Paradise Noise - Chapter 6
As of lately, I noticed that I tend to like vocalists with certain voice qualities.
The first requirement: their voice must be powerful. A fragile voice didn’t really resonate with me, perhaps due to the fact that I grew up listening to hard rock.
The second: their voice must have a youthful, melancholic quality to it. A mere brutish voice was not appealing. I wanted to hear a sense of longing for something far away.
The third: their voice must be able to produce gloom at will. A voice that could only become clear and cheerful would not move me; it would not reach the deepest part of my consciousness.
And the last: their voice must embody feminine colors. The mixture of sweetness and bitterness, sharpness and gentleness, create a sound of magical, enchanting quality.
There weren’t many people who had a voice that manifested all of the above.
Now that Freddie Mercury, Michael Jackson, and Chester Bennington are dead, one could be forgiven for assuming that the opportunity to find the ideal vocalist would never come again.
However, I happened to meet one.
Indeed, it was hard to believe, but they were already near me—at the studio Moon Echo.
After the incident with Shizuki, I started going to Moon Echo more and more often.
Following the “Creep” session, I truly realized how bad I was at playing the guitar. So, I began taking it a little more seriously. When I played the electric guitar with an amplifier, it was difficult to notice my mistakes, notably mis-touches and lax picking, making it an ineffective method to practice. Although I could play at home with my headphones on, I wanted to strum it as hard as I could and feel the explosive noise coming from my skin. I think it’s good to do it once in a while.
Since I was frequently coming to Moon Echo, naturally, I got quite close to Kurokawa-san.
“Just like Misao told me. You’re willing to do anything for me if I ask nicely.”
As she went on, she pressured me to organize the studio warehouse, take down overdue flyers, and repair equipment… Wait a minute, isn’t she just using me? We haven’t gotten closer at all!
“Studio A2 is free until 6:00 P.M. today, so you can use it until then.”
—Though, I couldn’t really complain. I was getting paid for it.
Even at such a young age, Kurokawa-san was already the owner of Moon Echo. I was told that her father was a wealthy man that owned several buildings. She said that standing at the counter and working as a receptionist was simply something she enjoyed doing. The fact that she could turn this entire building into a music studio and run it herself made me very jealous of her.
“Are you that jealous? Do you want to be the owner of this place too?” Kurokawa-san asked.
“Eh? Um, well, it is an ideal way to put food on the table.”
“Isn’t that practically a proposal to me?”
“Ye—Huh? W-What’s with that all of a sudden? Y-You know, the other staff can hear us, right? It’s dangerous to make jokes like that.”
“Did that sound like a joke to you? How else are you going to become the owner of this place? Save up enough money to buy it from my father? Start working here part-time and get promoted all the way up to co-owner? You can’t do either of those things. Marrying me—that would be the most practical thing for you to do.”
“You make a fair point, to be honest…”
“Well, that was a joke.”
“You were joking! You should’ve said that it was a joke from the start!”
Every day, I was being tormented like this. It was as if there was another Hanazono-sensei; it’s exhausting to deal with her.
“By the way, what happened to that Yurisaka girl after she left?”
Kurokawa-san seamlessly changed the topic with a nonchalant look on her face. Since she did see Shizuki’s mother come into the studio, it was understandable that she had some lingering questions. However…
“I actually don’t know much about it either.”
“What the heck?”
“Shizuki never gave me the details. Plus, since it’s her own family matter, I don’t think it’s appropriate to ask more about it.”
“Right. I shouldn’t have expected anything from a crossdressing pervert.”
“This has nothing to do with crossdressing!” How much do you even know? Did Hanazono-sensei tell you that I’m Musao, too?
“Well, I don’t know what the deal was, but anyway, it means that young lady can continue playing drums, right?”
I was about to answer Kurokawa-san when, suddenly, I spotted a figure running into the lobby.
“Sorry, I’m late!”
It was Shizuki. I think she must have come here straight from school because she was still in her school uniform. She was running up to me with a flushed face after she noticed me. Since I was able to use a studio for free, I thought I should have a session with a drummer. So, I invited her to come here and play alongside me.
“Makoto-san, I’m sorry for making you wait! The ikebana club meeting went on for too long. Ah, Kurokawa-san, I’m sorry for the trouble I caused you the other day!”
Kurokawa-san blinked in surprise at Shizuki’s sudden apology and bow. But then, her lips curved slightly to form a satisfied smile, then nodding and pointing to studio A2.
Ever since I started frequenting the Moon Echo studio, one thing had been bothering me.
