by Tari Gwaemir
Ryoma and Shinji consider the advantages and disadvantages of privilege.
One of Ibu Shinji's more surprising qualities, reflected Ryoma, was his conservative streak. Or perhaps old-fashioned was the better word. He had an instinctive sense of hierarchy, and as far as tennis was concerned, the Echizen name was as close to aristocracy as one could get. Shinji considered himself nouveau riche--or more specifically, a "self-made man"--and accordingly bore the middle-class disdain and fascination for pedigree.
They played tennis with all their usual intensity, and Ryoma could almost outline the beginnings of a style--a rhythm peculiar to their games together, characterized by Shinji's meticulous and ruthless strategy and Ryoma's perfect form. He puzzled over it sometimes, wondering if there was some unnoticeable change in his playing style to make the feel of a match with Shinji so immediately identifiable. But once the match was over, that strange familiarity disappeared. Shinji exchanged one form of hostility for another, the cold distance with which one treats a stranger, and his habit of thinking aloud lapsed into uncomfortable silence. He regarded Ryoma with the disapproval that a frugal burgher has for the nobleman's excesses. To Shinji, Ryoma lived in privileged circumstances: an elite school providing ample funding for tennis, a club with upperclassmen worth playing, a larger tennis community that recognized his talents, and most of all, a legacy and a motivation. Shinji by contrast had to work for his talent and built his genius, despite his own family's utter lack of interest.
"Father only cares about which high schools I'm applying to," Shinji told Ryoma in one of his more loquacious moods. "He doesn't know how to hold a racket. Mother dislikes sports. I learned tennis from watching tournaments on television and sitting on the sidelines at the street courts." He did not say, unlike you, but Ryoma heard it nevertheless.
"When did you start playing yourself?"
"One of the older boys gave me his old racquet when he bought a new one, and I picked up some old tennis balls. I borrowed a book from the library and followed the illustrations."
Somewhat embarrassed, Ryoma looked down at his bag, which held his three rackets and several rolls of grip tape.
"You know, Echizen, sometimes I think you're too arrogant, and it annoys me that you have the luck to go to Seigaku and play against people like your father everyday, but I think you've lost something pretty important."
"Well, tennis is like your native language. You've never really learned it; you picked it up as you were growing up, and now you speak it so fluently that you don't need to think about it. But native speakers often don't appreciate their language; it's the foreigners who struggle to speak and understand it that really fall in love with it. The little details of how the racket swings, how the ball spins, how the feet step--you know them all instinctively and perhaps you can even discuss them knowledgeably, but they seem prosaic to you, don't they? I bet you haven't ever thought about how those details fit into a larger structure, how the pieces can be rearranged to create new techniques, new plays--"
"All right, enough with the metaphor. You're certainly waxing poetic today, Ibu."
"Shut up, Echizen," Shinji muttered and stopped talking himself. They walked companionably down the street, their footsteps in unison.
As they reached the entrance to the courts, Shinji stopped and said quietly, "Still, someone who speaks tennis like you do--"
Echizen tugged at his cap and smirked. "Oi, hurry up. Don't you want to play?"