“Do you know me?” he said, looking around as if to keep this secret intact, his lips permanently puckered as if expecting a kiss.
“I believe so, yes,” I replied.
“Good, good. It is nice to be known, wouldn’t you say?”
“I…do not believe I am known, sir. So, I would not know.”
“Ah, well, you should become known. It is quite invigorating.” He laughed, snorted, and sucked up more broth. I watched as the neighborhood boys, those riff-raff, watched his every move from afar, scattered along the place like delicate little creatures, entranced by him, fixated on his jowls as they wobbled with his ferocious eating gestures. He soon sat back in his chair, nestling in place as if it were some throne, and this café—his kingdom. “There is a certain degree of anonymity here, you know.”
I wasn’t sure if he meant this café or Saigon in general, but I did not ask. A boy soon approached, much older than the others, but still a boy, wearing only jean shorts, his skin dark and smooth, his face lighting up as if he had a real purpose here. He approached Garrison, who noticed him out of the corner of his eye, and waved him near. The boy whispered inaudibly as the man, their king, clicked his tongue while processing what he was being told. Once the boy had finished, Garrison produced a fistful of coin, handing it over. The boy smiled and left, taking most of the others with him.
Then, as if remembering I was there with him, privy to his idiosyncrasies, Garrison sat up at the table, forcing a smile through his thin lips. “Would you like to hear a secret?”
“I know the secrets of the universe,” he giggled. “Would you like to know them?”
“Sure,” I responded and watched as he sat back in his chair and folded his arms across his great sprawling belly. He waited a moment then proceeded to sing in his gravelly voice “The Ants Go Marching”, raising his fist during the chorus, spittle foaming at the sides of his mouth during the excitement. I watched and waited, and after he had finished, he wiped his mouth clean with a handkerchief plucked from his jacket.
“The secret,” he declared like a proud papa, “is there, buried in those verses.” He laughed and slapped the table, then stood and fixed his suit and pocketed the handkerchief. He tilted his hat toward me, then to the staff waiting behind the counter, and left the place, his musk trailing behind him. Outside, a rickshaw pulled up as if on cue, and Garrison stepped up, his great weight slugging the thing down. The driver began to peddle, and before Garrison disappeared from out of sight, he looked back inside the café, meeting my gaze, and smirked as if he already knew how everything would turn out. LS