I have seen this lady before, in fact every time I’ve eaten at the tiny Pizza Roma on the corner of Cach Mang Thang Tam and Nguyen Thi Dieu Sts she has appeared, bobbing around from table to table, barely seen as she navigates her way to each set of diners offering her fist full of lottery tickets. I had all but forgotten her, after all she is just one more human being in the vast tide of humanity that battles for existence on the streets of Sai Gon.
But last night I looked up from my table on the pavement, and there she was right in front of me, in her regulation wheeled vehicle for people with disabilities. Powered by the forward and reverse thrust of the steering wheel, these vehicles require a strong set of arms, and for this lady that is not a problem.
Our eyes meet and a huge smile breaks out on her face. I remember her, but could she possibly recognise me, or does she smile like this at all prospective customers? She uses her arms to swing her body around between the vehicle frame and the steering wheel and puts one plastic sandal strategically in place on the floor. Her tiny legs dangle uselessly beneath her body and I wonder to myself, how can her body go from normality to nothingness so quickly just where her thighs should be?
She expertly manoeuvres herself around and, using the plastic sandal on one hand, shuffles herself through the gutter and the filth and grime of the pavement and comes to my table, her head just above the level of my knees. I already have the money in my hand and buy 4 tickets and we smile at each other.
She moves on, shuffling around the floor between tables and wait staff trying to sell a few more tickets to help eke out her living. Her rounds finished she comes past me and once again, I am treated to that beautiful smile and have to look away as she manoeuvres back in to her seat. We exchange words and smiles as she heads on up Nguyen Thi Dieu St, but shortly she is back, heading out into the busy traffic on Cach Mang Thang Tam. A quick shake of her head indicates to me that there were slim prospects up that way, I shrug and indicate ‘better luck next time’.
We smile at each other.