I’m back! I had to study for a bunch of exams this week, so there was a longer-than-expected delay between chapters. I should be regularly updating starting this week!
Richard stood the book up on the table and opened it. It was a page that looked like a jewel catalogue. Many pictures of rubies were arranged in a grid. The colors were darker, more transparent and shining towards the upper left of the grid, and became more whitish as it went to the lower right corner, and debris became more noticeable in the stones.
Like an ophthalmologist doing an eye test, Richard pointed to the top left ruby. It had the exact color as Akashi-san’s stone.
“A quiz. Which is more valuable in the jewel world: Non-heated Ruby A, which has this color when it was unearthed, or Ruby B, which became this color through heat treatment?”
“The non-heated one, right? There was no time and effort spent on it, after all.”
“Well done. Now, this one.”
Richard pointed to a stone two spots to the right of the first one. It was a stone more purplish-red than red, and it didn’t look very transparent.
“Which one do you think is more valuable: Ruby A in this state without heat treatment, or Ruby B with the highest grade from heat treatment?”
Which one. Was being plain the best? No, but…
“If it’s for wearing, I think the redder one is more pleasing, and since the eyes of an amateur wouldn’t know about heating and stuff like that, I’ll choose Ruby B, the ‘highest grade from heating.'”
“You are correct once again.”
“Well, it depends on the degree and extent of the treatment,” Richard added, then closed the book and took another sip of his tea.
“I want you to understand that adding heat is a treatment that is used to enhance the ‘beauty’ of a stone. There is only a handful of good stones that can withstand high heat, and in the first place, it is difficult to identify with the naked eye whether a stone had gone through heat treatment or not, no matter if one is an expert or a novice.”
“Then, does that mean that even you still don’t know if this stone had been heated or not?”
“I cannot make an affirmation. Ultimately, laser tomography will either find or not find traces of heating, and that is the only way to differentiate between heated stones and non-heated stones.”
“I don’t really get it, but is it okay to do that kind of treatment?”
“I did say what is most important is ‘beauty.’ For instance, suppose that after a member of your family died, you were organizing their chest of drawers and found a ruby ring. If it was you, would you care whether or not that stone had undergone heat treatment or not at that time?”
“Of course not. It wouldn’t change the fact that it’s a special stone.”
“It is exactly that. Those who would care are rare, and those who go and have it confirmed even more so.”
Besides, more than eighty percent of rubies on the market are heated, Richard added like it was an afterthought. Eighty percent. That much? So it was meaningless to even care about it?
Then, why did Akashi-san expressly…?
“…What did that woman want to do? Is this a gift?”
“The common opinion is that perhaps proof of value is necessary when numbers, not memories, are important.”
Did that mean she was trying to part with it and exchange it for cash? But would someone who needed money come to a jewelry store in Ginza? Judging from how she acted at the store, she didn’t seem to care about cost.
The more I thought about it, the more it was a mystery.
Richard closed the lid of the jewelry box. The orthodox black box still looked almost brand-new.
“…So, the first ruby you ever saw is this one? You are a very lucky person. It is of a grade that most people do not see in their lifetime, much less their first time.”
Richard took the brooch to the backroom. I cleaned the cups until he put it in the safe and returned. It seemed unlikely that Akashi-san’s true motives would be known. And even more so the feelings of love and hate that filled the stone. The atmosphere was somewhat heavy. Another topic, another topic.
“Hey Richard, what are some tips for learning a foreign language? I’ve been learning English for seven years since middle school, but I feel like I’m not getting better at all.”
“That is because you live in Japan and speak Japanese. It will change if you speak English on a daily basis,” Richard said. It was in English. He had a slow paced and easy-to-catch pronunciation, like it was something playing during a listening test. I could follow it. But I couldn’t speak it. Communication was completely different from getting marks for taking notes and writing. I was told ‘you’re welcome’ in Japanese when I answered “thank you” in my broken English.
“…So is that why he told me to get a lover?”
“A senpai from my seminar said that. That if I want to get better at English, I need to get a foreign lover. And that I should do it quick since I’m desperate to learn.”
“I find this hard to believe, but your basis for choosing a lover is whether or not they would be useful or reasonable for your career?”
“You’ve got the wrong idea! It was just that kind of conversation.”
“Nonsense. Personal relationships made via a purpose are business, the farthest thing away from love. Will you approach happiness by pursuing your ego in a place for obtaining peace of mind?”
“…Then, what if you fell in love with them while dating them?”
“And what if you couldn’t?”
A fruitless discussion, Richard flatly cut the conversation off. I quite liked this strict intensity of his. Was this uprightness of his, that concluded no good things were no good and bad things were bad, because of the fact that he repeatedly did business in places where his own common sense did not apply to people of many other nationalities? Upright and simple. He was obstinate about only drinking water from plastic bottles, and his standards for cleaning were strict, but he was a good guy at heart. Well, probably.
No other customers came after that. After closing the store on time at five o’clock and parting with Richard, I wandered around Ginza and went home.
