"Your go is made of money."
Ochi was not sure what that meant.
"You've been in a slump lately, yeah?" The six-dan flashed a set of crooked, yellowing teeth; he had to be a smoker, with a mouth like that. "Looked at your game record—meteoric rise as an insei, passed the pro exam with just two losses, won your Shin Shodan game, great win-loss record in your first six months—a teeny-weeny baby thirteen year old, suddenly a star!"
The teeth disappeared behind the six-dan's frown. "But then you tried to make it into the big leagues. Second round of the Meijin prelims—lost by five moku. The second round of the Tengen prelims—lost by six. Samsung Cup—out before you began. It was like you'd hit a wall. And now," the six-dan leaned an elbow on the goban, careful not to disturb the few stones laid in joseki, "you're gonna lose in the first round of the Kisei prelims, by, I'm betting, at least four stones, to a washed-up has-been who's been a six-dan for three years. And you know why? Because your go is made of money."
Ochi still didn't know what that meant. He tried to look as bored as possible. "Are you going to play? Or will you let your game clock wind down and down, until I win by default?"
The six-dan made a show of licking his teeth—his gross, smoke-stained teeth—before slamming a stone down on a completely predictable spot in the bottom left. "Money money money," he hissed, as if Ochi cared.
- 0 - 0 -
Ochi won by two and a half moku.
- 0 - 0 -
And then Ochi went home.
"Suzuki-san," he said to his driver, wondering as he always did what it must feel like to have such a common name, "if I were to take the train home, how long would it take?"
Suzuki answered without missing a beat. "It would take at least one hour and thirty minutes at this time of day."
"What a waste of time."
Ochi looked out the window, at the train speeding by over his head. He thought: look at all those poor fools crammed inside. He could hardly imagine what it was like, being that close to so many strangers. The only person Ochi had to put up with during transit was his driver.
"You must spend hours every day in this car," he noted aloud.
"Don't you find that a waste of time?"
Ochi heard nothing implying the presence of emotion in the man.
"Suzuki-san, have you ever considered playing a game against me?"
A pause. "No."
"But you play go, don't you?"
"My grandfather said you started playing because of me."
Another pause. "Your go inspired me."
Suzuki said nothing more.
Ochi was tired of trying to talk to the man. He was tired of having to think up all the questions, tired of trying to understand why he was asking them. The real questions in the back of his mind—Is my go made of money? What does that mean?—were not the kinds of things you asked your driver. Especially not a driver like Suzuki, who always did what he was supposed to do. It was hard to find help like that. So impeccably reticent. Ochi didn't want to risk ruining that. It would inconvenience his family.
He tapped a finger against his slacks, then stopped himself. He'd been doing that more lately—tapping his fingers aimlessly. He had to stop it before it became a habit. He used to just do it in bathrooms, after a loss—
He didn't like thinking about that. He reminded himself of his win today, of the great cut he'd made into the middle of the board, splitting the territory of that six-dan like it was nothing. That man was nothing—all talk, all empty threats, a player who relied on pathetic mind tricks that didn't even work.
Ochi smiled to himself. Attacking through words never worked unless you could attack on the board too. Ochi knew that well enough.
But then his smile faded. He hadn't found a lot of reason for bravado lately. The people he used to taunt without mercy—Isumi-san during the pro exam, Waya in the year afterward, and Shindou, Shindou most of all—Ochi wasn't advancing much faster than they were. In fact Shindou had made it to the third round in the Kisei league, and under the new rules his dan level was now higher than Ochi's, despite those months of forfeits on his record. It was maddening. It wasn't right. It was—
"Our arrival will be delayed by fifteen minutes," Suzuki reported. "There is a traffic jam that we cannot avoid. You will be late for your appointment with Kannai-sensei. I apologize."
"That's fine," Ochi said. He'd been startled out of his thoughts, and his words came out clumsily. "It's not your fault."
Suzuki did not reply.
Ochi settled deeper into the leather seats, sighing inwardly. For whatever reason, he could not wait to get out of this car.
- 0 - 0 -
His parents were never home at this time of day. It was just him and his grandfather.
Ochi's grandfather opened the door himself, instead of having the housekeeper do it. He had a wide, indulgent smile on his face.
"You won today."
Ochi did not smile back. "It was nothing. My opponent was pathetic."
"A six-dan though! Two ranks above yours."
Ochi tried not to grit his teeth. Being a four-dan was not a bragging point.
"Kannai nine-dan is here." Ochi's grandfather moved aside to let Ochi in, and the door closed behind them with a genteel, oaken thud. "He's waiting in the living room for you. He's been telling me about his game against Kurata-sensei. What a wild one, that Kurata! I suppose that's the kind of go you get from someone who used to bet on horse races."
Ochi, who was hanging up his coat, grimaced in distaste. He didn't like Kurata-sensei much. Kurata was another prodigy—another strange one. It was Kurata who'd decided Shindou, not Touya, should play Ko Yeongha during the Hokuto Cup. No one else would have done that. It was like betting on the loser in a horse race.
"I hope you and Kannai-sensei are done discussing that game?" Ochi said coolly.
His grandfather gave him a surprised look. "I suppose so. But you two should discuss it too. It might provide some good insight. Kurata is pretty young, but he's done well for himself."
"No thanks." Ochi grimaced again. "I don't play his kind of go."
Ochi's grandfather made a non-committal grunt. "Yes, I suppose that's true."
But during the session with Kannai nine-dan, Ochi wondered in the back of his mind what kind of go he did play. How would someone who didn't know him describe it? It was strong, solid go, that was a certainty. It had never failed him until now.
"You're playing quite aggressively, Ochi-kun," said Kannai-sensei. He was a stern, solid man, with a large frame and thick fingers. His go was the same—stern, solid, thick. He built good defenses and planned ahead carefully. Right now he was placing a stone in just the right place to both fortify his strongholds and launch his attack on Ochi's bottom right corner—later, at a more opportune time. He would not attack the centre, Ochi was sure. "We'll discuss it after, but your move just now might have cost you the game."
Ochi felt a surge of annoyance. He was almost always annoyed at something, but today he was extra annoyed. "We're both pros, Kannai-sensei. You don't need to act as if you're my teacher."
Off to the side, Ochi's grandfather sucked in a breath. He covered it up by sucking in some tea as well, but it hardly mattered; Kannai already had a dark crease between his brows. "I see," said the pro, and laid his next stone. It was not in the place Ochi had hoped it would be.
"Ah—" Ochi's grandfather stuttered. "Perhaps I should get us some more tea." He stood, took one step toward the kitchen, then belatedly grabbed the tea tray from the side table. He wasn't used to getting tea for himself. "I'll be back soon," he added unnecessarily.
Ochi felt a small pang of remorse at that. He'd shown disrespect to this nine-dan, a man his grandfather had hired on Ochi's behalf. You need to play higher dans more often, Kousuke, his grandfather had said. You usually don't get the chance until you're out of the prelims. I'll arrange some teaching games.
Ochi had told him it was unseemly for a pro to ask another pro for a teaching game.
Oh, then I'll call them over to teach me, and they can also play you. I do want some tutoring for myself, of course. But the point is to get more experience for you. Don't worry about the expense. Ochi's grandfather had smiled affably, waving away the problem with a small gesture of his hand. I'll take care of it.
Another voice bled into Ochi's memory. Your go is made of money. Money money money.
Just as his grandfather shuffled back into the living room, tea tray balanced between soft, pudgy hands, Ochi slammed his reply on the board. "I'm not going to play like I usually do," he said aloud.
The tea tray rattled between his grandfather's hands.
- 0 - 0 -
Ochi lost by two and a half moku.