Tales from the Middle Kingdom Part 2 The Anime Hero “Quick, hide his face!” exclaimed his aunts of the one-year-old boy. “He looks so gorgeous, so many jealous people, aiiieyah! For sure, someone will put a curse on him!” His mother smiled happily as she bumped and burped him. “Don’t worry,” she said, “he will grow up to be even more gorgeous, and people from all over the world will love him.” “Yes,” said his grandmother, a simple woman who believed in the power of nature and the universe, “this boy will signify the renewal of life on Earth. He will bring a smile to people’s faces, and hope in their hearts. He will spread sunlight and fertility and people will look in awe on the boy.” “Mother,” said the boy’s father, “have you been skipping your medications again?” “Just you watch” she cackled, “just you watch! He will be one of the Immortals. He will be flagbearer of our Kingdom one day.” He loved to walk and run. He ran like the wind. One day he decided he wanted to be a Wushu Master, and started training in the orchard near his house, at dawn each day. An old man walking by noticed the little boy who was now almost as tall as a man, and said, “low, stay lower, and keep your hands up and still.” The boy retorted “that is not the style of Wushu!” “Indeed, it is not,” said the ancient one, “but it is what you will do very well.” The gangling boy wanted a lightsabre, but his father couldn’t find one, and returned instead with a badminton racquet. It was good enough for the boy, who loved to use his imagination and create angles for situations that others could not comprehend. His parents would shake their heads and smile secretly. Soon he was best in his city, then all of the Middle Kingdom. He met other young boys who also wielded the racquet with awesome skill, and they played each other until they collapsed in a sweaty, happy heap, laughing and panting: “we will rule the world!” Why did he not take up swimming? Why did this boy love a sport that would tear him apart? He was a very emotional boy, that one. After the first few years of heady victory and joy, it seemed he was always destined to be bridesmaid to his compatriots, never the bride. Although he woke up sometimes at night agonizing over this, they told him he was most important. As his grandmother had predicted, he was flagbearer for his Kingdom at the Games. Such honour! Such pride! He was after all, the enforcer in those early years when others were still finding their consistency. He defeated others from far-away lands in the run-up to the finals. And then, more and more often, his knees would let him down. O cruel fate! Across the world, girls and older women wailed and sobbed. He however, packed his bags, and with a wry smile, headed off to the next horizon. And through it all, his smile brought light to people wherever he went. The day finally came when his battered knees on those long, long legs refused to take him beyond the first 2 days. He announced his retirement from the game. O crueller world! No more would we see that too-beautiful face, the grace of the panther, that explosive, feral power. Did it all really happen? Was he real? Or was he, like his grandmother in that old house in Changsha had predicted, an Immortal? It always seemed he belonged to another world, a world more pure and beautiful, more colourful and alive than the one we inhabited. One where there were only heroes, even when they fell; because they were good, and were all that we, the all-too-humans, wanted to be. Once, Bao Chunlai stood tall and reached for the stars. Soon, the stars pulled him up to be one forever.