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burning light (when i look back, it's you)

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Momo dreams.

Most of the time, she dreams of an airport.

She doesn’t know which airport exactly, having been in so many airports during her entire life thanks to her career in food. But it’s familiar, like she’s been here before. Or maybe she’s only been here once and something happened here that made it so hard to forget. Because she knows that she’s dreamed of this place for as long as she can remember… like this is something worth coming back to every single time she shuts her eyes and tries to rest.

It’s always the same dream.

Momo enters the airport with her luggage in hand. She can feel her parents’ presence behind her but it also feels like they’re at the far end of a tunnel. She knows they’re there but she can’t see them. Her heart is racing but for what reason, she doesn’t know. All she knows is that she’s supposed to be in this airport. There’s somewhere she needs to be—someone she needs to be with.

All Momo has to do is find her.

The dream always changes halfway through. Sometimes, she’ll catch a glimpse of a girl walking through the crowd, seemingly looking for someone as well. Each time Momo spots the girl, she tries to move past the people standing in her way. But for some reason, the more she approaches, the more she can feel them pushing her back. There are other times where Momo sees the girl just leaning on the wall, arms crossed and eyes closed. Like she’s tired of waiting. Momo blinks and the girl is gone. As if she was never even there in the first place.

Her dream starts with her entering the airport, knowing that she has to find someone.

She never does, always waking up before she has the chance to truly find her. 

(On the other side of the country, Sana also wakes up from the same dream.) 

Momo wakes up from another one of these dreams when she hears her alarm ringing. She reaches out, fumbling for her phone, and quickly shuts the sound off with her eyes glued shut. It’s another day—a new day to wake up, cook breakfast, walk the dogs, watch the latest drama, experiment with new food, make dinner for her older sister and then head to work. Her mind is so used to this routine she doesn’t question it. However, this time, when she gets out of bed, the first thing she does isn’t to freshen up. Instead, her body moves on its own accord.

She stands in the middle of her bedroom, her hands on her hips and her feet firmly planted on the ground. Then she takes a deep breath and starts stretching. After she finishes with the usual stretches, she continues exercising, not really thinking too much about which move to follow up with because her body already knows what to do. After a beat passes, she starts dancing.

It’s odd. Her entire life, it has always been Hana who loved to dance, who was always updated with the latest pop choreographies, who knew what she wanted and worked tirelessly to achieve it. On the other hand, Momo was happy to wait for her after every practice just so that they could try some new street food she just heard of. She was always happy when it came to food, which is why she spent all her time trying new dishes and perfecting them in her free time.

Whenever Hana came home exhausted from dance school, Momo was always there to offer her whatever she had been working on that day.

This is the way it always has been.

But recently, Momo finds herself dancing too.

“This is stupid,” she tells herself with a frustrated sigh and forces her to limbs to stop moving, “I just need some fresh air.”

She goes on with her day but persistent thoughts continue to plague her mind. It's been like this for a while now. Like her brain is at war with her body. She knows what to do but the unsettling feeling that this isn't what she's supposed to do haunts her. 

Each time she picks up a knife, the rest of her arm wants to resist. Each time she sits on the couch, her legs feel like they want to go somewhere else. Each time she does something related to her usual routine, her body just doesn't want to do it. 

What the hell is going on? 

It reaches the point where she feels such a disconnect that she asks for a day off from the restaurant. "I think I have the flu," she tells the head chef, "so I won't be able to make it to dinner service." 

"It's okay," the chef informs her kindly, "It happens. Take care of yourself, kid."

Hana also texts her a few minutes later, saying that she's going to eat dinner with a couple of friends from high school. This leaves Momo sitting idly in the living room with nothing to do and nobody to talk to. She’s used to this, though. But for some reason, it feels like she isn’t. It has always been her and Hana but there are many times in her life where her older sister isn’t around too. 

Thank you for telling me things, she suddenly hears her own voice in the back of her head, and for being an unnie to me. 

This time, a different girl pops up in her mind. Not the same girl from the airport. Somebody… younger. Blonde hair. Warm eyes. Gummy smile.

Where have I seen you before? 

(Thousands of miles away, Mina sits inside a train compartment and remembers the same memory.)

