The Medium Girl and the Old Man
by Eric Schafer
Preface: In this story, the uniqueness of the “medium girl” character is not explained because the character has already appeared in an earlier book, Trúc Ky the Medium Girl. The appellation comes from the girl herself who, when asserting that she was no longer a little girl, but realizing she was not yet a big girl, pronounced herself a “medium” girl. It has only to do with size, nothing to do with being a medium, a clairvoyant, a seer or any other kind of person who communicates with ghosts or spirits. That would be silly; everybody knows there’s no such thing as ghosts.
Trúc was a medium girl and had never been to Việt Nam.
She was born in New York and grew up speaking Vietnamese, but lost it when she began kindergarten and learned English. Now she was nine years old and she realized that she lived and went to school in an American world but at home it was a Vietnamese world. Everyone in her house seemed to be Vietnamese except for her. Living in the American world made her feel different from her family.
She said to her mother, “When I was a little girl I felt all Vi´namese. But every day I feel more and more American and less Vi´namese.”
“How big is the Vi´namese part?” asked her mother.
Trúc thought for a moment.
“It’s about down to the size of a seed.”
So Thy took her to Việt Nam.
In Sài Gòn, Trúc met relatives she never knew she had, went to see her mother’s childhood friends and teachers, traveled all around the city, and got to know her Bà ngoại, maternal grandmother, a person who was simultaneously strange yet familiar to her. Trúc’s grandmother, Hồng, was a powerful and intense yet tender and loving woman, and she tried to make up in just two weeks for nine years of missing her granddaughter.
“Sometimes she scares me,” confided Trúc to her uncle, but her grandmother taught her to cook some Vietnamese dishes, introduced her to the neighborhood, bought her guốc — ornate wooden shoes — and helped her collect silk and bamboo lanterns to hang from her bedroom ceiling in America. Gradually they became close to each other.
After three weeks, Thy and Trúc went to Quảng Ngãi Province so Trúc could meet her great-grandmother, and then they spent a week in Hà Nội and Hạ Long Bay.
Throughout their travels Trúc constantly saw portraits and images of Hồ Chí Minh.
“Who is that old man?” she asked. “I see him everywhere.”
So on their last day in Hà Nội, Thy took her to the Hồ Chí Minh museum to see the “Past” and “Future” exhibits, and to view Hồ Chí Minh as he lay in his mausoleum.
At first Trúc was curious about it all, then she was frightened as the realization came to her that she would be seeing a corpse. But when she finally saw him she was no longer frightened.
She looked in wonder at this man who was so important yet looked so small, who had been powerful yet seemed so peaceful. She had expected to see him dressed like a king or a general, but was pleased to see he wore a simple black Asian-style suit.
Afterward the fear returned when she realized she’d seen a dead body. She was quiet on the flight home to Sài Gòn that evening.
Her bà ngoại welcomed them home joyously. They had a late dinner and after the young maid cleaned up, Bà Hồng sent her home. It was the family’s last night together before Trúc and her mother returned to America, and Bà Hồng wanted to be alone with her daughter and granddaughter. They went up to the large, airy fourth floor of the house and sat on the tile floor together watching television, talking, and eating fruit.
Suddenly there was a huge crash in the kitchen.
Everyone sat up.
“What was that?” cried Trúc.
“Dung,” said Thy instantly.
“No, she’s gone home,” said Bà Hồng.
“What is it?” cried Trúc.
Thy and her mother looked at each other.
“Well?” demanded Trúc.
Thy glared at her.
“Sorry, Mommy,” said Trúc, and she buried her head in Thy’s lap. Her muffled voice came, “I’m just afraid, and I need information!”
Thy laughed despite her fear.
“It’s probably a ghost, Trúc Kỳ!” she said, shaking her daughter’s shoulders.
“No!” howled Trúc.
“Ma, what is it?” Thy asked. “Could someone get in the house?”
Bà Hồng shook her head. “No, I locked the gate after Dung.”
“Through the window —”
Bà Hồng shook her head. “Too high.”
“Could it be an animal? What about the dog?”
“Ran away three days ago.”
“Maybe you got another dog!” yelled Trúc.
Bà Hồng shook her head. “Too big a crash.”
“A bird?” said Trúc. “A really big bird?”
Bà Hồng shook her head. “The window’s closed. It rained this afternoon and I never opened it again.”
“Ma, what could it be?” said Thy. Now she couldn’t keep the worry from her voice. She felt Trúc’s arms go around her waist.
