That Wednesday, as usual, I was the first to arrive at the cafe. My job was to scrub counters, percolate coffee, and prepare the store for business.
Around 7am, I parked my Nissan in the lot behind the shop and reached for my vintage Speedy, a bag I’d bought with the money my parents gifted me for graduation. Exiting the car, I took a deep breath. It was cold out, the weather blustery, and the Los Angeles clouds threatened rain.
The Samosa Cafe, my mother’s shop, was on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks. It opened three months ago, at the start of the summer, and business was booming.
After graduating from UCSB, I’d moved back in with my parents for a gap year. In the coming months, I would apply to get my nursing credential. Mom offered me a full-time job in the meantime, which was fine with me. Until I began nursing school, I was enjoying being home with my parents, my brother, Tariq, and our pet poodle, Seashell. For stimulation, I planned on joining a book club in Culver City that met monthly.
I wasn’t a natural in the kitchen, but Mom taught me some cooking basics, and my skills were improving.
Her shop was cozy with pink walls and three ceiling fans. A large map of the Punjab hung in the dining room.
We sported six tables on the inside and four on the patio, which overlooked the main street where crowds walked by, browsing the neighborhood stores.
Those who enjoyed an egg and potato samosa walked through our doors on their way to school or work.
There were three part-timers at the cafe. Also a cleaning crew that came twice a week to wipe away grime.
The cafe doors stayed open from eight to six. We wore black t-shirts with “The Samosa Cafe” etched across the front in cursive script.
The space was simple.
We served coffee, tea, water, juice, rice pudding, and, of course, samosas. And there were samosas of every type imaginable: vegetable, chicken, keema, potato, chocolate, and jam.
Pasta and noodle samosas.
Samosas stuffed with spinach and feta.
À la cart and entrée.
The plate orders included three samosas, salad, and chutney. And for dessert, rice pudding.
That morning, one of my tasks was to take the chutneys out of the fridge, so they would be at room temperature by opening time.
I unlocked the back door to the shop, inhaling the distinct odor of cumin.
Still groggy from sleep, I yawned as I entered the kitchen, placing my Louis Vuitton bag on my desk. There were five desks in the back of the kitchen: for me, Mom, Anwar, Alya, and Cindy. A laptop was placed on each desk where we managed Curbside orders and uploaded photos to social media platforms.
A vase of carnations and a sci-fi novel were on my desk. On breaks, I would sometimes grab the book, sit in my car, and read.
I put on an apron and set the coffee machine percolating. It was cold inside, certainly colder than it had felt outside. Then I remembered the scarf I’d placed on the coat rack in the dining room yesterday.
I wandered into the cafe and spotted two very massive sacks of rice on the floor. They’d been delivered the day before from India’s Sweets & Spices. They leaned against a rectangular table in the corner. Later, I’d ask Anwar to move them into the kitchen, so we could make pudding.
I grabbed the purple scarf off the rack and tied it around my neck. As I turned around to exit the room, to my horror and surprise I spotted the slumped form of a man sitting with his head down on the corner table.
His lean frame was eerily still.
A wave of nervousness washed over me.
He looked dead.
My heart pounded wildly in my chest as I stepped away. After a few moments, I ran to the back and checked the bathroom to make sure it was empty. The back door had been locked when I arrived. A lump forming in my throat, I entered the kitchen and checked the pantry. No one there, spare the spice racks. Grabbing my cell out of my bag, I walked into the dining room again.
As I approached the slumped figure, I realized with a shudder that I recognized the blue sneakers it wore.
It was Anwar.
The morning sank like a ship inside me.
This couldn’t be real.
Yet it was.