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The Games of Autumn

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"This luggage is so big Le Ping could fit in it," Shindou groused, lugging said luggage across Waya's tatami with some truly theatrical groans.

"That's nice," said Waya.  

"Mmm," said Isumi. 

Shindou didn't seem to notice that he wasn't being noticed. He kicked the luggage lightly with his foot. "I still think we should throw all your stuff out the window and hope for the best. Put a cushion down there or something. Isn't that how normal people move stuff?"

"How would you know, Mr. Still-lives-at-home?" Waya shot back. He was feeling intensely grouchy right now. "You should be grateful that my luggage has wheels on it. You see that hallway? See it? It's over thirty metres! You know how many trips I had to make when I was moving in? No, you don't! Because you didn't help me move in when I was moving in!"

"Your sentences are getting worse," Isumi murmured. Contrary to his placid tone, he was tossing things into a packing box willy-nilly. Waya didn't care; he had stopped worrying about the bent corners on his magazine collection when he realized that he kind of hated his magazine collection; it was huge and disorganized and heavy.

"Okay, okay," Shindou grouched back. "Should I just carry this luggage out into the hallway now? It's in the way. And there's already so much of your other other junk in the way."

Waya took a calming breath, nodded, and closed his eyes for a moment. It was no use; he could still visualize the junkyard his apartment had turned into. The explosion of stuff. Just—stuff. All sorts of useless trinkets and snacks and random papers, now scattered across his tatami as if a thief had busted in, torn the place apart, and walked out when he'd seen how dirt poor Waya was. Speaking of dirt...gah, the dust! So much dust! He'd never realized what a fine collection he'd gathered over the years. Probably because he hadn't vacuumed in...

Well, he didn't own a vacuum.

"Hekusho!" Isumi sneezed.

"You know, Isumi-san," Shindou said. He was leaning against the luggage, definitely not moving it into the hallway like he'd said he would. "I swear Le Ping is in love with you. He's constantly talking about you. And sneaking into your luggage."

Waya stirred from his dust-induced stupor. "Why are we talking about this."

"I keep thinking he'll outgrow it." Isumi sniffed and rubbed at his eyes. "Literally, I mean."

"That kid needs to hit his growth spurt. He looks just like a baby Waya. It's so creepy when he fawns over you."

Waya stirred some more. "Are you saying I look creepy?!"

"I'm saying it looks creepy when a twelve-year-old version of you tries to throw itself at Isumi-san."

The object of the conversation cleared its throat. "Let's change the subject."

"Yeah," said Shindou. "Let's talk about...the weather or something."

Outside, the wind and rain howled noisily. Waya closed his eyes again. All his crap was going to get crappier when it got soaked. He could just picture the three of them standing behind Isumi's k-car, arguing in the pouring rain as they tried to shove all his boxes and that damn luggage into the tiny trunk, like a bad game of Tetris or something.

"I'm sorry," he bit out. "I didn't know we'd have a storm today."

"Not your fault," said Isumi. "It's the season. Weather report said it would be rainy, but not like this."

"Yeah." Waya gave him a wan, if grateful smile. "If only my landlord weren't so pushy, we could leave it for another day."

"Agh, why is your door so heavy? Why does it shut by itself?" demanded Shindou, who had finally brought the luggage down into the genkan. He was standing with one hand on the plastic luggage handle, and another hand propping open the door to the hallway; the door was winning. "Argh," he explained succinctly.

The problem was the high bottom ridge of the door frame. As Waya looked on in tired fascination, Shindou tried rolling the luggage over the metal piece; the result was an awful grating noise, not just from wheels churning against metal but from anger churning within Shindou. "Why is this stupid metal thing in the way?"

"Because that's what cheap apartment doors are like, you ingrate."

"I don't even know what that means!"

"I'm not sure either!"

"And that's what I get from hanging out with people who never went to high school," Isumi sighed. He abandoned his terrible packing job (good, thought Waya, who moved to take over Isumi's spot), stalked over to the little genkan, leaned across Shindou and the villainous luggage, and propped his hand against the equally villainous door. Shindou gave him a big, fat, fake smile.

"Thank you, Isumi-san! You are so nice. Unlike the person I am helping to move."

"I am nice," Isumi said, sounding like he regretted it.

With a great battle cry (hwaaaaaa!) Shindou heaved the luggage over the high door frame and out of Waya's apartment forever. Somehow, nothing broke or fell over, human included. Then Shindou stumbled back into the apartment (Isumi skedaddled aside), letting the door fall shut behind him with an expressive bang!

"Moving sucks," he said succinctly.

Waya bit back a retort that went along the lines of, "How would you know, Mr. Still-lives-at-home?" (He really needed a new retort) and said, "Yeah yeah yeah, thanks for the free labour."

Shindou flopped onto the floor. "I don't feel appreciated."

"Thank you, oh great and generous one, for your tons and tons of super gracious help."

"That's better."

There was a distinct coughing sound. "Ahem."

"You too, Isumi-san."

"Glad to."

They packed in sulky, moving-day silence for a while. Things moved slowly into boxes. For a while they were almost competent at what they were doing.

But inevitably, as all packers do, the three of them started commenting on stuff.

"Why so many Korean souvenirs, Shindou?" Waya gazed deep into a chintzy pseudo-lacquer bowl supposedly meant for storing go stones. "It's not like I haven't been to Korea myself. I am a professional go player."

"See if I ever buy you gifts again," Shindou muttered.

