Happy new year. Enjoy.
The slow, wobbly train we took to the beach was the last train of the day, which meant we wouldn't be able to return home that night. As we walked along the wrinkled roads, which appeared similar to the skin of old people, a gush of wind breezed past us; it carried the smell of the sea and the rain. We hadn't noticed, but the sky had already turned dark; however, it was still filled with gloomy clouds. It looked as if a gentle prod with the fingers could cause the layers of clouds to break, flooding the lands with rain.
After passing by the residential district, we came to a small trail that led uphill. Mafuyu was already breathless from all the walking; she had to stop around every ten meters to take a short rest, bending her back slightly and resting her palms on her knees.
"That's why I said you don't need to force yourself to come with me."
I had no idea if it was because she was gasping for air, but Mafuyu's reply was extremely short. Speaking of which, you should've worn clothes that's easier to move around in if you're running away from home, yeah? The last time I saw you, you were wearing the same fluffy dress.
What should I do? I can't possibly leave her here by herself, right? "Do you want me to carry you piggyback?" If I dump the guitar and the luggage, I should be able to do so, right? Though walking uphill would be really tough.
"I would never do something as embarrassing as that. I'm fine."
Mafuyu's shoulders were heaving up and down, but she still forcibly answered me.
"You won't collapse like you did last time, right?"
"I said I'm fine!"
However, I still helped support Mafuyu until we reached the fringe of the forest.
The guitar was hanging on my right shoulder, the luggage on my left, and Mafuyu's right arm was slung over my neck. With all that weight pressing down on me, I couldn't even straighten my back. Yet, I felt like I was on a high, and that feeling surpassed all the fatigue I was supposed to be experiencing. What the hell is wrong with me?
"Isn't it heavy for you?"
The stubborn Mafuyu was leaning half of her body weight on me, walking mostly on a single leg. She asked me that worriedly, but I never replied. Instead, I sung <Hey Jude> from The Beatles. And any time you feel the pain, hey, Jude, refrain; Don't carry the world upon your shoulders—those were the lyrics of the song.
I could hear the laughter of Mafuyu next to my ears.
"You are better off singing. It's much better than your bass."
Shut up! You don't have to care.
The weight of the luggage wasn't too bad—the biggest problem we faced was poor vision at night. There was no proper road in the forest, and even though the trucks had sort of rolled one out, it was still filled with roots, which were easy to trip over. Before boarding the train, we had bought a torchlight from the convenience store; it served as our only source of light.
Mafuyu and I had nearly tripped a few times, but the other person would always support the falling person with all his might. If the two of us had really fallen down, we probably would not have gotten back on our feet anytime soon.
The sounds of the waves of the nearby sea had infiltrated the dark forest, and sounded like the quiet sobs of a few thousand people. The night was especially dark, due to the cloudy skies, so we weren't able to see the roots on the ground properly. Even if the end of the forest—which led to the mouth of the ocean—was just a few meters away from us, we probably wouldn't have realized it and would've walked on anyway, only to fall to our demise. We were fumbling through the darkness for nearly the whole route, and could faintly hear the rumbling sounds of thunder from faraway.
Even so, when we reached our destination, the two of us halted our footsteps and lifted our gaze off the ground at the same time.
Even amid the dark night, we could feel that the forest had come to an end.
"This place is indeed something special," I thought to myself. The outline of the layers of junk seemed to give off a faint glow of light.
<The Department Store of Hearts' Desires>.
The place that had gathered many torn and tattered wishes.
The place was surrounded by silence, as though it had been shifted to an alternate dimension. However, the place would occasionally be shaken by lightning—which would light up the whole place in a flash—followed by the sounds of thunder.
When we saw the entrance of the junkyard, we leaned against each other and just stood there for a long time.
It was too big. I had to dig out a tiny instrument from this mountain made up of tons of rubbish heaped up together—it suddenly felt like I wouldn't be able to find it even if I spent my whole summer looking.
"...... Are you really going to find it?"
Mafuyu asked softy. I nodded my head silently, and removed Mafuyu's arm from my neck before making my way to the mountain of junk alone. Since I was planning to find it, and was already here, there was no point in me being dejected forever. It wouldn't do if I didn't start searching.
