The sushi place was exactly as I remembered it.
I’d go there with my friend Aneesa, a couple of times a week. We weren’t doing so well, or rather, we were being treated badly by the ridiculously expensive and mismanaged Australian art college where she was in the ceramics department, and I was in sculpture. During my final year there, some tutors stopped showing up for classes, and there was talk of shutting the heating off in the studios during winter, to save money.
A lot of students went to Sushi Ten, in Port Phillip Arcade on Elizabeth St. The food was good, and cheap. You could get a proper lunch for under ten dollars, and for an extra dollar, unlimited tea refills from slim silver thermoses placed on every table.
Ten years later, the tea was still good – a clear toast brown, earthy and astringent, like a liquefied autumn day. The thermoses had not changed, and, incredibly, neither had the prices.
The Tofu Don burnt my tongue, the taste so familiar that it was like springing open a latch, and the 25 year-old me leapt across the passed decade into my mouth, making me catch my breath.
Today, Melbourne is the sixth most expensive city
in the world. Ten years ago, it was cheaper than New York, which currently ranks a modest 26th. On a perfect summer’s day in November last year, I walked Melbourne’s CBD and thought the pace more manic, the flawless blue sky more crowded with high-rises. There were perhaps more people living homeless on the streets. I met up with an old friend – ambitious, talented – who was wracked with anxiety and debt.
In Sushi Ten, it seemed as if nothing had changed. As ever, there was nothing extraneous; everything was functional, and extremely clean, from the floors to the red chopsticks in their stainless steel canisters. Students sat alone and in groups, their faces bathed in steam rising from pork cutlets over rice.
I kept stealing glances at the husband and wife behind the counter. They weren’t much different – he was calm, she was harried – both looked a little older perhaps. Together, working in the restaurant they’d built and cared for, they had rhythm, and style.
I want to work like that, I thought. A house of service with a path leading out and ultimately back to itself. Steady. Continuous. Everyday. Wearing change like a coat that gets more beautiful with time.