Chapter 4: A Link to the Past (Part 1)
Wednesday May 15, 201X
Following the workout at the gym and a good shower, Kakeru and Nana arrived at the complex's restaurant for lunch with the rest of the team around 1:15 PM. Of everything available on the menu, Kakeru took chicken with sauce and noodles, mixed vegetables, a bottle of orange juice, and a fruit salad. Meanwhile, Nana got herself a sliced ham sandwich with tomatoes and lettuce leaves, soy milk, and a fruit salad to match her own needs as a female player. Sitting down at one of the available tables, the 2 Japanese rookies were later joined by Robin and Shinji.
"Hey! You don't mind if we sit with you?" Robin asked.
"No, not at all. Please do." Kakeru replied.
"Not too exhausted?" Shinji asked.
"That reminded me of how intense and fun my first training on the beach with Enoshima High was." Kakeru replied.
"I guess I'm due to learn Japanese language soon if I want to catch up with everything you say." Robin said with a smile.
"Sorry. I will translate for you if any." Nana replied.
"As I just said, today's training reminded me a lot of my first training in high school. It was fun and intense." Kakeru continued.
"I heard you call Nana as 'Seven' a few times during training. Where does that come from?" Robin asked.
"It's from our elementary school days. There was another football player going by the name of Mishima as well as another one named Nanase, thus we had to find her another way to call her when on the pitch. 'Nana' is one way to say seven in Japanese. So it became a natural when I gave her that nickname, especially when she wore number 7 later." Kakeru replied.
"I see. That makes sense." Robin said.
"So that means you both were teammates with Suguru Aizawa when he was much younger, weren't you?" Shinji asked while Nana provided the translation for Robin.
"We were the best in our team of elementary school kids." Kakeru replied.
"I still remember what was said back then in that U-13 tournament in Madrid about a young Japanese prodigy named Suguru Aizawa, who was as good as Leonardo Silva. Several clubs, including my former club of Arsenal, were preparing offers to sign him before he passed away. I could hardly believe it when I heard that the Boss signed his younger brother... you, Kakeru." Robin said.
"Although some people think I have a number of my brother's skills, things didn't go quite as smoothly as you'd think. I thought of giving up my playing career at some point."
"What happened then?" Robin asked.
"I severely injured a friend in elementary school with my left kick during training. Then I became traumatized by the incident and I felt so guilty about it. Because of that, I wasn't able to use my left leg and I was unable to score a single goal in my first year in middle school. In my second year, I switched to work as a manager; I was basically running away." Kakeru replied.
"God... how did you come back from that?" Robin asked.
"That's not all. And then that accident came at the end of my second year, Suguru died and I almost died with him too. After reading my brother's diary following my recovery, I remembered a childhood promise that Suguru, Nana and I made: that we would play for Japan and win the World Cup. Since the end of middle school, I stopped running away, and I worked hard to rebuild my confidence and make my potential grow into solid skills of my own. Suguru always knew about my potential to be a top striker from the beginning and Nana helped me quite a lot in rebuilding that confidence I lost."
Kakeru's last praise made Nana blush a little. At the same time, Robin and Shinji were astonished by Kakeru's story on how he came back from the brink.
"Japan was so close of losing such a rare type of striker... I'm glad that fate ended up bringing you back on the right track, Kakeru." Shinji said.
"What happened to that friend of yours?" Robin asked.
"He recovered and he also became a very good left-back, but I only knew about his full recovery after I got into high school."
"Good for him that he became a good player in spite of that." Robin said before he turned to Nana. "You are really damn good from the looks of it, Nana. How did you convince the Boss to sign you as well?"
"I wasn't expecting anything. Apparently, scouts saw me training with the boys' team in high school and playing against a varsity team before they analyzed everything they could find about me. They pleaded their case and convinced the Boss to give me a tryout with the Reserves. I joined United on the same day as Kakeru, shortly after finishing high school and after the club made sure we'd be allowed to continue our medical studies while playing." Nana replied.
"Wow! That's quite a surprise." Robin said.
"Not quite. Some people believe that if she's given the opportunity, she would easily match the best with her skill package." Kakeru said.
"That's the truth, Robin." Shinji added.
"I know that FIFA are just waiting for me to fail before they take away opportunities for women just like they did before. However, I won't miss out that opportunity of a lifetime and I will prove those sexist FIFA people wrong even if I have to risk a lot." Nana said.
"Looks like the Boss trusts you more than enough to give that opportunity for you to prove it, Nana. With so many trophies in over 26 years at the club, I'll certainly not question his judgment. Kakeru, Nana, if the Boss gives you the nod at some point on Sunday, we'll help you write history and we'll lift the Premier League trophy together." Robin said.
