The boy’s bathroom on the second floor was the perfect place for a between class smoke. He’d finished half before a well intended nudge from a buddy brought him back to earth.
“Yo, Kaneda. We’ll be late for English.” Daisuke ran the sink to snuff out the flame of his own cigarette.
“Kaname.” he corrected, irritated enough from being in the building. “This isn’t Neo-Tokyo and I don’t care about English.” The boy flicked an ash harder than he intended, friend rolling his eyes.
“Don’t be like that, man. You’ve got the hair, the red jacket, and isn’t that your favorite movie anyway? It sounds cool, just go with it.” Daisuke was flippant in his reply. “Quit being Mister Doom and Gloom, huh?”
Hagiri blew a lung full of smoke into the other boy’s face, “Dunking your head in a toilet sounds cool, too, but I haven’t done that yet. I’ll get there when I get there.” Daisuke gave a light shrug and left for their class, leaving Hagiri alone. Leaning back against the cold tiles of a school bathroom and staring at the speckled ceiling boards in annoyance.
English. Kaname hated learning English. There were too many tenses. Did he have to learn another style of writing? Especially with silent letters and words with seven meanings. Why did he even pick such a stupid elective? Every other day he was stuck speaking a language he didn’t understand. Damn language teachers. “No Japanese beyond this door, fuck you.” Kaname didn’t care if he was late, he wanted it to be four o’clock so he could start his job or tomorrow when he could finish putting a carburetor together. At least that elective didn’t suck.
Around then he felt the filter burning the tips of his fingers and huffed. Dousing the flame as his friend did, Kaname Hagiri went shambling to to another day of, “Hello, my name is. How are you? Are you hungry? Where’s the bathroom?” Just as he had the rest of his first two months of high school. Tedious. Stupid and tedious.
That night, however, changed his view on the language considerably. Walking into his new place of employment, a little bell on the door announced his arrival. Incense nearly smacking him across the face in the little record shop. A couple - Americans, he guessed by their accents - offered a warm welcome and began to show him around. Signs all in both English and Japanese. The room felt alive in its own way, probably from the turning record currently featured in the establishment. Kaname could pick out a few words here and there - he thought he could. Once in a while, a line would make sense. Midway through his tour, the boy paused to point at the turn table, “English?” He tried not to find the kind laughter of his employers grating as they affirmed his suspicion.
“The Clash. Old record, a classic!” the husband’s eyes brightened, assuming the teenager was more interested in the music than just the money he’d get at the end of the week. “Playing music in English keeps us less homesick,” the man put an arm around his wife, “Japan has some amazing bands, but it’s nice to hear a language we grew up with.” The explanation was jovial. Kaname would grow to expect this attitude from them. Nothing seemed to bring the two down.
His features were tinted with confusion, “I… I never thought English could sound so… nice.” he winced at his own words. Nice? He described the Clash as nice? It was all he could think of at the time. He tried to shrug it off, it was hard enough to admit he liked any aspect of the language at all.
The man’s wife piped up, “Oh, it can sound better than this!” her voice held a promise - one she would keep up over the years. Exposing him to more and more sounds from America and the United Kingdom. “Are you trying to learn it at school?” The boy gave a slow nod - trying wasn’t exactly the word he would’ve chosen. “It’ll be easier if you hear it often,” she gave a wink, “perks of the job. We can always help you with it, too.” It was hard to feel uneasy around the couple. Maybe it was their energy. No, that was stupid. Kaname had long since tried to avoid thinking about that sort of thing near anyone besides his sister. It always led to trouble. He nodded again, this time with more confidence. Rubbing the back of his neck, the boy responded, “That would be very helpful, actually. Teacher’s don’t make it interesting, I can never get into it enough to get it.” An awkward laugh. “Might be failing at this point.” The woman offered him another kind smile and pat him gently on the shoulder, “Well, we’ll see about that.”