Bà Hồng didn’t answer.
Thy looked down at Trúc and said, “Something must have just fallen over — but it’s probably a ghost!” She laughed.
Trúc held her tighter. “I wish Daddy were here!” she groaned.
“Don’t worry!” said Thy. “Ma, we should go check.”
Bà Hồng shrugged.
Trúc looked up. “Well, who’s going?” she asked.
“You!” everyone said.
Trúc shook her head. She looked up at Thy and said, “Mommy, Grandma should go ‘cause she’s the oldest and it’s her house and…she’s the smartest.”
“What?” said Thy. “You think Grandma’s smarter than me?” She rapped Trúc on top of the head.
“Actually, Mom, Grandma has lived in Việt Nam a lot longer than you have and she understands Vi´namese ghosts.”
Bà Hồng watched them until Thy translated into Vietnamese, then she laughed hard.
“Trúc, you should go,” said Bà Hồng. “You’re so little the ghost won’t bother to eat you.”
“I can’t!” cried Trúc. “I’m only a child!”
“I’ll go,” said Thy, starting to get up.
“No!” everyone cried.
“Grandma and I will go,” said Thy.
“No!” cried Trúc.
Everyone fell silent. They listened for more noise from the kitchen.
There was nothing.
“We’ll check tomorrow,” said Trúc.
“No, we check now,” said Thy. “Who will go?”
There was silence. Then Trúc said, “Call the police!”
“Yes, and when they come, you go downstairs past the kitchen and unlock the gate and let them in,” said Thy.
Trúc looked at her helplessly.
“Don’t bother,” said Bà Hồng. “The police won’t come. They don’t work at night.”
“Why not?” asked Trúc.
“Because they’re at home.”
“What do they do in the daytime?”
“Sit in the police station and play cards.”
They finally decided to all go downstairs together.
So Bà Hồng led the way down the three flights of polished granite steps, Thy close at her side, turned sideways so as to fit in the narrow staircase. Trúc, one step behind, clutched the back of her mother’s bà ba with both hands.
All the lights were on so it wasn’t as frightening as they expected. They hesitated at the entrance to the kitchen and Trúc was ready to scramble back upstairs but she was afraid to let go of her mother’s pajama blouse. However, they heard no sounds from the kitchen, so they plunged into the room. Still, Thy shielded Trúc completely with her body.
Bà Hồng was in first. “What is this?” she cried.
All of her dishes, not just the ones from dinner but those that had been stored in the cupboards, were on the tiled kitchen floor. But none were broken and they were arranged in even rows, as if meticulously placed there — and all the cupboard doors were closed.
Thy and Bà Hồng looked at each other. Trúc looked around from behind her mother.
“Ooh!” she said. “How did this happen?”
“Uhh, the wind blew them there, Trúc Kỳ,” said Thy. Bà Hồng began to collect the dishes.
“A gentle wind!” said Trúc, as she ran to help her grandmother pick up the dishes.
The women were nervous so they took a long time in the kitchen and talked continuously about trivial things. After everything was put away they made hot cacao for Trúc. Then they went upstairs and watched television and talked for hours, until Trúc begged to go to bed.
Nothing else had happened and there were no more strange noises, so they figured it was all right to go to sleep. They had no answers as to what had happened but they were too tired to wonder anymore. Bà Hồng went off to her bedroom on the second floor and Thy and Trúc went to their room on the third floor.
Thy later realized that she must have been so tired that she was asleep even before she went to bed, because she had no memory of brushing her teeth, washing her face or combing her hair, and she could not even remember getting into bed. She slept the whole night through and completely missed — as did Bà Hồng — the visit of the old man’s ghost.
As she lay in bed Trúc knew her mother was asleep from the sound of her regular breathing. She too must have slept for a while, because she did not see the old man appear in the room.
Suddenly she was aware that she was awake. All around her it was very still and dark. The neighborhood was quiet; even the dogs had stopped barking and the medium boys that roamed the streets at night clinking their aluminum sticks to hawk Chinese food had finally gone home.
Trúc didn’t know why, but she felt compelled to sit up — and there was the old man sitting on her side of the bed. She knew immediately that he was the man she had seen in the mausoleum earlier that day. Trúc wasn’t frightened at all. She didn’t feel any fear until the next morning, when she woke up and told her story to her mother and grandmother and fully realized what had happened. But for some reason right now she knew not to be afraid. She didn’t even try to awaken her mother.
