Viet Nam News
by La Thị Ánh Hường
“Luckily, only two people are missing after the terrible flooding,” said Loan’s husband as he closed his laptop.
As he approached her, he seemed to expect a sympathetic smile.
“How can I agree? That was an apathetic remark,” she thought to herself.
Compared to a series of horrible disasters, natural or personal, that happened across the globe - frightful air crashes, bridges getting washed away, terrorist explosions in crowded shopping centres – can this be called a minor one?
Still, the word he used, “luckily,” stung her heart painfully. “What would he say about the weeping woman whose husband died a violent death, about a six-year-old child crying her eyes out beside her father’s wooden coffin, or about relatives wailing in despair over the death of their loved ones?” she asked herself.
As he stretched his hands out to hug her, she warded them off reflexively.
“What’s the matter with you, darling?” he asked.
Without answering, she rushed out of the house into the torrential rain. He ran after her, but after a few steps, stopped abruptly to return home and pick up a couple of raincoats and some money. She kept running. She ran and ran until she collapsed on the pavement in a lonely township nearby. It was still dark. She was conscious. She could smell the fragrance of the laurel bushes that her mother had liked very much, during her short life. She lay there for hours, mumbling to herself in delirium.
* * *
She found herself waking up in a different place, where the sun looked more yellow than ever. She looked around, so she could know if she was still alive or not. “If I’m dead, surely I can see mom,” she told herself. Anyway, she still had a lot of things to do. One of them was to give birth to at least one baby boy, which seemed impossible for the time being. She looked around once again. Everything appeared quite strange. There was absolute silence! Then she heard footsteps coming closer and closer.
It was mom! She sat down by Loan’s side.
“Have you had anything to eat? If you haven’t, come home for some,” she urged her daughter in a soft voice.
Loan remained motionless. She could hardly believe what was happening.
“Clearly, I’m no more! Otherwise, how can I see my dead mother?” It was a surprise that death had come so easily. She had no injury, not even a scratch that could have caused some bleeding.
Whatever, mother was a living soul now. And she was not asking what had happened to her. Loan suddenly felt very hungry. She followed her mother into the kitchen where a table with a lot of her favourite kinds of food had already been prepared for both. Loan put many chunks of delicious food in her mother’s bowl.
“What! You want me to get sick with indigestion?” joked mom.
Loan used to dream of taking her mother to an upscale restaurant to enjoy some tasty and exotic food, to make up for the undernourishment suffered during hard times.
“How did you have the heart to feed her on such a meagre diet?” the nutritionist in charge of the elderly patient’s treatment had chided her. Loan had been stung by her criticism.
“Mom, have you ever been left hungry so far?” she asked her mother.
“Oh no, never. But why are you worried about that now?” her mother had answered.
“What do you want now, Mom? Whatever you want, I’ll get you.”
“I need nothing. Nothing at all.”
“OK, I’ve decided to take you abroad, to places where there are so many beauty spots that you’ve never even imagined. You’ll go around the world and enjoy the best food, things that I’d never dreamt of when you were still alive. I will also take care of you during weekends, and will take care of you whenever you are not well.”
Then, one evening, Loan got busy until midnight, packing her belongings and her mother’s clothes into a big suitcase. Then she sat against the wall, afraid to go to bed lest they miss the early flight out. Finding her still wide awake, her mother took her hand.
“Go to sleep, my dear. I need nothing but your happiness, that’s all.”
“You had a hard life because of our miserable living conditions then. Now I want to compensate to some extent,” Loan said.
That night, she lay beside her mother, enjoying the warm breath she used to smell, massaging her mother’s head and body, arms and legs.
Her work needed frequent long trips away from home, so she returned to her mother only during annual leave. She’d never thought her mother would leave her so early, and so suddenly.
* * *
Loan felt a stinging pain as the staff as the nurse at a clinic gave her an intravenous injection.
Her husband got off the ambulance together with a folding stretcher and a registered nurse in a white cap and uniform.
“Take her home,” the nurse told him in a kind voice as they stood on the pavement. “As you asked, we’ve given her a painkiller. When she regains consciousness, she won’t have to witness another separation,” she added.
“Yes nurse, I’m very grateful. I know my wife must have caused you a lot of trouble. After her mother died, she’s become so distraught and confused that she calls anyone she meets “Mom.”
“Yes, I know, I know, because I’m also a mother. Take good care of her,” she advised him.
He nodded his thanks. With her help, he lifted the stretcher on which his wife lay motionless into the vehicle. Her eyes stayed closed as it started to speed away.
Translated by Văn Minh