With that, I'll resume on Hyouketsu Kyoukai.
Later that night, after eating dinner by myself, I started practicing my bass. While practicing, I heard a loud sound of avalanching items come from the direction of the main door.
"Oohhh...... It's the ultimate bliss to die while buried under all this great music from different eras......"
At the door was Tetsurou in a suit—a rare sight—buried under a heap of collapsed CDs. He was staring at the ceiling and murmuring to himself in a daze.
"Please save up enough for me to live a well-off life before you die."
Speaking of which, I remember cleaning up quite a bit, no? No matter how hard I tried to arrange the CDs, they always stacked up higher and higher—there was no stopping them. I complained as I dug Tetsurou out of the mess.
"After I die, you must place Stravinsky's <Firebird> in my coffin. Don't go about playing <Requiem Mass in D minor> or something, just play <St Matthew Passion>! Then, I'll overwrite the record held by Jesus Christ and revive myself within two days."
"There's no need for that, just go to hell and stay there! Didn't I tell you to call me if you were drinking?"
"Ah, mhmm. Been a long while since I met up with my fellow classmates from the College of Music...... Urgg......"
The great music of different eras, as well as Tetsurou's only high-end suit, were dirtied by his sour-smelling fluids. That fella was already half-dead due to his stupor.
"Ahhhh. I'll have to send this for cleaning."
After vomiting in the toilet, Tetsurou returned with a pale face. Even after seeing how much he had dirtied his suit, he managed to say that as though it had nothing to do with him. There was only one thing Tetsurou would dress up properly for: a concert. Due to the nature of his job, there were plenty of occasions where he had to attend a concert, and yet, that fella only had a single suit. What should I do with him? In any case, I'll fix him a cup of hot lemon juice to bring him out of his stupor.
"Uuhhhh, I'm revitalized. I'm a really lucky guy. My wife ran away from me, but God has gifted me with a son who knows how to take care of me."
Oh Mum, why didn't you fight harder for my custody?
"I've had enough of women. All five of my classmates are single, and three of them have already divorced once!"
Tetsurou was coming up with his own lyrics while singing along with the aria of <Rigoletto>—<La donna è mobile>. I covered his head with the rubbish bag to shut him up. Think about our neighbors, and stop disturbing them! [TLNote: 'La donna è mobile' is translated as 'Woman is fickle'.]
"It's the same for you with girls, yeah? You've already thrown away that guitar or whatever, right?"
"I'm still playing it! Stop treating me like an idiot!" I pointed to the bass on the sofa.
"But you suck at it, right?"
"Well, sorry about that!" That means the sound can still be heard from outside? I think, in the future, it'd be better for me not to connect my bass to the amplifier when I practice at home.
"Aww, why? Is that girl that good? Ah, it's Ebisawa Mafuyu, right? You mentioned her before. She's a good girl, yeah. You know, there's a silly saying in our circle...... See, in the case of album covers for female musicians, the picture's often taken from their side profile—especially so for the pianists. If she's pretty, the image will be a slanted profile of her face, and if she's gorgeous, the picture will be taken from the front. I've been in this job for fifteen years, and Mafuyu's the first I've seen who had her picture taken from bottom up—Eh? What's wrong, lil' Nao? Was I spot on?"
I splashed a cup of water onto Tetsurou's face.
"What the heck are you doing...... lil Nao's really cold these days. Could it be that you hate me?"
"Do you hate the so-called consumption tax?"
"Huh? Why the sudden question?"
"Mmm, if you ask me whether I hate it or not...... I think I'd be better off without it, so maybe I hate it. But I've been paying consumption tax for so long, I think I've already forgotten that feeling of detest."
"Mmm, that's roughly how I feel about you."
"...... Can I cry?"
"Head outside if you wanna cry!"
Tetsurou clamped a bottle of whiskey underneath his armpit and looked as though he was really planning to go outside. Considering how he might be a nuisance to the neighbors, I stopped him immediately. Act your age and go to sleep already!
"But I don't think there's a chance between you and Ebisawa Mafuyu. Because...... well, you know you're the son of a music critic, and she knows that as well. I actually just came back from Ebichiri's concert performance in Japan. I had originally asked him to join us for a drink, but he said he'd be appearing on a live TV show, so it was expected that he'd reject us. We did talk during the banquet though. Seems like he'll be in Japan for this month, but will be travelling to a faraway place come June. Probably back to America."
"As I said, you're misunderstanding...... Eh?"
Ebichiri—Mafuyu's father—is back in Japan?
And he'll be returning to America in June. Then, the June Mafuyu's referring to...... is that?
"...... What about Mafuyu? Did you hear anything related to her?"
"Nothing. So...... she'll be following him back to America?"
