“Here’s some nigiri sushi for you,” Mrs. Kazui said, lending her daughter a lunchbox wrapped with a cloth. “Thanks, okaa-san. But, it’s only an hour from here to Ashiba,” Maimi told her, receiving the lunchbox.
It was Saturday morning. The big day came. It was almost eight. Maimi was going there by bus. The next ceremony will run for two days or so, so she packed some clothes.
“Do your best, okay?!” Peppei said with a broad smile. “Don’t forget what we learnt last two days!” Maimi nodded. “Um!”
“Well, well, well!” a squeaky, crack voice sounded as an old woman and her daughter came to the house entrance. Mrs. Kazui sighed. Maimi and Peppei did not like their presence at all. It was Mrs. Jujou and her daughter, Mira Jujou. They were the snobbish, mischievous and most hated neighbours. Mrs. Jujou liked to brag about her daughter’s marriage. Mira was around Maimi’s age but already marrieda year ago.
Maimi was the last person in the neighbourhood who did not marry yet. She was called-
“Old miss!” Mira shouted with her evil smile. Maimi grunted. “What do you want, Jujou-sama?” Mrs. Kazui asked patiently. Peppei shot out her tounge at Mira while Maimi showed her most fierce face ever.
“I don’t want any for today, Kazui-sama. It’s just, I want to know, where does Maimi’s heading?”
“No where. Do I have to tell you?” Mrs. Kazui shot back. Peppei and Maimi laughed. Mira exchanged looks with her mother. “Okay,” Mrs. Jujou made faces. She raised her right hand in ego. “I hope it’s a bad thing. I hope you face bad luck! Yo!”
They burst into laughter. Maimi scoffed. I hope everything’s going well. She thought.
Tezuka came to the entrance of his grandfather’s treasure traditional house in Ashiba. For the past one hour, all nine candidates had arrived and they had already got their own rooms to rest. Only one place left. Only one more candidate.
“Who could she be?” Tezuka whispered to him.
“She’s Maimi Kazui,” a guy in his 40’s answered. He was the receptionist. He had been working with Fujimoto’s family for twenty years. Tezuka looked at him then faced back in front, trying to remember when he heard the girl’s name. He flashbacked his memories during the last blind date. Flashback-flashback-flashback-flashback-
Pops! Lastly, he remembered the cheesecake eating part. A lady-no, no! An old miss with many ponytails and big eyes! The one that ate the cheesecake like it was the end of the world.
“She’s always the last,” he said. The receptionist, Mr. Kawamoto lowered his voice. “ Based on my hometown’s fortune-teller, the last girl is a girl that will be someone’s happiness when they’re matched.”
Tezuka kept quiet. He did not believe in fortune-telling. In the big traditional house, everything had been set up perfectly. For cooking section, all kinds of ingredients were prepared as told. Thanks to Grandma Megu!
It was nearly noon. Luckily, a bus stopped in front of the entrance. Tezuka and Mrs. Kawamoto wrinkled their eyebrows, expecting someone to come out of the bus. “Arigato!” a high-pitch girl’s voice said.
Maimi climbed out of the bus with her luggage. Unfortunately, she slipped and fell onto the ground. Her luggage bumped against her. “Ouch!”
Tezuka froze coolly. Mr. Kawamoto jaws dropped open. As the bus left, Maimi got up and brushed away some dirts off her knees. “Damn it!”
Mr. Kawamoto cleared his throat. Maimi looked up. “Oh!” She quickly pulled her luggage and neared them. “Ohayo!” She winked at Tezuka. “We meet again!”
Tezuka sighed and left.
“Eh? Wait!” Maimi called out.
“Oh, sugoi!” Maimi said as she stepped into her room. “Have a rest first, miss. We’ll call you back around one,” Momoko, the maid told her and smile.
“Um!” Maimi responded. “Thank you.”
Momoko left the room with a smile. Maimi studied the room. It was a traditional Japanese room. It had tatami covering on the floor. The bed, a mattress was prepared. There was also a heater. A make-up table and cosmetics were ready perfectly.
“Yatta!” Maimi screamed out. “I’ll do my best! Yes! I’ll do my best!”
The first activity was to have lunch with Fujimoto family one by one. The candidates had to tell more about their backgrounds and bigraphies. From there on, they will be given marks. It was an intense situation. the first candidate was too perfect. She wore too much make-up.
The second candidate told too much story about her hobbies. The third candidate was too shy and she answered questions shortly. The fourth one was too nervous. She cried. The fifth candidate was scared to see Grandma Megu’s face and immediately ran out of the meeting room. The sixth candidate, she recited poems made the others fell asleep soundly.
