I just want a ride – A Short Story from Vietnam
Dang Huynh Thai, a seasoned writer and journalist from Vietnam, the land of Blue Dragon, shares his short story.
Dang Huynh Thai
Born in 1939 in Minh Quang Commune, Kien Xuong District, Thai Binh Province, Dang Huynh Thai current lives in Hanoi City, Vietnam. By profession he is a journalist with thirty years’ experience in print and electronic media as editor. He is member of Vietnamese Journalists Association and Quang Ninh Provincial Literature and Art Association. His works include many scripts for the documentary and feature films; short stories; special novel “Earth and Blood” published by Vietnamese Writers’ Association and translated into English; many short scripts and autographed reports in magazines and online newspapers.
I just want a ride
By Dang Huynh Thai
Just woke up, Ho Van Thoang was about to go for work, the TV of Mr. Cang’s house loudly said: “The storm No. 12 landed, the heavy rain made Doc Tran mountain landslide, buried more than a dozen houses, took many lives of residents. Rescuers are trying their best to search …”. He cried out:
– Come on, Doc Tran is my hometown. Mr. Cang, open TV up, open it again for me to hear clearly.
Mr. Cang, panicking, pushed to open the door and said:
– How can I do it, they will replay soon.
Mr. Thoang stumbled the feet, scratched the head, pulled the hair:
– What else are you talking about, do you hear Doc Tran right?
– That’s right, landslide.
Mr. Cang confirmed.
Thoang dialed a brick phone, several times but his wife did not pick up the phone. He took a few things into an old backpack, rushed out to the street. Mr. Cang chased and gave some money, then said quickly:
– Take it and go, calm down, it’s bad to lose control, call me and update the situation.
No time to thank, Thoang disappeared behind a small street. Cang watched, nervously recalled back…
About two years ago, on that day, Mr. Cang came home from work, passed the market and saw a guy standing absent-mindedly at the street, known to everyone as “the labor market”, approached Mr. Cang to ask a question, he timidly said “Sir, do you know anyone who hires people to work?” Looking all over his appearance, Mr. Cang nodded slightly “Yes, do you know how to pick coffee?” He grabbed Mr. Cang’s hand, confused “Okay, you let me do it, I’m grateful to you”. Mr. Cang gently said: “let me ask the owners first. I also work for them.” The guy still begged “Yes, you help me, please, all depend on your kindly help”. So Mr. Cang took him home and stayed for a night to meet the owner in the coffee garden the day after that.
Talking to the owner, learned that his name is Ho Van Thoang, from Doc Tran, more than a hundred kilometers away, the steep mountainside. It also related to a legend of Doc Tran.
In recent years, some groups of people built embankments, blocked water from above to make hydropower. The dry season run out of water, the fields were cracked. In the rainy season, more hydroelectricity discharged floods, immense floodwaters washed away houses. The villagers of Doc Tran lived on hunting and gathering cinnamon trees in the forest. Up to now, there is no forest, no fragrant cinnamon, no bamboo shoots or mushrooms, people had to leave the village to find food. Ho Van Thoang, his parents died early, was poor, married for a long time and had a son, so he had to go to the plateau to find a job. The owners of the coffee garden were benevolent, accepted him to pick coffee with Mr. Cang and arranged accommodation close together for convenient travel, care…
It wasn’t until late afternoon that Thoang was able to return to his homeland. Doc Tran was full of pain and mourning. Terrible landslides buried the whole village, no more peaceful scene. Many relatives, neighbors were all gone. In front of a pile of rocks and scattered furniture, Thoang screamed:
– Oh my god, where is my wife and children, where is my house?
In the whole area of Doc Tran, at that time, the cries of mothers looked for their children, wives looked for their husbands, their bodies were still buried somewhere among the ruins.
Doc Tran was also absorbed by sweat and effort of hundreds of soldiers, days and nights regardless of fierce weather, arduously dug, searched for people missing. A soldier in wet, stained clothes helped Thoang to stand up and comforted:
– Stop crying, stay strong, your wife and child have been found and transferred to the Front Emergency Station.
– What did the soldier say? Is that true?
– Yes, this is the amount of the relief team to help your family overcome the difficulty.
Thoang stumbled his feet and shouted:
– I don’t need money, just asking a ride to the Emergency Station to see my wife and child.
