Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata by Sayaka Murata - Read Online

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Convenience Store Woman - Sayaka Murata

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CONVENIENCE

STORE

WOMAN

SAYAKA MURATA

Translated from the Japanese by

GINNY TAPLEY TAKEMORI

Copyright © 2016 by Sayaka Murata

English translation © 2018 by Ginny Tapley Takemori

Cover design by Gretchen Mergenthaler

Cover photograph © plainpicture/Score. Aflo/Naho Yoshizawa

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Scanning, uploading, and electronic distribution of this book or the facilitation of such without the permission of the publisher is prohibited. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated. Any member of educational institutions wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use, or anthology, should send inquiries to Grove Atlantic, 154 West 14th Street, New York, NY 10011 or permissions@groveatlantic.com.

Original published as Konbini ningen. Japanese edition published by Bungeishunju Ltd., Tokyo. English language translation rights reserved to Grove Atlantic, Inc. under license granted by Sakaya Murata arranged with Bungeishunju Ltd. through The English Agency (Japan) Ltd.

Published simultaneously in Canada

Printed in the United States of America

First Grove Atlantic hardcover edition: June 2018

This book was set in 11 point Berling by Alpha Design & Composition of Pittsfield, NH.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data is available for this title.

ISBN 978-0-8021-2825-6

eISBN 978-0-8021-6580-0

Grove Press

an imprint of Grove Atlantic

154 West 14th Street

New York, NY 10011

Grove Atlantic gratefully acknowledges the support from the Japan Foundation for this publication.

Distributed by Publishers Group West

groveatlantic.com

18 19 20 21 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Table of Contents

Cover

Title Page

Copyright

Begin Reading

Back Cover

A convenience store is a world of sound. From the tinkle of the door chime to the voices of TV celebrities advertising new products over the in-store cable network, to the calls of the store workers, the beeps of the bar code scanner, the rustle of customers picking up items and placing them in baskets, and the clacking of heels walking around the store. It all blends into the convenience store sound that ceaselessly caresses my eardrums.

I hear the faint rattle of a new plastic bottle rolling into place as a customer takes one out of the refrigerator, and look up instantly. A cold drink is often the last item customers take before coming to the checkout till, and my body responds automatically to the sound. I see a woman holding a bottle of mineral water while perusing the desserts and look back down.

As I arrange the display of newly delivered rice balls, my body picks up information from the multitude of sounds around the store. At this time of day, rice balls, sandwiches, and salads are what sell best. Another part-timer, Sugawara, is over at the other side of the store checking off items with a handheld scanner. I continue laying out the pristine, machine-made food neatly on the shelves of the cold display: in the middle I place two rows of the new flavor, spicy cod roe with cream cheese, alongside two rows of the store’s best-selling flavor, tuna mayonnaise, and then I line the less popular dry bonito shavings in soy sauce flavor next to those. Speed is of the essence, and I barely use my head as the rules ingrained in me issue instructions directly to my body.

Alerted by a faint clink of coins I turn and look over at the cash register. It’s a sound I’m sensitive to, since customers who come just to buy cigarettes or a newspaper often jingle coins in their hand or pocket. And yes: as I’d thought, a man with a can of coffee in one hand, the other hand in his pocket, is approaching the till. I quickly move through the store, slide behind the counter, and stand at the ready so as not to keep him waiting.

Irasshaimasé! Good morning, sir.

I bow and take the can of coffee he holds out to me.

Oh, and a pack of Marlboro Menthol Lights.

Right away, sir. I take out a pack of the cigarettes and scan the bar code. Please confirm your age on the touch screen.

As he does so, I notice him glance at the hot-food cabinet. I could ask him whether he’d like anything else, but when a customer appears to be dithering over whether or not to buy something, I make a point of taking a step back and waiting.

And a corn dog.

Right away, sir. Thank you.

I disinfect my hands with alcohol, open the hot cabinet, and take out a corn dog.

Shall I put the hot food and cold drink in separate bags?

Oh no, don’t bother. Together’s fine.

I put the can of coffee, cigarettes, and corn dog into a small-size bag. Until then the man had been jingling the coins in his pocket, but now he suddenly moves his hand to his breast pocket as though something has just occurred to him. Instantly I deduce that he will use electronic money.

I’ll pay by Suica.

Certainly, sir. Please touch your card here.

I automatically read the customer’s minutest movements and gaze, and my body acts reflexively in response. My ears and eyes are important sensors to catch their every move and desire. Taking the utmost care not to cause the customer any discomfort by observing him or her too closely, I swiftly move my hands according to whatever signals I pick up.

Your receipt, sir. Thank you for your custom!

Thanks, he says, taking his receipt and leaving.

I’m sorry to have kept you waiting, I say with a bow to the woman next in the queue. Irasshaimasé. Good morning!

The morning period is passing normally in the brightly lit box of the convenience store, I feel. Visible outside the windows, polished free of fingerprints, are the figures of people rushing by. It is the start of another day, the time when the world wakes up and the cogs of society begin to move. I am one of those cogs, going round and round. I have become a functioning part of the world, rotating in the time of day called morning.

I am just running to put out more rice balls when our supervisor, Mrs. Izumi, calls out to me. Miss Furukura, how many five-thousand-yen notes are there left in that till?

Um, only two.

Oh dear, there must have been a lot of customers paying with ten-thousand-yen notes. There aren’t many left in the safe either. I’d better go to the bank this morning, once the rush and deliveries have calmed down.

Yes, thank you!

Mrs. Izumi is a casual worker about the same age as me, but the night shift has been so short of staff lately that the store manager has been doing nights and putting her in charge during the day, as though she were a regular staff member sent from head office.

Okay then, I’ll go for change around ten o’clock. And while I’m thinking about it, there happens to be a special order for sushi pockets today, so please keep an eye out for the customer when he comes to collect it.

I will!

I look at the clock: almost nine thirty. The morning rush is nearly over, and I have to finish dealing with the delivery and start preparing for the lunchtime rush. I stretch my back and go out into the store to finish putting out the rice balls.

* * *

The time before I was reborn as a convenience store worker is somewhat unclear in my memory. I was born into a normal family and lovingly brought up in a normal suburban residential area. But everyone thought I was a rather strange child.

There was the time when I was in nursery school, for example, when I saw a dead bird in the park. It was small, a pretty blue, and must have been someone’s pet. It lay there with its neck twisted and eyes closed, and the other children were all standing around it crying. One girl started to ask: What should we— But before she could finish I snatched it up and ran over to the bench where my mother was chatting with the other mothers.

What’s up, Keiko? Oh! A little bird … where did it come from I wonder? she said gently, stroking my hair. The poor thing. Shall we make a grave for it?

Let’s eat it! I said.

What?

Daddy likes yakitori, doesn’t he? Let’s grill it and have it for dinner!

She looked at me, startled. Thinking she hadn’t heard properly, I repeated what I’d said, this time clearly enunciating my words. The mother sitting next to her gaped at me, her eyes, nostrils, and mouth forming perfect O’s. She looked so comical I almost burst out laughing. But then I saw her staring at the bird in my hand and I realized that one of these little birds probably wouldn’t be enough for Daddy.

Shall I get some more? I asked, glancing at two or three other birds strutting around.

Keiko! my mother exclaimed reprovingly, finally coming to her senses. Let’s make a grave for Mr. Budgie and bury him. Look, everyone’s crying. His friends must be sad he died. The poor little thing!

"But it’s dead. Let’s eat it!"

My mother was speechless, but I was captivated