TITLE: Sweet Memories of Kim
By gene hudgens
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It is only natural that the first thing I notice when I enter the lobby of my new home is a pretty smile worn by a very nice looking Vietnamese woman.
I wave as I walk by and the woman says, “Hello”, just hello. With my grand Texas smile, I reply, “Hi.”.
It has been a long first day and I’m tired, so when I get to my room I take off my boots and shirt and flop on the bed.
I lay there thinking of the culture shock I'm experiencing.Here I am in Saigon and I will be right here for an entire year.
The war situation makes me wary of everyone and here all of us (Americans) are daily dealing with, depending on, Vietnamese men and women in almost every aspect of travel, eating, the hotels, even in the work area.
We joke about how our barber is our friend in the day, but at night, he is ‘Charlie’, the enemy.
“Hey”, I say to myself, “Enough of this Mike Hammer stuff. I think I need to get some fresh air and something to drink.”
It is a little after 10 p.m. when I get up, get dressed, and go down to the lobby. As I am hoping, the nice looking woman is still there at her desk.
She is facing the wall, but quickly turns around when I ask if she knows where a dry-mouth man can get a drink. Smiling that lovely natural smile, she says, “I have cokes and beer under the counter, in a small fridge. Would you like one? Oh, my name is Kim“.”
Grabbing the opportunity I quickly introduce my self as Gene and ask if she will have a coke with me?”
I figure she cannot drink beer while working. Soon we are standing there smiling, talking, and enjoying the first of three cokes we both finally have this beautiful first evening.
Kim relates that she normally works five or six nights a week, that she has worked in this hotel for two years, and that she learned English while working on the base.
Later Kim jokes, “Do you know what I miss the most about not working on the base?”
“No, what do you miss most?” .
“I miss those big, delicious, red apples. That sounds real funny, doesn’t it?” She says.
Sudden I seem to be getting real tired. I guess Kim and I would continue to talk and drink cokes all night. However, all good things must end, since I must be at work at 6 a. m.
The next evening when I return to the hotel I bring ‘us’ a case of cokes and ‘her’ two beautiful, big, red apples. She is so thrilled and excited, like a child.
I begin working the day shift the next day; therefore, I am able to continue our evening talks, which I enjoy so very much. I try not to forget the red apples.
The following evening, when I arrive, Kim is not there. I am sad. Instead, an older woman is working at the desk. The woman also speaks English. When I inquire where Kim is, the woman asks, “Are you Gene?”
I am very surprised and say, “Yes, I’m Gene.”
She explains that Kim is very sick and that around 4 a.m. she went with Kim to a doctor. She hands me a small piece of paper. “This is Kim’s address. She is home now.
Kim mentioned to me about having some pains in her stomach, so I assumed this sudden illness has something to do with the stomach pains. I ask, “Is this address far from here? Do you think it is OK if I visit Kim? Just what kind of problem does Kim have?”
The woman suddenly has a very pleased expression on her face and states, “Kim hopes that you will want to come.
She continues, “By taxi it is a very short ride from here. Pause…it is best if Kim explains everything to you, if you don’t mind.
Then I walk briskly to my room, shower, change into fresh clothes and then go outside to hail a taxi.
“Where you go, GI?” the taxi driver yells.
“Me go, I mean I want to go to this address,” handing him the slip of paper. He finds Kim’s address with no problem and what I am about to find is pathetic.
The address number is a store front, so I walk a short distance into the alley beside the store and show the slip of paper to an old woman sitting beside a door. She cannot read the English, but knows the name and points to the open door near her.
I knock lightly and then walk into the room. Kim is lying on a bed in a dark corner. She does not even move as I walk over to where she is laying, on her back. She looks at me, tries to smile, but cries instead.
I look around the room. There is only one window and a curtain covers it. I open this one-piece curtain to let-in some light.
This does not help much, since the window, when open, faces the wall of the house next door, three or four feet away. I then walk back to the bed and look down at Kim.
