One Happy Person
Le Mai had worked at the company now for several directors, but she had never met one that was as caring and charitable with the personnel as Michael. He had arrived at the Vietnamese office several months ago during a large company reorganization. Whenever someone met the General Director he would stand up to greet them. Before then the Vietnamese personnel had seen several western bosses that only made a small bow, then slipped away rapidly. With Michael it was certainly different. He was actively friendly all day, remembered all the names of the personnel and defended well done work. After many years of enduring various bosses who colonized them in a fascist manner, the company was finally benefiting to the utmost happiness from the friendly air and equality.
Since the day Le Mai had the new boss she became diligent and took pains to look after the smallest tasks the boss entrusted to her with real excellence. She liked Michael''s intelligent, but graceful eyes which sparkled whenever he offered her some words of praise, “Very Good! You presented it very professionally! You must certainly have spent a lot of time with this bulletin! Thank you very much!”
Le Mai knew the boss was more than fifty years old, but truthfully he was ageless. Michael''s family background was from a segment of orthodox aristocracy so it seemed he was always feeling at ease of mind, flexible and able to retain his composure in all circumstances. Perhaps he was not handsome, but Michael''s elegant method of keeping in close touch made everyone see him so charming that he was considered ''the most handsome boss'' in the history of the company. Michael was always light and airy with his private secretary. He liked to joke and wink his eye while gabbing, but he always knew how to keep his distance when necessary. Le Mai often confessed to everyone, “Having a boss like this, I would work twenty-four hours every day and still be contented.”
Naturally being acquainted with her boss''s gracefulness, this morning Le Mai was amazed to see Michael open the door of her room in an unexpected manner without first knocking. He dashed in, his face filled with emotion and his bright eyes divulging a profound attitude.
“What''s wrong Michael?” Le Mai called her boss familiarly as usual, according to his desire.
“Read this letter!” Michael held out a letter to her, still very moved. “I have just received it from my organization in Paris. You should quickly go to visit this person, then let me know how much we can help. I realize that whatever we do cannot compensate for the unfortunate plight of this girl!”
“Yes Michael!” Le Mai airily answered, but the boss had rapidly turned and went to hide his drops of overflowing tears.
Le Mai took the letter that Michael had given her. The letter was written in supple strokes and balances as though by a genius. The small closed parcel was stamped with a Vietnamese postmark. The sender addressed it directly to the company in Paris. The letter was four pages long on student paper and was written in accurate French. Even though she was very proud of her good foreign language skills, Le Mai felt admiration for the author because the phrases were expressed beautifully and the grammar was done rather carefully. Very difficult words were included in the letter''s language.
The letter''s author introduced herself as an unfortunate young twenty-five year old girl. Her name was Tran Thi Lan! She had been infected by the toxic poison, ''Agent Orange'', and was born malformed. Lan described herself as a monkey with a shaved head. Her chin was attached to her neck such that for her entire life she had to bear the plight of being stooped, with her head bowed towards the earth, never being able to lift it. She could bear her own circumstances, such as being unable to walk because her feet were paralyzed and constantly ached. For almost her entire life Lan could not smile because of her infirmity, but she had admirable eyes of the same human species.
Even though she was crippled, Lan didn''t appear to complain about her own lot in life other than the short introduction of herself. The rest of what she wrote was reserved for her gentle mother who had sacrificed her life day and night, selling bottles, in order to care for her as an adult.
Due to her mother''s supply of bottles she was able to acquire an education and to attend the ''Foreign Language College''. However, after graduating, because of her disability she could not obtain employment, so she finally once again sponged from her mother. Presently, she accepts document translation work, but these tasks usually don''t materialize.
