While living in the city a gentleman whose name carries no importance fell into the habit of buying dinner at a Chinese restaurant near his apartment. The gentleman walked there, a journey of minutes, always taking the same route, always placing the same order. The food was neither good nor bad. Quickly prepared. Affordable. About what the gentleman would expect. Behind the counter a young woman spoke in a musical singsong to an old man at the stove. The old man ladled vegetables into a wok. He dumped frozen eggrolls into the fryer. They hit the boiling oil with a wet crackle. The old man at the stove stirred the vegetables and added a dash of peanut oil and leaned back from the resulting fireball. He moved to a prep table near the stove and began chopping onions. His face was a blank canvas. His eyes were small lifeless holes. He scraped bok choy into a plastic tub and sliced carrots for a second tub. He might have been related to the young woman at the counter. Then again, maybe not. On the walls of the cooking area hung brightly tinted pictures of children in ornate costumes of gold and purple. Their skins were powdered white, their lips delicate crimson halfmoons. There was a calendar decorated with dragons breathing flames. The young woman at the counter sat down on a plastic milk crate and put her chin on her hands. The old man at the prep table who might have been an uncle or grandfather finished with vegetables and began stripping down a joint of meat. What variety of meat. Call it beef. The joint was as long as a human arm. The old man worked on a wooden block indented at the center and lined with dull brown knife marks. For an hour each day he scrubbed the block with bleach and never quite erased the slashes. The old man manipulated his knife, he sliced at the mysterious joint with mechanical efficiency. He was a machine indentured to a single task at a time. There had been the chopping of vegetables and the carving of unknown meat. Now he returned to the wok and ladled chow mein into carry out boxes. The young woman rose from her crate and placed the boxes into a paper bag. She stapled the bag shut and handed the bag to the gentleman whose name carries no importance.
Years later the gentleman found one of the restaurant’s menus, folded and stained and stuck in the back of the junk drawer of his kitchen.
Odd. He would have sworn the restaurant had been called Happy Wok.
The mind sure played some odd tricks.