Part 3: House of Sweets ~un petit nid~ (3)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
That Monday, Kase woke up at 3:30 am to report for work at 4 am. He had always been a light sleeper, and he had no trouble waking up so early. He walked through the silent streets of the town at the darkest hour before dawn.
Something flashed across the edge of the darkened street. Kase strained his eyes for a better look and saw that it was a large black cat. It was a stray with a rough-looking coat. It stared at Kase with glowing eyes, its silhouette dissolved in the darkness. With his eyes locked on the cat, Kase slowly retreated backwards, and the cat promptly escaped down an alleyway at the side of the building.
It was like the darkened town was under suspended animation, and soon he saw the bakery float in the distance like a ship on the dark sea. He felt unconsciously relieved. He didn’t know how to access the back door and knocked on the glass door at the front. The man from the other day came out from the back, wearing an apron over casual clothing.
“Good, good, so you came.”
Kase bowed his head expressionlessly at the man who stood there satisfied with his arms crossed.
“Let’s have you help with the prep work for now. The break room’s over there, so change into this first.”
The man handed Kase a white chef coat and showed him to the back, turning off the lights for the front of the shop. Apparently he had left them on for Kase’s first day.
Kase changed into the coat and returned to the kitchen. The space was larger than the front and packed with all sorts of equipment. At the center of it all, a woman wearing a chef coat was looking at him as she worked.
“Are you the new hire? Good morning.”
Her long hair was gathered in the back behind her, and she gave Kase a very neat and tidy smile.
“Sorry, it’s always a war zone in the morning, and I have to keep my hands busy. I’m Aoyama Chise.”
The woman introduced herself as she shaped bread dough in front of her. She was quite a beautiful woman, probably in her 30s, but when Kase recalled that bland-tasting doughnut, he questioned her skill as a baker.
“Let’s see, what should we have you do first? What have you heard about us from Agi-san?”
At Kase’s question, Chise turned towards the oven behind her.
“Agi-san, you didn’t give him your name?” she asked with disbelief in her voice.
The man had been putting dough into the oven, and he turned around at the question.
“I didn’t? Oh, right, so what’s your name?”
The man returned the question to Kase, and Chise glared at the man.
“Agi-san, how sloppy can you be?”
“Haha, sorry, sorry. Time is precious here, so let’s introduce ourselves as we work. I’m the owner of the place, Agi Hitoshi. The only staff here are me and Chise for now. And what’s your name?”
“You’re 25, hmm? Do you have any experience?”
Kase had told the man his correct age the other day, but he got it wrong again.
“I’m 28. I have no experience working at a bakery. I can do some basic cooking.”
“Oh, so you can cook? That helps us out a lot. Okay, Hiroaki, come over here.”
Kase frowned for a moment. His ex had been the only other person besides his relatives who called him by his first name. The sound of his ex’s voice saying Hiroaki played back in his head. It was completely different from the rough bass tones in Agi’s voice.
“What are you freezing up for? We don’t have time, so hurry up and come with me.”
Agi pulled Kase by the arm, manhandling him like he did last time.
“Chise is busy, so I’ll teach you what to do for now. I’m letting you know now, but it’s stunning how much of an amateur I am when it comes to baking. Which means that if I can teach you this, you should have no problems here. So relax.”
“Is that something to brag about?” Chise giggled.
Agi retorted, “Shut up.”
Kase guessed that they were in a relationship together from the sense of familiarity between the two of them, and he became depressed, thinking that he had probably made a mistake in coming here. It was too suffocating for someone like him to work at a place where the workers openly flirted with each other.
“First we’ll start with these round discs of dough. This is focaccia before we bake them. Pour some olive oil into this cup, and use the brush to apply the oil to the surface like this. When you’re done brushing on all the oil, take these things with leaves—it’s an herb called rosemary—and sprinkle them over the top.”
Agi demonstrated one for him and instructed Kase to try it on his own next. Kase repeated the process a few times, and Agi said, “Good, you pass. Keep it up,” and returned to his own work.
As they worked towards the shop’s opening at 7:30 am, Agi gave him an endless string of tasks without any breaks. Kase had never done any of the tasks before, and like earlier, Agi would demonstrate it for him first, and if Kase could do it, he would leave the task with him, and if Kase couldn’t, they would move on to another task. Agi told him that he could practice the tasks that he couldn’t do now until he could do them later. Kase felt no sense of derision from him. It was easier to work for Agi than he had expected.
