Music Hyperlink: Mother To Daughter, by Yang Hee Eun.
I always make sure there’s an opening in the room - an inch at the door, or even maybe at the window. My grandmother taught me that if one dies during sleep, the soul needs an exit, or it will be forever trapped in the room.
“What a way to start the day,” Yena muttered, reading the paragraph. She looked up when a voice from outside her waiting room called her name. Getting to her feet, she closed her book and tucked it into her bag. Her stylist followed her out as she walked towards the stage, every so imposing, looming over its audience. Even the idols who performed with all their might looked so tiny in comparison to the stage they stood on.
Yena grinned at the girl group who was scurrying off the stage, holding her hands up for high-fives. She recognised them from when they had appeared on her show, a five-person rookie group that dominated the stage but were also really (there was no other word for it) soft when they weren’t performing. They returned her high-fives and bowed shyly. Their leader, a girl named Yeji with sharp features and bright smile, stopped to hover around Yena.
“Are you the special emcee today?” Yeji asked curiously. She beamed when Yena nodded and wrapped Yena in a hug. “Yay! That’s great! Finally!”
Finally indeed, Yena thought. It had really taken her a whole year to accept an emcee invitation to a music show, to this music show in particular. A month ago she wouldn’t have even dared to step into this area of the building - or even this whole building - as it forced her to recall memories she didn’t want to recall. Memories of bobbed hair around a pretty face, memories of lips that whispered her name and of sneaky finger taps when they would pass each other outside waiting rooms. A month ago, even the thought of walking down a corridor alone would weigh heavily on her shoulders.
Now she could walk - not freely, but her shoulders were a little less hunched, her head a little less bowed. Gone were the rainclouds that hovered over her, grey clouds fading into white, white parting to let the sun peek through.
“So,” Yeji wiggled her eyebrows at her. “Who is it?”
Yena blinked in surprise. “Who is who?”
“The person who put that smile on your face.” Yeji poked Yena’s cheeks with a finger and grinned.
“She’s… no one.” Yena pulled herself away from Yeji’s curious eyes. “If you’re going to keep asking me questions, I’m going to call your girlfriend. Lia! Li-a!”
Widening her eyes in alarm, Yeji slapped a hand over Yena’s mouth. “No, don’t do that, she’s going to scold me for bugging you.” Yeji glanced behind her, pouting when she noticed her girlfriend advancing towards her with a raised brow. “Fine, okay. I just wanted to say - whoever it is that makes you smile like that, she must be really lucky to have you in her life. Okay bye!”
Yena watched Yeji prance off towards her girlfriend, grinning at the way the girls leaned on each other as they walked back to their waiting room. Playing with the cue cards in her hand, Yena shook her head as she recalled the idol’s words. “No, Yeji. I’m the lucky one to have Yuri in my life.”
A small duck plushie swung from Yena’s backpack as she strolled down the street back home that evening. It had been five days and ten hours since Yuri had left for Busan - which, in Yena’s opinion, was too far away a distance from Seoul, too long a time away from her. How she wished Yuri would just hurry up and come back so they could finally meet. Yena had already planned out the whole thing from beginning to end: she’d knock on Yuri’s door with a bouquet of flowers and a soft toy, then bring Yuri out for a meal, some coffee, maybe a movie.
“Sounds like a date,” Yena mumbled to herself, deep in thought. “Well, I guess it is a friendly date. Would one call that a date? We haven’t met each other, so it’s kind of like a blind date? Is it?”
Her phone buzzed in her pocket, interrupting half-formed thoughts. She pulled it out and stared at the time displayed. Scratch the earlier thought; as of right now, it had been five days, ten hours, and twenty-four minutes since Yuri left. Under the clock was a new message notification.
From: my sun
Yena immediately brightened and quickly tapped out a reply. “Yuri! I missed you.”
From: my sun
-I missed you too. :)
As she read the message, Yena had to press her lips together to suppress the giddy laugh that bubbled in the back of her throat. Her phone suddenly started to ring loudly, taking her by surprise. Fumbling around with her phone, she nearly dropped it on the ground before holding it to her ear. “You missed me? Really?” she asked, mouth wide open in a grin.
“Strangely, yeah. I must be going crazy.” Yena heard some mutters in the background followed by something banging shut. “Damn, where’s my charger?”
Yena heard Yuri’s grandmother giving her faint instructions, then a loud clatter that hurt Yena’s ears. She winced, instinctively pulling away from the phone before tuning back in. “Yuri?” she ventured.
“Good evening,” a calm voice murmured on the other end of the line. “You must be Yena. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
Yena blinked. Could this be…? It had to be. “Yuri’s grandmother?”
“That’s right.” Yuri’s grandmother spoke with a distinct Busan accent, her words undulating in pitch to create music. She sounded like Yuri, a patient, soft-spoken voice that could make the earth tremble and oceans rise with the right words. She sounded like a woman who would sing to the moon, a woman who could make stars fall at her feet, could make flowers bloom or wither at the touch of a hand.
