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The International Writers Magazine
Dreamscapes: Fiction from Vietnam by Luc Hue

LUM
Luc Hue

7:00 PM...Friday night....Cau Lanh, Viet Nam;
Gale strength winds from a Typhoon that was centered just off the central coast of Viet Nam were blowing down the wide, flooded streets of Cau Lanh with the strength of a twister in the cornfields of Iowa. Coconut trees kissed the ground in the wind like an old miser picking up a penny as the sheets of rain pounded their palm leaves.

Everything and everyone in the path of this howling storm was going to get a lashing whether they wanted it or not. The concrete homes of the well-to-do were safe but the poor that lived in the coconut houses were on the verge of delirium wondering if they and their families would be here, or even alive, in the morning. Not many braved to be out as twilight fell on the small city.

Outrageous amounts of water inched toward the center of the highway where Lum sat under an awning of a closed hardware store. Fast moving water threatened to cover the entire road as mighty, hard-core winds blew the overflow into waves along the deep ditches of the roadside. The narrow asphalt highway that went the ten miles between Cau Lanh and Binh Hang Trung was the main vein, in fact, the only paved road that kept the smaller villages connected to the flourishing city. Cau Lanh was where the jobs and money were, but most couldn’t afford to live there, most people in this area lived in the villages that were scattered between the here and there.

At the end of the highway, where it turned into a dirt trail, was Binh Hang Trung, home of a family man named Luc Gia Lum. Binh Hang Trung was the place where Lum’s family history had grow from a sprout to a massive tree with many branches and leaves, his roots in this town had began before the name Indochina itself was thought of. The lifestyle in this small village was laid-back and simple, much different than that of the fast paced big city of Cau Lanh, the town that had drawn Lum in search of money.

Although it was getting late, Lum, a motorcycle taxi driver, was still working. He hadn’t had one fare for today, in fact, for several days, no one was going anywhere in this terrible weather. Lum had been waiting in Cau Lanh all day for just one customer that he could take toward his home, he waited in the square where the buses dropped off travelers, he waited at the open market for someone with a bundle of goods too heavy to carry home. He waited, he watched, and he waited some more, hopefully, for someone that lived along the ten mile asphalt road that led to Binh Hang Trung. See, Lum is a very prudent man; there was no way that he would ride back to his village without someone else to at least pay for the gas to get there.

Lum hadn’t eaten or even thought of food all day, the only thing that had passed his lips were the names of his wife and child, Tao his wife and Bao his two year old son. The wet rider repeated their names, "Tao, Bao, ..Tao, Bao," he was thinking that they could hear him speaking, they would know that he was thinking of them. They too hadn’t eaten since he had left the one room coconut house at five that morning.

Lum knew the disappointment of not having any food for his family to eat would be too much for him to face when he did go home. The hunger that would be in the eyes of his wife and son would break his heart. Lum’s life had become as grave as it had ever been.

8:00 PM...Still under the awning...it’s dark now
Tonight was just like other nights had been recently, no hope, and no signs of hope. Two weeks of bad weather had taken their toll on the taxi business, he had only three fares in the last two weeks. It was as if no one was going anywhere, riding in the rain was no big deal, why would the tough people of the country turned sophisticated city folk be afraid of something as normal as getting wet? Twenty cents a fare didn’t add up to much money for them, they could afford it, where were they? He’d seen six year old school girls with that much money just for lunch, surely, somewhere a rich city worker would want to get home anyway that they could, it’s only rain.

Lum had saved a small amount of money from when times were better, but now that was gone as well as the five dollars that he had borrowed from his older sister. The only thing of value that he owned was his old 1965 Honda Fifty with more than a hundred thousand miles on it, without that, there would be no hope of earning a living at all. Jobs were far and few between in and around Binh Hang Trung. So many people wanting work, but there hadn’t been any new companies or any job openings for a long time.
Lum’s house was made of bamboo and woven coconut leaves that he had gathered from the coconut trees and bamboo that grew along the canal in his backyard. The dirt floor shack that he and his family called home was only worth the effort that it took to build it. His grandmother had given him the land that he built his little nest on, but his older brother owned the title now, it was the last thing he had sold since these hard times had fallen on him and his family.

The lot that Lum built his house on used to be the pooping-hole for Binh Hang Trung, a community toilet that everyone in the village used. The floor of his house was a large open pond of water with two coconut tree trunks lying across it. In the middle of the logs sat a small, two foot high box made of woven coconut leaf where everyone, young and old, squatted to do their duty of feeding the splashing fish below. He thought about how it took him and his wife one month of carrying mud from the creek in a basket on their heads to fill in the stank fifty foot wide hole in the center of his small space here on Earth.
The small amount of money that it took for he and his wife and child to survive back then seemed so large to him now as he reached down and clenched his fist on the outside of his empty pockets.

