by To Hai Van
1. G liked walking, walking while thinking about everything. Sometimes some weird ideas cropped up in his head. Once he imagined that there had been a sudden quake, or a meteorite fell to earth, or a ferocious typhoon appeared, and he was made head of the office instead of Mr Huyen, the director, while Mr Huyen became a rank and filer with the name H. What would happen? Chuckle! It was quite fun! He would say: "Eh, are you H.? Why are you so early?" And then he turned to G: "Eh, G., you've done the job well, with good conscience!" Or maybe he would dissolve this office and set up another one that was more efficient!
This time, while walking fast, he was thinking about himself. Suppose his mother had married another man, what would happen to him? Would he be more handsome, more intelligent or more stupid? Would he be taller or shorter? Would he be richer and more successful or worse off? Maybe he would not have been called G, but C. or N. Naturally, his mother had given birth to him already, so none of those things would change.
He knew that he should not think in that way. It was so disrespectful. Yet he thought about it all the same, he kept on thinking about it; it was unstoppable. What if he had not continued working in this office and never gotten to know Miss Thuy? Possibly he would marry a beautiful girl named X or an ugly but good-hearted girl named Y. What an interesting idea! All these things could happen, G thought, so theoretically, it was impossible to eliminate any of them. He was still G, but possibly he was C or N. He had been accidentally named G….
Walking while thinking often resulted in his running into something that left a scar. This time, he ran into a tree. It was a very big tree with hard bark. A cut on the forehead, a broken nose as a result….
Thuy applied a yellow bandage to his forehead and covered his broken nose with antibiotic grease. After that, she complained: "I wonder if I can still marry you…. How could I end up with you?" G nodded repeatedly: It was in tune with his theory!
Thuy said, "Should I take you home?" G said, "It's all right, nothing serious! Getting bruises is quite normal for me, you see!"
On the way home, G felt strange inside. He could not walk steadily. All his nerves seemed strained.
"What's the matter with you, son?" G's mother asked in worry upon seeing him in that battered shape.
"Nothing happened!" G brushed it aside. His mother had always looked upon him as a boy, even though he was over thirty now with a big body.
"Did Miss Thuy bandage it for you?" Mother looked at his forehead attentively.
"Yes, yes …." G said angrily.
G ran quickly upstairs to his room on the second floor. He sometimes got angry with his mother without any reason. Maybe he liked to resolve things by himself without Mother's help, as he was no longer a little boy. Usually after those harsh words with his mother, he felt remorseful. But he knew that Mother never minded.
The old cat was in his room all the time. It seemed that it liked his body smell! It was curling up in the blanket and did not rush to hail him as usual. He wondered why. G reeled over to the cat and stooped to caress it.
G got a high temperature that night. He dozed off and had terrible dreams. When he woke up at night, he felt so thirsty. He went to fetch the vase of water and gulped it down. When the fever had gone, G looked around the room, mumbling: "What! It's already daybreak?" It was dim in the room. Downstairs, mother seemed not to have gotten up yet. There was no sign of boiling water as usual.
Looking at the wall clock, he opened his eyes wide in great surprise: It was only 2 o'clock in the morning! Damn clock! It gave the wrong hour, he thought. He looked at his wristwatch to be sure. It was also 2 o'clock! How strange!
G opened the window wide. The sky was still dark and starry. The horizon was yet to brighten. It was deserted in the street. All the windows were yet to have any light. Yet he saw every tree in the street clearly. He turned back into the room. He took three time pieces and put them in front of him. They all showed 2.15. This meant that it was still deep night. G. sat and looked fixedly at these three time machines. They did not seem tired or wrong. But G thought they were not so reliable.
After a moment, he discovered that he had not switched on the lights yet. Yes, I am now going to switch all the lights on, he thought. He did it and looked at things attentively. Everything was normal. Then he switched all the lights off, but he still saw things, though not as clearly. What was wrong with him? He could see in the darkness. He pricked up his ears. A cat was mewing bitterly in the distance. He felt agitated. He quickly walked to the window and stuck his head out. The cat was mewing vaguely. He felt he was going to jump out of the window when Mother coughed repeatedly.
The next morning, in a wildly awake state, G left the house and went to the bus stop. He sat there, looking at everyone in a good mood, while eating sticky rice for his breakfast. When he was about to leave the house, Mother had looked at him, her eyes full of worry.
"What's wrong with you, mum?" He asked.
