Can I Get a Margarita?
Even hearts that are shut tight can be opened with a warm breeze
Twenty four varieties of beer from around the world are served in this beer restaurant. It’s quite a popular place.
“Tonight, I want to eat something a little spicy, so let’s go with something light.”
“I’m feeling fired up tonight, I wonder if I shouldn’t drink something rich.”
“Since it’s so hot…”
“Since it’s so dry…”
“Since we’re celebrating…”
“Since we’re bored…”
Even if these are all just example pretexts, the fact that a customer can enjoy them all is a benefit of the wide variation the store offers.
But the idea of twenty four varieties of beer wasn’t just for the customers. It’s tied to one of my own discoveries, too, thought Kana Ogawa, who worked as a member of the floor staff.
Her discovery concerned the matter of a mother and daughter with the last name of Miyahara.
The restaurant was directly connected to the subway, and so their customers were largely businessmen, but because there were also a lot of shopping facilities in the area, they frequently caught the eye of mother-daughter pairs, too.
The Miyaharas were one such pair.
It was obvious they were close friends from the moment they stepped into the store. The daughter must be about the same age as me, Kana thought.
They were a perfectly normal mother-daughter pair, but there was one major difference. The daughter was riding in a wheelchair. The mother pushed her along.
It wasn’t the first time they’d had customers in a wheelchair in the restaurant. It had been built without any steps, and the tables were generously spaced, and the washroom had also been adjusted to accomodate wheelchairs, so it was what they called “barrier-free.”
It was, however, Kana’s first experience serving a customer in a wheelchair.
When she went to take an order, Kana usually stood beside the table and stretched her back muscles taught, but in the Miyahara’s case, she received the order by squatting gently next to the pair.
The daughter in the wheelchair was a pale, slender, very pretty, very calm person. Kana crouched down next to her to present the menu and answer questions.
The mother said to the daughter, “I think I’d like a salad, hm?”
The daughter smiled gently.
Following the mother’s suggestions, Kana explained things such as “Shrimp and avacado salad,” and “Ceasar salad with slow-boiled egg” in easy-to-understand terms.
For a while, the daughter dropped her eyes to the menu, but it was the mother who ordered something. “I guess I’d like this, please.” And she added some wine.
“Sure, right away,” Kana answered, but she was a little bewildered. It wasn’t until later that she realized what she’d been puzzled by.
That night, Kana’s every minute was spent serving customers, right up until the moment the Miyahara’s said their thanks for the meal and went cordially home.
“Thank you very much, take care.”
Seeing them off, Kana suddenly realized.
The daughter didn’t say a single word to me all night. She didn’t even meet my eyes.
It wasn’t that she was displaying any hostility. Kana was more or less indifferent to those kind of thorns.
Was she shy?
Could be. But, you know, if that really was it, didn’t that mean that Kana had made a customer who came into her restaurant feel “shy?”
It made Kana a bit sad.
About ten days later, the Miyaharas came into the store again.
Just like before, the daughter sat silently in her wheelchair. The mother pushed her along with a gentle smile. And once again, Kana was in charge of the two of them.
While she was presenting them with the menu, Kana another realization.
I didn’t recommend any of our “twenty four types of beer from around the world” last time. That’s our store’s selling point.
Now why was that?
Kana thought about it while the Miyahara’s both looked cordially at the menu.
She hit upon one thing, at least.
Ah, that’s true. I was surprised when the mother ordered wine with the meal. She thought back over the topic.
Like, Hey, is it even okay for her to drink alcohol?
It was that kind of confusion.
It was a prejudice against people in wheelchairs that really had nothing to do with alcohol. That’s why she’d gotten distracted and had left out the explanation of their twenty-four types of beer.
Still mulling it over, Kana remembered something else.
Something the store manager had told her once. Something he’d said when she’d made a mistake in serving a blind man.
“When you were explaining the beers, you were trying to say that the label on the Belgian beer was attractive, and you said, ‘Seriously, the more you look at it, the more charming it is.’ And then, you followed that up with, ‘Oh shoot…’ ”
She’d said “the more you look at it” to a blind person.
“The mistake, though, wasn’t necessarily that unguarded turn of phrase, it was that flustered ‘Oh shoot,’ and the excessive apology.”
The man’s wife had said, “It’s okay. Please don’t worry about it. Sometimes I ask him if he watched TV last night.”
When the store manager had told her all that, she’d realized, Mm, I get it, so by reading too much into it and behaving so formally, I instead ended up being even more rude, and I made the other party feel awkward.
