Chapter 1 – First off, a little about myself

Chapter 1 – First off, a little about myself

by December 28, 2014

Chapter 1 - First off, a little about myself

Translated by Hitoshura and Mecorx, Proofread by Crashouch

When I was fourteen, I took in this jet black cat. I found him on the roadside making the most pathetic meow you could imagine, and brought him home. While I was busy trying to think of a cool name to give him, my mother started calling him Blackie. That was the kind of person my mother was. It’s a black cat, let’s call him Blackie. I complained, but in the end couldn’t offer up an alternative.

Blackie completely ignored the chair and cushion we prepared for him, moving to a new spot every few hours. He would go all around our cramped house―from the kitchen, to my room, to mom’s room―pondering cat stuff and sleeping. Then half a year later he must have come to the conclusion that he didn’t belong here, because Blackie disappeared somewhere. I was fifteen. I don’t know how old he was.

“Maybe he didn’t like it here?”

“That’s what boys do, they leave home,” there was a knowing look to my mother’s face when she said this one night while we were reminiscing about Blackie. I’d never even thought of leaving home and leaving my mother behind. I wanted to start earning my way so I could help her out.

My mother worked in a cafe during the day, and in a bar from the evening until late into the night. She was constantly exhausted. Nevertheless, whenever I found a job, she would make up some excuse and stop me from taking it. I think it was down to the illness I used to have. It was my heart. But I had surgery when I was five, so it should be all clear, and since then it’s been absolutely fine. I’d been the picture of health, if I do say so myself.

“Hey, I’ve been thinking, I really do want to work. That’ll make it easier for you, won’t it?”

“Thank you. But in two years. When you’re seventeen,” Mom said as she played with the waves of her hair. She had beautiful blonde hair, but it always reeked of tobacco smoke.

“Why seventeen?”

“Because I’m sure Blackie was seventeen too.”

It didn’t make any sense at all. Why would working and leaving home mean the same thing? I thought we should have talked it out, but it was painful to talk with her when she was drunk.

Half a year later, I saw Blackie in the street. Well, a cat that looked like Blackie. He had turned into a stray, missing the tip of one of his ears and covered in scars. I called out to him and he just looked at me without a hint of enthusiasm, then looked away and started walking off. I followed him and, without even turning around, he climbed up the fence of a nearby house and made his way up to the roof. He was now completely out of reach.

“I want to work”, “Wait a bit” – the same conversation played out at regular intervals. Most of my friends were working, and even if they weren’t, they must have at least been earning their own spending money. It felt like they were all up there on that roof, laughing at me.

This was in Sector Six of Midgar. At the end of a busy street lined with shops and restaurants. Our house was just down an alley, nestled between a bookshop and a weaponsmith’s, that was damp and reeked of rust. Houses with the kind of basic shapes you’d see in a kid’s drawing, made of some material that looked like brick, were bunched together. It was apparently used as a housing area for lower-level Shin-Ra Company employees for a while after Midgar was completed. Later on, company housing was moved to Sectors Seven and Five. The area was supposed to be demolished, until some rich guy who ran a couple of bars leased them from Shin-Ra for his workers to live in. The rent was dirt cheap. A lot of the people who had come to Midgar from the world below – rural areas or the slums – with dreams of making something of themselves lived there. Everyone was poor. This was the sort of place for people who didn’t make it among the relatively wealthy populace of Midgar, but everyone agreed that it beat living in the slums.

It was about one week before my seventeenth birthday. The sound of the phone woke me up. I could hear Mom talking to someone in a quiet voice. When I got up, she was cleaning the kitchen/dining room. Cleaning and tidying – in other words, maintaining order in the home – was my job. Studying at my teacher’s home, talking with my friends, wandering around town. Staring at a TV with bad reception. For someone all but devoid of actual responsibilities, cleaning and tidying was my sole contribution to our life. I’d never cut corners there. When I argued that I had done it yesterday, she told me that we had a guest coming over.

“I’d like you to meet him, so can you go get changed?” she said, without looking at me. Something felt wrong about it, and that hunch proved true.

Nick Foley was in his mid-thirties, like Mom. His tall frame was covered by a well-tailored grey suit. Above a light-pink necktie with white dots sat his little, clean-cut face. He stood in the doorway, a pleasant smile across his face as he looked down at me.

