“The graves of the warriors who have given their lives for the Emperor now outnumber the stars themselves.” –Imperial Thought for the Day
Chapter Six: The Teacher’s Tale
I never did throw up, and I had a great time riding around with Mrs. Nakai, once I managed to suppress the constant terror from hurtling around the city. The scope and size of Manila made me nervous, with its massive throngs of people going to and fro, traffic thick with cars and bicycles, towering skyscrapers mixed with ancient buildings of brick and stone that had seen the rise and fall of entire Empires. Somehow we managed to skirt the worse of it all, taking less-travelled roads and visiting older shops that probably saw more locals than tourists.
Mrs. Nakai knew what she was talking about regarding our next destinations, too. She insisted on buying me a helmet and jacket, so I picked out a vinyl, navy blue matching pair.
As for the bookstore, once I had spent some time enjoying the dust and smell of old books, the two of us spent what seemed like hours searching the haphazard shelves and piles, while the tired old owner seemed stunned silent by the presence of actual customers. Mrs. Nakai had found a couple first edition books she had apparently been looking for, and I found a copy of The Canterbury Tales
in Middle English, which I had been looking for ever since my English teacher had brought it up.
When in the bookstore I remarked that I should get Maiko a present, Mrs. Nakai asked what she might like, and when I told her –a signed copy of one of her books- Mrs. Nakai took us to a regular bookstore to get just that. That meant hurling ourselves into regular traffic again, but I was starting to get used to it, although I did worry I might bruise Mrs. Nakai if I held on too tightly to her.
After our shopping trips, we met with the rest of the group at the planned meeting point. Like I had told Mrs. Hanako, I was used to pizza because of Kenji, and the food itself was pretty good. While we were there, I told Akio I had had to borrow his jacket and helmet and thanked him for their use, which seemed to fluster him a bit, for some reason. After dinner, we wandered around town a for a little while to help plan for the next day, before heading back to the suite.
When we got back, Satomi and Refia went to our room to watch TV, Mrs. Nakai was playing chess with Akio, Miya and Kenji were in the kitchen fiddling with Miya’s tablet while Hisato watched, and Mr. Nakai was in the bedroom, though he didn’t stay there for long. Once the sun was truly set and the stars out, Mr. Nakai emerged from the bedroom with a large rectangular case, which he took with him to the balcony.
Having spent the day with Mrs. Nakai, and having not spent really any time at all with her husband, I figured I should do exactly that. Although a bit apprehensive about bothering him, I nonetheless knocked on the sliding window-door to the balcony and opened it a crack.
“Um, is it alright if I come out?” I asked.
“Of course,” Mr. Nakai replied.
“Thank you,” I said, and stepped out onto the balcony.
It was still humid but not quite as hot, which was nice. Mr. Nakai was sitting on the balcony floor, the case opened next to him as he started assembling a large, black telescope. A book was opened and pinned under one foot, revealing what looked like a star chart. A mosquito coil was slowly burning away in the left corner, and Mr. Nakai himself smelled faintly of bug spray. For reasons I’d rather not think about, mosquitoes always left me alone.
Now outside, I faced the awkward position of having no idea what to say, so I settled on the painfully obvious, “Is that a telescope?”
Mr. Nakai looked up at me from his work, smiled, and nodded, “Yeah, astronomy is a hobby of mine, and we’re far enough from the city I can get some decent stargazing in –it helps that the smog tends to block out the lights.”
Mr. Nakai looked up, as if to confirm his previous statement. I looked up for a minute and was immediately overcome by unease; the sky was clear, starry, and disturbingly open. I looked back down at Mr. Nakai, who was now setting up a tripod.
“…Why astronomy, if I may ask? Is it a work thing?”
Still fiddling with the equipment, he replied, “Not really work related. It was actually –why don’t you have a seat?”
“Sorry,” I muttered and immediately sat where I was standing, scooting to the side a bit so I wasn’t blocking the door.
“It was actually my grandfather who got me interested in astronomy,” Mr. Nakai said, continuing as if he hadn’t paused, “We would sit out at night together, and he would always be looking up and pointing out constellations, telling me the stories behind them, explaining how they changed depending on the season… Do you ever look up at them?”
I shook my head, “Open spaces make me nervous.”
“Understandable,” he declared. Glancing at me, he looked up at the sky for a moment before resuming his work, “Anyway, you tend to get philosophical looking up at our narrow view of the universe a lot, and my grandfather was no exception. One of the things he said, which never really made sense to me until I went to Yamaku, was… how did he put it?” Mr. Nakai paused and looked off into space; the expression of the academic with a wandering thread of thought he was determined to rein in, “That’s right; he would say ‘some people look up at the stars, see how vast the universe is, and become overwhelmed with their own insignificance. Others see that vastness as a challenge to prove how great they can truly be.’”
I smirked and remarked, “That sounds like something Mutou-sensei would say.”
Mr. Nakai turned to me and smirked, “It does, in a layman’s sort of way. Speaking of Mutou, what do you think of him?”
“Well…” I started, caught off guard by the question, “…he definitely knows his subject, and you can tell he’s really into it… the science club members really like him, but…”
“He’s a little scattered and awkward?” Mr. Nakai supplied.
