When Jim Looked into a Bowl of Ramen and Saw the Future by Emma Phillips

It was cloudy and he used his chopsticks the proper way, so we believed him; the way you do when someone knows the difference between holding them to separate pickle from broth and how to lay them down after sifting through bones of the dead. “If you don’t want to offend,” Jim said, “don’t point them at anyone.” 

He could speak Japanese and slurped like a pro, spinning his bowl with the kind of care that suggested he could keep the Earth on its axis. “Stick with me,” he grinned, “I’ll translate each dish on the menu.” That night, Jim taught us everything he knew about Japan. Over steaming bowls, he laid us bare, made us feel so foreign we could be standing on the crossing in Shibuya with our eyes shut. We bought him beers and he told us how vending machine pots of One Cup Sake were a poor man’s cocktail. 

Jim informed us that the fried crisps were made of radish called daikon and he swallowed crispy seaweed, as he told us of his ferry trips along the Inland Sea. He put a lanky arm around the shoulder of his girlfriend, who was sweet as anpan and loyal to his cause. “In Japan,” he said, “we can live in the moment; in Kyoto I learned to be mindful. Look how this country rebuilds itself; I’m telling you seize the day.” 

Later you watched him drink like he could forget what he tried to escape from; heard him belt out karaoke, disguise his divorce in ballads. “The big one is coming,” he’d replied when you’d mentioned earthquakes earlier. You wondered if ramen would be his last supper and if anyone would be clapping.

Biography: Emma Phillips lives near the M5 in Devon with her husband and son. Her work has been placed in the Bath Flash Award, Retreat West Prize, FFF Competition and Best Microfiction 2022. Her words appear elsewhere in print and online. She can be found teaching in a primary school, wandering along beaches or on Twitter @words_outwest

Image: unsplash.com