Well, I guess this is it for the series for now. I'll be resuming on chapter 2 of Hyouketsu Kyoukai.
Compared to the electric guitar, an obvious advantage of the electric bass is that, unless it's plugged into an electrical source, it can barely be heard.
I bought the bass under Kagurazaka-senpai's persuasions and brought it to class the very next day. My classmates instantly surrounded me. "Just play something, anything." Despite everyone urging me to play, I still gave the excuse, "But this is a bass, so it can't play any sounds!" and escaped. That wouldn't have worked if it were a guitar, so it's great that I had gotten myself a bass—with that thought in mind, I could also console myself slightly for being played at the hands of Senpai.
"But why'd you want a bass?"
A guy asked me something I hadn't really given any thought to.
"Ah, I've been thinking about it for a while. Besides, there's no real need for a reason, right?"
"Hey critic, you better explain it in simpler terms."
"Don't call me a critic!" I took the bass back from the hands of my classmate and placed it back in its cover. Actually, there was no way to properly explain it to them through words alone, but for the sake of the reputation of all bassists in the world, I had to come up with something.
"The few of you, sit over there."
"Yes, Prof Nao."
"Please don't use musical terminology during your explanation."
Ugh, they had actually thought of everything prior to my speech. The few guys sat in seiza around my seat, so I couldn't say anything wrong at a time like this. What to do? I licked my lips and thought about how I should begin my explanation.
"...... Well then, let's start by recalling Retiree's face."
"Don't ask. Just do as I say."
A few of the guys closed their eyes, while the others stared at the ceiling. As he looked like a carbon copy of Mito Koumon, it was really easy to recall our tutor's face.
"Next, try removing the goatee off his face. Done?"
"...... Right, done."
"Ah, that looks like Enari Kazuki when he was still young." [TLNote: 江成 和己, Japanese actor/host/comedian.]
"Enari is still young, alright?"
"Right right. Next, imagine Retiree without hair."
"Prof Nao, is there any meaning to this? Is this some sort of psychological test or something?"
"You'll know soon enough. How is it? Can you guys imagine it?"
"I can, but isn't Retiree's hair quite robust?"
"Compared to the goatee, it's still easier to remove his hair."
"And here's the last step. Remove the contours of his face and imagine what he looks like."
Everyone's face was showing an expression like, "Eh?"
"What do you mean?"
"I don't understand!"
"What do you mean by contours? The ears and stuff?"
"No, not that. It's removing the shape of his face. Imagine his eyes, nose and mouth popping out of a blank surface. Yeah, imagine that."
My classmates moaned sounds of "Hmm, hmm......" one after another. Some of them pressed their fingers against their temples, while others pulled their hair out.
"...... Can't, it's impossible. It's pointless if you remove the contours of his face!"
"No matter how hard I try, that round head of his always appears in my mind."
"Try harder. You're always proudly declaring, 'In my mind, I'm able to remove the swimsuits worn by those beautiful gravure idols, regardless of who they are!' right?"
Urm, you guys don't have to try that hard, you know?
They struggled for about two minutes before giving up, and with that, I presented by case,
"Now, interpreting that exercise in a musical context, the bass is like the contours of a face to me. Understand now?"
My audience still looked very confused.
"It's just like how you guys can imagine songs being played without the guitars or even without other instruments, but not without the bass. Similarly, I can't quite explain why the bass is that important to me."
"Strange. It feels like I understand what he's trying to say, but, at the same time, I don't."
So do you guys get it or not? Then again, it'd be disturbing if you guys did, because I was just spouting nonsense.
"But Prof Nao's really impressive. You have the potential to succeed the arts of your father."
"There's no way I'll be inheriting that!" Why must I allow myself to be told that by my classmates?
And with that, the preparatory bell rang. At the same time, the backdoor of the class—the door closest to the rear of my desk—opened.
Mafuyu stood by the door. Her line of sight first landed on my desk, which was surrounded by several of the guys, then shifted to the guitar cover in my arms. Her face suddenly cringed.
A soft and cold word from Mafuyu was enough to cause the guys, who were listening to my nonsense, to move out of her path...... Oi oi, don't come to my desk, just go back to your seats already!
"Prof Nao......" One of the guys brought his face right next to mine and whispered, "Is that it? Is Ebisawa the reason you picked up the bass?"
