That's what his friends said to him on the night that I met Kantarou. I just happened to be a passerby in an alleyway who decided to play the hero and pulled Kantarou out of a fight that he himself instigated. I thought if these three kids were the boy's friends, how could they be so insensitive? Though it was a harsh choice of words, I could tell it wasn't easy for them either. I knew from the looks they gave each other that these four kids have been through some hard times. That night was a breaking point for Kantarou and those who wanted to help him.
He is notably younger than I am. He appeared to be in his second or third year in middle school, setting us at least three years apart. Kantarou's a pretty smart kid. He loves to tinker around with gadgets and he's passionate about his interests. Basically, he's a boy genius. But why did I concern myself with Kantarou anyway? Well, if I'm being honest, I couldn't help but feel sorry for him. His closest friends abandoned him when he needed their support. That night, I was a stranger who plugged themself into a problem that was completely unrelated to them, but at the same time I became the last person he could turn to. When his three friends left, I was stuck with Kantarou. I'd feel bad if I turned my back on him too after I went out of my way to help him, so I took Kantarou home that night. And that's how this whole thing kicked off.
It's been one week exactly since that ordeal. I went to go visit Kantarou in the afternoon, just before evening. Kantarou wanted to demonstrate the upgrades he made for his latest piece of work and he wanted me to try them out. I wasn't looking forward to being Kantarou's guinea pig yet again, but I wanted to help him complete his machine.
Kantarou has one of the best homes you could imagine. He lives inside a luxury condo. It's spacious and has a nice view of the city. Kantarou could turn the whole place into his workshop if he really wanted to.
I pressed the buzzer next to Kantarou's door and waited for him to answer. I couldn't hear him from outside, but he probably said something along the lines of 'just a minute.' as he scurried around to answer the door. And that's exactly how long I would wait before being greeted by a brown-haired boy dressed in a white lab coat. Kantarou opened the door and flashed a goofy grin.
"Hope I didn't keep you waiting." He laughed."
I let myself into Kantarou's home. In a short period of time, I already felt so familiar with Kantarou's place that I didn't need to be welcomed inside. I felt like I could just drop by and barge in whenever.
No one else lives with Kantarou.
There's no sign of parents or siblings.
He's all alone.
That's why his condo looks so basic with no touch of personality. It's just the plain-old minimalistic spread of furniture. I would say nothing to see here if everything wasn't so neatly arranged. But, that's not counting that oval-shaped contraption in the middle of the living room. It's Kantarou's so-called otherworldly travel machine. He calls it the "Otherworldly Transport Device" or the "OWTD" for short. This is the machine that Kantarou wants me to test out for him. In theory, the machine is programmed to send the user to another world. You know, like something that you might find out of an isekai story or something. Right now, the only thing it can do is play out a scenario where you get hit by a vehicle or locomotive which kills you and then you're reborn into an unfamiliar world. You're given the choice of what you want to be reincarnated as and what world you'll be transported to. The stats you get are randomly generated, whatever that means. It's the typical isekai stuff I tell ya. I opened the door to Kantarou's machine, cutting straight to the point.
"What is it going to be this time, Kantarou? Do you want me to sit on that seat again?"
"Oh. No, today's going to be a little different, actually."
As I looked around inside the OWTD, I spotted a piece of headgear with some type of face monitor. It was attached to a long, black cord that wasn't there during my previous visit."What's this, Kantarou?" I asked while I turned my head towards him.
"I finally programmed the OWTD with a new feature. That new helmet you see is the Mind Reader Device. I connected it to the OWTD so it can read a person's thoughts."
"Ah. Quite literal, aren't we?"
"The helmet can scan for alternate worlds based on the user's dreams and imagination. That way, you have more possibilities you can explore." Kantarou replied.
"Nope! It's all up to your big, beautiful brain. If you can think it, the MRD will read it.""MRD", huh?
"Is it really that simple, Kantarou? I just think of a place, any place I want to go with this helmet, and your machine will take me there?" I asked.
"That is the idea, yes."
I leaned back into the sofa-like seat and tried to envision an ideal world.
A world where I would be happy to escape to...
Clearly I wasn't sitting in Kantarou's transport machine anymore and the helmet I was wearing had been removed from my head. This world seemingly mirrored reality at first glance. I began to tug at a black strap around my shoulder, realizing that I was wearing my backpack. I must have been on my way to school.
I continued down the sidewalk heading towards my school. I didn't want to be late.
By the time I got to my classroom, I wasn't sure what time it was exactly. I didn't know if I was on time or late. I wasn't sure whether or not it was morning or noon. Nonetheless, my classmates greeted me once they became aware of my presence.
"Hi, Sachi!" A girl waved at me.
"Hello! How's your day going?" I asked.
