We returned to the room together in a soft silence. Aliyah was sitting in the corner, doing work on her laptop. She looked up as we entered.
“Katsumi,” she said. “One of my acoustics is in the car. While you were gone I asked the nurse if it’s okay. She says no singing and no amplifying, but otherwise, if you want to play…”
He stared at her for a second, completely expressionless. “Oh… alright. Thank you.”
Aliyah moved to get up, but Katsumi raised his hand slightly to stop her. “Give me your keys and I’ll go get it,” he offered. He took the keys from her and vanished out the door without giving me a second glance.
Aliyah looked at me. “You two were gone for a while,” she said.
I sighed and went to sit next to her. “Yes.”
“Did something happen?”
“Yes. He cried, and then so did I.”
She nodded. “It’s hard.”
“Is it hard? For you?”
I didn’t mean to be rude, even though the question apparently came out that way. But Aliyah didn’t seem to mind.
“Tadashi and I are good friends,” she said. “I don’t think it’s hit me yet. I’m trying not to think about it.”
“How long have you known him?”
“I met him a few months before he and Katsumi signed with my company. I was at a small local concert – just for personal pleasure, I wasn’t scouting or anything – and the two of them were one of the opening acts. Afterward, I bumped into Tadashi in the back parking lot. Katsumi had gone to speak with the stage manager, and Tadashi was by himself moving all their equipment out. I offered to give him a hand, and in exchange he tried to buy me a drink. At first I thought he was hitting on me, so I said no – I’m not interested. But eventually I realized he was just genuinely trying to be friendly and repay the favor. He gave me his phone number and we ended up meeting for coffee the next day. We started talking and became fast friends… He’s done a lot for me since then.”
I nodded. “He’s done a lot for me, too.”
Aliyah smiled. “It’s easy to be friends with Tadashi, I think. Show that you’re good-hearted, and he’ll move mountains for you. Katsumi is the same way, but he’s so much harder to get to know.”
“Tell me about yourself,” I said after a moment. “I know you’re their manager, but that’s all…”
She laughed. “What do you want to know? I’m in artist management. Spend a lot of time traveling. When I’m not, I live alone, the next town over. Unmarried, unattached. Used to have a cat. Dropped out of college to try to make it in the backstage of the music industry. My favorite color is purple. I don’t like tacos. My sister’s a hotshot lawyer, and I’m deathly afraid of heights. I had a concussion when I was 14 and lost my sense of smell. Movies can’t make me cry, but I can force my own tears in seconds. I don’t know, I’m running out of facts – is that enough for you?”
I was impressed. “How do you do that? If somebody asked me about myself, I could probably only come up with one or two things.”
“It just depends on how fast your brain works, and how well you interact with people. My mind runs like a professional sprinter. Focus on a topic and it’ll run itself to exhaustion – so to keep from getting exhausted, it jumps from one topic to the next, constantly. It’s how I distract myself from situations like this.” Aliyah waved her hands around at the hospital room. “Just don’t think about it. Think about something else. Do work.”
I contemplated this for a while. “Well,” I said slowly, turning to glance at Tadashi in the bed, “I can’t think of a good metaphor for my brain, but I just know that I’m not like that. I can’t just stop thinking about something. Earlier… I couldn’t stop thinking about what this whole situation would be like if Tadashi hadn’t called me here.”
She asked what I meant by that, and I explained the story of how this summer had come to be. “What if he hadn’t called me and made that offer?” I said. “I wouldn’t be sitting here in this hospital right now. I wouldn’t even know that anything had happened to him. If something… if something’s wrong with him, if he dies, or even if it wasn’t like this at all, but he got into a car accident… I would never know. Isn’t that… strange?”
Aliyah listened with care. “I don’t think it’s strange,” she said, “but it is hard to bear. People generally like to feel in control, but we intentionally forget that there are so many things we have absolutely no control over. Like injury, like illness, like death. That’s just how it is.”
Katsumi returned at that point, interrupting a conversation that had taken a sudden philosophical turn. He walked in with the guitar slung over his shoulder and a soft, sensitive look on his face.
“Welcome back,” I said.
“Thanks,” he said in reply. “I don’t know what I should play…”
“Play one of your songs,” Aliyah suggested. “Maybe he’ll wake up.”
Katsumi found a chair, pulled it up to Tadashi’s bed, and sat down with the instrument on his knees. It was a left-handed guitar, I noticed – which meant that Aliyah was probably left-handed, too. Not that it mattered. It’s funny, the mundane things that the mind latches onto to ground itself. I watched as Katsumi closed his eyes in thoughtful concentration.
“Okay,” he said after a moment. “Here I go…”
He started to play, slowly and quietly at first. The song was familiar – something off their first album, I thought, though I couldn’t remember the name of it. Katsumi bent slightly over the guitar, focused, his fingers starting to fly, and something about the scene nearly brought tears to my eyes.
Playing alone, voiceless, in a hospital room of all places, with Tadashi unconscious in the bed beside him, Katsumi didn’t look wild or crazy at all. He just looked forlorn.
Next to me, Aliyah started to cry. I put a hand on her shoulder. I empathized, but I was all cried out, and Katsumi was too. I stared at him as he played with hard eyes – Katsumi, the cross-handed black-haired musician, inseparable with the idea of Tadashi, with the idea of music, the man who allowed himself to feel everything…
This is what this summer comes down to, I thought. This is what I came for, and this is what I’ll take away.
Midway through his fourth song, Katsumi abruptly stopped playing. Aliyah and I raised our heads to look at him, surprised. He gazed back at us with a tortured expression.
“We’re supposed to play this part in unison…”
“You can play something else,” I suggested softly.
Katsumi shook his head. “No… no more. I’m done.”