Postcolonial Text / Author

The Oriental Express

Toby Lunch, wanna-be actor, wanna-be someone famous, stood with his legs clamped together on the middle rung of the ladder. He had a pleasurable thought about falling off and cracking his skull open, just to see what everyone would do. It went through his mind in slow motion. He added sound effects like women screaming, men looking baffled and children hiding their eyes. His imagination automatically reproduced it in black and white. He shifted position by relaxing his back, leaning over a bit and letting his arms hang loose, like the figurehead on a ship's prow.

Yes. He was a large ship wading through murky waters, about to crash on deep, sharp rocks, about to steer itself into legend and men's conversations. He leaned further forward and closed his eyes.

All the people below, all the heads that bobbed past divided around him to avoid the ladder. He opened his eyes and watched them for a while and soon they all looked the same, with their white collars and their dark suits. The fantasy faded. He looked down at his own clothing, which involved a yellow Aussie Lifesavers parka his mother got as a Purchase With Purchase at a perfume counter from her friend Mrs Hempline, and an apron over a pair of stonewashed Jeans West jeans. The sign above him, which his father had hung carefully over twenty years ago: ‘The Oriental Express' creaked like the door of a haunted house, and Toby climbed the ladder to the top and applied WD40 to its hinges.

"That'll shut that bastard up," he said.


"Toby get down before you hurt yourself," Eng Chor said. Eng waited patiently at the bottom of the ladder and noticed his son losing focus. He was worried for Toby, because the child was growing up and letting go of his manners. The child was now sixteen and was spending more and more time in the bathroom, coming home at unacceptable times and making friends with Undesirables. Toby was Number One Son. He was a gift. He would one day pass on the family name and Eng was considerably proud of the fact that Toby retained all of the fine, delicate features of the family...

1. fine, wispy hair

2. thin nose

3. coffee-coloured skin

4. non-slitty eyes

5. significant height

6. large hands

...right back to Bi Mi Shen (which Toby called ‘the ole Dowager') who was the first woman to wear pants and do her hair up like a tool box.

"I'm fine for Chrissakes Dad," Toby said.

He climbed down and Eng watched him stride off, but then stop, came back and sullenly help fold the ladder. 

"How many times do I have to tell you? You must never leave things lying around," Eng said slowly. He pointed his finger out as his father did to him and his father to him. It was a challenge at every turn to educate and instill values into his son. The boy would one day be too old and it would be Too Late To Show Him The Ways.

And who knew The Ways? Teaching his son to follow the rudimentary values of hygiene, personal pride, competition without dishonour and obedience to elders was getting to be a task and a half. It was only yesterday when Eng was burping the boy and reading him Enid Blyton, whom the child used to call Gnid because of the way the author wrote her signature.

Eng glared at the boy. "Please for Allah's sakes, fix your hair and tuck in your shirt. Why does this happen to me?"

Toby came home one day last year, face stained with crying because Simon McPhee, whose skin was perfect had teased him for the acne on his face. Yes, he did have bad skin, Eng admitted. In fact, the doctor had said he had toxic lesions and should be on a course of antibiotics with a referral to the dermatologist.

"This is common in Asian skin," the doctor said, "and he should go on Vibramycin or Retin-A. The boy should go on Roaccutane specifically, but not if he suffers from depression, and not if he's irresponsibly, sexually active."

Eng had exploded with laughter in the consulting room. "No!" he said proudly, "My son is not having sex with anyone."

He couldn't imagine the boy without trousers and a girl nearby. He couldn't imagine that Toby would be taking sex with any of the Undesirables he went out with. And where would he have time? He only ever went to concerts, which Eng or one of the other parents like his good friend David Hemphill drove them to.

The doctor looked at Toby and Toby, after a short while, nodded.

"Yes," Toby had said, to stunned silence. "Yes, well, I am."

Eng asked many questions in the Cortina on the drive home to Springvale. "My Allah do the others do this? Does that Addo, Stevo, whatso make you do this from peer press? Why didn't you say something? Do you know what to do with a woman? Is she going to take your money and use you like all loose white women? Is this where your head is? Is this your new headset?" Eng was going to start the migrant story (I came here with not two cents to rub together and worked my back to the bone and met your mother and worked her back to the bone and started a family business which I had hoped one day to leave you once I died not without first making our life comfortable in this lucky country because I didn't want you to ever go through what I had to go through with nobody to talk to and nobody to help me and my family far away and THIS IS THE THANKS I GET...) but decided instead to pursue the details, "Well? Is it?"

