It’s always complimentary with a ‘hey’, or something. They ask. They always ask that. Strangers, old peers, friends. Whenever they see me passing time on the streets, in the city, they’d approach me with that bright smile, expecting one in return.
It’s not a bad thing. Hey— I’d do the same. It’s what people do. But it’s different, for me at least. Things have changed over the years and things will continue to change. However, I don’t plan on changing my smile.
The same smile, over and over again. It’s reassuring. A tactic. It’s my trademark. It puts people at ease. It makes me feel good, knowing that the one who receives the smile is happy. So, when they don’t see that, what will become of them? My friends, especially? It’s hard to say because I can’t ever read minds.
So, they ask.
“Oi, Takeshi! How are you?" It’s an old friend, more specifically, an old teammate from middle school. He wears his sleek tidy uniform proudly, representing his team: Japan. He seems to be on his way to practice. How nostalgic, I think to myself as I firmly grip onto the strap of my sheathed katana.
First things first, how do I react? He’s not going to stand there forever. I take a moment, wondering if I should spill everything that’s happened. No, that’d take forever. Ages, actually. The happiness, sadness, pain, depression— He didn’t need to know all of that. I crack a smile on the edges of my lips, knowing that he would see. It’s one I always had during practice.
I feel bad for feigning a smile, but it was for the best. I think so, anyway. The smile won’t last long, though. A response was necessary. We were close teammates back in Namimori after all. Eventually, he would wonder why I wasn’t speaking. I was a motor mouth. I still consider to be. So, I take a moment to think (if I hadn’t taken a lot of time already). How the hell do I begin, I say soundlessly to myself. We’re adults now. His life didn’t need a sap story.
"Hey Shouji!" I finally utter his name, greeting him with a natural fist bump, casually inserting a trail of that old laugh. My mind was muffled with the mafia, nothing more or less. Well, not really. I’d be lying if I said that. Sometimes, daydreams of baseball would appear. Sometimes, the old man. I struggle for a moment, swallowing the flood of events that wanted to escape my lips. I wanted to tell him everything… but, it’d be a burden. I’ll carry this one on my own. I’m strong enough to do so.
"Everything’s good," I say. I lie. I feel bad. Nonetheless, I smile, reassuring him that everything is actually good but it wasn’t actually all the truth. The usual smile strikes again. Damn. I’m good at this, I realize. As long as they don’t know, I’ll be fine. I will. No one needs to know. If my friends are happy, I’ll share that happiness with them.
Everything will be okay.
Baseball will always be described as something meaningful in my life. It gave me strength. It was my identity. As a kid, my dream was to grow up as professional baseball player. I wanted the old man to come to one of my games, cheering me on within the loud benches. It was a path I could have taken. I had the opportunities.
As I stand in midfield, kicking the dirt on the sole of my foot, I realized how much I’ve missed playing this game. How long has it been since I last held a bat? It appeared to be far too long…
I was accidentally introduced to this game as a kid. The television was on and there it was. My eyes graced the game with interest, watching the man in suit and cap hitting a white ball with the ‘stick’. Of course, I turned toward the old man curiously asking what kind of game this was. He smiled back at me, introducing the world of baseball. It was a whole new world to me. I listened to him and before I knew it, he taught me the rules.
One day, the old man and I headed toward the backyard, and that was where he taught me how to hold that ‘stick’. Then, I finally learned the appropriate name for the ‘stick’ was a bat. I laughed, realizing how heavy a bat was for the first time in my life! It was a challenge at first, but I was stubborn kid. I challenged that challenge and within days, I got it down. The old man was surprised at the speed I was learning, since well, I wasn’t a charmer in academics.
Soon enough, I started to play baseball as a hobby. Whenever I had time, I would practice. It was so much fun, not only to bat and catch, but to run around the bases with the mindset of winning. It was competitive, but I always liked competition. It only made the game more thrilling. Once I reached middle school, my first achievement as a baseball player was becoming Namimori Middle’s team captain. It was a joyous event that led the old man to throw a party for me! Then on, I dreamed of becoming a pro-baseball player.
Baseball became my life. It introduced me to my friends, friends whom I cherish wholeheartedly. They mean a lot to me, like baseball. I remember there was an instance where I injured my arm, it felt like the end of the world. I wanted to kill myself. But Tsuna, a cherished individual, stopped me. I realized there was more to life than baseball.
Nonetheless, I continued on with baseball as a part of my life. As for the other half, I was a friend. As a friend, I vowed to protect. As important as baseball was to me, my friends played their part as well. Those friends introduced into a new game: a mafia game. Slowly but surely, I realized it was not a game to fool around. But being my usual self, I masked it. And I thought baseball was the only thing for me. Gradually, it was deteriorating.
Life was hard, especially when the old man was taken away from me. It was heartbreaking, something I can’t put into words. I felt like a part of me couldn’t go on anymore. But, he left behind a treasure. He left behind his teachings. He gave me knowledge. He provided me with so much more than I could have asked for. I won’t take that for granted.
