(New update is slightly longer because I uploaded the wrong document)
November 15 2021
Hikigaya Hachiman's Path to Reformation
Hachiman in The Netherlands
(Events in this part of the story happen between chapters 27-28)
I look up from my phone and then loosen up the tight suit around my neck that's choking my neck like a boa constrictor. "Hmm?"
My Father takes a sip from his glass of water before motioning to the other table to where his Dutch associates were seated. The opening of the program was already finished around an hour ago. He was the one who hosted it at the stage and presented all the recent achievements of his firm as well as his plans. The venue is big, there are around three hundred people here. I know since I was the one of the several who was stationed at the entrance to welcome them. It's not the first time that I've been to events like these, so I know my way around as well as how to act and what to say. Naturally, people would be curious of my Father's wife and children to see his side as a Father and not as a company president of Hikigaya Logistics and Accounting Services Corporation. It is one thing to know the person you work for, to see them at work and being a respectable professional and it's another to see him drop the act in the presence of his family.
I do get some attention being his firstborn son but not to the point where it becomes a hassle to deal with. The occasional bow when I pass by some guests, the small smiles that I send their way and keeping up with the casual conversation are the things that I usually do. I have to act and look the part as well: I have to carefully ponder on my words before speaking, I have to check my appearance in the mirror, I have to be consistent with my posture without making it look too obvious that I'm tired, I have to always remind myself that staring too hard into someone's eyes will make them uncomfortable and make me come off as rude. It's not as different when I keep up my mentally exhausting facade at school, to a certain extent. At least the people that I call friends at school already know how I act normally so I don't hide much from them.
It's one of the few things that I learned from Haruno, my so-called "Onee-san".
When I'm within the confines of the StuCo room, I can finally relax and place my head on Shiromeguri-senpai's soft chest.
Metaphorically speaking of course. But I can't deny that being in her presence has a calming and "recharging" effect on me. This is very similar to the nice feeling when Komachi and my Mother hug or kiss me.
"You should go to them."
"Be friends with them, they've been looking at our direction for some time now. Look," I roll my eyes and turn my head, discreetly seeing what they're doing. "I bet they're still surprised that the boy who helped them at that camping site is the son of the man who's also the reason why they're here in the first place. I invited their Fathers here and told them to bring them along if they wanted to."
He's right. Lukas and Maria, I think those were their names, as well as Tess and Lars, were all talking with each other. Whatever they were talking about made them hesitant and jumpy.
My beautiful mother, dressed in her pure white Kimono with sakura petal designs, calls my Father's attention after putting her glass of water down. My Mother, Hikigaya Hitomi, is seated to my right here at our circular table and Komachi is between her and my Father. She only wore very little makeup, which she has always done for as long as I can remember. I rarely see my dear Mother dress up since she is very casual with her clothes, even when managing her businesses she only opts to wear jeans and a simple shirt.
Looking at her like this is rather refreshing and bit amusing.
"Dear, please don't force Haa-chan. He's already exhausted at standing around at the entrance and greeting the guests." My Father rolls his eyes and my Mother puts her hand on my arm. "Do your legs and feet still hurt Haa-chan?"
I instinctively reach down and rub my heels which are still a bit sore. "A bit."
I take a large chunk of chicken cordon bleu with a chopstick while putting my other hand under it just in case it might fall and ruin my suit. My Father chides me for it since I had to open my mouth as wide as possible making me look like a snake dislocating my jaw to swallow my prey whole. My dear Mother on the other hand merely giggles at the sight and tells him off for such a trivial thing before pouring a glass of water for me. Everyone else at their tables is busy eating, I doubt they saw me since my back is to them.
In hindsight, I would have done it anyway for appearance's sake even if I had to go against the wishes of my Mother. It would portray a bad image if I acted like a rebellious and disobedient son. Komachi is out of the question since she'd most likely complain and ask to switch with me as well and I would give in when she gives me a teary-eyed expression.
It's hard when you're a hardcore siscon. Being a siscon is a full-time job that requires my attention twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week.
"Why did you even make him do that anyway?" She asks and turns to my Father. "You easily could have made any of your people do it instead of him..."
"He needs to experience this sort of thing now and then, he needs to get accustomed to it quickly."
My Mother sighs and lets go of the matter. It is quite clear that she disagreed with his decision but couldn't say anything earlier since I was okay with it.
A waiter comes to our table and offers us dessert, my parents politely decline but I give my share to Komachi who was still busy stuffing her mouth with food as discreetly as possible. I would have chastised her if she didn't look so goofy doing it. After a few minutes of small talk with them, I decide that it's time to get up and follow my Father's request. The live band that my Father hired was playing songs from the early 90's and '80s, songs that would undoubtedly invoke feelings of joyful nostalgia from memories in the past. Some of the Firm's employees were at the corner dancing to the sound of the music while their spouses looked on with amusement. A few guests would turn their heads to me when I get closer to their table, and I would give them a polite nod and bow. I grin to myself in satisfaction when I see pleased expressions on their faces.
The guests from The Netherlands were on the other side of the large hall where they mostly kept to themselves. They only occupied three tables with seven people each which are quite small when compared to the rest of the people here. However, the ones that I got acquainted with had their table to themselves. From how I see it, they seem to be talking amongst themselves while frequently glancing at their phones. They were dressed quite nicely too, the two girls, in particular, were very pretty and elegant in their dresses. Though I have to say that they stand out a bit because they're fully exposing their shoulders and some of their chest… I'm surprised that these girls' Fathers allow them to wear dresses like that.
