This is a direct translation of a piece written in 2009. Characters’ names have been modified and/or omitted to protect their identities. This is based on a true story.
The alarm rings, ever so annoyingly, and signals a new day. With an arm extended out, Van swatted it down. It is only Sunday, after all, and what kind of crime would if be should she not be able to sleep until eleven. Yet,
“Van, get up. There’s someone here to see you.”
Grumbling, she grabs at the jacket from the far end of her bed. It feels so heavy this fine morning, only to be thrown grudgingly down to the floor. Dressing up early seldom feels this tiresome, and then compounded by the need for half-hearted make up. She never really liked it, but people always seem to make a big deal out of it whenever possible, especially her parents, so a bit of extra effort is required to shut them up.Descending the flight of stairs, Van is greeted by the ever so cold but familiar glare of her mother. She knows she should have gotten used to it by now, but here it is still, bothering her to no end. There are better things to be concerned with, she reassured herself. A scoff is heard from the general direction, as she make her way towards the living room.
Drowsy, she flung herself on the sofa, clinging to its supple textures. Conveniently, her guest is also there, waiting. A boy of her age, it was, accompanied by a tasteless pair of thick, black glasses and an odd amount of grey hair. It was easy to point out his lack of sensible choice of appearance, but it would be no better than beating a dead horse at this point.
“Not a word?” He asks, his voice reaching a higher octave mid sentence. “We have not seen each other for a week or two and it’s like you don’t even know me anymore.”
“Drop the drama, I’m not in the mood.” Van replies, a certain reluctance observed in her tone. “It’s 7 a.m., why are you even here?”
“You haven’t been to the Puzzle lately.” He speaks, seemingly discarding the playful tone previously teased. The matter is becoming far more serious for that. “People have asked where you have been? Don’t you plan on seeing them anymore?”
“Probably… probably not.” She chokes back her outburst for just a moment. Despite her best effort, it seems too difficult to stop her voice from shaking. “My parents are completely against it.”
“So you’re not coming?”
“I don’t have a choice.”
He sighs. Certainly something like this has been foreseen, but neither of them wanted this to happen so soon. There is nothing else he can do now. Van is avoiding eye contact at all cost, thus the choice to leave is made. His bike is soon removed, and heads out. What he did not expect was Van to follow him out the front.
“Wait.” She speaks softly, trying to keep her words from the distracted mother. “How is… ?”
“Linh’s fine, don’t worry.” He answers. “You, however, are not.”
The two parts without another word. Van knows fully well he was right, but what is there for her to do? The chains tying her down here are far too powerful to struggle through. It pains her even more to know that she will still have to face its presence everyday. Her mother holds quite a role in it, of course.
“He seems like a nice boy doesn’t he?” That voice of disapproval once again rings. “A bit rough-looking, but certainly would be better than some street rat.”
“Mom! Would you just stop?” Everyone has a tipping point. This might not be it, but the lady is treading on a very fine line. “Does it not satisfy you to make my life miserable?”
“You little brat, how dare you speak to your mother like that?” Yelling at any point of disagreement is one of her mother’s way of dealing with the situation. It has proven to not work properly, but it has more to do with self-gratification, if one were to listen closely enough. “I and your father raised you through blood and tears is to make you a decent girl, not some kind of freak!”
Half of those words went astray, as Van slammed her bedroom door behind her. She has nothing left. All means of communication with the outside word has been confiscated, and she is not allowed to leave the house, even to go to school. It was her parent’s way of ‘reforming’ her. Someone from the outside looking in would be hard-pressed to understand the situation. She is a 16 years old girl, intelligent and fairly attractive. She does well at school and is physically active. What more can a mother wants? A son-in-law, apparently, and has been the only concern for a long time. The only explanation Van ever received for this was that it is a traditional virtue, of which she could give less than a toss about. What kind of tradition willingly trade away people’s freedom of choice simply to conform to the norm, she reminds herself. She knows not of what to do, trapped in this veiled prison. Thoughts of risk cross her head, but quickly discarded. Perhaps this is just a phase, that her parents will eventually give up and starts accepting her for who she is. The only temporary solution is to seek solace in slumber, of which she gladly gives way to.
Van has been awake for quite a while now. After all, it is already half past noon. She opens her door out of sheer impulse, only to see the familiar yet distasteful face of Hung. He is quite the well-built man, with a very strong focus of presentation and style, from what a first glance at him can pick up. What she knows, however, is that he is another one of those empty heirs that her mother seems to like so much. Many frequently wanted to get to her through the mother, but this is the first instance she had to meet one a second time.
“What are you doing here?” Van scowls, visibly. “How did you even get here?”
“Your mother called me.” His smirk is not a welcoming sight. “She wanted me to talk some sense into you.”
“Get out.” Unfortunately, this is not going to be resolved so easily. Van finds her arms gripped by his, unable to make a move. She finds the struggle impossible, as her strength is no much for a twenty years old in his prime. The door closes behind them. Pushed and gripped onto the bed, there is little else she can do. Her eyes tear up, faced with such a hardship she has never prepared for. The hollow laughter of the despicable human being fills the air. She braced for the worst.
He stops. It starts raining. This alley deserves another look. It has become a lot less lively the last couple of days, not because this has been a terribly popular cafe in the first place, but it just seems so void now. Truth be told, he never knew this place existed until a couple of months back, when he found himself lost going around on one of his ‘excursions’. It was the best place to stop at the time, and he has been going back here ever since. The night is approaching, and he has few other places to go.
