Can I get a cup of coffee please? – Preeti Madhusudhan, California

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“You know what’s nice about sitting here and..”

“I have this insane craving for caviar you know…”

“Insane? You got that right girl. So you have on a pair of Gucci hand me down tights and this place is the fucking Hyatt by the harbor? ”

“I told you this place is eugh. I am sure I have grime even up my unmentionables.”

“Mornin’ folks! We just got a batch of fresh muffins, piadines and egg rolls out. ”

“A chocolate chip muffin and a large hot chocolate please.”

“Make that two. And do you know if that chocolate muffin is vegan and made with whole meal?”

“What are you, like Martha Stewart of the far-east? Cut the shit. So, bro! A piadine is like pizza right? One of those with extra cheese, 2 egg rolls and a large mocha with all this, dawg. ”

“There goes my appetite. Grease enough to dip my gut in.”

“See? This is what am talking about! This is nice! All of us sitting here together, looking at St.James park and hearing the city, and….”

“You do sound more and more delightfully gay by the day….you will be talking about the pattern on the tea cosy in that “delightfully retro” wicker basket next.”

“Why? ‘Cos he said it’s nice? He is just sensitive! Will you just let the man express hisself?”

“Actually! This isn’t “nice” at all. If he really was gay and “sensitive” we would have had hygienic, homemade “whole meal” sandwiches out of said “delightfully retro” wicker basket. Instead I am stuck with a god-damned skull numbing dick-wad group consisting of clichéd personalities – the optimistic gay, the Ivy League prissy and the pseudo deprived colored male. Not a single original thought between the 3 of you.”

“Is that right? I mean the syntax in that last phrase- between the three of you?”

“And that is your objection to that? That the syntax “may be” wrong? yo! Rick dick, ya see? Nate is gay.”

“One more air flick Ritu and I punch you in the nose.”

“There we go!”

“Whoa ok. Here is my chocolate chip muffin and Rick’s mocha. ”

“That does not taste vegan or whole meal. It is just like gluck… ”

“Oh! Would your highness like someone to spade the “gluck” out of her honorable plate? Give it a rest dumb-ass.My piadine is just fine. Extra cheese oozing all over the plate. Hmmm. here Gena, wanna a piece? i know you want some grime in your system. Ooh does all that violent gesticulation mean you don’t wanna bite? Yeah Ritu, that’s right! Little black me used “gesticulate” in a sentence. And why you such a pissed puss this “nice” morning, Gene? ”

“It’s nothing. How long does it take these morons to get me a glass of tap water? ”

“Here it comes! Don’t mind her waiter; she is just a little testy this morning.”

“More like menopausal! What got into you this morning bitch? Trying to get the waiter to spit on our food?”

“Ah! There it is. Knew that even her Ladyship needs to be colorful from time to time, like the rest of us poor slugs.”

“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!”

“No need to get up and go honey! Here! Now Gene! No, do sit! I was just thinking what a nice day this was! The sunshine, the birds in the St. James park! ”

“Oh fuck the park and birds Nate! This is frigging Australia. I see cockatoos by the dozens when I go to the Dolphins pool. The confounded parakeets are just everywhere and anywhere and so are damn kangaroos, at every damn interstate highway! What’s your point? What has got into her? Gene, this isn’t cute and wacky anymore! ”

“She never said it was your highness!”

“Oh shut the fuck up Rick…you nitwit!”

“Your highness Ritu ! Oh such profanity in the august presence of the birds on such a “nice” day?”

“Will you both please be a little sensitive? She had a rough night.”

“Nate! ohhh! We agreed not to talk about it.”

“What? What happened to Gene?”

“It’s ok Genie, it’s just Rick and Ritu.”

“Yeah ok. You know how I go to my aunt’s at Flemington every now and then?”

“What aunt?”

“Yea! You have an aunt here? ‘Coz I could eat at an aunt’s”

“You have eaten at her aunt’s dumb-ass”

” I have ?”

“Yea, yea man! The food that gene brings over to the dorm sometimes, the pies and the tasty subs with the you know the wonder layer of moisture?”

“So gay! “Wonderful layer of moisture “indeed. You sound just like Matt Preston.”

“And, he is not gay your highness!”

“Says who, asshole?”

“Uh! Shut up! Nate you fool, told you not to talk about it!”

