Viet Nam News
Nobody knew his real name, his age or even the reason why he went half crazy. Nobody took heed of that crazy guy. But his appearance made people around take interest in him.
He was fatherless or, to be exact, he did not know who his father was. He had an old mother who toiled over her vegetable garden to earn a living, but she was fully capable of giving him three meals a day. She even bought him things he needed for daily life. However, he was absent from home day and night. He went around, singing or massaging a man to get some money to buy cigarettes. When he had nothing to do, he waded in the canal to play with some buffaloes. Some girls working in the field called to him after seeing him passing by:
“Eh, Bùm! Where are you going?”
And children gathered and yelled at him:
“Mister Bùm! Look, Mister crazy Bùm!” Then they ran away in fear, but he did not chase them.
Teenagers often pulled his leg.
“Mister Bùm, are you married?”
“Get married now!”
Then they handed him a bottle of alcohol, saying:
“Drink it, Bùm! It’s water, don’t be afraid!”
He knew it was alcohol, but he drank it anyway because water and alcohol were the same to him. Having drunk it, he began singing, teasing girls working in the rice field and playing with some village children.
He had a habit, a weird one at that. When anybody in the village had a funeral, he showed up early in the morning. He did nothing, just went here and there, looking busy as if he was a relative of that family. But he wasn’t deceiving anyone. They knew that he was waiting to enjoy the meal and alcohol following the funeral. Yet, he was always the last one to sit down at a table, and he ate slowly, quietly and with politeness. The people hosting the funeral also treated him well to show their kindness. None of them wanted to sit with him, but he had gotten used to it.
It was quite normal to see him at a funeral. But the people were greatly surprised when he shed tears and cried. It was thought by some people that he cried because he truly felt sorrowful for the deceased, but others thought he only did it because he wanted to eat food. He bawled mournfully at funerals where the deceased had no children or relatives. Widow Năm Hô died of old age. He was found at her funeral very early, crying his heart out, deeply moving the people around him. An ill-fated wretch with nobody to turn to, and now lying six feet under, old Năm Hô surely would have felt relieved that someone was crying for her. He was even found in Năm Hô’s house for a few days after. The neighbours took turns cooking food to worship her. He joined in the cooking, burning incense or doing some odd jobs. After finishing the worship ceremony, he sat down and ate the food in a slow and polite way as if he was the owner of the house.
At one point, he had not been seen around for a whole month. But nobody paid heed to him. Only when they had a break at noon after ploughing the field did they begin whispering:
“I wonder where crazy Bùm is this month! I haven’t seen him around asking me for some tobacco to smoke.”
Even the children in the village said:
“Let’s go and fetch crazy Bùm now!”
But they could not find Bùm. Some girls even joked:
“Why haven’t we seen young Bùm these days? Or has he gone off with some other crazy girl?”
In short, people around always remembered crazy Bùm at unexpected moments.
When Mr. Hai Dinh died of a serious illness, crazy Bùm was found present at the funeral again. He looked ill and thinner. He went into Mr. Hai Dinh’s house when all the relatives were there to take care of the funeral. Among these people were Mr. Hai Dinh’s five children and the chief of the clan, who had great influence in that family. Crazy Bùm was not a busybody like he used to be. He stood there in the corner of the house, saying nothing.
His abnormal behaviour made everyone surprised. When Mr. Hai Dinh’s photo was set up on the altar, crazy Bùm looked fixedly at it. All of a sudden, he touched his face as if he discovered that he looked like the person in the photo. He still stood there, thinking it over. His face looked meditative and preoccupied. Sometimes he smiled, then looked angry. But nobody realized the uncanny similarities between the two faces.
Neighbours and relatives flocked to the funeral. They came to carry the coffin to the grave. People cried and cried. But this time, crazy Bùm did not cry. He did not show any sign of pity either. His face was hard as a stone. But he went in silence after the coffin until it was lowered into the grave. Then he rushed to the grave, lied down and cried bitterly, greatly surprising people around him, who looked at each other and wondered what was happening.
“Oh, my dad! My dad! My dad…..!”
The crying made people tremble with fear as they started to grasp what was happening. For all these years, the ‘widow’ of a crazy son had to suffer so much gossip, rumours and slander to protect her son. She kept silent so as to create a tranquil life for her and her son, or did she do it to protect her chastity or the dignity of the man who had betrayed her? She and her son did not have the right to live with the truth.
Days after Mr. Hai Dinh’s funeral, the villagers kept whispering stories about crazy Bùm and Mr. Hai Dinh. All the respect shown to Mr. Hai Dinh and his family for all these years had suddenly become suspect. When did Mr. Hai Dinh marry crazy Bùm’s mother? Why didn’t they recognise that he took after Mr. Hai Dinh? And why didn’t he accept his son, that crazy Bùm? A lot of similar questions had been asked, and the villagers had talked on and on about it while working in the field, having dinner or sitting over a cup of tea. But none of them could know what had happened 30 years before.
Two weeks after Mr. Hai Dinh’s funeral, five children started denouncing crazy Bùm. They thought that crazy Bùm had disgraced the honour of their father and discredited him. On that day, three people from the Lunatic House came to arrest crazy Bùm while he was having lunch with his mother. Then he was put into a car. He tried to fight it, but his struggling was in vain. His mother ran after the car, crying.
Translated by Mạnh Chương