The next day, as I enter the orphanage to pass though their garden, one of the tough street boys stops me.  He tells me that he knows a shortcut.  It’s a dirt road on the hillside which does not zigzag like the garden steps but goes straight to the backdoor of my school.

A few days later, the same boy approaches me in the street.  He must be the gang’s messenger boy.  He says that Old Kwok has fresh cow’s milk in his restaurant if I go there tonight, after his customers leave.  Before I can thank the boy for the tip on the shortcut, he dashes off.

It happens to be Saturday when I can stay out late.  I go to the restaurant and watch as Old Kwok’s last customers leave.   I go inside the restaurant.  I ask Mr. Kwok if it’s true that he has fresh cow’s milk.  He says to follow him to a back table.

I hold out a few coins and ask if that’s enough to pay for a glass of milk.  He says someone paid already.   I say no, I must pay.  He takes one of the coins.  Is that enough?  More than enough, he says.

Kwok comes back with a tall glass of warm milk and a teaspoon.

I stare at the milk as though it has come from a place where I have put all the things that I have lost.   Things that appear now only in my dreams and disappear when I wake up.  I put my hands around the thick glass, feeling its warmth.  I skim off the milk skin with my spoon and eat it.

With both hands, I pick up the glass of milk and take one deep, satisfying swallow after another.

As I walk home, I pass the bakery at the corner.  I can see the cakes in the glass case, but the roll cake with the cream filling is not there.  All during the day I had found excuses to pass by the bakery and gaze at that cake as much as I dared to.  I wanted that cake.  I knew just how it would taste.   There were other cakes in that case.  But I wanted that particular cake so much I was plotting for a way to get a slice of it.

The puzzling thing is that I never had a cake like that.  With all the cakes that were served at teas and parties, I had never seen a cake like that.  Years later, I learned that it was a crème roulade, a French cake.   It is even more puzzling to me because it was the same thing with that glass of milk.

The tough boys assumed that a quailo girl would miss her milk.  Actually, I don’t know when I ever had a glass of fresh milk.  The milk available to us was usually powdered milk.  Every afternoon, I had seen my cousin’s amah stir up a glass for her.  I didn’t like that milk.  I put a little milk in my tea, but it was evaporated milk, which was served everywhere.   My favorite drink is plain water.

Another similar thing puzzled me.  My sister had taken me to visit our relatives in Kowloon.  While having dinner at Aunt Sarah’s home, I noticed the wainscoting on the wall.  I felt a strong longing for a place I couldn’t imagine and didn’t know.  None of the houses we lived in ever had wainscoting.

I explained to myself that maybe because I had lost almost everything familiar to me, I was longing for random things just for the sake of longing.  But this was the kind of thought that I couldn’t tell even Amelia.


cream cake

Creme Roulade

1 Comment

  1. Creme roulade, fresh milk and wainscoting. There should be a word to describe the feeling of missing something you don’t remember having had. Desirous deja vu. An absence sensed as loss. Interesting, not sad, nostalgic.