Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Reikoku Part 4

"Guitars usually have six strings. Why does yours have only five?"

Kouma is much more talkative (and interesting) when Ryo is around. She raised a fairly decent question that probably bugged a lot of people that were too shy to ask, thinking they would be treated like idiots by the ones who knew the answer. The point is: when she is with Ryo, Kouma Yon is almost innocent.

I was about to explain it when Ryo started talking.

"While technically still a guitar, the electric bass guitar is quite different from the guitars most people are used to. The electric bass' standard tuning is an octave lower than the guitar standard tuning. Keep in mind that most bass guitars have 4 strings, which correspond to the four lower strings of the electric guitar." She took a breath, and her unexplainable burst of knowledge about an area I love was so intense that I think I lost mine. "Shin-tsu owns a five-string bass, which is a variation of the standard four-string bass tuned to the same pitches as the contrabass used mainly in symphony orchestra and jazz bands. So, his bass is not missing a string, it has an extra string that delivers an extended lower range. By the way, the standard tuning for a five-string bass is B-E-A-D-G, which corresponds to Si-Mi-La-Re-Sol, right? Ti-Mi-La-Re-So if using the variant note name list which uses Ut as Do."

I was so astonished that I could only nod. Words failed me. Big. Time.

Let's get some things straight.

First, I was expecting anyone but Ryo to talk like a robot. Kouma doing that would have been alright, and Reikoku-sensei looks just like the kind of person that says the content of encyclopedia articles during a casual conversation with a friend (and I don't even think she has one). Ryo doing it was a completely unforeseen development.

Second, I have never felt so attracted to her as I am right now. Everything was so beautifully precise and sudden that I almost cried like a baby watching scenes from a postmodern movie. …bad comparison. Nevertheless. If she had finished that perfect explanation with a funky, mind-blowing bass solo I would be asking her to marry me right now. I swear I would.

Third... there is no third. I guess it's the second all over again. Yes, I would gladly marry her twice. Yes, I would even go as far as divorcing my geeky wife just to win her back and marry her again, making our lives seem like a romantic book end.

Strong passion burns my body and soul; I feel the urge to express my admiration, even if moderately, before it explodes and I definitely lose control over my body and eventually find myself either engaged or restrained by a police order.

"Oh wow, that was simply amazing! How did you know that, Ryo?"

She suddenly became aware of the fact that she had just given a complete lecture on music to Kouma and started to blush.

"Well, I... I have been a m-moderator at Hikkipedia for a while, s-so I have read a few articles in order to c-correct them..."

"Don't forget you have been programming synthesizers for a while, too." Kouma says, proudly for some reason. "You had to learn a thing or two about music."

"Hey, you didn't tell me you were a synth programmer!" I say, and pat her back lightly (my self-control is a little stronger than I expected).

Kouma... kind of... grins. I think she is grinning. I'm not sure; this is way too creepy to look at directly.

"So you didn't know about Ryo being a composer..." She said it like she had an advantage on me or something. "Could it be that you don't know a thing about Ryo's famous works?"

"Actually, no, I don't. Tell me about it."

I'm not going to play Kouma's little game, whatever it is. I have been talking to Ryo for only a year, so it's obvious I don't know so much as Kouma does. And I really don't, but instead of letting it get to me, I'll just use this opportunity to learn more about Ryo. Kouma might be a bad winner if she wants to, but I certainly won't act as a sore loser.

"Cut it out, Yon-chan. It's not a big deal." Ryo says and turn to face me, not blushing anymore. "It's just that when I started working on Visual Novel games I didn't have a team to work along, so besides writing I had to learn how to program and compose."

"Oh, right." Kouma's grin became a chuckle. Since our roles reversed, she teases me every chance she gets, and I don't even feel bad for teasing her anymore. This is probably the beginning of a weird friendship (if I can call it that). "You do know what a Visual Novel is, right?"

"Yes I do, thank you for asking." I might have spent most of my life living abroad, but I know a thing or two about Japanese pop culture. A Visual Novel is an interactive fiction game genre pretty similar to Choose Your Own Adventure books. Not much of a game, now that I think about it. Anyway, Visual Novels are basically stories for computer or console with anime-style graphics and multiple endings. Oh, interesting. I just noticed something. "What about the graphics, Ryo? If you write, program and compose, who draws the characters and the background images?"

