Two university students shared the room with a bathroom and a little kitchen in the apartment located in a peaceful residential area. The rattling sound of the train was heard in the distance. The one was strumming the wooden dreadnought guitar, and the other was making coffee in the kitchen. Ken played his left handed Martin guitar for about ten minutes and sighed. That session was a waste of time. Bobby didn’t have the motivation. Besides he would be back to his country in two months. That might be a tide to decide which way to go. He put away his instrument and he pulled his textbook out of the backpack. He flipped the pages of Physics textbook. He absorbed himself in vector graphics throwing out his legs on a low coffee table. The door swung open and Kei came in. He dropped his books on the table with a thud.
“Get your legs off. It’s our coffee table, Ken,” he said as his best mate, Kei stood by the low coffee table holding of two mugs of coffee.
Ken gave him a response absentmindedly and moved his legs to the arm of the sofa and asked, “How is your girlfriend?”
“None of your business,” Kei snapped.
Ken guessed Kei broke up with his girlfriend. He picked up the Pearson textbook from the top of the books on the table and said, “I can’t understand what they are thinking.”
“Who are they?”
“Girls. They always seek romance. My brother divorced six months ago. His ex-wife has started dating another guy already.”
Ken put the Pearson textbook back to the top of the pile and he pulled out the other book, flipped through a book. “Aerocar? Are you going to make a flying car?”
“They have those already put into use. We have made ourselves fall behind since World War II. Anyway finishing up this report is my priority,” Kei connected a USB into his laptop.
“So have you recorded CDs?”
“Not yet. I’m wondering if I should look for a violinist from jazz to classical music.”
“You can choose any of them. There’re a lot of them.”
“No, we prefer a more powerful fiddler.”
“Then ask Mari. I’ve heard she had a friend who came back from Edinburgh last month. She plays the fiddle, I think,” Kei started tapping the keys rhythmically.
Ken was envious of Kei’s ability in physics and mathematics. He remembered his own test results of differential and integral calculus and said,
“My math sucks. Tell me good study-aid books.”
“I’m the best. How much can you pay?” Kei squinted at Ken like he was being calculating.
“Would you teach me?” Ken held his guitar in his arms again and stroked the strings.
“Yeah, it depends how much you can pay.”
“How about one thousand per hour?”
“Fair enough,” Kei got back to hitting the keyboard.
Ken reckoned Kei would transfer to another uni where he could learn about aerospace engineering more deeply. He put back his Martin guitar in the black hard shell case.
“So where are you setting your goals?”
“Kyushu. Next year I won’t be here.” Kei kept typing.
Ken felt like he was thrown away suddenly. Kei had been his best mate since he was a high school student. Thanks to him he could pass the entrance exam. They had improved themselves through discussing and studying friendly rivalry. He locked the latches of his guitar case and stood up.
“Well, I want to meet Mari and her friend. Do you know her mobile number?”
“Wait a sec.” Kei tapped a space bar and an enter key. He told Ken to hand him his laptop bag.
“Don’t let her fall in love with you,” said Kei grabbing his mobile.
“What?” Ken gaped at him.
“You are her type, a guy with long lashes and a modest man,” said Kei with a straight face.
When Ken found a narrow entrance with a moss green half dome roof just as Mari told him on the mobile, he shoved the heavy wooden door open and entered the bar. A jangle of voices overwhelmed him. Sepia lighting created an atmosphere that made he feel like he was one of them, a regular customer who was chummy with the bartender. Kei and Bobby were only his buddies since he was a high school student so he enjoyed affable, welcoming small space at the corner of the bar. The middle-aged bartender with his hair bound low at the back, smiled at him.
“Are you ready to order?”
“Eh, yes, ginger ale please. Do you have any side dishes?”
The bartender retreated to the kitchen behind the bar counter. When he came back, he carried a small bowl, and he set it by the bottle of ginger ale and a glass. Ken picked up the stripes with chopsticks and bit and chewed them. It was crunchy and the flavor fully came out. He asked,
“Okinawan cuisine, Mimigaa.”
“Oh, yeah, are they pig’s ears?”
The swarthy bartender grinned wide. Ken had not expected that such an American style bar would serve Okinawan cuisine and felt pleasant. In a month he would be twenty, then he would be able to order alcoholic beverage, he stared at a glass of the caramel coloring soft drink.
