Mixing Shindou Hikaru and the control of any form of vehicle has never been a good idea.
Doors opened and slammed again, two people having exchanged seats efficiently. On the left, paper rustled over a clipboard. On the right, a grin was spreading audibly.
“So, Shindou-san, it says here you passed your written test on your third try. Would you like me to go over the controls to refresh your memory?”
The driving instructor was made of wrought iron. Five foot nothing with rimless glasses and hair perfectly terrorized into place, she had coached countless students through to their licenses, in some cases through sheer will alone.
“That’s all right, sensei, I know where everything is. This is the clutch, right?” The pedal slammed down with faultless enthusiasm.
“Not exactly, no. That was the accelerator.”
“Oh. I’m sure I’ll figure it out – there’re only three!” A quick test with both feet confirmed that there were, indeed, three pedals. And that it was, in fact, possible to press all three at once, if one had large enough feet. Hikaru did.
“Now, before you start the car you must check that it is in neutral. Then turn the key, depress the clutch – the one on the left – and shift the gear to first. You release the handbrake by pressing the button and lifting it slightly, then check your mir – Shindou-san, your mirrors!”
With a tortured screech, the vehicle leapt from rest and, sputtering protests all the way, managed to lurch ten meters across the tarmac before grinding to a halt.
“That was fun. Can I try it again?”
On autumn afternoons, the suburbs of Tokyo were, in general, both pleasant and tranquil. This particular street, however, had become resigned to breaking at least one part of that tradition.
- - “It took you -seven tests- to even earn your license, Hikaru - ”
You see, Matsuo-san who owned number 15 hadn’t thought twice about renting her upper apartment to two Go pros – such an intellectual profession, she’d known the lodgers wouldn’t be any trouble.
- - “I told you, the fourth one would’ve been fine, it was that stupid pigeon’s fault!”
Of course, by the time she actually -met- them, the ink had already dried on the contract.
- - “- and I don’t -care- about the pigeon, all I care is that neither of us can afford – or drive – or need – a car! Unless you’ve doubled your tutoring fees – Hikaru, you can’t do that, it’s dishonest - ”
They really were such -nice- boys.
- - “Relax, relax! I wouldn’t do that, and you stress too much about money. We’re fine! Besides, Ogata has a car – and what do you mean I can’t drive?! I can drive!”
- - “Pigeon, Hikaru.”
However, when put together, they had a slight tendency to disagree.
- - “That was -not- my fault!”
Which, in itself, wouldn’t have been a problem
- - “I don’t suppose the bill of repairs the driving academy sent was your fault either, was it?”
- if it weren’t for the way their ‘disagreements’ could probably be heard from Kyoto.
- - “… no.”
- - “… a -car-, Hikaru? Really?”
Feet shuffled guiltily. “It was good value! And it’s a k-reg, it’s practical – I couldn’t not buy it once I saw it. Just imagine – no more crowded trains!”
- - “‘Saw’ it.”
- - “… yes.”
- - Wearily, Akira stared at the guilty party. “You bought it because it was yellow, didn’t you.”
- - “No!”
- - A glare.
- - “It was cool, too?”
In the window, a curtain flicked closed. Meanwhile, by the curb-side, the little yellow Smart sat, shining innocently in the sun.
“Come -on-, Akira, we’re going to be -late-!”
Hikaru swung impatiently at the door, shoes untied and hair as lurid as ever. His hands circled in the air, urging his rival out into the stairwell.
“Well whose fault is that? I set the alarm for a -reason-, Hikaru!” Akira glared, clutching his jacket in one hand and the keys in the other. His tie was knotted meticulously at his neck, but there were kifu sheets slipping out of one pocket.
Hikaru stole the keys.
“Ok, ok, I get it, can we go now?” He twisted them in the door then followed Akira down the concrete steps, two at a time, clicking open the car as he went.
Akira, well past the car and on the verge of running, froze. “Oh, no. No. Hikaru, we are not - ”
“Akira!” With one hand on the open door, Hikaru’s face was a picture of frustration. “Late! There’s no -time- for your – your driving-phobia - ”
He whipped back around, “It is not a phobia! It’s a perfectly sensible reluctance, Hikaru, you -cannot- drive!”
“I can too!”
“Oh for – look, just get in the car or don’t!”
They stopped, Akira glaring from only a foot away. He huffed out a breath and glanced down.
“Fine. Fine, alright.” He was off the pavement and slamming closed the passenger door before Hikaru could respond, hands folded on neat slacks as Hikaru slid behind the wheel. “We’d better make it on time.”
A grin. “We will.”
“Hikaru, Hikaru wait I didn’t mean - ”
“Never again.” White and shaking, Akira prised himself out of his seat.
“It wasn’t that bad!” Hikaru protested, locking the car, “That cyclist shouldn’t’ve been there anyway, and look, we’re not late at all!”
The look in Akira’s eyes would have silenced far braver souls than Hikaru’s. “I don’t care. I don’t care if I’ll miss a meijin game or, or if a giant dinosaur is threatening our apartment - ” he sucked in a breath “I am never, ever getting in a car with you again. Ever.”
“Hey, Hikaru, this is fun!”
“Sai? I thought - ”
“Shh!” Sai hisses, turning away from the wheel to glare. “You’ll spoil the view!”
“But - ” Hikaru mutters, then subsides. It is a very nice view. The little Smart is puttering gently along a country road, fields and hedges blurring together out of the windows. Everything smells vaguely of mint, and Hikaru can hear the sound of peace and contentment seeping through the air.
Sai is driving very carefully, both hands on the wheel until he spots something interesting outside, waving enthusiastically and pressing his nose against the glass, which fogs in a neatly-edged circle. The car doesn’t seem to mind – it steers quietly around a corner on its own, leaving the driver to his fascination.
“Look, look, Hikaru, did you see?” Now Sai is pointing, gesturing back the way they came. “Did you see?”
Craning his neck, Hikaru tries, but the road fades into mist twenty metres behind, and the fields are full of baleful ducks, staring at him accusingly.
“I can’t see, Sai, we’ve already passed. We can’t go back.”
“Don’t be silly, Hikaru, we don’t need to go back.” Sai’s eyes are patient, but his tone is chiding. “It’ll come round again, everything does – see?”
Out of the front window, Hikaru sees a large river, reeds swayed against a wind he can’t hear over the gushing of water. Sai is bouncing in his seat.
“Oh, Hikaru, I’m so glad I got to show you!” Sai is beaming now, hands suddenly back on the wheel and steering straight ahead.
“You see, this is the place where I drowned!” and the little car is struggling, Hikaru is struggling, but the wheels are dragging into water, footwells filling and filling as the car turns, rolls, and still Sai is smiling, smiling, smiling, hair clinging and weaving about Hikaru’s limbs, and –
Hikaru straightens with a gasp. He tugs his feet free from the blanket that has wound in the night and just breathes.
Sai. He didn’t –
“H’karu” – slurred and deepened by sleep, the voice is nearly as familiar as his own. “Lie down, s’cold”
“In a minute, Akira. In a minute.”
So Hikaru breathes, and remembers the joyous spirit who left him behind – because now, he thinks he might have an inkling of just how hard it was to let go.