I had never really thought about my criteria for choosing a lover. It was either I had a girlfriend or I didn’t. A cruel choice. I never had one. To be honest, I had been so busy that I didn’t really want one all that much.
But, the current me already knew where my happiness was.
I, who was enrolled in the Faculty of Business at Kasaba Private University, couldn’t wait for Mondays. That was because I had my required English class on that day. The professor was spartan, the counting for attendance was severe, and to make matters worse, the classes were held in the elevator-less fifteenth building. It was a heinous credit where, depending on your test scores, it was common to have to retake it, but even so it was delightful. The reason was simple.
“Seigi-kun, good morning.”
“Good morning, Tanimoto-san!”
Because I was in love with someone I could only see in this class.
Tanimoto Shouko. A second year in the Faculty of Education. The same year as me. A raven-haired angel. Fluffy, curled bobbed hair and slender limbs. Her favorite color was probably white. I often saw her wearing blouses and skirts in that color. I thought it really suited her. I first met her last month, after the information sessions for each faculty. The intersection of the main street near campus was always in a state of heavy migration during breaks between classes, and probably only the intersection in front of the Shibuya and Shinjuku Stations could compete against it.
In the midst of all that, a small old man was walking opposite to me.
His gait was wobbly, and he looked like he was about to fall at any moment.
Next to the old man, a short girl walking in front of me did a right about-face and went directly towards him. Asking him if he was okay, she let him put his arm around her shoulders and walked while supporting his body that seemed like a withered tree. Even though her shoulder bag was bulging with the weight of her textbooks. Even though her destination was in the opposite direction.
I, who intended on pretending not to see it, got on his other side, grabbed the old man’s arm, and threatened him in a low voice.
“Hey, old man, you were also walking back and forth here earlier. Repeatedly. Clinging to girls.”
The old man made a squeaking noise and fled in the opposite direction from us, with a vigorous gait like he was a completely different person from before. There were too many people, so it would have been hard to run and catch him.
After I finished crossing the pedestrian crossing, I was regretting what I did. If I hadn’t said anything, I wouldn’t have had to made her feel bad.
When I lowered my head and apologized to her, her eyes turned round.
“Why are you apologizing? You saved me. Thank you.”
I became a little worried at her carefree smile, and butted into her business once again.
“Even if you see someone who seems to be in trouble, I think it is better to be careful because there are good guys, and those who are not.”
She tilted her head as she was walking, and then smiled again. It was strange. Every time she smiled, I felt like the world was getting brighter little by little.
“That’s true. But, I’m sure that I won’t be able to tell if it’s a bad person or a person who is truly in need, so I think I would still help them.”
When she looked bashful, I fell in love. The fact that she lent her shoulder to that old man and told him that she would escort him to his destination, but having him escape by being evasive, also seemed like some sort of fancy of hers. I felt like it was fate when I asked her name and faculty and learned we had one class together. I wanted to talk with her a lot, and since she arrived at school first thing in the morning, I went to school early on Mondays.
Tanimoto-san spoke slowly. It felt like there was always a gentle atmosphere surrounding only her. Although her friends teased her by calling her a natural airhead, she herself was unbothered. If Richard was a clear jewel lying at the bottom of a lake, then Tanimoto-san was a powdered-sugar fairy living on the ceiling of a candy store. I feel like a sweet scent drifted in the air just by being next to her.
As far as I had heard from conversations with girls, she didn’t seem to be going out with anyone currently.
I wanted to go out with her. If possible, I wanted to go out with her. I want to ask if we could go on a date. But while the flames of my love burned brightly, I had no hope for being able to talk to her about it.
“Seigi-kun, what’s this?”
She was pointing at a picture book about minerals spread out next to my textbook. I stopped by the university’s central library and borrowed it, but I, a humanities person, had already given up when the chemical formulas showed up.
“Seigi-kun, do you like stones?”
At the confused me, Tanimoto-san smiled fleetingly. With a just a little bit of a look that seemed to be expecting something. Could it be?
Did Tanimoto-san like gemstones?
“I’m studying about heat treatment right now!”
I brought up eagerly, and Tanimoto-san’s evenly cut bangs swayed as she tilted her head. She was staring closely, like someone wearing glasses that did not match their degree.
This…might have been overeager of me. This might be hopeless. What the hell is this conversation about heat? Was that the type of conversation you have when you were alone with a girl in a classroom? It was over. It was a massive fail. It was all over.
As I was freaking out, Tanimoto-san tilted her head once again, and then spoke.
“Heat treatment for what kind of stone? Or is it in general?”
“Heat processing is actually quite common in the jewel world. Beryl, quartz, corundum. There are many other stones that change when heated.”
My vacuum-like surprise lasted for a few seconds. After that, an intense joy welled up within her. The opening of Seikan Tunnel.* Crossing the Strait of Dover. It was that level of emotion. They were understood. The stories from my job that I had been acquiring little by little since this spring were understood by her. Just for this time today, I wanted to be Richard. His face too, if possible.
