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Two Bags of Wanton Noodles,

To Go Please!

          Just as she reached out to take the bags of noodles, the woman suddenly stopped and stared at Yi Hong. She was a pretty lady with dyed light brown hair pulled to a pony tail and smooth pale skin, dressed in a stylish white blouse and black skirt. Yi Hong guessed she was probably from one of the high rise offices nearby.

 

          “Er... Ten ringgit, miss,” he said still awkwardly holding out the bags.

 

          She just continued to look at him with her dark brown eyes. She didn’t even blink, her fingers were outstretched but stock-still. It was like she was a broken wind up toy, frozen in time. Yi Hong felt uncomfortable under her gaze, the coffee shop was already hot and muggy but now it was like he was burning up. He felt like his head was being dunked in the boiling soup next to him.

 

          “Miss… ten ringgit?” he asked again. He was praying she would stop staring. If this continued, he would bolt. He would throw down his apron and knock over tables and chairs in a desperate attempt at escape.

          “Oh, sorry! Here you go! I was just… I’m tired. My mind was wandering,” she said with a gentle smile.

           Yi Hong gave her an awkward tepid smile in return. He would have believe her if this wasn’t the third time this had happened. The third time she had ordered two bags of wanton noodles and just stared at him inexplicably for what was probably just a few seconds but felt like eternity. He looked at her cautiously as she left, filled with dread that she would turn back and look at him again. But, she didn’t and she was gone.

 

          “Hey! What you’re doing, boy? Hurry up and take these bowls to table two!” the old man barked.

 

          Yi Hong quickly scampered off and did as he was told but for the rest of the night he was in a daze. While he was frying the wantons and watching the bronze oil bubble and simmer, her eyes, opened big and wide, popped into his mind. While he rinsed the noodles and poured the hot soup into the bowls, her face, blank and unreadable, invaded his thoughts.

 

          As he ferried each bowl to a table, tied up each bag to go, he pondered the reason for her stare. He knew it was not attraction. He was by no means handsome with his skinny awkward frame and acne-scared cheeks. A pretty lady like her, one that looked so elegant and graceful would definitely not be staring at his ugly mug with any semblance of romantic or sexual interest. Why then? He was a stranger, just some hawker who made her noodles.

 

          Perhaps she knew him? Maybe she was some forgotten friend or acquaintance from his past. Maybe she had forgotten him too and the stare was her trying to place him, delving deep into the archives of her memories in her own search.

 

          “You sick or something, boy? You weren’t really here tonight,” the old man said when it was time to close down the stalls.

 

          “I’m tired. My mind was wandering,” Yi Hong said.

          “You young people these days, always tired, always complaining. You’re probably going out drinking and partying after work. Is that it?”

 

          “No,” he said with a bemused grin. “I’m just tired but go on home. I’ll clean and finish up.”

 

          “Alright but get a good night’s sleep. You hear me, boy?”

 

          Yi Hong nodded but felt like tonight would be another night staring up at his dark ceiling. When he was done, he sat on a concrete block near the drain outside the closed coffee shop. Yi Hong brought up Facebook on his phone. He hadn’t used it in forever, his internet usage was regulated to following pretty women on Instagram and watching funny Youtube videos. He started the search.

 

          Truth was, he didn’t know many women, his female ‘friends’ on Facebook were mostly girls from high school. It was six years since he graduated and that time seemed so far away now. He wouldn’t be surprised if the mysterious woman was a former classmate he no longer recognized. As he clicked through each female face on his friends list, he couldn’t reconcile the women he was looking at with the girls he remembered.

 

          The school made them all wear those plain blue knee length uniforms and cut their hairs into ugly short bobs. But now, the lives of the girls he knew scattered to a hundred different directions, as different as the haircuts they now sported, long and straight, dyed and curly. There was Ai Ling, who he and his friends use to mock for being a tomboy, posting photos with local C-list celebrities as some sort of social media influencer. Jie Xin, the perfect straight A student’s feed was now nothing but inspirational quotes attached to pictures of essential oils.

