Por Daniela Tarazona Velutini
translated from the Spanish by Janet Hendrickson
I like going to a Japanese restaurant around here. It’s cheap, the menu’s varied, and the food is good. Back to where I started: a man, standing. The restaurant’s manager, always there, always standing. The owner is a Japanese man who sometimes works behind the register, sitting. The manager is Mexican, just like the waiters. A man sixty years old, I calculate. I don’t know what his name is, I think it doesn’t matter whether I know it. He wears glasses. I don’t know what prescription. It would be important to calculate it now: eight and a half on the left side and six on the right. And he has a deep scar on his left eyelid, visible from a distance. He always wears a suit, and the suit is always one, two sizes too big. The seams on his jacket sleeves hang a few inches from his shoulder, his pants are always loose. Dark-colored suits, and his ties always straight. Back to the important part: he wears a metal pin with the restaurant’s name on his lapel, always on the same side. His shoes shined, the laces taut, a well-made knot. He always stands by the door. His standing seems like another form of sitting.
He’s thin, medium height. He has a curved posture. Somewhat hunchbacked, his hands behind, the fingers interlaced. He has another. The hands forward, one above the other, joined by their interlaced thumbs. He rarely crosses his arms. In any case, he always has a comfortable posture from which he can observe the tables. The restaurant’s five, six waiters are young. With white shirts, black vests, black pants, and black canvas aprons, they enter and exit the kitchen, take the orders on their notepads, carry the orders on their round trays. He approaches when a customer gestures, when he notices a waiter could be helped. When he approaches the table, he smells like a mixture of soap and cologne. He speaks quietly, his tone serene. When he talks he stretches out the last vowels of his sentences. A light curve. He opens his mouth less than most do when talking. He works: he carries paper napkins, a straw, removes the ice cubes from a glass, walks with a little dish of wasabi in his hand, or serves a bottle of soy sauce with lime. Sometimes he carries change in a little fabric folder lined with plastic that belongs to his Japanese employer. He offers mints at the exit in a bowl he holds in both hands. It’s how he tells his customers goodbye.
He has black, wavy hair. Most of the gray is concentrated on the sides, the remaining gray hair is sparse, scattered. Always a side part. Three waves in his hair touch the edge of his forehead. A hairstyle from another era, maybe a bolero singer’s. His lips are thin, like his shoelaces. When he smiles, sometimes his lower lip covers his upper lip completely. His nose is straight, long, to match his long face and tapered chin. His eyes, black, sunken, and a scar on his left eyebrow. Deep. It doesn’t seem to be a recent scar. Perhaps he fell as a child on the edge of a glass table, but it seems more like the result of an accident where he lost his wife. Or a tragedy. Was he near death? That’s what that scar seems to say. That’s what scars like that one seem to say. He blinks slowly, evenly. His left eyelid doesn’t open equally, it stops halfway. Maybe he doesn’t see as well from his left side. The eyelid halfway there, the comma-shaped scar that starts at the forehead and fits into the eyebrow give him an aura of sadness. It seems the fall was bitter. The slight deformity that he doesn’t seem to care about, and yet always seems to recall the fall. At the same time it leaves the impression that his cardiac rhythm is always the same. A calm rhythm, a calm way of talking, breathing, working. The daily work that he takes seriously.
He’s been working for years at the restaurant. Twenty-five years, since it opened, he told me once. I used to think, if the restaurant closed, it would demolish his life. But from what I can tell, that won’t happen. His loyalty to his work is evident. The waiters change every so often, but he keeps going. He. That man. What is his day like before work, his breakfast routine? When he gets home at night, what mail waits under his door? Ads? Flyers from neighborhood businesses? Cards left by appliance repairmen? Does he get a letter every now and then? From what state of the country? When he sleeps, are his pajamas cotton, matching, brown? Does he sleep in a double bed alone, on the same side every night?
The restaurant isn’t fashionable. Nearby there are offices, there are always people. Usually, two or three tables are occupied by Japanese. The restaurant’s walls are covered in dry bamboo. The low ceiling concentrates the smell of food, so that upon leaving, one’s shirt smells like fried rice. A man with a moustache, a hairnet, and a simple kimono makes the sushi behind a bar in back. There’s a TV on one side of the bar, above it on the far right, usually turned off. Above it, a remote control covered in plastic. There are four speakers in each corner, fastened to the ceiling by small black metal bases. Almost always music from the seventies and eighties in the background. And artificial light. White. Three small windows look out to the street, but bamboo leaves cover them, they block the natural light. Outside the restaurant, a long flowerpot planted with bamboo. And a street dog that spends its time lying, with its front paws stretched out, next to the flowerpot.
A small, skinny dog with short hair. White with black spots. It has one black ear and one white. I calculate it arrived at the beginning of this year. The first day I saw it by the flowerpot, one of its front paws was bandaged with two splints. A car ran over it outside the restaurant. The manager took care of it. He took it to the vet, put a plate next to the flowerpot. He filled the plate with kitchen scraps mixed with dog biscuits that, I imagine, he bought. I watched the first weeks of the dog’s recovery whenever I would go to eat or walk nearby. Once I saw the manager feed the dog. He took it in his arms, rubbed an ear. The dog moved its tail and devoured the plate without letting its bandaged foot touch the ground. After that, the dog stopped wearing the bandage. Now the dog has a blue collar with a bone-shaped tag engraved with the restaurant’s name. And it walks with difficulty.
I’ve passed by at night, when the restaurant has drawn its metal gate, when the neon name illuminates part of the sidewalk. The dog is there, lying just as it does during the day. Twice I’ve observed the dog try to enter the restaurant, its paw bent, not letting it touch the ground. A gaze, a gesture from the manager is enough for the dog to tilt its head and go back to the flowerpot. And once, as I was opening the mint that the manager had just given me, he and I left at the same time. He bent down to give the lying dog a few pats. The dog wagged its tail, got up, looked at him, and, with difficulty, moved closer to his leg. The man brought his glasses to the bridge of his nose, leaned forward to stroke the dog’s ears as he said: it takes work for all of us to walk. As if, with his left eye half shut, he were speaking solemnly to another man and not a dog.
Now that the water gathers, the wave grows. It grows, grows taller. The wave breaks, thunderously, here in the glass of water that I drink. If I go to that place often, it’s because of that man, in great part. His look, his way of being, the way he acts all say something that I can only say through him. That man, with that scar, with that tiny job that’s huge for him. Perhaps that man is me.
Brenda Lozano was born in Mexico in 1981. A narrator and essayist, she contributes to Letras Libres and Día Siete, among other publications. She studied Latin American Literature at the Universidad Iberoamericana. She has been Fellow of the Young Artists Program of the National Fund for Culture and the Arts. She has been anthologized on several occasions. She is the Spanish Language Editor for MAKE.
Janet Hendrickson’s translation of The Future Is Not Ours (ed. Diego Trelles Paz), an anthology of stories by twenty-three Latin American writers born since 1970, was published by Open Letter Books in 2012. Her translations have appeared in Granta, Zoetrope: All-Story, n+1, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in Nonfiction Writing from the University of Iowa and is currently pursuing a PhD in Romance Studies at Cornell.