Three months ago her mother was diagnosed with cancer of the rectum and every day she becomes weaker, little by little, because the two of them don''t have sufficient funds for treatment of the illness. Naturally, she views her mother as the ''epitome of life'' within her own life. She knows that she could not continue to exist if she lost her. Her mother is very self respecting, so she knows that no matter how miserable they are, they would never beg, asking for alms from anyone. But now, because her mother''s life deserves her love, she is compelled to write this letter asking your company for the medicine that treats cancer of the rectum for her mother. The doctor said that if it is treated immediately, her mother may have hope of escaping death. But one box of the medicine for treating the cancer costs five million dong (currency of Vietnam). In order to cure the illness several dozen boxes are required, so she only knows to wait for your wonderful company that produces this medicine to resolve this matter.
Although Le Mai wasn''t touched to the same extent as her boss, Michael, because she was familiar with various images of victims of the poison,'' Agent Orange'', from the newspapers, she still had compassion for the literary class that were pious and well educated, but had an unfortunate destiny. Le Mai ran into the boss''s room with reddish eyes and said that she would form a project to look for Lan immediately.
“You should do as much as possible for this girl”, Michael pensively said. “She has sent a letter to our company asking for help. As a self respecting person, she has only asked for medicine to treat her mother, but hasn''t unexpectedly suggested anything for herself.”
“In Vietnam there are many war casualties!” Le Mai said disconsolately.
“I know, but I cannot help all. Lan is certainly different. She is intellectual and strives to elevate herself!” Michael excitedly said. “Unfortunate like this, but has educated herself towards her choosing. I always admire the Vietnamese who endeavor very hard to accomplish something. Lan''s French is extremely good. Today, the circle of young French men cannot write this way at all.”
“Yes”, Le Mai said, bowing her head ashamed. “I also don''t know when I will be able to write like that.”
“You should arrange to implement this case rapidly”, Michael said clearly impatient. “In order to save this person with cancer we cannot dilly-dally. Find out what institution she is in. I will call every doctor I know in the French-Vietnamese Hospital searching for her. Besides the medicine, our company will provide for every hospital fee.”
Le Mai looked admiringly at the boss. She knew that Michael hadn''t been in Vietnam very long before he had visited every village orphanage that had a deficient infirmary. Many times Le Mai had asked herself why a man with an aristocratic background such as Michael''s paid so much attention to these unfortunate scenes of life. His wife was also very charitable, and that is one of several reasons that made them decide to accept this office in Vietnam.
Michael gave her permission to take the afternoon off in order to visit Tran Thi Lan''s home. In the letter Lan said that her home was in a rat infested district which didn''t have an address, so she borrowed the address of an old army buddy of her deceased father in the Ba Chieu district. Lan already said that this person is very kind, so the company can continue to send medicine there under his name. He will pass it on completely.
That was an old damp and musty apartment in the hamlet of Dong Ong Co. Le Mail called many times at the door, but nobody came out. An elderly neighborhood woman sitting next to a basket of guava [type of fruit] and several clusters of dark golden bananas looked with a smile on her lips that was difficult to comprehend. And said, “who are you looking for?”
“Mister Nguyen Hien Vinh lives here, doesn''t he misses?” Le Mai said.
“Yes!” the elderly lady smacked her lips, “but it seems that he has returned to his country for several weeks now. I don''t know when he''ll come back!”
Le Mai was pale faced. This was the only connection that she had to look for Tran Thi Lan, and her mother was being dragged towards the ''Angel of Death''. If she couldn''t meet Mister Hien Vinh soon, how could there be a chance to save the sick one. Le Mai left her telephone number with the elderly woman, reminding her to call by phone whenever Mister Hien Vinh returned.
“What''s the story?”, the elderly lady said, curiously looking at her appearance of compassion.
“Yes, it''s a long story, but urgent! Remember, misses, to help me.”, Le Mai said.
Michael became angry when he heard Le Mai''s report. She had never seen the boss loose his composure like this. It appeared that his light, airy and naturally subtle side had vanished. He emphasized that Le Mai must display more enthusiasm and must pursue looking for Mister Hien Vinh by every possible means, the earlier the better. “Le Mai! At every cancer Hospital, every hell on earth in this land”, Michael said hot-tempered, “Miss Lan''s desperate wait echoes for us to save her mother''s life. And for Lan, it is impossible for her to take care of herself. Who will help them here? You know their family circumstance already isolates them!”