Kara remembered that conversation.
Was the daughter’s heart closed to me the whole time on their last visit because my attitude was totally awkward, and I was “reading too much into it,” and the daughter picked up on it?
So this time:
“We have twenty-four types of international beers, too.”
Kana presented the menu to them. She tried to be as spirited as she could.
Irish Guiness Extra Stout.
She briefly told them the characteristics of several of them.
For something a little different, there’s the Belgian Hoeegaarden, it’s a white beer that uses wheat, etc, etc.
Kana eagerly announced all the stock she could remember.
“Wow, have you tasted all of them?”
The mother showed interest.
“I wish I could say yes, but I’ve only had twenty-one types so far. I haven’t had a chance to clear the last three,” Kana said.
“That’s amazing though, twenty-one!” the daughter said, in a shockingly loud voice, looking up to meet Kana’s eyes. It was the first time their eyes had met.
Wow, her eyes are really clear, Kana thought.
“Ireland sounds good, huh.”
The daughter was captivated by the Guiness Extra Stout. The mother ordered. “Well then, one bottle, please. And two glasses.”
After that day, whenever the Miyaharas came in, the daughter would smile when she spotted Kana.
“Today I think we’ll go to Germany,” she’d say. Of course, she meant a German beer.
“This kid used to drink only wine, but suddenly it’s all beer,” the mother said.
The way she said it made it sound like, “She’s been withdrawn and thoughtful until now, but these days she’s cheerful.”
It made Kana happy.
Kana told the whole story to Shiro Tsubouchi in the kitchen. Tsubouchi was an attractively middle-aged artisan chef. He didn’t just cook, either, he also made cocktails. He looked especially good with a shaker in his hands.
“That whole incident, it made me think that drinks are very important to the spirit of hospitality.”
In other words, she’d been studying.
So that night, when a certain person came into the shop for the first time, the lessons she’d learned came clearly to mind.
Kana decided temporarily to call the person Ms Brave. The first time she came into the shop, it was just a few moments before closing time.
She was about the same age as mother Miyahara. She was unaccompanied, and looked to be on her way home from work, with documents stuffed tight in her large bag.
Exhausted, she took a seat, and without even a glance at the menu, said, a bit bluntly, “Can I get a margarita?”
They had Moscow Mules, and Gin and Tonics, and Campari, but margaritas were not on the menu. Still.
“Sure, we have them,” Kana answered immediately, trusting Tsubouchi.
As she expected, Tsubouchi handled it promptly, preparing a champagne glass with salt on the rim.
When Kana carried it to the table, Ms Brave showed a relieved expression for just a second, but she drained the margarita in seven or eight gulps with no change in the exhausted air about her, and then quickly left the store. She left behind the sense that she was gearing up to clear an extremely tough hurdle.
She never met my eyes, either… Kana thought, after the woman’s retreating form had disappeared from sight.
Alright, she thought. Let’s poke some holes in that barrier, too. The self-confidence Kana had gained from the Miyahara’s encouraged her.
A person’s heart was like an embankment, Kana had come to think after she’d connected with daughter Miyahara.
One ant hole will rip the whole thing down. She remembered hearing a proverb like that. A big rip starts with a small tear was an expression about something negative, but Kana thought that opening a heart that was closed was the same physical phenomenon.
Once you opened a tiny hole, the barrier would crumble under natural forces. Crossing the generation gap, crossing even the gulf between restaurant employee and visiting customer, it all started with a body temperature connection.
Ms Brave came into the shop again one week later. It was the same time of day as before, and she sat at the same table.
Kana had made her decision from the instant the woman entered the store.
“You were wanting a margarita, I believe?” she asked presumptively.
Ms Brave looked up at Kana with an expression that said, “Huh?”
Oh, our eyes met, Kana thought. The power of an air hole.
But she’d been overly-optimistic.
Nevermind starting a conversation, Ms Brave did not even return Kana’s smile, as Kana stood there with the margarita. No embankment began to crumble. Instead, it became all the harder.
The solidity of a sullen mood.
Up close, it was like getting an electric shock.
But even so, she tipped the entire margarita into her mouth.
Kana gave it her best without backing down. She approached the woman again. “Is there anything else I can get for you?”
She was afraid her voice had come out shaking and faint from all the effort she was putting into it.
Ms Brave glanced up at Kana with a face that said, “What nonsense is this little girl spouting,” and without even bothering to speak, just shook her head in annoyance, retreating even deeper into her cave of sullenness.
Kana was quite shocked.
