Việt Văn Mới
Việt Văn Mới


T here were only three more days and TET holidays would come. That afternoon of the end of the year, as her habit, Kim cleaned up the house, put all of commercial papers and old magazines that Kim’s husband had read… into two big carton boxes to throw them.

In summer, the weather was nice, Kim usually put old papers into a nylon bag, crossed the street and went into a public parking lot. There were two big trash cans of the hygiene service of the city – used for collecting papers and bottles, people could bring them away and reuse them. But that day, the weather in winter was grey and cold. Snow had fallen the night before and it didn’t melt yet. The street was dirty and slippery, so Kim had to drive her old small car which she had used to take the youngest son to school and pick him up… when he still was at home. She stopped her car near two blue big plastic trash cans. Both of them were square, about two cubic meters. On each trash can, there was a hole in front of it and behind it with the word PAPERS or BOTTLES.

Kim opened the car’s rear door, took out some piles of papers, checked them carefully then put them into the trash can. While she was doing that, a white car ran toward her and stopped at the trash can for bottles .

“Bonjour Madame,” a man got off his car, said to Kim.

“Bonjour Monsieur,” Kim answered him politely but she kept doing her work.

It turned out he was an old French man with his tall and thin body. He opened the car’s rear door, took out and threw the bottles into the trash can one by one.

“Last night was Saturday, perhaps he had a party!”, Kim thought.

The sound of broken glasses stirred the quiet air. Kim continued doing her work patiently though now she didn’t pay attention to what she was doing.

The old French man closed the car’s rear door then came toward her.

“May I help you?”, he said.

This time Kim looked up, observing the old French man carefully: He had a bright face with glasses; simple but correct clothes with a black felt coat, a black felt hat on his head and a woollen scarf. His smile had something that Kim couldn’t describe but it was rather familiar to her…

Kim usually met some gallant old French men but she still feared this man’s gallantry.

“No, thank you. I must check them carefully before throwing them,” she said. “Once, my husband went out to take the mails in. Mails were blended with commercial papers, so he threw all into the nylon bag… Luckily, I checked them and found a letter for paying tax.”

He smiled and still stood next to her.

“Another flirtatious French man! Why don’t you get in the car and come back home instead of standing here, talking nonsense?”, Kim mumbled.

She continued doing her work.

“Where are you from?”, he suddenly asked her.

“Oh mygod! Please help me! I had a customer…,” Kim thought.

“I’m Vietnamese!”, she checked the newspapers, answering with a sharpish tone.

“So… I guess right,” the old man hesitated. “I’m Vietnamese, too…!”.

This time Kim stopped doing her work, she looked at the man to look for some Vietnamese figures on his face. “I tell you the truth. My father was a Vietnamese. He was from Hà Nội,” he smiled friendly.

After that he took off his glasses so that Kim could regconize him as a Vietnamese.

Kim smiled… Ah! His big eyes were brown, but slanted, and… yeah, the smiling face, that was something very Vietnamese style…

“But I got only 30% from him…”

Both of them smiled. The sound of their laughters suddenly made the cold air become warmer.

“My name is Levan… Levan Vincent. My Vietnamese name is Đức,” the Vietnamese-French introduced himself naturally. “I used to have a doctor office at number 5, Victor Hugo Boulevard, but I retired three years ago, at the same time with dentist Trần… You know dentist Trần?”

“Yes. I already came there to fix my teeth,” she answered.

“Actually no one knows I’m Vietnamese, because my name Lê Văn is written sticking together, and it doesn’t have Vietnamese marks, so people just say Levan. Maybe they think I’m from Holland or Belgium!”

“When did you come here?”, Kim asked curiously.

“My father came here to study medicine. He met my mother who was a nurse, working in the same hospital… I was born when my father still had one year to graduate,” Le Văn said, smiling. “My mother graduated earlier therefore she had to work to feed my father and I.”

“Oh, he has something the same as my Ha Noi husband. He always likes joking,” Kim thought.

“You have sisters or brothers?”

“I had a younger sister, she died nearly twenty years ago because of cancer.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. And… how about you?”

“I have two children: The oldest son is forty years old, got married, and he has two children; one is eight and one is nine. He’s working at the City Hall. The youngest daughter is thirty four years old, works as an ophthalmologist, got married but she doesn’t have children,” he stopped a little then continued with a pride tone. “My daughter’s name is Lê Văn Kim Julie, it’s written by Vietnamese marks. My father had left this name before he passed away. He desired a grand-daughter with a name Kim, my grandmother’s name…”

“My name is Kim, too. Hải Kim, it means “gold in the sea”, Kim looked at him, smiling.

“Ah, an interesting concidence! My grandfather’s name is Hải… That means you have two names. Hải and Kim,” he patted on Kim’s shoulder naturally.

“How long have you been here?”, Lê Văn asked her with a serious tone.

“In 1983… on a ship - the boat-people. Twenty years went very fast.”

“So… you were Boat People? Really brave… How was your family?”

