* 46 *
I couldn't take my eyes off her.
She recognized me, looked at me for about two seconds, then looked hesitant for a moment.
It wasn't unreasonable; I was that guy who hadn't showed up to college in months.
Including all the events of middle school, Tsugumi was the one most deserving to look concerned when she saw me.
Still, she was always a very polite girl, so she awkwardly greeted me.
She’d always greet anyone and everyone with a smile.
I greeted her back, but I was bewildered inside.
I had no idea Tsugumi was a smoker.
I didn’t even know she came to this library.
I hadn't seen her up close in a long time, either. Since middle school, I suppose.
For as much as I wanted to be with and talk to Tsugumi, when the time came, I couldn't get anything out.
I was just panicking to myself, “Gotta say something,” but saying nothing.
To be honest, I didn't even let her look me in the eye. Not because I was just that dazzling, of course.
If we did make eye contact, I felt like she'd look right through my miserable head.
"Come to check out some books? Or are you studying?", Tsugumi asked.
It was a trivial question, but her asking anything remotely personal about me already made my chest nearly burst.
"Yeah, to check out books. Well, but really, I'm just escorting my little sister..."
"Huh, your sister..." Tsugumi seemed to question my reply, but didn't press further. "Do you read?"
"A little, yeah... Maybe just because I've been coming to the library lately."
"Ahh, I see. What have you been reading lately?"
I tried to judge Tsugumi's expression. It seemed like she wasn't just making polite conversation; she was genuinely interested.
Perhaps she didn't know many readers. My first self rarely read books at all, after all.
So maybe Tsugumi wanted someone to talk about books with.
"I feel like I'm really late on the bandwagon, but I read Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. That and Nine Stories," I replied.
"Catcher?", she nodded. "That one goes on my top shelf. Er, which is to say it's a big favorite of mine. ...What did you think of it?"
I had to think. Because if I could come up with a good reply, there was a chance I could get Tsugumi to take a liking to me.
I couldn't mess this up, or she'd just think I'm boring.
"Generally," I began, "it's a story about the unique animosity young people have toward the world. ...Er, or that's how it's often interpreted."
She nodded at me to go on. I could see the slightest loss of hope in her eyes. She wasn't looking for the common opinion. So I hurried to my next point.
"But - and this is just my own personal opinion as someone who's not an avid reader, with experience and teaching - I feel like people stress it too much as a "novel about youth." Sure, it applies. When you take it as a story about a youth who gives up on high school and goes around badmouthing society, but gradually matures through his relationships with others, then it's easy to read it that way. ...But this is, you know, the same Salinger who wrote Bananafish. I think people need to read it more carefully."
"I really get what you're saying," Tsugumi nodded. "That's pretty much the same way I feel about Catcher. So, what did you come up with after a careful read?"
"That is, um..." I scratched my head. "Well, once I started to feel that the existing interpretations weren't quite right, I kind of wondered how I should be reading it..."
"And? Go on, tell me."
I searched for the words once more. Yeesh, if I'd known this was going to happen, I'd have taken my notebook.
"...When I see Holden, what I think is, it's only natural he'd be so pissed off, because he has proper sensibilities. It's not because he's young and inexperienced that he's mad about nonsense and phonies. In a way, it's like The Emperor's New Clothes. But like the Japanese translator says, Holden isn't necessarily written to be a symbol of innocence. When a child speaks out and says "But he isn't wearing anything at all!"... in Catcher, that just gets him dismissed as a heretic."
I spoke eloquently. Unfortunately, my tongue was sluggish due to not having said anything that long in ages, but I at least established a sort of rhythm in the conversation. Finally, I'd managed to say what I wanted.
Tsugumi seemed pleased. "He isn't wearing anything at all," she repeated. "That's another story I like, actually. It's an amazing text for getting multiple interpretations out of. Hey, do you mind if I change the subject a little?"
"No problem," I said. I was incredibly glad our conversation could go on a little longer.
Tsugumi took time to carefully pick her words.
"...When I look at our society, I feel like there are a great number of people who are made out to be naked emperors. Basically, there's an emperor who actually wears clothes that idiots can't see. But the masses are filled with idiots, so none of them can see the clothes. One extremely foolish child among them speaks up. "But he's not wearing anything!", he says. Suddenly all the idiots around him are relieved, and they start to say "he's not wearing anything" too. The emperor hastily insists, "No, no, that's not true at all. There are people who have seen them!", but even when he tries to show them the clothes as proof, the idiots confidently say "Well, I don't see anything." ...Do you see what I'm trying to say?"
"I think I do," I replied.