I scratch my jaw

I scratch my jaw too loudly. Eyes below cap brims flicker towards me. I rub my jaw and look up towards the ceiling. It is still stained brown so long after the smoking ban. Voices start again. Locals.

A woman pushing a drip stand shuffles past. A silent man who would fill a doorway walks with her. I can hear her lungs. I carefully do not look at her or him. Her gown will not be tied tight and his muscles will be ready.

I had not reported to the desk but my name is called. Then I saw the boys were calling me outside. They did not look happy. I had to go to avoid collateral damage even though many would have deserved it.

Four Words To Live By (I’ve been told)

The serenity of the egret in the rice field as the water buffalo lumber by. The serenity of the buffalo as they wander, slow avalanche slow, across the road. Traffic slows and stops, drivers, riders hypnotised by the swaying flanks and horns.

He rests one foot on the ground, the other on a pedal, and smiles. The ballet of traffic has taken an animal turn. As soon as the buffalo pass, scooters will speed past his swoops and wobbles but the smile will remain with him.

Back from the sea, salt and sand is spa-showered away along with the sweat of the ride. The sound of the frogs fills the room as the mosquito net drifts in the breeze from the charred bamboo fan. Later, as thoughts and feelings fuse together like smoke, he will fall asleep to sensual whispers of rain.

He did not believe in the sublime except for two moments. That saffron moment on a night flight when a monk walked by, bowed head and a gentle smile at the edge of his pool of reading light. Later a nun tied threads round his wrist and the dam holding the tears back crumbled.

Even later he thought back to his experiences. He saw his green reflection in the lotus pond and it was then that his life was decided.

The Citadel, Hue

A woman scrubbed clothes in the grey water in the wheelbarrow. A man crouched on his heels and watched her. He flicked away his cigarette butt and it landed in the barrow. To the two tourists, the tone the woman used sounded venomous.

They hurried through the first door they came to along the cloister. People slept in hammocks in the humid twilight. The tourists stopped suddenly and backed out of the room. Perhaps the people in the hammocks were looking at them.

The rest of their group were standing in the shade of the courtyard wall while their guide recited facts they did not appear to be taking in. Only the slight man with the wispy beard and the conical hat, always him, seemed to be listening, and asked questions.

Again he said “In my youth I marched with the students in Paris. We were for you.” Again the guide said “My grandmother was young when she lost all her family.”

On the far side of the courtyard someone said two dollars was too much. His friend had told him not to pay more than one dollar fifty.

The woman finished the washing and hung it dripping on the scaffolding. As the two tourists hurried towards their group, they wondered how it would ever dry.