“Are you Mr. Takahashi?” an alto voice interrupted his train of thought
He glanced back and found a medium build woman peering at him through her long hair. He thought she had short sight, for she was squinting at him.
“Yes, I am, and are you Mari san?”
Mari beamed at him and changed her alto voice into a high-pitched voice,
“Yes, I’m Mari. And she’s my friend, Erika. I heard you had been looking for a fiddler. I recommend she’s the best.”
Erika was standing there behind Mari, her hair was also long, and he felt like he could hear the rustling sound of her velvet dark hair when she moved. He could tell her blush meant she liked him and more than that he felt the same way. He didn’t feel it was the first time he met her. The tune jumped in his mind.
“Eh, hi, nice to see you, two of you. I’m Ken.”
Ken wanted to go back to his apartment, where he could concentrate on composing tunes but on the other hand he needed to find a fiddler instead of Bobby and he wanted to talk with Erika alone. Mari was chatting merrily about his mate Kei and playing a joke on him,
“Ginger ale? Don’t you drink beer?”
“I’m not twenty yet.”
“Never mind. You’re almost twenty,” she said and she tried to tilt a bottle of beer into his empty glass.
“No, thank you. I have things to do for a gig this weekend.”
Mari shrugged and went back to chatting away,
“So are you planning to have fiddle lessons, Erika?”
“Yes, if you have friends who have interest, tell them my e-mail address,” Erika handed her cards with her half-length photo.
And she hesitated to hand it to him and she asked,
“If you don’t mind,” she held out her cherry-blossom pink card to him giving him a shy smile.
Ken took it grinning at her and said,
“Who’s your favorite fiddler?”
“Liz Carroll. Do you know her?” Suddenly her face turned to a straight look.
He remembered Bobby showed him a YouTube video of a Canadian middle-aged fiddler whose style was passionate. What did critics say about her?
“She has fire in her belly,” the words were uttered naturally.
“Exactly! You know her!” her face flushed with excitement.
He thought she was simply beautiful.
“Yeah, she is amazing. Do you play like her?”
“No, I have to practice harder to be like her. Anyway, I heard you had been looking for a fiddler for your band, is that right?”
“Yes, my friend Bobby will go back to Canada in two months or so, I have thought about breaking up. If you have interest, please join us this weekend.”
“Can I meet Bobby? Is he a fiddler?”
“Yes, you can meet him. But he is not a fiddler. He is rather a violinist. He plays a kind of jazzy arrangement. You’ll find out if you listen to his music.”
“I’m afraid I’m no match for him.”
The rainy season had just begun. The asphalt ground was soaked with water, where puddles emerged here and there on low spots. The trains tended to lose time due to a heavy rain. The odor of the sweaty grey lounge suits of businessmen filled the air in the carriage. Ken thought he wouldn’t be a part of them, who was forced to work under the control of a boss of a company. The train arrived at his destination. He stood his guitar case against a wall avoiding people on the rush to go home in a downpour, and he popped open an umbrella. When he stepped forward in a rainfall, putting up an umbrella turned out to be no use. He got drenched to the skin in a moment. He flung open the door of the narrow studio building, thrust his umbrella into a stand and pulled out the towel from his backpack, wiped raindrops over the hard shell case. A draft blew in every time a new user of the studio came to the counter. Two young female receptionists were sitting inside a booth. One of them noticed Ken,
“Did you book?”
“Yeah,” he grabbed his wallet, unzipped it, and he fumbled inside.
His fingers were still slippery but he managed to pick out the card with a close-up picture of a keyboard. After handing it to the receptionist, he looked around. Bobby had not arrived yet. Then a spring-like cheerful atmosphere visited the entrance hall. Erika clad in a cherry-blossom pink V-neck cardigan entered, her violin case slung on its strap across her shoulder. Her long hair soaked to the deep black, hung over her face. Her wet silky smooth skin ignited a chemical reaction in his mind. She smiled at him,
“Heavy rain, isn’t it?” and she dried her face with her pastel gauze handkerchief.
There was another gust of wind, sandy brown short haired Bobby jumped in. Water was dripping off the edge of his deep blue Adidas polyester hoodie.