The old man was dressed in his black suit. His legs were casually crossed and he was smoking a cigarette. He seemed very relaxed and was gazing skyward thoughtfully. To Trúc he appeared very much at home in her bedroom, and yet he seemed so deep in thought as to not be aware that anyone else was in the room.
She got up on her hands and knees and crept closer to the old man. Her senses told her that she was watching a movie, because the old man did not seem like a real person to her. He looked too perfect, just like a photograph or a painting that was being beamed into her bedroom. There was light around him and it flickered like an old movie. The light was a different color from that in her room and even though she knew he was there with her, he moved and looked around as if he were in a different place. His body seemed to make no impression on the bed. She couldn’t smell his cigarette, either. It wasn’t until he spoke to her that she believed he was real.
Suddenly Trúc sensed a change in the old man and she knew he was aware of her. He turned and looked at her.
“Chào cháu,” the old man said with a smile. “Hello, Niece.”
His smile and voice were very peaceful. Now he seemed more real to her. The room was dark but Trúc could see that his clothes were black, his hair and beard very white, his eyes soft and black. He was small and thin but seemed strong and agile. His eyes centered very strongly on her, but were friendly.
“Chào Bác,” she replied, as she would properly do with an older man who addressed her. “Hello, Uncle.”
Later she would not be able to recall whether they conversed in Vietnamese or English; she just knew they had understood each other.
“Did I wake you?” he asked.
“Yes, I think so,” said Trúc.
“I’m very sorry, then,” he said.
“It’s all right, Uncle.”
Trúc stared at him, trying not to stare. She felt no fear, but was puzzled. She could not understand why she was not frightened when she knew she should be frightened. Something told her that the old man was a ghost, but he wasn’t like she imagined a ghost would be. He was different from anyone she had ever encountered.
The man sitting on her bed looked like a very old man, yet somehow she sensed he was very young. His voice was that of an old man’s, yet it sounded young to her. Even though he sat quietly, she could sense he was strong and animated. But he was still surrounded by the flickering, yellow-brown light that made him look like an old time movie image. It fell on him but not anywhere else in the room.
All this convinced her that she was talking with a ghost, yet she felt no fear.
“What is your name, my dear?” asked the old man.
“My name is Trúc. And I know you — you’re Bác Hồ!”
“Oh,” laughed the old man. “You are correct, Miss Trúc. But you may call me Mr. Thành.”
“I came to your house today, Ông Thành,” said Trúc.
“Yes, I know,” he laughed. “It’s funny. I live alone in a big stone house — bigger than any I had in life—but I’m never lonely. Many people come to visit me!”
“And now you have come to my grandma’s house.”
“Yes, I hope she won’t mind.”
“No, it’s okay. But how did you do that thing with the dishes? It really scared my mommy and grandma.”
“I’m very sorry about that,” said the old man. “But something like that happens wherever I go! I don’t know why.” He laughed because he was embarrassed.
“That’s okay. But why did you come all the way to Sài Gòn?”
The old man stroked his white goatee, then said, “When we met this afternoon, I very much wanted to speak with you, but I could not, because there were so many people around. Then tonight I had to search all over the country for you.
“You make me curious. You are Vietnamese, but somehow you are different. I thought I knew all Vietnamese people, but for some reason, I don’t know you.”
“Maybe it’s because I live in America.”
“You live in America?”
“Uh huh,” she nodded vigorously. “I was born there. In New York State.”
“You live in America…” the old man mused. “How is this so?”
“My Mommy and Daddy went there to live and that’s where I was born. All my family lives there, except my Grandma. She lives here. This is her house.”
“And where is your òng ngoại, your grandfather?”
“He’s in America.”
“And where is your Daddy?”
“He couldn’t come with us, Ông Thành. He had to stay home and work and take care of Grandpa.”
“I see, I see…”
“This is my Mom. Do you want to talk with her?”
He watched as the medium girl tried to wake her mother, but Thy wouldn’t stir.
A solitary motorbike sputtered by in the street, growing briefly louder, then fading away.
“This is strange to me,” said the old man. He was looking around the room, at the family photos and paintings on the wall, the bookcase crammed with books, papers, magazines; the empty birdcage in one corner, the glass-topped nightstand near the bed that held a slender vase with a single rose. Beside it lay the medium girl’s iPod. He looked back to the girl.
“How did your family come to America? Isn’t it difficult to live all alone there?”
“Oh, it’s no problem. America is my home — I’m an American. And there are lots of Vi´namese people living in America.”
