I heard no response, despite my loud yelling from outside, so I began knocking on the door. I suddenly heard the sound of something hitting the floor. Another blast of feedback reverberated inside.
I tried opening the door by pressing hard against the handle, but for a moment, I forgot the method of opening the lock, and nearly tore the door down. I finally remembered: I had to press the handle diagonally downwards and to the right before turning it. As the door opened, Mafuyu, who should have been leaning against the door, came crashing down on my body instead. I quickly supported her. Mafuyu's back knocked into my bass, making the amplifiers blare out a tight noise.
Mafuyu's fair skin had turned even paler.
My voice was an octave higher due to my nervousness.
"...... I'm fine."
"How do you look fine!? Can you stand?"
"I can't. But...... I'm really okay."
Mafuyu brushed my hand away and tried sitting up. However, her shoulders lost balance immediately, and her right leg was paralyzed. After seeing how her body had twisted into a strange position, I propped up her upper body and leaned her against the wall.
"Why have things turned out like this......" Mafuyu began sobbing. She turned her head away to avoid looking at me, and murmured, "Why? I had already forced myself to forget everything, so why did you make me remember again?"
What's she talking about? I really had no clue.
I removed my bass from my shoulders. The strings seemed to have brushed against something, making a low-pitched tone ring throughout the small classroom. Mafuyu's left hand twitched a little.
"Stop! Stop it! Don't make it play any sound!"
Mafuyu was overcome with a sudden surge of strength—she snatched the bass away from my hands and slammed it forcibly against the ground. One of the bass's knobs fell off the main body. There was a loud horrifying sound, akin to a pair of claws scratching the walls.
Mafuyu collapsed onto the bass and the guitar that were lying on the floor, just like a marionette that had its strings cut. The amplifiers were persistently giving off a disharmonious sound—similar to that of wailing voices—but I had no idea how to stop the sound. Now what? Why have things turned out this way? What should I do? In any case—
I should head to the infirmary first. I finally managed to think of that, amid the sharp shrieking sound of the feedback.
"I'll get the school nurse."
"I don't want that—"
Mafuyu moaned. What the hell is that idiot saying at a time like this? I immediately sprinted towards the main building.
Just as I was about to dash into the infirmary, I almost crashed into Miss Kumiko, the school nurse. Miss Kumiko was very young, and the rumor was that she used to be a delinquent, which was quite scary. Actually, the first thing she did was grab my collar, yelling, "Don't run in the corridors!" She then realized something and released her grip.
"You're from the Third Class of First Year, right? The same class as Ebisawa Mafuyu?"
I was still breathless from my run, and couldn't speak as a result. I barely nodded my head in reply.
"Did you see her in the classroom? She has an appointment with the hospital today, but the hospital just called and said she hasn't arrived yet."
She should be going to the hospital today?
Friday. The only day Mafuyu would head home immediately after school. Hospital. I was shocked. As I tried to regulate my breathing, I gasped, "Mafuyu......" "Fainted."
"Where is she?" Miss Kumiko's voice was still calm, but there was a change in the expression of her eyes.
Miss Kumiko quickly grabbed some medication from the rack, then seized my arm and rushed out of the infirmary. When we returned to the courtyard, we saw Chiaki squatting next to the crumbling Mafuyu. Why...... is Chiaki here? Could it be that she was waiting for our showdown to be over?
"Aikawa, please step aside."
"I'll administer some first-aid, then call someone"—I stared blankly at Miss Kumiko's actions, while Chiaki looked at me helplessly.
"What in the world happened?"
I could only shake my head in response to Chiaki's question.
"What in the world did you guys do to make things turn out like this......" Miss Kumiko glared at me as she checked Mafuyu's pulse.
"We...... were just playing the guitar."
"That's all? How can that be? It shouldn't be a problem for her to play a musical instrument."
Miss Kumiko—she knew about Mafuyu's condition?
"In any case, I've asked her father to head over. He said he'd be here soon."
Mafuyu's left shoulder trembled slightly. She slowly leaned towards Chiaki's legs and lifted her face, exposing her pained expression.