Around this time last year, Mafuyu was probably flying with her father to multiple places across Europe and America, for the world tour. She couldn't have done something pointless, like transferring to our school for a single month, right?
"She's probably not returning to the piano, I think. I just heard about it today as well, but it seems like the critics there had written some really nasty stuff about her. She even participated in a competition unrelated to Ebichiri, and obtained victory as well. But even then, she's still weighed down by the fame of her father."
I recalled that incident when Mafuyu was staring at me, full of animosity. "The very existence of critics is troublesome. They always write rubbish." She indeed said something along those lines before.
"Her playing style does invite attacks though. Like, how she was not lively enough; how her playing was too calm; how horrible her presentation of the parts was; how her music was like crawling insects; or how she was overly reliant on her techniques...... even I can think up quite a few nasty critiques on the spot. And if I really wanted to, I could probably write about thirty pages commenting on her play style. But it'd be quite stupid of me if I really were to write it out—it's not like all the pieces you play would be considered good just because you played them all vibrantly."
"So that's the reason Mafuyu doesn't play the piano?"
"I don't think so. Well, it seems they also wrote things about her private life, even though they weren't related to music, just because she's the daughter of Ebichiri. You see, her mother's a Hungarian and they're divorced now."
"Ah...... So she really is a mixed blood."
I suddenly remembered the day I fixed her recorder for her. Hungary.
"Ah—you mean you didn't know about that? Well, we should stop discussing this topic. I feel like a paparazzi hounding for news."
Tetsurou popped open the whiskey bottle and drank from it directly. I no longer had the strength to stop him.
When I was a middle-school student living my life leisurely here in Japan, Mafuyu was already on the other side of the sea, under the scrutiny of the curious and hostile stares around her, living a life of fear while grabbing onto her piano tightly. What sort of life was that? I couldn't imagine it at all.
However, I was back at the initial problem once again. If she had really given up the piano, why was she playing the guitar?
The next day, as I walked into the classroom, I heard my classmates discussing yesterday's television program.
"Was the show live?"
"Yeah, seems like he's back in Japan already."
"They were talking about things I didn't understand. It's not like I listen to classical music anyway."
"Do they look alike?"
"Not one bit. Princess probably takes after her mother?"
From just those bits of conversation, I immediately knew they were talking about Ebichiri. I took a glance at Mafuyu's empty seat.
"The host asked about Princess as well."
"The father and daughter are not on good terms with each other, right?"
I was thinking the whole time—you guys should know Mafuyu's about to get here soon, and yet, you people are still loudly gossiping about things related to her?
"Nao, your father was classmates with Ebichiri, right?"
"...... How did you know?"
"Maki said so! She also said, back when Ebichiri was still teaching, your father was always flirting with the girls."
Miss Maki...... please don't exaggerate those stories and spread them.
"What, so Nao really did know Princess beforehand."
"But from what I saw, Ebichiri kept trying to divert the topic whenever the host asked about his daughter. Do you know the reason for that?"
I removed the bass from my shoulders and leaned it against my desk. Then, I mustered my determination and said,
"Stop asking about things related to her, alright?"
Everyone was looking at me with a surprised gaze. I pretended to organize my textbooks, and continued,
"Just leave her alone, okay? She's just like an injured wild kitten—if you guys get close to her, she might actually scratch you; but if you guys leave her alone, she won't bother you. That girl had her fair share of problems during the world tour in America and stuff, so—"
Just as I was saying all that, I noticed the people around me had directed their gaze in a strange direction. I could feel a prickling sensation on my shoulder blades. I turned around and saw Mafuyu standing at the door of the classroom. A slight blush appeared beneath her fair skin. Perhaps she inherited that from her Hungarian mother? Her huge eyes were staring at me—it seemed like those weren't stares of anger, but rather, of shock.
"...... Ah, look, I don't......"
I wasn't sure myself if I was trying to cook up some excuse then.
"You sure know how to spread the word around."
She murmured and made her way to her seat. Those around me had already fled in all directions.
"It's not what you're thinking."
"Please don't talk to me."
The voice of Mafuyu was like a pair of scissors, snipping away the distance between us. I could only remain quiet. Those who were around me not too long ago, were sending me flickering looks of apprehension.
Chiaki rushed into the classroom shortly after the bell had rung. As she walked past me and Mafuyu, she noticed the dangerous atmosphere.
"What's up?" She peeked at me, and then at Mafuyu. "Are you two quarreling again?"
"I have never quarreled with him before, so please do not use the term 'again.'"
Mafuyu said that as she looked away.
Chiaki was about to say something, but I tugged her sleeves and pleaded with her not to say anything.
Forget about talking, Mafuyu didn't even once look in my direction. She immediately ran out of the classroom at the start of lunch break.
"Princess is angry......"
