Chapter 2: Childhood Friends.
“Pass it, pass it! Hey!” Someone screamed in the distance.
“So you two ain’t dating?” Bruno asked.
Nino turned around with a smirk. “What?” He asked, since he was trying to pay attention to the soccer match they were playing and so didn’t get the context of what his goalkeeper had said.
“You’re not with Mia?” Bruno asked again. “I can take a crack?”
“Man, from what I hear, you’ll take a crack, alright. A crack to your teeth,” Nino said, laughing.
“So you cool with it?” The goalkeeper asked him again, unwavering.
“Damn Bruno, yes, alright?” Nino confirmed, amused at his friend’s desperation. “I’m not a big fan of the crazy, go for it and get her off my case.”
“I’ll definitely try—whaoh!” Bruno interrupted himself, looking over Nino’s shoulder at what was happening ahead on the field.
Nino turned his face and caught sight of the fight that had started.
“Again?!” Bruno exasperated, “can’t we play ONE game without–?!”
“C’mon,” Nino called out without looking back, starting a run.
“Argh,” Bruno complained.
The two ran into the skirmish, flying feet first. Well, curses went in first but their feet soon followed. Nino kicked someone in the side and pushed another assailant away, immediately pulling Rivaldo off the floor.
“Get up get up,” Nino urged.
“Shit, what the f–” Rivaldo was in the middle of succinctly manifesting his confusion when he was interrupted by someone who had been pushed to fall on top of him.
Nino was then punched.
Less than one minute later, and after quite a few bruises, the three were running for their lives across heavily populated streets.
“What the hell happened?” Bruno asked.
“Hey, watch it!” Someone yelled.
“I dunno, someone kicked me,” Rivaldo said in protest, “so I gave ‘im what for, and all of a sudden, the entire class of girl scouts are on my ass like a bunch of–”
“Oh shut up!” Bruno barked. “It’s your fault, it’s always your fault! Someone didn’t pass you the ball or something so you hit them,” Bruno argued.
“No,” Rivaldo denied amidst laughter, obviously lying, “I swear, I was minding my own business, dribbling like Ronaldo…”
“Okay, it’s definitely your fault,” Nino broke through, causing them to laugh.
“I mean, I wanna play, man,” Rivaldo said with a heavy shrug.
“Well, you’re sure playing now, aren’t you?!” Bruno complained. “Argh.”
“Hold up, guys, I think we’re good,” Nino said, looking back and slowing down, “I mean for now, they can always get us tomorrow when we go to school.”
“We could always not go,” Bruno pointed out.
“Ha, like Nino would ever skip a day,” Rivaldo teased, pushing Nino on the shoulder.
“Besides, how’re you going to ask Mia out if you don’t go, Bruno?” Nino asked.
“Mia?” Rivaldo asked, laughing. “Seriously?”
“She’s crazy! She cut a guy, didn’t she?” Rivaldo asked Nino, since Nino was the one with the good memory.
“Franco,” Nino acknowledged with a nod.
“Franco’s an asshole, he probably had it coming,” Bruno said defensively, frowning. “What do you want from me? She’s cute.”
“She hangs around with a blade is the point of the matter,” Nino said, ever smirking.
“Well, good,” Bruno said, massaging his cheek. “Maybe next time Rivaldo here gets us into a fight, she can join in and protect me.”
They laughed at that. Bruno eventually went his own way and Nino continued on with Rivaldo.
“I might ask my mom if I can stay over the weekend to study,” Rivaldo said eventually, “She really wants me to get through eight class.”
“Knowing auntie, she’s for sure gonna beat you to it and demand you do,” Nino said, smiling.
“Yeah, it’s a pain. She thinks I don’t study at home, that I just go out with Nurio,” Rivaldo stated.
“Well, before you complain, ask yourself:” Nino raised a finger to go with his point. “Is it true?”
“Asshole,” Rivaldo said playfully, “but hey, when you’re right, you’re right.”
“And it’s not a pain, Rivaldo,” Nino said, “you’re always welcome there, you know that.”
“Not by everybody,” Rivaldo complained, kicking some piece of garbage that was lying on the street. The empty can bounced off a car and came back at them, making them jump out of the way. It hit someone else in the head.
“Ow!” They yelled, angry.
“Oh no, run!”
And they did.
