Here's 15. 5 more to go.
At that time, I was in my room, listening to music with my headphones on. I was listening to the album of Derek and the Dominos. It was a Thursday night—the third day Mafuyu had missed school. The wind outside was very strong, and I could hear the branches on the trees, at the side of the walkway, rustling.
Tetsurou had been summoned by the publisher, so there was no one else at home. Typically, I would be free to use the sound systems in the living room at a time like this, but I was too lazy to leave my room. So I continued lying on my bed, listening to the mini sound system that produced sounds lacking depth.
The sounds of Jim Gordon's drums, coming from the speakers, drowned out all other sounds, so at first, I didn't notice the sound. It wasn't until the middle portion of the song, when the melody of the piano began to flow, that I finally realized—someone was knocking on my window.
Naturally, I thought it was Chiaki, as no one else would do something like that. It's already late into the night, what does she want? However, after pulling open the curtains and window, a pair of blue eyes greeted me. I was stunned.
The person opposite of the window, standing on the roof extending outwards, was actually Mafuyu. It was indeed her. Her maroon-colored hair was blown up by the strong winds and was tangled with the guitar case she carried on her back.
I wanted to say something, but nothing came out successfully.
"Can I come in?"
Mafuyu said that expressionlessly as she removed the guitar from her shoulder and passed it to me.
"Eh...... Ah, mmm, okay."
My mind was a mess, but I still took the guitar case, leaning it against the wall. Despite my shock, I remember offering Mafuyu a hand and pulling her in after she climbed through the window and removed her shoes. Mafuyu, then, was wearing the same fluttering blue dress that she had worn when we first met...... though it seemed difficult to move about in.
I still couldn't believe it. Was this the continuation of some sort of dream somewhere?
As I looked at Mafuyu standing in my room, I couldn't help but ask.
"Eh, no, it's just...... a little strange. You shouldn't be able to climb up, right?" And her right hand shouldn't be able to move either.
"My wrists can still move."
Mafuyu answered nonchalantly, moving her wrists about for me to see. Forget about her wrists—even her elbows were filled with scratches. So what she was saying was that her fingers were the only part she couldn't move freely, and that she could still, just barely, climb up here? Even so......
Mafuyu noticed me staring at her, and thus, turned her head, saying softly,
"I heard Aihara talking about it at school, about how she could climb up the tree and enter and exit your room freely through the window. I somehow felt...... a little envious, so I thought I should try it."
"Why—" are you appearing at a place like this? It was a simple question, aimed straight at the crux of the matter, but I somehow couldn't bring myself to ask it. Perhaps it was because I thought she would disappear the moment I asked it out loud?
In the end, what I said was this,
"How do you know where my house is?" Mafuyu stared at me for a long while before walking to her guitar case. She took out something inside and passed it to me.
"...... John Lennon?" It was a CD—the <Rock 'n' Roll> album I listened to on the roof that day. Mafuyu opened the CD case nimbly with her left hand. There was a piece of folded paper on top of the shining silver disk. Upon opening it, I saw a map. It was so well-drawn, I almost didn't notice it was done by hand. The map accurately listed out the landmarks near my house and described them in detail. What the heck is this......
"'That person' had instructed me to stay at home and not go anywhere." Mafuyu said. That person? She should be referring to her father. "And so, before I went to the hospital, I couldn't leave the house. Just as I was about to head home after the checkup, the CD somehow appeared in my bag without me noticing."
I looked at Mafuyu's face, half in confusion. She tilted her head in response.
"Wasn't it you? Who stalked me to the hospital and placed this......"
"Who would do that sort of stupid......"
I swallowed my words halfway into the sentence. There was someone who would do that sort of stupid thing—someone who would do something in a roundabout manner without hesitation, even if she had no idea whether it would succeed or not, and who wouldn't bat an eyelid wasting half her day and a huge amount of effort......
"It was Kagurazaka-senpai......"
