Today, as well, a clear voice welcomes me.
I am an ordinary salaryman working for a small to medium-sized company.
Every day, I arrive at work at the same time and leave at the same time.
My position in the company is at the very bottom, and there’s no chance of overtime. But I also don’t have any friends to go for drinks with after work. Within the workplace, I must have stood out as quite the odd one.
You could say that I was a burden to the company.
Looking back, my life has always been unremarkable.
As a child, I was often bullied for no apparent reason.
I wasn’t good at studying, and I wasn’t good at sports. I failed early in the competitive world of entrance exams. After attending a third-rate high school, I barely managed to scrape into a fifth-rate university, where I continued to experience a series of miserable days.
If there was one thing that offered a glimmer of hope in my unremarkable life, it was Mio.
Mio was a shrine maiden at the local Hikawa Shrine.
She was not only the daughter of the head priest but also my childhood friend.
Mio had been a beauty from a young age, and with each passing year, her beauty seemed to shine even brighter. Perhaps it was due to her role as a shrine maiden, or maybe it was the shrine outfit she wore daily, but there were times when she seemed to emit a radiant, almost divine glow from the back of her head.
I had always had feelings for Mio. Mio, too, said she wouldn’t mind living with me. And so, we got married.
With these words from Mio, I felt so supported. Whenever I hear this phrase, I feel like I can overcome any job or any life situation.
It’s the sustenance that keeps me going for the next day. I truly believe that.
I work as a salesman for a certain company.
I walk from morning to night, going door to door selling electronic dictionaries every day.
Saying “selling” is a bit of an exaggeration because I’ve never actually made a sale.
The reason is simple: I am utterly lacking in eloquence. I’m shy and suffer from extreme stage fright. But my lack of success isn’t solely due to that. It’s because no customers ever come out.
I know there are people inside the houses. But even when I walk through the gate and into the yard, or ring the doorbell, no one comes out to meet me.
There was one time when I tried to talk to a lady who was tending to the flowers in the garden, but I was completely ignored. She must have heard my voice, but she didn’t even look in my direction.
Could it be that I’m so inconspicuous? No, that can’t be it—surely not.
I called out to her, but she didn’t turn around. I was simply being ignored.
I kept walking until my legs were like sticks, and arrived home just as the first stars were rising.
My home is the Hikawa Shrine, a well-known local shrine. The signboard priestess there is my wife.
We’ve been childhood friends.
Passing through the shrine’s torii gate, my wife Mio, dressed in her shrine maiden attire, welcomed me home as if she had been waiting for my return.
On the way home, I walked alongside Mio and shared what had happened today.
Mio was a good listener, never interrupting my words, and occasionally giving affirming nods. She was different from the modern assertive women. Just having Mio listen to me made my work fatigue melt away.
Being a shrine maiden, I sometimes wondered if she possessed some sort of healing power.
Then, Mio said something strange.
“So, you were out on fieldwork today?”
It was a strange statement. “Fieldwork” was a term typically used by those who worked indoors when they occasionally went outside. My job was sales, and whether it was summer or winter, I was always walking outside.
I tilted my head at Mio’s remark, but I didn’t dwell on it.
I work for a major general contractor company. And I am the president of the company.
I oversee three thousand employees and lead a busy life, constantly rushing against the clock.
Even after work, I have various social commitments.
Going out for drinks, playing mahjong, fishing on weekends, playing golf—my schedule is always packed.
So, even though I’m married, it’s not like I should be criticized for flirting a little with some young female employees, right? That’s just a little bit of relaxation, isn’t it?
When I returned home completely drunk, the moon had already tilted towards the western sky.
My wife, Mio, dressed in her shrine maiden attire, welcomed me.
Mio was graceful and beautiful. Being the star shrine maiden of the renowned Hikawa Shrine in our hometown had ignited my passion, and we had registered our marriage a year ago through my relentless pursuit.
However, my heart had already grown cold.
At first, I thought her docile and demure nature was appealing, but I had gradually become bored with it.
“What a dull woman,” I thought increasingly often.
Lately, that’s what I had been feeling.
“Hey, did you sell any electronic dictionaries?”
In response, I glared at her with undisguised displeasure.
“Electronic dictionaries? Who in this day and age would buy such a thing? The internet has it all. Besides, I’m the company president. Do you think I would be involved in sales?”
I yelled this and turned toward the direction of our house within the shrine grounds, walking away alone.
I am the head clerk of a well-established department store, dealing in textiles.
As the head clerk, I was scolded and bossed around by the landlady and had to take care of the apprentices and other staff every day.
I was worn out, caught between the landlady and the apprentices and servants.
What saved me from such a situation was Mio, the star shrine maiden of the Hikawa Shrine.