They had to run again the following day when the older brothers of the boy Rivaldo first punched came to get some very unnecessary, clearly unfair vengeance.
Rivaldo then skipped school a couple of times, and Nino joined him, until Rivaldo’s mother, Rita, went on a rampage. She talked to every parent of every kid involved in the silly affair to get the matter settled so her son could go back and attend school properly.
After every parent beat their kids the amount necessary for them to get back to taking classes as normal, Rivaldo started attending again. Every parent, which is to say, every parent except for Ninos’.
Nino’s father was a different kind of man. He came home that day, having learned his son had skipped school for two days, knowing he would have to spent what little time he already has to relax disciplining his son. Disgruntled, the first thing he did was stare down at Nino.
A sense of disappointment washed over Nino like a waterfall. It was a familiar feeling, but even so, every time it happened again, it felt a little worse.
“Why?” his father asked.
Used to be that wasn’t such a bad question to hear, back when Nino would steal some sweets from the cupboard. The answer would either be “I ‘unno…” or “I was hungry”, and that would be it.
But as Nino learned to speak properly, it became an ambush. Using the aforementioned example, if Nino said he was hungry, his father would then ask if he had missed a meal, which he hadn’t. “So it wasn’t hunger,” his father would then say, disappointed further at the excuse which was also a lie. But if Nino said he didn’t know, that was also bad as it manifested an intellectual mistake and whether that was worse than having an excuse depended on the situation and on whether his father would judge it to be plain stupidity or just ignorance.
“Tell me why, Nino,” his father asked again, from behind his spectacles.
Nino, with all the intelligence and wisdom accrued across fourteen years of existence, decided he wasn’t in a situation where claiming ignorance was beneficial.
“We were playing soccer Tuesday and…” his father’s eyes narrowed, probably annoyed Nino was out playing instead of studying. “And there was a fight. The guys’s older brothers came to beat me and the guys up so we ran and well, we were afraid to go to school.”
“Why was there a fight?” his father asked, pointedly.
Nino glanced to the side, apparently broadcasting the answer through telepathy because his dad crossed his arms. “Rivaldo,” he said, annoyed.
“And let me guess,” his father continued, “it wasn’t you these older brothers wanted to beat up, it was just him. And let me guess further,” his dad paused for effect, taking a step towards Nino so that he would tower over him even more overwhelmingly, “you didn’t want to skip school, he did. You just joined him.”
Nino didn’t reply. As far as his father was concerned, silence was consent so it was better to say yes that way than risk further consequences from whatever interpretation he would draw from how Nino said yes.
Just speaking when Nino didn’t have to could often make it worse.
“You are the brightest, most intelligent kid on that entire school, Nino,” his father said, sternly, “but you’re still a kid. Are you going to let these garbage meant-for-nothing animals keep you down? Is that what’s going to happen?”
Nino winced at the very harsh words.
“N-no. My grades are fine, what–”
“They’re fine now,” his father said, interrupting him so as to assert that what was going on was not a conversation but an intervention. “You’re a kid. I know what you think, you think I’m cruel, that I don’t really know them or something. You’re a kid, you don’t know shit,” he said calmly.
Nino winced again.
“I won’t stop you from being friends with Rivaldo, but I will stop you from putting his friendship first and foremost in your life,” his father said.
“You will not skip classes. When the time comes that stupid boy gets jumped by whatever pack of animals are running around the streets that day, you’re going to be afraid for your life, and you’re going to run.” His father paused, shaking his head, “when the time comes he wants to cheat from your tests, you’ll be afraid to get caught and fail that test… and say no. And when the time comes, again, that he wants you to miss your appointments, or your schedule? Especially if it’s just to keep him company? What will you say?”
Nino frowned. He wanted to yell out Rivaldo didn’t ask him to skip school, he even tried to convince Nino against it. Rivaldo was the closest most loyal person Nino knew, the coolest. How could he make such a promise? What if Rivaldo was in danger, or if he needed something serious?
“What,” his father called, “will you say?”
“No…” Nino said, painfully.
“This isn’t unfair, Nino. It’s not the least bit unreasonable, it just feels that way to you,” his father uncrossed his arms. “If you don’t believe me, ask Rita yourself.”
Then his father walked away, leaving Nino wishing for the times when he would just get smacked and that would be it.
Times he didn’t even remember, but sorely missed.
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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