Viet Nam News
by Nguyễn Đình Tú
My dear Linh I was falling down, in doll-form, falling down from Room 1108 on Floor 11. I said goodbye to happiness and affection. In the cold day, white and soft flakes of snow were falling down together with me.
“I remember that we had to bribe the owner of the condo 500 rubles so we could rent Room 1108,” Thảo wrote to her lover Linh. “Before that, we bought rolls of wallpaper and a crystal chandelier. We had its window painted a rosy, warm colour. Strangely, a blond haired Russian student Svetlana moved out a day before we moved in,” she added.
Later, Thảo learned why Svetlana had left. She did not want to live beside two foreign students, although she had lived with two Russian roommates: Ola and Ira. To Thảo’s amazement, Ola dyed her hair a different colour almost every day. She was also pierced all over her body. On the contrary, Ira was like an Asian teenager: good-natured and kind-hearted, cheerful and bashful. Some time later, Svetlana was replaced by a sexy Mexican girl named Jeni.
* * *
“How can I control the wild heart of a young man?” Thảo often asked herself. She could never find an answer. “Linh, I’m falling down to Room 1008, in doll-form of course, while you’re busy cooking,” she thought.
Linh was a good cook. Every weekend they went to the market in a Vietnamese area to buy a chicken, some tubes of shrimp paste and bean curd pieces for dinner. As far as she knew, her father had also been a great cook. When Thảo was a little girl, her father often made her a tasty pumpkin porridge. She had heard a saying that a man who dearly loved his children and was good at cooking would never be unfaithful. Unfortunately, her father was not that type of man!
Because of his cheating, her mother became miserable, forgot about pursuing her dreams and decided to start selling jeans at the market before taking Thảo to Russia.
From then on, Thảo’s mother forbade her from contacting her father. When Thảo turned fifteen, her mother took a man called Hoan home as a boyfriend. He was as strong as a horse. He could carry bales of goods that other men had to use a cart to move.
Hoan was an uneducated and rude working man. One day he groped Thảo’s breasts.
Thảo had chosen Room 1108 to live because every morning she enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the little woods below. It was there she had first seen Linh by chance.
* * *
On a clear summer morning when she opened the window she saw a student lying on the grass of the campus. Blood was oozing out of him, drenching his shirt. That sight was not strange to any Vietnamese people in the area. Clashes between Vietnamese students and Russian skinheads were too common. For newcomers like him, the best thing to do was run away as fast as possible. Luckily, he had crawled to the campus green despite his serious stab wound. Thảo happened to see him in such a terrible situation.
She did her best to take him to a nearby first-aid station, then to a hospital, paid his bills and, last but not least, played interpreted for him for many months in both the local hospital and the police station. He could barely speak any Russian even though he had taken a preparatory Russian before leaving Viet Nam.
She was now, in doll-form of course, falling down to the fifth floor, Room 508. She then went to the meeting hall of Block 11, a gathering place for the Vietnamese students. Its activities were in full swing because of Jeni’s 18th birthday celebrations. The attendees were, for the most part, hot and exciting Mexicans. Jeni had her miniskirt on, just big enough to cover her buttocks. Her crop-top showed her entire waist and part of her back.
Sitting timidly in a corner, Thảo slowly sipped beer. Jeni had drunk to her heart’s content. Thảo realised that during that party, Jeni had drank ten bottles of beer. Oddly enough, Jeni was conscious during the entire event while Thảo fell into a drunken sleep on the floor even though she didn’t drink much.
Suddenly, Jeni appeared before Thảo, red in the face and speaking strangely.
“I’m awfully sorry because I’ve fallen in love with your boyfriend,” Jeni mumbled. “It doesn’t matter,” Thảo told her. Caressing her cheeks gently, Thảo went on, “You’re quite drunk. Go to sleep. Tomorrow you’ll feel fine.”
“No, I’ve slept too much. I’m awake now and I’m interested in your boyfriend,” Jeni said, bursting into laughter.
“No need to apologise, friend! I’m not sulky with you at all,” Thảo whispered. Laughing heartily, she hugged her. Thảo thought that Jeni was just kidding.
Moreover, Thảo thought as an Asian man, Linh would hardly fall in love with a Latin American girl who was very sexy and appeared intensively hot in front to other young men. Thảo thought that she would be more suitable for him than any other strange girls. “I have no need to be worried!” Thảo said to herself. However, she was wrong.
* * *
“My beloved Linh, now I’m falling again,” she wrote.
When Linh left their room, it became very empty because he took all his possessions: a colour TV, the hi-fi music centre, a large fridge and more, simply to bring them back to his own room below. Amazingly, Thảo did not cry. Not one tear came from her eyes. She watched him take them out without a word!
