THE WORST OF BOTH WORLDS

(December 2013)

“Nhi, have you ever got thirty out of a hundred for a test?” he asked his elder sister, who had just lied down on bed.

“Yes,” Nhi replied without giving a second thought. “Sixth grade. In Vietnam. I got my geography quiz back, and there it was, a three out of ten, which is equivalent to the thirty out of a hundred scale.”

“My first time failing a test was in 3rd grade,” he continued, then cut off the conversation and stared at the gray ceiling as if there were stars threaded by the skillful hands of sailors. From the tiny room on fifth floor of the building, both of them drifted off far away into the ocean. Their minds began wandering off into these jungles of contemplation at midnight, when parents had no control over their horizons of thinking. Hundreds of related and unrelated thoughts flashed through these active brain cells, which should have rested after a mind-boggling day that would soon blend itself with the stream of time lucid memories had no part of. Events were recalled. Human’s faces remembered. Hands touched on ecstasy; brains self-lacerated with blades of mental torture. A wink of sleep gave up and slipped through the murky glass window, on which droplets of water were sticking.

Photo Credit: Nhi

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This would be a perfect world if…

This would be a perfect world if…

… cars were not made to ride but solely to be parked in front of the neighbours’ houses and covered by snow every morning in the winter. Because that would be a beautiful sight to look at from the window and a much better solution for the environment (and no one would get car sick ever again!).

… cigarettes smelled and tasted like soup. Because then they would still look so elegant between women’s fingers and melancholic in a man’s mouth without being harmful. Continue reading “This would be a perfect world if…”

The monster, the hero, and… coffee? [short story]

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It was a peaceful day. The sky was blue. Adults were enjoying their weekend at cafe. Children were running happily on the street. Leaves were singing, flowers were dancing, and bees were twirling around enthusiastically.

But suddenly a monster appeared.

It came with rage, hating the blue sky, hating the smiling people, hating the smell of cappuccino, hating the sight of carefree children playing. It even hated the soft humming voices of the trees, the elegant dance of thousand flowers in the spring. The bees couldn’t interest it less.

The monster decided to destroy the peaceful life on Earth.

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Confession of an Old Woman

 By Nhi

My eldest daughter was very proud of her first child’s genuine interest in writing and went overboard with the sheer number of times she recited my granddaughter’s essays.One example of her cringeworthy praises is somewhat like this: “It is not like because she is my daughter so I say good stuff about her. She is just very good,” my strong-minded daughter said during a family’s celebration.

Even though I recoiled from the idea of showing off and would freeze my face muscles at those embarrassing moments or silently creased into a faint smile, I didn’t take any less pride in my granddaughter’s fresh insights, which were fairly articulated in the lengthy but descriptive essays that she did for class’s assignments. The thick black notebook that I gave to her was filled with scribbling about her daily life, unfinished sentences, Pokemon stickers, drawings of princesses and princes from Grimm Fairy Tales. She discovered pure joy in crafting and was able to incorporate observations as well as feelings into what she wrote.

“So I have to write this essay about Sword Lake. Can you and grandpa drive me there so that I can take notes? Please! Please!” she asked me one day.

Her round face brightened with happiness, her short-fingered hands kept rubbing with delight and her stumpy legs were thumping on the floor. Sometimes, after having enough materials, she would sit at her desk for hours and build her own realm of comfort. Passing by, I never stopped to caress her unruly hair or asked how she was putting everything together. One time, her two-year-old brother kept playing with colorful stationery on her desk while she was working. “Come here, let your sister study, I will give you a ruler that is more beautiful than that,” I said.

When my granddaughter was in 4th grade, she had a literature lesson on personification. So fascinated was she with this literary device that she made a lyrical observation like this: “Whenever winter comes and gently blew away all the autumn leaves, trees are left with nothing but bare branches that work as old people’s scrawny hands that are begging for sunlight.”

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Private Conversation with Mom

By Nhi

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You weren’t here. But I conversed with you, privately and intimately, in my head. I carried on with the conversations that were without conclusions. Walking on the streets, I wrapped my hands around the coffee cup so that my inner hands would feel warmer. That meant the other side of my hands was tortured by the freezing temperature in mid-January. I put my earphones on so that it looked like I was on the phone if a passerby noticed that I was talking. Not that the person would care. We had so many people talking to themselves in New York that it would be odd to wonder why. I steered my eyes to meet a corner of the street, where an unkempt bald man had been sitting for days with the same posture and face expression and clothes. The winds were whipping my thick jacket. One, after another. I weighed 168 pounds but I was vulnerable against the force of nature. I felt like I might fall. Dirt scratched my skin, my eyes and my lips. I looked at him. He had a thin blanket that he used to cover his whole body. He was looking down, onto something that seemed to be nothing. My hair smelled horrible. His carelessly cut sign said, “No home, no jobs, no family”. I walked to him, taking a crumpled dollar out of my pocket. That single didn’t belong to me. I picked it up while I was walking about twenty minutes ago. I am doing kindness on behalf of another person who dropped their money.

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Mom, You Used to Teach Me

By Nhi

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When I was a small boy, my favorite motion was curling and stretching my tiny legs on your lap during weekend, when we took the bus to visit grandmother’s house. Contrast to Western parents who championed independence by encouraging kids to be on their own seats, you wanted to cover me with your arms. When I asked you why you didn’t let me be on my own, you reasoned that it would be too selfish for a child to occupy a vacant seat. The bus was packed with other adults who needed rest in the midst of “horrors of life”. You thought so.

Mom, do you love me?

My pride furrowed my forehead. I rolled my eyes to show that I was very upset with you, climbing on your lap and folding my arms so that you would have to thread your fingers around my belly instead of my chest. To strangers, I looked like an obedient three-year-old embarking on the first phase of rebellion. I succeeded. In pretending. Inside, my childish heart was boiled with fierce ecstasy, of which fragile moments I could never touch again, even when my lips were overwhelmed by that chocolate moment of first kiss when I turned sixteen. Time stopped. The cessation of time made my ink of happiness stop being absorbed into my gestures. I stayed still. I stared out of the window. I glanced at the grizzled man holding a bag of bread and sausages on our right. I squinted at the fashionable woman sitting before us, who passionately tapped on usernames of her Instagram friends as a poisoning habit, but didn’t linger to look closely at even one picture they posted. I fingered your smooth skin. How warm it was.

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