to tell her to step up her products, now that the manager of one of the Capital District’s foremost restaurants is praising her.”
You wish you could respond so courteously without missing a beat.
“Gah hah hah hah! Take good care of Jenny!” The manager says, then thanks the other patrons as he departs.
“How do you know him, chief?” Natalia asks, having at some point finished her food.
“He used to be our family’s personal chef.”
“Ah, I get it.”
Jenny tells you about the manager.
Recognized for his skills, the manager worked as a chef with the Jones family for a long time. But he cast aside his stable job and sought independence.
Rather than oppose his departure, Jenny’s father supported his endeavors fully.
Four years ago, the Jones family gave the manager full financial support to establish his own restaurant. The business was a success, and the manager came to own two additional branches and even a cooking school.
Even after successfully paying back his debt, the manager remained faithful to the family. He swore that he would provide free food to any member of the Jones family indefinitely, no matter when they came to one of his restaurants.
“So eat to your heart’s content, guys. More steak, Nat?”
“Yeah! And the foie gras here is so good! Jenny, can we come here for meetings from now on?” Natalia demands jokingly, eyes glinting.
“Could I get seconds on the steak here too?” Larry asks.
Seron and Megmica ask for more bread, and Nick more salad. You ask for a half-serving of steak.
“I’m so glad I joined this club,” Natalia sighs. Internally, you nod.
As you feast on your incredible meal, you realize that the rich people of the Capital District are not rich simply because they worked hard.
They gained their riches by treasuring their connections with other people. You note down the thought.
And as though reading your mind, Jenny says,
“I grew up surrounded by some of the nicest adults in the world. And that’s a fact.”
After stuffing yourself all the way through dessert, you and the others resume the tour.
The afternoon itinerary involves touring the Capital West Station area.
You have always wanted to visit the massive train station and the massive department store around it.
“The crisps, too,” Natalia says.
“Yes, that too,” you reply.
First, you look around the station.
Seron takes on the role of guide, being familiar with the station thanks to his trips to and from home.
The station is just the way you remember from the photographs—a veritable fortress. A massive glass dome the size of a stadium covers over 10 platforms from high up in the air.
It certainly is nice to have a roof to keep the weather out, but you still must wonder if the sheer height of the ceiling is warranted. A lower ceiling would cost less and be easier to build. What were the architects thinking, you ask out loud.
“They left some room overhead just in case the railways develop further and they need more platforms. They can’t widen the station property itself because of the surrounding buildings, but with a high ceiling they can build second- and third-story platforms overhead,” Seron explains.
“Wow…that’s amazing,” you exclaim. It feels as though your eyes have been opened. The architects must have been looking 10, maybe 100 years into the future when they came up with this design. You open up your notepad as you reflect on your stance.
People bearing heavy pieces of luggage rush past. You might be swept away in the flow of people if you stand around aimlessly. It is much more crowded than the airport.
“Right now it’s on the empty side, though,” says Seron, “you’ll see a lot more people during rush hour. And during the holidays, there are so many travelers you can barely walk.”
You cannot imagine such a large building filling up with people. You are almost overwhelmed.
Afterwards, you get to see, jot down notes about, and take photos of the massive clock and its hammer-shaped pendulum, the long platforms lying parallel to one another, and many other features of the station.
“To be truthful, I am coming first to this station too,” Megmica says, also enjoying the tour.
Megmica says she came to Roxche by ship; it was a long 20-day journey across the North Sea, followed by an entire day’s train ride.
“Really? Newbie, you came by aeroplane, right? That’s not cheap, you know. Anyone here ever flown before?” Larry asks. Natalia alone raises her hand.
You are surprised that Jenny does not raise her hand, but she says she mostly travels by car.
Natalia grins. “Oh dear. So me and the newbie are the only ones who’ve managed to beat gravity and soar through the sky. Let’s go over there and leave all these squares behind, newbie.”
“That’s enough, Lia. Newbie, you don’t have to play along.”
Natalia says she visited the Kingdom of Iks with her family over the summer. You are pleasantly surprised.
The Kingdom of Iks is a mountain country located in the Central Mountain Range, southwest of Raputoa.
Natalia says her family took a sleeper train and a bus on the way there because they had some business at another city, but took an aeroplane on the way back.
“You might have passed through Elitesa, then,” you say. There are only two roads into Iks, and Elitesa is at the entrance to one of them.
