Shining Path


Chapter 36

The ginger had sincerely hoped that the adventure she arranged for Hirose Konosuke, with the raffle prize and the tawny queen from the studio, would guide him back onto the Shining Path; but it didn't seem to have worked. Although he remained friendly with the tawny while at work, they did not spend time together after hours, and joneko who had bet on that outcome were disappointed. Mew, he still spent too much time on the computer, and the ginger worried he was becoming a square.

There was a night when he said he was going to a "reunion" – though none of the schools he had attended were having such an event, the ginger checked – and then he came back smelling of many organic humanoid queens all at once. After that, he carried the same scent back from many of his excursions. It was all quite puzzling, and he refused to talk about it. Any one would think he didn't see this one as a big sister at all, mew.

She became distracted from that little mystery on 29-day 8-month when Miura Hitoshi, the younger brother, lost his job at the gym. It was a Thursday night. He came home at the usual time but in much lower spirits than usual, leaning on his "gentleman's walking stick" as if he really needed it to walk, and he didn't say a word to anybody but went straight to the bedroom he shared with Shoda Rurika, slamming the sliding door shut. The ginger had been playing a board game with Rurika, but they looked at each other, looked at the closed door of the bedroom, and by common consent the game was over. The ginger went to scratch quietly at the door. It took soft mewing and cuddling and a fair bit of time, but she got most of the story out of the boy and could guess the rest.

At the end of the Thursday afternoon class (Baritsu Level II, boys ages ten to twelve), Miura Hitoshi gathered up the mats and was stacking them neatly in their place while the last of his students left. As he turned to leave the practice room himself, he saw his boss, Mr. Julius Hearst-Smythe, standing in the doorway with an uncharacteristically serious look on his face. Hitoshi sketched a hasty bow, said, "Sensei," and the man nodded.

"Mr. Miura. Please, come talk with me in the office for a few minutes."

Hearst-Smythe led the way into the office, sat down behind the desk, and stared across at the boy for a long moment. Then he said slowly, "Baritsu is a living art, Hitoshi."

It couldn't be anything good when Sensei started talking in riddles, but there would be no rushing him. "You've often told me that everything grows and changes, including the art itself–"

"Yes, rather. And sometimes that process of growth can involve, well, some growing pains." This was sounding worse and worse.

Hearst-Smythe rummaged among the papers on the desk and pulled out one with a spreadsheet on it. He adjusted the controls to highlight a few cells, and handed it over.

"These are the enrollment figures for next term's classes. By now they all ought to be full. But as you can see, they just aren't."

Miura Hitoshi was no math genius, but he could see that some of the boxes had two-digit numbers in them, and others had one-digit numbers, many of which were zeroes.

"Looks like there's no problem filling some of the classes–"

"Yes. Which ones?"

Hitoshi was not good at this kind of question. But he furrowed his brow and stared at the page until he thought he could see the answer.

"The girls' classes?"

"Right. Nobody knows why – I was just in a meeting with the scheduling committee about it – but it's pretty clear that we need to run a lot more classes for girls and cut most of the boys'. We used to be about four to one for space, boys to girls; last term it was three to one; but next term it'll have to be at least even, maybe even a majority the other way."

"And I'm the junior-est teacher of boys' classes."

"Yes. Please understand this isn't just about making more profit or something, our actual survival is on the line, what? We can't have the school empty most of the time, which is where we'll be if we leave the schedule the way it was."

"So how many of my classes are you cutting?"

"All of them. I'm sorry, old boy."

There was a long pause.

"I guess if you need people to teach girls' classes I could–"

"No. No, you really couldn't, Hitoshi. Never mind whether we might write back to London and get some kind of permission from Souke to suspend the rules and let you do it. You couldn't teach most of these girls whether we'd let you or not."

"I could be gentle!"

"Yes, that's the problem. They can't be gentle. They're not gentlemen. They're bigger than you and older than you and they're different from boys in ways that you frankly aren't old enough to understand, and I don't just mean their bodies. These ones who are signing up now, I don't know why it seems like every female high school senior in Tokyo wants to learn baritsu this Summer, but I talked to some people from other schools and it's the same all over, anyway I don't know if it's neosteroids or serukan or just clean living and physical culture, but there's something uncanny going on, they're not like girls used to be, and they're not disposed to take instruction from a boy your age, eh? Never mind school rules saying they have to respect you. Honestly? One gentleman to another? I'm scared myself. I don't know what's going on with the youth of today."

"Well, if they can't be gentlemen, or, or ladies or whatever, then we shouldn't allow them in the school at all!"

"Well, if you want to argue that, we could also say that if standards of behavior are declining so much in the general population, then it's the duty of our school to teach these kids how to be gentlemen. Or ladies, or, indeed, whatever. But regrettably, we don't even have a choice about it. Survival of the school has to come first – even beyond the principles of the art."

"What would Sir Barton-Wright say if he heard that?"

"Well, oddly enough, our lineage was one of the first to accept women students. You know, the art was widely adopted among the early Suffragettes, and–"

Hitoshi interrupted to suggest a course of action involving the early Suffragettes. Strictly speaking, the teacher should have rebuked the disrespectful language, but he could not help laughing.

"Hah! If you saw the costumes they wore, you might not be too eager to do that. I suppose you're right, though; it's not all that relevant to us here and now tonight. That was long ago and far away, what?"

"But still you're letting me go."

"Yes. I'm afraid I don't really have a choice. I don't have money to pay you nor students for you to teach."

Hitoshi uttered a few more words, which his teacher politely ignored.

"It's not the end of the world, Hitoshi. There's more to the art than just your job–"

"This isn't a hamon?"

"Oh, perish the thought! You are and always will be a true student of the gentlemanly art, Miura Hitoshi, welcome to practice here and use your title, and you'll be on the list of whom I shall call if the enrollment demographics should change in the future–"

Hitoshi noticed, it practically screamed at him, that Hearst-Smythe-sensei had not said he would be particularly high up on any such list. But there was one more thing he could try.

"Sensei, there are other baritsu schools in this city. What if I find another one that's hiring?"

"I think they're all in the same straits we are, but if you can find another school that is hiring male instructors, you are free to work for them. I'll be happy to act as your reference."

And that was when it hit Hitoshi that this was really happening. He had not quite taken the conversation seriously before; but to teach somewhere else and not be expelled for it was so unheard-of that he could not disbelieve. He went numb.

Hitoshi said goodbye and bowed and left the school in a daze. He used his stick to shove his way through the crowds of girls on the subway without really seeing them, and he was still quiet and shocked by the time he arrived home and the ginger joneko got to work on him. Many neosteroid users are prone to violent rages, but Hitoshi had been on the knife long enough – and the baritsu helped with this, too – that he'd learned to keep the anger locked safely inside. Some time in the next couple of days he would need to find a private space, not here at home in range of the joneko's ears, and sob and punch the wall until he could face the world again.

The ginger did the best she could to comfort him, and she took care to let Rurika know that it would be better to let up a little on the sisterly teasing for at least a few days; but that was the most she could do. There clearly was not much comfort he could accept from his sisters right now. Hitoshi was not feeling good about girls or women in general.