“Ow! Stop that Genie! Your fist is so knuckly. Guys just!”

“Who says knuckly you nit wit”

“Anyway, so I went to Flemington this weekend. Auntie runs a catering business. A small family-run thing. Licensed and all, but nothing fancy. She doesn’t advertise or anything. Just word of mouth. So it’s mostly college kids like us, single folks or folks working late…”

“Yea, yea Genie. We get it, small family business that sells Asian food, go on.”

“Not Asian man. I just said, she makes like pies and subs and just anything man.”

“Oh my god, kill me now.”

“Would be an honor your highness”

“Idiots! Just listen. So anyway, I went this Saturday. I help out with the stuff sometimes. You know, going to the market or cleaning, chopping etc. auntie makes huge heaps of phad thai for brunch when I visit. She knows I like it. And she always makes an extra helping of toasted peanuts, covered in just the right amount of fish oil, she brings in bottles of them from our village, every time she visits covering them in old sarongs and hay. She also asks for bottles from friends who……

“Not that this isn’t a nice story, but you could you just maybe fuckin’ forward a little? We are growing old here hon! ”

“Jus’, you know jus’ ”

“What? Jus’ what Nate, let her finish this sunshine- in-the-thai-hamlet story? Another time dude. Gene, please!”

“Sorry! It’s just that auntie is just this traditional, sweet person. She just feeds to show love you know? Her food is just so awesome! And my cousins are just so, just so…Uh! Couple of assholes! The older one gets cheeky with me when we are on the train you know.”

“What?! Honey! Am so sorry!”

“Aw! s’awright! I show that pig. The Flemington to Olympic park connect is so short right? So this moron thinks he can grope within that time, so I won’t say anything or whatever!”

“Wait. What’s at the Olympic park? You can get veggies and stuff at the Flemington market. What do you have to go to the park for?”

“Naw. Auntie has a Thai supplier there. You know for peanuts and fish oil, sauce…”

“So it ain’t an Asian eatery, but  ya’ still need fish oil?”

“Right. So if dick-wad and neat-nancy here don’t mind, maybe you could talk about why you are so psycho this morning and not bore us to death with the chronicles of your family’s culinary skills?”

“Uh oh! Her royal assness is provoked. Beware Eugene Tham! She may not knight you this year.”

“Yea so anyway Ritu is right. So as always I got there Friday night after we left from King’s Cross.”

“That was fun man! You should have stayed till later Gene. Nate here got picked up by a cross dresser. ”

“Hey man! That was not funny at all! I was outraged. I really thought Stella was a gorgeous woman!”

“So anyway. T’was pretty late when I reached. I just went to bed. Must have been some pretty strong stuff from that bar that night right? Next morning I was all in a haze, but I anyway ate a ton of the phad thai as always right? I mean I had this immense bowl full of it and there was somethin’ ’bout the fish oil in the peanut side too it was so rich in chilli, the small red thai chilli? But the strong stuff from the night before and the huge brekky was you know jus just too much maybe.”

“You about to tell us your horrid boom-boom potty tale girl? lemme tell you am not in the mood.”

“It’s not that! So, like I said, I was in some sort of a haze, you know. Like a fug, it was a hot day wasn’t it? And the afternoon was so humid. Flemington gets that way sometimes, so sweaty, like, back home. You eat the good, heavy food and then it gets so hot, that you just wanna lie down on your back and sleep under a straw roof. But not like sleep you know, like a drugged state, like a fug. so you are aware of what goes on around you, your eyes are closed and heavy, but you are not asleep but you just wanna be a vegetable and rot, slowly. You know?”

“Nuh- uh babe,, what’d’ya take that night?”

“May I have some of that? You know just to try for the sake of an enlightening experience?”

“Get on with the story puh-lease!”

“So anyway, I was like that and auntie asked us to get some stuff from the market. Some spices from the china town market near town hall which was weird. She doesn’t cook much Chinese. And the Thai food that she cooks doesn’t need special spices from the Chinese market. To clear my head, she made me some sweet milky tea which only confounded my fug”

“Compounded, you mean compounded.”

“No I mean confounded. ‘Cos it became something entirely different. I got a little dizzy and more hung over than before and a little more melancholic and dark. Drinking that gave me a sense of foreboding, dread.”

