Chapter 188

L was born in a bar called Fiancé. It was located on a street called ‘Consolation of Angels.’   ‘Consolation of Angels’ and ‘Fiancé’ were beautiful and romantic words, but in reality, there was no love nor any angels in a place with such beautiful and romantic words in its name. 

L’s mama was a prostitute who worked in Fiancé. She wasn’t able to get through the day without drugs and alcohol and would get panic attacks. Whenever that happened, young L would walk on eggshells and try to calm her down, but it wasn’t easy. Even though she became as emaciated as a skinny old tree because of consuming drugs and alcohol instead of having proper meals, a child like L didn’t have the strength to subdue her.  

Ultimately, the guards outside would enter the bar after noticing the commotion going on inside and beat her till she became unconscious; only then did mama calm down. It was accurate to say that they had blindly beaten her up till she passed out, even if she was calm. 

That was the kind of world young L knew. He didn’t have any complaints in particular because he thought everyone else lived like this. Then, one day, his mama couldn’t get up in the morning, so the guards wrapped her up in a sheet and carried her out. Even when he saw that, he calmly thought that it must have been their turn — just like the other mamas from Fiancé that disappeared one day and could no longer be seen. 

Just like that, without knowing the meaning of death, L drily said goodbye to his mama. He cried briefly for a day or so, but since he was in a hurry to have a meal right away, he helped out with the chores in the bar, and the day was over before he knew it. L didn’t know the words ‘longing’ and ‘sorrow.’ He had only realized Fiancé was a strange world after watching TV. 

When he was little, he couldn’t get close to the TV because of the older children. When the older boys and girls watched their shows, the younger children were responsible for doing their chores. And then one fine day, when these older kids suddenly vanished from the bar, the younger children took over the TV. 

Unlike the other children who fell in love with the cartoons and TV series they were watching for the very first time because of how entertaining they were, L realized the difference between Fiancé and the outside world and began to have doubts. 

After getting to know the world within TV shows, L started questioning ‘why?’ These were the doubts L had never had up until now, and they kept bothering him. Whenever he asked the people around him why they were different from the people he saw on TV, the answer he got in return was that cartoons and TV shows were different from reality. The families that appeared in the TV shows couldn’t be found at Fiancé. The other children at Fiancé didn’t wonder why they were different, even though it was a fundamental question. 

One day, L heard a drunk customer say that the entire truth of the world could be found in books, so he went to look for all the books lying around in the bar. However, he had to give up because he couldn’t read the books’ contents. Since L’s birth wasn’t registered, he didn’t go to school, and naturally, he didn’t know how to read and write. 

Thus, he would fight with the other children over the TV so he could watch educational shows, and he would also carry pieces of torn newspapers with him and ask people about the words on them, one by one. If the adults couldn’t be bothered to teach him, he would also run small errands for the older boys who knew how to read and write in exchange for lessons from them. 

And so, L learned how to read and write. And after reading the books, he came to the realization that he had no future; not just himself, but all the children who were born on the street called ‘Consolation of Angels’ shared the same fate. The girls would follow in their mamas’ footsteps, and the boys would either become guards or gangsters that sold drugs. That was only possible if they could survive till adulthood. 


“L from the store next door died yesterday. A month ago, L from the store at the end of the alley had also disappeared. It’ll probably be your turn this time around.”


K said to L carelessly one day. They didn’t say that to scare him or out of hatred for him. They were simply talking about what happened to the Ls from the other stores recently, among the incidents that happened every day. They weren’t advising him to be careful, nor was it a statement made out of concern. They were just saying goodbye in advance because it was L’s turn this time around. These children were emotionless like that, and they meant nothing to one another. 

After hearing those words, however, L couldn’t bring himself to act like it was nothing. Now that he knew what death was, L wanted to live. He hated the fact that his name was L, and it made him feel so afraid at the same time. He lived day after day, terrified of what tomorrow would bring. Hence, he lived in anxiety, worried that someone would call his name by any chance. 

