Contest #100 winner 🏆

314 comments

Creative Nonfiction Contemporary Drama

I’d rather be asleep.


I’d rather have ignored your request at my door, small and pleading and moist with youth. I’d rather the song of your furtive feet retreating as quickly as they’d come had been a stray breeze in the night, or the cackling melody of mating geckos. I’d rather have curled deeper into the naked mattress that carves brutal shapes into my spine, because sleep is something I don’t get enough of.


Yet here I am, groping for a light switch in a kitchen that I spend more time inside than my own head. Slumber clings to my face like a thick, waxen mask; I lean against the sink for a few indulgent heartbeats while my eyes adjust to the light and I wait for the mask to melt. It’s your request, not the consequences of ignoring them, that persuades my fingers to curl around a saucepan on the drying rack and move it to the stovetop. It’s knowing you are at the mercy of a belligerent stomach in your bedroom upstairs that gives me the strength to push aside my needs and my rights as I twist the knob to summon a fire. It’s a hungry fire, one that licks at the metal sides of the saucepan with ravenous orange swipes; I know you are hungry as well because the dinner plate I’d washed a few hours ago had held a half-eaten mound of rice drowning in greasy curry.


It’s not my cooking you hate, but circumstance. Your mother, who does not pay me enough, loves to sort your fragile world into locker-sized compartments, their walls as cold as they are rigid. You are to join her for dinner at six-thirty sharp every day, regardless of how hungry you are, or aren’t. You are a picky eater, folded arms and pouty lips, but I forgive you because you are only acting your age. I was a child once too, a few eternities ago, but this comparison ends where it begins. We hail from different worlds, you and I, cleft apart by the razor-sharp edge of a bank note. My job is to serve, and yours is to flash your porcelain teeth and giggle.


But even the pickiest of eaters, such as yourself, cannot resist what I am about to prepare. I feed water to the saucepan, then move to a cabinet while I wait for it to birth bubbles. I take a mental note of our supplies so I know what needs replenishing the next time your mother sends me to the grocer’s with a wad of cash and a warning. There was a time when I was caught in a daze in the sauce aisle, surrounded by rows upon rows of glass bottles filled with kecap manis—soy sauce thickened with palm sugar, sweet and syrupy and as Indonesian as it gets. I glared daggers at the elegant writing on the piece of paper in my hand; for people like your mother, dinner should only be a few ink strokes away, because there is unnecessary exertion in carrying a shopping bag and hoping there aren’t any pickpockets on the bus ride home. I am expendable, somewhere between a human and a commodity; I could have fled to my village in the middle of nowhere and taken the money with me, but I didn’t. I needed to see you fed, and still do.


There are exactly thirteen white plastic packs in the cupboard, stacked neatly against one another like books on a shelf. I retrieve one; it is rectangular and firm, with a photoshopped image of caramel-brown noodles crawling across a plate, complete with a side of fried egg and vegetables. I scoff. No sane person on the planet eats this with their veggies. The quadruple digits next to the “recommended daily intake” of sodium typed out on the back is a good indication this isn’t something you eat if you want to live long. And yet, eating the stuff makes me feel alive. It’s like cigarettes; three packs a day, because I’m addicted.


By now the water froths and frolics, so I snap the pack open, pull out the compact block of brittle yellow noodles, and feed it to the water. Two minutes until they soften. I squeeze out the other half of the magic into a fresh bowl: seasoning powder, chili sauce, sweet soy sauce, and vegetable oil infused with fragrant spices, all bound in their own sachets that come conveniently with the noodles. Little dimensions of flavor, each with their own story to tell to the human palate. I set one sachet aside, whose contents you prefer to be added last.


While the noodles soften and unwind, I introduce a wok to a second hungry flame. It heats rapidly; the cooking oil shrieks in ecstasy as soon as I pour some in. I crack an egg and watch the white bubble and stretch into soft clouds while the yolk cooks at a gentle pace. There is only one way to fry an egg: rich, runny yolk and a crispy browned underside. Minutes away from perfection.


The noodles have relaxed into limp ribbons, so I pour the contents of the saucepan into a strainer. I jostle them until they’re rid of excess moisture, because water dilutes flavor and I will not have you go to sleep unsatisfied. Then I heap them into the bowl with the sauce and seasoning, and proceed to toss until each strand is coated in a uniform layer of greasy goodness. It’s only now that I garnish with the contents of the final sachet: crunchy fried shallots, a divine textural contrast to tender noodles.


