Dere Mafuyu is best Mafuyu.
Here's the conclusion to the main storyline. I'll talk about what comes after in another post. Enjoy.
As I climbed up the slope located in-between the fields, the scent of grass was becoming stronger and stronger. The rays of the sun were seeping into the ground, and I could hear the sound of the waves coming from a place far behind me.
The path became slightly flatter as I walked into the forest; and the comfortable shadows of the treetops were gently filtering out the sun for me. "Thank god it's sunny"—I thought to myself. It was raining the last time I came here, and pitch black to boot. I had come close to tripping over the tree roots many times back then.
The trucks had rolled out a path in the forest, and the plants at the base of the trees were blooming. Two seasonal cycles had passed since I had last gone there.
Unease slowly crept into me. Is it still there? Does the magical valley still accept visits from human beings?
I stopped in my tracks and leaned against a tree, then took out a torn and tattered novel from the back pocket of my jeans. It sported the signature blue spine of the Hayakawa SF books, and on the cover, there was a sheep standing in the middle of the wilderness amid a sandstorm.
It was a story about a youth that, despite having obtained all the wealth in the universe, still didn't know what he truly desired. So he went to Earth to seek out an answer. Upon arriving there, he met a beautiful cat and traveled to a fake underground city; and in that city, past the corner of the fake Paris thieves' market, stood the store of the Catmaster. It was an extremely old store, but it had the ability to identify the true desires of its visitors. And the name of the shop was...... <The Department Store of Hearts' Desires>.
I rechecked the flyer that was clipped in the book. Everything fits. If this is a message that Mafuyu left for me, and if that magic still exists......
I stuffed the book back into my pocket and resumed walking. The soil felt hard beneath my feet. The air was moist, and the roars of the ocean, combined with the rustling of the branches, sounded like the drizzling of rain outside a window. A bird spread its wings amongst the branches and flew away, its cries streaking past my head. I was praying with every step I took.
The trees were starting to become sparse, and a murky mist was beginning to mix in with the backdrop of the forest. I picked up my pace, kicking up the accumulated leaves on the ground as I began to run. I couldn't hear any music. When I left the forest, my eyes and face were illuminated by the rays of the sun. Lying on the plateau in the middle of the broad valley, was a mountain made up of an unbelievable amount of trash. Derelict cars without wheels and doors; rusty bicycles; fridges that were covered with decomposing leaves; and wardrobes whose colours had changed—everything was piled up in a dangerous equilibrium that had accumulated gradually and that could slow down time.
The roars of the ocean; the chirps of the birds; the cries of the insects—I couldn't hear any of them. Not even the howls of the wind. I stood at the entrance of the valley. The world ends here. I can't proceed any further.
I approached the mountain slowly, careful not to make any sounds. To scale the mountain of junk, I climbed onto the hood of a car, grabbed some buried prefab roofing and stepped on a heavily twisted road sign. The smell of rust, the smell of stale water and the smell of the accumulated years penetrated my nose.
I made it to what looked like the crater of a volcano. A steep slope extended downwards from my feet to the depression at the center of the mountain. I knelt down on a twisted cabinet and scanned the lowland; but a pang of dizziness suddenly hit me, and I almost collapsed, just like that.
There was no one around. The clear sunlight was drying up what remained of my hopes and dreams. I'm the only one here. Also—
The piano wasn't there.
The piano that tightly bound Mafuyu and me together was nowhere to be seen.
In spite of that though, I placed my weak and trembling legs on the metal rack below and began my slow descent. When I reached the edge of the lowland, I saw a black shimmer in-between an old vending machine and a public phone. I scrambled my way towards that gleam, and in the process, tripped a few times and nearly fell.
The piano was buried heavily under a bunch of large trash, and I could only catch a glimpse of a part of its keyboard. It was like looking at the tip of an iceberg. Pushing away the wooden shelf to get a better view inside, I saw that the strings of the piano had almost completely snapped, and that its legs were broken as well.
Two seasonal cycles had already passed, so it wasn't surprising that the abandoned object was destroyed to the point that it was no longer salvageable.
I squat down on the pitted galvanized plate and took out my cellphone to check what time it was. It was way past two, the time of the performance that was written on the flyer.
Why am I so stupid? That wasn't a message for me. It might just be that there's really a concert hall called "Thieves' Market" in Paris. I had lost something that I couldn't bear to lose, and lacked the courage to get it back. What a pathetic person I am, traveling on the trains for hours to reach the ends of the world, only to confirm that she won't be returning to me. It was probably just a coincidence. The sunlight was gently shining on the back of my ears, but my tears couldn't flow out of my eyes as the world grinded to a halt.
