Sold in Saigon

Sold in Saigon

In Issue 67 by Anthony Nguyen

Sold in Saigon
Photo by Renato Marques on Unsplash

Adorned with snaring water lilies, her blood-red dress dripped down to her ankles, conservatively hiding her nearly porcelain-white skin; the only skin revealed were her perfectly slender hands and her bisected head—she had no nose, no eyes, no ears, no brain, and no consciousness.

Although her head ended right below her eyes, like the top half was sliced off clean, she still stood taller than all the Vietnamese women in the shop. And unlike her, we had darker skin and wider features. She, the mannequin, was meant to be dressed up and beautified each day regardless of monsoon storms or heat waves. She was meant to sell and be sold.

She brandished a fake Gucci handbag, which Ma grabbed to get a closer look at. Out of nowhere, the shop lady manifested in front of Ma with her alluring brown eyes. "Chào, cô do you like that?"

Ma paused, and scoured the bag for an imperfection, any to help her bargain. The leather? No, she couldn't say it was fake. The shop lady would've lied and retaliated by calling Ma a liar. Was the stitching jutting out anywhere? No, Ma would've noticed right away. Ma rolled her shoulders and gave a long hmmm before raising her left eyebrow at the shop lady, "Oh chị, I don't kn—"

"—Cô, it's beautiful. You would look beautiful with it. Real Gucci too." The shop lady stripped the handbag off the mannequin and forced the strap over Ma's shoulder. The fake Gucci clashed with Ma's pink blossom-patterned cardigan, but the shop lady continued smiling and telling us that it looked beautiful.

Even though the shop lady, with her protruding white hairs, looked considerably older than Ma, she addressed my ma as cô, a respectful term used for aunties. But in this instance, cô was used to humble oneself, putting the customer on a pedestal in order to entice a purchase. The practice could be devious and annoying, but that was the culture here.

They went back and forth for a few minutes. Ma tried to bargain for a lower price, but the lady was keen on overvaluing. I remembered before going to the market that Ma wanted me to watch her bargain because she said she was the best of all her siblings. As a teenager, she once persuaded a merchant to sell her three t-shirts for one, a pair of Crocs for half off (it even had mango and apple charms on it), and a fake JanSport backpack for her older sister, Auntie Tu, for a quarter of its "original" price. Unfortunately, today I was entranced by something else, and I didn't have any interest in witnessing my ma back up her years of boasting.

I was fixated by the mannequin—her malevolent curves, her unpainted lips, and her fractured soul stared back at me.

And out of impulsiveness, I bought her.

I also purchased the fake Gucci handbag for Ma. She was pleased—the shop lady I meant. Ma was angry that I overpaid.

We circled the Bến Thành market for another hour while Ma lectured me on the importance of money and independence and self-respect and equality. Summarized: "Don't make yourself submissive to these people. They will take advantage of you."

Afterward, Ma and I went to the edge of the market for BBQ pork skewers and vermicelli before calling a taxi.

The vehicle that picked us up looked just like a BMW except the hood ornament sported a Viet brand. Ma and I squeezed into the backseats and settled our purses and shopping bags between us. I reached for the seatbelt only to grab nothing; I asked the driver about the missing seatbelt, and he snorted under his breath. "Người Mỹ?"

"Yes, American," I uttered.

He smiled back, exposing his smoker teeth—black gunk radiating from the in-betweens. "Viet people no seatbelts. Ha-ha!"

I sat back, and Ma giggled. Weirdly enough, although three empty packs of Jet's laid atop his dash, his car smelled exactly like lavender.

#

Ma and I stayed over at Auntie Tu's place for vacation. She lived behind a looming billboard that was advertising KFC's new spring rolls. Have you ever seen KFC serve spring rolls, fish sauce-flavored chicken tenders, or scathing hot soymilk? No, you probably haven't. Not unless you visited Vietnam.

Auntie Tu was sixty-ish while Ma was fifty-four. They looked similar. Side by side you would see the same skin tone, the same wrinkle patterns—albeit my ma's was slightly more adolescent—and the same smile. They both had strong postures for their height.

My auntie dressed more conservatively, but that was because she never left Vietnam, whereas my ma would describe herself as a fashionista, specializing in combining midrange with cheap and/or fake articles of clothing into eloquent outfits and accessories. Her normal attire consisted of everything between H&M, Target brands, Uniqlo, to whatever caught her eye at the Flea Market.

