This chapter had some issues that needed fixing, which is why I did not put it right out. I'm going to shoot for one chapter per week; it's about right, in my mind.
Here it comes...
Chapter 2--No Road
The school day passed quickly at Masuyo, and Aimi met up with Kaz and Mei after the final bell. The three passed through the main doors into the courtyard adjacent to the street. While most of their fellow students made for the bus stops and the nearby Metro station, they were in no hurry to leave.
Aimi walked between her friends as they approached one of the picnic tables situated under a pair of large sakura. Seated atop this table in meditation, a brown school satchel at her side was a small, almost miniature girl in height and build. Eyes closed, she sat, an island unto herself. As they approached, the girl’s eyes opened and she smiled. “Hi!”
Aimi smiled, as did Mei. “Hi, Midori,” the latter called, and Mei caught the girl as she jumped down from the table. The heels of her shoes clicked on the stone walkway, and Midori rose up on her tiptoes to give Mei a full embrace. Midori then did the same for Aimi and Kaz, and the four sat down to await the latter’s meet-up with Kaldera.
Mei sat beside Midori, while Aimi and Kaz took the seats that faced them. Midori Nagata was one year younger than the others, a first-year student. A full-blooded Korean, Midori wore her black hair short, and the natural curve of her mane came just past the collar of her uniform. Her smile was a priceless one amongst the sea of students; to Aimi it seemed Midori was always in a good mood and could make others feel better, just by her presence.
The four discussed the school day, as well as next week’s exams, which would herald the end of the semester. “Forty days off,” Aimi noted. “That’ll be good.”
“Yes,” Kaz replied, “I’ll be able to help out Kaldera on the boat, and get some more practice time in with him.”
“You’ve come along really well, you know,” Mei told him, “Kaldera’s been good for you. Hey, you said he was a big deal in the States years ago; what’s that about?”
Kaz shrugged. “He’s talked about it some,” he explained, “but he never gives away too much. Yet at the same time, the way he casually mentions bands and singers, you’d think he was as big as they are.”
“You said he wrote a hit song for someone,” Aimi said.
“Yeah, supposedly it was huge,” Kaz replied, “but it’s funny.” Kaz’s face took on a quizzical expression when he added, “Kaldera won’t say what song it was, or who recorded it. It’s almost like he wants to forget about it.”
Midori leaned over the table. “Well, either way I’m excited to finally meet this guy,” she said. “Mei’s right, he has had quite an influence on you, Kaz.”
“Really?” Kaz seemed doubtful.
“Yes,” Aimi added, “ever since you started taking lessons, you have changed. You are a lot more confident now.”
“I’m not so sure.” Kaz looked away like he wanted to get up, but didn’t. All three noticed his reaction, and Aimi put her hand on his shoulder.
“It’s your folks, isn’t it?” She and Mei’s families had been friends with the Ogawas for many years; but the relationship with Kaz’s parents had become distant. His own interactions with them had gone cool as well, especially recently.
Kaz nodded, and took a deep breath. “They haven’t said much,” he began, “but I don’t think they have been too pleased with my spending so much time with Kaldera. They did buy me the guitar, and at first they were really happy that I had taken to it as I have. But then…”
Kaz looked across the parking lot and street, ostensibly to look for Kaldera’s vehicle. After a long silence, Kaz turned back to his friends and said, “We don’t see each other much, as it is. Mom and Dad both work long hours; that’s one thing, but they’re both in their own worlds.”
Kaz noted that all three were listening. “They want me,” he continued, “to make something of myself, to do better than they have done. I understand that; but at this point in my life, I don’t know what I want to do, or be when I leave school. The only thing I really have enjoyed is music. I love listening to it, and I love playing it.”
He ran his hand along the headstock portion of the guitar’s case. “Kaldera has opened me up to new avenues of music, so many different things. He’s been like a big brother to me. You’ll understand when he gets here,” Kaz said as he indicated Mei and Midori, “but back to what I was saying: I guess I’m over at your place a lot Aimi, because, well…”
Kaz paused, then blurted out, “I envy you; all of you, really.”
“How?” Mei asked.
“Well…” Kaz laced his fingers together on the table and thought for a moment. “You all have the families I once had, and wished I had again. The relationship you each have with your parents is wonderful. I’m around you,” he said to Aimi and Mei, “because we all grew up on the same street and have been together since as far back as I can remember. We’ve grown up together, but all of you have a closeness, a friendship even, with your folks.” He sighed. “Sometimes I think my parents would be happy if I were not here. I sometimes feel like I’m an inconvenience.”
Aimi put her arm around Kaz. “They haven’t said that, have they?” When Kaz shook his head, she went on, “I know they do love you; your folks just have a hard time showing it. Believe me, Kaz,” Aimi added before he could reply, “we are here for you. You and Mei are like brother and sister to me, and that’s not just because of how long you’ve been around.”
