|Illustration by Dao Quoc Huy
by Dang Nguyen Son
A sudden summer shower refreshed the whole village, even their little hut perched under a eucalyptus tree. Xoan, Duy's sweetheart, and her friend Ly, sat and talked inside it for a long time before Ly left for town. Xoan was proud of having built it under a thick canopy according to Duy's idea. It was thanks to that quiet and secluded place that they could learn their lessons in peace while watching their water buffalos graze safe and sound, or so they thought.
"We were so unlucky not to get a place in the provincial college," Ly complained to Xoan one morning when they were seated on the tree.
"I disagree. It was because of our lack of preparation that we failed, that's all," Xoan argued.
"So at the age of about twenty, both Duy and us two, we can hardly go beyond the clusters of bamboo of our native village?" Ly asked irritably.
Xoan kept mum about her friend's complaint. Looking at the raindrops coming down heavily, Xoan felt disappointed.
"You only want to go because your family's poor," Xoan consoled her. Ly promised that she would take Xoan to her new place so that they could live together.
"What will you do to lead a common life there?" Xoan asked her.
"As the saying goes, 'Each day brings its own bread.'There are a lot of jobs I can do," Ly said smiling, despite her tears.
"Really?" Xoan asked her.
The day Duy left for Taiwan for work it rained cats and dogs. That was the start of winter.
After five years abroad, he returned home at the age of twenty-five. He was one year older than Xoan. Unfortunately for her, at such an age, most of the other young women of the village had a few children.
"Don't worry, my dear! We'll have a beautiful wedding in our village. After that you'll open a shop," Duy told his sweetheart.
"Oh Duy, it's more than I could ever hope for!"
"We'll have an album full of wedding photos taken under a peaceful sky," said Duy.
Sitting beside him in the heavy shower, Xoan floated on cloud nine when he kissed her passionately.
"Are you still in love with me?" Xoan asked. She asked as once she had found him staring affectionately at Ly. He did not answer but looked squarely at Xoan.
"My hand is too small for me to hold all the raindrops together, except this one," he said, showing her the only one in his hand. She never forgot that moment for the rest of her days. After that they lay together under the eucalyptus tree and made love.
In their small village nothing could be concealed for long. Xoan and Duy's passionate night was soon the talk of the town.
"Losing your virginity means you can't get married," Xoan's mother said to her one day. In her heart of hearts, Xoan was worried. Once she asked Duy what was happening with them.
"Honey, don't worry. Look at my tattoo "I'll love Xoan forever" on my arm, it's true," he said.
Yet Xoan was still uncertain about her future although she was practically his wife and no one could separate them.
Xoan was confused when she heard her father say to Duy's family, "Don't lose any sleep over this matter. The point is that we have accepted Xoan and Duy's relationship," her father said to Duy's dad.
Although no wedding party was held, the two families regarded each other as relatives from that point on. Yet after a goodbye dinner before Duy's departure to Korea, Xoan's father disclosed that two of his chickens, two pairs of ducks and pig were to be sold to fund his future son-in-law's trip. In other words Xoan's father had declared that her lover was then the family's future son-in-law, which made her very sad, despite the fact that the man did not utter any reproach to her. Duy was a lucky man realising his dream of going abroad to provide for his future wife and family.
Ly suggested that Xoan should talk to Duy on Facebook. She also mentioned talking on the phone. The two loves kept in touch as best they could. Ly had become a glamorous lady. She had changed, she wore fashionable clothes, new hair styles and jewelry. She wore skimpy clothes, exposing her lily white belly and thighs.
"It's all from my overseas Vietnamese admirer, John," she told Xoan one day. "He gave me the new I-Phone and took me to the USA, Korea and China. On my birthday, he gave me a car and an expensive gold watch," Ly boasted.
Xoan was suspicious as John did not like to appear in public although he was tall and handsome. What's more, Ly often sent money to her parents, which made their neighbours extremely envious.
Ly seemed to have dropped off the face of the earth, she wasn't even active on her facebook. Her letters to home also came to an end. Her parents went to the police for help. Xoan got more anxious when she saw a facebook picture about a girl whose kidney had been removed while unconscious and under anesthetic. Together with the picture, there was a brief romantic story, which reminded her of Ly.
Unexpectedly, one day Ly called Xoan's phone. Xoan was thrilled and took advantage of the opportunity to find out where her friend had gone.
"Ly, where have you been? We were really worried about you," Xoan said to her.
"I'm in a police station near the border between China and Viet Nam," replied Ly.
"What are you doing there?"
"It's a long story," she answered. "I was kidnapped by a gang of smugglers, then I managed to escape but I was arrested for not having a visa. Please tell my parents to phone me at this address. They must come to this Chinese police station with an interpreter as soon as possible. If they do that I can get out on bail," Ly insisted.
Hearing Xoan's information Ly's father stood up, tremblingly proceeded towards his armchair, he sat down motionless and looked vacantly ahead. Her mother cried and cried. They decided to sell everything in their home: a TV, a fridge, an electric rice cooker, two wall fans, then withdrew all the money from their savings account. What they collected was just enough for two return flights. Worse still, they made up their mind to sell their single water buffalo and together with donations from relatives and neighbours, they had enough to hire a good interpreter before going to China.
"Come what may, they're lucky to be able to take their daughter back home at last," remarked one of their neighbours before they set off.
"My fate will be unlucky either," Duy wrote to Xoan one day. "My contract was fake, I was swindled by my employer," he disclosed.
Reading his letter Xoan nearly fainted. "How would I live if something happened to him and no money would be sent home from Korea?" Xoan lamented.
She made up her mind to come to Duy's house to tell his father everything. After listening to her account, he was silent. It reminded him of the day when he learned of his wife's unfaithfullness.
That evening Xoan went to Duy's house. To her surprise, everything in his house was tidy and clean without the care of a woman. Duy's father looked much older than his age of fifty-five. His hair was grey and wrinkles furrowed his face. He sat silently as usual.
"The recruitment company in Korea has rejected Duy's application. Sooner or later, he will return home," he blurted out. Xoan felt greatly disappointed. "My loan from the bank taken that day alone amounts to one hundred million dong. By now, its compound interest might go beyond my payment. The more I take pity on you, the angrier I am at my son," declared the old man.
"Duy told me that I should keep calm because many others were in the same situation as him. If he breaches the contract, what will happen to him?" Xoan asked the old man.
"I'm told that if his wrongdoings are minor, he will be deported from Korea and come back home, but if they are grave he will be fined or sent to prison," he said. Xoan was worried.
"My dear Duy, that day's summer shower came down quickly and stopped fast too. Yet it came to me beyond my expectation. However, I'll try to keep my mind at ease. If the worse comes to the worse, you'd return home. We'll turn over a new leaf on our plot of land. As for the bank loan, I'll ask Dad to lend me the sum of money he got from selling the family's herd of cows and oxen. Everything will be ok, I hope. I've promised that I'd be your spouse for ever. Believe in me and in yourself as well and we'll make it through this. I hope that tomorrow when I get up and open my eyes, I might see a rainbow appearing across the river near our eucalyptus tree and you and Ly will be sat on it, smiling," Xoan said to him in her last letter.
Translated by Van Minh
The story was published on Van Nghe (Literature and Arts) newspaper on October 24, 2015.