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Tree doctors (jumokus) in Japan are officially certified arborists who have passed an examination accredited by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Seven Herbs of Spring. The custom of eating seven-herb congee on the Festival of Seven Herbs is said to bring longevity and health.
Wakaba-chan happened to have been walking down the hallway and talking with her friends when it happened, which is why it took the President no time at all to spot her.
The moment she saw who had spoken her expression tightened. The girls who had been with her discreetly moved away.
“Takamichi-san, is enough not yet enough? How much further must you besmirch the name of Zui’ran before you are satisfied?”
“Eh…? Have I done something again…?” timidly asked Wakaba-chan.
The President’s eyes immediately narrowed.
“Done something! Today you rode to school on a bicycle, didn’t you. A student of Zui’ran, riding to school on a bicycle? What on earth were you thinking!”
The bystanders in the hallway began to whisper amongst themselves. Wakaba-chan, you rode to school on a bike…?
“I’m sorry… Umm… There wasn’t anything in the rules forbidding it so I thought it would be okay…”
“Rules!? It’s because nobody at Zui’ran has ever done so that such a rule wasn’t necessary! Shameful! Disgraceful!”
Wakaba-chan lowered her head in a bow.
By now a number of students were directing unhappy expressions at her.
“A bicycle…?!” frowned my friends from beside me.
“Takamichi-san, this had better not be happening every day.”
“It isn’t! It’s just that today my train was cancelled because of an accident, and then I was worried about being late, so I thought maybe riding a bicycle would… No. I’m really sorry…”
But Wakaba-chan didn’t live very close to school did she. Just how freaking far did she pedal that thing!? Amazing. Oh, I suppose now wasn’t the time to be feeling admiration.
Wakaba-chan was looking really down. The President kept her eyes on her while letting out an affected sigh.
“Takamichi-san. Are you sure you’re attending the right school? If you wanted to ride a bicycle to school then wouldn’t it have been better to attend one of the public schools at your house?”
“I’m really very sorry…”
“At any rate, there will not be a second display of this disgrace. Your actions are becoming too much to bear. You had best be prepared if you bring any further shame upon Zui’ran.”
“I’m really sorry!”
Wakaba-chan continued to bow over and over while the President’s followers chirped comments like “Aren’t you getting full of yourself just because your grades are good?” and “Learn your place already.”
I suppose it was pretty bad for a student at Zui’ran to ride a bike to school, but was all this really necessary…?
“What’s wrong, Takamichi!?”
Attracted by the disturbance, Fellow Stalking Horse rushed onto the scene.
“And what are you supposed to be?” glared the President.
“I’m Mizusaki, a member of the Student Council.”
“I know that, obviously. I’m asking what a Student Council member thinks he’s doing here.”
“Resolving the problems in the school is the duty of the Student Council,” he replied with a severe expression.
Despite the way Stalking Horse towered over her, the President wasn’t cowered in the least and snorted mockingly at him.
“You seem to be feeling quite good about yourself for a lowly Student Council member. Even impudence has its limits!”
“Stop, stop Mizusaki-kun! I was wrong, okay? Please, just stop,” begged Wakaba-chan in a panic.
She was pulling on his arm and quietly trying to stop him. I guess she didn’t want the incident to get any bigger than it already was.
“I’m sorry. From today onwards I won’t do such a thing again. I’m terribly sorry about today,” bowed Wakaba-chan once again.
The President huffed, but decided that it was enough.
“There will not be a second time.”
After directing a cold gaze at Wakaba-chan and Fellow Stalking Horse, the President turned on her heel and left. She was walking down the hallway when she spotted me and smiled.
“My! Reika-sama! Gokigen’yoh.”
Uwah, she found me…
“I know it must be rough being swarmed by all these stray dogs. If anything happens, don’t hesitate to tell us, okay?”
I could feel my expression cramping. Everyone was looking at us now. My stomach hurt… Stop glaring, Fellow Stalking Horse.
“I hear that we have new tea at the salon today. You must come by.”
“Yes, I look forward to it.”
The President nodded magnanimously at me before heading back to the 3rd year classrooms.
Once they were gone, the people left behind in the hallway went into an uproar about what happened. The students that were particularly proud of being from Zui’ran began scolding her, so Wakaba-chan apologised to them as well.
Fellow Stalking Horse shielded her from them and then asked what happened.
“Actually, I end up biking it to school today…”
“Bike!? Why were you doing that?”