“Oh, yeah. I think so. That sounds about right.”
“I knew it. Elitesa is a big city on the southern tip of Raputoa,” you explain.
“So that’s another thing we have in common! Let’s go over there and leave all these squares behind—”
“You didn’t even know the city was in Raputoa until now,” Larry cuts in.
Megmica speaks up. “Er…are flying aeroplanes not scary?”
“Not at all,” you answer, “the engine is a bit loud, but it was very fun.”
“Mhm. It just zoomed through the air and landed smoothly. It’s way better than traveling by train,” Natalia adds.
“But…but if the aeroplane falls…you might fall.”
Megmica has a point. But you think to yourself—if you worry about crashing, you would never be able to board an aeroplane. And you simply cannot give up the conveniences it offers, money permitting.
“What’s wrong, Megmica? Gonna fly somewhere?” Natalia asks.
“Yes. It is yet not certain, but at the winter break at the end of the year I may for the first time in two years visit to my homeland.”
“If we go on a very fast aeroplane, they say it takes about two days to go to my hometown. So my family will. But I said it was too scary.”
You can see where Megmica’s family is coming from. If they take the same aeroplane as the one you took to the Capital District, they could reach Raputoa in a day and then transfer to a Westbound flight.
Maybe she will indeed end up stopping at Raputoa along the way, and maybe she will be able to visit. But—
“If the engine breaks, can I fix the engine?” Megmica asks in a panic, giving you no time to say anything. Her face looks paler than usual.
Seron seems to want to say something. He must be thinking of ways to reassure her—recite statistics about the low failure rates, or describe emergency landing protocol.
But someone beats him to the punch.
“Don’t worry about it. If that happens, I’ll just hop right up and fix it. Being tall has its advantages,” Natalia says.
Even someone as mechanically challenged as you can see she is lying through her teeth. Larry’s expression agrees with you.
“Really?” Meg says, “it is a relief.”
Seriously? You stare at Megmica in disbelief. You glance over and see Seron standing silently. Though his expression is blank, it feels as though he is thinking the same thing as you.
You leave the station and enter the department store across the street.
“The gorilla’s place, eh?” Natalia comments. You have no idea what she is talking about, but you miss your chance to ask. Is there a gorilla living in the department store? The Capital District is full of mysteries.
The department store itself seems to you like a magic castle.
The biggest store you have seen in your life was the local shopping district. The department store, in contrast, is a whopping eight stories tall.
“It feels like someone just gave me a chimney saying it was a cob of corn,” you say.
“Excellent analogy,” Nick chuckles. You continue to struggle with the shock.
You wonder if all these products on display really will be bought. You can only imagine they will remain unsold on the shelves for a year or two, gathering dust. A clothing store you frequent back home, you recall, has had the dame duffel coat on display for the past four years.
When you share your concerns with the others, Jenny replies nonchalantly, “don’t worry about it. All the products get sold and replaced or restocked every month or so.”
You continue to look around at the countless items for sale, marveling at the sheer quantity.
“This is all so expensive.”
You almost feel dizzy at some of the prices.
Meanwhile, the others are enjoying the trip as well.
“Ooh, nice hat. I bet it’ll look good on you, Megmica.”
“It is very nice. I almost want it. I will next time ask my mother and father to buy it.”
A few minutes later—
“Chief! Buy me that camera!”
“What are you, eight? No.”
“You already have two.”
A few minutes after that—
“Why not buy some new gloves for the winter, Seron? Larry? Do last year’s gloves still fit you?”
“Hm. You have a point.”
“Maybe I should.”
From the way the others do their shopping, you realize how different you are from them.
It is not a good or a bad difference.
Just like you, the students at the 4th Capital Secondary School struggle with their studies and have fun with their friends.
And some things you simply do not have in common.
You make a note of the thought. ‘People do not necessarily have to all be the same’.
You end up buying inexpensive and lightweight things like postcards, maps, and magazines for the people back home. That should be enough for everyone. You will also buy several items marked with the school crest at the campus store later.
By the time you leave the department store, it is already evening. The glowing red sky is just as beautiful as yesterday.
But you still have one more thing to do.
“You can’t say you’ve been to the Capital District till you’ve tried these babies!” Natalia insists, taking you to a crisp store in the area.
