|Illustration by Doã Dung
by Mai Tien Nghi
It was raining hard when he got ready to go to work. Angrily, he took a raincoat from the trunk of the motorcycle and wore it. What a hell of a storm! He had to go anyway, as he was the new chief of the office. If he came late, a dozen of his staff members would be uncontrolled.
Bracing for the rain, he tried to wipe raindrops from his face and drove on until he got to the office. He was still taking off the raincoat when he saw a person.
"Good morning, chief! You've come so early!"
It was Miss Nhan from the statistics section.
"Not early at all, you see! It's time to work" - He said, walking straight to his room at the end of the corridor. He entered and saw there was a mess on the table, with a tea set left dirty. He tried to contain his anger, because it was yet to be a working hour. The maid did not come yet. He was a new boss here. He unbuttoned his shirt to bare his chest and opened the window…. And after a time, he found he was wet with rain and was thinking about going home to change clothes. He looked up and saw the maid behind him.
He quickly turned and buttoned his shirt.
"I'm sorry" - He said in confusion.
"Oh, not at all!" - She smiled, coming near him - "Would you take off your clothes and I'll use the hair dryer to dry them for you?"
"No!" - He refused immediately.
"Don't worry! Your shirt is wet all over. I'll shut the door and nobody can see it!" - She said.
"No, go out now! Do you want to cause a scandal?" - He said in great fear.
The maid went out right away, saying something he didn't understand.
He shut the door, took off the clothes and squeezed them dry before he wore them again. Since being promoted to chief of the section, he could not come home before midnight. And having arrived at home, he went to bed at once…. His wife was greatly surprised…. and felt uneasy about it. Every morning, she prepared a bowl of noodles with two omelets for him.
"A bigger title comes with bigger responsibility" - His wife said to him as if she was complaining about his neglecting his responsibility of being a husband.
He thought every story had two sides: one side was good and the other side was bad. Actually his wife liked his being promoted, but she paid more attention to his perks. She had unanimously agreed with him to spend money to buy the title, as she thought it was something like an investment. When he was promoted to the chief of the section, the whole family seemed being over the moon. They lived happily together. But right after that promotion, he was up to his eyes in work. He became terrified. He had to work round the clock to finish his work. In the end of the day, he felt dead tired…. And he wanted to go back to the rank-and-filer's life. At times, the work load was so heavy that he felt he was unable to bear it….. And what was more was that he forgot his wife night after night. His wife heaved deep sighs all the time.
His promotion was a starting point for him to climb the corporate ladder. The old chief was promoted to work as the province's Vice President, so he stepped into his shoes and now worked as the chief of the section. He thought he should use all his tricks and skills to climb to the higher position. From the bottom of his heart, he lusted for fame and social position, and he did not hide his desires. He philosophised that all living beings aspired to be leaders. Even a child in kindergarten wanted to be the head of the class to control his friends. Yet, sometimes he felt mean doing it.
He put on his clothes again and sat down to work. He had to make a report on the implementation of the plan. He felt a new position was giving him something new and interesting, but also troublesome. He was worried if he could fulfill his task or if he would have to stop midway. He was calculating something and got stuck, so he phoned the statistics section.
"Yes, I'm listening!" - Miss Nhan from the statistics section answered the phone.
"Have you finished the daily data?"
"Yes, I have"
"Do plus 5 per cent to all these figures! Do you get me?"
"Yes, sir! But why do I have to do it?"
"Because our seniors need a raise of 5 per cent year on year"
"Oh, yes, I'm going to do it now and you'll get it in a minute"
He was feeling itchy all over his body because of the wet clothes when he heard a knock on the door.
"Do come in!" - He said nonchalantly and continued to scratch his body.
"But I can't open it" - The voice of Miss Nhan was heard loud and clear.
He stood up and went to open the door. Nhan was standing in front of him. He went back to the seat. She walked forwards and put the statistics report onto the desk. He felt itchy again but could not do otherwise. She quickly came closer to him:
"Are you alright, sir?" - She asked a casual question.
"All right!" - He said in a voice of a sleepwalker.
"Do you need anything else?" - She said, pressing her full breasts onto his shoulders. He felt hot all over his body.
"Yes…. Yes…. Give it to the typewriter and in the afternoon…"
"Yes, I'll do it. Don't worry! In the afternoon? Oh, yes, see you in the afternoon. Where…..? Will you text me a message?" - She said, her breasts withdrawing from his shoulders.
Nhàn was walking to the door, turning to tip him a wink. He was fully awakened. What was wrong with him, he asked himself? All of a sudden, he understood that apart from the ruling capacity and perks, power could give you the sex instinct. There was a knock again.
It was Miss Tich from the inspection section. This woman had an inviting body and a rosy face.
