She licks her lips and swallows before her drool escapes.
Glistening braised pork, deep red watermelon juice, glossy stir fried cabbage. The dishes have been left on display for hours, but even cold and stale, it looks delicious. Customers want fresh food, so maybe the owner won’t mind if she snags a bite?
The char siu bao that she grabs is hard and cold, but food is food. She stuffs the bun into her mouth before it can be taken from her.
She spits it out with tears of pain leaking out of her eyes.
The bao wasn’t just tough, it’s hard as a rock.
She jumps at the foreign voice. A man watches her from the side entrance of the restaurant, apron wrinkled and hair tied back in a tangled ponytail.
“Here.” He holds out another white bun. “Let’s trade.”
The other bao curves around his fingers the way hers doesn’t. Is it a trick? She knows some people like to add weird things to food as pranks on people like her.
Without a word, the man pinches out a piece. Steam waffs into the air from the pork filling as he takes a bite.
“It’s safe,” he says.
If he can eat it, she can too. They trade buns at the same time and she scurries back the moment she has her hot treasure.
This is the taste she was expecting when she saw the food on display.
“If you want more, I have an open table inside,” the man says, “My treat.”
“What’s the catch?” she asks.
“No catch. Someone helped me last time. I’m just paying it forward.”
When she doesn’t answer, he just steps back into the building.
“My break’s over, but if you take a seat I’ll serve you,” he says in parting.
She fiddles with the hem of her shirt as she rocks nervously on her feet. She’s still hungry, and this is a public space. If he tries to do anything funny, she can run.
Worn hands smooth the wrinkles out of her clothes, fingers comb greasy hair into order, and she gathers the little courage she has left like a cloak and walks in.
Genre: slice of life
July stories: 17/21