NARRATOR: "As we are setting up the pieces, there is a noise at the door."
LILLY: "Good afternoon."
HISAO: "Oh, hey there Lilly. Are you finished?"
LILLY: "You both are here? Wonderful. At any rate, our teacher managed to round up some extra help, so I was able to leave. Have you been here since you left?"
HISAO: "Pretty much, we've just been playing a bit of chess."
HANAKO: "W-would you like a cup of tea?"
LILLY: "Actually, I think it may be a good idea to go outside for a little while..."
NARRATOR: "The instant drop in Hanako's face shows her objection to this plan, even though she says nothing. I feel strangely compelled to voice what is plainly in view on her face, but Lilly can't see."
HISAO: "I... I kinda think that we should just stay here..."
LILLY: "Really? It's so crowded here that I was thinking we should leave the school and head for the local teahouse."
HANAKO: "You mean the S-Shanghai?"
LILLY: "Of course; with everyone at the festival it should be practically empty."
LILLY: "Oh, that's right, you probably don't know of it. There is a teahouse not far from here, which we go to every so often."
HISAO: "Sounds like a plan. Hanako, what do you think?"
NARRATOR: "Hanako jumps a little at being forced into the conversation, but at least she seems less distraught than before."
HANAKO: "If... if it's the Shanghai, I think it'll be nice."
LILLY: "Well then, it's settled. Let's be on our way."
NARRATOR: "Hanako and I rise from the table and our preempted chess game. Before I can do anything, Hanako has poured the pieces into a small container and placed the board away."
HISAO: "Looks like we're ready now. Please, lead on."
NARRATOR: "Hanako moves to Lilly's side and we venture onto the school's corridors. The pair leads me through a series of unfamiliar doors, and we emerge on the side of the building opposite of the festival grounds. Insulated by the heavy stone of the building, the noise from the crowd has faded to a murmur."
HISAO: "Strange; I thought that most people would be beginning to leave by now..."
LILLY: "They're probably here to view the fireworks."
LILLY: "Yes, apparently the school puts on quite a show. A lot of people come from town just to watch them."
NARRATOR: "Lilly's decision to leave the school grounds seems to make sense now. Hanako would probably have a hard time with the whole town descending onto the school. Or ascending, as the case may be. For the second time since arriving at Yamaku I find myself walking down this road with Lilly. Only now that I can barely hear the incessant noise of the festival do I realize how loud it was. I can hear my ears ringing slightly in the still evening air as they recover from the day's assault on them."
NARRATOR: "Hanako clings to Lilly, but still manages to guide her along the road. That, and avoiding the occasional gaze from curious pedestrians, appears to completely sap her constitution. She rarely raises her focus from the ground in front of her, nor does she utter a word. Lilly, on the other hand, maintains her prim and proper persona just as she does in school. It's obvious she purposely puts effort into her appearance, rather than hiding it as Hanako does. It's striking how different they are in their way of holding themselves outside of Yamaku's grounds. That said, it's obvious in both their cases that they do visibly change."
NARRATOR: "Inside Yamaku, everyone is “special,” which negates the “special-ness” of it. But once we venture outside the school gates, we are returned to the status of “outsider” and generic labels. Especially when we are still in school uniform. It's like hanging a sign around your neck challenging people to figure out what is wrong with you. I'm surprised that so many of the students keep it on. Then again, with canes and wheelchairs common among the students, I guess it's not really that much of a giveaway. Or maybe I'm the only one that sees this as a stigma? Maybe you get used to it after a time, like any other school uniform."
NARRATOR: "The teahouse seems fairly standard from the outside; just an ordinary building with typical signs decorating the entrance. It looks like the type of place you'd walk by without a thought, just another generic café in a sea of thousands. If Hanako hadn't steered Lilly into the entrance I would have continued on down the road without ever knowing that it existed. Inside the teahouse it takes on a more traditional feel. Everything seems to have been made from the same lump of timber, from the counter and benches to the high-backed booths around the walls. But the most striking feature of the room is the lack of life. I think I can faintly hear something bubbling away in the background, but otherwise the room is silent. Without any direction, we simply wait near the entrance, politely obeying the “Please wait to be seated” sign."
HISAO: "Er, is this place closed or something?"
NARRATOR: "The sound of a chair falling over echoes throughout the empty room, and a head shoots up from inside a booth."
YUUKO: "I wasn't asleep and welcome to the Shanghai!"
NARRATOR: "Yuuko, dressed in a pastel apron and clutching a menu, rushes to greet us. Her misaligned glasses and ruffled hair cast suspicion on her previous statement. But whether she was asleep or not isn't the first question that leaps to my mind."
HISAO: "You work here now? What happened to the library?"
YUUKO: "What? Lilly? Hisao? Welcome to the Shanghai!"
NARRATOR: "Yuuko, still waking up, jerks into a violent bow, dislodging her glasses in the process."
YUUKO: "Uweh!? My glasses..."
NARRATOR: "As I pick up her spectacles off the floor, Lilly offers an explanation."
