Chapter 1:

Love is a Rebellious Bird

Love is a Rebellious Bird


For everything that Henrik had said about Japan, Robert really could understand it.

The Maestro hadn't been incorrect when he said that Japan was indeed colourful. As he watched his casket being lowered into its final resting place, he could see drifting sakura petals from a nearby cherry blossom tree falling down onto its face in a sort of serene farewell that, the Maestro, being a lover of all things Japanese, appreciated.

Robert looked at the faces in the crowd. He didn't recognise many of them, to him it just seemed like a bunch of rich Europeans making a spectacle of themselves by seeing who can out-mourn everyone else. Robert had to grip his walking cane in order to force himself not to shoo them all away. “Sycophants the lot of them”, he said quietly under his breath. “None of them have any idea.” The other people in attendance noticed his stare and countered with one of their own, which caused Robert to blush and quickly look at the floor. For all of his emotion, Robert was still as much of a coward at the age of twenty five as he was when he met the Maestro aged just six.

Henrik Weisel was a cantankerous old bastard, largely disliked by the music establishment for all of his time as a composer. Mostly due to his unconventionality. Even by classical music standards he was an oddball. In 1955, when a reporter asked him why his second symphony—which had debuted at La Scala in Milan that evening—had been composed entirely using wooden instruments used by toddlers, he had stood on top of one of the dining tables and yelled at everyone in attendance: “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven! Matthew eighteen, verses two to five!” He then stole a piece of cake off of a concert goer’s plate and ran out of the hall.

“Oh my goodness, is that Robert Smithson!?” Robert’s recollection of his teacher was interrupted by a voice that sounded like two dying cats trying to mate. A woman with yellowed teeth and a large round face came towards him. He saw that she was dressed in a kimono, but it was tied incorrectly such that she looked like a giant pink pillow case. “It's me! Mrs Benson!”

“Ah! Yes, Madam Benson, hello.” They exchanged a French kiss greeting and Robert had to mentally hold his stomach in to prevent throwing up at the stench of the woman. “How are you?”

“I am quite well, but I do not care for this heat! Honestly I don't know what Henrik saw in this place! It's just heat and pain and I can’t understand anyone. I can’t believe the Maestro spent the last years of this life composing  drivel for a robot cartoon! What's it called again? Aneem?”

“Anime, Miss Benson. The Anime was called Robo Deity Godguard.”

“Yes, well, I tried to watch a bit of it and I couldn't for the life of me grasp what was happening. Anyway! Still walking with that cane I see.”

“Yeah,” Robert said with a sigh. “Still can’t walk without it.”

“Nonsense! If I was still teaching you, you would be free of that by now! It's about balance, boy, balance! You’re so lazy! She tapped the cane hard with her foot which caused Robert to fall. He thought about how embarrassed he would be if he fell in front of these high society toffs and his teacher's coffin. He thought about how he was a failure, how he had wasted his teacher’s time by not doing more with his talent. He decided it was best to give up and let the dice fall where they may.

But he did not fall.

Instead he felt an arm right around him, it pulled him back up at his chest. It was a motion he recognised. Because of the way Robert’s body worked, he had to be handled with care. A failure to do so could result in a broken bone or torn muscle. You had to know how to handle him so as to not hurt him.

This person knew.

Robert tried to get a good look at his face. Due to the glare of the sun and the flat cap on their head. Robert could only tell they were Japanese.

“Oh by the way Robert, did you know I was writing again? Yes, I thought I might compose something to honour Henrik and-”

A wave of panic and confusion hit him and another round of nausea rushed through his body. His Mum always told him that if he was going to play piano and spend time with “those Tory tosspots and their tosspot kids” he had to be polite. The desire to find this person stripped all of that away.

“Mrs Benson, I mean this in the most disrespectful way possible. You have the social graces of a drugged up baboon, your compositions can be described as trite at best and a nationwide cause of deafness at worst, and to top it all off, you’re just a massive bitch. Good day.”

Robert limply jogged in the direction of the person who caught him, leaving Mrs Benson still trying to reply.

***

Robert was six years old and very, very sad.

He sat cradled in his mother’s arms in floods of tears, the last person in Mrs Benson’s piano school. Miss Smithson desperately fought the urge to clothesline her on her way out. Wisely choosing to comfort her son instead.

“Darling, I know you had your heart set on this, but it doesn’t have to be piano. You can do something else. What about painting or…”

“No!” Robert yelled. "I want to do piano! I like the sounds! I want to make songs like the old piano man and his helper!”

