Three drops in. Stir.
Three more drops. Stir.
* * *
I’m a cook, and here’s something that I can insist on: cooking is an art. Read the cookbooks, read them all you want, but really, though, in the end it all comes down to talent, creativity, and patience to learn.
I love making sushi. Cutting through the raw fish and preparing the balls of rice isn’t something everyone can do. Learning how to prepare sushi is something that people would take years to learn, and they’re willing to do it because, in my opinion at least, it’s worth it. You end up creating a dish so delicious, so capable of drawing out water from your mouth that it’s completely irresistible. However, to get to that point, you’d need time to train. I don’t have time to train.
Because in my spare time from being a cook, I’m also the Finance Minister, although I’d consider cook as my main occupation because it gives me infinitely more joy. Still, I guess I enjoy being the Finance Minister; my public ratings outshines any of my colleagues, the nation’s economy has never been better- this is probably going to be the time of my life. That is, unless I get to Prime Minister one day. So that’s why I don’t yet have much time to actually indulge myself into the art of sushi making, although I promise myself that I will do it one day.
This hardly means that I can’t cook sushi yet, however. I can, even if not at the level of the greatest chefs of Japan, and this skill always comes in handy when there’s a party or a gathering of some sort. Praise is not something I see as completely necessary- in fact it’s better not to care about the comments of others upon you, for they change and switch opposites as fast as anything- but being lavished in it is something I look forward to. “You’re great at cooking!”, they’d say. “This is like what I eat at a sushi restaurant!” It’s not. If you were a really experienced food taster, you’d know mine is crap. Luckily, most people can barely distinguish.
So this is one of the reasons why I’m carrying a tray of sushi into a party at Government Complex. I always make some sushi for parties, so why not one for a minister party too? The government has seen some great successes in the past twenty-six years. Yes, I say past twenty-six years, because the Prime Minister has been in power for twenty-six years. Perhaps I should talk a bit about that.
* * *
“Topple the dictator!” had been the slogan of the day, twenty-six years ago. A country unable to stand on its own, wrecked by war and famine, oppressed and pushed down by a dictator, it had finally had enough. ‘Democracy’ was the new trend. What the word truly meant no one actually quite understood, although it was popularly described as “when you vote.” A bloody military coup d’état removed the dictator. Sebastian Salazar, leader of the opposition who had the support of the army, installed himself as Interim Prime Minister, to manage the affairs of the state for a temporary period as the country transitioned into democracy.
In the end ‘temporary’ had been twenty-six years, and it had not ended yet. The word ‘Interim’ had been dropped from the Prime Minister title. We have elections, every five years – but the only party that ever wins is Sebastian Salazar’s Nationalist party. “The elections are free and fair”, the Nationalist party tells the international press. “It reflects the will of the people that Sebastian Salazar is to keep governing, after such progress the country had made in the past years! It would be unwise to remove him, lest we risk a halt in the country’s development.” The Electoral Commission simply grins and nods, applauding; no one bothers to point out that in some years there are no other parties running, and that the ‘progress’ and ‘development’ only comes when competent ministers are given power, not because the Prime Minister is a great visionary. Oh, and there’s also a lot of public government funds that somehow mysteriously disappear…
But I will not criticize. As an executive of the Nationalist party, it is not exactly safe for me to do so. And the party has kept me in power for the past three years as Finance Minister. I hate to boast, but fact is I’ve been one of Sebastian’s more competent ministers; as I’ve mentioned before, the economy is in excellent shape and the public adores me. I’m happy. And as I walk through the corridors, I hear the women gossiping: “There goes Kevin Rios! The Finance Minister! Boy, isn’t he just so hot! And he’s just twenty-eight years old! Unmarried!”
This makes me like I’m a braggart, and perhaps I am, but not in public. Outside I am humble, the perfect man. But I know the truth. I know who I am. Inside, I let my thoughts, my feelings, my ambitions all run wild.
Satisfaction is something I should have.
Or maybe not. Men can rise higher still.
* * *
I carry in the sushi tray and puts it down on the main table in the center of the room. The room is the audience hall of Government House, and it’s a grand ballroom; the room is brightly lit and the light reflects off the huge glass chandelier hanging in the middle of the ceiling. An empty, huge stage sits in one side; on the opposite is a magnificent wooden door with handles of ivory. It had been built early in the reign of the Prime Minister and sometimes I wonder where so much money to build this place could have been found, after the country was bankrupted by the dictator. I could ask the Prime Minister, although I doubt he will tell me the truth.
I sit on the table alone- as always, I am the first there, for I value timeliness. The Prime Minister will be late, but the Deputy Prime Minister, an old woman with the name of Aitana Alonso would soon arrive. Observation is a key skill of a politician. Know this.
