As far as he knew he managed to avoid anyone recognising him. The half a day biking too close to Nagoya for his own comfort had him on the edge, but now he had made it safely south of that city.
Ulf burned with longing for going on-line, but that was just too risky. An old style Internet café would have sufficed, but that meant heading into central Nagoya, and he was certain someone would pick up on him if he did.
Now he was less than a day's ride from his destination, and the morning sun led him in his wanted direction.
Last night, and the night before that he had spent in love hotels. When the population density increased he didn't dare sleeping in the open. Not because it was dangerous, but because someone might call the police, and then his adventure would be over.
Ulf rode small roads and the occasional street. Always south, and always closer to his goal. That village loomed bigger in his mind the closer he got. An illusion, he knew, but an illusion that might help him understand where he had gone wrong with his life.
Just south of the cluttered town he turned west and started climbing the mountain roads. The disorganised splattering of buildings gave way to, first rice fields, and when he got further inland, to tea fields with their rounded rows of bushes lining the slopes.
Occasionally the road cut across a river with concrete embankments and a desolate rill worming its way through the middle.
By now he knew where he was. In that other world he'd come here with his parents from time to time since he was ten. The last years he even brought Maria and their kids.
There would be differences, small ones, but important ones for him. In this world his mother was never his mother, and the few things he'd helped add to the house wouldn't exist.
His legs hurt from too many day's of cycling. In this body he'd never done anything like it, and it had barely begun to adapt to this kind of punishment. It should get better within a few days, but until then he just had to live with it. Well, and walking like a lame cow whenever he dismounted.
Then he crossed the last river, made a sharp turn left and rolled into the village. Here there were only rice fields embracing the river on both sides, and old and new mixed together in a dizzying display of how the residents had made more money from selling their fields that growing rice on them. Two golf courses a bit upstream had taken their place and made people rich overnight.
Ulf rode his bike a bit uphill, navigated narrow streets until he reached a small parking place.
There, just across the street lay one of those newer houses. Just one among the others. The building that sat on the spot where his mother lived her first eighteen years.
Now, when he had finally reached his goal he was suddenly unsure about what to do. It wasn't like he could knock of the door to perfect strangers. Ulf shook his head. He felt a little distraught, but then a solution reached his mind. The small graveyard lay just a few minutes away, and he could pay his respects to his grandmother, despite her never having been his grandmother in this world.
With new-found determination he mounted his bike again and pedalled away. Close to the temple, hidden away behind it. Not many people visited it each day, and he hoped to find it empty when he arrived there.
Ulf led his bike the last bit. Arriving on foot just seemed more decent. When there was just one corner remaining he parked it and dropped his backpack. With his hands he tried to tidy up his hair, and after that he started walking the last few metres.
Glorious sunshine followed him to the graves, and when he looked up he saw he wasn't alone. His aunt, or the woman who had been his aunt in his previous life stood there caring for his grandmother's grave.
Pity, poor timing. I'll just wait.
Then she turned and looked at him.
He heard her draw for breath and saw how she dropped the flowers she held in her hand.
“Who are you?”
Huh? “Excuse me, my name is Hamarugen Urufu,” he said in the Japanese way.
“Who are you? Why are you here. You look just like my older sister.”
Crap! Forgot I got my looks from mom. “I do?” he tried.
“You could be her son, but she only had daughters, so who are you?”
So mom married in this world as well? That makes me happy to hear. “As I said, I'm just a visitor.”
“Just a visitor? You're tall like a foreigner, just like all of Akane's daughters.”
Wait a moment, so she married Lars in this world as well? So I have siblings of a kind in this world. Still, being recognised for who he couldn't be was a problem. It was time to be partially honest.
“Well, I couldn't possibly be the son of your older sister,” Ulf said. He was thirty five years younger here after all.
“You could be a grandson. Her daughters haven't visited us since they married.”
Mom's grandson? Yeah, I have a daughter older than myself now. That could work. “I wouldn't know. It's been a while since I met my grandmother.” A partial truth. He hadn't seen his mother for over two years.
“I don't know who you are, but I know you're not telling me everything. Someone looking so much like Akane and wearing her name is someone I must talk with.”
Yeah, she would be Akane Hammargren in this world as well. He bowed acceptance and followed the old woman after she had set the flowers by the grave. It gave him an excuse to pay his respects as well.
The interrogation that was to follow was a price he was willing to pay.