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The Last Client

Bản tiếng Anh của truyện “Khách cuối“, mình dịch cách đây đã lâu, nay đưa lên để phục vụ công việc.

Hoa removed the last towels on the clothesline. The towels were still slightly damp but it was a bit dark, the street outside nearly quieted down, it was time for her to close shop. The other hairdresser shops in the street had closed for Tet holiday at this noon or last night. After using a hair dryer to dry the towels and folding them completely, Hoa let out a long breath. The shop was entirely tidy, now she could have her last bath before New Year’s Eve. Ah, there was still some waste hair that she left this morning near the door. Her broom could sweep it away in a trice.

“Hey!”

Hoa was startled, turned her head. In front the shop, a beastly man with long wild hair and bushy beard was looking at her as if he wanted to wring her neck. His muddy shoes had just been decorated with a handful of waste hair, looked like a couple of poor dead rats. He scowled at her:

“What the hell did you sweep?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, sir”, Hoa said.

Oh my God, I troubled a bully, or a gangster, she thought as approaching him, with her most friendly smile.

“The street’s too quiet that I didn’t pay attention… Could you please come in? I’ll clean your shoes up.”

Mr. Bully kept silent, gazing upon everything in the shop. Hoa followed his eyes, her face became pale. In the drawer, there was a sum of money which a client had just paid her, more than 500,000 dong. Her new cellphone was right on the table, it costed nearly a million. The hair dryers and hair straighteners were costly, too.

“Closed already?”, Mr. Bully jerked up his chin and sank himself into the barber chair.

“Yea… oh, no, no, not yet”, Hoa trembled, “You want to wash your hair, don’t you?”

“Hair washing, hair cutting and shaving, how long?”

“It might take more than an hour, sir.”

“Only you here?”

“Yes, sir”

“Why do you stick to ‘sir’ and ‘sir’? How old are you?”

“Twenty-two, sir.”

“Hey, ‘sir’ again. Shampoo me! Hurry up, otherwise here comes the New Year Eve countdown!”

“Sure, which shampoo would you like?”, Hoa said, luckily swallowed the word “sir” in time.

“Any thing… that one!”

Mr. Bully selected a common shampoo. Fortunately, it’s cheap, Hoa thought. She poured water into his wisp of hair, which was only rarely lathery, to scratch and massage his head. This man seemed to be away from water and shampoo or soap for millions years. His hair was long, dishevelled, mingled with dust and stiffened as if he had used hair glue. It took half a bottle of shampoo to make foam from his hair become white instead of brownish.

“Is it ok if I scratch your head like this?”

“Ok. Your shop’s landlord is Mr. Tam, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but he died, now Mrs. Tam is my landlady.”

“He died?”, Mr. Bully raised his head, looking at Hoa in the mirror.

“Yes, more than a year ago. It’s about two months from his first death anniversary.”

“Mr. Tam used to run a rental bookstore here. I used to be his steady client.”

“It must be very long time ago, because when I arrived, this house was hairdresser shop already.”

“How long have you been working here?”

“Three years, sir. Mr and Mrs Tam’s granddaughter had run the shop, then she assigned it to me.”

“Their granddaughter is… Thuy Giang?”

“Yeah, you know her, too?”

“We were classmates in highschool.”

“She’s so beautiful. Do you think so?”

“Yes, so beautiful! How is she now?”

“She married.”

“Married?”

“Right, her husband is a Korean man. Recently, Mrs. Tam went to visit her in Korea… Please go to the shampoo bed to wash once more, sir!”

It took awhile for Mr. Bully to struggle for fitting his oversized body in the small shampoo bed. He took off his shoes, then laid down with his legs crossing well in a weird yoga pose. Hoa let him to arrange himself. She went to another room to keep an eye on a boiling pot of coriander branches. She decided to add more water into the pot. The warm scent of cooked coriander attracted Mr. Bully to sit up. The conversation about the mutual acquaintances made her less scared, so Hoa could look at him unfearfully. She even could give up a pail of herbal bath water to him.

“My mother always boils coriander branches for us to have the last bath before New Year’s Eve. I’ve just added more water to rinse your hair”, she said.

