Kazusa After Story (Digital Novel)

 

It’s Not White Album Season Any More

There, the sounds of many people, playing their many instruments, flew all about through the air.

The children, crying and seeing off the men who waved as they left.

The couples standing cheek-to-cheek, who would never part, no matter how much time passed.

The grandfather, grumbling and pulling his suitcase behind him as the grandmother hurried him along.

The young people who passed through the gate in high spirits as their friends waved and cheered them off.

And the speakers near the ceiling, rattling off place names, times, airlines, and the numbers of arriving and departing flights.

In other words, this was that most important place for comings and goings, and all the sounds they made—the airport lobby.

“Two o’clock, huh?”

And in this place, which was even more crowded and bustling than usual, was a young lady, quietly speaking to herself.

She had long, black hair, and an elegant glamor that made her stand out, even among these surroundings that threatened to absorb her.

Her small face, with its perfectly balanced long, narrow eyes and slightly thin lips, boasted true Eastern beauty.

Her body was like that of a model, somewhat tall in stature, with a tight waist and full breasts.

But then there was her attitude—stiflingly filling out her well-blessed body, the ill-mannered way she sat in her chair grasping her knees, her almost shamefully aloof air.

…The name of this lady, young and yet idle, beautiful and yet eccentric, was Kazusa Touma.

And, in spite of all of this, she was a famous pianist, known to tens of millions of people worldwide.

“Come to think of it, I suppose it is about to be Christmas…”

Kazusa vacantly surveyed the airport displays, the luggage that people were carrying, and finally hit upon both the reason for the congestion, and the current season.

It was already winter.

This was an airport in winter.

For Kazusa Touma, airports held a great many memories.

Breakdowns, declarations of feelings, separations, returns home, and new journeys.

Casting aside, spilling, overflowing, reawakening…

Countless pains slept in Narita, that airport in Japan.

But, right now…

And, right here…

“Dürfte ich mich neben Sie setzen? (May I sit next to you?)”
“Wie? Ähm… ja bitte. (Hm? Oh… Yes, of course.)”

The question that the middle-aged lady asked, and the words that immediately came from Kazusa’s mouth, were not Japanese, as the words overflowing back then had been.

Because this was the Wien-Schwechat International Airport.

Because this was the current home of Kazusa Touma—no, Kazusa, née Touma.

“Be at the airport at noon. I’ll come as soon as my meeting is over.”

She had looked at the text message that had been waiting for her on the phone this morning twice—no, three times—no, she had lost count of how many times, but she scanned over it again.

It hadn’t just been a text. Last night, in bed, the appointed meeting time for today had been told to her over and over, almost like pillow talk, and this time, for once, Kazusa actually held faithfully to it.

Which was how she had wound up idling away almost two hours in this airport, and it was now just past two p.m.

The stated departure time was precisely three p.m.

If they didn’t board soon, there was going to be trouble.

But…

“Honestly. How long is it going to be before I can eat lunch?”

Kazusa grumbled in a tone that showed no sense of impending crisis, rummaged around in a pocket of her luggage, pulled out her fifth chocolate bar since her arrival at the airport, and stuffed her mouth with it.

But even as the complaints dribbled out of her mouth this way, Kazusa was neither angry nor in a rush.

For someone like her, who had been tamed into laziness, time was not a limited commodity.

In days long past, waiting around idly for someone (a specific someone) would have irritated her, but not any more.

She was used to waiting.

She had once waited over five hours before exchanging a kiss.

She had waited over five years to achieve her desires.

When she thought about those days, both sweet and bitter, beloved and maddening, a little bit of waiting around with a definite end was neither painful nor itchy for her.

“The meeting is stretching on. Just a little longer. I promise we’ll get onto the plane in time!”
“Making me show up early, and then running this far behind yourself… You’re a failure as a member of society.”

After opening this long awaited follow-up message and cursing a bit, Kazusa quickly shut her phone and turned the brief text over and over in her head.

In general, Kazusa did not reply to texts.

For that matter, she didn’t send texts.

After all these years of living together, Kazusa still hadn’t broken out of the comfort of “a little flirtation between lovers.”

Her innate disposition, aggravated by spoiling and indulgence, which led her to find many things bothersome, was also somewhat to blame.

