Ah, I remember playing the bass of Stand by Me on my bass clarinet back in the days when I was in my school's concert band.
I grabbed my bass and escaped from the classroom immediately after school, heading straight towards the roof. Once I got there, I saw a girl in her uniform sitting on the wired fence, looking towards the sky. Her hair was caressed by the winds, and she seemed to be in a pretty good mood. It was Kagurazaka-senpai.
"Isn't that a little too slow, young man? The after-school bell already ended."
"No, it's Senpai who's too early......"
Lessons were still ongoing, so how could she get here before the bell finished ringing?
"The melody of the time signal at the factory opposite of us overlaps with the chimes of our school at this time, resulting in a coincidental and intriguing polyphony. I really hoped you could listen to it, young man."
"Haa." Speaking of which, it's a little too dangerous for you to be sitting at such a high place, right?
Senpai jumped down from the fence and landed right in front of me.
"Have you decided to join our club?"
"Well......" I removed the bass that was slung across my shoulders and leaned it against the fence. I was slightly hesitant with my words. "I'll need your help to learn the bass, but as for joining the band......"
"Why?" Senpai arched her beautifully-shaped brows.
"Because I just want to win back that classroom so I can listen to my CDs. I'm not playing the bass for Senpai's sake."
"But you came here quickly according to my instructions."
"That's simply because I'll need Senpai's help if I want to teach Mafuyu a proper lesson."
"So by needing my help, you're referring to me teaching you how to play the bass. You're using me just like I'm using you, right?"
The way she put it was rather blunt, but I still nodded my head honestly. If it meant winning against Mafuyu, I couldn't care less about my image.
A smile appeared on Senpai's face.
"Mmm, I see. You no longer have the expression of a loser."
Her smile wasn't as theatrical as usual—instead, it was an extremely natural smile. I was shocked.
"Isn't this fine? I've already predicted that you'll be joining us anyway. So let's begin!"
Senpai squatted down and took out a bunch of stuff from the backpack on the floor: a mini-amplifier with batteries in it, the cables for the amplifier, and replacement strings for the bass.
"...... But, why do we need to practice on the roof?"
"Young man, what do you think is the first step in training for the basics of bass?"
She directed the question at me as she took the strings out of a bag and unwound them.
"Hmm—isn't it practicing the finger crab walk?"
It's a sort of repetitive practice of the basics. The player sets a fixed tempo and begins pressing on the frets in order—moving from the index finger to the little finger—then plays out each scale in order. Because the left hand moves horizontally inwards little by little, some people call it the finger crab walk. Sounds noobish, but it covers the basics of guitar playing. However, Senpai shook her head.
"There's another thing that needs to be done before that. It's the reason why I called you up to the roof."
Senpai pulled the string tightly by its ends.
"I've set up a tightrope from here to the roof of the opposite dormitory using a string. You shall walk on it to the other side of the building."
I was stunned. I nearly dropped the bass as I was taking it out from its case.
"You can't be a bassist if you can't entrust your life to the strings. I'll be here praying for your safety. You'd probably die if you fell off, so you better prepare yourself mentally first."
"No, no no no, what the heck are you talking about?"
"My my," Senpai shrugged.
"To become a bassist, it is necessary for you to undergo special training that puts your life at risk. You mean you don't know? Even the most famous bassists of Japan had undergone all sorts of training with their lives on the line. For example, they'd knock their head repeatedly with a tin can, or expose themselves to the blazing fire of a gas explosion...... and so on."
"So the famous bassists of Japan whom you're referring to...... are?"
"The deceased Ikariya Chosuke." [TLNote: Wiki page here]
"The Drifters is a comedy group, isn't it!?" I slammed the bass case against the ground. [TLNote: It's the Japanese band/comedy group, and not the English one.]
"The Drifters is a band as well! They were the opening act for The Beatles' concert. That's really rude of you, young man."
"I know that, so stop trying to change the subject!"
"The thing about the tightrope was obviously a joke. The first thing you should do is change the strings of the bass. Since the instrument has been in the store for quite a while, the elasticity of the strings has gradually slackened."