She’d been bouyed up a bit by her success with the Miyaharas. She had felt that if she just tried a bit harder, she could poke an air hole in the woman’s defenses.
But that idea had been beautifully demolished.
Even afterwords, she would specifically cut through the crowd to be at Ms Brave’s side, but every single time, Ms Brave would suddenly lift her head and look at Kana with a definitely unpleasant look on her face.
Why… Why did she make that face?
Why was she so sullen?
Kana could feel her own spirits flagging.
It felt like she was carrying something gross within herself, something ashen and syrupy. Like when she woke up tomorrow morning, she was going to have a pimple right in the middle of her face. Ah, no good, no good.
One day, after the store closed, Kana said to Tsubouchi, “I don’t think that lady who always orders the margaritas will be coming in any more.”
“Why?” Tsubouchi’s question didn’t feel like a cross-examination. It was asked gently.
“Ummm… She always looks like she thinks I’m obnoxious.”
Tsubouchi didn’t reply to that, but talked instead about the cocktail called the margarita.
“It was made by a Los Angeles bartender,” he said.
The bartender, named John Durlesser, had offered the original cocktail in an American national cocktail competition, with good results.
“There’s a theory he named it after his dead lover,” Tsubouchi said.
John had a Mexican lover, and went out hunting with her one day. She was hit by a stray bullet, and he fell into a depression after the incident.
Because the cocktail was made in remembrance of her, he crowned it with her name, Margarita. That was why he’d used Mexican alcohol, tequila, as the base, so the story went.
“Is that really true?” Kana said, thinking vaguely, Maybe that woman is remembering a loved one that she’s lost, too…
But she immediately contradicted herself. It didn’t matter anyway, Ms Brave probably wouldn’t be back.
Of course, she didn’t see Ms Brave again for a long while.
Even Tsubouchi mentioned it. He seemed concerned.
“She really isn’t coming, huh, that margarita lady.”
“She completely hated me,” Kana said.
But just before the store closed that night, Ms Brave came rushing in. She had that same air about her, like she was moping about something.
Kana hesitated, so nervous it put her in a bad mood, but she attempted to approach the woman.
“Shall I get you your usual?”
If she’d been wrong last time, the lady wouldn’t have come back in today. She tried pressing on that point, putting all her weight behind her gut feeling and making a firm decision.
She didn’t know whether she’d really succeeded or not, but Ms Brave did relax her expression a bit, and Kana had a hunch her value had just gone up in the woman’s eyes.
When she went into the kitchen, Tsubouchi said, “I’ve been watching that margarita lady, and I think she’s someone who likes alcohol.”
He handed her a glass, saying that he’d upped the ratio of tequila today, just a little bit.
Kana delivered it, and immediately withdrew.
After a while, she quietly went back, and the glass was already empty.
“How was today’s margarita?”
This was the point she’d press on, she’d decided. She had nothing to lose.
“We tried out a small alteration to the recepie today.”
Ms Brave’s face suddenly transformed. “Oh really. A bit stronger?”
“Hardly enough to mention, but…”
“Can I have another?” she said. She was as brusque as ever, but it gave Kana a little bit of hope.
“Of course, ma’am,” Kana said, bowing. As she started to step away, Ms Brave spoke to her.
“Pardon my rudeness. How old are you?”
That was a surprise. But it didn’t feel like Ms Brave was trying to be rude. Kana had a premonition that an air hole was forming.
When Kana answered her age frankly, Ms Brave said, “I thought so,” and brought the glass to her mouth.
On her walk back to the kitchen, a big image of her mother’s face back home suddenly played on the screen of Kana’s mind.
It was a sad-looking sort of expression.
Suddenly, it came to her in a flash.
When she delivered the second margarita, she put it all on the line.
“Your daughter must be about the same age as me?”
She had a hunch that if she did it right, the air hole would get just a little bit bigger.
She’d hit the target square on. The embankment collapsed. And the river turned out to contain more water than she’d imagined.
Ms Brave’s stories came one after the other, and they didn’t stop.
When she’d finished hearing all of them and stepped back, Tsubouchi seemed worried.
“What happened, she had you there for a long while. Was she scolding you for something?”
“No.” Kana grinned and shook her head.
And then she summarized Ms Brave’s story for him. It went as follows:
Ms Brave worked in intelligence.
Lately, she’d been in charge of more people, and her job had gotten to be intensely exhausting (she’d talked about herself for a long while, but Kana abridged the tale).
As a result, she’d decided to try knocking back a margarita before going home.
Ms Brave lived by herself.
