They sit surrounded by fat bellied buddhas whose smiling faces turn up to the dusk sky. They’ve booked an outside table at the restaurant, where the whiskey and the overhead heaters take the chill off the evening air. They’re keeping an eye on the huge TV screen at Federation Square in the very heart of Melbourne, as they clink glasses and compare news and feel the day slide off their loosening shoulders.
Bambi is restless though. They’re gathered to watch her words parade across the screen, her writing looming large above them, but they’ve been waiting for twenty minutes and the sake is getting cold. She takes a sip, and wonders whether her crowd has gathered in vain and the programme has been postponed, yet again. She feels hunger pangs uncurl themselves in her belly and drops her eyes onto the green linen menu, wondering whether to turn her attention away from the screen.
If she decides to relax and order dinner, go to 2.
If she decides to wait for the programme, go to 3.
When the plates are set in front of them, an admiring silence falls on the table. Everyone leans towards the huge earthenware bowl of miso and udon broth that Monty and Swampy are sharing, and Leilani whispers what they’re all wondering: ‘Do you think I can slide that dish under my coat as we leave?!’ Bambi impales a chunk of sashimi on her chopstick and smears it with wasabi so thick that Leilani cocks an eyebrow. ‘Are you sure you can handle that, babe?’ Bambi snorts, and flings the laden piece in her mouth with a grand flourish. The four of them watch, smiling and waiting.
When her mouth catches fire and the coughs erupt, their laughter turns the heads of other customers. Bambi snatches at a glass and pours it down in one greedy gulp, as Ocean calls ‘Wait – that’s not water!‘. She looks down at the empty tumbler, panting, and realises she’s just swilled a whole glass of sake. As this cascades down and meets with the waterfall of whiskey already at home inside her, she knows this means trouble.
Fifteen minutes later, mischief is sitting at the table with them. Monty keeps confiscating the bowl of edamame from Bambi’s playful hands with a shake of her head. Bambi tugs at the salty pods and slides the peas out, sending them flying with a naughty flick of a thumb. One lands with a gentle plop in a glass of beer on a waiter’s tray, and another pings off the head of a small child at a nearby table, making Monty and Swampy work hard to supress their laughter. Leilani turns to the others and asks ’She’s getting out of control…should we take her home?’
If they take her home, go to 4.
If they ply her with more alcohol, go to 5.
Bambi’s getting impatient. So far an advertisement for The Big Issue has been flickering across the screen in a loop for an hour, blinding them with its flashes of white light. Her temper is fraying and when Monty leans across, squeezes her hand and says gently ’we’re having a wonderful night – does it really matter if your show doesn’t come on?’ Bambi tries a smile that she knows Monty will see right through.
If the programme comes on, go to 6.
If the programme doesn’t come on, go to 7.
The sake is made from melted snow, and her throat aches with the sting of it. Three taxis veer past them as Swampy raises an arm, Bambi’s lilting gait telling a story without words that all taxi drivers can read. When one finally draws up, Monty guides her head down under the yellow duco and urges her to behave.
She’s laughing to herself in the back seat, head angled out the window as Melbourne flashes past and the streets swallow them up. The driver decides to take them down Little Bourke, and soon the pungent aromas of shrimp paste and ginger slide through the open window as they drive along the spine of Chinatown.
‘I want dumplings!’ Bambi announces as they head past Tattersalls Lane. She winds the windows down further, and sticks her head into the neon night.
Monty laughs and tells her ‘Darling, we’re headed home…. let’s go for dumplings tomorrow.’ Her tone is gentle and her laugh is genuine, and if the cab hadn’t stopped at a light in front of Shanghai House, Swampy wouldn’t have turned to Monty and shaken his head in warning.
Even the taxi driver turns at the determination in Bambi’s voice, and as the light turns to green, his hand pauses on the gearstick. A sticky kiss is thrown onto Monty’s startled cheek, all peppermint lip gloss and rice wine, and as Monty’s hand reaches out the door is flung open and Bambi falls onto the bluestones of the alleyway. She’s climbed to her feet before they can even open their mouths to call after her. All they can see is her red hair flying as she bounds down a side street, auburn strands melting into the scarlet of the rice paper lanterns that sway in the breeze, lighting the Chinatown night with their glow. THE END.
Ocean orders another round of sake and the tiny cylindrical glasses are raised high into the evening sky. Leilani clinks hers with Bambi’s and listen to her cackles as she falls further and further from restraint, the conversation sliding from music to food to camera equipment as the friends throw words around a springtime table.
Monty passes around a magazine of eye catching images in black and white, while Ocean hands over his phone with portraits that take the breath out of mouths filled with rice wine. When Monty curls her lips and sighs ‘It would have been better with a Canon’, Ocean lets the words catch on his tongue. But it’s been a long week, and he can’t help himself.