“Yeah,” Mei added, and she reached across to take Kaz’s hand. “We are all here for you, whenever you need us; even it’s just to get away for a while.”
“You have me, too,” Midori said, and she took his other hand. “You three are probably the only real friends I’ve got here, besides the other Korean kids. I won’t forget what you did for me.”
The others nodded. Midori’s first day in high school had not gone well; no one spoke further about it, as it was an incident Midori did not like to be reminded of. Aimi was surprised she brought it up all.
“We are rather our own little club,” Aimi went on, and she smiled at the thought. “There’s cliques and groups in any school, but we’ve formed our own, and they can’t take that away.”
All voiced agreement as Kaz turned. “There he is.” Kaz seemed to feel better at this point, and he stood up as a man walked across the lawn, guitar case in hand.
This man caused every head of those who remained on campus to turn. He was a Westerner, and taller than most Japanese men. His frame was wiry, and the muscles of his arms were toned, but not from weightlifting. He wore an old pair of green cargo pants, sandals and a white t-shirt, and had the look of someone who worked outside a great deal of the time, based on his deeply tanned skin.
The face brought the most attention; from it, one could not tell his age. Aimi guessed that Kaldera was in his forties; his blue eyes were pale and he had a square jaw, the hair blond with streaks of grey, long and curly but tied back. The ponytail extended about halfway between his shoulders and hips. On his left shoulder was an elaborate, multi-colored tattoo: a rounded circle with a green-colored netting that flowed down his arm with beaded strands and feathers. Aimi knew it was called a dreamcatcher; it was a symbol of sorts for Native Americans.
“Hey.” Kaldera’s voice was lower in tone than most men Aimi knew, but it was friendly as he shook Kaz’s hand. “So these are the friends I’ve heard so much about,” he added, and his smile showed two rows of strong, slightly discolored teeth. Kaldera then nodded and smiled in Aimi’s direction. “Of course, it is always good to see you as well, Aimi.”
Aimi returned the smile and a polite bow. “It is always good to see you, too, Kaldera.”
Kaz introduced Mei and Midori, and Kaldera bowed as well as shook their hands. “Kaz has told me a lot about both of you,” he said, “and I’m glad to finally meet you.” He then placed his case, a battered brown one on the grass, and flipped open the latches. “Shall we here?”
“Why not?” Kaz set down his case and opened it as well.
“Good, we’ll finally get to hear you, Kaz,” Mei joked as everyone seated themselves on the grass, so the players could take the bench.
“Still not showing off yet?” Kaldera grinned in Kaz’s direction. “You’ll need to, before I drag you onstage one of these nights!”
All laughed as Kaldera continued, “Kaz is really coming along, and he’s developing his own style. I’ve never seen anyone do it this fast.”
With that, Kaldera brought out his acoustic, one that had definitely been played for many years. The brown pick guard was deeply scratched, and there were additional marks along its front. The logo on the headstock proved it was a Martin, but one of an old vintage. This was in contrast to Kaz’s axe, a Dean electric-acoustic with a sunburst top; nearly brand new, it was quite pretty to look at.
The two sat on the table, their feet on the bench. Kaldera tuned effortlessly, his ear trained by years of practice while Kaz availed himself of the built-in tuner on his guitar. Once both were ready, Kaldera began to fingerpick in a way that was practiced and intricate, but he also made it look incredibly easy.
Aimi, Mei and Midori watched and listened, then saw Kaz join his teacher. The two were not playing any particular song; it was just an improvisation, and Kaldera nodded to Kaz to take the lead. Kaz did so, hesitantly at first, but then began to find a spot in the middle portion of the fretboard where he picked up the tempo.
Kaldera followed along; despite having known Kaldera for a time, Aimi had never heard him play. As she listened, Aimi became aware that the lines being played on the two guitars were not quite the same. Kaldera’s was making lower notes, and she assumed it was tuned differently. No matter, she thought, it sounded quite good and she was happy to see Kaz in action. He rarely plays for us; Kaz is so shy about most things. We are the only ones he usually speaks openly to; but it’s true, Kaldera really has been good for him.
The piece wound down, and Kaldera made a flamenco-type flourish at the end with his open right hand. The piece drew applause from the audience of three, as well as a few other students who were nearby. Kaz managed a smile, and Kaldera nodded in thanks. “Damn good, Kaz,” he praised, “damn good. Ah,” he went on as he turned toward the school entrance, “here comes Minoru.”
All turned and saw Minoru enter the main gate, with Asuka at his side. All politely stood as they approached; Kaldera and Kaz both said hello and shook hands with him on arrival. Kaz then introduced Minoru, who bowed and shook each person’s hand with utmost correctness.
