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Part II

1. Dear Naoki, How are you? Its September yet its still very hot everyday isnt it? How are things going over there? You said before that you often work outside. I imagine you are having a hard time in this heat. I dont know what one does in a recycling job. Good luck anyway. Im currently working on metal carvings, or something like that. We make lots of different things. Some look like signboards. There are also ornaments shaped like animals. Im not very good with my fingertips but those skills dont matter. The machines do all the hard stuff. We just need to be able to use the machines. There are a lot of things to learn and its hard, though when everything goes well, it feels really good. I really want to take a picture of my recent masterpiece I made and send it to you. Im not allowed to do that though. I thought Id draw a picture instead but Im only allowed to write words on this letter. When I want to draw a picture, I need to get permission in advance. I gave up though because its too tedious. Also thinking over it, Im bad at drawing so I probably wont able to communicate it well anyway. The other day, the guy that came to our shared cell wrote a picture on his letter and received a warning. Ultimately he was forgiven after he told the warden why. It was because he was sending a letter to his daughter. He wanted to send a picture of a bear for her birthday. We cant do anything for our families living outside so he wanted to at least give her a picture as a present. That guy bought colored pencils as soon as he came in here. He must really like drawing. The prison isnt the devil reincarnated so I guess they made an exception seeing that it was just a picture of a bear. They reiterated to the guy that it was a special exception just this once. We can normally only send letters once a month. There is no limit to how many letters we can receive. Theres this guy in our room that gets a bunch of letters. He got caught soon after he got married. When a letter arrives from his wife he goes around all day with a smile on his face. Its not just him. Its easy to tell when a person gets a letter from a girl. They keep on reading and rereading their letter. Theyll reread it and have a happy expression on their face. Then theyll say that they want to get out of here as soon as possible. I think its hard for people who left their companions outside. Some worry all day about how their wives might be getting it together with another guy. They should never have committed a crime in the first place if they were going to worry so much. Well, I guess I dont have the right to say that but still. Im glad I dont have to worry about that kind of stuff. In your last letter you mentioned about how a weird girl called out to you. Maybe that girl likes you. You said shes not your type. Ignore that for the moment and how about going on a date for once? Sorry about writing weird things. By the way have you visited Mrs. Ogatas grave? Im pretty concerned on my part. Ill write again next month. Bye. Yours sincerely, Tsuyoshi Naoki read the letter, found in his dorms letterbox, while eating a set meal at the cafeteria. The quality of writing had improved significantly over time. He remembered that Tsuyoshi said in a previous letter that he had started to use a dictionary. The sentences flowed much better now. He probably had gotten used to writing as he wrote more and more letters. Seeing this, Naoki thought that Tsuyoshis lack of aptitude for studying could have been a simple misunderstanding. It could have been that he just lacked the right opportunity. Content-wise, Naoki was surprised that Tsuyoshi had brought up the subject of girls. It was unprecedented. Being twenty-three, it wasnt like Tsuyoshi was not interested in girls at all. 1

Naoki realized this. It was also shocking. The weird girl mentioned in the letter referred to the girl he sometimes encountered on the bus. Naoki would keep ignoring her but finally last month, she approached him. It was in the factory cafeteria and not while on the bus. You want to eat this? A voice suddenly came from his side. Not thinking that the voice was directed to him, Naoki kept on eating his curry. Then from beside him a tupperware appeared. Taken aback, he looked to his side. It was the familiar face from the bus. Please if you would like, keeping her head bowed, she gently pushed forward the tupperware. Inside was an apple, the skin peeled and beautifully cut. Are you sure? She silently nodded her head. Her face was slightly red. Wiping his hands on his handkerchief, Naoki took the apple. Once he had put it in his mouth it tasted slightly salty and once he bit into it the sweetness spread. I like it, Naoki said honestly. Youre not in our company are you? A Kansai accent could be detected in her words. Yeah. The company is called Treasure Recycle. Hmm. Im in the pump manufacturing division, group three. I see. Naoki replied vaguely. Being told what division she was in was meaningless to him. Were on the same bus right? Oh really? Naoki pretended he had not noticed. How old are you? Me? I just turned 19. Then youve graduated from high school? Same here. She smiled, apparently happy by that fact. On her chest was a nameplate with the name Shiraishi on it. She proceeded on to ask Naoki about things like the company dorm he lived at. He replied in a muttered voice. She wasnt ugly but she did not have as good looking of an appearance to warrant the desire to actively talk. He had a stronger feeling of it being bothersome. Using the ringing of the chime as an excuse he stood up. He thanked her for the apple. No problem. See you later. She smiled. From the next day Naoki changed the bus he got on. He neither liked nor disliked her but the prospect of meeting somebody he knew on the bus everyday made him gloomy. Even at the factory, he took the extra measure to stagger the time he went to the cafeteria. Thanks to that he had not talked to her since that one time. Naoki wrote these things on his letter to Tsuyoshi. Yet upon reading Tsuyoshis reply he regretted that he might have been insensitive. In his current state, Tsuyoshi had absolutely no contact with women. It was not something he should have written to such a person. Tsuyoshi probably was really jealous of his younger brother. He may have even nurtured a grudge against Naoki for being inconsiderate. As far as Naoki knew, there were no signs that Tsuyoshi ever had a girlfriend. He rarely had the opportunity to meet someone. Even if he did have someone who he liked, Tsuyoshi would have resisted the urge to confess his love, based on a sense of responsibility that he must provide for his younger brother. Naoki was a sophomore in high school. Feeling sick he had left his school early. As always, he unlocked the door and opened it. Tsuyoshi hurriedly ran into the bathroom. On the floor were the jeans he had taken off. Next to the jeans was a porn magazine scavenged from somewhere and it remained open on a page with a sketchy picture of a model. Dont come home suddenly, the older brother joked around as he came out of the bathroom 2

with just his pants on. Sorry, sorry, the younger brother apologized. Should I take a little walk? Nah, its okay. Are you finished? Shut up. They looked at each other and laughed together. Tsuyoshi was most definitely a virgin. He most likely had never even kissed a person in his life. That was going to continue for another 15 years. Naokis heart throbbed with pain as that fact sank in. 2. Things were very unruly back inside his dorm. Naoki tilted his head and opened the door. In the entrance, Naoki saw a line of unfamiliar shoes. They were all worn out. The sliding door to one of the rooms opened. Inside, a person Naoki did not recognize sat with crossed legs, laughing. He looked like he had a lot of alcohol in his system. A young guy had moved into that room from the beginning of the month. Although young, he was still a lot older than Naoki. He was a tall man with his hair dyed brown. Naoki just knew that his surname was Kurata. As Naoki tried to go into his own room, a voice came from behind. Whats up? When Naoki turned around, he saw Kurata sticking his head out. Im drinking with a few buddies. Join us. Im underage. Naoki said. Kurata burst out laughing. Laughter erupted from inside the room. I never thought somebody actually cared. Well isnt this surprising. It was displeasing, seeming like he was being made fun of. Naoki opened the door of his room. Wait, Kurata spoke again. Were roommates now so come on, join us for a bit. Im sure its a nuisance for you if were throwing a party in the room next door. It will be more enjoyable if you party together with us. Naoki wanted to tell Kurata that if he knew he was being a nuisance, he should stop making all the commotion. However, he did not want to get on bad terms with the guy he saw everyday. Just a little bit then. Three unfamiliar faces were in Kuratas room. They were all seasonal workers and said that they met Kurata at this company dorm. Each of them had either a can of beer or a cup of some alcohol in their hand. In the center lay some snacks and a side dish. Of course it wasnt like Naoki had not had any alcohol before. After Tsuyoshis salary came out, they had often celebrated with beer. After Tsuyoshis arrest however, Naoki had not had any. His tongue numbed a little from the taste of beer he had not tasted for a long time. Its only going to be for a short time but lets get along together while were here. Theres no need to act small just because were seasonal workers. We dont need to bow our head to the full-time employees. Well band together among ourselves. As Kuratas alcohol level increased, his speech also became increasingly unrestrained. Yeah, now that I think about it, were in a comfortable position. We dont have promotions but we dont have responsibility either. Every time a deficient product pops up, its convenient for us but the full-time guys get blue in the face. Regardless of how long the production line stops, we get paid as time passes. One of the guys piggybacked off of Kuratas speech. Thats how things are. We just need to safely complete our season of work. Beyond that, were free to throw a fight against guys we hate or do whatever we want. 3

The other three laughed upon hearing Kuratas words. All of their articulation had become very dubious. Hey brother, drink more. Drink, drink, and just throw up everything in your stomach. The guy next to Naoki forced a cup into his hand and poured sake into it. Naoki reluctantly took a sip. It was a drink reeking heavily of alcohol. Hes not a seasonal worker. Kurata said. Hes with the subcontracting scrap metal company. So thats how it is. Werent there better jobs lying around? High school huh. Were you a drop out? The guy gave a weird laugh. Naoki stood up. Im going to head to bed. Ignoring comments about him being unsociable, Naoki tried to exit the room. Hey whats this? Is it a love letter from a girl? Naoki felt inside his pocket. He realized that the letter from Tsuyoshi had disappeared. The guy next to him was picking up the envelope. Naoki snatched it back without saying a word. Come on. Dont be shy. Its a good thing. Kurata broke into a smile. Its from my older brother. Your brother? Dont tell an obvious lie. I have a younger brother too and Ive never thought about writing a letter to him. Im not lying. Then show it to us. I wont read the inside. Kurata stretched out his hand. After pondering a little Naoki asked, Will you really not read it? I wont. I dont say such petty lies. Naoki sighed and handed out the letter. Kurata immediately looked at the back of the envelope. Humph. I guess it is a guys name. Obviously since its from my brother. Kuratas expression changed. His smile had disappeared in an instant. Thats enough isnt it? Naoki took back the envelope. He tried to leave the room. In that moment Kurata said. What did he do? What? Your older brother. What did he get arrested doing? Hes put in prison right! Kurata jerked his chin towards Naokis hands. The expression of the other three guys changed. When Naoki did not respond, Kurata continued. That address is the prison in Chiba. I also used to get letters from somebody inside so I know. What did he do? Did he kill somebody? Why do you care? It has nothing to do with you. Come on, its not like its going to go away. Or is it a really lame and uncool crime? Like rape? said a guy who was next to Kurata. After bursting out laughing he put his hand over his mouth. Kurata glared at that guy and looked up at Naoki again. What did he do? Naoki inhaled deeply and putting air in his cheeks, blurted out. Robbery followed by murder. The smile blew off the face of the guy next to Kurata. Even Kurata seemed shocked and did not open his mouth for a while. I see. Way to go in being showy. Is he imprisoned for life? Fifteen years. Hmm. So something like a first offender with extenuating circumstances. 4

