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14 very short stories - Duy Han - English Version - Translated by Thong Nguyen

1-Illness and Laziness

My wife - like many other Asian women abroad - started getting laziness. Right after coming home from work, she got on bed and watched movie sets. She never minded either cooking meals or house cleaning at all. To my seldom yelling she would resist:
"I'm too tired to do chores but can't take a nap either. I just turn the movie on that it may help. I don't mean to watch."
She was so clever in twisting the language - watching but not watching. Who would buy her arguments? I made up my mind. If she wouldn't cook meal today, I would smash up the TV set.
It was true. There was no rice or soup cooking at all. My little child was terrified in welcoming me.

"Dad, my brother just brought Mom to hospital. She passed out and needed the emergency treatment."
I hurried to the hospital. Her diagnosis was done. She might have a bone cancer. I recalled her complaints of her pain for several weeks but I ignored thinking she was pretending.
The cancer was spreading too fast. Her doctor told me that she wouldn't be staying too long. They could cut off a woman's beast if she contracted a breast cancer but what to be cut as she has a bone one!
My wife's lungs also had problems. For years she had inhaled my smoking. I dared not tell her my evil thoughts of her when she didn't cook or clean up.
She had been my darling for years but I didn't know her illness until it was too grave. I felt so sorry but could only quietly cry in the bathroom. One employee saw me. He felt bad asking if I OK. As the last drop of water spilling the glass, I poured out my story on him with my broken English. He seemed have compassion but could only said sorry and left.

In a visit at the hospital I saw my wife so pale and skinny wrapped with many strings, needles and tapes. She whispered:
"I want to go home. It's so bored and noisy here. I will cook your favorite stew."
I patted her, saying:
"Honey, try to rest. Need not to worry about me."
I cooked some special dishes to bring her but she couldn't eat. I cried again. Poor me, I have been so manly in yelling my wife and our children daily but so emotionally weak now.

Nguyễn Ngọc Duy Hân (translated by Nguyen Van Thong)
2-The Old Suit

It was hard to live with an old sick and stubborn father-in-law. He used to complain, ask questions at the wrong times and refused right food for him. He was always proud of his past in repeating the stories of his glorious youth. He was a military officer who had never been defeated. His mind always outlived his heart. I know he was kind but always felt that he was living with reasons without emotions.

It was the day I was going to drive him to church. Again he put on his old tattered suit that he had brought here from Vietnam. I gently told him:
"Father, you should wear the new suit I bought. This one is too old and out of date."
"But I like this one."
I felt upset.
"It looks bad in public. People will think that we don't take care of you."
He turned sad, saying:
"But I like this suit very much."
I sternly said:
"You change it and we go before it's too late. I don't see why you like your suit."
He solemnly replied in his sincerity and rhetoric that I had never heard:
"Your mother-in-law gave it to me for our wedding anniversary. I wore it in your husband's graduation. In her funeral I wore it, too. I feel happy and emotional wearing it."
His tears were rolling on his wrinkled cheeks. I felt dazed and sorry. My in-law was more sentimental than I had thought. It was my heart that needed to be inspected.

Nguyễn Ngọc Duy Hân (translated by Nguyen Van Thong)


Working as a psychologist seems hard even at high salary. Daily listening complaints from patients may make you insane. However, the hardest thing wasn't listening but to discover the hidden truth of the patients who used refusing to admit. When the hidden truth is unearthed, the treatment has its chances.

One of my patients is a Vietnamese. She is amiable but very quiet and heavily depressed. She looked broken and disoriented. She was dumped by her husband, but to me she wasn't troubled because of losing him. She looked down on him and was so independent after their separation. After days of caring and probing I found that her crisis was caused by her husband who kept repeating the incident of her being raped on her escape from Vietnam. He ridiculed and insulted her for her past to justify his trips back to Vietnam for girls. My patient was deeply hurt as her past suffering resurfaced. She couldn't sleep well, and she even hid herself from others.
After finding the cause of her illness, I wanted to introduce her to my teacher an experienced Canadian psychologist. She pleaded with me to stay, saying:
"I like you very much, and I can't speak English well, please help me, don't send me to another doctor."
I smiled pushing back my tears. I couldn't tell her that I couldn't treat her due to my own incident of being badly raped by pirates. For years I was living with my fear that I dared not get married, and dared not tell anybody. Being unable to treat myself, who else could I!