"Eh? W-What?" My voice became rather strange.
"You've been going to the courtyard frequently these days, right?"
"I see, so he'll be able to get close to her with that bass of his? That's quite smart of you, Prof!"
The guys stole peeks at Mafuyu's face. Don't gossip when you guys are that close to her!
Because of Mafuyu's hostile attitude, just two days after she transferred here, nearly all the girls in the class had become her enemy. However, none of the guys seemed to mind, and actually continued to worry about her. The ones who showed her the way when we were moving to another classroom, or who lent her their textbooks when she forgot to bring them—it was always the guys.
The guys always gathering around my desk are probably all doing it for the same reason. Guys are really stupid.
"Oh right, Ebisawa......"
One of the brave fellas turned around and spoke to Mafuyu. Mafuyu shifted her gaze from her textbook to his face and slowly said, "Please do not call me by my surname."
"Don't call me by my name either. It's disgusting."
"Mafuyu called me disgusting...... My sole reason for living has been extinguished."
"Don't worry, your face isn't as disgusting as you think."
"Right, my face. Wait, what are you implying?"
Move somewhere else if you guys wanna do manzai. Speaking of which, she did mention it on her very first day here, but does she really hate her surname that much? I had always thought she was just lying, given the circumstances of the situation back then. But why? Did someone bully her in the past and give her the nickname 'Ebimayo' or something? [TLNote: Manzai, traditional style of stand-up comedy in Japanese culture (for those who do not read Onii-ai here). Just like Ebichiri, Ebimayo's a parody of her name, which means mayonnaise prawns.]
"So Ebisawa plays in a band too? Will your piano teacher be mad at you for playing the guitar?"
As he was talking to her with an unyielding spirit, the side profile of Mafuyu froze.
"Then again, you're really good at managing your time, since you can practice two different instruments at once."
"She should be practicing at the same time, I guess? Since the pieces are the same."
"How's that possible!"
Mafuyu shifted her sight back to the textbook. However, I noticed her gaze was slightly blank.
"How did...... you people know?" As she spoke with her head hanging low, the guys gradually quieted down.
"You've been practicing in the courtyard after school, right? We can hear you all the time."
"Ah, it's really famous! Everyone knows about it."
Mafuyu suddenly stood up. Her lips were trembling, and her face was turning green.
"I could be heard...... this entire time?"
Oh, shit. She didn't know? As I turned sullen to brace myself for what may transpire, I softly interrupted,
"Well...... I didn't tell you this, but the soundproofing of that classroom isn't perfect. Sounds can escape through the gaps around the door."
Mafuyu's face became ghostly white in an instant, then turned red. Her lips were trembling nonstop.
I hugged my head and laid it on my desk, in anticipation of her incoming fist, but all I heard was the sound of footsteps running away from me, followed by the sound of the door closing.
An uncomfortable silence shrouded the whole Third Class of First Year.
I lifted my head. Everyone pretended to not know anything, but their gazes were saying I was responsible for all that.
"...... Nao, what are you waiting for? Chase her!"
The guy who had lost his reason to live because Mafuyu found him disgusting, said that to me coldly.
"Because you're in charge of Mafuyu!" Class-rep Terada said that for some unknown reason, and the girls around her nodded their heads in unison with a "Mhmm!" Wait, I'm in charge? What's with that?
"Get moving, before the lessons start! Hurry!"
I had no idea what they were planning, but there's something in this world known as the atmosphere of the situation, something that's hard to resist. Caught up in it, I stood up from my seat.
When I exited the classroom, I nearly bumped into a panting Chiaki as she ran towards me.
"What are you doing? I saw Ebisawa not too long ago......"
"Where did she go?"
"Eh? Ah, hmm, she was just walking down the stairs—Nao? Wait! Nao, where are you going?"
The preparatory bell rang at about the same time I pushed Chiaki aside to run away from the classroom.
Mafuyu had locked herself in the special classroom in the courtyard. Though the door was shut tight and no sounds were coming from inside, I knew it the moment I entered the courtyard, as the padlock hanging on the door was opened.
I stood before the old music building and began to sort out my thoughts. What am I doing? I went along with what my classmates wanted and came out to find Mafuyu, but what should I do? Should I apologize to her? What exactly did I do wrong?