"What can I do for you?" - He asked.
"Yes, please arrange a visit to the local office"
"Because people there made incomplete reports. So we have to examine their work."
He knew the former chief had sometimes together with Miss Tich gone to the local units and these visits always ended with envelopes to oil their palms.
"O.K., I'll arrange it one day" - He replied.
"But it should be as soon as possible, chief! I want to see how they fair over there" - Tich stood up, smoothening her dress before going out. She looked provocative. He suddenly understood why the former chief recruited the female staff working directly with him.
A knock on the door again…. He felt irritated. But he could not do anything other than say:
The door opened. It was Miss Xuan Binh, a typist.
"What do you want? Why don't you phone me?"
"My phone has been left at home. Uncle, Miss Nhan told me to add 5%. I think it's unreasonable."
"Say, if you add this figure, the number of high school graduates will be 104.97% and the number of poor households will be raised to 17%...."
"Oh, God! How stupid I am!" - He thought, trying not to blurt it out - "All right, let me go down there and read it so that you can type faster just to save time."
Having read the report, he was greatly frightened. It was fortunate that he could save it in time. If he let this report be made public, it would be a disaster for him. The number of poor households increased; the number of traffic accidents increased…. If this information was included in the report, what could happen to him, he thought?
He sat down next to the typist and started to read the report so that she could type it correctly.
"You've been caught red-handed! What a scoundrel you are! You've been caught red-handed!"
He got startled and looked up. A tall, robust man was standing in front of him.
"Why are you here?" - The typist cried out.
He now knew that the man was the typist's husband.
"You, scoundrel, I'll teach you a lesson!"
As soon as he could make out what was happening when the man looked at him ferociously.
"Do keep calm…. We can settle things together" - He said, standing up.
"No need to settle anything. I've got enough evidence to hit you" - The man said, holding a helmet in his hand. He was about to hit him.
He felt dizzy…. and sat down heavy in the chair.
"No, stop it!" - The typist yelled, holding the hand with the helmet.
All the people around, having heard the scream, rushed into the room.
"Let's go home!" - The typist said to the man.
All the people looked taken aback, staring at the chief, who was bending his head on the desk motionlessly.
"What's wrong with you, boss? What….?" - Some male employees were shaking his shoulders. But he was motionless. They tried to look at his face. He was ashen-faced. All stood in silence. Eventually, he said:
"Nothing happened….. I am O.K. Why did he hit me?"
All the people were dumbfounded at hearing it! They looked at one another enquiringly. And there was a guessing game among them. Some men said:
"Or our boss touched her and was caught by her husband?"
In the end of the day, the president of the trade union organisation of the office concluded:
"We have to call the police to arrest this man who had hit our boss - it is illegal!"
He sat there, wondering why the man called him "a scoundrel"! He touched his head. It was swollen. A moment later, the deputy chief of the section came and asked one person after another to get into her room for enquiry. He suddenly thought that this woman wanted to step into his shoes, so she had hatched this scheme against him. He tried to sit there, waiting. Thirty minutes had gone by and he went back to his room. Suddenly he heard the voice of the deputy chief:
"Can I come in?"
"Yes, please!" - He replied.
The deputy chief was holding a mobile phone in the hand, speaking:
"Do you know the reason why the typist's husband hit you?"
He did not answer. "You, you did it behind my back" - He thought.
The woman looked calm and said:
"Look, I am old, so why did you do this to me?"
"What? What did I do to you?" - He said as if he wanted to roar.
The woman showed the mobile phone to him. He saw the message: "I love you" and he was the sender.
He felt dizzy…. He had never sent a message of the kind to anyone!
"I thought you've pulled my leg, so I did not tell you. Other female employees also received the same message, but they all thought you were pulling their legs, too. But it turned out to be true. And Ms. Binh's husband also thought it was true! The message was sent to us almost at the same time, you know!"
He was startled, hearing this. Yes, it was his wife…. He was so outrageously angry that he wanted to rush home to kill her, but he told himself to keep patient. Patience was golden….
Finally, the deputy chief went out. He was left alone in the room. His eyes were shut tight. His face was pale. He told himself: Patience, be patient! A leader needed patience. It turned out that it was not the outsiders who had damaged his honor. This was the insider who had done it against him. His wife was jealous in a stupid way.
Suddenly he remembered something about the two sides: On the one side, power went alongside interests, but on the other side, what was it….?
Out of the blue, the upper part of his body became extremely itchy. Oh, God! His neck, his face, his hair, all were wet. Was the house leaking? No, this was the concrete house, so there should not be any leaking! Oh, it was sweat. He touched his head, at the swollen point, he felt pained… - VNS
Translated by Manh Chuong