"That would be me." Kouma says, and my sensors detect a good amount of arrogance and pride in her voice. "The artist in the A.R.K. game and manga developing team, 4koma!"

It was my time to get back at her and burst her bubble. Better than that, I would do it in the best way I could: by telling the truth.

"Never heard of it. By the way, how did you manage to pronounce that?"

The grin in her face faded, and the lack of expression I had quickly grown used to came back. I kind of missed it, to be honest.

"What about you?" I look to Ryo. "Do you have an uncommon pen name as well?"

She took a small notebook and a pen out of her pockets and started writing. After she finished, she handed it to me. The word written on it was SCENARIO, clearly another pun. See, Kouma Yon's nickname is pronounced yonkoma. I think it's a type of comic strips with four panels. Ryo's nome de plume is pretty much obvious: the Japanese pronunciation for that word is Shiinaryo (which is probably why she chose to write it instead of saying it).

Even after understanding the reason of their pen names, there was still something bothering me.

"Ryo... your handwriting... is surprisingly bad."

"You should have seen her draw." Kouma agreed with me. It might be sad, but we can't deny such an obvious truth. "A real abomination. My eyes were soiled. I even offered to help her after seeing a drawing she made at elementary school, and I didn't even know how to draw back then."

Ryo simply shook her head.

"Well, sue me for not being a Mary Sue."

Despite the aftereffect of her rather imprecise and disturbing sentence pronounced in heavily accented English, we kept on chatting and unpacking for a while.

...

An hour later, Ryo raised her hands.

"How about... we take... a break?" She said, panting like she had just run a marathon. Ryo laid down on the couch until her breathing stabilized. When she noticed the worried look on my face, she tried to make a joke. "I don't have much stamina... because I have spent all of my points on intelligence."

Kouma did not seem surprised. Since they have known each other for a long time and even work together, I'm guessing Kouma experienced this situation a few times before and grew used to it. She looks at me and shakes her head.

"Don't worry; it happens once in a while. Her body isn't really strong, so she doesn't even get to participate in P.E. classes. Give her a couple minutes to rest and she will be fine."

I didn't know that about Ryo. In fact, I am starting to realize that there are a lot of things about her that I don't know. Things that matter.

"I'm so sorry, Ryo..."

She extended her arm and touched my hand lightly with her fingertips.

"It's not your fault. I decided to come by myself, so I'm the one to blame. I just need to rest a little..."

Her declaration doesn't make me feel any better about this. Ryo doesn't look well at all and she is only like that because she came to help me. I can't help but feel responsible about it. I know it's not directly my fault, but I can't get this thing out of my chest. I can't.

Kouma suddenly started moving.

"I'm hungry. We should go out and get something to eat."

"Good idea, I'm starving too." Ryo says, looking a little livelier than she had a few moments before.

"Not you." Kouma said, with surprising motherly care. "You will stay here and rest. I don't want to see you passing out on the streets."

"I can cook, you know." I say, my pride a little hurt. "And I know I didn't have time to go grocery shopping properly, but it's not like I don't have any food at home."

"I didn't mean it like that, Shin-tsu." Kouma looks at me and starts curling a lock of her hair with her index finger and thumb. "It's just that I already have something in mind since I was coming here, something I saw on the way. I'm not going to tell you what it is, so don't ask. Besides, we don't have time for cooking. There is still much to do."

"Okay, okay." I admit defeat. "Then let me at least give you some money. Paying for the snacks is the least I can do..." An idea strikes me; I can at least be useful at something. "...I can also make us some tea! Do you have a favorite flavor?"

"White tea for me!" Ryo says louder than necessary from the couch.

"So Oolong, White and...?" Kouma just kept staring at me, so I continued. "Oh c’mon, just pick a flavor and..."

"So you're not coming?" She sounded a little angry, but she started talking in a lower voice as soon as she noticed that. "Do you really think I'm going to leave you here alone with Ryo?"

"We can't leave her alone, not like that. And I can't go buy the snacks you want so much because you want to keep it a secret, so you'd better chose either to trust me or tell me what you want me to buy."

There was a long time of silence between my line and her reply.