That's weird. Normally, I would have just said "hello" and that would be the end of it. I wouldn't engage in any further conservation. Small talk is pretty lame in my opinion. Maybe that's the reason why I couldn't even begin to connect with others.
"Nothing much really. Only, I just can't stop thinking about the show I was watching last night."
"Oh? Was it the new drama show Prikola? I hear a lot of people are getting into it lately."
"Yeah, that's the one! I wanna talk about it, but maybe I'll end up spoiling it for you. It sounds like you haven't been watching the show."
TV show? Huh? Prikola? What's that? I don't keep up with television.
"Maybe we can start from the beginning. Tell me what the show's about. It's probably something really interesting and I just don't know it yet!"
"Oh, it totally is!"
Huh? Did I just say that? "Interesting?" I don't think other people's interests are interesting. I don't care.
"Pull up a chair. I'll do my best to give you a recap." The girl said.
"Are you about to tell Sachi about Prikola? I want to join."
A few more girls overheard our conversation and wanted to chime in, which led to a group of us crowded around one desk. The girls then told me all I needed to know about Prikola. The story follows a woman who believes in an urban myth when she makes a wish on a star as a child and it comes true later on in adulthood. The girls were so excited to just gossip and speculate things about one TV show.
They weren't my closest friends or anything, but I was able to chat with them. I could laugh with them.
To some degree, I managed to relate with them.
In this world, I was someone who cared, somebody who paid attention. I was a person who was interested in having conversations with other people. If I wasn't already in the loop, I found a way to catch up. I was.. relatable and not the real, apathetic me.
I was somebody I've always wished I could be.
That's when the simulation came to a sudden halt. My eyes met with the rainbow flood once more before I realized what was happening. Kantarou was standing right beside me inside the OWTD.
"You stopped it?" I asked him as I removed the Mind Reader Device from my head.
"But why did you do that? I don't think I was done, Kantarou."
Kantarou didn't really provide an answer to my question. He just asked another question, followed up with his own response.
"So, that's your ideal world? That's boring. It's just real life. Nothing interesting or exciting about it."
"Well, just what is the perfect world? Do enlighten me."
"The whole point of other worlds is to bring something fresh to the table! Another world is filled with mystical creatures, monsters, gods and goddesses. The perfect world is a fantasy world where anything is possible. You can be a hero. An overlord. A blacksmith. A salaryman. If you combine all of that, then you're sure to find yourself inside a perfect world!"
If you couldn't already tell, Kantarou is a huge isekai buff. Aside from his textbooks, the only books that Kantarou likes to read are isekai novels and manga. He absolutely loves the concept of leaving the human world behind and becoming something entirely new in another world. So of course that type of world would be ideal to him. But Kantarou's forgetting that those fantasy zones aren't the only types of worlds to exist.
"You do know that other worlds do come in the form of alternate realities, right?"
"And that's where the Otherworldly Transport Device comes in. If many worlds can be interpreted, then it should be possible to visit those worlds. However, trying to travel to another reality is the same as trying to travel to the past or the future with a time machine. Humanity understands the concept, but they just don't have the means of reaching these places. You can't go back in time, you can't fast forward, and you can't escape to a different reality. We are forever bound to what we have right now in this moment. The OWTD is just an advanced virtual reality set at best. I can't make it travel dimensions, no matter how hard I want it to. But just maybe, my machine will become a stepping stone for inventors who will surpass me. After all, the OWTD is nothing more than just a prototype for something greater. I hope my machine can one day bring humanity closer to the invention of a genuine time machine or a dimensional transporter. You know, like the ones you see in the movies!"
Kantarou flashed a pearly-white grin. I couldn't explain it, but there was a certain sadness behind his smile.
"Wow, that's really deep stuff, Kantarou. Very profound."
"Can I ask you something? Why are you the way that you are?"
"Huh? What's that have to do with anything?"
"In your ideal world, you were another you."
I didn't have a vivid imagination like Kantarou, so the best I could do was think of a world where I was a seemingly cool person. It's not incredible but people do it all the time. They dream of what their lives would be like if they were something entirely different or had another personality."I've always had a hard time getting along with other people. I often ask myself why can't I relate to anyone. I thought if I acted like I didn't care about communication, then I wouldn't have to worry about relating to other people. But that only makes me feel like there's truly something wrong with me. So, that's why I came up with a world where I seemed... normal. Like, a social butterfly, or something."
"I see."There was a silent pause before Kantarou spoke again.
"I want to talk some more, Sachi, but you should go home now before it gets really late. Let's pick this up again tomorrow."
"The conversation or the test runs?""Just our chat. I don't think I'll be needing you to run any more tests for me."
What?"But, the machine... Are you telling me you're done with it? What are you saying?"