If it was thrown away here the day before yesterday, the bass should be somewhere close to the entrance. I flashed the torchlight at the foot of the mountain and began scanning the gaps in-between the junk, which consisted of derelict bicycles, vending machines, Pachinko machines, grandfather clocks and more.
I inadvertently turned my head around and saw Mafuyu sitting on the luggage, gazing at the mountain of junk with a tired expression.
I'll just let her rest. As it was something I had lost, I had to be the one to find it.
How long did it take me to walk around the foot of the mountain once? I really didn't know. When I returned to Mafuyu's side, I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open. The light from the torchlight was much weaker than before, and my hands were covered with filth.
"Finding it is impossible......"
I heard Mafuyu's voice, so I switched off the torchlight and sat down next to her.
"I've only...... walked around it...... once."
My throat was parched, so I could barely make a sound.
"And it looks like it's about to rain! Even if it really is here, you will not be able to repair it if it is drenched by the rain."
"That's why I have to find it as quickly as possible!"
"Why? I don't get it. Why are you so persistent about it? I-Is it because I said I like the tone it produces? But...... those words......"
"Because it's a really special bass."
I replied with a hoarse voice.
"Even though it's neither expensive nor rare, I changed its pickups, modified its wiring, shaved it with a file, and even installed a tuning circuit—all so that the bass could match the tone of your guitar. The tone of that bass was created by me, so it's a unique bass."
I could almost hear Mafuyu holding her breath.
The promise between Senpai and I was in that bass as well.
I would not have thrown it away if that bass was not important to me.
"Moreover...... we haven't looked inside yet."
A drop of rain fell on my face as I stood up.
It was raining. I had to hasten my pace.
I stepped on the roof of the derelict car and began scaling the slopes with a *krakaka* sound coming from my feet. If it took me that much time to look through just the foot of the mountain, how long would I need to comb through the whole mountain? Moreover, it wasn't like I was guaranteed to find it; I didn't have any definitive proof it was thrown away here.
It wouldn't do for me to just let myself be drenched by the rain either.
*Giii—* the sound of metal rubbing came from behind me. I turned my head around. On the trail I had walked on was a white silhouette, which seemed to almost be blown away by the wind.
Mafuyu had followed me.
"What are you doing!?"
As I had reached the crater of the mountain first, I stretched out my hand and grabbed Mafuyu by her wrist, pulling her to my side. Mafuyu had nearly fallen down the mountain, due to her unstable footsteps and her weak right hand. After much difficulty, she finally got on the slanted industrial-use refrigerator and said, while panting,
"I'm going to help you find it."
"You don't have to, and we only have a single torchlight anyway......"
"I want to help!"
I heaved a sigh and directed my attention back to the center of the mountain of junk. As I looked at the giant swamp of darkness before me, I couldn't help but feel overwhelmed with a sense of helplessness. I actually had to look for my bass in this nightmare of junk, this huge piece of land before me that I could never wake up from.
I shone the weak, untrustworthy rays of the torchlight towards the valley and suddenly saw something reflect. I stared at the thing carefully, with the torchlight still shining at it—it wasn't the sharp reflection of metal, but rather, a much softer reflective surface. Mafuyu realized what it was before I did.
"...... It's still there!"
Her voice was as disoriented as her breathing.
Mafuyu made her way down the basin. She first stepped on the edge of a protruding cupboard, then grabbed onto a half-buried metal desk with her left hand, moving downwards slowly and carefully. I followed Mafuyu hastily, while remembering to use the torchlight to illuminate the path for her.
The grand piano located at the basin was more slanted than when I first saw it. The cover was already torn off and had slid to the side. How many storms had it been through already? I shone my torchlight at the interior; the still orderly strings were surrounded by filth and decaying leaves.
I lifted the key lid and gently pressed the keys.
A surprisingly clear sound stirred up waves of ripples in the swamp of darkness. But that was all there was to it—the echoes disappeared in an instant. So the resonance back then was really just my auditory hallucination—or not?
"Why can it still make sound despite being in such a dilapidated state......"
Mafuyu said next to me, with a voice close to crying.
Probably because we were at <The Department Store of Hearts' Desires>? Because this was a special place that fulfilled the true wishes of people who had come from faraway places.
