Buddha’s Bones I.
Buddha’s Bones is a collection of short stories that tells various parts of my story as a Black, female sushi chef.
Previous: Buddha’s Bones Intro
How Sushi Made Me an Honest Woman, Part 1
Like many Black women, I had spent years coming to terms with my hair. Each experimental phase became an expression of myself that I put forth for all to see, almost as if each phase represented an intimate part of myself that I had finally become comfortable with enough to share with the rest of the world. Those phases varied from such extremities as shoulder length fullness to pixie crop to super curly Afro. And in the first year upon graduation from sushi school, I settled into another change. This time it wasn’t the hair itself that changed rather than how I chose to present it. I had opted not to show it at all, always masking it underneath scarves and various hats.
Looking back, the implication of this change was lost upon my own personal meaning. It had been easily a year since anyone had seen my actual hair and even close friends began to joke that I probably didn’t have any other than the wiry pieces that couldn’t quite make it underneath a hat or scarf. I would have easily said that tucking my hair away was a simple solution for someone that worked so much, or perhaps even joked that I loathed combing my hair. But the deeper meaning of this change became very clear to me one night, while working behind the sushi bar. While bending over to pick up something, my hat fell off.
Stromboli, my partner in sushi crime, crumpled his nose as I hurriedly pushed my fuzzy, puff of hair back under the hat. “What’d you do to your hair?”
“What? You’ve never seen an Afro?” I asked.
“Let me see it again. I didn’t know you had a ‘Fro.”
A man sitting in front of me at the bar perked up. He was a regular, the kind of customer that knew the importance of putting your trust in your favorite sushi chef. It was almost impossible to share that kind of bond without becoming friends on some level.
“Wait a second. Let’s see that again,” the man said, leaning forward as anxiously as Stromboli.
I humored the two for a quick second by lifting the bill of the hat before smashing the hat securely on my hair. If this hat wouldn’t behave, I’d simply have to get another. I couldn’t have it falling off. It felt too personal having my hair exposed, as if I was letting people see a part of me that I wasn’t quite ready to share.
The man at the bar took a deep sip of his martini. “Your hair is kind of like a secret, “ he said. And after a thoughtful pause and deep piercing look, “I’ve always thought that people that cover their heads most of the time have intriguing secrets or something to hide.”
He had nailed it. I did a have secret. And it was the worst sort of secret that a sushi chef could have. My mind wondered back to my sushi school days where I had kept plenty of secrets.
It was pleasant and sunny as usual in Los Angeles that day. We had abandoned our typical all white uniforms for our street clothes as we were going on a field trip day. Most were excited that the day would not include lessons, but I was less than enthused. My clothes felt overly shabby in the presence of my impeccably dressed classmates, I was so hungry that I had to will myself not to pass out, and I didn’t yet have a friend except a lone teaching assistant. But even that wasn’t a comfort. Between being tagged Little Miss Know-It-All and constantly receiving praise for my studious efforts from Sensei, having one of the teachers as a close friend only made matters worse. Rumors had begun to circulate that my position near the top was made possible because I was a little too friendly with him. Some took it even further and claimed that it was actually with Sensei that I was overly friendly.
Animated conversation surrounded me in the van in both English and Japanese. I pressed my forehead against the window and stared onto the freeway. All of the twisted roads and intersections were pure chaos. I imagined myself driving in LA but I couldn’t make sense of the way things were going. My life at that very moment was just as chaotic. I had followed what I thought to be a clear map of success to LA, to sushi school to pursue becoming a sushi chef. But upon arrival, a massive mutli-intersectioned junction sent me down paths of being broke and virtually homeless, trying to hide a complicated love interest, living in constant fear of how I would come up with the thousands of dollars for my unpaid tuition and wondering how I had kidded myself into believing that all of it could work.
But even more so, who was I kidding at the moment? I was in a van headed to a factory that processed nori. The morning promised to be filled with the tasting of various grades of nori. Uggghh. I hated nori and had managed to chew sushi rolls in class along with the rest of them, smiling and nodding my head at the right moments only to spit them out inconspicuously when no one was looking. Who was I kidding? What kind of a sushi chef didn’t eat nori?
To be continued…