XIV | Date

For some reason,

we’re eating chicken rice at a bar.


‘What’s the shop called?’
Rizwan asks,
looking around.

There’s an aquarium glowing in one corner,

water bubbles rising,
fake plants dancing,
no fish.

The walls of the bar are painted black,
peeling in some places,
decorated with chalk drawings.

A futile attempt to cover up
marks of

The tables are tall, thin and small
—typical bar stuff.

Dark-wood decorated with one fake flower in a thin vase.

Next to the flower
is a bottle of chicken rice chilli.

Strange abstract photographs
are framed at the corners of the shop.
There are dusty-blue curtains
but no windows behind them.

One sign on the wall reads:

So random.

‘It used to be a bar,’
Rowan explains,

taking a bite of her chicken rice.

There’s three white crates
on top of each other
in the middle of the shop
(where the dance floor used to be).

They’re stamped in blood-red
with the word: FRAGILE!

‘The bar was called…’

She thought for a bit.
Then continued, ‘Anyway, it’s now my father’s chicken rice shop.’

Awkward silence.

‘Uhh…’ Julie stared

at the over-bright
fluorescent lights
obviously installed

to brighten up the “chicken rice shop”.

‘So what’s it called now?’
I prompt.

Other than the lights
and the kitchen,

it doesn’t look like there was real attempt
to convert the bar into a chicken rice shop.

‘We haven’t named it.’

I pretended to be oblivious.
‘What was the bar called?’

Rowan stares at me
with her usual unreadable


I wasn’t expecting an answer anyway.


The chicken rice

is good.

But the atmosphere
is awkward.

Other than the squeaking of the ceiling fan
and the sound of Rowan’s father in the kitchen,

there was silence.

(We’re the only people in their chicken rice shop.)




‘What topic should we choose?’

I’m balancing the barstool
below me on two legs instead of four,

watching the black ceiling fans
spin in hypnotic circles.

(Like our brains).


‘Let’s do the origins of chicken rice,’
Rizwan suggests casually.
‘I can’t think of anything else right now.’

The tip of rowan’s ears turn red.

No change in her face.

‘Too much research,’
Julie says.
‘Chickens and rice have a long history.’

Rizwan glares.
‘We don’t have to do all of it.’

‘It needs to be related to “integration” or “motivation”.’

‘Let’s do something about suicide.’


I don’t realise I’m the one who spoke

until they start staring at me.


I shrug. ‘Just an idea.’

Silence. Just the squeaky fans.

‘Then, something about happiness.’
Rowan’s voice.

She’s not looking at me though.
She’s watching her father 

hanging chickens in the glass display.

We talk about “angles”
“thesis statements”.

Google some articles and “relevant” statistics.

It’s late.

‘Meeting end!’
Julie flings both hands in the air.

Rizwan puts his head where his chicken rice used to sit.

He closes his eyes.
‘i’m so tired.’

‘I’m leaving now.
‘See you in school.’

Julie swings her bag over a shoulder.

She smirks at me.

‘Clyde, are you going to sleep here?’

I’m the only one not packing up my stuff.

Me: That’s a good idea.
Rowan: He’s not.

I lean back on the barstool,
‘Why? It’s closer to school than my house.’

The tips of Rowan’s ears
turn angry red.

‘I’ll take you guys to the bus stop.’
Rowan follows them to the entrance.

Rizwan and Julie disappear into the dark street.

I don’t budge.

Rowan looks torn.

I grin,
leaning further back.


Her father comes out of the kitchen
holding a dishcloth.

I pack my stuff and leave.


When we reach the bus stop, I mutter to Rowan,
‘So protective.’

She doesn’t speak.

The road is deserted.

There’s really no one else around.

After a long time,
a bus comes.

I wave to Julie and Rizwan who board the bus.

‘You’re not taking this one?’

‘See ya in school.’


When the bus leaves,
Rowan’s already walking away.

I take a few big strides
to catch up with her.


‘”Don’t approach me again”,
‘What do you mean by that?’

She doesn’t look at me.

‘I’m a christian.’

I step in front of her
so she can’t open the glass door
to the chicken rice shop.

‘I’m asking you to explain.
‘Not be more confusing.’

Can’t she talk like a normal girl?

TV shows.

Is she a nun or something?

‘The rowan tree marks a portal to another world.
‘Every time you step up to it,

‘you’ll enter the real world.’

I stare at her.

‘Do you hate me?’

A slight shake.
‘No… No, I don’t.’


I’m looking at my reflection in her eyes


A raised eyebrow.
(Is it mine or hers?)


‘So…right now we’re in the real world
‘and when we walk up to the rowan tree,
‘we enter the real world.’

Without hesitation,

I can hear
the squeaky fans
from inside.

People who are super serious
about their religion

are always a little odd.

But today,
I think

they must be absolutely crazy.




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