"No...... I don't want that."
"What are you talking about? You should be reporting to the hospital today, no? Do you have any intention of treating your illness at all? You can't get careless! Your body's condition is different from an ordinary person's, so we'll have to ask the doctor in charge of you to come down as well......"
Mafuyu shook her head as tears fell from her eyes,
"No. I don't want...... to be seen by 'that person' in my current state."
Miss Kumiko ignored her protests, and turned around to speak to me, "Describe what happened in greater detail. Aihara, please bring the cushions from over there and prop them under Mafuyu."
I saw two men in suits walking in our direction from the parking lot. I had only seen Ebisawa Chisato in photographs, but despite that—and even though I was some considerable distance away—I immediately knew that the one leading was Mafuyu's father.
"What in the world happened?"
The same stupid question—that a certain someone had asked—came from Ebisawa Chisato's mouth as well. His hair was neatly combed and well-greased, although there was a bit of white hair mixed in. His stern and well-defined contours clearly displayed his anger. Miss Maki came to the courtyard following Miss Kumiko's call. After seeing her arrive, he immediately started to yell.
"To think such a thing has happened, even with you around her! What will you do if something happens to Mafuyu!"
"You can't expect me to be by her side all the time, right?" Miss Maki replied coldly. The middle-aged doctor (he should be a doctor?), who also came along, was standing next to the emotional Ebichiri, telling Miss Kumiko to "carry the lady to the car" with his eyes.
"Why did you not go to the hospital? Who were you sticking around with?"
I turned my eyes away and wondered if I should just run away from that place.
"Guitar? Did you say guitar? Are you joking, who allowed you to play that sort of thing? Mafuyu, what are you trying to do by learning the guitar behind my back? Do you not know how important your fingers are? You may never get to play the piano—"
"Maestro Ebisawa! Please! Don't corner Mafuyu like that!"
Miss Maki pleaded with a pained voice.
"I did not send her to high school so she could play things like that!"
I bit my lip as I listened to the piercing roars of Ebichiri. The doctor and father stuffed Mafuyu into the backseat, as if she were a bagged corpse. There was nothing I could do, other than watch everything in silence.
Just before the door of the car closed, Mafuyu and I exchanged glances. The expression in her eyes was the same as that back then—they couldn't make a single sound, and could only desperately seek something to depend on. Those eyes were like the skies just before a downpour, filled with dark grey clouds. No, I can't let her go like that. I could almost hear a whisper right next to my ears, but I couldn't say a single word, or move a single step.
I wasn't too sure about what happened after that. I was probably brutally scolded by either Miss Maki or Miss Kumiko? Perhaps the reason I couldn't remember much of the details was because neither of them was willing to tell me what happened to Mafuyu. The only thing I remembered was that I didn't say a single word. Chiaki was the one who answered almost all the questions in my stead.
It was already past six when I returned home, and the speakers in the living room were playing Messiaen's <Catalogue d'oiseaux>. Quails, nightingales and even blackbirds—just a single piano was enough to weave out the cries of the various birds. Tetsurou was lying on his side on the sofa, listening to the music while sipping a glass of whiskey. [TLNote: The piece is translated as <Bird catalogue>]
"You're back...... What's wrong? You look quite bad, you know? Did something happen?"
I shook my head weakly, and removed the bass from my shoulders and threw it on the carpet. I sank myself into the sofa.
Despite Tetsurou being extremely dense, on some occasions, he would pick up on my feelings without the need for words. At such times, the best course of action would be leaving me alone and making dinner himself—which was exactly what he did.
On the dining table was some sort of burnt meat, as well as salad drenched in dressing. All I had were a few sips of the tasteless miso soup.
"You aren't complaining, so perhaps the food I cooked today is actually decent?"
"No, don't you worry, it sucks as usual. I'm full."
Tetsurou was visibly saddened by my tsukkomi, but I left him alone and returned to the living room. I planted myself on the sofa and continued listening to the cries of the birds. I had a sudden urge to cry.
