Auntie nodded and open a packet of frozen fries with a pair of harmless children scissors. She weigh the fries with her hands and put a handful into the fryer at a time. While it fries, she folded a red tissue paper into a functional origami-ed bouquet. She wrote 'BBQ' in cursive on the tissue paper and put it in a small plastic bag, stopping every 10 seconds to stir the frying fries.
I fidgeted and smacked my lips impatiently. Ah fuck, lambatnye Auntie ni!
After the fries goldened, she lifted the strainer and let the fries cool down for 2 minutes. While waiting for the fries to cool down, she peppered salt into the plastic wrapper and jiggle the wrapper a bit. Because of the immense heat of her frying station, the salt melted onto the red tissue paper. She then hanged the wrapper near the glass display case where it is cooler so the melted salt hardened, glazing the otherwise feeble structure of the red tissue paper.
After 2 minutes of waiting for the fries to cool down, Auntie transferred the fries from the strainer into a plastic jug. She added a pinch of salt, two teaspoons of barbecue flavoured spice and half a teaspoon of MSG to stimulate the sixth taste the Japanese calls the Umami. She closed the jug with its cover and shook it diagonally and horizontally for a full minute. She opened the cover of the jug and gingerly picked up the fries with a tong and put them into the plastic wrapper. She then wore a glove and rearranged the fries so the fries were all horizontal like newly sprouted grass.
My face was literally red. I couldn't comprehend the meticulous preparation of one pack of barbecue fries. I felt that it was done purposely to annoy the living hell out of me. I mean, what if there were more customers? Surely she would speed up her whole preparation procedure. Maybe it's just me. Maybe it was because I was a new customer and this is her way to introduce me to her fries. Whatever her reason might be, I was pissed.
"Kenapa lambat sangat Auntie?" I asked testily.
"Sorry ah Ah Chai. Empat ringgit."
As I picked out four one ringgit notes from my wallet, I walked to the side of her humble stall and saw her face that was hidden all along behind her own stall.
She was crying. Oh God, what have I done?
"Auntie, kenapa Auntie menangis?" I asked nonchalantly, expecting a practical explaination like a speck of spice got into her eyes or something like that.
"Sorry ah Ah Chai, Auntie buat fries lambat sebab anak Auntie suka ini macam. Dia punya feveret BBQ fries. Tiap-tiap hari ah, Auntie buat satu BBQ fries bagi dia makan lepas dia balik tuition." She took the four ringgit.
"Owh.." I nodded. "Lepas tuition sekejap lagi dia datang makan fries Auntie la?"
"Anak Auntie sudah mati." She cleaned up her working station with a hardened face. "Lepas itu accident, Auntie mai kerja sini buat fries." A sob escaped from her. "Itu macam, bila Auntie masak fries Auntie boleh ingat sama dia."
My heart dropped. The blood from my head rushed down to the centre of my heart so fast that I had to sit down and take a breather. I closed my eyes to prevent my tearducts from working. This is a public place. I will not be caught dead crying here. Not without a valid reason like a speck of spice got into my eyes or something like that.
I stood up, shook Auntie's hands and apologized to her for being so impatient.
The fries were delicious but every bite reminded me of her story. Every bite sent a bitter aftertaste eventhough it was actually a bit salty. It was bittersalty. I can't even muster enough courage to chew the fries properly before swallowing but I knew I had to finish the fries before it becomes soggy. Soggy fries never bothered me before but I felt that Auntie poured so much love into her fries that I better eat it while it's hot like her son would've done.