Here's part 4. Enjoy.
I was busy with interviews the next week. The amount of information gathered was enough to get a book published. Professor Katase had agreed that the interviews could be used in other areas, so I compiled all the data and reorganized them for an exclusive column. Since the business card of a twenty-four-year-old industry's ruffian hardly holds any weight, I had to get Tetsurou to introduce me to an established music magazine publisher in order to facilitate my data gathering by investigating under the guise of interviews.
But of course, Kokonoe Hirofume's parents are long gone from this world. As for his siblings...... they were all visibly displeased when I visited them in a sharp suit, and none of them were willing to share much. Looks like Kokonoe Hirofume had indeed cut off all ties with his family.
I received only one significant info from one of his relatives — Kokonoe Hirofume has a relative named Wakida, who is the boss of a small trading company.
"It has been a long time since I've visited the Kokonoe family, so my memories are vague in quite a number of areas."
I approached him at his office, and the grizzled but energetic Mr. Wakida greeted me with a smile all the same despite my obtrusion.
"How should I say this...... that family's a really suffocating bunch! My mother is the youngest daughter in the Kokonoe family, while my father comes from a really ordinary family. It's frightening whenever we paid a visit to the Kokonoe family. As for Hirofume, he hardly visits his old home, so our relatives would go all out to talk bad about him whenever they gathered together."
"Was he really dissed...... that badly?"
"Actually, the flak's directed more at his wife, Rosary. The words used were really grating on the ears. I even heard talks about how she's not human."
I was speechless. It's creepy just how racist some can be.
"The talks became worse when Rosary was pregnant with Tooru. Ooku-sama had even cried for several days and nights, thinking that Tooru may be a cursed child born into the family. It felt like we were watching a period drama, really. After that, my father learned his lesson and decided not to set foot onto the Kokonoe household ever again. In fact, we actually got closer to Hirofume and his wife instead." [TLNote: Ooku information on wiki here.]
I gulped and swallowed the uncomfortable feeling down my throat.
"They said all that just because she is a foreigner?"
"Perhaps because Rosary was ridden with illnesses? I had learned some French in school, so I chatted with her quite a bit — she had frequented the hospital ever since she was a child. Hirofume brought her to Japan and even sent her to a famous hospital here. She felt guilty due to stuff like that, so she always said how things would be better if she wasn't around. Well, not like you can blame her for that......"
So Madam Rosary was that troubled by so many things huh......
A woman being all alone on foreign soil, shutting herself in her room all the time — her only consolation was in the shape of books from her motherland.
Despite my depressed feelings, questions continued to surface endlessly in my mind as I recorded the things said by Mr. Wakida.
It seemed like Kokonoe Hirofume was the first one to sever ties with his family.
If so, then Mr. Tooru's view on things does not quite fit into the picture. That's because there's no reason for Kokonoe Hirofume to force Madam Rosary to learn the piano to gain the approval of his family. If that's indeed true, then what's the actual reason behind it?
That night, I made an international call to Yuri in France.
"It's rare of Naomi to give me a call, and in the end it's just to make a strange request:?"
"Sorry...... but there's no one else I can turn to."
"Whatever it is, I'll do it as long as it's a request from Naomi. However, how are you planning to return the favor?"
"Urm...... what would you like? Hmm...... how about an article on the magazine about your album?"
"That won't be necessary. Oh, I'll be heading to Japan soon."
"Are you happy?"
"Of course I am! It's been a while since we last met!"
"I'm really happy too! The last time we met was November last year!"
It's no surprise, since Yuri is a really famous violinist who's way more busy than Mafuyu. Moreover, he's French, so his activities will naturally be centered around the European region. It can't be helped.
"Then I'll stay at Naomi's home when I'm in Japan. That will even things out."
"Urm, but...... my house is really tiny, you know? And I have no extra futons for guests as well."
"Then I'll just have to sleep with you! I mean, we used to do it all the time!"
