The full and latest story is now put here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1dQRMhQ5V6tENWwEQIyg3AuF4fJkSwQH92_39AkexRF8/edit
Tran, Thien, Thanh are the three Vietnamese put together in this story as pieces of puzzle that create a full picture of Vietnam.
Tran, a great admirer of reason, lives in Western countries but his mind and heart stay in a far away sea lying next to his country of origin. Can he do something for the country, for peace and justice that he cares so much for?
Thien, a dreamer, democracy and beauty pursuer, comes back to Vietnam with a plan. Will he succeed with what he endeavours to carry out for the country that he loves so much or will he get lost in disillusion and the cruelty of the Party and the reality of life?
Thanh, the cynical who knows all but keeps all incognito, struggles and drags his days amid lies, corruptions and normality. Will he get out of his banality that he detests and raise anything, like his voice, just for once?
The three share their love of the country and the eternal quest for the better of the country and its people who have suffered so much. How will they become? How will Vietnam be? No one knows. What we know of is now, the now that the story would like to reveal in each of its snapshots.
To make it as raw as possible, the three protagonists in the story are in first person. There is then “head-hopping” from one chapter to the other.
About the author, so far https://www.facebook.com/letrungtinh. Please enjoy, endure and write with me their story.
“Đi về đâu đây anh?”
“Thôi đi baaaa…Tụi tao còn phải kiếm tiền nuôi con, lạng quạng nó bắt hết cả lũ.”
“ĐM, ai mà không biết. Thì bớt ăn cá một chút chứ biết làm gì bây giờ. Uống đi mậy, làm cái gì im re vậy…”
Tiếng xe máy từ bên dưới đường, tiếng người dzô dzô ầm ĩ, tiếng điện thoại chỉ đường đến quán, tiếng mấy mấy chai bia lăn trên nền quán hay va chạm nhau trên tay. Trời nóng quá, cũng may đến tối gió một chút cũng đỡ hơn, chứ hồi trưa nắng quá, đi ngoài đường quáng cả mắt. Đã vậy vừa vào đến đầu ngõ nhà M lại gặp một tên núp đâu đó bước đến lân la xin tiền, “Anh trai ở bển mới về hả, bển làm ăn được không anh.” Dáng hắn ốm nhom, giơ xương, cái áo thun cũ quá khổ cả chiều ngang lẫn chiều dài, lưng cong cong như hình chữ S, hắn chìa tay ra một cách bản năng, con mắt to trũng sâu, vô hồn, màu đen đã lớn mà màu trắng càng to hơn. Thôi thì cũng móc ra trăm ngàn cho một con người khốn khổ.
“Khổ lắm cháu, mấy ổng cứ bắt nó đi cai vài tháng về vài ngày sau lại như cũ. Giờ loanh quanh đầu ngõ xin tiền, người ta cũng cho nó để đỡ phải mất đồ. Thằng vậy mà cũng có vợ đó cháu, con nó cũng 3-4 tuổi gì đó rồi. Tội nghiệp con vợ đi bán dép ở ngoài đầu cầu. Thỉnh thoảng bác cũng cho tiền.” “Bác có thường vào thăm M?” “Hổm giờ có vẻ đỡ hơn. Hồi tháng trước không biết có vụ gì mà mấy ổng không cho vô.”
“Cần grab hay uber gì không tao kêu cho? Hay bắt taxi cho nó lẹ. À mày muốn đi bộ hả. Ừ, khám phá Sài Gòn buổi tối đi.”
Cái bùng binh Phù Đổng Thiên Vương này sao xe cộ đông quá, gần nữa đêm rồi mà thiên hạ còn chạy ra ngoài đường dữ. Cũng may uống đã đã rồi nên đi qua đường tỉnh táo hơn chứ bình thường thì chắc quắc chiếc xe cho nó lẹ mà an toàn. Đi một lát cũng đến chỗ gần UBND. Người ta đã chỉnh trang khu vực từ Uỷ ban đến suốt đường Nguyễn Huệ, nhìn chỉnh chu hơn. Tượng ông Hồ Chí Minh ngồi giờ đã được thay thành tượng đứng, một tay giơ cao, có vẻ được hơn cái tượng ngồi hồi trước. Dưới chân tượng, nhiều thanh niên thiếu nữ vẫn còn đang chơi hover board, quệt thành những vệt dài và rộng xanh đỏ tím vàng khắp cả quảng trường, nhìn giống màu biển miền Trung mấy tháng vừa qua.
Hai ba giờ sáng rồi nên đường cũng vắng, trời mát hơn, vài chiếc taxi vẫn xếp hàng chờ khách. Hàng quán giờ đã đóng cửa hết, các dãy nhà im ỉm, chỉ còn vài ngôi nhà cao năm sáu tầng ra vẻ nhà hàng khách sạn gì đó vì có bảng hiệu đèn vừa đủ tối. Nhìn bên trong có cái bàn thờ thiệt lớn có con thỏ trắng to bằng nhựa hay sứ đang đung đưa lúc lắc cái tay, trên đó móc đầy những tấm lá màu vàng. Vài anh đang đứng dựa vào cái quầy tiếp tân bên cạnh, vừa nói chuyện vừa ngáp.
Cánh cửa vào bên trong hé mở, đi ra bốn năm cô gái, gương mặt son phấn và mệt mõi. Sự mệt mõi của những người không có gì để nói hay để cười trên cõi đời này nữa, ít nhất là đêm nay. Các cô lặng lẽ đi ra, hướng về taxi hay vài chiếc xe tay ga đang chờ sẵn. Bỗng một cô khèo các cô khác ra chiều ngạc nhiên và bất ngờ. Cách đó vài bước, trong một bóng cây làm che bớt đèn đường nên chỉ người nào đứng gần mới thấy, một thanh niên đang đứng khụy chân, tay cầm mũ lưỡi trai giơ cao lên khỏi đỉnh đầu, miệng cười vô thức. Anh thanh niên bỗng cúi người chào các cô gái, một tay áp ngực, tay kia cùng chiếc mũ đi xuống sau đó vung lên thành một vòng tròn khi thẳng người lên, hai tay giang rộng và mặt ngẩng cao. Các cô gái ban đầu bất ngờ, không biết vụ gì, sau bật cười thành tiếng và cả đám cười rũ rượi, ôm bụng cười vì điệu bộ quái đản của anh chàng lạ lùng không biết từ đâu xuất hiện giữa đêm khuya. Họ cười vang cả con đường, cười đến có lẽ nước mắt, nước mũi tràn ra như khi bị người yêu bỏ hay khi lột hành, vài cô đấm lưng nhau thùm thụp ra bộ chỉ còn thiếu điều lấy điện thoại ra selfie lại cái cảnh…buồn cười này.
Cười đã rồi thì cũng hết, họ trườn vào những chiếc xe taxi hay lên vài chiếc xe tay ga khuất dần vào bóng tối, trả lại yên tĩnh cho con đường sau một trận cười náo động.
Tôi bần thần, đứng lặng một lúc rồi bất ngờ vẫy tay, một chiếc taxi trờ tới, chui vào trong xe.
“Đi về đâu đây anh?”
Stay with me. Stay with me forever.
