Chapter 9: Jumping Into Action (Sat, July 21)
A couple of hours later, Emi and Rin were approaching the gates of Yamaku. Emi had changed into a green shirt and black jeans. Rin was still wearing her school uniform. Hisao was at the gates waiting for them, wearing an argyle sweater-vest over a white collared shirt. “You’re early!” Emi called out to him as they approached.
“Is he?” asked Rin matter-of-factly.
“Of course he is,” Emi replied as she grinned at Rin. “I’m always on time.”
As the two girls approached, Emi asked, “Were you waiting long?” Hisao shook his head. “That’s good, “ Emi said cheerfully, “At least you weren’t too early. Rin and I like to wait on the bench over there. Let’s go!”
Emi led everyone to the bench, and they took a seat. Rin leaned back and looked up at the sky while Emi and Hisao looked around aimlessly. Finally Emi broke the silence, “Hey Hisao. I was wondering, who are you buying a present for? I don’t think you mentioned it in your letter.”
Hisao wrote a name on his notepad and showed Emi. She said, “For Hanako? Really? I hope we can help you find something. I don’t know her that well.”
“She’s a mystery,“ added Rin.
“Still, I’m sure we’ll find something she’ll like. It’s a big city. And we’ve got the rest of the afternoon.”
Rin leaned into the door of the music store and opened it, stepping onto the street. She held the door open for Emi and Hisao, who followed shortly afterwards. Hisao was carrying a shopping bag with a couple of newly purchased CDs and another with some new art supplies in his right hand. His left hand was holding a bag with some new tops for Emi.
Emi paused to allow Rin to catch up, then matched her pace. “I don’t understand why you like that music. It’s just … so weird.”
“Sometimes you need to think about something so that you can think about something else. At least I do.” Rin turned behind her to glance at Hisao. Turning back to Emi, Rin said, “I had something that I lost. Then I forgot that I lost it. But now I’ve remembered that I’ve lost, and I need to remember what was lost.”
“And you … think that listening to this music will help you remember?”
“Maybe. I won’t know for sure until I listen to it. Even then, it’s hard to say. If my idea comes back, would it be the same one? Or would it have changed while it was gone? Would I even know?”
Emi let that question hang in the air as the trio approached an intersection. After looking around for a moment, Rin pivoted on her heel, making a left turn before walking away. Hisao and Emi exchanged a glance before following her.
“Hey Rin! Do you know where we’re going?”
“No.” Came her immediate reply.
“Then why go this way? We never go this way. There are more stores the other way.”
“We never go shopping with Hisao either. Yet here we are," Rin replied. "Hisao doesn’t know what he wants to buy. I don’t know what’s this way. That’s probably good.”
Emi looked at Rin dubiously. “Is it?”
“It’s as good as any other way.”
The trio walked on for a while until they passed a newsstand. Hisao stopped beside a convenience store to look at it and its smaller neighbour while the girls continued on. After a few steps they realized their silent companion wasn’t following them anymore and they turned around. Hisao waited for them to turn, then he looked over at one of the stores.
Emi looked at the store and Hisao before replying, “Are you thirsty? Do you need to take another break?”
Hisao shook his head and pointed at a smaller store beside the convenience store. The smaller store’s window displayed a collection of wooden toys and antique dolls.
“An … old toy store? Othello’s Antiques? I didn’t know this store was even here,” Emi said, walking towards Hisao. “Let’s take a look.” Hisao opened the old wooden door for his friends. The door’s opening caused a bell to ring. The three of them entered.
The interior of the store smelled like old books and wood varnish. Bookshelves lined the two side walls, and there were desks and tables throughout the store with items for sale on them. One table had a collection of antique porcelain dolls on it, another was covered with old cooking utensils.
The store’s shopkeeper, an older man with greying hair, was sitting behind the cash register, reading a book. He looked up at the three high school students before returning to his reading.
As Hisao slowly made his way to the table with dolls on it, Emi asked him, “Do you really think that you’ll find something here? Everything here is so …”
As Emi’s voice trailed off Rin completed her sentence. “Old. This is an old store.”
Hisao shrugged and transferred all of the shopping bags he was carrying to his left hand. He approached the dolls and picked one up, examining it closely. After a moment he put it down, picking up a slightly smaller doll that was beside it.
Emi looked over. “Those dolls look like the ones my grandmother has. Are you sure that Hanako would want one?”
Hisao shrugged and put the doll he was examining back on the table. He then wandered around the store.
Rin walked behind Emi and asked, “Is he buying her something old because she’s getting older?”
“Maybe she likes antiques?“ came Emi’s reply, “But buying that doll is a bad idea. Who’d want that?”
“You have stuffed animals. It’s the same thing.”
“No it isn’t!” replied Emi. “First, Ahiru-chan is soft and adorable. She’s nothing like those cold dolls. Second, it’s okay to still have cute toys from when you were a kid. Third, you’re an ass. Ass.”
Rin grinned as she said, “I thought you kept her because you like ducks.”
“That too. And she’s adorable.”
“Then what’s your opinion on boxes and squares?”
Before she could think of a reply, Emi heard the shopkeeper announce, “That’s a wonderful find. It’s a chess set, imported from Europe.”
Emi looked over. Hisao has placed their shopping bags on a table, and was holding a large flat box decorated on the top with white and black squares. He seemed to be admiring it. She looked back at Rin. “What’s a chess set?”
