“That’s it, Lucas.” Frank helped him to unhook the Union Jack after the boy had lowered the flag down the pole. “Good job.”
“There you are, you two.” Abigail appeared at the rooftop door, her hair blown over her face by the wind. “Come back inside, Lucas. It’s cold.” She swept her hair back.
After they re-entered the room, Frank made sure to lock the door behind him. Although he considered it inconceivable that someone could scale the wall and break in from the rooftop, he wasn’t taking any chances.
“I can’t get over these gorgeous sunsets. You’re so lucky, Uncle Frank.” Abigail gazed out to the west, the South Downs in the distance darkening beneath the deep amber glow of the disappearing sun.
He folded up the Union Jack. “Thanks.”
“Uncle Frank, I’ve decided we’re going to take you out for a meal tonight. My treat.”
“No, no. That’s not necessary.”
“And I know the perfect place. I saw a Chinese restaurant in the next village. I’ll drive us there.”
He held on tightly to the flag. “I don’t…”
“Lucas, did you know that your great-uncle used to live in Hong Kong?”
Frank opened the cabinet. “That was a very long time ago, when we still ran the place. I hardly remember it.” He lied – he did remember. Frank placed the flag inside the cabinet and turned round. “Abigail, I wanted to take you and Lucas to the local pub, they serve a good roast there.”
“Come on Uncle Frank. Let’s try something different. Lucas loves his fried rice. Don’t you?”
“Yes, please Uncle Frank, let’s go there. Please?”
He regarded his great-nephew, and then Abigail. “All right. But tomorrow it’ll be a roast dinner.”
“Deal.” His niece smiled at Lucas.
Lit up, the golden sign above the restaurant — subtitled with Chinese characters — shone warmly through the darkness, luring in the couple strolling ahead of them.
Frank had travelled down this road countless times but never once been tempted to visit the place. Peering inside one of the front windows he could see that a few tables were still available. Damn. He’d hoped they would be turned away. Reluctantly, he accompanied Abigail and Lucas through the entrance.
As they waited to be attended Frank observed the staff and wondered how many of them were illegal immigrants – they were all shifty-looking, especially the elderly man with glasses at the till. Bloody Chinese. He nodded to the couple waiting at the front for their takeaway.
“Hello.” An old Chinese woman greeted them with a wide smile. “Three people?”
“Yes, please.” Abigail followed her to a table with Lucas in tow, Frank a few steps behind them.
The aroma in the air was intoxicating. You can’t fault them for their food, he thought.
“Okay. Here are our menus. You call me when you’re ready, I’m Mrs. Wong.” She leaned in to Lucas. “Anything you want, young man, you tell Mrs. Wong, okay?”
“Good, good.” Mrs. Wong glided away to another table, the beaming smile still on her face.
“See, Lucas – there’s your egg fried rice.” Abigail pointed in her menu. “Number thirty-six.”
The constant chatting around the restaurant was giving Frank a headache.
“So, what would you like to eat?” Mrs. Wong returned.
Frank checked with his niece. “Abigail, are we ready to order?”
“Yes, I’ll have the sweet and sour pork… Number eighteen. And my son will have the –”
“Number thirty-six.” Lucas held up his menu.
“Yes, that’s right – the egg fried rice.”
“And you, sir?”
“Number twenty-eight.” Frank thought of the Martello tower in Rye Harbour.
“Wah, good choice, lucky number, and tasty too.”
“Yes, I know – it symbolises double prosperity.” Although it hadn’t been for the Enchantress.
“You know about Chinese numbers, sir?”
“A bit.” But Frank hadn’t chosen the steamed Cantonese fish because of the auspicious number. It had been his favourite meal in Hong Kong.
“Good, good. The bass is very fresh, from the bay here.” She smiled. “Any jasmine rice?”
Frank glanced over to Abigail, who nodded. “Yes, two portions please.”
Mrs. Wong read back the order.
“Yes, that’s correct.” He gathered up the menus and handed them back to her.
As they waited for their order, Frank noticed his great-nephew playing around with his chopsticks. “Lucas, maybe you should use a spoon and fork with your meal.”
Abigail nodded to her son.
Frank stared down at his own chopsticks. He hoped they would bring out the food soon – he wanted to get home.
Mrs. Wong laid out the remaining dishes on the table. “Sik fan.” Her smile covered the width of her face. “Enjoy the food.”
She should stick to speaking English, Frank thought – this is England after all. He pulled his order closer to his rice bowl.
Frank couldn’t deny it, his meal looked and smelled delicious. The moist piece of steamed fish was drizzled in sauce and generously garnished, and the fragrance of the ginger, coriander and sesame oil drifted up his nose. He couldn’t help himself, he had to take a quick bite.
Mrs. Wong returned with more water. “How’s the fish, sir?”
To the ignorant patron this would appear a simple dish to make, but the trick to a perfect steamed Cantonese fish was all in the timing. And this one was cooked just right with all the subtle flavours coming through in the taste. “Hou hou,” replied Frank.
His relatives were taken by surprise, and Lucas gaped at him. “Wow, you speak Chinese, Uncle Frank.”
“Cantonese. No, not much.”
Mrs. Wong clapped the tips of her dainty fingers together. “Good, good. You can learn well from Uncle, young man.”
Although Frank had never admitted it to anyone, the happiest time of his life was spent living in Hong Kong over thirty-five years ago.