Here's 19. Enjoy.
I was awoken by the blinding rays shining in my eyes.
Despite wanting to wake up, my whole body was sore. From my neck to my spine, and my waist to my flank—every part was aching. I forcibly swallowed the moan that was about to slip out of my mouth.
I opened my eyes. The light of the morning sun shone in the car from the window on my right. As I endured the pain all over my body, I cringed and looked at the co-driver's seat—Mafuyu was still sleeping soundly as she faced me. Her long maroon hair had spread out messily on the tilted seat. She looked much better compared to yesterday.
I twisted my body around in the cramped driver's seat, stretched my shoulders, and turned my stiff neck. After finishing some brief stretching exercises, I could finally move a little. I gently opened the door and headed outside.
The rain from last night had already stopped, and a thick layer of mist surrounded us. I thought the sunlight was quite intense when I first woke up, but in reality, the sky was barely turning white—it was still rather dark. I took my cell phone out of my pocket to confirm the time. It was only five in the morning.
Still, I didn't have any desire to go back to the car to sleep more.
I had slept last night without thinking too much about things, as I was too tired; but looking back, Mafuyu was sleeping right next to me, and the car was an enclosed space as well—how could I possibly go back to sleep!
I then realized I had to check whether my bass could still be salvaged. I gently opened the backdoor, trying my best not to make a sound.
As I reached for my bass, I suddenly remembered I didn't bring any of my tools with me. I'm a real moron. I didn't notice for a while because I used to carry them by my side all the time. What to do? I won't be able to get the application form inside the bass—did it get wet?
As I was considering looking for a screwdriver in the rubbish heap, I suddenly noticed Mafuyu's guitar lying next to my bass. I had long thought it was a pretty impressive guitar, and had always wanted to touch it. If possible, I hoped to play it at least once.
Since Mafuyu was still sleeping soundly and breathing steadily, I succumbed to my desires pretty quickly. I tossed my bass aside and carried the guitar case out of the car. I tried to close the door as quietly as possible. The car was buried in such a way that it was slightly tilted towards the co-driver's seat, so it was rather difficult to close the door without making any sounds.
I climbed the slope and sat on the horizontally-lying washing machine located higher up. The slightly-damp morning air felt really comfortable.
I opened the guitar case. What lay before my eyes was a Fender Stratocaster, with its beautiful grains and coat of transparent lacquer. This is an old guitar from the sixties, right? It probably cost somewhere around three million yen on the market? Brimming with anticipation, I tried strumming the guitar with my trembling fingers. The rich tone that came out didn't sound like that of an electric guitar.
I sat myself properly on the washing machine and began playing the melody using the three fingers technique, tapping the tempo of the song with my fingertips at the same time. At a place where I could hear the real cries of the birds, I began to softly sing the lyrics, as I became shrouded by the mist. The air of the early morning absorbed my entire singing voice. When I reached the second verse, I decided to raise the volume so my song could reach the birds that might be listening to me singing......
"...... What song is that?"
The voice of a person suddenly rang, causing me to nearly slide off the washing machine in shock. Mafuyu was standing right beneath me, and she was looking in my direction while rubbing her droopy eyes.
Mafuyu made her way through the junk and sat down right next to me. There wasn't much space on the washing machine, so I could clearly feel the warmth of Mafuyu.
"Sorry for playing it without your permission."
"It's fine. What's the name of that song?"
I felt embarrassed all of a sudden, so I stared at my hand holding the neck of the guitar.
"It's a song called <Blackbird>."
"It's a good song."
I was shocked, and lifted my head to look at Mafuyu's face. Mafuyu was tilting her head and looking at me as though she was saying "What's wrong with you?" I quickly shifted my eyes back to the guitar.
"What sort of song is it?"
I had no intention of spouting nonsense this time round.
"...... How much do you know about The Beatles?"
"Not too much," Mafuyu shook her head.
"I see...... alright." I thought for a while. How should I go about telling her this story? "The members of The Beatles were on extremely bad terms with each other when they were recording this song, and were almost at the point of breaking up. And thus, it seemed like the songs in the album were all pieced together only after the members were done recording their voices individually."
