It was a windy night during the peak of winter. The blast of air struck the window, causing the glass of the living room to rattle noisily. I lifted my body up from inside the kotatsu and looked outside. It was considerably late into the night and only the sight of the street lights flickering could be seen within the darkness
It seems like my parents were going to be back late tonight because of some trouble right before the fiscal year-end. The only ones home were just Komachi and me. Recently, the time we could see other and talk had decreased. There were a few days left until her exam day. Today, like always, she was bound to her room, exerting herself for her studies.
Pew pew, the wind that seemed extremely cold blew by once more. Though the heating for the living room was slight, the cold permeated the area near the window.
I wonder if Komachi’s suffering from the cold up there… I thought, and directed my gaze at the wall where her room was. There wasn’t the slightest sound coming from beyond it. But it’s that kind of time right now. She’s probably already sleeping.
Thinking I should get back to sleep as well, I lay my body down and turned over, unable to resist the comfort of the kotatsu. Kamakura, our beloved cat, came crawling out from underneath as though I had kicked him in that moment. He sent me a disgruntled glance. Oh, s-sorry…
After apologizing to him internally, Kamakura snorted and began grooming himself. Upon finishing, his ears perked up and he faced the door.
The door creaked open and entering the living room wearing my hand-me-downs jersey was Komachi.
“What, you’re still awake?”
“I slept at a weird time, so now I’m wide awake…” she said, directing her clear, open eyes at me. Oh yeah, there were people like that. They’d laze around on their sofa or in their kotatsu once they got home and fall asleep. When it’s night, they’d find it hard to sleep.
Naps like the aforementioned could certainly be utilized, but such was this season. In the face of upcoming exams, there’s no way the rhythm of your lifestyle wouldn’t go out of tune.
“You should just try to sleep. Otherwise, you’re going to regret it tomorrow.”
“I know, but I’m kinda hungry. I’ll sleep after I eat something.” Komachi rotated her shoulders and headed straight to the kitchen.
“Whoa…” Komachi grumbled with a small voice in shock. I dragged my body up to see what happened and Komachi was blankly staring into the refrigerator.
Ah, crap. I totally forgot, mom asked me to do some shopping the other day. I was wondering what she wanted since she called me so suddenly. I was so busy with creating the free newspaper that the shopping slipped my mind. I had dinner on my own, too… There’s probably barely any ingredients left. Komachi looked into the empty refrigerator and groaned. So sorry, onii-chan totally forgot to do the shopping… Not good! At this rate, it’ll be my fault that Komachi starves!
“…Alright, I’ll make you something then,” I said, tapping her shoulders.
“Eh…? You don’t have to.” Komachi turned around and shook her head.
“What, don’t be shy.”
“No, it’s fine. Like really, please don’t. I don’t want to ruin my stomach.”
Komachi spoke in a hurry while shaking her hands. This brat looked really serious when she said that… But she’s probably going to end up eating my food once I make something. What a good girl! But make sure to watch what you say!
“I’m kind of hungry myself, so either way, I’m going to make something. Your portion is just extra.” I gave Komachi a gentle push from behind and stood in the kitchen.
Komachi reluctantly nodded. “Well, if you say so…”
Despite saying that, she followed me around from behind, worried about what I was going to make, as I sifted through the cabinets and refrigerator.
I discovered eggs, milk, and tube fish paste cake in the refrigerator and from the cabinet, I came across bag ramen and canned corn beef. These should’ve been more than enough. I set them all on the counter and Komachi peeked out her face from behind me.
“I’m gonna get fat if I eat stuff like these so late…”
“It’s okay, Komachi is cute in all shapes and sizes.”
“Wooow, this guy sure is carefree.”
While Komachi mumbled her complaints, I filled a pot with water and placed it over a fire. It’s essential to use seventy percent of the bowl for water. Until it boiled, I began the preparations for stir-frying the corn beef and tube fish paste cake.
Komachi came up beside me and scrutinized every ingredient one by one.
“…Onii-chan, is this what you’ve been eating for dinner lately?”
“Not really, I usually eat mom’s food whenever she cooks. Well, I guess I did this for today since I forgot to go shopping.”
“I don’t see any vegetables at all…”
“There’s no such thing as nutrition in a man’s meal. The cows eat vegetables for us, so we’re fine.”
“I’m pretty sure they eat nothing but grain… What am I gonna do with you, jeez…” Komachi said. She opened the cabinet and stretched up as far as she could to reach her hand inside.
“Oh, there’s some nori seaweed. We can soak the wakame seaweed and… maybe we should open the canned corn, too.”
“Ohh, this is getting kind of extravagant now…”
As I watched Komachi preparing food toppings in awe, I reached for the pack of milk. Noticing that, Komachi immediately took a hold of my hand. Her expression was gravely solemn.
“Whoa, onii-chan, what are you gonna use the milk for? I dunno what you’re planning, but you’re scaring me, so stop it.”
“You don’t know? Adding milk kind of turns the broth into tonkotsu broth.”
I poured the milk in the pot as I talked. In that instant, Komachi shrieked tragically. “I told you to stop, too!”
“No, see? Thickening up the broth makes it taste better.”
