Preta Loka

I was dreaming, I was dreaming that I was back in El Hak’s Kebab Emporium which is situated just outside the entrance to Hounslow West Tube station and I am sitting down at the table with a lamb shawarma and chips and a can of ice-cold coke just there in front of me. Just sitting there about to tuck in; anticipating the pleasure I am going to have eating it. It was only in my dreams though because I can never go back. None of us can go back, that’s the one thing that isn’t allowed. ‘There’s no going back’ is the rule we have to learn. It’s the rule most of us have learned. Everything here is all about learning this rule, even though it is with the utmost reluctance that we do so. It’s the pleasant memories that one keeps trying to go back to. Naturally enough, I suppose. For me those memories generally have to do with food. I have lots of pleasant memories associated with food…


Sometimes I’m in the Mermaid Fish Bar ordering a large cod and chips with mushy peas and a bag of pickled onions on the side. Or maybe I’m in the Lucky Dragon Noodle House standing there at the counter deliberating thoughtfully between Pad Thai or Khao Phat. Taking my time with the decision. Sometimes I’m in the Shaolin Garden ordering my favourite – Hong Kong style sweet and sour prawn balls with boiled rice. Or else I’m in Rosie’s Café with a huge plate of roast beef, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and all the trimmings sitting there in front of me. I’m just about to eat it. I’m on the point of eating it. It’s such a great feeling that I can’t even begin to describe it. But then nothing happens – all that anticipation comes to nothing because it’s only a dream and the thing about dreams is that they can tantalize but they can never satisfy. They can promise delights but they can’t actually deliver.


Names to conjure with. El Haks. The Shawarma King. The Mermaid Fish Bar. Rosie’s Café. Mr Tasty. Kebab Land. The Lotus Garden. The Lucky Dragon. The Happy Chicken. The Famous Kebab Pizza. Chicken Express. The Canton Kitchen. The Moghul Dynasty. The Rickshaw Fast Food Bar. The Sunrise Cafe. All these names come back to me. All these places that I have known. I feel tears of nostalgia coming to my eyes. Or I would do if I had eyes. The pangs of sheer longing that I’m experiencing go right off the scale – they are unbearable. I am in a world of pure undiluted longing and pure undiluted pain. Pain because I can never go back. Pain because there’s no such thing as going back. No such thing as. No such thing as. No such thing as. Yet was else is there for me? I’m in a nowhere place – a place with nothing in it. Even I’m not in it – I’m not in it because I don’t exist. I’m not in it because I’m not really here. Because I’m not really anywhere. The pain of loss hits me again, harder than ever. The loss of the world I used to know, the loss of the me I used to know.


And then I’m back in El Hak’s Kebab Emporium again, in Hounslow High Street. I’m so happy to be there that I start crying. The tears are pouring out of me, running down my face. Falling softly onto the extra large lamb donner kebab that I’m holding in my hand, preparing to take a bite out of it. The hot pitta bread is getting damp with my tears. I’m yearning to take a bite out of it. The rich flavour of the meat reaches my nose giving me a foretaste of what is to come. Giving me a sneak preview of the richly satisfying pleasures that are coming my way. The hot hot chillie sauce and the generous helping of garlic mayo. The freshly chopped onions and finely sliced red cabbage, and the rich rich smell of the meat. I’m bringing the kebab up to my mouth, anticipating the moment. Keenly anticipating the moment. I can’t wait…






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