There was always a customer whom I saw in the lobby. Actually, I wasn’t even sure if he or she was a customer or not. They always crouched down near the pots of decorative plants in the corner, listening to something with their earphones. Occasionally, they would read the music on a tattered band score. They seemed to be around the same age as me, though they always wore a loose t-shirt and hotpants with their red kneecaps always exposed. At first glance, their gender was unclear. The color of their lips and the curve of their eyelashes were too glossy to be those of a boy, but the corners of their eyes and the shape of their jawline was too aggressive to be those of a girl. I thought that maybe I could tell their gender from their voice. However, they were always alone, and I never saw them talk to anyone.
Though, the fact that I was constantly observing them probably meant that I had been attracted to them at first sight. Yes, to a girl. As of this writing, I already knew that she was a girl. However, it took me a while to find out.
“Who is that girl that’s always over there?”
I asked Kurokawa-san secretly. She glanced over the counter and toward the girl in the corner of the lobby.
“Ah, that’s my zashiki-warashi.”
(TL: Zashiki-warashi (座敷童) are spirits of children who are said to be yokai that live in parlors or storage rooms. Japanese people believe that Zashiki-warashi perform pranks on people, and people who see one would be visited with good fortune. Essentially a lucky charm, I guess?)
I couldn’t help but look back and forth between Kurokawa-san and the girl in the corner at least three times.
“She’s here to help to make the business thrive. I guess you can see her too? Do you have psychic power?”
“I’m only half joking.”
Which half of it was a joke? You’re the one who’s spouting all this psychic crap, right?
“She’s not in any band, but she’s here as a helper. She can play all the parts, and is actually very skilled at all of them. I think she gets paid a little bit too.”
“I see…” I didn’t know that a job like this existed, much less for people my age. That’s incredible. If she’s able to do all the parts, then there would be a high demand for her.
However, since I wasn’t in a band and I could also play every instrument on my PC, I shouldn’t have any use for this zashiki-warashi.
However, I still just couldn’t take my eyes off of her. From the next day forth, I started looking for her every time I came to Moon Echo.
Recently, most of my studio practice sessions were done together with Shizuki. I guess that’s normal, since she also came to Moon Echo.
“The quality of a Gretsch instrument at our school is definitely much better. However, I have to be careful to not play too loudly since the warehouse isn’t fully soundproof.”
Shizuki scowled in frustration. You’ve been holding back, haven’t you? I thought back to the times Shizuki was drumming in the warehouse. Now, whenever we had a session at the studio, Shizuki hit the drums with so much vigor that I always felt like I was going to be turned into a stain on the wall, crushed by the sound pressure.
It was after school on an early June day. Along with Shizuki, I arrived at Moon Echo five minutes before 5:00 P.M.. I proceeded to check in at the counter and borrowed some rental equipment from Kurokawa-san. As I walked toward the stairwell, I looked around the lobby.
The zashiki-warashi, as expected, was in the corner behind the couch. This time, she was sitting on the ground, hugging her knees to her chest and staring up at the ceiling in a daze.
Today, she has something propped up to her knees. It’s a sketch book with these words written on it.
[ANYTHING YOU NEED]
“Makoto-san? What’s wrong?”
“Do you know about that person over there?
Shizuki followed my line of sight.
“…Err, I think I’ve seen that person here a few times. Probably a regular here?”
I half-unconsciously walked toward the zashiki-warashi, whose gaze slowly descended from the ceiling, focusing on my face.
“Oh! Umm…” The zashiki-warashi quickly rose. “Oh, a customer! Welcome!”
That was the first time I heard the zashiki-warashi’s voice. It was harsh yet sweet, similar to roasted rice. I couldn’t tell if the zashiki-warashi was a boy or a girl. Their t-shirt was also oversized, and its bagginess made it difficult to estimate the size and shape of their body.
“I’ll do anything you want and give you lots of service! I’ll give you a discount too!”
The zashiki-warashi came closer and closer to me. I caught a glimpse of their collarbone through the t-shirt’s wide collar, and deeper inside, even though I wasn’t actively trying to look at it, I could see her bulging cleavage. I can now confirm that this zashiki-warashi was a girl. I lifted my gaze in panic, but then our eyes met. I quickly turned my head to cover it up.
“No, um, I wasn’t trying to—”
A voice called out behind me, and a hand tugged at the sleeve of my blazer.
“Y-You can’t. It’s a sex crime!” Shizuki said in panic.
“I can’t believe you’re going to buy a service from a woman.”
Can you please go and apologize to all the women in the service industry?
“It’s ok, I can handle any kind of play.” The zashiki-warashi smiled and made a gesture with her left hand as if she was stroking a stick. “I’m confident in my technique.”
“S-See!” Shizuki’s voice trailed off. “All this about play and technique! You’re the worst!”
“I think it’s about music…” I wonder if that hand was holding the neck of a guitar.
