Masashi didn’t think that Katsuji was special just because he was in the sixth grade. He was big, that was all—big and loud. When Masashi got fed up with Katsuji, he would call him turtle inside his stomach and pick on the turtle.
Masashi was only a year younger than Katsuji, but this difference caused him endless problems. So did being small for his age. This spring alone had shown that.
Rehearsals for the village festival had been underway for a week. Katsuji had moved to the flute section this year; meanwhile, Masashi was still playing kane, a dish-shaped bell pronounced kah-neh. That’s right—his fingers were too short to cover the holes of a horizontal bamboo flute, even if he stretched. This might have been bearable on its own, but now some fifth and sixth grade girls had also joined the kane section, so Katsuji had to play with girls. Spring festival was supposed to be a men’s event. But the village had grown too small for its boys and men to cover all the parts.
With just a few days to go, intense practice sessions were running nightly, but Masashi could not muster his usual excitement. He felt cheated getting stuck on kane again, and with girls.
The gap between him and Katsuji showed when they walked home from school too.
“Here, I’ll coach you. Play your part from the top,” Katsuji ordered Masashi. He pantomimed holding a kane in the palm of one hand and striking it with a mallet.
“I don’t have my instrument,” Masashi replied.
“You don’t need it!” Katsuji sneered. “Chant the pattern. Masahiko’s dad taught me how, when I started. You go like this. To-te-to-te-chin . . .” Katsuji chanted a section and motioned for Masashi to take over.
Masashi didn’t want to if he didn’t have to, but out of habit, when he saw Katsuji glare at him in his signature way, he smiled and nodded. Even he thought this was pathetic. You never give a thought to people’s feelings. Masashi clicked his tongue at the turtle in his stomach. But even the turtle seemed oblivious and began chanting to-te-to-te-chin. Masashi looked at Katsuji, surprised.
“What?” Katsuji said. “Let’s hear it!”
Katsuji’s arrogance put Masashi in a sour mood. He positioned his air kane grumpily. “To-te-to-te-chin. To-te-tote-chin, to-te. To-te-to-te-chin.”
“Idiot. How many years have you played? It’s like this. To-te-to-te-chin, to-te. To-te, ton, chin.” Katsuji was right.
Masashi adjusted his stance and “played” again. As he chanted, he got caught up in the cadence and imagined the festival lion dancing to it.
Katsuji added accent-calls: “Yo! a-so-re!”
Soon Masashi could nearly feel his kane vibrate against his fingertips, and hear it clang its steady rhythm. His stomach seemed to have a smaller, slower turtle inside. That turtle was him. “Katsun-chan, it’s still a men’s festival, right? Even with girls?” Masashi asked Katsuji.
“Of course!” Katsuji bellowed. “And you’re the only boy who’s played kane before. So you better hit well enough for both of us.”
“Leave it to me,” Masashi replied.
He watched as Katsuji puffed out his chest and straightened his posture, then pretended to play his flute. His fingers fluttered nimbly over the “holes.”
Masashi yelled turtle! at the thing he had become in his stomach. He looked back at Katsuji. He felt himself laugh. To disguise the laugh, he started to chant his part again loudly: To-te-to-te-chin.
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