As the moon lay heavy on the thick, lapping banks of the Ben Hai, I walked slowly yet purposefully. The day had brought great promise for the journey that lay ahead, but I thought it prudent to cross check our path before heading out at sunrise, despite my young guide’s protests. I also had an errand of a personal nature that needed tending to, which I had not shared with my mates, and so had slipped unannounced leaving them with Ngoc Minh back at the flat. I checked the hour on the worn pocket watch, its origin dating back to the early 1900’s. I’d purchased it earlier that afternoon in the staggering heat of the noon-day sun from an old man in the Quang Tri Province who swore on the spirits of his ancestors as to the purity of the precious metal with which it had been crafted. His solemn face and steady voice betrayed his withered skin which was leathered and drawn from years spent working in the paddies as a youth. I’d taken amusement from the time we spent bantering on the price. We ultimately settled on a reasonable fee, which included my belt from our unexpected detour through Kanpur several weeks prior and a toast to his longevity over small but potent cups of ruou de, ironically my preferred brand of rice wine from the Mekong.
I turned the corner only to come face to snout with a Siamese crocodile who seemed mildly put out by my disturbance of his rest. His midnight repreive had clearly followed his evening feast of a freshly slaughtered piglet, the vestiges of its carcass still fresh and lying near. My continued good fortune dictated that he’d likely stolen it from one of the street vendors, as was evidenced by both the remaining clean, linear butcher marks and by his lack of aggression towards my interruption, as his hunting instincts had not been aroused or indulged; I locked eyes with him, some twisted part of me hoping that he would attack, taking into account the unique patterns on his hide and my unexpected, new-found need for a belt. Sadly he’s critically endangered so luck was with him. He lazily looked away and I walked on, not giving him any birth and winking at him as I passed. At the corner of the last riverside shack, I turned, making my way up the alley and into the courtyard of the Midtown District, where I came upon my destination.
The night tumbled into the courtyard where the small inn was housed. Dim, red lights promoting the sale of Bia hoi beer shone weakly from inside one small window, like a sad beacon. A clever smile crept across my face at the sight of it. I picked up the pace in order to shorten the distance between me and my objective. A young boy, about the age of eight approached me out of nowhere as he announced his despairing need of my spare change, his broken English well-practiced. Without breaking stride, I silently pulled out a crisp $100 bill and softly padded it into the palm of his hand. Patting his cheek as I walked away, i found the mix of dirt and shock on his face endearing. Up ahead my end-goal awaited me…her familiar smile and silhouette breaking through the night and reminding me that all was well with the world. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll look into that belt….