Toby was quiet and Eng watched him flick on the radio and twist his fringe through his fingers. Eng noticed his son had bleached it so badly, that a few strands were orange. He thought of his grandmother, Bi Mi Shen's beautiful black knot upon which was sprinkled sesame oil. "I hope it's not that girl with the purple hair," he said, comparing the pale white girl to Bi Mi Shen's cheeks, which were dabbed with beetroot during the war to make her more attractive.

He imagined a photo of Bi in a white shirt and a pair of trousers that had cuffs at their hems, retouched with ink and muted with soft lighting. He did not mention that one of his friends did some research and found that she was actually Jewish, from one of the Russian Progroms that migrated to Shanghai at the beginning of the century. Toby was technically Jewish, but nobody was allowed to talk about that now.

"Especially, please Allah Almighty, especially not the pale-skinned, blue-eyed hussy with too many eyelashes."

All of the white girls looked the same. They were hard to tell apart. This was why they all changed their hair colour. Asian people did not have the same problems. Why couldn't Toby be a normal Chinese boy who studied like a madman and had glasses and therefore no chance with superficial women? Why was he hell bent on making ‘buddies' and staring at magazines, staring at himself, obsessing over appearances?

"Calm down Dad," Toby had said.

But Eng felt ashamed and bewildered. He was not angry because his son had sown his seed and not told him, he was angry because it was a white girl who had skin so thin it was almost like boiled duck. Eng just knew it was a white girl, and white girls meant trouble. There would be more surprises where this came from.

Eng watched his son carry the ladder back into the restaurant and jam it inside the cupboard, which was once for an ironing board when they first lived on the premises.

A young man of about twenty-five entered the front door and started set-up. He was strong and took the chairs down from the tabletops with a strength and agility that Eng couldn't now manage himself. The man was a friend of a friend of Eng's wife Nancy. He had a thick brown mullet and a broad, flat nose. He wore a sleeveless shirt and Eng could see the peep of a dragon tattoo protruding from his shoulder.

"Hello Tintin," Eng called and waved.

The man didn't hear him and instead made his way to the far end of the restaurant where he started on the chairs.

Eng shrugged and turned his attention back to his son.

The boy was growing up too quickly. In one year he was now tall and thin and had knobbly elbows. He tied ropes and a pole to full soft drink crates and used them as weights. He was fixated on building his muscles and looking good. He complained about not having to shave, a blessing to anyone else. He defaced all of his precious schoolbooks that Eng and Nancy worked so hard to purchase. He came home smelling of smoke and alcohol, neither of which Eng himself ever kept in the house. He threw things on the floor that Eng and Nancy gave him, which Eng promptly retrieved. He listened to bands who swore, one of whom was accused of inciting violence. He went to the beach and did nothing but surf or rode up and down the street in cars driven by older boys.

Eng sighed once more. The day he learnt his son was sexually active was now a fond memory. Toby was now seeing a girl called Moaning, who would, in fact, moan now that Eng was forced to let her spend time with Toby in his room. It was better than Toby being out on the street or Allah forbid, in the girl's own house with her irresponsible parents. "How is Moaning?" he asked.

"Mona, Dad," Toby said, and walked off toward the tables.


The Oriental Express was listed in 1993 as one of Melbourne's best Cheap Eats. The newspaper article, prominently displayed, had yellowed and worn down so that over time, the words read ‘Cheap Fats.' Nevertheless, Eng was very proud. His business had been steady since 1971 and such esteem and recognition was because of years of hard work and service, not to mention countless arguments with relatives whose wages were not always the same every week.

