Friday, August 01, 2003

The Bao Ve and I set sail

Today after three years of a running pitched battle with the bao ve xe may (parking attendant), at my favourite bun cha restaurant, we finally buried the hatchet.

There is a relief that comes with the end of any war, there is a sadness too. I'll miss the sadistic pleasure of it all. There is fear also, a fear that now I am stepping into a new era yet to be furnished, yet to be thought of.

After three long hard years of subterfuge, deceit and spite comes a ship a'sailing across a calm sea that once swelled with wrath and fury. That ship is friendship. It is a beautiful, if unexpected sight. As if a 16th century Spanish buccaneer strolled into your local cafe and ordered eggs benedict and a rum-cokie-cola.

These long years started from the smallest of sparks. A long hot day had had the better of me. As I arrived to park my bike I saw him, sitting atop of a bike, chewing a toothpick, completely ignoring me. He grumbled, without looking me in the eye, to move the bike behind the tree where a mother is holding her child to pee in the gutter.

After leaving the bike there, I strolled back, a little hot, a little bit bothered, when suddenly I was blinded by a flash of light as a stately bike arrived with two young hip, rich ladies.

The two girls wearing tight pants and enormous sunglasses, slipped off the bike on to their high heels, the bao ve had already leaped into action and without a glance or an acknowledgement from the girls, he whisked it away. The two girls click-clacked inside to take the last two seats remaining.

I now had to wait or leave. The bao ve delicately parked the bike, preciously, pride of place in front of the restaurant, so one and all could admire it as they ate. Then he leapt back on top of his bike and got back to chewing his toothpick while I stood sweating on the street.

The next time I arrived I came with one single purpose: Revenge. I arrived and put my not-so- trusty steed up on its centre stand and bee lined to grab a seat, leaving the bike in place that mant he had to park it for me. I glanced to see the expression on his face as he tried to move my ugly East German 2-stroke. He was disgusted. I enjoyed my lunch. Touche buddy.

The next time I arrived, though, he wasn't there. The ladies all smiled from behind the smoking meat and told me to park the bike behind the tree where the rubbish is stacked during the course of the day.

As I strolled back into the restaurant the bao ve stepped out from behind the bathroom door smiling like a smug villain. He had heard me coming and hid. Sneaky-sneaky.

Three years of jousting followed. Three years of bitterness. I would leave the bike in the middle of the road and block the traffic. He never covered my seat in summer so I burnt my arse. I left the bike in front of the mad lady who sells che next door and protects her space like a wild hyena so he would get a bollicking. He 'accidentally' broke my kick stand and my clutch. I told him straight to his face he was a good for nothing. He told me right behind my back that I was a tay ba lo (backpacker). If I could have parked it upside down with the front wheel locked, I would have, just to see him drag it, just to see him sweat, just to see him work. If I burst into a ball of fire he wouldn't have pissed on me to put it out, but would have lit a cigarette off the flames. We were foes. Adversaries. Sworn to thwart and torment till death do us part.

Or so I thought. As then, out of the blue, a truce was called, just today, when I pulled out and drove away from the restaurant he emerged from behind the tree where the country bumpkins lean their bicycles and the buckets of fat sit, and where he had been hiding from work.

He smiled as I approached him. What ruse was this? He stepped out and as I passed him he pretended to jump out to make me swerve, crash or fall off, and that, as anyone in this city knows, was his way of saying he likes me. As I didn't flinch, immune to such antics, he patted me on the back with respect and shouted "Smelly bike!" and we laughed like old friends.

So now the war is over. Oh, my nemesis, my Kato, my Moriarty, no more! Together we shall set sail upon the unknown seas of peace and tranquility and learn to fault each other less, and bear the fruits of our friendship, till death, or whenever I leave this country, or you get the sack, do us part.


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