“Thanks.”

Perhaps a smile has just appeared on Mr. Bully’s face, but because Hoa was standing behind his head and looking at him from upside down, she confused that it was a sad twist of his lips. From the dusty corner of his eye, a teardrop spilt over slowly. Hoa poured water not only to rinse the dust off, but also to dissolve that teardrop. She did not know what to say.

“Which province are you from? It’s quite near Hanoi, isn’t it?”, Mr. Bully

“My hometown is Yen Bai.[1]”

“Such far! Why are you still here now?”

“I’m not going home this holiday. I’m staying here to enjoy an urban Tet.”

“Why? Nothing’s attractive in Hanoi during these days .”

“It’s not very attractive but it’s still better for me to stay in Hanoi than in my hometown.”

“Really?”

“Recession or something like that. Everybody had a hard time this year. So did I.”

“It’s such difficult that you couldn’t buy a bus ticket?!”

“I can buy a ticket, but I can’t afford to give a fair sum of money to my parents, to buy gifts for my relatives, to li xi [2] my nephews and nieces. I’m so disappointed.”

“Uhm, I understand your reluctance. But if you stay here and go out with your friends, you’ll lose a large sum, too.”

“I don’t have friends to go out with.”

“No boyfriend, no fellow-villager?”

“No, sir. You see, I’m busy with this shop from morning to night.”

“So you only stay in Hanoi to sleep during the whole Tet holiday!”

“The second day of the new year is good day to resume work, I’m going to open my shop. There won’t be many clients but I’ll be fine. Would you like me to clean your ears?”

“Of course, they’re terribly dirty!”

“Not very. I’m used to. I think you’ve had a long journey.”

“Yeah, I work in the South. Just arrived Hanoi this afternoon.”

“That’s why you look tanned in the winter. Do you stay near here?”

“My former house is not far from here, now I moved… Well, I don’t need facial massage. Let’s rinse my hair to cut and then shave my face!”

“All right. Wait a minute, please. I’ll be back with the coriander water.”

When the wet locks of hair of this strange last client fell on the floor, it was absolutely dark. The fragrance of food and traditional incense sticks from some neighbor house merged with the scent of coriander in the shop and made the atmosphere a little more familial. The razor in Hoa’s hand slowly drew tanned strips across the thick white layer of shaving foam on his face. Mr. Bully disappeared. In the mirror, there was a sturdy and good-looking guy. He was smiling at her.

“Give me the bill, please”, he stood up and withdrew his wallet.

He gave her a rather high-valued banknote and told her to keep the change, like any other kind-hearted client these days. However, Hoa felt pitiful to receive his money. His clothes were faded and seemed to be very budget, he went on foot, he might be unwealthy.

“Hold on, sir!”, Hoa took an opened bag of rice candy from the drawer to give him some. “It’s from my hometown. Please consider them a New Year gift, sir.”

He smiled and received that unexpected li xi. After saying “thank you”, he was about to ask her something but finally remained silent. Hoa stood at the door to see him off. Her eyes followed his bulky shape until it disappeared at the end of the street. How funny, we don’t know each other’s names, Mr. Bully, she thought. Suddenly, she heard joyful songs about Tet echoing from somewhere and somewhere.

____________________________ 

1. Yen Bai is an agricultural-based province located in the northern part of northern-central Vietnam, it is about 200 km away from Hanoi.

2.  Li xi

Verb: To give someone, usually children, a red envelope with money inside, as a Lunar New Year gift.

Noun: The Lunar New Year gift, usually is the red envelope with money inside.

Written and translated by Tran Thu Trang

3 Comments

  1. Joni says:

    Em thấy đọc bản tiếng Anh đôi chỗ còn hay hơn cả tiếng mẹ đẻ :D

    1. Cái này giang hồ người ta gọi là “Tao khen cho mày chết” đây! B-)

  2. Q says:

    Mình thì vẫn thấy tiếng mẹ đẻ hay nhất, có lẽ mình k giỏi tiếng Anh đủ để cảm nhận cái hay của bản dịch.

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