My brother never planned to kill. He intended to escape as soon as he stole the money. But he was found by the inhabitant and killed the person in the heat of the moment. Its a common enough story. The old lady was sleeping in the back. My brother had a physical condition and couldnt run away immediately. He tried to stop the old lady from calling the police and Naoki stopped and shook his head. He began feeling it would be pointless to tell this crowd anymore. Dumb fool. Kurata muttered. What did you say? I said hes a dumb fool. If he has the guts to commit a robbery, he should have checked to see if anybody was inside when he first broke into the house. The old woman was sleeping right? So he should have killed her in the beginning. That way he would have had plenty of time to look for valuables and escape leisurely. My brother had not intention to kill anybody. How many times do I have to tell you that. He still ended up killing her. If he had no intention to kill, he should have hurried and escaped. Even if he were caught, it wouldnt be that big of a deal. If he was going to kill, he should have made his resolve and killed her in the first place. Isnt he stupid? Hearing Kuratas last words, Naokis entire body grew hot. Whom are you referring to? Your older brother. Im saying maybe somethings wrong with his Seeing Kurata point with his finger at his own head, Naoki sprang at Kurata. 3. The next day Naoki did not go to work. His company had contacted him and he was called to the office in Machida. The office was on the second floor of a small and old three-story building. Although it was called an office, it only consisted of President Fukumoto and a middle-aged female office worker with really strong eyeglasses. He knew why he had been called. The news about the fight he had between Kurata at the dorm had travelled to him. It wouldnt have been bad if it were just limited to a fistfight. It was the breaking of the glass window that made things really bad. The people in the room below contacted the head of the dorm and the incident had escalated. Fukumoto did not ask the reason for the fight. Upon seeing Naokis face, he first said that Naoki would be fired if such a thing happened again. Ive apologized to the employee services department of the Tozai Motor Company. The fee for fixing the glass window will be deducted from your salary. Understood? I apologize for all the trouble. Naoki bowed his head. Speaking of which, you got into quite a fight didnt you? Have you seen your face in a mirror? Im sorry. Naoki had felt that the left side of his face was swollen even before looking in the mirror this morning. The inside of his mouth was also cut up and to be honest, even speaking was a burden. Fukumoto leaned back in his chair and looked up at Naokis face. Takeshima, what are you planning to do from now on? Not knowing what he was taking about, Naoki silently looked back at the presidents face. Youre not going to go anywhere if you keep on working at a place like ours. It may be weird for a person in my position to say this but it isnt a job good young kids do. But I dont have any other source of employment. Thats not what Im talking about. Im saying that nothing good will happen if you continue 5

living on a day-to-day basis like now. Were a place where people with nowhere to go and have no future congregate. You know Tateno, the guy that collects scrap metal together with you right? That guy actually used to be an on-the-road Enka1 singer. He even sold some records. He never got lucky and now hes in that state. He could have lived a bunch of different lives if only he had given up at an earlier date. Its okay for him though. Thats the result of continuing something he loved until he was satisfied. How about you? Your life is still starting. Until when do you plan on rotting away at a place like us? Huh? He did not expect Fukumoto to start saying such a thing and Naoki was surprised. At the present, he was too occupied with surviving and continuing to live. When he did not say anything, Whatever, Fukumoto said as he waved his hand as if he was chasing a fly. You should think deep and hard about it once. You dont have to go to work today. Or rather, stay in your room in self-reflection. Understood? I understand. Apologizing and bowing his head again, Naoki left the office. On his way back to his dorm, he went over what Fukumoto had said. It was as if Fukumoto had pointed out the feelings that had been persisting in the corner of his mind ever since graduating from high school. He knew he could not stay like this forever. It was true that he felt a sense of panic as he saw people of his age working at the factory. Yet he did not know how he could escape from his current situation. When Naoki returned to the dorm, Kuratas shoes lay in the entrance. It was the shoes he always wore to work. It looked like he also did not go to work. Or it may have been that he was told to take the day off as well. Not wanting to face Kurata, Naoki went into his own room. He had to be careful when going to the bathroom, Naoki thought. As he was mulling over such thoughts, the door of Kuratas room creaked open. There was a knock on Naokis door. Yo, its me. Naoki stiffened up a bit and opened the door about 20cm. With a band-aid above his eye, Kurata stood there with his chin slightly sticking up. What is it? Kurata looked to the side and exhaled from his nose. Dont look so annoyed. Its not like Im trying to restart the fight. Then what do you want? Hows your math? Math? What do you mean? Your grades. Were they good? Or were you bad at it? Well Naoki tilted his head. He was confused, thrown with such a topic of another dimension. Its not like I was bad at it. I was originally intending to go into the math and sciences in university. I see. You could tell from the shape of his cheeks that Kurata was rolling his tongue around in his mouth. He was thinking about something. What about that? Well you see, Kurata scratched his stubby beard with his fingertips. Do you have a bit of time? Time? Well I technically do but Then can you come over? I have a favor to ask. 6

What exactly Come and youll see. Naoki thought for a little bit. Hed have to continue living with Kurata for a while so he wanted to resolve any sources of tensions in a timely manner. Kurata probably also thought the same and had knocked on his door. Naoki could not think that Kurata was plotting something. All right. Opening the door wide, he left his room. Naturally, the glass window in Kuratas room remained broken. It was temporarily patched up with some cardboard. Naoki thought about apologizing. The words did not come out. What caught Naokis attention was the stuff on top of the table. There were a few reference books, the kind high school students used, and a notebook that was left open. Writing utensils were also spread out. When Naoki looked at Kurata, he frowned as if he was embarrassed. I dont really want to do this kind of thing at my age. He sat in front of the table so Naoki also sat down cross-legged, facing him. Are you going to a part-time school? Kurata shook his body and laughed at Naokis question. I dont have the time to take it easy like that. If I went to high school now, it would take me another three extra years. Id be in my thirties by then. Then Its the Daiken. You know about it right? Yeah, Naoki nodded. He knew about it of course. It referred to The University Entrance Qualification Exam. If one passes that, one can apply for universities even if they had not graduated from high school. Kurata pointed to one of the problems. Im stuck on this problem and I dont understand it even after reading the solution. Naoki read the problem. It was a question on trigonometry. It felt like a long time ago when Naoki had learned this kind of thing. He still quickly figured out how to solve it. How is it? Yeah I think I can do it. Borrowing a mechanical pencil, Naoki proceeded to write in the answer in Kuratas notebook. He was good at math. As he solved the problem, Naoki felt nostalgic. Finding that he had not forgotten what he had studied, he also felt happy. Amazing. Its correct. Kurata gave a cry of admiration as he compared it with the answer in the back of the workbook. Good. Naoki relaxed. Did you not go to high school? I punched my teacher during my high school years and got kicked out. Why do you want to go to university at this point? Why not? Why does that matter? Anyway, here, help me with this one. Naoki moved seats to sit next to Kurata and explained the solutions to the problems in the book. He wasnt saying anything tremendously difficult but Kurata kept on saying, Youre amazing as if he had made a new discovery. After continuing at that pace and solving a few more problems Kurata said he was going to take a small break and started smoking. Naoki picked up a mens weekly magazine lying nearby and flipped the pages. The weathers nice. Kurata looked outside the window as he exhaled smoke. Its been years since Ive done nothing and laid back on a weekday afternoon. Whenever I had the time Id work 7

part-time. It feels great resting while everybody is out working. I dont want to get involved in another incident like this though. Naoki laughed in reply to those words. Kurata snuffed out the shortened cigarette in the ashtray. I have a kid. What? I have a kid. And a wife obviously. Its hard to provide for the family with just part-time jobs and seasonal work. So thats why you want to go to college At my age, I wont be able to get a job at anywhere big even if I did graduate from college. But I thought it would be better than now. I see. Im always taking the roundabout route. If only I hadnt punched my teacher back then, I would have graduated from high school. Its hilarious isnt it? After I got expelled, I could and should have snuck into another school or taken the Daiken. I was stupid though. I started hanging out with other good-for-nothing people. I also joined a gang and ended up doing it. Instead of asking what, Naoki blinked. I got carried away in a fight and stabbed the guy. So I got thrown into prison, the prison in Chiba. Kurata chuckled. Yesterdays story that was about you wasnt it? I wrote letters as well. I had a girl I was going out with and I wanted to know how she was doing without me. It was exactly like Tsuyoshi wrote in his letter, Naoki thought. Is that person your wife? When he asked, Kurata waved his hand in denial. I met my wife after I got out of prison. She also used to be at a youth detention center so we made a good couple. After conceiving a child, we couldnt continue being a stupid couple. It wouldnt be fair for the child. Naoki dropped his eyes to the mens weekly magazine. He wasnt looking at it though. Hey, did you not want to go to university? Kurata asked. I wanted to. If my older brother hadnt ended up like that I might have been able to go. Naoki told Kurata everything: how he and his brother did not have any parents, how Tsuyoshi had supported their life. Kurata silently listened while he smoked his second cigarette. I feel for you, Kurata said. Whatever may be the case, I brought everything unto myself. You on the other hand havent done anything wrong. That being said, I still cant understand. Understand what? Throwing away your dream. Compared to the average person, it may be a tough road but I dont think that road has totally disappeared. Is that really the case? Naoki muttered. In his mind he retaliated. Easier said than done. Well who knows? Im saying this now but who knows when Ill turn tail and run? Kurata pulled out his wallet from the bag in the corner of the room. He took a picture out from there. Hes two. Pretty cute right? I look at this picture whenever Im close to giving up. It was a picture of a young woman wearing a coat and carrying a small child. Your wife? Yup. She works part-time at a bar. Things are tough just with my earnings. Shes a good wife. Kurata chuckled, embarrassed. 8

