Chapter 1 | A Boy With a Low Social Standing

The school chimes that everyone is accustomed to hearing shake the crisp winter air.

For adults, it sounds nostalgic, but for the students, it is a sign of liberation.

A typical junior high school in a provincial city in Kyushu is no exception, and as soon as the chimes finish ringing, the school begins to buzz with activity.

Some students came out leisurely, chatting with their friends, while others, perhaps in their third year, walked around with their eyes glued to their reference books.

It is an ordinary scene that can be found anywhere.

The scene begins in such a place.

“Hey, Inoue!”

A shouting voice stopped a boy who had just left the classroom to get ready to go home.

The boy who had been called out to was quite small in stature, although the color of his jacket indicated that he was a third grader. He was probably a little over 140 centimeters tall, smaller than the girls passing around him. He probably weighs only about the same. If he were to walk down the street, he would probably be seen only as an elementary school student.

“Wha, What is it?”

The boy looked fearfully toward the voice.

There were three boys wearing the same color shoes standing around the boy with smirks on their faces.

In contrast to the boy, the larger student, especially the middle one, the one who approached the boy, is well over 170 cm tall and has a girthy build. The other two students, though not as large, were also much larger than the boy.

“You’re going to deliver newspapers again today, aren’t you? How hard it must be for you poor people.”

The words spoken to the boy were filled with malice, and his expression was tinged with a sneer.

“Eiji-kun, you shouldn’t feel sorry for him. Inoue is not poor at home, he is just abandoned by his parents.”

“If you don’t work, you can’t eat school lunches or buy notebooks, right? It’s so sad that they won’t even let you go to high school nowadays.”

The two following them also laugh mockingly.

All three of them look so hideous that it is hard to believe that they are only about 15 years old.

“Sorry, sorry, Inoue’s family doesn’t want him, either. Where are you going?

The boy was verbally abused.

When he tried to ignore it and pass by, he was interrupted with his hands outstretched.

From any perspective, this is vicious bullying.

But even so, none of the students around him tried to stop him.

Rather, they simply walk past at a brisk pace so as not to get involved.

The student at the center of the bullying, Eiji Todo, whose father is a member of the local National Assembly, comes from a prominent family that has been powerful in the area for a long time.

Even if Eiji gets into trouble, neither the school nor the police will keep quiet about it, and it will never come to light. The school and the police would be very reluctant to make Eiji a target of their attention.

“We’re grateful to you, even if you’re just a little girl who doesn’t want us here. Because, shh!”

Boom!

“!”

Eiji suddenly kicks the boy in the thigh with his knee, and the boy crouches down, stifling a scream of pain.

“You’re helping us relieve the stress of exams, you know.”

“I’m so happy for you! I’m glad I could be of help!”

Another one punches the boy in the side as he tries to stand up, enduring the pain.

“!”

Still, the boy stifled his voice and turned his face away so that no one could see his expression.

He knows that if he reacts, the bullying will get worse.

“What are you doing?”

A voice unexpectedly interrupted the situation.

What? Ah, what is it, Aoyama-sensei? No, it’s nothing. I was just listening to Inoue-kun complain.”

Eiji turned around as if surprised, but when he saw the owner of the voice, he answered with a smile as if relieved.

The teacher called Aoyama, who was there, coldly glanced at the boy and sniffed.

“What, Inoue is still coming to school? You’re not going to go on to higher education anyway, so don’t wander around the school in your dirty clothes. It’s an important time of the year when everyone is preparing for the entrance examinations. It’s an eyesore just to have trash like you around.

Tomorrow is the final exam, so you and Todo should go home early.”

“””Yes, sir.”””

The three boys, who had seen Aoyama-sensei walk away, surrounded the boy once again.

Originally, the boy did not have high expectations for his teacher, Aoyama.

Aoyama-sensei was the boy’s homeroom teacher in the second grade, but he was cold toward the boy from the beginning.

In fact, he was so displeased with the boy that no matter how seriously he took his classes or how well he scored on his exams, he was always given the lowest grades, and he would constantly put him down and encourage Eiji and the other students to bully him.

It was a relief that after moving up to the third grade, Eiji and his classmates were no longer involved with each other except for the subjects they were in charge of.

Eiji and his classmates are now in a different class from the others, but these three go out of their way to harass the boy, even to the extent of ambushing him.

“I’m sorry to hear that even your teacher gave up on you, Inoue-kun. Well, it’s no wonder you’re wearing such a dirty uniform.”

He deliberately stains the boy’s pants with the soles of his jacket as he says this.

It is true that the boy’s uniform is the school uniform, but the color is faded and frayed in some places as if he had worn it for three years and then used it for several more years, and the fabric is faded at the elbows and knees. It seemed unlikely that anyone nowadays would wear their clothes until they were in this condition.

His hair was shaggy and cut unevenly, making him look even shabbier.

However, his face is well-defined, and his small stature, slightly rounded face, and wide-open eyes are adorable, reminiscent of a small animal.

“Hey, what are you doing?”

The verbal and physical violence that was about to unfold again was stopped by a voice echoing from near the classroom entrance from which the boy had just emerged.

“It’s Miyamori, isn’t it? It’s none of your business, is it? Ah, I see, I’ve been suspecting for a while now, but aren’t you guys dating?”