Momo decides to get something to eat so she rises to her feet. In doing so, her three dogs—Lucky, Pudding and Petco—stand up from their respective places as well. She giggles at their obedient but curious stances. "I'll be back," she promises, grabbing her coat from the rack and pulling it on. 

She pushes another thought away—the thought that there's something missing when it comes to her dogs as well. 

Once she's out in the streets, Momo heads to her favorite restaurant. She usually takes the bus to get there faster but this time, she wants to enjoy a nice walk. There's a lot on her mind so maybe some fresh air will help clear it. She plugs in her earphones and picks some random song from her playlist. She's too troubled by her own thoughts that she doesn't even pay much mind to what she's listening to. 

When she gets to the restaurant, she orders her favorite, pays the bill and takes the bus back home. As she sits in the very middle of the vehicle and looks out the window, something flashes in her mind. 

It's a memory but she doesn't particularly remember it. She sees the inside of a plane with rows of people settling comfortably in their seats. Momo sits by the window, glancing at the outside world, before her eyes sweep around the inside of the aircraft. Her gaze lands on the opposite aisle, where she sees the same girl from before, earphones plugged in and eyes downcast. At the sight of her, Momo's heart races. 

I know you, she thinks and her mouth goes dry, you are precious to me. 

Momo shakes herself from the memory and sees that she's back in the bus. This is her stop. Once the bus halts all movement, she quickly gets up and leaves the vehicle. Then it's a few more minutes of walking before she arrives at her apartment. 

When she's home, Momo makes sure to feed the dogs first and then to start setting up her camera. It’s been a while since she filmed herself filming a mukbang. She doesn’t necessarily have a huge following, compared to some people, but it’s a good start. Besides, the revenue she gets from her YouTube helps pay off some bills.

Momo prepares her set-up—the camera and the tripod in front of her, her food on the table and then some refreshments on the side. Then she makes sure to keep all her dogs in her bedroom so that they won't disturb her. Once everything has been prepared, she takes a seat in front of the camera and starts recording. 

"Hi, everybody," she greets with a smile, "Welcome back to my channel, where I eat food and talk about my day. I'm Momo but you can call me Momoring. That's what my parents call me anyway. Today, I didn't prepare much, if I'm being honest. I just went out, bought my favorite food and decided to do a Mukbang video." Then she drinks a glass of Coke, finishing most of it in one go. 

Momo doesn't have the fancy equipment other people have but she doesn't really mind. The reason why she started this side hobby is to speak her mind while she's on camera. It even feels like a part of her is used to this already—turning a camera on with no particular topic set and just sharing whatever comes through her head. It's another odd feeling, especially when faced with the fact that she's only been doing this for a year. 

She starts with the sushi. "Do you guys have weird dreams sometimes?" she asks the camera, her eyes fixed on the red light, "Not like one of those dreams where half the things don't even make sense but the ones where… it's almost like a memory." 

She chews the sushi slowly as she mulls over her next words. "I don't really remember much about the dream," she admits, "but I do know that it was important." 

Why was it important? Momo asks herself as she moves to prepare the omasum she bought. 

"It was important because somebody was there," she says, looking up at the camera as if it holds all the answers in the world, "and that somebody was important to me too." 

Momo tries to recall that girl again but the only image she has in her mind is fading away—disappearing behind a cloud of smoke and vanishing right before her eyes. Momo could chase after her but she knows it would be futile. Because much of what she remembers from her dream is already gone. 

Just like her.

"Do you also have those dreams, On—?" Momo stops short, confusion striking her into silence. The chopsticks in her hand nearly slip from her grip but she manages to pick them up just in time. 

Moko shakes her head, feeling more confused as each second passes. "Sorry," she mutters, smiling at the camera, "I forgot what I was going to say there. Anyway, do you guys also have those dreams?" 

No answer, of course. Momo is used to this. The second she looks into a camera, she doesn't feel as lonely as she used to be when she was without it. 

Momo picks at the plate of omasum she prepared. In the back of her mind, she thinks of another girl. This time, one with long light brown hair and red earphones plugged in. She looks over at Momo, eyes twinkling, and asks, “Have you ever seen them before?

Something in Momo’s chest burns

“I don’t know,” she says out loud, playing around with the food still on her plate, “I think I’m forgetting something important.” 

