Nao confirmed for newtype. Also, what sort of bet is that? He really has nothing to lose, though I'd lose if I were him.
After searching through the district office, the library, and the works progress administration office at the cultural center, we only managed to find three operators with addresses similar to that of a company. That wasn't a surprise though, as it seemed like the majority of people in the recycling industry worked alone.
"How should we go about asking them after our call connects? It's illegal for them to collect the junk, isn't it?"
Mafuyu sat on a chair in the works progress administration office, and asked me weakly.
"Hmm...... you're kinda right......"
If they really had removed the large-sized rubbish, they probably wouldn't tell me the truth anyway; and even if they had taken it, it wasn't like I could just barge in and ask for it. In the end, all I could do was walk out the corridor with a brochure and the photocopied details with me. I switched on my cell phone. Whoa! Most of the missed calls were from Chiaki; she had even sent me a message as well. Tetsurou had also called. I could only pretend to not have seen those things for now.
So how should I go about confirming it?
An idea suddenly popped in my head: all I had to do was ask if they had collected a bass; then, wouldn't that narrow down the places I'd have to search? I made up my mind and dialed the very first number.
"...... Mmm, hello...... There's something I'd like to ask...... Right, mmm...... Electric bass."
It was really quite troublesome to ask the same set of questions six times. Moreover, aside from that whatever-agency, the rest of the numbers were all cell phone numbers. I kept hearing the noisy sound of exhaust, the sound of cargo or something rumbling about, music that was so loud that the sounds were distorted, and the broadcast "This recycling vehicle will collect all electronic trash for free." The people who picked up the phone were probably the truck drivers themselves.
After hanging up, I walked back into the reference room wearily.
"So did you find something?"
"Mmm...... All six said they didn't collect a bass."
"So...... that means there may be other operators that that mister does not know of?"
If so, then there really wasn't a single clue left. It may have been someone pretending to be the official operator, driving everything away first before deciding what to do with the trash. Regardless, we were at a dead end.
The office lady at the cultural center was beginning to be suspicious of us, so we decided to leave the place quickly. The skies were gloomy and filled with thick layers of dark clouds.
I sat on the pedestrian fence and shared a bagel sandwich—which we had bought at a convenience store—with Mafuyu for lunch.
"If only we had some sort of clue......"
I murmured, swallowing a gulp of canned coffee after to wash down the food particles in my mouth.
"Hey, why are you trying so hard to find it?" Mafuyu asked, as she lifted her head to look at me. "Are you that concerned about what I said? Just forget it! We are currently fleeing from home! Just throw away everything and run away! It's not like we can find it anyway."
I kept staring at Mafuyu's guitar case. Though I couldn't quite explain it to her......
"I'll definitely find it."
"You are just being obstinate!"
And so are you!
"Then how about we make a bet!"
Mafuyu's eyes opened wide when I said that.
"...... What are we betting?"
What are we betting huh? Hmm...... I fell into silence for a brief moment. I actually just said that in the heat of the moment......
"Well then......" I shifted my gaze to the asphalt and pondered for a while. "If I find it, you have to join the Folk Music Research Club. The winner wasn't decided back then, so you can consider this the play-off."
Holding the sandwich and the oolong tea in her hand, Mafuyu lowered her head and said nothing for a while.
I somehow felt that the person next to me had nodded her head ever so slightly.
"In return....." Mafuyu suddenly raised her head. "If you cannot find it, then you'll have to listen to everything I say."
"Everything..... you say?"
"You'll have to help me with my luggage for life, and...... you will be in charge of collecting money with a hat."
Isn't that how things are already? No wait......
"What's with me collecting money with a hat?"
"Because we'll have to come up with ways to earn cash! So......"
I really wasn't sure how serious she was about all these things.
"So we'll have to play the guitar by the roadside to earn some cash; then, we will go to one unfamiliar city after another via the train......"
Mafuyu's voice became softer and softer, as if she were dreaming. Even though it was quite pathetic for me to do so, I still let out a laugh. I began to feel that that sort of life wouldn't be too bad after all.
"But won't I need an instrument too?" I interrupted, half in jest.
"But you are really bad at playing. It'd be better for you not to play if we want to earn some cash."
I threw the coffee can into the rubbish bin with all my might. I suck at playing, so sorry about that!
"But you can consider singing? I have never heard you sing before."
"I humbly decline."
Mafuyu turned her head around in shock as she heard the strange sound that came from my mouth. She nearly dropped the sandwich she had just taken a bite out of on the floor, as she was holding it with her right hand.
"What? Is there something?"
"A song! I've found a clue."
Mafuyu tilted her head as she couldn't figure out what I was saying. I took out my cell phone, but hesitated for a while when I saw the image on its LCD display. Am I really gonna do this? I'm currently running away from home, yeah?
The problem was, if I gave up that tiny clue I had, I couldn't come up with anything else. Moreover, I didn't have much time left on my hands. My bass was probably on the verge of being crushed.