LILLY: "Yuuko works here part-time as well as at the library. It's one of the reasons we like to come here."
NARRATOR: "Yuuko takes her glasses from my hands, shakily putting them back on."
YUUKO: "Yes... that's right... thanks... Shall I show you to your table? There's no-one else here so you can choose your table and order whatever you like, but there may be a delay as I will have to make it myself..."
LILLY: "It's all right, Yuuko. Just a pot of black tea and a plate of sandwiches will be fine."
YUUKO: "Right! I'll get right onto that!"
NARRATOR: "Yuuko hurries off to the back of the café, leaving us still standing at the entrance. She pushes the swinging half-doors open before realizing that she hasn't seated us."
YUUKO: "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! Please, sit wherever you'd like! I'll be right back!"
NARRATOR: "Following her advice, I lead Lilly to the nearest booth as Hanako follows. As I begin to sit next to Lilly, I realize how appropriate this place is for Hanako. The high-backed booths totally separate you from the rest of the room, and it doesn't look like it gets all that many customers. All of the furnishings, from the cushions on the benches to the condiment holders, look dated but aren't overly worn. I wonder if Lilly deliberately selects places like this to take Hanako? She seems like the type that would go to lengths to cater to Hanako's unique predicament."
LILLY: "So, Hisao, I didn't know you played chess..."
HISAO: "Well, not very well, but I do know how to play."
LILLY: "I suppose the obvious question would now be... who won?"
NARRATOR: "Lilly's innocent smile makes me hesitate. I don't really want to look like I'm lording my victory over Hanako."
HANAKO: "H-Hisao did."
HISAO: "Yes... but, uh, not by much..."
NARRATOR: "Damn. Saying that out loud makes me feel like I've done something terrible."
LILLY: "Well done, Hisao. You've accomplished something I've only ever failed at."
HISAO: "Er, thanks. I haven't played in ages, so it felt good to play again."
HANAKO: "Y... yes... It did."
NARRATOR: "Hanako fidgets with her hair a little and looks away as she replies, but a small smile emerges. It's a little more extreme of a reaction than I expected, but still kind of cute in that Hanako way. It throws me a little off guard, and only Yuuko's cataclysmic re-entry shocks me back into conversation."
HISAO: "Are you all right there, Yuuko? Do you need a hand?"
YUUKO: "I'm fine I'm fine I'm fine. I have to do this properly, it's my job."
NARRATOR: "Concentration plays across her face while she stares at the tray in her hands, as if simply looking at its contents will hold them in place. Sadly, this doesn't prove all that effective; the cups and saucers slowly dance around, occasionally clattering as they collide with one another. Taking great care, Yuuko sets the tray down on the table with only the subtlest of crashes."
YUUKO: "There, see!"
HISAO: "Er, well done?"
LILLY: "Thank you, Yuuko."
NARRATOR: "Yuuko's head rockets downwards in her distinctive bow before answering."
YUUKO: "You're very welcome."
LILLY: "Would you like to join us? There's something else I'd like to discuss about that recent order, if I may..."
NARRATOR: "Ah, that's right. Lilly and Yuuko were discussing a pile of books when I first met Hanako. Something about Lilly helping with the Braille..."
YUUKO: "Ah... yes. We didn't get the chance to go through them, did we?"
NARRATOR: "Yuuko hastily sits down next to Hanako. Apparently her dedication to this job only goes as far as her concentration; once it is broken, she suddenly loses it."
YUUKO: "I'll be in the library tomorrow afternoon if you'd like to try again..."
LILLY: "That sounds perfect, I'll meet you there after classes."
HANAKO: "Um... L-Lilly..."
LILLY: "Oh dear, that's right. Tomorrow is Monday, how could I have forgotten?"
NARRATOR: "I'm starting to feel a little left out of the loop here. Then again that's to be expected; I have been here for barely a week, so it's impossible to know everyone's schedule."
LILLY: "Well, perhaps we could come to some other arrangement. Yuuko, will you be in the library later in the week?"
YUUKO: "Hmm, maybe, but this is already overdue..."
HANAKO: "A-and there are some... things I n-need..."
LILLY: "This might be a problem..."
NARRATOR: "Lilly ponders for a second before discovering the answer."
LILLY: "I wonder, might we be able to enlist the help of another, if need be...?"
HISAO: "Um, to do what? You lost me quite some time ago..."
NARRATOR: "Being volunteered for something without even having the slightest idea what is going on isn't really my thing. And here I thought I had finally escaped the clutches of the Student Council and their repeated attempts to recruit me."
LILLY: "Oh, of course. The other day I was helping Yuuko sort the new Braille books in the library. But Hanako and I usually go shopping on Monday afternoons; it's quieter on that day than on weekends. Last week we couldn't go because I was busy with the festival. I managed to slip away later in the week, but Hanako couldn't make it."
HISAO: "Well, since I can't read Braille, I'm assuming you'd like me to go shopping with Hanako?"
LILLY: "Correct. You were a great help to me the other day."
HISAO: "I think I can handle that. Hanako, what do you think?"
