A Murder on Christmas Eve

DECEMBER 24, 6:14 PM (The Italian Ristorante)

The skies had already transitioned from an orange-red colour to a pitch black one when I climbed down of my condominium building and passed through the gates of our guardhouse before walking into the streets whose number of people it held increased every hour. The Christmas Eve was only a few hours away, and people were on a scamper to buy the things they needed for Christmas. I had my room decorated two weeks ago and the Christmas tree, with it's grand height and its green plastic branches where the sparkling Christmas balls were dangling and other decorations wrapped around the tree's body, was already installed and put on a corner near the window a few days ago. The only thing I needed to complete the Christmas mood in my home was food. At first, I wanted to cook all the dishes I would have for Christmas just like what I do everyday, and I even managed to buy groceries three days ago to prepare for such feast. However, both my parents, who were working together in the United Arab Emirates for two years now, discouraged me to do so and instead recommended for me to buy food instead.

"Gavin, I don't think you should cook for this Christmas' feast." My mom, Marites Andaluz, said to me in a video call last night. My mom and my dad would always have a video call with me every night to check and see how I am doing. "That would be dangerous since you would use the gas for too long!" She added in a worried tone.

"Your mom's right, Gavin." My dad, Florencio Andaluz, agreed with my mom. "Also, you will just tire yourself for one day. Just buy food for Christmas instead."

"But why don't you two want me to cook?" I disagreeingly asked in an objecting manner. "My cooking skills aren't that awful, plus I cook my own food everyday! This wouldn't seem different from any other ordinary day and I have already bought a ton of groceries like three days ago! I don't want to waste them!" I added to defend my point.

"Just do what we said, son." My dad insisted. "It's for you. We don't want to tire you out this Christmas. Besides, we will go home next Christmas. You can cook whatever you want when we're here, okay? We just want you to enjoy Christmas without being so tired and haggard."

"And as for those groceries." My mom immediately added after my dad spoke. "You can just keep them until next year. Don't worry. We will send you money later so that you could be able to buy food for Christmas, okay?"

"Okay. Fine." This is all what I said. I can't really disobey my mom and my dad, even if they're not here. Maybe they did really both raise me to be an obedient son. After all, cooking is really tiring, and cooking for holidays sucks more.

"Alright son. We will go back to work now." My dad said. "Go to sleep now son. We will call you again tomorrow at Christmas Eve, okay? We love you, Gavin." He bade his goodbye before hanging up the video call.

It was around 10:44 in the evening when they finished our call. I had second thoughts about buying food for Christmas dinner but then I realised I shouldn't really make a big deal out of it. Whether I cook for Christmas or I buy food instead didn't really matter. Christmas is just one day, and I shouldn't overthink about it. I came into this conclusion when I turned off the lamp beside my bed and rested my head on my pillow before going to sleep sixteen minutes later.

The streets I walked in to the nearest restaurant in my condominium were jam-packed of people going to one side and then to other. The place where I lived in was built near a large mall and beside a busy highway, and this therefore made the condominium and its surroundings crowded especially during holidays. A small Italian ristorante e bistro was founded outside the mall almost a year ago and was said to be owned by an Italian chef and his Filipina wife. The restaurant had a good reputation, and for this reason I decided to go there since the mall has already too much people for me to bear. I also ate in the restaurant a few times, mostly with my family, and I liked their food a lot. We were even served by the owner of the restaurant himself, whom I only knew by the name Armando. He was a man in the 50s with round, deep eyes, a Jewish nose and wrinkled complexion with the edges of his face entirely covered by a white beard showing the signs of his age. He was extremely meticulous and a perfectionist. Whenever he is not occupied, he would be present in the restaurant and would micromanage everything as frequently as he could. My father was impressed with how authentically Italian the restaurant's food was, but mom complained that the dishes they served were too tangy and sour. As I pushed the restaurant's door made of glass and wood and entered, the aroma of the burned cheese coming from the pizza being cooked in its brick oven and the pungent smell of the tomatoes being cooked in the pan were the first that I noticed when they went through my nose. Second came were the noisy chatter from the people who sat down and ate in the restaurant. Much like everything I saw, the restaurant was full of people, and the staff circling around with their hands always full and their feet always on the go seemed to be confused with what should they do first or next. I didn't saw Armando nor his wife, whose name was said to be Matilda, in the premises of the restaurant, and the manager suddenly arrived into my presence.

"Buona sera, signore!" The manager greeted, who didn't seem Italian but more like Spanish and a dash of American. Perhaps Armando taught every employee in his restaurant to greet every customer that comes inside in Italian whether they liked it or not, probably to give the restaurant a more Italian feel. "Benvenuto al ristorante! How can I help you?"

"Penso che non fosse necessario" I replied after taking a deep breath, brushing off the Italian I had been learning and practicing for almost a month now.

"I'm sorry, sir?" The manager asked, baffled.

"Sorry about that." I said. "I just practised some Italian. Nevermind that."

The manager answered with a short nod and a smile. I knew it was the manager I was talking to when I looked at his uniform. Most of the waiting staff of the restaurant wore plain wine red uniforms. The manager, on the contrary, donned a white one with thin and horizontal tomato red lines as complementary design. All of them had pairs of plain black pantaloons with them.