Right now he watched his son drift in and out between the tables, muttering the odd word to Tintin, folding the pink serviettes into flowers and placing them next to the chopsticks and on top of the nylon tablecloths. From his son's ear flowed a thin mobile phone wire to his pocket. Toby was talking animatedly and Eng had the fleeting image of one of his own ancestors, whose son went mad and started talking to himself. He started worrying about Toby once more and decided to venture into the kitchen to make sure the cooks were preparing everything on time. There they were: Tintin's brother Tan up to his elbows in bean shoots and rice noodles, Mrs Hemphill's neighbour, Eugene and another fierce-looking new youngster called Cecil Kawasaki. Suddenly Eng noticed that all of them had the dragon tattoo and he was amazed at the state society had been reduced to where people couldn't even cultivate an individual sign of rebellion.

"Cecil, you're very thin to have such an enormous tattoo. It has very nice colours, but perhaps your mother wondered why you wasted such a lot of skin."

The young man stopped and gazed at Eng. The others sniggered and he began to laugh, shaking the wok he was holding so that the bok choy flipped like green goldfish. Eng noticed he had no teeth.

Once upon a time, Eng remembered, Toby brought a strange girl who called herself ‘Alley' to the restaurant and Nancy put chicken feet with black bean sauce in front of her. The girl immediately covered her face with her hand and started crying and Eng did not know why she was so rude. Nancy was completely insulted. If it were he, Eng would have gratefully taken the nearest piece and swallowed it, even as a sign of respect to the parents. That was what it was, a test of respect to the parents. But there she was, this Irish girl with fluffy red plaits, a shameful name, and freaky, green eyes running to the toilets and then out of the door, never to be seen again.

Mrs Lunch was making dim sum with her hands and chatting to one of the non-English speaking dish washers, Eugene, who was telling her all about his dreams of working on a Kibbutz in Israel. Her bare arms were caked with flour and some got stuck in her hair; she had wearily wiped her brow more than once. Eng watched her create a square from a drop of dough and flatten it with the heel of her palm. She then scooped up a mixture of minced ginger, pork, pork fat, soya and vinegar sauces and dolloped a tiny ball into the square. Cupping her hand, she folded the square over the ball and twisted the end deftly, placing it onto a bamboo tray and dusting it with more flour. She would make a thousand of those a day, Eng thought. What a woman, my wife.


"What babe?" Toby was talking on the phone, peering around, wondering whether he'd accidentally missed anyone's serviette. Those things were thin on the ground when it came to his father's restaurant. Many a time was there a filthy look at a patron who just helped themselves to a serviette from another table. According to his father, a missing serviette was to ruin the whole evening. People were extravagant about them. Every extra serviette was money. But everything looked okay. He stared at the ceiling, which was a piece of art. It was made to resemble a ballroom, with mirrors surrounded by gold filigree and bronze ornaments. Even the walls, which had a roll of red velvet down the sides, had picture rails with a decent looking lick of sandy paint to them. Unfortunately, the tables themselves were made of chipboard and the chairs so old that they were almost trendy retro and there were amber cigarette trays and a red patterned carpet which if one was on acid, which Toby had often been, one might get paranoid looking at.

Toby wanted to get out of there quickly. There was a movie on at Moorabbin drive-in, a rerun of Star Wars and it was sufficiently gooey enough to make Mona want to cry and cuddle, but interesting enough to keep Toby from yawning. He loved science fiction. He loved Fantasy. He loved the books: Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead and the Mistress of the Empire series. He loved The Dark Crystal, The Neverending Story and Legend. Most of these stories were about genocide and colonialism. They were in fact, metaphors of colonialism, of real life, and Toby loved the old plot of indigenous peoples being civilized before someone realized that there was a poignant and necessarily equitable exchange between cultures. Everyone was an anthropologist to Toby. Sometimes he could see science fiction in everything.

