Claro and Angela II

Claro is fearless.  The way he dives into the open traffic, like a cowboy wading through a stampede, reckless but somehow he never gets hurt, or even scared.  He beckons me across but I shake my head and laugh until he takes my hand and pulls me along.  I’d never get across the roads without him.  The market place is in front of us teeming with people, both foreign and native.  Stalls are small and square and there are hundreds of them, stacked high with packaged mass-produce.  As if the stalls weren’t enough to choose from, there is a tiny lady with a sandwich-board filled with fake wallets, pushing things at potential customers.  If she had a dollar for every time she received a shake of the head, she wouldn’t need to go around with that sandwich-board.

Claro pulls me along and just like when we crossed the road we are plunged headfirst into the melee of the marketplace.  I want to stop and look at things, and Claro does too, but he has no money on him other than small change so I can’t see him being able to buy anything.  The marketplace residents doen’t know this, so they keep pushing things at him and I, like they do with all the tourists types.  Claro leads them on, he wants to know about their stock, what material is this, where does it come from, where did you get it from?  When the shop-owner starts telling Claro about his family, a cowlicked teenager comes up behind him, his hand snatching air out of Claro’s back pockets.

“Claro,” I warn, clutching my bag to my chest.  He turns and looks at me, then turns around to look behind him but the pickpocketer is gone.  He shrugs.  He has nothing on him, anyway.  The shop owner has gone to serve another customer with more money and a genuine interest in purchasing, so we move on.

“You left everything back at the hotel room?” I question.

“I’ve got some change.  Enough for a taxi.”

“Not your camera?  Don’t you want to take photos?”  He hasn’t taken any photos so far, even though everything seems to astound him.

He shakes his head. “When photos can capture sound and smell and the feeling of the crowd pressing around you, then I’ll be interested.”

“Suit yourself.” I take a quick snapshot of the marketplace (with Claro in the background politely refusing a wallet from the sandwich-board lady) and we head out into fresher air.

Before I know it, Claro has secured a free moped ride from a generous local.  He taps me on the shoulder.  “This guy can give us a ride.”

The guy in question sits on his battered moped, giving us a missing-tooth grin.

“He wants money.”

“He doesn’t, I asked him.”

“He’ll want a tip.”

“For a free ride, I thought I’d give him one anyway.”

Claro sits on the back, dark eyes grinning.

“Where you want to go?” the man asks.

Claro shrugs.  “Anywhere.  Can she come too?”

“Can this thing carry three people?” The seat looks quite narrow.

The driver shakes his head.  “But I go slow.” he assures us with a grin.

This reassures Claro very much and he pulls me on behind him.  I grip tight to Claro’s arms, encircling him in a bear hug as we speed off into the maelstrom of traffic.  If I fall off, I’ll die, so I hug Claro like a long-lost brother as he treats the guy in front of him as some sort of huggable saviour.

We disembark sweating at the park, full of green, leafy fronds and peddlers.  I shove a small note into the rider’s hands and he grins and says thank you in his own language.  Claro is oblivious, busy buying me some form of icecream from a street vendor instead.

“I don’t think we should trust street vendors, that’s what -”

“Alright, I’ll have it.” And he takes a big bite.

“You’ll get food poisoning.”

“The locals eat it.  Must be alright.”

“The locals will eat anything.” I laugh.

We sit in the park for a while, and I tentatively nibble at the ice cream while he looks around happily at the people.

“Do you think that’s the daughter of that lady over there?” Claro asks.

“I don’t know.  Why don’t you ask her?” I know how much he loves finding out the intricate details of these people’s lives.

“Can you imagine your whole family being peddlers?  Selling things day in, day out, having done so for generations.”

“Amazing.  And we can’t even imagine a life like that.”

“I wish I could speak the language.” he mumbles.  I can see how he feels, that the language is a barrier to an even finder understanding of a whole new way of life, a whole world.

“Maybe we shouldl go to an English-speaking country next time.” I suggest

“Maybe we should take lessons.” he says.

We get back late to the hotel.  We’ve just finished watching the sun set over the river, although our position on the bridge was a bit precarious.  He spreads himself out on the sofa, completely exhausted, and I head to the kitchen.  Coming back with two cups of tea, I set one down on the table in front of him and we drink slowly.  “Do you want to live here?” I ask.

“If I had a dollar for every country I wanted to live in…” he replied.

“I love the way you’re so fascinated.” I smile.  “Why aren’t you so fascinated at home?”

“I know everything at home.” he sighs.  “And also, home is stressful.  I’d rather be here.”

“Where you don’t have to think about university?”

“Where I don’t have to think about the future.”  He turns to me.  “Living in the present is wonderful.”

“Maybe you could think far enough ahead to our next trip?”

“… Maybe.” Very hesitantly.

“Where could we go?  South America maybe?  We’ve already done a lot of Europe… Russia, perhaps?  But if you speak Spanish, South America could be good.”

“My Spanish is terrible.” he laughs.  “Could we look at the Mediterranean?  Greece, Turkey, Morocco?” at this last one, his teeth show.

“We should look at Morocco, then.”

He falls back onto the couch, contented.  “I wish we could never leave.”  He says.  For about the fifteenth time.

Claro and Angela I

Written as a way of documenting my recent trip to Vietnam.

When the rain lifted, the streets shone.  So many colours, so many fragments of light.  Life flashed past at the speed of an elevator, a moped or a street bicycle.  People talking fast in a language neither of them could understand, but Claro loved it, loved the unfamiliar tones falling on his ears.

Angela wanted to go somewhere where they served good alcohol (anywhere, if you ignored the word ‘good’) and Claro wanted to go somewhere.  He could wander the streets forever, gaze up at the tall, tall buildings, feel the rush as ten million people walked past, meet unfamiliar clouds in an unfamiliar sky.  Eventually Angela would pull him into a place ablaze with fluorescent light where he would find other pleasures in meeting new people and making new friends.  Angela would wake up the next morning stormy with a hangover, but he would not.  The city beckoned, life, life beckoned.  “Let’s go.”

The river taxi out into the middle of the city, where they would take the car to the next place, ride between the traffic, then the cyclo, riding with the traffic, then attempt to play Russian Roulette with the pedestrian crossings.  Claro’s heart was in his throat, Angela yelped every time a moped sped at her, but they reached tehir destination laughing and in one piece.

“The history’s fascinating.” Angela peered at the guidebook.

“Everything’s fascinating.”

“Do you want to go out of the delta today or leave it for another couple of days?”

Claro’s head turned as a moped bearing a man, woman and child sped past.

“Do you want to go to the delta today?  Claro?”

He turned back to her and shrugged.

“We can’t stand here all day.”

“Why not?”

“I’m hungry, for one.”

“We should get some food and then come back here.”

She laughed.  “Crazy.” she called him.