The Wind Scraper of Spring
The winter Paris sky was leaden, pouring rain, cold and glossy, with a slight wind from the north blowing Le''s way, making her shiver and tremble. She was trying to mobilize herself to immediately go home, but while holding on for dear life her heel slipped and she fell because the sidewalk was slippery. Never had Le remembered Vietnam this way.
Having arrived home Le joyfully climbed the stairs and ran to her room. She searched her jacket pocket for her key and was surprised to realize it had been lost. Le felt her life was horrible. She sat down sickly white on the floor, then grasped her head and cried as someone crazy.
- What''s wrong here? - a voice echoed - Are you settled ok?
Le raised up her head and looked. A young tall white man, must have been a meter-nine, with a goatee, was hesitantly looking at her. Le did not know him, most likely a neighbor on the same floor, but here nobody greeted each other. Nobody strikes up conversation to become acquainted and there was no concern for each other. Le sobbed: I have lost my key. This hour how am I to call a locksmith?
- Forget it! Come to my room to rest and bathe - the neighbor shyly suggested - My name is Jean Marc.
- Thank you, I am so tired I want to die right here
Le happily stood up and followed the stranger into his private room. She quickly took off her drenched jacket and, embarrassed, she didn''t know what to change into. At that time she only wanted to roll over in the bed wearing whatever she had on. When the neighbor gave her a pair of pajamas, she didn''t hesitate to go to the bathroom to wash, change and later come out smiling like a loose cat because the pajamas were a very large and long size.
Perhaps Le looked like a paleface who was about to faint in place when Jean Marc insisted she get on his bed and lie down. Not worrying about the homeowner she would lay herself anywhere save and airy, so she dared to get on the stranger''s bed. Le quite emptily guided herself under the blanket, then tightly closed her eyes. As she soundly slept because she was so tired she saw herself returning to Saigon, sunny and golden bright, with the stars still twinkling as in the Paris winter.
- Girl! Girl! - the voice of Jean Marc rang out. Get up and drink a little hot milk to warm yourself. Perhaps you have caught a cold already.
Le woke up, seeing that she was ill and the gentleman with the goatee and bright graceful doting eyes cheerfully sat looking at her with a glass of smoking milk in his hand. After she had drank dry the glass of milk and swallowed some medicine he gave her, Le suddenly felt cold and trembling, and couldn''t hold her teeth together to keep them from chattering. Jean Marc again gave her some strong whisky to drink with the hope that it may warm her up.
- You are very sick already. I''ll call a doctor, OK!
- No, No, I''m OK! - Le saw that she liked this person more. She hesitantly pointed out that a doctor visit to her home would cost almost all of a month''s salary, which would be very strenuous for her - Now if there is anyone who knows the "Wind Scraper" I will get over my chilliness.
Le told Jean Marc "Search in my pocket, take the golden bottle of oil and put a tiny bit on a spoon, then rub it on the skin of my back with the spoon until you see some red wrinkles appear. Then I will warm up.
Le woke up after a long tired sleep. She looked at her watch, then frightfully realized that she had slept fully twelve hours. The homeowner certainly had gone to work already. Le automatically boiled water, made tea, then opened the cupboard looking for Jam to spread on bread placed on the table. She certainly thought Jean Marc had gone to buy hot bread this morning. The kitchen was small, but clean and orderly, as though the homeowner was serious, strict and plain.
Le now had time to look all over the house of her benefactor. There was one contemporary computer display which had enough preparation to be professional. The rooms were harmoniously arranged, simple, but warm. She felt disgusted when she thought of her own surely dirty rooms, lacking order and so cheerless.
The telephone bell echoed forth and caused Le to jump. She didn''t dare pick up the telephone. She heard the bell continue to pour fourth steaming hot, then stop and start again. It shouted out three times. When the telephone bell didn''t make Le''s nerves stretch to the breaking point any longer, she climbed into the bed and continued to sleep until the door of the room suddenly opened. Jean Marc darted in like a lightening bolt and made her jump fearfully and cry out loud.
- It''s me here! Are you OK? Why didn''t you pick up the telephone? I worried a lot about you, so I called to see how you were.