“I feel like an idiot. You can only talk like an elementary school student even though you are in the third grade of junior high school? Well, I don’t care what Todo says, but unlike a spoiled brat like you, Inoue-kun is busy. Why don’t you stop talking nonsense?”

The female student called Miyamori glared at Eiji without fear as she continued to talk.

“Hey, you better shut up and listen or you’ll get off on the wrong foot. You think you can just piss me off and get away with it?”

“Are you really going to cry to your father when you’re old enough to know better? Or ask your friends for help? Then I’ll turn to my family too. Didn’t I tell you? My uncle works for a newspaper in Tokyo, and my sister is an announcer for a news program.”

A brief stare-down.

It was Miyamori who won.

“Tsk… Let’s go.”

Even though her father has a certain amount of power in her hometown, he is still only a local.

If any adverse publicity were to come out against him, he could lose his position and influence in the blink of an eye. Eiji probably understood that, even though he was just a child, and walked away with his friends, leaving a cluck on his tongue.

“Um, thank you, Miyamori-san.”

“Inoue-kun, are you all right? I’m sorry it took me so long to notice. I was talking with my friend. Did you get hit or something?”

The boy shook his head vaguely. Wakana Miyamori, a female student, half-expected what had been done to him, but did not pursue the matter any further and brushed off the dirt on his clothes.

“Thank you as always. I’m going home then.”

“Oh, yes, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

The boy smiled at her, and Wakana waved her hand with a slight blush on her cheeks as she saw him off at a quick pace.




“I’m home.”

Even in Kyushu, it is cold in late December evening.

The boy, curling his back from the cold, returns home, a 15-minute walk from his junior high school, and quietly opens the front door so as not to make too much noise.

He opens the front door quietly, trying not to make too much noise, and after saying a few words, he takes off his shoes.

He carefully brushes off his old sneakers, so dirty you can’t tell their original color and puts them away in the corner of the shoe box.

“Where the hell have you been? You piece of shit! You better start making me dinner!

“I’m sorry.”

The boy cowered and apologized to the woman’s angry voice that slammed into him as soon as he entered the living room.

The boy cowered his head and apologized for the woman’s angry voice that slammed into him as he entered the living room.

It is not that he comes home later than usual.

In fact, it is a little earlier than usual because it is before the exam, but the boy puts his bag in his room and changes into his uniform without making any objection.

He is always yelled at, no matter what he does, whether he is early or late.

He doesn’t even want to think about what he would face if he tries to argue with them.

Although it sounds like a boy’s room, there is almost nothing in it except for his school things and a few personal belongings.

Half of the six-tatami room is occupied by the clothes of the woman mentioned earlier, a wooden box as a desk, a piece of cardboard as a bookshelf, and a folded blanket that looks like it was scavenged from somewhere.

He hurriedly changed out of his uniform into a pair of faded jeans and a shirt to avoid being yelled at again, and left the room.

He walks behind the woman who is sitting on the living room couch watching TV and putting on her makeup and begins to cook a meal in the kitchen.

Consommé soup with carrots and onions, and a ham and egg sandwich.

He quickly prepares a light menu for the woman to go to work at the restaurant where she is going to work.

In addition, he also makes miso soup, teriyaki chicken thighs, and a few small dishes to go with it, and wraps them up.

He made only one serving of each dish.

After that, he quickly took in the laundry that was hanging out to dry and did a quick cleaning of his room.

Outside of school and his part-time job, it is the boy’s job to do the housework.

But he is never rewarded for it.

Even if there were leftovers, he would have to throw them all away.

“The bathtub is filthy. Make sure it’s absolutely spotless by the time I get back, okay!”

He nodded silently at the words that would always be said no matter how well he polished them up.

The woman glared at the boy with an abhorrent look, sniffed, and went to work.

In the end, the woman only touched about half of the meal he had prepared.

Saliva puddled in the boy’s mouth at the remainder of the sandwich, which had not even been touched, but he was not allowed to touch it.

He dumped the remaining soup and sandwich into the garbage can in the sink and washed the dishes.

In the meantime, it is time to go to his part-time job.

The boy hurries to the front door to make sure it is locked.

A click.

A man with a grim look on his face was standing at the front door, which was opened slightly earlier than the boy could open it.

He was probably in his mid-30s, wearing a gray sweatshirt and down jacket, with disheveled, shaggy hair and a scruffy beard. He had the appearance of a man who would not hold a proper job.

“You’re in my way, you little brat!

The boy hurriedly took off his shoes to make room.

“Tsk!

With a click of his tongue, the man roughly takes off his shoes and enters the room.

As he passes by, the boy squats down and takes the man’s shoes, and sets them down.

And then a strong impact on the boy’s back causes him to hit his face hard against the doorway with the force of the impact.

“Ugh, ouch!”

He shakes his head to regain consciousness.

When he put his hand on the spot where he had been hit, he felt a slippery sensation.

Blood was running down the side of his forehead as if he had been hit by a newspaper.

He stood up, frowning at the pain in his face, forehead, and back, and wondered when the man had returned, grinning at him as he kicked the boy.

“I’m sorry, I’m just a little pissed off after losing at Pachinko. You’re going to work now, right? Go buy some cigarettes on the way home. Marlboro menthol.”

The boy bowed his head in silence and walked out the front door.

He had to borrow money for cigarettes again at his part-time job.

The boy’s steps were heavy.


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