Here's chapter 3. Enjoy.
It was said that Kagurazaka Kyouko had been in three different bands before she even reached the age of sixteen.
The first band was formed with her fellow club members during her first year of middle school. The bassist was a guy who planned to play through songs only strumming a single string, while the drummer couldn't even desynchronize his hands and his feet. To solve that, Kagurazaka Kyouko thought up an ingenious arrangement, asking the girl who was supposed to be the lead singer to help out with the snare drums on the side. However, the girl complained, saying she couldn't sing if she did that. So, Kagurazaka-senpai took over and became the lead singer instead—she practiced really hard on the three Green Day songs they had chosen for the performance. However, the day before the school's anniversary, the girl said she wanted to sing as well, and accused Kyouko of being sly; the girl ended up not coming for the rehearsal. The bassist and the drummer sided with the girl and blamed Kyouko as well. On the day of the performance, Kagurazaka Kyouko went up on stage with her guitar by herself, and began her solo act with <Desperado> by the Eagles. Even though her performance was very well received, the band was dissolved the very same day.
The second band was formed during the summer of her second year of middle school. It was a disco ensemble that consisted of all girls. Kyouko joined the band because she was intrigued by a recruitment poster they had posted up at the live house she frequented. The band had advertised itself using the phrase "The Michael Jackson of Gospel Rock," and she was attracted by the weird but interesting concept that was written there. So even though she was slightly concerned about the age difference between herself and the rest of the band members, she still applied. Surprisingly, she was extremely popular with the rest of the members, and they immediately decided to hold a live performance. However, during one of the celebration parties, it was revealed that Kagurazaka Kyouko frequented the houses of the various members to spend the night, and had even bathed and slept together with them. With that, the gathering turned into a messy fight that even the fans got involved in. The only person who escaped from all that was the very person in question, who happened to be in a sober state back then. The band was dismissed the very next day as well.
The third band was formed after she had just been promoted to her third year of middle school. She was invited to join the band by the shop assistant of the music store she frequented. The rest of the three members were all guys, and the average age of the band members was very high—one of them was already married. However, the band performed mostly British hard rock, which she had happened to be obsessed with at the time, so she immediately agreed to join. However, that band was dissolved after three months.
"...... And that means the Folk Music Research Club is your fourth?"
"Wait, hold on a second. Don't just skip the important part and be done with it." Sitting opposite of Senpai, I quickly asked, "Why did the third band dissolve?"
As I had raised my voice unintentionally, everyone at the McDonalds—including Chiaki, who was sitting next to me, as well as Mafuyu, who was diagonally in front of me—stared at me.
"Hmm? I can't tell you about the third band. Oh right, you know about Nagashima's Musical Instrument Store, don't you? The place I'm working at now. The owner of that store was one of the three members of the band, and the incident concerns his reputation."
I couldn't help but feel a chill run through my body. I then thought of Senpai's impossibly expensive guitar. According to Chiaki, Senpai managed to obtain it by discovering the weakness of the owner and threatening him with it. That can't be related to the dissolving of the third band, right?
"I'm more concerned about the second band." Chiaki bit the straw in her cola and said furiously, "Senpai, you've laid your hands on way too many girls already!"
"Mmm, I'm reflecting on that too. Well, I didn't do my homework properly back then, so I never thought that having a lesbian relationship would result in infringing the Immorality Act as well." That has nothing to do with the Immorality Act, yeah!? Man, this person...... why do her conversations always go in that direction?
Because the third years had make-up lessons and exams today, we were unable to hold practice. So, on our way home, the four of us stopped by McDonalds together. Even though Senpai said she would be talking about the live performance, the things we chatted about were all unrelated to that and full of rubbish. That was quite worrying for the members of the newly formed band.
"Anyway, in order to allow the band to steadily make its way towards success, I decided on three things. First, if I am to be in another band, I must definitely start it myself."
And with that, Senpai looked at all of us. This was the first time she had gathered the four members of the band from scratch. Since Senpai's an idealist, I don't think it'd be a good idea for her to join someone else's band anyway.
"Second, the male-to-female ratio of the band. The first was 2:2, the second was 0:4, and the third was 3:1—and they all failed. Since I myself am a girl, the only remaining option left was to form a band with three girls and one guy."
"...... So you invited me to join the band because of a stupid reason like that?"
After hearing me say that with a dumbfounded expression on my face, Senpai cocked her eyebrows.
