MUTOU: "I asked you a question, Nakai."
NARRATOR: "I shake my head to fend off the dazedness. The teacher's looking at me, as is everyone else in the class."
HISAO: "Ah, sorry. I wasn't paying attention."
MUTOU: "What's the distance between... never mind, different question: Why are you here, in this class?"
HISAO: "To, err... learn about physics."
MUTOU: "Yes! Well, no, but that's the answer I wanted to hear. To acquire knowledge is the secondary reason for you being in the school. The primary one is to learn the rules of society, the norms and ethics that govern your everyday life. You don't come to school for the classes, you come to interact with the other people there, your classmates who are your equals and the teachers who are your superiors. You learn how to form social contacts and maintain them; in other words, how to be a part of society. The school itself is a microcosm of the entire society. Locke was the one who realized that, you know? School's not just a place for learning, and of all the kids your age, you guys should know that better than anyone else."
NARRATOR: "He pauses for a moment and lets his eyes sweep over the class to see if the message sunk in. At the very least, it shut everyone up and got them to focus on him, captivated either by his voice or the sudden change of topic from physics to the philosophy of education. However, my classes - as you so aptly put - are a place for learning about physics."
NARRATOR: "He points at me with the piece of chalk he's holding."
MUTOU: "So, no sleeping during class. Got it, Nakai?"
HISAO: "Yes, sir."
NARRATOR: "From the corner of my eye I catch Shizune's scowl and Misha's barely contained giggle. I sink deeper into my seat. After classes end, I'm the last one to leave the classroom. I close the door behind me and quietly make my way to the art room. Club time passes in relative peace and quiet. I sit in my usual seat next to Rin, but she doesn't seem to be in a talkative mood. She's even more distant than usual. Today we are going to draw still life, and get to choose from either a vase full of fake flowers or an arrangement of rocks, sticks and canvas. The teacher encourages us to gather around the preferred motif, emphasizing perspective, texture and lighting as the key points of this exercise."
NARRATOR: "I look at Rin to see if she prefers one of the subjects over the other, but she just tilts her head, signifying nothing. The club members quickly shuffle their chairs around the classroom to get closer to either the vase or the clutter. Rin and I both pick the flower vase, but only one of us seems to do any work. She's ignoring Nomiya's assignment just like she's suddenly started ignoring me, and has begun doodling something idly with her foot, not really even looking at what she's drawing. I try to catch her gaze, but she's looking out the window. It's making me uneasy. Rin almost looks like she's asleep with the way she's leaning back against the chair with her legs resting easily on the desk. She's now completely given up on the drawing. The more I try to relax, ignore her, and just be myself, the more it feels like I should ask if something's wrong. After club activities are over and others have filed out, Rin gets up from her seat and marches over to Nomiya with unusual determination."
RIN: "I will do it."
NARRATOR: "Nomiya, who was humming to himself while sorting a box of pencils by hardness, turns around with a mixed expression of friendliness and incomprehension on his face."
NOMIYA: "Hmm? What will you do, my girl?"
RIN: "The gallery person. I can talk with that person. At least yesterday I thought I could. And today too. I think. I want to try it. I'm going to go all the way."
NARRATOR: "The widest smile I've ever seen on any person's face lights up the teacher's features. He is almost literally beaming."
NOMIYA: "Oh, wonderful! I had almost lost hope! Such a hardheaded girl, you are! But I knew that sooner or later you'd understand, as well! I will call my good friend Saionji and arrange a meeting. You'll need to show her your work so she can estimate it. I've told her about you, but obviously you should talk face-to-face. This is so exciting, isn't it?"
NARRATOR: "Nomiya is talking more to himself than to us and walking in circles around his desk, waving his hands around wildly all the while. He picks up his cell phone from the breast pocket of his jacket and flips it open with a stylish movement, starting to look for the number to call. While he searches, he notices me staring and gives me a beaming thumbs-up. I shrug back at him, doing my best to not look smug. Nomiya finds the number and makes the call, turning away from us and lowering his voice once it goes through. Even so, I can hear his excited tone. The call doesn't last long."