Accepting his wish, the soldier started the engine, jumped into the car, and drove to the street. It rained heavily, water poured down from the sky, water from the hillsides and ravines were torrential down. After going ten kilometers, a road ahead dropped into a deep pit. People and traffic jammed. End of the way. Without hesitation, Thoan jumped out of the car, ran quickly up the hillside, turned around and said loudly:
– Soldier go back, I cross the hill to the other side, I find a way.
The soldier rushed to stop:
– No, go down, it’s dangerous.
Thoang ignored and tried to climb over. The soldier pulled him back:
– Go down, come back, mountains fall, trees are crushing now.
– Better to find my wife and child and die, than to sit there and let them die. Soldier go back. Let me go.
Unable to stop it, the soldier handed him a flashlight.
– It’s dark, it’s dangerous to walk in the forest, here’s a flashlight, light the way.
– Thank you, soldier, I’m used to the forest.
The two parted in the pouring rain, the howling wind, and the dark sky. Born and raised in the forest from time to time, the path in the forest he knew like the palm of his hand. Day by day going to the forest to find trees and pick fruits. There was a time when rumor, looking for ganoderma lucidum to make medicine to cure cancer. But during the war with the US, no one dared to come to this place, there was no way in or out.
After liberation, it was honored as a national primeval forest, strictly protected, with biological and botanical conservation. Then people said, electricity was more needed than wood, if lose this tree, another would grow. Hydroelectricity was both cheap and clean, called “white electricity”. Thermal power was polluting the environment. So they raced to do hydroelectricity, raced to cut down forests. Wood according to the “correct process” drifted to the mainland. The water was “mouth-flooded”. Landslides filled houses and people.
The rain was still pouring, thanked to the soldier’s flashlight, Thoang cleverly climbed near the top of the hill to avoid landslides, quickly climbed from hill to hill. Fortunately, there were no trees in the forest, only the roots so he was free to go. Wild animals, snakes that had no place to nest have disappeared since then. The primordial forest, naked, belly up to the sky for “God to pour water down”.
Thoang walked, walked for a long time, tired, hungry, his face turned gray due to the cold. He rested on the stump of a tree cut down. Falling asleep, then waking up, he quickly looked down at the foothills, a vast area of water like the sea, sometimes a few rooftops and bushes popped up to form a clumsy picture of the countryside. Looking everywhere to find the way to continue, Thong realized that there was a shortcut through several villages to the main road, then a district hospital, his wife and child must be there. But still he had to cross a river, the water in everywhere, not know which way to go? Regardless, just go and it would come.
Thoang run down the hillside, there were no landslide here, only the water. The villagers shouted loudly to run away. Adults carried the little ones, the elderly sat on rafts, on the mats, and children rushed together. Thoang confused what to do, a tall man, loud voice pushed him into the water:
– What are you waiting for, climb up, hurry, I’ll be back.
Suddenly, he didn’t know anything.
The man rolled his eyes and replied:
– Get on the buffalo, cling to the body like a motorbike taxi driver.
Thoang accepted, tried to sit on the buffalo swam out in the middle of the sea of murky water and garbage, so just risked asking a question:
– Uncle, where do we go now?
– Hey, this guy, go to the Go village to avoid the flood, you fell from the sky, silly.
The man pulled the buffalo’s rope while shouting. He controlled the buffalo to go in the right direction. Thoang was embarrassed, not knowing what to say, if he tells the truth, he would be dropped into the vast sea and die. Turning the head slightly, the man asked as if shouting:
– Whích commune are you in? Whose family, I find you a bit strange?
Well, Thoang had to tell the truth:
– I live as far as Doc Tran
Thoang told all the facts and then begged the man
– Please let me go, I pay the money.
– Are you crazy, what I can get your money, you thought that I’m a buffalo driver? I’m a tank soldier, what else am I strange along this Truong Son road
The man said softly
– Why don’t you tell early? Just had a boat to carry a mother to the hospital. Poor you.
– Yes, thank you, I did not know.
– Always thank you, thank you. Go to Go hamlet and then follow a way to the Emergency Station.
The buffalo was really strong, carried the two persons and went straight, sometimes swimming, jumping up and running, and soon reached the shore. In Go village, people ran into chaos. The man called his wife and said:
– Have something for guest to eat, hurry up, he must be hungry.
The mother and daughter carried a basket of boiled corn. Thoang didn’t eat anything all afternoon and last night, was really hungry. He ate two corns. The man said quietly to his wife:
– After eating, I will come back to pick up a few more people, your mother will take this guest through the village to show him the way to the hospital. It’s urgent, he wife and child have just been dug out in the rubble, understand?
His wife obeyed and then prepared.