But even greater than that was a lofty mentality, grounded in the Japanese virtue known as “MOTTANAI.

…When communication was absolutely necessary, it was impossible for her to let it go without hearing his voice.

She would make a call, disparage him to her heart’s content, be met with tedious objections and lectures, snap back, hang up with a sharp parting remark, regret it immediately, start to redial but get a call from the other end instead, pick up with an expression of great delight, be given another drawn-out sermon, finally get a small apology at the very end, hang up, chuckle to herself, and, if nobody else was around, be seized with fits of laughter.

After all these years of living together, Kazusa still hadn’t broken out of the comfort of “a little flirtation between lovers.”

I’ve caught a taxi. I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes.
“That’s a pretty optimistic estimate, stupid…”

About ten minutes had passed since the last message.

After giving this short continuation a light retort, Kazusa did nothing but stare vacantly up at the airport ceiling and picture him, sending her the message in a mad rush, hurrying the driver along.

She didn’t read a magazine, or listen to music on her phone, or watch a movie.

These time-killers that would drive him out of her head were ridiculous. She couldn’t possibly do any of that.

She refused to give up the luxury of letting this one person permeate her mind and body.

Whether or not her fingers were moving over the keyboard, the space in which the wings of Kazusa’s imagination fluttered was at once too large and too small.

Okay, go ahead and board without me. I’ll catch up with you soon.
“Ugh. Why.”

Kazusa read this post-script of a message, and… still didn’t move.

It was clearly an important message, regarding an important bit of business to take care of, but she freely ignored it.

She looked at the airport clock. There were exactly thirty minutes until boarding time.

The time limit was approaching.

At this point, if Kazusa didn’t see the process through, they weren’t going to be able to avoid missing the flight.

But…

“…Why are you here, Kazusa?”
“That would be because you didn’t make it in time, Haruki.”

Three o’clock p.m.

Not at the boarding gate, or on the plane, but in the same airport lobby.

Now that the two of them had finally carried out their reunion after their communication exchange, the plane that they were supposed to be on was right on the verge of taking off into the heavens.

“I told you to board on your own, at least…”
“No, you didn’t. All you said was that you would definitely catch up.”

This young man standing in front of Kazusa, who was still grasping her knees in her chair, looking as troubled as ever in his coat, was Haruki Kitahara.

Kazusa’s manager and promoter, whose surname was the same as her current surname.

“I would have caught up to you.”
“Oh, no, I couldn’t trust that. Remember? Two years ago, in New York, I let you wheedle me into getting to the place before you, and when you finally linked up with me, it was thirty minutes before the performance.”
“And you certainly seem to have a good memory for old bygones…”

Even though he had broken his promise to Kazusa and fallen far behind, he hardly flinched at all, instead giving an answer that was half-serious and half-perfunctory, as though he were humoring a spoiled child.

“I had a really hard time, you know. Since you weren’t there, I couldn’t go out to eat, and I got so sick of room service for three days and three nights. I thought I was going to die.”
“No, you could have gone out. You can speak English plenty well…”

Even as she confronted him, Kazusa knew well that Haruki’s extreme busyness all the way up until right before they left the country had all been for her sake, but she pushed all of the responsibility onto him and allowed herself to sulk as much as she liked.

“Anyway, everything about this is your fault. I don’t have a single thing to apologize for.”
“No, look… Come on, that’s enough.”

Because they each understood…

That the other wasn’t really angry.

And each was certain that the other would forgive the whole thing very shortly.

“For now, there are two tickets available from cancellations for a flight two hours from now… It has three connections, but…”
“The seats aren’t separate, are they?”
“Well, it looks like they’re consecutive numbers… They’re economy, though.”
“Are they? Well, that’s perfect.”
“How, exactly…?”

Because if they had gotten first class tickets, adjacent seats would be too far apart from each other, making it difficult to hold hands the entire time.

“We have to restrain ourselves from unnecessary expenses. Our management is pretty strict.”

…Even if he had figured this out, she still wouldn’t have said it aloud.

“In which case, I wish that you at least had gotten on the plane just now.”

At some point, the chair next to Kazusa’s had been freed up, and Haruki finally sat down.

