Bùi Viện – Just a normal Tuesday
The shopboy staggered under the weight of the tray as he came down the three steps out into the hot night. He dodged a mewling cat and a drunk heading inside for a tinkle before he tilted slender shoulders to wedge himself between my brother and I to set the tray down on the battered plastic table. I raised up a butt cheek to clear some room for digging out my wallet and fished out two waxy 100,000 notes, pale green and peachy red, and pushed them into the boy’s grubby outstretched palm. Through a cloud of smoke from a nearby table I saw the boy arch an eyebrow before firing off a stream of the Viet talk. I could feel my ears twitching for a moment, then go still. I waved him away.
“How old do you think he is?” someone asked, nudging a chin out at the shopboy.
“Seven or eight,” another said.
I shook my head. “Best service I’ve had since I left Italy.”
This was proven later when we called for more drink and the shopboy appeared instantly with a tray weighted with another dollar’s worth of alcohol. Another cold round seemed to have been waiting on standby. Brilliant.
But my thoughts quickly shifted away from the quality service. Just as the halfpint set it down on the plastic trampoline table, a blinding peel of flame erupted from the street not ten feet away. Cries went up around us, awes and murmurs. An incandescent afterimage buzzed and faded revealing there another boy—Holy smokes they’re everywhere—this one soot-stained like a Dickens chimney sweep, swinging flaming tongs, juggling charcoal briquets pausing only to chew or swallow both, spitting kerosene and flame with the cool efficiency of one long practiced in the dark arts.
“Does this always happen?” My brother asked a red-throated Irishman sitting next to us.
“Oh yeah. This is just a normal Tuesday,” he replied.