9:30 PM...Still raining, wind still blowing
The taxi driver had driven his motorcycle taxi to the threshold of its usefulness; he knew that any day it could let him down and leave him without any means to feed his family. The small, overworked motor had a loud clank and tapping noise that sounded like a large rat stealing rice in the night. Both of the wheels were missing spokes and wobbled with a lazy sway on the bald tires that sagged like half filled balloons.
The worn out seat on the bike filled with water through ripped holes as it sat in front of him in the rain like an old dog waiting for the next command. He sat under the awning as close to it as he could without being directly in the rain and talked to it like it was the last friend that he had. He was talking to his old motorcycle about things that had him feeling the pressure of life, pressure of being a provider to his family, and how the failure of not being a complete man wasn’t an easy pill to swallow.

Lum sat next to his unused tool of transportation watching the rain, feeling sorry, no one to bring home except himself. Going home without food, without money, would only show further proof that he couldn’t make it as a husband and father.
The gloom of the twisting storm that had lasted two weeks was fitting he thought, if the end of his life was near, it would be tonight. The weather, like he, was the worst it had ever been.
Since he was a boy he watched other moto-taxi drivers make their way past his house on the road where he grew up, they buzzed by with the even tone of contentment to anywhere. Anywhere that the fare requested, a destination, a direction to happiness, prosperity and to home. What a noble and proud way to live he thought, bringing the breadwinner home to an awaiting family. To Lum the taxi drivers were the final link to a working man’s completed day, a vital link to a complete life.

Without a fare for the day the nobility and purpose of his job, and his manhood would be in question. The joyous job that he imagined when he was a boy wasn’t quite so joyous lately. The purpose and dignity of his job in life had no worth. He had helped hundreds, maybe millions of workers home to be greeted at the door by yelping children and wives with the gleam of love in their eyes. Who would help him?
The suicidal thoughts that started to run through his mind seemed so far from the warm love of his family that he also thought about. The two emotions collided like hot lava hitting cold water. Lum looked across the road to the water that was gaining in width as it moved so fast down the street. He saw his image face down in the flooded ditch as it was being washed toward the Mekong River, his body swollen like the red balloon that he had bought for his son. His body would be fish food floating toward the China Sea along with drowned pigs and dogs. He would be in the company of his equals, just another dead body that stood for nothing. He pictured his young son, big dark brown eyes, a little fat body and dirt on his butt from sitting on the dirt floor of his home. Somewhere in the mix of these crazy thoughts the warm feeling of making love to his wife kept intruding. Death would bring the end of closeness to his family, he knew that. He also knew the sad look in his wife’s eyes would bring death to the pride that he so wanted to feel from her.
The terrible weather in the darkness of night brought about a perfect atmosphere to harbor the thoughts that he alone had to deal with. He’d felt these hopeless thoughts before, like the time when his son almost died from a simple bug bite or the time his wife got sick and he had no money for a doctor. He should be adapted to this desperate way of life by now, he’d been living it for thirty years. The swollen tears in his eyes mixed in with the rain that fell on his face, together they hid the sorrow that was in his heart and now running down his cheeks.

His death would bring an improvement to the life of those around him, wouldn’t it? These dreadful feelings of sorrow on this dreary night had to have some sort of meaning he thought. Maybe this was the drive of life that his father had told him about. The uphill struggle that kept a man driving forward, always trying to reach that golden Buddha that he could see, but never touch. Maybe these dark hard times were only a tool to help him be a man. Perhaps the life that he wanted was only around the corner.

10:13....heavy rain...wind...never so dark
From between a row of Banana trees in the alley walked a fat shadow of a man holding his hands above his face to shelter him from the rain. The single dim light above the hardware store revealed the shadow quickly looking one way, then the other, that’s when it saw the taxi driver squatting in the doorway.
"Can you help me get home?" the dark silhouette said as he approached.The taxi driver only looked up at the ghostly figure that now stood in front of him with his long coat blowing in the wind; he was startled to see anyone and didn’t quite hear what the man had said.
"Can you take me home?" He heard the squeaking voice of the figure this time.
"I’m not working!"
Lum was soaked, the moister had saturated past his bones to his brain. He was cold, destitute, and had made his mind up about the way he would put an end to all this misery. No more trying. He didn’t want to be interrupted from the selfish world that he had built around himself in the last hours, especially by someone that had no knowledge of how he felt and only had pathetic notions of them.