“You can get these everywhere in the Capital District, but the place in front of Capital West Station makes ‘em best! Willing to take objections, though!”
The long lineup at the store is testament to its popularity. You also wait in line for the famed snack.
You have never seen such crisps before. Each piece of fried dough is about five centimeters in size, looking like a cross between a cookie and a doughnut.
Some packs on display are still sizzling-hot. The paper bags they are sold in absorb the grease.
“All right! Give it a try!” Natalia says. You reach into the bag and pick up a piece.
The texture on your fingers feels strange. There is some sort of a powder sprinkled on the crisp—you cannot tell if it is sugar or salt.
You slowly bring it to your mouth and take a bite—
The taste spreads in an instant.
Though it is not spicy or sweet, the intense flavor fills your mouth and forces your lips to purse. But once you bite down, the flavor recedes.
You put the rest of the crisp into your mouth. You savor the taste again with a funny look on your face. Jenny takes a snapshot of the moment.
“Well? Well?” Natalia asks. You cannot lie to her.
“It’s really strong. But…I think I might get addicted to this.”
“Right? Here, have some more!” Natalia cheers.
You look around and see the others eating as well. Megmica is holding four bags of the stuff.
“My younger brothers, no, my family all loves this crisp very much. I will gift them to them.”
Nick chimes in, licking his fingers, “they’re not suitable for eating daily, but on those occasions when you do treat yourself it’s difficult to stop before you finish the bag.”
Seron is also eating blankly.
“Man, it’s good. Whoever came up with this powder is a genius,” Larry says, looking at you. Your eyes meet just as you reach into the bag Natalia holds out.
“I love it,” you say. Larry grins.
“Welcome to the Capital District!”
That, you decide, will be the title of your article.
Surrounded by high-rises, the sounds of countless passing cars, and rich kids around your own age, you indulge in the deep-fried crisps together.
You will probably never have an opportunity like this again.
When the realization hits, you look up at the sky again.
The dusk-tinted sky is as clear as it can be.
* * *
You start on your article the very next day.
Referring to your notes, you begin writing in your notebook.
You would fall behind immediately if you write in class, so you use the short time you have after school to write in the newspaper club office.
“Working hard, eh?”
Even when you do nothing but write, Larry serves you tea and Seron looks up from his book to help you clear up some facts.
You begin to wonder if you deserve this sort of treatment. But—
“Don’t worry about it,” Seron says immediately.
“Wanna try using this?” Jenny asks, pointing to a brand-new typewriter sitting on one of the desks. But because it looks like it’ll take you a full day to learn to use it, you decline.
From the 18th to the 22nd, you spend every day after school at the club office. You write as if you are doing homework for composition class.
But because you cannot write too much, Jenny cuts content all the readers are expected to know, leaving behind only your personal impressions. As your sentences are cut one after another, the article becomes more and more dense with information.
In the end, the finished article is composed of two parts—your impressions of the Capital District and the things it has to offer, and your impressions of the school and student life.
“Not bad. I like it,” Jenny says. At the end of your five-day journey—after school on the 22nd—you finally finish. You put down your pen, glad and satisfied.
“Oh, almost forgot.”
After club activities that day, Jenny hands you four bundles of photographs, each the size of a notepad. There are over a hundred photos altogether, which weigh quite a bit in a pile.
The photos are of the Capital District, the newspaper club, and you, amidst it all. You are surprised to see that over half the photographs are in full color.
“I want you to pick four or five to use in the article. Tell me the numbers on the back of the ones you want.”
Jenny has already chosen the photo for the headliner—the funny face you made as you at the Capital District crisp for the first time. It is a bit—or rather, very—embarrassing, but because everyone agrees it is very appropriate for the article, you cannot object.
You are happy to be allowed to choose the rest of the photos, however.
“All right. Should I give you the numbers by tomorrow?”
“Sure. You can take the photos to the dorms.”
You write on your notepad, ‘pick five sample photos by the 23rd and return all photos to Jenny’.
If you had to be honest, you really want the photos for yourself.
You want to take them home to show the others. It would make explaining things so much easier. A picture is worth a thousand words, after all.
But you do not dare to ask. Film and photo paper are expensive—especially with color photographs.
Swallowing the disappointment, you finish writing your reminder—when Jenny nonchalantly comments,
“and tell me the numbers of any photos you want to take home. They’re yours.”