“This morning my train was stopped and it didn’t seem like I’d be able to find another way here on time. I didn’t want to lose the money for perfect attendance so I just…”
“…Couldn’t you have just gotten a late note in that case?”
Her whole body slumped. Wakaba-chan, I think the cost for that money is getting a little too high…
Later that day, Wakaba-chan stealthily rode her bike home…
Ever since incurring the wrath of the President, criticism of Wakaba-chan increased sharply. What was particularly rough was the way some people would pretend that she wasn’t there and badmouthed her.
Was she going to be okay…? She looked happy enough, but she had to be hurting inside…
One day I caught sight of Wakaba-chan heading into the Zui’ran Forest after school.
Zui’ran was well-known for all of the greenery it had. We called the most thickly grown region the Zui’ran Forest. With how thickly the vegetation grew, the centre was dim and dark. Because nobody really wanted to get dirty, pretty much nobody went in there. So why was Wakaba-chan…
I suddenly gasped as the words ‘Sea of Trees Manjuu’ flashed through my head.
It can’t be!
I rushed after Wakaba-chan in panic. Don’t be hasty, Wakaba-chan!
When I caught up with her I spotted Wakaba-chan together with the gardener. The man had a tree doctors certification and worked here exclusively for Zui’ran.
They talked for a bit before the gardener handed Wakaba-chan some sort of bag. Huh?
After talking for a while longer, Wakaba-chan waved goodbye and then went back the way she came with a smile.
I made sure she was gone before approaching the old gardener. Could it be that he talked her down…?
“My apologies for interrupting you at work. That girl from before. What was she doing here?”
He turned around in surprise.
“Ohh, you scared me. I didn’t think anybody else was here. Are you asking about Wakaba-chan? She was here looking for wild vegetables.”
“There are a lot of weeds that grow around here, you see, and sometimes she comes looking for them. Taranome angelica shoots, renmai fern, myouga ginger, that sort of thing. ”
“Those grow here!?”
I had no idea! There was food growing here in Zui’ran!?
“Lots of them do. Although nobody really notices since they have no interest I suppose. This is the first time any student has gone looking for them. Last year I caught Wakaba-chan wandering around here with an encyclopaedia of wild herbs. I asked her what she was doing and she told me she was looking for ingredients. She was interesting so I told her where she could find the good stuff.”
“Is that… not a problem?”
“Well they just sort of pop up on their own.
Nobody really planted them there. Picking flowers from the gardens would be one thing, but I don’t think the school would mind these at all.”
“My. I see.”
Thank god Wakaba-chan hadn’t been implicated in thievery.
“Apparently she was here looking for tempura ingredients today. She really wanted the myouga it seems, but it’s a bit early for those. She told me she wanted to spice them eat them with hiyayakko.
In the end I told her to come back in a week. Oh, and she was looking for Jew’s ear as well. Said she wanted to make cellophane noodle salad.”
…Far from suffering, Wakaba-chan was enjoying every bit of Zui’ran to the fullest.
“Wakaba-chan is growing her own herbs and small vegetables too, so she comes here a lot for advice on growing them. Why, the other day she came here telling me about how she was in a bit of a pickle because her mint had overgrown. Because she didn’t know what to do with it all, she tried making mint tea she told me, and had brought a flask of it along. She really is an interesting girl.”
The gardener laughed.
I wasn’t without worries though. Just because the staff and administration were okay with it, if her haters or the Pivoine heard about this it would probably only fuel the fire. I could already hear rumours about how she was too poor to buy groceries… Not that her family actually was in poverty.
“Umm… Her ingredient searching is all well and good, but if possible could you keep it a secret from any other students who come asking? Some people might have a problem with it…”
“Hm? Really? Well, come to think of it maybe some people would. Then it’s just going to be a secret between us then. I’d feel bad if anything spoilt her fun. Ah, speaking of which, she came here in the middle of winter looking for spring herbs. Later she told me that she ended up making seven-herb congee and now she would be healthy all year. She has refined taste, doesn’t she.”
Would you really call that refined…? A high school girl who braved the cold of winter to go ingredient-searching at her school, all because she wanted to make fresh seven-herb congee.
Apparently Wakaba-chan’s personality was both more bold and more shameless than I could have ever imagined…
But, well, as long as she was having fun…
For you, I head out to the fields to pick spring greens while snow falls upon my sleeves──
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