In the middle of the plaza were many small restaurants, or let’s say, eating places, where foods were prepared and presented in small carts, surrounded by some wooden chairs and tables. While approaching a cart where the smoke was the most visible I found that they did not sell only sticky rice but also many other things: soft drinks, tobacco, and a few spirit bottles.
“Three big packets of sticky rice, brother.” Trung ordered.
“Which one, brother?” The owner asked. He was small, thin and dark skinned, nearly fifty years old, I guessed. A relatively fat woman, his wife possibly, stayed in a corner from the cart. She was occupied slicing a big part of pork, very seemingly not for the sticky rice. Discovering that I was looking, she looked up and explained “Brother, it is for tomorrow, just take advantage of the night that we don’t have many clients that I prepare this for tomorrow rice restaurant at noon. These days it is not that easy.” I smiled gently to her.
At the other end of the cart, a girl at around ten years old was standing, doing nothing. She had big eyes on a thin face.
“Whatever. No, wait. One sweet packet and two with meat and smashed dry fish. Is it OK for you guys?” Trung asked us.
“Whatever. Don’t worry.” Trong replied.
“How old are you, my niece?” I asked the small girl.
She was somehow shy, looked down and delayed to reply. “Eleven years old, brother. She is in year 5 now. You know, we try to keep her at school. For her future, brother.” Her father replied instead.
“Why is she here? It is late now.”
“I told her. But she doesn’t want to stay at home. She tells she is sad at home alone. Anyway, she used to be at home more than stay here, brother.”
“You like to go somewhere to drink more? I am too sober now. I take you to another place, very nice.” Trung asked and winked.
“Um um.” Trong replied reluctantly.
“Why don’t we just drink here?” I asked.
“Here? You crazy? Nothing to drink here.” Trung spoke.
“Let’s drink here guys. We have lot of spirits there.” I pointed at the few bottles on the counter where the small girl was standing. “Drink here to be nearer to the people guys.”
Trung looked at me, astonished, he looked quickly around.
“OK guy.” He tapped on my back. “You good, you good man. Hahaha.” He turned to the owner. “Give us two New Rice bottles my niece. Yeah, that’s right. These sausages, cucumbers, give us all. And a pack of Three Number Fives. No, The Cat is better.”
“Three packs of The Cat, please.” I spoke and tapped on Trung’s shoulder. “It will be a long night.”
I reached for my pocket, took the money and gave it to the man. “Keep it. Go home. Give us the food, drinks, tobacco and close it all and go home. We will be fine here with these chairs and a table.” I turned to the small girl. “And my niece, study well, please. It is important, important. OK?”
“Yes. Thank you, uncle.” She looked at me, mumbled.
I stayed silent a while and afterwards stepped away from the cart. It was silent now the plaza. Nearly all other carts have been closed. I saw at the other end of the plaza the imposing, large façade of the market, painted in yellow with some opening stripes in white. There were some letters or numbers carved on the façade that I could not see from afar. Should be very old, hundreds of years old this market and plaza. Everything was so intimate, so close to me, the plaza, the market, the houses and the electrical wires in big bunches. I can’t leave this place any more, never any more.
I felt suddenly the love, love for this plaza, love for the river that flows near here, love for the banana leaves scattered below me, love for the girl with big eyes on thin face, love for Trung, the communist party member, the rising star of the town, whatever he had spoken, or he and his colleagues did or do or will do to me. A sudden love of a moment, isn’t it enough?