"You bought this for yourself and realized you didn't want it, huh?"

Shindou shifted some old newspapers around shiftily. "You accepted it so you can't blame me."

"You just have an obsessive compulsive buying disorder."

"And you have an obsessive compulsive keeping disorder."

"It's true you don't like throwing things away, Waya," Isumi said a bit more tactfully. "I'm surprised at how much you managed to keep in an apartment this size."

"Yeah, Waya, you really should get rid of half this stuff."

"A lot of these things are important to me." Waya cradled an old PS2 game to his chest. "Look, we used to play Tekken Tag all the time, remember?"

"But we haven't played in forever."

"We should play right now."

Shindou put down the stack of newspaper clippings he was supposed to be packing. "I could go for that."

"No no no," Isumi groaned. "I knew this would happen, and I must stop it." He picked up the abandoned newspaper stack. "Look, I'll help you decide what to throw away—hey, is this me?"

Shindou peered down at the top article. "Nice, Isumi-san. This is when you were doing that university event. I didn't know you got a photo in a regular paper."

"Neither did I."

"You didn't?" Waya shoved his butt over to sit next to Isumi, who was staring at the (extremely short, unenthusiastic, layman's) news article as if it were a really good, in-depth game record. "I thought your parents would've seen it so I didn't mention it to you."

Shindou was rifling through the rest of the papers. "Here's a mention of me and's one of Morishita-sensei...oh, Nase gets mentioned in this one about insei, that's why you have it."

"Waya," said Isumi, who sounded a bit odd. "You've been keeping all these?"

"I'm not sure you're surprised. It's pretty normal to keep newspaper articles about your friends."

"Is it?" Shindou held up one small article up to the light, as if he were checking for signs of forgery. "Oh man, you even have one of Ochi!" 

"...and your rivals. It's not like I go looking for them. My parents see go articles in the paper once in a while and save them for me. Especially if someone I know is mentioned."

"Whaaaat, your parents know all your friends' names?"

"Yeah, they're nosy as hell. Aren't yours?"

Shindou gave him a seriously weirded out look and went back to scanning the articles.

"Some of these are terribly written," Isumi pointed out. "The reporters have no idea about go."

"Yeah," Waya shrugged. "But it's still pretty cool to see you guys in the news. The normal news I mean."

Shindou put down the photo of Ochi. "Waya, you are a serious packrat. Don't ever change."

"Are you making fun of me?"

"Yes," said Shindou, "but I mean it too." He gestured around at the exploded apartment. "This place is so you. Look at it."

"You are definitely making fun or me."

"I think I know what he means," Isumi said quickly, "although I agree he's saying it in a strange way. Waya, you don't just keep things, you keep...people. But not like slaves or anything," he added, seeing Waya's look.

"You're the reason we still see Nase and Fuku and Komiya and them," Shindou jumped in. "And why we can be friends with Ochi in our off hours."

"Kind of friends," said Waya.

"You don't throw things away, and you don't throw people away," Shindou went on in a more serious tone, and Waya wondered what he was thinking. "You seem incapable of it."

"Thanks, I think."

Shindou looked around the apartment again, a bit less disapproving now. "We had a lot of good times in this ugly place. And no one killed Ochi even once."

"It's so cramped in here we had to get along," Isumi said. "In a way, it was perfect."

"You guys are terrible at compliments." But Waya liked hearing it from them, these words of appreciation. It helped him understand why he'd put up with the tiny closet space, the cockroaches, the dead mouse he found under the tatami last summer, the flu that felt like death incarnate in December. The days alone eating crappy convenience store bento and dreaming of his mom's home cooking, or at least the family restaurant down the street. The teasing and nagging from his friends. The rent.

He'd left the comfort of his family home for go, but not just his own, he realized. It was also for their go, his friends' go, because it was all a one, all the brilliant and idiotic games they made with each other. For the time Honda-san formed that ladder sequence that blew them all away; for the time they played six one-colour games all at once and ran out of white stones. For the round robins, for the sparks of great insight that only came into being in the heat of true battle. For the time they invented map go, whatever that was (the beer he remembered, the games he did not). For the times they stayed here far late into the night, arguing life and death over the goban as other, faraway games flickered into life on his second-hand television screen, images reflecting with vivid clarity on wide, too-awake eyes. 

"It's harder to leave than you thought, huh?"

Waya looked up, at Shindou, who had spoken.

"Yeah," said Waya, unmoving, as if under a spell. "Never thought I'd feel so sentimental over this ugly old place."

As if on cue, a sharp cold wind whistled through the gaps in the moulding (whoooooooooOOOOoooo) while a gnarled black tree branch visibly tapped against the cheap single-paned widows (clack clack clack) like an intruder asking to be let in. 

"But it's time to move on," Isumi said, in a more practical tone.

"Hell yes," said Waya.

They finished packing, working efficiently now. Then they hauled the big luggage and all the boxes down the long hallway, working together to carry the clunky old TV. After several trips on the elevator they managed to get everything to the doorway leading to the parking lot, where Isumi's clown car waited.

They looked at each other, at the cardboard boxes in their arms, at the rain sleeting horizontally outside the windows.

"It's gonna be gross out there," Waya lamented.

"It's gross in here too," said Shindou. "Cockroach!"

Isumi jumped. "Where?"

"I was kidding."

Rolling his eyes, Waya pushed open the door with his hip. With only a little grumbling, the three of them stepped out into the storm, one after another.