As the egg finishes I tilt the wok and spoon scorching hot oil over the top, just to create a firm outer layer for you to break open. That way, you can relish the spectacle of glistening, golden yolk spilling over noodles like lava. When the egg is done, I lay it over your meal like a blanket.


“Intoxicating” doesn’t even begin to describe the aroma in the kitchen, and I suspect someone fasting during Ramadan wouldn’t be able to resist. You must forgive me in advance; I pluck a single strand from your bowl and drape it over my waiting, salivating tongue. It’s a crescendo of flavor, fine-tuned by a corporate giant to perfection: sharp, brothy, MSG-fuelled bliss, mellowed out by subtly smoky, sweet soy sauce, and a suggestion of spice to give it that final Indonesian touch. Mie goreng. Fried noodles. But what makes me truly happy is knowing you are about to experience this, too.


I set the bowl on a serving tray with a spoon and fork. The house does not protest under my footfalls, but I tread light as a cockroach anyway because to give myself away is to give you away. You’ve already had dinner, remember? And you’re most certainly asleep, not seeking out my room in the garage to request a midnight meal. Your mother knows this, the same way your mother knows you want to be a music teacher when you grow up. I know you actually want to be a princess.


As I knock gently on your door, I wonder why you allow me to cross the boundary between my world and yours so often. Is it because your mother is cold and I am the only warm alternative? Is there something magical about the way food appears at your door minutes after you make the request? Or are you simply too young to see the boundary?


I find the answers on your face when you open the door, nestled into the dimples that form as you smile. I smile back. Your tender hands grab the bowl. It is a wordless exchange, and yet it speaks volumes. I don’t need to remind you to hide your tracks using a few squeezes of a lavender air freshener, because we’ve done this countless times. Our little dance on that thin boundary.


Your smile lingers after you close the door. For now, knowing someone appreciates the things my callused, overworked hands manage to cobble together is enough.

July 02, 2021 22:06

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314 comments

K. Antonio
22:35 Jul 07, 2021

Ray this was beautiful! I pride myself on sometimes getting inspired and putting out decent prose, but this.... I FELT BEAUTIFULLY SLAPPED. I felt hungry while I read this. Really what was this, this story made me want to search up mie goreng on google, and I feel like the images don't do this story justice. Just such amazing descriptions, the way you described fire was so accurate and at the same time so nuanced. I'm just rambling on about the beauty of the piece, I'm going to stop now. I don't really have any complaints. I got the idea...

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Rayhan Hidayat
15:28 Jul 08, 2021

Hey thanks, you just made my day with such a beautiful comment! I’m glad I could coax out those memories, I feel like that’s a compliment of the highest order. Appreciate the read as always 😙

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K. Antonio
10:52 Jul 09, 2021

RAYYY! YUS I KNEW IT. This was honestly so deserved! Congratz!!

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Rayhan Hidayat
12:03 Jul 09, 2021

You must be a prophet or something 😜 Thanks a million for the support!

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Esther Kurisu
22:18 Jul 18, 2021

Are you Indonesian? I am half!

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Rayhan Hidayat
21:09 Jul 19, 2021

I am! Is your other half Japanese by any chance?

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Esther Kurisu
18:17 Jul 20, 2021

1/4 Japanese and 1/4 Irish!

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Rayhan Hidayat
21:17 Jul 24, 2021

I had a feeling! Would never have guessed the Irish part haha. So awesome to see another Indo here (even if it’s just half 😜)

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Scout Tahoe
14:12 Jul 09, 2021

Did you just win this or am I crazy? CONGRATS!! You jumped right into the story and us as the readers were tagging along. Beautiful.

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Rayhan Hidayat
15:13 Jul 09, 2021

Eek yes I’m so flabbergasted out of all my stories the judges picked this one 😅 See, now you have to come back, or we’ll catch up to your win and shortlists! 😈 Thanks a million Scout!

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Scout Tahoe
03:46 Jul 10, 2021

That's exactly how I felt, but I am afraid you've already caught up with me. 😏 (Woah I just got a new computer and I had no idea I could do emojis.) Cheers to you and that!

