Lê Anh Dũng
Quietly sitting at a table, before a glass of beer that still had one third of the alcohol, with his head leaned forward, he was repeating what everybody could hardly hear. There was only one thing they could notice was his constant smile. Once in a while he looked at the street as if waiting for someone. It was a few days ago, he began to come to this restaurant, looking for a seat at a hidden corner, ordered a bottle of Heineken beer and a pack of cigarettes “three numbers”, and nothing else. He sat there from early morning to late in the afternoon.
He looked at nobody and paid no attention to the other diners who came in and out. Neither did he care to notice the unpleasant face of the waitress who approached him to pick or wipe something off the table near him. The day before, he still gave the owner a smile when she greeted him. It was past noon at that time, she intentionally did some actions to let him know that he was sitting there too long with so many cigarette butts but only an empty bottle of beer. He ignored her and acted like a Hanoi resident, considering nothing happened.
The next day, he showed up again sooner and went right to the table he had chosen at the corner as usual ordering a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of Heineken beer. He occupied the corner table and repeated the same activities. Every time he came in, he attracted everybody’s attention. When he came late, they whispered and discussed about his strange attitude. They guessed that he was sick, kicked by a bull, really injured or involved in an accident etc…” All of a sudden, he had become a phenomenon!
He looked elegant and very manly in a light blue shirt tucked in a pair of chestnut pants, a pair of shining black shoes, with a long chocolate coat, his hair recently cut short, framing the perfectly square shape of his face. He drove a brand new white Lexus. With those nice appearances, the waitress and her boss could not deny his service. He courteously bowed his head to say hello before he went to the same seat at the corner. He also smiled whenever he ordered beer and cigarettes. In addition, he also left tips on the table. He silently sat in his own dream, his head bowed, his lips moved softly, and every now and then he looked out waiting for someone or something. A few days passed, his cell phone laid on the table, next to his cigarettes. He had not made a call and his cell phone had not rung once during his stay there.
Spring has come to our motherland but it is still winter here. Winter starts from October till March. Our Lunar New Year falls on somewhere between February and March. It turns cold for now and I have been sitting here from morning to late afternoon before taking over my shift of duty in order to hear your voice. But you did not call me even once. My phone was on the desk and I was waiting every minute for your lovely phone ring. My darling, I never feel negative about our happiness even without you by my side, without your phone call or you did not come see me… But I still feel happy while waiting. One usually says: “How happy and romantic for someone to wait for the lover”. I knew you misplaced your phone somewhere, so I did not call but waited for your call instead!
You know dear, I was waiting for you from dawn to dusk so that both of us will place a special order of food you love. At our first acquaintance, you usually asked me to take a long drive under severe weather in Northeast to buy the food you enjoyed. That kind of dish made of fish and vegetable is available and more delicious here in Southern California with warmer climate. I was sitting here slowly drinking a bottle of beer and feeling the happiness running from heart to tongue. The bitter taste of lures me into dream of happiness on our first days of acquaintance. My stomach was growling. My senses of smell and taste were facing toward the flavor of food on nearby tables. I did not want to order food for myself but waited for your arrival so that we enjoy food together. The music “Letter à Elise” in the restaurant with fingers sweeping on the piano keyboard, the cigarette turning short waiting in lonely happiness and lasting hope…!
Oh, my darling!
I was told you had gone. I was also warned that all my hopeless waiting will become an illusion…But I never believed that you had gone by yourself without me. Don’t you remember that we were always together like shadows unless I took over my shift of duty? I never believed in gossips that you had died. And I never believed that you were lying in the coffin I was forced to follow during the funeral.
Everybody told me a lie. Our best friends have mercilessly spread the unreliable rumors to divide our love. I still remembered that day, while I was trying to solve some problems in my company, then the phone rang. I was told by police that you were hit by a truck when you were crossing the street on the way to the market to buy something for our dinner. I hurried to the hospital and saw you there probably sleeping. But you were still talking to me, answering all my questions.
You followed me wherever I went. I went smoking at the balcony. You also followed me there and smiled without saying but giving me a kiss on my cold lips.