I gently caressed the edge of the piano, which looked like it was melting into the ground. Having absorbed the rays of the sun, the piano felt warm. That piano had belonged to Mafuyu's mother, and was the same piano that had helped me find the fragments of myself, as well as my heartfelt desire.
But it was broken now, unable to play any music ever again. The only things left were the remnants of the distant past reverberating fuzzily in my ears.
I want to see Mafuyu so badly. My throat was being seared by my rising emotions.
Then shouldn't I just go and see her?
Let's fly to the country located on the other side of the ocean.
And this time, I must properly say it to her.
I stood up and shook away the sound of the piano in my memories that was echoing in my illusion. As I turned away—
I saw a pure white silhouette on the peak of the mountain of trash.
Slowly, the magic that was shrouding the valley disappeared. The pure white dress and the maroon hair were dancing on a gust of wind that was passing through the mountains.
I couldn't make a sound. It wasn't an illusion. The magic had already disappeared, but Mafuyu was right there in front of me—in reality, standing in a place I could reach with my outstretched hand.
I wanted to call out her name, but all I could utter was a hoarse sound. I could see her sapphire eyes widening. I leapt over a muddy scooter and dashed towards her, trampling over cardboard beer boxes and plastic bottles along the way. When I reached the slope of the mountain, I climbed up with all my might, disregarding the possible danger of a landslide.
My voice finally came out. It's Mafuyu. It is indeed her! She came. We can finally meet. We can finally see each other!
The dumbfounded Mafuyu let out a faint murmur, then snapped back to reality and knelt down. She stretched her sandaled feet out timidly, then jumped onto a children's desk a short distance below her and turned towards me. She was planning to make her way down.
"No, w-wait, it's dangerous—"
While I was hesitating over my words, the drawer that Mafuyu was holding onto suddenly tilted erratically.
The surface of the trash slope began to crumble, and the fridge that I was standing on wobbled, causing me to fall forward. With my legs securely positioned and my arms stretched out as much as possible, I managed to catch the white feather that was fluttering down, and pulled it towards me.
My back crashed into what was probably the boot of an SUV, and coupled with the weight of Mafuyu's body, that collision felt like it had squeezed all of the air in my body out through my nose and ears. The back of my body and the back of my head were assaulted with pain, and my neck muscles twitched as the bone-rumbling sounds of the caving junk continued. That was dangerous......
Mafuyu sat up on my stomach amid the settling dust.
"U-Urm, I was shocked, so......"
"Nah, it's okay." Though I definitely would've died if anything sharp had been behind me. I couldn't move—not because of the pain, but rather, because of the sweet and bitter emotions that were mixed up inside me. I continued staring at Mafuyu as I lay there. Her face, framed by her hair, was colored amber under the rays of the spring sun. She might've looked mature on the cover of her CDs, but that totally wasn't the case here. Those slightly teary sapphire-blue eyes belonged to the girl that I knew very well—the girl that was easily angered, and that loved to cry.
I thought I would never get to see her again. The words jammed in my throat, as well as the boiling emotions surging inside me, were causing my lips to tremble.
"...... I never expected you...... to be here."
That was the only thing I could say. Mafuyu's face gradually turned red.
"W-Why?" She placed her fists in my chest and moved her face close to mine. "The fact that you are here means you saw it, right? My performance schedule. That is why......."
"Eh? Ah, m-mmm."
All I had to do was believe.
"But it said two o'clock on the flyer. And there wasn't anyone around when I came here, so......"
Mafuyu was blushing right down to her ears.
"T-T-Tha...... That is....... two o'clock in France's time zone."
Mafuyu desperately tried to come up with an excuse. France's time zone...... So that's six in the morning?
"...... Were you lost again?"
"I was not lost!"
She hammered my chest. Oh well, whatever. She's only twenty to thirty minutes late.
While I was late a full two years. But Mafuyu still came.
"I-I too......" stammered Mafuyu, with her eyes in tears, "wanted to call you or e-mail you so many times. But, I-I was not sure if you...... so......"
I felt an insurmountable pain in my chest where Mafuyu was pressing her hands.
"So if you had not noticed it, I was planning...... to forget you. It is difficult for me to take a break, and I was not sure when I could come back to Japan, so I begged the publicity department to tweak the flyer a little. B-But what if you did not see it? What if you did not notice it? What would I do? I did think that....... t-there was no need to do something like that, that all I had to do was give you a call. But, because....... you never tried to contact me...... I was scared, I was so scared, but even then, if it was here, if it was this place......"