“What…?” You gasp, hands trembling. “A-are you sure?”
“One newspaper isn’t going to make much of a keepsake, don’t you think?” Jenny says dismissively.
You have nothing to give her in return, you want to say. But you are cut off.
“Don’t worry about it, newbie!” Larry assures you from across the room, washing the teapot, “think of it as promotional material for the Capital District, the school, and the newspaper club!”
“But…” You trail off again, but Seron joins in as well.
“Take them to remember us by. I would want these photos if I were in your shoes, so I think you should take them. I would have asked Jenny if she hadn’t offered.”
Nick, who happens to be at the office today, nods beside you. “Indeed. We’ve had such a good time together. It would be a shame for you to lose these wonderful memories.”
You can no longer decline. You rise from your seat.
“Thank you, everyone! I promise I’ll take good care of the photos—and the memories we all made!”
* * *
The end of the week. Lunchtime on the 23rd.
“How was the newspaper club?” The advisor asks.
“It was the best!” You reply, beaming, “everyone was very nice to me. I’m having a very good time with them.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” the advisor replies with a smile.
If he didn’t suggest that you join a club, you never would have met the newspaper club. You owe the advisor so much.
You resolve to never forget the advisor—the Roxchean teacher named Mark Murdoch.
* * *
Part 4: Your Job
“And? And then what happened?”
It is the 4th day of the twelfth month.
You are back at your home school in Raputoa for the first time in one month. Naturally, your return is the talk of the school. Everyone’s eyes were on you during the morning assembly.
“I helped make this newspaper in the Capital District,” you said at the assembly, unfolding the newspaper. Now it is in a glass case, displayed in front of the headmaster’s office.
You left one of the two copies you have at home, so you cannot show your article to your classmates.
So instead, you show them photographs as you explain your trip.
It is supposed to be social studies class, but even the teacher is more interested in your story than the lesson. “How did the students there like the article?”
It seems you will be switching places with the teacher today.
“After I finished the article, we printed the papers on the 24th and 25th. Dozens of them. There were so many copies,” you describe, taking the story to its climax.
* * *
After school on the 26th, you arrived at the club office and came face-to-face with a copy of the newspaper.
A newspaper with your photo on it, and an article by you. You had never seen such a thing before.
You stared silently for some time and fell deep into thought. The rest of the newspaper club waited for you to finish thinking.
“Thank you,” you finally said, looking up.
“All right. Let’s go post ‘em,” Larry said, and the group split into two.
You, Seron, Megmica, and Jenny took the south side of campus, posting the papers in places where they did not cover any other posted materials or hurt the appearance of the space. The others told you that before it was officially recognized, the club had to post newspapers guerilla-style and the teachers would tear them down.
After posting all of the newspapers, you returned to the office.
“Good work. Here, you can take these home with you,” Jenny said, handing you two rolled-up copies of the newspaper.
* * *
“Jenny sounds like a really cool person,” one of your friends remarks.
“Well, I guess,” you reply.
“Hey, why’re you getting all embarrassed?” Everyone laughs.
You laugh with them, but a part of you feels very lonely.
You are no longer part of the newspaper club. All you can see outside the window is the horizon. You are once again an ordinary student in the Republic of Raputoa.
If only you could put down these sentiments in writing and publish them in a newspaper.
And if only you could send that newspaper to the Capital District. But that is currently impossible—you do not know if it will ever be possible.
So right now, you only do what you can.
You tell your friends the whole story.
“I went to school the next day, and—”
* * *
When you went to school on the 27th, many people came up to talk to you. Both in the halls and in the classrooms.
“Hey, you’re the exchange student from Raputoa, right? I really liked your article.”
“How’s the capital treating you? Isn’t it great? That picture of you eating the crisp was really nice.”
“It was interesting to see what someone from another state thinks of us.”
“I’m glad you’re enjoying the Capital District.”
Each time, you thanked them profusely.
You were so happy. Like a village of strangers had suddenly become your family.
When you arrived at the club office, Seron, Larry, Jenny, Megmica, Natalia, and Nick—the whole club—greeted you with smiles.
“You’re a regular celebrity now.”
“Good going, newbie!”
“You might be more useful than these lugs here.”
“You did very good work!”
“Nothing like some crisps to spice up the newspaper.”
