"Oi! Can you hear me?" A shrill voice called out, trying to draw the attention of a certain redhead. Nakahara Chuuya is quite tired of hearing that voice every single day. Its high-pitched noise will never cease to make him cringe, with a tingling sensation creeping its way to his ears. It makes him want to gouge his eardrums out and enjoy the newly-obtained serenity in that enormous, yet cramped white room. Unfortunately, it's a closed space, allowing echoes to bounce off its walls and resonate into several repetitions.
The owner of that inhumane sound attempted to land his flesh against the other's, holding his shoulders to make Chuuya face him.
That's a bad decision, really.
Chuuya's body acted by impulse, ruled by a certain factor of god-knows-what. He immediately shoved those hands away, not wanting to prolong its warm touch. His system formed a defensive stance, shielding oneself from a foreign feeling.
Warmth? What's that thing all about?
Apparently, he doesn't have any clue in his possession nor a chance to find one.
He's experiencing the exact opposite of what he had hoped for. He's the materialization of a being whom he doesn't want to become. An existence full of "what-ifs," that's how an 8-year old child is living, though it can barely be called as it is.
"Oh sorry… Did I surprised you?" A young boy of about the same age as him asked the obvious.
The redhead maintained his defensive stance, preparing to pounce at that annoying brat when he does something funny.
"That's right! I haven't introduced myself today yet." The boy stood as if he's acquainting himself to his classmates during the first day of school. He beamed at the redhead, flashing a complete set of white teeth. "I'm Keita. Don't forget it next time!"
He's all alone in that darkness, again.
He hates it. He hates it with all his life.
It's slowly sucking him into the sea of nothingness until he can no longer breathe. Screaming for help might go in vain, now that he's falling into an endless abyss to the point of no return. He's at the bottom of the sea, unreachable by the rays of the early morning.
His screams for help were drowned and swept away along with the current, his voice as good as mute. Did it reach the surface? Probably not.
The redhead opened his eyes, revealing its hue. It's just ironic that his eyes looked like the midday azure sky even if he hasn't seen that exact same sky straight from those orbs of his. He's inside a tank filled with mysterious liquids. A sharp stabbing pain pierced his back. He felt that something was injected into his bloodstream.
Minutes later, he writhed in pain. It felt like his body was about to get tattered in pieces. His eyes went heavy and he slipped once again from consciousness.
When Chuuya woke up, a room of nothing but white welcomed his sight. He's there again… so does that mean…?
He panned his head to the left, then to right, and found the person he's looking for.
"There you are!" The boy approached the redhead like they're each other's close companions. "Oi, oi, oi… Don't tell me that you had forgotten my name again?"
"You're Keita, right?" Chuuya finally engages in a conversation with the boy he keeps on avoiding for almost a week.
"Yup! That's right!" The boy's cheek flushed, his smile reached his eyes. He's really THAT happy, wasn't he? "Oh! I forgot to ask your name! So… What is it?" It seems like Keita wants to know the redhead more.
Somehow, it feels so different to be with this carefree kid than those lab guys." Chuuya thought as he assesses if the boy has any ill intentions and hidden motives but came out empty-handed He cannot explain it but there's a voice yelling inside of him, saying that he could trust Keita.
"It's Chuuya." The redhead replied, much to the boy's delight.
Keita was about to say something but his voice was overshadowed by the researcher's screams.
"It seems that they're calling you now, Chuuya-kun. I guess this is a farewell, for now." Truth be told, Chuuya doesn't want to return to that hell. Without realizing a single thing, he clutched the hem of Keita's clothes. That's when he noticed that Keita's attire is quite different than the lab gown he's wearing. It's not a scientist's nor a researcher's working clothes either. It looks modern like the one he saw in a photo. A researcher said back then that that's how a human normally wears out there.
"You're not leaving, right?" That question came out of Chuuya's mouth without giving it much thought. It's the first time he had said something along those lines.
All his life, he's trying to push people away from his radius. He didn't expect that the time will come when he would ask someone to linger in its vicinity.
"Of course, I won't. I'll be waiting for you here!"
That's the assurance the redhead badly wants to hear before the darkness takes over.
Opening up to Keita is one of the good things he had done in his life. After getting swallowed up by the dusk and existing in a starless night, there's dawn brimming that always greets him a good morning. For the first time, he felt at home and comfortable by someone else's company.
"You know Keita… I envy you." The redhead said, staring in the middle of nowhere. "You have all the things that I don't."
His warm smile.
His somehow unfiltered, yet expressive mouth.
The way he cares for others.
That feeling of openness.
The emotions sitting in his eyes.
His seemingly normal life.
Why can't he have it too?
He was born in the darkness and in a well-lit empty room, he found a companion covered in bright rays. It's too blinding. He can't help but close his eyes and once again, plunge back into the world to which he belongs.
Keita laughs. "You asshole. Just wait and you'll see. And oh! Do you know that it's my birthday today?"
"Birthday? What's that?" Chuuya asked in confusion. Honest, this is the first time he heard such a thing.
"Well, technically speaking, that's the date you were born. Apparently, it's celebrated annually. Holding a birthday celebration might be shallow for some but it holds something much more important. Nothing's more perfect than appreciating one's existence, saying 'thank you for being born' to the celebrant so that he too, may appreciate his own."