"That's not a stupid reason, and that's not the only reason either. I told you already, right?"
Well, she isn't wrong. This person seems to be serious about just about everything, but is there really any relationship between the male-to-female ratio of a band and the band's survival?
"Lastly, the final person to join the band has to come up with the name of the band."
Senpai took a look at Mafuyu, who was sitting next to her. Up until then, Mafuyu had kept silent the whole time, staring at the dry fries. But when she heard Senpai say that, she lifted her head up in shock.
"Yes." Senpai grabbed Mafuyu's hand with her own two hands.
Mafuyu was confused, and I was too. Why must Mafuyu be the one to come up with the name?
Senpai took the box of fries.
"This is me......" Senpai grabbed a fry and placed it on the tray. "Followed by Comrade Aihrara......" She looked at Chiaki briefly, then picked out another fry, and placed it side by side with the first. "Next is young man......" She grabbed a third, slightly shorter fry. "And finally Comrade Ebisawa." Senpai then chose the longest fry of the lot. After spending some time arranging the first three fries, she used the last fry as a string to tie the three fries together with a knot.
"See, we have gathered together because of Comrade Ebisawa. We can form our band because you joined us. Therefore—if we're to come up with a name, it should be decided by this person here."
Senpai placed the bundle of tied fries before Mafuyu. She then pointed to the three fries plus the long one, and said,
"You have to be the one to name the band. With that, you won't be able to leave. As long as you don't leave, the remaining three people will never break apart and be separated."
Senpai continued to look straight into Mafuyu's eyes. Mafuyu bit her lip and lowered her head to shift her gaze away.
"...... But I—"
"You can come up with whatever name you wish. Just use words you like."
"I'll be very troubled if you say that."
"Because...... I only joined because I followed Naomi."
Chiaki looked at me solemnly, but I could only fix my sight on Mafuyu's pale white lips. What's going on here? Why is Mafuyu so afraid?
"Therefore, I cannot be the one to decide something as important as this."
"It's precisely because it's something very important that I want Comrade Ebisawa to decide."
Senpai brought her face right next to Mafuyu's, and said gently,
"I'm not asking you to decide on a name right now. However, I have to rent the place for our live performance, and also work on the posters and the tickets. So, if possible, give me your answer after tomorrow, or at the latest, before the start of the training camp."
"I haven't decided if I want to attend the training camp."
"You don't want to go? Why?"
Mafuyu interrupted Senpai's words by shaking her maroon-colored hair with force. Chiaki and I exchanged looks for a moment—her expression was one of confusion.
We obtained Ebichiri's approval two days ago, but Mafuyu still hadn't expressed any intention of joining the training camp. Senpai and I had already done all sorts of things to convince Ebichiri, but somehow, it was really difficult for us to broach the topic with Mafuyu; so, we never asked her about her interest in joining the training camp.
so this was the first time we heard Mafuyu tell us she was still undecided on going. I felt slightly depressed. To think we had already achieved that sort of understanding when it came to music, and yet, Mafuyu still didn't blend in with us at all? Even for me, I was deeply touched by Mafuyu's music when we played <Kashmir>......
Just as Senpai was about to speak, Mafuyu loudly pushed her chair away and stood up.
"...... Mafuyu? Wha—"
Ignoring my calls, Mafuyu heaved her guitar case onto her shoulder, and made her way past the tables, disappearing down the stairs in an instant.
That left me—who was halfway standing up—with no choice but to sit back down in my chair.
What the heck, why did things suddenly turn out like this? Did someone say something to make her unhappy?
"...... Well well. This girl is really sensitive."
Senpai murmured. She removed her hair clip to let her long, silky black hair loose, and heaved a sigh.
"I had no intention of reprimanding her, but it seems like she noticed anyway."
Wha—What's this? Did Senpai say something wrong just now? I had no clue what was going on.
"Nao, what are you doing here at a time like this?"
Chiaki's fist was about to fly straight into my face.
"Go chase after her! What are you sitting here in a daze for?"
"Eh? Eh? Me?"
"Just go and chase after her already, idiot! Geez, you're dense!"
Chiaki kicked me hard in my thigh. I immediately got up and quickly made my way towards the stairs.
I caught up to Mafuyu at the entrance of the train station. Amidst the crowd walking downstairs to the platform, I saw a head with maroon-colored hair, and what looked like a guitar case. I quickly pulled out my season ticket and squeezed through the gates.
