Word count: ~2,700
Summary: An artist meets a musician with the help of the city.
Notes: This was inspired by a routine from So You Think You Can Dance season 5, I'm not ashamed to admit it. I started writing and before I knew it was nearly 3,000 words... but I don't know where I want to go with it yet. But it's been sitting on my computer for about 6 months now so I figured I'd share. Trying out a different kind of style; con/crit is greatly appreciated. :3
The breeze is cool, ruffling hair and rustling leaves, blurred with the hum of cars impatient with passengers inside hoping to make it through the intersection before the next light turns red. The city’s arms are wide and gentle as she embraces transients and natives alike, above and below, smiling in bright shades of neon.
A young man with fingers made for delicate work—artist’s hands—stands on the street corner, waiting for walking-man to turn green. The comforting melody from the train station platform crosses the street with him, sending passengers off and welcoming others home. The happy waterfall notes of Gota del Vient sets the young artist’s heart at ease, like a wish for a safe journey.
He watches the landscape pass him by from the train as he travels into the city’s heart, noticing a new sign, a new building; on the trip he’s taken fifty-two thousand times, the slightest change in detail catches his eye. He sees the same people each morning and evening, time adding lines to their faces and smudges of colour to their hair.
Every now and then, his skin will tingle; the hair on his arms will stand with the excitement of a reunion. The city, it’s her whispering something that only his soul can hear. It often happens when the train is so full of people that he can’t see his shoes and can only hold on to the ring above his head. It feels like she’s telling him a secret, to watch for something he doesn’t know he’s waiting for.
It happens on a muggy day at the end of spring. The peak of the rainy season has the people of the city armed with bright umbrellas, rushing to find cover under shop awnings, waiting at the entrance of the station for their bus or a taxi.
It’s just finished raining; the floor of the train is slippery with puddles. The artist leans against the doors—there are no rings to hold onto today. He watches people in suits and school uniforms shuffle on and off the train, trying not to brush against one another with their wet umbrellas.
He looks out the window as the train leaves the station, through the streaks of water clinging to the glass. The city speaks close to his ear, muffled by the train announcement of the next station so only he can hear it: Now. He’s here. The waiting is over. The artist doesn’t understand what she means until his skin prickles all over and his hair stands on end and his stomach twists in unconscious anticipation.
The doors open and the artist steps out to allow others to disembark, the cool humidity of night sharp against the warmth of his cheeks. He files back into the train car and he gets pushed further in until there’s no where left to go. He gets crowded right up against another passenger—they feel achingly familiar even though he’s sure they've never met.
It's a boy who carries a guitar in a soft case on his back and is nearly the same height as the artist. His hair is dark and a little shaggy around his ears. His head is bobbing to a private rhythm and his fingers play on an imaginary fret board.
The next stop is a major one, where a tangle of a dozen train lines come together and the boy with the guitar gets off with the rest of the commuters without looking back. The artist never gets a chance to see his remarkable face but he feels like he doesn’t need to. The city says he’d know him anywhere.
Spring turns into summer and the artist doesn’t see the boy with the guitar again. But he never forgets about him. He rides the train into the heart of the city, wondering how the colour on the buildings doesn’t melt in the heavy heat of July. When he feels the tickle of a bead of sweat rolling down curve of his lower back, he wonders if the boy is able to find somewhere cool to play his songs. He then wonders fleetingly what he sounds like when he sings.
Today the artist gets a seat on the train and the steady sway of the car lulls him into a doze. He was finishing a piece until the small hours of the morning; he’s still got ink under his fingernails and his A2-sized portfolio is tucked safely between his sandaled feet. He doesn’t notice that he’s missed his stop until the melodic lilt of a countryside dialect catches his ear, seeming so out of place deep in the heart of the city.
An old woman sits across the aisle with her teenage grandson. He holds on to one of her wizened hands and listens to one of her stories, one he’s probably heard a hundred times before but never grows tired of hearing. They’re going to an art gallery to see a show by someone she knew when she was young and beautiful.
And that reminds the artist of where he’s going and gets off the train two stops passed where he'd meant to alight, but he’s early and the weather is bright and clear; he doesn’t mind walking back. It’s been a while since he’s spent time with the city.