“I’m sure the newspaper will be a wonderful memento of your time here.”
You tried very hard to not break the happy atmosphere, straining to hold back the tears.
On the next day—the 28th—things had been reversed, and it was your turn to answer questions from the newspaper club.
Everyone but Natalia and Megmica was gathered in the office.
“I’d like to hear about your homeland,” Seron suggested, and the others joined in as well.
“Feel free to ask me anything!”
You answered their questions until the sun went down.
It made you very happy to convey even one more thing about your motherland to the Capital District.
The 29th was your last day at the 4th Capital Secondary School.
Your classes were finished. Each and every one of them had been worth taking.
In each of your classes, the teachers presented you with a special report card. As per program rules, you would take back the report cards to Raputoa.
As you expected, you had not done quite as well as in Raputoa, but—
“We’ve never had a short-term exchange student perform so well,” the teachers all said.
You received the report cards, brimming with pride.
After thanking and saying goodbye to the headmaster, you hurried to the newspaper club. You wanted to spend as much time as you could with the members, as it was your final day there.
You knocked on the door for the last time, and found the six members waiting.
“Come on in!”
The table was laden with cakes, each one intricately designed. A strawberry shortcake, a mille crepe, a sachertorte with whipped cream. On the empty boxes news to them was the name ‘Sears Patisserie’.
“Wh-what is all this?” You asked incredulously.
“It is a goodbye party. It is very lonely, but it will be good to say goodbye brightly,” Megmica replied.
“Sit down already,” Natalia ordered, playing her violin like the talented musician she was.
“Don’t make Lia wait too long,” Larry advised, brewing tea, “she might gobble up all the cakes.”
“We’ve ordered these from our favorite patisserie,” Nick said nonchalantly.
“You’ve only been here for a couple of weeks, but you were a great club member. So enjoy your party,” Jenny said, taking a photograph.
“Here. Take a seat.” Seron, ever the gentleman, offered you the best seat.
You looked around at the 4th Capital Secondary School’s newspaper club.
* * *
“Oh shoot! Did you cry, Cappie?”
“I did not! I held back.”
“So you almost did!”
Surrounded by your friends’ laughter, you think again—
That whether you are here or in the capital, you are surrounded by the most wonderful people.
“So what happened after that? Keep going, Cappie!”
* * *
The party in the office seemed to end in the blink of an eye.
You were not leaving until the afternoon of the next day, but because you would be busy signing out and taking care of last-minute business, you would not be going to classes or visiting the club. You said goodbye to everyone but Seron at the gates.
The sunset was beautiful.
Would you ever get the chance to see these people again, you wondered sadly. Then you looked up. Life would go on. Though you did not know what the future held in store, you knew that your attitude could make a difference. There was no use being pessimistic. Right now, the best you could do was say goodbye with a smile.
“Take care of yourself, yeah? May the gods smile on the Republic of Raputoa and its people,” Larry said with a salute.
“Come back and have some more crisps!” Natalia said, putting a hand on your shoulder.
“You were a most excellent student of Capital District history. An A+ for you,” Nick said, becoming the last of the Capital District teachers to give you a report card.
“Give me a call if you’re ever in town again.” Jenny said, handing you a note with her telephone number on it. In a corner of the note was scribbled the words, ‘Call me at 8 tonight. Don’t tell the others’.
You did not know what she was planning, but decided to obey. You slipped the note into your pocket.
“I hope you’ve made a lot of great memories here. Remember, if the engine breaks, do your best to fix it,” Megmica advised gravely.
Holding back tears, you watched everyone disappear beyond the gates and finally turned to Seron.
“I’m so glad you’re here, SC Seron. I would have felt so lonely if I were alone right now.”
You walked with him back to the dorms.
The magnificent campus buildings, the field dotted by sports clubs finishing up activities, and the forest of apartment buildings beyond, all glowing orange in the sunset—it would probably be the last time you saw this scene.
Slowly, you walked.
Seron silently matched your pace.
* * *
“They all sound like such good people!” One friend remarks. You nod proudly.
“Why are you acting all proud? Never mind. Anyway, it looks like you never managed to do anything in return for them.”
“That’s not exactly true.”
“Really? It sounds to me like it was all one-sided.”
You reply, “there was one really important job at the end that no one else could do.”
* * *
You had your last meal at the dormitory cafeteria with Seron.
