The hell? They’d been riding in the car for five minutes or so, but Yukio still couldn’t drop the sight of how Urufu went under the sack and moved it onto his shoulder in one smooth, snakelike movement. The overbalancing was for show. Yukio knew Urufu well enough to know when he downplayed himself. In truth his best friend never even lost an ounce of control when swinging around half his own weight as if it had been a bag of toilet paper.
All four of them were in the car. Urufu had insisted. Urufu’s aunt, who wasn’t his aunt in this world, drove. For once Noriko didn’t take the middle seat. Rather she sat to the left, right behind Urufu, and Yukio himself took the uncomfortable place in the middle. To his right Kyoko had her face glued to the window drinking impressions of a Japan she probably very seldom saw.
As from a distance Yukio heard Urufu and his aunt merrily chatting about nothing. Short laughs were replaced by guffaws, and then all of a sudden Urufu went quiet mid sentence.
“We’re here!” he shouted, and Yukio gave up any pretence of keeping anything a secret from the old woman.
She had already hit the brakes, and the car rumbled onto a gravel parking place with nothing but a lonely vending machine there.
Urufu jumped out and was busy opening the rear compartment when Yukio followed Kyoko and threw the white metal construction a closer look. A coin slot alright, but where were you supposed to pick your choice?
“Here we go,” Urufu laughed. He carried the sack to the machine, and like making a judo throw he sat down on one knee and rolled it from shoulder to the ground. It hardly moved any dust as it settled down. “120. More expensive than I remember.” He turned and faced his aunt. “70. I like 70.”
“You’re doing the heavy work. You decide.”
Urufu rolled open the sack. “Yukio, a hand please.”
Yukio walked to Urufu’s side.
Rice? But it was all a sandy brown. “What the?”
“You city boy you!” Urufu was all toothy grin and looked more like a happy elementary school boy than a high schooler. “You’ve never had a bowl of decent rice in your life.”
“What are we doing?” Yukio felt he needed to calm Urufu down before he went hyper.
“Up here,” Urufu said and motioned for Yukio to help him lift the sack. “And in it goes.” The sack overturned and Yukio listened to the sound of lots and lots of rice being swallowed by the machine. By now he began to have a grasp of what it was all about.
“And now?” Yukio asked. More for allowing Urufu to have his fun than anything else.
“It’s this year’s rice. And I’m getting to give it a seventy percent polish. The best. It tastes the best!” He laughed and moved the now empty sack to fill it with policed rice. “Wow! This time I can read the instructions!” Then three coins went into the machine, Urufu punched in his preferences and it whined into life. Then a deafening sound somehow reminding Yukio of a brutal downpour that once caught him when he waited in a bus stop.
He’d seen it on TV. Everyone had, but this was the first time Yukio experienced rice polishing so close. City boy. Urufu was right about that. Everyone bought white rice and ate it.
“But why?” he wanted to know over the thundering noise.
“Just wait until aunt boils it. You’ve never tasted anything like it.” Urufu gave Noriko a long stare. “You might,” he admitted.
Huh? Oh, it’s because she’s rich. It it really that expensive?
“Maybe,” Noriko said. “A few times only. We’re not really all that into fancy sushi restaurants.”
More than a few times, if my guess is right, Yukio thought. Over a year’s worth of working with Urufu gave him a pretty clear picture of what kind of people walked the Wakayama parents’ circles. But she wants him to have his moment of glory. Yukio saw how her eyes softened when they met Urufu’s.
“Kyoko, this was the right thing to do,” Yukio said into his girlfriend’s ear.
She grabbed his hand and nodded.
Maybe not the burning love you shared with Kuri, maybe not even enough to make you forget about her. Yukio looked at Noriko. But I think Noriko might just be the better one for you after all. It was strange. Half a year earlier he’d told Urufu Kuri was the best part of him. So what had changed? Urufu. You changed. Kuri had as well, but her change started earlier. You broke, both of you. Two broken people couldn’t heal each other. Don’t you dare break Noriko as well! But that was for her to decide. She chased Urufu down and cornered him.
“And we’re done.”
Yukio stared at Urufu rolling the sack closed again and wrench it over his shoulder before he walked back to the car with his bounty.
Noriko, you’re in for some competition when school starts. Maybe not really competition. This autumn a different kind of girls would flock to Urufu’s side. And more than a couple of sports clubs as well, Yukio guessed.
Noriko just looked at Urufu. Sure, Yukio saw a fair share of admiration in her eyes, but she’d grown up with her brother after all. Physical prowess maybe wasn’t all that new to her.
“Who wants the best bowl of rice ever?”
Yukio smiled. Urufu had already promised that.
“Aunt, do you have any really good tea at home?”
She smiled as well. “This is Mie.”
“I’ll make the tea,” Urufu beamed. “I’ve trained… I’ve trained for a really long time now.”
“If you say so,” she said and patted his head just as he offloaded the rice into the car.