“Rinko-san told me to be careful with Makoto-san since you’re quick to commit sextual crimes. Also, you’re good at using your hands and your mouth, so you’re able to get away from anything…”
“But, what if it wasn’t an excuse? Are you now accusing me? And where’d you get the ‘good at using my hands’ part from?”
“Still, I think that’s a lot better than a guy who is only good with using his mouth!”
Can you please stay out of the conversation, Zashiki-warashi-san?
“I’m good with my mouth and hands too! I can do vocals, and I can play almost any instrument, but is Mr. Only-Good-At-Using-His-Mouth going to do the vocals?” Don’t call me that. “Are you two practicing together today? Are there any parts you’re missing? Like a bass?”
“Eh… no… yeah, we’re fine.”
A gloomy, dejected expression creeped onto Zashiki-warashi-san’s face. With an apologetic feeling and a pain in my heart, I turned back to Shizuki.
“See, she’s talking about playing a band part.”
“I-I see. I… had a weird misunderstanding…”
“But if you insist, I can also consider providing that kind of service…” Hey, you, zashiki-warashi, stop furthering her misunderstanding! Look, Shizuki is turning bright red!
I grabbed Shizuki’s wrist and pulled her toward the door of studio B3, not knowing what kind of quagmire I would get into if I kept talking. The earnest voice of the zashiki-warashi hit me in the back.
“If you need a hand, just call out to me! Anytime is fine!”
An hour later, when Shizuki and I came out to the lobby, Zashiki-warashi-san was talking to another band group.
“I’ll help you with your session! I’ll give you a discount!”
Shizuki’s gaze met mine. She was probably just as confused as me. Certainly, there were many strange people in this world.
“Oh, you met Akane-chan? Did she give you service?”
When I told Hanazono-sensei about the zashiki-warashi in the studio the next day, that was her first question.
“Do you know each other? Kurokawa-san said you were introduced to her as her teacher.”
“Yeah, I actually tutored her. Despite being a truant, she was actually pretty smart. Also, because of my teaching skill, she was able to get into a private school. Although I heard that she never went to school there and all she ever did was play music.”
A private tutor and a private school? Are you actually in a rich family? I thought you were in need of money because you’re doing this kind (?) of business?
“I actually haven’t met her since last year. Back then, even though she was in her third year of junior high, she still hadn’t decided on her future. So, I asked her, ‘Why don’t you come to the high school I teach at then?’ Although I said that on a whim, it was enough to convince her. I think she’s in class four?”
She’s a student here? In class four, nonetheless? I glanced toward Rinko, who was next to me. At that time, the three of us were in the music preparation room discussing the contents of next week’s class. Rinko was flipping through the sheet music, seeming completely disinterested in the conversation. Rinko noticed my gaze and raised her eyes from the music.
“Akane? There’s no one with that name in my class.”
Well, it looks like she did hear our conversation.
“So, she’s still a truant in high school.”
Hanazono-sensei lazily sipped her red tea.
“I heard from Kurokawa that she’s been in the studio a lot. That kid can really play anything. Aah, my classes would be so much easier if she actually came to school.”
“You want things to be even easier? Wait, isn’t this just a plan where you’re going to skip class for a couple of weeks and leave us on our own?”
“You know exactly what I want, Musao. We’ve known each other for long enough.”
It’s been two months.
“I can’t help it! Next week, a big wave of sequels to big games will come crashing down! I won’t have time to work!”
“You’re taking time off for games!?”
“Not just games! I sleep and read manga too, of course!”
“Not that it matters.” Rinko said coldly.
I don’t understand why it doesn’t matter. You know, we are the ones who will be overworked.
Rinko points to the sheet music in her hand and continues.
“I’d like to know if you’re serious about your plan to have all the music students participate in a Bach cantata at the third semester music festival. The whole piece will take approximately forty minutes.”
A cantata is a long, multi-movement work that combines an orchestra, a solo vocalist, and a chorus. It’s not something that high school students should try to pull off.
“Everyone is motivated, there’s a lot of talk about it in the staff room, and the reception for it is very welcoming. I’ve even let Musao arrange the music. It would be a pity for Musao if we quit now.”
“Don’t you ever feel sorry for me for making me arrange it…?”
“Yeah, I do. I always feel sorry for Musao.”
“Why does that sound so sarcastic?!”
“You’re being paranoid. I didn’t say what I felt sorry for you for,” Sensei chuckled and poked me in the cheek. “Well, if I had to say, I’d say I feel sorry for the size of your breasts.”
“I’m a man, you know.”
“You’re a crossdresser.”
“Rinko-san, weren’t you just not interested in our conversation? Why are you now poking my sides?”
“Okay. Let’s stop talking about crossdressing. Back to the cantata.”