Dãy hành lang từ máy bay với điều hoà nhiệt độ có thể giảm phần nào cái nóng, nhưng cái ẩm rịn mồ hôi vào da thịt thì không lẫn vào đâu được. Nó không phải là cái nóng khô của các bãi biển Địa Trung Hải hay của Madrid làm điên tiết các con bò tót trên các đấu trường đẫm cát nơi các thanh niên thiếu nữ vừa reo hò vừa bóp vỏ đậu phụng. Nó là cái nóng ẩm bất ngờ chui vào áo, vào nách, vào gót giầy, vừa làm chậm chạp tay chân, vừa làm bỡ ngỡ và lờ ngờ những đầu óc hay nói về các thứ giá trị này kia của người từ xa trở về.
Dãy cột lớn màu trắng bạc ở khu vực đón taxi ở sân bay Tân Sơn Nhất tạo vẻ hiện đại và chắc chắn. Khác với hình ảnh tấm tôn nhựa nhà chờ Nội Bài của nhiều năm trước, tôn trong nên bên ngoài thấy phủ rêu xanh, bên dưới thì để xô hứng nước dột…Tôi khẻ mĩm cười, liên tưởng nhạt thếch nhưng làm ùa về một trời kỷ niệm Hà Nội, Láng Hạ, Thành Công, Gia Lâm, Yên Phụ…ngày rời Hà Nội, đường ra Nội Bài xe chạy trong mưa đầy trời.
“Stay with me. Stay with me forever. Don`t go anywhere. Forget everything…” Bên ngoài kính xe từng mảng nước lớn dạt vào và quật mạnh về sau, nhạt nhoà những tấm bảng Hớt tóc thư giản sơn màu vôi trắng, xa thật xa dưới làn nước là những con đường mỏng mảnh hàng cau dẫn vào các ngôi làng nhỏ với cổng tam quan và dãy tường gạch bao quanh.
Đường ra khỏi sân bay Tân Sơn Nhất một số chỗ lưu thông đã đuợc điều chỉnh lại cho có vẻ hợp lý hơn nhưng vẫn bất lực trước lượng người và xe cộ khủng khiếp đổ ra từ tứ phía: từ Cộng Hoà, CMT8.
“Cái thành phố này ai cũng muốn về đây hết anh, dễ kiếm ăn.”
Đường Lý Thường Kiệt vẫn dài và không đủ rộng, các viả hè nhấp nhô cửa sắt, cầu thang sắt hay động cơ, máy nổ, máy kéo. Vài thiếu nữ đi làm hay đâu đó, từ chân đến mặt trùm kín không ai còn thấy được gì và không biết có thấy được ai. Bên ngoài một cậu bé bận đồng phục màu đỏ Bordeaux mặt ngơ ngác nhìn tôi. Người lái xe ôm, màu da xạm nắng cát, tay áo xắn cao, gân guốc, ghì tay lái như muốn quẹt vào kính xe. Xe đi ngang qua đại học Bách Khoa, tôi nhìn vào bên trong lờ mờ nghĩ đến anh Thức, không biết giờ này đã tiêu thụ hết suất báo Nhân Dân của ngày chưa.
“Lại đánh nhau, đoạn này bữa nào cũng có chuyện.”
Bên kia đường một chiếc xe taxi dừng lại trước một chiếc xe gắn máy nằm ngả trỏng trơ. Hai người, chắc là chủ xe gắn máy, một đàn ông bận quấn ngắn quá gối cầm điện thoại la hét, không rõ là cho người nghe điện thoại hay người đi đường. Còn người đàn bà bận đồ bộ không biết vì lý do gì một ống quần xắn cao, tay cầm mũ bảo hiểm đập điên cuồng vào chiếc xe taxi, rồi dường như phát hiện ra điều gì mới mẻ, chị ta chạy đến đập cái kính chiếu hậu bên này, rồi chạy qua đập cái kính chiếu hậu bên kia, vừa đập vừa la hét. Các xe đi trước thì quay đầu nhìn lại, đi sau thì vừa nhìn vừa nhìn vừa bóp còi inh ỏi. Đoạn này gần ngã tư Nguyễn Kim, tôi nhớ hồi xưa rất nhiều công an giao thông. Cũng may đường được chia với một dãy phân cách sơn màu đỏ, trắng nên xe bên tôi vẫn lò dò đi tiếp được.
Người hai bên đường túa ra nhìn ngó, chỉ trỏ, chống nạnh, giơ điện thoại lên cao, cười nói. Vài thiếu niên ở trần bận xà lỏn không biết từ đâu lao ra, mặt quay lại nhìn tôi (?) cười ranh mãnh rồi búng mình qua khỏi dãy phân cách để chạy về phía bên kia đường. Thân thủ của các thiếu niên nhanh nhẹn và kỳ lạ như các nhân vật trong phim Twilight đang chơi khúc côn cầu trên các ngọn cây dương. Một khung cảnh hỗn loạn và nhịp nhàng.
“May quá, chọn đi đường bên kia thì giờ bị đập nát bởi con mẹ ..*%^@….đó rồi. Cái xứ này toàn là vậy nên đừng có mong văn minh anh ơi…”
Người lái xe cười, tôi cũng khẽ cười, ngậm ngùi vì nhận xét vừa nghe. Có phải vì không có nhiều con đường nên người ta thường chọn cách dễ dãi là hạ thấp nhất có thể đồng bào của mình, và cũng là chính mình để lý giải mọi thứ?
“…À mày muốn đi bộ khám phá Sài Gòn hả.”
Tôi leo lên chiếc Jupiter, bái bai thằng bạn vừa từ nước ngoài về, không quên dặn nó cẩn thận khi băng qua đường. Mẹ cái thằng giờ nói cái gì cũng tự do dân chủ, chán quá. Về đây đi rồi biết nhe con. Biểu tình thì bị bắt, con cá hạt muối nước mắm gì cũng là chính trị hết. Mà cái tụi ở nước ngoài hình như nó tưởng dân Việt Nam ngáo ộp hết hay sao mà cứ gặp thằng nào là cũng như phải khai phóng vậy ta, bậy bạ hết sức. Ở Việt Nam làm gì cũng khó nghe cưng, chỉ có uống bia là dễ. Hôm nay uống vậy mà ít, ngồi cả buổi mà có hơn két. Bụng còn đói quá hay là vào Cả Cần làm một tô cho chắc bụng cái coi.
