1 cup rice
2 spurts mayo
3 handfuls of bonito flakes
The idea here is to use the mayo as a kind of adhesive, usually in a Z shape for maximum coverage. The recipe calls for three handfuls of tobiko, but it may as well be one with how conservatively Ryuuji pulls from the wholesale bag. Put it all together for the slightest modicum of flavour in an otherwise bland dish of rice. Thanks for the meal, he thinks to himself and for no one else in particular.
The Fixer ‘Upper
1x convenience store yakisobapan
1x convenience store gyoza
There’s really nothing to this one. It’s carbs on carbs. Ryuuji feels awful afterwards, but at least it fills him up. Wash it down with beer for the best effect--let the alcohol take the edge off the intense digestion.
The glow of the Area Spot chain out in the middle of nowhere strikes him as eerier than anywhere else. He supposes the unnatural glow of its sign piercing the dark of night is almost comically placed--perhaps because of the generally mediocre quality of the products inside, it was almost like it didn’t deserve to be there, against the backdrop of the northern mountains. He fumbled through his wallet full of points cards to pay for the gyoza, and stared across the counter at the microwave turn the plastic box like a caveman discovering fire. The teenage cashier gave him a concerned look, unable to tell if Ryuuji was homeless or just hungry.
The smell of the herbs within the gyoza remain in the car after he’s done eating. It’s not unpleasant, more like a welcome change from the usual mess of scents that now lived in it. The way every corner of the Celica was divided to be as efficiently distributed as possible invited all sorts of aromas into the car’s confined space--dirty clothes, coffee, mouthwash that spilled on the backseat, more coffee; the list goes on. The potency of its unique smell never let Ryuuji forget his living conditions, at least.
Bacon & Eggs
1x bacon 3-pack
1x eggs 3-pack
There is a specific brand of convenience store bacon that costs only 50 yen for three strips. The trade-off, of course, is that one strip is so thin that all three may as well amount for only half of a regular-sized strip of bacon. However, for Ryuuji’s purposes, it’s the perfect amount--just enough to sizzle and cook through quickly on the meager warmth provided by his artificial heater and pan. The mess it left was usually just as thin, too, and easy to clean. The eggs are the 3-pack kind specially made for single men who live alone in apartments or their car. It reaches a baseline of comfort in the mornings, though, a semblance of normality that Ryuuji sometimes goes to to feel a little more comfortable in his situation. Most of the time he ends up feeding a slice of bacon to a racoon, though.
Affogato a la Net Cafe
1 cup instant coffee
3 scoops ice cream
Most net cafes away from the capital offered a variety of no-extra-charge amenities to attract customers. Unlimited instant coffee was a staple even in Tokyo that came pre-attached to one’s hourly fee--the game-changer out here in the countryside was the instant ice cream. Cold, sweet, and without pause.
The recipe calls for mixing in the ice cream into the coffee, adding a texture and consistency that evoked an offensive rendition of the Italian affogato. He wasn’t sure if he actually liked the taste while he gulped it down, or if it was simply better than the rancid instant coffee. Whatever it was, it worked.
Once, while he was hunched over the refreshment station, a teenage boy stopped in his tracks to observe from afar, as if Ryuuji was the subject of a nature program. He meticulously poured the coffee and in one swift motion moved the cup beneath the ice cream dispenser, all the while not letting a single drop fly out. The dessert oozed out, and he carefully caught it in the cup like a skilled ice cream truck driver. He shoved a spoon in the cup, and then noticed his onlooker.
“Regular ice cream gives me brain freeze.”
The kid stayed silent.
1x canned milk tea
That’s it. It’s just milk tea from the vending machine. Sometimes life’s joys were just that simple, and Ryuuji indulged in his sweets somewhat bittersweetly knowing Lillie wasn’t around to scold him.
Once while driving up a mountain pass he had noticed an elderly couple on the side of the road. He pulled over and got out of the car. The husband told him that the car had simply stopped, probably running out of battery. His wife said that wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t left one of the lights on inside all night. How could he have known he left it on? When the doors open the lights go on. It’s natural to assume they would all turn off after, if that’s even the case. His wife scoffs. Look, you’ve got the nice man to stop on the road and help us, and all you can do is tell me I’m wrong, she says. She glances in Ryuuji’s direction as if for approval. Some second honeymoon this is supposed to be, she says, as if to inform Ryuuji of the stakes.
“How about I just get the jumper cables?”
He retreats to the car and hooks the engines up. The elderly couple’s car starts, and they both let out a sigh of relief, like their tension had only become apparent once the sound of the engine had stopped filling the air between them. The old man thanked Ryuuji and they sat down at a small bench prepared for encounters as specific as this it seemed, as it was the only thing there beyond a vending machine that hardly ever needed to be stocked.
The old man returned with three cans of milk tea, which Ryuuji examined dubiously--how long had they been kept in this ill-serviced route? Well, he decided to drink it anyway.
“Thanks for all yer help, kid. Sorry this is all I can afford to reward you with.”
“Oh, it’s really no bother.”
“Where’s a young man like yourself off to, anyway?”
“I wouldn’t say I’m that young, but thank you. I’m on my way up north, no reason in particular. Just that kind of adventure.”
“Hey, I’m young too! The adventures never end, do they?”
“Please,” said his wife. “If you’re young then I’m practically an infant.”
“I tell you what,” the man said. “There’s an inn up ahead managed by an old high school buddy of mine. I could put in a word for you, if you’d like.”
“That really won’t be necessary.”
“It’s no skin off my back one way or another. But if you’re going up north, make sure to look out for that gaudy neon sign they bought way back when, alright?”
Then they stared out toward the mountains for some time. A warm breeze passed through, and Ryuuji balanced it with the cool milk tea. The silence between them was not awkward, nor did it feel unnecessary. Ryuuji, the couple, and the mountains in the distance existed in a kind of harmony that felt right, and when that silent dialogue had run its course, so did their encounter.
“Well, I should be on my way. Don’t want to be caught on the road at night--my eyes aren’t what they used to be. You stay safe out there too, okay?”
“I will. Thank you for the tea.”
“Oh, it was nothing. If I had made the right choices in life and been a richer man, maybe you would’ve walked outta here ‘bout ten thousand yen richer yerself. I just chose the simple things, though. Sometimes a can of milk tea can be worth ten thousand yen, don’t you think?”
Ryuuji nodded in agreement.
The mountains stayed silent.