His mother knew it was a bad idea to take him to the concert. She had been a fan of Henrik Weisel since she had heard vinyl records at her grandfather’s house. He had a vast collection of Classical music and old comedy routines that would definitely get you branded a racist nowadays. She didn’t get the jokes, but he laughed so she did too. She wanted Robert to have a cultural education. It was hard for children with the difficulties that Robert had to do anything. She was so proud of him to be able to hold a tune, but privately she was surprised he could do even that.

“He was so cool.” Robert said through sniffles.

“Who?” his Mother asked.

“The boy! He was as big as me but he could do piano like a grown up, and he was really brave when he did it too! He had a big smile and looked really smart in a suit! Do you think I would look good in a suit, Mum?”

“You would be the smartest boy in the entire world.”

Robert laughed and got off his mother’s lap. He turned to face her and did a bow like he’d seen the piano players do. His mother clapped.

“I learned a new song today, Mum! He haphazardly walked towards the piano and flipped the lid up.

“Oh Darling! I don’t think…” His mother hadn't told him that he couldn’t go back to lessons yet. She was unable to stop Robert as he slowly tapped out a tune on the keyboard.

DA-DA DA-DA DA DA DA DA DA

They both heard footsteps and froze. The footsteps got closer until the door flung open and an old man belted out…

“Half a pound of tuppenny rice! Half a pound of treacle… Oh, you've stopped playing.” The man was elderly but not at the end of his life and had white slick back hair. He still wore the suit he wore at the concert and beside walked a young Japanese boy, not much older than Robert on one side, and Mrs Benson on the other.

His mother immediately knew what was happening and jumped up to shield him from the adults. Mrs. Benson was about to begin one of her rants, but the old man put up a hand before she could and walked over to Robert and sat down next to him.

“My boy, play it again.” Robert stared at the man blankly and both his mother and Mrs. Benson started to say something. But the old man simply had to raise his hand to get them both to stop.

“It's all right.” He said reassuringly, "Just do what you did before, da da da, like that.”

Robert was now completely unsure about what was going on, but his mother had told him to always respect his elders, So doing as he was told, he played the tune. To his surprise the old man began singing again.

All around dear London Town

In and out The Eagle,

That's the way the money goes

Pop! Goes the weasel!

Robert was very embarrassed and was very slow to finish this song. When he finished, he thought he was going to cry. He felt sad that he had embarrassed himself in front of the people in the shop. But to his surprise, the old man and the little boy clapped.

“Bravo! Bravo! That was absolutely wonderful” He rubbed Robert's head and smiled at him. The boy made his way to the seat and sat down next to him so quietly that Robert didn't even notice. The first thing he did notice was that the boy was wearing a Real Madrid football jersey and then that he smelled like flowers and wood.

“Hi! I’m Takuya!” He said cheerfully, the volume of his voice causing Robert to shrink away and Takuya to swiftly apologise and bow, almost hitting his head on the piano. “Sorry.”

“My… name’s… Robert.” Robert said struggling with the choice to stay seated or run back and hug his Mum.

“Hi, Robert! I liked the way you played but I don’t know that song. You press the keys too lightly, try this!” The excited boy took Robert's hand and when he did, Robert’s cheeks went red and his heart did a little dance that went Ba-dum-dum-dum. He did not let go when the boy placed Robert's hands on the keys and played the song faster and faster until he let go and Robert found that he could play it that fast too. The old man began to clap and sing his own verse.

Up and down the Berlin Street

I can see the Maidens

I try to hide my shame, but then

Pop! goes the weasel!

Robert's mother and the old man began clapping in tune as Robert, too excited to think about what he was doing, began a second verse. Nobody could think of any lyrics, but despite only hearing the song just a few minutes ago, Takuya decided to join in with his own verse.

Robert can play the piano

It makes me very happy

Maestro should give me a new friend

Pop! Goes the weasel!

Everyone laughed at the young boy's childish version of the song. When the laughter died down, the old man looked between the two of them. One of Takuya’s hands was still on Robert's. He sighed longingly to himself. “Love is like a rebellious bird,” he said before putting his hand on both boys' shoulders. “Robert my boy, do you love piano?”

“Yes.”

“And would you like me to teach you how to play?”

“Yes, sir!”

“Wonderful!” The old man wrote something down on a piece of paper and gave it to Robert's mother. He later learned that was the old man's address. “Takuya, I expect you to be kind and help Robert learn. It is my understanding he is quite fragile, so no roughhousing, yes?”

“Yes Maestro!” Takuya said and immediately hugged Robert tightly, causing a panicked mother and an angry teacher.

Robert’s heart went Ba-dum-dum-ba as he cried.

***

V-V-V Victory!

Even from far away for the main building, Robert could tell they had moved on from the serious phase of the Maestro’s funeral to what the Maestro had dubbed his “Late Stage Weeb Period”.