“Due to global warming, the impact of climate change is huge! Lend me your towel, Ken,” Bobby breathed a deep sigh.
His gaze shifted to Erika from Ken, and he gave a weak smile at her,
“Are you a fiddler from Edinburgh? I’m Robert. Call me Bobby. What’s your name?”
They stepped in a lift. Ken pressed a button for the third floor.
“Erika Sayama. Nice to meet you.”
“Good to see you. How was your stay at Edinburgh?”
The lift stopped and its door opened. Ken pulled the lever of the room number 303. While they were chatting, Ken checked the air conditioner in the room.
“So the band consists of only two of you?” Erika put down her tote bag on a piano chair.
“No, one more, a percussionist. He’ll be late, but he’ll come,” answered Ken.
“Twin violins will give our band strength. What’s your favorite tune?” Bobby asked Erika, removing his wet hoodie.
“How about this?” she began to play a slow ballad.
Bobby gave a quick response, and he played the tune along with her. Ken noticed it was a traditional folk song, ‘Blackwaterside.’ The beautiful notes flowed out from the four strings of each fiddler, and the two different swinging rhythms blended together, which led Ken to thrum the wooden acoustic guitar. Bobby grinned wide with content, closed his eyes and lost himself to the melody. They had never played like that before. Ken was amazed by the magic Erika brought about. Then the magic was broken. Shota scrambled in the room dragging a Cajón.
“Does anyone have a towel? A shower of bullets, I’m afraid my handmade quick protection sheet didn’t keep.” Shota held the same towel Bobby used in his right hand and stared at the wet cloth for a while.
He shook his head, started wiping the Cajón. After a short break, they started the music session. His beat gave them the power to create another universe. The reverberating sound went through each body of the players. The four players were all satisfied with the meeting. Erika was accepted as a member of ‘Bright Shooting Star’. They practiced their original tunes for the left minutes. Ken tried to ask her to have some tea but she hastened to the door saying,
“Nice meeting you all, but I have to go. I have another gig tonight, see you,” and she left.
Ken grew lonely suddenly. After the disconnected conversation with other members of the band in a coffee shop inside the station, he went back to his apartment. Kei was sleeping in his bed. He set fire to boil water, unwrapped a cup of instant noodles. He sat down on the sofa and held the guitar in his arms and mused over the session with Erika. It was not his first time to fall in love with a girl. When he was a high school student, he was going out with a classmate, Arisa, who was more clever than him. She entered a prestigious university and they broke up naturally. Only once, she sent an e-mail to him, she seemed to enjoy her new life. She loved the science. She might have driven to experiments or reports. And she must have found a smart boyfriend. After eating noodles, he saw the textbooks on the desk in a side glance, his instructor gave him an assignment, analysis and making original ideal hand launch glider, put aside his homework, started composing the new tunes remembering the throbbing at the session. He recorded the new tune on the portable Roland MP3 recorder. He had to convert it to the file of PC, and send it to the members of the band later. Kei stirred, got out of the bed, and yawned,
“How was the session?”
“It was good,” Ken put back the guitar into the case.
“I mean, the girl, Erika.”
Ken couldn’t answer at once.
“You like her, I guess,” Kei grinned like a baboon.
Damn it. Kei always read his mind. He admitted,
“Yeah,” he stood up to finish up his leftover homework.
“How was Mari? Didn’t she follow you?”
“No, she didn’t,” he flipped one of textbooks.
“Really? I got a text from her,” and he smirked, showed his mobile to Ken.
The liquid crystal display showed the sentences, ’He has fabulous long lashes and his voice, OMG, I fell in love with him.”
“Mari is planning to host a barbecue party next Saturday. She is expecting me to take you with me.”
“I need to go to the studio.”
“From four p.m.”
“Then you can go. She’ll set up for lunch. Erika will go.”
Ken couldn’t find the reason to refuse, he said,
“Okay, I’ll go.”