Quán Cả Cần nằm ở đầu đường Hùng Vương ngay giao lộ với đường An Dương Vương, vị trí ngon. Quán chắc cũng đã hơn trăm năm tuổi không chừng, chỉ biết là từ hồi sinh viên mấy chục năm trước đã có. Thỉnh thoảng đi ngang nhìn vô thấy bánh bao bốc lên nghi ngút thơm quá mà làm gì có tiền để ăn, lâu lắm dạy kèm có được tiền dư lắm mới vào thử một cái. Ôi cái thời sinh viên ốm nhách bận quần dây nịt phải đụt thêm lỗ để siết lại cái bụng lép, và áo sơ mi trắng bỏ thùng lúc nào cũng rộng thùng thình, được ăn một cái bánh bao Cả Cần hay tô hủ tiếu với mấy cọng rau và tô nước béo có thêm mấy lát thịt thì đã thấy thăng hoa còn hơn làm cái gì có chục like. Giờ thì hàng quán khu này đã nhiều hơn, bảng hiệu lộng lẫy và đầy tràn ngoài đường. Chỉ không hiểu vì sao Cả Cần vẫn giữ cái kiểu y chang ngày nào, nhìn bên ngoài vừa quê quê vừa hơi cũ kỹ, và quán có vẻ thụt vào bên trong. Hình như chủ quán dầu món vẫn ngon nhưng chẳng quan tâm đến hình thức lắm nên khách cũng lưa thưa. Tuy nhiên hôm nào nhậu về cũng ghé vào đây ăn, hủ tiếu Nam Vang thì không đâu bằng ở đây được.
Có tin nhắn, quẹt ngón tay thấy cái cái mặt selfie của nó, đang nham nhở cười hay là khóc không biết, một ngón tay chỉ vào bức tượng hình như của bác Hồ ở trước UBND, cái kiểu chỉ giống như mấy ông lên sân khấu hay làm chính trị chỉ để tôn người khác lên, còn tay khác chỉ vào một quảng lờ mờ nhiều màu sắc xanh đỏ tím vàng của mấy cái hoverboard. Tít tít thêm một tin: Formosa. Haiz, trả lời: đi ngủ đi baaa.
“Mua vài tờ vé số đi cậu.”
Giọng Quảng Ngãi. Bà bán vé số dáng người nhỏ, khuôn mặt gầy, khô và sạm nắng. Không biết già cả sao, nhìn có vẻ còn khoẻ mà sao mặt đầy nếp nhăn quá, nhăn trên trán, nhăn hay bên mắt, nhăn và gấp từ hai bên mũi xuống nhiều đến nỗi cái miệng giờ như cũng chỉ còn là một nếp nhăn nhỏ nằm ngang. Cũng may còn có cặp mắt buồn nhưng vẫn còn nét tỉnh táo và một chút tinh anh, rất lạ mấy bà bán vé số ở miền Trung vô bà nào cũng vậy đó, để ý mấy lần rồi.
“Cậu mua nhiều gíup, mai trúng to có tiền ra nước ngoài ở nghe cậu.“
Lại thêm bà này…Tôi ậm ừ, nhừa nhựa, ba phần tỉnh bảy phần say: “Bà đúng là biết một mà không biết mười, trúng một phát thiệt to thì mới ở lại đây được chứ bà!“
Đường Hồng Bàng giờ này mà sao mấy em vẫn còn đứng nhiều quá. Trên đó một khúc thì các anh cơ động đang canh có anh nào libido đang cao chạy vào làn ô tô thì thổi vào để gìn giữ an toàn giao thông về đêm của thành phố.
“You see, come back here to Vietnam with us, it is not bad here, isn’t it?”
I stayed silent a while in order to be not too rude. “Do you know where the restroom is?”
“Stop kidding me guy, just follow the babe over there”
I excused myself from the table, neither to avoid to answer what he asked nor to be somehow impolite but just simply wanted to go to the restroom before he took me to another bar. It was the third one already of the night, wherever we popped in he just took us out saying that whether the bar was too noisy (it’s funny to get to the bar at that time and then to want to get out because it is noisy) or the whisky was not good enough. And if ever we had any chance to enjoy anything correctly, he just opened new bottles, sipped a few glasses and then thrown all of them away. And what fabulous whisky that we drank, just the ones that I saw in duty free shops in airports on my way back to Vietnam.
We have just met this afternoon when one of my friends of this provincial town in the south of Vietnam had that excellent idea to introduce me to some of his friends.
“Go with me amigo, have a drink with this guy. He is a rising star of the town. Been to Hanoi a few months ago and kind of structured to be a central politburo representative at the coming party stuff.”
“Why the heck I need to meet him?”
“Shut up, just bear with me.”
We have been then to a restaurant under a thatched roof ridiculously mimicking some village style cottages. Drinking a lot of single malt scotch and VSOP and XO and eating very rare animal meat that I have now all forgotten. All drunk, speaking about woman to politics.
“Do you think it is that easy doing politics in this country, forget it, people here are now very clever, they will rule you out, they scorn you on the internet, they put you down, they are at the same time stupid and terrible. But most of all they are stupid, overwhelmingly stupid.”
“Oh, no, they could be your father and sister guy.”
“Who cares? They are overwhelmingly stupid and they deserve all that.”
I always want to go to restroom in whichever bar or restaurant I get to. You find more about the soul of a place, and of a human, when you get nearer to the toilets.
I stood up, followed the beautiful young lady waiting for me there with a small torch light to show me the way amid the extremely loud music of a luxurious bar here in a remote province south of Vietnam.
Lucky you, lucky me
“One more pint?”
“No, thanks, I have to drive.” To come here, I have waited for the bus nearly half an hour just to know that there is no service this evening, what a shame.”
“Are you OK, enjoying the night?”
“Very much, yeah just relax with music and you see those charming girls over there.”
“You are lucky, I am not that well positioned.”
Yes, I am very lucky, the three young ladies sitting just a few tables opposite to where I sit. One of them is so pleasant to see. Blond, not really, rather marron with deep blue eyes and perfect sensual lipstick. She wears a silky long skirt that swirls with every movement of her body. She touches her hair, smiling. Chatting with her friends, swiping phones, caressing the border of her glass, does she notice anything? She touches her hair again- a little bit more frequently, smiles distantly and looks away from me.
“It is terrible, isn’t it, the fire in London.”
“Yes, too bad, mothers threw their children out of windows. Too many bad news in this country these days.”
The BBC turns now to Kolh, it is too noisy inside, can only read the running subtitle: “Helmut Kohl earned his place in history by securing the successful reunification of Germany after the collapse of communism.” After the collapse of communism, lucky you Germany. Had the reunification been done likewise in Vietnam, we should have been much better off.
The girl over there seems noticing something, apparently next to my table, maybe the painting of chaotic stripes in different colours with a line in the middle “Shall we dance the night away?” that impressed me a little when I entered the bar. Her eyes rest on the painting a while, slide carelessly on mine with an unfathomable smile before going back to her friends, giggling. One of her friends swings the cellphone, taking or showing some photos.
“I have to go now, it’s late, see you next week.” My colleague pushes the chair, stands up.
“OK, so do I.”
I get out of the bar, on the way out trying not to wander my eyes and look straight ahead. Already dark now outside, I take out my phone to check the time, 11pm. It is a fresh English summer night still I can feel some hot resting air of the day, people are still gathering and chatting loudly outside. I pace the pavement reluctantly, feeling so sorrowful and lonely leaving a deep beautiful blue sky back in where I have just been to.
Laugh Out Loud or Sad, Joy or Tear
“This way, darling,” said the charming young lady, graciously swung the small beam light to show me the way to the restroom, in a bar in a remote province South of Vietnam.
I followed her robotically. She was tall with long hair dyed to red. She wore a very short black skirt and high heels. When she walked, her backside swung and her ivory long leg shined and showed me the way rather than any other light in the bar. The music was so loud. They were playing a remix of Toi Van Nho on the stage just next to us.
