He clambered up into the open back taxi, and the rest of us glanced around behind him. Was he meant to be coming along with us off this dusty street in Vientiane? Where was his mother? A lean man with dark thinning hair settled down in the corner, and quietly watched the young boy.
The boy, with a Toy Story cowboy smiling from his chest, brimmed with energy as he launched himself up to sit on our heavy bags. He threw his head back in fits of giggles into the traffic, and where the overly cautious backpackers reached out to to save him, his father smiled and allowed him to swing out. We tickled him, and he pretended to sleep before leaping up at us like a rocket.
He did not tire until we reached the bus that would take us from Laos all the way to Vietnam. We all bought some rice snacks from a stall owner, not knowing when the next stop would be. As the bags were thrown into the underbelly of the coach, the little boy slowed down as if he needed rewinding. Once the driver opened the door, the father carried his sleeping bundle and silently placed him down. The tourists were marched to the back of the bus, where three rows of five cramped seats across were waiting for us.
The journey was one of the worst I’d ever experienced (even a cracked windscreen on a 14 hour bus in Peru that threatened to shatter beat this). At the first stop a mere seven hours in, all the passengers couldn’t get off quick enough. Stretching our sore limbs and queuing up for homemade noodle dishes, I spotted our little friend. He had found some plastic rocking horses and his father looked torn between his son and the dinner line. I clumsily ran across in my genie pants and jumped on the next horse, rocking wildly. The boy laughed, baring all his tiny teeth in the way only children do.
The pair departed from the bus as we slept, long before we reached northern Hanoi. As is often the case with travelling companions, we did not have a chance to say goodbye, but they made the journey a thousand times more bearable. It was difficult to stay grouchy when his little face kept poking out towards the back of the bus, and his finger pointed at me in front of his bemused grin.