I should just head back to the classroom and tell my classmates, "I don't know where she went," and let things be as they were. However, my legs couldn't move.
Soon, the second preparatory bell rang. I'm surely late for classes now. Forget it, I might as well skip first period! It shouldn't be a big deal to miss a lesson or two occasionally. Moreover, there were things that I'd like to say to Mafuyu as well. I grabbed onto the handle and pressed it diagonally downwards with force.
Mafuyu had stacked three cushions on the table and was sitting on them with her hands hugging her knees. When I walked into the classroom, all she did was lift her face up from her knees.
"It's a waste to use the cushions like that. I brought three of those cushions here so I could lay them out on the desk, side by side, and sleep on them. I'm not joking, so don't stack them up together like that."
Mafuyu didn't change her posture much, but did lift herself slightly to pick out two cushions with her left hand, before throwing them at my face. I threw one of the cushions back and placed the other on the floor so I could sit on it.
"What are you here for?"
Mafuyu asked with a hoarse voice.
"I came here because I want to skip the lessons, but I never expected someone else to be here. Whoa, what a coincidence—though I'm slightly troubled by this."
How do you know I'm lying? Show me proof! You know, proof! But you're right—I'm lying.
"Why...... didn't you tell me?"
Mafuyu stared at the floor and asked in a whisper. I turned my head backwards to glance at the gaps around the door, which were responsible for the improper soundproofing of the room.
"Well, it's because you never asked!"
I was hit by an incoming cushion yet again. Why are you angry at things like that?
"There's nothing bad about the sound going out anyway. It's not like you're doing something to be ashamed of."
Mafuyu tightly hugged her knees close to her chest and curled herself up in a corner of the desk. I can't communicate with her. What should I do?
"You had released CDs of you playing the piano, but you're not willing to let others listen to you playing the guitar? Isn't that really strange?"
"What do you know?"
Mafuyu threw a question that fell softly between us.
All of a sudden—a surge of anger swelled up from within me.
"How would I know!" I turned my sight away from Mafuyu. If I didn't do that, I don't know what Mafuyu would've done should she exhaust her supply of cushions to throw at me. "It's because you won't say anything, isn't it? Just honestly say whatever is troubling you, because I don't know how to read minds!"
It was the same back when we first met, and it happened again on the first day of her transfer. Mafuyu said nothing, leaving me to wonder if I should be a busybody and worry about her. However, all I got were her contemptuous looks, or her complaints about me.
"—If I tell you, will you help me?"
I lifted my head in fright, and stared at Mafuyu. Those teary eyes of hers looked like the water from rivers that flowed into the sea—their colors were dull and gloomy.
"If I tell you everything that is troubling me, will you do something for me? If I want you to swim to America, will you swim there for me? If I want you to chop off your right hand and give it to me, will you chop it off for me? If I want you to die, will you die for me?"
I was speechless. All I felt was a cold chill around me. The feeling was like trying to peek into an abyss during a dark night, when the moon wasn't around, and seeing something that should not be seen from the surface of the waters.
"If you can't do that, then do not speak as you please."
"Urm...... do you really want me to do those things for you?"
Mafuyu shook her head. Seemed like she had secretly cried a little.
"If...... you don't try saying it out loud, then how would anyone know? It's just telling someone about it. There's nothing to lose."
"Then make me go back in time, back to when I first started playing the piano."
"I'm not God, so how could I possibly do that!"
Which means—there must be something troubling her. Why does she hate the piano so much?
"How about this then—please stop following me. You are an eyesore."
I'm not following you! This was the only thing I had to make her understand.
"I've said it many times already: I had been using this place since the beginning. The person who barged into this place was you, right? So I'm not following you."
I glanced at the far corner of the room. Her plain Stratocaster was placed on the stand over there.
I stood up, opened the locker, and took out a towel that had been used for quite a long time already.
"Look here, there are gaps by the sides of the door, right? You have to stuff them up with this towel. It isn't perfect, but you can more or less achieve better soundproofing this way. And also this......"
I took a broom and dustpan from the locker and showed them to her.
"Clean up this place properly. Can't you see how dirty it is along the walls and on the floor? It took me quite a bit of effort to clean this place up to this degree. Remember this: I'm here to get my classroom back. There's no way I'll allow a young guitarist like you, who hasn't even heard of rock before, to continue with that arrogant attitude of yours any longer!"