 


 

Mina looks up from the plate of cookies the butler had given her the last time he entered the room and fixes her gaze on the steady rise and fall of her Grandfather’s chest. She’s sitting next to him in his bedroom, where the Myoui patriarch has been confined for nearly a year, and holding the book Kokoro in her hands. She was reading a paragraph out loud when the sight of his hand twitching in front of her caught her eye. Now she sighs, sorely disappointed when her Grandfather doesn’t move again, and continues reading the passage:

 

“I am a lonely man," he said again that evening. "And is it not possible that you are also a lonely person? But I am an older man, and I can live with my loneliness, quietly. You are young, and it must be difficult to accept your loneliness. You must sometimes want to fight it."

"But I am not at all lonely."

"Youth is the loneliest time of all. Otherwise, why should you come so often to my house?"

Sensei continued: "But surely, when you are with me, you cannot rid yourself of your loneliness. I have not it in me to help you forget it. You will have to look elsewhere for the consolation you seek. And soon, you will find that you no longer want to visit me."

As he said this, Sensei smiled sadly.”

 

Mina closes the book and reaches up to rub the bridge of her nose. Her Grandfather doesn’t move. He hasn’t been doing much of anything lately. She hoped—against everything else the doctors have told her—that by reading one of his favorite book, she could coax a reaction from him. But other than the twitch of a finger, there has been nothing. Just silence except for the quiet beeping of the machine that keeps him alive… but not alive.

She checks the time. The train is going to leave soon. Putting the book back into her bag and rising from her seat, Mina approaches the bed, ignores the machines standing dutifully by her Grandfather’s side, and leans down to press a soft kiss on his forehead.

“I’ll be back, ojiisan,” she promises, “Next week.”

Nothing. Not even the slightest twitch of his mouth. Mina tries not to let the disappointment wash over her but ends up drowning in it instead.

When she leaves the room and heads to the front door, the butler Haru is there, waiting for her. 

“Did you forget anything, Mina-san?”

Mina is quick to shake her head, wanting nothing more than to leave the vast emptiness of her grandfather’s mansion behind. Each time she comes in for a visit, she is only reminded of the lonely life the patriarch in her family leads. And even though she wants nothing more than for her Grandfather to open his eyes and greet her with a warm smile, she knows she would rather spend her Saturdays elsewhere.  

“Your grandfather would be very pleased that you dropped by for a visit today, Mina-san,” Haru goes on with a polite smile. He is a few years older than Mina and has been serving the family as the head butler for a while now. 

“Yes,” she says, adjusting the straps of her bag, “I haven’t seen him for a while and I didn't have any classes today." 

Haru bows. "That's very kind of you." 

Mina offers the butler her own polite smile. "I'll be going now. Please take care of my Grandfather, Haru-san.”

"As you wish, Mina-san." 

Mina looks over her shoulder at the large empty mansion, thinks of her grandfather's declining health, and turns away. Once she leaves the estate, she releases a sigh of relief she doesn’t realize she'd been holding in. The clouds are dark, which means it will rain soon. Thankfully, she always comes prepared. As she heads to the nearest train station, she takes out her compact umbrella from her bag and leaves it in her hand just in case the showers suddenly start. She passes by a couple of girls heading home from university and finds herself staring when they share an inside joke and laugh. Something in her chest starts to ache. It feels a lot like longing. But what she’s longing for, she doesn’t know. 

(On the other side of the city, Sana laughs with her girlfriend but feels the same pang in her chest.)

Mina doesn’t like to think of herself as an antisocial person but she’s never had that many friends to begin with. There are her high school friends, whom she keeps in touch with on occasion. Of course, she also has her college friends but she only meets up with them when she needs a partner to practice a few steps with. Other than that, she keeps to herself. She doesn’t like to do much. The world always seems to be moving too fast for her and she’d rather stay in one spot than allow herself to be swept up in it.

Visiting Grandfather’s mansion in Osaka isn’t something she planned on doing for today but her parents had insisted, especially after they heard news of his already declining health. It won’t be long before he’ll pass on, which is something Mina has already accepted the past few months. It’s difficult to think of the elderly man clapping after every performance she had on stage when she was a toddler, and reconcile that image with the same man lying in bed, tubes attached to his body, and relying on a machine to keep him breathing.