Toby and Mona had a very exciting relationship thus far. Mona was a cracker, and like Toby, she harboured a great desire to be an actor and had joined an extras agency to find work. She got all the mute parts that called for a suburban barmaid and Toby got asked to play activist mathematicians or herbal doctors. All of those only ever required stilted Chinese accents which Toby felt embarrassed to do. Mona wouldn't take shit from nobody and she had a really nice way of draping her legs over Toby's at any given moment in time. She was a beauty therapist and was the one who bleached his fringe, though she did it with benzoyl peroxide from his pimple cream because her salon wouldn't let her take home a bleaching kit. She had a cute face and a round, pink tongue and referred to him as her "Ass-iarn" while she called herself his "Whitey cunt," which he always found amusing. Mona was also very spiritual and painted stark images of Hindus in dance positions on her bedroom wall and bought a large soap stone laughing Buddha for her lounge room on top of her television. She loved champagne and had a severe image problem with her weight. She understood where Toby was coming from and loved him and hated herself at the same time and she was so riddled with issues that Toby fell in love with her within two weeks of them going out with each other. Mona bought him a thousand dollar gold ring, from when she won money at the pokies which he had to hide from his father in case Eng thought something serious was going to happen. For all her blondness and her tallness and her insecurities, he believed she had more problems than he did with identity.

"Can you pick up some rice rolls for me?"


"Rice rolls. No carrots. And no onions if you want kissing."

"They're Vietnamese gorge. We're a Chinese restaurant remember, Chinoiserie."

"Oh yeah," she said, "I forgot. Get them from the take-away."

Toby hung up. He loved the almost symbiotic communication he had with Mona. Sometimes they didn't even have to speak at all. Yes, everything looked fine. He took his apron off, threw it behind the register, thought twice, then went and picked it up and hung it on one of the pegs. Outside, he waited until it was certain that his father couldn't see him from the kitchen window. Then he went next door to Yang's and told them to hurry up with his order.


"That boy's going to break my ball," Eng said. He saw the puff of his son's jacket come out of Yang's, a white take-away bag in his hand. Just through the bag, he could see a plastic container full of rice rolls. Did the boy not realise they spat in those things?

There was a protection racket going on in Springvale. Nobody said the word ‘triad' but it was clear the Chinese version of the mafia was controlling half the suburb and the Vietnamese or Koreans or even the Australian police force controlled the other half. It was a turf war. Eng wasn't too worried about it. He had cousins who were married to the mob; and an aunt twice removed called Cherry who was in jail. He paid his weekly five hundred dollars in a little Lycee red packet to the Gods outside the back door and had no trouble since.

Eng saw his son cross the road, take a packet of cigarettes out from his pants pocket, remove one, light it as if he'd done it his whole life and inhale a long, loving draught even before he got to the other side. "He's going to break my ball," Eng said.

Nancy looked up from the dumplings and Eng knew she hadn't understood anything he'd said. She'd recently been to the hairdresser in Chinatown and re-permed her hair into a mass of tight curls, "Make it like black people," she always told them, so the flaps beside her ears were hard to hear through.

"What now?" she said.

"Hrrmph," he replied and stared at his son's skinny bum.

"At least it's not drugs."

A courier came to the door and Eng turned from his thoughts back to business. The courier held a large sack full of Italian bread and said, "Mr Egg Chor Lung?"

"Eng Chor Lunch," Nancy corrected.

"Call me Frank," Eng said. He became excited. These bread rolls were the very same offered by the Hotel Intercontinental. They came from Sydney and his patrons went crazy over them. They were good for congee, for between courses and looked great on the lazy susans in the middle of the tables. Everyone was impressed with the new item on the menu and he could charge a good five dollars for them.

Eng paid the man in flour-covered Australian bank notes from a jar on the counter before waving him away. He had to look carefully at the numbers in the corners of them first. Eng had burst in one morning telling Nancy about how the currency had changed, how Australia was the first country in the world to have waterproof, polymer bank notes and the most colourful bank notes in the history of bank notes. "Look Nancy!" he said, dipping them in the dirty dishwater. He forgot that she was colour blind. "Aren't they just another amazing thing about this country!"

Eng remembered the day he stood at Melbourne Town Hall in a small but highly emotional ceremony, pledging allegiance to Australia and receiving his certificate of citizenship. That was the day he changed his name from Lung to Lunch and the week he opened the restaurant. It was a very sentimental memory. He'd eaten a Four ‘n' Twenty pie afterward. He looked to the wall just to the right of the industrial stove. There it was, the certificate, next to the framed issue of proprietorship and his son's old Year Ten swimming award. That was a proud moment in their lives.

There were many proud moments, though there were also some translation issues too. When Toby was five, they took him to the nearest demonstration school and signed him up under his real name, ‘Chee Beng Lunch.' 