I dialed the number of my house.
"...... Tetsurou? Mmm, it's me."
"Oh, it's you! Breakfast was really delicious! So bagel sandwiches still taste nice even after they're chilled!"
"Yeah, mmm......" For a moment, I thought of something: could this fella not have realized I wasn't at home for most of the day, and that I didn't attend school today?
"Oh, what are you doing now? Did something happen? The school and Chiaki both called me earlier trying to look for you, yeah? I didn't see you yesterday when I returned home either. I thought you had run over to Misako's, because you missed the embrace of your mother, so I called her. However, she said it was impossible for you to be looking for her, and had even asked me not to call her anymore—even though she's actually still reluctant to let me go......"
Tetsurou was the same as ever. No, he had gotten even worse.
"Well......" I took a gulp before continuing on, "I ran away from home."
I could somehow feel Mafuyu's eyes widening as I said that.
"...... So even Nao is running away from me...... No, I sort of realized that yesterday, but I didn't want to believe it......" Tetsurou's voice sounded a little choked up. "Look, I'm sorry. I'll never puke on the doorsteps in my drunken stupor ever again, and I'll clean up my room properly. I'll never sing <Aria> naked after a bath. Let's start over again, alright?"
"Quit saying such disgusting things!" If you want to say those things, say them to Misako! "It's not that. It has nothing to do with Tetsurou. In any case, I don't have much time left to be chatting with you!"
"Eh? Wait, hold on, don't tell me your dying words, Nao! I don't wanna listen, I don't wanna!"
"Shut up! I'll apologize to you as many times as you wish after this, so just answer my question for now. Tetsurou, you should've been at home the day before yesterday, right? Did some trucks collecting large-sized trash for free pass by our house that day?"
What followed was a long silence. I turned around to look at Mafuyu, who was staring at my cell phone uneasily, and made a gesture to signal it was okay.
"...... Large-sized trash?"
"Those trucks that circle round and round while blaring that irritating music."
"Ah—yeah, yes yes yes."
Tetsurou sounded like a patient who had slowly woken up from his dreams.
"Hmm, it probably came during the day? I remember turning up the volume of the sound system by a notch, as the truck was really noisy."
My hand that gripped the cell phone was trembling nonstop.
"So it did come? Then......"
My palm was wet from my sweat, so I switched the phone to the other hand.
"Then, was the truck playing any sort of music?"
This time, there was no hesitation in his answer; he sounded rather certain.
"Oh, yes. Vivaldi."
I sprang from the pedestrian fence.
"Thanks, Tetsurou. This may be the last goodbye, so remember not to drink too much, and eat more vegetables. Take care!"
I immediately hung up after hastily saying that, and switched off my phone.
I then grabbed the luggage off the ground and slung the guitar case on my back once again.
"What's going on?"
"I have a clue now!"
I picked out one of the many leaflets given to me by the mister at the treatment plant. During one of the calls, I had heard something among the background noises—Vivaldi's <The Four Seasons>—the first movement of <Spring>. Mutou's Engineering Firm! I was really lucky, as he was the only operator—out of the six—that I had managed to get the address of.
I had actually managed to connect to the thread of the faintest possibility. I began making my way towards the train station, and all I heard was Mafuyu scurrying behind me in her haste to catch up.
Mutou's Engineering Firm was located about two cities away. After taking the train past four stations, we still had to transfer to another train and travel for another three stations before we arrived. It was already four something in the afternoon when we reached the place. Why did they travel so far to my house to collect junk? If not for the guy at the treatment plant, it would've been impossible for me to locate this place.
The city where my house is is not highly populated, nor is it bustling with life; but if I were to slightly exaggerate, this place was totally desolate. Even though it was separated by a river, the plot of empty space in front of the station—filled with weeds—stood out exceptionally. The noise from the Pachinko parlors further brought out the sad loneliness of the place.
Mafuyu hadn't spoken since a while back.
"Are your legs fine?"
She would definitely nod her head fervently if I asked her that; however, anyone could see that her steps weren't stable at all. I was a little worried, so I tried slowing down my pace as much as possible to match hers. The only problem was that the situation didn't allow us to walk at a leisurely pace.
We stopped at a book and stationery shop in front of the station, and checked the maps to confirm the location of Mutou's Engineering Firm. It was quite a distance away from the station.
It was partially due to Mafuyu not being able to walk too quickly, but we finally arrived at the place after thirty minutes. It was a narrow road that two trucks could barely drive through side-by-side, and on both sides of the road were old houses lined up together in a row. Mutou's Engineering Firm was located in one of those buildings. It was a two-story building that appeared as though it were cut straight out from a black-and-white photo. I didn't even have to see the rusted signboard to know it was an engineering firm. It seemed like the entire first floor was used as a parking area, as well as a working area—a purple colored truck was parked at the side, and the air was filled with the smell of burnt metal. Deeper in, was a heap of things that looked like either tools or junk, but I couldn't quite see it clearly, as it was already getting dark.