“Call me Nick. I work in the Shin-Ra Company’s business department.”

With the way he was smiling and introducing himself, it was like he was saying ‘Hey, we’re friends now, right?’. If I’d let my guard down, I might have actually ended up calling him Nick.

“You take after your dad, don’t you?” judging from the look on his face, Nick Foley wished he hadn’t said that.

“You knew my dad?”

My dad died in Wutai right before I was born. There wasn’t even a single picture of him, so I didn’t know what he looked like.

“What, no, I just meant that you don’t look much like your mom. I’ve heard what happened… sorry. But you’re a good-looking boy, aren’t you? I bet you do well for yourself with the girls.”

I must have been making quite a face, because Nick Foley started looking at my mother for assistance.

“Do you want some of this cake Nick brought? It’s from Mrs. Tosca’s!” she made too much of a noise as she set the plates on the table and placed a slice of that overly decorated cake on them.

Eating one of Mrs. Tosca’s insanely expensive mounds of sugar and cream was a treat my mother reserved for when she got paid. She liked to take her time to enjoy it, this little reward to herself.

“Come on you two, sit down.”

“So here it is. Been wanting to try one of these cakes ever since I heard about them. Normally I don’t care for sweet stuff at all,” Nick sat down in my seat as he rambled on about some pointless crap.

Please just die.

The smile vanished from my mother’s face.

There were three chairs around the table. Out of the remaining two, I took the seat opposite the enemy. My mother’s seat. She sat in on the chair saved for the rare visitor we had.

Nick Foley must have noticed the chill in the air too. He let out a heavy sigh and looked right at me. He put his elbows on the table and folded his hands in front of his face. “I had wanted to meet you a lot sooner, but I could just never find the time. It’s really cutting it close now. You’ve heard about me, right?” Nick Foley looked at my mother.

In a barely audible voice she said she was sorry, she couldn’t bring it up.

“—Great. But the arrangements are all set now, so we can’t move the date. We’re leaving Midgar in two days. Get your things ready.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’ve talked it over with your mother several times. You’re just going to have to come along. You are family, after all. I’ll be heading off now, but if there’s anything you want to know more about, your mother will—“

I swept the cake off the table along with the plate and slammed my foot down on the floor as I got up, then went straight out the front door.

The sound of the plate shattering rung in my ears. I felt bad about doing something so unlike me.

When I’ve calmed down, I’ll go home and talk to Mom. There seems to be a lot of stuff I don’t know. But still, leaving in two days? Leaving to where? No. It doesn’t matter where, I don’t want to go. I’m not going anywhere with him.

I decided to kill time for two days, then go home. If I did that, Nick Foley and my mother’s plans would be shot.

It’s probably going to be a little awkward for a while, but what can you do? Things will get back to normal soon enough, I kept thinking to myself as I walked through Sector Seven to the warehouse block in Sector Eight – the usual destination for teenage runaways.

And then I got caught in the infamous Sector Seven plate incident. There were a number of support struts that held the massive weight of Midgar’s giant, circular base from the ground below – one for each of the eight Sectors. This was the incident where the seventh of those struts was blown up by terrorists. Having lost that support strut, the Sector Seven plate, in its entirety, became severed from the flanking Sectors Six and Eight and fell. It flattened the slum below, obliterating it. A lot of lives were lost.

At the moment of the explosion, I was at the border between Sectors Seven and Eight. When the city shook from the blast, I instantly ran away in the direction of Sector Eight. At first I had no idea what was going on. I ran without thinking, following the droves of people. Eventually I learnt that Sector Seven had collapsed. There was news that Sector Six was safe, but nothing was certain. I was worried about my mother. I tried to go back home via Sector Zero in the center of the city, but that route was sealed off by the Shinra Army, on the lookout for the terrorists. Having no other choice, I decided to work my way backwards, going through Eight, One, Two, and so on. The people were afraid of where the next explosion would be. These deranged terrorists had only just recently blown up the Sector One Mako Reactor.

