Contest #100 winner 🏆

326 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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326 comments

Orenda .
13:13 Jul 14, 2021

dude, I see some miracle every time I come here tf. congratulations! You always deserved it! And I remember your birthday hah >:)

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Rayhan Hidayat
05:46 Jul 15, 2021

Yo thanks for the supporting me since forever (I still can’t believe it finally happened) Aha yes I’m almost one year closer to death, whoopee 😜

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00:03 Jul 14, 2021

ALSO, to include to the spam, i say that this is well-deserved. mie goreng indeed. and creatures in parallel worlds with controlling mothers? rayhan, are you preparing for a newbery honor award?

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Rayhan Hidayat
05:48 Jul 15, 2021

I think I’m satisfied with just winning on Reedsy for now haha

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16:24 Jul 16, 2021

no, the correct answer was "oh, kate, i'm writing an ENTIRE book about how amazing you are, and there's already six press conferences signed up for me in which i will gush about you, and also have i ever mentioned that you're terrific?" c'mon, ray-bans. you know this.

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00:02 Jul 14, 2021

of COURSE. of course you won while i was gone- of COURSE- well, i hope this makes up for my absence. YOU WON! YOU WON! YOU WON! YOU WON! YOU WON! YOU WON! YOU ... WON!

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Rayhan Hidayat
05:47 Jul 15, 2021

Kate you can have a million thank you’s, for always having my back! And I appreciate the shoutout 😙

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16:22 Jul 16, 2021

i don't give anything unless it's well-deserved, and you freakin' deserve a million of 'em. ride-or-die, rayhan! :D.

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I. F.
17:58 Jul 13, 2021

Bet you thought you could hide this win from me, well think again! This might be a slice-of-life story, but the way you seasoned it ;) with similes, world-building, and just enough backstory makes it on par with all your other amazing stories, even if it has less fantastical elements. I didn't see any proper nouns used for the characters, but I was still able to figure out their relationship to each other (I'm guessing the narrator is a live-in chef or housekeeper). I don't know anything about Indonesian cuisine or culture, so I appreciat...

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Rayhan Hidayat
05:54 Jul 15, 2021

Keep those food puns coming! 😜 Thanks so much, I don’t think I’d be here if lovely individuals such as yourself haven’t been encouraging me since I joined this site a year ago. Yep, you got it right, the narrator is a maid that essentially performs the role of both chef and housekeeper. Demanding task for what is close to minimum wage, at least where I’m from. And yay, glad to showcase my home country’s cuisine!

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I. F.
18:09 Jul 15, 2021

I don't think I could stop at this point even if I wanted to. Ah of course, I think we started writing here at more or less the same time (I joined earlier but was inactive for a long time), it's been fun watching you get better and better. Out of curiosity, do you speak any languages other than English?

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Rayhan Hidayat
17:41 Jul 17, 2021

I speak Indonesian but my English is admittedly better. I blame my parents for putting me in a British school 😡 How about you? This is just a shot in the dark but are you from somewhere in Eastern Europe perchance?

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I. F.
22:09 Jul 20, 2021

I'm in the same boat, English is definitely my best language but I also know Russian and a bit of French. I have an accent in every language I speak, just to make it even harder for people to guess where I'm from. You're right, by descent I'm pretty much from Eastern Europe, Ukraine and Russia. I've been lucky enough to live all over the place though.

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Ananya B
14:08 Jul 13, 2021

This is one of my fav stories now! I loved it. The details and description are just too good!!

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Rayhan Hidayat
14:18 Jul 13, 2021

Aww thanks Ananya! 😙

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Ishita Nigam
11:03 Jul 13, 2021

Beautiful story, Rayhan. You made such a humble meal look so sumptuous! Loved the way you weaved the story. The dish was as simple as the boy narrating the tale, but you made both of them sound larger than life. A very well deserved win, for sure! Heartiest congratulations!

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Rayhan Hidayat
13:09 Jul 13, 2021

Thank you so much Ishita! :)

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Yolanda Wu
08:40 Jul 13, 2021

This was such an amazing story! I love how you managed to describe the simple act of cooking with such beautiful prose filled with so much depth and little insights into both the narrator and the person the story is directed to. I'm terrible in the kitchen, but recently, I've been at least trying to make some noodles and such, so this story really inspired me to perhaps brush up my cooking skills. It also made me incredibly hungry, I love any kind of fried noodles, and the way you described it just made my mouth water! Again, I'm so sorry I ...