 

          In the midst of his search, Yi Hong forgot his original purpose. He clicked through each profile, scrolled from top to bottom, tracing the evolution of their lives. It was no longer contained to just the girls, he needed to find out what happened to all his former classmates. Of course, not all lives were glamorous, despite the meticulous curation, Yi Hong could still detect the ups and downs. Still, they were lives, Yi Hong didn’t know what he had.

 

          He continued tapping and scrolling away outside the closed coffeeshop until a notification informing him his battery was dying came up. He decided he needed to stop then and headed home for a good night’s rest like he promised his boss.

 

          On his bed, the glow of his phone’s screen in the darkness was starting to make his eyes sore, his thumb felt tingly touching the hot charging screen. He knew he wouldn’t find the woman, she was not a face from his past but he continued tapping and scrolling away in search of something else.

*

          Jessica watched as the young man poured the soup into the plastic bags, then the noodles and the wantons and finally tie them all up together. He performed this act swiftly and meticulously yet she could tell he was feeling self-conscious. She didn’t blame him, she would feel incredibly awkward too if some strange lady stared at her face each time she came by. Just as he was finishing up and about to hand her the bags, she steeled herself, sternly told herself not to look. Don’t make this weird. But the more she forced the urge down the stronger it became.

          When he said “Here you go, miss,” Jessica stared at him again trying to absorb every detail of his face. Again, she was lost in a deep dark ocean, submerged in a sea of nostalgia and regret.

 

          She broke through and said the same thing she did every time “Oh sorry!”

          She really needed to stop coming here and bothering the poor boy. This was embarrassing for the both of them. But Jessica knew she would be back here next week, it was a compulsion that had turned into a ritual.

          “Wanton noodles again? I was hoping for some curry laksa,” her mother said when she unloaded the bags into bowls in the kitchen.

 

          “I’ll get you some, tomorrow,” Jessica replied. She bit into the crispy wanton and chewed on it fast with a big gulp of soup.

          “Look at you gobbling up your noodles like that! So undignified!” her mother said with a sneer.

 

          “It’s just the two of us here, Ma. Who cares how I eat.” As she took in a large helping of slithering noodles she made sure to emphasize the slurping sounds.

 

          “Little digressions become ugly habits. What will your future husband think if you act all polite and graceful in public but eat like a hog at home?”

 

          “I’ll tell him to close his eyes if it bothers him so much.”

 

          Her mother gave a deep sigh, “You’re so stubborn. So pig-headed. Is this why you haven’t been able to find a boyfriend yet?”

 

          “Possibly,” she shrugged.

 

          “This is my fault, I’ve raised you to be such a ‘good girl.’ All you do is go to work and then come straight back home. You don’t go out! Socialize! Meet new people!”

          Jessica just shrugged again.

          “Letting all that beauty go to waste,” her mother said shaking her head.

 

          While she was washing the bowls, Jessica thought about what her mother said. Raised to be a ‘good girl’. She thought about how she was raised. The bowls were already squeaky clean but she applied soap and scrubbed them again.

 

          She remembered when she was ten and her mother suddenly announced that her name was ‘Jessica’ and her brother’s name was ‘Michael’.

          “What?! Why are you calling me that?” Michael asked.

 

          “All the important people have Christian names, celebrities, politicians, big businessmen. Your father has a Christian name.” Their mother barely spoke English and they were definitely not Christian.

 

          “Michael sounds stupid. It’s so boring, I’ll pick out my own name,” her brother said but he never did. Soon, everyone called him Michael and that was what he was stuck with.

         

          Jessica liked her new Christian name right away. It rolled off the tongue. ‘Jessica Ooi’, it sounded chic and professional. She told her friends to start calling her Jessica and her teachers too. She was surprised how quickly everyone adapted. Soon, she only heard her full Chinese name on formal occasions or when forms had to be filled.

