Chapter 3: Priorities
When Nino was ten years old, two guys in their late teens caught him off guard in the middle of the street and sought to steal his backpack. They were brandishing knifes. Rivaldo entered the scene yelling, jumping and striking at one of them with a rock he had picked off the ground.
Rivaldo found a way to kick the second guy’s knee in, finishing the fight, but not before getting stabbed himself.
Nino begged his mom to stay in the hospital and wait for Rivaldo to get better again, and he was allowed to do that, so Nino was standing right there when Rivaldo came out laughing and gloating.
“They think they can mess with my friend? HA! Not when I’m around!” The attitude was not appreciated by his mother, Rita. But it was by Nino.
“All I’m saying is I don’t understand why you’d want to watch it live,” Bruno argued, “it’s fine if you like it but–”
“How can you not? You call yourself Brazilian and you don’t like football?” Rivaldo argued.
“Playing it is fun, sure, but watching it is kind of boring,” Bruno commented.
Rivaldo looked at Nino, as if telepathically asking him if he could believe what was being said. Nino received the question loud and clear, and lightly laughed.
“How are we even friends with him, right?” Nino joked.
“Hey, no, that’s different,” Rivaldo backtracked, slapping Bruno on the back, “a guy takes a punch for you, you keep ‘im around.”
Nino glanced at his best friend, thoughtfully considering what he had said. It was the kind of thing he’d say without thinking, instinctually manifesting a spirit of loyalty that was unrivalled, so far as Nino was aware.
“It’d be better if that guy didn’t need to take any more punches, though,” Bruno said with a shrug.
Weeks had passed since the altercation at the football field and no real consequences had come of it. Yet, it was on that day that Nino’s promise to his father would be put to the test, which would be a hardship tiny in comparison to the one Rivaldo was about to experience.
That day, just as they were about to enter the school, Rivaldo got a call from his mother. Nino and Bruno left him to go to class and soon found that Rivaldo had decided to skip. He had left.
“”I guess the call was important, huh?” Bruno mentioned, concerned.
“Hm.” Nino agreed, worried as well.
It was agony, not being able to leave immediately. To not run out of the class, at least, and call Rivaldo to find out what had happened. Instead, he had to stay seated and patiently writhe in wait.
Even when he called, there was nobody picking up. It was deeply upsetting.
“I’m not gonna lie,” Nino said, maintaining his smile, if only to keep himself from getting desperate, “this is freaking me out.”
“We can’t do anything about it, man,” Bruno pointed out. “He’ll tell us what’s up eventually, we gotta wait. Or can you call his mom?”
“It’s busy,” Nino said, annoyed, “”I’ll try again before class starts.”
“Man,” Bruno said, looking up through the blonde hair that made up his fringe, “I really wonder what’s going on.”
Nino wasn’t satisfied with just wondering. His mind was at work, savagely trying to figure out what he could do, starting with what could be done.
I could ask a teacher but that’s stupid, Rivaldo’s only been missing for a couple of hours, Nino thought, I could try and call my mom so she can figure it out.
Nino decided to do that. Luckily, Aiko did pick up the phone. Without sounding desperate, but still sounding worried so that she would take him seriously, he told Aiko what had happened and asked her to find out.
“I’ll track down Rita and find out what’s going on,” Aiko said in her Japanese, pretty promptly.
“Sorry, mom,” Nino said, also in his Japanese, “I know it’s probably nothing but–”
“No,” his mother interrupted, “Now I’m also worried. Just try and focus over there, okay?”
How could Nino focus at a time like that? He wouldn’t know, and indeed he didn’t. Instead, his mind wandered into realms of fantasy in which Rivaldo was in danger and Nino could actually help. A number of scenarios went through his head, all of them involving armed men trying to hurt his best friend.
Because that’s what had happened to Nino himself, years beforehand. The way Rivaldo had acted had upset the adults, but that’s because they didn’t get it.
Nino could see how everyone was so self-absorbed. Their well-being came first, no matter what, and Nino understood that. When Rivaldo risked his life for him that day, Nino knew for sure he would never have done the same.
He still felt ashamed about it, even after all that time. More than that, Nino thought it was so impressive Rivaldo could put others ahead of himself. It was heroic, something straight out of a television show. It was too cool.
It was something Nino wished to have.
Nino shook his own head and returned his attention to the class to see the teacher pointing at him.
“Alright, glad you could join us, young man. I asked you a question,” the teacher said.
“Why?” Nino asked.
“What?” The teacher asked in turn, confused.
“Why’d you ask me a question? I’m obviously not paying attention,” Nino complained, smiling but not hiding his annoyance at all.
In response, the teacher pointed at the door and announced, “detention.”
“What?” Nino said, gesturing appropriate surprise.
He looked aside to find a couple sort of making out, not paying attention in the slightest. Nino gestured towards them. “Like…why?”
“Just go before I send you to the principal’s office,” the teacher said, visibly uninterested in discussing the issue.
“Tch,” Nino reacted, angry, smiling ironically at the fact the teacher had picked the worst time to get on his case. “Fine.”
Nino pulled the backpack around both shoulders and left the classroom, an action that was alas too noticeable since he was one of the last people anyone had ever seen get in trouble. A good well-behaved polite student.
Nino couldn’t help but protest in his mind. I behave like they want me to all the time. I’m not paying attention once and I get instantly punished? Nino slammed the door on his way out, disgruntled.
As Nino was making his way across the hall, downcast, his mobile vibrated to alert him about the arrival of a message.
“I need your help,” it read, followed by an address. It was sent by Rivaldo.
Nino started writing back, to ask what had happened, but he stopped himself. He knew Rivaldo, he had almost never directly asked for help. Any nudge from Nino would probably make Rivaldo change his mind and take on whatever was going on by himself.
Nino looked towards the exit of the school.
Nobody was around the halls except for one other student who was heading out to detention, but there would be the guards at the gate. However, Nino could go near the football field and jump out that way, that’s usually how students got in and out without being stopped.
Nino remembered his father, however. The warning he’d given and the promise Nino had made. If he skipped school now, especially when he had been sent to detention, they would notice it immediately.
Imagining having to deal with his father made Nino choke. Picturing the interaction physically squeezed his chest with dread.
Nino read the message again. He did a quick search on the address and found it was right next to a hospital.
What happened? What’s going on? Nino questioned in his mind, beyond worried.
The possibility that Rivaldo would be skipping class for no reason was very low. A plea for help next to a hospital? It had to be serious.
It occurred to Nino he could feign ignorance. Pretend he didn’t see the message. He knew Rivaldo, his friend wouldn’t completely believe Nino but he wouldn’t blame him either seeing as Nino didn’t know what was going on.
Rivaldo had never treated Nino differently for not sticking up for him in the same way he did for Nino. On the other hand, Nino felt their friendship would never be the same, whatever he decided. It’d either be better or worse.
That was the main reason why Nino made a fist and glared towards the door he have to choose to leave the school.
Sorry, dad, Nino thought, but you’re nothing next to a stabbing wound.
If Rivaldo was willing to getting stabbed for Nino, Nino was sure willing to getting yelled at by his father for the sake of his friend. He had to be.
If Nino ever wanted to be like Rivaldo, loyal and heroic, he had to be capable of something that small.
Nino stepped towards the door, slowly and cautiously.
And then he ran.
These are journal entries from the protagonist of the comic book Aegis Omega. If you’re not familiar with the story, I invite you to change that and read up on it:
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