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Rayhan Hidayat
13:01 Jul 13, 2021

Thanks so much! I hope music camp was fun :) Wait til you get to uni! Cooking is not only a survival strategy, but is great for impressing housemates and such ;)

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Yolanda Wu
21:36 Jul 13, 2021

Music camp was good (a lot of rehearsing and really bad reception - Victorian countryside and that, but overall, it was pretty fun). Yeah, I hope that I can become a bit more adept at cooking in the future, so it won't just be a means for survival...

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Niveeidha Palani
01:59 Jul 13, 2021

Cheers, Rayhan. Congrats for the win!

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Rayhan Hidayat
13:10 Jul 13, 2021

Hey Niveeidha! And thanks! :)

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Niveeidha Palani
04:01 Jul 14, 2021

I don't usually reveal personal things, but I'm from Malaysia. So I definitely know what you're talking about ;)

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01:34 Jul 13, 2021

Oh myyyy goodness! Congratulationssss! As a constant fan of your stories I knew it was coming!! Once again congrats!

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Rayhan Hidayat
13:12 Jul 13, 2021

Snow I'm so glad to hear from you again! Thanks so much for all the support :D

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Jennie Rosa Net
01:07 Jul 13, 2021

My I felt so hungry as you described how you were cooking. Very Very vivid you made it so real. I felt as if I were in that kitchen making the soup.

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Rayhan Hidayat
13:12 Jul 13, 2021

Thank you so much Jennie! :D

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Hans B
18:26 Jul 12, 2021

Beautifully delicious. A behind the scenes look at an artist at work and all this wonderful creation is paid by one thing, a smile from a child. Those moments melt my heart. Thank you for a wonderful journey, and congratulations!

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Rayhan Hidayat
13:13 Jul 13, 2021

Thank you so much Hans, and what a poetic way to put it! :D

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Sara Lee
13:22 Jul 12, 2021

lovely!

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Rayhan Hidayat
13:19 Jul 13, 2021

thanks Sara! :)

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Elizabeth Inkim
03:10 Jul 12, 2021

Congratulations on the win! I must admit I've been MIA on Reedsy this week and I was pleasantly surprised to know that person I follow had won. I have yet to win or even be shortlisted so I am happy for you. Great story, the opening line was simplistic perfection, but it was the subject matter that was my favourite part. I love food so much and you made the process so much more passionate than it is on the surface. Also fantastic title! During my days of no WiFi, I wrote a story called "Guardian of The Deep", which is the last instalment ...

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Rayhan Hidayat
03:23 Jul 12, 2021

Thank you so much Liz! (Can I just call you that? Elizabeth is a pretty name but it’s also such a mouthful!). Yay, fellow food lover! I forgot what the name of your story I read was but it’s the one that begins with “Nothing burns quite like the cold”— I had my fingers crossed that would get shortlisted, it was great stuff in my book 😉 I will get around to reading your stories!

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Elizabeth Inkim
03:32 Jul 12, 2021

Yeah, I don't mind you can call me Liz. Honestly, me too! “Nothing burns quite like the cold” for me is one of those stories I reread, and I am like, wow, I wrote this, and as of now, with 24 stories, I have maybe 5 or 6 that I still reread either for the story itself or the characters, and this is defiantly one of them. I think it's one of my better ones in terms of grammar and tone, but hey, I guess it's not my time. Hey, as a perpetually busy person, I look forward to seeing you in the comments when you get a chance. I love discussion, ...

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Rayhan Hidayat
13:25 Jul 13, 2021

I'm so glad I'm not the only one who (shamelessly) re-reads their own stories! And as someone that is disappointed at the amount of fantasy stories that win/get shortlisted, I'm rooting for you! ;) I've been busy too so sure, I don't mind some discussion after a long day :) So, have you read The Stormlight Archive by any chance? I'm always down to talk about that!

