°(linguistics) A figure of speech in which one thing is compared to another, in the case of English generally using “like” or “as”.
A Yokohama sunset was nothing to scoff at. Pink and orange tones swirled about the skyline like watercolor paint while rays of light shimmered between glassy skyscrapers to give the city a sort of clean, heavenly glow despite the litter on the concrete. Citizens and tourists alike paused along the sidewalks, lowering their smartphones for just a minute to take in the view. Meanwhile, the sun slid ever so gracefully into the glistening river that ran through the district and into the great wide ocean past the horizon. It was the end of a day, of a week, with friends and family eager to get a head start on their weekend activities. In the warmth of the sunset, the whole of Yokohama seemed to breathe a content sigh of rest and relaxation, and in that moment of beauty, there seemed to be no cause for worry.
Of course, that wasn’t usually the case in this town, a fact which Kenji accepted but perhaps did not comprehend as well as his co-workers wished he did. He was in fact at this moment on the roof of the Agency building, digging through some soil and fertilizer with gloved hands, his straw hat tickling the back of his neck as he knelt on the ground and worked. It was too late in the day to really need the hat, but he never went anywhere without it. On the one hand, it was fairly useful considering how often he had to go outside for the Agency, but it was also simply a happy reminder of home along with his familiar, countryside-style shirts and overalls. In true cliched fashion, he’d promised his village that he wouldn’t get swept up in the whirlwind life of a big city, that he wouldn’t get tricked by smooth-talkers and scheming street peddlers trying to take advantage of him, and certainly that he wouldn’t put himself in any serious danger.
He wiped a little sweat from his brow and blew a little “whew” sound through his mouth as he reached for the plant he was about to place in the hole he’d just dug. As far as Kenji was concerned, he’d done a pretty good job of upholding his end of the bargain. People in this town seemed to love him and troubles never lasted too long if he had his comrades with him. Power of friendship and all that, he supposed with a smile.
A sudden scuffle of muffled, echoing footsteps told Kenji that someone was running up to the roof in a panic and would be coming through the door at any moment, but he didn’t even look up, still tending to his new radish plant. He tucked it in with handfuls of dirt, packing it into the earth snugly with as much tenderness as if it were a small child.
Flinging the door open with glasses askew and chest heaving, a young woman with shoulder-length brown hair hurtled onto the roof. Still holding onto the door for support with one hand, doubled over, she looked up pleadingly at Kenji. “Hah...is...hah...is Dazai-san here?” she panted.
Kenji finally looked up and smiled pleasantly at his coworker as though he did not notice her obvious urgency. “Oh! Haruno-san! I didn’t know anyone else ever came up here. Do you want to see my garden?”
“I - what? That’s not - where is Dazai-san?”
“Beats me. I’ve been up here for a couple of hours, haven’t seen him since...maybe...around two in the afternoon?”
“Oh. Alright….” sighed Kirako, what little hope there had been in her face evaporating. She checked her watch and sighed again, a little more melodramatically this time.
“Well, Kunikida-san told me to track him down and make sure he submitted his paperwork for their last case by the end of the day - but then Dazai-san told me he had a very important new case to get to and couldn’t possibly get to paperwork until later.” A grimace spread across her face as she recalled realizing her gullibility mere moments after Dazai had vanished from the premises. “I uh...I might have dozed off a little around noon but I’ve been looking all over for him since, on every floor of the building, the cafe, I even rang his apartment. I thought he might have escaped up here. But it’s a Friday so...maybe I’ll just call it a week…” She trailed off, her voice turning hopeful as she looked off into the setting sun, thinking about curling up in bed with her cat and not having to worry about hooligan detective agents who were much too adept at making her life more difficult.
“Hmm, I see,” said Kenji, nodding. “I’m sure Dazai-san will fill it out once he gets back from his mission. It must have been a last-minute request.”
Kirako turned and frowned at the farm boy who was now sitting cross-legged next to his plant and nourishing it lovingly with a thin stream of water from a plastic bottle. If people thought she could be scatterbrained sometimes, what did they think of a simpleton - albeit an incredibly kind and happy one who lit up the world everywhere he went - like him?
Hesitantly, she walked toward him and sat down on his left, looking at him with concern. “Kenji-kun…You need to be more careful or people are going to take advantage of you. I know your ability is strong but, well, the city can be tricky sometimes, not to mention the mafia is always out to get our ability users. None of us want to see you get hurt,” she added gently.
“Oh! That’s sweet, Haruno-san. But I’m fine!” Kenji said cheerfully, waving his hand as if to dismiss the matter. “Even on my solo cases, the criminals just end up confessing to me. I really believe...if you’re sincere, you will always be able to find a way to communicate with people.” He screwed the bottle’s cap back on, took his gloves off, and put it all away in a rucksack lying at his feet before rummaging around inside the bag apparently looking for something else.
“But... that is to say... you might be able to, but there will always be liars and thieves out there who aren’t going to be quite so sincere, so you’ve got to be able to counter that…”
Kenji stopped perusing the contents of his bag, pushed his brilliant straw-colored hair out of his eyes, and gazed at Kirako.
