All “Haibane Renmei” references are copyrighted by Yoshitoshi aBe and Geneon. This is an amateur, non-commercial story, which is not produced, approved of, or in any way sponsored by the holders of the trademarks/copyrights from which this work is derived, nor is it intended to infringe on the rights of these holders. And so it goes.
Who’s there? Come in, come in, hurry up and shut the door. There’s enough clutter in here, I don’t need the wind to make it worse. Give me just a second, I’ll be right up.
Ah. What can I do for you, miss? Now I have to warn you, while I’ll take broken merchandise from Haibane, I normally don’t pay as much for it, seeing as if something’s gotten to the point where you’re using it, there’s not much hope in repairing it if you break it…what?
You want a job? Here?
No. Absolutely not. I’m not looking for any help at this time, and if I were, I certainly wouldn’t hire a Haibane. I don’t care what your sempai Rakka said; I hired one once, and that turned out to be the biggest mistake of my life. Haibane just are not reliable. So you just go on now, leave my little shop and try somewhere else—I heard the bakery might be interested…in…
Oh, now don’t do that. Please don’t do that. Stop that right now. Please. Uhhh…here. Dry your eyes, and don’t worry. It’s clean. That corner, anyway. Look…come over here and sit down, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be so harsh with you, Miss…Kiri? That’s a very pretty name. Look, I was just brewing myself a cup of tea. Let me make you one too. No, I insist. It’s the least I can do for my bad manners.
Here you go. And let me see…yes, here we are. They’re a little stale, but still very tasty. I got them from the bakery a few days ago. There. Feeling better? Good, good. I’m very sorry about all that, Miss Kiri. It’s just…well, it’s a long story.
Are you sure?
* * * * *
I don’t care how well-made or high-quality it is, sooner or later, everything breaks down. It’s a fact of life. The Toga bring stuff in, people use it until they get tired of it, and if it doesn’t go to you Haibane, it usually ends up here with me. Look around and you’ll see that I’ve been here a long time, so I know what I’m talking about.
Over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at fixing the odd thing here and there. I’ve got plenty of material to draw from—cannibalize from this, borrow a few screws from that, take a decently-running motor from another piece, and sometimes you get lucky. Unfortunately, over time the clutter started eating up more and more of my time until I was spending most of my days just trying to keep the shop from overflowing. I had all this stuff coming in and precious little going out. And to be honest…there isn’t really anywhere I can just dump the stuff that is beyond salvage. Truth of the matter is, this place is the dump.
So one day that fella who runs the clothing shop was in here. His radio had blown a vacuum tube and we were trying to scavenge up a replacement. ‘This place is a disaster,” he told me, as if I hadn’t noticed that little detail of late. ‘You ought to get someone in here to clean it up.’
I told him that most of the people in this town have jobs already, and those who don’t aren’t all that interested in working in a junk shop. He just grinned and suggested I hire a Haibane. Well, you’ve met him, Miss Kiri, and you know what he’s like. He thinks you all are just the greatest creatures that ever existed, and I know full well he bends the rules for you all from time to time, especially with the new girls. Sucker for a pretty face and all that. So anyway, I told him there was no way a Haibane would ever set foot in this place if he or she could help it, and he just laughed again and said he’d suggest it to the Old Home girls next time they were in.
We finally found a few decent tubes and he went his way, I went mine. Truth to tell, I’d completely forgotten all about that conversation, but sure enough, a few days later I hear the door open and a voice ask if anyone was in. I made my way through the piles and there was this Haibane, about your size but with black hair, maybe a bit taller. She smiles, bows, and she’s here to inquire about the job opening.
‘What job opening?’ I asked.
‘The clothing shop owner said you were looking for help,’ she replies. ‘My name is Yuki, and I’d like to work for you.’
Finally I remember, and I shake my head and tell her that she really doesn’t want to work in here. ‘Look around,’ I told her. ‘It’s dark, cluttered, dusty, dirty, and I don’t think a battalion of Haibane could make this place look decent.’
‘With your permission, I’d like to try.’ Yuki was a determined one, to be sure. She smiled all the time, but you always got the impression there was a fair bit of iron will behind those teeth. I hemmed and hawed and tried to shoo her off, but she’d made up her mind. Finally I shook my head and told her fine, we’d try it for a week and see how it went.
‘When do I start?’ she asked. I just shrugged and said right now was fine by me. But the first crash or bang or scream, and she was out of here. I had too much to do in back; I couldn’t stand around watching over some frail little girl with wings. She just grinned again and bowed, so I shook my head again and went back to work.
