We love stories, and we especially love stories made in Malaysia. Our magazine's short fiction section has been a great read this year, and even our Singaporean brethren will be joining in. Here's our latest one from December's "Yam Seng" issue on the perils of chicken wings, by the very talented Lee Ee Leen.
WHEN CANDICE discovered Joseph had a mistress, it was as if this woman suddenly had manifested like the skin conditions he treated at his clinic on Jalan Ipoh. Eavesdropping on Joseph’s hushed phone conversations had revealed the other woman to be the clinic’s receptionist. Candice was more perplexed than outraged. Mistresses only happened to tycoons and celebrities. Her husband was only a dermatologist, nondescript in looks but of steady income.
Candice held firm to the belief that Joseph’s adultery would cure itself. Through diet and exercise, she had never let her face or figure go. “The decay of beauty was the beginning of infidelity”, Candice had read in a woman’s magazine. She used to tell her friends that their husbands looked at other women because “he can’t stand to look at you anymore!” Now, her friends never wanted to speak to her and Candice never understood why—she had given them good advice for free.
When Candice called her mother and told her about Joseph’s mistress, she replied, “Cook for your husband. Show him you care. Food is the best way to win him back.”
The edict stunned Candice because she regarded herself as a modern woman. Stovetop slavery was for her mother’s generation. But Candice was not to be outdone by a mistress. Cooking was simple—if her previous maids could do it, so could she.
A month ago, while channel surfing, Candice had caught a celebrity chef on TV who was demonstrating how to prepare spicy chicken wings. Her desperation compelled her to take note of the ingredients: chicken wings with wasabi powder, miso paste, soy sauce, salt and pepper. The combination of flavours gave the dish its name, “Ninja Wings”, and it became one of three dishes in Candice’s culinary repertoire. The other two were eggs, fried or charred.
For the next three weeks, Candice woke up at six in the morning, oven-roasted the marinated wings and packed them in a Styrofoam box for Joseph to take to his clinic on Jalan Ipoh. Because he never complained about having the same dish for lunch everyday, Candice assumed he liked Ninja Wings.
As Candice packed the warm wings in another Styrofoam box once again, she realised Joseph had taken advantage of both her eagerness to please him and her culinary inability. On a sudden impulse, Candice wanted to surprise him by dropping in at the clinic before lunchtime.
She drove into the city and parked the car in the alley behind the clinic. Joseph would take her out for lunch or eat his Ninja Wings in the office under her watch. The grand confrontation about the mistress could wait until they were at home in the evening.
The clinic was not busy and a sign stating OUT FOR LUNCH stood on the receptionist’s desk. Slumped on the bench were a few construction workers waiting for their prescriptions. They looked up as Candice barged straight past the reception into Joseph’s office. She knocked, but the door swung open on squeaking hinges.
“Joe!” Candice held up the box. “I brought your favourite dish!”
But only wall charts, Joseph’s vacant desk and a whiff of antiseptic floor-wash greeted Candice. The cleaner, an elderly Indian woman in a blue shirt, barged in and emptied the contents of a wastepaper basket into a shiny black plastic bag. Candice set the box on the desk and tried calling Joseph on her mobile phone. No response.
The flimsy box popped opened by accident. The cleaner saw the chicken wings, looked at Candice and then at the black bag in her hand. Annoyed at the cleaner’s odd scrutiny, Candice grabbed the box and swept out of the office. She stood outside the clinic as the traffic on Jalan Ipoh seethed under the noon sun. Candice gave up calling Joseph and stomped back to her car.
The cleaner emerged from the back door of the clinic and dumped the black bag in the skip near the drain. Candice placed the box on the roof of her car as she rumaged around her handbag for the keys.
Ever prepared, the cleaner pulled out an empty black plastic bag from under her arm and held it out to Candice. “Want to throw it away?”
The cleaner pointed at the box of Ninja Wings and said, “Doctor Joseph always throws this away.”
Candice blinked at the old woman in disbelief.
“He says very hot! Cannot eat!” said the cleaner, who picked up a Ninja Wing and chucked it at a passing stray cat. The cat sniffed it before backing away in suspicion. The wing lay askew on the edge of the clogged drain.
Candice grabbed the box and hurled it at the back door of the clinic, just as the cleaner ducked in time. The box split open on impact, scattering the wings, while the sauce stained the KELUAR sign. Candice got into her car and gunned the engine. As she drove away, she started to cry. Perhaps, some of the sauce had splashed into Candice’s eyes.
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Words by Lee Ee Leen. Illustration by Mike Chiang. Edited by Amir Muhammad.