Chapter 5
I'm about to cry.
I can't believe this. How could this happen? If you slap someone it's a marriage proposal, and if you pick up a knife it's a duel?! According to my common sense, it's either red roses for marriage or gloves for a duel. Just because I didn't know this country's customs, I'm standing at the crossroads of life and death.
Even if I rolled around on the bed I wouldn't fall off because of how wide it was. So wide it almost made me feel lonely. Only now, at the age of fifteen, do I understand why girls keep stuffed animals with them.
"What am I going to do? How am I going to get out of this one?!"
I compose myself, trying to think over the pinch I was in. I try to think back to any other crisis I've gotten into that's worse than this... But I can't think of anything.
"There isn't anything! Nothing this cruddy has ever happened to me before! Things like duels aren't normal!" Calm down, calm down, calm down, calm down. What'll I do if I'm beat up before I even face the enemy?
Awhile back Gunter was teaching me about it while suffering from a runny nose and watery eyes. The custom of winning by killing your opponent had died out hundreds of years ago. Duels these days were only a question of pride, and people rarely lost their lives.
Meaning that there were exceptions.
I thoughtlessly squeezed the pillow between my legs, and groaned loudly, "What am I going to do?" As if in answer to my question, there was a knock on the door.
Conrad came in carrying various things.
"Great. Your Majesty hasn't gone to sleep yet. What are you holding between your legs?"
"Ah? Oh, this? It just made me feel calm. I don't think I can go to sleep."
"Is that so? I thought as much, so I brought these. Come on, Your Majesty. Practice, practice."
He brought a leather 'tray' and 'pole'; when I grabbed the tray it turned out to be a buckler, and when he pulled out the 'pole' out of its scabbard it turned out to be a practice sword.
"Please hold the sword in your dominant hand. Yes, like that. This is a one-handed sword. And hold the buckler on your left-hand side. Try swinging it. How is that? Tell me if it's too heavy. I did my best to choose the shortest type of women's sword for you."
It was a little heavy for just one hand when I swung it. It was a simple weapon; a dull silver color. Holding the hilt reminded me of something very familiar.
"The grip is like a baseball bat. But the weight more like the ones the pros use, or a metal bat."
"Is that so? I hadn't noticed. It is like a bat."
It had already been a long time since I had played baseball. A long time since I'd felt the ball, or bat, or mask or mitt.
"The grip on this brings back fond memories. It'll be about a year now."
"Why did you quit?"
As he asked that question with folded arms, he also had a cheerful smile. I placed the sword on my lap and fell back on the bed, looking up.
How nostalgic. I wasn't mad anymore, but the memory was a little painful.
"...Awhile back I flipped out and hit the coach, so I was kicked out immediately,"
"And that's the reason you left the team? I wasn't asking why you quit the team. I was asking why you quit baseball."
"Why I quit... baseball. Even I can't explain that."
"Then maybe you haven't quit yet?"
"I mean that you're not done yet."
Like Santa Claus or some sort of magician, Conrad held out a ball in the palm of his hand. The skin had turned yellow from being used a long time, with worn out red seams.
"A ball! Hey, what a breakthrough! The hardballs of this country look just like Japan's!"
"Shall we give it a go? To see if it feels the same throwing it."
The courtyard was surrounded by buildings in every direction and soft rays of light were pouring into it from all the windows. There's a moon in the sky, and a yellow semi-circle around a torch above the ground.
The only spectators were guards at strategic points. But.
"Looks like a nighter."
"Nighter? Oh, you mean a night game."
"This country has a word for a night game? Do people here play baseball at night?"
"They don't. There's very few people who play baseball... Only myself and some children who are interested in it..."
Conrad passed me his own personal glove. Just as I had thought, it was a glove. Not a mitt. I muttered, "Oh well, can't do anything about that" as I adjusted my index finger on the outside, trying to grip the rough, tawny leather. The model was a bit old, but it was almost brand new and made for an infielder. I usually used the model type Zett, but this didn't seem like Mizuno or Descente. Of course this was a different world, so there shouldn't be any brand names that I know. But this familiar-looking boomerang mark is...
"No way... Nike..."
From about 10 meters away, Conrad was waving largely at me.
"Your Majesty, let's take it slow."
I held the glove up by my tilted head, and snapped the glove shut as I caught the hardball. Leather ramming into leather had a special feel to it. There was a shock to the middle of the hand, and an ache that slowly circulated down to the elbow.
"So this is hardball."
That's right. But it was emotional. Until now I'd been playing softball.
I grabbed the ball with my right hand, and it was unexpectedly smooth. When I looked closely there was a faded line that looked like something had been written there. Naturally, I couldn't read the Mazoku letters, but looked like he had childishly written his name on the ball. I pulled my arm back, and lightly tossed the ball back. Because it wasn't as far as I thought, it made a good sound when he caught it.
