Chapter 1:

The average room for the non-average man

Inward to the Outward

My room was as average as one could imagine: one of my beige walls featured an A/C unit close to my window, while the others hosted shelves which were decorated with anime figures. The rest of my room was as average as one could imagine: a round ceiling light that I hardly used in the summer, and across from my window sat a large black desk which held my entire double-monitor setup. Perpendicular to it was my small mattress, which was covered by only a single white bed sheet layer. Several books were stashed away behind a cabinet next to the door, having collected more dust than my own dustpan.


“Ugh, ouch!” I whimpered after slamming my head against the underside of my desk while trying to fix the cables for my computer. The thump caused my half-eaten cookie to drop, spreading thousands of crumbs across the white carpet of my floor. “Shit…”

While I proceeded to grab the vacuum from my closet, I couldn’t help but dart my eyes around the stacked boxes which filled up most of the space: each one a house to a plethora of childhood items which I cherished to this day: my first handheld consoles, all my game cartridges, manga, and old anime posters. Finally, the lowest-stacked box contained some embarrassing adult collectibles which I take out to observe more often than I really -

Knock knock!

“Rin! Lunch is ready. Placing it here as always.”

I jolted in surprise, almost banging my head again against the first shelf of the closet this time. “O-Okay.”

Every day was like this: I’d spend almost every week in my room, consuming my time with a variety of activities at my desk with the occasional nostalgia boost from looking at old stuff. No matter how many times my aunt would approach and greet me quietly for lunch or dinner, I’d always feel startled like a rabbit.

“Um, so I went to a new salon over at Minato Mirai,” my aunt uttered. I widened my eyes for a second, staring at the door where she stood on the opposite end. Usually, she’d approach my room quietly, give me my food, and leave. The last time we conversed beyond that was probably over a week ago.

“Um, yes, and…?” I replied gently. Making conversation was already hard as-is. Just the thought of having to sit through any awkwardness with my aunt was driving me into internal panic. My heart began to race already for all the wrong reasons.

“That lady who owns that salon, Ena, I believe was her name,” she continued without stuttering, perhaps to ease me into her chitchat. “Gosh, she was just awful! First, her service was just plainly not what I wanted. She cut my hair too short, and she ruined my bangs! I told her that my hair was delicate ‘cause it’s been dyed too many times, and she then proceeds to wash it like a maniac! And finally, to top it all off, she still expected me to pay her full price for that shitty service and yelled back at me when I refused! How ridiculous, don’t you think?!”

I froze, but not without a light chuckle. A story like this was certainly believable, considering how unreserved my aunt was. The opposite of me for sure.

“Aha, that’s funny,” I replied, and finally stood up. I heard her giggle across the door. She probably felt some relief that I responded the way she had hoped.

“Oh, by the way, I’m going to Osaka for a business trip in a few days. I’ll be gone for a few weeks at least, the client this time is a large electronics company who wants to work with us on a new project. Will you be okay?”

So that’s why she wanted to converse with me, I thought. Bringing topics like away-from-home trips with me were probably not easy for her.

“That’s fine. I’ll be okay.”

After all, I'm already twenty-nine-years-old.

A sigh of relief followed from her end. “Okay. You have enough money and everything to order food, and there’s plenty left in the kitchen.”

“Yes. I’ll be fine. Please don’t worry about -”

“And don’t forget to get a haircut sometime!” she shouted. Her loud voice wasn’t exactly hindered by the closed door. “Last time you managed to go out by yourself, so I trust you’ll be okay again?”

“Yes, it’s not like I cannot go outside at all…”

“Okay. Then I’ll leave you be.”

As we wrapped up our conversation, I quickly opened the door to grab my meal once she departed. It featured a standard bowl of rice, a small salad, some sausages, and a small bowl of curry - all on a light blue tray. With how much effort my aunt always put into my meals (which appeared too vibrant for someone like me), I constantly felt terrible. It was almost like a small message from her to me; a bright, gentle nudge to get back on my own two feet.