In the end its family that you can rely on. You can work hard because you have a family. Putting away the picture, he looked at Naoki. Have you gone to see him? No Not even once? Not after he was moved to the Chiba prison. Thats not good Kurata shook his head. For those inside there, having visitors is what everybody looks forward to the most, especially those with family. By the looks of it, youre not even sending replies to his letters are you? It was just as he said so Naoki nodded his head. Do you hold a grudge against your brother? Its not like that. Well its understandable that you would hold a grudge. Thats what humans do. At the same time, you havent deserted your brother. So you punched me last night. Am I right? Naoki shook his head. I dont know. If you have the strength to fight for your brother, you should at least write him a letter. I know Im being pushy but its really lonely inside there. It drives you crazy. Kuratas eyes indicated his seriousness. That day was the first and last time Naoki helped Kurata study. They did not even talk thereafter. Kurata had a lot of night shifts and they always passed by each other. One day, after around two weeks had gone by, Naoki returned to the dorm to find Kuratas luggage gone. Asking at the wardens office, he was informed that Kuratas work period had simply ended. Naoki was disappointed. He had wanted to have Kurata tell him in detail about how things were inside the prison. Returning to his room, Naoki was going to go to the bathroom. In front of the door he found a few books bound together and placed there. They were high school reference books. It looked like the ones Kurata had been using. It was unclear whether he had forgotten it or left it there with the intension of throwing it out. What bugged him was whether Kurata would be troubled by not having the books or not. Thinking he may come back to get it, Naoki left it there. Days passed and Kurata never showed up. It looked like he had not simply forgotten to take it with him. The next inhabitants eventually came. There were two of them so all the empty rooms were filled. Both were about forty years of age and came from Kyushu. One time, one of them knocked on Naokis room. He asked if Naoki could move his books in front of the bathroom. Naoki was about to say that they were not his. Instead, he swallowed those words and carried the books to his own room. He did not really like the idea of them being thrown away. Cutting the cord tying the books together with scissors, he took the book on the top of the pile. It was a Japanese history reference book. Recalling what he learned as a junior in high school Naoki flipped through the pages. Every now and then things were highlighted with Kuratas hand. English, math, Japanese, there was a complete set of reference books. Most of the books had traces of Kuratas studying. One could observe how Kurata had worked really hard, giving up his weekends as he simultaneously worked night shifts. Naoki was startled. Wasnt Kurata in an even harder situation than he was? He had something he needed to protect. Naoki shook his head. He threw the reference book he held to the side. Kurata was an adult. He was nearly ten years older than he was. He had acquired the skills to keep living in this society. That was why he could do it. For Naoki, he had enough on his plate with just getting by. He did 9

not have anybody who would support him like Kuratas wife. I dont think that road has totally disappeared Kuratas words came back suddenly. As if he was dismissing such thoughts Naoki knocked down the pile of books. What does he know? It was then that Naoki saw a thin brochure appear from under the books. It did not appear to be a reference book or workbook. He picked it up. It said Information Booklet on the title. Naoki could not tell just from the title what the brochure was about. Beneath the cover however, the following words were printed. Teito University Department of Correspondence Education 4. Dear Naoki, Hope this finds you well. Thanks for the letter last time. It was a long time since Id received a letter from you so I was very happy. I was even happier after reading what was inside. I thought it might be a dream. I know you might get angry if I said this but I even thought that you were writing a lie to make me happy. Its true though isnt it? Youre going to university. To be frank, I dont really know what correspondence education department means. When I hear the word correspondence education, I immediately think of karate or something like that. There was a guy in middle school- a guy who learned karate through correspondence. Im pretty sure that was a fake. What youre talking about isnt something weird like that right? Its a proper university isnt it? I never knew such a thing existed. Its nice that you dont have to take entrance examinations. After all, youre really busy right now and you dont have the time to study for exams. Its also nice that you can go to college while working. You can work around your schedule and study things. You can get a huge chunk out of the way on your days off from work. What Im happiest about though is that you became motivated to be like that. With me ending up like this and everything turning for the worse, Im sure you were dejected. Im proud that you chose this path. I cant do anything myself but Ill be cheering you on. I know that my cheering wont be worth anything though. Its gotten very cold lately. Make sure you take care of yourself. It will all come to nothing if you fall sick. Im doing okay. Ive totally gotten used to using the machine. Its starting to get slightly interesting. Ill write again. Im sure youll be busy so dont force yourself to reply. Yours sincerely, Tsuyoshi p.s. What happened to visiting Mrs. Ogatas grave? A period of unchanged days continued. Wake up in the morning, go to the factory, take care of scrap metal pieces and return home. Finish a meal at the cafeteria, take a bath, and watch TV for an hour. Afterwards, focus on studying using the high school reference books and workbooks that Kurata had left. There were a lot of things Naoki had forgotten about. Given he had frantically studied it until a year ago, it did not take long to re-imprint it in his memory. There are no entrance examinations to get into the correspondence education department of college. It only consisted of paper and document screening. Yet Naoki redid the studying he had done in high school because he wanted to regain his former academic level. He wanted to become a college student and compile more sophisticated and advanced knowledge on top of that. It was a mystery as to why Kurata left the brochure of Teito Universitys Correspondence 10

Education Department. Thinking normally, it would mean that he had the brochure because he wanted to go there after passing his University Entrance Qualification Exam. Naoki could not help thinking however that Kurata had a different objective in his mind. It was possible that Kurata wanted to show Naoki, who was in despair about his future, that one had these kinds of possibilities in the world, deliberately leaving it there. Mixing it in with the reference books was a kind of bet. If Naoki were no longer interested in education, he would have never taken apart the bound books and discovered the brochure. On the other hand, if Naoki had the slightest of feelings of wanting to restart his education in his heart, he would never had thrown away the books as they were. Naoki was sure to browse through the books and discover the brochure Naoki thought he might be overthinking things. It was impossible to find out now but Naoki decided to interpret it as Kuratas kindness. Kurata was the first person he met that understood the hardships and sufferings Naoki was experiencing. There was a postcard inside the Information Booklet that Kurata had left. It was a request for a detailed admissions procedure packet. Naoki carefully cut it out. When writing in his name in the address to which you would like the packet to be sent column, Naoki felt a pleasant sensation of tension. Just seeing the letters admission slightly excited him. With his heart thumping, he flipped the pages of the packet that was sent to him shortly. Years ago while reading the last episode of a manga series at the bookstore, he had a tough time preventing himself from breathing heavily. The excitement in his heart then was nothing compared to now. The correspondence education system was not very complicated. In essence, the individual uses the course material sent by the university to study on his own. Progress is demonstrated by sending reports and papers to the university and feedback is given back in response. Repeating this process, the individual earns some course credits. Of course, just studying at home is insufficient. For a certain number of credits one must take person-to-person lessons known as screenings. There were numerous curriculum options and even individuals who have no time can take them by fiddling with his or her schedule. There were two types of entries to the program: degree students and subject based non-degree students. Only degree students could earn a bachelors degree. Naoki stared intensely at that section. Bachelors degree. A word he had almost given up on. There were no problems with the entrance requirements. He would be able to gather the necessary paperwork. It said admissions were based on paper screening but Naoki guessed it would be based on ones school transcript. He did not think there would be any problems there. What Naoki stopped at was the following sentence. Interviews will be conducted if deemed necessary. What did if deemed necessary mean? What would happen if there was a criminal in the family? Naoki shook his head. It wasnt possible that one would be rejected purely on the basis that he was a relative of a person serving in prison. Naoki felt apologetic for even harboring such thoughts. What was more concerning was the fee. Including the application fee, it would cost one hundred thousand yen or so to enter the program. That was not just it. The screenings apparently cost extra. Hed figure out something. One needs money to go to university. It was obvious. Naoki had relied on his older brother. His 11

older brother felt responsible and pushed into a corner, committed a crime. The tragedy was caused because he was useless, Naoki thought. He was the one going to university. He was the one who had to earn that money. He was going to do what he should have done a year ago. The month changed to December. One day Naoki visited his high school. It had been a year since he last came but the scenery inside the school had not changed a bit. All that had changed were the faces of the students. Seeing Naokis face Mr. Umemura commented on how thin Naoki had become. He immediately added on and said, You look well though. Is everything going well? Somehow, Naoki answered. Naoki expressed his gratitude to all that Mr. Umemura had done for him and then brought up the subject of university. Mr. Umemura looked back at his previous pupil with a surprised expression. Correspondence education huh. Yes that option does exist. Mr. Umemura, you obviously knew about this before didnt you? I did. But I couldnt recommend that to you back then. You were in no state to pursue it. Naoki nodded. Finding a path to sustenance was hard enough for him. Correspondence education limits your possible fields of study though. I believe you wanted to go engineering but There were a number of universities that had a correspondence education department. Very few offered science options. When it came to engineering, it was non-existent. I understand. Ill go for economics. Economics. That would work. Okay, Ill have your school transcript prepared. Mr. Umemura tapped Naokis shoulder and wished him good luck. On the way back from his high school, Naoki dropped by Shibuya. The city was filled with youngsters with bright and hopeful expressions. Christmas decorations lined the show windows. It was a huge difference from last year, Naoki thought. This time last year he had thought how great it would be if Christmas did not exist. Now he could feel his spirit and hopes lifted high. Wandering through a pitch-black tunnel, he felt he finally found a glimmer of light. There was no other source of hope. The only thing he could do is to go forward, tracing that thin ray of light. 5. The company wrapped up and closed as the end of the year drew close. One after another, people left the dorm but Naoki remained. Fortunately, the dorm cafeteria and the public bath remained open. Naoki spent Christmas, New Years Eve, and New Years all by himself. That part did not change from last year. His spirits on the other hand were entirely different. He had an objective. To fulfill that goal, he used every spare minute to study, reading books and the newspaper. At heart he was already a college student. There was another thing that was different. A card for Christmas and another one for New Years arrived at his house. Both came from the same person, Yumiko Shiraishi. Naoki did not know who it was when he first saw the name. He remembered however, as he saw the rounded letters of what was probably a young girl. It was the girl he had met on the bus. It was the girl who had given him an apple. He hadnt seen her lately. They had not run across each other on the bus. Nor had he seen her 12