There was a big difference in temperature between day and night. Even though it was 'Spring' I could still see my breath. It was like a scene in the "Field of Dreams". After warming up, I figured out that Conrad was having fun and asked him,
"Should I try squatting a bit?"
"Yeah, umm, walk about half a dozen paces away. Good, that's fine. Now throw it here."
"That's quite far, Your Majesty~."
"It's ok, I'm already in high school! Look, just throw a straight pitch, right down the center!"
I squatted down and focused on the soles of my feet. The ball came with intense force, but I caught it at knee level between my legs. The weight and speed were more than I expected because he had such bad form.
"Who taught you how to throw like that?"
I threw the ball back and was surprised by his bad form and even the position of his fingers.
"Your speed is good, but where, and who the hell taught you to throw totally wrong like that?"
"No one taught me. I watched baseball games on my own, and got a feel for it. I couldn't see how to hold or throw it very well watching from a distance."
"If you say there were games, then you had practice, too? Then there has to be a coach and students, too. Fine, you should hold the ball with three fingers along of the seam."
"I see... Hmm, can you really throw a ball well like this?"
"Isn't it obvious?! If you have a tight grip on the ball it'll be hard to let it go. When you mentioned games, where were they? I thought this country didn't have anything like a stadium? Do people go out Fridays nights for beer, and watch the Giants play night games?"
"The Giants were a National League so I didn't know them very well... But, Your Majesty, there is no baseball in this country. The games I mentioned weren't in this country."
I stuck my glove in my armpit and played with the played in Conrad's hand, showing him how to hold it as he hesitantly answered. Look, this is a four-seam ball, because the intersecting stitching can make it look like a rising fastball. I'm not really listening because I'm more focused on showing him how to do it right.
"Are you moving your body weight when you wind up? Otherwise your pivot foot won't be firm. This time keep your eye on the target. Don't look away from my mitt. And you take short strides. I can't show you how to do that, you just have to keep practicing until you find the best spot for you. Your follow-through is strangely large..."
Somehow I enjoyed explaining that. When I held his hand and shoulders and moved him around, it reminded me of my childhood and gave me a warm feeling inside.
"...I wonder if this is what it was like."
"I was just wondering if this is what it was like. When I was being taught I was about ten or so, and there was a one-day baseball class being taught by professional players. Back then I hated playing catcher, and I don't know if my father had a connection or won a lottery draw but we met up at the venue."
I wasn't especially big, nor mature. I was my father who decided what position I'd take when I was a grade-schooler, and I was scared of fast balls and runners. I had a mask, of course, but I was still scared when things were coming at my face. For a catcher he was a slender professional player, and I admitted to him frankly.
For a catcher to face a trim professional player; I hung my head and told him frankly.
"If I said I was scared, I'd seem inept, right? But that man made me squat down, and he squat down behind me himself. After he positioned my mitt he called out to the pitcher."
The pitcher was over 180cm. He raised up his foot, with a ball inside his blue glove, and threw it through the air with his long fingers. If I think about it now, I'm sure that lob was a super slow pitch. But I stayed in place without moving or blinking, and the brand new ball flew into my mitt.
"And, my teacher asked me over my shoulder. Were you scared? But from now on I had already..."
"You've already caught a ball thrown by a pro player. Are you still scared of playing on a junior team?"
As I looked at Conrad's hand, I remembered the breeze from that day. There still wasn't a roof. The sunlight directly hit my cap. "...I could never forget that feeling."
"So would you say you were touched by your coach's warmth?"
"No, not like that! Not at all! I decided to make him my role model on my own. Besides that one time I never got to talk to him, and I wasn't able to get his autograph!"
"But Your Majesty... you're a fan of the coach's team."
"Isn't that obvious?! For awhile I had the team's song on my cell-phone, I watched all the relays to the end, checked the FM station on the weekends, and was even in the fan club and went to the stadium. I've been saving news articles for four years, and collecting videos... What team are you a fan of? Does the team here have a name?"
Conrad crossed his arms with a meaningful expression.
"The Boston Red Sox."
"The Red Sox?! The big shots! Orellano, Wolcott, Clark, and Rhodes from Kintetsu!"
"Who? I don't know him."
"From the Pacific league... On my world, he's a former player for the Red Sox. I guess it's possible the teams on this world would even have the same names. The Tigers and Giants have teams in Japan and America. Which is completely chaotic, with a pair of the Cubs and a set of the Giants, even though they're entirely different nationalities..."
"That's because the Giants are a National League, isn't it?"
"Can they have the same name in the League? Besides that, Boston is the name of a place on Earth... That shouldn't be here..."