That was strangely compliant of Rinko—
“In this cantata arranged by Murase-kun, the prelude is too long. Of course, it’s the same prelude as the original, but since it’s probably a piano prelude, it should just be cut out. In order for a prelude to be a prelude, it must have a certain solemnity. Bach’s prelude transcends the confines of a prelude itself—”
“Didn’t we agree to stop talking about crossdressing?”
“But we’re talking about the prelude. What are you talking about?”
All I could do was grit my teeth. You devilish woman, teasing me with such a cold face.
(TL: 女装 (Crossdressing: jou・sou) is pronounced the same way as 序奏 (Prelude: jou・sou).)
Just then, the door to the music room opened and Shizuki walked in.
“Sensei, I’ve put together the list of volunteer participants for the cantata!”
Shizuki placed three sheets of A4 with lists of names on Sensei’s desk. The names of the students and their respective classes were all lined up in a row. It seemed that they were from several different classes and years.
“Uwah. I wasn’t being so serious about it, but so many people are interested.”
Hanazono-sensei made it sound like it was someone else’s problem.
“What is this? What do you mean by ‘volunteers’…?” I looked at Shizuki’s face.
“I just asked for people who were interested in performing in a cantata at the festival,” Shizuki replied pridefully. “There were so many people who wanted to try it even if they didn’t choose music as their elective.”
I looked at the list again. The first name on the list was Shizuki Yurisaka from class 3, year one. She chose calligraphy for her elective, so the other volunteers were probably also in calligraphy or art. If that were the case, though, the cantata choir would be three times larger than I had expected.
No, wait a minute.
“So, about these people’s practice… Of course, Sensei’s going to take care of it, right?”
“Of course it’s gonna be your job.”
“They don’t have music as their elective, so they have to practice outside school hours. It’s no longer my business.Also, I think volunteers’ training sessions should be led by a volunteer.”
“I’m not a volunteer, you know?”
“I see. Murase-kun is totally unkind.” Rinko said coldly from the side.
“Eh? Wait, um, Rinko-san, what’s with you all of a sudden?”
“Actually, I’d call you a no-kindness.”
“I’ve never even heard of that word before! Why does it still hurt?”
“Because you’re a no-kindness.”
“That’s straight-up abusive!”
“Well, since you don’t have any kindness, I guess that’s fine. I’ll organize the practices,” Rinko said with a sigh.
“Ah, yeah, please do.”
(TL: This is a Kanji wordplay. Volunteer is written in Japanese as 有志. If we break down the Kanjis, 有 means (something) exists, and 志 means kindness. So, in other word, 有志 can be literally translated as the existence of kindness. In the source material, what Rinko-san called him is written as 無志. If we look up the first Kanji, 無 means (something) doesn’t exist. So, in this context, 無志 can be literally translated as the non-existence of kindness. For this, we decided to go with the word no-kindness to emphasize the non-existence of Murase-kun’s kindness, based on how Rinko-san feels. Ouch.)
” To be honest, I don’t think I’ve got enough hands to do everything by myself since I am playing the piano accompaniment and also teaching the seniors is going to be a huge psychological burden because of my shyness and also it will take a lot of time and effort for me to understand the intentions of the arrangements since I’m not the arranger and I will also have to spend a lot of time here after school if I have to watch the practices by myself which I feel like it will have a negative impact on my grades and eventually on my college entrance exams and also job hunting and my future life in general but sure I can definitely do it alone.”
(PR Note: This was written as a wall-of-text in the source material. She’s unstoppable. I hope you enjoy it.)
“I’m so sorry! I’ll help too!”
“Really? That’s fantastic.”
“Makoto-san, you really are nice to Rinko-san… It’s a little frustrating…”
“In what world does it look like I’m being nice? I’m just guarding myself against her psychological attacks!”
“So, um, sensei.” Shizuki turns to Hanazono-sensei. “Is there any way I can change my elective to music…?”
“Eeh?” Sensei blinks in surprise. “From now on, you mean? You’re gonna stop doing calligraphy?”
“Yes. That way, I can practice during school. Besides, I’d like to be in your class. It’s not just me, there are many people who want to change to music for their elective. It has a good reputation.”
“Hoho, reputation? What do you mean?” Sensei looked pleased.
“The music students always say ‘The choral coaching is very thorough, you can feel yourself improving, the accompaniment is great, and even the explanations of classical pieces are interesting!’”
“It’s probably about 80% thanks to me and Rinko, right…?”
Even though I should’ve kept my mouth shut, I spoke out.