during lunch. Upon received her Christmas card, he had wondered how she was doing. The Christmas card was a picture of Santa Claus and a reindeer, reading Merry Christmas! Where are you going to spend today at? On the New Years greeting card with a picture of a rice cake, it simply read Happy New Year! Lets hope it will be a good year. Good luck to both of us. Both cards had her address on it but Naoki did not send a reply. He did not know anything about her and he did not especially want to become close acquaintances with her either. Be that as it may, he wondered how she had found his address. To get his academic transcripts, Naoki needed to go to his high school a few times. On occasion, he would come across a few of his old classmates. They were ronin students, students who had taken a year off to study and retake the entrance examinations. Some would say hello. Most avoided him. Naoki understood that he was not being disliked. They were at a crucial time right now. It was only natural that they would avoid coming close to anything that would lead to the slightest of chances of being entangled in a messy affair and jeopardize their chances of getting into their target university. Entering February, the university entrance examinations began in earnest. Naoki came across related articles and news in increasing quantities. This year, Naoki did not have a feeling of inferiority or emptiness. On the contrary, Naoki went to his high school on his spare time, wanting to know how his comrades did. Naoki had finished work and was heading to the bus stop when Yumiko Shiraishi showed up in front of him. Catching up from behind she tapped Naoki on the shoulder. Did you get my card? she asked in her unchanging Kansai accent. She had circular cheeks, one with a pimple. Yeah. Thanks. As Naoki thought of a reason to say as to why he did not send a reply she grabbed him near the elbow. Come. Come over here a sec, she said as she pulled him along. Entering a side road he was taken into the shadows of a telegraph pole. What is it? When Naoki asked, she replied with a ta-dah as she pulled out a blue paper bag from beneath her duffle coat. It was sealed with a pink sticker. Here you go. Yumiko handed the bag out. Naoki knew immediately what it was. Regardless of whether Naoki wanted to remember it or not, the TV and media kept on shouting out that it was Valentines Day. He tried to not think about it, for he had thought it had nothing to do with him. He had forgotten about Yumiko Shiraishi. For me? Yep. She gave a large nod, said bye, and started to walk off. Wait a sec, why did you know my address? She twirled around and smiled. You said before that you were in a dorm for the seasonal workers. True but I never gave my room number. She tilted her head in reply. I wonder how I found out. Think about it for next time. Waving her hand in farewell she started walking again. Looking at her back as she faded away in the distance, Naoki pondered, wondering if she had followed to his room. Alternatively she 13

could have gone to the wardens office and asked. Either way, it was a little bit of a nuisance, Naoki thought as he looked down into his paper bag. After returning to his dorm, Naoki opened the paper bag. Inside was a hand-woven pair of gloves and chocolate. A card was also included saying With this you wont have to worry about the electric shock when you touch the doorknob ! Naoki started. During the winter, he frequently got shocked with the static electricity as he touched the doorknob. The fact that she knew that meant she had followed him to the vicinity. The gloves were woven with blue wool. It may be her favorite color. Trying it on it fit perfectly. It was also well woven. On one hand he thought he received something good. On the other hand, the truth was it was a little bothersome. During high school, he had dated a girl once. It was during his junior year. She was his classmate and a rather small girl whose skin was surprisingly white. She was on the fragile side and always read books in the classroom. Their relationship started when Naoki had borrowed a book from her. It was an American hardboiled novel featuring a female detective. It may have been because he himself was not a very physically active person that he was pulled by such a story. The girls lightly pigmented eyes sparkled as she talked about the female main character. She was extremely talkative that one time. Their dating did not involve anything big. They simply left school together and dropped by the library on the way home. Her family probably wasnt that wealthy either. She never suggested going out to do something that cost a lot of money. Their first kiss was on the way back from the library as they stopped by a park. It was a cold late afternoon with the winter wind blowing. She had huddled against him so he had hugged her close and placed their lips together. She did not resist. They never went beyond that. Of course, Naoki had the desire to. There were simply no opportunities to do so. She also had an air around her that made such a thing difficult. When their classes separated in their senior year, their relationship died out naturally. They would just smile to each other as they encountered each other in the corridor. Naoki did not know whether she had started dating a different guy or not. The news of Tsuyoshis murder should have entered her ears as well. What did she think when she heard the news? Did she feel sorry for Naoki? It couldnt be true that she did not feel anything. She must have given a sigh of relief for discontinuing their relationship, Naoki thought. It was the first time since the incident that he had thought of such a thing. About 10 days later, Naoki encountered Yumiko Shiraishi in the factory cafeteria. Like before, she had come over to his side. Why arent you wearing the gloves? she asked. I cant wear them at work. I wear work gloves while Im working anyway. She shook her head. Then wear it when you go to and from work. I gave them to you after all. Apparently she had seen Naoki come to work. Ill wear it next time when its cold. Liar. Youre not going to. Yumiko looked up and glared at him and then smiled. Hey, lets go see a movie together next time. I have a movie I want to see. 14

Naoki finished eating the last mouthful of his curry rice and put his spoon down. Im sorry. I dont have the time to play around. I dont have any parents and things are hard. Im in the same situation you know. My parents are alive but they live far away and Im not receiving any aid from them. On top of that Naoki took a breath before continuing. My brother is in prison. The smile flew off Yumikos face in an instant. He did not want to say this but he thought it would be better to tell this girl the story. It was unclear what about him she liked. It was certain however that she wanted to get to know Naoki better. That itself was not something to feel bad about. It was her innocence that pained him. It seemed like she was acting friendly towards him because she considered him as a normal guy. Its not a lie, he continued as he started into Yumikos stunned face. He got caught for murder. A robbery followed by murder. He killed an innocent old lady. As he spat the words out he felt an immense satisfaction like when one purposely presses down upon a throbbing tooth. At the same time he was enveloped in a feeling of self-hatred. What was he trying to accomplish by saying such a thing to this girl? Yumiko looked like she could not find any words to say in reply and was staring at somewhere near his chest. Naoki used both of his hands to grab his tray with the dirty plate on it and stood up. He headed towards the tray return window. She gave no sign of chasing afterwards him. Now she wont bother coming over to talk to me As he thought so however, a tinge of sadness remained. In late March, Naoki sent the necessary paperwork to the Correspondence Education Department of Teito University. All that was left to do was to wait for the results. There was nothing in the documents sent that alluded to Tsuyoshi. Yet Naoki kept worrying about how the university might find out through some channel or another and raise it as a problem. It turned out to be a needless fear. One day after entering the month of April, a certification of admission was sent over. On the same day Naoki went to pay his enrollment and other related fees. It was the money he had accumulated over months of hard work. Leaving the bank, Naoki could feel all of his remaining strength leaving his body. The textbooks and reference books that momentarily arrived filled him with a happiness that had been absent for a long time. He would look again and again at his student ID card with his photograph on it. He had told his company in March that he would be going to university soon. He was prepared to quit his job if they gave him difficulties but President Fukumoto easily gave his permission. So you finally decided. Good job. I cant do anything special for you but Ill help you out when I can. He further added, Now youve decided to start, dont run away. Dont give up. Think about why there are no entrance examinations for correspondence education. Its because anyone can get in but not everyone can graduate. You wont be able to play around like a normal student. I understand, Naoki answered. College life started in earnest from mid-April. After finishing work, Naoki would work on his assignment and send it to the university. On days he got back his corrected results Naoki worked late into the night reviewing. For the first time in his life, Naoki felt the joy of being able to study, the joy of having your results be evaluated. What excited Naoki even more were the screenings at night. A couple times a week he would go out to the university and sit in an actual class. The long thin desks in the tiered classroom looked 15

fresh in Naokis eyes. It had a different atmosphere from the classrooms in middle or high school. On the other hand, it was nostalgic hearing the sound of chalk as the professor wrote something down on the blackboard. Everything that was written there felt precious. All kinds of people came to the screenings, from youngsters no different from regular students to office workers wearing business suits. There were middle-aged women, probably housewives, as well. How did he look in everybody elses eyes? Naoki wondered. Yusuke Terao had his long hair tied back. He always wore dark colored clothes and sometimes wore sunglasses. When he had his sunglasses off, he had an orderly and handsome face. Naoki thought he might be an actor or a model of some sort. Either way, Naoki thought he had nothing to do with the guy. He looked unapproachable and Naoki had never seen him talk with somebody else. Naoki had however, overheard a few girls looking at the guy and commenting on how handsome he was. Consequently when Yusuke Terao did talk to him, Naoki was genuinely surprised. It even took him a while to realize that he was the one being addressed. Yusuke Terao was sitting behind Naoki. He asked a question about selecting their curriculum. Nobody besides Naoki was nearby. Me? Naoki looked back and pointed at himself with his thumb. Thats right. I wanted to ask you. Is it okay? It was a flat monotonous tone. Yusuke Terao was also wearing his sunglasses at this time so it was hard to read his expression. Yeah its okay um what was your question again? Yusuke Terao repeated his question. It wasnt hard and the answer could be obtained by reading a leaflet called a guide to screenings. It seemed that Yusuke Terao was not a very dedicated student. Afterwards, Naoki asked why Yusuke had chosen to ask him in particular. Yusuke Teraos answer was plain and simple. Looking around in the classroom, you looked the smartest. Having a similar curriculum, Naoki frequently faced him during screenings. Eventually, they saw each other every time. It was not a coincidence. Saying that building a curriculum was too troublesome Yusuke had copied all of Naokis choices. Entering June they had P.E. classes on Sundays. Even there they were together. Yusuke was the son of a normal office worker. He had joined the Correspondence Education department because he did not want to retake the college entrance exams for a third time. In other words, even after taking a year off to study he had failed the college entrance exams again for a second time. I dont think I failed though. Im not just being a bad loser. I never wanted to go to university in the first place, he once said. My parents insisted so I came here. I have something else I want to do. That something was music. Im in a band. Takeshima, you should come see our concert one time. A concert huh Until then, Naoki had led a life without music. He knew from TV and such the pop songs of the day. It had never interested him. He had no stereo in his house. The music instruments he had touched were limited to a recorder and a castanet. He had never even been to a karaoke box. Naoki had a perception that music cost money. When Naoki told Yusuke that, Yusuke snorted like it was nothing. 16