She was at the bottom of the flight of stairs, making her way past the benches. Mafuyu turned her head around. There seemed to be tears in the corners of her eyes.
"...... Don't follow me."
"Why are you angry?"
"I am not angry."
The people around us were all looking at me, which made me pretty uncomfortable. My schoolmates were among them as well.
"Urm...... then why did you act like that?"
My voice was drowned out by the announcement alerting us of the incoming train. I continued chasing Mafuyu and boarded the carriage without hesitation.
"...... You should be taking the train in the other direction, right?"
"Eh? Well, you're not wrong......"
Come to think of it, my bag and bass were still at McDonalds. What should I do? Do I have to make a trip back? Will the two of them wait for my return?
The train left the platform. Mafuyu sat in an empty seat at the edge, and placed her guitar on her knees, to not let anyone see her face. I stood right by her side and leaned next to the door.
"Why did you follow me?"
"No idea. I suddenly had the urge to take a train to a place I haven't been before, and take a stroll around there."
And with that, Mafuyu said nothing more. In order to ease the tense atmosphere, I began to tell lots of lame jokes—to be honest, I think it'd be better if I fixed that bad habit of mine as soon as possible.
As the shaking of the train began to make its way up my upper body, I began recalling the conversation between Ebichiri and me. We can only wait till Mafuyu feels like talking. The one who said that was—Ah, that's right...... it wasn't me, it was Tetsurou.
That wasn't what I had in mind though. At that point, I could wait no longer. I really felt like pushing away the guitar Mafuyu was hugging so tightly, and shoving my face in front of hers to ask her what exactly was she thinking.
And there was a time that I did say this to her: if anything's troubling you, just voice it all out.
So in the end, she didn't take my words to heart?
As the train was making one of its many stops at some station, Mafuyu suddenly stood up. I was almost left behind on the train as she dashed out of the carriage right after the bell—which signaled that the train was about to depart—rang.
It was a small remote station; hardly any passengers disembarked the train. There was almost no shelter at the platform, and the strong rays of the sun, coming from the west, were shining hard on the asphalt.
I could see messy patches of small farmlands on the other side of the fence, a road paved by gravel, and sparsely scattered houses.
Eh? Back when I asked Mafuyu about the place she lived—
"Mafuyu, is your house nearby?"
Mafuyu carried her guitar on her shoulder, with her back facing me. She then turned her head around and said,
"...... I just suddenly felt like dropping off at an unknown station."
After murmuring that, she began to make her way towards the wicket. Come to think of it, she's actually a repeat offender when it comes to running away from home, yeah? Is this how she usually carries out her disappearing act? I could already begin to understand why Ebichiri was overprotective of his daughter.
Since I had to get a replacement ticket, I almost lost sight of Mafuyu, who had quickly run out of the wicket. I finally caught up to her at the gravel road, which was situated between two corn fields. However, I couldn't bring myself to yell out her name, so I did what I was used to doing—walking quietly behind her at a distance of about five meters.
We walked on for quite some time before Mafuyu finally stopped in her tracks. She stood in the middle of a bridge that stretched across a nearly dried stream. She stopped because of a lonely, rusty-sounding electronic tune that came from faraway. It was a broadcast—played in various public places at five—to remind children it was time for them to head home. The melody was played through the speakers at a few specific places in town. Seemed like the tune was the same for all the cities in Japan. It was the second movement of Dvořák's <New World Symphony>.
The same melody was also played by another speaker even further away. It gently blended in with the initial melody, which had already started to ring some time ago, forming a blurry canon.
Mafuyu grabbed onto the railing at the side of the bridge, and allowed her sight to wander all around in the air, to explore the melody around us.
She mumbled as I caught up to her,
"...... Why must Japan broadcast such a lonely tune every day in the evening? I had traveled all over Japan because of my concerts, but everywhere I went, I always heard the same tune."
I tilted my head. That's strange.
"This song is actually played during funerals in America and other countries," she said as she stared at the stream.
Is that so? It's probably a cultural difference, I guess?
"Well, this tune was later rewritten into <The Road Home (家路)> and <Sunset at the Distant Mountain (遠き山に日は落ちて)>, because it gives people the feeling that it's evening and that it's time to return home...... for us Japanese anyway."
"Really?" With that, Mafuyu closed her eyes and tilted her ears to listen to the rumbling tune as it was sucked into the air.
