Meeting The Hero
So, crisis averted, it should be time to return to the same old activities, as if nothing had happened. However, I was unable to do it, somehow. I don’t remember what were my feelings at the time. The only thing I remember very well is that the idea that the old man fixed things bugged my mind, not without a reason. When I went back home, I had already come up with an idea, that I hoped it could work. For that, I would need the help of the man who I had feared for so long. However, after my brief encounter with him, I have convinced myself that we were wrong on our judgment of the old man. And, holding the knowledge that he seemed to be a kind man as a secret, I had already planned another visit to the elder. If he was able to fix things, maybe he was the only hope to fix my most treasured toy.
My father had given me some sort of metallic four-wheeled cart, which moved miraculously by itself. Besides, there was a strange pad made of a hard material called plastic that we were unable to reproduce with some places to press. They were used to control the movement of the cart. My dad has told me it was a very old toy, which his grand-grandfather had given his grandfather, and it was subsequently given to the eldest son of the current owner. I didn’t have much memories of it, but as far as I could remember, it used to work perfectly well, but one day it came to a halt, and no matter what, it was impossible to set it in motion again. As my father said, the knowledge on how to make it work was lost in the ages, after the so-called Great Collapse and the death of most of Motavian inhabitants. Somehow, though, I convinced myself that the mysterious old man who could fix things was my only chance to have it working once more. He seemed to be so old that maybe he was one of the wizards reported to be extinct since the extinction event that had miraculously survived it and he would be able to cast the spell that would set my automatic cart in motion perpetually.
Then, a few hours after lunch, I left home trying to not be noticed, taking the automatic car with me, heading to the old man's house. It was curious that not only my fears about his place were dissipated, but also my overall opinion of the once horror-mansion changed considerably. While it was undeniable that some repairs served it well, it didn't look so abandoned and decrepit like I used to think it did. And, when I was peeping once again through the iron gate bars, the courtyard didn't look so messed up anymore. The piles of junk, which looked like dozens of enormous golems were, in fact, very few, much smaller than I considered them to be, and organized by the kind of material. Maybe the old man was a bit disorganized and lazy, but he was not that kind of person who is a compulsive garbage collector.
As the man was nowhere to be found, I clapped my hands and yelled "Mr!" while standing in front of his gate. It took him a while to answer and I was almost turning back when I heard his squeaky yell back "Juss'a second." His voice didn't sound so strange this time, just like the average old man's voice. I was a bit impatient because I feared Pep, Tom, or any of the boys caught me there. After the elaborate story I had made up to cause them an impression, to be seen asking a favor for the man they still believed to be an evil murderer would turn me into a liar. And, while every boy is much of a liar, that badge would plague for years and years, if not forever. So, it was a relief when the old man suddenly showed up in front of me. "Geez! The littl' un again"
He opened the iron gates carefully, but it didn't prevent them from producing an irritating squeaky. "Wha' brings ye 'ere?"
I was feeling very shy and I guess my cheeks were crimson, so much they burned. "I... I have come... mr... mr..."
"Kain. But ye a-can call me Josh, like everybody does." He answered while patting my head in a friendly way. It made me cringe, though, for there was still some fear hidden in the recesses of my heart.
"Grandpa Josh..." I looked at the box in my hand and added, "You told me you fixed things, so I though you may..." The rest of the sentence died in my throat as I suggested with a movement of hands that he took the box.
He motioned me to enter. I hesitantly entered his home. This time, I was not afraid that he would kill me, but anxious for an answer about the possibility of fixing my treasured toy. He closed the gate on my back and, when I turned to look back, somewhat scared, he asked, “Ye ar' Tanner’s boy, aren’t ye?”
It took me completely by surprise. I thought he was a reclusive man that no one but me has ever seen or talked to him, but he knew who I was and he knew my parents. For a brief moment, I feared him again. Maybe he had been stalking us, with some evil intention. So, I answered stuttering, “Yes… I am…”
Old Kain probably noticed my reaction, so he promptly added while taking the box from my hands carefully “I ‘ave been fixin’ sume thin’s for yer dad lately.” I, who considered my interaction with the mysterious old man something exclusive, had just learned, much to my dismay, that my own father had some dealings with him. It also a source of potential problems because I knew I would be scolded if Kain told my father that I’ve asked him to fix my toy. However, I was inclined to risk even a beating as a trade-off for having my toy fixed. The old man smiled as he removed its top and looked at its contents. “A rimot’-control car! It’s been a lon’ time since I ‘ave saw un.”