She asks if he’s been well and what he newest work looks like, tucked under his arm like a treasure map. It’s a portrait for someone—a gift—all fine black lines on crisp white paper, shaded with short strokes of graphite, of two people at their happiest. It’s a commissioned piece for a man who works in one of those tall Tokyo towers that wants the perfect anniversary gift for his beloved wife.
The city, she sees how happy the artist is, how proud he is to have captured such sparkle and joy and frozen it in ink. She is sure that the man’s wife will be very happy with his work. She smiles a secret smile to herself, leading him through the tree-lined boulevards after he’s made his delivery.
The artist takes a deep breath of afternoon air, cool and fragrant with sunshine. His hands are empty and still warm with the hearty handshake of his client. The portrait was more than the man could have asked for—his eyes shone, imagining the look on his wife's face. A bubble of happiness rose in the artist's chest, uncomfortable yet satisfying, as the man took out his wallet and added a few more crisp ten-thousand yen notes to the plain brown envelope with the rest of his payment.
Now the artist walks with the city, letting her lead him away from the skyscrapers, down narrow lanes that time has forgotten. She’s lead him away from her centre to the heart she only lets a few people see, where she keeps all her favourite secrets. The street is lined with shops selling wares he’s never seen the need to buy but suddenly feels that he wants: a textile shop with delicate wrapping cloths in sizes small and large; a shop specializing in bamboo products from garden rakes and chopsticks to decorative carvings and children’s toys. There is a grassy note in the air, pungent and sweet: the aroma of hand-woven tatami mats, just like the ones in his grandfather’s house.
He passes a high school and some new-looking apartment buildings that don’t quite seem like homes yet. He follows the curves of the street, feeling like he’s crossing the threshold between this world and another where the sunbeams cut through the canopy above. He can hear voices through the trees bordering the sidewalk, the gentle murmur of conversations punctuated by the laughter of children.
The city, she takes him by the hand through the avenues of the park, around the pond thick with lotus flowers, by the watchful samurai and his dog, past families picnicking under green cherry trees. She says there’s something she wants to show him, something very special, near the Grand Fountain and when he asks what it is, she says he’ll know.
The artist’s skin tingles in that almost familiar way before he gets to the fountain. He knows who the city wants him to meet before he sees him. The boy, he’s standing across the square, at the corner between the cherry tree avenue and the entrance to the zoo, holding an acoustic guitar. The finish is worn away around the hole from year’s worth of strumming; his case is open on the ground in front of him. There is a small sandwich board beside the case with something written on it, his name perhaps; the artist is too far away to see and the setting sun is shining in his face. A small crowd is gathered—some school girls and a couple stand close with their fingers entwined, a few drifters slowing their steps as they return from the restroom to their handmade homes.
The city pulls the artist across the square, the rush of the fountain fading behind him. The sound of the guitar is warm and light, feeding a hunger that was never as apparent as it is right now. The musician stands with the guitar in his hands which look too small to be able to finger the fret board properly but he does somehow, and a bright red strap over his right shoulder. His hair has gotten a bit longer since that day on the train, his fringe falls across one eye when he bends down to read his sheet music. His voice is clear and just a little bit frail when he sings and when the artist closes his eyes and just listens, he sees lush bamboo and aquamarine.
The musician finishes his song—the artist isn’t sure what it was about, he was listening more to the voice than the words—and looks up into the small crowd. The artist can finally see that the features that make up his face are almost like he’d imagined: clear brown eyes, two moles on his cheek and one on his chin like a fingerprint and a mouth that curls into a feline smile.
The artist finds himself in the park more after that day. The city makes sure he’s got a reason to be in that neighbourhood (periodic maintenance on his train line, a glowing review of a new ramen restaurant his father saw in the paper, a food processor that his mother wanted that was only in stock at this electronics department store outlet) so he takes the long route to the station through the park out of curiosity. The musician is there, more often than not, in the same spot, on the corner between the cherry tree avenue and the zoo.