          She still liked this name her mother had given her. She loved it when he said it with his deep luxurious voice, “Jessica. I love your skin Jessica, so pale, so beautiful.”

          That was another thing her mother had ‘given’ her, unblemished smooth pale skin, almost as white as ivory. Whenever they were outside, her mother would shield her with a big black umbrella as if the rays of the sun would turn Jessica into ash. When

Jessica thought of joining the girl scouts in school for her extracurricular activities, her mother shook her head and said “How about the choir instead?”

          Jessica could hear her mother laughing at the TV from the living room. She wanted to stay in the kitchen forever, do nothing but wash the bowls, scrub them again and again till they were as brittle as dry leaves. But, she finished up and joined her mother staring at the television screen. It was a Korean drama, tumultuous romances between beautiful people who looked like porcelain dolls. Their skin were even whiter and smoother than Jessica’s.

 

          She heard her mother take a deep breath as the lovers had a fateful reunion under a gorgeous pink cherry blossom tree. She wondered if that was where her brother Michael was, Korea, if he was meeting someone under falling pink petals. She wondered why that young hawker at the noodle stand reminded her so much of him.

 

*

          When the lady came again, Yi Hong felt even more uncomfortable than before. He had to shut everything out and just focus on the motion of his hands. So accustomed to the routine they usually operated on auto-pilot but under her gaze he had to dictate every little action internally or he would freeze and shatter in an instant. The same thing happened as always, that strange stare and awkward parting. Again, Yi Hong had to drown out the need to just run away. After a week of searching, he was no closer to identifying the woman’s identity. It was silly, he could have always just asked her of course. Easy peasy, just words. But Yi Hong couldn’t do it.

          Not long after the lady left, a heavy rain fell, the kind that made the swipe of windshield wipers seem utterly useless. Not many people came out to the coffeeshop to eat, leaving Yi Hong some downtime. He opened up Facebook and repeated his strange ritual again. He looked through his friends list, tapping on a profile, scrolling through their timeline from top to bottom. It didn’t matter if he had already examined every facet of their digital lives before. He consumed all of these ‘friends’ again and again with a ravenous hunger.

 

          Yi Hong knew his actions would look incredibly creepy to most but he wasn’t obsessed with the people themselves. What he was doing was studying, he was examining the changes, the transformations in their lives, how they came to where they are now. Again and again, he thought about who they were when he knew them, young high school students with the world prostrated before them. Yi Hong knew he should stop, he had spent so many years burying the past, pushing it down into a deep dark pit but now he was getting drunk in it, swirling inside its intoxicating waters.

         

          He was ‘studying’ Chen Xian, another long lost friend, didn’t matter how much they knew about each other, they were all friends back then. It was so easy. Chen Xian was now some sort of engineer. He had a new post, ‘Ran into an old friend from school today’ was the caption and underneath it a photo. When Yi Hong saw it he burned with a fever so hot it could melt his organs away from the inside. It was a similar sensation to the torture he experienced under the woman’s stare and he felt the same pathetic desperation for escape. He was withdrawing himself from everything. Shrinking and shrinking until he was nothing.

 

          “Hey, boy! Are you listening?! One bowl for Table Four!’ the old man shouted.

 

          “Sorry, boss!” Yi Hong said bowing his head down and quickly getting to work. He avoided using his phone after that, keeping himself busy with useless work. Still, the memories came back to him in waves he had no hope of breaking.

 

          The face he saw belonged to Li Guan, his best friend in high school. It was the only profile on his list he didn’t click, the one he deliberately avoided. They used to be inseparable, people rarely said Yi Hong, they said “Yi Hong and Li Guan.” Their teachers used to say that in an exasperated manner while punishing them together, making them stand outside class or swatting the cane on their asses. They were such dumb kids, trying to act tough, role-playing as gangsters when they were just two bit punks. It was a miracle they even graduated with all the time they spent loitering in dead shopping malls, drinking in smoky karaoke bars and talking smack to each other in late night mamak stands. But what choice did they have, they needed an escape, both of their homes were just stifling prisons, vacuums of warmth. Yi Hong and Li Guan, they had each other, brothers in arms against the world.