 "You can't use that name," the school administrator told them, "nobody will be able to pronounce it. How about Toby?"

So they changed it to Toby. Then when they had to return to Hong Kong to visit Nancy's great aunt and her cousins, the Fowlers, imagine their surprise when applying for Toby's passport, they found that ‘Toby' was not recognized as Chee Beng's legal name. The poor boy was stunned when he realized nobody had a record of his new name and that the world insisted on calling him by his old name. And in fact, they'd spelled Chee Beng Lunch incorrectly in the first place. They'd spelled it Chee Beng Lunk because of the way Eng pronounced it back then. The poor boy walked around for days, troubled because he had no proper name. Eng paid a fortune to get all of his documents changed. Eng even asked Nancy if she wanted a new name, just for the hell of it. "May as well," he said, "think of it as going undercover for the rest of your life."

He heard a knock on the door again and Eng's good friend Bill Ballymore came in with a bag of new Arborio rice, which Eng had added to the menu to service his Japanese customers.

Bill was not a fit man. Eng observed his green skivvy, which had a collar too cumbersome for his short neck. His belly and nipples protruded from the thin material and he thought he was doing a good thing by sporting a jade-coloured, beaded bracelet and a gold Seiko watch (fake). Bill had been a very good friend of Eng's ever since the day they bumped into each other in the Oriental Express restrooms. Bill had been spending the entire evening staring at a Foster's beer while his new wife, Shirley Mendoza, whom he met on the internet, sat next to him, facing the same direction. She couldn't speak a word of English and he couldn't speak a word of whatever language she spoke. All Bill knew was that he loved her immensely. He would later tell Eng that she represented everything he ever fought for in the Korean War: freedom, liberation and victory. She was Korean and he was an ex-pat, though a re-pat now that he moved back to the homeland and brought this new, stunning looking lady with him. The Ballymores made a go of it, agreeing in nods and handshakes and even some hot, steamy sex and here they were, both making an enormous effort to make communications.

Eventually, sex went a bit off because it was evident that Bill had a low sperm count and for all intents and purposes, it looked like Mail Order had married a dud. Bill felt terribly awkward and told Eng about it. Bill's wife could be stoic at times though there was still something so delicate about her, which reminded him of huts on fire and and families crouched in dark corners. She had a temper on her too, this sheila, he'd said. If Bill put a foot wrong like mess the lounge or stick his feet in her direction, there was a slap to be had.

It was Toby who rescued him that very night. Toby came out of nowhere, asked Bill how he was, patted him on the back and told him that he'd married a Philippino. "Don't worry Bill, Philippinos are an antsy race. I've got a friend who's a cheerleader for the All Blacks in New Zealand. Asian Barbie my friend. But shy as a new kitten."

It was very meaningful for Bill, who thanked Toby and then Eng (Frank), who said that Toby got his opinions from his father. Bill realized that he had a different piece of history in his hands that Toby said would eventually involve paw paw whitening soap and garlic infused peas. He went back to the table and said a few words including ‘Philippines' with Eng behind him for backup. Her face lit up.

"I ruv you Biw," she said. Bill nearly started crying.


"Put them over there, Bill and get yourself a Clayton's from the fridge," Eng said, though he noticed his friend was looking out of sorts and agitated.

Once Bill unloaded the sack of rice, the two friends wandered out into the sea of tables and pink serviettes. Tintin was just laying the forks next to the chopsticks on china holders of coolies with their bums in the air. He nodded at Eng and disappeared to the kitchen.

"So how're you doing Bill?"

Eng waited for his friend to sit down before seating himself, holding his breath in case Bill disturbed the serviettes. He could tell something was wrong in the way that Bill immediately slumped his big shoulders and let his thick chin fall to his chest. Bill leaned over and Eng was reminded of a family dinner at a Japanese Restaurant in Sydney called Pearl Harbor where his own grandfather had a mild heart attack. "My Allah Bill, are you okay? Bill should I call the ambulance? Bill?"

But Bill emitted a huge sob, sat up and took one of the serviettes.

