Chapter 7: The Ultimatum.
Nino had always been level headed and had always expected to be level headed. He handled being robbed without despair, bullied without drama. He handled the pressure of tests and his father’s expectations with the ever-present, ever-pressed awareness that his life was a good one.
Those two cops, however, had convinced him that no. Life was not good. His head was in a panic and his thoughts disheveled. He would do anything to survive the situation, with Rivaldo.
Yet, even swamped by fear, his mind still came through. These cops hated street thugs. They hated them.
“They attacked us, okay??” Nino said. He wasn’t really angry or vindictive, but he felt he needed to be, that’s what they would understand. To that effect, he tried to redirect his anguish and re-purpose his desperation. “They killed his brother! Or came damn near close, he’s in the hospital, they were just going to go at him again. And they’d come at us, too, what were we supposed to do? Who do we go to?!”
On that last part, Nino hatefully tried to stand up towards the nearest of them, who promptly kicked him back down. Nino took the hit and exaggerated a bit on how much it hurt.
Lying on the floor, he whimpered, beaten and crying. Nino whimpered, attempting to do it as ravenously as possible.
“We tried to do something on our own…” he confided amidst tears. “What else are we supposed to do…? I don’t know, neither of us knew. We just–…please don’t kill us.”
Nino glanced, peeking at the cop to see what his reaction was. As much as he was still irreverently lacking compassion, he seemed to believe Nino.
Nino didn’t need their compassion. The cops didn’t need to like or approve of them, or to want to help them, or to be sad or anything.
He just needed the officers not to kill them.
They looked at the other guy.
“So? Any o’ dat ring a bell?”
Either because it really was confusing, or because he knew it was true. Or maybe it was due to him knowing that any of the people who had died could have done that and he just wasn’t sure about it. For whatever reason, he hesitated on the reply.
That doomed him.
“I don’t know, man!” The guy tried. “It’s the favela, a lotta people get hurt!”
“Yeah, but only a few of them do the hurting, scumbag. Whatever,” Nino heard a scuffle on the floor.
“Get outta here, you animal,” the officer demanded.
Nino heard running, scared they had decided to believe him. Then, a gunshot sounded out, either after or before the guy’s dying yelp.
Nino didn’t flinch with the sound of the gunshot, which might have been a problem, but the officers didn’t notice.
“And these two?”
The leader snarled in annoyance.
“I guess we take them in. Maybe they got the right people and they’re safe. Maybe their parents are decent.”
“We don’t have any proof that they killed anyone,” the man nearest Nino noted, a bit too calmly.
“We have this one’s confession,” the leader said.
“You know the judge never likes those confessions, though. Guy might not do propely officially, once he’s safe.”
The leader walked next to the officer standing next to Nino. He could hear his footsteps.
“What’s your point? We should just kill them? C’mon. If we’re sure they’re scumbags, sure, who’s to say who died in a firefight? But c’mon, you know as well as I do maybe these’re just some kids retaliating. It sucks but it’s how things are. If they got us fooled, ey, there’s always another day.”
“Your call, boss. There’ll always be another day, for sure,” he said, kicking Nino back down as he, in his attentiveness, had crouched up to a partly firm kneeling position.
“Damn right,” the leader said.
Nino continued crying. He was afraid of showing relief, lest that be somehow interpreted as a sign he had successfully fooled them. Besides, he was about to be arrested and that meant that what he’d done was going to be public.
His parents would find out.
Nino was torn about the despair he felt over his father knowing and the sadness over his mother knowing. Despite everything he’d gone through, now, he just wanted to die and be gone from the world. He didn’t want to face his parents.
But the cops didn’t care. He was thrown into a police van along with Rivaldo and driven to a precinct to be processed.
Nino gave out his name, his parents were contacted.
Despite the dread, regret didn’t cross Nino’s mind. Everything was terrible, horrifying, but what else could they have done? Nino’s only option, to not have been there, would have been to abandon Rivaldo to his fate.
He would be dead, and that, Nino would regret.
Yeah…no matter what happens, I’m sure that would’ve been worse, Nino thought to himself – told himself – trying to be convincing. He mostly succeeded.
By the time his father arrived, by his own, Nino had run out of tears, and energy. He had played the encounter over in his head a thousand times and he had seen no way out of it. In that situation, the best thing was just to stay quiet and take what was coming to him.
He was alive. Rivaldo was alive. His father, despite being stern and hard, was not some gun-toting maniac after his life. So Nino was truly without fear when the man finally arrived.
Nino kept his eyes down, in defeat. He was sure his father’d want to see that. His father liked seeing Nino aware he had done wrong, and ashamed of it, it was much better to not being convinced he had screwed up.
