In early December two years ago, my neighbour Mr. Cang, who was the
president of a hardware company, brought home a 30-year-old woman with a
swollen face and black circles around her eyes.
The youth stared at the half-consumed cigarette on his terracotta
ashtray. Its smoke was slowly curling upwards before vanishing into the
air. "Is that an illustration of my fate in the months to come?" he
whispered to himself. "After I turn thirty-five, my existence will go
downhill like this cigarette. In a few minutes, it will be ash."
In the past, my paternal grandfather was very poor, so poor that he had
to leave the village to earn a living in Dong Bang in Son Tay
Province. Actually, the land of Son Tay was not more fertile than the
land in my home village.
Little Lat was lying flat on the ground, crying loudly and flailing his
arms and legs wildly as if he were practising swimming. The reason was
rather simple: he was ravenous. Meanwhile, his elder brother Luom was
sitting against the wall, staring at the rough footpath between two rows
of stone graves in the Chinese cemetery.
The boy had strangely bright eyes. We did not know whose family he
belonged to. We found him on a survey mission and he kept following us.
Hoang asked his name, but he only smiled, shaking his head.
My father got dead drunk and was reeling home, speaking rubbish for the
whole night. My house was so small that it could fit only two beds.
Mother knew what Father would do to her when he was drunk. He was going
to beat her black and blue.
At the age of forty, I still liked to be seen as an ageless lady.
"Mad! Liar!" I imagined people would say if they knew. You could
possibly call me mad - but a liar? Not really! I was a psychologist, so
why would I need anyone else to diagnose me?
She and I would say farewell. That was why we were having dinner
together. She sent me a text message: "Let's eat together tonight. I
have something to tell you. Something important."
The scorching June sun made the surface of the asphalt road seem to melt
in a dim wisp of vapour which was flickering up slightly. Even our
wooden plank bed was too hot for me to lie down on. On such a day I
usually hung my grandfather's hammock on two strong branches of the
sapodilla tree at the end of the veranda to enjoy the cool fresh air
from the river nearby.
At age eight, I was given a good hiding by Father because I had left the
buffalo hungry and tried to get near a classroom. When I was 10, I was
given another good hiding because I had helped a boy next door solve a
problem. For women and girls in my family, being literate was a sin.