Viet Nam News
By Phạm Thúy Hà
No sooner had I arrived in Hà Nội than my father phoned me:
“Have you met Đức?”
“I’m going, dad.”
“I did tell you to see him immediately and phone me, but you’ve yet to do it. How heedless you are!”
I turned off the phone. I did not get a wink of sleep on the train for the whole night and wanted to take a short rest before going to my office, but father’s phone call made me angry. It did not matter if my meeting Đức was one day late. He was still lying in bed, as he has for so many years. Father always phoned me, urging me to do this, to do that, while he could have come and seen him only for a short time and gone. I texted him a message: “Yes, I am a heedless girl. If you say so, from now on, please don’t phone me if you have anything to do!”
I got excited very easily these days and was not patient enough to say something nice. I understood father was worried about Đức when I was not in Ha Noi for a week. I got angry with father because he himself was a heedless man. If he had not taken that woman home to spite mother, it would not have happened to mother like that. Mother became mentally ill, and she was not well enough to take care of Đức. Right at that time, father’s woman came to live with him in my house.
When mother was 26, she gave birth to me in the mental hospital. When I was five, I saw mother smile for the first time. I heard her voice and called her. We were both very happy then. I felt I had a mother like any other child’s.
“Are you afraid of me, daughter?”
“No, I am not, mum!”
“Do you want to sleep with mother?”
“I also want to sleep with my daughter.”
I brought mother a bowl of rice. If there was no more rice in the bowl, it meant that mother had been home; if the bowl was still full of rice, it meant she had slept on the street. Sometimes, I found her smoking cigarettes the whole night and I guessed she had stolen them.
I moved my desk to mother’s room. In those 13 years, father stayed with mother overnight only once. Father embraced mother and said nothing. When father and mother were in love each other, mother was a literature teacher at a high school. Mother was pretty, romantic and full of ambition. But father was an amorous man. He had pity for mother when she was diagnosed with a mental disease. He had often come to see mother in the mental hospital, and I was the result of his visits to mother.
When my brother Đức and I were studying at university, we rented a room with our mother in a residential building near my school. Mother cooked and waited for us to return from school every day. One day while in class, I suddenly remembered that I had left the key at home. So I rushed home and mother had gone. My brother and I went to look for mother, but mother had not come home for two nights. At the end of the day, we found mother in our home village.
My brother Đức graduated from university with high distinction. Right after that, he received a job offer at a Viet Nam-Japan Joint Venture Company with a monthly salary of 1,000 US dollars. I myself was sent by the company to Australia for further studies. But I could not leave mother at home.
“Have you got any common property?” the Court asked.
“Have you got any children together?”
“Why do you want to get divorced?”
“We are ill-matched.”
It was all over.
Hoàng went straight to the parking lot as if he was afraid of getting involved with me. About eight years later, I saw Hoàng’s brother, who did not remember that I had once been his sister-in-law. Had I changed so much?
Hoàng and I had lived together for three months before he went home and lived with his mother. My father said to me:
“You have such a mother, so it is difficult for you to get married. He could love you so much, but he could not get over the fear.”
“Yes, I know, father.”
“Don’t get angry with me, daughter. I have pity for you, so I earnestly ask your pardon for him.”
“Oh, yes, don’t worry, father!”
From then on, I tried to forgive what Hoàng had done to me, but his mother was unbearable. At the end of the day, we had to rent a house and live separately. We still had no child, so we shared our daily spending fifty-fifty. But my mother-in-law often came and disturbed our married life.
Hoàng wanted to divorce me and wrote the application twice, but I did not sign them. As for the third time, I took the initiative to ask for the divorce. My mother-in-law was happy about it. A few months later, I was told that Hoàng had married another woman.
“Be careful! That girl is a succubus, you know!”
I read those lines in Tùng’s phone. I wondered if I had done something that could have terrified people like that!
But Tùng loved me head over heels. Immediately after work, he rushed home and embraced me.
“Will we embrace each other like this for good, my dear?”
“I need you, but I don’t love you,” I said to Tùng.
We ended up having a baby boy. Tùng’s parents had to accept me as their daughter-in-law. My father seemed sad that it was my second marriage. One day, Tùng came home looking frazzled. The company had asked Tùng to transfer to the accounting section. My husband’s job was a designer. He had to adapt to it if he wanted to keep working. So he quit the company.
Half a year went by, but Tùng could not find a job. In just one month, he had spent my three-month earnings. He used my money to take taxis to restaurants, where he ate and drank. One week before the Lunar New Year came, Tùng pawned his motorcycle for money to buy three peach blossom trees for his friends as Tết gifts. His mother sent money to him to buy back the motorcycle, but he gave the money to his friend from Quảng Ninh to pay a debt. On the second day of Tết, the last asset, my motorcycle, was sold.
Tùng had certain habits that were like my brother Đức’s when he first showed signs of mental illness. When Đức was 27, he suddenly had a very bad headache and sleepless nights. He started borrowing money and sold everything in the house. He sold the air conditioner, iron and hair dryer. One day I even saw him selling some plastic baskets. Father sat there, heaving a deep sigh. I did not know how to console my brother.
Now I wondered, did Tùng go mad because he married me? Insanity can be infectious. But why did Tùng go mad, not me?
“The whole family now relies on you. If you need anything, tell me,” my mother-in-law said to me.
“You know, mother, last night, Tùng started strangling me. If I had died, who would raise my son, mother?”
“Possibly the soul of a dead person incarnated into him!”
I patiently mixed medicine into his rice, as prescribed by the doctor day in and day out, until my husband’s illness got better and better. Every day, he stayed in his room, reading and writing.
“My dear wife, I’ve completely recovered. I am going to my home village to start the clean vegetable growing project. You stay here and work as a distributor of clean vegetables. Don’t leave me, my dear wife!”
Mother said to me once that living a painful day also meant living. Who could say that my mother was mad!
Translated by Mạnh Chương