I was delivering noodles and it was taking me forever to find the place I was supposed to deliver them to. I drove all around the city with these orders—the city we were in charge of feeding, as my manager was fond of saying—and I knew most of the neighborhoods, but not this one. When I finally found the parking lot, I took a deep breath. I was tired. I was tired most of the time.
I passed through a courtyard where some sad plants were growing out of cracked concrete. The unit was on the third-floor walkway balcony. I knocked on the door and nobody answered. I looked through the window into the living room. The TV was on, there were clothes all over the floor, and there was an open bag of trash by the sofa.
I knocked a few times and was about to give up but a lady with black hair and olive skin came to the door in a white bathrobe. She told me she was sorry, that she’d nodded off after she placed her order. She said she was exhausted, they’d kept her at the office later than they should have tonight, and it was hardly the first time they’d done something like that. I noticed with some interest that her bathrobe wasn’t tied up all that tightly.
She said she’d just been having a nightmare and asked if I wanted to hear about it. I said I was here to drop off noodles and she said listen to this shit. In the dream she was shoeless on a dark frozen tundra, being stalked through a blizzard by some unspeakable creature, some yeti or winter ghoul roaring through the wind that stung and chapped her face and turned her body blue. She knew she wouldn’t last in the cold for very long, her feet were getting numb, she was slowing down and would be devoured at any moment.
She remembered the cold most of all. She could feel the snow on her feet even after she woke up. She said she was still cold, and I saw that she was shivering. She asked if I would hold her and I said I didn’t think I could, or anyway that I shouldn’t, I had more deliveries, but then she wrapped herself around me and pressed her body against mine. Her robe came open; it was like hugging an ice sculpture swan. I shivered.
We should get in my bed and cover up, she said, we need to get warm and rest or we’ll get frostbite, and she showed me her hand and it was starting to go black at the tips of her fingers. And I said what about the noodles and she said to bring them, and that I could have some, she could never eat a whole serving by herself, and I said I understood because the portions were unnecessarily large at the restaurant. Let’s go, she said, please, but I’d left the noodles in the car. I told her I would go down to the car and get the noodles and then I’d come inside, but only for a few minutes, and then I’d have to get back to work, and she said hurry, hurry.
I ran down the stairs, excited about what might be happening to me soon, but also, I was thinking about the other food in the car. Would it get cold? Would my manager be upset? He was still angry about last week, when a customer refused to pay unless I stayed and watched him eat, which I did, and he made these happy little grunts while he ate and tearfully thanked me before I left. When I told my manager this as a way of explaining why I was late, he said I could have found a way out of there if I really wanted to, that deep down I must have wanted to watch the man eat. I thought this was pretty unlikely, though it is possible that I wanted to rest for a few minutes, even if that meant watching a fully grown man eat noodles with his hands and face.
In the parking lot, I saw that somebody was looking through my passenger side window. He started banging on the glass. I asked him to stop.
I called hours ago and you never showed up, he said. My order is still in the car. I’m starving!
I asked what he ordered, and he said basil fried rice and I said I didn’t have that one with me, and he said he didn’t believe me and broke the window.
I grabbed him and tried to pull him out of the car, but somehow he squeezed into the car and pulled me into the backseat with him. We fought like cats in a bag. He seized the lady’s noodles and was starting to eat them.
That’s not fried rice, I said, that’s not yours and you’re eating it.
It’s the least you can do for making me wait. I am so hungry!
I could not stop him from putting the noodles in his mouth so I reasoned that I could at least make it impossible for him to swallow them by wrapping my hands around his neck. I did that; I squeezed as hard as I could. The noodles were hanging from his mouth like walrus whiskers, and he was turning blue, somehow still chewing. For a brief second, I was hoping he would pass out forever. I despaired because the lady was not going to want to eat them now in the shape they were in.
I let him go and he finished them off.
Now I’m full, he said.
You ruined her order!
Yes, but I’m satisfied with how things turned out. You on the other hand are never in one place long enough to feel satisfaction.
It’s not your business to tell me that.
Better get going, he said, opening the door. He gave me a horrible smile and ran off into the night. I felt the urge to chase him, give him the beating he deserved, but a wave of fatigue fell all over me. A bed was what I needed more than anything.
I went back up to the lady’s apartment, sans noodles, but the door was locked. I went to the side window and saw her in her bed, thrashing in the sheets, shivering, and I could hear her calling out in another nightmare. I could picture the cold thing stalking her. I wished I still had a warm meal to give her. I tried to wake her up by tapping on the glass, but she was in deep and far away. The window had frost on it.
I started to feel cold myself. It was a chill that started just below the heart and radiated outward. I reasoned that I needed to keep moving if I was going to stay warm. Luckily, I had a good reason to move. There were always more deliveries. This city’s hunger is bottomless.