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As You Like It

Chapter Nine—Clipped

In Japanese folktales, old women are sometimes cast as the “bad guys.” You see it in “Tongue-Cut Sparrow,” in which an elderly lady clips the tongue of a sparrow who snacks on some rice starch for clothes hanging to dry outside. This mean, greedy woman then pushes her way into the Sparrow World and is offered two gifts—one heavy and the other small. Of course, she selects the big one and is terrorized by some demons who are hidden inside.

Well, in my life, I am terrorized by a demon. One named Norio and he’s not an old woman, but an old man—my uncle who is in his fifties. Uncle Norio is the younger brother of my late father and has Number Two son complex. When my parents were killed in a car crash, it was time to exact his revenge. Unfortunately his target could only be one living person. Me.

So he kicked me out of the family okonomiyaki business, hoping that I would shrivel up in a corner and disappear. But I am my parents’ daughter and I wasn’t raised like that. I am here in New York City to reinvent okonomiyaki in America. But, to be honest, things haven’t been going well. And now my best friend, Risa, tells me that he and his 14-year-old son, my cousin, are here at JFK Airport and they are asking for me.

“Maybe he’s here to help you. To invest in your New York enterprise?” Risa says outside the airport next to the Lincoln Town Car we’ve secured to take us back to Manhattan.

I squeeze my eyes shut. Risa has been cute and charming ever since childhood. No wonder everyone, even her current patron, Frederick, wants to do whatever they can to help her. I’m not as cute and charming, so I know my truth. That most people are out to cut your tongue out, not bestow you presents.

“So you came.” Uncle Norio stands in front of me, looking as ugly as ever. His face is slightly lopsided, like a piece of mochi puffed up in the microwave.

“You look like you’ve gotten fat in America,” my teenage nephew, Ino, says to me. Ino means pig and he’s definitely growing into his name.

We go into the Lincoln Town Car. I sit in the back with Uncle Norio and Ino. I would have preferred being in the trunk with their suitcases, but there’s no room there.

“I don’t want any trouble with you,” my uncle begins to say. “That’s why I called Risa-san.”

Risa, meanwhile, is intently talking on her cell phone. She is supposed to be my witness in case my uncle goes overboard. With her lack of attention, I may be going overboard, too.

“Why did you come, Uncle?” I say.

“This is purely business, you understand. Something that I wasn’t even looking for.”

I am totally confused. I thought that my uncle was here to stamp out my attempt to replicate our family business here.

“I will be opening an Aka Okonomiyaki here in New York,” he then announces.

I let the words sink in. How can this be? My uncle was always complaining about money, about how he never had enough. He resisted updating our restaurant’s kitchen for the longest time. And now he is saying that he is willing to blow thousands just so there’s no place for me even in America?

“You don’t have any money,” I say.

“I don’t need it. I have an investor here in New York. In fact, that’s why I’m here. Taketa-san even recommended that you run it.”

I feel like I’m literally sinking in the vinyl upholstery in the car. Taketa, as in Morgan Taketa? It can’t be. Not the attorney who used me and then claimed that his bank would in no way be able to be an investor? “You are not talking about Morgan Taketa are you?”

“Yes, Morgan Taketa-san.”

“That was my idea. I approached him about getting a loan.”

“Yes, yes. Well, someone from his office who speaks Japanese called me. They were doing research on Aka Okonomiyaki, maybe in response to your proposal.”

“But he told me that he couldn’t give me a loan.”

“He couldn’t give you a loan. Who are you? You have nothing. But he could work with me to create a New York City branch.”

“You can’t do this. You are stealing my idea.”

“What is your idea? To expand into another country? Businesses do it all the time. Look at Sanrio. Beard Papa. Toyota, Honda. This is not your idea.”

Ino, who is playing some game on his phone, then starts to cheer. He apparently has caught a new Pokemon to add to his Pokedex.

“And here I am, offering this opportunity for you to run it. I would think that you would be grateful.”

“Grateful that I would be making you more money? Grateful that you would continue to be my boss and order me around? No thank you.”

“You are so head strong. Like your father. Your parents really ruined you.”

“Stop. Stop,” I then call out to the driver.

“What are you doing, Kaori?” Risa finally notices that something has been going on in the back seat. The white of her eyes are pinkish and the cell phone is still planted on her ear.

“Let me out here, sir,” I tell the driver.

“This looks a bit dangerous,” my uncle says.

“I will never in a million years work with you, understand? My father started Aka Okonomiyaki and it’s in my blood. You can take the name and the brand, but you can’t take its…” What am I trying to say? “Its soul.”

I slam the door behind me and Risa stumbles out of the passenger’s seat, also closing her door, but less loudly.

The Lincoln Town Car idles for a moment and then I see my uncle gesturing for the driver to continue. His English is awful and I hope the driver takes full monetary advantage of my uncle’s linguistic weaknesses.

I take a deep breath as I watch some homeless men adjust the cardboard boxes they have been sleeping in. “At least we still have a place to live,” I say. Somehow, after standing my ground against my uncle, I feel lighter.

Risa then bursts into tears. “It was Frederick who I was talking to on the phone. He’s made a new girlfriend from the Netherlands. She’s going to move into his apartment. We have until the end of this week to move out.”

Chapter Ten >>

 

© 2017 Naomi Hirahara

As You Like It fiction naomi hirahara new york okonomiyaki

About this series

Kaori, 26, is part of an okonomiyaki family dynasty in Hiroshima. A regional specialty, okonomiyaki, literally meaning “as you iike it,” is a savory pancake usually consisting of cabbage, pork belly, and in Hiroshima, Chinese noodles. When her father dies, her uncle takes over the eatery and kicks Kaori out of the business, forcing her to try to introduce the family recipe to New York City, where her best friend now lives. While Kaori is ambitious, she’s also naïve and is taken advantage of in both business and romance. Will she learn from her mistakes, or will her family’s okonomiyaki legacy die in America?