By Roger H Lam
Told at The Moth StorySlam open mic on August 25, 2022 at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe. Scored 9.45 points out of 10 and won second place.
Prompt: Royalty. Prepare a five-minute story about holding court. Category is Eleganza extravaganza. Feeling queenly, kingly, or leonine. The time you commanded a room, found your power, or took the reins. Flushes, welcomes, pains.
My parents and I moved from China to America when I was one year old. We didn’t have a lot of money back then, so my dad worked himself into the ground. On weekday mornings, he left home and took the train to work before I even woke up. He wouldn’t come home at night until I was already asleep. As you can guess, I didn’t grow up with an allowance or a new toy every month. We rarely ate out at restaurants, partially because my mom’s cooking was delicious, but also because paying someone else to cook our food seemed like a luxury.
When I was three years old, I finally got a taste of that luxury. It was a Saturday, and the three of us were out running errands all day. When dinner time rolled around, we were too far away from home to drive back and make a home-cooked meal. My mom looked at my Dad and whispered, “Should we go to BK?” I was too young to know what “BK” meant, so imagine my surprise when we pulled into a desolate Burger King parking lot. My Mom flung open the glove box and dug through the stash of napkins to unearth a scroll of Burger King coupons that we had received in the mail earlier that month.
I pulled open the sticky metal doors of the restaurant and entered a whole new world where we were treated like royalty. Rows upon rows of preassembled cardboard crowns lined the counter. My mom tightened a crown around my big head while I stared at the glowing menu on the wall. I knew immediately that I wanted a Kids Meal, because I was a kid obviously, and my parents knew that they were going to get whatever they had a coupon for. Nevertheless, we gawked at the menu for what seemed like hours, soaking in the options and opportunities of the American dream.
After we placed our orders, I filled up my cup at the soda fountain of youth with a mix of Spite, Hi-C, and pink lemonade. I clinked my paper chalice against my parents’ flimsy, transparent water cups and downed the elixir in one gulp. Then, I filled it back up with a concoction of Coca-Cola and Diet Coke. The flavor combinations were endless.
The herald behind the counter finally declared, “Order 57”. I grabbed our tray while my Mom used a napkin to wipe down a greasy table with one hand while shoving a stack of Burger King napkins into her purse with another hand. Of course, those napkins were destined to sit in our glove compartment. I opened my Kids Meal like a treasure chest and laid out each component on the table for all my subjects to see.
First, four chicken nuggets. Nay, chicken medallions! Each one perfectly round and the exact same size and shape as the other.
Then a box of French fries. But not just French fries, for there were also two stray onion rings in the mix. I put the golden rings on my fingers and watched them sparkle under the fluorescent lights. I made eye contact with the high school student behind the counter and blew him a kiss, thanking him for the free onion rings. Little did I know that the onion rings were mixed into my box of French fries out of carelessness, not out of adoration. The paper crown was cutting off the circulation in my head.
The best part was that I also got a toy in my Kids Meal. Nothing fancy, just a wind-up car, but for the next two months, this toy would be my best friend. I would chase it around the tile floors of our tiny apartment until its poor, plastic gears gave out under wear and tear.
While I feasted, my parents shared a single order of french fries. Why? Because they had a coupon for “free small fries with purchase of another item at regular price”. Of course, my Kids Meal was the item purchased at regular price. Even though these two grown adults had to split one order, and even though they didn’t receive any onion rings in their mix, they were happy. “We’re not hungry,” they said. “Don’t worry about us, go have fun in the playground”.
I bounded towards the foam-covered indoor playground and climbed my way to the top, dodging streaks of ketchup and century-old chicken nuggets that other kids had left behind. I stood at the peak before going down the windy slide and gazed down upon my kingdom. With a crown on my head, toy in my hand, Kids Meal in my belly, and the two people who loved me most in the world waving at me from below, I felt like I had it all. Even though I didn’t eat a single burger that day, I was without a doubt… THE Burger King.