Mafuyu stood before the keyboard and began playing every single key, starting from the lowest A. It started off as a series of slow and sturdy steps, then gradually changed into light springy hops, before finally streaking past like a flash of lightning—the five fingers of her left hand climbed all the way up to the highest C.
She didn't miss a single note, and every note was clear and penetrating.
The lingering sounds of the piano shrouded us like mist beneath the moonlight.
"Why...... We easily found something I no longer want, but why can't we find the thing that you are looking for?"
Mafuyu mumbled with her head slumped low, as she held onto the edges of the piano. Was that a raindrop that fell on the keyboard, or was it something else? I really didn't know. It just felt like the junk beneath my feet was noisily responding to the brief sounds of the piano, the piano that, for an instant, had broken the silence.
That feeling—it was just like the tuning of the orchestra prior to the start of a performance. The oboes would begin by playing an A, and the violinist concertmaster would follow with the same note. The rest of the orchestra would then begin to tune themselves to the pitch of that tone.
So—they'll only respond to Mafuyu?
I suddenly remembered something.
If this was really a special place—
And if it could really fulfill my heartfelt desire—
I spoke with a tight voice. Mafuyu raised her head to look at me.
"Can you play the piano for me?"
"Just play something, anything. Ah, no, try playing songs that require you to use the white keys more. Can you please...... do that for me?"
Mafuyu was dumbfounded. She stared at her right hand for a while, before lifting her head to look at me again.
"It's fine if you just play with your left hand."
Because it had to be Mafuyu who was playing.
"If Mafuyu's the one playing, I think it'll probably respond to your calls."
Mafuyu slowly shifted her gaze from my face to the keyboard of the piano.
It was something she had already abandoned.
I didn't wait for Mafuyu's reply, and once again, scaled the slope formed by layers of rubbish. Opposite of the basin just so happened to be the highest point of the mountain of junk—a peak consisting of a heap of cars.
Right when I reached the highest point of the mountain—
The sounds of the piano came flowing from beneath me.
The five separating chords disappeared into the darkness, and began spreading outwards bit by bit as they began to change form, just like a flock of birds riding on a gust of wind.
Book 1 of <The Well-Tempered Clavier>—Prelude and Fugue No. 1 in C major.
That was the very first article in the piano scriptures left by Bach.
The prelude was like a fragile crystal, created by stacking layers and layers of tones together.
When she played the final chord, the crystal shattered instantly—the bright sparkling shards scattered all over the mountain of junk. Every single piece of junk seemed to be awakened by Mafuyu; they were all raring and ready to sing.
I sat on the engine cover of the derelict car, then closed my eyes and listened carefully.
Mafuyu's fingers weaved out parts of the main melody of the fugue. A second voice, followed by a third, soon joined in the lonely song of prayer at dawn. Under the lead of the piano, the junk buried within the valley began to resonate—the rich sounds of the string instruments; the flutes and trumpets; the crisp rings of the tambourines.
The fourth fugue flowed next.
But how? Mafuyu's right fingers shouldn't be able to move. I turned my head around in disbelief, but all I could see was a bottomless pit of darkness. The sounds created by the piano were like waves clashing against each other, but I had no idea where they came from. Could she be playing the four voices with just her left hand, using some technique I didn't know? Or did I just fill in the missing parts with my memory and auditory hallucinations?
I didn't know. All I could do was continue searching for my bass, before Mafuyu's magic disappeared.
I dove into the sounds that filled the atmosphere and held my breath as I went deeper and deeper. I pried apart the arguing viola and cello and continued diving deeper into the sea of the low-pitched sounds. I plunged both my hands into the ocean bed to search for a single sound resonating with Mafuyu's piano—that obscure and tiny sound.
I found it.
That location was pulsating each and every time Mafuyu's fugue slid down the slope of the low-pitched notes.
It was where the heart was located.
I opened my eyes wide. Despite being surrounded by darkness, I could see that place clearly. I slid down the slope of derelict cars and crawled along the ridge of the mountain of junk. Finally, I could feel the pulse on my palms, the pulse supporting the faraway footsteps of the fugue. It was located along the inner slopes of the mountainside.
Right between the oil barrel with a hole in its side and a small car without wheels, I found it.
