“It’s very bumpy. I can’t bear it, Thuy” – Minh, a diabetic, said.
“Would you stop the car for her to inject insulin?” – Hoang sitting in front seat spoke to Van.
“No, I can’t stop here, in this fog. A car in the opposite can’t see me and could bump into it” – Van said.
“Could you wait for some more moments” – Thuy said to Minh.
“OK. Let’s move on” – Minh said to Van, her eyes tightly closed.
The dark fell and the car lights were on. It was moving slowly up to the top of the hill.
“It’s all right now. Do inject insulin now, Minh. Be quick!”
Hoang heaved a deep sigh. Duong tried to help Minh into the house.
There were two more hours before the New Year’s Eve came. All had settled inside the Sim Sim which had about 20 rooms, including those in the cellars. Outside, trees were laden with ice, the wind was hissing and it was raining pretty hard. Thuy and Hoang were sitting over some wine and eating deer meat. Out of a sudden, smoke was filling the rooms. Thuy rushed out quickly:
“I’m feeling choked with smoke. I can’t breathe”
Hoang ran after his sister Thuy. After some minutes, Thuy screamed hoarse with fright:
“Oh, God, where are the others? Smoke is seen filling everywhere, you see!”
They ran back into the house. But they had to run backwards because smoke was unbearable. Thuy quickly opened all the doors, while Hoang was opening some side doors.
“Where are they? Do take along some wet towels, Thuy!” – Hoang said, running down the cellar to look for his companions.
Thuy was trying to shut the doors to keep out the cold wind. Then she ran to look for the others. When coming to the fifth room, she found Van was lying half on the bed, half on the floor. He was dead drunk.
“Van, Van, wake up!” – She called while shaking him powerfully. She tried to pull him to the door and coughed with choke. Right at that time, a white-skinned girl appeared like a fairy.
“I’m told by the Sim Sim owner that you stay here tonight. But why do you burn coal? The smoke is very dangerous, you know!” – Having said it, the girl disappeared amid dense smoke.
One more hour to go before the New Year’s Eve came!
Now Minh, Van and Hoang were seen sitting of the chairs, looking like the statues. Duong was crouching on the bench. The girl was seen walking to and fro, washing the guests’ face with ginger water. The main door suddenly opened wide, bringing in the fresh wind. A tray full of food was ready for the New Year’s Eve ceremony.
1,000 meters above sea level, Mau Son was brightly lit up with the sunlight. Clouds suddenly lifted and strong wind was hissing all around. Duong was standing by the motel owner’s motorbike that was used to transport goods. The owner was about 40. Duong was still focusing his attention on the instruction by the owner about how to use the keys in the motel, he caught the eyes of the girl.
He smiled at her.
The sun light appeared in this cold snap, greeting the strange guests. It was precious to have sunlight in this season of the year. Duong walked towards her and embraced her waist. He felt the warmth from her body. He whispered:
“We will never be separated, won’t we?”
She looked far away; tears were seen rolling down her cheeks. She just said “Yes” in a low voice.
A pile of fire wood was in a flame, spreading the fragrance of natural herbs. Young people of various ethnic minority groups nearby had crowded in to welcome the New Year’s Eve. The 6-spur roosters spread with honey were being broiled; the corn soup; the smoked meat, all were arranged together with can rice wine (kind of rice wine drunk out of jar through a stem). They came and dance around the fire. And out of a blue sky, they raced their motorbikes down the mountain without anyone’s notice.
Now, the old year had disappeared in the dark night. The sky was changed to a violet color as if it was saying good-bye to the old year. The moment that was making all people around excited had come. They all raised the toast amid the fog.
“Bravo!” – Minh said.
“Bravo!” – Van echoed.
And the rest greeted: “Happy New Year!”
Only the girl was smiling.
Van with a cigar in the mouth asked:
“What’s your name?
“Do call me Sim. I’ve got a lot of names”
“OK, Sim, do come here and have a cup of wine with me to welcome the New Year!”
Sim walked towards Van and sat close to him. She took the cup of wine from him and asked in a low voice:
“Are you still tired? Are you still uncomfortable in the chest?”
Van laughed it off.
“Still or not still cannot help”
“If still, I can help you by rubbing your chest” – Sim smiled maliciously.
“Is the person who is rubbed happy or vice versa?” – Hoang teased.
“Both are happy. Do rub it now!”
When fireworks display was on VTV3, all went out. The fire was flickering; that rooster was there in the cold. Sim cheered merrily:
“Let’s hold our hands and dance around the fire”.
Minh sang a Russian song; Van sang a French song; Duong sang a song of ABBA, while she and Sim were humming some unclear music. Their faces were scintillated with the glow of firelight.
They danced and drank wine. Van, a bit dizzy, inclined towards Sim:
“Do go home now! It’s time for you to have family reunion”
“Why do you know I won’t go home today?”
“Knowing or not knowing is unimportant”
“But are the family members happy if I go home?” – Sim said, drinking on.
“How many Tets have you not gone home?”
“I don’t remember. Do kiss me!” – Sim said, looking at Van in a daze.
Van embraced tightly Sim’s back and drew her closer to him.
“Is it proper?”
“I only kiss a person I respect. Do kiss me now!”
They began kissing each other like a couple of old flames. Hoang and Minh were toasting each other in the main room of the Sim Sim, while she and Duong were throwing their arms around their shoulders, walking uphill. On either side of the road, wild grass was overgrown and laden with snow. Embracing her in his arm, Duong whispered to her ear:
“Don’t live far away from me, my dear! I need you, only you!”
Mau Son had been repeatedly talked about by his friends. But she absolutely did not return. Once sitting together with Duong in Saigon when he was waiting for his wife and she was returning to Hanoi, he heaved a deep sigh:
“That day, when welcoming the New Year’s Eve, our parents phoned us to come home and we shouted the New Year wishes to them. Your face looked like a baby face, you know! The other day, I found that your paternal grandchild looked like you on that New Year’s Eve”
Right at that time, Duong’s wife was walking with difficulty because she was with child.
That day, she was in the plane for about 3 hours because of the traffic jam on the ground and in the air. She was sitting there, feeling worried about Duong’s wife.
Years later, Thuy met Van by accident on the beach. She asked:
“Have you still seen Sim?”
Van was silent for a moment before he said:
“I did meet her several times before she went to France”
“What about now?”
“She works for a tourism company and has a child”
Van turned away.
“Have you ever returned to Mau Son?”
“Do you think whom I had gone with up there?”
Today, her friend phoned:
“Thuy, I have just gone to Mau Son and bought a villa. I went to visit the Sim Sim motel, but it was already sold. I came to ask the caretaker and he said he did not know anything about it”
Thuy smiled, switching off the phone.
“Uncle, I am going up there the day after tomorrow”
“How many people so that I can get the rooms ready for you”
“There’s no need, uncle. I am going alone”
“Oh, by the way, a few days ago, Van and his wife and son came to visit me and stayed here for two days”
“Do you need more vegetable and flower seeds?”
“It’s up to you. Do bring them along. Everything belongs to you!”
She knew it from that far-away New Year’s Eve. What was hers would remain hers forever.