The Spaces Between Your Fingers

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About the story:

This is a story about my mother, who wishes to keep her name hidden.

In 1970 in the city of Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City as it is known today), she was the first born child of my grandmother – who worked as a typist at the time, which was enough to keep them going.

She was born into a time where the people of Saigon were anxious about the approaching ‘Liberation’ army of Northern Vietnam. After years of fighting the war ended, and the Northern communist regime has overtaken the Southern city. This set the entire economy and the society of Saigon into full-on isolation mode – meaning there was no communication with the outside as well as no trade. This was the time of upheaval called “bao cấp” (translated as “Time of rations”) by the Vietnamese, which resembled the system employed by the Russians.

This caused my mother’s family’s financial situation to turn downhill, fast. And years later, my grandmother gave birth to a younger brother. But he had a brain disease that rendered him incapable of controlling himself in any way. He died at the age of 8. Because of this, my mother had to deal with growing up in a harsh environment where starvation was a real threat (millions had died from it at this point).

Years after, my grandmother gave birth to my aunt, but then was struck with a brain disease, and died years later. Due to this, my mother had to quit high school and got a job as a janitor just to keep the family from starving (there was little to no other kinds of applicable jobs)

She managed to get into college while she was studying and to get a job as an Archival Specialist after graduating. She then married and gave birth to me and my brother, and we’ve lived as a family till now.

Scorching

The shining sun reaches its peak. Its brilliant radiance shines through the windows and into the classroom packed with students seated in their neatly-placed tables and chairs. The students stare impatiently into the ticking clock.

A young woman strides across the hallways, donning her official outfit with pride and confidence. Approaching her workplace, she meets the eyes of her soon-to-be colleague. He greets her with a warm smile:

-    “Good luck on your first day, Heather!”

Being a bit shy, Heather gives a faint smile and a thank you.

The students rustle among themselves as their teacher enters the room. Heather, with her gentle smile, her sparkling eyes, and her fluttering dark hair, opens herself:

-    “Hello, my name is Heather! Nice to meet you!”

~ ~ ~

-    “Heather? Was expecting ya! Name’s Laura.”

The manager talks with a voice loud enough to muffle Heather’s thoughts… which snaps her out of her daydreaming, and back to the boring claustrophobic office.

-    “Your first day huh? Must be nervous!”

Heather, still shaken, replies:

-   “ Quite.. what do you need me to do today, madam?”

Pointing down through the little window, the manager looks down to the streets below:

-    “There!  Today’s Street Clean-up day, your equipment’s in the next room. Marie will help you, she’s a veteran! At least to us janitors!”

The manager tries cracking a smile out of Heather, only to be disappointed.

-    “Heather... Well… I heard about your mum... But if you’re gonna get through and take care of your sis, you’re not going to last with that grumpy face! Now hit the road!”

~ ~ ~

The sun seems to last forever at its peak. Its blinding radiance melts the pavement and boils the asphalt into oil again. A frail figure works exhaustedly on a road without end, and without any shelter from the sun.

Pressing her fragile hand against the burning metal of the broomstick, Heather painstackingly drags the broom across the rigid road with all of her strength. Bitting her lips, she endures the searing sensation from her palm passing through her. Closing her eyes, she feels the scalding steam choking her every sense. Holding on tight, she musters the last of her willpower as pain has dominated her body…

Then she begins to remember again the time when she had a loving mother who took care of her, the pride she held for being top of the class, the dream she yearned of teaching poetry… A spark of hope shimmers inside her… only to be overcome with the realization of her tragedy.

All she has now is herself: exhausted, broken, and shattered in both body and mind.

Is this… what I deserve?

She tries to hold back the tears…only to fail. This is all too much for a 17-year-old. She collapses to the pavement as tears fall down the scorching asphalt. And as she looks beyond, she can only see the endless road: blistering and golden.

Scorching

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1987
Saigon, Vietnam

About the story:

This is a story about my mother, who wishes to keep her name hidden.

In 1970 in the city of Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City as it is known today), she was the first born child of my grandmother – who worked as a typist at the time, which was enough to keep them going.

She was born into a time where the people of Saigon were anxious about the approaching ‘Liberation’ army of Northern Vietnam. After years of fighting the war ended, and the Northern communist regime has overtaken the Southern city. This set the entire economy and the society of Saigon into full-on isolation mode – meaning there was no communication with the outside as well as no trade. This was the time of upheaval called “bao cấp” (translated as “Time of rations”) by the Vietnamese, which resembled the system employed by the Russians.

This caused my mother’s family’s financial situation to turn downhill, fast. And years later, my grandmother gave birth to a younger brother. But he had a brain disease that rendered him incapable of controlling himself in any way. He died at the age of 8. Because of this, my mother had to deal with growing up in a harsh environment where starvation was a real threat (millions had died from it at this point).

Years after, my grandmother gave birth to my aunt, but then was struck with a brain disease, and died years later. Due to this, my mother had to quit high school and got a job as a janitor just to keep the family from starving (there was little to no other kinds of applicable jobs)

She managed to get into college while she was studying and to get a job as an Archival Specialist after graduating. She then married and gave birth to me and my brother, and we’ve lived as a family till now.

Decade: 1980s
Rating:
Recorded by An Bui on June 6, 2018
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