The clock in the booth made a grating noise.
Open every day of the year, a twenty four hour internet cafe, also called a Net Café.
This corner room located deep in the back was my favourite space.
I was already used to sleeping in places with voices and noise. After I quickly stopped the alarm, I grabbed my bath set and moved to the shower room. Like always, I gave my usual area a simple clean with the cleanser provided there and I took a quick shower. After my shower, I gave the area one last scrub and I was done. It is common courtesy to clean up after yourself. The time limit was usually thirty minutes but because I was a frequent customer or because I saved them the hassle of cleaning, I could get the café to give me extra time for free.
I then returned to my booth, had a light meal for breakfast, did a simple clean-up there too and then left the internet café room.
This was a provincial city. A place countryside enough that a person from Tokyo would be unhappy and consider it a demotion if they were job relocated here but city enough to have a subway. The season was autumn, a time when the weather was finally no longer so hot.
I skilfully rolled my wheeled suitcase along as I walked. When I reached the first floor of multi-tenant building, without bothering to knock, I opened the modest old translucent door.
After I opened the office door, a dull-looking middle aged man lifted his head from his computer. This middle aged man wearing classes was called Sawaguchi and he was the chief of this company, Sawaguchi Cleaning Services.
“Chief, what are today’s locations?”
The chief directed his eyes towards the sofa as if to say “Why don’t you sit?” but I declined. I didn’t want to sit on a sofa that’s been sat on by whoever knows who. Having said that, cleaning the sofa right in front of him seemed rude so I didn’t want to do that either.
“Today’s a new customer’s office in the West Ward, the afternoon is the usual…… Kiyoka-chaaan, could you just buy a smart phone already?”
“I don’t need one. I don’t see why it’s necessary. Also, please call me Aida.”
I didn’t like my own name much. That was why I always told people to call me by my surname. However, no matter how many times I reminded him, this certain chief still kept calling me by name. What a troublesome person.
I didn’t have any money so I didn’t feel like owning a cell phone. After all, even if you didn’t use it, you’d still have to pay a base fee every month. I completely could not understand why you’d have to pay for something if you hadn’t even used it.
I can check the time with my watch. If it was necessary, though the number had decreased remarkably these days, I can still use a public payphone, so not having a cell phone did not inconvenience me at all. As for the people I wanted to contact…… There was no one. Sawagachi-san passed me a piece of paper with a “Dear me!” look on his face. On the piece of paper were the names of the locations, the job content and a simple map. As expected.
“I’m taking supplies.”
“Yeah, yeah. Take it, thief.”
Sawaguchi waved me off without raising his head.
I entered the supply storehouse inside and started to restock on the necessary containers.
My job was to go and clean companies, hotels, and etc who had requested a cleaning job.
There were staff who cleaned at a specific contracted place every time but I tended to be dispatched to one-off jobs. The reason for that, however, was because, as my love for cleanliness was deep enough to be called fastidious, whenever I was deployed to a certain place, I would end up cleaning too thoroughly. As a result, the place wouldn’t require cleaning again for a while. That was why I was often hired as an emergency measure right before some event. In short, it was pretty hard labour. But accordingly, my pay was also high so I had no complaints.
Baking soda, citric acid, soap, rubber gloves, dust-cloths, sponges and etc were things necessary for the job so I could take them from here free of charge. Because I could use the left overs for myself, I couldn’t resign. If I had to buy baking soda personally it would come up to a pretty high sum. It was also difficult to get rid of stains unless it was the business-use baking soda, and an over 20kg bag of baking soda was too heavy to carry around.
When baking soda is used for food, it is a rising agent. When it is used to clean, it is an extremely handy power that can emulsify oils and disintegrate proteins, and can be used as a cleanser substitute, deodorizer and much more. I have never tried it but I have heard it could also be a medical drug and even a bathwater additive.
Citric acid is the same substance as the acidic component of a lemon. It is a substance used to control the growth of bacteria, can deodorize and can clean off water scales and soap scum. When citric acid is watered down and stuck it into a spray container it is very convenient and easy to use.