Until then you had not gone out of your way to eat together because you had your own preferred study and bath times, but for the final meal you decided to coordinate.
The menu that day was hamburg steak marinated in special sauce. The sweet carrots and demi-glace sauce on the side were mouth-watering.
You recalled that everything at the school cafeterias had been delicious. For a moment you hated your tongue for perceiving the great flavors, as you would not be able to eat such foods again.
The next day, you would be very busy all day. You said goodbye to Seron after dinner.
“Take care. Contact me if you ever get to visit Weld or the Capital District. You’re welcome anytime,” Seron said at the lobby as you parted ways.
As you watched him depart, the question that had been on your mind the whole time since you first joined the newspaper club came back to you. The thought bobbed to the surface again and again.
Wasn’t there anything you could do for the newspaper club to pay back their kindness?
You fell into thought, standing alone in the lobby.
You could not think of anything, however. You supposed the debt was meant to be paid someday in the far-off future. The thought depressed you.
Afterwards, you headed to a phone booth to solve the mystery of Jenny’s note. The booths were quite crowded even so late in the evening.
Luckily, you spotted some empty booths and stepped inside one of them.
After a brief wait, you called the number at eight on the dot. Jenny soon picked up.
<Hey there, newbie.>
“G-good evening, SC Jenny. Is this your personal telephone?”
<No, I’m just borrowing it. Anyway, give me the number of the phone you’re using right now. I’ll call you back.>
You did as you were told and hung up. Just as you picked up the change, Jenny called you back.
* * *
“So which one’s SC Jenny?” Your friend asks, so you point her out in a photograph.
The photo was taken by Litner the bodyguard in front of the Confederation Library. This is the only one featuring all seven of you, so you tell your friend to be careful with it.
“The short girl right here. She’s the chief.”
“Aha. So what did she want with you? You said it was an important job?”
“Yeah. She said—”
* * *
<I’ve got one last job for you, newbie.>
“R-really? Yes! I’ll do anything I can!”
<I like your attitude. But first, is Seron Maxwell around right now?>
You raised your eyebrow, but you soon remembered the note and replied, “No, he’s not. And the booths on either side of me are empty too.”
<Good. Then here is your order.>
What was she planning, you gulped.
<Write a letter to Strauski Megmica.>
“Huh? what do you—”
<I want you to write a letter to Strauski Megmica. As soon as possible.>
“R-right. A letter. Sure, I can do that. But what do I write?”
You were taken off-guard. You were planning to write to everyone after you returned to Raputoa.
<See, we’ve had a problem in our club ever since it was founded in the summer.>
“What is it?” You gulped again. Jenny disclosed the truth.
<Seron is in love with Megmica.>
“Really? A-are you sure?”
<One hundred percent. C’mon, you spent the last two weeks with us and didn’t notice?>
You spent 10 whole seconds rewinding. But—
“No, I didn’t.”
<I suppose Seron can be hard to read with that stony face of his. But—>
<He sometimes ends up doing the most dorky things because of her. You heard about how he’s started running recently, right?>
<Well, he’s doing that because of what happened at the orienteering competition we had last month. Seron got tired and fell behind before Megmica, and she had to pull him along by the hand at the end. It must have bothered him.>
<He probably wanted to make a better impression on her, that shy idiot. And now he’s struggling to make up for what he thinks was an unsightly display. For being so handsome and smart, he sure is a moron.>
Jenny was harsh. But you could not get angry at her on Seron’s behalf. You had to hear her out to the end.
“So why do you need me to write to SC Megmica?”
<I want you to tell her something.>
“Y-you can’t mean, ‘beware of Seron’?!” You whispered harshly.
<Calm down, newbie. I mean the opposite.>
<Just tell her, ‘I think SC Seron likes you’.>
She wanted you to confess Seron’s feelings in his stead.
“I-is that really all right? I feel so bad for SC Seron…”
<Hmph. I knew you would say that.>
“I think most people would agree with me.”
<And you’re right. But Seron is such a chicken,> Jenny said mercilessly, <so he’ll never come out and say it. I can tell.>
“You really think so?” You managed to respond. But you were inclined to agree.
<At this rate, Seron’s gonna make zero progress before graduation. I don’t know what Megmica has planned afterwards, but what if she ends up going back to Sou Be-Il for university?>
<So I ask you this, newbie,> Jenny said gravely, <would you just leave Seron floundering the way he is now?>
Things were not all right as they were. With that in mind, you came to an answer.
