It was nearly eleven, and the streets of SoHo were just beginning to quiet as theater-goers piled into taxis and crowds descended into Leicester Square Station. June wrapped a padan cake in cling wrap, locked the register at the counter, and gathered and tied the white rubbish bag full of stale rice balls and dusty nonya kueh. She flipped the lights by the door, the rubbish bag by her side and the cling-wrapped padan cake balancing in the crevice of her elbow, and locked the bakery door from out front.
Two green rubbish bags on her stoop tonight. It could have been worse. When she opened Sweet Singapore in 1992 Chinatown, the average was eight bags per night. She would often forget, and stumble into them on her way out of the bakery. Her wrapped sweets for her husband would fall into the street, and she would plunge her hands through the cheap bags into a sticky piles of oolong noodles and orange weepy napkins as she tried to catch herself. She didn’t even know it was a dig at all at first. It wasn’t until she saw the man from China Royal Duck next door dump his rubbish and spit on her store-front window a few weeks after he opened that June realized her bakery stoop was not the designated street rubbish pickup sight. The number of bags fluctuated as newcomers opened businesses on the street. The man from China Royal Duck had since left June alone. He’d since married a woman from Crewe, his two children were in university, and he gave out fortune cookies with every meal from Royal Duck. But there was a new take out window three doors down and a new bubble tea place on the corner who refused to let customers choose flavors, insisting on the traditional milk flavor that kept her nightly closing rituals lengthy.
June set the padan on the step, and took the bags, two in each hand, back to the dumpster around the back. She brushed her hands on her jeans, zipped her jacket, scooped up her padan, and walked down Gerrard Place towards the station. Chicken glistened in lit windows, red neons seared her eyes, and red and gold lanterns and prayer flags danced above her head—kissing the buildings to her left and right. A flock of women in a tight skirts, boots, and leather jackets stumbled out of the pub between China Royal Duck and New Loon Fung with their phones in front of their faces. June turned left onto Newport, then made her way to the station on Charing Cross.
Paul always stayed up for June, even on Saturdays when Singapore Sweets didn’t close until midnight. “Junie, how was your day?” he called to the kitchen from his living room armchair.
June smiled, wrapped her arms around him from behind, and kissed the top of his bald head. She dropped the Padan cake in his lap: “For you.”
“My favorite,” he sung, and kissed her cheek.
“Let me cut it up we can eat it while we watch,” June took the cake back to bring it into the kitchen to slice.
“No, no. You sit, I’ll cut. Sit.” demanded Paul. June obliged. She sat on the sofa, curled her legs up around her, found British Bake Off in the DVR, and waited for her cake.
Paul returned, two slices of cake on paper napkins. He handed one to June, and assumed his seat in the armchair. “Okay ready?” he asked. He bit into his cake.
“Ready” June pressed play.
It was just before open, and June stood outside Singapore Streets, key in hand, examining the spit marks on her front window. Windex. Windex would do the trick. She unlocked the front door, switched on the lights, and grabbed the Windex from the back closet. She heard the bell ring from the closet, and emerged to see Yeo put on his apron and unlock the register: “We have a saliva situation.”
June smiled: “I saw.” She went out front to wipe away the marks before the sun came up. She sprayed the window, and wiped it clean with a few scrubs.
Footsteps sounded through the empty SoHo street, as the owner of China Royal Duck walked from the station to his storefront. He walked the stairs to his door next to Singapore Sweets, and for a moment watched June wipe away at her window. June caught his figure in the corner of her vision. She turned, and looked at him. He nodded at her. She nodded back, turned back towards her foggy window and continued scrubbing. The man unlocked his door, and flicked on the restaurant lights and the neon in the window that read: “Authentic China Duck.”