Part 1: House of Sweets ~un petit nid~ (1)
Tonight he had another dream about hitting someone.
He grabbed his lover by the collar and mercilessly hit the person in the face. Another copy of himself was there, begging him to stop. Why were his hands hurting the person he loved?
The stagnant gray clouds in his head started to swirl like a storm, and it threatened to blow him far, far away.
Someone stop me. Stop me. Stop me.
That was when he would always wake up. He was relieved that it was a dream, but he lay there staring at his hands in the darkened room. It was only a dream, and yet his hands burned with a throbbing sensation that only came after hitting someone. But it was a dream. It was in the past. He wouldn’t do that again.
Kase Hiroaki took a short breath and looked up at the sky. This early June sky was refreshingly blue for the rainy season, and it was enough to depress the people searching for a job on such a beautiful day.
It would be his third time visiting the Hello Work office, but no matter how many times he went, he would never get used to it. He could give them his academic background and work experience and describe the companies he wanted to work for, that was fine, but he struggled with the positive attitude that he was forced to adopt for the work search. He had the willingness to work, so why wasn’t that enough? But it didn’t just apply to finding a job. It was almost excessive how nowadays society as a whole required a positive attitude for everything.
Even if something distressed him, he had to pretend to act cheerful, someone who could say, I bounce back quickly. It could be made of plastic; he just had to pin the badge that said Positive Thinker like a name tag where people could see it. Being sensitive was not a compliment. People who could not perform the song and dance were tossed into the box labeled Losers.
With all these thoughts running through his head, Kase felt like he was already doomed before he even arrived at the office. He just hoped that he got a staff person who was reasonable. That was when a scent in the air stopped Kase in his tracks.
The scent of freshly baked bread drifted over from a bakery, its shopfront entirely glass.
The name of the bakery was painted in white on the glass—un petit nid. It was probably French, but Kase couldn’t read it.
Pastries and bread all golden brown were lined up in rows inside of the shop. Young mothers with children clinging to their skirts carried trays as they selected baked goods.
It was a mellow and pleasant scene, befitting the scent of fresh bread.
Kase unconsciously took a step backwards. He would always retreat whenever he saw something that was alien to him. He wanted to leave right away, but his eyes stopped at the sign posted next to the name of the shop. It said that it was accepting new hires.
Even if he went to the Hello Work office, he knew that he wouldn’t be able to find a new job right away. He would have to find a part-time job in the meantime, but serving customers was probably impossible for someone like him without any social skills.
But still he stood there looking into the window, and in the back of the shop he noticed a tough-looking man who looked out of place for a bakery. He was extremely tall and appeared to be in his mid-thirties.
The man’s features were too sharp to call them refined, and with his longish hair loosely swept back, it gave him a rough and wild look. He was dressed like a waiter in a garcon apron and probably worked for the shop, but if he was dressed in a suit, he could probably pass as a member of the yakuza. He had that kind of hard air about him.
As Kase stared there in a daze, the man walked over towards him. Their eyes met through the glass, and the man held his gaze for a few seconds before he raised a hand at him, a greeting that seemed to say “Hey.”
For a moment, Kase wondered if he knew the man, but it couldn’t be, and he frantically broke eye contact. When he turned around to leave, he heard the sound of the door opening behind him and the soft jingling of a bell.
“Oi, hold on a second.”
The voice was deep and rough, more suited for alcohol and cigarettes than bread and pastries. Did he want to complain at him about something? Kase turned around with apprehension and saw the man there.
“Here, come in for a bit.”
The man leaned on the half-opened door and pointed his chin inside. The peaceful neighborhood bakery now seemed more like a yakuza office, and Kase narrowed his eyes in suspicion.
“Don’t worry, I’m not picking a fight with you. Just come on in for now.”
The man gave him a smile. The corners of his eyes wrinkled and made him look kind and gentle. He beckoned his hand at Kase, like he was calling a cat, and Kase stood there and glared at the man.
“What do you want?” he mumbled.
Kase wasn’t as tall as the man, but his height was still nearly 180 centimeters.1 He had poor eyesight, which caused him to squint his eyes and inadvertently intimidate others. It wasn’t good for working at a company, but this sinister look of his was useful on the street for scaring people away.
“You’re like a stray cat, huh.”
Instead of flinching, the man’s smile grew deeper. He closed the distance between them in an instant with his long strides.
“Look, just come on in.”
The man suddenly grabbed his arm, and Kase tried to shake him off, but the man’s grip was too strong. His muscles were apparent even under his clothes, and Kase was essentially dragged into the shop behind him.
Kase couldn’t see it from the front, but there was a small dining area tucked in the back of the bakery. The man pointed to one of the empty tables and retreated into the kitchen area.
This appeared to be the south side of the building, and sunlight poured in through a large fixed window from a narrow alley-like garden. The natural design of the place with its wooden decor was very dissonant from the image of the man. Kase didn’t know what the man wanted from him, but he was under no obligation to wait here for him.
“Hey, don’t leave,” the voice called out.
Kase had tried to head for the door, but he turned his head back with a start. The man came out from the back with a tray in his hands. He headed for the table and pointed his chin again. Kase reluctantly sat down. The man placed the tray with a coffee and doughnut down in front of Kase and took a seat across from him.
“So.” The man paused before speaking smoothly. “I’m looking for a kitchen assistant. And when we’re busy, I’ll need you to help out in the front too. The pay is 800 yen2 per hour. It goes up to 1,000 yen3 per hour for the early hours from 4 to 8. We’ll train you, so you don’t need to know anything about bread.”
The man asked, “Any questions?” and Kase blinked his eyes. Was he saying that he would hire him? Did the man get the wrong idea because he was looking at the help wanted poster? But weren’t things moving too fast? Kase wasn’t able to say anything right away, and he appeared even more menacing as he searched around for his bearings.
