Monday, August 24, 2009

Different Eyes

It had been very different seven years earlier, on their honeymoon. There had been no long mirror, no fine art hung on the walls, and the floor had been scuffed and dusty. Now the wooden floor was stained and polished. Even the rough timbers of the ceiling joists were hidden by broad, over-lapping streamers of crimson fabric that fanned out from the curtains framing the windows over-looking the lake, gathering to a beaded hollow in the centre of the ceiling, from which hung a tear-drop of dazzling crystals.

Marcel discretely waved a fingertip at the latest patron to enter the restaurant. "What about him?" he said. Engaged in conversation with the host, the old man who had just arrived was Caucasian, tall, straight backed, with intense eyes and a cropped haircut. Behind him, was a woman of comparable age, both hands clasped to her shoulder purse, her eyes flitted around the room, hardly daring to alight on any of the diners for more than an instant.

Inès cocked her head for just a moment as she thought. "Leftover from the military. He has a wife here, Cambodia, and Thailand too, but he's never forgotten his high-school sweetheart. It breaks his heart, but he could never go back to the U.S.A." She made a subtle motion with her head towards the old man's companion. "So, her?"

Marcel grinned. "His brother," he said. "They have a lot of catching up to do tonight."

Inès laughed, attracting bemused glances from some of the nearer tables.

"Him?" Marcel motioned with a nod.

Inès, eyes narrowed, studied the room but shook her head, unable to see who Marcel meant.

"Him!" Marcel reiterated. "The couple, right there, taré."

"Oh," Inès said. "He's on holiday but he can't stop thinking about his job. His career. Acts so very alpha-male, but impotent." She cocked the little finger of her left hand. "Has a limp noodle. Her, the one with him?"

Marcel chuckled. "Having an affair with his best friend."

Inès joined his laughter. She gently rapped a knuckle on the table to get his attention. "Those two. Locals? The one on the left with the hair."

The two men were engaged in a vigorous discussion, though it was hard to tell if they were excited, angry, or some combination of the two.

"Big Vietnamese television star. The housewives all adore him and want their husbands to be just like him. He comes here with his young male friends because it's so very discrete. And because it takes an Austrian chef to make the best ca kho. His friend?"

"The cousin of the latest young friend," she said. "He's telling your star that if he doesn't leave his cousin alone then he will kill him. And he would like an autograph for his mother."

They were quiet for a while. Marcel toyed with his bowl of pho bo, chasing strips of beef with his chopsticks but his appetite had gone. "What about the host?" he said. "He was here the first time, wasn't he?"

"His hair was grey then, and he called himself Giang, not John. Perhaps he's the owner. The owner's father?" She shrugged.

"But what's his story?" Marcel asked. "What's he thinking?"

"That's easy," Inès said. "He's been watching you. He's wondering why you looked so sad when you were staring at my reflection in that mirror."

After a little while she gathered up her things and left. Some time later, he followed her.

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