A blassnaught had come to visit Nicor Noodles. This blassnaught guy seemed less belligerent, drunk, and overall raucous than the blassnaughts who ever bothered to visit this district. If anything, he looked ready to apologize.
“I…I was the one who…threw the brick.” the blassnaught said. His large hands were shaking and he avoided Tito’s gaze. He looked down at Tito, their eyes locked. Tito didn’t respond for a moment, staring at the tall figure in front of him. “I was goaded into it,” the blassnaught said with his eyes closed tight. “It’s a really long story, but hear me out.” The blassnaught had his head tilted toward the floor, his fists clenched. Tito had every right to go over and take further action, but he felt his apprehension fade at the blassnaught’s display of submission.
“..Sit down,” Tito said. “Tell me what happened.” The blassnaught sat down on one of the stools at the front bar, his chest flexing as he crossed his arms. The guy could probably squeeze Tito’s head off if he really wanted to. He hoped it wouldn’t have to come to that. He was already pushing it by letting a blassnaught in here, never mind the one who threw the brick. “So, how the hell do you decide to throw a brick through a random person’s window?” Tito asked. “Tell me that, at least.”
“It was my teammate, Trem. We were on the way back from wrestling practice and he went on about how much of a wimp I was during our bouts. He was like ‘You couldn’t hit a window in this shitty district if you stood a whole block away.’ He could’ve left it at that, but he picked up a brick from an alleyway and handed it to me. I knew he wouldn’t let me off the hook, so I just closed my eyes and…threw the brick. I didn’t expect it to actually hit the window. And I’m sorry for even trying.” The blassnaught closed his eyes tight and shook his head. “I’m so sorry I did that to you.” Tito stared at the upset blassnaught. He had never seen a blassnaught act repentant over anything before.
“But you came back,” Tito said. “Are you for real? Or are you covering for one of your buddies?”
“It was me,” the blassnaught emphasized. “You have my word on that.”
“Okay, so it was you,” Tito continued. “It takes a lot of guts to come back after doing something like that.”
“I had to,” the blassnaught said. “I couldn’t leave something like that hanging.” Tito imagined himself hanging from the back of his shirt as he was held up in the air like a punching bag for this guy and his friends, who were probably waiting around the corner.
“Well, thanks for coming,” Tito said, throwing up his hands. “So, now what? We’re a couple hundred credits in debt. You wanna tell me how we’re gonna cover that?”
“l’ll pay it back,” the blassnaught said. He looked over at the entranceway, which looked just a bit taller than his relaxed height. “I don’t have the credits right now, but I’ll work here every day to pay it back. I’ll work a double shift every day if I have to.” The blassnaught stared at Tito, who looked befuddled by the blassnaught’s offer. This was more than surreal.
“Hold up,” Tito said. The blassnaught flinched, expecting a reproach. “Before we make a contract or something; what’s your name?” The blassnaught opened his eyes and extended his elbow to Tito.
“Rassqa,” he said. “Call me Henke.” Tito embraced his elbow, feeling the sheer strength of the blassnaught. It made Tito shiver. If this guy was a wrestler, that elbow could probably give a good choke-hold, enough to leave a mark.
“Henke,” Tito began, “You really want to work in a noodle shop?” Henke thought to himself for a second.
“I think it’s worth a try,” he said.
“It’s worth a couple hundred credits, I know that much.” Tito said, folding his arms. “You know the area?”
“I’ve been down here with friends to spar. I’ve always seen this place from the outside, with all the people lining up. It’s pretty cozy in here.”
“Thanks,” Tito said. “So, instead of coming in for noodles, you threw a brick?” There was a pause. Henke covered his face with his hand.
“I’m really sorry it had to come to this,” Henke said.
“We didn’t even get to put up a help-wanted sign,” Tito said, scratching his neck. “You kind of made your own.” Henke smiled to himself before rubbing his forehead.
“I’ve never worked in a kitchen before, but I’ll give it a try,” Henke said. Tito peered over at the kitchen entrance.
“Will you even fit in the kitchen?” Tito wondered.
“I dunno, Tito,” a voice said. “Why don’t you tell me?” Otto came out of the office and leaned against the threshold. Tito and Henke froze up.
“Dad, this is…” Tito glanced over at Henke, whose eyes were wide.
“Rassqa,” Henke began. “Henke Rassqa.”
Henke reached out his large hand toward Otto, who didn’t take it. He just folded his arms.
“You threw the brick, huh?” Otto asked. “I guess my hunch was right.” There was silence.
“That’s not fair, Dad,” Tito said.
“It any more fair that my window got smashed?” Otto shot back. Tito and Otto stared at each other while Henke’s eyed darted between the two. Otto took Tito aside for a moment. “Is this guy serious in comin’ here? If I knew any better, I’d push him into traffic.”
“He said he was sorry,” Tito said in a raised voice.
“Sorry that he messed with a Nicor,” Otto said through gritted teeth. Tito put his hand on Otto’s shoulder.
“He doesn’t look like he wants to do anything else to us,” Tito pressed.