"Hey, are you really a child?" Chuuya seemed impressed by the boy's wisdom.
"Of course, I just turned 9 today!" Keita said loftily as if he's proud of what he had become.
"If that's so…" Chuuya looked at him, trying to let those words out of his throat. "Thank you… For being born."
Keita was taken aback by Chuuya's words. He panned his head opposite Chuuya's line of sight, eyes glistening with unshed tears.
"I hope that I could say that thing to myself too… Maybe one day. For sure." Chuuya said absent-mindedly, head panning above the plain ceiling. "By the way, what date is it today?"
Keita was brought back to reality by that question. "Now that you mentioned it, It's April twenty nin-"
His body is floating…
In an artificial body of water enclosed in a cylindrical tube.
He's back there again, to his hell, to his nightmare.
Wait, nightmare? He wants to laugh his ass off. He can't dream. It's just him and his thoughts lost in the dimness of the night. Somehow, he's afraid to fall asleep. If he lowers his guard down, someone's going to take over him and he will cease being a human.
No… He doesn't want that.
In this world where staying as you are is a grave mistake, can't he just transgress that nonsensical belief and live as himself?
Wait… Where's Keita?
Perhaps, he's still in that white room. But where's that white room exactly?
There's no reason to panic at all. He's just there, waiting for me, like what he used to do.
Or at least, that's what Chuuya wants to believe. There's this strange feeling inside of him, that he might not be able to see him again.
That voice… It's Keita's!
And there he was, standing before him outside the tank, hands touching the glass container as if he's trying to reach the redhead.
"Don't worry, those researchers can't see me. You're the only one who can anyway."
"Alright. I'll keep this short. My time is running." Keita looked straight into Chuuya's eyes. They unbelievably share the same shade of blue.
Chuuya's brain formed a question by itself: "Who are you Keita?"
"You are me and I am you."
Chuuya's eyes went wide. What was that supposed to mean?
"I only exist in your mind, perhaps because of the medicines they kept on injecting into you." Keita's not lying. His sincere tone is the incriminating proof. "The white room? It's also a figment of your mind, a representation of the world you yearn for. A spacious, tranquil world of light."
The redhead didn't expect any of this. He wanted to curse the world… for deceiving him once again. He thought that he already had someone to stay by his side but it turns out that no one's actually there the whole time.
"But you already have yourself." Keita beamed at Chuuya. That smile… maybe that's the last time he could see it.
"Not that if you would look at a mirror."
"No… That's not me, but a reflection of a monster."
"Monster? But you look like a human to me."
Words fly through each other's minds without even uttering a single letter. A white light starts to chip off the remaining life of Keita, distorting his image in Chuuya's sight. "I had already fulfilled my purpose… and that's to shed some light unto you. I'm not needed here anymore." Chuuya's everything blur, tears mixing with the tank's strange liquid. The scientists and researchers start to shout things like "emotional instability" and such but who cares?
"When you had acknowledged my existence back then, I felt so happy! Not for myself, but for you. Chuuya…" The redhead shuddered. It's the first time Keita said his name without the honorifics. "… Thank you… for being grateful for being born. Please, keep on living."
The white light shone with much greater intensity. The light seems to merge with Keita, taking the boy away with its particles. Keita turned his back, slowly vanishing along with the glimmer.
"W-wait! Don't go!" Words remained unspoken, but he's hoping that Keita heard it as clear as day.
"Oh! Before I forget it!" He smiled at Chuuya for the last time before the light completely erased all the remaining traces of his existence. "Happy Birthday, Chuuya! Thank you… for being born."
"Please, keep on living."
What is living anyway? How can you say you're living?
He doesn't know… Because that right was taken away from him the moment he came into existence.
Perhaps, he might not be able to fulfill that promise made between him and an afterimage of his longing to live a normal human life.
No… it's not as simple as that. It's a promise between himself and the person he wants to become… That he'll live no matter how hard it is to stay. Grasping its concept will surely take some time. He knows it.
But he'll wait.
He'll wait until someone comes to save him, to hold his trembling wrist with a tender touch, and to pull him out of that emptiness before black completely devours the remaining humanity he keeps on holding onto, clenching it ever so tightly.
He'll wait until someone acknowledges him as a human being, a human worthy to harbor a heart and those so-called conflicting, yet beautiful emotions swirling inside of one's chest.
He'll endure it for a little bit… because he's still him, not the entity people want to use as a weapon or tool that could be disposed of once he had already served his purpose.
Maybe his anticipation might go to waste. Maybe waiting for that day when he could finally taste freedom from the shackles of his cruel life is just futile. Maybe there's actually no one to wait for.
Then what's the point of holding onto that glimmer of hope? The light he's longing to be embraced with might be just a fragment of his delusional and desperate self but he clearly saw its distant flicker, and he cannot go back to not knowing. Whether it's fake or genuine… It doesn't matter anymore to a young boy who's craving to be bathed in its unfamiliar warmth.
He might not experience how to truly live today, tomorrow, and the days after that…
But at least, he'll breathe… until someone makes him feel alive.