An excerpt from “Kowloon Tong” by Paul Theroux

“Brandy was gleaming on Mr Hung’s lips. He looked drunk, his face pinkish and raw, his eyes boiled, and he was smiling in a vicious way as he chewed with his mouth open. Bunt remembered the look of greed, of heedless hunger, he had seen on Hung’s face in the lounge of the Regent. It was the desperate peasant who had been wrenched from his village and plonked down in luxury. He had not known that Bunt was staring at him; that was Hung’s real face.

Hung said, ‘These chicken feet are first quality. You appreciate them?’

He was speaking to Ah Fu as he examined a chicken foot, using his chopsticks like tongs and dangling the yellow foot in front of his watery eyes. Then he dropped it on to his plate and began to claw at it.

‘I think so,’ Ah Fu said shyly, her voice trailing off. ‘Are you completely bewitched by them?’ Hung’s lower teeth showed as he set his jaw to tear off the chicken foot.

Ah Fu murmured to Mei-ping, who said, ‘she says you speak English so well.’

Hung was hunched over the drooping foot, scraping at its yellow scales, dragging white tendon strings from its slender shank.

‘In the future we will teach you,’ he said, gripping the chicken foot in his teeth.

Hung meant the Hand-over, the Chinese Take-away, now more than a year off. Bunt loathed the subject and when it came up always said, ‘I don’t even want to think about it,’ and here he was, hating himself and listening to a Chinese man chewing and gloating over it.

‘So many people will come to Hong Kong,’ Mei-ping said. ‘Chinese people.’

Hung was still chewing, flecks of leg scales on his lips, the chicken foot near his mouth as he gnawed and still he replied, saying, ‘Not necessarily.’

‘They will take our jobs, we think,’ Mei-ping said.

Hung looked at her sternly, like a teacher distracted by a commotion at the back of the class. He held the chicken foot upright in the grip of his chopsticks.

‘That’s what people say,’ Mei-ping said. ‘Because the Chinese are clever and well trained. They are also tough.’

‘But we are rubbish,’ Ah Fu said, chewing with a down-turned mouth.

Hung did not reply but instead went on cramming the chicken foot into his mouth, finishing it off with his teeth. He spat a knuckle of gristle onto his plate and reached for another chicken foot.

‘Not to worry,’ he said, and gnawed. His face was so contorted by his chewing that he seemed to have no eyes. ‘We will teach you.’

Ah Fu had been picking and peeling the mottled skin from the chicken foot. Mr Hung’s gruntings showed her how to work the skin free and she timidly thanked him.

Seeing her draw away from him, Hung thrust his face at her and said, ‘I want to eat your foot.’

Bunt was disgustedly drinking a pint of beer, eyeing the table with resentment, the dishes of sticky pork and soggy and wilted lettuce, the black vegetables, the grey broth, the purple meat. On one dish of yellow meat was a severed chicken’s head, its eyes blinded, its scalloped comb torn like a red rag.

Hung’s elbows were out, his blue tongue showed as he stuck his chopsticks into the dish of yellow meat and used them like pliers to grasp a fragment of chicken breast. Its white flesh was exposed when he left a bite mark on it, then he chewed and gagged and pursed his lips. Again, with a retching noise, he spat garbage onto the table.

‘This is delicious because it has been strung up,’ he said. ‘You know how? Some string – tie it.’ He made deft throttling and knotting gestures with his fingers. ‘Truss it well and hang it for days. Let it air dry. Just dangle there.’

Bunt watched the man salivating as he spoke. ‘It becomes tender and fragrant.’ Still salivating he looked into the middle distance and apparently beheld the thing with his watery eyes, a suspended creature with a rope around its neck and its head flopped over. The apparition seemed to fill him with lust.

Bunt was frowning. Yes, the Chinese man had said, I want to eat your foot.”

Isn’t that just the business? It’s almost enough to put you off chicken – but only almost! I would highly recommend this book – in fact I would recommend any books by Paul Theroux.

(For more information on my books click here.)

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