All the reproachful murmurs, as well as the stares of my classmates, had gathered on me. It really was my fault this time, so I had no choice but to stand up and leave the classroom.
I walked to the courtyard and reached the training room of the old music building. There was no padlock hanging on the door, and the door was left ajar as well. I quietly snuck a peek in the room and saw no one inside. What's happening here?
I walked into the room and saw a guitar connected to the amplifier; the pick was randomly left on the desk. Seemed like someone, after entering, had run out of the room in a hurry. Which means, it should be fine for me to wait here for her, right? I then realized I had not thought about how I should apologize to her. Why was Mafuyu so angry with me?
As I was sitting on the cushion on the desk and thinking about how I should apologize to her, I accidentally swept the pick onto the floor with a flick of my hands. That was probably Mafuyu's pick. It wasn't until I picked it up that I realized—the shape of the pick was rather strange.
Typically speaking, picks are a thin piece of plastic shaped into a triangle or an onigiri. However, Mafuyu's pick had a plastic loop on both sides.
I tried slipping my thumb and index finger through the plastic loops, and my fingers slid into the typical position for holding a normal pick. However, I had never seen this sort of pick before. I had seen finger picks or thumb picks that were secured onto each of the fingers before, but a pick with two loops—
"Don't touch that!"
A voice came from the direction of the door, causing me to nearly drop the pick again. Mafuyu pushed the door open with her shoulders. I put the pick back into its original position, and got off the desk.
"Urm, look...... I'm sorry."
I looked downwards and noticed she was holding a small white plastic bag in her left hand...... is that medicine?
"Are you feeling unwell somewhere?"
Mafuyu was surprised by my question, and said, "It's nothing." She then stuffed the medicine bag and the pick beneath the cushion. So she just got back from the infirmary?
"What do you want?"
Mafuyu let out a sigh as she said that, which was quite unlike how she used to yell at me to scram. It was actually much scarier for her to be behaving this way.
I was blunt with her, "I'm here to apologize to you." As I was thinking about what I should say next, Mafuyu spoke.
"Why? What are you apologizing for? Just tell everyone things about me as you please. I don't care the least bit."
"Look, I'll explain everything, so just listen to me," I said that while suppressing my anger. "Yesterday, Tetsurou—that's my father by the way—came home in a drunken state and told me about the gossip he had heard from the other critics. He said that some critics in America had written some really nasty things about you. However, he never went into detail, so—"
"Then there is no reason for you to apologize to me!"
I could feel my face burning in an instant.
"Stop picking out my words."
"What, are you here to throw your anger at me?"
"That's not it, alright?" I swallowed my words and tried my best to keep my emotions as calm as possible. "Okay, I get it. I'm here to apologize on behalf of all the critics in the world who only write rubbish."
My habit of talking nonsense had kicked in again. Mafuyu blinked her eyes in shock, and followed with an expression of surprise.
"But you're not a critic, right? Though I heard your father is."
"I'm a critic too."
Mafuyu tilted her head. Her gaze was filled with confusion.
"It's true. I've written articles under Tetsurou's name about four to five times already, and those articles were actually published in music magazines. That's why, I should be qualified to apologize to you, right?"
Mafuyu bit her lips. Not long after, she looked at the floor and shook her head,
"I don't get what you're trying to say. What are you talking about?"
She suddenly said that with a slightly trembling voice.
"Why? Why are you apologizing to me? I've done so many nasty things to you."
"So you actually realized that?"
Mafuyu lifted her head. Her eyes were filled with the dull colors of the gloomy skies—they were the same as on the day I met her for the very first time. It was a damp feeling, as though a downpour were approaching.
"I don't care about those silly things. No matter how they write about me, or what they write about me, it doesn't matter. That's not it at all. I wasn't that...... wasn't that......"
I could faintly hear Mafuyu's choppy voice from afar, and I gradually found it difficult to breathe. I was thinking—just where exactly is she? This inconceivable girl, with a dull violet aura surrounding her, should be right in front of me—but in reality, how far away is she from me? Why..... can't my voice and hands reach her?
"Why do you care about me? It's the same as back then. Why did you help me? Please, do not care about me anymore. I'm about to disappear soon anyway."
Mafuyu leaned against her guitar and sat on the desk, hugging her knees to her chest and burying her face in her arms. There was a gloomy downpour, but the rain fell only on her.
I walked out of the classroom, but I could still hear the faint sounds of the continuing downpour. However, the skies of May were irresponsibly bright, with only a cloud or two hanging above the outlines of the buildings.
I thought to myself—I must be forgetting something; I must be missing something important about Mafuyu. However, I had no idea what it was. Until then, I had thought I was beginning to understand something, but those feelings were completely swallowed up by the imaginary clouds of rain at her side. I dragged my body, which felt like it was drenched, and walked back towards the classroom.