Episode 3: Yukiko’s jobs
Yukiko Ohta juggled two jobs. One was a full-time job at a wine importer. She chose it because the company traded Italian wines. She was hardly a wine connoisseur, or even much of a wine drinker, but she loved hearing all the Italian words: Toscana, Nebbilo, Abboccato, Brunello di Montalcino. The sound of these words danced in her mind, reminding her of her boyfriend, Luka, and of their future reunion. She dreamed about being with him in an Italian villa somewhere in Sienna, narrow pointy trees lined in distance, full-bodied red wine in hand, speaking perfect Italian. But her job at this company was boring, reporting to a middle-aged Japanese man more suited to selling chicken than wine.
“Ohta san, it seems to me that you have a date tonight.”
Yukiko was ruthlessly shaken up from her sweet daydream. There was her boss in front of her, examining her outfit over his smudged reading glasses. He grinned at her as if he said something funny. His voice carried, and her coworkers stopped whatever they were doing midway and spectated that Yukiko would fight back as usual.
It was loud enough to kill the conversation. Yukiko stood up immediately, sending her chair farther away than she would normally. But she was wearing a nicer dress today. The other people held their breath.
“I have plans today after work, so I have to leave right at five. Whether I have a date or not is none of your business. Your comment could be interpreted as sexual harassment.”
She walked out while the eyes of everyone there followed her. There were two other women at the office, but they never talked back, instead only responding with nervous giggles. To Yukiko, the giggling was almost as bad as the boss’ comments.
She went to the bathroom and closed the door. She didn’t have a date, she had a job interview. She glanced at her watch, and seeing it was four forty-five, decided to spend the last fifteen minutes of the day in the bathroom getting ready.
A week before, Yukiko had had a second job at Himmel Bakery, which sold German breads and pastries. She got up at four o’clock in the morning and worked two hours before the wine job. On the job, she had to wear a baker’s apron and hat even though she wasn’t baking anything. It was just for show. She was a cashier. She was also in charged with replenishing the baked goods in the display baskets. All of them had German names written in Japanese. At first, these names were hard to remember, let alone what they were and how much they cost. But once she memorized them, the work itself became repetitive. There was a deep-fried round bread covered with sugar, but it wasn’t a ‘donut.’ When customers asked her what they were, which happened quite often, she didn’t bother to pronounce its German name. She just said, “they’re just like donuts.” She liked to get to the point whenever she could.
Every single day, as soon as the bakery opened, customers in the neighbourhood flocked to the shop. These early morning birds were housewife types, some of them no older than her — mid-twenties. One of them would often make an announcement; “Maybe I’ll break away from my usual and try something new.” But Yukiko knew they would pick exactly the same bread as before. It’s hard to break away from a habit. Especially in the morning. While waiting for her to make a decision, Yukiko would steal a glance at her wallet, a big one with monogram, and her hands with their meticulously polished finger nails and shiny diamond rings. Lady, stay in your comfort zone. Many customers of this bakery were well-to-do like this lady with a big wallet.
Yukiko used to know this type of women back in high school. It was right before the summer recess. In the classroom, some popular girls leaned back against the chairs and crossed their legs. The sunlight made them bright. They were talking about the vacation plans with their parents. The exotic sounding places were popped up against the voices of the teenage girls. Yukiko tried to imagine where these places were on the globe. Suddenly, one of them directed a question at her.
“What’s your plan?”
Yukiko wasn’t even in that circle. And she didn’t have any vacation plans. She was caught off guard and flinched.
“Not much.” Yukiko snapped at them. She hated the ignorant girl for including her in the conversation.
Suddenly, this lady buying German pastries became Yukiko’s enemy.
The bakery job didn’t pay very well. Her goal was to be with Luka in Italy, but with her poor wages the job didn’t contribute much. There was one small perk with this job though. One free German sandwich to take away. After working two hours in the morning, she would snatch a sandwich and head to the wine job at nine o’clock.
Some coworkers noticed Yukiko’s lunch was always the same. She told them she liked these sandwiches. But she didn’t tell them about her second job at the bakery. Biting down the sandwich, she tried to convince herself to keep this second job. If she had to buy lunch at a restaurant, she would fall even further behind in her goal. She was always thinking about ways to save money, even if only a few dollars.
One night she was on video-chat with Luka and got into an argument. He was complaining how he had been unable to find a good job in Italy. In fact, since he had left Canada, he hadn’t been able to find a job at all. He claimed that Tokyo was a better job market and implied she was lucky. But she had noticed his incessant refusal to take any job, always blaming the economy.
“Just accept a job. It doesn’t have to be a good one. I don’t like mine, but it pays my bills.”
Luka always looked uncomfortable when she brought up the job search. “I don’t know what I want,” he said. “But I do know what I don’t like. Why should I waste my time on something I don’t like?”
His words unhinged Yukiko.
“I’m juggling two jobs I don’t like. Are you telling me I’m wasting my time?”
Then their conversation turned into a quarrel. She said he was selfish. He accused her being too practical. And then she said that she was practical for good reasons and that she had a goal.
“I wanna go to Italy to be with you.”
It puzzled her why he couldn’t see that. She couldn’t remember what he had said after. All she remembered was they continued their argument for the next thirty minutes. Then he finally said he was looking forward to seeing her in Italy. She felt happy to hear that all the same. After he signed off from the video chat, she thought he should have said that much earlier in their conversation. She should have cornered him before he went off-line. But it was too late now. She stared at the blank display for a long time. Normally, she would feel happy and sad at the same time when they signed off. But this time, she was left with a bad feeling about this. She rubbed her face and smoothed it out with her hands. The next day, she told the bakery she was quitting.
Soon after that, Yukiko saw a hand-written sign on the wall of a building — Help Wanted, Un Chat Errant, and a phone number. She walked by this place every day to go to work and back, but never paid attention to it. She vaguely remembered that this place was a bar. It was a non-descript building with an entrance on the mezzanine floor. She stepped forward to take a picture of the sign with her smartphone for later.