THE WRITERS POST
VOLUME 5 DOUBLE ISSUE WINTER 2003 SPRING 2004
THE DANGLING LOVE
Finally I got Ha as my wife. On the wedding day, I felt like a somnambulist. I had embraced an enormous happiness. Ha was like a twinkling star in the sky, and I, a dreaming boy, who unexpectedly plucked that precious object. The sounds of fire crackers, of laughters, of congratulations and clattering of dishes seemed to reverberate from afar. Only my inner pleasure evidently manifested. I had married to the best human being whom I would cherish forever.
Once alone in our cosy pink room, I felt awkward and puzzled, not knowing what to do on that nuptial night. Ha curled up in one bed corner with a gloomy face, her head bent, her hands touched the flap of her white wedding gown, her eyes stared at the light pink bedsheet. I tried to act naturally by caressing her new hairdo, the bride’s hair on the wedding day. She had used to let her soft and fragrant long hair flow down on her back. She brushed my hand away abruptly. I felt more perplexed. I then proceeded toward the window and looked down on the street. The rain had come down continuously. A cyclo silently passed by. Its driver wore a large brim hat with an old, rumpled military tarpaulin around his body. The wet road reflected the dim, yellow streetlight. I silently asked myself: wasn’t I the new bridegroom in the nuptial night? I turned to look at the wedding bed. Ha remained sitting, as placid as a statue. Mustering courage, I asked her to go to the bathroom first. Then, I moved toward another window. The neighbor’s papaya tree was striving against heavy beads of rain. I saw Ha through the pitiful fate of that papaya tree. I turned back, urging Ha to get to the bathroom. This time, she stood up, opened her suitcase for her nightgown. Hesistancy was shown in her walking posture. The bathroom door clicked with a dry noise. I breathed out easily. The situation seemed to improve. If Ha obstinately kept on sitting on the bed, I would not know what to do. How strange are Vietnamese girls. They are like fragile crystal. I told myself to be extremely careful. I felt that I was blissful and truly ecstatic.
The white light poured out on the floor when Ha stepped out from the bathroom. In front of me was Ha, fresh and tiny like a subtle white cat. I fascinately stared at her, my heart pounding. My wife. Not until then did I realize the intimate image of a spouse. I lunged forward to embrace Ha, but she skillfully slipped from my hands. Her long black hair fluttered as she flew to the bed. Her whole body was shaken with sobs, which were obstructed by her curling knees. I stood motionless. What could I do? I talked to myself again that I must be very patient. It was a tremendous effort for an active person like me. I went to the bathroom, slowly took a bath, trying to lenghthen the time for Ha to overcome her emotional shock. When I came out of the bathroom, Ha was still sitting on the bed with her face damp with tears. Gently I wiped the tears rolling down her cheeks. She let me do it. I caressed her lips but she gently moved my hand away. I asked her to lie down to sleep and she obeyed submissively. Her eyes fixed on me, half afraid, half defensive. I had seen those terryfying eyes of the animals ready to be slaughtered at the wild beast restaurants. You probably had been at the wild beast restaurant in Bien Hoa, hadn’t you? I had gone there many times with my Vietnamese friends. The caging wild animals, once being chosen and pointed out by a customer, all appeared to have chilly horror-stricken eyes. My new, pitiful wife carried the same look. I took off my bathrobe to prepare for sleep. Ha trembled when she saw my body. She closed her eyes, face down on the pillow, both hands clasped between her thigh, legs pulled up, and feet entwined. I repeated to myself:” This is your wife, don’t you know, John?” I did not know until three days later that Ha was still a virgin.
Please be patient, my friend, if I related to you this story in great details, because those were the best days of my life. How could I forget them? Now that you had returned to the states, I hope you could share my happiness. How could I marry such a virgin girl in this country? When I was in school, I had lots of girlfriends. It was not a strange thing in this country that no sooner had you opened your mouth than your girlfriend went ahead to jump into your bed. I considered myself as a pretty handsome young man, with portrait drawing skill as an attribute. How could girls resist being fascinated with me? All I had to do was to invite them home and have a portrait sketched.