"You know," he started, "people ask me how I cope after the war. How I do things after such violence, how I go about my life." He looked into his drink. "It's about the quality of survival. I live near other Vets and it's about the way we relate to each other. It's about survival with honour, with dignity. I haven't been this miserable since the pigs ate my little sister."

Eng wasn't sure what the last sentence meant.

"It's Shirley, Frank," Bill said.

"Tell me Bill. Let's get you some tissues. Don't use those."

"It's Shirley!" Bill wailed, "She wants a divorce."


Toby knocked on the door which had a huge bronze plaque with "MACINTYRE" printed on it. He remembered his father asking why anyone would want to invite intruders into the house by having their name printed on their door. Nobody could answer him.

Stuart opened it and slapped Toby on the back. "Toy boy!" he said, and Toby felt his face go red.

"Hello Detective Macintyre," he said and looked down. Mona's father was sometimes a bit energetic.

"Call me Stuart sonny," the man said, "We're not at work! Anyone who's a friend of Mona's is a friend of her Dad's. How's your father?"

"Good thanks."

Toby followed the man into the lounge room, which was beige and full of objects the family was forbidden to touch. He recalled many a time when the MacIntyres had flown to their relatives in Townsville or up the Coast in a Maui van and he and Mona had lain on that very carpet, in the nude, smoking what she called ‘marijabooby.'

"Mona!" Mr MacIntyre shouted. Toby could hear stomping from upstairs and saw Mona's twin sisters pelt down and rush toward him.

They were beautiful creatures, Mona's sisters. They were tighter versions of Mona and had buds for breasts and translucent, powdery skin. They stumbled over each other to get a look at him and Toby once again, felt embarrassed at their friendliness.

"Hi Toby. Hi Toby," they said and found something hysterical.

"Hi girls," he said and watched as they looked at each other and collapsed into a blur of bare shoulders and lipstick.

Mona thankfully came down the stairs holding the rail and shooed them away. "Stop staring at his dick for God's sakes...Hi babe," she said, "Did you get the rice rolls?"

"Yep," he said and handed them over.

Mr MacIntyre smiled distractedly and hurried off in the direction of the backyard. Toby moved so he could see where he was going and saw Mr MacIntyre greet a Chinese woman who had too much make-up on.

"It was nobody," he heard Mr Macintyre tell her.

Toby saw the woman sigh with relief and recognised her as Bill's wife, Shirley Ballymore and wondered what she would be doing in the MacIntyre's backyard. Suddenly he saw her clamp her hands around Mr MacIntyre's neck and give him a violent tongue pash.

"Christ man," Toby said. He imagined his father standing beside him, shaking his head and pointing his finger. Mrs MacIntyre was always overseas. The MacIntyre grandparents were in a home and when Toby told Eng about the differences between the families, it shocked and terrified him.

"Cool," Mona interrupted his thoughts. "Let's go. You drive and I'll navigate."

The drive wasn't very far. Mona put her feet up on the dash and at certain intersections the inertia pushed her forward. Toby could see her underwear beneath her miniskirt and it made his foot heavy on the pedal. They stopped at Red Rooster on the way and then a sweet shop where Mona bought a marble-cake without thinking about how to cut it. Their friends were already waiting outside, most holding popcorn, Twisties and Coke.

"Remind me I've had rice rolls," Mona whispered.

Toby's friends consisted of Robbo (Shaun Robinson) McPhee (Simon McPhee), Addo (Andy Taylor) and Stevo (Toby never knew his real name). Everyone called Toby, Tobes or Tuck, for Tuck Lunch, and then Tuckwell for Tuck, which would be endearing when he was about fifty years old but not now that he was eighteen. They called Mona, Moans or Mons Venus and they each had girlfriends whom they called by shortened names. His father had shaken his head when Toby told him his various nicknames.

"Why do you always have to shorten everything? Can't you just call each other by your first names?"

But friends didn't do that. Nobody the entire world over did it in the X generation. Their girlfriends were called Vetski, for Yvette, Fi, Tons for Antonia and Rad for a Russian girl called Rhada Hempline whose mother insisted she wear red and whose father took it in turns to drive them around.

"Let's go buddy," Robbo yelled. And they drove in procession to the back of the drive-in, on the other side of the kiosk so that nobody could see what they were doing should they wish not to watch the movie.

