Read at Watashi wa Sugoi Desu!
Part 2 – First Time Grape Cake
Chapter 4 – Memories
Sui opened the unlocked sliding door.
They say it’s fine, since it’s the countryside and most people don’t lock their doors, but isn’t this being a bit too careless?
“I’m back.” Sui called out but there was no answer. His grandmother was probably working at the bookstore out front.
Leaving his backpack in his room on the second floor, Sui ran down the stairs to go help his grandmother.
“Ara, Sui-chan, welcome back.” Gentle creases formed in the corners of her eyes.
“I’m back. I’ll help out.”
He took the cardboard box she’d been holding. Since there were a lot of books inside, he faltered for a second from the weight of the box.
“Grandma’s surprisingly strong…”
“Ara, is that so?” She started working on something else while chuckling.
Sui’s grandmother was a dignified person. She was over 60 years old but her back was pin-straight and she had good posture. She was skillful, friendly and kind.
The only privately-owned, small bookstore in Aoimachi1 was his grandmother’s house. There was a big bookstore at the next train station, but you could place orders at the small shop and the owner’s, his grandmother’s, personality was easygoing so most people bought their books from there. Because of this, the store flourished and there was quite a lot of work to be done. Though she’d been managing the place by herself until Sui came along, his grandmother was getting old, and he wanted to ease her burden as much as possible when he wasn’t in school.
A paperback book had been left on the counter next to the register. It was the new volume of a series Sui had been reading.
“It’s the price for helping out. If you don’t diligently do your work, grandma’s going to read it first, you know.”
Sui didn’t really mind if she read it first but he gave her a little laugh and answered – “Yes, ma’am.”
“Sui-chan, what would you like for dinner?”
“That’s the most troubling answer though~? Sui-chan doesn’t eat much, even at the best of times. Is that why you’re not getting any taller?”
“Height is hereditary. See, grandma’s small too.”
“You can’t compare yourself to a woman, can you? And your father was over 170 cm tall.”
“Maybe I should make something with milk in it.”
“Uu, am I that pitiful?”
“Right. I’m going to buy ingredients for dinner. I’ll leave the store in your hands.”
She left while laughing happily.
After his parents had passed away, Sui’s grandmother had always taken care of him, always thinking of him. She was also mischievous and would tease him from time to time. Maybe it was because of the difference in experience, but it was quite hard to win against her in a conversation.
Ever since he was young, Sui didn’t have any friends, and the only friend he had managed to make in middle school had alienated him. After that, he’d learnt to build wide and shallow relationships, so he did currently have people to talk to and eat lunch with at school. But they weren’t people he could call friends from the bottom of his heart.
After what had happened, he made sure not to get too close to others. Which is why Sui found spending time with his grandmother, the only family he had a deep connection to, to be an irreplaceable, precious thing that he loved.
Sui opened his eyes with a start. The bedside clock showed that it was past eight.
Sui jumped to his feet and ran to the living room.
Red lifted his head up at Sui, who had just rushed in. His mouth suddenly twisted into a mischievous smile.
“This is the third time you’ve overslept, isn’t it?”
“Uu… you’ve been counting?”
“I’m thinking of counting it until I don’t have any more fingers left to count.”
“I’ll try my best so that it doesn’t reach that point…”
Closing a thick, leather-bound book with a thud and gulping down the last bits of his coffee, Red stood up.
“By all means, try your best. I’ll prepare breakfast, so you go do something about that face and hair of yours.”
Walking out the corridor together with Red, Sui turned to the washroom.
Two weeks have passed since I started living in Red’s house.
The housekeeping work that included only cleaning and doing laundry wasn’t hard; he always finished everything by noon. Sui felt bad for being allowed to live such a luxurious lifestyle. Furthermore, during these past two weeks, Sui had overslept three times. Red didn’t criticize him though, only teased him. Sui truly was no match for his landlord’s generosity.
Of course, it wasn’t like the housekeeping work made him so tired that he couldn’t get up in the morning.
Sui had never been good with mornings, and he would always end up unconsciously stopping his alarm clock. Also, the constant sunrise reflected in the sky seemed to confuse his biological clock.
Even if he did try to wake up, he would become somewhat dazed and, like this morning, breakfast-time would already be over and Red would be drinking his coffee, a book in one hand.
Since Red had decided that breakfast would be at 7:30, Sui had to be up by that time to be able to have breakfast with him.
From tomorrow onwards, I won’t oversleep!
When Sui finished washing his face, making that resolution in his heart for the third time, Red spread the breakfast out on the table.
Rice with mushrooms, daikon miso soup and rolled omelet – a good smell hung in the air.
“Yeah. Eat a lot.”
Sui had the feeling that the portion-size had gradually been growing larger ever since he came here.
He liked mealtimes from the start. It was a fun time that started with a greeting, then he picked at the food while exchanging trifling words, and ended with a greeting. He just didn’t really care about the food that was on the table. When he ate, he didn’t really have any particular impression of the food; it was either sweet, bitter or delicious. He did remember stuff he didn’t like or stuff that tasted so bad that he didn’t want to eat it, but his general attitude other than that was that any kind of nutrition was fine. Recently though, ever since that incident, he had started helping out with cooking. It was dubbed… “Sui’s charred pasta incident.”
