|Illustration by Dao Quoc Huy
by Hoang Anh Ngoc
I always liked everything in a house clean and orderly: a bed with its white pillows and sheets; a tea set with glossy cups and saucers; a kitchen with greaseless knives and forks, an electric stove with a modern rice cooker and kettle; a wash - basin with and two bright sinks.
However, such a dreamy home was unnecessarily costly. In my opinion, many beautiful urban buildings were messy inside. My friend's place, for example. When I stepped in to the house I inhaled a nasty smell coming from the dirty kitchen and leftovers on the dining table. To walk further inside, I had to avoid countless toys scattered on the floor and crumpled clothes on the sofa. Sadly, in the countryside, a lot of shanties looked worse.
Unexpectedly, one day, when I entered an ordinary cottage, I found things to be orderly. A seventy something woman and her thirty year old son lived there.
I and my French friend Juliette met him on the village path. At first, I addressed him as uncle as he was wearing a big queer-looking helmet, but when he took it off at his house I discovered that he was a young strong-built handsome man with a tanned complexion and a warm smile, so I called him elder brother.
It was drizzling lightly and rather muggy. I took off my shoes to walk in. Finding the brightly shined floor, I had to put them on the threshold although I knew that they might soon get wet. His mother, being seated on a bamboo plank, time and again intervened in our talk. A few minutes later, he apologized to us for going out for a moment. I noticed that my shoes and Juliette's sandals had been moved to a higher step on the threshold to keep dry. Taking advantage of her son's brief absence, she told us about the State-run farm where she and her spouse had worked for all their lives, about their herd of cows and their pride that her child did all the household work, minor or major, whether feeding cattle or sawing logs.
"Our cowshed is one of the best about: the animals are healthy and strong and well fed, the shed is clean and the milk is the best around," she said to us.
It turned out she was right. Every day, he got up early to clean the shed, to feed the flock, to milk them then carry the milk to be sold. Day after day he worked from dawn to dusk.
Needless to say, a young man who was good-looking and hard-working was very rare. He was the talk of the town. As for us, moving our footware to a dry place spoke volumes for his considerate behaviour to the fairer sex. Not many young people from a city would do that.
"Among the young men working in offices who only look forward to the end of their work day, or the good-for-nothing guys who idle away their time in coffee shops or the teenagers who spend most of their precious hours on video games, how lucky that we found such a real person?" I asked myself. "Perhaps they have lots of masks to put on at various places: at work, they wear one mask; among his colleagues, another, and at home they have a different one. How can an honest girl detect a man's true nature?" I thought further. "If I were a rural girl, my life would be simpler and I would fall in love with him, because I would expect nothing else and then marry him. Every morning, I'd get up early, clean the shed, cut the grass together with him, make the house tidy, then prepare breakfast for the whole family. My mother-in-law would have no complaints about my conduct because I'm a considerate and faithful wife. As a rural girl, I used to live in the country and dream of nothing but a happy family. Frankly speaking, finding a handsome, hard-working and strong-built husband is not easy, " I whispered to myself.
Both Juliette and I felt comfortable during our chat with his small family although there was a power failure that day and the air was getting hotter and hotter with every minute. The appearance of two pretty girls, one a foreigner and the other myself, in the house livened up the atmosphere.
"What's your plan for your son's future?" Juliette asked the elderly landlady with my interpretation.
"If my child gets married this year, I'll purchase twenty more cows," she answered.
"She's just kidding!" her son warned us. "Don't believe what she's just said," the youth insisted.
We had to take our leave, so Juliette drove me home. Driving her motorbike rapidly, she observed, "Do you find it strange that such a nice and handsome boy lives at home at that age?"
I was taken aback as she was usually rather introverted and timid. Yet now, she asked me a lot of things about love, about marital procedures in Vietnamese society and many more personal issues. We always used to talk and talk while we were enjoying yogurt in a small cafe.
What I remembered the most was her bitter remark, "C'est trop dure d'être une femme." (namely, Being a wife is too hard a matter.)
Her statement did not seem to have anything to do with my above-mentioned narrative. Nor did it relate to anything serious. In a word, it was nothing but this, that and the other.
Translated by Van Minh