This is Chapter 1 of the novel “Welcome to the Raindance Cafe” by Yama Yamasaki (山崎山). I’ve talked to the author and gotten his permission to translate and put it on my blog.
As usual, if you like this story please like and/or comment on this post to help me decide whether to translate more of this or to move on. You can also see this survey where you can vote for this story, or others for me translate.
Thanks to Nijima Melodiam for doing a proofread of this chapter.
(Note: you can see a link to this story’s table of contents which contains links to other chapters and the summary here)
Welcome to the Raindance Cafe by Yama Yamasaki
Chapter 1: Waging War (Part 1)
“Come on dude, isn’t there somebody you like?”
In my 21 years of life, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked this question.
I just couldn’t comprehend what it meant to like someone that way. Or I guess it would be more accurate to say I had no idea what that even felt like.
Of course, I had some awareness of compatibility with others and could say this person was easy to talk to, or that person was not, but I never felt what is commonly referred to as “romantic attraction” towards a specific girl. Actually, maybe I had, but it hadn’t mattered since I didn’t understand what I was feeling.
That’s why me having a girlfriend was totally out of the question. Even if you cornered me and said, “You know when something about a girl turns you on or excites you? I’m sure that’s happened to you before, right? Right?!” it wouldn’t mean a thing to me. Sorry.
But now I finally understood.
At this moment, I was feeling the very emotions that I’d heard about countless times, yet never understood.
And they were directed at the girl right in front of me in a maid uniform.
“I’m so sorry for being rude. I didn’t expect you to be here for the job opening…”
“Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s my fault for coming up to you so suddenly…”
The girl pushed back her chair a little and bowed her head until it nearly touched the edge of the table.
I can’t believe how she can bow so respectfully to someone she’s just met. Maybe that’s just her personality. But wow, she looks so cute doing that! Sure, she’s wearing a maid outfit, but it perfectly fits her appearance and demeanour.
Nevertheless, I can’t just let her continue bowing to me like this.
“Can you please raise your head? If anyone is at fault it’s me for scaring–”
“I’d like to thank you very, very much!”
As she raised her head, I could see eyes overflowing with tears as if she’d just been through hell. This sudden change totally caught me off guard.
“Actually, I’m the only waitress here. Everyone else has quit right after starting and there hasn’t been a new person in half a year, and I don’t know what to do…”
“J…Just hold on a minute…”
At last, the girl began sobbing violently.
“Someone finally came for me!”
“Hey, can you calm down? Please don’t cry, come on now…”
I offered my handkerchief to the girl, still absorbed in her crying. A tough-looking man standing at the counter who appeared to be the manager looked at me with an angry expression. Did I do something wrong? Come to think of it, I guess technically it was me who started all this.
Realizing that in the moment I’d said something pretty stupid, I decided to take stock of the situation.
At the time, I knew it was now or never. The road I took on the way home I never normally used, and I thought that if I just kept going I’d never return here again, so when I saw the job posting on the wall I made a snap decision. I even surprised myself that I had the courage to do this, and everything happened in a flash, so by the time I had understood what was happening I was already being led into the cafe.
While the girl was drying her tears, I casually looked around the inside of the cafe.
Words like vintage and classic have a nice ring to them, but this place’s dust-covered interior was just plain old and explained why there were so few customers. Actually, at the moment the only people in the building were the manger-looking guy, the waitress, and myself. The curtain on the south side was closed and let in almost no sunlight. The cafe wasn’t very big to begin with, but the sense of loneliness that pervaded the place was deeper than you’d expect from the size. Even considering the sole waitress was an attractive girl, with an atmosphere this dismal I wasn’t surprised in the least bit that everyone else had quit. Young kids nowadays had a particular dislike of gloomy places like this.
“…Don’t you think it’s a little gloomy in here?”
Apparently catching on to what I was getting at, the girl–her eyes still a little damp–opened her mouth to speak.
“I know what you mean. But I actually like the atmosphere here. Some customers, and employees that have quit said we should clean up the place…But neither the cafe manager nor I have any intention of doing that.”
Shocked, I suddenly caught my breath.
It was beautiful.
Her smile shined on the cafe’s interior, which was anything but bright. It was a dazzling smile that made me feel like I was walking on air. Even had I not fallen for her already, I’m sure one look at that smile would have attracted me in the same way. I couldn’t look away. I stared at her as if entranced by some strong magnetic force. Then I suddenly had the sensation of something grabbing hold of my chest, my heart, with great force.
“Oh, thank you for the handkerchief. I’ll wash it and return it later.”
“…Is something wrong?”
“No, not really…”
“Oh, I get it…”
Tears appeared in her eyes again.
“I….I knew it…You were lying about wanting the job…”
“No, of course I want it! I really want to work here, so please don’t cry!”
