KOOMBACHA

by  George Solomou

As published in In Focus Vol. 10, No. 3, September 2013

“No way! You play that too? I never would have guessed!” said the waiter who was sitting opposite the tall blond sturdy man.

“Yeah. Hey, have you managed to get rid of the mushroom cloud in the last level? The one where the troll is throwing cabbage at you?”

“Of course! Right into the reverse world of Koumba-Cha!”

The man burst out in laughter; the girl next to him just went on looking frustrated.

“You know, George,” he said, “you’re pretty awesome too”.

“Yeah, yeah, I know, but not as awesome as an airline pilot!”

“Definitely. But hey…you dated Joanie as well,” he paused and both males on the table looked at her – she immediately stared down her boyfriend with a slanted look – “That must count for something.”

An elder man in a suit interrupted their discussion by coughing continuously next to the sitting waiter. George turned to him.

“A waiter will be with you shortly, sir,” he said and the man sighed and left without saying a word.

“Yeah, we dated for six years.”

“Really?” exclaimed the pilot, and turned to Joanie with a grin.

“Okay George, that’s enough,” said the girl, “where’s our food?”

“It’s coming”.

“Food, George. Now!” she said and slammed both hands, palms down, on the table.

He scoffed, got up and went for the kitchen.

“He seems like a pretty okay guy,” he heard her boyfriend say as he was leaving.

And George thought so too.

In the kitchen he almost collapsed on the floor.

“Dude!” shouted a bearded man in a hair net, “Where you been? Alfonso is gonna serve your brains for desert.”

“She’s here, man, she’s here!” said George. The man with the beard and the hair net grabbed him from the shoulders and shook him a couple of times while saying, “Who’s here man, speak!”

“Joan is here!”

The man stopped shaking him. He looked at him with a resigned expression and then slapped George hard across the face. As if nothing had happened, he turned back to a frying pan that had flames slowly emerging from its bottom.

“Steve, come on, man, help me out here,” said George.

“What do you need?” he replied without taking his eyes off the pan.

“Get the rat poison from the cupboard. She’s having the Risotto with Saffron. They’re about to send it in.”

“Sure,” he said, “take over, will you,” and gave him a wooden spoon and a nameless bottle with a light yellow liquid in it. “Steer, spray, steer, spray. It’s simple. You can’t mess it up.”

George’s eyes brightened and he smiled, “You’ll get the poison Steve? For real?”

“Yeah sure, Georgie boy, just hang in there buddy,” he said and left.

The kitchen wasn’t quiet, far from it. People were moving up and down in the enclosed space they had available. Some were shouting orders, others shouting for ingredients and the ones with white chef hats on them seemed to be shouting for the sake of it.

George didn’t pay much attention. He was hypnotized by his own circular motions of stirring the vegetables and the meat in the pan while spraying the dressing every eleven swings. He tried to remember the last time he saw Joan and how that worked out for him.

It was a Tuesday evening. He remembered that it was Tuesday because his Ninjas and Pirate society used to meet on Tuesdays, but that day it rained, and so they couldn’t follow through their plans of attacking each other in the tiny woodland next to their campus. The Pirate sect rejoiced about how water was their element, although they didn’t have a real ship but a paper one.

The Ninjas had found it hard to crawl silently in the mud but George knew the truth. He knew it because he was a Ninja-Pirate hybrid, spawned by a semi-goddess wolfmother in a dragon’s den five hundred years ago, or so he claimed, and the others went along, as others often do. The truth was that the Ninja uniforms were much more expensive, and their occupants being what they were, overgrown children that is, couldn’t wash the hard stains by simply throwing them in a machine.

It rained a lot that Tuesday. Kind of foreshadowing the events that would follow, he thought in retrospect. The rest of the gang – for they were a gang, the baddest, meanest ninja-kicking pirates in the world – decided to go to the president’s house to try out the new Sony console. A budging feeling in his stomach commanded him to do otherwise. He ate a burrito for lunch, that’s another thing he remembered. When he arrived home, he saw a car he didn’t recognize outside. He paid no attention and went straight for the toilet. When he ran out of toilet paper he tried calling for help and once he realized no one was coming to his aid, he walked, slowly out of the toilet and towards the kitchen where they kept the spare rolls underneath the sink. At that moment, and the moment before, and probably the moments that followed there was complete silence in the house, so he figured that his parents had left. He was mistaken.

