VOLUME 1: 16
Chapter 6 “Run towards tomorrow!”
And with that, I finally stood at the same starting point as my close friends, ready to live out my high school life.
However, Ai-chan, who was probably having the most fulfilling high school life out of us all, suddenly appeared one day at the MAHO-do looking all depressed.
Three days ago, she had been so proud to be chosen to represent our prefecture at the national track meet. “If I can achieve good results at the nationals, I’d be selected to enter a university famous for their track team, and becoming an Olympic runner won’t be a dream anymore! I’ll work super hard!”
“What’s wrong, why the dark face?” I asked.
“I feel super out of place in the track team.”
“What? What do you mean?”
Misora High School’s track team was small to begin with, and on top of that, was recently experiencing a decline. What Ai-chan was saying was that she was the only one who was training really hard in the team, and that made her feel out of place.
There were even seniors who told her that joining the team should just be a fun activity, and that her serious attitude was an eyesore.
“Don’t be bothered by them! Isn’t it your dream to compete in the Olympics and win a gold medal?”
“I think that the other members are just envious that Ai-chan is progressing towards her goal. Don’t let their opinions get to you, just continue to practice like you’ve always done”
“Thank you, Doremi-chan. I feel better now,” Ai-chan said with a smile.
At that time, I felt that Ai-chan was just putting on a strong front, but after one week, the Ai-chan I saw in school was the usual, super carefree self she had always been.
“Seems like my advice worked,” I called out to Ai-chan one day, as she was training in the schoolyard after school.
“Oh, no, it’s because of him,” Ai-chan laughed and pointed at someone.
“Oh, that hunk?! Ai-chan, don’t tell me you’ve gotten a new boyfriend?!”
“Eh? Who are you looking at?! I’m pointing at him, the guy who is with coach Nagao-sensei now”
I looked away from the hunky senior to see an old man, who looked to be about 68 years old, conversing with Nagao-sensei, all while shouting commands at the track members who were jogging past.
“He’s Iiyama-san, a senior from the pioneer batch of our school and an old boy on the track team. He used to be one of the candidates selected to compete in the Olympic 100-m dash.”
“Wow, an old boy from the pioneer batch…”
“He has been coming down to watch us train recently. He also got all those lazy seniors to start training seriously.”
“I see. Finally, someone who understands Ai-chan has shown up.”
“That’s not all. He has given me lots of advice and tips, so I can try to beat my own record now.”
Just then, Iiyama-san spotted us and came over.
“Senoo, why are you slacking off?”
“Ah, I’m sorry.”
“Erm… I was the one who called out to her.”
Iiyama-san looked at me doubtfully.
“This is my close friend, Harukaze Doremi-chan.”
“Nice to meet you, I’m Harukaze,” I bowed slightly.
“See you, Doremi-chan. I need to go train.”
With that, Ai-chan went back to working on her starting sprint.
Iiyama-san watched Ai-chan through narrowed eyes.
“Iiyama-san, thank you.”
“For helping Ai-chan with various things… I just want to say thank you, too.”
“Save your thanks. I decided to help Senoo on my own accord. That girl has a chance of going to the Olympics.”
“Really?!” Unknowingly, I had shouted out loud. “S-sorry, I didn’t mean to shout at a super senpai,” I apologized, bowing my head.
Iiyama-san laughed out loud. “You’re just like Senoo, a girl with personality.”
“R-really? You’re making me blush.”
“Hahahaha, how fun it would be to have grandkids like you girls.”
“Doesn’t Iiyama-san have any grandchildren?”
Iiyama-san’s expression immediately darkened.
At that moment, he really resembled a roly-poly Daruma Doll.
“E-erm… Did I say something wrong?”
Iiyama-san ignored my question and walked away.
His retreating back looked so lonely.
“Oh, so he said that to Doremi-chan, too. He said it to me when I asked about his grandchildren too, then he just got upset. Don’t worry about it too much.”
We were on our way to the MAHO-do after Ai-chan’s training. I had looked so anxious, as if I was stepping in a minefield, that Ai-chan had to comfort me.
“Maybe his grandchildren died?”
“Nah. Iiyama-san lives at a contractor’s store in front of the train station, and I’ve seen a pair of sisters, a middle school girl and an elementary school girl, returning from school to that house.”
“I see… So maybe they don’t get along well?”
“I don’t know. Anyway, asking so many questions seems rude.”
“But he is a very important person to Ai-chan, right?”
