I sat at a round table, a lovely white silken tablecloth draped over it, and on top of that, centered perfectly a glass lazy susan with a myriad of colorful dishes ranging from some strange purple yam to chicken feet to soft green plants that tasted strangely like licorice.
We had ordered some time ago, and were waiting for the roast duck to arrive. We had heard that it was the best roast duck in the city and we had taken our friend out for his birthday so that he could enjoy this delicacy. During the ordering process (which took some time given the amount of food we were ordering for 13 people) we had ordered a batter dipped, sweet and sour fish that looked beautiful in the picture, for we did not read Chinese.
Two dark haired, slender waitresses appeared at the curtain that divided our room from the rest of the restaurant and they carried a red plastic bucket that was then tipped slightly to let us view a large black fish. It looked at the sides of the bucket with wide, dead eyes and it’s mouth opened and shut, its gills moving in and out, trying desperately to gather oxygen from water but failing miserably.
We nodded at the waitresses, who seemed pleased at our puzzled smiles and scurried away carrying the bucket.
Dinner continued. We dined on duck skin and duck sauce and onions and crepes and delectable duck meat. We sipped chrysanthemum tea with pea sized chunks of sugar melting away in the cups. We laughed and ate and sampled each dish as it arrived, blowing air through our persed lips every time we ate something that burned us with lovely spices.
And then the fish arrived.
It was on a plate, batter dipped and flayed open like a bloomin’ onion at the Outback Steakhouse, little fingers of flesh rising up from the center. Its tail and head were facing in the same direction in a perpendicular line on the plate and as they lay the plate in a prominent place on the lazy susan, we all swore we saw its mouth move one final time, giving its life for our dining pleasure. We all paused a moment for the fish, in memory our short meeting earlier.
I couldn’t help thinking that neither we nor the fish understood what was about to happen when it was brought to us in the bucket. Sometimes life is like that, I suppose. What confuses us right now might be something we understand completely and inimately at a later date, or maybe never at all.