Viet Nam News
By Trương Văn Tuấn
The school boys were pointing to the ground from the second floor:
“Look, the clever rich boy is playing with the clever rich girl” they said about the boy and the girl sitting together.
“Who’s sitting next to Oanh from our class?” Được recognised the beautiful girl from his class.
“It’s Tống Minh Quân”
“I see” Được said.
The boys teased Được:
“Bet you don’t like a girl from your class sitting with a boy from another class, you pansy!”
Then all the 12th graders burst out laughing, kicking and hitting each other, horsing around, but Được felt picked on.
That afternoon, Được went home late because he played football with his friends. On his way, he met Quân strolling leisurely. He slowed down his bicycle.
“Do you want a lift?”
Quân nodded his head gratefully.
“Where is your bicycle?”
“I lost it.”
“Where did you lose it?”
“At an ice cream shop.”
“What a loss!”
“Yes, it’s a shame. Would you mind giving me a lift tomorrow too, because I can’t buy a new one yet? What’s your name?”
“Phan Văn Được.”
“Mine is Quân.”
Actually, a day after he lost his bicycle, his mother bought him another. But Quân wanted to go to school with Được more than anything he had ever wanted. One day, Quân waited for Được for more than half an hour without seeing him, so Quân had to ride his bicycle to school. In the afternoon, he dropped by Được’s house and found his friend lying on bed.
“What’s wrong with you?”
“I’ve got flu. Were you late for school today?”
“Yes, I missed one lesson.”
“Why didn’t you ask for a lift from someone else? You’re soft in the head!”
Quân ate with Được that afternoon, staring into his deep eyes. There was no gap between the rich and the poor among these young boys. They had become close. They often went home from school to eat lunch in private and then went back to school together, feeling alive.
“Are you tired after having me riding on your bike all day?” – Quân asked Được.
“I’m shattered!” – Được said, lying on the floor of Quân’s house, reading comic books. After some time, Được got up and said: “I’ve got to go home. Good-bye!”
The next morning when Được left for school, it was still dark. The boys from Quân’s class asked him why Quân hadn’t been to school for two days and asked him to take an exercise book to Quân.
As soon as Được got to Quân’s house, his mother Nga rushed to open the door:
“Why didn’t you give him a lift, Được?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I had to carry fish to the market for my mother,” Được lied.
Upon entering the room, Được saw Quân watching television.
“Why didn’t you go to school? Aren’t you afraid of failing your exams?” Được said, handing the exercise books to Quân.
“Will you take me to school tomorrow?” Quân asked.
“I don’t know,” Được said in a confused voice.
One night, Quân’s sister whispered to her mother:
“Mom, I saw Quân kissing Được.”
“Poppycock!” Quân’s mother shrieked.
Two weeks later, Quân’s father saw his son embracing his friend tightly, so he shouted:
“Được, go home now! From now on, there is no need for you to take him to school. My son can go to school alone.”
The next day, Quân’s mother Ngà scolded Được’s mother Nhì:
“Your son is an uneducated boy! He is banned from coming to my house from now on! Teach him to be a good boy!”
Nhì could not make the head nor tail of it. She rushed home to ask Được:
“What’s wrong between you and Quân?”
Được’s face went scarlet and he felt tears welling up in his eyes.
A few days later, Quân went to see Được in his class during break time.
“What should we do, Được?”
“Let’s stop seeing each other,” he said, his voice faltering.
Soon after, the school headmaster’s wife died and all the teachers and students went to the funeral. Quân threw caution to the wind and went to Được’s house.
“Get out of here, it’s not safe!” Được hissed, even as his heart skipped a beat.
Quân refused. The two boys had a quiet lunch together. Được helped Quân with a piece of fish, urging:
“Eat it and go home. Be quick!”
When Quân arrived home, he saw his father standing at the door, waiting for him to see if anyone was with him. Quân walked into the room with a pained face. He heard the lock click and knew his father had locked him in.
Then his parents drove to Rồng market. They rushed to where Nhì, Được’s mother, was selling dried fish. Ngà, Quân’s mother, attacked Nhì:
“I told you to teach your son, bitch! How you like me now?” she howled as she kicked and slapped Nhì.
People rushed to separate them. After that Ngà and her husband went home, having made their point:
“Teach your son better!”
Được’s father asked his neighbour to take him to the market upon hearing the news. He quickly bandaged his wife’s injuries. Được also ran to the market. When he saw him, Được’s father wanted to give Được a hiding, but Nhì stopped him.
People thought that the boys rowed, causing the fight between their parents. Some of them said:
“Go home, boy! We’ll help your parents tidy up the shop. Don’t worry!”
Được ran home, so enraged he fell down on his face. Later, he was found lying motionlessly on the road. Blood was oozing from his nose.
Quân was locked in his room until the next day.
Được was taken home in a terrible state. His father had no heart to scold him. Finally, Quân was told about the incident by his sister. Quân screamed in madness. He bit at the bolt of the door until his mouth was bloody. He wailed: “Why?” over and over. His father was so frightened that he took his son to hospital, but it was no use. Quân had gone stark raving mad.
Được felt ashamed to see his mother beaten. He could not go on living in the village. Three days later, he moved to another village and intended to never come back. His resentment was so great that before long, he went blind in one eye. He eventually got married and had children.
Quân lived alone after his father and mother died. His sister got married and lived nearby. Everyday Quân went to Rồng crossroad and waited for something or somebody, nobody knew what.
After a long time, Được started visiting his parents by taking the newly opened road. He did not take the old road through Rồng crossroad where Quân was waiting.
Được worked as a carpenter, but sometimes, he picked plants, dried them and sold them. One day, Được was picking herbal plants at Rồng crossroad when he saw Quân standing there. After a few moments, he called to him:
Quân stood there, looking off into the distance, vacant. Được stood up and approached Quân:
“Quân! Do you remember me?”
Quân didn’t look at him.
“Look, I am here, Quân!” Được called out loudly.
Quân turned and walked away. Quân’s hair was grey. He looked old. Được’s eyes welled up with tears. He called Quân again without any response. He sat on the roadside, sobbing.
Quân had been waiting for years without knowing who he was waiting for.
Được went home and heard his wife explaining something to their daughter:
“Uncle Quân was your father’s school mate. He studied so hard that he went insane”.
From then on, every day Được went to Quân’s house and helped his friend tidy up the house. He cooked food for Quân and waited for Quân to eat it before cleaning up. Despite everything that had happened the two men still had love.
Translated by Mạnh Chương