“Maybe he’ll bring his friends in to do a little more damage,” Otto said. Tito sighed.
“He wants to pay us back in labor.” Otto’s eyes widened before he started to laugh.
“You kidding? What’re people gonna think of a blassnaught cleaning tables? Doin’ dishes?”
“He’s gonna be like a gaur in a fine china place. One slip and he’ll break half of our bowls.”
“Not if he’s careful.”
“No matter how careful he thinks he’s gonna be, one thing’s not gonna change. He’s gonna be a blassnaught in the middle of people he’s supposed to be against.”
“Supposed to?” Tito shot back. “What does that even mean?” Otto closed his eyes tight and grumbled to himself.
“You know it better than you think you do,” Otto said. Tito looked over at Henke, who avoided Tito’s glance and started to get up from his chair. Tito grabbed his dad’s shoulders.
“You’re not making any sense,” Tito said. “Give the guy a chance.”
Otto shook his head. Tito saw that Henke was almost out the door and reached out to him.
“Wait!” Tito said, following him outside. He ran out to catch up with Henke, who started down the street. Henke looked back and frowned before ignoring Tito and going onward. “Hey, c’mon,” Tito continued. Henke stopped and stared at the ground. “Don’t be afraid of my dad,” Tito said. “That’s just how he is.”
“That’s how everyone is,” Henke said in a low voice. “Everyone’s always looking at me like that. It’s not even any better when I’m in my own neighborhood.” Henke put his hands in his pockets. “Why do I deserve any better?”
“Why’re they doing that?” Tito said. “Honestly, the fact that you came all the way here says a lot already.” Tito and Henke stared at each other. “That’s better than any idiot who walks in and wants a job on the spot,” Tito concluded.
“That happens?” Henke asked.
“Aw, yeah. But you’ll be okay. Better a brick through a window behind us than a lifetime of dirty looks on the street,” Tito said. He patted Henke on the arm. “Now, c’mon, let’s go and talk to my dad again.”
They went back inside, where Otto was waiting. Tito opened his mouth to speak.
“Buddy,” Otto interrupted, his arm raised. He looked like he was going to say something meaningful and thought out, but he dropped his arm to his side and sighed. “I…guess we could use some extra help out front. You ain’t gonna fit in the kitchen with all that bulk. Get what I mean?” Henke took a moment before nodding.
“Yeah,” Henke said. “I get it.” Otto nodded, standing up straight.
“You know how to bus tables?”
“Ray’ll school you.” Otto laughed to himself. “Wait ‘till he sees that he’s gonna have a blassnaught working for him as a waiter. People’re gonna tell all their friends!”
“We’ll have to impress them,” Tito said. Otto slapped a hand on his back.
“And if we don’t, hey, money back guarantee!” They all shared a laugh before Otto offered his elbow to Henke.
“We’ll set you up on a trial basis. Come in first thing tomorrow morning,” Otto said. “ Tito’ll show you how it’s done around here.” He offered his elbow, which Henke embraced. “Otto’s my name, by the way. Consider Tito your supervisor and me the big boss. Figuratively speaking.” When they disengaged, Otto grabbed his elbow and winced. “Heck’ve’a grip you’ve got, kid,” he said, smiling.
“It’s a way to see someone’s strength,” Henke said. “I hope I didn’t overdo it on my end.”
“Nah, keep it that way!” Otto exclaimed. “You’re making an impression.”
“I’ll make a better one tomorrow,” Henke said.
“Let’s hope to Ragna you do.”
“I won’t let you down,” Henke said as he left the store. Otto folded his arms and stared at Tito for a few seconds.
“You don’t know how lucky you are,” Otto said. “I could’a just swept his legs and then hightailed it down the street. ‘Stead, I was nice.” He looked at the fixed window. “At least we got it behind us, now.” He stared at the ceiling. “Wait ‘till Ray hears that I hired a blassie…”
“Mind if I work tables tomorrow?” Tito asked. “I want to ease Henke into the flow of this place. Can’t do something like that if I’m stuck in the kitchen.” Otto scoffed.
“Sure,” Otto said. “Not like people’ll be focusing on his performance, if you know what I mean.” He grinned to himself. “Poor guy wouldn’t even fit in the kitchen if he tried. ‘Least he’ll be able to balance all of our bowls on his bigass shoulders. Lunk might trip over his own feet and crash ‘em to the ground–”
“Will y’quit it?” Tito said. “He’ll be fine. We’ll just need to make some…adjustments.”
“Like a bigger ceiling?” Otto cracked. “I should get ‘im to replace all of the lightbulbs before we open. Test his fine motor skills.” Otto threw up his hands and headed out of the restaurant. “His aim’s good, as we know.”
Tito was left alone, staring out of the restaurant window. He blocked the sun from his eyes with the side of his palm. His eyes were starting to droop again, though it was still the afternoon. He felt a pressure under his forehead. He rubbed his head with his palm, trying to relieve the pressure. There was something about where he was at that moment that was almost splitting his head open. He needed relief.