Kei smiled satisfied and turned his laptop on. Ken started reading the history of aviation. He had to summarize the book. He scribbled some words on Post-It labels, attached them on the pages he had dog-eared. The book said seven years had passed since Douglas MacArthur forbid to produce a domestic airplane, and aviation started toddling again. Its aviation technology strikingly developed jet planes for the Self-Defense Forces and exported the business airplanes. They even made a satellite. But for a quarter of a century he did not allow his country to widen her sphere of activity against her genuine enthusiasm to cultivate her longing to fly in the sky. Ken stopped reading there and remembered the tale his mother had told once. His great grandfather died in the South Sea Islands. He was a jet fighter ground crew. He also could fly a plane, when his superior recruited scouts, he applied, and he never came back. War is just ridiculous. He couldn’t understand why mankind wages war. It just had produced nothing, destroyed everything, left ruined buildings behind, and it brought sadness to their dearest family and friends. Ken loved to see airplanes fly in the sky. He liked to see shows of the Air Force. He also like to see landing and taking off of an airplane in flight. When he was a child, he used to draw them in the sky and his father bought him airplane souvenirs. He wanted to design airplanes. But his desire had become thin after he read it was lucky for an engineer to design three airplanes in his life. His other ambition was to compose big hits in the future. He started to write guitar chords on a note book thinking about Erika.
That night he had a weird dream. He was a street musician who played a hurdy-gurdy, soon a black fog enveloped the street and buildings around him, lots of bombs were dropped from above. In another moment he was on a jet-fighter. He steered his jet plane and zoomed down, landing on an unnamed island. He alighted from his plane on the soft ground, noticed he was wearing camouflaged clothes and boots. It was sultry and stuffy inside his boots. He was thirsty and hungry. When he looked up, the sky was so blue but he felt the heaviness of the burden he had to carry out. He wiped the sweat off his forehead with his long sleeves. Damn it, he wanted to remove that bloody combat uniform. If only he accomplished this task, he would be able to be back to his pregnant wife and his little child. Once again he looked up the sky. The sky was so beautiful. The tune jumped in his mind. Then he was shot by a gun from behind. Everything went black.
Mari invited more than twenty friends to her Japanese-style room of twenty mats. Most of them were girls, who were chatting but their appraising eyes were staring at Ken, which made him uncomfortable. The residence had a wide balcony deck which was seen from the open window to the west. Kei was chatting with buddies who were in the same seminar in a small group as Ken and Kei. When he tried to take a step closer to them, a waft of grilled meat came in then Mari told the guest the party was ready. Erika, clad in a yellow T-shirt and jeans, had been helping her. She put her hair up in a ponytail. She looked so cute. He decided to stay close to her and he smiled naturally when he remembered they would practice their music in the same studio where they had the first session last week. Erika noticed he was looking at her, smiled at him and said,
“Please help yourself. These are ready to eat.”
Ken told her, “Thanks,” and he picked up sausages on his paper plate with chopsticks.
“Which sauces do you like? Wasabi matches well,” and she passed a tube of wasabi.
“Wasabi? We usually dip sausages in mustard.”
“Trust me, it is really good. Wasabi, I mean, really fresh. It was made in Shizuoka.”
Ken pressed the green paste out of the tube and dipped sausage into it. He bit to find out she was right. Mari was staring at him, her gaze got so intense, she said in her coaxing voice,
“I reckon you have a girlfriend, don’t you?”
A piece of sausages stuck in his throats, he coughed hard, Erika handed a glass of water. She was giggling.
“Excuse me?” Ken wiped around his mouth with his handkerchief he had shoved in his pocket of jeans for three days.
“If you are not going out with any girls, try me,” Mari said bravely.
Ken felt a kind of awe for her boldness and said,
“Well, I feel honored but I have no intention to go out with a girl now. I’m occupied with my homework and music, you know.”
Mari shrugged and said,
“Okay, when you are free from your study, call me,” and she left there to the girls inside the room to have more pleasant chat. Taking the place of her, Kei and his buddies came out of the room to the deck to cram meat and vegetables. Ken helped Erika to serve them on the plate from the grill, handed it to Kei. Ken said,
“Trust me. This wasabi is really good,” and he winked at Erika.
Erika started giggling again.
Kei stared at Ken doubtfully and said,
“Are you cheating me? Isn’t it hot pepper?”
“No, I don’t lie.”
Kei took the tube of wasabi and squeezed the paste out of it, dipped a piece of steak into it, tasted it cautiously. And he groaned, which meant it was tasty for him. Ken exchanged glances with Erika.
“So the two of you started creating music?” Kei talked with his mouth full.
“Not yet. But yes, we will,” answered Ken.