Mina’s throat tightens. Grief is something she isn’t used to, especially when nobody has even died yet. The heavy weight on her chest is almost unbearable and she has to stop walking on the way to the train station to raise a hand to her eyes and wipe the impending tears that have filled them. Grandfather would laugh if he saw her like this. Death happens to the best of us, he had told her a year ago, back when he didn’t have a tube down his throat. Mina touches her own throat and inhales deeply. She’s okay. Nothing has happened yet. Grandfather is still here.

A few blocks before she reaches the train station, the downpour starts. Mina stops under the shade of a tree and clicks open her umbrella. The weather immediately cools. She stretches her hand forward, closing her eyes at the sensation of rain dropping against her skin. It’s a comfort she doesn’t realize she needed until she pulls her hand away and crosses the short distance towards the station.

The station is full, filled with people seeking shelter from the rain and students heading home. Mina brushes shoulders with strangers, keeping her head ducked down and putting her umbrella away once she’s out of the downpour. According to her watch, her train will arrive in ten minutes. So, she searches for a bench to sit on and when she finds one, she lets out a soft sigh and pulls Kokoro out from her bag. She has time to read, she thinks.

She thumbs through the pages and picks a random chapter:

 

One day, during the flower-viewing season, Sensei and I went to Ueno. I remember that day well. While we were going there, we happened to see a good-looking couple walking close together, beneath the flowering trees. The place being rather public, they, rather than the flowers, seemed to be the object of interest for many people.

"They look like a newly married couple," said Sensei.

"They seem to be pretty fond of each other, don't they?" I said, in an amused tone of voice.

There was not even a trace of a smile on Sensei's face. He began deliberately to walk away from the couple. He then said to me:

"Have you ever been in love?"

I said no.

"Don't you want to be in love?"

I said nothing in reply.

"It isn't that you don't want to fall in love, is it?"

"No."

"You made fun of that couple, didn't you? But actually, you sounded to me like a person who is dissatisfied because he has not yet been able to fall in love, though he wants to."

"Did I sound like that?"

"Yes, you did. A person who has been in love himself would have been more tolerant and would have felt warmer towards the couple. But—but do you know that there is guilt also in loving? I wonder if you understand me."

I was surprised, and said nothing.

 

A nagging sensation persists in Mina’s mind. She closes the book, feeling a headache ringing inside her skull, and rubs at her eyes in the hopes that it will go away soon. It doesn’t. The words reverberate in her ears, like the slow ticking of a clock hand pressed right against the sides of her head. Do you know that there is guilt also in loving? When she thinks of those words, she can’t help but feel as if they’re important, somehow. Of course she’s read them before, has listened to Grandfather read them out loud to her first, and yet this is the first time she feels so… affected by them. She closes her hands into fists, takes a deep breath, and tries to ground herself. But the sensation doesn’t leave her, not until—

Mina hears a voice: “Sana-chan!”

The voice itself is unfamiliar but the name—Mina’s heart jumps into her throat all of a sudden. She clambers to her feet, Kokoro dropping onto the floor in front of her. However, it is in that same moment that her train arrives and the doors open to spill out hundreds of commuters, eager to get home and be with their families. A sea of strangers swarm all around her and the voice she heard earlier gets lost in the loud thrum of the train engine and the murmur of the crowd. She tries to stand on her tiptoes, searching and searching. But she doesn’t recognize anybody in the crowd. They are all unfamiliar to her.

Mina has never felt so devastated. She hasn’t experienced grief yet but she imagines this is how it must feel. A gaping hole inside her ribcage has opened up, revealing a pain so intense that she finds herself stumbling back on the bench, trying to catch her breath. Her left hand comes up to clutch at her heart, almost as if she can squeeze the agony into non-existence. Sana-chan. She knows that name. She’s heard it before. She’s said it before. But no matter how hard she tries, she just can’t remember. Who is Sana-chan? Where did she hear that name? When did she say that name?

(Far, far away, Momo stops what she’s doing and asks herself the same question.)

Shaking her head, Mina forces herself to grab the fallen book off the floor. The train will leave soon. She has to go home. There are things to do, a dance recital to prepare for, a family waiting for her. With seconds to spare, she manages to squeeze inside the already full train, clutching her belongings to her chest. Thankfully, a man stands up to offer his seat for her.