Her glossy, supple black hair. Skin as white as snow. A faint blush on her cheeks. Mio was truly the woman of my dreams.
I squeezed visits to the shrine into my busy schedule and finally managed to marry Mio.
The emotions I felt at that time were indescribable. It was like a dream come true.
Since then, I couldn’t wait to come home. I even felt more motivated at work.
Passing through the shrine’s torii gate, Mio, dressed in her shrine maiden attire, welcomed me. Overwhelmed with joy, I rushed to Mio.
While she usually wore a white kimono with a scarlet hakama, today she was wearing a chihaya.
As we walked through the shrine grounds, I shared with Mio all the events of the day. She simply listened in silence.
After I had finished speaking, Mio, with her beautifully pink lips, spoke.
“Today, you were the head clerk of a department store? Weren’t you a salaryman?”
“That’s not it? A salesman, going around selling electronic dictionaries?”
“Wrong again, huh? Well then, were you the president of a major construction company?”
“Mio… what are you talking about?”
“Who on earth are you really? Hey, please try to remember that.”
“….Who… Mio… I am…”
“I’ve been telling you all along, haven’t I? I’ve been telling you.”
“Telling me? ….What?”
When I suddenly heard a voice, I turned to see the figure of the head priest of the Hikawa Shrine.
In response to my murmur, the head priest narrowed his eyes and spoke with a heavy sigh.
“This needs to be stopped already.”
“…What do you mean?”
“Mio is not your wife.”
“What… are you saying?”
“Mio doesn’t have feelings for you.”
“…Could it be that Mio is having an affair…?”
“It’s not like that.”
While saying this, the head priest handed something to Mio.
“Mio, do you understand how to use it?”
“Yes. But, Father, can’t you wait a little longer?”
“Prolonging this any further is not a good idea.”
“But, he… he’s not a bad person.”
“He may not be now. But we don’t know what might happen if we let this continue.”
“What might happen… You mean, he could become possessed by an evil spirit?”
Mio mentioned that.
An evil spirit? Who? Me? Mio, what are you talking about?
Mio… Why would you say something like I’m possessed by an evil spirit?
Mio, you are my wife. And I am your husband. We’ve been so close, haven’t we?
You are my childhood friend, always there to support me.
I strayed from the path of career success and was always relegated to the sidelines at work.
When I was lamenting about the electronic dictionaries not selling, Mio was there to support me.
And then… I became the president of a large corporation.
No, wait… was that really the case?
If it was, what happened next…?
I can’t make sense of it anymore. Everything is so muddled.
What’s happening to me…?
Suddenly, I noticed that Mio was holding a talisman in her left hand and a short dagger with a cross-shaped blade in her right.
Mio had a sorrowful expression as she raised the talisman and dagger toward me, chanting an incantation.
In response to her words, a pentagram, as if drawn with golden threads, appeared at my feet.
As it gradually rose higher and higher, an indescribable fear overcame me.
What is this? What is happening to me…?
Fear turned into despair, and when it reached its peak… I heard that voice.
Following the voice, I saw Mio looking at me with a sad smile. Her clear voice continued to weave words.
“Welcome back. After wandering for countless years, unable to be noticed by anyone, it must have been tough, right? So, go back. Return to where you belong.”
Hearing that, I suddenly felt released from my suffering.
And in place of fear and despair, a profound sense of gratitude overwhelmed me.
So, even as I was about to fade away, I mustered my last bit of strength to say the words with all my heart to Mio.
“Mio. Beloved Mio. Please, give me a smile…”
The corners of her pink lips turned upward. The corners of her eyes drooped slightly.
Ah, Mio is indeed beautiful…
As I was sealed within a piece of paper, my heart was truly fulfilled.
Picking up the paper that had gently fallen to the ground, Mio asked her father, the head priest.
“What will happen to this person?”
“He will return to the land of the dead.”
“Through sealing, we temporarily restrict his ability to influence this world. His soul is safe. Once he knows where he should return, we will release the seal and send him back.”
“I see… Will he be able to return properly?”
“Most likely, he should be fine. It’s thanks to your efforts. You prevented this soul from becoming an evil spirit.”
Father had once explained to Mio the difference between “Akuryo” and “Akurei.”
“Akuryo” refers to those who actively interfere with the living, leading them astray and corrupting them. On the other hand, “akurei” are lost souls who don’t realize they have died, continue to wander aimlessly without knowing where to go, and in the process, they interfere with the living in the hope of being noticed by those around them.
Akurei carried the danger of eventually becoming akuryo if they lingered in this world for too long.
“If we happen to meet again in the next life, I hope we can truly become husband and wife.”
As Mio said this, as if in response, one of the papers in her hand trembled.