Bite: CriMemoir by Elka Ray
He's in his late teens or early twenties, not much younger than me. He's skinny but strong, with not an ounce of fat on him. We stare at each other, our faces about two feet apart. I'm a young blonde in a linen dress, trying to look older and more professional than I am. He's got dusty black hair and the flat black eyes of a junkie. Eyes without hope. I've seen those eyes on accident victims going into shock and in photos of people captured by the Khmer Rouge, just before they were beaten to death. Ghost eyes.
His mouth twists with hatred. So does mine. I know I should let go. It's just a phone. But this little shit is trying to rip me off at six a.m., before I've had coffee.
Those stories don't make the English-language papers. But lethal crime against foreigners? I've lived here 22 years and can only recall one deadly case: a young Dutch woman stabbed by a junkie in a busy Saigon market in 1997. Just shy of six months later, her killer faced a firing squad. Drownings, home and workplace fuckups and traffic accidents are another story. The WHO estimates 14,000 people die on Vietnam's roads every year. Per capita, it's among the 25 most dangerous countries in which to drive. Most people ride motorbikes and even those driving cars, buses or trucks still act like they're on their first BMX. My personal tally of traffic loss is one friend (major brain damage), one dead colleague, and two friends' dead kids. Nobody recovers from the kids.
Does any of this go through my head as I'm arm-wrestling Ghost-eyes for my shitty Motorola? Not really. Well, a little. I know he's got nothing to lose. He could have a knife. Or a syringe. I should let go.
His wrist is right in front of my face. I look at it, then back at him. We both realize at the exact same second: I'm going to bite him. I open my mouth. Those blank eyes click like a doll's. He lets go and darts across the street, dodging cyclos and bikes before ducking into an alley. I push the car door open and jump out, yelling. I'm mad enough to go after him but there's no point. I've got my phone. Plus it's a warren back there - a maze of meter-wide alleys like something from the Middle Ages.
Would I really have bitten him?
Looking back, it seems crazy. His wrist was filthy. I haven't thought about that kid in years. What happened to him? Nothing good, I'll bet.
Once the light in your eyes dies, I can't see it coming back. Over the years, I've met plenty of kids with hard luck. Street kids. Hustlers. Abused and abusive. A few made it out - they retained some hope and innocence. They met some kindness.