The old man’s eyes grew wide. “There are?”
“Yes, and all around the world. Vi´namese people live everywhere now.”
“I didn’t know this,” said the old man. He uncrossed his legs and sat in thought, his long, slender hands resting on the bed. He finally looked up and said, “How is this possible?”
Trúc sat up on her knees. “I don’t know, Ông Thành,” she said. “But I learned that you were the one who made Việt Nam independent and you wanted the Vi´namese people to be part of the world, right?”
The old man nodded.
“Well, now they are. Vi´namese people live all around the world. Everyone knows us now. They know our culture and our food and everywhere there are Vi´namese nail salons.”
“What are those?”
“You know, where ladies get their nails painted.”
She held out her hands as if to admire freshly manicured nails.
The old man gave her a blank look. Trúc shook her hands at him.
“Manicure! Manicure — so they can look pretty!”
He was still looking at her blankly, but then she could see he was pretending. They both laughed.
“I know ladies paint their nails,” he said. “I saw it when I lived in New York City and Paris. You know, Vietnamese ladies used to paint their teeth with black lacquer —”
“Why did they do that?”
The old man shrugged. “It was a fashion. They thought it made them look beautiful.”
“I saw some old ladies in Hà Nội with the black teeth,” said Trúc. “I didn’t like it. I wouldn’t do it. Did you think it made them look beautiful?”
The old man smiled. “I guess so.”
“Ông Thành, you lived in Paris?”
“Yes, I did.”
“I’ve been to Paris, too. It was my favorite place to visit. My Mommy’s, too.”
“Yes, it’s a lovely city and a very old one. It’s very romantic, do you agree?”
“You mean like, love stuff?”
The old man smiled at her. “No, I mean it makes you feel like life is an exciting adventure and that you can accomplish anything.”
“Oh, yes, I understand! What did you do in Paris?”
“I used to paint,” he replied.
“Oh! You painted pictures? I like to paint, too. Can I see some pictures that you made?”
“Well, no,” laughed the old man. “I didn’t really paint pictures. I used to decorate things for people. I also used to paint on photographs for people.”
“Really? To make them look more beautiful?”
“Oh, no, to give them color. Back then we had only black and white photographs, so I would paint colors on them to…well, I guess you’re right, to make them more beautiful.”
“They do that now,” said the medium girl, “only with computers. They make people look more beautiful that way.”
“Uh huh. I don’t like it.”
“Because it’s not true. I can’t even recognize some people who do that. They look completely different from their photographs.”
“Yes, I see,” said the old man.
They talked for a long time. The old man wanted to know about America and where the girl lived. She told him about her house and her family and her school and her friends.
Trúc wanted to know what life was like when he was her age, and if he liked school. She asked him to tell her about all the different places he had visited. They talked about the things they liked in Paris. They asked each other many questions about the neighborhoods where they lived, the people they knew there and the things they did.
“Ông Thành, do you have any photos of where you lived?”
The old man raised his hands in a hopeless gesture.
“Cháu Trúc, do you have any photos of where you live?”
The medium girl imitated the old man’s gesture.
They looked at each other.
“I know!” cried the old man. “We’ll make maps! We’ll paint pictures of people and draw maps!” He sprang off the bed and looked around the room. “Where are your paints?”
Trúc got her paints and brushes and sketchbook from the bottom shelf of the bookcase, and the old man added some pens and pencils from the breast pocket of his suit. “I always carry these,” he explained. “You never know when you’ll have to write something down.”
They spread out big sheets of paper on the floor and set about painting and drawing maps of their homes and neighborhoods and the people they knew. They had great fun with this, making up funny names for streets and giving people strange faces and bodies.
They talked while they worked and the old man told the girl many stories in his gentle, musical voice. It was this time that was Trúc’s favorite part of the old man’s visit, because he would change form with his stories. When he talked about his school days, he became a boy before Trúc’s eyes and his voice was like her friends’ voices. When he told of his life in Paris he was suddenly a young man. He even told her stories about when he fought the French and had to hide from them in caves and in the deepest forests and jungles. Then his face was lean and strong and his beard and hair were black.
Sometimes, though, Trúc was startled to find herself in the middle of talking about something new but couldn’t remember them having changed the subject. It felt like those times back home in America when she would find herself wide awake thinking about something that had just happened, and it would take a while to realize she’d been asleep just a few seconds before, and what she’d thought was real had been only a dream.