Mafuyu's voice was about to be swallowed up by her tears, so I rested my hand gently on hers.
"...... Ah, s-sorry."
Mafuyu stood up. Her warmth left me; and I slowly sat up. Is it because she doesn't want me to see her crying? Mafuyu immediately turned her face away when she noticed my gaze, and wiped the tears away from her eyes. Then, she jumped off the boot of the SUV.
"...... Mama's piano......"
I slowly stood up as she mumbled to herself.
Mafuyu was walking unsteadily on the uneven ground, towards the center of the junkyard. The vision of her back seemed unreal—it felt like she would disappear in an instant under the sunlight if I turned my eyes away for even the slightest moment.
Mafuyu knelt before the buried piano. She didn't move an inch, even after I had caught up to her and stopped right behind her. She was trembling.
"...... It will...... no longer play......"
A voice of helplessness.
Music no longer existed there. The magic that had bound us together had disappeared. Reality had returned to the ends of the world, and the place would welcome yet another seasonal cycle. But as time began to tick, Mafuyu and I were the only ones in that place.
So I called out Mafuyu's name.
The kneeling Mafuyu looked up at me and my outstretched hand.
Her slender fingers entwined themselves with mine, and I pulled Mafuyu up. She was standing right in front of me, her sapphire eyes right next to mine.
"....... It was here...... that Mafuyu helped me find my bass."
I was slowly confirming each and every word I spoke.
"You played the song <Blackbird> at dawn when the rain stopped. Do you still remember?"
Mafuyu looked straight into my eyes and nodded.
"That was the exact moment....... I fell in love with you."
I conveyed my words slowly to Mafuyu, similar to how the rays of the sun transmitted their heat to the Earth after traveling a hundred and fifty million kilometers in a vacuum. Her blue eyes looked as though they were melting into the ocean, and her pink lips trembled several times as she tried to say something.
Mafuyu's face turned red again as she said that. But then again, my face was probably just as red as hers.
"I was in love with you...... way before that."
"When exactly?" My voice was trembling. What an idiotic question.
"I do not know."
Mafuyu closed her eyes and screamed into my chest.
"Before I realized it, I was already in love with you. A person like you!"
"...... Urm, well, sorry for that."
"Why are you apologizing?"
Mafuyu hammered my chest a few times, and even headbutted me once. It was actually quite painful, so I lifted my hands to stop her—
But before I knew it, I was already hugging Mafuyu's head and back tightly.
Her soft hair slipped in-between my fingers, and Mafuyu pressed her cheek against the shirt on my chest. She could probably hear my heart beating wildly. I knew I was doing something incredible, but I wasn't about to let go.
In the end—Mafuyu circled her arms around my back as well.
The tearful Mafuyu whispered in my chest.
"I was waiting for you all this time."
I didn't say the word "sorry." Because there was nothing else I needed to say to Mafuyu. She was right there in my arms. I could feel Mafuyu's warmth.
It would be great if we could be together forever from now on.
We left the valley, hand in hand; and when we stepped into the forest, it felt like the place behind us had once again become shrouded in time-stopping magic. But neither of us turned our heads around.
The air in the forest was moist, as though it had been doused by a heavy downpour. It's probably a result of Mafuyu's tears. I could hear the chirps of the birds. They were chatting somewhere in the foliage. Music had returned to our sides once more.
Mafuyu and I said nothing at all as we crossed the forest, making our way back to the small pathway in-between the fields. The feeling emanating from our tightly entwined hands was making me so incredibly happy, I was afraid I would say something stupid if I tried to speak. Most of my attention was focused on stealing glances at Mafuyu's profile. Whenever our eyes met, Mafuyu would lower her head in embarrassment. She was probably thinking the same things as me.
The sounds of an orchestra ensemble rang out all of a sudden when we were walking down the slope. Mafuyu let out a shriek and pressed her hands on the small bag that was hanging off her waist. It was an incoming call—the ringtone was Beethoven's <Piano Concerto no. 2> in B♭ major.
"...... A call? You're not picking it up?"
Mafuyu shook her head.
"It is from Papa, so it is okay."
Really? The ringtone continued playing until it was cut off at the main theme.
"He probably wants me to head back to Tokyo as soon as possible."
"Your schedule's really packed, isn't it?"
"It is okay. I do not want to attend those boring parties anyway."
Mafuyu grabbed my hands again.
