Emotional short story about a very lonely man, thousands of miles from home.
The cleaver glistened with the juices of its quarry. It crashed down, catching the light as it swooped in a great arc, glinting like a rear view mirror catching distant headlights in the gloom. It sliced through tendon and bone with ease.
Fang Hui paused to wipe his brow. He hated chicken. It was a laborious task preparing it, but he guessed at least 70% of the dishes he cooked were chicken, so it was unavoidable. It was a busy day. Busier than usual. It was the first time he had decided to open since he lost his wife and he was doing the work of two.
He missed Mu dearly. They had been together since he could remember. Now in his late forties, his life seemed a far cry from his time in China. He and Mu grew up in a town called Changchun in the Jilin Province of Northeast China. They had not decided to leave for any political reasons like so many others. In fact, his family were quite wealthy and they enjoyed a reasonably comfortable lifestyle. They left because they longed to see the world and ended up settling in England by accident.
A shop came up for sale at a very reasonable price and the visitors decided to buy it, expecting to run the takeaway for a year or so before selling up for a profit and moving on to the next country. It never happened.
The recession hit in the late eighties and nobody could afford to buy. They had no choice but to ride out the storm. That was 16 years ago now. Time marches on relentlessly. You turn your back on time and it flows past you with the fluidity and speed of the most talented martial artist.
The couple spent all those years building up the business, toiling away in the hot kitchen, never even getting fully to grips with the English language. And now this. Hui felt very, very alone.
His culture was not like that of the West. The union of marriage was meaningful. It was respected, cherished and nurtured, unlike any Western marriage he had seen. He was frequently shocked by the conflict relationships caused in this country. He saw it almost every night after the pubs closed. Men fighting men, women fighting men, women fighting women. It was a disgrace to the country. Whilst he did not have a great command of the language, he did understand swear words. It was shocking to him the way people spoke to each other under the influence of alcohol. No respect. He and Mu had a great mutual respect. A deep love. A fierce sense of belonging.
They had never had children. It was Hui’s only lament. He would not be alone now if they had started a family, it just didn’t happen.
Completely alone, Hui did not know what to do for the best.
He picked up the chicken thigh and tossed it into the waiting plastic box before positioning another and swinging the cleaver again. It crashed down taking the lower leg of the bird clean off at the knuckle. With a sideways swipe of the blade the offcut was pushed aside to his right and into the accumulating pile. At the same time the chicken was turned over with his other hand, in readiness for trimming the excess bone back. Another single swing and this one was done and in the box.
Jobs like this did not help Hui. His mind was wandering off. Longing, wishing. He would never again hear the sweet sound of Mu’s laughter. Never smell her fragrance or feel her warmth in the dead of night.
He put the cleaver down and placed both his hands on the edge of the stainless steel preparation table. Emotions were threatening to engulf him as he wandered through the magical memories in his heart. With a sob, he put his right hand to his eyes as the tears came. His shoulders shuddered as he stood there allowing himself a brief moment of grief. It didn’t matter. His honour was intact in the otherwise deserted kitchen.
He had to pull himself together. Be a man. He rubbed at his temples with his fingertips, a circular motion that disturbed the shock of white hair on each side of his head. He had a lot to do. There were still all the vegetables to do before he could begin getting ready to open up.
His composure returned, he sighed, picked up the cleaver again and continued in his task.
Ten minutes later, Fang Hui had completed the last piece of chicken and set about cleaning up the worktop. He put the chopping board into the sink along with the cleaver, pushed the bung into place and turned on the tap. Wisps of steam soon began to rise and head lazily up into the extractor hood that ran all the way around the kitchen. He waited for the sink to fill adequately and turned off the tap before spraying detergent onto the work surface and scrubbing away the residue of his labour. He returned to the sink and washed his cleaver and board.
Moments later, he was back at the table with his clean board on his clean work surface and took a long, deep breath. He had to start the vegetables. He had to fetch them from the fridge.
He headed to the walk-in fridge and pulled the door open before stepping inside.
The chill entered his lungs immediately upon stepping through the plastic flaps that hung on the inside of the door. The light was dim, but he knew exactly where to find the vegetables he needed.
He reached out with both hands and slid the cold body of his dead wife out of his way to reach the net of cabbages that she was propped up against. He heaved it up and returned to his workstation. He had a lot to do before opening time.