Highly Commended Story - Junior Category
“Don’t Give Up” by Charisse Han, Paya Lebar Methodist Girls Primary School, Singapore, is the Highly Commended story in the junior category of the second biannual Short Story Contest 2018.
Charisse Han from Singapore, lives with her father, mother, sister, grandmother, nanny and pet dog. Besides writing stories, she loves cooking and baking.
Don’t Give Up
As I walked down the street smartly dressed in a blue leather coat and a light blue dress, I noticed a small girl wearing dirty, torn clothes squatting on the dirty floor holding a recycled ‘100 plus’ can to collect money.
Scrawled messily in black permanent marker on the side of the can were the words: ‘Please help! I need fees for school.’ I looked at her with great empathy as I reached into my coat pocket and pulled out a black weather wallet. I took out a one hundred dollar bill and dropped it into the can.
“Thank you miss!” She exclaimed excitedly, gathering up her things and running off before finally disappearing into the crowd. The reason I had donated money was not just because I had a kind heart, but because I know what it felt to feel hopeless.
Let me recount my story to you.
“Mother…” I said slowly, sitting down in my tiny one-room apartment. “Please change your mind. “ I begged my mother who was sitting opposite me in a wooden rocking chair. “No.” She said, shaking her head firmly. “I know you really want to be a cook but what if you can’t find a job? We’ll become poorer and if that happens we may become homeless!”“But if you do not let me find a job, how will I work?” I protested. “You will work in your uncle’s clothes shop. It has a decent salary.” Suddenly, I thought of an idea. “What if I find a job and try out at it for a month, you have to let me work there.” My mother nodded and we had an agreement.
Now that you promised your mother, how did you feel going out looking for work? Were you worried that you can’t find a job?
The next day, I walked to the mall, looking for jobs at restaurants when one certain flyer caught my eye. ‘NOW HIRING AT PASTA FRESCA 02#24’ it screamed. I quickly ran into the restaurant and signed up for an interview with the manager. The manager looked at me with doubt. “Are you sure you’re good enough to cook?” I felt a shiver of uncertainty. I took a deep breath to steady myself before I replied with confidence. “Yes.”
Half an hour later, the job was mine. “Your first day of work is on 4th of December, work starts at about 7 a.m.” I couldn’t believe it. I was bursting with joy! “Thank you!” I told my manager and ran home to tell my mother the good news. I found her at the coffee shop, watching a Korean drama and sipping a cup of coffee. “Mother!” I told her excitedly. “I’ve got a job!” “That’s nice dear.” She said as if I was talking about last week’s weather, eyes still focused on her Korean drama. I felt slightly disappointed at her lack of confidence in me.
As days went by, I crossed out the dates on my calendar until December fourth. Finally, the day came, and it was winter. I put on my thickest of clothes and walked out of the front door to start my walk to the mall.
It was freezing cold and there was ice on the street. I slipped on it and fell over. “Ouch!” I shouted. Just as I began to get up, my stomach rumbled loudly. I had forgotten to eat my breakfast. “Seriously?” I mumbled, finally reaching the mall’s entrance. I walked inside, shaking snow everywhere as I removed my coat.
When I reached Pasta Fresca, I was greeted by the smiling waitress. “Hello! Would you like to look at the menu?” She asked. “Um, no. I’ve been hired to work here. It’s my first day of work today.” “Oh.” She said, her smile evolving into a smirk. “I’ll call the manager.” She said, eyeing my shabby clothes.
Soon, the manager was introducing me to all the restaurant staff, all of them not looking too happy to see me.
Working as a chef was hard. When I cooked my first meal the customer complained that their Aglio Olio was too soggy. Then during my second, the customer thought their Carbonara was too dry. “Liv.” The manager barked at me. “You need to practice more!” He yelled, much to the rising of my colleagues’ sniggering. I flushed, trying to not look embarrassed.
That night, I decided to stay back late, trying new recipes and experimenting with pasta. I also decided to improve my Carbonara and Aglio olio techniques. I found out that to make good Aglio Olio you needed to add a lot of garlic. I stayed back for months until one day, I finally perfected my recipes.
A few days later, a rich food critic decided to visit the restaurant. Although I had never met him, I was scared that he would disapprove of my cooking. My colleague, Maria, the waitress handed the menu to him and he flipped through the pages, looking for a meal he would like. He found a meal he liked and shouted at Heather.
“You!” He barked. “Get me an Aglio Olio and a glass of ice cold water.” Heather nodded frantically and ran to the kitchen to get him his order.
Once Heather brought him his meal, he took a bite of it and immediately spat it out. His eyeballs bulged out in rage. “You! This is like rubber! Get me someone else!” He shrieked. He pointed at Jeff and he immediately prepared his meal.
He spat the Aglio Olio out onto his plate like he did before. “This is disgusting!” He said before coughing into a napkin. Finally, he pointed at me. “You better get me an edible meal this time, or your job won’t make it.”
Hurriedly, I ran to the kitchen sorting out the different spices I needed. I lighted a fire under the non-stick pan and poured oil in. I hurriedly chopped the garlic and dropped it into the pan along with other spices just as the spaghetti in the pot next to me cooked. I added the spaghetti, mixed it with the other ingredients and finally added the last pinch of salt and a basil leaf when I was done.
I poured it onto a porcelain plate and walked out of the swinging kitchen door. I placed it onto the rich man’s plate. “Here’s your pasta, sir.” I told him before taking a big step out of his strangling zone in case he threw a tantrum. He took a large bite and he paused, keeping me in suspense. I could hardly breathe.
Finally, a large smile grew on his face. “I love it!” He said. “Really?” I replied, not believing my ears. “Yes, I’m sure! How about I buy a restaurant and you run it for me!” He asked, dollar signs practically gleaming in his eyes. “It would earn a lot of money.” He added, stating the obvious. It was too good to be true. “Yes!” I answered. “That would be great!”
He gave me his phone number so we could talk to discuss and soon, I was running a famous restaurant and now I am one of the world’s most successful cooks!
I saw the girl running away happily with the hundred dollars bill, I thought of my past and wished her all the best.