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The family didn’t have to help.

I’ve wheeled my packed cart outside, trying to make sense of the flow of traffic. An ocean of cars, scooters, and trucks, a steady, rhythmic wave

Everyone honks

There’s purpose to it all. it’s more than a parking lot, not quite a thoroughfare, and somehow people make their way

I’m not quite sure how to make mine.

The Grab has been ordered, the taxi on its way. And thanks to location services and satellite magic, I can watch the driver weave his path straight to me.

Only, he’s not sure where to go.

I see his progress, and lack thereof, clearly, and for whatever reason he comes to a dead stop 500 meters south, behind the building, on a road most certainly to nowhere.

As the blackbird flies, it’s not bad. But from where I stand and wait, with this cart full of supplies, it might as well be Timbuktu.

I’m not going to make it home.

Outward, I’m calm, all under control. But inside, I’m flailing, desperate.

A call comes in, and for a moment I feel hope.

But that’s where things get tricky. It’s still early days. I speak exactly two words of Vietnamese, he speaks fewer words of English. The conversation goes nowhere.

I’m not sure who hangs up first but it’s a mutual breakup.

I’m not going to make it home.

The lady and her two kids standing next to their small motorized scooter nearby seem to notice me, but say nothing. Wearing their best, headed to dinner, a boy, maybe 7, and a girl, skirting her teens. They make timid eye contact, curious about this nerved up foreigner.

All around, chaos, organized. Shoppers, bags loaded, hop on bikes, step into cars, wave down taxis. I don’t know exactly where I live. But I am amazed at exactly where I find myself.

It’s still early days.

And this family decides to help.

The daughter has a bit of English. She approaches.

Where you go?

I show her my phone

Your driver has arrived and will wait for your

Arrived where? And for what?

Luckily, it becomes clear that I have an ally.

She takes my phone over to her father, just arrived, carrying four shopping bags full of veggies and soups. He comes to me and asks a couple questions in Vietnamese. I smile and shrug, but show him the phone.

He calls the driver. A patient back and forth. His voice is raised, but not in anger. In urgency, in haste.

Because he wants desperately to help. A random, strange, hapless foreigner he’s only just met.

He hands the phone back to me with a smile. Success. I pay him back in kind with what must be the biggest relief on my face.

Cảm ơn.

I say thanks with the only words I know. This family of four, who don’t know me, who I can only assume are not unique in this compassionate, layered, complex city of millions, decided to help.

I watch the four of them take their full load of shopping over to their bike, Surely, they’re going to a car parked nearby. Perhaps a driver is en route to grab them, too.

Instead, they open the bike seat, deftly arrange their goods to fit in the compartment below. The leftover items remain in bags, laden over shoulders.

Papa hops on first, he’s driving. Behind him sits Mama, and her, the teen. Last, the boy turns around, waves goodbye to me with a smile, and sneaks in.

The final piece of the family’s Tetris puzzle, nestled just behind the handlebars in front of Pop and tucked next to a vibrant bag of greens. One small scooter, an impossible amount of groceries, and four neatly dressed passengers.

And I watch, with reverence, as they ride off into the night.

Published by Radutti

Teaching in Ha Noi, screwing things up daily but surviving to write about it. ...everything's perfectly all right now. We're fine. We're all fine here now, thank you. How are you?

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4 Comments

  1. You have such a great way of taking a moment and expanding on it, building tension as you go. The sensory details you add in, help build this tension. It must be hard to be in a country and culture that you are just figuring out and where you can’t communicate too well – yet.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This was a beautifully written narrative. Words woven so intricately. Thanks for showing me the setting and really creating a movie for me. I am still imagining the family of four with their goods travelling on the bike. I guess I am off to read that part again to make the movie clearer. Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My favorite line: ‘compassionate, complex, layered city of millions.’
    You take your reader through concern to gratitude to humor. Love the visual images; I am seeing you from an ant’s eye view, standing there. Then a bird’s eye view through the technology. Finally the great moving image of watching the family maneuver it all onto the scooter.

    Liked by 1 person

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