So Mafuyu had been waiting for me.
She should've gone to the hospital today. But because of the things I said yesterday...... the me who knew nothing and said idiotic things like, "Let's have a showdown on Friday." Because of that, she had been waiting—she was waiting for me.
The song of the birds had ended. Tetsurou removed the apron from his body and sat on the sofa opposite of me. He silently poured some whiskey into his glass. In a situation like this, I would be really grateful if he didn't ask me any questions about what happened.
"Oh right, Tetsurou......"
"I think...... it should be a piano concerto...... It's made up of three movements, and the middle movement is a march. Have you heard something like this before?"
I hummed the piece that Mafuyu had played at the junkyard.
"—That should be Ravel's piano concerto......" Tetsurou mumbled halfway into the tune.
A chill ran down my spine.
"...... Which one?"
Maurice Ravel had only written two piano concertos in his entire life. The first was a piano concerto in G major, written for his own playing. The other was—
"The one in D major," Tetsurou replied. That was the answer I had missed.
The other piano concerto, in D major, was written for Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein. Paul lost what was dubbed "a pianist's life"—his right arm—during the First World War. Therefore, the piano concerto that was written for him is also known as—
"<Piano Concerto for the Left Hand>."
Why didn't I notice sooner?
There were lots of signs—Mafuyu never used chopsticks, and didn't copy notes in class. During arts class or physical education, she did nothing at all. There was also that strangely shaped guitar pick, with two rings to slot the index and middle finger through. Even a person with no grip could easily secure the pick between his fingertips.
That was the reason she chose the guitar.
The fingers on Mafuyu's right hand...... they probably could no longer move. It was only now that I finally realized that fact. A certain cruel fate had robbed Mafuyu's piano career away from her, but despite that, she couldn't run away from the music she loved the most. Therefore, she grabbed onto the guitar with all her might, just like a drowning person would to a piece of floating wood.
Why didn't I notice it earlier? Even if no one else had noticed...... I should've found that answer!
Why did she not tell me anything about it? The dense me knew nothing at all. I had even acted like a kid, insisting on challenging Mafuyu to a guitar showdown. I forced her to stay back, but in the end, had actually harmed her unknowingly.
I really didn't know, because Mafuyu told me nothing at all! I really wanted to find an adult whom I could voice my excuses to, but Tetsurou and the bass case on the floor were both silent. I recalled the <Eroica Variations> that I played together with Mafuyu, and the fugue that was disrupted halfway. What sorts of feelings did Mafuyu experience as she listened to the ensemble that she could no longer play by herself, as she watched on as someone else played the melody in place of her immobile right hand?
Why do we always fail at converting the feelings deep inside us into words?
June arrived a week later. Mafuyu really had disappeared. She no longer came to school.
My classmates were discussing something, something that seemed to have happened on the Friday before the break. They had always ignored what others said, and paid no attention to the moods of others, but just this once, they didn't ask me anything.
"Because Nao looks really depressed......" Chiaki said that to me softly during lunch break.
"Depressed? No?" I wove a lie.
"I even went to ask Miss Maki about it."
Chiaki's appetite was surprisingly low; she didn't take anything from my bento.
"It seems Ebisawa's father wants to go back to America. I think there are specialists there, so it'll be more convenient for them to go for checkups or to schedule an operation...... I'm not too sure about the details, but it seems like Ebisawa will be going as well."
So that was what she meant by, "I'll be disappearing in June"?
Which meant, Mafuyu would never come back again? So that was why she wanted us to forget everything......
Because of that—I no longer had a chance to apologize to her, or a chance to smile at her. I could no longer make her angry, or scare her with the image of a zombie anymore; and it was definitely impossible to ask her to help tune my bass.
If I knew, right at the beginning, that she would really disappear—if I knew what she said would turn out to be true—then I would've just forgotten about her, and that would've been it.
According to Chiaki, for some reason, Kagurazaka-senpai hasn't been at school either. Did that person also feel responsible for what happened to Mafuyu? That couldn't be!