“A French ship saved us when we were in the high seas. My husband wanted to live in France because he didn’t like America. Besides, he was from Hà Nội, effected by French culture when he was at school.”

“Now where does he work?”

“My husband works for a food company. Luckily, he knows a little French and he has a Certificate of Chemistry. After working there for a while and after finishing some courses, he is considered as a true expert.”

“How many children do you have?”

“We have five. Four daughters, one son. When we left Vietnam, we took four children to go with us. Here, we have one more son, and he was born in Bordeaux… I think, I’m rather old, don’t know much French, and the government supports us by giving money as much as the salary of a worker… so I stay home, take care of the family, cook rice, take the children to school…

Lê Văn looked at Kim, smiling.

“Though my children came here rather late, they tried to learn hard, and all of them graduated from universities and now they have good jobs. About the son was born in Bordeaux, now he’s a junior at UTC*. My daughters got married, and all of my sons-in-law are French. I have three grandchildren. They speak Vietnamese very well, and they know how to eat “mắm chưng”. Oh I have a Certificate of France. It’s a driver’s license,” Kim said with a joking tone.

“I feel happy for you,” Lê Văn said. “Ah, I want to introduce something to you. My mother, my wife, and my daughter know how to make spring rolls, fry rice, cook meat with fishsauce… On weekend, we usually cook “phở”. Do you think I pronouce the word “phở” clearly?”, he laughed proudly because he could speak the word “phở”.

“My house is near the train station. They move the trash cans to repair the street, therefore I must come here to throw these bottles. But thanks to that we meet each other. I guess your house is near here?”, he continued.

“Yeah, I live across this treet. If you take a walk, you’ll just pass a short cut and then you come to my house. If you drive a car, you’ll have to pass the traffic lights, then turn right about two hundred meters…”

“I would like to invite you and your husband to come to my house, enjoy my “phở” cooking.”

After that, Lê Văn naturally put his hand into one pocket then took out his wallet. He looked for a name card and gave it to Kim.

“Thank you”.

Kim stopped doing her work, took his card, glanced at it then put it into her pocket.

“Please give me your phone number so that we could contact each other easily.”

“Ok. But do you have a pen?”

Lê Văn gave her a pen and a small notebook.

“You write it down here, with Vietnamese writings please.”

Kim looked for the alphabet A, B, C… then K. After writing her name, phone number and address, she gave it back to him.

“Do you celebrate Vietnamese Tết?”, she asked.

“Yes. My father was from Hà Nội, he always kept and protected Vietnamese customs. You know, when he came here, there wasn’t much Vietnamese food like the present. He had to write letters back to Vietnam, asking for the ways of cooking Vietnamese food. He made “bánh chưng” by himself. He made “bánh chưng” with a wooden frame. But there were only three days of Tết! He also bought red papers to make small envelops. He put lucky money into them and gave them to all members of the family. I still keep those red envelops.”

“Do you know why I throw all of the trash?”, Kim asked with a thrilling tone.

“Ah… throwing old trash of old year… cleaning the alter… changing the urn… preparing to celebrate new year…,” his voice was getting softer and sadder. “Just one thing I can’t do like my father, that was celebrating the new year’s eve. Besides, I still keep everything he did to me for my children…”

“There are only three more days and Tết holidays come! Wednesday, 9th February. Do you know what animal of new year is?”, Kim said as if she wanted to remind him.

“Chicken. I told you I’m Vietnamese!”

“I’m sorry. Have you ever come back to Vietnam?”

“After I had retired in 2002, I and my wife and my daughter and her husband came back to Vietnam. Basing on the letters that my father had left, we came back to Hà Đông to visit my ancestors’ graves. I repaired everything then I built a fence to protect them. On that occasion, my daughter and her husband visited some hospitals in Hà Nội. They volunteered to come back there every year to help them.”

“Oh, she’s very kind-hearted.”

“It’s nothing. Because she takes care of her compatriot. .”

After putting two last newspapers into the trash can, Kim closed the car’s rear door, took off her gloves. Lê Văn also did that at the same time. Then they squeezed their hands.

“I’m very glad listening to your story. On the occasion of Tết holidays, I sincerely wish you and your family have a healthy and happiness new year!”, Kim said.

Lê Văn’s hand still squeezed Kim’s small hand.

“Chuc mung nam môi… Dôi dao sức khoe…”, he answered with a slightly different accent from that of Vietnamese. Kim felt her eyes being stung, as if they had got some dust… She tenderly took her hand off his hand.

“Good bye. Maybe next time.”

“Yes. I’m sure we will meet together. Please come to enjoy “phở” with our family!”

“Ok. We will.”

Kim got into her car, started the engine, let the car run slowly.

Standing alone in the empty parking lot, Lê Văn raised his hand to wave at her goodbye. It was getting late. The white snowflakes as tiny as the grains of rice began falling again.

Le Văn’s voice suddenly echoed in her mind: “I’m Vietnamese, too!”. ./.

*U.T.C = Université de Technologie de Compiègne. It’s the state university teaching science, culture, and profession. It’s in Compiègne city, 60 km North from Paris.

. BichNga