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

Bob E
10:50 Jul 03, 2021

It's a lovely story, really sweet. One of the things I've missed working from home is picking up mie goreng at lunch time or on the way home. The simple pleasures are the best.

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Rayhan Hidayat
22:36 Jul 03, 2021

Thank you! Yep, agree with you on that one.

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Bob E
11:53 Jul 09, 2021

And the comfort food wins the day! Just as it should be.

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Rayhan Hidayat
12:08 Jul 09, 2021

Ha! Thanks so much for the support 😙

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A.G. Scott
23:06 Jul 02, 2021

What's not to love? A crisp little slice of life paying homage to the unsung heroes, and the food descriptions have me salivating. Might soon be time for second dinner. No notes!

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Rayhan Hidayat
22:35 Jul 03, 2021

Ha! Thanks 😙

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A.G. Scott
13:40 Jul 09, 2021

Easily! S'gooo

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Rayhan Hidayat
15:09 Jul 09, 2021

Thank you, thank you ☺️

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02:16 Aug 19, 2021

So detailed and suits imaginary minds like me.

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Rayhan Hidayat
04:24 Aug 19, 2021

Thanks Farah!

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04:43 Aug 19, 2021

You are welcome and hye from Malaysia <3

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Kaylee Tinsley
13:42 Aug 16, 2021

This was awesome!!! I almost didn't read it simply because I did not understand the title, but boy am I happy I went ahead and read it!! I loved how descriptive you were when describing the dynamic between the two characters, but I also loved how you left it open, I'm sorry, that probably made no sense. Moral of the story: I loved it!! :D

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Rayhan Hidayat
23:07 Aug 18, 2021

Thanks so much Kaylee! :) Glad I could show mie goreng to the world haha

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Kaylee Tinsley
12:15 Aug 19, 2021

Yes lol I am happy too! :)

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Shinta Harini
16:29 Aug 12, 2021

My friend pointed out this story to me. She said it's a winner and the writer is an Indonesian. I was like what, where?! And here I am, grinning from ear to ear imagining a bowl of Indomie I can no longer enjoy because of my gerd problem. *sigh* But I'm so proud of you!

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Rayhan Hidayat
02:33 Aug 14, 2021

Terimakasih!!! Yay, fellow Indonesian 😊

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Michelle Gregory
18:36 Aug 10, 2021

This was so beautiful in it's simplicity, magic and reality! I enjoy cooking and you just carried me away into the kitchen with you. You have such a talent describing the simple and mundane, bringing it to beautiful life!

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Rayhan Hidayat
04:22 Aug 11, 2021

Thanks Michelle! 😙

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Mahima Sharma
17:04 Jul 30, 2021

Oh my god! This was Asombroso! As I wade through the story, I just felt that warmth and the description just hit my heart. Such a melting and beautiful story.

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Rayhan Hidayat
01:52 Aug 06, 2021

Thank you!! 😙

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Benji Bobo ©
17:17 Jul 27, 2021

Hmmm another sign that I dont have enough braincells to comprhend anything but dr seuss.

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10:48 Jul 24, 2021

This is so beautiful it makes me want to write. Inspiring- what you're able to conjure!

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Rayhan Hidayat
10:49 Jul 24, 2021

Thank you Milind! 😙

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Bianka Nova
17:15 Jul 21, 2021

YES! YES! YES! Congratulations, Ray! 🥳 I'm sooo sorry I'm late for this. You should've said something. I had to learn from Reedsy's Instagram that gives updates 2 weeks too late 😜 If I have to pick favorites, I still like the nasi goreng story better, but a win's a win. Even Leo DiCaprio didn't win an Oscar for his most iconic roles 😉 And also, it's competition #100! They should've doubled the prize for this one. I admit I did have a good snack before reading it, and I confirm it was deliciously written (as many might've used this cliché ...

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Rayhan Hidayat
00:47 Jul 24, 2021

I did want to give you a nudge, but didn’t want to seem like I was bragging 😅 Needless to say, I wouldn’t be here without your support and discerning eye for plot holes and such. Ack dont talk to me about the nasi goreng one, i’m not very proud of it 😅 But I’m glad you liked it anyway Oh and I haven’t forgotten about Train Talks. I’ll get around to leaving my thoughts though maybe when I’m not so busy. I hope you’ve been well, you were gone for a while!