“Of what?”

“I couldn’t put a finger on it. i could hear the dry leaves rustle in the parking lot outside the train station at Flemington. And while walking out of the Town hall, instead of turning towards the harbor; my legs kept trying to drag me to the QVB side. You know, as if the old building was calling out to me. I don’t know if you have been to the market near the china town. Once you go past the shiny shops up front that sell the silk scarves, the fake Gucci, Versace purses and the shiny electric toys, you get to the vegetable market at the very end. You can smell it from a few feet away as you approach it. That’s what I wonder about the big grocery stores, you know. You never smell the gentle rotting of the fresh vegetables and fruits. Just past this fairly big section of produce, there is a narrow strip of shops, you can’t….”

“So you sure you out of this fug thingy Genie? Sure sound like you still in it.”

“You can’t see these shops unless you are looking for them. They are dark, dingy and with a strange smell. Kind of like formaldehyde that specimens used to be stored in jars, but with a mild sweet rotting smell to them. ”

“Maybe, that was what you smelt while approaching the vegetable market too and maybe, that is why you don’t smell that in the big grocers. You know them being more hygienic and all…”

“Maybe. But I don’t think that’s that. The Flemington market smells that way too. So anyway we were after “The Good Manchu” shop. It was in the middle of that aisle; unremarkable, much like its neighbors. Old small, glass pickle jars containing strange roots and shoots like things lined the store front. Auntie and I had to go in one after the other to enter the store. ”

“Oh. So your aunt went with you, not your cousin. At least you were spared that, that day.”

“Hmmmm. There was this thing that my aunt wanted to pick herself. One of her clients required something specific for a ritual they were going to organize, a religious event that required some ingredient. Now from the minute we entered the market i was very nervous. I thought it was the food, the drinks from the night before, the peanuts in the oil and the tea too. And this shop was just ….”

“So you talking about one of those small places where a pleasant ageless Chinese person with no knowledge of English just smiles beatifically at’chya and robs you blind for a pen that lights up?”

“Dude! That was a tad discriminatory don’t you think?”

“What’ya talkin about man?”

“Guys! This was a small dirty dark dank place. Ok? At first it looked like no one was there at the shop. Auntie called out. Seemed like she knew this person. Then we heard her reply from somewhere inside. There was an opening at the rear covered by a dirty curtain. So we waited for her to come through. Then auntie started talking again, as though her friend was there in the room. But she still wasn’t. And then I heard her!”

“What do you mean when you say that?”

“As though, she was in the room with us half a foot from me across the narrow, wooden shop counter! She was right there! Standing on the counter!”

“Well what do you mean standing on the counter? How could you not see her on the counter? What exactly did you take at Rob’s party that night? And here we were guilty you didn’t have fun with us at King’s cross.”

“I didn’t take anything ok? I was not high on anything, i swear! She was just there. And once I saw her I don’t know how I could have missed her earlier. ”

“Yeah, so how did you not see someone standing on the counter?”

“Cos, ‘cos she was…she was so…”

“It’s ok Genie come on look at me. Here hon, look at me…. just tell them the way you told me ok try not to picture it. Her.. I mean the scene. Ok…just tell them”

“Tell us what? What the hell did you see? c’mon what’d’ya see?”

“She was tiny ok? Tiny! She was like this high ok? Tiny! Tiny! Small! ”

“Ok, ok girl! Calm down.”

“Two questions. So you sure you weren’t high? And secondly, she was tiny! Why are you so freaked out? ”

“Shut up Ritu! Can’t you see the girl is shaking? God! You stuck up prissy!”

“Please! Guys! c’mon, leave your mating ritual for another time! ”

“Nate! You bogan! This looks like mating ritual to you?”

“Yea man! Won’t touch her with the end of a barge pole bro!”

“Oh you wouldn’t would you? Mr. i-can’t-keep- my …”

“Shut up! It’s obvious to everyone around you guys!”

“Genie!”

“Uh! So anyway do go on with the “horror” story.”

“I need to talk and talk and dilute this thing I feel. Otherwise I don’t much care for your sarcasm. I could definitely use some support now.”

“Ok hon no need to cry. Talk it out with us.”

“So anyway. I told you of this weird bloated, heavy foggy thing I had going on right?”

