Kogasa and Nazrin sat in the village café, untouched cups of barley tea in front of them. The spot was a favorite of Nazrin's. Kogasa had long given up on the idea of surprising humans anymore and, with little else to do, often tagged along.
"When you think about it," said Nazrin, scratching her left ear. "Dowsing is a lot like a religion."
Kogasa blinked. "Come again?"
"You devote yourself to a singular purpose, a goal you aspire to. Like a higher calling."
"A higher calling."
"Yes. Much like a priestess. And you collect ... things, like a priestess does."
"Yeah, see, that's where you-"
"Hear me out." Nazrin put her hands on the table. "So the more you collect, the more powerful you become. It's a religion."
"It's a job. What you're talking about is a job." Kogasa shook her head. "Are you hungry?"
"No. Look, you see that guy over there?" Nazrin nudged her chin towards her right shoulder. "The fat one wearing only one sandal?"
Nazrin lowered her voice, and leaned in a little. "He keeps coming around, acting like he wants to have a casual conversation, but then he always slips in some questions about dowsing tips."
"Really?" Kogasa furrowed her brow. "Well ... do you give him any?"
Nazrin smiled, leaning back. "Of course not. Doesn't stop him from trying. He's devoted to dowsing, you see. And he sees me as someone who can teach him ... like a priestess would! You see how this comes together? Maybe I should build a shrine or something."
But Kogasa wasn't listening to a word Nazrin was saying. Because approaching the counter was a girl Kogasa had never seen before. She had shiny black hair with a shock of red over her forehead. Her skirt, bold red and black, cut at sharp angles, the upside-down bow in the small of her back, swung with confidence as she walked casually to the man with one sandal. She had a smirk of arrogant self-satisfaction, her eyes smiling. For that moment, Kogasa noticed no one else in the café. Her breath caught as she watch this strange girl tap the man on the shoulder, three almost half-hearted pokes of her finger.
The man turned to the girl. He hesitated a moment. "Yes?"
The girl kicked off her left sandal. "Put on my sandal."
The man looked around him, then back at the girl. "What?"
"Put it on!" She shouted.
Only then was Kogasa again aware of everyone else in the café, all now watching the pair: a pudgy man in his late fifties, and this girl smiling up at his worried face.
Reluctantly, the man with some difficulty pushed his toes under the strap of the sandal.
The girl, hands on her hips, looked at the man's feet, then back up at him. Still smiling, she nodded. "Now get out."
The man wiped his forehead."But why? All I wanted was just some-"
"Don't care! Out!"
With a defeated sigh, the man shrugged, and shuffled out of the café, limping, as the patrons watched in silence. But Kogasa was still looking at the girl. She felt her mouth go a little dry, and thought for a moment she might be sick, but then decided she was just dizzy. What force of nature brought this person here? All she wanted to do was keep looking at her.
The girl looked around the room a moment, then took a breath as if some minor inconvenience were now out of the way.
"My name is Seija Kijin," she said, in a clear, strong voice. "This place is hereby commandeered for the revolution. Any dissent will be considered collaboration with the enemy and will be dealt with accordingly. All true revolutionaries may enjoy the goods and services of this establishment at their pleasure. Is this understood?"
Without waiting for a reply, Seija took off her other sandal, spun, and threw it at the shelves behind the counter, breaking a bottle of saké. Patrons at the bar gasped, flinching.
"Is this understood?," she repeated, louder.
The crowd murmured in hurried consent.
"Good!" Seija smiled. "That will be all!" With that, she strode out of the café.
The café patrons looked around, cautiously, for any further danger, before reluctantly speaking with each other again, in worried tones.
"Oh wow, she's completely nuts." Nazrin laughed, then shook her head. "She didn't even take her other sandal with her."
For days after seeing her, all Kogasa could think about was Seija. She replayed in her mind Seija walking into the café, how completely at ease she looked, knowing what she was about to do. Every motion of her arms and legs as she approached this man she had never met before was relaxed, assured. It didn't even matter to Kogasa that she didn't understand a word of Seija's speech, or what her problem with sandals was. Kogasa kept seeing the scene happen in her mind, and yet the thought of actually talking to her gave her a shudder of panic. Her mind went blank when she thought of things she might say, and then wondered why she thought it necessary to think of things to say. She became a bit more forgetful, and didn't sleep too well.
About two weeks after the revolution in the café, Kogasa headed to Hakurei Shrine for the Saturday swap meet. She was reluctant to take part when she heard it was Reimu's idea, but the last time she went she managed to pick up a really nice blanket. This time she hoped to see what an empty suitcase could get her.
