Xi Men raised his head up to look at the signboard on the shop.
And then he looked at Xiao You, “So this is really the shop that sells the famous fried chicken cutlet in Shihlin market?” Xi Men asked.
“Do you know that if there’s a long queue at that store or shop, it means the food is good?” Xiao You asked, and that prompting Xi Men to look in front of them and behind them, and realizes they are in the queue, with people in front of them and at the back of them too.
“Looks pretty long,” Xi Men said, after analyzing the queue. “I mean the queue,”
“Yes. Well, they fried those chicken cutlets by batches, so when the batch has sold out, you have to wait for the next batch, thus the line,” Xiao You smiled.
“Oh? Is it that nice?” Xi Men asked.
“I would say it is okay,” Xiao You smiled. “I can buy one for you to try. Is there space in your stomach for the chicken?”
Xi Men laughed, “What a question! You could have just asked if I am hungry,”
Xiao You laughed. “There is a difference between hungry and not hungry but having a huge space for food,”
“Huge space? Like… you are saying the chicken cutlet is huge?” Xi Men asked.
“Quite,” Xiao You said. “I am only buying one, Emily and I will share, because she will not be able to finish it. It will be extremely full for an adult… so what’s more for a kid like her,”
“Umm…” Xi Men scratched his head.
“If the chicken piece is too big, then maybe we can let Uncle Xi Men to share our piece too…” Emily said, looking at Xiao You.
Xiao You and Xi Men looked at Emily and then they exchanged awkward glances.
Xiao You then smiled faintly, “Well, it is okay. We can share. I guess… I might not be able to finish it for Emily too…”
“Umm… okay…” Xi Men said. “So, it is really that huge?”
“Slightly bigger than what you usually see,” Xiao You said.
“Oh, well, if you don’t mind,”
“I don’t. I also didn’t want to eat too full for supper,” Xiao You smiled. “Good for you to try,”
Xi Men smiled.
“How long more do we need to wait…? The queue doesn’t look like it moved at all,” Emily asked.
“I am not sure, sweetie. But we do need to wait for a while. Are you very hungry?” Xiao You asked, looking at Emily.
“I am hungry, but I can wait still,” Emily said.
“Just wait for a while…” Xiao You said.
“Alright, mommy. If it is good food, worth to wait! Especially it is a specialty here,” Emily said.
Xi Men and Xiao You laughed.
“Hmm…” Xi Men cleared his throat. “I am thirsty. I wanna go and get some drinks after this,”
“Oh, okay. Why not you go now, and I’ll stay in the queue,” Xiao You said.
“We can get drinks later, no worries,” Xi Men said.
“But we don’t know how long we need to wait,” Xiao You said, stealing glances over the counter, which is pretty far from where they stood. “So, why not you just go and get it? I guess I will still be in the queue after you came back from buying your drinks,”
“Ummm… are you sure you will be alright here?” Xi Men asked.
“Yes, I will be alright here,” Xiao You said. “Or do you want me to get it for you instead and you stay in the queue to buy the chicken cutlet?”
“That will be okay as well…”
“Alright. So what do you want to drink?”
“Errr?” she looked at him.
“I am not sure what is there to drink…” Xi Men said.
A small laugh escapes her mouth. “I guess it is better if you go and see for yourself, and get it then,” Xiao You said. “And yes, I will be good here in this queue, waiting to buy chicken cutlet,”
Xi Men laughed. “Alright… I’ll just go and get it. Do you want anything?”
“Me!” Emily said. “I am sure I will be thirsty after I ate the chicken…”
“Okay, so what do you want to drink?” Xi Men asked, looking at Emily.
“Umm… I am not sure what to drink too…” Emily said.
“You can go and follow Uncle Xi Men to see what drinks they have. Then tell Uncle Xi Men what you want, okay?” Xiao You said.
“Okay,” she replied to her mother, and then she turned to look at Xi Men, “Uncle Xi Men, I follow you to buy drinks, okay?”
“Sure,” Xi Men smiled as he extends his hand and Emily grips it.
“I’ll pay you the money for the drinks later,” Xiao You said.
“Don’t worry about it. Do I need to be calculative with you, with just a drink?” Xi Men asked.
Xiao You laughed. “Fine, thanks,”
“No problem,” Xi Men smiled.