"Nothing…." Mother replied. But then she said: "I feel something agitating inside me."
"It's nothing serious, Mother! It's the weather that makes you out of sorts, you know!" G said and then left the house.
Now standing at the bus stop to wait for the bus, he felt that what had happened to him the day before was in the distant past. Finally the bus he was waiting for arrived. G got on the bus with the crowd. Everyone was elbowing their way inside. G was no exception. The bus was packed like sardines. He was still thinking about fish when he found some hand searching his trouser pocket. G snatched the hand of a mischievous boy who was trying to steal his mobile phone. G seized the boy's neck. The boy quickly pulled his hand out of G's trouser pocket. Fortunately, he did not lose the phone. The bus continued on its way. Standing next to G were some young handsome guys. One old man sitting nearby was looking at him, shaking his head slightly. An old woman was bending her head down. When the bus came near to his office, he got off, giving the boy a threatening look.
G came to the office early. Nobody was around. The guard was yawning. He was still standing in front of the office when a man called him. It was Nam, his colleague. G made as if to turn away. G did not like this guy. But it was too late. Nam came up to G and smiled at him broadly:
"Why are you so early?" G had to ask him first.
"I was on the booze last night, so I slept like a log until four o'clock, when I got up. I could not do anything, so I decided to go to the office. Will we have some coffee?" G liked coffee, but he did not like the guy. So he grimaced at the guy, although he was insisting, so G had to say yes.
They were now sitting in a cafe near the office. It was crowded already. Cigarette smoke was shrouding the room, making G aghast, even though he also smoked. He wondered why he was suddenly terrified of the cigarette smell. Nam was stirring coffee, whispering:
"You know, our office is going to be in terrible turmoil. Our boss is going to be overthrown…."
"Is he?" G asked, even though he hated gossiping about office-related things.
"Is it you who's going to step into the boss's shoes?" Nam asked with an air of confiding a secret.
"I don't care who is. I think I have to do my job well, that's it!"
Nam felt a bit angry with G's indifference. He sat closer to G and whispered:
"I'll let the cat out of the bag to you now. It's K who is going to be our boss! Isn't it terrible?"
"It's terrible!" G grimaced again, not because of the news about K, but because of Nam's bad breath.
A moment later, G heaved a deep sigh. K was the head of a section in the office. G did not care about his promotion. G stood up and paid for the coffee. Nam also stood up and took G's hand. They both went to the office. By this time everyone was coming to work. Seeing K from afar, Nam left G behind and rushed to K. He hailed K with a big smile. What a toady, G thought.
G's two legs also wanted to run to K, but fortunately, he had contained himself. G went to his section and sat down to work. But he felt something in his trouser pocket. What was it, he thought? G put his hand into the pocket and to his surprise, he found a wallet. It was not his wallet. He had never used a wallet and he did not have much money at that. Curiously, G opened the wallet. It was full of money with a credit card, an insurance card and other necessary papers. G was greatly surprised when he read the name Nam and saw his face in the photo of his ID card. Why was Nam's wallet in his pocket, G wondered?
Sitting in bewilderment, G tried to examine all his acts again. He had to brush away the situation that Nam had put his wallet into G's trouser pocket. G thought and thought without being able to find the answer. Maybe he had stolen Nam's wallet when Nam asked him to go and have some coffee. But since when did he have such a super "talent"? By nature, G hated shoplifting, stealing or anything like that!
So G spent the whole morning dithering awkwardly with the wallet. Now and then G craned his head towards where Nam was sitting. He must not yet know that he had lost his wallet, G thought. He felt ashamed and confused. Lunch time was coming near. G felt anxious. When he saw Nam walking out of the room, he stood up quickly, went to Nam's desk and put the wallet into the drawer.
G had lunch in an alley near the office. It was cheap and suited his budget. Usually he hated eating fried fish. Strangely enough, he suddenly wanted to eat fried fish! This food shop did not serve it, so G quickly walked to a restaurant at the end of the street and ordered fried fish. When he was served what he had ordered, G looked at the big fried fish and started to eat it with gusto. What a tasty food!
All of a sudden, G found that sitting near him was Mr Huyen, director of the office, who was eating his food with politeness. On his right-hand side, not far from him, K was also eating his lunch with politeness. How could they eat their lunch in such a polite manner, G wondered? Usually, G hated meeting the boss face to face. Whenever he saw the boss from afar, he turned sharply to another direction. In general, bosses liked subordinates who fawned upon them. G was the opposite. He liked the job he was doing but did not feel like greeting them. Yet G was now thinking about saying hello. It was so strange. He felt he wanted to say hello, but he was unsure whether he should first greet Mr Huyen who was losing his post or run to K and congratulate him for being promoted.
