Published in Rohan Kishibe Does Not Frolic
Small, round bread rolls were served as hors d’oeuvres for the lunch course. The delicious aroma of freshly baked bread wafted across the table.
We were inside the casual French restaurant which had just opened recently in Morioh.
Although it was a popular restaurant, reservations being so full all the time that even booking a seat was a Herculean task since its opening, an editor who wanted to commission a new job had booked a private room for lunch.
I felt a sense of considerable enthusiasm on his part, from how he was going so far as to arrange a meeting when he himself was only in the phase of presenting ideas. Things had just settled down at work, so I—Rohan Kishibe, decided to listen to what he had to say for the time being. It was definitely not because I had wanted to go to the restaurant everyone had been talking about.
“Actually, I’d wanted to introduce this restaurant to you too Mr. Rohan, since I used to be a frequent customer while I was in Tokyo.”
The giant who sat in the seat facing me bit into the bread happily. He had eaten three rolls already. I almost ate a second roll too, tempted by his gusto, but restrained myself. If I became full before the meal, my appetite would surely be ruined.
The man’s name was Toshiya Utsurogi. He worked for a publisher of a culinary magazine. 31 years old. Divorced. His name sounded like it belonged to a rock singer or a celebrity from an older time but the person in question was a big fellow, as round and fat as a barrel. His blubbery face was brutish, but since he always appeared to be smiling, there was also an inexplicable winsomeness about him. The body hair peeking out from his sleeves was dense and thick, and from how his protruding big ears popped out of the overgrown bushy hair on his head, he was akin to a bull disguising itself as a human.
“… Anyhow, I came here today only to listen to what you had to say. Lunch is only an hour. I’ll leave if our meeting exceeds that.”
“Yes. Oh, but I think the job this time will be just perfect for you, Mr. Rohan.”
“Really? What an overflowing confidence … By the way, I’ll ask; who is that child?”
I glanced at the child sitting next to him. A girl, who seemed only five years old. She was awfully thin, and her head seemed swollen due to her stubbornly curled, frizzy hair.
“This is my daughter, Yo. I’ve been raising her without any help from a woman, and she’s hopeless unless I’m by her side at all times. Oh, but she’s a sweet girl, so no worries. She’s even a star down at the editorial department.”
Ever since she’d bobbed her head down, egged on by her father, Yo had not even bothered to look my way and immediately held fast to her father’s portly flank. It appeared that she was shy to the extreme.
“I see. Well, I don’t particularly mind as long as she’s quiet …”
It’s not like I hated children, but I didn’t particularly like them either. Kids sometimes suddenly did inexplicable things for inexplicable reasons.
The appetizers then arrived. An entrée froide made with fresh fish caught in Morioh and local open-field vegetables. Piled high, I enjoyed the fragrant herbs and the sourness of the vinegar.
“Mmm, tastes amazing!”
As Utsurogi applauded the dish in-between every bite, he also had been painstakingly checking the contents of the meal as though performing an autopsy and transferred the food to his daughter’s serving plate. He was uncharacteristically meticulous, bordering on overprotective. Yo would eat mechanically but would push her plate away after only one bite.
I broached the subject while partaking in the appetizer.
“… So, about the job offer?”
“Ah, I’d forgotten.”
Utsurogi, who had been entirely engrossed in eating, sprung up his gaze.
“What I wanted to request from Mr. Rohan was … you see … actually, our magazine is collaborating with popular writers and is planning to publish a cooking manga serially every month. And for the momentous first chapter, it would be wonderful if—”
“A cooking manga …?”
I stilled, the hands holding the fork and knife frozen in place.
“I was going to ask anyway, but you do read my manga, correct?”
“Of course, of course! I’ve been a fan of yours ever since your debut!”
“Then frankly, doesn’t it occur to you that my art style isn’t exactly suited for a cooking manga?”
“… Come on, you’re an editor. That’s where you’re supposed to go, ‘Not at all, Mr. Rohan.’”
“Ah, I apologize …”
Utsurogi curled up into himself, crestfallen. Despite his enormous body, his mannerisms resembled a small animal.
“But Mr. Rohan, the overseas brand which had appeared in the manga you previously drew—sales of their bags skyrocketed thanks to you. I have reason to believe that your manga has the powerful ability to communicate the appeal of what’s included within it!”
Utsurogi leaned forward with such momentum that I thought he was going to grab onto my hands. The table rocked violently. I gripped the edges of the table to prevent the dishes from flying.
“… Even so, cooking manga are so oversaturated now that the genre’s become trite, as a matter of fact.”
“That’s true, and being knowledgeable on this genre as well, I’m fully aware that readers aren’t satisfied by mere introductions of tasty food. Mh-hm.”
“Oh, come on now, don’t admit it and then nod dumbly after… But obviously, you have a trick up your sleeve, based on the way you’re going about this, right?”
I was testing him. If he tried to dump the entire responsibility of coming up with an idea all to me here, then I would have risen from the table and left.
“Hehehe… Don’t be surprised when you hear this. Why, I planned so that you could conduct research on the ‘Gleanings of Paradise’, Mr. Rohan!”
Utsurogi’s face beamed with smiles as though brandishing a trump card that had been up his sleeve.
“‘Gleanings of Paradise’?” I inadvertently parroted back, the name unknown to even myself.
“What … You don’t know what it is?”
Utsurogi subconsciously hung his jaw low and wide. I was annoyed by his reaction of “shouldn’t you know this?”. I was going to get it out of him, no matter what. “No, but I’ve heard of it before … Look. You’re the expert, so you must know a lot more than I do.”