One day, he came to realize the fact that nobody called him by his name. Instead, people called L and the other children in Fiancé ‘hey’, ‘you,’ or ‘little boy (or girl).’ Nobody called him by the name his mama used to call affectionately when she was in the right state of mind, back when she was still alive. Even K only mentioned his name in passing once when they asked, ‘You’re L, right?’ and that was all. 

It was funny how nobody called him by his name, yet he was afraid of being called. Once he realized that, he wanted to hear someone call him by his name affectionately, just as his mama did. 

[I am not L. But nobody even calls me by that name.]

L cut his finger when he was picking up pieces of a broken bottle, and it bled. He squatted in one corner of the bar and scribbled on the wall. Since he didn’t have a pen or a piece of paper, the dirty walls of the bar became his makeshift paper, and the blood flowing from his wounded finger became his pen. 

He rejected the name ‘L’ out of his desire to live while missing his mama a lot; she was the person who used to call him by that name. L thought it would be his turn this time around and that he would die, just like his mama did, before becoming an adult. In L’s eyes, he had no future — until February 9th, when he was 11 years old. 


“Are you L?”


On February 9th, while L was running a small errand in the kitchen, a guard came up to him. L trembled, thinking his time to go had finally come. He couldn’t even lift his head when he was summoned before an elderly man decked in luxurious clothes that had never been spotted in Fiancé before. 

When the elderly man asked L if that was his name, L bit his tongue and closed his eyes. The guard couldn’t hold himself back and tapped him from the back, so he forced himself to nod his head. 


“L.” 

“...?”


However, the elderly man simply said L’s name. L thought it was a little strange, so he lifted his head and looked at the elderly man. The strands of gray in between his black hair looked rather stylish and elegant. When L looked at him from afar, he thought he was an old man because of his gray hair, but upon closer look, he didn’t look that old. 

When the elderly man made eye contact with L, his purple eyes sparkled like jewels. L had never seen anyone with such clear and sparkly eyes before, so as soon as he stared blankly at him, the elderly man smiled and pointed to the wall. 

When L looked in the direction of where the elderly man was pointing, he saw his own scribbles on the wall. L felt terrified as he shrugged his shoulders. Judging from the contorted face of the boss that was standing next to the elderly man, the scribbles on the wall seemed to be an issue. 


“I’ll scrub it off.” 

“Of course, you will!” 


Upon hearing L’s confession, the owner huffed and raised his voice at him. However, he soon became quiet as soon as the elderly man raised his right hand slightly. L instinctively knew the elderly man was someone significant; with a servile look on his face, he asked for forgiveness. 


“L.”

“...” 

“L.”


Instead of getting mad or forgiving him, the elderly man kept saying L’s name, so L initially wondered what he was doing. However, even though he said it in a way that lacked warmth or affection, strangely enough, a warm feeling rose up from within, causing tears to flow from his eyes. 

The heat continued rising upwards and escaping from his eyes. As his tears rolled down his cheeks, without even thinking about wiping them away, L looked up at the person who called him by his name, which no one else had called in a while since his mama passed on. 

L continued nodding as he cried. If he were to die, either way, this moment, when someone called him by his name, seemed to be the happiest moment of his life. It was a death void of loneliness; in fact, in the imagination of the 11-year-old L, it was the best way he could leave this world.


“How much is this child? I’ll take him along with this.” 


On closer inspection, L could see a very fancy and beautiful pistol in the elderly man’s hand. The elderly man showed it to the owner; he told him he would take L in and asked him to calculate the total amount. 

L didn’t know what was going on; even when he looked around, no one paid any attention to the young child. Judging from the look of delight on the owner’s face, it certainly seemed like something bad was about to happen. Nothing good ever happened to the children of Fiancé whenever he made a good deal. 

The elderly man beckoned the depressed L to come closer to him. He didn’t want to, but he was afraid he would kill him right then and there, so he hesitantly walked over to him. The elderly man’s face looked solemn and terrifying up close. The elderly man got up from his seat. His frame seemed extremely huge to L, causing the intimidated L to bow to him. The elderly man lifted L’s chin and looked him in the eye. 