HANAKO: "I-if you wouldn't mind..."
HISAO: "Of course not. I'm still not familiar with all the stores in the area, so it sounds like a good idea."
LILLY: "Now that we have that arranged, shall we have some tea?"
NARRATOR: "It's now that I realize our tea has been sitting idly by all this time, getting no hotter."
YUUKO: "It's my fault! Let me pour that for you..."
NARRATOR: "Yuuko reaches out with shaking hands, but I intercept her; she looks in no state to be handling hot liquids."
HISAO: "It's all right, I've got it. Since you've already made the tea and sandwiches, you've fulfilled your waitress duties, right?"
YUUKO: "I... I guess."
NARRATOR: "Yuuko relaxes a little, but still watches eagerly as I share out the assortment. As I am about to bite into the sandwich, a low, loud rumble can be heard, along with a flash of light from outside."
LILLY: "Ah, I take it the show has started."
NARRATOR: "Only now looking outside, I realize that dusk has come and gone, leaving us in the peak of twilight. Sparking tracers arc upwards ready to explode in the floral shapes of fireworks."
YUUKO: "Let's go watch! Oh... sorry Lilly..."
LILLY: "Please, don't miss the show on my account. From what I've heard, this isn't a bad location to watch them from."
NARRATOR: "With the exception of Lilly, we rush to the window of the small teahouse to watch the show. The strobe of colored lights plays across Hanako and Yuuko's smiling faces, and for a second I forget to look out the window. In this totally new world, there are a few things that don't change. I think that's why the school makes such a fuss over this festival. It's a chance to show the similarities between everyone."
NARRATOR: "The show is over all too quickly; fireworks are expensive, even for the most well-funded schools. Before we return to our tea and sandwiches, Hanako turns to me."
HANAKO: "Um, t-thanks for today. ...and tomorrow."
HISAO: "That's okay; I don't think that I could have faced those crowds either. On days like this it's more relaxing to spend some time away from everyone, don't you think?"
HISAO: "Anyway, we've been delaying this tea for far too long now, let's get back."
NARRATOR: "We return to the booth and our light meal."
LILLY: "That sounded impressive. Bigger than last year's at least."
YUUKO: "Yeah it was great! I've never seem them put on such a show. It gets better every year!"
LILLY: "I'm afraid, however, that during that time, the tea has gone cold."
YUUKO: "Oh no! Let me make some more! This is my fault!"
HISAO: "Calm down, Yuuko, it's nobody's fault."
NARRATOR: "I take a sip from my cup, just to prove the point."
HISAO: "This tea isn't too bad cool, anyway. It's like an iced tea."
HISAO: "Yes, really. If you add a bit of sugar it's kinda nice."
YUUKO: "Are you sure?"
HISAO: "I'm positive. Now why don't you sit down and we'll finish this together?"
NARRATOR: "Yuuko doesn't seem convinced, but sits down regardless. She carefully measures out about five teaspoons of sugar and adds them to her tea."
HISAO: "Er, I said a bit of sugar..."
YUUKO: "I know but I like my tea sweet anyway."
NARRATOR: "Curiously I peer into her cup. As expected, hardly any of the sugar dissolves in the cold liquid. She stirs it twice before upturning the cup and drinking the contents, sugar and all, in a single mouthful."
YUUKO: "You're right! That's not bad at all!"
HISAO: "Er, good..."
NARRATOR: "I look back to Lilly and Hanako, both of whom have finished their meal as I witnessed Yuuko's personality in action. Not wanting to hold anyone up, I use her tactic and finish the remainder of my tea in a single swill."
HISAO: "Well then, it seems we're all finished."
LILLY: "Should we head back now or do we want seconds?"
NARRATOR: "Yuuko's expression shows that this is quite clearly not a good idea."
HISAO: "I think that it would be best if we got back soon. We do have to get back before curfew, after all."
LILLY: "Oh, that is a good point. I'll meet you tomorrow, Yuuko."
YUUKO: "I'll be looking forward to it, Lilly. Goodbye, everyone."
NARRATOR: "We make our way out of the small teahouse and into the dark of the night. Lilly and Hanako once again take point, but under the cover of darkness Hanako seems slightly less stressed than she did on the trip here. We move against the occasional group of people emptying the school grounds, but Hanako seems to lead us along a few minor roads, avoiding the bulk of the crowd. Outside the dorms, the school seems strangely quiet when compared to the noise of the day."
HISAO: "Well then, thank you both for today. I think I learned a lot."
LILLY: "You're most welcome, but I'm afraid that I really must be going. Today's been a long day."
NARRATOR: "That's right; Lilly spent all of today on her feet, and I can imagine that walking outside of the school would be pretty tiring for her. I feel a pang of guilt as I remember that I was probably the only one in the school that got up around ten this morning."
HISAO: "Sure thing. Well, I'll see you both tomorrow. Good night."
LILLY: "Good night, Hisao."
HANAKO: "N... night."
NARRATOR: "The girls return to their dorm, and I to mine. Actually, now that I consider it, today tired me out as well."
END OF ACT 1