His words filled my heart with hopes that he would be able to fix my broken toy, because it was clear that he was no stranger to such a kind of mysterious toy. “Did you have one when you were young?”
“Nah!” His negative almost broke my heart, but he promptly added, “When I was yung like ye, boys wer’ not much ‘nto cars. We us’d to ‘ave spaceships.”
“Spaceships?” That information left me confused. If my own toy was a big mystery to me, spaceships were something I could not even fathom how they looked like.
“Ah, boy, they ar’ a-like cars, but they us’d to fly.”
“Like birds?” I was astonished. If I were a few years older, I would think that the old man was senile and inventing things that had never existed, but boys of my age are prone to believe in such fantastic stories. Luckily I believed him because I would learn later that he was telling me the truth.
“Yeah. An’ much more. We us’d to a-travel to other planits with them.” Kain retold those hard to believe facts of his past so naturally that I had never questioned its veracity. I was so astounded that his answers left me speechless. I recalled my parents talking about Dezoris and Palma, but to know someone who had lived when Palma existed was already surreal. In addition, there were more surprises reserved to me that day, surprises that would help shaping the adult I am today.
As I didn’t say anything, Kain went to his workbench, taking my remote-controlled car with him and started working on it. He told me, “It doesn’ look complex, but will a-take som’ time to fixit. Feel free to a-take a look ‘roun’”
While waiting, I started exploring the old man’s house courtyard. First, my attention was devoted to the piles of objects, trying to understand what they were. There were many weird things that I could not even imagine what was their purpose. Occasionally, old Mr. Kain would try to enlighten me with a brief explanation on what I was looking at, only to leave me with more doubts than I had before. After some time, though, I was tired of looking to indistinct objects, for they meant nothing for me. I was about to give up my exploration and sit somewhere to wait for the old man, but I noticed a small shack that probably was part of his workshop. There were some real things there, not indistinct parts of indistinct objects whose purpose only old Kain knew, so my attention was attracted to that room.
The room was crowded with objects in the shelves, over the counter, or lying on the floor. One of the things that immediately attracted my attention was a strange hat, lying in a corner of the shack. I immediately picked it up and tried it. Obviously, it was too large for my head and fell over my eyes. The hat looked quite funny, and, for some reason, I felt something strange, like a disproportional weight on my head, but instead of taking it off and returning it to its original position, my mirthful spirit made me go out of the little wooden hut wearing the flamboyant hat.
As soon as Kain caught a glimpse of me, he paused what he was doing and asked me in a joyous way, “Hey, boy, wher’ do ye a-think ye ar’ goin’ with my mogic ‘at?”
“Mogic hat?” I asked, surprised. “What is a mogic hat?”
“Itz a ‘at that allows ye to undirstan’ what the Dezorians say.”
“Dezorians?” It was one surprise after another. "Did you... meet Dezorians?"
"I 'ave been ther' myself." He answered nonchalantly, while he resumed working on my toy. "Twas a-very common when me was yun'. I 'ave been to Palma aswell."
"Pa... palma?" It was like a dream to be talking to someone who had been in the lush green planet that used to shine in Motavian skies. The planet that was originally our home. If I ever told Tom or Pep about the things Kain was telling me, they would accuse me of trying to play such an absurd prank on them that not for a moment it had been effective. Then, they would mock me all the time because of that. And the irony would be that, contrary to many of my made-up stories they took for granted, including some bare-faced lies about the very man I was talking to, this time I would not be inventing anything, not even a small exaggeration.
The old man was staring at the horizon blankly, flooded with deep feelings resurrected by meaningful memories. "I a-must 'ave been yer age when I traviled ther'. Twas so biautiful, so cool..." he swallowed back some tears "so great mem'ries. It was th' vacation of my life". Then, he shook his head and resumed working, "It's so 'ard to bilieve it is a-gon'".
It was clear as crystal that he still grieved the destruction of Palma. I would learn years later why he had a special reason to do it, for he had been part of the story surrounding the demise of the once shining jewel of Algol. As he resumed working, I went back to his shack and resumed looking the amazing things he had stored there. After a few minutes, I have found a thing rectangular object with a dark mirror on one of its sides. As I pressed one small circle, the dark mirror started to shine, as images were formed on it. I felt a bit scared, for, in my mind, I still considered him some kind of wizard. My curiosity made me go outside and ask the old man about it.
"Mr... what is that?"
