It was crowded on the subway. Mutou Sugoroku considered himself lucky to have gotten a seat at all, much less a good one next to the window. He was feeling fairly pleased with himself as the train rumbled along. It wasn't often he visited Tokyo, but he had received a phone call from one of his archeology friends that he had found something of interest and wanted his opinion on it. Sugoroku had been reluctant to leave his shop closed, but it had been several years since he had seen his friend, and the artifact sounded interesting enough to merit seeing in person, so he had told Yugi to be good and keep an eye on things, and he had purchased a train ticket and gone.
I should do some shopping while I'm here, he mused. I could look and see what some of the other game stores are carrying... Maybe I'll find something new to bring home to Yugi.
The train stopped, and there was a rustle and mutter as people began trying to get on and off the car. He paid little attention to what was going on around him, as he knew he had several more stops to go. In fact, he noticed very little of anything until a well-dressed woman approached him.
"Excuse me," she said. "Do you mind if my little boy sits next to you? There aren't enough seats for us to sit together. I promise he won't be any trouble. He's very well behaved."
Grandpa looked at the little boy next to her. He was quite young - probably six or seven - with dark hair and bright, intelligent eyes. He was wearing a green t-shirt with a yellow number nine printed on the front. He was also wearing the innocent expression that Sugoroku had seen many times before, and knew that it generally meant that the child was indeed very well behaved - as long as his mother was watching.
Still, it was only a short subway ride, and he knew how to deal with troublesome tots.
"It would be no trouble at all," he said.
"Thank you," said the woman. "Be good, Daichi, and don't bother the nice man."
She went to take a place in a seat a couple of rows down, where she could still keep a close watch on her child. The boy obediently planted himself next to Sugoroku and looked up at him with the fearless expression of someone who has probably never been punished for anything in his life.
"Hi," he said. "My name is Misawa Daichi. I'm seven years old. I'm in the second grade. I can do the times tables up to twenty. My favorite number is nine. Did you know if you multiply a number by nine and then add up the answers, it'll always be nine? Two times nine is eighteen, and eight and one make nine. Three times nine is twenty-seven, and two plus seven makes nine. Four times nine makes thirty-six, and three plus six makes nine. Five times nine..."
Sugoroku listened with amazement as the little boy continued rattling off multiplication tables.
"Are you sure you're only seven years old?" he asked, when the boy stopped to take a breath somewhere around fifteen-times-nine.
The boy - Daichi - nodded. "I'll be eight in sixty-two days. I'll be nine in four hundred and twenty-seven days. How old are you?"
"Guess," said Sugoroku.
"Um. A hundred?"
"Good heavens, no! It'll be a long time before I'm that old."
"A little less."
"Just a little more."
"That's right - now you've got it," said Sugoroku.
"That is a lot less than a hundred," said Daichi. "That's twenty-eight years less. But it's still sixty-five years older than me!"
"I'll take your word for it," Sugoroku replied. He had to be handy with numbers to manage a store, but he still didn't think he could do the subtraction that quickly in his head. He was sure he couldn't have done it when he was sixty-five years younger.
"What's your name?" the boy asked him.
"Mutou Sugoroku," he replied.
"Sugoroku... that's a game," said Daichi.
"It certainly is. It's a good name for me because I'm a game store owner. Do you like games?"
"I like baseball," Daichi said. "My dad taught me how to do batting averages. Do you know a lot about games?"
"I would say so, yes."
"Do you know why baseball players wear those numbers on their shirts? How do they decide which one to get?"
Sugoroku scratched his head. "You know, I never thought to ask. I don't know how they decide which numbers to put on their shirts."
"My mom didn't know either," said Daichi. "She's taking me shopping. We're going to buy clothes and then we're going to go get ice cream. I hope we go to the big ice cream store. It has thirty-two flavors! That's four plus four plus four plus four plus four plus four plus four... plus four!" he finished triumphantly.
Sugoroku laughed. "I've never met a boy who played with numbers as much as you do."
"Nobody's better at math than me!" said the boy proudly.
"I believe it," said Sugoroku sincerely. "What do your friends think of all this? Do they play with numbers like you do?"
Daichi's face fell. "They don't understand."
Something about the defensive way he set it, and the way his formerly enthusiastic expression suddenly turned dark and closed, struck a chord with Sugoroku. He thought of Yugi, playing alone with his puzzles and wishing desperately for even one real friend to play them with. That part of history had already taken care of itself, but there might be something he could do for this little boy.
"Here," he said, fishing around in his pockets. "I have a game here you might like."
"Really? A game? For me?" asked Daichi, leaning forward to see better.
"Absolutely," said Sugoroku. He found what he was looking for and pulled out a pack of cards. He'd been planning on giving them to his friend, so he could see what they were like, but it would be easy to send him some another time. "It's very popular in America, and it's just starting to catch on here. Why don't you open this up and tell me how many cards are in there?"
The boy gleefully ripped open the package and counted the cards.
"Nine!" he exclaimed.
"That's right, and they're all yours," Sugoroku replied. "Forty makes a full deck."
"So I need thirty-one more," said Daichi, admiring his new treasures. "What are these numbers for?"
"They tell you how strong your monster's attack and defense is," said Sugoroku. "You see, the way the game is played..."
He began a recitation of the rules, and the boy listened, absorbing every detail. Sugoroku was fairly sure that this bright child probably understood the rules better than some of the students Yugi went to class with.
"I understand," said Daichi. "You wait - I'll get really good at it!"
"You should teach it to all your friends," said Sugoroku. "I'll bet they'd enjoy playing it with you."
The train rumbled to a stop, and several people stood up, including the boy's mother, who came to fetch him.
"Thank you for letting him sit with you," she said. "I hope he wasn't a bother."
"No trouble at all," Sugoroku assured her. "He's been teaching me the nine-times tables."
"Mama, look what the nice man gave me!" said Daichi, waving his new treasures. "Instead of ice cream, can I get more cards like this? I need thirty-one more. That's four packs. Four isn't too many, right?"
"All right, dear, if that's what you're sure you want," said his mother. "Come along, now, or we'll miss our stop."
She began tugging him away, but the boy was reluctant to move.
"Where do you live? Here in Tokyo?" he asked.
"No, I live a long way from here, in Domino City," Sugoroku replied.
"I'll go there someday," Daichi said. "I'll go there and show you when I have forty cards, okay?"
"All right - now go!" said Sugoroku. "Your mother is waiting."
Daichi scrambled off - eager, no doubt, to figure out exactly how many miles it was from Tokyo to Domino. Sugoroku settled back into his chair with a small chuckle. There was just nothing like the enthusiasm of small children. Odds were good that by next week he would have forgotten about his cards (in their convenient sets of nine) and moved on to some other craze. Still, maybe with some luck, he would stick with the game long enough to find someone to play it with.
"I hope those cards do him some good," said Sugoroku, and settled down to wait for his stop.