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THE DEAD RETURN

One day while working in the garden, Mrs. Pham felt like she was being followed by someone.

By Ken DaklakPublished about a month ago 11 min read

Mr. and Mrs. Pham had always lived in the city, but before Mr. Pham retired, they decided to live in the countryside to enjoy the fresh air and tranquility necessary for old age. They bought a lovely piece of land on a hillside, and as soon as they moved in, Mrs. Pham's first job was to immediately plant a vegetable garden with all the vegetables that her grandparents liked.

With a fresh vegetable garden, each week they only need to buy a little more food and a few small things to be able to live comfortably throughout the week.

One day while working in the garden, Mrs. Pham felt like she was being followed by someone.

the dead return

Looking up, she saw a sick teenager with sunken eyes standing and looking at her. The boy was wearing an old pair of jeans and was barefoot. She raised her hand to wave, but the boy just stood motionless. She secretly thought that maybe he was so weak that he didn't have the strength to raise his hand to wave back. The boy was skinny and Mrs. Pham could count each of his ribs. Standing and watching her work for a few minutes, the boy turned around and quickly disappeared behind the dense bushes.

Two days later he returned and accompanied by a woman about forty years old, also dressed in rags, with a haggard face. The woman approached the fence and asked Mrs. Pham while the boy bowed his head and followed behind:

- Are you the one who just bought this land?

- Yes, that's right. She may need my help?

The woman said with a strong look:

- I came here to see if I could help you or not. This is Man, my son. It works very well and is very healthy, not as weak as it looks. If she needs it, it will help her with garden work as well as let her do errands. Just ask her to give me 5 thousand dong every day.

Ms. Pham tried to refuse because she did not want anyone to help her, but on the contrary, she enjoyed working alone in the fresh air here. However, facing the emaciated image of the boy with his hands hanging down and his eyes drooping, she hesitated a bit:

- Your child seems too young, and it doesn't seem to be very healthy...

The woman raised her hand to interrupt:

- This year he is sixteen, although he seems younger than his age. Like I said, it is very strong and not weak like its appearance. I guarantee you won't have anything to complain about. Man is a very good maid.

Five thousand dong a day meant nothing to Mrs. Pham and she thought that if she gave this boy a hand to help her, she would have a chance to feed him well. Thinking so, Mrs. Pham replied:

- Okay! Every day, Man can come here at ten o'clock in the morning and leave at five o'clock in the afternoon. I will give you lunch too.

Then Mrs. Pham turned to the boy:

- Sao Man, is it okay for you to see this?

Man did not answer, making Mrs. Pham wonder if he had heard her or not because he still stood still with his head bowed, not even raising his eyes. Man's mother signaled Mrs. Pham to step away from her and then she whispered:

- Ma'am, I don't want my child to have to go back and forth because our house is quite far from here. He can sleep in that little hut over there and please don't worry about feeding him. I will bring him food every day. It's very difficult for him to eat and drink. I know what he wants to eat and will take care of it. Every time I come, please give me five thousand dong.

- What about Man? If he works for me, I should pay him!

The woman shook her head:

- Ma'am, you don't understand. I need money to raise my children at home. Man's father passed away and now he is the only one who can work to support the family. He wants to work to help me and you won't regret accepting him as a helper. He is very diligent, works tirelessly and never complains about anything.

- That is enough. But I think maybe he shouldn't sleep outside the tent, so I can prepare a room in the house for him. My house is very large!

- It's okay, ma'am. It does not need to sleep in the house where. It's hard to sleep and I don't want it to bother you. It's best for him to sleep in that thatched hut.

So the next day Man went to work for Mrs. Pham. Soon, Mrs. Pham realized that what his mother told her was completely true. Man never complained and never seemed tired. Every morning, no matter how early Mr. and Mrs. Pham woke up, Man was working enthusiastically, sometimes feeding the chickens and ducks, feeding the fish, sometimes gardening... Gradually, she let Man do a few chores around the house. and whatever she ordered him to do, she never had to repeat it twice.

