Michelle Robin La - Non-Fiction

Crossing the Street in Saigon

by Michelle Robin La

The first step takes courage. Mopeds and motorcycles swarm in front of us, a blur of petroleum fumes, honks and beeps. The light turns red, but no one stops. The streets pour together in a snarl. Ahead, my husband holds onto our son and older daughter—motorcyclists gush around them like rocks in a river. Trucks and cars surge past. There’s a short gap near me. I step off the curb holding my younger daughter’s hand. 

Instinct says, "Run." But I've been told to walk slowly, let the vehicles flow around me.  My husband and other children disappear behind a truck. If you move slowly, drivers will avoid you. Run and they won’t be able predict your path. We take another step. The traffic parts around us. 

Sometimes drivers miscalculate. On our trip, we've seen accidents. A streak of red on the pavement. A man under a truck, head crushed. A victim’s body wrapped in a straw mat on the side of the road, incense and candles besides it. 

We're halfway across now—it’s just as much work to go back. My husband and other children are safely on the other side. I plod slowly, numbly with my daughter's hand in mine.  Motorists rumble by. One quick step onto the curb. I look back at the moving mass. Later, we'll have to cross back.