(TN: The Seikan Tunnel is a train tunnel in Japan that has an undersea portion. Shinkansen service commenced in 2016.)
“Oh, I’m researching heat treatment on rubies!”
“Then it’s corundum. Rubies and sapphires are called that in mineralogy.”
“Y-yeah, that! I saw one by chance recently, a pigeon blood.”
“…Seigi-kun, that is a very lucky thing.”
Saying that, Tanimoto-san smiled with an unfathomable expression, and transformed into someone I didn’t know.
“Pigeon blood is something very valuable. It can only be mined from certain specific mines in Myanmar. Rubies are also yielded from other Asian countries like Thailand and Sri Lanka, as well as Mozambique in Africa, but the highest-grade stones are still from Myanmar.”
However, because of the effects of unstable supply and political instability, the market price for those highest-grade stones skyrocketed. In places with beautiful light, there are also shadows, Tanimoto-san said, smiling. She didn’t say that half-heartedly, like an interjection to show that she was paying attention. What was with that straitlaced and tough tone and expression of hers?
“Seigi-kun, do you know that rubies and sapphires are practically the same thing, mineralogically wise?”
“I, I know…but I don’t why their colors are different.”
“It’s simply that the impurities contained in the stones are different. Corundum is a type of aluminum oxide, but it will turn red if it contains a tiny quantity of chromium, or blue or purple if contains iron or titanium. It’s something with tricks and secrets.”
The more she talked, the faster she got, and her expression was intense. Her voice was low. She had an air of some sort of solemnity around her. She crossed her legs, hunch her back slightly and put strength into her eyes. Her puffy eyes swelled as if a line were being drawn with a permanent marker.* This wasn’t a fairy of a candy shop. It was something else. Something more diff—
(TN: Puffy eyes or namida bukuro are a popular beauty trend in Asian countries. Basically, making the under-eye plumper gives you a younger appearance. A good example of different beauty standards between the East and the West.)
Right before I finally hit on the true identity of that “something,” Tanimoto-san came to a sudden stop. I was caught up by it and caught my breath.
Ehehe, she laughed embarrassedly, and for a moment she regained the face of a fairy. But there was a still a little wrinkle of intensity around her eyes.
“I really love jewels, so once I start talking about them, I can’t stop. I’m really sorry!”
“…Tanimoto-san, you sure know a lot about them…?”
“I’m a ganseki-ya.”
“A ganseki-ya! Is that a gardening-type job?* That’s amazing. I work for a jeweler. Well, I just serve tea.”
(TN: Ya in Japanese is a suffix added to mean a shop or someone who works as something, hence Seigi’s misunderstanding.)
“It’s not like that. People who love rocks are called ‘ganseki-ya.’ People who like loose gemstones and minerals like you are ‘koubutsu-ya.’ All together, we are ‘ishi-ya.’ It refers to people who love stones. Just like how people who love fishing are called ‘taikoubou‘.”*
(TN: Taikobou is a name of Jiang Ziya, an ancient Chinese noble who really liked fishing. He supposedly fished without a hook.)
Ganseki-ya and koubutsu-ya. All together, ishi-ya.
“I didn’t know that. I’m an amateur at best…”
“Stones are amazing. They’re the work of planet Earth. Oh, um, talk to me about anything if there’s something I can be helpful with. Working a part-time job for a jeweler is pretty rare, isn’t it? Let me hear about it.”
In my head, I repeatedly prayed to and entreated Richard. Thank you. My lovable boss. He had a little bit of a narcissistic and snide side to him, but thanks to him, my university life seemed to have become bright and rosy. I would make for him one hundred or even two hundred cups of that royal milk tea.
Tanimoto-san listened to my stories of the mysterious jewelry store while nodding many times. I also told her about the identification request for the ruby from the other day. After I talked about it, she knit her brows together.
“So, you’re saying that the person didn’t check if the ruby was heated or not when she bought it? Really?”
“…I heard that most people don’t care, but is it normal to check when you buy?”
“Well, I think that rather than checking, they would definitely know it. Because it’s ten times the normal price, or more.”
Ten times. I couldn’t imagine a single large ruby, even if heated, costing ten-thousand yen. Meaning, it would be a million yen if it was originally a hundred thousand yen, and five million if it was originally five hundred thousand yen. I felt like I was going pale.
“I didn’t know that at all. Maybe it was a gift? Like something inherited from a relative she didn’t know well?”
“If that’s the case, I don’t really think you would care whether or not it’s heated. But if you’re selling…”
“Oh yeah, my boss said something like that too.”
Tanimoto-san sounded half-hearted. The area around her puffy eyes trembled.
“…Hey, Seigi-kun, do you think of gemstones as assets? Or as accessories?”
“I think they’re both, but I also think they aren’t just those things.”
Why, she asked—it was because for me, Grandma’s ring wasn’t an “asset” or “accessory.” How should I explain that? I was an amateur at stones, only working a part-time job.
Seeing me at a loss, Tanimoto-san’s face crinkled into a smile. Cute. She really was cute.