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Wednesday, 03 September 2014 00:00

Nothing left in life - Final

Choked by emotions, Loan could not continue. Thu joined her friend's tears. The two embraced each other and wept bitterly. Their sorrows embarrassed and he chastised his thoughtless comment.

If the girls quit what they were doing, how will they live? Absorbed by his thought, Tuan suddenly hatched an idea. Why don't I take the girls back to the refugee camp? The camp will provide for their physical needs, while offering a chance for the girls to connect with other decent people. Delighted by this conclusion, Tuan suggested:

- Why don't you come to the refugee camp with me?

The girls were stared at Tuan, dumfounded:

- What are you saying? You're taking us away from here? How will we live?

Tuan replied:

- You don't have to worry about that. What we need to do first is get you away from here.

Loan responded:

- I'm fine, but the brothel still owns Thu. It will take a lot of money to buy her freedom. Why don't you hide us? If we never return here, we will be ok, but if they catch us, they will beat us... or worse.

They discussed their plans before Tuan departed with the promise of a return. They agreed a date time to make their getaway, after all, who has the kind of money to purchase a girl's freedom? After returning to camp, Tuan sought the UN High Commissioner for help; and he earnestly related to the commissioner Thu and Loan's woeful plight. Tuan's tale fell on willing ears; the Commissioner immediately made arrangements for them at the camp and reached out to his contacts for aid. There were even talks of finding sponsors for the girls somewhere in the West.

It was starting to get dark; the hustle and bustle of nightlife reached the streets. Usually, Thu and Loan would be roaming the neighborhood, looking for customers to entertain, but today something was different, they were making their way to a certain prearranged meeting place. Each step into the unknown filled the girls with anticipation. They tried hard to maintain their composure, lest their anxiety evoke suspicion from the pimps. As they approached the old marketplace, they noticed a car parked in front of the gates. The girls pretended to be solicing those car before getting in. Tuan was waiting inside the vehicle; he gestured to the driver and the car pulled out. The girls have finally escaped the crutches of the brothel! By dawn, the car had arrived at camp. Tuan brought the girls to their quarters, which was separated from the general refugee camp and at the time, housed United Nations staffers. Tuan allowed the girls to rest comfortably to regain their strength. They visited his clinic at noon to complete the physical exams and to begin treatment for Loan.

Day to day living in the refugee camp proved serene. In the morning, the girls attended classes to improve their language, and in the afternoons, they assisted with chores in the camp. The evenings were reserved for entertainment such as television or music. Tuan would often return to the city to find other girls in need of help, but kept his ventures mostly private. Steadily, he noticed his affections for Thu had grown. One night, he invited Thu to join him for a cup of coffee by the gardens. With the distant melody of music for background, he confessed his feelings to Thu. Touched by the revelation Thu choked:

- I have nothing but gratitude for your love... but I have nothing to offer you.

Tuan gently held her hands and softly whispered:

- I love you for you. The past is not important. I know that I love only you and want nothing more than to always love you.

While Thu wept with happiness, from far away, the voice of The Son could be heard singing: "In this life the rich are as the poor, what Heaven has given us we thank you..." Thu and Tuan were carried away to that dreamlike place only lovers share, a place so mystical, so perfect that nothing but fate can reach.

That afternoon, on his way home from work, Tuan ran into a panicked Loan. Thu had fainted and was now being transported to a hospital for treatment! Tuan grew alarmed. It must be serious otherwise they would have brought her to his clinic. Tuan and Loan borrowed a director's car and rushed to the hospital. By the time they arrived, Thu had been prepped for surgery. The attending surgeon told Tuan that the scans revealed undiagnosed liver cancer, which required immediate surgical intervention. How could I have missed something like this? Tuan buried his head in wild bewilderment. Just then, a nurse approached him and asked for consent. Thu was unconscious and needed consent for the surgery. She also handed Tuan Thu's personal belongings, a necklace made of old leather. He noticed a token attached to the necklace.

- Please fill out this form for us. We don't even know the patient's name. This is one of her personal belongings.