Nguyễn Ngọc Duy Hân (translated by Nguyen Van Thong)

4-Unwanted Soul

I'm Trần Văn Tiến, born in Phát Diệm of North Vietnam. In 1954 my parents brought me to escape the communists to the South. I was brought up in Saigon, became a military officer, got married and had a decent life with our children. In 1975, I was forced to go to the re-education camp by the VC Communist who just took over South Viet Nam.

Our days and nights were full of insults and labors. My first camp was Đá Bạc in Cà Mau where we had to clear the wilds of U Minh. After about two years, we were flocked to Nam Thái Sơn in Rạch Giá. All our days were to dig canals at the foot of Thất Sơn Mounts. All water sources of the region heavily contained alum that made the water so clear but sour taste that no plant or fish could survive except rats. We had to filter the water with fired wood ash to drink and kill rats for food. I submissively took all the sufferings with the hope of reuniting with my family at the end of my re-education. What else could a warrior do without a weapon?

One day I was fetching water buckets with a pole on my shoulder, a big snake was moving on the path. It's a non poisonous snake. It could give me several full meals. I left my water buckets on the ground and quickly followed the snake's track. I got lost from all return paths. After a long while without seeing any guard, I decided to escape heading away from the camp. After several days escaping with hunger and thirst, I got a fever and suffered with dysentery. I lied dead on a canal bank.

I was dead but my soul was unwanted, it was haunting around the canal. Anybody with benevolence, please come to the south of Thất Sơn Mounts and would find my bones by the biggest melaleuca tree which had its bottom divided into three roots. Please bring me home for an internment. My wife and our children all died at sea in their escape, I had no relative left. Thank you.

Nguyễn Ngọc Duy Hân (translated by Nguyen Van Thong)

I don't like to take pictures of me at all because I'm aware of my not good looking appearance and not prone to photos. At the time coming to California from the refugee camp, I only took a picture to send to my wife at home in Vietnam at her beseeching. After a couple of years missing me so much, she asked me for another picture that she might see how I was at the time. I rummaged in my drawer and found one to send her. Her replied letter said it was the same old one!

Before I knew it, nearly 30 years have passed. I have sponsored my wife and our children to America. We even have grandchildren. One day a grandchild of mine asked  me a picture for her project of family. I couldn't find one. Looking in the mirror I saw a strange old man staring back. O God, it's me. I had to take my picture anyway both for my grandchild's homework and for the altar on the day of my funeral when it comes.

Looking back, I couldn't believe myself in and out was so tattered. My wife cried often because of my dictatorship. Our children's childhood was suffered due to my hard temper. To our community I was so allergic. Actually I had been with it for several years but being so outrageous once, I yelled at them and left. Leaving but I was still angry. I sent blackmails, posted negative comments on forums to dispirit people. I liked nobody as none liked me except the communists because they harvests benefits from me.

I'm more than 60 years old now. I should have a nice picture of me for my wife, my family and my friends. After all, I still know to be ashamed. Yeah, I have to try!

Nguyễn Ngọc Duy Hân (translated by Nguyen Van Thong)
My mother was hospitalized for her foot surgery. I took a leave from work for two weeks to take care of her. Those days in the hospital were my pleasure. Beside some talks with my mother and translations for her in doctors or nurses' visits, I had tons of books and magazines of mine to read. Since she couldn't eat “Western” food, I brought her rice meals or "phở" in exchange her hospital's meals for me. Beside mashed potatoes, nourishing beef and chicken, there were sweet and delicious desserts which guaranteed my weight gain.

I had an acquaintance who had been staying in this hospital for a year after his stroke and became paralyzed half of his body. I came to visit him when my mother slept. He had been downsizing a lot even after my last visit not long ago. Being confined on his bed all day long, he could only slowly move one shaking hand. His speech was distorted and hard to understand. Nevertheless, he was happy having me to talk. He eagerly talked about his glorious time in the army, his time of chasing girls and his troublesome youth in school. He had a dream to become a writer.

He talked about his dream of becoming a writer but it wouldn’t come true at his poor health now. I didn’t know what to say in comforting him but listened with distress.