I nodded, “He has high standards, too, and I hate letting him down, but… I’m really more of a humanities type of person.”
Mr. Nakai chuckled, “Some things never change. Regardless of your preferred subject, he’s a good teacher and a good man. I sometimes wonder if his talents are wasted as a teacher, but, he always knew how to handle the students –he was my homeroom teacher, back in the day.
“Sorry, we seem to have gone off tangent a bit. As I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself, I’d stargaze with my grandfather, and after he died, I kept at it. He never used a telescope, but I’ve found them to be rather handy,” Mr. Nakai glanced at the now assembled device, lost in some thought or other. Sighing wistfully, he continued, “after my heart attack, I spent a long time in the hospital, and someone had stuck some glow-in-the dark stars on the ceiling of my room. They and the books helped me get through that time. Kinda fitting, really -my grandfather always said looking up at the stars at night was the only thing that kept him sane during the war.”
“He was a radar operator who was good at ducking. He told me that’s where he got his love for the stars, as he called it. But enough lecturing for today,” Mr. Nakai declared, scooting a bit back from the telescope as he added, “Wanna take a look? Space looks a lot smaller through a lens.”
“Um… okay,” I said, and scooted over to the telescope.
“When is your birthday, if I may ask?” Mr. Nakai asked, flipping idly through the book he had.
“Um, March 8,” I did have a life before Them, after all.
“Okay, so you’d be a… Aquarius, then. Hmm,” he flipped through the book a bit more as he mused, “Not usually visible this time of year, but we might be able to find Sadalsuud, or maybe Sadalmelik….”
After skimming over a few more pages, Mr. Nakai showed me how to adjust the telescope, and had me guide it to whatever spot he had chosen. He had been right about space seeming smaller through the lens; the vast openness of space seemed less intimidating when you could only look at a small part of it. It also seemed to make the stars more special, since you could only see a few of them at a time. Normally they’re all vying for a viewer’s attention, but through the lens only a few of them can be seen, some trying to outshine their fellows, while others contentedly shine on through the silent void of space.
Mr. Nakai seemed to enjoy having a student in something that he didn’t have to grade, too. While we looked up at the expanse of space, he explained the history of various constellations and stars, early astronomers, and the occasional random tangent when something he said reminded him about something else.
Finally tearing myself away from the lens so Mr. Nakai could have a look, I turned to see him smiling and looking up. Noticing my movement, he remarked, “Beautiful up there, isn’t it?”
I nodded, “It is. It’s seems so quiet and peaceful.”
Mr. Nakai chuckled, “It does from down here, with a simple enough telescope. But space is far from peaceful. Over the span of eons it forms and destroys itself –planets forming and crumbling, entire galaxies colliding… even the stars themselves burn out. Some of the stars we looked at tonight are already dead, their remaining light the last vestige of their existence. Some become black holes and form new stars, and the whole thing starts over again.”
I glanced up at the night for a moment, “Sounds dangerous.”
Mr. Nakai’s smile faltered, replaced by an odd haunted look I was more used to seeing in the mirror, “Yes, it is,” sighing heavily, he smiled again and gently pat my head, “but from the sidelines down here, even the destruction looks beautiful. The beauty in the bellow of the blast, as Lilly –Mrs. Williams- might say.”
I raised an eyebrow at the remark before glancing down at my watch. I had been out on the balcony a while, and if I wanted to get up early enough to hit the pool before we headed out for the day, I needed to get to bed soon.
“Thank you for letting me look,” I said, “but I should go to bed.”
Mr. Nakai looked down at his own watch, “Hmm, so should I –got an early jog in the morning. So does Akio, so I hope he went to bed. Speaking of, make sure Satomi and Refia are asleep, could you?”
“I will,” I replied, standing up and turning toward the door. I looked back at Mr. Nakai as he started using the telescope himself, rather than go to bed. Like teacher, like student, I guess.
When I reached the door Mr. Nakai called to me, so I turned on my heel, “Yes?”
With one eye in the lens and the other on the book he was holding in his left hand, Mr. Nakai said, “I know Hana already did, but thank you for looking after Refia last night. You made the right call, and don’t forget if you have, well, trouble sleeping, Hanako knows a thing or two about that.”
I nodded even though he couldn’t see, “You’re welcome, and I’ll keep that in mind, Si-er, Uncle Hisao.”
Mr. Nakai smiled and nodded absently, the allure of space already taking up most of his attention. I took one last brief glance skyward, before opening the door and stepping back inside.
Did someone ask for some Gilbert and Sullivan?
I believe the glow-in-the-dark stars were mentioned in Rin’s route, but I might be imagining them altogether. It’s been a while, and my brain is a jumbled mess of ramen and anime references. And pizza. And booze (which is apparently screwing with my blood protein levels. Oops.)
I imagine Hisao’s teaching style is probably a mix of his own level-headedness, and Mutou’s bluntness and absentmindedness. Because when you go through enough schooling to be put in charge of other human beings, you tend to go nuts along the way (and if not, the little snots will do the job just fine.)