Even though the café was a small one, between cooking and running the front by herself, Asako was having a hard time of it. Since her husband Albert had died, not only had the work become more difficult, but the joy was slowly going out of it as well. She still liked talking to customers. Tonight, sadly, she couldn’t even do that. There’d been no one in since dinnertime. Maybe she should just lock up and go home.
Just as she was taking off her apron, she heard the jingle of the little doorbell out front. Quickly retying the apron, she came out from the kitchen. A pleasant looking young Haole man wearing a neon Aloha shirt sat at the small counter.
He smiled up at her as she came through the curtain separating the kitchen from the front.
“Good evening,” said Asako, bowing slightly as she came to a stop in front of him. “Welcome to the Kaka‘ako Café. My name is Asako. Would you like some water or coffee to start?”
He nodded up at her, still smiling, said both would be fine.
“If you don’t mind my saying so,” said Asako, “I’ve never seen an Aloha shirt so bright as yours.” She smiled.
The young man laughed, admitted that he was a tourist, and obviously one with bad taste in clothes.
“Oh no,” said Asako, putting the coffee and water in front of him, “it’s actually a nice pattern, but the color is, well, very unusual.”
The young man laughed again and thanked her for being so kind in her comment.
“What brings you to Hawai‘i?” Asako asked, placing a container of sugar and creamer packets in front of him.
He shared the details of his business there.
“Oh my,” she said, “that sounds like quite an undertaking?”
He said it was a big job, that sometimes it overwhelmed him, said in fact that he needed to be moving on quickly because he still had a lot to do tonight.
“Oh of course,” Asako said, “I’m sorry. What can I get you to eat?”
He asked for a burger and fries.
“Coming right up,” she said, pushing the curtain aside as she moved back into the kitchen. She was glad she hadn’t closed up before he came in.
She prepared the burger and fries quickly. Bringing them to the man, she asked if he would like more coffee. He said he would.
After she’d refilled the cup, she stood there and watched him eat. He said nothing, but wolfed down the food eagerly, so Asako did all the talking.
“Until last year, my husband and I ran this place together. We never made a lot of money, but we did put our son through college and a roof over our head. There isn’t much more that we could have wished for. The work here always gave us great pleasure, and our regular customers were like our extended family.”
The man nodded and finished eating quickly.
“Would you like any pie or some other kind of desert?” Asako asked.
He said he would love some pie.
“I have coconut cream pie, and I also have apple. I make them both myself.”
The young man said he’d go for the coconut cream.
Asako went into the back to get it. She was so much happier now, so glad she’d stayed open. It was good to talk to people. For one thing, it kept her from missing her husband too much.
Carefully cutting an extra-large slice of pie, she placed it on a dish and carried it through the curtain to the front.
She stopped short. The room was empty, the young man gone. Asako glanced over at the cash register. It was closed.
Then she noticed a small note tucked under the young man’s plate. She picked it up and read it.
I’m sorry, was written in a crimped hand.
Asako looked at the front door, back at the note, and then placed it in her pocket. She collected the dishes, wiped down the counter, washed the dishes, gave the kitchen one last look, then the counter and the tables. The last thing she did was tally the day’s receipts and prepare a bank deposit slip.
Shutting the lights, she pulled the front door closed behind her. It was a good thing to be able to feed a hungry person.