Bang! Bang! A sound like someone striking the floor or a table rattles me awake, as wherever I was sleeping starts to wobble back and forth. With every oscillation, a shot of pain blasts through my skull like I was being punched in the head, and I let out a small moan.
Shut up… please… shut up…
The irritating noises and vibrations didn’t stop, continuing at a steady rhythm, not letting me sleep at all.
I’m kept awake, painfully aware of the vibrations reverberating within my spinning head. I plug my ears, hoping it will go away. Moving around feels strange, like my body isn’t doing exactly what I tell it to. All of my joints are sore, and I feel feverish all throughout my body, like I’d come down with the flu.
I need my glasses if I want to figure out what’s going on. With my eyes screwed shut, I feel around for the glasses I always keep near my pillow. My entire body feels a little bit numb, and my arm’s movements are sluggish. As I squirm, something beneath me rustles with a sound like grass or paper.
“…what’s making that sound?”
The voice that comes out of my mouth sounds too high, almost childlike. It might because I’m ill, but it’s not at all the voice I’m used to hearing. Even though I want to do nothing more than sleep off this fever, I can’t just ignore this many abnormalities around me. I slowly open my eyes. My field of vision is warped, thanks to this extremely high fever. I don’t know if it’s the tears in my eyes helping me see in place of my glasses, but everything is much clearer than it usually is.
The first thing I notice is a ceiling that, while it may have originally been white, has been stained black with soot. Some number of thick, black beams hold it up, across which a spider has build an enormous web. This is absolutely nothing like any room I remember.
“…Where am I?”
I look around the room, keeping my head perfectly still so as not to shake the tears from my eyes. It’s obvious, from what I see, that much of what’s around me is entirely unlike the Japan in which I was born and raised. Just from the architectural style of the ceiling, this isn’t a Japanese-style building, it’s Western. Furthermore, it’s not a modern, steel-framed construction, but something much older. The bed I’m on is hard, and there’s no mattress beneath me. Instead, I seem to be lying on some kind of cushion made of a prickly material. Through the dirty cloth that covers it, I smell a strange scent. On top of that, my body itches here and there, like I’m being bitten by ticks or fleas.
“W… wait a second…”
My most recent memory is being crushed under the weight of countless books, and I don’t remember getting rescued at all. At the very least, I don’t think any hospital in Japan would put a patient on top of a sheet this dirty. Timidly, I try to raise my hand over my head so that I can see it, and what I see is the small, slender hand of a child. I live a lifestyle where I was shut indoors with my books all day, so the untanned and almost unhealthy skin was no surprise, but at twenty-two years of age my hands were, of course, those of an adult. Completely different from these small, malnourished-looking hands before me now. These small, child-like hands that I can open and close at will. As I move around, my body does not feel at all like I’m used to it feeling. At this shocking realization, my mouth goes dry.
“…What’s going on?”
It’s possible that I might have reincarnated. God might have heard my dying wish and given me new life, so that I may read again. This is incomprehensible. I want to know more about the world around me, so I lift my heavy head and slowly push my feverish body upright. My sweat-soaked hair sticks to the side of my head, but I pay it no mind as I look around the room. I see more bed-like platforms like the one I’m on, the dirty cloths on top of them, and a few boxes full of various things… but no bookshelves.
“There’s no… books…”
The only door in this room swings open. In an instant, the pounding noise reverberating through my head goes away, only to be replaced by the sound of footsteps as somebody outside bustles about. I really have no idea what’s happening. Based on the beams across the ceiling, the state of the walls, and the kinds of furniture in this room, I feel like this is something out of European history. There’s nothing around me to indicate modern civilization. Is this an extremely backwards country, or have I somehow slipped through time and wound up in the past? If only I knew; if I did, I’d have a lot easier time figuring out my next move.
“…Am I hallucinating in my final moments?”
As worried tumble around my feverish head, a woman appears in the doorway, having heard me moving around and talking to myself. She is wearing a triangle bandana tied around her head and is in her late 20s, judging by the condition of her once-beautiful face. Her general facial features are pretty enough, but all of the dirt ruins it. If she were to wash her face (and her clothes), she’d look half-decent, but it’s such a shame that she is the way she is now. Generally, I don’t worry too much about someone’s appearance (or my own, really) as long as they keep themselves clean; if they’re filthy, though, I really wish that they’d put a little effort in, otherwise their beauty just goes to waste.
“Maine, %&$#[email protected]*+#%?” says the woman in a language I don’t understand.
At the sound of her voice, someone else’s memories burst through my consciousness, and I let out a small cry. In the blink of an eye, several years’ worth of memories crowd into my mind. The sheer pressure of it feels like it’s churning my brain to a pulp, and I grab my head in pain.
“Maine, are you all right? You didn’t wake up for the longest time! I was starting to get worried.”