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Shea West
18:06 Jul 06, 2021

My goodness, this was a nugget of beauty. I feel like it was a quick glimpse into a small moment of the day. The story was a flash in the pan if you will. What you really captured so perfectly was the dynamic of feeding and needing to be fed. There's a lot of meaning behind that thought. You made me think of my time as a private chef in a sorority house for 7 years. I existed in this weird place of nourishing people that were perfectly capable of feeding themselves. They had the money and the ability to do so, yet I was there for the reques...

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Rayhan Hidayat
15:31 Jul 08, 2021

Yes! I feel like people who have cooked for others are the ones that truly get what I’m trying to convey. I’ve cooked for my brother and sister millions of times and they never seem to understand the effort it takes. They even refuse to be taught how to cook, saying they like the way I do it. Thanks for the wonderful comment! 😙

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Shea West
13:16 Jul 09, 2021

Such a well deserved win!!!! Picture the image of Meryl Streep standing at the Oscars clapping wildly and shouting YESSSSS!!! At the stage. Beautiful deserving win💚💚💚

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Rayhan Hidayat
15:02 Jul 09, 2021

Thank you so much, your encouragement was awesome! My heart rate has only just begun to die down 😅

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Melody Frost
05:43 Jul 10, 2021

Congrats Rayhan. I really liked the way you described mie goreng. It is one of my favorite dishes. You deserved it!

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Rayhan Hidayat
17:45 Jul 10, 2021

Same here, and thank you! :D

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Melody Frost
01:56 Jul 11, 2021

Your welcome.

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Laura Clark
19:18 Jul 09, 2021

You WON! Congratulations! I’m so proud of you! I occasionally check in to see how my favourites are faring and I’m so happy to see that you’re doing so well! I see you were shortlisted recently too - I feel like a proud mother hen. This story is a worthy winner, too. Congratulations 😁

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Rayhan Hidayat
00:03 Jul 10, 2021

Laura thank you, I honestly wasn't sure if you could make it! It's a little overwhelming that the judges are paying this much attention to me! (Are you coming back anytime soon or...?)

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Sally Wirth
18:22 Jul 09, 2021

From the first sentence, I was drawn into

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Rayhan Hidayat
23:28 Jul 09, 2021

Thanks so much for the

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Sally Wirth
22:59 Jul 13, 2021

:)

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Sally Wirth
22:59 Jul 13, 2021

:)

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Zilla Babbitt
16:26 Jul 09, 2021

Rayhan! You get to update your bio now! Oh my gosh I'm so happy for you. Deserved win!

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Rayhan Hidayat
23:40 Jul 09, 2021

Yes agghhh finally! Remember how you told me most winning stories are ethereal and plotless? So I may have put that to the test, and whaddya know... No hate, this was fun to write! :) Thanks for the support. Wouldn't be here without you ;)

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Zilla Babbitt
00:02 Jul 23, 2021

Haha! Of course. My favorite is probably still "Virtual Reality Show," but "fish in the sea" has got to be a close second.

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Rayhan Hidayat
22:23 Jul 24, 2021

Judges seem to be partial towards those too😜 “Happy” is always going to be my favorite of yours, but “Queen Cymbeline” has a special place in my heart because of the cat lover in me

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Deidra Lovegren
12:39 Jul 09, 2021

😎 hooray hooray hooray This win is loooooooong overdue All of Florida rejoices with you!! 🥳🎉🎈🎊🎁🍾🎉🥳🎈🎊🎁🍾🥳 So excited for your much deserved win!

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Rayhan Hidayat
15:20 Jul 09, 2021

Deidra you’ve always been awesome! All of Java (the island I live on) appreciates your support!

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Deidra Lovegren
16:24 Jul 09, 2021

I rejoice with all of Indonesia in celebrating your win! Hooray for the gods of Reedsy in finally acknowledging your superior talent, wit, and turn of phrase.

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Batool Hussain
18:03 Jul 09, 2021

Congrats!

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Rayhan Hidayat
23:28 Jul 09, 2021

I don't think we've talked before but I've seen you around! Thanks so much! :D

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Oscar Cole
17:47 Jul 09, 2021

Wow, what a brilliant tale! Your eloquent use of language is truly excellent. Thank you for writing this for us all to read and enjoy

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Rayhan Hidayat
23:29 Jul 09, 2021

Thank you for such an awesome comment! :D

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Scott Chadwick
17:13 Jul 09, 2021

Vivid metaphors and heart-warming tale. A well deserved win. Well done, Rayhan

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Rayhan Hidayat
23:29 Jul 09, 2021

Scott, thank you! :D

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Emma Lekhesi
16:54 Jul 09, 2021

Wow!! Wow!! Wow!👏👏 This is beautiful...