Toby watched Mona settle herself in the front seat by grabbing the bar below it and pulling upward. The seat shot backward and at the same time, she arched her back into a lying position so that she could stare at the roof of the car instead of the screen out front. She indicated for Toby to do the same and watched him struggle with the concept for a full ten minutes.

"Babe, do it gently and don't stress about it," she said.

"Yeah, yeah."

Toby knew Mona loved him though she couldn't work him out. She'd tell everyone who asked that he had a childlike, feminine quality but also this massive dose of innocence or maybe stupidity, which she referred to as The Black Hole.

"There goes the Black Hole again," she'd say. She'd tell him he was shithouse at reading maps and say "aren't you supposed to be second generation Australian?"

Mona loved his muscles. He had faint ridges underneath his sports tops and nice long thighs not to mention the natural tan through winter. He also gave nice body hugs, she said, which Mona never got from anyone else. It was a hug she'd pay for, which she called a ‘snuggle' and it made her feel safe and sleepy.

Mona reached over and put her hand on his thigh, smiling when Toby shifted, ignored the opening credits and stared fully at her. He looked past her head to Addo and Rhada in the next car and saw that they were already furiously pashing, steaming up the front window with their hot chips and roasted chicken. And then he looked onto Stevo and Tons in their Escort who by contrast looked dead straight ahead.

"I like you Toby," Mona said, a bit shy because the car made everything sound insulated.

Toby placed his hand on top and threaded his fingers through hers. "I like you too Mons," he said.

Toby knew he would be a gentleman tonight. He wouldn't stab at her or hump her thigh at the love scene or push her head down in front of the others. He truly believed she was beautiful, genuinely beautiful with all of her fat stomach (she called it her fun bag) and stretch marks. He was the only guy who saw her naked in daylight. She could have Eurasian babies by him. She trusted him with her life. As if she knew what she was thinking, Mona smiled and moved his hand higher with her own.


"Nancy. Fi-di-lah! Get the boys going," Eng said.

Nancy frowned at him, but organized the young men into pairs so they could divide the Arborio rice into servings, sort out the washed crockery for an even flow for business and prepare dishes like hot almond dessert, fish for frying with shallots, and duck's tongues.

Eng stared at the lumps of flour in his wife's nails and between her fingers as she waved them around.  He believed that she would have dirty nails until she was dead and mentioned the prediction several times. He harbored the fantasy that one day he would have his own cooking show and be as famous as Elizabeth Chong, whose father invented the Chiko Roll in Australia during the 60s. Eng wondered how he would start something like that if his wife was going to be so messy. He noticed the old oven, getting brown and burnt with use and the bamboo trays, faded with over steaming. These items would have to be renewed if a TV crew were to ever come in here. He could get Nancy to hold classes and teach neighbourhood wives how to make dim sum, chive omelettes and Singaporean chilli crab. She could talk to the camera, have everybody standing behind her as she stirred, whisked and wokked. He could manage her and take commission. It could be a real money maker.

Eng imagined himself standing in the background with his arms crossed as his wife played up to the television, calling her yum cha dishes ‘Tiny Delights' and ‘Chinese Surprises.' He could have a holiday in Lake Eildon with the earnings, maybe take his friend Bill with him and sit on a porch somewhere talking about women.

"She's having an affair," Nancy declared loud enough for him to hear through the double doors. Eng saw the expression on her face and knew she was at the 30 dim sum mark. The flour was hanging off her hands in stalactites.

"Be quiet Nancy, can't you see the man is in pain?" Eng said. She once accused Eng and Bill of being old baboons together. She was getting on his goat. He turned to his friend.

"Tell me Bill, what did she say again when you asked for children?"

"I asked for IVF. You know, inverted fertilization. It takes a lot for a man to ask for something like that. She turned around and asked for a divorce."

Bill described the scenario. "I want a divorce," she screamed and sobbed all the way to the bathroom where she slammed and locked the door.

"Jesus, Frank. I had no idea what to do. I was devo. I looked at all the photos of us on the fireplace and imagined all the kids we could've had. I wanted a footy team mate. I wanted my own State of Origin side. That would've been so bloody unreal all of us living in a big house full of kids and dogs and that."