 

          “You’re slow again, boy!” the old man.

 

          Yi Hong looked around, surprised that the coffeeshop was already closing down. He told the old man to go again and leave the cleaning up to him. The old man responded with his usual grumblings and complaints. Once more, when the other hawkers left and shuttered the doors, Yi Hong crouched on the concrete blocks outside and savored the peace of night.

          He let the final wave drown him, the ending to their story. Yi Hong and Li Guan were on their bikes in the parking lot of a dingy mall. That was when they spotted it, the slick blue Bentley. It was a beauty, it glowed even under the parking lot’s flickering fluorescent lights. A car that was more expensive than both their houses combined. It was ridiculous, they first admired the audacious opulence then snickered at it.

 

          An idea came into Yi Hong’s head, a juvenile one. It was a game they played before. He suggested they give the car an upgrade. Li Guan was resistant at first but Yi Hong convinced him. He remembered how they laughed, couldn’t stop laughing while their keys screeched against the car’s perfectly polished exterior. Yi Hong had a big grin on his face when he saw his own distorted reflection next to the words ‘cunt, cock, fuck’ and all manner of vulgarities scrawled all over the car.

 

          Just how stupid were they? There was a security cameras in the parking lot. Two days later, each of their families got a call. The owner wasn’t just a rich man, he was the rich man. When Yi Hong’s father screamed at him and told him who the car belonged to, even a dumbfuck like him knew the man, a real estate tycoon whose hands slithered down every pocket. His father told Yi Hong what a piece of shit he was, what a disgrace, what a useless pile of trash.

 

          “Thankfully, he is a merciful man. A great man,” his father said.

 

          The man was ready to forgive them on one simple condition, they apologize. Yi Hong, Li Guan and their fathers met up at the man’s house. It wasn’t so much a house as a fortress, the fences were intimidatingly high and the gate was a harsh steel beast. The guard let them in and when they passed the koi pond into the house, Yi Hong thought ‘Who the fuck has a koi pond?’

          The man sat on the couch of his luxurious living room like a benevolent king. Their fathers immediately went into long stammering apologies, chastising the boys’ behaviors. The man smiled at them said he understood the difficulties of parenting and the misguided nature of youth. He was a rebel himself he claimed, a thug who disregarded rules before he turned himself around and became the man he is. Everyone deserves a second chance.

 

          Li Guan went to apologize first. Yi Hong saw his hands shaking when he bowed down and said “I’m deeply sorry. I was an idiot, a fool. Please accept my apology.”

          The man gave a gentle gracious nod to Li Guan. It was Yi Hong’s turn and the man looked at him with the same ‘humble’ smile. Yi Long stepped forward and punched the man in the face.

 

          His life was a blur after that, the look of shock on the man’s face, the guard dragging him away, his father grovelling for forgiveness, the court case, the sentencing, the year in prison, his parent’s last phone call. Yi Hong wasn’t even a passenger in his own body, he wasn’t even a ghost, he was emptiness. He had nobody and was nobody. Maybe that’s why the woman’s stare made him so uncomfortable, made him want to explode, she looked at him. She reminded me him was real.

*

          Jessica was starting to enjoy watching the young noodle hawker work. She found peace in watching his swift movements, the way he seamlessly transitioned from one step to the next. She no longer fought down the urge to stare at him and he seemingly just relented and let her do it. It was now just another part of her routine, the churning of life she could not escape from. As always, Jessica took the two bags home. Her mother no longer complained either, she waited for them with anticipation. Friday nights were wanton noodles night.

