XVIII | Empty

In the end,
I don’t join my friends
at the park.

I’m here

at this chicken rice shop
that used to be a bar.

It’s empty when I walk inside.


There’s no sound when the door opens
—there’s none when it closes either.


it looks like a museum exhibit
and hasn’t been touched
for a whole week.

The ceiling fans

squeak in a familiar way.

The fluorescent lights
are too bright.

There’s no one here.

I walk up to the counter,
peering into the kitchen.

Rowan’s father
puts down his chopper

and greets me.

‘Where’s Rowan?’ I ask.

I’m given a plate of chicken rice
(despite protesting)

and i sit on a barstool
staring at him work.


He hums a song under his breath

as he moves around the kitchen.

He seems to be really busy,
but I don’t know why.
There aren’t customers

who will come to a chicken rice shop
in this ulu place.

The chicken hanging in the display
looks fresh;

the untouched state
of the shop
gives away how long they’ve been hanging there.

He smiles at me

as if to check
if I’m still there.

He has a




I think about the kid from the petrol kiosk.

‘I’m not running a business,’
he says even though I didn’t ask.

‘This place is my ministry.’


Like the Ministry of Manpower?
Like the Ministry of Education?

I stare at the empty aquarium
lit from within with pale blue lights.

Bubbles from the air filter
are the only things
inside the aquarium.

There’s no need for fish

in a chicken rice shop.


          How meaningless.

He should renovate the place
so it actually looks like a legit chicken rice shop.


He unhooks a chicken
and looks at me again.

‘A calling.
‘Your generation calls it passion.’

I watch him

dissect a chicken.

It’s boring.


‘Do you know when will Rowan come home?’

He wipes his hands
on his apron.

‘Huh? Rowan’s upstairs.
‘What are you looking for her for?’

I grit my teeth.

Stupid old man.

‘Project work.’

Why else would I come here?
To see you?

He disappears through a door in the kitchen.

Footsteps echo
up the wall,
into the ceiling

I hear him above me.


I’m alone
in the nameless chicken rice shop
for a long time.

I finished

my chicken rice

long ago.




‘You did research already?’
Rowan asks with disbelief.

I shake my head.

‘I’m not here because of project work.’

On the kitchen side of the counter,
she turns to walk away.

Her father scrapes chopped meat
onto a plate,
clatters around
the kitchen.

I wait

but he doesn’t leave.

I reach over the counter,
pull her back.

‘Help me find Ria.’

A pause.

‘I didn’t make her disappear.
‘We have nothing to do with it.’

Me: So help me find her.
She: Why? You wanted her to disappear.
Me: I didn’t. I…don’t.
She: Why do you want to find her?


Her expressionless

coal-black eyes

are too far away

for me to fall




I scratch the oily plate 
in front of me

with the metal fork.

It’s an unpleasant scratching sound.

I try to scratch
a picture in the chicken oil.

The metallic scratching sound
fills the shop.

‘I want know what happened to her in your world.’

Another pause.


I drop the fork

and sigh.

Rowan holds out her hand.

I hand her the plate.

She deposits it
into the kitchen.
Talks to her father.

She comes back.

‘Tomorrow is Saturday.
‘I’ll look for her with you.’

‘I don’t know where to look.’

She wipes her side of the counter
but it’s my side that’s oily.

I leave my thumbprint
on the table

and smile at her.

‘I’ll come at 10am to pick you up.
‘Let’s eat dinner together.’


The tips of her ears

of her long black hair






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