Le Mai burst into tears sobbing in the rest room, not just because it was the first time the boss raised his voice at her, but because she thought of Lan''s piteous scene. The next evening she returned to Ba Chieu under the hot blazing sun with tears. The elderly neighborhood woman said softly, “he hasn''t returned yet!” Looking at the anxious and agitated Le Mai she suddenly suggested, “what is the story? Tell me! If this old lady knows, perhaps she can help you?”
Not seeing any concern, but only her bright ridiculous eyes, Le Mai left irritated. She entered the refreshment bar at the head of the hamlet and inquired about Hien Vinh and in a timely manner related in detail about Miss Tran Thi Lan''s letter to the bar owner.
“Uh! Like that?” Miss Bay said friendly. He is also very good in French, English too! He has a French degree, but I don''t believe at all that he was in the army. His family are western citizens. They have left for another country already.”
“Why didn''t he go with them?” Le Mai asked.
“Nobody knows. The village says he''s crazy, so his family hates him,” Miss Bay smacked her lips and took a deep breath, “but he doesn''t do anything. He stays home and plays. Quite often he has merchandise sent to him from other countries, but oddly it is not sent to him from his family. For no reason he throws down with a heavy thud the supplies sent to him. He is not in touch with anyone. He is certainly crazy!”
Le Mai was confused. She turned back to the home of the odd elderly woman and acquiesced to tell her the entire reason she was looking here. “If you don''t help, then Lan''s mother will die. Afterwards, Lan will also die!” Le Mai explained.
The old lady became so angry that her face turned purple and Le Mai thought she was about to jump up and claw at her, but finally she realized that the lady was cursing Mister Hien Vinh, “That''s not the reason. He is brazen, playing with these feelings about an unfortunate disability due to the poison, Agent Orange, certainly to extract money from people. Just like the woman selling juice the elderly woman affirmed that her neighbor was never in the army and was very well educated. When she looked at the words on the envelope that Tran Thi Lan wrote, she shook her head in disgust, “Those are his words! He has already duped your company!”
Le Mai almost fell like a descending moon. She shook her head back and forth, denying this matter, which made the old woman boil over with even more anger saying, “Because! He is one of several greedy persons within the educated class. He has the cultural knowledge and knows both French and English, so many people believe him.” Even this old dull witted illiterate woman couldn''t be at all duped.
Le Mai didn''t want to announce this news to her boss, for she was afraid his generosity would be injured, but at last she had to let him know about the situation. Different than what she had predicted, Michael appeared calm. He suggested that she seek out the government in that district telling them, “You should check out this information which I heard just from one source. This incident actually happened to me!”
Le Mai tossed all night because she was not able to explain why this crazy man had described a crippled girl as a result of Agent Orange poisoning such as the pitiful Tran Thi Lan in a manner that others believed to be sincere. Looking carefully at the letter again, Le Mai believed that it would be difficult for a girl only twenty-five years of age to have been able to write in French at such a high level as this. However, if Mister Hien Vinh is somebody that well educated and fluent with foreign languages, why doesn''t he work like other ordinary folks, receiving a salary of several hundred dollars per month? If he knows about medicine that cures cancer of the rectum, then he must be someone who takes pains to be up-to-date with medicine, and specifically this medicine. The company has only put this medicine on the market for two years now, and it has been so effective during this period that it sells at a very high price. It is the most expensive medicine produced by the company because of its ability to save lives.
The more she thought, the more Le Mai realized how carefully Hien Vinh had to prepare this idea, but she saw that he also had some gaping holes. That medicine was for treating cancer. There wasn''t a single place that would dare to sell that medicine to a patient without a doctor''s prescription. Because of that reason the company in Paris would not send it directly to the address given by Tran Thi Lan, but instead transferred the information to her boss, Michael, in Vietnam to resolve the issue.