Tôi vẫn nhớ câu chuyện tình đầu
Đã ngủ quên trong cõi thâm sâu…
The remix of this old song was so dynamic. The lady singer sang and danced, waving the mic and her body energetically amidst a group of a few more ladies, all in very appealing dresses and movement, very in rhythm with the music even though having nothing to do with the lyrics of Ngan Giang.
The bass sounds vibrated all of our paces. Strolling my way in this music and atmosphere invigorated me, gave me a strange masculine feeling, a we-can-fucking-do-anything feeling.
A gentleman wearing a perfect black suit with a white handkerchief on his chest opened the door of the restroom for me from the inside. He was really big, much bigger than me, dark skinned. When he smiled, his broad face expanded to be even broader showing black and rugged teeth. And he always smiled heartedly whenever he touched eyes with me.
As I expected, the interior was clean and unnecessarily too shining. The light was dim but brighter than it was outside.
A perfectly arranged pile of tissues folded in triangle shape was placed just next to the sink in stone. I washed my hands, waved them slightly and tried to reach for one tissue just to discover that the gentleman was already there with the tissue. He bowed and gave it to me with his two hands. I took one and said thank you.
I headed to the door. The gentleman bowed even lower, opened the door with one hand and the other gave sign to show me the way out, just as if I could get lost if he did not help, and he gave me an even broader smile. I said thank you and my hand reached my trousers’ pocket looking for some money to tip him. He shook his head and said “No, Sir, it is my greatest pleasure tonight to be with you.” His accent was from North Centre of Vietnam.
I retrieved my place next to my friends and the rising political star of the town, Trung. He was laughing and seemed not ready to pop out of this bar as he had done with other places. Four to five girls were now around the table. One was opening another bottle, possibly a VSOP cognac due to the bottle’s slender shape.
“What took you so long? I thought you got lost and tried to send a squad to look for you, haha,” Trung spoke to me, and then turned to one of the girls. “Babe, this is my friend, back from Europe, take care well of him, huh.”
I took out my phone, swiped my finger on Facebook, there was a post on Doan Trang Pham about Priest Nguyen Dinh Thuc. He was at the moment being arrested or under risk of being attacked by the authorities or some local residents. Just been able to see some photos of broken glasses and red, blood? Dangerous it is tonight for him. Poor Priest, he informed people about the bad environment caused by Formosa and took people to sue this company and now others were calling to expel him and threatened him. I slid my finger to icon “Sad” below the post.
The girl leant over to me, engulfed me with her breath and her perfume. She heated me up.
“Put down your phone, be with me, darling, give me the phone, I am yours, my love,” she murmured to my ears.
She grabbed the phone from me. I struggled to keep but too late, she put the phone inside of her and got hold of me. My eyes were blurred by her breath. I just had enough time to ask myself whether I had chosen below the status about the danger for Priest Thuc icon Sad or Laugh Out Loud.
I did not remember how long we stayed in the bar. But when we got out, it was nearly around 11pm, rather not that late for so much we drunk, possibly because we began early. My friend took me to the thatched roof restaurant at noon just to discover that others had been there waiting for us and drinking. It was Friday; people stopped pretending to work earlier than on the other days.
I felt so empty, not drunk any more, even quite sober, but just empty, nothing in stomach, nothing in my head, nothing any more inside. I stumbled a little when my friend pushed me in the car, quite a big one with soft leather seats. I stretched myself out, yawned heartily when the car roared its way through the silence of the town.
“Tired already? Fancy a trip around the town?” Trung asked. Just at that moment I recognised that he was driving.
“Yeah” I yawned again and replied. My friend was sleeping already.
We turned right to get into the high street of the town. It was a big, dual carriage one with two lanes on each side and a wide separating space in the middle. It seemed to be a recently enlarged road with small trees planted regularly on the pavements. The trees were supported each by three sticks that were joint on the trees and tightened at their ends by a black rubber lace.
On the two sides of the road were big and imposing buildings. They were all new built, and looked strikingly similar, about three to four floors, with huge entrances and tiled roof, in red colour? I could only imagine for it was night and all the buildings were retreat from the road. Vast spaces spotted with trees planted in big tubs separated the building entrances and the gates. All gates underlay boards in red and yellow that I could read whether “The Communist Party Glorious, Long Lasting” or “The People Court Independence Freedom Happiness” or another one, possibly of a police commissariat “Vietnamese Police, Forget Themselves for the Country and its People.” Yeah, couldn’t agree more, they should forget lot of things serving people. Or another gigantesque one “The Party is the Sun, the People is the Sunflower, the People turns to the Party like the Sunflower to the Sun.”
The street lights in this road were surprisingly bright, particularly at this time of the night and the road was so deserted.
I turned right from the road to get to the small alley. When I was a few meters from home, I turned off the engine of the Jupiter so that the motorcycle slid silently towards the gate of the house. I opened the gate and managed to get myself and the motorcycle inside as quietly as possible. It was late and I did not want to wake anyone up, particularly tonight that I would like to write something.
I tried to write once every three or four days. It was a habit that I had when I was doing my Master degrees abroad and tried to keep after coming back to Viet Nam. I stopped writing a few years after our marriage and having the first child. Too busy working and going out drinking at night. There were various reasons to drink, whether to greet someone from Ha Noi, to celebrate a newcomer or to please some kind of future partner. Or sometimes just between friends or so-called friends to indulge ourselves with beer, brandy or whiskey. We had quite a lot of them these days. This evening while we were drinking Heineken with our friend coming home from abroad, a tall long legged girl came to invite us trying Sapporo, a few minutes after a gentleman recommended us some Cuban cigar and Latino brandy. This country was deluged with alcoholic drinks. Afterall, what is the point of not drinking and staying sober at the present time? There is no point.
But since a few years, I tended to drink and go out less at night. Particularly since last year when they discovered dead fish along the coast in the Centre of Vietnam. The less I drunk, the more I wrote, and of course read. At the beginning no one noticed the change. However with time, some of my colleagues and friends begun to pose jokes and after that even questions: “Staying at home taking care of wife huh?” Even some advises: “Women do not need you that much, get out with us,” “Or you have more than one women guy? Lucky you. Present her to us!” I just smiled away or laughed out, citing various pretexts and felt happy that they don’t know. Who could know and even care that I write? Is it that such a crime that I write? Anyway, I tried my best not to let anyone know that I wrote or even I read, let alone what I wrote. I changed my password regularly, and used any possible means to keep people away. I never let any trace in any social network, I liked no one, I commented nowhere, I expressed nothing, no anger, no sad, no tear, no laugh. I even tried to use incognito when I search for things and read. I shared nothing. I kept them all for myself, no one ever knew or will know. I put all in only me mode.
