One good day
by Cindy Tran
BEEP…BEEP…BEEP. The sound of the ventilator filled my ears as I slouched beside the frail woman. Thin, white strands stuck out from her matte hair like a used-up cotton ball. Her small chest heaved up and down, creating a soft rhythmic sound with her breathing.
She turned her head to me. “Take a look at this, Marcus, this is what it looks like when you have nothing; no passion; just scraping enough to get by.” I kept my head down, staring at the clean, white tiles. “Play that record player for me, please, Marcus?”
I positioned the tone arm over the vinyl disc and lowered its needle. Long and soft, melodious notes from the record player soon filled the room, muting the ventilator’s sound. “Music was my passion, ever since my mother first sang to me. Too bad it disintegrated after she left. Remember this, Marcus, passion is something that is etched within our minds and bones. It is what inspires us; gives us purpose. Be patient, son, it takes one good day to find it.” She sighed, “what a beautiful sound it was, so delicate, hmm.” She hummed, closing her eyes as her chest stopped moving.
Later that evening, I sat at the dining table, staring at my chicken Coq au Vin. Parsley leaves were wilted from the heat of the glossy, umber-like sauce. This was my favourite dish as a child, I remembered thinking how delicious it is. The rich, smooth sauce and the earthy, aromatic meat brought love and intensified my desire for cooking. Funny, that feeling seemed non-existent now. It felt like a force is pressing down on me, drowning me, stopping me from reaching the surface. Weakly lifting the dinner knife, I sliced a piece of meat and bit it. Juicy, tender and rich. Disgusting. I am useless.
Behind the doors, the chattering of excited voices filled the dimly lit room. Months passed by yet, everything felt the same. “Table of two: one carpaccio and one ceviche in ten minutes!”
“Heard!” exclaimed the chefs in unison. Tall, white chef hats lined up to my left to prepare the components for the dish. Too rigid. Sighing, I glanced at the perfectly sliced scallops before spreading a thin coat of white truffle dressing. Next, I meticulously placed a chiffonade of basil onto each scallop. Finished. My tired eyes rested on the carpaccio; the green hue of the leaves created a stark contrast with the creamy-white scallops. Too perfect. After quickly garnishing the ceviche with capers, the waiter took the pristine white plates and exited through the doors. I could see the delighted faces of prestigious diners as they stared at the plate in awe before the door closed, leaving a reflection of my gloomy face. Is this worth it?
“Marcus, you should go see your doctor, this is the fifth time you are sick.”
“I will.” I’ve decided to call in sick today not because I am actually sick. I just don’t feel like cooking, even if my boss isn’t too happy about it. Besides, those younger trained chefs are more likely to have a more successful service without me. The blue-grey clouds scattered across the sky as specks of white snow filled the streets. Luminescent street lights created an amber hue that softly lit the windows of shops as I trudged along the walk path. I felt my eyelids begin to droop heavily, so I went to slouched against the cold hard bench. A door busted open and out came an angry yell beside me; it was a chef. His small red face reminded me of a maraschino cherry, to which I chuckled as he shoved a dishevelled man to the snow-covered ground.
“SCREW YOU!” The dishevelled man shouted at the chef returning to the restaurant. The man hung his head low. “Pretty embarrassing, isn’t it?” he asked turning to me.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Got kicked out for insulting the owner, ridiculous, isn’t it? I only wanted a menu change.” He said and stood up, dusting the snow off his pants before sitting beside me. I saw a black checkered neckerchief sticking out of his pocket.
“Name’s Daniel, you’re a chef too?” He grinned.
I raised my eyebrows, “Marcus, how can you tell?”
“Your eyes, they’re so dull. You don’t enjoy cooking anymore, right?” he answered, his grin fading. Was it that obvious? Before I could utter out a word, he stood up. “Come, follow me”. Without a word, he led me to a long queue of people.
“Over here!” Daniel ushered me to come to the food truck. Here, there was an assembly of young adults preparing meals for people in scruffy clothing.
“Free food for the homeless!” A man in a black bomber jacket shouted. There were four large trays of what it seemed to be fried rice. I noticed Daniel approaching me with a plate. “Here” The plate was piled up high with dark golden grains of rice. Vibrant colours of orange and green from the carrots and peas were dispersed throughout the rice, making it a colourful dish. Raising a spoonful of it to taste, I noticed the intricate cuts of carrots; such care has been taken to ensure all carrots are perfectly diced. Oh my, the eggs! Perfectly bouncy that complimented the crunchy texture of the rice which heightened its overall salty, savoury taste. I looked up at the people serving the meal, the corners of their eyes creased a little as they let out a genuine smile. A smile of kindness and love. Passion was evident in their eyes.
“It’s delicious, isn’t it?” Daniel smiled as he sat next to me.
“You made all of this?” I asked in disbelief.
He shook his head, “everyone contributed to making the meal. Only I, of course, wrote the recipe.” I felt his hand on my shoulder. “You know Marcus, I was once in the slump. My love for cooking suddenly disappeared in a Michelin star restaurant. Long hours on weekends, birthdays, Christmas. It was too much for me. So, I’ve left for the Philippines.” Daniel sighed, staring at the street lights. Specks of gold reflected in his dark orbs. “That was the best decision I’ve made. I remember a family was living on leftovers from a restaurant. Food to them was a resource, a necessity for survival. Not pleasure. That was what rekindled my love for cooking. Cooking alongside with the locals made me realise how important it is for everyone to have good food.” He pointed at the queue. “Even these people need good food! Food is what connects us; teaches us about culture; an essence of life.” Daniel stood up facing me. “Marcus, while a Michelin star dish can satisfy our eyes, it cannot emotionally satisfy us if you are unable to cook from your heart.” With that, he left to help the others give out meals.
Something inside me sparked, which led to tears welling up in my eyes. Adrenaline rushed through me as the thump of my heartbeat fastened. Wet tears slid down my face as I looked up at the homeless family eating the fried rice. Seeing the kid’s gloomy face quickly shifted to excitement as she wolfed down the golden pile, I was instantly brought back to that moment my mother cheered me up with her homemade Coq au Vin. Feeling a burning sensation on my right cheek, it dawned on me that for the first time in a while, I smiled.
It’s been two years since I’ve left my position as line cook. The kid’s gleaming smile after seeing a full, delicious meal had reignited the flame inside me. That flame had pushed me to pull myself out of the box and cook for pleasure. Seeing the relieved faces and bright smiles of ordinary people made me realise that I was fortunate enough to be able to bring happiness to anyone beyond the white doors of that Michelin star restaurant. A boy in a large bubble coat waved his five-dollar bill, “Hey Marcus, two plates of chickpea curry please!”
I grinned. “Sure buddy, coming right up!” I proceeded to scoop a heaping pile of the curry onto the plates. The aroma of cumin, cardamom and nutmeg wafted out from the truck, attracting nearby people. “Thank you!” The boy exclaimed before hurrying off to his parents. It certainly takes one good day.