They dress differently huh… I can't say that I see that every day here in Chiba, or even in Tokyo for that matter.
I bet girls blessed by genetics like Yuigahama and Kawasaki would look beautiful in a dress like that. The Ice Queen on the other hand…not so much.
Lars was the first to notice and raises his hand to call out to me, which was followed by the other four.
"Oh! Good Evening Hikigaya-sa" He exclaims with a wide smile before he gets elbowed by Maria and Lukas who were at his sides. The two start berating and hotly whispering something in Dutch at his ears. The girl with the boyish hairstyle, Tess, smiles awkwardly and gives me a much-exaggerated bow. I ignore their strange behaviour.
"Sorry about that," She says in English with a heavy Dutch accent. "He forgot about your customs and all that, ahahaha…" She bows again while scratching her head, this time lower than the last.
Oh God, she should stop bowing like that! Fuck! I'm cringing at how exaggerated and unnecessary her bows are! Aside from that, she's so nervous and jumpy that she's forgetting to cover her chest when she bows!
I grimace with slight confusion from how strangely they were acting. "Um… I don't exactly see anything wrong with what he said…"
Before I could say anything else, Lukas and Maria put their hands behind Lars' head and forces him to bow.
"We are TERRIBLY sorry about our friend, Hikigaya-sama… We'll be more careful next time…."
"Yes, we promise not to make any blunders like this in the future…" The pair say at the same time and bows as well.
Wait… Did they…
Did they address me as "–sama?"
I quickly wave my hands in front of me and shake my head. "No please don't call me that. Just call me 'Hachiman' in English… It's fine so don't worry about it." I say in a heavily accented voice. The four of them look taken aback and confused. They turn to each other and speak in hushed voices in their native language before shortly facing me again.
"Oh no please let us call you that! Isn't it how you address someone who has a higher social status than you?" They ask me with honest bafflement, they sincerely believe that they're right.
Then by that logic, I should address my parents, teachers and Boss Tatsumi as "-sama"…
I stop myself from sighing and see things from their perspective. Being foreigners, they have mixed up the proper use of honorifics and used them incorrectly. An honest and common mistake. Nothing to get too worked up about.
I pull a seat beside Tess after asking them if I can sit with them for a while. They appear to be done eating, and from the small leftovers on their plates, most of what they ate was Japanese food. "No, that's not how it works. Although if you're being super formal and I explicitly told you so, then it would be acceptable. I'm not from a Noble family, nor is that thing practised in our household." I say and explain to them slowly while thinking if I used the right words properly. They slowly nod with expressions of confusion still on their faces.
"It's not like in those shows where the use of such things are oftentimes dramatized and greatly exaggerated to a certain degree. There is still a hierarchy of sorts but you don't have to go that far. We're not living in the 1500s or something like that. The English equivalent of your speech is talking to me in Shakespearian or something like that. Or maybe even in Old English style. And again, I'm not a Nobility. So...please just address me by my first name." I say slowly with difficulty, even I'm not a master in speaking this foreign language.
Once I was done, the four of them turn pink with embarrassment, the one having the most intense shade was Tess who was cringing so hard and turning to the side while covering her face with both of her hands.
"Oh mijn God! Ik heb het verpeeeeeeest! Het is zo gênant! Het is zo gênant! Aaaaahhh!" A muffled shriek escapes from her hands while her other friends are in a similar state.
"Verdomme, ik wist het!"
"We hadden die gids moeten volgen die we op internet lazen…!"
"Ik wist dat er iets vreemds was als mensen ons raar aankeken."
They all start speaking in a language that I can't understand, though I do recognize some similarities with English. It sounds a bit aggressive when compared to it, and especially so against the more soft-spoken Japanese. Tess stomps her feet on the floor and appears to be the most embarrassed of all of them. I think she might be the one who convinced the other about it. The way that she's stomping her feet is similar to when my Mother gets giddy or laughs too much and also starts hitting the closest thing to her. The only difference is that she's suffering from shame and embarrassment.
Once everyone had calmed down, we start talking to each other normally. Though I can see that they still feel uncomfortable addressing me by my first name. They must know how much of a big deal it is here in Japan and it is not to be taken lightly. It's a bit amusing since we all had phones in our hands to look up a proper word to use. English isn't our first language after all.
A waiter walks by carrying glasses of dark red liquid, and Lukas asks for each one of us. I accept it graciously and tilt my head with slight confusion when they all put their glasses together and do a "kanpai", one that I reluctantly joined in. I realize that this is, in fact, red wine when I get a small whiff from it. They all take small sips from it and make comments in Dutch.
Tess notices that I didn't touch my glass. "Hiki- Sorry. Hachiman, you're not drinking?" She grins and lightly elbows my arm. "Come on it tastes great! This will pair nicely with some steak!" Maria whispers something hotly at her but got ignored.
I shake my head with an awkward smile. "N-No, I'm still underage."
I see Maria's eyes widen and she pinches her friend's side, causing a yelp of surprise. She starts berating her in Dutch, even though I don't understand what they're saying, I get the gist of their conversation just from the tone in her voice.
Lukas who is to my left turns to me. "Really? What is the minimum age here?"
