Chapter seven: The big day
“Morning!” The girl says shortly as she rushes to the office.
It’s where she practices now every morning before the customers come in.
I notice the bags under her eyes but I don’t comment on it.
We’re all tired after all.
Before the girl has the chance to completely vanish Yobu comes racing out of the kitchen. “Hui, I need your help, leave the coat on we’re going out.”
“Where are we going?”
“White swan hotel.” He throws his coat over his shoulder and heads out the door.
I look at Himowa, she shrugs.
I head out again.
I follow Yobu as he leads me up Ferris-wheel-style contraptions and pulley systems bringing us to different levels of the city.
Choumuri is a city of many levels not just underground but above ground as well. And the higher you go, the richer the people tend to be. As the rich can afford to build elevators instead of stairs to make their commutes more comfortable. No one wants to walk five staircases up to their home after all.
White swan hotel is on level two, not great but not terrible either and as the giant swan-shaped roof ornaments come into view my curiosity has reached its peak. “Okay, so what are we doing here?”
“We’re going to pick up some tables.”
“Just follow my lead.”
Instead of going through the front door, he goes around to the service entrance and raps on the door.
A man with an apron opens the door, towel over his arm “Yes?”
“I noticed you have a couple of tables standing by the trash, mind if I take those off your hands?”
“You wanna pay for them?”
“Not particularly but your boss has to pay to get rid of them so it still sounds like a good deal to me.”
The man closes the door, Yobu leans against the wall as he waits.
I look around the place, wondering where those tables would be. “How did you know they tossed out the tables?”
“Just a tip from a friend.”
“And you think they’ll just give them to you?”
“I don’t know but it’s worth a shot.”
The door opens again and this time a lady comes out wearing a green dress and silver pins in her hair.
“Coming for the tables I hear?”
“Very well, I’ll open the trash house but if you want them for free you can drag them back yourself.”
“Fine by me, I got help.” The old man points at me and the woman pulls up an eyebrow at me.
“I thought you only had a granddaughter?”
“Hui’s not related by blood but it’s close enough.”
“Nice to meet you, Hui, now if you gentlemen will follow me, I have to get back to the reception before I’m missed.”
We follow her to a small house that, judging from the smell is right next to the kitchens.
Making me painfully aware I haven’t eaten anything yet.
“Take however many tables you need and let me know when you’re done so I can lock up again after you.” The woman says opening the door.
“You’re a darling Miwo.”
“You better remember it.” She then winks, pockets the key and walks back to the service entrance.
The house is filled to the brim with bins and bags as well as some assorted furniture and light fixtures that were apparently no longer up to standard.
“They redecorated,” Yobu explains.
“So they just threw away the whole interior? Why not sell it?”
“Because they’re a hotel, not a pawn shop if they set a person on selling the stuff they’d spend more money on paying that person than they could possibly get for secondhand tables.”
“That’s business, now less chatting, more carrying, I want three of these back at the shop and I’m afraid we’ll have to make three trips to do it.”
One backbreaking morning later we managed to get the tables in.
“Right, and now it’s time to clean them up, as well as the rest of the place.
“Soooo where have you two been?” Himowa asks as she emerges from the office. She’s holding her swords still, elegant, thin-bladed weapons that shimmer in the lantern light.
“Tada!” Yobu says pointing at the tables.
“Sweet!” She says “Are these from the hotel?”
“Yes, they had a whole pile of these.”
Himowa raises an eyebrow at this “Then why not replace all tables? Make them match?”
“Because we spent four hours getting these here.” I huff indignantly.
She slinks down in response “Oh right, sorry.”
The old man claps his hands, breaking the tension “I think it’s time for tea, what about you two?”
“Yes please,” I grunt. “My mouth tastes like sandpaper.”
The days to the performance are spent in a chaotic haze.
Shuffling tables, changing menus, building a podium. I don’t even know who’ll be playing the housha but Yobu tells me not to worry about that, he knows someone who owes him a favour still.
At least that’s good.
I never leave my job, not really. When I go home I pull the worries along with me.
When I try to sleep they spook through my head.
I tick down the days till the performance with both excitement and dread.
There’s so much hinging on this.
If things don’t go perfectly it’s over, done, goodbye restaurant.
Goodbye friends, Goodbye purpose, goodbye home, goodbye hope.
I toss and turn my way through the nights.
I have a hard time keeping my eyes open. All I want is a good night’s sleep for once.
Sadly I doubt I’ll get it today.
Because today is showtime.
“Are you okay?” Himowa asks me as she’s putting the flowers in her hair, she looks very pretty in her light blue dress and make-up, like a princess from a fairytale.
I cross my arms at her “Shouldn’t I be asking you that?” I retort defensively, I feel like she caught me being tired.
Her face tightens, she swallows hard. “I’m fine.”
I immediately take a step back “Sorry I didn’t mean, look I’m tired and cranky.”