“Yea. But even so…”
“Maybe Iiyama-san cannot communicate well with his grandkids. I really think so. Hey, maybe we should investigate a little and find out more.”
Just as I was about to say “with magic”, we heard a car braking in front of the store, and a horn soon sounded.
Ai-chan and I looked out the window at the road to see a taxi parked outside. Ai-chan’s dad was leaning out the driver’s seat window.
“Dad, what’s up?”
“Aiko, rejoice! I’ve bought a new takoyaki grill set!” Ai-chan’s dad said happily as he showed us a huge bag with the grill set inside.
“Our takoyaki grill broke down, and so we hadn’t been eating any these days,” Ai-chan explained to me.
“Haha, then that’s great,” I replied with a somewhat amazed look.
I knew that the takoyaki grill is a must-have item for Osaka families, but it’s really not an essential thing for us Kanto people.
“Doremi-chan, come to have takoyaki with us soon.”
“Of course! Uncle makes the best takoyaki!”
Just then, Ai-chan shouted, “I know!”
“We can have a takoyaki party at my place and invite Iiyama-san!”
“Ah, that sounds good!” I replied.
The next Sunday, Ai-chan’s family, Hazuki-chan and I, as well as Iiyama-san, were invited for a takoyaki party at Ai-chan’s apartment.
Onpu-chan had gone for auditions, so she was not present.
The takoyaki made by Ai-chan’s father were truly the best, and everyone asked for seconds.
Ai-chan’s parents and Hazuki-chan then began asking Iiyama-san about his grandchildren.
Ai-chan’s mum and Hazuki-chan were full of praises for the alcohol and kept getting Iiyama-san to have more, so he was in a good mood.
With that, Iiyama-san start to tell the story of how he was selected as an Olympic candidate when he was only 26 years old.
He had gone on from Misora High School to a sports university, then joined his company’s track team, and was subsequently chosen as a candidate. He was to attend a competition to determine if he would represent the country at the games.
However, right before the competition, Iiyama-san’s father, who operated the contractor’s store, suddenly passed away, and Iiyama-san had to throw away his Olympic dream and succeed his father’s business to support his family.
Since then, he had abandoned track altogether to work for his family and company, and now, his son had taken over the family business.
“It must be good to retire,” Ai-chan’s mum said as she poured him another glass of Japanese sake.
“It’s embarrassing to admit this, but I’m not on good terms with my family,” Iiyama-san replied with a bitter smile. “We don’t gather as a family the way you do like this. I often have my meals alone in my room”
“How did it become that way?” Hazuki-chan asked as she took her turn to pour him more wine.
“Maybe I’m just cranky, or stubborn… I often give snide remarks, and so the family doesn’t like me.”
“But isn’t there a saying, “The young should listen to the old and wise”?” Ai-chan’s dad joined in the conversation as he came in with a plate of freshly-grilled takoyaki.
The topic then moved on the Ai-chan’s grandpa, who had passed away the previous year.
When Ai-chan’s parents had wanted to get married, her grandpa had opposed them and even disinherited Ai-chan’s mother. He wouldn’t even let them come to visit when grandma passed away, and their relationship was full of sorrow. Even Ai-chan herself suffered trauma from the fact that her grandpa had hit her mother, and she confessed that she could not even look an elderly male in the eye for the longest time.
“If that’s the case, why did you invite me today?”
“Because I want to overcome that trauma, after I saw how Doremi-chan’s grandpa was so nice to her,” Ai-chan replied.
“My grandpa lives in Hida, and even though he doesn’t speak, he’s a very kind man,” I added.
“Grandfathers might be scary, but I’ve come to realize that they are an irreplaceable and precious part of the family,” Ai-chan concluded.
“Iiyama-san, why don’t you try talking to your family more?”
“Communication can be troublesome, but it’s important, right?”
Iiyama-san remained silent to Ai-chan’s parents’ advice before replying in a lonely tone, “I know what you mean… But this stubborn personality can never be changed. If my father had not passed away then, and I could join the Olympics, my life and personality would probably be vastly different now.”
With that, he thanked us and took his leave.
After cleaning up the party, we packed up the leftover takoyaki and headed over to the MAHO-do to give them to Majorika and Lala. On our way, we discussed worriedly about Iiyama-san’s problems.
“We really can’t leave Iiyama-san like that,” Ai-chan said.
“Maybe we can create a chance for Iiyama-san to get along with his grandchildren and family?” Hazuki-chan suggested.
