Walking Backwards Through Traffic

Nicole J. Levin

Vans, motorbikes, and unusually large rats sped through the four-lane highway in Halong Bay. My mom paused at the sidewalk and looked both ways, then began to cross almost immediately. I guess the show of caution was just a formality.

At first I thought it was some sort of test to see if my ears had been working for the first 12 years of my life. If they had, I would know the usual mantras: Always cross the street at the crosswalk. Don’t walk straight into traffic. The Little Mermaid is fiction.

But my mom didn’t turn around and congratulate me with a gold star for my street crossing vigilance. She kept going. She walked steadily into the traffic, apparently oblivious to the honking horns and careening two-ton vehicles.

So this is how my mom is going to die. Hit by a car in Vietnam.

I looked at her destination, a two-star hotel across the street. Its rundown suites and functioning toilets hardly seemed worth the loss of a parent—although there was free Wi-Fi.

I wonder if my new mom will be a good cook.

I looked at the rest of my family to see if they had any idea what was going on, or who my new mother would be. While my brother seemed to favor someone who could make a meatloaf, on the whole everyone just looked confused.

“What is she doing?” my dad asked.

What she was not doing (to everyone’s surprise) was getting hit by a vehicle. Each step brought her closer to successfully crossing the street without a single injury or vermin transmitted disease.

At first I thought my mom was secretly some sort of gamer and was taking this opportunity to demonstrate her uncanny prowess at Frogger, but then I realized that she wasn’t doing anything at all. This was reverse Frogger. Reggorf: the less challenging and possibly made-up Vietnamese version of the classic arcade game where the cars and bikes dodge the people.

Not wanting to miss out on a building with actual plumbing or to be left alone in this alternate universe where everything I learned as a child was backwards, I decided to follow my mother across the road. Levin family. Reggorf champions in the making.

I looked left and then right, then left again, just in case I also had directions wrong. When there was a lull in traffic, I bolted. Still fearing for my life with what measure of self preservation I had, I spastically dodged nonexistent cars and imagined traffic. I made it to the other side of the road like a badly delivered chicken joke.

“What were you thinking mom?” I panted, mopping the sweat off my brow and looking upwards in case I had missed any falling pianos or blimps.

“That’s how they cross the road in Vietnam,” she replied. “I read it in the travel guide.”

Now she tells me. I should really start reading those books.

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