A few memories bubble to the surface. The woman who came to check on me and is now gently stroking my head is my mother, and my name is Maine. I don’t know how I suddenly started to understand what she was saying; this deluge of information has left my mind in shambles. Honestly, I wish this could have waited until I was feeling a little better. Sure, I wished that I could be reincarnate so that I could keep reading, and sure, it looks like I have, in fact, been reincarnated, but it’s not like I’m just going to meekly accept that this woman in front of me is suddenly my mother.
“How are you feeling? It looks like you have a headache,” she says.
The fingers of the hand she places on my forehead are stained with green and yellow spots. Does her job involve working with dye? I remember that workers back in Japan that worked with indigo dye had similar stains on their hands. I don’t want to let this so-called mother, who I simultaneously know nothing about yet somehow remember, touch me, so I flinch away from her outstretched hand, bury myself in the stinking bed, and screw my eyes shut.
“…My head… still hurts. I wanna sleep,” I say.
“Oh, rest well.”
As my mother left this bed-filled room, I started to think deeply. Between the dizziness from my fever and the disarray in my head, there’s no way I could just quietly get back to sleep.
“I’m not mistaken… I died, didn’t I?”
Unbidden, an image of my own mother floats to the surface of my mind, and I silently apologize that I’ll never see her again. She’ll probably be furious, screaming “how many times did I tell you that you had too many books?!” while choking back tears of grief. I raise a sluggish arm and wipe a tear from my eye.
“I’m sorry, Mom…” I whisper, an apology that will never reach her ears.
I reluctantly let go of that image, and start to carefully sort through the memories of this child, Maine, that had been dumped into my head. Her latest memory was of having an extremely painful, painful fever, so painful that she couldn’t bear it. It seems to me like, somehow, the Maine who used to own this body died, and I possessed it in her place. Oh, or maybe I was actually reborn in this world, and the delirium of the fever is causing the memories of my past life to resurface?
“It doesn’t matter, either way. I’m going to have to live as Maine from now on, there’s no way I can change it…”
Since that’s the case, I need to sift through Maine’s memories to learn more about the situation I’m in; otherwise, my family might start to get suspicious. However, no matter how hard I think, Maine’s memories are those of a little girl with still-developing language skills, and there’s a lot that her parents said that she didn’t really understand. She didn’t know they meant! She’s missing a lot of useful words from her vocabulary, so most of what she remembers is cryptic and ambiguous.
“Whoa, no… what should I do?”
From Maine’s childish little memories, I’ve figured out what I do know. Her family consists of four people. Her mother is the woman who was just in here. She has an older sister, Tory. Her father has a job that’s something like a soldier.
And, most importantly, this is not Earth. From the image in Maine’s head, underneath the bandana that her mother was wearing, her hair is a rich green, like jade. You might think that she’d have to dye it to get it that color, but it really is naturally green. It’s such an unnatural color that I almost kind of want to check to see if it’s a wig. It seems really unlikely, though, that she would be some kind of cosplayer who always wears a green wig and dirty clothes; it’s much more realistic to think that I’m in some sort of alternate dimension.
Incidentally, Maine’s sister’s hair is blue-green, and her father’s hair is blue. Maine’s own hair is a deep navy blue. Should I be grateful that my hair is close to black, or should I be sighing at my cosplaying family? Regardless, this house doesn’t seem to have a mirror, and no matter how much I dig I can’t find a clear image of what I look like, apart from my hair color. Well, based on what I know about my mother and father’s looks, and what my sister looks like, I guess I don’t look half bad. I’m also, without a doubt, filthy.
“Ughh, I really need a bath. …Do we even have one?”
Realistically, my appearance isn’t my biggest concern right now, it’s my living conditions. It seems like the family that I’ve been reborn into is mind-blowingly poor. Just from looking around, things seem pretty bad. The cloth that I, a sick child, am wrapped in is extremely threadbare and worn-out. Even for hand-me-downs from my sister, this is too cruel. I briefly thought that this might be some kind of abuse, but according to Maine’s memories even her mother’s clothes are sewn together out of rags, and her sister’s are much the same. This is the standard for my new family. My father’s work clothes are relatively solid, with only a few patches, but even so he was only ever provisioned one uniform, and that was several years ago.
On top of that, this house doesn’t seem to be stand-alone. The wall closest to me is made of some kind of brick, and through it I can hear footsteps climbing up and down stairs and the voices of people who I presume are our neighbors. Perhaps this is some kind of housing complex or apartment building?
So, about this reincarnation business… aren’t I supposed to be reborn as some kind of nobility, so that I don’t have to worry about living a difficult life?
I breathe a heavy sigh at the rest of my conditions. I may have had a perfectly ordinary lifestyle back in Japan, but that was massively different to what I’m facing now. I don’t know what era or what country I’ve been born into now, but Japan was a nice place to live, overflowing with wonderful things. Comfortable fabrics, soft beds, books, books, more books…
“Aaah, I want to read a book. Reading always helps my fevers go down.”