As she walked among the dozen or so people in the crowd in front of the shrine, she turned towards the steps, and saw Seija standing there, talking to Reimu and Marisa.
Kogasa cursed under her breath. Why is she talking to them? she thought. The two people she least wanted to talk with at the moment. She waited, watching the three of them talk. She began to tap her hand against her hip, looking at Seija. Imagining talking to her. Reimu and her pinched, annoyed face, Marisa's big mouth yapping. When do these two ever shut up? Tired of waiting, Kogasa approached the three.
Reimu and Marisa watched with restrained incredulousness as Kogasa walked up to them.
"Hey ... Kogasa," Reimu said.
"Hey Reimu hey Marisa hey!" Kogasa turned to Seija. "So you're ... new."
Seija looked at Reimu and Marisa, then back at Kogasa. "Are you asking me or telling me?"
"I'm ... saying welcome! Yes." Kogasa switched her suitcase from her left hand to her right. "You uh like the café?"
Seija smiled. "Oh you were there? Good. You be sure and let these peasants know."
Reimu frowned. "Hey now."
Kogasa laughed, loudly. She stopped laughing when she noticed the three of them were looking at her as if trying to make their minds up about something. As she was afraid would happen, Kogasa had run out of things to talk about. She felt a shame she didn't understand, and looked down. Saying something couldn't be worse than saying nothing, she figured, so she forced her mouth to speak.
"Do you want my suitca-"
"Well I'm bored," said Seija, already walking away. "There's nothing good for sale here anyway. Bye."
"It's a swap meet!" Reimu called after her. "You don't sell things at a- she's not even stopping."
"Well, you know where you stand with her, at least," said Marisa. "You gotta give her that much."
"Ugh she's just annoying," sad Reimu. "Like a little kid. Anyway, what's in the suitcase, Kogasa?"
Kogasa, not looking up, turned and walked away without a word.
Reimu shook her head, and turned to Marisa. "Does no one understand what a swap meet is?"
Marisa watched Kogasa walk away. "I don't think that's why she was here anyway. I'll catch you later on."
"OK, sure, let me clean up. Just this once."
Marisa waved off the sarcasm as she followed Kogasa.
Once Kogasa got up the hill from the shrine a ways, she put the empty suitcase down by the side of the path, sitting down on it. Resting her elbows on her knees, she lay her chin on the palms of her hands and sighed. It was a beautiful afternoon, but she couldn't help feeling like it might as well be a cloudy day.
"'Do you want my suitcase'," she muttered to herself. "What is wrong with me?" And saying it in front of Reimu and Marisa, of all people, the biggest loudmouths in Gensokyo. By this time tomorrow everyone will know what a dummy I am, she thought. Kogasa considered the possibility of crawling into a hole and not coming out, ever. Or maybe after a couple years.
"Hey." Kogasa looked up at the voice, and saw Marisa standing next to her. Kogasa looked away without answering. Marisa sat next to her.
"So ... waddaya think of the new girl?," Marisa asked. Silence. "An upside-down bow? Wow! That's pretty daring. Nice dress, too."
"Yeah," Kogasa mumbled.
Marisa sighed. "Kogasa ... look, I'm not here to tease you. I know what that was all about, back at the shrine." Marisa leaned in a little closer. "You like the new girl, don't you?"
Kogasa turned to Marisa. Her face and her tone wasn't mocking; Marisa seemed genuinely interested. A little caught off guard, Kogasa still felt she couldn't completely trust Marisa, but the urge to tell somebody what she was feeling was stronger than her fear of the risks. Kogasa played with the hem of her dress.
"Maybe," she said.
"That's what I thought," said Marisa, leaning back on her hands. "Well, what do you like about her?"
Kogasa took a long, slow breath, and began thinking out loud. "I dunno, you know, she's just ... I mean she ... she came to the café yesterday and she made a fat guy put on one of her sandals and then she broke a bottle and then she took over the café and now I can't stop thinking about her and she's just so ... so ..."
"Yeah! She's really cool. I think ..." Kogasa swallowed, her mouth dry. "I think I might be in love with her."
Marisa snorted. "Nah."
Kogasa looked at Marisa. "I'm not?"
"No, you're not in love with her," said Marisa. "I mean you don't even know her. Lemme tell ya what's going on. See, Seija's a sharp dresser. She doesn't care what people think of her. If you ask me, I think she even enjoys it when she upsets people. And she ... took over the café you said?"