He blinks several times from my reply, processing them as the gears and cogs in his head clank and spin. "Huh? We passed by lots of outdoor food stalls and people still in work clothes were the main customers. All of them were drinking too, we even sat next to a drunk woman being assisted by her friend at the train... So with that, we thought that the minimum age is around eighteen or seventeen and didn't bother to look it up."
Ah yes, this is quite understandable. With how much of it is seen in pop culture and media, I don't blame them for thinking of it that way.
"Yeah, it's a bit of a problem here, not a big one but it's still mostly ignored by much of the populace," I say as they start to get interested in the topic. "Because of social customs related to work, you need to go drink with your colleagues after work if they invite you. Especially when you're still new at the workplace. It might sound harmless, but over time health problems will arise. My Father is aware of this and always tells his employees not to consume it too much. You know how it starts, it gradually becomes a habit and then you can't feel like you can live without it."
"Oooh, is that so? I had my first beer when I was sixteen." Tess says nonchalantly, but to say I was surprised is an understatement. I don't think anyone at school has ever tasted it.
"Really?" I ask and the others start stating theirs.
"Hmm, I think I was seventeen when I had my first taste of alcohol..." Lars says while looking up and a hand under his chin.
"I'm not so sure about mine. Hey, wasn't it Aunt Hilde who gave me my first when I was seventeen?" Lukas asks his sister for affirmation.
"Yeah, I got mine from her as well. It was during cousin Georgi's birthday I think." Maria clears her throat and turns to me. "So how old are you right now?"
"I'm seventeen turning eighteen this 8th of August..."
The four make sounds of surprise and say things like I'm younger than I look despite my serious demeanour and personality. I just laugh their words off as I am quite unsure what to do or say. The topic of the conversation gradually goes back to what we were talking about earlier. They talked about the places they wanted to visit, the food that they wanted to eat and other aspects of Japanese culture that Foreigners usually do when they come here. It's a strange feeling, talking with these people who look different from me and from a faraway land enthusiastically hyped up about things that are commonplace here. But then again, that's the reason why they're here in the first place. I'm sure that I'd do the same if I were in their shoes in a place I've always wanted to go to, a place where I can only read and watch about from the convenience of my phone. Though if I am being completely honest, I cannot say which country I am particularly eager to visit. I have never been interested in it in the first place.
While we are having our conversations, I suddenly realize something. They've had their third glass of wine and yet they still look relatively the same. On the few instances that I've seen my parents drink, they usually go bright pink after half an hour. More so my Father, the one that I got my unnaturally pale complexion comes from. I curiously look at the glass of wine on my table and carefully take it. This small yet graceful act is the result of constant practice, as well as walking, table manners, proper posture and body language.
The wine smells sour, yet sweet at the same time. I mix around the red liquid until a small vortex inside it forms. I didn't come unnoticed by my other four companions who started grinning when they caught me in the act.
"It smells...weird. Like a medicine..." They laugh heartily and tell me that it's supposed to smell that way. I take a peek at my parent's table to see my Father missing, probably somewhere talking to an associate or something. My Mother on the other hand seems to be talking to a pretty woman with jet black hair who also wore a white Kimono like herself. It was Rika Kushino-san, a longtime friend of my Father and the current head of an Elementary School here in Chiba. I haven't seen her in a while, perhaps a year or two I believe. I'll have to remember to go and say hello later.
Today is a special occasion... The first ship from a fleet of cargo ships underway has successfully arrived in Japan after several weeks of voyage. I'm sure more are underway since my Father's ambitions are to expand outward beyond the borders of Chiba. It's also named after me, something that invokes a feeling of embarrassment and pride whenever I think about it.
So... I'm sure a small sip wouldn't hurt.
I raise the glass to my lips intending to take just enough for me to get an idea from it. It tasted strange, I tasted grapes and some sort of spiciness to it, I'm not even sure if I'm making any sense. It was also a bit bitter once the flavour settled, and a slight cold burning sensation was felt from my throat as it went down through my oesophagus. I put the glass down and made a face at the wine, my lips a thin straight line.
"Well, that was gross," I say as Tess and the others start laughing before I join them in their mirth. Some guests at the other tables turn to us with amused looks on their faces, they seem to be pleased that I'm getting along with these Foreigners and enjoying my time with them. Maria and Lukas reassure me that it's supposed to taste this way, which was repeated by the other two.
I take another sip from it and grimace as a result. I finish my cup of tea which had grown cold in one go, eager to wash the aftertaste of alcohol away. "It tastes gross... How could anyone like this stuff?"
Lars laughs when he sees the expression on my face. "It's not about the taste... It's about the experience and the celebration or occasion behind it. Where we're from, we don't have it as much as you think. Unlike the French and Italians for that matter. We only have it on birthdays, New Year, Christmas as stuff like that."
I lightly bite the insides of my cheeks as I ponder his words. "Well, if you take it that way..."
"Yeah what he said!" Tess exclaims enthusiastically. "It makes the celebration truly a Golden Experience!"
Heh... Golden Experience... I wonder if there's an arrow nearby so I can stab myself and turn it into Golden Experience Requiem. Maybe she's deliberately referencing it or it's just pure coincidence. The others don't seem to get the reference.
We talk for what felt like hours as I learned more and more about these people. Since I'm not the most chatty person anyway, it got to the point where my jaw started to hurt from all the talking. Yet I still added a word or two when I prefer to listen to what they're saying. It's also hard for them since English isn't their first language so they add Dutch words to fill in the gap. Despite the language differences, we talk and joke around as if we've known each other our whole lives. I was even taken aback when I suddenly realize that I was smiling more than usual, which is a very big deal.