“It will be easy getting you out of here,” his father finally said, after a tense pause. “You’re a minor. And you were being chased by people trying to kill you. Whatever happened was in self-defense.”
Nino nodded, in agreement but also in the understanding that that would be his story. He waited for longer seconds, finding it actually odd. His father was no enemy of awkward silences, but he always put their weight on Nino. He’d ask the question and wait, however long, for a response.
This time, it was on him. It was a weird feeling.
“…tell me, Nino. Is it really my son that I’m getting out of prison?”
Nino raised an eyebrow and looked up at his father. Out of a thousand speculations, he had not expected that to be asked.
“Or is it really Rivaldo’s friend that’s just using me?”
Nino flinched. Those were harsher words that had ever been used on him.
“Is it really Aiko’s son who I’m getting out of prison? Or is it just another piece of filth that’s using her to get back on the streets? And cause people more pain?”
Nino glanced down in defeat. I guess I deserve that but… Nino hiccupped, the question being too much for him.
“I’m your son,” Nino said, dejectedly. “Aiko’s my mom.”
Nino flinched back heavily startled. Everyone in the cell did, and most of them were hardcore criminals, but nobody saw his father’s outburst coming. He spammed and rammed his hand against it. His voice went uncontrolled, a tone Nino had never heard before, even if it wasn’t loud. Or especially because it wasn’t loud.
“You. Are not convincing!”
“Dad…” Nino said, pleadingly.
“You prove it, damn you. You’ll have to prove it…”
His father turned and walked away before Nino could say anything, which wasn’t hard, Nino was stunned enough that his mind went blank.
One of the thugs sharing his cell whistled.
“Damn, man, your father’s intense,” another one said.
“You call that intense?” Yet another said, “my dad’s waiting for me back in prison, he’s probably gonna kill me for going back in.”
“Hey, at least you got someone,” the whistler said with a longing sigh. “All I got coming for me is whatever reject the state’s picked to be my lawyer.”
Nino had not gotten the why question. On top of that, the intensity had indeed been unexpected. Or maybe not the intensity but…the words themselves.
I guess it’s stupid of me to think dad’s just gonna act the same over this, Nino thought to himself. I didn’t just skip school, I didn’t get into a normal fight. I got into a firefight and five people died. More after the cops got involved.
Nino shook his head and sighed, massaging his hair.
Hope Rivaldo’s doing well.
Nino was forced to spend a few days in prison. The worst of it wasn’t the living conditions, not at all, but not being visited by his parents. He hadn’t seen his mother yet, and that worried him. Did she hate him that much all of a sudden?
He wasn’t sure he could handle that. The day did come, on the third one, when he did get a visit. It was very unexpected.
He had expected to find Aiko, since they called his visitation a she, but Rita showed up instead. She looked even more tired than usual, if that was even possible. Distraught and broken, she breathed in-between talking. Nino had the impression it was to keep herself from breaking down and crying.
“Thank you, Nino. You’re…a good friend.”
Nino gave her a sad smile. Even if it was sad, it was still a smile, he hadn’t had one on his face in days, it felt reminiscent and good to smile again. He was thankful for that.
“Nurio’s dead,” Rita said quickly, as quickly as she could. “He…couldn’t survive the wounds.”
Nino lost the smile immediately. “I’m so sorry,” he said, looking away. “Is Rivaldo…how is Rivaldo?”
“He’s doing okay,” Rita sniffed, “or as much as he can, with the news…but you both will get out of prison. Same excuse-uh-reason. Your…father is helping.”
“Helping Rivaldo?” Nino asked, “that’s…wow, I never thought–”
“Nino, I’ll just say it,” Rita interrupted, in a way that almost had her bursting. “I…listen, you’re good friends. Everyone knows that. But Rivaldo…he’ll doom your life, Nino.”
Nino opened his eyes in shock.
“I’m begging you, because nothing I say gets through to him, I told him so many times not to get you mixed up in his– but you. Maybe you’ll listen.”
“Don’t call me that!” Rita near screamed, immediately embarrassed by it. She glanced around, and breathed hard again, trying to maintain control. “You need to look after yourself and your family. Trust me, boy, you won’t be able to do that and look after Rivaldo. Just…forget about him. Forget about him for good.”
Nino had no words. He expected this out of his father, maybe out of a despairing Aiko, even if it would have been uncharacteristic of her, but out of Rita?
“Forget about me, too!” she added, flustered. Then she stood up and left before Nino could say anything.
Nino stared blankly, eyes glossed over before the shock of the moment.
But you said I was a good friend…
Something inside of him was shattered. Wasn’t he a hero? Hadn’t he saved Rivaldo? Yet, his own mother was against what he did? Against them?
Nino had avoided regrets for three days, but right then, he found doubt that they did exist, he had just held them back.
Did I really…not do the right thing?
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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