Music isnt something you learn or study. You just listen to it in whatever way you want whenever you want. Come once. Youll understand then. Seeing the still hesitant Naoki, he patted Naoki on the shoulder saying, come as he gave him a ticket. On a gloomy day during the still rainy season, Naoki went over to the live music club at Shinjuku. It was the first time he was going to such a place so he was extremely nervous. The venue was dimly lit and had about the size of an elementary school classroom. There was a counter serving drinks on one side where Naoki bought a coke. There were no chairs. Four or so tables were placed inside the venue. It seemed like there were a lot of guests around, something akin to the insides of a slightly crowded train. Naoki had no idea whether this consisted a large crowd or not. There were a lot of young girls around and Naoki was slightly surprised to see some familiar faces from the screenings. It looked like Yusuke had, without Naokis knowledge, befriended them and sold his tickets. Eventually Yusuke and his fellow band members appeared on the stage. It was a four-person band. Apparently already having a permanent fan base, cheers erupted from the crowd. In the following hour, Naoki was inside a surreal world. He could not judge whether Yusukes performance was good. He was however able to grasp the feeling when the hearts of many young people united through music. Naoki could feel something being released from inside him and dissolving into that unity. 6. It did not take long for Naokis heart to become immersed in music. A few days after he had seen Yusuke Teraos concert, he had become a member of a CD rental store. He did not have the equipment to listen to such CDs. So at a pawnshop near his dorm, Naoki bought a CD Walkman that definitely could not be considered as new. Work until the late afternoon, return to his dorm, and study while listening to music. That became his new standard daily routine. The type of music did not matter. Or rather, he knew almost nothing about the detailed genres so he had to start from beginning to the end. It was of course Yusuke Terao that strongly backed up Naokis newly found form of entertainment. He tried to teach Naoki the joy of making your own music and not just listening to music. The opportunity came in the form of a karaoke box. One night after screenings, Yusuke invited Naoki. He said that his fellow band members were also coming. Its okay Ill pass. Naoki replied but Yusuke grabbed Naokis hand and would not let go. Come on lets go. I want you to try singing once. At the karaoke box Naoki was forcibly taken to, there were three girls besides the band members. They were apparently fans of Yusukes band. Although flustered by everyone who kept on singing song after song, Naoki enjoyed listening to them sing. Naturally as the band vocalist, Yusuke was good. The others were also pretty good as well. They were used to it. After the others finished running through a few songs the mike inevitably came around to Naoki, He was in a fix. He did not have a song he was confident in. Anythings fine. Just put in a song you like. Old songs are good too. Yusuke said. Is it okay if its an old one? Its a foreign song as well. Of course. Okay 17

The song Naoki chose to sing was Imagine by John Lennon. Hearing the title, one laughed. Come on, the Beatles? Really? It was the guy in charge of the base. Shut up! Yusuke glared at the guy as he entered the song into the machine. Naoki sang the song he had just recently learned. He hadnt sung in front of anyone since middle school. Being nervous, he felt that his voice was not coming out. His armpits grew cold with sweat. When Naoki had finished singing, nobody reacted. He regretted his choice, feeling like he may have dampened the lively atmosphere. If he had chosen a happier song, maybe everybody would still have had a good time even if he wasnt that good. It was Yusuke that broke the silence. Are you a fan of Lennons songs? Not really. Its not like I like all of his songs. I like Imagine though. Can you sing anything else? Err I dont really know. It was my first time singing Imagine as well. Then it doesnt matter what it is. Say a song you can probably sing. Ill put it in the machine. Wait a sec. I just sang didnt I? It doesnt matter. Right everyone? Yusuke asked the others for consent. The band members as well as the girls all nodded. Surprisingly it seemed that they all agreed and not because the leader-type Yusuke was saying so. One of the girls spoke. Naoki was it? I want to hear more too. Me too, the other two nodded. Youre good. The guy doing the drums said. Youre really good. It was Naoki that faltered under that serious face. Ultimately, Naoki ended up singing four songs in a row. Yusuke keep on putting in song after song without his consent. The four all had totally different rhythms and feelings to it. Come to the studio next time. Yusuke said after Naoki had finished singing. Come join us in our practice. Join you but I cant play any instruments or anything. You have your voice. Yusuke looked at the other members. Dont you guys think he should join? Nobody objected. Everybody had his or her eyes sparkling with excitement. This is going to be interesting. Yusuke grinned. Soon after entering Obon break Naoki was taken by Yusuke to a studio in Shibuya. Obviously it was the first time ever that Naoki was visiting such a place. A little bit into the building was a common room type space. A few people, possibly part of an amateur band, were sitting with drinks from the vending machine and discussing something. If it werent a place like this Naoki would have thought they were simply a group of insane people. There was a feeling that he was stepping his foot into a world he had never been exposed to before. The three members besides Yusuke were waiting at the studio. It looked like they had already started practicing. They explained that the rental was by time and so they did not want to waste a single minute. First the four started playing as usual, with Yusuke, the vocal and lead guitarist joining the three that were already there. The piece was their original and a song that was popular at the concert as well. The air reverberated with the tremendous volume. Naoki felt the insides of his stomach tremble. Takeshima, do you think you can sing this? Yusuke asked after they had finished their first run through. 18

Im not sure. Naoki shrugged. If I had the lyrics maybe. I might make mistakes though. Come. Yusuke beckoned with his hand. The music started as soon as Naoki was forced to stand in front of the mike stand. Yusuke was focused on his guitar and showed no signs of singing. Reluctantly, Naoki began singing. Naoki was immediately shocked. When singing along with a live band performance by actual people, Naoki felt a high that he was not able to experience during karaoke. He could feel himself gradually becoming intoxicated. It appeared that a voice, entirely different from his usual voice, was coming out from a different part of his body. Yusuke joined in from the middle of the song. Naoki felt their two voices blending perfectly together. Even after they had finished singing, Naoki stood dazed from the excitement. Did you hear that? Hey you heard that right? Yusuke called out to the other members. I told you so right? Its going to be incredible if he joins. The other three, the base player, the guitarist, and the drummer, were all nodding. That was electrifying, one commented. Takeshima, how about joining us? Yusuke asked. Lets take a gamble together. Are you asking me to join your band? Yeah. Well be the perfect twin vocals. Thats impossible. Naoki laughed as he shook his head. Why not? Is it because you cant play an instrument? Thats not a problem. What matters is that voice. It hit me when I first talked with you. I wanted to hear this guy sing. My instincts were correct. Your voice has something different from everyone else. It would be a shame to not put that to use. It was the first time somebody had said such a thing to Naoki. Naoki had never connected himself to music. He never even had the opportunity to do so. Band sounds fun but Naoki shook his head again. I cant. Why? I know youre busy and unlike me want to do well in your studies at university. But its not like you dont have any time is it? Or is it that you dont like us? No its not like that. Naoki gave a wry smile. Then returned to a serious face and said, I dont want to cause you guys any trouble. Ive been telling you. If its about playing an instruments Im not talking about playing an instrument. Naoki sighed. 7. Naoki knew it was something he eventually would have had to tell them. If they had gotten any closer than they were now it would be hard to bring it up. He would not be able to keep hiding it forever. Keeping a slight distance in their relationship and not having to experience awkward moments: that was the ideal Naoki had pictured. Its about my family. I have an older brother. No parents. What about that older brother? Yusuke asked. Hes in prison. Robbery followed by murder. 15 years. They were still inside the studio so his voice reverberated. The four, Yusuke including, turned dumbfounded expressions towards Naoki. After looking around at all the faces Naoki continued. Nothing good will come out of keeping involved with people like me. I love your music so Ill continue listening to you guys but it wouldnt be good for me to join you. The other three turned their eyes away from Naoki and looked down. Yusuke however kept 19

looking at Naokis face. From when has he been in there? He got caught in the fall two years ago. He went into prison last spring. So 14 more years Naoki nodded. He did not know what kind of purpose that question had. Yusuke looked back at the other three and returned to look at Naoki. I see. People, no matter who they are bear some hardships in life I guess. So as you see Wait a moment. Yusuke put his hand up with a fed up expression. I understand your story. I think its hard on you. Its also unfortunate. What does your brother have to do with you though? That has nothing to do with band! Im grateful you say so but I dont want any sympathy. Its not sympathy. Its not like you are the one who is in jail is it? Whats the point of sympathizing with you? Is there a law saying that you cant do music if your older brother is in prison? There is no such thing. Its not something that you should care about. Naoki looked back at Yusukes fired up face. He was so happy Yusuke said such a thing that he was close to tears. Yet he could not simply accept his words as they were. Naoki did not think Yusuke was lying. It came from the bottom of his heart, at least for now. Nonetheless Naoki could not help thinking that it was a temporary feeling for self-satisfaction. It was like that until now. He had quite a few friends that were nice to him after the incident. In the end however, they all drifted away. Naoki did not think they were terrible for doing so. The self is important for everyone. It was natural to not want to get deeply involved with such complicated matters. Why are you looking so indecisive? Yusuke said impatiently. We like your song so we want to team up with you. Your family circumstances dont matter. Or what is it? Is it that you dont like the fact that our families arent in prison as well? I never said such a thing. Then stop fussing over such a trivial thing. Trivial? Naoki glared at Yusuke. It is, at least for us. Whats important is we want to make good music. Everything else is trivial. It doesnt matter. Right guys? In response to Yusukes appeal for consent the other three nodded. When Naoki stayed silent even then, Yusuke clapped his hands together. Okay lets decide this democratically. Majority vote. Who is against Takeshima joining our band? Nobody raised his hand. Those in favor? Yusuke of course as well as the other three raised their hands. Seeing that, Yusuke said contently, Four out of five in favor. Zero against, one abstain. Do you still have a problem? Naoki frowned. To be honest he was troubled. Are you sure its okay? You sang Imagine by John Lennon right? Come on, Imagine a world without discrimination or bias. Yusuke grinned. Naoki fought hard to hold back his tears. Yusuke Teraos reaction was entirely different from previous occasions when Naoki had told someone about Tsuyoshi. Those who turned bluntly cold in their behavior towards him were few in number. Most, like the owner of the ethnic restaurant, built up a wall between them and him. It just varied from person to person how thick that wall was. From Yusuke and his fellow band members however, Naoki could not sense such a thing. That reason was because they wanted him from the bottom of their hearts, Naoki thought. He was extremely happy. Even if it wasnt the person called Naoki Takeshima and was just his voice that 20