I ignored the sniffing Komachi and smoothly finished up my cooking. I poached the eggs and filled two bowls with ramen from the simmering pot. Then, I added the corn beef and fish paste cake stir-fry. Lastly, once I added the wet seaweed, dry seaweed and corn toppings… the ramen was ready!
Komachi stood in place idly with a frown. I pushed her from behind and headed to the kotatsu. I placed the two bowls down in front of me and handed Komachi a pair of chopsticks and a Chinese spoon.
“Alright, food’s served.”
Komachi timidly took her chopsticks. When she took a bite, her stiffened cheeks relaxed.
“…Oh, it’s surprisingly good,” Komachi whispered. Afterwards, she would blow at her noodles and soup before slurping them in her mouth. Relieved at her unexpected, but positive reception, I began eating as well.
The both of us couldn’t handle hot food too well, so we didn’t eat that fast. We leisurely took our time until Komachi had some kind of realization and mumbled, “You really haven’t gotten any better at cooking since we were younger… It’s kinda nostalgic.”
Komachi’s lips formed a soft smile, her gaze directed towards her bowl.
Long ago, when Komachi was in the lower years of primary school, our parents would sometimes come home late. And like today, I’d cook for the two us and we’d eat together. It’s true that I could only make junky meals for men like this and back then, but Komachi wouldn’t complai—no, she complained a lot… But regardless, she’d still eat my food. Recalling all of that was simultaneously nostalgic and embarrassing.
“Rude. The food tastes way better than back then. Bag ramen improved quite a lot since then.”
“That’s true. Onii-chan totally hasn’t improved at all!” Komachi retorted with an insult and made a mocking laugh. She continued. “But I think it’d be better if you learn how to properly cook for yourself.”
“Well, yeah, I’ll need to in order to become a full-time house husband.”
“Mm, yeah, I really don’t think you’ll be able to become one. Anyway, I’m talking about for university and work. You’re gonna leave the house one day, right? You’ll have to know how to cook for yourself!”
“Uh, I don’t plan on leaving…” I said.
Komachi gave me a cold stare. “Get out.”
What, do you hate me now? I checked the complexion on Komachi’s face and she coughed. She then covertly removed her gaze from me, giving me upward glances with blushing cheeks and let out a sweet voice.
“Well, if onii-chan can’t cook at all, I can always come by and make you something every now and then… Oh, that was so high in Komachi points!”
“The assumption that you’ll be chasing me out is low in points…”
As we chatted, we finished the entirety of our late-night ramen.
“Thank you for the food,” Komachi said, bowing her head pollitely. She then breathed out in satisfaction and laid down on her side.
“Yeah, you’re welcome. Alright, now go sleep in your room.”
Komachi looked like she was going to fall asleep in the kotatsu, so I called out to her. She responded back strangely with groans and mumbles, but as though something had come to mind, she abruptly lifted her body up.
“I feel like eating something kinda sweet!”
“We ain’t got anything sweet.”
The only things I could prepare right now were a sweet look, sweet words, and sweet thoughts. Finding that unsatisfactory, Komachi vigorously bounced to her feet.
“Okay, maybe I’ll stop by the convenience store then.”
“A girl should not be out alone this late at night.”
“It’s fine as long I don’t go alone, right?” Komachi reached her hand out to me.
…Well, it’s been a long time, so I might as well act like a proper older brother.
× × ×
It was a beautiful, starry night. The wind was strong and the air was clear. The moon, the stars, the street lights, and the glowing rows of houses illuminated the night street.
On our way to the convenience store, we didn’t come across a single person. In that peaceful town, Komachi’s voice echoed.
“Yikes! It’s cold! Cooooold!”
The both of us trembled from the difference in temperature between indoors and outdoors. Komachi screamed out and crashed into me from behind. She then grabbed my arm.
“…Mm. It’s a lot warmer this way, and also very high in Komachi points,” she said while looking up at me.
It was hard to walk, embarrassing, and accumulating all these points was rather irritating. I stretched my hand out to her head in an attempt to pull her off. Komachi then mumbled quietly. “It’s almost time for my exams, huh…? After that, I’ll be graduating… Then, I’ll be entering a new school.”
Komachi wasn’t as energetic as she was earlier. Her eyes were simply focused on the sporadic glows of the street lights, gloomily. When I witnessed her anxiety, I stopped my hand from pushing her aside.
“Hm? What’s up, onii-chan?”
She lifted her face when I called her name. I patted her head and gently brushed her hair.
“I’ll be waiting for you in high school.”
“…Mhm.” Komachi casted her eyes downwards, as though I was pushing her head down. However, her small and frail voice resonated strongly.
The town late at night was frighteningly silent, our footing was unsteady, and the wind that tore through our bodies was freezing. Just when would this long winter night end, we didn’t know, but time was certainly moving forward. Even the night sky overhead still had the flickering constellations of spring.
Should the seasons change, so did human bonds as they go through cycles of rebirth. Perhaps, someone new would visit that clubroom. And then, within a year, I would say farewell to that clubroom.
If winter comes, can spring be far behind?1 For the sight of this night sky, too, will one day become my last.
That’s why, for this moment, if only for a little, along with the warmth beside me.
Let’s look up at the starry sky and walk on.
- An Ode to the West Wind ↩