The car ride back to the city would be long, dusty, and bumpy and Rikishi knew he would be miserable every minute of it. But he promised Elam that he would be there and a man was nothing without his word. His nephew’s face lit up like it was Settler’s day, when children received toys and sugar cakes to celebrate the founding of the Republic, when he told him.
Muriam would not want him to disappoint his nephew. She often spoke of her desire to have children herself one day when the peace finally returned and everyone could continue with their lives. She worked as a teacher in the Order capital when she pulled him from the wreckage. Even after the city was destroyed, she continued to tutor several children in her home until the very end.
“What did you tell him?” Tarra asked as she glanced at her brother. Rikishi tucked away his memories of his Muriam.
“Pardon?” he asked.
“Your neighbor, the old man with the really loud wife, what did you tell them you were leaving for?”
All the neighbors knew his name was Rikishi, a common name in the agricultural districts, but he never told them he was the famous hero of the war as the Republic newspapers called him. If it did not affect the crops in the field or the price on the market, then the information was not really that important. They all knew he was a competent farmer who worked hard like everyone else and expected fair prices for his crops. No farmer in the area was wealthy and they were lucky to scrape enough money to buy a radio. The thought of wasting money buying an expensive television like the rich people in the cities revolted most of the neighbors around Rikishi.
“I told them the tractor broke down so I’m going into the city for a few days with family and to pickup parts.”
Tarra gave him that look that reminded him of their mother when he would skip school or raise hell around town as a child.
“What? It’s not like I’m lying. The tractor has needed new parts for the past two seasons but I saw no need to leave the farm. I don’t have a car and hiring someone to drive all the way out there is way too expensive for a dumb old farm boy.”
“I could have wired you money or taken you any time you want, Rik. I’m here for you. We’re the only family we have left.”
“I know, Tarra,” Rikishi said leaving out his desire for solitude. Even years after the war, he still woke up in cold sweats from the dead cursing his name. There were some demons that he would take to his grave. “I’ll do this celebration and visit with you for a few days, but I can’t stay away from the farm very long. It’s nearly harvest time and I have a lot of work to do to prepare.”
“Okay. Three days and then I’ll take you home, after I buy you some new parts for that old beast of yours. I’ll buy you a new suit for the celebration. It’s the least I can do. I know this is not easy for you.”
“Fair enough,” Rikishi said nodding. He would let her buy the parts he needed not but after harvest, he would wire the money back plus interest. He had no intention of dressing up for the celebration but Tarra’s voice made it clear she would not take no, just like mom.
The large crop fields became smaller and smaller as they approached the city before they disappeared and became small gardens, victory gardens they were called during the war. Rikishi laughed to himself. The only victory that mattered during war was survival and those gardens provided some ability to do that. Only the politicians thought victory meant defeating the enemy, but then again, that’s easy to think when you are not dodging bullets and have a full belly every night.
* * *
“We’re here,” Tarra announced as she opened her car door.
Rikishi felt his neck crack several times as he straightened it. “Sorry, I must have fallen asleep,” he said as he exited the vehicle.
Tarra smiled as she pointed to the back seat. “Looks like you were not the only one. Come on, big man, let’s get you in your pajamas and in bed.” Tarra leaned over and scooped up Elam, carrying him to the front door where an old woman appeared.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, we weren’t sure if you were coming home tonight so the staff retired for the night. I was reading when I heard you drive up.” She reached out for Elam but Tarra shook her head.
“Nan, don’t worry about it. I wasn’t sure how long the trip would take,” she said entering her home. “My brother can be as stubborn as a mule and I wasn’t leaving without him.”
Nan smiled. “Yes, mistress,” she said. When she saw Rikishi, her smiled disappeared. “Oh my, are you…him?”
“If you mean, am I her brother? Yes ma’am,” Rikishi said tipping his old hat. It was a dirty and filthy, more likely seen on a bum in the city than a common man, but it served him well. You did not throw out things that worked.
“But you’re him. You’re Rikishi, the hero of the war,” the woman said holding her hand over her gaping mouth.
He was too tired to argue the finer points of heroics in battle, so he just nodded and said, “I am Rikishi.”
“I cannot believe it,” Nan said, her district accent indicating she was originally from the north.
“Nan,” Tarra said calling down from the landing at the top of the stairs, “my brother will be staying a few days. Please go prepare the spare bedroom for him while he washes.”
Nan stumbled back a step before turning around to look at Tarra, “Yes, Mistress. Right away.”
Rikishi slowly unclenched his fists and sighed before closing the door. It would be a long three days.