So that was what she was doing when she skipped school...... Speaking of which, what exactly is she planning? For her to tell Mafuyu the location of my house...... Is there something she wants Mafuyu to do?
"You mean that senpai who has really long hair, eyes like a panther's, and who always says all sorts of strange things?" That was what Mafuyu said. I see, so it's not like Mafuyu has no idea who Kagurazaka-senpai is, huh?
"Mmm...... Should be."
"About that senpai, I've always......" As Mafuyu started to speak, she noticed my gaze and flinched in shock. She turned her head away and shook it fervently, "No, nothing."
Mafuyu walked to my bed and sat on it, putting me in a situation where I could neither get close to my bed, nor run out of the room—all I could do was lean myself next to the window. Mafuyu's in my room right now—to be honest, I'm still not too sure about what's happening, but—Mafuyu really is here.
"Look...... Urm......" I chose my words carefully. "I don't know...... back then...... Therefore...... I'm sorry."
"You don't know what?"
"No, it's...... the thing...... about your right hand."
"You don't have to apologize to me. I will feel bad if you apologize."
I don't feel that great either!
"Moreover...... you did nothing wrong."
With that, she turned her face away.
"That was not your fault. Those things happen occasionally. The right side of my body gradually becomes immobile all of a sudden, and sometimes, I can't even move my legs. I don't quite understand why either."
For a while, I couldn't speak. The right side of her body gradually becomes immobile?
"Why...... can you say it as though it has nothing to do with you?"
"Because...... it doesn't feel like it has anything to do with me."
Mafuyu lowered her head and showed a slight smile. That was the first time I had seen her smile, but it was such a lonely expression. My heart ached a little.
"And I don't really care if it really can't move. However, that person and the record company may be slightly more troubled by that."
"Ah! Urm...... well...... aren't you going to America? I heard you'll be getting a checkup or an operation there?"
"Mmm. That person will be doing a tour around America, so he'll be taking a flight tomorrow."
"T-Then the reason you came here at this time......"
"Mmm, I ran away."
I let out a loud sigh. She ran away? Then again, this lass seemed to be a repeat offender of running away from home, yeah?
"That's what I had planned anyway. I would run away the night before I was about to be brought to America. It's just my right hand—I don't really care if it cannot be treated. I just want to bring my guitar and run to a place far, far away, until my legs can no longer move......"
Mafuyu closed her eyes tightly, as though she was trying her hardest not to let her tears fall.
"I'll be disappearing in June anyway."
So that was what she meant by that—it wasn't because she would be going to America to seek treatment, but because she had already decided to run away from it.
I forcibly swallowed that question back down my throat.
She would run to a place far, far away. And then? What would she do after that?
I knew Mafuyu would definitely be unable to answer that question—if the question were directed at me, I wouldn't have the slightest idea on how to answer either. Human beings don't think that far ahead after they've decided to run away from something. They just desperately run, seeking a place to hide—
"...... Why did you look for me?"
"Because......" Mafuyu stared at my fingers, then suddenly lifted her head, "Because you said before, that I should honestly say whatever is troubling me. Do you still remember?"
I did say something like that before. Back then, Mafuyu even asked me to chop off my right hand to give to her; either that, or I turn back time to the period before she had started playing the piano—Ah! So that was what everything was about. Man, I feel like crying even more now.
So Mafuyu had already told me about it! It was just I who didn't realize it earlier.
It seemed like Mafuyu was having trouble continuing that sentence. She lowered her head yet again.
"Currently, my hand...... is unable to carry any luggage. Therefore...... together......" Upon saying that, Mafuyu closed her eyes once again, and shook her head fervently.
"Sorry, pretend I never said that."
Mafuyu suddenly stood up and walked towards me. She grabbed her guitar, and just as she was about to take her shoes and climb out the window, I called out to her without hesitation.
Mafuyu turned around. I was unable to speak yet again. She stared right at me, and the words that I had originally planned to say crumbled inside my mouth. Instead, what I asked was something unrelated and stupid—"Do you want to leave through the main door?"