One day, she told Mr. Pham:

- Little Man is really good! But it doesn't look like a boy, it's more like... a machine. Do you know that he never said a word to me? It also never looked at me but always looked at the ground.

Mr. Pham grumbled:

- Huh! All I know is that it gives me goosebumps. Maybe it's dumb or something. And in my opinion, maybe his mind is not very normal.

Mrs. Pham shook her head:

- No, I think it's very smart. I just feel like he's a sleepwalker, working while he sleeps...

Mr. Pham interrupted:

- Oh, well... the rental price is fine... Ah, but no! Only five thousand dong a day is unacceptable when he works so diligently. Let's give it ten thousand dong. I'm not upset by its presence, but let's see if a raise will cause it to react.

Mrs. Pham doesn't think that Man cares about money because he never touches it. Every day, after noon, the boy stopped working and stood still, tilting his head as if listening. Just a few minutes later his mother appeared from behind the thick row of hibiscus trees, bringing food to him on a covered tray. She waited until Mrs. Pham paid before taking her child to the tent and waiting while her child ate and drank. Mrs. Pham said to her husband in a disgruntled voice:

- Why doesn't she let me feed him? I saw the food she brought him, it looked like a liquid porridge. That's not a suitable dish for a child who works so hard. It seems to me that he's even sicker than when he first got here.

Mr. Pham completely agrees. Man's facial bones are now clearly exposed. When he bent down, the vertebrae clearly showed through the fabric of his shirt. Mrs. Pham tried again when she met Man's mother:

- I want to feed Man hot food every day. Otherwise, I can't let it continue working as it is. He be came weaker over time. I'm afraid he might be sick or malnourished.

A look of panic appeared in the woman's eyes:

- Ma'am, you don't understand. Just like his father. It can't eat grandma's food or mine. It can not eat salt. Its body can not tolerate salt. Please let things proceed as they are and let him continue to work with you. He is the only child I can rely on. Without the money he earns here, his children at home would all starve to death.

Mrs. Pham had to give in:

- Okay. It can continue to work with me. Admittedly, he's very good at his job, but he doesn't seem to be very happy with us. He never smiled and never said a word to me or my house.

The woman shrugged:

- Ma'am, that doesn't make any sense. Man is a very different child. He doesn't have the same emotions as other children. He only knows one thing: to help me and his siblings. Please don't ask any questions about it. It always does what it wants. Please leave Man alone...

However, Mrs. Pham still wondered, "Is that what Man wants to do?". Then one evening she stood at the bedroom window looking out at the thatched hut where Man often slept. The boy did not sleep but sat right at the door, his hands clasped on his knees, looking at the moonlight without blinking. She said loudly:

- There must be something very strange.

Mr. Pham was sleepily speaking:

- What are you talking about?

- That guy Man. I stood watching it for half an hour. It sat still like a rock. With what it does during the day, it should have slept a long time ago. But no, it's still sitting there with its knees tied up.

Mr. Pham yawned as he approached his wife:

- I should have told you this a long time ago. I see it always sitting there all night. As far as I know, it never seems to sleep. To be honest with you, I think this boy seems so spooky! But actually it doesn't bother anyone!

Mrs. Pham did not say anything but knew clearly that Man had made her worry a lot. The next morning, the boy's appearance made her feel impatient. Man's pale skin has now become yellow and shiny. Man's forehead and cheekbones seemed to be clearly visible. She was even more worried when she saw that Man seemed slower and more tired than usual. She asked:

- Why, you don't feel well, do you?

Man did not respond, silently bowed his head and passed in front of her. Feeling uneasy, Mrs. Pham said to her husband:

- Look at it. I think it is sick. It moves like an old man.

Mr. Pham looked intently at Man who was slowly cutting the grass:

- You're right. Why is its skin so black in so many places?