No matter how dire my circumstances, I’ll be able to endure it as long as I have books. I place a finger to my temple and concentrate, searching through my memory for books. Where in this house could the bookshelves be?
“Maine, you awake?” A voice suddenly breaks through my concentration. A girl, about seven or eight years old, is walking towards me with light footsteps. According to my memories, this is Tory. Her blue-green hair is carefully woven in a simple braid, but I can tell at a glance that it’s extremely dried out and in bad need of washing. Just like her mom, she’s a little dirty all over, and I really want her to wash up. She’s wasting her adorable face.
I may be thinking that, but it’s the opinion of an outsider from Japan, a country with a high standard of personal hygiene. Even if you’re poor, you still want to maintain a healthy living environment; otherwise, you’ll fall ill, then you have to see a doctor, then you’ve spent money you don’t have.
I really don’t care that much about that right now, though. There’s exactly one thing that’s on my mind.
“Tory,” I ask, “could you bring me a ’book’?”
Based on Tory’s age, there must be about ten or so picture books in the house. I may need to be resting to get over this sickness, but I can still read. Reading books from an alternate dimension is, right now, my highest priority above all else.
Tory looks blankly at me, her adorable little sister, with her head tilted to one side. “Huh? What’s a ’book’?”
“Maine, what are you talking about? I didn’t understand, what did you say?”
“What’s that? I don’t really understand…?”
It seems like I might have accidentally used Japanese words in place of words that Maine doesn’t know. No matter how hard I try to explain it to Tory, she just stands there with her head cocked to one side and a dumbfounded expression on her face. Even if I were to just say “get me a book” in Japanese, there’s no way she would understand. I have to dig up this vocabulary, and fast.
“Ugh, fine! ’Translation function, engaaaaage!’” I yell.
“I’m not mad! I just have a headache.”
Getting mad at Tory for not understanding me would be an extremely childish thing to do. …I did, though.
First off, I need to start focusing everything I’ve got to listening carefully to what people around me are saying and, little by little, start to memorize all of the words I hear. Between Maine’s young, flexible brain and my own 22 year old college graduate’s intuition, memorizing vocabulary should be easy… in theory. At the very least, if I think back on what I went through when I was learning other languages so that I could read foreign books, it wasn’t unmanageably difficult. The zeal and love with which I dedicated myself to my books was enough to drive other people away.
“…Are you angry because you still have a fever?” asks Tory. She reaches her hand towards my forehead, probably to feel my temperature. Without thinking, I grab her filthy hand before she can touch me.
“I’m still sick, won’t you get sick too?” I ask. Although I’m pretending to show concern for my sister, I’m really just trying to stop her from doing something disgusting. I really don’t want Tory to touch me with those filthy hands, so I’m employing this adult technique to avoid it.
“Oh, I guess so. Take care!”
Safe. If she were clean, she’d be a great older sister, but right now I don’t want to be touched at all. If this is the situation I’m in, then I’m going to have to pound the concept of hygiene into their skulls. If I don’t start improving things around here, I don’t think I’ll be able to survive. According to these memories, Maine has always been a weak child, and was bedridden and feverish far too often. I have too many memories of this bed.
If I’m going to be able to read to my heart’s content, I need to first make sure that I’m healthy and that my environment is sanitary. This family is way too poor, so if I get sick nobody will be able to call a doctor. Even if they did, from the looks of this place I can’t imagine they’d be any good, so I definitely don’t want to have to be in their care.
Mother calls from another room. “Tory, come help me with dinner!” “Yes, mother,” says Tory, and runs away with a pitter-patter.
Judging from the angle of the sunlight that streams through the window, it probably is time to start dinner preparations. Tory looks like she should still be in elementary school, but already she’s helping out a lot with the housework. What a state of poverty this is, for children to be relied on for manual labor.
“Ugh, this is bad…”
The thought of what my life will be like when I grow up is really depressing. No matter how I think about it, I’m going to be stuck doing housework forever. I’m not going to very much time for reading. Housework was already a huge bother when I was still in Japan with all of its convenient appliances; is a useless woman like me who spends all her time reading even able to adapt to life like this?
Bang! Bang! An intermittent, lively sound reverberates through the room. Mom said it was time to work on preparing dinner, so that’s probably the sound of cooking, but what in the world is happening out there? I can’t see anything from where I am, but at the same time I really don’t want to know that badly.
I have to stay positive! I’m not going to waste this reincarnation. There are books here to read that I could have never read on Earth! My first order of business is to take care of my physical condition. With that decided, I slowly close my eyes.
I hear clanging sounds, like metal plates rubbing against each other. My father has returned home, just in time for dinner. Maine is still too feverishly sick to eat, so I gradually drift off to the sounds of the happy family meal in the other room. As my mind slips into the dark, there’s only one thought on my mind.
Ah, I don’t care what it is, I just want to read a book.