"It's this place?"
The lights were switched on in the tin hut on the second floor, which appeared to be the office; however, there was no one in the working area. I hesitated at the gate for a while. What should I do? Should I directly head to the second floor and spell out everything truthfully? The other party might play dumb in response. Is everything that was picked up really stored inside?
"Wait here for a while, Mafuyu. I'll go take a look."
I placed the luggage next to Mafuyu's feet and walked into the parking area. The smell of metal became heavier. To the side of the truck was a drill and lathe, as well as household appliances such as an old television, fridge, and microwave.
I began searching for traces of my bass in the rubbish heap in the dark—I couldn't find it.
A voice suddenly came from behind me, causing me to turn my head in shock. I spotted a burly man who had the sleeves of his T-shirt rolled up to his shoulders. His expression didn't look too friendly.
"What do you want? It's dangerous around here, so don't enter as you please."
"Urm, well......" The guitar case was about to slip off my shoulders, so I slid it back into place. "May I ask...... if you collect any electronics...... and stuff?"
"Yeah I do...... but what do you want me to collect? Not everything's free."
"Ah, no, I'm not asking you to help me to collect something...... I just want to ask if you had collected some large-sized rubbish from my house the day before yesterday? The address is No. 6, Second District, Town K. It was placed together with a television...... it was a bass......"
In the end, I asked the guy about it directly. Even though I couldn't see the guy's face clearly, as he was standing in front of the faintly shining street light, whose rays shone in my eyes, I could still detect a change in his expression.
I unconsciously retreated a step back.
"Urm...... you see...... I accidentally threw it away as large-sized rubbish by mistake......"
"How the hell would I know! We don't collect things that aren't required of us, and moreover, what reason would we have for running to a place that's two cities away? Think about that!"
That quick denial only further confirmed my doubts. I didn't mention which city I lived in when I gave him my address. This guy probably knew the surrounding area near my house like the back of his hand, so he immediately knew which city I was talking about after hearing K Town. But there was an even greater possibility.......
It was probably this person who had taken away the rubbish without any prior permission.
"...... But, my family members said they've seen this truck before?" I wove a lie. The man's expression changed, and looked as though the gum he was chewing on had turned into a caterpillar. He stared at me fiercely for quite a while, then spat a mouthful of spit next to my feet.
"So then? What do you want?"
"...... I just want it back."
"I don't know what you're talking about!" The man began to play dumb—seemed like he was set on feigning ignorance to the end. "Bass? We do collect the typical guitars, and sometimes we accidentally picked up a bass or two as well, but we toss them away immediately."
"...... Where do you throw them away?"
"I don't know, I'm not the person in charge here. Now just scram!"
"Please, may I know where you throw them away? Please tell me!"
"Didn't I already say, I don't know! Stop creating trouble for me!"
The man spat yet again, but this time, the spit nearly landed on my shoes. He stomped his foot on the sandy ground, then tramped his way up the stairs to the office. Then, the loud sound of the doors slamming—as if he were trying to break the doors—reached me. I was frozen in place for a while.
I was left alone in the dark space, which was still filled with the smell of metal. A heavy feeling of fatigue suddenly entered my shoulders, and it felt like my muscles had kinked up.
I had already come here—I had actually chased all the way here—
But my clues were dead once again.
I no longer had the strength to even walk.
*Sha*—I could suddenly hear a footstep. I lifted my head and saw Mafuyu dragging the luggage over. I forced a smile at her. I had said, many times, "I'll definitely find it," but the result was actually something like this—it just felt really embarrassing.
There was nothing I could do. I didn't manage to reach my destination. It somehow felt like I had been repeatedly doing this all this while.
Suddenly, Mafuyu stretched out her not-very-agile index finger and pointed it at the parking area.
I raised my head and looked in the direction she was pointing.
Half of the purple truck was hidden in the shadows.
"Somehow, it feels like I've seen this vehicle somewhere before."
I stared at her for a while before turning my attention back to the truck.
Just then, a flicker of light flashed in my mind.
I had an impression of it too.
I too, had seen that truck before.
I know this vehicle, so I must've seen it somewhere before. It must've passed by me somewhere. Where was it? Just as I was trying to remember, the side profile of Mafuyu's face appeared in my mind. Why? Why did that strangely-colored truck remind me of Mafuyu? When exactly did I see it? When, where—
I do know this truck—because I had seen it with Mafuyu before.
On that day I first saw Mafuyu, we had brushed by this truck.
At a faraway town next to the seas, in the silent forest within the mountains.
"...... Do you really think this is the truck we saw back then?"
Mafuyu didn't answer me, but I wasn't waiting for her answer either. We had no other options, as this was the only clue left.
Mafuyu and I looked at each other and nodded at the same time.
If so—then let's get moving.
We walked out of the engineering firm and traced our steps back to the train station.
Towards <The Department Store of Hearts' Desires>.