"There's no one else in the house?"
"Tetsurou's out. May still be a while before he's back."
"I see. But that was my first time climbing trees, and I thought it was quite fun."
Problem was, the expression on Mafuyu's face suggested otherwise. No wait, that's not what I meant!
"...... Alright. Do you have any more luggage? Or did you leave it outside?"
Mafuyu kept staring at my face, and blinked her eyes in confusion.
"I'm coming along."
Mafuyu's not-too-large backpack was placed beneath the tree in the courtyard. On it hung the recorder that I had helped repair, though I almost forgot about the time I did it.
"Are you really coming along with me?"
"You're the one who wants me to come along!"
"So I do, but...... why?"
I didn't know either. I didn't even know where to go next.
All I knew was that I couldn't allow Mafuyu to leave by herself.
I took the backpack and put it on my shoulders. It was light.
"Right, where's your bass? I only saw an empty case in your room."
Mafuyu suddenly asked that question when we were in the dark courtyard.
"I threw it away."
"...... Why? Ah......"
Mafuyu suddenly let out a shriek.
"I-Is it because of that time? I-I can't quite remember it clearly, but did it break because I slammed it......?"
"Nah, it wasn't that. Even if it weren't broken, I probably would've thrown it away anyway." That was my reply, and it wasn't a lie either. If I had wanted to, I would've definitely been able to fix it. Moreover, I didn't want Mafuyu to think it was her fault.
"...... Why?" Mafuyu became even more depressed.
Why huh? I sank into my thoughts for a brief moment.
"Because...... I don't like it anymore."
"Don't you like rock?"
That direct question, which lacked any compassion, caused me quite a headache.
"It was quite interesting in the beginning, and it felt great when I practiced. But......"
I shut my mouth. Why did I throw it away in the end? I couldn't quite explain it myself.
"...... Ah, if it is because...... because of me back then......"
I shook my head and interrupted Mafuyu.
"Let's go quickly. Tetsurou may be back anytime soon."
Mafuyu's face was masked by the darkness of the night, and because of that, I was unable to see the expression on her face clearly. But somehow, it just feels like the expression she's wearing right now is one of loneliness, right?
I pushed Mafuyu out the door, carrying her guitar on my back.
"Where are we going?"
"Where do you think we should go?"
Mafuyu and I exchanged such stupid questions.
The two of us began walking at the same time. We passed by the desolate street of the residential area, which was illuminated by only a few street lights, and made our way towards the train station.
Our runaway plan suffered a huge setback—the last train had already left. The small train station stood by itself in the middle of the residential area, with only a convenience store that operated late into the night nearby. There was no one to be seen at the station. As we stood on the surprisingly wide walkway, our only company was our shadows, which spread outward away from us due to the street lights around us.
"What should we do?" I asked in desperation.
"Are we not going to look for a corpse along the railroad?"
That was something I randomly said some time ago, but Mafuyu really turned it against me.
"We're really gonna walk? It'll be really tough!"
And what should I do if your right leg becomes immobile like it did back then?
"I heard that freezing is the most beautiful way to die. Is that true?"
"You can't freeze to death in Japan in June, alright? Moreover, I just realized, something feels out of place......"
"Why am I carrying your guitar and your bag as well?"
I forgot when the guitar came on my back, but it was really heavy.
"Because you are the one in charge of carrying the luggage!"
"That's not......" No wait, come to think of it, is that right?
I stared at Mafuyu, walking in the direction of the railroad, before catching up to her. The sight of her in her pale-colored dress seemed like it would melt into the darkness and disappear if I weren't careful.
After passing the wired fence, we appeared right beside the dark railroad. As we walked up the gentle slope, out of the blue, Mafuyu asked me about my mother.
"Because your father always talks about the divorce in his critiques."
Damn Tetsurou, he should seriously think about his position as a music critic.
"Do you still remember your mother?" Mafuyu turned her head and asked.