- Why do you worry about me? Le welled up in tears. Why are you so good to me!
- Anyone in my position would also do the same. Jean Marc smiled and scratched his head.
Le sniffing said: "Nowhere! One year now in Paris and nobody has paid attention to me. If I knew had a kind-hearted neighbor like this I would have made my acquaintance a long time ago already. You are the most decent in Paris. I thank you very much!". Jean Marc smiled good-naturedly. His face became rosy and shy. Le didn''t pay any attention and suggested further: "You''ll let me stay here until this evening, OK!. At that time I''ll go out on the street and look for a locksmith, for certainly I''ll be better by then.”
Afterwards, both of them jokingly called this event: "Le''s lost key was her plan to approach her “target”. Certainly the key was not lost, but had very strangely fallen into a layer of cloth lining the inside of her jacket. When Le left and returned she just discovered the key jingling, and realized that last night, because she had lost her calmness, she had not bothered to look everywhere.
Since that day, Le frequently tidied up her room and decorated it more lively. She also industriously went to the market and cooked various Vietnamese dishes, then invited Jean Marc over in appreciation. He liked Vietnamese dishes very much and asked her to teach him how to cook them. Both of them often invited each other to go to the Chinese Market in the thirteenth district, then set out to cook until they were completely satisfied. Le saw herself healthier, prettier and enjoying life very much. She also wanted to "enjoy love", but it seemed as though both of them were a bit self conscious.
Jean Marc was thirty-three years old, a computer engineer and a person from Bretagne who came to Paris to work. Even though he had a goatee he looked good-natured, shy and hid his emotions. Jean Marc was very fond of his family, so at the end of the week he often returned to Bretagne to visit his parents. Le felt those days were long and dragging, and she hated very much her feeling of being alone. When on Sunday evenings he returned to Paris she was also happy to make a small feast. Then both of them would go for a walk in the park near their homes.
There was a time when she coyly suggested that she go together with Jean Marc to Bretagne because she had not yet been to that area, but he hesitantly refused. He said, even though he has fairly grown up, everyone in his family were very concerned about him having a girl friend and establishing a family for himself. If he escorted Le there everyone would perhaps misunderstand.
She was sad, realizing that perhaps living alone was the road he had chosen, as most of the young world these days in France. Also, perhaps Le was not his first. She decided to finish studying for her Master''s Degree and then return to Vietnam. She did not have the strength to continue for her Doctorate''s Degree at all. In that manner, in only six months more she would leave Paris, an area she often disliked, even though many people with wet clothing will one time arrive at the holy citadel of light.
When Le told Jean Marc that she had given up the idea of studying for her Doctorate''s degree and would return to Vietnam when she finished this school year of higher studies, he appeared sad. Le bitterly thought he only saw her as a friend to have fun with in this chilly Paris, absent of friendship. Twice she caught him peeking at her with a glint of love and perhaps there was. Le usually derided herself for believing before that the West was very streetwise about love relationships, darting towards each other in just a few minutes after meeting, then living with each
other. She saw that Jean Marc was a very serious person, however, and knew that she had to expect to wait. Once when they discussed the subject of living together before kissing each other, Jean Marc left her know that his family was Catholic. Personally, he was very
well behaved (religiously) and believed in an indestructible marriage, so he didn''t like various adventures of sentiment as most of the young western world these days.
Each evening after they both ate together, they kissed on the cheek and said goodbye to each other, wishing they sleep well. Then they went to their rooms.
The day for Le to return to Vietnam was very near. She planned the formality of buying a plane ticket and packing her luggage. Paris had entered summer and the cold winter walks when she had just met Jean Marc were further in the past. The warmth and brightness made the grass and flowers bloom, but strangely Le did not like summer. She wished she could live in the sight of the biting cold of winter, so that one more time when she felt cold she could lie on the cozy bed of Jean Marc.
She shyly let him know her "Wind Scraper" was good smelling and comfortable oil of mint. That evening meal of the two, when Le confessed about that, Jean Marc looked at her very strangely.
- Until now I wondered a lot. Can you clearly explain further the method of warming yourself?