"I will pay you well. I need to get home to my family. I live too far to walk and I am desperate. You don’t understand. I was out with my friends from the bank after work having a few beers and my world was happy. While I was drinking and having a good time I met a girl that said she needed a man like me to make her world complete. That is how I ended up here. I live in Binh Thi and it’s too far to walk."
"I don't care if you ever get home! It’s your fault that you are here. You’re a fool! I don’t care if you met a thousand women that needed you. You should never do that to your family!"
Lum was sarcastic in his tone of voice; he just wanted the man to leave him alone.
"You’re a man, the same as I. Maybe you can understand the weak moments that one has sometimes when everything is so complete that you don’t need what you have. It is hard to appreciate the goodness granted to you by life when all is given to you, when you don’t have a care in the world. The abuse of love is easy when you become cocky and arrogant such as I have become."
"I told you, I’m not working. I don’t want to hear your sob story of a rich man being stupid. I have problems of my own."
The taxi driver still didn’t want to talk or help.
"Maybe we can help each other. I see you sitting in the rain, if you had a family you would be with them, that can’t be your problem. What possible cares can you have?"
"I have a family!" snapped Lum.
"Then you should be with them, not out here in this miserable night. I need to get home, soon, that’s all that I ask. Please help me! I love my wife, but I’ve done wrong. I have left my family to wait for me, not caring how long they wait. How could I throw all this away? How could I be so stupid? Come to my house and see what I was willing to give away. Your problem, whatever it is, I will help. I plead with you once more, please, please help me get home to my family!"

The taxi driver finally looked up after keeping his head toward the ground during the plea that the Banker had given him. His self indulged misery was beginning to be challenged by the story that this stranger in the night was telling him in such a desperate voice. They both were on the edge of a desperation so deep that neither might recover.

10:30 PM...Raining harder...wind gusts of 60 mph
The taxi driver leaned forward and looked up toward this rich beggar, then he stood up straight, not taking his eyes off the dark figure. Someone needed his service, someone that wasn’t just another fare. This man needed his family more than any ordinary fare he’d ever had before, he needed to be home. Lum’s own desperation couldn’t stand in the way.
"I will take you!" His voice was full of pride and strong.

The two mounted the poorly suspended motorcycle and rode off in the blistering rain and howling wind like two daredevils in a sideshow, the stranger clung to Lum and Lum to the handlebars. The only comfort they had during the long ride was each other and the thought of going home.

11:55 PM...Lights in the rain after a long treacherous ride

The stranger pointed over Lum’s shoulder with a cold shaking arm.
"Turn here."
They turned into a paved alley that was barely visible except for a single street light on the corner that attempted to outshine the rain soaked darkness. Lum and his fare rolled up to a beautiful house with a bright white light hanging above the door of the porch.
Two young girls rushed to the doorway after hearing the old Honda drive up.
"Daddy, Daddy!" They grasped their arms around the legs of the wet father that had jumped off the back of the moving motorcycle and now stood in the door. The once wayward man stood looking through the doorway at his wife inside, his children now standing on his feet as close to him as they could get, his wife stood motionless looking back at him. Lum the taxi driver stood in the rain watching, watching the return of a father to his family, the return of a husband to his wife.
"Please come in and dry off," the stranger’s wife asked as she moved around to the door and held it open.
His eyes met the stranger’s eyes as he stepped in the doorway. The content Banker’s eyes were asking him, pleading with him, not to disclose the weakness that he had in his adulteress night with the girl. The taxi driver understood his desperation.

Lum wiped his face with a towel and began to look around at the beautiful home that the stranger, only hours ago, could care less about. The fancy chairs and the crystal lights that hung from the high ceiling were things that he’d only seen on his neighbor’s television. The stranger’s poised and beautiful wife poured some tea for them in little hand painted tea cups on a matching tray as her husband moved to a table with a locked drawer on the side. He opened it and removed some money.
"I hope this will help you as much as you have helped me. I know you must be desperate, you were waiting in this terrible rain for a fare that would probably never come."
The stranger held out his hand in a fist with palm down holding a small roll of money. He reached out to Lum’s reluctant arm with his other hand and placed the roll into his hand, with that he gave a smile and a solemn nod.
"This will cover the fare and a bit more, please take it."

Lum took the money without counting it. He bowed slightly, turned and walked out the door smiling. The smile wasn’t for the money, it was for the warm feeling he had in his heart. He knew that he had helped a family become whole again and that was worth much more than any money that he received. The desperate urges that Lum felt were gone, his job had been honored, his manhood intact.

12:20 AM...The air is warm and the rain has quit

The stranger stood just outside the door on the porch and watched Lum leave. The rain had stopped and a full moon was exposing itself to a world that hadn’t seen it in two weeks. The father, husband, Banker and stranger, had a smile on his face as he stood in the moonlight.
The smile the stranger displayed was partly from the joy he felt by coming home to his family, but, he also knew that the five-hundred dollars that he had given the taxi driver would buy new tires, a new seat, and a new future for both families.

Moral of story; Money can get you to destination, but without family, there is no destination.
The End
Thank you for watching.

© Luc Hue 2002
In Binh Hang Trung, Viet Nam

Luc can be contacted via
John Michael Hanzlik
jmhcycle@aol.com
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