Tuesday, February 27, 2024

“Reunion” • by Toshiya Kamei

The carriage door creaked open, and a chilly draft blew against Maya’s cheeks. 

Before she could react, a translucent figure climbed inside. He wore an old-fashioned gray kimono and two swords—one long, the other short—at his waist.

“To the temple?” the man asked.

Maya nodded, unable to hide her astonishment. The horse shook its head, and the carriage rolled forward.

He gave a slight nod in return and regarded her with dead eyes. She swallowed a gasp.

“Why?” she asked in a trembling voice. “Why are you going to the temple?”

“Just like you, to pay respect to the gods.”

He turned his gaze to the road snaking up the hill.

“Your name will be drawn today.”

“Excuse me?” She thought she had misheard him.

“Isn’t that what you want?”

“How do you know?” she asked, heart pounding. Even though to give one’s life to the gods was a great honor, her palms were sweaty.

“The stars have aligned.” The man smiled. “This may be your lucky day.”

“I’m Maya Umezu,” she said, changing the subject. She didn’t want to jinx her fate.

“Is that what you’re called now?” He paused and glanced at her. “Does the name Momo mean anything to you?”

Maya frowned and shook her head.

“You don’t remember me.” The man shook his head, pain flashing in his eyes. “In all likelihood, you’ll recover your memory soon enough.”

Her frown deepened. “Sorry, I don’t follow you.”

“Do you believe in reincarnation?”

“I don’t know,” she answered with hesitation. He was making her uncomfortable.

“Never mind.”

“What’s your name?” she asked, changing the subject again. She stared at him, searching her memory, but came up empty.

“Tetsuo Miyako,” the man said with a melancholy sigh.

“It doesn’t ring a bell. Sorry.”

“It’s all right.” He peered out the window again.

The carriage passed a large cage by the roadside. Some of the prisoners Maya saw were young, others were old, but all wore tattered kimonos.

“The tyranny of the church,” Tetsuo mumbled in disgust, pointing his chin to the cage. “It must be defeated.”

Maya stared at him, taken aback by his candidness. No one she knew spoke ill of the church. She knew the church had its faults, but her faith wouldn’t fail her. It couldn’t.

“They took Momo away from me.” He clenched his fists in his lap and narrowed his eyes. “She was my betrothed. My only chance at happiness.”

His rage confused her—happiness was only achieved in death. Or so she was led to believe. Years ago, when her sister’s name was drawn, Maya had felt herself burn with envy. She’d shed bitter tears over her feverish desire to take her sister’s place.

“This sword belonged to her.” He pointed to the shorter of the pair at his waist. It looked familiar, but she couldn’t remember where she’d seen it.

“May I?”

“Sure.” Tetsuo removed the sword from his waist and handed it to her.

She held it and traced the inscription with her finger. “Momo,” she read it aloud.

“Yes, Momo,” Tetsuo said with a faraway look in his eyes. “You remind me of her.”

An odd sensation stirred in her chest. A sudden headache assaulted her senses, and she gave the sword back.

“Are you all right?”

Maya nodded.

The carriage sped along the bumpy road.

It was twilight by the time they arrived at the crowded temple. With a bowed head, Maya followed Tetsuo inside, and they sat together in the last pew. She felt even smaller than usual beneath the high, vaulted ceiling. The nave seated hundreds of worshipers. The heavy smell of incense stung Maya’s nostrils.

A few hooded sacristans passed through the aisles collecting entries for the lottery. Anxious to be chosen, Maya scrawled her name on a slip of paper and tossed it in a bamboo basket.

The priestess stood behind the pulpit. A sword hung from a sheath at her left hip. She began the mass with a wailing chant, and the worshipers swayed with their eyes closed, hands clasped in prayer. The priestess drew a name from the basket and read it aloud. “Maya Umezu.”

“We have chosen,” one of the sacristans cried.

“Kill her,” the congregation erupted. “Kill her!”

Maya stood as if in a trance, climbed the dais, and knelt before the priestess.

The priestess unsheathed her sword and raised it above her head.

“Momo!” Tetsuo’s cry shook her out of her trance.

“Tetsuo,” the priestess said with a smirk. “You must have missed her so much.” She glanced at Maya. “Quite touching.”

Momo, Momo, Momo. The name kept echoing in Maya’s ears. Was that her name long ago? Was she Momo in a past life?

Maya stood and stepped backward until she stumbled into the pulpit. The basket fell, emptying its contents. Slips of paper lay scattered on the floor. She picked up a few and saw her name on all of them. The selection was rigged—she felt as though someone had struck her in the back of her head. Her heart pounded in her ears.

The congregation stomped and roared. “The gods want blood!” A wailing chant echoed through the temple.

Maya turned back to Tetsuo, and her gaze met his. Had he come back for her? Or was he using her to exact revenge? There was no way for her to tell. Regardless, she was now Maya. Even if she wanted to be reunited with Tetsuo, she couldn’t go back to being Momo. She would be going against nature.

“Take this!” Tetsuo tossed the short sword to her.

The priestess strode toward Maya as worshipers charged the dais.

Tetsuo drew his sword and readied himself.

When Maya held the hilt again, a jolt of energy ran through her. This is my sword. Her heart stirred with a sudden desire for survival. Maya—Momo—raised the blade and warded off the priestess’s blow. Clang! Iron clashed against iron, and sparks flew.


 Toshiya Kamei (they/them) is an Asian writer who takes inspiration from fairy tales, folklore, and mythology. They attempt to reimagine the past, present, and future while shifting between various perspectives and points of view. Many of their characters are outsiders living on the margins of society. 

This story first appeared in Askew Audience.