          Jessica’s phone started vibrating as they began eating, buzzing incessantly on the dining room table. She knew who it was and ignored the texts. Then it happened again and again until the vibrations became a continuous melody.

 

          “Aren’t you going to pick that up?” her mother asked.

 

          Jessica just shook her head.

 

          “It could be from work. Something important.” Her mother knew she had no friends to call her.

 

          “Whatever it is, it can wait after dinner.” She picked up the phone, dropped it into her handbag and sealed it up. Her mother eyed her suspiciously as she went back to slurping her noodles.

 

          When dinner was over, Jessica didn’t pick up her phone. Again, she luxuriated in the act of cleaning bowls. She took her time to scrub the bowls again and again till the tip of her fingers wrinkled from soap water. Even though, she couldn’t hear it or see it she knew the phone was still ringing in desperation, begging to be seen.

 

          Jessica knew she couldn’t ignore it any longer. She unsealed the bag and gingerly picked up the phone with the tips of her fingers. Eighteen missed calls, twenty two texts. It sprung alive in her hands again. Twenty three texts. ‘I’m sorry, please pick up,’ it said. Jessica put it back in the bag where it continued crying without an audience.

 

          She went down to the living room and sat down on the couch to watch all the beautiful people in their beautiful lives on the TV screen.

 

          “Was it from work?” her mother asked.

 

          “Yes, it was my boss. It’s alright. It’s been dealt with,” Jessica responded. It was a half truth. That was her boss but it certainly hadn’t been dealt with.

 

          Jessica had broken up with him two hours earlier. She went into his office and announced it was over. She couldn’t do this anymore. She started making plans in her head, how to find a new job, how to explain it to her mother. It was half-hearted, the plans would soon be abandoned. They had played this game before and she knew the results. Later at night, she would feel the ache. Her heart would cave and she would be floating in the abyss. The next morning, she would let his honeyed words soothe her and fill the ache. All would remain well until it happened, his wife would visit the office and smile innocently at her, or a picture of his newborn son would be shown around to her colleagues. Guilt and shame would consume her and the cycle would continue.

 

          Jessica looked at her mother, she was completely engrossed in the Korean drama. She was surprised her mother never got bored of it, sitting in front of a television screen was essentially her life these days. She was only in her fifties but she looked so old, she acted old. Jessica remembered when she was younger and how her friends would marvel at her mother’s beauty. Jessica feared that this was her fate, that she would become this lonely old woman next to her. She knew she was already on the path, she was just another man’s mistress just like her mother.

 

          Jessica always knew her family was a little different, their father was only home a few nights a month. He was a big business man, her mother explained, always on the go. One day, Jessica saw her father in the paper, there he was dressed up in a fancy suit shaking hands with some fancy government man on the front page. She told her mother she was going to tell all her friends at school about this. Her mother’s face suddenly turned grave. She snatched the paper away and ordered Jessica not to speak a word of this.

 

          There was no sudden realization on the nature of her parent’s relationship, it was a gradual process. Even as a child, she could slowly piece together the pieces and Jessica came to understood what her mother was and what they were. It didn’t make her love her father less. Instead she clung on to him more desperately, even more eager to please, to be a good little girl. She would hold up her grade reports, the pictures she drew and he would beam at her with pride. It was useless of course. As they grew older, the visits became more and more rare. Their mother changed too, she would tell them she was sick and needed to go to the hospital but prohibit them from visiting. She would then return with firmer cheeks, a slimmer body, a sleeker jaw and even larger breasts. These changes would go unacknowledged. Her mother made no mention of these obvious modifications despite the fact that they were teenagers then. So, Jessica and her brother kept their silence but Jessica could see the disgust in her brother’s eyes. He started staying out late, playing basketball with friends was his excuse.