Aimi found herself looking at Minoru closely. He was very attractive, she thought, and most polite. She could also detect that mystery about him, as Kaz had said. Minoru’s eyes were dark, and to Aimi his skin almost looked pale, though he was indeed Japanese. The black uniform and the long, dark coat he wore just added to that image.
“Very pleased to meet you,” Minoru said to the three, and then introduced his companion. “Allow me to introduce my dear friend, Asuka Tanaka.”
Asuka smiled and was polite to all, and it was clear she knew Kaldera; but her actions were stiff. Aimi took close notice of her, too: she is beautiful, and there is something very exotic about Asuka. She and Minoru fit well together; they are an attractive couple, if that’s what they are.
Aimi also noticed that Kaz was staring at Asuka as well. His face betrayed no emotion, but his eyes had taken this tall and exceptional looking girl in. It was not in an impolite or bad way; Aimi knew Kaz was far too proper for that, but her friend had found it hard to turn his eyes away.
Everyone sat again as Minoru brought out his shamisen. “Kaldera,” he asked, “have you not yet shamelessly promoted your performance Saturday night?”
Kaldera chuckled. “No, but I can do so,” he replied. “I’m playing a couple of sets this Saturday with a pickup band at Tanaka’s in the Shibuya district. It’s a combination restaurant and hostess bar, a happening place. Oh, and it’s all ages night, downstairs where we’re playing, at least. I hope you might be able to come check us out.”
At the mention of the name, all looked to Asuka. “Yes, my father is the owner,” she replied with a slight smile. “Kaldera has played there a number of times. He always goes over well, especially with the tourists and expatriates.”
“I don’t know if we could afford it,” Mei admitted, a little shame-faced, “but it sounds like fun.”
“Well, then I’ll put you on the guest list,” Kaldera said immediately. He took a pen and a small notebook out of one of the pockets of his pants. “Let me have your names, and those of your families. I’ll get you in.”
The others were about to protest, but there was something (at least in Aimi’s mind) about the way Kaldera said it, that he could be believed. Aimi also noted out of the corner of her eye the strange look that Asuka had on her face as Kaldera made his offer; but she said nothing.
“We can always ask,” Midori replied as Kaldera took down their names, “and thank you. You’re very kind.” Mei also gave similar thanks; she and Midori were both pleasantly surprised.
Once the names were taken, Kaldera declared, “Let us now play on.” Motioning to Minoru, he said, “Start us off. The mixing of instruments is something I’ve always been a big fan of, and I’m learning a lot from this guy.”
“You are far too charitable, Kaldera.” Minoru grinned sheepishly as he took a wide-handled pick out of one of the pockets of his case. He leaned against the edge of the table, his booted feet on the ground to brace him.
Asuka seated herself carefully on the grass, but with a fair amount space between her, Aimi and the others. The latter noted how elegantly Asuka smoothed out her uniform blouse and skirt, and rested her book bag before her. Asuka was a young woman who definitely knew how to present herself, Aimi thought, but it was almost like she was on display.
She then turned her attention to Minoru and his shamisen. The three-stringed instrument was interesting to all, even though they’d seen the shamisen up close and played before many times. This long-necked model had an animal skin cover to the drum-shaped body; the three nylon strings ran up the slim wooden neck to the keys, which were long and thick, and also made of wood.
Minoru slid a multi-colored strap over his shoulder, secured to the shamisen by a black cord. After a moment to check the tuning of the top string, Minoru set off. His playing was certainly different, Aimi and the new audience silently agreed: whereas most shamisen players they’d heard performed only traditional pieces, Minoru was doing something other. His riffs were faster, and Minoru’s fingers glided across the fretless neck. With Kaldera and Kaz accompanying him on their guitars, the resulting sound was indeed unique.
The three played on for several minutes, and their audience listened with great interest. Aimi watched each one in turn: Kaldera was the anchor, acting much like the bassist in a rock band as he mostly played his lower strings, while Minoru, his face impassive nevertheless worked his way up and down the neck in an impassioned performance.
Kaz was even more impressive, as the guitar seemed to take charge of him. His lead licks sounded more like those of a veteran musician. Kaz had taken up guitar less than a year before, and Aimi was not only impressed, but amazed. Around these two, he became even better.
The piece, clearly another improvisational tune ended, and all applauded the trio’s efforts. “Okay,” Kaldera said, “let’s now hear from young Mister Ogawa.” He and Minoru turned expectantly; Kaz was on the spot.
He sighed. “All right,” he replied with great reluctance, “I’ll sing.”
This was greeted with a collective “Ahhh” from his friends. “How about that song I found in your collection?” Kaz then offered.
“Do it,” Minoru said as he adjusted his instrument. “I’ll stay out of the way on this.”