It took me three days to reach home, after having gone nearly full circle around Midgar. What would have taken one day of walking without resting, had I been able to go the shortest distance, took three days. I got lost in the unfamiliar streets of Sector Eight and got into a panic. Before long it was night. The cold breeze that came from the gaps between the warehouses mercilessly sapped the warmth from my body. First, I was hit with stomach pains. Then, it was fever and chills. Cursing my body for its weakness, I looked for a place to lie down. Finally I stumbled across an empty warehouse, and collapsed onto an abandoned mattress. Then, out of nowhere, a couple of guys appeared, looking at me with nasty glints in their eyes. They were the same age as me, but if I were a house cat, these were strays. They insisted I pay them to use this spot, claiming those were the rules around these parts. But I had no money or valuables on me. In the end, giving them someone to vent their dissatisfaction on was how I paid up. The pain where they had kicked my back and stomach was killing me.

One night’s rest didn’t do much in the way of making me feel any better, but I didn’t want to pay the charges again to stay here another night. More than worrying about my mother, I just wanted to go home. I mustered up the energy and left the strays’ den.

I staggered along, taking frequent breaks on the way, and managed to arrive home past noon on the third day. The house was okay. Mom was out, but this was usually when she would have been at work. I took some cold medicine and crawled into bed. I fell asleep, having decided to go see my mother when I got up. It was night-time when I woke. I still wasn’t feeling great, but probably good enough to make it to the pub and back. First I took a shower. I dried myself off with a towel and went back to my room, put some underwear on and some black pants. I picked an oversized sweater that hid my body to wear on top, a navy blue one. This was the most grown-up combination of clothes in my wardrobe. My tall-but-lanky build was the target of ridicule at the pub. I was certain to end up barraged with the same old remarks, telling the kid to have a glass of milk and run along to bed.

Just as I was about to head out of the door, the messy state of my bed started bothering me. When I straightened out the thin blanket and fluffed up my pillow, I noticed an envelope that had been placed under it. Inside was a large sum of money and a letter from Mom. I read the letter.

“I’m going with Nick as we planned. We will contact you to tell you where we are as soon as we have settled down. Use the money in the envelope to live on and wait for me to call. Leave half of it to pay for the trip to our new home” – the whole thing was utterly impersonal and businesslike. The Sector Seven incident had happened on the same day I ran out of the house. She must have known about it and the extent of the damages. But she left with a man without even making sure her own son was safe. And she seemed to think that I would just come running when she tells me where she is. I didn’t get it.

I went to my mother’s room and opened the closet door. On the hangers were a few outfits for her daytime job that looked a bit too youthful for her age, and several horrible ones for her night job. It looked like she’d left her work behind too. The clothes she wore off-work, which were usually strewn in a mess beneath them, were gone. I sat on my mother’s bed for a while, absent-minded. Then I suddenly remembered our family’s little secret, hidden in the ceiling.

I brought a chair in from the dining room and placed it in the middle of the room. I got up on it and stretched out my hands, removing one of the ceiling tiles. I gently threw the tile onto the bed and looked up at the square hole that had opened up in the ceiling. Mom had hidden a chest there. Inside there was money and treasures. The money was her weekly wages, and the treasures were my “first somethings” – my umbilical cord, hair from my first haircut, the first baby tooth I lost – each one creepy any way you looked at it, but to my mother I guess they were all irreplaceable treasures.

As I stuck my hand into the ceiling my fingertips hit the chest. It seemed to have been pushed back and I couldn’t reach it. I grabbed hold of the edge of the next tile with both hands and lifted my body up. I was going to stick my head in to check it out, but the tile broke. I fell downwards, losing my balance atop of the chair, and nearly tumbled over as I landed on the floor. In front of my eyes were pieces of the broken ceiling tile and the treasure chest. There were also two paper bags. When I opened the chest – an old wooden cheese box that I had drawn the purple apples I used to like on in crayon when I was little – all the treasures were still safely there. There was also what appeared to be the remainder of mom’s wages. In other words, the money under my pillow wasn’t the money that was here. Where had it come from? Nick Piece-of-Shit Foley’s wallet?

Next, I opened one of the unfamiliar paper bags. It was white and brand new. When I looked inside I couldn’t believe it. Mind-boggling would have been the perfect adjective to describe the amount of money in the bag. I could live comfortably for a whole year with it. The bound bundles of money, like the bag, were new. The wrapper on one of the stacks of bills was loose. It seemed the money under my pillow had come from here. I felt like I had gotten to the bottom of that mystery, and it started to make sense. But that was not the heart of the problem. Where did all this money come from? I could only think of one person. Nick Fucking-Loaded Foley.