At one point the old man asked, “Do you think we’re making too much noise? Will it bother your mother?”
The medium girl raised her head just enough to peer over the edge of the bed at her mother, then dropped back down.
“Nope,” she said. “She’s still sleeping.”
When they were finished with their maps and paintings they looked at them for a long time and asked each other questions and laughed at the silly things they’d drawn on them.
“Now what should we do with these things?” asked the old man.
“We can share them with other people,” suggested the medium girl.
“A fine idea!” said the old man. “Let’s make them into airplanes and throw them out the window!”
“That way, they’ll fly to the people that need them, right?” asked the girl.
“If we are lucky,” said the old man. “If we have some luck.”
They folded the big sheets of heavy paper into fighter jets, wrote their names on the wings, and carried them to the window. They each had an armful. They leaned out of the window and looked around; no one was in the streets.
“Here we go!” cried the old man and they flung the first of the planes into the night.
“Look at them go!” cried the medium girl.
The white planes flashed in and out of sight in the black night, sailing over the rooftops and swooping into the canyon formed by the tall, thin houses that crowded the narrow street. Then they were gone.
“Hurry, the others!” cried the old man.
They scooped up the rest of the planes and launched them as fast as they could. Both of them were screaming with laughter as they filled the sky with their flying maps and paintings. Just as they released the last two, a lone woman on a bicycle entered the street and slowly pedaled past the house. Both planes swooped down toward her.
“Oh, no!” laughed the old man.
Trúc cupped her hands and yelled to the woman, “Go faster, auntie!”
The woman didn’t hear her, and traveled slowly onward. The planes were just about to intersect her path.
“We’re going to do some damage!” cried the medium girl. The old man was overcome with laughter. He couldn’t say anything and gripped the windowsill to keep from falling down.
At the last second the wind took the planes and lifted them gently over the woman’s head. They vanished in the darkness. She never noticed them and disappeared down the street. The medium girl and the old man tumbled to the floor and laughed until they couldn’t breathe. The old man wiped tears from his eyes.
When they had stopped laughing, they stood up and leaned on the windowsill for a long time, watching the darkness where the planes had gone.
“How far do you think they’ll fly?” asked the girl.
“Maybe the other side of the world,” said the old man.
The medium girl thought for a moment, then eagerly asked a question. “Ông Thành, you traveled all over Việt Nam to find me tonight, right? Could you take me to Paris right now?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, cháu Trúc, I am not able to do that. The way I travel is not quite like flying. I just can’t take you. Besides,” he smiled, “my passport has expired. I don’t travel much outside Việt Nam these days.”
“Oh, I see,” said the girl. “All right.”
A soft rain breeze came through the window, gently pushing the filmy curtain this way and that. They went back and sat on the bed to talk. Ten minutes later a quiet rain was spattering the streets. The medium girl and the old man were talking about their families.
“Did you have brothers and sisters?” asked the girl.
“Yes, I had an older brother and sister,” said the old man. I also had a younger brother, but he died when he was little. What about you?”
“I’m an only child,” she replied.
“Oh, is that lonely for you? Do you want to have brothers and sisters?”
“No, I don’t. Actually, I’m happy being the only child.”
“Really? Is that so?”
“Yes! This way, I get all the love!”
“I see,” said the old man. “Tell me, do you like visiting Việt Nam?
Trúc thought about this and said, “Yes, I like it here, but it’s very different from my home, so sometimes I don’t understand it. I should understand it because I’m Vi´namese, but sometimes I can’t. Like, with my grandma. She’s my grandma but still, sometimes I just can’t understand her. It seems funny to me.”
“I think I know what you mean,” said the old man. ”Your feeling is correct; Việt Nam is a very different place so it takes time to understand it.
“Remember, dear Trúc, our father was a fiery dragon and our mother was a beautiful fairy, so we are special people. Special people and places take a long time to understand, but when you do, you love them very much forever.
“By the way, is your grandmother taking good care of you here?”
“Yes, she’s nice — but she made me drink bird spit!” said Trúc. “She said it was good for my health.”
“Ah, yes, I remember, the saliva of the special birds that live high up in the most remote mountains in China. Your grandmother bought it for you to show you that she loves you very much. It’s very expensive, you know.”
“It didn’t taste expensive!”
“What did it taste like, then?” smiled the old man.
Trúc thought for a moment.
“Like the green stuff that floats on ponds!”
The old man laughed and laughed. Trúc asked him again if he would like to speak with her mother, sound asleep right beside her.
