previous: Run it! ch13: Balls
I was more than ready for the final decision. With trembling hands, I watched as my mother returned to her seat. She took the long way, around the opposite side of the table, as to avoid Aunt Erica and Uncle Akira. It was almost funny; win or lose, my mother’s vote was the most important thing in the world.
She sat at the judging table with her usual poise and grace. Her eyes briefly glanced at Akira, as if pretending to ignore the fact that he was glaring at her. I could see the sadistic joy in her eyes, at the sight of him clearly still in pain from her well placed hit. My mother turned to me and smiled, as Principal Sam took to the mic. “Ladies, Gentleman students and faculty, now that everything has calmed down it is time to announce the final votes of our esteemed judging panel. Professor Hayama, please begin.”
Akira attempted to stand, still holding the plastic blue ice pack to his groin. I had to assume that, seeing himself on camera is what resulted in him deciding to sit instead. “My vote is for Prayikina,” he said, quickly. “With your use of spices, you have made me truly proud.”
When the giggles subsided, Hillary Arato went next. “My vote is also for Prayikina. Your ability to elevate a simple street food to such a work of art is truly inspiring.”
That was kind of a kick to the gut. I’d assumed the woman who made her fortune with holistic medicine would appreciate the artistry of my dish. But then again, she always did have a thing for Aunt Erica. Up next was Gigi’s dad.
With Tomas Aldini being an Italian food expert his vote was a wild card. “I too vote for Prayikina…”
My mind zoned out for the rest of his speech. I’m sure he was kind, polite and fair, but I was so screwed. I honestly didn’t care who won but to lose by a huge margin would be more than a little embarrassing.
“You people are morons!” Slate Mimasaka shouted. Standing up, he gave his best ‘angry pro-wrestler’ impression. “Prayikina made an eggroll. Grant it, her dish was the best rolled egg I’d ever had in my life, but the fact remains: her concept was something a toddler could come up with. Elena Rose made a masterpiece; her dish captured the fishing culture of an entire nation. My vote is for Elena!”
An entire nation? I couldn’t help but smile through nervous tears. “Thank you.”
“I agree,” Megan added in her usual sweet tone. “Elena Rose’s presentation was stunning and her use of subtle seafood flavors created a truly awe-inspiring culinary experience. So, my vote is for Elena as well.”
Next was my mom. She pursed her lips, as if taking a moment to consider her answer. “My vote is for Elena,” she said in a calm, deadpan tone. “For logical reasons; her artistry and technical ability is clearly superior.” She then turned to Principal Sam.” I guess it all comes down to you. Just remember Elena is your goddaughter.”
“So is Prayikina!” Aunt Erica shouted.
My cousin looked appropriately embarrassed. “Oh God, Mom.”
Principal Sam stood up, waving his hand to silence the crowd. “It’s the truth. I’ve known both of you, your entire lives. You are the children of my closest friends,” he nodded with a smile. “And your mothers.”
I laughed so hard I didn’t even get a chance to glance at my mom’s reaction.
“I’m kidding, ladies!” Principal Sam paused to allow the audience to catch their breath. “But if either of you, upon hearing my verdict or for my previous statement, try to ring my family jewels, rest assured actions will ensue.”
Praykina giggled, “I kinda want to see that.”
“You want to see Principal Sam get punched in the balls or fight our moms?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied with a smirk.
I had to admit, I did too.
Principal Sam cleared his throat in a way only a disappointed father could. “Ladies, you know you’re both still wearing mics.”
This caused us to laugh even harder. “My apologies, Sir,” I said with a curtsey, like a proper medieval princess.
Principal Sam laughed right along with us. “Prayikina-June, I see so much of Akira in you.”
“It’s the hair,” Kiki replied directly in to her mic. She had her father’s grey-white-blonde hair (a color that should not exist in nature.) And said hair seemed to fall in place with a rugged elegance akin to something out of a high fashion magazine.