The other bag was made of a thicker, pale green paper. When I took the tape off the opening, there was a dark brown coloured leather bag inside. It had a sturdy build, with a flap that had a metal fastener, and the kind of drabness you’d expect from military equipment. It had a strap you could adjust the length of. It was the kind of shoulder bag you’d think would belong to a grown man, and a hardened adventurer at that. When I opened the flap there was a small card inside the bag.

“Happy Seventeenth Birthday. I hope you become the kind of strong man worthy of this bag. From Mom.”

My mother had prepared a birthday present for me, hidden it and left. A mother who disappeared with some good-looking man. And a son left behind with a pile of money.

How did all of this fit together?

I sat on my mother’s bed and thought about it. But it didn’t seem like I was going to find the answer. My mother would contact me eventually. I guessed I would just have to wait until then. For the time being, I decided to fix the ceiling.

I picked up the broken ceiling tile and got up on the chair, and returned it to its original location. Next, I moved on to the first tile I removed. This one didn’t want to fit in place properly. My arms started getting tired while I was working on it. I started getting irritable, and had no choice but to face up to the unpleasant reality I just couldn’t shake from my mind. My mother was short, and even if she stood on a chair she couldn’t have reached the ceiling. When I had grown taller than Mom, it was my idea to use the space behind the ceiling as storage. Since then it had been my duty to put things in and out of the chest. That’s how I knew how much my mother made, how much she had left, and how poor we were.

And therein lay the question. Who put the money and the gift I just found up in the ceiling?

The tall man who looked down at me in the doorway. Nick Son-of-a-Bitch Foley. That man had been in my mother’s room while I was gone.

I abandoned what I was doing, went to front door, and yanked out the cable from the phone hanging on the wall.

They’re going to see how angry I am.

I tried to get my life back to normal. I was going to my teacher’s, talking with my friends, and even watching TV. I thought about splurging with the money, but when I thought that it might be Nick Foley’s money I decided against it. No. The truth was that I just couldn’t think of anything to do with it. In the end I put the money in the shoulder bag that I had been gifted for my birthday and decided to forget all about it.

My sleepless nights continued. One evening I struck on the idea of reading a book. Reading was my mother’s sole hobby. In her room were several books she had finished. I picked out Escape From Wutai – Part 1. Because it was the last one on the end. That’s all. It was an old novel written during the war. The beginning was filled with scenes of the Wutaians using some weird martial arts to kill the prisoners in the camps. Eventually, five of the prisoners slip past a stupid Wutaian and escape the camp. Three men, and two women. There was one man too many. I figured that someone was probably going to die. Probably this Shinra military officer jerk-off. However, the officer defied my expectations and lived, and even started pushing the other four around like he was the leader. I wished he would die soon. My wish would come true near the last page. The officer was blown to bits by one of the landmines the Wutaians had planted. The way he died shocked me.

“He was blown to bits by a Wutai landmine,” that was the only story my mother had told me about my father. Maybe she had gotten it from this novel. Did she project my father onto this man who rightfully should have died? That was probably the case. She must have really hated him. I admired how she could have raised the son of a man like that. No. Maybe it was exactly because I was the child that man had left behind that, if ever there was the need to do so, she would be able to abandon me like she had done so now. I thought I was loved, but could that have just been a mask for her hatred? I threw Escape From Wutai – Part 1 against the wall. Like I gave a damn what happened to the other four in Part 2.

I went back into my mother’s room and looked at her book collection. I could tell from the titles that they were all adventure novels. On the covers were illustrations of what looked like the main characters. They were all different sorts of characters, but all women. My mother loved those kinds of novels. She lived a real life that lacked these sorts of sights and adventures. So, though I dreaded the thought, maybe she was captivated by romance. Was life with me that boring? Was it painful?

That’s enough. My mother left, and I’m left behind. I’m just going to stop thinking about her. I need to think about living on my own.