Eng watched Bill scrunch his face up silently and pause before letting out a hiccup. He looked across to Nancy who mouthed again from the kitchen, "She's having an affair," before turning back to his friend and patting him on the back.

"Have something stronger than a Clayton's," he said.

"I just wanted a big English Sheepdog like on the Berger's Paints ad," Bill sobbed.

"Perhaps she's just needing space?" Eng asked. He liked to use Western notions of space. It was always welcomed with heavy nodding and sighs.

"Maybe she does..." Bill said, before sniffing. "What do I do mate? Do we go and see somebody?"

"See somebody? Who?" Eng shrugged his shoulders and looked at the clock on the wall which said 6.00pm, time to open. "I have to open Bill. Come and sit down, but don't look depressed in front of the customers all right?"

He had Bill settle at a table for one and watched him stare morosely into a little bowl with shapes of tears at the bottom of it. Those bowls were Eng's latest purchase. The light shone through the rice shapes and they glowed blue. They reminded him of Bi Mi Shen, who used to tap her chopsticks on the table together before levering the food into her mouth with the precision of a slingshot.

"I love my wife," Bill suddenly wailed, "I love everything about her. We've had some unreal times. More than any of the wives I've had before."

Eng gestured frantically to Nancy, who quickly emerged from the kitchen with a saucepan full of hot and sour soup.

"She was my flower," Bill continued, "Her fingers and toes were as tiny as these chopsticks and by Jesus that woman could pack away the food like nobody's business."

Eng patted Bill on the shoulder and tried to change the subject, spooning the soup out into the bowl. "We don't eat shark's fin soup Bill," he said cheerily, "they're extinct, sharks."

Bill sniffed and took the wide-lipped spoon from the side plate, which triggered a spasm of misery.


Everything had been eaten: the chicken, the rice rolls, the Twisties, the popcorn, all the marble-cake, which was consumed first and the Coke. And then just as Chewbacca and Harrison Ford noticed they would be better as friends, Toby felt a surge of lust for Mona. He reached across, held her face in both hands and kissed her slowly, tasting all five dishes at once. He felt her soft jaw against his neck and manoeuvred her so that she could face him squarely and let him gently push his leg between hers. She raised her backside in the air and Toby knew the whole world could see up her skirt. He stopped and twisted her around so that she sat on his lap instead.

"Um, maybe we should do this when we get home," he suggested.

"Maybe honey, but my dad will be up waiting for me. We can do it in the car on the street if you like?"

Toby was well aware that Mr MacIntyre questioned Mona about everything she did with him; where they went, what they did and who they did it with. Mr MacIntyre was almost obsessive and got down to the weirdest details about what people were wearing, how much money they had and what state their cars came from. Even to the point of what tattoo they had on their arms.

"Is he gonna ask what we did again?" Toby didn't relish the thought of Mona providing explicit details. The MacIntyres were unscrupulously honest with each other.


Some time later, Mona was asleep and it was just Toby watching men in white kill men in black.

After awhile, Toby turned to Mona and examined her face. He gazed at her and wondered what his father would say if they married, if they had a kid called Bill and if Mona insisted on moving to Queensland where she could get more sun. His mind fast forwarded to images of himself surrounded by friends, eating nothing but hamburgers and with pictures of Eng and Nancy in a nursing home, long forgotten on a mantlepiece in a room they never went into. He foresaw gifts from his parents to him thrown all over the floor, and the dilapidated and creaking sign of ‘The Oriental Express' covered in cobwebs. He saw a picture of he and Mona with greying hair, in Jeans West jeans and Aussie parkas.

Toby waited until the credits rolled. Mona was snoring softly and he watched his friends wave at each other before pulling out of the drive-in, their girlfriends' heads lolling like bladders on the ends of sticks. "See ya!" he waved and waited until they'd all left. Then he turned to Mona, his beautiful girlfriend and lowered his seat back carefully and quietly, so as not to shock her.

When everything was dark and there was barely a soul left in the place, he very carefully woke her up by tracing her cheek with his fingers. "Wake up," he said.

She woke with a smile. "What Toby," she said.

"I wanna have sex right now," he said.

Michelle Bakar