I'd consider myself more like Ma. But only slightly. I only wore flannels and hoodies, and I appreciated art; however, my art interests were too weird for Ma's taste. She instead savored the moments when factory-laced flowers draped across her legs, and when bright sanguine silk-like dresses stopped people in their tracks, and when emerald-colored earrings sparked conversation and compliments. On the other hand, I wasn't much of a flower girl; instead, I preferred comfortable hoodies covered in holes, rips, and dried paint.

During our stay in Saigon, Ma and I slept in Auntie Tu's third floor bedroom; we could step out into the smoggy night and look over the looming billboard where the city lights looked like alluring wisps in a concrete forest. We gazed at downtown Saigon, an Eden lit by never-ending traffic and adverts. We saw buildings that rivaled movie designs of a cyberpunk world and malls spanned a dozen stories high—each store protected with transparent glass walls so you could see the new best thing. Consumer culture at its finest.

Ma invited me out to the porch for a smoke and a view. I tried to decline, but her eyes pierced my chest, seized my heart, then pulled me out.

After a smoke and a sniffle, Ma hooked her arm around my elbow then pointed to the grocery store jutting out of the urban sea. Big Mart.

It was a huge four-story hypermart with yellow and blue Christmas lights draped around the roof like a false crown. Ma took another puff. "When I was five, no building. It w—it was tents and no cement, just dirt. Con kiến—ants—they climbed and seized every food stall. Even the dragon fruit stands, but I loved dragon fruit—and your grandfather bought it for me every week."

I held her arm more tightly. "You never told me why you left Saigon."

She took another puff. "Because of your father...because of what he could offer."

"And what was that Ma?"

"..."

"Ma?"

She stood solemnly staring out into the night—looking out as if to reminisce about the past only to realize that it wasn't as beautiful as she wanted it to be.

I glanced at and commented on Ma's new purse: "Hey Ma, you know that the purse is fake, right?"

Ma laughed. "Rose con, it doesn't matter that the purse is fake, the design is nice. Money isn't everything." She chuckled to herself, proud of her enlightening adage.

Taking another puff, she threw a glare at the trash bag of mannequin limbs. "Aiya Rose why buy that? Two hundred thousand đồng. Too much money."

It was equivalent to eight dollars and fifty cents.

I said, "I wanted it for my portfolio. And for inspiration."

"Still doing art huh, Rose. We buy art, not sell. Cheap for reason."

"Ma, we've been through this—I want to do it."

"Tsk. Can't even bring it back to America."

"I'll figure something out." I took out the right arm from the trash bag. I held it up to Ma and in the most felicitously annoying voice, I asked, "Miss, would you like the pleasure of shaking my hand?"

Ma obliged. Then giggled, "Cut off head—bring it to America." Her giggles evolved into voracious laughter, followed by staccatoed snorts.

I started piecing the mannequin together while Ma sorted her luggage. First, I screwed the torso onto her legs, then her arms onto her torso, then I plopped her head on top. Her cold white skin was refreshing and euphoric.

I moved her to the balcony window to let her stare at the night sky. I tried to position her head upwards, but she only stared straight into the alleys where cheap Christmas lights and smoggy automobiles illuminated a route towards bustling downtown. She reached out to the branches of dangling yellow blossoms outside, as if to push them out of the way for a better view. But she couldn't touch them through the window; instead, the branches swayed back and forth, coming closer and closer each time like a sprightly pendulum until it knocked on the window to greet her; the dewy leaves stuck onto the window—obscuring her pleasure. Only every five seconds did the yellow blossoms let her catch a glimpse of the motorbikes, the stalls, the lights, and the people.

#

Auntie Tu called them dogs. Enigmatic in their obedience—excited eyes and loud barks filled the church courtyard. She told me that kids like them would get smacked with bamboo sticks for uttering the wrong bark and the wrong time. She told me that I had it easy in America. That white people are nice—stupid, dumb.

Past the tall rusty fence, whose spears stuck up to poke the sun, I saw sweaty kids in orange t-shirts practicing kung fu. Their master walked perfectly between the rows, elbows and kicks barely gracing his skin. "Một!"

The kids yelled back, "Một!"

"Hai!"

Then the kids yelled back, "Hai!"

Discipline was the first word that came to mind. The kids did everything their master told them. You could see a few kids here and there attempting to stand out, attempting to show off in front of their peers. Their kicks were more ferocious and hesitation was absent from their yells.

Mass came and went—it was excruciatingly boring. Although the priest had a mic, he couldn't speak over the hyperactive preschoolers who sat in the front row. That meant we couldn't hear him well from the back, and he probably went home with a sore throat.

