“―― Hey, the Onii-chan over there!”
I tried to act as cute as possible, and even jumped up and down to attract the attention of the men walking down the street in the daytime. They put their guards up at first, but then they turn around with a bright smile and stop in their tracks.
“Your shoes are dirty. I’ll clean them for you for a cheap price!”
The man was puzzled because, strangely enough, there was no such thing as shoe-shining in this city.
Many people wear leather shoes on the streets and if they’re not well cared for, then they will become dull from dust. The same was true for the shoes of the man who was all dressed up.
“Fashion starts from the feet! You’ll be dumped if you wear such a dirty pair of shoes.”
The man, who meekly looked down at his own feet, seemed to be a good person. I can work with this.
“You should wear shiny shoes on special days! It’ll be quick! How about a trial?”
After repeating this sales pitch so many times, I could say it without biting my tongue.
The words ‘special days’ seemed to have caught the man’s attention, and when I told him that he could try first and pay later, he said it was alright for me to clean his shoes.
I took the man’s hand and walked him to the end of the street, then Rille-nee appeared with a wooden box for him to put his foot on and some tools.
I quickly brushed the mud off his shoe with the brush I had gotten from the rubbish dump, then carefully polished the surface with a cloth that was wrapped around my finger.
Finally, I applied a thin coat of wax that I had softened with my hands to make it shiny, then the shabby leather shoe shined like new.
When I finished one of his shoes, the man raised his voice in surprise and wonder.
“How is it? They’re clean now, aren’t they?”
If I let him trial one side, then of course he would have to do that other side. It would be strange if he didn’t.
I received the money from the customer and finished off his other shoe, then Rille-nee offered him a small bouquet of flowers from her basket (which we also found in the rubbish dump).
“How about this for your girlfriend. It’s 100 bele~.”
By the way, the shoe-shine was 500 bele. A bowl of pea soup can be bought for 100 bele, and a small loaf of bread for 300 bele. It seems that beans are cheaper in this region than wheat for bread since they’re more plentiful.
The bouquet was made of wildflowers which we didn’t spend any money on, and it was wrapped with scrap cloth, but it was well presented and looked nice.
The good-natured man was fooled. He bought the bouquet and headed off to his date in high spirits. Or maybe he was planning on confessing today.
I high-fived Rille-nee after the man disappeared. Easy.
It has been a year since we became orphans, and my sister and I have managed to survive.
I really wondered what was going to happen, especially when winter came. I thought it was over.
Even though we lived in an area where it didn’t snow much, that didn’t mean that it didn’t snow at all or get cold. We moved from one merchant’s stable to another every night, thinking that we would surely die if we stayed on the streets.
Fortunately, I had some experience with riding horses in my past life during college, and was somewhat familiar with them, so whenever the people at the house would come to check the stables, I was able to tame the horses and hide. Hurrah, agriculture department.
However, it only worked a few times, and more often than not, they noticed that something was wrong with the horses and kicked us out.
There were no orphanages around no matter where I looked and we had to fend for ourselves, so we followed the example of the other children and started a business.
We sold flowers that we had picked at first, but people didn’t need flowers every day, and there was fierce competition between others who were also selling flowers.
I thought of other ways to do business on the street and came up with shoe-shining.
My grandfather told me that this was common practice in post-war Japan, but the people of this city didn’t think of this, and even though there are stores that only sell leather shoes, almost no one took care of them.
I remembered how my father used to take care of his shoes in my previous world, so I picked up some brushes and other tools and decided to use a small piece of beeswax from the chapel instead of shine cream.
Beeswax is the most original candle. It was orange in colour and was refined from beehives. It could only be harvested in small quantities so it must be quite valuable.
Incidentally, beeswax itself can be eaten, so it can also serve as emergency food.
I learnt that beeswax was commonly used by asking the people in town while I was working. I knew about beeswax because a friend of mine in college happened to be a beekeeper.
I never thought it would come in handy after my reincarnation.
I believed it was a good idea to sell flowers to men who were rather concerned about their appearances before their dates. I decided to make bouquets with the flowers, so I found a tailor and received some scrap cloth and bundled it together. It turned out to be both innovative and beautiful.
Sewing was difficult for my five-year-old hands, so I left it to Rille-nee. Thankfully, she was skillful. The simple dresses we are wearing were also sewn by Rille-nee.
We, the sellers, also tried our best to keep clean. We frequently washed our clothes in the river and wiped our bodies.
We can’t say “I’ll clean it,” while looking dirty.