T-This person is just......
I didn't think there was any point in saying anything, so I just changed the four strings in silence.
"The real reason for me calling you up to the roof, is that!"
Kagurazaka-senpai pressed against the fence and pointed downwards. Without even looking at where she was pointing, I understood what Senpai was referring to—as the sounds of the guitar entered my ears. The classroom that Mafuyu practiced her guitar in was right beneath us.
Then again, I had taught her how to soundproof the room with the towel, so why could I still hear the sounds of her guitar? The carefree melody was Ravels' <Pavane for a Dead Princess>. Was it due to the shock of our classmates addressing her as 'Princess'?
"It was seven days ago."
Kagurazaka-senpai leaned her back against the fence and gazed into the sky.
"I was skipping classes starting from the very first period, and stayed here till school was over, listening to the sounds of the streets."
What's this person in school for?
"Then, the sun gradually began to set, and just when it felt like it was about to rain, the sound of that guitar came. It was Book II of Bach's <The Well-Tempered Clavier>. However, she skipped the fugues and played only the preludes. I was so pissed I didn't notice it was already raining—I sat down and continued listening."
"You'll catch a cold like that......"
"All she played were the preludes, right up to No. 24 in B minor—it was sweet torture. Then, I heard the door opening, so I snuck a peek at the room and saw a beautiful girl walking out. Her hair was a clear maroon color—it was just like frozen maple syrup. That was enough for me to fall for her."
The bass slipped off my knees and fell to the ground.
"But Mafuyu's a girl?"
"So what? I like beautiful things. In my eyes, gender doesn't matter. Why do you think I allowed Aihara Chiaki to join the band as our comrade? Because she's cute."
"Please don't say such shocking things nonchalantly."
"In any case, I never expected her to be able to play the drums that well in less than a year."
"Chiaki would cry if she heard that from you."
"No problem. I'll tell Comrade Chiaki about my tastes unreservedly."
"So everyone really does think you're someone who'll get her hands on whatever she wants?"
I was shocked speechless. I never thought she'd be a person like that. I should just learn bass by myself—it's still not too late for me to turn back. I began to tune my bass while thinking of that.
"However, Ebisawa Mafuyu didn't listen to a single word I said. Also, based on my detailed observations, for some unknown reason, you're the only person in this school whom she'll converse with."
I jumped in shock and lifted my head.
What appeared before me was that destructively cute smile of Senpai's, which she had only used once that week.
"Therefore, young man, I need your strength."
I had no idea why, but I couldn't look straight into Senpai's eyes—all I could do was shift my gaze back to the bass in my hands. That was the first time someone had said that to me in my entire life. No, wait a second, calm down and think about it properly. Senpai said herself that I'm just a pawn to be used by her.
"So your actual plan is to gather a bunch of cute girls, right? It's not really about the band."
I voiced the doubt within me, but all Kagurazaka-senpai did was tilt her head and look at me with her eyes blinking repeatedly.
All these conversations I had with her weren't just hallucinations of mine, right? That thought suddenly flashed past my mind.
"Young man, do you know why humans are born into this world?"
What's with the sudden question? How could I possibly know!
"The answer's simple. Humans are born into this world for love and revolution."
Suddenly, the wind breezed past us, lifting Senpai's long hair. I nearly fell over, despite only feeling a faint gust of wind on my shoulders. Why's she saying all this? Do I harbor some misunderstanding about what life is all about? These questions appeared in my mind for a very brief moment.
"Lev Trotsky...... you probably don't know about him, do you?" [TLNote: Or better known as Leon Trotsky]
I no longer had the strength to shake my head.
"He was the second-to-last revolutionist! He fled to Mexico after losing to his comrade, Joseph Stalin, in a political battle. He died before witnessing the start of the revolution of the world. However, his misfortune was not because Stalin was not by his side......"
Senpai took my bass away from my hands blankly and plugged it into the amplifier.
"His misfortune was that Paul McCartney was not by his side. The last revolutionist, John Lennon—he was lucky to have had Paul McCartney next to him."
