Tonic

There was a dive bar named Birdy in Binh Thanh District, near Sai Gon bridge. It was opened a few months ago by a Japanese guy who collected knickknacks and mixed cocktails for a living. I liked the bar on Facebook, but he knew the owner personally.

We went straight from the coffee shop to the bar with a single helmet between us. We decided that if any police officer caught us, I would speak Japanese and he Italian. And just to play it safe, I played tourist too, by clutching the handles of his bike seat as hard as I could and feigning slight panic.

We made it to the bar with our bike, bodies, and wallets intact.

“Such a tiny place” was my first thought. The counter was long enough for four high chairs on one side and another two on the other. Counter surface was made from one huge wood plank of unknown tree name that later he told me was one of the many knickknacks collected by the bar owner. A small TV screen on the far left, a billboard menu thing on the far right. Bathroom was separated by a sliding door. The bartender, a young guy named Jeff who spoke confident English, asked us not to turn off the bathroom light.

“It gets scary,” was all the bartender would say with an awkward grin.

I picked gin and tonic. Nobody knew at the time (and even until now) but that drink was the only thing I recognized from the rather extensive menu for a dive bar (thanks, 159 Bui Vien). He chose vodka and tonic.

Then we started talking.

They said everybody exposed themselves getting drunk, and we were certainly no exception. He shone like a beacon – his smile, his eyes, his tone, his hands. As reserved as I tended to be at times, I could not help but feel awed by his aura. Yes, aura, however feminine that word may sound. He was the embodiment of attractiveness at that moment.

‘Why are all the good ones married,’ I thought.

He told me an alcohol-induced adventure in which he helped a bar owner throw out some drunkard, who, at the end, just wanted to take back his forgotten wallet but was not able to articulate his action. And then a story about him starting out in Vietnam nine years ago. I found it hard at first to believe that he has been here for nine years, because, and I would never say this out loud, he still looked the part of an expat. Well he was an expat, albeit a highly achieved one, who owned a fresh cheese mini factory and a photo studio. He could drive a bike better than most people I have hitched a ride with, he knew streets I never even thought of stepping into, he was particularly opinionated on certain Vietnamese factors of life that an expat would never paid half a sliver of attention to.

(if a proper writer reads the last sentence I just wrote I will definitely get slapped)

I decided, at that moment, I will let this Italian guy into my life.

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