"Of course. I was already in elementary school when they divorced, and we would still meet once a month."
"What sort of person is she?"
"A really serious person, to the point that I fail to understand why she would do something as stupid as marrying Tetsurou. She's very particular about table manners as well."
"I see......" Mafuyu once again shifted her sight back to the railroad before her.
Speaking of which, Mafuyu also lived with her father after her parents separated. So that's her reason for asking me that?
"My Mama......" Mafuyu continued on as she looked forward. Her footsteps seemed to slow down as she walked on absentmindedly. "She left before I even entered elementary school. However, I heard she had remarried a German, and that they were living in Bonn. I even looked up her address last year, as I was passing by Bonn during my Europe tour."
She probably got herself lost? I thought to myself.
"However, Mama refused to see me. Her husband came to the door, and in very polite English, asked me to go back."
Mafuyu stopped in her tracks. She placed her immobile right fingers on the wired fence and leaned her forehead against it. I couldn't see her face, so I had no idea if her shoulders were trembling because she was crying.
"That person said I looked exactly like Mama, so Mama may have refused to see me because she was afraid she might be affected by it. Moreover, Mama's a pianist as well......"
Mafuyu finally turned her head, but showed almost no expression on her face.
"The day after that, we took off for London. There, right before the performance, my fingers suddenly became unable to move. But I...... should not have cared about that at all—"
As she continued on endlessly, she grabbed her right arm tightly with her left fingers.
"Even if the right side of my body becomes unable to move, followed by the left, and finally, my heart stops beating and I die, as long as I am mummified and sent to that person, he will definitely put me right in front of the piano and be pleased with that."
"...... Don't say such uncomfortable things."
Mafuyu ignored my words and resumed walking.
A few of the questions that I had always dared not ask her suddenly appeared in my mind. Since Mafuyu may end up just disappearing, I decided to seek the answers to all my questions.
"Do you hate your father?"
Mafuyu didn't answer immediately. She was two steps in front of me, but she slowed down as she dragged her feet along.
"I have never felt that way."
Mafuyu's voice gently landed on the asphalt, and rolled right next to my feet.
"It's not about me hating him or not...... It's like I'm stuck in a bottomless swamp, helpless and all alone."
"What's with that! Just say you hate him if you really do!"
Mafuyu jumped in shock, and turned her head around after halting her footsteps. I flinched at my own voice as well, but it wasn't as if I could keep my mouth shut and pretend like nothing had happened.
"...... Why do you speak as though you know everything?"
"Because it's painfully obvious! You don't like your father! Why do you have to make it so complicated? Since my parents divorced, I've said to Tetsurou, multiple times, 'You moronic heartless creature, I hate you the most! Not only have you caused me to lose my mother, my father has died too! Thank god not all of my family members are dead.'"
Mafuyu glared at me with her face flushed red; her hair trembled slightly as well. She then hastily turned away and continued walking forward.
Am I really qualified to say these sorts of things? I couldn't help but think that after Mafuyu shifted her gaze away from my face. After readjusting the strap on the guitar case, which was about to slip off my shoulders, I quickly caught up with Mafuyu again.
After walking a distance of about four train stations, Mafuyu began complaining that her feet hurt. So we walked to a small park next to the railroad and rested on the bench. The park consisted of only a small sand pit, two see-saws and a bench. What a lonely place this is.
"Does your right foot hurt?"
"No, it's both. It has nothing to do with that."
Seemed like the pain was just due to us walking too long. As for me, I was quite thankful for the chance to rest, as the strap of the guitar case was digging itself deep into my shoulder.
I lifted my head to look at the starless gloomy sky, and suddenly, a serious question hit me—what the heck am I doing in a place like this, deep in the middle of the night? What do I plan to do next? I shook my head, stared at my feet and decided to just forget about that question for now.
"My legs always tire easily, and they cramp up frequently."
If so, what's with wanting to search for a corpse along the railway!