As you know, my friend, life in the states is so bountiful and relaxed, therefore, people got bored easily. After finishing high school, I became idle, I worked at odd jobs and indulged in vicious activities: drinking, smoking and chasing after women. At that time the war in Viet Nam was at its peak and required continuous increase of American troops. Tired of my playful life with monotonous daily activities, and triggered by adventures, I volunteered to join the Army and was sent to Viet Nam. Some of my lightning-struck friends cursed me for my stupidity. I had daringly jumped right into the war while they were participating in war demonstrations, avoiding the draft and burning drafting papers.
My batallion was stationed in a small district, more than 100 miles from Saigon. The Vietnamese countryside was picturesque. You could see small rice paddies spreading like a square hankerchief surrounded by tiny dikes, interlaced with placid ponds; you could see the thick bamboo hedges surrounding villages, which were circled by small rough paths; you could see black, shiny water buffaloes grazing pensively... This would urge you to take your brush for painting. But it was so hot, a scorching heat that no matter how much water you drank, you would still have the internal burning feeling. In addition, the dust was unbearable, to live in this dusty atmosphere, one needed to have very strong good lungs. The fidgetty stickiness would kill your inspiration, even if you had the desire to paint. So, you had to give up. Military operations went on continuously. I faced the war on the front line, not the kind of war shown on TV or the mock practices in military training schools. Death was hiding and surrounding you. It could occur as easily as sleeping. I really felt the fear. Comrade’s bodies, enemies’ bodies; innocent people’s bodies, elderlies’s and children bodies were scattered everywhere. Back in my country, life was so peaceful, a human death was an event; over here, carcass was ubiquitous and anybody could face death. Life was so uncertain: one lived and one could die suddenly. That explained why I hastily clung to life day by day. Who could tell tonight, tomorrow, I would be immobile like those quiet corpses. Whenever on vacation leave to Saigon, I let pleasures take the lead. This occasion might be the last time. I indulged in drinking and dancing with bar girls and prostitutes. I’d spend all my salary. I knew it was wasteful, but who would be certain to have more chances to spend? Like sharks, the bar girls and prostitutes took every penny you got. Didn’t you remember the so-called “Saigon tea”? I poured all my money into it. Awakened the following morning, looking at the disgusting naked bodies next to me, I felt nauseated. I could not pull myself out of this muddy way of life whenever I obtained my vacation. While trying to escape the mundane life in the United States, I fell into this absurd life in this remote land instead. Many times I thought I’d become crazy.
Am I bothering you with my talk, my friend? I guessed you could not avoid wearing your fatigues. But it was a different story for you guys, the Vietnamese, because you were fighting for your country in order to protect your property and your fellow countrymen. You had a purpose to trigger your gun without making you crazy; whereas I became more and more frightened and bored with the game that I wanted to walk out, to no avail. But my fate was not that unlucky. All of a sudden, my battallion commander got transferred to Saigon, he took me along as he thought that I was a smart and resourful person.
I met Ha during that time. The place where I worked was an old French villa. The imposing building was located in the middle of a large garden surrounded by multi-colored flowering beds and gravel covered paths; the surrounding walls were covered with pink flowers. I particularly liked the hundred-year-old tamarinds, with branches reaching up to my window on the second floor. In the fall, whenever the fallen tamarind yellow leaves were blown with the wind, I used to stand still in the room, watching the scenery with fascination. I saw Ha for the first time in that enchanted scene. She wore a light yellow ao dai, her jet black hair streamed down to her shoulders, the white pants flowed over her sandals embracing the tiny pink feet. She walked with a slight hopping of a bird. Her face was tilted to the left as if, in so doing, she could avoid reaching too high to stroke her hair. Blown by the wind, both flaps of her ao dai wavely surrounded her legs while she kept on walking rhythmically. I stock-stood beholding the real beauty in front of me. Oh, such a beauty in such a splendid scenery. Whoever liked painting could not resist such a temptation. The painting was done with all my passion and excitement.
