For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again
The sound of Grandfather Nishi's voice unceremoniously rouses Moon the cat from his nap, and Seiji Amasawa from his usual workbench trance, and neither are very impressed by the interruption. As Moon stretches, exuding his usual air of assured haughtiness, Seiji puts down his tools and appraises his work with the eyes of a humourless critic. Letting nothing escape his gaze, he notes the substandard carving on the handle, as well as the violin's general lack of symmetry. Just as he is silently questioning whether or not his parents have been right all along, his grandfather's voice rings out once more.
"Seiji, could you come up here, please? I have a job for you."
For a split second, Seiji contemplates retorting that he is already in the middle of a more important job, and immediately thinks better of it. Without his grandfather, Seiji knows that he would not have a single person who supports his dream. To be ungrateful would be an awful way to repay him. He owes his grandfather the world. Seiji puts down the violin and climbs the stairs to the Earth Shop.
Grandfather Nishi is waiting at the top of the stairs, clutching a large paper bag that gives off the faint aroma of curry. "I need you to catch up with the owner of this," he says, holding up the bag, "and return it to her. The girl who brought it in here was in such a hurry to get to the library that she forgot it completely! Wouldn't want the poor thing to go hungry," he finishes with his usual kindly smile.
Seiji is slightly relieved that that's all he has to do; the library is not very far and it is a beautiful day. "Sure, Grandpa," he replies, feeling slightly guilty that he could have begrudged him such a small favour. "What's her name?"
Nishi quietly considers the question for a moment, straining to recollect. "Come to think of it," he says after a few seconds, "she didn't say! She seemed completely entranced by the whole store, particularly the Baron, but she only stayed a few minutes and had to leave in such a hurry."
"Well, do you remember much about what she looks like?" presses Seiji. "It might be harder to find her without a name, but I'll at least have something to go on."
"Well..." Grandfather Nishi pauses briefly, stroking his chin in thought. "Her hair is cut fairly short, about to her chin. She was wearing a pink shirt, and a yellow skirt. Oh, and she was wearing a straw hat. I think it might have had a ribbon around it."
"Okay, that should narrow things down a little," replies Seiji, smiling and taking the bag from his grandfather. "I'm on my way."
"Thank you, Seiji," Nishi says as Seiji goes back down the stairs to get his bike. "In the meantime, I think I'll close up for a while and take a little rest. Finishing that clock today was hard work!"
Seiji quietly laughs to himself as he closes the workshop door behind him. With amusement, he notes that the shop always seems to be closed more often than not, especially in recent years. If there are any antique hunters in the area, they must be out of luck pretty often, he thinks wryly.
The afternoon sun is blazing over Tokyo, and Seiji can't help but be a little awed by the breathtaking view, as he always is. Standing on his grandfather's porch always makes him feel like he is standing in his own castle in the sky, high above any care he has in the world. It is as close as he ever gets to believing in fairy tales.
Seiji is halfway up the stairs before he realizes that he is being followed. Moon, in his usual habit of appearing out of nowhere, saunters up the stairs behind him. Seiji raises an eyebrow, surprised by the presence of the grey cat. "Hey, Moon," he says, half-smiling. "So you like me now or something?"
The cat only fixes him with a disinterested, faintly disdainful stare. Seiji chuckles knowingly. "Not so much, huh. Well, are you coming along for the ride or what?" he jokes, climbing the remaining stairs and grabbing his bike. His surprise is palpable when he feels the considerable weight of the cat drop on the back of his bike before he pedals away.
The ride to the library is quick, even with the extra passenger. The sun beats down on his face as he glides down the road, turning around the bend to the library. Almost instantly, a small figure rushing up the stairs catches his eye. The figure is wearing a yellow skirt and is becoming increasingly familiar the closer her gets. It can't be, can it...?
"Shizuku Tsukishima," he calls out, and the figure stops dead in their tracks to turn around and look at him. In mere seconds, their facial expression transforms from faint bewilderment to unabashed horror.
Seiji comes to a stop in front of the library, taking the bag off the handlebar and extending it to her. "Hey, this is yours, isn't it?" he asks her. She appears confused for a moment, but suddenly gives a shriek of recognition before scrambling down the stairs and grabbing the lunch from him.
He can't help but chuckle quietly to himself as he surrenders the bag to her. "You're kinda forgetful, aren't you," he says, his words more of an observation than a question. Shizuku blushes profusely, clutching the bag protectively to her chest. "Uhh, thanks, but... where did you get this?" she asks him, unease evident in her voice.
Seiji instantly knows that there are two possible routes he can take in this situation. The first involves being a gentleman and telling her the wholly unremarkable story of how this meeting came to pass, and the second involves teasing her a little more. Having already decided that she is very cute when she's mad, it does not take him long to figure out his next move. "Take a wild guess!" he tells her, a devilish grin on his face as he turns his bike around and pedals away. He hears her gasp quite loudly behind him.
"That man!" she exclaims. "Do you know him? Is he your grandpa?"
Seiji decides to deflect her question, steering the topic somewhere else entirely. "You must eat like a pig; that lunch is enormous!" he calls out, smirking to himself. For good measure, he begins to belt out the first few lines of "Concrete Roads" when he hears her yell after him in protest. Exhilarated and brightened by the unexpected pleasure of seeing her again, Seiji makes the ride back to the Earth Shop in record time, laughing all the way.
His grandfather had noted that she seemed drawn to the store, and to the Baron. Seiji fervently hopes that it means she will be back.
Seiji simply cannot get "Country Roads" out of his head. He's never had any particular love for the song, and certainly has never experienced any desire for it to become the background music to his entire life. But, like the image of her face, "Country Roads" remains (even when it is not at the forefront of his mind), and continually reappears at the most inconvenient moments.
After catching himself humming the first few lines of the song for what feels like the hundredth time, Seiji decides that something must be done. He's heard it said that in order to get a song out of your head, you must sing it, out loud, all the way through. However, he is not a particularly skilled singer, having always let his violin do the singing for him, so the solution to his problem becomes clear. Seiji begins playing around on his violin, slowly but surely cobbling the tune together by ear. He practices it often in his spare moments, eventually becoming confident enough to add his own flourishes to the music. He practices so often that the song becomes second nature. And he plays it all the way through, countless times, to no avail.
Like the image of her face, "Country Roads" remains.