The following night, I showed up at the entrance of the southside library at exactly eight o’clock. I had never been one for promptness, but I really didn’t have anything better to do, and I have to admit I was curious as to why Taiga had called me there. After the previous night’s violence, I wasn’t sure he’d even be there – he hadn’t come back to the dorm and I hadn’t seen him the whole day. So I guess I also just wanted to know what had happened to him.
As I opened the heavy library door, I heard music wafting up from the floor below. I paused and tilted my head towards it, trying to hear. Apparently there was a piano somewhere in the basement level – I hadn’t known. I walked hesitantly into the library, exchanging casual nods with the tired-looking student worker sitting at the front desk, and spent a few minutes wandering around looking for the stairs. A few people were studying or using the computers, but none of them paid any attention to me. The piano playing below went on and on, melodic and gentle, and I was surprised to realize that I actually liked it.
After lightly jogging down the stairs and rounding a corner into the mostly-empty basement, I found Taiga sitting at the pianist’s bench, his fingers reliably striking the keys. I immediately noticed a thick white bandage beneath his shorts and a pair of crutches leaning against one of the chairs next to him. He raised his head when I walked in, and his eyes lit up and he gave me one of his slow smiles, but he didn’t stop playing. I found an empty chair and crashed into it, figuring that he wanted to finish his song.
Silent, I watched as Taiga carefully brought the piece to its conclusion. Something in me was oddly intrigued by his playing. The song didn’t sound like your typical classical music, and he didn’t sound like your typical classical pianist – which is not to say that I actually listened to classical piano. He just seemed, somehow, different. I would later conclude that Taiga’s piano playing was an extremely good reflection of his character: he made music with great strength, but he was also highly capable of great reservation, and sometimes these two qualities were not in conflict but actually worked in parallel to create beauty and grace. How this stood out to me so early, I have no clue, but it’s only through hindsight that I’m able to articulate what I felt about his artistry that night.
“You came,” Taiga said to me when he’d finished.
He turned toward me and smiled again, brushing his fluffy hair out of his face. I nodded wordlessly.
“I thought you might have forgotten. Or that you just wouldn’t care to come.”
I shrugged. “Nothing better to do.”
“Are you sober?”
For some reason, that made him laugh. “I don’t know why I asked,” he said.
After a few seconds of silence, I pointed at the crutches and asked, “How’s your leg?”
“The nurse at the clinic said it’s probably infected. He said that the knife wasn’t clean, and neither was the rain, and that I should’ve walked in to get it looked at sooner, but it took me a while to walk there so I couldn’t have helped that. He wrapped it up and referred me a prescription for antibiotics and painkillers, and because it started hurting pretty bad while I was there, he gave me crutches, too. I guess I’ll be on them until it gets better. I went to the pharmacy for the medicine this morning.”
“Are you going to tell the police?”
Taiga smiled wryly. “You mean the two women always sitting in the little police box on university center? No, I’m sure they have better things to worry about. The guy was drunk, that’s all… I don’t think it’s really worth it to go after him.”
I nodded in quiet agreement. “Ok.”
“Have you ever been down here?”
“To the basement? No. I think I’ve only been in this library once. I didn’t know there was a piano.”
“The head librarian lets me down here to play it most nights,” Taiga explained. “You’re supposed to be quiet in a library, but few people come here for serious studying, and they rarely ever mind hearing the piano. If somebody complains, of course I’ll stop, but it’s only ever happened once.”
“That piece you were playing just now wasn’t classical, was it?”
He shook his head. “It was a solo piano arrangement of a rock band’s signature single. I’m not a huge fan of classical, really, but I do like the sound of most rock piano arrangements.”
I ran out of things to say and fell silent. Taiga stared at me for a bit and then began to smile again.
“You aren’t used to talking with people, are you?” he said.
“Well, if you ever want to practice, I’m down here most nights between eight and ten.”
The invitation puzzled me, but I gave him an awkward thank-you.
I didn’t realize until years later what Taiga had been trying to do for me when he said that. He, as always, had paid very close attention to the happenings of the night before, and he had caught onto something that most people probably wouldn’t have. When I finally understood the meaning behind his words, I actually almost cried – in my rejection of the community he and Isabella had built within our room, he had been offering me another option for a home.
As it was, I unknowingly accepted. On and off for the rest of that semester and well into the next, I would crash in the basement of the library, listening to Taiga play the piano and occasionally talking with him. A few weeks in, I walked down the stairs to find the chairs pushed up against the wall and an old couch occupying the space they had vacated. Taiga told me that even though the basement was usually roped off after ten, he had gotten permission from the librarian for me to spend the nights there if I wanted. He bought some pillows and blankets, and cushions for the chairs, and also found a small desk in one of the basement’s storage rooms, just in case I ever actually wanted to do my homework. A couple of months later, after the librarian felt sure that I wasn’t going to ruin the place, Taiga got me permission to have food and drinks there, and he bought me a mini fridge and microwave. There was a long list of things he told me I wasn’t allowed to have or do: no alcohol, no drugs, no weapons, no smoking, no open fires, on and on and on – a typical but unofficial housing contract, and Taiga told me that I really would be “evicted,” and he probably would get banned, too, if I broke any of those rules. To make sure that I didn’t, he would sometimes search through my stuff or show up randomly in the middle of the night. I didn’t like it, but I also couldn’t complain. If I needed a drink or a smoke I could always just go outside.
It may sound weird, but the basement of the library was much more preferable to me than our dorm room. It was dark, quiet, and strangely cozy, and I was almost always utterly alone. As time went on and I grew more and more comfortable in that space, I began having long, actual conversations with Taiga, and he accordingly would show up more often to spend time with me. This isn’t to say that I didn’t like Isabella or our other suitemates; I just needed a time and place to be alone and figure myself out, and Taiga was the one who happened to give that to me. I’d still go to our dorm most days to get food and relax on a real bed, and I’d still go out to parties and wander the streets, but whenever I wanted to sleep or have a real talk with someone, I went almost exclusively to the piano room of that basement.
Maybe it’s spoiling the rest of the story – and maybe it’s just making me look bad, too – but that was the same room where Taiga was murdered.