Friday Fast Fiction: Chinese To Go

I’m the only customer in a restaurant I’ve never eaten at before. It’s dark and I’m starving in a strange neighborhood. The menu is butcher paper taped to the wall across from my table–it’s in Chinese. I ask,” What’s good?” The old woman–not so old because I am old–replies, “Ah Pa Chicken.”

I nod quickly and ask for a beer. She smiles and leaves.

I’ve waited too long to eat. I don’t usually eat at places without patrons.

The woman returns with a giant brown bottle and a tiny glass. I’m thinking about the size relationship when the front door swings open. A big man in a yellow sweat shirt squeezes in as if the entrance had shrunk. He sits at the next table with his back to me.

The woman charges in with a steaming bowl. She doesn’t acknowledge the stranger. “Hot, hot,” she says. Bits of chicken are covered with thin onions and green leaves. The food is sizzling. The woman yells out, “To go?”

The voice is slow and deep: “Not tonight, I’ve got to get away from the hole.” His thick oily black hair screams out in pain, “Not tonight.” His sweatshirt is too yellow—it’s blinding me.

I have nothing to read so I imagine someone is breaking into my car. I risk burning my tongue. Each wondrous hot bite shields me from the pain in the man’s voice and the uneasiness of not knowing where I am. This is the best Chinese I’ve ever had.

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