Senpai suppressed her overwhelming emotions and began to pick the strings with her nails. A series of intense and out-of-tune sounds blared from the amplifiers, stimulating my ears. I couldn't understand at all—how could the thick strings of the bass produce such a high-pitched sound? She was playing the prelude of The Beatles' <Revolution>. It's the song of revolution written by John Lennon, and it's a song that's widely misunderstood.
"Love, revolution and music are inseparable in my life. The strength to push for the never-ending revolution; the strength to find the Paul who belongs only to me; and the strength to convert these thoughts into songs that I sing—there is no difference between the three. Young man, are you satisfied with the answer I gave you?"
Is your answer even directed towards my question......?
"Ah, I'm totally clueless about what you're trying to say."
Just as I was about to voice some of my thoughts, Senpai knitted her brows and shook her head, mumbling, "My, my."
"Can't help it then. To put it in simpler terms you can understand, it's like this: aside from gathering a bunch of cute girls, I'm serious about forming a band as well."
"Then just say that right at the start!" I banged the case yet again.
"It's better to be a little more poetic."
"You always treat others as idiots as well, don't you Senpai? And stop with that proud look of yours—I'm not praising you."
"Young man, your reactions are quite interesting. Come here."
Senpai was smiling bashfully. Come here? Be slightly more polite, will you!
"Well then, let's modify the bass. I'm quite troubled by your knack for going off-topic." Me? It's my fault? Just as I was about to speak, Senpai suddenly returned the bass to me.
"We'll have to create the sound before you practice. See, I've brought all sorts of pickups here. You have your tools handy, right?"
Senpai took out a few guitar parts from her backpack. A pickup is something that captures the vibration of the strings. By changing these parts, the tone of the instrument can change significantly. Other modifications include changing the internal wiring and etc., with the most extreme being punching holes in the guitar itself.
"....... You mean, we're going to modify the bass right now?"
"That Aria Pro II of yours is a cheap bass, but I specially chose it in consideration of the timbre of Ebisawa Mafuyu's Stratocaster. However, that's not enough. This bass is unable to create the tones that offer a perfect response to her guitar."
Senpai pointed beneath the fence. A series of glamorous rapid strummings of the guitar, played by Mafuyu, came from that direction. I see, so that's the reason for summoning me to the roof?
Senpai and I repeatedly pondered on how to modify the bass. It was really interesting, and it just so happened that I was good at it as well.
"...... The sounds of your bass are already comparable to those of the bass of Greg Lake."
After two long hours, Kagurazaka-senpai took the completed bass—amid the heaps of wood shavings, metal bits, and pieces of snipped strings—and said that with praise. I was slightly embarrassed by that.
"Why don't you work on my Les Paul as well? I want to make its tone slightly richer."
"No way, I don't have the guts to work on that high-end guitar."
Senpai cracked a laugh and began clearing the tools and rubbish.
"Try to connect your bass to the amplifiers as often as possible when you're practicing, so you can feel the sounds with your body and recall them when you're playing in an actual performance."
I nodded my head and, once again, plugged my bass into the mini-amplifier. The clarity of the bass was totally different from how it was when I first bought it. This was to match the clean timbre of Mafuyu's guitar, which she played with a mechanical precision. If you ask me, I'm quite confident in my modifications as well.
Since the moment Senpai unreasonably forced me to buy this bass, I had never quite felt the instrument was mine. However, now, it really felt like the bass was covered in my sweat from the last ten years of use—I could use it comfortably. It was my partner that I had created from scratch. I could finally begin practicing.
"Of course, I won't be making you practice basic things repeatedly. It's something necessary, but you can practice that on your own at home. It may be quite sudden, but I'd like you to play a song for me right now."
Senpai placed a hand-written score right before me.
"Do you know this song?"
I nodded in reply. There was no title on the score, but after a glance, I knew straight away.
"I won't deny that the melodies of a bass aren't that attention-grabbing. There are almost no songs that people can recognize purely by bass alone; however, there is one exception, which is this. Therefore, I think all bassists should start with this song, and end with this song as well."