they wanted, Naoki was deeply moved that somebody else needed him. No There was another person who despite knowing Naokis personal circumstances, had not built a wall. That was Yumiko Shiraishi. Naoki had thought that she would never approach him again. Yet in times like when they met on the bus, she kept talking to him in her distinct carefree manner. It had reached the point where Naoki felt that she had become overfamiliar in her attitudes. One lunch break when Naoki was lying on the grass and listening to his Walkman, somebody sat right next to him. When he opened his eyes Yumiko was laughing. Nowadays youre always listening. What are you listening to? English lessons? Its not like that. Its music. Hmm. So you also listen to music. I thought you were studying since youre a college student now. I study but Ill also listen to music on occasion. Makes sense. What kind of music? Rock? Well something like that. Naoki answered vaguely. He still did not understand the different genres. Yumiko snatched the earphones from Naokis ear. She brought it to her ear. Hey stop it. Oh come on its okay. Hmm, Ive never heard this song before Yumikos expression changed. She turned eyes full of surprise to Naoki. Is this you, Naoki? Give it back. Naoki attempted to take the earphones back. She twisted her body and avoided him. Thats amazing. Naoki, are part of a band? Its more like I was asked to join. But youre the vocal. Thats soo cool. Keeping the earphones with both of her hands, her eyes sparkled. Thats enough isnt it? Naoki finally got back his earphones. How long? Since about two months ago. The others have been at it for years. Theyre good right? The performance is good too but your voice is extremely good. You can become a pro. Dont be stupid. Naoki put on a face of indifference. Inside however, he was cheered by Yumikos words. In these two months Naoki had become entrapped by music. The times in the studio where he could sing to his hearts content was his ultimate form of happiness. If only he could continue like this for his entire life, he would think. Those thoughts all led to one single dream. Become a pro. He shared that dream with Yusuke and the rest. Looking at the same dream with his buddies and heatedly conversing- that was also one of his definitions of happiness. You think youre good so youre listening to it like that right? Youre listening to it and glowing in self-satisfaction. Nope not like that. Im checking my bad points I need to fix. Need to prepare for our concert. Concert? Youre holding a concert? Yumikos face lit up in expectation. Naoki regretted revealing such unnecessary information. It was too late. Yumiko pestered him about the concert. When? Where? Did he have tickets? How many songs was he going to sing? Naoki finally gave in and answered the questions. To cap it off she took from him the four 21

tickets he had. She paid for the tickets on the spot and he was glad that the tickets sold but Naoki did not want to owe her anything. He thought he would not be able to return the feelings she directed towards him. Ill definitely go. Im super excited. Yumiko was in high spirits, apparently totally unaware of Naokis inner thoughts. There were very few days until the concert. It also overlapped with the screening period in college so it was hard scheduling time. Nevertheless, Naoki attended practices to his fullest extent. The studio rental fees were not cheap to the point that even after dividing it among the members it still affected his living costs. Yet for Naoki, he felt that if he lost this moment in time there would be no point in life. Such a large part of his heart had become occupied with music. With Naoki joining, the band name was changed. Its new name was Spacium. It came from the pose Yusuke made when he declared an NG. Yusuke personally thought he was simply making an X in front of his chest but it actually looked similar to the Spacium beam of Ultraman. The way Yusuke defiantly denied it made it even funnier and it stuck as the band name. After seeing each other a few times Naoki and the other band members besides Yusuke became good friends as well. They called him Naoki and he called them by their respective names. What was funny was that Yusuke still kept calling him Takeshima, using his family name. It stuck like that in the beginning and was probably hard to change at this point. After two hours of practice, drinking cheap beer with them was the most relaxing times Naoki had. About girls, complaints about work, about fashion- Naoki became able to naturally join the conversations of the young generation in society. It was a time where he could, for the first time since Tsuyoshis incident, enjoy his youth. The other members were like the wind, sending twinkling shiny things from a world Naoki had not interacted with for a long time. Of course however stupid a conversation they were having, the discussion of the five always ended in the same place. Music. What kind of sounds they were going to continue making, what their goal was, what they needed to do to achieve that. Sometimes the debate heated up. When they were drunk they would come close to having a fistfight. Yusuke and the drummer Kota were especially passionate. Things often became a volley of Ill quit, and Fine, do as you want. At first Naoki watched such interactions with anxiety but after understanding it was a regular performance, he came to let them be until they cooled down, while grinning at the spectacle. Naoki could tell that they were serious. They were seriously trying to go down the path of music. The other three besides Yusuke did not advance to college and were looking for chances while working part-time. Yusuke also only had a seat in college as a gesture to his parents. Every time Naoki thought about it he felt guilty. He could not afford to quit college however. He knew that graduating safely was the only way to cheer up Tsuyoshi in prison. He had told Tsuyoshi by letter that he had started music. Tsuyoshi would be worried so he added in a reassurance saying, to the extent it will not affect my academics. He avoided including the nuance of aiming to become a professional. He intended to continue hiding it in the future as well. Naoki had decided that he would only reveal the information after he had successfully debuted. If they were able to produce their own CD, he thought of sending it to Tsuyoshi. Tsuyoshi would surely be happy, although he might be surprised to death before that happened. The debut of the new band was held in a live house in Shibuya. In an extreme state of nervousness, Naokis head turned blank as he got up on the stage. When Yusuke introduced him 22

as a new member, he did not know what was going on and apparently gave some incoherent answer. The audience, finding it funny laughed really hard. The performance began with Naoki still tense from nervousness. Nothing Naoki saw registered in his mind but the sounds his mates were emitting came in through his ear. He had practiced enough times that upon hearing those sounds he was conditioned to sing. Naoki started singing as if his life depended on it. Afterwards according to Yusuke, the whole audience had gone silent the moment Naoki had emitted his first voice. It was only after Naokis song had entered a break that the audience started clapping and moving their bodies to the music. They were dumbfounded. They never expected us to have such an ace up our sleeve. Yusuke said triumphantly. Singing through one, then two songs Naoki gradually regained his composure. He could tell that the stage was close to packed and that the audience was moving together with his song. There was a group of four in the very front that was waving their hands. Naoki thought they were repeater fans but became flustered a little after he realized that among them was Yumiko. It looked like she had brought her friends along. She probably asked the other three to help enliven the performance and thus decided to take camp in the very front row. Naoki made eye contact with Yumiko once. Her eyes were sparkling even more than usual. Their memorial first concert ended in a huge success. Applauses calling for an encore never stopped. Yusuke and the others commented how this had never happened before. Their second concert was immediately scheduled. Concurrently, Yusuke made one suggestion. It was to create a demo tape. Well send it to the record companies. Weve made a few before but its pointless if we dont make one with Takeshima as the vocal. Yusuke intended to record about six songs. All were originals. Yusuke had made most of the songs. There was one song that Naoki had written the lyrics for. Naoki personally did not like it that much. Are we going with Naoki as the vocal for all six? Kota asked. His father worked at an advertising firm and it could be said that he was their sole path into the music industry. Of course thats the plan. Otherwise Spaciums strength wont come out. Right? Yusuke turned to Atsushi the base player and Kenichi the side guitar. They both nodded slightly. Well thats the thing Kota opened his mouth. When you say strength, I think our strength is that we have two vocals. Having two equally talented vocals is our greatest strength. So if its just Naokis vocal songs then it wont make an impression on them and I dont think we would have put out our full strength either. Kotas tone sounded like he was being reserved towards Naoki. Naoki thought that his argument was valid. He had secretly been concerned how Yusuke sang as the main vocal less and less after he had joined. Takeshimas on a totally different plane than me. Ive said it before havent I? Yusuke said in a fed up way. That may be true but there are plenty of bands that have a good vocal. To stand out you have to do something different from all the others. Using cheap tricks wont work. Its not a cheap trick. We were doing it with Yusuke as vocal before. We were aiming for the pros like that werent we? Its not like there werent any companies that called us. 23

As expected, a debate started. Influenced by his father Kota tried to explain the theory behind achieving success. On the other hand Yusuke tended to be slightly emotionally in his arguments. In the end they decided by majority vote. Four, Naoki including, voted to have Yusuke sing two or three songs as the main vocal among the six songs. Takeshima, be more confident in yourself. The vocal has to show a little nerve. Yusuke reluctantly consented to the decision of the other four. 8. Yusuke had some decent recording equipment at home. They used it to create a demo tape containing six songs. The finished tape looked like a shining gem to Naoki. Wouldnt it have been nice if we were in America? Kota said with the tape in his hand. Everybody asked why. Cuz people say America is the land of opportunity. Wealth, your background, race, they all dont matter. Those who prove their worthiness are accordingly rewarded and can climb great heights. What do you think Madonna did to succeed when she was still a no name? She jumped on a taxi and said drop me in the middle of everything. That place was New York. There are opportunities lying around in this world as well. Yusuke grinned. Just wait and look. The people who listen to this tape will come running. The other members made faces that said how it would be awesome if that happened. What are we going to do if we have replies from multiple companies? Kenichi asked. Well well listen to all their offers and then contract with the one that offers us the best conditions. Kota said. No its not about conditions. In the end whats important is how much they understand our music. As always Yusuke argued against Kotas utilitarian approach. Well rot if were asked by an incomprehensible producer to sing idol-like songs. We wont be asked such a thing. But its not uncommon to get assigned songs that other people wrote at first. Im strongly against that kind of thing. It cant be helped at first. If we make a hit though well be able to put through our requests. Then we can do whatever we like. Im saying Im not selling my soul. Dont act like a kid. Thats how you miss opportunities. What? When did I miss an opportunity? Yet again it looked like a grappling may start. Atsushi and Kenichi stepped in. Naoki kept quiet and laughed. This was the definition of counting your chickens before theyve hatched. Being able to have such conversations was happiness for Naoki. He felt once again the scale of their dream. That day upon returning to his dorm Naoki found a package sent from the university. He thought it was an edited and corrected report. That was not the case. Inside was an information booklet about transferring to the commuter student program. The commuter student program, different from the correspondence education program, referred to the regular university curriculum program. Naoki forgot even to eat and pored over the documents. Transferring into the regular university curriculum was his dream. According to the information booklet he could transfer after passing an examination. He had heard stories that the transfer exam was not that hard. Imagining himself going to university like the other normal students made Naoki feel excited. 24

