The following is a writing practice theme suggested by SloWalker on www.redravine.wordpress.com. As usual, the prompts from Red Ravine makes me want to clatter on the keyboard – so many thanks to the good folks there.
Paul Lim, a local gallery owner, took it upon himself to educate me about Chinese cuisine as it was practiced in the Chinatown enclave of the 60s. He treated me to my first samplings of Dim Sum in a clean and well decorated Pender Street establishment where I happily sucked cooked chicken toes and declared them delicious. To allow me a glimpse of the places frequented by senior Chinesemen after their gambling sessions in the Social Clubs, he took me to eat at the Green Door, one of the alley restaurants between Pender and Hastings Streets.
Here in a long narrow space, tables and chairs were squeezed in between dingy smoke and grease stained Chinese-newspaper wall-papered walls. Numerous elderly men chattered and drank from brown paper-covered bottles. The atmosphere was heavy with a fog of cigarette smoke mingled with steam from the rice cookers in the adjoining kitchen. We squeezed into an available spot. A young man plunked a cracked tea pot and glasses in front of us.
“Now, they’ll bring along something for us to eat.” explained Paul as he struggled out from his wet pea-jacket.
“Don’t we get to choose from a menu?”
“Relax! We’ll eat what they bring.”
Sure enough a dish of something unidentifiable arrived, along with two bowls of steamed rice and chopsticks. No forks and knives in this place. Paul dumped some stuff from the dish on top of his rice, then placed the same on my bowl. As I watched him dole out our feast, my eye was distracted by a grey shiny bug scooting across the table between our two rice bowls.
“Eeeuw! What was that?” I clutched my soggy coat about me for protection.
“Just some free protein,” commented Paul as he raised food to his mouth, calm as you please. “Okay… a cockroach, if you want to know.”
This did not put me off my feed, and I poked back the delicious food and noted other ‘cockroaches’ lazily walking up the newspaper-covered wall next to our table. Because they nearly blended into the wall-paper, I amused myself during the meal by counting to see how many of these bugs might make a relaxed appearance. No-one else in the room was trying to crush these with slaps from their shoes; there was no mass hysteria. I didn’t want to bring attention to myself as the only round-eyes AND female in the room. Even though this was my first cockroach sighting, I wanted to maintain a mien of ‘cool’, to not come across as some squeamish suburban girl.
The next time I saw a cockroach, my reaction was far from cool. It was, dare I say it, a great remove from neutral. Rumpole and I were flying home from the British Virgin Islands. The first leg of the flight, early in the morning, brought us to the San Juan, Puerto Rico airport. There we were to wait for the connecting flight to Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas.
The seedy San Juan airport lounge didn’t have the usual amenities of coffee-shops, restaurants, bars of North American airports. We were desperate for a cup of coffee. Rumpole sent me off to explore and see what I could rustle up. I wondered the hall, half-asleep, and bought two paper cups full of disgusting looking black dreck from a hole-in-the-wall vendor. No milk available to cut the taste.
I sauntered back to Rumpole, handed him his coffee. He took a sip and declared it undrinkable. I slumped onto the grey plastic chair beside him, sulked and tried to stay awake as I sipped the foul brew. I calmly looked around to note the details of the waiting room. Lots of empty chairs. Garbage strewn on the floor everywhere. Straggling groups of travellers trying to make themselves comfortable on the hard plastic chairs as they waited for their connecting flights.
Some movement below the row of chairs facing us distracted my eye. It was purposeful, not a particularly scurrying motion by a large black something the size of my hand. I watched in fascination as it stopped its passage and considered its next direction. Elbowed Rumpole smartly and squeaked, “What the hell is that thing?”
“Shit!” he snarled. “You made me spill my coffee.”
The thing started to move again. “Look, there goes a rat or something. Under the chairs. Right across from you!” I hauled my duffel bag into my lap and tucked my feet up on the seat under me. “Oh God! That’s huge!”
“That’s not a rat. It looks like a big bug. Maybe a cockroach.”
“I have seen cockroaches before. They were not black, nor huge.” I huddled on the plastic chair, clutching my duffel, trying to make myself invisible. Maybe the black thing would not choose to wander under my chair if it could not see me. I wondered if cockroaches could see. And I certainly didn’t want to bring one home as a souvenir.
I was seriously creeped out. Imagine unloading the duffel bag at home, pulling out snorkel, fins, swimsuit, towels, shirts and pants, along with an unwanted hitchhiker who would jump out and maybe make a panicked run for the safety of our fireplace.
Whatever happened to that “cool” young thing I used to be?