My breath froze as another bead of sweat rolled down my back.
A deafening noise pierced the suffocating humidity and engulfed my senses. I gasped for air through a bone dry mouth. Then I saw it.
The waitress emerged from the cafe with a steely, determined expression fixed across her face. In her apron, beside her pen and notebook, was a pistol.
I froze. Everyone froze, entranced by the sight of the pistol and the ensuing confrontation we were powerless to stop. Patrons deftly lowered their cutlery with extreme care so as not to attract the attention of the waitress, and held their breath lest they become her next victim.
She strode defiantly toward her target with the practiced assurance of a seasoned veteran, and neared the pistol with her right hand, never for a moment removing her gaze from her intended victim.
Bead after bead of sweat rolled down my back as my heart beat quickened and opened every pore of my skin. I dare not speak, I dare not breathe, and wished I could somehow evaporate into the soupy evening.
Why had I chosen this cafe? Why had I not sought the safety and air conditioned comfort of an indoor eatery where the scene I am now witnessing are unheard of? Was it the view, the cuisine, the cool breeze skipping across the river?
Except the breeze had disappeared, as if in a vacuum, as if it too feared the wrath of the waitress with the pistol. The incessant hum emanating from the loud speakers served to bless what could be my final meal.
Brunei not a violent country. This was not a violent city. Yet this scene was not uncommon. Not unheard of. I should have known better. I admonished myself for inviting this danger into my life, a life which could at any moment be truncated.
I admonished myself again. I knew the target was defenceless. I knew the waitress, with her pistol enjoyed a grossly unfair advantage over her tiny victim. Yet I felt no sympathy for the creature. I felt no compulsion to defend it. I wished it gone. Now, and forever, never to return to this place. I cared not for its welfare.
Extracting the water pistol from her holster, she fired upon a stray cat for the umpteenth time that day before clearing away the remains of a family’s meal. The desperate mangy cat scurried for cover and the waitress holstered her weapon for the next battle.
The waitress then quietly carried the assorted cutlery and crockery back into the kitchen.
Image: Van Thanh