The next day I visited the café she used to work at. The manager, a man with a square forehead and the broad shoulders of a retro robot, ranted at lengths about my mother suddenly quitting. I had kind of prepared for this, but it got to me more than I’d expected. After a stream of complaints he seemed to remember to ask what I was here for. I told him I wanted a job. From the flow of the conversation I figured I was in for rejection, but the manager called up the owner right then and there. I couldn’t understand what was going on in his mind, but then again I didn’t know how my own mother felt either – it’s no wonder I wouldn’t understand a stranger.

Surprisingly, I was able to start work immediately. There was a delivery truck that resupplied the necessary food and drinks to all of the owner’s businesses. I was given the job of being the driver’s assistant. Apparently, my predecessor had gotten a job with the Shinra Company and had just gleefully quit this job.

I had the most fulfilling of days. This was “the joy of work”. I enjoyed the total change of scenery. Of course, there was never a day I didn’t think about Mom. But still, it got me away from being affected about it 24/7. I put the phone cable back about ten days after unplugging it. Maybe my mother had tried to contact me during that time. It was also possible that the phone had rang while I was out of the house. However, the phone wasn’t the only way to get in touch. The fact there was nothing was a sign that she did abandon me after all. But, whatever. Enjoy your life, Mom. I’m enjoying mine just the way I want to.

The truck driver was a hard boss to work for, but I knew he needed me more than anyone else. I’d never had that experience before in my life. Regardless of the heavy labour, I wasn’t worried about my heart at all. I’d gotten confident about that too.

What do you think about that, Mom?

I started to think those days would last forever, but the situation quickly changed. It was as if a TV flipped itself to another channel in the middle of a show. Meteor had appeared in the sky above Midgar. This comet or falling star or whatever, which had just suddenly appeared in defiance of all astronomical knowledge, looked like a massive black void in the sky. The world was ending in seven days. That was the rumor that got spread around. Giant monsters had appeared in the north and around Junon, and even the Shinra company, with all its prized weaponry, couldn’t defeat them. The city was in chaos with dodgy rumours, like you’d be safe if you hid in the mako reactors, or there was an underground shelter Shinra had built in Kalm. The only thing anyone knew for certain was that Meteor was getting closer, day by day. The initially heated debates over the truth of the Meteor and how to avoid it soon subsided too.

The owner closed his shops and left Midgar, and the neighbourhood was filled by the din of people getting ready to evacuate. My friends, the truck driver and my other workmates asked me to flee with them somewhere far away and though I was thankful for them, I declined their offers.

Seeing Meteor caused me to consider death for the first time in my life. Then, all I could think about was my mother, and the awkward circumstances we had parted on. I felt that if I left the house, I would lost all connection to her. I passed time looking at the few pictures of me and her. They were all taken at the photographer’s on my birthdays. I was standing next to my mother, gradually growing up. After I had gotten taller than her, I started pulling a sulky face in the pictures. My mother was always smiling. I looked at that smiling face and realised how stupid I had been. Mom would never abandon me. All the things I should have done ran through my mind. If I had gone to the Shinra Company, I might have found out where Nick Foley was. I probably should have put the phone cable back right away and installed an answering machine. And then the answers to the questions I didn’t even try to think about came to me – the purpose of all the money left up in the ceiling. Wherever it had come from, the reason she’d left the money was that she’d planned on coming straight back. Or perhaps she meant for me to bring it to her. That seemed likely. Mom never even considered living away from me for a long time. And then there was my birthday present. My mom took birthdays very seriously. She would’ve made some arrangement so I’d get that shoulder bag on the right day – wrote about it in the letter, or put it somewhere easier to find. But she didn’t, because she planned on contacting me soon. I should have just shut up and waited by the phone.

The joy of work? I’m such an idiot.

And then That Day came. I survived the day the mako energy, or rather the Lifestream, burst to the surface and wiped out Meteor. For seven days after that, I waited at home for my mother. On the night of the seventh day, I stepped outside and ended up going down from Midgar to the slums.

Now I’ll tell you about something that began two years after all this. I’ll probably talk a bit about some of the stuff that I experienced over the two years in between as well. I intend to follow the correct route as best as possible so as to prevent our story from getting off topic. But as I already said, I’m not great with making choices. Hopefully you’ll bear with me.

I’ll also sometimes bring up things I shouldn’t really know about. At times likes those I’ll use the facts as the basis, and use a bit of imagination to fill in the rest. For example, something like this…

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