Chapter three: The restaurant
I watch the dry brown leaves swirl down stone paths as I’m out in the city hunting for wanted signs.
I might as well give finding an honest job a try.
It’s not like I even need the money but the thought of pissing Hashiro off by foiling his plans has given me a boost in motivation!
I’m not even sure what I want to be. All I know is that any job is better than whatever the Kashuya got lined up for me.
You’d think there’s enough work that needs doing in a big city like this.
But no matter where I go I keep getting turned down over and over again.
I’m not really surprised, I’m too young, too inexperienced, ‘try the silk factory they say’, but they have children’s hands aplenty, they don’t need my help.
It goes the same with the parchment factory.
Same with the sawmills.
I suspect they recognize my name, think I’m a spy for the Kashuya.
Or maybe the Kashuya told them to turn me down, giving me no choice but to work for them.
Whatever the reason may be by the end of the day I’m annoyed. Striding around the place, hands stuffed down my pockets.
“No luck today?” Takeyo asks as he pops up beside me, hands in his pockets to taunt me.
“The hell did you do Takeyo?” I grumble shooting daggers in his direction.
“Me?” He asks with feigned ignorance “You think I’d sabotage you?”
“Well that’s harsh, you got any proof?”
I scowl, he chuckles
“Come on, let’s not be late for dinner.”
The weeks that follow feel like I’m playing cards against the devil. With the game stacked against me and nothing I can do to change it.
I tried applying with a false name, but they recognize my face.
I tried applying with a disguise but they reject me anyway.
Hashiro must be laughing his ass off watching me struggle.
But there’s one factor he didn’t take into account.
I’m stubborn as hell and determined to stick it to him.
No matter how long it takes.
Turns out it takes about three months before I come across it.
A restaurant, sandwiched between a book store and a hairdresser.
A rusted-over sign reading ‘Shiwaso’ and a slip of paper wedged between the window and a small brass statue of a sea serpent. The slip of paper said, “help wanted.” And judging from the water stains creeping upwards through the fibres it has been there for a while.
I try the door, part of me expecting it to be locked.
But it’s not.
And beyond it, I find a different world.
A shabby world that is.
There are four tables in total, each covered with a different table cloth and surrounded by mismatched chairs. The place glints with all manner of cheap-looking baubles and mirrors vainly trying to make up for the lack of natural light as there are only small slotted windows high up the walls that fail to be of any help.
I look around, wondering where to go from here.
Then a tall and skinny old man appears from behind the bar with a bottle in his hands. He readjusts his wire glasses and sets the bottle down before saying “Welcome, welcome, do you wish to dine?”
“I wish to work. There’s a sign in the window.”
“A sign? Ah yes, the sign! Of course, sit down, let me fetch some tea.”
I watch him confusedly as he rushes back behind the bar, wipes his hands on a towel and puts a kettle on.
This place looks abandoned, no customers, no other staff…someone should drag a mop through this place as well.
This looks like a scenario from a horror story.
I mean I could just walk out…the door is right there.
But this is the first time I didn’t hear a ‘no’ straight away.
“Do you want jasmine or oolong?”
“Oolong!” I shout back without thinking.
Well, I guess we’re doing this.
The man comes back holding a tray with a flat cast iron teapot and two cups.
“Please sit down wherever you please.”
And so I sit on the chair that looks the least bust to me and wait for the man to finish pouring the tea.
“You want to work young man.”
“Well as you can see I could use someone to help clean the place up. My name is Yobu by the way, I think I should have led with that.”
“Hui, Hui Go.”
“Nice to meet you, Hui. I’m afraid I can’t pay you very much, twenty Chui a week is all I can miss at the moment, but you can take home some food every night if you like. Is that okay with you?”
“Sure?” I respond a bit unsure. I mean this is the first time the conversation isn’t immediately shut down after the mentioning of my name.
“Wonderful when can you start?”
It takes me a second or two to process this “You mean I’m hired?”
“Yes of course, if you want the job that is.”
“I do, and I can start right away if you want.”
“Excellent, in that case, can you help me out in the back? There are some crates that need moving.”
Four hours later I make it out of there with a smile on my face and sweat on my brow.
There’s a box wrapped in cloth in my arms, filled with leftovers from the day.
The man may be strange but he knows how to cook.
“Good job.” The shadows speak to me.
My brow furrows, the hand on my shoulder instantly sending a shot of annoyance down my spine. “Stay out of this Takeyo”
The hand vanishes and ends up in the air as a sign of innocence “I’m just happy for you little brother.”
“Yeah right, let’s just go.”
With the restaurant under my care, all of a sudden my life becomes a lot more meaningful.
I wake up every morning with a mission, skip breakfast, roll my eyes at Migako when she asks me for the hundredth time where I’m going and flip off Takeyo on the way out.
I walk to the restaurant, have tea with Yobu. Start the day by taking stock.
Do the groceries if needed, put away said groceries and then help with whatever food prepping the old man needs me to do.
Do the morning dishes of everything we needed for food preparation. He won’t let me deal with cooking yet, but cutting vegetables isn’t hard.
Then as the place opens up I keep an eye on pots and pans while Yobu tends to the guests.
I’m surprised the place does actually get customers. Even if it’s few and far between.
I clear the table whenever someone leaves. Eat a quick bun and some vegetables, do the afternoon dishes.
Clean the kitchen in between, then give the kitchen a thorough cleaning at 10 pm when guests can only order drinks.
Close the place at midnight, do another round of dishes, take out the garbage, clean up the restaurant and then sit down for tea one last time while Yobu makes a package of food to take home with me.
I walk back home exhausted but happier than ever knowing that this food is earned, this money is earned through hard, honest work.
We may not get many diners, but the ones we do are loyal and come back every week.
I recognize their faces as I spot them on the streets. I don’t know their names, I barely interact with them. Yobu claims I don’t have the customers’ touch and ‘my moody disposition would probably scare them away.’
I’d be insulted if he weren’t absolutely spot on.
I prefer staying in the back anyway.
My perfect day would be even better if I couldn’t feel Takeyo’s eyes peering into my back.
I jump down the shadows and take the long way home.
Back at home, I find Takeyo waiting for me, I flip him off one last time before rushing to my room.
There I open the cloth wrapped parcel and enjoy the wonderful smells. Yobu is such a good cook, I don’t get why Shiwaso isn’t the talk of the town.
I hope that with my help perhaps the restaurant can become more successful.
Then I eat.
Clean myself up.
Go to bed.
And get enough sleep to tackle tomorrow.