Viet Nam News
By Hà Thanh Phúc
At five in the morning, he heard noises from the kitchen. His bed was only a few steps from the kitchen and at the foot of the bed rested two motorbikes. This was because of the narrow lodging room he lived in; it was only 20 square meters.
He was dozing off while his wife was preparing breakfast, trying to be quiet by occasionally stopping and glancing at him to make sure she didn’t disturb her husband’s sleep.
He met her when he was a student. Two years after he graduated from university, he asked for her hand in marriage. Poor as he was, the wedding was simple, with several dozen friends attending in a small restaurant. Her parents did not come, whereas his parents were dead. Since then, they had lived together for more than three years.
Sometimes he could not understand why she loved him so much. Her parents had never supported their marriage because he was so poor, let alone orphaned. What was more, she was an only child. She should have studied abroad and then married a rich husband. She had left everything behind and followed him to live in this narrow lodging room. Her parents had left her high and dry.
He made about four million dong a month working as a technician. She smiled, saying: “Don’t worry, my dear! My salary is ten million dong plus yours to make fourteen million dong. We can save for our child and our house. My parents will eventually accept us. We must be patient”.
One day, out of the blue, she said to him:
“Let’s have a child. If we do, my parents will accept our marriage. I know they want a grand-child very much.”
Seeing his concern over their financial condition, she continued:
“Don’t worry, my dear. I’ll take care of it”
So, he agreed. However, they tried and tried, but she didn’t become pregnant. They had prayed at several pagodas, but they should have gone to the hospital, and when they did, she was told that she was completely healthy. The problem lay with him as his sperm count was low, he wouldn’t be able to get her pregnant.
To have a child, they would need artificial insemination. The doctor told them about the time and cost. He calculated in silence and realised they couldn’t afford it. It was better to shelf it, he thought.
His company announced layoffs due to the difficult economy. He was one of the persons to be sacked. It was a great surprise to him as he had worked for the company for many years. He had to leave at the end of the month.
Having arrived home on the day he finished work, he did not break the news to his wife. He dared not tell her. They had been struggling to make ends meet and now he was unemployed, all difficulties would be placed on her, he thought.
One morning, he dressed well and carried briefcase as if he was going to work. He then drove around the city and went to a café under an old tree. The owner was old with white hair, but was still agile and wise. She was made the coffee quickly for him. Looking at her, he felt assured. Everything would be all right, he thought, and this could be an opportunity to get a better job.
A light wind was blowing and flowers were falling everywhere. He finished the coffee. He told himself that he should put an end to his sadness now. He received a message from his wife, saying that she would be late home today, so there was no need for him take her home or wait for her to have dinner together. He breathed a deep sigh, feeling pity for his wife. After finding out she couldn’t have a child with him she had kept busy, probably trying to forget about it.
More than two weeks had gone by. He looked for work everywhere. He had some interviews, but no offers of employment.
While waiting for a new job, he worked as a motorbike taxi driver. He was careful not to be recognised by people who could let the cat out of the bag to his wife. His wife did notice that he was darker and thinner. She asked him about this and he said smiling:
“I’ve got to go outside to meet customers. Men look stronger when they’re darker. It’s okay, I’m healthy!”
Sometimes when he rested in roadside drink shops when he felt tired, he thought his life was miserable. And what was worse, he was infertile. He had made his wife unhappy. She deserved a better life. But he loved her very much. He did not want to leave her. He dreamt of a rich life, but dreaming remained dreaming. Reality was far from his reach.
One night, he could not sleep. He thought about the future, about how to earn more money and about having a child. It was 12 o’clock at night. Suddenly, she got up. At first he thought she was going to the toilet. No. She stood in front of the mirror and opened the wardrobe, selecting her best skirt to wear. He pretended to sleep soundly, even snoring.
She expressed no emotion. He was stunned by her actions, but later he discovered that she was sleepwalking. She was doing things very skillfully, from preparing food in the kitchen to opening the fridge. He was startled. Normally, she cooked food in the morning, not at this hour of night.
Having finished cooking, she changed her clothes and returned to bed. When morning came, he asked:
“Did you have a good sleep last night?”
“I slept very well. What about you?”
“I slept like a log!”
“So who cooked breakfast? You have surprised me. It is as delicious as when I cook.”
He smiled, but did not reveal the truth.
The next night, he waited nervously.
It was the same. Right at 12 o’clock, when he pretended to snore, she got up. But she did not cook anything this time. She cleaned the toilet and the house. No emotion was on her face. He tried to contain his laughter. “It’s interesting that she does a lot of things while sleeping. If only I could sleepwalk so that I could do things at night like her,” he thought.
The next night came.
It was 12 o’clock, but she did not get up. She slept soundly. How strange! Or didn’t she sleepwalk any longer? He waited and waited. Half an hour went by and then one hour went by, but nothing happened. He felt sleepy…
The next day when he opened his eyes, she was cooking. She asked:
“Did you have a good sleep last night?”
“I slept very well”
“Yes, you need not get up and cook my breakfast. I can do it very quickly!”
“Or we could eat out now?”
“We’d better not because food in the shops is not healthy these days. Better to cook at home, my dear! We will have to save so we can live in a nicer house”
He got up and embraced her:
“I’m lucky to have you, my dear wife!”
“What a man you are! Do brush your teeth before we have breakfast!”
One week after that she did not get up at midnight anymore! The reason for sleepwalking was unclear. As he read on the internet, it could be that she was stressed about having a house or a child….
Having thought about it, he loved her much more. He could not earn more money for her, so he should be a good, faithful husband, he thought. He now did the washing and the tidying up. She seemed more cheerful.
One month went by. He forgot about her sleepwalking. Yet, out of the blue, at 12 o’clock one night, she got up. She changed her clothes and started doing house work and went back to sleep as if nothing had happened.
Every two nights, she got up and did the same thing. He felt a chill running down his spine, thinking she was possessed. He intended to film her so that he could show her the next morning. He wanted to tell her that she was ill and should have treatment.
She got up at 12 o’clock and changed into a beautiful dress. She put on perfume. She opened the door lightly. Oh, God, she is seriously ill. She even went out at midnight. He had heard that sleepwalkers could walk onto roofs and could fall down if they woke up.
But he got curious and wanted to see what his wife was doing sleepwalking outside. He tip-toed after her. She walked very slowly through the alley and turned right. It was pitch black outside. Then she stopped in front of a house. Whose house was that, he wondered? The door opened slowly. A bearded man took her hands and they embraced each other. The man’s hands were touching her breasts and her bottom. A few seconds after that, she went into the house. The door was closed. The night was quiet. His heart was thumping. His limbs weakened. Were all the messages she had sent to him saying that she was coming home late a lie? He ran back to his bedroom. No, it was not true. All that he had witnessed was not true. It was only a dream. He had to get back to the reality as soon as possible. After this night, when he woke up, everything would be in order. They would have breakfast together cooked by her and they would kiss each other before going to work. He would carry her on the motorbike to the company.
Then he closed his eyes. His forehead was wet with sweat. He wondered if he was a sleepwalker and not her. He mumbled: “one sheep, two sheep and three sheep, a hundred sheep.” He plunged into a sound sleep. Suddenly, there was a cry of a baby that startled him. He turned to where his wife had lain by his side. She was there with her eyes closed; her hands were on her chest as if nothing had happened.
The room smelt faintly of perfume.
Translated by Mạnh Chương