“Since I’m the one who raised you two, I guess I get all the credit!” Sensei exclaimed haughtily as she leaned back in her chair. Why don’t you just lean back some more and then hit the back of your head on the floor? “However, I think it’s prohibited to change elective classes in the middle of the school year.:
“I… see.” Shizuki’s shoulders slumped. “I should have chosen the music elective from the beginning.”
“Didn’t you choose calligraphy because you wanted to?” I asked.
Shizuki responded with a shake of her head.
“Mother told me to take calligraphy, because it’s ‘the best way to connect with flowers’.”
Ah, that sounds like something that mother would say.
“Well, maybe you can after you become a second year,” said Hanazono-sensei. “Though, I don’t know if I’ll still have this job by then since I’m slacking off like this. Ahaha.”
“If you’re aware of it, you should actually work!” I shouted.
On that weekend, I heard Akane performing for the first time.
Every time I went to Moon Echo, Kurokawa-san would ask me to run errands for her. As a thank-you, she allowed me to see a live show for free. As I mentioned before, Moon Echo was not just a studio; it also had a live music club in the basement.
It was a little embarrassing, but I have to admit that I had never gone to a live show before.
My favorite artists were either dead, never came to Japan, or never played live in-person in the first place. And since I was a lazy bastard, I would rather spend my money on buying a new instrument or sound source and play around with them in my room instead of trying to get a ticket and spending a whole day at the venue.
Because of this, the first live show of my life was on someone else’s tab.
To be completely honest, I wasn’t interested in amatuer performances either. However, Shizuki, who was with me, seemed very into it.
“I’ve never been to a live concert before! I’m so happy that my first time is with Makoto-san!”
Seeing the twinkle in her eyes, I was at a loss for words.
The basement was approximately the size of a basketball court. There was a bar to the right of the thick soundproof door, a sound control booth in the corner to the left, and a stage in the back with suspended microphone stands and drum sets in the dim footlights.
There was still a while until the show began when I walked in, so the only people in the venue were the staff who were setting everything up. On the ceiling filled with a haze of purple smoke, bare air ducts twisted, turned, and crossed around each other. The air was filled with the scent of alcohol, the sound of pink noise, and the tantalizing feeling of anticipation.
Soon, the crowd began to pour into the venue, filling the dimly lit space with over a hundred people. In the darkness, miscellaneous grains of light from mascara, smart phones, and silver accessories flickered and danced around. The voices of people mixed together, creating a rising tide that flooded the venue, and soon enough, the surface of the sea began to boil.
I began to feel sorry for myself for thinking that listening to a live concert was no different from listening to it at home with headphones on. This atmosphere really made my skin tingling. My throat became very dry, my chest was getting warmer and warmer, and it was becoming harder to breathe.
In such a small, confined space, even with a joint show of three unknown amateur bands, it really exhilarated me. I couldn’t imagine what would happen if this was my favorite band’s performance, after a fierce competition to get a ticket. My skin might be on fire.
The darkness was illuminated with colors.
The stage was bathed in cocktail lights, casting several shadows. The bodies of guitars, painted in sunburst or surf green, shone. The occasional howling sound of the microphone clawed at the ceiling.
“Hello, good evening,” greeted a man who seemed to be the vocalist absentmindedly. He was probably a college student.
A young woman cheered from the audience. The guitarist and bassist both look very stylish, and the band seemed to be very popular with the women. However—
“Makoto-san, that person,” Shizuki whispered from next to me, pointing.
Our eyes were fixed on the drummer.
It was Akane.
Wearing a plain black t-shirt, she sank into the darkness at the back of the stage. if I didn’t look closely, she might’ve been buried under the ceiling lights and cymbals.
She lifted the drumsticks high in the air, and with four taps, signalled the beginning of the performance.
That day: I only looked at Akane; I only listened to Akane’s sound.
If I had to be honest, none of the three bands were great or worth paying money to listen to. But, to my surprise, Akane played in all three. First as a drummer, then as a side guitarist, and finally as a bassist.
Though, there was nothing outstanding about her performance. She fit in so well with each band’s unremarkable sounds that I sometimes forgot she was even performing on stage.
On the contrary, wasn’t she amazing?
In three bands with different styles, all playing different parts, she blended into the background as a chameleon would. It wasn’t something a normal person could do.
I see—you can make money because you’re at this level. What a waste of talent. How did she even come to have such a skill?
In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed the boring show until the end. I didn’t remember anything except for Akane’s performance. I couldn’t even remember if the lyrics were in Japanese or not.
“Wasn’t that amazing?”
As we left the building after the show was over, Shizuki was still lively and full of energy.
“Um, I think Akane-san played the guitar and bass perfectly. She was able to adapt to the level of the people around her, so it didn’t sound strange at all.”
“Since I do everything halfheartedly, whenever I hear people like her perform, it makes me a little depressed…”
“Ah, but, but, I think I’m a better drummer!” Shizuki exclaimed.