Strangely, I feel rather relaxed around them instead of being guarded as I initially thought I would. Of course, I have to keep up appearances and maintain an image, but acting naturally just comes easily for some reason. It's ironic how I act this way towards them when compared to me being at school.
"Hachiman," Lukas says while putting his arm over his sister's shoulders, both of them grinning. These two look alike when they smile together like this. "If you ever have plans on going to Amsterdam, don't hesitate to call us! We'll show you around!"
"Yeah! We'd love to have you with us!" His sister says which was followed by Lars and Tess.
"I can show you around the museums and the countryside. But you'll...have to book at a hotel since my apartment is a bit small ahahahaha." He then takes his phone out and shows me the region in the Netherlands where he lives. Of course, I had no idea about the geography of that faraway country so I just nodded and hummed in acknowledgement. It's near the sea from what I see, at least that's what I think.
While Lars was telling me interesting places to visit, Tess says something to Maria and Lukas in a low voice. I see much of her bare shoulders and the uncovered part of her upper chest when she leans towards them. Now that I take a good look at her hairstyle, it has a tomboyish feel to it despite it being slightly longer than I thought. Her bangs were at the sides with a hairpin and its ends were curled and tinted with red highlights. If this venue wasn't well lit then I wouldn't see it. I rarely see Japanese girls have that kind of hairstyle so I can't help but glance at it now and then with childish curiosity. I can't hear the tone in their voices nor can I understand their words since they're speaking in Dutch. But whatever she tells them makes the duo jumpy, so much so that Maria must have pinched her since she makes a startled squeak.
"Ah!" She yelps before pouting and rubbing the area where the other girl had pinched her. Lukas adds in, shaking his head with a slight frown but Tess just rolls her eyes and waves him off. "Grapje! Grapje! Oké...misschien als hij ooit naar Amsterdam gaat..." Maria gets triggered again and makes a hissing sound but Tess just laughs and the two have a friendly little bicker just like when Komachi and I fight over the remote.
I get curious and decide to ask Lars what they were talking about. He smiles strangely while sharing a look with Lukas. "Umm... Tess is just talking about some stuff back home..." He clears his throat and puts back his phone on the table. "Well, in any event, if you ever go to Amsterdam one day, we'll gladly show you around."
"Yeah! We'll show you just how cool the Netherlands is that you might even decide to stay there...permanently!"
"I'll prepare a nice itinerary for you!" Tess and Maria say at the same time before they go at each other again. Lukas flashes me an apologetic smile on behalf of the two girls.
I was about to suppress a smile, but I decide not to because I might look too uptight and cold. So, I smile genuinely at them as I feel my cheeks get warm from the attention that I'm being given. "Thank you. I'll be...sure to take you up on your...offer one day."
These people are rather nice... They don't judge my entire character based on my appearance, specifically my eyes. Nor did they make me feel left out and ignored when they talk. They are a lot friendlier than my Elementary and Middle-School classmates back then... Even with the reputation that I built around myself at school.
I know that I might be thinking too optimistically, and this train of thought is something that rarely passes my mind...
Maybe I can be friends with them...
And I'm already learning from them too. I think that using this short exchange can be of use in school. I already trust Shiromeguri-senpai and Hiratsuka-sensei, perhaps I should also start doing my part in actively being social with the people that I have grown acquainted with the past year. Those two always encourage me to make friends. My acquaintances like Yuigahama-san and Kawasaki-san are great examples. I think they're nice people and have always been cordial and friendly with me from the start.
Hmm... I'll have to learn how to speak Dutch. Given the nature of my Father's work, it's inevitable that I'll go there with him one day.
Who knows, perhaps I'll even pursue higher education there.
Amsterdam is very different from Tokyo or Chiba for that matter.
Here you can see their distinct architecture unique to this part of Western Europe. I can see it in how they design their commercial buildings, houses, bridges, churches and the statues in their plaza. Even the way they make their pavement is unique and all other tiny little details can easily be ignored by other people. Unlike back home where the very tall and looming skyscrapers in the heavily urbanized parts can almost feel like a cage, every single one looks the same as the one right next to it. It almost feels depressing to look at sometimes. It's one of the few reasons why I very seldom go to the big cities back at home. Every commercial building looks the same as the one before it.
But if there's one thing I miss, it's the occasional temple up the hill surrounded by Buddhist and Shinto features and the restaurants with big posters outside to attract customers. I might not be the most religious person but I still appreciate the ambience and the peace of mind that being in its presence has. I frequently think about nature more often after the Summer Camp, perhaps I should do something like it again but only by myself. The de Mer family are devout Roman Catholics and originally come from eastern France, hence their French surname. They also do the prayer thing every night and afternoon and hold those beads and crosses. They even invite me to join them, and since the roof over my head and the food that I eat is theirs, it would be rude to decline. I don't mind, I think it's fascinating. You can also consider this as a form of cultural exchange of sorts. I have always been open to the practices and traditions of other cultures, my fascination only grew as I delved deeper into world history.
I've also been teaching Lukas and Maria everyday phrases from my language and their Mother is very much amused by us. I'm also teaching Anton simple phrases like "Yes" and "No". Adrianne doesn't join us and prefers to play with their baby brother or just play outside...she's still very cold to me. She must be wary of strangers huh.