Kain looked at briefly the boy and answered, without stopping what he was doing. "It's a port'ble comput'r."
I became very excited. So that was one of those legendary machines that I've heard about when the elder people mentioned how were the books of adventure stories in their times. I was told that those things called portable computers were able to display the images and reproduce the sounds of the stories in a way that it made them feel like they were part of the scene, observing, hearing, and feeling things as if they were beside the main characters. I had no idea how it would be to see myself inside the story, because it was like the machine could materialize people's thoughts, and I was anxious to experiment that feeling.
"Wow! I never thought I would see one with my own eyes! What must I do to make it put me inside the stories?"
The old man cackled. "I'm afr'id ye a-can't."
"Why not?" I was so frustrated that my words came out with bitterness.
"Becaus' that un 'as no 'olographic videos."
I didn't understand a word of what he had answered me, but I wanted so much to have the opportunity to enjoy those magical adventures that I asked Kain in a not so polite manner. “Why don’t you use your magic to make it work for me?”
I saw the man stop his work and come towards me. For a second, I thought he was angry at me, but he crouched in front of me, and, taking the computer from my hands, gave me an explanation about the mysterious device patiently, like a grandfather talking to his grandson.
“Look, boy, it’s not th’ way dis d’vice works. I’m no magician an’ thes’ a-things dontch work by a-magic.”
I frowned. “So there is no use…”
“Com’ on boy, look at th’ screen.” I looked at the mirror, but couldn’t make sense of the images displayed there. “All thes’ things ‘ere were a-made by someun, to be’ave like that ev’ry time we a-turn it on.”
“And why don’t you do a story for me?” I was still acting like a pampered child who had been contradicted.
“Bicause I don’t a-know ‘ow to a-make it. It’s no wurk for un person. Ev’ry bit was a-made for a group of piople, to be us’d in ev’rybody’s comput’r. But not ev’ry computer has ev’rything, and this un has no vidios.” He added calmly. “Besides, ev’rything don’ for a computir is almost us’less if th’re are no oth’r computers.”
In my boyish naivety, I considered that if the man was capable of fixing my toy, he was capable of everything “And why don’t you make computers for us?”
He laughed before answering. “Geez, ye don’t a-know what ye ar’ saying! It’s impossible. Makin’ comput’rs is a task for ‘undreds of people, plus r’sources lon’ lost. Unfortunat’ly, it will take decades, or even cent’ries befour Motavia sees a comput’r again.”
I was feeling a bit depressed, because, at the time, I didn’t understand the gravity of the situation Palmans were enduring in Motavia, and to think that the future was doomed to be a mere shade of the past made me feel angry. “So it means that we are condemned to an empty future?”
Kain patted on my shoulders and answered smiling, as a wise man. “Boy, wh’n I was young as ye ar’ now, we us’d to ‘ave comput’rs taking a-care of ev’rything. That was what got us wh’re we ar’ now. As much as I lov’d technology, Algol is not a-ready for that. Now, we ar’ strugglin’ for survival, th’re is no time to grieve for what ‘ad been or a-could ‘ave been. We all a-must work littl’ by littl’ to leave a world a bit bett’r for our childr’n. An’, as much as I lov’d comput’rs and machin’s, I only ‘ave time to a-fix and a-build tools that will ‘elp people workin’ in th’ fields and producing food enough to a-save us from starvation.” He laughed. “Besid’s, I was nev’r good at fixin’ those compl’x things. They call’d me a wreckir, so bad I us’d to be with machin’s. So I think I’m of bett’r ‘elp doing this way.”
That was a lesson too big to digest so quickly, so I stayed in silence. Kain held his finger for some seconds in a place marked by a circle and suddenly the images in the dark mirror disappeared. I understood what he meant with that, and went back to the shack, leaving the portable computer where it was stored before. For some minutes, I stayed quietly observing the things inside the shack as he resumed his work. It didn’t take long for me to notice a set of knives, swords and some things that resembled the guns mentioned in the adventure stories our parents told us. They made me somewhat afraid because, despite my efforts, I hadn’t had erased all the bad impressions about the old man. Just at the moment I was staring at the arms, the old man came to the shack to retrieve something he needed, and I couldn’t help but asking him about the arms.
“Why do you have those things here?” I asked, pointing at the guns and swords.
He must have noticed my uneasiness, for he immediately tried to dismiss my worries. “Ah, I us’d thos’ weapuns wh’n I was young, to fight a bunch of bad guys. The crooks wer’ tryin’ to destroy the whol’ Algol star syst’m, but we fought th’m back.”
