by Khanh Ha
There was a man who lived in my district and this man had gone South to fight the Americans and when he came back a year and a half later he had no arms, no legs, and he was blind.
I Called him Uncle, like us youngsters would address our seniors. Uncle Chung was thirty-one when he returned home as a quadruple amputee. A blind war veteran. I was eighteen and about to be drafted into the army. Uncle Chung used to work as a machinist. He was once a big man. But the first time I saw him, limbless, he looked to me more like a freak I saw years later in the South, a country boy burned by napalm, so far gone he looked during nighttime like a glowworm, and his father would charge each neighborhood kid ten xu to come into the house to watch the human mutant.
I saw Uncle Chung on a day the herbalist I worked for send me over to the man's house with medicine. Tee medicine. Always the medicine. And the wife. Each time Uncle Chung's wife came to the shop to consult with the herbalist, I would hang back from leaving, sometimes to run an errand, so I would listen to her melodious voice and steal glances at her while trying to look busy in the shop. She was perhaps in her mid-twenties but looked older with the way she rolled her hair up and tucked it into a bun, so when she turned her head you could see the long curving nape of her neck. White or pale blue was the color of the blouse she wore. Just white or pale blue. And always the first customer in when the shop just opened. The early morning light would cast a pallor on her face, and her ink-black eyebrows only made her face paler. Yet despite the anemic white of the undernourished, the unwell look, she was pretty. The city was full of women her age and older. Now and then you saw men--many had gone South and most of then never returned.
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