Tito locked up the restaurant and headed up to his room. His vape pen should have been charging on the windowsill, ready to be used. He hoped that he could get in a vape session before he had to go see Uncle Keet for his whiptail lessons.
Tito opened the door to find that somebody was already in his room. That somebody was Uncle Kitso, who was asleep in Tito’s usual smoking spot. He was lightly snoring, resting his bare feet up on the wood of the window frame. Though it was still very warm out, he had a deep orange scarf wrapped around his neck. Kitso’s mouth was half open, his tongue sticking out as his black-tipped swished back and forth. Tito rapped a couple of times on his door, making Kitso snap out of his nap. He looked over at Tito with wide, bloodshot eyes before his face settled back on his perpetual half-asleep appearance.
“Ey,” Kitso said with a lazy wave. “You up for a toke?”
Tito had every right to kick his uncle out of his room, but just shook his head.
“If you’ve got something new,” Tito said. “Make sure the window is open.” Kitso nodded and got up from his reclining position, pushing the window open.
“You bet,” Kitso said, opening the window wide. He reached down for his travel sack and pulled out a bag of blue and white powder. He held it up so that Tito could inspect it. The powder didn’t have any big pieces and it smelled light and pleasant.
“What’s this?” Tito asked, sitting next to Kitso on the windowsill.
“Blue Twilight,” Kitso said. “Perfect for late mornings.”
“I’ve never heard anyone use that phrase,” Tito said, twirling his vaporizer in his hands. “I’ve heard ‘late evenings’, but not ‘late mornings.’”
“However you split it, it’s always time to toke,” Kitso said, handing Tito a clump of Blue Twilight. Tito and Kitso loaded the powder into their vaporizers. Tito’s short, compact vaporizer looked funny next to Kitso’s flute-like vaporizer.
“They don’t let me smoke at the station anymore,” Keet said, stifling a yawn. “Buncha tight-butts up there, now. Used to be the prime place to broadcast and break out your best stuff.”
“I wish you wouldn’t do your radio show so late,” Tito said. “Can’t you get on any other slots?”
“No dice,” Keet said with a tilt of his head. “They keep pushing me back. Hell of a way to pay me back for my service.” He held his smoking pipe like an instrument, inhaling like he was about to play a note.
“Did that pipe use to be a real smoking pipe?” Tito asked as he waited for his vaporizer to warm up.
“Yeah, the inside’s all gutted out. You remember the gomben who owned the smoke shop across the street?”
“Well, before he got out of town, he gave it to me as a parting gift. It was all wrapped up in a nice cloth case, fully upgraded, for free!” He raised his elbow and coughed a couple of times. Kitso’s voice sounded scratchy and dry from the vapor. Kitso took a long drag on his pipe, his eyes closed as he surrounded himself by a cloud of vapor. “No wonder he went out of business.”
“It wasn’t his fault,” Tito said, leaning his head back.
“It’s just this district.”
“It’s every district,” Kitso sighed. “Ever since I hit my thirties, it’s been on a reverse incline. A decline? Yeah.”
“Is that why you left for a while? ”Tito asked. Kitso shook his head.
“Let’s just say that sometimes you can go out to find yourself and come back realizing that you’ve had yourself all along. Along with a couple of hundred credits missing from your mobile.”
“I know the feeling,” Tito said with a sigh. “How am I gonna pay that lady back for the window?”
“What window? This one looks fine.” Tito put down his vape pen, which was getting very hot to the touch. He looked at Kitso straight in his glazed-over eyes.
“I’d ask you what planet you’re on, but you look like you’re on another plane,” Tito said. Kitso scratched his head and thought for a moment.
“I haven’t flown in years,” Kitso said. He put down his vape pen and shook out his hands. Tito rolled his eyes and took another long drag. He released the vapor cloud and it floated around in front of him, blown about by the wind.
“And now we’ve got a blassnaught waiter, at the restaurant,,” Tito said.
“A blass never waits for anything,” Kitso prodded.
“They’re always front of the line, or they make their own line.”
“I hope people don’t freak out.”
“People’r’gonna be staring at their noodle bowls over some blassnaught in an apron and nice shoes,” Kitso said. “At least that’s what they oughta be doing, if you’re doing your job right.” Tito looked towards the floor.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m not doing anything at all,” Tito said. Kitso patted him on the back.
“C’mon,” Kitso said. “No need to get all Ray on me. Lord Ranga knows I’ve had enough of that. You just need to be Tito.” Tito finished smoking and put his vape pen off to the side.
“And you need to get out of here before I waste the whole day up here,” Tito said. He went behind a nearby screen to change into his gym clothes. “I’ve got whiptail class.”
“Well, you’re very welcome for the sample,” Kitso said as he saw Tito head toward the door. “While you’re off kicking and chopping stuff, how’s about you let me finish my nap and I’ll leave the rest for your discretion? Consider it my rent payment.”
“It’s your room,” Tito said. “You never really moved out.” He saw Kitso kick back on the windowsill again.
“Home, sweet home!” Kitso declared. Tito rolled his eyes and closed the door behind him.