To nose her out in a building with less than a hundred employees was not as difficult as looking for a needle in a haystack. Before working time, I put my painting, carefully wrapped in artistic paper, on Ha’s desk. At the end of the day, I approached her desk and was given a thank-you smile by her. I completed another portrait with that fresh and lively grin sticking on the portrait. She was deeply moved when receiving the second painting and was apparently embarrassed. Taking advantage of the occasion, I tried to win her over with perfumes, lip sticks that most young women were craving for. Ha was completely different from them. She flatly refused my gifts. I was mortified, yet became more infatuated with her. And I played a dirty trick: at that time, a television set was a dream of each Vietnamese family. I pretended to inform Ha that the PX had got new TVs for sale, with a good deal. I told her that I had already got one. It was a waste if I gave up my allocation; and if she wanted a TV set, I would certainly help buy it for her. Commodities in PX were usually sold cheaper for GI, and I had quoted only half the price for the TV set. She seemed to hesitate and told me she’d answer the next day. Early in the following morning, she came to my desk with a bundle of dollars, asking me to buy it for her. I had blamed myself for accepting the money: the bait was thrown, which made it difficult for the pitiful fish to refuse biting. But I had defended myself for acting that way just because of my love for her. I told her I’d buy it the next day and would bring it to her house. Ha appeared hesitated and puzzled, then, without knowing what else to do, she wrote me her home address. I was overjoyed. The following evening, I brought the TV set to her house with an additional gift, a big box of candies for her parents. They could not refuse it, of course. The PX carried a variety of goods for which every Vietnamese was yearning. That was a good excuse for me to be back and forth to Ha’s almost weekly. Each of my visits was accompanied with an attractive present, and each time, I was treated with a Vietnamese meal. They considered me as a family member, especially her younger brothers and sisters whose bright eyes sparkled whenever they received my gift. Only Ha kept a distance with her indifferent attitude. Rather disappointed, I told myself that I had to conquer the person I was deeply in love.
Hey friend, what was it in your mind? Merely looking at your eyes, I knew that you were thinking ill of me. In reality, I had acted as a cheater. I had used money, materialistic goods with the ultimate purpose to conquer her. Refrigerators, television sets, record players, electric fans, cookies, candies...were nothing to me, but to Ha’s family, those represented a longing not easily accessible. My profit was Ha. Undeniably I was a liar, but I truly loved her. Wasn’t my true love worthy of an extenuating circumstance? When I asked for marrying her, her parents embarrassingly promised to give me an answer later. She avoided meeting me. I felt really sorry for her. I cleary recalled on Sunday the following week, Ha’s parents said they had agreed with my proposal. You knew how much I was happy. But why my Ha had become so languish. I felt guilty, but tried to cover up my remorse with a hope that everything would be OK.
Ha followed me back to the U.S. During the first days of separation from her homeland, she was sobbing her heart out. Her weeping could go on and on for days, just like the Vietnamese family ties could be considered as a kind of strong glue. It glued together grandparents to parents and children, even extended to uncles and aunts. When Ha was separated from that family tie, she felt lost and insecure. Her love for her country was strangely strong. Perhaps she might have affection for every blade of grass in Vietnam. I realized that the more people belong to a poor country, the more they feel attached to it. Poverty seemed to be a kind of yeast to incite patriotism. As for me, citizen of a wealthy and large country, patriotism seems to be untastful. Even if I would travel all over the world, the love for my country could not be equal to one small portion of hers. No matter what I did to comfort her, Ha appeared withered like the papaya leaves in a neighbor’s garden under heavy rain on my wedding night. I tried my best to comfort Ha hoping to help compensate her losses.
