“Make a wish and blow out the candles, Yumi!”, called Nozomi, as the rest of Yumiko’s friends watched in anticipation. The adults stood back and smiled at the excitement, but they didn’t understand how much Yumiko had been looking forward to this moment.
The nine-year-old girl closed her eyes and spoke the wish in her mind. Just the way she had practised it over and over during the last few weeks.
Watashi wa modotte watashi no haha ga areba ii no ni.
All nine candles with one breath. Yumiko was pleased with herself. She’d made every effort; excellent grades, only Japanese at home, nice to her little brother. It couldn’t fail.
As Oba Eri cut the cake and handed the birthday girl the first piece, Yumiko thought she heard the apartment door close. Moments later, the little girl’s heart soared as her mother walked up the hallway into the central living area. There she was! Her wish had come true!
Her mother frowned in confusion when she saw everyone in the living room, mumbled a hasty hello, and went to her bedroom. That wasn’t right. She should be back for Yumiko’s birthday. Supposed to be happy like she used to be, before daddy died. Maybe she was just going to get a birthday present from the bedroom. Or change into less scary clothes…something that hid that awful mechanical arm and leg.
Oba Eri gestured for everyone to eat while she excused herself and went to the bedroom. The awkward silence was broken only by the sound of her annoying little brother devouring his cake. The apartment was quiet enough that Yumiko could hear raised voices in the bedroom. Everyone stared at the door as the muffled argument grew in intensity.
They all jumped at the sound of something large and heavy hitting the inside of the bedroom door. One last, indistinct, angry statement was followed by another loud thump as the door was flung open and Yumiko’s mother stalked out, flinging a heavy bag over her shoulder. Without even looking back at the silent audience, she went down the hallway and slammed the apartment door as she left.
Everyone in the room turned back to the bedroom where Oba Eri was picking herself up from the floor. She was rubbing her neck, and Yumiko could see a bright red mark around the woman’s throat. Her aunt had tears in her eyes, and tried to smile, but the expression looked more scary than happy. She motioned for everyone to eat the cake and went into the kitchen to run some water.
Yumiko stared down at her birthday cake. She didn’t really want it anymore. Her tummy felt a bit upset. And chocolate cake really wasn’t her favorite.
And the tears would probably make it soggy and salty anyway…