The seventh one got nothing to say as she just stared at Tezuka for thirty minutes. The eightieth one, she hardly swallowed any of the food. The ninth one was a snobbish girl. She bratted everything about herself in front of the family and last but not least, Maimi. She was the tenth candidate.
“Last candidate, please come in,” Grandma Megu called with a tired body. She was too disappointed with the past candidates. She lost hope for this one. The wooden paper door was slide opened. Maimi stepped in with her left foot. Everyone was startled.
“Miss, right foot!” Momoko whispered, who was hiding outside of the doorway. “Oh! Ah! Sorry!” Maimi said. She quickly turned to her right foot and walked in. As Momoko closed the door, Maimi sat with folded legs and bowed. “Konnichiwa, minna-san!”
Tezuka sighed. He whispered at his grandmother. “She’s the old miss.”
Grandma Megu gasped. She curved a smile. She was very happy to hear that. “I’m Grandma Megu. This is my grandson, Tezuka. This is Mrs. Fujimoto, Mr, fujimoto, Ayase, and my husband, Grandpa To. Since you already know about my family, why don’t you start yours?”
Maimi nodded. “Um! I’m Kazui Maimi, twenty-six years old- “
Everyone gasped. “-I was born in the deep, deep, deep, deep side of Tokyo. You will never know where....” she continued. Grandma Megu smiled proudly. “What do you do?”
“I work at my at a saloon with my friend,” Maimi explained. She took a tempura and ate it. Tezuka was cleared his throat. “ Hey, that tempura just came out from the burning oil.”
Maimi widened her eyes. She felt like chocking. The tempura was HOT!!!
“Water! Water!” Ayase quickly got up and handed her a glass of orange juice. “Here!”
Maimi grabbed that drink and gulped it. Grandma Megu was stunted. “Ah!” Maimi sounded. She wiped away the tears off her eyes. Tezuka looked down. This is not gonna do well.
A sudden laughter calmed the situation. it was Grandpa To. He laughed loudly. “Funny!” everyone shot a shock glance at him. Grandma Megu continued. Then, the others added. Maimi giggled.
“Oba-san,” Tezuka retorded. Grandma Megu stopped and cleared her throat. “Okay. Sorry. Please, continue.”
“Oh, um- “
“Are you from a wealthy family, my dear?” Grandma Megu cut Maimi. “Because, I would prefer a wealthy daughter-in-law.” Maimi stiffened. “Uh-um-yeah.”
Oh no! Why did I do that? Damn me!
“Good. What do your family do?”
“Hmm...I live with my mom alone. My dad...uh....he went for an outstation,” Maimi lied. She smacked her head softly. Damn me again!
Grandma Megu nodded. “Uh...my mom works as-as- the saloon’s manager,” Maimi continued.
“As I expected,” Grandma Megu replied. “Okay, that’s all for now, dear.”
“Eh?” Maimi gasped. Grandma Megu sniggered. “Get ready for the second test.”
It was 2 p.m.- a cooking test was held in the traditional house’s huge kitchen. All ten candidates were ready in a line with their aprons on. Maimi was kind of nervous. She did not know how to cook. Only Ramen Shrimp soup. But that did not even concern her. She looked at her right.
“Hi!” she greeted.
The girl with glasses and long hair snorted then looked away. Maimi frowned. “What the-“
The double-wooden door was slammed open. Everybody jumped. They all looked at the doorway. A big, fat, grief woman came in. She got a big mole on top of her nose and her make-up was a squib. Two ladies in yukata followed her. The woman took out a folded fan and smacked it open. She covered her mouth with the fan and her evil-like eyes studied the candidates.
“Ladies, I’m Madame Pasta-“ she began. Maimi stifled a short laugh. The other candidates swallowed hard. Madame Pasta spotted her. She slowly neared the girl with heavy steps and fierce face. She stopped in front of Maimi.
Maimi smiled. Madame Pasta scoffed then walked away. “-I’m in charge as your fasilitator. I’ll be guiding you all with all the tests from today until tomorrow,” she continued. “These two ladies are my assistants and judges. Mrs. Tomoya and Mrs. Sukiya.” The two ladies bowed.
“I’m very punctual. If you’re late to be in time for any test today onwards, your marks will be cut down and you’ll lose points. So be careful,” Madame Pasta added. She walked around the kitchen. “Now, you’ll need to cook any type of sushi.”
Maimi’s jaws dropped open. Sushi?! I don’t know how to make sushi!
