You Never Change, Right?
fiction, Feb. 2019
When I sort packages by region as they come flowing through the lane, I always think about the various cities. There’s the city I’ve never heard of, the city I want to visit someday, the city whose unforgettable memories fill my head—all packages have their own destinations.
I was sorting when, suddenly, my hand froze—a package came by that was addressed to the city where I grew up. A familiar face popped into my mind.
It was Hitomi, a friend of mine from childhood. Her parents ran a penny candy store.
When I would go to the store to visit Hitomi, her father was always there. He would say in a gentle voice, “Wait a second,” and would leave the store to go find her in the attached house.
While I waited for Hitomi, I looked around the store to find something for my afternoon snack: maybe it would be gum, a five-yen coin-shaped chocolate, a cup noodle snack, or a sauce cutlet snack.
With 100 yen pocket money in my hand, it was fun to look for the best snack for that day.
Sometimes, Hitomi stood in front at the cash register instead of her father. When she did, she’d give a smile to customers, a smile I’d never seen from her at school. It turned her into an adult one or two steps ahead of me.
As a matter of fact, I’m not good at giving such a smile even after becoming an adult.
“If you can’t smile well, you shouldn’t work in front of others.”
It was this thought that ended up leading me to choose a job in a warehouse, where I had only little contact with others. I feel somewhat relaxed when surrounded by cardboard boxes that don’t have any eyes to see.
Suddenly, a cheerful voice saying “Have a good evening!” echoed behind me and brought me back to reality. I could only turn and bow clumsily to her, but she—my colleague, Ms. Tanaka—gave me a warm smile. It assured me that her greeting was not merely professional politeness reserved for colleagues.
Her kindness filled me with the color of a wine-red evening sky.
On my way home, I felt like taking a short walk to the convenience store.
I’d been busy growing up from a kid to an adult, and hadn’t noticed that penny candy shops, like the one Hitomi’s parents ran, had almost disappeared from the world. Instead, convenience stores stood in the places they’d left.
I couldn’t find ten-yen gum or five-yen coin-shaped chocolate at the convenience store. But even after twenty years had passed, there was still one snack that had stuck around.
“You never change, right?” I murmured in my mind. I smiled and picked up a sauce cutlet snack.
It was too much food for an evening snack, but too little for dinner. Still, I took a bite and swallowed, almost instantly getting slight heartburn from the sauce-soaked flour, and feeling as if the years of my past were soaking my heart with their warmth.
1 In Japan, retail employees are well-trained, expected to provide a smile and excellent service to every customer.
2 In Japan, we quite often bow to each other in greeting.
3 Penny candy shops were everywhere before the 1980s. Now, they have come back around as a new trend, and some amusement parks have big ones.
Writer. Born in 1987, Ibaraki prefecture. Mainly writes novels.