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Chapter 2: Overprotection
-Do You Need It?-
On her second afternoon in a certain country, Kino finished her meal and went back to the parking lot for Hermes.
There, right in front of Hermes, she spotted a man and a woman embroiled in a heated argument. Both were about 30 years of age, and they seemed to be a married couple. Next to them was a boy about 10 years old—likely their son—standing dazed as though he was lost.
“You’re being too overprotective,” said the husband. “It’s not good for the boy!”
“You’re being too callous!” the wife shot back. “This is the least we can do for him!”
The family stood between Kino and Hermes. The air was tense.
Kino finally spoke. “Er…may I get through? You’re standing in front of my motorrad.”
The man whipped his head around. “What do you think?” he asked.
“Huh? What do you mean?” Kino replied curiously. The man opened his mouth to respond, but his wife cut him off.
“This man insists that our son doesn’t need a bulletproof vest.”
“Why would he need one?” Kino asked.
“Because of the war,” the husband replied. “Our son’s going to fight in it.”
“Yes. The first war in our country’s history broke out a few months ago. The military sent out a call for volunteers, and today our son will be joining their ranks. I don’t mean to brag, but he’s a clever boy. He’ll make a fine soldier. He might even come back a hero! But my wife here insists that he needs a bulletproof vest. Ridiculous.”
The wife refused to budge. “You’re the one who’s being ridiculous! He needs the bulletproof vest to protect him from mortar shrapnel!”
“He can just duck for that. They have trenches on the front lines.”
“Trenches! Trenches can’t protect him perfectly. And imagine dying by mortar shrapnel; that’s not a hero’s death at all.”
“Think about it. Bulletproof vests are heavy. They slow you down. Fly like a butterfly and sting like a bee, I say! That’s common sense for real soldiers. And imagine the teasing he’d have to endure if he’s the only one who shows up to war with a bulletproof vest.”
“Then he simply has to hold his head high and tell the other soldiers that it’s a present from his mama.”
Kino watched the argument for some time before glancing at the boy. “I think your son should have the final say. He’s the one going out to fight.”
“You’re right,” the woman said, turning to her son. “What do you think, sweetheart? You’ll listen to mama, won’t you? You’ll wear the vest, right?” She pleaded with the boy, bending down and putting a warm hand on his shoulder.
Her husband also bent down, and balled his son’s hand into a fist. “Be honest with us, son. You’re a real man. You don’t need a bulletproof vest.”
“Mama and papa will respect your decision,” said the woman. “It’s up to you.”
“That’s right,” said the man. “What do you say?”
The boy hesitated, but the answer that followed was resolute.
“I don’t wanna fight in the war.”
The man leapt up. He was livid. “Absolutely not! We’re doing this for your sake!”
The woman leapt up. She was also livid. “Exactly! If you become a war hero, you can get a recommendation to a great school in the future! And your classmates are all going, aren’t they? You don’t want to fall behind, do you?”
“B-but Jo’s mom and dad said they’d never let him fight…” the child trailed off. The woman was not having any of it.
“What Jo’s family does is their business!”
“That’s right. It’s not good to compare like that!”
It was an all-out scolding. The boy flinched.
The woman pulled a bulletproof vest out of her bag. It was brand new, packaged in a clear plastic bag with a tag that read, ‘Celebrating the participation of our young recruits! Specially designed to reduce shoulder stress! Now equipped with height-adjustment features ideal for growing children! Wear-and-tear-resistant!’
The woman knelt to meet her son’s eyes and gave him a gentle push. “Now put this on and we’ll head over to the recruitment center. Mama will come all the way there with you.”
“He doesn’t need the darned vest. You’re being overprotective.”
“What’s wrong with wanting to keep my son safe?”
“Nothing. But you shouldn’t go overboard.”
The boy looked up at his parents as they argued again and reiterated himself. “I don’t wanna fight in the war.”
“Enough complaining, young man. I swear, you’re just as cowardly as your mother.”
“What? He’s simply being stubborn, just like his father.”
The man and woman were both incredulous. The boy was on the verge of tears.
“I…don’t wanna fight in the war…” he trailed off.
Kino interjected. “Maybe you should discuss whether to send him to war or not together, as a family.”
The couple glared at Kino in unison.
“Who are you to tell us how to raise our son?”
“That’s right. This is family business. And we’re doing this for our son’s future.”
“Right…” Kino replied.
The woman took the boy’s hand. “Let’s go, sweetheart. And you too, dear. We’ll decide what to do about the vest at the center. We have to hurry, or they’ll stop taking new recruits.”
“You’re right. Let’s go, son.”
The man and the woman each took one of the boy’s hands and walked away. Soon they were out of sight.
Kino shook her head. Hermes finally spoke up. “Good job, Kino.”
“I’m exhausted,” Kino sighed, and climbed on.