Tuan murmured to himself... Thu... Thu... before asking:
- Why don't we become friends Thu?
Caught off-guard, Thu trembled:
- Friends? You want to be friends with me? Do people like us even become friends? I don't have anything to offer you. The charity you've shown me this evening is already too much. No one has ever shown me such kindness. You... you're my benefactor...
Touched by her heartfelt gesture, Tuan responded:
- We are more similar than you think! While we may live in different circumstances, I am also an orphan. By the way! How will I find you? Didn't you tell me that you are living with your best friend?
- Yes, I live with a friend. She's my best and closest friend. Her name is Loan. I pity her, sir.
- Pity? There's actually someone who is more deserving of pity than you?
Thu took a sip of water to collect her thoughts and said:
- I feel very sorry for Loan. She's my age. When she was young, her parents sold her to a foster family, but they brought her here and sold her to the brothel. We lived together for a while, until they separated us. We've only found each other recently. She's really sick right now, but we don't have any money.
Tuan shook his head and sighed:
- God really is unjust. What is she sick with?
- AIDS and uterine cancer...
Tuan quickly stood up and urged:
- You must me to her!
Surprised, Thu asked:
- Take you to her? Why?
- I'm a doctor; take me to her so I can see if I can do anything for her.
Astonished. Thu stood up:
- You're a doctor? But we don't have money to pay you!
- You won't have to pay me.
- What do you want from us? I don't understand... why are helping us? We can't accept this... but thank you sir... really... thank you.
- Are you afraid that I'll take advantage of you? For the time being, just know that I am a genuine, good person. Please take me to see Loan.
- OK... OK! But I don't know where Loan is right now. Can I take her to see you tomorrow?
- That's fine... you're leaving now?
- Yes! Thank you so much sir! I will be in your debt forever.
Afterwards, Thu bowed to the stranger and turned away from the stall. She had not gone far when she heard him after her.
- Thu! Here, I forgot to give you money.
- No. I can't accept your money. We didn't...
- Please, don't say that. We're friends now. Is that any way to speak to your friend?
- I'm sorry, sir. In truth... that's all I've ever known.
Tuan took her hands and said:
- Fine. Just hold on to this money temporarily. Think of it as money I am loaning you. When you have it, you can pay me back. Here, I bought some more food for Loan. Please take it.
Thu was dumbfounded. Are there really people in this world like this? Was he an angel sent down from Heaven to save unfortunate children like her and Loan? Have they escaped this living Hell?
Night had completely engulfed the street. The revelry has simmered, leaving only a few girls wandering the neighborhood to entice the late night stragglers. Thu stumbled back to her shelter. She lit her oil lamp and fetched water for her shower. No, she won't be wandering the streets tonight looking for patrons. Her earlier encounter had left had her head spinning. Disbelief, distrust, elation, dejection... a mixture of emotions flooded her mind. She cried and cried to let out these strange sensations. Finally, after so many years, she has finally felt warmth from another human being; she has finally felt true compassion. Unable to sleep she awaited Loan's return. When the latter appeared, she couldn't contain her excitement. She shared with Loan her evening's fortune and watched as Loan savored the delicious food they had previously only ever dreamt of. The two felt as though they had indeed been resurrected from a living inferno! No, it had all been a nightmare, but tomorrow... tomorrow... the sun will finally rise and gone will be the shadows in the night.
Thu brought Loan to the inn where she had departed Tuan. In her haste to find Loan, she had inadvertently forgotten to arrange a meeting with him, so the two arrived early to wait. But to her surprise, Tuan was already sitting there waiting for them with a glass of coffee in hand. Thu introduced Loan:
- This is Loan, who I've told you about last night. I've brought her here so you can take a look at her.
Tuan greeted Loan and invited them to join him. Afterwards, he brought them to his room and proceeded to exam the two. He even drew samples of their blood for further analysis.
As promised, two weeks later, Tuan visited Thu and Loan to report the lab results. He greeted them as one greets very dear friends. Fortunately, the lab results did not yield anything concerning for Thu. Alas, Loan has indeed been infected with HIV. Uterine cancer can be cured, but AIDS is something else altogether. He encouraged the two girls to retire from their profession both for the benefit of their own health, as well as for the men who frequent them. Loan raised her voice in anger:
- How will we live if we don't do this? Do you think we enjoy being humiliated every night? What men gave me; I will give back to them. Do you think I want to be sick with a disease that can't be cure?
To be continue...
Translated by Khoi Vu. Original version in Vietnamese entitled "Em Chẳng Còn Chi - Phần 3"