Sketches from a Notebook – Memories of Viet Nam (2)

Nha Trang – October 1967

The room was simply furnished. I sat there in a low, wooden armchair, and waited for Mr. Thanh to return from his printing shop. A large, faded photograph of a man in traditional garb dominated the room. Below the portrait on the wall was a high set of drawers, the top of which served as a family altar covered with a red cloth. The bronze candlesticks flanking the photo glinted in the warm light of the late afternoon.

I could hear Thanh’s wife in the kitchen, scolding her cook. I put my glass of lemonade on the circular, glass-topped table. Under the polished glaze were dozens of small photos meticulously arranged against a blue-green background. The snapshots were of Thanh, his wife, Hoa, and children – together and separately – pictured in the mountains near Đà Lạt, and at the shore in Nha Trang.

A breeze touched the coconut palms outside the wide, half-shuttered window that gave out onto the front yard. The leaves of a wall calendar chittered, then quieted. The orange and red calendar bore the legend, Bière La Rue: Phnom Penh, Saigon. I rose from the calm austerity of the chair, to walk over to the other large piece of furniture, a long, low cabinet. I leaned forward to see better the things symmetrically placed behind the sliding glass doors. There was on one side an open painted fan and an empty bottle of pink champagne; on the other side, a bottle of scotch whiskey and a camera case. Between these was a set of variously colored drinking glasses. On the shelf above rested an expensive portable radio. The cabinet’s blue-and-white mottled top bore a small figure of the Buddha, and two vases filled with joss sticks.

“Chào, anh Vinh!” a gentle voice said interrupting my inspection.

I turned. Mr. Thanh stood in the doorway leading from the dining room. In his left hand he clutched a battered leather briefcase. With his right hand, Thanh gestured leisurely toward the round coffee table and the wooden armchairs.

We both sat down to talk until the call to dinner.

*    *   *

(c) Gregory V Driscoll  2013

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