This girl has some serious mood swings. But to me, even this was a good thing.
Someone watching me might think that I was getting too carried away, having only met this girl less than an hour ago. But that didn’t really matter to me; my heart wasn’t a mechanical thing that would fluctuate with the passage of time.
I had confidence that no matter what she did, I could accept that as a part of what made her attractive. A fresh, pure emotion had begun to grow within me. I realized intuitively that this was called love. These feelings touched something deep in me, and I felt like a very lucky man. Once more, I had the sensation of levitating in mid-air.
I didn’t know anything about this girl who’d been working here for quite a while, but I dearly wanted to work at this old cafe for her sake. She was here, and that made it the right thing. That simple.
“…I promise I’ll do my best. Please hire me!”
“Oh, are you serious?!”
Her eyes sparkled with hope.
There was something extremely genuine about her. I guess rather than saying she lacked any pretense, it was like her face reflected what she was thinking without being filtered by reason. Being naive to this extent was a little concerning, but at the same time there was something reassuring about the fact that her expression perfectly projected her state of mind.
In any case, I was prepared to put my stake in the ground here–although this was just a part-time job. I don’t mean that literally, but rather in the sense of ambition, of trying hard to find happiness. I guess it sounds a bit extreme, but I really wanted to take advantage of meeting this girl and take my life in a new, positive direction.
“Thank you so much! Sorry, I don’t think I introduced myself properly before. I’m Rei Ochikibe! And that scary, macho guy is my manager Mr. Manaka!”
“Hi, I’m Jun Momose. Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too Jun! Alright, I guess I might as well take your resume now.”
When I started to panic, she instinctively did the same.
“You don’t look too well. Are you OK?”
“Since you are asking if I am OK…No, I’m really not OK at all.”
“You aren’t OK?!”
My hands were sweating like crazy, or rather, my entire body was sweating profusely.
I hadn’t considered this at all. I had applied for a job on the spur of the moment; of course I didn’t have anything like a resume prepared. To be exact, I literally had nothing prepared. I also just remembered that the job paid only minimum wage. It was now painfully clear to me that my rash behavior had put me in a seriously bad situation.
I had to do something. If I didn’t make a good excuse, I’d have to withdraw from the race for which I now stood at the starting line.
“Just joking! Of course I have what you need. Please don’t be alarmed. And by the way, Rei,”
“What I have on me…is only about 40 bucks. Is that going to be enough?”
Unconsciously, part of me had decided to try to bribe her. I caught myself just in time. I was so desperate that I was willing to do anything. But, if I don’t say so myself, this was a dirty, political tactic. I think now I really understood what it was like to be a politician.
“So… I guess you don’t have the resume with you?”
Rei asked me with a suspicious look, like a police officer questioning a suspect.
Being honest here just wasn’t going to work. Because of who she is, she’d just see right through me. I had no choice but to use a cheesy excuse to get through this.
“I’m really sorry. I was in a hurry, and left it at my house.”
“You mean your resume?”
“So…I guess without it, you won’t hire me, right?”
“Yes, that’s right. The manager has instructed me to not hire anyone who doesn’t have a resume I can verify…”
Rei frowned and nodded to herself with her hand posed on her chin, like a detective.
I felt pitiful for having not thought things through. I guess this is what they mean by ‘love is blind’. Actually, maybe that doesn’t quite fit.
For a moment, I considered writing out my resume on a sheet of paper and handing it to her. But I didn’t have a picture of myself, and I didn’t want her thinking I was the type of person who would do such a thing.
I continued to sweat like crazy while the wrinkles on her forehead got progressively deeper.
“But this time honey, I’ll make an exception.”
I heard a deep–yet somehow feminine voice from above me.
“This place is nearly bankrupt, and you’ve come this far so I’ve got no choice. Rei, I appreciate you being the serious type, but don’t just blindly listen to everything you are told, OK darling? I also told you to act according to the situation, right?”
Rei looked up towards the tough, muscular man standing there.
Manager…Oh, this is the guy she had just introduced as Mr. Manaka. He’s even bulkier than I had originally thought. And I could immediately tell he was… well, you know.
“For now, just give us your name and address, and also your phone number. Since you’re right here, I already know what you look like and don’t need a photograph. All I care about is whether you do a good job, so I’ll just leave it up to Rei to decide whether she’ll get along with you, and we don’t need a formal interview. If she doesn’t have any complaints, honey you’re hired! Rei, what do you think?”
“Of course I don’t have any complaints! I think everything is perfect!”
“All right then, it’s decided. Sweety-J, I’ll see you tomorrow, kay?”
Mr. Manaka gave me an exaggerated wink and went back behind the counter. I felt a chill run down my spine, as if someone was running their fingers down my back.
“So, I guess that covers it for today. Now, can you please give us your information, Jun!”