I climbed up to the first floor and opened gently the door to our bed room; the small child and her mother were sleeping there, calmly. The other room was still open; my son was sleeping also. He forgot to turn off the light. I looked around the room, his desk, the bed, to find the Ipad. I did not see it. Good sign, so far. He was playing too much with the Ipad these days. We could not stop him using it; sometimes he also needed the Ipad for some learning, at least following him. Our rule was that he could use Ipad, but not that stick to it all the time, particularly not to go to bed at night with the Ipad, which means he would not sleep at all. He was ten years old and I found taking care of him could be even more chaotic than of his two years old sister. The most difficult task was to find him a decent- God knows what decent means- school. In this aspect, we were still old-style comparing to our friends who sent all their children to private international school. He was going to a public school, a kind of having some good reputation in the district. To do that, we had fortunately not paid too much, only around 50 millions VNĐ or 2000 USD, quite a fair price thanks to the help of Trang’s uncle who had some connection in the District Education Office. Of course we had to provide them as gift some bottles of brandy, but of that I had a quite few naturally. In this country, the more important you are, not yet in my case, the bigger your cave is. However the somehow more disturbing stuff, if I could say, was that the uncle would like me to help him on something that I was not that very at ease with. In Vietnam we were far more connected than other countries in the world.
I turned off the light of my son’s room and climbed upstair to my study room, my sanctuary, no one came here normally. I found my way to the big book case in in the middle of the room, plenty of books, too many useless books in the upper shelves. I opened a cabinet on the lower left hand side, a little bit hidden behind the desk and the armchair. Two levels, each with lines of bottles appeared. Good. The few bottles downstair in the living room did all well their decoration job. I took out one, a Glenfiddich, a reindeer, a single malt Scotch could help. I fell myself on the chair, grabbed a nearby crystal glass, poured one out and sipped quietly, felt the spirit that touched my lip, itched my tongue, slowly infitltrated into all of my mouth and calmly burnt my throat.
I touched the keyboard to wake the laptop up, entered a series of password, waited patiently for Chrome to be started, and hit f for Facebook.
The first newsfeed is that of Trung Bao Nguyen showing a photo of the mother of blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (Me Nam). Her daughter was jailed without any judgement since 8 months. The mother was sitting, quietly, holding on her hand a white peace of paper with some handwriting words encouraging her daughter. Her eyes were looking slightly in the air, speechless. Was she praying or was she looking at me?
I reached for the bottle.
The whiskey in the morning
“Wake up, darling. Not that early any more, wake up, wake up.”
“Ya, yaa,” I moaned drowsily “What time is it?”
“Six oclock already. You do some exercises with Ken. He got up already.”
I got out of my son’s bed, went to the toilets and begun with all the morning matter. How I did find the way to his room a few hours ago? Did I publish what I wrote to only me and like it? Should be, as usual. On that I am very careful.
“How are you Ken? Slept well?” We named him Ken at home following favourite beer brand.
“OK dady. But you snored too much.”
“Hum hum. Take it as a training. You may sleep under bombing noise one day. Be ready for war time.”
“Ya ya dad,” Ken accepted reluctantly. He was a little less grumpy than used to be. I was surprised.
“He was very bad last night. Playing with Ipad until very late. I had to keep it away,” My wife said.
“Do you know that you should not do that Ken? I have told you that Ipad is for studying only. You want to spoil your eyes?”
“No more Ipad for him. Studying? He just hangs around with all that bad things on the internet.”
“I’ll put a password and no more Ipad.” I said. Giving password is my speciality.
“It’s also because of you. I have told you many times that there is no use all these things Ipad, internet. He should read books; there are so many books to read.”
“Some searching on the internet may be good for him at this age.” I defended faintly.
Ken slid away to the kitchen to join his mother; I was alone in the living room. I felt a little bit detached, my head empty and my movement was light, as if I was floating. Regaining ourselves after a drinking night is never that easy. One of my techniques is to take a shot of whiskey in the following morning. People told that sometimes a glass of milk could also help. However between milk and whiskey, I preferred naturally the later. Furthermore it was handy; I was just next to it. I opened the glass cabinet discreetly, took a bottle out, found a tea cup nearby. Great. The whiskey seemed to fill all the voids inside of me, I shook my head slightly to feel it again and stomped my feet to recuperate my weight. It was much better. I looked at the bottle a while and tried to put it back to the cabinet.
“Do you hear about the professor recently expelled to France?” I asked my wife. We all now got to the kitchen. Kim was already there, particularly calm on her hightened chair, sucking her milk bottle. I hugged her and grabbed the grind coffee box. She was always very slim as a needle; it’s why we called her Kim.
“No. What’s the problem?”
“He is a French – Vietnamese, a mathematician, professor Pham Minh Hoang. Came back to the country a few years ago and organised some classes to teach students about history and some living skills.”
“Again with all that movement. Remember to call your colleague to ask it for uncle. He has just phoned me again.”
“The professor was jailed once.”
“Is that not enough? He should have stopped it.”
“What do you mean enough? What enough is enough?”
“Thanh, I just care for him. He should know the danger living in this country and…”
“Care for him. You just don’t want to talk about these things.”
“You are right. Today I don’t want to talk about all this. We have to hurry up, please.”
“Not only today. You do never want to talk about these things.”
“No, I don’t want. No use knowing these things.”
“No use. You just want to stay silent. You should know the silence is not that good for us all. This country is silenced for so many years. No one cares about anything, anything. It is the reason that it is that bad. No more fish. Do you dare eating fish? Or fish sauce? Or salt?”
Ken had finished his breakfast and went to his room to change clothes. Unfortunately his sister could go nowhere, she was moaning. The milk bottle halfly finished fell from her mouth and spilled out on the table. She began to cry.
“That bad, that bad, it is your words. All our friends just don’t care about all that. They are doing quite well, very very well. Or if you would like to be jailed like him? Speak up!”
“You defy me?”
“No, I just want to live in peace, do my things and care for the family.”
“Care. You care for nothing!”
“It is you who care for nothing. You get all these stuffs on social network? Everything is fake.”
Kim was crying more and more loudly. And screaming now, and not only her.
“You use it well those social networks. You use it, shop with it all the times.”
“I shop for you all.”
“You defied me recently. You think that I dare not speak up? You think I am a coward? It is enough!! How dare you say so to your husband? And you want me to be jailed. You should be happy if so. You!”
“I have to go now. Kim, stop crying and go with me to the nursery. You take care of Ken, it is late, very late now. I have more than enough with your professor and the expel story. How on earth that I can support all that! Let me with peace, please.”
“You are fed up of everything, of life, of everything. You keep yourselves silent and you will see we all go to hell in this country. All to hell. What a…”
“Take your son to school soon. It is very late. Ken, get down here, now!”
The town market’s plaza
The car left the high street, made a few turns and entered a smaller street, which seemed dustier and less well lit by streetlights. The car was slowing down and I could feel the bumpy road and the wheel crunching the gravels. On the two sides of the street instead of imposing buildings there were now lines of and small shops and houses: cafeteria, DVD shop, barber shop with neon lights, some hotels with giant price boards of 100 K VND/hour or 200 K VND/night at the entrances. The hotels were still half open; I could see inside some rows of motorcycles. No one was at the reception; on the counter there was just a small cylinder in green colour, from where we can buy some chewing gums or other things needed for the stay in the hotels.
The car made a gentle turn to leave the street and stopped completely at a big open square space. We were now at the town market’s plaza, the heart of every town in the South of Vietnam.