Mina turns her attention to the world outside the train and freezes.

On the other side of the window, standing on the train platform, are two girls, hands loosely intertwined between them. The first one is taller with her hair tied in a ponytail. Mina’s eyes glaze over her for only a few seconds, branding her as nothing more than a stranger, before they move to the second girl. Then her heart stutters, falls and breaks into a million pieces. And she can only sit there and watch as it happens.

They seem to be pretty fond of each other, don't they?

A memory—is it a memory?—resurfaces but for some reason, it is upside down. The girl comes into view then, grinning broadly at Mina. She reaches up, gently parts Mina’s bangs, and presses a soft kiss on her forehead. In the back of her mind, a question can be heard: Do you wait for it? And the answer that bears fruit is this: Yes, I do. Yes, I always wait for it. What will Sana do now?

Mina inhales sharply. “Sana-chan,” she breathes out. Yes. This is her. Sana-chan. The girl standing right there—so close that Mina can wave her hand, call out her name, and be seen—this is her Sana.

Sana—who has the same brown hair cascading down her shoulders, the same warm eyes that never stop being so expressive, the same wide smile that can soothe all of Mina’s worries—is there. Mina tries to stand up but the train suddenly starts moving. The momentum catches her off guard and she falls back in her seat. The people around her grumble, annoyed at the intrusion of personal space. She shouldn’t have gone in. The doors have slammed shut. The train which she had been waiting patiently for earlier now feels like a prison cell.

Mina tries to search for Sana again but she can no longer find her since the train has already hurtled on. The panic sets in. Because she can feel it happening. The further away the train takes her away from Osaka, the faster her memories of Sana slip from her mind—like trying to catch sand with open hands. Do you wait for it? The question comes back.

Yes, Mina thinks, closing her eyes and trying to hold on to what still remains, yes, I do. I will wait. Please find me, Sana-chan. Please. I will wait for you.

The train leaves Osaka and Mina forgets again.

 


 

Sayaka doesn’t forget to kiss Sana before they part ways. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she promises, wearing a shy grin that shows off the adorable dimples that Sana fell in love with in the first place. 

“Thanks for dropping me off,” Sana tells her earnestly. The two of them stand in the intersection leading to Sana’s house. They’re still holding hands. 

“Of course, Sana-chan.” Sayaka giggles. “I’ll call you later, okay?”

“Okay.” Sana’s mouth curls into a grin as she leans forward to steal another kiss. “Stay safe. I love you.” 

“I love you too.”

There’s something wrong here. Sana can’t pinpoint it exactly, even though the image before her is familiar. The adoration in Sayaka’s eyes, the bright smile on her lips, the way she doesn’t take her gaze off Sana even as she slowly walks backwards. Sana should be used to this somehow. But for some reason, she isn’t. It’s almost as if she expects to be rebuffed. Like her affection should be outright rejected. But it isn’t. Instead, it’s welcomed with open arms. It shouldn’t be though… 

Sana shakes her head, turns around and heads home. The street leading to her house is alive with kids playing around with their friends, dogs following after their owners, parents yelling at their children to stay safe. There’s a smile on her face that is difficult to erase. She loves visiting home, especially when things at the university dorms can be so tense and difficult to deal with. She tries not to think too much about the endless pile of homework she left on her desk and finds herself standing in front of the gate leading to her house. 

“Sana-chan, is that you?” her mother calls from the kitchen upon hearing the door open. Sana takes off her shoes and hops over to give her mother a hug. 

"Missed you, okaasan," Sana murmurs. 

Her mother pulls back to cup her cheeks, beaming brightly. "I’m making your favorite," she coos, "Head up to your room and I'll call you once dinner is done. Your father will be coming home as well." 

Sana nods, tightening her grip on her bag as she heads upstairs to her room. It is exactly as she's left it, even though her mother did clean up every now and then. She drops her bag on the floor, plops down on the neatly made futon and just lies there for a few minutes. She’s tired but she doesn’t want to sleep. Not yet anyway. 

She thinks of Sayaka, as she always does when there’s nothing on her mind. After all, she’s known her girlfriend since they were children. They’ve been together for so long she can scarcely remember a period in her life where Sayaka wasn’t there. She is her best friend, her closest confidant, her lover above anything else. Lover has always been a beautiful word for Sana. When she thinks of it now, amidst a world that has gone quiet, Sayaka is the first person to pop up in her eyes. 

