RESTAURANTS ARE A WORLD OF THEIR OWN
A honeyed accent from behind the counter
cues the intro to my lunch.
my humidly-drenched back.
Warm yellow walls run alongside
framed mirrors and adjacent steel chairs.
Men in rolled-sleeved shirts
outnumber the phone-attached women.
The silken tones of gamelan ensembles
are the real welcome.
‘Hi, a table for one please.’
I notice her colleagues nearby.
Their features accentuated
against teal hijabs
turning to my foreign twang.
They stare confidently
at my rose-toned fluster
contrasting their olive skin.
Their taupe eyes crinkle;
their cheeks stretch.
The waitress signals to the inner room.
I take a seat at the middle table.
‘Nih menu’nya ya.’
A laminated sheet slides onto the glass surface.
Its margin framed with flat-lays of rice
and oversaturated shades of chicken.
Yellow, brown, darker brown.
‘Fried or barbequed chicken, I assume.’
I mutter as my finger traces the menu.
‘Satu ayam goreng, ya?’
The rolled ‘r’ breaks momentum
of her slurred vowels.
Her eyes are sheened like the others.
Her pen hovers over the pad.
Her gleam still intact.
She must be waiting for an answer.
‘Pakai sambal ijo engga, bu?’
‘I’m still trying to decide.’
‘Iya, madam mau pesan satu ayam goreng kan?’
‘No, no, I’m still choosing.’
By now I notice
the emphasised consonants.
‘Mba, mba, mba!’
The customer calls in staccato
from across the restaurant.
‘Saya balik ya, bu.’
Her lithe figure turns to him
as I stare again at the glossed sheet.
Nasi is listed repeatedly in most dishes.
The few random pictures
have a spoonful of chili in them.
The images and words force
a game of guess.
My right knee jerks in response.
Dark fingers lower a tall glass
to begin the table clutter.
‘No, I haven’t ordered anything.’
‘Ini teh, bu.’
I’m more surprised by his short-lived chuckle,
as he disappears before the liquid stills.
So I let the dark brown beverage dance for me,
particles swirling to its base.
A scent of jasmine follows.
‘Sudah siap pesan, bu?’
Her familiar voice catches me less off-guard.
I point at a dark chicken dish.
It has the smallest spoonful of chili.
‘Ayam bakar sama nasi ya?’
My meal will be whatever she scribbled
before heading back to the counter.
I take a sip of the settled swirls and jasmine.
Crystallised sugar swim down the tilted glass.
I wonder if this lukewarm tea
costs differently to cold or hot.
‘You want sate, Madam?’
My choked tea coughs
broken like the old man’s English.
Stealth mode must be
an acquired skill in this country.
Laetitia Djaja enjoys scribbling lines on train rides and coffee dazes. Sometimes she turns them into poetry. Laetitia currently resides in Melbourne, Australia while undergoing her postgraduate study.