#Stories on the Street, part II

This is also a story from the same bun rieu store. I don’t know what word I can use to describe the sweltering hot bun rieu store (or stand) where the space it has can be called a restaurant, if only the owner decide to decorate it.

But there you have it: a little (useless) information about me – I love eating bun rieu at the same store (or stand), and I always listen to other’s stories. I wonder if some days, far in the distant future, someone would dig this piece of useless information about me up and threaten me. Stop spouting nonsense, they would say, you have too much luxurious free time.

Back to the story, I was just about to finished my bowl when a family of four came in. The wife was yelling with her loud voice, Father, not there, come here, steer this way. The husband was gently dragging the son behind him. They sat at a table not far away from mine (of course, how else can I listen to their story?).

Because of the wife’s loud voice, I turned around to look at them, and see what would ingrain in my brain for quite a long time that evening.

Both the wife and the child had Down’s Syndrome. The old father suffered from dementia. The only sane person in that family was the husband, who was busy taking care of his beloved ones.

I don’t want hind legs, she screamed, give the child the hind leg, he wants it.

The old father kept on staring at the table. His vacant stare seemed to be piercing through the wobbly table and opened up a time hole, where there were more better days than not-so-good days. Where, certainly, he had friends who care about him, and a beautiful wife who would lovingly hold his hand while ordering his favorite dishes.

But the time hole, no matter how enormous, cannot bring him back to those days. What he had, at that point in time, was a daughter and a grandson with Down’s Syndrome, and a son-in-law who was kind, but not loving enough.

The child kept on laughing and giggling interchangeably. I don’t know what he saw then – but whatever the scene, it was much better than a bun rieu store (or stand) that reeked of mam tom and was sweltering with the unbearable heat of a country whose the sun always favors.

There was little exchange of spoken words between them, really. And this story was not about them, anyways. It was about me.

I saw the husband standing there, using a tissue to wipe the old father’s saliva which was dripping down to the table, placing both bowls of bun rieu in front of his wife and son, not even cared about how his sweat was also drowning him in discomfort.

Then I thought about my mother.

My mother was probably the same age as this husband. She has two children: neither of them belongs to any proud category of life. A 30-year-old daughter who has no money in her account and no job to provide her with enough money. A younger, 25-year-old daughter who is good at everything above, below, and in between, but certainly not good at making her happy.

I am the 25-year-old daughter. A guilty criminal with a long history of committing suicide and self-harm. I always wonder why I am still here. Breathing. Living.

It must be because the love of my mother has overgrown the power of the Grim Reaper.

I thought about when I was convulsing on the hospital bed, needles in between and everywhere, my mother was the only one there, holding my hand, crying, whispering in my ears, Mother’s here. Don’t worry, mother’s here. No one is going to take you away from me. Neither the Grim Reaper or God can take you away from me.

Then I thought about my father. Whenever I take a trip to the hospital (I call it a trip because using the word “check-up” will not do anymore), he holds my hand in his rough, trembled palm and says, Call me after you’re done. Tell me how it goes. Let me know if anything happens.

I remember the other night, when I was convulsing on my mother’s bike as she took me to the family doctor. My father jumped at the call and sprung out of the house in the dark night, looking for the soul of his lost daughter. Where are you, I supposed he would ask, I already told you to let me know if anything happens.

That night, he stayed up later than usual. In my fever dream and my hazy sleep, I can still feel his gaze fixated upon me. Let me know if anything happens, I supposed he would say, again and again.

But father, how am I supposed to do that? How am I supposed to tell you what’s wrong with me when I don’t even know either?

I looked at the child, the wife, and the old father. I wondered if the husband ever felt tired and angry. I imagined he would ask himself, and sometimes, his God, that why must he be the only one suffering. Why must he take care of these people.

But then I saw his smile. I saw how he gently placed the bun rieu bowl in front of his wife, then turned to his father-in-law and wiped the dripping saliva on the old man’s blank face.

And in that brief moment, I thought I knew what happiness was.

Surely, without the wife, the Down’s-Syndrome-child, and the demented father-in-law, the husband would have an immense freedom to choose a different path. But can that path ever be happier than the path he is already on? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

The most important thing, to me, in that precise moment, is the unconditional love that withstands the powerful storm of Fate.

I thought about my parents.

About my mother who held me in her arms, fainting and breathless: she did not shed any tears, and kept on calling my name as my soul drifted away to unknown, scary land of darkness and cold.

About my father who stayed up later than usual, despite his insomnia and sleep-induced medication. He came to my room many times that night, quietly opened the door, and peeked in just a little bit to make sure that his daughter was alright. That no Heaven or Hell would take his daughter away right in front of his eyes. That though his legs are growing weak, his hands are shaking, and his wrinkles are everywhere, he will stand guard at the gate and fight each and every demon who tries to steal his daughter away.

I have talked about the sparkle of love in the previous “Stories on the Street,” but this is not that. This is something larger. More enormous. More immense. And there’s no border large enough, no box nor mould large enough to restrain its power.

It’s the selfless sacrifice for one’s love. You cry for its beauty. You laugh for that beauty. And as all the poets sing in their misery, someday, you might die for it. Yet, it will always be the core of your existence, and no man can ever live without it since the start of time.

The husband’s laugh brought me back to the store (or stand). Maybe he did felt tired. Maybe he did felt angry. But he can’t help it: he’s human after all. And he lives as every other human lives: he loves and faces the suffering of love with the readiness of a loyal, patriotic soldier.


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