"Keep his head cool! Let's go!" My mother strained her voice above the cries of the boy and his parents as they prepared to leave for the hospital. Sitting uncomfortably on the bed, I peered through the small holes on the white curtain at the aging farmers with panicked eyes. A cold wind rushed in as my mother opened the door and ushered them out of the Hanoi Emergency Clinic, where she received cases during her nightshifts.
An only child of a divorced doctor, I accompanied her four nights a month to the clinic, a fifteen feet by ten feet room with the acrid smells of alcohol and antibiotic. A white curtain divided the room in halves. On one side, the doctor's private wooden bed cluttered up with piles of fading medical records. A big table, three chairs and a sink occupied the rest of the space, where my mother met patients.
The murmuring of their talks always triumphed over my curiosity, as I pressed my sleepy eyes against the tattered holes. With an eleven year-old imagination, I often fancied the white curtain as the Great Wall separating my mother from me, and the emergency clinic as a resting stop for tired travelers. Many patients came and left happily, with only grateful handshakes and austere smiles as the doctor's fees. My mother was their healer. But that night, I saw her urgent face. She did not return until the next morning and, as I insisted, told me that the boy had flown away with the incense on his altar. It was the first time she had lost a child.
After that, she left me at home. I knew she was afraid for my young mind in the heavy environment of the clinic, but I could not help feeling deserted. It...