The crowd erupted in laughter, with some whistling and cheering. “We love you Kiki!”
“It’s more than that, Prayikina. Beyond looks, you have your father’s determination, with your mother’s iconic grace.”
Prayikina bowed her head. “Thank you, Principal Sammy.”
“And Elena, in you I see your father’s fiery spirit. Everything he did he gave it his all, I know he would be so proud of you. But you also have your mother’s creativity. Your presentation is a work of art.”
“Thank you,” I said softly. “That truly means a lot.”
“For those reasons my decision is not an easy one. My vote, the winner of the Autumn finals is –”
I already knew. This was a moment fifteen years in the making. I’d heard a few different stories from various people; my parents, Aunt Erica, Uncle Akira and even my grandparents. Over the years I’d put it all together in my mind, to create the ultimate fairytale.
Fifteen years ago:
Akira burst into the operating room in green scrubs. Aunt Erica was fully conscious, having been put under only partial anesthesia in preparation for a c-section. “Akira where were you!” she cried.
Akira held her hand. “I’m so sorry. I was a coward.”
This was the story, according to Aunt Erica. It was something she once told me in confidence. The lead doctor brought Akira up to speed; the baby was partially breached, but worse the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck. The other surgeon was already removing the baby from Aunt Erica’s womb. That was when the big question was posed, “We are going to attempt to control the bleeding, to save your wife’s uterus, but her body is severely compromised.”
Yes, they were asking if he was willing to sacrifice Erica’s life to try and save her fertility. Instead of asking for his wife’s opinion he answered immediately, “I want you to save my wife.”
Akira gripped his wife’s hand. He was clearly fighting back emotion. “If we can’t have any more children we could always adopt.”
“Any more children?” That was the part Erica clung to.
“Listen to me,” Akira said as he removed his glove, placing his hand to hers. “No matter what happens, this baby; she’s our daughter.”
His words allowed Erica to remain calm. She knew of his spirituality, his faith, and devotion. Akira had been born on the streets of India, and survived for nearly eight years before getting adopted. And June hadn’t even came to India to adopt a child. A homeless little boy with hair the color of clouds, had just been there at the right time to save her from getting ripped off in a market stall. Life happens for a reason.
Aunt Erica knew she would survive, and she would see her baby, because Akira would be there to fight for his family. “I trust you.”
When the surgeon removed the baby, the little girl’s chest was spasming, she was gasping but no noise was coming from her lungs. “Start a tubal incubation,” the doctor instructed.
“No!” Akira shouted.
Erica was confused. Was he seriously saying no to the medical professional?
“With all due respect, Mr., Hayama, your daughter’s airway is compromised.”
Erica could hear his voice but she could not comprehend what he was asking. “You want them to cut a hole in our baby’s neck?”
“Yes, I’ve seen this before.”
“What exactly have you seen?” Erica asked. She felt like she was having a panic attack; the man she loved was acting like a crazy person, but she wanted so badly to have faith in him.
“Growing up on the streets of Calcutta, I witnessed many women giving birth in huts and alleyways. I know this will work.” The Doctor did as Akira asked making an incision into the baby’s neck. The spasms slowed, but so did her heartbeat. Her vitals were failing.
Akira started chest compressions. “No, please no!”
“Akira, let the doctors do their jobs!” Erica shouted. In her current state, she was in no position to stop him.
“No!” Akira held his daughter’s limp body as he pulled out a cinnamon stick from the pendent he wore around his neck. Ever since he was a child, he always found comfort in cinnamon. It reminded him of home. The item represented both his Indian heritage and was the first spice his adopted mother gifted to him. He stroked the baby’s cheek. “Please, my baby, if you stay with me and your mother, I will teach you everything I know. You will become an amazing chef and live a life of luxury. All you have to do is breathe.”