The plaza was in the middle of four streets and surrounded by buildings of different heights, most of them two or three floors with narrow surfaces. The car parked before a building that extruded to the road with a dark glass facade going from the first floor to the top, which looked very much like a Karaoke restaurant or some kind of office building. Next to it was another high rise building, so high that I couldn’t see its top, but could only tell that it is a jewellery shop thanks to the white board in front with Vietnamese and Chinese mingling letters in red.
At the corner of the plaza was a large two floor house, an old French architecture house. The balcony of the house was in rugged cement and painted in white, not as other house nearby where the balconies were all in metal. There were different types of vegetation that cover all the width of the balcony on the first floor. The house hosted a tailor shop. There was a board at the front with an elegant old style letters “Tailor Lan Huong” and below some smaller ones “Fashion Western and American”. The letters were painted so gracefully that they caught my eyes a few seconds. Lan Huong or Fragrance of Orchid, what a romantic and illusory name. Is it the name of a woman, the wife of the owner, or his daughter? The shop was obviously close; otherwise I would have got in to meet with its owner. Or I could come back tomorrow morning.
All the buildings were built differently and did not have anything in common in style. They were spotted at the front by tall lamp posts, which in turn bore on them big bunches of black and twisted electrical wires. Separately the buildings seemed so chaotic and disordered but put together they went on very well. They looked so pleasing, full of charm, and most of all very natural and intimate.
“Let’s make a breath of air outside guys!” Trung said. I woke up my my friend, Trong, and we all got out of the car.
“That’s it. Here we are in the heart of the town, of the market. Have you ever been to a town market’s plaza in the South of Vietnam?”
“Guy, I grew up in Soc Trang.” I replied. We were heading to some eating places still open late to the night in the middle of the plaza. I could see the smoke coming from a cart, there could be some sticky rice or rice porridge there.
In the middle of the plaza were many small restaurants, or let’s say, eating places, where foods were prepared and presented in small carts, surrounded by some wooden chairs and tables. While approaching a cart where the smoke was the most visible I found that they did not sell only sticky rice but also many other things: soft drinks, tobacco, and a few spirit bottles.
“Three big packets of sticky rice, brother.” Trung ordered.
“Which one, brother?” The owner asked. He was small, thin and dark skinned, nearly fifty years old, I guessed. A relatively fat woman, his wife possibly, stayed in a corner from the cart. She was occupied slicing a big part of pork, very seemingly not for the sticky rice. Discovering that I was looking, she looked up and explained “Brother, it is for tomorrow, just take advantage of the night that we don’t have many clients that I prepare this for tomorrow rice restaurant at noon. These days it is not that easy.” I smiled gently to her.
At the other end of the cart, a girl at around ten years old was standing, doing nothing. She had big eyes on a thin face.
“Whatever. No, wait. One sweet packet and two with meat and smashed dry fish. Is it OK for you guys?” Trung asked us.
“Whatever. Don’t worry.” Trong replied.
“How old are you, my niece?” I asked the small girl.
She was somehow shy, looked down and delayed to reply. “Eleven years old, brother. She is in year 5 now. You know, we try to keep her at school. For her future, brother.” Her father replied instead.
“Why is she here? It is late now.”
“I told her. But she doesn’t want to stay at home. She tells she is sad at home alone. Anyway, she used to be at home more than stay here, brother.”
“You like to go somewhere to drink more? I am too sober now. I take you to another place, very nice.” Trung asked and winked.
“Um um.” Trong replied reluctantly.
“Why don’t we just drink here?” I asked.
“Here? You crazy? Nothing to drink here.” Trung spoke.
“Let’s drink here guys. We have lot of spirits there.” I pointed at the few bottles on the counter where the small girl was standing. “Drink here to be nearer to the people guys.”
Trung looked at me, astonished, he looked quickly around.
“OK guy.” He tapped on my back. “You good, you good man. Hahaha.” He turned to the owner. “Give us two New Rice bottles my niece. Yeah, that’s right. These sausages, cucumbers, give us all. And a pack of Three Number Fives. No, The Cat is better.”
“Three packs of The Cat, please.” I spoke and tapped on Trung’s shoulder. “It will be a long night.”
I reached for my pocket, took the money and gave it to the man. “Keep it. Go home. Give us the food, drinks, tobacco and close it all and go home. We will be fine here with these chairs and a table.” I turned to the small girl. “And my niece, study well, please. It is important, important. OK?”
“Yes. Thank you, uncle.” She looked at me, mumbled.
I stayed silent a while and afterwards stepped away from the cart. It was silent now the plaza. Nearly all other carts have been closed. I saw at the other end of the plaza the imposing, large façade of the market, painted in yellow with some opening stripes in white. There were some letters or numbers carved on the façade that I could not see from afar. Should be very old, hundreds of years old this market and plaza. Everything was so intimate, so close to me, the plaza, the market, the houses and the electrical wires in big bunches. I can’t leave this place any more, never any more.
I felt suddenly the love, love for this plaza, love for the river that flows near here, love for the banana leaves scattered below me, love for the girl with big eyes on thin face, love for Trung, the communist party member, the rising star of the town, whatever he had spoken, or he and his colleagues did or do or will do to me. A sudden love of a moment, isn’t it enough?
“Ah you grew up in Soc Trang. I did not know that. Quite a nice place, they drink very much there.” Trung spoke and put the two New Rice bottles on the only table still resting in the plaza. He opened one and cleaned the small cup with a tissue that I did not know where he found, filled the cup with the spirit and gave it to me.
“Thank you. We drink a lot tonight here also. We drink all a lot in this country.”
“No, Soc Trang is quite different. I have been there a few times, drink from morning to night for many days. The food is good, rat meat is very delicious, grilled or roasted with garlic. Do you come back there often?”
“Not as I wish to. I miss Soc Trang very much.” I finished the cup, filled another one and gave it to Trung. Trong was still sitting but now sleeping, his chin pointed to the chest. He breathed steadily.
“I see. There are lot of developments there. The country is changing. You will not recognise when you come back there.”
“What I hear about is there is a lot of corruption. Few years ago is in billions, now it is hundreds of billions, thousands of billions.”
“Yeah. It is very bad. You see, a few corrupted officers that spoil, and there are also self-changing officers.” Trung said robotically and finished his round.
“Not that a few. Stop kidding to me.”
“Since the Politburo published last year the Central Decree number four the situation is very much improved. The General Secretary has well defined the weak points in every officer, the degradation of moral, bad way of life. It helps to…”
“If you continue to speak like that, we had better go home and sleep. Stop it, it’s enough.”
“Stop lying. You can say anything, anything, but not lying. There is no use, no point to stay here telling me these stuffs.”
“Keep calm guy. You drink too much.” Trung somehow astonished.
“I am perfectly OK.” I replied calmly. “If you continue likewise, it is a waste of our time and spirit. We can always go home now.”
Trung looked away a while, silent. He then took the bottle, filled the cup, raised it to his nose, smelled it as carefully as it was his first time drinking. He then rose his head, that I could saw his throat, raised the cup and finished it in one go. He then put the cup gently back on the table. We were still silent.
“So do you work abroad?” Trung broke the silence.
“It may come across that you manage people. In where you work, do you care about who work for you or do you care more about what your manager thinks of you?”
