Viet Nam News
Yes, my mother was a peasant and I was born in a village. Yet, when I was among people in higher society, I tried to hide it.
A peasant’s life was miserable; rural areas were in abject poverty. There was no splendor to take pride in. I was always hungry as we had nothing worth a penny, except a few ducks and chickens. My memory of days living in my village was of hungry days. However, I learnt well, because I wanted to bury myself in books to forget my hunger.
I graduated from the senior secondary school and entered university. Then I got a job, married and had children. I lived in a city in a pretty nice property. I could be called middle-class now. Nowadays, with society having developed, middle-class people are considered harmless, not extremist or ultra-right. Many middle-class people were satisfied with their lives.
I was thriving in the city; I bought a house and a car. I moved my mother in with me to give her an easy life, while many old women in my village were still tilling the field. I thought that I was performing my filial duty. She brought my two young children home from school every day when they were small. But they soon grew up. So she helped us with the cooking and cleaning. We wanted a maid, but she argued that she didn’t want a stranger in the house.
My wife, a teacher, was free after school hours because she didn’t worry about household chores. She went shopping or for dinner with her friends and posted pictures all over Facebook. I looked at her Facebook once and saw a bunch of her photos. I messaged her anonymously, telling her she looked ugly, fat and old in some the pictures. Eventually, she found out it was me and was angry for a while.
One day, my mother said:
“I hardly see you two these days. Can we set a day for us all to eat together?”
I knew my wife these days was hardly ever home. One day I even saw her speeding past me in her car with her friends. She did not care about housework. But I was no better. I more often than not came home after dark.
Our life was now much better with stable income, so we thought about going on holiday. One day, at dinner, I blurted out:
“We have to go somewhere or else we are going to get old soon and will be in our second childhood. Our memory will get worse.”
My mother was hurt by what I said and didn’t eat for a few days. My wife took her to the Nành market to treat her. She bought a lot of things for my mother at dirt cheap prices.
One evening, I was drinking with my friend, when my wife phoned me:
“When are you coming home?”
“About 10 o’clock”
“Wait for me there. I’m coming to take you home because I forgot my house key”
At about 10 o’clock, the car arrived at the bar I was at. She got out, said “Hello” to my friend and drove me home. When we were near the house, she pulled up, leaving the engine running.
“Why don’t you drive it into the garage?” – I asked in surprise.
“Sit still! I want you to see this.”
I was still having half cut, so I kept quiet. I looked around. All the shops were closed. Nearby was a dump for the residential area and some people were rummaging through it.
Life was so tough, I thought! These things discarded by some people were a livelihood for others. There were even some disgusting items that were like treasure to those less fortunate. In my inebriated state, it was difficult to follow what was happening outside.
Suddenly, my wife pinched my arm, pointing to the direction of my house. My mother opened the gate, carrying a pack of things. A man was approaching her. She gave the pack to him and talked with him for a moment. So this was why my wife wanted to take me home. My wife wanted to switch on the headlight, but I stopped her:
“Hold on! Let me handle it!”
My mother was a peasant. She tried to save everything. I was born in the country, but I had lost my peasant ways. I made money plenty of money. So sometimes, I squandered things and my mother got angry and scolded me.
I loved my mother because she had saved her whole life, working her fingers to the bone to support my education. My mother had everything she wanted. I also gave her some pocket money. But she did not buy anything. She saved it until she could buy one tenth of a teal of gold. Then she asked my wife to keep it for her.
Yet, tonight, I saw my mother give my things to a stranger.
I could not get a wink of sleep that night, thinking about how to talk with my mother. I turned and found my wife was in a deep sleep. I felt hurt and hated her. And I felt I could not talk with my mother about money. My mother had spent her whole life nurturing and bringing me up without any complaint. So how could I chastise her, I thought? When the day was about to break, I heard my mother’s footsteps in the kitchen.She was preparing breakfast for us. I took a bath and went into the kitchen with her.
My mother said to me:
“You know, the girl Hùy in our village was so ugly that nobody wanted to marry her. She adopted a child. I heard Hùy and her child have to forage for things at dumps to survive! I collected empty cans and discarded food for her.”
I was startled by this. I stopped short at what I was going to say to her, because now I knew why she had given those things to the stranger. What was the point of my sleepless night, I asked myself?
My mother continued:
“You and your wife are also talking about giving scholarships to poor students. Could you help Hùy and sort out a scholarship for her daughter?”
I walked to the slum where Hùy and her daughter were living. Through the crack of the door, I saw a skinny woman with a fifteen-year-old girl having dinner.
“Eat more to have energy to learn, daughter!” – The mother said.
“You should eat this food to get stronger, mother. You look thin!”
I walked home. I was stunned, wondering if my mother was fat or thin.
Translated by MạnhChương