The enormous loss like a whirlwind had happened: South Vietnam fell to the Communists from the North. Ha seemed to lose her mind to that pitiful land. She became distraught, and I was restless as well. I had gone through hell and back. So did my friends: some got bloodily injured, others returned home with mental problems, others were listed as missing in action, and there were those who had sacrified their lives to protect that distant land. How could these heavy losses happen? Even though I tried to think so hard to understand it, I could not find a reasonable answer to that illogical reality. The waves of Vietnamese refugees hastily escaped the communists had arrived to different states in this country. In my city there were several Vietnamese families who had been sponsored. Ha came to her compatriots to assist them in the beginning stage of their new lives. Surrounded by friends speaking the same mother tongue, Ha turned out to be a completely different person; she looked rejuvenated, more articulate, and vibrant. Sucesssive waves of boat people who kept on arriving resettle in our city had created a bigger Vietnamese community. Vietnamese restaurants began to open. Ha took me out enjoying different Vietnamese dishes with particular pleasure. My friend, do you know what I like best? Pho. When I was in Vietnam, I loved this kind of soup, which I now enjoyed as if meeting an old friend. We discovered the taste of the old days in Saigon.
A few months later, Ha asked me to start operating a Vietnamese grocery store. I was then a sale representative for a vacuum cleaner company and a hearing aid company. My business was pretty prosperous. What did you say, my friend? You told me that those two products were not interrelated? Were you kidding me? There was no need to say that in using my vacuum cleaner, one could become deaf. Let me continue with my story. I did not want to quit my job, nor did I want Ha to work hard in handling this business. But she insisted on opening a grocery store so that she could have a chance to be near her fellow countrymen daily. I yielded to her wish.
The store was pretty busy. Customers came in and out bustingly. Ha became animated and comfortable with customers speaking her mother tongue. I had practiced to speak some simple Vietnamese phrases for communication. Our life was pleasantly simple and peaceful. It had lasted for several years until the day I saw Ha become pensive, less talkative, less laughing and at times forgetful. It seemed she got something extremely difficult to think about. Rarely did I pay close attention to small things, but I had realized that her face was cloudy with sorrow. Had I tried to squeeze out an answer, she brushed aside, saying there was nothing to worry about. I respected her silence in a subtle manner. Until the day I became stupefied to find a note addressing to me that she inserted in a book on our bed. She had left me, and told me not to waste time looking for her.
I still kept the store running with an expectation that Ha would have a place to meet with her fellow countrymen in case she returned home. But when could that precious day be materialized? What would you think, my friend? Would she be willing to return to me?
When John asked me to marry him, I was not surprised but extremely frightened. John was like a spider stretching its dense cobweb around the bait, which was myself, without leaving a single escape. The beginning of this trouble was my fault. If on the day he asked me to let him buy me a television set, I could have flatly refused his offer. No more connection for him. It was not because I regretted such a good deal, but the reason I acccepted his offer was the thought of seeing my parents’ happiness of owning an appliance they had always longed for, and also my pity for my siblings being nightly rejected and chased away by our neighbors when they came to their house to side watch their TV shows. The television set indeed had upgraded our family’s standing in our neighborhood. In a winding and crowded alley within a poor working neighborhood, people watched one another with jealousy and competition. This home owned this, and the other should have possessed that. None wanted to be inferior to the others. My parents were not out of that circle.
My family was not originally from Saigon. We moved to this place when I was twelve years old. The war had driven us off the countryside to the city. My parents had to struggle to feed a household of five children among them I was the oldest. I had planned many times to quit school or to look for work in order to assist my parents; but they insisted on my achievement in education for setting an example for my siblings. I could not figure out to what level of success my parents’ expectation would be. To my guess, obtaining a baccalaureate degree (equal to a high school diploma) was their high expectation. Even though I studied very hard, I still failed to obtain the basic degree to satisfy my parents’yearning. One of my cousins, upon hearing of my failure in the examination, had tried to secure me a job in an American agency where she was working. The job was pretty easy and was well paid. I thought I was lucky. For me, life seemed good and stable. But Hien became restless.
