Viet Nam News
by Chu Thùy Anh
There were garden houses nestled in a quiet and lovely area, far from the noisy district filled with shops. On the corner of the road there was a small patch of land with three tiny houses. In one house there was an old round man. In another, there was a bony old man and in the third house there was an old woman. Their children had grown up and lived far away, so far that they could rarely visit their parents.
Although they were old in age, they were young at heart, as age is only a succession of days and months. People either walked slowly after those days and months or ran so fast that when they stopped to look, they did not remember where they had stopped. People often got lost amid the months and years.
The bony old man was lying on his sofa. He was watching a bicycle race on television. Lying on his lap was a poodle. The old man and the dog were sharing food and watching the same TV programme. The old man loved riding his bicycle more than anything. In the morning he got up and had big breakfast and then rode his bicycle around the forest, dozens of kilometers from his house. He wanted a muscular body. He stood on scales and if he put on one tenth of a kilo, he would eat less food and cycle more. He cycled with a group of young guys in the forest. He often talked with them about controlling body weight and eating good food. The old man also loved reading books, often books about art. They were big books with beautiful covers. He bought them and shelved them with great care in his bookcase. The books lay there day in and day out, month in and month out because he had read samples in the book stores. This old man loved riding his bicycle and reading books.
The old round man sat by a table covered with checked cloth with a glass of wine before him. He never drank water. He only drank wine and decaf coffee. His heart could not handle caffeine any more. Five stents had been put in his heart, but still he drank wine and smoked cigars. The fume of cigars permeated all his furniture and cloth. It did not matter to him as he would die anyway, so there was not reason for him not to live as he pleased for the rest of his life. During the day he often went to see the dentist or to buy tiny plastic figurines. His hobby has been playing with these tiny figurines since he was a little boy. All the drawers in his house were filled with these figurines. Nobody knew why he had such a love for the tiny wooden soldiers. He looked far and wide for the tiny plastic soldiers and discovered that there were other people who shared his hobby.
The old round man had drawn pictures which were realistic, animated and bright. He had once trained as a painter.
The little old woman was always busy tidying up something, whether it was watering the bushes, cutting some flowers or cooking food. Sometimes, she sat the whole morning with a cup of coffee, looking through the glass window of her kitchen onto the large green garden. Maybe she was sitting there, wondering what she could do after drinking the coffee: would she go to market where a lot of fresh vegetables were on sale or to the supermarket to save money. She watched TV late at night. She watched anything that was on, thrillers, horrors, comedies.
The small old lady helped the two old men who live near her.
The old man who loved riding his bicycle injured himself when he drove over a chestnut and fell down. Nobody believed him, but he insisted it was true. It was autumn and chestnuts were falling everywhere. The old man fell on one of these chestnuts. His foot seemed sprained. At first he thought it wasn’t serious, but the next morning, he could not walk, let alone ride a bicycle. The next day and the next day came with no change. When he got fed up lying on the sofa, he made up his mind to go and have his leg x-rayed. It turned out that his leg was broke. He couldn’t ride his bicycle. He continued to half lie, half sit with his poodle on the sofa, eating food with the dog and watching bicycle races on television.
The old lady liked cooking. She cooked all sorts of food, Western food, Vietnamese food and even African food. She could cook any sort of food well. She never used anything to measure her ingredients. She just knew how much to use. She sang while cooking the same as when she took a bath. Possibly it her way of enjoying life, but she did like to cook for the two old men.
The old man with the broken leg lay still, eating with the poodle. He was getting heavier. He stepped on the scale and yelled when he saw he had put on two more kilos. It was because he couldn’t ride his bicycle. He complained to the old woman that the food she cooked was too fatty. It was a nightmare for the old man. He had spent all his life taking care of himself to avoid that.
He was so tense that he wanted to go on hunger-strike. But the dog begged him for food. Finally, he sat down on the sofa and eat with his pet and watch the bicycle racing.
The other old man was placing his tiny plastic soldiers into the drawer with great care. He tried to scrutinise to see if anything was broken. If any figurine’s paint was chipped, he painted it again and dried it with great care. He did things slowly as if he had time on his hands.
He stopped only when the old lady brought him some food. She cooked and brought it to these two old men every day. The old man with five stents in his heart would cook lunch on Sunday. He asked the old lady what she wanted to eat on Friday night and devoted Saturday to shopping and preparing for Sunday cooking. Then the lunch lasted until afternoon. After lunch, they sat there, talking over some cups of tea. So, dinner on Sunday often happened only one hour after that and as usual, the old lady prepared the dinner and brought food to the two old men. Occasionally they ate together; occasionally she ate alone in the kitchen. Each of them sat in their own territory.
The dog was very old. It did not want to lie on the lap of his master any more. It was very weak. It was going blind, so could not watch television with the old man either.
And one day, the animal died.
The three old people cried and grieved for the dog.
The old man with the broken leg could not ride a bicycle to buy books. All his old books were still on the shelf. He did not want to meet anyone, or talk on the phone.
The old lady told the other old man:
“He’s got a gun and is trying to kill himself”
After hearing that, the old man placed the plastic soldiers on the table and walked with the old lady to the house of the old man with broken leg. They took away the gun. That night, they ate nothing.
The old man who loved riding his bicycle thought he was utterly worthless. He didn’t step on the scales any more. He could not meet the young guys and could not give them advice. He was hopeless. He looked for another way to end his life. The old lady could see his despair but could not read what lay inside his head. So there was only one thing she could do: come and see him more often.
The other old man went to the house of the old man with the broken leg and took away all the sharp things he thought would be dangerous.
The garden had got ever more luxuriant with wild grass. Nobody wanted to cut it. One day the old man with broken leg said that he would be absent for the whole day, and the other two persons needed not to worry about him. He would be back in the afternoon. He had contacted an organisation that could help the disabled. He could help blind people use public transport to travel. He started the work and was assigned to help three blind people for the whole day.
“Let me go alone and I will be back for sure” – He told the other two old people.
They nodded their heads in agreement. The old man who loved the tiny figurines continued to paint the soldiers whose paint had peeled off, while the old lady got ready to go shopping because fresh vegetables were on sale today./.
Translated by Mạnh Chương