Chise quickly completed the operations that could only be done by a professional, while Agi and Kase finished off the odd jobs that could be done by amateurs. At around 6:30, Agi left the kitchen to prepare the front of the shop for when they opened. When Agi returned, he was dressed like a waiter in a garcon apron like the other day.
“Hiroaki, bring that tray of bread over.”
Kase did as he was asked and followed Agi out to the front. He arranged the freshly baked bread in the basket like Agi had shown him. Kase wasn’t used to it, and he was slow. He still hadn’t finished lining them up by the time the bakery opened. Young women who appeared to be students came into the shop.
Agi bowed his head to the customers, and Kase imitated him and bowed too. A stream of customers came in one after another. Sandwiches and savory stuffed breads were very popular, probably for lunch later in the day. From the taste of the doughnut, Kase had the idea that this bakery was pretty terrible, but it appeared to have plenty of business. When he went back into the kitchen to retrieve what little remaining bread there was, a child walked into the kitchen and said, “Good morning.”
He carried a black hard leather backpack for elementary school students. Apparently he had come down from the second floor, and Chise and Agi returned his greeting in unison. The child pulled out a carton of milk from the commercial refrigerator and poured it into a cup, and then he stood in front of a tray of pastries wondering what to pick.
“Today I’ll pick cherry~”
He grabbed the danish from the tray and bit into it as he stood there. While he was chewing, he noticed Kase and tilted his head in curiosity. He left the danish and milk on the workbench and walked over to Kase.
The child asked with his mouth full of danish as he chewed, “Uncle, are you a new person here?”
This was the first time that Kase was called an uncle, and he stared down at the child with a blank look. The child looked up at him curiously.
The child’s face gradually became frightened.
“Oi, Hiroaki. Why do you stiffen up at every little thing? You’re terrifying when you don’t show any expression on your face. Your eyes already look menacing enough normally, so watch yourself when you get all glum; it makes you look like a thug.”
Agi probably couldn’t stand to watch their failure to communicate any longer and had to step in.
“Rio, this is Kase Hiroaki. As of today, he’ll be working here with us. Hiroaki, this is Chise’s son Rio. Chise and Rio live on the second floor of this building. In the morning, Rio eats breakfast here and leaves for elementary school. Oh, I rent an apartment nearby, just so you know. Chise lost her husband, and I’m saying this to defend her honor.”
Lost her husband? So he had died? Kase glanced over at Chise, but she was normally shaping the balls of dough. From the way that Agi explained it, apparently the two of them were not lovers.
“Good morning, Uncle. I’m Aoyama Rio. I’m six years old.”
Rio gave Kase his own greeting. He spread open his left hand and held up two fingers with his right hand.
Uh, that makes seven.
However, Rio looked up at Kase with a huge smile, and Kase found it hard to correct him.
“Nice to meet you, I’m Kase Hiroaki.”
He gave a simple bow. Just because Rio was a child, he didn’t want to use mushy speech for talking down to children. Kase collected the bread that he came to get and returned to the front of the shop when he heard Chise’s voice from the kitchen.
“Rio, how could you call Kase-kun an uncle? You probably made him angry.”
“He’s not an uncle?”
“Maybe he’s an uncle to you, but to the rest of the world, he’s a big brother. Just barely though.”1
Kase frowned at the words that were added at the end. He arranged the bread for display with a grumpy look on his face as he listened to the aggravating parent-child conversation in the background.
“Oi, Just Barely a Big Brother, the walnut bread doesn’t go there.”
Kase turned around to see Agi smirking at him.
“The milk cream baguette goes there, and the walnut bread goes over there, Just Barely a Big Brother.”
Kase repositioned the bread in a sullen huff when he heard the name repeated. He could hear the voices from the kitchen again.
“Then what about Uncle Agi? Is Uncle Agi a big brother too?”
“Agi-san is an honest-to-goodness uncle. Just as you see.”
There was an odd pause.
“…How dare they.”
Agi narrowed his eyes towards the kitchen, and Kase snorted at him.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
- The Big Brother/Uncle address that children use to call older men is similar to the divide between calling a woman Miss vs. Ma’am. The cutoff line is usually around the age of 30.