Sachiko’s story awakened the dread of entrance examinations all too vividly in Kensuke’s mind. For several minutes neither of them spoke. Despite her own feelings, Sachiko recognized in Kensuke a look that said he was for now unable to say anything. But she was grateful to him for listening and felt some relief over letting her feelings out. She had no way of knowing what was going through Kensuke’s mind, as she had never known his friend Hiro in Namba, had never heard him mentioned. And so she settled back on the pine shaded old bench and waited patiently for the strained look to pass from her friend’s eyes.
A few minutes passed and Sachiko glanced at Kensuke, noticing the forgotten Rocket Bar that had melted all over his fingers. She made a gesture toward the chocolate and Kensuke looked down at the mess and groaned. Sachiko laughed and pointed to the water fountain a few feet away.
He washed the chocolate from his hand and the two of them turned in the direction of the library doors.
Sachiko was about to speak when Kensuke jumped in with the story of what Fumio had done at lunch. “Oh, you should have seen Fumio’s face, Sachiko. He looked like he’d swallowed a bee. And Mr Nagasawa had the red juice all over his face…Hope his punishment isn’t too severe.”
Sachiko forgot Kobe and her cousin’s death and laughed out loud at the story of Fumio and the flying cherry. But in spite of his happy description of Fumio’s mischief and despite Sachiko’s laughter, Kensuke remained preoccupied with the girl in Kobe and the boy in Namba.
The library was crowded with students and boys and girls whispered together at every table. Over in one corner, a group was sprawled in beanbag chairs reading magazines. In another corner three girls were crowded around a slide viewer looking at photographs of London. The large aquarium stood in the center of the library, its filters gurgling softly in a steady stream of rising bubbles.
Sachiko and Kensuke headed straight for the fish. It was an especially beautiful aquarium, and Mrs Sakamura, the librarian, was devoted to its care and to the dozens of colorful fish that dodged and darted, gliding around rocks and between the swaying fronds of water plants. She spent many hours making sure that the conditions of the tank remained perfect for the tropical fish.
“Oh, look at that one, Kensuke!” Sachiko pointed to a small eel squirming its way into the crevice between two rocks.
Kensuke answered that he liked the baby catfish that attached themselves to the glass. “They help keep the glass clean because they eat the algae that grows there.”
It was such a peaceful underwater world that the two of them stood mesmerized for several minutes before being called back to class by the ringing bell.
Agreeing to meet again in the library on Saturday, Kensuke and Sachiko ran off toward their separate classrooms. In the crowd of students jostling their way up the stairs, Kensuke saw Fumio ahead and caught up with him before reaching the classroom.
“Did he believe you when you said it was an accident?” he asked, amazed at Fumio’s attitude of shrugging it off. He gave the impression of believing the whole incident something so minor it didn’t even require explaining.
“Is he going to tell your parents?” Kensuke was persistent.
“No, I was lucky about that part. Mr Nagasawa said it would all be put in the past once I had written the essay and handed it in.”
In reality, Fumio was putting on a brave front. Beneath the calm exterior he was indeed upset over Mr Nagasawa’s scolding, and the essay he now had to write. He was to write at least two pages explaining where and how cherry trees are planted and grown, how the fruit is harvested, and finally how the cherries reach the markets. It was an assignment he dreaded much more than a few quick licks from the Principal’s bamboo rod. He had three days to write the essay, and then would have to stand and read it in front of his class. More than writing, Fumio hated reading aloud in front of other students. An essay about cherries was sure to bring the laughter of classmates crashing around his ears, especially since most of them knew all about the business in the cafeteria.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent at social studies, and then a music lesson. For his social studies assignment Kensuke was working on a report about the Mongol invasion of Japan in 1281, when the country was saved by the great kamikaze, or “divine wind.” In the music class, students had a demonstration of the shakuhachi, or bamboo flute. The teacher first played the flute himself, and later some recordings of different kinds of music arranged for the shakuhachi, explaining how the flute changed its tone to accommodate the mood or theme of the composition. Closing his eyes, Kensuke let the music wash over him, taking him far from the classroom, to a place where water bubbled over rocks and wind shivered the leaves of trees. It was so close to being real, he almost felt the wind on his cheeks, the cool water on his fingertips.
He resented the bell that jarred him loose from the music. Content, lost in the husky notes of the shakuhachi, his sense of time had receded. This bell was the last of the day, signaling three o’clock and the end of classes.