Short Story | Dinner In Zhouhuang By Aaron Lembo

They were both tired and hungry. She wore a pink skirt and a black blouse. He wore cream chinos, a navy polo and a grey flat-cap hat. After a day of visiting the numerous gardens and pagodas they decided to eat at a restaurant beside one of the city’s many canals. Once they were seated they ordered a pot of jasmine tea and two bottles of local beer. They each studied the menu in their own peculiar way. Her eyes darted, from picture to picture, praying to find a meatless dish. He glanced first at the pinyin and then at the characters. His eyes eventually settled on a square image of pak choi and seabass. A young waiter hurried over with their drinks, eager to practise his English. Without having time to discuss what they were going to choose they found themselves pointing at various pictures and speaking in a horrible accent. Laughing at the speed of the service and the uncertainty of their order they poured themselves some tea and drank from their bottles of beer. Seconds later the waiter walked up to them again and waved. He urged the male foreign customer to stand and follow him. After a brief walk to the front of the store the waiter halted. He pointed at a water tank full of seabass. The foreigner was shocked at how little room the fish had to swim; he took a moment to look at his surroundings. A chef stood outside the kitchen stroking his patchy black beard. An elderly female waitress stopped dead, waiting to see how the foreigner might react. He pointed, without too much thought, and chose the fish he would eat. The chef and elderly woman seemed disappointed in this perceived nonchalance. The younger waiter let out a nervous laugh. When the customer returned to his seat he explained how he had condemned a fish to its death. His lover placed her hand over her mouth and her eyes widened. When their dishes arrived they both gazed at the boiled fish covered in hoisin sauce, ginger and red chilli flakes. The white eye of the dead fish had congealed and looked like a bruised pearl. The male, momentarily, considered proposing marriage. Instead he took his chopsticks, shook his head, and attacked the tender meat under the fish’s gullet. 

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