Nagoya Writes

December 5, 2007

Bouquet’s Sweet Connection by Yuka Urushibata

Filed under: Issue: May 2006,Prose,Urushibata — usbengoshi @ 5:53 pm

Bouquet is the name of a café. It is a simple two-storied wooden house, only a block from the bus terminal in downtown Shizuoka, but it is fortunate enough to be situated next to an ancient Japanese shrine with its thousand years of tradition. The shrine has an aged bulky tree of cherry blossoms.

Though there is a flood of people deluging the cafe on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, nobody comes on Sunday evenings. At Bouquet’s entrance, on the left side, a variety of homemade cakes, perhaps twenty different kinds, lay waiting on their plates to welcome the guests. It was one such Sunday, an unseasonably warm evening in April, that I climbed up the wooden stairs, passed by the cakes, and seated myself at a table in the corner. Even when I was with friends, I preferred to sit at this small table by the small window, where we could peep into the small world of abundant greenery at the shrine. Sitting hours chatting on the wooden chairs and feeling the wooden table, we felt the warmth of wood. We could recuperate from the day, stretch and be ourselves there.

From that small window, fortuitously, I enjoyed the cherry blossoms in full bloom, lit by a clashed prism of sunset, which was splashing on every west-facing gray wall of the higher buildings. I forgot time. My mind was floating off into the air outside and I became one milky cherry blossom petal, soaking up the serene vernal air and even sunlight. I became the vein of the cherry tree nourished by the earth. Only when I felt thirsty would I come back to myself again, returning to reality, sipping a cup of coffee with its rich roasted aroma, realizing this daydream was still half-true since I could still feel the wood of the chair beneath me.

On that Sunday evening, an old couple joined my solitary company on the second floor. Before they gave their orders, they began to talk aloud, from their seats, to the owner inside the small kitchen. The kitchen was just beside the table that the old couple occupied, and inside the owner prepared tea and coffee. When the owner, a flabby old man like Falstaff, came out of the kitchen and stood before the couple, the wife said;

“This is a souvenir from our garden. I hope you enjoy it.”

The owner reached out, saying; “Thank you! Thank you so much.”

I saw the couple over my book as they offered the owner a parcel of greenery, which he accepted with respect and gratitude.

The couple continued; “It’s our pleasure. It’s really nothing. It’s only a bit of the harvest from our garden.”

They exchanged a little bit of conversation and the owner returned back into the small kitchen.

After a while, he reappeared in front of the couple, saying;

“I have a little something here. It’s wine jelly. I just made it. I’m thinking of adding this to my new menu. It might be a little bit sour but it has a sweet aftertaste.”

Tasting the jelly, the wife spoke first; “This is really good, especially when it is too hot for spring like today.”

Her husband added, “Oh yes. This has a sour taste, but with a bit of a chill, enough to soothe our throats.”

The owner replied to the couple; “I am trying to think of a name for this jelly. I am wondering if “Zephyr before Summer” suits the taste? We really need this kind of soothing thing—cold, sour and sweet especially just before summer.”

The wife responded “It sounds great!” taking another taste of the jelly in her mouth.

The husband cut in, gesturing towards the plates of waiting cakes; “I bet it takes hours to make sweets like this.”

The owner replied; “Indeed. It really does take a lot of time. Did you know that for chocolate cake, if you change only one spoonful of chocolate, the whole taste will be different? And with the lemon tarts,” he said, pointing emphatically to the creamy yellow confection in the case, “I crush every hazelnut with my hands.”

He made a nutcracking gesture with his hands, squeezing his eyes shut as he did so. The “crack!” of the nut could almost be heard in the near-empty café.

He continued; “I choose the best flavored liquor to add flavour. I guess everyday I go through the trials, I make the errors. I make a lot of cakes. Three hundred and sixty-five days a year. There is no end. I am really trying to create the most delicious cake.”

Sitting at my table by the small window, I had stopped reading my book. In that book I was sure I could not find more sweeter words than those that were just spoken a few tables away. The book set aside, I focused on finishing my coffee.

Only fifteen minutes before closing time, I stood up from my table, collected my book and paid the bill. Behind me I left the couple who were still enjoying their lemon tarts. At the doorway of the entrance, I looked up to see a handmade toy bird perching on the café’s sign. The bird was made of wood.

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