The man gestured to the cup with his hand. “Help yourself.”
However, Kase didn’t feel comfortable eating or drinking in front of strangers. The man laughed cheerfully as he watched Kase stiffen in front of him.
“How old are you?”
The man leaned back in his chair and lazily crossed his long legs. He pulled out cigarettes from his apron and lit one up to smoke. The gesture wasn’t one that suited the bakery, but it suited the man.
Kase heard the sound of paper burning and frowned.
He hated cigarettes. Especially the tip that glowed orange from the embers. He felt a fear from the times it had slowly approached him. He was now an adult. Even though he knew that there was no one who would do that to him anymore, he would still get anxious remembering it sometimes, and it was too much for him to bear.
“I’m guessing you’re about 25?” the man asked as Kase stayed silent.
The smoke from the cigarette floated and swayed in the afternoon sunlight.
“Hmm, you look younger.” The man peered over at Kase in interest. “You remind me of a brat in their rebellious phase. Has anyone told you that your eyes look menacing?”
The man stroked the stubble on his chin with the hand holding the cigarette and laughed in amusement. Kase had never met anyone who could talk so bluntly to a stranger, and it disarmed him instead.
“If you’re looking for work, it’s gonna be pretty impossible to get hired to a company with those eyes of yours.”
“I was an office worker up until last week,” Kase answered in a whisper, his eyes looking down.
“Then what about this week?”
“Were you laid off or something?”
Kase glared at the man, and the man lifted his lips in a grin.
“Your eyes look scary, but you’re the type who can’t lie, hmm? That’s fine by me.”
Kase looked away in a huff. This was the third time that he had experienced a layoff.
Slumps in business. Reductions to personnel. This was the world that he lived in, and there was nothing he could do about. And he was always the first to get the cut whenever it happened. And it was his own fault that he couldn’t say anything to gratify his bosses. Even though he knew what the problem was, he couldn’t fix it. He was sent out to another company to be their next pawn, although he had fixed nothing, only to be chucked away when the end came again. The process had repeated itself over the course of his employment.
“Well, I think it should work. When can you start? Our assistant just suddenly quit last week, and we really need the help. I’d like you to start as soon as possible. Even tomorrow would be great if it works for you.”
The man charged ahead with the conversation, but Kase felt left behind and bewildered.
“If you have concerns about the pay or the work hours, we can have a discussion about it. Or is there something that bothers you?”
“Something that…” Kase repeated the man’s words without thinking. There was something more basic than a discussion about working conditions.
“What? Just say it. I don’t know if I can accommodate it, but it doesn’t cost anything to say something, so don’t hold back.”
“W-What about… my resume?”
The man gave a bored-looking frown.
“What? Do you like writing resumes or something?”
Of course not. If there was someone who liked writing resumes, he would like to see if they existed.
“If you want to bring one, fine, but I won’t know what to make of your schooling or work experience. I own this place, and I’m free to hire whoever I want. As long as I take a shine to them with my own eyes, that’s all that I need.”
The man broke off for a moment and made eye contact with Kase.
“I’ve taken a shine to you, and so I want to hire you.”
Kase crumpled his eyebrows in reflex.
Taken a shine to me? To what part?
He had no social skills, and his eyes looked menacing. He could hear how uncomfortable conversations devolved even when people tried to talk to him normally. He basically turned everything around him gloomy. One of his bosses had said so to him before. So what did this man like about him? As he pondered the question, the bell on the door jingled.
It was a customer, and the man called out, “Welcome,” and got to his feet.
The man turned back to him and asked, “So when can you start?” but Kase couldn’t answer the question.
“Then you can come next week. Here, Monday at 4 am.”
The man went over to the register after giving him the start date.
Kase stared at his untouched coffee. He wasn’t sure what had happened exactly. He was completely confused, but he did feel a relief that he had found a part-time job without any effort of his own. Interviews were a misery that went beyond a weakness for him. Even if he managed to force a smile on his face, there was a 70 percent chance that his application was rejected. It was inevitable that people didn’t like him, but even if he understood that, it still hurt to be judged so clearly that he wasn’t wanted.
Kase sipped at the now lukewarm coffee. In any case, he needed a part-time job until he found a more permanent one. The owner was a little strange, but this place was a normal bakery. His position would be a kitchen assistant, and he wouldn’t have to force himself to smile at people.
Maybe I should take it.
Kase finished the coffee and got to his feet. He went over to the register just as the customer was leaving. The bell on the door jingled again as it opened and closed.
“Thanks for this.”
Kase returned the tray to the man. He had finished the coffee, but he hadn’t touched the doughnut. The man placed the tray on the counter and used a pair of tongs to transfer the doughnut into a paper bag.
“Take it with you,” the man said, holding it out to him.
He didn’t like sweets, but Kase accepted it anyway.
“So I’ll see you next Monday at 4 am.”
Kase nodded, and the phone at the register rang.
The man answered the phone. “Hello, unpity knee.”
He thought that it was some kind of spell, but then he realized it was the name of the bakery. The man handled the phone call as he raised a hand in thanks. Kase gave a slight bow and left the shop.
He walked with the paper bag in hand and realized that he hadn’t even given the man his name. Was this really okay? Kase became unsure of his decision and turned back to look at the bakery. The light of the afternoon sun reflected from the glass as he stood on the street.
The French written in white on the glass—un petit nid.4
Kase suddenly wondered what it meant.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
- 180 cm – Approx. 5’ 9”.
- 800 yen – Approx. $8 USD.
- 1,000 yen – Approx. $10 USD.
- Un petit nid is French for a little nest.