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Bianka Nova
13:54 Jul 25, 2021

Oh, come on! Brag away! I don't know about writing stuff, but if I can teach you one thing, it would be to stop playing modest, which I think you're not ;) I know I've been away quite a lot. Having a real job sux. Although, I know it's not a very good excuse. I also have to catch up on more stories and that novel chapter review I promised... 😳 P.S. Great new avatar! Your sister's work again? 😊

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Rayhan Hidayat
01:54 Jul 26, 2021

Ok I admit, I did brag a little to my family, but I think I’d get weird glances for doing it here 😜 To be honest I haven’t been focusing on my novel lately so I’m in no rush to hear that review. Looking for a job sux too! I might even rewrite the whole chapter, I feel unsatisfied with it at the moment. No, not this time! Pfp is from a video game, which I am completely unashamed to admit is what I spent the prize money on

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Bianka Nova
20:28 Jul 28, 2021

Haha, you have every right to spend the money on whatever you wish. There's more to come ;) Actually, if you are planning on doing rewrites that's exactly where some comments might be useful. I'll try to get to it these days, as soon as someone decides to put a stop to the endless zoom meetings I have to endure this week... ;)

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Arya Jackson
15:42 Jul 19, 2021

This is real noi-ce

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Rayhan Hidayat
22:01 Jul 19, 2021

Thanks Arya! 😙

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Pippin Took
15:37 Jul 19, 2021

Rayhan!!!!!! YAYAYYAYA YOU WON GOOD JOB!!!!! :DDDDDDDDDDD YOU'RE THE FIRST FRIEND I HAD ON HERE WHO WON LOL :DD

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Rayhan Hidayat
22:02 Jul 19, 2021

Haha really? Well thank you (for the support!!) 😙

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Pippin Took
14:17 Jul 20, 2021

YES! No problem! Lol sorry it took so long to notice......I've been on vacation with no time/Internet

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Kimber Harps
11:12 Jul 16, 2021

Its sad that I am just now reading this! Such an incredibly well put together story! Congrats!

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Rayhan Hidayat
22:00 Jul 19, 2021

Thanks Kimber!😙

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Hoor Amin
03:11 Jul 16, 2021

This. Is. Such. A. Beautiful. Story. Period.

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Rayhan Hidayat
22:02 Jul 19, 2021

Thanks!

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Hoor Amin
16:27 Jul 20, 2021

Welcome :)

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uhhhh im sorry for bein late to this but this was soo beautiful and amazing, I had to read it two times before it hit me very impactful :> and...well ik this comment is short but i really am shocked at how good this is :)

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Rayhan Hidayat
22:00 Jul 19, 2021

Haha no worries, and thank you Celeste! 😙

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Np :))) <3

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Susan Lumiere
14:56 Jul 15, 2021

Beautifully evocative and poetic. Tender feelings expressed artfully. Congratulations. Well deserved.

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Rayhan Hidayat
22:02 Jul 19, 2021

Thanks Susan! 😙

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00:06 Jul 15, 2021

Hey there, Rayhan! I haven't read any of your stories before, but this one came up on my feed, and I'm super glad it did. I really loved the description in the story, it was almost like living in a surreal dream and I watched it unfold before my eyes. And yes, even though it's just noodles and MSG mie goreng will always be good :) Amazing work on this deserved win! ~ Jasey

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Rayhan Hidayat
05:57 Jul 15, 2021

Haha thanks Jasey! What a lovely way to describe my story 😙

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23:01 Jul 15, 2021

No problem, it was such a lovely read! 🥰

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Sarah Kreiger
23:41 Jul 14, 2021

Loved reading this, such a treat to an imaginative mind! So descriptive it was impossible not to picture everything happening like a movie in my head. Great job and well deserved win!

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Rayhan Hidayat
05:58 Jul 15, 2021

Thanks so much Sarah! 😙

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Dina Al Ziab
21:35 Jul 14, 2021

This was brilliant. Your words danced on my tongue, salivating, yearning for dish with the promise of comfort and satiation. Bravo.

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Rayhan Hidayat
05:59 Jul 15, 2021

Thanks Dina! And what a poetic way to put it! 😙

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Giovanni Profeta
19:19 Jul 14, 2021

It was a joy to read. Fantastic way of describing a not so mundane task.

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Rayhan Hidayat
05:59 Jul 15, 2021

Thabks Giovanni! 😙

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