"We are open in ten minutes!"
There are always customers. From winter to summer. They never stop coming. It's as if all they ever think of is ramen. I mean, it's simply a bowl of noodles in hot soup with a bunch of veggies and maybe meat...what else brings them here? Unless of course, there is so much more to it and I am the only one who has never figured it out...
"Haruto! I hope all the backups are prepared. We expect to have an even bigger turnout today. There's the show right across the street this week."
I have been here literally all my life. I know what you are thinking, "Doesn't this person have like, a life?"
But it's easy for me here. See, my parents own the place; A Japanese Ramen spot in the heart of the city. Around ten years ago, they stumbled upon this location and business has been growing ever since. Literally non-stop! We have never had a slow day ever since we opened.
I, on the other hand, have worked here since I was fourteen. I know everything there is to know about this place: from preparing the ingredients, to being a server; I can do it all with my eyes closed. Okay...that is a bit of an exaggeration but I think you get my point.
"We are open!"
Everyday, since January this year, I have been the main chef apart from the weekends. I have the liberty of choosing whatever days I can come in and never have I been happier with my employers!
"Onegaishimasu! Four Karaage large!"
Four hours in, the orders were coming in fast and we had already burnt through our first pre-cooked fried chicken. I could feel it, it was bound to be among the biggest days this month.
"Haruto, we have to make more chicken! Inform the waiters that there will be a slight five-minute delay."
That's Tony. We have always taken our shifts together because we have created the perfect dynamic between chef and assistant chef. Sometimes, when I need a break from the overjoyed customers staring at me, waiting for me to hand over their steamy bowls, I ask him to take over as the main. Tony loves working here. I think. Oh, and before I forget, this is Ramen Shoppe, the best ramen spot in town and I am not exaggerating. Come by and you'll see.
"Karaage on a five-minute delay. We are almost out," I said to Anita as she grabbed the bowls I had set on the counter for her.
"You heard that she's leaving in a week right?" Tony said, preparing appetizers. "She is going to Hawaii for four weeks with that boyfriend of hers." He added, sarcastically stressing on Hawaii.
"I keep telling you, if you really liked her, you should have swept her off her feet the day you met her," I replied, smiling.
"Yeah yeah, says the guy who has never approached a girl his entire life," Tony shot back.
"I, simply haven't found her yet," I replied, looking away.
"Keep telling yourself that, Haruto. You are twenty-four and so many summers have passed you by my friend. Pick one of those cute girls that scream "Arigatougozaimashita" to you when they leave!" He said, mimicking their high pitched voices.
"Tony...they never scream like that. What are you saying!" I replied laughing. "Besides, I will always have you, no?"
"Yeah," He said. "Always, chef."
We burst into laughter as more orders rolled in. I always thought that my parents had made a mistake when they got a liquor license for the place. I expected rowdy drunk customers, but this place was like a safe haven. You'd also expect the usual tight ramen shop but we had a spacious, chic and recently refurbished space. They always wanted my input. They wanted me to make more decisions: "What kind of art do you want on the walls, Haruto? Could you paint a couple to be hang up?" Basically, they were forcing me to become more of a manager than the main chef and I...
"Onegaisgimasu! Ebi five, Takoyaki and Seven Karaage large!"
"What did you put in the chicken Haruto! They are selling faster than the actual liquor!"
"It's the weather Tony and besides, you know all I prepare is a quarter ingredients and three quarters love," I replied, winking.
"Ewww...gross man. I hate it when you say it like that. Weird."
Towards the end of the day, I could barely feel my feet. I had taken a thirty-minute break and snacked on some salad. Ten years of ramen gets to you and I was trying to watch my weight. You know, get that summer bod like they say at least once in my twenties.
"Shift change in an hour," Tony said, washing his lunch bowl. "I should really stop eating these noodles."
"It's not like you are affected at all," I replied, rolling my eyes at him. "You have the greatest metabolism a man could wish for. I on the other hand," I added, rubbing my slight tummy, "Have to work extra hard to get fit."
"Haruto, you will find a girl who loves you and your fluffiness!" Tony said, winking.
Man, I love this guy. Seven years we have known each other and he has always made me feel as if the whole of me was enough. Before I could tear up, I looked away and started preparing for the next main chef.
"You ready to leave?" Tony asked, letting Jon and Patty take over.
"Yeah, in five," I replied, as I walked into the changing room.
"Ah, Haru-chan, you are already leaving?"
"Yes. Tony and I might pass by the festival before I head home," I replied, hugging my mother. "Why are you here today?"
"I have to interview a new employee in five minutes," she replied.
"I could have done it if you'd asked," I said, tying my sneakers.
"I didn't want to bother you. Besides, I know how tongue-tied you get around girls," she said, laughing and muffling my hair.
"Nice one Mrs. Lee!" Tony added.
"Oh, she's here! See you tonight, Haru-chan!" She said, disappearing into her office. "Say hello to your mother for me Tony!"
"Sure thing! Who is that?" Tony asked as we headed out.
"Oh, the new employee I guess," I replied, zipping my backpack.
"Well, I hope she gets the job."
"Why?" I said, running my hands through my hair and stuffing my smelly clothes into my gym bag.
"Haruto! Just stop packing and look!" Tony pressed.
When I looked up, my mother was slowly closing the office door but I saw her. I did. And for the first time in twenty-four years, I suddenly had so many things to say to a girl.