26. Coming Home
My parents were old and weak.
Half a world away dad was sick and I could not even visit
When money sent home, dad would go for radiation treatment.
Money was tight so mom sold charcoal by the road to buy hope.
In 1994, my father felt weaker.
“Son, come home so I can see you.”
Money was tight – from hand to mouth at that time.
We were frequently short on cash, my paycheck did not last.
Each month’s salary went into many things:
Food, utilities, mortgage and car loan, nothing left.
From time to time, I sent home money from overtime work
To help my parents buy meat and fish.
Vietnam and the US at that time
Had no diplomatic relations, awaiting President Clinton’s decision.
Poor Vietnamese mixed rice with corn to make up for their diet
While security police always tried new ways to stack their coffer.
Short on cash for a trip home to visit my family,
I could not ask my father to wait for me a little longer.
Buying lottery tickets seemed a good bet
Because if one didn’t buy lottery, one wouldn’t win.
One day, the house next door caught fire in the early morning.
All thirteen members in that house escaped safely.
Fire trucks came on time to put out the fire in their kitchen.
Neighbors whispered to each other why the house was on fire.
My house was lightly torched by the fire,
But the damage was compensated fairly well.
There’s a silver lining in every cloud,
Having the money to go home, thanks to this fire.
I hurried to take care of things before leaving,
To come home as quickly as I could.
Nineteen years is a very long time
To come home to see my parents for the first time.
When we landed at the airport,
We should be ready to grease the airport security’s hands.
“Hello money,” if you wanted to check out quickly.
If you dare, your luggage will be inspected thoroughly.
I did not look like a typical overseas Vietnamese,
I carried only a backpack on my shoulders,
Wearing tennis shorts, sneakers, and a white polo shirt,
No luggage, no nothing so I could check out first.
One airport employee motioned me to move,
Pointing his baton to move me to the line for diplomats.
Not a word to him, I just moved my ass.
Showing them my passport, they stamped, I passed.
Then my family called me, look… there’s brother five!
I was so moved seeing them whom I had forgotten,
Sobbing uncontrollably for what seemed a long time.
The tears gushed out like a small stream on my face.
Looking at their physical condition, my heart ached,
Dark skin, skinny body, and gloomy faces.
Unimaginable how hard their life must have been.
Is it the trophy for the South’s liberation we rather not see?
The tears could not stop rolling down my face.
I cried because I was lucky to live in another country?
Or because I’ve been longing for a return to my homeland?
Perhaps, crying was the human way to release their emotion.
“Forty years living in another country
Can’t be equal to living one month as a free Vietnamese.”