- I don't know, but one thing is for sure: it is extremely malnourished. I don't care what his mother says and I will prepare some delicious and nutritious food for him. Then tomorrow he'll take it to the province to see a doctor.

Thinking that perhaps Man lacked protein, Mrs. Pham made a soup of potatoes, carrots, pork ribs, and chicken nuggets, plus a glass of fresh milk and a cake. When she finished, she called Man in, took him to the dining room and said sweetly:

- I want to sit at the table. I prepared a special meal for him because today marks exactly three months since he worked with me. This's a anniversary for you.

Man took a bite, then another. He chewed the pork ribs slowly before swallowing. Then he slowly stood up. Ms. Pham spoke up with concern:

- What's up? You haven't finished eating yet, where do you want to go?

But Man has already gone out. Mrs. Pham ran to open the door. Man walked to the tree line surrounding the land with long steps. Mrs. Pham called loudly, but Man still did not look back. Mr. Pham held his wife's hand:

- Well, just leave it alone. Maybe he wants to go home. Maybe his mother was right. She should not have fed him those foods.

That night, Mrs. Pham tossed and turned all night. The next day, at dawn, she got up and went to the garden to walk back and forth. As she feared, Man did not return. However, just before noon, his mother arrived and walked straight up to Mrs. Pham, her face hardened:

- Did you do that? She fed it after I told her not to. What did she give him?

- Well... I feed it potato soup and fresh milk, which are essential foods for Man.

The woman groaned:

- Potato soup! Oh my God! She fed him salt!

Then she hissed shrilly:

- Are you crazy? Why don't you leave it alone?

Mrs. Pham seemed confused:

- I'm sorry if my food made Man sick.

Suddenly, Mrs. Pham changed her voice angrily:

- But... it was so undernourished that it almost starved to death right before my eyes. I can not let this pass. I will pay for the medicine and have a doctor take care of it.

The other woman was silent for a minute before speaking in a rather sad voice:

- Ma'am, please follow me to see what you have done for my child.

The woman turned away. Mrs. Pham followed her through the forest before reaching the foot of a hill. About half an hour later, the two arrived at a dilapidated hut where three children were sitting quietly outside the door. When Mrs. Pham stopped, the woman grabbed her hand and continued to drag her away. Ms. Pham asked:

- Isn't this your house? Is Man not in this house?

The woman shook her head to keep going. A few minutes later, the two passed a row of trees before reaching a clearing with a few overgrown mounds of grass. Some mounds have crosses, others do not. Mrs. Pham shuddered:

- What place is this, ma'am?

The woman calmly replied:

- An old cemetery. No one uses it anymore. Here, invited her to come here.

Then she pointed to a mound. Mrs. Pham was startled when she saw that the grass above seemed to be torn apart and it seemed like someone was trying to dig a hole below.

No one or any force could force her to go near that dug up grave. However, from where she stood, Ms. Pham saw in the hole a shriveled figure in worn jeans and a dirty T-shirt. The woman groaned:

- That's Man. That's where she put it there. My husband and he died two years ago in the middle of a cold winter from pneumonia. I begged both of them to come back, but only Man responded to my plea. He knew I needed it. He wants to take care of me and his siblings. It has always been an obedient child.

Mrs. Pham was stunned:

- What did you say? I... I don't understand anything...

The woman seemed not to notice, muttering:

- I have to take care of it carefully. Do you know that you cannot feed salt to the dead? Salt makes the dead forget everything but only remember their last resting place. It was you who made Man return to his old grave, and from now on, he will definitely never leave that place again...

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About the Creator

Ken Daklak

Telling stories my heart needs to tell <3 life is a journey, not a competition

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Comments (2)

  • Hoàn Trầnabout a month ago

    It's great, I hope there will be more articles to come

  • HK Decorabout a month ago

    Useful article, thank you for sharing

 Ken DaklakWritten by Ken Daklak

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