“Hi!” He is greeted immediately upon arrival by the attendance. “You’re back.”
“Hi Hanh.” The shopkeeper is a college graduate, currently without a suitable job. She took up this one to be able to sustain herself, but also mostly because she knew the owners.
“Is Van still not coming?” She asks in anticipation, although the tone of her voice has already indicate her expectations.
“She’s not.” He speaks in great disappointment. “Her mother doesn’t let her leave anymore.”
“So she knows?”
“Everyone knows.” Bitterness. “I feel so sorry for her, to have to live around people like that.”
Hanh sighs. There is simply no more that they could have done. Furthermore, they both know that it is not them who are taking this news the hardest. He moves towards the back of the shop, to the door that has “employees only” written on it. Located behind it, is the stairs leading up, which he makes a note of climbing up quickly. At the top of the house is a dimly lit attic, cold and lifeless. He finds himself staring at the only resident in the room. The girl is silent, face buried deep in her knees.
“Linh.” Those amber eyes slowly averts towards him.
“Where is she?” Linh’s voice is hoarse and uncomfortable, as an effect of the constant bawling. She is still somewhat sobbing as the conversation carries on. “Why isn’t she here?”
“It’s found out. She cannot come anymore.” He speaks of the unfortunate truth, of which immediate reaction is can be observed. “I’m sorry.”
“What am I to do now?” Linh has her face in her hands, crying like she has been all these times.
“Just… give it a little time.” He knows not of what to say. There is little to calm people with, the priority is just to make sure nothing turns out crazy because of this. “You have to take care of yourself, still, I’m sure she wouldn’t appreciate you starving yourself like this.”
He has no choice but to give up, after a disturbing amount of complete silence. That, and the fact that Hanh is calling for him from the ground floor. It appears to be enough of an emergency to warrant the request, thus he hurried himself down.
“Look at this!” Hanh points at the TV, as they recap the local breaking news. His eyes widen, staring at the screen in disbelief.
“Early today, a murder is reported in the house of Mr. Pham and his family. The victim is Hung, a student of the National Medical University, 23 years old. He was killed by multiple stab wounds to the back and the abdomen, with obvious signs of struggle. His body was discovered in the room of the daughter, Van. The police deems her as the prime suspect in this case, after confirming the parent’s absences during the time of the murder. Ms. Van has since disappeared, and is requested to report to police custody immediately. If you see her, do not approach, instead contact the authorities…”
“How could this have happened?” Hanh is visibly upset, and so is he. “Could she have really…”
“Get everyone out.” He ushers. “If Van really is on the run, she has nowhere else to go but here, and let’s not have anyone around to see it.”
The shop is cleared within minutes. Linh is quickly brought down to the ground floor to be told of what happened. Everything is a mess, but they have no choice but to wait.
Within the hour, the doorbell rings. Van is there, her right arm lacerated, appearance completely compromised by the pouring rain. She can barely stand, but help comes her way quickly.
“Van!” Linh quickly grabs her, and puts her on the chair, with the others scrambling for the medical kit. “What happened? You’re bleeding!”
“He… he was trying to…” The long exposure to the freezing rain did not do her any good, and Van collapses into Linh’s arms. “I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to do any of this…”
“It’s ok.” Both of them fell into an embrace. It has been far too long. “You’re here with me, it’s all that matters.”
“The police is looking for you.” He comes with bandage. The wound is mostly just flesh, and it is certainly not fatal. Wrapping it up is easy enough, and they can finally talk. “Does anyone know you’re here?”
“M… mother probably does.” Time is thus of the essence. It is only a matter time until the authorities get here. “We need to get out of here!”
“You can’t just run from the police.” He asserts. Everyone is essentially in panic mode at this point, considering how this incident was rather clear cut. “Did you really kill him?”
“I did…” Van confesses. It is not at all surprising, but only now does reality finally dawns on them. None of them wants to see anything bad happen to her, but it is far too late at this point. “I was so.. angry.”
“Please, we can’t turn her in.” Linh speaks in her broken voice. The amount of emotion she is having to repress is becoming too much to bear. “I can’t lose her again!”
“Damn it.” What choice does he have? “Come on!”
The three quickly leaves the shop, leaving Hanh to clean up and prepare for the eventual police arrival. The motorcycle is their only means of escape, quickly disappearing off the back alley.
They reach the end of the bridge. He stops the vehicle.
“What is it?” He, expectedly, is in great haste.
“Leave us.” Van speaks, mustering up the calmest voice she can.
“What? No!” He protests. They are already here. They have already gotten so far. “Why now?”
“We can’t get you involved anymore than this.” She replies, as the two girls gets off the bike. She wraps her arms around him, with whatever strength she has left. “You’ve done so much already.”
“What are you going to do then?” Staring at the black vortex beneath the bridge, he insists. “You’re not going to…”
“No, but you have to leave.” She reassures him. “This is the only way we can be free.”
“Linh?” He inquires?
“I’ll do anything to be with her.” Linh’s response is firm, with no possible doubt.
In keeps raining.
He leaves. Turning back, the silhouettes of the girls are quickly devoured by the night. Who is to say what happened next?
Before someone points out the drastic difference in writing style, I’ve changed a lot over the years. I don’t usually do footnotes, but this is an exception. I felt like it had to be.
I no longer ride that bike.