‘Beep, Beep, Beep,’ I woke up to the sound of an alarm clock on my bed-stand. Its night light glowing brightly in my dark, suffocating room. It was already five in the morning which was one hour before my part-time job. Today was my 21st Birthday. I should be excited about birthday cakes, presents, and parties. But, right now, all I felt was loneliness. No one was by my side to wish me a “Happy Birthday”. I missed my home. The fact that today was my birthday worsen my longing for my sweet home more than any day. Would I be lonely on my next birthday too? The thought just made me want to buy a flight ticket so badly, but it was impossible.
I dragged my body to a bathroom which I shared with other residents living in my landlord’s dark gray three-story building. I looked myself in the mirror hung above a white oval sink. As usual, dark circles lie below my eyes, my lips paler than yesterday and my muscles screaming me to rest. Yet, I ignored my body’s request. After doing my business, I entered a light-blue-colored kitchen in which the residents cooked and ate. Its long light bulbs were always turned on even in the night. I went straight to a huge refrigerator in the corner, cold smoke from the refrigerator hit my face as soon as I opened its door. I looked inside.
“How depressing!” I said.
There was only a piece of leftover bread and nearly expired milk for me. How can I survive till night with this food? I glanced at my landlord’s food; cheese, tightly packed meat, some fresh vegetables, and even ice-creams. All of them took the whole upper space of the refrigerator. I didn’t look for long, or else I might eat them, and she didn’t like to share, I guessed. I forced myself to grab my food and sat in one of the chairs. Sinking a piece of bread in a cup of milk, I pictured my birthday celebration in my imagination.
My mother always made a special traditional recipe called “Mohinga” on every birthday of her children. That’s why it was our best moment every year. Mohinga was a rice noodle and fish soup widely eaten throughout my country. My mom had to tell fish sellers to keep a special fish for her two days before my birthday. Then, the next day, my mom, my sis, and I were busy doing our respective roles in handling the ingredients which filled the whole kitchen table in our cute, spotless kitchen. The kitchen was later filled with heat coming from burning charcoal which warmed our body. The flavorsome smell from a large, boiling pot of Mohinga would spread to our neighborhood. After everything was done, the kitchen was most likely decorated with our mess, a beautiful mess. Finally, on my birthday, my family gathered at our dining table and started eating together. I could still feel the smell of the soup coming straight into my nostril and its taste perfectly stimulated my tongue. The sounds of spoons touching plates were playing in my ears. “Wouldn’t that be nice to have a hot, delicious Mohinga in the cool early morning?” I thought.
My phone which I set timer vibrated and interrupted my daydream. “Thank God that I set a timer or else I would be late for work. This time, I will be fired,” I said to myself. I quickly dressed and almost ran to a railway station. By the time I reached a railway station, a few people had already arrived, but not as much as in rush hours. They all looked like they were going to work. A brightly polished floor slowed my pace. The lights were not as bright as those of my residence. Every wall and every LED signboard were voids of dust and dirt. I wondered how do cleaners manage to wipe off the dust on those high, large walls and boards every day. Everything was well-organized which was completely different from my hometown. This was also a reason why I left home ‘To live in a high standard environment.’ By this point, you might be wondering where I was. Well, I was in the most disciplined and punctual country in the world, ‘Japan’. Born in a poor, developing country, I left for Japan with the hope of better job opportunities and higher education. After all, even if I would have to go back home without any degree, it would still help me to be employed in my country if I showed the history of my life in Japan.
The announcement from a Japanese machine lady’s voice alarmed me that the train was near. As soon as the door of the train opened, everyone quickly entered. I didn’t have to struggle for a seat and so I sat in a vacant space near exist. Everyone was going about their business, a man sitting at the corner was reading a book, some youths were scrolling on their phone screens and others were just simply sitting. Even though I always came here every day and recognized some faces, they never smiled at me let alone talked.
I sighed heavily and tilt my head against the train’s window. Today, I had to work till late at night. I didn’t always like this; depressing and unmotivated. I used to be energetic and hopeful. I still remembered that I was so excited when I first landed my feet on the land of Japan. Everything in Japan was attracting me; from clean, nice environments to various types and sizes of shops, and above all, polite manners of Japanese. I was taking everything in awe. I laughed at my old self. The pressure of studies, jobs, and living costs had successfully drained my energy. My hopes didn’t last long. Nothing lasted long.