Last night a really large squall poured down, so in the morning the streets were clean. Le Mai anxiously drove to Ba Chieu once more. A number of merchants, peddlers and poor workers were flowing out on several alleys in Dong Ong Co which were filled with marsh and mud before, but now had been rinsed thoroughly, down to the cement. Seeing them scurrying Le Mai became more enthusiastic. Some people genuinely loved to work.
When she met with the district chairman and the head of housing they affirmed what Le Mai had heard about Hien Vinh. He had asked every foreign government and every outside charitable organization for relief and money, also by correspondence by letter. The neighbors had witnessed him receiving notifications and getting merchandise and money many times.
“If the government knows, then why don''t they do something?” Le Mai said in a discontented choked voice. “Why do you allow him to cheat many foreigners with a generous heart like this? Then how will they think about Vietnamese like ourself?”
The head of housing smacked his lips, “he has not broken any laws. He only personally communicates with foreign countries. He doesn''t ask for enough such that he could be sued or have legal action brought against him for the disclosure of his stories”.
As she returned Le Mai dropped by Mister Hien Vinh''s home who didn''t have even a tiny bit of honor (Hien Vinh in Vietnamese means honor), intending to thank the elderly neighbor woman and to ask for her forgiveness. Suddenly, she announced, “he has already returned! I threatened him in a combative manner to give up his vice of deceiving the kindness of others!”
He didn''t receive her as a guest. Passing through his arched doorway Le Mai saw a deadly pale face lacking the warmth of sunlight. He refused to receive Le Mai when he heard her speak about her drug company and desire to find Tran Thi Lan. “There is nobody like that. You have made a mistake!” he said.
Michael was bowing his head slowly down to the keyboard of his computer. Le Mai walked in smiling ashamed and said, “Hello boss. I have returned from visiting the political powers of Mister Hien Vinh''s district!”
Michael looked at her with his bright gentle eyes, but he offered no thought''s and just waited for the story that followed. Le Mai bowed her head just a bit ashamed and said, “they confirmed that he is mentally ill, a much different personality, and prefers to embody an unfortunate female personality!”
Her boss nodded his head and came up next to his young secretary. He mischievously winked his eye, smiled and clapped his hand onto her shoulder, then slowly said, “continue to be like this, young one! But from now on we will not wait for someone to cry out for help again. I have just established a philanthropic project reserved for poor patients. It will be paid for by the interest from our business and I will mobilize my personnel to administer it. They will collectively decide who gets it. That''s it!”
Le Mai looked up at Michael. He appeared radiant and truly handsome as an Angel. She suddenly caught herself about to cry a lot because his work in Vietnam was over.
The time came when Le Mai no longer worked as the General Director''s secretary. She had been transferred to a position in ''Human Affairs'' with the promise that she would become the Bureau Chief of Human Affairs once she developed sufficient experience.
It had been three years already since Boss Michael left Vietnam. He was transferred to Sri-Lanka with the company. Michael''s wife had just called to announce with enthusiasm about the relief program and the collection taken for the number of disabled living decent lives there when Michael''s vehicle overturned, putting him in a life threatening situation. When this news was received the entire company in Vietnam was panic-stricken, but fortunately, “God has eyes!” Every person sighed with relief when Michael''s wife let them know again that he had passed the critical point. A person as generous as Michael should not die!
Receiving by phone the news that they wished him a fast recovery, Michael called Vietnam and thanked all of the old personnel.
Hearing his joking voice, “dying would not be bad, because I have lived a full and very happy life”, Le Mai was moved and burst into tears, which made everybody tease her throughout that day.
Now she completely understands the meaning of the name of the charitable club, ''For our Happiness'' due to his initiative in Vietnam. Living for another person is the true reason for our own happiness.
Author: Duong Thuy
Translator: Elbert Bloom