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When I opened the door leading to the roof, the shy noon rays of March blinded me slightly.
Normally at this time, you'd hear things like the trumpets or trombones of the orchestra, girls chattering as they opened their bentos in the courtyard, or guys chasing after the ball in the basketball court. Normally, it should be pretty lively. But today, the school was shrouded in a solemn silence, and the only things I could hear were the school song and the piano accompaniment coming from the sports hall.
I lay down on the rough concrete floor and looked down, and immediately saw a uniformed figure sitting on the fence. Her two braids were swaying about in the spring breeze, and a few strands of hair were resting on the black guitar on her thighs. Her eyes were closed—is she listening to the school song?
Wait, her eyes are closed?
I rushed forward in a hurry.
"That's dangerous, Senpai! And you're still holding the guitar—"
Kagurazaka-senpai opened her eyes a little and looked in my direction and smiled.
"In the past three years, I've spent way more time sitting here with my Les Paul than I did sitting on the chair in my cla.s.sroom. So you don't have to worry."
No, even if you say that, it's really easy to fall off when your eyes are closed. What the h.e.l.l are you thinking?
Senpai probably found the uneasy expression on my face really amusing, so she jumped off the fence and patted me on the shoulder.
"I get it, we need our bodies for our performance. I won't do anything rash. I mean, tomorrow they're holding a graduation ceremony just for me. I want do the impossible and make it as grand as possible."
"Urm, why don't you take part in the actual graduation ceremony instead?"
I pointed in the direction of the sports hall.
"You do know it's a school tradition to have the third year student with the best overall grades in the mock exams to be the representative for the students, right?"
"Oh, is that so?" I had no idea.
"But the teachers are unwilling to let a student who has barely pa.s.sed the attendance requirements be the representative, and I have no intention of reading a script that has been checked over by the teachers anyway. We share the same interests, so I skipped the ceremony and came to the roof instead. It's the world of the adults. And right now, the person acting as my replacement is probably reading something really boring, along the lines of 'a future full of hope' and so on."
Chiaki and I had been worried about whether or not Senpai could successfully graduate, but that woman had easily achieved the required grades for graduation, and had even already enrolled herself in a national university. It wasn't like I didn't know how smart she was, but I had never expected her grades to be that stellar.
"Senpai would definitely say something explosive if you gave the graduation speech."
"If you want, I can make one during tomorrow's live performance."
Smiled Senpai, as she gently caressed her Les Paul. We were holding a graduation concert at Bright the next day, with Senpai as the star.
"Oh right. How did you know I was here, young man?"
"Because we went to the graduation ceremony looking for you. I waited outside while Chiaki snuck a peek inside the sports hall. She told me you weren't there."
Because of our school's large student population, the only non-graduating students that could attend the ceremony were a small handful of students involved in student council work.
"Ah, there you are! I finally found you!"
Shocked by the sudden shout, I turned my head around and saw Chiaki next to the door to the roof, running in our direction.
"Nao got the better of me again. This sucks."
Chiaki stared fiercely at me as she hugged Kagurazaka-senpai's arm.
"Did you two split up to search for me?"
"I thought Senpai was in the practice room. Speaking of which, why are you skipping the graduation ceremony anyway?"
"We no longer live in a world where we have to graduate under the supervision of others. Did you want me to take part in the ceremony?"
"But I was planning to catch you as you were walking out of the sports hall to take your second b.u.t.ton."
That's for the guy's uniform, yeah? But Senpai just let out a giggle and leaned against the fence as she removed her Les Paul from her shoulder.
"It just so happens that there's four b.u.t.tons on my blazer. This—or what you'd refer to as the second b.u.t.ton—is for Comrade Aihara."
Senpai tore her bottom-left b.u.t.ton off and pa.s.sed it on to Chiaki. A blissful expression appeared on Chiaki's face.
"And this is for young man."
She gave me the decorative b.u.t.ton on the bottom right.
"This one's for me."
She kept the top-left b.u.t.ton for herself and put it in her pocket.
Then, lastly, she tore off the final b.u.t.ton and gave it a kiss, and turned to face me.
"...... Where is she now? Europe?"
I was taken by surprise, but I knew immediately who Senpai was talking about.
"She should be on a tour in Russia. At least, that's what I read in the magazines."
"Oh, Russia huh?"
Senpai began walking towards the fence on the opposite side of the roof, and Chiaki and I followed her, as if we were being attracted by some sort of unknown energy. Beneath our eyes, the scenery of the school was laid bare for us to see. The white lines framing the school grounds were actually the sakura blossoms that had been planted in the school, but they were only blossoming at about thirty percent.
Kagurazaka-senpai swung her tightly clenched fist with all her might, and threw that last b.u.t.ton into the air. Chiaki and I didn't follow the trajectory of the b.u.t.ton's flight, and instead, just stared at the broad, blue sky.
