ON A STREET IN INNOSHIMA
by Tari Gwaemir
Touya listens, for Shindou.
They are walking down the street, side by side, one early summer afternoon, when Shindou grabs Touya by the shoulder and pulls him to the side. Touya starts to turn and ask bemusedly, "What on earth is wrong with you, Shindou?" but before he can move or speak, Shindou tightens his grip and whispers in his ear, "Listen!"
Touya, still confused, closes his mouth and obediently stays silent for a moment, but all he can hear are the wails of seagulls from a not-too-distant shore. He looks back over his shoulder and sees Shindou's face as intense and serious as it is over a game. He listens more carefully, but he only recognizes the soft low murmur of waves brushing against sand.
"Shindou," he says softly.
The boy behind him sighs, a strange sad sound, and lets go of his shoulder. Touya waits.
"For a moment, I thought I heard a flute."
"He used to play a flute."
They walk to the deserted bus stop and sit on the curb to wait. Touya takes out a portable goban, and they lay out the first hands of a new game. The sun is unusually bright, the sky unusually blue, and Touya smells the saltwater in the air. He picks up a stone and hesitates, distracted by a childhood memory of building sand castles at a beach. He shakes his head and looks back down at the board; there are new castles to be built here.
"Isn't it a mystery?" Shindou asks, his chin in one hand. "When death comes...not all of us will sleep. We might wander for years and years instead, never knowing rest."
Touya places his stone. "Then, do you think he's finally at peace now?"
Shindou squints at the board, frowning. "I don't know. I hope so." He fingers the smooth wooden slats of his fan and flips it open and closed.
Touya says, a bit stiffly, a bit unsteadily, "If you wander, Shindou, still searching for the Hand of God, I'll be there with you, alive or dead, to be your opponent until you rest."
"How gloomy!" Shindou exclaims and sets down a stone.
The bus arrives twenty minutes later. As they stand and brush the dust off their shorts, Shindou reaches out for Touya's hand, covers it briefly with his own, then quickly shuffles a step away. Touya smiles to himself and pretends not to notice.
In his seat by the open window, he hears the wind and traffic rushing past, the click of stones against the plastic board, and--if he closed his eyes--the faint high melody of an ancient flute.