Minatozaki Sana and Akari Sayaka. A perfect pair. Lovers

Sana rubs at her eyes, frowning. There’s something wrong. She doesn't know what it is. But it doesn’t seem… right. Forcing these thoughts out of her head, she turns on her back and stares at the ceiling. Outside, she can hear the sounds of children laughing. It keeps her mind awake as it fights off her body’s need to rest.

(In Tokyo, Momo pauses in the middle of leaving her apartment to head to work, feeling the same restlessness in her bones.) 

She isn’t used to not doing anything. 

Her phone rings suddenly. It is Sayaka. 

“Hello,” Sana answers with a soft smile. 

"You sound tired," her girlfriend notes dryly. 

Sana sighs and fixes her gaze on the window outside. "Maybe," she mumbles, "I was pretty sleepy on the train earlier." 

"You should rest," Sayaka urges—ever the most thoughtful girlfriend anybody could ever ask for; "I'll call you again later, okay?" 

Sana nods and then says, "yes," when she realizes Sayaka can't see her. The two talk a bit about how their families are doing. Before the call ends, Sayaka whispers, "I love you" and for some reason, Sana doesn't say it back. It doesn’t feel right. If Sayaka notices, she doesn’t mention it. When Sana drops her phone, the turmoil in her chest hasn’t gone. She decides to watch a few Youtube videos in the hopes that she’ll forget about it later on. The first thing on her recommended list are a bunch of ASMR videos, such as ear cleaning, people whispering and even a Shiba Inu munching on some vegetables. She scrolls through them, trying to decide what to watch to pass the time. She decides on the first thumbnail that catches her attention: ASMR ICHIRAN RAMEN (JAPANESE NOODLES) MUKBANG (No Talking) EATING SOUNDS. She makes the volume is at its maximum level and watches the video. 

Half an hour later, Sana realizes she’s fallen asleep when she hears soft whispering coming from her phone. Craning her head to the side, she sees that the sun has moved from its earlier position. From the kitchen, her mother calls out her name. She stands up, rubbing at her neck, and picks up her phone. 

As expected, the Youtube algorithm has shown her a different video this time. It’s no longer the ASMR Ichiran Ramen video she had been watching earlier. Now, it’s something else. At first glance, it’s just a girl enjoying the usual Japanese cuisine such as sushi and omasum and talking to an invisible audience. The camerawork is a bit sloppy compared to the other ones that Sana has watched. She has half the mind to exit out of the app when her eyes fully focus on the screen.

Then her entire world stops. 

Do you guys have weird dreams sometimes?” the girl asks. Her dark hair is tied in twin pigtails and she’s wearing her glasses that reflect the glare of her camera. She seems to be in casual wear with minimal make-up on. And yet, Sana’s throat tightens. You are the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen, she thinks to herself. 

The girl chews on a sushi roll. “Not like one of those dreams where half the things don't even make sense but the ones where… it's almost like a memory,” she adds, seemingly deep in thought.

Sana’s mother calls out to her again but she doesn’t move from her spot on the bed, transfixed on the video. 

I don't really remember much about the dream," the girl says, "but I do know that it was important.

Almost like she’s watching it happen from an outside perspective, Sana raises her hand and rewinds the video. At the start, the girl waves at the camera, her eyes bright and her smile wide. “Welcome back to my channel, where I eat food and talk about my day. I'm Momo but you can call me Momoring. That's what my parents call me anyway. Today, I didn't prepare much, if I'm being honest. I just went out, bought my favorite food and decided to do a Mukbang video." She sounds calm and steady, as if she’s been doing this for a while now or that she’s born for the camera.

Tears slip past Sana’s eyes and drop on the screen. 

Momo.

“Momoring,” Sana whispers. The name brings back a memory she’s not sure she’s seen before but seems painstakingly familiar. In her mind’s eye, she sees Momo sitting across her in a restaurant next to the beach… It looks like Hawaii but Sana is positive she’s never been to Hawaii before. And yet, for some reason, she knows that it’s Hawaii. Momo points a fork at her, smiling brightly. “The food is good, right?” she asks. 

