For a while, I thought I had swallowed a live gecko in my sleep that was stuck in my body, trying to fight its way out. Some nights I would wake up and beg my mother to look down my throat and remove the gecko. She was a trained nurse, after all, and I expected her to be able to save anything and anyone. But she had never found a gecko. She had found nothing. Over time, I got used to the uncomfortable feeling and it became normal. Sometimes, when I felt too good, I had to remind myself that I had an animal trapped inside me - then everything was back to normal.
When I lived in Hà Nam, no one ever asked me a personal question. Everyone already knew more about me than I did. When my mother was away, which was very rare, the neighbors liked to talk about us. So one day I found out the real reason why my father had left.
I must have been four years old, because at that time we didn't have a house of our own, so we lived with my aunt. One day my mother had to work and had to leave me with a neighbor. I remember playing with shell casings - leftovers from the war that I had dug out of the ground earlier. My ears perked up when my name was mentioned. Someone said: "If she didn't look so much like her father, I'm sure his family would have claimed she wasn't his child."
At that moment, the gecko in my throat became active again. I started coughing, but no one paid any attention to me. The conversation continued: "This hasty marriage so that the child wouldn't be born out of wedlock ended up being useless. The child still has no father."
The gecko continued to struggle. I tried to calm it down with a sip of water. The neighbor continued: "This guy Việt is quite a cruel person. It's one thing to be against his brother's relationship. But to take away the child's father is too crass even for him."
"Oh, come on, that's nothing. I would have trusted him even then to make the pregnant woman disappear. Sometimes I'm still afraid he'll stage an accident to get rid of her."
At that moment, the gecko kicked my esophagus with all its might. I opened my mouth so it could see the light and maybe find its way to freedom, but my neighbor called out to me: "Are you trying to catch flies with your mouth?"
Out of reflex, I swallowed and swallowed the gecko with it. Instead of going out into the world, it was flushed into my stomach and became one with me.
The conversation with the neighbors was pushed to the back of my mind after that day, but the memory kept coming back. Over time, I began to put the pieces of the puzzle together and understand many things I had never dared to ask, things my mother had never told me.
Being born is a strange experience. If you are lucky, you are born in a beautiful place surrounded by love and laughter. If you're not so lucky, you might be a gecko stuck in someone's body. And over and over again you would try to escape that body. One day you would either be exhausted and die, or you would make it all the way from the stomach to the throat, to the mouth, and to freedom where the bright sun shines.
But first you must learn to follow the light.