Stopping short before a mural of a starry sky, Yena stood to attention and bowed a full ninety-degrees forward to empty air. Her hair swept past her shoulders, tips nearly touching the ground. Unnecessary as it was, for there was no way Yuri’s grandmother could see her now, Yena understood that this was a woman whom she had to pay the highest respects to. “Nice to meet you, ma’am.”
“I’ve heard a lot about you, Yena. My granddaughter tells me many tales,” Yuri’s grandmother said, laughter light and airy.
“Indeed. I can tell her she likes you a lot.”
“D-does she?” Yena repeated, surprised.
“Yes, she does.” There was a long pause before Yuri’s grandmother began to speak again. “Yena, this may be quite sudden, but can I ask a favour of you?”
“Of course! Anything at all!”
"Will you please take care of Yuri?"
Yena blinked, confused by the sudden question. "I'm sorry, ma'am, I don't understand."
“My granddaughter is,” Yuri’s grandmother exhaled heavily, “Yuri is a soft-hearted child. She worries too much about the people around her, and sees herself as someone smaller, someone less important than she actually is. I worry that her world is too full of darkness sometimes, and I wish for her to find someone who can show her that she is much more than that, someone who can bring a light, no matter how little, to brighten her world again. I believe you might be able to do that, Yena.”
“Me?” Yena was flabbergasted. Of all the people in the world, her? What in the world did she do, or did Yuri say, to have her grandmother have such faith in Yena? “Ma’am, you must have misunderstood. I don’t think I can do that - I mean, it was Yuri who brought light into my life, not the other way round. I really don’t know what I would have become without her.”
“That’s exactly it.” Yuri’s grandmother sounded even more determined. “If this grandchild of mine has managed to bring light into your life despite her own darkness, then there is hope for her still. Share with her your light. Express your gratitude, your kindness, your own strength - and the strength that she has given you.”
“Yena.” Yuri’s grandmother interrupted, her voice a hushed whisper. “Please. She needs you now, more than ever. I’m sorry to burden you with this, but she has no one else left.”
“What do you mean?”
“Grandma!” Yuri’s voice blared through the phone, quickly replacing her grandmother’s. “Did I leave my phone there?”
“This kid, really.” Yuri’s grandmother chuckled. “She really can be so forgetful. Please look after her well, Yena. Especially tonight.”
Ominous. Her words were ominous. Yena had a sinking feeling she knew what Yuri’s grandmother was talking about, if the paragraph from her book this morning was anything to go by. “Ma’am, are you-”
“Yena!” Yuri shouted into the phone. “Guess what?”
Yena wondered why Yuri’s grandmother insisted that Yuri was surrounded by darkness. On the contrary, she sounded all cheerful and excited, like a little kid at a fair who wanted to be entertained. Yena, of course, would willingly take that role. “What?”
“I’m going back tonight!”
“R-really? Shouldn’t you stay with your grandmother a bit longer?”
“Yena, do you not want me to go back?” She swore she could hear Yuri pout all the way in Busan. “Besides, I did want to stay a while longer, but grandma encouraged me to go back to Seoul tonight.”
Especially tonight, Yuri’s grandmother had said. Tonight, Yena understood. Tonight, everything would change. But Yena couldn’t tell Yuri that, couldn’t tell Yuri what was on her mind, lest her intuition was wrong. And by God, she hoped she was wrong.
“I’ll be waiting for you, Yuri,” she could only answer weakly. “I’ll be here, waiting, for you.”
Somewhere in the few minutes before orange faded to black, grey crowded the sky. Yena, sitting outside on her balcony in a large yellow hoodie, watched the first drop of water fall. It splashed on her balcony railing, splitting into two before rolling down. A torrential downpour soon followed, each droplet heavier than the last, bullets storming down on the earth.
Somewhere under her balcony, the wind-chime rang, assaulted by rain and wind. It shook and shivered as it hung from Yena’s balcony, its red string fraying bit by bit, and as it shuddered under the impact of the rain it cried out for help, cried out in a sound that was drowned out by the cacophony of the storm.
Yena’s phone buzzed in her hand. Yuri must have arrived in Seoul by now.
From: my sun
Scrambling to her feet, Yena rushed out of her apartment, grabbing an umbrella and a mask on the way. Yanking the mask onto her face, she hailed a taxi to the train station, urging the driver to go as fast as he could. While the driver sped through traffic lights and drifted around corners, Yena called Yuri, desperately pressing her phone to her ear.
Yena tumbled out of the taxi the second it stopped, heart racing as she ran up the flights of stairs leading to the train station. Where was Yuri? Her eyes searched for someone they didn’t recognise, her ears straining to listen for a familiar voice, fighting against the loud thumping of her heart.
A sob. Yena whipped her head around, her eyes wide, ears pricked. She stumbled towards the sound, searching blind.
Water dripped from her umbrella onto the tiled station floor.
In a corner of the train station, hidden from prying eyes, was a figure huddled in a ball. Trembling hands clung onto knees as she shivered in the warmth of the building. Her long brown hair covered her face, hiding tears. A small bag was tossed aside next to her, items strewn across the floor.
Yena took a careful step forward.