I always felt the cold, hard floor for some time after my birth.
It was unbelievable that they let a baby sleep on the ground with only a thin sheet of cloth. Give me a crib! I resented them at first, but I soon realized that there wasn’t a single bed in this house.
Not a house, but a hut?
It was hard to believe that four people, including myself, were living in a place that was so small that we could probably move anywhere in just five steps.
The hut was worn-out and draughty, and the wallboards would occasionally come off. Rats with pointed faces would appear out of nowhere from the wallboards.
It was probably a brown rat. It was very big. Super big. It looked like fierce beasts over 30cms tall, probably because I’ve become smaller.
I don’t know why, but it was coming towards me without hesitation and sniffing at my ears.
A hand quickly reached out from the other side and chased the rat away.
I thought I felt something hard against my ear for a moment… I think my ear was about to be bitten off. Rats attack people?
A sickening feeling ran down my spine, and the hand that had saved me lifted me up and the face of a young girl appeared in my vision.
“Are you alright?”
The tips of her reddish-brown hair brushed against her overly thin shoulders as she tilted her head in concern. Her beautiful dark-green eyes looked unusually large because of how thin she was. Apparently, my eye and hair were the same colour as this girl’s.
She asked me this in a cheerful tone.
Thanks~, I’m alright~, was what I wanted to reply. I was learning more and more words, but I still couldn’t get my tongue to form them.
“There, there, Aime is a good girl~.”
Though I guess she knew what I wanted to say anyway. She held me in her lap even though I was almost half her height as she dexterously mended things.
She is my big sister. Her name is Ridill.
Aime is my new name in this world, which she gave me.
The other two people I live with are my father and mother. Both of them are out of the house during the day for work, so it’s just me and my sister. My sister, who is only seven years old, takes care of me, a baby who can barely crawl along the floor, and the house all by herself.
This would be unthinkable in modern Japan, but perhaps it wasn’t unusual in this world.
Even a quick look around this house showed me that civilization in this world was very far behind the world I had come from.
They used a kiln for cooking and lit it with a flint. There was no electricity, gas or running water, and the water seemed to be brought in from outside with a tub.
There were no windows, so it was dimly lit even in the daytime, and the smell of garbage or something else was always wafting through with the draught.
I don’t bathe and couldn’t even get rid of the smell by wiping my body with a wet rag once in a while. I was horrified to see fleas bouncing around on the floor.
One of the most unbearable parts of my life was eating.
My sister was pushing the translucent soup that she scooped directly from the pot with a wooden spoon towards me while smiling.
I was grateful that she worked hard to prepare a home-cooked meal for me, but what was simmering in the pot was a whole rat.
My baby food is rats! My baby food is rats!
I shouted twice because it was too shocking.
I was dazzled by the life of setting up traps and eating rats.
There was fur floating in the soup! It’s head, legs and tail were also in one piece! At least chop them up!
The soup flowed down into my stomach without question no matter how much I cried or screamed. I couldn’t live without eating it. By the time I understood this, I was able to endure the nausea as I drank it down while crying.
God, if you really exist, and decide my fate, then I want to ask you a question.
Was there no other place that would accept my soul?! Why has my standard of living gone down with my reincarnation?!
The destination of my reincarnation wasn’t paradise, but a new life filled with hardship and pain.
But I still didn’t give up hope even after I realised this.
I’m fine with being in poverty as long as I have a warm family. Material wealth isn’t everything. Living modestly while supporting each other is also a form of happiness. I know this since I had met many people and had been exposed to many ways of life before my death.
So, I’ll be positive for a little while.
At night, Father would come home after drinking.
I don’t know much about their jobs, but Father is a small man with tanned skin, so I guess he’s a physical labourer. He’s probably a day labourer.
“You’re still drinking?!”
Mother, who had come home earlier than usual, shouted hysterically in the candlelight. She was thin and rather beautiful, but her shadow reflected on the wall looked like a monster.
“Where’s the money you made today?!”
“I drank it away.”
This answer was not something Father should have said, but this wasn’t the first time he had said something like this.
My angry mother would lose her temper at his thoughtless remark. She exploded with rage. Mother was also strangely brave, and she fought back with a door bar that was used instead of a key.
As soon as the fierce martial brawl started, my sister quickly took me in her arms and ran outside.
She didn’t go far and went around the back of the hut and sat down on the ground where she hugged me in her lap.
“It’s still a bit chilly.”
She muttered optimistically as our parents’ loud screams didn’t even reach her ears.
Spring must have just begun. I remember spending time with her like this even on colder days. It didn’t seem to snow much around here, which was a relief.
There weren’t any streetlights and I looked up at the white moon in the sky. Even though it was only a little bigger than a half-moon, it lit up the night brightly enough for me to see the faces of people nearby.
My parents were inconsiderate people who didn’t mind getting into fights with each other without thinking that their children might get hurt, and they hardly took care of us on a daily basis.
They hadn’t even given me a name.
I guess they didn’t want me.
I was probably created unexpectedly.
It could have been like the virgin conception of Jesus Christ. Well, I don’t have any miraculous powers though.
If it weren’t for my sister, I might have died right after my birth, without any time to grieve my misfortune.
“When will Aime speak~?”
My sister was playing with my cheeks under the night sky. It seemed as if she was thinking about something else and trying not to listen to the argument behind her. I wonder if she was suppressing her uneasiness.
“Can you say Ridill?”
She pointed at herself and tried to get me to say her name.
It was an unreasonable request for a baby who had just started to crawl, but I had to respond to her.
“That’s not it~.”
Sister pouted unhappily. I tried, but I couldn’t move my tongue properly.
I tried to imitate her as she taught me each syllable.