And yet, that album is still a classic. Just as Mafuyu had said, regardless of how the critics go about with their baseless accusations, musicians can still come up with their finest works under the worst circumstances.
"It's said that Paul McCartney had recorded almost everything by himself; John Lennon was busy doing the sound collage for <Revolution 9>."
While John Lennon was working on the song of revolution—that he was unable to convey to anyone—Paul McCartney had quietly finished the song dedicated to the blackbirds.
"...... So all this song needs is a guitar to play."
"Mmm, even though it is simple enough that even you can play it, the accompaniment is still very nice to listen to."
I was pissed for a moment, and a wicked idea came to my mind. I decided to try provoking her.
"But you can't do it. You can't play this if your right ring finger is immobile, as the song requires the use of the three fingers technique. Serves you right! If you feel bitter about that, then go to America to get your hand treated before you scramble back here!"
Mafuyu looked at me unhappily. She then snatched the guitar and began playing <Blackbird>—with only the thumb and index finger of her right hand.
She should've skipped some of the notes, right? But still, all I could hear was a playing that could not have been more perfect. Moreover, this should be the first time she has heard the song, no?
After she was done with the first verse, Mafuyu pouted and placed the guitar back on my knees.
"...... Can you not do things that'll make untalented people feel inferior?"
"If it's just something of this level, anyone can play it if they practice hard enough."
Mafuyu got off the washing machine and went to the car. She opened the door to grab my bass, then returned back next to me...... She placed the bass on her knees and quickly tuned the instrument, before playing the G notes with a tempo that urged me to follow.
I immediately began playing from the beginning, coordinating myself to the sound of her bass. Slow down the tempo and follow through with my singing until the end......
The blackbird began to learn how to fly with its torn and tattered wings, as though it had been waiting for this exact moment for all its life, the moment for it to take flight.
"This sounds just like a normal bass if it's not connected to the amplifiers...... How intriguing......"
Mafuyu mumbled to herself when we were done with the entire song.
"But there will still be some changes to the tone if we plug it into the amplifiers, so I'll still have to adjust it. Moreover, the body of the bass is filled with scars and pits from the bumps it received."
Mafuyu looked at me rather uneasily.
"You should...... be able to restore it, right?"
I nodded my head and began to play the prelude of <Blackbird> yet again. Even if our wings are torn and tattered, we just have to wait for the right time for us to take flight.
"Is this...... a song that was written to give someone strength?"
Mafuyu suddenly asked that. I hesitated for a moment before answering her.
"It's said that the song was written for the liberation of black women, and I think Paul McCartney himself said something like that before. However, I don't quite like to think of it as that."
"Because that's just too awkward! Why do we have to think so much about it? Just treating it as a song about a blackbird will do."
"So there really is such a type of bird?"
"Mmm. Its binomial name is turdus merula. It's a small bird full of black feathers, and only its beak is yellow. I've heard that its cries are exceptionally clear and bright. I've seen it in photos before, but there are probably none in Japan." [TLNote: Nao actually called it by the Japanese name as クロウタドリ. But it doesn't sound quite right to say blackbird again, so I've just placed its binomial name there.]
Just then, Mafuyu smiled slightly. That was the first time I had seen her real smile.
"...... But there are. I've seen them before."
I tilted my head.
Mafuyu narrowed her eyes, then prodded my chest with her index finger.
The mist was gradually dispersing, and the cries of the birds became clearer and clearer. The light of the morning shone through the woods, and Mafuyu and the dumbfounded me cast a long shadow, one that stretched all the way to the piano in the middle of the basin.
We spoke not a single word as we made our way back to the train station. My left shoulder carried the backpack while my right hand carried my bass, which was wrapped up in a towel, so Mafuyu had no choice but to carry her own guitar. Our footsteps were both really stable, unlike those of yesterday, when we were stumbling about. The weather was incredibly clear as well, and it made me feel as though I could walk to the ends of the world.
