It started a few days after I moved into the House of Pastelle.
There was rice on the floor. Like, everywhere. And no matter how many times I shrugged my shoulders, smiled inwardly and chuckled-off the irritation I HAD JUST MOVED IN TO THE MOST CANDY-COLOURED HOUSE IN THE WORLD so really, I wasn't prepared to get cross.
I have to keep my kitchen-tidiness in check around other people, anyway. Not everyone was brought up with Mama Janie, who essentially washes up before she sits down to eat. I didn't even know what a hot meal tasted like until I was 19 and able to live in my own squalor where washing the pans after your belly was full was not only encouraged but expected.
So I tried not to let my bizarrely high standards of kitchen cleanliness bother me when confronted with the rice. Every time I went into the kitchen. For 4 days in a row. EVERYWHERE.
Nu-uh. Didn't bother me ONE LITTLE BIT. I'd just get the dustpan and brush, get to sweeping, and slightly wonder to myself who the FUCK had been chucking around uncooked rice in the FUCKING pastel-coloured FUCKING KITCHEN of MY HOUSE WHERE THERE SHOULD AT LEAST BE SOME BASIC LEVELS OF HYGIENE.
Yeah, I was fine. And, a bit confused. I knew it wasn't the girl in the room at the bottom of the hall. No, she only made microwave Uncle Ben's rice. And I knew the best musician in the world hadn't done it, because I was pretty sure she hadn't been at home for a week. One room was still unoccupied and we knew room 3 wasn't being moved in to til the weekend. It was a bonafide rice mystery. Unless I was coming over all Pippa Lee and it was me spreading the rice love in my sleep, when nobody was watching.
I sat having a welcome cuppa with a housemate one afternoon, forgetting all about the rice as I saw somebody scuttle through the corridor into the bathroom through the glass of the kitchen door. "There's somebody in the flat!" I squealed, as I moved to open the door for a better look. I pinned it open and sat back down, knowing that whatever stranger was in the loo had to come back out again sometime. It was just a matter of waiting, and hoping it wasn't the weird guy that runs the front desk sometimes, the one who spits when he talks and stares at all the Fresher students. But being University-owned accommodation I supposed that anybody could have a key. It could have been Chuck Norris in my bathroom for all I knew, as I made a mental note to myself to always sleep with my bedroom door locked.
And then I heard the door. This was it.
"Urm, hello!" I said, as the figure ignored us and made for a room down the corridor. "Do you, like, live here or something?"
The figure backed up down the corridor. It was a Chinese woman in her thirties, small as a teenage boy, smile wider than the moon.
"Ahhhh, yes! I live here! Yes!" she said in accented English, and my friend and I welcomed her. She was busy though, she explained. She had to go now but would see us soon, she said.
"Awwww, she seems lovely!" my friend said.
I closed the kitchen door and hissed in hushed tones, "Lovely?! No! That's bloody it then, isn't it? We've got a bloody Chinawoman in our house, a Chinky, and suddenly there's sodding rice all over the bloody flat? IT'S HER!" As I worked myself into the conclusion, I got a little bit louder and louder.
"What did she do when she got here? Open up a bag of China's finest and sprinkle it lovingly on the floor to remind her of home? Was it a Chinese welcome dance? A CHINESE RICE FUCKING WELCOMING DANCE?"
I was stood up and suddenly dancing around the kitchen, moving my feet quickly and spreading my arms out from side-to-side, as if sowing the wild oats of carbohydrates.
"I BET SHE CAME IN THROWING HER ARMS AROUND, FULL OF RICE, SPRINKLE! SPRINKLE! SPRINKLE! Look! It even goes under the door and out on the carpet outside!" I pulled open the door to show my tea-drinking accomplice. "LOOOOOOK! SPRIIIIINNNNNKKKKLLLLEEEEEE!"
I'm not normally so overtly racist, or xenophobic, or hostile to total strangers that I was apparently due to live with for the next six months. But something in me snapped, I don't know what. There was rice. There was a woman from Hong Kong. The two, it seemed to me, must be related.
There was no other explanation.
The story soon took on a life of it's own. I was telling anybody who would listen that the kitchen in the House of Pastelle was being replenished in stocks of floor-rice at every opportunity. One night, whilst performing the Welcome Rice Dance in front of an audience at Calum's place, I literally had people crying with laughter. I was so upset that I wouldn't shut up about it. How DARE this woman move it and be so DAMNED MESSY? So when I saw a flyer for Mr Pang's Chinese Restaurant on Calum's fridge, suddenly the dance became The Welcome Rice Dance of Dr Pang and All Her Friends.
"How am I going to stop it?" I questioned them all. "I can't live like I run a backstreet Chinese restaurant, dried rice and rat shit underfoot for the rest of my life!" I don't know where the rat shit bit came from. I was crossing the line into just-plain-rude, I think. It was the Mama Janie in me that did it.
I was going to have to talk to her. We obviously couldn't live like this, and it was best to nip it all in the bud before I got really upset and starting doing accents to accompany the legendary dance.
I sat telling Charlotte, the best musician in the world, all about it one evening a few days later. I say sat. I was actually hopping around on one leg, such was the evolution of The Welcome Rice Dance of Dr Pang and All Her Friends, throwing around my arms to imitate the rice-throwing, barely seconds from pulling out my own bag of rice to really emphasise my point. "Riiiiice dance!" I was squealing. "Welcome!"
Mid lunge Charlotte looked at me horrified. She wasn't laughing like everybody else had done.
I sensed a problem.
"What?" I said to her finally, worried that maybe she had a Chinese aunt or something, and was mistaking my anger over the rice as actual prejudice against one the most spiritual, friendly and accomplished countries on the planet.
"Laura- I need to tell you something."
Please don't let her be part Chinese, I whispered to myself. Please don't let her be part Chinese. PLEASE. Please don't be part Chinese.
She took a breath.
"The rice. That was..."
"It was me."
Oh. My. God.