“If we won a few billion Vietnamese dong what would we do? Repair our dilapidated houses? Purchase some land? Open a business? Or we could waste it all partying!” they said to each other.
They were chums from childhood. As adults, one was best man for the other’s wedding, and the other helped his friend’s wife in her childbirth.
A few days later, during a small party at Bay’s place, Ba told his friend that he drank only rice wine because he did not like beer.
“OK. If you won the jackpot, what would you do?” asked Bay.
“I’ve told you again and again. I’d improve my house and get a plot of land. Also, if my ex-wife returned home, I’d show her all my money to serve her right for leaving me because I was poor,” Ba replied.
“It’d be better not to see her. If my wife did the same thing, I’d beat her black and blue. As for me, I’d open a filling station, get a few plots of land or run a jewellery shop,” said Bay.
“What’s the use of dreaming, boys?” said his wife, when she passed by them.
“Believing is gaining, you see,” Bay said.
“Quite right! The point is how to make use of the prize. A few days ago, the owner of a furniture workshop in the district had scores of winning tickets. Perhaps, guardian angels might be here to bless us some day,” Ba chimed in.
* * *
Fortune smiled upon one of them one day. Bay won the lottery. Immediately, Ba took a couple of ducks to his friend’s house to congratulate him.
“If I had accompanied Bay to that party at one of our friends’ place on the other side of the river, I would have won a few smaller winning tickets,” Ba said to Bay’s wife.
“No need to give us such congratulatory items. Your presence here today makes us very happy! Now let me prepare a special dish for you both and others as well to enjoy, not a pot of gruel as usual. Duck gruel goes with wine, not beer,” she told Ba.
“Some bottles of local rice wine are okay, darling. Our guests today are important businessmen, my dear,” Bay said to her.
“I’ll have whatever drink, except for beer,” said Ba.
A sumptuous banquet was served in a local restaurant with a local brass band playing. Congratulations and good wishes showered down on the hosts. Many handshakes were made in the hope for future co-operation between smiling Bay and his joyful guests. Meanwhile Ba just sat silently, lost in thought.
“Are you tipsy?” asked Uncle Nam by his side.
* * *
Ba looked up from his drink while a lottery ticket vendor was showing her bundle of tickets beside his table. Among the guests, a few also wanted to try their luck.
“Dear pretty vendor, sing a song before I buy some,” suggested a drunken man.
She started to turn away, blushing with shame.
“Hold on a minute, dear seller. Let me get a few tickets,” Ba told her.
“Hey, if he’s lucky enough, you might share part of his happiness,” said one of Ba’s drunken friends. “He’s alone because his better half gave him up.”
“How can you have the heart to tease her!” another one objected.
“My miserable conditions have nothing to do with this. Yet, if I win, I’d get you anything you like, my poor girl,” Ba said to her.
* * *
While repairing a pump, Ba thought a lot about what had happened on the previous day.
When Ba criticised his friend, he retorted abruptly, “I fed everybody with my own money. How dare you teach me how to behave? If you didn’t like sex, you could stay away from it anyway. What’s the use of staying alone forever just to stay faithful to your ex-wife?”
“If your wife finds out, your marriage could be over,” Ba concluded.
Right after winning the jackpot, Bay dismantled his old house to construct a magnificent building with a high fence. It seemed to show that Bay was now wealthy, while his old chum remained poor. Therefore, Ba felt very nervous whenever he had to help Bay entertain his guests of all types of trade: the chief of a real estate agency, a land mediator, a rich restaurant manager and the head of a petrol and oil company. They were all the bigwigs of the region.
Previously, both of them used to enjoy a few cups of tea at a stall or at the riverside. Now, Bay called and asked his friends to come to luxurious places in town where young and pretty girls served them everything. Ba often declined to join him to stay away from social evils, which made Bay sulk.
* * *
Poor Ba, not only Bay but also his wife was displeased with him. One morning, she suddenly walked straight into Ba’s house after pushing down his gate.
“I want a word with you now. We shouldn’t have trusted you,” she warned him. “I always regarded you as a trustworthy friend of my family. Now you entice my husband into bad practices. What do you think about squandering money on girls? If you keep doing this, I’ll break off my relations with you.”
She seemed to think he was the instigator for Bay’s bad behaviour. He wanted to protest his innocence but decided to keep quiet and look out for his friend. She left without another word.
That was the second time in his life he had been severely reproached. The first was his ex-wife’s bitter complaints that he could not meet her demands in all respects: no intelligence, no skills in business, no skills in bed, no money to buy a bike and so on. In consequence, she abandoned him and left Nị, her little baby girl, uncared for. Now came the second by his close friend’s wife.
He knew he needed to earn a lot money, to provide for his family and to prove his worth as a man. The easiest and quickest way would be the lottery. However, in addition to getting some lottery tickets, he also thought a lot about the proper way of spending money, unlike Bay’s unplanned and unsuccessful measures: his dream of setting up a filling station had just wasted a large plot of land. On the whole, a great sum of money had been used unreasonably.
As for Bay, he kept on indulging in sexual pleasure with young and pretty escorts. He and his wife fought often. Worse still, sometimes they came to blows over minor arguments.
One evening while having a few hot cups of tea with several villagers in a small refreshment stall, Ba saw a girl in her late teens wearing a lowcut blouse and a miniskirt riding an expensive motorbike at full speed along the rural path.
“What a girl!” he exclaimed sadly.
“It’s Bay’s notorious daughter,” said one of them.
* * *
Ba thought a lot about the living conditions of both families – his friend’s and his own. His wife left him because of his dire poverty, whereas his friend’s family were unhappy due to their great wealth. Ba admonished his friend over and over again, yet all his efforts came to nothing. Bay’s conduct stayed unchanged.
One day, Bay’s daughter was taken aback when she found her father lying motionless outside the gate, his mouth twisted out of shape. His wife had left him with the family’s remaining money.
Rumour has it that in the nearby town there was a new jewellery shop, whose owner had previously been a poor jeweller with a small stall in the district and his wife looked like Bay’s ex-wife.
“Fast wealth isn’t good luck,” Ba whispered to himself when he paid a visit to Bay’s place. “Where are the awful pack of guard dogs?” he asked himself. “Today is already the 27th date of the last lunar month, but your home still looks gloomy. Why don’t you make it warmer a bit?” he asked Bay. “Come to me tomorrow afternoon for a family party so that I may introduce my newcomer to my kin and you as well.”
“Who? Your new wife!” asked Bay.
“First of all, this occasion is for you all to congratulate me on my bumper crop; secondly, for me to introduce my new better half,” Ba announced solemnly.
Over the last few months, Bay had been so busy with business that after the meeting with the kind-looking lottery ticket vendor, Ba had had many more opportunities to see her. Soon he fell in love with the young widow. In his way, to make sure to get the jackpot ticket that he had dreamt of, he made up his mind to marry her.