“I know,” he told her serenely. His voice was a little calmer and quieter than usual but he was still smiling. “To me, though, it doesn’t change how I want to speak to the world...I guess Kunikida-san would call it an ideal? How should I say this...mmm…”
Kirako watched as he tapped his chin thoughtfully and looked up at the now slightly darkening sky, as if asking the galaxy for the right words.
“Ah!” Kenji raised a finger in epiphany. “Life is like a radish plant.” He pointed the finger down at his little sprout in the dirt.
Chuckling lightly, the young woman glanced at the plant in question and swept a lock of hair behind her ear. “How so?”
“This plant is only so small. It hasn’t even grown anything but these little leaves yet. But it has to face all the factors of the world, from the weather to animals to humans like us. Then it has to worry about getting the right amount of food and water. And energy from the sun. When all the while, I could just pop it right out of the dirt and kill it if I wanted to! I could trick it, and let it grow until it had some hope and then cut its head right off, and one day I’m going to yank all the radishes off the bottom after they grow and eat them anyway. However…” Here, he paused and fondled a tiny sprout gently. “It won’t stop being a radish plant. It doesn’t become a tomato or an apple or any other kind of plant. No, it will just keep on stubbornly and truly being the best radish plant it can be, with a little help from me. Hey, Haruno-san, do you know why I picked vegetables like this radish to plant up here on top of a tall building in a windy city?”
She shook her head. Kenji leaned in and cupped his hand around his mouth as if he were telling a great secret. “It won’t go flying off the roof because it’s all in the roots,” he whispered, nodding enthusiastically. “Not only that, but whenever I put a new plant up here, I give it the traditional Miyazawa family blessing so it becomes stronger. Do you want to hear it? Oh, or better yet, you can read it! It’s on the inside cover.”
He went back into his rucksack and found what he had been searching for before: a little, worn cloth-cover notebook. Though slightly confused, Kirako accepted the notebook and flipped it open to the right spot. After handing it to her, he stretched his arms up in the air and then leaned back on his elbows, watching her expectantly.
Clearing her throat uncertainly, she began to read.
“Not losing to the rain
Not losing to the wind
Not losing to the snow nor to summer's heat
With a strong body
Not fettered by desire
By no means offending anyone
Always quietly smiling…”
She found a smile on her own face, growing wider and wider as she read on, the words rolling easily off her tongue as if she’d heard the passage before somewhere. They were simple phrases but beautiful ones, and seemed to be the perfect work of art to be read against the backdrop of the soft, dusky colors around them.
“...Count yourself last and put others before you
Watching and listening, and understanding
And never forgetting…”
Was this motto the reason why Kenji was the way he was? Even when he did readily crush a car or punch through brick walls during a case to protect the agency, he never failed to come out of it still trusting and believing in the world...
“...If there is a quarrel or a lawsuit to the north
Telling them to leave off with such waste…”
A radish plant wouldn’t have to worry about the quarrel between Kunikida and Dazai on Monday morning regarding the paperwork…
“...When the summer's cold, wandering upset
Called a nobody by everyone…”
A radish plant wouldn’t have gone around searching in vain for a coworker and "wandering upset" because it wouldn’t have been dumb enough to get tricked by Dazai-san or to fall asleep on the job by accident in the first place...and here she was lecturing Kenji about having the wool pulled over his eyes...
“...Without being praised
Without being blamed
Such a person
I want to become.”
But all it could do was be a radish plant. Stubbornly, resiliently.
She closed the notebook and looked up at Kenji who was grinning.
“Life is like a radish plant,” he repeated.
“Life is like a radish plant,” she agreed.
Looking up, they saw that the stars were finally beginning to come out, almost preemptively since the sky was still too pale of a blue to be truly nighttime. Even the waxing gibbous moon had shown its face, as if it couldn’t wait for the sun’s last little shimmer on the horizon to fade out of view. It was starting to become chilly in the absence of sunshine but the two friends felt so serene beside the little garden that they hardly noticed.
“I didn’t even know we had a garden up here,” remarked Kirako after some time.
Kenji took the notebook and placed it carefully back in his bag. “It was a special request the director granted for me. Even though it’s just a small little plot...it reminds me of my village, you know? My family and my cows and my chickens...and my radishes,” he smiled with nostalgia. “I have potatoes on that side, some herbs over here in this covered area...I don’t know if anyone else knows that it’s here either, but everyone is welcome to share, of course! I bet Atsushi-kun would like to plant something, maybe Kyouka-chan too? I wonder if Dazai-san would plant anything?”
Kirako stood up and brushed off her skirt. “You know what? I’ll ask him for you when I hunt him down. I’ll see if I can fill in some of the basic case details myself for now. I won’t let him get away without an answer,” she added, playfully. She extended a hand to help him up.
“That's the spirit,” Kenji replied cheerily, accepting the hand. He clambered up and swung his bag over his shoulder, starting to walk with Kirako back to the stairwell door. After a couple steps, he stopped abruptly, turned around, and gave a low bow in the direction of his radish plant. “May you not lose to the rain.” As he straightened up, he winked at Kirako. “It’s supposed to be thunderstorming this weekend.”
Undefeated by the rain indeed, thought Kirako. Such a person, he has already become.
“Shall we get going then, Haruno-san? I don’t know about you, but I’m starving.”
“Hah. Well goodness knows, we can’t have that.”