“Emily, remember to thank Uncle Xi Men when he buy you drinks, okay?” Xiao You said.
“Okay, mommy. I will,” Emily smiled.
“So, shall we go?” Xi Men asked Emily.
“Yes, Uncle Xi Men,” Emily said, looking at Xi Men, and then turned her head to look at Xiao You, “Bye mommy. See you in a bit,” Emily waved at Xiao You.
Xiao You smiled and waved back at her daughter. “And make sure you know your way back here, Xi Men!”
“I’ll pay attention to the surroundings. Don’t worry. I am not that bad!”
Xiao You and Xi Men laughed.
Then both Xi Men and Emily walked away.
Xiao You smiled upon seeing Xi Men gripping onto Emily’s hand and walked. He really takes such a good care of Emily. She folded her hands and wait in line.
“There’s pearl milk tea,” Xi Men pointed at a stall. “Do you want pearl milk tea?”
“I just had it this morning,” Emily said. “Maybe some drinks that is Shihlin market’s specialty?”
“Umm, I don’t know what is this market’s specialty… but we’ll look around,” Xi Men said
“Okay, Uncle Xi Men,” Emily said.
And they continued strolling the market. “Hmmm… so many food here,” Xi Men said.
“Yeah, makes me feel like I want to eat everything,” Emily scratched her head.
Xi Men laughed.
“Can’t help it that I am hungry,” Emily pouted.
“Well, later… eat the chicken cutlet first, and if you are still hungry, we can come here and get some food,” Xi Men smiled.
“Or we can return tomorrow or something!” Emily said. “But have to ask mommy first,”
Xi Men laughed. “Alright. If there is nowhere to go, then we come back here tomorrow,”
“Okay!” Emily excitedly agrees.
“Ah, here’s another drinks stall. Fresh fruits juice,” Xi Men said, looking at the drinks stated on the board, “Ah. Papaya milk. Papaya milk is famous in Taipei, do you want to try?”
“Papaya milk?” Emily frowned. “Uncle Xi Men… papaya may cause stomach upset… and if you add milk… isn’t that going to make it a severe, or even, dangerous case?”
Xi Men laughed. “Though the combination did sound weird, but it may not make your stomach upset. You won’t know if you didn’t try, right? And it is famous in Taipei! Something you need to try,”
“No, no, no,” Emily said. “We are way too far from our studio apartment and I don’t really want to use the public toilet here. We’ll try that when I have constipation,”
Xi Men laughed again. “Alright, there are other drinks in the list… hmmm… bitter gourd juice,”
“BITTER GOURD?!” Emily almost yelled.
“Wah, do you need to react like that?”
“Uncle Xi Men,” she already winced at the thought of it, “No, not something bitter…”
“You didn’t know if it is bitter…”
“Uncle Xi Men, it is called bitter gourd for a reason, right? It won’t be called bitter gourd if it is not bitter. It should be called sweet gourd if it is sweet,”
Xi Men laughed. “Well, pineapple doesn’t mean there’s apple in it. Come on, you…”
“Let’s move, Uncle Xi Men. I don’t want to have anything to do with this stall,” she pulled the standing Xi Men and walked.
Xi Men could only laugh as he just walked.
And then he reached another drinks stall. “This is winter melon drink,” Xi Men pointed at the brown colored liquid on display.
“Winter melon drink sounds nice. It will reduce body heat. Since we are taking fried chicken… maybe this is the better drink for it,” Emily said.
“Alright, so, you want winter melon drink, right?” Xi Men seeks confirmation.
“Umm… I would like to see other stalls… can we just come back and get them if we cannot get any nice drinks later?” Emily asked.
“Alright… just for you,” Xi Men said.
They walked again and reached a stall.
“This looks interesting…” Emily said, peeking at the big metal bowl of yellow colored jelly. “What is this?”
“Oh, this stall sells ‘jelly tapioca pearl’,” Xi Men said, looking at the board. “So that’s a jelly, and they have tapioca pearls inside,”
“Is it a drink?” Emily asked.
“Yes, it is,” Xi Men said.
“Uncle Xi Men, can I have one?” Emily asked.
“Are you sure you want this?” Xi Men asked.
“Yes, Uncle Xi Men,” Emily said.
