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eat a mango, gift a garden

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Book cover: Khánh stands on the left feeding a Vietnamese dessert to Kai on the right. Khánh is wearing a light blue long-sleeved shirt with a light purple apron, and their hair is dark brown bobcut. They are holding a plate of desserts. Kai is wearing a puffy black coat and has light brown hair in an undercut. The background is pink with hearts and pentagons.

Cover drawn by bafflinghaze

The scent of fried, savoury food, is a punch to Kai’s gut. He’s been ignoring all bodily functions throughout his shift, but now, all that nausea and lightheadedness and empty empty stomach comes crashing back. Blackness encroaches from the side, and he reaches out to grab the fence of someone’s backyard, trying to steady himself. His legs are weak. Worse, the fence starts wobbling. He quickly lets go, but he can’t seem to remain upright without support.

But he needs to keep walking. He needs to go home, to rummage around his cupboard and hope there’s a tin of something left. He needs to prepare for his second job.

The only thing he can think of is food.

It’s late evening, dusk orange in the sky. The front window of the nearby house is lit up, with the window slightly ajar. The sounds of pots and pans, the aroma of food, and the profile of someone cooking—black hair, upturned lips, dark eyes, warm skin. The room looks welcoming. He wonders if they have a partner, dinner ready when they come home.

The cook glances out the window. Their eyes meet.

SHIT! Kai quickly tries to straighten up, but the sudden upright position makes his head spin and he collapses.

That’s one way to get out of sight, he thinks, curling up around his stomach.

“—Oh no! Are you hurt? Let me help you up.”

Warm hands pull Kai up. His stomach grumbles, and he presses an arm against it.

“I need to go home—”

“Sit. I’m not letting you leave in this state!”

It’s a dream, Kai thinks. He’s led to the garden table and chairs in the front yard. He numbly accepts the glass of water. Stares when a plate is placed in front of him: crispy crepe topped with prawns and pork and tiny little hard-boiled eggs, fresh salad and herbs, and a deeply umami sesame sauce.

He stares at the angel. This is a dream. It’s impossible for him to have a restaurant-level dish in front of him, seated in a quaint garden, warm lighting around the two of them. Impossible for an angel to be cutting up the crepe before him with scissors as if they routinely serve meals to mere mortals in their garden.

“Eat,” the angel says. They start on their own plate.

If it’s a dream, I may as well...Kai’s cautious, afraid that he’ll wake up. Even though he has a nagging feeling that he should try to wake up. He looks down at his plate and realizes that he has no idea how to begin eating, the food as unfamiliar to him as the dream situation is. Unsure how to proceed, he copies what the angel is doing. A spoonful of sesame sauce, drizzle over the crepe, pick up a piece with some of everything on it...

The flavours and textures burst in his mouth. He tries to eat slowly and savour it. It’s amazing. The angel smiles, and returns with another plate, and then another.

Kai’s washing the last crepe with his glass of water when he realises that this isn’t a dream.

The angel sitting across from him is a real person. A stranger.

“I—” Kai starts.

The stranger looks at him with warm eyes. Kai can’t handle it.

Kai jumps to his feet. “I’m sorry! Thank you so much, I’m sorry!”

Without looking back, Kai runs away.

A digital drawing of a bright yellow bánh xèo with shrimp, meat, and beansprout filling lies on a white plate alongside lettuce. There is a bowl in the corner with chopsticks and fish sauce. The background is light blue.

Bánh xèo drawn by toutcequonveut