Kantarou once told me he was going to see the completion of the OWTD through to the end, but I may have just misinterpreted his words as him cancelling his project."There's not much else I can do with that machine, really. I'm not one hundred percent finished yet. I'm almost done, so don't worry about it. But please go home now. You still have people who worry about you, unlike me."
"Kantarou... That's not—""Yes, it is."
The atmosphere grew tense. I was afraid if I said another word, I might upset Kantarou."Okay. I'm leaving. See you tomorrow."
I responded with a low voice that felt like it hurt my throat. I made my exit without looking back.
As I walked home, I thought about Kantarou. It pained me to see a good kid like him in despair. He was wrong. Kantarou's been acting out lately and putting himself in harm's way. It became too much for his friends to bear. They probably didn't know what else they could do for Kantarou, so they gave up on him. Despite everything, I don't believe they've stopped worrying about him. But they've reached a dead end and their limit, I suppose. And even though Kantarou lives alone, he does in fact have a mother and father. Their jobs pull them away from their son, but I don't believe they don't care for Kantarou. In a situation like this, you just need patience.But what do I really know about this drama?
As usual, I rang the buzzer and Kantarou promptly let me inside. There wasn't going to be any testing today which was refreshing. Instead, I sat on the couch in the living room as Kantarou prepared a cup of tea. Kantarou wasn't in his usual mood today. Even though he's going through a rough time, it doesn't stop him from expressing a little enthusiasm about something. But today Kantarou was silent. He hasn't said a word since I arrived, other than he was going to make tea. Kantarou returned from the kitchen, bringing a saucer with a teacup on top. He didn't prepare a cup for himself. The tea he served me didn't matter. After all, I told him he could give me whatever he chose. Kantarou placed the cup on the table in front of the couch and sat down beside me.
I picked up the teacup and took one sip. The taste of the tea left me smacking my lips. I didn't drink tea very often, so I assumed this was just a common flavor. I put the cup down and glanced at Kantarou. He was still quiet. He had something on his mind but his facial expression didn't say much of anything.
"What's wrong, Kantarou?" I asked."Sachi, I haven't told you yet, have I?" Kantarou began.
"Told me what?""I'm tired of living, Sachi. I want to die."
I couldn't help but blurt out loud. If I had taken another sip of tea, surely I would have dramatically spat the drink out of my mouth."K-Kantarou, what are you talking about?"
I think I just choked on my own words."I'm not happy with my life... and I hate this world too. Humans are brought into existence and they can live as free as birds. But then they get older and more responsibilities are put on their plate. Humans have to work for a living. They need to earn money just for basic essentials. If you want food to eat, you need money. If you want a roof above your head, you need money. If you want an education, you need money. But then, you'll be in debt and it'll take almost a lifetime to pay off."
"Well, yeah. That's just the way the world is, Kantarou. But what is it that you hate about your life in particular."Kantarou bit his lip.
Tears had begun welling up in Kantarou's eyes. His emotions were on the brink of bursting."Nobody understands me. I like science and mechanics, but other kids aren't really into that stuff. They don't get it as well as I do. It's too complex and confusing. I'm lucky enough to have even made friends in the first place. Or maybe they were just pitying me all along. In the end, they all turned their back on me. But I guess I only have myself to blame. I didn't exactly make things easy for them."
Kantarou's been misbehaving and putting himself at risk in the past few months, and now he finally shared with me his discontent with living. I'm not sure if Kantarou is truly suicidal, but I get the feeling he attempted something drastic in the past. It may have been just one incident or a few. Realizing this, I've come to understand why his friends chose to walk away. I wouldn't blame them, but surely there had to be a better solution."What about your parents, Kantarou? Can't you give them a call and tell them what's on your mind?"
Kantarou's parents work for a company that often has them going on foreign business trips, so they're hardly around. While they're gone, they pay for all of Kantarou's expenses. Kantarou's parents may not physically be with him at the moment, but a phone call still goes a long way."My parents?" Kantarou laughed.
"My parents are the last two people I would confide in. After all, it's not like they really love me.""Kantarou..."
Geez, just how awful is his perception of life."My parents were deeply in love with each other, but after I was born, they never got married or anything. We didn't have it as easy when I was younger. My parents were always working late nights just to "support" me. They were still new at the whole parenting thing. Luckily, Mom and Dad finally got their dream jobs a few years back and now they can afford to live in swanky places like this."
"That sounds good and all, but why do you sound like that... Like, you don't believe that your parents worked hard to take care of you.""Mom and Dad live to follow their dreams and whatever they do is for their own interests. That got in the way of their relationship and they split up because of it. Since they aren't together anymore, I feel like my parents are only supporting me out of obligation. There's no love attached. I'm probably just a reminder of a failed union."
With that, Kantarou couldn't hold back any longer. His tears trailed down his cheeks. I pulled him into my embrace as I tried to comfort him.
