Viet Nam News
by Nguyễn Hữu Tài
Giang got off the bus right at the bus stop at Đinh Tiên Hoàng Road and walked leisurely to the centre of the provincial capital.
It was a summer afternoon. There were a few kilometres before she could reach Bảo’s house. Braving the scorching sun, she walked on the beaten track where three years before this place was her second home. Those trails were very familiar to her, with a lot of memories attached.
Having graduated university, Bảo left the urban life and came back to his home to get a job without any hesitation. Giang, with a journalism certificate, stayed back and worked for a famous newspaper in Saigon. Four years in love had consolidated their faithfulness. Out of the blue, Giang received a paper for an interview to go to the US. She had been waiting for it for more than 10 years and now she was 25 years old. So she had no mood to go. She felt contented with her life here and was enthusiastically preparing for a nuptial life. But her uncle had prepared everything for her. This landed her in a difficult situation. Her parents were old now, while her younger siblings were still young. This had forced her to change her mind. She tossed and turned for a few months. She thought hard: To go or to stay? To go and live a better life in the US or to stay and become a gentle wife in this arid land? She had struggled hard. She came to ask for advice from friends and most them said that she had better go.
She asked Bảo, her would-be husband, what she should do, go or stay.
“I respect your opinion. Do tell me, my dear.” – She said.
Bảo bit his lips and then said:
“You are mature enough to make this decision on your life. When you ask me that question, you are having a selection. In other words, you do not devote your body and soul to the first decision. So follow your heart, so that you won’t feel remorse about it.”
Giang cried three days after having heard those words from Bảo. No more thinking. She wiped her tears and decided to go. The first days in the foreign land, she had to study and do a part time job to earn money. Through their phone conversations, the only question she put to Bảo “Will you wait for me?” was heard again and again. On the iPhone screen, she saw Bảo looking pensive before smiling. One day she received Bảo’s letter and it was the only one.
“I don’t know if we can wait and wait for each other. You should do what you like. Do go to anywhere you like, even choose the man you love, until you feel fed up with it and return; if we still have the attachment of predestined love and are still single, I am certain we will open our arms wide and start our unfinished love. Otherwise, we have to give in and become two silhouettes of the past. We have nothing to owe each other; no blame, because we once belonged to each other”
Giang sat in silence by Bảo’s side on Ổ Gà Mountain Top, looking at Bánh Ít Pass from afar in the late afternoon sun. On her left hand side, houses were seen jostling with one another amid the lush green foliage; the rice field spreading as far as the eye could see. Upfront was Hòn Hèo Mountain shrouded in white clouds; Nha Phu swamp teemed with fish where there was the Dinh River. On the right hand side, Ninh Hòa provincial capital lay by the side of North-South Highway.
Many years in love, Bảo had many times taken Giang to the city; carried her on a clapped-out Honda to every corner of the city. The street he lived on was far-flung, so there was not so much traffic. Near the street was the post-harvest rice field, leaving only stubble. He carried her to have some fish rice noodle soup and some other local specialties, particularly boiled snails.
Also right on this Ổ Gà Mountain Top, they both used to dream about their own very happy wedding ceremony. Yet, out of the blue, Giang resigned herself to leave Bảo. They met each other only once in these three years. More than a thousand days living far from each other. What they could do was to keep contact over the phone, on Facebook. Giang intended to take Bảo to the US when she was naturalised, when her life was stable. However, many times she thought what would happen to Bảo when she was not by his side, when he lived among so many girls. Could she wait for him when all around here were those young American guys who were smart and polite?
When she was in Saigon, Giang met Trung, an acquaintance from the US. Two years before he had got a stroke and he was thought to have died. A funeral had already been prepared for him. Yet, Trung had recovered magically. He was hospitalised in the Intensive Care Unit for one month and in the Rehabilitation Ward for two months. After that he was discharged and stayed at home for convalescence. Trung told Giang that he had experienced the most terrible time of his life.
Suburban Nashville was very deserted. All around his residence was hissing wind and sometimes whirlwinds. It was as if he was abandoned by life in this far flung place. Trung went on to say that his wife was a nail technician. She spent the whole day in the nail salon where she could talk and laugh. In face of this situation, Trung asked his wife to help him go back to Viet Nam where his mother and brother could give care to him. Loan nodded her head immediately and arranged for his journey home.
One year in Saigon, Trung looked more agile and fresh. He helped his brother to take care of a food shop. However, Trung could not recover fully. When Giang asked:
“Do you have any grudge against Loan when she lives with another man over there?”
Trung said with his voice touched with sadness:
“No, dear. I think Loan needs a man in this situation. Actually she had gone with a man when I was still on a patient’s bed! I only felt pity for my two children. They were not grown up enough to understand the story of their parents. I intended to have my children back to Viet Nam and next year I will come to see her to settle the affair.”
Giang was darting her glance towards the center of the provincial capital. Everything here had suddenly become so sad. In the US when she went home from work or from study, she often walked on the trail near Broadway Avenue and dropped in a bar to have a glass of Jack Daniels and listened to country music. But now all around her was wind blowing. Nobody to care for her, to caress her or to kiss her. All of a sudden, she felt so lonely. Her heart was so empty.
“What time does the train leave here?” – Bảo asked.
“I will carry you to the railway station and then go to work”
“Yes, if you not so busy”
“When are you returning to the US?”
“Next week. Have you got a lover?”
“Still single” – Bảo said, striking a matchstick to smoke.
“When did you start smoking?”
“Since I was abandoned….”
Bảo’s voice was heard being immersed with the wind, so warm and Giang felt he was murmuring his blame.
“So will we continue to wait for each other, won’t we?”
“Is there anything to wait for?” – Bảo trembled for a moment. He looked very moved.
He was telling a lie. He had been waiting for Giang for all these years. He knew that if he told her to stay that day, she would stay right away. But he felt he had no right to force her to do it. He could not separate Giang from her dear ones.
When Giang got onto the plane that day, Bảo thought he would lose her forever. He would never leave this land to live with her over there. A lot of his friends had moved to the US to live and work, but many of them had returned to work in the home country. He was asked to go with them, but he refused. A lot of his friends had left this godforsaken place to live and work in Ha Noi, Đà Nẵng and Saigon. But he stayed in his homeland of Ninh Hòa. Take his brother Khánh for example. He moved to live and work in Ha Noi with his wife for several years. He had a house there; his life was stable. Yet, in the end of the day, he had come back to his homeland here.
Bảo was very familiar with the roads and trails here, with shops and foods here. Life went on as it had been years before, very tranquil and safe. For Bảo, happiness was very simple. Things went by day in, day out just the same.
Now the loudspeaker at the railway station was announcing that there was still 10 minutes before the train started. Bảo was standing near Giang, they were very close to each other. Giang wanted to take his hand, to embrace him tightly; Giang wanted them to kiss each other as ardently as they had in the past. She wanted to say something to him. She was waiting for him to say something, to ask her to stay with him. But he could not. They both stood there, still.
The train was moving slowly into the station. Passengers were moving noisily. Bảo was walking closer to her with her luggage in his hands. Giang felt like she was turning into stone. Bảo took Giang’s hands and whispered amid the sounds of the people and train whistles, but Giang felt it was very sweet and persuasive:
“Do come back, Giang!”.
Translated by Mạnh Chương