It had probably flown to the other side of the ocean.
"There's no longer any need for this."
Senpai took off the blazer that was devoid of b.u.t.tons and threw that dark blue feather over the fence. It rode on the winds and soared down, towards the colour of the sakura far away from us.
"Why is this so?"—I thought to myself.
It wasn't an eternal farewell—we would be seeing each other the next day on the same stage—but my tears wouldn't stop.
Mafuyu hadn't returned even after a year had pa.s.sed.
The first time I was reunited with her, was through the cover story of a music magazine—sometime around summer last year, I think. The story covered Mafuyu's successful rehabilitation, as well as her desire to make a comeback onto the music scene.
Her first comeback alb.u.m was a three-CD alb.u.m—something that was fairly uncommon—and on it, was the full collection of Beethoven's piano concertos. Ebichiri was the conductor, and the Boston Orchestra, the accompaniment. The father and daughter pair had become quite the topic of discussion, and the alb.u.m was a huge success. But it seemed like the original plan to have Mafuyu perform the violin sonata together with Yuri had been canned, and, as a result, Kagurazaka-senpai had become incredibly envious of the sample tape I had in my possession, and had even begged me to let her to copy it. But I always ended up rejecting her request, because I didn't want anyone else to hear it.
Perhaps because it was my treasure.
Just like she had told us, Mafuyu had also begun holding concerts as well. It had started off with her performing in major cities in America with Ebichiri, but soon grew to her performing solo all over Europe. She was appearing more frequently on television as well. But it wasn't just that, it seemed like even non-music-related magazines were also hot on her heels. I couldn't imagine her being the same girl we used to perform together on stage and study together with. The same girl that was easily angered, that had p.i.s.sed others off, that had made people cry, and that had even revealed her crying face to others.
But I knew from her piano—be it from the CDs or the live telecast on channel four—that that Mafuyu still existed. In a country on the other side of the ocean and out of my reach, located somewhere in a glamorous but icy world of light.
Yuri, on the other hand, was emailing me or calling me all the time, and there were even occasions when he would send me a letter while he was on tour.
"I saw Mafuyu when Ebichiri invited me to Boston. Are you jealous?"
Or would make an international call just so he could tell me something like that.
"...... Is she doing okay?"
"I am asking if you are jealous."
Why are you angry? Though I am indeed jealous.
"That is just the way Naomi is, and that is why Mafuyu refuses to speak whenever I try to bring Naomi up in our conversations."
"Urm..... I see......"
I heaved a sigh. It was quite a huge blow to hear that from someone who saw her frequently.
"Why don't you go see her?"
"No, well, you see...... she's not in j.a.pan."
I knew very well that that was nothing more than an excuse, and Yuri probably knew as well. If I had really wanted to see her, all I had to do was have Tetsurou contact Ebichiri, or ask Yuri for his a.s.sistance. Regardless of whether she was in America, France, or Germany, all I needed was a flight. But I became scared whenever I thought that she might be unwilling to see me.
Mafuyu might still be mad at me. Because I did something really horrible to her.
"Mafuyu might hate me right now. She probably does not want to speak to me."
My thoughts were overshadowed by Yuri's tearful voice.
"...... Nah, I don't think that's the case."
"Maybe she does not want to see me anymore. Naomi will have to take responsibility if that is the case, alright?"
Yuri will be coming to j.a.pan in May, so how about we gather at the studio or the live house when you're here, since Senpai misses you a lot? After discussing those plans, we ended the call.
After disconnecting the call, I suppressed the slightly painful warmth that was flowing out from the inside of my eyes.
She's probably too busy with her recordings and concerts anyway—I consoled myself. That was the habit I had developed last winter, when she had been in America for a full year. I always told myself that every time I saw her on the television or the magazines, or when someone mentioned her all of a sudden.
But when the pain flowed away from the inside of my head, all that was left inside were Mafuyu's smiles; her tearful face; her immature way of speaking; her angry voice; her wet whispers.
Feketerigó had continued its activities even in Mafuyu's absence. The biggest change however, was that Senpai had begun accepting guest performers into the band.
"Because we're learning how to fly with our broken wings."
And so, for the graduation concert, the cramped stage of Bright—that could accommodate a maximum of eight people—was almost entirely filled with guest guitarists. I had no idea what we were playing halfway into the performance, but Chiaki was laughing like crazy throughout the whole thing, and had made quite a few mistakes.
But the main event was the celebration that happened after the performance. We were on the second floor of the Chinese restaurant we often patronized, and aside from the members of the band, there was also Hiroshi, Furukawa and the rest of the members of Melancholy Chameleon, Tomo and his DJ buddies, the staff of Bright, and the manager of the shop that Senpai worked at....... All sorts of people were there, drinking crazily.