Going to the end of Go village, there was a road to the other village, the water has not flooded yet, still some places to go. The woman said:
– You hold some corns, cannot know the weather, take some, there is nothing to eat, then you will get hungry.
Thoang choked up, teary eyes, shaking hands, squeezed a few corns. The woman lightly patted Thong’s back, advised:
– Go ahead, don’t have to say anything more. Try to take care of your wife and child, he will later repay you.
– Yes, when the storm is over, I will bring my wife and child to visit you.
Thoang went quickly to pass the short, rare parting moment.
The road to the village was easy to go. Through the movement to build a new countryside, dozens of targets have been set, perhaps the target of concreting village roads was effective, clean, and free of pits. Thoang speeded up like a marathon runner to reach the finish line. Approaching to the overflowing dam, an old woman struggled to pass. Thoang politely said:
– Grandma, I will carry you over.
The old looked at Thoang and smiled. Quickly, he put her on back to carry across the bridge, was about to put her down when the old clapped his hands and pointed forward. In the distance was a two-story school, the water was gradually flooding into the first floor. People carried furniture… running in and out. The old said nothing, clapping her hands repeatedly, probably urged him to hurry. It started to rain heavily, the water had already risen above his knees. Thoang gave a packet of corn for her to hold, then said:
– Hold on tight, I’m going fast. I still have to go to the hospital. My wife and child are being treated there.
Arriving at school, Thoang carried her straight to the second floor, the whole village ran here to avoid flood, children and the elderly were crowded.
Holding a packet of corn, said goodbye, Thoang ran down the stairs to continue.
It was raining heavily, the wind was howling, the water had risen to the belly, cannot see the road, Thoang just went ahead “go and come” he remind himself. From behind suddenly a call:
– Excuse me, sir. Excuse me, sir.
He turned around and shouted:
– Who’s calling?
Approaching, a girl, stood in the middle of the rain, gasped and said:
– Uncle, did you just carry my grandmother?
– Right, what’s the matter, kid?
Frightened, afraid that something had to do with him.
The little girl said:
– My grandmother sent me to chase follow you, thank you. Please understand, my grandmother is mute, she can hear, but can’t speak.
Thoang was embarrassed:
– God, you are so careful. You don’t have to do that, wading through the rain and wind like this not good.
The girl still tried to hold Thoang’s hand:
– Uncle, my grandmother told you to wear this life jacket to swim through the deep water. Here, a Gold Star oil box, when you’re cold, swallow a little, then you will warm up, uncle.
From yesterday until now, Thoang had carried a lot of love stories. He put down his heavy feet, which were sinking into the mud, he and the girl were unsteadily stood.
– Come back uncle, I’ll take you to the inside
She pulled Thoang from the mud
– It’s a bit far, but it’s easier on the hillside, uncle.
Suddenly there was a rushing wave that pushed two of them away for a distance, followed by a motorboat approaching. Thoang raises his hand and beckoned:
– Canoe, give me a ride.
The boat rattled and sprang forward. The girl turned round and said:
– They don’t carry you, uncle.
– What’s wrong, Canoe to rescue, if not carrying people, who will it carry?
Thoang curiously said.
The girl laughed:
– That’s the canoe of the house upstairs
She pointed to the high hill
– They go to the town to buy food, we will go over a little while, there’s a road called the “soft curve”.
– Sounds strange, why call it that?
– It’s like this, on the hill there is a burial ground, his house is close to the road, and he forced the village to make another road. The village refused because the cemetery is hundreds of years old, and his house is new. But then there was a piece of handwritten paper, the village had to bear it, rebent the road far behind. That’s the soft curve, uncle.
– Well, that sounds like a fairy tale, doesn’t it? Who is he?
Thoang surprised asked again:
– I don’t know, I just heard that he did something at high ranking at the hydroelectric plant. The house is full of columns, shiny wood, big. Never flooded.
– He’s good at calculating, isn’t he?
– But very stingy, uncle. Yesterday in the village someone died, asked him to hire a boat to carry the coffin, but he refused, saying that he was still busy carrying people to the district. The dead person’s house had to hang the coffin with ropes on the rafters to prevent it from flooding.
Listening to her story, Thoang was shivering, cold spines, hurriedly opened the tall box of Gold Star, and cunningly swallowed it. The girl still continued:
– Do you see anything?
– Funeral trumpet, right? For the past few days, it has been raining heavily, worried and tired, my ears buzzed.
– Yes, turn to this side and can hear the music from the house.