You asked me who Hien was. Let me gradually tell you about our relationship. Hien was my ...man. Why did you laugh? I did not know how to call him, so I just ventured to call him my lover. I knew that Hien loved me. At that time, I was shy and Hien was even worse. We had had affection for each other but did not know how to express it. Hien used to frequent my house to talk with my parents; he also played with my brothers and sisters or helped me with my homework, and he genuinely cared for me. Everybody thought we would eventually become a couple. I didn’t understand why Hien kept on beating around the bush, never explicitly declared his love to me. The on-going relationship made me think that I had had a big brother, willing to cater to a younger sister’s needs. I had great affection for Hien, too. What I expected him to do was to move forward. But he couldn’t do that as if his hands were tied. Not until the day before reporting to military duty did he shakily hold my hand to say farewell. Only holding each other’s hand made us bewildered. We were just becoming perplexed without knowing what to do. Upon graduating from Thu Duc Reserve Military School, Hien got to be transferred to Da Nang city. Exchanging letters gave us a chance to reveal our love. To express one’s love a thousand kilometers away seemed to be much easier than saying it within a half meter distance. Affection being expressed in love letters had been as lively as love declared verbally. It grew proportionally with time. When I disclosed the good news of being accepted to work for an American agency, Hien seemed to be disappointed. I sensed some feelings of bitterness in our ensueing letters. As far as I understood, no young man would feel pleased to see his own sweetheart work for the Americans. You would certainly recall the bad reputation affixed to these American employees. As for the women working for Americans, not everybody was money-greedy, or was willing to sell her body, or becoming Americans’ lovers. But society at large had looked down upon us with severely obvious contempt. Many families had been broken up, many relationships became disintegrated, and lots of cruel and malicious comments were spreading around.
I thought I could understand Hien’s state of mind. He was no different than those people around him, and the distance over one thousand kilometers made him irritated. I did not know how Hien learned about the fact that an American had frequently visited my family. He wrote me a short letter with a critical and disappointed tone with implication that he was aware of what was happening. No more communication thereafter between us. I had written him many letters to explain my situation but not a word of response from him. I became extremely distressed. So let it be.
Meanwhile, John’s imposing figure increased its pressure on our family life. Our family possessed most amenities available in the PX. Needless to say, my friend, you can imagine how my parents, my sibblings were so proud of these things. Ours was the most modern home in this community. Even though poverty was no longer lingering in our family, it had profoundly intergrated in my parent’s personalities. The effects of earlier miserable days had made them take advantage of John’s kindness. They had asked him help buy every item which could be resold in the market for a profit. With extra money earned, we added on another upper level of the house, our grocery bag had become increasingly full with fresher foods. By the same token, friends had come to see us more frequently than they used to; and filial piety was also manifested by lavish anniversaries paying homage to our once forgotten ancestors.
My parents’s splendid smiles turned out to be the locks that screwed my life. I could not stand taking away the joy from those two dear faces that more than half their life were sunk deeply in poverty, nor could I rejuvenate my own life by marrying John. I was frightened and perplexed like a death criminal, being aware of the execution day could come some day, but still could not overcome the terror when that dreaful moment rushed in. I always knew that John’s help to my family was not without a second motive, but his marriage proposal still made me irritated and stupefied. I thought that my parents had implicitly agreed with that proposal, even though they acted as if I was the one who had the right to make the ultimate decision. They hinted to me that I should think of paying back the debt to John. I wished that my love for Hien was still strong enough to make the scale tilted to one side. The thoughts of him made me constantly upset. How weak he was, as a soldier. He ran away before being attacked. I loved Hien, but my love was rejected. I had nothing for choice. His silence toward my letters meant more than a brutal slap on my face. He despised me, and let it be. I proudly accepted John’s marriage proposal. Everybody was glad. I was the only one who was deeply tormented. I threw my life in the hand of a man for whom I had not even had the slightest love. John was considered as a friend sounded reasonable; but, taking him as a husband was deplorable. I had tried to search out his positive characteristics for self-consolation. John was nice. John loved me crazily. John was handsome. John was talented. John had painted for me a romantic picture of fallen autumn leaves.
All of those beautiful thoughts regarding John vanished when I faced a naked man on the wedding night. Bundles of curly hair running along his bulky body really frightened me. My body curled up in a tremendous shock. My mind became paralyzed. My body curved like a boiled shrimp, my hands tightly squeezed between my thighs in a defensive posture. My tears streamed down profusely. Oh my Hien, I cried hard, calling the man I loved. I kept on crying throughout the night burrying my face in the pillow.