Robert smiled, he also felt he was going to die. He knew he shouldn’t walk this long even with his cane and he grew faint. Light began to separate into single colours and his heart thumped hard in his chest. He thought for sure he was going to collapse, but then felt that arm under him again. This time it stayed long enough to give him recognition.

Ba-dum-dum-ba.

“Takuya?”

The man stood Robert up. He took off his cap to reveal short dyed blond hair and sharp piercing brown eyes. He was as skinny as he was when he was a child but now much taller. He was wearing a Real Madrid jersey, just when like they first met. He winked at Robert and smiled his boyish smile, “Yo.”

Robert sighed. “Yo.”

“Sorry! I know this is a sombre occasion bro, but I can’t! All those stiffs talking about how great he was, he wouldn’t want that! He’d want us to, I don’t know, do something spontaneous.”

Robert relaxed. He knew that he could be himself around his friend and didn't need to put on appearances for appearances’ sake. He relaxed and joined his friend on the bench. Takuya put his arm around Robert’s neck which caused him to flinch.

“Like?” Robert asked.

“I don't know, maybe one of us should go and stick a firework up our ass? Maestro would probably enjoy that. Not me though, I've got a performance in Santiago in three days and I've got a flight to catch.”

“That means I have to do it?”

“Well yeah, if you wanna be spontaneous.”

There was a pause before they both burst out laughing. Takuya produced a bottle of vodka from his bag and waved it in Robert’s face, Robert pushed it away.

“I can’t drink.” He said, dejected.

“Medication?”

“Yeah, scoliosis this time.”

“No way, bro. Mind if I see?”

Before Robert could answer the question, Takuya had his shirt up and was examining his back. No one could see, Robert was beaten red. He was exhausted by this point in the day and he hated the fact that somebody, even his former brother in music, was violating him so. He hated that he could be so casual after everything, everything that happened with Maestro, everything that was left in his lap. “You abandoned us.”

Takuya paused, he did not stop looking at Robert's back.“What?”

“Why did you leave? Robert asked. “Not even a letter! One day you were in our lives; the next, poof.”

“You don’t sound mad about it.”

“That's because I’m not. This isn't one of those angry confessions where I tell you that my life has been really difficult or whatever, that's not what's happening… I just.” Robert paused. He noticed that Takuya wasn’t speaking and there was no movement of his shirt so he continued. “Did you want the playboy lifestyle that much… Wasn’t…”

Takuya spun Robert around and glared at him in a way that showed anger on Takuya’s face for the first time since he had known him. “Don't you dare say it was because of you, Robert. You were the one thing keeping me there. I…” He paused.

“What do you mean?”

“You didn't see it. Obviously, I love Maestro very much dude, but you were so caught up with actually getting the chance to play the piano that you didn't see how much of a hard taskmaster he was. It was so tiring every day having to be perfect 100% of the time and always paying attention when guests came over while you get to be the cute one, just glad to be there. I didn't leave because I wanted to leave you… I—”

“Just glad to be there…”

“Come on, bro that's not what I mean.”

“Do you know what it's like to always be in your shadow, everybody always talking about the perfect child prodigy pianist Takuya Honda? About how he was going to be the next Mozart, or Beethoven or Gershwin or whoever the fuck. And there's me, his little companion, how cute.”

“I’m sorry bro, I know…”

“Do you!?” Robert was yelling now so much that birds had begun to scatter from the trees. He didn't know he could be this angry, he didn't know why he was angry. Of course Takuya could live his own life, he wasn’t suggesting otherwise, but…

“Be spontaneous.” Robert said quietly.

“Hhm?”

“Ever since we met that day at Mrs Benson's school I have loved you! When you first held my hand to help me play the piano, I thought I was going to have a heart attack and die, and then when we finally got to live together, it was the happiest time of my life. It sounds silly, but I thought we were gonna be together forever. I know that sounds so fucking stupid! I'm twenty five and I’m acting like a pathetic schoolkid and—”

Takuya put Robert’s hand on his chest.

Ba-dum-dum-ba.

“It's okay.” Takuya said. “I'm Japanese, we're all about spontaneous love confessions.” He held Robert's hand tightly. “I didn't leave because I wanted a playboy lifestyle. I spent most of my time in America, composing and being a loner. I'm still a virgin, you know! I left because… I loved you too. I just didn’t want you to be in my shadow. You 're your own person with your own dreams and I…”

Robert didn’t know what to do. The panic returned and yet again all sense of judgement went out the window. He kissed Takuya on the lips. “Do you still love me?”

Takuya, while initially shocked, smiled his charming smile. “I do.”

They found themselves in a tight embrace that lasted a long time. It ended when Takuya, unable to hold his emotions, laughed loudly.

“Love is like a rebellious bird indeed, Maestro!”

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