Obaa-san

She is an Englishwoman living in Kyoto. Her pale freckled face, tells the story of her youth. Wrinkles at all the right places and symmetric dimples at both corners of her lips, must have lured many a laughter from the opposite sex. I met Obaa-san for the first time at Fermata. The small corner restaurant, that was a part of the 3-star hotel I was working for. She noted that I wasn’t a native by the way I spoke Japanese and asked where I was from. She gave me a generous tip. And before I knew it I was often accompanying her in her room, reading novels we picked out at the hotel library. She said she wanted to help me improve my English. I was more than grateful. In return, I told her plenty of stories about Indonesia and my religion too, which she seemed to always enjoy.

The hotel we work for is associated with a Japanese Language School a couple of kilometers South-East. So, after studying our butts off in the morning, we ride our bikes to work until 5 in the afternoon. Earning enough money to pay for tuition and rent. Hardly though. I’m grateful my sister has been here a few years earlier than I arrived, and has great networks with shops that are willing to hire anyone who is a friend or relative of hers. Besides working at the hotel, I still have to ride my bike South-West to Kiyamachi and work until 10PM at a Thai Restaurant. This part I enjoy. No matter how many bed sheets I had to make during the daytime, I love being a part of the hustle and bustle of Kyoto’s night life. Especially in early Spring. Where the air is still crisp and you can smell love in the air.

Simply saying, ‘Irrasshaimase!’ and bow to incoming guests was my first task at that restaurant, a year ago. Now I am already able to take orders, prepare simple Thai drinks and desserts. The boss, Mr. Hayashi appreciates how I always step forward whenever anyone needs a hand. Something I learned from my father back home. He was always helping his neighbours and doing stuff he didn’t have to. And almost everyone was fond of him and his smiles. “Irrasshaimasee!” Kiki squealed awkwardly at the passersby, as I passed her in the front door. “Ganbatte ne, Kiki-chan!” I smiled to her and added “Kyou mo, yoropikune!” with a girly wink. Kiki giggled and continued her duty.

Around 9.30, a Caucasian couple entered the restaurant. The man wore a black windbreaker jacket above tight blue jeans and the woman wore a brown trench coat over her casual jeans and an Oxford sweater. I carefully took their jackets and handed them to Kiki to put on the coat rack.

“Ano…, eigo dekimashitaka?” the woman muttered hesitantly in broken Japanese. Nobody seemed to have explained to her the simple mistake she made and neither did I.
“Yes, I can speak English.”
They seemed surprised for a split second.
“I’m sorry, can we still order?”
“Yes, you’re just in time. Final orders are at 9.30.”
“Phew” the lady sighed as she faked wiping sweat off.
I smiled to her. The gentleman was eyeing the menu.
“We’ll have Tom Yam Goong and Gai Pad Mamuang, also Thai Ice Tea for both. Oh, and could we have the spring rolls and the Papaya salad for starters?”
“Som Tam and Por Pia Tord. Certainly. Is that all?”
“Yes, thank you.” the lady was holding back her laugh.
As I walked towards the kitchen I heard them both laugh behind me.
I’m sure they were laughing about the spring roll word.
Bloody hell, I said quietly but couldn’t help not to feel tickled by the fact that they’re going to eat ‘thai’ food, which in Bahasa sounds similar to a word that means ‘turd’ too.

As I was delivering their ‘turds’, I realized that the lady looked a lot like Obaa-san only with darker hair. The way she rested her chin on her palm was exactly what Obaa-san does if I started telling her stories about my family back home. Obaa-san would have that twinkle in her eyes. A hint of longing and nostalgia, I thought. But the twinkle I saw coming from the lady finishing her coconut milk cassava desert, was definitely of love. I looked away, and caught Kiki staring at the same direction too. We were both stationed near the audio system waiting for the two to leave as our only remaining customers. The bills have been prepared and Mr. Hayashi was busy counting tonight’s earnings over by the counter. The kitchen was all tidied up. Thai music that reminded me of gamelan back home played softly in the background. I can’t wait to tell Obaa-san about this couple, I thought to myself.

–to be continued–

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