 

          Eventually, her father stopped coming. There was no dramatic climax, no announcement, it just happened. The days between his last visit grew larger and larger and they all knew he wasn’t coming back. They never talked about it. Jessica wondered if her mother was still waiting. She was, she dreamed of him swinging open their apartment door and her running up to him, telling him all the grand achievements in her life.

          In time, they lost her brother too. Michael stopped coming home for dinner, stopped telling them when he would be away. Just like her father, he stopped living with them and slipped away. He disappeared without a word. Jessica searched desperately for him but he didn’t want to be found. All leads went cold.

 

          Jessica wasn’t hurt by the silence. Silence was all they ever offered Micheal. She knew he was slipping away but she didn’t say anything. Why didn’t she?

 

          Jessica tried, she tried so hard but she was never really a participant in life. Things happened to Jessica. She felt like a corpse in the middle of the sea, a slave to the tides pushing her to random shores. All she did was search for things to cling onto like the dishonest love of an older man and the nervous face of a young noodle hawker.

 

*

          Yi Hong brought the bowl of wanton noodles to Li Guan’s table and sat next to him. He spent so much time noting the evolution of all his old classmates yet Li Guan looked the exact same. Five years on, he still looked like the same cheery happy go-lucky kid that Yi Hong knew so well.

          Yi Hong messaged him a few days ago, he told himself it was a spur of the moment thing but it was something he had slowly accumulated the courage to do. Yi Hong expected the message to be seen and ignored the moment he hit send but to his surprise Li Guan replied immediately.

 

          “Thank you,” Li Guan said, his eyes met Yi Hong’s and he stared at him for a moment. Yi Hong felt the familiar heat building up, the inescapable burning sensation invading his insides. The need to run grappled his heart. He craved escape. But it was as if that strange lady’s weekly stares had prepared him for this. He endure it. The feeling came then went.

 

          “No problem,” Yi Hong replied with a gentle smile.

 

          “You know I used to eat here all the time. My father used to take us here for dinner on Saturdays when we were visiting my grandma. Small world. Never expected to see you here, hawking noodles.”

 

          “It’s a good enough job. My boss pays me a fair share. The hours are long but it’s simple work.”

         

          “Somehow it makes me happy that this place is still here.”

 

          “My boss keeps complaining that we’re getting less customers. ‘All the young people want air conditioned restaurants and big franchise foods,’ he says. But we’re still here for now.”

 

          Li Guan picked up his chopsticks for a second then put them back down.

          “You know I really don’t know how to say this, I didn’t know when but… I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.” Li Guan’s eyes were downcast, looking at his noodles with shame.

          “What are you talking about?” Yi Hong asked in utter confusion.

 

          “I mean… Convincing you to scratch up that guy’s car. You thought it was a bad idea but I kept egging you on, calling you a coward and…”

 

          “Wait! I was the one who got you to scratch up the car. You were the one who didn’t want to at first and…”

 

          “No! I’m pretty sure that I… Huh!” Li Guan sunk into his chair for a moment trying to make sense of his memories. Yi Hong on the other hand was filled with clarity.

 

          “It doesn’t matter how it happened. It happened and it certainly wasn’t your fault.”

 

          Li Guan closed his eyes and gave out a long exhalation as if he was attempting to excavate every particle of old air from his lungs. Yi Hong wondered how long his friend was carrying this misplaced guilt. It hurt him but it also touched him. He was still remembered.

          Li Guan opened his eyes and looked flush with embarrassment. “I do have a question though …”

          “Why I hit him?”

          Li Guan nodded.

          “I don’t know honestly. It’s something I thought long and hard about but I really don’t. He just had one of those face I guess.”

 

          “Can’t argue there” he said with a toothy smile, a smile Yi Hong didn’t realize he missed. “You know… I’ve been thinking about this whole thing for a long time and another thing I could never figure out was what a guy as rich as him was doing in that dingy run down mall?”

