In culinary school, they advised him against attempting mastery of sushi. True command of the task required precision cuts, the perfect balance of water and vinegar and the ability to grab the correct amount of rice without deliberation. Kyoto offered a glimpse of the predicate finesse, an inspiration to press forward despite admonitions to the contrary.
Dimmed lights and red lanterns reflecting from the pooled water on the streets afforded an obscured mirror image of the storefronts and restaurants lined in abundance. Peter stepped in a puddle, sending waves outward from his foot, distorting the reflection and quickly soaking through his shoe, requiring a change of socks once he arrived at his destination.
The rain did not let up entirely until after nightfall, though began to taper as Peter alighted from the bus. Serving well for refuge once in the past, Peter considered no other option for his next night after escaping Tokyo. Two nights there exceeded his intention, but abating the exhaustion of the journey took precedence over continued travel. A room with a small kitchen on the third floor captured a glimpse of the river, bending into the horizon toward the mountains. On the counter, he unfurled a bamboo mat and placed a bowl of rice beside it. The fish sat exposed to the air atop the brown paper in which he wrapped it at the market, cleaned and ready for slicing. Peter honed the knife to completion, placing it at the side of the board before peering through the window, the moonlight illuminating a temple nestled into the hill.
He inhaled and exhaled deeply, attempting to lower his heart rate. Beside one leg of the table lie his bag, its two straps loosely resting against the kitchen floor. Peter refrained from opening it, leaving its contents out of view for a moment of respite, however fleeting. The two-bedroom apartment he shared several years earlier, while less than a few minutes on foot, escaped from the frame of view out the window. Within another minute, a familiar blue curtain shielded the entrance to the restaurant in which he served as apprentice. Fond reminiscence of formative training did little to undo his pursed lips and furrowed brows of the moment. A bead of sweat ran down the side of Peter’s face, dropping to the countertop below.
A pristinely maintained white taxi served as the forum for his final view of the city at the end of his apprenticeship, taking him to the station where he boarded a train to the airport. Greeting him on the opposite side of the globe, a full-time position as sous chef of a well-hyped sushi restaurant in Los Angeles. The type of place with a countertop situated against a glass partition separating diners from the fresh catch, it bore a resemblance to the countertops finding a comfortable home in Kyoto. On the wall adjacent to the entrance, a large photo of the Arashiyama bamboo forest divided the placid interior from the bustling thoroughfare outside. Its serenity did not last for long following Peter’s return. Queues snaked from the hostess stand out the door. Anticipatory diners held the curtain in place, exposing the façade to the California street, at times for over an hour as they waited for a spot inside.
Peter’s heritage noticeably diverged from the other masters, a fact that deterred few if any from patronage. Proficiency gained in Kyoto artfully blended with local flare to keep Peter’s skilled hand in constant demand. Once rebuked from pursuit of the craft, Peter had reached and exhausted his capacity for engagement, his exalted status sapping him from the freedom of a single day’s rest.
From Kyoto, Peter brought with him more than expertise in the craft of sushi, but the roommate with whom he grew close over three months. She, like him, had come in searching of honing a craft, not of cooking, but of design. Los Angeles, for her as well as Peter, offered a venue to continue her pursuits.
With Peter’s time constrained by success, his plan to propose within months of their relocation to Los Angeles fell by the wayside. Nights spent alone in their apartment, waiting for him to return at the expense of leisure, could no longer keep her attention. Peter’s eventual arrival, frequently beyond midnight, carried home the stresses accumulated over his fourteen hour shifts. Of patience, he had none, resorting to outbursts in the face of little to no provocation. Concerns of whether his fully-subscribed days might abate met staunch resentment. She offered Peter one chance too many before packing her suitcase and departing in the daylight.
Peter returned home carrying the weight of three pints of beer ingested with the wait staff as the kitchen underwent its nightly cleansing. Her empty closet spoke the words she could not bear to, lest a quarrel ensue. No response to his calls confirmed what he already surmised, precipitating his jaunt to the fridge for another drink and for the broom to sweep up the shattered pieces of his broken phone. A torn couch cushion irritated his backside while he drank, breathing heavily while biting his lower lip with his upper teeth intermittently between sips of beer. “Oh, what to do?” he cried out, receiving no response.
Peter’s shoes impressed footprints on the sidewalk from the dew that had yet to clear as he approached the restaurant in the morning. He made two tries with his key before successfully entering through the rear door into a kitchen lifeless other than his presence. Peter removed the bag from his back one strap at a time and placed it on the owner’s desk, removing the painting from the wall and opening the safe. He filled his bag with the stacks of cash inside, which, upon removing, revealed a gold watch, the presence of which he lacked prior knowledge. Tossing the watch atop the cash in his bag, he sealed the zipper, placed his arms through the straps, and exited to the street, where he met the cab that took him to the airport.