– Yes, it’s true, why are they still dancing in this storm?
– They don’t have to worry like us.
The girl was so clever to lead this way so that he could go faster and see the soft curve. Soon the two of them had reached the riverbank, Thoang said:
– Baby, I don’t know how to fully express your kindness. You are so good to me.
The girl squealed:
– It’s nothing, uncle, my grandmother told me to do it. You are suffering much more than us. Hurry up or you’ll be late.
In a hurry, he forgot to ask her name “it’s too stupid, how I can find them late”.
Wearing a life jacket that the girl had just given, preparing to swim across the river, he was occasionally hit by the waves and fell down. The motorboat from earlier turned and rushed forward, running fast, big waves. Waves chased waves, stretching a trail to disperse a flock of ducks looking for food. The duck-herd lady sat on a bamboo boat and chased after but cannot follow the flock, she called out loudly:
– Dear brother, stand at the top and drive the ducks for me.
Thoang jumped into the water, swimming out in the middle of the stream to lead the ducks. The ducks obediently swimming back. The lady breathed hard:
– Without you, I would have lost a few hundred ducks. Damn his canoe, the waves were already big, and more waves overlapped. Even the duck he is not pity.. It’s really hard raining and windy, there’s no firewood to cook water, please drink this water bottle temporarily, yesterday a young singer came to the rescue.
She ran into the room, took a sip of water and stood looking at her small house. Some picture frames, or certificates of merit, medals or something had been fallen, she said:
– That’s Truong Sa soldier, lots of certificates of merit. For the past six years, mother and daughter have been working hard but proud, the island soldier’s wife. Do you agree?
– Yes, he looks great.
Thoang picked up the photo to praise. She laughed again.
After hearing about Thoang’s situation, she sighed and pushed a bag of duck eggs in her hand. Thoang refused:
– Are you paying me?
– When you say that, I’m angry
In this situation, Thoang could not say a word, was covered the bag with duck eggs, his body was hot, his feet trembled in the mud, wading in the water, walking. She pulled the boat closer, saying as if commanding:
– Get on the boat, you can’t swim across the river.
– How can I return the boat to you?
– You don’t have to pay, go to the other side then to the main road to the army’s emergency station, leave the boat there, whoever needs it, and they take it and go. If lose this boat, can buy another, if you lose someone, can you buy it?
Fearful that Thoang did not know how to row the boat, she bent down to push the boat out into the deep water, the boat obediently glided on the river. Fortunately, the water today was calm, not turbulent like a few days ago. She assuredly went back in.
From childhood until now, Thong has lived in the mountains, belonging to every branch of grass in the forest, not knowing what a river was. He did not understand what kind of power had given him to do things he had never done before. Stepping out of the forest, Thoang felt like stepping into a vast sky, people’s hearts were open, everyone loved, gave so many things.
Sailing smoothly, it was getting dark. Thoang jumped ashore, quickly went to the front emergency station. The road was flooded a little. It was sometimes rainy. Without asking for directions, Thoang went straight to the emergency room, immediately recognized his wife lying on the other bed, his son in the next bed. Seeing that the son shouted:
– Oh, dad. Mom, Dad’s back!
The whole family hugged each other and sobbed, the whole hospital room stopped for a moment, watching. The station chief shared the same touching atmosphere, patted his shoulder and said:
– Your family’s prosperity is very big, when taken out from the mud, mother and son were like two earthen statues waiting for the husband.
The whole family collapsed in the chief’s arms. Moments later, Thoang said softly:
– The merits of the doctors are as high as the sky, as wide as the sea, we don’t know how to repay. This is a little gift from everyone, I collected on the way, please take it.
– What is this?
The chief asked
– Yes, duck eggs.
The chief smiled.
– All right, take it down to the kitchen and tell them to make food this afternoon for all the patients, all rejoice, welcome back those from the dead…
A few days later, his wife and child were about to leave the hospital, and the army’s relief team came to visit! Thoang realized that he was the soldier. So happy, the soldier smiled and said:
– Today the whole family is reunited, your dilapidated house has also been rebuilt. The relief team gave you a motorbike, tomorrow will take your wife and child home on this vehicle. Your dream came true…
Not Thoang’s family, but anyone stood there, heard soldier’s words were teary eyes. Everyone imagined, Thoang’s family sitting on a motorbike, traveling all over the country to thank the country for giving births with such Vietnamese people.
The storm would be over, the rain would stop, and only human love would stay.
(Translated into English by Khanh Phuong)