There were probably not that many people who knew that tune was written by Dvořák. And even fewer probably knew this piece was actually a substitute for a letter to be mailed back to his motherland Czech from the new world America, and that it was filled with deep longings for his homeland.
As the sounds around us changed back to the cries of cicadas and the rumbling of a faraway train, Mafuyu asked me softly.
"Why...... did you invite me to join the band?"
"Forget it. It's nothing."
Mafuyu removed the guitar from her shoulders and leaned it against the railing.
"I only joined that club because I lost my bet with you. It's all your fault."
"It's all my fault......?"
"Senpai probably thinks that as well...... In any case, this is something that everyone knows."
Kagurazaka-senpai...... thinks of it as what? So?
"Therefore, I have absolutely no reason to be in that room."
"That's not—" Is that really not true......? I swallowed my words halfway.
If we looked only at the results, then it may seem like she was forced to join the club by Senpai and me. Though we were all trying hard not to think about it, Senpai had actually sort of noticed it, and so—
"It's precisely because it's something very important that I want Comrade Ebisawa to decide."
So that's why she said something like that?
"Is the band...... not fun?"
I tried asking her gently.
"I don't know."
What do you mean you don't know!? I should be the one saying that!
"But I feel really happy when the four of us are playing together."
"Isn't it great if you're happy?"
Why? I originally wanted to know the reason, but I couldn't bring myself to ask. Mafuyu stepped on the railing and stuck out her head to look at the stream. For a moment, I thought she might actually jump down.
"You...... don't want to participate in the training camp?"
I was that close to telling her the various things Senpai and I did to convince Ebichiri. However, there wasn't really much purpose in telling her those things just to try to make her thankful of us.
Mafuyu rested her elbows on the railing and shook her head.
"Even if I follow you guys to this so-called training camp—"
"You aren't just following us there!" I interrupted Mafuyu. "We're gonna practice as a band, so it'd be meaningless if even one of us was missing."
"Is it really okay for me to stay in the band? I don't really know anymore."
"It's not a problem of whether it's okay or not, right?" I really had no idea what Mafuyu was trying to say. "I asked you to join because I wanted to start a band together with you."
Mafuyu raised her head to look at me. Her face was a little red, and it seemed like it wasn't just because of the setting sun.
"It's all because you say things like that!"
With tears in the corners of her eyes and her body trembling slightly, she gave me a push. I retreated a step back. What? Why is Mafuyu angry?
Mafuyu carried her guitar on her back and walked past me, towards the direction we came from. I hurriedly chased after her, but I couldn't walk along her side-by-side, or call out to her from behind.
And because of that, for a short while, I didn't realize Mafuyu was trying to make her way back to the station. It took me a long time before I remembered her sense of direction was extremely poor.
Mafuyu stood in the middle of the lush green fields and turned her head around to look at me with a helpless expression—by then, the sun had nearly disappeared below the horizon.
"It can't be that you......"
"I-I am not lost! It must be in this direction!"
Seeing as how Mafuyu was walking in the complete opposite direction, I pulled her back while trying to endure the urge to sigh. I then began to walk towards the gravel path. If there's someone next to you when you've encountered any sort of problem, you should just tell that person honestly. That might be something that seems simple, but it's hard to carry out in reality. However, it is one of the most fundamental things in life.
The sky was dark by the time we made our way to the station. There were many more passengers disembarking the train as well. The two of us barely talked, and considering the situation we were in back then, it was impossible for me to follow Mafuyu all the way back to her home. I could only send her off via my sight while standing on the platform. I then took out my cellphone.
"What happened to Mafu-Mafu?"
"Ah—Mmm, she just went back home." I had no idea why, but my heart felt relieved when Chiaki's voice sounded the same as usual—and thus, my very silly reply.
"No, that's not what I meant...... What exactly did you chase after her for then?"
"Sorry, I don't really know either. Ah, right, where are you right now? My stuff is still at McDonalds."
"I already grabbed it for you."
"Ah, sorry for troubling you."
"I'll come bring it to you. Till later."
Just then, the train heading in my direction entered the platform. Chiaki hung up without even waiting for my reply.
Chiaki's house was just a five-minute walk from my house.
