Ayesha looked up to see two customers struggling with the tightly sprung gauze door. It’s always a funny sight. One guy wore a blue straw fedora, a short-sleeve Hawaiian shirt and light blue shorts; the other was dressed in tobacco-coloured chinos, a white t-shirt and a grey blazer. And if they did not control the door after they entered, it would —
She dropped her gaze back to the gyoza between her hands and finished pinching it before she placed it onto the nearby tray. Why did ma open Kuu & Ikiru in this neighbourhood? Ayesha thought.
“Sorry,” one of the men said. A hushed whisper. Her lips held back a smirk as she wiped her hands on the nearby tea towel. She raised her head, rose from the chair and produced a smile.
“Hello, please take seat,” Ayesha feigned, extending her left hand towards the table by the window. The two men have been in before, she noticed, as they were already pulling out their own seats. They seemed to have more pressing issues to deal with. Friends or lovers? Ayesha mused in her head. It’s definitely not a job interview. She left her cherry pork gyozas and went behind the register to collect a water jug and two menus. She then strolled over to them, sliding the jug and menus onto the table.
“Anything to drink?”
The guy donning the fedora looked up at her as if she just interrupted them.
“Not now,” he said. “Five minutes.”
Ayesha smiled with exaggeration and said, “let me know when you’re ready to order.” Then she returned to her gyozas.
Spoon, water, pinch, wipe, repeat. She’s done it a million times. As she folded the next gyoza, Ayesha looked up to see the smart casual guy rub his foot up fedora man’s shin. Lovers, she thought. Before her eyes could refocus on the half-pinched gyoza in her hand, she heard a muffled voice. She looked up just in time to see fedora man shun away the intruding foot with a reactive kick. Rocky lovers, Ayesha corrected. This could be interesting. As she placed the gyoza onto the tray, harsh whispers invaded the air. Her eyes flicked towards the couple before her. She strained to hear what they were saying.
“… love me? I… work,” whispered smart casual man.
“… cheated… never work. Can’t… your head,” whispered fedora man.
Ayesha absentmindedly wiped her hands on the nearby tea towel, watching. Smart casual man reached out to grab his lover’s hand and his lover recoiled as if a stray cat swiped at it. Fedora man’s other hand scrunched up into a ball as his index finger laid out its accusatory pose.
“You brought this on yourself,” he said, loud enough for Ayesha to hear clearly. She stood up from her chair and walked over with a pen and paper in each hand, hoping to calm the situation. She’s done this trick before. Two months ago, she distracted this lovely old couple who got into argument about an upcoming holiday. They left happy in the end. If only this trick worked when her parents were divorcing over the dinner table a few months ago. Poor mama. She went away after that, leaving Ayesha and her Uncle Riku to look after the business.
“You ready to order?” She asked, with more hope than curiosity. The two men were stolen away from their staring contest and looked at her instead.
Fedora man registered the scene and then snapped up the menu. He pointed to something on the plastic placard and said: “I’ll have the mixed katsu, but with no prawn.” He dropped the menu and looked at his soon-to-be ex-lover. So did Ayesha. Smart casual man picked up his menu and searched a little longer than fedora man did. He eventually pointed at something in the bottom corner where the specials are.
“Can I have the pork shogiyaki?” he asked. Ayesha nodded, not wanting to say that it’s actually pronounced ‘shoga-yaki’.
“Any entrée? We have special this week: cherry pork gyoza. Very popular.” Ayesha smiled fervently.
Fedora man waved his hand casually in her direction. “Yeah, whatever. We’ll get that too.”
“Drink?” Ayesha asked, already expecting the answer — but no sound came out of either of them. While smart casual man looked across at his dwindling love, fedora man tapped his fingers on the table next to the water jug and gave Ayesha a stern eyebrow look. As if saying: here, see? Now leave us alone.
Ayesha noted down the order in Japanese as she walked back to the kitchen — it’s a habit she caught from her mother. “English is a killer language,” her ma once said. “We must keep our native one any way we can.” She said that in English, which Ayesha found funny.
In the kitchen, Uncle Riku was slicing trout by the window. A nearby radio blared out a rocking tune through mild static. She felt right at home.
“Order up,” she joked, playing with each syllable as she waved the docket. Ayesha knew he didn’t like that phrase. It reminded him of his first job as a trainee chef, where the rude waitresses yelled out their commands with indifference. Uncle Riku stopped slicing and pointed his filleting knife towards Ayesha. He grinned doing so, failing at a serious look.
“Shinchōna,” Uncle Riku said. “Itsuka anata no shita ga hikkakaru.”
“My tongue won’t get caught,” she replied, slipping the docket into the empty holder that stretched along the upper shelf.
As Ayesha went back out to prep some more gyozas, she saw fedora man walking around out front on the phone. The other guy sat where he was, staring through his phone as he slowly rubbed his thumb up the screen. It was an awful scene and Ayesha had to force herself to continue prepping more gyozas.
