There was a dog on the roof. That’s not a metaphor, cliché, or long-reaching attempt at symbolism. It is a sentence designed to be taken literally; it describes real life. There was a dog, standing on the roof.
He (I can say definitively say he because Vietnamese dogs are not often spayed or neutered; hence, there are a lot of them, and their gender is far more apparent than the sexless canines I am used to) was doing what dogs do best – Being A Dog. He was doing on the roof what he would likely be doing on the ground, barking at the chaotic traffic, chasing his tail, and dashing perilously close to the ubiquitously tangled mess that is Ho Chi Minh City power lines. Being a dog, of course, meant he was having a great time doing it.
I would have kept walking were it not for the motorbike taxi driver. It being the hottest part of the day, there was a group of them sitting under an umbrella across the street from the dog, sipping cold, sweet drinks, watching the traffic go by, and idly chatting. One of the younger – possibly the youngest – drivers saw the dog, and with it an opportunity to make the beastly hot afternoon go by faster.
He ambled across the road and removed his shoe, looked at the dog, and tossed it in the air. The shoe, not the dog.
The dog was hooked. The moment he laid eyes on the flying shoe, it became more than an object of desire. He didn’t just want it – he had to have it. I could tell how deep this flowed, because it stopped his frenetic playing. Instead, he dropped his front paws down, rested his face on them, and looked at the shoe with an intensity and concentration I never thought his species capable of. That shoe would be his.
The next step was so well-thought-out that I suspected that it was not new. Now that he had the dog’s attention, the driver threw the shoe so that it hit under the overhanging section of roof. Being made of corrugated iron, a resounding clatter ensued, and the dog, convinced that the shoe had landed on top of the lip rather than smack the bottom of it, dashed over, sniffed, and, confused, slinked back to his shady spot. Then the whole process repeated itself. Dogs, while loyal and fun-loving, are not known for their intelligence. Anyone who has pretended to throw a ball for one knows this; it’s another great game that fools them every time.
Intrigued, I took a seat on the stoop next to the drivers. I expected them to be as amused as I, but when I glanced over at them, one was rolling his eyes and the other was pointing at his head. A third looked at me, pointed across the road to their friend, and told me something in Vietnamese while also rolling his eyes. Again, further evidence that this game was not new.
Then something happened that made the drivers, passersby, and indeed every shopclerk and security guard on the section of street look up and roar with laughter. He had miscalculated a throw, arcing it slightly more than he intended to, and the dog had achieved what he had been waiting for so patiently: he caught it.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a happier dog. Dogs are usually fickle animals, trying their damndest for a ball or toy, only to lose interest the second they get it. Not this one. He’d wanted the shoe for ages and now his faith and perseverance had paid off. He did a victory dance, grabbing it in hs jaws and running around in circles. He gnawed on it for awhile. He excitedly leaped into his little house to see what it tasted like in there, then leaped out and barked as if to tell the crowd “don’t worry, it’s just as good!” Then, with a look of panic, realised he didn't have it anymore, so he bolted in, grabbed it, and jumped back out. Even for a dog, he was exuberant.
The taxi driver was not quite so exuberant. One shoe was now a dog’s chewtoy; the other was in his hand, but without its mate it was useless. First, he tried to bring the dog over by repeating the trick and throwing his remaining shoe at the overhanging lip, but he soon realized how embarrassing it would be if the dog were to get this shoe too. So after a few throws, he just held his shoe and yelled.
As if he were waiting for this, an elderly man opened the window of the apartment, and an increasingly heated exchange occurred, entirely in Vietnamese. Thanks to context, though, I imagine it went something like this.
“Your dog has my shoe!”
“I can see that.”
“Can I come up and get it?”
“No. You torment my dog with that shoe every day. Now he is tormenting you.”
“I can’t drive with only one shoe!”
“You should have thought of that beforehand! I hope you burn your foot on exhaust fumes!”
And with a slam, and to the driver’s peers’ delight, the apartment dweller disappeared. One of them looked at me, grinned, pointed at his shoe, said something, and laughed.
Astonishingly, the man with the missing shoe was not done. He was going to have his shoe back, or die trying, it seemed. So his next move was to bang on the door of the ground-level shop, which was eventually opened by a sleepy-looking man (it was afternoon siesta time, after all). Again, the exchange that went from terse to heated; again, no luck for the driver.
And he walked back to his friends, looking cranky and forlorn, hobbling slightly with his single shoe. I took this as my cue to leave, and did so.
Language barriers are not always quite the impediment we imagine them to be. I was speaking English, and everyone else was speaking Vietnamese, a language which I can thus far only say “hello,” “thank you,” and “iced coffee.” But when the drivers and I shared a laugh at their friend's expense, no translation was necessary.
Probably more important, though, is this valuable lesson: throwing things at dogs is very similar to playing the stock market. Don’t do it with anything you can’t afford to lose.