Day #5: Hai
There was something about routines, no matter how peculiar, that comforted him. It had not occurred to Hai, until Marina pointed it out, how odd his day-to-day habits were. Or how unusual his ‘normal’ day was. Six o’clock in the morning was the magic hour when it both ended and started. Six o’clock was when his shift as night manager at Muong Thanh Hotel ended, and six o’clock was when his day as a “marketing man” at the bus terminal began. Someone had told him that the correct English word for co—which was what he really was—was “tout.”
He was out of Muong Thanh’s basement parking lot at exactly six, lighting his stick before the first stoplight and smoking all the way to the terminal just five kilometers away. The buses that brought tourists to Hue City from Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi never came on time, so Hai always had an iced ca phe den, his favorite black coffee, right before he started work. He’d been going to the same makeshift coffee shop for so long that he’d already ceased to notice the café’s sagging tarpaulin roof, the low, chipped plastic stools and the standard tiny glasses of iced tea that sometimes tasted like grassy water. The owner, Chi Nani, always came over to talk, always asking him if he managed to snag some tourists the day before, backpackers he’d cajole into booking dirt-cheap rooms at Phong Nha Hostel. But it was Marina who pointed out—again—how fortuitous that Hai worked for both a four-star hotel and a backpacker’s hostel on the same day.
Once the buses arrive, Hai would get lost in all the running, all the talking. Sometimes it would be a good day where he’d manage to persuade tourists into booking two, three or four rooms. It was a bonus if they were friendly, laughing easily at his jokes. Sometimes, the other touts were just too good and too fast, and he’d be left with none. In the early days, to book no one had felt like hell. Now, he’d learned to just get back on his motorbike, head home, and look forward to sleep.