Just once, okay!? How's that "all the time"? And we were still teenagers then! We'll definitely fall off the bed if we're to do that at our current age!
In the end, I gave in to the strangely excited Yuri and agreed to him staying at my home when he comes to Japan. Whatever. That's not really a huge price to pay.
I received Yuri's answer at night on the following day.
"Sorry, I didn't find out anything. I mean, she was a patient decades ago, and there's no way they could give me an answer through the phone."
I asked Professor Katase for the hospital Rosary Charlois stayed at when she was in France, and got Yuri to checked it out for me. I was originally hoping for information on her family or her illnesses, things like that. It looks like that didn't work out too well.
There was a moment of hesitation when I thought of a possibility, but I went ahead and asked anyway.
"That hospital...... isn't a hospital for mental health, right? Urm, I'm referring to the quarantine wards."
"Nope. Why do you ask?"
She was frequenting the hospital since she was young, and the Kokonoe family had made her out to be some kind of freak — these reasons caused me think in that direction even though there was no concrete reason to. But then again, I doubt she would have met Kokonoe Hirofume if she was placed in a quarantine ward.
"It's a huge hospital with quite a bit of history to its name, and even has facilities catering towards long-term patient care. I think it's a place for patients with congenital diseases."
Patients with congenital diseases. So it is indeed some sort of disease that will draw strange looks from people huh?
I hung up the phone after giving Yuri a muffled thanks through the phone. The uncomfortable feeling remained stuck in my chest.
In order to research more on Kokonoe Hirofume from a musical point of view, I decided to obtain help from Ebichiri in the procurement of information. However, the person to send two paper bags full of scores and information on Kokonoe's famous works was someone rather unexpected.
"I was about to pick the Mistress up, so I came over while making my way there. At the same time, I am here to check on the dire financial situation of Mr. Hikawa, including the shabby condition of the place you are residing in."
A lady in a classy creamy-white suit stacked the huge pile of documents before my door as she spoke in her usual polite and straightforward manner. That's Matsumura Hitomi, Ebichiri's secretary as well as the butler of the Ebisawa family. It's been a while since I last saw her. It looked there was no change to her inexplicably stern personality as well as her serious attitude towards her work.
"You are not planning to live together with the Mistress in an apartment as tiny as this, are you? May I inquire your future plans for the place you will be living in?"
"Eh? Urm...... w-what?" So even you're asking me stuff like this as well?
"Do you have no plans at all?"
She'll probably frighten the neighbors with a conversation like this so early in the morning, and that's doing it at my doorsteps to boot. But I don't think it's a good idea to invite her into the apartment as well...... I still couldn't come up with an answer even after giving it some thought.
"Well...... since we've not really looked that far into things......"
"I am about to freight the huge amount of the Mistress' personal items from Los Angeles back to Japan, so it will save me a lot of time if you can decide on the details of the marriage as well as the new place where you two will reside in."
Whoa! Why does it feel so real all of the sudden!?
"Urm...... I do mean it when I say I'm not looking that far just yet. It's just as what you're seeing now, I'm not even sure how I should describe my current work; whether it's as a session musician or a magazine critic. Moreover, my income is not stable for now......"
"I am not sure if you have heard this before, but would you be interested in hearing how Maestro Ebisawa proposed to Madam as a reference?"
That was something unexpected coming from Miss Matsumura, so I took a step out of the door, barefooted. Ebichiri was the one who proposed? I was quite interested, but at the same time, I wasn't sure if I wanted to know more. If I'm not mistaken, Mafuyu's mother should be a Hungarian, and she used to be a professional pianist as well.
"Back then, even though the Maestro was just someone new in the scene and had only won one conducting contest under his belt, he proclaimed to his future wife while conducting as a guest conductor in Hungary, 'I may be conducting with a baton that wields little power for now, and therefore may not be worthy of your hands just yet; but just wait and see — in two years' time, I will definitely become a big-shot conductor and make even the famous and long-running orchestras bend to my whims willingly'."
So Ebichiri had his hot-blooded moments as well! Though that was pretty cocky of him.
