~ kittykittyhunter ~

Lots of people rang the doorbell. Ryoma liked to hide behind the tall umbrella stand and watch his parents receive the strangers. Some were invited inside. Others only stayed for a moment. For the four year old, observing the procession was fun.

One morning, when he was colouring a picture of a tennis ball with his favourite crayon, he heard a ding-dong. He dropped the crayon and hurried to his usual post. Sure enough, his father was ambling down the hall, quietly grumbling. Echizen Nanjiroh wrenched the handle. A uniformed man stood against the sunlight.

"Morning!" the postman said. "I've got a package for you. If you could just sign here…"

Ryoma balanced on his tiptoes. His father's shoulder was hunched.

"Great." The postman passed a huge box. He started. "Wait a minute. Aren't you Sam–"

Then Ryoma heard the words that made his mouth fall open.

"I'm not Nanjiroh!"

The old man slammed the front door.

Ryoma would have forgotten an isolated incident. His mother was valiantly trying to raise a bilingual child, but he was prone to confusing his hiragana, and when presented with an unfamiliar character, would moodily answer, "Tennis." Most things ended up at the back of his mind.

He was watching TV with his father, nestled against Nanjiroh's side. The old man was bearable as long as they weren't on a court. Ryoma giggled when a cartoon farmer ran into a wall. Nanjiroh ran his fingers through the boy's hair.

The phone rang. It buzzed three times before Ryoma glowered at his father's face: the noise was disruptive. Nanjiroh reached across to the coffee table.


A gargled stream. Suddenly –

"I'm not Nanjiroh!"

And he pressed the red button.

Rinko was reading a sheet with too much writing. Ryoma sidled up to his mother and tugged her shirt. She said, "Yes dear," without moving.

He scowled. Sometimes, his parents failed to understand what was important. "Mommy," he began, "Mommy, I need to tell you."

"Uh huh." Her eyes remained on the paper.

Clutching the duvet with both hands, he hoisted himself up. He flopped beside Rinko and prodded her. "Mommy," he recalled a special word he had been taught, "emer-jan-see."

She sighed and turned towards him.

"What's the emergency?"

He held her hands.

"It's about Daddy," he said seriously. "I think… he's a robot."

His mother promptly burst out laughing. He was not amused.

"I'm sorry," Rinko coughed. "Is this because – no. What makes you think that?"

Ryoma folded his arms. "He says he isn't Nanjiroh, but he is."

Rinko's smile faltered. She tapped her fingers on her cheek. "I'll explain something to you, Ryoma. It might be confusing at first, but you'll understand."

He extended his arms. He always sat on his mother's lap for story-time.

Once he was settled, she said, "You see, your Daddy used to play tennis as a job. He was very good, and on TV a lot." Ryoma blinked. Rinkocontinued, "One day, he decided that he didn't want to play tennis as a job anymore.

"Occasionally, people recognise him and your Daddy says, 'I'm not Nanjiroh!' and runs away. It's strange, yes – but it would be very annoying if people never left him alone. He wouldn't have time to play with you. That would be sad, right?"

Ryoma leant against his mother, listening to her steady heartbeat.

"He lied."


"You tell me off for lying."

She looked at him sternly. "That's right. If you lie, you won't be allowed to watch TV."

He pouted.


Mother and son swivelled at the sound; Nanjiroh was leaning against the door frame. He strode into the room and sat beside his wife. Then he nodded at Ryoma, who slid from his mother's knees and crawled towards the old man. Nanjiroh patted his head.

"Do you still think I'm a robot?"

Ryoma declined.

Robots didn't smell like tennis and aftershave. They couldn't eat whole cookies in one bite and they definitely didn't give hugs.