I blinked in surprise.
“W-Well… I know that.”
“You can’t use Akane-san as a substitute for me, and you definitely can’t make her excessively service you, okay?”
“I won’t do that.”
I didn’t see the point in getting another drummer to play with us whenI was going to the studio with Shizuki to help her practice the drums in the first place.
“That’s relieving,” Shizuki said with a slight smile. “It would be sad if Makoto-san were to be arrested for a sex crime.”
I’m the one who would be sad. Let’s not talk about it anymore.
“So, Makoto-san… um, do you have any plans after this?” Shizuki asked, looking up at me.
After this? I looked up at the sky. The dull, cramped, dark sky between the buildings.
“Shouldn’t you be on your way home? It’s already pretty late.”
Shizuki looked at me hazily after hearing my response. She then dropped her shoulders before taking a short breath.
“There’s something I have to tell you, Makoto-san.”
“…H-Huh? What is it?” I braced myself.
“See, if it’s going to be a crime, then you can’t do it. However! If it’s not a crime, then you can do it!”
That was anticlimactic. Isn’t that supposed to be obvious? Should I ask her out loud? The passerby started looking at us as if something was wrong.
“Isn’t that pretty obvious…?”
“No, you don’t get it at all! Whatever! See you tomorrow! Thank you for your time today!”
Shizuki scurried away to the main street, stopped for a cab, and quickly got in. I nodded my head and headed for the station.
This night, however, was far from over, as I bumped into Akane at the station.
It was rush hour, and so the platform was packed with office workers and students. Despite this, she inexplicably caught my attention. She had short smooth hair and was wearing a plain black t-shirt. Surprisingly, she wasn’t carrying any musical instruments. While she was wearing earphones with her head down, she still caught attention from people around her.
Well, it’s not like we knew each other that well. I didn’t intend to make contact with her just because we happened to be on the same train. However, she somehow glanced up and noticed me, then walked up to me, weaving her way through the line of people.
“No way, it’s Mr. Only-Good-At-Using-His-MouthTalker-san! No way!”
Stop calling me that.
“Um, I have a proper name, you know? It’s Murase Makoto.”
“Ah, sorry! Your proper name is Murase Makoto! Makoto-chan for short!”
What’s with that “chan”? Don’t screw with me. Since when were we so close?
“Did you just come from the studio? Oh, and did you come see the show by any chance?”
“Eh… um, yeah, well, Kurokawa-san said she wouldn’t charge me anything for the ticket, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to go.”
“Really?! I’m so glad. I was performing on the stage! You didn’t notice me, didya?”
“No, of course I noticed. Saw you in all three performances.”
Akane tapped her cheek with her fingertip.
“Someone noticed me. That’s no good. Since I’m just a helper, I shouldn’t stand out, right?”
“You didn’t exactly stand out—” I began, but quickly stopped myself. It was difficult to explain to her, and I wasn’t exactly sure if I should bother with it. But because Akane tilted her head quizzically and was curiously staring at my face, I was pressured into opening my mouth again. “The fact that you didn’t stand out stood out to me. Umm, hmm… I was amazed at how you raised the level of your performance by focusing on keeping the rhythm and getting all the notes just right. Sorry, I didn’t really like any of the songs, so I only listened to you.”
After I stopped rambling, Akane covered her mouth with both hands, her face turning bright red.
Weird sounds leaked out from between her fingers. Crap, did I say something wrong? While I was stuck in my inner turmoil, the train came along, drowning out Akane’s voice.
We were caught up in the passengers around us. The two of us were pushed together to the opposite door. Akane’s still-blushing face was in close proximity to mine, though my cheeks were being smothered by the glass, which contorted my face. But that didn’t make it any less awkward to scramble through the cramped space and escape to a safer location.
“You were paying attention to me? That makes me a little happy, but at the same time, a little embarrassed,” Akane said with a shy smile. The train began to move.
“You could have paid attention to the whole band, right?”
“Ngh… I didn’t really look at anyone other than you, though…”
“Uwah… You’re choosing to say that when your face is five centimeters away from mine? Are you alright in the mind?”
The question is, are you okay? What are you even talking about?
“Welp, I guess that you understand my skill now. You interested in recruiting me as a helper next time?”
I slowly turned my gaze out the train window.
“No, I’m not in any need of one.”
“Why? You know, it’s always just you and that drummer girl, and you only play fancy music from bands like Pink Floyd or King Crimson that are super unattractive, in a good way, and what you’re doing is definitely something that needs more people.”
“Wait a minute, what do you mean by ‘unattractive, in a good way’?”
“Don’t you get it?”