NOMIYA: "Fabulous! Sae is at the gallery right now, and she said we could stop by right away if that's fine. This is most excellent!"
HISAO: "Do you have some kind of portfolio to show, Rin?"
NARRATOR: "She just shakes her head at the question."
NOMIYA: "Never fear, I've taken some photos of your paintings. We can bring those and maybe a couple originals with us. Those will be quite sufficient for now. There should be some recent ones around here in the back, right?"
NARRATOR: "He pulls out a folder full of photos out of a desk drawer, then charges towards the back where there's a small storage room and extra cabinets for all the materials and tools the art classes and club use. He soon finds what he was looking for and crudely wraps two of Rin's paintings in some brown packing paper."
NOMIYA: "Nakai, would you carry these to my car?"
NARRATOR: "I pick up the two oil paintings. They aren't heavy, but they do make navigation somewhat cumbersome as I follow Nomiya and Rin to the parking lot. Nomiya has a pretty nice car, not something I'd expect a high school teacher to drive. I wonder what kind of salaries they earn at Yamaku. The canvases are stuffed into the trunk, where they just barely fit. At the teacher's overenthusiastic prompting, I get in the car along with them. Rin answers my questioning stare with a confirming nod and a nonchalant shrug. I guess I've become some sort of assistant for her now. Nomiya doesn't go light on the pedal. The smooth ride takes just about 10 minutes to bring us to the city center, where we pull into a tiny parking lot and get out of the car. I pick up the paintings again, looking around. It's just like any city in Japan, really. Same style of buildings, people hurrying here and there, office workers sweating in their suits in the summer heat. Wide, tree-lined streets aren't something you see everywhere though. Maybe they are this city's specialty. It definitely has that feel of a city, which I thought I had already forgotten. I feel immediately comfortable walking around."
HISAO: "I haven't actually been here before."
NOMIYA: "No? In that case, it's about time. It's a great city! Lots of wonderful folk around here. And most important of all, a vibrant cultural life. Ah, Sae's place is just around the corner."
NARRATOR: "After turning around three more corners, Nomiya stops in front of a door. There is a nameplate in big, red letters over it: “22nd Corner.”"
RIN: "Is this really the twenty-second corner?"
HISAO: "Of what?"
RIN: "That's bothering me too. I mean, where to start counting, and which way do you count?"
NARRATOR: "Rin gets worked up over the strangest things. Unlike me, Nomiya ignores her completely and pushes the door open. The gallery is very clean-looking, and the air conditioning makes it cool and very comfortable. The white walls and big windows facing onto the busy street make the whole place feel airy and bright. There's nobody around whom I can see, however. Most of the floor space is empty, with only a few large tables and a counter for furniture. There are paintings too, of course. A poster advertises an exhibition for an artist I've never heard of. Most of his works seem to be portraits or landscapes done in a more traditional style than Rin's abstraction. Summoned by the bell on the door, a lady who looks maybe around Nomiya's age comes from around the corner. She's dressed in a sharp suit, her straight dark hair in a perfect ponytail behind her head. A pair of flashy, expensive-looking eyeglasses frame her eyes. On second glance, I'm not so sure of her age any more. She looks old and yet... not actually old."
NOMIYA: "Sae, hello!"
NARRATOR: "She clearly recognizes the teacher, greeting him warmly."
SAIONJI: "Oh there you are, Shinichi, and so quickly. I take it that these two are your students?"
NOMIYA: "Indeed, let me introduce you. This is Rin Tezuka, the one I spoke to you about, and the healthy-looking lad over there is Hisao Nakai."
NARRATOR: "She takes a long, hard look at both of us, especially Rin. It feels like we're being evaluated, that a worth of some abstract kind is being calculated for us. Her eyes linger for a long time on Rin, on her eyes, her empty sleeves tied in knots, her posture. Sae takes her first impression of Rin with an intensity I've not seen used by anyone else before. Once finished, she smiles amiably."