“Gee, I can’t help but get nervous when you put it that way.”
Utsurogi squirmed like a girl embarrassed to talk about her crush, putting the palms of his hands together and rubbing them in front of his mouth.
“Well, the ‘Gleanings of Paradise’ are a rare species of wheat considered legendary in the food industry and—why, the village producing it said they would agree to answer a few questions … as long as it was you asking, Mr. Rohan!”
“… Hey, wait just a minute. You’re saying that the ‘Gleanings of Paradise’ are a variety of wheat?”
“Obviously. A legendary variety, although those who have actually eaten it number few, they have all unanimously praised its taste—why, doesn’t this intrigue you?”
“When you put it that way. Even so, at the end of the day, it is just wheat. Doesn’t seem like there would be much of a difference.”
My interest was aroused a teeny bit, but this was much too ordinary. What’s more, the story seemed dubious in the way a conman is when he’s trying to sell you something, as far as I could tell from his account. No thank you to being exploited for some shady publicity stunt.
Guess I’ll refuse this job offer after all—
Just as I tried to interrupt Utsurogi, who had been speaking fervently, the meat dish of the main course arrived.
Roast beef, coming from local cattle. The citrus sauce was also made from fruit which was a local specialty cultivated in Morioh.
I mulled over my choices. On one hand, leaving the cuisine in front of me uneaten would be unforgivable too. I decided to leave after finishing eating this meal and paying for lunch to compensate.
After thinking the situation through like this, I suddenly became more eager to relish this delicious lunch.
However, Yo had suddenly appeared in the corner of my eye. She pierced the meat her father had portioned out with a fork and raised it, eating only after scrutinizing the food doubtfully. She acted like her lunch was poisoned. Likewise, she forced the remainder onto her father after one bite.
“… You know, this has been bugging me for some time, but your child—if she keeps on dining with such a dreary expression, she’s going to make me lose my appetite too.”
“Um, about that …”
“Not that there’s any problem with doting on your daughter, but mollycoddling does nothing but harm in my opinion. Table manners exist for a reason, you know.”
Utsurogi changed from earlier and clammed up and started to talk in a subdued voice.
“Ah, actually, as a matter of fact … my child is allergic to wheat. Given the age we’re in, where most food includes wheat in some way, whether that be from the convenience store or a restaurant, you understand what I mean, right? That’s why I must keep such a close eye on what she eats—”
Then he cut and divided the vegetable garnish and transferred some to his daughter’s plate.
“Look! You can eat this, why don’t you give it a try?”
Utsurogi fondly patted his daughter’s head after she had tasted the vegetables.
“I apologize if your mood was soured by my daughter. Would it be possible for you to forgive her, since she’s capable of staying out of the way during work?”
“… Given your circumstances, you really shouldn’t be the one asking for permission.”
Becoming kind of embarrassed, I resumed eating the meal. The meal was superb.
“—By the way, about that village.”
Promptly polishing off the meat, Utsurogi was cleaning off the remaining sauce on his plate with bread.
“Actually, the leader of that village is my best friend from university. He used to work for a cutting-edge company conducting research on genetically modified crops, but one day, he suddenly gave up his career. He then moved deep into the mountains and started to pioneer a village.”
The subject that Utsurogi had abruptly brought to light awakened an interest within me.
“… Huh, and why did he do that?”
“That’s the ‘Gleanings of Paradise’ for you. Also known as the ‘most ancient wheat in the world’. So, what do you think? Doesn’t a legendary strain of wheat that made someone decide to abandon such an elite career path intrigue you in the slightest?”
That was true. I was certainly willing to hear a little more, but something about this whole affair still bugged me, and I couldn’t ignore the feeling.
“Then, why did he suddenly agree to an interview? As far as I can tell from listening, he seems to be rather devoted to this so-called ‘most ancient wheat in the world’, and it seems pretty on-brand to keep outsiders away.”
At that remark, Utsorogi straightened his posture as if he had made up his mind.
“―In fact, it was him who provided us with the opportunity for this interview. He invited me by saying ‘Why don’t you two come over to eat our wheat?’ and when I told him about you afterwards, he said he’d love for you to join us.”
“Wait, let me get this straight. He said, you two come over to eat … but isn’t your daughter allergic to wheat?”
“―Yes, and that’s why.”
Utsurogi’s face had a sterner expression than I had ever seen before. It was the face of a man, of a father.
“Mr. Rohan. He told me not to tell anyone about this, but apparently the ‘Gleanings of Paradise’ have the ‘ability to dramatically change the constitution of those who eat it’. ‘With that, we might even be able to cure your daughter’s wheat allergy’―that’s what he said. That’s what he told me.”
“Wheat that cures wheat allergy when eaten …? That’s a contradiction, usually.”
“True or not, you can never know for sure until you check it out yourself. I believe my best friend’s words are true, so I will act accordingly. I want to teach my daughter the joys of eating, and by curing her allergy, I will do that.”
He had an unwavering resolve. This was the motivation spurring this man, Toshiya Utsurogi, toward food.
… I see.
I ruminated over Utsurogi’s story. The most ancient wheat in the world—a substance with the ability to dramatically transform those who eat it. Wheat which could even cure an allergy to wheat—a paradox in itself.
“How interesting. This ‘Gleanings of Paradise’ has piqued my curiosity. Allow me to join you two for research.”