"And smashed a bottle with her sandal."
"What the-? Seriously, what is her problem? Anyway, she's cool. Whereas you ... are not."
"No, it's true."
"Oh nice Marisa," Kogasa snipped. "Go ahead, remind me again. I got a stupid haircut and a dumb skirt and I'm lactose intolerant and my eyes don't even match and-"
"Whoah, hold on. That's not what I meant. What I mean is, you don't love Seija. What you're feeling is envy. You don't want to be with her; you want to [i]be[/i] her."
Kogasa considered this. "Really?"
"Yeah, really. I bet you never wished you were someone else before, have you?"
"Now that you mention it ... no. I guess I never have."
"Well that's what it feels like. You're envious of her, because you wish you could act like she does, but you just don't have it in you. And that's fine. You know why?"
Kogasa shook her head.
"Because," said Marisa. "Well - try and imagine a Gensokyo without a talking umbrella."
"That's right," said Marisa. "Nothing you can do, really. You just gotta do your thing, hang in there, and the feeling will pass. Eventually. You'll be alright, don't worry."
Kogasa did feel a little better, but was still wary. "Why are you being so nice to me?"
"Because you know, you're ... funny," said Marisa. "And I want that suitcase."
Kogasa stood, smiling a little. "There's nothing in it."
"It's a pretty sweet suitcase. Just cheer up already, would ya? You get these ugly little wrinkles in your forehead when you're frowning. It looks weird."
Kogasa nodded. "I'll try. Enjoy the suitcase."
"I will. See ya!," said Marisa, waving as Kogasa walked away. After a moment, Marisa stood, picking up the suitcase, and walked back towards the shrine.
"Lactose intolerant," she said to herself.
The following week, Kogasa and Nazrin were once again sitting at their table in the café. Nazrin concluded her story about the buried crockery, and said, "So, what do you want to drink?"
"Barley tea, of course."
"You got it."
Nazrin walked to the counter, and returned shortly thereafter with two barley teas.
"And there we go. So, this crockery. There was a bowl-"
"You know what? I changed my mind," Kogasa said. "Bring me a whisky."
Nazrin laughed. "Are you serious? Kogasa, listen. If you drank whisky, you would probably melt from the inside out. And that would embarrass me."
Kogasa said nothing.
Nazrin stood. "Alright. One whisky. I'll leave that tea there, in the odd chance you change your mind."
Nazrin returned with a small cup of whisky, and set it down ceremoniously in front of Kogasa.
Before letting herself talk herself out of it, Kogasa snatched up the cup and tossed it back in one swallow. For a few seconds, she held her breath.
Nazrin slapped her hand on the table and tried to contain her laughter. "Oh wow! Easy there, you'll end up killing someone."
Kogasa then felt as though liquid fire was slowly dripping down her throat. She wanted to scream. Carefully, she lifted the barley tea to her mouth, and tried not to seem too eager to drink it as she took a long, thin sip.
"I'm fine," she said, setting the cup down.
Nazrin made a low whistle. "Well. Color me impressed. Maybe I'll join you, you want another?"
"I cannot feel my fingers or lips."
"Alright then. Maybe I'll just sit here."
Kogasa leaned back against the wall, and then saw Seija, sitting at the far end of the room with her feet up on the table, eating an apple. Watching her now, something seemed different about her. She's still cool, no question, Kogasa thought. But she had gotten a bit used to seeing her now and then, oblivious to her and anyone else she didn't have immediate business with. Seija was around a lot, actually, talking to people about this revolutionary force that no one had actually seen, going to the café, throwing bottles at people's houses for no apparent reason. Kogasa realized she saw her somewhere every couple days, and then wondered when she stopped keeping track of how many days it was since the last time she saw her.
The café owner approached Seija, and pointed to her legs. "Please take your feet off of the table."
Seija smiled. "Why don't you make-"
The café owner swept Seija's ankles from the table, and her feet dropped to the floor. Then he took the apple out of her hand, turned, and walked away.
"Yeah!," Seija shouted after him. "You better keep walking!"
Kogasa smiled, and turned to Nazrin.
"Hey, are you feeling alright?," Nazrin asked. "You look a little out of it."
"I'm feeling quite well," said Kogasa.
"You're my best friend, Nazrin."
"You're drunk is what you are."
"And you're a priestess of sorts."
Nazrin tilted her head a bit as she looked at Kogasa, and then smiled. "OK, now I know you're drunk. Come on. Let's go home."
Saturday, June 6, 2015
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