Barely anyone had ever called me by name.
I was just "that kid". At home or school, it made no difference. Maybe someone would remember my name once in a blue moon, but even if they called out for me, I probably wouldn't think they meant me.
Or I'd just nod. And pretend like everything was fine for "that kid".
The day that I finally came back, nothing felt amiss. Everything was alright and bright. The sun overhead—its warmth pierced right through me, like I wasn't even there. I wore the same school uniform as everyone around me while we filtered into our front doors.
Chattering. Gossiping. Those were some of the first things I heard. No one looked at me while I stored away my shoes. The locker door clanged shut, but this time it was different, quieter, softer. Our air in general seemed more solemn.
I heard a few mentions of "that kid" around me. Even if it wasn't my name, I was glad some people remembered me.
Then someone's familiar voice rang out in a distant crowd. The ebony black of her long hair and the beauty of her eyes made it hard not to recognize Mitsuki. She was the only girl I'd ever confessed to, but things could've gone better.
I still remembered her trying to avoid my eyes while I was waiting for her reply. My feelings were laid bare behind our gymnasium, all I needed was a yes or no. Instead, she bowed her head that day and apologized for not sharing the same sentiments.
But it was alright. She'd even tried recalling my name—then said sorry for not being able to remember it. We'd never talked before so it was probably creepy of me to know her name. And normal for her to not know mine. I was content until the next day, when I overheard her say in the hallways: "Haha! Did you know 'that kid' confessed to me? Ew!"
Even now I still wondered, if I had told her my name, would she have at least gossiped about me instead of "that kid"?
But the past was the past. It was time to live in the present.
I walked by Mitsuki without her or her posse noticing. Maybe it just wasn't possible anymore to see someone you didn't know by name.
Our wide halls gave everyone ample space to walk by me. Class would start soon but I felt like touring around for old time's sake.
Windows on the first floor granted views towards an inner courtyard. There were benches, vending machines, and a surprising amount of trees. Often times, I'd be out there waiting for lunch to pass or the day to end.
But about a year ago, I had a friend I sometimes spent time with under those trees.
His name was Shinichi. I liked him. He knew my name but would call me "kid" anyway just to tease.
There was nothing I could do to stop him from killing himself.
I remembered telling him some generic positivity I'd read online: that we're all made of stardust—we're all super special, unique. In a way, we were literally stars incarnate.
He laughed at me and said: "Well, what if I wanna be up there with the stars again then?"
Maybe I'd see him again one day and tell him he had a way with words.
As I continued pacing our halls, more whispers of "that kid" coalesced around me. Everyone refused to look in my direction, but every now and then I'd hear my name. There'd be hints of pity, sometimes disapproval, or confusion on what happened. I was gone for a long time, though everyone should have heard why by now.
Some girls outside the restrooms were chattering amongst themselves. I recognized their faces but didn't know their names, which was poetic in a way. None of them noticed me while I walked by them and upstairs towards our second floor.
Another row of windows were waiting for me. Morning light poured through onto spotless floors that clinked from footsteps of passing students. Several people were peering down into our courtyard while others enjoyed the comforts of their phones.
Towards the hallway's end, I spotted an energetic, young teacher chatting up a female student. But that teacher was not like his peers.
His name was Arakawa-sensei. No matter the time or occasion, even during school hours, he'd always be wearing sunglasses. He had a medical condition that made him sensitive to light, but we all believed it was a lie. This teacher was two-faced in more ways than one.
There were rumors he'd slept with multiple students, but no one said anything because everyone liked him, especially the girls. He wasn't much older than us and had a handsome face only obscured by sunglasses, contributing to his suave aesthetic.
But even wearing sunglasses, I knew that whenever he looked at me, he was seeing "that kid" instead of me.
I passed by my homeroom. Students were already waiting inside for the bell's ring and Arakawa-sensei to walk in. Roll call would always be awkward for me. It was the only time somebody said my name, but someone reading it off a list didn't give me much comfort.
After all, you may as well just be a number at that point.
A few strides further down the hall led me towards an empty classroom. Feeling nostalgic, I waltzed within through an open door.
Inside there were just two student's desks facing each other: one for the interviewer and another for interviewee.
This was where Arakawa-sensei conducted my career plans interview. And I remembered it being a turning point for the future I headed towards.
In our well-lit room with every window opened, Arakawa-sensei was sitting with crossed legs like he usually did. Dark, imposing sunglasses made it difficult to discern when he was and wasn't looking at me.
"So did ya' figure out what you wanna be?" His voice was brash like a mobster's.
"Ummm, I'm still not really sure. Sorry."
"Geez, kid. We're gonna be here all day again at this rate."
But how could I tell him? That I'd been wanting to end myself ever since Shinichi died, and ever since Mitsuki mocked my confession. But anguish had been piling my whole life, and now I was just at the breaking point. Why bother with trying to figure out future careers, when there might not be a future for "that kid".
Arakawa-sensei was tapping his pen over the desk, peering intently towards me.
"You know," he said, "if you have no goals, you're no better than a marionette. Their strings end up getting pulled by other people in the long run. Is that something you want?"
He'd always been blunt, more so with me than anyone else, but he meant well. I think he remembered what happened to Shinichi and didn't want me following the same fate.
"Nothing's set in stone, right?" I replied from my desk. "Good things come to those who wait."
In response, that was the first time I'd heard Arakawa-sensei let out a tired sigh. He pinched his forehead as if conflicted, thinking, then looked back up at me.
"Platitudes are just half-baked comfort foods, kid," he said. "The more you tell them to me, to friends, family—the more you'll believe them yourself, while they ring hollow to everyone else."
"H-Huh?" It was a moment of epiphany. Maybe that's why I couldn't save Shinichi. All I could offer him was cheap verbiage when he probably wanted something more. And even after Mitsuki rejected me, my only comfort were platitudes that I'd told myself over and over:
'Everything happens for a reason.'
'Good things come to those who wait.'
'When one door closes, another opens.'
I really was just some marionette—no—a mannequin being pulled along by words of others. Everyone had known it except me. They'd even decided to give their mannequin a name: "That kid".
But now, it was time I cut my strings to let myself perform on their stage. The paramount denouement had arrived and my mind was now decided.
I continued racing down our hallway, avoiding everyone's eyes just like they avoided mine.
There was no time to waste anymore.
Boundless students were rushing into their classrooms as the school day prepared to begin, but I wouldn't be joining them. Arakawa-sensei was likely finishing chitchatting with girls, unaware of the impact our conversation two weeks ago had on me.
The third-floor stairwell blitzed under my feet as I finally reached our rooftop level. The door to outside was locked, but feeling myself fading fast, I phased through it and wandered out under my final sun.
I was just a memory now—something that came back so it didn't leave regrets. And even as my soul evaporated bit by bit, I couldn't help but smile.
Because maybe someone would remember "that kid".