I stretched my hands into the space between the two pieces of junk and gripped the neck of the bass. I could feel the strings vibrating in resonance with each and every note Mafuyu was playing. That was definitely not my auditory hallucination, as my bass was really trembling to the sound of the piano.
I found it. I finally found it.
I pulled my bass out from the junk. The grey body of the bass was covered with scratches, and the four strings were still vibrating slightly in response to the sound of Mafuyu's piano. I could clearly see traces of the damage that the bass sustained when Mafuyu slammed it against the ground that day.
I suddenly remembered the words of the mister at the rubbish treatment plant: "Remember to give your bass a lady's name after you've gotten it back." But that was impossible—I only realized it after regaining what I had lost. I looked at the bass in my hands breathlessly—
It was like a small part of me that I had lost, so there was no need for me to come up with any other name for it.
"...... You really found it?"
Mafuyu stared at the Aria Pro II in my hands in disbelief. She was waiting for me next to the piano this whole time.
"I said I'd definitely find it."
My voice was still shaking when I replied to her, as I was still unable to believe it myself.
Mafuyu took the bass from my hands. She stared at the long scratch on the body for quite a while, before caressing it gently with her fingers.
"I'm sorry...... It must have hurt, right?"
"Urm, you don't have to apologize......"
"Ah! It's not like I'm apologizing to you!"
Mafuyu turned away from me while hugging the bass in her chest.
"...... Thank god."
The magic seemed to have dispelled the instant Mafuyu mumbled that. A loud crash of thunder came rumbling, and huge drops of rain began to fall on the junk, making *pita pita* sounds.
"It's raining. Let's go inside! Where's the luggage?"
"Ah, we placed it at the forest there, right? I'll bring it here, or else your guitar will get wet as well. Go inside and wait for me."
"Where is inside......?"
I pulled open the door of a car located on the slope, then grabbed Mafuyu by the arm and shoved her inside.
"I totally did not notice that there was such a big car buried here."
Mafuyu said that as she sat in the co-driver's seat. "I found it during my second time here." My hair was still dripping wet when I answered her. As the interior of the car was surprisingly clean—to the point that no one would realize it was the inside of a derelict car—I would occasionally come in here to rest.
Mafuyu slowly stretched her body to the back of the car, then returned to her seat holding a towel.
When I was running back to the car after grabbing the luggage at the entrance of the valley of junk, the sky suddenly began to rain heavily, as though its bottom had been removed. To prevent Mafuyu's guitar from getting wet, I sheltered it beneath my body, resulting in me becoming drenched instead. I gratefully took the towel from Mafuyu and dried my hair with it. A surge of overwhelming sleepiness assaulted me when I leaned my back against the seat, but I forced myself to sit up straight by grabbing onto the steering wheel.
"...... Just sleep if you are feeling sleepy."
Mafuyu murmured beside me.
"Eh? Ah...... I'm not...... mmm."
"I'm this tired even though I didn't do much, so you should be worse off than me, right?"
"...... I never thought you could be that considerate towards others."
"I am really worried about you! Idiot!"
The towel was snatched away from me. Mafuyu forcibly turned her body away and curled it against the co-driver's seat.
The rain was getting heavier and heavier. Being in the car—that had more than half its body buried in the junk—the echoes of the rain sounded really intriguing, just like the static noise of a television.
What time is it now? I didn't even have the strength to take my cell phone out to check the time.
I was so tired it felt like the bones in my body would shatter at any moment.
However, before I succumbed to sleep, there was something I had to ask Mafuyu, no matter what—it was about the piano I had heard earlier, the fugue right after the prelude.
That sound...... Let's cast aside the prelude for a moment—it's impossible for the fugue to be played by a single hand. Could it be...... that Mafuyu's right hand could move at a time like that?
Mafuyu's shoulders were rising and falling rhythmically. I could even hear slight breaths coming from her. In the end, I swallowed my question.
The only thing I was certain of, was that my bass was currently lying on the backseat of the car, together with Mafuyu's guitar. That was the only thing that wasn't imaginary, because I had definitely gotten it back.
If so, then nothing else mattered anymore.
I shut my eyes and allowed the sounds of the rain to continue roaring around me.
It wasn't long before I sank into sleep.