She’d lived with her daughter for forever, but about two months ago, her daughter had gotten married.
She’d ended up moving to America.
At first, Ms Brave had thought she could handle it, but it hurt her more than she had imagined.
Oh my, another mother-daughter tale? Kana thought. Of course, she was remembering the Miyaharas.
Ms Brave had said that she’d learned of the cocktail called the margarita from her daughter. Thanks to her husband’s influence, her daughter was now obnoxious about cocktails.
Trying the cocktail her daughter had told her about in order to heal the loneliness of being without said daughter was a bit warped, but it had gotten to the point that she had to at least try it.
And so, she’d hopped into the restaurant and tried one.
And at that exact moment, thanks to the girl who had waited on her, she’d fallen into a slump again.
The server was the same age as her daughter.
I give up, she’d thought. My daughter’s gone and now this kid is right in front of my face… But what an awful thought.
“It’s not your fault, and it’s not the margarita’s either, but I’m really sorry, I just fell into such a bad mood I couldn’t help it,” Ms Brave had said to Kana. “You were impressive though. How should I put it, it felt like you didn’t back down even one step, that really made me happy.”
After that night, Ms Brave started coming back to the shop quite frequently.
Sometimes she would bring the student meet-up group from the English Conversation school she was attending.
She had wine on those occassions, but when she came in by herself, she always had a margarita. The recepie with more tequila in it.
Ms Brave would tell Kana about her job, and about her daughter, like Kana was a niece or something. It was the first time she’d behaved tenderly towards another person.
One odd night, Ms Brave showed up comparatively early. She wasn’t alone, either, there was a young woman with her. That was her daughter, the one who’d gotten married and moved to America, Kana knew it immediately. It must be the new bride’s first visit home. She was slender and tall, with straight black hair.
Unexpectedly, they ordered wine, to toast the woman’s first visit home.
The two of them lifted their glasses, lightly pinching their grilled steak strips between their fingers. They didn’t talk to each other much.
Their conversation came in drips and drops. But there was never any awkwardness. They’d already talked plenty, and they were fine not talking any more. A peaceful feeling flowed through the air.
The following evening.
A woman stood in the shop entrance, lugging a suitcase behind her. It was Ms Brave’s only daughter. Kana rushed over to her.
“I wanted to pay you a visit, but I don’t have much time, really, so I just came to say hello.”
“Are you going back to America?”
She pulled her suitcase up to her feet, and said she was sorry to have interruped when Kana must be busy, but she’d wanted to express her gratitude in person. That gratitude was as follows:
Before I got married, I would listen to my mother’s worries about her job, and consult with her about my wedding. We were the sort of mother and daughter who talked all the time.
But I moved far away, and naturally there weren’t any chances to chat or drink margaritas. Mom’s voice on our international phone calls didn’t sound like mom at all, and I was worried she was getting exhausted.
Sometimes she would tell me about you.
Somehow, I really felt sorry for you, like you were just my mom’s closest target.
But then I was really glad. Thank you very much.
And then, not an hour after Ms Brave’s daughter had left, lugging her suitcase behind her:
“Haven’t seen you for a while,” Kana said.
The person she was speaking to took her hand off the wheelchair and waved.
Ah, mother-daughter tales, part one!
Kana’s heart sprung up. She’d heard the name of the woman in the wheelchair before. Keiko Miyahara, who’d suddenly become interested in beers. And pushing the wheelchair, was of course her mother.
Kana really hadn’t seen them in a while.
“Actually, you know,” the mother said.
“Jeez, Mom,” Keiko Miyahara said, trying to stop her mother from saying anything further. She was feeling shy about something.
“It’s alright, it’s something to be happy about.” The mother ignored the daughter’s attempts to stop her.
“Actually, you know, this kid took second prize at the English debate competition, with ‘The Claims of Youth.’ ”
“What!” Kana shouted. “Amazing! A debate competition! And in English!”
“Maybe she got a little bravery from that beer we drank here,” the mother said, laughing. “I wanted to make a toast, but I was wondering which beer we should use. We’re feeling pretty fired up, so maybe something from a hot country?”
“Well, how about some Filipino San Miguel?” Kana said.
“Hey, Miss Kana?” Keiko Miyahara had learned Kana’s name from her name badge.
“Have you cleared all twenty four types?” she asked, her eyes lit up. All of the store’s international beers.
“Yeah, of course.”
“Amazing! Amazing!” Keiko’s response was the same exaggerated style that Kana had used to express her own admiration a moment earlier.