How ironic. The fat and plump little Anton is already comfortable with me carrying him around while his older sister doesn't even acknowledge my existence. Isn't it the other way around? But then again, the little kids and toddlers at the daycare that I used to volunteer for never showed fear or distrust towards me. Perhaps my Onii-chan instincts have levelled up and now have an AOE effect, similar to how when just being near Shiromeguri-senpai has a recharging effect on me.
Maybe I should buy her something nice as a peace offering of sorts. That seemed to work on Komachi when we had minor fights before.
I feel something poke my shoulder, and then a girl's voice calls my attention. "Hachiman, does the food taste strange? You seem out of it?" Tess asks, and my other three companions stop eating and turn to me. The tomboyish brunette leans to the side and eyes the food on my plate suspiciously.
"It does? I did notice something was off but ignored it... Maria what about you?" The tallest of the five of us, Lars, turns to Maria and Lukas who were seated beside each other.
"I dunno, tastes fine to me."
"Same here." The two of them shrug.
I raise my hands to wave their concerns off. "Ah, no it's alright. I just spaced out." I say and point to all manners of boats that pass through the canal between the buildings that were built along with it. "There's quite a lot today, is there something going on?"
"None as far as I'm aware of at least. Anyway, are you sure that the food is fine? We can just send it back if there's something wrong with it." The girls ask again just to make sure and I shake my head in reply.
"Yeah I'm fine, it's just that..." I pause momentarily, making sure that my Dutch is right. "It tastes just like how Mrs Cathy makes it at home." The two siblings across me are surprised at the sudden realization.
"Woah you're right! I knew there was something in it."
"We should come back here with Mama, I'm sure she'd be astonished as well."
We continue eating while making some conversation here and there. Today is the third day that the five of us got together and came here to downtown Amsterdam. On the first day we went to the many scenic spots that tourists would frequent; yesterday we biked around the city stopping at parks, bridges and anywhere where there was a nice view. They took me to some churches and cathedrals where I took lots of photos because of the fascinating style of architecture. Today is more of exploring the different delicacies and food that the city has to offer, we decided on some Italian as a light snack, and then we'll eat at whatever restaurant that catches our eye later. We are seated outside the establishment itself with a nice view of the river and a large umbrella over us. I noticed that the patrons inside were drinking wine. I'm not of legal age yet so I can't partake, but it's a different story for the other four.
After we were done and had our fill, we pay for our food and walk around with no destination whatsoever. We can always take out our phones and look up any interesting places to visit but decide not to. There's a nice feeling of doing just this and only going to a place where our eyes can see instead of spoiling ourselves by opening the map application. I never had something like this happen to me, Yui and the others always have a mental checklist of sorts, even Haruno when I went out with her on an unexpected and surprise de facto date with her. My time date Yui doesn't count since I already knew which interesting places to go to so we can enjoy ourselves.
While Lukas was accompanying his sister to the ladies room, I speak with Lars to my left and Tess to my right talking about all sorts of topics with the river before us. They are the children of the higher-ranked employees in the firm that my Father is partners with. Their Fathers are also brothers, which makes them cousins to each other. Mr Federico de Mer, the Father of Maria and Lukas, is the Head Marine Engineer, it was he and his colleagues who drafted and laid out the initial blueprints of my Father's flagship. Now they're making the 2nd one of the fleet, he told me that construction had already begun three months ago and is completely identical to the first one. It's no question that our Fathers are somewhere out there in a conference hall talking about work. I'm really glad that I didn't go with him, I'd just get in the way.
Today is a bit cloudy but isn't enough for me to squint from the harshness of the Sun. I would have loved it if my sunglasses were still with me, but alas, I lost them when I was fooling around at the lady's changing area with Hina at the Summer Camp. I only hope that whoever found it brought it back to their home and treats it with care. Once I go back to Japan, I think I seriously need to get my eyes checked. They get dry too easily and it hurts when I look at bright things. It also doesn't help that I get slightly dizzy when focusing on faraway things. Maybe I should buy a new pair of sunglasses since I'm here anyway. It would be a nice memento of my stay here in The Netherlands.
One of the boats in the river carrying tourists catches my eye. It's not a big boat, it's one of those two-decker open ones with no roof with the tour guide standing at the front row with a microphone and talking about the historical significance of the place. The boat isn't far and is about thirty or so meters away from us. There are many children in it and they wave and smile at onlookers. Maria waved back first which we followed since it looked fun but I dropped my hand and opted to just send them smiles and nods. Many of the people on the boat just stayed in their seats. Once the boat went under the bridge and disappeared from our view, we lingered on for a little while making idle chatter before continuing to walk on the streets of Amsterdam.
"By the way, Hachiman," Lars asks as we continue walking. "How do you like it here in Amsterdam so far?"
"There are a lot fewer trains, that's for sure," I smirk as the three of us share a laugh. "But it's a nice change of pace."
"Oh! Speaking of trains, we got lost back in Tokyo when we were exploring around the station and boarded the wrong train. It took us north and we stopped three cities away!" Tess exclaims and a shadow goes over her eyes at the memory. She starts muttering lowly to herself, "God that was too scary… Thank goodness that the translator app exists… But we still had trouble getting back and loading our train cards with money. I asked a little boy for directions but he ran away when he looked at our faces and saw that we weren't Japanese…"
"All the people that we asked either looked at us strangely or pretended not to hear." Lars says, "I wonder if we approached them too aggressively… We were slightly panicking at that time."
