A continuous river of tooting motorcycles and scooters flows past us at plus or minus 20 miles per hour; the riders, with their friends, family, livestock and produce tentatively pinned at their backs, are so close to one another that a silk scarf could barely separate their elbows as they judder, rock, weave, spurt and slow.
We are walking the long narrow 800 yard pavement beside this stuttering procession. Ahead of us are the only other pedestrians, a young mother carrying a two year old boy. We must assume them abandoned by their two wheeled countrymen.
The disorderly life procession hates anomalies and suddenly this couple is challenged. A single rider swerves across his neighbours to halt his bike in the gutter. He jumps off and begins to shout at the young woman. She hunches up against the stone parapet that divides a grass slope from the pavement. Her challenger is a young man, no taller than her. She clenches her body, ready to resist. We sense the inevitability of a dramatic interaction. He looks briefly towards us, calculating that these tall foreigners will not want to get involved. We in turn look behind us to see only one old man fifty yards behind us. The stream of motorcycles drive past us – riders and passengers beep each other but are unperturbed by otherworld events. There is no room for cowards to sidestep into the road. We can slow but each step brings us closer.
Hesitantly he grabs her arm. She shouts in protest. They seem to freeze, but only the child is looking at us, two impassive eyes framed by a thick balaclava. A slow ten seconds and then she straightens her back and shouts in his face. He begins to pull her arm.
We are obliged to act. We shout as we enter that chasm that lies between languages, cultures and genders. He ignores us but he does let her go. He stands his ground though, expecting us to move on past his peripheral vision. We do pass him but choose to sit on the parapet just feet away. Each of the four of us are now committed to an unfamiliar dance while they two wheeled multitude passes impervious.
The woman now sinks to a defensive crouch, back against the wall. The child is dumped on the pavement. This does not surprise him. He sits still and looks slowly about him. The young man is baffled. He looks back towards the old man who cannot now avoid the drama. On his arrival the young woman scoops up her boy and tries to use the old man as a shield. There is a quick maypole dance, with the old man as the confused post round which the one time lovers dodge, until she takes to her heels on down the pavement. The young man dodges his elder and catches up with her easily.
Now she squares up to him, spitting fury in his face as we scramble off the wall. He clenches his right fist, but while he shouts his movements are hesitant. At last he reaches out to catch her arm again and tries to pull her back in the direction of his now distant bike.
We are shouting for him to stop. Annie begins gesticulating to the passing riders, calling for them to stop. She adds to the spectacle; a red faced foreigner shouting from the pavement nearly causes three collisions as some riders do slow.
As if from some pedestrian substitutes’ bench a second old man has replaced the first and joins the dance. He is wiry and his black leather jacket promises some effective action. He won’t be a maypole but acts as a wedge forcing the couple apart, before trying to reason with the young man. But sulkily the young man will not release the woman’s wrist. The child finds himself sitting on the pavement, a tight wrapped bundle of indifference.
At last a bike actually stops in the road and a woman whose mouth is covered by an orange mask dismounts to offer some distant support. Annie is now shouting Police and miming a mobile phone. So now there six of us on the stage while the audience sweep by unmoved.
There is more pulling and shoving – the old man cannot be dislodged. The young man will neither give up nor escalate the violence. The young woman is no less defiant. As the least significant participants we are left to wonder whether Police has the internationally accepted meaning we assume it has.
The old man is certainly determined. Vietnam must retain some face in front of these foreigners who have inconveniently escaped from a bus or hotel, With his right hand, arm and shoulder the old man is struggling to detach the young man while with his left hand he’s been rummaging in his pocket. Still wedged between the circling couple he manages to fish out a wallet, flips it open and thrusts some identification under the young man’s nose.
This distracts the young man sufficiently for him to release the girl who once again scoops up the imperturbable child so she can fly down the pavement and this time dive into the slowing river of bikes. Brakes screech and horns hoot. Two back seats are on offer to her. She rejects one and jumps up behind a rider with a scornful moustache. We just have time to pick up the child’s fallen shoe and return it to her before she disappears.
When we look back, the young man has already disappeared, probably already on his bike in hot pursuit. The old man in the leather jacket prefers to risk the traffic and cross to the opposite pavement. Only the woman in the orange mask gives us a wave as she passes by.
The larger story is unknowable.