|Illustration by Doã Dung
by Son Pham
She told me she was a prostitute. I used to think about her that way, all the time we had chatted on the Internet.
"I work as a prostitute. And you know what a prostitute's job is like. I am surfing on the Internet to look for customers and I met you. But you are not a customer. You're someone I've chosen just for a chat, you know. My job is so hazardous. Apart from 'receiving my customers', I have nothing to do. During my spare time, I feel so dull and fed up with life, while my friends are sitting in a coffee house, talking, playing cards and smoking…. But I don't like that! I like surfing the net to talk with other people to relieve my sadness, and I also try to look for customers…."
She led me step by step into her story. So naturally. So sweetly. And I wondered why I placed my confidence in her.
She and I got to know each other through Yahoo! Messenger
"Hi, are you having a good time?"
She found me one day on the net. Her username was a of bit shock: prostitute, age 22. She made me so curious about it. Was she a prostitute?
Everyone knows that the virtual world is never ending. You only select a name and jump into the chat room, and you can say everything there. I have always told myself not to go too far in the chat room.
"What? You haven't heard things like that?"
"Not yet! Your username is a bit strange, you know! I'm sure you use it to shock people. Is that true?"
"Yes, it's true. I work as prostitute. I'm 22 years old"
"Don't pull my leg any more, please!"
"Yes, I'm telling you the truth. I'm on the net to look for customers"
"I've always found customers this way, you see"
"Where are you now?"
"Do you believe me now? Will you have a fun together with me?"
"Oh, no. Just for asking if you tell me the truth. That's all."
"I live in Q… Do you know where Q is? But where are you now?"
It was quite a coincidence. I lived in Q. too and I was about to send her a message, but I stopped short and another place name cropped up in my mind.
"I live in D. (D, is 300 km away from Q.) "
"I know D."
"I used to live in Q. and have a lot of memories of it"
"I'm still to believe you. Can you describe something about Q. now?"
"Yes. Q. is quite small and peaceful. The road along the coast has an old bridge and a small strait with a very strange name: Strait Nin Tho (Breath-holding Strait) where there is a park that looks out onto the sea, over coconut trees and green grass…"
"How beautiful your description is! Or are you a writer? O.K. Forget it! I don't care about what you do. But how long have you lived in Q.?"
"Have you worked there?"
"No, I studied there, at University Q."
"I'm curious and I want to know your memories of Q. When were you there?"
"For quite a long time, the first few years of the last century…"
"(Giggling sound). It's only ten years. Were you happy there or not?"
"Both. Happiness and sadness!"
"But I like hearing sad stories"
"How strange that is!"
"Please, don't think that I am happy over other people's sadness. Only I want to find out if other people's sadness is worse than mine, that's it"
"Now, I'm with a customer. I'm sorry. I've got to go now! Please take a note of my nickname!"
"Do enjoy yourself!"
She gave me her nickname and I gave her mine at her request. Was she a prostitute? Was she going with a customer now, I wondered? I did not think it was true. I thought she was only kidding!
Her way of chatting with me was very interesting and decent but I was very doubtful about her. That was the reason why I wanted to see her again…
She always met me at about 10 o'clock in the morning with a smiley symbol. After a few minutes of talking at random, she said good-bye to me and left the Messenger. She always left before 10 o'clock. When I asked her about it, she explained: I get up late in the morning. After breakfast, I drop in the Internet shop and I chat with you for an hour. I felt elated and a sense of relief. I did not want to waste time with you.
"What did I do in the afternoon?" "I slept. If there was a customer, I was finished for the afternoon. I did not sleep at night. Whenever I have no customers, I try to take a short nap."
"How about your job? Am I so curious?"
"Why are you so silent? Oh, forget it! I don't care what you are thinking. Do you know Cross Road P. in Q.?"
"Yes, I do. It's a gateway to Q."
"Yes, it is. It's the zone where I work. There are a lot of lodging houses there."
I held my sighs. My fingers seemed to stiffen on the key board. P. Zone in Q. was an area used by "night prostitutes". It was quite a hot zone. A friend of mine asked me to go with him one day to write about it, but I postponed it.
So, she was really a prostitute!
But she was so strange. She was hiding herself between falseness and truth. Was she a prostitute or not? Inside me there were a lot of conflicting ideas about the girl who was so secret on the other side of the screen. Who was she?
I am a prostitute!
She answered me like that when I put the question to her: "Who are you?"
"But do you want me to tell you something about me?"
"Yes, I do, naturally"
"Have you heard somebody saying: 'Never listen to a prostitute'?"
"Oh, yes, I have!"
"But don't worry. You are not a customer; so what I am going to tell you has nothing to do with what I've told my customers"
She continued to tap on the keyboard gently.
"My parents are Governmental officers. We live with my grand-mother in a small house. If life had gone smoothly, my life would not have been like this. No, I don't want to justify my behaviour. I've got to accept the path I've taken. However, whenever I think about those peaceful days, I feel my eyes well up with tears.
Why did I lose my way like this? Do you know? Misfortune fell upon my family when I was a tenth grader. My father had a traffic accident. For about a month, my father was fighting for his life, but the doctor shook his head. My mother said we had to save my father at all costs when there was still hope. Yet, at the end of the day, my father left this world and my family…. After my father's death, the family burdens were shouldered by my mother.
We had to change our house twice to pay back debts. My grandmother was about 70 at that time. She was so sad because she was ill all the time and my younger sister was only a sixth grader. My mother's monthly wage was not enough to support the family. Apart from her office hours, my mother had to work in the evening at my aunt's restaurant nearby and I asked my mother to allow me to stop school, but she did not agree.