She is not the smiling little woman I remember from the evening before. I hold her hand and lightly kiss her nose. “What happened to you?” I ask.
“It seems I got very sick and the doctor operated on my stomach soon after I got to his office,” she whispers.
“What! Why are you not in the hospital now? How did you get here?” I ask.
She is watching my eyes and the expression of shock on my face. She then tries to give me a little smile as she very slowly tries to explain.
“The doctor’s office is, in fact, a tiny clinic, but there are no beds. The doctor lives above his office, so we are able to get him in the early hour of the morning.
I think his family assisted him when he decided to operate, because we did not see any other staff.
He tries to get me into a hospital, but everything is full and he exjplains that I will be left in the hall way or on the balcony.
Besides, he can check on me with less difficulty if I’m here in my room, which is closer to his office than the hospital is.”
“How did they get you here? How could they move you so soon after an operation?” I interrupt.
She asks, “Will you get me a drink of water please?”
On the chair next to her is an opened bottle of water, or something. The bottle has about twenty flies crawling on it, as does so many other things in the room. The glass standing next to the bottle is dirty and chipped.
I take the glass to the tiny sink and turn on the water, which is barely running and has a strange color. I wash the glass (without any soap) and dry it on the tail of my cleaner shirt.
Then I pour her a drink, get on my knees, hold her head up slightly, and help her drink. I refill the glass twice.
“Are you hungry?” I ask.
“Yes,” she says.
There is no trace of food as my eyes survey the entire room. She lies there watching me look.
“There is probably no food here,” she whispers.
“I brought two apples. If I mash them into a sauce, can you eat it?”
She nods, “Yes”.
I make the ‘mush’ for her, hold her head up and very slowly fed her. I notice that there are two bottles and an envelope of pills on the chair. I am thinking to myself that she will need more than just pills and hope that she has plenty of antibiotics, because she will probably need them.
She begins to tell me how they got her here to this room.
As she is talking, I am washing a rag and towel.
She continues, “After the operation I must have stayed in the clinic six hours or so. The doctor arranges for an ambulance to transport me here. He, the doctor, rides in the ambulance next to me, holding my hand all of the way.
He tells the driver not to stop or turn too quickly. He insures that they take me out of the ambulance very carefully.
The worst part of the trip is when they move me from the stretcher to my bed. It feels like I am tearing open.
The doctor stays with me for about one hour, during which time he gives me two shots. This reminds me. I should have taken some pills at 4 p.m. Mr. Gene, what time is it now?”
“I’ll tell you the time only if you promise to always call me Gene”. She tries to smile as she promises.
“It is almost 7 p.m. Which pills should you have taken at 4 p.m.?”
“The ones in the brown envelope,” she whispers.
Again I pour her some water, carefully hold her head up, higher this time, so she can swallow easier. After she takes the pills, I take the rag and carefully wash her face, neck, arms, and hands. I notice that she is again ready to sleep.
I have already made up my mind that I will check on Kim again during the night. If I don‘t, she might miss taking the pills again and never get well. I also wonder who else is taking ANY kind of care of her.
As I get ready to leave, I wash her face again and leave the rag on a plate on the chair. “What time must you take the next pills?” I ask.
“I don’t know now, since I was late with the last ones. It should be every four hours.”
Then she says, “Gene, see if an old lady is sitting outside on the right. If she is, ask her to please come to me now.”
I look and the old woman is still sitting there. She comes in as soon as I motion to her. Kim talks with the woman for a minute or so and then the woman goes back outside.
Kim then states, “The lady will come back at about 9 p.m. and give me pills. So, do not worry about me. I'm OK. You go and get some sleep, so you can work tomorrow.”
As I prepare to leave, I hold her hand, bent and kiss her forehead, and say, “Kim, you are very brave.”
“No, I’m only trying not to show how scared I really am. Good night, Gene. Oh, Gene, will you ask the woman to come in again. I need to go to the toilet.”