"Yeah, I heard about that from my Father… Did you guys get in trouble when you got back to your hotel?" I ask and her eyes immediately became hollow and dark.
"My Father forbade me from going outside our door after it… He even took away my wallet..."
"I see…" I smile wryly and turn to Lars to my left. The de Mer siblings were in front of us since five of us can't exactly walk side by side. We'd bother the other pedestrians walking on the sidewalk. "What about you?"
The tall Dutchman laughs half-heartedly. "More or less the same. All of us got in trouble because of it, even Lukas and Maria. We had caused quite a stir in the delegation sent to Japan to meet with your Father's firm… Not to mention that we embarrassed our Fathers at such an important business trip. I doubt we can go back there without promising on behaving properly… I won't be surprised if they won't allow us to travel overseas again."
"I can see where they're coming from. I guess you guys got too adventurous and you can't blame them for doing it." I shrug. To my right, Tess' shoulders droop as her mood continues to plummet at the memory. I can already see the dark aura surrounding her figure as the memory invokes negative feelings from her. For a situation like this, it's up to a 500-year-old Loli Fox Spirit to cheer her up like a good wife or mother.
Uuuooooh... I wish Senko-san were real... I wish I had a 500-year-old Divine Fox Loli Baba Spirit as a wife who will pamper and spoil me rotten to the end of my days. Well, that's assuming that I won't ascend to the Heavens upon my death if she won't make me a Divine Spirit like herself.
Hmm… The Light Novels that I purchased on my phone are getting to my head…
"Damn I wanted to wear dress up and look pretty in a Kimono or Yukata..." She says as she looks like she is ageing with every word that she speaks. "I wanted to eat some Sushi... I wanted to go to a public bathhouse... I wanted to go see some fireworks... I wanted to go to Meiji Shrine, Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Skytree... I wanted to see Fuji-san without the clouds at the top... I wanted to visit interesting Shrines and Temples... I wanted to try karaoke... I wanted to go to a bar to drink and meet some cute Japanese girls... I wanted to go to Akihabara and buy some merch so I can flex them at my friend's faces... I wanted to ride on that super-fast bullet train thing... I wanted to go to a maid cafe... I wanted to see a Traditional Japanese Theatre... I wanted to go to that place where there are lots of cats and foxes…" Tess says out loud, her voice getting smaller with each word until we stop hearing her. The other people around give her strange looks since she is dragging her feet on the pavement with her arms swaying with each step as if she has lost control over them.
Lars gestures and leans down so he can whisper. "Please excuse her. Tess was looking forward to that trip. She gets like this whenever someone mentions 'Japan'. Even our classmates and my girlfriend haven't been able to cheer her up when she gets like this..." He says and gives me an apologetic bow.
I grimace and whisper back. "I-Is that so..."
Tess starts muttering depressing things under her breath as I catch a few words of what she's saying.
I can see her disappointment given how ecstatic she was at the formal party that we attended back in Chiba... Now that I think about it, I kind of feel bad for them now. While they were still there, they invited me to dinner but I was too busy with school. Nor was I able to hang out with them at the weekends because of my StuCo duties, a part-time job and Taekwondo practice. I could have gone with them if I made an effort, and now I regret not doing so.
Wait... If I were with them when they were lost, that wouldn't have happened in the first place which would prevent them from being barred from going out from their hotel rooms as a punishment...
Hmm... So it all comes back to me huh...
We may not have known each other for long at the party, but I thought these people from a faraway land were very interesting. And yet here I am standing on their Motherland.
Feeling slightly apprehensive because she is a girl, I put a hand on her shoulder to cheer her up. "Don't worry, I'm sure that you'll get to go back there someday..." She makes no response and continues walking like a soulless husk.
Lars reaches out and lightly pulls on her hair as if to make her come back to her senses. "Hey come on. Cheer up Tess, I'm sure you'll get off easy since you're such a 'Daddy's girl'. Maybe you can talk on behalf of me too." He grins cheekily. Tess springs back to life from his words, a blush dusting her cheeks and making her freckles more prominent.
"H-Hey! Shut up! I'm gonna tell him that you're being such a pain in the ass again!" She grits her teeth and slaps his hand away but she misses and he sticks out his tongue at her.
Woah... She's telling her "daddy"? That's big daddy's girl energy right there...
These two act just like Ise and Shina Kuro, my classmates in Taekwondo class. Those two are also cousins. I wonder what it's like to have cousins? My parents are both the sole child of my grandparents, but what about 2nd cousins? Now that I think about it, I don't know much about their families... Especially my Father's.
I shake those thoughts away and choose to think about the present. We enter a more densely populated part of the city after around half an hour of walking. Biking is a very popular mode of transport here, a vast number of Dutch people own bikes and use them for travel in the city as opposed to private automobiles and public transport. In the neighbourhood where the de Mer household is located, Lukas, Maria and I biked around two days ago. I expected Adrianne to come with us since Lukas himself tried persuading her, but she declined and took baby Anton with her to her room.
The sidewalk starts getting narrower as flocks of tourists and Dutchmen are going in the same direction we are. Because of the increase in crowd density, sometimes I bump into other people no matter how hard I tried to prevent it. It doesn't help that there are vendors in the streets trying to sell their souvenirs to the crowd. Lars got pushed to the front which leaves Tess and me walking together. I feel my right pinky finger getting pulled and look down to see Tess is the one doing it. She pulls at it again, so I shrug and lend her my ear.