Since he had felt that he didn’t have that much work to do, Red had let him make lunch one time. He had let him make the meal from scratch and not as a helper.
Sui had decided to go with pasta to start with; something that was easy to make. He had found a recipe in a cookbook he had borrowed from Red where he only needed to boil the noodles and mix the sauce.
If it’s this, even I can make it. He had thought, but…
He had overcooked the noodles and a burning smell started to spread from the sauce that had been frying in a pan since he’d taken his eyes off it in his flustered state. The end result was soggy noodles and burnt sauce.
It hadn’t turned out as he had intended, but Sui still tried a bite, feeling just a tiny speck of expectation.
There’s no way someone who’s a novice at cooking and has no love for food can make something delicious. Sui had thought while holding his head and wondering where his earlier confidence had come from.
In the meantime, I’ll have to finish this bad-tasting meal all by myself. But can I finish it all..?
As Sui had anguished over this, Red had come in. “Is everything ok? I smelled something burning.”
Sui, who couldn’t hide his blunder anywhere, had showed Red the finished product and apologized. Red had then taken a bite. Immediately afterwards, he had made an indescribable expression using just his mouth. There was no mistaking the way his eyes had narrowed in disgust. Even Sui had thought it was awful after tasting it. To his surprise though, Red had continued eating. He ate until there was nothing left.3
“I appreciate you making a meal for me, but… I still prefer something that tastes good.” He had said while putting the dishes in the sink with a clank and wiping his mouth.
Unlike Sui, Red loved food. He probably hated throwing food away, so he had done his best to eat the disgusting pasta that Sui had made. Sui felt extremely bad about that.
Red had put a kind hand on Sui’s crestfallen shoulders then.
“Well, it’s your first time…” he had said before pausing, as if he was trying to think of something before continuing. “Good thing you didn’t start a fire.”
It was probably his own way of consoling Sui, but it hadn’t comforted him in the slightest.
Afterwards, Red had patted his shoulder.
“I understand your feelings, but let’s start with helping out first.”
Sui had given a small nod at Red’s suggestion.
In the end, thinking he’d stay hungry like this, Red made Sui a new pasta. His cream-sauce pasta was a hundred times tastier than the dish Sui had made.
Since then, Sui had started to help out in the kitchen (at noon and evening because he couldn’t be trusted to wake up in the morning) and he felt like he had come to understand cooking just a little bit more. It could also be attributed to Red explaining about it. Stuff like the fact that the mushrooms had been picked in this forest or the hidden flavor in the rolled omelet. It also seemed like he was having fun when he talked about the toppings for the risotto. Sui thought that since Red loved to eat, he might want him to feel the same.
Aside from giving explanations, Red also did some little tricks when it looked like Sui wouldn’t finish his meal.
“Today I tried making tamagoyaki with delicious mustard-mayo. And I’ve prepared rice with enoki mushrooms.”
Like this, he would change the flavors up by making extra touches and would invite Sui to eat a little bit more. Unable to ignore this, Sui would end up eating larger portions than usual. At first it had made his stomach a bit uncomfortable but now he found it kind of fun, wondering what kind of arrangement Red would come up with next.
Perhaps he had been influenced by helping out or by Red’s extra touches, but lately, Sui had started feeling that, not only mealtime, but that cooking and eating itself might be enjoyable and fun.
Thinking of it, Sui’s grandmother used to put a lot of thought into her cooking as well. She used to cut up the fish to make it easier to eat and add vegetables, eggs, and ham to the salad to make it colorful as well as nutritious. The taste and flavor of the food she used to make was tender.
“Is it tasty?”
Sui nodded his head at Red’s question and thought. The mealtime that I love is a warm, peaceful and fun thing. But it is made up of food – something that connects people together. People and nature that produce ingredients and people that turn these ingredients into meals exist without exception.
Though he had wanted to cherish the greeting his grandmother had taught him, had he ever been healed by saying “Itadakimasu”? Had he ever savored the food that she had made him with love and compassion? Had he ever thanked her or told her that it was delicious?
Red tilted his head and asked Sui, who had suddenly stopped eating, if everything was ok.
“What is it? Is there something you don’t like?”
Teary-eyed and at a loss for words, Sui gulped.
He then smiled as best as he could with his indifferent face – “Itadakimasu.”
Red was puzzled and laughed, amused. “You’ve already said that.”
Sui was constantly being reminded, taught and given.
Having a meal with someone, spending time with someone was a fun and joyful thing. Sui wished he had noticed the compassion and love his grandmother had put into her cooking when she was still alive.
While Sui welled up with emotion and then suddenly became excited, Red’s shoulders shook as if he’d been caught by surprise.
“If there’s anything I can do, anything at all, please tell me!”
The two were, so to speak, complete strangers that had only just met two weeks ago, but Red was becoming a special existence to Sui.
He didn’t know if Red had wanted to give him such emotions, but Sui had received plenty from him. Which is why he wanted to repay the favor somehow.
“Even if you say that, there’s nothing really.” Red patted Sui’s head with his large hand. “Hmm, well, that’s right… can I count on you to carry my luggage?”
“Carry your luggage?”
“Yeah. After breakfast, get ready to leave.”