"...... Ah, so that's the reason you don't step on the pedals when you play the piano?"
"That has nothing to do with this. In the first place, there is no need to step on the pedals when playing Bach."
"That's not what I meant. I feel you can portray the sustained notes very well even without using the pedals."
"Did you listen to my CD that much?"
"Because people always send them to Tetsurou, I've probably listened to every single album you've released."
They're played by you, so what's with the "disgusting"!?
"It would be great if all the pieces that I have played could be burned."
Just don't record them if you don't want to?
"So you don't like the piano, but are forced to play it?"
"I have never once viewed playing the piano as something enjoyable."
"But you sounded like you were having fun when you playinged Chopin's <Butterfly>?"
"Critics always love to guess the feelings of the musicians—I sometimes wonder if they are idiots or something. I can still play a happy piece even if I'm not feeling so!"
Well...... you're not wrong to say that.
Music is but a series of arranged notes. It's up to the listeners to interpret the feelings hidden within.
"So you hate the piano, and don't wish to play it anymore?"
"I can no longer play anyway. I can only move my thumb and my index finger freely."
Mafuyu lifted her right hand and tried opening her fingers. Her middle, ring and little finger were bent weakly.
"If you're to undergo a diagnosis and proceed with an operation......" Perhaps there'd be a chance for you to recover?
"That is why I am running away."
Mafuyu placed her right hand on her chest and covered it with her left, as if she were trying to protect it.
"That person said his dream is to play Beethoven's <Piano Concerto No. 2>. I have always wondered, why No. 2? It is not a popular piece to begin with."
Beethoven had written five piano concertos. Recent research has discovered that Piano Concerto No. 2 in B♭ major was actually released earlier than No. 1, and it's the least-played piece among his piano concertos.
"I only realized later, after searching through past records, that he had played the other concertos with Mama, and had recorded them as well."
I shut my opened mouth.
I wanted to say, "That's just you thinking too much into it," but I really couldn't bring myself to say it.
"And...... I don't think my hand can be treated anyway. That's what I think."
Using her left hand, she clutched the wrist of her right hand tightly.
"I was made just to play the piano with that person. Once I give up the piano, it is obvious that I wouldn't be able to move. That's natural."
"Then why are you playing the guitar?"
Mafuyu's shoulder flinched as she looked at the ground.
"And you only play the pieces you've played on the piano before! Do you really hate the piano?"
Mafuyu bit her bottom lip as she searched for an answer. She then closed her eyes and sighed.
"Originally...... Back when I first played <Hungarian Dance> together with Mama, with our four hands, I felt really happy. I was only four back then, but we would always place this on the piano and record the pieces we played."
Mafuyu traced out the contours of the sound recorder hanging from her bag with her fingers.
So that really was something left by her mother. And she did say, before, that it was something important.
"But that was only in the beginning. I learned how to play everything later on, but Mama was no longer around, and I was left all alone. All that was left next to me was the piano. After I finished a piece, the score for the next would appear right before me. I had hoped that I could perhaps use the guitar to get that same feeling back, and I was quite immersed in it in the beginning, but......"
She hugged her knees on the bench and rested her forehead on her knees. There was an unmistakable depression in her voice.
"But I became more and more breathless as I played, and yet, it felt painful if I didn't play. I really didn't know what to do. My head was filled with the memories of that person wanting me to play this and that, so what did I feel when I was playing the piano before all that? I can no longer remember, and perhaps, I have already forgotten it somewhere already. Those memories will never come back to me, because I already lost them a long, long time ago. I can no longer...... get them back."
I unconsciously closed my eyes. All I could hear was the painful voice of Mafuyu.
Can she...... really not get them back? If so, then is there really nothing I can do for Mafuyu?
"...... It's because you've been alone for too long. You won't be able to continue on the path of music like that."
Just then, I remembered an answer from a certain famous mystery novel. If someone were to collapse in a desolate forest, would there be a sound? The answer is no. If it doesn't reach the ears of someone, the sound cannot be considered a sound, but rather, a vibration of air.