"Hachiman. Put your sling bag at the front and watch your pockets. There's a lot of pickpockets in this area." She says amid the different noises around us. I do what she says, even when my bag is secured with a locked 3 digit combination. Tess gives me a satisfied wink and resumes looking forward. I get a bit paranoid and jittery as I get suspicious of anyone that got too close to me while we moved with the crowd. After some time, we finally got some room to breathe as we followed Lukas and Maria to an open park. There aren't many people around to my relief and soon we were walking on the grass as a gentle and salty breeze from the sea cools our skin. My sensitive skin prevents me from spending too much time under the sun but I already applied sunscreen as a countermeasure. I take out my wide-brimmed hat to give some shade to my stinging eyes while Lukas and Lars unfold and put on their sunglasses which have been hanging on their collars.
We find a nice spot under a large tree that also had large rocks for us to sit on. The park is similar to those in my home country, although the buildings surrounding them were far taller and more imposing than those found here. Large trees with wide branches were placed in carefully chosen positions to provide shade for visitors. I see children playing tag, some boys playing football, a girl using her drone to fly around the place and a family having a picnic. There were a couple who were teaching their toddler how to ride his bike. A boy was playing with his dogs, a mother golden retriever with a pink ribbon around her neck being chased around by her litter. He rolls on the grass as the dogs try and imitate their master. I hear his laughter as well as the small barks from his dogs even from this distance. There was a small group of tourists being led by their tour guide, they all wore white t-shirts and their guide held a tall flag to easily see where he is. I also see some young men shirtless and lying on the grass, sunbathing perhaps. I don't know if that's allowed here, but it's unthinkable to do back in Japan.
"This is a nice place," I say while looking around. Lars says that the park is usually crowded on the weekends and we're lucky to come here on the weekday. We're going to hang out for an hour or two before moving on to our next place to visit later. I was quite comfortable with our earlier place at the restaurant, but we had to move on sooner or later because other patrons might arrive. But this is a nice place too. Lukas sits on the rock closest to the tree but gets playfully shoved to the ground by his sister who sits on it with a smug grin on her face. He grimaces before throwing a tiny stick to her hair in retaliation.
"Rude brute! I sat there first!"
"Shut up! Be a gentleman! You'd seriously let a lady sit on the ground? Or you want me to sit on your lap?"
"Lady?! Ha! Funniest joke I've heard today!"
Tess sits between Lars and me, the former bringing out a map and touristic brochures that she picked up earlier from a store. We ignore the two as we start reading through them. Lukas and Maria only have a year and a half gap and are usually well behaved at home. But when they are outside and not within sight of their Mother, they get like this without her to keep them in line. They're not bickering with malicious intent, in a way, it's quite entertaining and a bit funny to see them like this.
"Where do you want to go next, Hachiman?" Tess says and gives me a handful of them to read on. Unlike Maria who is wearing a skirt, Tess wore those outdoorsy shorts that ended a few centimetres above her knee. It accentuates her figure very well and shows off her long legs. For her top, she wore a pretty white chiffon blouse, a fashion that many stylish Japanese women wear. I am slightly shorter than her, barely noticeable. But the sneakers that she's wearing make me directly below her eye level. As for me, I'm wearing beige shorts and a printed tee while leaving my white long-sleeved polo open. It also doesn't help that I'm just wearing flat sandals.
"There are lots of interesting places to see around here. Do you want to eat some Spanish food? There's a French restaurant nearby too if you want. I'm sure there's a Japanese restaurant in the city but I can't remember where…"
"Thanks but I'm still quite full."
I give half of it to Lars who sighs at the amount. Seriously, she didn't have to get this much. Now I feel bad for the owner of the store that she got it from. He was kind enough to give them to us without any charge when he saw that I wasn't Dutch. It was also very amusing when I greeted him in his native language and the surprised expression on his face.
"Hey, isn't this too many? You've bankrupted the poor man…" Lars says with an arched brow and a small frown.
"Eh? It's free so I don't see any problem?" She rolls her eyes at him. Lars sighs again and gives up on the matter. I decide to let them pick for me since I honestly don't know much about the area. All while the de Mer duo were bickering with each other. I read through the pamphlets until I see a museum that was only around thirty minutes away by walking. I ask Tess about it and I instantly see stars appear within her eyes.
She starts telling me about the significance that it carries, as well as the works that it's famous for. She talks enthusiastically, makes hand gestures and frequently turns to me to see my reaction. The topic goes from its famous artworks, the painters, the current curator, yearly events and fundraisers, it's founding, to what happened to it during the Second World War. Tess says that the current curator of the museum is a friend of her Father and she volunteers when she has the time. She also proudly stated that she has touched and beheld the original paintings in the museum's vaults, something that I do find very impressive, to be honest. She's talking so fast that it's almost like she's rapping and about half of what she's saying goes through my ear. Tess mentions 'Catharina de Grote' and The Hermitage, and says that one day she wants to go there with her family during late Autumn or early Winter and spend at least two weeks in the city where it is located. She says it is in St. Petersburg, I know that city but I don't know where it is on the map. I take a peek at what Lars is doing and he doesn't seem to be interested since he's still flipping through the pamphlets, I think he has heard this from his cousin many times before. I'm quite familiar with The Hermitage; I believe that it's currently the world's largest museum and was the former residence of the Russian Tzars. Though not so much as the former, all I know is that she is a Tzaritsa.