"Kyouko, we'll be celebrating your graduation with thirty shots. Prepare yourself and your gla.s.s!"
Said Hiroshi, as he walked right up to Senpai with a bottle of wine in his hand and the rest of the guys queued up behind him. Hey, don't agree to that toast! But I didn't even get an opportunity to stop her. Pour, drink, pour, drink—that continued on as the queue shortened. It's like she's engaging in a drinking duel with the guys or something.
"There's still a long way to go."
But even after she had drunk all the shots that were given to her, Senpai was still sober. She placed her gla.s.s on the table; and in response to her heroic performance, the guys actually wanted to go for a second round, but that was stopped in time.
"Still, why do you wanna study at a university, Kyouko? Didn't I say I would recommend you to a record company? You should get your career on track asap."
The red-faced Hiroshi latched himself onto her.
"The people connected to Hiroshi are probably around the same level as you, so please allow me to decline your offer. I do value my future, you know?"
"Hey, Taisei, you hear that? She just said something really rude."
"But it's the truth." Furukawa was a little taken aback when the conversation was thrown at him all of a sudden. "I think it's better for her to go indie."
Still, I had never expected Senpai to continue her studies. And I wanted to know why.
"Hmm? Why? Why else other than for knowledge?"
Senpai answered plainly as she poured a cup of shōchū.
"I'm a revolutionary. And I'd lose my right to be one if I lacked the knowledge."
"I never expected Senpai to have thought about things so seriously." Chiaki, who was sitting close to Senpai, was genuinely surprised. "I thought Senpai's main reason was to chase after girls."
"That's also one of the reasons. It seems like I've recently developed a taste for girls that are older than me. And there'll probably be a lot of rich ladies there, so I'm really looking forward to it."
"Senpai's an idiot!"
Chiaki pulled Senpai's ear. Sheesh, this girl never changes.
"But don't you worry, young man."
She leaned herself on my arm.
"I chose a women's university so that you wouldn't feel uneasy."
I almost spat out the oolong tea in my mouth.
"—W-W-What do you mean by that?"
"Well, if she hasn't returned even though I've graduated...... That means I win by default, and that you can finally lay your hands on me, yeah?"
No no no no.
When I finally escaped from that place, I had just enough time to make it to the final train. Chiaki had come with me as well, as we still had our graduation ceremony the next day. The heat from the drinking party had totally exhausted me, so I used my ba.s.s as a makeshift crutch and sat down on one of the chairs at the train station. I slumped my body weakly over my knees. "Are you okay? Do you need some water?" asked Chiaki worryingly. I don't think anyone looking at that scene could've figured out which one of us was the drunk one.
The train reached the station that was closest to our homes around midnight; and by then, the aftereffects of the drinking party had already subsided, and my face was no longer burning anymore. When I stepped off of the train, I gripped the sleeves of my coat tightly in response to the cold. Chiaki was the last pa.s.senger to step off the train, and after she did so, the empty train rumbled away on the dark railway.
The two of us were walking side by side, as we shared the same path for the majority of the route home.
"Well, to be honest"—Chiaki suddenly spoke as we were crossing the zebra crossing—"I was actually hoping Senpai would have to repeat another year."
That's brutally honest of you. But why are you talking about this all of a sudden?
"Her university's in Tokyo, right? It'll be quite difficult for us to meet up with her in the future, and I'm not even sure if we'll continue on with the band."
"Why don't you aim for Senpai's university?"
Didn't you do that for high school anyway?
"There's no way I could get into that university with a brain like mine!" She suddenly hit me. I originally thought it was just a joke, but I noticed a shimmer in the corners of her eyes when she was staring at me. I felt a brief pain in my heart.
"It's getting lonelier and lonelier."
Don't you worry. There's no way human beings would disappear as easily as that.
Even if you're separated, you won't feel lonely as long as you know you will see each other again.
Even if you can't meet, you won't feel depressed as long as you don't forget each other.
A few pointless consolatory statements popped up in my mind, but I had no intention of saying any of them to Chiaki. Because they were all lies. I knew that very well.
Don't worry, I won't disappear.
That would've been the worst thing I could've said. I had no right to say that to Chiaki.
We walked silently past several streetlights, then turned past the family restaurant that was still open in the middle of the night; and as we did so, the shadows of the housing complex drifted to our left. After walking down the slope, the transmission towers came into sight, indicating we were about to reach Chiaki's house.
"...... We'll still be holding morning practice tomorrow even though it's the day of our graduation ceremony, right?"
In the end, that was the only thing I could think of saying.
Chiaki stopped in her tracks and looked at me irritably.
"Hey, we're the rhythm section. As long as we're perfect with our practices, it'll be fine even if someone decides to join us all of a sudden."
Even if someone returned back to the band all of a sudden.
No problems would exist as long as the rhythm section was there to maintain the pace.