“Oh, Sure. I’ll give you it…now.”
As I stared in a daze at Rei, her bright smile made my eyes sting.
The whole thing had happened so fast. I wasn’t given much of a chance to speak, and with only a few words Mr. Manaka managed to eliminate all my uncertainty and sweat–along with Rei’s forehead wrinkles. He wasn’t just pretending to act like a manager. I sensed a deeper type of strength, altogether different from his physical toughness.
And he also had said something quite thought provoking, too.
“Sure, like the manager said, I’ll just…umm…I’m sure there is a memo pad around here somewhere…”
Rei took a ballpoint pen and memo pad from her apron pocket and handed it to me.
“Here you go!”
I thought it was a little strange that the manager in charge of everything didn’t help out, but perhaps leaving all the HR work up to his only waitress, a part-time worker, was some indication of his abilities as a manager…or something like that. It’s even more surprising if he was putting her in charge just to make her happy. I bet he really appreciated having her around.
Having said that, I think maybe the reason new hires never stayed around is because of his preferential treatment of this part-time waitress. He seemed to look protectively at her as a parent would a child.
While thinking about all this I wrote down the information he’d asked for.
“Oh, it looks you live close to me.”
Rei mumbled, apparently watching what I wrote.
“Do you live by yourself?”
“Yes, I’m currently attending college.”
“Wow, oh really?! You know, I also live alone. In that area, there sure is a lot of apartments, and a few colleges nearby too. Is college life tough?”
“It’s tougher than when I was living with my parents. But in exchange, I get more freedom.”
“Also, the college I am going to is near this cafe, so I commute via train.”
To my delight, Rei showed me her amazing smile each time I spoke.
This girl is unbelievably cheerful and kind. Unable to look at her straight in the face after I realized the pen and memo pad I was using was hers, the more she smiled at me the harder I felt the need to look away and avoid eye contact.
I did learn something important here though. I’d never imagined she lived in my neighborhood. It would be really bad if she happened to find me walking around half-asleep in a convenience store on a day off. I’d be too ashamed to face her.
Judging from the way she spoke, she didn’t seem like a student. I had estimated her age to be around the same as mine, but apparently this was a faulty assumption.
“Ok, I’m done. Here is my information.”
“Thank you very much.”
I closed the memo pad and made a great effort to somehow avoid touching her hand as I returned it along with the pen.
“All right, this completes the paperwork. I’m sorry for giving you so little time, but would you be able to start tomorrow?”
“Yes, I don’t have any lectures tomorrow, so that will be fine.”
“Really? In that case, I’ll see you around noon here tomorrow! I’ll prepare your work clothes, so you don’t need to wear anything special!”
With a look of utter enjoyment, she raised the hem of her apron and swayed it back and forth in front of me. Along with the feeling that something wasn’t quite right, a doubt came to mind which I voiced to her.
“I’m sure I’m wrong about this, but there’s no way you are going to make me wear a maid outfit, right?”
“Of…Of course not. It won’t be a maid outfit.”
“Did I happen to just avert a major crisis?”
Judging from the way she was covering her face with her apron and looking away, it appears I did in fact just avert a major gender crisis. Oh, I get it–Maybe she simply has modern beliefs on sexuality. Her original intention to recommend a maid outfit for me was most likely an effort to break down the wall between the sexes. At least for the time being I’ll go with that interpretation.
“A…Anyway, I’ll prepare your clothes by tomorrow, so just bring your smile with you. Although I am not saying the work is going to be easy…”
“I know that. I’ll keep it in mind.”
“…I greatly appreciate your prompt understanding.”
I detected a hint of annoyance in her response. Seeing this sudden change of attitude I couldn’t help but break out laughing, which caused her smile to return. I knew it – she looked best with a smile. In my entire life, I’ve never met a single person for whom any expression but a smile just doesn’t seem right. Her smile is the heart of her charm, attracting others as it did me.
After talking a little more, I left the cafe, sent off by her smile. To be honest, leaving her was the last thing I wanted to do, but when I thought about how I’d be seeing her frequently, I realized it wasn’t a big deal–at least that is what I told myself as I walked to the station. The image of her cheerfully waving goodbye with an expression of longing was burned in my memory, raising my pulse every time I recalled it.
I boarded a moderately crowded uptown train and was lucky enough to get an end seat. As I basked in the rays of the autumn sunset I finally understood the implications of my course correction which had led me to the cafe.
Without much trouble – or should I say without much thought – I had taken a big step. This was a step in both the course of my life and in my growth as a human being. The extraordinary experience I had just moments ago would, starting tomorrow, become a usual part of my daily life. When I thought about that, I couldn’t help but grin to myself. I quickly buried my face in my backpack.
I’m going to make this work.
I realized that whenever I thought this, her smile always came to mind.