“Today is the last day you’ll be known as L. So from now on, you’re no longer L.” 


It was his last day being known as ‘L’ — the name he had rejected. As such, the elderly man became the last person to call him by that name. Ever since the day the elderly man took his hand and left Fiancé, L had a future. 


Every year on February 9th, Ilya would spend the day feeling a little excited while reminiscing about sad memories. The luck and opportunity that he chanced upon for the first time had changed his life. He received proper education and was able to enjoy life as a human being. 


“Why did you go to that place and bring me home?”


Ilya hesitated a lot before asking Lansky this question. Lansky had brought him back from Fiancé and financially supported him, but he was not a pleasant or easy man to get along with. Ilya wanted Lansky to be a father or a grandfather figure, but ultimately, he was more like a god to Ilya. On the other hand, in Lansky’s eyes, Ilya was just one of the aspiring artists he supported. 

Ilya didn’t have a lot of opportunities to meet with Lansky; the latter was always so busy that they could only have dinner together on Ilya’s birthday or on special days like when he got into college as the top student. 

Ilya was now a college student; he felt excited and happy throughout their meal. Thus, he could get past his mental barrier and ask the question he had always wondered about.


“Because you were the only child I knew by name in that place.”


Ilya found it difficult to understand whether knowing a child's name was a reasonable justification for saving them. He had always been a bright child and had always shown results that exceeded expectations. As soon as he had a puzzled look on his face, it perhaps prompted Lanksy to briefly reminisce about the past, so he had a slight smile on his face. 


“You were the first child on that street to say he wanted to live. I had no choice but to save you when you pleaded with me to save you.” 

“All I did was cry back then, though?”

“Is that so? Then I must have had no choice but to do that because you were too loud.”


Lansky shrugged and focused on cutting the meat. Perhaps, it seemed difficult for Lansky to give a reasonable explanation about the events of that day as well. Nevertheless, his somewhat capricious choice turned out to be a miracle for Ilya, and Lansky had never regretted his decision. 

{Then that’s all that matters.}

Ilya knew how proud and happy Lansky was because of him, so he thought that was good enough. Even though Lansky died before he could see Ilya rise to fame and become a full-fledged writer, he loved Ilya’s work very much. 

Ilya had always thought he should return the favor. In truth, he wanted Lansky to love him like a son or a grandson, but that would be asking for too much. The only person Lansky ever loved was not his wife, whom he had spent decades with, nor his many children and grandchildren; among his family members, that one person he loved wholeheartedly was his grandson, Giorgio. He was the only person who was special in Lansky’s eyes.

Ilya was confident that Lansky loved and cherished him as well. Even though Lansky’s affection for Ilya couldn’t be compared to his affection for Giorgio, as someone who was known for being cold and aloof, Lansky did indeed care unusually more about Ilya, as compared to the rest, 

Naturally, he knew part of it was pride and joy stemming from being the guardian of the talented Ilya, but Lansky also had affection for him. 

{Nevertheless, you were a father to me.}

In terms of age, it was more apt to say Ilya and Lansky had a grandparent-grandchild relationship, but Ilya had always thought to himself that Lansky was his only father. Thus, Ilya regarded February 9th to be his birthday. It wasn’t just how he felt — legally speaking, it was his birthday as well. Ilya didn’t know when his actual birthday was, as his birth wasn’t registered. There were no records or anyone left in this world to remember it, so Lansky set the date they met as his date of birth. It was the birth of his new life and the day he truly came to life. 

People often said that birthdays became meaningless as one got older, but Ilya always felt jittery and happy at the same time whenever February 9th came around. Hence, even though Ilya hated people, he would become a little more forgiving on that day. 

{I’ll just take it as a birthday present.}

Ilya took a piece of chocolate from the basket he had gotten from the customer and put it into his mouth. He liked the bittersweet taste in his mouth when he ate a piece along with a sip of coffee. Naturally, his gaze shifted to the inside of the bookstore towards where the customer walked. It was an area where most of his customers didn’t hang around, so he thought there was something unusual about that customer. 

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