"I too, have learned that from Chiaki and Senpai. So......"
I suddenly didn't know what I was supposed to say. What the heck am I talking about? I'm the one who gave up! I knew it would only hurt Mafuyu, but I still tossed it away and planned to ignore everything, didn't I?
"Have you...... really decided to join the band of that senpai?"
"Eh? Ah..... mmm."
Right. The bullshit about snatching back ownership of the practice room and upholding the dignity of rock no longer mattered halfway through. All I wanted was to start a band with Mafuyu. If only I could have been like senpai, and just told her honestly right at the start......
"I wanted to ask you to join the Folk Music Research Club if I won. The four of us could then practice together as a band in that classroom."
"Forming a band...... I have never thought of something like that."
The expression in Mafuyu's eyes was as if she were trying to send off the migratory birds flying away in late autumn. I couldn't help but avert my gaze.
"Sorry. I was too hot-headed when I forced you to participate in that whatever showdown. It just feels...... like I've caused you to remember those unhappy memories."
"No!" Mafuyu suddenly shouted. "Nothing of the sort. At that time...... I could actually slightly recall those days when I used to happily play the piano. Also, <Eroica Variations> is one my favorite pieces. The sound of your bass was exceptional—it was as if it had fused together with my guitar to form a single instrument. That was the first time I had experienced those sorts of feelings. It was just like magic."
I couldn't help but slump my head. If I buy the same bass and modify it in the same way, would it be able to produce the same sound as back then? Impossible. A mere millimeter of difference, and any slight change in the voltage, would result in miles of differences in the sounds produced. That ensemble could be considered to be in the realm of miracles.
"That really was like magic. Perhaps, that's what playing as a band is all about?"
"Mmm, I had thought about it a little bit back when we were playing <Eroica Variations>. It felt like my right hand had become normal again, and it was as though I had gone back in time, to when I was playing the piano together with Mama. If that is the magic of a band...... then I wish to be part of it too."
"If so......?" I lifted my head and looked at her.
The tears at the corner of her eyes were reflecting the rays of the street lights.
"But I just can't do it. Things like forming a band with other people......"
"You can't? Why!"
Mafuyu shook her head furiously, as if she were using her forehead to grind her knees.
"I can't. Because I will definitely ruin everything."
"What are you talking—"
"Didn't you throw it away? Because I broke it......"
Mafuyu murmured. I could only swallow back the words that were about to come out of my mouth. I gripped my arms hard.
"I don't quite understand myself...... why I did that back then."
Back then, Mafuyu had taken my bass and slammed it hard against the floor.
"It's that bass's fault for making me recall so many things. I had already erased all those memories inside me! Because..... they're really...... painful......"
Mafuyu barely restrained herself from speaking those words. She gripped her right wrist tightly with her left hand. Perhaps I should cup my ears or something?
At last, she let out a light sigh.
"...... I'm sorry."
There was no need for Mafuyu to apologize. I shook my head.
"I am the one who ruined everything. It's true...... I can't walk on alone by myself."
She hugged her knees and buried her face in them.
"And there is no point in me saying all these. Your bass will no longer come back, and I am already......"
Mafuyu voice was stifled.
I really didn't wish to hear her say such things. Moreover, I didn't follow along just to hear those words from her.
What I can do—
Just one sentence flowed out from my mouth—
"It won't disappear just like that. Let's get it back together."
Mafuyu slowly lifted her head to look at me. Her eyes seemed a little puffy.
"To get back my bass, that's what—the one I threw away. I'll be able to play it once I repair it."
"When did you throw it away? It should have been collected by someone, right?"
"The day before yesterday. It was taken away by the garbage truck."
"Do you know where it was taken to?"
"How would I know? That's why we're going to look for it!"
I stood up, but Mafuyu was still hugging her knees, looking at me with that helpless gaze of hers.
We will definitely find it.