In less than a year, I followed “him” to America. I cried from the day of preparation for departure, I cried at the airport, while on the plane and I continued to cry during the first few days in the new land. I bitterly missed my parents and and my siblings. The memory of years and months living in my homeland haunted my mind. Many times, I sat motionless, letting my mind wandering, and dreams overwhelmed my sleep. I was surrounded by my cherished past. I wearily stared at the pictures I had brought with me. Every time I saw the news or pictures about Vietnam on television, tears filled up my eyes. John respected my private state of mind. He quietly comforted me when seeing me in distress. A lot of times, he was surprised why I was so attached to my country and family. I knew that he could never understand the feelings of an unfortunate woman who had been coerced to be away from her loved ones. The daily materialistic life went on without any deficiencies. Everything was beautiful, abundant and comfortable. But why, I was always indifferent. I thought about the P.X. stuff Jonh had brought for my family. They were so unworthy in this rich country, and I had to pay for those ordinary things with my whole life! I thought of my parents’ bright eyes at the sight of those modern gifts. Poor me!
My parents must have been thinking that I was savouring the pleasures in this rich country. For them, my pictures taken in front of the pretty house and its expensive furniture must have demonstrated my happiness. The poverty that had unconciously taken root in their mind had become an allergy to them. Avoiding poverty meant happiness. While I was struggling among the strangers, you know what, it was very rare to encounter a fellow countryman here at that time. On the street, if you met with an Asian, you turned around, waiting for a Vietnamese word. Seeing a Vietnamese might bring you great happiness. Not as now, fellow Vietnamese could be found everywhere.
Some of John’s friends looked at me as if seeing an alien from Mars. They considered me a kind of barbarian. The reason was that they daily watched television only to witness scenes of war in Vietnam, therefore they imagined Vietnamese were barbarians who knew only one thing of killing one another. And then my stupid, talkative husband contributed to that distorted image of my country. He talked about the interesting meals he had enjoyed, such as eating turtles, snakes, palmworms, balboa and crickets. Sometimes he even boasted of having had eaten dog meat. Listening to him, the women were so stupefied that they held their chest and threw up. Men grinned disgustingly. Worse yet, in order to tease them, he gladly added that dog meat really smelled good and tasted delicious. They gathered to ask me if it was true that in Vietnam, everybody ate dog meat. I was dumbfounded without knowing how to respond.
The 1975 event dreadfully hammered on my head. I was paralyzed in misery. I felt like sick with bitter taste. I became unmindful as a phantom. Parents, siblings, friends, my old house, familiar streets... Suddenly all of those cherished memories left me far behind in infinity. Day in day out, I cried and cried.
Waves of Vietnamese immigrants who came to resettle in my city had drawn me out of the debilitating state. I felt comfortable surrounded by my country people. I heartily supported the newcomers who just arrived to the new land. I no longer felt lonely amidst the sea of strangers. We formed a new community. Together we met, we talked, we cooked, we sang. And there were people who quickly started Vietnamese restaurants. I happily took John to eat at those restaurants. He recaptured the flavor of Pho. He loved Pho. He liked to eat Pho in the morning, in the evening, on weekends, and on holidays.
What? Were you teasing me? I did not know why I had called my husband “no”, which means “he” implying a perojative sense. You told me that you’d met many Vietnamese women who married foreigners and they used that same appelation to call their husbands, wasn’t it true. I felt that a foreign husband seemed not to be wholly a husband. There was something hesistant, some thing unbalanced, something unfamiliar, something less understanding. I didn’t know how to fully express it. Probably because our Vietnamese people looked down upon the woman who married a foreigner, and that attitude made me feel so uncomfortable that I just wanted to shove him to the opposite side with a distant, lofty manner. Now, forget about it. Do you want me to continue my story?