“I don’t know about creating chances, but he seemed to have developed this stubborn attitude after he lost his chance to take part in the Olympics,” I pointed out.
“Yep, that was what he said,” Ai-chan confirmed.
“Can we make it such that he can take part in the race?” Hazuki-chan asked.
“That’s impossible… No! We have Magical Stage!” Ai-chan exclaimed.
“But wait. Won’t that be changing history?…”
“It’s alright. Magical Stage is not that powerful. I think it’ll come in the form of a dream.”
“Alright. Let’s do it tonight!”
That night, we transformed into witch apprentices and gathered on the roof of Iiyama-san’s home.
“Let’s do this!”
We summoned our Kururu Porons together.
“Pirika pirilala, freely!”
“Paipai ponpoi, flexibly!”
“Pameruku raruku, sonorously!”
When Magical Stage appeared, we shouted in unison, “Let Iiyama-san take part in the Olympic candidate race.”
Magical Stage glowed and went to work.
“Magical Stage was a success!” Ai-chan screamed the next morning as she dashed into class after her morning training.
“Really?” I asked.
“When Iiyama-san came for training today, he told me of this dream he had.”
“What was it?”
“He dreamt that he won second place.”
“I see… But isn’t that something bad?”
Ai-chan shook her head. “He said that he was happy that he managed to participate at all. He also did some reflection, and decided to stop blaming his family for not allowing him to take part in the race, and that he would try to communicate more with them.”
“Will they have meals together again?”
“Maybe next time. He managed to greet them good morning today.”
“Yep, yep, greetings are important. So how was their reaction?”
“They seemed shocked at first, but then everyone greeted him back.”
“Heh, that’s great.”
“I don’t think so.”
“I was so happy that I got carried away… So I ended up promising him that I’ll get a gold medal at the upcoming National Meet.”
“Well, just win it, then.”
“It’s not that easy. Quite a few Olympic candidates have registered too. Iiyama-san even said that he’ll come to support me. What should I do?”
“There’s nothing you can do since you’ve already promised. It’s time to show everyone your Osakan willpower!”
“… You’re right! Yoshaaaaa!”
Looks like Ai-chan needed to work hard from now on.
The National Meet was to take place in Hyogo Prefecture at the end of September.
Onpu-chan could not make it down due to auditions, but Hazuki-chan, Majorika, Lala and I closed up the MAHO-do temporarily and came down to support Ai-chan. At this moment, we were gathered at the Kobe Track Stadium stands, the venue for the competition.
Of course, Ai-chan’s parents, dressed in matching happi coats and headbands, also came to support her.
The preliminary rounds of the 100-m dash for adult women took place in the morning, and the semi-finals followed right after noon. The finals were scheduled for four-thirty in the afternoon.
Our Ai-chan competed against adult women and university students and won first place in the prelims, and second place in the semi-finals, and would be proceeding to the finals.
Out of the eight competitors in the finals, there were many strong opponents, as Ai-chan had warned. There were three Olympic candidates, one of who represented Japan, as well as the Year 3 high school student from Kobe who beat Ai-chan at the Inter-High competition in August.
Ai-chan’s time for the semi-finals ranked fifth out of the finalists, but the other competitors were on the lookout, and had watched and analysed her running. However, to my eyes, Ai-chan seemed to be lacking in the same type of focus.
She was probably worrying over the fact that Iiyama-san, who had promised to come and support her, was not present.
“Maybe he couldn’t get along with his grandchildren after all…” Ai-chan whispered worriedly to us when she came over to the first row of the stands where we were camped to speak to her before the competition.
“Ai-chan, focus on the race!”
“Show them the Osakan power!”
Giving a nod at our cheers, Ai-chan jogged slowly over onto the track’s starting point.
“Senoo, sorry I’m late!” A familiar voice rang out from the top of the stands.
It was Iiyama-san, together with a middle school girl and an elementary school girl who were probably his grandchildren.
“Grandpa Iiyama…” Ai-chan stood and stared.
Slowly, her face brightened up.
Just then, Iiyama-san and his two grandchildren unfurled a handmade banner.
The words, “Winner! Contestant Senoo Aiko, go get that gold metal!” were written on it.
“I reached Kobe yesterday, but my grandkids wanted to finish this up, so we took more time than expected,” Iiyama-san explained.
“Ai-chan, we’ve heard all about you from Grandpa! Good luck!”
