an excerpt from Aunty Lee’s Delights
AUNTY Lee had settled herself down in one of the two chairs facing him. Nina laid out the breakfast they had brought for him: homemade nasi lemak, a coconut-cream-coated rice dish that was already fragrant through the waxy banana leaf that enclosed it. Nina unwrapped the steaming package to reveal fried egg, deep-fried ikan kuning, cucumber slices, and a generous dollop of sambal over a mix of ikan bilis and peanuts.
“Don’t worry,” Aunty Lee said. “We also brought for your people outside. Also some epok-epok for later. My special recipe—we made both sardine and potato.”
“This could be considered bribery.” SSS Salim was only partly joking.
“Nonsense. We citizens want to show our appreciation to you nice young men for keeping us safe… what’s so wrong with that? Anyway, you have to eat, right? If this is your breakfast time, then I am not taking up so much of your work time. Anyway, I spoke to your Commissioner Raja—“
“What?” Startled, SSS Salim half stood up in his seat.
“Careful you don’t spill your tea. I made masala tea. It is a new recipe, I’m still experimenting. You tell me what you think of it? Where was I? Oh yes, I met your commissioner, that nice Inspector Raja, at the Peterses’ place yesterday. I told him I had spoken with you about this—even before the poor girl was found.”
SSS Salim wondered whether Aunty Lee had just managed to sabotage his whole career.
“I told him when we spoke you were concerned about poor Marianne and tried to investigate her whereabouts, but her family insisted she was away on holiday. And I thought that if given the opportunity, you could probably pick up a lot more because you are here at grassroots level.”
“I see,” SSS Salim said, though he did not see. He suspected that the commissioner had been caught by surprise by Aunty Lee and mouthed polite responses till someone came to rescue him.
“So I told him what I thought he should do and he said I could speak to you, to see if you are okay with it.”
“I see,” SSS Salim said again. The nasi lemak smelled temptingly of coconut, reminding him of how his late grandmother’s nasi lemak used to taste. Recently he had only tasted the dish out of the takeaway packets sold along the walk from the MRT station. He could have afforded a car, but reasoned he had the official car for official duties, and if the minister for transport could take the train to work, he felt he ought to too. Besides, there was always the matter of saving up for the future…
Looking across to Nina, Salim saw she was watching him as though following his thoughts, and he quickly looked away. He was being absurd.
“So what do you have to tell me?” he asked Aunty Lee.
© William Morrow and Company
by Ovidia Yu
from Aunty Lee’s Delights (2013)
published by William Morrow and Company