Opening the kitchen door, with his pants around his ankles, and his linen pirate shirt hiding his crotch, he stumbled upon his parents and Joanie having tea. At first he gasped. Then he raged.

“What in the name of Yamato Bluebeard is going on here?” he shouted without paying attention to his current situation.

“Well, George,” his mother stood up and walked towards him placing her hand on his shoulder, “Joan kept in contact all this time. And she’s been visiting whenever she’s in town.”

“What?” he exclaimed.

“Nice to see you, George,” Joanie said in a cheerful manner.

“Stop pretending!” he shouted at her.

“Now, now, George,” his father said, “we like Joan. No need to act so immature.”

“Yes, honey. Be a man about it,” his mother said.

“She cheated on me with all of my friends, mom!”

“Well, she was too good for you anyway,” she replied while Joanie just sat there with a soft smile on her face.

“What?”

“It proves what a poor judge of character you are. Pick your friends better next time,” his father told him.

“So if my girlfriend cheats on me with my friends it means that I’m a poor judge of character?”

“For god’s sake, son, pull up your pants and stop being such a cry baby,” said his father.

The oil in the frying pan became so hot it caught fire, shaking George out of his daydream. Louis, the maître de, pushed him violently out of the oven’s way while spraying the pan with the extinguisher. He turned to George and with a constipated expression on his face told him: “Idiote.” Without paying any more attention, Louis rushed back to his post.

Stephen arrived to find his cooking dish covered in foam, and a confused George picking his nose, trying to get rid of all the burnt hair that inhabited it.

“Great,” he said, “thanks, dude. Here’s your poison,” he said and handed him a bottle of tequila.

“You know I don’t drink.”

“Yeah, but you’ll need it in a bit.”

“What for?” he said, finally getting up.

“Irene will ask you to deliver two cheesecakes to table 13, and place the one with the strawberry on the girl’s side.”

“But that’s Joanie’s table. She doesn’t eat strawberries.”

“Well, I guess the strawberry is to distinguish which one has the ring in it.”

People eating their food on the restaurant floor were startled by a high pitched scream that resembled an ambulance siren.  It could have been “Oh,” but it was definitely an overextended “No.” The clattering of pans and kitchenware followed as they hit the floor; noises of commotion resembling a street brawl were a prelude to a young flushed waiter rushing towards the dining area, only to be held back by two men in white, with hair nets on their heads.

He kept shouting to the direction of table 13: “I thought you were awesome, dude! How could you do this to me? How? Why? How?” They managed to pull him back into the kitchen, and a loud singular thump allowed silence to prevail for a few moments. Then a man with a French dialect shouted, “Cretin! You’re fired! You’re fired from all restaurants in block, hear me?”

Two hours later, Stephen’s shift ended. He used the back door to leave. In the alley, behind the restaurant, he could see what seemed like a homeless man clenching on a bottle of tequila.

“George?” he asked the figure covered in newspapers.

“Mmmm?” mumbled the shape on the floor.

“Go home.”

“Don’t have one.”

“I’m gonna call your dad to pick you up.”

“Go ahead. He called to ask if I could watch over the dog when he and mom go to Joan’s engagement party.”

“Wow,” said Stephen, “they booked it so soon?”

“No.”

“Oh,” said Stephen.

“He also said that they prefer Joanie over me.”

“Yeah, but that was so last year, dude. Grow up.”

“It still hurts!” he screamed and tried to throw his own shoe at Steve. The shoelace got caught on his hand and quickly hit George back in the face.

“It hurts even more now!”

“Come on buddy,” Stephen said and lifted him up. “Let’s go home.”

“I have no home,” he whimpered.

“You can sleep at my place tonight.”

There was a brief shiny glimpse in George’s eyes. “Thanks, dude, you’re a true friend,” he said slurring his words.

“You always were a poor judge of character.”

“I know.”

“And an idiot.”

“I know.”

The two figures walked off under the yellow street lights into the evening. The shorter one always stumbling, the other always picking him up. “Steve?” asked the former, “Yes, George?” replied the latter. “I forgive you for sleeping with her,” said George. “I know,” replied Steve.

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