Iiyama-san’s two grandchildren called out their support. Hearing them, Ai-chan clenched her fists, nodded wordlessly to the three on the stands, and got into starting position.
You may not believe me, but from my seat on the stands, I could clearly feel the aura of strong willpower surging out of Ai-chan’s back.
Ai-chan positioned herself on the starting blocks and waited for the pistol that signaled the start of the race to sound.
While the Onpu-chan before the camera and on stage is beautiful, I felt that in that moment, Ai-chan was beautiful in a totally different way.
The sharp eyes focused on her goal, the tightly-closed mouth, and the much-admired muscles of her thighs… She was artistically beautiful.
And when the pistol sounded and she bounded off, I was totally fascinated.
Ai-chan had exploded!
After her rocket-like start, she dashed towards the finishing line, unaware of the Olympic candidates and rivals, as she moved to fulfill her promise to Iiyama-san to get a gold medal. She’s so awesome.
Her final timing was 11.52 seconds, 0.22 seconds faster than her personal best. This also broke the record for fastest time run by a high school student.
In that moment, Senoo Aiko rose as a new star in the world of Japan Track & Field.
Hazuki-chan and I embraced the grandchildren, while Iiyama-san smiled happily. I wanted to give that smile to Ai-chan, but settled for happy clapping instead.
While we were drunk on Ai-chan’s victory, Onpu-chan was struggling alone.
We had chosen to become witch apprentices, but Onpu-chan had refused to become one.
She did not want to grow to rely on magic again.
That’s right. Her life was so different from ours. She had separated from her family and was now living alone, and in school, she had more rivals than friends. Onpu-chan must have felt lots of anxiety.
Magic is something which should be used as a last resort to help others in need, when there is really no other solution. This may sound obvious, but it is the very basis of magic.
Personally, I would have started to use magic to make life easier for myself. It was only through everyone’s support and help that I had refrained from doing so.
Back to Onpu-chan. There were many people in school, as well as her fans and people in the industry, who knew her when she was a child idol.
There were also many who were shocked at the physical changes she had undergone.
We knew from the very start that although she looked different now, Onpu-chan was still the same inside.
However, people wouldn’t know that if they only knew Onpu-chan by watching her on TV.
“How is Onpu-chan? Is she doing well?” Ai-chan asked.
I shook my head. “She just sent me a message to say that she had forfeited the auditions.”
This was the second time it had happened. Instead of returning to working with TV shows, Onpu-chan had chosen to make her re-debut through stage performance. However, her office had been introducing her to work on TV programmes. And they were not even drama shows, but all variety show programmes.
“Her former fame can only carry her for this long. She is probably determined to show that she really wants to become an actress,” Ai-chan reasoned.
“But Onpu-chan is working so hard. Her voice is really nice, and her singing has improved, too,” Hazuki-chan said.
Onpu-chan was not working at the MAHO-do right now, but she comes to Misora City every week to visit.
She also did vocal lessons in a soundproof room at Hazuki-chan’s house. While Hazuki-chan could play the piano for her, my mum usually went over to help Onpu-chan with both voice projection and piano playing.
Of course, she also went for dance and English lessons every other day, as well as physical training, and studying various movie films and musicals. It was truly a tough schedule.
However, it was also true that Onpu-chan’s skills had improved.
“She’s probably much better than other singers her age,” Hazuki-chan mused
“Wow, but that means we can no longer sing karaoke with her. She’ll be too good,” Ai-chan said.
We used to go for karaoke sessions together sometimes, and Onpu-chan had always been good.
“Fufufu. So Onpu-chan is finally going to surpass me,” I said with a smirk.
“Just what kind of audition will she choose to go for next?” Ai-chan wondered.
“I heard that she went for quite a few recently. She plans to take part in a musical, so she’s been training up her diaphragm and doing vocal training.”
Isn’t anybody going to respond to me?
Ai-chan didn’t even pass any smart retorts.
Now that we’re high school girls, am I losing my position as the group leader?
The next Sunday, Onpu-chan came to the MAHO-do, and the store became lively.
My little sister Pop also came with her friends to visit us that day.
Despite her hard work, Pop’s grades often fluctuated above and below the entry requirement for Karen Girls’ Academy, so she had come today to buy a bracelet that could help grant wishes.
“If I don’t get in, I’ll start spreading rumours about how MAHO-do’s magical goods are all fakes,” Pop warned proudly as she spoke to me.