After mass, Auntie Tu led us to the ashes of the church's passed patrons—an enormous storage box housed at the back of the church. It was like a safety deposit system except above each box was the name and picture of the deceased.

Auntie Tu pointed out my grandpa and grandma, who were situated on the left side of the wall. "Rose, ông bà ngoại—đi church every day. Hết lòng."

Very devoted grandparents.

I looked at my grandma's picture. Her soft smile. Her crimson red áo dài stitched with lotuses and sunflowers.

As emotions swelled, Auntie Tu switched to English, "Grandma amazing—best food, best passion fruits and lychees. Oh, Rose." She paused.

My auntie laid her hand on my grandma's picture, and it looked as if my auntie had transformed back into a small child sitting on her mother's lap, playing with her mother's cheek. "God made nature, then her."

Ma cut in, "Xin lỗi Tu. We tried to come back earlier, but you know how my husband is busy."

Auntie Tu gave a quick look of disappointment at Ma.

Ma told me that both my grandparents' pictures were taken during Ma's wedding. My grandpa apparently cried so much my grandma spent half the wedding with tear stains on her silk wedding dress.

Auntie Tu lit six pieces of incense and handed two to Ma, then two to me. She started reciting prayers while Ma and I bowed our heads. We didn't know when to come back up, so we kept our heads down until Auntie tapped our shoulders. Then we placed the incense in a porcelain incense holder, which was covered with blue dragons, and filled to the brim with ash.

I paused and took in the moment—time seemed to slow down with me. I took in the smell of ash and the pictures of Vietnamese people I didn't know. Auntie Tu pointed out the former priests of the church. Then pointed out my family's distant relatives.

Ma and I never really practiced Catholicism.

Regardless, the atmosphere was calming. I felt an ancestral, intangible spirit pulling on my soul—perhaps a little closer to heaven or whatever kind of paradise that existed up there.

Outside the church, the kung-fu kids were replaced by elderly people practicing Tai chi. Unlike the kids, they moved slowly and methodically. And nobody was trying to stand out. They were winds of a monsoon, picking up unfettered purple lilies and scattering them in front of the clouds, a dance for the heavens. The beauty of the scene—of the moment—was only further emphasized by the drowning sun and the amber lights which were hung on the lip of the small church.

"Rose. We go home. Eat rice curry." Auntie Tu waved to the Tai chi instructor. Ma and I exchanged nods with him, then we left the church.

#

Every day the Saigon heat felt like hell—geckos scaled the air conditioner and mosquitos took shelter between the vent grilles. The sun would peer through the holes of my auntie's rooftop and if you went outside, you had to cautiously maneuver across the hot cement, avoiding the sun's piercing gaze.

All to stress that Saigon was the only place where I could never take a hot shower. Not even a lukewarm one.

On our day off, when Ma and I were burnt out from Saigon, I decided to catch up on my art. Long story short: I went to community college for an Associates of Art (spatial art—3D stuff like ceramics, sculptures, et cetera) before transferring to a CSU for graphics design. Obviously, Ma wasn't the happiest person when I told her. But she has since lightened up a bit...

That was why Fong caught my eye. I named her after the mute female lead in Kung Fu Hustle. Isn't it odd? —giving a Chinese name to a mannequin who was most likely based off a European model, and who was built in a Vietnamese factory. Furthermore, she probably lived in Vietnam all her life.

I slumped her t-shirt, exposing her left shoulder. It was whiter than her face and hands. Stain-free and whiter than the slightly yellowish hue of the rest of her porcelain skin.

I stared into the space where her eyes would be, wondering if they'd be alluring or seductive. Maybe they'd be angry—angry at all the people touching her skin. Maybe happy because her current owner saved her from a daily flood of people who stared at her, touched her, breathed into her face. Or perhaps sad because she was forced out of a life she enjoyed. But Fong was a mannequin: there weren't any expectations placed upon her except to be her.

Auntie Tu came into the room with a plastic tray painted with red roses and purple tulips. Atop it, a green electric kettle filled with iced water. She poured me a glass then looked over at Fong.

Then she ran her fingers across Fong's shoulders, up to her halved head, pausing to take in the moment. "Pretty."

SLAM! 

The neighbors' ruckus flooded into the alleyway. It really wasn't much of an argument; the woman was clutching her two crying kids while the husband kept yelling, holding onto the unpainted door—readying himself to slam it again. He let go, then paced back and forth in the alley, only stopping to point fingers and make fists.

