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  • Writer's pictureHina Siddiqui

Chicken and Chai


A short story about moving out, becoming yourself and some queer moments in between. Inspired by (somewhat) true events.


Collage of 2 white chickens on either side of a glass of milk tea (chai)

Moving out is a hellscape.


It’s like all the middle-classiyat - that one could hitherto ride one’s high-horse over due to dad’s government job and mom taking care of all things domestic; comes crashing down all at once, right on top of one’s carefully curated aesthetic.


And suddenly you find yourself demanding that all shoes be left at the door lest people track in dirt from your dodgy neighbourhood; and knotting nylon rope around window grills to dry your chaddis in full public view, as you watch in mounting horror your collection of plastic bags under the sink grow.


Even so, it sure does beat the hoops you have to jump through to keep your parents off the scent when you live right under their noses.



Toffee’s plan tonight is to cook. Something good. From scratch.


It’s the rite of passage he still hasn’t undergone after three months of living on his own. Three months during which he has learned, much to his chagrin, that…

a. He is now old enough to upset his tummy if he eats every meal outside every. single. day

b. He is, however, not yet old enough to be able to afford a cook on his social media job salary

c. Most importantly, cooking food is a consequence of acquiring ingredients with which to cook said food


Condemned by his poor mother’s frugality which deems all online orders to be classist sins, Toffee finds himself walking down the lane to the shops. And by "shops", he means the assorted collection of corrugated metal, plywood and chutzpah that lines the edges of the lane. With colourful names like "Handsome Mens Parler", "Guddu Tea Shoppe" and "Mataji Pooja Samagri", these stalls are one bulldozer joyride away from non-existence.


Toffee navigates the gravel and debris that can; under certain kinds of light, be referred to as footpaths. In his right hand, he carries the latest additions to his plastic bag collection. His left hand scrolls through a chicken korma recipe on his phone. He is also listening to music. Because he is still too cool to be walking down the street without entertainment. Onions, ginger-garlic paste, spices - both akkha and powdered as well as yoghurt have been succesfully acquired.


Now all that’s left is the meat.


He misses the chicken shop the first time round and has to double back to find it hidden in the corner of the row of tin-shed dukans, between the chakki and the latest (literal) hole in the wall. He is still scrolling through his phone as he pulls out one earbud to order the required amount as prescribed by the online recipe. At the telltale squawk that emerges from the cage behind the counter, he hurries to place the earphone back and raises the volume of the song that is currently jiving through his playlist.


It's actually not until the butcher starts to process his precious chicken behind the glass panel that Toffee starts to pay attention. What he notices first are the man’s hands… as they snick through the carcass, pulling out unwanted parts and flicking them into the bin with an almost hypnotic efficiency. The music in his ears fades away as canny fingers gouge their way into pliant flesh, once, twice, three times. The flat of a hand smacks upon the plumpness. A strong fist wraps around each leg, two hands flex, spreading them apart with ease. And then the entire body is being slammed against the wood…


Toffee realizes a little too late that he is being addressed. He yanks out the earphones, shakes his head and looks up.


It is a mistake.


Broad arms brace against the butcher’s block, framing a chest that stretches the faded black tee a little too hard. A muscular neck, a clean-shaven jaw and eyes that dance under a furrowed brow.


Kaisa chahiye?”


“Huh?”


“Pieces? Medium?”


Haan.”


The man slips his apron back on. Toffee hadn’t even noticed him take it off, which, in retrospect, was perhaps for the best.


The same hands now grasp a cleaver that seems, oddly enough, just the right size. The percussion plays out. Suddenly there are pieces that you could hold. And eat. Joints smashed and flesh slashed to let the flavour in. Drops of red, discrete against the yellow pleather on the man’s chest. And just like that, it’s all being scooped up and double black-bagged for easy carriage.


Toffee opens his payment app to scan the QR code stuck neatly on the glass panelling above the counter. He pauses at the payee’s name.


Toffee looks up at the man and asks, “Miraj?”


Time seems to move differently on the two sides of the glass panel. While Toffee has simply scanned a code, the man on the other side has cleaned the block, washed his hands and is now taking off that damned apron again. His t-shirt rides up just that much with the action. Toffee has seen so much more skin in way more risque situations, but that little wisp of brown under black sends him careening to a halt.


Kya kaha aapne?”


“Umm… aapka naam? Miraj?”


Haan, dadijaan ne diya tha.”


Toffee manages to force his eyes away long enough to approve the transaction and looks back at Miraj. Once again time proves deceptive on the other side. Miraj is now leaning against the counter, carefully dipping a plastic baggie of chai into a paper cup.


Aapka?”


“Huh?”


Naam, aapka naam.”


“T-Taufiq.”


Accha hai.”


“Thanks.”


Chai piyenge Taufiq?”


The refusal jumps to the tip of Toffee’s tongue. But then he gives himself a moment to think. He’s already left home, hasn’t he?


Haan, please. Thank you.”


Miraj laughs, just a little, though the sound is unfairly resonant under the circumstances and then proceeds to distribute the contents of the baggie evenly between two paper cups. He holds one out to Toffee across the glass panel.


Naye aaye hai kya?”


Haan.”


It doesn’t matter how sweet and full of elaichi the chai is.


“Home delivery bhi karte hai… hum.”


“Ah…”


“Number. Humara… save kar lijiye.”


It's past 9 pm by the time he makes it back home. The chicken needs to be marinated for a couple of hours before being cooked. Toffee is nothing if not persistent in the face of hunger.



Toffee got really good at making chicken over the next few months.


Moving out may be a hellscape, but at least protein is very good for the body.


A divider to mark the end of the tale, origami dragons across a purple line


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1 comentário


Ritwik Borthakur
Ritwik Borthakur
23 de ago. de 2023

Beautifully written! Loved it. 'Condemned by his poor mother’s frugality which deems all online orders to be classist sins .... ' 😀 very relatable

Curtir
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