Contest #100 winner 🏆

325 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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325 comments

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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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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A.Dot Ram
16:14 Jul 09, 2021

Congratulations!!! It makes me so happy seeing friends on the winners' announcement. I'm looking forward to reading this soon but couldn't wait to say congrats.

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Rayhan Hidayat
16:21 Jul 09, 2021

Thank you so much, I suspect your encouragement was instrumental in getting me to where I am now :) I hope you like it, this isn't a sci-fi or a fantasy or something I would normally write!

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A.Dot Ram
04:45 Jul 11, 2021

I finally got to read. Ah, your language is so precise and evocative here. Your love of the food came through, which was perfect for the prompt. At first I thought the narrator must be there person's mother. Surprise, no. You used food to explore and bridge economic divide in such a loving way. Well done. You can do this style well, also. It was simple and focused. It's good to have options.

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Rayhan Hidayat
05:26 Jul 12, 2021

I almost didn’t get to read this, you need to reply to my comment, not your own, for it to pop up in my notifications! Thank you. I took a page out of Claire and Scout for inspiration, but otherwise this is a huge step outside my comfort zone and I’m glad you enjoyed!

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R. K.
15:48 Jul 09, 2021

This is your year. I'm so proud of you! I remember when you used to have "Winning Stories: none" in you your bio - take a look now; it's in there, imprinted. You have come far, this is a well-deserved win on a breathtaking story.

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Rayhan Hidayat
16:13 Jul 09, 2021

Ru i was waiting for you to show up! Thank you so much. I cherish your comments and all the support. Wouldn't be here without amazing people like you to encourage and inspire me :)

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Arch R
15:38 Jul 09, 2021

Beautiful. I could feel the nasi goreng come to life and the internal dialogue of the helper was so soulfully shaped.

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Rayhan Hidayat
15:40 Jul 09, 2021

Thanks so much, and well put! 😙

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Christina Marie
15:01 Jul 09, 2021

Congrats Rayhan! Really well-deserved!!

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Rayhan Hidayat
15:22 Jul 09, 2021

Hey thanks so much! 😙

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Sharmishtha Saha
14:44 Jul 09, 2021

Heart melting story. Loved it. Congratulations.

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Rayhan Hidayat
15:11 Jul 09, 2021

Thank you, Sharmishtha 😙

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Riley Elizabeth
13:54 Jul 09, 2021

This story is a work of art. Incredible work & congratulations!!

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Rayhan Hidayat
15:13 Jul 09, 2021

Thanks so much Riley! 😙

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13:49 Jul 09, 2021

I have been quite inactive the past week, so I apologize for missing out on what I'm sure is a terrific story since the judges clearly thought so. I don't have to even read this to know that you absolutely deserve this win. Here's to more winning stories in the future! Congratulations! (Also, I'm honored for that shoutout. Thank you!)

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Rayhan Hidayat
15:14 Jul 09, 2021

Thank you, and of course, I always love your comments! And you’re under no obligation to read this, I just appreciate you being there 😙

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23:10 Jul 09, 2021

You're welcome! And, ha, now I have the urge to read this now that you say that.

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Michael Martin
13:03 Jul 09, 2021

Congrats on your win!

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Rayhan Hidayat
15:17 Jul 09, 2021

Hey thanks so much! Again I’m quite shocked that the judges are paying this much attention to me 😅 And sorry I haven’t gotten around to your latest stories yet, I’ll definitely try to!

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Michael Martin
17:42 Jul 10, 2021

No worries at all! You've been busy, you know, winning and all. Keep up the great work, hopefully someday I can get on your level my friend! Great writing as always, you're an inspiration.

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Amaranthine Sky
12:43 Jul 09, 2021

Wow, congratulations on the win! This was beautiful and mouth-watering and definitely a well-deserved win. 🥳🥳🥳🥳

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Rayhan Hidayat
15:18 Jul 09, 2021

Thanks Amy! Do you mind if I just call you that? “Amaranthine” is just, you know, a bit of a mouthful 😜

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Amaranthine Sky
12:49 Jul 12, 2021

Yep, Amy's fine :P

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12:37 Jul 09, 2021

Wow! I went on a hiatus and you came back and OH WOW YOU WON!!! Congratulations on this definitely well-deserved win! Honestly, from the beginning to the end this was amazing, and now...I'm hungry :P These kinds of stories always melt my heart. Congrats on this win! Very well done, Rayhan.

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Rayhan Hidayat
15:20 Jul 09, 2021

Haha yes I guess I really am back 😜 Thanks so much Amiable!

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17:54 Jul 09, 2021

Np! You deserved it 😁

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10:09 Jul 09, 2021

this is genius <3

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Rayhan Hidayat
15:21 Jul 09, 2021

Thanks Abantee! 😙

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Avani G
09:57 Jul 09, 2021

RAY CONGRATULATIONS!

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Rayhan Hidayat
15:21 Jul 09, 2021

AVANI THANK YOU!

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Avani G
19:59 Jul 09, 2021

YOUR WELCOME; YOU DESERVE IT!

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09:17 Jul 09, 2021

Wow. Congrats. I'm so happy.

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Rayhan Hidayat
15:21 Jul 09, 2021

Abigail you’re a peach. Thanks so much!

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10:42 Jul 06, 2021

Beautiful descriptions, it was really magical...and I'm hungry. But that was amazing, you really are great at description, Rayhan...especially when it comes to food. Love it, well done! (Re-highlights Singapore as my first holiday destination once lockdown is over)

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Rayhan Hidayat
15:33 Jul 08, 2021

Hey thanks as always! I love food so you can imagine how fun this story was to write. I did fried rice, and now it’s time for fried noodles to shine :)

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16:31 Jul 08, 2021

Ahah, no problem. Fried anything is heaven. EDIT: OH MY GODDD MAJOR CONGRATULATIONS ON THE WIN I'M SO PROUD WELL DONE!! :D

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Rayhan Hidayat
23:27 Jul 09, 2021

Thank you, your support means the world to me! ;)

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02:42 Jul 10, 2021

No problem :)

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Kristin Neubauer
21:08 Jul 03, 2021

I want to mie goreng now! I've never had it but I must try it. A beautiful story, I savored every sentence. How do you write like that? Does it just pop into your head and flow out onto the screen? I can't put words together like you do, but I wish I could. Simply exquisite.

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Rayhan Hidayat
22:38 Jul 03, 2021

I expect you can find it in just about any Asian grocery store. Just keep a look out for the iconic white packaging! I can be a perfectionist when it comes to writing. Sometimes I’ll rewrite the same sentence a dozen times until it sounds right to me. So don’t worry, I’m still human!

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