The tiny old woman hunched over a searing hot flattop grill, scrambling bits of chicken, shitake mushrooms, sprouts and onions. The hot sizzle was calming, the only constant in her long life.
Sweat poured down her furrowed brow.
With the toppings cooking, she had timed it perfect with the noodles cooking in the boiling water. She strained the delicate ramen under cold water before depositing them into a ceramic bowl.
Her thin arms reached back to ladle thick syrupy sauce over the meat and vegetables. With a flick off her spatula, she slid everything into the bowl. Perfect muscle memory. She had done this more times than she could imagine. Every day since she was allowed by the grill.
With a perfect flourish she placed half a hard-boiled egg at the edge of the bowl.
The customer waited patiently with a friendly smile. His gaze made her nervous. Those eyes aren’t right.
The woman ladled sweet miso both over the ramen, rejuvenating everything in the bowl. Lines of steam rose from the bowl.
She turned and placed the bowl on the bar in front of the customer. A tall and ethereally beautiful young man with sunlight coloured hair and diamond shaped black eyes. His pointed-ears rose up along his head.
He smiled and thanked her. The woman bowed, but before she could begin the long process of cleaning up, the customer coughed, “You wouldn’t happen to have a fork would you?”
She frowned when she saw him struggling with using both chopsticks and a spoon.
“You use chopsticks here. Proper etiquette.”
He frowned, “I am two hundred years old; I understand etiquette. I don’t understand these.”
The old woman crossed her arms, “I’m eight-three and I’ve been making this meal since I could stand. Respect the tradition.”
The elf’s eyes went wide. Stunned that the old mortal creature who had such passion and confidence. He struggled for his next words…
She sighed, annoyed, “I’ll show you.”