24 Dec – Hanoi
Strangers in the night
My bag of snacks has been in a car accident at 5am on a street in Hanoi.
I was sure that the prawn crackers bag, weirdly inflated like a pneumatic pillow, had no choice but to burst at the impact with the speeding truck.There was no doubt in my mind that the fragile crackers inside got shredded to buggery, but the bag I was holding in my right hand was magically intact. So were the dried sweet mini-apples from Sapa, the Mars bar and the Haribo Crocs. The only one who wasn’t intact was me…
I was attached to the bag (or the bag was attached to me) when the truck with no lights sped on towards us as if with intent to kill. He was holding my left hand and I knew he had it covered. I had no business with the traffic, especially at that God forsaken time in the morning when only the odd motorbike roared past, piercing the unusual silence.
I could focus on sulking. We weren’t talking to each other, having had significant arguments over train times and wrong hotel booking date. We were supposed to ‘enjoy’ another night on a 6 berth sleeper train from Hanoi to Danang, that night. Instead, probably due to wishful thinking, I had booked us for a night in a hotel in Hoi An and he was pissed.
Suddenly, the big dusty backpack that belonged to me and was attached to his shoulder at that time in the morning, jumped a quarter of a step back, enough not to be ran over, but I froze, staring at the rusty metal monster coming closer, closer, closer, ready for impact. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t think. I knew I was going to get hit. The only thing I wasn’t sure about was just how badly.
Some say you have flashbacks of your life when you stare Death in the face and know you’re about to die. I don’t think that’s true. I think you don’t have any thoughts at all. You just watch it happening. The thoughts and emotions only rush over you when you realise you are ok. When you realise the only part of you that the truck hit is your snacks bag. When you realise you could have died on a street in Hanoi at 5am with hardly anybody around. That this would have been it, the end of your life, of your struggles, of your worries, of your successes, of your dreams, of it all. That this is crap and all is crap, and who cares about the crap you’re fighting about when you die! Fuck!
I was shaking and tears streamed uncontrollably out of my eyes. We had managed to cross the street entirely and he was now holding me tight, tight, tight.
‘It’s okay,’ he whispered. ‘It’s okay.’
‘What a stupid way to die!’ I cried. ‘Pissed off with each other…’
24 Dec – Hoi An
City of Chinese lanterns
We wasted no time that morning and boarded the first flight to Danang. We had to leave Hanoi behind as if the more distance we would put between us and the accident scene, the less power the event had over us. But I couldn’t help thinking that if we cheated Death once it didn’t mean it wouldn’t catch up with us eventually. I felt anxious all the way through the flight and held on to my bag of snacks as is for dear life. Those fragile prawn crackers that survived the hit at 60 miles per hour were my irrational lifeline.
When we arrived in the city of Chinese lanterns, Hoi An, we knew that we were finally safe. We knew that we had crossed over from Death to Life, just like we crossed the bridge over the Thu Bon River on our way to our hotel. Safely inside our room, we finally left our guard down.
Later that day, we went for a stroll and let the myriad of lights and good-luck lanterns floating on the river, open our hearts. Nestled atop one of the riverside restaurants’ terrace and whistfully glaring over the lights on the other side of the river, we finally spoke about the accident.
‘I still can’t believe we didn’t die,’ He said. ‘I saw the two motorbikes coming and decided that I would let one pass us in front and one in the back. For some unknown reason, I looked to my left – I had no reason to look to my left – and saw the monster truck speeding out of nowhere. I literally only had time to take half a step back!’ he said.
‘I didn’t have time to take any step back!’ I said. ‘I was paralysed!’ I cried.
‘I knew you were one step behind. You’re always one step behind!’
‘I was lucky I was one step behind,’ I said. ‘See, there’s an advantage to walking slowly!’ I laughed.
‘Another beer?’ He asked. ‘I think we should get drunk tonight. We should celebrate being alive!’
‘Absolutely!’ I said and drained the last of my warm beer.
But the city of lanterns is anything but a night crawler’s paradise. We made our way back to the hotel, across the bridge when we realised the bar opposite our hotel was still open.
‘Shall we have one more here?’
‘You need ask?’
The bar belonged to Mr Duc, a jolly middle-aged Vietnamese man with an incredibly exquisite taste in music. Christmas songs had been following us like rash and it was divine to be able to listen to the likes of Louis Armstrong, Beatles, The Supremes, Al Green or Johnny Cash.
One last night cap turned into three and it was late into the night when we finally sneaked into our silent dark hotel.