SAIONJI: "Pleased to meet you both. My name is Sae Saionji, and I'm the owner of this gallery. Could I maybe offer you some tea?"
NOMIYA: "Oh, no thank you, we're fine. Let's get down to business."
NARRATOR: "I lay the paintings on a tabletop to give the gallery owner a better view and Nomiya pulls out his folder of photos. The old lady studies Rin's works carefully, absentmindedly brushing her cheek with her fingers while letting her gaze sweep over the paintings. Her eyes remind me of a bird of prey of some sort. They're so sharp and somehow, very calculating. She takes her time, slowly going over the paintings in order without uttering a single word. Even the teacher looks very nervous. He tries to point out certain details and other things about Rin's work, but it seems like she's not listening. While Nomiya and I keep looking at Sae, trying to look for some hint of a reaction on the gallery owner's face, Rin lets her gaze wander around the gallery space. Suddenly, she pipes up."
RIN: "Is this really the twenty-second corner?"
NARRATOR: "Sae raises her gaze from the paintings to look at Rin, but doesn't answer. It's probably for the best. She takes stock of Rin's slouchy posture and her dreamy eyes that are again moving restlessly about. The way Rin seems to be detached from a situation that's supposed to be very important for her annoys me just a little. I'm practically holding my breath here. After Sae has gone through all of Nomiya's photos and inspected the two oil paintings I hauled here, she goes through all the material again, this time at a quicker pace. Finally, she gives her verdict."
SAIONJI: "I like it. Though, if you don't mind me saying, you're still a bit immature. Searching for your own direction, perhaps?"
NARRATOR: "She picks up one of the photos."
SAIONJI: "Still, just look at this. I just can't take my eyes off it. Like a little kitten playing around. That's what your art makes me feel, young lady."
RIN: "Thank you. I think. Nobody has ever said that before. I think."
NARRATOR: "That's all that Rin has to say. Something about what the gallery owner says and how she says it makes it sound patronizing to me, but I hold my tongue."
NOMIYA: "Krhm, anyway... What a wonderful imagination, though, isn't it? I've always said that Tezuka has great eye for composition and color harmony. And technique! Remember, all these are done with her feet! Of course we'd need to put some of the simpler ones on display too, for the laypeople, right Sae?"
NARRATOR: "The teacher snorts derisively."
NOMIYA: "You know how those philistines are. What do they understand about real art? They'd just be at a loss with the abstractions and themes here! But it'll generate more publicity, and that's good, isn't it?"
NARRATOR: "Sae smiles gently at Nomiya's remark and turns back to the paintings."
SAIONJI: "I wonder... To tell you the truth, I just don't know if all this makes an exhibition. Even if I like it, I don't get the feel of a theme, of cohesion. There is no oeuvre, and really, who would expect such from a young artist like the kitten here?"
NOMIYA: "Oh no no no! It's definitely doable, especially if we get a few new pieces and touch up some old ones."
RIN: "I don't mind painting more. I'll do anything."
SAIONJI: "It's a bit of a stretch."
NOMIYA: "Trust me. I wouldn't have come to you if I didn't believe Tezuka was ready. You can see it too, can't you? I know exactly what her kind is capable of. And you know too."
NARRATOR: "Those words give the gallerist lady a pause. A hollow, bottomless look takes over her eyes for a moment, as if she was looking through or maybe past Nomiya. She says nothing, but her mouth becomes a tight, flat line, as if stretched. Finally, the moment passes."
SAIONJI: "Is that what you're saying?"
NOMIYA: "That's what I'm saying."
NARRATOR: "Sae sighs and takes a few steps, walking in a circle as if to help organize her thoughts. She takes another look at a photo of the painting she particularly liked, the one that made her call Rin a kitten. She places her hand over her mouth, lost for words. After a few moments, she shakes her head."
