by Reya Panchmatia (12 years old)
Tucked in an enclave in the city of Westminster, London, is a quaint asian fusion town of Chinese restaurants, bakeries, supermarkets, souvenir shops, and other Chinese-run businesses.
Amidst the cacophony of Chinese local dialects and the clinking of porcelain spoons against bowls was a quiet Vietnamese restaurant joint called Linh's Vietnamese Cuisine. Run by a Vietnamese lady in her twenties, the most well-known dishes at this restaurant were the Banh Xeo (crispy pancakes) and Beef Pho (beef noodles).
Inside the restaurant, which was full to bursting due to the lunch crowd, Linh could be found hunched over a pot of simmering broth. The loud chatter from the dining area of the restaurant could be heard in the kitchen as Linh poured the broth and noodles into bowls to be reheated when customers ordered the food.
Linh was the owner and founder of the restaurant. The restaurant had only opened a few years ago, but both the restaurant and Linh had come a long way. The restaurant had progressed from yet another small, unnoticed restaurant to one that always had long lines of people queued up outside the entrance, waiting to taste the famed food.
Linh, too, had changed immensely from the days when she had just opened the restaurant, a rookie in the food business. She was no longer the inexperienced teenager she once was, with nothing but a small amount of money and a dream.
Growing up in a small, one-bedroom apartment with her mother and two younger sisters, Linh watched her mother cook every day, and began to learn from her when she got older. She spent countless hours in front of the stove stirring away at a pot of her newest creation, often staying up past midnight because she just had to finish her most recent dish.
With a twinkle in her eye and a highly sensitive palette, she picked up cooking easily, quickly discovering she had a knack for creating delectable, mouth-watering dishes.
It had always been her dream to put her cooking skills to use and open her own restaurant, to share the food that she had made in the hopes that others would enjoy eating it as much as she enjoyed making it.
Although she wanted to go desperately, she did not have the money she would need for cooking school, due to the fact that her mother, being the sole breadwinner of their small family, did not make nearly enough money. Instead, she taught herself, her mother stepping in to guide her from time to time.
Meanwhile, Linh saved up every cent she earned, in the hopes of someday opening a restaurant. She worked for hours on end, the only thing that kept her going was the vision of her very own restaurant.
Slowly but surely, Linh acquired more money for the restaurant, bringing her ever-closer to fulfilling her dream.
Just when Linh was convinced that she would be able to open her restaurant, it all came crashing down, dropping her from the summit of an impossibly tall mountain to the depths of the ocean.
Linh still remembered the day, it was so clear in her mind that it might as well have just happened. By that time, Linh had started to make preparations for her restaurant. However, it seemed as though her restaurant had to wait.
The news had come on what seemed like a perfectly ordinary day. Linh was holed up in the kitchen perfecting some eclairs. Her mother, Phong, had gone to a doctor’s appointment while her sisters stayed over at friends houses.
Later that evening, her mother came home. Looking pale and worried, dragging her feet on the floor, she mustered just enough courage to ask her daughters to gather in their small yet cosy living room.
With the x-ray sheets scattered on the kitchen table, Phong had said, “I… I have lung cancer.” Running her bony fingers through her hair, she fumbled through the sheets trying to explain to her best of her ability, where the cancer cells were.
And so, Linh’s savings for her restaurant trickled into those for her mother’s cancer treatment, even though her mother had insisted that Linh should keep the savings for her restaurant. First by the thousands, for the regular medical consultations, then by the ten thousands, for the chemotherapy and costly medication. Not to mention, the lost of income after mother totally lost her ability to continue working.
It had taken even longer to bounce back from the loss and get the money she needed, having to endure long and tiresome hours of unpleasant jobs. After working painstakingly long hours seven days a week for several years, and not spending a single penny unless it was absolutely necessary, Linh finally saved up enough to open the restaurant.
The moment she realised just how much she had saved up, she could not believe it. She had been waiting for this day for so many years, and now that it had finally come, she was practically dizzy with ecstasy and bliss.
Linh was jolted out of her reverie, slightly dazed, like a fish that had suddenly been yanked out of water. She was brought back to the present day, the happy ending to her story of hard work. She sighed, forcing herself to return to the task at hand, the uncooked rice noodles sitting in a stainless steel colander strainer on the counter, pulling her in.
Unable to resist, she picked the strainer and deftly tossed the rice noodles into a boiling pot of water. As she watched the noodles dancing in the bubbling hot water, taking a whiff of the salty briny broth, she smiled with contentment.