"Fine." She finally said and then sent me a glance, this one with a message within: "You'd better not try anything funny while I'm not around or I'll come after you with hellhounds and zero mercy; even if you run, I will hunt you through the mist of Nifelheim and when I find you I will obliterate your soul completely after torturing you for over two thousand years."

I handed her some money and she left, leaving me to ponder the fact that her eyes can be impressively full of expression when she wants them to be. And no, I wasn't surprised when she avoided the easy solution and instead gave me a chance to prove I'm not as bad as she thinks. Not because I have done much to deserve it but simply because, despite her everyday mask, she is probably a very impulsive person at heart.

After the door closed, Ryo sighed.

"Yon-chan worries too much. I was not that bad, just tired." She does look better now, but it doesn't change the fact that she seemed pretty unhealthy a few moments ago. "Besides, if I don't make any physical effort, how is my body supposed to become stronger?"

"Your condition will only grow worse if you make too much effort. On the other hand, if you make none, your muscles will atrophy." I breathe, suddenly realizing that I am tired too. I walk into the kitchen and put the water to boil. "You need to take it easy and start with small things, so you can gain strength and stamina little by little. So no heavy weight lifting or such for now, okay?"

"Okay!" She smiles to me as I come back to the living room and my worries start to fade away. "By the way, don't you want to sit down?"

I had the impulse to do so, especially because I am kind of tired right now. Then I remembered Kouma's threats and decided not to push my luck on my second day in town. This kind of situation seems to instantly lead to a misunderstanding and domestic violence in manga, so I guess I'll be better off without being on the couch with Ryo.

"N-no, it's okay... I'll just stand up and watch the window for a while."

"It’s your loss, anyway." Ryo looks around, still looking amazed. "This flat is really something, Shin-tsu. I knew that you travelled a lot, but I wasn't expecting your family to have this kind of money."

"Oh, it's not like that. Buying and selling buildings around the world is actually my parent's job. It's a family business, so we're not really rich or anything." She still looks a little bit confused, so I try to simplify it. I guess even smart people have problems understanding subjects not related to their interest areas. "Me living here is no different from a kid who gets free candy at his father's convenience store."

"Except I don't think there is such a thing as candy whose value surpass ten million yen." She shook her shoulders. "I'm a little jealous."

"Don't be, they are just trying to compensate for not being around." I am not sure if I'm ready to talk about this with someone, but I find myself unable to hold the words back. "Actually, it has always been like this. They don't make that much money because they technically still work for my grandfather and most of the houses belonged to him to start with, but they always worked really hard to pay for all the travels and constant moving. The rest of their money ended up as compensation gifts I didn't really want." I turn around to face the window. "I know I'm being childish and unfair, but I just wish they had spent a little more time with me inste-"

It was so sudden it took me some time to make sense of it. One moment I was having one of those dramatic inner monologues said out loud and then something struck me hard enough to make me lose my breath. I felt an overwhelming heat wave pass through every bit of my body, filling me with something I can't find the word to describe right now.

Ryo was hugging me from behind. Her slender arms were around my waist and she was holding me tightly, as if I was going to fall if she didn't hold me strongly enough. Right then, I probably would.

"Don't worry." She rested her chin on my shoulder and whispered in my ear. "I'm here. Everything will be okay now."

Now that I think about it, Ryo knows only a little bit about my life so far. She probably knows more about my personal life than I know about hers, though. It might sound weird, but she knows about my problems with Mystery. Not everything, but she knows enough. I am not sure if she believes it, but I don't think I care about that.

The weirdest thing is that this situation is familiar to me. I know this is not possible. I only met Ryo in real life yesterday. However, I feel like we have done this a thousand times before in a distant past.

We stood like that for a while, until that beautiful moment was completely ruined by a cough. Not mine, not Ryo's. Go on, guess whose. Good job, Sherlock. Now if you don't mind, please find a way to get her into jail for what she is going to do to me. Better than that, come quickly enough to help me avoid being a murder victim. Please.

The tea kettle whistles higher and higher, as if measuring the rising anger in Kouma's once again expressive eyes. She marches through my living room, which unfortunately does look like a battlefield right now. Except the boxes won't serve as proper trenches against the fury of Kouma Yon, the Merciless Fashionista. Help!

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