“You can get the ingredients from the pantries ready for each one of you,” Madame Pasta told them. “You’re given 30 minutes to make the dish. The rice is set ready.”
Everyone seemed confident except for Maimi. She had no idea what to do.
“You may start now,” Madame Pasta said. The candidates quickly took their area while Maimi chose hers in the corner of the kitchen. She sighed. She became more tensed when she heard water blasting and cooking utensils being used. She glanced over her shoulder to see a couple of candidates were starting to place seaweeds on the tatamis and spatulas of Japanese rice were put and spreaded on the seaweeds.
“No peeking!” Madame Pasta shouted from the doorway. The two ladies walked around the kitchen, checking. Maimi turned back and looked at her untouch ingredients. She sighed hardly. What to do now? Oh, God, please help me!
She took a deep breath and grabbed a piece of square seaweed and placed it on the tatami mat. “Okay, now take the rice,” she whispered to herself. She reached for a spatula and scooped the Japanese rice. Later, she put it on the seaweed. “There.”
Madame Pasta neared her and stood for about four feet away from her back. The judges came along. The three of them watched Maimi. Madame Pasta noticed a mistake that Maimi did but she just let it go and told the ladies to jot down.
Maimi chopped a carrot, an omelette, a cucumber and a hotdog. Madame Pasta frowned. She whispered at the two ladies. “She’s suppose to use salmon, salad, roe, natto, oysters and quail eggs. Plus, those ingredients should be put on top of the sushi rice. Am I right?”
Mrs. Tomoya and Mrs. Sukiya nodded. “But she does it wrongly.” Madame raised an eyebrow and frowned back at the girl. “She’s interesting.”
Thirty minutes went by. The ten candidates’ sushis were served one by one for Fujimoto family. Everyone’s hand-made sushi was delicious-looking dish. Maimi sighed several times as she sat on a bench next to the ladies. She seemed unconscious about her sushi. She watched the other’s faces. They looked very confident.
She weeped. “What’s wrong with me? I supposed to use salmon! Arrgghhh!!!” Yeah, right. She had just remembered that a while ago and there was no turning back.
Tezuka took a sip at his light beer. He swallowed hard. He had just ate nine serves of sushi made by the candidates. But, he could not find which one was the best.
“Hmm, good,” Grandma Megu said. She glanced around to see her family members’ expressions. Full, tired, unhappy, sporadic and wilt. She shook her head slightly then she turned to look at Madame Pasta. She nodded and raised her hand before she picked her fingers. “Next!”
A maid immediately cleared the table along with her two other friends. Tezuka ran his finger through his hair and adjusted his glasses. The maids were stunted to see that sexy doing. Tezuka looked at his watch. It was almost 5 p.m.
“Okaa-san! I’m full! Can’t we stop?!” Ayase said. Mrs. Fujimoto glared at her. Grandma Megu cleared her throat. “Be patient, Ayase. We still have one more to go.”
Later, the three maids came back with the last serve. A large black tray was placed on the low table. Everyone took a peek inside the tray. They frowned. Grandma Megu took one. “What is this sushi called?”
“I don’t know. Looks like Gunkan-maki sushi,” Madame Pasta replied. Everyone was taken aback. Each one of them took one. Tezuka still felt weird, eyes froze at the sushi.
“Oishii!” Ayase shouted. The others quickly looked at her. “Really?” Grandma Megu and Mr. Fujimoto asked. “Um! Um!” Ayase nodded, still chewing with a hand covered her mouth. “It is really delicious!”
As soon as they heard that, each one of them popped the sushi into their mouths. Alive expressions occurred on everyone’s face. “Yeah! It is yummy!” Grandpa To declared.
“Carrot? Cucumber? Hotdog? I can’t find the fish!” Mrs. Fujimoto said through mouthful. “The candidate did not even use the fish even though the fish was right in front of her,” Madame Pasta explained.
“Oh...,” everyone muttered.
“Plus, she did not use the plastic gloves. She used her bare hands,” one of the judges added. Tezuka was startled. Everyone was shocked. “But this is the best one! I like it! “ Ayase cheered out. “Who did it?”
Madame Pasta took a side-glance at her assistant on her left. The assistant flipped through some papers on a checkboard. “Miss Kazui Maimi.”
“Maimi?” Grandma Megu straightened up. Tezuka leaned forward. “ The old miss with many ponytails?”
The assistant nodded. Tezuka let out a breath. Ayase clapped her hands. “That one-chan? I like her! She’s adorable!”
Grandma Megu nodded slightly at Madame Pasta. Tezuka took one of the sushi which was the last one and ate it. While chewing it, he looked down. He could hear his heart was laughing.