His eyes were full of hate, black and dark even in the sunlight. You couldn't see his pupils, but you could see his jaws clenching and his shirtless stomach huffing in like a tiger wanting to hunt.

The woman wore a sky-blue blouse that emphasized her kind eyes. Submissive eyes.

She forced her kids inside before slinking back out on her knees and pleading with bridled fear to her husband. I could imagine the hot and jagged concrete on my knees. My stomach felt uneasy.

Auntie Tu crept up behind me and told me that they came from North Vietnam—the husband worked in government. And from the neighborhood gossip, the wife married him for money.

We sipped our water as the husband hit the woman.

Not once, but four times. The last one was a backhand slap which moved up and down in the air multiple times—taunting the woman—before making contact.

"Should we call the police?"

Auntie Tu gave me a sarcastic glare.

"But we can help the woman."

"Rose, not our business."

I looked at the woman as she kneeled on the hot gravel, hands clasped—begging, praying—for God, or maybe just another human. The sunlight magnified her tears, and the shadows of her children were shaking through the blinds of the window.

Auntie Tu ordered me downstairs for dinner, telling me to ignore the couple. I eventually did, which I regret because the image of the woman being abused was seared in my mind forever. You could never know when you'd be a bystander, and by the time I realized it, it was too late.

I walked downstairs, then outdoors to Auntie Tu's kitchen. Smoke and oil had no place in her home. Adjacent to the end of the kitchen marble-patterned floor tiles was a small circular table accompanied by off-balanced wooden stools. Adjacent to the entire outdoor dining area was the alleyway of Saigon filled with stray animals, concrete-adapted greenery, fenced-up chickens and loitering smokers. I couldn't eat that evening—not with the unbridled stomachaches.

#

One night, Ma and Auntie Tu erupted into an argument. I clambered down the stairs, clutching the railing so I wouldn’t slip on the marble steps.

They spoke in Viet so fast that I could only organize a conversation indicative of their emotions.

YOU LEFT ME.

No Tu, I didn't.

YOU DIDN'T ATTEND THE FUNERAL. YOU DON'T CARE ABOUT MA.

I left my family, too. You think I wanted to leave you and Ma here? You don't think I was lonely in America?

...

My ma reached out to my auntie's shoulder—Tu, I love you. You're my only sister.

Pulling away, Auntie Tu responded—You never came back. You never saw Ma. You never cared for her when she was dying.

Auntie Tu walked past my ma and outside to the kitchen.

With somber wrinkles, Ma walked upstairs to our room, stopping for a moment to pull out a cigarette, and—purposely just loud enough for Auntie Tu to hear—Ma mumbled, "Tsk, should’ve found a husband if you were so lonely."

Auntie Tu sniffled. Then she broke into tears as my mother left her behind.

I went outside to comfort her—grabbing her hands and telling her that my ma didn't mean it. She was just angry. I felt Auntie Tu's deep wrinkles cluster because of old age. I felt her hands call out to me. Don't leave me. Please. Please don't leave.

As we hugged, I noticed the woman who was abused the day before and her two kids staring at us through their window. After meeting eyes, the woman gave a look of concern, then pulled her kids away while directing them to eat their bowls of rice.

Auntie Tu and I stayed like that for a while. Until she was hungry. Then we had dinner while Ma had already left with some old friends.

#

The next morning, as I was painting acrylic nails for Fong, I noticed my auntie's neighbor, the same woman staring the day prior, ringing the doorbell at the front gate and probing the outside kitchen. She wore a casual pastel yellow blouse with a flowery silk-like skirt cascading below her waist. She wore flats with unpainted toenails—in fact, she had no nail polish or accessories aside from her wedding ring on her left hand, which she fidgeted with while waiting. Her left hand also carried a white plastic bag with the "Big Mart" logo plastered on it; furthermore, the silhouette of a small box inside the bag piqued my curiosity.

Auntie Tu greeted her neighbor, and they exchanged a short conversation, which I couldn't make out because of my lackluster proficiency in Vietnamese. But they were exchanging smiles and giggles—and that gave me a warm feeling in my stomach.

Once their conversation ended, I rushed downstairs, so delighted for my Auntie that I almost slipped because of the smooth marbled stairs.

"Auntie Auntie," I called as I turned the corner on the last set of steps, "what happened?" I asked as I pressed my face a little too close to her.

Auntie Tu lightly pushed my head. Then she sat down on the bottom steps, placing the plastic bag next to her.

"Is this from your neighbor?" I asked, fully knowing the answer. "I thought you didn't know her."

