100 Rupees Chowmein

I stopped my bicycle next to the shop. Some might characterize this particular shop as a khaja ghar, others might call it a bhatti. The definition often changes paralleling the time of the day – khaja ghar during the day and bhatti during the night. Given the time of the day I had found myself in front of this particular shop, one might assume that I had gone there to make it fulfill its bhatti function – that I was here for a drink. But that was not true. I had two hundred rupees in my pocket and I was looking for a cheap place to buy dinner.

I pulled away the generic white curtain hanging at the entrance away from my face and stepped inside. There were two young men, both of whom were a few years older than me. They both were sitting down with a drink in front of them. Didi was the only person looking after the shop.

She looked at me in expectation of an order. “Didi, do you make momo?” I asked as I scanned around the shop. I did not see any utensils that’s commonly used to make the dish. She game me a smile and said, “No, babu.”

I did not want to go out venturing for another shop for I was too tired. “What else do you have, didi?” I asked.

“Chowmein, I have chowmein.”

“Do you make it with chicken?” I asked.

“Yes, of course.” she said as she went to the fridge to get the ingredients.

I looked for a place to sit down at. Both the tables were taken by each of the young men. Not wanting to disturb the men from their drink, I went outside for a breath of fresh air. I had not seen the muda right outside the entrance before, but since it was there and since I was tired, I sat down on its refurbished face. The bora gave a rustling noise as I made myself comfortable.

“What is this coronavirus?” one of the men started. “It’s just a way to kill us all. There is no work, how can we survive?” I could hear him take a sip and then put the glass down on the table with intention.

“That’s right. It’s a way for all the big hospitals to make money. I say, it is all a scam for the rich people to make money. Look at Bhatbhateni and how it was running every single day. Look at us. The police did not let us open, even if I had a sanitizer at the entrance,” didi said. The man who had spoken previously hummed in agreement.

I waited for a few more minutes. Didi had asked me if I wanted a whole chilly to which I replied that I did not have the audacity to eat extremely spicy food. Dai had laughed at my response and didi and I settled down for half a chilly instead of the whole. She pulled the chowmein with a pair of tongs and put it in a transparent plastic bag. She then wrapped the meal with a second layer of old newspaper.

I thanked her and paid the 100 rupees price. I had spent that same amount to get some ‘cheap’ coffee at a nearby coffee shop. I wished that her business would survive the economic turmoil brought by the pandemic.

But can wishes turn into reality when we barely find ourselves in these spaces?

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