“Wow! You had been to a war! How I wish I had been there too!” His answer made me elect him as my hero. I would never expect that the mysterious old man was so cool. He was able to fix things, he had been on Palma and Dezoris, and now I had just discovered that he had been into the army. I considered him the most awesome guy in the whole world, like a hero from those adventure stories I liked so much. I was dying to go back and tell Tom and Pep about that man, but at the same time, I wanted to keep that secret to myself, as if I would inherit some of his coolness for being the only one to know that.
“Heh, I’m sur’ ye would not. War is terribl’, and I a-hope th’re is no war in the futur’.”
Kain returned and left me thinking about what he had just said. For a boy, being a hero and fighting in a war is the best thing that can happen to someone. However, maybe life was not like that. All the stories included a happy ending, a beautiful girl for the hero to marry, but the old man seemed to be alone. I don’t know if, at the time, I had these deep insights about life and reality, probably not. But I am sure that meeting was a life-changing experience.
I stayed quietly in the shack waiting for my toy to be fixed. It took some time, probably some minutes, or even hours, and I stayed there, in silence, hoping that the automatic cart would work again. I could hear the noises that made me assured that it had not been just a dream, but the long period of anxiety made me wonder whether the man was really fixing my toy or was just fooling me. I looked for some distractions among his things, but few things attracted my attention, and, after a long wait, the man finally returned.
“Done! Your rimote-controll’d car is workin’ again!” Kain came smiling; using the part he called the controller to drive the cart through his courtyard.
“Thanks.” Although I should have been excited by seeing his magic operating and my toy fully functional, when he returned, he caught me interested in a picture I was holding in my hands. I’ve already heard about photographs, but that was the first time I’ve seen one with my own eyes, and it looked impressive. It was almost as if the person in the picture was there, before my eyes. However, Kain was surprised to see me with that and almost dropped the controller on the floor. His countenance changed from cheerful to worried, and, for the first time, I noticed that my curiosity had gone overboard. However, there was no way of getting out of that deadlock if I didn’t ask him who was in the picture.
“Who is this girl? She looks… different.”
The old man left the controller by my feet, carefully took the picture out of my hands, and absorbed by the image and his own memories, answered to himself “Ah… Nei…”
I stayed in silence, staring at him. He looked very sad, so I decided it would be a good time to leave, since I didn’t know how to deal with the situation I had provoked, albeit indirectly. I picked up my toy and was ready to leave, making up some excuse like it was too late and my parents should be worried about me, but he answered before I could leave.
“She was a girl I lik’d very much…” As he silenced, I thought I had seen his eyes wet. I was too young and, for a boy of my age, it was almost forbidden to like girls. If I told my friends that I liked a girl, they would bully me constantly. But I did understand that Dad liked Mom, so I imagined it had been the same with Kain and the strange girl.
“And where is she?” I asked innocently.
“She…” The old man hesitated. “She didn’t mak’it…” Another pause and he was drying a tear that insisted falling from his eyes, despite his effort to suppress it. “… From the Great Collaps’…”
After a short silence, when I was recollecting the thought I had just had before, and my suspicions about the contrast between the perfect stories told in the books and the reality was confirmed. I understood that the pretty girl with strange ears should have been his sweetheart, and contrary to the happy endings of the adventure stories, she had died, leaving him alone. I was very disturbed by that thought, and I couldn't stand staying there any longer, so I resumed my original plan. “Well, Mr. Kain, thanks for fixing my toy. I must leave now, it is getting late…”
“Yes, yes…” He abruptly got out of the contemplative state he was in, placed the picture over a table, and started walking towards the gate, slowly, fighting back the painful memories..
I followed him in silence. It took him a lot of time to reach the gate, for he was deeply affected by his own memories, and I felt guilty for bringing them back. As he finally opened the gate, I turned to him and, seeing him still fighting back the tears, excused myself for my impertinence. “Sorry, Mr…”
“Ah, don’tcha worry.” He forced a smile at me.
“Well, thanks. Bye.” I was feeling uncomfortable with the situation, and having nothing better to say, left.
“Hav’ fun with yer car!” He yelled, but I barely heard him, as I left his place running. I didn’t even hear the loud squeak of the gates being closed. I was feeling a mixture of joy, astonishment, guilty, fear, and the only thing I had in my mind was to go back home as quickly as I could. So I did.