"Hiền. Her name is Hiền." Taking the box out of the plastic bag, my auntie held the box to her left ear and gave it a little shake. Nothing. She slipped her fingers under the lid, taking a moment to admire the red and gold metal tin, which brandished a deity surrounded by lotus flowers and frogs, before prying it open. Inside, a single mooncake.

"Isn't it still summer?" I uttered.

"September come soon," Auntie said, as she stood up and walked outside to the kitchen to get her knife. She sliced the mooncake in half, revealing a delectable lotus paste filling with a salted egg yolk in the center.

Throughout the next three days, I would see my auntie and Hiền together in the mornings. The first day they spoke for five minutes, exchanging greetings and thanks before asking personal questions—I thought I overheard Hiền saying she loved coffee and Vietnamese sandwiches (bánh mì). The next day, Auntie Tu invited Hiền over for coffee and bánh mì—luckily there was an extra cup of iced coffee for me.

The third day, Auntie Tu went over to Hiền's house for lunch...and that was when it all went to shit.

One morning, while I was taking pictures of Fong dressed up in my old yellow áo dài, which had an intricate design consisting of small lavender flowers wrapping it, as if trying to preserve the purity of the yellow. I wore it to a family friend's wedding nearly five years ago—now it had been stored in the attic along with Ma's belongings, which she could not bring to America. Fong looked nice, albeit the silk dress was a little short on her. Normally it covered your ankles and wrists, but when put on Fong, it resembled more of a cheongsam or Chinese gown which flaunted above-elbow-length sleeves with designs of flowers ensnaring the whole gown. To finish it off, I tried equipping Fong with the matching khăn vấn, a silk turban the same color and pattern as my old áo dài.

Instead, the khăn vấn would just sit atop her bisected head as if it were put on a pedestal. She wasn’t really wearing it. However, she was wearing some of the nicest acrylic nails I had ever painted in my life—illustrious black, gray, white, and purple waves cascading diagonally downward, separated by golden lines and equipped with four white rhinestones at the top of each color. I grabbed her hand to admire my handiwork.

Suddenly, Auntie's voice erupted from the alley in a sundry of Vietnamese profanity. I looked outside the window to see an argument between my auntie and Hiền's husband—their faces were crammed so close they appeared as two buffalos facing each other down. Hiền tried pulling on her husband's Hawaiian red-flower, black-background shirt while trying to calm him down. Regardless, Hiền's husband and my auntie continued to yell at each other, nonstop escalation even after neighbors started pouring out into the alley.

Without thought, I ran downstairs. Plonk! Oh shit. I ripped Fong's arm from her torso, and now I was manhandling it to Hiền's house.

I slipped on my converses, ignoring the lack of socks, then I sprinted like a mad tiger straight to Hiền's house. My instinct immediately situated me into intimidation mode. And for some reason, that equated to yelling "OY OY OY!!" while waving a broken mannequin arm around like a goddamn maniac.

Upon seeing me, their faces were draped with looks of confusion.

I grabbed my auntie by her shoulder and pulled her back, pointing the mannequin arm to force distance between us and Hiền's husband.

"Đi lại! Đi lại!" I yelled at the husband.

He snickered then walked forward as if Fong's arm, my screaming, and Hiền's restraint weren't substantial obstacles.

To intimidate Hiền's husband, my auntie grabbed Fong's hand and puffed out her chest and shoulders like a grizzly bear. She raised her voice until it both growled and screeched—she called him names, insulting the way he treated his family and the way he smelled like rancid eggs saturated in cheap alcohol. He hurled some insults back, and my Auntie did too; Hiền tried to calm both down, but to no avail.

Fed up, Hiền's husband pointed at me then said something in Vietnamese to my Auntie.

I leaned in. "Auntie, what did he say?"

Hiền's husband grabbed my free hand, then yelled with all his might, "AMERICAN BITCH!"

Embroiled, my auntie swung Fong's arm across his face. Fong's arm broke at the elbow, which launched her spinning bicep into the alley, landing in a puddle full of sprouted weeds. Hiền's husband stumbled backwards, then fell on his butt—his head hitting the asphalt with a muted thunk.

Holy shit...did my aunt just kill someone?

"Rose con," Auntie said while her hands were shaking so much that Fong's forearm dropped. I came to her and hugged her. We saw Hiền run to her husband while telling her other neighbors to call the authorities.