There were sure to be stimulating things that he could not experience through screenings. Moving to the commuter program also meant that he could proudly say that he was a university student to anybody. He could already say so now but there existed a sense of guilt. It could be called a complex. I cant though Naoki gave a sigh and closed the information booklet. If he transferred to the commuter program he would not be able to work during the day. At night he had band practice. He couldnt use work as an excuse to skip practice. The other members also had jobs and managed it so they could squeeze out practice time. He also thought that it wasnt a good idea to two-time his dreams. His biggest dream right now was to succeed in band. If he was aiming for that university should not matter. He felt that wanting to transfer to the commuter program was a grave betrayal to the other members. I have music. I have band. Muttering that inside his heart Naoki threw away the information booklet. The second concert was held at a live house in Shinjuku. It was larger than last time and it was once again close to being a full house. It probably had to do with their advertisement in numerous places but also could likely be attributed to the success of their previous concert. Naoki was nervous as always. Yet he was able to see his surroundings slightly more than last time. In the middle of the song there was an accident where Kenichis guitar string broke. He did not panic. Naoki did not recall handing or selling tickets to her. Still Yumiko came again that day, bringing two friends along and waving her hand in the front row. Moreover she came to the waiting room after the concert had finished. It was really good. You were really cool! Looking excited she talked not only to Naoki but also to the other members in an overly friendly manner. The other members, although bewildered, thanked her for her words. Your girlfriend was unexpectedly outspoken and rowdy. Atsushi commented exasperatedly after she had finally left. Shes not my girlfriend. Shes just a girl at my company. To be technically correct they werent even in the same company. Naoki did not bother elaborating, for such an explanation would be bothersome. She definitely has a crush on you though. You should just make her your girlfriend. Its all good. You dont have anybody youre going out with now do you? Atsushi persisted. I dont have time for that right now. If I have time to play around Ill practice instead. You cant just practice. You have to have fun with a girl every once in a while. You have too much fun. Everybody laughed at Yusukes words. They held a series of concerts back to back. Borrowing a venue was financially burdensome yet all the members got absorbed in it like they were being chased by something. Naoki also felt a premonition that this was a crucial period. It was after their fifth concert that an unknown man came to their waiting room. The man looked in his upper twenties. He had a rough outfit with a leather jacket and jeans. The man asked who their leader was. When Yusuke came forward the man held out a name card. It was not the mans. This person says he wants to talk to you. If you are interested can you come to this place now? The man held out a matchbox. It looked like the matches of a caf. 25

Seeing the name card Yusukes expression changed rapidly. He had his mouth open without being able to reply. Do you understand? The man smiled wryly and asked. Yes. Um well go right away. Well be waiting, said the man and left. Yusuke turned towards Naoki and the others. This is going to be serious. What is it? Who is waiting for us? Kota asked. Yusuke turned the name card he was holding towards the others. Its Ricardo. A person from Ricardo came to see us. The others momentarily became speechless upon hearing Yusukes words. It cant be. Is this for real? Kota finally said. Look with your own eyes. Kota took the name card from Yusukes hand. Kenichi, Atsushi, and Naoki gathered around him. The words Ricardo Co. Ltd. Planning Department jumped into Naokis eyes. Ricardo Co. Ltd. was a record company that was arguably the number one in the industry. Hey I said before right? Yusuke stood high and mighty and looked down upon Naoki and the others. I told you that there are opportunities lying around in this world as well. Well? Isnt it exactly like I said? Kota nodded and the others followed suit. Were definitely going to grab this chance. Yusuke stuck his right hand out forward and made a clutching gesture. Naoki too had unconsciously made a fist. Waiting at the caf was a guy called Mr. Nezu. He looked like he had just entered his thirties. His wide shoulders and sharp chin stood out. Around his mouth he grew a beard. That matched nicely with his blackish suit. What do you think is the most important thing to music? He asked Naoki and the others. Yusuke answered that it was the heart. It sounded like a safe answer to Naoki. The others also had no objections. Mr. Nezu responded. In other words you are trying to create songs that can capture the hearts of people. You explore how you can do that, make songs through trial and error, practice, and perform at concerts. Is that correct? Is that bad? Its not bad. Mr. Nezu took out a cigarette and smoked it. But you wont succeed that way. Yusuke looked at Naoki and the others. His face was asking whether or not he gave a wrong answer. Nobody could give advice to him. No matter how hard you try you wont be able to move the hearts of people. Do you know why? The answer is simple. Its because your songs do not reach the people. A song you have not heard cannot move you. Whats important in music is the listener. Without them even if you create a song you are happy with, it is not a masterpiece. No, even before that its not even music. What you are doing is the same as masturbating. Thats why we hold concerts. Yusuke said disgruntled. Mr. Nezu nodded without changing his expression. By holding concerts some people will listen. Your popularity will grow via mouth to mouth, eventually allowing you to professionally debut. Thats your thought process isnt it? 26

Naoki did not know what was wrong with that way of thinking. The successful scenario they had imagined had always been like that. Thats true. Mr. Nezu continued. Looking up the history of successful artists youll find cases like that. At the same time youll find similar stories in those artists that did not succeed. The girls who walk about in Shibuya longing to become idols have a very low probability of actually succeeding even if they happen to be scouted. Just like that those artists that are scouted and professionally debut are not always successful. However, you guys believe that as long as you continue making good music you will eventually be recognized. You believe that whether or not you are successful depends on your talent. Am I wrong? He was not wrong. They had always talked about it like that. Nobody offered a counterargument. As I said just now without listeners there is no good or bad music. It is just a collection of notes. The limited audience in a concert is the same as having no audience. Therefore right now you guys are basically not doing music. But Mr. Nezu, you saw our concert and reached out to us didnt you? Mr. Nezu smiled wryly to Yusukes counterargument. If you think that your music is being approved let me take this opportunity to refute that. If we debut every single popular band in the live house our business will not survive. Listen carefully. I did not drop by your concert because I heard your popularity. You can interpret it as a pure coincidence. We continue digging in search for a rare gemstone. We consider ourselves professionals at finding that gemstone. Gemstones do not shine. You are gravely mistaken if you think your light lured me over. Let me make that crystal clear. Naoki gradually understood what Mr. Nezu was trying to say. In short he had not acknowledged their music. He just stated that they could shine if he polished them. No, he merely thought that they had the possibility to shine. Lets get to the main business. Mr. Nezu looked around at all the members. Its about letting you do music. Not for leisure but real music. After they had parted with Mr. Nezu, Naoki and the others went to their usual bar. After finishing a concert they would usually have a big celebration. Tonight was different. An even bigger incident had occurred than their successful concert. Their dream of professionally debuting was close to becoming a reality. Naoki felt like he was still watching a dream. Not sinking in, he wanted to confirm that this was not a dream by talking with the others. Naoki could not get into a celebrating mood however. The words Mr. Nezu had stressed from beginning to end remained in his head. You guys have power. You have talent and an appeal. But you have barely starting putting that to use. Youre a white canvas. I will decide what will be drawn there. You just have to follow my lead. Then you will definitely succeed. Mr. Nezu also commented about how they should not try to express themselves by themselves. That was his job as a professional. Everything combined together was music. The instruments, the vocal, the song alone did not create music. Theres no point if we dont fight with our original song. At this point there is no way I can play a song somebody else wrote. Yusuke said, chugging beer and already sounding slightly drunk. He never said he wouldnt let us play our originals. He just said hed decide how to sell us. Its a matter of marketing. You have to leave those kinds of things to the professionals. Were in that kind of society today. Kota said soothingly. Tsk. Like father like son. The son of an advertising firm speaks in the same way. Whats fun 27

about it when you are told not to express ourselves. It isnt do not. Its dont try to by ourselves. Theres a way to self-appeal. Hey Yusuke, dont sulk and lets approach this positively. Its a rare chance. Yeah its our chance! Atsushi echoed. Were finally debuting. Kenichi said emotionally and looked at Naoki. Naoki silently nodded. Yeah. Were finally debuting. Whatever shape that may be youre happy too. Right Yusuke? Asked by Kota, Yusuke said yeah and smirked with one cheek. That night became the best night for Spacium since their formation. Naoki wondered whether or not he should tell Tsuyoshi about this in a letter. He hadnt yet told Tsuyoshi that he had started playing music in earnest and was aiming to become a professional. What kind of response would he get if he suddenly wrote he was debuting? Naoki was sure that Tsuyoshi would be happy and excited. Tsuyoshi wanted his younger brother to live proud and strong. University was but a symbol of that. Tsuyoshi should have no complaints if he could accomplish that through other means. However Naoki did not have the time to write a letter. Naoki and the others had been instructed by Mr. Nezu to write a few new original songs. It seemed that if everything goes well, he would let them use one of them as their debut song. Yusuke was obviously pumped and had decided they would get together and practice as much as possible. Naoki had to handle work, university, and band. A life of going back to his dorm only to sleep continued. Yusuke was apparently going to drop out of college but Naoki did not yet have the resolve to do so as well. Kota, Atsushi, and Kenichi came to his dorm on a rare night where he neither had university nor band practice. Naoki had just returned from work and was still in his work clothes. Can we talk to you a bit? Kota asked on behalf of everybody else. The other two nodded behind him. Sure. Come in, things will be tight though. Naoki let the other three into his room. One would probably call it instinct. Naoki could feel an ominous wind beginning to blow. 9. Its a pretty neat room. Kota said as he looked around. Being a dorm for seasonal workers I was imagining something more like a military barrack. Its a dorm for a first rate company. Theres no way it would be like that. Naoki laughed and made room for three people to sit. The three sat in a row with their backs facing the wall. None of them sat cross-legged. Atsushi and Kenichi sat grasping their knees and Kota for some reason sat straight with his legs folded under in the traditional Japanese fashion. Um, do you want anything to drink? I have coke. No its okay. Dont worry about us. Kota said. I see Naoki sat down facing the three of them. He was scared for some reason to meet their eyes. A few awkward seconds passed. Naoki could not muster the courage to ask what they wanted. Um, Mr. Nezu contacted us today. Kota opened his mouth. Naoki raised his head. What? 28