By this time, my hair had also grown to the point where the ends were just past my shoulders, but it wasn’t long enough to sell, and I also didn’t really want to sell it when I thought about that creepy hair buyer.
We worked until the evening and had an average earning of around 2000 bele, but there were also some days when we didn’t earn anything at all.
Most of the money went to food, but we saved the rest.
Oh yeah, we went to the bakery to buy some bread when we first got some money. The owner looked like a pigeon who had just been hit by a peashooter. Serves you right.
But it still pissed me off, so I never went back. Today, we got food from another store, and I had a small dinner with Rille-nee in the shade of the chapel, where it was less visible to the public.
There were chapels all over the large city. Wah, how do I put this, it was a white plastered dome-shaped building dedicated to God and looked a bit like a snow hut.
The doors were closed at night, but they were opened during the day and an altar sat at the back. There weren’t any sacred objects inside; there was only a round skylight positioned so that if you stood in front of the altar, it would be right above your head. I heard that if you pray there then your prayer will reach the heavens.
The chapel was basically deserted, and the maintenance of the chapel was done by neighbours who had received the order from the feudal lord.
The man who was tending the chapel happened to be a gentle old man, so I was able to talk to him about the chapel when he gave me candles.
The fact that there was a feudal lord meant that this nation had nobles and a feudal system.
The huge mansion with a pointy roof that I glimpsed over the two bridges on the main street was probably the feudal lord’s mansion. It was a disparate society.
The more I worked and interacted with people, the more I understood about this city, this nation and this world.
It would be nice if we could somehow find a place where we could live stability.
“Aime, is this enough?”
Rille-nee asked in concern as we were eating dinner.
My kind and gentle sister tries to give me her portion every time she thinks I don’t have enough.
“It’s enough. Do you have enough?”
It was true that I’ve never had a full stomach and the feeling of hunger was always coiling around me, but Rille-nee was bigger than me and obviously needed more nutrition.
But when I cheerfully refused, Rille-nee raised her eyebrows regretfully.
“I’m eating more than you.”
“Rille-nee is bigger, so you have to eat a lot.”
“But I can eat because of the money you earned.”
“We both earned it.”
“Raise the price of the bouquets?”
“No?” She had her pride as an older sister.
I tried to teach Rille-nee how to polish shoes, but she couldn’t grasp the amount of wax to apply, and it would be a waste if she practiced too much, so we decided to divide the work.
We had to share the work since a bouquet cost 100 bele and shoe-shining costs 500 bele, but while I was finally able to catch two or three people a day at most, Rille-nee was working much harder than me, selling bouquets.
“It’s thanks to you, Rille-nee? I couldn’t have survived on my own. We both do our parts.”
So, why don’t you cheer up? I tilted my head and looked at my sister.
In fact, I don’t know if I would have been strong enough if I were alone. We live by supporting each other.
“Aime is a good girl. You’re smart too,” Rille-nee said then patted me on the head.
I was embarrassed while feeling very, very happy, and my heart raced like a dog that had just been rewarded and I couldn’t help but smile.
Rille-nee was a good girl. She was only 12 years old, and she was taking care of her sister. She was kind, and cute; a big sister who I can boast about. I love her so much.
“There they are―――!”
A young voice echoed through the night, and we bounced up. Small shadows were gathering to our right.
I pulled on Rille-nee’s hand as she had frozen in fear, and we left our belongings and ran in the opposite direction, but there were too many of them tonight. There were people chasing us from this direction as well.
All of them were children.
I guess you could call them a children’s gang. If anyone who wasn’t one of them was caught, then they would go through a horrible experience.
I shouted and scattered the children in front of us with only my energy. However, there were some older children who weren’t intimidated by my scream, and we would kick and punch if someone grabbed our clothes or arm.
In my previous life, I had visited a Shorinji Kempo modern Japanese martial art based on Shaolin kung fu dojo owned by a friend of my father’s, and although I can’t use any great techniques, I remembered how to escape when someone grabbed my arm (by freeing my hand, pulling it back and thrusting my elbow towards the opponent) and that poking someone’s eyes during a fight to blind them was effective.
You can do a lot of damage just by putting your fingertips near someone’s eyes, just like if you were brushing away a bug.
But the gang was tenacious. They were unusually tenacious. They were hot on our heels.
I ran out of energy before Rille-nee and she was pulling me along.
This isn’t good, we’ll be caught at this rate.
“I’m sorry, Rille-nee!”