“It’s okay.” She smiles for me though I’m sure she’s still hurt “I’ll see you afterwards.”
“Good luck with-”
“Hui I need you on the floor!” Yobu yells with a shriek, he sounds stressed out.
We all are.
As I rush to the front I rub my face to stay awake and fight my muscles into a smile.
Inside the restaurant, the delicate tones of the housha fill the air.
The guy has introduced himself this morning as Teso, sat down, started playing and hasn’t said a word since.
I wonder if that’s normal, but Yobu didn’t say anything of it and I have better things to do than ask.
A group of guests is standing by the door, waiting to be seated.
“Good evening ladies, follow me.”
From the other side of the room, Yobu nods and disappears into the kitchen.
For the rest of the evening, I’m on my own.
The ladies sit.
“Can I get you anything to drink?”
The evening progresses.
“Yes, your drinks are coming shortly.”
“The special is breaded nefa”
“I’m sorry miss, but you can’t smoke in here.”
“Yes, I’ll fetch the drinks now. One moment please.”
I rush to the bar carefully looking away from further inquiries. “Okay, two sefai one beer, a pot of tea and a ginger wine,” I mumble the order under my breath as I swirl hot water into the teapot.
My feet are sore, my head aches and I haven’t found a single moment of peace to watch Himowa’s dancing.
The guests all tell me “It’s amazing.” And “such a gifted young woman.”
I smile and nod, then hurry off before they ask me anything specific.
“Here you go one sefai, two beers, a pot of tea and a ginger wine.”
The people smile politely taking their drinks.
I serve the next table and the next one, then realize I messed up those drinks.
Is it too late to do something?
I walk to the kitchen.
“I messed up an order what should I do?”
The old man’s eyes flash toward me with severity, his knife coming down on the chopping board with a thud “What did you do?”
“They ordered two sefai one beer, I gave two beers one sefai but they didn’t say anything about it.” I scratch my head apologetically.
“Apologize and give them another sefai on the house for the one who took the beer. Also, order for table five.”
“Thanks.” I take the plates and rush to the door.
“How’s the rest going?”
“Haven’t killed anyone yet.”
At least not for real.
Normally we close at midnight, today the last customer leaves at half-past one.
To my surprise, the day went faster than I expected. Or rather, I feel exhausted but I never had any time to check the clock so it all just rushed past me.
Yobu locks the door, and I crash myself down on the first chair I see. “Never again,” I grunt.
“We made a nice profit though, good job Hui,” Yobu says and he gives me a pat on the shoulder as he passes.
I grunt in response, but it’s a grunt that ends with a smile.
I drag myself up and go check on Himowa.
She’s in the office again, I knock on the door.
She’s sitting at the desk wiping her face down with a wet cloth. All the flowers are gone from her hair but she’s still wearing the blue dress.
In her eyes I see the same exhaustion I see in myself, we gave it our all today.
I hope it was worth it.
“Hey,” I say lacking the brain capacity to think up something clever.
“Hi, how did it go?”
“Five stabbings, three shootings and one poisoning but no one died for real.”
She chuckles “Good job.”
Her eyes are focused on the mirror as she speaks as if she’s trying to find something in it. “I did okay I believe. What did you think?”
The question comes out of nowhere, was I expected to watch too? “I…Uhm. Sorry, I was kinda busy with the customers…they just kept coming.”
Her eyes widen “Oh of course, yeah.” She pulls her mouth into a shaky smile.
She shrugs “It’s okay.”
“Next time okay?”
And then she starts to cry.
I rush up to hug her but she turns lightning-fast and stretches out her hand to hold me at arm’s length.
“I need to be alone for a bit.” Her voice sounds broken but stern. I instinctively take a step back.
“Uhm…right…” What the hell is a guy supposed to do in a situation like that?
I bow to her “Good night, I’ll see you tomorrow.” Then I rush out of there feeling my heart thumping like a drum in my chest.
I want to go back in, comfort her, know what’s wrong.
Instead, I grab my coat and bag.
“Oh dear look at the time, If you want you can come in an hour later tomorrow,” Yobu says gazing at his watch.
“Thanks.” I make sure to keep my face turned away from the old man as I pull on my coat.
He looks up, my voice betraying my distress. “Something wrong?”
“Tired, but you might want to check on Himowa, I…I think I did something wrong.”
Yobu looks at the office door then smiles in a complicated manner “Ah, I’ll go and see, now off you go and good night.”
I pass Teso on the way out, he’s wiping down the bow of the housha with resin, he gives me a quiet nod.
I nod back, then leave the restaurant behind me.
Despite the hour, the air feels warm and clammy. Perhaps summer is coming early this year?
I pull my coat off again, sling it over my shoulder and walk home.
It would be beautiful walking weather if my brain didn’t feel like shutting down after every step.
I barely make it to my mat.
But the moment my face touches the pillow my brain just shuts off like a light.
And I sleep.