I was lingering at the Banana Mango in Hue, Vietnam, having just gobbled down the last meat spring roll that the little waitress—no older than 10 years old—had brought me. As sweat rolled off my forehead—the consequence of both the scorching, muggy evening weather and my indolence in dabbing everything with chili sauce—I was in no rush to leave, content to just sip my cup of piping hot Vietnamese tea. That is, until another young girl came over, stood erect by the table, and muttered something like “cheque.”
“How much?” I inquired. With her beady little eyes, she looked at me with seeming indifference, her body motionless and mouth shut like a bank vault.
“How much?” I asked again. This time the girl replied something in Vietnamese to my discombobulated incomprehension, and I had to concede this was going nowhere. I started to draw numbers with my fingers on the table, hoping she would do the same, but instead, she cupped together her hands and lowered them in front of me, waiting for me to pay up.
I did some quick math. The stir-fried noodles with vegetables I had were 15,000 dong, and the spring rolls were either 15,000 or 20,000, depending on whether the restaurant was going to charge me extra for substituting meat rolls for the out-of-supply vegetarian ones I initially ordered. The Vietnamese tea was 4,000 dong, making the grand total either 34,000 or 39,000. I took out my money clip, and handed the girl 54,000 dong. She could bring me back whatever change the restaurant thought was appropriate, and we’d call it even. She took the money and walked back towards an Australian group of customers enjoying their meal on the patio as I waited.
None of this would have rang an alarm in my head had the girl not started running the instant she was five feet beyond the Australian table. Running, that is, until she hopped onto the back of a bicycle, powered by what was probably her older sister! And down the street they went…
Apparently, I had been duped!
At that instant, I sprung out of my chair and bolted past the Aussies. No ten-year-old and her accomplice was going to cajole me and get away with it, I said to myself, even if they were on a two-wheeled vehicle and I traversing in mere street shoes. I broke into stride, sprinted past a number of moving motorbikes, and within a dozen seconds, had already caught up to the pair. The little girl, sensing that they had already lost, then held out the money in her left hand as they continued to roll down the road. I grabbed the cash and let them go. They were just young girls, after all. Had they been some punk men or teenage boys, they might have received a sterner response…
As I reentered the Banana Mango the Aussies were offering their congratulations. “Well done,” said one of them. Another observed, “That was some operation they had over there. You were moving!”
“Yes,” I concurred with a grin on my face as I ambled over to the real server girl and handed her the cash.
There’s nothing like a good chase. And this is one of the reasons I run, why I work on my speed and endurance and want to sprint well. I know that every so often, there’s a chance of encountering some shadier segment of society where my legs will come in useful. And if it ever comes down to a horserace between them and me, those delinquents better had been a track star in high school or college, because otherwise they are going to lose. No bad guy, I resolved, is ever going to outrun me.