"Will she be coming back after her checkups......" Chiaki mumbled. I began to feel that nothing mattered anymore. I was the one who completely misunderstood her, and wrecked everything. I had always thought that Mafuyu would open up to me, but in reality, there existed a wall between us, a wall thicker than the door of the practice classroom—one that no sounds could pass through. I couldn't help but admire how wonderful music was—despite us being so far away from each other, just by playing what was written in the scores, I could imagine that Mafuyu was right next to me. What a wonderful power that is! Disappear from my sight right now.
When I returned home, I took the bass to the recycling center and dumped it there. It seemed like when Mafuyu slammed the bass against the floor, a connection broke somewhere; it could no longer play any sound. I turned the knobs to the maximum, and even tried dismantling and reassembling them again, but none of that worked. With my skill, it was possible for me to repair it, but honestly, I was not in the mood to do that.
Upon seeing that scene, even Tetsurou didn't crack jokes like, "As expected of my son, you've given up really quickly" or "Just be a virgin for life"; he even prepared me a (extremely disgusting) dinner. I could always say pointless things like this easily, but I couldn't voice the important feelings within me.
After dinner, I sat opposite of Tetsurou who was working on his articles, and hugged my knees. I could hear the speakers play the <Hungarian Dances> softly next to my ears.
"...... Tetsurou, have you heard?"
"Hmm? Ah, mmm."
Tetsurou replied without lifting his gaze from the laptop,
"I heard something from a paparazzi who claims to be the hear-it-all in the music circle. You want to know about it?"
"Is it about...... Mafuyu's right hand?"
"So you do know!"
"...... But I knew nothing!"
I realized everything only after nothing could be salvaged anymore. Tetsurou pushed the laptop to the side. He then looked at me and said, "It was probably last year? Seems like the fingers on her right hand suddenly became immobile just before she was about to start her concert in England. The concert was canceled. They went to quite a few hospitals, but they couldn't find the reason behind it. Back then, there were some who said it might be due to obsessive-compulsive disorder."
I remembered the frightened look in Mafuyu's eyes, and I suddenly thought, could that be related to her father?
"That was the reason she returned to Japan. It was thought that a brief break from piano, and some rehabilitation, could perhaps lead to her recovery. But things don't look that optimistic, do they! Her condition's getting worse and worse, and she has to go to the doctors for frequent checkups."
I could feel a sense of pain near my heart. So that was what Mafuyu was so desperately trying to hide. She chased away any classmates who tried to get close to her, and was unwilling to approach anyone; she was pretty successful at being someone who was really annoying. Moreover, all those who had tried to get close to her were idiots, so no one had noticed that something was wrong with her right fingers.
Could we really have done nothing about it?
I really hoped someone would tell me, "It's all your fault!" or "It's actually not your fault," straight to my face, without any hesitation. However, upon hearing me say that, Tetsurou coldly replied,
"How the heck would I know? Think about it yourself!"
All I could do was hug my head in desperation.
"...... Tetsurou, what are you thinking of when you tell me these things?"
The question was so damn stupid that even I couldn't stand it. Therefore, after asking that, I didn't dare look at Tetsurou.
"Nothing? I just feel that it's a bit of a shame that I'll no longer be able to hear her play the piano. I really hope she can at least record the <French Suites> in its entirety! But to me, she's just one of the many thousands of pianists."
If only I could think as he did—wouldn't it be much easier for me?
"—But that's not the case for you, right?"
I lifted my head to look at him. Tetsurou shot me a glance that said, "Idiot, why else would you ask me that?", then directed his attention back to his article.
After returning to my room on the second floor, I squeezed right into bed without even changing into my pajamas. I closed my eyes, and planned to forget everything, just as Mafuyu had requested.
That should be easily done. I have absolute confidence in my poor memory, and within months, I'll definitely have forgotten that a person named Mafuyu ever existed. And I won't remember anything that has to do with the bass. I'll return to the life where I kill time by immersing myself in the music of others.
If only I hadn't noticed the sound of someone knocking on my windows two days later.