My phone lighted and vibrated in my work bag. It was a text from my best friend. I smiled, “At least, someone remembered my birthday.” Oh, how I wished I would be with her to see her bright, wide smile! I typed a reply quickly, “Thank you so much. I miss you, my friend.” She reminded me of my 17th Birthday. It was the first time I invited my friends to my home. My mother, as usual, prepared ‘Mohinga’ for them. On that particular day, when my friends ate the first spoon, they instantly fell in love with it and asked for more rounds. I was not exaggerating, everyone was like my friends, they just fell in love and addicted to my mother’s Mohinga.
My stomach made a sound when I thought about my mom’s Mohinga for a second time. The image of it sitting on a wooden table, its beautiful smell, and me eating a huge bowl of it, was luring my gastric acid and saliva. I closed my eyes and rubbed my abdomen to ease the hunger. Since when did I last eat Mohinga? In fact, when did I last eat a proper meal? Every day went and ended with a piece of bread or an egg with some milk most of the time. “I missed you, mom, I missed your homemade recipes,” I said. When the train reached its destination, I stood and made myself ready to leave. “Here comes the day.” I encouraged myself and reminded myself of why I was here.
By the time I reached my room, my legs gave up and I fell on my one-layered, blue bed. My bed was a haven for me in times like this even if it was not a comfortable bed for others.. I rested for a while before I decided to use my phone. There were many notifications from my friends and relatives wishing me a Happy Birthday. I couldn’t be happier if I could be personally with them. I started replying to all of the messages. A particular message caught my attention. It was from my sister. I opened the chat box and saw a message with photos. They were my family at the Cathedral church. My mom was holding a plastic basket with two long, steel-made lunch boxes in it, my sister and brother were holding a large steel pot together with their hands holding each side of it and my father was putting both of his arms behind his back. They were all smiling and looked happy. It was contagious. I might as well take this photo to a photography shop to print out.
My sister told me in her message, “We went to the church today with mom’s Mohinga for your birthday. You’re so blessed. Our Mohinga just came at the right time because there were at least ten priests at the church which was no ordinary. The priests prayed for you and wished you a Happy Birthday. They loved our Mohinga.” I could feel her excitement through her words. “We will call you tomorrow. Oh, by the way, we have something for your birthday. Take a full rest. Love you.” I just wished I could be with them. I thought I would love Japan because it was so modern and rich, but I was wrong. No matter how much it offered, I would still love my sweet home in my hometown. The thing I longed for the most was my mom’s homemade foods, particularly Mohinga. I put my phone on my bed-stand. It was way past my usual dinner time. So, I didn't even bother to eat dinner and took off my uniforms before going to bed.
I laid on my bed with my eyes closed. I was recalling my old birthdays. Not long after that, I fell into a deep dream. In my dream, I was with my friends and families back in my home. I was sitting at our beautifully decorated dining table. The plates and spoons were nicely and neatly prepared. It was absolutely my brother's idea. My friends were sitting around me, they were smiling and teasing each other. My father was sitting in our living room watching us with amusement. I could hear voices from the kitchen. My mom and sis then came out with two huge bowls of Mohinga. It was quite warm; its smell gained my friends' attention and they all turned around. They were all looking forward to it. My friends started taking noodles and poured the soup over them. My sis was making sure that everything was full on the plates and my mom was busy telling my friends to eat as much as they could. I saw my friends complimenting my mom and she looked proud. She always was proud whenever someone talked about her Mohinga. We ended my birthday celebration by cutting a chocolate cake, my favorite one. We all were smiling, laughing, teasing, and taking selfies, and it was such a beautiful moment.
I woke up to the light falling on my face. I still wanted to be in my dream world. It was the best dream I had ever had since I arrived here. When my family called me, I would tell them about it. Would that make my mom cry? Probably. I picked up my diary book in my drawer and started to write down every detail, from moments of eating to talking nonsense and a birthday cake. I would also call my friends and tell them how much I missed them and how I dreamed of them. I would tell God how I wished to be with all the ones I dearly loved and eat my mom’s Mohinga together one day. I hoped my friends were not far away when I returned home. I would return home for sure because I would trade for everything, even my ambitions, to sit and eat together with my loved ones.