“Oh, hey.” [Ryouma]
When I took the road along the residential area to the north gate, a refreshing and sweet smell wafted up my nose.
The smell was coming from… a house? …Huh? Is this a store?
’Cat’s Forehead Teahouse’ ‘Open’
I thought it was just a small wooden house, but given the nameplate-sized signboard by the entrance, I guess it’s a store, after all.
It’s almost lunch time, so why don’t I go ahead and eat lunch here? I wonder if it would be alright, though.
The sign says it’s open, but I don’t see any customers. The writing on the signboard is sloppy too. Maybe this is just some kid’s prank.
“What are you doing there, Takebayashi-sama?” [???]
“Huh… Ah!” [Ryouma]
When someone called out to me and I turned to the voice, I saw a well-groomed man carrying a slightly worn small bag. It was none other than the head of the government office, Arnold Bernheid.
“Good day.” [Ryouma]
“A good day to you too, Takebayashi-Sama. Will you be eating here as well?” [Arnold]
“I found myself here because of the appetizing aroma, but I’m not sure if it’s actually alright to go inside.” [Ryouma]
“Very understandable. This place looks like a house at first glance, after all. I myself was hesitant at first. If you don’t mind, how about accompanying me to lunch?” [Arnold]
I took him up on his offer. I’m starving myself, so why not?
“Welcome!” [Old Cat Woman]
“We’ll have the usual black tea and daily sandwich. Also, a lamon pie please. There’s two of us today, so please give us double the usual.” [Arnold]
“Seat yourselves then.” [Old Cat Woman]
When we entered the store, a counter was the first thing to greet us. Tending to that counter was an old cat woman sitting on a chair. She coldly took Bernheid’s orders, then vanished to the back of the kitchen.
“Over here.” [Arnold Bernheid]
The table he led us to was a four-seater positioned by the right stonewall facing toward the counter.
There’s another table to the left side, but these two were apparently the only tables in the restaurant. It was a restaurant for eight.
“As you can see, it’s not a very big restaurant. There’s also only three items on the menu. And we ordered them all. But the taste is real. That I can vouch for.” [Arnold]
“Huh. Are you a regular here?” [Ryouma]
“Yes. In fact, lately I’ve been eating here five times a week.” [Arnold]
That’s basically everyday.
“The other two days I buy food from a store near the government office. I can’t cook for myself, you see.” [Arnold]
“You must be very busy. I hear you’re building a new town to the south.” [Ryouma]
“You’re well informed. We’re still preparing for it, so it’s not that busy just yet, but it’s about to become very busy soon, however.” [Arnold]
His expression when he said that was just like my colleagues’ in my past life.
“…Sorry if I’m mistaken, but by any chance, are you tired?” [Ryouma]
“Is it so obvious?” [Arnold]
“No, it’s just that the air about you is something I’ve seen a lot before, so I thought…” [Ryouma]
Bernheid looked at me and sighed deeply.
“Looks like there’s no point trying to keep up appearances.” [Arnold]
“Sorry to keep you waiting.” [Old Cat Woman]
I listened to him while we ate our sandwiches.
If I were to sum up our conversation and put it lightly, you could say that he had a lot of problems.
First of all, a lot of people have been laid off with the previous head, which was basically a festering pus as far as the government office was concerned, but because of that they now had a lack of manpower. They’re recruiting new hands to help out, but those people aren’t something that they could rely on immediately.
There are senior employees that managed to avoid being laid off, but since their authority was given to them by the previous head and they couldn’t go against him, although they understood the situation at hand, there were many among them who were not proactive with their current work.
“…That sounds difficult. Really…” [Ryouma]
“Do you have employees like these at your store too?” [Arnold]
“Oh, no. I’m satisfied with my employees at my store. It’s a story from long ago.” [Ryouma]
Not good. Gotta change the topic stat or he’ll find the holes in my story.
…Come to think of it, he’s only been talking about the government office and hasn’t talked about the slums at all. I wonder what’s actually happening.
Let’s try bringing it up.
“You know that too? The town construction project doesn’t include chasing the slum people away. We have no intentions of doing that. But…” [Arnold]
He knitted his brows and drank his black tea.
It seems there’s a reason behind that rumor after all. It’s probably a complicated and headache-inducing problem.
“There are people in that part of the town without a house and are living on the streets. A good number of them obstruct the road with their makeshift houses and there are just as many living in abandoned buildings that obviously do not meet safety standards.
…People like these need to either move their things away, relocate, or do some necessary repairs. This is the law and if we fail to uphold them to it, we would be neglecting our duties.” [Arnold]
…And after word of that got around, it was somehow turned into ‘chasing the slum people away’.
“I checked the records, and I found out that accidents from buildings collapsing and homeless people freezing to death have been on the rise these past few years. We can’t just leave them alone.” [Arnold]
But even he wasn’t thinking of asking the slum people to relocate or repair their buildings immediately. He knew full well that they were having financial difficulties, so he took their reaction into consideration and refrained from forcefully evicting them, keeping the methods of the government office only to talking. They seemed to have already set up a special department to deal with the problem, and it’s likely that they intend to receive job applicants looking to help in the construction of the new city.
Be that as it may, the issue with the homeless people is still not an easy problem to solve.
“Yes. But as much as possible we want to solve the issue without pushing them away. That is our duty, after all.” [Arnold]
“You have my respect for that.” [Ryouma]
…I wonder. Did the previous administration not have this problem?
Or did they ignore this issue too?
“Here’s your lamon pie.” [Old Cat Woman]
“T-Thank you very!?” [Ryouma]
What in the world? That’s a pie on top of the plate, all right, but why is an entire pie on my plate? Is this for the both of us?
“I’ll take your empty plates.” [Old Cat Woman]
After that she brought another plate with a lamon pie.
That whole pie is just for one person!?
“My deepest apologies. This is probably because I asked for double the usual.” [Arnold]
“You mean to say… You usually ordered an entire cake for your desert every time you came here?” [Ryouma]
“Actually, eating everything in one go is too much for me too, so I would bring the leftovers back with me to eat during break time. You see I have this habit where when I’m tired I look for sweet things.” [Arnold]
He’s all embarrassed and smiling in front of the pie – the first time I saw him smile today, in fact – but I can already see the diabetes waving from a mile away.
I kept those thoughts to myself while I took a bite.
…The simple warmth of the dough coupled with the fresh aroma of the lamon and the sourness of the cream that stood out all meshed together and exploded within my mouth. It was delicious. There weren’t much sugar in the pie, but I still found myself eating several slices… I’ll take the rest back home.
The most at ease I’ve seen him today is when he’s in his own world eating pie.
…It’s a small slice of heaven, a momentary reprieve from the hell that is his work. It would be cruel of me to rain on his parade, so let’s just let him enjoy himself.