If the location had detergent, I would use theirs but if it ran out partway through cleaning I would get worried that I wasn’t actually allowed to use it so it was safer and more reassuring to use our company’s instead.
Oh! There’s essential oil today too. I’m getting a little excited. Let’s see, let’s see. There’s tea tree, lemon grass, rose…… Nice selection. I’m taking some.
“Don’t take too much~”
Okay, I answered back but didn’t I didn’t stop until both my shoulder bag and wheeled suitcase were packed. The shoulder bag was my cleaning tools bag. It was tightly stuffed with my seven indispensable cleaning tools. There was actually more than seven though.
“If only you weren’t such a germaphobe, there are so many better jobs out there. Also, you should smile more. It’s such a waste, Kiyoka-chan.”
“I am not a germaphobe. I just kind of like to keep things clean. And it’s Aida.”
I already knew that I didn’t have many facial expressions so I didn’t deny it. I’ve heard “Aida’s scary, she’s always expressionless,” more times than I could count. However, I am NOT a germaphobe. If I really was a germaphobe there would be no way I’d be able to live at an internet cafe which millions of people have used and I probably wouldn’t be able to clean places strangers have dirtied for a job either. Therefore, I am not a germaphobe.
After I had crammed until I could cram no more, as I walked out of the office like it had expended its usefulness, the chief saw me off with an indescribable expression on his face.
Under the gradually rising temperature, with the help of the address and map, I walked to the cleaning location. Of course, because I had no place to leave my wheeled suitcase and no money, I brought it with me too. Inside it was packed with everything I owned. Having said that, it only had a change of clothes and cleaning tools inside it.
My cleaning site today was a small old company. Apparently, because their kitchen/bathroom cleaning lady’s parent needed to be hospitalized for a while, the cleaning lady went back to her hometown to look after them. Therefore, my duty was to fill in during the time she is gone. They originally had a cleaner so it shouldn’t be too dirty, I thought nonchalantly as I headed there but……
What awaited me was a seasoned restroom with a dreadful and intense stench. Male and female were separated like school lavatories and each had several toilets. Wait, how could something end up in this state in just one week? I was shocked speechless. It was horrible enough to be dubbed ‘the offensive stench incident’.
“I’m sorry. We were going to clean but we weren’t sure what cleaner to use. You see, don’t they often say that if you recklessly mix the cleaning products together it’ll produce poisonous gas. That’s why…”
The timid looking young male company employee lowered his shoulders with shame and started explaining. Because I had frozen up with no expression on my face, he might have thought that I was angry. Despite being the hiree he was a humble person. The light turned on with the snap of a switch. Luckily, my eyes, which were probably sparkling crazily, could not be seen from the company employee’s angle.
“Where is the cleaning equipment?”
I asked and without waiting for an answer, I opened the door in front of me. Inside were several full non-labeled bottles and a large sack of baking soda. It appears that their cleaning lady was also in the baking soda faction.
“Can you please sign this form?”
“What is this?”
“It is a contract that states that you agree that we will not assume any responsibility if by any chance, the cleaning causes staining or discoloration. I will be confirming that it’s safe while I’m cleaning however…”
“Ah, stains are fine. As you can see, this building is old.”
After I stored the contract the male employee smoothly signed into my bag, I borrowed their changing room and changed into my work clothes. While I was at it, I also placed my wheeled suitcase into a locker.
Now, let’s start. First, the kitchen. I could tell in one glance that it was in a really bad state. There were signs of split coffee and a gross food waste smell wafted from the sink drain. There was no doubt someone had simply tipped their left-over cup noodles down the drain and clogged it. Even though I was wearing rubber gloves, I still didn’t have the courage to stick my hand down it right away.
After I sprinkled baking soda I found under the sink inside and outside the sink, I cleaned off the filth with a wet scrubbing brush. After I washed the sink down with water, I thrust my hand down the drain and removed the food waste. Blech. The baking soda may have toned down the smell but it was not a good sight. I averted my eyes and threw it into the rubbish bag.