"The following year, while the Maestro was doing a recording with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, he requested a recording of Liszt's Piano Concertos without the piano purely for personal reasons. Upon receiving the recordings, he gave them to Madam and said, 'You are the only one who's worthy of the solo'."
I was speechless. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is not just a representative of Netherlands, but also one of the top orchestras in the world; and they actually accepted the demanding request made by Ebichiri. Then again, wait...... based on what she had said earlier......
"...... That...... That can't be how he proposed, right?"
"Yes it is. I wonder if it is of any help to you?"
"Like hell it is!"
"Well then, please work harder so that you will become a man worthy of the Mistress, Mr. Hikawa."
I was about to tear from that painstaking effort of hers.
I wasn't sure if it was due to Miss Matsumura's encouragement, but my workload did increase. Following up what happened previously, Mr. Tooru introduced me to more and more jobs. I'm pretty thankful to him for that, but he would grab me for a drink throughout the night every time we were done with our work. He's someone who never gets drunk, so it's no wonder he and Kagurazaka-senpai are drinking buddies.
Thanks to Tetsurou, I'm very used to handling drunkards. However, Mr. Tooru's the type who will never get drunk, so that made it harder for me to deal with. I thought about touching on Kokonoe Hirofume casually when he was in a great mood after a few drinks, but he gave me a punch instead and said, "I said not to talk about my parents again!". His defense was perfect.
Even so, I continued to pursue the subject relentlessly. What I wanted to know most were the things about his mother.
"What has my Ma got to do with you? She was dead when I was still a young child, so I remembered nothing."
"Was this the piece she practiced on?"
I drew out the photocopy of <Fire-thieving Moths> from my pocket and spread it out on the table. Mr. Tooru frowned as he glanced at the notes on the score.
"I can't quite remember! But it's not a song that's as shallow as this."
"Will your father play the piano together with her, or perform a duet with her with another instrument?"
"My Pop's busy hitting my Ma, so how's that even possible?"
I heaved a sigh and removed my palm off the scores.
Kokonoe may be a musician who has created plenty of works, but just like what Ebichiri had said, the works left by him are mostly focused on large-scale orchestra pieces or ensembles, and none of them were piano pieces. Therefore, I came up with the idea that the song might have been a special song dedicated to Madam Rosary — since it's a score which he carries about in his baton case all the time.
"Why are you so fixated on this? You're offered a large amount of cash by those at the college of music?"
"No, it's not about the money......"
I was unknowingly attracted by Kokonoe Hirofume, and became interested in his wife as well. What sort of people were they? What were they thinking? Why were they willing to be wed to someone outside their country? I didn't know the answer to any of the questions. All I knew was, the incomplete flames in the <Fire-thieving Moths> sonata were still blazing.
Yes, it's that song. That inexplicable song which attracted my attention. And not just me, but Ebichiri, Professor Katase and even Mafuyu as well. We could not pry our eyes away precisely because it's in an incomplete state.
Being deep in thought, I was unaware of the fact that Mr. Tooru's hands had stopped as he was flipping through the scores. It took me a long time before I realized he had extinguished the cigarette in his left hand.
I finally snapped back to my senses when I heard the sound of the papers being crushed into a ball.
"Mr. Tooru? Wha—"
Beneath the scores were the interview reports I had collected and organized together. Mr. Tooru shot a fierce glance at the scribbles on the pages. He would crush the paper into a ball and throw them onto the ground each time he flipped a page over.
And it so happened that the contents were about the things Kokonoe Hirofume's cousin, Mr. Wakida, had said. The woman's not human, a cursed child is about to be born — I had written exactly what Mr. Wakida had said. Shit, what the heck am I doing!?
"Ah, urm....... That's...... well......"
Mr. Tooru tore the whole report into two and stood up.
"What? What are you planning, investigating all the shitty details of my family? Are you trying to mock me?"
"That's not what I have in mind! I'm just trying to understand the thoughts of your parents......"