The lack of sleep is catching up with me and I make sure the alarm clock is set on ‘loud’. At 3 a.m., I slowly roll out of the bed, shave, and dress, and then get a taxi and return to see Kim, before going to the office.
She is sound asleep, and as I guessed, she missed taking her pills at 0200 hours. She is naturally surprised that I am with her, but only half awake when I give her the pills. I leave quickly, so she can go back to dreamland.
Steve and I take a breakfast break about 8 a.m. I explain my ordeal of the evening before and ask him, “Is what I’m being exposed to an average example of the ‘real life conditions’, behind the scene, in Vietnam?”
“Gene,” he says, “I’ve been here six months and I never cease to be amazed at the awful living conditions so many of the people seem to just take for granted.
One of these days, I will go with you to a Vietnamese hospital, and then you will see what is really pitiful. Yes, what you see is probably very normal.”
Steve is always a very sensitive person and now is no exception. He almost immediately shows concern for this girl (woman) that he has never met.
“Who is caring for Kim?” He asks, “Does she have electricity in her room, etc.?
There is an old fridge in the storeroom. It works well," he keeps on. “You and I can take it over to her house tonight, if you like. Perhaps she will get well sooner if there is sufficient food easily available.”
Our office work load is less this morning, so I go by the BX and buy some dish detergent, soap powder for clothes (towels etc), four packs of paper drinking glasses, and different types of disposable eating utensils, food etc, and then walk to the gate, get a taxi, and head for Kim’s apartment.
When I arrive, I am happy and surprised to see that Kim seems to be feeling just a little better. She is still in the bed, of course, not moving, but she tries to have a smile, her lovely smile. I put the sack of goodies near the sink and take a paper-drinking cup.
“Please come over here,” she asks, “Sit down; well maybe there is no place to sit.”
She motions with her hand for me to hold it. “Tell me, why do you want to help me? Do not get me wrong, I love it and I want you to, I just do not understand. No one ever really went out of his way for me before. Tell me why?”
“There are two reasons,” I say, “First of all, you have a cute little nose that I like to kiss (so I bent down and tenderly kiss it). Secondly, I think you would do the same thing for me if the situation was reversed, wouldn’t you?”
“Yes,” she says.
“So you see; it’s simple isn’t it?” I smile.
She smiles too, and then says, “I’m sorry I missed my pills at 0200, but I did take them on time at 0600 and 1000 hours. Am I not good?
When the doctor came by this morning, he could not believe that you had come by at 4 a.m. to insure that I took pills. I cannot believe it either. Thanks again.”
For the next twenty minutes we talk while I stay busy doing washing and cleaning up. I brought a few cans of pudding, which I soon learn she likes very much. Chocolate is her favorite.
I open two cans and help her get into a slight raised position, so she can feed herself.
Afterwards I get the rag, which I wash with soap, and wash her face and arms, this time with water AND soap. She seems to enjoy being a little fresher.
I tell her I must rush back to work. As I’m leaving, she says, “If I see you tonight I’ll be bathed all over. I’ll get the old lady to help me.”
When I get into the taxi, which stops for me almost as soon as I walk to the street, I am smiling, and thinking how close I came to saying;” You should let me wash you all over.” I stopped myself, only because of the timing, but I hope that some day the timing will be OK.
Steve arranges for our driver to return to the office at 7 p.m. We soon have the small fridge (refrigerator) in the van and are on the way to see Kim.
Our driver waits for us, which is a good thing; because we have to ask him to go and try to find an adapter so, we can plug in the fridge.
The driver can not find an adapter, but returns with a young man who quickly has the fridge wired to the wall and running.
While we are working on the fridge, the doctor arrives to check on Kim. To me Kim does not look too much better, but the doctor seems very pleased with her progress.
He is a very old man who seems genuinely interested in Kim’s recovery. He speaks no English, but when he sees the fridge, he almost seems to be holding back tears. Kim explains to him how we are helping her.