"...... Today, the only thing I want is....... to be together with Naomi."
My heart was beating wildly. I had an urge to run down the slope while pulling Mafuyu along with me. I wasn't very successful at calming my heart down.
"Urm, so, you're on a break now? Till when?"
"I will be going to Chicago next week."
Said Mafuyu softly, with her head lowered. But she suddenly lifted her head to look at me.
"B-But, urm, well, I will be back again for a week early this May. And I will be in Japan during the summer for recordings. So we can see each other then."
I nodded my head repeatedly and returned Mafuyu's grip with mine.
"Speaking of early May, we're planning to participate in a live concert that'll span three consecutive days. Will you come and listen?"
"A live performance?" Mafuyu's eyes were filled with unease when she asked, "...... feketerigó's?"
As she lifted my hand and held it in front of her chest, Mafuyu mumbled,
"....... Chiaki and Kyouko...... are they angry at me?"
"Chiaki's a little angry."
Mafuyu lifted her eyes diagonally to look at me. I laughed and swung her arms about.
"Don't worry, the two girls miss you very much. The band has been active the whole time, and we even invited some guest performers recently. Do you still remember who Furukawa is? That guitarist with the really fierce look. Remember how he used to say he wouldn't perform with a band as lousy as ours? Well, he's finally okay with performing with us."
So there was no need to worry. Even if we were separated, even if things had changed, even if we had lost something—
There was nothing we couldn't get back.
But Mafuyu cut herself off and didn't say any more. We had reached the end of the slope and were back on the concrete streets. Shortly after we walked into the residential area, Mafuyu finally spoke again.
"U-Urm, I have bought a new guitar."
I looked at Mafuyu in surprise.
"I got to know a person from Fender in California, so I asked him to custom-make one for me."
A custom-made guitar huh, now that's really extravagant. No wait, hold on, a guitar? Did she just say a guitar?
"S-So that means—"
"I brought it to our villa. Want to see it?"
"Definitely! N-No wait, I do want to see it, but, urm......"
"It sounds a little stiff. I still prefer the sound of Yuri's guitar, so I hope Naomi can help me with that."
I nodded my head vigorously.
Mafuyu lifted both our hands and stared at our fingers.
"I am not too sure if my technique has worsened...... so I hope Chiaki and Kyouko can listen to me play. Is that okay?"
"Of course!" I grabbed Mafuyu's hand with both of my own. "Urm, well, wanna show up at the studio during our practice? No? Ah, but, urm, for you to show up on stage in May all of a sudden, that's just...... In any case, I'll give Senpai a call—"
"No!" Mafuyu grabbed me my wrist just as I was about to take out my cellphone. Our eyes met; and she turned her blushing face away slightly.
"Urm, it is not that you can't, but....... let us leave that for another time...... Today, all I want......"
Is to be with you...... —I couldn't hear the words that came after that.
The sun was about to set when we reached the station. We walked past the bus rotary, down the underground flight of stairs and through the ticketing gates.
As we were walking up to the platform, we saw a small grey dot in the middle of the faraway green mountains. We stopped on the last step of the stairs and gazed silently at the ends of the world, the department store where time stopped.
Then, all of a sudden, the grey dot burst apart, and turned into countless shards that became scattered around the greenish slopes. The shards then made their way towards the blue sky.
It was a flock of birds.
Their formation slowly changed as they sought out the currents that would help them soar into the air. Despite the considerable distance between us and them, it felt like I could hear their cries.
Mafuyu's fingers, wrapped around my right hand, confirmed the presence of the non-existing six strings. Taking a cue from the opening G note that had never stopped, Paul McCartney's voice began to extend into the sunset. I could hear nothing, but I knew nonetheless.
Of course, that bird doesn't exist in this country.
The feather that I was holding tightly, that had finally made its way back, would be flying over the oceans once more. Things wouldn't return to the way they used to be.
But even so—
"Don't ever disappear again."
Mafuyu squeezed my hand in reply.
The illusory six strings disappeared, and the fragments of the song of <Blackbird> that were echoing in my heart scattered into the air.
The flock of birds circled the sky and soared towards a faraway place amidst the remaining sounds. When I turned my head around, I could still see the birds' tiny shadows on the horizon, on that clear divide between the two distinct shades of blue.
Don't turn back, spread your wings and soar away—I prayed. From the warmth that flowed through the tight grip on my hand, I knew Mafuyu was making the same wish as me. We leaned against each other, and watched in silence as our fragments flew past the ocean and away from us.