“Alright,” he eventually walked closer to the seller, with his hand still holding onto Emily’s hand. “Hmmm… I forgot to ask if Xiao You wants any…”
“Mommy will share with me,” Emily smiled.
“Alright,” Xi Men said to Emily, and then he turned to look at the seller. “Two, please,”
“Right away, sir,” the seller immediately packs.
Xi Men digs some coins out from his jeans and after counting the money, he passes it to the seller after the latter passes the drinks to Xi Men. Xi Men passes one of the drinks to Emily.
“Thank you, Uncle Xi Men,” Emily smiled as she immediately sipped the drink now. “Yum,”
“No problem,” Xi Men smiled, and looking at Emily enjoying the drinks brings him satisfaction. At least they have been walking for so long, they manage to get something that she likes. “So, let’s go back and find your mommy,”
“Alright,” Emily smiled.
“We just head this direction and we will get back to the fried chicken stall,” he pointed.
“Okay, we can see some other things too,” Emily said.
“Okay,” Xi Men said, and he extends his hand and Emily grips on it.
They continued walking as they sipped their drinks.
“Eh, Uncle Xi Men… what is that?” Emily asked, pointing at another stall a bit further in front.
Xi Men looked to where Emily points.
There are no customers at the stall, but the red colored drinks at the stall grabbed Emily’s attention, and they soon reached the stall.
“Hello! This is raspberry drinks, we can let you sample the drinks if you would love to try,” the salesperson said, who is obviously free since there are no customers now and is trying to grab business from Xi Men and Emily who are approaching the stall.
“Raspberry drinks?” Emily and Xi Men asked.
“Yes, we make these drinks ourselves,” the salesperson smiled.
Xi Men looked at Emily, and she seems interested with the red colored drink.
“Do you want to try some?” Xi Men asked Emily.
“Oh, hmmm… okay,” Emily said, looking at Xi Men.
Hearing the respond from Emily leads to the salesperson quickly takes a sample-sized cup and pours a bit of the raspberry drinks into the cup.
Xi Men extends his hand to take the cup and then passes it to Emily.
“Thank you,” Emily said, and she took a sip on it. “Eh, this is nice,”
“Oh?” Xi Men asked.
“Sir, here’s another one for you, please have a try,” the salesperson already poured the raspberry drinks into another sample-sized cup and is extending it to Xi Men.
“Oh, thanks,” Xi Men took it from the salesperson and then he takes a sip.
His eyes ‘brightened’ up upon drinking that. It is really nice!
“Wow, didn’t expect it to taste like this,” Xi Men uttered.
“Hmmm, now that makes me want to drink this too,” Emily said, looking at her finished sample-sized cup.
Xi Men laughed. “Do you want this? We can pack this, and later you can share with mommy too, after both of you finished this jelly tapioca pearl drinks,”
“Oh? So many drinks?”
“More liquid is good for you,”
“But you already buy me this…” she looked at the jelly tapioca pearl drink in her hand. It is already half gone.
“I didn’t say I am just going to buy you one drink. You can have as many as you want,” Xi Men smiled. “And your drink is about to finish. I don’t think it is enough for you and your mommy later. I’ll get another one more cup for you, okay?”
“Okay!” Emily excitedly said.
“Alright,” Xi Men smiled, and then he looked at the salesperson. “Two,”
“Sure,” the salesperson happily packs two cups now since she managed to get business from Xi Men. She then nicely puts them into a plastic bag since it is very obvious that Xi Men and Emily are not going to drink it now, because they are holding a drink in their hands.
Xi Men, again, digs some coins out from his jeans and then passes it to the salesperson, and in exchanged, she passed the entire plastic bag containing the two cups of raspberry drink to Xi Men.
“Thank you,” the salesperson said with a smile. “Your daughter is very adorable, sir,”
“Oh, no, no. She is not my daughter. She is my friend’s daughter,” Xi Men looked at the salesperson.
“Ah, I see. I’m so sorry for the mistake. Because you are very close to her, so I thought she is your daughter,” the salesperson said.
“It is okay,” Xi Men smiled.
“Anyway, thank you and hope to see you again!” the salesperson happily said.
“And thank you for saying I am adorable!” Emily chipped in.