No destination in mind, he purchased a seat on the next flight he had sufficient time to board, departing at noon on the dot for Tokyo. Over thirteen hours wedged into the window seat, he conceived of an escape route that would eventually find him in Thailand and then elsewhere in Southeast Asia, where the stacks of cash would last long enough to build a new identity. To evade detection, he would depart from somewhere other than Tokyo, these two steps comprising the entirety of his masterful disappearance. Sleep behind him, an available bus departed for Kyoto for a night in his old haunt in proximity to the Osaka airport.
The bag stayed at rest by Peter’s foot as he ate the sushi prepared after discontinuing his stare into the hills. Peter could not resist its siren call any longer than the duration of his meal. Its beckoning too powerful to decline, Peter opened the bag enough to grab a stack of cash. Pulling together the zipper from opposite sides to meet in the center, Peter stole a final glance before the bag’s contents would disappear, eyeing the gold watch and removing it to his wrist. Peter wiped the excess sweat from his face and headed downstairs, his first stop one of the many currency exchange kiosks in the shopping district. Yen secured in his pocket, he continued along the street, meandering adjacent to the canal, avoiding the remaining puddles with his earlier accident still fresh in mind.
Sidestepping a flattened leaf, Peter glimpsed into a lively bar, the very same he frequented during his stay years earlier, entering without further hesitation. A sea of eyes peered toward infinite spaces, with the exception of one, focused directly on his entry. Radiant blue, beneath and between luscious brunette hair parted at the middle and swept behind her ears, the eyes fixed their gaze upon him, unwavering. Beside the bar she stood, the sagging bags of heavy eyes attendant to a long journey the next feature to command his attention. Her face came fully into view, days since he last saw her as he left the apartment for work. Peter momentarily froze before continuing into the bar.
She made no sound as Peter approached the counter, once again coming to a halt as the man behind her turned around. His too a familiar face, from which he yelled, “Peter!” His black hair, too short to comb, instead plastered with pomade, his calloused hands years in the making from knife cuts and stovetop burns, stood out above all else. His absence from the office facilitated Peter’s larceny days earlier, yet there he stood, in the city to which Peter attempted to flee, hand in arm with the woman who, too, had departed him. Indecipherable music obscured his words, the pointing of his finger at Peter’s wrist conveying the intended message. Peter turned to flee, the crowd halting his egress as a hand latched to his shoulder.
Peter turned, hearing “you!” screamed in his direction over the noisy crowd. She approached, placing her open hand on the free arm of Peter’s captor. “Outside!” he murmured in Peter’s ear. “I saw the security footage, I know you robbed the safe!” he yelled, now outside, a passer-by peering in their direction but ignoring them. “What are you doing here with her?” Peter retorted back. “Peter” she uttered, the quietest of the three, “I left you for a reason, and you know why.”
Peter’s head collapsed forward, his body losing its previously rigid posture. “I watched you steal from the restaurant on the surveillance footage, and now you wear my watch and follow me here to taunt me!” Peter slunk lower, facing the chastising voice. Peter opened his mouth to speak, but exhaled in place of words. As Peter stood still, a fist rose into the air and began its direction toward Peter’s face before stopping short. “Sorry, Peter” his boss said, beginning to cry, “I betrayed you.”
Peter raised his head further to view him in the eyes. “I understand why you did it, I should not have pursued her.” Peter rendered then quickly removed the confusion from his face, shifting to relief before uttering, “yes, of course.” Opening his clenched fist to an open palm, Peter’s boss placed the hand on his shoulder, “return the money and I will not pursue the issue with the police.” Peter quickly sprung his head up above his shoulders, without hesitation responding, “yes, yes, thank you!” Peter paused, “the money is in my apartment, upstairs, we can go get it, and then sort this mess out.” No words, only a head shake in response. His mind occupied, Peter stepped in several puddles along the way, ignoring the increasing dampness of his feet.
From the vantage point of his window seat, Peter kept his eyes fixed on the runways as the aircraft lifted out of Osaka. Turbulence bounced the plane through the lowest layer of clouds, sending the black bag out from under the seat in front of him. Peter retracted his left arm to the armrest to alleviate the glare caused by the sun’s reflection from the gold watch still affixed to his wrist. He returned the black bag to its position beneath the seat, employing sufficient force to overcome the weight of the cash in the bag.
Peter lowered the window shade and closed his eyes, the long night spent without sleep hitchhiking to Osaka finally getting the better of him. With his boss observing him from the entryway, Peter glanced at Kyoto’s continued gift of salvation, a trail of rooftops accessible from the kitchen window to the faintly-lit alleyway below. He had eased out hastily but with precision, quick enough to avoid detection and disappear into the street.
He opened his eyes as two dings of the fasten seatbelt sign signaled the ascent through 10,000 feet. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard this morning’s flight to Bangkok, please relax and enjoy the service.” Peter exhaled, returned his head to rest against the side wall of the plane, the smirk remaining on his face until he fell asleep.