Yet, apart from my school hours, I sold half-hatched duck eggs or worked as a housemaid for other people. In summer I worked as an waitress at a coffee shop. When I was an 11th grader, I worked as a cashier in a restaurant and in the 12th grade, I still did the odd job but most of my time was reserved for my studies so I could finish my senior secondary school education.
And one year after that, I became the girl I am today….
Some times when I was busy with my work and could not go online, she still sent messages to me as if she was chatting with me. She told me in detail what was happening around her. She told me about her habits and memories of her school days and even about what she liked and what she hated. I also shared with her my feelings about Q. I was born and grew up in Q. (of course I hid this from her). I told her about my student life and about my romantic first love.
"You love Q. more than those who were born there. I do not know anything about Q. even though I live there. So having heard you describe Q, I feel like I know Q. more"
"Q. has brought me a lot of memories"
"How many years has it been since you've been to Q.?"
"Since graduating from university"
"Q. has changed a lot now. Have you ever thought about coming back?"
"I also wish you would come back to Q."
She told me that she was always wondering why I was always patient enough to talk with her.
"You know, I am a prostitute. This is thought to be a lowly job. So, why don't you despise me? Or at the very least, you should have shown a contemptuous attitude towards me?" Oh, who knows if you despise me, hate me? And now we are in a virtual world, you don't care for me, do you?"
I did not tell her the reasons why I had listened to her stories and why I had talked with her.
I was 28 and graduated from university with a major in philology. I worked as a journalist in Sai Gon for three years before I returned to Q. because I wanted to be near my family. Actually, my parents wanted me to do it more than I did because they were old. Having returned to Q., I applied to join the police. After my probation, I was promoted to the rank of lieutenant and sent on a six-month course. My main job was to work as reporter for the column "For Security of the Fatherland". During my spare time, I wrote fiction stories and poems. Sometimes, I surfed the net and had random talks with friends or strangers just to relieve my stress.
And all of a sudden I met her!
At first, she made me curious. Was she a prostitute? Was she looking for customers on the net? She chose me but I was not a customer. Why? She chose me so that she could talk with me. I thought she was kidding. But chatting with her made me like her! I liked her for her way of talking frankly and amicably. She had never hidden her life from me. She told me her stories and attracted me deeper into her real life. She was very mysterious to me. She was unaffected and yet, she was mundane. It was not so bad if she was a prostitute! Each life has a hidden corner to it! She had a reason for it. I wanted to see her so much!
We had talked with each other for about a year without having ever met each other. I imagined in my mind that she should have a pale face with sad eyes and was as small as the palm of a hand. We could have met each other at least once somewhere in a street, I wondered.
"Will we meet each other? I'm going to have something to do in Q. in a few days' time. (I just told her a lie, because I was already in Q.)
"What's the matter with you?"
"No, I am all right. But probably…."
"We'd better not meet each other!"
"Are you talking from your heart?"
"Do you believe that I am a prostitute?"
"Do you believe it?"
"You're deceiving yourself"
"No, I am not deceiving myself!"
"I have thought a lot about you. I am afraid that one day I would not be able to talk with you. But I have never thought that we could meet each other in real life. Please give me some more time. I need to think about it"
"I don't know…. I'm going out now. And I'll send you a message if possible"
Had she gone or was she still sitting there without replying?
One day went by. I was waiting for her message.
Two days went by. I was still waiting for her message.
One week had gone by during my long wait.
I always logged onto Yahoo! Messenger whenever I sat down to work at my desk. At the end of the day, I received a message from her after waiting for over a month. She appeared on the net at 0.17 hours.
"I'm a prostitute! I have no guts to chat with you, even online. It's the truth. Even though I know that whether we meet or not, it's impossible to change our lives, you know! I don't want to face it, that is why, I believe in the virtual world. It's good for me to meet you and chat with you on the net. This is the best time for me when I can share my feelings with you. You know, where I work has just been broken up by the police. We knew it would come sooner or later.
"I cried when I saw my friends being taken into the police car. It's quite fortunate for me that I was not with them. My mother's illness had relapsed and she was in hospital. I went back home to be with her. It could be the last chance for me in my unhappy and bitter life, or else, as my mother and grandmother would not be able to stay alive for long without me. My sister had stopped school because of her shame. But everyone placed their confidence in me and none of them knew what I was doing, you know!
"My dear, I have to leave Q. for some time. How much time do we need to change our lives, my dear? I haven't got an answer and I'm sure you haven't got the answer either! Now I am going out!
"Thank you for your time chatting with me. I wish you happiness! Oh, I forget. There is one more thing. Right from the beginning I knew that you lived in Q. Only those who were born and grew up in Q. would be able to love Q. so much. You'll understand it better by logging this:
I pressed the mouse to link to the address she had given me. I was so dazed. My whole body seemed being electrified. In front of me was the X webpage.
(X…. - online) On the night of December 25, with the sudden raid on the Lodging House T. at the Cross Road P, in Q. City, the Police Criminal Investigation Department had discovered two couples having sex and Ms Tran Thi T. (35), the owner of the coffee shop, had been arrested for operating the prostitute ring. The Department was still holding some people for questioning.
I was so stunned because a colleague of mine told me the news. I was a bit relieved that she was not among those arrested. It was the last time I received a message from her. She did not reply to any of my messages from then on. I knew she needed some more time to change her life. For how long, I did not know! But I had confidence that after all she had experienced, she would know how to choose a different life for herself.
I have always placed my confidence in fate. Knowing her, chatting with her and always thinking of her, but being unable to walk with her along the same road was undoubtedly the end result. I wish I could have meet her. Now my Messenger is always on standby whenever I use my computer. I do hope that one day her name will appear and she says "Hello" to me using the smiley symbol with twinkling eyes. Only until then, will I really be able to know that she is now living in peace./,
Translated by Manh Chuong