“I got it! I hate to admit it, but I got it! By the way, did you think that it would soften the blow by adding ‘in a good way’?”
“Well, I think that you won’t be able to make any new friends for the rest of your life with the kind of music you’re playing, in a good way, and you will need someone to play bass.”
“What’s with this train of thought?”
“I can also play guitar, keys, or anything else you might need. Want to try my services?”
While my brain struggled to come up with an answer, the train arrived at the next station. Passengers started to leave the train, giving more room for Akane and me. Finally,we could catch our breaths.
“Why do you want to be a helper so badly?”
When I asked, Akane shifted her gaze diagonally upward. It seemed that she had some difficulty answering this question.
“I wanted to experience a variety of things to broaden my musical style. If I do that, I think I’ll be invited to play with many other bands.”
That was a pretty good attitude and mindset to have. However, I became curious by her sudden lack of confidence, which prompted me to continue talking.
“With this skill you already have, I’m sure any band would welcome you as a full-fledged member, not just as a helper. Even if you started your own band, I’m sure you’d be able to get other people to join you quickly.”
Akane’s smile morphed into a grimace.
“I don’t want to do that. I don’t have any particular music that I want to play. I’m just grateful to be invited.”
I could not believe what I just heard. There is no music you want to play? How can someone who has this mindset become so skilled? What even motivates her to practice?
“Well, I’m glad that I can make some money with my skills,,” Akane said with a chuckle.
“Do you really need the money?”
“Not really. It’s just the fact of getting it that makes me satisfied. That’s why I keep my prices so low! I’m even fine with giving out discounts since that gives me more chances to learn more!”
“Um… just asking, but how much did you get paid for helping them in the show earlier…?”
Akane proudly told me the amount, puffing up her chest. It was threefold lower than my already-lowered expectations, causing my anger to swell up at the three bands that performed today.
“What do you think? Would you like to hire me??”
“No, I’ve told you many times that I don’t really need it. It’s not like I’m going to play live; I’m just practicing with a drummer.”
Akane leaned against the door and swept her disheartened gaze out the window. Beyond her translucent profile that was being reflected in the pane, the streetlights along the railroad tracks produced a glowing trail of light in the dimness of the evening.
Why is she being so persistent? Is she the same way with everyone else? Or, is it just because I’m close to her age?
“Anyway, if you ever change your mind, just let me know. You can always find me at Moon Echo, sitting and hugging my knees alone in the corner, while listening to Coldplay, and waiting for you with tears in my eyes!”
Can you not say something like that with that kind of smile? It’s making me feel guilty.
The train soon arrived at its next station. Akane gave me a farewell, “Well, I’m getting off at this station! See you later!” and stepped out onto the platform. I then followed her out the train. Akane gave me a blank stare, while I awkwardly tried to look away. The train’s doors slid shut behind me, and the loud noise of a train on tracks brushed the back of my hair.
Akane burst out laughing, clutching her stomach. All the passengers who just got off the train turned their eyes toward Akane.
“We get off at the same station?”
“Looks like it…”
“Is your house close by? Oh, also, did Kurokawa-san tell you that we go to the same high school? I haven’t been there at all, though.”
Oh yeah, she did mention that at some point, right?
We walked together on the way out of the station. A worry that we were, in fact, neighbors started creeping into my mind. The streets were less crowded at night, and it became increasingly more difficult to keep up a conversation.
“Why don’t you go to school? What happened?” I asked, trying to break the silence.
But it was only after I had said it aloud did I realize how insensitive I was with my question.
“Sorry, you don’t have to answer! I know that you probably have a lot going on, and plus, it probably isn’t something you want to talk about with an unrelated stranger anyway.”
“Ahaha. It’s not like anything happened or something. It’s just that I sorta haven’t been there since I entered the school. Just because,” Akane explained as she bounced two steps ahead of me.
“I don’t understand why anyone would go to school.”
“Well, it’s not like anyone asked you to go to school, right? To be there, stay there, doing things together with other people… No one really asked us to do it. ”
I had no clue as to what she was spewing forth.
However, I believe that I started to understand her a little more.
For a while, I strode along the sidewalk in silence, staring at Akane’s back. Before I knew it, I was about a half step in front of her. I didn’t know if it was because she intentionally slowed down or if I unconsciously sped up. Whenever a streetlight wandered its way above our heads, two silhouettes out, overlapping each other, and like the hands of a clock, they circled around us before disappearing into the darkness behind us. The silence’s crushing pressure made my knees feel heavy. I chided myself for my inconsiderate comment earlier. You should think about the other person more when you’re talking, me. You’re not a child anymore.
We continued walking without really talking. Eventually, I could see the shadow of my apartment building across the alley.
Akane was still following me. Were we really neighbors?