The baby turned her head, placing her nose to the cinnamon stick. Her breathing began to stabilize. Akira grabbed a bandage covering the hole in the baby’s neck. He didn’t even have to spank the baby: the moment he moved the cinnamon she started to cry. “You’re mine, my daughter, my baby.” Akira’s voice trailed off as his eyes filled with tears. He placed the little girl in Erica’s arms.
Had she been able, Aunt Erica would have punched her husband in the face. “You idiot, moron, how dare you place your child at risk!”
Then the little girl opened her bright green eyes; Akira’s eyes. Erica sobbed as the baby reached out her tiny hand, “but then again Our daughter is so lucky to have a father like you.”
“And she is truly blessed to have you as a mother,” Akira said, holding his beloved wife close.
The doctors thankfully had been able to save Aunt Erica’s uterus and her life. Soon, she was finally strong enough to hold the baby on her own. Akira leaned over, lovingly resting his head on her shoulder. That was when aunt Erica did what she’d wanted do to since witnessing her child nearly suffocate; she smacked Akira upside the head. “If you ever try anything that reckless ever again, I will cut off your balls!”
“Balls!” the baby squeaked (or so Akira claimed when I heard his side of the story.)
Either way, it was at this point of the story, Erica looked at her baby daughter’s precious face. “All drama aside, our little miracle still needs a name.”
Akira smiled, as he blinked tears from his eyes. “I always knew her name.”
“You did?” Erica looked at him, seeing as if for the first time, the strong, courageous man she fell in love with.
Akira looked into his daughter’s eyes. “I’ve had such big dreams about you. I want you to live a good life, to find joy and peace through prayer, faith, kindness, and compassion.” The baby gripped his finger it was as if she understood. “Our angel, our precious…”
Back in present day, the crowd roared as my cousin’s name lit up the screen. I patted her shoulder. “Congrats, Kiki.” We were instantly swarmed by press, fans and our fellow students, but both of us looked in the direction of the judges as my mother casually approached.
“Auntie Ali, please don’t punch me in the groin,” Kiki said with a pout, “studies have been shown that it does hurt females as well.”
“I would never, you are not the air-head that your father is, even with your earlier outburst.”
“What earlier outburst?” Aunt Erica asked, appearing out of nowhere.
“I will leave that to your daughter to explain,” my mom replied with a smile.
“I’ll tell you later,” Prayikina said sweetly. It was enough to get her mother to leave. My cousin immediately turned back to me. “I’m not telling her later. You ready for our number?”
“You two are going to sing?” my mother asked.
“You’re going to love it,” Prayikina said excitedly, skipping off before explaining further.
“Of course, you’re leaving,” I muttered. “Mom, I know you’re disappointed…”
“I’m not disappointed. I am anything but disappointed. I love you so much Elena and I am so proud.”
“Mom?” My mother showing affection was strange new territory.
“Just know I love you,” she said, as she nervously dusted off her suit. “I know it’s something I haven’t said enough throughout your life.”
“I love you too, Mom,” I gave a quick hug, knowing I needed to get to my place on stage. We had something planned, a little musical project to celebrate a world beyond the walls of the academy.
“Come on Elena!” Prayikina shouted, “We have it all set up!”
“I gotta go,” I said with a smile as Prayikina pulled me back to the main stage.
Giovanna, Kyle, Jamie, and Prayikina all had microphones. There was a chorus of other dorm residents as the backup. And quiet little Moma held her violin.
I smiled back at my mother as I unpacked my own instrument. The electric violins set the beat as Jamie took to the mic. “Principal Sammy, the kids of Polar Star Dormitory- we got a little something to say…” he clapped his hands over his head like a true Rockstar. “You ready? Let’s go!”
Praykina lead the audience in a rhythmic clap. “Yeah, for those of you that want to know what we’re all about. It’s ten percent luck, twenty percent skill fifteen percent concentrated power of will. It’s five percent pleasure, fifty percent pain; a hundred percent reason to remember the name!”
