The war has robbed me at least a decade of my life. If it weren’t for my passion for ramen, I would be discovered in the gutters, patiently waiting until my last breath expires. Though quaint, my diner is home to women and men of the night. I like to work against the tide which was why my opening hours are from 12 midnight until 5 in the morning. While the rest of the world is already tucked in bed, I cater to the few who are restless and seeking solace in a hot bowl of ramen.
It’s funny how you can easily get people to open up through inebriation or thorough meal satisfaction. Ferdinand Winter is one of my loyal customers and comes through the door 2am on the dot. Although he’s a nine-to-fiver, the writer in him stirs him at 2 in the morning for a quick inspiration run. When done in vain, he rests at my diner in the presence of his fond order, Chow Mein Rice. I’ve only ramen in my menu but customers are free to request for any dish as long as my kitchen has the ingredients.
The only son to parents who run a successful chain of retail stores, Ferdinand never shared their passion for it. While Mr. and Mrs. Winter take pleasure in waging wars with their competitors, their son worked in the newspaper business. Print is a dying medium, Mr. Winter would retort everytime Ferdinand would visit during weekends. You should be training to take over the empire. Mrs. Winter would nod in agreement and chime in, We’re not getting any younger too.
Ferdinand hated the word “empire”. It felt exclusive, selfish, and arrogant. Appetite was at a loss with every visit but the diner stood as his beacon of hope. As expected, the wooden doors would reveal his frustrated face at 2am. As soon as the aroma of the Chow Mein Rice wafted in the air, all worries are washed away. He lights up and so do I.
I didn’t get to attend college but I’m an avid reader myself. Camus and Kafka are personal favourites, while Fern held Fitzgerald and Wolfe dear to him. We’d exchange favourite passages, drop in a fact or two, and challenge each other to read a best-loved novel of the other with his every visit. After serving in the army, I spent most of my days in the library or visiting thrift stores. It was my Chow Mein Rice.
Fern often wondered about the scar that ran from the side of my forehead to my cheekbone. Every time he asked, my story was different. I got it when I was a child because I fell down the stairs. I slept with a woman when I was 21 and she slashed my face with a butter knife. Due to scented candle fascination, burning hot wax dripped on my face one fine day because why not? He’d roll his eyes and eventually gave up the query altogether. In the midst of cooking his order, I’d chuckle under my breath. War changes people. Every type of ghost, be it a person or a memory, wears you like a glove. Although the diner is my salvation, people like Fern can help mend unseen wounds.
“It’s tough holding on to a dream while spending most of one’s hours doing something else,” Fern sighed. He placed his spoon and fork on the top right side of the plate and drank the last of his coffee. It was almost 3:30am. The newspaper’s call time was at 7. Just as he was about to head home, I told him, “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer”. Camus is a friend, and so am I”. A gentle smile appeared on his lips, “Also, “Loneliness is and always has been the central and inevitable experience of every man”. The greatest people thrive in the thrills. I might as well pretend until it’s true”.
Fern waved goodbye and exited the diner. It will be 12 hours until I see my friend again. Until then, on I continue with the ramen cooking with a little bit of West Egg on the side.