Ah, wasn’t I getting closer? But Sister still wasn’t satisfied.
Dill is hard to say.
I couldn’t say it for the life of me and she gave up after the fifth time.
“Then, how about Onee-chan?”
She tried making me say something even longer.
“Ri lle ne!”
I hope you’ll be happy with this. She blinked her big eyes in surprise and repeated what I had said.
Yes, Rille-ne. If a less than year old baby can say this much, then she’s brilliant.
“That’s not quite correct, but alright.”
She made a satisfied smile.
I’m glad I didn’t fall into the hell of having to repeat myself. My mouth felt tired even though I didn’t use it much.
“Say it again.”
But then she asked me to repeat myself with an innocent smile.
“That’s worse! Again!”
Ugh, I ended up having to repeat it after all.
I wanted her to give me a break, but she laughed happily when I said it correctly, so I went along with her for as long as I could. Me being born had meaning if I could ease her uneasiness.
We both fell asleep outside on this day.
We went back inside after the morning sun woke us up and found the house in a terrible state. The few pots and pans, wooden tableware and even the ashes from the kiln were scattered all over the place, and since both our parents had gone to work without cleaning up, Rille-nee had to clean up.
Even if we had our sisterly bond, this environment made it hard for our parents to raise us with love.
I think that being born with my previous life’s memories and already being mentally mature helped me in a family on the verge of collapse. However, that still wasn’t enough.
Even though I was able to stand and walk, my small body couldn’t stop Father’s violent outbursts, and I couldn’t intervene in or mediate their quarrels with my lisp.
I would spend the night outside with Rille-nee when they argued, and on rainy days, we would sit quietly in the corner of the room until they settled down.
It was the same on the nights when Father didn’t come home. Mother would hit us.
She was like a naggy sister-in-law who complained about food tasting bad if the house isn’t clean.
Then, in the middle of the night, she would make us start cleaning all over again under the moonlight.
Mother seemed to be working as a cleaner at some house and she did these things to vent away her frustrations from the day.
I no longer wanted to think of either of my parents as parents. As the years went by, they failed to nurture me with love. I didn’t even have a warm family in my new life.
God, let me ask you again.
What the hell do you have against me?! Was it because I didn’t believe in you?! Who the hell are you to begin with?!
Why didn’t you just extinguish my soul if you hate me that much?!
All I could do now was hold a broom that was taller than me and dissipate my anger and sleepiness while sweeping away dust.
I would only be beaten if I stood up to Mother’s irrationality. Rille-nee would also be beaten up while trying to defend me, so I decided to obey her in silence even though I was frustrated.
“You can go back to sleep, Aime.”
Sister worried about me as I rubbed my eyes, but I couldn’t do that.
“No, I’ll do it.”
I wanted her to rest. The only family I could truly love is Rille-nee. I could do my best even if I’m sleepy or get beaten because of her.
But how long could I continue living like this? My patience had already reached its limit after living here for four years. It was also a very bad environment for Rille-nee’s education. Father was rarely seen at home these days and Mother began coming home later too. They are only parents in name.
If I had been born ten years earlier than Rille-nee, then I would have taken her and left this house in a heartbeat.
A lot of things are out of my control.
―― It happened suddenly one summer day as I was thinking about such things.
Mother left the house with only a light goodbye which sounded like a joke.
I didn’t understand what she meant at first.
She suddenly came home one day when she was supposed to be at work, packed her bag and got into a covered wagon that was parked on the road.
She grabbed the arm of the young coachman and was gone.
She didn’t give any explanation, but I knew that she wouldn’t be coming back.
It turns out my parents were just as fed up with their current life as I was.
You’re leaving us for a new man and are planning on living somewhere else?
You’re fucking kidding me, the words I shouted didn’t reach her.
I wanted to abandon her, but she abandoned us instead.
But that wasn’t the end of it.
After spending the night without our parents, an old man who we didn’t know arrived the next day around dusk.
He said he was the owner of this storage shed, and I learnt for the first time that we were renting this house.
Then, he suddenly told us to leave.
“D-dad will be back.”
Rille-nee tried her best to argue, but the old man shook his head.
“Your dad is dead.”
I couldn’t help but be surprised.
I hadn’t seen him in a couple of weeks… turns out he drank too much, fell into the canal where gondolas carrying cargo passed through and drowned. They found him this morning and had already cleaned up. The old man said it like Father was rubbish.
Oddly enough, Father had died on the same day that Mother left us.
I didn’t feel sad. I thought it was rather ridiculous.
We were mercilessly kicked out of our house because of the disappearance of our parents, even though they’re useless here or not.
Rille-nee was only 11 years old and I was only four.
Where and how were we supposed to live now?
We didn’t have any money and we were hungry. The dresses we were wearing were so worn-out that they could be mistaken for rags if we took them off, and we weren’t even given any shoes. How can the world throw children like this out on the streets?
Sister squeezed my hand as I stood there angry that we had nowhere to go and did not know where to go.
She started walking towards the end of the long, shadowed path.
My feet naturally followed her.
I called out to her, wondering where we were going and if she had a plan.
Her dark green eyes, which were like mine, stared straight ahead.
“It’s alright. I’ll protect you, Aime.”
She clearly declared.
She had been protecting me since I was born. She gave me a name, took care of me and gave me love in place of our irresponsible parents.
She was still doing so.
This girl, who had fallen into the depths of misfortune like me, was looking forward without crying for me.
Was I just going to be protected by her from now on?
If there really is a God and if there really is a reason for me reincarnating here with my memories, then could it all be for her?
It doesn’t matter if it isn’t. I’ll decide this for myself. I’ll etch it into my brand-new soul.
My new mission is to get out of this hell and make Ridill happy.