RESTAURANTS ARE A WORLD OF THEIR OWN

Laetitia Djaja 


‘Siang, bu.’

A honeyed accent from behind the counter

cues the intro to my lunch.

Air-con breezes

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.

‘Excuse me?’

‘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.

‘Teh’nya, bu.’

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

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.