"So, how can I help you?" He asked again after.

"You accept card, right?" I inquired.

"Yes, sir." He said.

"Good." I said before getting my wallet and taking my debit card. My mother messaged me an hour ago, saying that earlier afternoon they had already sent the money they promised last night. I haven't checked yet however but since the card still had some money in it, it didn't really matter.

"I want two regular boxes of pizza." I began to order whilst remaining standing up.

"What flavor or type, sir?" The manager said before he grabbed a notepad and a ballpen from one of his pockets in his pants.

"Wait." I uttered before I went on thinking for a short while. The manager then wrote what I said earlier while I was choosing on what flavour to do. "Do you have the margherita?

"Yes, sir." The manager said.

"Okay. One regular margherita pizza." I replied.

"Okay sir." The manager said before putting his eyes on the notepad. "One regular margherita pizza." He whispered while scribbling on his notepad.

"And for the other one..." I said, which switched the manager's attention from his notepad back to me. "Give me the pepperoni one."

"Okay, sir." He responded before going back to his notepad and repeating lowly my order. "Is there anything else you want?" He asked once more after jotting down my initial order.

"What pasta do you have?" I inquired.

"Oh!" The manager exclaimed as if he suddenly remembered something. "For this Christmas Eve, we have a pasta promo! Do you want to know more about it?"

"Okay, you can tell me more about it." I replied.

"So with this promo you can buy three family pans of carbonara, spaghetti bolognese, and arrabiata for only 250 pesos." The manager briefly explained.

"That seems a good deal." I said. "I will take that."

"Copy, sir." The manager uttered before writing down my next order. "What else would you like, sir?"

"I think that would be all." I replied.

"Okay sir so I will repeat your order." The manager began. "So your order is one regular margherita pizza, one regular pepperoni pizza, and the three pasta family pan Christmas promo which includes one family pan of spaghetti bolognese, one family pan of arrabiata, and one family pan of carbonara. Please wait for thirty minutes as we process your order. Is this for dine in or take out?"

"Take out." I replied.

"Okay sir. You may sit down for a while as you wait for your order." The manager said before closing his notepad and keeping it along with his ballpen on his pocket.

"Thank you." I said before sitting down on one of the chairs lined up near the door. I saw that two seats away from me there was a middle aged chubby man wearing a dark blue polo shirt and light blue jeans waiting for his order by using his smartphone.

The manager bowed his head a bit to me seconds after I sat down before he left and walked towards the restaurant's kitchen. In my mind I wanted to ask why was it that the manager was the one who received me and took my order instead of the normal staff. But when I took once more of the view of them rushing frantically with all their two hands full with trays, jugs, and glasses of different shapes and sizes, I realised how busy the restaurant was during that season. I then laid my eyes away from the servers to the customers eating. I never saw a single person dining inside. All of them were either groups of friends or relatives who came together to bond, enjoy some fine food, and have fun. I could hear the loud laughter and the indistinct chatter that buzzed around my ear. I didn't really pay full attention as to what they were conversing about. Rather, as I noticed families having a great time with each other inside the cosy setting of the ristorante, I felt a mixture of envy and remorse. It may not have been long since I brought my parents to the restaurant and yet I still miss their presence. I longed the time when we ate and laughed together and talked about various topics. Those were the good times, something which I hoped to see next Christmas.

While my eyes were stuck at a random spot, deeply thinking about everything, a man of medium height wearing the wine red uniform of the restaurant's waiters and waitresses carrying three pans made of soft aluminium stacked together like bricks inside a huge and semi-transparent plastic bag on his right hand and two boxes of pizza stacked and tied together on his left approached me. It did not take long for me to notice the man, and as my consciousness was slightly regained, I took notice of the man and stood up when he was only a few centimetres away from me.

"Hello sir! Thank you for waiting!" He greeted with a genuine smile. I wasn't aware that thirty minutes had already passed as my brain went on flying, but nonetheless the order was made in time. "Here's your order sir. Shall you pay by cash or card?"

"Oh, thank you. Please wait for a while." I said before I took the three pasta pans and the two pizza boxes and then placed them beside each other on the chair where I sat on.

I noticed that the man who waited beside me was no longer there. I didn't think too much about it and instead I went back to the waiter and grabbed my wallet before getting my debit card and giving it to him. The waiter then prepared the handheld machine used to process card payments. He then swiped the card on the slot and typed a few buttons before giving the thing to me. What I only had to do was to enter my six-digit pin before giving the machine with my card still on it back to the waiter, who then typed a few more buttons. A few seconds later a small but long slip of paper was released from the machine. Two copies of the order's receipt. The waiter then tore the paper and gave one copy of the receipt to me along with the card after saying thank you and before hiding the machine back to his pockets. I then turned around and lifted the three pasta pans and the two pizza boxes I ordered before pushing the doors of the restaurant and finally going out to the streets, where I was received by lines and columns of shoppers walking briskly and mechanically like humanoid robots with shopping bags hung on the fingers of their hands. I went on and walked back home.

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