“What’s your band’s name?” asked the other guy.
“Bright Shooting Star.”
“Make big hits, mate. Like ‘Stairway to Heaven,’” bantered Kei.
“Are you composing music like British rock?” asked one of Kei’s buddies.
“No, but I want to make hits like Led Zeppelin,” grinned Ken.
Yes, he would make hits, he thought he could if Erika would support him and he looked at her. She was now eating vegetables and grilled chicken with gusto which gave him a favorable impression.
Mari started to treat beverages to the guests. They were drinking a glass of beer together. Ken sensed they would force him to drink. He whispered into Erika’s ear,
“It’s time for us to leave. Don’t forget your violin,” and he retreated to the spot where his hard shell black guitar case lay near the entrance hall.
Ken was waiting for her to say goodbye to Mari outside the door. The humid windless air nearly suffocated him. The sweat began trickling down his side of the upper arm from his pit. He imagined he would be in the room where the cool air chilled his body to dry clothes stuck to him. Then the door swung open, Erika flew out of the door,
“Sorry, she wouldn’t let me go easily.”
“What did she say to you?”
She hesitated to say more.
“All right then, let’s go,” he led the way to the station.
The local train arrived on time, and they stepped on board and enjoyed the short trip to the studio. They talked about their own family each other.
“So you have a mother, father and a brother.”
“Yeah. A brother who is enjoying his carefree single life.”
“Why do people divorce?” Erika frowned.
“I don’t know. Perhaps she lost her interest in my brother. Girls always seek romance, don’t they?”
Erika looked perplexed.
“Is it a bad thing that girls pursue romance?”
“No, I don’t think so. But once couples swear the eternal love and then they part in a few months or so, it’s a little bit strange to me.”
“Yeah, I understand. But there might be reasons we can’t fathom,” she said faithfully.
“Well, tell me, why did Mari prevent you from leaving?”
“Eh, well,” Erika stared at him.
“She likes you very much, so she told me,” she looked into his eyes like she was waiting for his response.
He had butterflies in his stomach.
“She asked me not to fall in love with you.”
“And what did you say to her?” He felt his heart skip a beat, but kept wearing his poker face.
“I told her she didn’t have to worry and we’re just kindred souls of the band.”
He felt his heart shrunk in a moment. They got off the train.
When they arrived at the studio, Bobby and Shota were having a pleasant chat together in front of the reception desk. Shota was smoking cigarettes. Ken sensed Erika showed an unwelcome sign to Shota’s smoking. He coughed lightly, took a step closer to Shota,
“I guess you can’t smoke here,” he nodded towards the reception desk.
“They have told nothing at all,” Shota protested but he went outside.
“Room 301!” Ken told to Shota from behind.
Shota turned his back to him waving his hand, and the automatic door was closed firmly. Three of them got on a lift, while going upstairs, Ken got conscious suddenly Bobby was two heads taller than he in a lift. He observed Bobby comparing his biceps with his, sighed in his mind. He regretted his quitting swimming school before entering high school. What if Erika preferred Bobby for his strong manliness?
“Hey, Ken, did you copy the music scores for Erika?” asked Bobby shutting the door of the room.
“Not yet. Erika, do you have a recording device today?”
“Yes, I do,” she put down her tote bag on a pipe chair, pulled a red and silver metal device on which he saw small black letters ‘Roland’.
Ken began tuning his wooden acoustic guitar. Bobby and Erika were rubbing cakes of rosin on their bows and Shota came in dragging his Cajón with his shirttails out. Ken loved the moment, the tense silence before starting play the instruments. He smiled satisfied and said,
“What tune shall we begin?”
Bobby smiled, too. He set his bow on the string at right angles, began sliding, and the slow tune resonated in the room of six mats. Erika joined, and the tone balance of the two violins side-backed by the guitar sound and the session’s tempo created by Cajón produced exquisite world, soon each of them was smitten by themselves. Stroking the six strings, Ken shifted his gaze into Erika. She was swinging her body sideways to the tune, her long velvet dark hair rolling together, which caused something hot to well up in Ken’s belly. They devoted their energies into playing all their repertoires and the sands of time passed quickly. Ken looked around briefly satisfied to see all members delighted and said,
“Well, tonight will be perfect for us.”
A/N: Beta read by Paula