“You were calling it “the fug” till now, but that’s fine, go on.”

” I have never felt like that before, you know like everything is completely bleached and sharp and in a white haze one minute and black and grey the next, and I had this feeling that I was either to going to throw up any second or float away.”

“So for the nth time you idiot, what did you take at the bar that night?”

“I don’t think that’s that, must be something she took afterward. You think your aunt mixed some’n in that tea you had?”

“You know she talked? It was so surreal, like a ride in the Warner Brothers movie world. Have you been on the Scooby doo ride there? When the roller coaster goes down the deep dark tunnel, you feel the rush of air up your face, and its pitch dark and you know you are latched up tight so you wanna laugh as you plunge down? It’s a lot like that only you wanna hold your chest, so your heart doesn’t fall out. I was ashamed that I was petrified of something so small. You know the fear we have for insects. I can tell you it’s for everything small. Anything smaller or larger than average human size freaks us out. ”

“What then?”

“We are Manchu” says this little thing then.”

“Hmm?”

“The little person, she says to me,” we are Manchu! We are Manchu you and I! ”

“Sorry, but what’s that? Do you know?”

“The Manchu are a race of warriors, Chinese. They are from Mongolia. They were part of the Emperor’s security; his principal generals of war till the communists took over China.”

“Ok…so?”

“Uh-huh …go on”

“So the last of the eight clans of the Manchu warriors that protected the emperor were tried and executed for treason by the communists or so we thought. Apparently, the last general sent his family out. His seven children were sent to different places. Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand!”

“Oh! So your aunt is one?”

“No my mom is one!”

“Your aunt is your mom?”

“No! My aunt is my aunt! The little midget thingy is my mom! Don’t ask me for details. I don’t understand anything myself. She walked on the counter up to me. Auntie gave me magnifying glasses to see her. It was so gross, you know and to think I am talking of my parent that way. She was like this miniature person. I think I look a little like her my eyes especially. ”

“Aww! Genie!”

“Shush with the “aww” you idiot, she is all grossed out”

“She had on these perfect small clothes, everything small, to size, to scale. She was talking all the time, she has a big voice for such a small person, or she was probably yelling. I don’t know. Auntie is my dad’s sister. This little one my mom is the last one of the Manchu generals’ families alive. She said that once she delivered me, she was found out by the government. They were flushing out all of the “traitors”. So she took a Chinese herb that helped her to become like this, almost invisible. Alive, so she could keep an eye on me but not visible.  ”

“So why did she want to see you now?”

“Ah! That’s the problem see? Seems the government spies sense the presence of a person of the direct lineage, someone with a claim to the throne.”

“What throne?”

“Sense? What like “the force” from star wars? What are you both blabbering of? Nate you took the same stuff as her man?”

“Apparently, the last emperor of China…”

“Yeah?”

“Well, he had Manchu blood in him. From his mother’s side of the family. They were related to one of the generals’ families. ”

“Yours?”

“And when the emperor isn’t there anymore, the throne passes on to the last of the survivors.”

“Which is you?!!”

“But there are no more hierarchies and no more kings and generals.”

“Not as a form of governance. But as a trigger for a nation-wide rebellion, as a symbol of hope, as a front for other unsavory things, I don’t know. ”

“Wow! So you are wanted by the good guys, the bad guys and everyone in between?”

“No one knows. Yet. But that’s not a problem.”

“How?”

 

“She…uh…she…mom…that is that thing, she talked and walked up to me and when she finished all this she took my hand.”

“Aww!”

“Just shut it Ritu! it’s not like that at all . She took my hand and before I knew it, pricked me with something. It was like a sharp sting on my wrist.”

“I can see it. Is it that bright dot? Wait! …what is that? It’s like I can see light coming from it. Must be the reflection of sunlight from the window.”

“No, that’s her prick.”

“So you will become small? Oh no! ”

“Enough of the drama! Let her talk.”

“It’s like I am now made of light, I feel light, like flying away, you know like that feeling I had just aggravated now. Like there is just particles of light inside. And, and I don’t remember much. ”

“Like what don’t you remember?”

“Like where was I born, where did go to school? And what I had on Friday night.”

“Come to think of it, I don’t know where you were born….”

“Or went to school….”

“Or, had on Friday night. Like I said guys what a nice day!”

 

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