If Seron was in love with Megmica, he should tell her. If things worked out, then that was wonderful—if not, he would spend some time in misery but soon move on with life.
You replied, taking care so as not to be quite so blunt.
“No. I don’t think I should.”
<There’s no beautiful, glorious future in store for an idiot who sits around just being happy that he gets to be in the same club as his crush. Don’t you think?>
<Yeah. If he’s in love, he should be honest and say he is. I’m not saying he should shout it from the rooftops. And there definitely needs to be something like a friendship before he tells her. But he’s just sitting on his hands now, being too shy to confess! That’s just complacent. If he loses her because he doesn’t act, he deserves it!>
Jenny was getting angry, though you couldn’t tell if the anger was directed at Seron or someone else. It sounded almost as though she had made the same mistake herself.
<Nat and Nick agree with me, by the way.>
“Do they know too?”
<Obviously. Larry does too, cause Seron told him. Megmica’s the only one who doesn’t. I don’t know if that’s because she’s too dense or sensitive, or because she assumes a handsome guy like Seron would never fall for her. It’s gotta be one of those three.>
“Do the others know about your plan, SC Jenny?” You asked.
“Then maybe you could consult—”
<No.> Jenny cut you off.
<Look. I think Nat, Nick, and Larry feel the same way I do, to a certain extent. And they’d push for this plan if I told them. But what if they don’t? And more importantly—>
<Suppose the worst happens. As long as I’m the only one who planned this, everyone will get mad at me. I’m the only one in the Capital District who’ll have to take their anger face-to-face.>
You understood what she meant. “So you’re saying that I’m in the right position to take up that role, since I’m leaving tomorrow?”
It was a very harsh order. These people who helped you for the past two weeks could end up hating you from halfway across the continent for a very long time because of your actions.
<Yeah,> Jenny paused, and continued, <so I need your help, newbie.>
She was serious.
<And this is just my intuition, but…>
<I don’t think Megmica dislikes Seron at all. If he asked her out, she wouldn’t turn him down, at least not immediately. She would at least take some time to think it over.>
“Th-that would be wonderful, but what if she says she doesn’t like a guy who can’t ask her out himself?”
<You have a point. And if that happens, it’s all over. I guess it’s a possibility, considering what she’s said and done before. I suppose you could write to Seron instead and urge him to confess, but I don’t think that’ll spur him into action.>
<And we can’t just wait around hoping Megmica will come around and confess to Seron one day. As Seron’s friends, we only have two options. Push him into a risky situation that could pay off, or let him stagnate in his current position.>
You thought for several dozen seconds.
And though you were silent, Jenny waited patiently.
* * *
“She said I had to play matchmaker.”
Everyone bursts into laughter. They were expecting something more serious.
“Come on,” you say, “there were these two people in the club who liked each other—”
You lie to your classmates. You could not tell them the truth. But at the same time, you pray that your lie becomes a reality.
“She asked me to tell them before I left. If one of the club members did this, they would get caught, so I had to spill the beans instead.”
As the class applauds, someone asks,
“So did you do it?”
* * *
At the Capital District Airport, you wrote to Megmica just as Jenny instructed.
‘Did you by any chance notice how SC Seron feels about you? It’s been on my mind the whole time I was in the newspaper club. I’m very sorry if this comes off as nosy to you.’
Jenny assured you that she would tell you the whole story, no matter what the outcome. You wanted to hear how it turned out, but at the same time did not want to hear it.
But either way, you did all you can.
At the Capital District, you studied, visited places, enjoyed club activities, and did what you could to repay the people who helped you.
As you finished the phone call, you had asked,
“Are you sure this will be a good thing for SC Seron? I’m kind of worried.”
<It’s up to him to capitalize on this opportunity. No one else,> Jenny had replied.
* * *
<It’s been a while, SC Jenny.>
<It sure has, newbie. Or I guess I can’t call you that any more. Want me to call you by name?>
<It’s all right.>
<You’re calling from Raputoa, right? Should I call you back?>
<Yes, please. Oh, but I wanted to ask you something quickly.>
<Did my letter reach SC Megmica? What happened afterwards?>
<Things are turning out as I expected, more or less.>