- The "Wind Scraper" there huh? - Le laughed - That is a tradition of the Vietnamese people. When you feel a cold, they say that you should let the oil penetrate into you and it will extract the bad stuff. Using a little precious metal rubbed hard onto the back with wind oil will warm up a person. The darker the red, the more wind is ejected out. And you''ll see that your cold goes away.
- Is that true?
- I really don''t believe that wind lies inside of a person, but that is what my mother has done since I was very small when I got a cold.
- That time when I saw you groan, I was afraid you were hurting, but you also seemed to enjoy it.
- The more it hurts, the more you can feel the warmth of a person and also it''s the way to massage the muscles with peppermint oil.
- Is that so? - Jean Marc looked again at Le, doubting.
Le laughed haltingly because of his strange face. It''s true that the "Wind Scraper" seems very freakish to citizens of the West. Jean Marc suddenly held Le''s hand, his face reddened very ashamed.
- For a long while now I continued to believe you were a sadist.
- Sadist, as though to want violence. There are persons like that, always hurting, always bleeding and getting pleasure from that. They seem always sick and living as though deserving to be condemned. I saw you ask me to scratch your back, you continued to ask harder! Harder until your back was streaked with red, and apply hot oil. The more it hurt, the more you groaned as though you were very contented. After that you were satisfied and slept as though you were dead!
- What? - Le said very unexpectedly – You…
- I''m sorry - Jean Marc said very miserably - I have made a mistake.
Finally Le burst out laughing and said, "we believe this matter
follows a meaningful direction". Jean Marc had a chance to understand about the "Wind scraper" of the Vietnamese people, and she understood that in this life there are people that enjoy the tendency to desire violence. In that manner, both of them gained an eye opener. Even though Le continued to smile, Jean Marc continued to appear upset. He blamed himself for being superficial, again was very shy, thinking that he shouldn''t have asked. Le left go of Jean Marc''s hand and escaped to her room: "Don''t brood any longer. You go and sleep soon. Tomorrow morning take me to the market, then that evening to the airport".
Both of them again went to the Chinese Market in district thirteen. Le bought lots of raw materials for Jean Marc to cook Vietnamese dishes. He couldn''t control his sadness, realizing that she was going, so he also was not excited about cooking anything else. Le smiled: "But you must continue to eat in order to live". He smacked his lips: "I will return to bread and cold cuts as before. The more I cook Vietnamese dishes, the more I will miss you". Le haltingly smiled: "Don''t brood any more my darling! Continue to cook, then go to the chat room and I will see the dishes you make across the webcam. We will still eat across the web. There is only one thing, we can''t hear the smell of Vietnamese Fish Sauce, that''s it. A computer engineer like yourself should invent some sort of device that can transmit odor across the web.
The more Le continued to tease, the sadder Jean Marc became. That evening before they said goodbye for the last time before going to the airport, Jean Marc cried like a small child: "So many tears! Why are you leaving me"? Le didn''t cry. She seemed happy because he remembered the time she explained the meaning of her name is "tears", but she only laughs. He didn''t understand why the first time she met him she was sobbing. Thanks to that he had her come to his home for the first time and they became acquainted.
Le had arrived in sunny Saigon. She and Jean Marc sometimes chatted with each other across the two European - Asian time zones, but it was very one sided because the job of eating with each other across the web could not be carried out. There was a time that Jean Marc announced he had a very bad cold. At that time Le just realized that in Paris it was the end of winter and Saigon was always sunny. Even during the days of Vietnamese New Year it was still hot and
she couldn''t visualize "being zero degrees as Jean Marc had announced".
Suddenly, Le realized the telephone was ringing. Jean Marc asked her to come to the airport to meet him. He had flown from Paris to Saigon only so she could "Scrape Wind". Le laughed haltingly into the telephone. “Saigon is preparing to greet the spring. Arriving here you automatically get better and don''t need me to scrape the wind oil.
When Jean Marc appeared, embraced Le and rubbed his whiskers on her face, she knew that there was no cultural misunderstanding at all that could separate the two of them.
Written by Duong Thuy
Translated by Elbert Bloom