|Illustration by Doã Dung
by Nguyen Danh Lam
He jogged every morning. He did not do it for health or for fun. Until half a year ago, every morning, it was the time he got up and took his daughter to school. Since she had taken his daughter away and lived with her mother, he filled the emptiness by jogging. His house was just a stone's throw away from the park and he immersed himself among the elderly people every morning.
One day, while he was jogging, he picked up an empty cigarette packet and looked for a trash can to put it in. It was when he opened the lid in a big trash can to put the cigarette packet in that he saw it.
It was a dark brown wallet, seemingly a woman's. He picked it up, not because he was greedy, but it reminded him of his run-away wife. There was no mobile phone, lipstick or other make-up accessories inside. There was a decent sum of money, an ID with a photo of pretty woman and an old name card with a phone number and a name that matched that of the ID.
He did not take his phone along when jogging, so he could not call the number on the card immediately. He put the wallet into his pocket and continued to run.
After taking a bath, he took the wallet and went to the cafe that he frequented for breakfast, coffee and smoking. He would sit there with a cup of coffee and smoke a lot of cigarettes before going home and beginning to work on the computer. Now he was able to get a good look at the photo of the girl. She looked very familiar to him. She had lethargic eyes that carried both joy and sadness. He wondered why the wallet had been dumped. If it was robbed, why was the money still there? If it was dropped, how could it fall into a high dust bin with the lid on? It was no use thinking about it. There were so many things in this world that he could not explain. So he dialed the number on the card.
There was no answer from the other end. He tried again and again as he sat over his coffee and smoked half a packet of cigarettes, but in vain.
He was not unemployed, but had no stable job either. In other words, he was a half-time employee. His income was not regular. In the first days, he had occasionally dropped in to see her and his daughter and put on the table an envelope. All these envelopes were returned to his letter box a few days later. He stopped doing it. However, they had not gone to court yet. They remained husband and wife on paper.
He worked until two in the afternoon. His tummy rumbled. He opened the refrigerator, but there was nothing. He decided to go to the pavement food shop. It was not crowded as usual. He sat there and ordered something to fill his stomach. He dialed the number again. No answer. It was clear that the phone was ringing, but it seemed its owner was engulfed in sound sleep. Perhaps he'd better text a message: "I have picked up a wallet with money, some papers and this telephone number. Please call so that I can return it to you". To his great surprise, there was an immediate reply. "Yes, I already know it." He was bemused. Did she know she'd lost her wallet? Or did she know that he'd found it? Even stranger was the fact that she Why was "I've already known it"? Did she know she had lost her wallet or did she know he had picked up the wallet? Much more strange was that the owner of the wallet did not seem eager to get it back. How could a person be so heedless to their property? He could just spend all the money now and throw the wallet back in the trash can. But, looking at the photo again, he exercised some patience. He texted: "What do you mean? Do give me your address!" The answer came back: "I'm busy. I'll get it later. Thanks." Another cup of coffee helped relieve him a bit. A very mysterious woman, or a weird one, he thought. Was she really busy? Maybe. He had a late lunch, which meant he could go the whole afternoon without dinner. He had a very difficult text to translate into a foreign language. He'd been wrestling with it for a few days. He was being urged repeatedly to finish as soon as possible. But he was also obsessed so much by the message that he kept touching the phone every now and then.
It was already dark. He got up to switch on the light in order to avoid the glare of the computer screen. Nobody would be in their office at this hour, he thought. He was about to text her another message, but stopped. Maybe she is busy at a meeting, negotiating to sign a business contract. Around 9, he began feeling a bit hungry. He switched on the TV and a children's programme came on, making him miss his daughter. He had not phoned her for quite a time. He called his wife.
"I want to talk to my daughter." "She's already slept. She had a temperature today, so she went to bed early" "Is the fever high?" "It does not matter. She's taken medicines already. So, bye." She switched off the phone.
He thought of the woman again. But his eyes seemed to be closing on their own. He felt sleepy. Or is it because of hunger, he thought. He would have liked to have a piece of bread or a glass of milk that could help him sleep well. But the refrigerator had become empty since his wife left him.