Easier said than done, I thought as I crammed the food down at my desk. It had been weeks since the last time I was outside, and perhaps four years now since I became what’s known in Japan as a “hikikomori”: a social phenomenon describing a group of people who have secluded themselves from the outside world - a total withdrawal from society, both emotionally and physically. These people seek most if not total isolation from others. Some say the cause is due to the present demands of Japanese society putting anxiety upon us, but I'd argue that there are varying factors that all play a role. 

While life in isolation had been tough whenever my aunt was away for days-on-end, it’s not like I suffered with zero cash. Stemming from my past dream of becoming a manga artist, I took advantage of my skill by drawing commissions for random strangers online. Over the past few years, I've even developed a decent art brand. This was pretty much what I had occupied myself with for the past few years as my main source of income. Indeed, some folks - who I swore were much older than I could imagine - even asked for hentai. I could never say no whenever the request arrived, since it usually pulled in higher demand, and thus, more money. I’d say half of my art commissions by this point involved hentai, but c’mon - some of these buyers offered ten thousand yen for my art. Whether it was some creepy old man or some other weirdo who wanted it, I didn’t care as long as they paid up.

Alas, the money I had saved was still not enough for me to move out from my aunt’s place, so I still freeloaded to this day. Perhaps the least I could do is go get a haircut, as per her suggestion. I glanced over at my calendar; tomorrow would be the weekend, and the salon would be filled to the brim with customers. So much for that idea. But then what about...

The thought of having to go today already brought shivers. I reached inside my desk drawer and took out my binder. My hentai binder, so to speak. Whenever something troubled me, I always looked back on my previous works to soothe myself. Even if it consisted of questionable art.

“Hehe,” I giggled as I flipped from page to page. Some of these commissions from the past were absolutely freaky. Some were single-piece works, while others consisted of four-panel manga, which I charged extra for. One of the short mangas which I drew, in particular, featured a man similar to my age and looks. The story was about how he suffered from his salaryman job, and attended a “Girls Bar” in the evenings after work to converse with women for a short dose of dopamine before going home. Then, out of nowhere, a hot girl would notice his sorrow and bring him into the back room - and that is where the fun begins. Perhaps this man was who I probably would’ve became if I went down that salaryman route in my life, obviously without that last part.

As I peeked closer at my artwork with a grin, my eyes kept landing at the man’s hair: a shorter but more clean-looking cut compared to my own. My current black hair, which had already stretched to my shoulders if not tied into a man-bun like usual, needed a trim. My facial hair was also in dire need of a shave; I was literally the epitome of what a hikikomori would look like: hideous - someone who should never be seen outside by others.

Maybe that last part of the story will only happen if I get the same hair as him, I thought.

Just thinking about stepping out was giving me a headache, but perhaps looking at my adult art was what I needed to stand up and grab my coat. It was now or never to go. Any more dawdling, and my mind would give up on the thought. Loud creaks echoed across the room as I hurried across to get ready. My hands, shaking as I slotted on my socks, could barely contain my nerves. I grabbed my face mask and keys, and glanced around one more time to ensure I had everything.

“Ah,” I twitched upon looking down at my arms. I had subconsciously picked up my hentai art binder, as if planning to take it along. My cheeks turned hot; I flung the binder against my bed and facepalmed in embarrassment. No, no, no. Can’t do that. “Gosh, I’m unbelievable.” First, I decided to go outside for the first time in a week to get a haircut because I wanted to match the cut of the main protagonist from a hentai I drew, and now I almost brought the entire party along with me.

But what mattered was my foot, which prepared to step out the door…even if I planned to hurry back after, going out was a pain. I glanced over at my art binder to ensure it was secure in my room. If my art was exposed in public by thousands of people, then that was it: I'd stay a hikikomori for life.

Memo Alfonso