Short Story: Mango and Sticky Rice by Greg Tan


TBASS

We studied the extensive menu, which listed both international as well as local cuisine. Joe and I were fast decision makers when it came to selecting our dishes. Joe settled on rice with Crispy Catfish in Chili Paste and a side order of the ubiquitous tangy Green Mango Salad to share, while I chose rice with Red Curry of Roasted Duck, a dish Joe had suggested after describing it as a bracing Thai classic combining tender roasted duck with a perfect blend of spices, coconut milk, and pineapple. The food arrived within ten minutes of ordering, and was excellent in both presentation and taste. My duck curry surpassed Joe’s mouth-watering description. I complimented Joe on his recommendation. His quiet response was “I’m happy you liked the duck.”

Food aside, what do you talk about with a charming Thai man whom you have just met on his home turf? A lot, apparently. I told Joe about my job, and he pressed me to tell him more about the documentaries I had shot from Singapore to Bangkok. As I had at least a dozen documentaries under my belt in Singapore but only one in Bangkok, I gave Joe capsule highlights of my work. He seemed impressed. It was now Joe’s turn to talk about himself. His voice was even and fluid as he told me about his student days majoring in English and History at Chulalongkorn University. Now he taught History at one of the top high schools in Bangkok, a school whose six- syllable moniker and tongue-twisting pronunciation would elude my memory later. He had a male Siamese called Kao, and lived alone on the eighth floor of an apartment called the Atsathon on South Sathorn Road. I told him about my darling Cleo, and we wondered what would happen if Kao met Cleo. Joe imagined either lots of screeching and high- pitched hysterical mewing followed by tufts of fur flying around, or soft mewing and tentative pawing of each other as a prelude to kitty hugs and feline petting. We had a great laugh at the expense of our pets. The laughter was followed by a pause when we looked at each other quizzically before I dropped my gaze.

Then Joe spoke. “I hope you still have room for dessert? You simply must try the delightfully decadent mango and sticky rice here.”

“The way you describe it, how can I say no?” I replied, while resisting an insane urge to burst out laughing as I recalled Betty’s mention of this same dessert in reference to setting me up with Joe.

I must have been grinning really widely, because Joe eyed me looking rather perplexed.

“It’s just that mango is my all-time favourite fruit, Joe. So your suggestion really hit the right spot,” I offered, as explanation for my bemused look.

“You’ll love it,” he said, in all innocence.

Indeed, it was the best mango and sticky rice I’d ever had. The warm buzz and heady feeling that enveloped my being could not be attributed to any liquor talking, for not a drop of alcohol had passed our lips that night.

 

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