“That box,” came Rin’s immediate reply. “Try and keep up.”
The shopkeeper approached Hisao and said, “If you don’t mind my asking, are you considering purchasing it for yourself, or as a gift?”
Hisao looked at the older man, apparently unsure of how to answer. Emi realized that she’d need to come to his rescue. She approached the pair and said, “It’s for a friend.” Hisao nodded.
“Then might I say that she is fortunate to have such good friends as you three. May I show you how to open it?” Hisao nodded again, so the shopkeeper continued, “The button that opens the drawer for the pieces blends in well with the engravings on the side. If you would be so kind as to place the set on the table, I will demonstrate it.”
Hisao places the chessboard on the table. The shopeeker said, “See the banner on the castle here, in the middle of this side? Pressing it gently will cause the drawer to open.” As he did so, a gentle clicking sound could be heard, and the drawer opened half a centimetre or so. The older man gently grasped each side and opened it slowly. In the drawer were four rows of chess pieces, each piece resting in a felt indentation.
The shopkeeper picked up two pawns of each colour and gently placed them on the four centre squares of the board. He continued his sales pitch, “The white pieces have been carved from undyed, natural coral. The black pieces are made of marble.”
Emi interjected, “That ... sounds very expensive.”
“The board and drawer are reproductions of an antique set, so it is affordable“ the shopkeeper explained, “I believe this piece is only five years old. I would be willing to sell it for … 7,000 yen.”
Hisao looked crestfallen. Emi just said, “7,000…” under her breath.
Rin called out, “Reproduction means it’s fake.”
Somewhat emboldened, Emi jumped in, “Yeah. Maybe 5,000 yen,” Seeing Hisao brighten up a bit, she added, “I think that’s fair.”
The shopkeeper thought for a moment before stating, “5,500 yen. I won’t go any lower.” Seeing that Hisao nodded and smiled, Emi said, “He’ll take it.”
The shopkeeper then started to put the pawns away. He asked the group, “Would you like more time to look around?” He then closed the drawer with a soft click.
Emi looked at her friends. Hisao shook his head, and Rin looked around the store with her usual neutral look. “No thank you. Just the set please.”
“Of course,” the shopkeeper said, picking up the chess set. “Since it’s to be a gift, would you like me to wrap it for you?”
Hisao nodded, and the shopkeeper went to the back of the store to wrap it. Emi looked up at Hisao and said, “See? We just saved you 1,500 yen. Aren’t we great?”
Hisao couldn’t help but giggle. Then he nodded in agreement. Emi asked him, “Do you like this store?” He thought for a bit and nodded again. Emi said, “To be honest, it’s not really my thing. But I’m glad you like it. And I hope she does too.”
Hisao picked up the day’s purchases from the table and went to the back to pay for his gift. Emi walked back to Rin to wait for him. She asked Rin, “I guess we’re done shopping then?”
“Maybe,“ came Rin’s reply. “But I can’t predict the future. It’s hard to know for sure.”
Emi giggled, “You know it!”
The three students arrived at the downtown bus station. Emi and Rin were once again walking in front while Hisao followed a step or two behind, carrying the group’s purchases. They stopped in front of the bus schedule. Emi studied it for a moment before saying, “Okay, the bus back to Yamaku will leave in ten minutes. Mine leaves in … five. So, we’re good.”
Hisao handed Emi one of the shopping bags he was carrying. Emi looked up at him and said, “Thanks Hisao, for carrying our stuff. I think everything worked out pretty well. You do look a bit winded though. So, we’ll start running on Monday morning instead. Enjoy your extra day off! And don’t be late!” Hisao slowly nodded and smiled.
“And Rin! I’ll be back around the usual time.”
Rin thought a moment before replying, “Hopefully your dinner won’t be weird.”
Emi replied, “Don’t worry! But I gotta go. Take care of Hisao!” And she ran off to her bus stop.
Rin and Hisao shared a look. Rin said, “I don’t think I’ve ever been asked to take care of someone else before. It doesn’t feel different. Our bus stop is this way.” And Rin walked off, with Hisao catching up to her quickly.
The bus was somewhat crowded when Hisao, Rin and the other people at the bus stop got on. Hisao took a seat on a bench on one side of the bus. Instead of sitting beside him, Rin took a seat on the opposite bench. Eventually most of the other seats are filled, and the bus got underway.
The two of them rode back to Yamaku in silence. During the ride, Hisao’s attention wandered from Rin to the scenery behind her to the bags in his possession. Rin spent most of the time dispassionately staring at Hisao. Partway through the ride, Hisao took out his pen and wrote something in his notebook.
Eventually the bus arrived at the stop outside Yamaku’s gates, and Hisao and Rin got out. After the bus pulled away, Hisao took out his notepad, holding up what he wrote.
Why were you staring at me on the bus?
Rin answered Hisao’s question with a question, “Do you remember when I told Emi about the idea I’d lost?” Hisao nodded, so she explained, “It had to do with you. Seeing you again helped me remember I’d forgotten it. On the bus, I thought I’d actually remember it.” She paused for a beat. “I didn’t.”
The two of them slowly walked through the gates towards the dorms. When they approached the point between the girls’ and boys’ dorms, Rin asked, “Would you carry my stuff up to my room? I can, but I’d rather not.”
Hisao smiled and nodded, and the two of them headed towards the girls’ dorm.