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Elizabeth Inkim
14:54 Jul 13, 2021

OMG YES! I am a big believer in writing selfishly, as in write what you want to read, so yeah, sometimes I go back, and I reread scenes that I wrote just cause I like the drama. My guiltiest please is rereading my stories: "A Kaleidoscope of Memories", "Enigmas of the Shadow Sea", "A Rose By Any Other Name", "Dum Spiro, Spero" and "Lighting in a Bottle" in that order, because I created such a messy love life for the MC. Like it makes me laugh every time because that love triangle is so not easy or comfortable. I just like reading them for fu...

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Rayhan Hidayat
15:34 Jul 13, 2021

I write a fair bit of romance too, don’t worry, though they always have fantasy, sci-fi or speculative elements. I don’t think you’ll catch me writing a contemporary, picket fence romance any time soon 😜 I am planning to check out your website soon! Oh that’s great! I am not kidding when I tell you it’s better than Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. It might be my favorite series of all time, period. I have cried like a baby multiple times reading The Stormlight Archive. Please don’t miss out on it!

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Tarushi Parmar
02:50 Jul 12, 2021

Congratulations!! It is certainly a well deserved win. I saw the food being cooked in my mind . The ending was a very sweet one too.

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Rayhan Hidayat
06:07 Jul 12, 2021

Thanks so much Tarushi! 😙

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Katie Kanning
20:45 Jul 11, 2021

Hi, I really like your story. Can I read it on a podcast I'm looking to start? I will credit you and link your story. The purpose of the podcast would be to gain indie writers more of an audience :)

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Rayhan Hidayat
03:26 Jul 12, 2021

Hi Katie. Yes, by all means, I’d be very flattered if you’d do that! Can’t wait to hear it 😁

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Katie Kanning
07:31 Jul 12, 2021

Thank you so much! Follow the podcast so you get notified when it comes out :) https://anchor.fm/unpublishednotunknown

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Rayhan Hidayat
08:18 Jul 12, 2021

followed on spotify :)

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Katie Kanning
06:04 Jul 13, 2021

I just posted the episode! Forgive my pronunciation; I tried my best to look up the proper way for certain words. Hope you enjoy it!

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Rayhan Hidayat
11:45 Jul 13, 2021

You have a mesmerizing voice! Thank you so much, I've never been featured on a podcast so this feels very surreal to me right now. Best of luck! :)

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Mary Sheehan
16:05 Jul 11, 2021

Beautiful story! I love the theme of transcending social boundaries; it's really poignant when it's done well. This reminds me of Aibileen's story from The Help, as she essentially raised the babies and young children that she looked after. You effortlessly managed to fit so many issues into the one simple act - making a meal. Well deserved win!

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Rayhan Hidayat
05:59 Jul 12, 2021

That’s exactly what I wanted to convey, thanks for the read and the lovely comment’ 😙

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Ramie Creates
15:01 Jul 11, 2021

The Fasting example gave me the perfect feel of how I'd feel while fasting if I'd smell that tasty Smell 😋

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Rayhan Hidayat
06:00 Jul 12, 2021

Haha glad that line did its job!

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Rose Of Hope
14:30 Jul 11, 2021

A well deserved win

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Rayhan Hidayat
14:43 Jul 11, 2021

Thanks Rose! 😙

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Rachel Moreira
13:44 Jul 11, 2021

it was the perfect dish to use in this story and a beautiful description of this known treat here in SEA. a wonderful read, thank you!

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Rayhan Hidayat
14:44 Jul 11, 2021

Thanks Rachel! And yes, I’m very glad I got to introduce lots of people to mie goreng via this story. 😁

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N K
12:33 Jul 11, 2021

Amazing! And such a deserved win! The story is so nuanced and beautifully written. I like how through the love of the cook and the innocence of the child you beautifully describe the breaking-down (if only temporary) of these deeply entrenched boundaries. Every sentence has been masterfully constructed and comes together to weave a tale that is so amazing and inspiring in its description, realism and simplicity. The Indian equivalent of mie goreng is maggi and I have so many childhood memories of sneaking around with my siblings to make it ...

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Rayhan Hidayat
14:50 Jul 11, 2021

You seem to understand exactly the themes I was trying to convey, so take this cookie 🍪 And thank you for such a thorough comment! You’re making me blush ☺️ Mie goreng is the ultimate comfort food to me so yes, you’re very right, this story is in many ways a love letter to mie goreng. Ah, I’ve tried maggi once a long time ago, and I do recall it being very delicious in its own right!

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