Gas Station Sushi

      17 Comments on Gas Station Sushi

Ammi died when I was thirteen. She wasn’t sick or anything. She wasn’t in an accident either. I woke up one morning and she was gone. As if she was a butterfly that had landed on my nose for a brief moment. But in that brief moment, she made me believe in all things beautiful and pure. Maybe her unfailing faith in me tired her out from the inside. “You’re destined for big things, Sallu, just be kind.” she’d say and fill my head with stars and hopes.

She was right, in a way. I was destined for this large chair behind the cash counter at a gas station on 10th street. It’s the only chair a big guy like me can sit in. I’m glad Ammi passed away when she did. I’m 36, obese, and my Linkedin headline reads – “Salman Qureshi, gas station clerk at Rotten Robbie.” If Ammi were alive to see this, she’d probably slap her palm to her forehead and die again.

Somebody slammed a can of Mountain Dew on the counter. It was a teenager masticating gum and leaning against the counter on his elbow. He raised an eyebrow and jerked his head towards the can.

“Eighty cents, please.” I replied.

He fished a handful of cash from his pocket, and flung the coins on the counter, like you toss food to a dog. Some of the coins fell to the floor. By the time I picked them up, he was gone. He had also stuck his gum on to my cash machine. What is wrong with people?

“What an asshole!” The lady who was next in line said, looking towards the door, as if her stare would bring him crawling back to the store, begging for forgiveness.

“It’s okay, ma’am. I’m used to this.”

She placed a package of sushi on the counter. The fish appeared grey, strangled by the circle of stale rice around it. I looked up at her. Some of her sleek, straight hair stood up like wires. Her formal shirt was coming untucked from her skirt and her makeup wasn’t hiding the dark circles under her eyes. She shifted her weight from one high heel to another.

“You sure you want to buy that?” I blurted and then mentally kicked myself.

“I know, who buys gas station sushi, right? My life’s pathetic.” Her attempt to smile turned into quivering lips and snowballed into a burst of tears. “My husband’s cheating on me, and guess what? I lost my job today. Isn’t life just perfect?”

We stood in silence for a few seconds.

“Sorry.” she sniffled. “I don’t know why I told you that.”

“It’s okay. The sushi’s actually not that bad.” I waddled over to the coffee counter. I made her a strong cup. “Here. It’s on the house.”

“Thanks!” She managed a weak smile. 

“Something’s always missing, isn’t it?” The words flew out of my mouth as she turned around to leave.

“What?”

“Something’s always missing. It’s up to us to make the best of what we have. One day at a time.” Why was I telling her this?

She nodded. The bell at the door tinkled and she walked out.

I sank into my chair and slapped my forehead with my palm. I should’ve stopped at the coffee bit.

A couple of months later, I was mopping the Rotten Robbie restroom floor. The bathroom was definitely the “rotten” bit in their name. I was trying not to throw up when my phone dinged. It dinged again and yet again and a few more times. Somebody better be dying. I walked out of the bathroom. I needed a breather anyway. There were some twenty-five notifications on my Linkedin app.

Somebody had tagged me on an article. “How Gas Station Sushi Changed my Life” by a Susan Marlowe. I clicked on her name. It was her, the crying lady! Turned out she was now a big fish at a hot new tech startup in the valley.

Later that night, as I locked the store, a new notification dinged. Among the many private messages on Linkedin was one from Susan. “Salman, Thank you! I caught your name on your badge that day. Can we meet so I can thank you properly for your kindness? Maybe over some gas station sushi?”

Ammi’s proud face popped up in my head. I grabbed the mop and headed back into the restroom.

17 thoughts on “Gas Station Sushi

  1. Lisa Shaw

    Well Hema, you’ve restored my faith in humanity with this lovely story. I enjoyed reading it so much and could see Salman’s face so clearly in my mind, as well as Susan’s. I would say because Salman states earlier that his Ammi would slap her palm on her face to maybe use a different gesture when he feels embarrassed/frustrated later in the story. Susan’s untucked shirt and dark circles really helped sell the way she was feeling about the breakup and being fired and buying the gas station sushi was such a good choice to show us how deflated she felt. Well done!