Two weeks past, my mother was feeling better and ready for a discharge. I came to say bye to him. He looked sad, saying:

“I was so happy to have you stop by visiting. You’re an angel for me. Now my angel is parting, I have  to remain alone with God."
It’s the first time I was called an angel. It was my dream when I was small. That Christmas pageant the twin sisters in my parish were chosen to be angels kneeling by the rock manger. They looked so pretty with their so white dress and wings. I was dying to be an angel, but it was only my dream. Now I was suddenly called angel even without wings. This kind of angels was easy to become, I didn’t have to do a thing or say a line. What I did was to quietly listen.

Nguyễn Ngọc Duy Hân (translated by Nguyen Van Thong)
7- Jewelry

Vinh is handsome but wasn’t doing well in school. He has had a hard time to find a good job. He has planned to purchase a diamond ring to propose for his girlfriend but couldn’t. He got a good job once but not for long before his company was shut down. His girlfriend was sad but couldn’t do anything. It’s the western life. Who said it’s easy!
Vinh was lucky this time in getting a better job. He’s very happy but wanted to surprise her. He went to work and secretly kept his savings. In his imagination, his girlfriend would so surprised and happy when he suddenly dropped on his knees to make his propose. Vinh registered for all available overtimes as he could for a speedup.
Things didn’t go smoothly. Vinh purchased the ring online for a better price but the company sent him the wrong model. It took two weeks for the exchange. He was extremely anxious looking for the day as he already invited some of his best friends as witnesses for the surprise. That Saturday was approaching at last. He had a new suit and a bouquet for the day.
The Friday night, Vinh’s girlfriend called, told him important news. She would break. Her new boyfriend was his acquaintance who wasn’t handsome but smart and had a high salary job.
Vinh was hurt, got very sad and angry. He hated life and himself. What if he had been working harder in school. Girls of today are so materially practical.
Vinh felt so sad as if he was dying. Only the time could recover him, and it did gradually. Then he was resolute to go back to school. It’s still not too late.

Nguyễn Ngọc Duy Hân (translated by Nguyen Van Thong)

8- Hating Snow
Huy decisively planned to leave Montreal for California even though he was having a good job, a beautiful girl and going to purchase a house in this cold weather but warm hearted land. He was young and adventurous, it’s understandable but how could he legally find a stay. On the other hand, he was having his mother here that meant hard for their visits.
He was angry when I tried to persuade him not to go.
“I know you love me, Aunt. You’re right but I hate snow. I have to live where there is no snow!”
I sighed. I understood. I didn’t like snow either. What could I tell him!
Huy’s dad passed away suddenly on a snowstorm day in Montreal. He died of heart attack as he was trying too hard to shovel snow. Before the incident he asked Huy to help but he sneaked away to go with his friends.
Being close to him I understood that like most others of young generations, he was more easygoing. They weren’t taking serious in caring their parents. However, what happened to his dad was unexpected, it wasn’t his fault. I could only sigh again.
I wanted to tell him not to hate snow but look back on his laziness. I should look back on myself, too. Many times I used to procrastinate; I was afraid of hardship. I was very lazy when I was young, too. I didn’t do my homework on time and didn’t work hard but waited until the exams when I had heavy black coffee to stay past the midnight for weeks to review my works but hardly finished.
Due to my laziness and procrastination, I have missed many good opportunities. Many times I thought of good work to do or some friends to visit but it was too late!
Every time seeing snow, I thought of Huy and reminded myself to be determined and prompt. Looking up the sky and vast white fields, I prayed…

Nguyễn Ngọc Duy Hân (translated by Nguyen Van Thong)

9 – Surprise

She was upset, saying:
“You’ve  wasted too much recently. There wasn’t any savings to pay extra mortgage for last several months. You’ve worked overtimes, so where your money goes? Did you hide me something for any girl?”
“Aren’t you controlling all my money?”
“But I feel it’s questionable!”
Her question was answered at last. He surprised her with her dream earrings on her birthday.

