Chapter twenty: The best birthday
We did it!
The restaurant is saved.
It’s like a dream come true.
For the months that follow it’s happiness and fun and money to spend on all the good things in life.
I don’t need much for myself, I’m used to being poor.
But taking Himowa out for tea is becoming a weekly ritual that I enjoy. Every Sunday after shooting we drink tea and talk and it’s just nice to have a quiet moment… without her yaye around.
The old man is more of a father to me than my real dad could have ever been and I’m grateful.
It’s just that his dating tips are incredibly awkward sometimes.
I soak up the smell of a fresh cup of tea that Himowa insist is a richer blend than what we serve in the restaurant.
I still think she’s making it up as she goes along.
“Happy birthday.” Himowa pulls a wrapped parcel from her bag and hands it to me with the sweetest of smiles. I look at it flabbergasted.
“The sixth of November is your birthday, right? I asked yaye so if that’s wrong then-”
“Oh right. It’s my birthday… My eighteenth birthday.” I can feel a complicated feeling weaving itself together in my stomach.
Himowa laughs “How do you forget your own birthday?”
I look down at my hands as I wonder the exact same thing “I guess I was just happy?”
Too happy to remember the ticking clock on my back.
I’m a man now, an adult, no more gloves or training wheels. The kashuya will try bringing me in soon. Take me away from this wonderful life.
“Aww that’s so sweet, now open it.” She says pushing the parcel my way over the table. It has beautiful flowers of meticulously folded paper. I can only imagine her sitting at the table folding the pieces in utter concentration.
When did she find the time?
I carefully take the flowers off and lay them to the side before picking apart the paper. Inside there’s a well-crafted chef’s knife. The handle is made of a black mineral, the blade of folded steel.
“Wow.” Is all I can say while looking at it.
I pick it up and hold it in my hand, the handle is cool to the touch and it feels soft and smooth in the palm of my hand.
It’s a bit heavier than the knives I’m used to, but the added weight makes it feel more powerful.
“I hope you like it.”
“Like it? I love it! Thank you so much.” I put the knife carefully back in the wooden box and hug her tightly. “I love you.”
She giggles “What a coincidence! I love you too.”
We laugh and kiss and after we’re done with our cake and tea Himowa drags me off my chair and straight to Shiwaso where Yobu is already waiting for me by the door.
“Congratulations Hui.” Yobu beams at me as he hands me a gift as well, a leather holster that matches the knife.
“You coordinated your gifts?” That’s so lame and so fantastic at the same time! I accept it gratefully, turn it over in my hand and appreciate the craftsmanship of the stitching.
“When you get a good knife you ought to keep it by your side. A chef without a knife is like a carpenter without a hammer. Though I do urge you to keep it in the kitchen so you can’t lose it.” He quickly adds.
I nod respectfully “Yeah, that’s fair.”
“Now who’s up for some wuwu?”
“Actually we just had cake soooo,” Himowa admits as she taps the toe of her shoe on the floor.
“You had cake already? Without me no less.” Yobu sounds disappointed, but only for show.
“Sounds like we’ll have to safe the wuwu for dessert then?” I suggest and Yobu nods “sounds like a plan. The two of you do want tea right?”
“Good, because I already made some, sit down, sit down.”
Himowa drags me playfully to the chairs and sets me down before pulling out a box of simple wooden dice “How about a game of dippers?”
Her eyes grow big with disbelief “You’ve never played dippers before!?”
I shrug “It’s not like I enjoyed a lot of fun, friendly game nights at home or something…”
“Right, fair point.” She sounds apologetic, I squeeze her hand to show I’m okay “All right, I’ll explain the rules then.” She puts the dice down in a cross formation and then starts talking numbers an rolls.
Yobu walks in with the tea “Dippers I see?”
“Hui has never played before.”
“An injustice we must rectify.” Yobu nods wisely then pours tea for the table.
“All right so you need to get a sum of the dice that’s higher than you’re opponent’s but-” Himowa explains but Yobu passes the cups around and announces “A toast first, to our birthday boy.”
Himowa rolls her eyes with a smile and picks up her cup, I mimic her not entirely sure what’s going on.
“Hui, when you came into my shop years ago I thought ‘there’s a boy who doesn’t mind working hard and knows what he wants.’ Now that you’re passing the threshold into adulthood I like to confirm I was right all along.”
“You’re a stubborn man Hui.” Himowa concurs with a chuckle.
“And it’s that willpower and fire that has kept this place going, no matter what. My daughter may only have born one living child, but I’m honoured to count you as my grandson.”
“Thank you Yobu.”
“Call me Yaye. Himowa does.”
“But she’s- ah!” Himowa pokes me in the ribs when I try to object “Haven’t you been paying attention? You’re family too.”
I’m not quite sure what to say, but judging from their gleaming faces my expression is enough.
“All right so dippers, you start with five dice…” Himowa says as she drags the conversation back to games.
We play for hours, have the most delicious foods and homemade wuwu for dessert.
Back when I lived with my siblings I never liked celebrating my birthday.
Every time I felt the pressure.
The years slinking away from me.
Today I became eighteen, the date I’ve been dreading all my life. The death knell of the happiness I took so much care in cultivating.
And yet this was the best birthday I ever had.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to walk you home?” Himowa asks with her swords by her side.
I shake my head “I’ll be okay, trust me.” I put on my coat and pull the gun out ever so slightly to drive the point home. I know Himowa isn’t a big fan of the gun, but in this case, she nods “Fine, have it your way.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow Yobu!” I shout to the kitchen.
“I told you to call me Yaye already!” the old man shouts back, Himowa tries her best to stifle a laugh.
I roll my eyes and bow to my beautiful butterfly “See you tomorrow.”
I take a deep breath.
No matter what happens when I walk out these doors tonight.
This is the best birthday I ever had.
I walk out, hand near my gun and eyes sharp, trying to spot the faintest moving shadow.
Are they under the bridge? Are they behind the trees? So many spots these rats could be hiding.
I can feel their stares on my back.
I can feel them breathing down my neck.
I know they’re there.
So what are they waiting for?
“I know you’re out there.” I say to the darkness “there’s no need to be all sneaky about it.”
I’m holding my breath, waiting for a response.
Come on, come on.
“All right then, have it your way.” I don’t know the man who comes forth from the shadows, but I recognize the crest on his robe.
Then the others slink out as. All unfamiliar faces but one.
I scowl at Takeyo, but he won’t look me in the eye.
“Your big brother wants to speak with you.” The man in the dragon robe tells me.
“Not interested,” I reply and with that, I try to walk on. It’s a vain hope they’ll let me go but I won’t be the one to start the fight. The guy grabs me by the shoulder saying “Not so fast.”
I turn to him with lightning speed, pressing the gun against his abdomen. The four guns surrounding us aim at my head.
Even Takeyo holds one nowadays, the worm.
“You know he didn’t specify in what state we brought you to him.” The man smirks and before I get the chance to fire he pushes my gun away from himself in a smooth motion.
I pull the trigger, waste a bullet to a tree.
The guy then punches straight into my breast bone, knocking the wind straight out of me.
I bend over in pain and reflex, a blow gets delivered to the back of my head.
I drop down and before I so much as grasp the situation they are on me, beating and kicking me the pain spreading all over my body, too quickly to keep up with it’s just a blur but between the barrage of feet and fists I can see Takeyo on the sidelines.
Standing idly by, his face is white, he looks afraid.
Then the pain becomes too much.
My vision wavers.
My brain shuts down.