At this point, it might be too obvious to state it, but I think she's really into history and works of art. It's nice to see someone who also has an interest in history. The only people that I know back at home who are also interested in it are Hiratsuka-sensei and Yukinoshita-san.
Although I am listening to every word that she says, what garners most of my attention are her electric blue eyes. They are darker and more intense than I initially thought which captures my interest even more. I couldn't help but stare at them like a child seeing a beautiful new flower that had sprung from his family's garden. Nor could I remove myself from their gaze, it feels like I'm being pulled in by an unknown power. I smile and nod, her enthusiasm slowly getting to me.
She had unknowingly started inching closer and closer to me until our arms and legs touched. My legs are still smooth and hairless so I felt every moment of contact with the enthusiastic older girl. At this distance, I can clearly see the tiny details of her irises, as well as the adorable blonde ahoge on her head which sways with the direction of the breeze. I thought her eyes were blue, but they seem to switch from blue to purple the longer I stare at them. The perfume that she has on her smells nice and sometimes my eyes are drawn to her exposed healthy and glowing skin on her neck and upper chest, no matter how hard I try to stop myself. I also realize that we are similarly dressed too.
Oh God... This stimulus is too much... It's getting to my head... I want to move away but I'm afraid that she'll just follow me...
"The museum has works of art by… As well as cool sculptures and statues that depict… Oh, and you have to see the…! You HAVE to go to the Van Gogh Museum and Het Rijksmuseum! If you want, we can go to Kasteel de Haar! It's a pretty cool castle that lots of tourists go to. Do you know Willem van Oranje? It's thanks to him that we got independence from the Spanish Habsburgs. Did you also know that Tzar Peter de Grote once came here centuries ago to learn lots of things like shipbuilding and architecture? There was also a point where the Dutch fleet was large and strong enough to rival the French, British and Spanish. You also must have noticed that there are a lot of dikes. Many years ago, there was a big flood that took the lives of many people so the government stepped up its flood control measures. Anyway, there's also a public library that has books over a hundred years old! I'd love to show them to you! There are also lots of loan words in our language from French as you may already know. I'm impressed that you're already so good at Dutch! Lukas and Maria's family were originally from France, and our great-grandfather was an immigrant from Italië! Lars and I have some relatives there but we're not really that close to them. You know, it's good that you came here in the Summer. Winter can get pretty annoying because of the slippery roads. Oh but it's a pretty cool experience to play on the canals when they've frozen over! Oh yeah! if you're a fan of modern art and contemporary design, then we should go to Stedelijk Museum! Though I do also recommend-"
Tess comes to a halt after a long while and slightly purses her lips as if holding back a smile and her brows get furrowed. She moves some strands of her blonde hair, which had grown over the few months after leaving Japan, behind her ear after a breeze comes and undoes it. And I also notice that she maintained the red highlights at the ends of them.
"Ehehehe. Sorry," The older girl says awkwardly and bows. "I was blabbering wasn't I? Sorry about that, I get excited when I'm talking to someone about the topic. I just can't help it, ehehehe…" A blush dusts her pretty cheeks and she unconsciously rubs her hand on her arm. Lars chuckles and sends me a knowing look, but she doesn't see him do it.
"Ah, please don't worry about it." I shake my head to reassure her. "Please…go on. That was very beautiful and I am amazed you know all of those things. You are so smart and I do not mind hearing more about it. I am very interested."
She looks surprised, and something flashes through her eyes when I said those words. "O-Oh… T-Thank you..." Tess says before slowly gulping and looking to the side after putting some strands of her hair behind her ear.
Tess clears her throat before turning to me again. Despite trying to hide it, the older girl's cheeks are slightly pink. And I start wondering if I said something strange, or used the wrong words to express myself. I am quite sure that Lars can hear me talking with his cousin but he does not have any reaction. In any event, she does look quite pleased and very much eager to satisfy my curiosity.
"Well then... How about renting a private boat for a cruise around the canals?"
Hmm... This took longer than I expected to finish. The initial plan was around 5k words but I got carried away and wrote another 4k... I even made a statement that I should lessen the word count per chapter too...
Ah, where are my manners?
Hello everyone and welcome back. How are you lot doing? Wonderful, I hope.
I've also been a bit busy with schoolwork lately, and I'm also writing three new fanfics. The first one, I'm still conflicted if I should make the MC Hachiman or a new character entirely since it's in a zombie apocalypse setting mixed with elements from The Walking Dead, Resident Evil, World War Z, Left 4 Dead, I Am Legend and Dying Light. It honestly won't be a story centred around Oregairu anymore that's for sure.
As for the other two, well, you'll know when I finally release it. And NO I won't write a Komachi route. Komachi fans are getting wild these days for real...
I recall Eiichiro Oda, creator of One Piece, saying that if he could eat a Devil Fruit and get its abilities, he would get Robin's Hana Hana-no Mi. And at this point, I can really relate to what he meant by it lol.
Oh and about the wrong document being uploaded, I'll fix it when I get my hard drive that's in my other house in a different state. I must have made a mistake when I was fixing some of the chapter's grammar and typos.
I'm still surprised that this story still has a lot of views after a two-month break. On average there are between 500-400 daily views from its last update and now. As of the 15th of November, there are 548 views.
I haven't posted the Visitor by country statistics in a while so here it is.
1. The United States
2. The Russian Federation
4. The Philippines
I will see you lot next time!