And, as though she had been waiting for it, Kazusa leaned her entire body weight over onto Haruki’s side.

Of course, Haruki took this weight perfectly naturally, and opened up his shoulder to make it easier for Kazusa’s head to rest on.

“So, we’ve got two more hours to wait.”
“We’re lucky that we even managed to grab a flight for today.
“Oh, yes… I’m very lucky today.”
“Look, I apologize for being late, so cut it out with the sarcasm.”
“Intolerant as ever.”

Without any sarcasm whatsoever, Kazusa genuinely reflected upon the day’s good fortune.

Waiting for two idle hours with thoughts of Haruki.

Waiting for two idle hours with Haruki.

There was no greater happiness in the world than this.

“By the way, Haruki, let me tell you a secret… Tonight is Christmas Eve.”
“Yes, I’m aware of that.”
“And yet, you’ve been doing nothing but work since early this morning… Are you really European?”
“You are European, and yet you don’t work on any days other than Christmas, either.”
“It’s Christmas Eve! And yet we’re spending it on an airplane. At this rate, the moment we cross the International Date Line, Christmas will already be over.”
“You should be happy, though. It may not be much of a substitution, but at least the in-flight meals will be Christmas themed.”
“Hey, will you trade my chicken for your cake?”

What the two of them exchanged, both from outsiders’ viewpoints and from their own when they thought back over it rationally, were nothing but pointless, wholly insubstantial conversations.

“Why don’t we go ahead and eat something now, before the in-flight meal?”
“I’m not really hungry.”
“I’m starving… I haven’t eaten anything since this morning.”
“You should have had breakfast, at least. I’ve heard it’s different when you’re working with your brain.”
“Never thought I’d hear that from the person who has never once made me breakfast in the past few years.”
“I was just staying faithful to the instructions I received from a certain someone a few years ago, who told me, ‘Don’t make breakfast any more.’”
“You don’t think you could reexamine that a bit?”
“Cooking is simple. But my fingers are crucial tools for my work, so I don’t use them on anything wasteful.”
“Well, I guess I don’t really have anything to say to that.”
“I use my fingers for two things only: playing the piano, and digging my nails into your back.”
“Are you aware of how bad that’s been hurting…?”

His expression was lax, absent-minded, devoid of tension or any shred of seriousness.

“Well, if you’re that hungry, why don’t you have one of my chocolate bars?”
“That would be amazing. I’m seriously about to pass out.”
“…Wait, you’re really gonna eat it? Selfish jerk.”
“Now, wait just a minute. Do you even remember what we were literally just talking about?”
“Look, I’ve only got one left…”
“And you don’t have the sort of admirable attitude that would allow you to split it in half and share it together?”
“Hey, Haruki, use your imagination. Haven’t you ever actively pictured yourself finishing off the last serving of a side dish or a candy that you really like, in its entirety?”
“No, that’s not something I do.”
“How would you feel, then, if someone suddenly said to you, ‘Make do with half’?”
“If the other person were really in need, I would give it to them without thinking twice.”
“No way… It’s my last one, so why should I only be able eat half of it? I refuse to accept such an unreasonable world.”
“What’s unreasonable here is your series of assertions…”
“I don’t care what you say. I’m not giving you this. If you have any complaints, you can go buy something yourself at a kiosk.”
“Fine, fine… I’m going shopping for a bit.”
“Oh, while you’re at it, get me five more of these chocolate bars.”
“…You are so…”

Yes—there was no tension in his expression, no seriousness…

It told, even more eloquently than words, of how the two of them had lived in this country, full of contentment, repeated unchanging days, all the tedious hustle and bustle.

“Hey, Kazusa.”
“Hm?”

And so the two of them continued sitting next to one another in the airport lobby, killing time by stuffing their cheeks with hamburgers, chatting back and forth, and watching the planes take off, one by one…

And, at last, the time came for the airport announcement to call the name of their own flight.

“Are you nervous?”
“Of course not.”

Haruki murmured in a slightly meek tone, different from how he had been speaking up to this point.

But Kazusa remained the same, lightly fending off the question with an attitude that lacked any fragment of seriousness.