Jamie slapped his hands as the choir joined in. “Remember the name!” Clap! “Remember the name!” Clap! “Take it, Elena!”
“Alicia Nakiri, you know her style is rad; a science superstar: she’s a real bad-ass.” I broke into a violin solo, combining layers of digital sound to mimic multiple instruments composing a single face-melting sound.
“Sakaki brings the party, Yoshino brings the flame, Arato’s at the top of her game. Sadatsuka, that girl’s is keeping it real a foodie pioneer, yeah she knows the deal.” Yes, we were name dropping as many people from our parent’s graduating class, to the beat of a club remix. “Megan Tadokoro she’s the queen the sea. and Slate Mimasaka he’s as sweet as can be. Take it Prayikina!”
My cousin picked up the next verse, looking as cool and confident as ever. “You know Akira Hayama; he doesn’t need his name up in lights. The Indian prince, he’s the king of the spice.”
The beat went back to the choir. “Remember the name! Remember the name!”
“Erica Nakiri the princess of power with the help of her crew, she escaped the ivory tower. The mistress of flavor she’s rocking the god tongue. When it comes Michelin stars, they say my mom is the chosen one.” She danced for a few beats before tossing the next verse. “Back to you, Elena Rose!”
“Remy Moceanu who the hell is he anyway? He never really talks much. Never concerned with status but still leaving them star struck.” We were making our parts up as we went along and I could have easily gone on longer. “Humbled through opportunities given despite the fact, that many misjudge him because he makes a living from writing raps.” What did that even mean? Was I thinking about my dad, or Jamie? “Next up, Giovanna!”
Gigi bobbed her head to the beat, as if trying to buy time to think up her next line. “Tomas Aldini he’s sick, got him out the dryer he’s hot. A hard-working Italian living out the name. Don’t hate on the player, cause he’s the top of his game.” Gigi threw up a peace sign, looking like a true Italian runway model. “Miss Mito, she’s a fighter she’s bringing the heat. Taking hold of the industry like it’s her own cut of meat.”
I coulden’t help but giggle at the fact that the line in dedication to her boyfriend’s mother seemed to be better rehearsed than the one for her own father. Then again, not too many words rhyme with Italian.
Moma, with her small voice, took the next verse, “Principal Sammy, he’s not your average kid on the block. He knows how to work with what he’s got, making his way to the top.” She paused as the cameras focused on her face, catching a hint of a smile. “He’s living proof, got him rocking the booth. He’ll get you buzzing quicker than a shot of vodka with juice.”
The crowd hollered and cheered so loud no one really noticed as Kiki and I doubled over with laughter.
“Him and his crew are known around as one of the best. Dedicated to what they do and give a hundred percent.” Moma ended her turn by blowing a kiss to her new fans. “Back to you, Jamie!”
Needless to say, Principal Sam was staring daggers at Jamie. The last verse would be sung by the entire choir.
“Sam Yukihira, shout out to your crew. You all paved the way for us to do what we do. Your friendship, your passion, your art
Principal Sammy you’re the beat of this school’s heart, peace out!”
The crowd roared with applause as we all took a bow together. Jamie took to the mic one last time. “Yeah! Make some noise for the graduates of the greatest generation!”
Prayikina put her arm around my shoulder. “Now that was fun!”
“Yeah,” I replied, completing the other half of the hug. “So, what’s next?”
“Internship applications, job placement,” Prayikina said as she stretched her back, letting her hair down.
“You really do look like your dad,” I muttered. “I mean that as a complement.”
“Oh I’m sure,” she giggled. “Listing this win as a bullet point on my resume is part of my future to-do list. And I’m certain my mother will not let me forget. But that’s the future. Tonight, I just want to chill with my best friends.”
“And your boyfriend?” I asked.
My cousin’s eyes went wide with shock. “Um, yeah, Jamie can totally come too.”
“You dad is standing behind me, isn’t he?”
next: Run it ch 15