I spoke all those haughty words in the spur of the moment, and, almost immediately, regretted them a little. Mafuyu stared at me in a dumbfounded state, with her eyes still filled with tears. Not long after, she took a deep breath, and said,
"...... So that's the reason you brought your bass to school?"
She was actually crying like a kid not too long ago, so what's with that annoying expression of hers? Can't I bring my bass here?
"Do you think you can win just by changing to a bass? Idiot!"
"Say what you want. I can't play that well in my current state, but I'll definitely catch up to you soon enough. Well then, let's settle it once and for all with this room as the prize!"
As I said that, I grabbed the broom and pointed its handle towards Mafuyu. I said it! Mafuyu seemed like she could no longer speak a word—she was just standing there stiffly, with her eyes opened wide. I interpreted that as her flinching at my words instead of her being dumbfounded by my actions.
After placing the broom and the dustpan back into the locker, I took out a spray can and placed it on the desk. Upon seeing the spray can, Mafuyu tilted her head cluelessly.
"Yeah. You might find some centipedes in the room occasionally, but it's quite rare to see cockroaches these days."
Not long after I had left the classroom, I heard the sound of the door opening in a fluster behind me. I turned my head around and saw Mafuyu dashing out of the room with a pale white face.
"...... What now! I already left as you had requested, so just stay in there properly. You'll be considered late if you head back to the classroom right now anyway—"
"W-W-Why didn't you tell me about this from the beginning?"
That face of hers, which was on the brink of tears, really made her look like a kid.
"Why? Because you didn't ask!" My answer was the same as before. "You've been in there all this time, right? It should be fine."
My upper arm was repeatedly slapped by her many times. What a troublesome lass.
In the end, we returned to the classroom after first period ended. As Mafuyu was grabbing onto my arms with an expression close to tears, I could only admit defeat. I spent roughly an hour in the practice room killing all the insects I could find, and sealing up all the possible gaps the insects could crawl through with sealing tape.
I didn't think there was much of a point though. Things like centipedes and stuff can easily squeeze through an opening that's only two millimeters wide, right?
"Ah, the Princess is back."
"So you two really came back together huh......"
I felt slightly intimidated when everyone looked at us as we stepped into the classroom. Wait...... princess?
Class-rep Terada walked over, leaned herself against the desk, and said,
"After a round of discussion, the class has decided that we will be calling you 'Princess' from today onward."
Mafuyu's face initially turned ghostly white, but soon became red. I had always felt that, despite her not willing to speak much, one could easily know what she was thinking based on the changes in her expression.
"You don't like it regardless of whether we address you by your name or your surname, right? It's very inconvenient for us to talk to you like that."
"S-So that's the reason......"
A girl next to the Class-rep said deliberately, "If you kneel down and apologize, we won't call you by such an embarrassing name."
"...... No way."
"Oh, I see. Well then, please take care of us from now on, Princess."
"It's your turn to do the duties tomorrow, Princess. Therefore, you must get here earlier, instead of the usual, where you're always nearly late."
Ah, she's about to cry yet again. What's with all that—are they bullying a newcomer? But Mafuyu had only herself to blame for her predicament, so I didn't find her pitiful at all. Then again, what's with the huge difference in the attitudes among the young Japanese these days?
"Ah, if there's anything the Princess needs, you can just ask Nao." That cold sentence from Class-rep Terada instantly sealed my fate without my prior approval. I nearly fell off my chair when I heard that.
"Nao, it's like this."
The guy sitting diagonally in front of me explained.
"We always call a prince or princess 'Your Highness,' right? Do you know why?"
"I don't...... and what's the link between these two things?"
"It means, 'we are the people who are below them and serving them'—like that. As it is rude to speak directly to the royals, we can only speak to their servants instead."
"Ohhh—" "I learned yet another thing today." These moronic guys around me became excited.
"Which means, the servant we're talking about is you!"
"Me? Why?" Despite my protesting by slamming my fists on the table repeatedly, no one was paying any attention to me; the decision was passed by the class in overwhelming numbers, and therefore, too powerful for me to reject. I looked in the direction of my only possible savior—Chiaki. However, all she did was look at Mafuyu and me suspiciously. She then made a weird face before turning around to face the lecture stand.