“Keiji. Keiji. Are you listening to me?”
Huh? What was I doing again?
A plate of food resting on a strange table began to materialize before Akaashi’s eyes.
Akaashi lifted his head to bring his mother into view. He pursed his lips together slightly, lowered his eyebrows, and gave one curt nod in definitive answer. Satisfied, she gave him a wide smile, turned to Akaashi’s father, and began talking again.
Akaashi’s hands instinctively tightened. He felt something in his right hand that was resting on the table.
Not chopsticks. No, a fork. He determined before he cast a glance towards his hand.
But why a fork? Akaashi’s eyes wandered back down to his plate. Hmm. There sat a stereotypical fancy American dinner of steak, baked potato, and broccoli. Akaashi had no idea why they were eating American food or why he was even eating out with his parents to begin with. He sat there and mulled over thoughts trying to figure out where he was and why.
At least that explains the fork.
“Keiji isn’t that right?”
That series of sounds registered in Akaashi’s brain as words being emitted from Akaashi’s father.
“Yes, father.” Akaashi automatically replied solemnly.
His father boasted a large smile in response and began animatedly speaking with his wife again as Akaashi’s attention returned to his plate. There were maybe two, no three, bites taken out of each item. Just enough so it appeared like Akaashi had been eating. Akaashi noticed for the first time that there was also a roll on a smaller plate just to the side of his main plate that was supposed to be part of his meal as well. It was completely untouched. Sighing softly as not to attract attention from his parents, he tentatively repositioned his fork and slowly pierced a bite of steak with it. He brought it to his mouth and chewed slowly. He swallowed and let out another small sigh.
How long has it been since food tasted good?
“Something wrong with your dinner, dear?” Akaashi’s mother looked over with a concerned face. “You used to love this place. You’ve barely even touched your food. Maybe you waited too long? You know steak just isn’t as good cold.”
Akaashi pulled a lazy half smile for his mother. “It’s perfect, mother. Just a little tired, is all.”
“Ah. Well that’s to be expected I guess. You’re doing so much. Make sure you’re eating and sleeping properly!” she exclaimed with a smile. She was proud. So, so proud of him.
It hurt Akaashi.
For the first time, Akaashi glanced over to his parent’s plates. They were empty aside from leftover sauces, a bit of fat trimmed of the meat, and part of his mother’s roll. She’d always been more of a rice person.
Seeing this, a thought dawned on Akaashi. How long have we been here? His eyes glanced around. They were at an American restaurant that they sometimes went to for special occasions. They’d arrived at… 7pm. Maybe? Akaashi snuck a peek at his watch.
A slow huff of breath escaped from Akaashi’s teeth.
What had happened to the last hour and a half?
His hand tensed around the fork still in his hand was resting on the table. Anxiety picking up, he placed the fork down, placed his hands in his lap on top of the cloth napkin resting there and began scaping his nails against the skin surrounding his nails. He looked back up at his parents. They were still talking animatedly about something, but Akaashi had no clue. He felt like he’d just arrived to the conversation.
What is it? Maybe I should pay attention.
“. . . Oh, and I’ve decided I want to change the curtains in the kitchen.”
“I can’t wait for Keiji to finish his last year at university. Then he can begin to learn how to take over the company.”
“Oh! I’m so excited! Keiji’s going to do such a good job! Maybe you’ll get to retire early!”
“Ahahaha. As if you could pry me from . . .”
Akaashi stopped listening again. It was always like this. Akaashi loved his parents. They weren’t bad people. It’s just. . .
He also hated them. They were sometimes so. . . so small minded. But there was something else too. He hated that they were always so happy. So cheerful. Like they had never experienced remorse or despair in their lives.
Akaashi envied them.
“. . . and the we could go to that place . . . “
“ . . . what about the . . .”
“. . . and I just think that would be . . . “
Everything. Everything was boring. It wasn’t just his parents. It was school. It was his part time job. It was his friends. It was his prospects. It was life. It was everything. Nothing excited him anymore. At this point he was just going through the motions every day. He did what was expected out of him either out of habit or because he felt that if he didn’t complete the obligations he had the guilt would actually physically crush him.
He glanced back up at his parents. They were still going on about something. Something insipid. He squinted his eyes as he watched them interact.
Is life always going to be like this?
He looked back down at his hands in his lap. His index finger had drawn blood from his thumb a while ago and the two fingers were covered in blood.
I feel nothing.
The waiter stopped by the table to see if they needed anything. Akaashi slowly pulled his napkin over his fingers so the waiter wouldn’t see the blood. He didn’t want the attention. As the waiter looked his direction Akaashi gave a slight smile so he wouldn’t have to speak.
I want nothing.
“Keiji are you excited to start your last year at university?” His father enthusiastically almost shouted at him.
“Yes, father. It will be a good year.” Akaashi replied automatically. It was the same automatic reply he gave to anyone who asked him about his academic or professional goals. Since Akaashi was the top student in the business program no one ever seemed to need any other response.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
“I wouldn’t expect anything less than that from you!” his father cheered in response.
Why? Why didn’t he see that was just a cold, empty response?
“Keiji we’re so proud of you.” his mother added.
Why? I’ve done nothing to be proud of. Guilt flooded Akaashi’s body. I’ve done nothing for you to be proud of and I never can. It’ll never be good enough.
“We really are son. We couldn’t ask for a better child. We love you.” finished his father.
. . .
“Thank you. Mother. Father. I know you do.” Akaashi mustered with an attempt of a smile.
No. It doesn’t always have to be like this.
That was when Akaashi decided. He would never complete his last year of university. He would never work for his father’s business.
I can kill myself.
I don’t have to live like this.
A wave of relief poured over Akaashi as he contemplated his death.
No more pain.
No more suffering.
He gazed at his plate. He couldn’t contain the grin that spread across his face. It was the only genuine smile he’d had in months.