Xi Men and the salesperson laughed.
“Let’s go, Emily,” Xi Men smiled, and then they both walked.
“Okay,” Emily replied.
“Hmmm, I don’t have a free hand to hold you now,” Xi Men said, since his right hand is holding his jelly tapioca pearl drink, and his left hand is holding the plastic bag containing the two raspberry drinks.
“Oh, it is okay, I can hold your wrist,” Emily said, looking at Xi Men, and then she extends her hand and holds the wrist of Xi Men’s left hand.
“Okay,” Xi Men smiled.
“Hmmm, we have enough drinks now,” Emily said. “Yay, we get nice drinks for mommy,”
Xi Men smiled.
They then slowly walked to the direction of the fried chicken stall.
With his right hand holding the jelly tapioca pearl drinks, he sticks the straw of the drink into his mouth and he sips it.
Something suddenly struck his mind.
He stopped sipping and the smile on his face immediately fades.
His eyes widened up by slight, but soon he frowned as he walked, not focusing on what he is seeing or even stepping.
He tilts his head for a while before he then turned his head to look at Emily.
Emily is looking around; looking at the stalls to see what they are selling, be it food, drinks, clothes, skincare or toys. Or anything.
He stared at Emily for the longest time, not minding that she turned her head left and right as she fancies the things the shops and stalls sell.
Realizing that Xi Men has been looking at her, though she is unsure for how long, she lifted up her head and looked at him, “What is it, Uncle Xi Men?” she asked, basically puts an immediate end to him from staring at her.
Caught him looking at her, he just smiled. “Nothing,” he lifted his head up as he looked straight and walked, with occasional frowns on his face.
He bites the straw of the drink in his hand, because he was supposed to drink it but his mind is so occupied, he already forgot how to sip the drink, well, temporarily.
And then there’s a burning question in his mind.
With the straw still in his lips, he finally took a sip, and then he turned to look at Emily again.
“Umm… Emily… I haven’t asked you this question before,” he said.
“What is it, Uncle Xi Men?” Emily asked, lifted up her head to look at him.
“I know your name is Emily, but I didn’t know your full name… so, can you tell me what is your full name?” Xi Men asked.
“Emily Yang Hui Qi,” Emily replied.
“Yang Hui Qi? Yang? Your surname is Yang?”
“Your daddy’s name is Yang?”
“No, mommy’s surname is Yang,”
Xi Men frowned. “You took mommy’s name?”
“Then why didn’t you take your daddy’s name?”
“Mommy said, because my daddy died before I was born, so she wants me to take that name so that I can grow up happily… because I don’t have a daddy around with me, people will tend to ask about him and she didn’t want me to be sad,”
Xi Men frowned. That is strange. What does it mean by taking a mother’s name means she will not be reminded she didn’t have a father? Isn’t taking her mother’s name will even generate more questions to ask ‘why did you take your mother’s surname instead of your father?’ just like what he did?
This is strange.
“Umm… what kind of person is your daddy?” he casually asked, though Xiao You had told him before what type of person her husband is, but she had only storied him briefly.
Xi Men just want to know what Emily, as a daughter, knows about her father. He wants to know more than what Xiao You had told him.
Emily tilted her head. “I don’t know about daddy,”
Xi Men frowned at the response. “What do you mean?”
“I have never seen daddy before. And I don’t know what type of person he is. So I cannot relate to him,” Emily said.
“Umm… I know, your mommy said your daddy died before you were born. What I meant was… I am sure your mommy told you a lot of things about your daddy… so… what did she tell you?”
Emily didn’t say anything for a while, “Mommy has never told me anything about daddy,”
Xi Men stared at Emily. Maybe… maybe Emily has been secretive about her father that she didn’t want to talk about him? If that is the case, he needs to make sure Emily is comfortable to talk about her father.
“Well, your mommy told me that your daddy is a nice person,” Xi Men said.
“Oh, yeah. She told me that too. And that is the only thing she told me about daddy,” Emily said.
“Ah?” he is surprised with what he heard, “You mean, that’s all she told you? That your daddy is a nice person? And nothing more?”
Now this is strange. Judging from Emily’s response as well as her facial expression… it doesn’t seem like she is keeping something secret about her father from him. She really looks like she knows nothing…
“Did she tell you, at least, what his name is?” Xi Men curiously asked.
