Every Picture Tells Story – or does it?
A writer once said that every life experience, good or bad is “all material”.
Rod Stewart wrote that “every picture tells a story”.
Each Saturday as I make my walk to town and on to the Co-op store to jockey in line with families shopping for the week’s groceries I pass familiar faces.
Not speaking Vietnamese beyond a few rudimentary phrases and counting to twenty I get to be a fiction writer in my mind.
Under her umbrella, Co, a term of respect for an older one, sits waiting for the rare customer for her coconuts. She is well north of 80 but spry, springing to her feet and smiling at my arrival. She knows I like my coconut cold – lan – so she grabs one and with the other hand swings a mean axe – perfectly slicing the top off before depositing the coconut in a plastic bag replete with straw.
I overpay but there is joy to the sale and I think, “Hmm, this is a woman with a story”. At her age she has seen the French depart, Saigon burgeon into the Ho Chi Minh City of 10 million people, the American army arrive and depart, the tanks of the North crashing through the gates of the Presidential palace, poverty, hunger and high rises.
Everyone in Vietnam has a story; the returning exile, the government official, the rising business leader, the motorbike drivers who offer me a ride wherever I walk who knows I will decline and keep walking. I get to know some of their stories. They share them when I stop into a bia hoi, a local beer hall on a hot afternoon. Men of a certain vintage join me at my table. They explain how they fought with the Americans, were sent to “re-education” camps, saw their families leave for the US, some never to return, others back as visitors and investors in a new Vietnam. Their stories are clear and well told but also written on their faces.
I wonder if my writing of Co’s story would ring true. Was she of the upper class and fell from grace post 1975? A simple farm girl moved to the big city, a simple life with little contact with the conquering French or the interloping Americans? Did she care about the war other than to loathe war, like all mothers do (if indeed she was a mother)?
The language barrier makes it impossible to know and the story I have created for her in my head may bear no resemblance to the reality of her existence. I wonder does she know the population of the city in which she lives or thinks grand ideas or does she, like most people, live, one day at a time, getting up, going to work and trying to sell the next coconut.