After a nervous deep breath, Kaz began to strum his acoustic, a simple three-chord rhythm. Kaldera transposed up the neck to play a second rhythm, while Minoru played a countering, yet complimentary lead. Then Kaz began to sing:
“Something about your eyes fills me up
Staring at the sky through the glass
You’ve got no road ahead of you
So wait around for the next day…”
Aimi looked over at Mei and Midori, and all three nodded in surprise. Kaz never sang for them. His range was a little higher than they’d thought it would be, and while untrained, his singing voice was really quite good. At least he wasn’t any worse than some of the singers on the radio or television.
But these lyrics; Aimi had to wonder about them. I don’t know this song, but it seems to sum up how Kaz must feel. I didn’t realize how much trouble he was having at home.
“Ticket counter girl dressed in red
She let him in for free and she said
You’ve got no road ahead of you…”
The song sounded like a typical pop tune, three verses with a bridge after the second. Kaldera and Minoru kept their rhythm and lead work down, so as not to overshadow Kaz. At the end, Kaz slowed his playing; the trio wound the sound down, and received a good hand.
Aimi stood up and hugged Kaz. “That was wonderful!” She said, and she meant it; the others also gave words of agreement.
Kaz reddened and lowered his head. “I don’t know about that.”
“Believe it,” Aimi returned as she checked her watch. “I’m sorry; I’m going to have to get up to Ameyoko. My folks will be expecting me. Oh, and before I forget…” Aimi then related the message from her father to Kaldera.
At this news, Kaldera grinned. “Well, then I must get right down there! As you’re going that way, please tell Goro I’ll come later, once I get some other business taken care of.”
During the song, Asuka had stepped aside to take a call on her cell phone. “My ride home is coming,” she now told the group, “I should go out front. Very nice meeting all of you,“ she added, and she bowed politely.
“I’ll walk you out," Minoru replied. To the others he said, “I’ll be right back." The pair walked toward the front gate, and Aimi noticed Asuka had taken Minoru’s hand; while he seemed comfortable with that, Minoru also appeared a little distant from the girl. She wondered why.
Kaldera, who had put his guitar away, was watching the couple too, but with an odd expression; Aimi could not identify its meaning.
They continued to watch as a silver Jaguar pulled up to the curb. Minoru opened the rear door to let Asuka in, and after a polite kiss from her and a few words with the driver, the car pulled away. Minoru waved and stood there a few moments longer.
Mei did not mince her words. “I hate rich people,” she growled, and not under her breath, either.
“Mei, you’re being a little harsh,” Midori replied. She did not respond in anger, but made it plain that Mei’s comment was over the line, at least in her opinion.
“That girl looked at us like she was smelling shit the whole time,” Mei declared. “Minoru does seem like a nice guy, I’ll allow,” she continued, “but that one…” Mei shook her head in disgust. “She looked right down her nose at all of us.”
“Asuka can appear aloof,” Kaldera told them, “but once she gets to know someone, she really is very gracious. I know her family well. Asuka is rather a product of her environment; it’s not all her fault.”
Aimi nodded. “She did seem very shy,” she agreed, “perhaps around a lot of new people, it’s hard for her.”
“Exactly.” The subject matter was put aside as Minoru returned to earshot, and Kaldera consulted his watch. “Guys, I have an errand to run,” he addressed Kaz and Minoru. “I’d like to talk with both of you about Saturday. That cool with you?”
“Sure,” Kaz replied as he put his guitar away, and Minoru indicated likewise.
“You’re coming over for dinner tonight, right?” Aimi nudged Kaz in reminder.
Kaz chuckled at that. “I’ll be there.”
“Me, too. I’ll whip something up for it,” Mei added as she and Midori started for the street. She told Kaldera and Minoru as she did, “It was good meeting you.”
“That goes for me, too,” Midori chimed in.
“Likewise for you both, thank you,” Kaldera returned their bow as he and Kaz prepared to head for the parking lot.
“I, too am glad to have made everyone’s acquaintances,” Minoru said as he also bowed to the girls. “I hope I’ll see you again soon.”
“Oh, and Kaldera,” Aimi said quickly, “you must come as well, if you can.”
Kaldera grinned once more and replied, “I’d be honored. Tell your parents hello from me, and if I can get to the shop before closing time, I will.”
After the final goodbyes, Aimi watched her friends, new and old, leave. Kaldera, Kaz and Minoru headed for the parking lot, where a battered white Vanagon was parked. Mei walked Midori down to the bus stop, as the latter lived in a different neighborhood.
Once all were in the distance, Aimi turned and headed down the street in the other direction to catch the Metro for the marketplace. As she walked, she thought of all that had occurred in such a short time. Kaz really did sound good; and Minoru and Asuka are so interesting. Minoru is very handsome, and Asuka…well, I think Mei’s wrong about her. She’s shy; that must be it. That’s why she was so distant. I hope to see more of them; I’m sure we’ll all become friends.
(Author's Note: "No Road" was written and recorded by Timothy Bracken; appears on the disrepair CD, 2004.)