Yukiko was all of a sudden thinking of her mother. It was 10 at night. The last coach to her hometown departs at slightly after 11pm, and it would take Yukiko around 40 minutes to get to the bus station. If she managed to leave in 15 minutes, she would be able to make a visit to her family. Yukiko was quietly considering this option.
The night before the long vacation, Yukiko was hanging out with her colleagues in an izakaya as usual. While everyone else was having a good time chatting, she was feeling agitated. In fact, she had been feeling upset for the whole of June, where she had spent every morning following the news of the Hong Kong protests. Yukiko once followed her parents to move to Hong Kong and had stayed there for over ten years. During those years, she just found the city too hot and crowded, the pace of life was also too tense for her. She did miss her friends when she had to return to Japan, apart from that, she didn’t feel bad about having to leave. To her surprise, she feels so concerned every time of hearing big news about Hong Kong. Yukiko then realized that she is actually more connected to this metropolis than she thought. Watching numerous videos of the 2 million people moving slowly on the street like a black river flowing, she remembered when she participated in one of the 1 July marches with classmates and friends during her stay in Hong Kong. The day was humid and hot as usual, everyone was wearing a black t-shirt, with sticky skins rubbing against each other in the crowd. She treated that experience more as a cultural observation than protesting. She seemed to be so cold and distant when compared to the enthusiasm of the Hong Kong people, it was only until then did she know she was indifferent to most of the current affairs.
Ever since the start of June, Yukiko started to go to the bathroom more frequently during work hours. She would spend over ten minutes there, sitting on the toilet scrolling Facebook to check updates of the Hong Kong situation. She saw so many photos of people’s faces covered with blood and the monstrous faces of those who are supposed to be protecting the people. Protestors who are fighting against the political power are exhausted yet strong. It was already lunchtime when she stepped out of the bathroom and returned to her seat. The cheerfulness of her colleagues made her feel so misplaced. She walked alone to the convenient store to grab a sandwich. Walking on the organized and dustless streets in the slightly chilly weather, she suddenly had no idea where she was. Regardless of the physical distance, Yukiko could feel so vividly the frustration of the people in the faraway place. She had simply lost track of her life, be it the world she’s physically in or the world she cares so much about, she could not focus on living her life. She did her part to spread the word by briefly translating the Hong Kong news into Japanese and shared them on Twitter, even though she had only around 100 followers on Twitter. To put herself in the famous quote of Murakami, Yukiko saw herself as aimlessly throwing eggs against a high wall. But with the strong emotion accumulating, she had to do something without caring too much of the actual outcome.
Yukiko took a sip of the beer that had already gone warm while trying to excuse herself to leave early from the gathering. “Hong Kong is rather chaotic recently,” a senior colleague suddenly said to her.
“Indeed,” she replied with a wry smile. She was surprised to see this conversation coming. Perhaps he brought this up seeing she wasn’t in a good mood and knowing she had once resided in Hong Kong. There was a lot of thoughts stuck in her mind that she wanted to express, but she knew it wouldn’t be a proper topic for a work party. Social and political discussions are always boring, not to mention this is the discussion about another country.
“Do you want to eat something?” Her colleague asked while passing her the menu.
“Thanks, I’m good. Sorry I have to go home now. My boyfriend just called and said he forgot to bring his keys. He’s so careless..” She tried to act apologetic and said goodbye to everyone.
On the coach to her hometown, Yukiko texted Hatuta to tell him that she would be staying with her mum for the night. All Hatuta replied was only an emoji. This was an expected reaction of him, as he always responds with a smile when she talks about things happening outside of Japan. He had no idea how to react, and she did not know how to explain.
It was almost midnight when she got home, but the living room was still brightly lit. Yukiko’s mother was sitting by the coffee table, looking at her laptop. She was apparently sobbing. She didn’t even know Yukiko was home and turned her head only when Yukiko greeted her.
“Why are you home all of a sudden? It’s already so late.” Her mum wiped tears with her hand and sniffed.
“Are you watching Korean drama again?” Yukiko took a glance at the computer, then went to the kitchen for a glass of water.
“Did I ever complain about you reading manga? Now you want to stop me watching TV drama?” She said jokingly. Yukiko was too sad to laugh along. Seeing this, her mum stopped laughing and closed the computer. She went to Yukiko and slapped her butt, “You haven’t eaten anything, have you?”
“You really like slapping my butt,” she complained. After hearing her mum asking, she remembered all she has eaten was only some edamame and a glass of warm beer, so she said, “I haven’t eaten yet.”
“I’ve made something nice. Care to try?” She took out an egg from the fridge as she asked so. She looked so proud with the egg in her hand.
“Salted egg!” Her mum was even more proud of her eggs when seeing Yukiko’s astonished reaction.
“Didn’t you find pickling raw eggs gross?”
“I do want gross things sometimes,” said mum as she brought the egg to steam. “I had a sudden crave last month. I couldn’t find any here, so I watched a YouTube video and learned to make it myself.”
Yukiko sat by the coffee table to have a bowl of instant miso soup along with rice that had been kept warm for the entire day. The steamed salted egg looked so shiny with oil from the egg yolk when sliced in half. Without asking why she came home, her mum returned to where she was and continued using her computer.
The salted egg yolk tasted so familiar, it brought back all the memories of the hanging signboards… She thought of the snake soup shop where she used to go with her mum. Her typical order was rice with barbecued pork and an extra salted egg. She always spared the snake, which was too scary to her.
“Mum, did you see the news of Hong Kong?” She finally asked after hesitating for a while.
“You saw it too? It’s such a mess!” Her mum paused the video, took a deep breath, and wiped off her tears for one more time. Yukiko could not tell if the tears were from the fictional story she was watching or from the reality which is more absurd than fiction.
She was caught off guard by her mum’s reaction and didn’t know what to say. Silence took over until she said, “Mum, the salted egg is so salty.”
“Don’t be nonsense, salted eggs are supposed to be salty. I followed the recipe closely to measure the ingredients.” Mum took a bite of the egg white Yukiko passed to her; she was also surprised by the taste, “Wow, it’s so salty!” She laughed and said, “I must be crying when preparing the eggs! It was my tears that made them so salty!”
Listening to her mum’s silly joke, Yukiko finally laughed along.