I’m making my debut as a criminal.
I can’t say that.
Just like how your heart stops beating when you suddenly step into a cold pool, committing a crime you’re not used to can kill you. Most importantly, I can’t disgrace Rille-nee.
However, I was certainly pushed to a point where I had to commit a crime.
Since the number of bouquet sellers and shoe-shiners have increased lately.
I went to the tailor to get some scraps, but they were already out of stock, and there were unpleasant people hanging around the chapel. They’ve completely eaten up our market share.
They were also pushy and even we were wary of them. Nowadays we can barely make 100 bele, and we can’t eat anything for three or four days.
I spent most of my waking and sleeping hours thinking about food, and I spent my days miserably searching around restaurants for leftovers.
We were back to square one, or maybe even worse.
Rotten bits of vegetable, the little meat left on the bone, and mouldy bread that was all sour and bitter, but I could swallow them down from the beginning without a second thought. I cried at my own resilience.
But even after eating all that, I couldn’t satisfy my hunger at all.
I worked hard to eliminate hunger from the world in my previous life, so I never believed that I would become someone who was suffering from hunger in another world.
Back then, I understood the seriousness of the situation in theory, but I hadn’t experienced it personally. I could optimistically say that I was experiencing it well. If only I could go back to my old world.
I would meet Rille-nee at our pre-arranged sleeping place at night.
To increase our work and food searching efficiency, we would split up during the day and share any gains at night, but on this day, we had nothing for each other since even the leftovers were taken by the other children and all I got was fatigue from walking around.
We didn’t even have the energy to talk, so we slumped against the wall of the tailor’s store.
We might be able to get some scraps tomorrow if we hide here. We just have to be careful, so that it doesn’t get stolen.
For now, I’ll just rest.
I thought as I closed my eyes, but I couldn’t sleep because of my hunger.
I heard the sound of air rushing into my empty stomach every time I took a deep breath. It sounded like a creepy growl.
I tilted my head to my right and hit Rille-nee’s shoulder.
“… Are you alright?”
Rille-nee was still awake and she stroked my cheeks with her fingertips.
I barely managed to answer and Rille-nee’s voice didn’t have any energy at all.
Rille-nee’s shoulders have become thinner, and her bone pierced my temple and made it hurt.
I pulled my head away from her and looked up at the sky to see the full moon peeking over the city walls.
I was jealous of its round and fat shape.
We can’t even eat human food and we’re getting thinner and thinner from starving… I even came to hate non-living things.
My mind was probably affected by my body. The hunger and lack of sleep were making me emotionally unstable.
I began to wonder why we were the only ones who had to suffer such misfortunes. I felt as if I was carrying all the misfortunes of this world.
I guess I was still in my right mind seeing as how I can see how ridiculous that thought was.
When I was finally dozing off, I felt Rille-nee move next to me.
I did my best to bring back my sinking consciousness and finally opened my heavy eyelids. The white moon which had risen to the top of the city, illuminated the empty ground next to me.
I received no reply.
Rille-nee was gone.
My sleepiness was gone in an instant and I quickly looked around.
The town was bustling in the daytime, but most of the stores closed their wooden doors at night and it was quiet. However, the liquor stores were still open, and their orange lights lit up the streets at night.
Where did Rille-nee go?
I didn’t see any signs of a struggle, so I don’t think she was kidnapped… but I told her not to move around alone at night.
Even if she was hungry and went to find some food, she wouldn’t have left without saying anything to me first.
I frantically ran through the night while feeling worried and anxious.
I should have probably woken up sooner.
I don’t think she would have gotten very far yet, but I couldn’t find her anywhere in front or behind the alley where we slept.
She might have gone into one of the countless alleys connected to this one.
I had no choice but to check each one, and I finally found her in the third alley.
In front of the hut that was leaking orange light, she handed the young man with the burn on his cheek, who brought hair, cloth, and a slightly dirty old man with a stubble held her shoulders. “Unfortunately, it’s packed inside. So, take this downstairs,” the young man said.
I didn’t understand the situation right away.
I stood still in the darkness and hesitated to speak to Rille-nee, she disappeared in the hut with the man and the young man returned inside after he watched them walk off.
I could hear some strange sounds coming from the hut if I listened carefully.
This can’t be…
My heart pounded because of my bad premonition, and I rushed after Rille-nee.
Then, at the end of the road, I saw shadows on top of each other on the ground.
I shouted in desperation.
The shadow that had been on top jumped up in surprise.
“IT’S RIGHT OVER THERE! IT’S COMING THIS WAY~!”
People rushed out from the nearby houses at the sound of my voice and the surrounding area became noisy.
A fire was a serious matter since there were many wooden buildings in the city.
As the man rushed out into the street, I quickly grabbed Rille-nee’s hand as she laid on the ground and ran away.
I ran and ran and kept on running. I finally ran out of energy when I couldn’t hear the people anymore and stopped.
When I looked back, I saw Rille-nee’s eyes were wet and shining under the moonlight.