The song is Ben E. King's <Stand by Me>. Bum, bum, badabum, bum...... that's the bass rhythm—it's true, two verses are all it takes to revive the tune in your memory.
"Then pace yourself to the metronome and play the song! Keep playing till night has come and the stars are up, alright?"
After she was done singing the lyrics, Senpai gave a wave before opening the door and leaving. I heaved a sigh, sat down on the floor and picked up the guitar.
Though Senpai was always surprising me, I had never once thought she'd make me play a song this soon.
Hey! Ain't you gonna Stand by Me?
About an hour into my practice, something suddenly felt out of place. Initially, I couldn't pinpoint what that feeling was.
It wasn't until I lifted my fingers off the strings and stopped the metronome, that I finally realized—
I could no longer hear the sound of Mafuyu's guitar. I lifted my head and shot a glance at the clock on the wall of the walkway—it was almost six. Mafuyu would usually play till it was about time for school to end, so she shouldn't be home yet. Perhaps she went to the toilet or something?
I increased the tempo of the metronome slightly and started playing from the beginning again. This time, I hummed the lyrics as I played.
However, the rhythm of the lyrics is different from the rhythm of the bass, which made it difficult for me to play. My fingers stopped playing yet again, due to that out-of-place feeling I had felt earlier.
The door of the roof should be closed, and yet, it was slightly ajar. I leaned my bass against the fence and walked to the door. Upon opening the door, I saw a frightened Mafuyu standing on the other side. She took a step back, but missed the steps and nearly fell backwards down the stairs. As her hands were waving wildly in the air, I quickly grabbed her by her shoulders and pulled her back up.
"...... What are you doing here?"
After much difficulty in steadying herself, Mafuyu brushed my arms off her shoulders. She turned her head away quickly and answered,
"It felt really noisy up here."
I glanced at the bass behind her in slight shock. She heard that? But I didn't make much sound to begin with.
"Why are you practicing in a place like this?" Mafuyu glared at me. She seemed to be rather unhappy.
"Didn't I teach you the method to soundproof the room using the towel?"
"If I did that, I wouldn't be able to escape fast enough if something appeared in the room."
If something appeared in the room?
"It's....... when something...... appeared in the room...... or things like that."
Mafuyu lowered her head while speaking vaguely.
"Ah, things like centipedes or cockroaches?"
"Wa! Wa!" Mafuyu cupped both her ears and stomped on my foot a few times. It hurts! What the heck are you doing!
She turned the situation into something rather stupid, so all I could do was head back to my bass. For some unknown reason, Mafuyu was following me.
"It's out of tune."
Mafuyu puffed her cheeks and pointed at my bass rather unhappily.
"The third string is too flat. I was really uncomfortable when I heard it just now. You mean you didn't notice?" I checked my tuner, and it was indeed slightly out of tune. She could hear it from three floors beneath me? She's that good?
"Let me borrow it."
Just as I was trying to tune it, Mafuyu suddenly snatched my bass away. She quickly gave the tuning pegs a few twists to tune the instrument, then passed the bass back to me.
"Thanks for helping me tune it! I'll pay you ten yen each time you do that, so please help me out in the future."
I suddenly remembered something, and began playing <Stand By Me>.
"What is this song? I've heard it somewhere before," Mafuyu asked. Impressive, it was exactly as Senpai said. As a girl who had been carefully nurtured under the influence of classical music, this was probably the only song Mafuyu could recognize just by the bass alone.
"It's a song called <Stand By Me>."
"...... What is the song about?"
"What's it about huh? Hmm...... It's a story about how a person was walking along the railway, when suddenly, he found a corpse next to it."
Mafuyu knitted her brows.
"...... Are you talking nonsense again?"
"No, I'm not lying." Though that's a summary of the movie with the same name, and not the lyrics of the song. [TLNote: Talking about the film 'Stand by Me'.]
Not long after, Mafuyu sat next to the door of the roof and listened to my raw bass techniques. Then again, how long are you planning to stay around here? It's really tough for me to play when you're around, so please go back already? Perhaps it was because Mafuyu was staring at me, but I played the notes wrong quite a few times.
