“Hey man, give me some money.”
I hadn’t noticed my vision blur as I stared absent-mindedly down the sidewalk bordering the long, littered avenue, but now that my attention was being demanded I brought my eyes into focus again. I turned to see a very thin young man standing there with his hand out, a hard look on his tanned face and shirt half unbuttoned. I was glad I was wearing sunglasses, somehow the lack of direct eye contact made me feel much safer, much bolder.
“I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“Money. I’m hungry for money.”
The young man in front of me paused, glaring now, and slipped a hand into his pocket. I wondered where this was going, but still didn’t feel threatened enough to turn and enter the store my wife was shopping in. There was a reason I had chosen to wait out on the street, a reason good enough that even the sweltering Ho Chi Minh afternoon hadn’t been able to quash it. How much money did I have in my pocket anyway? Not more than 100,000 dong or so, that much was easily parted with should this little situation get any stickier. And there were plenty of people milling about as well; one of the circuit boxes on the pole opposite the string of boutiques had caught fire earlier, producing the customary crowd of gawkers as the proper authorities came to put it out and work on re-routing the bundles of wires that led away from it in endless strings criss-crossing between buildings, other electric poles, and across the street. Dirty sidewalk, dirty road, dirty view, but clean, strong minds. God bless the Vietnamese.
“Hey man, where you from?”
His face softened, he cocked his head, tilting it up and back, and then with a tiny, friendly smirk he shrugged and walked away. I relaxed my eyes and let my vision blur again down the sun-soaked pavement. God bless Canada, too good to have ever gotten involved in the wretched mess the French and Americans made in this place. Too good for all of that.
The bell on the door behind me rang and I turned to see my wife exiting. She hadn’t bought anything, so we’d be stopping again soon. Can’t be on vacation yet if your hands are still empty. I wonder what Ho Chi Minh would say to that?
Next wek, Paul j Rogers shares an ode to a word processor.