SAIONJI: "I don't know what to say. After seeing you, dear, and these paintings of yours... would you excuse us for a moment? I want to talk to your teacher in private for a bit."
NARRATOR: "Sae draws the art teacher aside, and they talk in hushed tones for awhile. I can't hear what they are saying, but over her shoulder, I can see the lines around the corners of her mouth tighten as she motions with her hands in time with her words. The expression on her face is... what kind of expression is it? I couldn't say. Once they're done discussing whatever they had to discuss, they give one another a serious look. I feel something that goes beyond mere words transpiring there. They walk back to us. Sae looks seriously at Rin, her left hand reaching as if instinctively towards a pack of cigarettes that's lying on the table. She picks the pack up and extracts one, looks at it absentmindedly as if only now realizing she did so, and puts it back. Finally, she locks eyes with Rin, evaluating her once more."
SAIONJI: "All right, little kitten. I'm going to believe in you. I will display your paintings in here, but from what I can see, this is not enough. You don't really have a cohesive theme, and you don't have enough of the good stuff. You're going to have to work hard to actually get something that we can put on exhibit here."
RIN: "I know."
SAIONJI: "It's a good thing my gallery is so small, no?"
HISAO: "Rin already spends pretty much every free waking moment she has painting. How is it possible to work any harder? She'd have to skip classes to do more than she already does. And how can anyone work that much?"
NARRATOR: "Silence falls in the gallery after my words. Sae looks at the art teacher, who is looking contemplatively at his star student. I look at all three of them, confused."
NOMIYA: "It's doable."
SAIONJI: "What do you mean?"
NOMIYA: "I mean, the school is special. The board puts great value on things such as this. I'm sure I could arrange some leave for her. It's not unprecedented by any means. I'll discuss it with her parents too, but they've been quite supportive. However... it might be a bit of a stretch to get working space for her at the school if she's not actually going to attend classes. Actually, I was thinking about this before. Do you use the place upstairs for anything?"
SAIONJI: "No, I don't... haven't since back then. It's more like a landfill than an atelier now."
SAIONJI: "I own a small atelier-apartment on the top floor of this building, but it hasn't been in use for... goodness, it's been so long, hasn't it?"
NARRATOR: "Her eyes leap to Nomiya, who has a strange, muted expression on his face."
NOMIYA: "Indeed. Do you think..."
NARRATOR: "Even Nomiya in all his brashness has trouble coming straight out with the question. Sae, of course, sees through him and throws up her hands, sighing deeply."
SAIONJI: "I guess I can't say no, can I? Very well. I'll lend you the use of that place as well, if needed. It's not like I really use it."
NOMIYA: "Excellent! I knew I could count on you!"
SAIONJI: "Don't celebrate yet. It really is a mess, so don't be shocked when you first see it. However, you can use it as you see fit. Since it's an atelier, it already has easels and things like that. You'll only need your own tools and materials, and to somehow clean it up a bit. It's not habitable though, so I can't let you live there. I doubt your school or parents would allow that, in any case."
SAIONJI: "However it's convenient to crash there overnight if necessary. I won't mind."
NOMIYA: "Hahaha, most excellent, isn't it, Tezuka?"
NARRATOR: "He enthusiastically pats Rin on the shoulder, laughing in relief and happiness as if all this good fortune landed on him personally. Sae smiles as well, perhaps more amused by the old teacher's glee than anything else."
SAIONJI: "Oh dear, Shinichi, this really is like back then. Are you sure we all haven't bitten off more than we can chew?"
NARRATOR: "She looks at Rin, who seems to be oddly subdued despite all this."
SAIONJI: "I hope it will be worth it, kitten."
NARRATOR: "She holds out her hand as if to shake Rin's, but realizes the impossibility and quickly moves to pat her on the shoulder. Rin looks back at her silently, her eyes serious and impenetrable like the dark of the night."
Next Scene: The Scent of Light