Mr. Tooru took out a ten-thousand yen note from his wallet and slammed it along with the bill onto the table. He then strode out of the bar. The staff and the customers were all fixing their eyes on me.
I slid down my chair and stretched my weak hands as I gently picked up the score as well as the tattered reports. I could taste nothing out of the lukewarm beer while regretting my carelessness.
During the weekend, Mafuyu was finally able to make time and appeared before my door in the afternoon.
"Why have you prepared lunch already?"
Asked Mafuyu furiously while carrying a shopping bag in her hands. The scent of beef stew, which I had began stewing since yesterday, was drifting from my kitchen to the door.
"Urm, because you said you're coming. I thought it'll be great to get it ready so that you can enjoy it immediately."
You could just tell me on the phone that you'll be bringing some food over.
"You'll stop me if you knew I'm planning to cook!"
"Not only will I not do that, I'll even be delighted about it instead! Well then, I'll store the beef stew in the refrigerator."
As I said that, I gave Mafuyu control of the kitchen and watched her from behind with about twenty percent anticipation mixed with eighty percent uneasiness. I've always thought it is bliss to be able to watch a girl from behind as she is cooking, so I was planning to savor the sight in silence. However, I was forced to step in and stop her as she was about to reach for the sugar while she was preparing the potatoes.
Thirty minutes later, there were four large plates of Spanish omelette on the table, which translates to portions enough for eight. Well, it's obvious that Mafuyu's cooking skills were improving — at the very least, the shapes of the omelettes were getting closer and closer to that of a circle now.
"It was way better...... w-when I was learning it from Hitomi!"
So Miss Matsumura was actually pretty active behind the scenes! It looks like she had succumbed to the willful whims of her Mistress and did a crash-course lesson on a dish in just a single night.
"Urm...... so that means....... you've only prepared a single dish, right?"
Mafuyu's face turned red as she shook her hands repeatedly. I ended up taking the stew out again to reheat it. As Mafuyu and I stood side-by-side in the kitchen, I sneaked a glance at the side of her face.
She's not angry with what had happened recently, is she?
Actually no, I did not make her angry — or rather, I had no intention to.
I did not even reveal my thoughts to Mafuyu, and there's no way she'll be the one to initiate the talk.
I have zero idea on how I should be feeling while I am proposing, nor do I even know what marriage is all about. What were Ebichiri and Tetsurou thinking when they proposed? What sort of promises were they planning to make? How was it like for Kokonoe Hirofume as well?
The methods of proposal for the three were just mindbogglingly weird — or perhaps I shouldn't be referring to the methods done by people in the musical world? While thinking about that, I nearly jumped out of my seat when I sent the omelette into my mouth. The insides of the omelette was all burnt, so the onions and garlic tasted bitter as a result.
"S-Stop! Eat this instead, Naomi!"
Mafuyu pushed the plate of omelette which she fried last towards me.
Marriage. Marriage huh...... Will stuff like this happen every night after we're married? I was very worried...... even though Mafuyu shouldn't have realized my uneasiness, the dining table was still shrouded by silence and a burnt smell. I originally wanted to ask Mafuyu the reason behind her sudden desire to cook, but then I recalled the words she had said some time ago.
"Is my presence a bother to Naomi? Is it because there's nothing we can share between us?"
There's no need for her to worry about stuff like that! Why must she find a reason to be together with me? Across me, Mafuyu was mashing up the burnt omelette with her spoon. She then looked towards me with a hesitant look. After a while, she finally spoke reluctantly.
"I know I'm in no position to make any demands...... seeing as because of how busy I am with work, we get little time to meet each other. But......"
Mafuyu's head was lowering bit by bit as she said that. Her words faded into a murmur, causing only a faint ripple on the surface of the beef stew.
Though I had no idea what Mafuyu was saying—
But I could more or less understand her feelings. She's feeling incredibly uneasy. But why is that so? Am I not standing beside her just fine? It's not like I'll disappear and leave her all of a sudden!