Then the memory disappears, leaving behind a gaping hole in Sana’s chest. 

Her name is called out again. 

On screen, Momo fixes her eyes on the camera. Sana’s entire body starts trembling. It is as if Momo is looking into her very soul. She is talking about her dream again. “It was important because somebody was there and that somebody was important to me too,” she tells the camera.

(At the same time this is happening, Mina tries to remember who Sana-chan is and why she feels so important to her.) 

Sana doesn’t finish the video. Instead, she clicks on the channel name: MUKBANGS WITH MOMORING. She doesn’t know what she’s looking for but she skims through the content, trying to find something—anything that can bridge the sudden blank slate in her brain that she’s positive holds the answer as to why she’s crying over a random girl she saw on Youtube. There are less than ten videos that have been uploaded. Most of them are mukbang videos. Sana clicks on the ABOUT section. Her heart starts to race when she realizes that Momo has added a link to her Instagram page. 

When Sana is redirected to hiraimomoring_96 on Instagram, she is met with hundreds of pictures about the girl’s life. It is almost overwhelming. At the sight of all the pictures, Sana’s fingers start shaking uncontrollably. She hasn’t stopped crying. For the third time, she hears her mother calling out for her but she doesn’t respond. Not now, okaasan, she thinks, feeling as if she’s on the edge of discovering something life-changing. She curls her hands into small fists, takes a deep breath and returns to finding out more about this girl.

Momo has a sister. That much is certain about five pictures in. Sana can’t help but feel like she knows the sister too. When she checks the tags, she sees that the sister’s name is Hana. Hirai Hana. Sister to Hirai Momo. Sana’s lips curl around the name, repeating it over and over again until it feels embedded on the tip of her tongue, until she’s held onto it tight enough that it won’t slip past her unnoticed. 

Sana exits the app and searches Momo’s name on Mixi. 

There are a few hundred matches and Sana skims through them all, her heart racing so fast it feels like a horse has kicked through her ribs. When she recognizes a picture that belongs to the Hirai Momo she’s looking for, there is a sudden, stinging clarity that strikes her right there and then, completely halting her from clicking on the profile. What am I doing? She asks herself, hearing her mother call out her name for the fourth time that night. Why is she searching for a stranger’s name, trying to find all possible details about her, all based purely on a gut instinct?

“But you’re not a stranger,” Sana whispers almost pathetically, her gaze fixated on Hirai Momo’s smiling face. 

She clicks on the profile: 

 

NAME: Hirai Momo (平井 もも)

ID: 190925 

SEX: Female

CURRENT ADDRESS: Tokyo, Japan

BLOOD TYPE: A

BIRTHPLACE: Kyotonabe, Kyoto, Japan

HOBBIES: Cooking, drawing, playing with my pets, spending time with my sister, making and editing Youtube videos, walking on the beach, taking pictures of the world around me, watching TV, exercising, sometimes I enjoy dancing with my sister, crafting recipes, experimenting with food, travelling to other places in Japan.

SELF-INTRODUCTION: Hi! My name is Momo but you can call me Momoring! I enjoy the simple things in life. I love my family, friends and most especially my dogs: Petco, Pudding and Lucky. I work as a sous chef in a restaurant in downtown Japan. I’ve never been with anybody before but I think I would be a good girlfriend (^艸^). One day, I would love to travel to other places in the world and enjoy the food there. But for now, I have a personal goal which is to visit every inch of Japan and taste all the cuisine found here. I hope you have a good day!!!

 

Sana finds herself staring too hard at the “I’ve never been with anybody before” line, her throat tight with an emotion she can’t explain. Is it disbelief? Is it confusion? Is it an overwhelming sadness that threatens to blur her eyes with more tears? Before she can figure it out for herself, the door to her room suddenly swings open, revealing her mother who looks both worried and annoyed. 

“Sana-chan,” her mother says, her expression changing to alarm, “why are you crying?” 

How can Sana explain? How can she look her mother in the eye and tell her that it feels like she’s just lost the most important person in her life? Despite never having met that person in the first place? So, she doesn’t. Instead, she wipes away her tears, forces a smile and lies through her teeth: “There was something in my eye.”

She looks back down at her phone in hand, staring hard at Momo’s smiling profile picture, and switches it off.