However, both Mafuyu and I didn't ask each other where we were planning to go to next; instead, we walked side by side down the streets of the small town, which had already become dry due to the rays of the morning sun. Perhaps it was because the two of us had some sort of premonition about it?
"Are your legs fine?"
"Mmm, they're alright now."
"Really? It won't turn into a situation where half of your body can't move or something?"
"Probably not. The doctors told me nothing, but I've always felt like the right half of my body disappears when I sleep. Either that, or it slowly sinks into the waters with a gurgling sound. It feels really scary. Therefore, I always sleep with the left half of my body facing down."
That should just be Mafuyu's hallucination or something? Speaking of which......
"But you were sleeping with the right side of your body downwards last night?"
Mafuyu looked at me in shock.
"It's true. You were sleeping facing me."
Why would I lie about things like that!
"To be honest, I've always felt like the right half of my body was buried in a hole, and soon, I wouldn't be able to move my wrist either. If that becomes the case, I won't be able to play the guitar anymore."
I glanced at Mafuyu's right hand as it hung by her side.
"But your left hand can still move? If so......"
I took a look at my right hand.
"If so?" Mafuyu asked. I continued staring at my hand.
"Why don't you learn how to play the guitar with your teeth, like Jimi Hendrix ?"
Mafuyu lifted her guitar case and swung it at me.
"Why can't you say things like 'Then let me be your right hand instead,' or something along that line?"
"No wait! But...... it's my right hand, yeah? I can say that, but I suck at playing the guitar and the piano! I'd ruin your sublime techniques!" I explained as I ran away from her.
"It's the thought that counts! Geez!"
After chasing me for quite a while, Mafuyu suddenly walked away from me in quick steps. I chased after her and hesitated for a moment before saying,
"Oh right, Mafuyu......"
"What?" She snapped, without even turning her head around.
"Do you still remember our bet, about whether I'd find my bass or not?"
"If so......" I pondered for a moment. How should I phrase my words? If I say something like, "Your hand is no longer your personal problem, but a problem of the whole band," Mafuyu would definitely get angry.
"I can still play the guitar for now, so it's fine."
"But after that......"
"I will use my teeth to play. Fine?"
Whoa, she actually retorted like that. Seemed like she was really pissed.
I maintained a distance of three meters while walking behind Mafuyu, and pondered on how I should put it into words.
"I understand, we'll just leave things regarding the band as they are for now, but......"
I guess I'll just tell her truthfully.
"I wish to hear Mafuyu play the piano once more."
Mafuyu didn't stop in her steps or turn around to look at me. She didn't answer me for a long time. However, she did slow down, and finally started walking by my side. Somehow, it felt like she had nodded her head slightly.
In the end, I still missed my chance to say what I wanted to say—to ask her to seek the expertise of a specialist to treat her hand.
However, that was something that only Mafuyu could decide for herself. All I could do was run away from home with her, and perhaps lend her my shoulder once in a while.
The first person to spot us was a young policeman cycling on the road opposite of us. He quickly stopped his bicycle about ten meters away from us, and nearly slipped into the ditch on the side of the road. The young policeman took a notebook out to repeatedly confirm our faces, before taking out a walkie-talkie to report to someone.
"What should we do? Run?"
Even though the policeman had already grabbed me by the arm, I still whispered that into Mafuyu's ear. However, she shook her head quietly.
That was the end of our journey.
While waiting for his superior's reply, the policeman hounded Mafuyu for her signature, and even asked her to sign the police notebook. Hey, is that really okay?
We were then brought to the train station. There were quite a few cars at the bus stop, and a huge group of adults had gathered—they were all faces I hadn't seen before. It wasn't till much later that I found out they were members of the orchestra that had come down specifically to look for Mafuyu, though some cops were mixed in as well. After they had confirmed our identities, the whole group of them rushed up to us with a "Whoa!" which scared the heck out of us.
Miss Maki was among them as well. Oh shit, what's she doing here! Doesn't she need to go to school? Or does she have more time to spare because of her position as the music teacher? She walked up to me with huge strides and a sweet smile on her face, and the first thing she did was award me a slap.