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Rayhan Hidayat
23:29 Jul 09, 2021

Thanks Emma! :)

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Vayd Danish
16:48 Jul 09, 2021

yooooo congrats! :)

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Rayhan Hidayat
23:30 Jul 09, 2021

Vayd, didn't expect you to pop outta nowhere! Hope life is treating you well, and thank you :)

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Vayd Danish
04:44 Jul 10, 2021

I'm doing quite well, Ray :) And it's well deserved! I remember thinking about when you'd add a formal Reedsy W to your crown, and that time has come :)

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Veronica Law
16:34 Jul 09, 2021

Congratulations on winning! I'm not sure anyone who hasn't had a live-in maid understands the context but you've captured it so beautifully and I just want you to know that the subtle hints of what you've portrayed about an eager-to-please maid who lavishes tender loving care on a spoilt princess isn't lost on me. Also, I will never look at another plate of mee goreng the same way. The finest chefs in the world will never be able to recreate something that is as satisfying as a plate of well-prepared mee goreng which you have described i...

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Rayhan Hidayat
23:36 Jul 09, 2021

Yes, you get it! Where I live there is a big class divide and live-in maids are quite common, so I thought I'd show the rest of the world what that's like. Yep, mie goreng is a perfect dish if I've seen any. Just the right combination of salt, sugar and MSG. Not healthy by any means, but when it tastes that good, who cares, am I right? xD Thanks so much for the lovely comment and the follow! But bear in mind that most stories I write are fantasy and sci-fi. This one is a bit of a step outside of my comfort zone, which is why I'm so shocke...

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Veronica Law
12:10 Jul 15, 2021

I'm a sci-fi gal myself but mee goreng is a dish close to my heart so I'm glad that it won! So much representation in this delightfully written short. Loving it and I'm sure I'll love your fantasy/sci-fi just as much.

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16:33 Jul 09, 2021

Delicious! Congratulations!

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Rayhan Hidayat
23:37 Jul 09, 2021

Thanks Sharmila! :D

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16:33 Jul 09, 2021

Delicious! Congratulations!

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Rayhan Hidayat
23:38 Jul 09, 2021

Thanks Sharmila! :D (did I just get deja vu??)

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Shanthini Singam
16:27 Jul 09, 2021

congratulations!

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Rayhan Hidayat
23:38 Jul 09, 2021

Thanks Shanthini! :D

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Amany Sayed
16:24 Jul 09, 2021

Why is it that the time you win, I didn't read the story yet? I'm here now, anyway. Congratulations! And, gosh you deserve it. When I say I couldn't stop reading, I mean I was literally mouthing the words to myself because I loved it so much. There are too many things I liked about this to list but I'll list anyway- I love how somehow you made someone cooking interesting, I love how you mentioned Ramadan, I love the title, the ending, and also that little part about the child wanting to be a princess. It reminds me of something I watched onc...

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Rayhan Hidayat
23:02 Jul 09, 2021

I'm guilty of not reading your latest stories too, don't worry! But I'll try get to them. Thanks so much for the support as always, I wouldn't be here without it, and I mean it. I'm glad you got what I wanted to get across--that the maid knows the child more than the mother, and I think you're the first person to point that out :)

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16:19 Jul 09, 2021

Congratulations! As someone who loves both cooking and writing, I appreciated both the culinary talents of the protagonist, her devotion to her craft and to the little girl, as well as the lyrical beauty of the tale.

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Rayhan Hidayat
23:42 Jul 09, 2021

That's awesome, this story was made for you then! :) Thanks so much for stopping by!

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Skye Thorne
16:18 Jul 09, 2021

This was stunning. The descriptions were vivid and alive before my eyes. I found my stomach growling and mouth salivating at the descriptions you crafted. Simply, I'm blown away. In such a short space you drew me in completely, beginning to end. Excellent work! Thank you for sharing.

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Rayhan Hidayat
23:43 Jul 09, 2021

Oh thank you Skye, I'm more than flattered! :D

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