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  2. MM Schreier

    I loved the opening paragraph of this. You did a fantastic job of grabbing our attention. I also really liked your MC’s narrative. He was very believable.

    For me, I had to make a little bit of a jump at the end, with the inference that Ammi would be proud, because I wasn’t exactly sure of what. Was it simple the fact that he was a kind person? Or is this an opportunity for him to make a connection, an opportunity for a new career? A little clarity would have helped me feel more resolved.

    Really good work depicting very human interactions!

    Reply
    1. mixedbag Post author

      Thank you so much, MM! I had ended it differently earlier, with Susan offering him a job, but I decided to end it like this. I guess Ammi would’ve been proud of his kindness. Maybe after meeting Susan, he would have a chance at a new career after all 🙂 I’ll try and re-write the ending once voting ends.

      Reply
  3. MM Schreier

    Arg. I typed a big response and lost it to the ether? Apologies if it appears twice.

    I really loved the opening paragraph. It really grabbed my attention. I also enjoyed your MC’s narrative; it made him believable.

    Something to think about – for me, at the end there was a question about why Ammi would be proud. Simply because he was a good person? Or is this a contact, an opportunity for a new career? A little clarity on what this meant for your MC would have made me feel a stronger resolution.

    Really great work illustrating human interactions (good & bad!)

    Reply
  4. Asha Rajan

    That moment of connection between them as he spat out the advice to make the most of what you’ve got was so real, so authentic and true to both characters. It was so striking and well executed. You captured both his hesitancy in interfering, and his desire to be helpful.

    I really liked the resolution to this. It was hopeful without being unrealistic.

    I did find his voice when he talked about his weight somewhat jarring. Would he have referred to himself as obese? Would he have described his walking as waddling? That felt a little out of character for someone who later says “It’s up to us to make the best of what we have. One day at a time.”

    On a nitpicky note, I was confused about the timing at the end of the story. You tell us that he takes a break from mopping the restrooms to check his messages, then in the second last graph you tell us it’s “Later that night, as I locked the store”, but in the last sentence, you tell us that he grabbed the mop and headed back to the rest room.

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    1. mixedbag Post author

      Thanks, Asha! Gah, that last paragraph!! That totally slipped my mind while editing, it was part of a different ending. 😭 I’ll change it after voting closes. Your comments, as always, are super helpful. Thank you ❤️

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  5. Uma C

    Loved how you fleshed out the characters here, Hema. Loved the positive tone and the ending when the underdog finds his moment and the fact that you chose to tie it back with how proud his Ammi would have been.
    I had to read the final part about the MC finding the notifications when on a cleaning break and then Susan’s message later that night to get the timeline right but the editing glitch pointed out by Asha completely escaped my eyes 🙂

    Reply
    1. mixedbag Post author

      Mine too! I read it over and over and somehow totally missed it! Thanks for your lovely comment, Uma 🙂

      Reply
  6. Cheney Meaghan

    This was lovely, it is nice to read stories of people doing kind things for each other. Your writing was both lyrical and also gave me some tongue in cheek laughs, like the “If Ammi were alive to see this, she’d probably slap her palm to her forehead and die again.” I think this is the first time I’ve visited your blog, and it was a pleasure 🙂

    Reply
    1. mixedbag Post author

      I’m glad you caught Ammi’s tongue-in-cheek actions. She does have a flair for drama, as do other Indian mothers, LOL! Thank you for visiting my blog!

      Reply
  7. MichelleH

    I loved the line “she’d probably slap her palm to her forehead and die again.”. In that line, I understood the narrator. I liked him and wanted him to do great things. I wondered about the telling of the original meeting. It seems to me like most of the time, that’s the sort of interaction that one party doesn’t attach as much importance to. Like – Susan would remember it but maybe the narrator only had his memory jogged once the article was flagged?

    Reply
    1. mixedbag Post author

      You’re right. For Salman, it might not have been as special an interaction as Susan would’ve thought it was. He doesn’t even know why he’s saying what he’s saying and he thinks he’s made a fool of himself, whereas for Susan, it was (kind of) a life-altering event. Thanks for reading and commenting, Michelle!

      Reply

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