by Sal Page
A bell tinkled above his head as he stepped inside. The young woman smiled at him and answered the phone. She took an order for beef in black bean sauce, lemon chicken and rice. She was pretty with straight dark hair and so tiny she could barely see over the counter.
Harrison introduced himself, putting on his white coat and hat. She said her name was Mo-Li, tore off the order, pulled back the beaded curtain and ushered him through.
In the kitchen Harrison met the chef, who was chopping vegetables and flinging them into a wok.
‘We have unconventional cooking methods here.’
Harrison saw what he meant. In the other corner was a dragon the colour of tangerines. Rather too big for the kitchen, it was hunched over, wings folded up, crushed against the backdoor. It shifted slightly, claws scratching the tiles.
The chef added some raw chicken to the vegetables and pulled on a chain mail glove. He held the wok up. The dragon lifted its head and opened its mouth. A burst of fire leapt out and exploded into the wok. The chef gave the steaming contents a quick toss then the dragon repeated its trick. Its head settled back into the scaly folds of its neck as the chef guided the wok’s contents into a foil container.
Sweat gathered on Harrison’s forehead. He took out his probe thermometer.
‘Not that you have anything to worry about.’
The bell rang and the dragon raised its head.
‘That chop suey ready?’ Mo-Li held a bag open for the container then hurried it out through the beaded curtain.
‘Be careful, Mrs Jones, it’ll be very hot.’
Harrison continued his inspection. It was a clean, well-organised kitchen. He peered at the dragon. It yawned. A puff of smoke with orange sparks in shot out. Harrison didn’t want to tell his boss about this. She was always making comments about takeaway owners, mainly because they came from other countries. Just like the English restaurants, there were good ones and not so good ones.
Mo-Li returned and stood beside the dragon, scratching its ears. It blinked those sad dark eyes and leant its enormous head against Mo-Li’s arm.
‘She’s called Lin-Lin, meaning ‘beauty of a tinkling bell’. She perks up when she hears the door, don’t you?’ Mo-Li smiled at him.
‘What does Mo-Li mean?
Harrison thought of the scented Jasmine flowers on his kitchen windowsill and fought the urge to say ‘I want to take you away from all this.’
‘You work long hours?’
‘Four till midnight. I live upstairs.’
He nodded towards Lin-Lin. ‘Don’t you think it’s cruel?’
‘We all have to work.’
In his training he’d learnt about mice, cockroaches and bacteria. There was nothing on the checklist about dragons. Lin-Lin gazed at him, wisps of steam drifting out of her nostrils.
‘Everything’s fine. Sign here.’
It would be a year before the next inspection.
Harrison returned late next evening. Mo-Li wasn’t around. An old woman fetched him some chips. He ate them sitting by the bins, thinking about Mo-Li and Lin-Lin and watching the backdoor.
At midnight he yanked at the door handle. Lin-Lin fell out. Her surprised eyes popped open and looked at the stars. She struggled onto her feet, stretched her wings and, with a deafening flapping noise, flew away. Harrison laughed as Lin-Lin circled the takeaway before heading east.
Mo-Li appeared. She was wearing tartan pyjamas, her hair in a spiky ponytail. The sweet smile was gone.
‘What’ve you done?’ Her dark eyes glared at him. ‘She can’t survive out there. You’d better hope she comes back or else …’
Sal Page lives by the sea in Morecambe and is writing a novel about a woman who believes she can influence the weather.