The Hero Who Returned Remains Traumatized in the Modern World
Fried rice for dinner again.
Using the preceding night’s leftover beef, with diced carrots, peas, onions, and some other mystery items from the fridge. She fried it all into a pan of well seasoned rice, using sesame oil as the base for the flavor. It was a recipe used often the day after a big protein dinner, or when there weren’t many ingredients left in the fridge to begin with. Or when there were too many leftovers. Or when she was too lazy to prepare ingredients beforehand.
Actually, we had the dish quite often.
Despite that however, it had quickly become one of my favorite supper meals to enjoy with my old family. I never quite got nostalgic when eating it, despite remembering the flavor from long, long ago. Instead, it was as if the meal was a delicacy that I just couldn’t properly understand until I came back to this world. In fact, food in general became more tasty at home recently.
I wanted to learn how to appreciate things in this world more. Maybe now, given the opportunity, I would be able to.
“Mom, where did you learn to cook?”
I asked the question, suddenly finding myself disappointed with how little I actually knew about my parents as people. She always looked more uptight and professional, so she didn’t strike me as quite the type to be a good cook.
“She’s had a lot of self-practice.”
Daiki answered immediately in place of his wife, who had been caught off guard with the question.
“What sparked the sudden interest?”
“Well, it’s just that your food is really good. I was curious, is all.”
Was it so weird for me to ask such a question?
No, I guess it was.
“Well, it’s a little embarrassing how I learned, actually…”
“Your mother used to be absolutely horrible at it.”
The man with a much greater interest in the topic than his counterpart spoke up again, in a bit of a playful manner. Honestly speaking, I had never heard such an easy tone from him, even if it was only slightly different. But even his wrinkled face sported a slight grin as he spoke.
“Come on, Daiki!”
She gave him a playful slap on the shoulder.
What exactly was happening here?
“Tell him, Nori. He asked, after all.”
If I didn’t know any better, I would say that the two of them were flirting.
“Well, alright… The truth is, I used to not be so great of a cook.”
My father slowed his consumption of dinner, shifting focus to the storyteller beside him. My mother, meanwhile, awkwardly began her tale while taking small pauses to feed Ana. The only outliers in this jolly atmosphere were myself and Ichiro, the latter having chosen to ignore the conversation entirely.
The way the story goes, she actually was one of the most unskilled people that she knew when it came to making food. Before the two met, she would always order out, or simply eat store-bought bentos and instant food from home. However, wanting to impress the man she was so helplessly in love with, she ended up lying to him and saying that she was an excellent cook.
From the moment that she first told him, she began to practice diligently, day and night so that she would hopefully improve enough to turn that lie into a truth. And sure enough, when they began to date a few weeks later, he never failed to eat anything and everything that she cooked for him.
The punchline was that it’s pretty much impossible to become good at something you’re so horrible at in a matter of weeks, let alone convince somebody you were skilled at it to begin with. The truth is that Nori’s cooking wasn’t actually at the level that it is now until after they were married years in the future, according to Daiki. In fact, he knew from the start that she couldn’t cook, due to the fact that she was a horrible liar. That said, he never once told her until their honeymoon that he at first hated her cooking.
Needless to say, it was definitely an embarrassing story for my mother to admit to. But despite that, I was glad that I had asked, because just retelling it seemed to show me a more personal side of the two that I had never experienced before. In my mind, the two were becoming more than just the people who claimed themselves as my parents. It felt a little special that they were willing to let their guard down around me.
The fried rice was delicious this time. More than usual.
After the table had been cleared out, it was only myself, and the little girl I had been asked to watch over for a short while until my mother finished the laundry.
I didn't pay much attention to her before because she had, though unintentionally, played a role in my getting neglected by my parents after her birth. But looking at her now, something about how she looked felt familiar.
She was an infant of a little under two years old, wearing a cute little pink onesie which seemed unsaturated in comparison to her brightly painted brown hair. She already had a full head of it, almost messily covering her beach-blue eyes. It was the same set of features that I had; that Andrew had; before I returned here. Very unlike my current hues, which were dull and near-black, both in hair and eyes. Like she was destined to become the protagonist of this world, carefully guided by my parents and by her peers just as I had been back then.
Would she grow up to be a leader? Would she be well liked? Or would she make the same mistakes that I did, and lose it all?
What would happen to her, should she be summoned to another world like I was?
Actually, were there others from Earth who had been summoned to that world?