And I am correct. Very soon the Deputy Prime Minister arrives, and she marches right in; a strong bitch she has always been. Following her is her retinue of ten muscular, mustached bodyguards; she is never seen without them. She sees me with a look of horror in her face. “Kevin!” she cries. “How can you be sitting here alone?”
I chuckle. “Why not?”
“It is unsafe.” she insisted, gesturing to the room around her. “Have you not heard of the plot surrounding you?”
I knew this, but I wished to hear her speak anyway. “The plot! The plot!” she said, coming to sit next beside me before whispering into my ear. “You’re the target of an assassination!”
She’s a comical character, the Deputy Prime Minister. It’s known widely that she was once an actor, a very dramatic one, and it’s rumored that Sebastian only keeps her in her position because she’s a bit loony. This means that he doesn’t have to share power with anyone- there are no other Deputy Prime Ministers- and all key decisions will certainly be made by himself. Of course, I could ask this to the Prime Minister to, but again I doubt I will get an honest answer. And I doubt that I will stay safe for long. Crazy she may be, but weak and forgiving she is not.
“There is an assassination plot,” she says, shaking her fingers, lifting up her glasses. “There are many who are jealous of you, young man, and they want to see you fall. There are the other candidates for Finance Minister who you had beaten, those with connections to the mafia. The reports I get from my spies speak of such things. You are but twenty-eight, but already you are Finance Minister, so popular in the nation. Surely you know you cannot let your guard down? I shall send you some of my elite guards if needed.”
I smile. “Thanks for the generosity, but it is not needed. I fear nothing.”
“Courage is nothing if it leads to an untimely death.” she replies. “Getting a bullet through your skull does not take much effort, if you make the job effortless.”
I nod. “I will consider your advice. Would you like some of my homemade sushi?”
“Oh, fantastic. I’m hungry. Why is the sushi arranged in different plates like that?”
“Ah, I arranged the sushi on different plates for different ministers, according to what I think they would like. Knowing people personally can help make cooking more personalized. Here’s your plate.” I lift the plate up and look carefully to see that I had picked the correct plate.
“Thank you!” The Deputy Prime Minister did not say much after that. I have observed her long enough to know that food takes precedence above all things.
* * *
In the next few minutes, the ministers and the officials starts to stream in.. A previously quiet, eerily empty room turns into a buzzing room full with chatter and noise. Whereas the table had only had me and the Deputy Prime Minister, seven other ministers now line around, encircling the food that was delivered by lowly officials, those who were keen to impress their seniors.
A trumpet sounds. The banging of drums.
“The Prime Minister is here!”
It’s a procession with fanfare equal to any of royalty. The Prime Minister, the great Sebastian Salazar, steps into the room surrounded by eight bodyguards. He lifts his hand, signaling that his bodyguards need not attend him further.
I love it. Democracy does not need to be an antonym of pomp and grandeur. The Prime Minister walks slowly, with dignity, and seats himself on a chair in the table. All the ministers, all of us lower than him bow our heads and he nods.
“How are all of you?” the Prime Minister says. “I’m feeling great.” The Prime Minister does not need anyone to ask him. “We had a great year, and I’m looking forward to another one working with all of you.” He does not need to wait for us to answer his original question, either.
“Sir, I have some sushi for you. Home-cooked.” I say, standing up to pass to him my last tray of sushi.
“Oh, excellent.” He says, looking around at others already nibbling at raw fish. “Excellent, excellent.” He picks one up with a chopstick and, probably temporarily forgetting the dignity the role of Prime Minister requires, eats up the whole piece in one go. “Very nice!”
I smile. Eat quickly, I think in my mind. I have matters to finish with you.
The Prime Minister continues on. “Before we talk about happier things, Kevin, you do know that there is an assassination plot targeting you?”
This again? I’m tired of this, I think in my mind, but I have to give my assurance to the Prime Minister. “I assure you that I will be safe.” I say. “I am not quite as reckless and uncaring of safety as some here think.”
“Are you sure?” he asks. “How many bodyguards do you have? Who’s your driver?”
“I don’t have a driver. I drive alone, always.”
“What? No guards, whatsoever?”
“Nope. There’s about three at my home, and maybe a couple more at the Finance Ministry, but not much else.”
“You’re insane.” the Prime Minister says to me pointedly. “That’s a fraction of what I have. I can’t afford to lose you, Kevin. You’re too valuable. Did I show you the finance records?”
“Sir, I’m the finance minister. I have seen the financial records. They are looking healthy.”
“More than healthy!” he roared. “They’re the best I’ve ever seen. We’re rich. We’re rich! More money to spend. I’m proud of you. For as long as you live, for as long as you turn out these good financial numbers, you can expect a place in my cabinet.”