I felt like living among my fellow countrymen. My life, once I thought to be totally lonesome had suddenly filled up with exhiliration. I clung to the Vietnamese by demanding John to operate an Asian grocery store. More than anybody else, John, as a good husband, knew how to meet his wife’s desires. Only in a couple months later, the inauguration of our store took place. Vietnamese customers crowdedly rushed in and out of the store. That gave me the feeling of living in my own country. Customers talked to one another and by words of mouth, more had flocked to our store. And one day, I was surprised facing an unexpected customer. Hien. Could you imagine the earth was that round? All of a sudden, Hien and I ran across each other, in my tiny store, in a not so big city amidst such a big country like the United States. Do you say I must have been very happy? I stood motioness, pale and speechless due to astonishment instead of joy. I did not know how long it took for me to recover. We could not talk much. I was afraid “he”would know and would create trouble. I gave Hien the name of a small restaurant, made an appointment and told him to leave. He was quick-minded enough, in spite of his slow and slumped posture. He quickly bought a bottle of fish sauce, paid John at the counter, and left the store in an indifferent manner.
The next day, meeting with Hien, I had more time to calmly observe him. Only the look and the smile reminded me of the Hien of the old days. Eight years of torture in the Communist prisons, six years of hardships in the “new economic zone”, plus a dangerous escape by sea witnessing his wife and children eternally lie down at the bottom of the ocean, and days of tense waiting in the refugee camps, all these catastrophes had heaped upon a human being, who could have endured without being physically crumpled. In front of me now, stood a desperate, withered man who looked like dead alive. Only myself could revive him. The young love of twenty years ago had stirred up in me the desire to return to Hien. The body of my young years had been given to another person, and the left-over, I wanted to gather for my love. I was not too greedy, was I, my friend?
Jonh’s store had the front facade similar to any other Asian grocery store. The title of the store, written in three languages: English, Chinese and Vietnamese, was largely mirror-framed. The store was painted red. The two-door entrance was slightly on the left. Looking in through the glass door, on the right, one can see a row of electric rice cookers, together with white aluminium pots and pans overwhelming the earthenware pots used for preparing herbal medicine. On the left side, even in a smaller area, one found white bags of rice, orderly piled up according to their brand. When entering the store, you could see the shelves equally spaced along the wall. The shelves were packed with bottles, packaged, boxes and vases. Fish sauce bottles were arranged next to soy sauce. Pickled turnips, fermented to-fu, pickled mustard green were stacked together. Colorful cans of food were nicely displayed. Tea, ginseng, and cookies were loftily placed on higher racks. Beef jerkey, pickled apricots, candies were hung up along the walkway. Close to the wall was a freezer displaying all kinds of vegetables, pork cooked ham, pickled pork ham and to-fu. Hidden in a corner were bunches of cutlery, mortar and chisel, bowls and chopsticks, incenses and candles, and golden votive papers. In addition, there was a freezer containing duck and chicken, meat and fish, shrimp, squid and all other kinds of frozen seafood.
Customers pushed little carts up and down the narrow isles. A sour smell emanated all over the store. John, sitting at the counter, was busy with his cashier machine to check out all the merchandises slowly rolled in front of him. Tiredness appeared on his unshaved face, he reluctantly tried to flash a smile to each buyer. New customers curiously observed an American who was selling authenticVietnamese spicey foods. Old customers greeted him very gently for fear of hurting him. There were some ladies who friendly joked with him. One teased him: “Hey, master, if you wanted another Vietnamese wife, I would volunteer to be your matchmaker”. Lifting his face with a sorrowful smile, John slowly answered in Vietnamese: “I have had a wife”
The response, without Vietnamese intonation, seemingly lost as a solitaire musical tune.
Translated by THIEN NHAT PHUONG
Editorial note: All works published in this issue are simultaneously published in the printed Wordbridge magazine double issue 3 &4 Winter 2003 & Spring 2004. (ISSN: 1540-1723).
Copyright © Thien Nhat Phuong 1999, 2004. Nothing in this issue may be downloaded, distributed, or reproduced without the permission of the author/ translator/ artist/ The Writers Post/ and Wordbridge magazine. Creating links to place The Writers Post or any of its pages within other framesets or in other documents is copyright violation, and is not permitted.