The artist always stands apart from the crowd but close enough to see the way the boy’s eyebrows come together and his eyes close when he gets to the long instrumental interludes. He can see the small sandwich board and how much money is in the case on the ground: simply Nino written in katakana and about twenty-five hundred yen in change. The artist never says hello, he never tells the musician how much he likes his music because that’s not the only reason he keeps coming back.
He doesn’t know anything about this boy with the guitar. He doesn’t know why he busks here when he should be working at a regular job—does he even have a regular job? He doesn’t know his age, though the artist guesses he’s older than he looks. He only knows his nickname and that he’s starting to fall in love. He doesn’t want to believe it but he trusts the city: she introduced them and she’s never been wrong before.
The artist goes to the park, his stomach twisting in excitement and anxiety that Nino won’t be there—or that he will be. He doesn’t know anything about the boy with the guitar but he’s falling hard and knows he can’t stop it and that scares him. He thought he was more logical than this, that you needed something more than infatuated chemistry. It’s even scarier to think that this is all one-sided since the musician doesn’t spare him more than a glance as he bows to the crowd. Nothing more than the shy smile he always wears and a casual nod of recognition.
It’s a cool day near the beginning of autumn. The city puts on her little red dress and twirls like a little girl, scattering leaves on the ground. She takes the artist on a walk past the museums and galleries, the baseball diamond and the fountain until they reach the corner between the cherry trees and the zoo. It’s empty today. Nino isn’t here and the artist sighs in relief and disappointment.
The time has long passed for him to say something—anything—and the longer he puts it off, the harder it gets. It’s terribly awkward after all this time to just say hello, to ask if Nino’s written any new songs and would he mind a request to play the song about the umbrella? He’s never been good with words; that’s why he paints. The artist’s cheeks burn thinking of the reaction: it will surely be a sharp remark about how long it took to speak up with a mocking smirk to match, just like the ones that have been curling Nino’s lips recently whenever he sees the artist.
The city giggles in his ear and tells him not to be so silly and pessimistic. She tugs on his elbow, taking him behind the zoo. The street he’s walking on eventually splits in two and there is a temple. It’s small but neat and welcoming with a seven-coloured banner hanging from the roof of the main hall and willow trees that sweep the ground. One of the seven gods of fortune lives here, says the script on a large stone tablet. The artist can see the flicker of candlelight through frosted glass beckoning him inside; there are gilt paintings on the walls of a portly fellow in a black cap with a big smile carrying a magic money-making mallet.
He digs in his front pocket for some change, sifting through the coins to find a five-yen piece. Someone told him once that you should always throw five yen into the tithing box because it’s holy money. He has ever since because you can never have too much good karma. He picks out a copper piece and tosses it into the box, bringing his hands together.
“So, you do have money.”
The voice is unexpectedly loud in the quiet afternoon making the artist jump; he hadn’t seen anyone else around the temple, and the last person he expected to see here was Nino.
The musician takes a step up to the tithing box and throws his own coin inside. The artist stands beside him dumbstruck, his heart thundering in his ears. “Excuse me?” is all he manages to say.
“You have money,” the musician repeats after bowing toward the altar. He faces the artist and there's that smirk. “You’ve been listening to me play for months now and haven’t even tossed five lousy yen into my case.”
The artist reaches into his pocket quickly, feeling incredibly guilty; his face heats up in embarrassment.
“I’m only kidding! You don’t have to—I’m not even playing right now. Put your money away.”
“But I want to. You’re really—I mean, I like you—your music. Your music. A lot.” This is why he paints. His wallet is empty and he’s only got a handful of ten and fifty yen coins. Not even enough to buy a cup of coffee.
“Well, next time.” The musician’s smirk turns into a smile. “But there is something you can give me.”
“You could tell me your name. Since you already know mine.”
The artist smiles at the musician and says, “It’s Ohno. Ohno Satoshi. Nice to meet you, Nino.”
“I think we’re past those kinds of pleasantries, don’t you, Oh-chan?”
“Yeah, I suppose we are.” The city, she just laughs and nudges Ohno's shoulder like the old friend she is and he feels the flutter in his stomach of tiny yellow butterflies.