Next thing we knew, the police were there asking questions and taking names. I didn't understand most of what they said, but Auntie Tu and Hiền, along with half a dozen other neighbors, painted a consistent-enough story. The interrogations lasted until nine at night, in which Hiền, Auntie Tu, and I all taxied home together. Our other neighbors answered questions without needing to appear at the police station.

In the taxi, Hiền told us that her husband was out drinking the night prior, and she had thought that he went to work early in the morning. Instead, he was told that he was too inebriated to work, so he came home, interrupting Hiền's date. She said that he always wanted control—he wanted to know everywhere she was, and who she was with.

Before we separated, Hiền said that she didn't tell her husband about Tu because Tu was the little secret of freedom and independence Hiền had felt in a long time. Seeing Hiền's eyes watery, Auntie Tu hugged her and asked if she wanted to get coffee the next morning.

I saw them together nearly every morning until I had to leave.

After the event, Auntie told me that Hiền visited her husband at the hospital every day, along with their kids. And Ma—oh—she was worried and loud the night we got back from the police station. It was the first time she talked to Tu, but she didn't yell at her or anything...rather she spoke to her in a how could you? manner before continuing to ignore her for the next week. I assumed that me being interrogated for hours was an additional reason for her to continue her silent treatment with Auntie. But Auntie Tu didn't worry too much...she found gratification and comfort in spending more time with Hiền and her kids.

Furthermore, I tried to connect Fong's arm back on—after cleaning it and piecing the salvageable remains together. Some hot glue and it stuck back on; however, it couldn't rotate anymore. Fong's arm was now no more than a prosthetic. A decoration. A reach for normality.

#

The last few days of vacation whizzed by, and although I had hoped that Ma and Auntie could reconcile within the few days they had together, it didn't happen. Ma would cook, eat, and go out without her sister escorting her. I divided my time equally between them.

One night, my dad called me about Ma. He told me that she called him crying and that she wanted to leave Vietnam. I told him that Ma and Auntie Tu were just at a rough patch—that grandma’s death was getting under their skins, and the fact that Auntie Tu got me interrogated by police didn't help.

He told me he loved me and was glad that we were all safe—he also said to care for Ma.

On the last day Auntie Tu called a taxi for us. She hugged me tight while Ma carried our luggage to the sedan. Before leaving, I told my auntie that she could put the rest of the mannequin into the trash if she was taking up too much space. Auntie Tu sighed, then said she would keep Fong for new wardrobe considerations. Fong was also a gift from her only niece, so she cherished her.

Moreover, my auntie told me that the police would contact her again in the future, and that she might need a lawyer. However, they also surmised that it would be an easy case for self-defense. I told her to keep Ma and me in the loop.

Auntie Tu kissed my cheek, then said đẹp lắm. thông minh. Very beautiful. Intelligent.

I reciprocated her cheek kiss. "Goodbye, Auntie. I'll miss you."

I loaded the rest of my luggage into the taxi, glaring at my ma to talk to her sister. She clenched her jaw and gave in. I sat in the taxi to give them privacy.  Ma returned after a moment and through the rearview mirror I saw Auntie Tu waving goodbye.

After a few hours of waiting inside the airport, with no entertainment besides a family of four kids running and screaming—how I wished their mother would stitch them down—we took off on a white dragon with short wings, its tail graffitied with a pink plum blossom and its side branded with "China Airlines."

We flew and I waved goodbye to Vietnam.

While we were in Taipei waiting for our final flight, Ma bought some snacks and a small, steamed cake—it was a brown sugar Ma Lai Koh, unique only to Taiwan the cafe employee had told us.

Ma gave it to me after one bite; it was too sweet for her.

The afternoon came and passed. Travelers crowded in from the Western hemisphere, dispersing after dinnertime. We saw our plane advance from the Pacific clouds, landing as eloquently as a water strider. Ma let me rest my head on her fake Gucci handbag as our flight was being loaded. The handbag's zipper bit into my cheek.

I pulled out Fong's bisected head from my backpack and raised her, trying to align her with the sunlight piercing through the window. A little girl walked by, staring at me and Fong while clutching her little Bumblebee Transformer toy tighter to her chest. Her pigtails waved me and Fong goodbye as her mother pulled her away from the crazy lady staring at the mouth of a mannequin.

I bought you and cleaned you.

I took you apart, then fixed you.

I stole a piece from you.

You would never be whole again.

Could you still be happy with me?

You, the woman who had no nose, no ears, no eyes, no brain, no consciousness.

About the Author

Anthony Nguyen

Based in California, Anthony Nguyen is a new English teacher trying to write more. He has been published in Mistake House.

Read more work by Anthony Nguyen .