She was embarrassed. I also teared up as I fixed the cloth that had exposed her bare chest.
“Are you alright? He didn’t do anything to you?”
Rille-nee gasped in surprise.
She realised that I knew what she was going to do at that place and crouched down in shame.
“Rille-nee, you can’t sell yourself. You don’t have to do that.”
That hair buyer had even helped her get into prostitution.
There were probably a lot of girls around Rille-nee’s age in that hut.
I knew we shouldn’t have approached him.
“… But that person said he would give me 5,000 bele.”
Rille-nee said while looking down.
With just an amount that can be used up in just a few days… No, the amount wasn’t the problem.
“Rille-nee, that isn’t enough money. Who told you about that?”
“I met a girl selling flowers during the day. She said that’s how all girls earn their money. She said if I ask the hair buyer, then he’ll introduce me to someone who could give me some money… I couldn’t let you do it, Aime. So, I did it.”
“I can’t let you do it either!”
I shouted loudly, and Rille-nee looked up in surprise to see me sobbing.
――― Ah, how helpless.
Why didn’t God give me a cheat?
If God had given me a cheat, then I would have been able to get rid of all the bastards who did something to her whether they be our father, monsters, or the Great Devil of the 6th Heaven, and let her live a peaceful life.
God gave me wisdom? Hmph.
The knowledge from my previous life is of no use at all!
Everything that I’ve spent my whole life studying is useless! It won’t get us out of this predicament!
Rille-nee hugged me. She rubbed my bony back with her gentle hands.
“I’m sorry, Big Sister made a mistake. I’m sorry, please don’t cry.”
No, no, Rille-nee. It’s not your fault.
I just feel disappointed in myself.
I decided to protect you, but in the end, I’m still being comforted and supported by you.
I said without realizing while in Rille-nee’s arms.
I could feel her looking at me questioningly.
I laughed on my own volition this time.
I felt pathetic that I couldn’t protect her even if I had to go to such lengths as scavenging through rubbish and begging miserably.
Even so, it looked much worse to whimper.
Laugh, laugh it out.
“Gah, hahahahaha! Ahahahaha, gaaah.”
I wanted to vomit a little because of my weak throat. Rille-nee looked a little frightened.
I’m not going crazy or anything, you know?
“Rille-nee, laugh too.”
I got out from under her arm and asked.
“We’ve never laughed. If you laugh when you’re happy, then you’ll be happy when you laugh.”
Crying while miserable was boring and common. So, I’ll laugh away my pitifulness, hunger and pain.
Good fortune comes to those who laugh.
Let’s force ourselves to raise our spirits, which have plummeted to rock bottom, and our luck will rise!
It was no use thinking about bad things all the time.
Despair was the conclusion of fools. It will be sunny after it rains, and tomorrow the wind will blow!
“Hahahahahahaha, guh, ahahahahahah, gah.”
“A-aime. Don’t force yourself.”
Rille-nee, who was confused, also laughed when I burst into laughter.
Someone came out from a nearby house and yelled at us while we were laughing.
We apologised to the young man, who was seething with anger, and ran away. Then, when we collapsed on the side of the road from exhaustion, the tears in Rille-nee and my eyes had already dried up and we were smiling at each other.
I held Rille-nee’s hand as I laid down on the ground.
“What is it?”
“Let’s stop living for just today.”
Let’s take this opportunity to change our mindset.
We’ve been so busy living in the moment that we’ve forgotten about what’s important.
“… What do you mean?”
“Imagine it. What kind of person do you want to be when you grow up? What kind of person do you want to be?”
“I don’t know.”
Rille-nee looked troubled.
It was certainly difficult to think about ten years from now when you don’t even know if you’ll still be alive tomorrow and it may seem ridiculous.
But let’s try to forget about the current situation and imagine it.
In other words, this is what it means to have hope.
“I want to become a person who can make a lot of money.”
“By doing something that will make me and everyone else happy. Then, I’ll eat bread every day.”
Rille-nee’s voice sounded lively.
“That sounds nice.”
“Doesn’t it? Then, I’ll build a house, a big one. The rats won’t come in. I’ll keep it clean.”
“Oh, amazing. ――― Ah, then why don’t you make a garden? If we grow a lot of beautiful flowers and make a big bouquet, then we can sell it for 500 bele.”
“That sounds great. Why don’t we build a flower shop? I’m good at growing flowers. If we can make a lot of money from it, then we can buy food, shoes and beautiful clothes.”
“Like the ones with frills?”
“We’ll look like nobles.”
Rille-nee’s giggle voice was soothing to my ears.
I’m getting a little sleepy.
I was exhausted after running, crying and laughing a lot.
“… Rille-nee. Don’t forget.”
“We won’t be here forever even if we’re here tomorrow and the day after. We’re going to go to many places and meet many people. You have to treasure yourself for when that happens.”
I put these things into words as a lesson.
“Always think about the fun things that lie ahead. Then, you’ll know what to do and what not to do…”
I slowly closed my eyelids after I heard her reply.
I was able to dream for the first time in a long time that night.