"Are you happy?"
Mafuyu suddenly mumbled those words. I stopped moving my hands and lifted my head.
"...... Are you happy playing the bass?"
I had no idea how to answer her sudden question.
"Hmm, it's not too bad. It's rather nice to be able to gradually play the songs that I like."
Mafuyu didn't seem the least interested. All she did was stare at the floor.
I asked her the same question, "You're not happy when you play the guitar?"
"Not the least bit."
"If you're not happy, why don't you stop playing then?"
"Why don't you just die?"
I gripped hard onto the neck of my bass and took a deep breath. Alright, it's fine, don't get angry. There'll be no end to this if I take every word of hers seriously. I have to be more mature than that.
"If you're not happy, then why do you still coop yourself up in the practice room every day to play the guitar? Just go home and play your piano already!"
"It's none of your business."
It has plenty to do with me! You've snatched my place of rest away from me, no?
"Then...... can you not lock the door with a padlock? You go straight home right after school on Fridays, right? Can you let me use the classroom on that day?"
"How did you know I go straight home on Fridays? Pervert!"
That has nothing to do with me being a pervert or not. I can easily see that with my own eyes.
"No! Don't ever come close to me!"
Our conversation ended like that.
I continued practicing quietly, but Mafuyu had no intention of leaving. She was walking to-and-from the door, hesitating on whether she should head back downstairs. What's she doing?
Mafuyu jumped in shock and turned around.
"Are you calling me that as well?"
"Then how do you want me to address you? Ebisawa?"
She shot a glance at me angrily.
This time, she shifted her gaze diagonally downwards and nodded her head while biting her lips slightly. So she more or less accepts it if I call her by her own name? But it's quite difficult for me to address her that way!
"Just tell me honestly if there's something you want to say. I told you that yesterday, right?"
"Why are you acting all high and mighty?"
Do you have any right to be saying that to me? However, just as I was about to stare back at her, Mafuyu looked somewhere else. It was as though she was saying something awkward—she murmured softly,
"...... There's something moving behind the cabinet with a buzzing sound."
Hmm? Ah...... so that's the reason she came here?
"Don't you have the insecticide?"
"I sprayed it in the room before running out of there in a hurry."
Man, that's not the way you use insecticide! These aren't those boron insecticides where you smoke them to death.
"It won't work if you don't spray it at the insect directly!"
"You're asking me to do something like that?"
Mafuyu said that as she clenched her teeth with tears in the corners of her eyes; her body was trembling slightly. Is that the way to ask a favor from someone? Then again, if I leave her alone, Mafuyu will never use that room again, which means victory will be mine?
"If you don't like it either way, how about returning the room to me like a mature lady?"
"You scumbag!" Mafuyu said to me while holding back her tears, "Whatever, I get it. I will do it myself."
Mafuyu slammed the door, and from the sounds of her footsteps, it sounded like she was walking downwards. Go ahead and try your best!
I continued to play <Stand by Me>.
Still, I was quite curious about how it ended, so I looked down through the fence.
Mafuyu was standing rigidly outside the practice room, with her left hand clenched into a fist. After staring at the handle of the door for quite a while, she reached out for it, but stopped almost immediately, as though all the strength in her body was drained out of her. She stood there motionlessly, and her back was trembling nonstop. She looked really pitiful, so I switched off the power of the amplifier, placed my bass down, and got up.
So that buzzing sound wasn't actually caused by an insect. After reaching the courtyard downstairs, I walked into the practice room. When I tried shaking the cabinet, something that was stuck behind it suddenly fell on the floor with a *pa*. It was actually the front cover of Iron Maiden's first album. The buzzing sounds were probably made by the rustling of the pages on the front cover, caused by the vibration of the cabinet due to the sounds of her guitar. [TLNote: Iron Maiden's an English heavy metal band]
I originally thought I had lost the front cover of the album forever, and was thus really happy when I managed to get it back. I delightedly showed Mafuyu the cover, which features the grotesque image of a zombie—needless to say, she sprayed the insecticide at my face while crying and yelling at the same time.