Nguyễn Ngọc Duy Hân (translated by Nguyen Van Thong)

10 - The Driving Instructor

In every Father’s Day I remember my son’s driving instructor with my broken heart and regrets.
That year my son learned to drive. After the paper exam, he was sent to an Italian Canadian driving instructor. He would have to pick up my son for his lessons of 12 hours. The instructor always came late or changed the appointment or just didn’t come. As my son’s road test was approaching, I was upset in calling him:
“Will you come today? You’re so awful, you could cause my son fail for not having enough hours of driving!”
“I try to come,” he mumbled.
As he came knocking at the door, he looked tired and broken. I felt angrier.
“I should report to the office your irresponsibility in instructing my son!”
He dropped his head:
“I’m very sorry. My son just passed away after five months of treatment for his cancer. I was very busy and in tension for recent weeks. I shouldn’t have signed to give your son driving lessons but I badly needed money for my ill son.”
I stayed dumbfounded as he continued:
“Today is my first Father’s Day that I won’t hear my son’s wish for me. He is about your son’s age. Happy Father’s Day for you.”
I was clumsily speechless in saying sorry or condolences to him.

Nguyễn Ngọc Duy Hân (translated by Nguyen Van Thong)
11- Telling The Truth

Dear Thái,

I was so embarrassed to talk to you yesterday that I have to send you this email for an explanation. We’re boy and girlfriend of each other, I should have let you know better about my family.

My family is very poor. My parents are newcomers of HO program. They are struggling to start their new life. The man who mowed your front yard yesterday was my dad. I was bewildered as seeing him there when I came to your house. He was in tattered working clothes. When you told me to go out the front yard that you might pay him, I went to the bathroom lying to you that I had a stomachache then I left.

I couldn’t sleep last night. I both sinned to my dad and was embarrassed for lying to you. I’m so bad, ain’t I? Now I tell you the truth, you can dump me and I can’t blame you. I’ll try to work hard in school then later I may take care of my parents and help my family overcome our poverty. It’s the land of opportunities here, those who work hard will be successful.

My best wishes to you, Thái and may you find a better friend. Forgive me.


Nguyễn Ngọc Duy Hân (translated by Nguyen Van Thong)

12- Their Romance

She was confused, asking:
“Do you still love me?”
“After our wedding, you aren’t romantic to me anymore. I can’t help stop dreaming.”
“We’re too busy with the children, but I don’t see we’re too different than before.”
“But I do!”
“I have to go fix the windows now.”
“I hate it. You just pretend.”
It rains suddenly. This time the floor isn’t get soaking wet. He just fixed the windows.

Nguyễn Ngọc Duy Hân (translated by Nguyen Van Thong)
13- The Nightmare

I couldn’t explain to Michelle what in my mind but quietly looked at her. Even though I love her so much, I used to bring her moments of confusion, abrupt joy and sadness due to my unsettled sentiment. I was born with a sensitive heart and feeble body, and brought up in my country after the communist disaster which caused my dad’s imprisonment and my mom’s struggle to keep us survive and pay for our escape.
It was a trip of tears and blood. I still startled at night thought that I was at the high sea. The pirates killed our men, raped our women and they brought my mom away. At ten years old then I couldn’t do anything but cried. I love Michelle because she has her smile exactly as my mother’s even though she is Canadian. 
Today Michelle asked if we could make a vacation trip to Thailand, the tickets are on sale.
“I don’t go to Thailand,” I mumbled.
Michelle didn’t see I just broke down.
“Thailand is a beautiful place with many magnificent Buddhist temples. Didn’t you like to go to temple often?” she continued.
I wanted to tell her that Thailand has many magnificent temples but it has many pirates, too. I think Michelle would never understand. Nobody or no people in the world would except that they went through the nightmare like mine at least once.

Nguyễn Ngọc Duy Hân (translated by Nguyen Van Thong)

14  Indifference

She smiled looking at her niece as her boyfriend lovingly lifted her feet to examine something sharp she stepped on. She talked to her friends:
“Our time was over. I feel jealous looking at them. My husband wouldn’t mind a bit if I step and get bleeding on a nail. He might even yell at me for carelessness!”

The following day she and her husband stopped by their friend’s nail beauty shop. He was on his knees to show her feet to their friend asking if she can fix the calluses on them. His wife was so moved and found that she was very sensitive … at her feet. Her husband wasn’t indifferent as she had thought.

Every time passing by a nail shop, she liked to stop by not for her nails but that her husband could ask how to fix her calluses.

Nguyễn Ngọc Duy Hân (translated by Nguyen Van Thong)

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