"Thanks, guys!" Kakeru finished.
After finishing lunch and relaxing a little bit, most of the players already left by 2:30 PM. Only a few injured players remained in the complex for workout and injury treatments. For the drive home, Shinji accepted to drive Kakeru and Nana to West Didsbury since he wasn't too busy on the day. Before getting on the ride, Nana checked her smartphone for text massages.
"Mai-chan sent me a text message saying that she will fly to Manchester alongside whoever else is coming. Your parents also asked us to call in Japan when we get home." Nana said.
"Great! Hopefully, we'll have everyone coming on Sunday." Kakeru finished.
3:10 PM BST (11:10 PM Japan time)
Once Kakeru and Nana returned to their apartment in West Didsbury, Nana turned on her laptop on the desk. It was her tool to call back home in Japan via Skype and a webcam attached to the laptop. In almost no time, Nana established the connection with the Aizawas' house.
"Hello, Mito-chan! It's us." Nana said while Kakeru was standing by her side in front of the webcam.
"Seven, Kake-nii, hello! Hold on a second; I'll ask for my Mom and Dad as well as Seven's parents." Mito replied as she was sitting in front of the computer with Skype on.
Just a minute later, M. Aizawa and Mrs. Aizawa arrived in the webcam's picture frame on Skype as shown on Nana's laptop. "Kakeru, Nana-chan, hi!" Mrs. Aizawa greeted first.
"Hi, Mom. How are you doing back home?" Kakeru asked.
"We're doing great, thanks."
"Hey, son. After I got Nana-chan's message, I managed to convince my boss to let me go on leave to Manchester with your mother and Mito." M. Aizawa added.
"Mito got permission from her teacher?" Kakeru asked.
"Of course, I got permission. Who do you think I am, Kake-nii?" Mito put herself back in front of the webcam momentarily.
"Ok, OK! I know you did. Anyway, I'm really glad you'll be coming together to England."
"We're really proud of you, Kakeru. Making it into the squad at pro level for the biggest game of the season is already a huge step up in your career. I'm sure Suguru would be very proud of you right now." Mrs. Aizawa said.
"I really wish he was here and I will never thank him enough for so much." Kakeru replied.
"By the way, how does it feel to train alongside world-class players?" M. Aizawa asked.
"It was more intense and faster than anything I ever did, but they also know how to keep things fun. We did great for our first according to the coaches. Can we have Nana's parents? I'm sure they would like to talk to her too." Kakeru said.
"Sure." Kakeru's father finished before he gave way to Nana's parents, who appeared on Nana's screen.
"Mom, Dad?" Nana asked.
"Nana! How are you doing? It was your first training with the big team today; they were not going too rough with you?" Mrs. Mishima asked.
"It was alright, Mom. They behaved very well as teammates; I even made some new friends after showing them my skills in a game situation."
"Did it feel a little awkward sometimes when you stepped in with the first team? I'm sure those men are not used to see many women in training." Mrs. Mishima asked.
"It was more awkward when I first joined the club for a tryout a month and a half ago, Mom. However, I have someone working with me as a mentor. Despite my senpai being in his late thirties, you could see how he is still one of the most intelligent players in the world."
"That's very nice to hear. It's always good to have an excellent senpai around to make a difference." M. Mishima said.
"Thanks, Dad. By the way, will you and Mom be able to come to the game?" Nana asked.
"Your mother will be able to go, but... I won't be able to go." M. Mishima said with a defeated tone. "I'm really very sorry, Nana."
Nana's facial expression turned from happiness into disappointment and incomprehension, so much that tears were forming in her eyes. "Why, Dad? Why can't you come?"
"I tried to tell and beg my boss for a break until the last minute, but he didn't want to hear anything about it and he told me that he wants me at work on Monday at all costs. You know how he is, right?"
"Yeah, I know how he is. It's because of him that we had to move out of Japan for 3 years." Nana replied with a glum face.
"I felt really bad when I missed your first appearances for Nadeshiko Japan as well as when you were in the All Japan High School Soccer Tournament for the first time with Enoshima High because of work, believe me. However, I promise you this: even if we are thousands of miles apart, no one will keep me away from watching my daughter play with the big boys on TV."
"Your father really means everything he just said, Nana. Don't think about anything negative now. You are only one nod shy of doing something no other woman has ever made in this discipline. Your father will be behind you at 200% and I'll be by your side in Manchester to see you make us proud." Mrs. Mishima added.
Nana then wiped the fears in her eyes before she found her smile again. "Thanks, Mom. Thanks, Dad. If I'm called onto the field, I will make you proud."