When I came back up front about six hours later to close, I darn near went blind from all the sunlight coming through the windows. Yuki had washed about five years worth of dust and grime off them; must have taken her all day from the look of it, but there she was, standing outside with this huge grin on her face, looking just as proud of herself as she could be.
I signed her book and told her to come back tomorrow at eight.
* * * * *
Next morning Yuki was waiting for me to open up. She gave me a big bow and greeting, then grabbed a broom and started on the floors. That took about a week to finish, on account of all the stuff that had kind of grown into aisles. Didn’t stop her, though. She did a section at a time, taking stuff out back piece by piece, then swept and mopped all the grime away. At some point I commented that she wasn’t putting anything back, but she just smiled and assured me it was all right, just part of the plan. Of course, she never bothered to let me in on what ‘the plan’ entailed, but on the other hand the shop was looking a lot nicer, and I’d discovered that I did in fact have a white tiled floor.
Not only was the girl cleaning, she was greeting my customers as well. Yuki was always friendly, always courteous, always with that big, bright smile. I don’t think I ever saw Yuki frown for more than a minute or so, and that was usually when ‘the plan’ wasn’t working for some reason or another. But when people would come in, she’d treat them like honored guests, inquire as to why they’d come, and then come fetch me from in back, where I’d be working on trying to repair this or that.
That was the funny thing. It took me the longest time to realize that with Yuki taking care of things up front, I had more free time to fix things. And the minute I’d get one finished, she’d snatch it off my workbench and display it in those clean windows that never got a chance to get dirty again because she washed them every morning. And nothing stayed in that window more than a few days before someone would come in and buy it.
And then there was the whole tea thing. Every afternoon about three or so, I’d look up from whatever I was doing and there she’d be in the doorway, bowing slightly and telling me that she’d prepared some tea and cookies, and she’d be waiting at the table. Now, up until she’d cleaned the place up, I didn’t even know I had a table up front—that’s how bad I’d let things pile up. Yuki’d found it, though, cleaned it up really nice, and pushed it over by one of the front windows. And when I’d set whatever I was working on aside and headed out there, she and I, we’d sit there in the afternoon sun and have our tea. We’d watch the town going about its business and just talk about this or that…nothing ever all that important, just everyday things.
You know,even now, every afternoon I…
* * * * *
I don’t remember when we found that old beat-up record player. Wasn’t in too bad a condition, just needed some work and some rewiring here and there. Hardest part of it was rigging a new needle up, to be honest. I eventually got it working, though, and to my surprise I found a couple of old records back in the shack that, after you cleaned ‘em up, they played pretty well, considering.
I took it up front and showed it to Yuki. She got all excited, clapping her hands and jumping around so much you’d think those wings were finally going to lift her up in the air. And when I turned it on and played a tune for her, she laughed and danced around the store, whirling around in little circles with her arms way out and her wings fully extended too. I think we played every record twice, top and bottom both, and when it was time to close for the day, I just put it all in a big box and gave it to her.
“It’s yours,” I said.
“Sir, I can’t accept this without paying for it…” she started, but I waved her off and told her it was a gift for all her hard work. She got this funny look on her face, and the next thing I know she leaned over and kissed me on the cheek, just like that. And then she got all embarrassed and hurried out as fast as she could, that box bouncing around in her arms.
* * * * *
I knew something had happened that night, I just didn’t know what, exactly. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and this incredibly bright light was shooting up in the western sky. It only lasted a minute or two, but…it was so beautiful, and yet, watching it, I suddenly felt so sad.
I didn’t sleep much the rest of the night. Actually went down to the shop earlier than I normally do. And your Miss Rakka was standing there waiting, looking sad and happy all at the same time. And the minute I saw her face, I knew the truth: I’d never see Yuki again.
I invited Miss Rakka in, offered her some tea, and we made small talk for a while. After she left, I just kind of wandered around the shop all day. I couldn’t get used to the quiet, the fact that Yuki wasn’t running around sweeping or dusting or doing any of the hundred little things she did every day. A few people came in and asked where she was, and I just shook my head. We’ve all seen it happen a few times, so no one pressed.
So time passed, and I learned to get used to the quiet, and the clutter started building up again. It happens. But for some reason, I kept this table clear. I don’t know why.
And so here you are. Miss Kiri, new Haibane, out looking for work as good Haibane should. And Miss Rakka told you to be sure and come here first. Heh. She’s a clever one, I’ll give her that.
Well…I tell you what. Let’s give it a try and see how it goes. Start with giving the place a good sweeping and dusting, and we’ll take it a day at a time. I can be a bit grouchy at times, but if Yuki could put up with me, you should be able to, too.
That sound good to you, Miss Kiri? All right then. The broom is over there. Get to work, and if you need anything, I’ll be puttering around in the back.