Prose by Nguyen Thi Kim from Vietnam

Επιμέλεια: Εύα Πετροπούλου Λιανού

Her biography: Poet Nguyen Thi Kim was born in 1941 in Hanam Province, Vietnam. She graduated from Pharmacy University. Be a Doctor of Pharmacy and Medicine since 1987. Worked in the National Nutrition Institute. Graduated from the 1st course of Creative Writing University. Now living in Hanoi, Vietnam. She is member of Vietnam Writers’ Association.


During the subsidy period, employees worked in the morning and afternoon of a day, with two hours in between for lunch break. Those who worked close to home would come home for lunch, if those whose houses were far away would eat lunch right away in the office canteen.

I had two young children, so I cycled about three kilometers back home. My sons were on their summer break. I was also tired, I fed them rice cooked in the morning and then put them to sleep. Taking advantage of their sleeping I did some cleaning and then went back to work. The two brothers, one eight years old, the other four, were locked in with a kettle of boiled water and a potty with a lid as a toilet.

Once, when I came back, just opened the door, my eldest son immediately showed off: “It’s too hot today, I gave my younger brother a bath, mom”. His eyes lit up as he looked at his mother waiting for a compliment. As it turned out, the boiled water in the kettle for them to drink was used up to bathe the younger brother.

At that time, I looked down at the wet floor. I hurriedly wiped the floor dry, took out the wet things under the bed to dry.  They were Gold Star tires and inner tubes, Soviet 72% soap, toothpaste, Tien Phong plastic sandals… All distribution items purchased according to the standards, when not in use, were reserved for future use. They were sold at a very high price in free market. I remember sharing five rice bowls for each person, thermos by drawing lots, only whoever won the draw could buy one because it could not be divided.

While I was cleaning up I cried, and didn’t have the heart to scold my children, just explaining to them. After cleaning up that messy on wet floor under the bed (I had to dry and clean each item) I had no time for break and lunch. I turned on the Soviet elephant-ear fan (I bought by winning lot draw.) facing it towards the bed to dry the floor. My two children finished eating and took a nap.

I quickly pedaled to the office for fear of being late. If I was five minutes late,  I got green flag, ten minutes, yellow flag, I went to work on time I got red flag. This was very important for the month-end competition review. Women having little children like me only dared to get the green flag. Young sons and daughters kept causing their parents troubles when they have problems!…


It’s still about my two stupid boys.

Once, when coming home from work, I saw a group of small children filling up my window, then, behind the bars, my two children were selling goods. The jar of sugar I just bought and the jar of salted shredded pork that I just made were then empty to the bottom. The children jostled each other with their mouths open, accepting the sugar spoons sold by my two children. They craved for sugar instead of candy. Mouths with chipped teeth, new teeth not yet sprouting, opened like the beaks of baby birds waiting for their mother to feed.

Seeing me walking in with my bicycle, the children all dispersed. My two children hold an upside down hat full of scraps of paper that couldn’t be used as toilet paper because they were badly torn up. I told my two children: “Sugar also has to be bought with distribution stamp, each person has a few ounces a month. We let you drink orange and lemon juice in the summer, eat porridge when you are sick, why play this game? As for the salted shredded pork, high-quality protein, I made from lean meat as a long-preserved food for two of you. The fat part is fried, saved for stir-frying vegetables, frying soya cheese. Only once a month, at the beginning of the salary period, I spend a stamp to buy a pork leg, burn it, and then cook fake dog-meat as a ‘fresh meal’ for father and you…”

My two children were completely silent. As a result, they had to go without sugar that month. For lunch they had rice without salted shredded pork but roasted and crushed sesame and salt. Neither of them dared to complain.

That’s not all for the mischief of the two children. One day, when I got close to home, I heard the laughter of the big boy and the cry of the little boy. I hurriedly opened the door and rescued the latter in time.

Well, after watching the movie Robinson Crusoe, the older brother imitated, using old newspapers to make his own skirts, and lion-cloth for his younger brother. One is the Lord of the island, the other is a black character, a servant.

However, my elder son kept forcing the younger to eat a cockroach to be exactly the “nigger” named Friday. If I hadn’t come home in time, my second son might have eaten insects.

This time, “the Lord of the island” had to be punished, not “the servant”.