Today the noise of the traffic- the constant barrage of honking motorbikes, the slap of meat on small grills, the smells that bungle against each other as they reach sticky fingers toward my nose, and the stares that bump and compete as they look for a clear way into why I am here- they get to me.
I have never seen a live scorpion but I saw a dead one smooshed into the pavement on my way to class this morning. It was bigger than I imagined. I have a mounted scorpion on the bookshelves in my room back home. It was strange looking at the scorpion without its curves, I inspected its flattened tight body without reserve- its claws a sad imprint on the dirty street. It was beautiful in a way, just like the trash that litters the tree wells, sidewalks, and alleys here. If you look at it instead of turning your pretty little head away, you see things. Like a stuffed rag doll with handprints around its tummy. A broken rice cooker. A pair of sandals with a crack in the heel. A discarded bowl of Pho with green onions stuck to the side. The trash tells stories, we throw our trash away back home. Here they throw trash out to the sidewalk like a public purge.
On my way home from school a frog with his hands and feet tied manages to hop out of a bucket. He is on display with live fish flicking water and eels that look like snakes. Little crabs climb on top of each other in the heat. The woman wearing the nón lá picks it up and returns it to her bucket of now land animals that once knew water. My neighbor points to the large black fish that has its own pink bucket and the woman picks it up and slaps off its head. She throws parts of its skeleton into the little trashcan by her feet with other now land animal bones and guts. This time I cannot tell if it is pretty or not but I think it’s pretty in a different language. A language I do not know.
There is a refuge I have made in the quiet coffee shop down the street from my homestay. Here I trap the traffic into my empty coffee mug. I flip it upside down and the noises and smells threaten to clamber out and yell louder at my sensitive ears. The scorpion and the frog with his legs tied sit next to me at the bar that faces the street. The motorbikes are muted through the glass and I breathe a sigh of relief. I can see the frog relax too. I order another coffee but please, please this time no more sugar and an order of cut this string off his poor legs. There is nothing I can do for the flattened scorpion but put it on display in the café window. It seems to be breathing though so I decide to tie its claws together with the cut string. It shrugs and I get my coffee, with it another sigh of relief that tops all sighs.