Clara Chow


an excerpt from Modern Myths

FROM the other wall of the stall, the master reaches over his boys’ heads for the strung skewers, and hoists them with one sinewy arm. He is a big man, as most Singaporeans like to remark – “Wah! This angmoh sibeh dua jiak!” – and the constant lifting of these menorah-like configurations of pork has kept flabbiness at bay. Here, in the hot, greasy and sweaty confines of the coffee shop food stall, the grey-haired Roasted Master is spectacle to middle-aged housewives, open-mouthed school kids and the kopi-stirring tattooed ah bengs alike. He is used to it, and makes no titanic effort to ignore them. In the tiled confines of the stall, it is between only him and the roasting oven. The spaceship-shaped contraption, with its broad base tapering upwards, like a martini shaker on steroids. The master himself tends to the charcoal fire that burns in the oven’s belly. Before dawn, he hauls in sacks of charcoal from the back storage area, and, with tongs, stacks the hard black sticks of fuel at the bottom of the oven. Then, he fans the sparks until they roar like a tornado of stars.

Now, he removes the lid from the top of the oven and puts in the latest batch of marinated pork, hanging them on their hooked skewers around the lip of the opening. The master does not close his eyes as the blast of the furnace hits him. He does not turn away. To roast meat properly, you must face the fire. No chickening out or flinching. The lid clangs shut again, like a manhole cover. It takes an hour, before the skewers are removed, the browned pieces of paper covering them like little hats torn away and thrown. It is never too long to wait for a miracle, considering where the master has been and what he has been through. When the meat is roasted, the master himself will do the honours – spooning sauce liberally all over the red-coated charsiew. But it is not that time yet. The master swings back, wiping his oily hands on the comically small white apron around his waist. Asian sizing. A woman waiting beyond the glass of his stall-front holds up two fingers to indicate two plates of charsiew rice, and he nods. Okay, coming.

A loud crash, and then panicked swearing from Guang. The master whips around and finds his employee holding up his left hand, his right clamped around its wrist. A metal pin lies on the floor, where the kid had dropped it. The youth stands there, white-lipped, staring at the blood bubbling from the hole through his palm, where he skewered himself.

© Math Paper Press

by Clara Chow
from Modern Myths (2018)
published by Math Paper Press