I nodded. “Thank you, sir. I appreciate your kindness.”
“I’m having a bit of a headache, I can feel it.” The Prime Minister feels his bald head. “But still, let us give a toast to the Finance Minister.” He lifts up his glass of wine and the rest of the ministers does the same, roaring their appreciation of myself. I smile. The Prime Minister then turns his gaze on the Minister of the Interior, an old, skinny man with completely white hair.
“We will have elections soon.” the Prime Minister says. “Are you ready?”
“The Electoral Commission is ready.” the man croaks back. “We’ll have the voting booths set up, and we already have the election results out. You will get ninety-four percent of the vote.”
The Prime Minister lifts his eyebrows. “Ninety-four? Isn’t that a little low?”
“Oh, no, sir. We’re just going to act like there’s been a little change in the voter’s minds, particularly because of the scandal of the Education Minister last year with his mistress. However, with continued financial success, we can make it seem like the voters come back to support you in the election after the next one, where we will make you have ninety-nine percent of the votes.”
“Excellent.” the Prime Minister commented. “I like this style of democracy.”
There’s a pause for about ten seconds. I look at the Prime Minister, and I see he’s breathing heavily. It’s working. The effect of the sushi.
The plan must go on. I take a deep breath.
“Sir, but I do not agree with you. I do not like this style of democracy.”
Silence follows. The Prime Minister glances back at me, and then sets his stare on me, while mine is set on him.
“Young man.” he says. “What did you say?”
“I do not like your style of democracy. So-called democracy.”
I probably sound like a madman to the rest of them, but I know what I’m doing.
The Prime Minister coughs, then laughs. He’s breathing even more heavily than before. “I have a headache.” he says. “Tell me this headache is making me hear things incorrectly. Tell me that. I allow you to correct my understanding.”
By this time, the room is completely still. All the officials eating and partying stop and stare at us.
“There is no need to correct any understanding.” I say confidently, standing up. “Twenty-six years ago you promised the nation democracy. Twenty-six years after we still do not have democracy.”
The Prime Minister lifts his arm up, as if to call in his guards, but he stops. “Democracy? Democracy? We are perfectly democratic.”
“And you are also a perfectly horrible liar.” I say louder, making sure the whole room can hear me. “Today, I free the nation from its chains, the chains given by Sebastian Salazar!”
Gasps can be heard all around. The other ministers sitting look horrified. The Deputy looks angry, but I cannot guess her true emotions.
“You are not as wise as I thought you were.” the Prime Minister commented, before coughing and spluttering all over his plate. He lifts his arms up. “Guards! To me! Drag this maniac out of the room! This little shit thinks that just because he has brought me some money, he can say whatever he wants. He has thought wrong. Show him the folly of his words!” At that instant, the great wooden doors swing open and eight guards stand.
“Stop.” I say, firmly. “There is no need. Even if you kill me at this instant, your master will be dead.”
“What are you saying?” the Prime Minister cries out. “Have you gone completely mad?” He then coughs even more, before spitting out blood onto his white shirt. The rest of the room is simply stuck in silence, paralyzed by the moment. The Prime Minister’s coughs do not cease.
I had not planned out this moment well, I will admit, but I am a quick thinker.
“Did the sushi not taste good?” I shout back. Inside, I desperately think. Did I put in enough drops of poison? Will it be strong enough to kill him?
“The sushi?” the Prime Minister screams back, before vomiting a mass of blood onto himself. “Did you…p…poi…”. The Prime Minister then falls down from his chair.
I smile widely. The eight guards begin to run up to me but I take a whistle out and blow it loudly, laughing. Immediately, there’s the sound of rushing footsteps outside the room and the officials in the room panic.
“There’s no need to panic.” I bellow out loud. “They are my troops, soldiers loyal to me and the Republic. I declare the dictatorship over!”
In front of me, the Prime Minister is gasping for air as blood streams out of his mouth. The other people are all simply too horrified to move and the bodyguards have stopped in their tracks. I smile. “It was not I who was assassinated today, sir.” The Prime Minister gives me a furious look, but he could not do anything. He is dying and he knows it.
It is touching to see a man, just a few seconds ago in such a high position, now reduced to lying on the floor, covered in a mass of blood, with no one ready to stop him. I breath slowly. This is a new chapter for the nation. It is time for a young, capable man to take the helms.
“I declare a new era for the country. I have shed blood today, but the dictator has been toppled.” I glance over at the Prime Minister and I see that he has gone limp, his eyes no longer reflecting any life, but I do not think much of it. “We will have democracy: free and fair elections. I will serve as Interim Prime Minister for four years, to oversee our transition from this absolute tyranny. But we will have democracy. You have my word.”