“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Narita International Airport. Local time is 07:30 and the temperature is 15°C. For your safety and comfort, please remain seated…”
The voice announcing the flight’s landing echoed throughout the airplane’s cabin and woke me up from my sleep. I looked at the watch on my left hand and set it to the local time. After that, I started gazing towards the window on my right side beyond my sunglasses. The bright sunlight enveloped me, and the view of Narita Airport gave me a feeling of melancholy. It has only been a year since I leaved Japan, but it does feel like time has moved slower for me than it really is; I wonder why.
As the airplane finally stopped moving and the other passengers started taking their hand-carried luggage from the racks above their seats, I followed suit and took my leather shoulder bag before moving on to exit the cabin. I reached the baggage claim area in no time and collected my briefcase.
“Okay, that should be everything.”
I walked to the arrival gate of Narita Airport’s Terminal 1 and looked around to find the people who have been waiting for me to pick me up. It was pretty crowded, but apparently it didn’t take long.
“Welcome back. It has been a while, isn’t it, Mr. Arima?”
In front of me stood a stunning young woman with blonde hair that she let down to her shoulders. Her brown eyes shine like a topaz, and her stature gives her an image of a refined lady. She is wearing a soft yellow one piece dress with a cream-colored drape camisole extending to above her thighs, with a pair of black stockings covering her legs. Needless to say, she is undoubtedly an extraordinary beauty. Only a year has passed since the last time I saw her, but I can feel that the atmosphere around her has changed to a more mature one. That said, I can still immediately recognize her from that confident smile on her face.
She is Nagi Aiza.
“Yes, it has been a while. I will be in your care again. How is Ms. Hiroko doing?”
“Hey, Kousei. Don’t talk as if I am not here.”
From behind Nagi, Ms. Hiroko walked towards me while carrying a handbag. She is wearing a black long-sleeved shirt with jeans; I guess she hasn’t changed in that department. Her hair has grown longer though, which reminded me of the time of my childhood. Koharu stood next to her and waved her hands towards me; she should be around 15 years old now.
“Sorry, I didn’t notice you were there.”
“Are you smitten with Nagi or something? Haha, it’s alright; so, how was Europe?”
“It has been a year of wonderful experience, I’d say. I was able to learn a lot and meet many amazing people there, although there are surely things that I miss from Japan,” I answered.
“No, that’s not what I meant, dummy. Did you get hooked up with a girl or two there?” Ms. Hiroko said that with a mischievous smile while stroking my hair.
“I didn’t. I went there to perform, not to hook up with a girl.”
“Man, this is why I am worried about you, Kousei. A fine young man like you at such an age, yet not interested in a romantic relationship? I am your guardian, so of course I have to think about your future.”
Well, I am not sure how much she is serious and how much she simply wants to tease me, so I tried shifting the conversation.
“So, while I was gone, how was Japan? I heard Igawa and Aiza have made it big.”
“They have always been your strongest contenders, so it was not a surprise. But they are not the only ones, you know. This young lady standing in front of you has been working hard too,” Hiroko gave Nagi a glance as she said that.
“Ah, I heard you won the Hamamatsu International Piano Competition. Congratulations, Nagi.”
“Thank you, Mr. Arima. I still have a long way to go, though.”
“By the way, Nagi… You let your hair down, huh? Last year I could still see you with your pigtails, though.”
“Oh, I just feel like… I want to try an image change. Is it weird?” Nagi started playing with her hair using her fingers while avoiding her gaze from me a little bit.
“No, it’s not weird at all. You look beautiful like that,” I honestly replied. Hearing my reply, Nagi looked at me again in the eye and smiled earnestly while blushing—something that I wouldn’t expect to see from the past Nagi who would always be flustered about things like this. Nagi has changed so much, but at the same time she is still the same Nagi Aiza that I know.
“Anyway,” Nagi uttered, “what’s with those sunglasses? They don’t suit you at all, you know. You still wear contact lenses, right?” As she said that, she moved her hands to take out my sunglasses.
“Ah, this is… Hey, why did you take it off?!” I unconsciously shouted in a pretty loud voice, and I knew that was a wrong move.
“Is that… Kousei Arima?”
“It is Kousei Arima in the flesh!”
“The famous maestro is in Tokyo?!”
“Now that you mention it, he did say in a press conference that he will be returning to Japan…”
“Please give me your autograph, Mr. Kousei Arima!”
I wanted to prevent people from finding so as to not cause a ruckus, which was why I decided to wear the sunglasses… is what I wanted to say, but it was too late.
“Ms. Hiroko, I think we have to quickly get into the car now.”
“I guess so. We can talk more in the car, so let’s make haste.”