Spoon, water, pinch, wipe, repeat. It’s a soothing method, but this recipe is not. Six months ago, on the night ma and papa laid out their final ultimatums for divorce, Ayesha shared her recipe idea at the dinner table. Red chicken curry permeated the room but sat uneaten in front of them. The divorce papers rested anxiously between ma and papa as their mouths shot verbal bullets at each other. Ayesha thought the best way to calm the situation was to share her wild idea: cherry-flavoured pork gyoza. It’s the same recipe, but you mix cherry juice into the soy sauce, as well as into the spicy dipping sauce. She called on her parents, saying she’s got a new recipe. They ignored her and continued their bickering. She yelled a little louder and her ma told her to eat her dinner. But it could help, Ayesha pleaded. Then dad casually threw the pen on top of the divorce papers and told mama to sign it. Ma looked at it as if it said something stupid. I call’m cherry pork gyoza, Ayesha said. The customers would love it. After a quick pause, she said: I don’t like when you both fight.
Ayesha didn’t know that her ma’s new restaurant was the sole reason papa wanted a divorce. She invested too much into it and not enough into him. Which is why papa turned to Ayesha then and asked her bluntly to shut up about the stupid restaurant. He then turned back to ma and said sign it in a punching tone. Unfortunately for him, ma liked Ayesha just as much as the restaurant, which is why she picked up the pen and —
As the gauze door smacked against the frame, Ayesha jolted back into focus, ripping the gyoza in her hand and spilling its contents on the table.
“Okay, thanks babe,” said fedora man into the phone attached to his right ear. “I’ll see you tonight… Yes, I’ll bring a bottle of red… Okay. Love you.” He dropped the phone, tapped the screen and slipped it into the pocket of his jeans.
Ayesha tossed the broken gyoza on the nearby plate, wiped her hands and picked up the next wrap. As she spooned in the next batch, the bell went off in the kitchen. She quickly dipped her fingers in the cup of water, folded the gyoza, pinched its edges together, dropped it on the nearby tray and dried her fingers. Ayesha made her way to the kitchen and saw the plate of cherry pork gyozas, sprinkled with sliced chives and red chilli. Uncle Riku hovered over the deep fryer while pork slices seared on the nearby hotplate. He was in the zone. Ayesha picked up the plate of gyozas and went back out to the dining room where she stopped before the register. She saw stapled papers resting anxiously between the two men.
“I fucked up,” said smart casual man. “I really want to make this work. Can you please give me a cha — ”
“I’m in love with someone else, so that’s not gonna happen.”
Smart casual man dropped his head.
Fedora man leaned forward, pressed his index finger on the divorce papers and said, “that’s why I need these signed.”
Thinking quickly, Ayesha continued to their table, hoping to distract them. “Cherry pork gyoza,” she said cheerfully as she dropped the plate to the table, purposefully covering the divorce papers. Fedora man glared at the plate in anger and pulled out the divorce papers from under it. He gave her one of his eyebrow looks. This one seemed to say: you’re so fucking rude. He tossed the divorce papers over to smart casual man where a corner of one of the pages slipped in and out of the cherry-flavoured sauce. Fedora man then pulled out a pen from his breast pocket, clicked the button and tossed it over as well. The tip landed perfectly in line with smart casual man’s navel.
“Can I get you anything else?” Ayesha asked, her voice trembling from the pressure of replayed memories in her mind.
“Can you fuck off?” said fedora man, his eyes darting to the left side of the table. Ayesha took a step back, but she didn’t want to leave. She felt powerless. Fedora man snapped up the chopsticks from the cutlery holder, pinched a gyoza, dunked it into the sauce where it overflowed onto the plate, and nearly threw the dripping dumpling into his mouth. Smart casual man and Ayesha both watched him, their eyebrows opposed one another. Fedora man leant back in his chair and chewed his gyoza with his arms crossed. After he swallowed, he leant forward and said “sign it” in the same tone as Ayesha’s father once did. He did not care for the quietly screaming tears that coursed down his ex-lover’s drooping face. Ayesha’s eyes also welled up as she silently muttered the phrase that still haunts her to this day — the one that ended the love between ma and papa.
“I don’t like when you both fight.”
Fedora man turned to her with wide eyes and yelled, “shut the fuck up, you bitch.” Smart casual man looked up, revealing red eyes and a deadpan expression. He snapped up the pen, leant across the table and stabbed fedora man in the neck. The ball-point pen went in and out, swift as a nail gun, as his clenched fist bounced off the side of his ex-lover’s jugular. Fedora man turned to face him, mouth agape, as his hands frantically grabbed at his own neck. Cherry red blood spurted onto the gyozas, blending perfectly with the cherry-flavoured dipping sauce while standing out against the skin-coloured gyozas. And as Ayesha watched on in horror, the replicating memory of her father’s death swam through her head like a flashing slideshow.
I call’m cherry pork gyoza, she thought. The customers would love it.