After apologising, I scattered our daily earnings behind me.
The copper coins made a high-pitched sound as they hit the pebbles on the roadside. When us poor people hear this sound, we reflexively search the ground.
“Money! A lot of money fell~!”
I shouted to make sure they knew there was money on the ground, and our young pursuers were so simple that they became absorbed in picking the money up. While they were doing this, I ran with the last of my stamina and hid behind a merchant’s house that we had set up as a shelter.
It was a wealthy merchant’s house and they hired guards. The guards were strong men who patrolled the premises at night, and the children gang didn’t come here because they would be beaten if they were found.
“Aime, are you hurt?”
“Yeah. I got a little scratched up but I’m okay.”
What about you, Rille-nee? She took my arm before I could ask this, and she checked the condition of my small scratch in the moonlight. She was an amazing big sister.
“Does it hurt?”
“I’m ok. How about you Rille-nee? Are you alright?”
She was probably lying. How could she be fine when she had just been mobbed by the children gang? She was trying not to worry me, but well I guess she wouldn’t have been seriously injured from that.
“I’m sorry, Rille-nee. I lost a lot of money.”
“You did what you had to. Life is more important than money. You did the right thing, Aime.”
I was relieved to see that Rille-nee wasn’t angry at all. I was really glad that I have a smart sister.
The children’s gang were a bunch of orphans just like us. They basically make a living by begging, but they’re territorial and troublesome.
You might think we should join them, but there was a big problem.
I read an article in my previous world which said that bad adults were forcing poor children to beg and then they would collect the money that the children had earned.
The adults would sometimes cut off the limbs of healthy children on purpose to gain more sympathy, and the worst part was that the children got little to no share of the money they had begged for.
Some of the children who were chasing us had no arms or legs, so I had a really bad feeling about it. Moreover, it seemed that those children even stole.
You should never commit a crime, no matter how hard your life is.
From my experience and from observing the people around me, there are times when good deeds go unrewarded, but bad deeds will most likely be rewarded. Even if we forget to thank someone for their kindness, it was surely human nature to hit back when we get hit.
That was why we were running away from them and trying not to become one of them.
But there was a limit to that.
There are many orphans in this city.
Inside the large fortress city, there are slums in the nooks and the disparity was too great compared to the central section where the wealthy merchants live.
Perhaps there were many parents who abandoned their children in poverty, just as my sister and I had been abandoned.
I also saw brothels around the place, and I could imagine that people in such places might have children without planning to and then they would abandon them.
Abandoned children would form a gang, and when they grew up, they would use other children; it was an endless cycle.
It was impossible for us to become one of them, so we might have to leave this city sooner or later. It would be nice if we can get off the streets before then, but unfortunately, I don’t have any plans at the moment.
The situation hasn’t changed much even though a year has passed.
The subordinate thing is tomorrow’s problem.
I took off the shoes that I had picked up from the rubbish dump and counted how much money I had hidden inside with Rille-nee. We were well-prepared.
“I have 500.”
“I have 600.”
Together that makes 1100. I guess we should have hidden more.
There were only 1 and 100 bele coins, and no 500 bele coins, so it hurt to put too many coins inside our shoes. Incidentally, I heard that 1000 bele was a silver coin and 10,000 bele was a gold coin. I’ve never seen them before, but a chatty customer told me about this.
“I left the tools behind. We’ll have to get them in the morning.”
“They might be waiting for us there. Or they might have already taken the tools.”
“Oh, you’re right.”
“We can look for new tools. We have enough money to eat tomorrow, so it’ll be fine.”
I cheered up the anxious Rille-nee and slept while being vigilant about my surroundings.
However, I discovered a big problem the next day.
When we went to the store to buy food like always, the stout bakery owner knitted his eyebrow and trusted the copper coin back at us.
“Look at it. If you want to pay with this, then it’s not enough.”
I picked up one of the coins and almost screamed when I checked it.
Ah, it’s a bad coin ―――!!
In short, it was counterfeit money. It was accepted because there wasn’t enough money in circulation, but its value was only half of the real thing. I-I didn’t notice. This was the greatest mistake of my life. Wah, I’m really sorry, Rille-nee!
In the end, we took out all the money we had and bought enough food for the two of us.
We were penniless again. I was speechless and Rille-nee said with a lifeless expression, “It’s alright.”
Misfortune will come even if you live a good life.
Then, should I become a bad person?
|↑1||modern Japanese martial art based on Shaolin kung fu|