Onpu-chan poked her head out from the workspace and answered in my stead, “Pop-chan, I was the one who made that bracelet.” She waved her hand at Pop, and we saw an identical bracelet on her own wrist.
“I’ll be alright if I wear a matching bracelet with Onpu-chan! Yosh, time to go home and study!”
Pop had heard from me about how Onpu-chan was working really hard to re-debut as an actress. So, waving to Onpu-chan, she left with her friends.
The rest of the morning was really busy too, with groups of friends from elementary school days, current classmates, and troupes of good girl friends from middle school coming to the store.
Thanks to Onpu-chan’s help, Majorika and I managed to pull through the day.
In the afternoon, Hazuki-chan and Ai-chan came in to work too.
“It’s been a while since I’ve had my four shop beauties gathered together,” Majorika said with a smile to Lala.
When Hazuki-chan and Ai-chan came in in the afternoon, I finally managed to find some time to have a late lunch.
While I rested at the workspace, I watched my three close friends working.
All three of them were living their lives to the fullest, much to my envy.
Compared to them, I was just…
“Ha~~~~ah,” I let out a huge sigh.
“What’s wrong, Doremi-chan?” Hazuki-chan came over with a cup of tea.
“Well, well, Onpu-chan, Hazuki-chan and Ai-chan all have your own goals and are striving hard. I’m just envious because all of you are living your lives to the fullest.”
“It’s not really something to be envious of. It’s good to have a goal, but there’s no point if that causes you to lose sight of everything else. It’s important to know about stuff outside of what we learn in school, and to experience lots of things,” Hazuki-chan countered. “I love playing the violin, so I go for lessons every day, but I’m not a genius at it, and I might not even become a professional player. Right now, I just wish for my music to reach out to someone.”
Did Ai-chan think the same way when she entered the track club as well?
“Sigh, but you know. Don’t you feel that it’s a burden to have me as a close friend? Someone who doesn’t have any talent, and who isn’t working hard at something?” I asked.
“What?” I heard two voices speak at once.
Ai-chan and Onpu-chan joined us with cups of tea.
“Doremi-chan has no idea of her virtues,” Hazuki-chan explained.
“Well, it’s usual for Doremi-chan not to know anything,” Ai-chan retorted.
“Doremi-chan, it’s impossible for someone to have no virtues at all,” Onpu-chan assured me.
“But Doremi-chan has been puzzling over this issue lots recently,” Ai-chan said.
I did not know if I really had any virtues even after what they had said, but I knew that they were speaking sincerely.
“It’s not like Doremi-chan to compare herself with others.”
“Really? Oh, that’s right. I’m sorry.”
“That’s right, it’s good to be honest.”
Maybe I just don’t know my own virtues.
It would be nice if I could find out what they were soon.
Hmm… But I’ve realized that none of my friends had given me a definite answer. So just what exactly are my virtues?
The next day, I was still puzzling over the issue and could not concentrate in class. Leon spotted my inattention and I received a lecture from him.
He was such a cool guy outside of school, but he could be really strict in the classroom.
“Harukaze, I’m disappointed in you! Go wash your face!”
“Just one ‘alright’ is enough! Also, clean up the washroom before you come back!”
“The correct reply would be ‘yes sir’!”
In the end, I took so long to clean up the place that it was recess, and Ai-chan came by to help out.
“Are you still worrying over yesterday’s issue?”
“But none of you could name a good thing about me after all.”
“See, you can’t even name one.”
“That’s not true. Oh yes, you can smile immediately the moment anyone mentions steak.”
“Well, that’s…” I smiled happily as I drooled a little, before going into a panic and retorting, “How’s that a good thing?!”
“Haha, I was just joking. But I’m sure Hazuki-chan, Onpu-chan and I can come up with at least 30 good things about Doremi-chan.”
Just then, a familiar voice piped up from the washroom’s window, “Momo can, too!”
We turned to the window and spotted a familiar yellow hat.
Ai-chan and I rubbed our eyes and looked again to see a familiar form clad in witch apprentice’s garb.
It was Asuka Momoko-chan.
But this was not the time for that! And she was flying on her broomstick, too!
What if the other students should see her?!
Ahh, what would happen then?
My status with Kotake was still unresolved…
Onpu-chan’s re-debut was still in the works…
Either way, the story of sixteen year old Ojamajo Doremi ends here.
The continuation will come in the next book!
Everyone, be happy and lucky!