"That's my girl. Stay positive and you'll make it, I'm sure of that." M. Mishima said. "By the way, you have a friend here who wants to speak to both of you."
After a few seconds, the next person showed up on the screen. "Nana-chan, Kakerucchi!"
"Mai-chan!" both Kakeru and Nana exclaimed altogether.
"Hehehe, I was really happy when I got Nana-chan's text. Congratulations, guys."
"Thanks, Nana-chan. By the way, how did you manage to convince the INAC Kobe Leonessa coach to let you go for the weekend?"
"We have a big lead on top of the table in the Nadeshiko League before the four-month hiatus. So the coach decided to rest all regulars and play with younger players on Sunday's league game. We regulars will be playing the Nadeshiko League Cup tournament in the weekend after." Mai said.
"I see. Lucky you." Kakeru replied.
"That's not all. Tae-san seemed very interested in going to Manchester too; she told me she has an aunt and a cousin living there. Since she also convinced our club coach to let her go on leave for next weekend as well, I wonder if you can spare an extra ticket for her." Mai added.
"I think we can get a number of tickets each for relatives and friends. We can book a private box for everyone if you want."
"We don't mind the private box. However, we said we'd prefer to be closer to the action if possible and enjoy that English atmosphere, Kakerucchi."
"We'll try our best and we'll write you back about the tickets we'll get. When are you planning to arrive in Manchester?" Nana asked.
"We are currently booking our flight. We'll take off from Tokyo at 10:35 AM on Saturday, which means Saturday at 2:35 AM in Manchester, with a flight from KLM. After a short stop in Amsterdam, we'll fly straight to Manchester and land around 4:50 PM over there." M. Aizawa said.
Kakeru quickly took note of the planned schedule before he turned back to the webcam. "OK for Saturday; we'll see you at the airport. Thanks a lot, everyone. We really appreciate it."
"Good luck, Kakeru and Nana-chan. See you both on Saturday." Mrs. Aizawa replied.
"Try to find us a good place to eat on Saturday evening too, Kake-nii." Mito added.
"Will do. Bye!" Kakeru finished just before the communication ended.
A few seconds later, Noriko opened up the door of the apartment as she just came back from the University of Manchester's library. As typical of her, she carried a few books she borrowed from the library. "Hi, everyone! How is it going?"
"We just called back home and we expect 6 people arriving on Saturday to see the game on Sunday." Kakeru replied.
"That's great! I'd really like to meet him." Noriko said.
"Noriko-chan, do you remember the section number and the seat numbers going with your family's season tickets? We know you usually sit in the front row in the South Stand, not too far from the players' tunnel entrance and we want to gather everyone around the area. Our respective families and friends would like to see the game from close range." Nana asked.
"I'll check just now, Nana-chan."
And so, Noriko quickly found the seat numbers and gave them to Kakeru and Nana. Then Kakeru called the ticket box office at Old Trafford for available tickets. By a rare stroke of luck on that day, 6 tickets were available for the seats near the Lewis family's usual 3 seats in the front row of the STH122 section: 2 in the front row just aside and 4 in the row just behind. Kakeru and Nana didn't hesitate on this occasion, and bought all 6 tickets before letting them at the box office for pickup in a few days.
"It will be quite fun with 9 people around the same area to taste game atmosphere just a few yards away from the pitch." Nana said.
"At least no one will accuse them of being part of the 'prawn sandwich brigade' for a first at Old Trafford." Noriko said.
"What is that, Noriko-chan?" Kakeru asked.
"Just a British term to describe people who come to a football match to enjoy corporate hospitality rather than support a team. I only said the ones you called are not that kind of people. Who exactly will be coming?" Noriko said.
"My parents, my younger sister, Seven's mother, Mai Murasaki and Taeko Ishiki will arrive on Saturday." Kakeru replied.
For some reason, Noriko remained silent for a few seconds before she spoke again. "What about your father, Nana-chan?"
"His boss didn't let him go off the hook at all; Dad has to work on Monday. Still, he promised me that he'll be watching the game on TV from Japan." Nana replied.
"That's not too bad. Hopefully, you'll play and give your father something to rub in the face of that tosser of a boss." Noriko said.
Nana laughed at the British slang Noriko just used to describe M. Mishima's boss. "That would be nice."
Then for the rest of the day, Kakeru and Nana spent their time studying the course material sent by the Tokyo Medical University, doing material-related exercises, and completing the assignments that are sent by e-mail as part of the distance medical education program. Except for reaching a higher level both in football and academics compared to where they were a month and a half ago, it was still a typical day at the office for Kakeru and Nana.