“Then… his background? What he worked as? Or how your mommy and daddy meet?”
Emily shook again.
This is a surprise.
Things are getting strange… and stranger.
“Aren’t you… curious?” Xi Men asked again.
“Nope. It is not important to me. And mommy didn’t want to talk about him. So I didn’t ask,” Emily casually said.
Didn’t want to talk?
Well, he did feel that… when he actually asked Xiao You about her husband, she indeed, didn’t really feel like talking about him (her husband) with Xi Men.
Probably it is because Xi Men is not someone closely related to her, but why didn’t she tell Emily, since Emily has the right to know about her father?
“Well… ummm… okay,” Xi Men swallowed the lump in his throat.
“Why do you ask, Uncle Xi Men?” Emily asked, looking at him.
Shit. Didn’t see that coming.
His eyes strayed. “Oh… I was just curious,” Xi Men said.
“Oh,” Emily replied. “So funny that you are curious and I am not,”
Xi Men just smiled. “And, I always heard you mention about Uncle Harry,”
“Ah yes, Uncle Harry,” Emily immediately smiled as she sips the drink.
“Can you tell me… who is Uncle Harry?”
“He is mommy’s best friend,” Emily smiled. “And Aunty Christina!”
“Best friend? Are you sure?” he had completely, yet unintentionally ignored the latter statement.
“Yes, of course, they have been best friends for years, just like mommy and you,”
“Okay… so… you like Uncle Harry?”
“Yes, I like him. He is a funny person, nice person… buys me snacks…” she inadvertently laughed at the thought of it. “I like it when he is around. He makes all of us happy and laughs. He makes mommy happy too,”
Xi Men hates that last statement. “Like… how? I mean, how is he making your mommy happy?”
“He jokes around. Talks to mommy. And then he sometimes bought mommy gifts when he travels…” Emily said. “Of course when he buys for her, I have my souvenirs too!”
“Oh… sounds like… a nice guy,” Xi Men said, with slight jealousy though he is not aware of it.
“He is!” Emily happily said.
That is insulting.
“Your mommy… she has a boyfriend in Toronto?”
“No,” Emily said.
“What Uncle Harry?”
His question is too obvious. “Oh, nothing,” Xi Men quickly said, and then sips the drink in his hand.
Thankfully Emily is only a kid, so there is a chance she won’t understand the meaning behind it; especially the hinted kind of questions.
They took a few steps and they are getting closer to the fried chicken stall.
“Yes, Uncle Xi Men?” Emily turned and looked at him.
Xi Men walks to the side, stopped and then passes the plastic bag containing raspberry drinks to her, “Please hold this for a while,”
“Okay,” Emily said, taking it as asked.
Xi Men then immediately takes out his smartphone with the free hand. “Can you give me your address in Toronto?” he swipes his finger across the screen and looked for an application.
“Oh, why, Uncle Xi Men?” Emily asked.
“Errrr…” his eyes strayed. “Well, in the future, I might send you some stuffs, so I want to have your address first,” he said, and then he opened the memo app. “Can you key in the address for me?” he extends the phone to her, and then took her drinks from her so she has both hands to type the address.
“Okay…” she said as she typed the characters slowly.
It took her a while because she is not used to the phone and the virtual keys on the display.
“Done, Uncle Xi Men,” Emily said, passing the phone back to Xi Men.
“Thank you, Emily. Can you promise me not to tell your mommy what we have said just now?” he extends the drink to her and then takes the phone from her.
“About the address?”
“And Uncle Harry… and your daddy,” he saved the memo.
“Thank you, Emily,” Xi Men smiled, as he stuffs the phone back into his jeans.
And then his smile fades off and his eyes strayed, before he immediately plastered the smile back to his face as they slowly approached Xiao You, pretending as though nothing had happened.
Xi Men sits on the couch, alone, in his living room. His eyes strayed left and right.
Things don’t seem right.
Things don’t make sense too.
Xi Men sits forward as he placed his elbows on each side of his leg.
Complete silence but his mind is so busy that he is not in peace.
He breathes in and out repeatedly as his mind is occupied.
So damn occupied.
After a very long time…
“I need to find out,” he suddenly uttered.