There's one girl like that in every busload, and Sumiyoshi Eriko was that one girl. She was the only one of her kind, and she suspected that everybody else like her was secretly terrified of the other girls and hid it well. The other ones were afraid to be alone with her, and she had to work hard to earn their trust. But Kamioka Hanako saw something in the girl that commanded respect, even if it could not be called love.
Miss Sumiyoshi did not know how to read or write, and she could not have done much with the books and films available to her in the Shining Path AI, but she had her own way of making sense of the world, and she followed her own sense of what was right and what was wrong even if that led her into territory where most human adults had never dared to venture.
The level-three tattoo was the ultimate test, the ultimate proof of commitment; and Hanako had respect for that kind of commitment even if she could not understand exactly what it meant.
Miss E. saw that respect in the other woman's eyes the first time they met, and she knew that she had found a friend. They spent the rest of the bus trip talking about the Shining Path and what it was like to come from there, and Hanako won her over to the side of the Pathies even before she had learned Eriko's name. As they got off the bus, Miss Kamioka said she hoped she would see her again, and she meant it.
It was not to be. Miss E. said her goodbyes and went off to find her family, while Miss Kamioka went in search of the other girls. She found two and a half minutes later, and the three of them shared a taxi to the flat. The driver was only semi-seru, and he had a definite attitude, which was not improved by the three girls sharing his cab with three empty seats and him in the middle.
She had made enough of this stuff that there should have been enough left for eight, but when she went to put it on the stove, one of the girls grabbed it from her and said she would do it. The cast-iron pot had been their grandfather's, and it had been in the family a long time. It was not just old, it was priceless.
Hanako was next, and she gasped when she saw the weight of the pot and the size of the lid. She almost couldn't lift it. Then one of the others found a pair of wooden spoons, and she distributed those among the others. There was no spoon for herself. The heat-sensitive paint would not allow her to eat it. She could only taste it, and that carefully.
When all three girls were in the kitchen, with the pot half-full of something thick and greasy, and the spoons out, Miss Takada said her little speech about how this stew had been made for eight, but they would be lucky to get half that much out of it, and nobody should have more than one serving, and it should be divided among at least six people, maybe eight, even if they were very thin. The
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