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Mia wasn’t allowed fried food. She’d had the odd fish and chips at friends’ houses but being allowed to go to friends’ houses was rare, too. She bit into the crunchy yet juicy, sweet yet salty morsel of ebi-katsu. It tasted like freedom.
“Good?” Tak asked from the stool beside her.
“Mmm,” she moaned, nodding as she swallowed. “So deliciously wrong.”
Tak grinned, the grease making his smile shine and put another forkful into his mouth.
They were perched at the island bench that separated the kitchen from the living room in, it seemed, each of the flats in the block. Tak’s flat couldn’t have been more different from Mia’s, though. Not just because Mia and her mother hadn’t yet unpacked – there was a lived-in, loved feeling here. The fridge was covered with photos of Hiroko and Tak or Tak with his friends, going back years. Instead of the standard metal venetian blinds and white net curtains that gave no privacy at night, there were wooden slatted blinds in the kitchen and red drapes with a tiny floral print in the living room. Mia and her mother never stayed anywhere so long that changing the curtains was worthwhile. They didn’t bother with house plants, either – too difficult to transport – but Tak’s place was filled with them. And they weren’t just pot plants – they were immaculately manicured bonsais in colourful ceramic pots. There seemed to be one on every surface, including the windowsills.
“Who does the bonsais?” Mia asked.
“Mum,” Tak said. “Obsessively. She keeps trying to drag me in but I refuse to do anything but water them and only if she can’t.”
“Why? Is it that hard to do?”
“Not really. Just boring. There’s this whole ritual about it. You have focus and say certain phrases – like meditation.” He laughed. “Mindfulness is not my thing.”
Mia nodded and took another bite.
“What about your mum?” Tak asked. “Does she try to force you to do stuff, too?”
Mia choked. She put her hand over her mouth as a coughing fit set in.
“Are you okay?” Tak asked, patting her firmly on the back, right where the bruises were worst. She choked again. “I’ll get you some water,” he said.
As Tak went to the fridge, she managed to swallow and clear her throat but she still couldn’t speak. When he turned back she tried to smile and waved a hand to indicate she was okay but she must have been beet red from choking and embarrassment. She took the glass of water and sipped. “Thanks,” she managed, but even that set her coughing again.
Tak laughed gently and said, “Don’t talk.”
But coughing into the silence was mortifying. She cleared her throat as best she could and rasped, “Tell me about Julian.”
“Julian? That filthy look he gave you in Japanese.”
“Oh that? Well done for picking that up, by the way. Sorry I marked you as someone I know.”
She shook her head to fob off his apology. “What’s the story?”
“The whole story’s a long one.”
Mia raised her eyebrows and pointed to her throat as, again, she tried to cleared it.
“Good point,” Tak said. “Medium version, […]