When I think about it, this man is unusual. We have too much in common. Gripping the ball, I took a long, hard look at Conrad's face. I unconsciously grip the ball dangerously tight, until my index finger started to cramp.
"Gunter didn't understand any of this stuff, but you seem to know all about it. Like merry-go-rounds, and my father... And to top it off, the Red Sox.... What's the meaning of this? Just awhile ago you said this country didn't have baseball. Then, where is this? Which humans in what country like baseball? Where are the Boston Red Sox?"
It's just not...
"Where else are they besides Massachusetts, in America, on Earth?!"
It's just not possible.
Conrad spread both his arms with the glove still on, and shook his head 'No'.
"Nowhere. They aren't anywhere besides Massachusetts, in America, on Earth."
"Then how do you know about them?"
"When you say "been there", who went where?"
"I've been to Boston."
"Not just Boston. I've been to different places. Washington, Staten Island, New Hampshire, Orlando, Quebec, Edinburgh, Wales, Dusseldorf, Cherbourg... While I was protecting Your Majesty's soul I saw the world you grew up in."
It's a chapter from Lonely Planet, for a visitor to Earth.
"Seventeen years ago, in your previous life, your soul became pure white because you healed wounds. While protecting you, I visited your birthplace, the United States of America. That's how I came to love baseball, and I came back after I made sure the soul of our future Maoh was safely born. Your Majesty's mother was strong woman. Even when she was about to give birth, she told off the taxi driver."
"It can't be... You're the man who gave me my name?!"
"I didn't think she would actually use it..."
Then my being teased for the passed fifteen years as "Shibuya Yuuri Harajuku Furi" is 20% his fault? The rest of it was because of the kanji characters my parents picked out.
"If that's true, then you first met me when I was still in my mother's stomach?"
Is it ok for such a strange story to exist? It seems like he hasn't changed much from fifteen years ago when he met my mother. The man who named me was smiling right in front of me. And he keeps calling me "Your Majesty".
"I've been waiting for fifteen years..."
He took off his glove and held it under his armpit, wrapping his hand over mine on the ball.
"For the day I could meet Your Majesty in person."
The conversation in the left half of my brain wanted to tell him "Thanks" or "Thank you, on my mother's behalf", or some other standard answer. But when he was facing me with such a human expression, the right side of my brain won no matter how much I fought it, and I already forgot all those other phrases.
"...Don't call me "Your Majesty". You're the one who named me."
That's right, because you gave me my name! Even so, to hide my embarrassment I had to keep speaking in a higher voice than usual. I felt a little touched, because it was unlike me to be so emotional.
"Besides, don't talk like we're brothers who have been separated their whole lives! We basically just met yesterday, I've only heard about you before from that one cab ride. Well, if you had written your name on your luggage or something back then my mother probably would have remembered that, too. But look."
I held out the ball.
"It looks like the owner wrote their name on their baseball stuff."
"...That's not my name."
"I was just trying to take home a glove that I had bought for myself, when I got the ball at the stadium. I didn't ask for anything, but a young man on the visiting team asked if I wanted him to sign it and took it suddenly..."
"Wh,wh,wh,wh,wh, what?! You have a great ball signed by a Major Leaguer and you're using it to play catch with me?! Who?! Who signed it?!"
The text was so faded that even if I knew the English I wouldn't have been able to make it out. What am I going to do if it's one of the gods of Major League baseball?
"What do you mean? Who's more famous than Your Majesty?"
"Are, are, are you serious?! I was an alternate for three years so I couldn't even think about going to Koshien, well, nevermind Koshien, even professionals can't compare to the major leagues... And, baseball has barely even spread around this world yet!"
"I wouldn't say 'has barely even'. It's just me and a few kids."
"What you mean is, right now I'm far beyond the top player? Is that the correct starting line-up for the game? I'm the "Ichiro" of Shin Makoku? But I play catcher so I should say I'd be the successor of Itoh?"
"Even better. In Your Majesty's case, you would certainly be a player, as well as the coach, the manager, the referee, and the owner. If it's a team managed by the government, the king would own it of course."
"The king?! The king, huh? Maybe it would be ok to be the Maoh."
Conrad looked directly at me, and his amber eyes narrowed as he said,
"I'm glad, Your Majesty. I'm glad you feel better; if only a little."
I'm not feeling better, Conrad. But I couldn't think of anything to say.
"Yeah, but if I'm king, doesn't that mean I can make baseball the national sport? We could build a Shibuya Yuuri Commemoration Stadium or have the first Shibuya Tournament!"
Something crossed my mind.
(Translated by Emeryl, originally posted on Onadoru Euphoria. Re-posted with permission.)