Suddenly she told him, “Darling, I’m six-months pregnant.”
“Are you resorting to an old trick to hold me back?” Linh asked her. “After so many years in Russia, you’re still like an old-fashioned Vietnamese young woman. Just give birth to it. I’ll help raise our baby,” he blurted out.
“OK, it doesn’t matter. I’ll keep it and look after the baby with all my heart and soul,” she replied, laughing bitterly.
“A baby boy would be greatly welcome. If it’s a baby girl, she will lead a miserable life like you. If that happens I’ll be sad,” he went on.
Thảo burst out crying and said, “If you care about me, how can you leave me?” she asked him.
“You should have been my little sister rather than my girlfriend. We weren’t suited,” Linh retorted after a few minutes of silence.
Thảo screamed loudly. She broke down in tears.
“Has any girl ever treated you this way?” Thảo asked him. “How foolish you are!” she added.
He did not say a word. Before leaving he told her, “As to my debt of 30, 000 rubles that I owed your mother, I’ll pay it gradually.”
* * *
Without him, Thảo felt lonely.
“If so, come back to me,” Thảo’s mother assuaged her, when she heard of her daughter’s problems.
However, the wicked man Hoan was now living with her mother. Would he grope Thảo again?
Thảo’s father urged her to return to Việt Nam to stay with him. Time and again, she thought of returning home forever. His new wife was a woman, so no sexual assaults would happen to her stepdaughter. Still, on second thought Thảo asked herself, “How can his little house be enough for his wife Vi, their little daughters Noel and La Vie together with himself, plus me?”
Thảo made up her mind to keep on living alone in Room 1108, cold and desolate.
Curiously, one day Mr Anatoli, the old man in charge of Block 11, came and knocked at her door.
“Thao*, are you going to jump out of the window?” he asked her in an amazed voice.
“Oh no! I’ve never thought of doing that,” she answered.
“Then why is there a rope hanging down from this window?” he added when both were stood by her window.
“I only want to get rid of my two dolls,” Thảo insisted, laughing mockingly.
“Why? Don’t you know that we’ve got a bin? Why don’t you put them there?” he questioned her about her unusual behaviour.
“Sometimes I pull them up halfway” Thảo said.
“How strange. Casting away a doll or a stuffed animal every few days is a waste of money!”
“I don’t think so. My mother is wealthy. Dolls or toys mean nothing to her. To me, an old thing should be thrown away to get a new one.”
Anatoli’s daughter was one of Thảo’s classmates in secondary school. He regarded her as his own child. Knowing how lonely she was, he talked about Linh, “He’s a bad guy. Why do you have to waste your time because of him? You’re a beautiful girl, finding a worthy partner doesn’t matter,” he consoled her.
A year passed and Thảo still felt sorrowful.
Looking at the old man, she said, “Dear Anatoli, he was my biggest doll that I ever let go halfway then pulled up so many times.”
“Stop that ridiculous child’s play. Drop it in the bin instead. He’s not worthy of you,” he told her, gently touching her hair. “Better still, let it fall to the ground,” he added.
Thảo remained unable to throw it through the window, or to forget the happy days they had enjoyed together in Room 1108. She could not get rid of her two biggest dolls, the male doll was Linh and the other was herself. They were the most beautiful things Thảo had held on to.
* * *
Linh and Jeni lived on the floor under hers. Day after day, the three of them often shared the same lift. He remained as good-looking and arrogant as he had been before, while his sweetheart was still extroverted, friendly and sexy. One afternoon in the crowded lift they failed to see her. They talked softly and smiled happily. Time and again he kissed her half-opened rosy lips. Thảo felt her heart breaking to the point that she nearly fainted.
Soon Thảo became at ease. By now it was winter, with snow flakes coming down thinly. Thảo made up her mind to drop both dolls through the window. They fell free to the ground and lay there.
Thảo remembered that Uncle Anatoli had told her one day, “Thao*, you’ve thrown away those rubbish things through the window, haven’t you?” She nodded her head in silence. “They were two big dolls, weren’t they?” he asked her further.
“Yes, I did, sir,” she insisted.
“Very good, my dear!”
Hardly had the caretaker walked away when Thảo called him loudly.
“Dear Anatoli, I don’t want to stay alone any longer. Please find me another roommate. I’ll keep the room key for you,” she said to him.
“Thao, I wish you a sound sleep. From tomorrow morning, you’ll turn over a new leaf. By the way, pay Mrs Marina the charge for the rubbish that you dropped at random,” he requested politely.
Translated by Văn Minh
*Instead of saying Thảo, he pronounces Thao because Russian has no diacritics