CaBloWriMo: Two feet in front of me


I could not see more than two feet in front of me, which was hardly any great loss. The action was all right here, hot metal hissing angrily at spattering rain, the dull tang of sodden diesel fuel pressing about the sinuses and clutching at lungs, the irate and incessant blaring of horns.

To go forward is to live. To stand still is to die. Time is money, and you are in my way.

To my right is the yawning gutter, last resting place of the careless, the overly cautious, and those too poor for a knock-off diesel-powered knock-off Chinese Honda. To my left is the roaring knock-off diesel elite of the new Viet Nam, bearing livestock, live bees, gas cylinders and family members lashed lazily to rusting back racks, a perpetual motion comedy disaster perpetually waiting to happen.

In the middle is me. I ride a bicycle, but am conspicuously too white to be poor. If I am not poor, it follows that I must be crazy. All Tay are crazy. You should see the prices we will pay for vegetables. Clearly wrong in the head. I am not insane enough to ride without a helmet, however. I value my head over my hairstyle.

I do not want to meet my end in the gutter, yet with every breath I feel diesel knife through my face mask and facial membranes, subtracting days from my life span, every second in this toxic embrace costing me minutes out of my time at my destination: that sweet new cafe with the beautiful bittersweet ca phe sua da and the roof terrace with the breathable air, and the quiet.

I jink left through the tiniest of gaps and surge forward, into the the boiling bloodstream of the city. Nothing keeps this Tay from her ca phe; not even you, Ha Noi.



CaBloWriMo: Still and cold and clear


Everything was still and cold and clear. I let my breath out slowly, feeling the warmth around my teeth and lips, the catch in my lungs, unaccustomed to such stillness. When it seemed there was no more breath to breathe, I forced the last traces out through my nose. All gone.

Before my eyes, moisture shivered, shimmered, and evaporated, then that too was gone. Time to go.

Four bags were waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs. One by one I had manhandled them down the narrow, twisting steps, stumbling over doormats and scuffing whitewash, smearing myself and mine with tenement warpaint. If they hadn’t disappeared, it was because there wasn’t much worth taking. Everybody round here knew that.

First up was the blue army surplus rucksack with its creaky metal tube frame and catch fasteners held on with yellowing Sellotape. From an era long before ergonomic design was invented, it cut into my ribs when overfilled; if I hoisted it up off my shoulders every minute or so, I could take on just enough oxygen to keep going.

That went on first, and diagonally over that a smaller rucksack with some money, a depleted and insistently bleating phone, and a notebook – the kind made of paper – with maps and addresses and numbers and the like, kept in front of my face and so within easy reach for me and less easy reach for sharp-eyed opportunists.

That left one hand each for the purple “Calvin Kien” wheely suitcase that had lost three of its four wheels and both its zips, and the leather suitcase I’d been given when I first left home, which was a piece of family history, and as such should have been in a museum dedicated to the inconvenience and discomfort of a bye-gone age.

All it took to set myself in motion was to gently shift the combined weight forwards, and gravity would do the rest. And remember to breathe, I thought, just remember how to breathe.

(By Andrew Kudrin from Novosibirsk, Russia, via Wikimedia Commons)

(By Andrew Kudrin from Novosibirsk, Russia, via Wikimedia Commons)

CaBloWriMo: A shadow of a man


In the distance I see a man. He’s tall and thin, and casts a shadow. As the hours pass, his shadow moves, but he stays quite still. He’s been there since yesterday.

I am allowed three lampposts in either direction of my front door. That’s just past Frank and Ellen, who give me biscuits and don’t know who Thomas the Tank Engine is.

On the other side, there’s the wild-haired woman who’s let her garden go all tangled, the brambles spilling over into our garden like grasping fingers. Sometimes they snatch our toys.

Just past her garden, he’s still standing there, watching. He’s waiting for children to put into a black car, luring them with poisoned sweets then driving them away. That’s what strangers do; a policeman came to school to tell us. He didn’t say anything about not moving, but I am canny to these wiles. I wheel my tricycle beyond his reach and head for safety.

Many days later, I realised that my lurking stranger was, in fact, a post in next-but-one’s front yard.

Late afternoon shadows

(By Jon ‘ShakataGaNai’ Davis, via Wikimedia Commons)

CaBloWriMo: My Real Name


My real name is Caroline, tongue coiling back in the mouth as the growl flows around it, r, not sleeping but poised to leap at the palate, llll.

But it’s not important. My name has travelled. Through broad Celtic vowels and the burr of the rolling rrr – Caralyn. That’s not my name, but I have answered to it.

Then there were those who spoke through the nose, their lascivious pronunciation as close to romance as my Paris got. Carohleen. Not my name, but I have answered to it.

Consonants were harder behind the iron curtain, and as warm as its winter. There’s something of the tsarina about Tsarolina; although not my name, I have answered to it.

My mother once told me that she chose a name nobody could make a nickname out of. Mother, forgive me. I am far from home and unpronounceable. Please, everyone, call me Kyaro.

(by DimiTalen, via Wikimedia Commons)