Everybody whispered that I lost my mind and kept talking nonsense. Our schoolmate at UCLA named Bach acted like a counselor. He urged me to think it over, to look at reality, to better understand…But in the end, both friends and relatives are liars, giving no assistance. They do not worry about our happiness. Sometimes they are jealous of our happiness and success. They also talk bad about us so that we no longer love each other. I definitely believe that you never left me. We left our country because of its change. We love each other because of mutual dreams. Our home was result of our sweat. How could you dare leaving me with a lonely large house?
My darling, I must definitely look for you and wait for your return…
He looked at his watch then stood up, not forgetting to leave some tips for the waitress. On the way out he slowly and courteously said goodbye to the owner and slightly bowed his head in front of several customers along the aisle. As the sun died down in late afternoon, he entered the car and started the ignition…
“Madam, who the hell is that so nice looking guy?”
“What? Why do you say awkward? The owner replied.
The owner left the register to join some friendly customers who usually spent their weekends at her restaurant to enjoy “sheep meat stewed with herb”. Every Saturday afternoon, all tables were taken, not very noisy, but smell of cigarettes, beer, food together with the noise of bowls and chopsticks touching one another created an attractive and lovely atmosphere. After taking a seat, the owner importantly cleared her throat,
“You guys know, for the past several days, he came here, sitting at the corner table and quietly stayed there from morning until this time around four o’clock in the afternoon. And the same thing happened every day. He finished one after another pack of cigarettes, but only one bottle of Heineken beer. He looked great with nice clothes and courteous dialogue. But whether or not he was inspired by ghost to become so quiet, paying no attention to anybody and anything…!”
The customer dressed in short sleeve red shirt bounced his glass of beer on the table, interrupting the owner, “That’s enough, I know who he is!”
“What do you know? Asked the customer at the corner table while enjoying his mutton.”
“Is it okay to treat me one bottle of beer Madam, I must be right.”
“I reward you with a whole case not only one bottle of beer.”
“Do not forget…Ok, He fell in love with you so he pretended to be love sick and wanted to be your security guard.”
Not waiting for the owner’s reaction, the other waitress although busy to clear the table still turned around and said, “I don’t believe you. If he fell in love with Madam Owner why he did not say a word and stare at anybody. He just turned his attention to the street, saying something soft in his mouth, ignoring everything.”
“He wanted just to play a role.”
“One day, I approached him and intended to start a story. I am just about sitting down then he opened his mouth, “Please leave me alone!”
From that day on, I dared not come close to him.
The same thing happened to Loan who planned to ask if he wanted something he uneasily replied, “Leave me alone, it’s not late for ordering when another person comes.”
“Madam is right. How weird such a person! He may be inspired by ghost. He physically sat there but his mind may wander somewhere in the world, the clever waitress added.
Someone who looked like you was walking very swiftly on the other side of the street. Is that really you? Oh, it was too late. How could I reach you on time? Why are you in such a hurry? Don’t you know that I am waiting for you on this side of the street? Sure, it was you in a light blue blouse, a pair of jean and long hair! It must be you!
He stood up fast, running out of the restaurant and crossing several car parking lots. He left his own car where he parked, running straight to the other side of the street. He was nervously running along side with the main street with heavy traffic on both sides. The figure of a young girl who looked like his wife, wearing a light blue blouse, appeared and disappeared on the other side of the street. He stumbled and hit some pedestrians. He tried to spot but lost his wife in the crowd. His shirt was soaked with sweat. He was breathing hard, feeling very exhausted. But he was determined to catch his wife. She could not hear his voice. He called her while running, “Suong, wait for me… It’s me here!”
He could not wait until he reached the green light nor could he wait another second, when she changed into narrower lane on the other side of the street. If he was slow, how could he find her? He jumped on the street, trying to cross it despite the speeding cars. He screamed her name while looking at her figure. He paid no attention to his surroundings. He just wanted to reach the girl who had disappeared in an alley. The sound of cars skidding, honking and people howling was heard.
The traffic was suddenly stopped…Then his body was seen on the street, with his mouth still calling his wife’s name. Fresh blood was running out of his nose. People were gathering around him and began chattering. Two of them were women from the restaurant.