Five minutes referred to the length of time it would take to walk along the normal path from her house to mine; however, if we considered the more direct path between our houses, it would probably take no more than two minutes. The so-called "direct path" referred to a route consisting of passing through the restricted area beneath high-voltage wires, squeezing through a tight alley that probably only a cat could get through, and entering the courtyard of my house, before finally scaling the beech next to the walls of my house, and thus, ending up right outside my window. It was a path only Chiaki would take.
After much difficulty, I finally managed to return home at eight in the evening. And after confirming that Tetsurou was out of the house, I immediately ran up to my room on the second floor. I took out the Emerson, Lake & Palmer's <Trilogy> album and placed it in the CD player, and proceeded to relax on my bed after pressing the play button. However, before the song even hit the fugue, I heard the sound of my window being knocked on.
"I'm coming in—?"
I had opened the windows earlier to ventilate the room, which allowed Chiaki to jump straight into my room before I could even answer her. She had already changed into a T-shirt and denim shorts. After placing my bag and guitar case next to the window, she unreservedly sat herself down on my bed. It was as if she were in her own home.
"Why did you choose to come through the window with all that stuff on you?" It should be tiring climbing the tree, right?
"You should start by thanking me first, right?"
She elbowed me in the back. That hurts.
"Is Uncle not around today? I would've come through the main door if I had known that earlier."
"Mmm, he should probably be out drinking or something."
"Oh? Then let's have a drink as well! You should have some sake in your fridge, right? Go get some snacks to go along with the wine."
"I'm not gonna drink! What on earth are you thinking?"
I changed my position on the bed and fixed my eyes on the ceiling. Just then, Chiaki slowly walked over. She stuck her head out above me and stared into my face.
"Nao should slowly start learning how to drink too! Mafu-Mafu doesn't look like she can drink at all. It'd be too lonely if Senpai and I were the only ones drinking during the celebration parties."
"It's because I'm still underage...... Wait, this means Senpai drinks too?" I sat up unintentionally.
"Mmm. No one was able to match me at drinking after Granddad died—that is, until I met Senpai. It was the first time I had run into someone better than me."
I let out a helpless sigh. Doesn't the law state that we can only drink after we're twenty?
"I don't know why, but somehow, it feels like it's fate that I was able to meet Senpai."
"Yeah, and she's the reason you began drumming too......"
It was really impressive that she could raise her drumming skills to the level she was at, purely with that impure motive in mind.
"What's wrong with the motive being impure? The most important thing is to be happy. If only Mafu-Mafu could think the same way."
As Chiaki had brought up Mafuyu all of a sudden, I kept staring at her face.
"You two didn't talk about that?"
It seemed like we did, and yet, it seemed like we didn't. Indeed, Mafuyu was agonizing over her reason for staying in the band, and whether or not it was fine for her to be there.
"That means Mafu-Mafu stayed in the band due to some other impure motive, which is why she's agonizing over things? It should be that. Moreover, she's the type to dwell on even the tiniest details, unlike me."
"What do you mean by an 'impure motive'? It's impure because she lost a bet with me?"
It may be impure—but is Mafuyu really troubled about that? I should be the one who's ill at ease because of that, no? However, all Chiaki did was stare at my face—with her mouth half-opened—for quite a while. After, she placed her forehead on her bent knees and sighed.
"I know that you're dense and stupid, but I never expected it to be that bad."
All I could do was forcefully swallow my words back into my stomach. I couldn't retort that at all, because it was exactly as Chiaki had said. I'm really sorry about that! The problem is, how can you expect me to know anything if Mafuyu doesn't say anything at all about it!?
"Well, I guess. I mean, he hasn't even come to realize it over a period of more than ten years, so how could it be possible for him to realize something that's only three months old?"
"Eh? Sorry, what are you saying?"
Chiaki stuck out her tongue at me and brushed me off. Please, I'm really at a loss here! While I was still unsure of what was going on, Chiaki stood up and straightened out the creases on her shorts with her fingers.
"Alright, I'm going to leave the dense idiot alone and head home now. I'll come up with something myself."
"What do you mean by come up with something?"
"You'll feel troubled if Mafu-Mafu continues to distance herself from the band, right? If the situation forces us to, it'll only be the three of us going to the training camp."
I nodded my head stiffly.
"Mmm. I'll be very troubled too. I don't like an uncontested victory, or losing without a fight."
After saying a bunch of things I was completely clueless about, Chiaki made her way through the window and out of my room. Coincidentally, the fugue part played by Keith Emerson just so happened to end exactly at that moment as well; the tune was about to head into part two of <The Endless Enigma>.