The International Writers Magazine Dreamscapes: Fiction from
Vietnam by Luc Hue
night....Cau Lanh, Viet Nam;
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.
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 couldnt 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 Lums 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 hadnt 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 hadnt 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
hadnt eaten since he had left the one room coconut house at five
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.
Lums life had become as grave as it had ever been.
8:00 PM...Still under the awning...its 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 didnt add up to much money for them, they could afford it,
where were they? Hed 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, its 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
hadnt been any new companies or any job openings for a long time.
Lums 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 wasnt
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 couldnt
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 mans 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 wasnt
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 wifes
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. Hed
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, hed 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, wouldnt
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, thats 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 didnt quite hear what the man had
"Can you take me home?" He heard the squeaking voice of the
figure this time.
"Im 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 didnt 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 dont 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 its too far to
"I don't care if you ever get home! Its your fault that you
are here. Youre a fool! I dont 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
"Youre a man, the same as I. Maybe you can understand the
weak moments that one has sometimes when everything is so complete that
you dont need what you have. It is hard to appreciate the goodness
granted to you by life when all is given to you, when you dont
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, Im not working. I dont want to hear your
sob story of a rich man being stupid. I have problems of my own."
The taxi driver still didnt 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 cant 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, thats all that I ask. Please help me!
I love my wife, but Ive 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 wasnt just another fare.
This man needed his family more than any ordinary fare hed ever
had before, he needed to be home. Lums own desperation couldnt
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 Lums shoulder with a cold shaking arm.
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
"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
"Please come in and dry off," the strangers wife asked
as she moved around to the door and held it open.
His eyes met the strangers eyes as he stepped in the doorway.
The content Bankers 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 hed only seen on his neighbors television. The strangers
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 Lums 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 wasnt 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 hadnt 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.
Thank you for watching.
Luc Hue 2002
In Binh Hang Trung, Viet Nam
Luc can be contacted via
John Michael Hanzlik
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