The doctor is soon leaving. He stops by Steve and me, pats both of us on our hands, half bows, and leaves.
Steve talks briefly with Kim and wishes her a fast recovery and he and the driver are soon leaving. I stay with Kim.
While Steve and I were at the BX and club, I bought some bread, butter, cheese spread, and plenty of drinks.
Kim doesn’t care too much for the cheese spread, but washes it down with plenty of coke, so I don’t buy cheese spread any more.
Kim keeps her word and changes her nightgown. I can tell because this one is much thiner and shorter than the ankle length one she had worn.
She says, “The lady bathed me and I feel cleaner right now. She even tried to wash my hair, but I could not move enough for her to wash it. I am sorry you see me when I am not fresh. You will have to excuse my hair for awhile.”
I sit on the floor next to her bed and we talk for a while. Then she smiles and asks, “Will you make me an apple ‘mush’?”
I do and we talk a few minutes longer. When she is sleeping, I kiss her nose and leave.
When I get to Kim’s at about noon the next day there is a Vietnamese woman there, actually cleaning the room. Kim is elevated to a near sitting position with pillows and seems to be feeling much better.
Kim watches me watch the cleaner, smiles, and says, “I made a deal with her. If she cares for me and keeps the place clean, she can share the fridge.”
I think to myself, Steve, Old Buddy, you certainly do understand people.
As the days pass by I visit Kim every evening, sometimes on the way to my hotel after my shift, or I go first to the hotel, shower and eat, then visit Kim. I do not forget to take at least two red apples and some type of food from the hotel.
After about two weeks, Kim is slowly moving around and even doing some local shopping. It is another two weeks before she begins working at the hotel.
Of course, it is nice to see her smile when I enter the hotel and to know that she is doing well. However, it has been nice for me to have someone to help. Helping Kim really helps me pass time more quickly.
It seems that I am back on the day shift only about two weeks or so when Steve informs me that the time has come; a room is now available and I must to move into the big hotel where he and the others live.
Naturally, I desire not to make the move. Being in the big hotel will be more convenient, but the little visits with Kim are getting nicer and nicer.
Kim is disappointed too. We are unable to see each other as often, but I can sense a different feeling emerging when we do meet.
It is normally difficult for us to phone one another. One evening when I arrive at her hotel, a woman gives me a note from Kim.
She has written that she has taken the evening off, so that she can move to a different address (room). If I have the time, and want to, I can have a taxi bring me to the new address.
I soon find a taxi driver who speaks broken English and I am on my way. “It’s there.” The taxi driver soon says, pointing.
After showing the address to a young boy, I follow his directions for 500 meters and find Kim’s address.
She has one room, on the ground floor (which is noisier, thus less expensive). It is larger, cleaner, and nicer. She is busy cleaning and very happy that I have come.
She suggests that we walk down to the local sidewalk café place and have a drink. I ask, “Is it normal in Saigon to make moves on such a spur of a moment?”
“Rooms are so scarce,” she says, “If a person does not rush like crazy to move in; someone else will get the room.
Three other people and I had an appointment to look at this room. I had card #1 and that is why I got the room, because all three of the other’s wanted it.”
We walked for a while along the crowded canal. Believe me, a walk along a Saigon canal is not like a stroll along a tree-lined canal in England or Germany. In Saigon, the odor and sights in the water makes one quickly realize that it is not a place to sit and remove the shoes and dab the feet in the water.
We later take a couple of Saigon beers (ba mui ba) back to the room with us. It is getting late, but not dark. When I do leave that evening, we have proven Shakespeare wrong. ‘Passion and daylight do mix’.
As the months pass, Kim and I see each other as often as our busy schedules allow.
I doubt if either of us possess the ability to explain the feelings we have and have had for each other.
We both just enjoy each other and each other’s friendship and companionship to the fullest, one day at a time; realizing that one day this will all end.
(c) Gene Hudgens
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