Kantarou tried to wipe his tearstained face."Thanks for trying to make me feel better, but nothing you say can change my mind. I've already made my decision." Kantarou sniffled.
"Your "decision?" What are you saying, Kantarou!?"
By the sound of things, I didn't like what he was implying. I might've started crying"I won't be around for much longer, Sachi. So, I thought I'd get everything off my chest before I go. You were willing to listen, so thank you. That made me feel a little better, actually."
"Why are you talking like that!? It's like you're about to do something really stupid!" I cried out as I stood up from the couch."You still have a reason to live! You still have a machine to complete, don't you? You said you would see it through to the end. Please, Kantarou... Don't throw your life away. You're capable of achieving so much and I... I believe in you. You may not be happy with the world, but at least try to be happy with yourself. Please don't give up on yourself. As your friend, I beg of you; please live!"
Don't die!It's been ages since I called someone my "friend," but even then I didn't believe it. This time was different. For the first time in my life, I was crying out to someone else. I was pleading for them to not leave me behind. My apathy and detachment shattered to pieces because of him. I wanted to be friends with Kantarou for as long as I could.
Kantarou smiled."Now I see why I wanted you to stick around this long. We're the same. You and I both are distant from our peers, but deep down we just want someone we can easily connect with. But it's too late for that. I already made my decision a long time ago. Besides, I already told you; the Otherworldly Transport Device is almost finished. It won't be too much longer."
How could he smile at a time like this?"Kantarou, didn't you hear anything I said?"
Kantarou finally rose up from the sofa. He faced me and gazed into my eyes."Sachi, no matter how hard you try, you can't talk me out of this. I'm hellbent on sealing my fate."
I just couldn't get through to him. Was there nothing else I could do for him?"Now, Sachi, you're going to make your way to the door and you'll never see me again."
"Kantarou...""I'm asking you to leave, Sachi. Go home."
No way. I absolutely could not do that!"I haven't known you for very long, Sachi. But in the end, you're still the same Bato, Nigori, and Mayu, my three friends. No matter what you say... No matter what you do... You've already done everything you could for me, and now you're going to turn around and walk away from me."
I completely froze.
I wanted to stand my ground.I desperately wanted to scream: "No way. I'm not going anywhere! I'm staying right here!"
But I couldn't.I don't know what came over me.
My body complied with his request. I turned away from Kantarou, my eyes fixated on the front door. My head refused to look back. My legs stumbled as I tried to fight my own steps to no avail.
"Goodbye, Sachi Endo. Thank you for your cooperation and continued support."Kantarou bowed. I assumed his gratitude was mostly for testing out his machine more than it was for our friendship. But I guess I could be wrong.
"Goodbye."I reached out my hand and called out.
"Kanta—"Before I could finish, Kantarou abruptly slammed the door in front of me. The sound was so loud. Kantarou shut the door with such force that it haunted me. Was I so helpless that I couldn't even save the life of one boy? I was at a loss. My brain wasn't thinking straight. All I could do was fall to my knees and shout from the top of my lungs.
On that night, Kantarou was far beyond repair. Bato, Nigori, and Mayu couldn't save him, and certainly not me...
I hated that.I wanted to fight to help Kantarou, but I knew I would just end up talking to a brick wall. So, what? That's it? Am I giving up on Kantarou just like his friends?
Monday, three days later.
I tried to go back to school today, even though I thought it was too soon. I wasn't happy. I hated how I felt and I was scared that something bad would happen.And I was right to believe it.
Midway through the day, just before lunchtime, my teacher pulled me out of class. She told me that a police officer had come to speak with me.That's when I learned that Kantarou had committed suicide.
As for the note Kantarou wrote me, he wanted to apologize. I imagine that was the nature of all the letters he had written, but personalized to the intended reader. He went on to say that the OWTD was finally completed to its maximum capabilities. Furthermore, Kantarou wanted to pass on his machine... to me.
If there was one thing I could change, I would make it so that I wasn't weak back then. I wouldn't walk away from Kantarou so easily like I did before. Even in his final days, I would have kept coming back, urging him to live. Even if my attempts were futile.
But I can't do that.It's just like Kantarou said; 'We are forever bound to what we have right now in this moment.'
He's gone now, but I'm still here.I can't change what I did wrong before, but I can change the way I am now.
I didn't want to feel anything because I didn't want to let anyone close to my heart. If my heart was happy, I was scared it wouldn't last. If my heart tore in two, I feared I'd never recover.After Kantarou's death, I couldn't live that way anymore.
My interests didn't really line up with many people and I didn't know what was popular or not, so that's why I couldn't really relate with anyone else. Even though those reasons held me back, it didn't mean I couldn't make an effort. From now on, I was going to reach out more. Pay attention, get involved, or something like that. One day at a time.