The 4th Month in ‘Nam

I was sitting there in a roadside café, one that was no different than other billions of café and ice tea this country is famous for, when a fly, a huge insect no smaller than a bee, landed or maybe just fell on my forearm. He was usually probably fast and agile and he had buzz around town on some aimless yet undeniable and inadvertently unsavory purpose. At least I assumed this is what he did on an average day. Today was a different sort of day for him than that. He was slow and sweaty like the sun-encumbered people outside in the streets and his weight on my arm was tremendous. The thing about bugs and just vermin in general is that they are always lighter than they look, even if they look pretty light to begin with, but not him. He had substance. There was something to him. It was almost presumptuous for him to weigh as much as he did. It was unnatural to be this substantial, as a fly.

I shook him from my arm while wrenching my face into a grimace you would only see on the face of one of those real men in the classic war movies. It had to be a look you only get if you had ever charged over a trench or up a hill or charged anywhere really, so I was not proud of myself for doing it. No man in the world wants to cringe at a fly, even if it is this one I am talking about. He fell from my forearm to my bag. The vintage bag I got from a military outlet that still had the stains of the trips it was on prior to my purchase. The colors couldn’t help but to make him look a lot more in his element than when he was crawling over red sun burned skin decorated generously with fine (feminine) hairs. He was a part of the bag and the bag did not mind him at all but I was not going to humor the uninvited guest who overstayed his welcome. I flicked him onto the floor but he still seemed to not give a shit, and decided to just chill there, so I drew my grimace a little further and stepped on him and killed him. The crunch was unbelievable. It was ridiculous. It was absurd. This could not be a real fly. This was a fictional fly. He belonged in black and white cinemas.

After the business with the bug I looked out the window in front of me and saw a girl who was taking a break from some of the silly little trips around the Old Quarter they had going on out there. She was hiding in the shade from the malicious UV rays of the sunlight that wanted to batter their way into her skin and rape it dark. Now back home you can say this about the women: most of them have some really nice curves. The girls here mostly would not have things like hips and other assets. They are mostly little stick women and their asses won’t look any better than my own. The girl outside the window though, had everything in order and accounted for. She was All the things which make woman nice company for a shallow man.

I watched her and wondered if I was old enough to be a proper lecher. A real, substantial classic movie lecher with a rumpled grey suit, maybe even that smell of faint, cheap cologne, and thick frame glasses and a little bag full of regrets. I just sat there watching her as I sweated through my shirt in the heat. After a few minutes of finger pointing at her little map, she caught me staring and since I was not yet accustomed to my role a lecher, I averted the gaze I had been filling with her hips and legs upward and instead filled it briefly with the bare white ceiling before dropping back to the National Geographic I could not read a damn word out of. The picture in the magazine showed a man displaying a big conqueror’s grin, each tooth a monument to his mastery of the natural world. This tamer of the wild sea held, muscles straining, a surprisingly apathetic-looking shark. They made a nice couple. I glanced back out the window and my girl with the unexpected curves had left. Brief moment of panic washed over me. How was I to shoulder the role of a lecher if there is nothing to lech? There, she had not gone far but now I needed to turn my head and watch from the window to my right as she laughed and gesticulated with her friends, talking about whatever tourists usually talk about. Once again, and more quickly this time she noticed me, possibly anticipated my leering at her. Once again I have to pretend I was not imagining how nice a hot, sweaty afternoon sex with this stranger would be. Upon paying the bill at the counter for my iced coffees, beers and cigarettes I left the shop and entered through bustling throng of Asians, swinging my legs through the fields of noisy motorbikes, all melted together under the sweaty noon.

 It was hot enough outside to make me wonder if it had been worth it to throw up on the road for the purposes of lightening the load a bit. The motorcycle drivers with their knock off apparels and ill-fitting helmets were yelling for me to go one place or another. The helmets they wore were invariably some form of half-assed excuse for protection that probably will not even shield them from the smallest concussion. They did not show any restraint and kept shouting to offer me a ride and since I was lacking options I got on a bike after a cursory appraisal of its state of disrepair. Soon enough we were back at my hostel and the man was holding out his dirty, weathered hand for a couple of moist bills from the sweat of my ass, which I deposited hastily and with a little disgust into his palm. I worried about all the sweat on my chest. How much was mine, and how much had come from the man’s back? The prospect of carrying around another man’s sweat on most any part of my body sent me into a state of mild panic so I walked more quickly than usual to my room. Along the way I passed by a group of Dutch who had been the scourge of my personal domestic harmony for the previous few weeks. I took a brief moment away from the sweat panic to remember when the Dutch arrived
here. I had happened to be at the grand central station when the train arrived, crawling like a sinuous parasite from one little town to another. These Dutch were monsters, every single one of them. Their voices were not unlike the voices you always seem to find on the most corpulent German tourists. The odor they all exuded was strongly reminiscent of the more stereotypical breed of French whore who strongly hold onto the notion that a liberal coating of perfume is as good as, or superior to a bath. These Dutch were making me miserable. One of them noticed me. A tall girl did. She looked like some kind of extinct flightless bird and upon making eye contact she began crafting a big, dumb, open mouthed smile so I preemptively responded with as caustic a look as I could manage on such short notice.

Back in my place I took two puffs of a cigarette but it was too damn hot to smoke so I threw the damn thing off the balcony and maybe it landed in someone’s head but I don’t know because I never cared enough to look. The humidity had soaked through all the little lemon cookies I kept on the coffee table. I got in the bath and the filth of the day clouded up, polluting the water which probably wasn’t that clean anyway. Satisfied with this achievement, I lit up another bud, and took a long deep drag. Lethargy has more or less taken over after a few minutes submerged so I used my toes to pull the stopper and watched absently as the retreating miniature of a shoreline formed new islands off my limbs.

Author: Viet Nguyen

I thought what I had do was, I had pretend I was one of those Deaf Mutes

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