He fell asleep. The phone did not beep during the night.
At the cafe again. He took the seat in the corner where nobody could trouble him. It was not very crowded, anyway. While jogging, he'd turned his head to look at the trash can. Now, sitting over his coffee, he texted: "Have you forgotten your wallet? I don't want to carry something that does not belong to me, so I am writing to you again." He received a reply. "Oh I forget it! Don't worry about it, please. Just keep it." What was the matter with her, he thought? He was really intrigued. He was not very curious by nature, but he liked adventure. He texted: "Don't you really need the papers and the money?" "Where did you find it?" came the reply. He wondered if he should tell her the truth, because he had found it in a dirty place. But he texted: "I found it in a trash can." The reply was immediate: "So, please throw it back into it!" He was thoroughly befuddled now. Why didn't she need money? Or was she so rich that even this decent sum of money was nothing? The thoughts swirled around in his head.
He decided to send another message. "Do you really mean it? Why do you ask me to throw these necessary papers and good sum of money into the trash can?" There was no answer now.
She was weird, he concluded. He had once dreamt of having such a girl in his life. He did want to be free, but he had to pay for it. The proof was that his wife had left him after years because she could not endure a husband who was free all the time without any purpose. He did not have a stable job, simply because he was waiting for a mysterious compatible opportunity, say, a "timeless hole" that he could crawl into. The owner of the wallet could be that timeless hole. He decided to follow up on this weird relationship.
He finished dinner. He had handed over all the translated texts to the client and now he was free. He decided to phone her instead of sending her a message, although he knew she would not answer. He was right. The person at the other end was silent, although the phone rang. A few minutes later, a message came: "I don't need any paper or money. Just throw it away, please!" He tugged at his hair, and sent another message: "So who are you in this world? I feel that you are like me." And then a conversation ensued, a long conversation.
"Do you think I need papers and money to exist in this world?" "Almost, I think!" "I hate being managed and dependent on papers and money, you know!" "How interesting. That's exactly what I feel." "So why do still want to trouble me?" "Why do you force me to keep it for you?" "I did tell you to throw it back into the trash can, don't you remember?" "But it is not clean there." "Why, don't you know that everything comes from the trash can and goes back to the trash can again" He felt a bit dizzy. It had been a long time since he had heard such a philosophical woman. In this world, such people would be seen as having mental problems. But he did not believe it. He sent another message. "In short, I should really throw it into the trash can." "Yes, I don't need papers and money at all" His head buzzed dully.
For a few days later, he received the normal messages and some phone calls. The "timeless hole" woman seemed to fade away. He found he had no other reason to keep contact with her.
His wife had made the official proposal of divorce. It meant that his daughter would also be separated from his life. He had prepared for this situation. And today, he told her on the phone: "O.K. You prepare the form and I'll sign it. You can go on with the sale of the house and the division of the property. You should take most of it to take care of our daughter. I only need some money to make a deposit for renting a house, that's it." It was the impact of the woman who owned the wallet that enabled him to make such a quick decision. Instead of looking at the photo of his wife and daughter, he looked fixedly at the woman's eyes. Two days later, he took the wallet when he went jogging in the park. Near the trash can, he hesitated. He was going to say good-bye to a person. He did not care about the money inside it, even though he knew that in a few days, if he did not get a contract to translate something, he would go without having anything to eat.
The divorce happened as scheduled. All the procedures had gone smoothly.
The house he rented was in the suburbs. He did not go jogging as usual. But the wallet was a burden. When he had nothing to do, he took the motorbike and drove back to the park. He sat on a stone bench near the trash can and dreamed an empty dream. He stayed there until mosquitoes came and bit him. The lights in the park were already on.
With the wallet in hand, he lifted the lid of the trash can. There were only dead leaves inside. He placed the wallet right in its place. Turning to go, he found something bulging in his pocket. Inside were his ID and some remaining money.
Translated by Manh Chuong