I tipped baking soda and citric acid in container, mixed it well together, placed it into the drain and covered the drain with a cap. In the meantime, I cleaned the other areas of the kitchen. When I removed the cap, there was a miracle. It frothed up with bubbles, sweeping away the filth. All there left to do now was to polish the insides with a thin brush and wash it down with hot water from the hot-water heater. To finish off, I sprayed the area with citric acid and left it.
Next was the toilet. Urr, there was a dreadful ammonia smell. I wrapped the lower half of my face with a towel, put on some rubber gloves and without any hesitation, scattered baking soda all over the floor and toilet bowls.
Of course, I didn’t check for staining. Judging from the used sack of baking soda I had seen earlier, I was absolutely sure it’d be fine.
I could have used citric acid but I decided against it because it looked the joints of the tiles were cement and I didn’t want to worry about discoloration. Alright, this should also get rid of the smell slightly.
I then rigorously scrubbed the ground with a wet brush. The toilet here was Japanese style which made it easy because I could brush the ground and toilet bowl at the same time. Probably because it had been cleaned properly originally, there were no stubborn stains, and it became clean in a blink of an eye. I also wiped the walls and washing area with citric acid and a dust-cloth.
Now, maintenance time. As a finishing touch, to deodorize, on a suitable container I placed baking soda and few drops of essential oil. Looking at the sparkling restroom, I nodded with satisfaction. I wouldn’t substitute this feeling of accomplishment with anything. I was the type who got more hyped up the more I cleaned. Right now, I could even rub my cheeks on the toilet bowl.
Around the time I finished up, the male company employee showed up looking astonished.
“Wow, it’s so clean you would hardly recognize it. It even smells nice.”
“I dripped some baking soda and essential oil. Since baking soda has a deodorizing effect. If you regularly mix it and add oil, it can last three months. Please use it for cleaning in the future.
“I see, I’ll pass on the message. You’ve been a lot of help.”
“If there is another opportunity, I look forward to working for you again. And on that note, if you would please excuse me.”
It was already past noon. It had eaten up more time than I expected. After I returned to the changing room, changed and was just about to go down the stairs I noticed a large full-length mirror hanging on the wall. Even though it was a stylish mirror with a patterned frame, it was cloudy.
———-I want to wipe it!
No, no. The contracted job is just to clean the kitchen and bathroom. I don’t have to clean here. No but, there’s no point having such a pretty mirror if it’s this dirty.
I want to wipe it. Now that I’m so hyped up from cleaning, I can’t possibly turn a blind eye this uncleanliness.
After a brief moment of inner conflict, I looked around to confirm there was no one around, and pulled out a spray bottle of citric acid and a dust cloth from my bag. If I’m quick no one will find out.
I quickly sprayed and reached out to start wiping with the dust cloth ——But, I couldn’t.
Why? Because my hand that was supposed to be touching the mirror was being sucked into it.
In surprise, I tried drawing back my hand….. I truly tried but my wrist seemed to be caught by something and wouldn’t bulge an inch. Not caring it was ill-mannered, I tried pushing against the mirror with the sole of my foot but even my foot ended up getting sucked in too.
Like a bottomless swamp, the more I struggled the more I was sucked in. Eventually, the right half of my body had disappeared into the mirror. It seems that when humans encounter mysterious phenomenon, they surprising can’t make a sound.
I waved around my left hand to try to find something to hold onto and pulled the thing I touched towards me with all my strength.
The thing idly loitering by the side of the mirror, packed with my everything: my wheeled suitcase.
 Literal translation: “When baking soda is used for food, it is a rising powder called baking powder.” I’m pretty sure baking soda and baking powder aren’t the same thing. Maybe it is in Japan? So I’ve changed it so it makes sense in English.
The word used潔癖症means obsession with cleanliness and it’s also used to describe people with mysophobia (a germapobe). I used the word clean-freak in the manga scanlation but I’ve decided to change it to germaphobe here instead because I’m not quite sure if the word clean-freak is strong enough. 潔癖症 has the connotation that you’re so obsessed with cleanliness, it’s practically an illness.