“Well, whatever, you needn’t say. In every system, people care more, if not only, what their manager, their boss says and feels. Do they need to care any heck for the people who work for them? No, these people don’t have any say on the promotion of their boss, so why does any boss or ruler need to care for them?”
“In every system or country, leaders do never care for the people, what they care about is how to gain the power, stay there, and cling to there and not to be kicked out. Viet Nam is just another case.” Trung finished his round and filled the cup.
“No, the biggest difference is that in democratic countries, people can vote and choose the leaders or the party that they prefer. They have a clear say. In those countries, there are more than one parties representing different groups of people and proposing different ways to manage the country. People can kick their leaders or a party out if they don’t like them. Can people seriously do that in this country?”
“You think that there aren’t different voices inside the party? You are wrong. There are a lot. I am struggling every day more with my colleagues and comrades than with those so-called the “people”. If I don’t pay enough attention, my comrades slaughter me, they do it very quickly. We should not have any doubt; we should not show any hesitancy.”
“Thanks for sharing about your comrade. However different you are, you are still in the same party, with the same ideology or way to do things, as let’s say keeping the state economy as the principal one, or the policy face to China, or the consideration of environment in the economy development, cited as just a few. I care less about the democracy in your party, if there is any. What I care about is the democracy for Viet Nam, is that people can choose their leaders, hence the corresponding policy. It is that that help the country going forward.”
“Forward? Give them democracy; they will spoil this country.”
“Was this country not spoilt even rotten already? Do you see what happens in the Centre of Viet Nam? Do you see Formosa and now hundreds of thousands of people without job, home, future and even you and me here threatened every time we eat, in touch with anything relating to the sea: fish, fish sauce, let alone bathing in the sea? And sadly not only Formosa! Do you see that Viet Nam is losing its control of its sea? More than 40 years, the communist party has an absolute power in this country. If they don’t do it well, share the leadership with others!”
“You are too idealistic. No ruler does that, particularly in this country. If you are strong, you are fine. Otherwise you are crushed, crushed. However bad the situation is, people just ignore and take any possible occasion to crush each other. It is very hard.”
“That’s it. I don’t say it’s easy. At least we should recognise that there is a problem, that it is bad, and then discuss to find a way out. We should discuss, and different voices should be heard, the grip should be loosened. The communist party should stop jailing people because people speak out. And we will find together a way out of this.”
Trung kept silent for a while. He lit another cigarette and smoke. Trong moved his head slightly, his breath was less steady and he made little sounds like hiccup from time to time. Poor Trong, he was one of my closest friends. I recognised now that he wore eyeglasses, which had not been the case last time we met, maybe because he read too much. He loved reading, particularly political and historical books. His hair turned now to white nearly completely. It had been gray since the days we were studying together, because of some kind of bad blood problem, as he often explained when we posed joke (not at all kind we were) about his hair. He was small, mild and very kind to me, as always. He took me to see all of his friends whenever I went to the South.
“It is not that easy to tell all out in one shot.” I continued “But at least what I can say for now is that this country is failing, the environment is dying, irreversible, it is vital. And the responsibility is with the communist party, who runs this country alone for so many years. I am sorry that I talk too much, Trung, but…”
“Don’t worry. I would like to listen. You say we should discuss, don’t you?” Trung replied.
“Thank you, I appreciate that. Coming back to your allusion between the management of a country and company, what I can say is that country is not a company. In a company, the boss can be sacked by the board or can go to another company. In a country, you have nowhere else to go unless you leave your country. Or at least most of you, you can’t go all. Here it is your house; it is our house, your children and grandchildren’s house. Do you love your daughter, your son? Do you want to send them away forever? We are here to love each other and love this country.”
I looked at him, tried to catch his eyes. Trung opened the other bottle and turned to Trọng, who was at the moment half awake.
“Wake up guy. You sleep enough. Your name is Trong but you don’t show any respect to us. Wake up and drink your round.” Trung tapped on Trong’s back and moved his shoulder. Trong gurgled and moaned slightly.
Trong gurgled and moaned slightly. He should be very tired today, drinking 12 hours already.
Normally he drunk much better than me. He was notoriously the best drinker of the university dormitory many years ago. Trong was from the North of Viet Nam. He moved to the South with his family after 1975. He told me his name was originally Trong without any accent: “It means pure, limpid, you see. It was some officer working on my paper that turned it accidentally to Trọng by adding an accent below it, which makes it mean respect, heavier and completely different, less pure Vietnamese.” I replied to him that the two names sound fine and however it is, in English, his name means always pure and limpid. He liked my idea very much and spoke about that everywhere.
We were quite close friends. He took me to see all his friends and presented me to them with the kindest words that sometimes embarrassed me. As this noon he told Trung about me. “Here is my friend coming from abroad that you can discuss everything, from drink to politics or woman.” “He exaggerated. I came mostly to listen.” I said to them.
Trong grew up in the South but most of his relatives were still in the North. He was particular; he told a lot of stories about his family members in the North and others that he knew so well.
“Thien, my uncle was always running for the party chief position at a town up North. Spent quite a lot of money already. Last time when my dad spoke to his wife, she told him that they run out of money. You see. My dad was angry, telling me that how can a wife say that? She has to support her husband. She has to find money, she knows all the people working for her husband.”
Or some years ago he told me:
“The family of my cousin was again separate. His wife ran again sleeping with other guys. My cousin could not support that any more. He begun to drink again and doesn’t care anymore for his political career. The family is now arranging to get rid of his wife by sending her and her boy friend she chooses abroad for some kind of studies during my cousin runs for office. No more news is good news. You see people up there in the North still care very much about the family situation when you run for some positions. So old-schooled this country.”
“After the last year session studying kind of how to learn and follow Uncle Ho’s example, some high officers in this town turned on cassette player with the sound of pigs in their houses’ living rooms: oink oink like that. So that people believe that they are now turning to bring up pigs for their living, following very well the Uncle’s example. Funny?”
Trong could spend all day telling me these stories that he had quite a lot. He told without any judgement and so naturally that some times, however close we were one to another, I asked myself if he had ever thought about any moral issues in his stories. Was he simply ignorant, immoral, or more exactly innocently immoral? Once when we were very drunk, I told him my feeling. He just burst into laughter.
“Do you know who can judge people?” He then asked me.
“Go on.” I told him.
“To judge people, you should be or have one of the following three. First it is God. Second it is Buddha or Vietnamese tradition who taught that if you sin you can be punished. And third it should be a Republican system in countries like France where the judges represent so well the common will; hence they can define themselves as the justice.”
“You read a lot, Trong. I can say that all these things are wiped out completely in this country.”
“Then what’s the point of judging people here?”
“So in this world without God, Buddha or any belief and justice, do you know where we go?” I asked him. We stayed silent a while.
“Should we invent something?” Trong replied.
Mirage (very strong language, to be read with lot of care)
“Let him sleep, we don’t have enough spirit.” I told Trung. He continued though by one hand moving Trong’s shoulder, the other hand filled the cup and overwhelmed it. The spirit spilled out on the table and flowed on my knee.