It was the end of high school, more or less. Prestigious Universities all over Japan offered scholarships. All those opportunities to become a pro-baseball player were ultimately turned down. I couldn’t play without the old man. He set the goal for me. He taught me everything. So, I prepared for the future. Setting aside the bat, I vowed to protect something important to me with all my strength: my friends
I won’t say I regret turning down those scholarships. I realized how selfish it would be if I had accepted them, playing with guilt as I run around the diamond field. I’m not like that. I can only rely on what baseball has taught me. Perseverance. Strength. Loyalty. From that, and with this katana, I will protect my family as the Rain Guardian, Yamamoto Takeshi.
I will say this though: I miss baseball.
Should I call you that? I don’t know. It’s difficult. Who are you? I hardly remember your face.
You were hardly around. But when you were, there was nothing but an eerie atmosphere. It was suffocating.
As a child, I yearned for you and the old man to get along. All I wished for was a perfect family, like everyone other kid on the block. It wasn’t a bad dream, right? I was only a kid after all. But that wasn’t how it was like. Not at all. Every time you returned home, you never gave an effort to greet us. You lazed around the house with an awful odor you brought in from the outdoors, allowing it to dissolve into our clean home’s atmosphere.
Whenever you were around, there was nothing but a bad presence. The way you dressed was unmannerly. Where do you go while the old man and I wait for you to return home? Can’t you have more pride as a woman? It was an awful sight. Soon enough, the old man couldn’t take it anymore. That was when it began.
I was only five, however, the memory is crystal clear.
The two of you bickered for hours as I stayed silent in my room, eavesdropping. It was a daily routine. However, they assumed I was a good kid, sleeping comfortably on my bed on the second floor. But that wasn’t the case. I recalled a moment. It was around midnight. He was angry. I’ve never heard that sort of tone from the old man before, unless you were around that is. Do you like to create such a messy situation? It seemed like your side-hobby. You never treated us as a part of your family. I wonder how long the old man had to tolerate you for. Was it for my own protection?
Foul language poured into the atmosphere like the heavy rain thrashing on the rooftops. It was a bad day. Maybe the last bad day. The two of you shouted like the roaring thunder from the skies. It took place in the kitchen. My eyes peeked through a crack of the door from above, watching you hurt the old man with your weary hand. He never did anything to you, so why are you hurting him? It hurt, to watch from a distance, not being able to do anything. It hurt, to see that expression on the old man’s face, the sadness in his gaze. I could tell with my bare eyes, he was shaking. He feared for the sake of me, the sake of our family. I wanted to shout, but nothing came out. I sat by the thick door, frozen with tears as I heard a slam.
The following day, I acted like my usual self, as did the old man. Casually, he told me that you went back to visit your family. I didn’t ask anymore. I just nodded, understanding the situation and smiled.
"What’s for breakfast?" I asked with the usual bright smile of a five-year old, heart pounding as I feared for the old man’s reply. I gazed at him, watching his every motion. It was the same.
"Rice Omlette, Takeshi. You hungry?" He replied, face widening with a gleaming smile as he prepared the dish. He was strong. Of course he was, he’s my father, I thought to myself. At that point, I realized everything was going to be okay. Everything is going to be okay. I realize that I must be strong for him as well. I promised myself, from that day forward, I will be the best son. I will be the best family. I will smile.
After that, you never returned.
It was that time of year again, to visit the old man. It has been just over three months since the incident.
The day the you left, I felt the feeling of loneliness for the first time in my life. I’ve never felt this before. My heart felt uneasy. It hurt. I stayed cooped up in my room in disbelief, in agony. It felt like a part of me just disappeared. In the end, I realize how important you are to me. I regret that I couldn’t protect you. You are my father, my idol, my passion. How am I suppose to let go of that?
The sushi bar is empty without you, I say while kneeling before your grave. Placing a special family dish of sushi as an offering, I pray. I pray that you are in a better place and that you are happy. I hope that you are looking over me, watching me, and saying “that’s my son” with that pleasant smile of yours. I remember the way you smiled, the way your eyes creased, the way your mouth oddly curved, the way you laughed. I want to see you again. I miss you.
Father, I say. I wish I had spent more time with you. Perhaps if I was around more often, none of this would have happened. I should have been there. But, there’s no point in grieving now. No more “what if’s”. None of it would change anything. However, I’ve made a choice. I decided. I won’t let you down. I promise with the legacy you passed down to me, with the Shigure Soen, I will become a son that’s worth of the Yamamoto name. The wise words you always lectured me on, I will always remember.
I am Yamamoto Takeshi. I am your son. Hey old man, it won’t be good-bye for long, right? Wait for me. I’ll make you proud, I say with a confident grin before eyes began to overfill with emotions. Overwhelming emotions. They got the better of me as I couldn’t hold them back. Tear droplets slowly made their way down my face as I stood back up on my two feet, that wide smile still plastered on my face.
Would you say I’ve gotten stronger, old man?!
Yamamoto Takeshi, commonly known as just “Yamamoto” — currently twenty four years old. He works for Vongola Decimo, Tsuna, as a member of the 10th Generation Vongola, the Rain gaurdian. Always seen smiling, Yamamoto is the type of character to become friends with almost anyone, if not friendship then at least gain some respect. Also, Yamamoto is willing to sacrifice anything important to him when his friends are in danger. Despite his same clueless and easy-going personality, he is seen to have become more mature and serious as he’s grown.
Currently, he takes missions under order of Vongola Decimo, often as an assassin.