He was on tenterhooks now. A pretty waitress came up to him, asking if he wanted to have anything else. G got angry with her, saying "Bag your face!" The girl disappeared in an instant. When Mr Huyen and then K stood up and were about to leave, G heaved a deep sigh as if a cangue had just been placed around his neck. I have to leave this place immediately, he thought. G paid the bill, surprised that his pocket was full of money. He opened his mouth in bewilderment. He guessed probably the money was from Nam's wallet. Possibly, when he returned the wallet to Nam, he kept the money in his pocket and the wallet became empty….
Thuy was the owner of a small clothing and cosmetics shop on a small street, Thuy Shop. This was her parents' house. Her parents lived on the third floor and Thuy lived on the second floor. She rented the shop from her parents and paid rent to them every month. G said to her that she was dotty to have such an arrangement with her parents. She retorted to him that he was not transparent in business.
Tonight G came to see Thuy in a bad mood. Thuy's shop was small and was not crowded at this time of night. G went past the shop, mumbling: "You look so beautiful tonight, my angel! I miss you so dearly; I miss you day and night…." Thuy turned her head, even though she had a customer to attend to. They had loved each other for four years. She knew that he was a serious but awkward and clumsy man. She had never heard him say something so sweet to her ears. She intended to ask him what he had just said to make sure she heard him correctly.
G sat in the corner and waited for her. When the last customer went away, G went quickly and lightly to Thuy and embraced her from behind. What a lovely feeling, he thought! But Thuy did not like it. She tried to push him away.
"What's wrong, dear?" G asked.
"What's wrong?" Thuy mocked him.
G stood there stupefied for a moment and then said:
"Nothing. I feel something strange inside me today."
"Yes, you look quite strange today. You mumbled something queer, you know!"
"So what's wrong with me?"
"I don't know."
"Will you close the shop? We can take a walk."
"No. Go home and have a good sleep. You look slovenly today."
Yes, he looked sick and untidy. G went home right away.
When he was near the house, G stopped and bought a packet of cigarettes. He reached into his pocket to pay, but to his surprise, he found a handful of money there. It was definitely Thuy's money, because he saw a piece of paper with a line: Thuy's April salary. G's face turned pale. His heart was pounding. Had he gotten used to stealing things? What a bad guy, to steal money from his sweetheart! G was panic-stricken. He went home immediately and wanted to find somewhere to hide. In the wardrobe? Behind the TV? He quickly ran upstairs and dropped his body on the bed. He tried to put Thuy's money on the table and dozed off. He had a nightmare. He had turned into a monster with two horns on his head. Then he woke up and sat in silence for quite a long time in the closed room. He closed his eyes without thinking about anything. He felt empty.
What had happened? G was so worried.
He did not want to steal anymore. He did not want to fawn upon anybody any longer. He also did not want to be able to see in the dark. He wanted to be Mr G as usual, a bit stupid and less capable, perhaps, but him, Mr G, nobody else!
Yes, I am G, from head to foot, nobody else! Am I a good man? Yes, I am, he thought again. Was he infected with a virus that could not be killed by any existing medicine? G was in great fear. He was contaminated! In great fright, G threw away all the books onto the floor and lay down on the bed. He was soaked to the skin with sweat. He felt the sky was falling on him.
He heard slow steps on the stairs. He knew it was his mother. He opened his eyes. He could see things clearly, even though it was dark in the room. Mother entered, carrying a tray with a steaming bowl. Mother turned on the light. G blinked. Mother sat down next to him. She put down a bowl of broth.
"It's onion broth with some meat. When you eat it, you'll sweat and you will feel much better!" Mother said.
How did Mother know he was ill? he wondered. Oh, Mother knew everything, you see, G replied to himself.
He ate the broth in silence.
Mother sat there in silence, looking at him. G thought Mother was quite healthy at that age. She was sure not to catch any virus.
He ate slowly, one spoon after another.
Mother helped him lie down and covered him with a quilt.
"Do sleep now, son!"
G closed his eyes.
It was midnight when G woke up. His body was wet with perspiration. He found that his room was pitch-black. He heaved a long sigh. He was G now, nobody else, he thought.
Translated by Manh Chuong