“You thought that I am sleeping? You are all wrong guys.” Trong opened one eye, and then the other. “What the heck do you know about love? Nothing, you idiots know nothing about love. There is no love at all in this world, this immoral world.”
“Stop teaching us. Drink!” Trung said and pushed the cup to Trong’s mouth. He took it and drank it slowly, then poured another one and finished it. He intended to continue but I stopped him.
“Do you know Bill Clinton?” Trong asked abruptly.
“Yeah, I know better his wife.” Trung replied, half sitting on his chair half lying on the small table.
“Good, you are good. Then do you know what did he say when asked by the judge if he had made sexual intercourse with the girl, what her name is? Monica Lew…Lewinsky, yes? He rejected that all, he lied totally, he crushed her completely. Oh my dear Monica, you are so miserable, so miserable being in the hands of that guy.”
“And then, why do you tell us that junk.”
“You see: no love, the president of the United States, no love and moral. Don’t speak about love, it is just a mirage, it is not true.”
“You bastard!” I shouted, astounded by his capacity of twisting things. Trung laughed and laughed.
“But even though. Silent! I told you silent. Even though, it is better there than here, in this country. He had however made love to the girl but just did not want to admit it.” Trong continued. “In this country, yeah, this beautiful country, they even do not make love, people just fuck each other and afterwards tell about that in court, to the public. You know what fucking is? Not making love, guy. Yeah, fucking each other hard and talking about money. And they are so proud about that, and they applaud.”
“They are fuckers. All in this country!” Trung spoke.
“You are nothing better! The government fuck the people whenever possible; the people just fuck off the government and fuck each other, wherever they can. And all together, we fuck this country hard. And you speak about love. You! This country is fucked!” Trong added and turned to me. “Thien, tell me, tell me.”
“How do you say this country is fucked in French? I forgot all out of this language.”
“Ce pays est baisé.” I tried to keep myself on the chair.
“Xe pe i e be de. I speak French, you see.” Trung repeated and then shouted “Xe pe i e be de” again and again into the night.
Tired, he reduced his voice gradually and leaned on the table with his two hands, hid head thrust forward, immobile. From afar he should look like a crouching tiger waiting for the prey, patiently, silently. Trong was busy pouring the bottle to the cup and on the table. He emptied the bottle and tried to put his mouth to the cup.
I suddenly felt the smell of soil on my face, some gravels so close to my nose and I saw the four slim legs of the foldable table with the bars connecting them. Something like water dropped on my ear, and even more now ran into inside of my ear. I turned myself to lie completely on my back, my hands wide opened. Above me I could see all the darkness of the sky.
You are not alone?
“It’s interesting last night.” Trung spoke. We were now in the cafeteria giving to the plaza. I did not remember how we got here. Two coffees and a bowl of hot noodles did really help me to be awake, but still with a detached and floating feeling. It was bright outside, the eating places in the middle of the plaza were still closed, apparently they were opened only at night. People were going all around to the market, motorcycles were honking noisily.
“Yeah, I did enjoy it.” I replied.
“It’s not what you said. All that I knew. But the way you said that. The way you shared it.”
“Uh huh. Thank you.”
“You just told it out wholeheartedly and with all your belief. Or at least you showed that so well.” Trung looked at me.
“I do really believe in that. We can always choose love and be together.”
“It’s not easy.”
“But it is the only way, the only way to go ahead. We can always be cynical. We can always choose other thing than love and go altogether to hell. Is that what we want to be to?”
“So you choose love, this mirage?” Trong poked in smilingly. He was still eating his bowl.
“Shut up.” Trung spoke.
“Seriously, when we are at the bottom, when we face with fatality, we have to seriously consider hope and love and find a way out together.”
“Good. I like your way. I like you.”
“Thank you. Not only me. My friends can tell you even much more interesting things.”
“You are not alone?” Trung asked.
“No. I am not alone. We are not alone.”
“We neither. So what will you do now?”
“I will continue my journey in the South. Maybe with Trong if he has time.”
“You want to use my car?”
“No, thank you. I am OK with coaches.”
“I am sincere. It is a private car. You are worried?”
“Not at all. I simply prefer coaches.”
“I will give you some phone numbers of my friends to meet. They are good. They can speak. And listen. It is important that they listen.”
“You are right. You take time to listen. I appreciate that. The most important thing is to speak out and listen to others. We need each other.”
“Maybe I will join you later on the way.”
“Thank you. You are free to do whatever you feel OK.”
“So what is your phone number?” Trung asked.
“I don’t have it yet.”
“You can later go to the shop over there to have one. It is easy.” Trung spoke and pointed me the mobile phone shop on the other side of the plaza.
“Will do. You can message me via Facebook.”
“What is your Facebook?” Trung asked me.
I gave Trung my Facebook.
Trung typed and swiped on his phone. “I saw your photo. Ah, I have read quite a few from you. Um hum, Pham Cong Thien, it sounds the name I have also heard somewhere else before.”
“Yeah, a philosopher and writer in the South before 1975. I like him very much.”
“What did he write?”
“Poems, among others. He wrote about Viet Nam, his pain as a Vietnamese, an artist and a dreamer.”
“Sounds tempting. What book do I need to read of him?” Trung asked.
“New Concept in Art and Philosophy. A should read book; he wrote it when he was under 20 years old. And he admired his youth, a little bit too much.” I smiled slightly.
“What is it in the book?”
“He wrote about different authors. About Kafka and Hemingway, for example.”
“How is that Kafka, a strange name?”
“A German writer. Kafka wrote about human failure facing its destiny, about our loneliness and about our lost in the bureaucratic maze of life.”
“I have to go. I have an important party organizational committee meeting at 10 am.”
“Good, then go. Drive carefully.”
“So don’t you want to have my Facebook? In case you know who messages you.” Trung asked me.
“Yeah, you are right. Of course yes, please, if possible.” I took my phone out and asked for the wifi code from the boy in the cafeteria. During waiting, Trung gave me his phone number and some of his friends. Trong was reading Tuoi Tre.
“Search Hoang Cong Tu, it’s not my name of course. Search someone with the chrysanthemum flower.” Trung told me when I was connected. My phone nearly ran out of battery.
“You don’t put accent. Is Cong Tu a name or is it The Prince?” I asked.
“Whatever. Everything has more than one meaning in this country. All is double. Have you been told that during the difficult years, people use the brick to replace themselves while queuing for food or tickets? We put bricks in every line now.”
Trung stayed silent while I swiped his Facebook then continued. “Do you know why I choose chrysanthemum as avatar?”
“No.” I replied.
“It is because the chrysanthemum flowers do never fall and its leaves never leave.” Trung spoke.
“Uh huh, thank you. I like that. You had better go, it’s late for your meeting.”
“Phone me when you have your phone number. OK?”
“Will do.” I replied.
“Take care. Be careful. Any problem call me.”
“Don’t worry. I am in my country, no?”
“Yes, it’s one of the reasons.”
“OK, go. I will stay here with Trong for a while more. Shall we go around the South together, Trong?”
“It depends on how many meetings I have. You know, meetings and talks, I have quite a lot of them.” Trong spoke and winked at us. We burst into laughter, wholehearted and joyful laughter.
“OK, bye guys.”
“Bye Trung. Have a nice day and meeting.”