We arrive in Mui Ne along with the rain that followed us the entire way, slithering and snaking alongside the coastal road. Every hour found us pulling off to meet Jessie on the shoulder, her face red and fuming with frustration, her bike red and wheezing with exhaustion. "Fuck!" she says after she's screwed on the gas cap and strapped back on her bags. "Shit!" I begin laughing. I know what she's done. She's locked her keys under the seat.
Along with Generous' bike-- which we've found can be started with any Honda key-- Jessie's seat lifts easily to fit a hand underneath. This proves convenient as we resolve the problem, but Generous is still furious about his discovery-- not only because any Honda key will open his bike, but specifically because Mekong Max's will. Seeing the scheming behind Mekong's eyes and the way the cheaky bastard snickers as he considers the possibilities, I understand why.
Jessie stacks her bags back on the seat and straps down the bungees while Generous makes a new discovery. "Fuck!" he says: his keys have fallen out of the ignition. Apparently, once started his bike can continue working without any key at all. Apparently, they fell out a few meters back when he had to re-start the bike after it puttered out going up a hill.
We laugh and resolve all the problems and my headlight guides me the rest of the way to Mui Ne, affording me a good .3 seconds notice before slamming me violently into potholes. Once at our destination, we meet our friend Ewan at his guest house and sleep hard to the sound of crashing waves against a cement coast. In the morning, Jessie awakes Mekong and Generous abruptly: "A cat was killed on the road and it was convulsing and there was blood everywhere. It was so sad. Okay, get up, ya'll. We're leaving. This place is too expensive."
"Hurry up," she says to me as she stuffs clothes into her bag. They said if we're out a minute passed 11:30, they'll charge us for the day."
I rush to gather my things and decide to spite their inhospitality I'll steal the comb in the bathroom. Pete-- being my only witness—conspires. "Get the bob roll too."
Twenty minutes later I'm staring at the receptionist and insisting there was never a comb in the bathroom. Mekong comes to my defense, eager for argument; angry himself over the principle of having to pay for hot water that didn't work and a presumed complimentary drink.
"Who would steal a fucking comb?!" he argues, extending his arms straight and his fingers wide in indignation. Gesturing to me, haggard and barely awake, his bottom lip protrudes in bewilderment, "Does it look like anyone's brushed their hair?"
I walk back to my bike and quietly tell him in fact, I've stolen the comb. Since I'm not going to pay $1 to replace it I open my bag and feign surprise at its discovery while casually covering the stolen toilet paper. "My bad,” I say. “I guess I accidentally packed it." The receptionist doesn’t feign surprise.
We move down the street to a place of similar quality that fits our budget. The clouds clutch at the coast and a storm quivers and shakes as drops meet the ground. Mekong and I sit it out under a tin roof and we both read as I sip coffee. Mekong drinks too much tea and vibrates as he tells us he can't join us for dinner.
"I ock-shully feel ill!"
I get home with a wine bottle and ask our new friend Nyet if he can open it for me. As he pushes it in with the dull end of a wrench from his repair shop he says, "Mok" and I twist my face to show that I don't understand. "Mok. You friend Mok."
Mekong giddily walks up wide eyed and jubilant and we learn that once he left us-- too sick to eat-- he drank rice wine mixed with banana wine and ate with Nyet and his family. "Ah! And the family made fish. They insisted I eat it. Oh, it was luh-vely! You should have tried some!"
Along with Nyet, we all stay up drinking and listening to music. Nyet tries to teach me to count to five and Mekong-- to the tune of "Na-ny Na-ny boo boo"—sings to Generous: "Oh'm gonna steal ya bi-ike. Oh'm gonna steal ya bi-ike." Night becomes morning like late becomes early and everyone goes to bed, and the freedom feeling of travel continues: the stuggle finds its humor.
Before sleep, I lay back and glimpse at the sky in time to catch a shooting star. And I wish for nothing.