Kota looked at the other two. Atsushi and Kenichi remained silent. It looked like Kota had been put in charge of the conversation. According to Mr. Nezu he carried out a lot of investigations about us since then. Reputations at work, rumors by neighbors, personal history Stumbling a little he continued. and about our families. He said it would be bad if any troublesome things happened after we debuted. And? Naoki feigned calmness and asked but a storm raged inside his heart. Part of Kotas words kept reverberating. About our families troublesome Kota licked his lips nervously and answered. Mr. Nezu also investigated about you. He knew about your older brother. How did he investigate? That was Naokis first thoughts. It was pointless to think about it. He said it was bad Kota muttered. Naoki looked up and then immediately looked down again. Hmm he said as if it wasnt a big deal. It was the best act he could put. After we debut, assuming we make a break, there will definitely be people who will investigate about the members. That industry is apparently full of people trying to expose and pull each other down. With such a person as a family member it makes us sitting ducks and vulnerable to attack. Then the bands image will plummet and it will become harder to continue our activities. It will become harder for the company to put in their resources. So We wont be able to debut as we are now. Basically yeah. Naoki sighed. Seeing his breath come out white he realized he had forgotten to turn on the electric heater. He did not have the spirit to turn the switch. Will they let you debut without me? Naoki asked, still looking down. Mr. Nezu said it was okay with Yusukes vocal. He said it was really tough that he couldnt put you in. In Mr. Nezus head it seemed decided that Naoki would be out of the picture. I see. So you three came together to convince me. He moved his eyes from Kota to Atsushi and Kenichi. The two looked down. Naoki, forgive us. Kota placed both of his hands on the floor and bowed his head. We want to debut. Thats why weve been working hard till today. We dont want to let this opportunity escape. The other two also straightened themselves, followed Kotas lead and bowed their heads. Seeing them like that increased Naokis sadness even more. How about Yusuke? Why is he not here? Yusuke doesnt know anything about this yet. Were the only ones that know. Kota answered with his head still bowed. Why dont you tell Yusuke? Atsushi and Kenichi looked at Kota anxiously. It seemed that they were also worried about Yusuke. Mr. Nezu contacted me instead of the leader Yusuke because he knew Yusuke would not be easily convinced. You know Yusuke. Getting fired up he might even say we dont have to debut if thats the case. It was very predictable. Naoki nodded. Mr. Nezu asked us to convince you without Yusuke noticing. Thats why we three came. We cant just keep quiet and not tell Yusuke though. If Im quitting we have to explain why. What are you planning to do? 29

Kota fell silent at Naokis question. Naoki could tell he was biting his lip. He sensed that Kota wasnt at a loss as to what to say but was hesitating to speak out something. I get it I can say Ill quit of my own accord. Yusuke wont suspect anything if I give some kind of reason and drop out of the band. Im really sorry. Thats how things are. The other two bowed their heads even deeper at Kotas words. Mr. Nezu also said that would be the best solution. It seemed like that guy was pulling all the strings and giving the instructions. Naoki could feel an emptiness filling his whole body. This was how adults played the game. Adults are strange beings. Sometimes theyll say discrimination is bad. Others times they tacitly promote and push for discrimination. How do they deal with that incongruity and self-contradiction? Will he gradually become such an adult as well? Naoki pondered. What happens when Yusuke tries to stop me from quitting? You know he wont say yes easily. We know that. Well back you up. Naoki wanted to complain about Kotas use of the word backup but resisted. Okay. I understand. Naoki looked at the heads of the three of them and continued. Ill quit. Kota raised his head. Atsushi and Kenichi followed. The three looked extremely sad. Ill tell Yusuke next time we have practice. Ill come up with an excuse by then. Sorry. Kota said in a low voice. The other two also muttered their apologies. Well come to think of it, I wasnt a member to start with so this feels more natural. I cant play an instrument after all. The other three could probably tell that this was a faade to console himself. They listened, looking pained but not saying anything. After the three had left Naoki could not stand up for a while. Sitting cross-legged he gazed at a point in the wall. So this is how it is in the end Naoki had thought that he had finally been set free from a nightmare. He was starting to believe that he would be able to live like a normal person. Discovering music he had thought all the closed doors had opened up. It was all an illusion. Nothing had changed. The cold wall separating him from society remained in front of him as always. When he tried to climb over it its coldness simply increased. Naoki lay out on top of the tatami mat. Lying spread-eagled he looked up at the ceiling. The stained ceiling looked like it was mocking him, telling him that here was the place he belonged to. Without realizing it Naoki had started humming a song. It was a sad song. He sang a song of struggling and suffering in the darkness, with no light of hope to be seen. Naoki stopped singing. He realized that he would no longer sing in front of an audience. He closed his eyes. Tears flowed from between his eyelids. 10. Yusuke glared at him. His eyes were bloodshot. It was the exact expression Naoki had imagined. What did you say? Say it again? I said Naoki licked his lips. I want you to let me quit the band. Im quitting Spacium. Thats what Im saying. Youre joking right? Are you saying this for real? 30

Im serious. You do you think you can get away with saying such a thing at this point? Yusuke took a step closer. Naoki came close to being overwhelmed. They were inside a studio in Shibuya. Before they started practice Naoki had approached Yusuke saying that he had to tell him something. The other three knew what Naoki was going to say. They had nervous looks on their faces. I know Im being selfish. But I want you to forgive me. Its a conclusion I came up with after giving it lots of thought. Lets hear what exactly you thought. Yusuke pulled up a pipe chair and violently sat down. You sit down too. Its unsettling if we stay standing. Naoki sighed and sat down in a chair that was next to the keyboard. He glanced at Kota. On the other side of the drum instruments Kota nodded. I was thinking about the future. I think about it as well. Yusukes tone was sharp. I want to do music. I think its the best if I could make a living off of it. How do I put it? When it comes down to it I cant take the gamble. Are you saying our music is a gamble? Its not like that. Whether we succeed or not isnt just determined by our talent. Theres a strong element of luck. Im sorry but Im not in a position to rely on such a thing. I need to secure a proper path where I can live by myself. Thats the same with all of us. If we screw up with music we have nothing left. We all have our backs against the wall. Naoki shook his head. You have your house. You have a family. I have nothing. All I have is an older brother in prison. That one family member keeps on dragging me down. Every single time even this time. Naoki suppressed the urge to say so. Yusuke started shaking his feet. It was a habit when he was irritated. Whats the matter with you? You never said such a thing until now. I know about your personal circumstances. Its not something that started just recently. Why the sudden change of heart? Its because its now. Naoki quietly said. It was fun while we were chasing our dream. I seriously thought it would be great if we could become professionals. With that dream right up close I get worried about if things are okay the way they are. I thought it wouldnt be right to continue with such feelings. Im worried too. As Ive said your circumstances and mine are different. Saying so Naoki was apologizing inside his heart. He did not want to betray him like this. Yusuke was being this angry because he considered Naoki as his friend from the bottom of his heart. Yusuke was a true friend. It was painful lying to such a friend. Hey you guys say something too. Yusuke looked around at the other members. Convince this stupid guy. The three looked at each other. Eventually Kota opened his mouth. You say so but Im sure Naoki has his own personal circumstances. He said in a reserved manner. Yusuke raised his eyes. You, do you still call yourself a friend? Its because were friends that I want to respect Naokis feelings. Theres no point forcing a 31

wondering person to stay. Im planning on transferring to the commuting student program. Naoki said. Yusuke, you saw that information booklet too right? That deadline is approaching. Im going to transfer there. Not sure if Ill pass the exam though. Tsk, Yusuke sounded his throat. Whats fun about becoming a regular college student? All thats waiting is a boring life. It might be boring but its concrete. A path to employment will also open up. You want to become an office worker and be rocked back and forth in a fully packed train? Is your dream that small? Im not talking about a dream. Im talking about reality. Professionally debuting is also a reality. The difference is that this reality has a big dream attached. Yusuke, isnt that enough? Kota intervened. Im sure Naoki thought long and hard about it. Its hard on the band to have Naoki quit now but it cant be helped. Yeah. It looks like theyll let us debut even without Naoki. Yusukes eyes gleamed at Kenichis words. Crap, Naoki thought. It was too late. Yusuke stood up and grabbed Kenichi by the collar. Hey whats the meaning of this? How can you be sure of such a thing? Kenichi looked like he finally realized his mistake. Um, well he faltered and tried incoherently to come up with an excuse. Seeing that Yusuke seemed to get wind of something. Hey did you guys know Takeshima was going to quit? No. Its not just that is it? Its Mr. Nezu isnt it? Did he tell you to make Takeshima quit? Thats not true, Naoki said. His words didnt seem to register in Yusukes head. You are the worst. You guys. What are you thinking? Do you only care about yourselves? Shoving Kenichi away Yusuke knocked down his guitar. Thats enough. Do as you want. Im done, Im out. Yusuke said and jumped out of the studio. Naoki chased after him. Leaving the building Naoki saw Yusukes back, brisk walking in the pedestrian walk. Running to him he put his hand on Yusukes leather jacket and shoulder. Wait up Yusuke. What is it? Let me go. Put yourself in their shoes. How do you think they felt when they came over to my place? How should I know? They did it because their spirits are rotten. They were faced with a decision about whether to choose music or their companion. After suffering they chose music. Is that a bad thing? Are they really to be blamed? Yusuke looked like he had trouble coming up with a response. He turned sideways and took a deep breath. You guys are all my friends. Since my brothers incident, I thought I found for the first time friends I could connect with. I cant take away music from such previous friends. Please understand. We can still do music with you. Well debut eventually. Naoki shook his head at Yusukes words. Until that day comes things will be uncomfortable and awkward for me. Ill have to sing while feeling apologetic. That would be hell. That day of redemption will also never come. Mr. Nezu is telling the truth. Discrimination will not disappear from this society. If that is the case 32

Are you going to say that its okay if we dont get to debut? What happens to the feelings of the other three? They believed in you and followed your lead until today. Please. Go back to them. Please! Naoki got down on his knees and bowed his head. What are you doing? Yusuke grabbed Naoki by the arm and dragged him to his feet. Yusukes face became distorted. He was strongly biting his lips. Hes planning on punching me, Naoki thought. Naoki resolved to quietly let himself be punched. He did not know if he was right or not. It was a fact that he had hurt this true friend. Yusuke did not try to punch Naoki. He shook his head sadly and moaned. Ive never despised your older brother until now. But right now Im pissed off from the bottom of my heart. If he was in front of me Id punch him real hard. Thats true. Naoki gave a faint smile. I want to punch him if I could as well. Yusukes grip loosened, Naoki stepped back and moved away from Yusuke. Turning his back Naoki proceeded to walk away. He could feel Yusukes gaze but could not afford to turn back.

p.6: enka- a genre of traditional Japanese music, often consisting of ballads


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