Just when she was about to do it, a man passing pulled her back. Natalya tripped on her feet and landed on her behind, just at the feet of her so-called savior. But she didn’t see him as his savior; he was just an old fool meddling in things that were not of his interest. She got on her feet and just then the train stopped in front of them. She gave one last look of hate to the old man, who seemed to be oblivious to it, and boarded the train. It was peak time and everyone seemed to be too close from one another but she didn’t mind. She walked to one of the windows and just stood there the rest of the trip, staring at the tunnel walls passing by. She had been so close to do what she had imagined for days, and then the man had stopped her and she didn’t even knew why.
Her foot had not even left the ground, she hadn’t begun to walk and he had pulled her back. Did he already know what Natalya wanted to do or did he just act on instinct? She didn’t care at all. It had been so close and now that it hadn’t happened she didn’t knew if she had to be grateful or not. She felt strangely alive, even there, in such a bleak part of town. In the following stop, she got out of the train and walked to the surface with one idea on her mind. She walked pretty fast, remembering a place where she had been pretty happy some time ago. Natalya wanted some of that happiness now, as she could really use it. She didn’t have to walk a lot. The restaurant only had a few costumers and the waitress recognized her from the last time.
Natalya sat on a table by the window and decided to have anything she wanted, never mind the price or the amount. She needed to feel better and maybe food was the way to do it. As she waited for the dishes, the woman looked at the window. But instead of looking at the exterior, she found herself in there. Her face was still young but her body was older, as if the two parts that formed her being, body and soul, had decided at one point to age differently. Her eyes were sad and her mouth had always been arched in a way that always seemed to be sad too. Thankfully, the nice waitress came back with her drink. She was seeing the reasons why she had decided to kill herself and she just wasn’t ready to do that, to confront herself right now.
For the next hour, all that she did was eating. The restaurant served Japanese food mostly but it also had some dishes from other parts of Asia. The waitress commented that one of the cooks was from India, so he had the idea to make rice and curry as a companion to every dish. Natalya thought that was a clever idea and asked the waitress to thank him for his idea. Surprisingly, he came out of the kitchen after the waitress had disappeared and shook Natalya’s hand. She was a bit surprised but she smiled and thanked him again anyway. He left with a clear sense of pride and that was good enough to make her day a better one.
When the waitress came with the bill, Natalya asked her to sit down. The woman, a young Japanese girl, started to speak rapidly. She thought that her client was going to demand an explanation of her bill or have some criticisms about the food or even complain about the cook. But the truth was that Natalya just wanted to speak to her. She asked her where she was from, how old she was and, at last, her name. Misako was only twenty-four years old and had been born right in the city, her parents been immigrants that left Japan because his father wanted to have a restaurant and there was too much competition in Tokyo. So they emigrated to be more successful. Before paying, Natalya asked Misako if they could have a drink before leaving and Misako said she had to ask, as she was still working.
They waited until the restaurant was closed to talk and then Natalya found out that the young woman had a life that fascinated her. The fact that she had lived all of her life in the restaurant and knew how to make every dish in the menu was outstanding. Misako clarified that she never cooked for the restaurant but that she tried the recipes at home to check on her skills but she ate it all alone as she was too scared to tell her father that she cooked. She explained that he had an education thought for her: she had already finished law school and now wanted her to get the following degree, for which they were saving. But she had no courage to tell her parents that she didn’t wanted anything to do with law.
They drank a couple of Asahi beers each, until they all stepped out of the restaurant. Natalya got to meet the Japanese cook, a very private man who only raised his hand to say “Bye”. She also shook hands again with the Indian one, who was still very happy to have his ideas praised. Then, she met Misako’s brother Kenzo, who worked at the cash register. He was younger than her and was visibly sleepy. She realized it was better to let them go to their home. Before doing so however, she gave Misako her number and her email, in order for them to be in contact. She told her that she would come again anyway but that it was necessary for her to guarantee that they would keep on speaking.
As she walked home, Misako realized she had been maybe too desperate but at this point of her life she didn’t really care. And that was because she was indeed desperate for friends, attention, love and anything in between. Maybe the only way to make friends was to just improvise in a moment such as the one in the restaurant. When she got home, she got into bed thinking of her insecurities but she decided not to do a thing about them. After all, it was them that had almost pushed her over the edge, literally. She was going to make one final effort to be a happy person and Misako would be her first friend to help her do exactly that.
As she walked up very early for the office, a place she hated more than anything, Natalya got a text from Misako telling her that she had an idea she wanted to discuss with her. Thrilled to know her new friend’s idea, she answered the text right back, on her way to the office. Sad for her, she only got the response once she had started working on the most boring papers ever. Natalya was a teacher on the department of philosophy and the truth was that she hated philosophy and all the pretentious people that populated the campus. They were so filled with hot air; she thought they could fly to Europe and back. She hated that place where everyone tried so hard to be considered smart and unique when, and she had realized this long ago, no one was really special or unique. We are all the same kind of pretenders, of fakes.
Or maybe not… Now that she had the way of friendship so close, Natalya thought that maybe she had been wrong about people and some of them could actually be real and interesting. Misako was exactly that and she was relieved to get a call from her at lunch. The proposal involved the two of them, and whoever else that wanted to join, cooking Japanese dishes in order to learn more and surprise her parents with a feast in the future. Natalya thought that was a great idea and proposed they do it in her house. Misako said maybe a cousin of hers would join and that she could bring any friend or family member she wanted, as learning was more fun in groups.
Unfortunately, Natalya had no one she could ask to come to their first attempt of a class. Many women worked in faculty but they weren’t her friends and she knew it would be weird to ask them, so she didn’t. As for family, she had lost that a long time ago. The following Friday, Misako showed up with her brother, her cousin and an aunt. She had brought every ingredient and when Natalya tried to pay her for the class, she said she had done enough by providing them with a place to practice. In just an hour, they were already rolling sushi and frying tempura. Natalya was a bit clumsy but they all had fun and joked around. They put on music and even danced as they put all the finished dishes together.
When it was time to eat, they all enjoyed every single piece of food. Besides, Natalya realized the aunt and the cousin were just as nice as Misako, telling her about ancient Japanese tradition when eating and various other dishes they could try to make in the future. That made her happy and she decided to join the following Sunday at the market, to buy fish and eel and crab to make more dishes. Before she even knew it, they were all friends. They shared their thoughts, laughed together and even care for each other. When they felt it was time, they held a great feast at Misako’s home, with traditional decorations and all details taken care of.
She was delighted to meet Misako’s parents, who were just the nicest couple in the world. They were older than her but wiser without a doubt. The father did not budge, the mother was obviously eager to know what it was all about. When the food came out, they all ate in silence. At the end of the meal, the father spoke in a harsh Japanese, which the aunt translated for Natalya. The father asked two things: where had Misako learned all of this and who was the woman that had joined him. Natalya felt out of place and insecure for a moment but then Misako put her hand on her shoulders and told her parents she had been the friend she needed. She explained how she learned by watching the cook at the restaurant and how she practiced in secret.
The father did not say a word for some time until he asked for everyone to raise a glass for his daughter, and her brilliant future. Misako cried in joy and Natalya felt she had found more than friends: she had found a family.