I had been the only Hero, and I had been the only person with the exemplary abilities that resulted from my Earthly origin. Perhaps I could ask for Furukawa Sensei's opinion upon the next opportunity.
Looking into her uncommonly blue eyes which returned my reflection with a blank stare, I came across a melancholy thought that near any man in his thirties would reasonably think about when faced with such a precious infant child.
I wanted to raise children of my own.
More specifically, I wanted just one. One that I could focus on and give all my time and love to, who would pass on my heroic tales; my titles. But Hope would always talk during our idle chatters about how she wanted many children. She wanted them all to be friends and play with each other, and grow up to be whatever they so desired. And as time passed, they would grow less fond of her and their father, though maybe some would still visit from time to time. But they would all go their own separate ways, achieving their own feats in life and gathering families of their own.
I always concluded that she just wanted to give as many people as possible diverse dreams that they could live out without anybody to tell them it was unfair, or unreasonable. She was always like that, finding satisfaction when she was able to give others what she could never have. But what parent wouldn’t want to see their children do what they never could; to experience the pleasures they themselves never could, vicariously?
To me, it was sweet of her to want such a thing, in a weird kind of way. I figured after our long talks about it that having two children might be okay.
If it was with her, of course.
There was a Kendo sword sitting, propped against the wall at the corner of my room. From my studies, my eyes wandered all the way past the glass frames in front of my eyes. I couldn’t help but constantly take notice of the practice sword replica from the corner of my vision.
Ever since it had been left on the roof by Hajime, I had been feeling a sense of longing, sourced from that bamboo blade. A longing to touch it; to squeeze it by the grip; to swing it. So, I took it home. Despite the fact that just having it around would be a negative thing.
I wasn’t a fighter anymore. Earth; modern Japan, specifically, wasn’t the place for wielding a sword. And even if it was, what good would it do me? Who could I save here, when I couldn’t save anybody there, in Alterra?
That’s right. Kendo was beyond me. I just simply wasn’t stable enough to handle it.
I promised myself.
I promised myself, so why did it still call to me? Why couldn’t I simply steel my resolve?
I took a gulp.
Before I knew it, the sword was in my hands.
My shaking hands.
Slowly, I raised it straight up in front of me, pressing the thumb side of my closed right hand into the sword’s hilt. I rested my lower hand at the other end of the grip, bending my knees. I could see it in my reflection through the propped mirror in my room, that my body wasn’t fit to wield a sword. Despite its light material, holding it out in front of me was straining on my wrists. It felt unnatural.
I took a heavy swing down and left, before instinctually switching my grip and pulling the sword into a straight, horizontal position. A sharp thrust forward followed, and a heavy battle cry escaped from deep in my throat.
The stab wound of the beast in front of me sprayed blood outward, staining myself and the contents of my room behind me. My armor’s shine dulled, covered by the thick blood of the werewolf which howled while its bowels spilled.
Another cry escaped me, in a different tone. Less desperate, and more solemn.
My hands pried open, dropping the blood splattered chunk of bamboo to the ground. My body began to tremble as I stepped backwards towards my bed and fell onto it, releasing the weight from my legs as I let them slip out from under me. My right ankle began to feel just sore enough for me to take notice, which thrust me back into plain reality. I had rested too much weight on it.
There was no werewolf, obviously. And not a speck of red, either.
No enemies here, save for myself.
I wasn’t ready to swing a sword again. But at the very least, I could still hold one.
In, and out.
I did my best to take heavy breaths, dialing back into reality. I plucked a note from off the top of my dresser, which read out a name and phone number.
I want to be friends.
I shouldn’t have had the right to contact him. I shouldn’t, but I still wanted to. I wanted validation; somebody to talk to.
I grabbed my smartphone and typed in a code onto the screen.
0 9 0 9
It was as easy as that, like muscle memory. Why couldn’t I remember it before? Why now? There were likely other things that used the same code, so I would have to be sure and remember it. I opened my journal that had been given to me by Furukawa Sensei, and wrote the number down, among other small notes and quick scribbles. It was all I had done with the notebook so far. Despite how I initially felt, I didn’t feel much of a desire to be writing all of my problems down in some kind of therapy journal.
My hands were still shaking, as I typed the phone number into my phone. Was I still anxious from earlier? Or was it qualms about the unfamiliar technology? Perhaps I was just afraid to talk to somebody new?
Communication seemed to be difficult after all. In many ways.
I picked the journal back up and began to write.
I wrote about everything.