Co, let go with her arms. Sobbing, she told me to try to study something and to cheer up once I arrived in America.
I had been here almost six months now. I was angry with myself and with my old time habits that refused to go away. I was swearing constantly at the biginning, in the miÇle or at the end of the sentences. It was pretty embarrassing when words like SOB or BS continued to spurt out in front of growups. Anywhere, any time. Once, when in line with some friends at the cafeteria for lunch, I related a incident between me and a black guy. I forgot that one of the workers was an old Vietnamese woman. When my uncontrollable flow of liberal verbiage hit my ears, I became flushed, wishing to disappear from the scene. Poor lady, she looked at me with sympathy then uttered som mild advices. I mumbled some excuses. Like I said, this bad habit did not go away easily. Hopefully, time might help. She gave me a fair amount of food, surprising eveyone around. I liked chicken skin.
The newspaper reported that it contained fat, cholesterol and is not healthy to eat. Eating chicken skin might lead to vascular obstruction, heart attack etc... I planned to change this eating habit but not today though. I could not give up a desire which had already been in my blood. Chicken skin from tables nearby ended up being sent to my table. I could not refuse. Just a few months ago, not a small bit of this thing was available. I had other bad habit as well, like sipping coffee and inhating cigarette smoke. Each morning, my mother prepared one cup of dark coffee for my father and one cup for me. He smoked openly at the dining table which I did in hiding outside, or in the bathroom. I took long drags, held them for a long time then exhaled though the nose. What an euphoria ! To smoke in secrecy is much more gratifying than to do so in the open. That could be done only in the schoolyard, or on the way back home from school or on the way back home from school or at one of the several dark coffee shops around town. I did not lide beer and did not eavesdrop on adults. My uncle's apartment was crowded every weekend. His friends stopped by to drink. Beer was everywhere but I did not touch it. They talked loudly but I did not pay any attention to them, it was an anomaly. Friends my age and new comers, like me, drank join the adults in their conversation. One day, we had a party again. It was not a weekend but a holiday which does not make any difference. When the adults were off, they congregated. What were they talking about ? was it the weather, the moon. the clouds ? It was a lot of noise. When I was about to leave, a certain guy arrived, I was shocked upon seeing him. A familiar face, of course but also some feminine smell. An unforgettable one from the past. I took a long breath. The wague smell of a blooming flower had replaced the smell or cigarette smoke and food. That smell could not be perfume. It waw a natural scent requiring years in the making. The scent of thousands of flowers and plants or of peach flowers in the land of Bliss. Or the scent of incense made of special wood. This vague and evanescent aroma gave me both elation and despair. I found that smell in him every time. But it dissipated quickly. I even felt that smell once talking with him on the phone. Was hi a genie or a ghost ? I was out or my mind for hours, trying to find some explanation for this mysterious phenomenon. I could not find the answer, I compared that smell to the morning freshness of nature on the lake, on the grass, in the fog or in a quick shower. I associated it to some kind of honey powder carried in the wind. But I could not tell with certainly which kind of smell it was. Only it seemed to come from a space I wished to belong to.
One way, I wished to see him often; the other way, never to see him again. I could not stand tha sensual delight which was so short lived and was followed by a profound sense of despair. My father could not find himself a good job. My mother got lost in empty promises of a bright future from her acquaintances. We had to stay with my uncle, and each weekend I had to endure that mysterious smell coming from such a rude and plain middle aged man. Once, I ventured to listen to his conversation as soon as he stepped in with that special smell. Haven't seen you for more than a month. Where have you been ? Went to Viet Nam ?
- No, I am here.
- Are you still going back quite often ?
- Things are not good there, not like before.
- Who is taking care of her then.
- She has to wait. I think I will be back in few weeks. Now, I listened with utmost attention.
- Heard that you cauhgt her when she was just brought in from the country, Is that true ?
- Oh yes, I keep her in that flat behind the Kampuchea pagoda on Truong Minh Giang street. I got a jolt. The pagoda was in my neighborhood in Viet Nam.
- What a strange name for a girl ? her parents called her Co Thom. I changed into Huong Co. Suddenly, I realized tha he was the 'old goat' Co told me about so many times. He looked much older now, also dark and emaciated only after one year. He also was balder and lost the brightness of his eyes. I left for my room, closed the door and tried to suppress my anger. So I found the answer for that riddle which tormented me the last six months.
The smell was really Co's smell that I got when she hugged me on my departure. She told me to study, to cheer up. She also felt sorry for her younger brother Ron who had neither school nor life. I did not have any sensual feeling in her embrace. Her armes around me gave the same clean feeling. My head was on her chest. That softness of hers only brought on some sisterly and neutral emotions. So, where was that bodily smell coming from? I could not explain. At my age, I was not old enough to explain this mystery. I tried to forget the whole thing and to go on with my life. Co told me to. But from that day on, I ceased to feel that womanly smell in him. I tried to ignore a reprehensible odor which emerged freely now from his body, his words and his attitudes. And I stopped swearing. Those liberal words should be used against bastards who deserve him.