While K and I both studied in the same department, our areas of specialization were different, so it was only natural that our schedules did not coincide. When I came home early, I would simply pass through his empty room. When I came home late, I made it my habit to offer a simple greeting on the way to my room. K would always lift his eyes from his page and glance my way as I slid the partition aside. Then he would always ask if I'd just now returned. Sometimes I merely nodded in return, and at other times I voiced a simple affirmation as I passed on my way.
On one day, I had some business in Kanda and returned home much later than usual. I approached the gate at a quick pace and opened the latticework door with a clatter. At that same moment, I caught the sound of the daughter's voice. It seemed clearly to come from K's room. The hearth room and the daughter's room were straight back from the entry hall, in that order. To the left were K's room and my own. This was the lay of the house, and to one such as myself who'd been there a while, it was easy enough to know whose voice was coming from where. I closed the door behind me. As I did so, the daughter's voice immediately fell silent. As I removed my shoes -- I wore stylish high-lace shoes at the time, which were quite a bother -- as I was stooped over untying my laces, there was no sound at all from K's room. This struck me as odd. I wondered if I'd been imagining things. However, as I slid the partition aside for my usual passage through K's room, the two of them were, indeed, sitting there. K asked, as always, if I'd just now returned. The daughter welcomed me home from her spot on the floor. Maybe it was just in my mind, but her greeting somehow hit me as strained. I sensed something unnatural in her tone. I turned to her and asked after Okusan. I had no real reason for asking. I only did so because it seemed so still in the house.