We could get feketerigó to soar at any given instant.
Chiaki then began hitting my arm all of a sudden, punching me quite a few times in silence. Hey, what are you doing? That hurts. I moved my arm away, and just as I was about to look at her, her palm pushed my face in the opposite direction.
"I said nothing, so it's nothing! Sheesh, why is Nao always so irritatingly sensitive...... at a stupid...... time like this?"
This time around, it was my shoulders that suffered a few chops. I was about to say something to Chiaki, but she suddenly delivered a drop sweep and ran away.
"See ya, stupid Nao! Till tomorrow!"
Her tea-coloured hair swayed about beneath the streetlights, then disappeared past the corner. I was stunned in place for a brief moment, but soon picked my ba.s.s up and resumed my journey.
I stopped in the middle of the overhead bridge. Burning emotions began to slowly rise up inside me as I directed my gaze down the broad roads and into a place past the intersection point of the street lights. For some reason, everything that I was looking at seemed so cute. The white lines on the road created by the speeding cars; the gradually receding tail lights of the cabs and trucks; the night breeze infused with the faint scent of flowers; and perhaps even Senpai's singing voice that remained in my ears.
Everything would flow past me and disappear without a trace someday.
Tetsurou wasn't around when I returned home, but several files and CDs were scattered about messily on the table. Looks like he went out when he was in the middle of his work. He's probably grabbing a coffee at the family restaurant or something. This might sound unbelievable, but Tetsurou couldn't even make himself a cup of instant coffee if I wasn't around.
I leaned my ba.s.s against the wall and began organizing the DVDs and magazines strewn on the floor. I was only gone for the day, and this is what happens. As I was stacking the materials neatly on the desk, I noticed it.
It was located at the top of the pile of CDs. The cover was taken from her right. A very simple picture of her looking down at the keyboard with lowered eyes. Whenever she was performing, she would always clip her maroon hair up like that and reveal that unbearably slender and pale nape of hers.
It was the latest alb.u.m from Ebisawa Mafuyu. "She has matured quite a bit"—I thought. Is she still the same Mafuyu I knew? I lifted the CD up slowly.
After she had made her comeback, Mafuyu had released three alb.u.ms at an incredible pace in quick succession. I didn't buy the alb.u.ms though, because just looking at the covers and listening to her performances would've been painful. But thanks to the nature of Tetsurou's job, even if I didn't purchase the CDs, we would still receive them from the company as gifts.
It was the fourth alb.u.m following her comeback. Finally, it's Bach. The complete collection of the French Suites. I wanted to listen to it so badly, despite knowing that I would definitely cry.
I sat on the sofa and opened the case. But something fell out of the little booklet just as I was about to take out the explanatory notes. Picking it up, I realized it was a flyer detailing the schedule of Ebisawa Mafuyu's concerts.
The flyer was filled with the names of the venues she would be performing at and the words [SOLD OUT], all the way from January to June. She wasn't scheduled to play in j.a.pan. I heaved a sigh and was about to place the flyer back into the case.
But then, I noticed something.
There was a particularly strange line in the flyer. The performance on the fourth of April.
It was the only performance that wasn't stamped with the words [SOLD OUT]. Instead, it was declared [PRIVATE]. What's the meaning of this? The performance's location was Paris; and the venue's name was in French, so I couldn't understand it. [PRIVATE]?
The location was pretty weird as well, as there were no other performances scheduled in France after that. Just Paris.
Fourth of April.
I gripped the flyer tightly and checked the name of the venue again. I then dashed to the study on the second floor and translated it with a French-j.a.panese dictionary. It meant "Thieves' Market." She'll be performing in a thieves' market in Paris?
Just then, all of my memories fell like a burst of sparks and became stringed up together.
I pulled out the movable shelf that the science fiction novels had been randomly placed in. Cordwainer Smith was famous for only a single t.i.tle of his. I quickly skimmed through the novel. Found it.
I closed the book and held my breath as I looked up at the ceiling filled with spider webs.
Is this Mafuyu's message for me? Really? Did she request her company to put it in? But what if I had missed it?
Why must she do something like this? Wouldn't it be easier to just say it directly—
The novel slipped out of my hands.
Aren't I doing the same thing? Dishonest with my feelings, and dragging things out day by day. Despite the fact that I wanted to see her. Even though I was dying to see her. We were located in different parts of the world, but all I did was stand in front of the ocean that separated us both.
Even though I had said I would find her.
I promised I was going to find her regardless of where she was, didn't I?
I picked the book up to slip the flyer in-between the pages where the answer had been revealed, then closed it.
The scenery that appeared in my mind consisted of the sound of the waves, the whisper of the sea birds, and the scent of the wet soil. And it all overlapped with the calls of a certain someone. Let's go. I'll know once I'm there.
It's a magical place, so it can probably hear my heartfelt desire.