“…Um… My house is right over there,” I said, pointing to the line of lit windows that were floating in the darkness. “Do you live here too?”
“Nah. I live on Sixth Street.”
Isn’t that on the other side of the highway? Why did you follow me here?
“But I don’t want to go home tonight… so I followed you…”
That made me jump back six meters. What in the world is she talking about?
“Sike!” Akane giggled. “I’ve always wanted to say that once. Oh, and, it’s not just tonight that I don’t want to go home. I’m used to killing time outside, so it’s fine. See you, Makoto-chan.”
Akane waved and ran off, her figure enveloped by the darkness as soon as she left the luminous circle created by the streetlight.
I took a deep breath and headed for home. I was extremely exhausted.
“Why didn’t you just take her home?”
I was startled by a voice that suddenly came from beside me. It was my older sister.
“I’ll keep it a secret from your wives.”
“N-N-No, w-what are you talking about? It’s not like that.”
“You made her say, ‘But I don’t want to go home tonight’, and yet you didn’t do anything. You’re a real loser, aren’t you?”
How do you even know about that? Well, apparently, after considering the fact that she was wearing a t-shirt and shorts while carrying a filled plastic bag, I realized that she was on her way home from the convenience store. What bad timing.
“You’ve been attracting a lot of girls lately, haven’t you? Maybe it’s because you’ve been dressing like one. Or maybe it’s because I polished you up.”
“That has nothing to do with it!”
In order to cut off the conversation, I lengthened my strides, but unfortunately, since we were both headed to the same destination, my sister was able to match my pace. She kept pestering me with questions about Akane until we reached the entrance of our house. It ended up being a seriously tiring night.
The next time I saw Akane was on Monday evening of the following week. On that day, I was at Moon Echo with Rinko and Shizuki. This time, Rinko came with us, mainly to monitor me so that I wouldn’t commit a so called sex crime against Shizuki behind closed doors or something. Aside from that, Rinko was also playing an instrument in the studio with us after I asked her to be in charge of the synthesizer. Despite Rinko being a classical pianist, she can surprisingly play a wide variety of music such as rock and jazz. This made the session much more enjoyable than when it was just Shizuki and me.
As I returned to the lobby after a productive hour, I heard a familiar husky voice in an argument with someone.
“What do you mean by that? I thought it was until the end of the month?”
“—I already told you, I won’t ask you for help anymore!”
“Why? Won’t you also be playing most of the same songs in the next performance? Why not just let me play them?”
It was Akane. She was surrounded by three young men in the corner of the lobby, and a hostile aura was emitting from there. The men did look slightly familiar, though. After digging through my memory for a while, I realized that they were the guys from the band that Akane played with at the live show that night.
“Was my performance that bad? I’ll practice more, then…”
“No, it’s not. W-Wait, I mean, in a way, yes,” stammered one of them.
The band members then reluctantly walked out, as they were attracting the attention of the other guests who were in the lobby. Akane shouted, “Wait!” and chased after them.
The lobby was left with an unpleasant atmosphere.
Since Rinko had no clue who Akane was, she looked at me with a puzzling expression that seemed to say, “What was that?” Shizuki cautiously approached the glass door to see what was happening. Eventually, she boldly went out the door. I was worried and so I quickly followed suit.
Akane and the three men were standing by some roadside trees just outside the building. The men were all carrying guitar cases, making the already-petite Akane look even smaller and more unreliable.
“—So, I hate to say this, but…” the man who seemed to be the vocalist began.
“You’re purposely toning down your performance to meet our level. That kind of thing hurts our pride.”
Shizuki, who seemed to be wondering if she should approach them or not, froze when she heard that. I was in the same state as her.
“Even if we’re not very skilled, it’s annoying when people like you do us like that.”
Akane’s voice faltered and broke off.
As part of the audience during the live show, Shizuki and I both understood. Though, if we had been on the stage, it would’ve been more clear and evident. Of course, there are other ways to describe it. She was able to make it fit seamlessly, to blend in well…
But, no matter how many words I coated it with, Akane herself understood it better than anyone else.
That night, Akane intentionally did not give her 100%.
“We thought that our performance would be improved when we asked for your help. However, in the end, I don’t think you really helped us at all.”
The three left it at that, and walked away.
Akane had been nodding off for a while, when, eventually, she rubbed her face with the back of her hand, sighed on the asphalt, and turned toward the studio—or rather, toward us. Our eyes met and her face turned red. There was a trace of tears in the corner of her swollen eyes. Before I could say anything to her, she turned on her heel and ran off toward the street.
I, Shizuki, and Rinko could only look at each other in silence.
(TL: Took forever, it’s actually so hard. Thanks to sika and Anima as always.)