          Yi Hong shrugged. “Maybe he was getting porn. Remember that store on the third floor? It had some really crazy Japanese bootlegs. Even a guy like him couldn’t get the stuff they had.”

          The both of them burst out laughing. Yi Hong laughed so hard tears were leaking from his eyes. They talked and talked and talked. Yi Hong marveled at the simplicity of it. It was as if someone hit the unpause button and their relationship from six years ago just resumed like that. They were the two same teenage kids talking smack again but also grown adults with a gulf of divergent experiences. Yi Hong understood one didn’t need to contradict the other.

*

          When Jessica went down to the coffeshop for her weekly Friday night wanton noodles, she found nothing. There was a lighter square on the dark ground where the stall should have been, an imprint of its absence. For a moment she was confused, she thought she had entered the wrong place but everything else around her remained the same. She stood for a while, oddly unsure of what to do.

 

          “Looking for the wanton noodles, miss? The owner finally retired a few days ago actually,” said the chicken rice hawker next to her.

 

          “W-Why?” Jessica stuttered.

 

          “He was getting old. His assistant decided to quit and I guess he didn’t want to go through the process of hiring a new one. Just thought it was best to pack it up.”

 

          “Oh.”

 

          “Say why not get some chicken rice instead? I’m telling you lady my sauce is amazing.”

 

          Jessica drove home in a daze, blood in her veins but emptiness in her mind.

 

          “Oh, no wanton noodles? You got chicken rice?” her mother asked. There was disappointment in her voice.

 

          Jessica just nodded and unpacked the rice onto the plates. She sat down across her mother from the dining room table, picked up her spoon and started sobbing uncontrollably. It was an ugly wretched cry, snot started dribbling down her nose and warm tears splashed onto her rice. Not dignified at all.

 

          She saw a blurry vision of her mother’s shocked face through her watery eyes. She looked like she wanted answers but was to afraid to ask. Her awkward confusion pained Jessica.

 

          “I miss Michael and I miss Pa,” Jessica said between heavy heaves.

          Her mother sat lock still in her chair, eyes diverted away from Jessica. The familiar silence draped over the room and Jessica was left weeping alone but she knew she shouldn’t be, she didn’t deserve to be.

          “You miss them too, don’t you Ma?” she asked desperately. She stared at her mother’s withered old face intensely through the tears not letting go.

          Her mother succumbed. Her eyes slowly drifted back to her. “Of course, I do,” she said softly. “I think about your brother everyday. Where he is, what he’s doing. He’s my baby boy, I’m so worried he’s…”

 

          Now it was Jessica’s mother’s turn to sob, her cry was even uglier than Jessica’s, the inconsolable wail of a widow on a gravestone. The sight stung Jessica’s heart but somehow the hurt felt good. She reached across the table and took her mother’s hands.

          “He’ll come back. I know he will,” Jessica said sincerely.

          Her mother squeezed Jessica’s hands and said “Do you love him?”

          “W-What?!” The question shocked Jessica.

“Who are you talkin…” Her mother stared at her with a grave intensity, her teary brown eyes were unrelenting. Jessica felt like she was an aluminium foil trapped in a microwave ready to explode. The only way to stop it was the truth. “Y-Yes. Yes, I do.”

 

          “Does he love you?”

 

          Jessica had no answer for that. She looked at her mother with embarrassment.

 

          “Then he doesn’t deserve you.”

 

          Jessica gave a small nod and said “I know.”

 

          Her mother withdrew her hand, handed Jessica a few tissues and they ate dinner without another word. Jessica washed the plates and joined her mother watching her Korean dramas. Together they watched a beautiful woman embrace the love of a beautiful man. An emotional ballad played while the television couple gave each other a passionate perfect television kiss. Jessica heard her mother give a loud tired yawn. So, she grabbed the remote and changed the channel.

Published by The Plentitudes.  April 2021.

Photo credit: Original painting of "Two Bowls of Pork Rib Noodles, Please" by Feng Gooi   

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