‘A Nikon does the job much better, and you know it.’
The spines at the table elongate. Even the waiter senses the energy and retreats inside, his tray balanced on weathered hands. Let them get their own drinks; he wasn’t paid enough to get in the middle of this.
If Monty takes the bait, go to 8.
If Monty glosses over this provocation, go to 9.
She’s running her finger down the drinks menu again when Leilani calls out. And there are her words, writ large on the massive screen in the centre of the city that’s called her back home. The table falls into hushed silence as her friends watch, and when her name appears, a riot of cheers breaks through the civilized dining atmosphere. They raise their glasses of sake made from melted alpine snow and holler like children until the diners at the next table raise their glasses too. Bambi gives a shy nod and her hair falls in front of her face and when she lifts her head to the city above her, she starts to laugh, and doesn’t even try to control it. THE END
Everyone at the table is sick of The Big Issue. They’ve finished their sake and in an effort to kill time, ordered a round of wasabi ice cream that makes Ocean Collins retch and Mikey run a finger around the bowl in delight.
Bambi is not happy. She sits with her arms crossed and thunder on her face so clear that the waiters are too afraid to approach with the bill. Leilani is trying to soothe her with gentle words and hands stroking her hair, but a surly Bambi is not a welcome member at any table and they know the night won’t end well.
She leaps from the table so quickly they don’t think to stop her. They watch in surprise as she clambers above the maitre’d’s desk and reaches for a rotund little buddha with hands clasped across his belly and a serene smile. The heavy bronze makes her stumble, but she catches her balance and races past the outside tables towards the massive TV screen, stumbling to a halt with the statue in her left hand. She hefts it onto her shoulder, narrows one eye, and takes aim. THE END
Everyone at the table stiffens. Swampy glances over at his girl, already sighing and imagining the taxi ride home. Bambi and Leilani grasp hands under the table and pour another glass of sake. This is not going to end well.
‘It’s just that someone with your knowledge should be aware that a Nikon far exceeds the ability of a Canon….not meaning to insult you at all. It’s just a fact.’
Monty narrows her eyes, and throws back the last of her sake as Swampy quietly moves the bottle out of her reach.
‘Really? Really? A fact, is it?’
Bambi is signalling for the bill as the bomb hits, words being flung over the oak table with furious rapidity. The three impartial parties can do nothing to stop the tirade, rolling their eyes at each other and swallowing their opinions.
‘Oh, you think so?’ Monty sneers, fingers jabbing Ocean’s way. ‘You really think so?’
Ocean shakes his head and reaches for his wallet, mouth tight and left eye twitching. ‘Your opinion is ridiculous; maybe one of us should leave Red Bubble.’ And as he throws notes onto the table, Monty snorts his way and laughs ‘Oh please….literally dozens care!’
As Ocean storms towards Southbank, Monty heads into the neon shine of Flinders Street Station, stomping her kitten heels into the asphalt with every step. Swampy gathers her bag and shrugs at the two girls left at the table at he rises to his feet.
‘Ah, she’s a feisty one….what can I do?’
And as Swampy leans down to hug them goodbye, colours flicker across the TV, lighting up Bambi’s name. Two of them watch the words parade across the screen, but beneath the golden dome of the station, Bambi can just make out Monty’s back as she stomps towards the taxi rank. THE END
Monty sends the scorn spiralling down her throat with a wash of whiskey. She doesn’t want to darken Bambi’s night, so tucks Ocean’s comment in a back pocket of her mind to deal with later, in full.
Ocean, however, is soon staring in concern at a round little dollop of something that almost quivers on the end of a chopstick. His palate doesn’t extend to Japanese food, a fact they tease him mercilessly for, and soon the energy of the evening is channelled into encouraging him to experiment.
‘If you don’t try something’ – Monty narrows her eyes – ‘I’ll explain to everyone about your Bryan Adams secret. In detail.’
‘You would not. I have way too much dirt on you.’
But one knowing wink from her and his bluff is called. Mouth open, eyes closed, he leans in for his first taste of octopus balls.
Ten minutes later, the dishes are licked clean and Ocean sits with teriyaki sauce dripping from one corner of his mouth.
‘Why didn’t anyone tell me how amazing this food is?! What have I been missing out on all this time?’
Swampy laughs as he swings his plate out of reach. ‘You know you can get cheap flights now…. go and get your own damn food!’
Later, they couldn’t quite be certain, but they think it was Leilani who chose Kyoto, Bambi who decided on December, and Monty who agreed ten days should just about do it.
Just one thing remains to be discussed.
‘So….should we put it in the forums?’
Bambi hears a shout and looks up. Her name, white font against a sublime image of Hong Kong Harbour at night, drifts across the screen. Everyone turns to watch, one chopstick pointed at the giant TV as a dollop of octupus hangs on the end of the lacquered point, and quivers.