Before I could explain, she slapped me on the other side of my face.
A car came speeding towards the bus stop at great speeds, and even drifted a bit before stopping just as it was about to slam into a police car. The person to open the door and step out of the car was—
Mafuyu murmured that using a voice only I could hear. The person rushing over was indeed Ebisawa Chisato. His shirt was a mess, and his eyes were dark and puffy, perhaps because he hadn't slept all night. His hair was messy, like the mane of a defeated lion.
"So you really came here? What in the world were you doing these past two nights? Think about how worried we all were—"
"...... What about your concert? Isn't it supposed to start today......?"
Mafuyu mumbled as though she were dream-talking. Ebichiri arched his eyebrows in response.
"What are you talking about? How can I carry on with the concert when you're missing? To think that you actually ran away from home!"
Ebichiri suddenly directed his attention at me, and pounced on me.
"Was it you? Were you the one who led Mafuyu away—!"
He grabbed me by my collar and shook me repeatedly, but in a daze, all I could think was, "Ah—what, so he's a typical father who worries about his child too." I may have even smiled while thinking that. It suddenly felt like Ebichiri's furious roars were something trivial to me.
"What were you thinking! How are you going to take responsibility if anything happens to Mafuyu—"
Suddenly, Mafuyu came in-between her father and me and pushed us apart. I fell to the floor and landed on my butt, due to the sudden push, and all I heard was a loud, sudden *pa*.
Mafuyu looked in disbelief, at the hand she used to slap her father—the right hand with the immobile fingers. Ebichiri, with his face swollen from the slap, was stunned for a brief moment. A surge of anger reappeared in his eyes, and he slapped Mafuyu back. Just as Mafuyu was about to fall on me, due to the force of that slap, Ebichiri quickly grabbed her by the shoulders to prevent her from falling.
"In any case, apologize to everyone here!"
Ebichiri dragged Mafuyu to the center of the crowd, and all I did was blankly stare at her back. Is this bad habit of immediately giving up hereditary?
After Mafuyu and I were brutally lectured by the three policemen in charge, the rest of the searchers gradually began to leave in their cars.
Mafuyu directed a glance at me as she was escorted into the car by Ebichiri.
The expression in her eyes was no longer filled with dark clouds like before; instead, it was a little happy, but a little lonely as well—I don't really know either.
Ebichiri then popped his head out of the window of the driver's seat and said,
"You come in as well! I'll give you a lift."
The back door of the car opened, and I was really grateful for his offer. Even though the atmosphere in the car would probably be really awkward, the idea of not needing to spend the next few hours riding a train home was indeed rather enticing.
"Sorry, Maestro Ebisawa, but this person will be taking the train back with me."
Miss Maki's cold voice came from above my head...... Damn, she's really scary. I didn't have the guts to turn around to look at her.
Ebichiri nodded his head and pulled up the window. Hey, don't agree to it that easily! At least insist on it for a while?
However, the Ebisawa father and daughter pair drove away just like that, leaving me by myself in the wake of the exhaust. The other cars began driving away as well. As I looked at the car plates passing by me one by one, even though my feelings were no longer the same as they were back then, what I was thinking certainly was.
No, I can't let her go just like that.
I hadn't given her the application form for the band yet. Even if she had already decided to go to America, and wouldn't be returning to our school—
Even so, the exhaust drifted further and further away from me, and all that was left in the end, were the faint sounds of the waves of the sea.
There was no other person at the bus stop. I was left by myself yet again.
And oh, wasn't a person behind me, but a demon.
"Well then, Nao. I have plenty of things to talk about with you. You should've more or less expected this, right?"
Miss Maki said that in a terrifyingly kind voice, while lifting me up by my collar with her crazy strength. All I could do, aside from sighing, was sigh even more. And with that, the journey of us running away from home came to an end.
And that means, despite me coming up with excuses like wanting to go to the toilet or wanting to buy a drink—I tried coming up with all sorts of reason to escape—I still couldn't flee Miss Maki's interrogation.