“This trip isn’t for a concert or an interview. It’s completely open, so we can make the most of doing whatever we want.”
“I guess you’re right…”
“So, does that mean you’re nervous, Haruki?”
“I dunno…”

In spite of Kazusa’s usual attitude, Haruki didn’t relax his own change in mood.

This trait, not reading along with one another’s state of mind, was a point that really had not changed for either of them since back then.

“I never thought we would go back there again, so, to be honest, I really don’t know how I’m going to feel when I’m facing it.”

Yes—nothing had changed.

Since several years ago, when they ceased reading the air, ceased their accord with society, and chose a sweet hell for themselves.

Threw away those they loved.

Threw away those who had loved them.

Threw away the country where they were born.

Since several years ago, when they wished to live simply according to their own desires.

“How you’re supposed to feel when you’re facing it? That’s obvious.”
“What am I supposed to do, then?”
Dooo yooou…. swear to looove… Kazusa Toumaaa… now and forever?
“Huh?”
“Feel worried stiff, trying not to laugh, while you answer some American priest who can hardly speak a word of Japanese. That’s what.”
“…Pff, hahaha…”

They destroyed their surroundings.

Threw so many people into sorrow.

Even hurt themselves, terribly.

And, at last, they had acquired this tiny daily life for themselves.

…This truly inconsequential everyday life, the scraps that remained after they traded their whole world away.

“If you’re laughing now, I’m seriously concerned about what’s going to happen in the actual moment.”
“Ha, hahaha… No, but… Are we seriously doing that?”
“Mom at least said that she’s got a chapel pinned down, at least.”

And this world that they had thrown away—what it gave them, once again, in their inconsequential routine, was a routine of even further calm and quiet.

They hurt that world.

And yet, that world revived on its own, and they were saved by it.

Received a favor that they could never fully pay back.

Gave up on returning it, since they knew there was nothing they could do.

“Snrk… No, I’m doomed. I’m definitely gonna laugh. I’ll be full-on cackling.”
“You… If you really do laugh, I’m kicking you right up into the air.”
“Come on, Kazusa, you can’t be serious?”
“What, is there a problem?”
“You were the one grumbling and groaning about, ‘We’ve already entered our family register, so having a ceremony at this point would just be a hassle.’”
“B-but this is what Mom wants.”
“Huh.”
“Are you telling me you would disdain this one tiny, modest wish from our mother? Are you truly such a heartless man?”
“Hmmm.”
“…What’s with these reactions? What are you trying to imply?”
“Nothing, it’s just… You don’t seem opposed to the idea at all.”
“What, are you opposed? …To holding a ceremony with me?”
“I’m a man. I have the right to answer pointless questions like that with, ‘How am I supposed to know?’”
“Oh, wow, I see. Boys are an especially infuriating sort of beast, huh.”
“And why are you being so open today? You do realize we’re not in bed right now?”
“Haruki, you… You’ve really been a lot more blunt lately, I’ve noticed.”
“Well, that’s because I have to spend my life with someone who’s so nonchalant and unreserved.”

For Haruki Kitahara and Kazusa Kitahara, airports held a great many memories.

Breakdowns, declarations of feelings, separations, returns home, and new journeys.

Casting aside, spilling, overflowing, reawakening…

Countless pains slept in Narita, that airport in Japan.

And, today, for the first time in years, the two of them were going toward that place.

Toward Narita Airport.

They would set foot upon Japanese soil once more.

They would return to that strong, gentle, and just slightly meddlesome world.

To swear before everyone that the two of them would be a pair forever.

They would swear anywhere, at any time, however many times it took.

“Well, it looks like the gate has opened up, so let’s get going.”
“I wonder if Mom’s doing all right.”
“For now, she’s out of the hospital and living at home, she said.”
“I see… I wonder if she’ll finally come and visit us here next time, then?”
“She herself said, ‘I don’t want to leave Japan.’”
“It’s better to be with family, right? That seems obvious.”
“I never imagined I would hear those words out of you…”

Winter was no longer White Album season.

The snow was neither crystalized tears, nor drops of sorrow.

“Let’s go, Haruki! To Japan!”
“Yes, to our homeland… Let’s go back.”

With no thought for their age, no sign of just going through the motions, their arms tightly entwined…

The two of them, pressing their bodies against one another, began walking toward the boarding gate.