After my neighbor disappeared overnight, everyone talked about it for months, but no one seemed to question the fact or find it strange. No one had looked for him, not even his wife or one of his four children. Everyone in Hà Nam believed that he had moved south. Just like that, without luggage, without saying goodbye.
I don't remember how old I was then. I just remember watching too many crime TV shows for my age. The first night after he disappeared, I had a suspicion that I shared with my mother:
"Someone must have killed him."
My mother laughed:
"Who would have killed him? It's Hà Nam, not Macau!"
Most of the crime shows we watched in those days were about stories that took place in Macau, if I remember correctly.
My cousin was the only one who shared my suspicion. We talked about who might have done it. She was four years older than me and very social. She had a lot of friends and a lot of inside information. She told me that he was a gambling addict and she suspected that someone killed him because he couldn't pay his debts.
"Who could he have owed money to?" I asked.
"Well, who has the most money in Hà Nam?" my cousin replied, looking at me conspiratorially. We were both thinking of the same person: the doctor who was known to give out high-interest loans.
"But why would he kill him? He won't get the money back."
"What if it was suicide to get out of debt?"
"But then the body would have been found somewhere! It must have been murder!"
"So we must find the body."
We spent the following weeks looking for the body. We didn't tell anyone, and no one suspected anything. After many unsuccessful days, we were about to give up when a TV series gave us an idea: In this series, a woman had killed her husband and fed him to pigs. According to the episode, the pigs ate everything but the hair. My cousin and I looked at each other, half stunned, half enlightened. Now everything was clear. In Hà Nam, almost every household had pigs, and one of the doctor's daughters was a hairdresser. No one would have thought that the hair in their garbage belonged to a dead person. We told our mothers, but they didn't believe us. They said the doctor never gave the neighbor any money. He left because he wasn't happy with his life in Hà Nam, because he was a lazy dog, because he was a weakling, because he didn't want to take responsibility for his family. He never did. And his wife and children were lucky to be rid of him.
In the weeks that followed, we developed other theories: that his wife had killed him because he was a lazy dog. And maybe her family helped her hide the body. Or that he got drunk and was run over. That someone killed him and took his organs to sell on the black market... Later we came up with the idea that maybe he lost his memory overnight and couldn't find his way home.
We were willing to believe anything, but not that he had just abandoned his family.