Tuan flipped the token. His eyes lit up and he stumbled to a nearby chair by the wall. He read and reread every letter engraved on the token: "Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi My Dung, Nguyen Van Tuan, Nguyen Thi My Thu." His head whirled uncontrollably. He quickly produced his own necklace to compare. No it cannot be! Every letter, every word, an exact duplicate. He jumped up and sprinted madly away, leaving an astonished Loan. Where's the holding room? Tuan rushed in and hugged a comatose Thu, weeping:

- Thu... my sister, my dear sister!

Moments later, a more composed Tuan related to Loan:

- Thu is my long lost sister. We were separated over ten years ago. At the time, we all fled from the soldiers, I tried looking but couldn't find her. Eventually, I reached an American military camp in a UN demilitarized zone. They admitted me and I evenutally immigrated to the United States. Eventually I completed my education in America. Actually, one of my motivations to volunteer here, in Cambodia, is to look for news about my sister. Even though we have been separated for so many years, I had a premonition that she was still alive. I've held on to this hope since... God has trule given me a great blessing and answered my prayers.

Finishing his story, Tuan cried uncontrollably as Loan comforted him. Four hours past by, the attending surgeon finally entered the waiting room with an update on the procedure. He shook hands with everyone before starting:

- We tried our best...

Tuan could no longer maintain his composure and clutched the surgeon's arm:

- Doctor, what did you say? How is my sister?

- Tuan... let the doctor finish.

The doctor slowly continued:

- We tried our best but could on save half of her liver. She's very weak and needs to stay here a bit longer. Otherwise, we are very cautiously optimistic.

Tuan knelt down, looked into the Heavens and offered a prayer of thanksgiving for this miracle. The spirits of their parents must be smiling on them this very moment. Several days later, Tuan signed the paperwork for Thu's release. After all, it was more convenient for him and others to look after her. During her absence, Loan had redecorated Thu's room to perfection, just as they have always dreamth of. Their circumstances have united the girls. Not only did they regard each other as best friends, but even more so, as sisters. Once, they were resigned to a life buried in darkness, until the unexpected arrival of Tuan forever altered their destiny. Tuan rescued the girls and gave them hope, hope for humaninty. Here, they are surrounded by compassionate friends. They slowly discovered that not all men are wild beasts, there are many kindhearted people out there for them to meet. Sometimes a painful recollection would fill them with anguish, but they are quickly reminded that they are luckier than many young girls still trapped in that world of darkness.

Thu steadily recovered and she regained her physical fitness. This comforted her because she hated to be so helpless, constantly dependent on others. Thu stood up and stretched, when Loan entered the room:

- Hey! Don't forget the party today at the Minh's. They wanted to say goodbye before resettling. I noticed that you are much stronger now, just come and have fun with us.

Thu smiled.

The party ended but the evening was still young. Tuan invited Thu and Loan to the for a cup of coffee in the gardens. He selected a table at the far end of the garden where they had more privacy but still within range of the peaceful music. Tuan took this opportunity to return the necklace to Thu. Delighted she shrieked:

- How did you find it? No wonder... I've been looking everywhere for it.

Tuan pretended to ask:

- Why do you treasure something like this?

Thu lowered his head, held onto the necklace firmly and said:

- I really don't know. I've always had it. I didn't know how to read at the time, so I couldn't figure what any of the letters mean. When I learned how to read Viet, Mrs. Minh guessed that they were the names of my parents and my brother. I never learned how I came to have this necklace.

Tuan intervened:

- When your family crossed the border, your parents were very afraid that everyone might become separated. They had this necklace made to help identify each other.

Thu eyes widened with surprise:

- How... how do you this? Unless...

Thu looked carefully at the necklace, that moment she realized:

- This isn't my necklace...

Tuan held her hands, and with produced a similar item:

- You're actually holding my necklace in your hands, this other necklace however, is yours...

Tears streamed down her cheeks. Thu was stunned and could not produce a word. At this very place, where Tuan had confessed his feelings to Thu, he renewed his love. But it was a different kind of love, a love only a brother can have, having found his sister after so many years. With tears in his eyes, Tuan turned to Loan:

- I have finally found my sister, but not only that, along the way, I have found another sister I didn't know I had. From now on, we will never leave each other. I will always care for you... My beloved sisters.

The End.

Translated by Khoi Vu.  Original version in Vietnamese entitled "Em Chẳng Còn Chi - Phần Cuối"

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