“All right, I would like that,” he replied.
But Thy wouldn’t awaken, despite Trúc calling and shaking her. Finally the old man said to let her sleep.
“She must be very tired,” said Trúc, yawning.
“You are tired too,” said the old man.
“I guess so. Aren’t you tired?” she asked.
“No, I never get tired. I don’t need rest — but I do like to sleep!”
“Do you get hungry? Who cooks for you?”
“No, I never have to eat — but I like to! Sometimes I just stop at a little restaurant on the street and have a meal. I like to eat and listen to the Vietnamese people talk.”
He looked around the room as if he would be leaving it forever, then turned back to the medium girl.
“Now I understand why I did not know you at first,” he said. He took the girl’s hands in his. “You know, my dear Trúc, we are actually very much alike. You did not grow up in Việt Nam. I did not spend much of my life here, either. I spent most of my life traveling around the world until I could return. And now you have finally come to Việt Nam.
“Do you see? As the saying goes, ‘No matter what, if you are Vietnamese you always come home to Việt Nam.’”
The medium girl nodded and said, “Tomorrow I have to go back to America, Ông Thành.”
The old man thought for a while.
“I think it is time we both go back home,” he said.
They said goodbye to each other.
“Study hard in school,” said the old man. “Be good and listen to your Mommy and Daddy. Take good care of yourself and come back soon to Việt Nam.”
“Goodbye, Ông Thành. Be careful flying. Come and visit me in America sometime,” said the medium girl.
Then she was asleep. She did not see the old man leave.
Trúc awoke with the sun. She was instantly frightened when she remembered the visit of the old man’s ghost, but the bright sunshine and voices downstairs made her feel better. Her mother, her grandmother and Dung were in the kitchen. She went downstairs and told her mother and grandmother about Hồ Chí Minh’s visit.
“Really?” said Thy. “Bác Hồ came to talk with you? Why didn’t he talk with me? I’m jealous!”
“We tried to wake you, Mom, but you were just too tired. You wouldn’t get up!”
Bà Hồng laughed and hugged Trúc very hard. “Vậy con nói chuyện với Bác Hồ bằng tiếng gì?” she teased. “Tiếng Việt? Tiếng Anh? Hay tiếng Nga? — What language did you speak with Bác Hồ? Vietnamese? English? Russian?”
She laughed very hard and went back to making breakfast for Trúc.
“We spoke… I don’t know what we spoke! Maybe it was Vi´namese. Or English. I don’t know!”
“Yes,” laughed Thy. “You still don’t speak very good Vi´namese, so I think Bác Hồ couldn’t understand you!”
“Bác Hồ knows English, Mom. He used to live in New York City.”
Thy was surprised that Trúc knew this. She glanced at Bà Hồng; the two of them urged Trúc to tell them more.
As the medium girl described the old man’s visit, she was so matter of fact and convincing that Thy and Bà Hồng believed her, though they still wanted to think it had all been a dream. Bà Hồng sat down at the table beside Thy, looked at Trúc closely and asked her many questions about what had happened.
Bà Hồng’s face grew grave at the answers; “There’s no way she could have known these things,” she said to Thy.
Dung grew frightened and wanted to leave. Bà Hồng told her to stay and find something useful to do.
Trúc was happy that they believed her, even though she was still a little frightened and amazed that she had spent the night talking with a ghost. Bà Hồng was shaken by Trúc’s story but didn’t want anyone to worry, so she hid her fear and tried to make light of the old man’s visit. All day long, as they busied themselves around the house cleaning and packing, she kept teasing Trúc by calling out, “Ma Bác Hồ! Ma Bác Hồ!” — Uncle Hồ’s ghost!
When Thy and Trúc went to the airport that evening, their relatives and friends came to see them off. Trúc told her uncle that she would stay awake for the entire twenty-five hour trip, so that she wouldn’t miss anything exciting. But in truth it was because she didn’t want to go to sleep for fear of another visit from a ghost.
In fact, she slept nearly the entire way, and the old man did not come to visit her. They were both going home, and now both of them slept peacefully.
Eric Schafer is a writer from New York who has spent most of the last decade in Viet Nam, writing literary fiction. He is the author of the short story collection The Wind Took It Away – Stories of Viet Nam as well as two children’s books, and is currently at work on a novel and a second story collection. He is also writing a biography/translation of Vietnamese poetess Ho Xuan Huong and her work, and an oral history of Vietnamese soldiers.