After that reply, we quickly retreated to the parking area to avoid the growing crowd.
The conversation continued in the car.
We talked about what has happened within this one year when I leaved Japan for Europe after graduating from Tokyo University of the Arts to perform in various cities like Paris and Amsterdam, all the while accumulating new experiences and traveling between countries. While I was gone, Japan’s piano scene kept on evolving with the rise of new talents and future maestros. I guess it was partly thanks to Nagi, Egawa, and Aiza that the competition is staying fierce, which further facilitated the growth of fellow pianists.
We also talked about what everyone has been doing. Tsubaki apparently started becoming a trainee PE teacher in our middle school; she did say she wants to have a job with relation to sports, so I guess a PE teacher is not really far-off. Watari has become a J-League football player for F.C. Tokyo and made a name for himself by scoring two goals in his debut against Shimizu S-Pulse. The last time I heard of him was when he said he’s got a girlfriend, but he really became a professional football player, huh…
After that, we talked about my current plans in Japan. The reason I came back to Japan was to take a break for a while and sort out things for my future, so I haven’t really thought much about it. I am thinking of helping Ms. Hiroko to teach piano for some children, though, since it seems that the number of her students has increased. She offered the ‘job’ to me, although I don’t really think of it as a job; I am indebted to her, after all. Even though I said that I am fine not getting paid, she still insists that I would be given “allowances” as a compensation of sorts. Since she has been pretty stubborn with this, I can only comply.
Nagi currently helps her with the job, although she is also preparing to enter this year’s Sendai International Music Competition in June; she sure has gotten even more hardworking than before. Before I went to Europe last year, she came every day after college to be tutored by me. She often talked about her college friends, her plans for the future, or even the places that she wants to go to on holiday. Before I realized, she was the one who I talked with the most until last year. That makes me happy, in a way.
Well, a lot of time surely has passed, hasn’t it?
I looked at my side through the car’s rear window, and saw cherry blossom trees blooming along the road. It is already spring, after all.
Before I realized, my mind has already flown back in time. Memories of five, six, no—ten years ago flowed back to me, as if those memories have been waiting for this moment. The memories of… “Her”.
The girl I met in spring just like this time.
The girl who told me a lie—a single lie that brought us together.
She was selfish, she was all over the place, she was always walking on the edge; but even then, she persevered. She fought against the illness that haunted her head-on, not because she doesn’t have any fear, but because she tried her best to stand strong even in the face of such fear. She ate the foods she loved, she played the violin the way she wanted, and she embraced music with her whole being.
She was someone I fell in love with.
At that time, when I knew she was gone, I was anxious. I was lost. I was depressed.
But then, I was given the letter she wrote for me; the letter which contained all of her feelings. In it, she called me an idiot, a jerk, and a blockhead. She told me about how she first came to know me, and how… she fell in love with me.
I was glad.
I was glad that all the moments that we spent together and all the feelings that we kept deep down inside our hearts were real—and that it was not a one-sided thing.
“Thank you, Arima. You have given colors to Kaori’s life.”
I recalled the words of her parents at the funeral.
I, Kousei Arima, have given colors to Kaori Miyazono’s life; that one thing is certain. But, Kaori Miyazono was also the one who have changed my once-monochrome world into one filled with colors.
“I’m glad that it was you.”
That part of the letter resounded with her voice inside my consciousness.
“Me too,” I reflexively muttered to respond to it.
Nagi caught me talking to myself and looked at me.
“Oh… It’s nothing. I was just reminiscing about the old times.”
Nagi’s expression turned into a wry smile; looks like she understood what I was talking about. Then, as if she just remembered something, she looked at me in the eye and started speaking. “I was thinking of conveying this to you later, but… Mr. & Mrs. Miyazono might want to see you; it’s been a long while since the last time you visited them, right?”
“That’s right. I haven’t decided when I will visit them yet, I wonder if tomorrow will be a good time.”
“About that, I think it would be fine if we go there today. You arrived early in the morning, so I think we will probably make it in the afternoon. Their bakery should be open today.”
“I see, I think that’s good idea. Nagi, would you like to accompany me? Little Akane is pretty attached to you, right?”
Akane Miyazono. That is the name of Mr. & Ms. Miyazono’s second child. She should be around 8 years old this year. Akane kind of resembles Kaori in her childhood that I saw from the photo she gave me, and she is really eager to learn the violin like her sister. She seems to be really fond of both me and Nagi, calling us “Big Bro” and “Big Sis” respectively. She also inherits her sister’s love of sweets and outgoing demeanor.
“If it is alright with you, then I will take you on that offer, Mr. Arima. Akane would be delighted to meet you again too, hehe,” Nagi replied to my invitation with a slight giggle.
“It’s decided then.”